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Chapter Nine: Acceptance

© Lady Owl

As Neelix slowly woke and parted his eyes, a wave of panic shot through him as the bed beside him was empty. He sat up quickly, eyes darting across the room, but she was no where in sight.

"Heather...?" He called out to her as he stood and rounded the wall to look in the back of his quarters... and breathed deep with relief. Heather looked at him with dismal eyes before turning her head back to continue staring out into space...

Neelix lowered his head, hesitant to approach her but at the same time, a strong urge forced him forward. He slowly walked to her and gently slipped his arms around her from behind, hugging her softly, but she didn't even acknowledge him or stir at his touch. He felt broken from her.. and it hurt. He had tried so hard to preserve their fragile bond... only to have it all come crashing down once the truth came out? He didn't even really know what was hurting her more: Never being able to go home, or being a slave? Or both? And what hurt the most was that he had gained her trust. She was happy... and now it all felt like he was back to square one, forced to start all over again. If that was even possible... What if she could never trust him again?

He felt sick inside and pushed those heart wrenching thoughts away. He just held her for awhile, not knowing what to say to her, lifting his gaze to stare out the window, as well. The planet wasn't in full view like it had been the first time she saw it. The station had rotated so only a quarter was visible now. He lowered his eyes back down to her, noticing a tiny glint from a tear that caught the light, run down her cheek... he breathed deep and slipped from her, moving around to the front of her and carefully slid his large warm hands against her cheeks, cupping them so he could direct her to look up at him, knowing she wouldn't willingly.

"Heather... please, please don't shut me out..." He whispered to her, but she only swallowed hard and closed her eyes, causing another tear to slip from them and run down her cheek and against his thumb. He could understand if she didn't know what to say.. but he wasn't asking her to say anything... He just wanted her trust back and for her to know he was here for her...

He moved his hands from her cheeks and slipped his arms back around her, bringing her head against him as he held her for a moment.. before letting her be... He didn't know what to do now... not wanting to leave her again to go work on the ship, but she refused to talk to him now... I guess, I could go make morning meal... He thought to himself and moved from her to the counter to begin preparing them both something to eat.

He had spent the last hour making her a few different things, including two of the ones he knew she liked. He set them down on the table and turned his head to look over at her.. seeing her still staring out, looking miserable. Feeling this attempt was futile, he sighed softly before calling to her.

"Heather.. I made you something to eat." His tone was hopeful but when she didn't acknowledge him, it felt like a kick in the gut. His ears lowered as he went to her, "Heather, you need to eat.." He kept his voice soft and under control even though inside he was anxious, impatient, and sad but she turned her head away from him making it obvious that she wasn't interested.

Neelix tightened his eyes. What am I supposed to do? He thought to himself. She had slipped into this depression and he felt so helpless. He gently reached out and caressed her cheek, "I'll leave it on the table for you..." He said to her before turning to walk away. He walked down the short hall on the opposite side of the room to make sure he was out of view from her and lifted his arm up above his head to rest it against the wall before leaning his head forward and pressed it, too against the wall just beneath his arm and closed his eyes. He felt so sick inside... He couldn't remember the last time he felt this upset..

He pushed himself away from the wall and walked to the end of the hall towards the door and pressed the button on the panel beside it to open it. He walked through and made sure the door was shut before hitting another panel on the wall outside of his quarters.

"Neelix? Are you ok?" Veeno's voice came through the speaker only communication unit that was attached to the panel, seeing Neelix's name come up on his display but no words followed..
"She wont talk to me... she wont eat.. I don't know what to do.."
Veeno could hear the defeat in Neelix's voice and knew there was no point in suggesting anything for him to try. "Can I come over?" He asked.
"I guess... " Neelix replied.
"I'll be there as soon as I can."

When Veeno arrived, the first thing he saw was Neelix sitting on one of the large crates with his chin resting in the palm of his hand. They exchanged looks but neither said anything, instead, seeing Heather still by the window, Veeno walked to the back of Neelix's quarters towards her. Neelix lifted his head from his hand with interest as he watched him, and stood, walking over to the division wall of the room and leaning against it as he watched Veeno kneel down to her.

"Heather.." Veeno said, startling her and she stared down at him, "Can I tell you a story?" He asked her and she turned her head to glance over at Neelix before she lowered her gaze to the floor, "I guess..." She whispered and Neelix perked up a little, surprised she had actually replied. Veeno nodded, slightly stunned it had been so easy to get a response and cleared his throat to begin:

"A long time ago, Neelix decided that he didn't wanna live here anymore, but he didn't have a lot of money and had no idea where he'd even go." Veeno said, but paused to see if she was paying attention and when she glanced at him because he had stopped, he continued. "So, he got this bright idea that he'd build his own ship.. but not just any ship, he wanted to build the best custom ship anyone around here would ever have. He's a bit ambitious when it comes to his work." Veeno smiled, and Heather glimpsed over at Neelix again, who seemed hopeful, before looking back to Veeno. Seeing that she seemed interested, he continued.

"For the past ten years, he has been collecting the best parts for his project. Do you remember the day we went to the markets? When Neelix took you into that one shop with all the junk piles everywhere?" He asked her and she nodded slowly, "That is where he usually goes to get his parts."

Neelix wasn't sure where Veeno was going with this, but he really didn't care. She was listening, interested even, which was more than he could have hoped for and he was both thankful and glad to have a friend like Veeno.

"He has worked very hard on that ship. It is... or.. was the most precious thing in his life..."
"Was..?" Heather asked, curiously and Veeno nodded, "Until you came into his life." He smiled and Heather lowered her head, feeling a knot form in her tummy.
"When Neelix first saw you... his eyes lit up with this look I've never seen from him before," Veeno continued, his words were causing her face to become warm... "He was determined to save you from becoming a slave to someone who would surely treat you as such... So you know what he did?" Veeno paused, wanting Heather's full attention and when she looked right into his eyes, he finished, "He sold his ship."

Heather's eyes widened, more in confusion than in surprise, "Wait..what? Why?"
"So he could afford to bid on you..." Veeno explained.
She stared at Veeno, her lips parted in shock... she then closed her eyes and lowered her head.

Neelix slowly approached them, kneeling down beside Veeno and reached to Heather's lap, gently placing his hand over hers. She parted her eyes slightly and slowly turned her hand around, gently grasping onto one of Neelix's fingers. "I.. I'm so sorry..." She whispered but Neelix leaned forward, slipping his free hand to her face and nuzzling the end of his snout against her. "Heather... no, please don't be sorry..." but Neelix was startled as she slipped off the crate and moved to him, pressing against him and grasping at his shirt. He moved his arms around her and held her tightly, feeling wetness against his chest as her tears soaked into his shirt...

She felt like she had caused so much wrong to happen... like she had ruined his life as much as her own life was now... ruined.. How any stranger could do something like that for her... and how could she ever repay him for what he had done for her..

She carefully pulled from him and looked to him, nipping her lower lip, "Can.. I see it?" She asked him and Neelix looked confused. "My ship..?" He asked, unsure if that was what she meant. She nodded her head slowly and Neelix's eyes widened slightly. He was surprised she'd be interested but he felt warm excitement fill him at the idea of showing her and nodded his head with a smile.

As the three of them entered Neelix's large private hanger, Heather stared up at the ship in awe, "You... you built that?" She asked in a whisper.
"Well he is the lead mechanic on the station." Veeno replied with a smirk, attempting to make Neelix look good and boost his friend's confidence and ego.
Neelix just smiled shyly. He was extremely proud of his work and was prideful of his overall skill. It was true, no one on this station could best him at what he did. Second to none, and although he wasn't the bragging type, it felt extremely good to impress Heather this way. So far, other than trusting him and her allowing him to show her affection, he hadn't noticed her liking any quality of himself, though truthfully, it was still too early to tell what she may like about him. They didn't know anything about each other, but he hoped that would all change over time and maybe one day she could admire him as much as he admired her...

"Would it be ok to go inside?" She asked curiously.
Neelix swallowed, feeling a bit surprised but also uneasy. He didn't want to show off... or well, maybe just a little, for her. He was still excited that she was so interested. It felt so good having someone notice and show interest in his work, especially her.
"Of course, if you'd like." Neelix replied with a humble but nervous response and smiled, seeing her nod up at him and he led her closer to the ship.

It was a beautiful design, one someone might not expect from an individual such as himself, and he did his best with the materials he could get a hold of. Ship parts were common and plentiful but the very best quality came from the Concord military ships that were decommissioned. Some how, through the black markets, those parts slowly filtered down to the lower class areas such as this station where Neelix could get his hands on them. But when he was unable to receive such parts, he made due with the individual race's ships or even very old parts that still worked well enough for Neelix to fix, replace, or just simply clean up to use.

The ship did contain a wide variety of parts from many different origins. He had somehow managed to make them all blend together into one design. No one would ever know this ship was put together with so many limitations and random parts. He had buffed and stained the outer hull so that each panel matched perfectly with one another and the design itself was streamline and elegant. It wasn't a surprise that this ship was sought after by many who had caught a glimpse of it.

"Neelix, this is really amazing." Heather said as he lifted her up into the cockpit. It was one of the areas he had finished first and on occasion, when he felt stressed, he'd come here just to relax, imagining the day he could open the hanger doors, lower the forceful, and fly his ship for the first time...

Heather ran her hand along the control panel. It was absolutely incredible. Not only because Neelix had actually built this all by himself, but because she had never been in the cockpit of any ship before. It was a very exhilarating feeling and it looked so advanced compared to anything she had ever seen. "May I?" she asked, extending her hand to the chair and Neelix smiled, moving to her and slipped his hands around her waist to gently lift her and set her down in the chair. He wanted to place her there himself instead of just having her simply sit down, feeling it more personal to do so. As he watched Heather softly caress the controls, he noticed her smile slowly fade and she lowered her head.. "I.. I'm so sorry Neelix..."
Neelix's eyes widened slightly in confusion, "Sorry? Sorry for what..?" He asked her.
"You... sold this because of me.."

Neelix parted his lips and moved to her. "No, Heather, please don't be sorry. I chose to sell my ship."
"But.. if it hadn't been for me.." She replied, closing her eyes but Neelix gently moved his hand up to her and ran his thumb along her lips as he slipped his hand against her cheek, looking into her eyes as she opened them to see him.
"I don't regret my decision. What I received in return was far more precious than any ship could ever be..."
Heather just stared back at him, feeling her lips tremble slightly and her cheeks begin to warm again as this strange feeling swelled in her stomach, twisting with nervousness.

What exactly did this alien want from her? What could she possibly offer him that would be worth him giving up his entire life for...

She swallowed hard. The way he always acted towards her.. the kindness, the affection.. it caused a sudden realization which made her feel extremely uncomfortable. Was he expecting something of her? And if so what...? And how could she say no after everything he had done; sacrificed just for her... She felt like she was being pushed into a corner with no way out... but he promised, swore to her, that she was not a slave. That she had free will... That he wanted her to stay with him but that he'd never force her to... If she didn't want to do something, he had made it very clear that she would never have to do it. But she had to be sure of his word...

"Neelix.. what do you want from me?" She asked, hesitantly but, it was killing her inside. She had to know her purpose to him. Her place.
Neelix stared at her... that was a question that he, himself, didn't know how to answer. He didn't entirely know or understand yet. He knew he had this desire to keep her safe and to care for her.. this desire to show her affection... love. This longing to be close to her. But was saying that.. too much? Too soon? It was..he knew it was. It was too early to admit any feelings that were slowly growing for her and he knew it was wrong. He didn't truly know her to actually say it was love that he was feeling for her.... to say he loved her now the way he knew he wanted to love her. But yet he couldn't deny the feelings that were budding inside every moment he spent with her. It made him feel like he was walking on air. But was it love or desire...

"Heather... I.. I want your trust... for now. That is all I could hope for, right now from you."
"But.. what comes later? Once you have my trust..." She asked nervously.
"When later comes, I'll let you know.. but I think you wont need to ask, you'll know the answer... At least I hope.." He said and softly nodded his head to her, carefully taking her hands in his and gently kissed her hand. She felt her stomach flutter and swallowed hard again. Why did these moments with him make her feel this way... make her feel so nervous..

"Hey, Neelix!" Veeno shouted up through the opening, his voice echoing throughout the ship. Neelix winced, being shaken from this precious moment with Heather and, looking annoyed, turned his head in the direction of the hole they had entered from, unable to see Veeno but wanting his voice to travel in his general direction.
"What?" He yelled back to him.
"I'm getting hungry... are you two done up there?"
Neelix turned back to Heather and smiled softly at her, "I'm sure you're hungry too..?"
She nodded, trying to smile back as she placed a hand on her tummy. The very thought of food made her stomach gurgle, "Very."
Neelix nodded as he stood, still holding her one hand tightly and she stood with him, moving back to the exit of the ship.

Neelix dropped down and turned to reach his arms up to Heather. She nervously leaned forward, hovering out over the opening and moved her hands out to his arms. She slid her hands down along his arms to his shoulders, letting gravity pull her forward as he placed his hands on her waist. He then carefully brought her down from the belly of the ship safely and set her down on the cold concrete floor.

"I was thinking we could all go out to eat." Veeno suggested, not even waiting for Neelix's full attention.
"Out..?" Neelix replied as he faced him, "I don't think that's such a good idea... more people around her again and she'll have no idea what to order... what she'd like."
"Yeah but, she has that same problem here, so why does it matter where she eats? She wont know what she likes if she doesn't keep trying different things." Veeno replied as he crossed his arms.
"At least here, it's in the comfort of our home, not around strangers in a club... where I no doubtfully know you'll take us to eat because that is the only place you ever go out to eat..." Neelix retaliated.
"I'd like to go to a club." Heather said with interest, interrupting them. Neelix and Veeno both looked down at her, Veeno having a large smile on his face. Neelix gave a dirty look to him as he turned to Heather, kneeling down to her, "Are you sure...? I just want you to be comfortable.." He asked her and she nodded, "I've actually always wanted to go to a club.. I just.. never had anyone to go with..." She lowered her head, seeming kind of sad.
"Well, now you have us." Veeno said with a grin and she looked up to him, trying to smile and nodded softly.
"Well... alright, but if anything happens, I'm blaming you, Veeno. You better pick a more tame club. I don't want to take any unnecessary risks." Neelix said.
"Hey, it's cool, Neelix. It's working hours. Most of the heavy stuff happens much later, not around midday so we have nothing to worry about." Veeno replied as they began to walk to the door that lead them back to Neelix's quarters.

Veeno led the way as the three of them entered into the club but Heather had slowed her pace as she looked around with excitement. Neelix bumped into her slightly for he had been walking close behind her, but he smiled, placing his hands up on her shoulders to direct her to follow Veeno.

Just as Veeno had said, it wasn't busy. Only a small handful of people were scattered about in booths or sitting near the bar. Even the club's overall tone and vibe felt softer than the last time Neelix remembered being here, which had been at night. Almost dreamy as a very relaxed and chill, slow tempo beat played throughout the space and the entire club was bathed in a warm neon fuchsia.

Veeno picked out a booth and slid into it as Neelix slid in across from him and Heather followed, slipping in beside him as she examined the odd rounded shape of the seating. She slipped off the hood of her makeshift cloak and was startled as Veeno tapped the surface of the table and it slowly lit up, revealing what appeared to be the menu.

"Oh.. that's neat." She said as she stared down at it, "Do you just tap on what you want?" She asked and Veeno nodded to her from across the table, "Yeah, just like this." He said as he reached over and pressed his finger against an image of what looked like a beverage. She smiled but it slowly turned to a frown, "Neelix..." She whispered, "I don't know if I'll like any of these things..."
"It's alright, Heather. That's why we can order a few different items."
"But that has to be costly..." she replied and Neelix just smiled, repeating the words to her, "It's ok, Heather."
"You've already spent so much.. I.. I don't want to be a burden.."
"Heather.. you're not a burden." He replied as he leaned to her and slipped his arm around her to hug her softly but she just let out a deep sigh, unconvinced but she knew it was pointless to press the issue. Regardless of how she felt, she needed to eat...

"Veeno! Neelix...!" A voice came from across the room as a silhouetted figure approached them. Heather gulped and scooted a bit closer to Neelix as the stranger came near.

A slender, elegant figured alien with a frill like sail extending from the top of its head, all the way down its elongated neck, propped an arm up on the back of Veeno's booth as it smiled down at them. Heather's eyes widened in amazement. This creature was one of the most beautiful living things she had ever seen. It had a slight transparent milky colored skin that shined with brilliant colors in the light, which reminded her of a beautiful opal gemstone. It also reminded her of an elegant water creature found in the deepest depths of the ocean. The stranger's overall look and voice sounded distinctively feminine, though lacked the familiar typical curves Heather was use to seeing on a female form.

"It's strange to see you here at this time of day, Veeno. A quiet midday meal? Really?" She said, her voice had a slight strange accent to it. "You are usually only part of my night crowd."
Veeno grinned, twisting in his seat to face her, "Well you see, Ala, seeing you once a day was hardly enough, your grace and beauty just couldn't keep me away.."
She gave him an unimpressed look, "You know I'm immune to your flattery, Veeno, besides, I've heard much better attempts just within the past hour."
"Psht..." He replied.
"So... no one to occupy you today, Veeno? No new local girl?" She said slyly to him.
"Yeah yeah, well..." Veeno's voice trailed off as she directed her attention to Neelix.
"And Neelix, it's good to see you again, too. It's been awhile." She said, extending her long slender arm out to him and gently ran her fingers along the side of his face as she smiled softly at him. Heather gulped, feeling slightly uncomfortable as Neelix smiled back and nodded but he noticed her gaze lower to Heather.

"Is this your companion today, Neelix? She's very lovely." Ala asked and Heather gulped again, only harder as Neelix felt his face become warm and he smiled, feeling embarrassed, "No, no... it's not like that, umm... we're together, yes but.." Neelix replied but Veeno cut in, "She thinks you're a player, man." He chuckled.
"No, only you, Veeno... I know Neelix isn't like that which means it must be something more than just a casual fling. Something special." She smiled warmly at Neelix but noticed a glint of light out of the corner of her eye, seeing Heather's bracer peaking out from beneath the long sleeve of her cloak and looked at Veeno and Neelix's wrists, seeing the matching set on Neelix.

"Hmm... So this is what that whole thing was with your ship...?" Ala asked and Neelix's eyes widened slightly in surprise, "My ship.. how did.." Neelix began but Ala just gave him a look. "Rumors travel quickly in bars, Neelix... you should know things like this wouldn't keep quiet for long on this station.. but it has me concerned for her..." She looked down at Heather, crossing her arms in thought, "Usually people that have such a high ticket item like her are very wealthy crime lords... I mean look at my situation..." She said, rubbing a particular area on her upper arm. Heather could see a tiny bump just beneath her skin as Ala moved her hand away.

"No one would dare mess with me... they know the risks are too high, but you, Neelix... you'll need to take care." She finished.
"Well, Ala, couldn't you give word out that Heather would be protected? My boss is pretty good friends with yours.. and he can be kindhearted when he wants to be.. maybe we could work out some kind of deal to keep Neelix and Heather safe?" Veeno asked, showing concern for his friend.
"I can try, Veeno.. and for your sake, Neelix... and your little one, I certainly will do my best." She replied.

Neelix looked ill. He hadn't even considered that all of this would make them a target. He always knew the station had very shady people on it.. but he never had reason to worry. He was just a mechanic. Sure, his ship caught people's interest but an unfinished ship was certainty a lot harder to steal than a slave... He swallowed hard, managing to reply, "Thank you.. so much, Ala, I appreciate that..."
"Only for you, sweetie... and try not to worry too much. We'll figure something out, I promise." She smiled, trying to bring him comfort, easily seeing that information had made him uneasy. "Have you ordered yet? I'll check to see what's taking so long."
"No, actually.. we were still deciding... Heather is new to everything so..." Neelix replied.
"Well, perhaps you'd like to try the sample platter? It's great for many species unfamiliar with our menu."
"That would be perfect. Is that ok, Heather?" Neelix asked her as he looked down to her and she nodded to him. Ala nodded and walked off to put in their order personally.

"She's so pretty.." Heather said in a soft whisper.
"Yeah..." Veeno replied in a dreamy voice, "And extremely hard to get..."
"Classy females usually are... they know your type all too well, but you'd better watch yourself, Veeno, you'll get yourself castrated if you go too far with her..." Neelix replied.
"Oh please.. Ala might think I act slimy sometimes but she knows I'm a sweet guy. She wouldn't let that happen."
"Uh-huh..." Neelix said as he rolled his eyes.

Several minutes passed before Ala returned with a giant platter full of every food item on the menu. Heather's eye lit up in delight as she had not been expecting so much... and it smelt so good; She was so eager to dig in. Neelix smiled, noticing Heather's excitement as Ala slipped the platter down in front of them.
"Enjoy, you guys, and if you need anything just holler and I'll be right over." Ala said with a smile.
"Hey.. you forgot my drink..." Veeno said with a frown and Ala smirked at him. "I didn't forget." She replied and Veeno made a pouty face as she left them to their meal.

"So Heather, why don't you tell us about your home? Where did you come from? A station, a planet, a ship?" Veeno said, coming right out with his obvious curiosity. Neelix was very curious, as well but he felt it rude to be so... blunt about it, wanting to give Heather time to open up, not force her. Especially since he knew she was still uncomfortable and shy and it may bother her to think of home...

"Heather, It's ok, if you'd prefer not get into it right now..." Neelix said to her.
"No.. I don't mind.. since we're asking questions, I have a few of my own anyway.." She replied and Neelix nodded slowly, unsure if she was really ok with it or not.

"I came from a planet my people call Earth." She began, "It's umm.. blue and green.. sorry I'm not really good at this."
"What's there to be good at?" Veeno asked.
"I dunno, I've never been asked to describe my planet before. Obviously everyone there already knows what it looks like and I'm not entirely sure how to describe something to someone that has never seen it before."
"Well, a planet is a planet so.. how about your technology? You came from a planet, but do you have star ships with the ability to space travel?"
"Sorta... they're obviously primitive compared to what you guys have.. or even what Neelix built. We can go into space but it's very dangerous and limited. We've been to our moon... and umm, sent probes out."
"What's your moon like?"
"I dunno...? Dusty?"
"You've not been there?" Veeno asked and she giggled, "Of course not! ... space travel isn't for every day people... but I wish it was..."
"Every day people being.. civilians? So you're just a civilian?" He asked and Heather nodded, "You say that like it's a bad thing?" She asked.
"No no, just curious but, if you're a civilian and not allowed to go to space then what kind of people can go into space?"

Neelix cut in, finding this to be getting them no where. "How about you ask something, Heather?" He said with a soft smile to her. She smiled back and nodded, "Umm... How did I get here? And who took me?" She asked.
"Ick.. the space rats is what we like to call them. They're the ones who abducted you. I don't personally know how they collect their victims but they always return back here to drop off their cyro pods and want paid for it, no exceptions. It's one of the major ways they make their way around here..." Veeno answered.
"Cryo...? But, don't people usually use cryo if the trip is really long?" Heather asked..
Veeno nodded, taking another sip of his drink, "Exactly."
"So.. then how long was it?"
"That's just it, we have no idea. Your planet could have been as far away as four months, all the way up to two years.. though I doubt the latter. They wouldn't make much of a profit if they were gone that long each trip."
"But.. I still remember it so clearly.." She replied, sadly.
"Remember what?" Neelix asked her, curiously.
"Everything that happened that day...That I wasn't having a very good day... I had just come home from school and my mom was asking me a million questions when I just wanted to be left alone. I remember spending the rest of my evening in my room but I didn't even know what to do.. One minute I was watching tv.. the next I'm reading a book and then.. the light in the sky... I don't even's kind of fuzzy now that I try and remember it... but, how will I know how much time has passed? How long I've been away and when my next birthday is and..  "

Veeno raised his hand to stop her, "You don't need to worry about those things, cryo slows down the aging process almost entirely. It literally freezes you in time. Everything is preserved, to a point, unless you were in cryo for decades.. but since the chances of that are extremely unlikely, you can go about your life as normal, as if the it never happened.. except for the being in a new location part..."
"But... what about my family..? My parents...? I can only imagine how worried they are... " Heather said. She looked down at the table as her fingers fiddled with the utensil, being reminded of just how hopeless the situation was made her feel depressed again. Neelix softly rubbed at her shoulder to comfort her, wishing he knew what to say...

"What about your families..." Heather asked them suddenly in a low voice.
"Well.. I talk to mine occasionally through the comms. I haven't seen them in a few years, though. It's not exactly easy or affordable to visit them on a regular basis." Veeno replied.
"That's horrible..." Heather replied but turned her head up to look at Neelix, noticing he hadn't responded.
"I haven't seen or spoken to them in a very long time..." Neelix finally replied as he noticed her looking up at him.
"It has to be... what, like coming up twenty years now?" Veeno asked and Neelix nodded.
Heather's lips parted in surprise, "Wait, really? twenty years?" She asked, realizing that she had never considered how old Neelix and Veeno were. She bit her lower lip with curiosity but feeling nervous to ask a possible personal question, "How old are you?"
"Well that depends on a lot of things." Veeno replied.
"What do you mean..?" She asked.
"Well, let me show you.." He said and moved his hand to one of the corners of the table, sliding the platter of food back out of the way. He pressed a symbol and a transparent image of a sphere popped up in front of them. She smiled in surprised amazement, "Oh wow... it's a hologram.." Heather said as she reached out to poke the sphere, smiling as the image distorted at her touch. Neelix smiled as he watched her. She was almost like a child, being amused by the most simplest of things.

Veeno swept his hand close to the object, causing it to start up a slow spin. "Some, but not all, species calculate time in a similar matter. For example, this hologram here represents a planet's rotation. You may be familiar with the concept of telling time from the continuous, predictable motion of your planet and star?" Veeno asked her and she nodded in response.
"It's a pretty common way that most species keep track of time, but since not everyone does it this way, the Concord developed a tool in the translation device that translates times in the same way it translates language, but like languages, it needs to know the individuals way of telling time so it can easily calculate it. So... " Veeno splayed his hand out, motioning to her that this was exactly what he needed her to do."

"You.. need me to calculate my time.. I... how?"
"Begin with the smallest unit of counting time that is most common for your people." Veeno replied.
"How about I just give you my MP3 player." She said and reached into her cloak, pulled it out, and turned it on. Neelix seemed surprised she had brought the device along with her, watching as she extended her arm out across the table to Veeno, handing it to him.
"See the symbols with the two vertical dots flashing in the center? It's displaying the time... or.. er.. if it's still correct after everything that's happened." She said.
"Should be, I didn't change anything." Neelix replied, but something came to mind after he said that, and he squinted his eyes in thought.
"Each flash of the dots represents a second." She continued, "And sixty of those make up a minute.."
"Too bad you didn't bring along that cable.. I could have simply plugged it into the table.." Veeno replied, seeming frustrated that they had to do it manually instead.

As Heather explained it to him, she watched as Veeno's fingers danced along the table. The holographic sphere suddenly changed its rotational speed and began to shrink as a larger sphere appeared beside it. The smaller sphere began to rotate around the larger one.
"Is that supposed to be Earth and the Sun?" She asked and Veeno nodded, "According to this, if these calculations are correct of course, Neelix is thirty five Earth years old, I'm twenty six, and... you?" He asked, looking up at her, but before Heather could reply...

"Heather," Neelix interrupted them, wanting to bring up the thought that had come to him, "The time on your device, does it always keep track? Even if it needs to be recharged?" He asked her.
"As far as I know... wait..." She stared at him, coming to the same realization that he had. She instantly lunged against the table, grasping the device from Veeno who looked completely stunned as Heather slid back down into her seat beside Neelix and brought it close, leaning to her side so Neelix could see as well. They both looked down at the screen intently as Veeno sat there dumbfounded, "What the hell..." He said in a low voice.

"Oh my God..." She whispered, "It's February second of the following year...?" Neelix looked to her confused not really understanding.
"What does that mean, Heather?" He asked her and she just stared blankly at the table, lowering her hands to to her lap, still holding her MP3 player..
"It means seven months have passed... "
Veeno looked to Neelix and he just returned a quick glance before looking back down at Heather, neither of them knowing what to say.
"I'm sorry..." Neelix finally said, breaking the long pause.
"It's... it's not your fault..." She replied but Neelix was worried. She looked completely lost. Every new piece of the puzzle that was revealed to her just stunned her more and more each time.
"Do... do you wanna go hom-... I.. I mean back to my place? Get out of here?" He asked her.
"Yeah..." She replied, not even blinking as her stare still seemed lost in thought.
"Oh wait.. you never answered how old you were?" Veeno asked suddenly as he began to stand up from the booth. Neelix shot a dirty look at him, "Is this really the time, Veeno?" But Veeno shrugged his shoulders apologetically.
"Nineteen..." Heather said, "I missed my birthday..."

As they approached the entrance to Neelix's quarters, Heather suddenly grasped at her tummy, "I don't feel so good..." She said as she winced and stopped for a moment. Neelix turned to her, placing his hands on her shoulders, as he watched her slowly unwrap the fabric of her cloak from around herself. Neelix was extremely worried... "Do... do you want me to get you some water..?" He asked, wanting to help and extending his hand out to open the door. "No... no I.. I think I'm gonna throw up..." She said as she moved from him and darted into his quarters and to the washroom. Neelix rushed after her, stopping at the door way as he heard her getting sick.

Veeno slowly came up to Neelix's side, "Do you think she ate too fast...? Or ate something bad... no, that club is high quality, Ala would never let anything bad get past her to the customers..." Neelix winced as he heard her throw up a second time... it really sounded bad. "Good god... I don't understand! If it was something like cross food sickness.. I thought the shots were supposed to take care of that!" Neelix shouted, completely upset. "Oh...fuck... I totally forgot about those shots! When she ran off that first night... we were in such a panic and so exhausted afterwords... I just.. I completely forgot all about them...!"

Neelix shoved Heather's cloak at Veeno in anger, "I can only imagine what else you forgot that you were supposed to do..."
"Oh come on, it was an accident...!" Veeno replied as Neelix walked into the room to Heather, kneeling down beside her and placing his hand on her back, rubbing softly.

"I-I'm so sorry Neelix... I've been causing problems for you since the first day..." She said, having heard Veeno and his entire conversation before he came to her.
"Oh no... Heather, please don't blame yourself for this. You had no idea..  Everything has been so... well, alien to you. I expected you to be afraid and react to that fear.. I don't blame you at all, besides, Veeno should know better.. it is his job... " Neelix said, making an annoyed face but trying to cheer her up at the same time. Heather wanted to smile, to show Neelix she appreciated his kindness and attempt to make her feel better.. but she couldn't manage it, instead lowering her head, feeling worse...

"But.. what about what that alien said.. Ala.. about me being a target... it's just another problem I've caused you... and now we could be in danger...?" She asked, her voice sounded shaky. Neelix lowered his head, too. It wasn't her fault but being reminded of that just made him swell with nerves. It frightened him of the very idea that anyone would ever take her from him...
"That isn't your fault, either Heather.. and we'll work something out... I promise. I trust Ala." Neelix replied, gently hugging her, "I wont let anyone hurt you.. or take you away from me.. not ever."

Heather nodded slowly, gently placing her hand over his. "Is there anything I can do, Heather..?" He asked her again and she nodded slowly, "That.. water would be nice.." she replied and Neelix nodded and stood, walking out and to the back. Heather carefully stood and slowly walked from the washroom and towards Neelix's bed, passing Veeno as she did.

She laid down, curling up and grasped the sheets to pull them over herself as Neelix turned the corner, seeing her in bed and moved into the bed with her, holding out a cup of water for her. She took it and sipped it slowly, "I swear... I think I've lost ten pounds since being here..." She said.
"I'm so sorry Heather..." Neelix said and looked down, feeling guilty and gently slipped his arm around her from behind, nuzzling his face against her cheek.

"Umm... I'll let myself out. And sorry about that, Heather. I hope you'll feel better." Veeno said, setting Heather's cloak down on one of the crates and walking to the door. "It's ok, Veeno, it was an accident.." She said to him weakly and they both exchanged hesitant smiles before he stepped out and the door closed behind him.
‹‹ Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine | Chapter Ten

Chapter One

    At the last minute I was tempted to split this chapter into two parts since it seems pretty long and has quite a lot of things happen in it, but hey, I figure since it's been awhile and it might be a little awhile before Chapter Ten is finished, it will give everyone plenty of time to read it, right? ._.

    Plus this is how I originally intended it to be so yeah.

    I also have two songs that came to mind during two particular scenes and since I love Mass Effect 2 so much (and all the club music in the game), I imagined this song playing in the club during that scene:

    The second song I decided not to include because I'd prefer to use it for a much more special scene later on. It suits both a scene in this chapter and a future one but I think it would have a bigger impact being heard for the first time for that scene, instead of heard here first and then again later.

    As usual, I hope you enjoy. ♥

Story Hub: Click thumbnail to access and choose between all current chapters.

Story © Lady Owl & H-Falcon, 2010 | Tumblr |
This shouldn't need to be said but, please do not redistribute, claim, copy, reproduce, edit, or use in any way without my permission. Thank you.
Add a Comment:
MercenaryBlade Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Ah, got to say I like how you went about years being different for various species, something that doesn't get brought up often in scifi, so Idefinitely commend you.

All in all things keep getting more interesting. Poor Heather is having a tough time. Missing her birthday on top of everything else.
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2015   General Artist
Heh, thank you! I'm really big on the differences that different alien species would encounter and have to work around in their every day lives. :)
aximilifaolan Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
i love how protective neelix is over her...he's the best character...
*looks at the clock*
wait...i've been reading this for tree or four hours now...0_0 well that proves it. this story has me ADDICTED. i haven't even noticed all that time passing....XD
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2012   General Artist
n_n :heart:
UltraViolet1197 Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I have one question. since your a star trek fan, do they have those cryo things in it too? I know Halo does but i didint know if you got it from star trek or Halo.
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2012   General Artist
Cryonics and suspended animation are so common in many sci-fi stories, including real life science, that I can't recall which sci-fi story exposed me to the concept first. But, for examples, you have the Aliens film, Avatar, Halo (as you mentioned), Futurama, Metroid, Animorphs, Mass Effect makes mention of it, but due to the Mass Relays, it may be redundant or only used for medical purposes. Those are at least the traditional "Cryo Tube" cases in stories I personally have experienced the most. There are others I can't think of atm, including stories I've not experienced. That's not even counting science experiments in "test tubes" that are often used in the same way.

While I am a fan of Star Trek, I'm not what you'd consider "hardcore" about it. I really only enjoyed DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise. My boyfriend is a fan of all (except Kirk's), particularly Picard's TNG, and while I think cryo is mentioned in Star Trek, I can't recall ever seeing it being used or shown. In their universe, the Galaxy is divided into four quadrants, with half of it not even being explored by Humans (except in Voyager in the Delta), so they use mostly Warp Speed to travel on one half of the galaxy. I'm not even a big enough Star Trek geek to know how long it takes their ships to get from point A to point B, but I'd imagine not very long since cryo is never mentioned.
UltraViolet1197 Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
OK thanks. Halo is my first sci-fi novel so I wasn't sure if it was a common thing or not. But you seem like you like sc-fi as much as I do. (or at least know a lot about stuff)
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2012   General Artist
Well, I don't think I'd know as much as I do about it (or been into it as long as I have), if I didn't like it! ;p
UltraViolet1197 Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
LOL. Ya I've been into sci-fi for a couple of years now but I've just now really started adventuring out to different story's instead of the military sci-fi I read.
Raygor Featured By Owner May 8, 2012
Loving it so far. Reading their discussion of units of time, I am reminded of a conversation between Ax and Marco that went something along the lines of: "You know, they are your years too, you know. You're living on Earth with us, you don't need to call them Earth years anymore."

But in all seriousness, I am quite enamored with Neelix, and seeing how their relationship has developed now that they can communicate with language as well as body language and gestures is quite fascinating. The reveal with Ala was also quite surprising, I look forward to seeing how her relationship both with Neelix and Veeno develops, as well as the potential case of her being an elder mentor or sister type character to Heather.
CharlotteElbourne Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2012
I.. fricken... LOVE this story so far! I stayed up too late last night reading it x.x but I wanted to know what was going to happen >.<!! <3
Lostkavi Featured By Owner May 16, 2011
that's one thing you need to do a piece on! I say you need, I mean I request strenuously XD

Neelix's ship!
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner May 16, 2011   General Artist
Lol you're rereading the older chapters? =p

I do agree on this and I plan to have a piece done for it eventually. You will, however, see something of his ship in the next picture of them.. sorta kinda.. >_>
Lostkavi Featured By Owner May 17, 2011
^^ Yep. I switched my favorites to random, so I found some older chapters - and decided to give the whoe thing a read through.

and Yay!
Cutiecat Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2011
you have a beautiful soul in writer and your artwork. :heart:
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner May 4, 2011   General Artist
Aww... thank you. :thanks:
Mutedmirth Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
I found this and read from chapter 1 and it's currently 2.35 am, I was going to go to bed before 1am....

You write beautifully, emotions, communications, how alien you've made it feel from both sides.

Ok, I'm going to bed now before I fall asleep reading the rest. :)
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2011   General Artist
Aww.. well thank you so much! I'm really glad to know you enjoyed the story so much and how I write their emotions. :heart:

Heh, I apologize for keeping you up so late! XD
Mutedmirth Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Well I don't normal read sci-fi stories, let alone romance unless it's intertwined within a genre I do read, so there's something there that kept me reading! Although the lure was the abduction and the narrative from Neelix's view.

haha no worries about that :)
jiko29 Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
OMG!!!! I'm loving it!!!! Neelix is close to a saint!
Can't wait for more!
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2010   General Artist
Thank you so much and hopefully the next chapter should be ready by this weekend! :heart:
TameFaolchu Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2010
last night i could not stop reading your story, its so original and unique that it just caught me and pulled me in! every time i finished a page i was scared there wouldn't be another until i got to chapter nine and i'm like 'oh nooo!' but i guess the waiting is all the better because you most likely have so many fans waiting up like its the release date of a new video game xD i honestly think one day once you finish this entire story it would be a great book! and you can even add your artwork in the book to add more effect, id so buy it even if i could read it free right here xD ok sorry for tottaly being random and so on but i cant wait! =D
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2010   General Artist
Oh no no, you're not being random! I totally appreciate your comment and I am so glad you enjoyed my story. It would be amazing to make a book out of it with my art included for the fans. I'm so lucky to have people who enjoy it so much. It makes me so excited to continue writing more. :heart:

So thank you so very much. n_n
Cutie-chanXD Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2010
I really love this story!! It's so original and the whole relationship between Neelix and Heather is sooooo sweet. I'm not gonna lie though, I think she may be suffering a liiiiiiiiiiiiitle bit from ... *ahem* stockhom syndrome (*clasps hands in apology* I'm so sorry! You probably loth me for saying that now). One thing though, ever since heather managed to comunicate him them all she and Neelix ever seem to do is apologize to each other, I certainly hope they grow out of that soon.
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2010   General Artist
Thank you so much and oh no no, I believe you're the third person who has mentioned Stockholm syndrome and I'm not opposed to the idea so I take no offense. c:

It's an interesting syndrome and I can't recall ever coming across anything in the media that was using it so it's kind of unique to see it. I personally don't think Heather is suffering from it, though. I've given her situation a lot of thought and considered the different possibilities of how someone may act and Stockholm syndrome usually involves violence or fear (throughout the entire situation) from what I understand. I wanted to make it very clear that Neelix is giving Heather free will, knowledge/information about her situation, and letting her know that he would never cause her any harm.

I'm not saying there are no signs of the syndrome present (especially since yourself and a couple others noticed it) so I agree that it is present in there a little bit, as you said. The story was just not intentionally based around it or anything, if that makes sense. I guess it's hard to make a romance story that also involves a kidnapping at the beginning and not have it come off like that to a point, lol

As for the apologizing, I wanted to go into the awkward stuff between them a little bit. Getting to know each other, slowly form a friendship and trust, based on each others personalities and not based on fear. Showing some of the guilt they both feel like they have somehow ruined each others lives in a way, even if not intentionally or directly. But don't worry, as time goes on and they feel more comfortable and accepting of things, there wont be a need to apologize anymore. XD
Cutie-chanXD Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2010
..... wow. Not that I'm complaining but that has to be the single longest response I have ever gotten from anyone on this sight *lol*. Props to you :thumbsup:
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2010   General Artist
It's odd, when I was writing it, it certainly didn't feel that long, lol. x_x
Drkangel547 Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2010
I'm addicted to your writing style! Keep it up I can't wait for the next chapter@!
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2010   General Artist
Heh, thank you! And hopefully, if all goes well, I'll have the next chapter up this weekend! c:
Drkangel547 Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2010
yay I can hardly wait! :)
dragonlisa2 Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2010
omg I love this series, please make number 10 soon! :D
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2010   General Artist
I will, no worries! :heart:
dragonlisa2 Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2010
:D :3
Draconian23 Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2010
read it all the way through, starting at the time of my first comment. Moving. a good read.

Ugh... I have an early mission in a few hours, and I needed more sleep, but oh well. the story was worth it.
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2010   General Artist
Aww, I'm sorry you stayed up so late reading! D:

But I'm glad you enjoyed it. n_n
PhilosopherPariah Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2010  Hobbyist Artist
Ah, I was wondering what further dangers would await in the future. And it's good to see Heather getting back to feeling comfortable around Neelix. Great Chapter, once again :)
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2010   General Artist
Heh, I needed to have something interesting happen besides just the romance. XD

But thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it. c:
lonelynightmares Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2010  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2010   General Artist
JZLobo Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
Nice means of introducing a new plot element and revving up the tension again with the possibility of someone trying to take Heather.
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2010   General Artist
Thank you. c:
missmusition Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
great chapter. cant wait for the next one. ^_^
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2010   General Artist
Thank you. n_n
Trainer-Kama Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2010
I particularly enjoyed your recognition that the term 'year' depends on what planet you're on. Kudos points for you. ^^ I hope Heather's stress lets her eat again - her body won't last too long with all she's pushing it to.
Don't feel pressured to rush the next one, but i really don't want to wait. ;-;

And can someone please tell me how to put the hyperlinks into the deviant's comment box linking to the next and previous chapters? I can't do it! DX
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010   General Artist
Thank you. I enjoy including little tidbits like that since the idea might not cross everyone's mind and since it is sci-fi, I can easily include neat little things in there like that, that usually wouldn't appear in a different setting. XD

I'm hoping chapter 10 wont take me as long but I am working on art at the same time so even if the chapter isn't finish right away, hopefully the art will help pass the time!

As for the hyperlinks,

< a href= " Put the link here between these two quotation marks "> Whatever you wanna say goes here < /a>

And remove the spaces between < a and < /a>

Hope that isn't too confusing. x_X;
Trainer-Kama Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2010
You're very much welcome. Many Sci-Fi stories and films don't actually stick too ridgidly to the Sci - so it's a pleasure to see someone other than myself do it. ^^ It helps add more realism to an unrealistic story.

I understand. I would too, but my artistic skills aren't quite up to scratch. :)

Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2010   General Artist
I'm certainly trying to add in my knowledge about space and science where I can. I don't know as much as I'd like (more on the accurate science parts) but Sci-Fi is just an amazing subject that I think if more people gave it a chance, they'd enjoy it, too. But I'm really glad the sci-fi fans like you appreciate my attempts! c:

And you're very welcome! I'm glad I could help you out. XD
Trainer-Kama Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2010
Oh heck, if the science is plausible, it'll go. Time travel's theoretically impossible, but that's a big hit, faster-than-light = energycosttoobig, in SciFi anything flies. just try and explain it a little, and it sounds impressive at least. (or maybe it's just me, I never can tell...)
roylapost Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2010
Great chapter, a lot of info given
Lady-Owl Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2010   General Artist
Thank you. c:
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