The Complicated Definition of Love
Location: Riaan's Quarters
Riaan had asked Caradan to come by her quarters when she got off shift. She was uncertain about what to say, but resolved herself to talk about what the counselor had suggested. She burned some nice smelling incense at the mandala. She was bad at prayer, having lived most of her life as a staunch atheist, but prayed now to the Prophets for guidance and blessing for the conversation ahead.
Wither another shift done, Caradan was pleased yet somewhat surprised. On top of a little more recognition and less animosity toward her from the commander, Caradan had actually seen less of the Trill yeoman. The surprise, though, was welcomed as she was going to see Riaan shortly after her shift ended and Caradan was on her way only minutes after she relinquished the Bridge to whoever was taking the graveyard shift.
Stopping by her quarters only long enough to drop off her PADD, Caradan left for Riaan’s place. During her trek, she absorbed her commbadge into her chest and morphed her appearance out of uniform and into the green dress she enjoyed so much. To top it all off, Caradan even wore that necklace Riaan gave her.
Finishing her appearance by letting her hair stream down her back, Caradan arrived at the Rrareth residence and chimed away her calling. She also wore a smile. Caradan always enjoyed Riaan’s company.
Riaan smiled at Caradan as she entered. Seeing Caradan visibly brightened her. She stood and blew out the candles. "I hope you had a good day." She said as she moved towards Caradan and touched her gently.
And Caradan touched her thus; softly and gently. She lightly pulled Riaan into a loose embrace. “I did have a good day. Finally wrapped up all my reports, we dropped off Kri’Shya, and everyone is making a full recovery.” She separated from Riaan but they maintained physical contact. “I have not yet had the chance to write up a formal commendation for you and the Science Team. I will get to it. I promise.” She was holding Riaan’s hand in hers; rubbing her thumb over the back of Riaan’s hand. “I hope you had a good day too. Being the head of Sciences and with Ziara being away…” she placed a hand lightly on her neck and traced the line of her jaw with her thumb. “Let’s both be free of all this responsibility and worry for a bit.”
Riaan basked for a moment in Caradan's touch. "I did have a good day. No one argued with how I was scheduling lab time for once." She murmured happily. She wanted to be free of the worry with Caradan. Perhaps watching a good movie, dance, or just talk about nothing. If it wasn't for her, Riaan would probably have already collapsed into a pile of nerves weeks ago.
“That’s good,” Caradan replied. “I wish I could say the same about the whole ship under me.”
Riaan took a breath. "In a moment, there is something that we need to talk about." She said seriously.
“Of course,” and Caradan could only conclude this had something to do with Ziara. She knew Riaan did not like being alone and felt this was another one of those times she missed her wife severely. You know I am all ears…as they say. If you need,” she smiled, “I could literally be all ears,” Caradan said hoping a little humor would ease the seriousness of whatever was on Riaan’s mind. “You know I am always here for you. Just as I know you will always do what you can to be there for me.”
Riaan wondered if Caradan could listen better if she was literally all ears. Their testing suggested she might. Riaan filed that away as something to test if they ever got more science time together. Riaan nodded, and looked down. "This isn't your problem. It's my problem. This is something that shouldn't be a problem, especially for me.” She knew Caradan was well aware of her insecurities and anxieties and could already see understanding coming from the Changeling. Caradan, though, had no idea of the issue at hand. “I don't dislike Mindo. However, I can't help but feel insecure with your relationship with him. I know intellectually that neither of you would do anything to deliberately hurt me. However, there is a part of me that is scared about losing you to him. This is irrational because you shouldn't be afraid of 'losing me' to Ziara and therefore I shouldn't be afraid of 'losing you' to Mindo." Riaan explained.
“You are correct,” Caradan said. She held onto Riaan’s hand lightly and walked her over to her own sofa. “You should not be afraid. Because I love you and I hope you do understand that.” They sat in unison. “To be honest however…if there is ever anyone who seeks to marry you, then you are already lost to them. Because of your marriage to Ziara I mean. Riaan,” she looked back and forth between Riaan’s eyes, “you have been a great teacher to me, a wonderful friend, and an amazing companion. I love that and I love everything about you. I also love Mindo…differently of course.”
Riaan didn't quite understand what Caradan meant, "I suppose that is one way to look at it. However, Ziara and I are polygamous, there is a pretty good chance there will be more then just us in our marriage. If not now, then in the future at some point." Riaan felt herself being comfortable with that thought for the first time, for as much as she could remember, ever. She smiled at the thought. "I'm not saying that is where this is leading us. Right now, I just want to make sure that Mindo's not going to come between us." She didn't add the 'like I fear he might' at the end.
Caradan had never thought about group marriage though she knew there were races that did practice group marriages. That was simply a topic she had not researched yet as her understanding of both the emotional and the practical concepts of love evolved and grew. There was something else that confused Caradan and it made her feel a twinge of guilt at the same time. “I understand that Ziara is polygamous, but…” she had to pause for the words to come to her, “from the way I have seen you two interact, I always felt you were more monogamous, that you wanted only Ziara’s affection yet she tried pushing you to find another as well as her. I do think I understand the emotion of love but I still have difficulty understanding the concept of marriage, whether it is coupling or group. I’ve heard Ziara mention several times that a true love is a shared love.” Caradan thought if she was paraphrasing that right. “And Mindo…he told me many times that Feserians normally have many partners.” Based on all that, Caradan felt Riaan would be happier, if not ecstatic, that she found love with Mindo. Hearing Riaan’s words and observing her expressions, Caradan felt that something was still off. “My only experience with love has been from being with Mindo, with you, and watching you interact with Ziara.”
Caradan turned, full body, toward Riaan and took a hold of her hand. Her grip was a little firm. It was unintentional but Caradan’s following words illustrated a need to be firm. “I love you Riaan…I also love Mindo. He and I have been talking lately of sharing quarters. Regardless of the situation, I do not see any of you two coming between me and the other.” She could tell from the face Riaan wore that there was still some distress there. Where some people saw a stony face in Riaan, Caradan had learned that an eyebrow slightly raised, a slightly wetter eye, even the slightest twitch to an eyelid meant that Riaan might as well have been weeping. “Please tell me, and I need you to be truthful…is my understanding of love…skewed in some fashion?”
Riaan nodded, thinking about the question for a minute. "I don't know, probably. I know that Ziara and I are pretty unusual, and I suspect that Mindo is as well. Lets start with the question, what is love? Based on your experiences, how would you define it?"
Caradan sat back and thought. She looked at Riaan then sent her eyes elsewhere and envisioned Mindo. She realized they were suddenly back to their tests, but, instead of Riaan getting her to see what forms she could mimic, this was more of a mental and emotional exercise. Caradan realized they had not really tackled such a test as very few seemed to actually want to know how Caradan felt and how she saw the universe.
“Um,” was her first word. “I am uncertain I can articulate a definition. I guess I see ‘love’ as an attachment of affection.” She thought very briefly. “Maybe not affection exactly, but an attachment nonetheless.” With more confidence this time, “An attachment with someone or something where you see difficulty in letting go of that one thing or person. No.” That was not making sense. “That does not explain how I can love both you and Mindo as I don’t want to let either of you go. ‘Love’ does not mean I have to choose one over the other does it? Clearly not as I have learned from all of you that a true love is a shared love.” She thought again and did not even try to mimic a furrow to her brow as one formed naturally.
“I think…I love Mindo because…being around him…in private that is…I feel I can go wild and be completely random. I can take on any form, do anything…we can do anything. And we have done things. We’ve…” she let her words trail off as she figured Riaan knew the meaning behind ‘doing things’. “Well, we’ve done things…many times. He holds me,” she looked up at the ceiling almost dreamily. “I cradle him. I think,” she reconnected with Riaan’s eyes, “I think I would call our love mostly physical and pretty emotional.”
“Then there is you, Riaan,” she continued. “You…just get me…in many ways that I feel so many others cannot. You have helped me in so many ways. Gave me this necklace. And helped me evolve to understand my full potential. I hope I have reciprocated much of what you have shown me back onto you. I think…I love you because…being around you…I do not feel so alone out here. I can take on any form, you know…be random, but you do not expect anything of me as a Changeling. You see me as an individual person…apart from everyone else you have ever met or will ever meet. And…I love you for that. I think I would call our love mostly emotional with a little bit of physical interaction. I hope I have done an adequate job in showing the affection you have shown me back onto you. I certainly know that ‘love’ is a two-fold endeavor. But that does not entirely make sense if this ‘love’ includes three or more people.”
“I would say that ‘love’…for a person…is an attachment to someone; a bond that you cannot fathom ever being broken. Stretched maybe, but not broken. I cannot even bring myself to think about going on…in life…without what you and I have right now,” she placed her hand on Riaan’s. “At the same time, I feel similarly about Mindo. But that love is different somehow. I guess…and I mentioned earlier…I am more physical with him and more emotional with you.”
Caradan felt she was finally done but one question suddenly came to her. “Does ‘love’ and, by that, I mean ‘true love’ mean having to choose one over the other? And does that interfere with a polygamous relationship?” Her words finally ended and her eyes were glued to Riaan’s. In most matters, and especially when attempting to apply a definition to ‘love’, Riaan was her guide, her mentor, and an anchor in which Caradan felt well grounded.
Riaan thought for a moment about Caradan's question. "I don't think it does. However, you and Ziara are on very different trajectories with your lives. I don't feel I had to choose between you when she left. Living without a loved partner close by for months or years at a time has been a regular fixture in military life for as long as there have been millitaries. I don't think distance can separate strong lasting love. I think it interferes only to the extent that it's not possible to be with the ones that you love all of the time. However, many families build their lives around ensuring that they don't have to be separated for long."
“I think I understand,” Caradan said with a nod. “At least I understand that ‘love’ is very complicated. That maybe I don’t understand it as well as I thought I did.” She was holding Riaan’s hand in both of hers and holding it gently. Caradan enjoyed the warmth and the feeling of moving blood vessels and tendons around as she lightly rubber her thumb over the back of Riaan’s hand. “Tell me…and I don’t want you to feel like you are going to mess anything up or have to hold something back, but…are you OK with Mindo’s and my relationship? Does it bother you that we are so…physical; that we may explore sharing quarters together?”
Riaan thought for a moment. Putting her own hand over Caradan's and letting it rest there. "I'm ok with it mentally. Mentally and emotionally are sometimes different things. It doesn't bother me that you are physical. It shouldn't bother me that you are getting closer emotionally. I'm on new ground right now and so I'm feeling a bit shaky. But I'm sure with you holding my hand we can stand."
Riaan smiled gently. "Moving in together is a big step. It's hard to hide your little flaws when you share the same living space. You go through a period of adjustment. There are a lot of things that just talking to someone won't tell you about them because they don't really think about it themselves."
Caradan nodded, fully understanding Riaan’s words. “You’re absolutely right. I am sure I have some flaws as well.” She smiled. “Being in love with two crewmates, heads of their respective departments no less, whilst also performing the duties of XO…that makes it a bit difficult to separate my social interests and responsibilities, from my Starfleet ones.”
Riaan nodded, "How so?" She asked. "Ziara and I never really had a conflict because we were in separate divisions."
“Well…” Caradan thought a brief second, “being the superior officer to both you and Mindo, I suppose I often worry handing out orders that would otherwise make you dislike me in some way. For instance,” she felt she had come up with an excellent scenario, “What if I scheduled you to command the Bridge one night, and…what if Mindo’s schedule rotation put him on the Bridge that same night? Would that be upsetting in some way…personally or professionally?”
Riaan shook her head, "No, I don't hate him, anymore then you hate Ziara. We watched a movie together a while ago. As Starfleet officers though, we put our duty before our personal obligations."
“Yes,” Caradan thought a moment. “My only professional life in Starfleet has been aboard this ship. So, I apologize if I seem to have difficult separating professional and personal obligations. Life, it seems, is a never-ending learning process. I am still learning the job of being XO just as I am still learning about…” she looked Riaan in the eye and placed a hand on her thigh, “still learning about love.”
Riaan blushed and looked down, but didn't shrink from Caradan's touch like she would from most others on board. She smiled shyly at Caradan. "So am I." She said, leaning in to kiss her girlfriend.
Caradan accepted the kiss and then kissed in return. She had become better at forming nerve endings and found a newfound enjoyment in the feel of Riaan’s lips against hers, the warmth of her breath. She kissed Riaan again and dedicated the sensation to memory.
’Another one of the others to see should I ever return to the Link.’
Caradan pulled Riaan softly into a soft embrace and let Riaan’s head rest beneath her chin, her ear against her breast. Caradan was hoping she had mimicked a powerful enough heart for Riaan to hear; to feel.
Riaan was not sure what she heard at first, it was different from Ziara's heartbeat. She cuddled against Caradan and listened, trying to figure it out. A smile grew across her face as she realized what it was. "A heartbeat!" She said awestruck, she knew it was possible, but implementing it was harder. She had so many questions. She looked up at Caradan. "I like it, it's comforting." She said with a loving smile.