A/N: Just an exercise into KJ headspace. Written for Caesar's Palace Shipping week, prompt "fly". Also written for CP prompts "stars" (Nova Challenge), "inure" (Caesar's Level Two), "precious" (Panem Challenge) and ephemeral (Silver Challenge).

Thank you to Helen for betaing!


Familiar Stars

Her earliest memories of flying didn't involve the stars, but she had always aspired to reach them. All of the stars she dreamed of knowing were familiar, and she memorized their names just as swiftly: Aldebaran, Rigel, Proxima Centauri. 40 Eridani, Procyon, B'hava'el. These and many more.

One by one, she reached those stars. One by one, she stood beneath their light on the planets they warmed or on the deck of a ship, admiring their radiance from orbit. These well-known stars were her astral touchstones, each drawing their paths back towards the star she knew the best and would always return to.

In the Delta Quadrant, all the stars were foreign, any contact with them fleeting and ephemeral. They taunted her day by day as they streamed by on the viewscreen and mocked her on her many sleepless nights, a stark reminder of the many responsibilities on her shoulders.

The commitments she had made.

The guilt that shadowed her every step.

Worst of all were the burdens she had resigned herself to carrying alone. Even when she had the chance to let him help her carry those burdens, she had resisted, telling herself that she had no right to either his help—or the precious promise of happiness that came with it.

For many years, she refused to give in, heart warring with head, conscience battling with longing, inured to the buried pain, until the day the alien stars were swallowed by a void. Its enclosing darkness shattered all pretenses of strength, leaving her to face all the uncertainties she had suppressed these many long years. She would have gladly welcomed the return of those unfamiliar stars if only it meant she wasn't left with so much time to think.

But it was staring into that abyss that finally brought her to the realization that she could allow him in, to stand by her side and share the weight of the burdens just as he'd once promised her.

Strong arms encircled her waist, alerting her to his presence; she turned her eyes away from her view of the stars streaking by and up instead to his beloved features. His hand cupped her cheek and she leaned into the touch, a warm sense of peace washing over her.

Here, in his arms, even these unknown stars no longer felt so unfamiliar.

Here, in his arms, she was home.

*fin*