Disclaimer: All owned by Paramount.
This story is a companion piece to Violet's poignant and beautiful story "Muted". Violet's poetic writing wouldn't leave my head, the storyline going around and around. Violet, this is for you, for writing one of my favorite pieces of J/C fiction EVER. Thank you for letting me post this.
If you haven't read "Muted", I strongly suggest you read (or re-read) that first.
The room, quiet. The lights, restful. Bright enough to work by, low enough to hide the weariness and the moments of despair.
The command team, working. PADDs cover the desk and spill over into piles on the floor. She is behind the desk. She was beautiful once, but the years of always being the strong one are etched in furrows on her face. There is an aura around her; in times past it was a shining golden thing, now it is like a cobweb, feathery and gray.
When he looks up from his PADD he thinks he can see it, a muted silvery thing, battered like old pewter.
She was beautiful once, but when he lifts his head and sees her, in that instant before duty shoulders its way to the forefront, in that moment he really sees her and yes, she still is. To him, she is beautiful. He just has to notice.
The room quiet, waiting.
She looks up from the PADD and her eyes drift in the unfocussed fashion of someone who doesn't know what they are looking for anymore. The veils of tiredness are always there these days. Her eyes linger on him. He's sitting opposite her, it's the obvious place for her eyes to rest, so she watches him without really seeing him. Absently, she notices how the low light catches copper gleams in his thick, dark hair.
A tickle in the back of her mind, a memory of how she used to study him, observe him, catalog his gestures to keep the memories close to her. A flicker of reminiscence pushes its way past the PADDs and staff rosters that occupy her conscious mind. Once, she would watch him for the pleasure it brought her. Once, she would dream about what might have been, and what might still be, if only she would allow herself. If only she could.
What happened to that woman? she wonders. Where did she go? Submerged underneath the uniform until it closed over her head. When did she lose the golden promise? Somehow it slipped away from her, murky and cold like water over granite, with only a murmur to signify its passing.
When she takes the time to think about this, its absence is palpable.
Deliberately she sets the PADD aside. She starts to say his name, that first staccato syllable, a special way she had of rolling it off her tongue. It was their private game, not quite a lover's pet name, but one that could have become that, if only she had allowed it - or if only he kept up the pursuit. She hasn't placed that particular inflection on his name in a long time now; his name and his rank have blurred into each other, one and the same, the same and one.
He looks up and her gaze catches him, pulls him in as it always used to. He sees her eyes, so clear and blue, surrounded by dark rings of fatigue.
A flicker stirs in him. Once, he would have been concerned at her exhaustion. Once, he would have leaned over the desk and touched her hand, made a light, flirtatious comment, and then suggested dinner in the mess hall.
His gaze moves from her eyes to the pile of PADDs. They should do more; they haven't finished yet. Not tonight, nor the morrow neither. But she's looking at him, her lips are parted and her face holds a soft, vulnerable look. She appears caught in a reverie, light years away from here. But then her eyes focus and he's pierced by her stare. No, he realizes, she's looking at him, not through him, or past him, but she's really seeing him.
How long since she did that? he wonders. How long has it been?
The room tense, waiting.
"You said something?" he asks, and in a moment of intuition and clarity, he realizes they've lived this moment before. That this point has arrived and passed them by so quietly that neither of them noticed its loss.
She hesitates, her lips start to form words. "It's-"
He reaches over the desk, touches her hand. "Don't say it's nothing," he says. "Not this time."
She bites her lip and finds she's studying his lips and wondering what they would feel like on hers. How long since a thought like that pushed its way into her head, elbowing aside astrometrics, and Seven's problems with humanity?
His fingers still rest lightly on the back of her hand. She recognizes what he's saying and wonders, fleetingly, what brought them to this, here and now.
Tiredness rears its head again. Sleep, she should sleep, make her excuses, return to her quarters and let this moment steal away unacknowledged. It should pass; it would pass.
There is more to life than captaining a ship. The stray thought filters into her mind as it has before, but this time she lets it linger. She sees how it could be in his eyes. A force that hasn't been there for a long time--or maybe she simply didn't notice. Or want to notice.
"What shall we do?" she asks him. "Do we pretend we never realized how close we are?"
He draws a quick breath and his eyes grow distant, as if they're scrying into the future, seeing if the now is worth the effort.
"If we let this pass now," he says, "I don't know if we'll reach this point again."
She considers, and huffs out a laugh.
He smiles, and absently she notices the fine lines that radiate from his eyes.
"Tell me what you're thinking," he asks.
She is too tired to dissemble, even though her answer will give away more than she ever meant him to know, at least on Voyager, at least while their positions are so perilous, her need to maintain that final barrier so important.
"I never thought we'd sit here and debate this," she says. "I always thought that one day it would just happen. That one day I'd turn to you, or your hug of comfort would suddenly become more. Or-"
"Or that one day we'd acknowledge what we are to each other, stop pretending, and before we'd drawn breath, before we could stop, we'd fan that spark and we'd-"
The room, suspended in time.
He meets her eyes and he's smiling gently. "What happened to that spark?" he asks, and his thumb deliberately smoothes over the back of her hand. He turns her palm around and clasps her fingers.
She lifts her free hand, nearly strikes the gracious pose that he remembers so well, but her hand falls back at the last moment. "I think it's here somewhere. Under these damned PADDs. Lost in the warp core-"
"In the building of the Astrometrics lab-"
"Buried in security drills-"
"Drowned in duty."
His eyes are kind, and if she looks, really looks then yes, she can see that spark. It's there still, untended, drawing down to embers but the glow still warms her. She stands, still holding his hand, and he rises too. Linked they step around the desk that divides them and come together, slowly. She settles into him, slides her arms around his waist.
It's a pose they've held a hundred times--comfort, reassurance, friendship. His hand glide up her back, into her hair, into uncharted territory. They slide over her scalp, tug gently to bring her head away from his body.
She tilts her face up, searches his.
His lips descend, touch hers. As kisses go it's tentative, but this is a kiss of experimentation, not yet one of passion. It lingers, moves warmly and gently through their history, through the attraction, through the pain, through the friendship, through the indifference, and it settles in the here and now, this room, this point in their shared experiences when finally it is the right time.
He breaks the kiss, and holds her against his heart.
She hears its steady thud underneath her ear. Her arms tighten around his waist.
"Slowly," he says, and the word seeps into her head. "We'll take this slowly, carefully-"
"One step at a time."
"With respect and love, for each other and for the crew."
Feedback? Please. Shayenne
© Shayenne, June 2006 Please email me to post/distribute elsewhere.