A Masked Dance

Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Margaret Morgan, Billy Nichols

Kim shifted the large carry bag on to her shoulder, the sum of her salvaged belongings from the Phoenix — and surveyed the docking bay. It wasn’t any different than the other times she’d been to Babylon 5, but she found herself watching the people passing more closely. It was only when she sensed Meg coming up behind her that she unglued herself from the ramp and started down. She pretended to resettle her luggage. “This stuff keeps getting heavier….”

Margaret grunted agreement, though she was carrying even less; what had had the fortune to be in her office instead of quarters. She didn’t notice Kim’s preoccupation. She was glancing around as well… for an opportunity to steal away.

As fortune would have it, what they both wanted appeared at the same time.

Between two cargo haulers, Billy Nichols briefly appeared, and somehow spotted them both through the mob in the docking bay. He waved as he pushed toward them. “Hi!”

Meg grinned. “Bilk!”

Kim was quicker down the ramp. “And here we’re prized for our inconspicuousness and secrecy….” she grinned.

Billy chuckled. “Maybe, but at the moment, you’re Earth’s hope. And I’m here to fetch and carry. Grunt work.” But instead of sounding bothered by it, he was just amused.

Kim sniffed. “Well, carry her luggage. She’s determined to need another visit to medlab the way she pushes it.”

Meg shook her head, amused. “Get on with you. I have something I have to do. See you on board in a few.” She chose to be honest with part of it.

Kim gave her a curious glance, then shrugged lightly. “All right then, see you in a few.”

Billy did the same, without realizing. “If I don’t see you, then, take care of yourself.”

Meg gave a brief wave, wrist brace visible, then dodged away through the crowd. Kim watched her go, then grinned at Billy. “Well… fetch and carry would mean you get to see a bit of the ship. Care for a walk through?”

“I’d love one.” He hoped he didn’t sound too eager. He held his hands out for her bag.

Kim considered, then gave in and handed over. It wasn’t exactly light. “It’s going to be a bit roundabout. The transport decided to dock directly with B5 to give anyone who wanted it a short jaunt in. So we’ll have to take the next shuttle over.” She nodded down the way.

“Not a problem.” Billy slung the bag over his shoulder.

Kim wove her way through passing pallets and people, concentrating enough on walking so she couldn’t talk for a bit. Billy, walking behind, wanted to relax at knowing she was safe, but he knew perfectly well what she was going into next. And he wasn’t sure what he wanted to say about it.

Kim stepped up and into the shuttle, already a little crowded with other crew and baggage, and found a couple seats to squeeze into, literally. It was so crowded, Billy couldn’t help but touch her. Kim bit her lip, then released it as she struggled to keep on in same tone. Both tried to act casual and neither realized just how transparent they appeared.

“Things have been quiet here, at least?” she asked.

“Off and on.” He glanced at her. “The ‘off’ has been pretty bad, though.”

Kim grimaced slightly. “Imagine so. Worries me someone will try to hit while we’re away. Some fleet we don’t know about… But I guess it’s pointless to keep worrying about it.”

“I know,” he answered quietly. He’d already thought it.

“Well, I certainly grace your life with cheer.” Kim chuckled, then held on as gravity left, free of Babylon 5.

Billy hooked a foot under his seat, practiced. He shook his head and tried to smile. “It’s all right.”

All the same, Kim was quiet for the rest of the short trip, only occasionally answering questions from across the cabin. Billy watched her out of the corner of his eye. Being a fool, he berated himself.

“Pardon?”

“Huh? I didn’t say anything.” But he flushed. Had she been hearing his thoughts?

Kim gave him an odd glance, then was distracted by a soft shake as the shuttle docked, and gravity returned with a pull. Billy covered his embarrassment by standing quick, hoisting her bag again. Kim followed, then quickly slipped past him to get to the hatch closest to open, and waved him into the space. It opened into an airlock with a distinctly Minbari-styled corridor beyond. Billy stepped to the side, waiting for her.

Kim gave him a brief, enigmatic smile before considering her path. It had been quite some time since she’d been aboard a White Star. “Let’s see… I think we need to go this way.”

“I’m trusting you, now,” Billy managed to tease.

Playing along, she glanced over her shoulder and grinned. “Dangerous words.”


 

Through the decks with just a brief stop to dump her luggage in her new quarters, the tour ended in the observatory. It wasn’t her intention to get him alone… or so she told herself. It was just the last deck.

If Billy noticed, it didn’t show. He stood enjoying the wide view presented. Epsilon Three hung huge in the view, the station in it’s nightside shadow. Unlike Babylon 5’s observatory, the “window” wasn’t obstructed by girders or segmented into small pieces. It was like comparing diamond-pane to plate glass.

“Amazing, isn’t it? Unobstructed… It’s like you can touch the stars,” Kim said.

I know.” Billy hesitated. “Spent a lot of time on the observation deck recently,” he admitted.

She looked at, glad for the half light in some ways. “It makes it easier sometimes, to have that.”

“Yeah, a little.”

“Ah… last shuttle won’t be out for another twenty minutes, probably. I can leave you here, if you’d like it,” Kim offered.

“Hm? Oh, no. No, that’s all right,” he stammered a little.

Kim wasn’t sure which he was agreeing with to do now. “Well… anywhere else you’d like to go?”

“Um…. Not that I can think of,” he admitted sheepishly.

“What would you like to do, then?” Kim laughed nervously. “You can probably tell I’ve not… well, socialized much.”

Billy rubbed the back of his neck. “Haven’t much myself lately.”

“Not having much time makes it rather hard. Maybe next time through.” She cleared her throat. “You might like to try dinner again?”

He looked at her, disbelieving. He finally answered, softly, “Like that, I think.”

“Good…. good. Maybe we should head back down. Meg might even be here by now.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. It was easier than thinking.

Leading the way out, Kim sighed inaudibly. Brilliant handling.

Dinner doesn’t mean anything, Billy tried to tell himself. And was failing to believe it for once. But it didn’t make it any easier to find the words to say, and she was silent as well for much of the trip back down to the docking bay. He only snatched furtive glances when he thought she wasn’t looking. Kim was obviously doing the same when their eyes met once.

Kim looked away, then brought herself back. “I was just wondering why it’s suddenly gotten so hard to talk,” she fumbled.

“Ah….” His face heated and he looked down. Leaning casually against the wall failed to make him look less uncomfortable. “Because… I’m attracted to you,” he managed somehow, bluntly.

“That would do it.” Kim said automatically, then pressed on quickly past her limping humor. “There isn’t someone…. I mean, there isn’t any problem with that… is there?”

“No.” From his low voice, it was obvious the it was like that for a good reason.

Kim gave him a nervous smile. “I’ve just come to the realization I’m rather pathetic at dealing with this.”

“Can’t be worse than me.” He finally looked at her. “You?”

“Me, what?”

“Would you be….” He swallowed, his mouth dry. “Interested?” Then he looked away again. “Sorry. You couldn’t be–”

“Why not?”

“‘Cause you’re smart, and funny, and beautiful, and I’m just…”

Kim stopped walking, not noticing the crewmembers that moved around them to get down the hall. “I don’t recall ‘just’ coming anywhere into your description.”

Billy shook his head, not meeting her eyes.

She touched his arm, the first intentional contact she’d made, and less than what she wished to do. In return, she received a startled glance. She smiled hesitantly and didn’t move her hand. His own smile was shaky, but real. “You mean that?”

“Not something I’d lie about.”

“That means a lot.”

With the touch, the pain in his mind couldn’t be missed. Kim frowned slightly. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah. Just… something rather not remember.” Someone.

“Sorry.” She was about to let go, aware she was invading, if unintentionally.

“No, don’t.” Daring, he covered her hand with his. “You care.”

Kim looked down at hand, then up. How close they were…

And at that moment a familiar, acerbic voice floated around the corner. “Ie, this is an organic. What of it?”

They both started a little. Kim moved away, turned toward the voice in the docking area as if expecting to already be seen.

“Dinner’d be nice,” Billy said quietly.

Kim looked back to him, a shy smile of agreement, then led the way into the docking bay.


 

Margaret turned away from the over-enthusiastic inspector, shaking her head. That one must have been a custom’s agent before the Rangers, she though. The thought was quickly distracted, though, on seeing Kim and Billy enter the docking bay. One of her rare smiles emerged.

Kim was the first to speak. “Well you’re getting in under the wire. Good hunting?”

Margaret nodded. “Got lucky.” She glanced at Billy. “And you are too.”

He still had a faint color to his cheeks, and it threatened to get worse until he realized her comments were innocently about the shuttle. “I know. See you two both when you’re back through.”

Kim coughed. “See you then.”

“Careful, Cyfaill.”

Billy nodded. “I will. And you.” Then, very deliberately he formed a thought to be overheard. I’ll write.

Kim was startled when she caught the faint thought. For a moment she thought he had a small talent, then quickly dismissed it as weakness in her own barriers. You’d better,she mindspoke in reply.

Billy waved to them both and took off for the shuttle.

Margaret was watching. She hadn’t missed a thing, from Billy’s blush, to Kim’s curious pauses. “Am I missing something?” she asked casually, under her breath.

Kim caught herself about to stare after him and turned to Meg. “Pardon?”

“Oh, nothing, Cyfeilles.” She answered innocently. “Going this way?”

Hoping her cheeks weren’t showing as hot as they felt, Kim followed.


 

Unlike Kim expected, Meg didn’t mention it again as they made their way through the ship to her quarters. Meg found her own door, dropped her small bag inside, then unexpected turned to Kim, holding out a box.

Kim looked at it. “What is it?”

“For you, Cyfeilles.”

Kim was puzzled, but took it. One arm under it, she pried open the top to look in. Tucked securely in a nest of packing material were cups and a new teapot, as well several small packages too.

“How….?” She picked up one of the small parcels and turned it over.

“I ran to the Zocalo quick,” Meg shrugged. “And got lucky.”

“You didn’t have to.” Kim was smiling, however.

“I did, Cyfeilles. Consider it compensation for dealing with someone who always seems like she’s shouting at you.”

Kim looked up with a bemused chuckle. “I wouldn’t put it quite like that, but…. thank you.” She carefully put everything back in it’s place in the box.

“How else?” Meg retorted quietly. “I have no shields to speak of, and… it just got aggravated.”

“That’s what my shields are for.” Kim smiled a little. “Same thing goes for friends.” Before it could become uncomfortable, she changed the subject, “Well, care to test out this new set? We’ve got a while before we have to be anywhere….”

Meg smiled. “Ie, I’d like that.”

“My room, then. The kettle got a few dents, but at least it couldn’t break.” Kim tucked the box under one arm and began to lead the way.

Meg nodded, then grinned. “And you can tell me what I’ve missed.”

From the corridor, Kim answered too quickly. “Missed? You’ve only been gone a couple hours.”

Ie And?”

“And what?” Kim looked straight ahead as they walked down the hall.

“Details, of course,” she teased persistently.

“I just took him for a tour, nothing fancy.”

“Who says I was talking about him?” Meg grinned wickedly on catching her. “Cyfeilles, you think I am blind?”

“Okay, fine… I admit, he’s nice, but it was a walk.”

Meg looked at her for a long minute, and not for a moment believing it. “Ie,” she said blandly and let it go… for now.