Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Tomás Darquin

It had been pure chance and the perverse timing of the universe that Darquin took the aft entrance to the docking bay the moment the conflict started. He nearly gasped, but only managed to let his jaw drop. Stunned, he’d seen the Chief Engineer launch herself at Kim, throwing herself and the startled woman down to the decking. He was tensed and poised to run in — with the tactical officer to help, it would have been easy enough to intervene — but the sudden shift in the battle stopped him from advancing to assist. Despite the shock, Kim had gotten the upper hand quickly, slipping out of her grasp and pinning her down, and subdued Katia.

Well, mostly. The Chief Engineer managed to get her fist past Kim’s hold.

Darquin winced in sympathy as Kim’s head rocked back. The blow had been a poor shot, but with the frantic force behind it was enough to do damage. Darquin drew his PPG at pretty much the same time the tactical officer did, bracing himself as he stood at the corner of a palette of crates by the corridor. Then their voices reached him and his aim wavered as he heard the words…which was just as well. He couldn’t decide where his aim should’ve been.

His vision swayed, making shapes and lights blur like paint dripping down a wall. His face and his hands became damp. He pushed aside the psychic brushstrokes to focus on them, whispering. “Not…now.”

Even after the combatants parted and let their voices drop almost too low to hear, he held his firing stance. It wasn’t until Kim started to move away in his direction that Darquin woke from his stunned state and lowered his pistol. Before Kim could see him, he slipped behind the crates and around the other side where he could keep an eye on them.

The tension and sudden shock, the accidental reminders of the dream that haunted him even in his conscious hours, sent his heart into a wild cacophony, like the drumbeat of one of the old songs he knew: “Don’t believe what you hear…don’t believe what you see….”

“Take your time,” he heard Margaret say to Kim and Katia winced. As Kim was leaving, Katia called out a hesitant apology. “I am…uh…sorry about that.”

Kim paused, glancing back, then kept moving toward corridor. Darquin held his breath, watching for another burst of rage, but Katia was quiet and, after a moment, followed Margaret slowly into the shuttle. Darquin was too far to hear what Margaret said to Katia.

He glared up at the ceiling, tempted to demand a reality check from the universe in more ways than one. Were these really the same people he saw in the conference almost an hour ago?

He dropped his guard with a loud exhale. Still watching the shuttle, wiping at the sweat with an open hand, and without thinking, powered down his pistol and slipped it into his holster.

Just into the corridor, Kim heard the distinctive sound of the PPG powering down and her head jerked to the noise. From her new angle she saw him easily, his back to her and around the far side of the crates.

He saw, was the first sickened thought that came, then, How many more? With a sharp twist she turned back to her path and attempted to make a retreat.

Darquin turned, sensing the movement. “Kim? You okay?”

Kim paced a few more steps before she dragged to a stop. The hunch of shoulders betraying desire to run, she answered without looking back. “I’m fine.”

“But you look– ” He stopped when they made eye contact, not sure if she was glaring at him or in shock. He looked back over his shoulder at the shuttle. “I think I’d better go over everyone’s files again,” he said in a stunned voice.

Kim pushed herself into movement again, needing to get away.

“I mean, does the Captain know all that — Hey! Wait!”

Kim stopped again. “What?”

“I…just wanted to be sure you were okay.” He thought quickly. “You got a real pounding over there.”

“Just my jaw. I’ll be fine.”

“Um, well, as long as you’re both all right.” A nervous chuckle slipped out of him. Kim looked back at the sound. “Good thing you two didn’t have any denn’bok in hand,” he added.

Kim’s mouth curled up in a sickly attempt to smile. She rather felt like she had been hit with a Minbari fighting pike — right in the gut.

Darquin shrugged, then winced. “Sorry…it’s been a hell of a day. For everybody, I guess.”

“Yeah.” Kim answered dully, turning to walk again.

Whatever his reasons, Darquin followed, trying to keep up with her. “Ah, I hope this isn’t a taste of what this evac operation’s going to be like. We’re going to have a hard enough time keeping our position neutral.”

Kim didn’t want to even consider why he was following her. She was just glad he wasn’t asking about the incident specifically. “Don’t imagine some of them will be happy to see us. In a way, the blame for the upset could fall on us, couldn’t it? We upset the balance.

Darquin rolled his eyes. “Maybe if we were Shadows, I’d buy that. Whether they like it or not, we are the balance.”

“Didn’t say that’s what I thought. Just what some could think.”

“I know. I never liked the way some Minbari pretend not to hate humans.”

“They hide a great many things.” Kim spotted the lift ahead with relief, and buzzed for a ride.

“I’ll, uh, let you go. I gotta get ready too.” Darquin watched her step into the lift. “Should I say you’re in Medlab if anyone asks?”

“I’m not going there.”

“Not now, no. But you might have to later.” Darquin glanced at her and abruptly said. “I could give you a hand. Get some ice for you or something.”

“You aren’t going to go away, are you?” Kim sighed.

“Either I help you now or you’ll have to hide that from the Captain till we launch for Minbar,” he said, pointing to her jaw.

“Whatever then.”

At least she hadn’t closed the lift doors on his foot. Darquin jumped into the lift before it can close. “As if I don’t have enough problems….”

He winced when he saw her stiffen. Every other word out of his mouth seemed to be rubbing her the wrong way. “No, nothing like that. Sorry. I usually don’t meddle in other people’s problems, that’s all.”

Kim leaned on the wall as lift moved. “Why me?” she asked.

He looked into her face, trying to see if that was rhetorical. “Are you asking me?” Darquin crossed his arms across himself. “Look, I’m sure you can handle it. But I wouldn’t doing my share if I didn’t look out for everyone else on board, y’know?”

“You’re going to have to report, I suppose.” She managed not to sound hostile about it.

Darquin sighed. “I can’t see how. If I do, we’d have at least delay the mission and the people back on Minbar’ll be stranded.”

“Mission wouldn’t be stopped for this,” Kim said positively.

“I dunno, would you hit the battlefield if you had to watch a ticked off jarhead with a gun and a score to settle….with you?”

The question was rhetorical…. or at least that was how Kim was going to take it. She didn’t want to explain her actions or reasons. The lift opened to Deck Four and Kim stepped out into the hall. Thankfully no one was about. Darquin kept up with her. Quietly, hesitant, Kim asked, “How much did you hear?”

“Enough to know it’s private.”

Kim’s calm cracked with strain. “Don’t go endangering your new post. You haven’t even had it a week yet.” She laughed weakly.

“I wasn’t trained to be a cop. Still learning on the job.”

Kim glanced over. He already had his excuses figured out should anyone ask. Command wouldn’t hear about the mess from him unless he absolutely had to. “Thank you.”

“Well…I don’t want to see anybody get nailed before we even meet each other.”

Kim snorted, unable to help it. “I’d advise caution.”

“And maybe some riot gear. I don’t expect a big reception for sticking my nose into her business.”

Obvious as that was, Kim doesn’t bother commenting. She came to her door and opened it, vaguely waving Darquin in. Unfortunately the place wasn’t looking its best.

Polite or single minded, Darquin barely gave the place a glance before heading to the bathroom for the first aid kit installed in every room. He opened the kit as he came back into the room. “Okay, let’s see what we can use. Here’s an ice pack for starters.”

Kim watched him pull out a jelly like packet and squish it in his fingers to break the capsules inside. Kim accepted it and pressed it gently to her jaw, feeling the chill of the pack increase as the chemicals inside mixed and activated. The cold pulled her back a little from the haze of shock she’d been swimming in.

“Sheesh, feels like we’re camping out and we haven’t even left the ship.”

“Watch out for the wildlife under the couch,” Kim managed to quip from under the ice pack.

Darquin went rummaging through the kit again. “As long as there isn’t a spoo ranch down there. Ah. Found something that’ll help the swelling. Take the ice pack off for a sec.” He shielded her eyes with one hand as he ran a small spray across her jaw. “I knew we all had problems, but….”

“Nathaniel is a real treasure that way,” Kim said sarcastically.

“Sounds like the sort of guy I would’ve gotten into a fight with.”

Kim’s lips twitched up at the corners. “Well I wouldn’t stop you in this case.” She sighed, putting the pack back on her jaw. “Thanks. You know your way around a first aid kit. Get into much trouble?”

“I’ve gotten into a few fights in my time. Nothing I’m proud of.” Darquin closed the first aid kit and set it on the nearest clear surface. “So what’s his problem anyway? Or is it just PsiCorp?”

“PsiCorp.” Kim swallowed, closing her eyes. “And Shadows.”

He stepped back and looked away as if struck. “Aw, jeez.”

“Maybe another time,” Kim said. She wasn’t sure he’d ask, but warned him away anyway.

“Fair enough. Is it any better?”

“Feels like it is. With luck, I won’t turn too many colors.”

“By the time it does, you can blame it on the warrior caste. No problem.”

Kim laughed briefly. “Maybe right. Well, I better let you go. You’ve got more than enough to do without me adding to it.”

“Yeah, we got another hour and a half to go. I’d better get back to the shuttle bay.”

Kim walked him to the door. “Thanks again.”

Darquin nodded, suddenly nervous. “No problem. Besides…I might have to take you up on your offer sometime. The offer you made, before you had to go.”

Kim’s eyes flickered to him, concerned, drawn out of own problems. That he wouldn’t even refer to it directly wasn’t good. “You okay? Sorry, that’s stupid to ask.”

Darquin shrugged and offered a quick smile. “Never hurts to ask. Sometimes. We can worry about it later.”

“Hopefully this mission won’t take too long.”

He turned to the door and thought about the future beyond it. “Amen to that.”

And I must be
An acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that
And you can dream
So dream out loud
And don't let the bastards...grind you down....
          – U2, "Acrobat"

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