Ain’t Love the Sweetest Thing
Characters: Tomás Darquin
“Hey, Chief! Nice threads!”
At the doorway of the docking bay alcove, Zack Allan frowned, trying to put a face to the voice. Letting his hand dangle lazily near his holster, he watched a dark shape pull itself free from a pool of shadows. He caught the emerald glimmer of a Ranger pin as the newcomer approached, but kept his guard up all the same. “Do you mind not doing that? Identicard, please?”
The Ranger held up his identicard between two fingers. “Sorry, just staying in practice.”
Zack smiled. “Hey, I know you. About six months ago, right?”
“Well, yeah, I sorta ruffled your feathers at the time.”
“It’s not exactly seared into my brain,” Zack shrugged, “so it couldn’t be that bad. Welcome to Babylon 5, Mister…?”
“Darquin.” He handed Zack his identicard.
“Thanks. Say, you were a Starfury pilot here, weren’t you?”
“Uh, yeah. Delta Wing.” Darquin pursed his lips. “I, uh, had to go AWOL when Nightwatch started gettin’ on my case.”
“Yeah,” Zack muttered, “I can believe it. Here’s your card.”
Darquin let his jaw drop, pretending to be amazed. “Wow, you oughta do that at New Vegas, make a mint.”
“Nah, I’d rather stay here and help the underprivileged,” Zack answered, his tongue firmly against his cheek. “Now you arrived in that Earth Alliance shuttle, right?”
“Yeah, the rest of my party’s taking a breather inside before they go into the rest of the station.” Darquin pointed over his shoulder toward the docking bay. “Our ride to Minbar’s gonna be a while. I was going to look for a couple people before it shows. Oh, that reminds me.” He pulled out his old link. “Requesting full access, Security, RSPhoenix.”
Zack groaned and rolled his eyes. “Great. Don’t you mean ‘ISA’ now?”
“Oh, right! Sorry, I guess I forgot. I was on Earth for a while ’cause there was this war, y’see–”
“Okay, okay.” Zack spoke into the link on the back of his own hand. “Station House, four-27 Darquin, ISA Phoenix, full security access. Four-five C and C.”
Darquin brought his link up to his ear, waiting to hear it chirp, and eagerly slapped it onto his hand. “Thanks, Chief.”
Zack raised a finger. “Next time, either get your private comm or bring a steak, got it?” He nearly dropped his identicard reader as he spread his hands and caught the plastic bundle that Darquin had thrown into his gut. “What the hell’s this?”
“Insta-heats, New York hot dogs with a whole mess of trimmings. Cleared it through Customs ten minutes ago. Bribing spacers requires food, not creds.” Darquin gave him a conspiratorial grin. “We’re even?”
“I’ll tell you in an hour.” Zack shoved the packet into his uniform and moved for the door. “Have a pleasant stay.”
“Thanks–oh, wait! One more thing. Any idea if Marcus is around?”
Zack stopped at the door. “Marcus?”
“Yeah, y’ know, Marcus Cole? British guy? We share the same tailor?”
Zack gave Darquin a hard look. “You mean you don’t know?”
“He’s…Marcus is dead.”
The smile on Darquin’s face melted away. For the first time in months, he couldn’t think of a thing to say.
Zack Allan gave him the directions and the proper clearance, and sent him off with a pat on the back by way of sympathy. When Darquin arrived in Medlab, Doctor Franklin greeted him with a somber expression and a meek smile before he led the way to the cryo-section. Darquin found himself in a cramped space, confronted with a wall full of cryogenically preserved bodies. He didn’t recognize most of the names on the hatches, the names of people who had been surgically altered by the Shadows. Then he recognized one name and, despite himself, brought his hand up to touch the plaque:
CRYOGENIC SUSPENSION CHAMBER SUBJECT: Marcus Cole Designation: Ranger Status: Deceased Comments: Indefinite Hold in the event of new resuscitation technology REQUESTED BY: CMDR. S. IVANOVA
Darquin smiled briefly, letting rumor and suspicion turn into a bittersweet romantic ending upon seeing the last line, then felt his shoulders become heavy. It was all he could do just to believe in the loss. Trying to work his mouth in hopes of finding something to say, he gave up and sighed.
Doctor Franklin walked up beside him. “Did you know him well?”
“No… just bumped into each other a few times when I was still training in Tuzanor. Um, on Minbar. He asked me if I ever met his brother, but that was before my time.” He chuckled, half-hearted and distant. “He used to say he was amazed that there was actually someone who got into more trouble with our teachers than he did. How about you?”
“Some. We went to Mars to make contact with the Resistance. I swear, he drove me insane the entire trip.” Franklin seemed to take as much time as he could to smile at that before the memory was gone. “I’ll miss him.”
Darquin nodded weakly. “I just hope….” He smiled, embarrassed. “I just do. Adios, Marcus.” He touched his Ranger pin, then reached out to the plaque again, letting his fingers brush the name on the hatch. “Isil’zha veni.”
Darquin said his farewells and thanks to Doctor Franklin, then left to find Bev. The last he’d heard, she was still assigned to Zeta Squadron. He paged her three times, got no reply, not even a computer telling him to call later. On the surface, it seemed only inconvenient. And he felt a funeral pall stretch over the moment, the kind of thing that tinted memories of pivotal milestones and thoughts full of “if-only’s.” With a dull rounded ache at the top of his stomach, nerves fluttering, he went straight for the fighter bays.
Darquin wandered through the pilots’ locker rooms like a lost pilgrim. There’d been a lot of personnel transfers back and forth between the Starfury squadrons on Babylon 5, a lot of new names and new faces. He’d begun to suspect that Bev wasn’t stationed there anymore, and carried dread deep in his chest like surgically implanted lead until he checked her residential listing. She’s here, she wasn’t splashed, she’s not on leave, where the hell is she?! Growing dizzy with all the horrifying explanations in his head, Darquin set himself down on one of the benches between the locker rows.
Sitting there, somewhere between despair and suspicion, he found himself thinking of the moment when he became consciously aware of how he felt about her. Together as part of Delta Squadron, just before she got the transfer to Zeta, they were out on patrol together. After a few patrol circuits of B5 territory, she must have realized that he’d been listening to music inside his Starfury. The practice wasn’t uncommon at the Academy, but frowned upon beyond it. Darquin had no bones about it, no excuses, except to suggest that all the other pilots played music the instructors would hate. At that, she laughed. The sound over the comm channel held him prisoner ever since. He’d like her, enjoyed her company before, but hadn’t looked on her with loving eyes until then.
He’d grown to regret it ever since.
Spinning himself about on the bench, he saw Beverly walking quickly toward him, her flight helmet in hand and still in the rest of her flight gear. He released a heavy sigh of relief and jumped up to meet her. “Bev, where’ve ya been? I’ve been looking all over the place.”
“Out on patrol.” Bev opened her locker and started to free herself of her flight suit, trying to straighten out her hair and her white undershirt as she slipped her helmet onto an upper shelf. “I was on the roster like everyone else.”
“But I checked the roster,” Darquin said. “You weren’t up for another couple hours.”
She dumped her suit into the locker with a brutal shove. “You’ve been checking up on me or something?”
“Uh…no, just that I wanted to see you. I have a few days here before I have to go, so I came looking for you, that’s all.”
She nodded, distant. “Where are you going?”
“Minbar. The Phoenix was down for repairs, but now that all the fighting–”
“Back to Minbar? What about here?”
Darquin fought the desire to step back, as if caught inside the firing arc of a water cannon. “My assignment is on the Phoenix.”
“But Clark and everything–like you said, it’s over.” Bev looked about the locker room before turning back to him. “You can come back now.”
“Bev, I’m a Ranger now. I even resigned from Earthforce–”
He could feel his teeth begin to grind together. Their old argument about him going AWOL was starting again, as if it had never started. “Bev, I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d react this way. I thought you were okay with me in the Rangers. I belong with them now.”
She slammed the locker shut, sending a shudder throughout the surrounding ones. “You had a commitment to Earthforce, damn it! Now you’re walking out on them.”
“On them? They walked out on me. They’re the ones who turned Earth into the fraggin’ Fatherland!”
“But it’s safe to come back now. You don’t have to hide behind the Rangers anymore!”
“Hide?! Like hell! I’ve done nothing but ride fire since I joined! I’d like to see you go into Vorlon–” Darquin stopped a moment, reeling in his temper with all his might, long enough for intellect to step in. His jaw dropped open as it all sank in. “We’re not talking about leaving Earthforce, are we.”
Even as she turned his back to him, he could see her blushing. “What the hell are you talking about.”
“All this time, I thought you were yelling at me because I ran away from trouble.” He moved closer to face her. “But the way you saw it, it was me running away from you. That was it, wasn’t it?”
“Leave me alone.”
Darquin suddenly ducked into her sight, angry and aching. Revelation rolled into his mind like a sea of pain. “No. You had a piece of me the whole time. I was there, trying to understand you, I was dangling, even when you were with Chris–”
“Don’t even bring him in–”
“Dammit, Bev! You were with him when I was there–waiting for a sign from you–and you knew it! You used both of us!” He let her have a meter or two of space as she walked away, hoping she’d turn back, then followed close behind. “You were keeping me around like a spare. Playing it safe in case the other guy stabbed you in the back… or in case the next one didn’t work out!”
“It wasn’t like that!”
“Then WHAT, Bev?” Darquin appeared in front of her and spun to face her so quickly that the folds of his Anla’shok duster flapped in the air like violent wings.
It made Bev stop dead in her tracks and flinch. She raised her hands to shield her face. “I was scared, Tom. Can you understand that?”
“Better than you might think. But what were you expecting? Me to make the first move? How was I supposed to know? You made it pretty damn clear you didn’t need me.” Every muscle in his body turned into heavy cable. “Not the way I needed you. You weren’t waiting around for me. Did you expect me to wait for you till you finally saw fit to tell me straight out–”
Bev shoved him out of her path. “Just shut up! If you can’t understand, maybe it wasn’t supposed to happen in the first place. Maybe we were just better off.”
“I can’t be-lieve you buy that–”
“I don’t care, Tom! You believe what you want! I don’t want any part of it anymore!”
He watched her storm out and disappear into the rest of Babylon 5, awestruck. As he watched her leave, he felt like a fish hanging in the middle of arctic air by a fishing line. He felt adrift, cut off from the world he knew. He drew his duster more tightly around himself and started back to the docking bays.
Darquin didn’t realize it until he bumped into someone, but he’d been walking through the corridors in a daze.
When he looked up at the dark-skinned tech he’d just collided with, he summoned up a lopsided smile and moved to slid past him.
“Wait, are you okay?”
Darquin turned back to the technician and found out that he had a shorter, more lightly complexioned colleague. “Uh, yeah, more or less. Sorry, just a little shellshock. Tomás Darquin.”
“I’m Mack,” the shorter one said. “And this is Bo. You’re sure you okay?”
Darquin shrugged as he sought out the right words. “Just… bad news. A couple bags’ worth.”
Mack seemed about to say something until Bo stopped him and whispered. Then he tried again with all the caution of a minesweeper. “Was it about, uh, a friend? Um… a Ranger?”
“Both.” A bitter grin seeped into Darquin’s features as a thought struck him, that it hadn’t been a good day to be a Ranger aboard Babylon 5. “Twice over, in a way.”
While he was lost in his melancholy, Mack and Bo carefully slipped each other an awkward series of nervous glances.
Slowing regaining contact with reality, Darquin noticed the toolboxes sitting at their feet, then tapped the wall beside him. “Busy keeping this oversized tank running?”
Mack answered with an anxious chuckle and a hearty nod. “What else is new, right?”
Smiling, Bo gave his friend a quick nod. “You said it. We had to work on a ventilation fan in one of the restrooms down over there, in the docking area.”
“Turned out to be a loose housing,” Mack added.
The last remaining sectors of Darquin’s mind came back online, coming to the conclusion that life went on. “Mack, Bo, you guys seem like you know what’s what on B5.”
Mack crossed his arms and gave a sagely nod. “Yeah, that’s a fair assessment, huh, Bo?”
“Sure, we know a few things between us,” Bo said with a shrug.
“Okay,” Darquin said, “any idea who’s playing at Eight At The Bar?”
“That’s in Brown Sector, isn’t it?” Mack asked idly.
Bo shook his head. “Naw, we never went there. Pretty rough joint.”
Darquin smirked. Bo had a point; the last time Darquin had gone down there, he got caught in a fight while the band for that night was in the middle of a hot set. “Tell you what. I think I’ll go hang out at the Eclipse Cafe. If you guys are around when your shift is over, we can split a plate of spoo or something.”
Mack smiled at that, but Bo shuffled his feet slightly before he picked up his toolcase. “Sounds good,” Bo said plainly, “but our shift might run pretty late.”
“I’ll be around either way.” Darquin’s face broke into an ironic grin. “My night is completely shot.”
(c) 1999 Joe R. Medina. All rights reserved.