And You and I

Characters: Tomás Darquin, Singing Wolf

The door chime brought Singing Wolf’s bare form out of the small hut-like structure in one of the far corners of her quarters. She stood and pulled a cloak over herself, giving the closed door a quizzical glance. She had finished her duty hours some time ago, and she wasn’t expecting anyone.

“A moment, please.”

“Okay.”

She stood up straighter at the sound of the voice of her superior officer. She looked down at herself. Her cloak was more than adequate. With a shrug to herself, she went to the door. “Come in.”

As the door slid open, she found Security Chief Darquin being held up by the wall beside it. Dark rings underscored his eyes. His face had lost of some of its usual tan. And when he heard her voice, he nodded and shambled into her quarters like an ancient machine.

“Anla’shok Darquin.” She nodded respectfully to him as he came in, her eyes narrowing with concern as he passed. She motioned to a chair. “Please, sit down.”

He seemed confused at first, looking around as if in search of the chair beside him. “Thanks.” Passing his datapad from one hand to another, he sat down. “I, um, can’t stay too long. A lot for me to do before morning.”

“I understand.” Singing Wolf nudged the chair closer to him, watching carefully as he eased himself into it. Certain that he had settled, she pulled out another chair and sat directly across from him.

With his free hand, he reached a finger into the collar of his uniform. That much made sense to her; the warm humid air of her sweat lodge was permeating her quarters.

Darquin gasped. “Christ….”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “it must be too warm in here for you.” She got up and headed for the environmental control panel on the wall behind her.

“No, no, it’s okay. I’m just….I mean, I didn’t notice it before …” He looked at his hands as if they were alien artifacts. “My hands are like ice.”

She stopped, nodding slowly as she returned to her chair.

“Sorry it’s late,” Darquin said quickly. “Ah, I came ’cause I have to give everyone in our section the heads-up. I need to change the work schedule for….” He squinted, trying to focus. “The next day or so.”

“I’m available whenever I’m needed, of course.” She studied his weary presence. “Are you well?”

Darquin snorted, amused. “Not really. I’m a real bad spot, partly my fault. So I gotta pull myself off the schedule for a while till I can make up for it. I’ll need you, Tianmun, and a few other people to cover for me.”

“Before you arrived,” she said carefully, “I was in the sweat lodge.” She gestured to the canvas-colored hut in the corner of the room. “My people have used it for thousands of years to purify our bodies and minds. Through speaking and sweating we relieve ourselves of our burdens. It is believed that to keep bad things inside poisons both body and soul.”

“I can think of a long list of people who could use it,” Darquin said with a smirk.

Singing Wolf looked into his eyes, trying to impart a greater meaning than her voice could. “I can think of one.”

He was still sluggish and weary, but the ebullience that she first knew appeared in his wide, unabashed smile. He set his datapad down on the ground and raised his hands like an enthusiastic prisoner of war. “Okay. Hint taken. Splash one.”

“Your culture … you have priests, is that correct? People who guide the spirit and listen?”

“Mm-hm. I was raised Catholic. But where I grew up, priests don’t listen till you screwed up bad.” Darquin’s face fell into his hands. “And God, I screwed up real bad.”

“Before I left home,” she said gently, “I was trained to be, in part, one who is like your priests. But we are supposed to listen whenever we’re needed.”

“Good thing we didn’t meet years ago,” he muttered. “I’d’ve been practically living on your doorstep.”

Just as quietly she answered, “But we know each other now. And I’d like to help, if I can.”

Darquin nodded, then paused to collect his thoughts. “Earlier, I slapped Doctor Brannon into the brig. I thought she started an altercation and fell– Out of control. Turns out I was way off. Not to mention out of line. I’ve been trying to look out for her over the last year, basically. And just when I thought she’d blown it, it was me.”

“You made a mistake,” she said, almost asking.

“Major.” He tried to rub some life into his face. “She’s been running her feet off and tonight, she had to deal with a druggie. And I thought it was going to be yet another hassle with the Medlab crew. Then I heard the call and went to see.”

Singing Wolf nodded. “Medlab has had its share of altercations recently.”

“Yeah. It’s starting to look like that’s the heart of the problem. Between the usual workload and this new business, we were both getting worked down to the nub. And there I was, thinking she was losin’ it.”

“Why?”

“Um, well, it’s….” He sighed. “This is in confidence.” He continued when she nodded. “Doctor Brannon has–” He shook his head at himself, swearing under his breath. “Had … a drinking problem.”

“Ah,” she said, “now I understand the report better.”

“I thought she was falling off the wagon, I really did…”

“And if I, as a security officer under your command had made the same assumption, how would you react?”

Darquin pursed his lips, his shoulders drooping. “You probably wouldn’t’ve flown off the handle like I did.”

“Dr. Brannon had a problem with alcohol. The nurse who called in the incident made it sound as if she was harming a patient. I would have reacted the same way. People’s safety must come before pride. Anyone’s pride.”

“Yeah. And y’know, it feels almost like it’s all a set-up, in a way.” After some thought, he frowned and shook his head. “No. That’s too easy. I gotta balance the scales again, that’s all there is to it.”

“Balance the scales? And how do you do that?”

“I locked up Helle for being strung out, but I’m just as bad off. It took Yoshino’s analysis for me to see it. So I’m thinking if I locked Helle up for that….” He shrugged. “I ought to do the same for myself.”

“And you think that will make her feel better.”

Darquin sighed. “I think…it’s fair.”

“Don’t you think a simple apology would be more productive. That would be for her. Punishing yourself, confining yourself to the brig, that’s for you. But punishing yourself rarely works on the conscience.”

“C’mon, Wolf, I went in and blew a lot of smoke in front of everyone in Medlab. Someone’s going to say I abused my authority and they might be onto something. I can’t let that happen.”

“You’re mortal. You make mistakes. People will understand that. And if you make the apology in front of her colleagues, they will understand.”

“But that’s not enough. And I’m on shaky ground as it is. When I got this job, I decided to cover up a brawl between some officers. I didn’t think it was anything to worry about, not compared to what else was going on, but I got raked over the coals for it. And this — I’ll get kicked off the Phoenix if I don’t do something.”

“And you think putting yourself in the brig, marring your record, will be the something that has to be done? It will set things right?”

Darquin laughed out loud. “Have you ever seen my Earthforce record? When I went to join the Rangers, I wasn’t just damaged goods, I was fraggin’ AWOL. I thought I was going to get punted off Minbar until Sinclair said it was okay. This’ll barely make a blip.”

“But you’re not in Earthforce now,” she said firmly.

“Sure as hell feels like it these days.” He sat back, weariness making its presence felt across his face and body again. “Despair’s been all over the ship ever since we left Vorlon space. And we’re supposed to be the ones giving everyone hope. I’ve been trying to keep morale up, but with having to work planetside and shipside….”

Singing Wolf leaned forward, placing one hand gently over his. “You can’t continue to take responsibility for everything and everyone, Darquin.”

He looked up at Wolf, then quickly away as their eyes met. “I had to do something.”

“You’re killing yourself,” she said softly, “as surely as Dr. Brannon was.”

He took her hand into his own. “Look. Being in the brig for however many hours she was in there isn’t going to kill me. Bore me, maybe. Besides, I…I, uh, could use the rest.” He held his breath as she aimed a skeptical look at him. “Right?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding out of something less than agreement. “You do need the rest. Yes, you do need the rest. But this isn’t the way. You can sit in the brig for a day, two, a week and you will still come out with the same ghosts. The same guilt. You need to let it go. Then–you will be able to rest.”

“It’s not the hangups, believe me. I got plenty. But if I don’t do this, prove I hold everybody to the same rules, whatever clout I have here is gone.”

“All right.” She nodded and, this time, it was a reassuring thing. “I understand that. But you might as well make the time useful for right?” She pointed out with her chin the lodge in the corner. “I can help you begin to cleanse your spirit.”

“Okay, okay.” He stood, more serious when he spoke again. “I can trust you with my spirit, I know that much.”

With a slight smile, she cocked her head like a curious bird. “How do you know that?”

Darquin turned to the lodge. “You take so much care of yours.”

She gave him a solemn nod. “Body and spirit, it’s all we really own.” Singing Wolf tightened her grip on his hand, summoning up the highest compliment she could form in words. “Tomás Darquin…you are a good man.”

Color returned to his face, then refused to stop there. His eyes wavered in and out of her gaze. “I’ll do.”

“Yes.” She let go of his hand as she stood up. “I’ll need a moment to dress. If you would remove everything except for your underclothing….”

Darquin blinked as if struck by a train. “All this time, I was doing dinner and a movie.”

Singing Wolf turned, hiding a smile, and walked into her bedroom. Before she closed the door behind her, he noticed her bare feet below the hem of her cloak and a glint of light from her bare calves, her long hair flourishing over her back like a moonlit ocean wave in her wake.

He inhaled and held his breath, shutting his eyes with a forlorn intensity. “Focus, mijo. Think priest and God stuff.” He tore himself out of his uniform before the next thought struck him.

As he was folding his uniform into a neat bundle, he followed the sound of her bedroom room, curious despite himself. When she came back dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, he let himself breathe again and tried to keep his relief.

She caught a glimpse of the nervousness on his face and smiled at him, hoping to set him at ease. “We wear some clothing for modesty when in the lodge with someone of the opposite sex.”

“Right. Makes perfect sense.” He set his bundle down, trying to mutter “stupid, stupid” again and again to himself under his breath. “Okay…how we do we start?”

“Is that metal?”

He looked down, realizing she was pointing at the cross he wore around his neck. His aunt had given it to him as a gift when he’d first signed up with Earthforce. He always wondered why he’d gotten a crucifix used to exorcize demons instead of the usual Saint Christopher medal for travelers. “Yeah, it’s a Saint Benedict cross.”

“You should remove it,” Wolf said. “Your link, too. It gets hot in there, and the metal can burn your skin.” While Darquin left his cross and his comlink on top of his folded uniform, she picked up a large abalone shell. Smoke, pungent and sweet with sage, rolled out of the shell. “First, we cleanse your body with the smoke.”

Slowly she swept the shell around him, thoroughly building rivers of fragrant smoke over him from head to toe. He kept still, watching with fascination as she fanned the smoke with an eagle feather. Then she did the same for herself, waving the eagle feather again, sculpting the haze around herself, meticulously reversing the movements–left where she had gone right over him, down not up.

She set down the shell and smoke. “We’ll go inside now. We enter on our hands and knees, and go to the left of the circle, so we are moving clockwise. I’ll go in first, and go all the way around, to sit by the door. Go to the back, opposite the door. Be careful to stay near the wall, in the center is the hot metal I use in place of heated rocks,” she added quickly with a smile.

“Okay.” Darquin went down on his hands and knees, mumbling, “Left of circle, clockwise….”

Singing Wolf led him into the lodge, crawling around the circle on the cloth she had laid down, and sat in the spot she had chosen before, waiting for him. He followed slowly, glancing at everything in the sweat lodge, in search of bearings. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her smile at him again.

“…opposite the door, close to the wall.”

“It’s all right,” she said. “I was nervous my first time also.”

“I’m always afraid of forgetting something, in these things. Rituals, I mean.”

“It’s all right if you do; I won’t scalp you,” she said with a mischievous grin. “Besides, we take small children into many rituals so they can learn. There’s no shame in going through the process of learning. Things are bound to be done wrong. It’s okay.”

He cautiously took a place across from the small entrance. “As long as I don’t break anything, I guess.”

“If you do, I’m sure it needed to be broken.”

“They must’ve loved you in Tuzanor.”

She laughed lightly, a sound like a kitten’s trill, and gave him a look warmed with compassion. “Ready?”

“Yeah. I’m ready.”

“Good. Then let go.”

She tugged the heavy door flap down, sealing the lodge in total darkness. Intently he listened to the hiss of steam as she poured water into the center of the darkness between them. To the low sound of a drum. And her soft singing filled the narrow sphere.

And you and I climb, crossing the shapes of the morning.
And you and I reach over the sun for the river.
– Yes, "And You And I"

Copyright (c) 2000 Joe Medina and Sam Stephens. All rights reserved.