Darquin trudged through Station House, into his old Security Chief’s office to sit at his desk for the first time in days. He let his chair pull him into its cushions and rubbed his burning eyes.
Serving temporarily as first officer had come naturally to him, more than he’d expected. Maybe it was his situational awareness as a fighter pilot or the intimate knowledge of the ship he acquired as Security Chief. But the circumstances, with Captain Hale seriously hurt and yet another mysterious enemy force watching the ship’s every move, made every action and decision feel like a twelve-g turn.
He glanced at the office viewscreen and watched his security teams carry out his orders. They surged back and forth, in and out of Station House. The mission had changed from search-and-destroy to first contact. The crew had to be ready for anything. Diplomacy. Open warfare. Boarding parties. Anything.
That went especially for him and Morgan. The prospect of first contact called for them to meet the extraterrestrials. Contact. Contagion. A fight to the death. Anything.
He frowned at himself. This was supposed to all in a day’s work for the Rangers.
A chirp from his handlink interrupted his thoughts. With a mix of dread and gratitude, he brought it closer to his lips. “Darquin. Go.”
He allowed a weary grin when he heard her voice.
“There are a few things we should…discuss before you leave. Could you perhaps meet me in my quarters? Please?”
“Sure, I’ll see ya there. Darquin out.” He shook the fatigue out of his body, then headed for the nearest lift and Yoshino’s quarters.
On his way there, he found himself contemplating the tone of her voice when she called, the slight catch of tension. He was on the verge of pushing the thought aside. The entire crew had been waiting, sitting on the cusp of a nascent galactic war for several days. Everyone had a case of nerves.
But he knew better than that. And he knew her. Yoshino held something back when she called him. And those unspoken words had lent a flutter to her gentle voice.
Some things, you don’t bother to ask or wonder; you just act. He went to her quarters.
He pressed the call button and announced himself as soon as he reached her door. When it opened, he saw that she was not wearing her uniform — instead, she had on the brilliant red and gold kimono she had worn on the evening they had last left Minbar. The only difference, he saw when she stepped back to let him in, was that her feet were bare.
“Thank you,” she said. “I know there’s not much time before you have to leave.”
He grinned. “News travels fast.” Watching her, remembering that evening only a few weeks ago, sensing a deathgrip tautness that wasn’t there that night, he gave up his efforts to keep it casual. “What’s the matter, Marina-chan?”
She caught her breath and rushed to him, wrapping her arms tightly around him and pressing her head into his shoulder.
His fingers slid over the silken fabric over her back. “I….it’ll be okay. All we’ll do is talk a lot, probably. Except me. I won’t say a word and I’ll keep out of it.”
“I know you have to go,” she said, speaking fast. “I would never, ever try to stop you. But … you might not come back.”
“I’ll find a way. Always have. Believe me, I’ll be careful.”
She lifted up her head to look him in the eyes. “I was going to be so elaborate and coy about this — you see.” She waved one arm, setting the scarlet silk rippling like a flame. “But there’s no time — and I never was that kind of person anyway. Tom ….” She changed to Japanese. “… may I give you my heart?”
The first reply in his head was almost glib, that her heart was a treasure and how he would protect it. Then he looked past the literal meaning of her words. She was using a Japanese expression and, like the Minbari, they often veiled their true feelings.
A hard rush of heat ran through his face. His head rang with memories and regrets unearthed long after their time.
Fear nearly drove his eyes away from hers. He didn’t dare now. “I have thought about you. And us.” He chuckled. “I really can’t imagine life without you. And I’ve seen so much courage and…beauty in you. I wish I had a better word than that. And I have no idea what you see in me. But I do…love you, Marina-chan. I’m just not sure if we should do this.”
She struggled to keep the confusion out of her expression, knowing she was probably failing miserably. “Nande? We both know we … want each other, so …” She studied him for a moment, seeking the imprints of concealed emotions in his face. “This … it’s not about me, is it. Not even about us. It’s about you.”
“Fine, it’s me. I’m sorry.” He glanced away to keep a flash of anger to himself, then shrugged. “Everything gets so complicated. But I try not to be.”
She spoke very gently, an overwhelming rush of compassion rising through her like a tide, spilling out a drop from each eye. “One of your secret sorrows. Like the nightmare about your parents.”
“Oh, c’mon — ”
“Am I mistaken?”
“Well, it makes me sound like a romance novel or something. But yeah.” Anguish glimmered in his dark eyes. “Things … happened.”
She loosened her grip on him, just enough to tell him that he could step back, if he wanted to. “Can you tell me about it?”
Shaking his head, he looked for the words. “What happened to my family, I try not to forget. Other things, I wish I could. Back on Abbai, the same night I nearly got myself fragged, one of those things came right back. And after what? 15 years?”
Her eyes widened. “The Earth-Minbari War.”
“I was just a kid. Lucked out in flight training. Earthforce wanted pilots.” He waved his hand, swatting aside any hint of significance. “I was going to join the Line and there was a girl — Hmph. ‘Girl.’ She outranked me.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know what you’ll think of me. Hell, I dunno what I think of me. But we were scared. And we were there.”
A sudden flush of shame, all the more brilliant for her pale skin, colored her cheeks. “She … didn’t make it back.”
Darquin shook his head. “It was a long time ago. But I never felt right about it.”
“I don’t think you did anything wrong.” She shook her head. “How could I when here I am, doing so much the same? Please forgive me. If you want to … leave, I would understand. Truly. I never meant to hurt you.”
“Kinda sudden, that’s — ”
Blinking away tears, she stepped aside, cursing herself under her breath. “Riko-teki na baka.” Selfish idiot.
“Hey.” He snapped the word out. Intended or not, it was an order that made her turn and face him “You did nothing wrong. It’s me.” Without thinking he dug deep and pulled the answer out of himself like a thorn. “I … I’ll lose you too.”
Her breath suddenly caught in her throat. It all fell into place, his entire life as walking wounded laid out, end to end, for her to see. That was the barbed grit his psyche had grown around. And in an unbidden artless voice, quiet and contrite, he revealed a child who blamed himself for losing … everyone.
“Tomás.” She reached out and placed her hand on his chest. For once she didn’t hide the loss of her finger. “Don’t do to your heart what I did to my hand. You don’t deserve it.”
He put his hand over hers. “I made it all complicated, didn’t I?”
“No, it is the world around us. It affects each of us deeply, sometimes in cruel ways. It forces us to be strong.”
“Or silent,” Darquin said.
Yoshino nodded. “A terrible price. We have that in common, I think. I understand that better now. My feelings for you haven’t changed.”
She put her arms around him, letting his head rest on her shoulder. They embraced again, their private fears still present, but far away like ancient stars. The warmth between them was keeping the void at bay.
“Tom…will you be leaving soon?”
“Not for a while. They’re coding the translators ….”
He stopped when he saw the fragile grin playing at the corners of her mouth. Her cheeks took on a warm strawberry glow. He let his hands pass over her sides and trace her hips, feeling the muscles in her body tighten.
“We have a few hours,” he said.
The grin on her face grew wider.
That's the way of the world Plant your flower and you grow a pearl A child is born with a heart of gold The way of the world makes his heart grow cold – Earth, Wind & Fire "That's The Way of The World"
Copyright (c) 2006 Jamie Lawson and Joe Medina. All rights reserved.