The docking bays were crowded as the fighters and shuttles were returning, and Yoshino was doing her best not to get in anyone’s way, while at the same time watching for Darquin. It was hard not to fidget.
Darquin came out with the second line of Rangers shuffling out of the first shuttle, trudging till he reached a crate he could sit on and catch his breath.
She slipped through the moving crowd like a brown-clad ghost until she reached him. “Are you all right?”
“Oh yeah.” Grinning, he ran the wrist of his sleeve over his damp face. “A few of us got hurt. Nothing serious so far.”
“So Kriechbaum-san is all right as well?”
Darquin nodded. “I made damn sure of that myself.”
“Good. And I am very glad you are all right. I … was very worried.”
“I’m sorry about that. We didn’t have much time to talk before….”
“There wasn’t any time to lose. I understand that. But …” She took a step behind the crate and put one hand on each of his shoulders. “Maybe we should talk now.”
Darquin nodded. “I’d be happy to listen. Or say something, if I knew what,” he smirked. “What’s on your mind?”
She started to rub his shoulders. “I’m not quite a blind swordsman, but perhaps this will help.” From the drawn-out sigh he made and feeling the steely cords of tension give way under her fingers, she knew it was much needed as well as appreciated.
After a moment, she added, “It seems like since we’ve left Minbar, we’ve become real friends, neh?”
He angled his head to keep her from seeing him blush. “Uh-huh.”
“I don’t want to sound forward. I’m not sure how else to ask. Do you … somewhere along the line … want us to be more than that?”
At that, he nearly slipped off the crate.
She let out a yelp and caught him. “Tom!”
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Lost my footing, I guess. Anyway, you said….” He shrugged. “I… really try to not to worry about it. If it happens, it happens.” He glanced over his shoulder, cautious. “I admit… I’ve thought about it.”
“So have I,” she said, meeting his look head on.
He glanced away and, to her ears, gulped. “I’m worr — I mean, I’m sorry if I worried you.”
“You didn’t worry me,” she said, resuming her massage. “But I couldn’t help but wonder, how you felt.”
“You know how my back feels, that’s for sure,” he muttered without thinking. “Well, uh, I hope I didn’t give you the wrong impression or anything. I enjoy your company. I mean, I wouldn’t… want to do anything too soon.”
She worked on his shoulders for a minute in silence. “Are you still … trying to protect me?” she asked.
He held his breath, caught red-handed. “It wasn’t…. Okay. I guess I was. Let’s be honest about it.”
“I appreciate that,” she said with a smile. “Perhaps … given the way I was for a while, you might think you had to protect me.”
He turned to touch her hand. “I wanted to. You shouldn’t be hurt. Not again.”
She wrapped her fingers around his. “Thank you. I won’t let myself be hurt again, I can promise you that.”
“You got a deal.” He gave her a sheepish grin. “I don’t try to make a mountain out of it, but… you seem so gentle. And I always feel like a bull in a china shop. I don’t wanna mess up.”
“I’ve always liked your energy, your drive,” she said. “But I never thought it was clumsy. I’ve always known you wouldn’t hurt me.”
“Then you got more confidence than I do,” he said through a wry smirk.
“I trust you,” she said, giving his hand a soft squeeze. “You are an honorable person. You have your code, and I’ve never seen you break it.”
He chuckled. “Is it showing?”
“More clearly than you might think,” she said, releasing his hand and working on the knot of muscle at the base of his neck.
He sighed again, savoring. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I know. I wanted to. You looked like you needed it.”
“What… do you need, Marina-chan?”
Her hands came to a stop for a moment. “I … I guess, I need to know … where I stand. With you.” She looked around, to see if anyone was near enough to hear her speaking. Still, her next words were almost whispered. “I need to know if you want me, as much as I want you.”
He gave the docking bay a glance, picking up on her caution. Then he leaned in close, and gave her lips a long, enduring kiss. When he pulled away, she breathed out a girlish laugh.
“Looks like it scared you as much as it scared me.” A deep blush lit his awkward smile. “I’d say yes.”
ISA Phoenix–“I’ve Been Waiting” © 2004 Jamie Lawson & Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2004 Warner Bros.