After Darquin left the lab, Margaret looked at Kordieh for a few moments, then said quietly, “Let us get some tea. I think we could both use it.”
“Yes,” he agreed with a vigorous nod. “Lead the way?”
“I can have it sent to my office, if that is fine? I am not going to be off-duty any time soon.”
He nodded again. “You should take some time to rest, somewhere along the way.”
She shrugged a little, leading the way out. “If there is a moment.”
He followed her quietly, through the ship and to her office near the bridge. Once they reached it, he said, “I apologize if I overstepped, back in the lab. I’m … not used to being so close to the mission, so to speak.”
“No – I wanted to emphasize you didn’t. There just hasn’t been much enthusiasm here the past few days.”
“I’d like to think that will change — who would have thought that there was a species capable of building a Dyson sphere still in the galaxy?” His bright expression faltered. “But why, if they’re capable of doing that, would they be attacking people like the Rolui telepaths? It doesn’t make sense.”
“It doesn’t,” she agreed, waving him to a seat. She paused to place an order with the galley before joining him.
“I wanted to thank you,” he said. “For having so much trust in me. By rights, I shouldn’t be involved in this at all.”
“I know you want to contribute. This seems to be the right opportunity for now.”
He nodded. The arrival of the requested tea helped to fill what had threatened to become an awkward silence. As he took the first sip, he yawned. “Sorry,” he said. “I guess you’re right, that I needed this. Been pulling double shifts in Medlab.”
“I think that is true for most of us right now. I would not tell you to stop – it would be… the pot calling the kettle black.” She smiled wryly, then hesitated, glancing at the sandwich the galley had sent up without being asked to. Finally she pulled it in half, offering him part of it.
He startled slightly, then leaned forward in his chair to take it, settling back hard. “Thanks,” he said after finishing it off in a few quick bites. “Sorry, I guess I’m a bit distracted.”
“Thinking about what, this time?” She leaned a little closer to him, not wanting it to seem like an interview.
“How quickly things change. Just a few days ago, I was certain of the way my life was set, in so many ways. Now it’s all upside down again. Not for bad, but still …” he shrugged.
“Ie, I understand. On several levels.” She rested her hand near his arm, not quite touching.
He looked down at it for a moment, then quickly caught it up in his own, lacing their fingers together. Startled, she inhaled sharply, but didn’t pull away, instead looking at him. He smiled awkwardly. “I’m not much of a romancer, I’m afraid. But I do want to see you again, when we are both off-duty. And soon.”
“I hope it is soon. Acting captain is more different than I thought it would be,” she admitted.
He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “How so?”
She took a breath first. “It is probably just the situation, but it is… unending. Always one more thing to look at, or worry over. And all these lives…” She trailed off, looked down at their joined hands.
“It’s an incredibly difficult thing, being responsible for an entire ship full of people,” he said. He shook his head and hesitated a moment before adding wryly, “I know it myself.” A ghost of a smile played around her lips, but she didn’t look up. He followed her gaze down, waited a moment, then said, “Something bothering you, cherie?”
She shook her head. “Only wishing there was more leisure to be had.” She looked up then. “And sometimes I wonder if I am dreaming this.”
He grinned. “I’ve asked myself the same thing, and decided that if I am, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy it. And the leisure will come, no doubt. I’ll just do my best to be patient until then.” He lifted her hand to his lips.
“Patience,” she sniffed, but softly, watching.
He let the kiss linger for a long minute before gently releasing her hand. “I should go,” he said, standing up.
She took a moment before answering. “Find me when you are done. I will try to take a break longer than… tea and half a sandwich.” She gave him a quirked smile.
He grinned again. “Au revior, cherie.”