The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Part 2
Characters: Tomás Darquin
Note: Mature subject matter comes into play at the beginning of this section. A keyword search for the word “grateful” will take you to the next section, marked as 4. For those who like this log either way, think of it as a belated Valentine/Halloween/Easter card… thing. –Joe
Soldiers and pilots had been walking out by the score to their assigned hangars after President Levy’s plea–the call to the Line–over the comm systems of every Earthforce base on the planet. But Darquin had taken his time, to prepare himself for the end, so he stayed in his squadron’s locker room. He’d had joined Earthforce to explore space, shortly before the Prometheus incident that triggered the relentless Minbari attacks. And for the better part of two years, he’d had to confront the prospect of humanity’s extinction and what if it happened because of something he’d failed to do. This time he had to face his own extinction.
Forever falling, poisoned by CO-2, his own dying breath. The void feeding on his body heat. Nothingness.
But being vaporized on the first hit…that was all right.
As he pulled out his flight gear and his cross, he saw another pilot closing her locker, in the process of doing the same. He’d never seen her before, but with so many pilots being rushed from base to base to keep squadrons at full strength, that wasn’t unusual. And he’d come practically straight from the flight simulators.
He found himself watching her, memorizing her face: thin, the color of butterscotch, and stern enough to stare down the whole Minbari fleet. She kept the woolly curls of her chestnut hair in an almost expressionistic ponytail. Her nose was long. Her lips, lavender and full, like a pink rose. Large milk chocolate eyes. This could be the last woman he’d ever see.
Sadness trickled through his stomach like melting ice.
She looked at him with cold, dark eyes, dumping her flight suit on a bench. On instinct he stepped back, his face burning. She’d caught him staring at her like a dumb kid. Very green, very stupid. He tried to unravel the muscles in his jaw as she stepped forward, bracing himself for the bloody nose, certain that it was coming.
She cautiously approached him and stopped within arm’s reach, saying nothing, watching him face her down with a mix of dread and determination. She gave him a melancholy smile, warm and full of regret, and started to turn back.
The lump in his throat had told him to just suit up and leave. But his heart was beating furiously, demanding to kiss her hand, possibly the last one in the world. The Minbari had sentenced the human race to death. And yet all he could think of was whether she was straight, already seeing someone, or was going to laugh at him. It was a silly idea anyway, he thought. A romantic farewell to the world he was about to die for? He was no Cyrano.
He moved slowly, ready to apologize and turn away at the slightest twitch. Shaking, he slid his fingers under hers.
Then she reached out for him, a lonely glimmer in her eyes, as if fighting not to drown. The heat and taste of her mouth warped his awareness. He’d had kissed a girl before, but not like that, using up each second before it burned out forever. Terrified … set free … in flames … all three at once. He couldn’t feel the seconds pass. Her fingers explored his hair. Her hips, their weight, felt so real in his hands. The fabric of her uniform rubbed a tingling awareness into his fingers.
Tangled together he and she slid across a wall of lockers, keypads bleeping under their shoulders, metal chilling their skin. Before they realized it, they had spilled into a shower stall and, crashing into the walls, had set off the hot water sprays, the shower door swinging shut behind them. They took no notice. The steam and her damp matted curls tickled his nose, smearing the universe into a hypnotic tropical haze, when she kissed his throat with frantic desperation.
He glanced down when she pushed aside her trousers, and a thousand possible consequences turned his mind into a battlefield. Mono, purgatory, pregnancy, dishonorable discharge. He wasn’t even sure what her rank was, but she’d must have been several zillion rungs higher up the ladder than he was. He started to struggle out of her arms, in sheer panic.
But she leaned into him again, filling his sight again with her dripping tresses. She took his hands and pressed one against her hip, leading the other around herself. His fingertips slid across her bare skin, as if touching wet satin.
Darquin had found himself staring into her eyes, transfixed when he didn’t see doubt. They’d had to go out to the Line whether their seams were straight or not. The God he believed in wouldn’t have orchestrated this moment just to punish them for it. They’d been given a chance to feel loved–or at least wanted–before they had to die.
He kissed her face long and hard, flashing on images from clandestine late-night readings. Mumbling apologies, he carefully dragged himself down her body. As hot water and her honey-gold waist rolled over him, he sighed despite himself. Her bare thigh caressed his ear as she draped her leg over his shoulder. The rough tile grout had begun to dig at his knees. Darquin nuzzled her knee, lingering inside her thigh, waiting to be pushed away. Cradling his head in one hand, her foot nudging his back, she pulled him closer.
Gently he let her warmth fill his mouth. She choked out a startled command, grabbing a fistful of his hair, then surrounded him with her languid embrace, murmuring a rising, wavering sound that broke his heart.
When it was over, they’d jumped into their flight gear, braving an occasional glance at one another, and scrambled their Starfuries to join the Line.
Darquin let himself look away from Abbai Four’s night sky, thinking of it as a graveyard. Many light-years away, about fifteen years ago, it had been.
Tradition had taught him that death was just another part of life, made of the same fabric. He was more aware of it now than ever before, boxed in by casket villages and shimmering funeral urns in the sky.
“The first time I….” He let his hands fall to his sides. “The first time. I didn’t find out her name till a week and a half later. Feels like I dreamed the whole thing. Sometimes.”
“Did you ever see her again?”
He shot a look over his shoulder, at Chris Rawlings. “She didn’t make it back.” He waited for more cheap shots, grateful for the silence. “I’ve gone to her grave a few times. Sometimes when I’m there, I wonder if she paid a price. Because of me.”
“You don’t look Minbari.” Rawlings nodded at Darquin’s Anla’shok uniform, chuckling. “I stand corrected. But listen, you just met her–”
“Since when did you ever care?”
“Look, look, all that’s happened…maybe, you know, you’ve been overcompensating ever since.”
Darquin blinked. “Overcompensating?”
“Yeah, about women. Overprotective.”
That got a snort of amusement out of him. “Asking people out got easier, I know that much.” He considered, scrutinizing all the bittersweet dreams and memories that kept his old nightmares at bay. “Am I tryin’ to find something … I dunno. Doesn’t feel that way, but that doesn’t count for lots either. But it’s sure as hell not some scavenger hunt, like the way you do it.”
“Wait a minute–”
“I was always afraid that’s all I was doing, all this time. But not after this.”
“Wait, hold it.” Rawlings flagged him down. “What are you talking about?”
“Are women are my favorite weakness? Yeah. I’m not ashamed of that. With them I can be myself, drop my defenses and all the acts….” Darquin smiled sheepishly as more memories came to mind. “Well, sometimes. And if I’m God’s gift to women, it’s news to me. Feels like they’re doing me a favor if they listen to me at all.”
Rawlings grinned. “I suppose you’ve never dated anyone that was hard to look at?”
“Nice lines ‘n’ a bunch of thrusters only get you so far.”
“And any landing you can walk away from–”
Darquin rolled his eyes and waved his hand as if slapping away a gnat. “Fine, I’ll put it to ya another way. There’ve been a few women I couldn’t stand the sight of. But only because they were jerks like you.”
Rawlings’ mouth fell open by a fraction. “I’ll take that offer to call this off now.” He pulled out a sealed letter-sized envelope from inside his Earthforce jacket and flinged it into Darquin’s chest. “Here.”
Darquin examined it closely for circuits, withered patches in the envelope, any telltale signs of tampering. “What’s this?”
“Do I look like a security checkpoint? You’re supposed to get it, that’s all I know. I’m heading out.”
Darquin watched the apparition in Earthforce blues open the door of the staircase, and listened to the door slam shut. He didn’t move, thank his god, or anything else that might disturb the night air, only registered the sound till it faded into the ambient noise of the Abbai village below, making sure none of it had been a dream.
When the door’s clang surrendered to the night breeze, he shook the envelope, feeling the folded paper shift inside before he tore off one of the short edges. He inhaled as he opened the note–waited for the exhale to come online. He touched the paper with his free hand to see if the sheet was real, if the ink was wet or printed. The pen strokes were there, some grooves in the paper deeper where they should have been.
No one ever felt that way about me. Sorry I can't be there. Mercedes
He slowly shook his head, raising his wrist to his side of his nose, failing to stop the tears crawling down the self-conscious grin on his face. He recognized the name spelled out in the rounded, girlish handwriting and crushed it shut out of instinct, to make sure no one else saw her name. He’d kept it secret all these years, the least he could do for her.
He snatched up his pack and ran into the building, pounding down the stairs. He looked below, but he was alone. He bolted down the steps even faster, barging through door after door till he was racing into the empty street.
Drinking to her, hoarding her memory like a stolen prize wasn’t enough, not if she could come back. He could still learn who she was and what she knew. And he knew she would have taught him those things. She could have given him a home that he never knew he had, inside a smile he had seen only in glimpses, in memories and dreams. He’d gone on with his life, but that life bore her fingerprints. For this one night, he didn’t have to let her go.
For the first time in his life he called her name. His cries burned in the night, dissolving into vapor.
Oh come back above Where there is only love Only love.... Let me love you true, let me rescue you Let me bring you to where two roads meet – "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" Lyrics by Salman Rushdie & Bono "The Million Dollar Hotel" Film Soundtrack (c) 1999
Phoenix–“The Ground Beneath Her Feet” © 2000 Joe Medina
Babylon 5 ™ and © 1998 Warner Bros.