More of a downer than we usually write but we ended it on an upbeat note. Andy wrapped it up before it could get too dark. LOL. Thanks, Andy!--Maer
Sunday, 11 Jan 2522
Durance class, Equinox
En Route to Whitefall
Georgia (Huang Long) system
1845hrs, ship’s time
Dinner was another attempt to fill Joshua’s shoes and as a cook, I had little complaint to put to Kiera. Her Coreside training shone a little brighter with the most elaborate meal of the day and I had to admit what she did with the frozen fish was tasty. I polished off my share without reservation but even as I did so, I missed Joshua’s cooking.
You’re hardly being fair. You felt the same way when Joshua took over for Christian. Give it time. We all need to settle into the new digs, the new duties … the new everything.
Not the least of which was this new vibe I’d been getting off Joshua. Even since before dusting off Boros, I’d caught the sense of distance off him, a deliberate isolation from the rest of the crew. I’d asked him about it soon after we’d left and he asked for time to deal with it on his own. I gave him that, not wanting to drag any unpleasantness into our relationship. Which explained why I didn’t linger at the table with the others after dinner but went aft to the engine room.
SmartShip problems aside, EQ (or so I’d taken to calling her in the privacy of my thoughts) really did a marvelous job of running herself. At the moment, nothing needed my attention. I frowned. Now what? I had several hours to fill until lights out and since Joshua had asked for time alone I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d do. Which just goes to show how gone you are on the man, the cynical side of me whispered. You had a life before Joshua. Why not reacquaint yourself with it?
I grabbed a shower and curled up in our shared quarters with a book I’d managed to find at a secondhand shop before we lifted off, a slim volume of Russian poetry. I piled the pillows high, pulled the blankets up and propped the book on my knees, and settled down to read.
Come off, little bug. Joshua picked a small black bug off the lettuce plant. He wasn't sure what it was, or for that matter how it had gotten on board, but he knew it didn't belong on the plant. Or on the ship. He sympathized with it though. The little guy was just trying to make its way the best it knew how in a strange environment. Suddenly, a strange force just crushes it out of nowhere. But that's life, he thought. The necessary happens and you either adapt or get crushed before you get a bite of the good stuff.
After giving the lettuce a spritz with the bottle of organic bug deterrent, Joshua removed his gardening gloves and decided to go in search of Rina. She had left dinner rather quickly and he wondered if she was upset with him. It wouldn't surprise him. Everyone lately seemed a little concerned about the distance he had been putting between himself and others. He wasn't even sure why, he just knew it was there, the unwanted spectator in every conversation. Much like the bug, he didn't know what it was, but he knew it could eat away at the lettuce of their love. The phrase "lettuce of their love" struck him as unreasonably funny and he chuckled a little as he went in search of Rina.
Time to stop tending plants and start tending to your relationship.
I'd just turned a page when the door to our quarters opened and in stepped Joshua. I closed the book on my finger to mark my place and gave him a smile.
"Dobryi vecher, Joshua." I hugged my knees closer. "Turning in early?"
God, so formal, but I wasn't sure anymore what tack to take with him.
"Came to check on you," Joshua replied. "Didn't know where you had run off to after dinner and I thought I would come see how you were doing. Is there room on that bed for me?" She didn't seem upset, which he understood could be really good...or really bad, depending. It was also possible she just wanted some alone time. He'd let her be the guide on that.
"Always," I said and moved to let him join me.
Joshua sat down next to Rina and pressed himself up against her side. He leaned his head over and looked at the book in her hands. "What are you reading? Or more importantly, is it any good?" He reached down and flipped the book open to where her finger had it marked. "Poetry? Not my strength, admittedly."
Knowing he'd see nothing but Cyrillic, I suppressed a smile and said, "Its merit depends on the reader, but I feel I should warn you, we Russians can be a gloomy lot when it comes to poetry. After all, we understand the utility of a good down." I gently reclaimed my book and smoothed its pages. "There's times when nothing else will do."
I leafed through the book until I found what I wanted and cleared my throat. "For example," I said and recited:
So you think you know the real meaning of fear?
Yeah, you think you do know, but I doubt it.
When you sit in a shelter with bombs falling all over.
And the houses around you are burning like torches.
I agree that you experience horror and fright
For such moments are dreadful, for as long as they last,
But the all-clear sounds—then it's okay—
You take a deep breath, the stress has passed by.
But real fear is a stone deep down in your chest.
You hear me? A stone. That's what it is, no more.
I looked up from the page with a quirk of a smile. "‘Sprakh’, by Ilya Selvinskiy. Like I said. We're a gloomy lot."
He shook his head as she finished. It was good, but she was right. Gloomy.
"I don't know. Too much for me, I think. I tend naturally towards seeing the light and not hugging the darkness." Which of course, made the time since Meadow a bit of an anomaly. But he wasn't really being gloomy. Not really. Just adjusting to a lot of new situations. And with Nika healing, they were headed out of the dark.
"Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Selvinskiy, Tutchev ... there was a period when I couldn't get enough of them." I closed the book and stroked its cover. It was cloth bound and threadbare on the corners and spine, but its pages were still uncreased and clean. A much-loved book and well-cared for, and I wondered how its owner had come to part with it. I brought it to my face and inhaled the dusty scent of old paper and caught the hint of ... lavender? No telling. "Of course, I like Shakespeare and Donne, too. Tonight I just felt the need for something ... down, I guess. But enough about me." I set the book aside. "How are you doing?"
He snuggled in close to her. "I'm good, I guess. Just feeling a little lonely lately. Nobody's fault but mine though." Joshua was just having a hard time making connections...to his role, to people, even to the ship. And no matter how much he struggled with it, he couldn't attach a cause. And without that, he was having trouble finding a cure. "I'll work myself past it, eventually. Stretching my drug dosage probably isn't helping matters, either," he admitted.
"Hey," I said softly and opened my arms to him.
He moved into her hug and just took pleasure in being close to her. Joshua had almost let himself forget how much comfort she could give him without doing anything but being there. "Love you," he said quietly.
He held me tight and I went light and buoyant inside with tenderness. I stroked his hair and caressed his face. "I love you back," I said and kissed him.
"Thanks for putting up with me. I know I've been in an odd mood and I may be that way for a while longer. Promise that it doesn't mean anything about us. All me." Joshua rubbed her arm gently. Maybe when Nika could see again, he could start putting things right. Or maybe when he got really adjusted to the new drug pattern. Or when he got used to not doing the steward thing. Or all of the above. But he had to have faith he'd work it out.
"It's okay," I said and stroked his back the way I would comfort Lem when the nightmares hit him. Inside I ached at how lost Joshua looked and sounded, but tried not to show it. Instead I gave him my secret smile and added, "Just don't forget I'm here."
"Not possible." He smiled at her. "You're what keeps me moving, Rina."
My smile deepened.
"Then why not move yourself and show me how much?"
Joshua kissed her deep before getting up and shutting the door completely, making sure they had privacy. Then he came back to the love of his life and let himself get lost in her.