Of Course They Will
Terri, thanks *immensely* for this one. I really enjoyed it and thought I learned something new about Joshua. Going to be a very interesting season for him...
Sunday, 05 Jan 2521
Durance class, Equinox
En route to Whitefall
Georgia (Huang Long) system
1345 hrs, ships time
It's not a long flight, but it's not exactly been uneventful either. The blind captain of the Equinox has been keeping a low profile with the passengers for the most part. Not giving the impression of avoidance but definitely not seeking out too much in the way of conversation either. As she has always done, she's spending a lot of time in the bridge -- in this case because it is where she is ultimately the most comfortable. And even a blind woman can sit a sensor watch. Nika is leaned back in the chair, listening to the sensor pings when the sound of footsteps bring her attention toward the door. She knows it's Joshua's turn to take a watch. She deliberately took this one in order to make certain he had to speak to her -- because he's another who's gone out of his way to maintain a low profile. "I don't suppose you're bringing coffee with you?" she asks with a flutter of her eyelashes toward the door.
"Of course I am." Joshua had gathered a mug on his way to the bridge, specifically for Nika. He was probably the only person on board that didn't drink coffee obsessively, it seemed. But because of that, he knew to always have a cup of coffee on hand or to have the machine percolating at all times.
He walked over to Nika and pressed the mug into her hands before sitting down with a thump. "For a short trip, I feel worn out. And that's with me doing less. Ah well." His tone was that of resignation to the state of affairs.
He made a quick scan over the sensors before turning around to face her. She couldn't see him, but she'd be able to hear which direction he was speaking to. Besides, it was rude to do otherwise. "So, everything running smooth, it seems?"
Nika's hands wrap around the cup and she brings the brew to her nose to smell it appreciatively. Resting her chin on the rim of the cup, she murmurs quietly, "Well.... most things are running smooth. As smooth as can be expected in a ship we're still not entirely sure of with a blind captain who ... put her foot in a pile of cow droppings and then rammed it into her mouth to chew her way up to her knee before she figured out what she did wrong." Her tone is rueful and holds regret. "I think I owe you an apology, Joshua. Maybe several."
"Nika, you don't owe me anything, apology or otherwise." Joshua thought he had an idea where she was headed with this and kind of wished she wouldn't. Yes, he had been upset when Nika had taken her job back. But it hadn't really been his to hold in the first place, no matter what either of them had said. It was his own fault that he had gotten way too involved with the idea. But much like the other two women aboard this ship, once Nika really got set on something, she wouldn't let it go easily.
Like it would hurt you to accept an apology, especially if it makes her feel better.
Joshua sat and waited for her to say what she needed to say.
His tone gave every indication of wanting to shut down the conversation before it started and Nika sighed quietly. "If that's how you want it, Joshua," she said as she set the mug carefully on the console. "I can't tell if what's coming between us is the situation with the ship or not. I can't watch your expression or see how you're responding to things. I can only go by what you say to me and how you sound when you say it.... and what I hear is not just the unease that this ship is creating in you. I hear... reticence. And I don't know how to bridge it." She offers a faint smile to him that holds a hint of sadness as she says baldly, "I miss my friend. It's... lonely in the dark. Even when there are people around."
Joshua couldn't help but chuckle a little when she responded to him, a little self-deprecating laugh. Nika was the third person today to say or imply Joshua was pushing away from them. How did that expression go?
One is isolated, two is coincidence, three is a pattern in motion.
He sighed a little as he took a hand into his, looking for physical contact to help to substitute for the visual gap between them. "You wouldn't be the only person to say that, Nika. Hell, you wouldn't be the only person today. " He frowned as he thought about it. What was his problem? He continued on, his confusion evident in his voice. "I don't know. Was I upset about you being Captain? Sure, maybe a little. But that was stupid of me and I'm trying my best to do my best. Any blame over being upset belongs to me."
He shrugged his shoulders, letting the motion pass down through his arms and into his hands so she could feel it. "Maybe Meadow changed me for the worse. Or maybe the ship really is getting to me. 'Cause, honestly, I'm feeling kind of oddly lonely these days too."
Her hand tightens around his. "You were upset because I made an offer that in retrospect we probably both knew better than to entertain. Or if we didn't, we should have," Nika says quietly. "You have every right to be upset, and that's just something I have to live with -- it was a tease. Not an intentional one, but that doesn't make it any less a tease. You had already told me what you wanted. And I offered it to you then snatched it away. It was wrong. Apologies don't make that better, we're just going to wade through it as best we can."
She goes quiet for a time and then says, "I don't know that it was Meadow. Not specifically." Nika's face turned toward the viewports as they often used to when she was thinking though she cannot see the Black beyond. "Maybe we're all feeling .... burned. More cautious with the core of ourselves. There's a difference between understanding reasons for an action and forgiving the action. And a difference between being willing to give a second chance and offering trust." Her lips purse slightly and she seems to consider her words. "I know I don't exactly feel on steady ground."
She was right about that - forgiving and understanding lived on separate islands and trust lived on its own continent far away from the other two. But it was more than that, it was some sort of unspoken expectation that seemed to be hanging over Joshua that everyone could see. Everyone but him, that is. He followed her empty stare out into the Black. He could feel Nika drawing something from it, even if she couldn't see it. He thought about the irony of wanting to be able to see the nothing of space but not being able to. Even blind, she saw it better than him, though.
Still staring out, Joshua said, "It's funny, I must be the Verse's worst Reader. It feels like everyone wants something different out of me, but I can't figure out what." He just kept falling short, it seemed, even with Rina. Especially with Rina.
"But I want to be your friend, Nika. I hope we're still friends. Whatever you're sensing from me, it's not you, it's me. To use that classic line." He smiled a small smile. "You're not to blame."
"Well, I wouldn't go that far," Nika replies with a small smile. "I don't know what it is that I'm getting from you. Except maybe that you're.... trying to find your way through something." Reticence, as she said. When her face turns back to him, those ruined eyes never quite touching on him, she asks quietly, "Are you blaming yourself? Keeping yourself apart because you think that .... somehow you either should have sensed or been able to head off what happened?"
"If I knew why I was keeping myself apart, I'd tell you, I promise, but I don't seem to be aware of what I'm doing." He paused for a minute to consider her question. Did he blame himself? Looking over what he had been feeling...what he was feeling now, he would have to say the answer was yes. But it was more than that, he realized.
His voice was serious when he spoke, with none of the lightness that usually underlined his speech. "Yeah, Nika, I do. I was the one there with you. I know you're a perfectly competent human being, but I still feel guilty about not doing enough. But you know what I really feel guilty about?" He rushed on without giving her a chance to respond. "I feel guilty about taking the opportunity to reinforce getting what I wanted instead of making sure you got what you needed."
Excellent job of being a pretty lousy friend and human being, Joshua, he reprimanded himself. He didn't know if he really deserved that. But it felt like he did.
Nika's tone betrays surprise. She'd been referring more to the situation that landed them on Meadow in the first place, but his mind had taken them somewhere else. "You feel responsible for my eyes?" she demands incredulously. As to the second, though, she shakes her head adamantly.
"Joshua.... there was nothing you could have said in that conversation that would have made me believe I could still do this job. I offered what I offered.... as a way to save face while I trained you a little better to take over. So that you guys could take the ship and keep flyin'," Nika admitted softly. "It took wind shear in a canyon and a man who has no emotional ties to me at all to give me back just a little bit of the sense that I might be able to function."
Nika added softly, "I'm afraid to allow myself to hope that my eyes will be able to be fixed. And I'm still not entirely convinced that stayin' on here is the right thing. But gorram it.... this is my home. And I'm not giving up without a fight."
Good for her. He liked the Nika with fight much more than he liked the one barely clinging to hope. But that she was going to come through the other side okay didn't change what he felt.
"I didn't say what I felt was logical, Nika." He smiled. "It just is. But I'll try not to let it get in the way anymore. Either on the job or as friends."
Nika leans forward, her hands clasping and her elbows resting on her spread knees. She looks up toward him without really seeing. "Joshua... I can live with the fact that you're mad at me. You have every right to be and it'll take as much time as it takes to deal with the hurt I gave you." Her own guilt is hers to deal with. "To know that you will eventually be able to forgive me the slight is all I really need."
There's a pause and she says, "For what it's worth to you, I think you're going to be one hell of a captain. You'll learn a whole lot about what not to do from me, I reckon." There's a faint smile and Nika says, "But know that there is no blame in me at you for my eyes. Or for whatever it is you feel you did in accepting an offer that we probably both should have known better than to think would work."
Hearing her compliment him made him feel good, even if she balanced it with a strike against herself that she didn't deserve. As far as the other thing?...
"Nika, there was never anything for me to forgive. The Captain is the Captain as long as he or she is capable. And I've always known you were capable. No matter what happened. I buried that thought when you needed to hear it the most so that I could keep playing undeservedly at the role. And it *was* undeserved. Someday, maybe that will change."
In the meantime, he would adjust. A new ship meant even a old role was new and with his steward duties no longer his, it was a matter of making the mental readjustment. If anything, his inability to adjust to the new ship and role showed how poorly suited he was to play Captain right now. More time and more learning.
"But thank you for forgiving me. It does make me feel better." And it did. He didn't know if he and Nika would return to the working relationship they had before. Probably not, he thought. The proverbial taste of power he had been given probably had permanently changed how he would interact with her. But different didn't have to mean bad. This was a good first step toward figuring out what their new relationship might be.
Nika already knows she can't change his mind when he's set on internalizing something. So she says simply, "You kept us all alive. Seems to me it's all in the eye of the beholder on whether it was deserved." And to her mind, it was. Hell, who's ever ready for command? She wasn't. Sometimes still isn't. "You gonna sit here and have coffee with me?" she asks mildly. Because some habits are well worth keeping.
"Of course I am," Joshua said, as he sat with her on the bridge, one captain and one someday captain sharing an old habit in a new space.