Joshua keeps Rina on even keel after a nasty wobble in confidence. Thanks, Andy!--Maer
Friday, 01 Aug 2521
Kuiper II class, Summer’s Gift
Mystic, New Canaan
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
1130hrs, local time
I left Joshua tending the strawberry plants and took off for the galley to find something to put the peppers and the potatoes in. I knew I’d need a session at the chopping board to work off my upset over my gaffe. Charting a course through the maze of human relations wasn’t something I was terribly adept at and although my three years with the crew had given me some level of proficiency—and more, where Joshua was concerned—I still had to watch my step with the passengers. Kiera was still technically a passenger but as with Rick and Jake before her, the line between passenger and crew was quickly fading. It wouldn’t be long before she too became part of my family and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
I picked the peppers Joshua wanted, hunting through the leaves for the nicest heaviest ones, and wondered why I had let the matter with Kiera go unreported for so long. Part of it was from sheer habit. Anything that touched on my prior clandestine life I rigorously kept private and at the time, her offer placed it firmly in that camp. That she’d approached me the night Mike left for Miranda, my ties with him severed, was also a factor. I was in no fit state to make decisions of any consequence, a fact that Joshua had grasped far sooner than I had. And Joshua’s rejection of … what? my commitment? pledge? hadn’t left me in a good place either. So I fell back on my old habits of suspicion and paranoia and resisted giving Kiera a definitive answer.
And absent that answer and all the events that had followed after—slaving on Meridian, infiltrating the Victoria on Deadwood, and coming through the rescue yesterday—I’d barely had a moment to think on the consequences of my indecision til now. I sighed and turned to the potato vines and ran my fingers through the leaves. Joshua and Nika seemed to think little harm was done. Perhaps I should accept it and not punish myself too harshly for it and move on. Joshua had always said I never did anything by halves and as I found the potatoes suitable for the menu, I thought a little on that.
It was true. I hated doing anything half-assed—my misstep with Kiera’s proposal notwithstanding—and how much of that was healthy?
Forget healthy. Try sane. Take yesterday. Any sane person would have evacced from the engine room long before it flooded and you kept your stubborn ass down there til you nearly died. Why?
The question followed me all the way to the galley. It nagged me as I got out the chopping board and the knife and started on the vegetables.
The engine room was already going up, flames were crawling across the consoles and the fire suppression system was failing. Blinking tears past the smoke, I saw Ortiz pinned under the fallen girder with the fire coming fast for him. Shrugging off the crew’s hands, I dove through a gap in the flames and slid to a halt next to him. It was searing hot, my hands sizzled as I grabbed that girder and it resisted, then inched aside. It was getting dark from the smoke, getting hard to breathe, the fire and the shouts from the crew making it difficult to hear my ship, my girl … Somehow I dragged us back to the others, left Ortiz with them and dove back for the manual release for the suppression system. I got the panel open and yanked hard on the lever and thanked God when the retardant filled the compartment. All for nothing. I felt the shot that killed my ship, rocking us hard a-port, heard her groan from bow to stern, and screamed myself raw with denial: No….
I don’t know how long I stood braced at the counter, knife poised mid-task, before Joshua come up behind me.
Joshua was generally happy. His step had a bit of spring to it and his thoughts were revolving around Rina. Romantic gesture number one had worked out pretty decently. And while he had been a little harsher than he had meant to be about the whole Kiera thing, she hadn't seemed too upset. Now he just needed to think of what to do next.
With his thoughts preoccupied with matters romantic, it was perhaps forgivable he didn't notice Rina staring off into space with a knife in her hand. Oblivious to how something had her focused elsewhere, he came up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder, intending to ask her how the chopping was going.
I didn't know it was him. God help me, I didn't. I was still aboard Janus and dying with her. At the weight of his hand on my shoulder I spun, my knife whipping around in a killing stroke. My heart stopped as I realized my mistake and I tried to arrest my swing ... but momentum had me in its grip and the blade went straight for his throat.
His sensei had said time and time again, "Practice until all is instinct, because there will be a time when all that remains is instinct." Joshua had listened and practiced with dedication, but it wasn't until this moment that Joshua really understood what his sensei had meant. When Rina whirled around with the knife, Joshua's right arm shot up in an instinctive block of her forearm, pushing her arm and the knife up and out of the way of his throat. At the same time, he stepped in slightly and his left arm reached across, grabbing her wrist and immobilizing the arm briefly.
He stood for a moment holding her arm in the elbow lock. Then he took a deep breath in and released it at the same time he released her arm. The knife had come closer than he would have liked. Another thing his sensei had right:
Observation is both your best weapon and your best defense.
Rina must have been really focused on something. If he had been observing, he probably could've noticed and made an effort not to surprise. As it was, his touch must have startled her, trigging her natural instinct to defend herself. And with my good chef's knife, he thought, slightly indignant at the idea of dirtying up his best knife in his body. He looked at Rina, who was white as a sheet, and he cocked an eyebrow and smiled, hoping to defuse the tension a little. "If you hadn't wanted to chop the peppers, all you needed to do was say so."
Relief turned my bones to water and I nearly dropped the knife. Knowing it was Joshua's favorite kept my fingers wrapped on the handle and I sagged against the counter instead, and shook as adrenaline from shock slammed through me. I shut my eyes, turned my face, and tried not to think just how close I’d come to killing him.
Joshua gently took the knife and put it on the counter behind her. Then he hugged her close to him. "Breathe, okay? I'm fine, you're fine," he murmured to her as he worked to keep his own thoughts calm. A macabre joke crossed his mind and he instinctively shared it, continuing to try and reassure her through humor.
"I tried to shoot you once, this is only fair payback."
If history proved true, Rina wouldn't be able to resist speaking up. She always insisted it was she who pulled the trigger on that construction site with the Blue Sun agent looking on. That stubborn insistence might help kick her out of the state of shock she was in, he thought...he hoped.
His arms were strong and held me tight and I did as he asked and breathed. His joke fell flat. I let it pass. He was alive. Nothing else mattered as he slowly rocked me in the silence of the galley.
He stood there with her in the galley, the quiet only broken by the sound of their breathing. Finally, he said something because he needed to make sure. "Are you going to be okay?" Then he shook his head a little. "I don't need to ask that. I know you're going to be okay. Tougher than me by far. It was just an accident."
I'd tucked my face to his neck and nodded and sniffed against the prickle of tears. I pulled back to look at him.
"You don't give yourself enough credit, you know." Having something to disagree with helped steady me. "What you did on that boat yesterday wasn't nothing."
"No, no," he protested. "That wasn't tough, that was necessary. Lives were at stake, even if one of them was that stupid ass." No need to clarify which one.
"Anyway, no harm done, other than delaying the chopping of the vegetables." He ran his hand across her hair - he loved the feel and texture of it against his fingers. "Of course, to be fair, it doesn't look like it really got started anyway," Joshua teased as he looked over Rina's shoulder at a countertop full of intact vegetables.
"Forget the vegetables," I said, not willing to budge from my position. "Lives at stake or not, necessary or not, you did something incredibly difficult and dangerous and you should give yourself credit for it. And one more thing...." I grabbed his shirt and drew him down and kissed him long and hard.
He let himself fall into the kiss, both fiery hot on his lips and icy cool as it sent shivers down his spine. It also made him want to grab her and drag her back to his room, like the depiction of a caveman in that Cortex series, but he resisted. None of that until the courtship was finished. It had been hard enough the other night on the Lagniappe, but it would be worth it in the end, he told himself. She deserved to have it all done right.
Finally, he reluctantly pulled away and looked her in the eyes, saying, "I love you too." Then he spontaneously kissed her again briefly before stepping back a little.
"Not that I couldn't do that all day," he trailed off as he looked over at the vegetables. "But dinner won't make itself. I can help chop if you'd prefer not to take up the knife again."
I put everything in the kiss I couldn't put into words and when it ended I didn't protest. We were still on duty and as Joshua said, dinner wouldn't make itself.
"Please," I said, stepping back from the counter. "I don't want to touch it. Not right now. I can get the other ingredients together but you'd better do the chopping."
And so while Joshua made short work of the vegetables, I got the other things he needed for the meal. The menu plan on the fridge helped and Joshua was quick to point out the items I'd missed. So I washed and peeled and measured and sifted and got everything mise en place where he could reach it, then moved out of the way to let him work. I leaned against the fridge and watched, thinking that even if I wasn't cooking, I could be learning, and admired again the deft way he managed the contents of three pots and pans simultaneously, giving them a shake and a stir as needed.
Tonight was a fresh night - every so often, Joshua judged the amount of fresh food available and compared it to how much would be needed for the first class passengers. Botany Bay produced enough excess to create occasional nights where the entire crew could enjoy a completely fresh meal, if it was something simple. Tonight was one of those nights. The menu consisted of sauteed, spiced mushrooms, a pepper and potato hash, and some plain spaghetti tossed in olive oil and basil. Easy to fix but a welcome meal after eating canned for a while. He would still maim someone for a good steak but this would tide that desire over for a while.
As he approached a quiet point - everything was cooking with only his occasional attention needed - he looked over at Rina and asked, "So, what took your attention away from the chopping earlier? Something serious? Because it was an awfully violent reaction for being startled out of a pleasant daydream."
“Hardly pleasant,” I said softly, arms crossed, and examined my booted toes. “Hence my reaction.”
"Okay," he nodded as he lifted the lid on the mushrooms. He pushed them around with his spoon a little, giving the mushrooms some breathing room and his response to her a little space. After putting the lid back on, he turned around to look at Rina, bamboo spoon still in hand. "I'm happy to leave it be. If you want to talk about it, you know I'm always willing to listen."
"Maybe later," I relented, looking up. "This is your haven, Joshua. What set me off is ugly and I don't want to bring it in here. Well, any more than I have already. I'm sorry for that."
I was. God knew there were precious few places the crew could grab a moment of peace, manage an escape from pressure and worry. The galley was one of those places for Joshua and I didn't want to ruin it for him.
"My haven, my rules," he said casually. "But that's fine." He pulled the hash off the heat where it could sit for a few minutes. "You know, since I'm in charge of Botany Bay, I have more square footage of haven space than anyone else on the ship between that and the galley. Seems unfair somehow." And Joshua chuckled at the idea of mapping and measuring out each crew member's space.
"Well, since you seem willing to share it, fair really isn't that big an issue, is it?" I sketched a smile at him and turned on the counter edge. "I didn't get to thank you, by the way. For yesterday."
"You're welcome, but no need for thanks. I love you. You'd do the same for me." He smiled at her over his shoulder and reached his free hand over to rub her arm reassuringly. "And while perhaps next time," he continued as he pulled a piece of spaghetti out to test, "you could leave the engine for lost a little earlier, I don't have any room to talk." He snapped a bite of the long noodle. Perfectly al dente.
"I would," I agreed and moved closer. "And you have a ton of room to talk if I'm being stupid. And I was." I took his hand, stilling it as he stirred the pasta. "And what was worse, I endangered others. Not just myself, which would have only been fitting, but I endangered you. You and everyone aboard Lagniappe the longer you delayed for me."
He raised his hand towards his face, causing her hand to press up against his lips. He kissed her hand and then slipped his hands away to grab the pasta pot. As he slid past her to the sink, he said, "As I said, no room to talk. I don't believe it was that long ago that my recklessness was endangering the crew..." He paused, thinking about how to phrase it. "You were focused in. That can be a weakness at times, but don't forget that it is also a strength for you."
Joshua emptied the pot into a colander and let the pasta drain. As it drained, he turned around and motioned towards the skillet on the stove that Rina was now closest to. "Would you mind taking the mushrooms off the heat?" As she moved to do that, he looked at her with a serious look. "So if you don't like the way you acted, what's your plan to fix it? Not enough to know you made a mistake. Next step is preventing it from happening again, right?"
I did as he asked and thought a minute as I pushed the mushrooms around in the pan.
"I don't know, Joshua," I said finally. "Being stubborn is something I've always been. Maybe I should explain." I tapped the spoon on the rim and turned off the heat under the pan. "My relationship with my mother was always problematic, but I adored my father and my brothers. As far back as I can remember, I was always tagging along, trying to show them I was old enough, strong enough, smart enough to do whatever they were doing. It didn’t matter if I got warned off or left behind or fell flat on my ass, by God I was going to do everything, be everything, know everything they did. You can’t do that by being timid or nice or careful. You do it by being stubborn as hell and being fearless enough to risk everything you’ve got to get what you want. By the time I was five, they stopped saying no, they stopped putting me off, because I started getting results. I showed them. I proved my worth. And I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s saved me in some tight situations and I have to be honest—it’s gotten me into some tight situations I didn’t have to walk into, but for the fact I refused to go any other way. And after yesterday, I have to wonder if I should redraw that line. If you hadn’t found me, I would have died and gone down with the boat because I was too damned stubborn to give up when I should have. There’s something wrong with that and there’s something wrong with taking this long to see it. I don’t know where I’m going from here or what I’m going to do, I just know I have to do something. Something more reasonable. And it scares me." I put the spoon aside and looked at him. "I can’t lose my edge, Joshua. There are too many sharks in the water just waiting for me to bleed. I can’t let them win. I can’t."
First step might be to stop thinking of everyone as sharks in the water, he thought quietly. But that was Rina and it was both frustrating and endearing at the same time. If he wanted to give advice, it needed to be practical and logical. "No one's perfect, Rina," he chided as he dumped the pasta into a bowl to prepare it for the olive oil and basil infusion. "Everyone has weaknesses but if you don't let yourself recognize and acknowledge them, then you'll never be able to minimize or control it."
And Joshua reached for her shoulder to turn her facing towards him. "And your weakness," he said seriously, "is a strength for you in many situations and I don't want you to destroy that."
It made sense. And as for what I'd told him recently about how second-guessing oneself undermined the ability to act decisively? There was no second-guessing the hug I gave him, or the kiss afterward. I just moved in and did it.
As they finished the kiss, he looked at her with a smirk and said, "You are making it really hard to keep my promise to myself, you know. All this kissing makes me want to do bad, bad things with you." He pulled one arm away from her to motion at the various pots and bowls. "And with dinner prepping!"
He brought his arm back down and rubbed her back. "You're going to be fine. You'll learn how (and when) to apply moderation. Just look back at yourself from 10 years ago and see how you've changed. Or even a year ago. What's one more change?"
“Indeed,” I agreed. He’d spoken nothing but good sense and I anticipated I’d have much to think on before letting sleep take me when I turned in for the night. I stepped back and gave him some room. Working with Joshua in the galley this past year had given me a sense of timing, of how he did things, and why. I started pulling the plates and cutlery without being asked and together we got dinner to the table before it got cold.