Second Star to the Right
Sitting on the bridge of the shuttle, the silence isn't uncomfortable exactly. They've managed by now to settle into some kind of relationship since the bioattack that is far more circumspect than the flirting they'd been doing before the illness and subsequent dead-on-the-table experience. Nika hasn't spoken to him of the nightmares that she suffered for several weeks after that, working through her feelings and fears in her own head rather than sharing them. As they sit in the shuttle's pilot chairs in their sort-of-companionable silence, though, she finally rolls her head on the headrest to look toward him. "I think this is the first time we've actually sat in a room alone since you cracked open my ribcage and put your hands on my internal organs," she says quietly. And her next question holds a tone of curiosity. "Are we okay? Cuz I don't want this .... *thing* ... this silence we seem to have now ... to shred the crew."
Arden makes a show of studying the instruments for a second then sighs softly, "I've noticed it too. And I don't like it. Arden shrugs, "But I don't know how to get around it." He pauses, and then says, "Let me start over... Yes, I'm fine. I miss the flirting and camaraderie that we had... absolutely. But at least we have whatever this is we have now. If I hadn't've operated on you, we wouldn't even have that and I would be much more lonely." Arden smiles.
He sobers and looks directly at Nika, staring into her deep blue eyes, "Are you okay with what we have? The way you asked it sounds as if you were looking for confirmation that we were sharing the same feelings?"
"I don't know how to get around it, either," Nika admits, averting her eyes a bit. She seems reluctant to put voice to her thoughts. "It's ... I can't say I much like it. I'd grown used to the flirting," she says with a faint smile. "I don't quite know what to make of where we are now. Hell, I wasn't even sure what to make of where we were before you put your hands inside my chest." She hesitates, and then she looks back at him, offering for perhaps the first time an explanation for her reluctance to go beyond the flirting/camaraderie stage.
"I generally keep my flings off the ships that I serve on. Even when I've been involved with someone on board -- which has happened before, I admit, though only once -- I try to be ... circumspect." And what they've been up to is anything BUT circumspect. Nika sighs and considers her words, struggling to voice her thoughts. "There's a kind of friendship among crews that can be fractured if there starts to be resentment. And sex is the best way to foster resentment on long hauls -- people got nothing better to do than live in each other's pocket, and if you've go a small crew with limited opportunities for sex cuz you're in the Black for weeks or months and only groundside a few days or a week in between... well, I've seen some bad things happen with people have decided to alleviate their boredom on board." She grimaces faintly.
"I guess I just figured I owed you an explanation ... been thinking a lot about the difference between flirting and being a tease. Never thought much of women who played the latter role and don't want to be one of 'em," she admits.
"I never even thought of it that way. I figured you were flirting to flirt, not to tease. Teases... well, they have a mean nature to them," Arden points out. "I ran into a number of them in college and I quickly learned that teasing was a cover for self-doubt and lack of confidence." He smiles broadly, and if there is one thing you do not lack Nika Earhart, is confidence. That's one of the things I like about you."
She chuckles quietly here. Though it doesn't really require a verbal response so much as acknowledgment of the compliment, she murmurs, "I might surprise you yet." She's confident enough about most things, but Arden does have the ability to confuse her a bit. Honestly reminds her a bit of Brian in that way, though she doesn't draw the comparison aloud.
Arden pauses and drums his fingers across the top of the controls. He looks away out the viewport and stares off. For a minute one might think he had seen something out there on the grounds of the estate; until you saw the unfocused nature of his gaze.
He starts talking, slowly at first but quicker as the words line up and start to flow. "I've always been an outsider. On Sophie my intelligence was leaps and bounds ahead of my classmates. No matter what the crèche teachers put me to I conquered it quickly. That was one of the reasons I was one of the very few they sent off planet for specialized training.
"In college I was the strange kid from a weird-o rim planet.
"When I returned to Sophie I was the weirdo that went off planet," Arden smiles ruefully.
"Even on Summer's Gift I feel like an outsider. I don't have the social skills that Christian has and he makes me feel like the ugly duckling. Rina is ... dark and quiet and not at all out going. You have the advantage with her as you share her gender. I don't know Rick very well, but he's also very outgoing, not like me. And you, well, you are the closest thing I have to a kindred spirit on board; I think that is one of the reasons that I am attracted to you." He shakes his head and with a silly grin, one that he wears when he is being self-depreciating and avoiding the real subject, "As for sex, Christian and me will never happen, even if I liked men. He's too... better, for lack of a better word, for me. "Rina is well, violent. She scares me when she is in a nervous situation and being naked with her would definitely be a nervous situation," Arden laughs. "Which leaves you. Not that I don't find you attractive.
"You're beautiful, intelligent, quick, and have a great sense of humor. You are competent, confident, and capable. In short, I like you a lot and I would definitely enjoy taking you to a bed," Arden colors slightly but plunges on relentlessly. They had been dancing around this for weeks, now or never, he thought. "I think that if you and I ever slept together we wouldn't get much sleep and I know I would be smiling the next week afterwards, if not longer. And if I could, I would do my damnest to make sure you were smiling to!"
Arden goes still and watches Nika, almost like a bird chick who has suddenly found itself eye to eye with a venomous snake. Then softly he says, "I like you Nika. And I want you fiercely. But it has to be a two way street. You have to feel the same way. If you don't it isn't worth the problems that could arise. Obviously I can't speak for anyone else, but I would like to think that our compadres are adult enough to handle any tension that comes about."
Nika does him the courtesy of listening to him with her full attention. Though she can't take her preferred cockpit pose (feet propped up on the console, leaned back in her pilot's chair looking out the viewport), she's doing a close approximation of it by leaning the shuttle's chair back, her hands clasped on her stomach and her booted feet spread wide and resting on the floor. When he finishes, she quirks him a half-smile. "Now that's more words than I've heard you string together at one time since we came on board," she drawls mildly in that gentle back-country accent that appears occasionally when she's either thinking hard, searching for words, or just plain teasing.
Arden chuckles forcefully, to show that he realizes it teasing, but he still colors in embarrassment.
"With that lot," finally responds quietly, her eyes on the viewport before returning to his face, "I worry less about their ability to handle what we might be doing behind closed doors -- pretty much everyone's already tested those waters -- than about what happens between us if it goes to hell, Arden." Her words are as frank as ever. "I like you, too, and God knows, I wouldn't turn down a romp here and there," she says with a grin, and that drawl reappears once more. "But if we go there, you gotta know from the start, I ain't lookin' for anything permanent. And I ain't necessarily lookin' t' go steady neither. If you're lookin' for those things, you're better off lookin' in another direction. That said... I ain't unwilling t' see if we can work it out. The first time it affects this crew, though, it's gotta stop." She watches him, merely waiting for him to decide whether her conditions suit him.
Arden pauses and looks back, "I've only been involved with one other woman and you met her back on Osiris. So realize that I am talking about stuff that I know nothing about. I don't think I am the clinging type, nor the moon-eyed fool that frets over his lady-love. I like to have a good time, and to me -- sex is that -- a good time. But I do admit that it seems to me that having sex with someone you know and like is better than paying for it or doing just 'cause you can."
He shakes his head, and then smoothly moves out of his chair on to his knees in front of Nika. He takes the arms of the chair and rotates her so she is facing him. With her sitting down and Arden on his knees, Nika is now looking down at him. Arden softly says, "So...." He takes a deep breath, "If you're willing, I'm here and I want to find out what.... chemistry we have."
Nika laughs softly. "I haven't ever paid for it, and I've always liked the men I took to bed," she comments with amusement. He shakes his head, and then smoothly moves out of his chair on to his knees in front of Nika. He takes the arms of the chair and rotates her so she is facing him. With her sitting down and Arden on his knees, Nika is now looking down at him. Arden softly says, "So...." He takes a deep breath, "If you're willing, I'm here and I want to find out what.... chemistry we have."
There's surprise in her expression when he moves to his knees like that and turns her chair, pulling a bit more upright in the chair with a sudden heightened tension. Nika hesitates only a moment and then very deliberately leans forward to slide a fingertip down his cheek, her lips brushing his cheekbone lightly almost immediately after. "Well, hell, Arden, I didn't know you meant here and now. Kinda cramped quarters," she says on a soft laugh.
Arden chuckles softly, "Seemed right. Chalk it up to impulsiveness. After all, no reason we can't have fun since everyone else is ... well, maybe not having fun, but they are doing something."
He leans back, supporting his weight on the balls of his feet, then reaches up and brushes a lock of dark-golden hair off Nika's forehead, slowly moving his hand down to cop her cheek. Then he leans in for a kiss.
It starts off chaste, almost hesitant, but then emotions flare and the kiss deepens into a sharing of emotion. Slowly Arden breaks the kiss, then quickly gives her one more peck, before saying, "Okay, this isn't the most comfortable of settings, but I think it will do."
For all that they've been dancing around this for weeks... maybe months now, Nika's nearly as hesitant at first as Arden. By the time they break apart, though, she's having a little trouble catching her breath. And her eyebrows shoot to her hairline when he says that. "Long trip, sailor?" she quips lightly, and then she draws him back down for more.
She has no idea how much later it is when the console starts beeping at them while they're all tangled up on the floor of the shuttle and missing their shirts. It takes her a moment to realize what it is that she's hearing, and then Nika pushes him away from her, gasping, "Alarm." Scrambling to untangle her legs from his, climbing awkwardly over him to get to the abandoned pilot's chair and its beeping console, she has to shove her waist-length mass of unbound hair out of her face to see what the hell's happening. "Cào nǐ zǔzōng shíbā dài!" Nika mutters. "Ship's being boarded," she barks toward Arden, all business as she grabs her shirt from the floor next to her chair and yanks it on, starting up the shuttle's engines in nearly the same move. Once they're airborne, she yanks her hair back into its usual efficient braid in something like 5 seconds.
Arden seems stunned for a moment, but then copying Nika, grabs his shirt and slides into the communication console. He fires it up and then checks to make sure the comset is set to Christian's frequency and not the "everyone in the sound of my voice" frequency. As Nika powers the shuttle up and increases speed, Arden quickly lets Christian in on the situation. Once that's done, he turns to the shelf where Rina's gun is stored. He rummages into his bag, pulls out his own pistol and begins to quickly check them over. With a cheeky smile, he tells Nika, "I am beginning to think the fates are against us, but promise me we'll finish this, that, later."