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"What... oh! I'm sorry, I didn't see you standing there. It's so quiet, I thought I was alone."
He nodded solemnly, returning his gaze to the star-flecked velvet of deep space. Here at the vantage point afforded by the officer's lounge they seemed to stand still in fixed positions, although he knew in reality they were speeding past at unimaginable speeds. "I... felt the need for quiet and contemplation," he remarked, surprised at the feeling that an explanation was needed for his presence here.
"Ah." She looked longingly at the panoramic darkness, then withdrew slightly. "I'll leave you alone, then."
"No, you do not have to," he said, his eyes hidden in the twilight of the darkened room. "We can be together and still alone in their solitude."
She half smiled. "That's... very true." Relieved that she would not have to return to the clammy quiet of her cabin, she moved closer to the observation port, experiencing the awe such a sight invariably conjured in her. Starship crews, she thought, are a breed apart. Leaving our planets, homes, families, to travel distances some people even now can't comprehend. What brings us out here, I wonder? Escape, I guess. Running from reality, or - her eyes flickered in the direction of her silent companion - or loneliness, the darkness seemed to say. We spend our lives dreaming, searching, hoping for... what? Better the devil you know... Maybe not.
She considered his sharp-nosed profile. We've both changed... Strange how a person can alter so much in so short a time. Old memories came unbidden, bringing with them the equally old feeling of embarrassment. I must have been a real pain, she thought, grimacing at the memory.
Standing there, close and far apart, the silence seemed to deepen, closing in to magnify the depression hovering outside their inward thoughts. Suddenly she could not bear it any longer. She must speak, or go. She couldn't -
"I am sorry, I omitted to congratulate you on your promotion."
Startled from her thoughts, she smiled, feeling gratitude at his breaking of the stiffness, whether intentional or not. "You have had other things on your mind. Thank you anyway." Silence again, then, "I can't think why they didn't promote you to a higher post. I would have thought you deserved it most."
He looked back to the window. "I... had other things to do, avenues to travel... "
"Oh. I did hear a rumour you went back to Vulcan."
A brief nod. "For a short time, yes." He felt tempted to say more, but stopped. Some things could not be explained easily, not even to his best friend, and not to her. Memories vied for attention in his mind, taking him back to -
"It was nice to see you back," she murmured, wondering at her choice of words.
"I have come to the conclusion I belong here," he replied, scarcely bothering to hide the trace of bitterness tracing the words.
She noticed the hidden irony and understood. "I guess I decided that too. Once you join a Starship, you're hooked."
"It is a philosophy I am familiar with, yes."
The stars drew their attention again, and she felt a surprising sense of companionship stir at the fringe of her emotions. No, more the mutual understanding of two who have experienced similar reactions to the incidents which have shaped their lives. She felt a sudden urgent need to apologise, perhaps somehow erase her actions toward him when they had known each other before. She turned to speak, halting as new insight struck her.
There's no need, no need at all. He understood then, and still does. My feelings may have been mixed up and wrong then, but they were real enough at the time. He did try to help me, but I didn't even notice. Hey, girl, you've taken a helluva long time to realise, haven't you?
Happier now, she felt the release of the tension which had kept her from sleep until now. Realisation brought with it peaceful acceptance, and she knew she wished to share it with her companion, but again she stopped the words. What need was these when he already knew? Silence could sometimes be more eloquent than words, after all.
However... Reluctantly, she broke the silence once more. "Oh, dear... suddenly I'm tired. Bed beckons, I think. Tomorrow may be busy."
"Yes. Bed, sleep... Goodnight, Mr. Spock."
There was no reply. But as she reached the door, his head turned in her direction, his deep voice soft, yet clear enough for her ears. "Goodnight, Christine."
Her lips curved in an unseen smile as she entered the dammed brightness of the corridor. Suddenly, things didn't seem so bad after all.