Tides Of The Heart by mort

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Tides of the Heart


Part Sixteen: Communion



The evening is surprisingly warm. Perhaps the thankful rise in temperature is the reason for the storm clouds that are gathering ahead, though. A low pressure front moving in from the ocean and preparing to do battle with the frigid air that rolls from the nearby mountain range.

I've never been to the real Wuartha. It's not the kind of resort you can visit on a cadet's pay and, let's face it, between being kicked out of the Academy and joining the Maquis I had neither the funds nor the inclination for pleasure resorts. I found most of my relaxation in the bottom of a bottle of cheap wine.

It's one of France's most endearing national resources. Cheap wine. Of course, you are as sick as a dog the next morning but then you just start drinking again and the pain goes away.

Maybe I should have turned to the bottle when Tay left me. I wanted to. I actually had to struggle hard not to. Yet people already thought I was a bum and a loser for the way I had 'made' Chakotay leave me and I was determined not to give them the satisfaction of proving them right. Maybe I should have done it though. Drunk him out of my system. Enough alcohol in my bloodstream and I could have pickled my heart so that it forgot how it felt to feel love and then lose it.

No matter.

What's done is done. These thoughts churning through my head are chaotic enough without the false comfort of an alcoholic perspective on my life. It's already hard enough to focus. Where was I?

Oh yes, I've never been to Wuartha.

So I don't know whether there are storms there. It doesn't seem likely though, does it? Not on a resort planet. Still, there is a beauty in the sudden churning of the tides. The waves are being whipped by the wind so that they lash like the tails of angry cats and there is something so wild and elemental about their sudden fury that I can feel a little of my icy blood thawing in sympathy.

A deep angry growl rumbles through the air, swiftly followed by an arc of white fire. Too swiftly. The storm clouds must be clashing almost directly overhead and I am suddenly aware that I am alone on a flat deserted beach which means the white fire will seek me out and strike with the deadly accuracy of a cobra.

My heart leaps in my chest, thudding in panic, as I begin to scramble to my feet. Then I remember belatedly that this is the holodec and the safeties are on. My laugh of relief as I settle back into the damp caress of the sand is both embarrassed and excited. The tide is turning now. The waves arching and hissing as they dance higher and faster so that their ebb is swallowed mercilessly by the rampage of their flood.

A heavier growl ripples through the night air, pierced immediately by a spear of fire that spikes into the sand mere inches from my sprawled legs and I feel the hairs on the nape of my neck prickle as the thick air tingles with electricity.

I laugh again, this time delighted, as the first of the flooding waves breaks near enough to almost kiss my toes before reluctantly retreating. Yet, despite the warm charged air, my jeans are damp and uncomfortably cold already and I am loathe to trudge back to the resort soaked to the skin. The too-tight denim will chafe against my thighs and ass, I reluctantly conclude.

It must be a sign of age, I guess. That instead of sitting here and enjoying the harmless fury of the waves I am more concerned with the discomfort of the long hike back to the resort.

Unless I just call for the arch. There's no reason to return to my hotel room after all. Chakotay has already left. I may as well just exit the holodec and go to my quarters to change.

Fuck.

My clothes are in the Flyer.

Not that I need them where I am going, but I figured it would look damned suspicious if I didn't pack to leave. I don't fancy piloting the shuttle in these damp clothes though.

Better than *wet* clothes though.

I scramble to my feet as a more adventurous wave crashes onto the sand and floods hungrily into the slight depression that my ass had made in the sand. The water is cold on my bare feet and by the time I remember that my shoes and socks are discarded on the sand, they are waterlogged.

Shit.

I take a last look at the beauty of the dark, broiling sea and sigh. It's time to leave. No point putting it off. The black water is momentarily illuminated by a bright, dazzling glare and then sand and plastic explodes onto my body as a tongue of lightning pierces the air and goes to ground where my wet shoes lie.

The illusion of danger is so good that I utter an involuntary yelp of fear as my pumps dissolve into blackened shards.

Illusion or not, my nerve breaks.

"Computer, arch," I demand.

Nothing happens.

"Fuck it. Computer ARCH," I repeat over the rolling, snarling thunder.

Still the computer fails to respond. I spin around, suddenly sure that the arch has appeared behind me on the long flat beach. That's when the first trickle of fear strokes lightly down my spine. No arch. No control panel, and where before there had been a long expanse of gently rolling dunes, now there is a black forbidding wall of granite.

"Halt program," I snap a little hysterically. This isn't supposed to happen. The parameters of this simulation are pre-set. This is supposed to be Wuartha and the mountains are twenty kilometers away from this beach. They *can't* move. There *can't* be cliffs on this beach.

The computer finally responds to me, as though it has understood the real panic in my voice.

"Unable to comply. Holocontrols are off-line. Program parameters are off-line. Safety protocols are off-line. Exit controls are off-"

I don't wait to listen. I am racing towards the cliffs, belatedly aware that my shoes hadn't been holographic projections. They had been real and they had just been fried by a supposed illusion. I am in danger here. Real danger.

To prove the point, perhaps, no sooner have I lurched into a run than lightning arcs into the spot I have just vacated. A heavy spray of sand thuds against my back and I glance over my shoulder as I run only to see white flames chasing my fleeing footsteps.

It's chasing me. The lightning is fucking chasing me.

I hit the cliff edge and leap onto a scattered pile of rocks, scrambling desperately upwards on the slick, jagged granite until I can rise no further. My heart is beating a frantic tattoo against my chest, my ribs ache with the effort to drag air back into my drained lungs, but the hungry flames sizzle and die as they hit the stone beneath my feet.

It is only then that I become aware of the stinging pain in my palms and the soles of my feet. I raise my hands in disbelief and see that they are dark with blood.

Something's gone wrong. Badly wrong. Perhaps the ship has been attacked. That would explain the systems going off line. Fuck. What if the engine room has been damaged? There's no one else on board who can cope with the warp core if it overloads. I have jerry-rigged so many systems to keep this bucket of bolts flying that no one else has a chance of figuring things out.

I'm trapped in a holoprogram gone mad and the whole ship could be in danger.

No, I tell myself firmly. The glitch is only here, in *this* program. Otherwise I would have felt the ship rock or something. Or would I? Maybe the thunder is the program's way of interpreting an external attack.

Shit. My kids are out there. Chakotay is out there. What the fuck are they going to do without me to sort out the warp core?

Whatever they will have to do when I am *really* gone, I remind myself and am surprised how much guilt I feel about the idea.

In the shelter of the cliffs I am safe from the lightning strikes at least. I don't feel safe though. I see the cold white spears crashing down around me and huddle into the dark rock, ignoring the way the sharp jagged stone grazes me through my thin shirt. Even the pain is comforting as the elements crash around me in a violent fatal dance.

The sea is churning in full fury now. The waves growing progressively bolder as they advance up the beach like battalions of cavalry. The spray of their furious decent is splattering the rocks that I stand on now as the waves surge towards high tide.

Where *is* high tide?

Realisation strikes me with such a bolt of pure terror that I may as well have been pierced by one of the lightning forks. High tide is *here*. The waves will not cease their assault until they are restrained by the cliffs themselves. I'm going to drown.

I claw at the rockface, heedless of the way my fingers tear on its sharp surface. I am looking for handholds, some way of climbing the forbidding prison wall. High above me I can see the cliff-edge beckoning me, taunting me with its promise of safety.

The rock is impervious, too slick and sharp, too smooth yet viciously marbled with a coarse sandpaper texture that rips at my flesh without offering me the salvation of real cracks that I might climb.

The waves are battering at my feet now. Occasionally, a larger wave rises above its companions to wash over me, causing me to slip and slide on my precarious perch.

I'm going to die.

I want to die.

Don't I?

Not like this. Not smashed against a rock by the vicious water.

Maybe I should launch myself into the sea, battle against the tide, swim out until I am free of the perilous bite of these dark forbidding rocks.

Then what? Pray for rescue? Swim until I am too exhausted to keep myself afloat and then simply let myself sink? It strikes me as a painless death. Definitely preferable to hovering here, waiting for a wave to sweep me off my temporary safety and dash me against the cliff until I break like a ragdoll.

But I can't.

What if the ship *is* under attack? What if they *do* need me? What if I take the easy option and then Chakotay manages to break into the holodec only to find me drowned. What if he realises that I didn't even fight to live?

They might need me. I can't give up.

But I was leaving anyway, wasn't I?

Was I?

~~~

//Something's wrong//

##What do you mean, Charis?##

//I've lost contact with the holodec, Nik//

~~~

"Dammit, Charis. Get the door open now," I hiss.

For the last half an hour I have been feeling increasingly uneasy, as though a sixth sense has been warning me that something is terribly wrong. As soon as Charis and Anika began to tell me what they had done, the feeling of dread coalesced. I didn't wait for the whole explanation, I began to race towards the holodec, barely aware that my children were running with me.

"I'm trying," Charis gasps, his face filled with panic. "It shouldn't be doing this. It should let us in."

"The safeties are on line," Anika insists, but her eyes are wide with terror.

"Computer, Emergency transport. Locate Lieutenant Commander Paris and beam him out of the holodec," I snap.

"Lieutenant Commander Paris is not on board," the computer replies.

"I disabled his comm. badge," Charis admits, his face white with panic.

I want to scream at him, at both of them. My gut is telling me that Tom is in real danger, that their stupid prank has obviously spiraled out of their control.

Instead I take a deep breath and will my face to a picture of calm.

"Okay. Calm down. Both of you," I begin.

"But dad's-"

"In need of our help. Panicking will solve nothing. Charis, I *know* you can get that door open. I believe in you, son. Anika, I want you to stop crying now. You need to contact the Captain and the Doctor for me. We need to be ready to use the transporters as soon as Charis breaks the door seals."

I don't wait to see whether they obey me. I have to trust them. They made a stupid mistake but they will put it right. I trust them. I have to.

That decision made, I allow myself to trust in my spirits, in my love for Tom.

I sink to the floor of the corridor, allowing the sight of my children to blur from my vision as I seek my heart.

~~~

I can't hold on.

The waves are sweeping over my body now, thrusting me into the cliff edge with each flux then wrapping their wet embrace around me and dragging me backwards with them as the granite refuses their advance.

My hands are so numb and ripped that my clawing purchase of the rock is weakening with each watery assault.

I can't hold on any longer.

I'm too tired. Too sore. Too fucking lonely to even try.

I should just let go.

The waves will claim me as their prize and dash me against this harsh, unforgiving rock and it will be over. This pain. All my pain. All gone. All swept away. The dross of my life will be smashed against this cliff and it will finally be over.

Just one last terrible pain and then peace.

Let go. Just let go. Just force my fingers to release their claw-like grip on this savage rock.

Another wave crashes into me, battering me, choking me and I begin to slowly release my death-grip. It's over.

/Tom?/

I shake my head tiredly, my eyes too stung by the lashing salt-water for clear vision.

/TOM?/

"Go 'way," I hiss, then cough and splutter as my open mouth is assaulted with the brine of another punishing wave.

/I love you, Tom. Hold on. Trust me. I will save you. You just have to hold on/

"Too tired," I mutter, groaning as my bruised ribs are smashed against the cliff once more.

/Please, Tom. Don't give up. I need you. Charis and Anika need you/

"You're not real," I spit.

Fuck. Aren't I supposed to see my life flash before my eyes or something? I'm not supposed to go mad, am I? Maybe I am. Maybe I've been mad for twenty years. I laugh a little hysterically and am rewarded with another mouthful of saltwater as another wave sweeps over me.

/I'm here Tom/

Yeah sure. You always float cross-legged over the sea like you think you are jesus fucking christ or something. You're not even fucking wet, Chak. You're about as real as the idea that you really love me.

/I do love you Tom. You're my life. If you die, I will die/

"Yeah?" I splutter. "Then get ready, big guy, cos there's a real mother of a wave coming."

My hallucination turns his head and actually manages to look worried, which is kind of nice I guess. Nice to know that someone cares, even if it is a figment of my imagination.

I brace myself, suddenly unwilling to give up without a fight. I know I've lost. The wave is huge, a couple of meters tall and still growing as it advances toward me. It will rip me off this rock and plough me into the cliff edge. I'm dead. I find myself laughing, or maybe crying, as it approaches. Time seems to slow down as the last seconds of my life tick away.

/Let me hold you?/

Yeah sure. I'm really going to let go and try to cuddle an hallucination when a fucking tsunami is about to smash me into a million pieces. Do I look that stupid?

I let go and crawl tentatively towards the illusion, my knees slipping on the slick rock, my heart thudding in my chest.

The wave rears over my head and seems to freeze there for a moment, like a monstrous shadow, like the grim reaper himself. Then as it scythes down to sever me from life, I fling myself into Chakotay's arms and use my last breath of life to tell him that I love him.

~~~

"Where are they?" he asks coldly.

"In the brig," I reply. "Tuvok let them wait until the doctor said you'd definitely pull through and then he escorted them there himself."

"Good," Tom snaps.

I bite my lower lip. I have explained what they did and *why* they did it and he just listened without his face even twitching out of its cold mask. The Doctor has regenerated the torn skin on his hands and feet, has eradicated the vicious scrapes on his spine, ribs and knees. The salt water has been pumped from his tortured lungs. Apart from some noticeably fresh pink skin and numerous faded bruises, there is no evidence to suggest that just two hours ago he was seconds away from death.

I said it was a miracle, the gift of the spirits, that Charis opened the door at the precise moment that the wave broke so that the transporter beam caught Tom a mere second before he was irreparably smashed against the cliff.

Tuvok, who does not believe in miracles, said it was pure chance and that Charis and Anika could spend thirty days in the brig considering the stupidity of their actions.

Personally, I think the fact that they know they were nearly responsible for Tom's death is more than sufficient punishment and I have a feeling that Tuvok feels the same way too. I suspect that he will release them in the morning as long as Tom doesn't file an official complaint.

"They didn't mean to do it. Charis over-stretched himself. He tried to take over too many systems at the same time and accidentally triggered a firewall within the program. It locked him out but by then it had already accepted the commands to change the program and it misinterpreted his command to *tell* you the safeties were off line as a command to actually turn them off," I tell Tom quietly.

He nods, accepting the explanation, but his face remains cold. I can't blame him. It's all very well saying "oops, I made a mistake". It doesn't make up for an hour of terror and a near-death experience, though.

"Why?" he finally grates, his icy eyes boring into mine as though I am responsible for what has happened. Then again, I am, aren't I? I asked them to help me, knowing they are just children. Bright, intelligent, grown-up children but nevertheless I know that the youngsters brought up in this artificial world of Voyager are all a little naive. They have spent their lives seeing Voyager seemingly pull off one miracle after another just to keep going and despite the death and loss that they have experienced, none of them have ever accepted that defeat is possible.

"They didn't want you to leave. *We* didn't want you to leave. We knew you were intending to kill yourself," I answer. There. I've said it.

"So you decided to save me the bother?" Tom drawls, although his icy eyes darken as though cracks are rippling through the glaciers within.

"They thought if you faced the reality of death, you would realise that you wanted to live," I reply.

"Bizarre," Tom hisses.

I take a chance.

"What do you expect, Tom? They *are* your kids."

For a moment he glares at me and then I see the corners of his mouth twitch.

"Fucking stupid thing to do," he snaps. "Fucking stupid thing for you to *let* them do," he adds, but his eyes are no longer flat and cold and despite his angry words there is a definite edge of humor in his voice.

"They did it because they love you, Tom."

He purses his lips, his shoulders hunching slightly as though the idea pains him.

"We all love you. We need you. I need you. Charis and Anika need you," I urge softly.

Tom blinks slowly.

"You said that already," he mumbles, his eyes a little wary and frightened.

"And you said you loved me," I reply.

"Fuck it. It didn't happen. You weren't there. How the fuck *could* you have been there? It was in my head. That's all," he snaps defensively.

"Okay," I shrug. "I wasn't there. It was a dream. An illusion."

He nods in agreement.

"So you only dreamt that you chose to come into my arms instead of dying alone," I tell him softly.

"Yeah, No, I mean I, I-"

"I don't expect you to ever forgive me, Tom. I don't expect it. I can't expect it when in some ways I don't even regret the choices that I made. If I could turn back time I would have never let you go, but I would still have wanted Charis and I can't honestly say that I regret the fact that circumstances gave me Anika and Tayven too.

"I can't undo the past. I can't take away your pain. I can give you a future though. I can offer you my love and that of our children. We can start a new life together. We can work together to take our children home to Earth. I love you and I know you love me and I believe our love is enough, Tom. It's strong enough to carry us through the bad times. It's powerful enough to bridge the chasm between us."

"I don't trust you, Chakotay," Tom mumbled sadly.

"I know. I know I have to earn that trust. Maybe it will take twenty years to prove to you that you can trust me. I don't care. I'll take it one day at a time. What have you got to lose, Tom? Honestly? Haven't you learnt anything today? You *want* to live, Tom. You want to survive. You want to be loved. Let us love you. Try and love us. But I'll tell you something now, it doesn't matter whether you love us or not. We love *you* too much to let you go."

"Fuck, Tay. I don't know. You make it sound like its easy. Like I can just say 'okay' and put my feelings aside. I can't do it. I can't just let the feelings go. They are part of me. I'm always going to be looking over my shoulder for another Seven. I'm going to go crazy whenever I so much as see you look at someone else. I'm going to have a panic attack every time you are late home. I don't think I can live like that."

"You have to Tom, because you can't live alone anymore and I won't let you die. It will get better. You know it will. Time will pass and I'll earn your trust once more. One day at a time, Tom. We can make it. I know we can. I believe enough for both of us. I love enough for both of us. It will work because I won't allow it not to work."

"You're not going to accept no, are you?" Tom says ruefully, but his eyes, though bright with tears, are a little pleading.

"I've arranged for our stuff to be taken off the Delta Flyer, " I reply.

"*Our* stuff?" Tom demands, although he flushes at the confirmation that I know he didn't expect our seven days to work.

"I had already arranged to be transported onto the Flyer if you left," I admit.

"You were gonna make me come back?" he challenges.

"I was going to try and persuade you, although I would have simply accompanied you if I couldn't," I reply.

"Oh," he replies, a little confused.

"I've had it put in our quarters," I add into the silence.

"*Our* quarters?" he snarls.

"Tuvok agreed that we could have one of the empty family quarters on Deck 7. It seems better to start afresh somewhere new. A room with no bad memories."

"You're taking a lot for granted, aren't you?" Tom snaps.

"I know," I admit. "I'm sorry. Should I return our stuff to the flyer instead?"

"Bastard."

I shrug.

"Does it have a bath?"

"What?"

"I've got half a fucking ocean in my hair, Tay. I want a bath. Not a shower. Not a sonic. I want a fucking bath."

"I would have thought you'd swum enough today," I reply with a smirk.

"Very funny."

"Shall we go?" I ask him, offering my arm like an old fashioned courtesan.

He shakes his head.

"No, you go ahead and get the bath ready. I've got something to do first."

I tense in sudden fear.

He smiles sadly at me.

"Trust, Tay. Remember?"

I sigh and nod in acceptance. He's right. It's going to be hard for both of us to learn trust. We are both so terrified that the other will leave.

One day at a time, I tell myself, and leave to run Tom his bath.

~~~

##It's my fault, Charis. Please stop crying.##

//I nearly killed him, Nik. I thought I was so fucking clever. He's going to hate me forever. He's probably so mad he won't even wait. He'll leave before we get out of here and we'll never even get a chance to even tell him we're sorry//

##I know. I fucked up, Charis. I only had a dad for an hour and then I nearly killed him##

//Don't cry Nik. Father will explain.//

##He's so angry with us Charis. He let the Captain arrest us##

//Father always forgives us, Nik. He will. I'm sure he will. Eventually//

##Dad won't though, will he?##

//Don't cry, Nik. Please. I can't bear it//

##I can't stop!##

//I know//

##Hold me?##

//Sure, sis//

~~~

"I died," I say quietly.

Tuvok raises his eyebrow imperiously.

"You did *not* die, Thomas. Not even clinically. You ingested an unhealthy amount of sea water and were badly bruised. That is all."

"I know," I agree impatiently. I don't know how to put my thoughts into words. I don't know how to explain how I feel. I need help though. I need *his* help.

A tiny, perhaps imaginary, flicker of pain appears in his dark, fathomless eyes and he swallows audibly. I see him close his eyes as though needing privacy for the decision he will make, and then he slowly reaches out towards me, his stony face concealing the bravery of his decision.

"Your mind to my mind," he says, as his fingers touch my temples.

~~~

I flinch and tremble as the images tumble into my head, wild, uncontrolled thoughts and emotions, each blinding me with its pain, its loss, its depth of agony.

Wave after wave of images until I am choking and gasping, drowning in Tom's mind, battered against the cliff of my own impenetrable self-denial.

This, here, is the man that I love in all his raw, unbridled glory.

His hurts, his fears, his loves. Each a strike of a whip against my undefended heart. I am scourged and cleansed and freed by the knowledge that he shares with me so openly.

I break away from him, gasping for breath, my assaulted heart still hammering in my chest.

He is not mine. He was never mine. He never could have been mine.

In knowing that, accepting that, I am free.

"At the moment the wave broke, when you clung to the image of Chakotay, you truly believed that you would die," I tell him.

He nods, smiling tentatively that I understand.

"You feel reborn. Resurrected perhaps. You have faced death and it has brought you no peace. So now you are willing to try to find peace in life, instead. This has a certain logic."

Tom just nods again, but his shoulders relax as though I have confirmed with my words that his confused thoughts are valid, if somewhat unexpected.

"You have not let your fear and hurt go. You have, however, found the strength to face your feelings instead of run away from them. You love him."

"Enough to try," Tom admits. "But not alone. I don't want to be alone anymore. I've tried that. I can't be that person anymore. I need friends. I need you Tuvok. I need to know there is someone who understands me."

"Chakotay understands you more than you yourself believe, Thomas," I tell him.

"I hope so," Tom says sadly.

"What of your children?" I ask.

"Are you really going to leave them in the brig?" he asks, perhaps just to put off answering my question.

"That's your decision, Thomas. After all, it is you that they 'killed'."

He smiles softly and the beauty of that smile could break my heart, except I am a Vulcan, of course, and I am not victim of such emotions as jealousy and regrets for what can never be.

"I think they've learned their lesson, don't you? Besides, Harriet can't spend a month without her father," he says gently.

"I will release them in the morning," I reply. "Will you visit them now?"

"No, I've got a date with a bath and a husband, Tuvok. It's time we both put ourselves first. Time enough to deal with the kids tomorrow. "

"I wish you luck, Thomas."

"I love you, Tuvok," he replies, and leans forward to kiss me on the forehead.

I close my eyes until he is gone and remind myself that I am a Vulcan.

~~~

It's been nearly an hour.

I have refreshed the bathwater twice now.

Where is he?

I reach for my comm. badge then pause mid-gesture. I won't check up on him. I won't. I won't ask the computer whether he has left the ship. I won't ask for a location check. I won't. I trust him. I have to trust him.

Tom isn't cruel. He wouldn't promise to try and then leave instead.

He loves me.

I know he loves me.

I pray that he loves me.

I'll run some more hot water into the bath for when he gets here.

~~~

The lights are low in the unfamiliar quarters and it is silent within.

Have I been too long? Has he given up on me?

I told Tuvok that I wouldn't go to the brig but I changed my mind. I couldn't get the image out of my mind that Anika would be crying.

She was. They both were. They were huddled together on a narrow bunk in the cell, hugging and sobbing together as though their hearts would break. When they finally noticed my silent inspection they both froze like terrified rabbits, their blue eyes huge in anticipation of my rage, the silence of the cell broken by Anika's sniffles and Charis's occassional hiccup as he tried to hide the tears that his sister allowed to run freely.

"You do know that neither of you are too old to be spanked," I told them solemnly.

Their eyes grew impossibly larger and Anika burst into fresh hysterics. Charis straightened his shoulders bravely.

"Yes, Dad," he said.

I swayed a little, suddenly choked by emotions I was not ready to deal with yet.

"I'm sorry, Daddy," Anika sniffled.

I wanted to run. Wanted to hide. I felt pressure building up inside me that threatened to rip me asunder. Yet somehow I found a smile for them, instead.

"Save it for your other Father. *He's* the one who wants to spank you," I told them gently, and as their faces blossomed with hope, I turned and quietly walked out before I lost all self-control.

That was an hour ago or more. I needed to calm myself. Needed to think things through. I needed to come here open and honest, or not at all.

I walk into the bathroom. The bath is steaming. How often has he filled it to keep it so perfect for over two hours? He is sitting on the edge of the toilet seat. Dejected. Alone. He has not heard me come in.

"Tay?" I whisper.

His head rises and he shakes it a little as though he is unsure whether I am an illusion. When I fail to dematerialize, a slow hesitant smile creeps across his face.

"Tom?" he asks, as though he cannot quite believe his eyes still.

"I'm home," I reply.

The significance of my carefully chosen words is not lost on him. His smile becomes radiant as he rises to help me peel off my salt-slicked clothes until I am naked before him, my soul as exposed as my body.

Our mouths meet in a kiss so soft, so tender, that the strength drains from my limbs and I collapse against him, trusting him to catch me, to hold me.

And he does.

As weak suddenly as a new-born kitten, I let him help me into the bath and ease me down into the warm welcome of the water. No fear here. No lashing waves. No lightening bolts. No pain. No loneliness.

The water is as warm as his smile as he takes the washcloth and slowly wipes the encrusted white smears from my chest and shoulders with firm, gentle strokes. The motion lulls me into a haze of contentment as the exhaustion of the day's traumas exacts its toll now that I am safe, now I am no longer alone.

I do not notice him pause to strip. I barely register him climbing in behind me so that his chest becomes a pillow for my back and his strong bronzed thighs enfold my legs in their protective embrace. All I am aware of is a feeling of peace and contentment as I relax against him, deciding to trust, deciding to love because I need him. I've always needed him, and I can't face another day of being on my own.

Life is risk.

Everyday that we are out here in the hostile cold of space, we face the risk of losing each other. Each morning we wake up to find ourselves still alive is a bonus. Each day that takes us one tiny fraction nearer home is a miracle.

So one day at a time, I will love him.

One day at a time I will wake and believe just for that one day that he will not leave me.

One day at a time I will believe in our communion.

And one day, perhaps, I will wake up and not even wonder whether that one day will be our last.



The End

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