((Central Park, Deep Space 3))
Most people met in the many visitor destinations available in the area. Most people chose to share their time over meals, or partaking in some activity of mutual amusement. Most people found enjoyment among the throngs of other people, each seeking something that brought them that moment of excitement, joy, or connection with others.
Ash MacKenna was not most people.
In the dimly lit space under one of the largest trees in the living park, the red-head’s emerald eyes sparkled as they reflected the light of an artificial moon. Recorded sounds of a stream and what nighttime creatures might have existed on some faraway world allowed each visitor of the area a kind of privacy that didn’t exist elsewhere, especially since there were few who came there, especially at night.
Her breath was steady, slow, and almost held in anticipation. It had been far too long since she had felt his touch and looked into his eyes without a screen or hologram between them. Her heart danced as she watched the path.
Finally...the silhouette that appeared coming towards her held the same stature, had the same walk...Ash could only contain her excitement long enough for him to step out from the first bunch of trees into the moonlight before she took off running and launched herself into his arms.
He had no right to be so slow.
He wanted this, desperately. He’d pushed the Arrow’s engines harder than was wise by any means to get here quickly, no doubt causing some consternation belowdecks. He’d waited impatiently for permission to dock, and before he’d even settled on rest and reorganization protocols with the dockmaster, he’d come here, racing through the mostly-empty habitat sectors and main thoroughfares, until the soft, wafting, incongruous scents and sounds of an open-air park ensnared him, and beckoned him forward with babbling brooks and the excitement of possibility…
She was there, waiting for him. He didn’t see her, but they didn’t require that. They just… knew. He did, at least. The scene was too perfect to be without her, and yet, the closer he got amidst the bushes and winding paths, the farther his mind wandered. He wanted to be closer to her than was possible, as if they could leave their forms behind and just float within and around one another. But the problem was… he still wasn’t sure what his self was.
The incident with the Gentii was not the most difficult mission Shayne had ever undergone, nor the most taxing, but it might well have been the most consequential. He was no stranger to the disquieting sensation of not belonging, but there was no doubt in his mind that there was a violation here that not even R’Ariel’s gracious counseling had been able to cure. He felt… invaded, and the memories that weren’t his, mingled grotesquely with the ones that were, left him a stranger in his own meatsuit, and a scoundrel in his own soul.
So it was with a wave of emotion he could never quite quantify that he saw the red and gleaming hair of his beloved, sitting under a large, placid tree, in almost the exact way he’d been dreaming of since their departure. And when she ran to him, it took no strength to hold her, no resolve to lift her, so great was his delight. Their foreheads gently touched, and Shayne breathed in like his soul was being refilled with every inhale. And then, delicately, he placed his lips on hers. In that instant, his failures and problems just… didn’t count for anything. Not while he held her.
Those arms...there was warmth there that she hadn't really felt for far too long. There was strength that had built a protective wall around her, in which nothing could touch her. As she breathed in, she took in everything she missed while they had been apart; the way his hair fell just so, the warm feel of his body so close against her, and even his scent, which highetened every one of her past desires to be where he was.
But when he kissed her, that was the moment when she lost any sense of anything around them. It all faded into the background almost as if it never existed anyways.
It was a vessel she drank from hungrily, daring time to move forward and take the moment away from her like it did everything else. The fire that was inside burned hot, its flames fanned by the fact that they had been apart for so long. There was only so much a screen could offer. But like all things, the moments moved and time marched on, leaving her breathless, his arms around her and hers around him, their bodies as close as the laws of physics would allow, and her eyes firmly locked on his.
MacKenna: I’ve missed you.
Shayne reached down, and with the most delicate motions has calloused hands could provide, entwined his fingers in hers. He felt her pulse, strong and vital, and he slowly brought her palm to his chest, resting it there and clasping it protectively.
Shayne: You were never gone.
But there was only so much he could keep within.
And that's when she saw the shadow behind his eyes. It was clear he was just as happy to be there, in that moment with her, but there was something else, something deeper and yet unshared. For a moment she watched, waited, and downright refused to lose any moment with him, and yet, the shadow scared her, a strange feeling knotting up in the pit of her stomach. She held on, perhaps a bit tighter, before she asked.
MacKenna: Are you okay?
How foolish he’d been to think he could keep it under wraps. How proud. But while his control was lacking, and his partner’s perception was effective, he could make the here and now matter. If it weren’t for restraint, he would have held her tighter, manifesting the solidity without that he demanded of himself within. But he was in control of himself here, because MacKenna was here. Ash was here. His strength was here.
Shayne: I will be okay.
It was a promise, a statement, a goal, a truth- whatever it had to be to not take away from their togetherness. No amount of Gentii interference or mind entanglement or bureaucracy or paperwork or space or cruel wisps of fate and whim would keep him from her, within this moment. Tomorrow, they could die. Therefore tonight, they would live.
He didn’t have to force the smile that came forth from his ruddy features.
Shayne: Besides, I’ve seen your missions- if anyone’s got reason to worry, it’s me.
It was his way of staying connected, staying alive with Ash in the moment, while covering the fact that her profession, indicated by a black collar and a penchant for glistening mystery in her verdant eyes, scared the hell out of him. He had phasers and sensors and a ship that purred beneath him. Where MacKenna’s missions took her, not even those simple pleasures could be depended on.
Shayne: Are you okay?
He wanted to dance with her, and hold her, and feel her beside him, and look at the stars with her, and talk about the latest events of the galaxy, and just… give all he had to her. But before any of that, he had to be there for her, in whatever form that entailed. He appraised her affectionately, wiping away all other concerns and presenting unto her a temporarily blank slate upon which she might place any cares or fears or injuries. If she were to turn to sand, he would catch her, and cradle her into cohesion once more.
Ash knew what he referred to, what he was reaching for. Being a Captain in Starfleet awarded him unique access to some things, but she was all but certain that it was the redactions in the reports, and the things left out that had him worried. Being that the universe had deemed to bring them back together while she was on one such covert mission, he had good reason to be. There was safety in numbers, and within ships. In her profession, there were rarely ships, and almost never numbers except those against you.
But now, unlike she thought then, she had something worth fighting for. And fight she would to return to this very place. To his arms. To home.
MacKenna: I will be.
A soft, but well knowing smile washed across her face in the moonlight. Fear was a powerful motivator, but love was perhaps stronger. It was a light that shone brighter than any star in the galaxy, capable of lending the strength to move mountains - or fight insurmountable odds just to get home. The adoration shone in her eyes as she gripped his hand around hers just a bit tighter as if to mean that she wasn't letting go.
MacKenna: We will be.
Whatever demons he fought he would not fight alone. Though she often second guessed herself and found herself shying away from so much for fear of failure, and for fear of letting those around her down, she knew that together they could handle anything. He was the perfect fit, the missing piece to the puzzle that made up Ash MacKenna. And while duty dictated that they could not be physically together as often as she would have liked, distance, nor any of the hellbound chaos that the universe put in her way would keep her from him.
Shayne: Then I will not be afraid.
The words danced in the air between them just as the first tiny drops of artificial rain fell from above. A method of ensuring a most natural experience while keeping the flora healthy and alive, the station's rain was nothing short of magical. Bits of moonlight became obscured by artificial clouds as the mist turned into defined droplets that hit them without discrimination from the surrounding scene.
Like the confession, or the declaration, had been waited on by the universe with baited breath, the first droplets of rain fell upon them. He almost burst out into explosive laughter at the simple, gorgeous absurdity of it, but perfection was rare, and the family lineage of Shayne knew well the ease with which something could be scared away.
Ash laughed, uninhibited by the typical plaguing thoughts that muddled up her mind, taking both of his hands and pulling him around in a circle. Like the waves of some far off ocean, the water poured down on them, and with its passing, washed away all of the sins of time gone by. For the first time in a long time she felt lighter than air, as if dancing with him in the rain took her above the clouds and among the stars themselves. Pulling herself back into him she stopped for a moment. It felt like everything around them stopped for that moment as she leaned her head against the side of his and whispered in his ear.
MacKenna: I love you Randal Shayne.
And then she leaned back just enough to look him in the eye, with two pools of emerald green. Held within was a kind of depth and fire that accentuated the words in a way that no other words or actions could.
Shayne: I love you Ash MacKenna.
He knew he didn’t have to say it- and that was the beauty of what they had, the sheer, ridiculous, improbable joy of their connection. They didn’t have to talk to speak. Nevertheless, confirming it, stating it, carving it into the runes of reality was just one more way to ensure that what they had, here and now, was forever solid, forever theirs.
Shayne: Come with me.
The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, his ease and trust letting his mind again run rampant in a way he almost never permitted. But the sheer panic that arrived an instant later passed just as quickly as he realized that he wasn’t just asking- he was praying. He didn’t want to let her go, in any way.
Intertwining her fingers in his with both hands she looked up at him through the rain-soaked tendrils of flame-red hair that fell around her face. The rain brought a chill, but the heat shared between them was more than enough to keep it away.
The explicit trust conveyed could not have been more firmly stated. She’d follow him to the edge of the universe, and through any of the hells that may or may not exist out there. With him beside her, she had no fear of the future, or anything it might hold.
Shayne was a private man. Reserved, steady. Occasionally hot-headed but exceptionally good at hiding his true intentions and feelings when necessary. So it was both an indication of his trust in MacKenna, and his absurd shock, that he stuttered repeatedly. There was no sign of amusement in her eyes, no indication that she was kidding.
Shayne: Wh- EH? You… mean that? Don’t joke about this, Ash. Please don’t.
He hadn’t allowed himself to even hope that his desperate plea would be answered- if he started, only to lose that hope he never had…
Ash searched his eyes and offered a look of honest resolve reflected in her own. Starfleet had a way of pulling families apart and scattering love across the galaxy in its own spectacular way. Their history together was a testament to this fact, but one that she was wholly ready to depart from. As she caught herself lost in the desperation of his gaze, she knew she had to fight to walk the path with him now. She never let her eyes drift, holding him in a solidly locked gaze.
MacKenna: I mean what I say. I want to be where you are, with every ounce of my soul.
He had to believe her, he was her sun, moon, and all of the stars in her galaxy. She was done saying goodbye.
Ash was one of very, very few people able to burrow past the thick armor of his uniform, and touch the heart. He was used to people trusting in him- because they had to, because they were trained to, because there really wasn’t any other way to work. But this… was trust on a level so utterly vast and different that it could only be a foundation for something beautiful. He let it settle around him, and when the final adjustments were in place, made metaphorically over a period of several seconds, a wide grin spread on his face like a teenager.
Shayne: But… your career, your missions- it’s not fair of me to ask you to leave that.
It was in that moment that everything this might take started to poke at the edges of her consciousness, but for the first time in a very long time - perhaps ever - Ash did not feel overwhelmed. They would face complications. He was a Starfleet Captain, and she an Intelligence operative, but they had some very powerful forces on their side. After all, he was a Starfleet Captain, and she happened to know a few.
MacKenna: It won't be easy, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes.
Complications muddied the path now, but she kept her emerald eyes locked on his, waiting for him to acknowledge her words; waiting to jump in with him.
He knew it. Knew beyond a shadow of doubt that she was completely serious, and completely willing to leap forward with him. He itched to join her in the long fall towards possibility.
Shayne: I… don’t think I could be much happier than right now.
He giggled slightly, the mirth overwhelming his defenses.
An amused grin washed over her, a sparkle dancing in her eyes. He’d not shied from those complications, nor whatever trials this might bring. The fight would be theirs to face together, and they would do so in solidarity. A kind of glee found its way through the hard shell of a mask that comprised the man before her, exposing what lay beneath; the intrinsic being both whom she needed, and who needed her.
Shayne: Nothing, it’s just… I guess the crew’s going to have to get used to me smiling a little more often.
And he would be- if this was real, and not a dream, or an illusion, or a memory that wasn’t actually his, he couldn’t imagine feeling any better. Finally, they'd be together. Properly, this time. The way they should have been for years.
Around them, the rain slowed, leaving them soaked. Large drops fell from the tips of her now-auburn hair and ran down her pale skin. The moon reappeared in all its glory, casting upon them an almost holy light, as if the universe had sanctioned this moment for no one other than the two of them. The scent of dirt, just after a rain, rose to meet them as the last of the clouds drifted off and the sounds of the night returned.
But if anything beyond him existed, Ash did not notice.
Taking her hands still intertwined in his, she pulled his arms around her until she was secure in his hold, with her body pressed against his, and slowly loosed her fingers from between his. With eyes lost so completely in those that gazed back at her, and with such adoration, Ash faded into a near trance, her fingertips slowly tracing up his arms to his neck and resting there. Absentmindedly wandering, one hand ran down along his jawline, ending with a single, delicate finger on his lips. She finally blinked, as if coming out of a deep thought, and smiled slightly, but very, very seriously as she moved her hand to meet her other behind his neck.
And then Ash MacKenna spoke words with a kind of tenacity that was unknown to her, except for when it came to him.
MacKenna: Marry me.
To anyone who might have been watching, the scene might have played out like a movie. The look in his eyes was answer enough to the audience, clearly reflective of the love he had for the woman he held protectively in his arms. To the same, the kiss that followed was enough to make even the most stout romantics look away and blush, and if fireworks could go off in the midst of the monsoons, the moment would have made it happen. As for Ash, she was having trouble controlling the flood of emotions in that moment, which was perhaps where the question - no, the statement - had come from. But maybe that was alright. Maybe here, in these arms, especially in this moment, that didn't matter.
Maybe it wouldn't matter ever again. Maybe, just maybe, the universe was finally going to be as it should be.
There was a sensation Shayne didn’t understand, didn’t recognize at first. The warmth of her presence, the glow of her affection, the trust in her eyes… it was all so familiar, and it was all he could do not to melt. But there was another… something there. Something that waited patiently for him beyond the gates. Something that waited its turn for him to let it in. Alone, he could never accept it, never stand his ground against it, never expose himself to it. But here, held… swaddled in the unconditional light of MacKenna, he could.
And when he opened the gate, he found… what he’d been missing.
The uncertainty and the doubt and the self-confusion… it all disappeared. It might return, and inwardly he knew that. He was ready for it. But he also knew that the person before him was his completeness, and when she spoke those two most beautiful words he’d ever heard in his life, he could only smile, lip quivering. With a deft hand, he touched his combadge.
Shayne: =/\= Two to beam to Captain’s Quarters, USS Arrow. =/\=
In the last moment before the beams whisked them away, Shayne held MacKenna’s hand in his.
((Deck 2, Captain’s Quarters, USS Arrow))
The red glow from installed lights mixed with the golden hugh of lamps about the room, and the soft hues played nicely on the bulkheads and illuminated their space against the stars. It wasn’t quite as romantic as their former locale, but they could return shortly if they desired, and in any case, his quarters possessed something the arboretum could not.
Without letting go of MacKenna’s hand, Shayne reached over toward the nearby cabinet, where a small box sat. Velvet and black, it seemed to sink into his hand until he opened it. The white cloth inside cushioned the pair of rings that sat beside one another- black as space with sprinklings of white, pin [...]ed stars upon them. softly. In his mind, his next words were confident, suave and romantic. In reality, his breathy voice betrayed his unparalleled delight, excitement, and joy.
Shayne: I, ah… suppose I’m a little late on the draw here, but…
With trembling fingers, he picked up one of the rings. Carefully, he brought it close to its compatriot, until both began to glow subtly, exuding a cautious but insistent warmth as a result of their proximity.
The wonder could not have been hidden from her eyes if she tried, nor would she want it to be. This moment was more magical than she ever could have imagined, with what he had revealed to her being even more consequential than the mere fact that she had asked him in the first place. Their souls were in the same place, on the same plane, intertwined as one. And it was all such an amazingly beautiful thing to behold.
Shayne: ...better late than never.
He knew the answer. He knew she knew the answer. And yet, the question still lingered, thick in the air. Shayne could only smile with his whole heart as every part of him responded at once.
Shayne: Of course.
He leaned in, and placed the most gentle kiss on her lips. Nothing had ever felt more certain in his life, and that certainty had never given him such perfect delight. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he was happy.
And she knew now that she was finally home in the most fulfilling, most perfect, most complete sense that ever could be.
Commander Ash MacKenna
Chief Intelligence Officer
Captain Randal Shayne