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Ens. Maria Alvarez & Lt.jg Regan Wilde - The Windows to the Soul Saga


Maz Rodan

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Popping this in here to say a huge thanks to @Alvarez for being my writing partner for this story arc, and to say what fun it was writing and creating a friendship for our characters. Thank you! This turned out better than we planned, and I'm very proud of it.

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ACT I

(( Interior - Evening.  USS Arrow - Deck 2, Gymnasium.  A few days into shore leave. ))

The gym was cleared out ahead of dinner, leaving Maria on her own in the space stretching on the mat on the floor.  She wore simple, close-fit exercise clothes made for movement.  The equipment had been well cleaned up and reorganized after the action, since its classification as a medical facility resulted in a higher prioritization for repair over a whole array of other facilities.  It made sense to the ensign, in a roundabout way.

 

Maria wasn’t left waiting long, gently warming up her flexible body and pushing it through a whole routine of stretches.  Her body had healed exceptionally well, and if she didn’t know better she would have thought she never got hurt.  Her expression darkened, remembering vividly that she was hurt, and badly.  She was careful to test her strength and range of motion just to make sure she wasn’t going to land herself in the sickbay again because of making a dumb move.

 

She caught sight of Regan, and her face lit back up again, glad for the company and looking forward to seeing what kind of moves the Lieutenant had.  She hoped to get to know him a little better, and maybe spend some more time together.  She spryly stood up from the mat, with her trademark off-center grin on full display.

 

Regan entered the gym rather spritely. Alvarez had offered the invitation to spar to hone both of their skills and enjoy each other's company. They were a surprisingly similar pair when you examined them closely. They had created an almost instant friendship since the moment they met. He was feeling energised to be exercising with her, but in the back of his mind he sensed that she, like him, had a lot more to prove.

 

Alvarez: Hey, Regan!  Good to see you - how are you feeling?

 

Wilde: I’m well enough, thanks. Aside from being sick to my back teeth of writing reports, and the endless drills Lt. Serinus puts us through.

 

Alvarez: Well, I’m just happy you’re here.  I’ve been looking forward to it, I could definitely use the practice.

 

Wilde: I think I could too, to be frank.

 

Maria shot him a look that was at first slightly intrigued, then turned simply happy.

 

Alvarez: Really?  I’d have thought training for this kind of thing was a big deal for security.  Not that I’m complaining, this’ll be fun.

 

Regan shook his head.

 

Wilde: I can defend myself well enough. Well, under ordinary circumstances. I’m looking forward to just a friendly spar, though.

 

Maria started wrapping up her hands and feet to protect the small bones, but also to cushion the blows that would be dealt.  It was a surprisingly impressive but subtle piece of technology, protecting both of them from a lot of the damage that could be dealt.  It was also a friendly sparring session, so it wasn’t too likely anyone would go for anything other than an embarrassing bruise that could be fixed right up if necessary. 

 

Regan was done with his stretching and limbering up when she spoke again.

 

Alvarez: So how are we playing it?  Points for hits, lose on hitting the floor or submission?  No style restrictions, other than keep it safe?

 

Wilde: Absolutely. ::He grinned.:: Watch the face, ok?

 

Alvarez: Okay, pretty boy.  Ready?

 

Wilde: Ready.

 

Maria’s body took a subtle shift into a predatory stance, examining her opposite as they began their little duel of wills.  In this non-threatening environment her breath was steady and her attention fully honed, ready to respond and strike at a moment's notice.

 

Regan watched her poise with interest. She was hanging back ready to defend, but her body language suggested a pounce at any moment. He knew from speaking to her that she would be ready for anything he could throw at her. Regan’s skill came from weapon sparring. Put a mek’leth or Bat’leth in his hand and he’d possibly go full Klingon on her. This, though, was different. Almost intimate. They circled each other almost coyly. Like two birds displaying a courtship. 

 

Wilde: You know, I keep my ear to the ground on this ship. Your friend Brom is running a pool on the lower decks on who’s going to clean up in this match.

 

Alvarez: Really?  :: She [...]ed an eyebrow. :: I’ll be having words if he bet on you.

 

Wilde: ::smirking:: He’ll make a profit whoever wins. Let’s say we make this interesting in our own way.

 

Lightning fast, he struck. The palm of his hand connected and he chuckled at her response.

 

Maria let her body roll with the hit, still getting a gauge on Regan’s style and ability.  She ducked under another blow, but only just.  She smiled deviously.

 

Alvarez: What did you have in mind?

 

Wilde: Oh something insignificant. Say… 5 strips of latinum and you inventory and re-calibrate all the phasers in the armoury? But make sure you replace them in issue order. Lt. Serinus is very picky about things like that.

 

Maria continued the circle, amused by the little game they were now starting.  She adjusted her stance a little bit to give herself more time to react to the next throw like the first.

 

Alvarez: Well, normally I’d be content with showing a security lieutenant what’s what, but I do have a lateral sensor array out of alignment, and I hate crawling through Jefferies tubes.  It’s trivial but tedious work.  That, plus I’ll match your latinum.

 

Wilde: Deal!

 

Suddenly she sprang, and in his momentum he felt the blow connect. She was fast, wiley, and determined. Regan [...]ed his head to one side with a surprised eyebrow raised.

 

Wilde: Touché.

 

Alvarez: I’m quick, I’m funny, I’m gonna make some money…

 

She grinned, and the expression on Regan’s face betraying he hadn’t expected her to have as strong a grasp on martial arts as she did.  She was not a polished fighter by any means, but she hadn’t been joking about getting a thrill from defeating security cadets at the academy when she could.

 

Regan knew this game. Now it was serious, and with spoils. Their friendly spar had become interesting. He knew that half of knowing your opponents next move was psychological. How well did he know her? All he had to do to make her slip up was find the right buttons.

 

Wilde: Gambling pools aren’t the only thing I hear on the lower decks. Tongues are wagging at how we managed to escape the clutches of Orion pirates. I think there’s a bit of hero worship concerning yourself and other departments….

 

And push them.

 

Wilde: … Admiral.

 

Maria huffed and groaned, her defense slipping.

 

Alvarez: Oh god, not you too...

 

She wheeled back from his onslaught, and caught several hits as punishment for her distractration before she caught back up with the flow of the action, deflecting and managing the strikes.

 

Wilde: Quite inventive, really. Insta-promotion and save the ship. 

 

Alvarez: Oh, please.  It was a dumb idea…

 

Her foot came off the floor with a furious speed, making a good connection.  She was irritated, but for a reason that wouldn’t make sense to the average officer.

 

Alvarez: My execution was a royal botch job...

 

She followed up with a clever bit of footwork and jabs designed to put Regan off-balance. Armed with a quick verbal retort, but not a clever physical one, Regan was stuck in succession by her advances. He snorted in frustration and raised his hands in defense again.

 

Alvarez: And anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

 

She saw Regan’s next move coming in something nearing a premonition, and quickly rerouted the entire kinetic flow of her body into retribution.  Before she knew it, she’d thrown him to the floor in a move that ended up surprising even her.

 

Staring at the ceiling he was dumbfounded. He’d let his guard way down and look where it got him. Had it been another time, with another woman, armed with a knife and fuelled by rage, he’d be back to square one. Suddenly annoyed, he bit his lip with frustration.

 

Wilde: You got that one on dumb luck. 

 

Maria looked at him curiously for a second.  She wasn’t sure what was going on, but she didn’t really love the way she just won the round.  She shook her head, not quite believing her success.

 

Alvarez: No, I think I got that one because I took advantage of your newly acquired blindspot...  Actually, I’m sure of it.  No way that was fair.  Come on, best two of three.

 

Regan pulled an indignant face. She was going there, was she?

 

Wilde: Where I come from we call that cheating! On Qo’noS that would earn you a broken jaw.

 

He resisted the urge to fold his arms across his chest but he was confident he put his point across successfully.

 

Maria gave him a stern look, and offered her hand.  She wasn’t happy with how she won, and wanted to have another round.

 

Alvarez: I said - best two of three.

 

Wilde: You got a lucky shot. This time I won’t be revealing my ‘blind spots’. 

 

Maria pulled him back up to his feet, and put herself at the ready again.  It was her turn for the biting banter.

 

Alvarez: Speaking of… you’re gonna get that eye taken care of right?

 

Wilde: A couple more days until the synthetic replacement is ready. Then I won’t have to wear this stupid thing and get my [...] handed to me by a ballerina.

 

Alvarez: Ah, too bad.  I was really hoping you’d get a leather patch bolted on, shave your head, grow a mustache, then start walking around quoting Shakespeare in the original Klingon.

 

She giggled, but it was cut short with another flurry of blows she was forced to dodge or block.  One landed, but it didn’t have enough power behind it to set her off her game.

 

Regan didn’t find her jokes funny at all. Finding some energy from within he lashed out. Not precise moves, but steady ones, designed to impact.

 

Wilde: I’ve known many Klingons with missing eyes. They wear their scars with honour...

 

Alvarez: If you get a synthetic eye, at least tell me you’re getting x-ray vision or can shoot lasers from it.

 

Another trade, this time Maria getting her own counterattack in.

 

Wilde: This isn’t a game. This is serious.

 

Alvarez: Not even a glowy red one?  Then you can put on sunglasses at night and walk around naked, demanding people give you their clothes.  Temporal affairs might get worried.

 

Suddenly and with ferocity he lashed out completely against the fair rules of sparring. He lashed out to hurt her physically. Under ordinary circumstances he’d be mortified of such a thing, but now he was mad. He could feel it burning in his cheeks and his chest.  Maria barely escaped the worst of the wrathful change in tactic, making a quick adaptation mid-flow.

 

Wilde: Do you think this is funny?

 

Alvarez: :: She smirked. :: Might as well take the good with the bad.

 

Wilde: Look at this!

 

He pointed to the metal patch across his eye. A heavy reminder that he was different now, and he hated it. He literally hated it, and because of it he hated himself.

 

Wilde: This is what I see now every time I see my reflection in a bulkhead! And you’re here cracking jokes and talking about x-ray eyes?

 

Despite his forced change of conversation the match hadn’t ended. He still attempted strikes, blocks, and dodges and was getting more and more frustrated at how Maria was dodging him and managing to reflect his jabs.

 

Alvarez: Woah, what happened to bearing scars with pride?  It’s just temporary anyway. Is this one of those things that’s actually about something else?  Because you can tell me...

 

Maria whirled just out of the way from his increasingly uncoordinated attempts to reach her.  She easily took advantage of a quick pair of openings, something she hadn’t expected from her practice opponent.  He was supposed to be a skilled security officer.

 

Wilde: Oh that’s right. Let’s all sit around and share our feelings. I’ll call R’Ariel and tell her she’s got a new assistant counselor!

 

Alvarez: Fine then, I always thought I’d be a terrible counselor anyway: present company case and point.  There’s a whole shipful of other people.

 

Wilde: I don’t want to talk about it. Talking about it will not change anything. She got me! She hurt me! And there’s nothing I can do about it.

 

Maria moved in quickly, a strike at his footing dramatically shifting the spar in her favor.  She finished it with a swift pair of hard-hitting jabs to tip him over onto the floor again.

 

Again Regan found himself on his back staring at the ceiling. She’d bested him again. With a rage that frankly scared him, he rolled over and got to his knees and shouted in frustration. 

 

Maria stood there for a second, breathing heavily, staring at who she thought was her friend crawling back up with enough fury to birth a new star.  Her voice softened a little, losing the humorous bite it usually contained.  Her face slowly slipped into concern.

 

Alvarez: Regan… What the hell is this?  You’re better than this, don’t pretend you’re not.  You were eating sad cake in the mess, the other day, weren’t you?

 

Wilde: Don’t condescend to me, Maria. So what if I needed a little cheering up after what that monster did to me. You really want all the gory details, to really figure out why I’m like this? Well listen up, honey.

 

He stood now completely ready for the confrontation, adrenaline flowing through his body. He remembered Ghant straddling his body. Her bloodstained mouth bearing down on him while she stuck the knife into his eye.

 

Wilde: She took my eye like it was nothing. ::Beat.:: She took a piece of me… and she ate it!

 

Maria’s eyes tracked every little minute flash of expression on his face.  Her own calm contrasted his.  It was such a wild detail, one she hadn’t witnessed, and she didn’t exactly know how to respond.  Her face wore a little sympathetic smile, and she shook her head.  

 

Alvarez: I know this is neither the place nor time, but… that is pretty damn metal.

 

Wilde: Oh you’re impressed by that? Well let’s give Ghant a round of applause. ::He scoffed, fixing his gaze on Maria:: She plucked it out and devoured it like it was a caramel stuffed truffle from a box of bloody Christmas chocolates! How the HELL am I supposed to feel about that!?

 

Maria shrugged.  This is why she didn’t get into counseling, she was terrible at making people feel better.  She opted to give the only advice she knew how to.

 

Alvarez: I don’t know how I’d feel, but I know what I’d do.  I’d keep going, and work on what I can control.  I’d deal with one thing at a time, one problem at a time.  There’s still a lot to accomplish, like beating the daylights out of an annoyingly snarky dancer.  Just to prove you can.  :: She grinned. ::  Come on, spar with me.

 

Regan shook his head in disbelief. Was she serious? After all that she just wanted to mess around in the gym? 

 

Wilde: I’m done. I’ve been proving myself to people my entire goddamn life and I will not do it anymore. If this was just an exercise in making yourself feel better at the expense of someone else, then count me out.

 

Alvarez: Then you’ve been trying to prove the wrong thing.  This is ridiculous, I don’t moonlight as a pro fighter, you’re just having a bad day.  You almost got me at least a couple times there, you’ll feel better if you do it.  A couple of adjustments, and you’ll get it no problem.

 

Regan crossed the room and picked up his towel from one of the benches. Wiping the sweat and frustration away, he took a few breaths to try and even out some of the anger.

 

Maria followed hot on his heels, and didn’t spare blunt words.

 

Alvarez: Look, I get you feel like crap.  You’ve suffered something no one should have to.  You feel beaten down and you don’t know if you can go on, or if you even want to.  You feel like you’re done even trying, but you can’t be.  You’re still here, and you still have so much more potential.  As long as you pick yourself up and try again, you haven’t lost.  You’ll want to stop, so you have to try again tomorrow too, and the next day, and every day after that until it starts to get a little easier.  That’s how we heal and grow.  Consider this practice, right here, right now.  Spar with me - if you don’t beat me next time, you’ll win the time after that.

 

Dropping the wet towel to the floor, Regan blinked a few times with his good eye. 

 

Wilde: ::he half-laughed incredulously:: Pick myself up again? ::He turned to face her.:: You really haven’t got a clue have you? Maria Alvarez, fresh out of the academy waltzing onto the ship dishing out honest to goodness Starfleet advice. Listen to yourself!

 

She stood facing him, and the urge to lash was great. He shoved her. Like a bully would do in a playground.

 

Wilde: Running around the ship, crawling your way through Jeffries Tubes, fighting pirates and bypassing every security fail safe in the central computer. ::huffing.:: Fleet Admiral, to boot! ::Beat:: Don’t you dare presume to tell me what to do with my life. You have no right!

 

Maria hummed hoarsely in irritation, not giving him even a millimeter of space.  A couple seconds ticked by before a smile crept back onto her face with a tiny chuckle.  It was rather ironic how far off Regan was from Maria’s character.  Her voice resumed it’s dry sarcasm.

 

Alvarez: Yeah, you’ve sure got me figured out.  Tell you what, if you fight me and win, THEN I have no right to tell you what to do with your life.  Until then, I think I have pretty solid proof I know something you don’t.  I’m literally telling you I want to help you beat me, and you’re upset about that?

 

Wilde: I don’t need your help for me to beat you. I don’t need your pity. And I don’t need the crew’s pity either, frankly. I know what they think of me. I see it all the time. Pouty little rich boy playing Starfleet officer. Got expelled from the academy once, but got back in because his dad pulled a few strings. Well I’ve paid my dues… I’ve given my pound of flesh.

 

He returned to the centre of the sparring mat and took his stance. If she wanted one more go he’d oblige, for whatever it was worth to her.  Maria squared off again across from him, determined to not let him get off easy.  When he won, it would be his ability that got him there.

 

Alvarez: The only person questioning your worth here is you, Regan.  I saw you rush in when I was down, you think that’s playing at Starfleet officer?  That wasn’t dress up, that wasn’t your dad, that was you.  Now.  Keep an eye out for my hips.

 

With some slight composure, his jabs and attacks weren’t as frantic as before, and the motion of movement seemed natural and life-like.

 

Maria suffered through the couple of improved hits, remaining resolute in her focus on the here and now, and hoping Regan would too.

 

Alvarez: Better...

 

Wilde: It wasn’t supposed to happen like that…

 

Reminded of his plan to capture Ghant, his attacks began to miss their mark.

 

Alvarez: Focus!

 

Wilde: Serinus was supposed to take her down when she got to me. But the bulkhead… then she had me. I never wanted to kill her. That wasn’t the plan! She had to get me… I had to give myself to her… to protect the crew. To prove to them I could do it.

 

They grappled again, and in his hesitation he received a few blows he could have avoided. Hesitation again. The next time he hesitated he could be dead.

 

Alvarez: Regan!  Stay in the here-and-now, just on the next move.  Mind your footing.

 

Wilde: I don’t want to be a hero! I just want…

 

She went for the sweep and once again he was down. With a mix of fury, disbelief and righteous indignation he sprang from the mat and barged towards the seating area.

 

Alvarez: :: She shouted. :: Again!

 

Wilde: We’re done. This whole setup is done!

 

Alvarez:  :: She snorted. :: The setup where I whoop your sorry butt until the pain reminds you there’s a present and a future, not just a past, and you actually spar with me?  Because I’m not done.

 

Wilde: This was all just some elaborate ruse to get me here and humiliate me, wasn’t it! Well congratulations!

 

Maria crossed her arms with a highly critical pout scrawled onto her face.  She wasn’t going to put up with whatever this was.

 

Alvarez: Yup, you caught me.  Zero chance I’d actually want to help you.  :: She shook her head with a sad smile. :: You can really stop being obnoxious and paranoid any time now, because I still got a lot to say to you.

 

Wilde: I don’t want to hear it. We’re done. This ::He pointed between them.:: Is over.

 

Picking up his gear he stomped towards the exit in a huff.  Maria called after him with a stern agitation that was almost maternal.

 

Alvarez: Regan!  Get back here.

 

He stopped and turned slightly. 

 

Wilde: Actually, from now on that’s Lieutenant Wilde to you, Ensign.

 

Maria found the nearest punching bag and funnelled the full force of her body hurtling into her foot, sending it swinging.  She shouted in frustration to thin air, then started undoing her wrapped hands.  As she did, she was sent careening back to the image of the knife in Ghant’s chest, blood covering her hands, the grotesque smell and feel of it all replayed on loop for the umpteenth time in her mind’s eye.  She sat down on the nearest bleacher, and wiped the sweat from her face, breathing heavily.  She knew full well she was experiencing the after-shocks of trauma.  She’d hoped sparring with the Lieutenant might have made it a little better, but that wasn’t going to happen now.  Neither was their friendship, she feared.

TBC

Ensign Maria Alvarez

&

Lieutenant(jg) Regan Wilde

 

 

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ACT II

 

((USS Arrow - Deck 3; Cargo Bay 1 - Main Level))

 

Regan didn’t know if it was fate or folly which drew him back to the cargo bay now. The site where - a week or two ago - he could have been killed a number of ways. Tortured by pirates, roasted by plasma, or filleted alive.

 

Nevertheless, here he was. Sitting with his back to a large cargo container and his legs stretched out before him, Regan passed the bottle of scotch from one hand to the other, back and forth, trying to make himself decide what he was going to do. He’d swiped the bottle from the table at the wake. No one had seen him, and he doubted anyone would miss the bottle.

 

He sat staring at it. How many years had it been since he looked at the bottle and had it look back at him? Nearly six. Six years clean and sober. All he had to do was pull out the stopper, take a swig and let it all drift away. Everything. His worries, his problems, his eye, his career, his life. Just let it take him like a strong river takes a fallen branch of a tree.

 

The news that he’d have to re-take his pilots exam crushed him. It was the one thing he loved in all the galaxy, and had enjoyed his brags about being a top class flier. Starfleet were just covering their backs as well as his. They couldn’t have anyone with a sight or coordination injury piloting millions of tons of starship around without additional safety. It made sense. But god how it hurt him to think he might not be as good as he once was. He remembered vividly the last time he picked up a bottle with the intention of ruining his life. It landed him in deep trouble on that horrible wet little planet in Ferengi territory. He placed the bottle firmly down in front of him. What the hell was he playing at? He was better than this! Never again! All he had to do was apply himself, and ask someone with an active flight status to proctor his examination re-sit.

 

The large doors parted and someone stepped in. It wasn’t too dark in the bay, so he could be seen easily. Maria Alvarez stepped into the bay, he offered a small grin and nodded her over. He wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed at having been found alone with a bottle. Certainly not by Maria. If R’Ariel or Keneth had found him he may have tried to hide it or make excuses. But in reality he wasn’t going to drink it. He’d firmly made up his mind about that. A brief moment of foolishness was all it was.

 

Maria had removed the veil and gloves, opting for a bit more comfort after the ceremony.  She had let her hair down again, and looked as put-together as ever.  Her light, floating, almost dream-like gait contrasted her outer calm, and betrayed that her thoughts were elsewhere when she came into the cargo bay looking for quiet.  Absorbed in her own thoughts, she didn’t immediately notice Regan Wilde sitting with a bottle, and had already closed some distance when she caught sight of him.  Her chest tightened a little, uncertain who exactly she was dealing with.  His posture didn’t display any hostility, and he didn’t shrink from her, so she broke the silence.

 

Alvarez: Hey… Sorry… I didn’t know you were in here.

 

Wilde: I’m starting to think you’re following me. Did you get Keneth to implant a tracker on me in my sleep?

 

Maria let out a breath, and then a little chuckle.  She smiled in relief to hear him crack a little joke like that.  He looked good with his new eye.  She closed the distance between them.

 

Alvarez: No, but maybe I should have.  :: She grinned. :: I was just trying to get away for a bit.  Mind if I join?

 

Wilde: ::indicating to sit.:: Be my guest.

 

Maria sat down next to him, where he indicated, pleased that he’d invited her to be close.  For as frustrated as she’d been with the man, she’d been even more worried.  Her dark eyes regarded him, and his posture was relaxed.  She asked a soft, but direct question.

 

Alvarez: So... are we speaking again?

 

Turning to look at her with both of his crisp green eyes, he let the words come tumbling out.

 

Wilde: I am so sorry about the way I treated you! That’s not who I am! I never want that to be me. I was so horrible and you have every right to hate me. I'm just a big bloody idiot. I'm really sorry.

 

Maria chuckled softly at his penitent apology.  It wasn’t necessary to be so extreme, but it was very much appreciated.  She was abundantly grateful to have someone she hoped would be a friend be so earnest with her.

 

Alvarez: Nah, you’ll have to try a lot harder than that to make me hate you.  It happens to the best of us.

 

Wilde: You were right about everything. I was so busy feeling sorry for myself I couldn’t get my head out of the past. ::He looked down at the bottle.:: I can never really get my head out of the past.

 

He smiled slightly and offered her the bottle.

 

Wilde: Here, I swiped this from the wake. I think it’s Brom’s. Consider it an apology gift.

 

Maria smiled, and took it, oblivious to what it meant to Regan.  She didn’t hesitate to pop it open and take a drag of the strong drink.  She grunted after it went down, and a little moisture formed up in her eye from the alcohol content.  She laughed, and looked at the bottle for any identifying marks.

 

Alvarez: Well, it’s brown, old, strong, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be growing some whiskers from it... it must be his.  :: She chuckled. ::  Good thing he’s got enough stashed around he probably won’t miss it.  Want any?

 

Wilde: ::Politely shaking his head.:: I actually don’t drink.  I was just… thoughtful. Reminiscent, really.

 

Alvarez: Suit yourself.

 

She took another smaller sip, and sighed, staring into the void of the cargo bay, boxes she’d help inventory stacked high.  She laid back against the container behind her, using it as a back rest in her repose.  It seemed so peaceful in here now, it didn’t really make sense this was the same place it was during her fight with a green-skinned woman.

 

Alvarez: The past is a funny thing, amazing how easy it is to get sucked into it.

 

Wilde: Absolutely. If I look back at my life even in the last few years, I barely recognise myself. That’s a good thing too. I feel like a completely different person. But always I seem to be looking back. 

 

Alvarez: Not like people don’t obsess about the future too, I suppose.

 

Wilde: Well the future is the unknown, equally as scary as a past you’ve already lived. ::Chuckling.:: Listen to us getting all philosophical. I blame that bloody funeral. Funerals always get people thinking about something.

 

Alvarez: Hey, I happen to like philosophy… :: She smirked. ::

 

Regan breathed lightly and enjoyed the momentary silence.  Maria took another drag from the bottle, still grinning over their shared moment of contemplation.  Her expression turned sincere, and she broke the silence.

 

Alvarez: Hey, for what it’s worth… You already know I’m an awful counsellor, but I’m here if you want.  Especially if it means I get to knock some sense into you again :: She grinned, and took another sip. ::

 

Regan chuckled to himself. To him the fight was over, but it remained another ugly memory he’d try hard to forget. His behaviour had been appalling even by spoiled brat standards.

 

Wilde: You certainly knocked me about a bit. The sense came later once I’d calmed down and realised what an absolute arrogant [...] I was! 

 

Alvarez: Damn right I did. :: She smiled broadly. :: Whatever it takes, I guess.

 

Wilde: I’m not a sore loser by any means. I can accept defeat, but… 

 

Maria crossed her legs, and turned her body to face him fully.  It was a sort of subconscious move of openness and acceptance of what she suspected was going to be a moment.

 

Alvarez: But what?

 

Wilde: You promise you won’t laugh at me?

 

Alvarez: Sure, if you don’t tell any jokes.

 

Wilde: ::Sighing:: Ever since my injury I felt… ugly. I know I’m not. I mean look at me! ::He chuckled.:: But…

 

This was hard. Even if it sounded superficial and callous, this was the real crux of the matter.  Maria smiled sadly, empathising with what he must be feeling, even if she disagreed with his assessment of his appearances.  She was plenty familiar with her own feelings towards herself not lining up with others' thoughts.

 

Wilde: All my life I’ve never really been good at anything. That was the secret Ghant found when she sized me up in the transporter room. Pretty, but empty. No real skills or discerning talent to speak of, but boy can I turn heads when I walk into a room. That was my shield. Nobody can pick apart your personality or ask too many probing questions if you’re the loudest person in the room. Pretty pea[...]s can fan their feathers but can’t really fly very far. That’s me.

 

Maria took a deep, cleansing breath.  She could understand what he was saying, and more than that related to it.  So much of dance was being on display, being nothing more than a body on a stage.  She appreciated the power of performing attractiveness and aesthetics better than most.  Of course dance was about a lot more than looks, but she felt pretty certain Regan was about a lot more than looks too.  She took another heavy draught, breezing beyond thoughts of her own past and staying in the moment with Regan.

 

Alvarez: It’s easy to become just one thing, isn’t it?  Especially when it’s the very first thing you notice about a person.  There’s a lot of power in looking or being a certain way, and often enough an expectation too - for better or worse.

 

Wilde: I’ve always utilised my looks - for good and bad - my whole life. I kinda like the attention, you see. If people are looking at me, that means they like me. I like when heads turn to follow me or people stop what they’re doing to meet my gaze. It’s a guilty habit from a former life as a model. I used to love it when people treated me differently because of my looks, because they either admire me or desire me. ::He shook his head.:: She hurt me more deeply than I let on. Oh the scars heal alright but what she made me feel since… This feeling that without my face I’m nothing. That’s the punishment. And you whooping me in the gym added to it all. The feeling of failure, the fact that I was arrogant enough to go in there thinking I’d already won and then failing, and blaming my looks. You may be shocked by this but a lot of what I say is bravado.

 

Alvarez: There’s no shame in that; I had a sense you liked the motto ‘fake it til you make it’.

 

She smiled nicely at Regan, appreciating how he felt, and appreciating even more he was sharing it with her.  She understood what it felt like to fall into thinking there was only one way she was worth anything.  She couldn’t help but feel something of a bond and an understanding between herself and Regan.

 

Alvarez: It’s no wonder you felt how you did.  Honestly, though?  In a sort of twisted way, it’s something of a gift to be shown your own weaknesses and failings so plainly.  I’m not saying I’d ever wish what happened to you on anyone, but you have a chance to make something new, or find something in yourself you didn’t know was there before.  :: She grinned. :: Then you get to have twice the bravado.

 

Wilde: ::Smirking:: Well at least try and act shocked. But seriously. What she didn’t realise is what I’ve been through to get where I am. At one point in my life this face was plastered all over the planet Betazed. I was ‘The Face of Betazed'’, 2390. It’s a kind of modelling competition. Very exclusive. And I won it. I was barely twenty and all the success and fame really went to my head. Everyone at the academy knew my name and wanted to hang out with me. I went to all the best parties and hung out with all the Red Squad lot. But they were never my friends, they were just people around me who knew my name. But now I do have people I consider friends. And when Ghant had Captain Shayne at knifepoint I offered myself in exchange. And I offered myself to her here in this room, to save the crew. That’s what I wanted in the end. Not to play hero, but to earn the respect of the crew. To show them I have what it takes to sacrifice for them. I dived headfirst into hell for them. ::He turned to her.:: And I’d do it again.

 

Alvarez: Handsome and noble?  Now that’s a hell of a combination.  :: She grinned, took a beat, then turned thoughtful. :: Regan… you don’t need to show me or anyone else on this ship anything.  I know it probably doesn’t seem like it, but I get what it’s like living for validation, needing to prove something.  Your friends - your real friends here - don’t need you to earn their respect.  Believe me when I say you already have it.  Even if you had turned and run away, it wouldn’t have made a difference because a person’s worth isn’t contingent on specific actions or qualities like that.  Of course actions matter, but the fact you’ve come this far means you’ve already woven a tapestry of behavior that says something important about who you are.

 

Wilde: I thought you said you weren’t very good at counselling.

 

He smirked. She did have a way of making him feel better.

 

Maria scooted in a little closer, smiling as she re-oriented herself a little.  Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but it was nice to see Regan at peace like this.

 

Alvarez: You’ve obviously lived through a lot before you made it here.  You know I’ve had my own life before Starfleet too, so I think I can say with a little authority I know something about the qualities of someone who chooses this life.  I think what you’ve done is tremendously admirable, and you should let yourself be proud.  Doesn’t hurt you’re still pretty dang cute too.

 

She grinned, then leaned in, and kissed him deeply on the lips.

 

Regan sat wide eyed in surprise as she leaned across and kissed him. It certainly took him by surprise as he found himself locked in a kiss with someone he was arguing with not a few days before. Not wanting to appear rude, he closed his eyes and returned the kiss. His body wanted to betray him and let out an amused giggle. This was, actually, his first ever kiss with a woman. He was sure they’d laugh about it later. Then he smelt the faint aroma of whiskey on her breath and he froze. Quickly, and little too forcefully, he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her steadily away.

 

Wilde: I can’t! I’m sorry! 

 

Maria wheeled back a little, took a beat, worried.  Quickly realizing it wasn’t catastrophic, she  laughed it off.

 

Alvarez: Damn, did I read that one wrong.  :: She shook her head. ::  Sorry about that.

 

Wilde: Please, no need to apologise. I’m incredibly flattered but, well ::He cleared his throat.:: You’re not really my type. I… kind of thought that was obvious?

 

He bit his bottom lip in amusement. He was really trying not to laugh and hurt her feelings. Talk about crossed wires. Maria gave him a humorous little side-eye, and cracked wise at her own expense.  Fortunately it had been a spur-of-the moment thing.

 

Alvarez: You sure a soft, sultry little jazz vocals performance won’t change your mind?

 

Wilde: I’m pretty sure. But at least we can have a giggle about it, right? 

 

Alvarez: :: She grinned. :: In my defense, you totally asked me about horga'hns, you definitely seemed like you might have been mad at me in ‘that way’, and you were very emotionally vulnerable with me just now… :: Her grin turned serious. :: Although I hope that last one doesn’t change.

 

Wilde: I just meant that on Risa we’d get ourselves some horga’hns and use them to attract some hot lifeguards or something at the beach! That’s what I’m gonna do! 

 

Alvarez: :: She giggled. :: Obviously that’s the game plan for me too.  Or at least now it is.  I feel another competition coming on…  :: She smirked. ::

 

Wilde: Well I do know one thing. ::He grinned and put on a childish sing-song voice.:: You think I’m gorgeous, you wanna kiss me, you wanna hug me, you wanna date me…

 

Alvarez: :: She playfully slugged his shoulder. :: Oh please, date you?  Can you imagine how that would end?  :: She grinned. ::  Besides, I’m pretty sure I’ll forget this as soon as the whole heroic wounded soldier thing you’ve got going on stops.  Normally the pretty boy routine doesn’t do it for me.  You’re on the clock, buddy.

 

Regan was chuckling to himself but sobered after a second or two.

 

Wilde: I’m sorry I gave you the wrong impression. I’ve been there myself, putting myself out there for guys and it not ending the way I’d like. I didn’t mean to give you mixed signals.

 

Alvarez: ::She smiled nicely. :: Don’t worry about me.  Not the first time, I’m sure it won’t be the last.  Had to try, I know you get it.

 

She took another draught of the strong drink, then looked over to Regan, a silly grin still on her face.  She offered the bottle over to him.

 

Alvarez: Come on, let’s forget about it, and let’s forget about the past and Ghant for a little bit.

 

Wilde: ::Chuckling.:: Great idea. But I really don’t think that’s the best way for me. Besides I’m sure you can find something better than Brom’s Tellarite moonshine.

 

Alvarez: I can’t finish this all by myself, help me out!

 

She pouted a little, putting on a face designed to elicit guilt, practiced on her siblings.  If Regan was putting out signals, she was too absorbed in her own thoughts and reliving of events in the cargo bay to notice.  The inebriation didn’t help her either.

 

Wilde: I can’t. I told you, I don’t drink.

 

Alvarez: Seriously, if ever there was a time to start, it would be now.  No need to be a teetotaller.  :: She plopped the bottle into his lap with a grin. :: It’s not so bad once you get over the initial bite.

 

Regan regarded the bottle now tossed unceremoniously in his lap. He picked it up and looked at it hard. Then he put it in the ground between them and shook his head.

 

Wilde: It’s not about being teetotal. I…

 

Alvarez: Then what’s the big deal, Regan?

 

Maria reached out to shift the bottle back to her friend, more petulant than was becoming.  Placing a firm hand on hers as she grasped the bottle again, Regan levelled his eyes on her. He wasn’t angry but he was frustrated. Frustrated that she wasn’t listening to him and equally frustrated that he couldn’t do what she was asking.

 

Wilde: ::Sternly.:: Maria! ::Softer.:: I’m an alcoholic.

 

In an instant, Maria’s grin was wiped off her face, and replaced with a look of abject horror.  She retreated, reeling back as an unpleasant, hot churning in her stomach went into overdrive.  Her foggy head swam as the adrenaline and a [...]tail of a hundred other mood-altering hormones flooded her body with negative emotions.  They waged war against the alcohol addling her head.

 

Alvarez: Oh, god… Regan… I…

 

She fell quiet, frozen in an incredibly rare moment of being unable to find the words.

 

Wilde: It’s fine. It’s not exactly the first thing I like to tell people about myself, but there’s the rub. I’m an alcoholic. I take mandatory counselling with Lt. R’Ariel for it, and I’d very much like to blow off some steam with you and drink away some memories, but I can’t. It’s a dark spiral for me and I won’t let it happen again. If I start drinking, Captain Shayne or the CMO can take my commission from me. 

 

Maria had a pretty good idea just what alcoholism meant, and what addiction treatment in Starfleet was like.  The fleet was a generous place, but didn’t have much patience for relapsing, especially when repeated.  She didn’t need the explanation - or rather she shouldn’t have needed it.  She hung her head, still processing.  This was just like her.

 

Alvarez: I know.

 

Wilde: I did try and warn you about getting close to me. I’m a mess. I’m a screw up. I’m a drunk, and I work very hard - every day - to look in the mirror and try and not see those truths.

 

Maria looked away, unable to meet his gaze.  Her thoughts swirled and gathered into a thunderhead of anger and frustration with herself.  She had hurt him - again.  She abandoned the bottle, now viewing it with disdain.  She muttered to herself.

 

Alvarez: How could I have been so stupid?

 

Regan softened. She was getting more worked up over this than the silly mistaken kiss a few moments previously. He shook his head and gave her a smile.

 

Wilde: Don’t be so silly. You didn’t know. But it’s out in the air now, and like you say we move on and we get back up. 

 

Maria stood up, putting even more distance between herself and Regan, her emotions rapidly crystalizing and forming a barb pointed at herself.  Her uncle had suffered for a long time with addiction, and she knew sometimes even the strangest things would bring back a craving for him.  If someone had done to him what she just did to Regan, it would have risked derailing him for months if not years.  She should have seen the signs, or, even if not, respected his choice anyways.  She couldn’t forgive herself for it.

 

Alvarez: I didn’t need to know that to stop.  You shouldn’t have needed to tell me.

 

Wilde: There’s no harm done. Please just sit back down and we’ll forget about it.

 

Alvarez: This is serious!  I just kissed you with alcohol on my breath, I might as well have force-fed you a shot while I was at it.  It’s one thing to screw around with my own record, quite another to mess with yours.

 

Wilde: I know, I tasted it… but have a bit of faith in me, will you, before you write me off as just a drunk who’ll drop his guard at the opening of a bottle. I have kissed a few people who’ve had a drink beforehand. It’s not the end of the world. Let’s just forget it, and go back to being friends. It wasn’t that long ago you were telling me to pick myself up again and heal.

 

Maria’s thoughts spiraled.  She’d been doing a lot of this lately - practically going out of her way to pick fights, thoughtlessly hurt people, and generally be a massive pain for everyone that knew her.  The captain, the first officer, her roommate… she should have been much gentler to Regan in the first place too, and she knew it.  Her attitude had done a lot of damage lately, and it didn’t matter if she was right or wrong in the argument.  This was just the most recent and most obvious feat of alienating someone.  Someone she genuinely cared about too.

 

Alvarez: Oh yeah, real funny, using my own words against me.  :: She sneered. ::  Maybe I was just being nice to you so you’d invite me back to your quarters.

 

Maria’s attitude turned as ugly as Regan’s did in the gym that day, but it was probably obvious she wasn’t mad at him. The smile faded from Regan’s face and he stood up to match her stance.

 

Wilde: Because you’re not like that, Maria. I know you’re not. If you just wanted to hop into bed with the first good looking officer you saw out of the academy, you’d have done it by now. But you’ve stuck by me in more ways than one since we met and you didn’t know the whole truth. You’re better than that.

 

Alvarez: You don’t know that, and you don’t know me.  Everyone keeps thinking they do!  I’ve got a nice little pattern of being a supermassive rectal black-hole going on right now.  Maybe I like it that way!

 

Wilde: You’re a good person, Maria. People see you as a hero. You performed an amazing feat in engineering and the whole crew is gobsmacked at how brilliant it was. You saved the ship! 

 

She wasn’t angry with Regan, but she lashed out at him anyway since he was an available target and she needed something other than herself to channel the boiling cauldron of frustration at.

 

Alvarez: Just shut up!  I’m sick of the whole hero schtick.  I don’t think Mr. January has near enough qualification to say what I am or judge what I did.

 

It was a cheap, mocking shot, practically tailor-made to establish distance and she knew it.  She knew Regan would almost certainly see through it too.

 

Regan raised an incredulous eyebrow and gave her a look his sister used to give him when he was being particularly bratty.

 

Wilde: ::Aghast:: You know I was going to be Mr. February on the ship's calendar. You’re just being petty. ::Beat.:: Look, I know you don’t mean that. You sat and listened to everything I had to say about my life before Starfleet so I know you don’t mean that! Stop acting like a child!

 

Maria gesticulated at herself - her outburst had stopped being about a bottle of alcohol, and started being about a whole lot more.  How many times had she ignored breathless warnings about how she’d hurt those around her?  Sure they’d meant physically, but this was worse in so many ways.

 

Alvarez: I’ll act how I want!  I always do, that’s my problem, right?

 

Wilde: You did nothing wrong. Honestly. Even if I took a swig of Brom’s hooch I wouldn’t blame you. I’d blame myself for not being strong enough to know I shouldn’t. I’ve been sober for six years, I’m not going to slip up anytime soon. Tonight was a test for me, the funeral, the exams. But I passed! Trust me.

 

Alvarez: Bull - addiction doesn’t work like that, and you know it better than I do.  I got you riled when I was trying to be nice, you wanna see me do some real damage?

 

Regan cast his eyes to the ground. She had a point. He had smelled the alcohol on her breath and the briefest of tastes. It was a dangerous road, but Regan really didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

 

Wilde: I just don’t want you to feel bad about this. 

 

Maria’s eyes darted around the cargo bay.  She could swear she could see a stain on the floor where human and orion blood had spilled.  She could hear her heart racing in anxiety as Regan’s voice melded with snippets of that scene playing yet out in her head again.  It was an eerie and unnerving thing until the fog cleared again and she was back in the moment.

 

Alvarez: I’m sick of everyone pretending like I’m something more than I am.  Like I’m some brilliant, swashbuckling dame with a heart of gold.  I didn’t think about it, I just did it!  Like I always do!

 

There was a strange tinge to her voice; this wasn’t about a feat of engineering, or a bottle of booze - not any more.

 

Alvarez: Don’t you get it?  I’m nuts, unpredictable… as likely to solve galactic hunger as to go on an overly-thought-out genocidal rampage or do nothing but binge holovids for a year straight.  Best part is, I don’t care which one!  You should read my psychiatric notes from the academy entrance interview some time, they’re really fun...

 

In Maria’s mind, she’d already fully retreated, and viewed her actions as protecting Regan from herself.  She was pushing him away as much as she could, operating solely on emotional instinct rather than any rational justification.  She just wanted to escape, to run, and hide away.  Never to hurt him or anyone else again.

 

Wilde: Oh come on, nobody is ‘nuts’. You can’t be nuts or you’d never get into Starfleet. I should know, I was expelled from the academy once. What did the admissions counselors say?

 

Alvarez: Let’s see if I recall - difficult, chaotic, moody, unruly, disrespectful, overbearing… just a start of the reasons I shouldn’t even be here.  I’m not special - I’m barely adequate, but that’s okay.  Literally anyone else could have “saved the day” if I hadn’t.  Hell, that probably would have been better - then you wouldn’t have to put up with me.  Nor would the rest of the crew.

 

Wilde: Maria, you’ve just described myself when I was, like, fifteen. Just relax and don’t talk rubbish. If it wasn’t for you I’d have died in this room! You think I should let that go?

 

Alvarez: Yeah!  You should if you don’t want to deal with someone who apparently acts like she’s fifteen.  Besides, you definitely don’t want me anywhere near you when one of the senior officers comes around…

 

Wilde: Well maybe I won’t let it go. You saved my life, and I don’t care what you think about that. Let them pin a medal on your chest, or replicate it into something useful - that’s up to you. Dismiss your own feelings if you want but you sure aren’t going to dismiss mine.

 

The thought of a medal was outrageous even under ordinary circumstances, and Maria’s face twitched in annoyance and anger, not directed anywhere in particular.  Her guard finally gave way, and let the whole thing out for the entire cargo bay to hear.

 

Alvarez: I killed her, Regan!  The knife was in my hands!  I couldn’t care less she’s dead, but you think I want a goddamn medal to remind me of something I already relive every day?  Besides, I hate the things to begin with.

 

She felt enormously guilty - here was someone who’d given up a lot more than her, someone she’d been outright awful to, and she was complaining about getting a medal?  She slunk further in retreat, all too aware how damaging she was being yet unable to stop.

 

Regan stepped closer to her. He was extremely grateful to her for saving his life, and even though she didn’t want to hear it - she was his hero. She killed the dragon. She slayed the beast. She had done what needed to be done when he hesitated and couldn’t do it.

 

Wilde: It was my knife! I wasn’t even supposed to have it on me! Don’t you see? The knife, the cargo bay, Ghant... fate! It’s all tying us together in unimaginable ways! And we need to figure this out or we’ll never get past it. Together or separately. We’re linked, Maria. Linked by fate and damnation. And I don’t want to go it alone. I’ll always thank you for saving my life. You’ll always be a hero to me.

 

She fumed for a moment, took a beat, then gave him a sardonic s[...] - disengaged from the hailstorm of her emotions.  If it was fate, then fate had a grim and twisted sense of humor pushing the two of them together in this way.

 

Alvarez: Really?  You think I joined Starfleet because of fate?  What a fakakta notion, I bet the admissions counsellors would have loved that one...  :: She shook her head. :: I don’t think so.  I gotta go.

 

She disengaged verbally just as abruptly as she had disengaged emotionally.  She tramped off, upset and angry with herself, unable to be reasoned with.  She was sick of how this had become a repeating theme, but it seemed all she could do was retrace the steps over and over again.

 

As she stormed off back to the corridor, Regan threw his hands up in the air in disbelief. 

 

Wilde: ::Calling after her.:: Maria!? Maria, wait! Are we ever going to have a conversation that doesn’t end with one of us storming off in a huff?

 

Alone in the cargo bay he tapped his foot impatiently on the cold ground. This was another mess in their friendship.

TBC

 

 

 

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ACT III

(( USS Arrow, Deck 3 - Security Annex ))

 

Maria hummed a tune softly as she prodded at the internal sensor grid node.  The electronics was proving to be as stubborn as she was, with no number of re-routes or repairs or re-calibrations bringing the sensors in the sector online for quite some time now.  It was soul-crushingly dull work, and somehow she’d ended up abandoned by the engineering and ops teams in her pursuit to fix the issue.

 

It was probably just as well, since she was terribly unfocused on the work at hand, spending just as much time browsing weakly related informational articles to pass the time as actually doing any real work.  She had discovered the resonator crystal for the particular assembly in this node had been mined on Gelrak V, apparently sustainably harvest with new microbe-friendly laser cutters before being shipped on a low-warp barge to a processing plant halfway across the quadrant because a star called Ytterbi 418 emitted a particular kind of radiation that made working with the crystals easier.  Bizarre stuff.  Needless to say, she was glad of the interruption that came in the form of a certain Lieutenant barging into the small room.

 

The doors swooshed open and Regan ran in, quickly checking the blind spots and area of the room with his weapon loaded and pointed. It was clear, with no sign of paint or people in it. Save one.

 

He was dressed only in his uniform trousers and his grey Starfleet tank top. He was bootless and running the corridors in just his socks. He felt it made him more silent, more stealthy. Around his forehead he wore another headband to keep his hair out of his eyes. He was rather taken with them and was tempted to petition Captain Shayne that he let him keep it as part of his uniform. If people could still wear skants in this day and age then surely Regan could be forgiven a badass head bandana. 

 

Crossing the distance between them, Regan raised his paintball gun with both hands on the trigger. His face was stern, watching her every move.

 

Maria rose up, her height bringing her not that far short from her counterpart.  A quick appraisal of his outfit and the brightly colored paintball pistol was enough to say there was an interesting story just waiting to be told.  She slipped into a character like she’d been pulled over.

 

Alvarez: Mornin’ there officer, I was goin’ the speed limit I swear.

 

Wilde: Are you armed!? Show me your hands…

 

Alvarez: Don’t you need a warrant for that?

 

Wilde: Hands! In the air! Nice and easy, hot stuff…

 

Maria lifted her arms in mock surrender, an incredulous smile on her face despite herself.

 

Alvarez: Ah, so now you wanna flirt, eh?  :: She grinned, and spun around. ::

 

Certain she was unarmed and no threat, Regan lowered his weapon carefully and then ‘broke character’ and rested his weight on one hip.

 

Wilde: Hey, aren’t you playing?

 

Maria relaxed, and leaned up against a wall.  She had no idea what was going on, and the question was something of a surprise.  She searched his face for a clue, but didn’t find anything.

 

Alvarez: Playing what, exactly?

 

Wilde: Uh, hello? Deck 3: Paintball Assassin? Everyone’s playing! Ok, I have to confess something. I’ve made a huge miscalculation!

 

Alvarez: So that’s why no one else is helping with this sensor node.

 

She sighed, not really caring about the inconvenience now that something more interesting had come along.  She waved at him to spit out the story.

 

Alvarez: Well?  Out with it.  What have you done?  It had better be good.

 

Wilde: Ok, so I was talking to one of the Caldonians from the Syrtan. They have a holodeck! A working holodeck they use for running experiment simulations in. Well, I managed to barter for some holodeck time. I wanted to finally get to use my copy of Vulcan Love Slave 7, you know, for… reasons… but the Caldonians said it should be fair for us to decide who else gets some holodeck time, so I thought it would be sporting to raffle the time off as a prize in a game of Paintball Assassin. You know, the last man standing with no paint on him wins, but… ::He looked at her.:: Oh this crew is vicious! We’ve been playing for nearly two hours! We descended into animals! I don’t know how many are left. We’re only playing on this deck, and Engineering is out of bounds. Most of the enlisted crew are out. I’m not sure about the senior staff.

 

Maria chuckled.  It certainly did sound like a situation had developed, and one hell of a story to tell.  She had to admit that even after not that long on the ship some holodeck time sounded worth fighting for.

 

Alvarez: Heh, amazing how little it takes for civilization to fall apart…  Who’s in?  I have a hard time imagining the captain playing along.

 

Wilde: I don’t think Shayne and Collins are playing, but I’m not sure. The departments banded together pretty quickly but it’s organised chaos. Security and Tactical fell to in-fighting of all things! I don’t know if Serinus is playing. The engineers are pretty tight, but since Engineering itself is a no-go I don’t know where they are. Damn! I at least thought Keneth would want to team up with me… traitorous little targ! ::Beat:: Science and Medical have merged and Sickbay is a kind of neutral area. Oh this is kinda out of hand! There’s paint everywhere! Crewmen are just walking around covered in paint. It’s barbaric, yet…

 

Alvarez: :: She muttered. :: No wonder I can’t get this node working, the folks in ops probably sabotaged it.  It’s what I’d do.

 

Wilde: ::His eyes sparkled.:: I’ve never felt so alive! The rules are no comm badges, no sensors and no tricorders. You win this game by guts and instinct alone! Aren’t you playing? Don’t you want some holodeck time?

 

Maria would have probably immediately wanted in on such a scheme under any other circumstances, but she uncharacteristically backed away from the question still smarting from what had happened in the cargo bay.  Her body tensed a little, unsure how to respond.  She wasn’t even totally sure why Regan was being good to her right now, she thought she’d made it pretty clear she was messy, damaged goods.

 

Alvarez: No comms or sensors?  Sounds like a Tuesday in the fleet.  :: She harrumphed. ::  No thanks, I’m happy to keep my guts and instincts to myself this round.

 

Regan pouted and gave her a playful tug on her uniform sleeve.

 

Wilde: Oh come on. It’s fun! I’ve already pot-shotted a lot of your Ops guys. 

 

Alvarez: I really should probably fix this sensor relay, and after that I need to pay a visit to cargo bay two.  Did you know that around 5% of what the average starship carries around in cargo never gets used in its service lifetime?  Talk about waste, man.

 

It was a random factoid she dredged back up to distract from the total lameness of what she was doing.  She would much rather drop the work and play around, but it was a good, diligent-sounding excuse that didn’t scream ‘rescue me from my own personal hell.’

 

Wilde: ::Rolling his eyes.:: Talk about the most boring thing I’ve heard all week. I thought you’d be playing, not hiding away here of all places.

 

Alvarez: And suppose I did play.  I don’t have a paintball gun.  Even if I did, do you know how bad my marksmanship scores are?

 

Wilde: We’ll get you one. When people get paintballed they just leave their guns where they fall. I can get you a paintball gun in no time!

 

Alvarez: Besides, I’d never make it out of the room.  You could just shoot me right now.

 

Wilde: I’m very tempted to Ms Alvarez. But that’s not sporting. I thought you’d be the one to give me a run for my money! We’ll sort out the rest of the repairs later. 

 

Maria was rapidly running out of runway to keep giving excuses not to play.  She knew she’d be better at it than she was letting on: wiley, out-of-control escapades were exactly her kind of thing.  As for gunplay, there was no time like the present to work on those skills.  It all boiled down to her inability to believe Regan still wanted her company after everything.  She’d already shed tears for the friendship, and was ready to just move on like she always did.  He didn’t seem to share that sentiment, wanting to team up as he did.  Her body betrayed her sense of exhausted defeat when she admitted just as much.

 

Alvarez: Why would you want that?  I thought it was pretty clear I’m not a good thing for you in any way, shape, or form.

 

Regan exhaled a long breath. Why was it so hard for her to accept the truth that he liked her company and really wanted another bash at their friendship. She was much like him when it came to personality, and he felt close to her because she was more of a misfit than anything else.

 

Wilde: Do I strike you as a person who’s ever listened to anyone when they’ve said ‘that’s bad for you’? I make my own opinions, and my own choices. I pick my own friends. 

 

He stepped closer to her and patted her on the shoulder.  Maria’s expression softened as he did.  He really was a lot like her - doing things his own way and standing by his friends to the bitter end.  She didn’t totally trust her own feelings though, imagining it to be just a bandage over an awful rift between them.  She fidgeted tensely with a tool trying to decide which instinct to follow.

 

Wilde: Look, I get it. You’re a misfit. A screw up. Guess what? So am I! I know we’ve got a lot of stuff to sort out between us, with Starfleet and Ghant and everything. And I promise we’ll get there in time. But there is one thing I need you to know, what I’ve been trying to tell you all this time; Regan Wilde does not give up on his friends! But if you’re not ready to make that same commitment to our friendship, well, I guess I’ll leave you to fix your sensor array or whatever it is you’re doing here… Have fun. Guess I’ll see you at senior staff meetings.

 

He turned to leave, checking his ammo in his paintball gun.

 

It was a pretty low down and devious trick to play on her, but they had a history of not being able to talk properly without storming out on each other.  Maria tisked, and stood back upright, catching him by the arm before he could leave.

 

Alvarez: Hey, now that’s not funny.

 

She grinned bitterly anyway - it almost was.  One or the both of them had been so block-headed the whole time they hadn’t gotten to actually hang out much.  She was almost annoyed over how charming he was being (or maybe how charming he thought he was), but she had to confess she’d probably try the same thing in his place.  She scanned his face, and found sincerity behind his boyish facade. She felt her habitual smile tentatively crawl its way back onto her face, colored by gratitude, willing to give this a try.

 

Alvarez: Alright, fine.  But only because asking for my help means you know somewhere deep down I’ll be better at staying in the game than you are.  :: She smirked. ::  I’d hate to see you lose your shot just because I made you go it alone.

 

She grinned at herself, figuring he’d do just fine without her, but it certainly didn’t hurt for her to have his back.  It was more just fun to rib him.  Besides, she still couldn’t quite shake the guilt from the other night, at least seeing him on his way to a holodeck might make her feel a little better about it.  Maybe she’d have a shot at real redemption over whatever silliness this was.  Either way, she’d invest in it.

 

Wilde: Oh yes. I desperately need your help to stay in a game I’ve been winning for the last two hours… ::Smiling:: I want to rekindle the camaraderie we had. We make a good team! We can win this together. Let’s call these the golden rules on the Arrow, eh? No man left behind. Misfits rule! Ooh, we’ll call them The ‘Row Code!

 
Maria shook her head with a smile.
 

Alvarez: It’s so bad it’s good.  You’ve clearly got a whole bad-boy cop vibe going, I guess that means I’ll be the straight-laced rule follower.  It’ll be good to get out of my own head for a bit. :: She put on a slight accent and leaned in. :: The law’s the law, kid.  It’s the difference between us and the criminals, capiche?  :: She giggled, getting ever more into character. ::  Oh!  We need nicknames…  :: She thought for a second. ::  Tango and Cash!

 

Wilde: What are they? I’ve never heard of them. But I like the idea. We do need cool nicknames…

 

Alvarez: Cops from an ancient buddy-cop movie.  Bad movie, really, but appropriate names.  I’m Tango because, duh, I’m an Argentine dancer, and you’re Cash because… y’know, you’re loaded.

 

Regan laughed. She was more apt at Earth history than he was. But they had a ring to them. Regan blanched when she told him his nickname and offered a demure grin.

 

Wilde: Hey, I’m not actually that rich, you know. I’m only like ::counting in his head.:: fifth in line to the Wilde Estate. Providing my cousin Danny doesn’t have any more children. Besides I’m not stingy with my latinum.

 

Maria gave him a playfully accusatory glare.  Her family had been comfortable enough, but far from wealthy.  Her mind boggled at what Regan had hinted to when he mentioned his family estate.

 

Alvarez: Yeah, and I’m fifth in line to order drinks from a coffee shop in my hometown.  I think this one’s no contest.

 

Wilde: Fair point.

 

Alvarez: Alright, so what’s the plan then, Cash?  :: She put on a voice again. :: And I don’ wanna hear any of ya dangerously illegal stunts this time, ya hear me?

 

Regan, who adored theatrics, drummed up a character he’d seen somewhere from watching ancient movies in his youth.

 

Wilde: I'm too old for this s...Wait, I think that's the wrong character… I don’t know, I’m the hot-shot, you’re the brains.

 

Alvarez: How did I become the plans person?

 

Wilde: Because you had the plan to hot-wire the computer into thinking you were the Commander in Chief? That makes you the planner, doll.

 

Alvarez: :: She sighed. :: It was fleet admiral, and I was hoping you might forget that.  Fine.  :: She put on a voice again. :: Step one, I need a piece.  :: She shot him a glance. :: A paintball gun.  Second, we need information.  No sensors, so we do it the old fashioned way like we did back when you was in nappies, son.  We find someone who knows the lay o’ the land, we haul ‘em back to the station and interrogate ‘em.

 

Wilde: You’re going very film noir with this. How about a different approach...

 

Alvarez: Hey, everyone’s a critic now.  You try putting something together in thirty seconds.  Fine, what do you have?

 

Wilde: You’ve seen Tango and Cash, have you seen… Die Hard?

 

Maria’s eyes narrowed before she put on a grizzled grin and flipped her hair in her face.

 

Alvarez: Yippee-ki-yay mother...

 

  ((Timewarp - Deck 3; Shuttlebay 1 - Main Level))

 

Wilde: Tucker! You’re out, Crewman. I got you fair and square!

 

The fight to the shuttle bay was exciting. They’d evaded most of the engineers on the way, and fought their way into the shuttle bay. They thought they’d been victorious until they found themselves cornered behind one of the shuttles. The engineers had been sneaky and made a pact with the rest of the Ops crew.

 

Paintballs flew through the air and splattered against the pristine duranium of the shuttle. Regan peeked out from behind the nacelle to gauge how many attackers were converging on them. A brief glance around told him it didn’t look good. He ducked back as another volley of paint almost scuppered his chances of victory.

 

Wilde: This doesn’t look good, Tango.

 

Alvarez: No, Cash!  Never give up, never surrender!

 

Maria grinned with the hammy line, and fired off a few unaimed potshots around the corner just to make a point to their attackers that advancing would be unwise.  Still, they were impossibly outnumbered and vastly outgunned, putting them in quite the plight.  The opening to the jefferies tubes was much too far - any number of the paintball guns aimed at the shuttle they sheltered behind would hit them on the way even at a full sprint.

 

Wilde: We’re pinned down like rats! I shouldn’t have been so [...]y about paintball. I also shouldn’t have underestimated the engineers!

 

Alvarez: The ops department will pay for their sudden but inevitable betrayal!  :: She smirked for a beat. :: There has to be something we can do.  Flanking maneuver alpha 63 or something, I don’t know!

 

She was desperately working to think up something to keep them in the game.  She wanted to see Regan win.

 

Wilde: I’m sorry for getting you involved in this. I shouldn’t have pushed you to play.

 

Alvarez: I’m just sorry you won’t get to play out Vulcan Love Slave 7… sounds like it had a, uh, truly gripping story.  :: She giggled. ::

 

Wilde: ::Chuckling:: Hey, I never said I was a saint! It’s been a long six months since the academy. A guy has needs, you know... 

 

Regan popped out from behind the nacelle again and loosed a few rounds of paintballs against the attackers. They hit their mark but still the crew advanced.  Maria steadied her aim and managed to actually land a shot on a yellow shirt at the periphery, somewhat to her surprise.  It wouldn’t do more than buy a few more seconds though.

 

Wilde: It makes no sense for both of us to lose. I’ll take the fall, just be sure to mop them up in style. Avenge me!

 

Alvarez: Hey, who said anything about losing?  My aim has been improbably better than usual today, if we can just… :: She turned and saw he was serious. :: No, wait, don’t you dare…!

 

It was too late.

 

Regan nodded and climbed upon the roof of the shuttle and fired rapidly into the bay. Paint exploded all around the bay, covering shuttles and crew alike. He thought himself pretty heroic, standing against the oncoming storm, taking one for the team.

 

The first paintball hit his chest. He looked down at the yellow stain in shock and horror. He was out. He’d lost. He fell to his knees like the macho soldier trope. Then a dozen other paintballs hit him in the torso and he shot a scolding look at the others who’d obviously been waiting a long time to do that.

 

Wilde: Alright, I get it. I’m out!

 

Maria let loose a blood-curdling battle cry, in an almost-too-real retribution for her fallen comrade.  She valiantly rushed forth and squeezed the trigger as fast as the mechanism would allow.  To her credit, there was probably one shot that made it to within single-digit centimeter distance from its intended target.

 

Her reward for her heroics was a uniform practically bathed in paint within seconds.  There simply was no other way for it to end.  She halted in her tracks and put her hand to the paint like she was in an over-acted, B-tier holovid.  She performed essentially a stunt fall to face Regan.  She whispered hoarsely like she was really wounded, but the uncontained smile told another story.

 

Alvarez: So, Cash… this is the end.  Can’t say I saw it going down like this.

 

He fell down onto the roof of the shuttle and suppressed a smile as she fell to his side.

 

Wilde: They got me, partner!

 

Maria reached out towards him in mock weakness.

 

Alvarez: Real shame you’re not gonna get that holodeck time.  I was going to make sure you got it...

 

He looked at the ceiling from his place on top of the shuttle. Regan was enjoying hamming up his performance. He shot a sly side-glance at Maria.

 

Wilde: Maria. I have something to tell you.

 

She coughed sickly for effect.

 

Alvarez: It’s okay, I know all about your unrequited love for me…  I’ve known how you felt about me since the day we met.

 

Wilde: No, I’m serious. ::Beat:: There is no prize for Paintball Assassin. I mean, there was. But we’re in it.

 

Maria propped herself up and dropped the act.  She probably could have processed the information much faster on any other day, but she just couldn’t imagine he’d do what she thought she might be hearing.

 

Alvarez: Wait.  Either there is or isn’t a prize.  What are you talking about, Regan?

 

Wilde: ::grinning.:: We’re in the prize. This is the holodeck on the Syrtan, but there is no paintball game. I beamed you over before you started fixing the sensors in security. Computer, end program.

 

The entire scenario dissolved in a melting fizz of photons and force fields - the shuttles, the bay, the paint, the guns and the crew disappeared. Regan and Maria were alone in the shiny silvery holodeck.  Maria pulled herself up to a stunned stand, leaving Regan still lying on the ground beneath her.  She processed the whole thing in slow motion.

 

Alvarez: You… little…

 

She trailed off.  She wasn’t mad.  Impressed, but not mad.  The whole meaning of it still didn’t sink in. Regan propped himself up on his elbows.

 

Wilde: ::He flashed a big grin.:: I made it all up so you’d come and play paintball with me.

 

Maria’s eyes narrowed at him craftily, as the clues fit into place.

 

Alvarez: So that’s why my aim was better wasn’t it?  You probably tweaked the difficulty… not that I mind…

 

She trailed off, examining his reaction for clues she was right as she pulled Regan up to his feet.

 

Alvarez: ...And how long was I “fixing” that sensor node programmed to never work in any capacity ever?

 

Wilde: About twenty minutes. I had to make sure the recreation of Deck 3 of the Arrow was fool-proof. One good thing about being the son of a famous crime holo-novelist is you pick up some handy tips in programming. The downside is my mother used my holographic template for all of her victims for ages. I’ve seen myself murdered dozens of times over the years.

 

Maria laughed, but quickly a whole tsunami of other emotions were piling up on top of her.  Her smile slipped away into something bittersweet.  Her voice softened.

 

Alvarez: Why?

 

Wilde: Well she said I had the perfect build for a murder victim, whatever that’s supposed to mean?… Oh. Why, what?

 

Alvarez: Why did you do this for me?  I… :: She let slip a heavy breath. :: I feel terrible for the way things have been with us.  I feel like I messed it all up.

 

Wilde: Because you're my friend. Because 'no man left behind'. Remember? The 'Row Code. Because you've been shutting yourself away and ignoring people. I've done my fair share of messing it up too. You’re a good person, Maria. No matter what you may think of yourself. You dropped everything just to play a stupid game of paintball with me when I wanted you to.

 

Maria looked down to her feet, grinding her shoe into the floor.  She felt weird being so bashful, but she didn’t know how to respond.

 

Alvarez: You’ve been so incredibly generous to me, Regan, but…

 

She looked back up, and met his eyes.  Behind her brown orbs was a desperate plea for true reconciliation.  No games this time.  Her chest betrayed the slightest shakiness in her body, communicating the overwhelming importance of all this to her.  She’d had a bad run, so it was an awful lot to process and communicate.

 

Alvarez: I don’t want to be playmates.  I want to be friends... real friends.  No more walking out, no matter what happens.  You might be right it was fate we met, I don’t know, but I need where we go from here to be because of something even more powerful than that - a choice.  That means I’m not doing this on a whim.  Definitely not anymore.  I need you to be sure of that too.  Do you understand?

 

Wilde: Yes, sir! ::he grinned but noticed her facial expression:: Look, with a friendship like ours you need to learn to roll with the punches and take the rough with the smooth. It probably won't be easy. We've both lost our temper with the other and walked out on each other. But we'll figure it all out together. I promise. Like I keep saying, Regan Wilde does not give up on his friends!

 

Maria couldn’t hold back any more.  She piled into Regan with a fierce hug she probably needed more than him.  She clung to him for a moment, her body finally letting go of weeks worth of anxiety before she let go of him.  She gave a broad smile and let herself slip back into her more usual self.

 

Alvarez: You realize you’ll never be rid of my quips now, right?  I don’t care if I have to army-crawl through a muddy warzone to goad you back to life, you’re gonna hear it from me…

 

Wilde: Absolutely. As it should be. Though I hope I don't end up in a muddy warzone any time soon...

 

Alvarez: And don’t even start with me if any of my antics get you a demerit or land you in the brig.  You know full well by now what I’m like, so there’s no excuses, Cash :: She grinned. ::

 

Wilde: Hey, if I end up in the brig, I'm gonna need you to spring me, right? Besides, What's Tango without Cash?

 

Alvarez: Good.  :: She smiled. :: Now, what do you say to dinner?

 

Wilde: Great idea. I'm starving! Let's try some Caldonian food. Looks quite interesting. I'm sure between us we can sweet talk one of the crew into letting us use a replicator.

 

Fin

 

 

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