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[ROUND 1] Fireflies


Lt. Cmdr. Katy Orman
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(( Ash MacKenna's FO Quarters, Deck two, USS Victory ))

::Ash didn't have many things to move into her new quarters, but what she did have, she wanted to get put away. The two small crates had been transported before she actually arrived, so when she walked into the room, they nearly tripped her. The doors had parted and opened to more room than she could possibly use. It would take some getting used to.::

::Setting down the small duffle bag, the red head moved from the living area to the bedroom. There, she carefully sat her two 'guardians' on the top of the dresser. For a moment, she allowed herself to get lost in thought; the paths that had led to acquiring both of them had been paths she had never walked before. Now, with things changing so drastically, she was glad to have them. If nothing else, they made her feel as if she wasn't quite so alone.::

::The door chime invaded her thoughts. Quickly running out to the main room again, she picked up the small bag and set it on one of the crates before kicking it out of the way.::

MacKenna: Come in.

::As the doors parted, she kicked the other crate towards the first before looking up. Inadvertently, her eyes met the darkness of his and she stopped, frozen for just that moment.::

Rais: It's just me. Come to help with the unpacking... and to see how our new Marine Head is settling in to his new home!

::Ash stared for a moment as if she didn't register what he had said. The moment passed, and she finally turned towards the room and then back towards him. It seemed like forever passed before she could gather her thoughts again.::

MacKenna: ::Laughing nervously.:: Come in, make yourself at home. I uh...::She moved into the room to allow him to move past her.:: The Colonel is in my room.

:: Rais stepped in, smiling widely. At the mention of her room, however, he hesistated. ::

Rais: Your.. room?

:: Where she slept? An intimate place, to be sure. A private place. She would let him go in there? ::

MacKenna: ::Grinning.:: You can go look if you wish. I promise I've taken care of him though.

Rais: Ahh, well, don't mind if I do...

::Ash lowered herself towards the ground to open one of the crates. Her heart was racing. She didn't expect him to be here. She didn't expect to see him so soon. Yet, here he was, and that fact sent her into another bout of nervous thoughts. Calming, doing all that she could to retain her cool demeanor, she started rummaging through the contents of the crate. A few padds, a picture of Duster, some things her mother had sent from home. One by one she started putting things away.::

:: Radi slipped into Ash's bedroom, taking a look around. Interesting. She had placed the little handmade teddybear on a shelf... overlooking her bed, along with another stuffed toy he didn't recognize. How very cute. ::

::Glancing up for the first time in a few minutes, she realized that Radi was not talking. It took her a minute to locate him, and when she did, she greeted him with a semi amused smile.::

Rais: Dinner time.

:: Moving into action, Radi replicated two thin slices of Terran veal. It was not too dissimilar from some of the larger rodents that dwelled on Betazed... not that he would mention that little fact to MacKenna. Terrans had some kind of issue about eating rodent meat- Radi didn't understand it. Betazoids loved all kinds of meat, rodent was a nice treat... ::

:: Replicating a number of condiments, Radi hummed a quiet tune and began preparing the meal. He tenderized the meat with a small fork-like device, tap-tapping away until it was nice and soft. He sprinkled a healthy amount of seasonings onto the meat- garlic salt, seasoning salt, and pepper along with a dash of red wine. He heated the skillet until it was sizzling hot, then added a tablespoon of olive oil which jumped and sparked around on the dish. ::

:: Laying the two strips on the skillet, he let them cook for a moment. The smell of roasting meat filled her quarters. ::

Rais: So, hey... I'm not very good at this, but my old mistress back on Betazed had me cook for her a few times, so you pick up a few tricks. So I can prepare a few dishes pretty well, but outside of those ones I'm floundering.

MacKenna: I'm not sure you ever want me to cook.

::She sniffed the air curiously. It had been a while since she had been privy to real cooking.::

Rais: Nah, I'm sure you'd do a better job. You're all... officerish and whatnot. Smart. Clever...

:: Rais waggled the tenderizer around dramatically. He began setting the words to a kind of impromptu tune. ::

... brave, compassionate, loyal, and true,

isn't that stuff what officers do?

Honest, you'll find,

and one of a kind,

Strong in form and mind!

So dashing and cute,

In that red collared suit,

Deserving of 'sir' and salute!

:: With a playful bow, Radi deftly flipped over the two strips of meat- they were nicely browned on that side, sizzling loudly as they began to cook on the other side. He knew Terrans liked to have vegetables with their food, so he replicated some and began steaming them. Carrot sticks, some kind of bizarre Ferrengi vegetable, all kinds of things. ::

MacKenna: ::Giggling.:: That wasn't bad.

Rais: Told you I could sing a little. And hey, I kept it COMPLETELY clean... this time. See? I can be good!

::Ash finally realized that she still had something in her hand. Glancing down at the picture of her horse, she carefully set it on the desk across the room. Returning to where Radi was cooking, she leaned back and just watched him work. Content with the silence, she waited patiently to see what he had made. The smell made her quite hungry; her stomach reminding her that she had not eaten much at all that day. As he began to put things on plates, she moved to the table and sat.::

:: Eventually the meal was ready. Rais served it out onto two little square plates, one slice of meat each, with a healthy side of vegetables. He sat hers down first, placing the modest dish down in front of her, along with a sharp steak knife and a fork. Only after hers was set down did he fetch his own, putting it in front of his seat. ::

::Closing her eyes, Ash let the smells linger. It invoked thoughts of her past, of home, and of her mothers cooking. Another point for the strange Betazoid she had met not too long ago.::

MacKenna: It smells great.

:: Sitting, Rais gave a nervous smile. ::

Rais: Um. Did you mind if I gave a brief, quiet prayer first? It's okay if you don't want it- it's just... well, it's a habit I'm into.

::Ash looked over at him and nodded. Growing up, she had been surrounded by historians and archeologists from various walks of life. Even if most of it was Earth related, she was still able to pick up bits and pieces of many religions that had existed at one point or another. Though archeology wasn't her thing, she had enjoyed learning about the abstract as much as she had the science.::

MacKenna: Of course.

:: Radi lowered his head a moment and was silent. When it was done, he gently clapped his hands together. ::

Rais: Dig in!

::Ash sat and waited for him to finish. She found it interesting, though she didn't understand many cultures in the galaxy. When he had finished, she picked up the fork and took a bite. The taste was quite good, and with a smile, she looked over at him.::

MacKenna: It's good!

:: Radi tucked in as well, slicing through the tender meat with his knife then popping it into his mouth. Mmm... tasty.

Rais: Hah, well, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Wasn't sure it would turn out okay...

MacKenna: I knew it would be. It smelled good too.

:: Radi smiled. ::

Rais: Well, that's the best part about cooking I reckon- the smell. It's why I prefer cooking over replicated food, when I can get it...

MacKenna: Dare I ask...what is it? ::She giggled.::

Rais: Heh, well, if I told you that I'm afraid you might not eat a bit...

MacKenna: ::Glancing down.:: Well, I like it.

::As time progressed, her nerves died down. It was beginning to feel natural being next to Radi. Now, if she could keep that thought from really freaking her out....::

Rais: So how's settling into being the First Officer? I have to say, I seeing you in red is pretty [...]- uhh, well, it's... it suits you.

::Ash almost missed what he had said; she was too caught up in trying to maintain control.::

MacKenna: What? Oh...Yea, I guess.

:: With his mouth full of veal, he waggled his fork at her. ::

Rais: You havph my phull comfidence.

:: He swallowed. ::

Rais: No, seriously, you'll do great. Better than great.

MacKenna: Your confidence is reassuring.

::She smiled and continued eating. It seemed that everyone else thought she would do great, even if she didn't necessarily agree.::

Rais: Heh, well, that's just the opinion of one of the enlisted plebs, that's all... but I'm sure it counts for something. And Jaxx wouldn't put you in the role if he didn't think you wouldn't completely excel in the position- like you do with everything else, it seems. I reviewed your history... wow. I don't think I've ever seen anyone get promoted so quickly. It's like you just flew right up the ranks... at this rate, you'll be an admiral or so in a few years. Who knows, beyond that.

::She almost choked, then she laughed. Admiral?::

MacKenna: I don't know about all that.

Rais: You're gifted, that's for sure.

MacKenna: ::Blushing slightly.:: Thanks...

::Ash's eyes fell to the plate in front of her. With all the talking, the meal had gone much faster than she really noticed. Her plate was empty; she quietly set the fork down before sitting back in the chair and watching the man across from her. She couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something there that deeply intrigued her. She had never been the type to attach to anyone or anything, aside from her horses and her one close friend. Now, here she was, wanting more and more of him. It was like a drug; his smile, the darkness of his eyes, even his scent and how she felt around him. It was intoxicating.::

::She was teetering on the edge of the cliff, about to let go of all that she worked so hard to hide, but the worry was still paralyzing. What if he didn't like the real her, the one she hid under the her she shared with other people? What if she was too simple...or too complex. Overwhelmed, Ash resigned to taking things a moment at a time. Planning things out would only make it worse. This was going to be one of those things that she could not wrap her head around.::

:: For his part, Radi had never met anyone as smart, as interesting or as clever as her. The attraction was building slowly, moving beyond its roots... where he had looked at her on the bridge and just thought: "Wow, okay. Do want..." it was now a bit deeper than that. Radi, himself, was now deeper than that- in his time as a Marine if he saw someone he liked, he would just charge ahead like a raging bull. If they accepted that, usually within days, it would be on- if not, well, that's okay. Plenty more pretty women were waiting in the wings... ::

:: Ash was different. He wanted a "normal" relationship with her- a deeper connection. She was very, very pretty... but that wasn't all that was good about her. ::

:: They ate a little more. Then, ::

Rais: So, what comes after everything's set up, mmm? Looks like you're mostly done already...

MacKenna: Hmm? Oh. I don't know. I didn't have anything planned except for moving my stuff here tonight. ::She shrugged.::

:: Ahh, well, there goes that idea. ::

Rais: Oh, okay. Well, tomorrow is fine, too- I can come back then. What do you usually get up to when you're off duty?

::Ash didn't want him to go, she wanted him to stay there with her. She wouldn't ever just come out and say it, but that was what went through her mind at that moment.::

MacKenna: I really don't know. On a normal day I don't do much more than read and work on...well, work.

:: Ahh, that did make sense based on what he'd observed about her beforehand. Such a shame... ::

Rais: And what about when you're not working, that is? And not sleeping, or eating... you must do something?

MacKenna: ::Smiling.:: When I'm not working, I'm either with Katy or riding. ::She paused for a moment.:: Or both.

:: Radi had met Katy. It hadn't... gone down exactly as he had planned, but it was something he was going to have to fix if MacKenna was going to be a part of his life. Gotta have the friends onside, it was one thing he'd learned... ::

Rais: So you like to ride, huh? I saw you eying off those horses back on the holodeck... you mentioned you had one yourself?

MacKenna: Yea. ::She pointed to the picture she had set down.:: That's him. A Gypsy Vanner named Duster's Red Dawn.

Rais: Duster's Red Dawn... is that a typical horse name? I really don't know much about them, sorry...

:: He'd have to research this. ::

MacKenna: ::Laughing.:: Yes, I call him Duster though.

::The thought hit her in that moment. Despite her normal shyness, she suddenly found a renewed sense of mischief.::

MacKenna: I can show you. You know...If you want to see.

Rais: Of course I want to see...! We can go now, if you'd like?

MacKenna: ::Grinning.:: Great! ::She jumped up.:: I am going to get out of this uniform first though.

:: Radi couldn't help get a little tiny smirk on his face at that. "I'll give you a hand with that," was right on the tip of his tongue, but he behaved himself for now. Still... he let his imagination take the reins while she was away. That red collar looked great on her, but it would look even better on the floor of his quarters. ::

:: When she reappeared, she looked very different. ::

Rais: Hey, welcome...

:: His voice trailed off. ::

::Ash moved back to her room, grinning the whole way. She always got excited when she got the time to go riding. It was her life before Starfleet, and it was still an important time for her. The chance to share it with others only made it sweeter, although she rarely shared that world. It took a special kind of person to break her shell and enter the realm of the red head. Katy had been the first, and she had spent countless hours in the fields of the holodeck as well as on Earth with her best friend. This would be the first time that she shared the realm since then.::

::Returning to the living room in simple shorts, sandals, and tank top, she almost jumped for the door.::

MacKenna: Well?

::Standing next to the exit, she put her hands on her hips and waited for him to come towards her. She stood, almost daring him to get closer. She dared herself not to move and to allow it.::

:: Radi, plucking up his considerable courage, flashed a coy grin. He slid right up to her, slipping his hand around her waist. ::

Rais: Well, now aren't I overdressed for the occasion? I'm happy to go as-is, or we can drop by my quarters for a bit... hope my roommate's not in.

MacKenna: The holodeck isn't going anywhere.

::Caught in the moment, she let his touch linger in her thoughts, igniting a flash of adrenaline. She caught her breath for a moment before she couldn’t handle it much more. Slipping out the door, she let him take the lead towards his room.::

(( Deck Nine, USS Victory ))

:: Rais lead her down to the enlisted crewman's quarters on deck nine. She was dressed so casually, Radi figured it would be a wonder if anyone recognised her. Still... the odd glance or two. ::

Rais: Anyway, we're here. Come in, if you like, or stay outside- I'm fine.

MacKenna: ::Blushing slightly.:: I'll wait here...I uh, have to check on some things anyways.

::Turning away, she stepped up to the screen on the wall where she pulled up the latest reports. It wasn't that she was going to really read anything; it was more to make her look like she was doing something. Bits of information passed into her mind, but it was mostly occupied with thoughts of him. Her heart fluttered, but a line in one report caught her attention. It seemed they would have to head over to the starbase after all.::

::When he returned, Ash greeted him with a smile. The moment of distraction had allowed her to find the inner calm once more.::

:: Radi returned the smile. He was wearing traditional Betazoid clothes- loose fitting, flowing cloths that were remarkably similar to the Renaissance-era Terran style clothing. ::

MacKenna: So, the holodecks are down, so I guess we will be heading over to the starbase....if you still want to go that is.

Rais: You'll be there, right? So of course I wanna go!

MacKenna: ::Grinning.:: Let's go then.

:: Rais hooked his arm around her again, smiling widely. ::

Rais: Holodeck four sounds good?

((Holosuite 4, Starbase 118))

::Ash stepped up to the controls and loaded the program that she had created long ago. With a new sense of confidence, she stepped into the familiar environment. A soft breeze sent her hair flying in various directions; as if it were a flame that was dancing in the wind. The long grass bent slightly as the same breeze played through it, the scents of nature lingering in her nose. The sun was falling slowly, sending rays of pink and orange out in all directions. The first of the stars had not appeared yet; but they would soon.::

::It was deliberate. Her favorite time of day, in a place that she would feel totally secure. It removed the variables that sent her into a panic, and perhaps when darkness fell, she would find the courage to really let go and just be the carefree girl she was. If he stayed, then maybe she would realize that she didn't have to hide it all the time. If he didn’t...well, she would burn that bridge when she got there.::

:: Radi took in the view. He had seen holoimages of Earth before, but nothing could really prepare him for this. This was an image crafted by someone who had actually been there... an image of Earth reconstructed through eyes that had seen it for real. He seemed awestruck, craning his head this way and that, drinking in the view. He had a wide smile on his face, lit up by the falling sun. ::

::She shot Radi a smile and walked out into the field in front of her. It seemed to sprawl out forever, ending only in the trees far off in the distance. The rolling hills made their perspective interesting, hiding both a lake, and the horse. She whistled once and waited.::

:: As she did, Rais moved up beside her again. It was a strange feeling- he wanted to talk to her, to share the moment with words, but... it seemed right to just remain silent. Something was about to happen... something interesting or fun. Or, perhaps, just something. He kept his arms by his side, admiring the view. His ears alerted him first... ::

::In the distance, you could hear the neigh of a horse, though you couldn't see it yet. Moments later, a mass of black and white could be spotted streaking across the green grass. As he approached, he slowed and walked up to her. With arms outstretched, she touched him on the nose, petting him for a moment before turning around.::

MacKenna: This is Duster. ::She patted the large black and white horse.::

:: Radi spent a moment looking over the horse. It was the first one he'd seen- granted, it was a holographic representation, but the detail was perfect... Ash wasn't just a genius and a mathmatician, she was, it seemed, very familiar with the animal... like an old friend. She knew his every part... every hair. ::

:: Radi smiled wider. Her friend was his friend. ::

Rais: Duster. I like that name... kinda weird, kinda alien- but cute. I like it.

::Ash turned back to the horse and grabbed a handful of mane before jumping up and pulling herself aboard. She moved the horse closer to the man and held out her hand.::

MacKenna: Well...? ::Grinning.::

:: Radi looked confused for a moment. ::

Rais: Wait- wait. Me? Ride? Uh- hey... I just- um. I just thought that I'd be watching, I never really... I've really no idea what to do.

:: He chewed on his lower lip a moment. But... Ash seemed confident. Extending his hand to take hers, he pulled himself up behind her. ::

:: And fell off the other side. ::

::Ash fell into a fit of giggles. She had done that her fair share of times, but the look on his face when he hit the ground made her laugh.::

:: Sitting up, Radi blinked a few times. Okay- that was... not quite what he expected. ::

MacKenna: Don't throw yourself up here. Go slow. ::She grinned and held her hand out again.::

Rais: Okay. Second time now. I'll get this right...

:: Rubbing his bruised butt, Radi went back around to the other side. This time he was far less eager with the climbing up, and a lot more ginger- but he stayed on, legs awkwardly dangling on both of the horse. His arms slid around her waist, his chest pressing up against her back. He held on tight... ::

MacKenna: Hold on.

::There was a flash of mischief in her eyes, though he wouldn't see it. Still, this was her world now, and she was free. His arms around her sent her into the stratosphere, like his touch ignited a rocket that was just waiting to throttle towards the heavens. She made the slightest move and Duster started forward; perhaps a bit faster than she had intended.::

Rais: Woah! Um. Woah. Slowly, please!

:: He gripped her tightly. Forcing himself to relax, he slowly eased off, just resting his hands on her hips. She was ever-so curvy... ::

MacKenna: ::Laughing.:: Alright.

::Another command. They were almost impossible to see unless you knew what you were looking for. A touch on the neck, pressure from her knees. Skillfully, she directed the horse around the field at a slow walk. Though his gait was smooth, she didn't want to scare Radi out of her world.::

MacKenna: Better? I can get you a seatbelt if you would like? ::She laughed.:: Or maybe a rocking horse!

::A joke. She blinked. It surprised even herself. Still, she laughed with the freedom that this moment gave her. Radi didn't say a word, just laughed along with her. ::

::The sun was slowly sinking beyond the horizon, and the moon was already spilling light upon the field as the fireflies began their nightly dance.::

:: It was, in all honesty, the second prettiest thing Radi had ever seen, firmly displacing the Radiant Pool back on Betazed from second place. ::

Rais: ... wow.

MacKenna: ::Turning her head.:: Hold on. I won't let you fall.

Rais: I... I trust you.

:: Her breath was warm against his, his face so close to her... he blinked slightly, wondering... ::

::Her head lingered near his in that moment, but as soon as she had turned towards him, she turned away. With a simple command, the horse began moving a bit faster. At first it was difficult; helping him keep his balance while maintaining her own, but after a while he seemed to find the groove of the gait.::

MacKenna: See? Easy.

Rais: Mmm. Easy.

:: Radi mustered up enough courage to give her a light, lingering squeeze around the middle, beginning to relax. He rested his chest down against her back, resting his chin on her shoulder. ::

MacKenna: ::Smiling.:: Alright, try this then.

::Ash spoke a command and a similar, though smaller horse appeared in the field nearby. Fully saddled, it stood in the moonlight unmoving. Radi figured where this was going...::

MacKenna: This is Scotland's Summer Rayne. It's Duster's sister. ::Grinning.:: She doesn't like moving fast and she is a good learning horse.

Rais: ... Rayne. Got it. Okay... okay. Slow is good, I guess. Slow is good.

MacKenna: Just hold on to the saddle. You will be fine.

:: Easing himself off the horse (and nearly falling flat on his face), Radi cautiously made his way over to the creature. She seemed friendly enough- regarding him with almost boredom. Radi extended his hand, cautiously stroking her neck... then, with the clumsy gait of someone who'd done this but once before, the Betazoid clambered up into the saddle. ::

::Ash waited for him to jump down and approach the other horse. True to her word, the mare stood fast as he clambered aboard. If nothing else, the beast was patient with those who were not used to horses.::

MacKenna: Take it slow.

Rais: Yep. Slow. Um... forward!

:: Nothing. ::

Rais: Engage!

:: Nothing. ::

Rais: Um. Uh...

::Ash laughed and tapped Duster. Immediately, he broke into a run. Under the cloudless, moonlit sky, girl and horse became a blur. Her red hair mingled with the black and white mane that streamed behind him as he ran. Around them, the fireflies danced, seeming to follow them through the field. She circled him as he moved very slowly through the grass.::

:: Radi just sat, holding onto the saddle tightly. He watched as she raced- she seemed... so very different here. She was like a great bird spirit who spent her entire day cooped up in a cage, singing sweetly but sadly to those who wanted to hear her... but here? Here the bird was out. Here she could fly free, be herself... this, more than anything else, was peeling back the shy, cautious layers that covered her. This wasn't Ash the Scientist, or Ash the First Officer, or Ash the the cute little bridge bunny taking the command chair while Jaxx was in sickbay... ::

:: This was Ash the human being. Her pure self... ::

::The wind in her face further fanned the fire that had already been building. She caught her breath again in the cold night air and reached her hands up towards the sky. Seeming to forget there was anyone there to watch her, she simply let Duster run as he would. Often as a child she would just ride him wherever he wanted to go. He took her to all the special places in the forest, the field, and even the lake. The Lake! Of course. She made her way back towards Radi again.::

MacKenna: How ya doing? ::She was grinning.::

:: Radi was beaming from ear to ear. The display of... what a Vulcan might call a Katra, a Trill an Essence, or what a Terran might call a soul... was incredibly pleasing to him. The faint light from the fireflies seemed to burn away her doubts like a flame to dusty cobwebs... the spark of her life, that wonderful little ball of energy inside her, almost glowing in the rapidly darkening night. ::

Rais: Yep. Haven't fallen off yet. I think... I think I can manage "go" for now.

MacKenna: ::Nodding her head in the direction of the lake that could not be seen over the hill.:: Come on, I've got something to show you.

:: He would have to move. Awkwardly tapping the reigns, to his intense surprise Rayne began to trot along slowly. Gripping the saddle in a sudden spike of fear, Radi just held on... as the horse's slow gait trotted him along in a straight line. ::

Rais: Okay, okay. I got this. I got this. I got this. A-yep...

::The two made their way slowly in the direction that she had noted. Duster knew where he was going, and Ash laid back and looked up at the stars. It was a beautiful night with only the moon to light their path. Before long, they reached the crest of the hill and began their descent towards the water. Sitting back up, Ash held on as Duster plunged into the water. ::

:: Ahh, he would sit back here and watch. Now that would- ::

Rais: Woah- woah! No! No-!

:: Rayne seemed to follow, despite Radi's protests. Unsettled by the descent into the sun-warmed lake, Radi tumbled into the water with a large splash. Ash laughed.::

MacKenna: It's alright.

::The water was warm as she let go and fell with a splash next to Duster. She reappeared on the surface and pushed her wet hair out of her face. She waited for him to follow, and somehow found her way into his arms again.::

:: Radi surfaced, then stood waist deep in the water, laughing endlessly. Okay, okay. Terrified? Yes. That last bit? Pretty fun. He slid his arms around her waist, drawing her soaked body against his. ::

Rais: I guess this makes up for the roller-coaster, huh.

::Ash smiled, her mind was too caught up in his touch to care.::

:: With a warm smile, Radi held Ash. It was like a moment frozen in time... fireflies danced all around them, their luminescence brightening the area, reflecting off the slowly calming waters of the lake. It seemed as though there were millions of them- although half, in truth, were reflections on the water... the moonlight caressed the water like a lover's hand, bouncing and reflecting. It was in this dark, beautiful scene that Rais felt himself locked more securely than any lock built by Betazed hands... his arms snugly around her waist like they would never let go. His clothes clung to his body, now, soaked from the water... but he didn't mind a bit. The air was warm. The water was warm. Ash was warm... yet her eyes were warmer still, little oceans of gray/green joy. ::

:: Radi held her gaze, his dark eyes glinting in the moonlight. There was no fear there, now, and it had taken more than a silly stuffed Marine teddybear to give her this courage. Radi saw a strength that he had seen once before, on the bridge in the Azure nebula- the strength of someone who doubted themselves on the surface, but underneath that mask had a heart of flame burning with every passion under the sun. Someone with courage enough to humble two raging Klingon warriors. Someone with hopes, dreams, ambitions... affections. ::

:: Affections for him? Rais refused to doubt anymore. She had taken him to her sanctuary, her private place. This was where she could be herself. This was where only friends.. true friends... and (presumably) lovers were allowed to enter. In more ways than one, this place was her heart. She had worn casual clothes... she had shown him something new, riding, and tolerated his clumsiness. She was standing waist deep in lake water, letting him hold her, letting him look at her... ::

:: The little tiny lights bouncing all around them were just so beautiful. ::

Rais: ... Ash MacKenna, you are a very desirable woman.

::Ash blinked up at him. The comment surprised her at first, until she realized that this new feeling...the one that invaded her mind, made her heart flutter, and sent the butterflies to her stomach... was her desire. It was strange, like uncharted territory she had never seen, yet territory that she could instinctively follow, given the right circumstances. She watched him, digging through her feelings. The world beyond that moment didn't exist. Her fears didn't exist. Nothing existed but that moment in the lake, surrounded by the glittering lights of the fireflies and the muffled sounds of the horses nearby.::

:: It was not the most romantic thing he'd ever said, but it was true. At this moment, Radi could think of nobody he had desired more. Seeking a deeper commitment was something he had initially thought was a mistake... something he thought was a fool's errand. He had no telepathic abilities... none. He couldn't even be read. Physical pleasures were not beyond him- he was, as a certain Soong-type android had so awkwardly claimed of himself, fully functional... but to be truly together, for Betazoids, required more. It required intimately knowing the mind of the other... being in their thoughts. It was an emotional, spiritual, physical and telepathic connection- a unity of four parts. ::

:: It was like a table... all four legs needed to be there, and of the same height, for the table to stand strong and be, legitimately, a table. But any table made would be missing a leg. Would Ash settle for three? ::

:: Settle. ::

:: Such a cruel word... and insulting to them both. MacKenna had so much- she was the First Officer on one of the premier science and exploration vessels in Starfleet, she had a mind which outstripped the brightest of the bright, she was wise, witty, both beautiful and appreciative of beauty... she could have her pick of any man in the fleet. ::

:: Radi was a humble man of humble origins. He didn't have a noble upbringing, wasn't an officer... that, and he had a coloured history of violence and war, including some recent activities aboard Deep Space 17 he knew Ash would be- ::

:: He could not tell her. ::

::Gazing through the darkness, Ash tried to figure out what he was thinking. He held her closer, as if suddenly afraid she was going to disappear. Half of her wondered what to do next, and the other half fought off the instincts her body told her was natural. She had no idea what was going on inside his mind, but it didn't matter because her own scattered thoughts wouldn’t let her concentrate. She kept his gaze, losing herself in his eyes.::

:: Radi held her closer, tighter now, as the thoughts flickered into his mind like the tails of so many fireflies. Radi trusted her... he trusted her. But at the same time, he realized at that moment that he also cared for her a great deal. He was not concerned about if he would believe him, but... how she would look at him after he did. Would her eyes still hold that innocent sparkle? ::

:: Instead, he said the words inside his own mind. ::

Rais: oO ... I've done something terrible. Something I can never forgive myself for, nor which can ever be forgiven. It is unforgivable. When you find out... you will leave. You're too smart NOT to leave... and if you don't, I will force you away. I cannot have you... hurt... by my deeds. The sins of my past will come back for me in this life, eventually... do you know what I prayed for, over dinner? Oo

:: Rais reached up to her face, gently brushing back a soaked, red clump of hair back from her eyes. When the action was done, he rested it on her cheek. ::

Rais: oO I prayed to all the goddesses I knew the names of that the punishment that I so rightly deserve... my [...]ation... does not sweep you up in its shadowy grasp. I will burn for my crimes... but I will never, ever, see you harmed for them. Oo

:: Fireflies danced around them, closer and closer. The water was still, now, like a mirror... reflecting the stars, the full moon, and the thousands of glowing insects all around them. There was silence... just the dripping of water from their hair and clothes, the smell of damp, warm skin pressed against soaked cloth, then soaked cloth, then skin. A perfect moment. ::

:: Hooking his fingers around the back of her neck, Radi drew Ash to him, tilting his head to one side. His lips meet hers. It was electrifying- tingling shocks jumping down his spine, alighting his whole body in a rush of chemicals. Adrenaline. Dopamine. Norepinephrine and Phenylethylamine. Testosterone. ::

:: Oh yeah. That last one. Radi had meant what he said... she was desirable. In an emotional sense, yes- very much. But there was also the physical side to her too... with her tight clothes soaked by lake water, that part of her was calling him like a siren's song. ::

::Nobody told her it was like this. Her mind was telling her what was happening; telling her to pull away or risk losing herself and the walls she had built over time. People were cruel, relationships brought heartache. At least she had avoided it all those years. Growing up alone, being reclusive through the Academy, and avoiding close contact with most people throughout her career...it had protected her from the hurt. Suddenly it dawned on her; was that what she had been hiding from all those years? Fear of being hurt, either intentionally, or simply by failing and disappointing someone above her. The fear had been crippling.::

::Unseen sparks flew as he drew her ever closer. Her lips touched his, and her entire body ignited. The fear was gone; it was replaced by these flames that now engulfed her. She felt like she was floating, never wanting the moment to end. She had no idea how long they remained caught in the embrace, but when he did finally pull away slightly, she held on. Her legs felt like jello and her head was still spinning.::

MacKenna: I...::Whispering.:: I liked that.

:: His face flushed, Radi gave a sheepish grin. ::

Rais: Yeah, um. Woah. I...

MacKenna: ::Grinning.:: Do it again.

::Ash met him halfway this time. Her legs still felt like they would collapse, and she let him encompass her with his strength. Radi's arms wrapped around her, squeezing her against him, his heart thumping in his chest. Around them time itself seemed to slow down; the sparks flew and Ash decisively let go. Her feelings hit her and she felt like her captivity had finally come to an end. On wings, she floated far from the fears and shyness that had kept her contained for so many years......::

:: Fireflies drifted around them, the two kissing, holding each other and being held. ::

JP by:

CPO Radi Rais

Chief Operations Officer

USS Victory

and

Lt. Commander Ash MacKenna

First Officer

USS Victory

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