The Maru spun and twisted in smooth movements, the strings of the Universe gliding by impossibly fast, and at the same time giving the small ship a directed path and the freedom of mobility. Rhade willingly gave up conscious control of his eyes, relaxing his focus, allowing them to concentrate of their own accord on the big picture, the whole visible field - to miss one tiny, seemingly insignificant aspect of the stream was to increase the likelihood of a sudden and untimely demise.
As he drew nearer to his destination, he slowly felt his chest harden, his breathing becoming deeper on its own. It was nothing serious, at least not physically, but he worried about it all the same. On the other side of that Slipstream could very well hold answers to questions he didn't want to think about.
He thought back to the woman sleeping not so far away - he hadn't wanted to wake her, but knew they had to return soon or face the wrath of a captain trying to negociate an alliance. He was uneasy about their returning. She was a very private person, and he had no idea what her stance would be on any of the recent…developments. Not that he didn't like to keep things to himself - oh, did he ever - but she was just as defensive. It was all well and good while they were alone and in an especially familiar place, but what would happen when they got back?
His keen hearing picked up the sound of light footfalls, alerting him to his presence as she moved into the cockpit, stopping on the upper level behind him.
"Hey," he greeted, keeping his eyes forward on the twisting coils outside the ship.
"Hey," he heard her answer, noting the smile in her voice. She didn't say anymore, allowing him to concentrate on their transit.
A short time later, moving partly on instinct, partly on something else, he focused his eyes and smoothly moved them out of the Slipstream, exiting the Maru to normal space. Getting his bearings, he brought the ship around and they were greeted with the sight of the Andromeda Ascendant not too far off.
Beka stepped down and came to stand beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder as he steered them forward, toward home. They received a quick hello and docking orders from the AI, and within minutes were settling down inside the massive warship.
Rhade disengaged the pilot chair and slid back, prompting Beka to swing a leg over and settle down in his lap, grinning. He smiled back.
"I think we should congratulate ourselves on a job well done," she told him.
He raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
She shrugged. "Last minutes of solitude…" she leaned in and kissed him.
He held the kiss for a few moments longer, then slowly pulled away. "About that…" he waited until he had her complete attention. "I want you to know that, if you so choose, I will understand if you want to keep this…" he gestured between them, "…quiet. It's up to you, but know that I would understand."
She frowned and sat back. "I, uh…o-okay…" she spoke more in the form of a question. But before she could elaborate, the sound of the bay doors opening drew their attention. She turned away to look through the viewing glass. "That'll be Captain Diplomat checking to make sure we didn't screw up." She stood up and headed for the exit, and he followed a few moments later.
As Beka stepped from the ship, she paused momentarily at their greeting party. "Wow, didn't know we were that popular," she said jovially, walking to meet them.
Harper stalked forward with his hands in the air. "You left before I could grab my good tools! Last time I do your ship a favor…."
As he jogged past, she couldn't help but laugh. "What, finally fixing what I told you to do a month ago?" He waved her off as he disappeared inside the ship, and she turned to greet the other two coming toward her. "Who's steering this thing?"
"Trance is up in Command," Dylan replied as he stepped forward, Rommie beside him. "Just making sure everything went well. You have the shipment confirmation for the Vyshiian?"
"Yeah, Rhade's got it," she gestured back behind her, where the man in question was just exiting.
"I'll get it to him, Captain," Rommie said pre-emptively, and started toward the Nietzschean.
"So, we miss anything?"
The Captain shook his head. "Nope, a nice quiet few days…although that is strange in and of itself."
Beka nodded. "Sorry we missed it."
He narrowed his eyes, slightly paranoid. "Why…what happened?"
Rhade and Rommie joined them just then, the avatar herself intending to go deliver the flexi in her hand but stopping when she heard her Captain's question.
When Beka said nothing, Rhade shook his head. "Nothing out of the ordinary, Captain."
Dylan looked at the Nietzschean, then back at his second, who merely shrugged. "Well…good. That's a nice change." He turned to leave the bay along with Rommie, but Beka's voice stopped him.
"Actually, Dylan, there is something."
Rhade turned to her, a little puzzled, and she took the opportunity to grab his head in her hands and pull him down roughly, his lips crushing against hers.
"Oh?" the Captain had asked as he turned back, only to be stopped short at the sight before him. After a few moments, he managed a distinctly different, "Oh…." Rommie clamped down on her artificial tongue and looked away, trying to keep her features neutral.
"Hey, Boss, where'd you put the -- ah!"
Harper's exclamation as he exited the ship was enough to break through and grab their attention, and Beka and Rhade pulled apart. Rhade blinked several times and tried to remain nonchalant as he quickly moved his gaze from one person to the next repeatedly. Beka turned to look at her long-time friend, and couldn't help but grin - she'd never seen his jaw quite so slackened before…the horrified look on his face was a nice touch, too.
After working his wide jaw a few times without sound, he finally managed, "What the hell was that?"
Beka tried to appear innocent as she replied, "What?"
"I, uh…" Dylan's attempt at speech drew everyone's attention. He shook his head in bewilderment and held up his hands. "I…okay." He turned around, not quite sure what to say, and started to leave, feeling a little embarrassed without knowing why. Rommie gave the couple one last look and allowed a small upturn of her lips before spinning on her heal and heading out.
"Sheesh…" the engineer muttered more to himself as he stomped back into the Maru, "Lost again…."
After a few seconds, Beka met Rhade's eyes. She moved her hands to the back of his neck, and he wrapped a loose arm around her lower back. Together, they both grinned.
Away from the action, up in the ship's Command, a golden avatar smiled.
Well, there we are...I must say I'm quite surprised with myself, this is the longest (and technically, the only true) mutli-chap fic that I've ever managed to finish. It was also my first Andromeda story, and it certainly was a fun ride. I'll state for the record now that I do have plans for a sequel, even have some idea of where I want to go with it, but I can guarantee that it won't be out anytime soon - I'm just way too busy this year (as it was, this story, in totality from when I started writing until now, took over a year). But the sequel I have planned is much more ambitious (at least for me) than this one, and it's something that I'm very excited to finally be able to concentrate on, so it should get done at some point (although that particular fact I won't guarantee!)
I'd just like to say thanks again for everyone that reviewed this story, all the positive comments and constructive criticism helped to make this story what it was, helped me to improve, and it was great to be able to branch out into another fandom. You guys are great!