Chapter 2

one week later

"Come."

The door slid open, revealing the very person who had haunted his thoughts for the last week.

"You are supposed to be in sickbay, Jag." Her tone was reproachful, almost scolding as she stepped, with only the slightest hesitation, into his quarters.

He shrugged, unrepentant. "I got sick of being told I am a horrible patient. Cem seems to think it cheers me up."

"You are hiding from your brother?" She let the door close behind her, declining the seat he motioned for her to take. "I had not thought you a coward."

"Cem is not your brother." He didn't move from his position on his bunk, his geli-cast leg stretched out in front of him, the tanned flesh of his legs visible from his well-formed toes to where the abrupt white of shorts cut it off mid-thigh. His loose t-shirt, far from military issue, was pressed and clean. His state of dress seemed to disturb her as he felt her gaze take in his apparel once again. "I apologize for the casual apparel; I am not on duty."

"Neither am I." She stepped further in, seeming at a loss for where to stand and what to say. "You look well."

"Finished your rotation?"

She nodded.

"Good, then you can keep me company." He waved her to the chair again. "Sit, please."

She sank into the chair next to his bed, putting them almost at eye level. "You seem to be recuperating."

Jag placed the report he'd been reading to the side and shrugged. "I do not have much of a choice. Other than the leg, I am fit for duty."

"How long until you return to your rotation?"

"The medic says another month." He cocked one leg, resting his forearm on it as he watched her. "I will insist in half of that, of course."

"Is that wise?" She watched his movements as if checking for weakness.

"I must resume my command as soon as I am able."

"I understand you do not like being idle, Jag, but the medics do not make their recommendations lightly. You shattered a bone; you need that extra time to heal properly."

"Perhaps." He was watching her carefully; looking for hints of the emotions she was so skillfully careful at hiding. "Would you keep me company if I were to agree?"

"I have duties-"

"So do I." He let his eyes trail over her face. "I would enjoy your company, Ailen Mel. We have not spent much time together since the beginning of this war."

She watched him as he was watching her, an unreadable expression on her face.

Jag smiled faintly. "You do not need to appear as if it is a fate akin to death."

She still didn't say anything, letting her silence speak for her.

Jag's smile faded. "Do you not wish my company? I will understand if it is so."

"I enjoy your company, Tako." She shifted in the chair, settling in more comfortably. As comfortably as a Chiss officer could. "It is... not your company I have been avoiding." Her words were reluctant, but honest. "I have found myself looking forward to your company, the sound of your voice, the rare laugh. I have found it... difficult to concentrate on my duties so much do I wish them."

Jag studied her, almost curious. "Would it please you to know I have had similar thoughts?"

She met his gaze squarely. "No."

"You are lying to me again."

She shook her head. "Jag, we are not free to indulge in these thoughts. They are dangerous, deceptive and distracting. We cannot afford to be distracted."

"I have time."

"I do not." She spoke more sharply than intended but didn't apologize.

"Not even on your off hours?" He watched her carefully, sliding slowly forward until his legs were hanging down over the edge of the bunk. They were close together again, his legs slightly splayed on either side of hers, his toes touching the sides of her military issue boots. "I do not yet understand why my company is so difficult suddenly. We have been friends for almost twenty years. What has changed? I have had relationships with women and you have never blinked; never protested. You have been my staunchest ally and friend. What happened that I am suddenly so..." he stumbled, pausing as he searched for the right word. "So repulsive."

"You are not repulsive." She shook her head, a small smile finding its way onto her lips. "Quite the contrary. I have explained my desires to see you, to be with you. Do you not find it odd that in twenty years that has not changed?"

"I find it quite comfortable, actually."

"Humans and their comfort." Her eyes sparkled for a moment, completely enchanting him. "Tako, I find there are problems in our relationship."

"Your jealousy."

"Your promiscuity."

He laughed, unable to help himself. "My... my..." He grinned. "Surely you jest."

Her face was serious as she watched him calmly.

His smile slowly faded again. "You do not jest. Feeling overprotective, Ailen Mel?"

"Possessive." Her correction was steady, but soft. "You are not mine, Jag."

"I could be." He blinked, staring at her as shocked by his own words as she appeared to be. Shawnkyr made to get to her feet and he stretched out hand out to stop her, entreatingly. "I would say I was sorry if I did not mean it."

She looked at his hand, close to her chest, and slowly reached out to grasp his fingers. The strength in hers was obvious as she tightened her grip, as if to throw the offending appendage away.

"You would not hurt me because you are uncomfortable, would you?"

Her hands slackened slight but didn't let go. "I have no wish to harm you further."

"Then why are you trying to leave, Shawnkyr?" He leaned forward, pushing with his captured fingers, and attempted to place them under her chin.

She jerked back, away from his touch, startled by it as she dropped his hand as if it burned. Her gaze connected with his and she saw his faint smile, knowing she'd reacted as he'd expected. "I am leaving because you are injured and in no condition for this exercise."

He arched his eyebrows. "Exercise? You make it seem as if I am attempting to seduce you."

He saw that faint flush of color touch her cheek bones again. "I am suggesting nothing of the sort."

"Then why do you sound so disappointed?"

"I do not."

"If I did, I would be considered yours."

She closed her eyes, and Jag could see the weight of his words settling on her shoulders as if someone had added a hundred pounds. He could suddenly see the weariness she'd been hiding, the frustration, for it was clear in every line of her posture.

He waited.

He waited to see what she would say to his reckless declaration; his reckless invitation. He waited to see if she would run, as she had been doing for so long, or if she would stay and take him up on it. He waited to see if she would open up to him, to share the burden he could see was weighing her down. He waited to see if she would take a chance.

Her eyes finally opened, her shoulders squaring as if she'd come to a decision. "And your previous relationships? I know of your reputation, Tako. I know of the regard you have for such women. I refuse to give into these feelings of lust to simply satisfy a curiosity. No." She shook her head. "I will not allow you to be my weakness."

"I already am, Ailen Mel." His voice was soft, sad. "You said it yourself. You have been envisioning what it would be like to be with me." He reached out his hand and, once again, placed his finger tips on the high cheek bone where it was slightly off color. She watched him guardedly, but didn't pull away. "You let me touch you."

She made to move but his gaze held her locked in place, daring her to deny the gentle caress. She didn't. Didn't move, barely breathed, as his finger tips gently traced the bone. She shivered, seemingly against her will, as his fingers slowly slid down and around, his hind moving to gently cup her face. Her eyes closed of their own accord, her face tilting ever so slightly to nestle into the palm of his hand. His thumb slowly rose, and gently, ever so softly, stroked the silken skin of her cheek.

Jag would read the confusion on her face, the yearning, as her face turned towards the very thing her experience had never prepared her for. His touch. He swallowed hard, watching the emotions play across her features, forcing himself to keep his touch tender and soft when all he wanted to do was-

His hand dropped abruptly to his lap, curling into a fist even as Shawnkyr's eyes snapped open. "We cannot continue like this, Ailen Mel."

"I have often thought of what would happen between you and me, Tako."

His fingers twitched, his hands aching to touch her. Just touch, nothing more. He folded them both in his lap, squeezing tightly. "To paradise, Ailen Mel. Paradise. A concept so foreign that you would not know how to handle it."

"I am willing to try."

"Why?" He regarded her carefully.

She took a deep breath, as if bracing herself for something; for rejection and unpleasantness. "I have no choice and neither do you." Her words held a finality to them he hadn't been expecting. Dread that bordered on desperation.

"We always have a choice, my friend. We are free thinking adult beings. There is always a choice."

She stared at him, almost sadly, and pulled a data disk from her pocket. "I received this two weeks ago. It concerns you and me." She held it out to him, offering it.

Jag didn't take it. "The statement of our orders to return to Csilla."

Shawnkyr started at him shocked. "You have already read it?"

He nodded. "I did not think my parents would agree to it. I have since confirmed it. My time in sickbay left me with ample time to consider the implications."

She stared at him silently, thrown completely off balance, having expected to be the one to break the news.

"I am curious as to why this is happening to you and me." Jag was surprised at the sudden fierce need to protect her, for Shawnkyr was not a woman to be coddled or protected. She was a fighter, fiercer than even he, but in this she needed his reassurance; his guidance. She didn't understand what she was feeling, couldn't name it, and couldn't identify with it. She couldn't comprehend why or what to do about it. He broke the silence, attempting to reach her, to help her find her balance. "Why would your father arrange the betrothal of his only daughter to a human man?"

She spoke automatically, trying to reorganize her thoughts. "As you have been trained by my house, your ties to it will now be solidified. Your family will be connected with the Nuruodo's. It is what they have desired since joining the ascendancy. For my father to agree, it means he believes you to be more Chiss than human."

Jag was watching her face carefully. "A compliment to be certain. You do not agree with this." It wasn't a question.

"I will comply with my father's wishes."

"That's not what I said, Shawnkyr. Your actions in the past two weeks indicate that you do not agree."

"I do not know." Her hands tightened around the datapad, her knuckles whitening. "I have had two weeks to contemplate the implications and still do not know. They would not have made the agreement if it did not benefit both houses some how."

"This is why you have been avoiding me." Again, it wasn't a question.

She nodded. "I apologize for my behavior." She looked at him frankly, reasserting herself and regaining her composure, the weight he'd noted on her shoulders suddenly lifted. "I have not adjusted to this declaration yet."

He slowly extended his arm, opening his hand to her in a silent invitation, uncertain if she would accept it.

She slowly loosened her grip on the datapad, staring at his outstretched palm uncertainly. Carefully, hesitantly, she reached out and slid her hand into his. His fingers gently closed around hers, his thumb sliding across the back of it in a gentle caress.

"We have time to adjust. There is no date set for this in the message."

"My father would know better than to arrange such matters."

Jag arched an eyebrow, his silence indicating that he didn't believe her. If her tone was any indication, she was attempting to convince herself anyway. He just happened to be listening. Jag idly wondered how many times in the past two weeks she'd told herself the things she was now saying to him.

Her gaze dropped to their twined fingers. "I had not understood why my father insisted I try to accept you when we were children. I had not believed this a possibility. It is possible they have had this arranged since my birth on the condition we proved compatible."

"Meaning you could accept a human."

She lifted her gaze to meet his again and she pulled her hand free of his. "And you could accept a Chiss. Of that my doubts are few; you are more Chiss than some Chiss."

He didn't reply, didn't have to.

"Tako... Jag, will you comply with the wishes of our families?"

He smiled faintly. "Are you more afraid I will say yes or no, Ailen Mel?" His voice was soft, almost caressing. "I will comply; if that is what you wish. I will break the contract if you tell me you do not want me."

She stared at him, the color tinting her cheeks deepening. "I have told myself a thousand times that is the answer I wish; that I could tell you I do not want you. I have come to understand in the last two weeks that this is not the case. I cannot begin to understand why, not yet. I cannot tell you something that is untrue."

"So the lies and your odd behavior have only been half-truths?"

She nodded. "For that, I apologize. I had not wanted to give you the missive until you were healed and we could discuss it. I should not have waited."

"I hurt my leg, not my head, Shawnkyr." His reproach was mild.

She grinned. "You would not know it with your actions in the officer's lounge."

"I deserved that." He chuckled. "I had expected to pay a price beyond my service in the military for training with your house; I did not expect for it to be such a pleasant one."

Her face was serious, guarded. "You find this pleasing?" She didn't sound happy about it.

"You do not." It wasn't a question.

"I find it unnerving and concerning." She put the datapad away in one pocket before folding her hands in her lap, watching him carefully. "They arranged matters without our consent. I have always expected such a fate for myself. Human customs, Imperial customs, are different. I had expected you would choose your mate."

"I would be lying if I said otherwise. I admit I did not expect my parents to arrange my future so artfully. I am curious though; why would your father promise his daughter to an alien family? What could my family have possibly done that would warrant such a personal sacrifice?"

"Is it so important?"

"Not really." He smiled faintly. "It is a rather intriguing question though, is it not?"

"It is." She took a deep breath, visibly bracing herself. "What if we must provide heirs?"

"Is it possible?"

"I do not know."

"Then it will be fun to try."

"Jagged!"

He laughed at her sharp reprimand, holding his hands up in surrender. His laughter alleviated some of the tension. "I apologize; I have been trying to find the good of this situation. I admit the thought of spending the rest of my days with you is not displeasing."

"But not appealing."

"On the contrary, the appeal grows with every moment I spend in your company, Ailen Mel, and will certainly continue to increase."

She nodded, as if signaling an end to the conversation. "It is settled then."

"We have reached a decision?" His inquiry was mild.

"Have we not?" She returned quickly. "We will comply with our families wishes; I will begin making the arrangements-"

"May I kiss you?"

"-for our departure. I - what?" She blinked, looking at him blankly.

He reached out with both hands, sliding first his finger tips along her jaw line, slowly moving them backwards as she stared at him warily. His fingers slid forward until reaching the tightly woven bun at the base of her neck, his palms now tenderly cupping her face. "May I kiss you?"

"Why?"

Blue orbs searched crimson. "You do not think to agree to this farce if we are to be miserable together, do you?"

"Our history would suggest we are compatible."

"Personalities, yes." His face inched closer to hers, and he heard her breath catch. "If we are to provide them with a Fel-Nuruodo heir, we need to be personally compatible." He saw the intent in her gaze, knew she would try to pull away, and tightened his forearms, but keeping his touch gentle. She couldn't pull away, as trapped by the strength in those muscles as surely as the heat in his gaze. "I would very much like to kiss you, Ailen Mel. Is that wrong of me?"

She didn't, couldn't respond, so dry was her throat. Words had lost their meaning as she stared at him, completely taken off guard and disarmed by the alien territory. Territory she had never expected to enter, never considered to be a possibility. His thumbs gently caressed her cheeks, his fingers toying with the tight knot of her hair as he continued to hold her gaze. He felt her breath on his face, warm and sweet, her breathing short. He could feel her heart pounding. He saw the flush on her cheeks, the uncertainty in her gaze.

His gaze dropped to her lips, which seemed to part with his silent demand. Jag felt himself closing the gap between them, felt that careful control slipping, and stopped himself a hair-breadth away. Her breath was hot on his face, teasing him, taunting him unintentionally. His gaze snapped back to hers, seeing the surprise she couldn't hide, the fear warring with the desire she kept tightly under control. "Is it wrong of me?"

"No, Tako."

Jag's mouth slanted across hers in a powerful, possessive kiss. His lips demanded, and hers responded. His sought to claim and she refused to submit. Passion flared. Desire spiked. Their lips held for but a moment before Shawnkyr tore herself away. Their eyes locked, the only sound in the room the echo of their ragged breathing.

Shawnkyr reached up and carefully removed his hands from her face, unable to quell the trembling of her own. But she didn't move away, nor did she release his hands when she placed them back in his lap. Her fingers, seeming of their own accord, remained twined with his.

"Will you run?" His voice was hoarse, belying the effect of that simple, short kiss.

"My chosen path leads me back to you. Where would I run to?"

He let out a ragged breath and carefully untangled his hands from hers. "Let me know when we leave for Csilla."

She rose to her feet, nodded, and left without another word.

Fin!

AN: Ok, My first time writing these two as a couple – Thanks for reading!