Innocent Displays of Affection
by Jessie

Summary: Harper and Trance's relationship gets even more complicated as the others struggle not to get involved. More Dylan and Harper bonding, with some nice reflections by Beka, Tyr, and Rommie.

Disclaimer: Any one out there think Andromeda belongs to me? No? Good. You all pass Professor Jessie's 'Sanity 101'.

Rating: PG-13 Nothing you wouldn't see on the show. (We should be so lucky)

Author's Note: So, the idea for this story came from a rather odd source. At least, I think it's odd. 'Cause I really wasn't expecting any major fanfic ideas to spring from the Andromeda cast promo picture. You know- the one where the entire crew is standing in that weird 'V'. I was looking at that picture one day (very innocently, might I add) and my imagination started working over time.

Because what if Trance wasn't just holding her hands in front of her like a good little girl?

Well, needless to say, that idea sorta begged to be written down. Though I never actually intended on posting it. Or even finishing it. Out of all of my Andromeda stories so far, I think this is the one that I like the least. But I was feeling bold (and somewhat masochistic by the looks of it) and decided to go ahead and put this one up anyway, and just hope some one out there likes it more than I do. So here goes :)

Oh- and feedback is a good thing.

***

He felt her hand at the small of his back- clinging to his tool belt as a way of keeping him close to her- and he shifted his weight smoothly.

Leaning back almost imperceptibly, he let his shoulder touch hers.

As odd it as may have been- as awkward and unpredictable as it often seemed- the physical contact put them both at ease.

It was comfortable. Somehow familiar. Though, not three months prior, both would have blushed at the mere idea.

He felt her delicate fingers through the fabric of his shirt. Her knuckles against his back, softly pressing into the skin and muscle there, both as a signal to him that she was right behind him, and a reassurance to herself that he was right in front of her.

Neither was going anywhere.

He swallowed slowly and blinked in an absent display of all that his body was capable of. Not only could he experience the feeling of her light touches and the sound of her heartbeat, he could also swallow. Blink. Breathe.

If either had really known what they were doing it wouldn't have been the same. He would have taken a step forward and she, a step back. Each would have missed the presence of the other, but would have ignored it. Would have made a conscious effort not to cross that invisible line that they had unknowingly already taken to crossing with tremendous frequency.

Thankfully, neither realized what they were doing.

*

No one really understood what had happened to make such physical contact normal between those two particular crewmen. And neither he nor she truly thought much of it- never actually taking the time to notice that their relationship had changed.

They were still just good friends. Best friends. Except that over the past few months there had- slowly at first, than more rapidly- grown an odd bond that the rest of the crew felt it best to ignore. Because what else could they do about it? Calling attention to the phenomenon would only make things worse, they were certain.

Because what if the couple was to realize just what their relationship had become? What would happen then? The rest of the crew had decided it was best not to risk asking these questions.

Or- at least- not out loud.

Though over time this approach grew more and more difficult to hold strong to.

It had only been little things in the beginning. Had only been small hints that the two were starting to grow a bit too close.

The first time Beka had noticed that anything was different was coming home from a trip on the Maru, with Tyr looking over her shoulder the whole time, as though not trusting her to do the job right. Though, if the Nietzschean had seen what she had, he didn't let on.

She could still remember how suddenly it had happened- how unpredictable and bizarre it had all been. Hell- the memory still made her think twice about her relative sanity at the time.

Yet the most startling thing was how natural it had seemed. The two young crewmen had been sitting on the floor behind the pilot's chair, and Trance, worn out from the long voyage they had just made, closed her eyes and leaned her head against Harper's shoulder.

Such a simple gesture. Yet it was the first time in quite a while that Beka had actually been taken by complete surprise.

The engineer was somewhat startled at first as well - as though this had happened before but he hadn't, really, ever expected it to happen again. He shifted a bit, glancing down at Trance, then away, then back down, as if unable to decide whether she was really there or not. But he relaxed quickly - too tired to question the situation - and leaned his own head back against the metal plating.

Beka had quirked an eyebrow, but kept silent.

Rev Bem's first sign came a few days later.

Deep in thought and conversation with Trance, he had walked alongside her through the corridors of the
Andromeda, reflecting on the relative quiet of the ship. When Harper had happened upon them, a witty remark fresh on his lips, Rev had been happy to invite him into their dialogue.

There was nothing unusual about the scene. Nothing abnormal about the way the three friends laughed and talked, trying to pass the time between emergencies, just as they used to aboard the Maru.

And Rev tried to remind himself of this as he noticed Trance's hand in Harper's. Noticed the way the young man's shoulder would brush against hers for longer than necessary. And the ease with which they both fell into step with each other.

But, Rev, too, had decided that silence would be the best course of action.

Dylan, however, had received a less subtle display of innocent affection. And was much less inclined to keep his mouth shut.

The fact of the matter was that even weeks after both Rev and Beka's realizations, Dylan had yet to draw the same conclusions. He would later - somewhat defensively - blame this on his involvement in certain lengthy negotiations with a nearby planet about trade agreements and whether or not the Andromeda was allowed through their region of space.

Even so, while their Captain immersed himself in politics and remained oblivious to his crew, Beka, Rev, Rommie, and even Tyr were hard-pressed not to comment on the obvious pair. No one wanted to be the one to bring it up- to upset whatever pivotal and fragile balance Trance and Harper had seemed to reach.

Only then- on the command deck of the Andromeda- did Dylan Hunt suddenly realize that he had been missing something.

It was one of those same small details that the rest of the crew had, at this point, come to think of as normal, that first caught his attention. After so many visible, public displays, it would, of course, be the little things that finally made him take notice.

He had just given Beka the signal to take them into Slipstream, when the door breezed open and his two youngest crewmen entered the room.

There should have been nothing unusual about it. It should have been like any other entrance, on any other day.

But, instead, something seemed off about the image. And Dylan was quick to discern that that 'something' was his young engineer's right hand, which- upon closer inspection- was found against the small of Trance's back.

Harper - Dylan suddenly noticed - was, ever so gently, leading her into the room.

Perhaps it had been nothing. An innocent gesture. An absent symbol of friendship. But Dylan's eyebrows had raised slightly in curiosity anyway.

And then, the lights and colors of the slipstream playing over the faces of the crew, Captain Hunt watched Trance lean into the young man: her hips touching his. Her shoulder resting against his upper arm. Her head bowed into that space where his neck met his collarbone. It must have only lasted a few seconds, before they gently pushed away from each other. So much action and meaning compounded into one quick moment - one elegant stream of motion - before they parted, each to their separate stations.

Dylan Hunt had been aghast.

What had happened between the two since he had last taken notice of them? What had he missed? And how could this have happened? The boy and girl moved with each other - against each other - as lovers might. Intimately. Fondly. Yet . . . innocently. As if neither knew just what they were doing or how it might appear to the others.

It couldn't be possible.

Beka had brought them back into normal space with a sudden jolt to match the one her Captain was currently experiencing in his thoughts, and Harper had nodded his head from a computer console in that silent yet easily read signal that everything was running smoothly. The ship was still in one piece and would remain that way.

Dylan, however, took no notice.

"Mr. Harper." That commanding tone his voice carried was never accidental.

Seamus glanced up immediately and watched Dylan hesitate before continuing. "Let's . . . take a walk." The engineer readily complied, though confusion marred his features.

Beka, however, was quick to jump in.

"Dylan." The Commonwealth Captain glanced to his first officer as she leapt to her feet from the pilot's chair and walked purposefully to meet him.

He watched her in obvious curiosity, as did Harper, Rommie and Trance.

"We need to talk." She spoke with a determination that she usually reserved for the most urgent situations.

"Can't it wait?" He asked anyway.

Beka glanced back at Harper, then quickly to Trance, before returning her gaze to the man in front of her and speaking seriously. "No."

Dylan sighed a little and nodded his head, before following Beka to the exit. "We'll talk later, Mr. Harper."

"I'll be counting down the seconds." The engineer smirked, sarcasm thick in his voice. He didn't know what he had done wrong - if anything - but he was fairly certain that he was in trouble for something.

Wasn't he always?

*

"Now what is so important that . . ." Dylan turned on Beka the moment the door to command shut behind them and both were certain that the corridor they occupied was empty.

"You can't say anything to him." Beka interrupted him with far more confidence than he would have preferred.

Dylan stopped speaking and just stared at her for a moment, puzzled. "To who?"

"To Harper."

"So you saw that little display back there too." Beka raised an eyebrow at him, though if it was in protest of his language or of his candor, he wasn't sure.

"Whatever you saw- it was nothing."

"But . . ."

"It was nothing." She reiterated, interrupting him again.

He was silent for a while, trying to piece together clues that he had been rather late in retrieving.

"What *did* I just see back there?" He finally asked calmly, a military air about him, which clashed awkwardly with the friendly glint in his eyes.

Beka shrugged. "Trance being Trance. Harper being . . . Harper getting used to that."

He noticed that she was keeping her answers simple. Straightforward. As if not wanting any kind of mess to spring from what was already becoming more troublesome than he was certain it was worth.

"But, they aren't . . ." He trailed off, unable to find words that adequately matched his clumsy thoughts.

"No." She shook her head adamantly.

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure. They're just . . . I don't know. They're just doing their thing. Being them." She paused, grappling for words. "Learning how to be friends."

"*Just* friends." He looked her in the eye, his words almost a question but not quite.

She didn't seem to have a concrete answer for this. "We're keeping an eye on them."

"'We'?"

"I think you're the last onboard to notice that something's up."

"Well, that's a relief. 'Cause- you know- as Captain, being the last one to know things really puts me in a good position." His sarcasm, unlike hers, was rare, making it hard for her not to smirk at his use of it now.

"I would have said something, but . . . well, this isn't exactly the best topic for the dinner table."

"I see." His brow furrowed and he tried, once again, to think over this new and very sudden information.

"Do you?" He gave her a questioning look. "'Cause I don't know about you, but this definitely isn't something that *I* wanna mess with. We don't know exactly what's running through the minds of those two- but as far as we can tell they haven't got a clue as to where they're at with each other. And no one, including me, wants to be the one that gets in the way of that."

She stared at him seriously, then offered a half-smile, her tone and mood lightening. "If they wanna go around totally oblivious, than that's their problem. We've got a Commonwealth to rebuild."

Dylan smiled as well and silently admitted that she made a good point. What Trance and Harper did was their business. As long as it didn't effect the newly reforming Commonwealth or the running of the ship, who was he to get in the middle of things?

Though, with such a small crew, he didn't see how anything that any of them did wouldn't effect the running of the ship in some way or another.

But, over all, Beka's pep talk did its job. And Dylan Hunt, though tempted at several different points in the following couple of weeks to take Harper on 'a walk', restrained himself admirably, and tried not to think about what all of it might mean. Not just the friendly contact and the absent touches. What he most tried not to concern himself with was why- and how- both Trance and Harper were still so totally unaware of their actions.

*

"This shouldn't be a difficult decision." Beka spoke up from her seat in the pilot's chair. The rest of the crew stood in various positions near her. "You know - seeing as how suicide missions usually tend to put a damper on my day."

"But if they're willing to sign the charter . . ." It was hard to argue with Dylan when he got 'that look,' but this was turning into one of those rare instances when the other's felt it even more difficult *not* to argue.

"You can't be serious." Beka shot back.

"Not only are these beings blatantly hostile, but their fire power is far superior to ours. And, if what I've read about them in the archives is true, they are not hesitant to use it." Tyr leaned against the railing to Beka's right, easily taking her side in the matter as his voice resonated with his determination not to be the victim of one of Dylan's well-intentioned yet most-likely-fatal operations. "Whether they are willing to sign the Commonwealth charter or not, the risks far outweigh any possible benefits."

"In your opinion, perhaps." Dylan stared at the Nietzschean for a moment, then returned his gaze to Beka. "But with that superior fire power on our side - think of the other worlds that would jump at the chance to sign up. Yes, there are risks to meeting with them, but I am not about to deny any one the right to enter into the Commonwealth simply because they have a bad reputation."

"Captain Hunt, your idealism will get us all killed one day." Tyr sneered. "Do not let this be that day."

The weapons officer and the captain stared each other down in a scene that was far too common to be healthy. Or useful.

"Perhaps we could speak with them through channels?" Rommie spoke up in an attempt to resolve the issue as quickly and painlessly as possible.

"And give away our position? We might as well fly straight into their line of fire and make it easy for them." Tyr sneered once again.

"Look- I'm all in favor of living to fight another day. But Rommie may have a point." Harper spoke up from his position in front of Trance. He could still feel her fingers against his back as he talked. Could still feel that comforting weight of her hand holding him against her by his tool belt.

"What do you mean?" Dylan turned his head to face his acting engineer, open to any and all suggestions. He begrudgingly admitted to himself that both Tyr and Beka were essentially right, and if he weren't so desperate to reach his goal he would have agreed with them aloud.

The message buoy that they had encountered - by chance - had contained, among coordinates to the colony, a convincing plea for the starship Andromeda to allow the inhabitants to sign the new Commonwealth charter. However, according to the others, this colony wasn't one to mess with. Or even, for that matter, talk to.

"Well," Harper began and took a step forward, inadvertently forcing Trance to release her hold on him. The sudden lack of pressure on his lower back made him hesitate for a split second, but he recovered quickly and continued. "All we gotta do is send out another message buoy - kinda like the one they sent us."

"But wouldn't they be able to trace where it came from?" Beka turned her gaze to the young man as well.

"Not with a few modifications. By yours truly, of course." He grinned arrogantly.

Dylan nodded his head. Communicating by way of message buoy wasn't his ideal choice, but if it meant that his ship and his crew wouldn't needlessly be put in harms way, than he'd be all but eager to agree. "Fine. We'll stay at a distance and talk. Harper - make the necessary modifications and I'll have a recording for you in an hour."

"You got it." Harper nodded his head purposefully as Tyr gave a grunt of reluctant approval and looked away from the scene and the man that offended him.

Dylan sighed and left the room.

"I still don't know about this." It wasn't clear if Beka was speaking to herself or to the rest of them, but both Tyr and Rev nodded their heads anyway.

"Hey, don't worry Bek- I've got us covered." Harper moved, cockily, to a computer console and began working at what the others could only assume was what Dylan had asked him to work on.

"Yes- well, see that you do." Tyr gave him a somewhat menacing glare, but the engineer just smirked at it, entirely too used to the Nietzschean's coldness.

"And if the colony does somehow discover our whereabouts, we can simply slipstream away." Rommie took a step forward, putting herself next to Rev.

"Except that they'll be able to follow us through. By the time we know that they've figured out where we're hiding, it'll be too late." Beka looked uncomfortable at the image her words gave her. As did Rommie, Rev, and Trance.

"And what did I *just* say about worrying?" Harper glanced up with an over-confident glint in his eyes to match the good humor in his tone of voice. "Come on you guys- I've got our backs."

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of." Beka joked from her seat, and Tyr smirked.

*

Rommie stood silently in the dim lighting, her eyes as still and vigilant as the rest of her avatar. She supposed it wasn't her place- or her right- to be there. Hidden. Watching. But she wasn't sure she could really help herself.

Did this mean she was growing soft? Sentimental? Weak? Or was it just her humanity asserting itself in that only way it knew how?

But she continued to stand there anyway. The only time she moved was at the sudden, yet careful, presence of Beka beside her, at which she nodded her head and the first officer smiled a bit, before her gaze traveled to that which had also caught the Andromeda's attention.

Beka seemed to ask the same questions of herself that Rommie had. And seemed to reach the same conclusions.

Shadows clung to them, giving the room a quiet, untouched feel. The lighting of the hydroponics bay was almost always soft and muted, since both the plants and their caretaker seemed to prefer it that way.

But what really commanded the two women's silence and near-awe was not the plants. Or the lack of light.

It was the scene not ten feet away.

There was just something so soothing about it. Something almost comforting about the way the boy and girl could make even a simple hello seem personal.

He was quick to offer humor, and she was quick to offer thoughtful observations, but it wasn't their conversation that interested the two unseen crewmen who were watching them. It was the way she smiled at him. The way he let his arm touch hers. The way they both moved in time to the other.

The simple presence of the two in the same room was enough to force the women into thoughts of their own, misguided affections. Their past loves. Their past mistakes.

But it was difficult to reminisce for long about such sadness in the face of the hope in front of them.

The innocence of it all was like nothing else. Was just enough to keep every one's heads above water. Even if the whole thing seemed more impossible - and doomed - than they wanted to acknowledge.

Even if, in the distance, they were certain they could see only tragedy.

*

"Message buoy away." Harper looked up from his console at the view screen and the image of the small metal pod heading speedily away from the ship. Dylan watched as well from where he stood near Beka who had taken up residence, once again, in the pilot's seat.

Tyr leaned against the railing and had a look of near-disgust on his face.

"This is both pointless and dangerous."

"Not this again." Dylan turned to face his weapon's officer. Tyr shrugged a little.

"Merely expressing my objection."

"Objection noted." Dylan turned back to the view screen and watched the buoy disappear into the blackness around them.

"It'll work." Harper assured the other three. "There's absolutely no way that thing can be traced. I double checked it myself."

Tyr somehow managed to appear both disbelieving and contemptuous without moving a muscle. "And we all know how keen *your* observation skills are."

Beka and Dylan turned their heads around, as one, to stare at the Nietzschean with a mixture of surprise and warning. But Tyr made no move to acknowledge their gazes.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Harper took a few steps around the console so that he was easily within the line of sight of the other three.

Tyr sighed almost melodramatically - as if it was highly unfair of the universe to have placed him on this ship and forced him to deal with the beings aboard.

"Nothing." For once, his hardened voice betrayed his lack of conviction.

"No, really. What did you mean by that?" Harper seemed upset. As though being criticized by the Nietzschean was one of the worst blows to his ego he could have received.

"Harper . . ." Beka warned, but he shook his head.

"No- I wanna know. What'd I do wrong, huh?" She almost felt sorry for him. The one relationship on board that was, perhaps, even stranger than the one Harper shared with Trance, was the one he shared with Tyr.

Oddly, the young man had grown to almost look up to the Nietzschean. To look to him for guidance, support, and other things that one might search for in a father figure. And Tyr, in turn, had, in a way, taken Harper under his wing. As though he actually cared about the engineer.

Well . . . 'cared' as much as was possible when Tyr was concerned.

"Huh, Tyr?" Harper stared down the other man, who simply rolled his eyes and spoke with his own unique brand of harshness.

"Wake up, boy." Harper's expression went from frustrated to surprised in a matter of seconds as Tyr's voice boomed towards him. "Do you expect to have children with her? Hmm? You don't even know if your DNA is compatible." It suddenly became obvious that the Nietzschean had been holding this in for some time.

Harper's expression remained startled, but now also held quite a bit of his blatant confusion. ". . . What?"

Beka and Dylan both seemed suddenly nervous, but the other two paid no attention to them. Tyr sneered. "Save your questions for something less obvious. Unless you think *Trance* might have some advice to offer."

The only expression to dominate Harper's features was now simple shock.

"I don't know what you're . . ."

"Don't play your games with me. The way you touch her. The way you look at her . . . Where do you expect this to end up?"

"I never . . ." He trailed off at the look in Tyr's eyes. A look that few people saw, and even fewer could guess the meaning of.

They stared at each other in silence, until the Human swallowed hesitantly and tried to conceal whatever thoughts roamed his head by looking away.

Tyr stared at the young man a moment longer, then turned his gaze away as well, and Harper turned and headed for the door.

Beka and Dylan watched with open mouths.

"Well . . . that went well." Beka, still wide eyed, tried to add a touch of normalcy to the situation with her sarcasm.

"Was that really necessary, Tyr?" Dylan finally blinked and turned his gaze back to the Nietzschean.

"Yes." He answered bluntly. "I've been indulging him in his delusions for far too long."

Beka shook her head. "So that outburst back there, was . . . for you?" She seemed disbelieving.

"Of course." He looked at her calmly, but her skepticism remained.

"Well, I certainly feel better." Her sarcasm came more easily this time, and Dylan almost rolled his eyes at the sound of it. Almost.

*

As hard as it had been not commenting on Harper and Trance's relationship before, it was even harder now.

But then, even if the crew had wanted to say something, they were finding it difficult to come up with words to describe the strange air on the ship the day after Tyr's informative outburst. None of them were even quite sure what this strangeness was or what had caused it.

Something seemed out of place, yet everything was eerily normal.

It wasn't until that night, with the gentle hum of the Andromeda lulling him into a familiar thoughtfulness, that Dylan realized what had been wrong.

Looking back, over the day, it seemed so obvious. How could he not have noticed it before? After so many weeks of never seeing one without the other, how could he miss this sudden absence?

Yet there it had been. All day long, whenever Trance was in a room; Harper wasn't.

He tried, almost desperately, to think of an instance when the two had been in the vicinity of each other. But nothing came to mind. Not once had he seen the two together during the course of the day.
Harper had seemed to know, ahead of time, where Trance would be, and avoided the area effectively, careful not to draw the attention of the rest of the crew.

Dylan sighed warily. What was he going to do about this? How was he going to fix it?

To be completely honest with himself, he had never much liked the relationship.

Though he had seen some growth and change in Harper since the young engineer had first come onboard, he still remained cautious of the man. Still questioned Harper's motives more than any other crewman save Tyr.

And Trance was still such a child in so many ways. He suspected there was more to her than what she let them see, but there was also some truth to the innocent fa├žade.

During the past few months the only thing that held his worry that Harper was taking advantage of the girl at bay was Beka's constant assurances. That, and the fact that Trance never displayed any outright discomfort with the situation.

Still, he had his misgivings about the whole thing, and wondered if, perhaps, this new development was the best thing that could have happened.

He was quick to let this thought leave him, however, at events of the next day.

*

". . . And that was three hours ago." Rommie's hologram spoke sternly, then disappeared as her avatar entered command and took over the former's duties.

"So, is it safe to say they weren't all that interested in the Commonwealth after all?" Beka asked the avatar, whose gaze turned to Dylan for answers.

"And we're sure they received the message?" Dylan stared at the view screen thoughtfully for a moment longer, before turning to face Harper.

"Uh- Yeah." Dylan raised an eyebrow at the engineer's uncertainty. "I mean - they must've, right?"

"So, there's no way for us to know?" Beka turned her head around to look at Harper as well, just as the doors to the room opened and Rev and Trance entered.

Harper glanced up at the two figures, then looked down at the computer in front of him. His agitation at the two new presences- one in particular- did not go unnoticed. "Well, there should be. I installed the . . ." He trailed off suddenly, as if losing his train of thought, than shook his head and looked up to Dylan, Beka, and Rommie. "The buoy should have sent out an encrypted signal in all directions once it was intercepted, but . . . nothing." He shrugged his shoulders.

"Okay, so . . . what? Do we send out another message?" Beka looked to Dylan again.

"Let's . . . wait a little longer. See if they send out any more buoys of their own in response." Dylan glanced at Rommie who gave him a grim smile. "Mr. Harper," he turned to the young man. "Is there any way to tell if the signal is broken? Could something be disrupting it?"

The engineer nodded his head. "I'm on it." Harper moved across the room swiftly to another console and pressed a few buttons.

Dylan watched him move awkwardly around Trance, who stood not a foot away. The scene was almost more surreal than their encounters had been before Harper's sudden awareness: Trance looking at Harper curiously, as though not understanding what was wrong, then taking a step towards him, only to see him hesitate nervously, then move away.

Dylan watched as the girl tried to figure out what was wrong with her friend, to no avail, and then try to smile, but fail in that area as well, as the engineer awkwardly pulled his arm away from where it had once rested near her, and avoided her gaze.

Harper hesitated again, then moved to the other side of the room just as Trance tried to take another careful step towards him.

Trance looked so lost in that moment. So confused and helpless that it was hard to look away from her. The questioning gaze. The innocent exterior that just wanted to know what was wrong with her friend and how she could help.

This was when Dylan decided to step in.

"Mr. Harper," Dylan glanced to the side, at Beka, as if seeking her permission for what he was about to do, then looked back to Harper. "Let's go for a walk."

Seamus tried to keep his face blank, but it was obvious that he knew he was in trouble. And that Beka wasn't going to help him out of it this time.

As the doors closed after the two men, Beka returned her attention to the view screen in front of her, trying not to look at Trance, whose confusion still radiated from her with every movement. Beka felt sorry for the girl, and frowned in an expression of that. But there was nothing she could do.

Well . . . she could always beat the crap out of Harper. Until he understood the true importance of a friendship like the one he and Trance had shared. But she imagined that wouldn't go over too well with the Captain.

Or with Trance for that matter. So she was just going to let Dylan handle this one for now.

Beka sighed. She had noticed the awkward feeling of the previous day as well, and had, while falling asleep in the Maru, realized what had been the cause of it at near the same moment as Dylan.

It was funny, sometimes, the things a person missed when they were gone.

She had never taken that fragile relationship for granted. Never once thought that it could somehow survive. Always knew it wasn't meant to last more than a few days. They should have counted their blessings that it had lasted almost four months.

But she never, in her wildest dreams, imagined that she would *miss* it when it was gone.

All day long all she could think about was that moment in the hydroponics bay with Rommie. Watching Harper and Trance and being so comforted by it. Other moments came to her as well. Moments that she hadn't known were all that meaningful to her until now.

Because what else in the universe did she have to cling to besides her crew? Her friends? Her family? What else in the universe did she have to hang onto besides that hope that something so innocent really could prevail?

She remembered a time not a month before when Harper had drawn the late shift on the command deck, and she hadn't been able to sleep, so she'd decided to see if he was up for a drink, or a conversation, or- more likely- both.

Instead, she'd had that drink alone, after stumbling in on something that would remain with her for some time afterwards.

Harper had been running a diagnostic from where he sat on the floor, leaning back against the wall, Trance asleep on the floor beside him. After a moment of punching buttons and scanning data, he had looked down at her and smiled warmly for one long moment. Then carefully brushed a strand of her hair behind her ear. And returned his gaze back to the diagnostic.

He'd been too involved in his work to notice Beka. Probably didn't even know any one had seen the scene. But it was an image that Beka had worked her thoughts over on several late nights, wondering if it had been real.

Wondering if her judgement had been that good.

All those years of trusting some kid she'd picked up off the streets of the Apollo moon colony. Some kid who'd just made it off Earth, only to find himself stuck on that desolate rock right next to the planet he hated so much. And she had trusted him right off the bat. Not knowing why. Just hoping she was right about him. That those doubts in the back of her mind were wrong.

Those doubts that told her that one day he'd turn on her just like every one else she took in. One day he'd tell her what his real story was and it wouldn't be pretty.

And now, suddenly, here was this image of him being . . . kind. Of him being not just as good as she had hoped, but better. And all she could do was question it. Wonder if it was true, and if she could finally stop doubting that decision she had made five years ago when she had told some emaciated street punk that he had his own bed waiting for him on her ship.

*

"Look - I'll find the signal, all right? It's probably just being disrupted by their targeting equipment. But I can punch through the field with . . ."

"This isn't about the message buoy, Mr. Harper." Dylan stared at the young man in front of him. He felt awkward and uncomfortable, and it took him a moment to realize that they hadn't even started walking yet.

So the Captain began to take a few steps down the hallway before stopping and turning his head back to face Harper who was still standing there.

"If this is about Tyr . . ." Dylan furrowed his brow in thought as Harper stared him down. He didn't even know where to begin. Didn't even really know what he was dealing with or what kind of ramifications his next words would have. But he had to say something. Fix whatever it was that had been broken. That was his job. Fixing things.

In a way, he and Harper were more alike than either bothered to acknowledge.

In most ways, however, they were more different than Dylan could understand. And he tried not to let it get to him.

"Are you thirsty, Mr. Harper?" This was definitely a new one. Even Harper recognized its oddness, and immediately unmasked his emotions enough to let his surprise and curiosity show through.

"I, uh . . ."

"Good. Let's stop by the officer's mess, shall we?" It wasn't a request, and both knew it.

They walked the short distance in silence - Harper contemplating his fate and Dylan attempting to find the words he needed for this upcoming conversation, all the while glancing back at Harper off and on, wondering if this had been such a good idea. Wondering if the real goal should be repairing the relationship, or destroying it further.

"Sit." They stood in the 'mess' at a distance from each other, both looking somewhat uncomfortable, before Dylan ordered the younger man into a chair.

Harper took a seat cautiously.

As Dylan procured two glasses and then let his eyes wander over the selection of beverages, he realized, with a start, that he had no idea what Harper liked to drink.

He knew Beka's drink. Knew that Rev didn't. Assumed Trance was the same. Even knew what Tyr usually filled his cup with. And could remember the exact mix of that obscure drink Rhade had preferred. But not Harper.

"I'm- uh- not sure what you . . ." He almost had trouble admitting it. As if embarrassed by the fact that with a crew of six, he knew so little about one of them.

"Whatever you're having is fine." Harper saved him the trouble of continuing his confession, yet still managed not to let on his drink of choice. As though he knew that it bothered Dylan- the not knowing- and he wanted to remind his Captain that there were some areas that even the great Dylan Hunt was lacking in.

Dylan just nodded his head, filled the glasses, and sat down across from his engineer.

"Tyr was upset." He finally spoke, setting his glass down carefully and hoping that he was doing the right thing.

Not only was he uncomfortable with the person he was talking to, but with the subject matter as well. And he worried that this was impairing his judgement.

"Thanks for the info. I was a little fuzzy in that area the other day, so I appreciate you pointing that out for me." Dylan, briefly, wondered if sarcasm was something Harper had learned from Beka or vice versa, before taking in a breath and deciding to ignore the comment.

"And I'm not saying that that was an excuse for what he said. But . . ."

"You don't believe him, do you?" Dylan looked startled. "I mean - what he said . . . you don't actually believe that, do you?"

"Harper . . ." He closed his eyes in mute frustration, not opening them until he was certain he had calmed himself. "It's not a matter of believing Tyr's words over yours. This is about you right now. Not him. This is about you and Trance."

This managed to shut the engineer up fairly quickly.

And Dylan got a sudden idea.

Captain Hunt cleared his throat and tried to harden his features. "Maybe you think the rest of us haven't noticed. But we have. And I'm sorry I didn't put a stop to it sooner." Harper looked baffled. "There are certain lines, Mr. Harper. Certain lines that we do not cross. Did you think I wouldn't find out that you were using her?"

"I never . . ." He could only stare in shock at his captain, his sentence unfinished in the face of so much utter bewilderment.

"Give it up, Harper." Unlike most, Dylan didn't need to yell. The stern tone of voice he used was more than sufficient. "How dare you take advantage of her like that?"

Harper's eyes suddenly flared as he understood what Dylan was saying.

"I never . . ." He said again with more confidence, but still couldn't finish the statement.

Dylan's voice raged on. "How dare you take advantage of an innocent girl like that? How dare you use her. How dare you use *Trance*!"

"I would never do that to her." Harper stood up as he spoke defensively, as if the action would validate his furious statement.

But he didn't need it to make Dylan believe. The look in his eyes was enough for the older man.

"Good." Dylan's voice was so calm compared to the one he had just used, and puzzlement once again reigned over Harper's features. "Sit down, Mr. Harper." He spoke again with the same friendly tone, and the engineer slowly- uncertainly- did as he was told.

"I admit- for awhile there I was . . . uncertain, as to your intentions." Dylan smiled a little, and looked down at the glass on the table as Harper just stared.

"But I think I'm starting to like being wrong. Or- at least- I better start liking it. 'Cause with this crew I seem to be wrong a hell of a lot more often than I should be." He smiled a little again. "I expect the best, and I get the worst. I expect the worst, and I get . . ." He looked up from his drink to the young man. "I know you're scared. But I also know that *you* know that Trance is the best thing to happen to you since before you can probably remember."

"It's not like that." Harper's expression turned emotionless. A mask. "I mean . . . she's Trance. I don't . . ."

"You don't what?"

"I don't think of her like that, ya know?"

Dylan nodded his head. "I see."

"It's not that I don't . . ." Harper tried to explain, but the other man interrupted.

"It *is* okay to be scared." This caught the engineer off guard. "Even the best of us are. The trick is, what you do with that fear." Harper paused, then shook his head slightly.

"I just don't . . ." This time Dylan was less than polite about interrupting him.

"Cut the crap, Seamus." It was the first time he had ever called Harper by his first name. It stunned them both, though Harper more so. "I didn't bring you here to listen to your excuses. Or to try to uncover some semblance of the truth in all of this denial."

"Than why did you bring me here?"

"I brought you here to tell you that the easy way out isn't gonna work this time. That there are consequences to your actions, and it's time to face up to them."

"What do you . . ."

"I *know* you're scared. But that's the point. If you want this badly enough - if you want her badly enough - then you have to risk it all. You have to be scared. You have to be terrified. And you've got to put it all on the line; or else . . . or else it isn't worth anything. And it's just this game that you've been playing at." He paused and stared at the silent youth. "And she's worth more than that."

*

It had been an entire solar day since the Captain and his engineer had had their chat. And it still seemed as though Harper was avoiding his young, purple friend.

Trance, of course, continued to notice this - as did every one else - but continued to say nothing. She just waited for him to get over whatever he was going through so that they could be friends again. And tried not to look too hurt whenever he wouldn't meet her gaze, or took a step away when she took a step forward.

In Beka's opinion she was being entirely too patient with him.

Beka and Dylan were less optimistic. Captain Hunt had been almost certain that his little speech to the young man had sparked something in Harper, but there had been no change in him. If anything, he seemed even more nervous around the young girl and took even more drastic measures to avoid her.

And, in the midst of this, the colony had still not replied to their message buoy with another one of their own. Scans of the sector indicated no new vessels, radio frequencies, or anything else of that nature.

"Sometimes, I don't know why I bother." Dylan turned from the view screen to look at Beka, who gave him a less-then-encouraging look, knowing that he was talking about more than just the colony.

They both glanced behind them at Trance, who was working intently at her station, then returned their gazes to each other, as if some sort of answer lay in the other one's posture, or facial expression. Dylan sighed.

"Rommie." The ship's avatar turned to her Captain at the sound of his voice, and Tyr looked up as well from behind her. "Run another analysis of the . . ." He trailed off rather suddenly, and Rommie quirked an eyebrow at him, before following his gaze to the source of his distraction.

Beka and Tyr, as well, turned their heads around to look at whatever had captured the attention of the man in front of them.

The doors to command shut quietly behind Harper as he stepped into the room, oblivious to the eyes on him. He blinked, bowed his head a bit, and walked purposefully up to Trance.

Both Beka and Dylan would remember the scene with a splinter of doubt in the backs of their minds about whether or not it had been real.

There was just such purpose and decisiveness to Harper's steps. Yet such out right terror as he walked up to meet Trance.

The girl turned to look at him uncertainly, and he, in one swift action that none of the rest of them would ever forget- or believe- took sudden hold of her head and neck, and kissed her.

Beka's jaw dropped.

There was complete silence as the others watched and found that, even if they'd been coherent enough to utter a comment, their mouths would not have cooperated.

The two young crewmen's lips remained locked for only a few seconds, but, to every one in the room, it seemed like much longer. Seemed like worlds must have been created and destroyed in the time it took for Harper to release her.

And once it was over, Trance, her eyes wide, remained frozen. Shocked.

Harper pulled away from her, but kept his hands around her face, almost as if he were afraid to move. And he, himself, stood frozen as well, his head down a bit, his eyes locked with hers, waiting for whatever answer she could give him. Waiting.

Terrified.

Three of the other four watched in shock as the seconds multiplied and the two crewmen who now had their attention remained unmoving. Both just stared at each other. Trance still in wide-eyed surprise. Harper still in terror.

Tyr watched them as well, but his expression was hard and unreadable.

Beka opened her mouth to say something but was silenced by Dylan, who signaled with a hand that she was to wait and see how the next few moments played out before barging in, to the rescue.

So they just watched. Watched Trance try to understand what had just happened. And Harper waiting so god-damned patiently while still being so incredibly frightened that they once again had to wonder if the image were real, or if they had just made it up in their own minds.

They could almost see him tremble.

Did he though? They couldn't tell. Assumed that he was somehow able to hold it in as he waited for Trance to make the next move.

The young girl - ever so slowly - softened her features, and, for the first time, really looked at the engineer.

She stared at him- stared at his eyes- as if somewhere in his guarded expression she could read everything about him. And he hoped she could.

He hoped- more than he had ever dared to- that something of himself would, for once, shine through and save the situation, before he collapsed from the effort of trying to himself.

Trance raised an eyebrow in an unexpected expression, as if she had seen something in his eyes that made her more curious and surprised than anything.

Then- slowly- she let a smile cross her face.

It took a moment for everything to register in Harper's mind. And, once it did, he wondered if it was true.

The now broad smile on the girl's face, however, relieved him of any further doubts.

Harper couldn't help grinning. And, at this, Trance's smile grew even wider.

He pulled her head back to his and pressed their foreheads against one another's', smiling. Grinning. So insanely happy and relieved that he couldn't even begin to contain himself.

He wanted to kiss her again.

And, suddenly, he knew that that was all right. That it was allowed. And he had trouble believing it, just as he had had trouble believing anything else about the day.

He just kept grinning. So relieved and happy and . . . and a thousand other things that he couldn't even begin to describe. And Trance kept smiling. And the other crewmen in the room had quite a bit of difficulty not doing so themselves.

Tyr's masked look did not change, but the Nietzschean nodded his head in approval of some kind, and turned back to his workstation. And Beka smiled a bit more at this.

"Captain." Dylan turned, reluctantly, to Rommie "I'm picking up a broad-band signal. It's coming from some sort of pod . . . It's from the colony." She gave him a look, then smiled. "They want to continue negotiations. They've sent coordinates for a neutral meeting place." Dylan smiled back at the android, then looked to Beka who did the same.

Good days were so hard to come by.

"Mr. Harper." Captain Hunt turned to face the young couple, who still stood memorably close to one another, foreheads resting against each other. Still grinning.

"Yeah?" Though Harper had managed to pull away from Trance to look at Dylan, his joy was still very apparent, and one hand still remained at the girl's cheek.

Dylan smiled fondly at the young man. "I'm gonna need another one of those message buoys."

Harper just kept on smiling. "You got it, Boss." He looked at Trance one more time, taking in the appearance of the girl that he was certain he didn't deserve, yet had some how managed to win in those brief seconds, then headed out the doors.

Trance's gaze followed him out, until the door's shut behind him and she looked back to Dylan.

Beka smiled encouragingly at the young girl, and Dylan mimicked this expression as he nodded towards the exit. Trance happily understood the message and quickly left the room to catch up to the engineer.

*

He felt her hand at the small of his back- clinging to his tool belt as a way of keeping him close to her- and shifted his weight smoothly.

Leaning back almost imperceptibly, he let his shoulder touch hers.

The air from the space station's ventilation shafts tasted stale on his tongue, but he ignored this distraction, as well as every other that insisted on appearing.

Instead, he focused on the delicate touch of her fingers through the fabric of his shirt. Her knuckles softly pressing into his skin and muscle. The soft sound of her breathing. The steady movement of her chest against his back as her lungs expanded and contracted in time to his own.

He wanted to pull her into him, and felt her wanting the same. But both restrained themselves and simply let the proximity- the feeling- of the other soothe their emotions.

He reached out behind him, slowly, and touched the exposed skin of her arm. Reveled in the smooth feel of it. Its unique static. As though it were both warm and cool at the same time.

Through their desire to be even nearer to the other, their gentle displays still sung with innocence. With an understanding not fully realized.

With a fragile balance quickly becoming a permanent bond.

No one really understood what had happened to make such physical contact normal between those two particular crewmen. But whatever it was- whatever twist of fate had made it possible for such things to exist in the universe- they were all grateful.


The End.