Dance

A Xenosaga fanfic by Princess Artemis

© copyright S.D. Green 2007 except what is clearly the property and © copyright Namco/Bandai and Monolithsoft

Note: This takes place at least four years before Episode I.

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Middle of the night programming runs were not on Allen's top ten list of favorite things to do. Not that he disliked programming...it was more the middle of the night part. Sleep was good.

That and he didn't really need to be here. Deadlines weren't looming; he'd just been working on a program for KOS-MOS and lost track of time. He hadn't even realized that he'd lost track of time until Karol Hadji had turned on some music and had it blasting loud enough to knock Allen out of his programming trance.

Losing the trance reminded Allen how late it was, which then reminded him that he would really like to sleep right now. So...sleep, sleep good. He logged off his terminal and stretched. Another reason not to like middle of the night programming runs—they made his back hurt. He turned to say good night to Karol, but stopped and watched her instead. She was dancing to her music. It was a warm night, so she wasn't wearing the short jacket part of her uniform. She must have been bored and had to wake herself up or something, since dancing didn't get work done. It wasn't a formal dance, at least, not one Allen recognized. What caught his attention about it was that Karol seemed to be fully immersed in it. Allen could understand why; the music certainly had the right rhythm and feel for dancing.

He tried to stop himself, but a heavy, loud sigh escaped anyway. Karol heard it and snapped out of her own trance so fast that she stumbled.

"Sorry about that Karol, I didn't mean to disturb you," Allen said quickly, ducking his head and scratching his neck.

"Ah, that's OK...I probably should get back to work anyway...I need to finish this concept up soon or Chief Winnicot will have my head." She moved to switch off the music. "I didn't mean to disturb you either."

"You didn't really. I don't have any deadlines right now; I just got caught up working I guess. But, ah, you don't have to stop...you looked like you were enjoying yourself."

Karol blushed but pulled her hand away from the switch, leaving the music on. "How long were you watching?"

Allen shrugged. "Not real long."

"Oh, OK...wait a minute...why the long face and the sighing?" Karol leaned against her chair, a look of curiosity on her face.

"It...uh...ah..." Allen didn't mind when people paid attention to him, though he was honestly surprised she'd noticed, even if his sighing had startled her out of her dance. He wasn't very comfortable with it, though. "I...guess...I wish I could do that."

"Hmm? Do what, dance?"

"No...I can dance. Well, uh...I know how to dance, but I'm really terrible at it. I meant...I meant...dancing as if no one were watching."

Karol tapped her fingers on the back of her chair. "What kinds of dances do you know?"

"Huh?" This was surprising. Not only was Karol paying attention, she was actually curious about him? That felt good. He didn't know many people on the KOS-MOS project well, and they never seemed terribly inclined to get to know him, so it was nice that someone did try for once. The only people he knew even a little were Chief Winnicot and Vice Chief Uzuki, and they mostly because he worked directly with the Vice Chief. "Mostly ballroom styles. But like I said, I'm really bad at it. I'm too uncoordinated for formal dancing."

Karol laughed. When she saw Allen frown and turn away, she apologized. "I didn't mean it badly Allen. It's just that ballroom dancing isn't really popular anymore, so I didn't expect to hear you say you knew how to ballroom dance."

Allen was still frowning a bit. "I know it's not."

"Oh, don't get so upset," she said, moving over to lean against the back of Allen's chair. "Still...hmm...you say you can dance but that you're bad at formal dancing. So what kind of dancing are you good at?"

"What makes you think I'm good at any kind of dancing?" Allen asked.

Karol grinned triumphantly. "Evasion! That just proves it. Now I want to see you dance."

"Karol! I can't...there's...no, I...no, I didn't say I was good at dancing, and I can't anyway, so...no, I told you I can't..."

"No, no, no, you said you wished you could dance like no one was watching. And the way you sighed and looked all morose about it makes me think you enjoy it. You said you can dance, then qualified it by saying you knew how but were bad at it...so you must be good at some kind of dancing, or else you wouldn't have said you could do it at all."

Allen huffed and crossed his arms. "I don't think that was the most logical way to reach a conclusion."

"Is it a correct conclusion though? It looks like it is, since now you're getting irritated about it."

"Karol...," Allen said with a sigh. This was one thing he didn't like about people paying attention to him—they pried. "Oh, fine... I do enjoy it and I'm good enough at whatever kind of dancing I do that I've been complimented on it, and...never mind. I still can't do it. I can't do what you were doing, and I can't do what you want."

"What I want?" Karol looked confused.

"You said you wanted to see me dance. We're having this conversation because I couldn't keep my sighing to myself."

"Oh yeah...well...hmm." Karol tapped her fingers again. "How about this...dance with me. Then no one will be watching."

Allen flinched and squeaked. "Ahh! That's, maybe not...not such a good idea. And it's really late...I should get going..."

"No, no, come on, just a little dance." Karol grabbed Allen's hands and pulled him out of his chair against all protests. "I still need to relax a little, and you look like you perpetually need to relax...so why not? I like dancing, you just said you like it, so come on."

Grumbling about his apparent perpetual inability to say 'no' to someone and mean it, Allen finally relented. "All right, but it's just a dance...that's it. Let me lead...I don't think I can dance with anyone if I'm not leading."

"Sounds good," Karol said with a smile. "I haven't had a chance to dance with anyone in forever. Need me to change the music?"

Allen shook his head. "This is fine. I'll need a moment...before, uh, I just need a little bit."

Karol nodded and waited. Allen tried to shake off the feeling that Karol was watching him and just pay attention to the music. He closed his eyes; seeing Karol standing still in front of him wasn't helping with the 'no one's watching' feeling. He didn't like dancing where anyone could see him partly because even though some people had complimented him, enough others had thought he looked weird, and it made him self-conscious. So it always took him a moment to get out of his head enough to dance. That was part of why he was such a lousy ballroom dancer—maybe if he weren't so self-conscious and he practiced more, he could get the steps where he needed them, out of his head and into his body. That was the whole key, the reason he liked dancing. He lost himself in it, lost to the music, becoming part of it. No worries, no cares, just music and movement.

Karol saw much of this while she waited. She could see Allen slowly start losing himself in the music. When he did, he moved with it in ways that would make ballroom dancing tricky. It wasn't formal dancing at all, but it was certainly dancing. Allen gracefully traced melody in the air with his hands, stepped rhythm with his feet; every move his entire body made was in tune with the music. She wasn't surprised that someone might compliment him on it—he danced with a lot more grace than she thought he possessed. Usually he moved so awkwardly, anxiously, as if he were waiting for some attack. Not now: he looked peaceful and vital.

Perfectly in time to the music, Allen reached over and touched her arm, moving music down to her hand. It felt like the music was touching her. He moved closer, eyes still closed, and traced melody along her other arm. Gooseflesh broke out; it wasn't just music she felt in his hands, there was the vitality she had seen, and an invitation that felt like it was to more than just dancing. She could dance the way Allen did, so she didn't think it would be hard to let him lead. Karol was faster at losing herself in the music than Allen was, though she had always found it easier to do with a partner. Might be easier still with Allen; by leading her, he had somehow narrowed her focus to nothing but the music, to the tangible living music.

Karol soon was happily lost in the music, enjoying the particular way Allen led her. It was different than how she usually danced with a partner, though she wasn't entirely aware of why until Allen looked at her. He wasn't really looking, he was staring; it felt like he was looking into her and through her, seeing everything and nothing at all. It was a disconcerting look. It took a moment for her to realize what Allen's intense gaze meant. She fought down a gasp when she understood it—she had been dancing to enjoy herself and lose herself in music, but she wasn't completely lost in it. She thought she was dancing with a partner; Allen wasn't thinking any such thing. He had to lead because he was so lost that Karol was becoming part of the music to him. She had been right to feel an invitation to more than a dance; it was to synergy, merging, union with him. He couldn't dance with a partner any other way, and he was leading her to becoming part of the music, part of his dance. She smiled and let Allen lead her to become as lost in the music as he was, to become music, and thus to become part of what he was lost in.

It made her shiver slightly, feeling as though Allen were losing himself in her...and she in him. He became music to be lost in as well, vital music. Dancing was always a sensual thing, but Karol felt this was a very intensely sensual dance. Maybe Allen always danced with that intensity, he almost had to; otherwise, she would still be dancing with a partner, not dancing as if she had become her partner in some way. This was not just intensely sensual; it was intensely personal. She felt as though it were not so very far away from another sort of uniting dance entirely.

For a while they danced, became music and lost in each other. Allen stopped leading because he no longer needed to; they were in tune to each other as much as they were to the music. Karol had been entirely right; Allen didn't see her much as Karol now, she was part of the music, part of what he was dancing to. He felt much the same way Karol did, but it didn't surprise him or catch him off guard; it could be something else if he wanted it to be, but he didn't...it was just a very enjoyable dance. He felt good and he was glad she had convinced him to dance.

That was, until some dreadful miscommunication occurred that shattered the trance. Karol had felt it a perfectly natural thing to kiss Allen; Allen did not at all and he stumbled and fell.

It took them both a long moment to completely escape the dance, but it was well and truly finished. Karol covered her mouth with both hands and gasped out an apology, tripping over her words. Allen just stared at her while she apologized, scared that he had done something wrong.

He got to his feet. "It's...it's all right...please don't feel bad." Then Allen bolted out of the room.

Still shocked at how badly that wonderful dance had ended, Karol shut off the music. She supposed it was an easy enough mistake to make; Allen's vital, sensual, personal dancing practically invited the mistake. But he had told her it was just a dance and that he thought it was a bad idea. Maybe that had happened to him before. No maybe about it—it had to have happened before or else he wouldn't have warned her. She didn't blame him for her lack of understanding, her spectacular misunderstanding. He probably didn't realize that telling her it was just a dance wasn't enough warning...at least, it hadn't been enough for her. She hoped she hadn't scared him off completely, though. Lost in a moment or not, she thought Allen was a nice enough guy. She just wouldn't make the mistake of dancing with him again; he was too intense for her.

As she sat down and got back to work, Karol couldn't help but wonder in what other ways her timid, near-invisible colleague might be too intense.