Summer Rain

Or

The not so epic Stark/Zhaan get together fic

By: Thought

Disclaimer: Not mine. They are pretty, though.

Notes: So this took me about three weeks to write, which is crazy long. It's my first longish Farscape story, so please don't eat my soul if it's horrible.

Summary: Post The Locket, Stark and Zhaan explore their growing closeness.

Zhaan's POV

XXX

She is dreaming of fire. She is dreaming of orange pain on a backdrop of bronzed, of brilliant explosions of blinding light and more than anything she is dreaming of guilt. Hers, of course. The gnawing sense that in ways that are at once simple and complex each tongue of agony lapping around her is of her own making. Her consciousness is a pinpoint of awareness wreathed in flame. She knows nothing other than her own damning accountability.

The sound of Aeryn and John arguing in the corridor outside of her cell finally rouses her from sleep. She sits up, unnerved by the dream. It is uncommon for a Delvian's sleep to be interrupted by such mental wanderings; for a Pa'u, almost unheard of. She rises and by the time she has dressed the human and Sebacean have gone their separate ways, stubborn storm clouds of angry words lingering in their wake.

It is early. Command, when she gets there, is deserted, no doubt a product of the overheard altercation. She greets Pilot, assures herself that all is well, and settles herself staring out at the stars, trying not to dwell on her troubled sleep. The door opens and Stark enters with John chatting along beside him.

"…and every week or so we get fucked over by the critter surprise of the week, usually a few explosions, some goo… it's almost as fun as the chair. I tell you, man, you're gonna love it here."

She frowns. The words ring strangely familiar. Stark meets her gaze over the Human and she knows immediately that she is not the only one who finds something slightly off. She steps forward, smiling a greeting but is interrupted by the arrival of Aeryn. She storms in, pushing past Stark and ignoring Crichton altogether.

"I will never understand Humans," she announces briskly, kicking a stray DRD. Zhaan glances back at Crichton—or rather, where Crichton should be. Stark is alone, now, watching her intently. She shifts under his steady gaze and turns back to Aeryn, eager to soothe her nerves and return the crew to a state of relative calm.

XXX

"You saw Crichton as well."

She gasps, setting the jar of herbs down with more force than necessary. When she turns Stark is standing in the doorway of the apothecary, hands open at his sides, his one eye reflecting a mix of curiosity and hope. "You startled me." She has been off balance all morning, remnants of her dream dancing in and out of her consciousness in a threatening and disturbing series of flashes.

"I apologize." He enters, the door sliding closed behind him. "I wanted to talk to you about what happened earlier in Command."

"What do you mean?"

"You saw John come in with me, heard him speaking." At her silent acknowledgement, he continues. "What he was saying was precisely the words he spoke when I first came aboard Moya, monens ago."

She nods, now realizing why Crichton's monologue had bothered her. "Yes. You're right."

"You didn't see it, but when Aeryn arrived, Crichton… disappeared."

"Easily explained. They had been arguing. I heard them."

He shakes his head. "No. You misunderstand. It was as if one microt he was there, the next gone. He didn't leave through any conventional means."

"You are saying that he wasn't really there? A sort of vision, perhaps?"

He nods. "It is possible. I… have had other visions, if one can call them that, over the last solar day."

"Of what, if I may ask?" she steps forward to offer support, as with his last words has also come a look of fear. "Perhaps—"

Anger.

The outcry of the man who no more holds the place of lover in her heart.

The delight of the kill.

The unmitigated freedom of the white hot rage as her mind overwhelms his…

Stark's arms are around her and she is gasping for breath, forehead against his shoulder, limbs uncooperative as she fights for balance. "Zhaan!" He awkwardly shifts them both to the floor, still holding her, but without the frantic grasp of surprise, merely a platonic show of support and concern.

She takes a moment to regain her inner calm, the power of the memory leaving her briefly beleaguered. "I'm sorry. I don't know what—Crichton calls it tripping over your own feet." She affects a soft laugh that sounds false even to her own ears.

He shakes his head. "You were… angry." This seems to confuse him, but he continues speaking determinately. "It was sudden, and now gone. And last night when you were sleeping, you were… distressed. Have you been experiencing visions, as well?"

Her shoulders slump slightly, and she evades his question with one of her own. "How do you know what I felt while asleep?"

His gaze drops. "I couldn't sleep. I was walking passed your chamber. Your dreams were very strong, I could feel your discontent. I didn't mean to intrude but you were projecting very strongly and I believe remnants of the link we formed yesterday still linger."

She inclines her head. "Really? I have never experienced unity in which the mental ties did not sever upon the wishes of the participants. Connection without physical contact is rare, in itself. To experience it without a strong desire and concentration is… unnerving."

"I had no intentions of invading your dreams!" She recoils (not physically) from the defensiveness in his voice. And yet, she thinks, this man, if any, would understand the sacred privacy of the mind. He who has had his own callously torn into endlessly with no respect, no care for the boundaries being crossed. What right ha she, so utterly destroyed by one invasion, have to accuse this being who has undergone the same sort of mental rape for two cycles? And especially of that crime which he himself would find so vile.

"I ask pardon. I didn't mean to imply that you had done this intentionally." She had, of course, but it is better if she remain in the secure position of control. "I was simply stating the peculiarities. Now, I think it would be prudent to gather more proof that what we saw was not some sort of strange phenomenon, or perhaps it really was simply Crichton himself, before we begin accusing ourselves of mental instability."

Stark taps his com. "Pilot?"

"Yes?"

"Is Moya detecting anything strange in our vicinity? Or any intruders onboard?"

There is a brief pause. "No, nothing. Why?"

"Nothing to worry about, Pilot. Thank you."

He glances at her, obviously daring her to come up with another explanation. "As I said, I will ask Crichton about his whereabouts when we saw him."

"Have you experienced anything else strange?" he asks, obviously not willing to argue with her.

"No," she lies. "Nothing. As for what just happened, my mind wandered to a part of my past which I would rather not remember. I simply got caught up thinking about it. But… thank you for not letting me fall." She laughs self-deprecatingly, offering him a true smile. She knows that at times she can be harsher than she intends when her own stability comes into question, and she finds Stark to be someone she very much wants to befriend.

"Of course," he murmurs quietly. She moves back over to her table, effectively ending the discussion.

XXX

"John?"

His eyes lift from his food cubes where he has been evading Aeryn's gaze for the last hundred microts. "What's up, Blue?"

She feels silly asking, and throws an irritated glance in Stark's direction, where he is trying unsuccessfully to pretend that he isn't watching her interaction with the Human. "This morning, when you came onto Command… who was there?"

He blinks. "Uh… Stark, Aeryn and Chi. Why?"

"No reason. I just…" She flounders, her mind unable to provide her with any rational explanation that doesn't involve revealing her disturbing visions.

"Zhaan? Is everything okay?" John sets down his utensils, attention finally shifting fully from Aeryn to her. Luckily D'Argo and Chiana are busy yelling at Rygel, who is defending himself through mouthfuls of food, crumbs leaking from his mouth to land on his robe in a disgusting display of gluttony. Aeryn is stabbing at her food cubes viciously, and Stark, sitting silently, is simply watching her patiently, not getting involved. "It's nothing, John. Don't worry yourself. She finishes eating in silence, letting the noise of the argument at the other end of the table drown out her own thoughts. She leaves as quickly as she can without looking strange.

She paces down the corridor, irritated by the way John had unwittingly proven Stark's side of the debate. She didn't understand why they could be sharing some sort of visions, and the idea that she could be caught, vulnerable, at any time, with no warning. The thought of her most private memories flashing into her consciousness at random is not one that sits well with her.

"Your ideas are too radical, daughter," her father says, touching her forehead gently. She turns away from his touch, frustrated by his inability to understand her motivation.

"I don't expect you to understand. The elder generation can be horribly blind to the dictatorship which our world is becoming."

"Are you calling me stupid?" His voice is teasing. He is not even bothering to take her seriously, believing her ideas to be too idealistic for anyone to realistically consider.

"I believe that you desire to prove Bitaal wrong has brought you into the realm of the ridiculous. I don't approve of your relationship with someone in that sort of position of power, and I in no way believe that his ideas of how the government should be run are correct, but Zhaan, you need to remember that the only way a population can survive is through some sort of governing body. There needs to be rules."

"Bitaal is merely misguided. There are people who agree with me, father! I'm not the only person who thinks these things."

"You would say that he is misguided, even when he has gotten where he is today through true, good spiritual choices?"

"Zhaan?"

She closed her eyes, pressing her hands together. "Yes Pilot?"

"Are you well? The DRDs near you observed that you are speaking to... No one. Moya and I are concerned."

"its fine, Pilot. Thank you both. I was just talking to myself… another Crichton-like habit, I suppose. If anyone is looking for me, could you please tell them that I will be meditating, and don't wish to be disturbed?"

"I will." Pilot hesitates. "Zhaan, you know that if there is anything you need, Moya and I are more than happy to help in any way we can."

She smiles. "I know that, Pilot. You are both very kind."

The communication terminated, she continues on to her quarters, unsettled. The memory had been of the last conversation she had had with her father before he had been taken by the Peacekeepers. Not a happy dialogue, by any means, and she has often regretted that the last words she had spoken to the man who had given her more than any one individual had been those formed in anger. The arrest of her father had been one of her primary motivations in ridding her planet of its corrupt government and the Peacekeepers it brought along with it after that day. She loved Bitaal – loved her father more.

XXX

Her meditation is undisturbed by images and by the time Stark enters her cell, practically vibrating with excitement, she has regained the calm that the day has dragged from her. She doesn't bother putting her robe on, defiantly uncaring of his presence, a small part of her hoping that her nudity will make him uncomfortable. It doesn't.

"I think I've figured it out!" She shifts, leaning her back against the bed and looking up at him.

"Figured what out?" she asks serenely.

His hands clasp and unclasp in front of him, his one eyed gaze flitting around her cell. "The visions. The flashes. They're all out of time… we're living the temporal continuum. When we touched it, influenced it… it is similar to how you and I are still connected."

She raises her hands to still the flow of words. "Be calm. I'm not entirely following you."

He sits across from her on the floor, drawing his legs up and huddling into a hunched position that seems automatic. "Have you ever heard of one of your people altering the flow of time?" he asks instead of continuing his frantic explanation.

She pauses to think. "Nothing has ever been documented, no, but it would be difficult to make note of such changes as it is unlikely that even the person who initiated the change would be affected by it. Our situation is… unique."

"Which is what makes the after effects so hard to predict. The visions we've been having may be linked to the connection we created with the temporal stream."

"You think we are witnessing flashes from our past?"

"Exactly. Any points on the continuum with which we have a deep connection."

She contemplates his theory. It has merit, she admits, and makes more sense than anything she has considered thus far. If what he says is true… she shutters at the thought of her early morning dream, the heavily weighing sense of guilt a harsh reminder. Finally, she speaks, keeping her voice even. "It's a logical explanation, and it also explains why nothing similar has been happening to the rest of the crew. But if we agree that this is the reason, it begs the question: will it stop?"

"I do not know, though I believe it to be highly likely that after a while our connections will weaken and we will no longer be forced to experience these flashes."

"You know more of these sorts of matters than I do," she acknowledges with a slight dip of her head. She wonders if he knows the cost those words demand of her. Likely not. She has become used to being a lone spiritual being amongst many that had no mental abilities and no desire to explore the realm offered by the Goddess. Yet here is this man, in some ways like a child, in others far older than she, who takes for granted the ability and knowledge that she has fought and struggled to gain for cycles. Someone who knows the landscape of a world that perhaps while by his reasoning not lit by the Goddess, is still deeply spiritual in nature. This awareness, combined with his continued presence on the ship brings up feelings inside of her that she refuses to name or acknowledge.

They remain silent for a moment that borders on the awkward, until he rises, flowing to his feet with a grace she finds unexpected and yet completely unsurprising. "I interrupted your prayer. I'm sorry."

It strikes her that the last time they had met she had not been pursuing the Seek at all. "I was merely meditating. And I was finished, anyway." It is strange, she reflects, that he had shown up at the precise time she had felt centred enough to deal with another person.

They glance at each other. Stark continues to the door, and she can tell that he feels equally as awkward as she does. "Sleep well," he offers, finally, and slips away quietly.

XXX

She passes Stark's cell on her way to her shift on Command, late in the sleep cycle. His voice floats out, sharp cries and whimpers impeding his babbled words. She hesitates, then steps closer to the bars, tentatively opening the door and brushing back the privacy curtain.

He lies on the floor, curled into a ball against the edge of the bunk. His body jerks spasmodically. His hands grasp at thin air, as if trying to cling to something.

She has spent enough time helping both Stark and John deal with their time at the hands of Scorpius to recognize the signs of an Aurora chair induced nightmare. She crosses to him quickly, resting a hand on his forehead, murmuring soothing words, trying to call him back to the world of the waking. He does not calm, does not wake. He continues as if she isn't there at all. She resorts to shaking him. Nothing. Chanting under her breath, confident that the Goddess will not allow him to suffer like this for long, she cradles him, hoping to wait out the dream.

"Stay away! Stay away!" His body goes ridgid, jerks once, and with a suddenness that unnerves her, his eye opens and fixes on her.

"Zhaan?"

She draws back a little, still uncertain if he is entirely out of the dream. "All is well, Stark. You were having a dream."

"Yes. I-- he--" his breath still comes quickly, his hands clenching into fists.

"Scorpius?" she asks.

"Yes. The first time he put me in the chair." He is gaining control over his emotions, sealing them away even as she watches. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you with it. Thank you for waking me."

She does not mention the fact that she had in no way contributed to his return to consciousness. Without doubt, it had been a very deep sleep. She leaves him at the frustrated call of Chiana, fifty microts over her necessary time in Command.

XXX

It is shortly before the midday meal the next day when it happens. She is sitting on the terrace because John and Aeryn are still fighting and she is not willing to deal with their childish antics. She has only experienced one more vision, a simple one from her childhood, and she feels certain that the temporal connection (if that is what it is) must be weakening. The issue of her feelings and the nature there of for Stark are not a subject on which she wishes to contemplate, and yet she knows that ignoring an issue does not make it go away. As her relationship with Bitaal has shown, she does feel a certain draw towards those who are spiritually superior to her. The primary reason, she is sure, for her gentle refusal of D'Argo's initial advances. Also one of the major factors that had warranted her long process of consideration before entering into unity with Tahleen -- the other woman had appeared to possess determination, but in reality Zhaan was far her superior in matters of the spirit.

She reminds herself that while he has the ability, Stark also lacks formal training in all but the very basics and his particularly special gift of the guidance of the dying. His mind is far more powerful than her own, but he also restrains many of his emotions under a mask of calm. While she knows that this is a common trait in all Baniks, and that for Stark, in particular, the overwhelming control is necessary, Zhaan is used to open displays of affection, the sharing of all of one's emotions be they positive or negative.

There is pain. A ripping sensation, as if her entire body is being pulled apart, atom by atom. She is strangely calm, at peace and yet the pain is enough to make that irrelevant. A warm feeling slowly infuses into her, coaxing her mind from her body, the warmth and gentleness pulling inexorably at her. She allows herself to slip from her body, relying on the blanket of love to catch her and enfold her.

"Zhaan!"

The pain fades as her ties with her physical body begin to break.

"Zhaan. Zhaan no. Do not let go. Zhaan, you can't do this. Focus on the physical, this reality--"

A strong presence washes over her with a suddenness that shocks her into awareness. A realization of what she is in the process of doing hits her and she panics, clawing mentally for her physical self, trying to drag herself back up into the physical reality. The presence helps her and she recognizes Stark, somewhere within her terrified consciousness. He calms her fright even as she feels the sensation of her body returning to her. She can feel his own panic through the thinly spread layer of calm, the rushing mania of fear, and behind it, thousands of other presences, raging to get out, to have their voices heard.

"Zhaan?"

It takes her a few microts to comprehend the sound, to interpret the meaning behind it. "I--" She is completely open, her calm shattered. She looks around her. Stark kneels beside her, just buckling his mask back in place.

"I think," he says quietly, voice carefully modulated, "That we can both agree that these are not just visions."

She doesn't bother sitting up, still uncertain if her physical body will obey her commands. "Yes. I..."

"Whenever I encounter one of them, I am completely immersed into it to the point where I believe it to be happening at that very microt. I have no concept of observation, only of participation."

"That is what happens to me, as well."

"Though I do not understand... You saw Crichton yesterday, just as I did, and at the same time."

She has already considered this, and has an answer ready. "Other than that, has any of what you've experienced been something which I shared?"

He thinks about it briefly. "No."

"I believe that if it is a moment in time for which we were both present, experiencing the same events, we share the ...hallucination."

He looks disturbed. "Just now, Zhaan. I don't remember much of the hallucination. It was as if all of my mental barriers were gone, all of the bits of souls inside of me were all speaking at once, but I know what I was doing. Someone was dying, and I was guiding their soul to the other side. And then, to come to and feel your own soul making the journey..."

She smiles reassuringly at him. "I am sure it was mere coincidence. We each die at some point, as the Goddess wills it. I believe that the temporal stream is not only dropping us into times in our past with which we have a close connection, but also our future."

"You believe in future placement, then?"

"You don't? It is a common belief in many cultures. The religious amongst Delvians simply believe that the Goddess has a path which she guides us down. Humans call it predestination, according to John. A fitting term, I think. I have never understood how someone could go through their entire life without being sure that what they are doing, the very act of living, is leading to some purpose."

He takes a time to answer, which she uses to push herself up into a seated position. Her entire body feels sluggish, the sap running slowly as it reacclimates to her life force. "My people do not believe in a master deity, nor that one's future is already chosen for them. For some, such as myself, the path is clear, but even in such a case there is the basic element of choice. As a people enslaved by another, we are not eager to hand over even more control of our lives to a divine being."

She smiles at him. "The Goddess accepts all into her realm after death, no matter their path in life. Part of my life has been spent in insanity, and I don't believe that I could have escaped from it without the enlightenment of the Goddess. When I was younger I did not have faith. I thought of the Goddess as an excuse which the Pa'u's used to pardon their control in our government and all of the bad choices which they made. I still believe that, but now I see that the Goddess does not make our choices for us, she merely guides us in the proper lifestyle to lead to our making the correct decisions on our own."

"But you are still young by Delvian standards. Do you intend for the rest of your life to be lived out in service to a being that may or may not exist?"

She is surprised at his comment on her age, and draws herself up, subconsciously defiant. "You noticed. Most of the others on Moya believe me to be a wise old priest. I think they see me as a mother figure, more than anything, and yet you recognize that truly I am no older than they are."

"I have helped Delvians to the other side," he explains. "And really, is that not how you wish them to see you?"

She inclines her head. "Yes. I believe that the Goddess has put me here to be a stabilizing force in their lives where there otherwise would be none. They want to see me as older than they are, thus that is the image I project. And if we are to be honest, I am far older in cycles than they are, and have far more experience than they could ever hope to gather in one lifetime. So I think that it is, in a way, my responsibility to look after them."

"That's a great responsibility."

She laughs. "More at some times than at others. They can be horrifyingly childish. It is often frustrating to have no one who can even begin to comprehend the universe the way I see it. They are stuck in their physical bodies and quite happy to stay there, while I see a whole higher level, both spiritual and mental, that they could never even grasp at."

"I think I understand, not completely, but at least partially." He offers a smile, which she returns, almost shyly, though it is impossible to truly be shy before a man who has seen her helpless and vulnerable as many times as she has seen him the same way.

"I think it would be a good idea for you and I to remain near each other until these… whatever we're calling them, stop. I have already noticed that they are slowing down."

"Should we tell the others?"

She rises, shaking her head, her own pride not wanting to let the others on board know of the weakness she is experiencing. "We already agreed not to tell them about the changes in the timeline. This would only make them curious, and lead to either a complex set of lies or the truth, neither of which are at all desirable."

"Are you sure you're feeling well?" he asks when she stumbles, catching herself against the wall.

There is a very small part of her that wants to give into her own weakness, to let someone else deal with holding everything together for just a little while. She quashes it viciously. "I'm fine. Thank you for …calling me back." She stares directly at him, needing to make the magnitude of his actions clear to both of them. "You saved my life." He looks as if he doesn't know what to say. She leaves before either of them can speak any more and frell it all up.

XXX

As it turns out, Stark's prediction about the temporal flashes is true, and within three more solar days neither of them are experiencing anything out of the ordinary. Zhaan is lying back on her bunk, eyes closed, trying to sleep; a task which should be easy and welcome after having so many times been interrupted in her sleep by disturbing dreams or echoes of Stark's own nightmares. It had been his idea to establish the slightest of mental links between them in order to make sure that something like what happened to Zhaan on the terrace did not happen again. It had amazed her, the ease with which his people touched minds with no physical contact at all. Now that the herowing experience is over, she reflects, there is no reason for them to remain connected, and yet neither has made any mention of breaking the bond. It is barely there, a quiet awareness in the back of her mind, and she has found herself growing surprisingly used to its presence. Stark's arrival and subsequent mental linkage with her is much as she imagines it would feel like to one of her crew mates to experience physical contact with another being after cycles of being denied such touch. Her unity, first with tahleen and then with Crichton had been more violation than anything, even if she had allowed both to occur, and she is quite enjoying the brush of a gentle, trained mind against her own.

She pushes back the sheet that covers her and pulls on a robe, leaving her cell with quick, frustrated strides. Her inability to sleep, to be calm, leaves her irritable and confused, and she hopes that sheer physical exhaustion may be the answer.

She has not been in love since Bitaal. She does not think that she is in love now, but she also knows without a doubt that she is teetering on the brink. She does not want to fall in love, which she thinks should hold more importance to her emotions than it apparently does. Her path is that of protector and guide, not of love struck young woman, and she reminds herself of this fact with every step she takes. She feels Stark slip slowly from sleeping to wakefulness.

"Frell!" She almost strikes out at the wall in aggravation but restrains herself. The Goddess does not condone violence and Zhaan feels, now more than ever, the need to follow the guidance of the deity. From the Goddess she has learned of kindness and control and to love all beings and to accept love when it is freely given. She stops, frozen in place.

"Frell," she says again, but for completely different reasons.

XXX

He is waiting for her when she arrives at his cell. She is giddy, smiling and blissfully content. The door is open, and she goes into his arms without any hesitation, their mental link obviously having given him at least some hint of her feelings.

"Sometimes," she tells him softly, "even a tenth level Pa'u takes time to understand what the Goddess is trying to tell her."

He returns her smile. "Crichton once told me that all good things are worth waiting for."

She pauses, then nods. "I think that is very wise. And very true."

"I was afraid that my feelings were unrequited," he admits. She cradles his face in her hands tenderly, touching their foreheads together.

"I will show you that they are not."

He pulls back slightly. "Zhaan, if we are to share ourselves completely, you—I mean, when I help people cross over, they each leave a piece of themselves inside of me. Many of those who I have guided across have not been good people. There is darkness inside of me, and it is always eager to make itself known."

She closes her eyes briefly, and then opens them to stare directly at him. "Sweet Stark, let me show you why I was imprisoned by the Peacekeepers. The darkness inside of you in not your own. I can not say the same of my own."

He takes her hands between his own, and they touch foreheads again. She replays for him the same sequence of events she showed Crichton, over a cycle before, of the death of Bitaal. She feels Stark's shock, his curiosity and yes, his condemnation of her actions, but when she tries to pull away he draws her back, opening his mind even more fully to her. Without speaking, she feels his gentle question, his need to understand why she had done what she did. Instead of trying to explain it in words, she opens herself more than she has willingly opened to anyone since Bitaal and offers her memories of the time to him. Watching everything play out again is painful, but he calmly brings forth each one, and as he observes and experiences some of her emotions at the time she can feel his disapproval turning to a tender understanding. Not precisely absolution – he does not believe that what she had done was right – but he understands that, really, by the end it had been practically inevitable and unavoidable. He tentatively brushes at the edges of her memories of her time in Peacekeeper captivity, as if asking permission.

"I am yours," she tells him. The words translate poorly, but the idea comes across through their bond of unity – not of possession, but of freedom and openness. She is, essentially, telling him that anything in her mind is open to him; that she has that much trust in him. He returns the sentiment delightedly.

As he explores her fierce battle from savage to priest, she feels his admiration for her growing. She feels a rush of pride, tempered by humility. "I am but one person. My personal achievements mean little in the greater scheme of things."

"You are amazing," he tells her. "I don't believe that just anyone could do what you have done."

She delves deeper into his own mind, beginning with his memories of Scorpius, as she knows those to be the most difficult. She wants to share his burden, to fully understand what he has gone through. He gives her the same freedom she gave him, opening all of his own memories to her exploration. She watches flashes of his time with Scorpius until she feels he is on the verge of breaking down, and then moves on to happier memories, those of his family before they had been separated. She sees images of a loving father, a gentle, if distant mother, friends who were first intrigued, then in awe of his gifts as Stykera. She explores his time away from Moya, finding himself again, learning what it means to be free, to make one's own choices.

This unity is far more complete than that which they have shared before in times of high stress. They take the time to truly know each other until they have both satisfied their primary curiosity. There is still much that they do not know of each other, but there is a great deal more that they do know of each other than previous.

They have both fallen to the floor, kneeling face-to-face when they finally sepparate. She feels exhaustion creeping in on her, finally, and allows him to coax her onto the bunk and under the sheet. When he begins to move away, she catches his hand.

"Where are you going, my love?"

He looks down, awkward. "I wasn't sure…"

She laughs, not at him but at the sheer delight of his tenderness, and tugs him back, encouraging him to settle in beside her. "We have shared far more of ourselves than the physical could ever compare to," she reminds him.

His skin is scarred, which does not come as a surprise, but she is surprised by the softness of it. His breath comes out in a sharp gasp as her kisses trail down his throat and across his shoulder. He brushes his fingertips across the patterns of the stomata on her skin and she falls back, shuttering in pleasure. He seems to know, without being told, that she is not necessarily sensitive in the same places that a woman of animal descent would be, and she marvels at how easily he can leave her a gasping wreck, pulling him closer even as she tries to get her own back, touching him wherever she can get her hands. Their minds again join, not as deeply, as they come together physically, and she feels, for the first time in many cycles, completely and unequivocally happy.

Afterward she curls against him, tucking her head in to his shoulder, entwining their fingers. He strokes her forehead, and she brushes a reassuring mental kiss across his mind, smoothing away any self-doubts he begins to harbour.

"Sleep, my love," he murmurs. And finally, she does.

XXX

End