Sorry guys, I've had this sitting on my computer for a while now... and I just kinda forgot. Anyway, ta da!! Final chapter. Yes, the fact that I copied one of my drabbles into was done on purpose!
Hope you've enjoyed it.
Chapter Six: Still
Vinyáya sat in the cafeteria, watching Lili Frond flirt with the janitor. To her right Captains Short and Kelp sat at a table, heads together as they discussed a recon operation. Vinyáya smiled to herself, allowing herself a moment of self-congratulation over the choice of Holly Short, despite her occasional hiccups.
Her smile vanished as Julius entered the cafeteria, heading single-mindedly for the coffee dispenser. It was odd to see him out of his office these days. After all, he had enough staff on hand to keep him well stocked with food and drink without his having to lift a finger.
She fiddled with her spoon, no warm feelings of self-satisfaction arising from this particular sight. Vinyáya sighed. If she were perfectly honest, what she felt was a gummy mix of guilt, shame, and stupidity. And, above all else, though she cringed to admit it, there was longing. Even with the apoplectic complexion. She groaned, dropping her head into her arms.
Waiting until he had left, she drained her coffee and headed for the bathroom. Watching her reflection in the wall-length mirror, she slapped herself across the face.
'Would you pull yourself together?' she asked aloud.
Blossom put her feet up on the window ledge, balancing her wine glass on her stomach. 'Frond, I wish they'd just get it over with. We all know who's going to win. The way Julius fights for that little girlie officer of his, I swear he'd recycle himself before he let them touch her. Never mind Vinyáya, backing him as always, hoping to catch his eye. Why won't the rest of them just give up already? They can't touch Short as long as Julius's threatening to chuck in his badge too.'
She takes a meditative sip of her turmeric wine, 'Maybe he's sleeping with her. Short, I mean. Otherwise why would he bother? All she's ever done is waste our tax-money.'
'No,' Olive shook her head, earrings jingling. 'I don't think he is. A) I'm pretty sure I heard Short was a lesbian. B) Julius stopped messing around centuries ago. Around the time of Vinyáya and him had their night of debauchery. I don't think he's touched another woman since.'
Blossom snorted with laughter. 'Maybe she put him off us.'
'Entirely possible,' Olive mused.
In the ensuing silence their eyes widened, meeting over the rims of their wine glasses.
'Wait...' Blossom whispered, 'you don't think that-'
'No. No. We would have found out about it. Someone would have seen them,' Olive shook her head vigorously, as though her personal denial would make the situation an impossibility. 'Besides, who would want to sleep with someone as scary as Vinyáya?
'Still...' Blossom let the word hang.
Vinyáya stumbled mutely into the cafeteria, desperate for something warm. Her voice was hoarse from shouting down paunchy elves in expensive suits and she swore she'd punch the next person who spoke to her before she got her coffee. Luckily, the cafeteria was empty and, cradling her mug, she sat down in blessed silence.
Her ears were buzzing and through her head ran disjointed snippets of the night's debate, making the silence around her hard to appreciate. Slowly, however, the arguments fell away until all she heard was Root's voice calmly telling the council where to stick it as he began to pull off his acorns. She chuckled quietly to herself, he acted like a red-faced buffoon, but he knew how to play the game. Oh, the look on their faces...
She smiled a little girl's smile, though she didn't know it, and a suspicious warmth grew in her stomach at the thought of his furious face. It really must be love, she thought, snickering, with a face like that involved.
Her smile died abruptly. Where, she asked herself, do these thoughts come from? It has been 670 years. Give it a rest already.
670 years and he still fights tooth and nail to keep your precious captain safe, came yet another whisper in her ear.
Treachery, fumed Vinyáya, glaring into her coffee.
'Something the matter, Wing Commander?' Too busy thinking about him, she hadn't noticed him enter. Standing beside her, Root sipped his coffee slowly, eyeing her from above. He could have taken his coffee and gone, without her ever noticing, but he too had been betrayed and so was unable to keep away, though it would only cause him pain.
She looked up at him, mutely shaking her head.
'Not at all,' she licked her lips. 'Strange to see you still here, though, Commander. Is it too late to get your secretary to bring you a drink?' She cringed inwardly. Even when she meant to be perfectly amiable, she still somehow came off sounding snippy.
'Not at all,' he echoed her, shrugging, 'I just needed a walk after all that sitting. And I've got another couple hours to put in behind the desk too, so.'
She nodded, remembering a time when he would rather have suffered death by banshee than a desk job. How the times have changed. To be fair, she knew he took the job because they needed him, not because he wanted it. She'd never seen anyone so unhappy to be promoted before.
'Lucky you,' she smiled in commiseration, trying to make up for her earlier snarkiness.
'Comes with the territory,' he shrugged. He saluted her with his mug, 'Until next time, Wing Commander.' He felt the need to leave before these few friendly words became an actual civil conversation and all hell broke loose.
Watching as he headed for the hall she wondered to herself, why doesn't it get easier, after all these centuries, to watch him walk away? Shouldn't it get easier? It's supposed to get easier.
'Wait,' she called, before she realised what she was doing.
He turned, surprised, in the doorway. 'Yes?'
'Why...' Vinyáya groped about blindly, saying the first thing that came to mind, 'why do you fight so hard for her? You said one chance was all she got.'
Root blinked, taken completely by surprise. 'Because she's good,' he replied at length.
Vinyáya smirked, 'I told you so.'
'And because she reminds me of the daughter we never got to have.' Exhausted, frustrated and heartbroken, her smirk pushed him over the edge and he said more than he meant to. He spoke truth that he knew would hurt.
A little ashamed that he had let himself go, but a little proud that he had had the courage to say it, he turned the corner without another word.
Shocked that he dared to speak aloud what she'd always thought, she watched him walk away in silence. Her lower lip trembled ever so slightly but she didn't notice.
The minutes ticked by and still she sat there, staring at the empty doorway as though he were still there, simply a little hard to make out. No longer shocked, her expression had softened until it was nearly fond. It was an unconscious habit she'd developed over the years, watching spaces he had recently vacated. She empathised with them. However many years it had been since he last touched her, the space in her once occupied by him still felt raw, as though it too had only recently been vacated.
Vinyáya shook her head, coming back to herself. Finishing her coffee, she pushed away from the table and followed him out.
This has gone on too long. I am not a coward, she told herself as her steps faltered outside his door, so it's time I stop acting like one. Things are getting ridiculous.
Enough is enough.
There is no underling running him to warn him this time and she enters without knocking.
Root looks up, eyebrows raised above an enormous cigar.
'Those things are going to kill you,' Vinyáya tells him, closing the door behind her.
'So you've said. 'Fraid that's none of your concern, however. Can I help you with something, Wing Commander?' he keeps things formal. Someone has to maintain their distance here, after all.
'Yes, actually,' she moves forward, placing her hands on his desk and leaning towards him. He makes his cigar puffing unnecessarily audible, but manages to restrain himself from actually blowing smoke in her face.
She bites her tongue, refusing to be provoked. It's a game they have been playing for too long and she has come here to put an end to it.
'If I said that I was wrong, would you take me back?'
Root swallows. Looks at her for 67 seconds exactly. One for each of the decades that have passed since the last time they touched. Somehow, the seconds seem longer.
He puts the cigar out, in an ashtray no less.
'You'd better go lock that door,' he says at last. She smiles her little girl's smile, and he knows the loss of his cigars will be worth it.