All Grown Up
set in Geneva, Earth 2275
Standard disclaimer applies: not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
Susan Ivanova, newly minted General in EarthForce, walked slowly along the lake trail. She'd been back in Geneva a week, and was already missing space. Promotion wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and once again she found that the achievement of a long-sought goal was less satisfying than the pursuit had been.
It was a balmy spring day, and the light wind kicked up tiny white caps far out in the lake. As much as she missed her command, it wasn't bad to be here, on Earth, in the spring. The air smelled like new life, moist and cool and green. There was a hint of sweetness, some kind of flower or tree coming into bloom. It had been so long she no longer recognized the scent. Earth was a place that she liked to think of as home, but the prospect of actually living here...that was different.
Turning her steps toward the hotel where she was staying until her new quarters were assigned, she picked up the pace. The new job began on Monday; it was Saturday night, and she had a stack of files to read through. Stopping in the shopping area below the hotel, she picked up a bottle of red wine and a box of high quality Swiss chocolates. Maybe this assignment wasn't going to be all bad, she mused as she crossed the lobby on the way to the lifts. Glancing over at the four star restaurant that made the hotel a major destination in Geneva, she thought she'd pass and go for room service.
The voice came from the small bar outside the restaurant. Piano music tinkled in a jazzy refrain. Scanning the patrons, she didn't see anyone familiar. There was no one in uniform, and it wasn't likely there'd be anyone here she knew other than a fellow officer. A slim well-muscled man arose from a barstool and started towards her. He had a sculpted face, accented with coarse bristles from a half-grown beard or a forgotten shave. Blue eyes were fixed on her, but their intensity was mitigated by attractive laugh wrinkles. He had a nice smile.
"I'm sorry," she began, then looked carefully at the smiling face, mentally subtracted about a decade, and said doubtfully, "Corwin? Lieutenant Corwin?"
"You can leave off the Lieutenant," said the man, smiling broadly. "I left EarthForce a long time ago."
He extended a hand, and Susan took it in a firm grip, after shifting her parcels to one arm. "It's good to see you, Corwin. What brings you to Earth? Do you live here now?"
"It's David," replied Corwin. "I'm here on business, meeting some buyers. My home, such as it is, is on Mars. Lucky for me. Missed the quarantine."
"Me too. I was out on assignment, deep space patrol. EarthForce worked out of the HQ on Io. I'm just back myself. When did you leave EarthForce anyway? Last I heard you were still on Babylon Five." Susan found herself enjoying the company. It made the place feel a lot more like home.
David looked at her speculatively. "What do you say we catch up over dinner?"
"Oh, I couldn't," Susan began, then wondered why not. "On the other hand," she added, "I guess I have to eat."
"Are you staying here?" asked David. "You could take your things upstairs and meet me back down here at the bar. I've got a reservation at the hotel restaurant, easy enough to change it to two."
"All right," said Susan, surprising herself by flushing bright red. A friendly dinner, she reminded herself; that's all this was going to be. It had been too long since she'd sat down for an evening with an old friend.
The conversation was light and casual, the wine superb, and the food delicious. Susan found herself glad she'd taken a moment upstairs to change out of her uniform and throw on the one civilian dress she had with her. The short black silk still clung to her in all the right places, and made her feel more like a person than an officer. David's attentions almost convinced her that it was true.
After dinner, they were still talking, and laughing, and remembering. Finally, Susan took another sip of the dry red wine and asked, "You still have not told me why you left EarthForce. Weren't you happy under Colonel Lochley?"
"She was a decent CO," replied David. "A bit by-the-book, but fair." He swirled the wine in his glass and sighed. "I wasn't going anywhere in EarthForce, Susan. After the war, well, some of the higher-ups in EarthForce didn't forget who was on what side." At the storm rising in her eyes, he added hastily, "Captain Lochley wasn't one of them. She recommended me for promotion several times." Shrugging, he drained his glass. "It just never happened." Replacing his glass on the table, he leaned forward. "Once I resigned my commission, I drifted around for a while and ended up on Mars. I got a job working for a small import/export company there. They were doing some free-lance business with Edgars Industries, and I mentioned I used to know Mr. Garibaldi...well, I ended up landing the company's first contract with Edgars. Now I travel, mostly the outer systems and Alliance worlds. It's a good life, endlessly interesting, always someplace new to go. Quite a change from being stuck on the station."
"I don't know," said Susan wryly. "It wasn't what you would call a boring assignment."
"No, you couldn't say that," laughed David. "Hey, do you remember the night you sounded me out on my feelings about Clark and Earth and all that?"
"Sort of," replied Susan. "You'd just made lieutenant, hadn't you? We were so cautious about letting people in on what we were doing. Sheridan asked me to find out where you stood." She shook her head. "Espionage was never my thing."
"Maybe not," said David. "But you could certainly keep a secret. I had no idea what was going on until the Captain announced we were breaking away." He traced a pattern on the patterned tablecloth with his forefinger. "Do you remember the roses I found outside your quarters?"
Susan winced, then shook her head and laughed softly with only a trace of bitterness. "I was so certain they were from Marcus! I threw them back in his face, and he liked it-he thought they were a gift from me. Later he swore up and down he'd never sent them. I never did figure out..." Suddenly her eyes snapped up to meet David's. "You don't mean...they were from you?"
David nodded, "Would you believe, that night, I thought you were asking me on a date? It's no wonder I never figured out what you were talking about. I went from euphoria to total confusion in a heartbeat."
Susan was nonplussed by this admission. "But you were in my chain of command. I would have never considered..." Then his words hit her heart. "Euphoria?"
"You were the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen," said David simply. "Still are, in fact." He touched her hand gently with one finger, drawing it down the length of her hand until just the tips of their fingers touched.
"David," began Susan hesitantly. She hoped the fashionably dim lighting concealed her face, with its mix of hope and fear, not to mention the red warming her cheeks. "I don't suppose you'd care to stop by my quarters..I mean my room. For a nightcap?"
"I'd like nothing more," replied David. Signaling discreetly but quickly for the check, he signed for dinner, then said, "There is one thing I'd like to do first. May I meet you there? It won't take more than a few minutes."
"All right," said Susan, rising from her seat. "It's room 1542."
Susan stood by the open doors leading out to the balcony, a light shawl over her shoulders. The dress was lovely, but it was cold in the room. At least she thought it was the chill in the night air that made her shiver. The moon was lighting a ribbon across the lake, but the stars seemed so small and muted by the thick atmosphere of her once-again home world.
The few minutes had stretched to ten, then twenty, and Susan was beginning to think that David had reconsidered. He was probably heading for wherever he was staying, and would call to discreetly back out from there. The glass of wine in her hand felt suddenly heavy, and she turned her back on the lake, and the moon, to cross the room and set it down by its empty mate.
The door chime sounded like a peal in the silence, and Susan almost dropped the glass at the sudden sound. "Come," she announced, then awaited her visitor. The door slid open, and when no one entered, she went over to see what was going on. As she approached, a hand appeared from the right side of the open door. It was holding a single long-stemmed red rose. The hand was soon followed by David Corwin.
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an open florist this time of night?" he said as he proffered his offering. "I wanted a dozen, but this was the best that they could do."
Susan took the flower and held it to up to her face. "It's real," she marveled. "I can't remember the last time I held an actual rose." Burying her face in the full-blown head of petals, she reveled in the scent. "The synthetics are marvelous, but they don't feel quite the same." She gently rubbed the velvet petals against her cheek. "Thank you."
"Susan," David's voice was hoarse and caught in his throat. "Am I getting the wrong signals again? Cause I'm hoping I'm not." He took the rose from her hand and laid it on the table between the two wine glasses. Taking her face between his hands, he gently kissed her lips, then pulled back to look into her eyes. "We can talk some more, have a drink, and I can be on my way, if that's what you want." He kissed her again. "Is that what you want?"
Susan shook her head, then placed her hands flat against his chest, enjoying the soft cotton weave outlining solid muscles underneath. Running her hands around his back and up to his shoulders, she pulled him close. Their lips were so close she could feel his breath, as warm as the breeze across the lake that afternoon. As his mouth closed on hers, the short, sharp hairs on his face scratched her like thorns. She felt life surging back, like spring running through the veins of the earth, like a flower unfolding.
The next morning David left early. His mobilcom had chimed, and the message had been that his meeting had been shifted to earlier in the day. As he dressed, he stopped to kiss her between every piece of clothing added, while she lingered in bed, wishing they had longer. He had already told her he'd be leaving Geneva that day, with places to go and deals to cut. His schedule had been set long ago, and too many people and flights and connections were involved to shift things around easily. Susan understood, or pretended she did.
After he'd gone, Susan tried to go back to sleep, but it wasn't going to happen. So she got up, dressed, and dutifully dug into the work she'd put off last night. The rest of the day went by quickly; the night not so quickly, but it went.
Monday morning she finally got to see her new office. It was in EarthDome itself, a large space with a window looking towards the mountains. Her things had been delivered from her ship, and it took her the better part of the day to unpack, interrupted as she was constantly by requests for meetings later in the week, demands by her superiors for reports and replies, technicians arriving to set up various pieces of equipment, and welcomes from what seemed like every single member of the HQ staff. By about four o'clock she was already tired of her new job, but she's managed to shoo everyone out, and stood for a moment in the quiet, looking around at her new command- a too large, too heavy, and too immobile desk. It was a far cry from a ship cruising the stars.
A knock sounded at the door, and she resisted the impulse to scream "Go away!", and instead opened it. A messenger stood in front of her, holding what looked like dozens of red roses.
"General Ivanova?" asked the delivery person, a slight blond girl in her twenties. "Can you sign here? Thanks."
Susan took the multiple bouquets in her arms and looked around the room in despair. EarthForce offices apparently didn't come with vases as standard equipment. Laying the long-stemmed beauties on the top of her neat and clear desk, she searched among the thorns for a card. Locating the folded piece of stiff white paper, she went over to the light overhanging the desk and examined it closely.
It was from David. Her hand trembled for a moment, and the words blurred. The note read:
"I had a wonderful time last night. Here's my contact info. Call, but only if it's what you want. I hope with all my heart you won't throw away the roses, or the chance, this time."
Susan closed her hand on the card, and picked up a rose and buried her face in it. It smelled like home, and hope; and like the spring, it was sign of a new beginning.