He's not consciously avoiding her, not really - it's not possible to avoid anyone for very long, on Destiny - and thus when Varro finds himself waiting in line for the showers behind Vanessa James, the corridor empty but for the two of them, he accepts the awkwardness of it with half-amused sort of resignation. It was inevitable.
He gives her a tight smile; she returns it in kind, then turns back to staring in the general direction of the shower door. She leans one shoulder against the wall. She has strong, square shoulders. Though he's staring at the back of her at present, he's surreptitiously admired the front of her before; she's built such that a blind man would take notice. Her hips are a little narrow for his taste. He knows her to be plain-spoken and smart, good at walking that line between brave and practical that makes for a trustworthy soldier. She's a good friend to Tamara. The line of her neck is pleasant, beneath the hair piled on top of her head.
But only pleasant; she is a stranger. Were he still among strangers, without attachments, he'd probably go to bed with her if she offered; he can see that. She's not Tamara, though, and if she didn't come to him, he doesn't think he'd seek her out.
In another life, this woman bore his children. Not just that, which he has to admit is a possibility in any casual encounter, despite how scrupulously careful he is. They grew old together.
He can't even imagine it. It's not an awful prospect; she is not an awful woman. It's just incredibly strange, to know that another version of himself made a choice this version of himself can't understand.
Of course, that version of Tamara didn't choose him.
He tries to see it the way she's said she does, and not let it make him uneasy; their lives took a different path. There is no reason why that path should dictate this one.
Despite what Tamara's told him of the illness she carries, he won't - can't - believe that either. If they don't know what causes or cures the disease, how can they be so certain there wasn't something that set it off in the water she drank, the atmosphere, the sort of work she did? Maybe aboard Destiny, it will play out differently.
Or he will lose her, but he will lose her having had her. Life is loss. He will accept it if it comes to it - but not yet. He can't yet. She's so alive, so present, as strong and vital as anyone he's ever met.
"So," says Lieutenant James, her back still to him, "Guess you heard about what the Tenaeran archive showed. About the lives we - everyone - lived."
"I did," he agrees, folding his arms behind his back and leaning his shoulders against the wall, staring across the corridor.
There's a long silence. Whatever mechanism it is that works the showers hums behind his back.
"Weird, huh?" James says, then hurries to add. "I mean, not that it would be terrible - I didn't mean -"
He looks at her at the same time she looks at him, and her apologies stutter to a stop.
Their eyes hold.
Her lips quirk sideways in a giggle she's trying to stifle, and he just lets himself smile, lopsidedly, and shrug.
And then they're both doubled over laughing.
"Oh man," James is saying, wiping at her eyes. "Oh, man."
Her hair's come a little loose.
For a second, a fragment of a second, he can see it - what's special and amazing and unique about this woman, and how he could want it. Match it. How it could work.
She's not laughing anymore, though there's still the suggestion of it around her eyes. They both straighten. It's less awkward now - and moreso. Then her chin comes up and her lips form a decided line, and she holds out a hand.
"Friends?" she offers.
"Friends," he agrees, and shakes her hand. She's got a good grip.