"Tell me again," I said, trying to snap a PADD out of Spock's hand, "who is this guy they're questioning tomorrow?"
"Need I remind you this is confidential information?"
A gave him a simpering look over my coffee. We were at our favorite little bookstore tea shop next to the lake beach close to the villages, Spock was still giving a fraction of his attention to cleaning up a spill on the table that had been my fault, and I was being snoopy. With a small sigh, he relented.
"We have found a man who specializes in theft of genetic material, which would usually be done for the purpose of more common unethical behavior: employers using illegitimate means of screening potential employees and such. But the possibility that he may have assisted the harvester involved with Operation Amnesia is worth looking into." He made an expression of distaste, picking up another napkin to wipe at his hands. "I'm assuming you know about the surveillance recording that was produced?"
"Somebody thought they recognized Ken as a frequent customer and neither Sulu nor Ken remembers ever going there?"
"If this is accurate recognition and does not cover the brief time frame after the five escaped from captivity, the possibility is somewhat fascinating," he added, "that they would have been permitted to leave the facility..."
"It would be easy enough to keep them under control," I pondered with a shrug. "Keep a rule that one of them always has to stay behind, as leverage for 'good behavior'? It would explain a lot about them apparently being allowed to socialize with each other so much, depending on what the hell kind of 'facility' we're looking at..."
"Your imagination continues to impress and disturb me," Spock said with a raising eyebrow. I smirked.
We got on to talking about something more mundane—the regular controversy of the grocery shopping, most likely—when she appeared around the corner of one of the bookshelves in a way that made me want to pretend I hadn't noticed until it was clear she was walking right up to our table.
Spock was interrupted mid-sentence as she stopped in front of us, looking a bit like she didn't know which of us she wanted to look at less.
My eyes still narrowed nervously, I said, "Uhura?"
She gave me a stiff little smile and said, "Guess again."
We took a walk around the block outside, our hands shoved into our pockets and avoiding too much eye contact with one another. I wanted to make some conversationally amazed comment about running into her like this, but I felt like I remembered this was a frequent spot for her and the rest. It was odd to see that she was here alone, but I would have expected it less of any of the others. Besides, I had no idea how a comment like that would be received.
I settled for asking, even if it wasn't my damn business, "How's everyone doing?" Toni was wearing a new coat that made me think of blueberries. She always did wear things in colors you wanted to smell or take a bite out of; I don't know if I would have pictured her looking more like she was going to a funeral, but it was strangely consoling that she looked so recognizable.
"We're holding up," she said easily enough. "We had to move to a new house, but it's a real beauty. Danek graduated early and he's got this serious researching job already. We're thanking fuck for the money, with the baby on the way."
I looked over at her, startled. "Wow. I mean...congra—?"
"Shit." She wasn't sure if she'd wanted to mention it. "It's not me, it's Gaila. She's having a boy. You can say congratulations, yeah, we're all over the moon about it."
I didn't know what to say. It made me, I decided, extremely happy, but I didn't know if I should say so.
She let out an agitated noise and was no longer looking at me. "Fuck, this is so strange. I don't know if I want to catch up with you like we've had old times together or smack you till you bleed. This whole thing still does my head in."
She took out her cigarette (I'd more or less given it up a while back, but I wished I had a smoke right then) and all I could do was grimace weakly. "I understand."
After a few drags she admitted, "I've been following you two since the pier. You know..." With that she indicated with her head over the long veranda that lined up the shops, down along the coastline.
It gave me a tingling start, thinking about what that meant. My eyes and mind were tracing along the whole edge of the beach where Spock and I had walked for a good half hour. Somewhere along I'd picked up a flat rock and tried to skip it along the water, provoking a light-hearted physics lecture from Spock so that I had to shut him up by bumping my shoulder into him and then, after the tiny smile on his face, clutch my arm through his. We'd walked like that the rest of the way.
"My first thought when I saw the two of you was that maybe, after the whole mess was over, you sought him out for some reason and..." Toni was squinting over the horizon. "I thought that there was something kind of sick about that. But then, I kept watching you...Have you known him a long time?"
I nodded. "A few years."
An overwhelmed little noise went through her. "Of all the mindfuckery, fuck...I guess that made the job easier, huh?"
"No," I said, sure. "Harder. Much harder."
She looked at me askance as if she wasn't sure whether she was curious.
"It made it hard to know what to expect," I explained. "And anyway, Spock and I weren't...we weren't together through all that. We weren't even speaking."
Her response was bitter and fast. "So you got some nice soul-searching done on the way? How lovely for you."
"That isn't what I meant."
"Doesn't make it not true."
"It's complicated, but...maybe you're right, even if it's not in the way you think?...I'm sorry." I shrugged. "There's nothing I can say. I was just doing my job."
Something made her cringe, almost like she pitied me. "The thing that makes me keep thinking about it, though, is that I don't think I believe it was that simple for you. Am I stupid for thinking that? But Danek, even though he doesn't say it, he seems to think so. He's not exactly defensive of you, but he gets weird and he doesn't really let us talk about it around him. Sometimes the cops were all really cold to us, and I kept thinking for some reason that you were different, but I didn't have much of a reason to think that...You never told Danek that you knew Spock," she suddenly remarked.
I shook my head, taking a few seconds to think of what to say. "What would it have meant to him if I did?"
"I don't know," she said, incredulous at the idea and almost laughing a bit. "But that's kind of my point. One time Danek said to me that if he really thinks about it, it was the questions you didn't ask him that made him think he might be able to at least trust you, to think of us as our own people, I mean. Not that anyone could blame you for thinking some things, but at least you didn't ask. I've been talking to Uhura, you know, just like writing a couple letters and...she told me she didn't know you very well, but also that the two of you were friends, which I didn't really get, but..."
I couldn't help laughing. "She said that?"
"She told me you left undercover a long time ago, and that you're a good detective and that you have a big heart. So..." In a different life, she might have elbowed me along with the smart little smirk, we might have had this exact type of conversation with slightly more warmth. "How big is it?"
I smiled, but there was a seriousness that came back in the air before I said anything. "I worry about all of you."
"We'd rather you didn't," she said, less harshly than she could have. "Things were rough...with the police and the surveillance and the goddamn shrinks, it was awful for a while, but you know, of course it was. But sometimes, it's not even like I've fallen back into believing the things I know now are wrong, but...I forget. Maybe I'm not normal, but I forget that I'm not. Not when I'm with the others."
We'd stopped walking now that we'd come back around, and naturally pivoted to face each other, but my eyes were somewhere at her lapels and my shoulders were stiffened against the slight cold.
Out of nothing, Toni offered in a grainy voice, "Danek says that it almost seems like we had to lose him. Because if we'd been discovered any other way, if people hadn't seen us at our worst like that, we might have been treated a lot differently. And maybe even so we could understand for ourselves that we're...well, you know."
"It's hard for me to think of it that way. Of course Danek doesn't want to believe that it needed to happen and he's the one who said it. But maybe Will would have at least thought it needed to be said." She shrugged a bit sadly, and looked around. "Well, I need to get back."
I realized, when she glanced right into my eyes, it was the most directly she'd looked at me the whole time, like she'd been afraid to. There was something sharply wounded that flashed through her face; she bit her lip and then it was gone.
I am aware that in some fairness, the residents do have a couple things to thank me for, but I'm beyond glad that when it seemed like she might have been about to, she didn't. I'm not into thinking contractually, but the best I can do with myself over the whole thing is believe that in the end, we were even, and there was nothing to be said. She reached out her mittened hand and said, "Good luck, Detective."
I took it with a good little clutch, saying, "Same to you."
For a few moments I almost stood there and continued to watch her figure ebbing away down the veranda, boots crunching through the occasional snow on the wooden deck and standing taller than she seemed to stand before; I almost stayed to watch until the final moment when she disappeared around the corner.
But it was getting cold, so I straightened myself up and turned to start walking in the opposite direction, to where I knew Spock would be waiting for me back at the car.