CHAPTER 7

"Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it" - Bill Cosby – Earth (Human)

IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY

JANUARY 2268

As they walked back to the East Living Pod, Wilkes decided that moving wasn't going to kill him after all. "What time is it anyway?" he asked.

"Typical for you, you've managed to miss the entire work day – it's just time for the evening meal."

"I've always had good timing." Wilkes smiled.

"I think you're just lucky." Corin snorted.

"It works out the same." he laughed just in time for the door to cycle open. Corin led the way over to their favorite spot for chow. He could see the rest of the group there, and of course the first person he looked for was Sooth. Sitting down in between her and Nollos, he greeted them all "Hey everyone, sorry I'm late!"

Nollos laughed, "Only by a couple of days."

Eletha handed him a glass of the dark green Dosadi whiskey, "Here, I'm guessing you need this."

Taking the glass he said, "Thank you!" and turning to Sooth he said, "Are you OK?"

Glaring back at him she said, "Why wouldn't I be? I'm not the one who plugged himself into a phaser-capacitor." But her eyes lingered on his face.

Nollos said, "Well I'm glad he did. They said the whole thing would've exploded in the bay and killed Corin, M'Ralin, and Tovath if he hadn't."

Sooth glanced at her, and then back at Wilkes. She reached her hand up and touched his face around his left eye. "I guess it looks good on you."

Confused, Wilkes asked, "What does? Am I still burned?"

Nollos giggled and Eletha said, "Corin! Didn't you tell him?"

"It didn't really come up." he shrugged.

"What?" he put his hand up and tried to feel what was different about his face. Even Sooth stifled a giggle. "Um, little help? Anyone got a mirror?"

T'Laren pulled out a small inspection mirror and handed it over with a smile.

Wilkes held the mirror up and noted a simple, single strand tattoo around the outside of his left eye. "What the hell?"

Corin said, "Well, Force Leader F'Aath thought you'd earned it. The rest of us agreed. That was a hell of a thing, Wilkes."

Trying not to smile too widely he said simply, "Thank you."

Nollos reached over and squeezed his arm with a big smile. "You should get some chow."

"Actually, what I want is to steal Sooth away for a few minutes, if that's OK?" She snapped her head around to glare at him.

"Why?" she asked.

"I want to talk with you. In private. Please?"

"Fine. I'm done eating anyway." She stood up

They walked a short way away from the rest of their friends until they found a quiet place in the midst of some hanging ivy-like vines and he asked, "Sooth, are you mad at me for something?"

"No. Why should I be?"

"I'm not sure. You just seem really angry and distant and I'm not sure why."

She looked away and down. He waited a few moments to see if she'd answer him. "Sooth, did I hurt you somehow?" Still no answer. He reached over and gently touched her arm. "If I did, I'm sorry, and I sure didn't mean to."

Finally she answered, "No, it's not you, I just...I let myself...It's me, all right?"

They stood there like that for a little while, neither of them saying anything, until Wilkes said, "Sooth, I think you're one of the most amazing people I've ever met." he began to slowly stroke her arm as he talked, "I would never deliberately hurt you, or make you upset, or afraid."

She flicked her eyes back at him. "That's it, isn't it?" he asked.

She looked away again. "You're making me afraid right now."

She turned back towards him again, "What? How am I doing that?"

"I'm afraid you'll shut me out. That you won't want to be my friend any more." Her eyes got wide and he said more softly, "I don't want you to leave my life, Sooth."

She opened her mouth, but nothing really came out. She tried to turn away but he gripped her arm and held her fast. She turned her head as far around as she could and he stepped closer to her. She started to pull back but Wilkes wrapped his arms around her and hugged her gently. She started shaking, and he realized that she was crying. He wasn't even aware that Dosadi could cry. She was very quiet about it, but she was gulping air in big racking sobs while he held her.

As she cried herself out, she clumsily returned the hug, burying her face in his neck, the fur wet with tears and he brushed his hand along the back of her head and neck. He caught a quick glimpse of Eletha's concerned face peeking in at them. Looking surprised, she left again without making a sound.

"Can you tell me a little about it?"

She sniffled but made no answer. He waited. Finally she said, "I'm sorry. I...I've never really had any luck with people."

"How come?"

"Everyone I ever tried to get close to died, or left, or got rid of me. I thought you were going to die too."

"I'm fine. Corin was there for me. What about your parents?"

"They died when I was 2. I don't want to talk about them now, Wilkes. OK? Maybe later."

"Okay, Sooth. I don't want to push. Didn't you get adopted or something? Don't the Dosadi treat kids as like everyone's responsibility?"

"Normally. But I wasn't on Dosad. I was on a Federation research vessel. For a few years anyway. Then they gave me to a Dosadi destroyer they ran into. I lived with them for a year. Then they dumped me in T'Elesh on Dosad. No one knew me, or my parents and I didn't fit in anywhere. I didn't know how. People got tired of me fast, so I moved around a lot before they'd get sick of me.

It's easier if you don't let anyone get close, so you don't care about them. It only hurts if you care, right?"

He squeezed her tight, "Jesus, Sooth. No wonder you're so gun-shy."

She sniffed again, "I'm kind of a mess. I fit in really well with my team though, because I lived with the Marines on the Raleen before they kicked me out. No one else really seems to get along with me."

"Sooth, I'm sure they didn't kick you out – they were sending you someplace where you had a chance at a family. The crew of a destroyer is going to be too small, I'm sure they wanted to give you more options. And I know a lot of people here like you. Eletha? Corin? Nollos? Your team?"

"Eletha's different. She's been really nice to me. I'm not sure about the rest. I think they put up with me anyway."

Wilkes chuckled. "You really don't see it, do you?"

Surprised she said, "See what? What's funny?"

He smiled at her and ran his finger along the soft fur of her ear. "Sooth, everyone likes you and cares about you way more than you know." She snorted and he continued, "A while back your entire combat team looked me up in the shower to let me know that they wouldn't put up with me hurting you. Eletha thinks you're awesome and worries about you all the time. And today, Corin warned me that you were mad at me and wanted to be sure I wasn't going to let you push me away."

"What?"

"Yeah. Everyone here wants you to be happy, Sooth. They care about you. Now I know why everyone was staring at us this morning, no wait...I've lost track of time. Whenever that was. The morning after we slept together and why so many people were smiling."

"They were?"

"Yup. I wondered about that. Now I know. They were just happy that you were happy."

She thought about that for a little while, resting her head on his shoulder. "I'm not sure I believe you."

"That's OK. Just do me a favor and just watch, and see if what I just said makes more sense than what you've believed about yourself, all right? Maybe you'll surprise yourself."

"OK. I can do that." She paused for a moment, "Am I too messed up?"

"For what?"

Quietly, she said, "For you."

Laughing he said, "Hell no, Sooth. I'm messed up too. Everyone is one way or another. I think you're amazing and I want to learn everything there is to know about you. And I always want you to be my friend and in my life."

"But you're leaving, you'll go back to the Federation."

"That's a long way off yet, Sooth. I don't know what I'll do then. But I do know I like you, I think more than I've ever liked anyone."

She squeezed him again, not meeting his eyes, and they stood hugging each other for another few minutes. She sniffed again and said, "We should probably go back."

"Sure." He unwrapped his arms and smiled at her. "Would you share a sleeping spot with me tonight?"

Smiling back she answered, "If you really want to." and they walked back to their friends.