Disclaimer: THE characters do not belong to me. (#$%ing auto-correct). Moment over. Thanks for your patience.
Rating: Something mild.
Author's Notes: For the 2013 Guess the Pairing contest. Inspired by what you might guess from the title. Pairing on the next page. This was written in about an hour to make the deadline, and while I'm not overly fond of it, I opted out of changing it. It fit the word limit too closely. Posting for Ewige, who is good.
Sparkling blue eyes graze appreciatively over a man's grinning cheeks. "Tell me he wasn't."
"He was. For weeks." Shared laughter echoes across an alien plain. "So I told him that he could go on washing his jewelry in Neelix's stew pot if he wanted, but that I'd have to-"
Zrrrrp. The dull, unmistakable flint of communications failure. Their eyes lock, their pleasant stroll at an abrupt end, so quickly. It was the broken nature of the call, of course, but had that been panic in an unflappable voice?
A low rumbling of earth is felt, more than heard. Their arms fly out for startled balance, and an eerie silence descends. An earthquake? Skeptical blue meets worried brown. No. They detected absolutely no seismic activity on this planet.
The rumbling resumes, and his hand finds her upper arm to steady her. Birds shriek in the distance, black ink dots blotting a darkening sky as they take flight from the fields of grain and she turns to watch, noting the erratic direction of the flighted creatures: everywhere. They sense a threat but don't know which way is out. That, more than anything, sets her eyes to sky. The first faint fireball exploding in the curved blue distance confirms it.
When seconds pass, and they don't feel the tingle of the transporter dismantling their bodies into quantum sized bits no force could rip further apart, they realize. It isn't just the comm. line that's been cut. The transporter lock has been lost, too.
Panic flickers then dies against resolve. She catalogues their options. Open fields surround them. The alien grains are tall but they have shallow roots and strength nonexistent in the face of what is coming. The ground is solid. No cave systems suddenly appear on her tricorder readings. Options? Flee like cowards or stand like fools. The end result will be the same. Any living thing not on the side of impact, as they are, will be finished by the radiation and ash produced by the impact anyway.
She takes a breath, unable to swallow. It isn't even a nightmare. In those, there's time to realize the danger is chasing, drawing nearer. In nightmares, there is time to process, opportunity to run. A fireball erupts across the upper horizon, the second piece of what she now knows must be the massive, city-sized station that has exploded in orbit. Why, how, none of it even matters. This planet's mass is going to suck any undemolished piece of that ancient station against its surface. Something stirs an unholy wind that whips their hair back, plastering their uniforms to their backs.
He says her name, and it's almost lost in the growing rumble. His hand on her arm tightens: contact, touch. She isn't alone. She turns, blankly realizing that he's having the same surreal experience she is. She looks deep into his dark eyes, murky depths she'd rarely dared to fully explore, and they're dilated enough to reflect the truth she's already accepted.
This is the end.
The scent of electric fire and burning filled her nostrils, and her chin drops by agonizing degrees to the rows of what she had delighted in calling corn's cousin when they'd beamed down to explore this seemingly tranquil terrain. More explosions dot the sky over his shoulder, and a poisoned kernel of hope buds in her breast. Voyager. Voyager will be blasting those kilometer-wide chunks to smaller, less damaging pieces. If they are quick enough...
The scientist in her can't abide completing the lie. Voyager could never destroy every sizable piece in time. The kernel dies a quiet death before it ever reaches her lips to poison his mind, too.
He slaps his commbadge. Nothing. Hers meets the same silence. Heat is building all around them, furiously festers. There is nothing they can do, about any of it.
And the sky darkens as, in the angled distance, a faint shining object grows larger. Then larger. It's grey, they see, and soon, it will be aflame with the friction of cutting through this thick atmosphere.
She is staring at him. There aren't words. They haven't practiced for this, there's never been time or luxury for that. Slowly, her hand slides into his, and his other hand cups her cheek. Souls fused, they decide silently, together, not to bother running for nonexistent cover. There's no point. It's futile.
Finiteness, the true equalizer. If she had been given the choice, she wouldn't have chosen him to end it with. She'd have wanted him safe on a ship that needed him in her absence. She's so glad that she wasn't given that choice. She throws her arm around his broad body, slams her cheek into his chest, and she does not bother to resist inhaling the stable scent of him one last time. "I'm sorry!" she offers.
His arms slide around her. The rumbling increases, and he rests his chin on her soft head in their last seconds, memorizing the feel of her hair against his neck for the afterlife. "Me too," he would have wanted to whisper but he can't afford the drop in volume, so he shouts it instead. It's tinny and faint when it finds her ear.
The rumbling grows.
They could go like this, blind against each other and tucked away from the inevitable; each would gladly shield the other from reality. But they are both explorers at heart, born that way before they'd become other things by outside pressures or necessity.
His grip slackens at the same time that she pulls back, their fingers still entwined, her left hand in his right. Sides flush, their necks tilt up in unison, identical reflections of the lake-sized metal hurtling toward them, shining in two aligned sets of eyes. The heat feeds on itself as the metal erupts into flame, their skins alive and dancing, a burning tingle as if they've stood in the obscured sun too long, now glowing hotter still.
The sky falls around them, and they face it head on, together.