None of this has ever happened.
The way Talia figures it, she is perfectly entitled to a few daydreams once in a while.
The way she sees it, commercial telepath or no, PsiCorps or no, Matt Best-Soundly-Forgotten Stoner or no, she's still a human with human reactions and attractions, her quarters are still her quarters, and what she does about said attractions while in the privacy of said quarters is still her own fragging business, thank you very much. As for the rest, well. There's a reason some brilliant teep back along the line invented shields.
None of this has ever taken place.
Some aspects of one... recurring... scenario she's come up with are downright melodramatic. Talia knows this, and gives approximately zero damns.
Some of the building blocks of that scenario are admittedly pretty ill-conceived - why is there a multiparty diplomatic conference on the station? Why are emotions running so high, precisely, beyond the obvious usual? Why do they need a dedicated telepath in the chambers for the duration, without exception? Why is she the only commercial teep available, if this conference is so vital? She just doesn't know, and if she's honest with herself, she isn't all that bothered about the wobbliness of imaginary logistics. So what if the setup creaks a little. It's sturdy enough not to fall on her, and that's what's important.
None of this has ever--
Parts of it are also frankly implausible from several unrelated angles; for a start, she's not quite so dutifully self-sacrificing as the fantasy version of herself. On the same subject, no one involved in a real conference (with the possible exception of the Centauri delegation because come on, it's Molari and Cartagia and the less she dwells on the details of that delegation, the better because again, come on, it's Molari and Cartagia) would allow this particular set of circumstances to even get close to becoming reality in the first place. Station staff certainly wouldn't. Specific members of station staff absolutely and positively wouldn't. Therein lies the fantasy aspect of the whole thing, really.
True, she may have, once or twice, tried to act as an ace up someone's sleeve during actual fraught negotiations. She has definitely been surrounded by furious Centauri and Narn before, but for a few hours, not a week and counting. And she has not, thank you, ever subjected herself to a deluge (she can use an overwrought word like that, she's in both her own mind and her own bedroom) of powerful emotions, violent mental tirades, and distinct insight into some truly vicious half-formed schemes, all for the good of the station and the galaxy. There's commercial telepathy, and then there's martyring yourself for a job, and Talia is not usually the martyring type, really.
She has never yet been in a situation, and aside from some kind of entirely unavoidable crisis, doesn't plan to be, where it's become necessary to ratchet her defenses as high as they'll go, then leave them there.
Melodramatic, yes. She still gives zero damns. Nobody, as far as she's aware, has ever set a prohibition on playing damsel while in your own head.
So none of this has ever happened.
There is no conference, and she is not the long-suffering high card during said conference. She is not, out of sheer coincidence, kept well out of range of certain members of staff during all but the most formal of this nonexistent event's official proceedings; that's highly unlikely in itself, but the metaphorical floorboards bow a little bit less for it, so.
None of this has ever--
She does not, because it's her duty to station and galaxy, grit her teeth, brace herself, and publicly bear everything a solid week of multilateral diplomatic wrangling throws at her.
None of this has--
And she doesn't, at the end of the fictional event's seventh grueling day, stumble, still-gloved hands about half a second from covering her face and usual composure hanging by a thread, into an unlocked, seemingly unoccupied set of quarters--there likely *isn't* more than one unoccupied set of quarters on the station with the negotiations grinding on the way they are, but her fantasy self is beyond caring about that piece of trivia--and almost crash straight into Commander Sinclair.
None of this--
She doesn't nearly miss his presence because his mind is so comparatively quiet. She doesn't reel back, drop her arms to her sides and scramble to apologize. She doesn't do the vanishingly rare and all but trip over her lips when trying to speak. "Commander! I didn't realize, I--excuse me, I can leave--I had no idea--" She doesn't briefly wonder just what he's doing in there, then discard the thought as unimportant.
He doesn't turn. "Miss Winters," he doesn't say in surprise. "I didn't expect to meet you in--" He doesn't get the briefest look at her, catch on, and frown in real concern. "What is it? Are you alright?"
The sense of him - his uncommon skill, compared to most mundanes, at not broadcasting everything he's thinking like a comm channel turned up to full volume, his quiet strength, the stability he seems to radiate - all of it isn't a multifaceted shock to her system. What's left of her battered shields don't just about disintegrate in the face of it.
He isn't the first person in some time who fails to unwittingly threaten pain/deafness/blindness just by existing in close proximity to her lowered defenses (damn this whole conference, really). This reality doesn't take her a moment of reflexive surprise to process.
Her relief does not show on her face once she's mastered the for once unnecessary knee-jerk urge to recoil.
"I," she does not start, trying for normalcy and, not by chance, utterly failing to address his second question, "I didn't mean--please excuse me, Commander. I had no idea these quarters were occupied. They weren't locked and--" Her facade is not wobbling. "I was under the impression they were empty. My reason for coming in, you understand."
That's not a backhanded compliment. She doesn't feel his faint suspicion of the same, left alone amid greater concerns? What?
He doesn't focus his attention on her, the furrow in her brow she hasn't seen but is sure is there just the same, the uncommon tightness of her mouth (that much she can distinctly feel), the shadowing beneath her eyes that pale skin makes all but impossible to hide, damn, the fine, faint tremor in the lowered hands she hasn't quite managed to steady--double damn. She doesn't feel his surprise/understanding/dismay/concern, his fondness for her, and wait a second, where did--he means that--wait.
"No need to worry," he doesn't say, warm and low and chased with--yes, it's real--genuine understanding paired with equally true interest in her well-being. "I rather suspect your need for a moment or two alone is greater than my own, just now, given what you've told me about telepaths and strong emotion in a space. You're entirely welcome to this room, Miss Winters. I can leave you to it."
He doesn't take a first, measured step toward the hatch.
"You don't have to--" she doesn't start, hurried, and she's not more than a little ashamed at the urgency she can hear in her own voice, of course not. "If anyone else were to walk in, all metaphorical bets would be off--but I don't mind, with you. I'm certainly not asking you to leave, not if you don't--I--frankly, Commander Sinclair, you're the quietest person I've been near in seven days."
Why is she admitting this? Why is she, upon a split second's reflection... almost okay with admitting this?
He doesn't give her a long, complicated look that she can't entirely read, measure, assessment, gentle attention, kindnesscompassionworry. Those eyes, good lord, she could gaze into them for hours.
"I mean," she doesn't continue in a faintly-quavering rush, because the silence isn't a problem but she has to explain herself, has to give a little context, has to try, "if someone makes me shield again right now I'm not sure--and I can actually be around you without needing to-- You don't have to leave."
Complete, articulate sentences, Talia. Come the hell on.
"Miss Winters," he doesn't say, careful, and the lack of judgment behind his words is not startling enough that she can't quite take it in. "Forgive my possible overabundance of caution but I need to be certain, for both our sakes. Are you asking me to stay?"
"Yes," she doesn't confirm, flat-out, simple, and there is not, just for a second, almost as much starlight lacing her voice as his. Rarity of rarities--she'll think about that later. "I am asking you to stay, please--"
Her voice does not rise on the last word. Not on a note that's almost desperate. Oh no.
Concern/care/worry/[Someone/I should have realized her distress long before this.]
She does not fail to catch the tatters of her equilibrium when that stray thought and its attendant emotions reach her. Friend. Colleague. Station commander. Friend?
"Alright," he does not agree, and she can't feel him reining his thoughts in all the more, just for her, as he says it. What did she ever do to merit this kind of fortune? "I'll stay. I can understand how a quiet mental presence might help, considering what you've told me. Especially considering everything currently going on out there. And Miss Winters, if there's anything specific I can do for you while I'm here, please don't hesitate to ask me."
None of this has ever happened.
Wish I may, wish I good goddamn - that doesn't open the door to all sorts of possibilities she'd never admit aloud, oh no. The mere idea of this man meditating in her presence isn't enough to make alternating streamers of fire and ice chase themselves up her spine. Things remaining exactly as they are, right now, doesn't feel like an embarrassment of riches all on its own. And then there's--
And then there's--
The idea is what a lightning bolt is to atmosphere. She does not, when the thought hits her, restrain a gasp by sheer force of waning willpower alone.
The Corps is--but he's so kind--but everything she's learned--ice and black leather and information--report--walls, walls, build them brick by brick --don't touch--commercial--but she's so tired, and he's so different--you're being a rebel, you're being recklessly needy, how dare you, do you dare--maybe--
"There is," she does not say, and it does not sound ridiculously, embarrassingly small to her own ears, "but hopefully you'll pardon my hesitation--" The last of her bravado doesn't smash to bits on the floor.
She does not weigh propriety and need in her hands like scales, attempting balance for a second that feels like an age. Corpsward leather does not make the enshrined habit of untouchability a suddenly slippery thing against her fingers.
She does not, in the end, squeeze her eyes shut.
Wish I may, wish I might--
Does not drop all pretense and, while she's at it, drop that expectation of remoteness to the carpet.
Does not yank in a breath like it's the last she's allowed before hard vacuum swallows her up.
Rogue telepath. Just a little.
Does not reach out for him. With both arms.
Have the wish I--
His thoughts - [oh, is she really - yes, she is/surprise/do not disrespect her free will / she's a fellow person requesting contact, no different than any other / she knows what she's doing / she'll stop you if that changes/you have to make sure of that one, Jeff, make it plain, and plain that it's two-sided / she's in pain, she's a friend, and right now she's asking this of you] - don't brush by her like feathers, one whirling downdraft of a layered half-second, blink, and all but missed. His single, steady verbal word isn't the only thing she properly notices.
And he doesn't suit actions to words-word-whatever, move - one step forward, two, some fraction of a third - and carefully embrace her.
Have the wish I
He--oh, good lord, he does not willingly, thoughtfully--none of this has ever--
She doesn't literally go weak in the knees from sheer dizzy relief and no little bemused amazement besides. Oh no, not her.
He doesn't consciously make sure there's at least one layer of clothing between his flesh and hers at all times because he's one of those rare, considerate mundanes who's aware of what skin contact does for and to telepaths, of course not. He doesn't deliberately pull his thoughts even further back as he touches her for the first time, certainly not.
He doesn't make contact, skin-cloth-skin where it isn't skin-cloth-cloth-skin. He doesn't--oh lord--touch her, because he wants to. Because she asked and he agreed, because--first star I see tonight--none of this has ever happened--
The heat of his hands laid nonthreateningly flat against her back, radiated through the linen buffer of her blouse - that white one with the mother of pearl buttons at throat and cuffs, the demure one that sets off her eyes and hair so well - is not the warmest thing she's felt in days. And this isn't all adding up to more innocent conduct, from anyone, than she can remember earning in a while, and her shields aren't in pieces, and she isn't--she is--she's just so worn out, and he's just so--
She doesn't forget to mentally tell the usual standards of decorum to go space themselves. Rebel, rebel. That entire concept doesn't fly past the viewport in the next second anyway, quite without her conscious input, because her head is going to split if someone forces her to shield again today, and Sinclair is quiet, and he's being so kind to her, and he's not wary of her, and she's just so tired, and now he's willingly--oh God, is this what mercy feels like--starlight, starbright--none of this has ever--
She doesn't melt into him. She doesn't cling to him. She doesn't bury her face in the front of his jacket and whimper just once like, so goes the closest comparison she can make, an injured child might do. She doesn't start shivering, just a little. She doesn't try to apologize for going to pieces, but fall short of stringing more than two words together at a time.
He doesn't get it, just the same.
He doesn't lean head and shoulders over her, just a little bit. Of course not. He doesn't pitch his voice fractionally lower than its usual and murmur "Mmmm-hmmm," welcoming and soothing as he's gathering her to him, and he doesn't hold her securely against his chest.
None of this has ever--none of this, good God, none of this--
She doesn't turn and press her ear to his ribs just on the off chance that maybe, please please, he'll make that sound again. She isn't obvious about it. She doesn't utterly forget to swallow back a small noise of sheer desperation that almost breaks in the middle, oh no. Not the perfectly composed, effortlessly poised--not her.
He doesn't draw her that much closer to him in reply.
None of this has ever--
He doesn't realize exactly what got to her. He doesn't speak, just for her, because he hasn't been told what the sound of him does to people, doesn't know how Catherine ardently reacts to feeling as much as hearing his voice rumbling down deep, hasn't seen Susan determinedly not blushing during odd moments, hasn't found out about Michael's toes curling in his boots on a given pranksters' morning or two, hasn't made an unrelated visit to medlab and wound up assisting a critical patient to much-needed calm just by talking to them (you'd be amazed what stray details telepaths pick up, you truly would, and as for their usefulness in fleshing out scenarios--hot damn), hasn't heard a few snippets of gossip over the years about how wow, that Sinclair is really easy on the ears, isn't he? So he doesn't drop his voice just a little more, doesn't alter his intonation a fraction so there's gravel with smooth edges in it. "Mmmm-hmm," he doesn't say, drawn out only to the edge of plausibility and no further. "That's quite alright, Miss Winters. Talia. That's alright, Talia."
She doesn't fling what's left of her dignity out the nearest airlock and try to burrow even closer to him at that first sound or the words that follow it--oh, oh, good lord and a little leeway and Sinclair, Commander, please, more, please. No, she does not.
She doesn't come within a hair's breadth of whiting out at the way his voice handles her given name, the way he turns it elegant without adding pretense or, thank God, unnecessary theatrics, makes it important, caresses her ears with it, inflects it with genuine care and it is genuine, that care is honest, his mind tells her so. The reaction doesn't last for seconds. She doesn't go weak in the limbs again--not just the knees, this time it's everything--and she doesn't gasp "Sinclair!" aloud, verbally, for the whole room and the security cameras and yes you, dammit, Mr. Garibaldi, to hear.
He doesn't, she doesn't think a little inanely, make her sound like both storied elven royalty and a dear, wounded friend at the same time, just by saying her first name.
Wait, friend? Did she just again with the--starlight, starbright--
She doesn't feel his sudden spike of worry/concern/God, oh no, did I hurt her? and practically fall all over herself to reassure him before he can voice it. "No no you're fine, it's a--nothing's wrong, you just--my name, Commander. I never--I mean you've never--I like it. The way you said it. It's fine." She doesn't wonder where her pride went as she listens to herself. She doesn't also briefly wonder when she stopped giving a damn about pride.
Somewhen, she doesn't dazedly suspect in answer to her own question, back around the time he made that first sound for her. Never mind.
His relief/understanding/warmth/surprise doesn't make her utterly forget about anything to do with her own pride or lack thereof. That warmth doesn't carry over into his next words. "Oh, I see." Pause. "For the record, you can call me Jeff, Talia. We're both off our respective watches, and I don't mind at all."
His gentleness isn't giving her chills. His consideration for her, unadulterated with an ulterior motive, isn't giving her chills.
The fact that he's just about purring at her, crooning for her, while she's still in his arms isn't raising goosebumps either. Nope.
She doesn't, eventually (time-wise she isn't sure beyond a suspicion of multiple seconds, but she is at least certain of eventuality) resettle against him and try, finally, to catch a little of the breath this whole interminable goddamn diplomatic mess has stolen, because now, oh thank god, maybe she can. Composure, composure, where the hell did she put that composure she's so famous for, again? Maybe she left it under the conference table--uh. Composure! Decorum. Did not space itself two minutes ago. Right.
"This entire week," he doesn't rumble, low and serious and utterly unwavering, "has clearly been more unfair to you than should ever be allowed. That's obvious now, and I apologize for not realizing the situation sooner. We haven't been in proximity, but that's no excuse. Torment should not be in anyone's job description, officially or otherwise. I'm sorry, Talia, and I intend to make it right."
Her few gathered threads of resolve don't turn unexpectedly to lint and blow away, boom, just like that, in the face of his care. Her reaction is not far more startling than it is mortifying, definitely not, and the cause of that reaction's not foreign, subjectively, above all else. The cause of it does not feel like the opposite of an intrusion. The cause of it is not--starlight, starbright, first star I--because none of this--
She doesn't nuzzle into him, hard, cheek and ear and temple, amid a fresh bout of shivers because those words and the meaning behind them, the tone and the conviction and the righteous anger on her behalf, oh good lord and just a little freedom--Jeff, Commander. Her eyes aren't wet.
Her next attempt at a breath doesn't end up a lot closer to a sob on its way in, never mind what it does on its way out. "It's not your fault," she doesn't manage, and she doesn't sound shamefully uneven and constricted to her own ears.
How ridiculously dramatic is this? Zero damns whatsoever.
He doesn't feel tears dampening the fabric of his uniform and start to worry he's doing harm, and she doesn't detect his worry as it forms. He doesn't [don't talk about that now, it's clearly too much; save it for tomorrow] change course. She doesn't feel that, either. "I still intend to make it right if possible," he doesn't tell her, and she doesn't hear the honesty behind the words.
It doesn't all but strike her speechless on top of current levels of near-speechlessness. Who is even considerate like that?
He doesn't begin to make use of a certain skill he has, some little talent for reading and projecting emotions, because even low-level gifts like those do not commonly escape PsiCorps notice and not escaping notice tends to mean the Corps almost certainly throwing their usual leather-clad hand in, heel first, during a person's childhood. The Corps is not Sinclair's mother. The Corps is not Sinclair's father. This idea is just, has to be just, for his sake must be just, a fond if strengthening suspicion crossed with a wish that Talia holds ever so tightly to her breast. So he doesn't, he can't, do his best to send out an honest air of calm-peace-serenity, just a little, while keeping his more clearly-formed thoughts carefully to himself.
There's no stricture on educated guesswork while in one's own head, on one's own time. At least, there had damn well better not be one of those. If there is, Talia just broke it three ways from local Sunday--have the wish I--none of this has--
She doesn't feel it. Her sigh does not shake from end to end. Nope.
She doesn't try for something vaguely resembling suitable gratitude and miss by a lightyear. "Thank you, that's--Sinclair, Jeff, my head was--seven days doing this and I--whatever you're... Thank you."
She doesn't feel what and how he's projecting--educated guesswork, dammit, that's it--and assign words to it; gentle influence rather than manipulation, offer rather than demand. She doesn't hear his concern over that influence - educated fragging guesswork! - in the low low background murmur of his thoughts, his worry that he might be unfairly pressuring her into a state of mind rather than simply, as he intends, softly suggesting avenues that may or may not help, that she can follow or not follow as she wishes, only as she wishes. She doesn't lift her head just far enough to find his face with her gaze, then shakily assure him, "I know how you mean it. Listening to you is my call. This is me saying yes--" and then run out of endurance and press her cheek against his uniform again because--oh, hot water and rebellion and the idea of Susan's mouth please, that voice and that mind and the way he's--Commander, please.
She doesn't, ever so faintly, hear him suspect that she might--before she ignores the hell out of a thought that's gone in a second anyway.
"If I do anything," he doesn't elaborate, soft and intent and entirely genuine because he has to be sure, he has to be plain, she can hear it, "Talia, Miss Winters, if I cross a line here, if I make things worse, if I hurt you even a little," and she doesn't get just enough from him at that last phrase to know that by 'hurt', he means even brief mild discomfort or uncertainty, "tell me and I'll stop. Anything I say or do, anything I--" his mind doesn't supply, because the Corps is not his parents, God damn it, 'think/send for you' a quarter heartbeat before he voices "--try for you, tell me. I'll stop immediately. Tell me about anything at all. It won't change a thing between us, here or elsewhere. You'll neither upset nor offend me, Talia. I want to help in any way I can. I want to make this easier for you."
She is not, for the briefest of moments, impressed by his correct grammar even as his words and the honest reassurance behind them are sinking in and leaving her awestruck at his integrity. Nope, no way. That'd be silly.
He doesn't think, [I want to help your mind rest, if you'll accept that from me. You deserve it. Everything you've gone through - I want you to be able to rest, and to know that you won't be taken advantage of while you do. I want you to feel safe with me, and more than that. I want you to know you're entirely safe with me.]
First star I see tonight.
She doesn't seemingly hear those thoughts from a distance, as if they've been verbalized in the next room. The ongoing proof of his mental control isn't so strong a relief that it makes the floor wobble beneath her feet. Again. The clearly-discernable fact that he means what he's thinking, the fact *of* what he's thinking, isn't enough to soundly unsteady her the rest of the way either. Nope.
It doesn't take what feels like the last of her physical strength because good lord, it has truly been one long solar year this week, for her to stick both feet firmly to the deck and look up at him again. She doesn't, somehow, resist the temptation to gaze into those beautiful warm brown eyes for minutes on end because P5, P5 who needs to maintain at least a smidgeon of self-control and not splash everything she's thinking all over her--rescuer? Partner? Object of affection? Friend? Friend. She doesn't say simply, "Yes, as in I'll accept it--yes," instead, and it doesn't come out firm but also breathless enough that she wonders vaguely if she'll be embarrassed by the memory of it later.
She doesn't hear him make the connection between what she's said, what she must have heard, and what she means.
She can't feel his gratitude at her consent, his ongoing caution - [yes now, but go slowly, Jeff] - and his overarching care for her, his concern, his desire to protect/aid her, the friend/civilian/telepath/Corps-but-not-cruelschemingbrutalused/Miss Winters/Talia that she is to him, like it's a cool compress he's holding to her forehead after she's spent ages and ages alone and burning from the inside.
She isn't amazed by it.
All of it.
She doesn't simultaneously want to kiss him, be thoroughly taken by him, and swear an oath of loyalty to him like a vassal to a king of old, because of it.
"Alright," he doesn't say, and that sense of peace-calm-serenity-quiet doesn't get ever so slowly, incrementally stronger, like it's warm, clean water rising, flowing into a basin somewhere and Talia's well aware she's mixing similes up a storm here. Zero damns.
"Be at peace, Talia," he doesn't rumble, steady as planetside gravity. "Be entirely at peace, if you can."
Oh, good lord, that isn't--none of this has ever--
She doesn't groan like a shuttle crash victim when the painkillers finally, mercifully kick in and crumple, gasping for air, into what he's both sending out and saying for her, because it doesn't feel like a cloth smoothing over fever-taut skin after days of torment--oh no.
And it's not--oh, it's not--relief and rebellion and she couldn't drag the most rudimentary of bloody brick wall shields up now if someone had a PPG to her head--it's not safety, it's not the most amazing sensation she's known in she isn't sure how long, it's not breaking over her like waves, and she doesn't feel like she's drowning in the warmth of it. Of him. Of--the lines are blurry and the audio's got a skip and she can't remember when she last felt this clean--oh no. Not her.
"Jeff," she doesn't manage, shattered, "Commander. Thank you, what you're--I can tell--I want this, I--thank you so much."
None of this has ever--
"You are entirely welcome," he doesn't murmur, low and genuine and laced with starlight." Quiet-calm-peace-serenity.
None of this has ever--none of it--
The world doesn't start getting hazy at the edges, in the middle, on all three axes and well now, isn't that an interesting bleedthrough? Quiet-peace-serenity-calm.
He doesn't begin guiding her, slowly, gently, toward the neatly-made bed in the corner of the room, moving backwards to her forward steps and not stumbling even once as they move. She doesn't feel his intent - [sleep, she's exhausted, she needs to rest and I am not making her walk all the way back to her quarters like this, especially with all those damnable Centauri afoot] and silently dub him one hell of a gentleman paladin flying ace for it.
She doesn't, somewhere in between one pace and the next, start wondering just what that gentleman paladin's bare skin might feel like against hers.
Way to go for pornographic shock value out of absolutely nowhere there, Winters. Zero. damns.
She doesn't wish, inanely and admittedly more than a little dazedly, that she had feathers, or fins like an Abbai, or scales, or... something, just so she could know exactly what his unclothed hands felt like against them. She doesn't imagine, briefly and so vividly that it provokes another round of tittilated, half-scandalized goosebumps, unbuttoning one of her blouse's cuffs, turning back the leather of the related glove and feeling his palm press flat against the unprotected flesh of her wrist, skin to naked, unshielded human skin.
That idea isn't all but scorching, good goddamn, Winters get a grip. But those warm, careful hands and he's a hotshot starfury pilot, he's been planetary pole steady on anything you've ever seen him touch--just imagine his control.
She doesn't arch into his cloth-muffled fingers instead - it's better than nothing, anything's better than nothing - rebel, rebel. Rogue, just a little. She doesn't tilt her head at the same time, utterly shamelessly seeking the slow, steady rhythm of his heart beneath her ear; she can hear it, it's there already, but she suddenly, inexplicably wants more, wants it to be the loudest thing in her little world and it's not and she can't get the damn position right--Jeff, please.
He doesn't pause midstep. "Talia," he doesn't murmur, rock solid and soothing, and his arms don't tighten fractionally around her--oh, that's--thank God that helps and she doesn't know why, the sound of him and the feel of him and there, there, just a minute turn of the head and his heartbeat is the center of her universe, ohthankgod, and yet she can only manage to listen closely for a few seconds at a time before she has to shift away, then back again and away--in Valen's name, she's dizzy with it. But ohthankgod she managed, and seven days, and years, and this man--yes, "Sinclair!"
"Talia," he doesn't rumble, "I've still got you. I've got you." Away, and back again, away again, and-- Quiet-peace-calm-serenity, back again--right there, just for a few seconds and away--he has her alright, he has her like a lodestone, it must be obvious what she's physically listening to by turns and he hasn't objected yet, and he's touching her, he's still in contact with her, he's still holding her, and the sound and the rhythm of him, the wonderful solidity--thank God, thank God for all of it. For all of him.
"I'm right here," he doesn't murmur. Starlight, starbright. "I'm right here." It's true, it's honest and her momentary panic's draining away like a fever breaking, like rust-stained water down a sink, like beaten-in loyalty. Quiet-peace-serenity-calm, such a relief, everything, she's so goddamn tired and none of this has ever happened, none of this, none of it so her world isn't spinning, she isn't shaking like a leaf, and in the distance that isn't really distance at all, she can't hear--
[Oh, I see what she was trying to do, or at least think I do./Warmth/fondness/no harm at all in a point of focus/I'm flattered. Your trust in me is an honor, Miss Winters/Talia, and I will not consciously/deliberately/will not abuse it. As for the other part of it - did she mean that? She's in pain/she knows what she wants/she's exhausted/don't question her agency/I have absolutely no desire to take advantage. God, no/revulsion/Is there a possible compromise here, a way to make sure neither of us regrets anything later? Yes, and later is the operative word. But all of that can wait. There are far greater concerns just now; she's past the limits of her endurance. She needs to rest.] Quiet-peace-calm-serenity.
It doesn't take several seconds for the murmur of his thoughts to make sense, and several more for her to realize that the content of those thoughts means oh, she must have actually sent the last idea or two and all connected longing out to him after all. Oops. Oh, spoo. She doesn't utterly fail to be embarrassed this time, and she doesn't stop just this side of a giggle at the multilayered revelation. God, she doesn't think muzzily, she must really be out of it.
She isn't still shaking.
She isn't floating on the edge of overloaded senses, like she's wearing oversaturated canvas in six dimensions. Time isn't getting difficult to track. She isn't bemused when she realizes, several steps belatedly, that they've started moving toward the bed again. Oh. Fragging unreal gentleman paladin hotshot, honestly. Quiet-peace-calm-serenity. She is just so tired.
[Friend/telepath/Corps-but-not-Corps/Miss Winters/her own/springsteel/Talia.] Quiet-peace-serenity-calm.
None of this has--
The edge of the mattress doesn't all but leap up to meet her. She doesn't fail to stem the ensuing spurt of giggles this time, and it doesn't take a few seconds longer than it really should for her to be certain she's got a seat that won't vanish from beneath her if she moves the wrong way.
His hands aren't just there, just there, a hair's breadth from her shoulders as she steadies, and she doesn't pick up on not only his genuine willingness, but his active intent to catch her should she fall. Quiet-serenity-calm-peace-safety.
Her eyes aren't overbright just before they close. Amazing storybook gentleman paladin flying ace. With a liiiittle bit of a protective streak, apparently, which is... it's nice. It's... rare? She thinks.
She isn't only peripherally aware of where her shoes end up. He isn't the one who makes certain, unasked, that the hem of her skirt - the charcoal one, the one that leaves no doubt as to her entirely professional bearing - never rises higher than her stocking-clad calves as she's lying back. He doesn't settle a spare quilt over her--there *isn't* a spare quilt, because this is a space station, not someone's planetside house in the middle of an ideal--and he doesn't honest to God hold the edges down to minimize the usual brrr! disturbed air reality of moving blankets everywhere as he's doing so. Amazing storybook flying gentleman station commander, church-soldier empath poet scholar - seriously, how does she deserve this?
None of this has ever--
How is she this ridiculous?
None of this has ever--
"Talia?" he doesn't murmur, and he doesn't, because she can't possibly be so lucky, carefully think of precisely the image she'd let slip earlier, two-button cuff-glove-hand-bare skin. "If you like--" [only if you like, only if you're truly interested, there is no obligation intended here] "--ask me again once this conference is over." [I'm open to being asked. I'm open to saying yes. I'm open to giving that to you.] "For now, I'll stay as long as you like."
None of this is--so she can't hear him--none of this--
"I might... just do that." She doesn't sound drunk to her own ears. She isn't, in fact, a little amazed she got the words out coherently. "Thank you--all of this, I mean. Sinclair. Jeff. Thank you. Please, stay."
My friend. For all of this. Thank you for all of this. For all of you.
She isn't hazy on whether she said that last aloud, sent it, or just thought it to herself. She isn't fairly certain he'll understand, just the same.
He does not press one palm to the hollow of her well-hidden shoulder, skin-quilted layers-blouse-skin, for a long, friendly second, and she does not feel both his physical warmth and his matching intent before he withdraws. No she doesn't, because that's physically impossible and she's drowsy, and none of this--
"Peace attend thee, Talia," he does not say, paused in the dim light halfway to the door, because Talia's never heard that song as a musical composition let alone known one of its lines spoken conversationally; she's only read the lyrics before. Or--
He does not say... something, something more complicated than she can puzzle out, in what she suspects is Latin. Whatever it is, it's more alive than what she expects of that language, and with all the usual unwieldy pretense scrubbed off its sound. Maybe it's halfway to a benediction. Maybe she's too far gone to know what she's talking about. Or--
"To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough," he does not say, and that one she knows; it was going around in Corps circles for a while when she was a teenager - the P9's and higher got a particular laugh out of a few lines - but most of the teeps tended to gloss over that verse, and the few who bothered with it never sounded quite so genuine, quite so direct, quite like they meant it. Or--
"I promise not to let anyone bother you for the next few hours," he does not say, serious and earnest. "Including me." Or--
"My friend Talia," he does not say, clear and careful like the phrase is new, except the words are in a language she's only ever heard from Ambassador Delenn and her assistant's thoughts before. Adra-something, she thinks it's called. Adronato. "My friend." Probably, she supposes drowsily, that's why she can understand it; he's thinking it in English as he's speaking it aloud.
But she can't understand it, because he's not speaking it aloud, because--because none of this, none of this--have the wish I wish tonight, have the wish I--none of it--
None of this has ever happened.
"I wish I may," Talia does-does not-does say aloud, just for herself, quite alone in an empty set of quarters that are all her own, thank you very much, "I wish I might."
No one's ever put a stricture on wishing while in one's own head, on one's own time. If they have, Talia could care less.
She could give zero damns in a gravity well, even.
She's going to break that rule.
There is, after all, a reason some brilliant teep back along the line invented shields.
And isn't that ironic?