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Angle of Repose

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There is nobody else but the two of them. It’s impossible to tell how long they've been there. Days for sure, a week at least. Maybe more, because by now the claws of hunger have come and gone. They can’t be sure, though. There’s no way for them to measure time by, except for the loud beat of their hearts. Minutes stretch into hours spent tracing the stone walls and floors with blind hands and bleeding fingers. Echoes of their shouts bounce off, soon muted into coarse whispers.

There is no way out.

Mindful to conserve their energy, they huddle in the darkness and talk, and talk some more, until he confesses to her—days later, or is it only hours—what she’s known for a long time.

That he loves her.

She shivers under his breath, but, expecting a rescue by her gallant crew, she is unwilling to say those same three small words back to him. Nothing has changed in her mind. Voyager came back for them once, against all odds, and plucked them off that planet of nowhere, she tells him instead. They'll do it again. She won’t fall into the temptation of a present which will not last, she reminds him.

Plainly and painfully, she won’t.

She can’t.

He smiles in her neck and says he doesn’t mind waiting for when she is ready, and her heart smiles too.

Foul-smelling and thin air, and water, freezing and syrupy, trickle down the impassable walls. They won't suffocate or die of thirst. Food, though, that necessity she’s so often dismissed in the past, never appears.

They grow weaker.

He envelops her until there is no more warmth to share as they become one. He’s all sharp angles and hard planes now, but she doesn't care. She opens her legs, and he slides between them, consent given easily because she can as well give him the comfort he seeks, even if she can’t voice the words. The physical act of letting him inside her is not what she is afraid of. She cannot deny him any longer, but she still forbids herself the absolution he receives with such reverence—the permission to love.

Only when the ship and crew are safe, will she allow herself the same. She hangs with all her might to the belief they’ll be freed, so she can finish the journey and fully give herself to him. Because he deserves nothing less.

The skin-on-skin contact, the touches, the grunts, even the pain are worth the strength-sapping energy they put into the life-affirming act. She trusts it has not become a reflex to fend off the despair of their situation, to push off the cold and emptiness and darkness that surround them ever so tightly.

As time wears on, they move less and sleep more.

He is swaying inside her, his breathing harsh against her neck, humming the same words over and over, the very same she still refuses to utter aloud. The expectation of help—soon, in a few hours, a few days at most—the promise of going back to what they are, to who she is, to what she must do once back on Voyager, condemns her to silence.

She dozes off. Help doesn’t come.

When she awakes, his strong arms are clasped against her chest, his legs pushing her into a ball from behind. She makes to move, but he doesn't let her go, his fingers circling her wrists like manacles. And she screams and screams because his breath is cold, his heart still and his body has stiffened around her.

Only then do the three small words she never said come pouring out of her—an avalanche of them, sliding down like loose sand until they settled around their tangled bodies. Until her voice falters and stops.

Until silence is the only sound left within the dark walls.