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Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #25
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

It seemed he’d made a wise decision in not offering to help Talia with her wounds. His tongue had rolled forward, vocal cords at the ready to voice the offer, when she’d eased into taking care of herself without complaint and without exuding the typical frustrated female body cues that someone who’d wanted his attention may have displayed. Hirek allowed himself the contented smile of a cat getting the cream when she attended to her wounds while practically leaning against him—though more the table than himself. Perhaps a near-death experience was all it took for someone like Talia to allow such…domesticity to reign between them. To keep up with her and be prepared for injuries, he would need to train harder and keep a med-kit ready..

Quirking an eyebrow upward, Hirek shook his head, “I hadn’t noticed that particular lack.” Before she could accuse him of sarcasm, Hirek again shook his head. “Perhaps it is a difference of cultural background, but what I saw of you on the beach was exuberant enthusiasm to know and experience something new and unknown. And though that tour took a turn for the…unexpected, you engaged the Klingons on their terms but with your integrity.” Crossing his arms over his chest, Hirek leaned against the table and studied her as she shifted around to take care of other abrasions. “I have become acquainted with two of your diplomats so far, Lieutenant Madsen and Lieutenant…” he paused to form her name carefully, “zh’Eziarath. They are quite unlike one another, and of the two, I am more…intimately acquainted with Madsen. While she may not readily display the same proclivity for physical exertion and power moves as you, I know from personal experience that many of her responses to new experiences are much like your own.” Lowering his arms to drum his fingers against the table, Hirek gave his favorite half-shrug move. “She also has a good left hook.” She was still half-drugged when she’d hit him, but in securing her in the Qo’Nos sewers, she had landed a solid enough hit against his cheek to bruise and surprise.

His memories abated when Talia made her decision, opting for the gazebo and the singing waves. He’d programmed the area as a last minute addition, having himself not been to that particular gazebo since he’d last been in contact with King and had made the decision to abandon his family and embed himself with the Tal Shiar on Qo’Nos. It would be good to go back, even if it was a simulation, this time with a feisty Terran pilot at his side. The change in circumstances would be good to note for his desire to make changes and move forward on the plot to end the Tal Shiar’s grip on his people. That he could stand under a simulated version of the gazebo with Talia was proof enough that though he’d not accomplished as much as he’d hoped to by this time, he’d at least made it this far and was making allies in the process.

Her continued use of ‘Pretty Eyes’ had Hirek again quirking an eyebrow upward, “How quickly does it take you to place a moniker on a person?” He almost asked what other nicknames she had for him, but then he realized he’d much rather find out organically, listening to her growl it out in frustration or, maybe one day, purr it out in pleasure. “Have you always done that, or did it develop after you joined the crew as a pilot?” His curiosity was piqued, but he refrained from asking why “Shadow.” “In our culture, we honor and respect names, and in a way, we do the same thing. We have public names, family names, and private names.” He smirked, already knowing that part of what he was about to tell her might annoy her and only because it was information dangled in front of her and yet held back. “tr’Aimne is my clan name, i-Korthe is where I was born, and Hirek is my…given name. I adopted another name when I began working with Starfleet Intelligence to undermine the Tal Shiar to signify a…rebirth, and I suppose that could be my equivalent to a callsign as it is the name Intelligence knows me by, or at least they use a part of it. And to my parents, I am not Hirek. I am something else, for they use my private name that only they and I know, a name that only those trusted in my heart may know.”

He fell silent then as Talia explained her enjoyment of the outfit, and both his eyebrows crept up to his hairline when she claimed not to care what others thought. Nearly everything that had happened in this simulation and on tour the day before bespoke of either her lack of self-awareness or the boldness of her lie. Hirek kept this reality to himself as she left the choice of outfit up to him. He remembered how Pierce had looked ravishing in the clothing he’d picked for her and how uncomfortable she’d been in the dress. Of course, Hirek doubted Talia held the same sort of secret as Pierce, and remembered with alacrity how delectable she’d looked in her slinky dress just the day before. He hummed his acceptance as she momentarily leaned closer before twisting and heading across the room toward the shower. Her casual use of the plural had Hirek chuckling and shaking his head. He doubted she realized she’d inadvertently invited him into the shower with her. Hirek was still shaking his head in wry amusement as he turned away, rummaging in the cabinet adjacent to the shower room for the supply of shower oils and soaps. It was another hobby, concocting new scents for the soaps and oils, a hobby that often led to gifts for family members and the occasional sale at markets.

He heard her confused laugh echoing off the glass walls and looked up just in time to see her press the button that emitted a thick mist from the ceiling and walls in rhythmic pulses. Immediately, her form was swallowed by the mist, only for her to press another button that changed the mist to jets of water, angled down from the room's corners, designed to massage aching muscles more than cleanse. Then her fingers darted over a series of buttons that had the overhead shower raining down, as he supposed she wanted to begin with, but also with the rhythmic mist and side jets, less powerful than the ceiling jets but no less surprising to the uninitiated. As much as he enjoyed listening to her responding noises to each new experience, Hirek also keenly remembered her hunger and his own, and reckoned a rescue was in order to expedite the cleansing process.

Setting down the basket of cleansing agents, unlike Talia, still clothed in the loincloth and vest, Hirek crowded close to reach around her and turn off all the water sources. The room fell silent save for the sound of liquid draining and the occasional drip from the jets and showerhead. They were both thoroughly soaked and entombed in the hot cocoon of fog. If he’d not been wearing his vest, Hirek realized, the flesh of his chest would have been pressed against the wet heat of her bare back. A pity he hadn’t thought to presume ignorance and shed his clothing immediately at her offer.

Instead of backing away as a gentleman might, Hirek leaned closer, his chin brushing against her head, as he explained the different symbols and what they did. He could hear her breath and imagined he could hear her heartbeat as well. Mercilessly keeping his proximity, Hirek gestured to the basket he’d left near the wall and explained its contents as well, indicating which soaps and oils were better for waking up and which were better for relaxation. Figuring he’d pressed his luck far enough and now risked bodily harm, Hirek retreated, moving toward the doorway, his hands already unhooking the clasps of his vest as he intended on rinsing off in the stream while she used the shower.

“Your clothing will be on the table when you are finished.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #26
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
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Her body tensed on reflex against his; the lean muscles corded through her back and shoulders especially. In her frantic attempt to figure out the shower controls, Talia hadn’t expected him to move within such close proximity. Her eyes narrowed initially, but she made no other outward obvious reaction; yet couldn’t stop the hike in respiration, nor the spike in her pulse, nor the curl to the corner of her lips. The mist was warm, he was warm, and he'd brought soaps and shampoo, as well as saved her from further embarrassment. He lingered, even pressed against her, and although Talia could have easily driven an elbow into his groin for the violation of her space, the urge to do so never fully surfaced in her mind. The brief physical contact was far too enjoyable, even as her self-control clamped tight, preventing her from leaning into it.

Don’t even think about it, she growled to herself.

Talia nodded her understanding as he moved away, turning slightly to peek over her shoulder at the assortment. Her fingers tapped the controls, activating the overhead spray before selecting a bottle at random. Warm water drenched her, as she peeled the loincloth over her hips to fall down her toned legs to hit her ankles. She flung it to the corner with her toes, as her head leaned back, raking one hand through her hair with a sigh of relief, miniscule dunes of wet sand gathered at her feet.

“Ah this will help immensely, thank you,” Talia smiled, holding the opened bottle under her nose. A peculiar but pleasant mix of scents registered: cucumber, vanilla, with a hint of freshly cut grass and spring flowers. Interesting, she hummed, then deposited a generous portion into her hand. She noticed then that he’d not returned, and arched a brow at Hirek as she moved back a step, turning to face him in profile; confusion writ on her face. “What are you doing,” Shadow frowned, her tone perhaps a bit sharper than intended. “There’s plenty of room,” she gestured next to her under the streaming water. “Get over here and rinse off so we can eat,” she gestured with a shake of her head, unsure why he wasn’t doing so already. Picked a weird time to be timid, Talia huffed in amusement, rolling her eyes.

She continued their earlier conversation then, closing her eyes as her hands worked the shampoo into her hair – only peeking to make sure he had remained. “Qo’noS was a disaster that I – unfortunately – encouraged, through foolish decisions. We were lucky no one was maimed or thrown in the brig,” Shadow snorted, “and I give people names so I can remember them easier, that’s all. It’s not intentionally disrespectful – not really – but opinions vary. I guess I picked the habit up at flight school, but its also common among us humans; we all have multiple names too, some of them are pretty common, too, but I’ve always struggled to remember names. So when I meet someone for the first time, if something stands out to me about them, I just…lock on to it. A feature, a behavior, it varies,” Talia explained, then proceeded to give examples, her lips curling in pleasure as steam filled the stall, kneading the shampoo into her scalp and locks.

“Vayln is Medusa, a mythical monster that turned anyone that met her gaze to stone – because she's beautiful, deadly, and intimidated the shit out of me. Zark is Kali, the blue skinned, multi-limbed goddess of love, hate, death and rebirth, because of her sweet-hearted nature, gift for healing, and wrath. Frank is Gramps, for his stoicism, wisdom, and protective aura,” here she cracked an eye open and grinned, “but mostly due to Via's silliness.” Her hair was thoroughly saturated with foamy lather by now, balled up atop her head like a soggy sack of towels. “Nysari is Duchess, a title of nobility from my people’s sorted history – for her poise, grace, and eloquence, but mostly the way she carries herself; she seemed a bit…out of place, but with amazing fashion sense,” a shrug. “Madsen is Moody, which is self-explanatory,” she eyed Hirek knowingly, but the smirk remained. “Mia is Skittish,” her head tilted one way, “Rhys is Hotlips,” a tilt the other way, her smile broad and genuine.

“But you – beyond your ability to provoke people seemingly for the fun of it…your eyes stood out to me the most; they are quite beautiful, but misleading…dangerous, in a way. So that was my name for you,” Talia shrugged again, turned to face him fully without shame or hesitation, and leaned her head back to rinse the suds from her hair. “I doubted we would meet again, and I never shared my names for people before I woke up here; most seemed to enjoy them, but I suppose I should stop. I do apologize if I offended you,” Shadow concluded, her gaze lingering on the scar of his well defined abdomen before closing her eyes once again. “Wasn’t my intention.”

Talia cleared her throat then, chewing her bottom lip. Her curiosity burned to know the hidden, secret names Hirek mentioned – but even more, what it he really meant by ‘those trusted in my heart’. As far as she could remember, after the loss of her mother and oldest sister, Talia never let anyone into her heart; that only invited pain – pain she could do without. Madness to even consider it, Shadow huffed dismissively.

Her brows twitched together then, remembering how he mentioned intimate knowledge of Moody. “What is the nature of your relationship with her? Madsen, I mean,” Talia's eyes snapped open with the sudden question, unable to stop herself. “If you don’t mind me asking,” she added quickly, then hesitated. “…The word you used has different definitions.” Her face flushed a shade darker, but the pilot did her best to ignore it. The damage was done, so she lapsed into silence so he could speak.

First Pierce, now Madsen – or was it the other way around? Shadow sucked her teeth at the thought. Stop being childish.

Talia had been impressed with the diplomat almost immediately; even if the unfortunate turn of events on Qo’noS left barely any time for them to interact. Moody appeared to be an insanely courageous woman, which Shadow respected, yet also burdened somehow beyond Talia’s ability to easily define. She seemed...weary...of something beyond duty; it was something in her eyes and the way she spoke. Like she was constantly fighting something beyond her means to ever defeat. The pilot’s thoughts dwelled on the events of the previous evening, even as her eyes cracked open to observe the shifting muscles of Hirek’s body.

They began at his eyes, then lowered to his jaw, to watch the droplets of water drip from his bearded chin. Along his neck, to the hollow between collarbone and trapezius, to the curve of one pectoral, the appetizing nub of his nipple. Lower still, to the well defined lines of his abdomen, and that peculiar scar –the tightness of one oblique, glittering with droplets; then the taunt line of one pelvis, to finally close just above his groin. The entire inspection took less than six beats of her heart. Beautiful bastard, Talia sighed quietly; a low purr of breath all too close to a growl of frustration.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #27
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Raising a single eyebrow, lips pulled back into an amused smirk, Hirek watched as the suds Talia had worked up in her hair washed down onto her bare shoulders, then slid further along the curve of her back and further still over the rounded arc of her bottom. Her earlier claims for a phlegmatic approach to nudity returned in full force when Talia turned and beckoned him to join her, giving Hirek an ample profile view of her full-bottomed pear-shaped breasts. The dusky nipple he could see was pebbled from the changes in temperature, water droplets catching on the end as a type of magnifying glass of temptation for a man of lesser restraint.

While he had every intention of joining her, even if his next words aggravated her once more, Hirek took his time in divesting first the vest and then the loin cloth. Adjusting his vocal intonations to mimic Talia’s as much as his much deeper timbre could, Hirek quoted her earlier comments, “’It’s called consent, Mr. Tr’Aimne, and it’s important in non-emergency situations. Consider it a boundary of our evolving acquaintance and an insight into human culture.’” He bunched up his clothing and tossed it into the same corner as hers, smile growing as he stalked closer until he felt the warm mist coat his muscles. “If you recall, I noted your earlier disdain of my casually assuming liberties and did not want to presume my presence was welcome.”

If she made a face at his teasing, Hirek didn’t catch it. Maintaining enough distance so she would have to imbalance her stance to lash out at him—if she chose to—Hirek crouched next to the basket to pull out his preferred soap. The musky blend of herbs and spices was refreshing but less invigorating than Talia's chosen blend. With Talia nearby, there was no need to depend on a cleansing agent’s side effects to invigorate him.

Hirek squeezed a dollop into his palm before standing again, listening to Talia explain her habit of name “gifting.” Her chosen name for Amarik elicited a snort from Hirek as he recalled his last encounter with the former Tal’Shiar agent. That they hadn’t murdered each other yet was a small miracle. Scrubbing his hands over his scalp, Hirek’s features relaxed into an open expression of amused attention, Talia moving through her list of names and monikers of those who’d been on the tour the day before. For most, Hirek could easily see why she’d chosen the name, while he didn't quite see it for a few others, such as Frank. But Talia was young, and to her, both Frank and especially himself appeared as aged enough to merit the nickname. When she left off with “Hotlips” for Rhys, Hirek’s smile remained neutral, though his mind quickly recalled favorite images of their “counseling” session. While he hadn’t exactly intended for Zark to pick up on their prior intimacy, Hirek had, until that time, maintained polite discretion on Rhys’ behalf.

Her sudden apology had Hirek chuckling. He moved closer to her and let the water wash off the soap from his head without answering immediately. The warm water trickling over his body, lingering in some of the contours of his svelte abdomen before resuming its course toward the floor, brought a new level of relaxation to Hirek. He didn’t disguise his sigh of contentment, remaining under the water a moment longer before shifting back. Twisting and bending to grab the soft-bristled scrub brush and soap bar from the basket, he returned his gaze to her face once he was fully upright again—though he wasn’t timid about his appreciation of her well-proportioned body, which was obvious from the semi-hardened state of his member.

“I do find pleasurable amusement in ‘pressing buttons,’ as Pierce described it. Likely it comes from my years of seeking out information, knowing that when someone is off-kilter, they are more likely to give physical tells for what is true and what is false.” Hirek rubbed the scrub brush over the soap bar he clutched in his other hand until he worked up a lather. “And I cannot recall the last time I was…offended as you call it. In fact,” he placed the soap bar in an alcove cut into the wall, knowing he’d need it again before too long, “I don’t know if I have ever been offended. Angered, frustrated, disappointed? Yes, offended, no.”

Talia’s sudden questioning about Madsen earned the pilot a mischievous smile, “I’ll tell you about Madsen if you scrub my back, and I’ll scrub yours in return if you so wish. I forgot the long-handled brush, and I can’t quite reach here,” Hirek gave an exaggerated twist under the spray, displaying the contours of his shoulder and back muscles as he pretended to miss a few spots on his back. He could, in fact, reach them thanks to his flexibility, but in the name of continued fellowship and the pleasure of her touch, Hirek was content to feign inadequate reach.

Only after Talia accepted the brush and Hirek turned his back to her, awaiting her follow-through, did he venture to answer. “It is not my place to share all of the variables of what has transpired between Madsen and myself; I can attest to it being complicated.” Turning his head to the side, Hirek tossed a smile at Talia over his shoulder. “And not just because the first time she met me, she was in handcuffs and at my mercy.” Chuckling at the memory, Hirek waited a moment before continuing. “My Intelligence contact requested my presence among the Tal’Shiar on Qo’Nos some time ago, and that is where I have remained for far longer than I preferred, and not because of the Klingon food. I much prefer the companionship of targ-filth-covered Klingon ruffians to the cleanest Tal’Shiar agent. That being said, I am, in my own way, a man of honor, and it was a duty to perform with the long-term end goal of destroying the Tal’Shiar for good, making the sufferings of their companionship tolerable.”

He paused, eyes closing as he enjoyed the feel of the scrub brush moving over his skin. It had been years since he’d had someone else wash him like this, which was a damn shame, considering how satisfying these sensations were. He was curious if Talia would be keen on doing this more often but kept the question for later while he shifted back into her requested tale.

“After the Infested debacle in the First City and the whole Praxis fiasco, my associates felt it was high time to return to Romulus, and for once, I was in agreement. Finding a way off the planet while remaining discrete was the challenge. A challenge that led to the kidnapping of Madsen from her evening out with a few other officers. While I was not there when she was snatched, I volunteered to monitor her and interrogate her while the others bargained with your captain for passage off-world elsewhere. I knew some of my associates would’ve been just as happy to deliver a dead diplomat to Captain Ives if he refused their offer and felt I was the better option. Of course, she did not know any of this when she awakened. And when I set about getting out of that Tal’Shiar-infested den, she also did not realize I was trying to save her from them and myself, but in a manner that could not incriminate my family back on Romulus.”

Hirek suddenly turned, offering Talia his front if she was curious or brave enough to wash it as well. He was still semi-erect but made no move to conceal the arousal from her view. His body was fully relaxed and open, his smile playful when he caught her gaze.

“I suppose her moodiness comes from how I ensured this result. I overloaded a phaser, let her take it from me, and intentionally fell with her into the sewer water after the device rendered us both stunned. For anyone watching, it would’ve looked like an accident, and then when we didn’t surface again, at least to the casual observer, we would’ve been presumed drowned.” One shoulder rose and fell. “Most women don’t take kindly to being kidnapped, restrained, wrestled, shot, and drowned on a first meeting. Especially when they are prevented from any lasting ‘revenge’ when it turns out their former ‘tormentor’ is now, in fact, their ally.”

His gaze traced over Talia’s form, cock twitching as he allowed his imagination to momentarily concoct an image of her lips around it. But then he tilted his head to the side and held out a hand for the scrub brush, “My turn?”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #28
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
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Damn, do I really sound like that, Talia wondered with a frown at Hirek’s smart-assed mimicry of her voice. She certainly hoped not – he made her sound like a reedy, petulant child – which wasn’t complimentary, but that line of thought was dismissed with a slight shake of her head. At least he’s learning, the pilot’s lips curled faintly while rinsing the rest of her hair. With her head tilted back, she offered him only a glance over her shoulder, eyes narrowed in a look that could have been interpreted several different ways – all of which he missed.

His continued casual amusement grated on Talia’s nerves, however; though she was by no means about to give him the satisfaction of sensing it – to the best of her ability. If his admitted modus operandi was to keep her off-balance in order to glean information, then to hell with that. Talia blinked at him, head tilted just so under the shower, wondering how exactly she had angered, frustrated, or disappointed him – but more telling still – she wondered why she even really cared.

He’s fucking with my head, Talia blinked at the realization, a smirk on her lips. Clever. Nice try, Pretty-Eyes.

At his offer of disclosure on the matter of Madsen, provided she agree to an act of service, Talia’s eyebrows lifted with an amused snort. Quid pro quo, is it? Fine, then. Her face betrayed her dubious belief of his apparent lack of reach – with those arms, Shadow knew he could easily wrap her in a bear hug and still scratch his own back – but her curiosity needed to be sated, and they were both there already anyway. So she took the brush with one hand, while the other raked through her hair to toss it up over her shoulder and listened, doing her best to focus on his voice and not the lean muscles of his shoulders and back. Mmm, excellent lats, she nearly murmured regardless, as her fingertips traced over the sculpted mass just beneath his skin.

She’d barely begun to process what he’d recounted when the Romulan faced her suddenly. Talia’s brow flinched together as she blinked up at him, unable to keep her eyes on his, where they belonged. As he concluded his tale, her body tensed, muscles trembled as her mind clamped down against her own urges. Nevertheless, she took a step closer to him, and handed over the brush. They were dangerously close now, and for the span of a few seconds, Talia searched his eyes, ignoring his smirk, his aggravating amusement, and his absurdly arousing physicality through sheer strength of will.

Her eyes narrowed up at him. “So...you used her,” Talia’s brows rose at the statement, tilting her head opposite his, lips curling at his expression. “You got what you wanted – got a way off-planet, got your allies for the fight against the Tal’Shiar – and all it cost you was the animosity and grudging allegiance of someone who probably would have willingly helped if you’d just been honest,” Shadow shook her head at him. “I fail to see any amusement in that,” she sighed, then bit her lip as she took another half-step closer; close enough to feel his semi-rigid cock twitch against the hard line of her pelvis as she brought her lips close to his ear.

“You’re lucky I wasn’t her – you might have lost something... intimate in the exchange,” her thigh flexed against his pulsing cock. “But rest assured – if and when I require your...services, Mr. tr’Aimne, I’ll let you know,” she purred quietly, then slipped her body off of his with a subtle exhalation, side-stepped around, and headed to the glass door out of the shower only to pause and turn her head back to him over one shoulder.

“I wonder,” Talia cocked a hip, resting a hand there as the other rung the water from the long rope of hair in her fist. “What would I benefit from such an encounter, beyond a few fleeting moments of pleasure? What would you get out of it,” her lips curled at her own musings, as her eyes danced up and down his body. “I dislike complications...and you, Pretty-Eyes, for all your charm and appeal, are a risk I know better than to take."

Still. Still.

"Something to discuss over dinner, perhaps," Talia bit her lip again, then left, curious to see what he'd chosen for her to wear.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #29
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

“You got what you wanted; what more do you want?” The annoyed tone in Llaiir’s voice cut, not just because their bodies remained entwined for the moment after their mutual climax.

Hirek rolled away from her, having learned that she didn’t care if she scratched him till he bled with her sharp nails when she grew tired of his weight or touch and pushed him away. Lying on his back, eyes staring vacantly at the ceiling of their home, Hirek’s tongue pushed against his cheeks, his teeth, rolling in a half-circle and curling up as he tried to put into words exactly why a mere orgasm was not what he wanted with his wife.

“I don’t want –“

Llaiir’s shrill laugh cut him off before Hirek could even begin, “Don’t start, Kejail.” The casual use of his hidden name in a tone of such animosity cut deep, and Hirek fought to keep his expression free of the pain it caused, knowing she found twisted pleasure in seeing his pain. It had been a mistake, a grave mistake, to have trusted her with his name. Not only had she refused to give him hers, but she brandied his about with such disdain that Hirek wondered if she had ever felt anything for him but lust. “How often do you want me to reject you before you finally stop this prattling nonsense about affection and…love? You are my husband in body and service me when I am in need, but nothing else. I have no need for anything else you could possibly offer. In fact,” she raised up on the bed and stared down at him as if he were nothing more than a bug she wished to crush beneath her heel, “you have nothing to offer me that I want. Your emotions are too complicated, and your needs are too cumbersome. You’re only suitable for a few moments of pleasure,” her gaze traveled down the length of him, eyes heating with renewed desire, “you’re at least useful for THAT.”

“Llaiir, I don’t –“ Hirek’s voice caught in his throat as her hand snaked down between them and grabbed his cock in an almost painful grip.

“But I do.” She purred, as always uncaring.


Hirek shut off the water and retrieved his towel. There was no reason to respond to her goading or her claims. He merely chuckled and offered her the same confident smile she expected to see as he moved past her back into the lab, towel wrapped around his waist. The memory her words had elicited washed all desire from his blood as swiftly as a cold shower. Head clear of the fog of foreplay, Hirek quietly moved to the replicatorHirek ordered loose white trousers with a matching see-through white button-down long-sleeved collared tunic. The embroidered fabric had geometric patterns. To wear over the top, he ordered a pale green long-sleeved overcoat whose cut tapered in at the neck but angled out as it hung past his hips.

“As it will be windy on that side of the island,” Hirek issued a series of orders, then handed the bundle of clothing to Talia, “You may find this suitable.” He gestured back toward the shower, indicating an adjacent room, “There are cosmetics and lotions in the dressing room if you wish to freshen up further. I will double-check the program regarding the pavilion and make sure food is waiting for us when you’re ready.”

Turning his back on her, not caring what she chose to do, Hirek dropped his towel and multi-tasked as he dressed, fingers dancing over the computer console while he likewise shimmied into his clothing. He left a few of the top buttons undone, his body still heated from the warmth of the shower, but otherwise, he was finished by the time he heard Talia behind him and re-confirmed that the food was ready. Turning back to look at her, Hirek allowed a genuine smile as he took in her appearance.

“The color is good, and the cut attractive on your form.” He allowed a heartbeat before he gestured toward the door, “Our food awaits.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #30
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
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There was no witty remark, no charming attempt at pursuit, nor any agreement to further discussion; only a subdued, throaty chuckle and that peculiar smile – the one that broadcast nothing but bemused confidence – which could have meant anything and nothing at all. Talia blinked at Hirek as he passed where she stood dripping – while her hands wiped the moisture from her skin – but he didnt so much as glance in her direction. Before the Romulan wrapped himself in a towel, Shadow couldn’t help but notice that all physical signs of arousal had deflated from his body, which was telling in and of itself. While the pilot’s dark eyes followed his movements to the replicator, she procured her own towel to cover herself, brow lightly creased in confusion; Shadow wondered if that laugh and smile meant anything at all, or was a hint that he knew something of her that she wasn’t aware of.

Her first thought was of ‘the Romp’ – as the rumor mill had named it – with Ghost; had he heard of it, and judged her for it? Her lips twitched down in a frown of dismissal.

It doesn’t matter, Talia shook her head subtly with a shallow exhalation. You slammed the door in his face – what did you really expect, ace? It wasn’t the first time she’d acted without thinking in a shower, and likely wouldn’t be the last.

Wonderful maneuvering, Shadow – really, the pilot thought bitterly. Well fucking done.

With her skin and face flushed from the heat of the shower, as well as her own embarrassment – Talia turned her back to him to dry herself;  while the beeps of his keystrokes filled the pregnant silence that reigned between them. Shadow's chin twitched as her eyes fell closed in an attempt to not dwell on what had happened; yet where there should have been relief, there was only gnawing doubt, and a feeling that she’d once again pushed someone too far, to fast, all out of her own stupid fears. You shouldn’t even be here, and this is exactly why, Talia berated herself.

Hirek’s voice interrupted her thoughts, however. Talia turned her attention to him as she cinched the towel tight around her bodice and closed the distance between them. Once the bundle of clothing had been accepted, her eyes lingered on the brass colored sandals, then the silken, forest green color and the beautiful golden embroidery of the fabric below them. It was beyond beautiful, almost familiar somehow; thus distracted, she nodded belatedly, before her head and eyes followed Hirek’s gesture to the dressing room. Yet when she looked back at him to offer gratitude – he had already turned away from her.

So be it, Talia chewed her lip, nodding to herself as much as his back, as her eyes returned to the neatly folded clothes in her hand. It reminded her of her mother; of brilliant sun-lit eyes full of loving kindness, the soft touch of golden cloth on her skin…

A slow blink forced the painful memory away.

Suddenly furious at herself, Talia retreated from Hirek and turned to the dressing room without a word – both lips pulled into a tight line as her head shook – the light slaps of her bare feet on the tile the only sound offered as her mental self-condemnation continued.

You’re absolutely insane; you can get drunk with someone you barely know, have sex all over the ship, including a barely remembered threesome with a fucking stranger, get your brains humped out by another person you’d just met – but can you just be nice to the one person who asks for your time? That interests you? That just might have more to offer than a fucking playmate if you had the guts to ask? Fuuuck no.

Talia fumed audibly once she entered the dressing room with a scowl.

Hell no, that’d be asking too much, wouldn’t it? Can’t let people in, can we? Can't be honest like you demand of everyone else, huh? Have to keep fighting those demons alone instead, right? ‘Cause that’s what you think keeps you safe, when you know it's just bullshit – just like Zark fucking told you!

Her eyes locked onto her reflection in the mirror, filled with disgusted, impotent anger. She felt like breaking it – if only to vent some of the poison from her mind – but forced her fist to uncurl and set the sandals down on the floor by her feet with a sigh instead.

He probably thinks I’m psychotic.

Her hand scooped a hairbrush up from a shelf of various glass dispensers filled with what she assumed were lotions and fragrances. These were ignored, as the folded dress was carefully set on a small bench. Talia turned away from the mirror, her eyes lingering on the dress, as she brushed the tangles from her hair with subdued grunts of effort. With everything she’d learned, experienced, and tried to work through in the past two weeks…

Well, he’s not wrong.

[A few moments later…]

A calm and composed Talia returned, approaching Hirek where she’d left him. The Romulan turned at the sound of her sandals upon the tiled floor, while she adjusted the v-neck of her top to reveal a more modest amount of cleavage, then draped her mane of sable hair over one shoulder. The suit she wore resembled a modern interpretation of the traditional Anarkali dresses of India and Pakistani culture, yet distinctly Romulan at the same time. Attached at her slender midriff, an open skirt bellowed slightly behind in the wake of her stride, to reveal panted legs in the same silken, deep green fabric. While Talia quite enjoyed the attire, and did her best to conceal her inner turmoil, she doubted her success; yet to her mind, the damage had already been done.

So she met his complement with murmured gratitude and hesitant reciprocity, after his gesture to the door. Having no desire to linger, Talia still hesitated despite how eager she was to move on from the awkward tension she felt; the pilot didn’t remember a door being there before – but she quickly realized that hardly mattered in a holodeck, and stepped through the threshold.

Squinting against the direct sunlight, Talia walked onto a path of dark stone of identical shade to the cliffs that rose up on her right, beyond a small garden platform bordered by wild jungle growth. The path led down a gently carved slope, to bend off out of sight around a weathered rock formation that stood like a sentinel against the sea. Even from this distance, Talia guessed it was several dozen meters tall. She walked, her eyes ever in motion, absorbing the colorful flowers, then lifted to the sea and back. Neither of them spoke; Talia wasn’t sure what to say, and she could only guess what Hirek was thinking, so she just listened to the distant waves on the wind instead. Her senses filled with this artificial rendering of Romulus, the pilot once again reflected on its beauty. It was beautiful – a place she hoped to see in the real world, someday – if only to walk along one of it’s beaches in solitude, undoubtedly under constant surveillance.

Probably better off that way. No baggage, no assumptions, no awkward silence, nothing to hold me ba— The memory of her first experience of the ocean bloomed to life in her mind, interrupting her thoughts. It was only a few images and sensations, mostly, from what seemed like a lifetime ago and only yesterday at the same time – a bittersweet moment, recalled with a slight downward curl of her lips.

“I was terrified of the ocean as a child,” Talia confessed quietly, breaking the silence with the same halting, bitter tone she usually heard only in her head. She hadn’t really meant to speak, and Hirek would no doubt recognize her hesitation, but whatever that revealed to the Romulan, she left for him to decide. “My…father… took us – my sisters and I,” Talia continued after a few steps with a sigh, her eyes looking out towards the water. “I was very young…three or four, I think. I remember how big it was; loud, impossibly loud – the birds scared me – the waves scared me – everything scared me. I clung to…I didn’t want to go in,” Talia huffed a weak breath of amusement, “but that wasn’t an option.” She glanced in Hirek’s direction with a twitch of one shoulder. “I was already screaming before the water even touched me. Thinking back now,” Shadow shook her head slowly, “I don’t think I was really afraid of the water at all.”

Lapsing back into silence, Shadow lifted her eyes from the path and out to the sea again, unsure why she’d spoken at all, as they neared the bend and what lay beyond. Her head never stopped shaking. This is stupid. This is just fucking stupid. How much longer are you going to drag this out? Just leave, before he kicks you out.

It was the easy way out – maybe for the both of them, and she knew it; something within her instinctively sneered at the temptation. No explanation, no apology...she could just leave, and wash her hands of this mess. She owed him nothing, right? She didn't care what he thought, felt, or wanted, right?

Right?

Wrong, Talia growled at herself, as an overwhelming desire to fight her own programming enveloped her – heart and soul. She was fed up with her own bullshit; Hirek didn’t deserve it - Zark, Ghost, Nara…none of them deserved it. Who the hell was she, thinking - believing -  that it was justified to treat people that way? And she knew that if she didn’t stand now, right fucking now, and honestly try to be different, then nothing ever change, and she'd end up alone – regardless how long she managed to survive. Survival is not the same as living.

So, Talia took a breath, and stopped. Before the soaring tower of weathered rock, the pilot turned into the wind, face to face with the Romulan. Her countenance was calm, but her eyes were clouded with emotion – determined to say what she needed to say to him.

“I shouldn’t have come in here, Hirek. I shouldn’t have acted the way I have – I shouldn’t have said those things to you, or judged you the way I have, and…” her jaw clenched, as she pulled her flailing hair down out of wind, then just smiled at her own embarrassment as she looked away. “This is going to sound so fucking dumb…”

Fuck it – fire everything.

“Look…I like you, and that scares me, okay,” Shadow laughed, despite it all; she’d never confessed such a thing to anyone in her life. “Don’t ask why, just…it doesn’t matter – I’m crazy, obviously. So… I’ll spare you from dealing with my bullshit any longer, alright,” her head tilted along the path to the other side of the island, as she met his eyes again. “Just know that I really would have liked to have tried it,” she frowned softly. All of it.”

Blunt, brutal honesty delivered, Talia offered him a sad smile as she backed away; ready to call for the arch and leave him in peace.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #31
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 | D. 8 | V. 2 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Talia walked at his side with the gait of a woman preoccupied with her thoughts. Perhaps she had picked up on her words' effect on Hirek’s body – she wasn’t completely dense, just impulsive and hot-headed. If she had, she didn’t say and continued to not say as they passed through the threshold of the portal door, and their surroundings were immediately adjusted to suit his earlier programming for this part of the island. Hirek’s steps faltered a moment when they first pressed through the threshold; he’d spoken truthfully when he’d told Talia that he hadn’t been back to this area since just before he’d left for Qo’nos. Taking in a deep breath, though knowing it was but a simulation, Hirek instructed his mind to take comfort in what it could and exhaled on a half-smile.

Her brows were furrowed as if in a mental battle, and Hirek gave her the silence necessary to either win or lose against it. Talia readily displayed great bouts of courage at nearly the same passionate strength as she seemed to struggle with self-doubt or a crippling fear of being seen as vulnerable or weak. Hirek recognized some of the physical tics in Talia that younger, more untried Romulans also displayed when they were disquieted with the circumstances and didn’t want to be ridiculed or singled out. Hirek himself had gone through that phase a lifetime ago. He doubted the pilot would appreciate his pointing these tics out or giving her insight on how he learned to cover the more obvious ones with verbal diversions – though he had alluded to that in the shower earlier. Most likely, given the intensity of her current frown, if Hirek sought to offer her any constructive feedback at the moment, she’d kick him off the cliff and leave his fate to the safeties of the program.

When Talia spoke, her chosen route of reigniting conversation took Hirek off guard, and again, his steps faltered. She did not offer a reason for sharing the deep memory, just as she didn’t offer more than snapshots of the memory itself, but that did not stop Hirek from raising an eyebrow in studious contemplation. As far as he could tell, nothing said in their previous conversations would link to this sudden melancholic reverie and, if anything, Hirek had reminded her more than once that Talia did not need to justify herself to him or explain things, merely share what she wished to share with him and leave it at that. Given this, Hirek was curious as to why Talia had chosen to share this memory and was so caught up in his mental musings that his head jerked back and shoulders snapped up when Talia suddenly swung in front of him, looking as much a storm cloud as a dark-haired beauty. The traditional Romulan garb really did suit her body, and the color matched her skin tone well. He was idly curious if she found the lack of excessive skin disappointing or if she genuinely liked it.

Again, her words confused Hirek. It sounded like an apology, which was odd, and it also sounded like a confession, which was equally unexpected. Hirek watched her dark tendrils of hair lance up into the air on the steady wind, spearing the area around her head as she spoke, only barely brought into submission with an arm swipe and tense grip. More wisps broke free and continued to tickle along her jawline and reach toward the sea as if her hair wanted to explore more despite the turbulent nature of her explanation/confession. Hirek truly didn’t understand at what depth her feelings went, now that she’d spit them out in a most befuddling manner. He liked making ale, and he would like to rip all Tal’Shiar to shreds, so what exactly did Talia mean when she said she “liked” him? Was that a term Terrans used in substitution for something else?

Specifics aside, Hirek understood a few things. One, Talia was angry at herself. Two, she’d just said all she’d said in a manner that belied something weighty and important and rendered her potentially vulnerable. Three, she was trying to give him, or them, an out with her hasty exit. Four, she was still hungry, just as he was still hungry, and no one ever had a completely reasonable conversation on an empty stomach. Hirek had watched and listened to Talia’s stumbling tirade with a neutral expression, keeping his arms loose at his sides. But when she began to back away from him and the path leading around this first line of boulders to the promontory where the main pavilion structure lay, he raised a hand. He held it toward Talia, palm up in a universal gesture of supplication.

“You shared a memory, Talia,” As he said her name, Hirek realized that while he’d used her name in his mind, he had refrained from saying it aloud; he knew what it was like to have one’s name casually tossed around without regard. “Your culture may be different from mine, and I may sound strange in my chosen words, but choosing to share something of yourself, like that memory, must be honored and respected.” Hirek placed his open palm over his chest and bowed his head, also tilting his torso forward as he swept his other arm toward the path leading around the boulders. “Before you leave, allow me to share the meal prepared in the pavilion. If you are as hungry as I am, I believe you may rest better if you depart with a full belly.” Given the weighted nature of Talia's words and demeanor, Hirek refrained from making a jest about hungry females given to irrational behavior. “It is just around these boulders. And, if ensuring you are well-fed before you leave requires my silence, I’ll gladly…zip my lips. I believe I used the term correctly. Pierce taught it to me recently, and it’s my first occasion to use it in a sentence outside of practicing with her.”

A sudden gust of wind swept over the cliff. Further down below, the harmonious rocks sang, and from the still-hidden pavilion, he could hear the artistic wind chimes clack and cling. However, Hirek’s attention was on Talia and her hair as the wind whipped the outer dress tight around her waist while her hair danced rebellious and free about her head. The pavilion offered protection from the wind, but Talia would likely be more comfortable, should she stay, if her hair was better secured. Hirek closed the distance between them. Not bothering with her silly demands for consent, he boldly reached out and pulled out the scraggly twig the recent gust had blown into her hair. He held it up for her to see, going so far as to hand it to her lest she fall back into the habit of blustering at him regarding consent and space. A bit of her hair slapped against his neck on the blustery breeze, and Hirek chuckled. Even her hair seemed to be a semi-feral thing, carrying a wild energy as it leapt and stretched in every direction despite her efforts to contain it.

“I am skilled in hair plaiting,” Hirek refrained from touching the dark tresses, though he indicated them with a head nod, “You may be more comfortable if you secure your hair or let me secure it.” The singing rocks below them warned of another gust with their harmonious song, and then their bodies were pushed a step or two sideways when the wind caught them on the cliff. “The pavilion offers shelter from the wind if you come this way. I believe shelter, food, and water are the primary necessities for survival.”

Hirek started down the path. He wished to take her hand and walk together, feeling her warmth and protecting her from the gusty wind. But Hirek knew better than to touch her. She’d made it abundantly clear she didn’t trust him with her demands for consent when he’d been helping her and not taking advantage. Hirek determined that if the woman wanted something from him in the future, while she didn’t have to explain the reasons for wanting it, she at least had to state what she wanted explicitly. Hirek had to look over his shoulder to see if she was following, as the wind made it impossible to hear her steps on the path. His lips pulled upward in a satisfied smile when he saw her following, albeit at a slower and still quite uncertain pace.

Knowing the wind died down exponentially just around the corner, Hirek hurried around it, stepping to the side of the path for when Talia made it around the corner and joined him. Without the wind galing in his ears, Hirek heard her shuffles before he saw her, and gestured toward the structure rising up from an elevated promontory in front of them, tossing her an easy smile. An open-air thatch-covered shallow moat cut between their position and the promontory where the pavilion lay. Freshwater sparkled in the sunlight and danced in the breeze within the moat, where several earthen benches had been carved into the edges of the moat for the adults to sit while children played within. The moat had small, colorful pebbles and medium-sized boulders for play, not protection. At the edge of the moat, on the narrow stretch of area between the moat and pavilion, were several areas where earthen beds had been carved, complete with earthen pillows, to accommodate the more phlegmatic among the Uluuma island parents. A gurgling fountain spilled out from a craggy boulder in the moat's middle, filling it with fresh water from the spring further up the mountain. Springy moss grew in the area immediately around the waterfall, making a naturally soft green bed of the earthen furniture carved nearby.

Nature and Romulan combined in the doming structure of the main pavilion, with all building materials combined of the dark rock of the area, driftwood from the beaches, woven reed mats from the jungle flora, and earthen benches, tables, and chairs carved out of the reddish clay also native to the area. Latticework walls interlaced with oval windows allowed in plenty of natural light, creating a dappled light show across the floor as the sunlight streamed through. Vines growing over parts of the egg-like superstructure of the pavilion draped over a few of the oval portals, leading to other, smaller pavilions jutting up and out from the main structure. Wherever it was possible, local flowering flora sprang up, filling the area with exotic scents and lending a certain freshness to the sea air flowing in and out of the pavilion.

Aside from the main semi-circular platform that extended from the main entrance point, there were a half dozen similarly designed half-circle platforms that rose up and out from the main structure, each sporting a small pavilion with facilities for sunbathing, picnicking, and even taking a turn in a two-person sized wash basin filled with solar heated fresh water, pumped in from the same natural spring that filled the moat. There were several hanging solar-powered lanterns in each of these smaller pavilions as well as in the main, to light the area at night, yet, if this proved not enough, each of the smaller pavilions jutting off the main had its own small fire pit area while the main pavilion had a large earthen made hearth carved into the main wall adjacent to the entry.

That same spring fed into the trickling spillway that sprang out from either side of the earthen hearth, tumbling hundreds of feet down the cliffside to a small stream that fed into the sea. This stream, the beach, and the musical rocks he’d spoken about earlier could be glimpsed through the open area but a few feet in front of the hearth, towards the middle of the semi-circular main structure of the pavilion, where a mesh net was pulled taut in the open space between wood pillars that supported the lattice-work domed ceiling. It was designed to hold the weight of multiple adult-sized Romulans, with the meshwork small enough to prevent children from falling through. Almost directly in the center of the semi-circular area of the main pavilion was a circling set of metal-work stairs that led down to a carved-out rock face a few yards below the promontory, where a circular private villa, complete with bathing and food preparation facilities, lay for those interested in staying in the area overnight.

Hirek had programmed the holodeck to ensure that each smaller pavilion and the main had a fire going in their respective areas, unsure of what Talia would prefer. He’d also programmed the food to be prepared and laid out on a low-lying table adjacent to the mesh net in the main pavilion. He hadn’t needed to adjust the time of day to accommodate a late afternoon sun, as given the prescribed time they’d entered and the time spent since it would’ve been late afternoon naturally, were this real. The pavilion's interior, already rich in reddish brown colors from the materials used for construction, would glow amber in the afternoon light as they entered. Hirek enjoyed seeing Talia's responses, so he watched her reaction to the surroundings and refrained from immediately leading her to the table and food, despite knowing it would make her feel better.

Breaking the fallen silence, Hirek pointed toward the pavilion, “Will you join me?”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #32
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
[Show/Hide]
After Hirek had moved off out of sight, Talia stood frozen with indecision, unsure what to do. The wavy, black mess of her hair streamed in the wind and roared in her ears, heavy with the sounds of surf and the ringing tones of the singing rocks. They moaned, low and mournful; as if in sympathy for the state of her soul, then rose in pitch as the wind gusted into a chorus of hope. Talia’s lip trembled, prompting her to bite it as she shook her head. She didn’t watch him leave; her eyes fixated on the small twig in her hand, the one he had pulled from her hair only a few seconds before. It was a small, simple gesture of kindness…the last thing Talia had expected; she had practically flinched at Hirek’s offer to stay after her attempted apology was met with only confusion. The Romulan hadn’t even acknowledged it – instead, he'd replied with formality masked with a blank expression, while his eyes seemed to see right through her. Talia was left doubting why she had even tried. Did he not understand what it took for her to say that to him? Didn’t he realize how terrible she felt for treating him the way she had?
 
What do I have to do, spell it out for him? And Pierce – yet again, her eyes narrowed. Did he offer to 'tend to her hair', too, Talia sneered at the petty, jealous thought. It hardly mattered – yet it did. He had her unbalanced and vulnerable, frozen by doubt. Shadow snorted weakly at the spike of jealousy, then frowned at the stick in her hand intently – dark brows creased – as if the answers to all her questions were locked within it. Then the wind gusted, fierce enough to force her to brace against it with a grunt; the twig flew from her hand, off the cliff, out onto the rocks and waves below – then out of sight. Talia winced as she ground her teeth and turned her back to the wind. The wild mane of her hair flew out around her face as she closed her eyes. In that moment, Shadow felt weary far beyond her years – tired of all the noise in her head – all the voices and indecision and lies cloaked in seemingly justifiable reasoning, telling her how stupid and worthless she was.

How many times had she been here, lamenting over her own inability to deal with her issues? How many opportunities for a better life had she let go, just like that twig, out of fear and misplaced pride? Her Uncle had tried to warn her years ago that she needed to let go of her pain; that it would poison her against everyone and turn her into someone she would only end up despising – but she didn’t listen. Talia wasn’t ready to hear the truth in his words, truth spoken out of love and hope, not criticism and judgment. Even then she had convinced herself that her Uncle had only taken her in out of blood loyalty; that she was nothing but a burden, and an unwelcome one at that. He would have left her, given the choice, just like…

Stop – just, stop, Talia growled at herself. Enough is enough. Yes, you stupid, foolish girl – you push people away before they can hurt you – while Hirek just…

Talia’s eyes snapped open. Her hand and arm dragged some of her hair down as she turned around, back into the wind, searching for him. He had moved out of the worst of it, around the bend, but waited for her. Talia’s eyes watered, as much from the wind as her own emotions – while she cursed herself for being so blind; too selfish and self-absorbed to see what was now so obvious.

Like the shimmering, chameleon-like rok-tai they had hunted earlier, the Romulan seemed to cloak himself in a veil of amused indifference; he left nothing to be seen except what he wanted to be seen – hiding in plain sight beneath his charm, wit, and provocative nature. Talia wondered then, how much of him she’d really seen at all; if he had, like her, been struggling with his own issues this entire time – if he even wanted to be seen at all. Worse still, what if he did, and this program was simply a way for him to feel comfortable enough to do so? Not a trap, as she so arrogantly assumed, but a place that he had hoped to let his guard down, and simply enjoy with someone who knew nothing about him or whatever the Tal'Shiar had done to wound him so painfully in the past? And what had she brought to the table? Suspicion, scorn, and arrogance.

No more. That’s not who I want to be, Talia’s jaw clenched, as her mind set in decision. She’d made plenty of mistakes already, and if this turned into one more – what’s the worst that could happen? Better to find out now than wonder later, for once. Maybe if he sees me, even a little, I'll see a little of him, the pilot hoped, but doused the expectation as unrealistic; Hirek had proved her wrong, time and again, already. No more expectations. He is what he is, she told herself, as her feet carried her to him one step at a time.

As she drew closer, the Romulan moved on just out of reach while the pilot reviewed and analyzed his replies and reactions to her stubborn, irrational, emotional behavior – ever since he’d first approached her in the gym. Talia realized then how much nerve and courage that had taken; while every time she had pushed, he had simply accepted what she chose to show him. On the other hand, Talia knew she could be wrong – painfully wrong – about him, like she had been all along; Shadow had rendered her judgment before she’d even known Hirek’s name. One look had told her everything she needed to know about him; that made her a hypocritical fool – in every sense of the word.

These thoughts flooded her mind as she silently shuffled along, in no rush to catch up to Hirek. Idly, she mused that maybe part of the problem – her problem – was simply an inability to accept people for what they were. Talia had to understand, had to dig, had to know every detail, treating people like flight manuals – always seeking to memorize the controls. She had to know, not trust; that notion made her stomach turn, but she knew it was true. Faith in others was anathema; Talia had always only relied on herself.

He deserves better, Talia’s head shook, then lifted her eyes from the path once the wind subsided. Her steps faltered in hesitated shock as her mind tried to process what her eyes saw over the Romulan’s shoulder, dominating the view.

Hirek’s ‘pavilion’ was anything but. Her dark eyes blinked in fascinated wonder as she drew up alongside him, lips parted in amazement. The tower was a marvel, an incredibly beautiful feat of design and engineering – almost organic in the way it rose up from the rock. Talia had never seen anything like it, and knew she likely never would again. Her eyes bounced from the water moat, to the carved rock, driftwood terraces and odd shaped windows, to the designed interiors…everything seemed… elemental, built from the roots of Romulus itself, yet elegant and comfortable and welcoming, on a scale far larger than she’d ever imagined. She could almost picture the youths playing in the pools, the elders reclined upon the suspended nets, the kitchens and rooms filled with activity. It was a place of communal harmony, of family, something beyond her ability to comprehend fully. Her brow creased in effort to keep her emotions in check; thinking of how it must feel for Hirek to see it once again. His question softened her features, as she turned her attention to him, meeting his eyes with her own. She wanted to take his hand, for him to show her every room, every view, every hidden place. He had built this program with those hands, his mind and memories, in such beautiful detail; that fact alone told Talia how much this place meant to him – what it meant for him to share it.

I’m such a fool. Such a stupid, foolish girl.

Talia nodded, with a small, hopeful smile. “I’d really like to, yeah,” she answered quietly, “but…I want you to understand that I am sorry for what I did to you, first. I hurt you, and you didn’t deserve that,” she added softly. “I won’t do that again. Not intentionally," her lips curled after that promise, but only enough to show him she knew better than he did that cultural and verbal misunderstandings would still happen – likely due to her own fault more than his. Her eyes fell to his hand, then her feet, as she drew and held a breath. Her fingers twitched in hesitation, as Talia fought to push her own awkwardness and doubts aside.

See me, please, her lips twitched. Just see the real me. Her pulse pounded as she exhaled. Just once – no more hiding – no more judgment – no more assumptions. Just…me, for what its worth. Talia lifted dark-chocolate eyes to his – shining in calm acceptance of whatever he chose to do next. Let me show you I’m not what you think I am.

Talia cleared her patched throat, licked dry lips, and pushed on. “If you understand that…and try to trust in that promise…then I can try to trust you too – but if you cant, then I choose to try anyway,” Talia continued in an emotive whisper. “And if you really want to do something with all this,” she smirked wryly, as her left hand raked the wind-blown hair from her face, giving the tangled, dark curtain a shake. “If the offer still stands, I’d welcome it,” Shadow finished with a subtle shrug, then simply extended her hand out for his, palm down, fingers extended.

“Will you take me in?” She asked softly, head tilted to the pavilion as she held his eyes.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #33
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Talia’s insistence on apologizing amused Hirek, though he wisely kept his amusement to himself. He chalked it up to a difference in cultures and accepted it. Before this moment, during her apologies, though there had been few, she’d been gruffer and more defensive. These past two apologies, in contrast, had offered little justification and more insight, leading Hirek to deduce that this type of apology, as haltingly spoken as it was, was likely a more genuine emotional effort than her previous ones. Perhaps Talia sought to bond more closely with someone by apologizing this way? Even so, her continued doubt in his actions and words, even his own authenticity, was not without merit. Hirek had told her as much that Romulans were more likely to play games with one another than be sincere, and he’d openly admitted to his own methods for testing a person’s disposition. Talia was once more displaying a confident thread of courage in the tapestry of her character in her confession and assertions; Hirek respected that, even if there were many nuances of her past few words and claims that he still didn’t quite understand or believed he understood, to the degree she’d likely uttered them.

“You should know,” Hirek accepted her hand, pulling her close to his side and tucking it into the crook of his elbow, “that for all my games, I am a man of my word.” Resuming his course with Talia keeping pace at his side this time instead of lurking over his shoulder, Hirek’s voice was tinged with amusement. “I do not make offers I do not intend to make good on.” He stopped at the first earthen works settee just outside the main entrance, gesturing for Talia to sit down. “That includes plaiting your hair.”

Waiting for Talia to adjust her position for him to have better access, Hirek glanced around the immediate vicinity for likely accessories. Tempestuous though she may be, Talia was still a woman and likely appreciated life's prettier, softer things just as much as the next woman. Hirek marked the small white blossoms of a low-lying flowering bush just a few steps shy of their location and nodded. They would suit just fine. Hirek glanced back down to Talia, his smile soft as he saw her emerald garb spread like a halo on the reddish clay of the carved settee, her dark hair falling in thick waves down her back. Pressing the tips of his fingers against her hairline at her forehead, Hirek first combed his fingers over the top of her hair, already knowing, based on its texture, that there would be a number of tangles to work out before he could hope to plait it well.

As he worked one section at a time, starting with the top and then moving on to the crown and nape, Hirek spoke casually of which parts of the pavilion area had been built first, which clans had been involved, and what areas had been slated for further expansion when he’d had to leave Romulus. With a few stubborn tangles clinging in the deeper portions of her hair, Hirek continued his detangling efforts as he shared how he’d first learned to plait – at this very pavilion – learning from his cousins as they plaited each other’s hair in elaborate and often ridiculous styles. His lips pulled upward, and he snorted at the memory as he shared how he’d grown his hair out specifically to participate in this weekly ritual. Hirek reserved, for now at least, that one of his primary motivations to participate was out of desperation for physical touch in a culture that held touch to be something weighted and meaningful and, therefore, something that shouldn’t be given easily or openly, without risking it becoming a weapon used against you. While his island home was even more open with affection than many other places on Romulus, even among his kin, there was always that element of trepidation that stayed the hand that long to reach out for another.

When his fingers were finally freed up to make the four-stranded braid Hirek determined would hold her hair best and suit her features, he dared to turn the one-sided conversation back to a few of the things Talia had said earlier. At least, after his makeshift head massage, she was likely more relaxed, and with his fingers wrapped intricately within her silken tresses, it would be harder for her to jerk out of his touch and run away. As close to a captive audience as he could expect without actual ropes involved.

“You have not ‘hurt’ me, Talia. While I’ve acknowledged moments in our interactions that your body language and tone of voice denoted ire directed at me, nothing you’ve said or done has…hurt me.” Hirek blinked, weighing his next words, before he resumed. “A few comments here or there sparked less than pleasant memories, but you do not need to feel concerned or responsible for that. My past is what has made me, for the good or bad, and harsh words spoken in a heated moment are certainly not something I’m overly concerned about. A fighter pilot, I presume, must be of a certain intelligence level, and yet,” he playfully tugged at her hair, “I have to keep repeating myself. I have no expectations, Talia, no requirements. And certainly, I make no demands for explanations or justifications.”

Finished with the braid itself, Hirek used the ends of Talia’s hair to wrap and weave over itself to tie it off so it wouldn’t unravel. Patting the tops of her shoulders, he shook his head at her when he caught her gaze, letting her know nonverbally that he wasn’t done yet.

He spoke over his shoulder as he left her side just long enough to pluck a half dozen blossoms from the bush, “I like these flowers,” he held them up for her to see, passing his hand beneath her nose so she could catch the light scent as well, “I also like to mix new blends of ale.” Hirek narrowed his gaze as he wiggled the flowers into the various layers of her braid. ‘I like many things, in fact, so forgive my ignorance when I readily confess to not recognizing if your earlier statements held something with a deeper meaning than,” he stepped back and smiled at his work, shifting his position until he was in her peripheral vision, “I like seeing your hair plaited with these flowers dressed in traditional Uluma garb.”

The only thing nearby that could serve as a looking glass was the water in the moat near Talia's feet. Hirek jutted his chin toward it, curious if she'd like it as much as he did.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #34
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 2 | Deck 8 | Vector 2 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
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Her brows lifted with the corners of her lips at his reassurance. Talia had a similar stake in her own integrity, and she had essentially promised to try to trust him, so that was what she was going to do. The pilot took a breath after seating herself, trying to relax while gathering up the errant mass of her hair before she flung it all back across her shoulders. As much of a tangled mess that it was, she wondered how well Hirek would be able to braid it without a comb, but was curious to see the outcome regardless. Her eyes closed on instinct at his touch, while she sat in the sunlight, hands folded in her lap.

He spoke about the pavilion and briefly mentioned the other clans of the islands, and his honeyed voice along with the unexpected massage to her scalp soon enough eased some of the tension from her body – visible in the way her shoulders dropped, features softened, and more than once hummed softly at his touch. Talia couldn’t quite imagine him with long hair, but did not doubt him – she’d learned in a similar way herself, as a child with her sisters, braiding each other’s hair. Once she felt him begin to entwine the parted sections of her mane, her eyes flickered open, blinking in the light, as he addressed her apology.

The pilot’s eyes rolled in amused annoyance at the tug to her hair, but her lips pulled up in a smile Hirek probably didn’t see. Talia’s cheeks burned slightly as she flushed from an odd cocktail of emotions from his words; she hadn’t meant to imply physical harm, nor had she expected to hear him admit that she had inadvertently triggered painful memories – to her mind, one was the same as the other. Her brows twitched together fractionally, wondering if he (or Romulans in general) were always so...literal. If that was the case, then Talia avowed to attempt to be as specific as possible with her language; which would be an interesting challenge, to say the least. The pilot always knew what she wanted to say...but getting it out of her head was rather...difficult.

She turned to look at him over her shoulder, after a minute or so, to see if he was done. The thick braided rope of her hair brushed against her neck and shoulder with the movement, but he simply shook his head and patted her shoulders before moving off a few steps. A dark brow arched, as she watched him pluck a handful of pretty white flowers. She smiled as he showed them to her then teased her nose with their subtle scent, before placing them in her hair. Another simple gesture of kindness – wholly unexpected – but as he continued, confessing that he didn’t understand what she really meant, Talia glanced at him in a double take, unable to stop the smile from spreading across her lips in true amusement. He really didn’t know – which Talia found oddly hilarious.

“It’s beautiful,” Shadow nodded, then smiled at him as she stood, dimples and all. Her hands rose to drape the thick braid over one shoulder, then tilted her head at him as she clasped them behind her back. “My sincere thanks,” the pilot bowed in mimicry of Hirek’s formality, with a dip of her crown, “for the skillful demonstration and sharing your memories.”

Talia returned her attention to the water then, smiling as she chewed her bottom lip for a moment; trying and failing to stop chuckling at her own foolishness. Outside of her head for once without intoxication was a rare experience; she could almost see herself through his eyes – an unstable, emotional tempest – giggling like a child at a magic show. When the quiet laughter faded, Shadow tilted her head back in the sunlight, closed her eyes, and took a breath. “Oh, fuck it,” she murmured to herself through a smile, then met his gaze once again.

“So do you want to know what I meant? I could tell you,” she shrugged, carefree, then closed the distance between them. “But if I did that I suppose I’d be ‘explaining myself’,” she chuckled again. “Either way, don’t sweat it, okay,” her head tilted up the steps, into the main circular section of the tower, where the subtle scent of sustenance teased her nose. “I’ll grab the food for us, you pick a spot to eat, deal? And don’t think I’m letting that hair tug slide,” she smirked at him over her shoulder as she led the way deeper into the pavilion, “awfully ballsy maneuver, so close within striking distance – well played, Pretty-Eyes.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #35
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Hirek held up his hands in a feigned attempt to stave off her threat of explanation. Once he lowered his hands, Hirek chuckled. “To be clear, I never said you couldn’t explain, only that you didn’t need to feel pressured to explain things you didn’t feel like explaining.” Before she could twist away from him with the last words of promised retribution, Hirek snagged the end of her plait, tugging it subtly. When Talia hesitated in her steps, Hirek leaned forward and whispered next to her ear, “I like your braid. Gives me something to hold on to when you get unruly.”

He took the stairs two at a time before she could respond and confidently strode across the central area of the pavilion. Leaving Talia to collect the food as she stated she would – curious what she would collect among the various dishes he’d programmed to appear – Hirek chose the elevated smaller pavilion jutting off from the main that faced the sea, with a mirroring version of the net in the middle of its floor through which they could see the water spray as it passed through the singing rocks. There was a wide, cushioned swinging bench, the net itself, a pair of half-oval sunken wicker chairs, and the deck steps themselves to choose from for seating. Hirek doubted she’d prefer to eat while sitting in the solar-warmed, smoothed rock-hewn tub of fresh water, where, with a press of a button, hundreds of tiny bubbles would tickle over their skin as they relaxed in its warmth.

As he waited for her to join him, Hirek moved to stand next to the wooden railing twisted together out of bleached driftwood. Windchimes of seashells and sea glass tinkled in the breeze beneath the railing, creating a magical sound with the singing rocks below. The quality of the sky was changing, rounding at the edges, almost bulging with the sun's warm light as it sank lower in the sky. The whole pavilion area was bathed in a gingery color. As Hirek turned to face Talia when he heard her approaching steps, his body was briefly a silhouetted shadow to perceive. Spying her choices, Hirek’s smile was broad when he shifted his body to prevent the sun from momentarily blinding Talia as she made it to the top of the pavilion area, arms and hands burdened with their food.

“I’m impressed with how much you managed to carry,” Hirek thought to offer her a hand but realized everything was perfectly balanced, and any effort on his side would send everything clattering to the floor, “Choose your spot and then let me know what I CAN do to help get situated because it looks like you’ve got things well in hand for the moment.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #36
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 2 | Deck 8 | Vector 2 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
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“Thank you, that’s very helpful,” Talia chuckled back at Hirek’s clarification with a shake of her head. Just as she made to pass him, his hand slipped up into her braid and tugged again. Her lips pulled in as they curled, then pursed as the pilot inhaled. She shouldn’t have been surprised, yet she was; that didn’t stop her from smirking though. Dark chocolate eyes narrowed to slits as Talia froze, turning her head at Hirek’s whisper with a look of amused annoyance while the urge to bite him, beat him, and kiss him flared all at once; the Romulan fled, however, bounding up the steps as Talia’s eyes followed him.

Twit.

She couldn’t help but notice he seemed much more open and playful while her back was turned – Talia wondered briefly if that was common to all of his kind – whether a byproduct of nature, culture, or psychological circumstance. An idle curiosity, easily dismissed in the face of what she’d seen of him so far. Shadow smirked, reminded of the fact that the man enjoyed pushing buttons. She wondered, as her lips pulled into a true smile, how far she’d let him push her before the inevitable slap into next week. “Keep it up – I’ll show you unruly,” the pilot chuckled at his juvenile antics as she shook her head again, then returned the braid to its previous position – draped over the front of one shoulder. A hand petted it like a newfound treasure while she walked. Eat your heart out, Duchess.

Her thoughts and attention focused on sustenance, however, with another angry growl of her stomach.

Once within the Pavilion proper, Talia’s eyes moved away from the Romulan to roam the interior as she walked, unhurried, following her nose; a circuitous stone path led the way around the wide netted area – which she avoided – to a large central area of carved rock behind a raised half-wall beyond the main fire pit. The pilot smiled appreciatively at the décor, a marvelous blend of comfort and elemental minimalism; it felt like a home, a den, and an aerie, of sorts, all at once – glowing with light from within and without.

Shadow paused once she reached the spread of dishes laid out, taking the time to uncover each one to smell and inspect. She had no idea what anything was called, or what sauces went with what, and quickly decided to take as much as she could to try everything. There were several choices, however. A glance around revealed a bar of sorts behind her, filled with various decanters of Hirek’s prized, home-brewed ales. Two large, wooden trays sat upon a counter there. Yeah, that’ll do, Talia nodded to herself, picked one, and started transferring dishes onto it, along with napkins and utensils. Once it was loaded up, the pilot hoisted it up to her shoulder with one hand.  After a few adjustments to find the tray’s proper center of gravity, Talia scooped up a bowl of fruits and berries in the other hand before she delicately set off to rejoin Pretty-Eyes.

The Twit, her lips curled, could easily be his new nickname, Talia snorted, then blinked as she rounded the half-wall; the daylight was brighter than she’d realized, reflected off the smooth, carved stone in golden brilliance. The momentary distraction forced her to pause, lest she lose the balance on the tray and ruin her chance to eat – which would not end well for anyone involved. Slower, ever more cautiously, she continued to walk towards the sounds of the sea, wind-chimes, and the chorus of sighing rocks. Hirek’s voice guided her as much as his outline, one eye pinched shut as the other squinted at him, while she climbed the last of the stairs – only to halt with a chuckle.

“Yeah, I’ve got it, thanks,” Talia smirked at him with a roll of her eyes, then glanced around while avoiding the netted area. “You can...go grab the drinks,” she suggested with a backwards tilt of her head. “There was a variety to choose from down there; samples of your ales, I assume,” her unencumbered shoulder rose in a half-shrug. “I wouldn’t mind trying a light sample with dinner, if offered, of course.”

Talia smiled to herself as she watched him leave, then returned her attention to the options present for where to eat. A brow arched as her lips pursed in consideration, while she set the fruit bowl down on a small table between the wicker chairs. Hm, her eyes lingered on the carved lip of the earthen-stone tub, then glanced at the tray. No way that will fit, Shadow smirked skeptically as she approached, then carefully brought the tray down from her shoulder. It clicked into place perfectly, providing a makeshift table of sorts for the both of them. Talia rested her hands on her hips, amused at the coincidence as she chewed her lip.

Never ate in a hot tub before, Shadow shrugged – then sighed with a shake of her head – well, I might have. “Hell with it,” she snorted, then started to undress. “Not like we haven’t seen each other naked,” she added in a mumble. The suit was folded neatly, as best as she could, and set on one of the wicker chairs. Once she was nude, the pilot scooped up the fruit bowl with one hand and popped a berry in her mouth, humming at the surprisingly sweet flavor on her way to the tub.

Talia had only just lowered herself into the blissfully warm water and adjusted her position – legs folded to the side, one arm draped over the back edge – when she heard Hirek’s footsteps over the relaxing, sea-side ambiance. A brow arched as she turned her head to him, curious to see which brews he’d chosen while slightly impatient to feed her ravenous hunger. The tip of her braid dipped into the clear, chest high water, still curled over one bare shoulder as he stepped into view, covering her in his shadow.

“You’re in my light, you know,” the pilot quipped with a curl of her lips, then popped another berry in her mouth, chewing quickly as she sat up, pointing at the various dishes as she spoke. “So – fish, salad, soup of some kind,” she shrugged, then turned hungry eyes back to his. “You getting in,” her head tilted with another smirk, “or do you need another specific, intentional invitation explaining the obvious?”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #37
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

As he’d explicitly programmed a set of smaller glasses for sampling, it wasn’t difficult for Hirek to load a tray with dual sets of samples of every liquid he’d had presented for them to choose from. Ten of the twelve samples weren’t precisely like what he’d made back on Romulus, but they were a passing fair alternative, still a flavor profile that only someone accustomed to the making of Romulan ale could have programmed. In the first days of his time aboard Theurgy, Hirek had been more than a little elated to discover that two of the blends from his family’s line of ales were known in the computer’s database. However, he’d snorted when reading about the Federation cautions placed within the description. The average Federation member couldn’t hold their Romulan ale well. What a pity. With the twenty-four small glasses in total filled with a varying array of liquid shades of blue, purple, and even green safely lined up on his serving tray, Hirek returned to the smaller pavilion area.

As he neared, Hirek’s lips drew back in a bemused smile. His earlier assumption regarding where Talia would choose to lounge and eat had been wrong, as readily seen in her naked back. Setting the tray down on the nearest table, only barely within reach of anyone in the tub, Hirek stood to his full height, once more blocking the sun, staring at Talia with unabashed mirth showing in the lines of his smile. Her feigned annoyance at his blocking the light drew a snort from the Romulan before he shifted to the side and let the afternoon sunlight hit her dead on.

“For someone who only just moments ago stated she once feared the sea, you seem to have an affinity for being in the water.” Still chuckling at her chosen location, Hirek left the tub area just long enough to retrieve a few towels from their semi-hidden vestibule tucked under another bench. Shedding the outer jacket, Hirek nodded toward the tray of drinks, “The palest blue and turquoise colored ones are from my family’s brewery that, surprisingly enough, were already registered in the ship’s database. The others are the closest approximation to what you would be tasting were we actually on Romulus.” Folding the jacket, Hirek next tugged the tunic over his head, continuing as he folded the tunic then slid his fingers into the hemline of his pants, “And to be clear, just as I have minimal safeties for the activities in this program, there are no safeties with the alcohol. Considering how much you were able to handle on our tour,” Hirek briefly snorted as the memories played out in quick succession, “I doubt these twelve shots will get you drunk.”

Now just as nude as Talia, Hirek slipped in beside her but opted not to sink all the way, instead choosing to sit on the wide lip of the tub for the time being, having only his calves and feet in the water. Positioned like this, he could reach both the drinks and food more easily than Talia, but only if she requested the help. Not waiting for ceremony, Hirek picked up some of the ladled soup, foregoing the spoon, and sipped it directly from the bowl.

“According to legend, this soup was first made in ancient times by an anxious bride for her picky husband the morning after they’d consummated the arranged marriage.” Like everything else, it was close but not exactly what he’d have offered in his home. Still, it was pleasant, and the playful smile he offered Talia, staring at her over the edge of his bowl, was genuine. “It did the trick, and the man never complained about her cooking the rest of their lives.” Glancing at the rest of their fare, he shook his head. “Nothing stands out to me regarding these other dishes, only that they are commonly served this time of year.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #38
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
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When Hirek moved, her eyes blinked rapidly in the returning sunlight, forcing her to squint with a chuckle. After a quiet hum of amusement at his comment, Talia tilted her head back as he moved out if view, relaxed by the warmth of the water and sunlight. “Well it helps that there isn’t anything in here that wants to eat me,” she smiled as her eyes drifted shut, waiting for him to undress. She couldn’t help but notice the curl in his lips. “Besides, that was a long time ago,” she added under her breath with the barest shrug of one shoulder. The memory threatened to reform in her mind, but was easily dismissed this time; she didn’t fight it, didn’t ignore it, but simply accepted it for what it was – a moment in time from a girl who feared the unknown.

Time to grow up a little, ace.

A brow arched as one eye cracked open at his words, and Talia looked over the assortment of ales, wondering why he set them so far out of her reach. Sitting in the sunlight, the little glasses sparkled with reflections; while Shadow’s lips curled at Hirek’s warning. She had no intention of repeating her behavior from the previous night, nor allowing herself to become intoxicated beyond reason; Romulan ale was notoriously strong – this much Talia knew, but had never experienced personally.

“Thanks for the warning,” Shadow’s brows rose at him with a glance over her shoulder. “I’ll try not to embarrass myself,” she added with a self-deprecating chuckle as Hirek seated himself while she sat up out of the water. All too used to fending for herself, hunger overwrote etiquette or any thought of nudity as she bent forward and reached to set the fruit bowl down in exchange for the bowl of soup – sliding a bit on the smooth bottom of the tub with a half aborted giggle at his story.  Her chin and fingers lifted towards the drinks. “The colors – different ingredients or different processes, I assume?” The fact that two of his brews were available for replication was a bit odd, but this wasn’t exactly a ‘normal’ post, or situation.

Wonder who else knows about that?

Talia stole a large chunk of what appeared to be perfectly grilled fish while she was close, pinched between forefinger and thumb, then shoved it in her mouth. A rumble of approval, very much like a half-starved animal defending its kill, instantly followed; her shoulders dropped – every sinew and muscle in her body relaxed – even her head tilted back slightly.

Damn that’s good. I really have to stop missing meals, fuck sakes, Talia grumbled to herself, quickly chewing before another bite was stolen in the same fashion. After another less pronounced hum, the pilot held the soup aloft and slid back from the makeshift table to her earlier position, carefully so as not to spill any in the water. “There’s a saying from Earth that roughly equates to the same sentiment,” a dark brow arched at Hirek, while her free hand covered her mouth so she could chew. “The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach,” Shadow swallowed, then lifted a shoulder. “Or something such – although that usually happens at the start of a relationship,” the pilot snorted at herself, “but I’m certainly no expert in those matters; arranged or otherwise.”

Once she was comfortably settled, Talia raised the bowl to her lips to sip the steaming broth experimentally. Her brows twitched up, with only a pause to blow some of the heat off the liquid, before sipping more. A brief slurping sound issued, as she sucked a mouthful of noodles up, then smirked, turning her head to meet Hirek’s eyes. “I’m impressed. That fish is delicious, too,” her head nodded to the side at the table. “Wonderful flavor – not too fishy, meaty,” her hand came up in an ‘ok’ gesture. “I’ll have to get all the nutritional data from the computer – I think I’ll sub it for salmon,” Talia added, thinking aloud, then shook her head at herself. “I’m sure the real thing is better, but its better than my normal stuff,” another half-shrug, followed by another sip.

“On the subject of weddings,” Talia returned a similar smile over the lip of her bowl, “I think you’d like a traditional one from my people. Some can be overly tedious things, full of ceremony and pomp,” a shoulder lifted again, “but where I come from – its basically one big buffet party. Like your clan here, the entire family is invited; distant relations, friends, everyone. So much food, dancing – with and without swords – music; its quite the affair. We never do anything half-assed,” her eyes rolled with a chuckle. It had been a very long time since she’d been to one.

Talia grinned at the memory in her mind; her and some cousins belly dancing, the smell of jasmine and smoke in the air – laughter. A good memory. “Yeah, you’d like it,” her head tilted up at him. “Are yours like that, or more along the drawn out, ceremonial side,” she asked, before tipping the bowl up to her lips again. After the last was drained with a satisfied sigh, Shadow licked her lips as she sat up again, intent on grabbing more fish – but her knee slipped, right into Hirek’s foot – and she toppled right into the space between his knees.

After a scrambled recovery, Talia looked up with a wince, trying not to laugh as she stood; the poor Romulan was wearing most of his soup. “Oh shit, I’m so sorry…just…hang on,” her lips twitched in aborted grins, “I’ll get you a towel,” she added quickly then stepped out the tub. He’d placed some nearby, which the pilot quickly scooped up and opened as she returned to drape over his shoulders from behind, then started dabbing his skin and picking noodles from his short beard, tilting his head back into the valley of her chest. “Stupid tub,” Shadow grumbled to herself, “sorry; was really good soup,” she winced again, but couldn’t stop from smiling either. He had a piece of what looked like onion stuck to the end of his nose.  “I guess the tub wasn’t such a good idea after all, huh,” she frowned down at him and removed it. “You okay?”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #39
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

“Both different ingredients and different processes,” Hirek answered her question, deftly picking up one of the darker-shaded ones, “I like to experiment with traditional recipes using various resources from off-planet. This, of course, is sometimes illegal, and no one on the islands cares, but the Tal Shiar care about the contacts off-world and have been more than a little bit of a nuisance over the years.” Hirek tipped back the glass and swallowed the amount in one gulp. It wasn’t bad, but still a far cry from what he knew it could be. “I also make seasonal blends with a slight twist, but I haven’t abandoned the traditional blends and brews altogether. A few competitors have tried to blacken our name in the trade by claiming we’ve turned our back on the ‘old ways,’ but aside from infusing the blends with the blood of our enemies,” Hirek winked at this, “the recipes of the core stock are quite unchanged from eons ago to now.”

Hirek could only watch Talia in unfettered amusement when she, yet again uncaring of her nudity, quickly got more food, bending and bowing her body about as if she trusted him to keep his hands to himself. Though she could trust that from him, Hirek wondered if she was this open with her body with every man or only certain men. It was far from a thought of possessiveness, mere curiosity born on the back of genuine amusement. At her compliment on the food he’d replicated, Hirek nodded, accepting the compliment while sipping from his own soup bowl. When she spoke of traditional weddings from her home, Hirek listened with apt attention. Unlike some on his home world – namely Tal Shiar idiots – Hirek found learning about other cultures fascinating and never felt threatened when he learned more or encountered more.

He was momentarily prevented from answering her question about the wedding ceremony when her face ended up against his cock and balls. Or, it would’ve done so if she hadn’t caught herself at the last second and Hirek hadn’t jerked his hips back, putting more distance between the most sensitive part of his body and the bony structure of her forehead and chin. He’d been so concerned about getting his balls sliced open from her teeth that Hirek only realized his chest and lap were now covered in soup when Talia sat up by his knee and started laughing, pointing it out.

“Normally,” Hirek set aside his soup bowl and began the arduous process of picking bits of vegetable and noodle from his groin area while Talia left to get something to help clean him up, “I prefer to eat my soup and not become it, which is probably why,” he reached down to cup his testicles and gave a quick smoothing motion down his cock, reassuring himself that nothing had been scalded, scraped, or otherwise injured, “this is the first time I’ve attempted to eat anything beyond my lover’s sex while in one of these things.” Talia suddenly pulled his head back, and his bemusement intensified when she let the crown of his head rest against her sternum, the rounded mounds of her breasts filling his peripheral vision. Eyebrows quirked upward in a look of challenging amusement, Hirek sighed, “Can you really blame an inanimate object, though? I’ve heard of this trend among Terrans, even witnessed it with Madsen back on Qo’Nos, but I can’t help but wonder…is it REALLY the inanimate object, or is it, perhaps, just perhaps, the person?”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #40
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
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Shadow realized, after the fact, that she probably shouldn’t have laughed. She tried to take his light-hearted ribbing as it was intended, but was altogether too embarrassed and slightly angry at herself to respond; a shunt of breath from her nose was her answer – not quite a snort, as she shook her head. “Yeah, well…,” she shrugged in a go figure gesture, brows raised and lowered with bare shoulders. “Last time I was in a tub that’s pretty much all we did, too. Maybe next time we should just go with that,” the pilot grumbled, then tilted her head back to speak to the air. “Computer, generate a bowl of cool water and two washcloths.”

Shadow turned to the side, still holding his head to her chest, as the items materialized. She dipped a cloth in the chilled water to soak it, then rung it out with one hand. “No, you’re right – this was all me. Look, I apologized. I really didn’t mean for this to go down like it did, which I’ve already told you,” Talia sighed, tilting his face up to her gently before pressing the cool rag to his scalded skin. His neck, chest, cheeks and forehead seemed to have gotten the worst of it, slightly flushed greener than the rest of him. Talia’s eyes lingered on the droplets of watered soup that trickled down his torso, lips pulled to the side with another sigh.

“You don’t even know how fucking ironic this is,” she spoke aloud, more to herself. “I’m not clumsy – or ditzy – I can’t afford to be with what I do; but here I am, making a mess of things.  Hold still,” her hand squeezed his jaw a bit, preventing him from from moving as she wiped away the soup residue from around his face. “Close your eyes for a second so I can get them,” she told him, perhaps a tad more authoritative than she wished, but she didn’t want make things worse by getting liquid in them. When he didn’t comply right away, the pilot tilted her head down at him, brows raised. “Its just water. Relax.”

It seemed like everything that could go wrong had done just that. Talia smirked to herself, letting her eyes close as she shook her head again, then continued to clean the mess from Hirek’s skin. Once his face was done, she turned his head to the side to dab the cooling rag to his neck, one side at a time. “Well,” she snorted, “at least you weren’t scalded too terribly. I guess it could have been worse,” the pilot commented. “So much for first impressions, huh,” this time, Talia chuckled as she wiped down his chest.

Its already a disaster – just fucking tell him the truth and be done with it already.

Shadow took a deep breath in preparation to do just that.

“For what it’s worth – you’ve given me a lot to think about during our time here. Things I need to re-evaluate, about myself and how I operate,” she nodded subtly to herself, but guessed he wouldn’t have a clue what the hell she was talking about, so elaborated with a smirk. “Here’s the thing, Pretty-Eyes,” Talia blinked down at him, her hands rested on his shoulders, “Despite what you might think - I enjoy your company enough to want to spend more time with you, but I’m afraid of hurting you and getting hurt,” a shoulder lifted. “Physical attraction is there, obviously,” her head tilted, “enough for me to say fuck it and just jump you? Maybe, but as much as I’m sure we’d both enjoy that, I don’t want another pointless encounter. Not right now, anyway,” she added quietly. “So,” Talia sighed, “that’s how I feel about you. Figured I’d let you know, now that I’ve efficiently torpedoed myself,” she smirked again.

“Now,” the pilot cleared her throat, “I’d like to try that bluish-green one over there before I make a discreet exit,” she pointed to the small shot of ale within his reach, “you know, before I set the holodeck on fire, or something else unfortunate happens.” Talia let her fingers run over the back of his neck as she gently placed the washcloth in the bowl, then turned and left the warmth of his body to procure a towel for herself. “Computer, reveal my gym bag,” she requested quietly, wrapping herself with her back to Hirek.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #41
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Hirek was prevented from commenting on her jesting promise of traded oral sex when she bent him further backward in her determined efforts to clean him up, Hirek’s forehead now pressed against her sternum. The cool cloth did soothe his skin, but Hirek’s mind was not exactly focused on Talia’s words or her actions. It was the tip of Hirek’s tongue to declare that death by smothering between her breasts was a worthy death. But he refrained. Not all of her words were registering, but her tone warned Hirek that his interrupting with that sort of comment would throttle them into another round of unnecessary apologies.

“I believe you,” Hirek’s voice sounded uncharacteristically nasally, thanks in part to his nose being partially plugged by Talia’s breasts, his head cocked backward at such an odd angle he had to breathe through his mouth.

Suddenly, his head was readjusted, and Talia had the cloth against his eyes, her touch thankfully more gentle than her hands had been in moving his torso and head around to suit her desire to clean him. Hirek knew he could clean himself and get her to leave him alone so he could do it with less boobs-to-face, but he’d been enjoying the soft press of her breasts against his cheeks. And he counted himself a very well-behaved Romulan for not turning his head to either side and easily sucking a nipple into his mouth. He’d imagined in, enjoyed the mental image, and kept his hands braced against the side of the tub. Talia mistook his grimace and resistance for mistrust, but it was concerning how her efforts to manipulate his head again had nearly knocked him into the tub.

“If you’d wanted to run your hands over my muscles torso or have unlimited access to my face like this,” Hirek smiled, eyes still closed to resist the temptation found in her bobbing breasts so close to his face when she again shifted his head down and turned it back and forth to keep cleaning. “You didn’t have to dump soup on me. I’d have gladly granted you access. What man doesn’t like to be touched by a beautiful woman?”

Once more, Hirek was nearly knocked off the tub's edge when she resumed the movement down his chest. He very nearly did get a mouthful of breast when Hirek opened his mouth to gasp in a much-needed breath, and his nasal cavity again cut off due to the upper portion of his face being smothered between her breast. Even if he wanted to respond to whatever she was saying now, Hirek wouldn’t have been able to. In this position, if he opened his mouth, one of her breasts would literally fall inside it, and Talia would believe that fact for not even one millisecond before she tried to break his neck.

Talia mercifully pushed his shoulders forward, unsmothering his face from her breasts so she could stare down at him. As she continued speaking, Hirek hid his frown. Thanks to the breast press of near death, it seemed like he’d missed a good portion of the context of her words. Had he lost consciousness in her chest? It was a tribute to his years of working as a Starfleet mole that Hirek kept his features open and receptive, though his mind was scrambling to catch up to how they’d ended up in this type of conversation again.

She made another confession and made for the door so rapidly that Hirek could only blink at the sky a few times before his vocal cords worked again. Shaking his head at the bizarre turn of events, Hirek couldn’t help but chuckle as he leaned forward to grab one of the real ale brews. He didn’t look over his shoulder at Talia, though he could hear that she was still there for the time being.

“Shadow,” Hirek turned his head and raised his glass slightly, “I can think of very few things you could do to hurt me. So that fear is unwarranted, but as to the fear of your getting hurt,” Hirek sipped the ale, angling his head more to finally see her, “Well, you’ve described me in many descriptively negative ways during our time together, and probably more colorfully in your mind, so that fear is likely more warranted. But only if there is a chance that something genuine could be offered and received by either party.” Hirek let his eyes move up and down Talia before giving her a soft smile and shaking his head. “I cannot presume for you, but I can say that physical attachments are as easy as breathing for a Romulan. Emotional ones?” He snorted mirthlessly and turned away, looking back to the sea.

Before finishing the last of the liquid, Hirek gestured to the deepening colors of the sunset-bound sky, “I would suggest you wait to set fire to my hair or blow up the simulation until after the sunset. It truly is a spectacular sight. But you are your own master.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #42
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz 
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“I was only trying to help. If I just wanted to fuck you we’d be fucking by now – which would have saved both of us time and energy, ironically enough,” Talia quipped back at him as she rifled through her gym bag; unable to stop herself. Once she realized that he had managed to provoke her yet again, Shadow winced at herself, then cinched the towel wrapped loosely over her body with a frown. The Romulan hit a nerve in her whether he realized it or intended it. Her brow creased in embarrassment at her ineptitude; it seemed like every time she opened her mouth, things only got worse. It was funny, in a tragic, outside-looking-in way: Shadow knew she should probably just cut her loses and leave him in peace...but she’d never learned when to quit, either. A sigh escaped her lips from where she half knelt, after finally finding the container she was looking for.

“And I’m not going to set anything on fire,” she replied quietly with a shake of her head. “That wasn’t what I meant.” Her eyes moved from him to the rapidly approaching sunset as her feet padded back to stand off to the side of the tub, near the tray with his ales. The container in her hand was opened, revealing three small pastries within; the treats were from that morning, packed as an emergency sweet – just like every other day. They weren’t the best olive branch, but the pilot figured it couldn’t hurt to offer him something beyond more confusion.

Talia set the container down within his reach. “These are called baklava; a flaky, multi-layered dish made from phyllo pastry dough, nuts, butter, basil, and drizzled with sweet honey syrup. Comfort food, where I come from,” she explained softly with a nod, selecting the bright blue-green ale with her free hand to return his subtle toast. The pilot sipped the faintly glowing liquid as she turned to walk around behind him again, choosing to sit next to him on the ledge of the tub, facing the opposite way, intentionally keeping her legs out of the water. She had to adjust the towel wrapped around her a bit to keep it in place; the fabric dug into her torso as she turned to look out to sea with him.

It was beautiful – as all sunsets were: a glowing ball of red, hazed in golden light, dipping into a dark green sea on the horizon soon to be dominated by shadowed blues and purples; red and fiery yellow ribbons of clouds highlighted the approaching evening. Talia’s dark eyes drank it in; able to ignore her own self-consciousness for the moment. She didn’t want to ruin what remained of their time with her own bullshit; there had been plenty of that already. The drink in her hand was raised to her lips for another sip. Again, her expectations proved unfounded and more than inadequate; Hirek had lamented earlier that nothing he’d been able to synthesize aboard the Theurgy could quite capture the flavor and experience of the real thing – yet Talia found herself enjoying the incredibly smooth, slightly sweet and fruity concoction immensely. Perhaps it was because she had never had Romulan ale before, or perhaps it wasn’t as strong as the real thing, as Hirek proposed, but Shadow was surprised and relieved that she felt very little (if any at all) of the infamous alcoholic effects she’d heard about.

“You make good ale,” Talia complimented him with a slight smile before taking another sip, then nodded to the sunset. “Thanks, for this. For the experience,” her eyes turned to his, and suddenly the words were just there, spilling from her lips before she could stop.

“I wont ask you to explain why you are the way you are, Hirek – I’m sure you have your reasons, just like I do – but remember when you told me that you’re not whoever it was in my past that made me this way? Well, isn’t the same true for me? Or did another dark haired bitch even more crazy than me ruin it for all of us?”

Another sip stopped her from yet another tirade as Talia cleared her throat and shifted her hip more to the side to face him slightly askew, drink held in her lap. The braids of her hair caught the red light of the sunset as she tilted her head at him. “I’m not Romulan,” her eyes blinked at him, “so I guess I’ll never really understand.”

Talia’s eyes fell to the drink in her hands, then raised back to his, chewing her lip. “Really wish I could.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #43
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Listening to Talia’s first remarks, spoken over an attempt to hide her frustration with him while rummaging in her gym bag, reminded Hirek, not for the first time, of her youth. The edge in her demeanor, the quick defenses, and equally quick offenses were all evidence of her untried nature in the realm of deep emotions. Granted, Hirek knew he was speculating and entirely biased. Being able to see the world through Romulan eyes only lent itself to the biased nature of his assessment, yet he couldn’t help but think there may still be some meritable truth within the bias. She'd obviously experienced pain, rejection, neglect, and probably physical pleasures and joy, but he couldn’t help but wonder if she’d ever truly loved. Lusted? Her words and actions testified that she had lusted plenty and likely acted on it, but loved?

Hirek looked at the sunset through the bottom of the now-empty decanter. She returned to the tub and nearly shoved a saccharine mass beneath his nose, offering the sweet with an explanation of its consistency. She grabbed another ale while Hirek made his selection, opting for a smaller piece in case it didn’t settle well with his palate. He sniffed it while watching Talia move again, this time settling herself on the bench beside him, obstinately facing toward the holoarch. Hirek inwardly chuckled before setting the sweet on his tongue. It was quite sweet, and the texture was intriguing, but it wasn’t off-putting.

While Talia angled her torso to stare awkwardly at the sunset, Hirek stood and pulled his feet from the water. It was late enough that he would retire to his quarters once the sun finished setting. As much as he’d prefer to sleep in the simulation of his old home, Hirek knew the holodeck time was coveted. With this in mind, Hirek pulled his pants back on, quickly tying the string to keep the waistline up before reaching for the tunic. Her compliment to his ale interrupted his movements long enough to send her a smile of appreciation before tugging the tunic overhead and straightening it over his torso.

“At least I didn’t fail the family legacy in that regard,” Hirek winked, grabbing the outer vest coat as he spoke. “And you’re welcome. I suppose my own thanks are in order,” now fully dressed, Hirek waved to the simulation around them, “You didn’t have to come, and it pleases me to share this. Our experiences have given me ideas on improving the simulation before I share it again. Maybe Pierce won’t get as many bumps and bruises as we have when she visits.”

Hirek dropped to the bench beside her, plucking another pastry from the container. When she caught his gaze, Talia did as she’d done more than once when they’d been together, spilling out words and thoughts that he initially struggled to connect to. It took him a few moments of chewing, during which she further commented on her wish to understand him and Romulans more before his mind caught up with why she would say these things and decided on a way to respond.

“The way that I am? That is a most curious way to describe anyone, let alone me. Does that mean there is a baseline for who we are all supposed to be, and when we do not meet that baseline, perhaps expectations, put upon us by someone else, then we are left with the phrase ‘the way you are’ with sighs of ‘no need to explain’ yet with a latent desire for that very explanation?” Hirek grabbed another decanter of ale, placing another on the bench between himself and Talia in case she wanted to sip at it. “I am not ridiculing you with that sentiment, Talia. Nor am I trying to pick a fight. Many nuances of communication get lost even when speaking the same language. But you are correct; part of what informs my actions and reactions, the way I discern our interactions, is connected to my being Romulan and your not. Yet, I have long thought that some experiences and perhaps emotions transcend species and cultures, making them a ‘universal norm’ if you’ll allow the term. But,” Hirek swirled his ale with a contemplative frown, “even with the ‘universal norms, ’ the trigger events to manifest those norms may still vary.”

After finishing the ale, Hirek set the glass aside before folding his hands in his lap. He studied the contours of the swirling sunset colors before continuing, “This may or may not…help you, but I have not treated you with any greater favor or disdain during our time together than I have any other crew member. Though I have undoubtedly received much greater disdain and even violence from other crew members than anything you’ve dealt me.” He pulled his gaze from the horizon, turning to study the pilot thoroughly. “I would not expect nor want you to bypass years of experiences and gut intuition to venture into something entirely unknown. Time, experience, and consistency work together to create habits, no? Same with turning something foreign and unknown into something familiar and potentially of comfort.”

A shift in the wind prompted Hirek to reach for the unused clean towel, draping it around Talia’s shoulders without a second thought. However, he didn’t let his hands linger on her shoulders and brought them back to set palms down on the tops of his thighs.

“There are many…shadows and layers with any interaction with a Romulan. We rarely feel the freedom to bypass them, except with a select few, and those few are usually direct kin or spouses. Should it always be that way? Should I or any other Romulan on Theurgy continue to act according to those cultural pillars?” Hirek shrugged. “To be determined, I suppose, with time, experience, and consistency.”

The last sunlight dipped below the horizon, leaving lingering purple and orange hues in the turquoise sky. Hirek took one last deep breath, closing his eyes and furthering his imagination for a moment. When he opened his eyes again, catching Talia’s gaze, Hirek jutted his chin toward the holoarch.

“Ready to go?”

 

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #44
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
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For the first time that evening, while Hirek spoke, Talia truly listened; his thoughtful reply – spoken in calm contemplation about her choice of words – prompted the pilot to frown slightly in initial confusion. She hadn’t meant anything but reassurance; it wasn’t intended as anything but an attempt to secure common ground…but as Hirek shared his point of view, Talia nodded her understanding.

He made it easy, almost effortless; she saw herself, her actions, body language, tone…all of it, through the eyes of someone who barely knew her – who wouldn’t be utterly lost and confused by such behavior? After all, Talia knew nothing of subtly or deliberate self-expression, especially where language was involved; how could she, when all attempts at communication were meant to keep people at arms length? Why would a person ever truly make an attempt to say what they really meant, when doing so only made them vulnerable? All her rashness, every hot-headed response...how could he or anyone possibly interpret that any other way? Regardless of intent, in that regard, she had certainly succeeded; Talia hid herself, out of fear and pain, and only now realized the unwarranted damage inflicted.

But Hirek wasn’t done.

Her head tilted at him again, blinking in the fading light; wondering why he had suddenly chosen to explain himself – if she had, yet again – struck something akin to her own defenses in him. Would she have responded with such grace? Such carefully constructed amicability? Talia knew the answer to that easily; the pilot distracted herself by finishing off her glass while he dressed and continued.

Time. Experience. Consistency. Habits. Shadow could not fault his logic. When it was all said and done, people lived their lives by dealing with the cards they were given, until something came along and forced a reshuffle; even then, old habits died hard. Talia chewed on that thought as the wind picked up and a chill shivered up her spine. The Romulan must have seen it, draping a towel over her bare shoulders; the pilot offered a small appreciative smile in return. Another simple gesture of kindness, without any thought of reciprocity, nothing transactional. When had she ever done anything like that? What stopped her from trying?

Shadow raised the last glass to her lips as Hirek, now fully dressed, concluded his answer. Her eyes lingered on the last arch of the setting sun, watching it dip below the horizon. Wait and see, she nodded in agreement, even if he had avoided a direct answer; it hardly mattered, then. She didn’t begrudge him; didn’t pout or feel disappointed. Hirek was who he was – Talia was who she was – what life had made them and who they had chosen to become, no more, no less. Shadow turned at his last question with thoughtful acceptance in her eyes. Despite all the mistakes she’d made, the unfair judgements and misplaced expectations…she was thankful for him; for calling her out, for his insight, honesty, and tolerance.

Talia smiled, only the faintest curl of her lips; but it was genuine. She hid nothing from him in that expression, expected nothing in return. A small window offered freely, finally, into how she really felt.

“You go ahead,” she nodded at him. “The stars will be out soon, and I’d like to see them while I can.” The urge to apologize again – to explain herself – surged, but Shadow forced it down; that time had passed. “A few tweaks wouldn’t hurt, but it was all worth it in the end. I’m sure Peirce can handle it,” she offered instead, devoid of any lingering jealousy for his handler. “If not, I know you’ll take care of her, too. Enjoy the rest of your evening, Hirek. Don’t be a stranger, and don’t let me be one either, please,” Talia's smile widened a little as she stood, patting his shoulder as she passed. “I hope we can try this again sometime,” she added sincerely over her shoulder, then walked out to lean her elbows on the driftwood railing to wait for the stars.

Her ears caught the hiss of the holodeck door seconds later.

Alone with only her thoughts once again, Talia wondered how he felt, how he really felt, as her demons slowly crept in her mind, ready to pounce and tear her apart. Old hurts, fear, insecurity; one by one she named them all. They stared at her, and she stared right back – too tired to fight. This isn’t who I want to be anymore, Shadow sighed at them, then toasted the first bright speck her eyes caught and set her mind to the task, but knew she couldn’t do it alone. Somehow, that knowledge comforted her.

“To breaking old habits,” Talia whispered, then downed the rest of Hirek’s ale with a smile.

-FIN-

 
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