Season 2: Episode 3: Determination is not always a good thing
Location: the pool
Another exercise routine. Those were getting tiresome. Justin was in the pool again. He liked water, he liked swimming, but he wanted something else for a change. Besides, what he really wanted to do is be on the bridge, help out. But he couldn't sit on his butt all day, the doctor had said so. So now he was in the shallow end, exercising his leg muscles, so the unused stump could be used as the basis for his implant later.
From the woman's locker room, Feyth Railli held her own figure in the long mirror. She imagined it was probably meant as some form of motivational tool -- someone's sick idea to use your own reflection to kickstart the desire to have a great workout. It was having the exact opposite effect on her. Exhaling a heavy sigh, she watched as her stomach fell forward, pulling at her one-piece swimsuit. Doctor Sthlig warned her that it would be a few weeks before she would start getting her old body back. He had also suggested that she begin to take an active role in the healing process, swimming perhaps. She shook her head.
Pulling a towel around herself, she left the room and began the long death march toward the pool. She froze, seeing someone already there in the shallow end. Through sheer force of will, the Bajoran managed a few more steps, and busied herself with pulling off her dangling earring. No one in the history of her people would ever again take as long to accomplish such a simple task.
Justin saw the woman approaching and his mood immediately improved. He loved having company, especially when doing something mundane. "Hey!" he waved. "Do come in, the water is quite warm." He was a fan of warmth himself. Cold water, it always made him look poorly equipped.
"I...umm...." Feyth said uneasily. Her fingers lingered on her ear. "I don't know if this was a good idea..."
"You're not afraid of the water, are you?" Justin teased. "Come on, it's perfect this time of day, hardly anyone around." Of course, being mid-emergency sort of helped, too.
Feyth looked over either shoulder. Although they were clearly the only two at the pool now -- ship circumstances being what they were -- she was still irrationally worried about prying eyes. This man seemed kind enough...
"Promise you won't laugh?" she asked. Prophets but she felt stupid. "Or gasp, or something?"
Justin swam closer to the edge, approaching her. "I would never." He wondered why she thought he'd have a reason to. He stood on his good leg, as it was much easier to maintain balance in the water, and held out his hand to her.
Releasing a nervously held breath, she allowed the towel to fall away. Even as she stepped forward to accept his help into the water, she had to make herself not sputter an excuse for her current physical state. Her eyes studied him for a reaction.
Justin knew who she was then. "You're Railli Feyth, yes?" he asked. "I'm Justin Case. It's very nice to meet you." There hadn't been any other women giving birth here recently, so it had to be her.
Her eyes lit in surprise. And then a wave of embarrassment washed over her as easily as the water that lapped at her waist. She looked down at herself. "It's that obvious?"
"Well, I'm assuming that, since you look very similar to a woman of my own species, that this part would not be any different either", Justin said. "And I don't think anyone else has given birth here recently." He wasn't particularly proud of those very basic reasoning skills, but then he was correct, so why not explain his thoughts?
She gave him a weak smile. It was a foolish hope, but somehow she thought that maybe he wouldn't have been able to guess so easily. Her eyes widened. "Prophets mercy," she gasped in small voice. Realizing she had spoken aloud, and worse, that she had been caught staring, she looked up from his missing limb and into his eyes. "I'm sorry. I -- " But she knew there was no way talking her way out of her faux pas. Her features softened in sympathy. "What happened?"
He gave her a wry smile. "Encounter with a rapidly closing bulkhead, during that last battle. It's not as bad as it looks. A few weeks, I'll get my new one." He lowered himself down to about chest height again. "I'm here to exercise, to be ready."
Feyth gave him an assured nod. "Yes, exactly. I know how you feel. Well, sort of, I guess," she corrected herself. "They want me to stay off duty for far longer than I'm comfortable with. But if I let that happen, I'm going to fall behind in my department. Competition to make it into the fighter squadron is at an all time high. I can't miss another chance."
Justin nodded. "Absolutely. I can't wait to fly again myself. But diving is almost like flying, only slower, so I'm good, for now." He flashed her a bright smile. "Of course, being in operations, I only get to fly as a hobby."
The man's smile was infectious, and she found herself sharing in it. "Can I ask you something crazy? You ever think about getting out of this?" Feyth gestured to the room around her, but her arms swept wide in a way meant to encompass the whole of the ship, of Starfleet. She didn't know this man well, but that made it all the easier to speak the words aloud. If anyone could understand how the pressures of the job could be overwhelming, she could think of no better person in her regular orbit.
He shook his head. "I've busted my butt getting here, I'm fighting as hard as I can to be able to stay, during my recovery. I don't want to mess this up. Getting posted to the Elysium was the wet dream of all of my classmates."
"I came from war. Occupation," Feyth said. The words were spoken merely as fact, emotionless as if she were reading her own biography aloud. "I thought Starfleet would be a way for me to use what I had learned to make the galaxy better for everyone, instead of just myself and the few people around me." She laughed with little humor. "But it seems like you can't escape the fighting no matter where you run off to."
"Not if you want to be in a fighter squadron, no", Justin said. Not the most empathetic thing to say at this point, but true nonetheless. "But the good fight is better than the alternative, I'd say. Make a better world for your... daughter?" He hoped he remembered correctly. Would be embarrassing to get this wrong. After all, a new birth always made the rounds on the ship pretty quickly.
"Daughter, that's right," she agreed. "And you're right. Of course you are. I'm talking crazy. It's just --" she fluttered her hand in the air in front of herself "-- hormones. Give me a minute and I'll be crying about how beautiful the water is." As she spoke she tried to figure out some form of water-based exercise. Halfway through a ridiculous movement she stopped and laughed aloud at herself. "I clearly don't know what I'm doing here. Help?" she asked with a self-aware smile.
"Hm, lie on your back, flat on the water", Justin suggested. He figured, unless Bajorans were denser than humans, she'd float easily enough. "I'll hold you, you can kick back against the water." He didn't know what kind of exercises she needed to be doing, but it would be a start. He held out both his arms for her to get in position, if she chose to take him up on his offer.
Turning around -- all the better to see if anyone else had come to the pool -- she did as he instructed, allowing herself to float onto her back and into the grip of his arms. Though it didn't take a great deal of effort to hold her up (and likely would not have even without the water) she found herself impressed with the definition of the muscles in his arms where they made contact with her skin. "I didn't think I'd even have the courage to get into the water when I first decided to come here," she admitted. "And now look at me. You should teach physiotherapy classes."
"You're very kind", Justin said. "I'm learning by doing. I've just always felt that the water took the weight off any strain, makes you feel better immediately." Holding the small woman up outside the water wouldn't have been a strength issue for Justin at all, but certainly one of balance. He did not have any at all at the moment. But in the water, all was fine. He pushed against her slightly, so that her motion cancelled out and they remained in place. "I've thought about teaching, actually. Something to do while I am waiting for my new leg."
"You're a unique person," she said, her voice belying her admiration for his remarkable attitude. "Your pagh radiates from you like warm sunlight. What's your secret?" She looked back at him from over shoulder, a devil's smile on her lips. "It's drugs, isn't it?" she teased.
"Damn, is it that obvious?" Justin asked. "Yes, I don't think I'd be able to do any of this without coffee." He smirked. "Honestly, though, the pain medication helped, for the first few days. Don't need it now, all neatly sealed up. I'm fully functional, except for that missing bit, I assure you."
"I'm sorry I keep bringing the conversation back to...you know..." she said, embarrassed. "Honestly, ever since I had this baby, it's all anyone wants to talk to me about. Like the real Feyth Railli just stopped existing as of a few weeks ago and everyone has moved on from her death except for me. It's almost to the point where I want to scream out loud for everyone to just shut the hell up about the baby already." She sighed, all too aware of the irony. "And yet, here I am doing the same thing to you. I guess people just can't help themselves sometimes."
Justin chuckled. "It's the newest, shiniest thing. And to be fair, babies are awesome. But do tell, what is the real Feyth Railli like? I'm asking just so I'll know what to say at her funeral."
"Well!" she said, and puffed out her chest with dramatic flair. The motion was enough to remind her of the new gift of exaggerated boobs, and she quickly shrank back into herself. "You'll want to say something like: Ladies and Gentlemen, Feyth Railli was a dear friend. She was very hot, and witty, and funny. And you'll probably compare me to the most exquisite work of art or something, so that the very large gathering understands what a tragedy my passing truly was." Her voice grew quiet, the question he had asked tumbled about in her brain long enough now that she thought she might have a real answer. The hormones spoke, "She was painfully shy. Ambitious but not ready to take risks. Hot-headed. Uncertain. She loved her simple life and her freedom. She didn't have many friends, and after a lifetime of trying not to stand out too much, she was perfectly fine with that. She was convinced that someday, soon, her life was about to really start. Because she had absolutely nothing tying her down." She was surprised to her herself speak that last line aloud.
Justin certainly wasn't going to complain about her little display, but he picked up on her sudden realisation even though she didn't say anything about it. "And now she feels that having a baby is tying her down?" he asked. "That's a shame, you know? Small risks can be taken, here and there, and she'd soon realise that sometimes, losing and paying the price is actually worth the gains on other fronts."
"Physiotherapist and psychologist," she praised. "So, what about you? What kind words would you like me to deliver at your funeral?" She was aware that the conversation had turned a little morbid, but at the same time she was genuinely interested in his answer.
"He was a hard-working chap who knew how and when to have fun", Justin started. "A brave soul whose goal in life has always been to get that next thrill, and improve that next gadget." He smiled down at her, still watching her move. "Of course, that's mostly because you're not supposed to say anything bad at someone's funeral. Embellish a bit, make me look good."
"You already make yourself look good, they don't need to hear it from me," she laughed. After a pause, she corrected, "Your personality, I mean. That -- that wasn't flirting," she added. "I promise."
"I wouldn't mind if it were, you know?" Justin said. "You seem to be the kind of woman who might need a nudge every now and then, but you've been fairly open, not as shy as you made yourself out to be. Or was that only the old you?"
"You're the exception, Justin," she said honestly. Only then did she realize that she had lain her head back against him. Her eyes widened. When exactly had that happened? Maneuvering her feet beneath her once more, she stepped away from him. The water was absolutely freezing on her back and arms, absent of his body heat. "I've taken up all the time you should have been using for yourself." She hugged her arms to her trembling body. "I should go."
"Please, don't leave on my account", Justin said, wondering if he'd blown it. He was trying to be nice, open and welcoming. "I'm enjoying our conversation. Besides, if I'm the exception, isn't that a reason for sticking around a bit longer?"
For the longest time she said nothing while she struggled to give herself permission to stay. That damn cold persisted, seeping through her swimsuit and into her skin, tightening it into goose flesh. How she missed his warmth. "I want to stay," she admitted, even as she shook her head. "But it's just not a good time. Not yet." She climbed up from the pool, the sound of her body pulling up from the water and making her sudden departure all the more apparent. Droplets fell from her legs, dimpling like rain against the floor. With her face buried in her towel, she nearly screamed at herself for walking away.
Justin didn't understand. But that wasn't unusual. He had probably said something insensitive again, as he often did without meaning to, and now she thought he wasn't as fun a guy as he considered himself to be. "I meant no harm, I'm sorry."
Feyth turned back to him, pulling the towel around her as a makeshift dress. "You didn't offend me, Justin. If anything, I can't believe how much good this outing has done for me." She walked to the edge of the pool, crouching down to take his hand for a reassuring squeeze. "I just need to go pick up my daughter now," she explained. It wasn't exactly a lie. She did need to go get her. Just not exactly as urgently as she was pretending.
"If I haven't scared you off", Justin offered a small smile, "I'll catch you around. Or see you, as I won't be doing a lot of catching any time soon. Have a good day, Feyth." Maybe he'd get a second chance to make a friend here?
"You too, Justin." She rose up to her full height again and started back for the lockers. She stopped, turned back to him. "You haven't scared me off," she said suddenly. "I really do hope to bump into you again. Soon." She hesitated at the door. "I'm not the best at sending signals so I just... wanted to make that clear. Just in case."
Justin grinned. "That's me, yes." He knew that's not what she meant, and it was certainly not the first time he'd heard that joke. However, rather than groan every time someone said it, he just joined in on the fun.