"Why don't you say you're sorry?
Why can't I say I'm wrong?
Why do we do it, baby?
What are we fighting for?"
She was gone when the glow of rehydration faded. He had almost expected her to be, but it still irritated him. As childish as it seemed, he had wanted to be the one deciding whether or not to wait for her, not the other way around.
He wasn't sure he would have waited, of course, but that was hardly the point. He had wanted to have the choice. Instead, the choice had been hers, and she had chosen to leave while he was distracted. Typical.
*Stop it,* he thought, disgusted with himself. He was having an argument with her and she wasn't even there. When had things gotten so bad that he could turn a perfectly innocent incident into an offense of major proportions?
He should go to bed. He had thought rehydrating would restore some amount of civility, but the annoyance that had flared as soon as he realized she was gone said otherwise. It had been a long day, and he hadn't gone into it on a full night's sleep to begin with.
He wasn't moving.
*This is ridiculous,* he thought at last. If she had waited, he would probably be trying to get as far away from here as possible. But she hadn't, and now he couldn't deny an almost overwhelming urge to track her down.
*She's right,* he thought with tired humor. *I am "contrary".*
Would she have gone back to control? Probably; despite Cestria's explicit instructions for her to do otherwise. He wasn't the only one who was contrary.
He took the lift back up to control, and was more than a little surprised to find Cetaci absent. Cestria nodded to him as he wandered through, but he didn't stop to ask. If she wasn't here, she was in her room, and he didn't feel like broadcasting anymore than they already were.
The door through which Carlos had been refused entrance earlier slid open for him, and he slowed his gait so that it closed again before Cestria could see him pause outside Cetaci's quarters. He stared at the chime for a long moment, wondering… She never announced herself at his door, after all.
As he himself had admitted, though, he was always expecting her when she came. He touched the chime tentatively.
There was no answer.
*Take the hint,* he told himself. *Go to bed.* He was too exhausted to face another fight with her right now anyway, and after what he'd said earlier there was probably no avoiding one.
The simple truth, though, was that he had to see her. The need to find her was intensifying the longer she remained out of his sight, and he couldn't help wondering how much trouble she could get into over the course of an entire night. She had been alone such a short time today, and still…
He had almost lost her for good today. He had never been so sure that she wasn't coming back. If it hadn't been for Zhane, he would have stayed behind to face the quantrons, doomed ship or no.
He rang the chime more insistently, and when she didn't answer he rang it again. He didn't know if her door would still open for his code, but if it didn't open on its own he was going to find out.
He waited what he hoped was a decent amount of time, well aware that if she had deleted his access she would in all likelihood be furious with him for trying. But she was furious with him for everything lately, so presumably one more thing on an already unending list wouldn't make that much difference.
He wasn't sure whether to be startled or gratified when her lock accepted his code and the door slid open. He stepped inside before he had a chance to question, and the closing of the door behind him stifled the room's only light.
He found the lights instinctively, but the illumination only confirmed his initial impression: there was no one else in the room. Could she have known he would come? Was she sleeping somewhere else tonight? It was a depressing thought, but he had no doubt that she would go to such extremes to avoid him.
Almost reluctantly, his gaze swept around this place that she now called home. She was the newest of the Rangers, and her quarters were far less lived in than his. Between drills, training, and the recent crises, she hadn't had much time to decorate.
In fact, there seemed to be only a single image in the entire room. He recognized the hologram beside her bed immediately. About as high as his hand, it was an insubstantial representation of the two of them the day before he told her that Delphine was going to retire.
He was dressed in black, but she still wore science blue. His arm was around her shoulders, and the two of them were handfast and smiling and blissfully unconcerned about the future. The holograms turned to look at each other as he took a step forward, causing the light to shift, and the look on their faces made him reach out his hand in a futile attempt to recapture that moment.
His fingers passed right through the 3D image, of course, but his eyes came to rest on the silver cord draped carelessly over the end of her bed. He hadn't known she'd kept that…
The blue wristband looped over it made him sigh, though. He had given her a white one, still embroidered with the science logo, when she joined the Rangers. To this day, he hadn't seen her wear it.
He turned away abruptly, and he found himself staring at her computer terminal. Before he could think about what he was doing, he input his clearance and logged into the Ranger network. He entered a "locate" command for the White Power, and the result came back without delay.
*The sim room,* he thought, somewhere between amused and exasperated. *Of course; why not.* After all, a good workout was exactly what everyone needed after a day like today. He took one last look at the hologram before he logged out and went to find her.
With most of the others under orders to sleep or recover or both, the sim room was predictably deserted. From the observation room, he could just make out a solitary figure moving in the far corner. The place was dark except for the glowing lines of the haline court that surrounded her, and he could hear the repeated thump of the ball down on the floor.
As he pushed the door of the observation room open, he was already doubting himself. He was so tired that he could feel the Power compensating for his sluggishness, and he was doing nothing more than walking down a flight of stairs. Physically, the Power could keep him on his feet for quite a while, but mentally--not to mention emotionally--he wasn't up to this.
He pushed the thought firmly out of his mind, knowing she would have heard him coming already. He wasn't going to stand there watching her forever, and he wasn't going to leave until he convinced his stubborn heart that she was really all right. That left only the option he was now pursuing.
He stopped just outside the court lines, watching her silhouette interrupt the glow of the inner playing area. As his eyes became accustomed to the dimness, he realized that she had changed out of her Ranger uniform. She was dressed in her old workout clothes, the faded blue and green seeming to glow in the light of the court. The only white she wore was, strangely, the same wristband he had given her four months ago.
"Cetaci," he said quietly, knowing that to wait for her to miss was futile.
She didn't answer, but she slammed the ball back with a bit more force this time. It hit the appropriate square, but she was forced to chase it on the rebound.
"Cetaci," he repeated.
She stopped suddenly, not bothering to return the ball at all this time. It bounced out of the court and off into the dimness, but she didn't turn around. "'Start *acting* like one'?" she demanded of the wall.
He sighed. He had hoped that maybe they could at least greet each other before one of them mentioned the scene in the control room. "I really hate this," he muttered without thinking.
Her racket clattered to the floor as she spun around, her angry gaze locking with his. "Do you think I enjoy it? Do you think I like it like this? What do you *want* from me, Delphinius!"
"I want you to love me again!" The words were out before he had time to think about them, and he could only stare at her in horror as the reality of what he'd just said sank in. To admit that was to openly acknowledge the hold they still had on each other, and that was something they had both been trying to deny for what seemed like forever.
She swallowed, not taking her eyes off of him. "You think I ever stopped?" she asked bitterly.
The silence her words had interrupted stretched longer this time, for he had no idea what to say to that. Yes? No? He wasn't even sure what he thought anymore, and he certainly didn't know what *she* thought.
She turned away, taking a step toward the other side of the court as though she meant to go after the haline ball. He caught her shoulder instinctively--they had never been this close to honesty before and he knew somehow that if he let it go there might not be another chance.
She shrugged his hand away, but he took hold of her arm and forced her around. Her eyes flashed as she lifted her head to glare at him, but the retort that was obviously on the tip of her tongue faded without expression as he went down on one knee in front of her.
"What would it take for us to be together again?" he asked softly. He swallowed hard at the look of surprise on her face, knowing that if she walked away now he might never be able to look her in the eye again. "I--I can't promise I can do it," he managed, forcing the words out past his pride and his rising fear. "But I have to know."
She stared down at him for a long moment, no expression to replace the surprise on her face as it faded.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, she sank slowly to the floor with him. "I can't believe you just did that," she whispered, her gaze not leaving his.
He swallowed again, wondering when his throat had gotten so dry. "Tell me what it would take," he repeated, as steadily as he could. There was no turning back now. "Please."
"I… I don't know," she murmured at last. She glanced down at her fingers as she twined them together, but he didn't look away from her face. "Maybe…"
She didn't finish the sentence, and finally he brought himself to ask, "Maybe--what?"
She looked up again, and the undisguised wistfulness in her eyes took him aback. "Maybe it would take me being able to ask *you* what it would take."
He smiled, just a little, and hoped this wasn't the wrong moment. "I didn't ask for a miracle," he teased gently.
She gave him a dark look, but the corners of her mouth quirked upward. "Delphinius," she said, very softly. She met his gaze without flinching, her soul bare behind her blue eyes. "What would it take?"
For a moment he just looked at her, fighting the transcendent quality of her appearance. Out of uniform, with her golden hair loose over the shoulders of her old blue sleeveless, he was suddenly gripped by the irrational fear that it was someone from the past to whom he was speaking. Promises held no weight with phantoms…
Then she lowered her gaze, and he roused himself. "I don't know either," he admitted, reaching out to touch her face. "But maybe it's just this."
She lifted her head again, and he added, "Maybe, if we can both get this far…" He paused as he felt her take his hand, slipping her fingers in between his.
"Maybe we can do anything?" she suggested, a smile tugging at her lips again. "We believed that, once."
"I still do," he murmured, squeezing her hand.
She took a deep breath. "If you can try," she said firmly, "so can I."
"It's not a game," he told her, more sharply than he'd intended. He wanted this for its own sake; he wasn't going to let her turn it into a challenge.
Her eyes narrowed, and for an interminable moment he thought they were right back where they'd started. He cursed himself for his tone, knowing it might be the thing that shattered their delicate truce… but to his surprise, her irritated expression began to fade. "I'm sorry," she said simply.
He managed to swallow his astonishment. "No," he said quickly. "I'm sorry. I--I just really want this to work."
She smiled, a sincere smile that he hadn't seen for a long time. Her fingers tightened on his, her white wristband reflecting the court light. "Me too."
"Girl, aren't we still in love?
That's what we're fighting for"