USS VINDEX - NCC-2474-A
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She Sells Seashells

Posted on Sat May 6th, 2017 @ 9:37pm by Commander Akiva ben-Avram

Mission: S1E5 - Unknown Territory
Location: Seashore; Planetside
Timeline: MD 82; 2200 (dusk)

The waves lapped at the sandy beach as avian animals flew overhead, their cries blending with the waves to form a symphony that Laena had never experienced before. She took a deep breath, the salty air filling her lungs as a soft breeze blew her raven hair around her face. Kneeling down, she ran her fingers along the sand, the semi-wet material tickling her skin. She giggled slightly as a wave crashed to shore and sent white foam racing towards her.

Akiva made his way carefully through the sand from the rocky trail leading to their shelter high above. The sunset was getting low enough to cast long shadows across the surf, providing an air of concealment. Darkness made many people uncomfortable, but for Akiva, it was safety.

The task of assembling the walls, sleeping quarters, and temporary utilities for their colonial survey took several hours. While he was exhausted from a long day's work, he had one more task ahead of him. A personal one.

With a cloth bundle in hand, he picked his steps with caution until the smooth sand of the rising tide made his feet feel more sure. Only then did he look up and see Laena a stone's throw away, knelt down to catch the next wave.

"Oy vey." But she hadn't seen him. He could go, he told himself, and no one would be the wiser. But then he would have to forego his ceremonial washing; there wasn't enough water for him to immerse himself at their shelter.

HaShem, help me.

Akiva stepped forward a few more paces and announced himself.

"Hello."

Words never did come easily to him. Still, even he knew he ought to say more than that.

"Is there room for one more?"

Laena looked up and her heart suddenly sank. Where there was once joy, she suddenly felt sorrow and betrayal. She wanted to run, she wanted to hide. But there was no way out of this situation now that he had spoken to her. "Good evening," she simply stated, and turned back towards the sea.

When she acknowledged him for the first time that day, Akiva felt a rush of relief. The look of betrayal on her face quickly soured that feeling.

"You don't have to leave," he offered. His heart wondered why he felt such turmoil. "I won't be long. There... there is something I have to do, and then I can go."

"Who said I was going to leave?" she asked, a defensiveness slipping into her tone.

"I... uh, assumed..." Akiva fumbled over his words. "You've been ignoring me all day. I assumed you would leave." He looked down at his feet, then knelt down to unwrap his cloth bundle.

"I may be a bit upset with you," she said, taking a seat on the sand. She kicked her sandals off and dug her toes into the sand as the setting sun threw cascading light across her face.

If she were to be honest with herself, she would wish she could get over being upset with him. The scene she found herself in was so romantic and she wanted nothing more than to share it with him. But she had to remind herself that he belonged to another. And he had lied about it. A tear formed at the corner of one eye and streaked down her cheek.

"Why are you upset with me?" Akiva asked, cringing slightly. "I've... I thought we shared something a week ago. Did I offend?"

"We did." Laena sat there for a few moments. "But you also shared something with Lieutenant Zuzan." She looked up at Akiva. "You weren't honest with me."

"I..." Akiva hung his head. Words didn't just fail him at this moment; they utterly escaped him.

Akiva set his half-rolled cloth bundle aside and stepped closer to Laena. His eyes stared at her profile cast against the churning surf and twilight horizon. The sight made his heart long for... things he had last felt with Amber. But, right now, on the holiest of eves standing within arm's reach of a raven beauty both exotic and delicate, the only feeling that ran deeper than an intense longing for her was shame.

"I'm sorry." The thought to ask how she knew did occur to him, but he dismissed it just as quickly. How she came to know didn't matter. This moment was the precise thing he had feared would happen when he allowed love to awaken on two fronts, and now he was dead smack in the middle of the dilemma had bloomed from his choices.

"Would it help if I tried to explain, well, everything?" His hand wavered in the air, dipping and lurching like a wounded bird, before finally settling on her shoulder.

"If you feel it worth explaining, I won't deny you that," Laena said.

"This isn't how things happen back home," Akiva said. "There's no... wandering of the heart... no mistakes, no wrong choices. We're just given in marriage. We build love rather than search it out."

Akiva threw his head back to take in the first stars poking out in the night creeping from the far horizon. "Out here? I'm lost. I have no guide. I have no reference. Just me, myself, and HaShem."

When Laena made no move or reply, Akiva followed her line of sight into the crashing surf.

"When you came to see me last week, I had already accepted an offer to dinner with Amber. I'd be lying if I said she's not an attractive woman. Truth be told, I've admired her for some time."

Akiva bit his lip, his voice taking an edge of pleading. "But over the past week, I've found that I came to admire you as well. I don't know what to do with myself, Laena. I'm sinking, and now I feel as though I'll drown."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I was afraid you wouldn't understand." Akiva toed the sand at his feet into small circular grooves. "I don't just take women for pleasure. What I told you before wasn't a lie. None of it." He swallowed the lump in his throat, vainly hoping it would still the tremor of his heart pounding in his chest.

"I don't know the rules for... courtship... out here, and..." His words flowed swift as a river. "I got some foolish advice to pursue both possibilities and see which is real.. and... and..."

Akiva heaved deeply, both to catch his breath and slow his pace. "Please believe me, I never meant to hurt you. That's the last thing I ever wanted."

Laena stood up to avoid a wave as it crashed to the shore. She took a few steps back so the water couldn't reach her. "Do you like her?"

"From what I know of her," Akiva said honestly. Painfully. "The advice I've received overwhelmingly favors that I take the time to see which of you I... like more, but that seems so unfair. And, now? It's downright humiliating... for both of us."

Laena's heart sank when she heard what the man said. She hated to admit it to herself but she cared for him, and the way she felt in his presence was a sort of comfort and security she only felt with one other person.

She nodded, not saying anything. "I wish..." she started to say, but she stopped herself. Shaking her head, she started to walk away. "I'm sorry I wasn't enough."

Akiva reached out for her hand. "Wait."

He gently turned her to face him.

"You aren't the one who isn't enough," he said scarcely above a whisper. "It's me. I honestly don't know what I have to offer either of you, and if I have any prayer of finding happiness, I need to know what... if anything... I can give someone."

"Honestly, I'm not quite sure yet," Laena said, looking down at her bare feet in the sand. "I was hoping to find out. But you make me feel..." She looked up at him, her hazel eyes crystal clear in the setting sun. "I feel safe with you, Akiva. Very few people have gotten close to me, because I have trouble letting them in. My past has caused me to be guarded. But when I'm with you..." she hesitated, placing a hand on the side of his face. "When I'm with you, I feel that I can be open and honest. I feel that I can be free and protected. That I don't have to worry about the cruel universe that has given me the worst lot in life."

A tear slid down her cheek. "With you, I feel like I can become more than the scared girl who's trapped with her nightmares. Like I can rise above my past and become someone who is completely new."

Akiva blinked away his own tears before they could fall. His mouth hung agape at everything he was hearing.

"Me? How... I am a hot mess, Laena. How can I give peace to anyone, let alone..." He shook his head. "I cannot banish my own nightmares. I bury myself in duty and responsibility, hoping to hide from the ghosts of my past. And I fail almost daily." He looked away. "To believe that I somehow banish your own? Impossible. Except that... when I'm with you, my own demons are gone as well."

Laena leaned forward, raising herself up on her tippy toes as she pressed her lips to the Commander's. Her other hand found his neck as she slowly moved her fingers along his jawline.

Akiva froze when their lips came together, then quivered at the touch of her hand. He stood tense, expecting her to pull away, but when her lips renewed their clutch on his own, Akiva closed his eyes and felt his tension melt away into passion.

His rigid arms surrounded her, moving of their own accord. The thin material of her shirt stole warmth from his hands while they caressed her from her shoulders to the small of her back.

When Laena's weight shifted back, Akiva dipped his head downward, his lips chasing hers in a soft brush. His hand slid up and cradled her head back so he could look upon her face.

"Laena," he whispered. "What's happening?"

"I don't know." Their foreheads remained touching as their lips were barely apart. Her hands remained on the side of his face as her fingers traced the lines and angles of his facial structure. "I know this sounds silly, but I don't want to let you go. I don't want you to be with her.

She pulled her head away as she looked up at him. "Be with me. Choose me."

The sting of cold water coursed up through Akiva's feet, shocking him with its chilling bite. His mind raced away from this glorious sunset moment back to the Vindex, to responsibility, to Biynah, Amber, Claudia, Starfleet... and the home to which he might never return. He looked back at the surf which was nearly overcome by darkness.

"If I were to swear by my feelings in this moment, then I would choose you for eternity." Akiva looked back at Laena with longing and regret. "But I cannot make eternal promises on temporary things. Whomever I choose, it must be with a clear mind and conscience. I cannot trust myself otherwise. My word... would be worthless otherwise."

On one hand, Laena hated his answer. She would have preferred a glorious statement of love and commitment. But asking that of Akiva would be asking him to be someone he wasn't. He was a logical man, an honorable one. And she had to accept him for who he was. So she simply nodded to him that she understood and accepted what he was saying.

Akiva took a few steps backward, pulling Laena along with him.

"I didn't know you were here when I came," Akiva said. "Tomorrow is the holiest day of my people. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, where we make amends for the past year's wrongs and entreat favor for the coming year."

He released her hand long enough to unroll the cloth bundle, revealing a towel, a smaller washcloth, and an empty pitcher.

"On the evening prior, we ceremonially cleanse ourselves in 'living water,' or water that moves and contains life." Akiva smiled faintly at the next admission. "It's actually why I requested to lead the away mission. Once scans determined the sea was within safe parameters, well, it's been awhile since I've performed a proper immersion."

After his explanation, he stood back to his feet and took Laena's hands in his own.

"I won't promise all of myself in the moment when I can't guarantee that, but I can offer you this part of myself."

The spectacle of what he was suggesting suddenly occurred to him. He laughed at himself.

"You may or may not be giyoret in the eyes of HaShem if you do this with me, so I am not asking you, but offering."

She gave him a smile, "Are you asking me to join you in this ceremony?" she asked, her eyes betraying the wonder she felt.

"Well, yes." Akiva turned bashful. "I have to do it before the sun sets, and we're running out of daylight. You're welcome to join me, but..." His cheeks gave way to bright red. "We'd have to be mostly disrobed."

The possible inferences from that compelled him to close his eyes tight and bite his lip in embarrassment. "I, of course, will avert my gaze as is proper. This is a holy time."

When the blush began to recede from his cheeks, Akiva added, "I'll understand if you wish to stand back."

Laena unbuttoned her shorts but waited before pulling them off. "I would love to," she said, waiting for him to start undressing. She honestly wasn't sure how nude she would need to be, so she felt it best to wait to see how naked he got, and then match him.

The thought of undressing near a woman was put out of mind. Ceremonial washing was an ancient rite with centuries of precedent. Of course, men and women were often separate when doing so, but Akiva told himself that was just for hygienic purposes that didn't apply now. When he saw Laena unfasten her shorts, he reminded himself again as he turned away.

"It's not a lengthy ordeal," Akiva said, looking away as he undressed down to his undergarments. He placed the washcloth over his shoulder, and carried the pitcher in his free hand. He held his other hand behind him without looking until he felt Laena grasp it.

Together he led them into the lapping waves until they were nearly hip deep.

"This might get... a little chilly." Akiva risked a glance back at Laena, wondering if she was having second thoughts.

"I'm ok," she said, not letting go of his hand. She looked around, her eyes glued to the water as she took the steps forward into the unknown.

Taking a deep breath to prepare himself for the plunge, Akiva lowered himself to a kneeling position. The cold water scourged him at first as it rose to his chest. Breath was sucked out of his lungs. He gasped several times before his body adjusted to the temperature.

"Fortunately there aren't any words," Akiva said through chattering teeth. He filled the pitcher with seawater, then dumped it on Laena's head.

Laena gasped as the water poured over her. For a moment, she was stunned, and then she started laughing as the water tickled her face as it ran back to the sea.

Akiva laughed. "Your turn." He handed the pitcher over to her.

Taking the pitcher, Laena dipped it into the water and poured the contents over the man's head in the same fashion he had done to her. She ran her fingers through her hair, pushing it out of her face.

"Now we take a moment of silence to consider our choices this past year," Akiva said while shaking the water off his head, "and seek redemption for the coming one."

He bowed his head for a moment, eyes closed in meditation. Faces flew through his mind, people he had wronged, names he had forgotten, people who had failed him. And he let them wash away with each receding wave.

"Barukh HaShem." Akiva nodded solemnly, then turned to Laena. "Are you freezing yet?"

"Not quite," she said, her true feelings betrayed by the sound of her teeth chattering.

"Let's get out of here."

He pulled her by the hand back to their sandy plot where their clothes lay strewn in piles side by side. The original plan was to use the washcloth to cleanse any sand or debris from his feet before toweling dry and redressing, but... with unexpected company, that just didn't seem right.

"Here," Akiva said, handing it to Laena. "For your feet."

"Thanks," she said as she accepted the cloth. But instead of using it, she just stood there with it in her hand. She didn't feel right using a cloth that he most likely had brought for himself.

There was also the issue of the single towel. One glance at Laena's shivering body made Akiva scold himself for not thinking ahead, as the sun was all but gone. Then he spotted some driftwood.

"I have an idea," he said. After he wrapped Laena in the lone towel, he set to work.

The weathered driftwood felt lighter in his hands than he expected. He quickly made a small pile nearby, layered it in dried seaweed that had tangled his foot, and struck a few sparks from some rocks into a small fire.

"It's not much," Akiva admitted. The picture in his mind was a roaring blaze, not this little cookfire. "We'll have to get close."

He unfolded the burlap wrap from the bundle next to the flames for them to sit closer to it. When his words replayed back in his own ears, he blushed furiously.

"I meant close to the fire, not..." He dropped to his knees to smooth out the cloth and took the opportunity to lower his head.

Kneeling beside him, Laena placed a hand on his chin, turning his face towards her. "It's perfect," she said as she stared into his eyes. Without an invitation, she leaned forward again and gently pressed her lips to his. "Thank you for sharing this with me."

Akiva gently guided her with his embrace to a kneeling position on the cloth. "Tonight wasn't what I expected," he said, rubbing her arms and shoulders through the towel to stimulate warmth. "That was the first time I've ever done mikveh with someone else."

"This was the first time I've ever been in water," Laena said back to him. She looked slightly embarrassed, but continued on. "I've seen bodies of water before, but I've never been in one. I wasn't planning on actually touching it tonight. But..." She looked up to him. "When you invited me, I just couldn't say no."

Akiva stopped his hands for a moment. "Then... we both shared something new."

The cool breeze picked up strength. Akiva felt the mild sting of sand against his body. He looked at his clothes nearby, still piled as he'd left them. In building the fire, he'd neglected to dress himself.

"You still feel like ice," he said.

While he could brave the wind back to the shelter up the rocky trail, it didn't seem right making her do so. His eyes fell upon the edge of the cloth on which they knelt together. On an impulse, he reached for it, then pulled Laena close to his side as he rolled them up together in its rough but thick material.

"Don't mind the wind," he whispered. "I'll keep you warm."

 

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