USS VINDEX - NCC-2474-A
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I Swear It

Posted on Thu Jun 1st, 2017 @ 8:15am by Commander Akiva ben-Avram

Mission: S2E1 - Secrets
Location: Mess Hall - USS Vindex
Timeline: Mission Day 86 - 1254 hours

Laena picked up her tray from the replicator terminal after her order materialized from the energy stores within. She brushed her hair over her shoulder as she turned towards the room and began scouting for an empty place to sit. After a few moments, she spotted a perfect place: at a table where the Executive Officer was currently eating and reading a PADD.

She took a deep breath, her smile spread wide as she walked towards the table. "Mind if I join you?" she asked, standing there.

Akiva looked up from the novel he was reading on this PADD and gave Laena a sheepish smile.

"No, please do." He moved his mug to the other side of his tray to allow her more space near him.

Setting the tray down, she took a seat. "I haven't seen you since we got back," she said, placing her napkin in her lap. "You doing alright?"

"Ever since the captain... struck her bargain with that... brain rock down there, it's been a bureaucratic nightmare," Akiva said. He set his PADD down and turned slightly to better face Laena.

"It would seem everybody wants a piece of the new world you discovered." He smiled absently in fond admiration.

Laena shrugged, looking down at her tray as she smiled. "I can't take all the credit," she said, her cheeks turning a slightly darker green. "Elsie was the one who pointed it out to me."

"Ah, yes," Akiva said. "I believe your little friend may be relocating down to the planet to help colonize it."

He studied her blushing green cheeks. The way her face turned demure as she tried to hide her radiant, embarrassed smile drew one from him in return. He looked down at his nearly finished tray of baba ghanouj and twirled a circle in its remnants with his last piece of flatbread.

"I suppose we need to talk about us."

"We do?" she asked, looking up at him with a face that looked somewhere between surprise and confusion. Laena was expecting this conversation at some point, but part of her was hoping to avoid it. She was expecting him to choose Amber over her, but she wasn't going to get emotional. No. If this conversation ended their budding romance, she would politely excuse herself and keep her composure. A public area was not the place to make a scene.

Akiva reached for her hand. "We do. Unless your feelings have changed?"

Laena swallowed hard as she looked down at his hand holding hers. His simple touch was calming and in this moment, there was nothing else in the universe. It was just the two of them, connected by the touch that seemed like a beacon in the darkness. She shook her head slowly without saying a word.

"Well, mine haven't either." He held her gaze without blinking. And then paused when he realized that he didn't struggle to do so. "I... I feel as though I can stare into your eyes forever. There aren't words to describe how freeing that feeling is."

Akiva felt guilty for how far he had advanced his relationships with Laena and Amber. Both women had expressed the desire to be with him, to fight for him even, which was a surreal thought. It was a disservice to them both to lead them along, though. He had to choose.

"How do you feel after our mikveh? It was a little unorthodox to say the least."

A smile began to spread, again, on Laena's face. "Honestly, I felt...just a little closer to you," she said, dimples forming in her cheeks as her smile widened. "I liked seeing that side of you."

"Every year I spend out here, the smaller that side of me feels," Akiva said, falling in a wistful stare. "Thank you for sharing it with me. Most people find it... odd."

"It definitely wasn't odd," she said. Her thumb slowly moved over his knuckles while she spoke. "Why do you let that side of you feel smaller?" she asked.

"Because it's unusual," Akiva said. "Most religions are handled with gloves, so to speak, and mine is particularly... anachronistic." Pain welled up within him with his next words. "Also... I've been away from home for a long time."

Laena simply nodded at this. She honestly couldn't sympathize with such a feeling. Her home held nothing but horrid memories of a man who cared for himself more than he did for her. She had no desire to return and the distance from that planet was comforting more than anything else. But for someone who didn't share her experiences, she could only imagine how difficult it might have been.

"Why don't you go back and visit?" she asked. "We have some time between now and when the ship will launch again. And I'm sure your family would like to see you." She hesitated for a moment, "I could..." Her voice dropped closer to a whisper of embarrassment. "Nevermind."

The suggestion sounded horrid to Akiva at first blush. "Go back? No, I couldn't do that, at least not until Biynah has developed more. You see, she is the personification of the rift between my father and I, and an extension of the greater socio-religious--"

He cut himself off and looked directly at Laena. "Wait. You could what?"

"Nothing, it doesn't matter." Laena picked up her glass and took a drink. "So what happened between you and your father, if you don't mind my asking?" she asked, hoping to change the subject.

Akiva had shared a lot with Laena so far, but this was territory he had not ventured with anyone before. Not since that fateful day he left home. "Maybe another time," he said, looking around to note the other souls present in the mess hall. "I'd really like to know what you were going to say."

"It was embarrassing..." she said, "I shouldn't have even thought of suggesting such a thing."

"Laena, if we're to be together, we must know each other's minds." Akiva squeezed her fingers that were still meshed with his own. "If I felt I could delve into my family life while sitting in public, I would, but I need to leave that for a more private environment. If you need the same, then I understand, but please don't shut me out."

"I'm not trying to shut you out," she said. Looking up at him, she smiled, "I was going to say that if you didn't want to make the journey home, alone, that I'd be available to accompany you."

Akiva's face turned deadpan while he processed her words. Going... away... together? Home, no less. The juxtaposed joy and terror he felt from every aspect of the suggestion neutralized one another, leaving him in a stupor.

"Th-that... that would be wonderful," he said at length. With the words finally out, many more followed in a torrent. "I don't know when, of course, since there's a lot to consider. Biynah's development, ship assignments, personal health, and..."

When his eyes finally returned to hers, he trailed off. "I think it's a fantastic idea."

"Really?" she asked with a smile. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze, "Well, of course there's no rush. I understand things take time. But I do think you should try to make it a priority. If home is as important as you say it is, you shouldn't avoid it."

Akiva cast his face downward. "The thing about home is..." He paused, fighting for the best way to put it to her without getting too emotional or offensive. "They don't like outsiders. What I did and stood for... that made me an outsider to many. And... if I bring an outsider with me... well, I'd need to make certain I'm ready for that."

He looked deeply into her eyes. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say, Laena?"

"You're saying I shouldn't go." Laena saw that he was about to speak, most likely to try and contradict her. But she knew she was right. "Akiva, it's ok," she said before he had a chance to say anything. "It doesn't hurt my feelings. It doesn't even make me upset. Our cultures are very different. And if we are even considering moving forward together, there are going to be bumps in the road along the way. As long as we're honest and communicate well and care for each other, I know we'll get through it together."

She smiled sweetly as she gave his hand another squeeze. "I think you should go home and see your family. Take your daughter and enjoy some time away. And maybe someday, when the time is right, we'll go back together."

"Laena..." Akiva sighed and shook his head. "I don't know that I could go back alone. You see, I'm labeled an apikoros... a heretic, at least by some. It has been many years since I've allowed myself to care what they think of me, but if I return with a shisksa bride, then... well, suffice it to say we would not be made welcome."

Color began to drain from Laena's face as she heard what Akiva said. ""I...uh." She stammered, unsure of what to say. "Akiva, I like you but I think...I think it's very early to start using words like 'bride'."

"Oh." Akiva covered his face with both hands. "I, uh, I didn't mean... you see, I... it's... Ehyeh meshuggeneh." He stood up. "I should go," he said, taking a few steps before stopped to retrieve the personal library on his PADD. "I mean, I have to go."

This time when he turned to go, his foot snagged on the chair leg and sent him tumbling head over heels onto the floor.

Laena watched the scene like it was in slow motion. Before she even knew what was happening, Akiva was already on the floor. She immediately jumped up and knelt next to him. "Akiva, are you ok?" she asked, her hand immediately going to his face.

"I don't know." Akiva closed his eyes and wondered why he could not just melt away into the floor. "Did I just trip and fall in front of everyone while running away from a beautiful woman? Because that is a recurring dream of mine."

"Then why don't you just stop running away?" Laena sat down next to the man and stroked his hair. "If you want to end an interaction, just tell me. Like I said, we need open communication and complete honesty. There's no need to run away."

Akiva looked around at all the other crew members pretending not to watch them on the ground. Laena's fingers gently stroking his hair drew him back to her face. He sat up in order to speak with her properly.

"Laena, where I come from... people do not have waiting periods. Once they agree to be, you know, together, then that's it. For life." His face turned away with humiliation and regret. "I know full well we're not on Hebron, but... I don't do things halfway or half-hearted. If you don't feel the same, then maybe all of this was a mistake."

"Perhaps we should take this conversation somewhere more private?" she asked, not moving.

Akiva nodded, then helped himself to his feet. "Yes, please." He cleared his throat with a cough. "Where, um, did you have in mind?"

Laena stood as well. "Come with me, I want to show you something," she said as she held out her hand for him to take.

Akiva took her hand in his and allowed her to lead him away. Words had failed him, so he opted instead to watch and listen.

It didn't take long for the pair to end up in front of the doors to Stellar Cartography.

"My favorite place isn't actually here," she said as the two walked into the large dome room and down the catwalk to the center platform. "But it's the window to my favorite place."

When they reached the console, she tapped a few commands onto the screen. "Computer, display region file Laena-delta-five, magnify to the eighth degree and set time-lapse two half."

A chirp of the Computer confirmed her command.

"And play musical selection Laena-alpha-twelve, please."

Another chirp of confirmation.

Laena reached back and grabbed Akiva's hand again as she pulled him closer to her. After a moment, the massive screen bloomed to life with a view that very few would be able to describe in words. Surrounding the couple was a field of twinkling stars that seemed to engulf them in beauty.

Soft piano music began to play through the comm system in the room as the main event began to unfold before them. In the center of the screen a small burst of light flashed and died quickly. And then another. And then another. Before you knew it, there was a small cluster of flashes that continually erupted in cascading order.

A swirling streak of blue light suddenly etched across the star-studded vision as it swirled from an unknown area out of view and towards the group of stars. From a different corner of the screen came a yellow streak that eventually joined the blue on its trek towards the center. Then a pink strand. And then green. Soon there were hundreds of colored streaks from various places that made lazy paths across the sky, all converging together in a rainbow of light.

Laena stood there with Akiva's arm wrapped around her stomach as she stared at the display. Her mouth fell slightly open as the stars sparkled in her eyes. Her facial expression could only be described as complete awe. The corners of her eyes became slightly wet with emotion.


"Let there be light," Akiva whispered. "And, lo, there was light."

He rested his chin against Laena's shoulder as he held her from behind. The smell of her hair and skin sent his mind aflutter as surely as did the stellar show of lights. This beautiful creature was so... so... Akiva did not know the words to qualify such wonder and worth in a person.

"Laena, I need to tell you something." Akiva tensed, though he did not let go of Laena. In some ways, it felt easier to say it without having to stare her in the face.

"I... I talked to Amber again." He quickly swallowed the lump in his throat so he could continue before Laena could interrupt. She did, however, step out of his embrace and look him in the eye.

"I called her to my office in order to be honest with her. I told her about what happened between us... when you came to see me a couple weeks ago and what happened on the beach."

Akiva's eyes fell to the floor, though he forced himself to continue.

"She said we weren't really seeing each other yet, that she understood what I'm going through now, and that she would allow me time to figure out what I want to do."

Breathing came harsher and more ragged. Akiva took a moment to still his heart.

"Then... she locked the door, took off her jacket, and... kissed me. We... I told her that I could not take her for pleasure with casual desire, that I must resolve within myself who I will allow myself to love before I can open myself to them like that."

Akiva pivoted on one foot, partly toward Laena and partly toward the door, eyes still low.

"I feel like I am running in a circle, and that I don't know how to get off. Please don't hate me. All I want is to do the right thing with the right person."

"I don't hate you," she said, looking down at the floor. "I'm not exactly thrilled by it," she said, turning around to pressed a button on the console. The music slowly faded and was soon replaced by silence. "I care for you, Akiva. A lot. And I think that we'd be good together. I can't explain why I feel this, but I honestly feel like you're exactly the kind of man that I can see myself with. But..."

Her voice trailed off as she finally looked up at him. Despite her best effort not to, she couldn't stop a few tears from falling down her cheeks. "I can't do this. I need a man who sees me and doesn't have to question whether he wants to be with me." A hand went to his cheek. "I've loved the time we've spent together, and I wish with all my heart that it could have been longer. But I can't be part of your merry-go-round. It's confusing and stressful and there's a part of me that is in pain every time I think of you holding her the way you should be holding me."

Now, she didn't bother to try to stop the tears. "It should have been me, Akiva. And I'm sorry that I wasn't enough for you. I'm sorry that you're so confused. But I can't share you like this. I refuse. Because after all I've been through in my life, I know that I don't deserve this." Her hand dropped to her side as she turned away from the man and walked towards the door.

"Wait."

Akiva felt a tear slide down his cheek as well.

"You say that you don't want to share me, yet you bristled at the thought of being presented as my bride on my home world. I tell you that I turned away another woman who offered herself to me body and soul, and you think that I could be with someone else? What do you want from me, Laena?"

His words hung silent in the air, so he decided to go all in.

"I need to know this isn't a temporary flash in the pan. I need a sign on which I can stake my future, that this will endure to the end of my days, and that I can stop running." His tone lowered, taking an almost pleading pitch. "I only know one place to go from here, and it's somewhere you won't go."

Laena stopped walking, but didn't turn around. "I can't." The words were almost too soft to hear, but there was no denying what she said. Slowly, she turned back towards the man. "You're asking me to go from zero to one hundred in the blink of an eye, Akiva. And I'm not sure how this works in your culture, but I'm not comfortable with that pace."

She took a single step towards him but stopped herself. "You are basing so much on my earlier reaction without taking the time to realize why I had that reaction. Or even asking about it. Had you done that, we probably could have avoided this completely." Despite the tears, a weak smile pushed through.

"Love is an emotion, and I hate to say that it can be fleeting at times. Love is a fantastic sentiment between two people, and it's quite necessary. But you can't base a relationship solely on that. There needs to be trust and reliability. There are logistics to consider." Laena sniffed, rubbing her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt. "Do I think we're ready to discuss marriage? No, I don't," she said, shaking her head. "We have a lot to learn about each other and I think we have a lot to figure out first."

She took another small step. "But if you were to ask me if I could see myself marrying you someday?" She slowly nodded without a word. "I can't make promises to you. I wish I could, but that would be unfair to both of us. And it would be dishonest. I don't know what's going to happen next year, much less next week. And I think some of the recent events aboard have shown that. But what I can say is that I care for you in a way I haven't cared for someone in a very long time. And honestly, the thought of losing you over this is painful. This is what I have to offer you."

"Logistics," Akiva repeated. He closed his eyes and breathed, taking a moment to consider Laena's words. "Where I come from, a man and woman become betrothed. They are married in all but name until the logistics are resolved. I believe in this because in my culture, we choose who we love, and then love who we choose." He cocked his head slowly to measure her response. "It is a vow which precedes the one of marriage. One does not break it honorably, for it begins the process of uniting two into one. I understand neither of us are prepared to be married at this moment, but if I am to take this further, we must be betrothed. "

His words caught in his throat. He choked them out. He willed them through his lips.

"Laena, will you swear yourself to me as I swear myself to you?"

Her smile beamed as she walked towards the man. Slowly at first but getting faster until she fell into his arms. Words escaped her as her lips met his with a passion unlike any other.

Akiva's eyes shot wide at first, but then closed as he settled into the sensual rhythm of his lips pressed to Laean's. His hands pressed against her back so tightly his arms ached.

"I choose you," he said between kisses. Tears began to fall, and he pressed his mouth firmer as if to stop them. When the weeping threatened to overwhelm him, he tucked her head against his chest and spoke fervently into the hair against her head.

"If you swear one day we can build a home and a family, then I choose you. If you swear that we can be united as one before HaShem and the galaxy, and that nothing can tear us apart, then I choose you."

His hands relaxed enough to cradle her face between them so that he could see her free and clear of the burden he had carried for so long.

"I do not choose because of feelings I share with you. My choice is a commitment to you which comes with every feeling that I have, good and bad, loving and angry. I give you my heart this day, Laena, so that one day I may give you my name. I swear it."

He threw his head back and shouted to the vaulted ceiling and the higher power beyond, "I swear it!"

Laena wrapped her arms around Akiva and laid her head against his chest. She could hear the beating of his heart and all she could do was smile. While this wasn't exactly the way she saw the conversation going, the simple idea of working through this together with Akiva was a plan she was quite supportive of.

"But wait." She pulled away for a moment and looked up at the man. The man that was now her betrothed. The man that she would one day marry. The man that chose her. And asked her to choose him in return. That man she loved. "Does this mean I have to become Jewish?"

 

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