Legacy, Chapter 9 – Serenity
By C. Lear
flows into me
~ Peace, by Sarah Teasdale
Previous chapters published at http://visions.comet-empire.com/LadyLearIntro.htm
“That wasn't fair!” came a woman's voice from behind him.
Hardy turned to see the young woman standing in the doorway of the balcony. One slender arm held the curtain aside. She was illuminated by the soft light from the Great Hall behind her. “You were a bloody, swollen mess the last time I saw you. I had to ask my brother who you were.”
“Your brother?...” He whispered, more to himself than to her. “Conroy?”
The young woman took a step and teetered awkwardly. She caught her balance with a hand against the door frame and rolled her eyes.
“Excuse me,” she said to Hardy as she leaned against the door. She bent until she could slip her finger beneath the strap of her high-heeled shoe. She pulled it off and straightened her back. Releasing a long sigh, she inspected the delicate, black shoe with a critical eye. “It's amazing. We can put a colony on Mars, but we have yet to engineer a sensible heel!” She tossed it to the side. Putting her hand against the door-frame again, she bit her lip and used her bare foot in an awkward attempt to pry the other heel away. Hardy watched her struggle for a moment, then he came to her and knelt before her. “Ma'am?” He looked up at her as he held out his hand at her feet.
Jessica hesitated. She seemed uncertain of his gesture. She was young, and certainly unaccustomed to the conduct of chivalry. Hardy waited patiently. Finally, she lifted the silky fabric of the dress and placed her foot in his hand. He gently pulled her foot to him, allowing her shoe to rest on his leg. The folds of her dress fell away, revealing the muscular lines of her lower leg and the delicate structure of her ankle. He loosened the strap of the shoe and removed it with great care. He felt her eyes on him as he rose. Her shoe seemed very small and delicate in his hands. “Ma'am.” He smiled as he presented it to her.
She stared at him, her lips graced with a slight smile, as if she didn't quite know what to say. She suddenly grabbed the shoe from his hand and tossed it over her shoulder. “I've been wanting to do that all night!” She started to laugh with a contagious giggle and Hardy laughed with her.
Her informal demeanor put him at ease. He turned and offered his arm to her. She placed one hand on his arm and lifted her long dress with the other so she could walk without stepping on the flowing fabric. He escorted her to the concrete railing of the balcony. They both leaned against it, staring quietly at the crumbling underground city before them.
“I tried to find you,” Hardy finally spoke. She looked at him, but she was silent. “I asked all around that hospital, but nobody knew you. I thought... the name you gave me...”
“I gave you my real name,” Jessica said, and Hardy met her eyes. “Everyone else knows me by my nickname. Someone started calling me Doc and it stuck. Fewer syllables than Jessica, I guess. Much easier to scream in an emergency.”
“I wanted to thank you... for what you did...”
“You don't have to thank me for doing my job,” Jessica spoke in almost a whisper.
He wondered if the skies of Earth had ever been as blue as her eyes. When she smiled... His words and his breath escaped him. He diverted his eyes before he stared at her too long. Instead, he studied his clasped hands on the railing. They tightened with anxiousness. He didn't know what to say to her. How many times had he rehearsed something in his mind? Yet, not a single phrase returned to save him. He didn't know how to begin.
“I asked about you many times.” Her voice was soft and gentle. “I know you had a rough time of it.” Jessica lifted her hand and brushed aside his hair, exposing his scars.
Instinct and self-consciousness would have had him withdraw from her. However, she had seen him broken. He wanted to be known by her. He wanted to be understood. He remained still as she touched his face with the delicate tips of her fingers, carefully tracing the remains of his burns. Hardy closed his eyes for a moment, completely at the mercy of her touch. “You've healed well... You shouldn't hide them...”
“I don't like answering questions about them. I don't like being reminded.”
The young woman hesitated and pulled her hand away. “I'm sorry...” Hardy sensed trembling in her voice. “I'm sorry I couldn't save your friend.”
Hardy stood straight and looked back at her, surprised by her words. “No, that's not what I meant! I...”
An awkward silence fell between them. The moment could have lasted for days, but there seemed to be no sense of time. She endured somehow, and she remained. Hardy was relieved. She seemed to find more solace in the uncertainty between them than in the act of escape.
He finally found the courage to speak. “They said you took a huge risk. They said...” He paused and swallowed again, attempting to relieve the nervous dryness in his throat. “They said you were very brave...”
“No!” She whispered as she shook her head. “I'm not brave! I'm not brave at all!” She didn't look at him. She kept her eyes fixed on the lights lining the streets below them. “I'm scared! I'm scared all of the time!” Pushing back from the railing, she looked down where the delicate fabric of the dress hid her toes. “I begged Peter to stay! I begged him!”
Hardy was silent. Words eluded him once more.
“It's crazy! You don't know what's out there! You don't know if its real! What if...” Her words trailed away.
Hardy reached for her, but he couldn't bring himself to touch her.
She finally turned to him. Her blue eyes burned. “I hate it! I hate that he wants to leave, more than he wants to stay! He should be be with his family!” She swept up a long, slender arm and pointed forcefully to the jagged ceiling of stone, which was now their sky. “He would rather die out there, than with us...” She stared at him in the fleeting silence, visibly trembling. Suddenly, she gasped and covered her mouth with her hand in a gesture of surprise. She seemed regretful and humiliated by her outburst.
A veil of political correctness surrounded the mission. Everyone was desperately clinging to whatever hope remained. So, no one said what they really thought... what they really feared...
Jessica revealed a terrifying truth in her words. The mission could be a last, desperate act of a dying civilization. It could be suicide. It could be hopeless...
“I'm so sorry!” She pulled her hand away from her mouth. Her eyes glistened. She was on the verge of tears. “I promised Peter... I shouldn't have... I'm so sorry!” Turning away from him, she started toward the door.
Hardy reached for her, gently grasping her arm. He sensed desperation in her, a desire to run, to escape. She tried to pull away. Her arm slipped through Hardy's hand until her hand brushed his. He closed his hand around hers and refused to release her.
“No...” She pulled against him, but the attempt was feeble, as if she had no strength to fight him.
He was stronger than her resistance. He pulled her to him, gathering her trembling body into the shielding comfort of his embrace. She was tense, but she didn't fight him. Moments later, he felt her tension drain away, like gently flowing water. She sank willingly into the solace of his arms.
She was warm against him. Her hair was silky against his face The dramatic plunge of her dress left her slender back bare beneath his hands. How many times had he thought of holding her this way? He couldn't remember.
“Don't let go...” Her whisper seemed frightened. He held her tighter.
They could have been there for hours. Hardy didn't know. For him, it wasn't long enough.
Music drifted from the Great Hall. Jessica raised her head and looked into Hardy's eyes. “Could we just stay here?” she whispered. “Could we forget about everything, for just a little while?”
I don't know you
But I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me
And always fool me...
Hardy didn't reply. He didn't have the answers to questions like those. He offered her his open hand instead. “I don't know how to dance,” he said softly, “but I can shuffle my feet.”
Take this sinking boat and
point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice
You've made it now...
She smiled with an enduring grace, but she seemed to choke back tears with her words. “Shuffling sounds really good.” She placed her hand in his, and for a moment, he marveled at how it fit so perfectly into his.
Falling slowly, eyes that
And I can't go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I'm painted black...
“Wait...” He took a step back from her and stepped on the back of his shoe, pulling it off. Jessica laughed gently as he removed the other as well. He pulled her to him. Her body found support against his. She laid her head against his chest once more.
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It's time that you won...
They moved slowly. He rocked her gently with the music.
The city crumbled around them. The Earth still turned, but they were oblivious to it all. They were sheltered in the perfect calm of their embrace. For one fragile moment, life granted them peace.
His heart was pounding. She lifted her head from his chest and her eyes met his. They were so very blue, like the sky he loved. The sky he remembered when he was very young, before the bombings.
He took in the details of her, things he could remember; things he could take with him: the feel of her hand in his, the delicate lines of her face, the perfect orientation of her body against his and how the dramatic neckline of her dress framed the pale skin of her chest, which rose and fell with each breath... Her eyes seemed to study him with a curious wonder, as her head tilted, ever so slightly, on her long, graceful neck.
They stopped moving. Lacking fear or inhibition, they gazed at one another. The silence between them seemed natural, a delicate prelude to something more. He leaned toward her slowly, hesitantly; a silent gesture, requesting her permission. She didn't turn from him. Hardy closed his eyes and felt the soft warmth of her lips against his.
Jessica caught her breath, and he felt her move in his arms. He was so captivated by the moment, he didn't hear the sound of her name in the distance. He suddenly realized the chaotic hum of the crowd could no longer be heard. They must have been moving without music for quite some time. The glaring main lights of the Great Hall streamed through cracks in the curtains. The banquet was at an end.
Jessica pushed away from him. “I have to go!” She quickly gathered the length of her dress into her arms and padded away from him.
“Will you be at the send-off tomorrow?” Hardy asked. “We're marching through the city.”
“No... I can't...” She paused and turned to him, but she couldn't seem to meet his eyes. She tried to say more, but the words seemed to catch in her throat.
Hardy felt the sting of disappointment. “It would be good to see you...”
“I've... I've already said my goodbyes... understand?”
“Yes,” he nodded, hesitantly. She turned from him before her tears flowed, disappearing into the folds of the heavy curtains.
“Hey!” He heard Conroy's voice in the distance. “Where were you?”
“I needed some air.” Jessica's voice was flat, lifeless.
“Are you alright?” Their voices began to fade with increasing distance. “Where are your shoes?”
The time soon came for Sandor to return to the Argo. It was his responsibility to supervise the delicate handling of the precious Cosmo DNA. He excused himself on the condition that Hardy would provide him with an update on Conroy. Hardy was left to the empty, silent halls of the medical facility.
He entered the room were Jessica slept. Her body twitched with the internal struggle of dreams. He sat on the couch, in the bend of her legs, and watched her for a long time. He was strangely content, simply to be by her side, to watch over her while she slept. He reached over and gently bushed her hair from her face.
Jessica's body jerked and her eyes opened. She looked up at Hardy. “Peter?”
“I'm so sorry to wake you.” Hardy replied softly. “There's no word on him yet.”
Jessica stared at him for a moment. She blinked, perhaps allowing her eyes to adjust in the dim light. After an instant of recognition, she suddenly sat up and threw her arms around him. She pulled him to her and held him as tight as her fleeting strength would allow.
It surprised Hardy, but he smiled and responded with an equally strong embrace. He closed his eyes and pressed his cheek into the long curve of her neck, lost in the captivating smell of her hair and the sultry warmth of her skin.
He knew she wouldn't be there. She told him so, but he looked for her anyway. Colored confetti fell like snow, obscuring the faces of spectators. People were everywhere, occupying every possible space along the route. Even if she was there, he wondered if he could actually find her in this mess.
Once more, it was her voice which drew him to her. He heard her calling his name. It was so faint at first, he wondered if he was hearing her at all. His eyes searched the crowd for her familiar face. He broke formation and stood in front of the crowd, searching with anticipation. Finally, he saw her, pushing her way through the tangle of people between them. Their eyes met. She smiled at him, with the smile he remembered, the smile he loved, and it made him catch his breath.
He started toward her. In the mass of people around them, she was all he could see. He wasn't sure what overcame him in that moment. These were not the actions of a gentleman, not one raised in the conservative traditions of the South. Maybe he wanted a memory to carry him through the next year. Maybe he felt he had nothing left to lose.
He moved with a confidence and purpose he had not felt in years. When they reached each other, he swept up her body his passionate embrace, lifting her from her feet. With his hand in her long hair, he pressed her lips to his and kissed her with breathtaking intensity.
At any other time, a public display of affection in uniform was a punishable offense. He didn't care. Neither did anyone else. Rows of uniformed soldiers marched by them. Some of them cheered Hardy on with hoots and hollers. The crowd immediately surrounding them broke out into applause. Jessica and Jefferson were oblivious to it all.
The kiss was long, deep, and slow. He allowed her body to slide slowly down his, joined with her in heated intimacy, until her feet finally touched the ground. She seemed breathless in her surprise. Hardy felt the soft rush of her breath against his lips. She faltered in the aftermath, but Hardy held her steady in his arms.
Finally, she opened her eyes and stared up at him. He looked into her eyes, as if he could see into the very depths of her soul. Maybe he could. Something deep inside him told him what to say. “Stay alive!” His voice resounded powerfully through the noise around them. “I'm com'n back! I'm com'n back for you!”
The words came with such confidence and certainty, Hardy even surprised himself. He suddenly realized, he genuinely believed them. He held her there, until an ember of hope burned in her eyes, until he was certain she believed his words too.
'There she is,' he thought. 'The woman who saved me. The survivor... The fighter...'
They lingered in the moment, staring at one another. She finally hooked her fingers into the neck of his uniform and slowly pulled him to her. She kissed him back.
To Be Continued
Chapter 10 – Courage
Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace,
The soul that knows it not Knows no release from little things... — Amelia Earhart
Author’s Note: A love story for those dedicated fans of Star Blazers and Space Cruiser Yamato. May the legend, and all that it entails, continue to endure for another 30 years!
Disclaimer: Star Blazers is owned by Voyager Entertainment. Lyrics from Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
Beta Reader: Sybil Rowan! Thanks again!
Date Written: October, 2010
Word Count: 3015