The Long Run

original story by C Petterson and S Sizemore
rewritten by Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2247)

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PART THREE

Sulu spent the entire next day with Jilla. She mentioned she had had a garden on Vulcan, and so he took her to his. Technically, of course, the Enterprise’s conservatory belonged to everyone on board, but he put so much work into it he not-so-secretly considered it his own. He had eagerly showed her all the exotic flowers he had cultivated, and told her their histories, and as much about their worlds of origin as he knew. He had grown Terran orchids, and she had thought them beautiful, so he gave her the biggest Jewel-Box he had. She blushed prettily and he helped her take it to her cabin, noting that Ruth was still nowhere to be found.

They beamed down to walk around the Base, shopping, sitting in open-air cafes, and talking, and he reveled in simply being with her. He asked her to tell him about her garden, and about the flora of Indi. She had gone very quiet, and said she would prefer to hear more about him. He hadn’t known what to say at first, but she was so genuinely interested that the words were soon spilling out.

“Starfleet’s the only career I want. Maybe it’s old-fashioned and romantic, but I’m a sailor, an explorer. I need adventure and what’s left but Starfleet? Of course, most of the time it's tedium and drills and supplying outposts, but every now and then something really exciting happens, something that makes me wonder ‘what am I doing here and am I going to be alive three seconds from now?’ But I could never leave it. Somebody has to be out here fighting the good fight, so why not someone who really wants to be here?” She had given him a quiet, knowing smile that had caused him to flush and shrug. “Patriotism’s old-fashioned too. But the Federation is important. And I like the traveling. The food’s good, the pay’s not too bad, especially since we don’t have a whole lot of time or places to spend it. I like the company. I get free use of the gym equipment.” He grinned at her. “I know, I’ve got a lot of hobbies, but like I said, tedium and drills. A man’s got to keep busy, y’know.”

“Takeda is my family name. I’m Japanese, but I was born in California.” That had naturally confused her, so he explained a little about Terran history and culture and geography; how Terrans were still ethnically diverse and that they guarded that diversity with fierce pride, so he could live in California and still be considered culturally Japanese.

“I’m a second son. I have an older brother and a younger sister. And a Grandmother who runs a very traditional household. But my Mother can handle her.” Then he’d had to explain about Japanese mothers-in-law in general, and the fierce, broom-wielding lady who was his Grandmother. He also had to explain that his Mother had a small touch of Korean and Hawaiian ancestry, and to the ethnically fervent this was a bad thing, and how he tended to forget it but his Grandmother never did and yes, it was silly.

“About being samurai…” and he explained the concept of the scrupulously honorable warriors “…my ancestors were an important family and I’m very proud of it. I didn’t think much about it all until I got into the Academy and began studying military history. Bushido…” another digression for another explanation about the Way of the Warrior “…was something my Father talked about at home, but I didn’t realize the importance of a creed like that then. I was more interested in needles.” He waited for her to wince. He had expected her to. Most engineers did – at least the ones who didn’t build them. “I know, they’re dangerous. Flimsy and illegal in most systems, insane toys for insane adolescents…” He shrugged, then grinned. “But I love them. Everyone said I was the best racer they’d ever seen.” He shrugged again. “Maybe I was. No one’s broken my records yet.”

The discussion of racing brought up why he called Ruth “Spike” and why she called him “Roy.” “It’s short for LeRoi, the way Jer says it – LeRoy. It’s a Franco-Terran term meaning ‘the king.’” He smiled at the thought, and Jilla asked who ‘Jer’ was. “Jeremy Paget,” he said, and smiled again, fondly, at her scowl that he had shortened the name. “We grew up down the street from each other in Los Angeles. He’s my best friend, has been all my life. More than friend.” And he had to explain about Terran bisexuality, which at first perplexed her, then disconcerted her.

And then, he found himself talking about things which he hadn’t mentioned to anyone else in years; he spoke about Cal and the parties at the Penthouse. He talked about the Hunter. “I didn’t think about it at the time,” he said, his voice soft with shame and remembered guilt. “Cal was jaded. He’d been a racer when he was young, and he was filthy rich. Daffy used to say he had more money than God. He could buy and sell whatever he wanted. Nothing thrilled him, nothing filled the emptiness inside him. So he hunted. It was the only thing that made him feel alive.” She didn’t understand his sense of responsibility, any more than Ruth would have if he’d ever been able to bring himself to tell her; about his relationship with Cal, about the drugs and the wild sex and his own, darker desires; how he’d accepted Cal’s gifts, and ‘entertained’ him by providing voyeuristic sex – and Kamikaze was never hunted. If anyone should have suspected, it should have been him. But he couldn’t tell Jilla the details, he couldn’t explain what the wildness of Cal’s parties was like. He took a deep breath and pushed the memories away – and caught the sorrowing understanding in her eyes. Of course, she was a sensitive. Even if she didn’t know the details, she felt all he did, the jumbled feelings, the mixed, confused emotions, the shame and pain and guilt. And she accepted it with no judgment. It was, for her, simply a part of who and what he was.

“I know the reputation I’ve got,” he said at last, his tone quiet and serious. “People say I’m promiscuous and callous about relationships. But it isn’t true.” She blushed and looked away from him. “I mean – all right, I am promiscuous, but I genuinely care for everyone I’ve ever slept with. Maybe it isn’t always love. I am something of a romantic, but… “ He paused, hoping against hope that she’d believe him. “I know when something – when someone is special. I try not to lead people on, or manipulate their feelings, or…” He took another deep breath. “What I’m trying to say is, I know the reputation, Jilla. I know it, but it isn’t true. And you’re special to me. Very special. Believe me.” He reached across the table, gently taking her hands in his. “Believe me,” he repeated in a whisper. Their eyes met, and words leapt into his mind. For once, the panic didn’t overwhelm him and he leaned forward, intending to whisper them and to punctuate them with a kiss and just maybe appendix them with something more intimate. But she had pulled away and quickly found an excuse to leave him.

He sighed inwardly and tried not to think of the fullness of her lips – or the acquiescence in her eyes.

==========*==========*==========

Ruth was playing her guitar in semi-darkness when the door opened. She glanced at the chronometer. It was nearly 2300 hours and Jilla hadn’t been home all day. She grimaced, remembering their fight of the night before – which she, of course, had totally ignored since – and decided to continue ignoring it. “My, you’re out late,” she commented. "Been having a good time with Roy?”

The shadow that had entered the cabin stopped and luminous grey eyes turned to her. They were filled with tears. “Ruth, why?” Jilla’s voice pleaded, and thoroughly ashamed of herself, Ruth put her guitar down.

“Why what?” she asked, rising and crossing the room to the Indiian.

Jilla stood stock still. “Why does he…” Her voice caught.

Oh shit! “What happened?”

“And why do I?!”

“Jilla…?”

“It is wrong, I know it, he knows…” Jilla’s hands covered her face. “…but I cannot stop, he will not…. Ruth, what have I done?”

Ruth swiftly pulled Jilla into an embrace, just as she felt the Indiian collapse against her. She hushed her for a while, then gently led her to sit on her bed. “Jilla,” she asked softly, “did you sleep with Sulu?”

Jilla looked up, her face tear-streaked. “Sleep with…?” she began, confused.

Ruth shook her head. “I meant sex, Jilla. Did you…?”

Jilla’s face went stark white. “No!” she gasped in horror.

Ruth sighed, taking Jilla’s hand comfortingly. “Then there’s no sin, right?”

“But…” Jilla began and Ruth interrupted.

“Right?”

Jilla took a trembling breath, then closed her eyes, calming under Ruth’s soothing tia. “No. I mean, yes, you are correct. There is no sin…” Ruth fancied she could hear the silent, added, with Sulu. She patted the hand she held.

“So stop worrying. You’re all right.”

Jilla shuddered. “How can I?” she whispered. “When it comes so close…”

“Close?” Ruth questioned, once again alert.

The Indiian lowered her eyes, her skin again beginning to shimmer. “He – almost…” She shivered, her voice becoming even quieter. “He nearly kissed me. And what is worse… I nearly let him.”

Ruth blinked in surprise. “Jilla, a kiss is hardly close to having sex.”

“It is for me.”

Ruth again checked her reaction, though she suspected that somewhere some unsuspecting telepath had just been flooded with an incredulous, it is?!?

“When the tia is so strong,” Jilla was explaining softly, “no sensitive could refuse – or resist.”

“Jilla,” Ruth said after a moment’s silence, “did you tell him?”

Tell him?” Jilla moaned in answer, her arms hugging her body in a hopeless gesture of defeat. “I can barely string three intelligible words together when I am near him. I am ignorant of so many Terran customs and idioms. I stammer, I stutter…” She looked up helplessly, her voice tremulous. “I repeat what he says like some slow-witted child. He asks my favorite color and I say ‘color?’ For clothes, he says, and my reply is ‘clothes?’ as if I do not know what they are. He asks if I drink wine. ‘Wine?’ I say. He tells me it will be the color of my hair and I ask if it is supposed to be.” Her face was glowing with her furious blush. “Why do I make such a fool of myself?”

This time, Ruth didn’t hide a wide grin or the suddenly affectionate feeling of understanding and shared chagrin. “That’s easy,” she said. “You’re in love.”

==========*==========*==========

It was 0700 and Ruth and Jilla had spent the whole night talking. They understood each other a lot better. Jilla accepted that Ruth could not deal with her feelings except through teasing and denial. Ruth came to understand a little of the horror that Jilla endured simply by staying alive, and the inexplicable lessening of that horror when Sulu was near. Neither had gone so far as to promise not to continue their matchmaking – but each had agreed to recognize that it was done out of the best of intentions. They went to the mess so Ruth could get much needed protein, but when the Antari returned from the replicator, she had two cups of coffee, one of which she placed before Jilla.

“Here,” she said.

Jilla sighed at the cup, but took it as Ruth sat down. She saw the purple eyes light up over her own cup and turned, half-expecting to see Spock. But it was Sulu who approached the table. She was more than disconcerted by all these chance meetings which she suspected were not ‘chance’ at all. He smiled.

Farané, Jilla.” he said. “Good morning, Ruth,”

She heard Ruth’s bright, “’Morning, Roy,” as she nodded to him, her eyes automatically lowering. Why did she always do that?

That’s easy. You’re…

No!

“It’s the last day of leave,” Sulu was saying, “Do you want to have dinner with me?” She felt a stab of pain that she forced him to go to such lengths as ‘chance meetings’ to spend time with her when he could so easily and naturally approach Ruth…

And is Ruth damned? she asked herself bitterly. Besides, he and Ruth are friends, they are comfortable with…

And will he never be comfortable with me?

How dare you even think such a thing!

She became aware of an expectant silence, and that Ruth had not answered the invitation. She looked up.

“Majiir,” Ruth said softly, “he’s talking to you.”

Jilla’s face began to glow. “I thought – I thought he…" she stammered. Sulu smiled at her and the warmth spread through her like the rays of Zindar breaking through a morning fog. At the next table, Daphne Gollub giggled.

“Do you?” Sulu asked quietly. She could feel his yearning, but also the clear desire not to pressure her.

“I – I am not… I do not…” She saw Ruth nodding a firm ‘go ahead!’ and took a deep breath. It is not right, you should not…

That’s easy, you’re in…

“Yes, Sulu.”

His smile was all the sunny days she had ever seen. “I’ll meet you at the transporter at twenty hundred hours,” he said.

“Twenty hundred,” she repeated, and heard Ruth stifle a chuckle. It wasn’t until later that she realized why.

==========*==========*==========

Ruth sat on the floor of her quarters, attired in comfortably familiar shorts and halter and slowly brushed her hair, enjoying the lilting melody Jilla was strumming on her lyrette. Her mind wandered, thinking about being ignorant of Terran customs and idioms and she found herself wondering how the Antari custom of never cutting one’s hair had evolved. She had to admit that it was, at times, inconvenient. Legend had it that it was actually a symbiotic life form and Antari reverence for life would prevent one from harming it. Of course, on Antares, no one ran the risk of getting it caught in a turbolift door, she mused. Which was something that had actually happened to her at the Academy. She’d had to hit the emergency stop. It taught her to move fast.

And speaking of moving fast, Roy certainly is, isn’t he? She quelled the sour feeling that accompanied the thought, replacing it with the quiet pleasure that emanated from the music of the lyrette. He was joy and delight to me, she reminded herself. He’s her life and soul. And besides, she’s in love.

And so are you.

She shrugged. I wouldn’t say that.

So why did Jilla’s matchmaking send you through the roof?

Again, she shrugged. I do want him, she told herself. And I can’t very well keep that from an Indiian. I just have to remember that she doesn’t understand the difference between unrequited lust and Chapel Syndrome. After all, she’s as romantic in her way as Sulu is.

They’re going to make a lovely couple.

The door chime sounded, and Ruth called ‘come’ so that Jilla wouldn’t have to stop playing. The door opened and she looked up – to see Spock standing there. She immediately got to her feet. “Uh, Commander,” she stammered, then bit her tongue. “Morning, Boss,” she continued cheerfully. She had avoided him the entire day before, but she was determined not to feel guilty about it. She craned her head a little. “Where’s Bones?”

“I have managed to elude his surveillance for the moment,” he answered. “Might I have a word with you, Miss Valley?”

“Sure. Come in,” she said, and graciously moved aside, motioning him forward. She listened for, but didn’t hear any faltering in the music coming from the sleeping area.

He stepped into the cabin, letting the door close behind him. “Firstly,” he said, “if it is not inconvenient, there is some work which I would appreciate your assistance with. I realize you are still on leave, however…”

“No problem, Boss,” she interrupted. Jilla coughed. Spock appeared not to notice.

“Secondly,” he continued, “I would speak with you regarding your behavior of the evening before last. I found it somewhat – puzzling.”

Ruth felt herself blush and told herself sternly that a keheil should have better control over bodily functions. “That was a mistake,” she blurted out. And blushed even redder. “I didn’t know… I didn’t mean to… and the dress, and… I hadn’t…” She looked away. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.”

“I was not embarrassed,” Spock replied. “I simply…” She glanced at him and found him looking at her quite intently. “Did you realize the significance of your actions?” he asked.

Her face was burning. “No!” she exclaimed.

He gave a slight nod. “I see. That is all the explanation I require. Thank you, Miss Valley.”

Ruth took a deep breath and determinedly forced away her residual uneasiness. “So, what kind of help do you need?”

Spock had turned toward the door, and now turned back. “There are certain equations that must be programmed into the computer if the monthly reports are to be completed by the end of the week.”

“Do you mind if I work in civies?”

“Why would your attire make a significant difference in your productivity?” he countered.

She grinned. “It wouldn’t.” She stepped up next to him. “There’s some delicate coding to these equations?” she asked.

“Not so much delicate as intricate,” Spock replied. Ruth nodded in alert, attentive acquiescence, and barely noticed leaving her cabin.

==========*==========*==========

As the door closed behind Ruth and Spock, Jilla smiled to herself. I understand very well the difference between unrequited lust and Chapel Syndrome, Ruth, she thought affectionately. Very well indeed.

==========*==========*==========

Jilla wore the dress Sulu had bought her, and the dylithium pendant, and the bracelets. Ruth had to help her with the perfume; she had never worn alien scents before. She had to admit it was a very complementary fragrance, subtle and dusky, neither too sweet nor too heavy. It haunted, like the aftertaste of perfectly ripe plums. Sulu had very keen perceptions and discernment. The thought made her smile self-consciously. She did wish now that she hadn’t let him buy the dress. It had caught her attention because of its similarity to her wedding gown. To be reminded now of the vows she was forsaking…

And should you not be?

The damage is done, as he has said, as Ruth has said…

What do off-worlders know of it? They are not bound by Aema’s laws.

Yet… I can feel him within me, life and being, blasphemous though it is. Am I, as Ruth says…?

He met her at the transporter room door as he had promised. His clothing was a bit more sedate than the last civilian wear she’d seen him in; black slacks, not tights, and an emerald green tunic that went very well with the color of her dress. He smiled at her and she ordered her skin not to glow, with little result. Did he know the effect that devastating smile had on her? Or that the warmth of his eyes haunted her dreams? Or that his deep voice sent tendrils of existence itself into her? Or that his slender physique caused her blood to heat in… Jilla, stop!

He held out his arm and she hesitated, but his tia asked, and though it was dangerous, she could no longer refuse.

They beamed down outside what looked like a very opulent, very expensive restaurant. They were led to a secluded table, set in its own alcove, lit only by the soft glow of candlelight. Sulu ordered fine wine and their dinners, and they seemed completely alone as he raised his glass to her.

“Jilla,” he said softly, “aem pelenontay.”

She flushed deeply. He had said, in flawless Indiian, ‘a woman of great beauty.’

“Candlelight becomes you,” he continued. “It enhances the sparkle of your skin, and gets lost in the richness of your hair.”

Jilla trembled at his words, and at the seclusion.

“I – do not think…” She swallowed. “You know I am wed.”

“Yes,” he said simply. “I know.”

“And yet you…” she stared at the table. “..you appear to be… that is, to me it seems… feels…”

“That I’m pursuing you,” he finished gently. “I am.”

She wrung her napkin, flustered. “Such a thing… you know it cannot… it is not proper…”

“I know what you feel,” he broke in, his voice still soft. “That’s precisely why I’m pursuing you.” He tilted his head, attempting to look into her eyes. “Jilla, you do love me,” he whispered.

“I… it is…” The truth! The thought blazed inside her and she fought it. “I explained, it is impossible, I thought…!”

“Your vow is sacred,” he affirmed. “I understand that. But, Jilla…” He reached over to her, carefully lifting her chin. “It’s broken already. All I ask is that you give me a chance to ease that pain.”

“I can't!” Her voice broke. “I can’t,” she repeated, barely audible.

“You don’t deny it, do you, Jilla?” he asked.

“Deny…?” She stared at her hands. “No. I cannot.”

“Then let me take it.” He again reached across the table, taking her hand. “Don’t pull away this time,” he murmured to her. “You have to live day to day, I know that. Let me live each day with you, one at a time.” He bent his head, kissing the back of her hand.

Then, he turned it over, and kissed the scar on her palm.

Jilla stopped breathing. She should tell him to stop. She should demand he leave her alone to face Judgment. But his eyes burned in her mind, his voice was thunder in her heart. His essence, his very being beat in her soul. She could not say to him ‘leave me.’ Yet how could she say ‘take me’? So she said nothing. But her left palm throbbed beneath his lips.

And when he looked up at her again, his smile was knowing.

The End

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