Substitute

Summary: Seven years in exile creates some strange bedfellows.

 

Characters: Nicoletti, Carey

Codes: Carey/Nicoletti, Torres/Nicoletti (referenced)

 

Disclaimer: Characters belong to Paramount. Imagination belongs to me.

 

Notes: This was a "guess who?" story inspired by the VAMB "Guess the Pairing" challenges, but I've now listed the pairing.

Rated T

I was in his bed the night before he died.

 

They never knew; never even suspected. After seven years I am still an enigma to this crew. They mistake my reserve for frigidity, my reticence for disinterest. It’s something I’m accustomed to.

 

Cold hands, cold heart.

 

I had a lover, once, who told me I was a tough nut to crack. She is one of few who ever bothered to dig beneath my hard shell. But she moved on – I received the news in the first messages from home – and it was the only time I cried in seven years. He was the one who found me, sodden and dirty-faced, hiding in the airponics bay. He held me and his arms were warm and solid, and I kissed him.

 

And so it began.

 

We didn’t come together often. By day, on duty, we worked side by side and addressed each other by rank. At night, sometimes, when one or both of us was especially lonely, we’d seek each other out. We’d spend the night entwined together, touching, giving and receiving comfort, and in the morning we’d part as colleagues.

 

Sometimes, when we’d finished making love and lay quietly in one another’s arms, he would talk. He would tell me that he’d taught his boys to sail and throw a ball and climb trees, and he’d wonder if his older son had found love or if the younger still liked to paint. He would tell me that he missed his wife and that the years apart hadn’t dulled the missing of her at all.

 

Sometimes he would ask me why I never spoke of my life before Voyager, and I would shrug and smile. “Not much to tell,” I’d say.

 

“I don’t believe that,” he answered, one night. “What’s that saying – still waters run deep?”

 

“That’s not the saying people usually use to describe me.”

 

He turned my face to him with gentle fingers, then. “I know what they say,” he murmured. “They’re wrong.”

 

He was the only one who understood me – the only one who bothered to understand. But I loved someone else. Someone I longed to warm my icy, barren heart. Someone who would never offer me quiet comfort, but instead would consume me.

 

Someone who frightened me.

 

It didn’t matter; she never knew. She’ll never know. She takes her comfort elsewhere, anyway.

 

And when he dies, my only comfort dies with him.

 

Two months later we are home. I make my way through crowds at the banquet to his wife. She looks careworn, and his sons are now taller than he was.

 

I tell her I'm sorry for her loss, and that he was a good man. That he was my friend. 

 

When she looks at me, she knows.

 

“I'm glad,” she says, “that he had you.”

 

Her hand, when she clasps mine, is warm.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper