((co-written with Silver Night))
Captain Silver Night waited at the foot of the docking umbilical, watching the small woman - the word came to mind unbidden - waddle towards him. Ciarente should, of course, have taken a passenger transport platform rather than walk the length of the hangar, and he knew his crew would have offered her one at the security checkpoint. Knew, too, exactly what she would have said, the same response she gave when he offered to take her place in the labs at HQ or overseeing a production line. Relax, Silver. I'm pregnant, not crippled.
Reaching him, a little breathless, she smiled. "Hello, Silver. How are you?"
"I'm well, Cia. How are you?" He started towards the ship. "Shall we?"
Tired, he thought an honest answer to his question would have been, judging from the blue shadows beneath her eyes and the pinched look to her face that the warm smile couldn't quite hide. But -
"Fat," Ciarente said instead, with a laugh, and then nearly overbalanced as the umbilical sloped upwards. Silver offered his arm, and Ciarente tucked her hand through the crook of his elbow, leaning on him lightly. "Ooops. Fat and with a centre of gravity that changes daily. I find it hard to believe that there's still more pregnant for me to get, but they assure me it'll happen."
"Well, you're most of the way there, from what I understand." They crossed the airlock threshold and Silver hesitated, considering the distance to his office. " I think ... " Security station, no, medical staging, no, non-com break-room .... "I think this should be suitable.
Ciarente, of course, had an apologetic smile for the non-commissioned officers who accurately read their Captain's expression as a suggestion that elsewhere would be a better place for them to be at the moment. And if she walked the length of the ship and went into premature labour she would no doubt apologise to medical for the inconvenience.
Sinking awkwardly into a chair, Ciarente smiled and said as if she could read his mind, "I'm not going to suddenly have the babies on B deck just from walking to your office, Silver."
"Shall we not take the risk, nevertheless?" he said.
Ciarente laughed. " All right. It's your ship, after all." She folded her hands over the swell of her stomach. "And I admit, although I'll deny it in public, my ankles are starting to complain a bit at the extra weight."
"Not so very much longer," Silver said. "And there's nothing wrong with taking it easy, when you can. Tea?"
"Yes," Ciarente said. "Yes, tea, thank you. And yes, time's been passing. It's ... getting to be time for me to think about names, perhaps."
"Oh?" Silver poured for both of them.
Ciarente picked up her cup and spoke to it, rather than to him. "Verin told me it's traditional, Caldari tradition, to chose an ancestor's name. It's not so different, where I come from. A grandparent, a great-grandparent. Someone you want to remember, maybe."
"I suppose it is somewhat common in many places," Silver said.
"Camille," Ciarente said with fond exasperation, "Camille thinks I should name my daughter Camieta. But I ... I've been thinking more about boy's names."
Silver sipped his tea. "Oh? Like what?"
"People it's important to remember. Important to family." Ciarente picked up her cup again, and put it back down, tapping the rim gently with one finger. "I haven't talked to Ami about it yet, Silver. I don't want to ... blunder in, I suppose."
"Blunder in?" Silver asked. "I'm afraid you're going to have to tell me a little more than that, Cia."
Ciarente looked down at her stomach and told it in a whisper, "I thought, perhaps, well, I wouldn't, of course, I know reminders can be painful, but I got the idea, and it seemed like the right thing, and I ..."
"Cia?" Silver prompted gently when she stopped.
"I was thinking about Jan," Ciarente said quietly, and then hastened to add, "But of course, not if, I haven't even mentioned it to Ami, it's a stupid idea, isn't it, I - "
"Cia," Silver said. "I don't think it's a stupid idea at all. Yes, reminders can hurt, but it's also good to remember."
"You think?" she asked hopefully.
"I think he would have been honoured, Cia," Silver said. "It would have made him very happy, I think. Having a niece and nephew."
"All right," Ciarente said, and smiled. "I'll talk to Ami."
Silver nodded, and sipped his tea. "Speaking of Ami. She and I discussed things, yesterday."
"Oh," Ciarente said, and went quite still. "Silver, are we - how secure are we, here?"
"Secure," he assured her.
"All right," Ciarente said quietly.
"I think Amieta is right," Silver told her. "A great deal has changed."
"Yes," Ciarente said. "That's what she said to me, and I suppose she is right, it has. I ... I just need to know that you're sure, I guess. That it's the right decision, for you. Not because of me, or what Ami said, or ... but that it's what you want."
"I'm sure, Cia."
"I don't want to put you in a position where ... I don't want it to be just because I'm ... a mess, about things."
Silver realized with alarm that Ciarente's eyes were filling with tears. Hastily, he offered her a handkerchief. "That isn't it at all, Cia. I would like ... to be able to have holos on my desk and spend holidays together without worrying about being seen."
Ciarente gave him a watery smile. "Like normal people? I know. I've felt that way, too, sometimes. But ... we're not, Silver. Are we?"
"Maybe a little at a time."
"Yes." She rested her hands on her stomach again. "It would be nice. Not to have to wait until my children are old enough to be able to keep secrets, to tell them who you - oh!"
"Cia?" Silver rose to his feet, making the comm connection to Medical with a thought. "Are you all right? Cia?"
"Give me your hand," Ciarente said urgently. "Quickly!"
"Do you need medical?" Silver asked, leaning over to offer her his hand.
Ciarente shook her head, taking his hand in hers and pressing it firmly against her stomach. "No. Wait. Just wait - there!"
Silver felt a vibration against the palm of his hand, faint but unmistakable.
"Did you feel that?" Ciarente asked softly.
"Yes," Silver said as softly, and felt the movement again, as if in response to his voice.
Ciarente's fingers tightened over his. "That's my daughter, on the top there," she said. "They can hear us, you know. I guess we sound like - when you're swimming underwater and people are talking by the pool, I suppose. But they can hear us." She smiled at him, tears sparkling on her eyelashes. "Say something to her."
"What ... " Silver cleared his throat. "What should I say?"
"Tell her hello," Ciarente said gently, and when he hesitated: "It's all right. Go on. Tell your - "
He saw her lips start to shape the word and forestalled her. "Don't - " say that. An automatic, reflex response. Never say it, not aloud, no matter where, no matter when. Never say it.
"Of course," Ciarente said, the ghost of a sigh. "I'm sorry."
Her smile was apologetic, but Silver thought he could see sadness there as well. He looked at his hand, both of Ciarente's now folded over it, felt the quiver in her skin that told of a new life moving, growing, listening to his voice. All three of them, he thought. Right here beneath my hand.
He would bury who he was and who he cared about behind an alias, behind a million secrets and a thousand locked doors, if that was what was best for them.
Or shout it from the hangar gantries, if that was.
Or say -
"Hello," Silver said hesitantly. "Camieta. Jan. Or whoever you're going to be. I'm - " He paused, and Ciarente squeezed his fingers. Silver took a deep breath. "I'm your uncle. Most people call me Silver. Most people do. But my name ... my name is Val."