schlock here, finally mustering up the courage to crawl out from under the desk and post something else.

This is a DS9 vignette of sorts that's been buried on my hard drive (along with a lot of other stuff) for quite a while. Lately I've felt the urge to exhume a few.

Nothing naughty, nothing violent, nothing really happens. Set sometime before "Broken Link" for no reason in particular, except that's angst on top of angst right there, and I just can't write *that* much angst.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns the people and the places and altogether too many of the things. Otherwise this story is mine, so don't sell it, rename it, pretend it's yours, or redistribute without my permission. Comments always appreciated at

Take This Longing
schlock, c. 1996

"Just take this longing from my tongue,
all the lonely things my hands have done;
let me see your beauty broken down
like you would do
for one you love"
--Leonard Cohen

It was well into the first act of the play, and the view from the last row was not favorable. Ordinarily, a member of the senior staff of the station should have enjoyed better seating, but it didn't matter; a security meeting had run late, and this production wasn't exactly a priority.

Lengthy briefings and tardy deputies and recalcitrant Starfleet types had kept him; perhaps if his deputies had seen fit to hold their petty disagreements for another time, he wouldn't have run into her outside. He hadn't known she would be in attendance, but there she had been--approaching the makeshift theater's entrance from the opposite direction on the Promenade. He caught sight of her and felt the familiar, maddening jolt; she had merely nodded him a greeting with a brief smile, probably amused to see him at a humanoid social event. As she slipped into the darkened theater, she missed entirely the fleeting reaction that smile had produced on his face. A twinge of surprise, perhaps pain, pinched his face and widened his eyes in the nanosecond before his defenses snapped reflexively into place.

Well, it was just as well that she'd failed to notice. What use to change a pattern of months? No. *Years.* Years, it could be said now, he realized with a sort of thud. For years now she'd missed the most outward of signals, the most obvious of slips, the kind that seemed to plague him despite his best efforts when she was around. Only extraordinary departure from the laws of probability could explain her failure to notice. He didn't think a humanoid could *be* quite so oblivious.

Maybe it was that he was a changeling. Maybe she thought Changelings incapable- unfeeling. Maybe she'd never think to look for it in him--or even recognize what was there on the surface. Maybe that Founder had been correct.

Maybe it *was* just extraordinary bad luck, though. That idea rested far less painfully with him, though there seemed no justice in it. It defied the order of the universe--but it had to be the truth. Had to be.

Justice, order; order, justice. He was really more of a Changeling than he'd thought.

She headed for a seat reserved for her, next to a certain Trill who had suggested rather forcefully that *he* attend the performance as well--a none too punctual Trill it seemed, for though it was an aisle seat, it was in the next-to-last row.

She slid into the seat, trying to be unobtrusive. His finely-tuned hearing picked up her murmured apology for being late. Her neighbor murmured another for having gotten bad seats, and they shoved each other playfully before settling in to watch the show.

He took a seat in the last row, just behind and across the aisle from hers, reflecting for a moment on the disadvantages of this seating arrangement but deciding it didn't matter. He had not especially desired to attend the performance in the first place, after all, but a Trill on a mission could be rather, persistent. This was probably her latest project in her great quest to get him to "loosen up," he reminded himself, and sat back to take in the performance--or rather, to just let it play out.

Time passed, an act or two played out before his disinterest. The play was a Terran fantasy, given over to transparent contrivance and displays of overwrought emotionalism, and it held no great fascination for him. In fact, it grated on his desire for order more than he cared to admit, and so he let his attention wander from the scenes taking place before him.

And his attention wandered its way onto her.

Her, of course. It was dark, her attention was elsewhere, she wouldn't think to try to look at him, nor would she be able to see him. Even so, he began with a cautious, fleeting glance towards the side of her face, if only to make sure her attention was trained on the play. Sure that she was occupied, he allowed himself the luxury of staring without fear that she would turn and confront him--turn and demand to know what he was doing--insist he tell her everything! Everything. Just like that. Many of his deepest fears included a disastrous ending to a scenario just like that. His deepest fears, realized.

Or his wildest dreams, perhaps. Of course, he'd never had the courage to tell her, to find out what exactly would happen if he ever did. What she would do. Run, recoil? Accept? Reciprocate, even? Dreams, again. They were dangerous, distracting. Got his hopes up. Shook his sense of control.

*You humanoids and your preoccupation with romantic coupling...*

But he was not a humanoid. No, his was a race of observers, and tonight he was content merely to observe. Grateful, even. No humanoid preoccupations would interfere.

Details of her person made their way into his mind as he allowed himself longer and longer glances across the aisle, the play completely forgotten. His gaze traveled her length, as far as the light and her position would permit.

He appraised her face as a whole, strong in confrontation, yet soft in a smile like the one she had given him at the entrance to the theater--a smile he'd not often seen directed at him since he'd canceled their Tuesday morning meetings, he remembered, traitorously, dismissed that. The ridges of her nose in profile--it came up to five of them, they registered one at a time; he left that data to float atop the surface of his consciousness for the time being. His gaze focused briefly on one, then another strand of her hair that strayed from its place, then the auburn glint of all of it together in the sparse light filtering down from the stage; the curve of a shoulder underneath the fabric of her uniform, the lines of her tunic running along her torso just a slight twist away from being straight...

His gaze moved to play over the side of her face again, scanning her every detail as she smiled slightly in response to a line in the play. Creases around her eyes and along her face appeared in amusement and smoothed in seriousness; humanoid skin, he reflected, just had a certain quality to it. The creases across *his* forehead were static, an affectation he'd put on only in the past few years; he found it strenuous, and perhaps more importantly unnecessary, to devote energy to imitating exactly humanoid skin's resilience. He *wasn't* humanoid; in fact he often took great pleasure in not being humanoid; no use expending unnecessary amounts of effort to pretend.

He saw the flicker of a hand across her face as she brushed at the corner of her eye. He saw her eyes themselves, clear and shining faintly in the half light which reflected off the perfect curve of the cornea, viewed in profile. Fine eyelashes came into focus, framing eyes he admired for their natural aesthetics. Even the eyebrows, a feature he'd never seen a real need to imitate; their individual hairs confined to that one thin arch and performing there their necessary function, testament to nature's inventiveness and adaptability. Suddenly, even those became impressive to him.

Well--all of it together, quite a satisfactory specimen of Bajoran physiology.

Hah. Self-deception isn't your strong suit, came a thought. He could pretend to others to be some unfeeling Changeling all he liked, but *what use to tell _yourself_ you don't see more in that 'specimen of Bajoran physiology' than just a nice example of nature's work.*

He knew that was correct.

He dismissed it.

The play dragged. The figure in the back row, oblivious to insistent histrionics and scene changes, concentrated on a different cast of characters and a far more personal, more painful, drama than what was taking place on the stage.

*While she's occupied, then,* drifted another thought from another part of his consciousness, sliding unbidden through his being. *You'll do it now rather than in broad daylight, in public, like you did before. When that no-good Ferengi saw, but she didn't...*

He couldn't decide if subconsciously, he wanted her to see, just as that 'no-good Ferengi' once had.

Fears, desires--blurred into each other. He could no longer discern the two clearly. But apart or together they were undesirable to him at that moment. He could meditate upon them later, as he knew he would, in his quarters, in private. Here, he had no desire to lose the small measure of control he had managed to reconstruct in the months since--then.

Brief moments of indulgence he would allow.

His attention drifted not to the details of her Bajoran physiology, but again to the way the seams of her uniform swerved, how the cloth of the collar buckled outward slightly below her cheek, a quarter-inch ripple ran down the fabric. Not enough to be uncomfortable; just enough of a twist to be noticeable--to him. Perhaps she had had to dress quickly that night, had not noticed the slight misalignment of the tunic. Humanoids did not always pay such attention to detail as he.

Operating on a level just below full consciousness, he found his gaze returning again and again to that slight evidence of...of inattention? disorder? Of preoccupation, perhaps?

With each journey his gaze made along the ripple in the fabric, deep within he felt the insistent and instinctive urge to straighten it.

A twist to the fabric he wanted to set right.

As easy as that.

Take her in his hands and straighten the fabric between them. This ambiguity, these things left unsaid. They disrupted the play of an intricately woven fabric that should have been smooth and uninterrupted. Woven through the years, disrupted in these past few. The misalignment was abhorrent, an insult to order.

Twist it into place. Restore order...set things right. End the jumble of thoughts and pains and anguish that had bordered his consciousness these last few years, that jarred his inner sense of order each time she crossed into his view. Her mere presence was a reminder of things he hadn't done. Things he couldn't bring himself to do. Unfinished business for a man set on order. It grated on him as much as the play.

*Major...Nerys, I...*

Desperately then, he willed her to turn and look at him. Begged her silently to turn around and read the emotions displayed in his expression. Just a twist of her body would bring her to face him, and show her, just there, written on his face, everything that he just couldn't bring himself to walk up to her and say. Years of it now. Of feeling terrified upon realizing that he'd made a mistake, done something he felt too obvious for *anyone,* not just this one Bajoran woman, to ignore--then a thousand nightmare scenarios would run rampant through his thoughts--and through that stampede of fear would drift a wisp of longing that maybe, just maybe, this time it would finally end--

Then the shameful relief and the secret, painful disappointment as the moment would fade away and she would take no notice. Again and again.

Then, there, he wanted her to end the routine. To observe the observer, and come to the logical conclusion. Turn around, he implored her silently. Turn around and realize and then I'll tell you everything. I want to.

But the play concluded then. The audience applauded--his sense of exposure, of vulnerability, shrank from the sudden noise. His defenses drew themselves inexorably into place. The lights came up. The people began to rise. She stood with them. He stood as well.

He let her pass by.

She smiled again in passing. He dipped his head in deference. Perhaps more deference than would ordinarily be called for. But now he didn't want her to see his face.

I'll tell you everything. I want to.

I can't.

He stood there in the back, in the shadows, a long moment before raising clouded eyes to an empty theater. Only the chairs and the curtains and the low chatter of actors behind them growing quiet as they retreated from the stage.

The curtains. Through the haze, the hum of his thoughts, the blur of his disappointment and self-reproach and his shameful relief he perceived them. The curtains were ruffled; they had been drawn together too hastily, had not been allowed to settle correctly. They buckled. A gap stood between them, abhorrent.

He was a guardian of order and they were his project. Alone in the theater, he crossed to them. Bent down, took the two lengths of black velvet cloth by their corners and shook them out a bit. Pulled them together gently, kneeling on the ground as his hands encouraged them to fall together. Released them, so that no gap showed between, and solid waves of black velvet showed from top to bottom, left to right. Smoothed them together delicately, then left them there. Standing together in perfect symmetry.


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