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Posted on Sat Dec 31st, 2022 @ 8:44pm by Ensign Noah Balsam & Lieutenant JG Irynya

Mission: A Camping We Will Go
Location: Second String Camp, The Fire Ring
Timeline: Mission Day 5 at 0930

[Second String Camp Site]
[MD 5, 0930 Hours]

The unbroken tan of the tent ceiling was, in a word, boring. Nonetheless, Irynya's eyes traveled from one end to the other as if the canvas above her held the secrets to the universe. Really she was afraid.

Afraid to show her face in the circle of chairs that ringed the second stringer's fire pit. Afraid to show up at Debbie's makeshift mess. Afraid that if she were to appear wherever Noah was at that moment, she might make things worse rather than better.

She'd finally left Timmoz's yurt the night before confident that she could do this. But if Noah had been around he had been with a group and he hadn't returned to their twnt to sleep. Long hours of self criticism had given oxygen to the fire of worry that she'd managed to push back talking with Timmoz. She finally fell asleep, exhausted, and dreamt of being utterly alone.

"Laying here won't fix this," she told the ceiling, and rolled out of her sleeping bag with a groan, dressing quickly before pushing out of the tent flap.

For a moment she thought the space was deserted, but when she left the tent she spotted him, curly head bent over what looked like a portable replicator, but could also have been a bit of science equipment that she didn't recognize.

Quietly she slipped into a chair opposite of him across the fire pit. "Hey Noah," she said quietly, her voice reserved and clearly uncertain.

"Hi Iry," Noah's voice, while distracted by his ministrations, didn't at first seem to hold any hesitance. He was, indeed, leaning- almost curled over- a portable replicator. It was a squat tower, probably waist-height when it was assembled. But Noah had pulled it into its two constituent parts and was focused on the base. He was running a spanner of some kind- with a delicate tool head, pulsing- around a portion of the emitter base.

He pulled back and straightened, and then flicked his head to move his curly waves out of his face. "Someone tried to make eggs with this one this morning and it started making bowls of Bolian salt-coffee." Noah bent and then fumbled for his engineering PADD. "Which... uh... it-it shouldn't do. Since salt-coffee's illegal off Bolarus." He frowned.

Noah flicked his hair again and pushed it back over the shell of his ear. "What's up?" He asked her. His gaze was brief and there was the nervousness that his attention had been able to so easily hide. He smiled, but it looked like he was maybe trying too hard to put on a front of normalcy.

She'd wanted to believe the first tone of his voice, but despite her missteps, she wasn't so naive as to think everything was ok. So she waited while he explained what he was doing, murmuring her agreement about the salt-coffee while fighting the urge to wrap her arms around herself and make herself smaller, less threatening, again. But he was looking at her and his smile, despite his best attempt, was strained and she knew that whatever came of it she needed to fix that. Even if it meant making herself scarce.

"I owe you an apology," she said, glancing up at Noah and then down to the ground. Her fingers were suddenly immensely interesting and she wove them together and then pulled them upward, making a hinge at the knuckles until her fingertips touched before releasing it. "What happened... the other night... that was wrong of me. And I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

Eyes went up to Noah again, but dropped quickly. She plowed ahead, wanting to get it all out before he could interrupt her. "And whatever you need to be comfortable at home... it's yours. You deserve to be able to be in your own space without worrying about..." she swallowed, her throat thick with the guilt she'd felt, "about me. You already have one roommate that's... hard... and I've already messed this up enough... so... you name it and it's yours. I'm just sorry that I put you in that position at all."

Noah frowned. He blinked. "I-I was thinking I'm the one that needed to apologize to you. Um. Actually." His fingers wrapped his tool again like he was testing its weight. He set it aside. He sniffed. "I-I don't think you need to be sorry just because I'm... well..." He shrugged and looked at her. The sun cut through the foliage above that he had to squint an eye and then creased his already plastic and moldable facial tendencies. "I'm different. And-and you're not Xanil or Victoire either."

The replicator lit a blue line up. "Bowl of corn flakes and milk, cold." Noah frowned a long line of tension. He looked at her again. "It was just a compliment. And-and a kiss. I mean..." He shrugged while the replicator hummed and whirled a few feet under his chin. "I mean... I just needed to give you space to get over Kennedy. So that felt weird but..." He blinked and twisted his mouth. "You're Risian too so... maybe you do that differently than I would. Anyway. In my head I was... um... was about to be in a weird Xanil-Victoire..." He shook his head with eyes squinted. "Thing. Again. And I just didn't want to ruin us being friends."

Noah looked down at a bowl of strange brown goop, with a consistency of tar.

Irynya listened as he spoke, but the words felt like they were reaching her brain through water. He thought that he should apologize? Of all of the reactions she had thought through--everyone that she imagined he might have--all of the things he might want her to do up to and including never speaking to him again... this one had never crossed her mind.

"There is nothing," she finally said, "that you could do to ruin our friendship. Walking away... that... that was justified. I didn't wait to make sure it was ok with you. I should have and I didn't... I..." Dark hair spilled down her shoulders as she cocked her head to the side, still trying to make sense. "I did mean it as a compliment, though maybe not in the way you thought. We... we do things differently on Risa. But we never do them without permission and that... that wasn't ok for me to do."

Noah listened while he stared with despair at the goop in the bowl. It was definitely not cornflakes and that meant... this thing was fried. Noah sighed and scratched the back of his neck where a red, domed welt from a bug's after-feast stood out. "Kay w-well I really appreciate that... um... that padding you're offering. Just know..." His mouth grimaced, "I-I got told the same thing back then too... a-and... well, we don't talk anymore." Noah blinked at the sun again. "But I hope so. You're a really good friend. You and Shelly... Debbie..." He could've listed everyone. "Jyl-eel too. Maybe Timmoz but he's kind of... hard sometimes. Dr. Munro is nice too. Anyway. I don't want to ruin any of that."

Noah stood up with a sigh, bent and flipped the replicator off. Its soft hum ceased. He combed his hair back behind his ear again. "I-I guess... I mean I'm sorry too for overreacting and... and kind of assuming bad things based on..." He made a push away motion with his hand, "With them. You're not them."

Though Noah had stood, Irynya still sat and considered what he said; pausing to choose her words more carefully now that she had a better grasp on what had happened. She didn't know the circumstances he was referring to, but she could put two and two together. The idea of having any kind intimacy with someone and then turning them away afterward felt foreign to her. And a part of her hurt for him... for having had someone do that to him.

"Maybe," she said thoughtfully, "a better way to say it is that when it comes to... those... things. Kissing. Sex. The whole spectrum. You can't ruin our friendship. At least not from my side. I understand it's... maybe more complicated... from a human perspective. But for me...." She pushed herself off the chair's arms, feeling the slightly spindly bend of the chair's supports give as she got to her feet. "For me it isn't."

For a moment she stood awkwardly in front of the chair, some latent indecision tickling at the back of her head. "And thank you. For what you said about walking away. I was worried..." she shrugged as if her shoulders could cast off whatever lingering uncertainties were still rolling around her brain. "It doesn't matter what I was worried about."

The indecision cleared then, and she moved around the fire pit so she was facing him from the other side of the replicator-turned-massive paper-weight. "I'd really like to hug you," she said with a sort of sheepish half smile. "If that's ok.-"

"Of course," Noah shrugged. "I-I'm not mad." He said, his voice touched by the quizzical. He stood by in a comfortable stance, a receptive one.

Permission was all she had needed and a broad smile blossomed across her face, possibly a bit intense with the mixture of relief and appreciation she felt. With a quick side-step she wove around the replicator, not hesitating to wrap her arms around her friend's middle, pulling him tight against her and burying her face in his shoulder for a moment. She grinned against him, failing spectacularly at keeping her enthusiasm at bay as she squeezed him, practically melting into the hug.

A Post By

Lieutenant JG Irynya
Assistant Chief Flight Control

Midshipman Noah Balsam
Systems Specialist


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