<<Bajor, Dahkur Hills region, 2367, 1915>>
Artori had wandered for what seemed like hours through the blizzard's whipping winds and whiteout, his legs burned with intensity and he was beginning to wonder how much further he could go. With his energy nearly sapped and his legs giving out Artori counted it as a blessing when he unwittingly stumbled into a cave opening. On his hands and knees attempting to gain his breath he didn't notice Awen curled up against the cave's wall further back.
Practically curled up in a ball, the sounds of someone entering the cave still registered with the young Bajoran. Shivering, Awen looked up and saw Artori. Mustering up some reserve strength she hadn't realized she had, she crawled over to him, "Artori?"
Though shivering intensely Artori managed to glance up and give Awen a slight grin, "W..Where, are... The others?"
Awen frowned slightly; Artori didn't seem to be in very good shape, she'd need to pull him further inside and away from the frigid air. Shaking her head, she said, "I don't know...when I couldn't find them, I looked for shelter instead. Let's get you further inside, you're freezing." Awen struggled to her feet, and took hold of arm, doing her best to pull him up.
Artori tried to stand with Awen but his body was too weak, instead he dropped back to his knees and to Awen's surprise chuckled. "It would... Appear that I... Am... At your mercy... For a change."
Growing more concerned at Artori's weakened state, Awen moved closer and knelt down, wrapping her arm around his waist, "Come on, Artori, you're not getting off that easily. You're the strong one, you know..." Supporting more of his weight this time, she tried again.
Artori forced his legs to push and with Awen's assistance finally managed to stand and begin moving from the entrance of the cave. "Awen," Artori stammered. "Has anyone ever told you that you are the most stubborn creature?"
"Jorak. Every day," she said seriously before glancing over at Artori and cracking a smile. Once they were further back, Awen eased his weakened frame to the ground. Noting how cold he was, she unbuttoned her outer coat and slipped out of it, then covered him with it like a blanket, "You're too cold, Artori... I wish I could start a fire, but there's nothing here."
Artori looked up into Awen's eyes for a long moment before speaking surprisingly lucidly, "If anyone is going to freeze here its going to be me. Now, put that jacket back on, that's an order."
She looked at him defiantly, "No, Artori. You just came out of the bitter cold. Until you have a chance to warm back up, you're keeping it. I'm fine; you can give it back later." Awen sat back down a couple feet from Artori, and pulled her knees to her chest. Truthfully, she was worried...she had no idea where her brother and the others were and Artori had been exposed to the elements far too long. There was no medical equipment nor a way to build a fire.
"Stubborn," Artori muttered as he began to slip from consciousness. "Awen, I'm glad.."
"Artori?" Looking at Artori, Awen grew more concerned. Her eyes glanced around the cave....nothing to actually start a fire, no wood. Just rocks. Sighing, she leaned back and winced slightly as her rifle dug into her ba....wait. Awen forced herself to her feet and moved slowly around the room, collecting the rocks. Piling them together, she took aim with her rifle; enough to heat them, but not destroy them.
Sometime later Artori awoke and found himself comfortably resting next to a pile of red glowing stones. He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling of the cavern for a long while before turning his head to find Awen watching him. He still felt weak, too weak to move far but he was no longer cold. "How long?" he asked.
Back in her place a foot or two away, a look of relief washed over Awen's face as Artori regained consciousness, "Artori! It's been...a couple hours. I was worried that..." She let her voice trail off, not wanting to complete the thought.
"I know," Artori said quietly. He saw fear and worry in Awen's eyes but something else as well, "You did well Awen, I'm proud of who you are becoming. I'll be fine I think..." Artori paused for a moment studying the young woman and rolled onto his side carefully to face her, "Tell me what's on your mind."
She frowned slightly. Part of her didn't want to admit to him what was on her mind; she was a Resistance fighter, she was supposed to be strong. She was strong. But....the events of the evening had shaken Awen. "Well....you were out in the cold awfully long, Artori. It's taken a toll on you. And what of the others? Have they perished? Frozen to death in the blizzard? Will we not find see them again? What if we're the only ones left?" She lowered her head at the thought, thinking of her brother and the others.
Artori felt much the same, Lirana was out there somewhere in the cold. Had she been separated from the others? Had the Cardassians caught them? It was all too much to consider in his condition and so he pushed the pessimism aside. "I'm sure they are fine," Artori swallowed hard forcing himself to believe his own words. "Jorak is a survivor and will take care of the group. All we can do right now is focus on ourselves and try to make it through the night."
Awen nodded silently, biting her lip. There was no way he could know it for sure, but hearing him say the words helped nonetheless. Remembering the small supply she had, Awen lifted the bottom of her tunic and untied a small pouch from around her waist. Loosening the leather ties, she turned to him, "You should eat, Artori; here, I have some dried meat." Awen scooted over closer to him and held out the pouch.
Artori smiled gratefully and reached out to retrieve a piece from the pouch, his hand brushed against Awen's slightly and the warmth of her skin gave him momentary pause. Her eyes glistened in the dim light of the glowing rocks and for a moment he lost himself in them. "Thank you," he said absently before collecting himself and easing back. "You always seem to have what's needed when it's needed Awen."
"I might have the material items needed, Artori," she said quietly, "But it is you who has the words and strength needed at the right times." Awen's eyes met his for a moment before she glanced away.
Artori reached out and gently turned her face back toward him by the chin; not always, he thought, not always. "You've been an asset to us," he spoke matter-of-factly. "To me."
She smirked, "How have I been an asset to you? If it weren't for me, we wouldn't have been caught in the blizzard. We would've been safely inside for the evening." Awen wouldn't allow herself to meet his gaze, "It seemed so exciting, so thrilling when we were children. Playing at being Resistance fighters in the warm sunlight..."
"Awen..." Artori sighed and took one of her hands in his. "Every time we enter an engagement we risk all, we do it because we have to. Our principals dictate that we fight back and that means some of us are going to die for our beliefs. You cannot blame yourself every time something goes wrong."
Nodding slowly, Awen felt a few butterflies in her stomach as Artori took her hand in his. Quietly she said, "I know, Artori, but I don't want to be the one who causes the death of more Bajorans..." A tear escaped and started rolling down her cheek, but she turned, not wanting Artori to see her so weak.
Artori silently watched Awen and rubbed his thumb over the top of her hand. Instinctively he felt the urge to hold her, to make her feel wanted and appreciated. He wanted to tell her that the occupation was going to end tomorrow and that their people would be free again. It wasn't fair that such a beautiful creature should feel as Awen did then and Artori felt helpless to comfort her. What would Lirana have him do, he wondered. "Awen..." he began but for the first time in a long while he had no words.
Awen turned back to Artori, not stopping to think, and impulsively pulled his face to hers, letting her lips meet his. She took it all in - the scent of him, the feel of his lips against hers... Part of her knew she shouldn't have, but it felt good to have him close and for a brief time, she didn't feel alone or weak. And then Awen let go, allowing her lips to softly brush off his as she pulled away. Her cheeks reddened as she turned away from him, ashamed to have let her emotions get the better of her. She whispered softly, "I'm sorry."
As Awen's lips met his, Artori closed his eyes and focused on the moment. He knew that it was wrong but he could not deny that he had wanted it to happen on some level. Still dazed by the experience he hadn't stopped her as she drew away, he only watched as she turned and lowered her head. "Don't apologize," he spoke softly as he approached her and sitting just behind placed his hands on her shoulders reassuringly.
"Awen, there are times that we want things that we cannot have," he spoke a little louder yet comfortingly, referring more to himself more than the girl he was consoling. "What I mean to say is that, love is not a force we can control and sometimes it tortures us with its presence, demands us to be something we cannot. Tell me Awen, so I know your heart, do you love me?"
She sat quietly for several minutes, contemplating her response. One thing she did know was that she desperately wanted someone to hold her, someone to make her feel strong. "I....I don't know, Artori," she replied honestly. "I know I feel safe, strong...more alive around you. But what do I know of love? I have not known the love of a man before. I just know that being around you sometimes stirs up feelings inside me...I..." Not knowing what else to say or if she had just made things worse, she let her voice trail off.
Artori carefully slipped his arms around Awen's waist and drawing her close rested his chin on her shoulder. "I feel no less for you than what I feel for Lirana, Awen," he admitted, somewhat more candidly than he had expected. "But ultimately it is to her that my loyalty belongs. I cannot show you the passion that I show her but I care for you no less..."
Closing her eyes, Awen trembled slightly as Artori held her and professed his feelings for her. She wasn't sure how to feel; partly her spirit soared, knowing his feelings...but she also knew that nothing could ever happen. Deep down, she'd always known. It would have been silly for her to think otherwise. "I understand," she whispered.
Artori, ignoring the aches that riddled his body eased himself back pulling Awen gently into a laying position beside him. He rested on his side with his cheek resting on his palm and brushed a strand of hair from her face. "This life is short," he spoke slowly. "We must try our best to live it right but sometimes fate puts us in impossible situations. This is one of those situations... Fate has put us here for a reason and I don't think either of us is ready for it. But I do care about you and we are here; I'm inclined to forget the difficulty of it all, if even only for one night."
She stared into his eyes, nearly getting lost in them as she listened. Somehow, she got the feeling that both of them could use the closeness and comfort this evening. They didn't know the fate of the others and, if only for the night, they needed each other's company. Softly Awen said, "I care about you too, Artori," as she slipped her arm around him, pulling herself closer and burying her head in his chest.
The pair lay together absorbing the other's warmth and listening to the wind whisper its melody through the cavern. As the light dimmed around them they took solace in each other's company, slowly reaching a sort of peace with their feelings as the hours passed. Neither Awen nor Artori slept that night, not wanting to miss a moment of their limited time together; they revealed to each other their fears, lamentations and desires. By the dawn hour both had laid their souls before the other and a sort of serenity had settled upon them; they could never be together but neither would their longing cause them unrest again.
A post by:
played by: WO1C Kilana Nira
Provisional Lieutenant Zael Artori
Chief of Security