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One of Us

Posted on Wed Jul 6th, 2022 @ 1:12am by Liha t'Ehhelih & Delaney O'Callaghan

Mission: Adrift
Location: Party time!
Timeline: Party...time
3521 words - 7 OF Standard Post Measure

One of the promises Delaney had made to herself, after she and Leiddem had finally relinquished the privacy of their dinner date to brave the festivities, was that she would not, under any circumstances, drink too much. By definition, too much meant any amount of alcohol that made it hard for her to walk in a straight line, which in Delaney's case meant two drinks in the first hour. It wasn't a very large margin of error and, as she had learned the hard way plenty of times previously, could be very easy to misjudge, but this was neither the time nor place to render herself a nuisance. The red concoction had been delicious but now, of all the other options, chilled water was her best friend. Through a straw. You couldn't sacrifice all the fun.

Another promise she'd made, equally as important in her eyes, was to make a point to talk to as many people as possible. This wasn't a new agenda and almost resembled an average day for the redhead, but it seemed more pivotal now to reach out and connect. As an extrovert, this was a natural compulsion and probably would have happened without any specific impetus but the intentional approach allowed for greater targeting capacity. She was noticing those who hung back, kept to themselves, seemed isolated and, therefore, at least to Delaney's reckoning, vulnerable. And since she wasn't yet ready to face Ford's friend after the debacle of inadvertently adding fuel to certain rumours about their relationship, it seemed only fitting that she focus the bulk of her best intentions on the next-best-victim.

"Hey."

In typical Delaney fashion, she'd never been overly intimidated by Liha, which was probably just naivety, or at the very least, ignorance. It would have no doubt appalled the woman to know that the young human tended to hold the opinion that she enjoyed Kali's company enough to keep trying to connect with the 'other Romulan' but Delaney was nothing if not the product of her upbringing. Very human-centric for the most part, though open-hearted and outstretched-arms for all and sundry. She certainly never intended any offense. Now, nursing her cup of water, rosy-cheeked from dancing, her eyes glittered with the merriment of one who was genuinely enjoying herself. "You okay all the way over here?," she teased. "There's room on the dancefloor, you know."

Liha sucked her teeth, eying the dance floor. She'd been minding her own business, present for the additional warmth in a room packed with bodies and whatever passed for alcohol among the supplies but staying out of interactions that might lead to ...friction. But apparently that wasn't enough. "I am perfectly fine where I am," she answered, taking a sip of her drink. "What you call 'room on the dance floor' I call 'an occasion to start throwing elbows'."

"Makes a change from being trodden on." Unperturbed, Delaney cast a glance back towards the unruly trample of bodies who couldn't quite agree on how best to use the space and huffed with amusement. "Though, without working showers, I don't really blame you for keeping your distance." Turning back, the human regarded the older woman with open-faced curiosity and the same kind of beguiling optimism that a puppy might have exuded right before being swiped in the face by the family cat. "We missed you at Girls' Night." And with that display of tenacity came a glint to Delaney's eyes, an element of knowing that wasn't quite so innocent as the rest of her expression seemed determined to demonstrate.

An eyebrow angled upward. "Why would you miss me? Everyone knew I wouldn't be there. It was my shift to monitor the shuttle." Taking the shift had allowed the other female engineers - who liked the event - to join in, which made the claim that anyone missed her all the more incomprehensible. "Besides, you are correct about the desirability of avoiding crowds during limits on washing. My olfactory suppressant is barely keeping the smell within tolerable limits."

"Because," Delaney countered, undaunted, "you can't substitute one person with another and call it even. The others are great but that hardly makes them adequate replacements for you." From what she'd figured out about the Romulan, there were actually parallels that piqued enough interest to warrant pursuit beyond Liha's prickly disposition. An engineer with piloting skills was very nearly what Delaney's career description had looked like, and an entire childhood exposed to the family business supplied plenty of opportunities for empathetic discourse. Delaney raised her eyebrows, her features marginally more animated than usual, "Is it really that weird that people want to get to know you?" By people, Delaney was mostly referencing herself, but it never hurt to pad out things with some conjecture.

You'd know others aren't a substitute for me how exactly? A second brow ascended to join the first in the middle of Liha's forehead. Then at the last question, and the human's obvious inebriation, the brows drew back down and she shook her head. "If that's a come on, you're not my type."

For a moment, Delaney's eyebrows were an exact inversion of Liha's, furrowed so deeply into confusion that they met the slight crinkle of her nose to form a puzzled scowl. Then, as comprehension dawned, the full explosion outwards into surprise and then, predictably, delighted amusement, only added to the misconception that Delaney was drunk. People kept accusing her of that. She was tipsy but anyone who thought that this was her drunk had never seen her actually intoxicated. "Firstly," she retorted, "ouch. Secondly, already dating someone and not interested in turning that into a harem. Thirdly, that's not how I'd hit on you if I was." Having decided on incredulity as her resting expression, Delaney actually paused a moment before asking, "Surely people don't only try to get to know you because they want to get in your pants?"

Liha shrugged. "Not since we left FreeCloud. But most of the crew here have enough sense of self-preservation to avoid irritating me." A slight emphasis was placed on 'most' clearly implying that those who did not know her should possibly take a hint.

"Oh, come on. You're going to stab a person for trying to hang out?" Delaney wasn't buying it. This was, perhaps, a facet of just enough alcohol to bring out her adrenaline-loving risk-taking addiction, or maybe it was just that she hadn't listened closely enough to other people's experiences with Romulans in general, least of all Liha. She fixed the other woman with a pointed look of disbelief, which nearly passed as a deadpan except those didn't sit easily on Delaney's features. None of her liked sitting still for that long. Folding one arm across her chest, the other held upwards to balance her water cup, the redhead narrowed her eyes in overstated scrutiny and then curved her lips into a sly smile. "What is your type then?"

Try me. Liha didn't speak the words, but she returned the woman's pointed look with a steady look that said the possibly of something pointed entering the conversation should not be so easily discounted. However Burnie had explained the term 'liquid courage' - that some humans lost any sense of caution when they drank - so while a hand fell to a place that an observant person, or one with even minor familiarity with Romulans, might understand put it close to a concealed knife, she didn't draw as she might have with one of her own race who did not take that hint. It occurred to her though that the inquiry about her type might be for an even more alarming reason than she'd previously assumed. "Perhaps not for 'hanging out', but I have stabbed people for not understanding 'no'. If you have no interest in me, I warn you that my response to the human tendency to try to match make would be a very firm No."

"Liha, I'm trying to be friendly!"

Exasperation finally won.

When a little more in control of her impulses, Delaney would have been the first to admit she didn't know a lot about Romulans. Typically speaking, of the other cultures that mingled with humanity back on Earth, they didn't feature very often and, since her training had not been through Starfleet, even Delaney's time at university had only exposed her to a very limited pool of alien tendencies. She understood that there was mistrust and was intelligent enough to reason that Liha, working aboard a cargo vessel owned and operated by a human, possibly had some skeletons in the closet that made her the way she was, but they were currently limping through space with only a tenuous hope that they wouldn't eventually just grind to a complete stop. It flew in the face of everything Delaney was to let someone stand alone in a corner in such circumstance, even if said person was rapidly becoming entirely deserving of cold loneliness.

The arm that had fallen across Delaney's chest extended an open hand outwards to reel her next remarks off as a series of points. "I am not trying to hit on you. I am not trying to hook you up with anyone else. I am not trying to deceive you or manipulate you or interrogate you. I talk to people." The hand moved back and forth rapidly between them in gesticulated indication. "Like this. To get to know them. You're an engineer and a pilot, which is exactly representative of pretty much my entire family. There's so many other topics we could choose if you don't like this one, but you went there, not me." With a roll of her eyes, Delaney demonstrated the ultimate display of ignorance and turned away to stare at the dancefloor again. "I'm sorry I bothered you." And just like that, the bite in her tone evaporated. "Just seemed like a shitty time to be alone, that's all."

Contrary to what might have been expected, Liha's responsive to that barrage was a slow blink. She had been living among humanoids for over a decade, which fortunately had tempered what would have once been her natural and immediate response to that hand flinging about near her, but outside a few exceptions like Burnie (who by his own admission deviated significantly from the normal psych profile for his species) she still frequently found them perplexing. "I accept your apology," she said finally, if somewhat reservedly. In her experience, people who claim they they are not trying to deceive, manipulate or interrogate are in fact most likely intent on doing at least one if not all of those things, and she was aware that among the people Delaney had been talking to was Kalahaeia. "Your perception of what's normal for a Romulan may be skewed by whatever talking you've done with Kalahaeia."

If there was one way to distract Delaney from her temper, which was slow to ignite, eruptive when provoked, and typically quick to expire, it was confusing the hell out of her. She turned her head back, brow puckered this time into a genuinely puzzled frown. "Kali?" From brief experience alone, it was obvious the two were chalk and cheese, but Delaney was as different from her next-eldest brother in that regard and hadn't really thought it particularly odd. It hadn't occurred to her that diversity of personality might be abnormal. "I don't think I have any perception of what's normal for a Romulan," she admitted. "Any more than I could tell you want's normal for a human, or a Betazoid, or any other species. Does that matter?" Completely lacking in apparent guile, Delaney's question seemed genuine. "I don't expect you to be like Kali, if that's what you mean."

"That's good. Because I am not." It was a flatly definitive statement brooking no debate. "And it does matter. You approached me as if I were a human, open to any random conversation from anyone." She paused, considering. This woman seemed to have had good intent, no matter how irritating or misguided, but trying to educate someone with her profound lack of caution, and apparently boundaries, on the walls one developed as a matter of pure survival both in the Empire and hiding from the Empire was an exhausting just thinking about it. Besides throwing explanations around was Kalahaeia's thing, not hers. "Those of us who were raised in the Empire are not."

It was perhaps, ironically, one of the politest ways Delaney had ever been told she was too much. It not being the first time she'd heard as such, though, gave her adequate pause for thought and a reasonable capacity to accept the feedback. It also caused her to recheck her inhibition levels, which weren't the strongest at the best of times. Probably shouldn't have stolen from Leiddem's cup. "Right." She spoke as if clarifying a point already understood but, honestly, Delaney was starting to see the woman's point regarding the other Romulan on board. Kali had never had any issues holding random conversations. "Then I'm sorry if that came across as abrupt or rude." That, at least, was an apology Delaney was used to making.

Liha inclined her head a precise degree, a Romulan gesture of acknowledgment. "It honestly came across as a come on. Hence my reaction. If you wanted to discuss piloting or engineering, you could simply have said that."

"I don't usually plan things that well." A half-grin had the decency to seem a little sheepish at least. "I came over here because you were by yourself, and because you kind of always seem to be by yourself, and because, when I've tried to make you feel included in the past, you've turned me down." Now that she pieced it all together like that, Delaney could see that the persistence behind it might have been a little heavy-handed. "Where I come from," she attempted to clarify her own cultural perspective, "you don't let a person drink alone. You can take that literally but it also extends to making sure we look out for our own." The human's shoulders hunched in an apologetic shrug. "I didn't realise you preferred it this way."

Liha shrugged. She wasn't actually a loner - back in her Galae pilot days she and her cohort fought hard and played hard. The same could be said of the smaller group of nascent Fenris Rangers she'd once been a part of. But there had been a level of trust and commonality that she felt with only a small number here. It wasn't that she particularly distrusted anyone besides Kalahaeia, but the 'girls night' discussions tended toward expectations of emotional disclosure that either went well beyond advisable with crewmates who might rotate off elsewhere in a few months, or (in some ways worse) the mind-numbing 'small talk' so many human seemed fond of. And the efforts at sports were cringe-worthy. "I've been told I get too competitive at sports so I've bowed out. As for drinking alone," she smirked and she shot the last of her drink. "I wouldn't call this drinking. More like having flavored water. No one needs to look out for me - I could down a dozen of these and still take anyone in the room."

"One per hour is my limit if I need to function the next day." The admission was cheerfully provided, much like the literal plethora of personal information Delaney was likely to offer without provocation even when she wasn't drunk. "Which I'm guessing I probably do. Not sure I could take down many even if I was completely sober either but I could probably annoy people to death." A sideways glance, complete with quirked eyebrow, ensured that at the very least Delaney understood her limitations. "It's a viable strategy."

"Competitiveness has its place too," she added, eyes scanning the room to locate Curtis, then Beya. "Especially when you're stuck with a decided lack of it to contend with." As much as she enjoyed the company of the motley group, Delaney's own athletic preference did make it infinitely frustrating that nobody on board seemed to be able to serve a squash ball back to her, except Leiddem when she twisted his arm long enough. "What do you play?," Delaney asked, returning her attention to the Romulan.

Annoying people to death might be a strategy. Liha didn't say it though her lips had quirked in a wry half-smile at the thought. "I know several styles of fencing and enough open hand martial arts to be able to spar effectively with anyone. I used to hold my unit record for knife throwing. Target shooting is fun too."

"You can fence?"

Without prior investigation, there was little chance at guessing why Delaney's interest was suddenly piqued by that piece of information. Liha had the bulk of the redhead's attention again, however, and a considerably visible amount of admiration. "I've always wanted to learn, never really made the time for it yet though."

It was the sort of comment that always made Liha wonder why humans, who professed such love for their offspring, cared so little about teaching them survival skills. It did not however incline her to correct the omission. "It's a pretty standard skill. If you share a border with Klingons, it's best to know how fight with blades."

"Eh, my grandpa was a boxer, and Dad too before he got married. And we had targets set up over the property for shooting practise but there's not a lot of blade-throwing in the middle of potato fields." Quite aside from the fact that the rambling response countered some of Liha's concerns, there was an abundance of familiarity that Delaney caught somewhere in the recesses of her more rational mind but couldn't seem to find the strings that controlled her mouth in time to stop herself. "Or the middle of a cargo hold, for that matter."

It didn't escape Liha's notice that there was no claim that Delaney had been taught to box or shoot, though the availability of targets perhaps implied that weapons were made available for anyone wishing to use them. Though why one wouldn't also use them for knives, she couldn't fathom. But it wasn't her business. Her only concern was that someone in security on this ship ought to have combat skills. Liha shrugged. "I've practiced in a cargo hold. Target range here works better though - you can throw with one hand and shoot with the other." The statement might have raised eyebrows from some, but to Liha, and the uncle who'd trained her, accurate aim with different weapons against multiple targets was simply a good skill to maintain. Certainly it had been useful during a few boarding actions.

"I think if I'd tried to turn the company's holds into a practise range, I'd have got shouted at more than already tended to happen." Unjustly, of course. A young Delaney had been more than capable of the maintenance tasks she'd carried out on the shuttles without the need for adult supervision but that hadn't made it less a point of friction when she decided to show initiative that threw out the entire day's schedule. Casting her eyes around the sea of faces, Delaney spent the time it took to drain her cup of water to envisage a revamped version of the space once this was all over. Anything that added to the list of energy-burning activities on board was immediately something Delaney was a fan of. "Sounds like we could use you in Security," is what she actually said, fixing the Romulan with a genuine smile of admiration. "Is Engineering your preference?"

In Liha's opinion, security here probably could use her but she saw no reason to join it formally - she'd been perfectly effective against their last boarders without any such designation. "I was in the Galae. Everyone is trained to fight and expected to be able to handle themselves in combat," she stated non-challantly. "Engineering is where I fit here." Her preference was being a fighter pilot - she'd loved that - but it would be hard to remain far enough under the radar to avoid drawing Tal'Shiar attention if she went back to that. Not that she was going to share that with a human she barely knew.

Her name shouted from the middle of the dancefloor drew Delaney's attention, followed promptly by the crumpled amusement of a puzzled frown. The hand waves were insistent, however, and since she wouldn't put it past the culprit to intentionally drag her into whatever clown show was about to eventuate, Laney offered Liha an apologetic smile and gestured towards the crowd. "You sure you don't want to join us?"

'!00%," the Romulan replied with a firm nod, and walked off to find another barely-stronger-than-soda drink with the air of someone finally released from mandated community service.

 

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