Chapter Twelve All that Brenna had been able to learn was that he'd been wounded, but he was alive. Rex was one of the lucky ones, it seemed, as she'd gotten a glimpse of the Ord Mantell casualties from the GAR database and learned that – while the losses were not as devastating as those at other battles like Teth – Torrent Company had returned with less men than it had set out with. She debated comm'ing him, just to check in then decided against it, because whatever was between them still seemed too new to do such a thing. Anyway, she was still uncertain that he even wanted to see her again, so she tried to set the captain out of her mind and continue on with her routine for the next day or so. Almost two and a half days since their dinner in the observation room, Brenna was seated in her office, running the weekly diagnostic across her equipment; it was a tedious task that required her presence in the off-chance that the system would overload or become caught in a processing loop, in which case it would need to be rebooted manually. Most of the time, running such a diagnostic meant that she would spend most of the day sitting at her desk, drumming her nails along the hard surface in time to the music she was playing, and trying not to be too bored. Today, the soft ding at her door alerted her to someone's presence; thinking it was her supervisor or perhaps a coworker come to chat, she slid out of her chair and stepped over to activate the door. When the panel slid open her lips parted in surprise, because Rex was on the other side, looking at her with a mixture of anxiety and hope. Save for a plexi-cast over his right arm – which was also in a sling – he looked the same as he had the last time she'd seen him: navy, off-duty fatigues and his ubiquitous belt strapped around his waist. For one moment she blinked up at him in shock, then she found her voice. “Your arm...” “It's still attached,” he said with a half-smile. “Along with the rest of me. May I...?” She nodded and stepped aside to allow him entry, closing the door behind him before moving forward to adjust the volume of the music; when she looked back his way, he was watching her carefully as he spoke again. “I wanted to see you.” She had to smile at the statement, and the subsequent wince he made once he realized the redundancy of what he'd said when compared with the person he'd said it to. “Mission accomplished, then,” she replied, though he frowned a moment later and looked around. After he glanced at her workstation, where each screen presented a readout of the various diagnostics taking place, he looked back at her. “I don't know what any of that is, but I'll bet it means you're busy. I can come back-” “No,” she said; she considered putting a hand on his uninjured arm, then decided against it. “I mean...you don't have to, unless you think you'll be bored. I can't leave while the diagnostic is running, but I'd like the company. If you want to, that is.” “I do.” For one moment they looked at each other and she felt the beat of her heart pick up with the intensity of his gaze; finally, she blinked, breaking the spell, and moved to the extra chair against the wall to remove the stacks of flimsies, datapads, and other miscellany that had accumulated in the seat. Rex was at her side a moment later, taking what he could and setting it at the edge of her desk or along the shelves at the wall at her direction. Soon the chair was pulled up beside hers and he'd taken a seat, resting his arm in his lap and running his eyes along the screens again, his thoughtful expression indicating he was trying to understand what he was looking at. “What is all that?” he asked at last, glancing at her. “Weekly diagnostic,” she replied. “I also do a manual checkup of the system: cleaning out old files, freeing up inactive memory, revising any outdated query codes...” She smiled as his brow furrowed. “Pretty exciting, I know.” He smiled back. “Sounds it.” There was a pause while she thought of the report she'd read. “I'm sorry about the men you lost, Rex.” At the inquiring tilt of his head, she explained. “I pulled up the stats from the battle on the GAR database. I wanted to know if you were...” “You wanted to know if I was killed.” It was a matter-of-fact statement, the words spoken without emotion after she'd trailed off. She nodded and he leaned back into the chair, considering. “It could have been a lot worse,” he said after a moment. “Yes, we lost men – good men – but we held the Seps back. The citizens of Ord Mantell are safe, for now.” Brenna shifted her gaze to his arm and he grimaced as he spoke again. “Did you also read about the seismic tank?” Her eyes must have gotten wide, because he elaborated. “It was the first time I'd ever seen one in person; the wind from the driver knocked me back about two-hundred meters, and gave me this.” “Is it broken?” She reached forward and met his eyes, silently asking permission to touch him; he nodded and she placed her fingertips along the gray plexi-cast that was almost perfectly molded to the shape of his forearm. It was smooth and cool, similar to the armor that the clones wore, but it lacked the comforting firmness of plastoid. “No,” he replied as he watched her. “Just sprained. My armor took most of the damage.” He paused, then tilted his head and gave her a meaningful look, which was when she realized that they were only a few handspans apart. “Kix says I'm to be off active duty until it's healed...might be as much as a week.” Hand still on his cast, she felt her heart start to beat a little faster; she thought that she understood the meaning behind his words, but wanted to make sure. “Sounds like you'll have some free time, then.” “A bit,” he said with a nod. “I had hoped that I'd get a chance to make up the other night to you, since I had to leave in such a hurry.” “It's okay,” she replied, but her voice sounded soft and unfamiliar in her ears, and she swallowed. “Duty called.” There was a pause while he seemed to consider something, then he placed his free hand over hers, lightly. His skin was warm. “Brenna, I hardly said goodbye to you. I regretted it.” He exhaled, then gave her fingers a gentle squeeze when he spoke again. “I don't want to regret anything when it comes to this.” Her mouth opened, but no sound came out; his honey-brown gaze had captured hers and she was rendered immobile, save for the sudden and furious cadence of her heart. Finally she managed to choke out an inelegant “okay,” which made him chuckle and lift his hand from hers. When he wasn't touching her it was easier to breathe, and she leaned back in her chair, hoping that her face didn't look as red as it felt. She thought it did, for he lifted a brow at her and gave her the half-smile again. “Are you alright?” Get a hold of yourself, Brenna. “Getting there,” she replied, smoothing back her hair. “Just...it's a bit warm in here, isn't it?” The half-smile broadened to full, and she decided that she should go ahead and resign herself to being lost to the expression, uncommon as it seemed to be. Neither one spoke for a few minutes after that, during which she busied herself by checking over the consoles at her desk, which gave her body temperature and heart-rate sufficient time to return to normal. When she looked back at him, he was examining one of the pictures of Iri from the little girl's first life-day party. “She really does look like you,” he said, holding up the still-pic and glancing between it and Brenna. “She has your nose. And your chin.” “And my ears,” Brenna replied. “Well, only the left one.” With that, she leaned forward around him to select another pic from her desk. This one was more recent, a close-up profile of the little girl; Rex was right, because Irini primarily took after Brenna and not her father, though she wondered if it would remain so as her daughter aged. Brenna held the pic up to her face with one hand and smoothed back her hair from each ear with the other, turning her head side-to-side. “See?” Rex looked from her face to the pic, and nodded, though his brows were furrowed. “Just the one? Is that...normal?” He seemed to hesitate, then shook his head. “Sorry...I don't know if that's an okay question...” “No, it's fine,” she replied, setting the pic in her lap but not releasing it. “And yes, it's common for a child to have bits and pieces of each parent. Besides, ears aren't usually symmetrical on anybody.” “She's two?” “Just about. She's twenty-one months.” Brenna toyed with the edges of the frame for a moment, then smiled to herself. “Iri's completely brilliant; she's incredible with finger-painting, which I know doesn't sound very impressive, but considering her age, the fact that she can actually make images that you can recognize is really amazing. And she's such a fast learner, too. In fact, my brother says that-” Her jaw snapped shut abruptly, as she'd realized that she'd started babbling; Rex cast her an inquiring look and she felt her face grow warm again at the concern in his tone. “Is everything okay?” “I'm fine,” she replied even as she shook her head. “I just...I'm sure it's boring for you to have to listen to me chatter on about my kid.” Rex knitted his brows in confusion. “I like hearing about your daughter...she sounds wonderful.” She thought that she must have looked confused, now, for he shrugged and gave her another half-smile. “When you talk about her, your face...lights up.” Even as he said the words she watched his ears get red, but she was too pleased to do much more than offer him another smile, one that he returned immediately. As they looked at one another, there was a moment of awkwardness before she cleared her throat and continued telling him about Iri's fondness for painting pictures; Brenna couldn't help but be startled by the fact that – not only did he appear interested in her descriptions of Iri – he asked questions that encouraged her to elaborate even more, such that before she knew what had happened, an entire hour had passed in what felt like the blink of an eye. “A tree?” he asked, brows lifted in amusement. “She wants to be a tree when she grows up?” Brenna was leaning back in her chair, hands folded across her stomach as she grinned. “Oh yes. She loves them,” she added with a chuckle. “That's probably obvious by now.” At her words, Rex gave a genuine laugh, the likes of which she'd not heard from him until this moment, and she watched as his entire face relaxed with the sound, transforming it. In fact, his posture was far more relaxed than it had been when he'd first sat down; like her, he was leaning back, his legs stretched out before him, booted feet beneath her desk. His right arm still rested against his chest in the sling, but his left hand was hanging loosely over the armrest of the chair. “Well,” he said after a moment, shooting Brenna another smile. “I wish her luck, but something tells me that she'll need to pick another career when she gets older.” Brenna smiled back. “I'm planning on reminding her of the fact when she's trying to choose what to focus on at university.” Some of her hair had fallen forward with her laughter, so she pushed it back behind her ears as she continued, her voice softening. “Though really, it doesn't matter to me what job she has when she grows up. I want her to have every opportunity, of course, but more than anything, I just want her to be happy. And safe,” she added with another glance at him. “Always safe.” She knew there was a wistful tone to her voice, but it didn't matter so much when she was talking about her daughter. Rex seemed to understand, and gave a solemn nod as his face smoothed into another thoughtful expression while he studied her. “What if she wanted to be a bounty hunter, or a mercenary?” “Then I'd want her to be the best one possible,” Brenna replied at once. “And I'd want to make sure that she had everything that she'd need to be successful; I know I can't really keep her 'safe' forever,” she added with a grimace. “But a mother can dream, I guess. The most important thing is that she grows up knowing how to think for herself and make her own choices, and that she has the tools to make the right ones.” Something in her words seemed to strike him, for his eyes dropped down to his arm again. When he looked back up at her, she could see that he was hesitating about something. “I don't have children – obviously,” he said slowly. “But if I did, I'd like to think that I'd feel the same way as you do: wanting to provide for them enough so that they have the means to find happiness on their own.” “It's hard,” she replied, glancing over the screen again to make sure that the diagnostic was still progressing well. The streams of data blurred as she felt her eyes grow warm. “In many ways I feel like I've already failed her because she deserves so much more than I can give.” That was when she felt Rex's hand reach out to cover hers, causing her to give a sharp inhale and meet his eyes. “Brenna, I have no doubt that you're doing the best you can,” he said in a serious voice. “That's all anyone can do.” “I'm trying to,” she replied, looking at their joined hands. “But...I feel like I should be with her, not out here. My brain knows that being here, on the Resolute, is the most logical choice,” she added. “But my heart...” In his fashion, he seemed to understand even though her thought trailed off to nothing; he only gave her hand a squeeze and offered her another, gentler smile that she returned. “I wouldn't worry, Brenna. I have no doubt that Irini will be the best tree in the entire galaxy,” he said at last, which made her laugh. They sat for another few minutes, hands joined, until he glanced at the chrono along her wall and sighed. “I should get back,” he said with a slight frown. “We're getting some new recruits in this evening and I'll need to see that they're taken care of.” “'Taken care of?' I know how you guys are...does that involve some kind of hazing?” At her words he glanced at her in surprise, then smiled again. “Not from me it doesn't, but I imagine some of the others – most likely Fives and Jesse – have made some plans to that effect.” Brenna nodded sagely. “Sometimes those ARCs are more trouble than not, aren't they?” “Especially this particular one,” he said with a chuckle. With that, he rose from his seat and made to head for the door to her office; she did the same and they stood before one another for a few awkward moments until Rex took a deep breath, then looked directly into her eyes. “Brenna...” “You can call me 'Bren,' if you like,” she said suddenly, as her heart always started to beat faster when he spoke her full name; perhaps it wouldn't be so if he only said her nickname. “Bren.” No, she thought as her heart stuttered and she held his gaze. It's worse. Much worse. He took another breath and spoke with deliberation as he studied her. “Would it be alright if I kissed you?” Again, she was rendered speechless for a few seconds, though she was able to find her voice before too long. “You already did – sort of.” Rex shook his head; he swallowed and reached for her hand once more, engulfing it with his own. “I want to try and do it properly this time. That includes not making an ass of myself.” As much as she wanted to laugh and reply with a witty comment, she was incapable when he looked at her so because her heart was thrumming and she couldn't move, could hardly speak; all she could do was nod. She watched him inhale right before he leaned forward, so that they were only a breath apart, which was where he hesitated; that made her wonder if he'd not done this before, so she tilted her face up and closed the very last of the space between them, brushing her lips against his with a feather-touch. Slow, she thought as his left hand moved to rest at her waist. We should go slow. Even as the words passed through her head she leaned forward, pressing herself to the solid planes of his chest and brushing their lips again; in the next moment he pulled her closer and the kiss deepened, just a bit, as he caught on to the movements. When they parted, she was certain her entire face was red, and also that the color was mirrored in his, but she didn't care. Nor did she care about the continuing frenetic pace of her heart or the flames that had appeared in her fingertips, because they were still close, only a breath away, and his eyes were on hers while he spoke. “When can I see you again?” “Is tonight too soon?” At her words, he smiled and she felt his hand at her waist give a soft squeeze. “That works.” She couldn't help but shiver at the increased pressure of his hand, and she swallowed. “I should be done with all this at around eighteen-hundred hours. When do you think you'll be free?” There was a pause while he considered; happily, his hand remained in place. “Probably a bit earlier. Would it be alright if I comm'd you so we could work out the details?” At her nod, he studied her again before tilting his head to place one last kiss against her cheek before he turned to make for the door. “Then I'll see you tonight, Bren.” ******First kiss! (Finally...) Thanks for reading! Let me know what you thought of the kiss! (Took them long enough, right? ) Next up: meeting the Spaarti clones for the first time.