Notions – Chapter 1: Silences

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The opportunity One Charaban offered me remained an anchor in my mind well into the next day, grounding me and guiding me silently through my coursework.  Stronger than that was the recollection of the handshake, the eye contact, the sudden and overwhelming intimacy of the moment which nearly drained the very words from my throat.

I knew immediately that I wanted to recruit Eight for Charaban’s purpose, regardless of what the strategy would be.  He was well suited to physical attacks, and ideal in keeping our developing plans a secret.  I only needed to confirm I could trust him.

Of course I could.  I knew that already.  Part of me desperately wanted to disguise further, deeper encounters with him as tests of his integrity.

It was customary for us to sit beside each other at meals around the community table.  Our unit sat in two rows, with odd numbered designations on one side and evens on the other.  The evening after Charaban’s proposal, I was slow in taking my place beside Eight.

News of the Competition had turned our supposed collectivism into a sticky series of betrayals and constant suspicion.  At past meals, I always made a point to offer both water and nectar to Six to bolster his health.  Tonight he outright refused, until Eight took the vial of nectar from me, sipped it himself – presumably to demonstrate that I had not tampered with it – and passed it down to the seat beside him.

Our eyes met for a moment, Eight’s and mine.  He flattened his lips, curling them in against each other to convey apologetic confusion.  The exchange was not discussed.

Discussions rarely occurred at these late meals.  I think we were all afraid of revealing our positions and undoing the trust between us which now existed only as pretense.

I remained still after my plate was empty and most of the others had departed.  Six passed the empty vial back to Eight, who set it on the rim of my dish without a word.  I caught his wrist before he could pull away, and I forced our eyes to meet.  I am not even sure what this said to him, my hopeless expression and my eyes on the brink of frustrated tears, but I could see him agree.  He barely nodded his head, and reached down to unclamp my hand from his wrist.

It was now my job to decide what Eight had agreed to.  What I had proposed.  I hoped I had not offered too much.

We went inside together when the siren signaled our return to quarters.  Indecisively, I sat on my bed, waiting for the others to fall asleep.  I peered around the divider to check on Nine, my only obstacle to reaching Eight.  He did not seem to see me, because no remark was made to expose me.  I rushed to preserve this gift of an opportunity, not even bothering to finish dressing in my robes before slinking across the threshold.

When I reached the foot of Eight’s bed, leaning nervously against the divider, he was sitting up and staring at me expectantly.  Maybe this arrangement was exactly what my eyes managed to convey.  We blinked at each other.  He smoothed one hand over the exposed mattress then held up his allotted blanket, inviting me in.

I did my best to join him quietly.  As desperately as I ached to speak, I found myself suddenly more starved for his touch.  My shivering was nearly silent, and he responded by gently rolling the blanket up to my shoulders.  His hands dove beneath it and remained there.  I was suddenly aware of the scratchy noises the blanket made, and I risked being found if I added my voice to the equation.  I believe this was the point in my life at which I began living on that inescapable feeling, that uneasy adrenaline churning in my stomach, making decisions that would preserve it instead of remove or compound it.

Eight smiled at me, eyes wide in the darkness.  I trusted him not to speak, and would force myself to learn the tactics from him.

I felt his hands shifting beneath the blanket until they met my chest.  I understand the practice of wearing a shirt in company meets the standards for modesty in most human cultures, but it has always served a more practical purpose for Cardassians.  Even a thin fabric will protect the vulnerable skin from irritation or injury.  With Eight, I knew I had nothing to fear.

My absurd shivering became briefly audible when he splayed out his fingers across my exposed skin.  He narrowed his eyes but parted his lips, ready to threaten to quiet me with a kiss.  Or so my feverish imagination told me.

He pulled his fingers together, then spread them again.  He scooted his face closer to mine, nudging me with his forehead so the ridges above our eyes touched.  What was he asking for?

I cleared my throat.  Eight was quick in adding a cough of his own to disguise this, in case any of our mates were awake enough to otherwise match the noises to their makers.

Another nudge, another pulse of his fingers.

I nodded and moved my hands to his chest.  I had found that acting as a mirror allowed me a better chance of understand my partners in conversation and in combat.  I assumed the same could become true for silence, helping me work through the meaning I would intend, if on the other side.

But Eight did not allow this.  He shut his eyes, denying me the contact I craved, effectively saying no.  I had not made the right move.

His hands crept toward the base of my shoulders, until I could feel the warmth of them radiating against my sensitive ridges.  I stifled another set of shivers.

He pressed his fingers into my skin one at a time, nodding to accent each touch.  Of course, he was counting them.  Ten!

Now I was eager to reply, and curled my fingers over his shoulders, leaving my thumbs to grace the recessed skin between his collar bones.  I pressed each of my fingertips down in turn, to respond with his designation.

At first, I thought this conversation was too simple to be helpful.  It was an introduction to a new language, which Eight was patient in teaching me, but how did it add to our exchange from dinner?

Effectively, all we had done was introduce ourselves to each other.  As with other disciplines, I found I would have to fake my fluency.

I moved one hand up the side of his neck, the side free of the pillow.  I stroked the scales and did my best to look inquisitive.

I wasn’t sure whether I should marvel at his silence – as I was certain a similar touch would’ve elicited even a small grateful sound from me – or be offended by it.  He did not shut his eyes, nor did he make a move to stop or starve me; his hands remained against my chest, threatening to meld together between cold sweat.

I knew I would need to return to my own bed before the morning signal if I was to keep Eight’s reputation safe.  I was learning not to be concerned with my own.  Slowly.

Ten, his fingers said again.  Then his hands drifted down, guiding my blood lower with them.  I told myself not to be disappointed when he removed them, just above the ridges that lined my hips.  I understood this as a kind suggestion to leave him, and allow the conversation to continue at another time.  I hoped I was right.

The next morning, he caught my arm as we walked to the table for our meal.  His lips brushed the curved base of my ear as he spoke.

“I trust you,” he said softly, and I was confident it was true.

⟡⟡⟡

I’m not sure I’ve ever slept in a truly comfortable bed.  I was reminded of this encounter with Eight by Doctor Parmak when he visited me one evening.

The door to the house was open – as it usually was – and he stepped over the pile of rubble that had formed in the entryway.  Foolishly, I had made a fire in the hearth the previous night, and that was as far as I could scoop the ashes without inhaling any more of them.  They would only billow back inside, and the problem would repeat itself.  I hoped Parmak had come to lecture me, because I was in a weakened and depressive state, and a list of my wrongdoings was about all I could agree to.

He is a lot like you, Doctor.  He is content to educate me even if he knows I will not listen, and he often knows my needs better than I do.  I have become so bad at expressing desires, even differentiating them from needs in the first place.  He is calm and patient and I cherish his presence.  It is, perhaps, the one thing I am sure I need.

Parmak stepped delicately into the main room, and found me slumped forward in Tain’s chair.  I had long given up on the pills he offered me, as the resulting visions outweighed the interspersed moments of peace.  Instead, he summoned me to the bedroom.  I knew better than to argue, and followed with heavy steps.

“How have you been sleeping?” he asked me, throwing off his coat and pushing up his sleeves.

I laughed.

“I can’t tell when I am, anymore, so the answer may be ‘never.’”

Parmak gave a gentle and dismissive sigh.  He stood with his legs against the bedframe, patting the mattress with one hand.  All I noticed was the new layer of dust this awakened, drifting up like a radioactive cloud.  He rarely met my eyes, but instead would follow them to their target.  He caught me looking at the dust and quickly shed the blanket, dropping it so it fell into a pile on the floor.  He patted the mattress again, and the result was cleaner.

“I have nothing else to offer you,” he said, as I tried to make myself comfortable.  I assumed he was talking about the medication.

“It’s not like I miss the sleep itself,” I explained quietly.

He knew it was restless and fueled by nightmares, driving me off cliffs until I awoke again.  I told him of everything I had seen.  Faceless bodies in burning piles, contrasted by the defined faces of orphans begging for shelter in my home.  The door is always open and I invite them in, but they stand in the frame howling.  I am only able to help them at the Med Center.  Your face is among them sometimes, Doctor, accented by bubbling tubes that seem to bloom from your veins.  Your eyes are always closed.   No, Garak, you’re saying to me, and you do not have enough breath left in your body to elaborate.  I feel selfish for needing this from you.

Parmak waited until I settled along the middle of the mattress, into the indentation made by many years of solitary use, to join me.  He hooked one arm over my shoulder then drew himself up against me.

“I understand,” he said.

No false promises of fixing the problem.  Like you again, Doctor.  He acknowledged my pain and said he would work through it with me.  I wanted to cry, but I knew how quickly the sensitive Parmak would join me.  I would hate to become the cause of his suffering, especially if he did not understand it.  I had forced that on him once already.

He turned me to face him, keeping the grip tight around my shoulder.  He met my eyes for a moment, before rushing to blink.  It was as if he expected it, forcing me to look at him, and knew it would relax me more than it would unsettle him.  Why are you doctors so recklessly selfless?

“Just try to breathe slowly, Elim,” he told me.  My breath was too quick, even as I nodded.  Hopeless.

“You’ll forget I’m here,” Parmak continued.  “I’ll breathe with you, exactly the same.”

He spoke more calmly than either of us ever had to the orphans.  It was not like that at all.  That was always a pretend sort of calm, an engineered virus meant to infect whoever was listening.  This was genuine, and he wanted it to move mutually between us.  A prescription, a cure.

He guided my head so that it ended up nestled against his shoulder.  I thought again of how selfless he was, as I could see the scales there were in the process of shedding and regrowing, and that any contact with them was more likely to result in pain than in pleasure.  I turned away, ensuring not even my breath disturbed them.  He would have to feel this in another way, in order to synchronize.

“Am I too close?” he asked.  He could not mistake my movement as anything but nervous, like I was trying to struggle free of his arms.

My heart led me to say ‘no’ even though I’m sure the shaking was an effect of anxiety.  I focused on the size of the room around me, and reminded myself that I was in the safest of places.  I needed to occupy my arm, the one trapped between us, to keep my fear at bay.  I set it on his chest, and he acknowledged this with a nod.

“Good,” he said, “you’ll feel my breaths, and you’ll match them.”

I hoped I sounded sweet and genuine when I said, ‘Doctor,’ as if I was saying it to you.  I’m not sure what else I meant by doing so.

“Shh,” Parmak insisted.  He formed the sound against my cheek.

I felt his fingers in my hair, stroking it, pulling pieces of it up before gently setting them back down and repeating the process.  I resisted the nervous urge to shake beneath the weight of this intimacy.  I knew I could trust Parmak, I knew his intentions were nothing short of wholeheartedly pure, and I knew he wanted me to feel safe with him.  Not nervous.

He inhaled slowly, and asked if I would prefer him to be silent or to tell me a story.  It was exactly the offer he would make to a child, to anyone unable to keep up with the customary Cardassian practice of a friendly argument.  I would love a simple story.  I would not need to speak, I would only need to breathe.

“Silence,” I said.  I knew I could not resist the urge to engage him, otherwise, “I want to… to focus on you.”

I thought I felt him smiling, lips still against my skin.

We lay together in silence, with Parmak presumably smiling and insistently stroking my hair, and me trembling hopelessly despite all his hard work.

I wondered if he would break the agreement and speak.  If he would remind me that he was still there with me, that we were both very much alive and safe and together.

“Shh,” was all he said.

He rubbed my shoulder with the hand that rested there, and continued the lattice through my hair with the other.  I felt it gradually relaxing, beginning to curl around his fingers.  I could not recall the last time my hair had been anything but controlled and out of the way.  My only memories were of my mother, drawing my hair back behind my ears and powdering it into place, insisting one day it would learn to behave on its own.  She said the same thing about me, with a smirk.

Now I longed to dissolve into my satiated shame.  But Parmak was quick to remind me that nothing here was shameful.

He spoke.

“I care about you, Elim,” he said.  “I want you to be well.”

I sighed more loudly than necessary, trying to convey that I wanted another chance at controlling my breathing.  At sleeping.  At letting Parmak know that I valued him, as well.  How was I supposed to demonstrate my concern if I refused to follow even his simple suggestions?  At least he did not follow them either.

Is it clear how much I miss you, Doctor?

While I’m sure that I separately and wholly love Parmak, it’s only because he perfectly mends the tears caused by your absence.  Perfectly.

Finally, I managed to inhale for the same duration as Parmak.  He praised me, pressing his hand firmly against the back of my head and forcing my lips to his shoulder.  We exhaled together, and I felt him trace cascading circles down my back.

“Until you are sleeping,” he insisted, “just like this.”

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sleep, as I would risk missing the full effect of Parmak’s attention.  While he had done me some good, it was not in the way he originally intended.

“You’ve… done more than enough, Doctor.  I–” I was again thinking of you.

“Just like this,” he repeated, as I gave up on finishing my thought.  I was sure my hair was becoming wet between his fingers, by now, after all the shaking and sweating I had managed to do.  He was patient.

For the sweet doctor’s benefit, I kept my eyes closed and refused to speak.  We continued breathing in unison, slowly and with increasing depth, until he must have assumed I was asleep.

I hated to lie to him as much I hated to lose him.  But I felt him slide away from me, and I heard him reach for the blanket and shake it free of at least one coating of dust.  He set this carefully over me, then tucked it underneath me, matching it as closely to the outline of my body as he could.

I made the mistake of opening my eyes when I felt his fingers against my chest, patting down the blanket.  His expression was disapproving, but not at all surprised.

“Until you fall asleep,” he reminded me, and he joined me again on the mattress. “We’ll try a story this time.”

He told me a fantastic tale, Doctor, about how you were on your way at that very moment to join us.  He said he had written to you about the orphans, about the lack of care, about how desperately your empathy and expertise were needed by every survivor on the surface.  He claimed you were welcome in ‘our home’ – he used those words exactly.

I had never been more sure of my love for you, or for Doctor Parmak.

I felt myself surrender to sleep with his hand patting my back, as he told me all about our reunion and our new life together.

 

 

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