Face Loran stared blankly at the wall beside his bunk. Yeah, sure, heíd talked to the commander. He knew it wasnít his fault that heíd lost two squadmates, one a very good friend, in the last fortnight. Heíd accepted that, come to terms with it. But he couldnít seem to shake the depression that dogged him over Ton Phananís death. He wasnít sure he wanted to. It was becoming more and more tempting to simply give in, to wallow in the pain and mourn his friend. He was keeping these little sessions, where he curled up into a ball and just shook, a secret from the others. Not even Dia knew.
They all thought he was Ďover ití, that, yeah, he missed Ton, but, hell, they all did, and life had to go on. They had to keep fighting. And they had enough to worry about, with the Hawkbatís mission. They didnít need *another* headcase in this squadron. So heíd work it out himself. Just keep on retreating every now and then, trying to purge the grief he still felt bubbling up all too often.
He buried his face in his hands. He was getting better. He knew that. But there was still a tenseness inside that refused to leave him, no matter how much he let himself give in to his feelings, no matter how desperately he clung to Dia.
As if his thoughts had conjured her up, the door chimed, and he heard her voice on the com.
"Face? Itís me."
"Not now, Dia. I need some time alone."
"Thatís all youíve had recently. Let me in."
He ignored her, knowing sheíd be mad later, but heíd cope with that then.
The door whooshed open.
He tried to glare at her, but could only manage a weak, miserable expression as she stood framed in the doorway, looking at him, sympathy evident in her face.
She walked over to him, sat down on the bed, stroked his back soothingly. To his surprise, she made no attempt to kiss him, or embrace him in any way. Somehow she knew that that wasnít what he needed right now.
"You still miss Ton badly, donít you." It wasnít even a question.
He didnít even both to nod, just asked
"How did you-"
"How did I get in? I had Castin give me your codes a while ago. How did I know? Well" youíve been so quiet recently. You donít make jokes anymore. It wasnít difficult to realise itís because you miss him. I thought if we gave you enough time, youíd start to hurt less... but it hasnít happened, has it?"
He shook his head.
"Iíve tried almost everything. Not thinking about it. Thinking about nothing but him. Being with people, isolating myselfÖ nothing makes me feel better. Even when Iím with you, thereís still this small part of me thatís just wailing--"
She could see the anguish on his face, the expression usually hidden by the actorís mask... he looked utterly lost.
"Face... there is one more thing you can try-- the most surefire cure in the world for snapping out of depression."
She tugged at his arms, trying to pull him up off the bed.
"Face, just shut up and come with me. I want to show you something."
She dragged him out of the room, and off towards the hanger. Well, he thought, if they were going there then it wasnít sex. And he didnít think that flying was going to make him feel much better, either. But he was too tired to be anything but apathetic, so he just let her drag him. To his vague surprise, they went right past the hanger, and on into the mechanicís staffroom. There she tugged him to a closet at the back, opened it, and stood back with a self-satisfied grin.
Face dropped to his knees, and bent forward, carefully picking up one baby, and cuddling the indescribably cute bundle of fur to his chest, his expression smoothing totally for the first time in days as the little thing purred loudly against his chest. He stroked its back with one gentle finger, marvelling at the soft fluffy fur. He turned to Dia, who was cradling one in her arms as well, an unusually tender look on her face.
Her eyes met his, and she smiled back at him.
"Kitten therapy. Works every time."
He stroked the little baby cat, only just preventing himself from coming out with some embarrassing baby talk to the cute little thing. Dia had no such compunctions, unashamedly telling her kitten how adorable and sweet it was. For almost the first time since Tonís death, he couldnít suppress a grin, and he felt the final bitterness over his friends death begin to fade.
"How did you find them?"
He placed the kitten back with its mother, and picked up another. They were in a large, rag lined box, so he guessed the mechanics had been looking after them. Gods only knew how a cat -- a pregnant cat at that -- had sneaked onto the supply ships, but stranger things had been known to happen.
"Cubber told me. Iíve been playing with them for days. Thought it might do you some good as well. And it obviously has."
Face felt another, easier grin, tug at his lips.
"Yes, you are clever. I do have great taste in women."
She shook her head and laughed at him.
"Now I know that youíre fine. Youíre bragging again."
"Thank you." He didnít just mean it sarcastically. He meant for her help. She knew it, too, from the happy light in her eyes, and he found himself reaching for her again, pulling her close and kissing her, his arms tightening round her until the kitten he still held squalled as it got squashed between them.
"Sorry, furrball," he said as he put it down again, before wrapping his
arms around Dia once more.
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