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Author's Note: Written for Where No Woman drabblefest prompt #19 "Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow kind, perhaps in the nook of a cousin universe I've never defiled or betrayed anyone." Beta'd by the always-awesome Boosette.

Different Theres and Elsewheres
by LJC

They were lying in his bed, the sweat cooling on their bodies, when he asked her.

"Does she give you something I can't?" he whispered against her hair.

"Who?" she asked sleepily as he tightened his arm around her waist and pulled her closer. She ran her nails up and down his forearm—not hard enough to leave marks, but hard enough to make his cock twitch against her ass.

He trailed kisses down her neck, teeth nipping at her shoulder. "Barry."

Her hands stilled. Everything stilled, stopped, froze, even her breath in her lungs caught. The terror that gripped her paralysed, and she rolled over to face him, dreading what she would see in those ice-blue eyes.

But she saw no betrayal, no hurt. More importantly, there was no fury or bloodlust. There was just the same intensity that was always there when he looked at her, and beneath it, hunger.

"How long have you known?"

"Not long. You were very discreet. One of her people tried to gain advancement by telling me."

"And did he?"

"He gained an hour in the booth. And then he lost his tongue."

"Did you punish him for what he knew, or for being stupid enough to share it?"

"Both. But I made an example of him, for trying to use you to influence me. He should have known better."

She couldn't stop the shudder. He felt it, pressed up against her, and his hand continued to massage her hip with strong, lean fingers.

"Were you afraid of what I'd do to you, when I found out? Or were you afraid of what I'd do to her?"

"Yes," she said softly, lifting her chin. There was no point in trying to lie. A lie would only test the limits of his patience. If she were going to break those limits, she might as well do it with the truth. "I'd be foolish and naïve if I didn't fear what you could or would do. And I am neither foolish nor naïve."

"Yet you carried on the affair anyway. Why?"

She swallowed, staring at the ceiling of his quarters as if the right words were written there.

"I needed something that was mine," she said after the quiet had grown too long between them. "Something that wasn't about us, this. Whatever you want to call this thing we have, sometimes it's too much. Sometimes, I need something else. That's not about you, it's about me."

He frowned, but the punishing anger she was bracing herself for never came. He just kept studying her face, while his hands roamed her body.

"What does she give you? Tenderness? Comfort?" He pressed a kiss to her collarbone, his hand skimming across her belly to rest with fingertips brushing the curls between her legs, but never straying lower. "Are you saying you've never felt either of those things here, with me?"

It was a trap, she knew. He was tender with her, sometimes. Almost always when she needed him to be rough—uncaring. That gentleness destroyed her because it made her believe she was someone who needed to be coddled and pampered. Because it made her feel weak, when she needed to be strong.

He always knew. Those nights he treated her like she was rare and special. Those mornings she cried under the scalding hot spray of the shower head in her own cabin, and then turned the controls to freezing so no-one would see her cheeks chapped and lips burning from the salt. They'd just see the First Officer—the Ice Queen.

"I chose to be here with you. Doesn't that mean anything?"

"That means everything," he said without pause, hands coming up to tangle in her dark hair. "That's why I need to understand. You owe me that much."

"She doesn't want me to give more than I already do. She wants me for what I am. No one's ever wanted me for just... what I am." She shrugged. "Even you want me to be something else, something different. You want something from me that I don't know how to give. Every second we're together, it... tries to pull me apart. It tries to crawl inside me and change me into someone I don't think I can be. And what scares me is that I want it. I keep coming back. And when I'm with her, I hate myself a little less for being with you."

She closed her eyes again the burn of tears.

"There. You have all my secrets. Does it make you feel better? Does it make you feel like you've won?" Her tone was bitter, angry, and in that moment she didn't care if he closed a hand around her throat and she finally embraced oblivion.

Instead, he smiled, and kissed her eyelids—first one, then the other.

"It's never been a contest between us—not me and Barry, and not even between you and me. Not really. The only fight is the one going on inside you." He smoothed her hair back, fingers tracing the curve of her cheek. "You're afraid of who you could be. You're afraid of letting go of control, because you think that's all you are. That's all you have left."

It is, she thought but didn't say. Because saying it aloud would be too much of a victory for him. She swallowed again, and it hurt. Like she'd swallowed sand or glass, and it was cutting all the way down.

"Are you going to kill her?"

"No. We all need allies," he said, and she realised he believed she was his. Not a thing to be owned as she feared, but an ally who would stand with him if his back were to the wall.

She wondered if she would. She never stopped wondering, even when Cait's mouth was on hers, and her fingers curled inside her, and they were lost in each other.

"And there's no-one to replace her," he added, almost as if it's a joke. "Brien's too much of an underling, and Scott has ambition, but he's not ready."

He kissed her almost chastely, and then again, not so chastely. He curled his hand around her neck, thumb nestling against her ear as he teased her lips with his tongue until they parted beneath his.

"Are you going to hurt her?" she asked as they rolled over so she was on top, her hair falling around her face like a curtain.

He gazed up at her with something like adoration, a smile curving his lips, making him beautiful. "The fact that you keep coming back to me already does. That's enough for me."

For now, she thought as she lowered her mouth to his, and tried to quiet that voice inside her. And when it's not enough? What will you do then?

She didn't know if she was asking him, or herself.

I like the idea of different

theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
kind, perhaps in the nook

of a cousin universe I've never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against,

your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.

— Bob Hicok


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