The evening started out as was typical. He expressed enthusiasm over the take out, and carried it into the kitchen while I took off my coat and hung it in the hall closet. Then I helped set out silverware - neither of us were very apt at using the complimentary chopsticks - while he got the drinks: a beer for him and a Diet for me, since I'd be driving. As we shoveled food onto paper plates, we discussed the ship.
"Jonas has been incredible," I said, not missing the slightly-too-quick look the Colonel cast over the mountain of white cartons. "They were able to get into the computer system a couple days ago and he's been translating like the world's about to end," I chuckled. "But he's made some real progress so far, helping to identify certain aspects."
"What kinds of aspects?"
"Well... you know the thing I told you looked like a cross between a coffin and a fridge?" Actually it looked like the cryochambers from Hathor's planet, all those years ago, but I wasn't going to mention that. "From what we can tell, it's some kind of hibernation chamber."
"Hibernation?" He raised his eyebrows. "Like bears?"
I rolled my. "Putting someone in stasis would be an ideal way to maintain a crew over the course of a long journey. Or maybe it's not that... maybe they put themselves in stasis while they were asleep to extend their life expectancies." I shrugged.
We carried our plates and drinks into the living room. The muted TV sat silent, its screen full of frenetic colors. "You said 'they'," the Colonel pointed out. "You only found one... one..."
"Hibernaculum," I offered, smiling as we sat on the couch. "And you're right, there was only the one. But there was something else..."
Continuously shoveling food into his mouth, the Colonel nevertheless listened carefully as I told him about the latest discovery. The clamps on the outer hull, according to what Jonas had translated, were indeed meant for securing another section of the ship. But there were two very different areas of the hull sporting these clamps, one set on each 'end' of the slightly elliptical craft, near the bottom. As near as we could tell, the Ancient vessel was really only one third of the actual ship... and thus far we had no way of knowing what the purpose of the other two thirds had been. Engines, maybe? Living quarters? More hibernaculums? The ship in its entirety must have been enormous, after all, and that seemed to indicate a sizable crew. There were very few living quarters on the third that we possessed.
The teams in Antarctica who had been studying the ice cave were now branching out, searching for the other two thirds of the ship, but I knew with strange certainty that they were searching in vain. "I know why that is," said the Colonel, speaking around a chunk of potsticker. "You feel like if you ask for more you're being greedy."
I opened my mouth to reply, but found I wasn't sure what to say. Suddenly I wasn't thinking about the Ancient ship at all. I was thinking about the two of us.
He seemed to realize it too, because he stopped chewing and suddenly found the silent television very interesting. I tried to shake off the awkwardness, wracked my brain for some way to break the silence and came up empty.
For the longest ten seconds of my life I pushed my food around my plate, relieved when he finally spoke. "Listen... Carter..." He cleared his throat. "I appreciate... I mean, not appreciate... I've enjoyed this."
Finally looking up from my plate, I caught him in mid-squirm. "So have I, sir," I said coolly, glancing away quickly, knowing what he was going to say.
The Colonel didn't disappoint. "Oh, don't start with the sir stuff."
"Might as well," I said, trying to sound brusque and firm but failing. If I could hear the regret in my own voice than he surely could. And it was embarrassing. It wasn't like the last few months had been particularly exciting, like we'd crossed lines we shouldn't have. We'd been friends, that was all... but it made me wonder. About whether or not we had been friends before. About why this time had seemed so special if it hadn't changed something between us.
Of course something had changed. We wouldn't have been having this conversation if it hadn't changed.
He was looking at me, I could tell. I could feel his eyes on me and it was unnerving. I stood, taking my plate with me. "I'm going to go refill," I mumbled, even though most of the food was untouched and I had all but lost my appetite. Once out of sight in the kitchen I let out a sigh, a sigh so deep and painful that it surprised me. Opening the container of broccoli beef, I stabbed angrily at the contents with my fork. I'd known this day would come eventually. Why hadn't I prepared myself for it better? Why had I allowed myself to start seeing him as more of a friend than a coworker -- and not just any coworker, a superior?
And was I still seeing him as a friend, or had it gotten even worse than that?
Someone touched my shoulder and I whirled, my thoughts going immediately to the strange movement I thought I'd seen outside. The cartoon came with me, flying out of my hand and landing in a mess at someone's feet. Feet I recognized immediately, and I frowned at him for startling me.
But he didn't seem to notice my displeasure. "I should have gone back on duty three weeks ago," he said, quickly but softly as though someone might be listening to us. Backed against the kitchen table, I could only stare as he continued. "I lied about getting sick again because I didn't want to go back to the same-old same-old. I mean what I said, I've enjoyed this... more than I should, I know," he added with a guilty shrug.
I closed my eyes briefly. "You know I wouldn't have even come the first time if I didn't think we'd..."
"Moved past it?"
"I thought so too."
"I guess this just goes to show what can happen when your guard's down," I said, and then I stopped speaking because he had kissed me. Or I had kissed him. Whichever.