She should have gone into town right away with the others, Alma thought. The airship was eerily silent without the ever-present underlying hum of the engines or the daily bustle and chatter. She brushed a hand over the wood panelling as she made her way back to the central area and imagined the chill touch of stone.
This was the Vanguard. The others were simply in town. She would see for herself shortly but still as she calmed herself her pace quickened until slowing at the sudden sight on the lower level.
She wasn’t as alone as she thought. Cabanela was asleep on the couch leaned back into the cushions, legs stretched out and mouth slightly open. She wondered if he’d sat down and simply fallen asleep right then and there. It seemed likely. She didn’t catch him asleep much these days; it was bound to catch up. There was a comfort in the sight: no displays or shows here. Honest and simple. Real.
Blankets were stored in a cabinet built into the wall just passed the sofa. The ship could grow cold when everything was shut down like this. She could at least make him more comfortable before she left. Light quiet steps carried her down the stairs, but as she passed by him, Cabanela stirred. Half-lidded eyes met her gaze and his voice was distant and still low with sleep.
“We’ll find you.”
Alma froze. After a swallow and a quick count to four, she spoke. “You did. I’m right here.” I am here.
His eyes slid shut and Alma took a deep breath. It was only a dream, only his dream and nothing more than that. A natural thing. Nothing more. She started to move away when he blinked and she found herself in his gaze once more.
“I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“I thought you were in town, baby.”
“I could say the same for you.”
“Weeell,” Cabanela said with a wave of his hand and a grin that shone too falsely to Alma’s eyes, “someone should watch the old girl.”
“I see,” Alma replied with attempted levity, wondering if it rang as true as his grin. “And I’m certain you were doing a fine job from dreamland.” She took a seat beside him. “It’s not like you to skip a day in town.”
“Maybe when I can really visit,” he said blithely. “Tip-toein’ does get tiresome.”
Alma winced. She should have known; he was always so out there, so present. Of course he wouldn’t like having to keep a low profile or even relying on outright invisibility at times.
“It’s not all bad,” he continued. “After aaall I’ve found myself with far better company here.”
“I don’t know about that,” Alma found herself saying. “I don’t feel very ‘here’.” She stopped dead, clenching her teeth over the sudden admission.
“I count every day we see you as a blessing,” Cabanela said. His eyes met hers and she thought she might burn under his stare. “Every day we didn’t lose you to Doma.”
Alma cast around the room for something to say or do. How could she reply to such open… intensity? Her gaze landed on the gramophone in the corner of the room. The recent find had been a moment of smug pride for Memry and a rare sight of unadulterated delight in Cabanela.
“Wait here,” she said and abruptly rose.
There were only two records: one from Memry’s own eclectic collection of various things, and the other won from Jidoor’s auction. She settled for the Jidoor find and soon music washed out over the room and she returned to stand in front of Cabanela who watched curiously.
“It’s not often we have the ship to ourselves.” She offered him her hand. “How long has it been?”
Maybe it was a mistake, careless words born of her own wondering about a past that felt as ephemeral as not these days. He started to open his mouth to respond and stopped with a blank stare.
“I don’t know,” he finally said.
She kept her hand out. “Then let’s fix that. May I have this dance?”
To her relief and mounting tension despite herself, he took her hand and unfolded from the sofa. She guided him to the floor where he looped an arm around her waist. She forced herself to relax. His hold was firm in support and nothing more; she could easily slip away if she chose. Slipping away wasn’t what she wanted to do as the music played, their fingers intertwined, and Cabanela let her lead them into their first dance.
Strange how easy and natural it suddenly felt. He was as graceful as ever and old training came flooding back. It didn’t take long to find their rhythm and for the duration of the song Alma found herself focusing only on their movements and flow, letting other memories fade.
The next song was livelier and to her surprise Cabanela continued to let her keep the lead. They stepped and spun taking greater advantage of the empty floor. She caught Cabanela mid-whirl and with a flash of a grin and without a second thought she dipped him.
For a moment they remained in perfect balance. Cabanela gazed up at her and she noticed once again how his eyes were subtly lighter than they once were, and yet still so very… him.
“My Queen,” he breathed.
There was no mistaking the tenderness or wonder in his voice, but still she faltered. Queen: was that all she was? Was that what she was doomed to remain to all, even to him? She pulled him back up, letting him straighten, hoping to simply continue the dance.
Instead, he stopped. Had he sensed her thoughts? Had she messed this chance up? Could nothing ever be simple?
Cabanela hesitated then lifted a hand to touch her cheek, his touch feather-light and his fingers warm.
Once again there was only sincerity and no sense of an expected old possessiveness. She leaned into his touch not trusting words, not knowing how she could respond.
The current song faded. For a moment they stood in silence, poised in a place she wondered at; could it last? Could this be? Then the next song started, another lively beat, and Cabanela grinned and caught her other hand.
“The ship to ourseeelves indeed. It’d be a shame to waste it now. Shaaall we?”
She couldn’t help but return a small smile at that. “After you.”
This time he took the lead and she was content to let him do so. It was another upbeat song and they fell into a quick step and possibly more twirls than were strictly necessary. She spun away hand outstretched not quite losing contact with him.
He cast an arm up and with a snap of his fingers golden sparkles rained down around them.
Alma couldn’t stop the small bubble of laughter even if she wanted to. “Memry wouldn’t like that.”
His eyes crinkled in amusement. “Memry isn’t here to see it, baby!”
“You are incorrigible,” she replied and let him pull her back, take her around the waist and guide her into the next whirling steps in another shower of sparkles.
One song and another before they fell back onto the couch hand in hand, and the ship was warm and their hearts full.