830: Just a Coffee

by Wren Elton and Lara Valera Ryn
Immediately After Café Chatter

-=Afterthought Café; USS Serendipity=-

Lara remained standing for a moment after Paxton had left the cafe. Theirs had been an unexpected, yet pleasant, conversation, and it somehow suggested to her that she just might be okay on the ship.

She then looked down at her empty espresso cup and actually sighed. There was something clearly not right here; she wanted another one. "Oh, what's the harm?" she mumbled to herself. "That I don't sleep for a month of Sundays?"

Lara walked with her empty cup back over the bar and set it down on to the counter. She was expecting the barista to return, but instead another woman was behind the counter, and there was something about the way she moved, something that just seemed to indicate many things to Lara. For one, the woman looked like she belonged there, that there was a natural grace to her movement, an extension of herself, that her aura and her personality made the surroundings around her.

Or maybe Lara was reading too much into things. She had not read through the PADD containing information on her previous hosts yet -- in fact she was still avoiding it -- but she did intuitively know that one of them had been a philosopher of some minor repute. It wouldn't surprise Lara if that host's memories and impressions were now seeping into her own.

Lara was so immersed in these thoughts that she failed to notice the person behind the counter -- the one whom she had just been philosophizing over -- walk up to her end of the counter.

"Can I get you another?" the woman asked.

It took a second for Lara to snap out of her reverie. "What?"

The woman nodded with her head toward the empty cup in Lara's hand. "Would you like something else?"

Lara chuckled softly. "I think it's clear that I need the caffeine, but surprise me."

The woman smiled at this and looked Lara over briefly as if the answer of what she wanted was written somewhere on Lara’s face and she simply had to find it. Satisfied the woman turned her back to her and began working her machines. She moved so naturally between them it seemed like she’d been doing this all her life. Quickly she had returned with a drink in hand. Placing it on the counter she stepped back and watched for what Lara would do.

Lara took the cup, it appeared to be an espresso again, and replied, “Thank you…” leaving a space to prompt the woman for her name. Lara couldn’t quite understand it, but she was feeling somewhat self-conscious with the woman’s calm eyes watching her; like she knew something about her which Lara didn’t want her to. It was crazy after where she’d just been, a place where they’d all but crack your head open if they thought they heard a private thought rattling around in there, but she felt almost exposed.

“Wren, the woman simply answered, making no move to change her position as Lara politely took a sip. Wren seemed to be pleased by this, like a woman who’d just been proven right.

“I assume you’re wondering why I brought you an espresso when you’d clearly just had one,” Wren commented as she indicated Lara’s cup.

Lara had figured that Wren had simply given her something she knew she’d like and not thought anymore about it. The fact that she was enjoying these bitter concoctions all of a sudden was much more a mystery to her. Now though from Wren’s demeanour she realised it’d been an entirely thought out decision and found herself wondering about nothing else. “Well…” Lara started, but Wren could see she didn’t want to raise the question and so answered it without her needing to.

“I just figured since you’re not much a fan of change you’d prefer the same drink over and over again," Wren replied as if it were simply obvious.

“What do you mean?” Lara more objected than asked. Not only had change been perhaps the only constant in her life, but she was finding herself offended as to what exactly this Wren thought she knew about her and what right she had to bring something like this up anyway.

“I’m a Betazoid,” Wren casually explained as she leant in over the counter. “Don’t worry, I m not reading your thoughts, but I do allow myself to get a sense for people. If I’ve figured the uniforms correctly then you’re in Science so you would have met the irrepressible Commander Reece."

Wren smiled briefly thinking of Reece and the contagious energy he had before continuing. "When I sense him, though the man and the Symbiont are distinct, there’s a natural agreement between them. In your case though, it’s not there, as if you’re resisting this agreement; resisting the change."

It partially disturbed Lara that she was so easy to read, even if Wren were a Betazoid. It was as if she were an open book, which was a change, as she had previously only let a few select people really get to know her. But that might have been Wren's point. And Lara did cringe on the inside when she realized how right the other woman was, and how simple she made it all seem. "That might have something to do with the fact that it," she spoke the word distastefully, "is not supposed to be there, and we both know it."

"Well, I'm no expert on Trills," Wren began.

Lara laughed and interrupted. "I don't think even the Trill are experts on Trills, but that could just be an old host trying to get through."

Wren smiled herself at the comment, partly because she was amused and partly because she could see that something in the conversation was putting Lara at ease...at least momentarily. "Then let it," she replied. Her comment was simple, and made all too much sense, yet there was also a subtle challenge it in.
"I am not about to lose who I am to this thing inside of me." Though the words could have been spoken in anger -- and Wren suspected that in the past they had been -- Lara's tone now was hardly angry, but sad.

Wren allowed Lara a moment to wallow in consideration, fighting every urge to hide her reaction until the very last second when she gave a soft laugh of encouragement and replied, “Good.”

Lara was needless to say confused and indeed frustrated by this remark. Wren had just told her to let the host in and now she was encouraging her to fight it. Was this some type of game she was playing? She felt a muffled anger growing, muffled that was by the sadness as she knew she could not escape the possibility that this unwelcome guest would eventually find a way to consume her.

“It’s good that you’re determined to keep who you are,” Wren insisted. To an unperceptive eye her calmness could easily have mistaken for ignoring emotion’s bitter war within a woman too proud to let the world know a battle was raging, but Lara wasn’t feeling unperceptive. “That means you’re the type who will not let themself be overwhelmed by the symbiont.”

“You talk as though it’s a matter of choice?” Lara scoffed suddenly feeling anger drowning out the sadness. It was not a fresh anger at Wren for the suggestion, but rather a deep rage at fate for a reality she should never have been facing. Forgetting suddenly her location she softly, but bitterly declared in a tone sharp enough for all to hear, appreciating the irony that it was only her voice as she said it, “This thing asserts itself whenever it feels like it.”

Wren’s immediate thought was of a man held too long under the water forcing himself up for air, but something told her Lara would now react well to that analogy, considering that she may be quite happy with the idea of holding him down there long enough until he drowns. Wren allowed herself a moment to think, a moment Lara felt comfortable in as she misread it to mean she was done, then Wren decided to try a different tactic.

“Have you had a chance to meet Mrs. Dabin Reece?” she asked innocently enough.

Lara could sense where this was going, or perhaps that was a sense coming from the worm, as she could clearly tell from the photo Dabin had shown her that February Grace was the second Trill on board. “I haven’t yet, no,” Lara bluntly answered.

“She’s one of the gentlest human beings you’ll ever meet,” Wren said quite honestly, taking a moment to reflect back over that. “She’s kind, open and with an almost unhealthy obsession with the colour pink. Can you imagine?”

Lara simply nodded that she could, not wanting to make any special effort to commit to a path she didn’t want to be on. Even without trying Lara was still forming a bizarrely accurate feel for February Grace as Wren spoke.

“Now imagine a drunken, hard living, ultra virile, womanizing rock star; an utter scoundrel with little to no respect for anything around him. He’s the exact opposite of the woman I know,” Wren could see Lara filling in the blanks, but decided to finish anyway. “That was one of Grace’s past hosts.”

At this point, Lara was somewhere between crying and screaming, though it seemed as if the former were going to win now, drowning out her anger. "February Grace and Dabin Reece knew what they were getting into; they were prepared for this transition, this joining."

"And you resent them for that." It was a statement, not a question, and a fairly accurate one at that.

"Yes," was Lara's immediate response, followed by, "No. I do not personally resent them. I resent the fact that above all they were given a choice, and they chose to have a symbiont." She involuntarily shivered as she remembered, quite against her will, those horrible hours, first the deliriousness from the injuries, then the drowsiness from the medication the Kobheerian doctors had given her. She hadn't known what was going on until it had been far too late. She took a large swill of the espresso, trying to ward off the coldness that came with the memory, but it was to no avail.

Wren leaned against the counter that separated the two of them, physically closing the space. "But you do have a choice." She spoke softly, confidently.

"No, no, I don't," Lara immediately countered. "Taking it out of me is a death sentence."

"And you're a survivor." Wren watched as Lara's head shot up and they made eye contact. "But you do have a choice," she repeated, more firmly this time, as everything they were speaking about came back to that one idea, personal choice.

"What's my choice? To let this thing subsume me until I am no longer myself. Or to fight this thing inside of me until I die," Lara scoffed. "I could only imagine the hell that would put the next host through, if they could get this thing inside of me to bond again."

Again, Wren chose to change tactics slightly. "Do you always think in such stark terms?"

"Everything in this galaxy is n ot black and white. I've never thought..." Suddenly her words became very slow as she softly finished her thought "...that way."

"Until recently," Wren commented.

"Until recently," Lara confirmed.

Then there was silence as Lara processed what she’d just said. Her mind drifted back to a time so long ago, the time when she’d just been her and the worm had been stuck in someone else, where it belonged. Her eyes fell down to stare deeply into her near empty cup, longing for the simplicity of what once had been.

Seconds that could have been hours passed, before Wren once again decided to speak. “Then you’ve changed.”

Through a gentle tone her words sounded like a conclusion, but still stung at Lara like a harsh insinuation. Lara didn’t want to change, she’d been fighting this and she refused to let anyone suggest the fight was already over.

“No,” Lara softly insisted, her mind back in the moment, but her heart still locked firmly in another time. “I’m the same person I always was. It’s just…it’s…” Then suddenly she stopped, the right words just out of her grasp.

“A new experience?” Wren suggested and though Lara would have chosen something else, she nodded that Wren was correct. She didn’t look up at her, raising the cup up to her mouth and debating to finish it now. “Having the symbiont ha s given you a different point of view like all experiences do,” Wren argued, speaking as quickly as she could as she sensed a drift in Lara’s attention. She wasn’t sure her words were having the effect, Lara still seeming captivated by her drink, but she had a need to press on. With a pause and smile, Wren calmly assured her, “In this case it’s a wrong point of view,” then she dropped all emotion, but sincerity “but not one that changes who you are.”

Lara heard every word and truly believed Wren was every bit sincere, but could not overcome what seemed to be the only possible truth. With a sigh she spoke softly and began swirling the drink in her hand. “I know what you’re trying to say, that the symbiont need not change who I am. But it’s so much more than just experiences I’m dealing with. It’s their personalities, their memories, their emotions, their tastes…” She made a sound something not quite a laugh, the slightest smile forming at the ridiculousness as she lowered her glass and turned up to Wren. “I don’t even like espresso.”

Wren couldn’t help but smile at that. “If that’s the worst you get then consider yourself lucky.”

Wren stood straight up, a test Lara passed as her eyes followed her up. “Because you’re right, it is more. You get their wisdom, their calm, their confidence. These can all be20a great gift, you just have to learn how to use them.”

“You can’t honestly believe it’s that simple,” Lara replied with disbelief, knowing nothing ever was.

“Oh, it’s not simple.” Wren countered “It is however possible. As I said, I’m no expert in Trills and I can’t tell you how to do it. There are people around to help though, if you’re willing to let them.” Lara’s thoughts turned to her meeting with Vol Tryst. “That’s the choice you can make.”

She was right, and Lara knew it. That didn't mean it was going to be any easier to accept reality, to accept the change. But she supposed it was a starting point, and every journey -- one wanted or not -- had a beginning. Maybe, just maybe, this was hers.

Lara set the cup down and smiled, sadly, but sincerely, at Wren. "Thank you," she softly said.

Wren responded with an equally warm smile. "For the espresso, of course," came her simple and calm response.

Now Lara's smile became a little wider and she shook her head in amusement. "Yeah, for the coffee."

Lieutenant Lara Valera Ryn
Science Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

Wren Elton
Manager, Afterthought Café
USS Serendipity NCC-2012