Chapter 11: Confusion
© Lady Owl
Heather sat quietly on Neelix's bed as another random object went zipping across the room. She sighed out her nose as she made a face.
"I can't believe what I've gotten myself into... this is insane! He's going to ask me to do something crazy.. I just know it! What else could possibly be worth it to him if it wasn't something insane, huh?! What was I thinking to take your advice!"
Veeno didn't answer. He was leaning against the door frame of the main entrance to Neelix's quarters with his arms crossed. He continued to watch as Neelix tore apart his quarters in frustration and looked over at Heather. They both shrugged at one another as they turned their attention back to yet another item being tossed across the room.
"It's not all that bad..." Veeno finally said, "I mean, you are getting his protection after all."
"Yeah and at what price, huh?! Not all that bad..." Neelix repeated Veeno's sentence, mocking him sarcastically. "What if he asks me to kill someone...? I can't kill someone! I'm not a killer!" Neelix shouted, digging into yet another one of the large crates that occupied his quarters.
"He wouldn't ask you to kill anyone... he's a nice guy, remember? I mean Ala is with him and you know Ala is like... the sweetest person on this station."
"Minus one friend... Minus one friend! Does that not mean anything to you!? What if he told me to kill you...?!"
Veeno made a face as he rubbed the back of is neck.. "Heh... yeah.. forgot about that one small, minor, detail..." He said and swallowed hard.
"Yeah... exactly..!" Neelix shouted back at him.
Being too occupied with trying to calm Neelix down, Veeno was startled as Heather passed by him, her arms full of Neelix's random junk. She dumped them all into one of the empty crates and began to pick up more stuff.
"Look... Neelix it's late.. the last thing you need to be doing is tearing apart your quarters..." Veeno said but Neelix just ignored him.
"And another thing.. whatever he wants me to do, you're helping!" Neelix said, his head buried in the crate.
"So you want me to help you kill myself..." Veeno replied sarcastically and sighed, watching Heather drop more junk into another empty crate.
Neelix lifted his head from the crate to say something smart to Veeno but noticed Heather walk past with her arms full. "Oh... Heather..." He said as he dropped a large tool back into the crate and quickly moved to her to grab some of the items she was struggling to hold in her arms, "You don't have to pick up all of this... clean up after me." He said to her, his entire tone had changed from upset and anxious, to sad and guilty. She just stared at him and shrugged her shoulders lightly, again feeling like she had caused all of this...
Neelix squatted down in front of her and took more of the items from her, setting them down on the floor around them and then leaned forward and hugged her tightly. She rested her head on his shoulder, looking over at Veeno and they exchanged looks, again, before she closed her eyes tight and nuzzled against Neelix's shoulder.
"I... guess it is late..." Neelix said softly.
"Well, at least something knocked you to your senses.." Veeno said and grinned at Heather. She looked back to Veeno before gently pulling herself from Neelix. He smiled at her and softly cupped her face with his hand. "I'm sorry Heather, I didn't mean to act like an irrational idiot..." He said but she bit her lower lip before trying to smile at him. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead before standing and turned to face Veeno. "What? I don't get no kiss and an apology?"
"Fine, fine..." Veeno moved from the door frame as Neelix approached and opened it for him.
As Heather and Neelix settled down for the night, Neelix watched her slowly close her eyes.. drifting off. As she fell asleep, leaving him alone to his thoughts, he couldn't help but think about her. That despite all the crazy things that had come into his life ever since that first night, he never regretted it. Never felt it all wasn't worth it.. to have her.
He moved his hand near to her face and carefully brushed aside her soft hair and then ran his finger tips against her smooth skin, looking at her facial features as she slept. He hoped one day he could kiss those soft tiny lips. That she'd be his the way he wanted to be with her. He knew it was still so soon but there was always this warmth he felt when he was around her... This excitement and purpose. When he saw her smile or heard her voice or was just able to help her or hold her during the times she needed it.. needed him..
He breathed out deeply and closed his eyes. Would she ever let him... would he ever be able to tell her how she made him feel...
The following morning, Neelix woke instantly from a loud sound.
He hadn't even remembered falling asleep and turned his head instantly to his side. Heather's eyes were wide with panic as Neelix looked down at her. He then rushed out of bed and darted to his console, slamming his hand down on the volume control.
"What was that...?!" Heather said as she gripped the wall division tightly with one hand, her other over her chest, obviously very shaken from being woken so suddenly and violently. Neelix cringed, "I'm sorry.. I'm sorry, it's my fault.. I have it set to beep more loudly if I receive messages in rapid succession..."
"So... someone was spamming you?" She asked him.
"Spam...? ..." He shook his head, not even bothering to finish the word, knowing he didn't understand and was too preoccupied to care at that moment.
Heather came up to Neelix's side, staring at the screen as his finger slid across it to view the result of the loud noise. Neelix sighed and rolled his eyes... "What the hell is this..." He said and Heather just looked up at him, confused. She obviously had no idea what was on the screen, being unable to read his alien language. "What is it, Neelix? Is it bad..?"
"Yes.. and no... damn idiots... I'm sorry Heather but we have to go. Now."
"What.. ? Why? Where..?" She asked in a panic as Neelix slid his large hand around Heather's small wrist. He walked with her to the door, moving so hastily that Heather had to almost jog to keep up with him.
"Between the meeting, Veeno, and now this..." Neelix mumbled under his breath. He was trying hard to hold on to what little patience he had left, if at least for Heather's sake. He could never show her the same annoyance he did the others... dare to lose his patience and end up snapping at her... but he just didn't have the time to sit there and explain everything to her, either.
He quickly began to bundle her up in the old tattered fabric and lifted it up to form a makeshift hood to cover her head. "Neelix.. isn't this kind of pointless...? If we have protection.. why hide me..? And this thing kind of itches.." She said to him.
"Heather.. please, I'm just trying to avoid unwanted attention.. and I don't need any delays getting down there..."
"I'll explain everything once we get there and I can bring some order to this chaos..." He said as he stood and turned, moving his hand back around her wrist and tugged her out the door.
"Neelix, Neelix, Neelix...!" A quick and hyper voice shouted.
"Fucking hell man, where have you been..?!" Said another, normal, but obviously upset voice.
"Can you people not do anything without me?!" Neelix shouted as he entered the large workshop, letting go of Heather's hand. She stayed where Neelix left her, hesitant to walk into the obvious disorder that was taking place.. and of course, more strangers...
"I needed your help yesterday.. I can only do so much and I'm not meant to be giving tasks to people!"
"It's fine, would you just stop?! I'll handle it..." Neelix said, snapping back at a lanky alien that sort of reminded Heather of Veeno, but obviously not the same species. But her attention was quickly caught by a much smaller creature that was hopping from a table.. to the wall.. to the floor.. and to another table again in a frenzied panic as it followed Neelix and the other alien away from her. Heather could barely keep her eyes on it, it moved so quickly..
"Tools a mess! Projects behind! Two machines jammed..! We not have resources to fix!" The creature was so quick with its tongue Heather could barely make out what it said.
"It's obvious I can't ever leave this place, you people could never survive without me..." Neelix replied. He had finally lost all his patience. Heather had heard the annoyance in his voice from talking to Veeno on occasion, but never like this. She wanted to go to him.. not liking be left there as if he had completely forgotten about her.. but she not dare walk into that mess... or add to Neelix's stress..
Heather looked around the room, which was very large and the ceiling very high. Long work tables with all kinds of objects scattered all over them were so compacted together that only narrow walk ways could be seen between them. There were large metal machines back along the far walls and as Neelix walked further away from her, his voice was swallowed up by the sounds of those machines as other workers were busy with their tasks, using them.
As Neelix disappeared into some kind of small building like area within the room, Heather rubbed her shoulders, feeling uncomfortable. She continued to look around.. noticing that it didn't take long for a few of the individuals to notice her. One tall, round individual, with dark green skin and a strange looking nose that hung from his face over his mouth, smiled at her as he moved his hand up in a wave gesture to greet her. His movements seemed slow but he appeared friendly so she smiled back and gently nodded her head to let him know she had acknowledged him, hoping that doing so wouldn't be any type of offensive gesture.
"And what is this?"
Heather jumped, startled as that strange, small creature seemed to appear out of no where, landing on the wall beside her. He reached out with one of his long skinny arms and took a lock of Heather's hair between a large finger and thumb which caused her hood to slip from her head. He lifted her hair up to look at it before letting each strand of the lock slip from his grip, letting the strands fall back into place over her shoulder. She made an uncomfortable face as she pulled away from the creature.
"Sniffs... let her be..." The alien that had waved to her said.
"Curious. What are you...?" It asked, ignoring the other alien and turning itself so that its head was now looking at her from upside down. Heather reached out with her index finger and poked it... "What are you?" She repeated his question. One of the other aliens watching, chuckled to himself before all four of them flinched as Neelix's voice rang across the room, "Sniffs, stop it."
Heather noticed Neelix exiting the building, slipping large brown gloves over his hands as he began to walk back towards her, the other individual still with him. The alien called Sniffs jumped up higher on the wall as Neelix approached Heather and Neelix extending his arm out to her so she could take his hand. She quickly did so and she began to walk with him as he lead her back the way he had come from.
"I tried my best.. I really did.."
"Gale, enough with the excuses, just stop." Neelix replied as Heather walked behind them. She noticed more of the workers looking up from their tasks to watch as they walked past, obviously curious where Neelix had been all this time.. and who the strange, unfamiliar girl was. She swallowed hard, feeling even more uncomfortable.
Neelix led her to a quiet corner and lifted her up, carefully setting her on one of the work tables that was pressed up against the wall. "What's all this about, Neelix..?" Gale asked while looking over Heather.
"It's a long story... and I'd rather not get into it." Neelix replied.
"So I assume this is why you've been gone all this time then..."
Neelix didn't answer, for the answer was obvious and the last thing he wanted to do was bring up that he now owned a slave... Things were already a big enough mess as it was without everyone being distracted with talk about him all day... He was just thankful they didn't already know. It still bothered him how Ala knew about it because of rumors. It was obvious with Neelix being gone, his co-workers didn't have time to pick up on the current gossip about his ship being sold, which at least eased his mind a little that they were keeping so busy to keep things in order while he had been away.. despite their obvious failure...
"I dunno why you left me in charge, Neelix. I'm not good at giving orders and no one listens to me anyways, they respect you, not me." Gale said, continuing with his excuses.
"It was my mistake for leaving you in charge. I blame myself for what happened, not you, Gale." Neelix said as he helped unwrap the fabric from around Heather so she could be more comfortable. He didn't know how long he would be here fixing their mess...
"I'm really sorry, Heather.. I don't want to have to lug you around like this but I don't have much of a choice right now... We might be here for a bit so... You see that structure there? Behind me? They're the back offices and no one will bother you back there. There is also food and drink in there, too if you get hungry... oh and a console.. I can put something on for you if you have nothing on your.. device to watch, ok?" Neelix said to her, gently moving his large gloved hand up and touching the side of her face. She nodded her head slowly and tried to smile.
"It's ok, Neelix, I understand. I think I might watch for a bit, though.. if, that's ok..?" She asked and he seemed a bit surprised. "Of course, if you want to... I mean I don't know why you'd wanna watch a bunch of oafs repairing things but that's up to you. I just want to make sure you're safe.. there is a lot of dangerous equipment in here..." He replied and she nodded her head. "I'll stay out of trouble, I promise." She said with a smile, but he gave a surprised look to her. "I.. didn't mean to imply you'd get into troub-"
"I know.." She smiled, cutting him off, "I'm just joking. It's a figure of speech."
"Oh..." He tried to laugh, but his nerves were too shot to comprehend obvious jokes, but Heather just made a sly face at him. "Neelix.. I hope you'll be ok... I'm sure you can get everything right again... I mean, everything will be alright, just try and calm down. I don't like seeing you so upset.." She said to him.
Her words caught him off guard. She cared about how he was feeling... Sure, of course people care when people are feeling down or upset, he thought, but.. he had never heard her say anything like that before. Directly care about how he was feeling. He stared at her for a few seconds longer until he finally nodded his head to her words, in firm agreement, letting her know he acknowledged them. He then stood and turned around to face Gale.
"Alright... show me the damage." He said, Heather's words relaxing him and giving him his self-confidence back to run his job like he knew he could and take charge of the problems that he had to face.
Hours had passed.. and Heather was beginning to feel anxious. She had already watched them work for a good hour.. and watched some really lame videos on the console. Raided their fridge.. or.. cold storage unit.. whatever they called it, snooped around the office, and been bugged by that annoying little critter called Sniffs, ten different times...
She pressed her forehead on the glass of one of the windows of the office and sighed, staring out at all the different people working. She had barely seen Neelix most of the day and perked up when he would occasionally pass by in the distance, hoping it might be time to go home.. but to her disappointment, he'd always disappear again.
"I'm so frickin bored..." She said aloud to herself.
"This not club. Not here for your entertainment."
"Go. Away. Sniffs..."
Sniffs grabbed something out of the storage unit, quickly devoured it and hopped back out into the main area. She watched him disappear into the large room and wondered what exactly he did here.. other than seem to annoy everyone...
Neelix was glad that most of the work had kept himself and Gale so busy, neither had much time to talk. Neelix didn't talk much to his co-workers to begin with.. but he did feel a slight bit of panic overtake him on the small occasion Gale would ask something involving Heather, which he'd either ignore or quickly dismiss.
"How come you have her dressed in such raggy looking clothes..? Or I mean that wrap thing. Her blue outfit is quite nice actually..." Gale said and Neelix rolled his eyes at him asking about her again.. but then narrowed them slightly, finding himself feeling a bit overprotective of the thought of Gale checking her out enough to find what she was wearing, to be appealing...
"Gale, can we stop talking about it?" Neelix said in a stern tone.
"I was just wondering Neelix.. sorry.. But really, maybe you should take her clothes shopping or something.. is all I'm saying." Gale replied.
Neelix looked at him for a moment before looking down at the machinery they were working on. It was a good idea.. Not one he had really considered before. He bet that Heather would really like that, actually, and he still had plenty of money to spare for such a thing. He smiled to himself, now determined to make that his goal in the next following days.
Heather moved from the window, walking in a slumped, bored posture towards the chair in front of the console. She thunk herself down in it and lazily turned her head to the table, noticing her ipod. She rotated the chair until her arm was able to reach out and grasp it from the table and she turned it on. She then slouched back in the chair, lifting her legs up and propping them up on the table as she ran her finger over the touch sensitive screen to find a song, her finger then stopped and pressed play. She kept the volume at a decent level since the machinery outside the office certainly overpowered the sound of her weak ipod speakers. It certainly wouldn't distract the people outside from their jobs... but she really wished she had headphones to completely drown out the noise.
She closed her eyes as the song began. It was beaty and cheerful which put her in a good mood, distracting her mind from being bored and she swayed her feet back and forth happily to the beat. She slowly opened her eyes and stared down at the screen, watching a music visualization. The bright colors and quick flashes that went with the beat of the song, entranced her... but after awhile, the visuals began to blur and lose focus as she felt her eyes become lazy. She shut them tight for a moment and reopened them, refocusing them on the screen.
It felt as if the boredom had caused her to feel sleepy and out of it... And as the song continued to play, she no longer felt that happy energy she had when it first started.
As the song continued, the sounds themselves began to all blend together in a daze as her mind wandered and she lowered her gaze to stare down at the cracks in the dirty, concrete floor. Her playlist eventually turned to the next song and it's slower, sad melody seemed to catch her attention, stirring her out of her daze. The strong contrast between songs caused her to focus her mind on the song... the music.. the lyrics...
Help... I have done it, again... I have been here many times before... hurt myself again, today... and the worst part is there is no one else to blame...
The sound of the music along with the lyrics made her feel sad.. guilty, even... reminding her of her own situation... a situation she had put herself in. She blamed herself entirely... knowing had she not been so curious and stubborn, stupidly excited at the concept of something from space actually falling within her reach.. to race through the trees to be the first one to find it before anyone else...
She stood slowly, clenching her ipod tightly in her hand and walked to the window again. To her surprise, she saw Neelix. She stared out at him.. feeling like this made her realize just how lucky she was that Neelix had rescued her.. she was so thankful for that... But the thought made her feel lonely. All day she had been alone, aside from Sniffs... and he was just annoying. She really just wished Neelix would hurry and finish up already so they could go home... but she felt sadness swell in her again as the song continued, the words jerking her from her current thoughts.
..be my friend... hold me.. wrap me up.. Unfold me..
She tightened her eyes... She didn't want to be emotional, but it hurt... so much..
I am small, I'm needy... Warm me up... And breathe me...
She moved her arms up and crossed them over her chest so that each hand could grasp the opposite shoulder.. that feeling of loneliness and guilt swelling up inside her again.
Ouch, I have lost myself again... Lost myself and I am no where to be found.. Yeah.. I think that I might break.. Lost myself again and I feel unsafe.. Be my friend... Hold me...
She felt her eyes water and quickly shut them tight to stop it from getting worse. She had allowed the sad feel of the song to completely change her mood from simply feeling bored and dazed, to extremely sad, lonely.. depressed, even. She pressed her forehead back against the glass and swallowed hard. She looked out again, glad Neelix was still there and hadn't gone out of sight again.. and she felt a warm flicker inside her as she stared out at him.. he gave her hope when there was none... But it was odd... as she stared out at him, she felt this wanting urge for him to come over and hold her. It was strange that she had become so used to him always being there for her when she was upset or something had gone wrong.. that now, when she felt this way and he wasn't there to make her feel better... she felt.. lonely..
She moved back to the chair and sat back down, moving her legs up to set her feet back on the table and closed her eyes in thought as she started another song.. not wanting to feel this way anymore...
"Five digits... five digits... makes ten digits..."
Heather moved only her eyes up to look past her ipod .. to see Sniffs sitting on the table next to her crossed feet. She knew it wouldn't be long before he showed up again but she just sighed and looked back down at the screen, ignoring him.. until she felt a thud in her lap.
"Five digits.. five more digits.. twenty total digits."
This time she moved her arm aside to look at him as he crawled further up her body and sat on her tummy. "What are you doing..." She asked, annoyed, finally acknowledging him.. but he didn't give her the same courtesy. Instead, he moved closer, up her body further and sat on her chest.
"Curious... mammary glands? Enlarged... feeding young, pregnant?" Sniffs said as he looked down at her breasts as he sat on them, moving his hand to touch.
"Hey..!" She shouted as he reached out and pressed his flat hand firmly against her breast. She sat up quickly causing him to slip off her chest and roll over her knees and onto the floor. He immediately leapt from the floor and landed on her head.
"What the hell are you doing...?!" She yelled out, annoyed, cocking her head to try and look up at him but he turned, hanging off the side of her head and looked at her ear, yanking it lightly. "Why you have extra tiny hole in lobe?... Piercing... jewelry..?" Sniffs asked.
"Yes.. now get off..." She replied. Heather would have been more kind to Sniffs had he not been doing this off and on to her all day long.. and being so intrusive... She, like Neelix, had completely lost her patience...
Heather walked from the office and propped herself up on the table Neelix had originally set her on, holding some kind of fruit food item on a stick and took a bite of it as she looked out again at everyone working. She saw Neelix and Gale messing with some kind of odd, large machine. She squinted her eyes slightly to get a better look, seeing that Neelix was covered in dirt, grease, and sweat. Stains spotted all over his clothing.. She felt bad he had to work this hard to fix everything that had gone array the last few days, wondering if he always worked this hard... or again, if it was only because of her causing him to miss so much work...
"Hold it tight...!" Neelix shouted as he shoved a contraption forward against the machine, she heard the metal grind before something came loose and clanged to the floor. Neelix then took the item from Gale and heaved it up on one of the large tables. Heather's eyes widened in amazement, never realizing just how strong Neelix was... He had just lifted that entire thing up all by himself... She thought. She narrowed her eyes in thought as she continued to watch.
She should have realized it, she guessed. He was toned.. now that she thought about it. She had seen his arms, of course ... muscles like that were not hard to miss.. but... not seen it like this; Watching him as he loosened large, stubborn bolts from around the border of the object... It was obvious his job required a lot of physical strength and he certainly had the body to prove it...
Heather leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees as she continued to watch him work. She had been impressed before with his ship, knowing he built it.. but that was different. She didn't see him build his ship.. not like now with how she was seeing him work. She was even more impressed now with seeing for herself what he was physically capable of... He looked so serious and professional, too... Seeing a side of him she had never seen before, the real him. His real, everyday life... before she came into it...
She sighed deeply to herself as she watched him... feeling slightly sad again, just wanting to go home with him already... Her mind wandering, almost in a dreamy like state.. but she suddenly blinked hard, snapping herself back to reality... Coming to the conclusion that she was practically checking him out...
She shook her head to attempt to remove the thought.. feeling her cheeks flood with warmth. She took another bite of the fruit to help detour her thoughts, but she couldn't. She couldn't shake it. She looked out at him again and swallowed hard.
"What the hell am I doing..." She whispered to herself.
"Sitting there." A voice interrupted her train of thought.
"Oh my God would you go away?!" She said in a nervous panic.
"You more defensive than usual. Hint of uneasiness in voice.." He replied to her. She breathed deep, staring down at the floor. "Shit".. she said under her breath to herself.
"Heart rate higher... cheeks strange red color.. sense sadness, too." Sniffs continued, only making her feel more uncomfortable.
"Please... just go away Sniffs..." She said, feeling her stomach fluttering with embarrassment.
"Tone changed... pleading. Curious. Watching Neelix caused sudden, but drastic changes."
"You're really annoying me right now Sniffs... just go away.."
"Possible attraction to Neelix."
"Neelix has attraction to you, too.. yet open about it, still hiding but more open than you."
Heather looked down at her hands, noticing them shaking slightly and gripped her stick more firmly to stop it. It was obvious what Sniffs' purpose was now in this workshop... he was incredibly observant... but if he could read Heather like an open book... then the same must be true of Neelix...
She looked up at him for a moment.. staring, wondering... and then looked back down to the floor. She suspected it all this time.. but, Sniffs had practically proven it. She didn't know why this new information bothered her so much.. Or if it was just herself bothering her this much... because it was so obvious and knowing that Neelix had an attraction to her changed nothing. He felt this way about her regardless of if she knew about it or not... but how did she feel... and what exactly was he hiding..? That he had not just directly told her how he felt? He had been considerate of her feelings... by hiding his own.. or at least trying to hide them.. he wasn't all that good at it with how often he caressed her or held her.. but maybe she was just ignoring it...
She tightened her eyes but felt movement... resistance, against the stick she was holding. She reopened her eyes to find one of the berries missing and looked to her side, seeing Sniffs chewing.
"Wow.. you're absolutely amazing..." She said to him in a sarcastic tone but she jerked up, hearing the large door that Neelix had entered with her, open and to her surprise, Veeno stepped in.
She saw him look around the room and notice Neelix, but then continued looking. She figured he was looking for her... and waved her hand out to catch his attention. She was right for as soon as he spotted her, he immediately started to walk in her direction but to her surprise, she felt her hand jerk suddenly. She looked down, seeing nothing but an empty stick... and turned her head in time to see a blur fling itself across the room.
"What the..." She said as Sniffs hurled through the air from a great leap from Heather's position and straight towards Veeno... but to Sniff's dismay, Veeno ducked at the last possible second. Sniffs went flying over his head and hit the door Veeno had entered from.
"HA! Finally, I win!" Veeno shouted in victory.
"Nice.." The alien who had waved to Heather said with a wide grin and put his hand out for Veeno, who grasped his hand firmly and shook hard with over excitement.
"That'll learn ya, you annoying little nuisance!" Veeno shouted and continued forward towards Heather with a goofy grin on his face and leaned against the table beside her, crossing his arms in triumph.
"What the hell was that all about..." Heather said, leaning forward from the table to look past Veeno at the door seeing Sniffs still holding onto it firmly.
"Every... single.. time I come in here, he flings himself on my face.. but I showed him this time!" Veeno explained. Heather heard a familiar chuckle and looked up seeing Neelix shake his head with a grin on his face as he went back to work. Heather couldn't help but find herself smiling, too. She was glad she was not the only one who had, had enough of Sniffs. But she almost felt bad for him as she saw him sulking off.
"I think you hurt his feelings.." She pointed out to Veeno but he just shrugged, "Believe me.. he ain't hurt. Long'niirs don't feel emotion the same way we do, which is why for most species, he comes off so annoying..." Veeno told her.
"I see..." Heather replied and looked down to the floor.
"Don't let old Sniffs bother you, really, he'll be alright." Veeno said, noticing her looking at the floor, but it wasn't that. Heather still felt messed up from before, not knowing how she should feel.
"I went over to Neelix's place and saw he left the message still open on his console. How long have you two been here?" Veeno asked her.
"All day..." She replied.
"Damn... I've bet you've been bored out of your mind..."
"Yeah... tell me about it.. A little too bored..." She sighed to herself.
"Hmm?" Veeno asked.
"No no.. nothing.." She replied, feeling herself getting warm again. It was obvious that she had been so bored that her mind had wandered... which is why she was now feeling like this way in the first place...
"I mean I usually come here after work to attempt to get his ass out and do something fun... I've waited around for an hour sometimes for him to finish up.. so believe me, I know there's nothing to do around here."
"So... If you're here.. does that mean it's almost time to go?" Heather asked him and he looked out at Neelix.
"Nope.." He said, sarcastically, "He still looks like he is deep in his work... I really can't imagine Neelix bringing you here every day like this... with nothing to do.. unless he could find a little job for you or something."
"You mean.. I could help him?" She asked, perking up slightly.
"Well I have no idea what he'd have you do but when he can find tasks for annoyances like Sniffs, I have no doubt he could find something for you to do."
"Well I'll go ask him." She said with excitement and jumped off the table.
"Whoa whoa whoa... now hold on a second.." Veeno said as he leaned out from the table suddenly and grasped her forearm, "There is a lot of dangerous shit out there..." He pulled her back against the table, "Lets wait until Neelix is done and comes over and we can ask him about it."
"If you two are so worried about me and dangerous machinery then he wont let me help..." She began but was rudely cut off...
"Veeno... Neelix's friend.. and girl, know each other. Neelix have girl long enough to form friendships."
"Don't you have work to do...?" Veeno snapped.
"Yes, yes plenty of work to be done." Sniffs replied.
"So then WHY are you over here..." Veeno said, narrowing his eyes. Sniffs curled his large flat fingers into a ball to form a clenched fist and shook it at Veeno before jumping off.
"I don't know how Neelix tolerates that little nuisance.." Veeno whispered to her and she giggled, "I bet he's annoyed you all day."
"Yes... yes he has.." She replied.
"Didn't Neelix tell him to leave you alone?" Veeno asked.
"He's been really busy all day... apparently a lot of stuff went to array while he was gone. This.." She gestured towards Neelix, "Is the most I've seen of him all day."
"So what the hell did you DO all day...?" He asked and she just gave Veeno a seriously annoyed look, "Been annoyed by that stupid little frog thing..." She replied and whipped her stick that the fruit had been on, towards Sniffs.
Veeno rolled his eyes and put his hands up near his mouth, "Hey! Neelix..!" He shouted across the room and Neelix looked up and over at them. Veeno motioned to him to come over and Neelix sighed, turning to Gale and said something to him before setting down his tool and walking over to them.
"Geez, man.. can you give the poor girl a break..?" Veeno said as Neelix approached and he lifted his goggles up from his eyes and went right to Heather, "I'm so sorry Heather... I don't even know where the time went.." He said to her and leaned forward to her, hugging her softly. She felt herself gasp lightly in his arms, feeling a little nervous with him being close to her like this after the thoughts she had earlier... but at the same time, longing it... it felt good to feel him hold her after being alone all day.
Neelix moved carefully from her and moved his hand up to touch her face but stopped, "Opps... uh, wouldn't wanna do that.." He said and moved his hand down and began to take off his dirty gloves. Heather just smiled at him as he slid the gloves off his hands and tucked them into his pocket and then removed a rag and wiped his forehead and the back of his neck.
"I honestly don't know how much longer I'll be... it's very important I get things finished here as soon as possible but it's just not fair to leave her here like this... Veeno..." Neelix began but Veeno just raised a hand, "It's alright, I'll take her back home to your place and stay with her until you get there." Veeno said to him and Neelix exhaled deeply, trying to smile.. "Thank you, so much.." Neelix replied.
"Yeah, yeah.." Veeno said, trying not to smile and pushed off from the table to stand beside his friend.
"Well, lets go then, little lady." Veeno said to her but she just looked to Neelix.
"It's ok, Heather. Veeno will get you something to eat and put something on the console for you... I promise I'll be home as soon as I can." He said to her and reached out, now without his dirty glove, to carefully caress her face. She looked up at him, into his eyes just staring for a moment.. She now had these strange mixed feelings.. wanting to be around him, but also extremely embarrassed she had checked him out earlier...
Neelix smiled softly at her before she nodded her head slowly and slipped off the table. She moved to Veeno and took his extended hand.
"Oh.. Veeno, before you go.. I've been down here all day and nothing is different. Muora said my protection would start immediately, yet I see nothing has changed...? Could you talk to Ala for me? Ask her exactly what is going on.. what am I to suspect? How am I supposed to know I'm even getting protection?" Neelix asked.
"Uh... I think you should call her... Minus one friend, remember?" Veeno replied.
"Oh, come on.. would you stop that? He didn't say you couldn't talk to her anymore, just stop your damn flirting and carefree attitude with her... and show some respect for him..." Neelix replied, annoyed but Veeno just swallowed, looking hesitant to do as Neelix asked.
"Fine.. you damn coward.. hopefully I'll get a moment to call her in a bit, just... please make sure Heather gets home safely, ok?"
"What about me..?" Veeno said, giving Neelix an annoyed look but Neelix just glared at him and threw his dirty rag at him, "No one is after you!"
"I was just joking... but alright, I promise to take care of Heather while you're away." Veeno said and began to walk towards the exit with her, still holding his hand.
"See ya, guys! Bye Sniffs...!" Veeno shouted over the loud machinery with his free hand up in the air in a wave, not bothering to turn his head back to face them as they approached the door and walked out.
"Why didn't you ever become a mechanic?" Heather asked Veeno as they entered Neelix's quarters.
"Bleh.. not my thing. I have no passion for it." He replied, turning the lights on and let go of Heather's hand as he walked towards the back.
"So you're saying you have a passion for selling slaves?" She said with a smirk.
"Haha very funny.. " He replied as he began pulling out Neelix's cooking appliances. "Hopefully Neelix still has some food around here..."
"He does." Heather said as she sat down on the bed and pulled out her ipod, "I don't like that red stuff.. or those round mushy white things, either.."
"Uh-huh, your highness.. hey did Neelix give you that shot..?" He asked her.
"What..? Oh.. no.. " She said and swallowed, not liking the idea of getting a shot...
"Do you know where he put it..? I can't believe he forgot.. especially after what happened." He replied, oblivious to her worry.
"Well.. a lot has been on his mind lately." She said as she stood and walked into the wash room. She came out and walked over to Veeno and hesitantly handed him the device and stared up at him with an anxious look on her face.
"What's wrong...? Veeno asked as he tapped the item and pressed a small button on the side of it that lit up a dim blue color.
"I don't like shots... " She replied staring at the device in his hand.
"I don't get it.. why would anyone like or dislike a shot?" He replied and angled it in his hand so he could deliver it to her. She turned and brushed her hair off her shoulder to expose her arm for him so he could give it to her, but he made an odd face in confusion, and moved his free hand up, brushing her hair aside from her neck and brought the shot in close.
"My neck...?!" She said, flinching back which caused him to pause.
"Ok, Heather... why are you freaking out over this?"
"Who wants a needle shoved in their neck...?!" She said and shivered with disgust.
"Needle... What..? There is no needle, what kind of society do you come from... " He replied and she pursed her lips, still suspicious but his obvious confusion showed her that he really didn't know and didn't intend her any discomfort.
She hesitantly bent her neck slightly for him and he pressed the wide, flat, cold metal tip against her exposed skin. He pressed the end of the shot like a pen and there was a soft hiss as she felt a cool liquid shoot into her veins.. but to her surprise, as Veeno had made clear, there was no needle.. and no pain.. no reason to be nervous.
Veeno moved back from her, slipping the empty tube into his pocket as she shrugged her shoulders and rubbed over the area he had delivered it. "Cool.." She said and Veeno just stared at her for a moment before moving back to prepare them both something to eat.
A few hours later...
Heather yawned, checking the time on her ipod, seeing that it was extremely late and Neelix was still not home yet... She heard Veeno snoring in Neelix's chair that sat in front of his console. "So much for me watching videos..." She said, annoyed, but flinched as the door slid open. She perked up, excited and hopeful to see Neelix walk in but was both disappointed and surprised to see Ala's figure.
"Ala..?" Heather whispered to her. Ala looked directly to Heather and smiled, "Hello, Heather.. where is Neelix..?"
"I guess he is still at work.. I thought you were him." She said and Ala walked in, leaning to her side and saw Veeno asleep in the chair.
"At least you're not alone... can't say that a sleeping bafoon is really keeping an eye on you." She snickered and Heather just shrugged.
"We've been here for awhile.. I'm starting to get really tired, too..." She sighed and lowered her head.
Ala looked down at Heather, squinting her eyes in thought. Something seemed to be bothering her. "Are you alright, Heather..?" She asked, more so to see if Heather was willing to talk about it, it was obvious to her something was on her mind.
"Huh..?" Heather said, looking back up at her, surprised. "No.. just bored.." She said.
"No no... I mean.. besides that..." She asked, digging deeper.
"Maybe... a little lonely" She admitted hesitantly, but Ala wasn't convinced that was the only thing. Heather stared out ahead of her and then at the floor, being reminded of her thoughts earlier with Neelix... Wondering if it was really that obvious to others that something was bothering her.. that it was really getting to her and eating away at her thoughts. Her suddenly being reminded, stirred something up in her that Ala immediately could sense, seeing a difference in Heather. Her aura giving off an even stronger sense that her mind was uneasy.
"Heather.." Ala said, leaning forward down to her and extending her arm to hold her hand out to her, "Lets get out of here for a little bit.. you're extremely tense."
Heather looked up at Ala with a worried expression.. "You mean leave... where..? And.. What about Veeno..?" She said, leaning forward so she could see past the wall division, seeing Veeno leaning back in the chair.
"It's alright, let him sleep.. it will just be you and I, ok? I'll leave a note so Veeno and Neelix will know where we went."
"To the club..?" She asked and Ala smiled, reaching her hand out further to Heather.
"I don't think I should... I dunno if Neelix would like that very much.." She replied hesitantly.
"I know you're worried, Heather, but now that you're under our protection, Muora's clubs are the safest place you could be and you'll be with me. I promise not to let you alone.. besides, I think you deserve it. Neelix told me you were very patient with him despite being stuck at his workplace all day long with nothing to do." Ala replied and Heather bit her lower lip and tried to smile, nodding slowly and took Ala's hand. She stood up from the bed and they both left together.
A couple hours later, Neelix entered his quarters, turning on the lights and headed to the back.
"Great keeping an eye on her, there, Veeno.." Neelix said and kicked his chair, startling Veeno awake...
"Huh.. wha.. " He said groggily.
"How long have you been sleeping..?" Neelix asked and Veeno looked around, completely out of it, not even realizing where he was, before looking at Neelix's console... "Shit.. I dunno a few hours..? Damn you're late..." He replied, leaning back in the chair and stretching his arms out wide and yawning loudly.
"Yeah well.. it was a real damn mess... and I'm not even finished, either... " He said as he got a drink of water and began to walk to the front again and looked to his bed.. only to take a breath.
"Where is she...?" He asked in a slight panic and turned instantly to Veeno and then turned his head to look into the wash room but it was dark.. no sign of her anywhere. Neelix shot his look back at Veeno, looking for an immediate answer.
"I..uh..." Veeno replied and Neelix's cup slipped from his hand and dropped to the floor.
"Heather!" Veeno shouted as Neelix ran to his front door, opening it and looking up and down the halls.. not seeing any sign of her and brought his head back in, slamming on the door controls to close it.
"You idiot!" He shouted, feeling his hands shaking.. and leaned over, placing his hands on his knees, feeling sick.. like he might tip over and lose his balance.. "Oh my god.... Oh god.. no no..." He said, his breathing increased with shock and fear.
"Now wait a second, Neelix... don't assume the worst.. try and cal-"
"Don't assume the worst?! Are you CRAZY?!" Neelix shouted, moving to Veeno and grasped him by his shirt. "She is my life, Veeno! I gave up everything that was ever worth anything to me, for her! And she means everything to me!" He shouted at him.
Veeno stared at Neelix, wide eyed.. he knew Neelix cared about Heather but.. but had it become that deep? He could feel Neelix's hand trembling as he held tightly onto his shirt, almost hearing Neelix's heart racing as he breathed heavily and quickly... but he didn't know what to say or do. It was his fault she was gone... he had let his best friend down in the worst possible way... But to Veeno's surprise, Neelix let go of him, shoving past him to the console and hovered over it to lean down against the panel, his eyes wide as they raced back and forth over the screen as he read something.
He tightened his fists down against the panel to gain control of his shaking as he lowered his head and breathed out in a deep sigh, tightening his eyes.
"She's with Ala... they're at the club..." He said, his voice still shaky. Veeno let out a deep sigh, as well but didn't know what to say... his heart was racing with fear that couldn't compare to what he just witnessed Neelix experiencing.. "I.. I'm sorry Neelix..." Veeno said.
"It's fine... lets go..." Neelix replied and moved from the console and walked past Veeno.
Veeno could have sworn he saw a glint in Neelix's eye...
Ala had spent the last couple of hours trying to get Heather to open up to her.. with little progress. She knew Heather was still getting to know her so she felt more hesitant to be so open with her, but whatever was bothering Heather must have done so, so much, she couldn't find it in herself to even want to talk about it. Every time Ala would pry, Heather seemed to close up even tighter, sensing her swelling with emotional confusion. Ala could feel it... it dripped off Heather.. Ala was aware she was feeling these emotions, but was unable to read what was causing them.
"Ala..." Heather finally said and Ala could sense a small speck of courage swell inside Heather.. knowing she had been trying to find that strength to talk all night. "I'm.. not really sure how to express what I'm feeling... or why I'm even feeling this way.. or what exactly it is that I'm feeling.." Heather began, seeming to ramble with no direction in what she was trying to say. Ala just smiled at her, encouraging her to speak without directly asking her again what it was. She knew Heather really needed someone to talk to.. a friend even, about whatever it was that was upsetting her and Ala wanted to be there for her.. if only Heather would let her.
"I've... never really cared about anyone before.. in that way.. I mean.. no.. no.. that's not it...I don't know if it's wrong to find things attractive or... like.. find him attra-- " She stopped herself and paused.. for a very long time. Ala just smiled and closed her eyes, giving Heather all the time she needed, taking in her aura as her emotions continued to fluctuate.
"I think... I... umm.. was checking something out today... Neelix.. I mean.. I.. dunno.."
Ala opened her eyes, looking down at Heather now finally knowing what this was about but she didn't speak, wanting Heather to continue.
Heather had come to the conclusion that because she had not been alone like this, without him, since the day he brought her home, was why she felt this way now.. It had to be, She convinced herself. For the first time since then.. she actually felt alone... being reminded that without Neelix, she really didn't have anyone she knew well enough or trusted. So if he wasn't there.. who did she have? But she felt too embarrassed about how she had felt earlier to even really want to talk about it...
"Does.. that seem.. wrong.. " She said, more in a statement than a question. "I dunno why I was even thinking it... I just.. I was so bored today.. my mind was wandering all over the place... " Heather's speech began to speed up at her obvious frustration and shyness, her nervousness causing her to fumble over her words.
"Is it wrong for you to think Neelix is attractive..?" Ala asked her. Heather just sighed and shook her head, burying her face in her hands. "I don't even know if that is what I was thinking..." Heather replied.
"Perhaps it bothers you because he is different." She said and Heather moved her hands from her face but nipped at her finger in confusion. "I'm... still getting use to the idea of aliens.." She finally said and Ala smiled slyly. "But.. does that mean I have feelings...? Because I was looking at him like that?" Heather sighed and shook her head in frustration.
"Heather... it's alright.. Is it really so hard for you to think that you might be forming feelings for someone who cares so much about you? For someone who rescued you and has taken care of you and been there for you?" Ala said with a warm smile. Heather just stared down at the counter top, considering Ala's words... but they really didn't ease her mind. "It... it isn't just that, though..." Heather began, trying to organize her thoughts, "You don't... just.. start having feelings for someone just cause they're nice to you... or helped you or.. whatever.."
"So then, what do you think it is?" Ala asked.
"So maybe it is because he is alien."
"Well... no.. I mean.. I dunno.. I guess the whole thing makes me extremely nervous.. like butterflies in my tummy nervous.."
Ala raise a brow in confusion.. "Butterflies?" She asked.
"Yeah.. they're... insects on my planet.. it's an expression.. I guess because their wings are so large and light that when you're nervous it feels like you have butterflies fluttering about inside you, tickling you or.. something.." She said with a sigh. Ala grinned lightly, finding the alien expression to be cute and perfect to describe Heather's situation, "So Neelix makes you nervous."
"No.. no.. Neelix...just" Heather tried to reply.
"Just knowing he cares for you." Ala said and Heather gulped, "It isn't just that but... maybe.. I've... never had anyone care about me like that.. in that way.. "
"Ah... so the idea that he would be the first is what has you so flustered." Ala said, trying to make sense of Heather's feelings but Heather felt her face become warm again, "I.. dunno.. is it wrong to be unsure... " She asked Ala.
"Heather... " Ala said and pushed a glass towards her.
"What's this... I.. I'm not old enough.."
Ala raised her brow in even more confusion "I'm sorry..?" She said.
"I mean.. if it's alcohol.. "
"Oh no no... the last thing you need right now is to be intoxicated." She replied with a soft laugh.
"Heh..." Heather replied feeling sick with nerves and took the glass to sip whatever it was Ala had given her. To her surprise, it was a sweet flavored liquid that reminded her of juice.
Veeno and Neelix didn't say a word as they rode the elevator down into the lower districts. Veeno occasionally glanced over at Neelix.. just to see his friend staring blankly at the passing visible shaft of the elevator. Veeno fiddled with his fingers; He felt extremely bad for causing such distress for his friend, knowing if he hadn't fallen asleep, he would have known where Heather had been.. or had at least been able to tell her that he didn't think she should go... He was at least thankful Ala had left a message, only wishing she had made it more obvious...
He was just dumbfounded by Neelix's reaction. He knew he cared about Heather.. he knew he had given up so much to save her, still thinking it was pretty crazy. He knew Neelix had been brave enough to confront someone like Muora to ask for help, but for some reason he hadn't really made the connection just how much Neelix cared about Heather. If something ever really did happen to her... He could only imagine how Neelix would take it...
The elevator finally stopped, jarring Veeno from his thoughts. They could already hear the deep base from the clubs thumping between the heavy concrete walls of the station.
"Neelix is really nice to me... and.. Sniffs said he feels things for me, too... I mean... not too.. but.. he feels things for me..." She said, feeling her face warming up again, not wanting to admit that perhaps she really was feeling things just like Neelix was but Ala immediately sensed Heather's discomfort.
"Heather... it's ok to be feeling this way. You've been in Neelix's care for a few days now, spending every moment with him, right?" Ala asked her and Heather sighed at Ala's words. It didn't matter that Ala said it was ok and understandable, it made her feel extremely nervous and awkward all the same.
"Yeah well.. except for today... today was the first time where he was distant from me... and it didn't feel right.. I didn't like it.." She said.
Ala made note of how her voice sounded sad. It was obvious that with Neelix gone and not there to distract her, she felt very lonely... she was the only one of her kind in a strange alien environment with no way home and no one to comfort her; friendships were still new and growing. It was understandable Heather was having issues. Trust. He had been there every moment for her so far so to feel so alone suddenly, was bothering her. Making her realize how important he was to her, not just as a caretaker, but a friend to keep her company and let her know it was alright.
"I don't even know if I can consider Neelix my friend... things seem more complicated than that.." Heather said and Ala nodded, "But you get along with him well, don't you..?"
"Yes," Heather nodded, "He's always been really kind and there for me... even when I felt really uncomfortable and shy... I guess... there are a lot of reasons I'm feeling this way... I'm just unsure.. so much happened today to trigger it.. my stupid sad music.. watching Neelix... staring at him.. Sniffs telling me what Neelix feels.. and telling me what I feel..." Heather said with a deep sigh.
"You just need time, Heather. No one is rushing you, and certainly not Neelix. I can sense his feelings for you.. they're deep.. but he won't dare act upon them."
"Why not...?" Heather asked, setting the glass back down on the counter.
"He's afraid... like you."
"Why.. would he be afraid..?" She asked but Heather noticed Ala look up towards the club entrance, a smile crossing her face. Heather turned her head around to see what Ala was smiling at and gasped seeing Neelix and Veeno enter. She quickly turned back to Ala. "Please... please don't tell him about all of this... I.. I don't understand it myself.. and things are already awkward enough as it is..I just.. need time to think.. to consider what it is I am feeling exactly.. and why... why I'm really feeling like this..." Heather pleaded with Ala but she only giggled, looking down at her, "Heather.. it's alright, I promise not to say a word to him." She said, smiling warmly at her. Heather took a deep breath and turned back around to look at Neelix, as the two of them saw Heather and Ala at the bar and approached... but something seemed wrong. Neelix looked uneasy... upset, even.
Heather immediately slid off the bar stool, down to her feet, and raced over to Neelix. She grasped him firmly, wrapping her arms around his narrow waist and burying her head against the soft fabric of his shirt. Neelix was taken back by this but he quickly did the same, moving his arms around her and lowering his head so he could lock her in a tight embrace. Heather could feel him trembling against her.. she wanted to ask him what was wrong but didn't want to move from him.. didn't want to let go..
Ala smiled while Veeno just seemed confused. Ala knew that sometimes actions spoke louder than words and seeing how happy Heather was right now, just proved to her that even if Heather was unsure and afraid, she was happy when Neelix was with her.
"Neelix..." Heather whispered against him, he could feel her warm breath against him through his shirt and tried to smile as he kept his eyes closed tight. "Are... are you ok...?" She asked and she felt him squeeze her more. "I'm ok, Heather.. now that I know you're safe... now that I'm with you.." He said to her and she felt her stomach flutter with nervousness at his words... what was she feeling...
"I missed you..." She said after a long pause... which shocked her slightly, feeling as though the words had slipped from her lips. Neelix felt his heart skip a beat at her words... she had missed him... He thought to himself.. and he nuzzled his snout against her cheek and lower down to her neck, burying it against her soft hair and breathing in. He was just so relieved.. so glad she was ok..
"Lets go home..." Neelix whispered to her and she slowly nodded her head against him. She wanted that very much...