Notes: This is an alternate version of chapter one using different characters in a somewhat different situation but probably on the same balcony.
The captain stares out at the dark sky, its twinkling stars so deceptive in their innocent appearance. Fingers grip the marble railing of the balcony, desperately trying to force some reason back into the universe.
“Thought I might find you out here.”
The admiral’s appearance at the captain’s side doesn’t surprise him, but he’s in no mood to placate the senior officer. Thankfully, in private, rank doesn’t stand between them.
“I couldn’t breathe in there. I needed some air.”
“I’m sure you did.”
“Did you know they plan to give me an award?” the captain spits out.
“Yes,” the admiral admits, looking out at the stars instead of facing the accusation. “You’re a hero, son. Because of you, lives were saved.”
“Lives were lost!”
Finally, the admiral turns to face the younger man. “Yes, there were casualties, but they knew the risks.”
He slams a hand down against the railing in frustration. “She entrusted me with their lives; lives she saved a dozen times over, and after surviving seven years in the Delta quadrant I get them killed in a simple diplomatic ferrying mission.”
“It was a bad mix of space and politics, Captain,” the older man argues. “There was nothing simple about it. You did the best you could and brought safely home more than most would have managed, including my so-”
His voice breaks off at the thought of how much he could have lost had any other man been captaining that ship. He can’t bear to say out loud how broken he’d have been to lose what he’d only so recently been able to love.
He clears his throat. “For that alone you have my eternal gratitude.”
“Your son is a fine first officer and a damn good pilot. The way he jumped to the helm as soon as our pilot went down made him just as responsible as I am for getting us out of there with our lives.”
“That’s not the way he tells it.”
“Yeah?” He gives the admiral a ghost of a smile. “Well, he always was a good liar.” The smile fades quickly and he looks back down. “I just…this night shouldn’t be about me. It should be about that crew in there and the crewmen we lost. We should be honoring them, not me.”
“Well,” a third voice joins their conversation unexpectedly, “they did ask you to give a speech.”
Both men turn to greet the newcomer, surprised at the sudden appearance. The older man looks between the two officers and clasps his hands behind his back as he walks between them towards the door. “If you’ll excuse me,” he mumbles more to himself than them, “there seems to be one too many admirals at this meeting.”
“I thought you were outside of the system,” the captain says finally, annoyed that he once again feels as though there isn’t enough oxygen in the air.
“I was,” she admits, her hand fidgeting at her side. “I got here as quickly as I could.”
She reels back at the question as if he’d struck her. “Because.”
He hadn’t meant the question to be that harsh, but when they’d last parted company it hadn’t exactly been on good terms. He’d wanted commitment; she’d wanted to wait. Fine. He could wait. He’d wait now for her to articulate a better reason than just “because”.
In two strides she closes the distance between them, her chest practically bumping into his as she hisses up into his face, “Because the first reports of the incident didn’t include a casualty list. Because I had to wait four long hours to find out that I hadn’t lost you.” She pokes a finger into his chest. “Because I know you so damn well, I know you’ll blame yourself for those deaths even though every report I’ve read about the incident proclaims that had it been any other captain, including myself, it would have been a total loss of all hands on board.”
Her eyes blaze up at him, daring him to challenge her on any of the points she’s just made, but all he can think about is how the scent of coffee on her breath finally brings him home from the near miss catastrophe more than anything else has in the past two weeks since it happened. Without seeking her permission, he pulls her into an embrace, tucking his head down to her shoulder.
“You have no idea how close it was,” he mumbles into her hair.
She sniffs, her arms wrapping tightly around his back, then she lets out a watery laugh. “You have no idea how many rules I broke to get here.” She pulls back slightly so she can look up at him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner.”
He traces a tear off her cheek with his thumb. “You’re here now.”
A subtle throat clearing from the doorway interrupts them. “Captain, they’re ready for you.” Voyager’s first officer then smiles at her. “Good to see you, Admiral.”
“You too, Commander.” She takes a step back, reluctantly breaking away from the embrace. “Would you let the committee know he’ll be just a minute longer? The captain is finalizing his speech.”
It’s a wonder to all that the commander manages to maintain his humor to just a smirk as he heads back inside.
When they’re alone again, he asks, “My speech?”
She shrugs. “They want to honor you. You want to honor your crew. These are not disparate agendas.” She reaches out to straighten his tunic. “Accept their platitudes and then tell them about your crew. Tell them about who you think the real heroes were that day. You’re good at weaving stories. Make them be remembered.”
He grins, a few colorful stories already forming in his mind. “I might be able to come up with something.”
“I thought you might.”
“And then afterwards?”
She tucks her hand into the crook of his arm. “Then we can go home. Together.”
Finally, he can breathe.
The pairings here are - Owen Paris, Chakotay, Kathryn Janeway, Tom Paris
Thanks as always to Audabee for giving my words a home!