Written for the 2013 VAMB Guess the Pairing contest
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters or this universe, but I do enjoy playing with them.
Notes: When I started writing this balcony scene, I came up with two versions that were kind of situated around two specific lines of dialogue. I chose to enter the first chapter in the contest as my story submission. I am choosing to include the alternate version here simply as chapter two.
Thank you Ewige for running this contest a second time!
Stars of Home
She stares out at the stars. Ever since she was a little girl, she’s known these stars. The Little Dipper is the first one she ever learned, but Orion was always her favorite. Unfortunately, they’ve seemed dimmer since her return home than she remembered.
“Enjoying the view?”
She doesn’t bother turning to acknowledge the newcomer. She should be springing to attention, given his rank, but she’s known him long enough that she has confidence he won’t take her silence personally.
He steps further out onto the balcony, moving to stand beside her, looking out at the dark sky. “You’re missing your own party, you know.” He can feel her consternation even without turning to see it, but at least she’s finally acknowledged his presence. “It wasn’t my idea.”
“It sure as hell wasn’t mine.”
He chances a look in her direction. “You should’ve known they’d want to fete you.” The sound of disgust she makes is enough to make him chuckle, but he holds up his hands in surrender when she rounds on him. “Easy, Captain, I’m on your side.”
Her flash of anger boils back down to a simmer, but with her fists still tightly clenched, and a roll of her head and shoulders, she betrays the stress she’s fighting. “I apologize,” she says with some effort. “I know you’re on my side, and I’m grateful for that.”
“But,” she admits through clenched teeth, “after a month of having only you on my side, now I suddenly have everyone on my side. It’s as if the past month never happened, like they expect me to just forgive and forget.”
“That’s exactly what they expect. The debriefing process wasn’t personal.”
“Like hell it wasn’t,” she growls. “They poked and prodded and questioned my every decision from the past seven years as if they had the slightest clue about what it was like to be out there.”
“And given the circumstances, they found you to be infallible.”
The cold humorless laugh that escapes her sends a chill down his spine even as she gives him a watery smile. “Infallible? Just shows how little they understand.” She shakes her head. “And now they want to give me awards.”
Her voice breaks on the last word and she turns away, moving as far away from him on the balcony as the small space permits.
Understanding comes to him slowly. “You wanted them to find you guilty.”
With her face mostly obscured in shadow, the husky tone of her voice sounds downright dangerous. “I am guilty…of a great many things.”
The ominous turn of conversation was not what he’d been expecting when he’d stepped out to join her on this of all evenings. Although knowing her as long as he has, even mentoring her through a few tough times, he is fully aware of her proclivity towards self-castigation. He just hadn’t been expecting to see it rear its ugly head this evening. “Whether you want to hear it or not, you’re a hero.”
She snorts in disgust.
“Take a look in that ballroom. It’s filled with members of your crew and their families. You brought them home sixty years before anyone else could have. Because of you, families were reunited, lives were saved.”
“Lives were lost!” she snaps back. “Because of me,” she continues lowering her voice, “under my command, lives were lost.” Her hand wipes quickly across her cheek. “Do you even remember Stadi? Or Cavit? What about Joe Carey?” she scoffs darkly. “I bet his wife wishes you hadn’t recommended him to me now.”
“Actually, she doesn’t.” A third voice joins the conversation unexpectedly as a tall, slim figure joins them on the balcony. “I just finished talking with her. She’s still extremely proud of Joe and knows that he died doing what he loved having taking a position he’d worked long and hard to attain.”
As the newcomer is one of the few members of her crew that’s actually seen her cry, it’s ridiculous that she feels as exposed as she does at his arrival.
“Maybe if you went inside and talked to her and the others, instead of hiding out here-”
“I’m not hiding!” She stares at the two men, so similar and yet so different. Their most frustrating shared trait is that neither of them is at all intimidated by her. “I just…tonight should be about honoring everyone on our crew. Not just me.”
The younger of the two men leans casually against the railing. “So, why don’t you do something about it then?”
“Like what?” she asks tiredly.
“It’s your party in there.” He shrugs. “Seems to me you could do pretty much anything you wanted to, short of murder, and get away with it. If they’re going to foist all this celebrity on you, might as well use it to your advantage.”
“He’s got a point,” the admiral chuckles. “Go in there and take command of the situation. It’s what you do best.”
She looks between the two of them, her mind racing at the suggestion. The possibilities. “They did want me to make a speech,” she says finally.
Both men give her the same encouraging, mischievous blue-eyed grin. She has to admit, she’s warming up to the idea. “But I’ve already told them I didn’t want to say anything.”
“Oh, I’m sure I can make some arrangements. I know a few people,” the older of the two men says and turns to go back inside.
“And you’ll let the crew know?”
“Of course,” the younger man agrees, “but what exactly am I letting them know?”
“Tell them,” she hesitates for only a second, “tell them their captain needs their help one last time.”
He gives her a broad grin. “They’ll come running.”
She watches him go, her mind already stringing some comments together that she doesn’t want to forget. With a last glance towards the night sky before heading inside, she notices the stars of home seem to finally be burning brighter.
The pairing or trio is - Owen Paris, Tom Paris, and Kathryn Janeway