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Part of USS Endeavour: Promises to Keep

Catching Up

XO's Quarters, USS Endeavour
April 2399
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The door-chime sounded a mere ten minutes after Valance had got back to her quarters after a long shift. With too many hours under her belt supervising Endeavour’s repairs, anything interrupting her serious plans of a hot meal and a comfortable bed was not promised a warm welcome. Her, ‘Come in!’ came as more of a snarl.

Cassia Aquila stood in the doorway, brandishing a bottle but looking like she was having second thoughts. ‘I can always take this someplace else.’

Valance sighed and tossed her uniform jacket onto the back of her sofa. ‘Cassia, I’m sorry. I didn’t expect you.’

‘The Odysseus is setting off tomorrow. Patrolling the border to the Old Neutral Zone, so, that’ll be us for a few months.’ She lifted the bottle. ‘I thought we should still celebrate you catching up. Commander.’

‘It doesn’t sound as exciting when people have called me that for years,’ Valance mused, but she extended a hand to the armchair and sat down. ‘Rum?’

Aquila went first to the replicator for two glasses. ‘Of course.’ She sat and poured for them both. ‘You can always make them call you captain when you get there.’

Valance stopped, the glass halfway to her lips. ‘Did Rourke tell everyone?’

‘I can’t speak for Endeavour’s rumour mill. But I was in the room when he strong-armed Beckett into it.’

‘Strong-armed?’

Aquila shrugged. ‘Eloquently argued. Made you sound like a superwoman.’ She sipped the rum, and smirked. ‘He must really want to get rid of you.’

Valance made a face. ‘Don’t.’

‘What? I’m kidding. I didn’t think you liked him.’

‘He’s grown on me.’

‘And you loved MacCallister, but if he’d got you a command you’d be off like a shot.’ Aquila put the glass down on the coffee table. ‘What’s wrong? You’ve got what you want but you’re sat here like you’ve been given a death sentence.’

‘I’m just… tired,’ Valance said, obscuring the big truth with a little one, and had a swig of rum to hide it. They used to drink like this on the floor of their Academy dorm room, making increasingly outrageous plans of how grand and bright their careers would be with every glass.

Aquila pushed her glass over, then stood up. Her gait was slow as she crossed to the sofa, deliberate as she sat beside her. ‘You deserve this,’ said Aquila, her voice low. ‘You got screwed over for what happened on the Derby. I know you never believed me, but they made a damn example of you to cover their asses, and it was criminal to dump you in the wilderness for seven years. You don’t need to doubt yourself now.’

Valance let out a deep breath, tension seeping from her shoulders as she felt Aquila’s hand at her back. But she reached again for the rum. ‘I’m not doubting myself,’ she said, and that, at least, wasn’t a lie or obfuscation. ‘I know I can do it.’

‘And deserve it,’ Aquila repeated. ‘You’re a foot smarter and better than most officers around you. Screw what Command’s made you feel about yourself. You know I always think you’re brilliant.’ Then she kissed her.

It was far from the first time. They’d not been a couple since the Academy, and even then they’d been rivals as much as lovers, competitive as much as romantic. Since then their careers had dragged them apart more than they’d thrown them together, left them forever comfortable just as ships in the night. Valance knew she shouldn’t have been surprised, considering the circumstances and Aquila talking her way in with rum. Normally it would have worked.

But Valance hesitated, and Aquila felt it, and after a heartbeat Aquila pulled back. ‘Well,’ Aquila said, and sucked on her teeth. ‘That wasn’t the winning line it usually is.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Valance. ‘I’m tired, I’ve got a lot of my mind, and…’ She hesitated. ‘And I’m sort of seeing someone. I think.’

Aquila narrowed her eyes. ‘This sounds complicated.’

‘It’s not, it’s just very new.’ They hadn’t had a date. They hadn’t even kissed. But Valance was already too unsure of her footing with her feelings in general and Cortez in particular to want to muddy anything with a fling with an old flame.

The corners of Aquila’s lips curled. ‘It’s the engineer, isn’t it. That little firecracker who almost punched out Hargreaves’s CEO.’

‘She -’ Valance hadn’t heard about that, but this wasn’t the point. ‘It’s very early,’ she said again, carefully. ‘But I… I like her.’

Suddenly Aquila made a face, and Valance wavered; jealousy wasn’t her style. But Aquila said, ‘That’s not why you’re unhappy about the transfer, is it? There’ll be more firecracker engineers.’

‘That’s not it,’ Valance said, and knew it was the truth. She’d never been ruled by her passions enough to abandon her ambition for some fledgling connection. But she didn’t think she’d get through more evasions, and finally looked Aquila in the eye, so exhausted she didn’t have the wherewithal to mask her expression. ‘I don’t know if I want it.’

Aquila drew back an inch. ‘What do you mean? This is what we’ve always wanted. We made a damned bet over it, Karana.’

‘Yes. If we made a bet fifteen years ago, it must be important.’

‘I know you got the wind knocked out of you by the Derby -’

‘This isn’t about that. I…’ Valanced sighed and glanced around her quarters. ‘I’m happy here.’

‘So you’re going to give up on an opportunity like this?’

‘I’m thinking about staying on an important assignment gathering more experience of challenging and different missions. Instead of commanding a ship I could spit across that barely goes near trouble and being little use to anyone.’

Only after she’d said that did she remember Aquila’s Odysseus was even smaller than the Reliant she’d been collared for. Clearly Aquila didn’t, frowning. ‘You think my work’s less important than yours?’

‘I think you called my ship a joke just a few days ago,’ Valance reminded her. ‘And we just pulled the task group through that near-disaster at Epsilon-7. The Odysseus was brilliant there, but now you’re going to do, what, border patrol?’ She lifted her hands. ‘I’m not insulting your work or your ship -’

‘You are.’

‘You’re getting experiences I’m not, I know that, doing things that I’m not. But I can do things here I couldn’t do from my own, much smaller ship. And that’s what I want to do.’

Aquila looked away. Then she reached for the bottle of rum and popped the cap on. ‘If you’re this tired,’ she said at length, ‘then I should let you rest.’

Valance stood as she did. ‘Cassia…’

‘It’s been great to work with you again, Kar, it really has,’ she said, obviously hurt, obviously knowing that wasn’t the feeling to part on. ‘I want us to do it again. I’d rather we did it each from our own command chairs. But you have to do what makes you happy.’ She clicked her tongue. ‘Just be careful about hitching yourself to Rourke’s star. Admiral Beckett makes or breaks that man’s career, and he doesn’t care enough about making the Admiral happy.’

I think that’s part of why I like him, Valance reasoned, but she just let Aquila grab her bottle, kiss her on the cheek, and leave, the ships in the night coming apart again for who knew how long.

She sat in her quarters with dimmed lights for some time after that, brooding and ruminating, and had no idea how much time had passed until her desk console bleeped at her. Bleary-eyed, she moved over to see an incoming subspace transmission blinking on-screen, and she accepted it without reading.

And smiled. ‘Captain!’

Leo MacCallister’s warm beam filled the screen. She recognised what looked like his study back on Alpha Centauri behind him, and relaxed at the notion he was home at last. ‘Karana. I hope this isn’t a bad time, you look tired.’

‘A long shift, but I’ve got plenty of time to rest. It’s good to see you, sir.’

‘And you. I hear you’ve done very well. I wanted to send my congratulations to you all.’ The smile softened. ‘And to you personally, Commander. The USS Galen, I hear?’

‘Perhaps. I -’ She shook her head. ‘I’ll tell everyone you sent your best. How’ve you been?’

He watched her a moment before speaking. ‘Oh, getting used to these legs. I’m still using a powered chair most of the time, but I’m getting better at hobbling about my room. Driving Rebecca to distraction by making her bring me my books instead of swapping to digital. I’m fine, Karana. Truly.’

‘It sounds peaceful. You deserve it.’

‘I didn’t know I wanted it,’ MacCallister sighed. ‘I’d have gone another ten years in that chair if not for this. But now I’ve stopped, it… feels good to rest. Just for a while. We don’t always have to keep moving forward. Sometimes it’s good to make the most of where we are.’

She shook her head, bewildered. ‘How do you do that?’

‘Know what you’re thinking? I paid a little attention these past years.’ His gaze grew focused. ‘You’re having doubts.’

‘I know I should take the Galen. But I… I don’t know if I want to stay on Endeavour for the right reasons.’

‘Being with people you love, where you can do good work, where you can be happy, rather than moving on for the sake of ticking a box… those sound like right reasons.’ MacCallister shrugged. ‘If you want to move on to push yourself further, become your best self, then that’s fine, too, and people who love you will understand and accept that.’

This simple support, the faith without condition, was something she didn’t realise she’d missed. ‘I could go and command the Galen, and do a good job,’ said Valance with difficulty. ‘And for an age it was what I desperately wanted. I don’t know if I do, now. More, I don’t know if it’s what I need.’

‘What do you need?’

She looked down, feeling childish. ‘I think I need to be better with people – working with them, being with them. Not just for my professional development, though it’d be easier here than trying to bond with a crew when I have rank and position to throw up a wall between us. But I think I need to spend time with people I care about. I think I need to spend time learning how to be with people. Just… for me.’

MacCallister gave a gentle huff. ‘Look at that, Karana,’ he sighed. ‘I leave you on your own for five minutes and you go and figure it out all by yourself.’

* *

Thud. Thud.

‘Starting to think you should move a cot in here.’

Thawn stopped pummelling the dummy, jerked back to reality by the unwelcome intrusion of Drake’s voice. She stepped away, dropping her stance, and glared at the gym door. ‘Keeping track of what I do on my downtime?’

‘Hard to not notice.’ He shoved his hands in his pockets, sauntered forwards. ‘I figured you’d be done here. What with the Wild Hunt behind us.’

‘The Wild Hunt are defeated.’ She checked her hand-wraps. ‘That doesn’t mean they’re behind us.’

‘Yeah, distinctions like that really stop me from worrying.’ He rocked on his heels. ‘Wondered if you wanted to talk.’

She gave a toneless laugh. ‘Our fresh start wasn’t that warm, Drake.’

‘Oh, c’mon.’ He smirked. ‘You couldn’t see the wood for trees when you were pulling Rourke off that station ‘til I calmed you down.’

‘You mean, until you distracted me and then when I found my focus again, I got the job done?’

‘Same difference, right? You were wound so tight you couldn’t think through it.’ He glanced at the dummy. ‘So with the job done it’s a whole thing for you to still be at this.’

‘That doesn’t mean I’m about to open up to you.’

‘Sure. Didn’t really think you would. But I want it clear I’ve only snitched on you after you were a big damn genius who saved the captain, now you’re still all caught up.’

Thawn’s eyes narrowed. ‘Snitched?’

Counsellor Carraway entered the gym, casual and warm and welcoming in one of his comfy jumpers and gentle smile. ‘Hello, Rosara.’

She glared at Drake, but he was already lifting his hands in surrender and leaving the gym. It was harder to glare at Carraway. ‘I’m fine, Counsellor.’

‘I’m not sure why people think that’ll work on me,’ Carraway mused, padding over to the dummy. This time of night when they were docked at a starbase with much more extensive facilities, nobody was going to interrupt them here. ‘But then again, you’ve kept away from me rather well for the last few weeks.’

‘There wasn’t anything to talk about.’

‘You’ve taken up boxing.’ He patted the dummy’s shoulder. ‘I’d say that’s a sign something’s on your mind.’

‘Of course something’s -’

‘Rosara, isn’t it time we talked about Noah?’

She’d been trying to find the anger again. Drake wasn’t wrong; he’d broken its spell on the bridge. For days it had been a fire to keep her going, keep her focused, and it had largely worked. Throughout the battle, she’d turned to it when she was afraid, let it fuel her, drive her. But then she’d needed to conduct perfect and complex calculations in record time, and then anger hadn’t been sustaining, it had been blinding.

But she was past that moment. And she didn’t much like where she was now without it. Thawn fiddled with the hand-wraps. ‘We lost a lot of people. We lost Cyrus and Blakeley in the battle.’

‘You weren’t close to them; you weren’t close to T’Sari or Gorim. It’s okay that you took Noah’s death harder than you took theirs.’

She looked away. ‘I saw him,’ she said weakly. ‘When I was on the other Endeavour.’

Carraway nodded. ‘That must have been difficult.’

‘It was like nothing had changed, and I suppose it hadn’t for him. We just… fell into working together immediately, like we always did.’

‘It wasn’t that long ago for you.’ He hesitated. ‘Did you speak to him much?’

‘I…’ She dropped her gaze. ‘I said goodbye. I told him I missed him.’ But Carraway deployed his most dangerous weapon in response to that: silence, and despite herself, words rushed up to try to fill it. ‘I could have said anything; I was never going to see him again. I could have said more, and I… I didn’t.’

‘What would you have said?’ he asked gently.

She gave a short, self-mocking laugh. ‘Don’t you know?’ But he was blurry when she looked at him, unshed tears staining her vision. ‘Didn’t everyone know?’

‘What other people think isn’t what matters. It’s really not, Rosara, even though you told yourself the opposite for years.’

‘It does matter,’ she insisted, but her shoulders slumped. ‘It did matter.’ She pushed away a tear roughly. ‘None of it matters any more.’

‘I think it does if you started coming down here to deal with your anger. And that would be one thing, if you were angry at the Wild Hunt for what they did and you needed an outlet. But we’ve brought down the Wild Hunt; Noah’s killers have been stopped. So what are you still angry about, Rosara?’

‘It sounds like you know the answer.’

‘I think it’s important for you to put it in your own words. If you really want, I’ll get you started. But you have to finish then, okay?’ He raised his eyebrows encouragingly, and when she gave a rueful nod, his soft smile returned. ‘You’re angry at yourself.’

It would have been easy to dismiss him, but it was always very difficult to live with feeling like she’d disappointed Counsellor Carraway. Thawn looked away, and gave a stiff nod. ‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

She drew a slow, shuddering breath. ‘Because I had the chance on that other Endeavour to tell him anything, and I didn’t.’ But she couldn’t stand to hear Carraway again ask what that would have been. ‘I could have told him how much he meant to me. I could have told him how much I… I loved him. And I still couldn’t.’

He stepped forward then, brought a hand to her shoulder, and it took a not insignificant effort to not collapse on him like she’d collapsed on Rourke weeks ago. ‘Even if there wouldn’t have been consequences with him,’ Carraway said softly, ‘you’d still have had to live with telling him. With saying it out loud.’

She gave a quick, awkward nod. ‘And I couldn’t – I can’t, Counsellor, you know my situation. I couldn’t love him, I couldn’t do anything about it, so what was the point in feeling it, in telling him, in admitting it and making it worse -’

Now she collapsed. She was a state from her training, but this probably wasn’t the worst that Carraway had dealt with in his sessions, and without shame he wrapped his arms around her as she sobbed. ‘You don’t have to be angry at yourself for how you feel, Rosara,’ he said softly. ‘Because that’s what it’s about. You’ve not been coming here to take out your anger at the Wild Hunt. Or at yourself for not telling Noah. You’ve been taking out your anger at yourself for loving him in the first place.’

And though saying it out loud had meant acknowledging it, and for a long time she’d thought admitting it was the most impossible nightmare imaginable, it was like a valve had been loosened inside her. Like it wasn’t burning her any more, where once it had burned a fierce flame threatening to consume her.

The aching guilt that rushed in instead felt much easier to live with.