Part of USS Hephaestion: Dominion War Stories

dulce et decorum est

USS Hephaestion, Refueling over Betazed
Stardate 51721.3 (2374)
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It is entirely seemly for a young man killed in battle to lie mangled by the bronze spear. In his death, all things appear fair. – Homer


“Your quarters are filthy, Gaudain.”

Gaudain smirked as he thought of an appropriate response to that statement. He liked the way Durand had turned his last name into a pet name; what had started as an attempt to throw other people off the scent that they were in love with feigned disdain or disinterest in public had turned into his preferred way of showing his affection in private. He also liked that even after years of practice the other man’s Australian lilt couldn’t help but sneak into the vowels of his name, making it rhyme with pine instead of pain. He especially liked that upon a quick inspection of the clothes strewn around his bedroom, far more of them were in operations gold rather than command red.

“I’m sure that has nothing to do with you staying over every night this week,” he replied, swiping his thumb along Durand’s lower lip before leaning down to kiss him for the umpteenth time that night. Seeing his boyfriend’s lips ruby red from simply too much attention made Gaudain smirk again. “You always make such a mess.”

Durand replied by catching Gaudain’s lip between his teeth. “You love it, flyboy,” he teased. 

“Maybe I just put up with it because I love you,” Gaudain suggested. 

He laced his fingers into Durand’s dark hair and tugged on it possessively. Since the academy, few had suspected that while Sean Gaudain was the cocky pilot prone to run-ins with the brass over his sometimes loose interpretations of the rules and LysLysander Durand was the science department’s golden boy who could get anything he wanted with a smile, Durand was the one who was completely hopeless when it came to picking up after himself.

Durand scoffed. “That’s awfully mushy,” he demurred, but Gaudain could see in his eyes that he liked the sentiment. “If you love me, then you could at least make your bedroom a little more romantic.”

Gaudain slid over to the side of the bed and reached down to grab a pair of distinctly non-regulation underwear, that he then tossed in Durand’s face. “Because it’s my room, I have to clean up, even when it’s your skimpy undergarments on the floor?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Durand replied, with a wide smile. The same smile that always made Gaudain’s heart do somersaults. “That’s the price you pay for dating a real catch like me.”

“What if it were our room, not my room?” Gaudain blurted out.

He’d wanted to ask him for a long time but hadn’t quite found the moment. They’d been together for over five years, since their sophomore year in San Francisco, through their first two years in space, but they’d never lived together. The war had only driven them closer and Gaudain had come to dread the nights they spent apart. When they were there in his quarters, Gaudain felt so safe and content, as if the rest of the galaxy didn’t exist, and he wanted to feel that way all the time.

“I guess we’d gave to split the chores then,” Durand replied. “Are… you asking me to move in with you?” 

“Well, now if we share we get to have the big quarters with a dining room,” Gaudain explained, immediately feeling lame for saying it that way.

“Oh. So you want me to live with you so you can have a dining room?” Durand said, his smile fading a little. 

“No, no. It’s…,” Gaudain faltered, before leaning in to kiss him yet again. “No. I want to live with you because I can’t stand it when you’re not around. I want you in my bed every night for the rest of our lives,” he said. 

It wasn’t in his nature to talk about his feelings so openly, but something about that night made him want to open up.

Durand’s jaw dropped. No retort that time. “That’s what I want, too.”

“I want to marry you.”

Durand grinned. “Yeah, I think you already said that and I think I already agreed, Gaudain,” he practically purred. “I knew when I met you that you were eventually going to propose. Took you long enough, but I was right.” He sat up and pecked Gaudain on the cheek.

“How’d you figure? You thought your charms were that irresistible?”

“Nah. I just thought you were perfect. I knew that if anyone was ever going to propose to me, it’d have to be you because you’re the only one I wanted,” Durand admitted; of the two of them he was much more prone to such naked displays of emotion, but it still made Gaudain’s heart leap. 

“Is that why you pretended to hate me around your friends for a year?” 

“It worked out, didn’t it?” Durand asked, before getting up off of the bed. Gaudain couldn’t help but stare. No matter how much time they spent together, every time he saw Durand he had this overwhelming sense of lust combined with affection combined with happiness surge through him. “Let’s get something to eat, then I’ll help you clean this mess up.”

“We have a replicator here.”

“I want to show you off, now that you belong to me. Let’s go to the lounge.”

“Aren’t you always getting on me about being patriarchal?” 

Durand shrugged. “Thought it would be fun to flip it on you,” he said, as the two of them got dressed. He pulled on his yellow uniform shirt with the insignia of an ensign. The two of them had just been commissioned a month or two ago, skipping their senior years entirely. 

“I miss seeing you in blue. Brought your eyes out,” Gaudain noted. Because of the war, Durand had found himself assigned to the operations manager position because of his high technical aptitude, even after training to be a scientist. The Hephaestion was meant to operate with a crew of 750, but they were down to only 400 with all the transfers to crew the new ships being built, making them department heads just eighteen months out of the academy. A bonus was not having any roommates, except voluntarily.

“I like getting to sit next to you, though.”

Gaudain grinned, before gently pinning Durand against the bulkhead. “You’re such a distraction, though. It’s only being a few meters away from Captain Knox that keeps my hands off of you,” he teased, before kissing him again.

“I don’t want bigger quarters. I just want to move in here. I feel so safe here,” Durand said, smiling at him. Gaudain saw the warmth in his partner’s blue eyes and just wanted to stare into them forever, but before he could react, the ship rocked, and then the alert klaxons sounded. The next thing they heard was the captain’s voice.

“Red alert. All hands stand to battle stations. This is not a drill.”

The ship rocked again as they scrambled to pull their uniform jackets on and left Gaudain’s quarters, the deck seeming to roll under them as they ran down the corridor towards the nearest turbolift. When it deposited them on the bridge, they took their stations just as the Hephaestion was still in the process of disconnecting from the Betazed orbital station. The rest of the Tenth Fleet was engaged in a training exercise, but they were taking on fuel—or at least that’s what they were supposed to have been doing.

“The entire fleet is under attack, captain,” the tactical officer reported.

“Durand, blow the emergency umbilical separators. Gaudain, full impulse when we’re clear. We have to get moving or we’re going to be a sitting duck,” Captain Knox ordered. 

“Aye, sir,” the two of them said in unison. 

As soon as Gaudain saw the umbilicals release, he hit the impulse engines sending them rocketing forward away from the orbital station; their old Excelsior-class starship had been a battleship of the highest rank in its day and still remained a major threat to the Dominion ships attacking the planet. There was a quiet buzz of anxiety and anticipation as they started to maneuver into the battle. Captain Knox had a reputation as a skilled tactician and the Hephaestion was one of the few ships not to lose a single crewmember in combat during the war.

“Two attack ships bearing zero-six-five mark two-zero,” Durand reported from the operations station.

“I have a shooting solution, Captain,” the tactical officer supplied.

“Execute attack pattern Theta Zero,” Knox ordered, prompting Gaudain to send the ship into a roll as it charged forward, allowing all ten phaser banks on the saucer section to target the enemy ships as the Hephaestion moved between them, followed by a volley of torpedoes from the aft launchers that left them burning in space.

“New contact, sir! Dominion Battleship approaching from astern. They have a lock on us,” 

“Evasive pattern Lambda One! Tactical, fire full spread of photon torpedos,” Knox ordered. 

Gaudain pulled the ship hard to starboard as another volley of torpedoes flew out from the launchers, succeeding in weakening their opponents’ shields and blinding them briefly while they tried to maneuver away. That advantage was short-lived, though, when the much larger ship managed to get a target lock and opened fire on them. The ship rocked and consoles sparked around them as Gaudain did his best to keep them as difficult to hit as possible—not an easy feat to accomplish in such a large ship as theirs.

“Shields down to fifty percent, Captain!” Durand reported from ops. “Bringing emergency generators online and rerouting power from non-essential systems to our defenses.”

“Good. Helm, try to stay ahead of them.”

“Aye, sir. Doing my best, sir,” Gaudain replied. He was pushing the nearly fifty-year-old ship to its limits against a much more advanced threat vessel. While focusing on the task, he had a memory of eighteen months prior, when he was lying out on a blanket with Durand on a blanket on the Presidio, knowing that if he could get them through this the first thing he was going to do was to recreate that moment on the holodeck.

“Captain! We’re getting a signal from the admiral. The orders are… to retreat immediately and rendezvous at the nearest starbase,” Durand said, after only a few more minutes. 

Gaudain’s heart fell—Starfleet was abandoning the Betazoids, one of the oldest and most beautiful civilizations in the Federation. He turned around towards Captain Knox, awaiting new orders.

“Gaudain, take us to maximum warp,” Knox ordered. Gaudain’s hands flew over the console as he tried to get a lock on a possible escape vector. They were surrounded by Dominion ships, which were focused on picking off the fleet as it tried to run.

“Unable, sir. There’s no clear path. We’re boxed in,” Gaudain reported; there were just too many enemy ships in their path for him to engage the warp engines. 

“Tactical! Make us a path!” Knox ordered; that shook Gaudain because in the almost two years he’d been on the Hephaestion, he’d never heard his captain shout, not even in the worst battles they’d been in before. He was always calm and collected, so when he sounded alarmed it meant that the situation was dire.

“Shields to 30%, Captain!” Durand reported. 

“Sir, if we turn back towards the battleship and charge at them, we may be able to slip under them. There’s nothing behind them,” Gaudain suggested. 

It was risky, as Dominion battlecruisers had heavy forward weapons, but they didn’t have much choice. He looked over at Durand and shared a look with him, finding some confidence in knowing that he was right there next to him.

“Do it, Gaudain. Take us to warp at the first opportunity,” Knox replied. “All weapons, fire at will.”

Gaudain brought the ship about and hit the impulse engines again, bringing them face-to-face with the enemy ship. The Hephaestion began lobbing torpedoes at it and the Dominion replied with a barrage of polaron blasts, as Gaudain got them closer to being able to retreat. 

“You can do this, Gaudain,” Durand encouraged, quietly. “You’ve got this.”

The ship rocked under them, as Gaudain desperately maneuvered around the enemy ship, but he was unable to miss a blast from their main weapons.

“Bridge shields have failed, captain!” the tactical officer reported.

There was another blast and then the rushing, deafening sound of depressurization. A hole had been blown clean through the forward bulkhead where the main viewer had once been. Gaudain felt himself being pulled towards the breach, but he managed to hit the lock on his console to keep it from swinging forward. He looked on in horror as Durand failed to do the same and went flying forward. Gaudain lunged forward and grabbed his hand, feeling his shoulder nearly dislocate from the force. He tried desperately to pull him in, but the force was too much. He tried desperately to save him but, to hold him just long enough for the forcefield to kick in, but he knew that physics wasn’t on his side.

 

Durand’s blue eyes were wide, and his fear pierced straight into Gaudain’s soul as he saw his partner, his best friend face the sudden realization that he was about to die. Gaudain couldn’t hear anything except the sound of the atmosphere rushing out of the bridge, but he saw–or maybe later he imagined or hoped he saw—the words “I love you” form on Durand’s lips before Gaudain’s grip failed, and he was gone. The emergency forcefield kicked in and the ship continued to rock. It was all Gaudain could do to engage the warp engines once the computer showed that it was clear before he broke down. His ears were ringing and he didn’t fully realize that he was screaming until he felt arms around him pulling him away from the helm. 

It was simply inconceivable that within a matter of fifteen minutes, he could go from finally having his life with Durand sorted out to watching him get blown out of the ship in front of him, literally feeling him slipping through his fingers. He was crying into the other person’s jacket, clenching the fabric in his fist, until he was led gently but firmly into the turbolift. It wasn’t until he was in sickbay that he realized that it was Captain Knox himself who had walked him down. The captain sat with him the entire time he was being treated for partial decompression sickness and his hearing started to come back slowly, but he was still in shock over what had just happened.

Even when his hearing returned, Gaudain could barely process anything anyone said to him, until Knox said, “I know you were close.”

“We were in love,” Gaudain corrected, sharply. “He was everything to me. I would throw myself off the ship right now if it would bring him back.”

Knox put his hand on Gaudain’s shoulder. “Sean, you saved the ship. There’s nothing I can say that will make you feel good or even OK right now, but you just saved—“

“—three-hundred and ninety-nine lives,” Gaudain interrupted, his voice catching in his throat. 

A single life for nearly four hundred others. It was just; the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the one, but all Gaudain could think about was that he was being punished for their moment of intense, hubristic happiness less than an hour earlier. 

“I’d like to go to my… our quarters, captain. Please.”

“Of course, Sean.”

On impulse, Gaudain started straightening his quarters—what were for all of forty-five minutes their quarters—when he entered, gathering up all of the clothes on the floor and putting them in a hamper, before he froze and threw the whole thing back out, knowing that it was all he had left of his fiancé. He grabbed one of the undershirts Durand had left on the floor and wrapped himself in the sheet and comforter that were still disheveled on the bed, still fully clothed in his uniform. 

What felt like days later, but could have been just hours or even mere minutes, there was a chime at the door. He didn’t answer but the door opened anyway and Counselor Prenar walked in. She sat on the edge of the bed where Gaudain was still clutching Durand’s shirt.

“Sean, we wanted to know if you wanted to see him,” she said, patting his shoulder.

“What do you mean? He was blown into space.”

“Before you engaged the warp drive, the computer managed to execute the overboard protocol to retrieve him,” she said, slowly.

Gaudain bolted up. “You can survive a decompression if you’re brought back soon enough… did they manage to…?”

Prenar shook her head. “I’m sorry, Sean. It wasn’t possible.”

“I want to see him. Now,” Gaudain said, rushing for the door, even though he was shaking from his body’s attempts to root him to the deck; if he saw him, that would confirm that he was dead. If he was… just out there, instead, that meant that he could still be alive. The counselor led him to the morgue, where Captain Knox was waiting for him. When the two of them led him into the room, he saw there was a torpedo casing sitting open on the slab in the middle of the table, the lid laying on the floor behind it.

Knox put his arm around Gaudain’s shoulder as the two of them walked across the room. Gaudain’s knees buckled when he saw Durand lying there, looking as beautiful as he had that morning when Gaudain had woken up with him in his arms. It hadn’t dawned on him that an entire civilization was likely to be wiped out by the Dominion or that the 10th Fleet had been decimated by the Jem Hadar because none of that could matter to him. None of that abstraction could begin to register for him when his whole life, his home, and his dreams lay with Durand in front of him.


Note: this story has been edited from a submission originally made to the fiction competition described here.