Rourke hadn’t liked Kehinde Hargreaves very much when they’d first met several months ago, and the prospect of him now commanding Beckett’s flagship was not reassuring. But the weathered officer extended a hand as he intercepted him outside the admiral’s new office, a guarded smile on his face.
‘I heard how one of the Taldir colonies would be a smoking wreck without Endeavour. That’s good work, Captain.’ Hargreaves’s eyes flickered to Rourke’s pips. ‘I’m not sure I congratulated you on your promotion, either. Well-earned.’
It was rather sickening when people he disliked were nice. Rourke gave a twist of the lips. ‘Thanks. Heard the Caliburn held the centre at Archanis IV.’
‘Couldn’t get as stuck in as we’d like with the admiral aboard,’ Hargreaves mused. ‘We held our own.’
‘Reckon we can all be pleased with ourselves.’ It was the politest way to escape, and enter a meeting he’d soon want to escape from again.
Once, Lieutenant Dathan had been the shadow at Beckett’s side in meetings, the one ready to furnish him with every report and detail. As was inevitable he’d moved on with a new favourite, this Commander Lockhart rather more nervy of disposition than the cool, professional Bajoran. At least he got a polite smile.
‘Matt, excellent work at Haydorian and Taldir.’ Beckett’s voice was silk on steel, the handshake firm, and Rourke braced himself as he sat down. Opening with the good meant he wanted to be clear he’d acknowledged it before he moved onto the bad. ‘How’s the ship?’
‘My Chief Engineer will skin me if I don’t put in at a serious dockyards for further repairs, lurching from battle to battle. So my request is for us to put in at Starbase Bravo, hand her over to a work team, and give the crew some leave for a couple of weeks. They’ve held up well, but they need it.’
‘Mn.’ Beckett took a PADD off Lockhart and flicked from screen to screen. ‘Talmiru. Elgatis. Haydorian. Taldir. A series of battles. Endeavour’s been bloodied, for certain.’ His eyes snapped up. ‘And your primary mission?’
‘The Kut’luch was destroyed.’
‘By a press-ganged crew of pirates -’
‘My orders gave me a lot of latitude in how to conduct the hunt -’
‘Don’t lecture me on the reach of your orders, Captain, I wrote them,’ Beckett snapped. ‘You let the Kut’luch slip through your fingers, and then had to turn to local rabble to finish the job – and what on Earth possessed you to then reward them?’
Rourke opened his mouth to reel off the prepared arguments – then stopped, scowling. ‘Sir, you’re not that naive. You know why I did it. Can you pinpoint a specific mistake I made, a different course of action I should have taken rather than “do better?” My officers damn near threw themselves into fire because I asked the impossible of them.’
Beckett merely arched an eyebrow. ‘That’s what crews are for, Captain.’ But he gave a low harrumph, and set the PADD to one side. ‘If this Gaveq shows himself again, I will expect you to account for yourself. Otherwise, Endeavour is to be commended for the final battle. Oh, and… by all means. Permission granted for the repairs and the leave.’
It was the closest he’d get to congratulations, and the closest he’d get to Beckett accepting the deal he’d made with Captain Sadovu. But still he had to press on. ‘The trust a crew has in us is a trust that we’ll only ask of them what they can do, even if it’s their best, even if these are capabilities they can’t see in themselves. It’s not a permit for us to push them to breaking point.’
‘I am sorry for the losses you suffered.’ It was clear Beckett had no real concept what Rourke was talking about, and had assumed this outburst was a manifestation of grief. ‘I understand Elgatis in particular was vicious.’
And though that had not been Rourke’s point, it still stuck in his throat. ‘Thank you, sir.’
‘I’ll make sure Endeavour is well-treated by Personnel for your replacement crew. Perhaps some time with young officers, some fresh ensigns, and the missions to help weather them will suit you for the next few months.’ That didn’t sound like a reward to Rourke, but Beckett pressed on before he could object. ‘Oh, and Lieutenant Dathan appears to have been a good fit. You should consider keeping her in your CIC.’
Like a once-favourite toy that had bust some stitches, Beckett had played with Dathan and now grown bored. Rourke shifted his weight. ‘She saw Haydorian coming.’
‘A product of her vantage point in the field. It seems a better use of her skills.’
Rourke tried to not look at Lockhart, lest his eyes give away the secret: He’ll tire of you, too. He’ll think he’s made you, graced you with time by his side, then send you off to the galaxy to do his bidding, part of this elite network. The secret is that his club hates him, and still comes crawling back to him for scraps. Rourke knew he wasn’t all that different, despite his cynicism. Beckett gave him what he needed, and he performed as requested. But the club looks after each other. ‘She’s more than earned a place on Endeavour.’
‘Then it is decided,’ said Beckett, and tapped the desk. ‘Always good to see you, Matt, but there’s plenty to be done. Interrogations of Kuskir, processing him while I liaise with Command on how to proceed with a trial…’
They’d both all gotten what they’d wanted. Beckett had acted the kindly patron, jerking on the leash for good measure, while Rourke had the promise of respite and reinforcement. But of course the admiral had to make it clear this happened at his say-so, at his indulgence.
And Rourke would make do with his scraps.
The officers’ mess was more of a bolt-hole than Endeavour’s busy, bustling main lounge. It was more cold metal panels but was far more private, so Thawn had found a quiet corner of cushioned chairs to curl up in with the latest reports. But her eyes had slid over them, missing all detail, and she’d sunk into such a stupor that she was startled when someone sat opposite her.
Lindgren’s smile was apologetic. ‘Penny for your thoughts.’
‘A – what?’
‘Old Earth saying. I’m asking what’s on your mind.’
Elsa Lindgren had almost lost an arm, and then been forced to listen to a whole facility die because Endeavour had to save someone else. Thawn’s thoughts felt very petty indeed. ‘Nothing exciting,’ she said evasively. ‘It’s just the logistics reports. We’ve a lot of resupplying needed.’
‘Is that urgent?’ Lindgren smiled as Thawn shook her head, and slid over a different stack of PADDs. ‘Then I have better recommended reading.’
Thawn picked them up gingerly. ‘What is it?’
‘Comms transcripts from the after action reports. Every world that checked in, every task group.’ The smile went sad. ‘I’ve mostly listened to cries for help the last few weeks. Some of these places were hit hard, but for the most part, the message here is different: all is well.’
Thawn hesitated. ‘That’s not a logistics report.’
‘It’s not. I thought it might cheer you up.’ Lindgren shrugged. ‘Some sign of the good we’ve done. It’s easy to lose sight of it.’
‘How do you do that?’ Thawn put the PADDs down. ‘How do you – Elsa, how by the Great Fire does it not get too much?’
Lindgren bit her lip, amusement hovering at the edge of her gaze. ‘I could make a pointed comment about how I talk about my feelings, and even attended Counsellor Carraway’s sessions after Elgatis. Because I almost lost an arm, and I was attacked at my post, and it was terrifying and there was nothing I could do about it.’ She sighed, sober now, and shook her head. ‘You’re pretty much a super-genius, Rosara. Turn those analytical skills a bit more on yourself. You used to let Noah do it, but…’
Thawn braced herself, expecting the stab of pain at the memory of Noah. The sting was different, though, and rather than the bitter grief of loss, what she felt instead was a dull ache of loneliness. It was no longer him that she missed. It was the companionship. She reached again for the PADDs. ‘Alright. Maybe I’ll listen to these.’
‘Mm. And join me in one of Starbase Bravo’s lounges for drinks once we get there. We’ll trawl for cute officers -’ Lindgren paused. ‘Is that something you’re allowed to do? With Lieutenant Rhade around, I mean.’
‘There’s – it’s very complicated with Adamant and I,’ Thawn said delicately. ‘But it’s also very simple in that I am certainly allowed to join you in that, and not just because I have never successfully trawled for anyone in my life.’
Lindgren laughed, her eyes dancing. ‘We’ll try to do something about that.’
Thawn joined in, but she left the officers’ mess not long after, because it had gotten later than she’d expected, and she still needed to sleep if the basic systems repairs were going to get done the next day. So she returned to Deck 2, and spotted a familiar figure down the corridor ahead when she emerged from the turbolift.
Thawn broke into a jog. ‘Drake!’
He was out of uniform, back to the state of casual déshabillé that these days seemed to follow him off-duty, but when he turned at her voice his gait was anything but relaxed. ‘Lieutenant.’
She slowed, apprehensive all of a sudden. ‘I just – I wanted to talk. We’ve not talked in a while.’ They had certainly not talked since Rourke had chewed them out, nor since the incident for which he’d done so. Had they talked, in fact, since Rhade’s arrival?
He folded his arms across his chest. ‘Alright.’
‘I didn’t mean here.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘Oh, come on, Drake. We did a great job at Taldir, bringing Endeavour in that close to the firefight with -’
‘Yeah, it’s good we can work together. Was that it?’ He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, eyes cold. ‘I got a guest heading to meet me at mine soon. Want the place tidy before Adrienne gets there.’
Thawn faltered, the implication not missed. ‘Oh. Oh, of course. I won’t keep you.’ He left with barely more of a word, stalking back down the corridor, and she watched him go with a similar dull pang to what she’d felt when Lindgren had mentioned Noah. It wasn’t just him that she missed. When she reached out to where he had been, for a time there had been the shadow of Drake. And now there was nothing.
She had to fight to stop wringing her hands together as she reached her next destination, and anxiously she shifted her weight from foot to foot after she hit the door-chime. Attempting to stifle that when the doors slid open was unsuccessful, and Adamant Rhade’s gaze was immediately concerned.
‘Rosara. Are you – please.’ Emotion shifted for his structured formality, and he stepped back to usher her inside. ‘Can I get you something? A drink?’
‘I need…’ She faltered as the doors slid shut behind her, and turned to him. ‘People think I’m bad at people. And I am, I mean, I’m bad at people, and aliens say I’m bad at people for a Betazoid, but they really don’t understand it.’
Rhade didn’t look like he understood what she was saying, either, but that was part of the point. He faced her head-on, listening despite his confusion, and stayed silent.
‘At home, it was easy, wasn’t it? At home, we all just… share thoughts. We can lock things away, but there’s no difficulty expressing ourselves because we can reach out. There’s no difficulty understanding others, because we can reach out. But out here it’s not acceptable, so I have to put concepts into words I never had to before, and I have to read into tone and expression that I never had to…’ Her voice trailed off, and she watched him, anguished. ‘I’m an above-average telepath. That’s not a boast. It’s why I’ve found it really hard to adapt; being out here’s been like cutting off a limb. But you – didn’t you find it awful to adjust anyway?’
He nodded slowly. ‘It was difficult. But I adapted with time and practice; I spoke with counsellors to learn how to better express myself, and how to better read -’
‘I’m not asking how you got over it. I’m explaining why I’ve been like this. With you.’ She gestured between them. ‘I don’t know how to put things into words.’
It was an explanation and a request, and her thudding heart was somehow both soothed and tensed when she felt his mind brush up against hers, a tentative invitation and offer. It had been so long since she’d communicated telepathically, since she’d expressed herself in the only way which came as easy as breathing, and still she’d been so accustomed to everything being trapped inside that she hesitated.
One thing. She could perhaps let one thing through, and see if the sky fell in before she opened more. Especially to him, to this man whom everyone had decided was for her, yet maddeningly was the only one who could reach her like this.
It was almost despite herself that Elgatis came flooding to the forefront: the boarding, taking position against the oncoming D’Ghor, hunkering down to cover Valance – and then, as the blood and death flew through the air, ducking down in one moment to get out of the way and not rising. Her arms refusing to pull her up, her lungs refusing to bring breath back in, her every instinct howling at her to just stay down, and her body obeying even as her mind tried to scream that she was a Starfleet officer, and it was her duty to fight.
And, of course, Kharth beating her raw with words in the armoury after.
Rhade did not push. His mind stayed close throughout, but he kept his distance, letting her come to him, and he did not let anything of his own feelings, his own reaction, leak through. She suspected this was intended as a courtesy, but it left her shaky when it ended, pulling away to revert to words, because if she could not read him then she could not let herself be open any more.
‘I was a coward,’ she said, and found her treacherous throat dry.
He did not reply at once. He did get her a glass of water, and then guide her to the sofa, and put a hand at her back and kept it there, and she remembered how the body was sometimes even better than the mind to communicate. When he, too, spoke out loud, his voice was gentler and kinder than it had ever been when she imagined him hearing this. ‘You weren’t trained for that.’
‘I’m a Starfleet officer -’
‘You are an operations officer. One capable, by all accounts, of phenomenal acts from the bridge of a starship. Of inventing a new use of transporter technology to breach shifting dimensional alignments to save Captain Rourke’s life. Of calculating an impossibly dangerous flight route to our destination so we could arrive minutes faster and save who knows how many lives. These are all things I couldn’t do.’
She shook her head. ‘But I couldn’t shoot a phaser as well as you, and I’m not blaming myself for that, it’s just training -’
‘Facing violence is a matter of training.’ Rhade sighed and looked away for a moment. ‘There is no way for me to phrase this which does not sounds self-aggrandising, or obnoxiously masculine, or glorifying some warrior-ethos. Many people can adapt to many things, with preparation and exposure. Violence is one of them. So are heart-stoppingly high stakes on a starship bridge. I do not pretend that violence is different, and I do not mean to demean you or pity myself when I say that hardening one’s self to violence comes with a price, but it does. And I commit, as a tactical officer and as the leader of the Hazard Team, not only to hardening myself to it, but to retaining my personhood, my warmth, my love, in spite of it.’
A bitter laugh escaped her lips. ‘I’m not sure I have either that physical courage or that personal warmth.’
‘Lieutenant Kharth was wrong to blame you. It was unacceptable of her, in fact. I will do her the kindness of remembering she was grieving heavy losses in the Security Department, including Otero, but I will not accept her treating you that way. And nor should you.’ He opened then shut his mouth, and again shook his head. ‘I won’t patronise you by saying that you have skills and capabilities I do not, though you do. What I will say is this: your strength – your value – is not defined by how little an atrocity makes you flinch.’
She swallowed. ‘I shouldn’t have volunteered for the mission.’
He frowned. ‘Commander Valance asked for you. She wanted your skills with the refinery’s system. Do you recall how you accessed them and got us to where the civilians were just minutes ahead of the D’Ghor? Do you realise that we couldn’t have saved those lives if it hadn’t been for you?’
She had honestly forgotten. Everything before the firefight was a dull blur, and all she remembered was hiding until it was over and she could see the bodies. She had to close her eyes against the wave of emotions, of grief and guilt, and work harder still to keep that wave in her thoughts from him. His hand stayed at her shoulder, and that was something else to fight, too, to not lean into him and his warmth and contact.
‘Thank you,’ she croaked at last, and stood before her treacherous feelings tugged further at her. ‘I should – I should go, I still have work tomorrow -’
He stood as she did, crisp and precise, the picture of Betazoid courtesies and etiquette. ‘Of course. Rest well, but I… if you ever need to talk of this, or think of this, or truly, not think of this… I will be here.’
‘If you’ve felt any pain and aren’t telling me…’ Sadek’s voice promised a subtle but petty retribution as she made Airex stretch his left arm out.
But the tall Trill extended his limbs with no apprehension or grimace. ‘Truly, Doctor, I feel better. Consider it a testament to your skills.’
‘Hm. Flattery will always distract me.’ She snapped the tricorder shut, and ushered him up off the biobed. ‘Very well, Commander, I’m satisfied by your recovery. We can shift your check-ups to weekly. If you take leave when we’re offered it, you had best tell me where so I can make you a local referral.’
‘I hadn’t thought that far ahead.’
Sadek tapped her updates onto his chart on her PADD. ‘No family on Trill to visit?’
‘I have family. I hadn’t contemplated what I’d do if we’re granted a few weeks. There’s been plenty to preoccupy us. If that’s all, Doctor?’
‘Oh, yes. Haydorian and Taldir were terribly dull, I hardly have anyone to put back together, but I suppose you’re taking up my precious sitting time.’ With the disinterested flap of the hand, she ushered him away.
But the Sickbay doors slid open before he approached to admit Lieutenant Kharth, and despite his best efforts these past months, the unexpected sight of her was still enough to stop him dead.
She hesitated, too, drawing an inch straighter. ‘Commander. Everything’s well?’
He nodded quickly. ‘A final check-up with Doctor Sadek,’ he explained, aware the CMO herself was hovering with her keen ear for gossip deployed and pointed at them. ‘You?’
She lifted a hand and rolled her eyes. ‘After getting through almost all of this unscathed, I think I wrenched my wrist in the last battle. Possibly hanging on when we went through atmospheric turbulences. I’ve not been able to shake it off.’
‘Ah. Well, I’m sure the doctor can help.’ He squared his shoulders, and drew a tense breath. ‘I should thank you, Lieutenant. For Elgatis. That’s the second time you’ve saved me.’
He caught the flicker of guilt in her eyes when she looked at him. ‘It’s my job, Commander.’ But she hesitated. ‘It was an outstanding idea you had at Taldir.’
‘It was simple -’
‘But you went from concept to calculation to execution quicker than anyone I know.’
‘The execution was yours,’ he pointed out. ‘And tremendously accurate.’
Silence hung between them, stretched by all they wouldn’t and couldn’t say, and broke only when Sadek popped up with a long-suffering air. ‘Much as I could listen to this all day; Lieutenant, you need me?’
Airex inclined his head. ‘Of course, I’ll let you work, Doctor. Good day, Lieutenant.’ He left before he had to look back, before he had to feel the gaze of either of then, inquisitive or guarded, on him for any longer.
Perhaps it was not a bad idea to take a few weeks’ leave far, far away from Endeavour.
Carraway made sure his smile was as warm as possible when he put down the tea. ‘I think we’ve made a lot of progress, Commander. Or, rather, you have.’
‘That’s your way of saying I should have more sessions,’ Valance pointed out, sat across from him at his office’s comfortable seating. ‘I’m not sure anything’s wrong; the last few weeks have simply been… difficult.’
‘Consider this the mental health equivalent of regular check-ups with Sickbay,’ he said. ‘And you should treat the last few weeks as body blows in your mind.’ He cocked his head, and loaded what he’d always intended to leave as the parting topic of their session. ‘Have you spoken about much of this with Isa?’
Valance sighed. ‘I’ve not not spoken about it. We’ve been busy, and I didn’t want to get into the Long Walk until I could explain it properly. I’m sure she’ll say much as you have -’
‘I hope not, or I could have just sent you to her.’ His smile softened. ‘All I’ll suggest is that you take time for yourself the next few weeks. For yourselves.’
‘We’ve…’ Valance shifted her weight. ‘Off-handedly mentioned the upcoming leave. It would be a step to vacation together. But. Perhaps.’
Carraway tried to not look patronising as he nodded. ‘Perhaps. That’s good.’ He let her end it there, and not just because she was his last session at the end of his shift, and he, too, was contemplating what leave would look like once they were at Starbase Bravo. In practice, he anticipated deferring his to stay at the starbase and offer to help crewmembers who would benefit from further sessions, further opportunities to work through what they’d been through.
That at least included planning his holodeck time.
The other reason he was happy to pack off Valance in a quick and timely fashion was because she wasn’t his last meeting before his shift ended. He made sure the lighting was less determinedly gentle, that he’d stopped the soothing music, and the fresh steaming mugs were set on his desk instead of the comfortable seating when Lieutenant Dathan arrived.
She still eyed the room with a hint of suspicion. ‘I didn’t know this was a session, Counsellor.’
‘It’s not.’ He smiled and extended a mug of tea. ‘I heard your assignment with us is permanent. I hope you’ll accept my congratulations.’
She took the mug, still cautious. ‘It’s a change.’
‘I also hope you don’t take it as a mark against you from Admiral Beckett.’
‘Most officers only spend some months in his office. I didn’t expect to be different.’
‘That’s an evasion,’ he pointed out. ‘But I didn’t ask you here to talk about that. If you’re going to be a permanent crewmember of Endeavour, however, that makes your wellbeing my concern.’
‘I suppose.’ She took a cautious sip.
‘I expect that I’ll have your records, medical and professional, forwarded to me soon. I would normally say your “full” records, but that’s why we’re here.’ He looked across the mug at her. ‘Will they be your full records?’
Dathan took a slow breath. ‘No,’ she said at length.
He nodded. ‘You would know better than me if I’ll get anywhere trying to request those. But I understand this is a delicate topic. So my second question, Lieutenant, is this: may I try to request your full records?’
Her gaze pinched. ‘I expect you won’t be successful, Counsellor.’
‘But may I try?’ The corners of his eyes creased. ‘I won’t read anything into a refusal, Lieutenant. I’m not asking to push, I’m asking because I want you to be able to set you boundaries with me.’
‘You constantly challenge the boundaries of crewmembers.’
‘That’s an unkind way of framing my work,’ he pointed out. ‘But I’ll take that as a refusal. That’s quite alright, Lieutenant. I want to keep working with you; I think adapting to Endeavour will be a challenge, and it’s one I want to help with. So let me make it clear: I want you – everyone on this ship – to be able to be emotionally honest with themselves. That’s what I push. Sometimes that means people are emotionally honest with me, but that really isn’t my goal. If I don’t have your permission to pursue these records, I won’t do that, but it won’t change my primary goal. Even if it means we have to work around the unknown.’
She drained the teacup quickly, far too quickly, before returning it to his open hand. ‘I accept your terms, Counsellor. Was that all?’
‘Oh, no.’ He smiled kindly. ‘Before you go, let me say: Welcome aboard. It’s a pleasure to have you here.’
The beating heart of the ship was slow and steady, the great giant Endeavour sleeping even as she hurtled through the cosmos away from the Archanis Sector. But engineers had been dispatched to rest, and at a steady Warp 6, their pace was not enough to need more than a perfunctory oversight in Main Engineering.
Rourke was unsurprised to find that oversight came from Cortez herself, stood at the pool table console with rolled-up sleeves and loosened collar. ‘You should give yourself some of the time off you give them,’ he suggested.
Her tired eyes flickered up to him. ‘Could say the same to you, Boss.’
‘I’ll sleep when we’re at Bravo. Maybe.’
‘Don’t I get to say the same?’ She rolled a shoulder. ‘Gonna be presumptuous, but I reckon you know this as well as I do: a ship’s got two masters, not just you. And I’m the other one.’
‘I do know that.’ He approached the console and touched the display only gingerly. He knew a ship by instinct and experience; knew how to feel the deck under him and knew what the reports that came to him directly meant. That was different to the raw data of the ship’s condition from the display. ‘I’ve meant to talk to you for a bit.’
She raised an eyebrow. ‘A bit?’
‘Since Elgatis, I guess.’
‘Oh, yeah.’ Cortez nodded. ‘You were an ass.’
Rourke didn’t need his staff to treat him with reverence, but he still looked up sharply, startled. Disrespect from Cortez was new. ‘Commander?’
‘Look, either you came down here to say you’re sorry, in which case you know I’m right, or you really need me to stop mincing my words.’
‘I did come down here to apologise. I didn’t listen to you enough the last few weeks. I kept demanding more and more of you and your team, and taking your successes for granted but refusing to acknowledge your limitations.’
‘I’m just – nope.’ Cortez clicked her tongue. ‘I was gonna say I’m glad you listened to me at Taldir like that resolved everything, ‘cos I’m not good at hitting folks when they’re down. But I’ll let you work through this.’
He slumped at that, somewhat deflated. ‘I could talk about the pressure of the mission. Or repeat that I think you’re excellent at your job, so I have a lot of faith in you, and unfairly turned that into asking too much of you.’
‘Yeah. Yeah, you did do that. But don’t be too kind to yourself, Captain. I warned you we couldn’t chase the Kut’luch after Elgatis, and you pretty much yelled at me to shut up and do it anyway.’ She shifted her weight unhappily. ‘What, you did that because you just think I’m that gosh-darn good?’
‘When you put it like that…’
‘And normally you’d have Commander Valance to tell you to wind your neck in, except she’d just been through hell, you then put her through more hell, and she’s my girlfriend and is trying to be professional about it. Especially when you’d just ripped into Thawn and Drake for letting personal stuff get in the way.’ She winced. ‘I do like you, Captain. I’m not a woman to hold a grudge. But I think this is stuff you need to own.’
Rourke’s shoulders sagged more, his smile rather sad when he managed it. ‘You don’t mince your words when you need to speak up, do you, Cortez?’
She shrugged. ‘I don’t reckon we’re going to talk like this often, Captain. So I figured I’d get it all out now. There’s not anything you can say – look, you’ve apologised, I’ve said my bit.’ She hesitated. ‘Which means I really should say it all.’
He rocked back on his heels. ‘This was you holding back?’
‘I didn’t care about the you vs MacCallister conflict when we both arrived,’ Cortez admitted. ‘I liked this ship, you were my captain, who came before didn’t matter to me. But I watched. Saw you wrestle Karana on-side, because you sort of had to. Saw you cosy up to Saeihr. And you worked around Airex, but he’s a tough nut to crack. But basically, you got some of us super on board with you, not just professionally, but as a figurehead, or a… I guess a big brother figure. Karana likes you. Elsa’s friendly with everyone, but you adopted her like it sounds MacCallister did. And you took Rosara under your wing.’ She sighed. ‘Then there’s me, and Greg, and I think Connor, but he’s a weird case right now. And you haven’t so much as tried to charm us.’
Rourke frowned. ‘I needed to charm you?’
‘No, but you didn’t need to charm Rosara, either; she’s a neurotic mess who’s too desperate for approval to oppose you. Some of us you couldn’t establish a personal relationship – again, Airex – and some, you established a personal relationship with really firm power dynamics. So I…’ Her voice trailed off, and she sighed, looking irritated with herself. ‘This is partly none of my business. But I’ve seen what you’ve done, Captain. Any one of us in the senior staff who might possibly have the emotional maturity or freedom to treat you like an equal, or as much as possible with Starfleet hierarchy, you’ve doubled-down on keeping at arm’s length. Is it because we might call you on your shit?’
He planted his hands on the controls, studying the details of the ship that he’d never be able to understand – and didn’t, because his mind and heart and skills were elsewhere, and because the woman across the table, Endeavour’s second master, understood it for him. Rourke took a slow breath. ‘Alright. I guess there’s only two things for me to do here, right? The first is to say that I am sorry. I do trust and respect you as Chief Engineer, and wouldn’t have had you promoted, made third officer, if I didn’t. And I should have listened to you more.’ He scrubbed his face, felt his scratchy beard in need of trimming. ‘Second is that when this is all over, you and me should sit down with a bottle of whisky. Because I thought I had someone on the senior staff who gave it to me straight, but I need to remember that Aisha prides herself on being the outside observer.’
‘Not at all me, Captain. I’m neck-deep in this ship. Nearly damn well died for it. And I don’t think you need to hide from us like you do.’ Cortez’s expression at once shifted back for her usual, cheerful smile. ‘I look forward to whisky. Might make it tequila.’
‘I… that might be a bit more contentious.’ But he managed his own smile, nodding, and stepped away. ‘Alright. I’ll let you get back to it, Commander. Try to take your leave somewhere sunny, and maybe take Valance with you.’
‘Working on it,’ said Cortez wryly. ‘Thanks for coming down here, sir.’ She glanced up, lips twisting. ‘Oh, and – apology accepted, Captain.’
That brought more relief than he expected, and he left Main Engineering with more energy in his tired step. But this was not the first apology he was due to give, so he didn’t let himself slow down as he headed for the turbolift, lest he find any excuse to stop or go somewhere else.
He was so determined in making it to his destination that he almost swore when the turbolift doors slid open to show Dathan, and some of that must have shown on her face because she raised an eyebrow. ‘Captain.’
He slid inside and hit the panel for his destination. ‘Settling in?’ he said instead as the turbolift whirred to life.
‘I will once we get to Bravo. My permanent quarters were there, after all. I’ll just move over.’ There was a pause. ‘Thank you for asking for me, sir, for Endeavour. I know what the Admiral is like. I appreciate you making sure I went to a decent assignment.’
‘Oh, Beckett would make sure you went somewhere decent.’ Rourke watched the ceiling. ‘Just decent and convenient for him.’
‘You seem to be where things happen. After a long time only analysing it from a distance, I would like to get back to these front-row seats, so to speak.’ Another pause. ‘Some time – not right now – but some time, there’s something I’d like to hear your assessment on, Captain: the rest of the operations behind the Wild Hunt, this suspected incursion from another reality.’
Rourke nodded, but frowned. ‘You’ve read the files.’
‘Yes, sir. But I expect you have thoughts. And this feels like something we need to take seriously.’
‘It is.’ His lips twisted, quietly pleased at her assertiveness. ‘Sure, Lieutenant. When we’re at Bravo, we can go through notes and the CIC records. I’ll bring you up to speed on how it’s all gone down from these new seats. Fair?’
‘More than fair, sir.’ Dathan inclined her head as the turbolift reached her stop. ‘Good night, Captain.’
He sighed as he pressed on, and tried to not fidget. It wouldn’t make this easier if he was still doing it by the time he hit the door-chime to Josephine Logan’s quarters.
She answered in baggy clothes, her hair up, jaunty music piping in from behind her, and his heart sank as he realised he was interrupting a perfectly pleasant evening. Her apprehensive smile rose. ‘Captain! I mean, Matt.’
He fought a smirk. ‘Should I start calling you Doctor Josie?’
‘That’d make me sound like a kids’ edutainment vid mascot, or something.’ She stepped back to usher him inside. ‘You’ve caught me clocking off at the end of the day, but don’t worry, I’m not yet at the stage of drinking wine and dancing in my underwear…’ Her voice trailed off at his expression. ‘Not that I do that, no way.’
He still hovered near the door, trapped by the mantle of being Captain Rourke, upon whose frayed edges Cortez had gnawed and tugged. He flexed his hand. ‘I shouldn’t interrupt your evening.’
‘I – you think I had big plans if I was definitely not going to dance in my underwear? It’s just me, the wine, and some sexy, sexy new journal articles.’ Shaking her head at herself, Josie padded across her room. ‘How about I get that wine, then you tell me what’s going on, and I shut up forever?’
As ever, Rourke couldn’t quite suppress his smile. ‘I’m doing the rounds of things I needed to do, but couldn’t, until the mission was over. And the mission’s over. And I just opened myself up to being mauled by my Chief Engineer because I’ve treated her really badly, so it’s now… your turn.’
‘I’m supposed to maul you?’ She grabbed a second glass of wine and poured for him from the chilled bottle on her coffee table. ‘We take turns mauling you?’
‘I’m off to a good start.’ Rourke sighed, but followed and took the glass offered. ‘You tried to offer me support at Haydorian, before the battle.’
‘Oh.’ Shoulders sagging, Josie sat down and gestured for him to join her. ‘You don’t need to apologise, Ca- Matt, that was intrusive of me…’
‘It wasn’t, and even if it was, I should be realistic, you…’ He swigged the wine. ‘You know more about what’s going on in my head than most aboard.’
‘Right!’ She snapped her fingers and sat up in an attempt to return to business. ‘I don’t have much of an update on this Scylla operation, I’m sorry, it’s been a busy few…’
‘Josie.’ He put his glass down. ‘I didn’t come here to ask if you’d jumped through more hoops for me. I came to apologise for being brusque the other day, but I… Cortez just hit me for keeping people at arm’s length, and I don’t think she’s entirely right to because I am the captain. That’s the job, and she doesn’t get that, but… sometimes it’s necessary.’
Her gaze shifted, the nervous officiousness adjusting for a softer apprehension. ‘I understand. I made the offer because I get that I sit in a different niche, but you don’t have to -’
‘We lost thirteen crew to the D’Ghor.’ He blurted it not to silence her, but because if he didn’t shove the words past his lips, they’d never come. ‘Some to the mine. Two on the refinery. Some from the ship-to-ship combat. And the rest when they boarded, when they… they broke onto this ship, my ship…’
Josie’s gaze eased. ‘I hid under a table,’ she admitted quietly. ‘In a lockdown spot. And it was awful enough to hear it and see the aftermath as… as not really one of the crew. I can’t imagine what it was like when you’re responsible for everyone.’
‘And, well. You know I’m not a great fan of dealing with losing people when there’s nothing I can do about it.’ Rourke shook his head and clasped his hands in his lap, shoulders hunching in. ‘Thirteen…’
There was a moment’s hesitation before Josie awkwardly shifted her wine glass to her other hand, and reached out to squeeze his shoulder. ‘I’m not exactly Counsellor Carraway, but… I can do listening. Honest. I’ll make sure I limit my words and babbling responses and everything, and maybe let you get a word in edge-ways sometimes.’
His laugh was a short burst and a low relief, but it also brought a dislodging surge of emotion, and before he knew it Rourke was shaking his head and swallowing the threat of a choking grief. ‘I’ve lost people before. People I really cared about. And I… I didn’t want to command again, because I didn’t know if I could survive going through this again. So I’ve tried hard, really hard, to just be the captain to everyone and… Cortez might be right, but damn it, there are reasons I’ve not reached out to people like her.’
‘She’s likable and well-adjusted,’ Josie agreed with a sigh. ‘It’s frustrating.’
‘These people saved me. In a whole lot of ways, this crew’s saved me. But we take one hammering, and we lose officers I barely know, and I’m still… on my heels. I almost got everyone killed chasing down the Kut’luch, as if vengeance would make it better.’ She was stroking his back by now, and that helped push down the wave. ‘I don’t know how to be a good captain and not open myself to this going wrong again.’
‘I’d say that that’s life, but then, most people don’t worry about all two hundred and fifty people they’re responsible for being murdered by a bloodthirsty Klingon death cult,’ mused Josie. ‘Sorry, that’s… not very reassuring.’
‘I’ll take honest.’ He drew a slower, less raking breath. ‘Carraway has to assess me professionally; it’s his job, his duty. I’m not ready for that yet, to unpick myself with someone who has to judge my fitness with every word. He’d say that’s not true, but it is, and I’m not ready for it.’
‘So I’m your non-judgy, entry-level shoulder to cry on?’ Josie’s nose wrinkled. ‘Not cry on. Forget that. Express yourself to. Manfully.’
Again he laughed, and again it brought with it a dull ache, though it was a better sort of ache this time. ‘No. No, you’re the only person I can be a person with.’
‘I mean, I’ve had a lot of colleagues and even an ex-boyfriend who said I’m more like a computer-person than a person, and I won’t lie, that was hurtful, but I can promise with about ninety-five percent certainty that I am, in fact, a person.’ She’d made it to a smile, and it wasn’t apprehensive any more. ‘So sit here for a bit, and be Matt. A person with a glass of wine and a nerd for company. Who’s out the other end of a calamity. And I can listen. Or I can make you listen to me, because I make most people listen to me, only it’ll either be words or some truly awful train of thought that I’m afraid I’m… not very good at stopping…’
At last he smiled, no longer pained or wry, though the ache continued within him and he knew all he could do for now was acknowledge its presence and continue to feel it. ‘Let’s start, definitely-a-person-Josie,’ he said, and reached forward for his glass, ‘with that wine.’