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Part of USS Challenger: A Fragile Peace and Bravo Fleet: Sundered Wings

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U.S.S. Challenger NCC-71099
June 2400
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Sitting on the couch in the ready room, Gabrielle Bennett read through the after-action report for Starfleet Command a third time, making a few more edits on this pass. Using the ready room was a necessary evil given its proximity to the bridge, but she refused to sit behind the desk. Her first stint in command had been something of a shit show.

Captain Forrester and Governor Kretuk had been poisoned; one lived while the other didn’t. The captain had been placed in stasis until an antidote could be found. As if that wasn’t enough, Governor Valen had been assassinated, stabbed in the back. The two factions on Vinex became fractured, and for a few tense days, civil war seemed likely. Commander Del’s investigation turned up evidence that Commander Oreth murdered Valen, and while there was no proof that he was involved in the poisoning, Bennett believed he was involved somehow.

The arrival of a delegation from the Romulan Republic had eased tensions as the various factions coalesced around the Republic’s offer. A public vote was held, and their support was overwhelming in favour of accepting their offer. A hastily arranged signing ceremony made everything official.

Through it all, Commander Bentley had been a trusted source of advice, performing his duties flawlessly while worrying about the captain. When not on duty, he sat by Forrester’s bedside until ordered to leave by the medical staff. 

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Commander Mitchell had stepped into the role of acting First Officer even better than Bennett had hoped. He’d become more serious, taking his new duties with a seriousness she hadn’t expected. Perhaps that was an indication of how little she really knew of him. He hadn’t changed completely, however, and there were still occasions she wanted to wipe a smirk off his overconfident face.

Miller to Captain.” Bennett still hadn’t gotten accustomed to being addressed as captain. Every time it happened, she silently cursed the ancient mariner who’d come up with that particular custom. This time was no different.

With a sigh, she set the PADD down beside her. Doctor Miller had managed to develop what he believed was an antidote, but there was no guarantee it would be successful. Now she would find out. “Bennett here.”

Captain Forrester’s awake.” Doctor Miller reported. 

Relief flooded her body at the Doctor’s words. She closed her eyes and let out a breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding. For the first time since Forrester was incapacitated, the weight that had settled on her chest felt a little lighter. “I’m on my way.”

***

Banished from Sickbay, Matthias Bentley returned home and immediately climbed into bed, but as was so often the case since Tom was poisoned, sleep eluded him. More than one person commented on the circles under his eyes growing ever darker. When Doctor Miller announced that Tom was awake, Bentley jumped out of bed and pulled on the first clothes he could put his hand on. That’s why he entered sickbay wearing a pair of grey joggers and a tank top with a faded Starfleet Academy logo.

He found Tom sitting on the edge of the biobed, talking to Commander Bennett. Tom spotted him first. He sat a little straighter, and a gentle smile caused his face to light up. Bennett quickly excused herself, placing a hand on Bentley’s arm and giving it a brief squeeze as she passed him. He continued on, coming to a stop in front of Forrester.

Bentley spoke first. “Hi.” He said softly.

“Hi.” Forrester’s reply was equally soft. He silently studied Bentley’s face for a few seconds before adding, “You look like hell.”

“I’m not the only one,” Bentley shot back, a tender smile pulling at his lips. “How do you feel?”

The two men held each other’s gaze. “Like I’ve been trampled by a horse.” An awkward silence fell between them. “Bennett tells me that you’ve requested a transfer.”

“Yeah,” Forrester confirmed with a nod. “There’s still a steady stream of refugees coming through Starbase Bravo. Given my experience working with Romulan refugees, it seems like a good interim move while I figure out where I go from here.”

Disappointment filled his chest at the look of resignation on Forrester’s features. “That makes sense,” Forrester replied, his eyes falling toward the floor. “You’re experience would make you invaluable over there right now.”

“Yeah.” Bentley agreed sadly. Silently his mind was screaming for Forrester to fight for them, but he knew that was unlikely. “I’m glad you’re okay,” Bentley paused, “I was worried about you.”

“I was always gonna be okay.” Forrester’s confident smile only lasted a few seconds. “It can’t have been easy for you to watch me….”

Bentley shook his head as tears welled in his eyes. The memory of seeing Forrester convulsing still haunted him on those few rare moments of sleep he’d managed to achieve. “It was horrible.” He said, his voice thick with emotion. “I thought you were gonna die.”

“It’s gonna take more than a little poison to kill me.” Any vulnerability Forrester was showing quickly masked again. 

There didn’t seem to be any point in dragging this out any longer. “I should go,” Bentley said, “Let you get some rest.” He leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on Forrester’s cheek. “Take care of yourself, Tom.” He turned to step away, but Forrester reached out to stop him.

“Don’t go.” Forrester’s pleading tone was something he hadn’t heard before.

As much as Bentley wanted to stay to spend a few more minutes with Tom, he knew there was little point. “I need to get everything packed.” He tried to keep any hint of bitterness at having to pack up his life again out of his voice, but he was confident that he wasn’t entirely successful.

“No,” Forrester shook his head gently, “I mean, don’t transfer off the Challenger.

Hope flared deep inside Bentley’s chest, but he quickly fought to temper that. “I don’t think there’s any reason for me to stay.” He replied softly.

“You know the reason,” Forrester replied.

That answer wasn’t good enough. Bentley wasn’t about to let Forrester wriggle off the hook like that. “Do I?” Bentley challenged, “Why don’t you tell me?”

“I want you to stay,” Forrester paused and took a deep breath, “with me.”

Bentley was momentarily speechless by Tom’s rare display of candour, but it wasn’t enough. If he was going to remain on the Challenger, Bentley needed more. “I want to, Tom,” he replied softly, “But I can’t if you’re just gonna keep shutting me out.” Bentley raised his hand and tapped it against Tom’s temple. “I need you to start sharing what’s happening up here.”

“I know.” Forrester looked down at the floor. “I can’t…dunno if I’ll able to do that.”

Bentley smiled and reached out, taking one of Forrester’s hands in his own. “If I’m going to stay, I need you to try.” Forrester looked up to meet his gaze. “I’m not expecting miracles, Tom.” Bentley could see his own hope reflected in Forrester’s hazel eyes. “It’s something we can work on together.”

“I’ll try.” Forrester replied, “I promise.” 

The vulnerability in Forrester’s eyes was something that Bentley had rarely seen, and he vowed at that moment that if he got to see more of it, he wouldn’t take it for granted. “Looks like I’m staying then.”

Forrester’s face lit up with a wide smile. They held each other’s gaze as they slowly leaned in. The anticipation built, and Bentley could feel Forrester’s breath on his skin. They closed their eyes simultaneously. The sound of someone clearing their throat broke through and caused Bentley to jump back. He looked to find the source of the noise; Doctor Miller standing nearby with a grin.

“Your timing is impeccable, Doctor,” Forrester grumbled. “When can I get out of here?”

Miller stepped closer. “I’m happy with your recent scans, so you’re good to go.” He replied. “I want you to take the next few days to rest and relax, and then I’ll place you on restricted duty for a week.”

“Is restricted duty really necessary?” Forrester asked, prompting Bentley to gently squeeze his arm.

Doctor Miller nodded. “Your body’s been through an ordeal and needs time to heal. I don’t want you pushing yourself before you’re ready.”

“Fine.” Forrester relented with a heavy sigh, drawing an amused smile from Bentley.

Bentley gave Forrester’s arm another squeeze. “C’mon, sailor, let’s get you home.”

***

“Crossing back into Federation space.” Lieutenant da Costa announced from the helm.

From behind him, Commander Bennett spoke up. “Very well, Lieutenant.” She pushed herself out of her chair. “Join me in the ready room, Mister da Costa. You too, Commander Mitchell.” 

The young flight controller’s head snapped to see the captain and her acting first officer striding toward the ready room. He quickly secured his console and pushed it away from himself, creating the space to slide out of his chair and follow them. No one spoke until the doors closed firmly behind him.

“I’m not impressed, Mister da Costa.” Those three words from the captain struck fear into da Costa. He could feel the panic quickly rising up inside him. He was sure that Mitchell had been happy with his job performance; his latest fit rep bore that out. As much as he wracked his brain, he couldn’t think why the captain would be unhappy with him. “Your uniform isn’t up to standards. Wouldn’t you agree, Commander?”

Da Costa watched as Mitchell nodded solemnly. “Very disappointing, captain.”

He looked down but couldn’t see what they were talking about. His commbadge was securely fastened and straight; he reached and ran a finger over each of his pips. They were both still there. He saw Mitchell hand the captain something from behind his back. It was a small, nondescript black box. Bennett opened it and produced a single silver pip.

“Sorry, Lieutenant. It was his idea.” She told him with a lopsided smile as she snapped the box shut and tossed it back in Mitchell’s direction. “Attention to orders.”

Snapping to attention, the panic quickly drained away from da Costa. “Your performance since coming aboard the Challenger has been exemplary,” Bennett told him, “and it is with a deep sense of pride that I hereby promote you to the rank of Lieutenant with all the associated rights and privileges.” She stepped back and extended a hand, her warm smile lighting her features. “Congratulations, Rafael.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Da Costa managed to choke out, unable to keep the tears from falling as he shook her hand. Mitchell quickly stepped forward and offered his own handshake along with a few words of congratulations.

He quickly wiped his eyes before resuming his stance. Bennett gave him a single nod. “Resume your post, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, ma’am.” He turned on his heel and left the ready room. A few people looked up from their posts, smiling as they spotted the second silver pip on his collar.

Comments

  • I'm very glad you decided to push through the events instead of just canning things or try to rush it. 'Romulans did manipulative things and Oreth remains the baddie,' was perfectly elegant. Characters like Bennett and Mitchell have already been established quite clearly, so the idea of them stepping up with Forrester incapacitated feels like something I can paint a blurry watercolour of in my head without you needing to spell it out. Is it perfect? No. Is it a very good job of handling the need to wrap up quickly? Absolutely, and I don't feel disappointed. But also, MY HEART at Forrester and Bentley. FINALLY Forrester digs in and finds some vulnerability and reaches out. He is my favourite emotionally incompetent captain. I also love Bentley establishing very clearly that he needs more than just a heartfelt gesture. He's moved by the romantic declaration but he's very clearly laying healthy boundaries (do I also swoon at that? Yes, I do). Also big fan of my boy Da Costa getting recognition in the final act. A perfectly worthy finishing chapter! Good job!

    July 12, 2022