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Part of USS Challenger: The Old Order Changeth

1. Auld Lang Syne

Coltar IV
Decemeber 31, 2400
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The cold wind whipped around the two men as they sat on the hill. The lights of Tom’s home town twinkled in the distance. Nearby, their horses stood tied to a tree, calmly looking around them.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt cold like this,” Matthias grumbled as he pulled his coat tighter.

Tom let out a breathy chuckle as he wrapped his arm around Matt and pulled him closer. “What about that Academy survival training we did in Antarctica?” He asked, “During our third year?”

“Okay,” Matt grudgingly agreed after a few seconds, “that was colder.” He paused for a beat, “But this is still pretty damn cold.”

Tom’s smile widened. “Spoken like a true California boy.”

“If you’d listened to me, we’d be drinking Mai Tai’s on the beaches of Whixby right now.” Matt had argued strenuously for breaking their leave in two; one week spent on Coltar with Tom’s family with the other on Whixby, but Tom managed to guilt his boyfriend into spending both weeks on Coltar. “I mean, I’ve enjoyed getting to know your family and everything, but I think I would’ve liked drinks with little umbrellas in them more.”

A comfortable silence fell between them, and Tom drank in the sight of his home as he considered the past year’s events. If twenty-three-ninety-nine had been a year of professional change for him, twenty-four-hundred had been a year of personal transformation.

After a few minutes, Tom could feel Matt’s eyes on him, silently watching him, “What are you thinking about?”

“Just about everything that’s changed in the past year,” Tom replied softly.

Matt nodded slowly. “This time last year, I was at a party in London, and one of my colleagues was trying to set me up with a friend of hers.”

“Did you go out with him?” It hardly mattered now, but Tom couldn’t completely prevent the pang of jealousy he felt from driving him to ask the question.

He must have picked up on Tom’s insecurity because Matt placed his hand on Tom’s knee and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “No.”

“Oh.” Tom released a breath that he hadn’t realised he was holding.

Matt gave Tom’s knee another squeeze. “I’d just had a brief but intense thing with a Starfleet captain, and I couldn’t stop thinking about him.” He let out a long sigh. “I was still hoping he’d pull his head out of his ass.”

“That’s one of the side effects of a near-death experience; it forces a person to reevaluate their priorities.” Tom took a shaky breath and let it out slowly. “I’d spent my whole adult life chasing one goal to the detriment of everything else, and when I finally achieved it, it was hollow. I pushed forward and told myself I was happy, but I wasn’t. I was surrounded by people, but I was so alone.”

He could feel tears pricking his eyes as Matt asked, “Does your life still feel hollow?”

“No,” Tom told him, his voice thick with emotion. He turned to face Matt with unshed tears shining in his eyes and added, “Because I’m not alone anymore.”

Matt leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to Tom’s lips. “I love you,” he breathed when Tom pulled back, “but you’re still an idiot.”

“I know,” Tom replied with a teary smile.

“And we’re spending next New Year’s-“

“On Whixby,” Tom cut in, “I know.” 

The sound of fireworks exploding in the distance interrupted them and drew their attention towards the horizon. Forrester rested his head on Matt’s shoulder and watched the town’s fireworks display. “I love you too.”

“Happy New Year, Tom,” Bentley mumbled into Forrester’s thick chestnut hair.


Matthias wiped the sleep from his eyes as he shuffled into the farmhouse’s kitchen. “What time is it?” He asked through a yawn.

“About eleven-thirty-ish,” Tom replied, already dressed and sitting at the table with an empty plate in front of him. “Sit down, and I’ll make you some pancakes.”

Bentley slumped into the nearest seat as Tom popped up and set about making a fresh set of pancakes. “It’s disgusting how much of a morning person you are.”

“I’m captain of a starship,” Tom said as he prepared the batter mixture, “I have to be a morning person and a night owl. Even when I’m not on duty, I’m on duty.”

Matthias watched as Tom poured the batter into a pan. He loved watching Tom work in the kitchen. Matt found his boyfriend’s enthusiasm for cooking to be one of his more endearing traits. “The burden of command.”

“Morning,” Tom’s mother greeted them breezily as she came through the door. “What time did you boys get home?”

Tom looked at Matthias, who shrugged. He hadn’t looked at a clock. “I think it was about zero-three-hundred,” Tom replied eventually. It was correct, as far as Matthias knew.

“No wonder you both slept so late.” She replied as she moved around the kitchen. v “Do you know what you’ll do with your last few days?” 

Bentley shrugged again as Tom set a plate of pancakes in front of him. “We’re not sure yet,” Tom replied, “Matt’s been talking about a beach vacation, so I thought we might visit the beaches on the north coast.”

“That’ll be bracing.” Tom’s mother commented.

Having spent two weeks as a gust of the Forresters, Matthais knew ‘bracing’ was code for cold. “Or perhaps I could take your mom up on her offer to teach me how to bake?”

“You just want to stay in the warmth of the farmhouse.” Tom shot back.

Tom’s father poked his head into the kitchen, “Thomas, there’s an incoming transmission for you in the study.”

Matt glanced at Tom, and they shared a knowing look. “Thanks, dad.” Tom wandered off to the study, and Matt followed a few minutes later.

“Understood, Commander,” Tom’s voice came from beyond the door, and Matt pushed it open and leaned against the doorframe. “We’ll be underway by this evening and should be home sometime tomorrow, depending on conditions in the Paulson Nebula. I’ll contact you with an updated ETA once we’re underway,” Rix nodded in silent acknowledgement, “Forrester out.”

Matt folded his arms. “At least now you can’t drag me to the beach for a ‘bracing’ walk.”

“This time,” Tom joked, “you won’t escape it forever.”

Matt pushed himself off the doorframe. “I’ll start packing while you tell your parents we’re leaving today.”


Commander Tarven Rix stood outside the shuttlebay, waiting for the captain and his boyfriend to emerge. Tarven had only arrived on board the day before Forrester and Bentley left for their holiday, so they’d only been able to meet once. The door to the shuttlebay parted, revealing Captain Forrester and Commander Bentley in civilian clothes. “Welcome back.” Tarven smiled politely, “I trust your vacation was relaxing?”

“It was cold.” Bentley groused. 

Forrester turned to Bentley, “Y’know if I had a bar of latinum for every time you complained about the cold, I’d be rich enough to buy my own moon by now.” Forrester returned to Tarven, “It was nice to spend a few weeks with my family. What’s our status?”

“We’re still waiting for several officers to return from Risa, but they should be on board by the end of the day. Most of the new senior officers have arrived and are settling in well.” Five of the Challenger’s senior officers had either retired or accepted transfers at the end of last year, and Tarven had been the first of them to arrive. “Commodore Stafford has scheduled a briefing for us at zero-eight-hundred tomorrow.”

Forrester’s eyes narrowed. “Do we know what he’ll be briefing us on?”

“No, sir,” Tarven replied with a shake of his head.

Forrester nodded and glanced over his shoulder at Bentley. “Okay, we’re going to go home and get unpacked. I’ll see you in the morning, commander.” He gave the Trill a tight-lipped smile before he and Bentley set off down the corridor.

Tarven watched the two men walk away and couldn’t help but wonder what the new year had in store for them all.

Comments

  • Finally the Challenger returns! I have been waiting for this for a long time and it’s nice to see the captain finally settling down, growing as a person and realising just how good he could have it with Bentley. I want to see more Challenger and cannot wait to see more of these new characters in action!

    January 2, 2023
  • I'm always so impressed (and jealous?) of your economy of words. In just a couple of sentences, your prose paints such a vivid picture in my mind's eye. Tom and Matt sitting on the hill with their horses tied to a tree... and I'm there. I'm immediately there. You have such a mastery of mood in your writing. I love the way it makes me feel to follow Forrester's experiences -- certain this one was warm as a summer sunset. I was, however, shocked to discover half the Challenger crew is gone?? Where are we headed and who's going to be there?

    January 8, 2023
  • Aw hell yeah, Whixby shout-out. Let's hear it for the best rotten, corrupt, aristocracy-infused sunspot of the Beta Quadrant! Tom should have listened to Matt. Drinks with little umbrellas in them are VERY important. Ugh, I adore these two in all their comfortable, developing domesticity, and yet again Matt is right: Tom is lovable AND an idiot. But it's nice to see him with his family again, rebuilding these bridges after the tense disasters of the Century Storm. I look forward to seeing the next stage of these characters with the upcoming changes!

    January 8, 2023