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Part of USS Endeavour: Wander Forth the Sons

Wander Forth the Sons – 8

Arboretum, USS Endeavour
January 2401
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‘Since the days of the first wooden vessels, all ship masters have had one happy privilege: that of uniting two people in the bonds of matrimony.’

It did not look much like a happy privilege to Rourke as he stood in the arboretum before Adamant Rhade and Rosara Thawn, both looking like they faced a firing squad rather than oaths to commit to one another, surrounded by friends and colleagues. So he had to force his smiles, a rather more difficult prospect these days, and keep the atmosphere quietly respectful if it wasn’t going to be jubilant.

They gave their vows – standard issue – with sombre tones and expressions, and at the end of the ceremony he could not call their kiss anything more than perfunctory. Rhade managed a smile as they broke apart and the audience clapped and cheered, but Thawn looked as if she had gone a thousand light-years away.

‘We’d like,’ Rhade said as he turned to the gathered crowds, ‘for you all to join us in the Safe House to celebrate.’ Rourke had redoubled his expectations after the disruption of their new orders. Endeavour had reached Starbase 86 the day before, and most transfers would be leaving either that evening or tomorrow. This awkward and stiff marriage celebration was the last time they would all be together like this.

Rosara Thawn was many things, and was often called many things. A swot, a suck-up, and a kill-joy. But she was a damned good organiser, and so the Safe House was in perfect condition for a party celebrating a transition. Banners and streamers filled the lounge with colour, holographic projections gave variety to the window view, and Rourke suspected she’d been relieved to focus the party on the crew rather than her.

Music swung in to greet them, Rhade pulled Thawn off for a dance, Rourke grabbed a glass of champagne from one of the holographic wait staff and was wondering if he could get away with loosening the collar of his dress uniform just as John Rosewood appeared beside him and selected his own flute.

‘Hell of a party, Captain.’

‘What can I say. Thawn knows how to put an event together.’ Rourke sipped his champagne and tried to not be quietly resentful of how Rosewood’s dress uniform just made him look broad of shoulder and narrow of waist, while he’d had to suck his gut in a bit to get his trousers on. It was enough to make him cut to an uncharitable chase. ‘Have you received new orders yet, Commander?’

Rosewood’s lips twisted for a conspiratorial smile. ‘Not outright. But yeah, Command doesn’t see much need for a diplomatic detachment on Endeavour if Ms Hale’s gonna be on the Triumph and, well, Captain Jericho doesn’t want me.’

Rourke might have left it at that, but Admiral Beckett’s words echoed in his ears. I expect Jericho to ship Rosewood off as soon as possible. If you’re smart, you’ll stop him. He turned to the younger man. ‘Is there any way I can convince you to stay?’

‘You don’t need to convince me, you need to billet me.’ Rosewood tilted his head this way and that. ‘And convince me. But I thought you’d be glad to see the back of me, sir.’

‘I thought your assignment was redundant with Ms Hale aboard. I’ve never had a problem with you as an officer, Commander.’

‘That’s downright diplomatic of you, sir, if I can say so.’

Rourke couldn’t help but smirk at the joke, but the smile faded. ‘I guess I better put cards on the table: I’m not an idiot, and I know I’m better off for whatever’s coming if I’ve got you in my corner.’

‘For what’s coming?’ Rosewood raised his eyebrows with mock-innocence. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’

Rourke didn’t know if this was fishing or a test. He worked his jaw for a moment. ‘I think the future of Starfleet policy in the region is going to be heavily impacted by what this new squadron does,’ he said at last, ‘and how successful we are with whatever we attempt. Whatever our command attempts. I think if we’re still here to impact and consider the bigger picture, it’d be good to have you involved.’

‘So we can succeed.’

‘So we can succeed at the right things.’ Rourke met the other man’s eyebrow raise. ‘I know you can probably get a much more alluring position somewhere else. Another diplomatic job, even first officer somewhere. And I don’t know what I can offer you until all the transfer papers are in.’

‘But you’ll probably need another bridge officer,’ said Rosewood, gaze sweeping across the crowd, lingering on where Rhade and Thawn had finished their one dance – and absolutely not had another.

‘I will,’ Rourke said with a poker face. Some conversations needed to be had first. ‘It’s not quite as much the career move…’

‘Sir, I want to be a ship captain some day,’ Rosewood said with calm self-assurance. ‘And to get there, what I need is a starship management position under my belt. If not on Endeavour, then, well. I hear the Nighthawk needs a new XO.’ He shrugged. ‘Might be I can do better somewhere completely different, but you see, there’s one thing I don’t think you appreciated about me since I came aboard.’

‘Oh?’

John Rosewood drained his champagne. ‘I actually believe in what we’re doing out here. I think it’s worth doing, and I think it’s worth my time to do. Get me a billet that’s not embarrassing, and I’m your man, Captain.’ He paused to deposit the empty flute on the tray of a passing holographic waiter. ‘Not to mention you badly need someone who knows how to play the game against Lionel fucking Jericho.’

He left at that, evidently pleased with himself for dropping on such a note, but Rourke let him. It suited him, after all, if the brash young officer was going to speak plainly about the politics in front of them.

He didn’t have many other allies who would. Kharth was more likely to offend than manipulate, Airex had turned deeply cautious since his return to the ship, Sadek would rather run a mile than play the game and he suspected Carraway was the same, and Lindgren would be an asset but not a play-maker. As for the others…

‘Captain.’

Rosara Thawn might have not looked that enthused about her wedding, but she was the picture of perfection in her dress, bright hair and dark eyes standing out against the emeralds flowing down her body. Still there was a tension, iron running through her, that made his breath catch with something close to sympathy.

‘Lieutenant.’ Rourke stepped in, offering a small and warm smile, and remembering the young officer who’d burst into tears on him within the first weeks of their meeting because she’d had so few outlets for her pain. ‘It was a beautiful ceremony.’

‘I’m grateful to you for it,’ she said, then her chin tilted up an inch as she stepped closer. ‘It would be nice if we could dance.’

She wanted something, and this was the way to get him for a conversation, and it was also completely appropriate. He couldn’t keep the sadness from his eyes as he extended his hand. ‘It would.’

They swept onto the dance floor with the slightest murmur of attention, and only once they were in the centre and with enough distance to talk quietly did he speak. ‘I’m sure you’ll get the chance to do this properly with your family -’

‘I will,’ she said quickly. ‘But I was wondering, sir, if you know what’s to happen with the staff arrangements. Particularly with who will be transferred to the Triumph.’

Rourke looked down at her, at her dark eyes and pale skin, and realised what feeling hummed through her as she asked. He’d assumed it would be apprehension, but now he saw it plainly enough: hope. He bit his lip before he answered. ‘Not you,’ he said softly. ‘I haven’t had the conversations I need to have yet, Lieutenant. But you’re not being sent to the Triumph.’

‘I see.’ Her head turned away an inch. ‘Good.’

His breath caught in his throat. ‘You don’t mean that, do you.’

‘Of course I -’

‘Lieutenant.’ He spun so she had to look at him, and they locked eyes. ‘You’ve been on Endeavour – an Endeavour anyway, with this crew anyway – for a long time. Most of your career. I’d understand a young, ambitious officer like you wanting to move on to a fresh challenge. There are a lot of opportunities flying around right now, places where an officer of your talent would be invaluable. You are one of the greatest assets in my staff, but if you want to…’ She faltered, on the cusp of hope, unable to take the plunge, and pity took over in him. ‘If you don’t ask to stay aboard before we’re finished dancing, I promise that you will have a bright new prospect worthy of your talents.’

When the song ended they came apart, and he gave his farewells before crossing the lounge to find his next target. Valance was at the bar next to Airex, both still on what looked like their first drink. ‘Airex.’ He looked at the tall science officer. ‘I want to borrow the commander a spell.’

There was no objection, but a certain tension tugged at Valance’s eyes as they were left alone – not for him, Rourke believed, but the awareness of what him coming over meant. The swan song was beginning. With a sigh, he leaned against the bar next to her and gestured for a drink, and for a long moment, neither of them said anything.

Valance broke the silence first, after awkwardly clearing her throat. ‘It was a nice ceremony.’

‘It wasn’t,’ Rourke grumbled as he reached for a fresh glass of champagne. ‘I thought Thawn was going to throw up on me.’ At her startled look, his lips twisted. ‘There’s one good thing that’s going to come out of this whole rotten situation, Karana: I don’t have to put on a front for you any more.’

Her shoulders sank at that, and she stared into space for a heartbeat before she turned to him. ‘Thank you. For everything, sir -’

‘Matt. It’s Matt now.’ He straightened as he faced her. ‘And you don’t owe me thanks. I should be thanking you, because you had my back in some of the worst damn situations a captain ever was in, and countless times I could shut my eyes and take the plunge because I knew you’d either be right behind me, or taking care of whatever was behind me.’ And some day, when you’re fully briefed, we’ll talk about Teros and the Omega Directive.

‘I was going to say,’ she cut in gently, ‘thank you for the Pathfinder.’

His chest twisted with bitter pride. ‘She’s no less than you deserve. I’d like you to consider us even after this. Which means what I’m going to do next doesn’t leave you more indebted to me, and you should consider this a going away present.’

‘S- Matt?’

Rourke smirked gently at her correction. ‘I want you to take Thawn with you. You’re going to need staff you can trust. She’s judgemental and self-righteous and a real suck-up, but she’s also the best there is.’

Valance’s gaze flickered across the crowd, from Thawn – stood quietly talking with Lindgren – to Rhade, over by Rosewood and Elvad, and back to Thawn again. She swallowed. ‘I think that’ll suit everyone,’ she allowed.

‘Not much does right now. I thought I’d do good while I could.’ His gaze moved from the blissless newlyweds to the most boisterous table in the lounge, where Cortez laughed with Sadek and her engineering team. He winced. ‘How’d she take it?’

‘She respected my choice,’ Valance said slowly. ‘And decided it’s the right time for us to go our separate ways.’

He tried to not grimace. A part of him wanted to say more, remembered how he’d let his marriage fester and fall – as ill-suited as he and Tess had been – because he’d put his work first for so many years. But he’d thrown this spanner in the works, pulled Valance away from the squadron, and it would feel like lecturing.

And just then, a new figure walked into the lounge in duty uniform, someone he’d never met before, and Rourke gave a sigh. ‘There’s someone I should talk to,’ he groaned, putting his glass down. ‘If there’s one thing you should do, Karana, it’s make the most of tonight. And say goodbye properly if you can. To Isa. To everyone.’

Valance followed his gaze, and her eyebrow quirked. ‘You should settle my replacement in.’

‘Your successor. You’re never being replaced.’ Rourke turned to her and extended a hand. ‘I’ll see you in the field some time. Captain.’

But it was not directly to the doors that he went, letting the crowd steer him towards the rambunctious table of engineers. His timing in these situations was perfect as always, allowing him to slip in next to Sadek as she headed for the bar for another drink. ‘One last meddle, Aisha,’ he hissed, catching her attention before conveying his plan.

Still, someone was waiting for him. Commander Zihan Shepherd looked like she knew she was out of place in a party-going crowd, and still had grabbed herself a drink and caught his yeoman, who was already giving Shepherd a who’s who like this was a gameshow where gossip awarded points.

‘That’ll be all, Nestari,’ Rourke said wryly, giving the young Risian a pointed look that she acted like she wasn’t picking up on as she smiled and left. He turned to Shepherd. ‘Commander, I’m Captain Rourke. Welcome aboard.’

Shepherd extended a PADD towards him and snapped off a salute as he took it. ‘Reporting as ordered, sir!’

He quirked an eyebrow. ‘At ease, Commander. This is a party.’

When Shepherd sagged with exaggerated relief and said, ‘Oh, thank God, I was really afraid you’d still want me standing on ceremony,’ he wasn’t sure what to think. ‘Still, this is nice – it’s great when a crew can be a family.’

He’d studied her service record since Jericho had notified him this young officer would be his next XO. And she was young, only thirty, with less experience than a good half of the senior staff she’d now outrank. ‘It’s a good time for you to arrive, Commander. This is the last night aboard for a lot of people here, but you can meet some of the crew, get to know people you’ll be serving with.’

‘Oh, that’s why I wanted to be here, if I’m welcome. I get it might be a bit bittersweet, considering.’

He wasn’t sure what to make of her smile. ‘For you too, I’d expect. You’ve been on the Triumph a good time.’

‘Captain Jericho’s a good man. I wanted to work with him for as long as possible.’

‘So why move now?’

Shepherd’s smile didn’t fade. ‘I’m still working with him here.’

Rourke straightened. ‘At a distance. He may be squadron commander, but this is my ship, and I expect my first officer to have this ship as their primary focus.’

‘Okay.’ She dragged the word out, sobering only a little. ‘This is the vibe, huh.’

‘The vibe –

‘Sir, I’m your XO, and I’m sure you think I’m some sort of spy sent by the captain, or his agent, or his voice, and like… you’re not wrong.’ She gestured like she was weighing things up. ‘My primary focus is this mission, and Captain Jericho’s in charge of the mission. But your primary focus is this mission, too. ‘Cos that’s how this works.’

The worst thing, Rourke thought as he regarded the young woman, was that despite her bluster, he didn’t detect any cynicism. He had been sent, he thought, the best and most perfect agent by Lionel Jericho – not a politician here to scrutinise him and report back and enforce the squadron commander’s personal agenda. No, he’d been sent a dyed-in-the-wool loyalist, who saw no possible conflict between what Fleet Captain Jericho wanted, and what was for the best.

For the first time since speaking to Jericho, Rourke grinned. It was a wide and toothy grin, and it was one those who knew him best would see through in a heartbeat. But many hadn’t; many had seen the mask of the genial figure, the jovial and simple brute who was fun to be around and straightforward in all his dealings, and never looked any deeper.

‘You’re damn right, Commander – Shep. You prefer Shep, right?’ He swept beside her and threw an arm over her shoulder. ‘This is our mission. I just want you figuring out how to do it from this ship. I need to do a thing, but we’ll talk later, right? With a drink.’

Shepherd looked surprised but not displeased, and brightened again. ‘Hell yeah, sir.’

He’d realised their time was short because Kharth was approaching, the Romulan’s expression rather guarded at the sight of Shepherd, but she looked to Rourke. ‘Sir? It’s time.’

He nodded, but paused to gesture between them. ‘Oh – Commander Shepherd, this is Lieutenant Commander Kharth, Chief of Security and -’

‘I did my homework, I know who you are.’ Shepherd advanced for a wide slap of a handshake with a rather-surprised Kharth. ‘Read about you taking command of the whole damn Romulan defence fleet at Agarath when the leadership was taken out. That was some impressive action, Commander. Deeply cool.’

Rourke left them, but with a little more relaxation to his shoulders. Shepherd was perhaps not everything he’d feared. But she’d still be trouble enough and, worst of all, despite her personable manner and confidence, he was certain Jericho had not sent him an idiot. Rourke could play jovial and superficial and let her underestimate him while he took stock, but it wouldn’t last forever.

Some day, she’d either need to be truly his first officer, or she’d need to be truly gone. It did not bring him much comfort that he was unsure, from this conversation, which would happen or which would be better.

Still, he had a little more to do before he could think of the future. The past needed a little bit more attention. He advanced on the stage in the lounge, hopping up and lifting his hands with a simple gesture that was enough to draw the attention of everyone. ‘Crew of Endeavour! I only need five minutes. For some of you, for the last time.’

A low murmur sprung up at that, a grumble and a regret that ran through the crowd, and he knew he had to give them more than a reflection on all that was being taken from them. Rourke shook his head. ‘Give me your eyes.’

Silence fell. He knew he could command their focus, but there was a sombreness to this that was new, that he felt settle upon him like a shroud in memory of all they’d done and all they’d been together.

‘This crew saved my life,’ he started simply. ‘I don’t just mean when Commander Valance disobeyed orders to keep the ship too close to an interphasic rift so Lieutenant Thawn could beat the odds and beam me off the station collapsing into it. Or when you ran the border to rescue me from a Romulan prison camp. That’s just what we call “being in Starfleet.”’ His lips quirked with quiet affection. ‘I mean when I came to you all, I didn’t want to know you. I certainly didn’t want to care about you. I wanted to do my job and then I wanted to leave, because I’d lost too much to want to have anything more to lose. And here I am, for so many again: losing you.’

He shrugged. ‘I don’t regret it. Not just because you made me care about you all. But because of what we’ve done together, all these things we could only do because of that bond. And it’s not complicated, it’s not deep. We did our duty: we helped people. We made their lives better. For those of you staying, we’re going to keep on doing that, one world at a time – one person at a time, if that’s what it takes.

‘And for those of you leaving, those are my standing orders: make people’s lives better. Wherever you go, even if it’s just the lives of your new shipmates.’ By his knees, Sadek had slunk up to the stage and was holding up a fresh glass of champagne, which he took. ‘Anyway, that’s the future. Tonight’s about enjoying what we have. Not to mention celebrating the union of two of our own. We can do it all, so join me in a toast.’ He lifted the flute aloft. ‘To Lieutenants Thawn and Rhade. And… to the endeavour. Whatever she may be.’

The toast rippled around the crowd, the cheers came, the clapping came, and it would have warmed his heart, lifted his spirits, if his eye hadn’t been drawn to the opening lounge doors and the figure coming in.

He slugged back the champagne in the most perfunctory of manners, and sprang back to the deck as the music restarted and the dancing resumed. He landed next to Sadek, who caught his eye.

‘Meddling accomplished,’ she said with a smug look, and nodded across the lounge to where Valance and Cortez were heading to the dance floor. The air hung thick with regret, settled across them both like a mantle, but it wasn’t enough to bend them double. Not for one last night. Sadek turned back to him. ‘Do I need to spell something clearly out to you, too?’

His sigh was tinged with both sadness and amusement. ‘No,’ Rourke said. ‘You need to hold my glass.’

The crowd was thick, the Safe House almost to capacity. He’d ordered as many of the other lounges to put on music and celebrations as possible, letting teams and pockets of the ship unwind while they were so near to Starbase 86. Every deck would be home to its own farewell party today.

So he’d done his duty. Made sure his people, even those who would soon no longer be so, had what they needed. Done his work and kept up spirits and made connections. And now he fastened his dress uniform collar again, just as the crowd parted to let him through and stop before First Secretary Sophia Hale.

She was in a dress he’d seen her wear before, at one of the parties to celebrate signing a treaty back in April in this very room. It was simple but stylish, avoiding ostentation while only bolstering her understated presence, and had he seen her more recently he’d have given it more attention. Instead, his eyes fell on hers, and he drew a slow, pleased breath.

‘I told you I’d come back,’ he said, voice a low rumble it’d be hard for anyone but her to hear.

Hale smiled, and it wasn’t one of her politician’s guises, but something all the more sincere. But he knew that because he could see the sadness in her eyes as much as her pleasure at seeing him. ‘Just as I have to leave, it seems.’

‘We’ll be working closely with the Triumph. This will be a shorter separation.’

‘But the end of our team. Or how it was, anyway.’ Her brow knotted, and she inhaled sharply. ‘Matthew, you should know I objected strenuously to the diplomatic mission being relocated off Endeavour, let alone Lionel Jericho taking command -’

He raised a hand. ‘I know. You don’t need to defend yourself. It’s done, and you’ll be on the Triumph, and we’ll still keep working together. And you know what? I don’t… really feel like talking about it. Not tonight.’

‘You don’t?’

Rourke smirked. ‘Nah.’ He flipped his hand palm-up, and extended it towards her. ‘I feel like dancing.’

That stopped her short, and he saw in her eyes that same flutter of apprehension he’d seen hanging off her after Agarath, that same reticence he’d seen her show sometimes towards… life. Endeavour had saved his life, but he hadn’t managed to save hers. Not yet.

But this wasn’t life. It was one last evening. Behind him, Thawn and Rhade played the happy couple even as she orchestrated their separation, a separation he’d accept. Cortez and Valance danced, aware this was nothing but a mirage, or at least the final notes of the symphony whose end could not be stopped. And there were others he’d lose – others he knew were going, others whose orders would arrive soon enough, and nothing was going to be the same ever again. This was nothing but a moment of liminality; a pause between heartbeats, a rest at the threshold.

Sophia Hale took his hand, her quiet smile the most sincere he thought he’d seen from her. ‘Then let’s dance,’ she said, because this was the easiest of moments in which to take a leap of faith.

It would, after all, not last.

Comments

  • This chapter was beautifully bittersweet. Very sad to see Thawn and Rhade go through with their wedding. I'd hoped they would wake up and choose their own personal happiness over duty to their families, but I guess if Thawn has a chance to be happy, then she's not going to take it. It was lovely to see the crew of the Endeavour enjoying themselves together one last time before whatever the future may bring. As sad as I am to see a family of characters that I've grown attached to being torn asunder, it's been thoroughly enjoyable to read, and I can't wait to see what you bring us next.

    January 7, 2023
  • Man, this hits hard and with precision. It's a wonderfully written end to so many things. I hope not the end, but just an end. Valance and Cortez, Rourke and Hale, the Endeavour family we've known these past few years. But then we've got a breath of fresh air in a few faces, so there's that. Nothing can last forever and this is a wonderful send-off for characters to go on their own new journeys, which I can't wait to read. I'm also looking forward to the shenanigans and politicking the future is promising. Well done Cath, well done!

    January 11, 2023