Captain Of His Soul
Terri and I did this up fairly quickly, shoehorned between our RL commitments. And just in time too. Rina needed a kick in the pants and Nika's boot was the perfect size for the job. LOL! Thanks, Terri!--Maer
Thursday, 07 Jun 2522
Durance class, Equinox
En Route to Boros
1930hrs, ship’s time
Rufus was awake, looming large on the monitors despite the airlock’s size and his distance from the surveillance camera. Or maybe it was just my morbid imagination kicking in. I’d lost count of the scenarios I’d spun in my head as to the outcome of this experiment—Beglan and Joshua surviving the ordeal and coming out heroes, Beglan and Joshua coming out in a box. I stood on the bridge and kept my eye on the screen, and watched as Rufus stirred in his corner and then Joshua and Beglan stir in turn. They’d been waiting for hours for the big bruiser to revive. Their plan was risky: convince the legbreaker to swill down a homemade dampener for his boost habit. Four days off his drugs and twitchier than a bee-stung bull, I didn’t think for a minute Rufus would go along with the idea placidly. On the screen, Joshua got to Rufus first and despite my expectations, Rufus’s reaction surprised me—quick as a snake he had Joshua by throat and suspended at arm’s length above the deck. Joshua thrashed but couldn’t get a kick in, pried at the fingers cutting off his air, to no avail.
God help me but I couldn’t look away. I could only stare, frozen to the deck, as Rufus tossed the man I loved across the airlock. Joshua bounced off the wall and scrambled to his feet in a martial arts move and Beglan narrowly missed him by inches as he flew by. Rufus barreled head down for Joshua, who sidestepped him like a matador, and the game was on. Joshua and Beglan circled Rufus, evading him as best they could while they tried to talk the man down from his drug-induced rage. They outnumbered him two to one, but Rufus was wild and he was fast. Joshua slammed into the wall again and again, alternating with Beglan, and it wasn’t long before both of them were bleeding from scrapes and darkening with bruises. And yet neither had the sense God gave a goose and stood down. They kept up their campaign with Rufus and Rufus kept mopping the floor with them.
It was hard to watch. But I’d promised to stay out of it. I managed five more minutes before I couldn’t watch it anymore. I stalked off the bridge and made it to the conference room head just in time to lose my lunch. I heaved over the toilet, utterly wretched, and wished losing my dread over Joshua’s safety were as easy.
Nika too was glued to the screen. Her gaze remained calm, though when people started hitting walls she flinched. When Rina left, the blonde remained in place for a few minutes trusting that Rina was going to stand by her word and not interfere. In that time, she watched both Beggar and Joshua pull off some moves that had her reassessing certain things about both men. In some ways, she too protected Joshua too much. It was the baby-faced optimism.
Finally, she pushed out of her chair murmuring to Kiera that she’d be right back and went in search of the engineer. Nika was leaning against the wall, arms crossed, when Rina came out, a glass of water on the table for her. “You ok?” she asked.
Wiping my eyes dry with a quick hand, I said nothing but shook my head. It was obvious I wasn’t. I took up the water and sipped a cautious sip. It slithered down my gullet and coiled in my stomach like a snake and I put the glass down again. The flatscreen on the wall was set to the camera feed and I stared at the table under my hands, wanting nothing more than to keep that water down.
Nika shoved off her position on the wall and turned the screen off. “Stop,” she ordered in a gentle but firm tone. “I don’t know what you’re trying to prove or who you’re trying to prove it to, but it’s out of hand.” She turned to look at Rina and her jaw firmed. “You know.... I knew when the two of you got involved that it might get complicated. But I never expected you, of all people, to be actively attempting to smother your own happiness.” She tilted her head, studying the engineer. “Or ... maybe I did. It’s the Russian thing to do, right? Before it has a chance to actually make you happy?”
I stared at the table between my splayed fingers and saw another table with Joshua sitting beside me. Our conversation that day on Pericles Station came back to me then, when I admitted how happy he made me feel—that bone-deep happiness that made my internal ugliness go away—and how I distrusted its permanence, having gone so long without it. Nika’s query brought it all back and her words echoed how I’d felt then. Was I ruining my chances to get what I wanted? What the hell did I want, anyway? Would I even know it if I had it? Was it a Russian tendency to kill what we love by smothering it, like Nika said? Or was it mine? I couldn’t tell. All I knew at the moment was the man I loved beyond all reason, for whom I’d compromised damned near everything I’d held inviolate, was looking to get torn to bloody pieces on a matter of principle and I had promised not to interfere. Aware Nika was waiting for an answer, I got a grip and gave it.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’m working on it.”
True enough, otherwise I’d have already gone to the airlock and put a stop to it.
Nika considered that answer and then nodded. “Good,” she said finally. “Because I think we both have the habit of underestimating the man, the same as we used to do with Christian. Joshua’s holding his own in there. And it’s time we both stop viewing his desire to avoid violence as a weakness that’ll get him killed. Frankly, it’s probably our own propensity toward violence that’s more likely to cause that.” She shrugged. “He’s doing good, Rina. He’s taking a bit of a pounding, but so far it’s not much worse than what you and I’ve done to each other no-holds-barred.”
My stomach gave a hard twist. I took a deep breath and kept everything down. Memories of Mike caught up with me, those times he’d pulled off something crazy and I’d been unable to stop or help him. Except when he’d been captured and his subsequent long silence on Salisbury or when he’d been held for trial on Highgate, he hadn’t invoked that crushing dread I now felt for Joshua. Why? Was it because I knew that Mike was, deep down, a lethal fighter with an iron will to win at all costs? That he didn’t need me to pull his fat out of the fire? Was it fair to measure Joshua by that yardstick when it came to combat? Was that what I’d been doing? Nika’s statement echoed in my head: He’s doing good, Rina. He’s taking a bit of a pounding, but so far it’s not much worse than what you and I’ve done to each other no-holds-barred.
“I know,” I husked. After all, I didn’t much worry about Nika when we went at it on the mats, either. “You’re right.”
Wow... Nika considered what to say from there. And then she shrugged slightly and pressed her luck. “I get it, you know,” she said softly, crossing her arms in an unconsciously defensive posture. “You’ve already lost a man you love, taken a wholly different road. And you’ve found someone new to share your life with, you’re terrified of losing him too. So you’re ... trying to keep him safe even from himself. But... you’re going to push him away if you keep at it, Rina.” Her blue eyes come up to meet Rina’s gaze. “Sure as if I keep pushing Arden away eventually he’ll stop coming around. Only I don’t do it out of fear of losing Arden, I guess I do it out of fear of having someday to choose between them. And if that never happens, that’s fine by me.”
I considered the similarities between Nika’s situation and mine. We’d both fallen for military men first, had kept a long distance relationship with them for years, before finding someone to love closer to home. Yet it wasn’t a matter of convenience that effected the change in loyalties, the change of hearts. Rather, attachment in their absence suffered under the daily presence of other individuals. Circumstances and human nature conspired to interfere. Mike and Brian had both substantially changed--mentally and physically--through events beyond their control, and the end results when we finally caught up with them had opened a chasm we couldn’t cross. Joshua and Arden had been there to pick up the pieces that were left behind. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that, but it was the gist of it. Furthermore, I’d already had to choose between Mike and Joshua. I knew how hellish it could be and I fully understood Nika’s reluctance to do the same.
“For your sake and Arden’s, I hope it never comes to that.”
Nika smiled. “In some ways, life would just be simpler if I followed your lead. But... I won’t.” She winked. “You keep trying to mess your own life up too much.” She jerked her chin. “Go hit engineering for a while. Stay away from the monitors. I’ll let you know when it’s over.” She turned and headed back toward the bridge. “Get some rest -- he’s gonna be pissed if you’re mollycoddling him when he gets out.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I pushed away from the table and went to the engine room as ordered. Everything was running smoothly, unlike myself. I wasn’t needed here. I briefly considered finding something to finick with, some makework task to distract me from the events unfolding in the airlock, but I couldn’t do it. Swallowing past the bitterness lingering on my tongue, I quit engineering and hit the showers instead. Nika suggested getting some rest and the idea of having the hot water pound the day off me had its appeal. Twenty minutes later found me back in my quarters unsuccessfully trying to relax.
Thoughts and memories clamored in my head, making me restless. I sprawled on the bed and stared into the dark, replaying the last two years on the ceiling: Joshua as Lt. Cmdr. Wise, saving our bacon on Trafalgar, facing down Reavers and Janitorial Services, maintaining his ruse in the surgery ward afterward, fooling everyone. Joshua as Jackson on Highgate, running a mining operation as if he’d been born to it. Joshua as Burke on Deadwood, walking into a den of cutthroats and thieves. I saw again his Borrowing Zelle’s icy mindset on Colchester, to get us past security who would have surely shot us down on sight. I remembered him abseiling onto a doomed boat in stormy seas, rescuing everyone aboard, including me. He’d faced down a Voodoo Queen. He’d grappled with hot-wired Stitches in combat. He’d persevered through all the tortures Potemkin had devised for us, kept us focused after Nika could no longer lead us, maintained our unit cohesion after crashing on Meadow, keeping us all alive until help arrived. He’d endured baking heat and freezing cold. He’d braved drowning and avalanche. He’d survived the capricious atmo and ghosts of Miranda. He’d slowly but surely mapped the emotional minefield that was me and showed me the way out of it.
He’d suffered triumphs and disappointments in his two years with us that would have broken lesser men. He’d won his freedom from Blue Sun and had stolen the secret of his life back from them, only to have the data corrupted and his hopes for closure ruined. He’d found the names of his parents, only to discover his father dead before he could be reunited. He’d taken on himself to right wrongs done nearly a decade ago and had to accept arriving too late to rescue an innocent he’d hoped to save, even as he’d found several more and gave them back their liberty. He’d gained the first real home he could remember since his missing childhood and had to sacrifice it so that others could live. He’d faced everything the Verse could throw at him and come through the other side. He wasn’t perfect—he’d stumbled, made his mistakes, earned his scars. He still had his faults and weaknesses, but no more or less than the rest of us. Like that poem by Kipling, he’d filled his unforgiving minute and done his distance run. Nika was able to acknowledge it. It was long past time I did the same.
Nika had the right of it—my own insecurities were a betrayal of everything he’d managed to win for himself. If allowed to go on unchecked, my fear would ruin everything. Bitterness rose at the back of my throat as I recognized the magnitude of my mistake and for one craven instant, I doubted I had the strength to make amends. I pulled his pillow into my arms and curled around it, breathing in the scent of him, and again realized Nika had been right. When Joshua walked out of that airlock, his mission accomplished, I had to swallow my misgivings and hide my relief. To let them show would be a rebuke, a criticism of his judgment. A baseless one, considering everything he’s accomplished on his own so far. He was the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. It was what he’d tried to tell me earlier at the airlock—You and I are going to talk—and now I understood. It remained to be seen if I’d come to the realization too late or just in time. I wouldn’t know until Joshua returned and he’d had his say.
So, I lay there, clutching his pillow as my inner demons filled the dark with doubt, and waited for sleep or the all-clear from Nika to bring it to an end.
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