The following is a piece of fanfic I wrote after watching Sugar Dirt. The episode focused on how the 58th made it through the 2.5+ months down on the planet Demios without reinforcements or supplies.
I kept wondering how McQueen made it through those same 2.5 months without being able to be with the 58th. This story is an attempt to deal with that time.

Feedback to Carolyn Hoffman



Carolin Hoffman

"I cannot afford to have the fleet's finest pilot working as a supply sergeant," Commodore Glenn Ross bit off each word cleanly. "No, Ty, I cannot let you go."

Lt. Col. T.C. McQueen felt his chest tighten with each word, the weight of each like a heavy rock placed on top of him.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak, barely able to breathe. The 58th Squadron, HIS squadron, his kids, were to be left behind on Demios while the war moved elsewhere. They were to be marooned without supplies, without food, without hope of reinforcements for--God knew how long it would be.

McQueen's last hope was to be allowed to serve aboard the ship that might occasionally be able to sneak through and drop them supplies. He could have been closer to them, could have figured out a way, some way, to rescue them. But Ross would not allow him that.

In a few short minutes the Saratoga left Demios orbit. Each moment, each heartbeat, took him further from the 58th.

The rest of that day, that terrible day, Ross kept McQueen busy. There was strategy to plan, for the fleet was being hammered up at Ixion. The Saratoga was heavy with troops, and they needed settled.

At 1900 hours McQueen and Ross were both on the bridge, listening to reports from Ixion, when they heard a transmission:

"Saratoga, this is Wild Cards," Captain Shane Vansen's voice was clear and steady. McQueen was at the communications station in two steps. "Our position is stable. We are taking heavy fire from the northeast. Please advise."

McQueen could not return the call, for that would give the enemy the Saratoga's position. He pushed the com. officer away from the station, as though being in front of it himself would put him closer to them.

"Saratoga, this is Wild Cards. Please advise."

After 30 seconds, for that was procedure, even the static ended.

It was late, very late, when Ross and McQueen were forced to break for a few hours sleep. They were still 2 days from Ixion, and much needed done, but even they could not work around the clock.

McQueen made the long walk back to his quarters. He felt as though he was walking on the bottom of the ocean, with lead in his feet. He was exhausted, but felt no desire to sleep.

In his quarters he found he couldn't settle. Normally, his quarters was a place of comfort for him, but today nothing seemed right about it. He couldn't read. His music didn't relax him. Nothing inside that room felt restful today. He thought about going to the gym, to the bar, but they didn't seem like solutions either.

He decided to walk.

After a while--McQueen didn't know how long--he found himself at the door of the Wild Cards' quarters. And then he found himself going inside. He would just check it, he told himself. Just make sure all was well in here.

He did not touch anything. But somehow the air itself felt like them. He caught a scent of the cologne Damphousse sometimes wore when she was off duty, of someone's socks.

For a moment, for a breath, it made him feel better to be this close to them again. He drew a deep, lung-filling breath. And then, in the next second, the pain came back. The weight settled back on him again, even heavier than before, because it was so obvious they were not here.

He walked some more, all around the Saratoga. Navy and Marines alike saw the look on his face and scattered in front of him like birds before a storm. They were afraid of that look, and didn't want it to settle on them.

He walked for hours, until, exhausted, he was back in his own quarters, just an hour before reveille. He was too tired to think, too tired to dream.

Each night the scenario was repeated, though sometimes he did go to the gym, drilling himself until he could not move. He rarely got more than three hours sleep. And always, he walked.

Each night at 1900 he was at the com station, pacing, tigerish, until he heard Shane's voice for a few brief seconds.

"Ty, you're not looking well," Commodore Ross said to him one evening. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, sir," McQueen didn't look up.

Ross eyed him good and hard but let it go.

A few days later McQueen and Ross were going over yet another set of plans.

"You're not getting much sleep," Ross told him. It was not a question.

McQueen was about to shake off the comment. When he looked up he saw the look on Ross' face. He decided against a flip remark, but couldn't think of what to say, so he said nothing.

"You're worried about the 58th". Again, it was not a question.

McQueen could only nod.

Ross' eyes went back to the daily reports. "You've taught them well, Ty. They're doing as well as even you could expect....better." Ross may have been teasing at this last. McQueen was not sure, and he could not meet Ross' eyes to check.

"I hear..." Ross paused long enough to turn to a different overlay, "that you've been haunting my ship at all hours."

McQueen cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Sometimes I walk through the ship, sir."

"Mmmm," Ross made a non-committal, though perhaps slightly disapproving noise.

They worked in silence for a while, till Ross said, "That's all for today. There's nothing more we can do here now." As McQueen was leaving Ross told him, "No walking tonight, Ty. I order you to get some rest."

Try as he might, McQueen could not sleep. He paced in his quarters, and then spent most of the rest of the night staring at the ceiling. He could not get comfortable.

The next evening, earlier than they usually quit, Ross called a halt. "I need some company tonight, Ty. Come on over, about 1930. We'll have a drink."

Although the tone was friendly, McQueen knew attendance would not be optional.

"58 check in okay?" was the first thing Ross said after letting McQueen into his cabin.

"Yes, they did." McQueen heard the relief in his own voice.

Ross poured Ty's drink. He'd already poured one for himself. The Commodore favored rum. McQueen would have preferred Scotch, as he found rum too sweet.

McQueen let the glass sit and picked up the nearest photo on Ross' desk. It was, yet another new one.

McQueen remembered one of Ross with some boys, Ross' nephews, on a fishing trip. Once it was of a niece at a dance recital, on stage in her costume. This time it was a picnic, and McQueen didn't recognize most of the people in it. There was lots of food on the table, a red and white checked tablecloth. It looked as though they were in someone's backyard. McQueen wondered how many pictures Ross had and how frequently he changed the ones on his desk.

Ross sipped his rum contentedly, watching McQueen eye the photo. "Fourth of July, " he said. "I forget which year. The picnics don't change much. Not even the food."

Ty nodded once, acknowledging.

"My sister Alma always makes cherry cheesecake," Ross continued. "Ruth, my other sister, brings fresh corn on the cob. First of the season. I always do the grilling. Burgers for the adults, hot dogs for the kids.

"I missed last year's picnic. And it sure doesn't look as though I'm going to be there for this year's." He sighed. "Well, at least I got the pictures. And the memories."

McQueen glanced up once at Ross, who appeared to be ignoring him. He dropped his eyes back to the picture and nodded once.

Ross sighed again. "I do miss that cherry cheesecake." He poured himself another glass.

Later, after McQueen left Ross' quarters, he stopped again at the 58th's quarters. Just to make sure everything was where it should be. As he walked through the room, he caught sight of something underneath one of the bunks. He reached down to pick it up. It was one of Hawkes' GI Jeet comics. McQueen smiled slightly, shook his head and then placed the comic on Hawkes' bunk.

When he turned to stand back up, he saw Shane's pictures from her sister's wedding. Three young women were all smiling happily into the camera. They were all vaguely similar in appearance--though McQueen thought Shane was prettiest. It was a sunny day, and they all wore pretty dresses. Even looking at the picture, Ty could not quite imagine his Capt. Vansen in a dress like the one she was wearing in the picture.

There were also Wang's pennants, and along with them a picture of Wang in a football uniform. Another picture too, of someone McQueen didn't know. He'd never heard Wang talk much about his family.

West had pictures of Kylen, of course. Looking at them, McQueen absently fingered the phototag ke kept deep in one of the zippered pockets of his flight suit. To the Wild Cards, the phototag had somehow come to stand for their faith in each other--and in McQueen. He touched the phototag again. This time, when he sighed, the breath did not hurt so much.

And that night, McQueen did sleep better.

Ross invited Ty to his quarters frequently--maybe once a week or so. They never did much. For that matter, they never said much. They usually drank a few fingers of rum. Sometimes the photos on Ross' desk were different. McQueen always studied the new ones intently, as though looking for something he could not quite see.

Sometimes he still walked through the Saratoga at night, but he did so less frequently, and the crew didn't shy away from his as they had before. He always ended his walks with a stop in the 58th's quarters, just to be sure all was as it should be.

And then, one day, after so many days, they came home. All of them. The Wild Cards were thin, emaciated even, but alive. They were all alive.

That first night, with the 58th safe in sickbay, McQueen walked through the Saratoga again. This time, it did not hurt when he breathed. The rock on his chest was gone. He felt light, the way he did in zero G, like a falcon who sensed the breeze gather beneath his wings and who rose to meet the quickening wind.

The End

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