Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Space" Above and Beyond" are the creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.

Contact the author at elanaf@yahoo.com

Rating: PG-13 for angsty stuff


Heart

by

Elanaf

He was waiting for them as they came in off the flight deck, their uniforms marred by sweat and, in Vanessa's case, blood. Just a little graze across her upper arm, a small stain on the cloth, but still too much for Mcqueen.

He tapped Vansen as she walked past and gestured for her to follow him onto the observation deck. As good a place as any for what he had to say.

"Sir?"

Her face held little expression beyond fatigue, her voice none whatsoever.

"What the hell are you doing, lieutenant?"

"Sir?"

Although her face showed confusion, there was also guilt in her eyes, enough to show him that she knew or guessed what he was talking about.
Good.

"Have you been transferred, lieutenant?"

She stared into the middle distance silently.

"That must be it. You've been transferred, and the woman I see before me is nothing more than an illusion. Shane Vansen is no longer with the 58th."

He moved around behind her and leaned forward to speak directly into her ear.

"I listen to your transmissions, lieutenant. You must have heard about that. Everything is monitored. Would you like to explain yourself before I continue?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, sir."

He continued his slow circle around her until he stood before her once more, moving into her line of sight until her eyes were forced to re-focus on him. Not on his face, but the safer place of his shoulder.

"I was under the impression that you were leading that sortie, but I must have been mistaken. In fact, you must not have been out there at all, because I heard you directing your squadron about as often as I heard Wang sneeze. That's twice, for your information."

She was getting angry now, he could see. Her eyes swiveled up to his face briefly.

"One of your team members was injured, Vansen. Did you know that? She's in Sickbay right now. But you weren't going to go with her, were you? You were going to go back to quarters and ignore the world until your next mission. Like you've been doing for the past couple of weeks.
I let it slide, lieutenant, because I hoped that you could work this out yourself. What's going on? You don't eat with your team anymore, or drink, or play cards. You're acting like they have an infectious disease. Explain yourself, Vansen."

Shane shifted her weight from foot to foot.

Mcqueen sighed. Of course it wouldn't be that easy with her. The mind-set of a mule lived in her fragile frame.

"All right, I'll tell you what's going on. You're worried you'll lose your edge if you let them in. What happened, lieutenant? Who died? When did you decide that you couldn't lead them if you were their friend? You're not leaving this deck until this mess is cleared up. You're endangering the squad with this behavior, and I can't let your emotional comfort count for more than all the lives under my command. Spit it out."

"I didn't come here to make friends," she snapped in response, meeting his gaze icily. "And even if this was one big love-in, you of all people shouldn't lecture me. "

He glared hard, driving his point home with his eyes as much as his words; willing her to understand.

"I have friends. Not many, but good ones. I'm not about to discuss my personal life with you, Vansen, but get this straight: you have friends: you stay sane. You push people away, you die. In here," he thumped his chest, "or out there," gesturing towards the liquid black beyond the port.
"What's the difference? There isn't one. You let people in, lieutenant, you start today. You can't lead if you can't trust."

She was ready to strike him, almost, the anger boiling up through veins and bone until it hit surface, broke out, wiped that surety off his face.

"You don't know," she said instead, with as much cold dignity as she could muster.

"You don't understand. You don't live with them. Eat with them, drink with them, listen to the dreams. And then watch them die. I can't do it anymore. Don't you dare compare your cozy little relationship with Ross to my team. We're too damn close: I can't even think straight anymore."

"Watch your ass, lieutenant. We're on the record here. Don't think for a moment I don't understand. I've watched people die. I've gotten close. But it doesn't work, Vansen. You can't just withdraw. It doesn't work, no matter how much you need it too."

Her dark head dropped until he could no longer see the shine of her eyes, those eyes he loved to watch, as they flashed and crackled in joy or anger. He had put the flame out- wasn't that what he had set out to do? To break her spirit enough so that she would listen? Still, it pained him to see her give in. He knew he should press now, make his point, but instead, he had some crazy impulse to embrace those narrow shoulders, to say that it would be all right. A lie, of course, but such a comforting one.

Just then Shane lifted her head enough for him to see the sparkle again, and, insanely, his heart lurched.
Not broken, not bent! She took what I laid on and stayed angry- hold your head high, Vansen, don't ever bend. Don't listen to mid-level SOB's like me, not ever.
Burn.

But it was tears making her eyes bright now, not anger, and he felt a lump in his own throat, for there was something precious about pride in the face of war, so precious that you took care of it where you could, fed and watered it like a sapling. Hoping against hope that it would survive the storms and someday, grow to be an oak. Vansen wouldn't be an oak, not after this. She was strong; she would grow enough that maybe others, looking on, might admire the power of her trunk, the grace of her crown. But he would know.

"You don't... sir... people I love have this habit of dying. I can't take care of people anymore, I just can't. I joined up to get away >from my sisters. I can't be their mother. I don't have the heart."

"You have the heart," he said softly, "you're just trying to shut them out to save yourself pain. But ask yourself this, lieutenant, what takes more courage: walking away, or standing firm. Think about it. Let me know what you decide."

He turned and walked away before he could do something destructive, like wiping the tears off her face. She could deal with this. She was Shane. She could deal with anything. She would make the right decision, that had never been an issue.
It would break her heart, but there was no other way, not if she wanted to stay alive. And they needed her to stay alive. Her strength, her anger, those odd, misplaced moments of compassion. She would get them through.

So she was crying, a little. Stronger men and women than she had done the same. He wouldn't endanger their fragile trust by turning back to comfort her. He would keep walking back to his quarters to some pile of paper and pretend not to notice her swollen eyes at briefing.

He had done the right thing, he knew he had, saved her to fight another day.

But still it hurt like a son of a bitch.

The End

Elanaf 1999

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