AUTHORS NOTE: This story begins five weeks after my second story, Acceptance, ends. The characters Heather Scott, Rob Scott, John Wallace, Patti Satrini and Joey the bartender are mine, and are not be used without permission. The lyrics from the song "Israel's Son" is borrowed from Silverchair's album, "Frogstomp" (1995). Comments are welcome and may be sent to Dora Shelton at dorashelton at Enjoy!

Dora Shelton


Vansen, leaning forward on the table, chewed on the end of a toothpick umbrella staring out the large view port at the other end of the room. She was lost in thought, unaware that the others at the table were watching her. She suddenly threw the umbrella down on the table, looking around at the others and sighed. "What the hell is Commodore Ross thinking? We're out here in the middle of a war and he wants to throw a party for some visiting diplomat." She held her hands up by her shoulders, showing her lack of understanding. "What is wrong with him? It's nice that this guy is out here trying to end the war, but come on!" She leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest, before she looked back toward the port. "What the hell is he thinking?"

West sat looking at her, silent with a distanced look on his face. He was also surprised when the Commodore had announced the reception, then practically ordered them all to attend. They had no choice, even without being ordered, since military protocol would require they be there. He rolled his eyes to look at the others sitting around the table.

Wang picked up the topic somewhat reluctantly. "Well, maybe the Commodore is hoping that since we haven't seen any action in almost two weeks this will pick up morale. You know, something to keep our minds occupied." He knew anything said right now could set any one of them off, and he did not want to end up arguing tonight.

Damphousse immediately saw the flaw in his reasoning. "But he announced the reception three weeks ago, Paul. There's no way he could have known that the Chigs would retreat and that we would be inactive. Besides, morale was fine before the reception was announced. It's what created the morale problem." She looked anxiously from Wang to Vansen. Trying to find a way to change the mood, she gave Wang a tentative grin and added, "It doesn't make any sense to me either, but even so, I think a little distraction might be nice."

Heather, standing off to the side of the table, wrinkled her nose. "I don't want to go either, but Mr. Wallace wants us there. Says he wants the military to see that they're not the only ones required to attend." She raised one eyebrow, "Comforting for you military people, isn't it?"

Vansen leaned forward, crossing her arms on the table in front of her, looking around the table again. "Its more than just the party." She looked back out the port before continuing. "Every time I see a dress uniform, the only thing I can think about is funerals. The only time we wear them is for funerals, and my mind is beginning to associate dress blue with death. But now we have to go stand around in a room full of dress blue and try to forget all that, try to look cheerful." She looked into the drink on the table in front of her. "I can't forget all that and I don't want to be cheerful."

"Well I'm not going." Hawkes looked at Vansen as he spoke. "It's stupid. The Commodore can go and be impressed by this guy and dance and stuff, but I'm not." He quickly glanced around the table, looking for reassurance.

Col. McQueen, stood in the doorway listening to the entire conversation. Nobody noticed him when he approached the table until they heard his voice. His tone matched Vansen's mood. "What are you all whining about? You sound like a bunch of red headed step children crying about the beatings you receive." The 58th jumped at the tone of his voice and looked up. McQueen's eyes flashed around the table, making scorching eye contact with each of his people before he looked across the table to Hawkes. "You ARE going Hawkes, and you ARE going to act like you are enjoying yourself. You will make another of your unsuccessful attempts at dancing and step all over your partner's toes." His eyes flashed gray-blue as he again looked around the table, then at Heather who still stood nearby, watching quietly. His eyes hit Hawkes once more, noting the deflated look on his face.

McQueen looked at Vansen, leaning and resting one hand on the back of her chair and the other on the table. "Hear this CFB, Captain. You don't have a need to know what the hell the Commodore is thinking and you will not speculate about his motives. The only way you will miss this reception is if you are sitting in the brig for insubordination." He stood up straight again, his blue eyes still boring into her. "You don't have a need to know anything except that you will be there, in dress uniform, letting some oaf step on your feet." As this last comment was made, McQueen looked back at Hawkes, who met McQueen's eyes then quickly looked down at the table surface. McQueen looked back at Vansen as he continued. "And I don't care if you like it or not, so quit your bitching."

McQueen let his eyes fall on Wang and Damphousse, sitting side by side. "And you will both be there trying to remember that it's a formal, military occasion, not a brothel where you can grovel together in the corner. You will display appropriate military decorum and make it appear as if you're enjoying the reception. You are capable of doing that, I assume?" He didn't wait for their reply before he turned his attention to West. "And Opie will have to deal with the fact that Aunt Bea isn't here to protect him from his responsibilities." Not even noticing the confused look on West's face, he continued, looking around the table. "You will ALL be there, showing your respect to the Commodore and the ambassador. You will show some appreciation for the efforts made to give each of you some diversion from this war and to allow you to meet a man that may become important in putting an end to it. Is that understood?" He glared at them as they all sat looking at the table top.

As McQueen worked his way around the table throwing his anger and insults at each person under his command, Heather observed from the side. She was annoyed and uncomfortable at McQueen's tirade against the Wildcards. She didn't understand the reason for his anger, since they were only venting amongst themselves. They weren't airing their complaints in a room full of people who might overhear and misunderstand their intent. She felt that they may have needed to be set straight about the Commodore's intentions, however, this was out of hand. Heather had seen minor displays of McQueen's temper before, but nothing like this. It made her wonder if his own displeasure at the requirement of attending the reception caused his anger. She was glad that the bar was empty, to save the 58th the embarrassment of being dressed down in public. All she could do was stay out of the way and watch, or remind them that she was a witness by leaving, since it was not her place to step in.

Each of the 58th were shocked when he then turned toward Heather, his anger not yet spent. "And I would think that you would understand the effort that Commodore Ross is making on behalf of his crew and not join in their whining." As he spoke he stepped up to stand inches from Heather, who was as startled as the others. "You, of all people, should appreciate what the Commodore is trying to do for the members of his ship. But you complain because it's not something you want to do and to hell with the Commodore or anyone else. You have no thought for anything outside what you want."

Heather's surprise quickly turned to anger and flared back at him. When he approached her she had not backed away and now stood nose to nose with him. She calmly said, "I think you had better get out of my face, Colonel." The Wildcards were as shocked as McQueen to hear her speak, and it was silent in the room for a few seconds. There was a slight change in McQueen's expression, which Heather was too angry to notice. "You may see fit to insult and embarrass those under your command, but you forget that I am NOT under your command."

Before she could continue, McQueen had recovered, interrupting her. "What's wrong Scott? You want to be seen as associated with the 58th, but you don't want to be included with them when things aren't to your liking? When it comes right down to it, you don't want to really be part of them, only someone who has the status of being associated with them. That association isn't so attractive when things get a little tough, is it? You don't want to have to accept the responsibility that association entails." His speech was steady, giving her no break in which to interrupt before he finished.

They still stood nose to nose, and Heather refused to back down after that last comment. If there was any way to insult her, he had just found it. He questioned the motives and quality of her friendship with the 58th. Even worse, he questioned her reliability and sense of responsibility. She was always there when needed, and she felt that he should have known this, since about one month earlier she was involved in a bar fight on the side of the 58th and McQueen, in which they all stood up for his and Hawkes' rights. It seemed that she had finally gained some acceptance from McQueen when she fought as hard as his marines. She had proven that she would be there for them. Because of this, his comment hit her just as hard as a slap in the face might have.

Her voice was like acid, so quiet it was almost a whisper. "I do believe, Colonel, that you're talking out your ass." With each added sentence her voice raised slightly. "You don't know what I want or think. You don't know what it is I look for in this life, and you don't know shit about what I may accept responsibility for. I might suggest that you need to worry about looking inside here..." Heather took the knuckle of one finger and tapped McQueen in the chest, not very lightly, startling and pushing him back slightly, then continued, "before you worry about digging for understanding anyplace else. If you don't know by now that the reason that I'm here for them, that I care about them and I'm loyal to them has nothing to do with the status they carry, then you're lacking a true understanding of what such ties mean. You need to reassess your own thinking, your own loyalty." With that she stepped back, returning his angry blue stare with one of equal force. "Sort out your own issues before trying to dig around inside my head, because you know nothing about how I think or what I feel." Taking a deep breath, Heather stepped aside walked past McQueen toward the door.

The 58th sat staring, looking from McQueen to Heather's retreating back. They saw that McQueen, rather than preventing her from leaving with more angry words, stood silently facing the spot where she no longer stood. When he turned his face away from them toward the bar, they didn't see the emotions that raced across his face.

Several steps from the door, Heather stopped and turned back toward McQueen, seeing the table full of marines watching her with stunned looks on their faces. Noting that McQueen's back was still toward her, she spoke specifically to get his attention. "Colonel McQueen." When he turned to look at her over his shoulder, she looked into his eyes to make sure he was listening. "You can go straight to hell." She turned and shoved the swinging doors open as she walked out of the bar.

McQueen watched her walk out the door, a look of pain and understanding on his face. He mumbled incoherently over his shoulder, "I believe I may do just that."

Vansen left the others in their quarters, brooding about the dressing down they had received from the Colonel. She didn't tell them she was going to look for Heather, but Hawkes had known. She had to order him to remain in their quarters to keep him from following her. Even at that, she expected to turn and see him behind her at any moment.

Hawkes was relentlessly protective of Heather. If he could have had a sister, Heather would have been born to it. Vansen smiled when she thought about it. Tonight she had again shown them that she didn't need their protection.

Vansen searched everywhere she knew Heather went to be alone and was beginning to run out of places to look. When she finally stopped by the barracks, Heather's crew mates said that she had stopped by, changed and headed for the gym. Heading toward the massive workout room in the middle of the ship, Vansen considered the fact that she should have known Heather would need to get the anger out of her system, and there was no better place to do it than in the gym.

When she opened the door of the gym, she was assaulted by the sound of a male voice screaming to the booming of too much bass. Vansen entered the room unnoticed and seeing Heather running laps, sat in the corner to wait until she was finished. Listening to the disk playing while she waited, she realized this group was one of many from long ago which were categorized as "angry youth". Vansen smiled, knowing this was music to match Heather's mood.

As she ran, Heather's mind raced. She searched for some clue as to why she had been so pointedly insulted by McQueen. Only five weeks ago, after the fight in Tun Tavern, she felt she had finally received some semblance of acceptance from him. When her supervisor learned that she was involved, he placed her on 30 days restriction to the barracks. Vansen wanted to find a way to have the order lifted, but Heather refused. She not only felt it was somewhat deserved, but she also wanted to use the time to get her head on straight, because she had begun to find McQueen dangerously attractive.

On the third day of her restriction, McQueen had come to the barracks when the 58th were out on patrol and Heather's crew mates were all working. She was surprised to see him, but welcomed the visit. He brought her a stack of books, explaining that he knew what it was like to be confined, having done 120 days in solitary many years ago. The books he was able to obtain at that time, he said, helped him survive that experience. Although her situation wasn't the same, he hoped they would make it easier for her as well. He thanked her for standing up for Hawkes by joining the fight, telling her that his squadron had found a true friend in her. He left without giving her the chance to say that she was standing up for him as well, and that the friendship could also extend to him if he allowed it. Thinking about it now, maybe it was better left unsaid.

It took her about two weeks to read the books with nothing else to do in her off time. They were an assortment of Eastern philosophy and history. She began to get a feel for some of her past observations of him from the philosophy. The history concerned military matters in a wide range of periods from the American Revolution to the present. These she read, but found less understanding from them.

On one of Vansen's visits, Heather had asked her to return McQueen's books, adding a few from her own collection. These included two historical novels that dealt with the Dark Ages and Medieval history, her favorite time period, and a textbook on swords. She felt he might enjoy the different tactical aspect of the history of that time period. She included the book on swords simply because she could picture him dressed in chainmail with long hair, holding one.

She fought back laughter as she ran, thinking of this again. She could still picture it in her mind. Adding a kilt to the picture, she saw the ultimate warrior in her imagination. She forced the image from her mind, knowing it was a disturbing image for her hormonal balance.

A few days after sending the books with Vansen, McQueen sent her more books, this time on medieval history, through Hawkes. The topics included medieval battle techniques, the effect of the power of the Church on society and the cultural aspects of the development of chivalry. Each book was fascinating to her, and she wondered where he found such a collection onboard the Saratoga. She could not imagine he might be interested in such topics. She had sent her own books to him on a whim, as a way of showing him that there was more out there to history than modern battle tactics. By the time she finished these books, she had only a few days of restriction left.

The day after she finished the last book, McQueen again came to the barracks. He returned her books, retrieved his own, and surprised her with the fact that he had actually read the books she sent him. After discussing them, she was amazed at the depth of his self education and realized there was a lot more to McQueen that he never allowed to show. She had not seen him or directly communicated with him between his visits to the barracks. Yet, she felt she had learned as much about him in her absence as she had by being present to watch him. She saw the concern his actions conveyed as tokens of friendship, no small deed coming from him.

After that day, almost two weeks earlier, she had not spoken with him. She had only seen him while she was on duty on the flight deck. Even so, she hadn't noticed anything amiss in his demeanor. The accusations he threw at her earlier made no sense. Why would he accuse her of chasing after the status of the Wildcards after telling her during her restriction that she was a good friend to them? Everything he said in his anger could be disproved by her past actions. She knew this, and he must also know it. So why did he lash out at her in this way? Finding no acceptable answers, she decided that it was best put aside, else she would go crazy trying to figure it out.

As the disk started again, Heather ended her run. She noticed Vansen sitting in the corner as she walked across the gym. Vansen was now used to the group and could understand what they were saying. As she listened to the lyrics, she was shocked to hear the words and see Heather singing along with them:

"Hate, is what I feel for you,
And I want you to know that I want you dead.
You're late for the execution,
And if you're not here soon I kill your friend instead."

As Heather reached Vansen, she turned the volume down and smiled when she noticed the look on her face. "What's the matter, don't approve of my music?"

Vansen just laughed. "What the hell is that stuff? It's awful, like something Hawkes would listen to."

Heather smiled, finally tired enough in both body and mind to no longer be angry. "Silverchair. Rob hated it when I played the old hard rock stuff. I don't particularly care for the words to this song, but I like the music. It's great for getting your aggression out." She wiped her face and neck with the towel laying on her gym bag, then draped it over her head. "How long have you been here?"

Vansen shook her head and smiled. "Once through the album, if you can believe that!"

Heather laughed, "You made it all the way through? You're a tough girl! You should be a marine when you grow up." She sat down on the floor next to Vansen, leaning toward her. "Like my perfume? It goes along with the music."

Vansen shoved her and rolled her eyes, "God, get away." Laughing, she continued, "At least you're in a better mood."

"For now. If McQueen were to walk in the door, I would have to go for another run to keep from punching him right in the mouth. I don't know how you take it when he gets like that. I wanted to rip his throat out." "So are you OK now? I have never seen anyone piss you off like that." When Heather nodded, Vansen continued. "What was that all about, anyway? I understand where he was coming from with us, but what set him off on you?" Heather looked at Vansen and shook her head. "I have no clue, but he picked up quickly on how to push my buttons. I haven't been that mad in years." She pulled the towel down onto her neck and leaned back against the wall.

"I know we could never get away with lashing back like that." Vansen cocked her head to one side, thinking. "You know, come to think of it, I've never seen anyone other than the Commodore stand up to McQueen like that and get away with it. I've seen him have it out with officers his own rank, but he never just stopped lashing out like he did with you."

Heather looked at Vansen seriously. "Hey, he was way out of line. You can't question my motives where my friends are concerned." She shook her head, thinking. "If he had questions, they should've come up when he saw these friendships growing. Plus, he told me himself that he feels I've been a good friend to you guys." She pulled the towel from around her neck and threw it at her gym bag. "Everything with us has been out in the open, so I think he was just jerking my chain. I didn't appreciate it."

Vansen nodded, but then looked up suddenly, realizing Heather must have been so angry that she missed the most visible sign that might explain McQueen's actions. She was so focused on his words that she didn't see anything unusual in his reaction to what she said to him. But Vansen didn't miss what, to her, looked a lot like fear. Heather had hit on something deep inside McQueen when she lashed back at him. "You didn't even see it, did you?"

Heather looked at her questioningly, leaning forward and crossing her legs. "See what?" Vansen cocked her head to one side and frowned. "You pushed some of

his buttons also. You said something that dug up some feelings or something, I'm not sure exactly what. If I knew him better, I might think you forced him to face something he has been hiding from himself. Whatever it was, it silenced him. I don't know if those feelings deal with you or the 58th, though."

Heather listened to Vansen, realizing she missed something significant which might have explained his actions. But knowing she would have to see it herself to know for sure, she shrugged her shoulders. "Well, I didn't see it. And if it had to do with me, well, I don't even want to dwell on that one. It will drive me nuts!" She smiled mischievously, "But, its an interesting thought. The feelings part, I mean. Not the part about going nuts, I'm already there."

Vansen shook her head. "There you go onto that dangerous ground again. You better get those thoughts about McQueen out of your head or you may end up doing something about them." She tilted her head down, looked up toward Heather and smiled. "And that would be worth seeing!"

Heather picked up on the joke, "Who says I would let you watch?" She became serious again. "Anything beyond friendship would be totally up to him. I told you that. You guys mean too much to me to screw it up by chasing after McQueen." Heather grinned, "Except in my dreams, of course."

Vansen laughed and started to reply, but paused when she heard the door behind her open. When she saw Heather smile, she turned and saw Hawkes and West standing in the door. She sighed, turning toward them as she spoke, "Coop, what did I tell you?" Vansen tried to maintain an angry front. "Get in here, right now."

Hawkes looked at Vansen with a sheepish smile as he stepped into the room. "You ordered me not to follow you, Captain." Then he dropped the pretense of formality. "But you didn't say nothing about looking for her on my own after you were gone."

Vansen turned to look at West, who was giving the audio equipment an odd look. "Well, Nathan?"

West looked at her and grinned. "I figured I could keep him out of trouble if I came along. Besides, you didn't tell anyone where you were going and I was curious."

When Vansen smiled and turned back to Heather, Hawkes knew she wasn't mad at him. Noticing the music, he asked, "Hey, what is this stuff? It's pretty cool."

West glanced at Hawkes. "Cool is not exactly what I would call it."

Vansen and Heather both laughed, exchanging a knowing glance. Hawkes frowned at their amused exchange. "What?"

Heather stood up, smiling. "Nothing, Shane knew you would like my music." She turned off the audio and removed the disk. "I'm going to hit the shower. See you guys later." Seeing Hawkes' disappointed look, she placed her hand on his arm and squeezed it. She shot Vansen an amused look, handing the old CD to Hawkes. "Here, go shoot some Chigs on the simulator while you listen to this. But don't get any ideas, I want it back."

West rolled his eyes and looked at Vansen, who gave Heather an annoyed look. Hawkes took the disk and smiled. "Whoa, thanks."

As Heather headed out the door, she laughed as she heard Vansen complaining behind her. "Oh, thanks a lot, Heather. Now we're going to have to listen to that thing for at least a week."

Heather didn't hear her name called out behind her on the flight deck because the sound of power tools drowned out all else. When she set the tool down, she heard a familiar voice say her name. She stiffened, but didn't turn around. When she saw that the rest of her crew was out of hearing distance, she felt it safe to reply. "Back from hell so soon, Colonel?"

When, after a moment, she heard nothing more behind her, she looked over her shoulder to see if McQueen was still there. She found him waiting with his hands behind his back, staring at the floor. She saw no sign that he was there to continue the confrontation, and immediately softened toward him. She had no intentions of creating a new fight. As for the old one, what had been said was past and should be put to rest. Facing him she asked, "What can I do for you Col. McQueen?"

She watched as he looked up and searched her face. He hesitated, looking down again before speaking. "I wish to apologize for my words last night." He raised his head and looked directly into her eyes. "My anger wasn't directed toward you." He appeared sincere in his apology.

Heather listened, wondering why she was receiving an apology, knowing how difficult such an act would be for McQueen. This seemed to her an act which was out of character for him, a person who wouldn't normally apologize to anyone even when he knew he was wrong. She felt that any apology should belong to his squadron, not to her. The fact that she received the apology that belonged to the 58th, one that she could not explain, annoyed her. She wanted to throw it back in his face, to tell him that the Wildcards deserved it more than she did since they were the ones who had to live with his raging moods.

Her thoughts moved to the confrontation in Tun. She wanted to ask him exactly why he had attacked her relationship with the 58th, but knew it was a question that would probably make him angry. She believed that he would have explained himself already had planned to do so, but they stood in silence, proof that he did not plan to go further into the subject. As she stood looking at McQueen, Heather realized that the fact that he offered no explanation told her as much as an explanation might have. His silence spoke of feelings he wished to keep hidden from everyone, maybe even himself. This brought back what Vansen had told her about the reaction he had to her words during their confrontation. Maybe Vansen is right, she thought. If so, it would eventually come out, but now was not the time to push him to uncover it.

Yet, she also realized that she as she mentally explained his actions to herself, that explanation was also deceptive. What actually annoyed her was not that he failed to apologize to the 58th or that he failed to explain why he took his anger out on her. The 58th accepted his moods as an intrinsic part of him which they had no control over. They didn't hold it against him and he knew this. What actually annoyed her was that his apology meant she no longer had an acceptable reason to be angry with him. She wanted to hold on to that anger, to use it as a means of distancing herself from him. As she had told Vansen in past discussions, she felt too much where McQueen was concerned. He was what Vansen called her "dangerous ground."

Noticing that McQueen was now watching her intently, she feared that she allowed him to see some of the feelings she worked so hard to hide. She knew that none of the rationalizations she had just considered about being angry with him for his actions toward her and the 58th would change anything. They certainly wouldn't satisfy him as to her thoughts just now, and he might even see through them. Since she couldn't safely explain her current annoyance with him truthfully, she decided it was best not to explain at all. Let him try to figure it out. "Thank you for your apology, Colonel, but you weren't the only one to speak in anger. I owe you an apology as well. My lashing out at you was a defensive reaction that I should have controlled."

When he said nothing, only looked down, she realized that some of what he said the night before may have hit on something she hid from herself. Could it be true that she had initially attached herself to the 58th due to their status? It was unusual for members of flight crews on any ship to have close personal relationships with the pilots, yet here she was, friends with the Wildcards, the most talked about crew since the Angry Angels. Hoping to explore that further, she continued, "You reminded me that my place is not with the 58th, and maybe I should put some distance between myself and them." McQueen quickly looked up at her in surprise. Looking him in the eye, she continued, "As hard as that would be for me, I want to do what's best for them, and will back away if that's what you want." As the words were spoken, she realized she meant them. She only wanted what was best for them, and would make any sacrifice needed for them. By making the statement she provoked feelings within herself that were so strong that she knew she had become attached to them because of the individuals they were, not for their status. She painfully feared McQueen might now take her up on the offer, now that the words were said, but they could not be taken back.

McQueen's confusion showed as he thought about what she said. He had no intentions of forcing a separation between her and the 58th. On the contrary, he no longer had the concerns he once had about the relationship.

He noticed minor duty related interactions between Heather and the 58th almost immediately upon her assignment to their flight crew about ten months earlier. Over the following months, he saw closer relationships begin to form, especially with Vansen and Hawkes, then later with West. He saw her spending more time with them off duty and realized they were becoming close. Finally, after about two months, he approached Commodore Ross for her background information. Ross told him what he knew about Heather and suggested McQueen allow the relationship to develop and step in only if it interfered with their performance. McQueen had done just that and was satisfied that the relationship had actually been good for them. He accepted the fact that the 58th considered her a part of their family, and found himself thinking of her as a distanced part of them.

He also realized, however, that he was a little jealous of her relationship with the 58th. This jealousy was what caused him to lash out at her. Since he had no experiences with her which could be used against her in his anger, he had used her relationship with the Wildcards during his tirade. She had the relationship with them he could never have. One he had never had with any group since leaving the mines.

Finally, he knew that he would also feel a loss if she were to disassociate herself from his kids. On a deeper level, he wanted her to remain near because he wanted to learn more about her. As he stood there, he again felt what had confused and practically paralyzed him when she had faced him down in Tun Tavern. He had become emotionally attached to her, and could no longer deny it. Even though he realized this, he did not know what to make of his own feelings, not knowing exactly what it was he felt.

Forcing this to the back of his mind, he focused on the current situation. "That is not necessary, Scott. I have no concerns for the relationship you have with the 58th. I actually believe you are a good influence for them. Hawkes shows signs that he's developing the ability to trust in ways many In Vitros never can due to the relationship he has with you." He was being truthful, yet looked away after he said it, feeling that he admitted his own inability to trust in making the statement.

Heather nodded, grateful that he would not force an end to the friendships. Yet, she had not missed the small flashes of emotion betrayed by his confusion. Not knowing what to make of this, she said nothing.

They stood for a few seconds looking at each other, wondering at what each had momentarily seen in the other. As McQueen turned to leave the flight deck, Heather returned to her work.

Marines and flight crews were scrambling. The war had returned to the Saratoga in full force when the Chigs had mounted an offensive on a nearby planet. The 58th were one of the squadrons being loaded into ISSCVs in full battle gear, preparing to go on planet to fight the Chigs.

Heather rushed about with the rest of the flight crew. Preparations for these missions were very different than with patrol and fighter missions because there was so much more work involved in the launch preparations. With the hammerheads, most preparations were completed on the return of the aircraft. The rest was just maintenance since the hammerheads were the expedient choice and were always kept flight ready. With the ISSCVs, everything was in readiness somewhere else, and had to be quickly moved to the cargo bays. The squadrons had their own flight decks which housed their hammerheads, but they never knew which cargo bay they might fly out of.

With all the ISSCVs loaded, the flight crews ran out of the cargo bay as the doors began to descend. With the launch of the marines, there was then nothing left to do but wait for them to return.

McQueen stood motionless at the view port in the back of Tun Tavern staring at the stars with an empty glass in his hand. A half full bottle of scotch sat on the table next to him.

Heather entered the otherwise empty bar and sat on a stool. She had just left the Wildcards' quarters after looking in on them. They had returned that morning after several days of ground assault. They were exhausted and had time off duty to get some rest, so had chosen to stay in their quarters today. She left them there, promising to return later when they were more rested to hear their stories.

She shook her head at Joey, the bartender, before he could speak and sat watching McQueen in the mirror across from her. McQueen stood motionless, alone and lost in the stars.

Thinking about how she felt each time the 58th left the ship to go on a mission, she wondered if McQueen felt the same things. Every time they returned, Heather would do a mental head count, her greatest fear being that one of them would not be there. The relief she felt each time she found them all accounted for had to be even stronger for him, since he was their commanding officer. In fact, she believed it might be even worse for him, because he felt he should be out there with them, but was grounded. It must be gut wrenching for him, waiting for them. The fact that he was able to go on certain ground missions with them might offset those fears. These missions would allow him to receive personal knowledge of their abilities, making it less difficult for him knowing they could care for themselves. Yet, she felt their fighter missions must be especially hard for him. Maybe the luxury of his having access to the bridge helped him through it all. There he could listen to them, know what they did and advise them if needed. She, on the other hand, did not have that luxury, and just waited with no knowledge of events, each time they launched from the Saratoga.

Her thoughts changed direction as she wondered what, if anything, he had seen in her face when they spoke earlier in the week on the flight deck. Heather focused her attention on the figure in the mirror. She refused to actively pursue him, but had made a conscious decision that she would welcome a friendship with him. She had no plans to pursue anything beyond that point, since the 58th were her primary friends and he was their CO. She would not consider anything more unless he initiated it. Yet, she had glimpsed a slight hint of hidden emotions in him that day, and she had trouble fighting back her curiosity. She wanted to know exactly what it was he felt, but knew better than to ask directly.

After several minutes, she picked up a clean shot glass from the stack on the bar and with one last look at the mirror, headed toward the port. She stopped behind McQueen, watching the stars floating before them. He didn't turn around, so she didn't know if he realized that anyone was there. She didn't know if he felt her presence; she didn't know if he saw her reflection in the port. Heather smiled. When it came to Col. McQueen, she realized, there was a lot she didn't know.

She picked up the bottle and poured scotch into her glass, letting him know that someone else was present. Looking past his back toward the stars, she made no attempt to focus on his reflection in the clear covering of the port. She wanted to allow him the opportunity to express himself without fear of her seeing anything he did not want noticed in this particular meeting. This seemed very important to her just now, giving him free expression without the worry of giving himself away. When he still stood silent without looking at her, she asked, "What do you see when you look out there, Colonel?"

When he turned to look at her, searchingly, over his shoulder, she continued to look out the port. He looked back at the stars, thinking. "I see a greatness, Scott; an expanse that makes me realize how insignificant this single existence really is. "

When it became obvious that he had nothing more to say, she thought about his words. They seemed to fit with the outlook he always conveyed, the idea that he was expendable. He seemed to follow a philosophy that dictated that he was of lesser importance than others. That his purpose in life was singular, one he was designed to perform, one from which he could not deviate.

She felt the whole philosophy was wrong. To her, he was not expendable but was very important and she believed his purpose was his to choose. To hell with what his designers, those Aerotech jerks who employed lab geeks to design human beings from specific gene pools for designated purposes and brainwash them about their existence. He was an individual whose existence mattered, and not just to her. He was strong and intelligent, and had more going for him than most natural born people, whether he wanted to realize it or not. This was a man who could accomplish anything he set his mind to, one she wished were her friend, as the Wildcards were her friends.

She stepped up beside him, set the glass on the table and put her hands behind her back. Hesitantly, she asked, "You know what I see?" She waited, feeling him looking over at her. She continued to search the sky and would not meet his eyes. Knowing that what she was about to say could be taken a number of ways, she wondered how he would choose to take it. She took a deep breath and continued. "I see an expanse, so full of nothing, that it reminds me how truly significant every life is." She looked over at him, seeing the curiosity in his face, and continued. "With that in mind, I believe we should all reach out for what we want. Because if we don't, Colonel, all that expansive nothing out there might allow what you want to disappear. Once the opportunity to have something is gone, there may never be the second chance to have it in your grasp." She realized that her words could be interpreted as an unspoken invitation and went against what she had told Vansen, that the move toward any type of relationship between them would need to be made by McQueen. Fearing to say more, fearing she had gone too far over the boundaries she herself had set, she fell silent, looking back out the port.

She fought to remain impassive, staring at the darkness surrounding the flickering lights of space as he watched her for a few seconds. When he turned back to the port, she let her eyes drop.

He thought about what she said, staring out the port but seeing nothing. He found that the ideas she expressed, although very different from his own, made a lot of sense to him. He also wondered if she had intended the hidden meaning he had picked up from her words. He was still sorting out his feelings, and was increasingly getting a glimpse of the feeling she seemed to try to hide. Deciding to find out if his suspicions were right, he asked, "And what is you want to reach out for, Scott?"

When she did not answer, the silence became deafening. He turned to see if something was wrong, and her words were suddenly emphasized by the fact that she was no longer there. She believed his silence meant that the conversation was at an end and had left the tavern. He turned his eyes back to the stars, but saw nothing, feeling the full effect of her words in that moment. He again saw that she was starting to fill some void he had not known existed, one that would create a loss for him if she were to move away from the Wildcards.

Hey, how long are you slugs going to just lay around?" Heather entered the 58th's quarters and looked at the group all sprawled out on their individual bunks. Wang, who was oblivious to her entrance, lay there snoring so loud he sounded like a buzz saw. The other Wildcards were all miserable and awake.

Hawkes, unable to sleep, was laying on his side looking at a comic book. Heather sat on his bunk and leaned back against him, looking at the tired faces in the room. Damphousse gave her a wan smile. "Well, none of us have had much sleep. How can anyone sleep with that?" She pointed at Wang.

"We used to have a heavy snorer in the barracks. But we don't have that problem anymore." She had a mischievous look in her eye. "He goes into the showers to sleep when he's really exhausted. I think he's afraid to snore too loudly anymore."

West turned so that he was laying face down on his top bunk, looking down at Heather with a hint of curiosity. When she looked up at him and winked, he could no longer resist. "How did you get him to go somewhere else when everyone was trying to sleep?"

Heather took on a false look of innocence as she replied, "We made him up to look like a model."

West frowned, not understanding, but Damphousse burst out laughing. "No way, girl." She sat thinking about doing that to Wang and followed her comment with a loud squeal, fell over sideways on her bunk and almost fell, while Vansen looked at Heather with a devious smile.

Hawkes looked from Heather to Damphousse, lost to the humor or point of the conversation. "What? What's that mean, made him up to look like a model?"

Instead of answering Hawkes question, Heather asked Vansen and Damphousse, "What do you have?"

Damphousse and Vansen exchanged a long thoughtful glance over the edge of Damphousse's bunk. Vansen finally broke the silence, "Let's do it." She and Damphousse got off of their bunks and pulled their footlockers out from under Vansen's lower bunk. They rummaged through them for a few minutes, coming away with two shave kit bags. They looked at each other, smiling deviously.

Hawkes was never one to be patient. His comic book forgotten, he kept repeating his appeal to the women in the room. "What? What are you guys gonna do? What's going on?"

Heather glanced up at West. He looked at the three women and realized that together, they were capable of anything devious. He rolled onto his back and put his hands behind his head. Fearing the worst, he didn't want to be a witness to whatever they had in mind. "I don't think we want to know, Coop."

Vansen, Damphousse and Heather gathered around Wang's bunk and dumped the bags of make-up on his chest. They looked through the collection, choosing particular items that would go well with Wang's features and color. They began to apply the make-up to his sleeping face, giggling and whispering as they made their decisions of what look was best for him.

Heather glanced up at West, hanging over the edge of the bunk, finally unable to resist watching the women apply make-up to his squad mate. There was pure amazement on his face. Amused, he said, "Remind me never to keep you guys awake or sleep too soundly around you."

Hawkes could no longer control his curiosity, and moved to the side of the bunk to see what was going on. "Whoa, Wang's gonna be pissed off at you guys." He looked up with curiosity at West. "You think he'll sleep in the showers now?"

West just shrugged his shoulders. He wondered if anything could wake up Wang when he was exhausted. If this didn't, he was certain nothing would.

As the three women finished, they stepped back to inspect their masterpiece, who continued to snore loudly. They looked at West and Hawkes, who were speechless, staring at Wang. Looking at each other, the women burst out laughing and screaming. When they again looked at Wang, Damphousse grinned. "Damn, Paul makes a pretty girl."

Hawkes couldn't help but agree. "Yeah. Man, if I didn't like girls, I might kinda go for Wang, looking like that." He looked around at the others.

Heather smiled. "He's a gorgeous girlie-man!" The three of them again looked at each other and began screaming.

They entire group was startled when they heard McQueen's voice. "What is going on in here? Sounds like a bunch of teen-aged girls at a slumber party?" Damphousse, Vansen and Heather turned around to face McQueen, hiding the make-up and Wang behind their backs. The room was silent except for Wang's snores.

Hawkes slowly moved away toward his bunk. Vansen and Heather gave him a look that could kill when they heard him say, "Now you guys are done for."

McQueen glanced at Hawkes, then up at West. When West looked from the bunk below him to the women in front of him, then rolled onto his back to look at the ceiling, McQueen realized that they must have done something to Wang. Listening to the loud snoring coming from behind the women, he knew that he should find out what they were up to. "Captain, would you like to explain what's going on here?"

Vansen glanced at Heather. It was obvious she didn't want to reply. Looking back at McQueen, she tensed and replied formally, "Sir, no sir." When McQueen shot her a menacing look, she stammered slightly, "I mean, well..." Heather let out a giggle, again prompting Vansen to close her eyes and say simply, "No, sir," while fighting back laughter. Damphousse stood there with her eyes big like a rabbit in headlights, more successful than the others at fighting back her laughter.

McQueen thought that whatever they had done, it must be good. Vansen was rarely so flustered. He stepped forward and wedged himself between Vansen and Heather, leaning slightly to see what they were hiding from his view. He saw Wang, laying there made up like a China doll, and instantly understood that Wang's snoring had become more than they could handle. He straightened and stepped back, looking each person in the room in the eye. The smile in his tone was visible only in his eyes. "Wang is keeping you from getting any sleep, I see."

He met each person's eyes one more time before he turned and walked to the hatch. Other squadrons might have given Wang a blanket party, a term to describe covering him with blankets and beating him awake then senseless, so he was relieved that the 58th had found a means of handling him that did not remove him from flight status. But he also wanted something like this handled in a responsible manner that would not embarrass Wang more than was necessary to make their point. He stopped at the hatch and, with one more amused look, told them over his shoulder, "Just make sure he doesn't go out into the ship like that." He turned and walked out of the Wildcards' quarters.

As they watched his back go out the hatch, Vansen, Damphousse and Heather burst out giggling. They turned to look at each other, relieved that McQueen had understood what they were doing and had not seen fit to deal with the issue through some type of punishment. They turned to look at Wang, and Heather said, "God, I wish I had a camera right now."

Damphousse moved away toward her bunk, returning a few moments later with her camera. "Well, ladies, we are in luck. Coop, come take some pictures." Damphousse held the camera out to Hawkes.

Hawkes and West looked at each other, speechless. West shook his head and rolled over as Hawkes took the camera. Vansen, Damphousse and Heather posed with Wang's snoring painted face as he took a few photos. Handing the camera back to Damphousse, Hawkes left their quarters, wanting to be anywhere but there when Wang woke up.

Previous : Acceptance Pt 1 & 2
Next : Part Two

Dora Shelton 1996