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 infringements are intended. The character of "MJ" is the creation of this author and may not be used without his permission. Comments to the author are always welcome (email@example.com).
This story wouldn't have been possible without the encouragement of Jenny Islander; an old friend I just met; a good friend and voice of moderation to many of us on the Space-l list. May her happiness extend to others, and may her virtual red pens never run dry. To all of the hopeless romantics out there who let something go they never should have, Semper Fi
Timeline note: This takes place one to two weeks after the Fan Fiction Serial "Keep the Faith" concluded Not Rated Tom Bissett firstname.lastname@example.org
Unable to go back to sleep after the third-degree questioning by Wang, Nathan flopped back down in his beanbag and tried to get into another movie. Staring at the screen, but not really seeing the movie, he was replaying the events of the previous few hours. Realizing he had thoroughly enjoyed himself, he decided to start the day, again hoping to take a good long shower before the hot water was gone.
Heading down the corridor to the showers, he started whistling to himself. Startled, he realized what he was doing, and characterized his whistling ability to be as bad as his crew chief's back on the Saratoga.
Stepping into the showers, he smiled, gave up the whistling and started to hum; no particular tune, just snippets of songs he remembered from school, church, and even parts of the Marine Corps hymn. Breaking out into song, and singing louder, he continued, ". . . Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli . . ." Percieving sounds other than his slightly off-key singing and the shower running, he stopped and heard the distinct noises of clapping and cheering. "Go West! Yeah! What a voice!" Realizing the voices were that of Hawkes and Wang, he stopped, poked his head out of the shower, and said in his defense, "Hey, come on, you guys. Can't a person sing in the shower without being interrupted?" Smiling, he pulled his head back into the shower and under the stream of water.
"Singing? Is that what you call that? I thought you were in there slaughtering a goat, or something.", Hawkes said, looking closely for incoming soap bars or shampoo bottles.
Breaking out into full-voice, West began singing "Amazing Grace", one of his childhood favorites.
"Hey, West. You carry a tune like your schmuck crew chief does. You two related? Siamese twins from different mothers or something?" Hawkes asked.
"Nathan," Wang said, "You are my closest friend in the entire universe, and I feel our relationship is strong enough to ask a personal question. Just what did you do with all that money?"
Stepping out of the shower and starting to dry off, he responded "Money? What money?"
"The money your momma gave you for singing lessons, you jerk."
Stopping and thinking about this last remark, West turned his back on his friends, all the while twisting his towel into a rat-tail. Suddenly turning and snapping the ends at them, he scored perfect hits on both Wang and Hawkes. "HEY!" Hawkes hollered, turning to protect himself from another strike. "You wanna knock it off?"
"Your important lesson today, boys, is to always remember this. Payback, is as they say," West paused, making sure they were carefully paying attention, "A bitch. Remember that. Important lesson is now over." Ducking out of the shower just before the rain of soap bars, shampoo bottles and assorted articles of thrown clothing could hit, West began singing again.
"What was that all about?", Hawkes asked, watching West leave.
"I think the boy's in love again, and just doesn't know it." Wang replied.
Meeting up with the rest of the WildCards for breakfast, West had just finished putting a forkful of food in his mouth when he heard, "Hey, Sport. Mind if I join y'all?"
Looking around and seeing MJ there, he nodded his head while chewing as fast as he could. Standing and trying to say something to the affirmative, all that came out was "Suurf. Sifft here."
"Way to woo the natives with poem and prose, Nathan." Vansen said. Extending her hand, she looked up at MJ and said "My name's Shane Vansen. You sit there in Nathan's seat; he'll finish chewing and be a good boy and go get another chair. While he's gone, I'll introduce you to the rest of the 'Cards and we'll say bad things about him."
Sitting and picking up her coffee cup, MJ watched as Vansen made the introductions. "Vanessa Damphousse, Paul Wang, and this socially unacceptable person is Cooper Hawkes."
Taking each offered hand, she said to Wang, "I wouldn't have body slammed you in the hallway if I'd known you were a friend of Nathan's."
"'Scuse me? Did I miss something here?" 'Phousse asked.
"No, it was nothing. She walked into me by accident in the hallway from Nathan's . . ." Looking up at the rest of the 'Cards, he realized he would need to answer questions later, in private.
"Wait a minute here." Sniffing his armpit in mock indignation, Hawkes continued through a smile, "Socially unacceptable? I bathed earlier. I've even got a witness, and a welt on my butt from a lethal weapon."
"All right, what'd I miss?" West asked, placing his chair next to MJ.
"Nothing, Sport. Just getting introduced to your friends. This one here," she said, pointing at Hawkes "told us he bathed sometime earlier this month and has both a witness and welt to prove it. Just wondering about both." Smiling, she continued with her breakfast.
"Wanna see it?" Hawkes asked leering at her.
"Coop, now why would anyone want to see your butt?" West asked of his friend.
"Hang on here a second, Sport. How did you know he had a welt on his butt? Were you both the witness and assailant?"
Smiling, West answered, "I will admit to being the one who caused the welt on his posterior. But, I'll never *ever* admit to being a witness to Coop taking a shower. There's just some things friends shouldn't do. Besides, both of them," he said, pointing at Wang and Hawkes "were making fun of my singing. All that money to waste . . ." Smiling and shaking his head, he enjoyed the joke again with his friends.
"You know, I'd love to stay and actually hear the details of both the assault on Cooper's butt and Nathan's singing, but I've really got to go. I'm spinning a roulette wheel this morning. I cannot think of a single thing more mind-numbing than watching this stupid little ball rolling around in a wheel." Standing, she continued, "Nice meeting you all. I hope we can all get together again and talk about Sport here.", indicating West with her thumb.
"Hey, hang on a second, and I'll walk you to the casino." Getting up too fast, West knocked his chair backwards to the floor. Picking it up, he looked at his friends and said "Gotta go. Adios my friends."
Watching West run to catch up to MJ, Damphousse said to the rest of the WildCards, "Definitely. The boys hooked bad. Cupid shot that boy again. What're we gonna do about him?"
"I think we'll continue to care for him just like we always do." Vansen replied. "He's our boy, and we will continue to be there for him when he needs us. Now, if you all will excuse me, I've got to find that punk AI Alvin and kick his sorry AI ass." Picking up her pool cue case, she turned and walked off.
"Maybe West isn't the only one off his rocker." 'Phousse observed.
"So, we're back to calling me 'Sport', are we?"
"No, I just wanted to let you know it was me coming up behind you. I didn't want those highly trained fighter jock reflexes of yours kicking in and you opening fire on a friendly target."
Smiling, he put his hand on the small of her back, looked down at her, and said, "You know, I couldn't open fire on a friendly target. With my cat-like agility and lightning quick decision making, I wouldn't do that. It's not allowed. It wouldn't be politically correct." As he was finished enunciating the word "correct", he tripped over an uneven section of the floor. Landing flat on his face, and above the laughter of the surrounding crowd, all he heard was MJ's voice saying "Yup. Must be those cat-like fighter jock reflexes in action. Way to go. Agility like a that of a hippo. Come see me after you've composed yourself. I'll be in front of the roulette wheel."
Picking himself up from the floor, he recovered by saying to the crowd and no one in particular, "Just think--all those years tudying ballet finally paid off." Smiling, he walked off towards the roulette area.
"Want to come over again tonight?" he asked MJ.
"Yeah, either that, or we can start out at my place, and I'll cook you dinner. I gotta tell you, I make one mean bologna sandwich. Say, about sixish?"
"I'll be there. Want to do the movie 'thing' afterward? I've got the absolute worst science fiction movies ever made checked out for this evening. Real culture shockers."
Smiling at him, she said, "I'd love to. See you at six. Now, either buy in, or go play somewhere else. I've still got to earn a living." As he was walking off, he took a quick look behind him. A smile came to him when he knew for certain she winked at him.
Reflecting back on the last nine hours, Nathan never knew how time could pass so slowly. He tried to occupy his mind with some more movies; that didn't work. He then decided to burn off some nervous energy by working out in the _Bacchus_ gymnasium. All that did was make him sore. Glad the time for dinner in MJ's room had finally come, he stopped just outside her door to make sure his clothes were neat, and more importantly, his zipper was up.
Satisfied with the status of his clothing, he reached up to knock. At that instant, her door opened and her head poked out. "Hi, uhhh . . ." he said, startled. "Looking for me? Here, I picked up these." Feeling awkward, he reached out and handed her a bouquet of flowers he had picked up in the Bacchus' gift shop.
Taking them, she replied somewhat embarrassedly, "Uhh, well, uhh, no . . . well yeah, I guess I was. So sue me."
Taking a deep breath, and patting his stomach with both hands, he said, "You know, that has to be the best smelling bologna sandwich ever. You gonna let me in or are we going to start this evening together in the hallway?"
"Sorry, Nathan." Stepping aside, she gave him enough room to squeeze by. Inside her room, he took in the surroundings. There weren't many ways to brighten up a small room, but she seemed to have done a good job. Some well-placed pictures, paintings and sketches of the sea shore were on the walls, and a well-worn throw rug on the floor made the small room seem homey.
"I like what you've done with your apartment. On the 'Toga, we don't get a chance to personalize our areas very much. I like what you've done with the place."
"Thanks. Listen, make yourself at home; I've got to finish cooking. It'll be ready in a couple minutes."
Taking a seat, he asked "Are you sure there isn't anything I can do to help?"
"Yeah--sit at the table and pour the wine. Dinner's on."
"That was. . ." Shaking his head, he looked far away, and said, ". . . absolutely fantastic. I haven't eaten that much in years." Leaning back and contentedly patting his stomach, he continued "Thanks for having me by."
Smiling at him, she replied, "Thanks. It was my pleasure. It's nice to cook for someone who appreciates it."
Reaching to fill her glass with some more wine, she noticed a slight wince from him. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing. I was working out in the gym and I think I overdid it."
Rising and walking behind him, she said, "Well, I guess we'll just have to work on that, won't we?" Placing her hands on his shoulders, she started to knead his sore muscles. Closing his eyes and enjoying the massage and physical contact with MJ, he said "Hey, uhh, after we finish this, what say I help you clean up and we head off to the movies?"
Stopping the massage momentarily, she answered "Sure. But, no need to help clean. It's pretty much done anyway." Taking her hands from his shoulders, she lightly pushed on the back of his head, and said "Lets go, Sport. Lets hit the flicks."
The evening was filled with movies that were just what Nathan described them to be--the worst ever. But, with the combination of full stomachs, movies that didn't do much to keep their interest, and the comfort of being in each other's company, both were asleep in no time.
Again waking before West, she realized where she was, and glanced at the clock. "Man, I gotta stop this stuff.", she thought to herself while extricating herself from Nathan. Before she got off the beanbag completely, though, she leaned in, kissed West lightly on the forehead, and whispered "I think I love you, Sport." Turning, she quietly left his room.
Later, Day 5
"I'd like a grand in chips, please"
"Hey Shane. How's it going?" MJ asked.
"Good. Kicked some butt in nine-ball, and now I think I'm gonna blow it all in blackjack." Looking up at MJ, and giving her the best imitation of McQueen's 'I'm concerned about my kids' expression, she said, "I also wanted to talk to you about Nathan. You get a break anytime soon?"
"No, but there aren't any rules that say we can't talk here, as long as you've got chips and cards in front of you." Dealing out cards to Vansen, she waited for her bet. MJ's shown card was a nine of spades.
Betting a hundred, Vansen looked at her cards. They were the queen and eight of hearts. Thinking it a prophetic sign with the queen, she said "Stay. So, how goes it with you and West?"
"Nathan and I are fine. We are friends, and that's all there is to it." Flipping over her hole card, MJ said, "Dealer's got 19. Pay 20."
Betting another hundred, and waiting for the cards, Vansen pressed "You know, Nathan's just gone through a seriously stressful time. His whole existence before a week ago was to find his girlfriend. Now that he's found her, I'm not sure he knows what to do. First they're together, then they're apart, and then she's rescued and gone again. I'm not sure he's ready for a romance that might cause him a lot of conflict."
"Nobody said this is a romance, Shane." Turning over her cards, she said, "Blackjack." Waiting for the next bet to proceed, she added, "Listen. I've seen something in him I'd never seen in anyone else before, and all I want to do is be there for him if he needs me."
"I just wanted you to be aware that you might be in for a fall."
"I'm enjoying myself with him, OK? I also think he's enjoying spending time with me. We seem to have a lot in common."
Standing and taking her chips, Vansen looked MJ in the eye and calmly said "Nathan is a friend of mine. I just wanted you to be aware of what Nathan might see as a possible conflict."
"Nathan told me about Kylen. I understand. And it's not like I'm trying to be a substitute for her. I'm being me, and I think he enjoys that."
"I hope you're right. I really do."
2000 hours MJ's room
"Nathan, I . . ." Stopping, she took a minute to gather her thoughts, and continued, ". . . I wanted to do whatever I could do to make your last night with me one to remember."
"I . . . Uhhh, I'm not sure I understand what you mean." West looked at her, confused.
"I said, I want to do whatever you want to do so you won't forget me."
"Forget you--are you serious?" he asked. "I don't think I could ever forget you. Spending these last few days together with you has been one of the absolute best times I've ever had." Suddenly surprised at the lump in his throat, he continued, "I thought I was going to come to here, watch some old rotten movies and get some sleep. Instead, I met you, and had the time of my life." Gathering her into his arms, he gave her a loving hug. Burying his face in her neck, he said "Thanks. For everything."
Patting his back, she said "You're welcome, Sport. So, more movies?"
Letting go, and looking at her sheepishly, he said, "Well, yeah. I've got a real old Bogart movie picked out. Takes place in a bar during World War Two, and has a couple real good lines in it."
Enjoying the childlike innocence in his eyes, she said, "Lead on, Nathan. What's the title?"
Neither one knew when it was, or how it happened, but Nathan noticed they were holding hands at the end of the movie. It was just simple contact between two people, but spoke volumes about their brief relationship.
"Nathan, I've got an early morning at the tables. Mind if I head back to the room and hit the hay?"
"No, I should probably get started on packing." He replied, suddenly aware that their time together could now be measured in minutes.
"I'll see you on the flight deck before you go. There's something I want to give you anyway." With that, she gave him a quick peck on the cheek, and departed.
Confused, West ran to the door, stuck his head out, and yelled to her, "Give me? What is it?"
"Nothing spectacular, Sport. Just wait and see."
"I'll be looking forward to it."
Flight Deck the Bacchus
"Pre-flight check complete, Captain. Your Hammerhead is fueled and ready to go. Inertial Navigation System and IFF codes are pre-programmed. Have a good flight." The Aerotech maintenance chief told West as he pulled himself out of the cockpit and wiped his hands on a greasy towel.
"Thanks, Chief. What's our departure time?"
"Eleven minutes, sir. You might want to consider getting strapped in."
Looking around the flight deck, he said disappointedly, "Yeah, sure, Chief. In a minute."
Bending over and picking up his helmet, he heard the sound of running feet. Looking up, he saw MJ hurrying down the corridor, only to be stopped at the door by a guard. "Hey, let her in. I'll be responsible for her." West yelled at the guard.
"Hey, Vansen. Look." Damphousse said, nodding in the direction of West and MJ. "This ought to be interesting."
Never taking her eyes off West, MJ walked up to him and said, "You know, there's something about a man in uniform."
"Makes us all larger than life, I think."
"Yeah, me too. My dad and grandfather were both military, and some of the best times I can remember were when Dad came home from a deployment. It's the uniform that triggers these memories, you know."
Looking up, she continued, "I told you there was something I wanted to give you before you left." Reaching into her pocket, she withdrew two small items. "These are metal pins that my grandfather gave me. He said they were from when he was in the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s. This one is a yellow ribbon that I'll give to you, and the one I'll keep is the same pin, except it's got a heart wrapped in with the ribbons."
"Yellow ribbons? What do they mean?"
"The one for you is just something to remember me by. The one I'll wear, the one with the heart in it, is because someone I love isn't here with me, and I hope he'll come home soon." Looking up at West, MJ felt tears start to well up in her eyes.
Taking her into his arms, and feeling the beginnings of the same lump in his throat he felt a while earlier, said, "Are you sure you don't have another one with a heart in it for me?"
Pulling back, smiling at him and saying "No, but I've got an idea." Taking a pen out of a pocket, she drew a small heart in the center of the ribbon. "It's not red, and it will probably wear off, but for the time being, there's a heart on your pin that matches mine. Well, almost. This one," handing the pin back to West, she finished, "is blue. At least we can pretend yours is red, can't we?"
"I think we can." Taking a piece of paper out of his flight suit, he scribbled on it. Handing the scrap her, he said, "This is the mailing address to me on the 'Toga. Every now and then we're allowed a call, too. Would you mind if I called you?"
"You had better, you jerk!", she said to him, smiling through tears.
"MJ, I . . . Listen, there's something I want you to remember." Taking her by the hand and leading her to the nearest port, he pointed out at the stars and said, "No matter where we are in this universe, and until we can be together again, there's going to be someone out there who loves you more than you might know."
"I know, Nathan. I know."
Turning to her, he wiped the tears off of her face. Looking her directly in the eyes, he said, "We've got to launch. If you want, you can watch from the observation deck. There's a speaker up there that allows you to hear the ship-to-ship and ship-to control radio chatter, so listen for me, OK?. My plane will be the second on the left."
"I'd like that."
Taking her into his arms again, and for the first time kissing her, West realized he had finally moved on. Feeling a second of sorrow for letting go the person he had turned his entire life around for, he realized he had a different agenda.
Over the loudspeakers, a disembodied voice said "Hammerhead engagement initiation sequence in two minutes."
"West! we've got to go!" Vansen yelled at them.
"Go on, get outa here, Sport." MJ said to him, pushing him away. "Just don't get hurt out there, OK?"
Smiling at her, he said as he was putting on his helmet and climbing into the cockpit, "Don't worry about that. I'll be back. I seem to have this knack for finding my way to the one I love."
"Hammerhead engagement sequence in one minute." came the disembodied voice again.
Running onto the observation deck, MJ felt the rumble of the Hammerheads through the soles of her feet as they started their engines. Looking through the window, she watched them launch with bitter- sweet memories of her and Nathan's short time together. Putting her hand on the window hoping to try and feel the heat of the exhaust, she slowly pulled it away and waved to the ships. Whispering, she said, "Goodbye, Sport. Come back to me soon."
Watching the Hammerheads form into a perfect arrowhead formation, she followed them with her eyes as the WildCards circled back towards the _Bacchus_. MJ observed with wonderment and pride as the second one on the left pulled out and executed a perfect barrel roll. Coming from the small speaker she heard "Hey, MJ! Semper Fi, Darlin'! HOOOO-YA!" West rejoined the formation; the WildCards resumed their normal flight pattern towards the _Saratoga_.
"Welcome back, Nathan." Vansen said. "Welcome back."
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