AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is another McQueen/Vansen conversation, this one
taking place shortly after "Sugar Dirt."
Shane Vansen and T. C. McQueen, and the original S:AAB premise belong
to Glen Morgan and James Wong, and Hard Eight Pictures, Inc. borrowed
with love, but without permission. No copyright infringement intended.
liquid swirling around in his glass would not provide absolution. Lt.
Colonel T.C. McQueen knew this. And he knew better than to look to it
for release. He was not even entirely sure why he felt he needed either;
he knew the decisions he had endorsed had been right. But the burden still
weighed on him, though the final decision had not been his responsibility.
The lives that had been lost. The lives that *could* have been lost. He
did not like to think about it. He sipped from his glass.
on his stool at the bar and looked at Vansen standing beside him. She
shuffled her feet nervously and crossed her hands behind her back.
I, uh, was wondering if I might have a moment to, uh, talk to you, uh,
off the record, sir. It's, uh, kind of personal..."
a little in surprise. He did not tend to invite confidences. The only
one of the Wildcards who had ever approached him with a personal matter,
besides Hawkes, (and that was different,) had been West. And that had
been more or less an accident. Now here was Vansen, of all people, coming
to him to "talk". He was not sure how to react.
you have a moment, sometime..." she concluded, drawing away.
her retreat and went after her, on impulse. He wondered what she wanted,
what had upset her enough to send her to him. And he could use the distraction...
"Pull up a stool, Vansen. I'm not exactly busy, right now."
a beat, then took the bar stool beside him.
are you having?" McQueen asked, nodding toward the bartender. Vansen
hesitated. She had not intended for McQueen to buy her a drink, but now
that he had offered, she did not think it polite to refuse him.
she said quickly. McQueen gestured, and the bartender set the drink on
McQueen prodded, looking at her curiously.
at her beer. "I, uh... Some things happened on Demios... that I need
to talk to you about..." she hedged.
This was not the conversation he wanted to have. "I'm not you're
confessor, Vansen..." he began. She looked at him sharply, and he
realized that the words had sounded harsh. "Look, I've been there.
You don't need to... explain anything to me," he concluded more gently.
understanding him. "I'm not looking for a priest, sir. I'm looking
for a *military* adviser to tell me if the decisions I made, and the actions
I took, on Demios were the right ones."
at his drink. "Well, right now I'm not sure I'm the right person
to do that, either," he sighed. He saw Vansen looking at him oddly
and he nodded at her. After all, he had started this. He owed it to her,
now. "What's on your mind?"
searching for words. "When things started to fall apart after we
knew the Saratoga was not going to send support down to us; after we were
forced into the bush to try to survive on our own..."
we abandoned the Demios mission," McQueen glossed, not mincing words.
the Five-Eight together and busy by enforcing burial duty, and putting
together those daily reports." She looked over at McQueen, suddenly.
"You know, I *know* that they say Marines always bury their dead.
But is that really a point of honor? Or is it just something to give us
a purpose, when we run out of useful things to do?"
surprised him. "I know it must seem that way, sometimes," he
answered, as if considering the possibility for the first time. "But
it is the right, the honorable, thing to do. It is the thing that keeps
us human in the face of all the horrible actions we're forced to commit
through the circumstances of war. And yes, sometimes it gives us a purpose
when there *is* no other purpose." He frowned at her suddenly. "Those
reports you sent back from Demios were *important*, Vansen. Don't ever
think you weren't doing anything useful. Those reports kept us going,
on Ixion." Kept *me* going, he added to himself.
serenely, absorbing this. She sipped at her beer. McQueen wondered where
she was going, what the problem was. So far she had not told him anything
he had not already read in her report.
days before you came back for us, the radio went dead."
He knew this, too.
uh, didn't tell them, the rest of the 'Cards... You know all this, I put
it in my report..." McQueen quirked a wry look at her, and she smiled
tell them, and I just went through the act, every day, of making my report.
Then Hawkes found out the radio was busted, and they all went crazy on
me. They accused me of patronizing them, of lying to them, of treating
them like children - but I was afraid if they knew the truth it would
all fall apart. That I wouldn't be able to keep them together, otherwise,"
she took a deep breath. "That I wasn't a strong enough, or good enough
leader to keep them together without that tiny bit of purpose and hope..."
thought. At last, the *real* problem. Vansen turned and looked at him,
and he was stunned by the agony in the girl's eyes.
I do the right thing, not telling them?" she whispered. "Was
I right to lie? Or should I have trusted them to handle it?"
at her thoughtfully for a moment. "Sometimes, Vansen, a leader has
to make the decisions that will allow him or her to continue to lead."
and cocked her head.
responsibility for the lives and safety of the Five-Eight was yours, as
their honcho, as senior officer. You had to assess the situation you *had*,
the lives and personalities you were dealing with, and you did what you
felt you had to do to keep command, to keep order and sanity, in the face
of them. There aren't any right or wrong answers under those circumstances.
I can't second guess your decision, Vansen, I wasn't there. I don't know
what condition the others were in. What they would have done, for sure."
He gave her a calculating look out of the corner of his eye. "You
want my gut?"
him an odd look, but she nodded.
would have been there. He would have handled it. He has his *own* purpose
to keep him going. Phousse... probably. For a while, anyway. Phousse is
tough. Wang would have found comfort in numbers, but he would have fallen
apart pretty quickly. And Hawkes would have gone right over the edge.
Probably taken off and you wouldn't have been able to stop him."
of relief on Vansen's face broke McQueen's heart.
you kept them going for over two months - alive, together... For *twelve
days* you, alone, knew that there was no communication with the outside
world. That there was virtually no hope. You carried that burden alone,
with no one to turn to..." McQueen looked at her as if he had just
realized, himself, the magnitude of her actions. "That's a *lot*"
her eyes and a small sob escaped her. She took a deep breath and wiped
her eyes quickly. "Sorry," she mumbled. McQueen nodded and gave
her a moment to collect herself. She contemplated her drink a bit, then
took a deep swallow.
an eyebrow in question.
they found out about the radio and told me what they thought about it,
I told them I was glad. That I was tired of looking out for them, that
I was sick of being responsible. That I didn't want to lead them anymore.
I *told* them that. I shouldn't have lost control like that. I had a *responsibility*
to keep it together, in spite of the things they said. I... I'm not sure
I'm cut out for this."
at McQueen, and he just looked back at her blandly.
feeling like I shouldn't be an officer, I shouldn't be leader... Like
maybe I don't *want* the responsibility..."
gently, and still said nothing.
at him in frustration. "And *please* don't tell me everyone gets
that..." she sighed.
Not the quirky little look that he got on occasion when something amused
or touched him, but a real smile. It startled Vansen to see it. When McQueen
*really* smiled, his forehead creased, his eyes sparkled, every muscle
in his face got involved. It made her wish he would do it more often.
right," he agreed, sipping his drink. "I won't tell you that.
But I will tell you that *I* get it. I've been in the Corps for almost
sixteen years. A lot of those years have been spent leading somebody somewhere.
Making decisions that effected peoples lives. Guiding them, teaching them.
Baby-sitting Yeah, I've felt like just walking away from it all..."
over at him shyly. "With us?"
at her, deciding to be honest since she had asked him. "Sure. When
they first handed the Five-Eight to me, I'd just lost the entire 127th
- the best there was, and I couldn't keep *them* alive. The last thing
I wanted was responsibility for a squadron full of wet-behind-the-ears,
fresh-out-of-accelerated- training kids. "
at him in mild shock. "Were we really that bad?"
the distress in her face and relented. "You had your moments,"
he said, but he said it kindly. He contemplated her a moment, wondering
if he was ready to make the admission to her that he wanted to make. The
admission that he already had made to Ross. And to himself.
then you started to get under my skin, " he concluded quietly, "and
burden got worse."
the pisser about command, Vansen," McQueen told her. "The more
you care about the people you're leading, the harder it is to lead them.
The heavier the load. The lonelier it makes you." McQueen gave her
a thoughtful look. "It's worst when sound command decisions may be
bad moral ones. You weren't the only one making hard decisions over the
last couple of months, Vansen. And maybe you're not the only one questioning
those decisions, now." He stared down at his drink. Vansen just cocked
her head at him and waited. After a moment he went on softly.
Pegasus Command made the decision to abandon Demios and advance on Ixion,
they asked my opinion. As a student of military history. I told them that
I thought we should retreat from the current battle and attack the more
strategically valuable position. That we should exploit the Chigs' mistake.
You're familiar with Guadalcanal?"
Ross reminded me that the Five-Eight was still on planet. I stuck by my
recommendation. Now, it was not my decision, and I'm not sure that my
opinion, one way or the other, would have made all that much difference
in what Command finally decided to do. But if it *had* been my decision,
I would have done it. I would have ordered the fleet to abandon Demios.
Even though it meant abandoning you. Even though it meant betraying your
at him. "But it *was* the right decision," she protested, and
McQueen could see that she was speaking as a soldier, from military knowledge,
not from any desire to comfort, or butter up, her CO.
Ross was opposed to leaving Demios," he challenged.
is a critical position," she insisted. "It would have been *irresponsible*
not to take advantage of the Chigs' weakness."
though it meant abandoning twenty-five thousand troops to certain death?"
if you had been *able* to ask us for *our* opinions, we would have told
you to go..."
you speaking for everyone, Vansen? All twenty-five thousand?"
fell, and he knew he had made his point, but he felt a little guilty about
taking it out on her. He looked down at his drink.
five thousand troops went down to Demios. Two thousand came back. Twenty
five thousand men and women trusted us to be there for them and we left
them there to die. And even though it was not my decision, I take that
knowledge to bed with me every night because it could have been. And the
only reason I'm able to sleep at all is because *you* brought my kids
home. I could have lost you all, down there. I'm not sure the Commodore
sleeps. So yeah, sometimes I hate being a leader. Sometimes I *hate* knowing
what the right thing is to do, strategically. Sometimes I wish I could
just walk away." He took more than just a sip of the scotch in his
to join you. I asked, begged, Ross to let me stay behind with the supplies.
He said no." He paused, then said, almost to himself, " I *didn't*
want to abandon you, alone..."
hear the pain in his voice. Impulsively, she reached out and put her hand
over his on the bar. Then, realizing what she had done, she pulled it
away quickly. McQueen caught it, and gave it a small squeeze before he
let it go. Vansen sighed at her beer.
Vansen replied. "I was just thinking that I came here looking for
comfort, looking for... absolution, and it never dawned on me that someone
else might need... You did the right thing, sir. I can't speak for twenty
five thousand troops, but I can speak for me. And I think I can speak
for the rest of the Wildcards. It was the right decision to make."
at her. Then he smiled. Not the whole-face smile he had given her before,
but something softer. Grateful.
else happened down on Demios," Vansen told him. McQueen raised an
"After the thing with the radio, before you arrived, we thought the
Chigs were coming back for us. I... just couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't
keep running. I couldn't go on. I told them that, too. That I couldn't
do it, anymore. And they told me they would stay with me." She looked
up at him. "After all that, even after I had... betrayed them, they
were still there."
"Yup," he sighed. Then he looked at her, and his eyes radiated
the warmth in his heart. He raised his glass in toast to her, and after
a seconds hesitation, she raised hers, too. The ring when the glasses
touched sounded like a clarion. They nodded to each other, smiled a little,
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