Episode 5: Better Angels
Location: Crew Quarters - USS Defiant
Timeline: Defiant At Warp
It had been a long day, to say the least. With Defiant on the trail of Indomitable, Dante had worked well over his own shift trying to make sure they stayed that way and didn't lose her. When he'd finally been ordered to head to his quarters to get some rest, he'd initially thought to try to argue, but before he could, he realized just how exhausted he was. He come straight back to his quarters, skipping his usual daily workout in the gym, and taking a shower before sitting down for dinner. He was still on the couch, his feet propped up on the small coffee table in front of him, and his empty plate next to him, when he heard the chime go off for his door. With a glance up from the book he'd been reading to the door, he contemplated ignoring it and pretending he was already asleep, but decided against it.
Standing up he remembered that he was already in his usual sleep gear, a pair of basketball shorts, and a sleeveless undershirt, and hoped whoever it was wasn't expecting anything fancy of him. "Come in.", he said, facing the door.
A moment later, the door slid open to reveal a relatively tired looking Charlotte Reynolds. She'd let her hair down by now, and had donned a slim burgundy long sleeve shirt and a pair of jeans. She clearly needed rest, but hadn't quite given herself permission to do so. She looked up suddenly aware that she was probably interrupting the rest she'd ordered him to get. "Oh, Lieutenant. Sorry, I'm not sure I realized how late it was. If you don't mind a guest for a few minutes, I'd love to take you up on the offer to steal some of your reading material?"
Dante was a bit surprised when the doors parted, revealing his commanding officer. He let her speak and then smiled, "Oh, definitely, come in!", he replied, stepping to the side and waving her through. "And, seeing as I'm standing here in my pajamas, and this isn't exactly a professional meeting, you can feel free to call me Dante.", he added.
"Is there anything in particular you are looking for, or some specific subject, or genre you are looking to read? Or are you more like me, and just like to browse until something jumps out at you?", he asked, moving towards the bookshelf he'd had set up shortly after coming aboard. It was filled with books of all shapes and sizes. Some were paperbacks, so old and well read they were practically falling apart, some where leather bound, and were some of his most treasured possessions. Interspersed amongst them were pictures of his family, and his idols, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, and Barack Obama, as well as trinkets and knick-knacks he'd picked up on his various travels.
Charlotte looked across the bookshelf. “I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for, honestly. Just something different, I suppose.” She perused a little farther, gesturing to the images. “You’ve got good taste,” she said.
"Thanks. Can I get you something to drink?", Dante asked, indicating the small collection of various drinks he had sitting off to one side.
“Sure. Got any beers? I could use something to take the edge off.” She stepped back, admiring the collection. “Alright, you know what’s on this shelf better than I do obviously. Any suggestions? Odd texts I might overlook, but should really read?”
Dante walked over and opened the little fridge he kept stocked with things he preferred to have cold. Thankfully he did have a beer left in there, and he grabbed it. Using the small bartenders key on top of the fridge to pop the top off as he walked back up to hand her to cold glass bottle. "That's a pretty good question.", he said, letting his eyes track along the spines of the books. As his eyes travelled he saw a few of his old favorites, but most of them were pretty popular. Finally he stopped, and smiled, reaching out to pluck one of the thicker leather bound volumes from the shelf.
"This has been one of my all time favorites. It's the first in a series, and I own them all, so if you like it, you can read them all.", he said, holding out the heavy book. On the cover was an embossed wheel, like on an ancient spinning wheel. It had a spear through it from top to bottom, and at the top it also had a snake, woven in, forming a figure eight, and biting it's own tail. Above that were letters spelling out the words "The Eye of the World", in large golden font, and below it, smaller, was "Book One of The Wheel of Time".
Charlotte turned it over in her hands. “I’ve never even heard of this one.” She leafed through. There was no reason to, but she’d picked up that habit of inspecting books a long time ago. “Sounds like I’ll have a new little adventure to get myself into!” She looked up with excitement, taking the beer from him. “How are you holding up?” She knew he’d been injured and then almost immediately called into a lengthy shift at the helm. The man had to be exhausted.
"Honestly? About half dead...", Dante said, moving over and flopping down on his couch, waving to a nearby chair for her to sit. "And this still hurts like hell.", he added, gesturing to his arm. The sleeveless undershirt left his bicep exposed, so the bandage was still quite visible. He'd spent over an hour in the sickbay with them picking pieces of shrapnell out of the wound, and then had the bare minimum of regeneration done to seal the wound before he'd pulled his tunic back on and headed to his station.
"How about you?", he asked glancing over at her as she sat.
She settled down into the seat, a pronounced limp still present. “I’m fine. The medical staff haven’t let me get far from them and they’ve been continuously treating my leg. The healing is pretty far along honestly, but I can’t seem to shake this damn limp. I’ve been told it’ll take a few days. You might want to head back to sickbay for your arm. They can do a lot more regeneration on that now that we’re underway.”
Dante nodded, "I might, but then again, ladies do love a cool scar.", he said with a chuckle. "But, no, seriously, I'm glad they are keeping a close eye on you. Commanding officers aren't exactly known for taking the best care of themselves, especially in situations like this.", he added.
“True enough,” Charlotte said, taking a drink. “I’ve already acquired a few scars of my own. And if I’m not careful, this one might be added to the collection,” she said as she patted her injured leg. “I suppose you’re not wrong about their appeal though.”
Taking a sip of the iced tea he'd had sitting on the table since dinner Dante chuckled, "Yeah, us dudes tend to like scars on women too...", he added, leaning back and putting his arms across the back of the couch to stretch. He flinched as the wound in his arm pulled and had to grimace, his vision going a little blurry, and a sharp hiss escaped from his lips.
"Damn.", he said, as he leaned his head back. "I keep forgetting.", he added by way of explanation.
“When I leave, you need to get yourself back down to sickbay. I’m going to need you back at the helm,” Charlotte said. Her tone conveyed a comical edge, trying to act over authoritative. But her concern was genuine.
Dante gave her a knowing smirk, "Trust me, if I wasn't ready to fly they wouldn't have let me out. I about had to fight my way out as it was.", he replied.
"So, do you think that book might be something you'll enjoy? I don't want you to take it just because I recommended it.", he said, looking over at her.
“I don’t know much about it. But there’s really no better way to learn about a book than to jump in.” Charlotte said, as she held the book.
"True, true, and I do have a feeling you'll like it. It's high fantasy, and written in the epic style. Pretty engaging stuff, and a lot more diverse in the characters than many of the writers he built upon.", Dante replied, and then his eyes got a little more clear, and he leaned forward, ignoring the protest from his wound, "How are you feeling about all this? You haven't really talked much about it, other than to give us information, or orders. I know it's not really my place, but I'd like to be an ear if you need one, and, of course, I am curious to know your thoughts...", he said, letting his words trail away.
She deflated a little at that question. She’d been trying to prevent herself from really processing it all. “Not feeling too great. I was responsible for the death of dozens of our fellow officers, either by my own hand or by orders I issued. Knowing that the parasites can be removed doesn’t really help with that either. I know we didn’t have much choice, but...”
Dante felt bad when he realized he'd made her confront the deep feelings she had about what they had gone through. It hadn't been his intention, he just usually faced stuff head on, and didn't often think about the ramifications up front like some people did. He'd sensed a bit of a kindred spirit in the woman, and he was hoping he hadn't just made himself into a complete heel. Reaching over, not completely sure it was appropriate, he put just the tips of his fingers on her knee, catching her attention. When she'd looked up he nodded, and his eyes took on a deep, grave look.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you think about it like that. But I want you to know something, I might not have been in command, I might not have been the one giving the orders, but I know how you are feeling right now. Those were good people, and we now know we could have maybe saved some of them, I get that, and no amount of rationalizing what just happened is going to make it better.
"I just want you to remember one thing. You aren't alone. You've got us. We are here for you, and some of us are pretty damned strong.", he said, remembering some of the people he'd seen brought into sickbay, who walked back out again long before they were truly ready, anxious to get back to their stations to help this woman fulfill the mission.
"And as for me, we may not know each other well, and I may be your subordinate, but I'm here for more than just access to some quality reading material, and that offer stands from this point forward.", he added.
“I appreciate that,” Charlotte said. She really did. This whole experience had made her cherish her crew more ever. “In the meantime though, I think I might borrow your book and try to get some shut eye. I’m definitely going to want to talk about all this. But...that ship is still out there. And I think until we stop them, I’m not going to feel better.” She sat back up a little. “My big problem is that I need to stop them by any means necessary, and I now know they might be savable.”
Dante nodded and stood, "Well, I can't say that sounds like a bad idea. I'm practically half asleep myself.", he replied, and chuckled. "Let me know what you think of it once you get started?", he said, turning the statement into more of a question.
“I will,” she said as she turned toward the door. “Have a good night, Lieu-“ She caught herself. This was a good opportunity to be more friendly with her crew. “Have a good night, Dante.”
Dante had to smile at that. "Goodnight, Charlotte.", he replied, feeling strange, but happy that she was willing to let her guard down. After all they'd been through it made sense, but still, it wasn't often you got a superior officer who was that comfortable just letting themselves be authentic with their crew.
As soon as the doors had slid shut again he immediately worked his way out of his tank top, walked over to his bed and dropped into it face down. He didn't bother with a pillow, and didn't even cover himself up, he just allowed the exhaustion to wash over him and pull him down into the deep, dreamless sleep he had so been hoping for.