959: Friends and Family

by TC Blane and Zanh Liis
Hours after One Day, Every Hundred Years

-=San Francisco, Earth=-

The line of officers representing the crew of Captain Zanh Liis and the USS Serendipity stood silently at the very back of the lecture hall, shining brightly in their perfectly appointed dress uniforms.

Not a single boot was scuffed. Not a single pip was out of alignment on their collars, and there was not a single one without a very heavy heart; knowing the true cost of the battle with the Domox in a way that no one else here present truly could.

They had all lost.

Yet here they were, every officer down to the last paying silent respects to the lives of those lost aboard the Zenith and knowing how very lucky they were to still be alive themselves after the battle.

From where she stood at the podium, Captain Zanh could make out the familiar figures at the back of the room, but purposely did not focus her vision on them. If she caught their eyes, if she saw any emotion in their faces, she would not be able to hold herself together to complete the speech that she'd come here to give. A speech that was, thankfully, almost over.

One set of eyes, specifically, she'd asked help in avoiding until that speech was finished.

If she looked in anyone else's eyes, she would struggle to keep herself composed. If she looked into his eyes, she would lose her composure altogether.

So Keiran had done what he could to fulfill her request. He was not standing with the others from the Sera or at her side. Rather, he was sitting in a row toward the front of the audience and doing his best to blend in with those around him though he knew Liis could never be completely unaware of his presence in any room, no matter its size. He was wearing civilian clothing at the request of Gem Lassiter, who also had not come dressed in uniform today.

Today she was not an Admiral. Today she was only a grieving mother, and just one of many here.

Keiran fidgeted in his seat very nervously, wedged between Gem and Gira. He kept his eyes directed to his hands, staring at the ring he was wearing as he listened to his wife address the assembly.

He couldn't help but look up every so often and glance at William Lindsay, who stood at the front of the room near Liis. Department heads from many different areas of Starfleet were present here today to pay tribute to the crew of the flagship; lost not in an openly declared war or in defense of those they swore to protect, but lost in the line of duty while doing the most important and basic thing that any officer in Starfleet could ever do; exploring the unknown.

Will stared at his boots for the most part, very much disliking these sorts of functions in general but hating this particular occasion even more, knowing that his friends were in so much pain. The air seemed too thick and polluted with sadness to breathe and only became more so with every moment that passed. He just couldn't wait to get the hell out of here and back to work.

Keiran couldn't help but notice that while Gem Lassiter's eyes seemed to be staring off into the distance at nothing, that they really weren't. They were really staring off into the distance specifically at something; at someone. That same someone who kept staring down at the floor beneath his feet.

Keiran uttered a short, silent prayer for the souls of the dead and begged strength be given to their families. He also prayed for Gem, and for Will though he the man had no clue he even needed it. Lastly, he prayed for Liis. She didn't know how much she needed it, either.

She never had.

He'd been shocked when, just before taking to the stage she had suddenly abandoned her written speech, which she had agonized over the past few days. She said it didn't feel right, that she had to simply close her eyes instead, gather her courage, and then look out into the crowd, one face at a time, and speak what she felt.

So that was what she'd done.

When it was finally over, Keiran led a Lassiter woman toward the back of the room and the exits, one on each arm. No one present would really be able to recall just what Zanh Liis had said, but as he moved through the crowd Keiran heard them all express similar sentiments stating that what she'd said was exactly what they needed to hear.

Dane Cristiane's eyes were fixed upon Gira as he saw her approaching. She remained in a state of shock, that much was clear to him. Still, as they walked by he broke his proper Parade Rest stance to reach out and tug on her sleeve. She looked up at him just as TC Blane's eyes served a warning to Dane that he'd best pay attention to his posture and hold still. The look on the young pilot's face in response to Dane's spontaneous gesture caused Blane to cut the kid a little slack, just this once.

It took some time for the auditorium to clear. No one seemed in a hurry to leave, knowing that at least while they remained in this room, they were among people who could begin to fathom what they were going through. In the world beyond the doors at the back of the hall, no one truly could.

As she stood there, backed into a corner with a line of people still waiting to greet her and shake her hand, Liis began violently twisting the chain of her grandmother's earring. She was also beginning to feel she could take little more.

She felt guilty when these people thanked her for her words. She felt that they meant so little. She felt she had done nothing to deserve their thanks when she'd failed to bring their loved ones home to them alive; to bring them home at all.

Seeing this struggle, Salvek and Blane exchanged a glance. Before he could act, Salvek was suddenly also surrounded by people who wanted to speak to him as well, so Blane nodded to the Vulcan that he would handle the situation and rescue Zanh from captivity.

He quickly and efficiently made his way through the gridlock and raised his voice slightly to be heard over the words of all around them. "Captain?"

When his first attempt failed, he reached past the people crowding her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Captain Zanh, I am sorry to interrupt, but I need to speak with you urgently."

Zanh appeared worried, thinking, what the hell could be going wrong now? She followed without hesitation as Blane led her by the arm away from the throngs, and as soon as she could lean closer to him she asked softly what the problem was.

"We should discuss it outside." TC informed her, casting his clear, vibrant blue eyes toward the nearest emergency exit. He nodded to the security guard standing sentry at the door and the man unlocked it, allowing them passage out the back way.

A moment later, they were standing in a small garden, perfectly tended, that was just one of many on these grounds; the grounds of Starfleet Academy.

“What's the matter, Thomas?” Zanh asked as soon as they were clear.

TC looked at her with complete and utter seriousness.

“Does this dress uniform make my butt look big?” He asked, before cracking a slim smile.

Zanh frowned, not getting the joke at first. “I don’t…wait a second…what?”

TC raised his eyebrows. “You looked like you needed a bailout.”

Suddenly, what he'd actually just accomplished sank in and Liis sighed gratefully, leaning back up against the nearest tree for a second to catch her breath.

"You've no idea. I needed a bailout worse than the crashing Ferengi stock market. You were very convincing, believe me I thought you were going to tell me that Reece was flashing back to past hosts and swinging from the chandelier in the lounge and we had to go talk him down."

"Now that would be a sight to see." Blane mused, as Zanh pushed off from the tree and started walking again.

He followed in step beside her, never rushing ahead, never falling behind. He remained always at her side, just as he had been so loyally for such a long time now.

"Be careful what you wish for, Mister Blane." Zanh said with a small laugh. "You haven't known Reece quite as long as I have. Chandelier swinging is a likely future possibility, if not an outright eventual certainty."

Even as she joked her voice was flat, without the usual humorous inflections as she spoke the words. Her mind was occupied with so many other thoughts that she barely knew what she was saying at all. All of those thoughts jumbled together but somewhere in the mess that was her mind one thought rose above all others.

It came to her now that she had never thanked Blane appropriately for coming to her home in Cork and setting her back on the proper path.

"So, Thomas, I need to say something to you." She began slowly, pausing as she tried to think of the words to speak to a man whom she could usually communicate just about anything she wanted or needed to without using words at all.

"Oh?" Now Blane's eyes shifted slightly, only conveying for an instant that now he was the one who was concerned.

"Yes. There's a situation I need your advice on, actually. A very serious, potentially hazardous situation."

TC blinked but did not flinch as their steps continued forward. "I'm listening."

"Well, the situation is this. Do I make Dane move the bed back to the ship again or do I tell the Irishman that we have to make another one to keep up there before Cristiane does permanent damage to himself?"

Blane's eyes held a spark of understanding now, a feeling most welcome to him when he realized what she meant. She had heard what he'd said, what Salvek had said as well. What was more, she had listened to it.

She was going to return to her ship and crew.

“Well," Blane said with a gleam in his eye, "I would not want the young man to get lazy.” He winked. “Hard work is therapeutic for the soul.” He shrugged, adding in an entirely different tone, “besides I think it would be good for him. Kind of...good, healthy symbolism for the return of his mentor. And his nemesis, of course.” He joked.

"Well, I have to go easier on Dane these days. If I kill him, who's going to paper train that puppy Lindsay sent me?" She widened her eyes, and Blane nodded.

TC laughed softly, thinking that job would be good experience for the kid, too. It would certainly help to keep Dane humble by reminding him of his current position in the food chain.

As they continued walking, Zanh was stopped for a moment by the mother of the Zenith's lost chief engineer, and she offered her condolences as best she could. She always felt so hesitant to say anything at times like this, afraid to say the wrong thing. But knowing that silence could often be the very worst thing, she'd say something simple that she hoped would at least acknowledge the person's suffering.

She remembered all too well what it was like to grieve, and the good and the bad of what people said in response to her at those times. As rare as they were, the people who managed to say the right thing, or to say with just a knowing glance that they felt empathy for her pain, did more than enough to offset those who made hasty statements that were of no help at all or worse, those that actually hurt.

After the woman moved on, Liis sighed softly and began to run her hands up and down her arms as if fighting off a chill that didn't truly exist in the bright morning sunshine. She stared into the distance, saying nothing about the exchange. Blane allowed her to recover in silence before he spoke again.

“These families, every one of them, need to know that their loved ones did not die in vain. Dying to save worlds of telepaths is honorable to say the least.” TC glanced at her. “Keep letting them know that.”

"I've tried to." Liis answered softly. "I just wish that I could give them so much more than empty words of regret." She truly hated that she could not. "Words are meaningless."

"Your words may be many things, Zanh Liis O'Sullivan, but one thing they have never been is meaningless." Blane objected. "Meaningless words are words without feeling or sincerity to back them up. You've given them both those things in addition to your words. What more could they ask of you?"

She thought of many more things they should have been able to ask of her.

She pondered his comments in silence as they turned around and headed back the way that they'd come. After a few moments had passed, Liis stopped walking and looked at Blane directly. "Thomas, answer a question for me."

Blane tilted his head slightly to show he was listening and waited for her to ask it.

"I happen to know for a fact that Salvek was going to offer you the post as XO. Would you have taken it?"

He thought for a moment. “Well I don’t know.” He glanced at her from the corner of his eyes. “I was not asked.”

"Don't get smart with me." Zanh shook her head. "You're far too important, too good an officer to remain my SO forever. Now you know I am perfectly happy to keep you in that post until we're both old and gray and completely senile. But there comes a time a man has to think of his career." Liis' tone was solemn and serious as she continued without stopping to breathe.

"There will be doors opening up to you, more and more in what I am sure is the not too distant future. If you should ever choose to walk through one of those doors, as much as I've come to depend upon your insights," she smiled softly, thinking back again over many times that Blane had talked sense into her when no one else could; including the most recent time he'd done it and how he'd done it, giving her back as good as she gave in the fight. "I'd never want to hold you back."

“Captain.” He stopped walking and she halted as well. She watched him intently as he turned to face her and then finally spoke. "You've seen my service record, been my commander, my friend for quite some time now.” He folded his arms across he chest and stared at her. “Where in all of that do you see me thinking about my career in Starfleet?”

"You certainly weren't thinking of your career when you rushed to join the Alchemy crew in saving my sorry ass from the Ferengi..."

He didn't respond to her remark, instead he nodded towards the sky. “Up there is a ship full of my friends…” He nodded back towards Zanh. “…my family.” He tugged at his uniform. “This is my ticket or tool, if you would, to be around for them. To serve them, protect them, provide for them. To make the universe a better place by upholding the credo of the Federation as well as my own.”

He took a step and Zanh followed where he led. “If I was so worried about my career I would not still be working for you, that’s for sure.” He smiled.

"Of course not." She said simply, smiling back at him genuinely as well.

They walked in silence the rest of the way back to the lecture hall. Once there, she saw a few familiar people waiting for her in the distance, and her smile faded. "Duty calls."

"Doesn't it always."

She squared her shoulders and prepared for the hardest conversation of all she'd likely have today, the one with Gemini Lassiter. "Well, I'll tell you one thing for sure. Even if you weren't asked..." She held her hand out toward him, and he grasped it firmly in a shake, pumping once before releasing it.

"The Sera can do no better than to have a man like you on the bridge. No matter what label is affixed to you or how many shiny things are on your collar." She waited a second, before her eyes met his in a sincere and grateful stare. "Thank you, Thomas."

"What for?" He asked, still uncertain just what he'd done.

"You know damn well what for." Zanh whispered, before she finally left his side.

Blane watched her, moving forward as she inhaled deeply of the fresh outdoor air; so different from the stifling atmosphere that existed just beyond the shining glass doors up ahead.

Liis steeled herself for one last exchange of words she only hoped were meaningful and approached the towering building feeling much better prepared to fulfill the last of her official duties for this day.

Commander TC Blane
Second Officer/Chief of Operations
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


-=/\=- Zanh Liis O'Sullivan
Commanding Officer Once Again
(and You're All Stuck With Me Now- Woo hoo!)
USS Serendipity NCC-2012