493: Once Upon a Time: One

by Zanh Liis
Hours after On the Hook

-=Crew Quarters, Rixx Rewards=-

Trying in vain to get to sleep, Zanh Liis clenched her eyes shut as she tried to find a comfortable position on the metal shelf which passed for a bunk on the small merchant vessel she was traveling aboard.

She wondered if it was the bunk that was truly the problem, or the screws and pins that made up the implants in her spine instead.

In the end analysis, she knew it was neither that was truly keeping her awake.

She'd been unable to dismiss a memory which kept playing itself back to her over the past several hours; the memory of the very first time she had ever heard the name Carrick O'Sullivan.

Flashback: Alternate Timeline, late 2376: Earth=-

Sitting on the tiny balcony of his second floor flat, Keiran O'Sullivan stared blankly out at the distant sunset.

Smoke from the cigarette burning in the ashtray beside him blurred his vision, but no more than the tears he'd shed earlier already had.

He thought he'd become incapable of producing tears long ago; no more left to cry, on any day, for any reason. He was a man with no feeling heart left in him, and it seemed to him that if you couldn't feel your heart, there should be no way to know when it's broken.

The day was almost over.

He couldn't wait for it to be. Then it would be three hundred and sixty-four linear days until it came round again, and he would have to face the emptiness that it brought with it.

He heard the sound of metal scraping against metal below him. The building where he rented his flat had been deemed a historical site and as such, the architecture and the finer details of the building were kept as they'd been when it had been built, four hundred years before.

This fact seemed to provide no end of amusement to the person making the racket he now heard, as she pulled down on the metal fire escape ladder and began to climb it slowly, rung by rung.

The top of her head popped up into his line of vision a few moments later, but he did not focus on her face. Instead he retrieved his cigarette, almost burnt out in the tray and put it to his lips. He inhaled deeply, then slowly blew the smoke out as his visitor threw first one long leg then the other over the railing, climbing the rest of the way onto his balcony.

With obvious annoyance, she waved her hand in front of her face to try to disperse the cloud of smoke that he had just exhaled.

"Are you kidding me? Give me that thing." She grabbed the stubby remains from his lips and stomped it out with one heavy grinding motion of her boot. She nodded with satisfaction.

Keiran simply reached to the pack beside him on the small tile-top table and pulled out another.

In slow motion he raised it to his mouth, struck a match, and lit it to replace the last one.

"Damn you." Zanh Liis grumbled, as she began to unstrap the backpack slung over her shoulders. "Have a look. I brought something to celebrate the success of our latest Jump," she declared, pulling a bottle of Jack Daniels out from behind her.

"I thought you'd have glasses ready and waiting." She knew he'd warned her sternly in the past against the "dangers of Drink" but on this night, for some reason she thought that he might want to make an exception and join her.

They had just completed their third Jump as a team, and Zanh was pleased, if not thrilled with the way it had turned out. Something about the way the time line had been changed seemed to bother O'Sullivan though, and she couldn't put her finger on what it was.

It seemed as if he had somehow expected a different outcome, or more specifically, for a change to the life that he was living now when they returned home.

It was upon realizing this that she decided that if he was going to get drunk tonight, which was in her opinion highly likely, he'd better do it with her. In a controlled environment where he'd be safe and not get into trouble.

She owed him that much.

"You know where the glasses are, if ye want one," he whispered hoarsely, as he lifted a condensation covered glass of iced tea from the table and showed it to her. "But this is all I'm drinking tonight, thank you just the same."

"Hmm. That's interesting. What makes tonight so special that you want to stay sober to remember it?"

"'Tis not that I want to remember it. Is that if I drink to try to forget it, I won't stop. And a wise man knows when to say when. Sometimes, that's before the first glass is poured."

"Your Saints have nothing on you when it comes to self control, O'Sullivan, that's for sure." Liis plunked down onto the small wrought iron chair beside him, and regarded him carefully.

She had seen him many ways in the time they had worked together; angry, upset, ready to march through the gates of Hell in pursuit of The Cause of the Greater Good.

She had never seen him quite this way.

"What's that?" she asked, indicating something that sat at his feet. It appeared to be a book of some sort.

Keiran shifted in his chair, betraying his discomfort. He moved to cross one booted foot over the other to try to conceal the item in question. "'Tis nothin'."

""Tis not 'nothin'. When you say ''tis nothin' 'tis always somethin', yeah?" Liis imitated his accent teasingly in the way which usually amused him, but this time her ever-more accurate impression drew no response other than a continuation of his previous scowl as he took another long drag from his cigarette.

"Okay, really. Enough already." Liis took the second offending article from his lips as well and stubbed it out into the ashtray.

"O'Sullivan, if we're going to work together, you can't be this upset about something and not give me a clue what it is. Otherwise, I start thinking things, I start assuming things, and I end up reading all sorts of things into everything that really have nothing to do with anything."

Keiran cocked his head to the side, almost chuckling at her. "Yeah, now what was that again?"

"Look," Liis frowned, moving her chair right in front of his in slow, scooching motions that caused a horrible metal against stone grating noise with every bounce beneath her body as it inched nearer. O'Sullivan winced with each assault on his ears, finally folding his arms and sighing with profound annoyance as she attempted to force herself into his line of vision.

"Something is wrong. I am asking what that is, so that I know for sure it has nothing to do with the way I do my job and my ability to help you do yours. That's all."

As she spoke, her hand slid surreptitiously down, and in an instant she held the book he'd been hiding in her hands.

"Hey now," he protested, truly getting angry now. "Give that back."

She jumped out of her chair and dodged past him, back through the sliding door and into his apartment. She'd left her heavy iron patio chair between them, and Keiran was slowed momentarily as he had to extricate his long legs from the tangle of furniture before he could follow her.

She plunked down onto the couch with one leg crossed beneath her, completely unafraid of the ire in his voice.

"I'm warnin' yis, Zanh Liis,"

"Hang on a second, I just want to see what the big... mystery is... all...about..." Her words slowed. She was puzzled as she flipped through the pages and admired the fairytale style illustrations.

She lowered the book, and she looked up at him in confusion.

"This is a child's storybook."

"Aye. An' it does not belong to you. So if you'd be so kind," Keiran growled, holding out his hand expectantly.

Liis flipped the book shut and held it out toward him. "I'm sorry," she offered contritely. "I just,"

Her eyes asked him again for some sort of explanation as to why he was chain smoking on the balcony with a storybook at his feet; and Keiran knew that if they were truly going to get to know each other and work as a well paired team, in truth, she had a right to know why he was doing just that.

"Wait." He set the book down on the coffee table and disappeared into the bedroom. An instant later he came back with a small disk in his hand. He activated the disk and the image of a small boy appeared.

"That's Carrick William Riley O'Sullivan," he rumbled softly. "My son."

Liis didn't know what to say. In the time he'd worked with her, he had only once ever mentioned the fact he'd been married but that 'the war had a way of changin' people,' and it had ended badly. He had never mentioned that he had a child.

"Handsome boy," Liis nodded, analyzing the picture carefully. She looked up at Keiran and then back at the image of his child. "He has your eyes."

Keiran sat down on the couch beside her and ran his hand through his hair. He inhaled sharply, exhaled heavily, and then began absently stroking his bearded chin.

"'He's turnin' five today, you see." He picked the storybook up off of the table and turned it in his hands without opening it, eyes fixed on the cover. "I used to read him this book every night at bedtime, so."

Liis felt a lump form in her throat, one so enormous it made it difficult to speak, or breathe. She wondered if she was intruding upon something sacred. If she should just leave him to his sadness, as it was apparent that he had not seen his child in some time. *Had something happened to the boy?*

Before she could form any sort of question, Keiran volunteered the answers she was looking for.

-=/\=-Zanh Liis
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012