Disclaimer: see part 1
Code of Conduct
Tessa groaned as she swam up to consciousness, murmuring a complaint at the noise in her room. "Too loud," she yawned, "what's…"
With a start, Tessa opened her eyes, sitting up in bed and clutching her sheet to her chest as she realized that her cabin was full to overflowing with armed security officers.
"M-Marioka?" she stammered. "Why-"
"Stay down, Captain," the old man said firmly. "We'll handle this… individual."
Still struggling to wake, Tessa followed Marioka's stern gaze, gasping in shock as she found that the security officers where pinning Sagara to the bulkhead… and most looked ready to kill at the slightest provocation.
"What is the meaning of… this…?"
Tessa trailed off as she caught sight of her arm, and the bright red indentation of teeth, clearly visible to anyone that cared to look.
Oh… oh no, she thought desperately. They must think… and Sagara… oh no!
"Seargent Sagara," Marioka said formally. "You are hereby accused of assault on a superior officer, holding a superior officer against her will, and aggravated rape. Do you have anything to say before you are incarcerated? It had better be damn good, if you do."
"Sir," Sousuke said crisply – or as crisply as he could with his face pressed against the wall. "I have nothing to say in this matter, other than Captain Testarossa did not encourage, endorse, or condone the events that transpired here last night, sir."
Marioka's eyes flashed with barely contained rage. "Then… you are confessing to all of the charges I've detailed…?"
Sousuke continued to stare straight ahead as he replied, "Sir, that is corr-"
A cry of alarm escaped Tessa's lips as Marioka drove his fist into Sousuke's stomach. "Marioka!" she exclaimed. "You're going too-"
"Too far?" Marioka cut in angrily. "The only thing keeping me from wringing this… animal's neck is the fact that there are so many witnesses." His right eye twitched. "Though I think I might not have to worry about them telling anyone about it."
Tessa looked around fearfully, seeing, indeed, that the security officers – to a man – were nodding their agreement. "P-protocol says that he is entitled to a fair trial," she said unevenly. "Our code of conduct is quite clear on this matter… no matter the crime, Marioka… Sergeant Sagara is innocent until proven guilty…"
Marioka looked at her with a combination of pity and shame. "Captain," he said softly, "I understand that this situation is quite a shock to you. Your feelings for Sergeant Sagara have always been clearly favorable." Tessa very nearly blurted just how favorable they were, but wisely held her tongue as Marioka continued. "Trust me, Captain," he said levelly, "there is nothing this man can do to harm you any further, so there is no need to pretend that this is anything other than what it appears to be."
"Yes, of course," Tessa whispered, unable to meet Sagara's eyes. "Then… do your duty, Marioka."
Trapped by the very code she herself had mentioned, Tessa could only watch in helpless agony as the man she loved was led roughly from her room, undoubtedly headed for the brig, though – if she knew Marioka and the men with him – he would probably have an 'unfortunate' run in with a few solid objects before he reached it.
What do I do? she thought frantically, nodding as the two security officers Marioka had left informed her that they would wait outside for her to dress, then escort her to the infirmary for an examination. What do I do, what do I do? I can't… I can't stop this – not without saying what really happened! And if I do that… God, I have no choice, I have to!
Her head whipped up as Sousuke suddenly reappeared at her door, looking winded and red. "Sous-"
"Captain, there is no need to lie to protect me," Sousuke said quickly, meeting her eyes straight on. "Under no circumstances will I allow you to deny what has happened here in order to prevent my court-martial, do you understa-"
The wind was knocked from his lungs as the security officers he had broken away from slammed him do the deck, dragging him away before Tessa could overcome her shock.
No good, she thought, rubbing angrily at her eyes. If I tell the truth… he'll say it's a lie – and they'll believe him, because they're out for blood. Damn it, how did I let this happen?
Backed into a corner, Tessa did the only thing she could think to do. She told the security officers outside her door that she needed a moment to compose herself, closed her door, and made a call to the only person she could think of that could help her out of this horrible situation.
She just prayed that there was a way out…
( 0 0 0 )
Marioka strode purposefully towards the landing deck, more than a bit perturbed by the sudden, unexpected visit. "Weber," he barked, "you had better have a damn good explanation for this."
The blond man, barely two steps off of the helicopter, held up both hands and retreated behind his traveling companion. "I was told to keep her safe and happy," he said quickly, "and the captain extended an unrestricted invitation, so… what was I supposed to do?"
Staring down into the eyes of the girl in question, Marioka cleared his throat and murmured, "Please forgive me, Miss Chidori… but this isn't the best time for a visit."
Kaname Chidori flipped her long hair back over her shoulder, catching Weber in the face as she folded her arms over her breasts and replied, "I was told to stop in any time I wanted to, as long as there were no mission restrictions, and Kurz told me there aren't any, so… here I am."
"Yes, well," Marioka said awkwardly. "There's been a… bit of an incident onboard, and-"
"I'm aware," Chidori cut in, "of the incident."
Marioka's eyes shot to Weber, but he shook his head. "Wasn't me, sir," he said defensively, pointing to Chidori as he clarified, "She filled me in on the details, sir… I only knew something had happened between the captain and Sergeant Sagara."
"I would like to see him, please," Chidori said smoothly, drawing attention away from Weber. "As soon as possible."
"I'm afraid that's impossible," Marioka said coolly. "He's being detained in the brig on the charge of aggravated rape."
"Now do you think I'm kidding?" Chidori said to Weber, stepping past Marioka as she said, "I need to see him. The brig is this way, isn't it?"
Marioka caught her arm before she could reach the door leading deeper into the sub. "I just told you, I cannot allow that," he said firmly. "He's a violent man, Miss Chidori – a rapist of the most brutal order. Letting you see him is simply out of the question."
"Ridiculous," Chidori replied immediately, "Sousuke would never do something like that – ever. Period. End of story."
"How much do you really know about this man, Miss Kaname?" Marioka asked patiently. "With men like him, sometimes something simply… gives, and-"
"I don't know why you're still talking," Chidori said flatly. "I said he would never do something like that, and he wouldn't. Now let me see him or I'll…"
Marioka folded his arms over his chest as the girl trailed off, his expression clearly indicating that he was very interested in knowing what a sixteen year old was going to do to threaten him.
Abruptly, Chidori planted her feet firmly on the deck and looked up into the man's eyes. "Let me see him," she said softly, "or I'll talk."
"To whom?" Marioka wondered, "And about what?"
Closing her eyes, Chidori whispered, "Stuyvesant Corporation modified caterpillar drive… top speed of one hundred and three nautical knots per hour… passive and active sonar absorbing skin surrounding a carbon fiber and titanium alloy framework… hanger bay containing over twenty arm-slaves of various models, including the Arbalest unit with functional Lambda Driver. Weapons systems include cruise, water to land, and water to air missiles, torpedoes, and," her eyes opened, no longer their normal color, but a rusty shade of dried blood, "and an experimental rail cannon installed last week, violating several major conventions regarding the use of accelerated explosives."
Slowly, she smiled.
"And that's just off the top of my head."
( 0 0 0 )
Sagara did not look up as the door to his holding cell was opened. What good would it do to see another face twisted into a mask of hatred and loathing? He had not eaten for two meals, as the guard carrying his food had 'accidentally' tripped over his shoelaces on both occasions, scattering the contents of the tray all over the floor.
He did not mind, though. He had gone weeks without a decent meal when he operated out of Belgestan.
"Look alive, prisoner," the guard said gruffly. "You have a guest."
Guest? Sagara thought dismally. Marioka again? I've already confessed to everything he wants me to confess to, so why-
Sagara's head shot up.
He wondered if he was hallucinating… but blinking several times showed that it was, in fact, the blue-haired girl standing on the threshold of his cell.
"I've been given permission to speak to this prisoner in private," Chidori said, turning to the guard. "Here… signed by Marioka himself."
The guard hesitated, glancing at the orders for a moment before clearing his throat. "Ma'am," he began, "I'd really feel more comfortable if-"
"Don't really care if you're comfortable or not," Chidori cut in briskly. "Take a hike, soldier – Acting Captain's orders."
Looking disgruntled, the guard gave a perfunctory salute and muttered, "I'll be right outside if you need me, ma'am."
Sagara stared at the floor as Chidori came into his cell and took a seat next to him. Not knowing what to say, he asked, "What was that you said about Marioka being acting captain?"
"Oh, that," Chidori said evenly. "It seems that Tessa hasn't technically said she was raped, but to Marioka… well, to most people, really, it's obvious that she was attacked, so her stability is in question. Marioka is taking over the reigns until your case has been resolved, which, by the way, will be tomorrow evening."
They fell silent as Chidori leaned her head back against the bulkhead, staring up at the ceiling for a long moment before finally whispering the only question that really mattered.
"Did you… do those things to her, Sousuke…?"
Sagara closed his eyes, unable to face the hopeful note in Chidori's voice. "Yes," he said simply, "the marks on her body? Yes, I made those…"
Slowly, Chidori got off the bench and knelt in front of him, forcing him to meet her eyes as she whispered, "Did you rape her, Sousuke?"
Opening his mouth, Sagara found his voice strangling in his throat.
"If you did, I won't forgive you," Chidori told him softly. "I can't forgive that, Sousuke, no matter… no matter how much I like you – but I have to know."
Sagara swallowed, his voice hoarse as he said, "If… if it was consensual… they wouldn't let her be the captain anymore."
Chidori drew a deep, uneven breath. "Oh," she said awkwardly, the bigger picture finally coming into focus, "I…see." Wetting her lips, she looked away, unable to meet his eyes as she asked, "Is it because you guys just… just wanted to, or is it more, Sousuke?"
Staring at the backs of his hands, Sagara made no reply.
"…do you love her?"
Though he really did not mean too, Sagara nodded, moving so minutely that Chidori had to concentrate to be sure it wasn't just her imagination.
Abruptly, Chidori rose to her feet, turned around, and dropped onto the bench next to Sagara, stretching her back and lacing her hands behind her neck.
"Boy," she said neutrally, "you're fucked."
Sagara was so stunned by this comment that he actually lifted his head and stared at Chidori, his mouth hanging wide open as she nodded to herself.
"Yup," she said firmly, "super-fucked. Probably be almost impossible to get you out of this and keep Tessa's position as captain at the same time." She scratched at the end of her nose as Sagara continued to gape at her. "You're so hopeless sometimes," she said airily. "I mean, screwing the captain is one thing – that takes nerve – but getting caught? I thought you were more careful than that, Sousuke."
Taking a closer look at the girl, Sagara found himself wondering if Mao had somehow made herself a Chidori mask and was playing a very elaborate trick on him.
"Well," Chidori sighed, "can't do anything about it from here, I suppose. You stay here – not that you have any choice, really – and don't say a thing to anyone."
Unable to think of anything to say, Sagara blurted, "Where are you going?"
Chidori rose to her feet. "Mess hall," she said levelly. "Can't work on a defense with an empty stomach." Smiling, she stuck out her hand. "Congratulations, Sagara-san," she said warmly, "you've got yourself a lawyer."
( 0 0 0 )
After only a few hours in court, Chidori had to admit that things were not going well. Her defense, if it could even be called that, was based on the idea that Sagara, after watching his compatriots die in close quarters mecha combat, had become temporarily unhinged. She even called in Marioka as a witness, forcing him to recite what he had told her about soldiers simply snapping sometimes and trying to point out that if anyone was suffering this type of temporary psychosis, it was undoubtedly Sagara.
The judge, however – a man Chidori did not know – was not convinced… and Chidori could tell.
Sagara appraised her as she looked over her notes, thinking how admirably she had worked to defend him, even if she was implying that he was out of his mind. And who knows? he thought, turning his attention back to the judge as the man prompted Chidori once more to provide any further evidence, Perhaps if she had been given more time, she might have pulled it off.
Slowly, the girl spread her papers out over the desk, murmuring that she needed just one more minute, when the door to the makeshift courtroom slid open and Kurz – looking quite winded – came into the room, moving as fast as he could without actually running for fear of bringing the short tempered judge's wrath down upon him.
What is he doing here? Sagara wondered as the blond man hurried to the defense table and pressed a piece of paper into Chidori's hand, whispering something too quiet for Sagara to catch.
"Take your time, why don't you?" he heard Chidori mutter under her breath. "I'm sweating bullets over here!" Raising her voice, she got to her feet and said, "Your honor, my client would like to change his plea to 'not guilty,' and due to new evidence recently brought to my attention, I would like to call Captain Teletha Testarossa to the stand."
The judge shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Miss Chidori," he said evenly. "Just give us your closing statement and rest your case. This… grandstanding tactic of 'last minute evidence,' though it looks good on court room dramas and in mangas, isn't even worthy of delaying my decision."
Chidori cleared her throat. "Begging the court's pardon," she said softly, "but aren't you even interested in hearing why we would like to change our plea?"
"Not really," the judge said dryly. "Stalling for time isn't going to change the outcome, so-"
"I'm not stalling," Chidori cut in sharply. "I didn't ask for a recess, or more time – all I ask is five minutes, to ask a couple questions."
The judge threw his hands into the air. "Fine, Miss Chidori," he sighed gustily. "Change your plea, it really doesn't matter… but calling the Captain is out of the question until I've heard a compelling reason as to why I should allow it."
"Alright," Chidori said boldly. "Then my compelling reason is this – I believe that Captain Testarossa was a willing participant, and-"
"Stop right there," the judge said quickly. "Before you say another word, Miss Chidori, I believe it would be in your best interests to consider just how serious the accusation you're throwing around really is. Sex between operatives within the same division is strictly prohibited, and punishable by immediate dismissal of the superior officer and demotion of the subordinate."
"I understand that," Chidori countered, "but this new information I've come into possession of is nothing less than a signed and authorized request for transfer for Sergeant Sagara, dated by his immediate superior twelve hours prior to the incident in ques-"
The judge held his hand up for silence.
"Falsifying documents is-"
"Signed," Chidori cut in, holding up the paper, "dated… and notarized. See for yourself." Handing the document to the bailiff, she softly added, "You don't believe that a mere high school student like myself would have the time or the resources to falsify a document with the official Mithril watermark within twenty-four hours while confined to this submarine with no outside contact, do you, your honor?"
"You're pushing contempt, Miss Chidori," the judge said coldly, scanning the document before setting it on the desk in front of him. "If this was official, it would be in our system."
"Begging the court's pardon," Chidori said, choosing her words very carefully, "but Sergeant Sagara's acting commander, Sergeant Major Mao, was deployed less than an hour after signing this paper and handing it to her associate, Sergeant Weber. Mister Weber, regrettably… forgot to submit it before himself being deployed to watch over me."
"All of which is very convenient," the judge said dryly. "But does not really have a bearing on this matter."
"It does," Chidori concluded quietly, "if one considers that, in Sergeant Sagara's eyes, he was no longer a member of this division and this… rape, as you call it, was nothing more than a joining of two consenting parties to celebrate their newfound freedom from the system that had been restricting their affections."
"Mm," the judge hummed. "Then how do you explain the bite marks, Miss Chidori?"
Chidori cleared her throat. "Your honor," she said tactfully, "it isn't my place to guess at what kind of… tastes the captain and the sergeant happen to have – but if you will allow me to ask the captain directly, I am confident that she will come clean about this whole mix up. So far, she has not made a statement, correct? Therefore… if you'd like… I would be willing to consider her word on this matter final. If she says it was rape, I will change my client's plea to guilty. If she says it was consensual, then my client will – as he was trying to – transfer to the intelligence division, and we can put this matter behind us without any further embarrassment to himself, the captain, or… yourself, because I hate to say it, your honor, but when it comes out that you condemned an innocent man – the lover of Mithril's top captain, no less – I'm sure-"
"I don't take kindly to threats, Miss Chidori," the judge cut in sharply, rubbing his temples as Chidori's whirlwind tirade was finally interrupted, "so I will pretend I didn't hear that last comment. However… I will allow you to ask Captain Testarossa one question, to be answered yes or no, before passing my judgment – which will be final. Is that clear?"
"Of course, your honor."
The judge picked up the small phone on his table. "This is, of course, contingent on her availability," he said as he dialed the bridge. "I would guess, however, that – yes, Captain Testarossa? I know that you are busy, but I was wondering if you… yes, yes, that's exactly… no, ma'am, I have no objections. Very well… alright, we will see you in a moment."
It was unnecessary to state, as he hung up the phone, that the captain was on her way down, but the judge said it anyway.
As they waited, the judge drummed his fingers on the desk, assessing Chidori closely over the tops of his glasses. "While we're waiting," he said evenly, "I would like to ask… why the captain and the sergeant didn't simply, oh, I don't know – tell the truth?"
"Mm, a good point," Chidori said evasively. "Though I'm afraid I can't answer, since I've only been allowed to ask the captain one question, and to ensure my client's freedom, that will not be it."
"Your best speculation, then," the judge pressed, checking his watch. "Come, Miss Chidori, it will be several minutes until the captain can make her way down here. Enlighten me while we wait with your, no doubt inventive, theory on this matter."
Chidori shrugged. "If it would please the court for me to do so," she said carefully, "I would assume that the captain, presuming the truth that the transfer had not been documented, remained silent for fear of losing her command, and the sergeant, realizing the same, held his tongue for the same reason. Each being honor bound to the other, neither would break their silence and risk the other's reputation or position – especially without documentation to back things up, which would be impossible to procure with both Weber and Mao out on missions."
"An interesting theory," the judge admitted. "I suppose we have nothing left to discuss until the captain arrives and either supports, or destroys your theory."
"I would agree with that, sir."
Chidori met the judge's steady gaze, refusing to break eye contact as Sagara stared at her with a kind of dazed wonder, clearly amazed that she had managed to come up with such a clearly (to him, anyway) fabricated story on the spot, covering every angle as effortlessly as if it was pure fact.
After several minutes of silence, the door to the courtroom opened with a soft whoosh, and Tessa stepped through, keeping her eyes facing forward as she marched quietly up to the witness's chair and sat down, placing one hand on the bible and holding the other in the air as she agreed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
"Captain," the judge said solicitously, "let me remind you that you are under no obligation to do this. The sex crimes act of '07, as well as Mithril guidelines for female employees, are clear in that no victim of a violent crime may be forced to testify. We have enough physical evidence as it stands."
"I understand, your honor," Tessa said quietly, "but I am willing to answer one question, if it will allow a… speedy resolution to this matter."
Clever, Sagara thought approvingly. That could be taken either way. Now it's all up to Chidori… though what she could ask that would clear this all up is a mystery to me.
"Captain," Chidori said politely. "It's good to see you again."
"And you as well, Miss Chidori," Tessa said formally. "Though I wish it was under better circumstances."
"Yeah," Chidori replied, "me too." Seeing that the judge was getting impatient, Chidori said, "I'm going to ask you a simple, yes or no question, Captain… and I would like an honest answer." She wet her lips, quickly adding, "I want the truth, captain… for your sake, as well as Sergeant Sagara's. Ok?"
Giving her a strange look, Tessa murmured, "Of course, Miss Chidori. I am the captain of this ship… I would never think of endangering my position for… for an enlisted man."
Sagara nodded as her eyes flicked briefly to his, then darted away. She understands that it all comes down to this, he thought grimly. Don't throw it away, Tessa-chan… not for me.
Chidori nodded as well, folding her arms over her chest as she stared into Tessa's eyes.
For several moments, neither said a word… and Sagara would have sworn that – just for a second – Tessa's eyes changed from their normal light gray to a dull red, and back again, but before he could ponder this, Chidori was speaking.
"On the night of the fifteenth of August," she said calmly, "the night Sergeant Sagara came into your quarters, did you or did you not…" as her hands clasped behind her back, Sagara saw her fingers cross, "lock your door?"
Tessa looked blank for a moment… then, all at once, her shoulders seemed to slump with relief, her eyes shining as she gave Chidori a soft smile and whispered, "No… no I didn't."
Giving the captain a polite bow, Chidori murmured, "Defense rests."
"Then if there's nothing else," the judge said calmly, "you are excused, Captain."
"No," Tessa said softly, "I would like to stay for your verdict, your honor."
The judge cleared his throat. "You… already know what it has to be, based on your answer, Captain."
Tessa smiled. "Yes, but I would still like to hear it."
Rising to his feet, the judge picked up his gavel.
"This court has come to the conclusion that the incident in question, specifically, the suspected rape of Captain Teletha Testarossa, on the evening of August fifteenth was nothing more than the consensual meeting of two willing parties. Sergeant Sagara, you are free to go – this court no longer has any reason to hold you. Dismissed."
Everyone – Chidori included – saluted the judge… who gave the high schooler a shrewd, glance.
"Well done, Miss Chidori," he said quietly, smiling as Tessa walked past Sagara's desk, brushing the back of his hand with her fingertips. "Truly… the only option in this case. But tell me something."
"What's that, sir?" Chidori asked, barely resisting the urge to collapse with relief as the witnesses filed out one by one.
"Knowing that it's standard procedure for a captain to lock his or her door when not on duty is as simple as looking at an operations manual," the judge said slowly. "Simple, but tedious – as the manual is over two thousand pages, and this fact is only mentioned once. Also, knowing that Captain Testarossa religiously locks her door every night, and that the computer on the ship has documented this fact, isn't something that would come up in normal conversation, and… well, your conversations with the sergeant were recorded, as were the books you accessed during your preparation time for the case, so I know for a fact that he didn't tell you, and that you didn't even open the operations manual."
"All true," Chidori agreed, gathering up the few notes she had with her – notes, the judge noticed suddenly, that were all related to math and history. "So you're wondering how I knew what to ask?" she mused lightly. "Or, more specifically, how I knew that she wouldn't have unlocked her door after hours, as it would violate protocol, which she lives to observe, so the very fact that he was there in the first place means that she let him in, but that if she had actually been raped, she still would have locked the door and called security the very second he was asleep?"
Once again amazed by the girl's dizzying verbal speed, the judge mumbled, "Well, quite honestly… yes."
Chidori smiled, gesturing for Sagara to precede her out the door as she offered the judge the only reply he would get.
"Someone whispered it to me."
( 0 0 0 )
It took all of five days for Sagara to come to hate his new position in the Intelligence Division. He was given a cursory retraining in stealth and infiltration, and then assigned to monitor wiretaps and collate papers for his new commander, a man named Johnson who clearly had something personal against him.
The first five days, though, were nothing compared to the five weeks he spent doing the same thing, day in and day out. The monotonous buzz of the monitoring headset was soporific, forcing him to find new and inventive ways to keep himself awake – some of them very nearly resulting in collateral damage and worsening Johnson's already poor image of him.
He heard nothing from the operatives aboard the Danaan, keeping Chidori's brief hug and softly whispered, "This is the best I could do," close to him as he diligently did his work. Tessa, of course, had not seen him off – a fact he could not complain about, as he had gone practically straight from the courtroom to the aircraft hanger, where he and the Arbalest were loaded onto a helicopter and whisked away to his new post.
Again, he could not complain about this sudden transfer. After all, as far as the paperwork was concerned, he was overdue by two days.
But Tessa's command is safe, he told himself as he entered Johnson's spacious office to deliver his dull, uneventful reports. That's all that matters.
He wished he could make himself believe this.
"Sagara," Johnson yawned as he finished up his report. "You have some passing familiarity with the Whispered protection program, correct?"
"Yes sir," Sagara replied. "In my last assignment, I was-"
"Yes, yes," Johnson cut in impatiently. "I've come across a situation that requires that I pull my best man off of one of the Whispereds, and I need someone to fill in for him. As you have experience in this area, I'm giving the assignment to you."
Johnson looked irritable about having to use Sagara for anything past fetching coffee, and expressed his displeasure by saying, "Personally, I think you're an idiot, Sagara… I only took you because one of my subordinates signed the transfer papers while I was out with the flu, so getting rid of you like this is a double edged sword. On the one hand, I have to use you on a sensitive assignment, but on the other I get you out of my hair. Not a true 'win' in my opinion, but I suppose I have no choice, since you do have the experience with the Whispereds."
Deciding that it was unwise to inform the man that the dislike was mutual, Sagara simply nodded. "Understood, sir."
"You'll be posing as a high school student."
Johnson immediately had Sagara's attention.
"Tomorrow, you will be transferred to the Tuatha de Danaan," the man continued, lacing his hands behind his head and watching Sagara closely. "From there, you will be inserted into the school the Whispered attends as a transfer student. This should all be old hat for you, Sergeant… you were chosen for this operation because the Whispered you will be watching is familiar too you, and it will save the organization the trouble of finding and inserting another operative to watch over her."
Finally finding his voice, Sagara whispered, "Who ordered this, sir?"
"Watch your tongue, son," Johnson said sharply. "No one tells the Intelligence Division what to do – we operate under our own recognizance. My man is needed elsewhere, and you just happen to be what I need to fill his shoes, is that clear? Christ on a cross, we don't run this outfit for your amusement, junior."
"Sir, yes sir!"
Sagara bowed, but as he turned to leave, the phone on Johnson's desk began to ring.
"Johnson here," the man said briskly. "Yes, yes it's been taken care of… what's that? Yes, he's still here… alright, understood. Sagara."
Glancing over his shoulder, Sagara replied, "Yes sir?"
"Here," Johnson said, holding out the handset, "it's your commanding officer on the Danaan."
It was all Sagara could do not to lunge forward and snatch the phone from the man's hand. "Yes," he said quickly, "yes, hello?"
"Sergeant Sagara… how good to hear your voice."
Sagara's mouth worked for several moments before he managed to splutter, "K-Kalinin…?"
"Yes," the man on the other end of the line replied. "You were expecting someone else? I am your direct superior for this operation, Sergeant, as I was when you were stationed on this ship."
"O-of course, sir," Sagara said quickly, "I was simply… unaware that you had recovered already, sir."
Kalinin sounded amused. "Mm," he hummed. "Yes, well, I'll make this brief… there will be time for chitchat later, since it seems you'll be on loan to us for a time. You will report back at her at 0:800 hours tomorrow, at which time, you will be deployed and…"
Sagara listened carefully as his orders were outlined, wondering suddenly if perhaps he had fallen asleep while listening to the wiretaps as he acknowledged that he understood the instructions.
"That is all, Sergeant."
"Oh, I almost forgot," Kalinin said casually.
"Forgot what, sir?" Sagara wondered.
"Just a moment."
There was a moment of dead air… and another voice came onto the line.
"Hello, Sergeant Sagara…"
Sagara's hand gripped the phone so tight his knuckles cracked. "Captain Testarossa."
"I understand you will be under my command again starting tomorrow," the young woman's voice whispered, sounding like heaven to Sagara's ears. "I look forward to working with you again, Sergeant."
"Yes," he replied a little too quickly. "I look forward to that as well, ma'am."
"Well then, I will see you tomorrow," Tessa murmured, adding – almost too softly for him to hear, "and Sergeant?"
"…we will need to find an appropriate time for me to give you that item we discussed just before your deployment to Belgestan."
Sagara barely kept his knees from wobbling as he replied, "Understood, ma'am."
"Goodbye, Sergeant Sagara."
Handing the phone back, Sagara gave Johnson a formal bow. As he reached the door, however, he was brought up short as Johnson murmured, "Sergeant Sagara, if you see Mister Weber on the Danaan…"
Johnson pulled a cigar out of a small humidor on his desk, biting the end off and spiting it with unerring precision onto the toe of Sagara's boot.
"Tell him I said the books are clear."
Nodding, Sagara whispered, "Understood."
Returning to the barracks, Sagara packed in record time, shoving his clothes into a duffle bag so quickly that they almost came unfolded. Almost… because he was still himself, after all. As he did not have many personal effects to begin with, it did not take him very long, and soon, he was ready to go.
Very deliberately, he kept himself from thinking of what was to come. It had been over a month since he had seen Chidori or Tessa, but he was not concerned that either would not be happy to see him – Tessa's offhanded comment about giving him the 'item' she had promised so long ago had put any fears of that nature to rest. No, what concerned Sagara was that he might not be able to contain himself when he was again within arm's reach of the captain.
There was a time, and not so long ago, that he could have denied that he felt anything for her… but given as much time as he had with nothing but his own thoughts, and considering the end of the court-martial, and the fact that everyone would know they were in a relationship, it would be impossible for him to say – with a straight face, anyway – that there was nothing between them.
And yet, some things will not change, he thought critically. I'll still be assigned to watch Chidori, so I won't be on the Danaan all that much… and Chidori knows exactly what's happened, so I won't need to hide it from her. So in essence, it will be business as usual when I'm in Japan, and when I'm on the Danaan, since it will be unlikely that we will be allowed much time alone. Relationships of this type, even between members of different divisions, are still frowned upon.
"What was it we decided when we first started this affair?" he mused to himself, running his finger idly along the strap of his duffle. "Complicated… that's what we said it would be…"
Sagara had no doubts this word barely even began to cover the intricacies of his relationship with Tessa. It was going to be a tough road – had already become one, when you get right down to it – but simply picturing her smile, as trite as it seemed, was enough to remind him that it would be worth every second.
Sagara rose to his feet and gave his pilot a crisp salute.
"Ready to go, sir?"
Throwing his duffle bag over his shoulder, Sagara gave the man an enigmatic smile.
"No," he corrected quietly. "Ready to go home…"
Confused, the man just shrugged, and led Sagara to the waiting helicopter.
Final Notes: I never planned to supplant, or carry this story through, the original ending of the series. This story was always meant to be a 'drop-in,' meaning that if it had really happened, it could be dropped into the regular continuity without disrupting anything. Now clearly, with everyone knowing about Sagara and Tessa's relationship, this isn't entirely possible… though I'd like to think I still left it open enough to say, 'this COULD have happened in the series without anyone noticing, if they kept their romance behind closed doors and just did their duties otherwise.' If I failed in that, I can only apologize, and hope that at the very least, I provided a bit of light reading for your morning/afternoon/evening/whenever you read.
Pre-read on this chapter, as with the rest of this story, was by LeperMessiah, who argued quite strongly for a change in the courtroom scene, and who I failed by not being able to come up with a more realistic exchange. So for anyone who knows how a real military court works (or any courtroom, really, I'm not too good at that), and can see right through my lame fabrication, I was warned about it… I just couldn't fix it.