This is probably my one and only Space Above and Beyond fic, but I couldn't resist. Please review, then off to my blog where I answer all reviews. And no, I don't own anything associated with SAAB.
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
-William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
I had never realized how long the night is. All my life, I've been a good sleeper; pretty much able to drop off the moment my head hit the pillow. Not anymore. I'm lucky if I tack up five hours now. Since Kazbek, I lay awake in the dark every night, listening to the soft breathing of my squad mates and trying like hell to shut down my brain.
Night is when everything comes crashing back. When it's dark and quiet, when all the activity of the day has ceased and there's nothing left to distract my mind. Tonight is no different.
I glance at my watch. 3 AM. Knowing that sleep is a lost cause, I roll quietly from my rack and grab a pair of camo pants and a t-shirt from my locker. West groans in his sleep as I step into my pants, but he doesn't wake. As I kneel to lace my boots I find myself face to face with Vansen. She's still sleeping, her face smooth and unlined, her eyelids fluttering with dreams. I've learned some things about Shane in the past months, during the long nights. She's a restless sleeper, always tossing and turning. Sometimes she even cries. I imagine she's dreaming of her family, of the AIs who slaughtered them as she watched. I understand now the sad light that is always behind her eyes.
For what it's worth, I'm glad it was me, and not her. To have to face that, to be tied down and tortured by a silicate, it would have killed her. No, I take that back. She would have killed HIM. She wouldn't have broken. But still, I'm glad it wasn't her. She's faced enough horror in her life.
Shane's face tightens and she rolls over, so I stand and slip out of the dorm, trying to close the hatch quietly behind me. I'm in no mood for questions.
The halls are empty, dark, with only the occasional dim after-hours light burning, leaving pools of cold blue light on the floor. It feels lonely, but that's okay. I want to be alone.
I break into a light jog, slow and steady, to warm the muscles, raise the pulse rate. Veins start to rise, blue. Skin starts to perspire. No, stop that. I won't let his words find me when I'm awake. I pick up the pace to a pounding run.
The rhythm of my steps calls to mind the cadences we always used to sing in boot camp. Damphousse was usually our cadence caller. She has a strong, sweet voice, one that makes you look twice. Not the sort of voice you'd expect from a Marine. But her song kept us in step, and we followed her voice all over that base and beyond.
I'm glad it wasn't 'Phousse. Vanessa's sweetness shouldn't have to suffer at the hands of something like that. Her heart is so big, her smile even bigger. I wouldn't want to see her light dimmed by the horror of what he did. I don't find many chances to tell her, but in my mind she's the glue that holds us five rejects together. She's the one I look to when I don't know how to go on from the pain. I'm glad it wasn't her. She's too good to be ruined, to feel the intensity of that pain.
I've felt plenty of pain in my life. Hell, boot camp kicked my ass up and down the street. Broke my leg playing football once, had to limp home so my mom could take me to the hospital. But I never imagined anything like what that silicate did to me.
As soon as he touched me, a searing flash of white light blazed across my vision, and I was blind to everything but the pain. I bit down on my tongue, trying to swallow a scream, but all I ended up swallowing was blood. Every muscle in my body was on fire, cramping and seizing against the electricity he was shooting into me. When he touched my face, it felt as though my eyes had melted in their sockets and were running, thick and hot, down my face. I realized later that they were tears. I've never felt anything like it before and I hope to God, if he's out there, that I never do again.
The worst part of it is that it was all for nothing. Nothing that I went through saved us. I didn't sacrifice for my friends. It wasn't noble, and it wasn't worth it.
I think about Butts sometimes. I almost wish I could have gone out like him, as a hero. He didn't want to go, sure, and tried his damndest to live. But he went out bravely. He died because he saved us. His death had a meaning. What I went through means nothing. It didn't save anyone's life, it didn't contribute to the war effort, it didn't mean anything. And that almost hurts more than anything else.
West would find meaning in it, the noble bastard. He's a machine himself, programmed to find and save Kylen. I've never seen such focus, such intensity, as I do when I see him in the middle of the shit. He'd never have broken. He'd have found a way to win, and to make himself an even better person despite it. But I'm glad it wasn't him. I saw the pain in his eyes when he shot 'Kylen', when he realized that she wasn't real, wasn't his Kylen. That pain is enough, more than enough.
I'm sprinting now, feeling every muscle stretch and contract, the pounding of my steps reverberating up through my spine. Trying to run away from all these fucking feelings.
At least it wasn't Hawkes. Poor guy has the body of a man, but the mind of a child, and I guarantee that he wouldn't understand something like that. Could he handle that sort of trauma? Don't know if he's ready. Coop's an innocent. To lose that would be a damn shame. I'd do near anything to protect that innocence. Isn't that why we're fighting this war in the first place? To protect others? To end this war so others can live?
Coming back to the Saratoga after Kazbek, looking at all those faces as we limped out of that hanger, was a new sort of torture. They were looking at us, looking at me, wondering how the Mighty 58th could have screwed the pooch so badly. But the worst was seeing her.
When she said I was a hero, was she trying to convince me, or herself? I didn't want to walk away from her, but what else could I do? I didn't trust myself to speak. When she looked at me, I could see it in her eyes. Pity. Disappointment. Shame. These are the things I fear most, seeing these emotions on the faces of my friends, my family. If they knew what I did, that I betrayed the country, betrayed myself…well, I just couldn't bear to see that look in their eyes. And I'll never know if, or when, those fucking AIs will release my confession. Destroy my life. Destroy my soul.
How am I supposed to live with that gnawing fear for the rest of my life?
I stumble as my mind outruns my feet, and am suddenly aware of the burning in my lungs. I slow to a jog, chest heaving with the exertion of my run. The one good thing to come out of my sleepless nights is that I've never been in better shape. I feel strong, ready to take on anything that may come. I won't allow myself to be weak again. I'll work until my body is a machine. Sweat is pouring down my face and I lift my shirt to mop it away. I feel the endorphin buzz of a hard workout, and stop for a moment to savor the feeling.
I find myself in front of the observation deck. I key open the hatch and step in, eyes drawn immediately to the huge window aft. The stars are scattered outside like shattered diamonds, bright and clear, thousands on thousands. I've always been in awe of them, even back on earth. They're just proof that there are bigger things out there than our tiny lives. Five years ago I never would have guessed that I would be here today, out among the stars. I left home to find a better life, and for the most part I found it. But would I do it again, knowing what I know now? Knowing what would happen?
I want to believe I would.
But I don't know.