Commander Ford made it halfway to the bridge before he stopped. He stood for a moment in the hallway as curious crewman swirled around him, making their way to someplace or other. He had almost come to a decision when Dagwood turned the corner with his mop and saw him standing there.
"Commander?" Ford turned with a smile at the voice.
"Um, are you okay?"
"Um, okay." Dagwood went back to mopping and Ford stared at him, suddenly struck by the urge to confide in someone.
Dagwood stopped mopping and looked up. "Yes?"
"Have you ever had to help someone, but leave them alone at the same time?"
"Um, lots of people have asked Dagwood to go away."
"That's not what I meant. Has anyone asked you to let them think?"
"Oh, yes. Lucas and the Captain and Tony…"
"What about when they are sad and you want for them to feel better?"
"Yes, they have asked Dagwood, then too."
"And what did you do when they were sad?"
"Dagwood said no, not going away until you better. Sometimes Dagwood is sad, but someone always makes feel better."
"Thanks Dagwood." Commander Ford briefly laid his hand on the dagger's shoulder before striding back down the hallway.
"Um, you're welcome." Dagwood went back to mopping, making his way to the bridge.
A knock at the door caused Lonnie to jump, her pen skimming over the paper and ruining the letter she had been writing. She quickly shoved the stationary into a drawer and wiped at her eyes.
"Am I interrupting anything?"
"Oh Commander." Lonnie stood quickly to come to attention. Ford shook his head and she abandoned the gesture, just standing as he closed the door behind him. "Jonathan?"
"How are you Lonnie?" He kept his voice gentle and made no move to touch her. She smiled and moved to embrace him. His eyes widened in surprise, but he held her warmly and with a smile.
"I'm better, now. Still thinking, but better." She whispered into his ear as she laid her head on his shoulder. A few moments passed with neither moving before Lonnie pulled away. "So, what are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be on duty."
"I am. I just finished a meeting with the Captain and I thought I'd see how you are before heading to the bridge."
Lonnie turned around and sat on her bunk, wrapping her arms across her chest. "How was your meeting?"
Ford was surprised at the relief that flooded through him when she asked him instead of dismissing him. He hadn't realized he'd missed her so much. "Fine. I have a feeling Lucas will be asking you for a favor soon?"
"The captain approved of his request?"
"But why me?"
"Just a hunch." She nodded in response and an awkward silence filled the room. Ford shifted on his feet. "Well, I guess I'd better get to the bridge." He turned and grabbed the doorknob.
"Jonathan?" He looked back at her, distress plain on his features. "Was there something else you wanted?"
"That leave we requested together is coming up soon." She smiled and he pressed on. "I was just wondering if you still wanted to go together or if you'd prefer I make other plans."
She stood slowly and he turned to fully face her, forgetting that he was about to leave. As she stepped forward, he found himself copying the move and they met in the middle. Lonnie's small deceptive hands gripped his shoulders and pulled him close. He met her kiss, pulling her thin frame against him with an urgency that took both their breaths away.
Ford groaned when his PAL went off, but kept on arm around her waist when he answered it. "Ford here."
"You're needed on the bridge for docking authorization, sir." Tim's voice sounded cheery enough and the commander sighed.
"I'll be right up." He looked down at the woman in his arms and smirked when she shrugged.
"My shift starts in a few hours anyways." She squirmed loose and grabbed her PAL off the desk. "Let's go."
As she flipped off the lights he remembered that she hadn't answered his earlier question. "So…"
"Oh. About leave. I believe we promised to hit the slopes together."
"That we did, Lieutenant." Together they headed to the bridge.
Few faces looked up as the Commander and Lieutenant walked on the bridge. Lonnie patted Lucas' shoulder as she passed him on the way to his station and the young man looked up with a smile. She returned Piccolo's wink with one of her own as she put on her headset. Ford immediately asked for a situation run-down.
"We are cleared for docking, sir. Captain Hudson requested a landing party meet in launch bay C in 4 hours."
"O'Neil, Wolenczak and Henderson convene at the launching bay at the appointed time." Ford ordered.
"You're not going, Commander?" Tony piped up.
"Captain Hudson will be going." He smirked as O'Neil's shoulders fell.
Lucas got up from his seat and walked to the commander. A few words were exchanged quietly between the two before Lucas approached the communications chair. Tim stiffened as a hand came to rest on his shoulder and Lucas bent down to whisper in his ear. "Why don't you go ahead and take off half an hour early, Tim. I can take over for you."
"My shift isn't over."
"Command Ford said its okay."
"Thanks." He patted the young man's hand and slid out of the chair. Henderson flashed him a smile as he stood to leave and the commander nodded. Dagwood patted his shoulder as he left and Piccolo gave him a small thumbs up. Ford's voice carried out down the hallway slightly as he left, but he tuned the man out. With an hour still to go before his meeting with the captain, O'Neil made his way to the moon pool with a heavy heart.
Darwin wasn't in the moon pool when Tim arrived, but he knew that if he sat at the edge and waited his friend would show up soon. He wondered why both he and Lucas would be assigned to the landing team. It was unusual for him to be assigned and he couldn't help but worry it was some kind of punishment. Despite the captain's anger, he wasn't sorry for what he had done and he was a little angry himself that he was facing disciplinary action over something that would most likely prove to be hugely beneficial in the future. The notion of resignation had been on his mind a lot lately, ever since they returned. He doubted Captain Hudson would have trouble finding a replacement and would probably welcome the opportunity. A small wave of water sloshing over the side of the pool and wetting his current sitting spot interrupted his unhappy thoughts.
"Tim, play!" The dolphin's happy voice chattered out of the speakers.
"Ugh, Darwin, you got me all wet!"
The dolphin ignored the outburst as Tim reached forward to rub the porpoise's head in greeting. "Play! Play!"
Tim checked his watch and sighed. He had enough time. He looked around for the usual ball that Darwin liked to toss around. "Where's the ball, Darwin?" Tim jumped when the ball came flying at his head in response.
"Mr. O'Neil, I wasn't aware your shift was over, yet." Tim cringed as another figure floated into view in the moon pool. This was the absolute last person he expected or wanted to see right now.
"Lu-" He stopped at the captain's raised eyebrow and continued. "er, Mr. Wolenczak wanted a go at the communications chair and Commander Ford released me early."
"Why don't you slip on a wet-suit and join us. The ensign here is up four points and I could use a hand."
"Play!" Darwin shouted again.
"Yes, Darwin, play." Tim agreed and eyes still wide in shock he stood to go get changed.
The water was cold as usual on his hands, but his wetsuit kept him warm. His surprise at finding the captain playing with the dolphin was still evident on his face. "Did you refer to Darwin as ensign earlier, sir?"
"Yes, I did." Hudson lazily threw the ball so Darwin could chase it. "When I first came on this boat, the idea of a fish being an officer made me laugh. But he's proven me wrong. He deserves his rank."
"Thank you, sir."
Captain Hudson glared at O'Neil. "I am not such an unreasonable man, Mr. O'Neil."
"I didn't think you were, captain." Darwin brought back the ball and Tim threw it again.
"I've decided on your reprimand, Lieutenant."
"Is this really the appropriate place, sir?"
Captain Hudson shrugged. "It's not so bad as you may think. You can sign the paperwork later."
"Yes, sir." The game was played in silence for a few minutes before Tim spoke up again. "Sir?" He paused as Hudson looked his way. "What is to be my punishment?"
"Ah, well in light of your actions you will have your bridge schedule cut back to 35 hours a week and be assigned menial work."
Tim caught the ball and held it. Darwin bumped at his waist. "Menial work, sir?"
"Yes, considering your skills and relationship with the Chaodai refugee I have decided to place you in charge of her well-being and adjustment to the ship. All reports having to do with her welfare and any information she gives are to be prepared and submitted by you. During this period your authority will be that of an ensign, but your rank will remain unchanged."
"Does this mean Heiko will be officially joining Seaquest?"
"I think it's safe to say that her trial period with us will be substantial."
Tim threw the ball and Darwin darted after it. "Thank you, sir."
Hudson nodded and swam to the edge of the pool. He pulled himself out as Darwin raced back with the ball.
"Oliver play?" The computerized voice asked.
"Later, Ensign. I need a nap."
"Oliver sleep. Tim play?"
"Yeah, Darwin. I can play." Tim listened to the captain's wet footsteps make their way to the locker room and breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed. For the first time in days a genuine smile spread across his face as he threw the ball again. Perhaps the captain really was an alright, guy. The door opened again and he heard the familiar clack of combat boots on the tile.
"See you at the landing bay, Mr. O'Neil."
Tim ignored the ball Darwin was pushing towards him. "Uh, yeah, see you there."