Disclaimer: Nope, I don't own Defying Gravity. Also, this is cannon through "Bacon." Haven't had a chance to catch up on watching in a while, due to school.
And that was it.
My hands shook uncontrollably as I held the video camera up to the window. The feed was still live in half a dozen classrooms, the tape still rolling, allowing hundreds of students to bear witness to the events that just occurred, scarring their minds, tainting all their idealized perceptions of space travel. I knew I should just shut the camera off, but I couldn't bring myself to hit that little red stop button. Instead, my free hand grasped the silver Virgin Mary medallion I've worn since my sixth birthday when Abuela gave it to me. I needed it more in this moment than I ever had before.
Donner's quick thinking had, without a doubt, saved us all. Out on the hull to replace a cracked tile, there hadn't been time to warn the team of the small meteorite careening towards us. No time to adjust course. It's hard to comprehend how fast he must have calculated the odds- the velocity of the meteor, the strength of the metal in the hull, the force of the potential impact- but I swear, from the time he dropped the tile to the time he lifted off the ship, it had been seconds. Releasing the wires that tethered him to the Anteres, he targeted his oxygen tank at the speeding hunk of space rock, and said three words I'll never forget.
"Love you, Zoe…"
There was no corpse to bring home. No chance of a proper burial. The explosion that deflected the meteorite away from the ship had destroyed any evidence that Maddox Donner had ever walked among us.
In a strange way, it almost seemed fitting to me. Ten years ago, there hadn't been a burial for Sharon either. At the end of the day, the two were together, lost to the deepest recesses of space. History might look at it as another tragic romance. Now, though, in this very moment, it was devastating.
Behind me I heard Zoe sob, her metal chair screeching against the floor as she pushed herself away from the desk and ran down the hallway. Jen followed, mumbling to herself, and I could tell she was crying too.
"It's alright, babe… it's gonna be alright…" I heard whispered in my earpiece.
"Rollie, you're still talking to all of us," I said softly, knowing his words of comfort were meant for his wife only.
"Oh." His voice disappeared, and I knew he'd switched his mic over .
The tether that had once attached Donner to the ship floated behind us, looking like a thin metal snake against the backdrop of the sky. "We need to bring that in," Nadia said softly, more serious than I'd ever heard her. Her face remained stoic, but the grief in her eyes clearly indicated that, while she might have claimed she and Maddox were only friends with benefits, her heart was much more deeply invested in him than she cared to admit. "It will get caught in the engine and cause more damage."
Her statement was directed at Ted, who like me, had not moved since it had happened. I couldn't begin to imagine what he must be feeling. A familiarity, I supposed. He was the only one among us who had ever experienced a loss of life in space. But that was so impersonal. I'm sure he felt ten times the loss any of the rest of us felt. He and Donner had a connection, a shared experience that made them closer than any brothers had ever been.
Nothing can prepare a person for the loss of a colleague- no, not a colleague. Donner was our friend. The pain that came with this was not going to go away just like that.
Apparently, though, Goss expected us to push the pain aside. In my earpiece, I heard the director of the ISO shouting directions, demanding coordinates and ETA's. How could he be so cold? So unfeeling? He'd known Donner longer than any of us.
"Ted, we need to reel in the tether," Nadia said again.
Mechanically, our captain nodded, and signaled for Nadia to follow him. Like robots programmed to perform their duties, they made their way down the same corridor that Zoe and Jen had taken. Moments later, the loud pounding of something against metal echoed into the cockpit, followed by a loud "Fuck it all."
Evram sighed. Tragic loss was not a new experience for him. He was much calmer than any of us. "He probably just broke his hand, punching whatever he did like that," he muttered, making his own exit down the hallway.
I wanted to leave to, go hide in my room and cry. But somehow, I was frozen in place, stuck staring out the windows, looking to the stars to try and make sense of what had happened. I wanted to cry, to scream, to show some sort of emotion like Zoe and Jen and Nadia. In training, I'd always been the one that felt the most, wore my heart on my sleeve. The others, they were strong. They didn't break down easily like me. Why was it so different today?
A hand grazed my lower back, a tall shadow falling over me. Reaching around, Steve hit the stop button on the recorder, closed the view finder. "I think the kids have had enough adventure for one day, don't you?" he asked. For once, it wasn't a joke. All trace of humor was gone.
I didn't respond. No words came to my mind, as the gravity, the horror, everything rushed over me at once. Would our crew ever be the same again? There were still five and a half years left to this mission. Would Zoe ever smile, Jen coo over her rabbit babies? Seeing this grave Steven, this suddenly perceptive man replacing the hulking man-child that watched porn and played Halo on the flight deck screens when everyone else was working, forced me to realize that everything about this mission- hell, everything in our lives- was going to change.
"Paula?" He waved a hand in front of my eyes. "Yo, Paula Puke, come back down to earth… space shuttle… wherever the hell we are…"
I crumbled right there, the tears filling my eyes faster than I expected. One moment of normalcy, of typical Steven just pushed me over the edge. Not because of him. Honestly, it felt good that for one moment, things could be like they were before Donner went out to fix and tile and never returned.
I wept because Donner was gone, life cut too short. Everything he had before him- and God, he'd had so much potential, so much life and love and ability- had been taken away from him. I wept because we were trapped out here, for another five or so years, and who knows what could happen in that time? Past the point of no return, earth was just a memory in the back our minds, and even though we could hear the voices at ISO, they couldn't help us. They were spectators, watching a game of survival being played out in space. I wept for us, for the scrutiny we'd face when we returned home. Donner and Ted had lived for years with the guilt riding over their heads, with people questioning every move they'd made. Honestly, I didn't know if I could handle it.
Steve's hand patted me awkwardly on the back, and I almost felt bad for breaking down on him. He'd told me once he'd never had a girlfriend, that he had absolutely no idea to act in social situations, especially when it came to women. This must have been miserable for him.
But he surprised me, like he always does.
I suddenly found myself wrapped up in his arms, a tight bear hug that just seemed so… so right coming from him. Much taller than myself, he engulfed me, letting me sob into his chest- and I held on for dear life. His hands ran up and down my back, sometimes a little too rough, sometimes dipping a little too low, but I didn't tell him off. Honestly, him being there, holding me, meant more than I will ever let him know.
Or maybe I should let him know. He could be the next one out there. I could be the next one out there. And three whispered words over a microphone, heard by the entire crew… it just didn't seem like enough.
Outside the window, I saw the long, thin tether become shorter. Nadia and Ted must be reeling it in. I froze up again, clutched my necklace in my hand as I watched it recede back into the ship.
A gentle hand on my cheek forced my face away from the window. "Hey… stop that. Donner died a hero. He saved us all."
Perceptive Steven was going to take some time to get used to.
"Let's get out of here. It's not healthy, you just staring out the window like that. It's not going to bring him back."
"What are you suggesting we do?"
"Well, I'm suggesting that certain commanders back at ISO tell us what's really going on with this mission," he said loudly. Ever the conspiracy theorist, his comments were directly intended for Goss, and I was grateful that someone had the balls to say it. At this point, there were a few conspiracy theories rolling around in my head as well.
Steve pulled off his earpiece, reached down and took mine of my ear too. "I'm suggesting we go find somewhere to mourn in peace. Without everyone else listening in on us. Your bunk, my bunk. I really don't care. All I know is that I need ten minutes without somebody else in my ear, telling me to go on with my job when one of my friends just died."
He held out a hand to me, letting the decision be mine. I grasped it tightly, needing to feel some sort of human connection. Not that I really needed an excuse to hold his hand. "My bunk. Can't be sure what sort of disease-ridden bacteria is growing in that mess you call a room."
Cracking the first sort of a smile I'd seen since we lost Donner, he led me out of the cockpit towards the bunks, and somehow I knew that eventually, we'd get back to some form of normal. It would take time, and we'd never quite be the same people. But if Steven could still smile, I suppose the rest of us would find a way as well.
Donner gave his life for us so we could live. And that was exactly what I was going to do.
This story was definitely a bit spontaneous, but I was inspired by the ending of Bacon with Paula and Steve. Those two have some sort of weird chemistry that I can't really wrap my head around. Neither of them are quite there yet, but you can tell they have a bit of a thing for each other. Besides, there is a thorough lack of Defying Gravity fic! Please leave a review and let me know what you think! I love constructive criticism and such!