Conversations

New Order date is 47-11 Mark 26

Author's note: This little idea popped into my head as I was pondering why Jon would suddenly make such a bold move as to kiss Jennifer on the cheek with the others around. There are several scenarios that I came up with but this one just kept coming back to me. This takes place between Freedom One and New Order Part 1.

This may become a series. I don't know yet. Let me know if you like!

CP&CP&CP

The jumpship limped home as best it could. Corporal Jennifer "Pilot" Chase was struggling hard to keep the ship in the air. Their little game of tag with Soaron earlier had burned out over half of the stabilizing circuits and some of the power relays to the primary engines, leaving them basically useless. The secondaries were bearing the brunt of the work getting them home, but they'd be lucky if those didn't burn out as well. She didn't want to think about the work that she was going to have to do to repair the panels on the outside of the ship. She knew she should have completed the repairs before she and Matt left the Passages, but after the events of the afternoon, that wasn't going to happen.

Matt wasn't happy when she said they were leaving. She didn't give him an explanation, and luckily, he knew her moods well enough not to argue when she was that determined. She couldn't lie to herself - Matt had a point. The ship was damaged, and flying was only going to make the damage worse. For the first time in her piloting career, she didn't care. All she wanted to do was go home. Sure, it was an emotional decision, not a logical one, but she just didn't care. She just didn't want Matt to push the issue, but she knew him better than that. Mother hen that he was, he'd be asking questions soon enough.

It was supposed to be a simple supply run to the Passages and back. They were just going to pick up the supplies they needed plus the supplies they were going to ferry out to a resistance cell in the old New York City area in a couple of days. However, like so many other times, what should have been an easy chore turned out to be anything but. Shortly after they'd left the base they had run into Soaron. They'd played tag for a little bit till they got a lucky shot in and were able to get away. Unfortunately, the ship had taken quite a bit of damage. They'd made the rest of the trip to the Passages in a wounded ship.

"How's the arm feeling?"

"It's fine," the young pilot responded. "Just a singe is all. I've had that happen before."

Major Matthew "Hawk" Masterson glanced over at her. "You're sure? I can take a look at it when we get back to the base."

She chuckled a little bit. "Really, it's fine Matt. It's not the first time I've been burned by blowing relays. I took care of it. Don't worry about it."

"If you're sure. You're not feeling achy or starting to run a fever or anything?"

"You really are a mother hen like Jon says," Jennifer said grinning at him. The arm was actually starting to sting a bit, but not enough that she would admit to it.

"Just looking after my own is all," he returned with a grin of his own. "You know, we should have finished the repairs before we left."

"I know."

"So why didn't we?"

"I didn't want to," she replied shortly.

"Jennifer?"

"What?" she responded by pulling the ship up again as it tried to sink into another dive.

"Why didn't we repair the ship before we left? You never fly the jumpship damaged," he queried again, helping her to keep the ship leveled out. "And if any of us ever suggested it, you'd have our hides."

"I know, but we'd been gone long enough. We needed to get back, and the repairs will take longer than we really could have stayed," she returned as the ship leveled out again.

"Uh huh."

CP&CP&CP

Matt knew when he was getting the brush off and Jennifer definitely didn't want to talk about this, but he plunged ahead anyway. He'd already voiced his concerns about the ship before they left, but after the scene he walked in on, he knew there was more to Jennifer's decision to fly the ship back before repairing it.

"Sooo, you gonna tell me what happened back there?" Matt inquired.

"What do you mean?"

"Jennifer, when I walk in and see some guy make the mistake of grabbing your arm, and then half a second later the same guy is on the floor writhing in pain, screaming that you broke his fingers, there's a story to tell."

He noticed the surprised expression that skittered across her face quickly. She hadn't known he'd witnessed the incident. At the time, his first reaction had been to charge in and help, but hesaw the look on her face as she laid the man out. She wouldn't have appreciated his help right then, so he'd hung back until the guy had left the hanger bay.

CP&CP&CP

Jennifer heaved a deep sigh. She had hoped just to forget about it. No such luck now, she thought.

"Just someone who didn't want to take 'no' for an answer. Again."

"Again?" Matt returned quickly, "How many have you had to put down like that?"

"Just him. He didn't take the hint like the others did," she replied.

"Others? Wait - something like that has happened before? How come you didn't say anything to the rest of us?"

"I can take care of myself, Matt. I may be a little naive about some things, but not that naive. He wasn't subtle, and he wasn't a gentleman."

"So the trader wanted something else to trade for his spare parts, huh?"

"Something like that," Jennifer ground out as she fought the controls to keep the ship from sinking into another dive.

"And just for the record, how many times has this happened before?"

"It's not important. He's the only one who ever laid a hand on me. Besides I think he probably got the point this time."

CP&CP&CP

"It is important. We should have noticed if you were having a problem with someone. At least I should have," Matt trailed off, mentally berating himself for not noticing anything.

"Why should you have noticed if the others didn't?"

"If by others you mean the other idiots in the landing bay who didn't do anything to help you, then I seriously have to question the kind of people we are doing business with. If you mean us, then we are all still idiots for not paying close enough attention to realize these jerks were bothering you."

"I didn't expect anyone in the bay to help. From what I understand the trader has a bit of a reputation as a fighter, and besides that he's a good source for a lot of parts that the resistance teams need. Nobody wants to get on his bad side. However, I think I've managed to," she quipped. "As for you all, it's not a big deal. It's over. I'm sure the betting pool will love that I broke his fingers though, but-"

"Betting pool?"

"Uh, yeah. Apparently, there is a pool on who can get to first base. Whatever that is." she responded with a cringe. "I heard today there's a party planned for anyone who scores a homerun. I don't know what that term means, but I think I've heard all of you talk about homeruns before. Something about a sport?"

"What?"

"There was also something about how everyone is just striking out and wondering who the pinch hitter is that might stand a chance? I didn't understand any of it."

Now Matt was just downright mad. How dare those moronic imbeciles be betting on their Jennifer like that.

"And how did you find out about this betting pool?"

"He mentioned it. He said I was costing him a lot of trading credits with the other traders," she replied trying to make it sound like no big deal.

Yup, definitely just lost our business and so has anyone else we find who has taken part in this pool, Matt thought to himself.

"Like I said, I can take care of myself, so there really was no reason for you to have noticed." She was obviously trying to make him feel better about the whole situation. However, it wasn't working.

He could understand Jennifer's position. She was fiercely independent and stubborn. She'd see this as just another lesson in life out in the wastelands, and she certainly wouldn't want anyone thinking she couldn't take care of herself. Still, he wanted to know how many times this particular idiot had made a nuisance of himself, and furthermore how had they all missed someone acting like a jackass to their Jennifer? Usually, no one on the team went anywhere alone, even at the Passages. It wasn't unheard of for Dread to get spies into a base and lay a trap for the Power Team. It was safer for them to try to go off in pairs, but that didn't mean there weren't moments when one of them was off on their own. But when did any of these particular individuals find the opportunity to misbehave around Jennifer?

"There is a good reason. Over the years, you've become like my own daughter in a way, and as a dad, I should have noticed," he finally responded.

"That's very sweet, Matt, but don't be hard on yourself. I didn't make a big deal out of it because it's not a big deal. I can take care of myself. I don't need all of you to start protecting me all the time," she replied trying to console him a bit.

"Jennifer, we care about you, and if you run into trouble, you know we're gonna help."

She sighed, he just wasn't going to let this go. "I know you would, but I didn't see it as trouble. It was just something I needed to handle myself."

"I can understand that, but that still doesn't answer my question. How many times has this jerk bothered you?"

"You're not going to let this go are you?"

"Nope."

She huffed for a few minutes still fighting the ship a bit. Matt just sat patiently waiting.

"I'm not dropping it," he supplied after a few minutes passed.

"Why not?"

"Like I said, we care and none of us, and most especially the captain, are going to tolerate someone treating you in a disrespectful manner."

Just then, the engines sputtered and almost died, sending the jumpship into a dive. For several long moments, all conversation stopped as they fought to get the engines restabilized and the ship level again.

"Matt, re-route the shield power to the engines. Hopefully that will give us enough to get home."

"Agreed, but that leaves us as sitting ducks for Soaron again if he's regenerated by now."

"That's what you're here for, right?" she quipped.

"You know, I'm gonna have to speak to Jon about his decision to further develop your sense of humor."

She laughed as he re-routed power.

"I think that's got it," Matt stated as the engines restabilized and Jennifer was finally able to get the ship leveled out.

"So…how many times?" he asked again.

Jennifer paused a moment before she finally answered quietly. "Three."

THREE! He thought to himself. Are we just blind idiots to not have noticed this before? He wouldn't have thought so before but now he had to wonder. The one thing he was sure of was Jon would NOT be happy that this had been happening and no one else on the team had realized anything was going on.

"So this makes the fourth time this particular idiot didn't want to take no for an answer?"

"Uh, yeah."

"And just where were we when all this was going on?"

"You all were there at the Passages. He usually approached me after we all split up to get what we came for. I tried to be nice about it the first two times since we've traded with him before. I didn't want to cause problems. The third time, I thought I made it clear that I wasn't interested in what he had in mind. I guess I didn't make it as clear as I thought since he showed up again today."

"One thing is for sure, we won't be trading with him again."

"I don't think we have a choice. He's been our best source of some of the harder-to-find parts we need."

Matt knew she had a point. They did have a hard time finding good sources for certain parts. The condensers, the specialized circuits for the atmospheric systems and the leads for the power lines to the thrusters were particularly scarce. Still, he didn't care. They would not continue to trade with anyone who treated any member of their team so egregiously. They'd just have to find another source.

"I don't care, and I guarantee that Jon won't care either. Nobody should treat you so disrespectfully or make such assumptions. Ever!"

"I know that, but it's not like I'm trying to attract attention."

"Well, sweetheart, I hate to tell you this, but you don't have to try at all."

She looked at him with a confused expression.

Oh, Jennifer, he thought. She really has no idea. How am I supposed to explain this?

After a moment, she said, "I don't understand."

Matt had to think for a moment about how to explain the matter to Jennifer.

Finally, he began. "You're an attractive young woman, and if there's one thing men can't help but notice, it's a pretty lady. Unfortunately, sometimes it's the guys you wish wouldn't notice that make it quite clear that they did."

Jennifer didn't respond right away. Matt could tell she was thinking about what he said. He could almost see the proverbial wheels spinning. Matt had learned over the years that a person's looks were not a consideration in the Dread Youth. All that mattered was whether a person's appearance, such as their uniform was pressed and hair either pulled back in a knot or braid. As long as they were within the code established by Dread, nothing else was relevant. Judging by the perplexed expression on her face, it occurred to Matt that she'd likely never considered her own looks before.

"That doesn't make any sense," she finally responded.

"What doesn't?"

"That men can't help but notice a pretty lady. Why does that matter? Wouldn't a person's intelligence or skills be more important? Wouldn't that get someone's attention?"

Matt visibly squirmed in his seat. How could he explain this to her?

"I know it doesn't make a lot of sense. A person's physical appearance is the first thing most people notice. Being attracted to someone because of the way they look isn't a bad thing but eventually there does have to be more than just that physical attraction to sustain a meaningful relationship. It's just one of those things some people do. Most men usually notice a pretty face first before they know anything about the person behind the face. Doesn't make it right, it's just is the way it is. Trust me, I'm a man. I know how we think. We always notice a pretty lady. It just depends on the man as far as how he reacts. Some men are gentlemen and behave accordingly, but some like our former trading partner back there are not gentlemen and just assume that they can treat any woman any way they want too," he finally finished.

"If that's true, then why hasn't Jon...never mind," she asked suddenly then obviously changed her mind.

"How come Jon doesn't notice you, you mean?"

"….." She didn't respond, but he could see her face was about five different shades of red.

That little verbal slip confirmed Matt's suspicions. Over time, Jennifer had become more and more like his daughter. He spoke to her the way he would have spoken to Katie if she were there and treated her much the same. Well, as much as he could anyway given that she was a soldier and a very capable one at that. The difference was her background left her somewhat at a disadvantage when it came to human relationships and emotions. He had noticed a while back that she was watching Jon more, finding reasons to be around him. Now that he thought about it, Jon had been taking Jennifer with him on more missions over the last several months. Maybe Jon had noticed after all. Maybe he should talk to Jon.

"I didn't mean to embarrass you."

"You didn't," she replied curtly.

"Yes, I did. Well, well, my little girl went and grew up and fell in love."

"Matt!" she exclaimed the blush only getting worse

"Well, its true, isn't it?"

CP&CP&CP

Jennifer didn't know what to say. She did love Jon; she just didn't know what to do about it.

"Yeah," she replied lowly. She focused her attention on the gauges of her cockpit so Matt couldn't really see her face. She had little experience with certain emotions, and she had wanted to keep her feelings to herself until she better understood exactly what it was she felt.

"So what are you gonna do about it?"

"I don't know. It's all so confusing to me. I didn't realize what I was feeling at first, and even now, I'm not sure. There are times when I don't like it. I feel all jumbled and confused inside. Does that make sense?"

"Perfectly. When I first met my wife, she didn't really like me all that much. She was a brilliant scientist and didn't appreciate my military viewpoint. However, that didn't stop me from pursuing her. She was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. It took me a little while to win her over."

"So you noticed your wife for her looks first?" Jennifer asked, just a little surprised.

"Like I said, I am a man. That's what we do, but that wasn't why I married her. I married her because I fell in love with her. There was so much more to her as a person than just her looks. We just had to get past our initial reactions to each other."

"Why was that?"

Matt laughed a little bit at the memories.

"I really liked Joanna, but we had two very different world views. Our approach to life and the world were total opposites. We clashed like night and day. There were days I couldn't decide if I wanted to strangle her or kiss her. We had a very love-hate thing going for a while. It was all very confusing until finally one day I did just kiss her…" he trailed off losing himself in the memory for a moment.

"And?" Jennifer prompted.

"And what?"

"What happened after you kissed her?"

"We got married shortly thereafter. Mitch was born a year or so later and Katie a couple of years after that."

"Sounds like you two were very happy together."

"We were. It wasn't sunshine and rainbows all the time. We still clashed but we had learned how to work it out, and you'll figure it out too. Just give yourself some time."

"So was it Cheryl's looks that first got your attention too?" Jennifer asked.

"Not really. Cheryl is beautiful, no doubt, but we'd known each other so long and had so much history that by the time I realized I was in love with her, her looks wouldn't have mattered. I knew HER. We kind of started our relationship backwards you might say. There's always an exception to every rule. You know, maybe you should talk to Jon. You don't have to tell him how you feel yet. It could help you figure out how you really feel about him, and hopefully get an idea of how he feels."

"We talk all the time," she returned.

"I mean talk about stuff not related to the war or our missions."

"There hasn't been a lot of time for those kinds of conversations lately. The last time we talked about anything not pertaining to the war was that mission where we ended up at Oasis after our skybike crashed. We had some time to kill while we waited for the contact to meet us so he was telling me about his last family vacations with his parents."

"Which one?"

"Some place called Lake Tahoe. He said his dad took them there for Christmas the year before his mom died," Jennifer responded.

"Oh, yes. I remember that one. Stuart planned that trip for months. Things were just starting to get bad, and Stuart wanted them to have one last really good family vacation before things got too much worse."

Jennifer let a sad smile break. "That's what Jon had said too. He said that was his favorite family vacation."

Matt recalled that Jon had talked for weeks about their Christmas trip. He also recalled that Stuart had returned from that trip with a pronounced limp from a fall on the ski slopes. The memory caused him to chuckle.

Jennifer turned to him quizzically. "What's so funny?"

"I was just remembering that Stuart came home from that trip with a bit of a limp. He took a fall on the ski slopes. He never was much of a skier. Now, Morgana she could really tear up the slopes."

"Tear up the slopes?"

"It's a phrase. It means someone who is a good skier. Morgana was a great skier. She'd been skiing since she was a child. She started teaching Jon almost as soon as he could walk. He was pretty good too for his age."

"He didn't mention anything about skiing, just that it was the happiest vacation he remembered."

"He doesn't talk about things associated with his mother too often. She died about six months later. They never went on another vacation after that. Things went south really quickly. I remember Stuart and I talked shortly after Morgana died that he was so glad that they'd taken that trip. He could look back and not have regrets that he hadn't taken some time to spend with his family. There's a lesson to be learned there, you know?"

"What?" the young pilot returned.

"This is one of those things you make time for so that you don't have regrets later."

"I'll try," she responded as the sensors flashed indicating they were approaching the jump gate. They'd been lucky so far. Soaron had not made another appearance. They might just get home peacefully this time.

CP&CP&CP

"Captain, the jumpship is approaching. Looks like our wandering pilots have returned home," Scout stated.

"Mentor, open the front door," Jon responded.

"Landing bay door opening, Captain. Initial scans show the jumpship is damaged," the hologram reported.

Both Scout and Jon looked and each other and took off for the hanger bay. They reached it just as the ship landed. The ship looked like it had been in a shooting gallery. A few panels were missing and a few others had holes in them. The whining of the engines was not normal, nor was the way the ship limped to stop. Not waiting for them to disembark, Jon punched in his door codes and opened the hatch.

CP&CP&CP

Jennifer and Matt heard the door opening and turned to see Jon hurriedly making his way in.

"Did you miss us or something?" Matt quipped.

"Or something," Jon returned. "Mentor said the ship was damaged. And from the looks of it, you had some trouble."

"Just a bit," Jennifer answered getting up from her seat and heading outside to have a look at the damage. She was trying hard not to look at Jon.

CP&CP&CP

Jon noticed her quick departure. He turned to Hawk and asked, "Is she all right?"

"She's probably just tired. She had the night watch last night, and we left as soon as Tank relieved her. Thanks to our little dance with Soaron earlier, she had to fight the jumpship to keep us in the air, and now she's got repairs to make," Hawk said following Jennifer off the ship.

"Guess you're right," Jon mumbled following him.

They stepped out to hear a string of words that would make a sailor blush.

"Did you teach her those, Hawk?" Scout asked.

"I most certainly did not!"

CP&CP&CP

Jennifer was not happy. Flying the damaged ship back from the Passages in its current state had not done her ship any favors. The engine vibrations had shaken more panels loose and re-routing the power had fried some circuits. The repairs were going to take days to complete. She was going to have to build new circuits and relays and then test and install them. Then, of course, the engines needed attention too. Their main power supply lines had taken a direct hit and needed to be replaced as well.

And to top it all off, her arm was really starting to bother her, but she chose to ignore it. They had to run out to the East Coast in thirty-six hours, and the ship had to be ready before then. She knew she could call the others for help, but at the moment, she just wanted to be alone. She'd ask for help in the morning.

Jennifer was totally disgusted. She looked at her watch and realized how late it was. It read 2100 hours. She sighed at the same time her stomach reminded her she hadn't eaten in a while. She'd go to the kitchen get something to eat quickly and then come back here and start the repairs. She headed out without another word to the guys.

CP&CP&CP

Jon turned to his long time friend. "So what happened out there?"

"We left. Played dodge the biobird a bit. Got to the Passages. We picked up our supplies plus the supplies for the East Coast group, and we had to find parts to repair the ship."

Matt's response as he tried to dodge the question led Jon to believe that something big or bad or important had happened at the Passages. Or may it was embarrassing?

"Matt? What happened out there?" Jon asked again. "You know the way she babies that ship. If any of us sneeze around it, she knows about it. Why didn't you two repair the ship before you left the Passages?" He was beginning to wonder if something dangerous had happened. He couldn't imagine anything else would convince Jennifer to fly the jumpship as damaged as it was.

"I asked her why we weren't going to repair the ship. She didn't want to. She said she wanted to fix it here."

Jon gave Matt a suspicious look. He wasn't buying what Matt was selling. "We both know Jennifer never knowingly or purposely flies 'her' ship while it's damaged. She always repairs it first."

"There's a first time for everything. I'm beat. Can you guys unload our supplies and extra parts? It's been a long day, and I'm going to get some sleep."

Knowing this conversation was over for the moment, Jon decided to let it drop.

"Sure, Matt. Get some rack time. You've earned it. Scout, Tank, let's get our supplies unloaded. Leave the supplies for the other group in the hold."

Jon turned to watch Matt leave. There was more going on here, and he was going to find out what it was.

CP&CP&CP

An hour later, Jennifer returned to darkened hanger bay. The others had apparently finished unloading the ship and closed everything up for the night. She was relieved since she'd hoped she'd waited long enough to avoid any of the others.

Who are you trying to fool? You're trying to avoid Jon, she thought to herself. Given the topic of her conversation with Matt, she didn't think could face Jon right then. She needed time to think. She keyed in her code and waited as the hatch opened. She absently rubbed her left arm. She meant to go down to the medbay and treat her arm correctly, but the ship needed to be repaired first. There would time to treat her arm later. At the Passages, she had started the repairs on the outside panels while Matt continued on their scrounging mission. She had just begun to test the connections when the relays sparked and blew from a power surge. Sparks and metal debris flew everywhere, and her arm had been burned and cut by the bits of flying metal. It wouldn't have burned her as bad had she not rolled up the sleeves of both her jumpsuit and power suit to work.

After disconnecting the power to those relays, she'd gone into the ship and quickly treated her arm. She pulled out the few metal fragments that she could find, sprayed it with the burn medication and wrapped it up. She wanted to get as much as she could done before Matt got back so she'd pulled her sleeve down to hide the bandage. The burn wasn't as bad as it could be, but it was worse than Matt would like. He could be a real mother hen like she'd said earlier. He'd fuss over her arm and then she wouldn't get the ship repaired before they needed to leave.

Her arm had hurt earlier but the incident with the trader and trying to fly the damaged ship had allowed her to ignore the pain in her arm. Now it was reminding her that she'd neglected it. Her arm wasn't the only thing she'd neglected today. Her right leg had been injured when she flew Elzer home a few days ago after the whole incident with Freedom One. After that wall came down on her, she'd had some sore muscles and quite a few bruises but mostly it wasn't anything she couldn't handle. Later, when she'd met up with Elzer's team, a small group of biomechs attacked them. Elzer ordered his team to lay down cover fire so Jennifer could reach the skybike and leave. One of the clickers got a lucky shot. Two actually, her suit managed to absorb the first shot, but the second shut it down. She'd been wounded by the second shot but it appeared minor to her. Not much bleeding at all, so she'd treated it, bandaged it up, and went on.

Her leg had started to hurt more after the relays zapped her so she figured the current surging through her body must have aggravated the wound a bit. The wound was going to hurt either way, so she might as well get something accomplished. Once Matt saw the wound, he'd restrict her activity, and she hated being put on downtime. So the less he knew, the better in her mind. Yet, at that moment, she was forced to admit that she did not feel well at all. Her arm and leg hurt as well as her head. She knew she could take something for it but she hated how painkillers made her feel.

A few hours later, she wasn't feeling any better. She had been sitting in the pilot's seat working on another pair of fried circuits when her head began to pound and her arm and leg began to throb. Maybe if she just closed her eyes for a few minutes, she'd feel better. Jennifer leaned her head back and let her eyes slip closed intending to get back to work in just a few minutes.

CP&CP&CP

The next morning at breakfast, they couldn't help but notice that Jennifer didn't show up.

"Bet she went back to the hanger last night. Probably been there all night," Scout suggested.

"Most likely," Jon agreed. "I'll go check on her and send her to bed if she has. We've got that run out to the East Coast tomorrow so she'll need some rest. Scout, Hawk, when you're finished, see what you can do with any repairs to the ship. And remember, she'll double-check your work."

"Sure, Cap," Scout responded.

Jon headed out of the mess hall. Lifting the comm on his wrist, he decided to call her and see if she would respond.

"Power to Pilot."

No response.

"Jennifer, respond," he tried again.

Again, no response.

Pressing another button on his comm, he called Mentor.

"Mentor, locate Corporal Chase."

After a brief pause, the hologram replied over the comm, "Corporal Chase is currently in the landing bay."

He headed straight for the landing bay. Her lack of response had him worried. She usually responded very quickly. It didn't take him too long to get there. As he came down the stairs, he wasn't surprised by the scene that greeted him. Jennifer's tools were everywhere, indicating that she had been there all night. Plus, the open hatchway meant that she was likely in the ship.

He walked up the stairs calling her name.

"Jennifer?"

No answer.

"Jennifer?" he called again as he made his into the cockpit area. He smiled at the scene before him. There in her pilot's seat was Jennifer. Sound asleep with a pair of relay boards and spanner in her lap. He gently touched her shoulder trying to wake her, but she didn't budge.

He didn't want to leave her there. Hawk and Scout would be down soon to help with the repairs and it would be impossible for her to sleep through it.

"Jennifer."

She didn't budge.

He shook a little harder and called her name again. "Jennifer."

She still didn't respond to either his touch or voice. He leaned in a little closer and noticed her face was flushed. He carefully placed a hand against her forehead. She was running a fever. Looking at her arm, he spied a bandage peeking out from her sleeve. Carefully lifting the sleeve, he discovered the bandage covered most of her forearm. When had that happened? Jon wondered. She hadn't appeared to be injured when they returned last night. Had Hawk not known she was injured?

He needed to get her to the medbay. He carefully managed to lift her from her chair and get her positioned with her head under his chin so he wouldn't bump her head on anything. As he stepped off the last step from the ship, he heard the others enter the bay.

CP&CP&CP

Matt and Scout had made their way to the landing bay when they saw the captain coming out of the jumpship with Jennifer in his arms. The worried expression on his face only heightened their concern as they rushed over to him.

CP&CP&CP

"She okay?" Hawk asked concerned.

"I don't think so. I found her asleep in one of the chairs and couldn't wake her up. She's running a fever and has a bandage on her left arm. Did you know she was injured?"

"She said she'd gotten zapped yesterday by some relays she'd been working on while we were at the Passages. I tried to get her to let me look at it, but she said she'd taken care of it," he replied placing a hand against her forehead. She was indeed running a fever. "Come on; let's get her to the medbay."

"Agreed," Jon replied. "Scout, get to work on the ship. Call Tank down if you need help."

"Will do, Captain," Scout responded as the Matt and Jon headed out of the landing bay.

CP&CP&CP

The two men strode as quickly as they could to the medbay. Matt entered first with Jon right behind.

"Mentor!" Matt called.

"Yes, Major?" the hologram responded, appearing on the screen to Matt's right.

"Run primary and secondary medical scans please," Matt ordered as he helped Jon get Jennifer situated on the medical bunk.

"Scanning," the computer responded.

While they waited, Matt rolled up the sleeve on her left arm and began to unwrap the bandage. Clearing away the bandage he could tell that Jennifer had applied the burn spray to it to stop the bleeding and keep out infection but that was all she'd done. The burn looked bad. A lot worse than she'd let on, but then again he had to allow for the fact that it simply could have just gotten worse and she was unaware how bad it had gotten.

"What the hell did you do?" Matt whispered under his breath.

Before Jon could comment, Mentor reported on his findings.

"Scans indicate that Corporal Chase is running a fever of 103.2. She has second-degree burns on her left arm as well as what appears to be a healing wound from a blaster shot on her right leg. The leg appears to have been treated but is showing signs of a minor infection. The burns on her arm have not been properly treated but appear to be free of infection. Antibiotics would be the recommended course of treatment. In addition, there appear to be some very small metal fragments left in her arm. They will need to be removed for her arm to heal properly. The DermaLaz will be necessary to locate them."

"Thank you, Mentor," Matt replied. "Jon, could get an IV kit too and a bottle of the Tetracin. It's a good broad spectrum antibiotic."

Jon quickly retrieved the items Matt requested while Matt retrieved the DermaLaz and placed it over Jennifer's arm. The DermaLaz was used to remove small fragments with much more precision than could be achieved by a human hand. It allowed for the small fragments to be basically dissolved by the lasers with minimum damage to the surrounding tissue. Prior to the war, it was widely used, but like many other things since the beginning of the war, working medical equipment such as the DermaLaz was very scarce. Any doctor would consider themselves truly lucky to have one. He pressed a few more buttons as the machine started up. A moment later, the image of Jennifer's arm appeared on the monitor to his right. The image was magnified to allow him to monitor as the machine completed the procedure.

"Okay, the IV is in, and the antibiotic is flowing."

"Good. Now get a syringe and pull the standard dose of Travadol for the fever."

Jon located the syringe and soon was injecting the medicine into Jennifer's IV line.

"Anything else I can do?" Jon inquired.

"New bandages and the burn ointment would be good."

"Okay."

Jon returned a couple of minutes later. As he placed the items on the table where Matt was working, Jennifer began mumbling.

"Jennifer?" Matt asked gently.

The young pilot never opened her eyes or gave any indication that she heard Matt. They had a hard time understanding a lot of what she was saying.

"It must be the fever," Jon said.

"Most likely. Like all of us, she's been through a lot the last few weeks. Her body needs a break and unfortunately, Jennifer doesn't always listen to her body when it's telling her she needs to slow down a bit. Her exhaustion when combined with these injuries, fever and infection could certainly be contributing to a degree of delirium."

"Yeah," Jon answered.

Jennifer rolled her head to the side facing Matt. While some of what Jennifer had been saying hadn't been very clear to the two men, what she said next was crystal clear.

"Can't do it."

The two men looked at each other confused. Matt leaned down close to Jennifer's face and gently spoke to her.

"Can't do what, little one?"

Jennifer's eyes opened a bit and she looked at Matt, but it was clear to both men that she really wasn't coherent.

"Can't talk to him," she said.

Matt placed one hand on her forehead gently stroking her hair back trying to comfort her.

"Its okay, Jennifer. Just close your eyes and rest. You'll feel better in a bit." Matt knew exactly who she was talking about and really didn't want to have this conversation with Jon right at that particular moment.

Jennifer's eyes drifted closed again, and she seemed to settle down.

CP&CP&CP

Jon couldn't help but wonder just what that was all about. Who couldn't Jennifer talk to? Was she afraid of something or someone? He didn't have any answers to those questions. He glanced over at Matt and wondered if Matt did. Jon looked back at Jennifer, watching as she succumbed to sleep. Taking her small hand in his, he was again reminded of how truly lovely she was. He'd noticed it many times before. Of course, that wasn't the only thing he noticed.

Over the last year, things had been changing between him and Jennifer. At least, he thought they were. His feelings had begun changing a long time ago. He cared about Jennifer; more than a commanding officer should care for one of his subordinates. Ever since their mission at Oasis, Jon had been struggling with whether to broach the topic of how they felt about one another. He was pretty sure Jennifer cared. Otherwise, she wouldn't have kissed me, right? Jon wondered to himself. With the way Jennifer was raised, emotions and expressing them were not something Jennifer was really comfortable with at times, and kissing someone was a pretty bold move for her. It had left Jon a little stunned.

He had wanted to talk to her about it, but in the end, he chickened out. He hated to admit that, but he had. He had avoided any serious emotional attachments of any kind since his dad died and the war became his first priority. He'd had a few girlfriends over the years but nothing that even remotely could be considered serious.

He had realized a long time ago that there was a repeating pattern to his earlier relationships. They'd certainly all been attractive young women, but after a few months he was left wondering why he'd begun seeing them in the first place. None of them had been able to keep his attention for very long. Like most other men, he was attracted to a pretty face, but the older he got, the more he realized he wanted something more than just an attractive partner. He wanted someone who had character and strength. Someone who could face the realities of the world and at the end of the day still have hope that they could win the war and change things for the better. In other words, he'd realized he wanted someone like Jennifer.

But Jennifer scared the hell out of Jon for more than one reason. She was beautiful certainly, but her strength of character and just, well, everything about her left Jon feeling like he wasn't good enough at times. She'd survived so much. From being taken into the Dread Youth to her escape and surviving on her own in the wastelands for as long as she did. Yet, she'd not let any of that dim her zest for life and all that she could experience and learn. She'd seen from the inside the horrors of the Machine Empire and had walked away scarred for sure, but what she'd seen only strengthened her resolve that they would win the war.

Yet for everything she'd already seen, she was still very innocent in other areas. She'd never been involved with anyone on a romantic level. That very fact alone was enough to make Jonathan stop and consider every step he took with her. He did not want to hurt her.

The simple fact was that Jennifer was different, and so was the way he felt about her.

Dragging his thoughts back to the current situation, Jon looked over at Matt.

"How did we miss this?"

"I don't know, Jon. She hasn't complained-"

"When does she?" Jon interrupted.

"True," the older man replied. "Have a look at her leg, will ya? The DermaLaz is just about done with her arm."

"Sure," the captain returned, slowly folding back her pant leg to reveal the suit underneath. Carefully lifting the suit material back, he was able to see the bandage Jennifer had placed there. Jon began to slowly un-wrap the bandage. Again, it wasn't long until they could see that the wound had reopened. While not bleeding a lot, it was weeping, and the skin surrounding the wound was inflamed.

Matt looked over at Jennifer's leg. "Damn. That doesn't look good. Jon, come over here and apply this burn ointment to her arm and rewrap it while I look at that."

"All right."

The two men switched places. After a moment, Matt stepped over to one of the supply cabinets. He returned with several items that he would need to properly treat Jennifer's leg. Matt removed Jennifer's boot and sock and placed her leg across the basin.

Jon had just finished rewrapping and securing the bandage on her arm when Hawk spoke.

"Jon, I don't know how out of it she is. This is going to sting badly. The infection needs to be cleaned out so if she reacts, try to keep her calm and still, okay?"

"Okay."

CP&CP&CP

Matt opened the bottle and carefully poured a portion of the contents over the wound. Her leg flinched a bit but otherwise Jennifer gave no other response. The liquid fizzed and soon the area was covered in a white coating as the medicine disinfected the wound. After a few minutes, Matt used some sterilized water to wash out the injured area. He took the towels and gently dried the wound and surrounding skin off as best he could. Setting the towels down, he grabbed a small jar of antibacterial ointment and began spreading it over the wound. He quickly wrapped the wound in new bandaging. Stepping back, Matt looked across at Jon who had taken Jennifer's hand in his. The anxiety and worry pouring off the younger man was palpable.

Now that Jennifer's injuries had been treated properly, he figured that Jennifer would be feeling better by the end of the day, and her injuries would heal up quickly. Stepping back over to the cabinet, he retrieved a painkiller for her. He knew she'd hate it, but those wounds had to hurt and there was no reason for her to lie there in pain when he could do something about it.

He thought back to one of the first lessons that they'd had to teach Jennifer. They'd had to teach her that was that it was okay to acknowledge an injury. She'd been trained in the Youth to ignore injuries and illness. Acknowledging an illness or injury meant they felt something, and feelings made them weak. Feelings were not of the Machine. While the team had agreed in principle that sometimes it was necessary to ignore an injury to accomplish the mission in the short term, it was never a good thing in the long term. It had taken Jennifer a long time to admit to someone when she was hurting or uncomfortable. Matt knew she hated painkillers and sedatives, so she tended to downplay any pain unless it was really bad. There had been only one time that Jennifer had actually asked for a painkiller. That was well over a year ago when Jennifer had been seriously injured following a mission to evacuate some settlers from the old Houston area. She'd gone after a small child that had gotten separated from his family. The child had run into an old building to hide from the biomechs. As Jennifer entered the building, a clicker had tossed a grenade in her direction. The explosion had left a gaping hole in the ground in front of the building. The already deteriorated state of the building left it unable to withstand the concussion of the explosion resulting in the wall collapsing on Jennifer and the child inside.

Jennifer's suit had shut down following the wall collapse, yet she had still managed to drag herself and the young boy out of the building just as the rest of the team came to her aid. She barely had time to hand the crying child to Matt before passing out from the pain of her injuries. Matt recalled that Jon had caught her before she could hit the ground. They'd rushed her and the child back to the ship. The child had fared well. He'd just had a few scrapes and bruises. They'd even located his parents, who had been searching an area not far from where the team located the child and Jennifer.

They'd later learned that the grenade used was a new experimental weapon being tested by the Dread forces. He had developed a new explosive material and was testing it in grenades before moving on to other more deadly uses. With that knowledge, it was clear that Jennifer's injuries, while very serious, could have been much worse. If the clicker had managed to hit the building directly, it was doubtful that either Jennifer or the child would have survived. As it was, she'd suffered a concussion and two broken ribs, one of which had punctured her right lung, in addition to numerous bruises and scrapes. They'd taken Jennifer to Cheryl Grissom for treatment.

Cheryl Grissom was the team's preferred doctor. Cheryl and Matt had a long history together and were currently involved with one another. Cheryl had been best of friends with Matt's late wife, Joanna. Over the years, she'd established several different underground hospitals out in the wastelands. She mainly worked out of the one in Spokane, but that particular day, luck had been on their side and Cheryl had just finished setting up a new underground hospital north of old Austin, Texas. Cheryl had been about to head back to Spokane when the call came through from Matt that Jennifer was hurt and needed help. Cheryl had remained and waited for the Power team to arrive so she could personally see to Jennifer's care.

Jennifer was in surgery for three hours while Cheryl reset the ribs and repaired the punctured lung. Cheryl had warned them that even though Jennifer had spent a few hours in a regenerator to help heal the damage, she'd be in considerable pain when she regained consciousness. Still, none of them were prepared to hear Jennifer actually ask for pain medicine when she awoke. She just didn't do that, but as Cheryl pointed out to them later, she'd never had a punctured lung before either. She'd had broken ribs after missions in the past, but had thus far been lucky in that they'd not injured her lungs. Those injuries, combined with the concussion and the battering the rest of her body had taken, were guaranteed to put her in considerable pain. Thinking back, Matt recalled that incident being the first time he'd noticed Jon's behavior around Jennifer was changing. He'd always been protective of Jennifer but something had changed after that mission, and thinking back over the last year, there were several instances that he should have paid more attention to that were screaming his surrogate son was falling in love with Jennifer.

He recalled the incident with Athena Samuels a couple of months after the mission to Houston. Athena and Jon had been very close when they were younger. For a short while, Jon had gotten caught up in the nostalgia of old times. At the time, Matt had wondered if she and Jon would pick up where they left off. However, they hadn't. The next day, they had taken Athena to the Passages, and last they had heard, she was somewhere on the East Coast. For some reason, she and Jon had not kept in touch. Looking back now, Matt felt that given how close Jon and Athena had been that Jon would probably have pursued the relationship again if his attentions weren't already engaged somewhere else.

Matt's thoughts were interrupted as when Jon's voice cut in.

"Is she going to be okay, Matt?"

"I think so. The antibiotics should start working soon. Once they do, the fever will start to go down. I'm going to have Mentor monitor her for a few hours and as long as she doesn't get any worse, we'll move her to her quarters later this afternoon."

Matt watched as Jon continued to stand there silently stroking her arm with his other hand. Matt walked over to inject a sedative into the IV line. He noticed Jon jumped slightly in surprise. His attention had been so focused on Jennifer, he hadn't heard Matt move.

"What's that for?"

"She needs to rest and to let the regenerator do its job, so I'm giving her a little something to make sure she sleeps for the next little while. You know how she is."

"Yeah, I do," the younger man replied.

Matt tucked a blanket around Jennifer to be sure she didn't get cold. "I'd just like to know how she injured that leg," he muttered as he carefully wrapped the ends of the blanket around her injured leg.

"Why don't you start with telling me what really happened yesterday at the Passages?" Jon inquired strongly. "Who is she afraid to talk to?"

Matt sighed. He knew Jon would get around to asking again about what happened at the Passages. Jon could be like a bulldog with a bone. He wasn't letting go until he got what he was looking for. In this case, he wanted answers to his questions. Matt just wasn't sure if Jon was ready for the direction this conversation was going to take.

Looking down at the young woman on the bed, Matt spoke. "Mentor?"

"Yes, Major?"

"Please monitor Jennifer. I've given her a sedative to allow her to rest so she shouldn't wake up any time soon; however, if she wakes or her temperature goes any higher, please alert me immediately."

"Yes, Major," the hologram replied.

Matt turned to the man who was like his own son. "Come on, Jon. It's time we had a talk, and this isn't the place for it."

Matt couldn't help but notice the reticence in Jon's posture. It was obvious he didn't want to leave her.

"We've done all we can for now. She's going to be fine. She just needs rest. Mentor will call us if she wakes up or her condition worsens in any way."

"All right," the younger man acquiesced, placing Jennifer's hand under the cover.

CP&CP&CP

Jon followed Matt out of the medbay and back to Matt's quarters.

Matt settled himself down on one end of bed gesturing at Jon to have a seat in the chair.

"I think I'll stand for now."

"Suit yourself."

Jon was about to question Matt again when the older man sighed and started with a question of his own.

"Jon, have you ever really noticed Jennifer?"

Jon gave Matt a puzzled look before responding. "What?"

"You know what I mean. Have you noticed her?"

Jon knew exactly what Matt meant, he just hadn't expected Matt to take this tack in the conversation. He'd expected a retelling of whatever events had transpired at the Passages. Not questions on whether or not he'd noticed Jennifer. He'd have to be dead to have not noticed.

Jon let out a sigh of his own as he prepared to answer Matt's question.

"Yes, I've noticed her. More than I probably should have," the younger man admitted finally.

Jon noticed the small smile that pulled at the corners of Matt's mouth at his admission.

"What does whether or not I've noticed Jennifer have to do with what happened at the Passages yesterday?"

"Let's just say that I'm glad you're paying attention but you're not the only one."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means that Jennifer has been garnering the attention of a not so sterling example of our gender over the last few months. While we were at the Passages yesterday, the original plan was to repair the ship before we flew back. As you saw, our little dance with Soaron yesterday left the jumpship a little worse for wear. We didn't have all the parts we needed so we went and traded for them. While Jennifer began working on the repairs, I went to finish getting the rest of the supplies for us and for the East Coast group. When I came back, there was this guy; he was one of the traders we usually trade with for parts. Apparently, he was interested in a bit more than just trading for parts. Anyway, I got there in time to see him make the monumentally stupid mistake of putting his hand on her arm when she tried to turn away from him. The next thing I saw, he's on the ground screaming that she broke his fingers. He ran off. Jennifer decided she didn't want to fix the ship there, so we loaded up everything and came home."

"And?"

"And so I asked Jennifer about this idiot while we were flying back. She let it slip that it was not the first time that something like that had happened—"

"How many times has this happened?" Jon interrupted.

"There have been a few incidents with others, but it was the fourth time with this guy. She said she tried to be nice the first two times he approached her as he's been one of our regular trading partners-"

"Not anymore," Jon interrupted again.

"I know. I told her that as well. Anyway, she tried to be nice and she thought she'd made herself clear the third time he approached her. I think he may have finally gotten the point yesterday. Then to make matters worse there is apparently a betting pool at the Passages to see who can…" Matt paused searching for the right words. He knew Jon was going to be furious.

"Who can what?" Jon asked insistently.

Matt sighed. There really was no easy or nice way to say it. "There's a party planned if anyone can score a homerun with her."

"WHAT?" Jon practically yelled.

Matt cringed. Yep, Jon was seriously hacked off.

"And none of us noticed anything? What the hell else are we not noticing Matt?" Jon snapped, his anger at anyone treating Jennifer in such a manner getting the best of him.

"Well, apparently I missed noticing that you two were falling in love with each other," Matt snapped right back.

That brought Jon up short. He certainly had not expected that to come out of Matt's mouth.

CP&CP&CP

Matt struggled for a moment on how to relate the rest of the story. Finally, he decided there was really no easy way to do it so he just put it out there.

"Jon," the older man started. "Jennifer didn't understand why this jerk was paying attention. I had to explain it to her. Once I did, she wondered if this guy had noticed, why hadn't you?"

"I have noticed, Matt. That's the problem," the young captain responded.

"She loves you; it appears you return those feelings. Where's the problem?" Matt inquired with a small smile.

"She loves me!"

"Did you not hear the part a minute ago about my missing you two falling in LOVE with each other? She loves you. Hasn't got a clue what to do about it though. So let me ask you again - what is the problem?"

"There is the little thing called a war that we're currently fighting."

"You said yourself we're fighting to protect our humanity and part of that humanity is being involved in relationships. Jennifer never had a family growing up, and I would hate for her to miss out on having a relationship with a good man who loves her, and maybe a family of her own someday. Dread has stolen enough from her already. Don't let him take that, too."

Jon sighed. "You know, I really hate it when you use my own words against me."

"What you really hate is that I'm right."

"That too."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

CP&CPC&CP

That was the question that Jon was mentally asking himself. Now that he had a really good idea of how Jennifer felt, what was he going to do about it? He had no experience with serious relationships with someone he truly loved; she had no experience with romantic relationships of any kind. No matter what they decided to do, it would have to be done slowly and carefully. It was going to take planning, and if it was one thing he was good at, it was planning.

"Jon?" Matt inquired. "You still with me?"

"Yeah, just thinking. I don't know what I'm going to do about it. I need to think. Make a few plans. I don't want to scare or rush her into anything we're not ready for."

"Probably a wise idea," the older pilot conceded.

Jon was silent for a moment, putting his thoughts together. Then a realization came to him.

"I'm the one she's afraid to talk to?"

The older man just smiled and nodded.

"She's never been afraid to talk to me before," the young captain started. "Then again, I guess this is different, huh?"

"Entirely," Matt agreed. "We both know she's never been real comfortable with emotions."

"True," Jon responded, his thoughts about what to do next starting to grab his attention.

"Sooo," Matt began inquiringly. "Who is going to talk to our younger pilot and tell her she can't keep hiding injuries from us?"

Jon hauled himself out of his thoughts and back to the matter at hand. He'd think some more on how to share his feelings with Jennifer later.

"I will," he finally responded. "When do you think she'll be waking up?"

"Probably later this afternoon. I gave her enough of the sedative to keep her out for several hours. She needs the rest. Mentor will call us when she starts waking up."

"Good. I'll talk to her then," Jon said, standing from his seat.

"And what are we going to do about the betting pool?"

"We're going to put a stop to it," Jon replied firmly.

"How?"

"I'm going to make it clear that there will be consequences for anyone mistreating Jennifer or any other member of my team in such a disrespectful manner. I can and will take our trading business to traders who will behave better. If that doesn't put a stop to it, I'm not above showing them the error of their ways."

"Sound good to me," Matt responded, and then he followed with, "Are you okay, Jon?"

Jon ran his hand through his hair and sighed.

"Yeah, I am. Just got a lot to think about. I don't want to mess this up, you know. I didn't plan on any of this."

"Who does?" the older man chuckled, rising to approach his friend. He placed a hand on Jon's shoulder and continued, "You'll do fine."

"I'll do my best anyway."

"That's all any of us can do."

"I'm going to check on Jennifer and then head down to the command center. I want you to go back and help Scout. Find Tank if he's not already there and you two help Scout get the ship repaired," Jon said, slipping back into command mode.

"Sure thing, Jon. Remember, I'm here if you need to talk about anything."

"I know. I appreciate it," Jon replied smiling at the older man.

The two men headed out to begin their respective tasks but not before Matt got in a little fatherly jab at Jon. "You know if you break her heart, you'll have to answer to me right?"

Jon laughed lightly and replied, "I know, Matt. I know."

CP&CP&CP

The End

(For Now)