The USS Cochrane, a tiny Oberth-class science and exploration vessel, warped into the Badlands two and a half days later, and her captain beamed aboard immediately. As the last sparkle disappeared, Lynley strode forward to scoop the woman into a fierce, hard hug.
Barbara simply gaped until they broke apart.
"My apologies," muttered Lynley, now considerably redder in the face. "Captain Smith, my exec, Commander Barbara Havers. Barbara, Captain Sarah Jane Smith."
"Sarah Jane will do, Barbara," said the other woman, extending a hand. Sparkling brown eyes twinkled out at her from a face still smooth and largely untouched by time. Although she was clearly a captain of many years' experience – maybe twenty years older than Barbara herself – she had aged as gracefully as a dream.
Which still did not answer the very pertinent questions of 'who the hell is she?' and 'why did he hug her like that?'
"You'll have to excuse Captain Lynley, Barbara," Sarah Jane went on. "I've been Auntie Sarah Jane to him for most of his life. I assure you this isn't common behaviour."
"Captain Smith – Sarah Jane – I never thought it was. I was surprised, that's all."
"Yes, I'd imagine you were. Tommy, do go make yourself useful and get us some tea, would you? Barbara dear, why don't you show me where the ready room is?"
Blinking in confusion – never had she heard anyone order Captain Lynley about as though he were a teenager – she obeyed.
Sarah Jane had two cups of steaming tea out of the replicator before Barbara could blink, and then they settled on the sofa.
"So," Barbara ventured, "why did you send him off for tea, then?"
Sarah Jane grinned, a bright, open, sparkling grin that erased decades from her face. "I didn't. Since he was a child 'go fetch some tea' has been code for 'make yourself scarce until I say otherwise' – his parents often held meetings of Command at their house, and they couldn't risk a child overhearing. I wanted to talk to you, so I sent him off. He's probably in his quarters sulking right now."
"You... wanted to talk to me?"
"After the way he talks about you? Of course I did. I have never liked beating around the bush, so let me ask you now – what are your feelings about him?"
"He's amazing." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, and she went bright red. "I mean – I'm very glad to be working with him. I couldn't have wished for a better commanding officer, or a better friend." And her voice trailed off, helpless. Maybe it was the look of understanding in Sarah Jane's eyes, or her motherly air; whatever the reason, Barbara pressed a hand to her mouth and fought not to cry.
"It's all right," Sarah Jane murmured softly, wrapping an arm around Barbara's shoulders. "It's all right. I love him, too. It's all right."
"I don't know how to – I can't put it into words, how I feel about him."
"Thank God," said Sarah Jane, and the words were unexpected enough to have Barbara gaping again. "Do you know how long he's been waiting for you? For someone who can love him exactly as he is, who will tell him when he's wrong and reassure him when he's right and always, always stand behind him, no matter the cost? The day he got the Voyager mission he commed me to say that he'd finally met the one officer in all of Starfleet who could push him beyond 'great' into 'phenomenal', assuming he didn't kill her first. And he was absolutely right, wasn't he? I never thought he'd do it, but he's finally done it, and he'll know it, as sure as the Earth keeps turning. You – you'd follow him into Hell, I can see it in your eyes, into Hell or to the farthest edge of the galaxy. So I'm asking you now – will you wait for him, Barbara?"
"As long as it takes." She didn't have to think about it.
"Thank you," said Sarah Jane, quietly, simply, all the relief in the universe in her eyes. "Thank you for sticking with him. He's not easy, but-"
"-if he was, I'd have quit two weeks in. Sarah Jane, if you really think he'll see –"
"I don't think," Sarah Jane told her quietly, fiercely. "I know. And so does he, subconsciously. And so do you, or you'd have never said a word."
"Then I'll wait till the last star burns out," was Barbara's reply, and she'd never meant anything more.
"I am so glad," Sarah Jane said at last, "that I was right about you."
And they shared a smile, linked by understanding – and by the brilliant, fierce, passionate man they both love.
"Tommy," remarked Sarah Jane then, tapping her communicator, "did you go to China for that tea?"
Providence left for the Klingon border just two hours later. The routine was much the same, in some ways, as it had been in the Badlands – patrol, scan space, patrol, scan space, find nothing.
In other words – boring.
But boring was infinitely preferable to the alternative...
She woke in a haze of pain. Two of her fingers stuck out at odd angles, and her back felt like one giant bruise. Everything was blurry, but she was Starfleet, and she knew this architecture as well as she knew her own name.
Well, crap, was all she could think as it came back in a rush – how she had been hunting for something, she couldn't remember what, in one of the cargo bays, when the world had dissolved around her.
Damn cloaking technology. If Providence' s shields had been up, this never would have happened.
"Tell Captain Lynley to surrender Providence at once," said a gruff voice near her ear, "or I will break two more of your fingers."
"Don't you dare, Captain!" she bellowed. "Don't you dare get anyone killed for me!"
"Don't be ridiculous, Barbara," said a crisp voice over the comm channel. "And hold on. We're coming to get you."
"Sir, I said don't- "
The air dissolved around her.
"-you idiot!" she shrieked. "You don't do that!"
She continued to berate him even as Lafferty bustled over to her biobed and began checking her vital signs. "-how dare you risk this ship! What would Starfleet Command say? It goes against every rule there is, you
you could have gotten them kille - "
"Shut up, Barbara."
Her mouth closed with a snap.
"I was going to rescue you. That was non-negotiable. What I want to know is why you thought for one second you could tell me what to do?"
"Why you arrogant prick! I was the one in that cell, not you! You didn't have the right to - "
"Get out," interjected Lafferty's voice. "Now, Captain. My patient needs as little stress as possible, and you are not helping. Out."
Barbara opened her mouth to protest, only to collapse in a heap as the sedative hissed.
" Out," repeated Lafferty, and Lynley turned and left the room, still seething. High-handed over-noble little... I could kill her myself!
Sometimes, he really wanted to smack Barbara Lynne Havers.
"Sickbay to Captain. Get down here. Now. It's Barbara." Dr Stuart Lafferty could not have chosen more precisely the nine words in Federation Standard most guaranteed to bring Captain Thomas Lynley running.
Get down here. It's Barbara.
He burst through the sickbay doors, only to stop dead at the sight of a wailing monitor and an army of medical staff surrounding his exec's bed. And those lines on the monitor – what looked like scribbles –
Ventricular fibrillation. Oh, God, no...
"She's crashing! I need epinephrine and shock paddles! Clear!" Her body arched off the bed, convulsed with three hundred joules of electricity jolting through her.
Nothing was happening. Why wasn't anything happening?
"Captain." In the midst of the insanity, Kimura Hana's voice was a welcome isle of calm. "Go. She needs you."
He didn't dare take her hand, but he knelt next to her pillow and fought not to break. He couldn't lose her, not after all this, not after everything they'd been through and everything they'd become, not after he'd just got her back. He wouldn't let her die, he just wouldn't.
And what if she's supposed to? asked a nasty voice in his head. Not even you can defy Death.
Very calmly, with a deadly, icy fire, he told that voice to go do something unspeakably rude to itself, because the voice was wrong. Losing her was not an option, and he could damn well defy Death if he pleased. For her, he could, and for her, he would. Any other outcome was unacceptable.
"Barbara, please. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I should have listened. I couldn't have expected anything less from you. How could I, when you only did what I would have done in your place? It was stupid and foolish and so, so brave, Barbara, and so true to who you are, I'm so proud of you, I'm so sorry, just please don't leave me!"
"Three-fifty, go again! Clear!"
Nothing. Down to business, then.
"Again! Four hundred! Clear!"
"Commander Barbara Havers, you listen to me. I am sorry, terribly sorry. And I am proud of you. But I am also your Captain, and you swore yourself to me with tears and sweat and blood, as I swore myself to you. As your Captain, I am ordering you to come back to me. As your friend, I am ordering you to come back to me. You can fight with me later, you can argue with me later, but you will obey me and you will come back. You will. For me, Barbara, for everything I am to you – come back to me!"
At the steady beeping of the monitor, at the sight of those blessedly regular peaks and valleys on the cardiac tracing, Thomas Lynley shuddered and fought to breathe.
"We got her. Thank God, we got her back." Lafferty's voice was steady, but his professional facade was beginning to crack. Lynley couldn't blame him. They had been so close, so close to losing her for good...
But she was breathing steady, and her heartbeat was regular, and thank God, they had a chance.
He only noticed the doctor by his side when Lafferty put a hand on his arm. "No, Captain, don't get up. She's going to need you. You can see her vitals are normalizing at last. But she's still in a coma – she's not responding to any of our reflex tests. It could last two hours, it could last two weeks – or she might never come out of it –"
"Captain, please. I think she'll come out of it, and soon enough. Her body's been put through the wringer, it was only a matter of time before the shock hit her – although I didn't expect her to crash. I estimate a day, maybe two, before she's awake again. I presume you'll want to stay with her?"
"You presume correctly. Between Commander Nkata and Yeoman Frye, I should be able to manage the ship from here, assuming nothing untoward happens. To put it succinctly, Doctor, nothing short of a red alert will take me from her side until she's awake and stable."
Lafferty deftly concealed his long-suffering, gusted sigh.