Title: The Greatest Woman I Never Knew

Rating: T

Characters/Pairings: Nathaniel Taylor, Elisabeth Shannon, Wash/Taylor regrets

Word Count: 1441

Summary: Taylor comes to terms with Wash's death and what she actually meant to him. Grief can show the full spectrum of emotions. Not a fix-it fic so there be angsty seas ahead.

"Commander Taylor?" a voice called, footsteps echoing up the stairs.

He heard her, but he didn't see the point of calling out. She would come check on him regardless. Best get it over with.

The door opened, scratching uncomfortably against the floor. In walked the calm (mostly) and collected Elisabeth Shannon.

"Drew the short straw Doc?" he asked, still staring at his desk.

"Now you know it's not like that," she told him, her voice carrying a note of exasperated pity.

"Reynolds doesn't have the guts, your husband wouldn't know what to say, Boylan's too busy ensuring my soldiers will be too plastered to remember their own names tomorrow, and Malcolm's already forgotten his," he listed. "Might as well have drawn straws."

Out of the corner of his eye he could see her look around the room as if the walls could jump in with the next conversational topic. She glanced down at what was on his desk and stepped closer. "Have you drunk all that?" She shook her head. "No I didn't mean it like that. I didn't come up here to give you some sanctimonious lecture on dealing with grief and loss in an appropriate manner." She exhaled nervously. "I just thought you might appreciate being able to talk to someone you don't command. At least as much as any of us are." She turned to begin to pace but stopped. "I came up here as a friend but it seems I've gone and—"

Taylor couldn't help himself anymore and snorted with laughter, looking up from the mostly empty bottle before him. He could see where Maddy got it from. He gestured with a nod to a chair next to her. "You might want to sit down before you fall down."

She dropped into the chair without a comment, all her momentum gone.

He looked back down at the two glasses next to the bottle. "You know where these are from? First mission in the Mongkut Offensive. Some medic, fresh out of basic training, or what passed for training then, saves my own ass and the whole platoon by putting herself directly in the path of battle. Gambled it all on a game of chicken and they flinched first. As soon as the dust settled she turned around, saluted me, and introduced herself. They had rushed her out to the front lines so fast that I hadn't even met her before the first shot was fired. Forget that she wasn't even supposed to be in the thick of the fighting. The higher ups were so happy with the way my strategy turned out they gave me an award. To a man no one was fool enough to tell them it wasn't planned. Didn't have time for a fancy ceremony though. When I got home from that tour these two tumblers were sitting on the table, the battle details engraved into the metal. Ayani was so pleased there was someone of intelligence in my platoon she wanted to invite her over for dinner. To thank her. Took five polite refusals before she gave up. While I was gone one day Ayani wrapped one of these cups up and sent it over to base housing. She was determined to thank her, just as determined as Wash was to stick to protocol."

Elisabeth chuckled. "Sounds like a formidable woman."

"She was. They both were. She did eventually get Wash over for dinner, a few years and several battles and formal occasions later. Wash kept trying to get up and help out, unaccustomed to just sitting around and having things done around her, that Ayani gave in and had her fetching things from around the kitchen, setting the table and the like. She opened up the wrong cabinet and one of these was sitting there on a stack of old papers." He spun the cup in one hand, tracing the words with his thumb. He smiled. "Without missing a beat she said, 'Awful expensive paperweight there sir.' Ayani had met her before, spoken with her one on one a few times, but she thought that was the funniest thing..." He trailed off, watching the scene play out in his memory.

"I never really thought of her as a joker" Elisabeth said. "But I guess the best ones are the ones you least expect. I could see her as the wry humour type."

"Some time later we raided a warlord's supply warehouse," he continued. "Of course we weren't supposed to take anything for ourselves, and for the most part people were pretty good about that, since you can't very well pocket an RPG, but the occasional smaller item always found its way into someone's hands. Never Wash's. But as we were clearing out after a particularly tough campaign she found this bottle left behind. Evidently the local bigshot had kept a stash of fine whiskey amongst the ammunition. She brought it to me, following protocol, and I honestly never got around to passing it on to my superiors." He shrugged. "They probably wouldn't have done anything but drink it themselves so I didn't feel too guilty about it when I came across it in my gear again a week later. She was a sergeant by then, and I pulled it out during one of our strategy sessions, figuring out exactly what to tell our superiors back home about the latest mess. Pulled out this cup and poured a glass. She had her pack on her and without the slightest hesitation or comment reached in and withdrew its twin. It became our little tradition to have a glass, just one glass, every time we prepared our mission reports. Wouldn't you know that didn't last very long."

"I don't feel like I've a right to ask," Elisabeth said, her hands starting to fidget, "So don't feel like you need to answer, but I was wondering. Was there ever anything...more? I wouldn't blame you or think any less of you for it if that's your concern. Sometimes I think remembering all the silly little games he used to play with the children is the only thing that got me through all that time without Jim."

Taylor shrugged. Maybe at another age he'd have fervently denied everything, refused to talk about it. He wasn't naïve enough to think that time would heal all wounds but in time perhaps one could learn to live with them. The stark white line of a knife wound that defied every doctor's attempt to erase it from his history, not that he'd let them fuss over him. The ache in his elbow when he moved it just so. Old friends and constant companions. "I don't know. Wasn't like it was with Ayani. I'd be lying if the thought didn't occur to me in some corner of my mind, on some level of my subconscious. All those late nights preparing reports to send back to Hope Plaza and preparing for each pilgrimage. Reviving the tradition with this, still one glass at a time. Pouring a little less in each as the bottle drew down, trying to stretch out these little moments. In the end I can't say I knew her as well as I would have liked to. Good enough seemed to be."

"Wash," Elisabeth started but shook her head. "No, Alicia. She was very perceptive. Though neither of you ever said anything it wouldn't surprise me if she knew. And if she knew, she felt comfortable with it. She wouldn't back down from a fight, even with you, if she felt it necessary."

Taylor leaned forward and poured the last of the whiskey into the two glasses, barely even an ounce each. He took one in his hand and slid the other over to her. He looked at her pointedly until she picked it up, fiercely forestalling any attempts at refusal now that she knew its history.

"An honor," she said quietly.

"There used to be a tradition that any glass used to make an important toast never be used again." He smiled wryly. "She'd say it was a waste of perfectly good resources. Perfectly good paperweights. But to hell with tradition." He held up his glass. "To Wash."

"To Wash," she echoed. "To everything she gave to us, everything she gave for us."

"To Lieutenant Alicia Washington, the greatest woman I never knew." He threw back the whiskey, savouring the taste as one more bond with the past was washed away.