Author's Note: S:aaB was the first show I fell in love with, my first fandom and I miss it. I was rewatching old eps and they got me in the mood for this. Even though it was never acknowledged on the show, Vansen/West was my OTP back then and I still love the idea of them together. I'm a sucker for best friends.
I tried not to be fluffy, as I do not like "romantic" fics. Hope you enjoy.
(Wow, I never wrote that much in one sitting. I guess I really do like this show)
Funny how sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday and other times it's like a lifetime ago.
Has it really been only five years since she and Nathan were making plans of spending a life together? Not just a commitment to marriage, but to start a life away from everything they knew, together. Has it really been only that while ago that they were so in sync, they could read each other's mind?
Five years and now Nathan is a stranger.
It's amazing how different he is, in every aspect. She's changed too, she knows. But, somewhere, deep down, she's still the same Kylen. Same person, same beliefs. Life was not easy at the camps. It was scary, not knowing what was going to happen to you, not knowing anything, fearing death. But the AIs and the Chigs never touched them. Never even threatened to. Never asked questions.
They dragged them across the galaxy and more than once their ship was caught in crossfires with Earth forces. The colonists never knew when the trip would end in a gas chamber or an execution wall. They slept with the sound of the screams of the military POWs. But, when all was said and done, they were fed, they were treated for their illnesses and never saw too much of anything besides each other.
So, Kylen is the same. Older, more tired, way thinner and with a truck load of nightmares. But all in all, the same person.
Nathan, on the other hand… Nathan is different. He's older than the five years that passed. He's stronger, his arms bulkier, his shoulders straighter, his eyes more lined and his hair cut almost all the way to his scalp now. The real change though is inside. Nathan is collected to the point of being gloomy. He never smiles anymore – or at least not to her.
When the war ended two years ago and he spent a few weeks at his parents, she realized her Nathan was not there. They weren't together anymore, of course. How could they? But she still cared for him… she still wanted and missed that connection. She missed him. So, when she stopped by to see him, she expected something, anything to be there.
What she found was a darker man, who spent his days sleeping and his nights avoiding everyone. More often than not, with a drink on his hand. She tried to talk to him, not to push. Just to make conversation, asking what movie was he watching, how he was doing. She got shrugs and monosyllables as responses. And it wasn't that he was being mean. He wasn't. She saw it in his eyes how he tried to engage, to respond, to be nice. She saw it in his eyes as he was getting to the same conclusions as her. Talking was easy between them once and then it was not.
She stopped going to his parents after a while, but she still saw him around, got news about him. In such a small town, Nathan-the-war-hero was something of a local celebrity. People talked about him and his relationship to her. Asked her about him, told her the gossip. How worried they were that he was seen on one sleazy bar outside of town or the other whenever he came home to visit.
He never left the Marines and that surprised her. Nathan didn't join the military for the military, he joined to go after her. Even if they weren't together anymore, still, his calling was never to carry weapons and bomb places. Her Nathan was a pacifist, a man who wanted to try to build a better world from scratch. This Nathan wore his dog tags 24/7 and carried a gun even when he was off duty.
Every once in a while they see each other. In benefits and parties to celebrate to return of the missing colonists and the heroes who saved them. Nathan and his two squad mates are always there, ordered to show up, he told her once. Kylen is always there too, taking all the few opportunities she gets to see him.
The Nathan in those events is different than the one she sees back home. Formal and polite, absolutely handsome in that uniform. Outside of his element, yes, but not as much as he is whenever she sees him in town. After much observation, she notices why. Because of them. The invitro and the woman who was a POW for one year because of her efforts to save the colonists.
There is always great commotion around her, more than around anyone else. She gets the brunt of the speeches and honors, everyone wants to shake her hand or take her picture. She is a way bigger celebrity than Nathan and the other, her picture was everywhere when the news broke out that the colonists were freed and the details of the mission were made public. First she was believed to be dead and her image was followed by those of the other two who died.
Then, when she came back from the dead, found alive but barely breathing, in a camp during one of the last strikes of the war, it was madness. The woman who sacrificed her life to save the colonists, the commander of the mission, was back, alive and safe. And the story kept getting more tragic. She was the daughter of two Marines killed in the AI war, murdered in front of her. Forced to raise her young sisters while living under the care of an aunt who didn't give a damn, until she was old enough to get emancipated by a judge. She was rescued alongside her high school boyfriend, who was also presumed dead from a mission where he rammed his plane against the enemy to save her. By the time the press figured out all the details, everyone in the planet knew who Shane Vansen was.
It was months after her release that she was finally seen in public, rail thin and missing two fingers, but sharp in her uniform. The image of her stepping out of the ship was played in news clips for weeks.
Kylen got to meet her. She had to. Not only had the woman saved her life, the few times Nathan ever spoke about anything, most of the times it started with "Vansen said" or "once, Vansen did". In a profile about her, in a magazine Kylen read somewhere, it was said that "Major Vansen's closest friend is her 58 squad mate, Captain West".
She didn't know what to expect that day, but Vansen's big smile was not on the list – not because of anything the woman had ever done, but because her images always showed a serious, intense, closed off person. Kylen found out Vansen was actually warm and pleasant. First thing she said was "you know, I've seen your face so many times I feel like I already know you."
They talked a long time that day. Vansen said Kylen's picture was a token that spoke to the entire squad. Nathan's quest to find Kylen became their quest and, according to her, that saved them more than once. A part of Kylen doubts that she could ever have been so important to a man who barely looks her in the eye now, but she knows better. Nathan loved her once. And even if he didn't, he'd never stop looking for her, he'd never leave anyone in harm's way.
Apparently Vansen was indeed good friends with Nathan, because she noticed the distance between him and Kylen and tried to mend it. She kept finding ways during benefits to get them to talk, playing mediator. Once, Nathan was particularly cold and afterwards Kylen saw Vansen fighting with him about it. "I don't care what you've been through, I don't care what has happened, you don't talk to anyone like that and specially not to her. What the hell is wrong with you?". Kylen called a cab and cried her way to her hotel.
Not that Vansen isn't damaged too. She is nice to Kylen and smiles through her speeches, and that had Kylen fooled for a while, but it turns out, Vansen is just as distanced from the people on her life as Nathan is from his. In a celebration of a victory that gathered not only the colonists and the 58, but also their families, Nathan's mom talked to Vansen's sisters. Later, Mrs. West told her it was the same story: never home, drinking all the time whenever she was home and not even considering discussing the possibility of leaving the military.
Maybe her case is even worse. She has not only the added trauma of being a military POW, she also has the weight of everyone she meets wanting to talk to her. Kylen sees how Nathan and the other, Hawkes, try to shield her from it. More than once, when someone was being particularly insistent with her, one of them grabbed a mike and started a speech. In a few seconds, the person would get distracted by the words and the other would come to take her away. In an evening gala with way more liquor than should be allowed near traumatized veterans, Nathan punched a guy that was hitting on her and would not take her no for an answer.
That night did a number on Kylen. It was one thing to know he was a soldier and have the information that he was a person who knew how to fight. It was a very different thing to see him in action, his movements sure, the much larger man falling unconscious. It lasted a split second, but Kylen got to see the 58 in action. Nathan hitting the man, Hawkes straightening up to back him and making a silent sweep of any other opponents and Vansen's firm, loud bark. "West, stand down."
No other opponents showed up, the Wildcards called it a night and hailed for a cab. Wanting to check on them, Kylen went through the door just in time to see Vansen punch Nathan. "I don't need a knight in shining armor, Nathan, I know how to defend myself".
Hawkes was between them in half a second, but Nathan took it and just stared valiantly and silently at her. She got inside the cab alone and left them there.
Nathan spit blood, Hawkes laughed. "Dude, if you really want Shane, you are doing it all wrong, you know that, right?"
"Great, I'm getting romantic advice from a six-year-old."
"I'm 11. Big boy now", Hawkes kept laughing as they got into a second cab.
Kylen stood there.
That was six months ago. Last time she saw him. Skipped the two benefits she was invited to in the period.
She isn't jealous. Really. She doesn't want Nathan back. Not this Nathan. She misses her Nathan but he's a different person now. She just… has to understand. Did she do this to him? If she had told him at the colony that it was too dangerous for him to follow her, would he have listened? Maybe not, but maybe he wouldn't promise to find her. Maybe he wouldn't join the Marines. Maybe her Nathan would still be home.
The old Nathan. The one with the bright eyes. Just five years ago, he was right by her side.
Right now, he's sitting at a bar.
Kylen recognized his father's truck on the parking lot on her way back from work. Mr. West doesn't drink. Has never touched liquor, not even after losing a son to the war and getting the other one back shattered. It had to be Nathan, back home for god only knows what reason. She has no idea why he visits if all he does is take a tour of the local bars and fall asleep at his parent's couch.
She finds him sitting at a barstool by himself. Every single costumer stares at her when she enters, she sticks out in a place like this. A few recognize her from the news, then nod towards Nathan to the person they are talking to as if saying "hey, look, gossip material about to take place." She considers leaving, but it's not like that will stop them from talking.
He has a half empty bottle of scotch in front of him and a glass in his hands. He's quite clearly very, very drunk and it takes him a few seconds to be interested enough to turn around when she sits next to him. His eyes widen a bit when he sees her but whatever he's going to say gets cut by the bartender asking if she wants a glass to join him. She asks for a rum and coke instead and is reaching in her purse for the money when the man shakes his head. "Heroes don't pay in my bar and neither do their dates". Nathan mock-salutes him.
When the man leaves, Nathan looks at her. Five years ago it would take her breath away. Now it makes her shiver. "You a regular?", he asks and smiles like it's the funniest joke he said in years. It probably is.
She forces a smile. She's trying to be friends here. "Saw your dad's truck. In town for long?".
"Mom's birthday. Vansen ordered me to come", he says, refilling his glass.
"Thought she wasn't your commanding officer anymore." They are not even in the same squad now, are they?
"Tell her that," he snorts. "She's not. But I wouldn't put it past her to drug me and drag me, so here I am…".
"Drinking in a bar ten miles from your home?".
Ugh, she was trying to be friendly. The effect on him is immediate. His face shuts down. "Came inside just to chew me out?"
And… no. That's true. She didn't.
She tries again. "No. I'm sorry." He shrugs. "I mean it"
"So, how are you?"
Monosyllables. She sighs hard, drops her head. This shouldn't be so hard.
"You know, Nathan, once upon a time, we used to be friends."
He turns to her, actually quizzically. "We are friends, Kylen."
Really? The sad part is... she can tell he believes it.
"Are we? Because I don't remember the last time we actually had a conversation that didn't require tremendous amounts of effort to see through."
He stares at her. Looks down. Looks back up. "I'm sorry. I know I have been an ass to you." He laughs, hollowly. "To you, to mom, to pretty much everyone. I'm sorry. I don't want to be this way, I just… I don't know."
Honesty. For ten seconds in three years, she actually got honesty out of him.
"It's okay, Nate". He smiles at the old nickname, the one apparently no one uses anymore. "I know you've been through a lot…" He rolls his eyes while she finishes. "But I do want to be your friend and to help you."
"That's just it", he cuts, balancing a finger at her face. Not mean, not harsh. He sounds tired. "I know you do. I know my family does too. All my old friends. All of you just want to help me. All of you just look at me like I'm charity or psych case. As if there's something to be fixed, as if some talk, some therapy and a good hug later, you'll get the old me back."
She stares. Because, yeah, she thought exactly that. "The old me isn't getting back, Kylen. I'm changed. I'm sorry. I'm a different person. I know it must suck for you and I'm sorry, but I can't help it. And I can't talk to you or anyone about it."
This has to be the longest he ever talked to her in all this time and she suspects the liquor might have something to do with it. She's speechless for a moment. She works what he said in her head. "You talk to the 58."
Because, yeah. He does. She's seen him. With them, he's loose and relaxed and even smiles.
"I don't have to explain things to them, they were there. They know."
They are silent for a long time. The bartender gets her empty cup and fixes her a new drink. She should stop. She's on an empty stomach, could never hold her liquor and is feeling dizzy already. That's probably the reason why she blurts her next comment.
"So… Vansen… she gets it. I mean… you."
His face whips around to her. "What?"
Shut up, Kylen. Shut up.
"It's not even like that…", he says. "God… where did that come from?"
"Nowhere… just… nothing, forget it."
"Kylen, are you jea…", he doesn't even finish the word before she cuts him. "I'm not."
"I'm not, okay? I'm sorry. We are over and I want it to be over. Just forget I said anything". She does. She really does.
"Okay. You have no right or reason if you are. I mean… we are over. And during the war, I…"
"I know, Nathan. Ok? And even if you did… it would be okay". He stares, confused. "I mean, when we got together, we said we'd be faithful. I don't remember anywhere saying that if a war broke out with aliens, I was presumed dead and you had to serve, I'd still have to hold you to that commitment".
She expected him to laugh. It was said as a joke, after all. Sometimes it all felt like a joke. She didn't find it funny. He didn't either.
"Look, I was just asking… I'm sorry."
"Okay. Okay." A beat. "I'm answering. Shane and I are just friends." He takes a long gulp, then stares at his drink. "That's all she wants to be", he whispers.
Kylen is not jealous. She does not want Nathan back. She does not want him at all.
It still feels like a kick in the stomach.
She feels her eyes water and tries to hold her face in case he turns to her again. He doesn't.
She bobs her head up and down, in what is supposed to be a nod but feels like hopelessness.
"I'm sorry…", he says, still not looking at her. "I… I didn't mean for it to happen. Trust me, I didn't want to feel like this at all. It just… at some point… it was just there, you know. I fell…" He cuts the rest of the phrase mid-way, as if remembering who he is talking to. Refills his glass.
Kylen finds her voice. "And she didn't?"
"She did", his first response is firm. He gulps. Then whispers. "I know she did. I know her". Kylen is not sure if he's talking to her or himself.
He is very, very drunk. She shouldn't be taking advantage.
"What's stopping her then?"
That takes her aback. "What did I do? I didn't do anything. "
Why is she being defensive. She really has done nothing.
"I know. I know… she's just… Shane is very, very… righteous. Morally. Like… this stuff is important to her". He's not making much sense and it must show in her face, because he explains in a single breath. "She feels like she's getting in the way of you and me."
"And that… jackass Oakes is… there all the time." Oakes. Her former boyfriend, the one who was also a POW? John Something. Must be Oakes.
"They're together?". Why is she asking? Why is she caring? She doesn't care.
"No… well, no. They are not together, he just wants them to be. But, well… she's sorta really pissed at him now," Nathan smiles. She doesn't ask anymore, but he takes her silence for an interest to know. "He… uh… he and I came to blows a few weeks ago. But he drew first and I was drunk and had a head injury so she's pissed at him and not at me. He's a jackass."
"You shouldn't drink if you have a head injury". That's all she has to offer.
Gets a drunken smile in return. "Yeah."
She doesn't want to know more. She doesn't want to sit here anymore and listen to Nathan whine about his unrequited love, the war hero who is so great and perfect that two other heroes are literally fighting for her. Shane Vansen saved her life. Everyone talks about how she saved the colonists, but Kylen knows Vansen sacrificed herself for her, specifically. Kylen doesn't want to hate her.
This was a bad idea.
She slips out of the barstool when Nathan signals for another bottle. She's not sure he noticed she's leaving. She rushes past the doors and bumps into the woman coming inside.
They stare at each other for a second. When she doesn't get an answer, Vansen asks if Kylen's okay. "Yeah, yeah… just… late and… uh…late", she laughs, nervously. Why did she get a second drink? "You came for Nathan?", Kylen asks.
"Yeah… Mrs. West called me. He's being more difficult than usual."
"Was he mean to you?", Vansen asks and Kylen swears her mother uses that exact same tone.
"No… no. It's not his fault. I… I should go…", she turns around and is on her way to the sidewalk when she realizes something. She turns back. "Shane?"
Vansen has not actually moved in that time. "Can I call you Shane?"
"You do call me Shane…normally". Vansen – Shane, Shane – answers slowly, as if she's realizing now Kylen is a little drunk herself.
"Yeah. Ok. So… just, you know, to be clear. I wasn't there with Nathan". Vansen's eyebrows go up in confusion. "I mean I was… with Nathan, I was just not with Nathan, you know?"
"What I mean is… He talked, you know… about you." Shane sighs, shaking her head. "Kylen, look…"
Kylen cuts her. "Please let me finish."
Kylen speaks slowly. She has to get this right "I was not with Nathan. I don't want to be with Nathan. I care for him a lot and I want him to be happy, but I do not want a romantic relationship with him."
Shane remains silent, Kylen takes a deep breath. "He wants you. A lot, for what I take. I want him to be happy and I want you to be happy. I can never repay what you both did for me…"
Shane starts shaking her head, Kylen stops her again. "I know. I know what you'll say, you've said it before. Still. I like you and I'm grateful to you and if, by any chance, you want Nathan too and you are holding it back because of me… just, just don't. Okay? Not only I don't want to be with him, but you two deserve a little happiness. So… I give you my blessing or whatever."
Shane smiles. "You are very drunk, aren't you?"
Kylen considers it for a moment. "I'm drunk enough to get this out but not too much that I don't mean every word I said."
"Okay, then… you still shouldn't be driving, though," Shane points at the keys in Kylen's hands. Her look is the same one Kylen's dad gets when he tries to be stern but is really actually amused.
"Yeah, I'll take a cab."
They say good bye and Shane goes inside. Kylen should get that cab, but she's eavesdropped on them too long and it's a hard habit to be broken when she's drunk.
She goes back around and looks at them through the window. Shane gets a lot of stares. She walks to the bar, takes Nathan's bottle and gives it back to the bartender. Nathan seems to be protesting, but shuts up with one stare from her. She nudges him up and holds his arm to support him on the way out.
Kylen falls back to the side of the building and can see them walking out. "When I told you to come home, I didn't mean the local bars, you know."
"You are not my CO. You don't get to order me around anymore," Nathan slurs.
"I can order you around anytime I want, because I can kick your ass anytime I want, so shut up, drunktard, and do as I say", Shane answers as she shoves him in the passenger's side of 's truck. Kylen doesn't hear what Nathan says.
Four months later, when Kylen sees them at a celebration for the anniversary of the end of the war, they don't seem much different to anyone. But Kylen notices they keep touching each other. Nothing much. A hand in the back that lasts a second too long, an affectionate shoulder bump. Nathan doesn't drink at all, all night long, and neither does Shane.
They talk for a bit with the colonists, like they usually do. Catch up on the news. Shane doesn't have to speak tonight, too many generals eager to take the honor, so she seems more relaxed.
After midnight, Kylen sees them dancing. Shane says something that makes him laugh and there, right there, Kylen sees him. The old Nathan. The one with the bright eyes.
He was still there after all.