Title: An Officer and a Gentlewoman (1/1)
Fandom: David Weber's Honorverse
Pairing: Shannon Foraker/?
Spoilers: Takes place after "At All Costs" and "Crown of Slaves".
Summary: Shannon Foraker is ordered to take some time off, but a little R&R will go a very, very long way.
NOTE: This story, like a lot of other fanfics which I'll be posting over the next few weeks, was written between 2003 and 2009, and for whatever reason, I decided not to post it to FFN. It was a fandom I didn't normally write for, it wasn't finished, I lost interest and rushed the ending, I wasn't happy with the end result, etc. Since I don't know when I'll be able to write new material next, I decided to bite the bullet and begin dumping my vault of untouched stories into my account. Some of you may enjoy these.
"What'll you have?" the bartender asked.
"Just water," Shannon ordered.
"Water? You came to a bar to order water?"
"Maybe I came here for the company."
"And you picked this bar?" the bartender said dubiously. "I hate to break this to you, but at this hour, the place is jumping if we have two customers at the same time."
She shrugged. Before she became Vice Admiral, Shannon Foraker had never been very good at conversation. The travel guide had said this place was getting crushed by the competition. That sounded quiet enough for her tastes.
And perhaps she had learned to identify with the underdog.
Even before she'd been given command of Bolthole, Shannon had been all too aware of the shortcomings of the Havenite people. For more than a century, the People's Republic of Haven had survived on size alone. Thanks to an utterly bankrupt educational system, it had stripped its people of the ambition to better oneself. Society and the economy had decayed, and with it Havenite technology. The bloated empire was forced to overwhelm its smaller neighbors, one by one, by sheer numbers in order to prop itself up for another few years.
It wasn't a history to be proud of.
That had begun to change with Rob S. Pierre's illegal coup d'etat. His dictatorship had very nearly torn apart the few Havenite institutions that had survived the decline, especially the Navy. And continuing the Legislature's war against the Star Kingdom of Manticore could have wiped the very name "Haven" off the star charts. But, ironically, Pierre's government also had the power to make sweeping wholesale changes to Haven's corrupt systems. And the first Manticore war had instilled a patriotic fervor and drive in Haven's citizens that hadn't existed before.
Shannon was quite convinced that, in the years since Pierre's takeover, followed by Secretary Theisman's restoration of the old Republic, Havenites had learned to be self-sufficient. The common man was no longer inferior to the average Manticoran in spirit.
Unfortunately, he was still inferior in education and technology.
Given time, that would change. Haven was behind Manticore, but that meant they could also find ways to piggyback on Manticoran technological advances, in spite of determined Manticoran efforts to prevent that from happening. In a century, the gap between the two empires would quite probably have narrowed to almost nothing.
Shannon, however, didn't have a century. None of this would matter if yet another war broke out between Haven and Manticore. She thought that by now, not even the queen of Manticore wanted to see that happen, but clearly one war had begun without anyone wanting it to. So it could happen again.
That meant it was on her to close that military hardware gap as soon as possible. The task would be hard enough if Manticore didn't work constantly to widenthat gap. It almost made Shannon want to cry every time they came up with a major new advance, like Moriarty, only to have it dismantled by Manticore a year later. She had in fact cried that time, but that was because over a million members of the Republic's Navy had died killing six hundred thousand from Manticore, and all for nothing. Such a waste!
But she didn't cry after that, and she didn't rest, and she worked at her desk night and day until she was found passed out on the floor. Exhaustion, nothing more, but Secretary Theisman had given her strict orders after she was released from the hospital. "One week's vacation, Shannon. If we worked our ships as hard as you've been working yourself, they'd have broken down two years ago."
"But sir - "
"I swear, Shannon, if you don't come back here with, I don't know, a tan? Some tacky souvenirs? I'll banish you from Bolthole until I see signs that you were off enjoying yourself somewhere."
Shannon had no interest in a suntan, but dutifully she'd followed orders and come here. It was a nice enough planet, but certainly not a tourist attraction. She would focus on getting lots of sleep. She could handle "refreshed and rested".
"If it's never busy," she asked the bartender, "then why are you open?"
The bartender spread her hands helplessly. "The owners thinks that if we start shuttering our doors eight hours a day, people in this city will write us off for good. I don't know what she expects, though. There's no way people will come back here anyway, unless every other gay bar in town burns to the ground."
"Then why are you here?"
The bartender sighed. "Well, it pays well. No one else wants this shift because the tips suck. Plus whenever the loser of the hour shows up here and sees you're the only other person there, you can expect being hit on constantly."
Shannon raised an eyebrow.
"Not that everyone who comes in here is a loser!" the bartender said quickly.
"Well, if it's a problem, I promise I won't hit on you."
"No, I mean - " The bartender looked down. "I wouldn't mind," she said shyly.
Shannon studied her for a moment. She was young and quite pretty, but there was something haunted in her face that made her seem older and weary. If this shift was as unpopular as she described it, and she still worked it, then probably she'd recently fallen on hard times. "I'm Shannon," she finally said.
The bartender smiled finally. "Naomi."
"Naomi. I can't place your accent. You don't sound like a native Havenite."
"No, I'm from Erewhon."
"Ah," Shannon said. Ever since Erewhon jettisoned its alliance with Manticore and gravitated closer to Haven, its people were a lot more likely to be seen in the Republic. And she owed Erewhon a debt. The Manticoran technological secrets they'd handed over to the Havenite Navy had made her life easier. "You're a long way from home, Naomi."
Naomi looked away. "That was kind of the idea, actually," she muttered.
"Nothing." Naomi leaned back against the bar. "I worked for my father back home. I loved my work, and I thought I was really good at it. And then one day, I found out I wasn't very good at all. My co-workers treated me like I was worthless, and my father lost his faith in me. I hid in my room for a couple weeks, scrounged together my life's savings, and bought a ticket to take me as far from Erewhon as possible." Naomi gestured with her left hand. "Which was here."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have - "
"It's all right," Naomi said, although Shannon could tell by the look on her face that reliving that memory had notbeen all right. "I haven't told anyone that since I left. What about you, what are you doing here? Not looking for love, I hope. You'll never find it here."
Shannon chuckled. "I'm just a Havenite naval officer who's been married to her job for her whole adult life. And my commanding officer decided I needed a week away from the missus."
"You picked an odd vacation spot," Naomi said.
"I just wanted to get away," Shannon replied. "Too many people."
"And yet you came to a lesbian bar, albeit a shitty one," Naomi pointed out. "You must have been at least somewhatinterested in having a little company."
Shannon hadn't really thought about it, to be honest. She had just wanted a drink at a place where people - just not too many of them - like her went. But her sex life had been pretty nonexistent for longer than she cared to remember. And it wasn't like she had chosen to be celibate. "I suppose I might have been looking for the right kind of person to spend a few days with."
Naomi bit her lip. "Because, um . . . my shift ends in fifteen minutes."
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Shannon said. "One minute you're complaining about being asked out by the 'losers' who drink here, and the next you're hitting on me?"
"I'm sorry, forget it," Naomi said, blushing. "I'll just be embarrassed over there."
"I'm teasing you," Shannon interrupted.
"Oh," Naomi said. Then she laughed. "I'm sorry, but I used to be a lot better at this. A LOT better." She paused. "That didn't sound right. I don't sleep with a different person every - "
"My place or yours?" Shannon asked.
Naomi's face brightened further, but then she shuddered. "Yours," she said. "I wouldn't bring company to the dump I live in."
"Well then," Shannon said, suddenly feeling adventurous. "I'm staying at the Dauphin Hotel. Why don't you come by Room 1408 when you're done here? I'll just - clean up while I'm waiting."
The black cloud that had hovered over Naomi since Shannon came in seemed to dissipate at last, and Shannon was struck by how beautiful she was. Wow. Maybe I'll be a lot more refreshed than rested when I get back to base.
Screw the old plan. I can sleep when I'm dead.
Shannon panted heavily as she lay back in bed. As a Naval officer she adhered to a strict physical regimen, but clearly she had missed a muscle or two during her exercise.
Naomi might not sleep with a different person every night, but she was definitely an experienced lover. Shannon had been a little worried that she had gone too far when she opened the hotel door for Naomi earlier wearing nothing more than her underthings, but the hungry look in her eyes had taken care of that fear.
She glanced at the clock. It had been at least thirty minutes since they fell into bed together. Maybe she wasn't too rusty. She couldn't even remember the last time she slept with another woman, but she didn't think it had been thirty minutes.
Shannon felt a tremor run up her spine as she felt Naomi nuzzle her ear. Her body felt really good, pressed up against Shannon's like it was. "So," Naomi whispered, "any chance we could do this again sometime?"
"I'm leaving in a week," Shannon said.
"I know. Well, I didn't know you had a week," Naomi said softly, "but you said yourself that you were a visitor."
"I just don't want you to get too emotionally attached."
"Oh, don't worry," Naomi said. "That was incredible, but I'll be all right after you're gone. Although," she admitted, "I feel safer lying next to you than I have since I left home. Hell, since before I left home. I saw things that - " She shivered.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Shannon asked.
"No," Naomi replied immediately. "I just want to do this again sometime."
"How does tomorrow morning sound?"
Naomi raised her head and gaped at her. "What?"
"Stay the night. You said you don't have much of a home to go back to you. Stay here." Shannon paused. "Stay all week if you want. I want you to."
"But you just met me!"
"And I just had really passionate sex with you. I think I can trust you."
Naomi lowered her head and snuggled closer. "In that case, I'd love to stay the week."
"Good," Shannon said. Naomi was a nice girl. She was obviously running from something bad, but like she'd said, Shannon identified with the underdog.
She'd probably never see Naomi again, but Shannon suspected the memories of this week would last with her through all the late nights to come.
Shannon sighed as she looked at the blueprints. It was good to be back at Bolthole, but the days had never seemed so long as they had since she came back from her vacation. Everyone else probably felt the same way after a week off. If they could handle it, so could she.
And as she'd known she would, Shannon had the memories to keep her company. They were mostly confined to talking, eating, and fucking, but she didn't feel like she'd missed out on anything. Naomi had steadfastly refused to talk about her past on Erewhon, and wouldn't even give her last name.
Of course, neither had Shannon. She wasn't exactly an anonymous figure within the Navy. It was possible that Naomi had heard of Vice Admiral Shannon Foraker. She preferred being just another Havenite.
Still, she wished she had Naomi's last name. There was no way of reaching her, other than going back, and by the time Shannon could get away from her work again, Naomi would probably be gone. She hadn't seemed interested in laying down roots there.
Shannon had warned her against becoming emotionally involved, and then promptly invited Naomi to spend a week with her. Who had she been kidding? Naomi had wept bitterly when Shannon left. Probably because the week had been a vacation from her life too, and now she could go back to being a runaway living in a hovel.
Maybe she'd miss Shannon for herself too.
Shannon sighed again and filed her memories away under "TO BE REVIEWED AT A LATER DATE". There was a design flaw in this new drone somewhere, and perhaps the schematics would -
"Vice Admiral Foraker?"
"Yes?" she asked her aide.
"I know she doesn't have an appointment, but Virginia Usher is here to see you."
Shannon blinked. "Usher, as in wife of Kevin Usher?"
"I believe so, ma'am."
She couldn't exactly say no to the wife of one of the most powerful Cabinet secretaries in the Republic, even though this would probably be a waste of her time. She'd heard plenty of stories about Ginny Usher's voracious sexual appetites, and she hoped the secretary's wife wouldn't tire her people out.
"Vice Admiral Foraker?" Virginia Usher asked as she was let in. "I apologize for the intrusion, but I can't believe we've never met!"
"Er, me too," Shannon said. She was certainly vivacious. Obviously someone who enjoyed life, in all its guises. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Why yes, I believe you can," Virginia said. "Do you know a Victor Cachat?"
Shannon stared at her. This conversation had already gone from unexpected to weird. "I've heard of him," she said.
"What have you heard?"
Was this woman crazy? "In my professional capacity, I've heard that he's an extremely competent spy, and that he was one of the top agents in your husband's department."
"Anything else?" Virginia asked coyly.
Shannon felt like she was being played with, and it irritated her. A lot. "I've heard rumors that you're fucking him behind your husband's back," she replied curtly.
Virginia laughed gaily, and Shannon began to wonder if she was drunk. "Yes, I'm sure you have. Well, anyway, I'll admit that Victor is a very dear friend of mine, as well as formerly being the top agent in my husband's department. Whereas now he's the top agent in the FIS."
"Am I going to find out eventually what this has to do with me?"
"I'm sorry, perhaps I should start at the beginning. You spent a week's vacation with a young woman named Naomi, correct?"
Shannon felt the hairs rise up on the back of her neck. It wasn't just that Virginia knew the details of her vacation. It was that her voice had become decidedly less amused, and her eyes more business-like. "I must have misheard you, Mrs. Usher. It sounds like you said that I was being followed."
"No," Virginia said swiftly. "You are not and have never been a target of either the FIA or, to the best of my knowledge, the FIS. Your loyalty is unquestioned, and none of our people have ever tried to follow you."
"Naomi is the one we're following."
Shannon leaned back. She probably should have known that Naomi had been involved in something illegal. "Does this have anything to do with something that happened on Erewhon?"
"She told you?"
"Vaguely. Something about how she had failed her father, and she's been running away ever since."
Virginia sneered, although Shannon didn't think it was directed at her. "My my, how sanitized that sounds. Just what I'd expect from her."
"No offense, Mrs. Usher - "
"Oh please, call me Virginia."
"Mrs. Usher," Shannon repeated, "but you're being maddeningly vague yourself."
Virginia glared at her. "You want the facts straight, Admiral?" she asked, all sweetness and light gone. "Naomi's last name is Imbesi."
"Should that name mean anything to me?"
"It would if you followed Erewhonese politics. Her father is one of the four most powerful people on the planet. I assume you're at least somewhat familiar with the incident that happened there involving the Mesans?"
"Yes," Shannon said. Something having to do with Torch, that new homeworld for escaped Manpower slaves, and the Manticoran royal family. And oh yes, Cachat's name had been mentioned in connection to that, hadn't it?
"Mr. Imbesi played an important role in the success of our operation there. Naomi was involved as well, as she was a spy herself. Her father sent her after targets to seduce them and gain their trust," Virginia explained.
Shannon tried to restrain her surprise. But Naomi had been an experienced lover, after all. It had been part of her job. The one she enjoyed so much. "You can't be suggesting - "
"That she was sent to spy on you? Incredibly unlikely," Virginia sniffed. "If she told you she's been running away from Erewhon, that's the truth. Naomi Imbesi was a little girl playing a grown woman's game, and when the fire got too hot, the little bitch turned rabbit and ran."
"I'd appreciate if you wouldn't use that kind of language about her," Shannon said icily. "I fail to see why a failed spy is any of your concern, or mine. Did she jeopardize the operation?"
"No," Virginia admitted. "My own interest is of a more personal nature. During her attempts to seduce Victor, she made several extremely rude and offensive remarks about another woman. A woman who Victor chose over her. That woman is also a very dear friend of mine, and frankly I found Ms. Imbesi's behavior to be reprehensible."
"And why should your personal reasons matter to me?"
"They shouldn't, except to warn you that I hope you didn't get too attached to the girl," Virginia said. "She's a low-class whore."
It was possible that Shannon had never disliked someone so much after just one meeting. Well, no, there was Cordelia Ransom. But Virginia wasn't that much better.
"But, on the recommendation of my husband and Victor, the FIS is using agency resources to keep tabs on her," Virginia went on. "We've tailed her ever since she fled Erewhon."
"What's so important about her?"
"Didn't I say? Her father is a very important man. Right now, he doesn't seem that concerned about his daughter's welfare, but if his paternal instincts ever kick in, we'll be able to hand her over to him in a matter of weeks," Virginia said casually. "It's still a priority for the Pritchard government that Erewhon remain allies with us, and a gesture like that would tie Imbesi to us more closely."
"This is all very interesting, Mrs. Usher." And revolting. "But I assume you have some sort of message for me? I've already left her, after all. A week's vacation, nothing more."
"I should hope it was," Virginia replied. "I just came to let you know what your girlfriend's true character is. If she ever tries to contact you, don't answer her. If she ever wants to see you again, refuse. It would be a favor to my husband if you simply chose not to renew any kind of relationship with her, not ever again."
"So she can be like Cain, wandering the universe alone?"
"Goodness, Admiral Foraker, so dramatic! Just don't interfere with our covert operation, that's all. Are we clear?"
"Crystal," Shannon told her.
"Good. I'm so glad we finally met! But I won't take up any more of your time. Ta-ta!"
In a few seconds she was gone, leaving Shannon to wonder if that had actually taken place.
Even as a fugitive, Naomi Imbesi was still a pawn in her father's games, and now the Ushers' games as well. And now Shannon supposed that, enlightened to Naomi's "true nature", she was expected to dismiss her from her mind like the piece of trash Naomi allegedly was.
She was surprised by how pissed off she was at that moment. Maybe Naomi's failings as a spy mattered to other spies, and maybe her rude remarks mattered to Victor Cachat and his friends. But she was neither spy nor his friend.
She was just the only person in the universe that Naomi could call "friend" right now.
And that was why she was really pissed off.
Virginia Usher didn't want her seeing Naomi again? Well, Shannon couldn't think of a better reason to do the opposite.
Now if only she could get away from work.
"Admiral Foraker," Thomas Theisman said formally as his aide let her into the office. "Always a pleasure to see you."
Shannon looked at him suspiciously. Gone was the man who had ordered her to go on vacation in such a familial tone. In his replace was the Secretary of War. That implied bad news, and since she had been vague about the reasons for requesting this meeting . . . "You've heard from the Ushers, haven't you," she said, dismayed.
Theisman coughed into his fist. "Erm, well, yes." He looked sheepish. "Was I that obvious?"
"Well, clearly," Shannon replied, irritated. "You're not a spy, so you weren't trained to hide your emotions, sir."
"Maybe not, but you forget, you and I used to deal with StateSec all the time. I'd say we got plenty of on-the-job training when it came to not letting on how we felt."
He had a point. Shannon didn't like to think about StateSec, though.
"But yes, I spoke to Kevin Usher after a Cabinet meeting recently," Theisman went on. "He didn't go into a lot of details, but he said you'd unintentionally blundered into a joint FIA/FIS covert operation, and that he was worried you might feel compelled to involve yourself further. Kevin made it very clear how little that prospect appealed to him."
Shannon sat down and folded her arms. "Suddenly everybody is sointerested in keeping me away from their operation. It's like they're afraid of me."
Theisman chuckled. "Shannon, believe me, they are."
She gaped at him. "Of me? Why?"
"Shannon, you're a minor legend in Havenite intelligence circles. You remotely programmed two StateSec warship squadrons – twenty-four superdreadnoughts, Shannon - to self-destruct before they could wipe out you, Lester, and every other person on your ship, absolutely no one on any ship noticed, and all you had to say for yourself was 'Oops'. Kevin said that may have been the most successful covert one-man operation of all time."
"He did not say that," Shannon said, embarrassed.
"He did," Theisman assured her. "Add to that your record as a tac officer, and the fact that you're said to be a friend of Honor Harrington - "
"I haven't even spoken to her in years!"
"And it's no wonder why some people over there call you 'the Witch'," Theisman finished, smiling.
Her cheeks flushed bright red. Shannon knew she was a very influential figure in the Navy, but she had no idea that extended into - "Okay, now you're trying to distract me," she told him.
"Yes," he admitted. "It was working, too."
Shannon laughed a little at that. Theisman had completely warmed up by now. Maybe she had a chance finally. "Did Secretary Usher share any other details with you?"
"Just that Virgina already met with you to deliver a similar message."
"Oh yeah, I got her message," Shannon said angrily. "I made a friend while I was on leave, and apparently she got Virginia's nose out of joint once, so now they have her under surveillance."
"I somehow doubt the FIS and FIA would both be involved because Virginia Usher was in a snit," Theisman replied.
Quickly she gave him a summary of her week with "Naomi", and Virginia's subsequent revelations about Naomi Imbesi. "She's just a pawn, sir," Shannon complained. "She tried to get as far away from their spy games as possible, and she doesn't even know that she's still their prisoner."
"I'm sure 'prisoner' is a little exaggerated. It sounds like she's where she is because she chose to be there."
"Sir, they're just going to bundle her up and ship her back to Erewhon when it suits them. She may have chosen her stop, but they already picked the destination," Shannon corrected him.
"And what do you propose to do about it, if everyone wasn't already telling you to back off?" Theisman asked.
She sighed and her shoulders slumped. "I'm not exactly sure, sir. We're not even in a relationship. It was just a one-week fling. It's not like I can just appear in full military dress, sweep her off her feet, and carry her back to Bolthole."
"I had no idea you were such a romantic, Shannon."
She could tell the blush in her cheeks wasn't going away any time soon. "I just feel terrible for her, sir. They don't even have to drag her back to Erewhon. It's only because she made enemies of Virginia and Cachat. If they just told her father that she was alive and well, and where she was, I'm sure . . . "
"Uh-oh," Theisman murmured.
"Virginia told me to leave Naomi alone," Shannon said slowly. "But she never told me I couldn't contact her father.If he knew where Naomi was, she wouldn't be of any further value to the Ushers."
"I don't think that was what Usher had in mind when we spoke earlier," Theisman pointed out.
Shannon just stared at him.
He held out for a few moments before he exhaled and threw up his hands. "You really are a witch," he said. "What did you have in mind?"
"A message on the next courier dispatch ship to Erewhon," she said promptly. "I'll tell him that I spent a week with a young woman from Erewhon named Naomi. I knew so little of her homeworld that I did some research after I returned home, and I saw a picture of Naomi and her father. And since I knew she was a runaway, I thought he'd be so relieved that his daughter was safe and sound, and where he could find her." Shannon grinned. "Sincerely, Vice Admiral Shannon Foraker, Republic of Haven Navy."
"Not much of a lie," Theisman said thoughtfully, "but I don't think it will matter. I'm sure he'll be appreciative. The FIA, maybe not so much."
Shannon just shrugged. "I must have sent the dispatch before I met with you, and then I 'forgot' to mention it."
"Are you sure you weren't trained to be an intelligence operative?"
For a long time, Shannon didn't hear anything. That was the problem with interstellar communication, she supposed. You couldn't expect a fast turnaround. You might as well write a letter to a friend a thousand miles away, give it to a man riding a pony, and expect an answer by tomorrow.
Eventually, however, she received another visitor at her office at Bolthole. This time it wasn't Virginia, but a young man with unsettling eyes. "Victor Cachat," he told her. "FIS station chief for Erewhon."
"I've heard a lot about you," she said.
"So have I."
"I'm sure. Let me guess, the Witch?"
"The name I heard sounded like that, but it might have started with a different letter," he said with the ghost of a smile.
"Is there something I can do for you, Agent?"
He sat down. "I bring greetings from Walter Imbesi. He wanted to thank you for finding his daughter Naomi for him. Apparently he was very worried that some kind of harm had befallen her."
"I'm glad to hear it," Shannon said. "Do you know if he plans to see her?"
"Eventually," Victor replied. "He's very busy. He just feels better knowing where she is."
"All's well that ends well."
Victor looked at her for a moment. "You talked to Ginny."
"Yep. Told me to stay away from Naomi. I hope you'll let her know that I have strictly complied with her request."
"I'm sure she'll appreciate that," Victor said. "Of course, she was one of those people who described you by that word starting with a different letter, so maybe not."
Shannon just smiled politely at him.
Victor sighed. "Look, Naomi Imbesi means nothing to me. Literally. I don't hate her, I just don't care the least bit about her. Now Thandi, she hates Naomi, and she can bear a grudge a long time, but it's no skin off my nose that you ignored the wishes of the FIA or the FIS."
"Is Thandi the woman she insulted?"
"Insulted might not be a strong enough word," Victor said. "That being said, you pissed off a few people with your stunt."
"Well, they pissed me off first, so I call it even."
Victor was about to reply, but he stopped and closed his mouth. Then he shook his head ruefully. "You are definitely the same woman I heard about. The one who called her captain 'sir' in front of StateSec Commissioners. The one who risked her life and her career to save the life of a Mantie's treecat. You just do what you think is right, and damn everything else, don't you?"
"I wouldn't go that far," Shannon said, unsurprised that Victor had clearly researched her thoroughly. "But I wasn't going to let Naomi twist in the wind so Haven could score a few extra points with the Erewhonese five years from now."
Victor snorted. "I would have. It would have been my duty to use Naomi in whatever way best served Haven's interests."
"I respect how you feel, Agent Cachat, but I don't think my actions will make much difference in the long run, so we'll just have to disagree."
"Perhaps they won't," he admitted. "Except for Naomi, that is."
"Because she doesn't have to worry about being hauled off to Erewhon by the FIS some day?"
"That . . . and that her life, believe it or not, had taken a turn for the better until you stuck your nose in."
Shannon glared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Victor shrugged. "It was decided that, in order to avoid future situations like the one you created when you met Naomi, we needed to have one of our people a lot closer. So we assigned an FIS agent to pose as a businesswoman, meet Naomi at that little dive bar, and seduce her. Naomi was going to have the financial security and the long-term relationship that she lacked before, and we wouldn't have to deal with any more bleeding-hearts like yourself. Of course, since she's useless to us, by now our operative has received updated orders and dumped her like yesterday's garbage."
"That's - that's appalling," Shannon finally said, shocked.
"Maybe," he allowed. "But like I said, I just don't care."
But I do.
Shannon growled as she went through the front doors and found that the place was "jumping", by Naomi's description - one bartender, two customers (including her). She was in no mood for an audience.
Naomi looked up from what she was doing, and her eyes widened. "Shannon? What are - "
Shannon strode over to the other customer, who didn't turn to look as she sat at the bar and nursed a drink. "Leave," she said. "I'll pay your tab."
"Excuse me?" the woman said, finally deigning to look at her. "Who the hell are you to tell . . . "
Her voice trailed off as she took in Shannon's appearance. Namely the formal military uniform, along with every medal and citation she'd earned in multiple wars. And here I thought I wasn't capable of this.
Whoever the woman was, she evidently had some prior dealings with the Havenite Navy. She took one look at Shannon's shoulder and practically jumped out of her seat. "Admiral," she said quickly. "Yes, of course, if you need some privacy I'll just - "
"Wait," Naomi said, but the customer was already out the door. "You can't just come in here and chase away my tips, Shannon!"
Shannon sighed and sat down on the stool that had just been vacated. "Sorry. I need to do this alone."
"Do what? And what did she mean by Admiral?"
"I may have given myself a temporary demotion while I was here," Shannon admitted. "I didn't want to be noticed. My full rank is Vice Admiral Shannon Foraker, Republic of Haven Navy."
"Wow," Naomi said, startled. "That's, um, that's pretty high-ranking."
"Yes," Shannon agreed. Now came the fun part - if by "fun" one meant "extremely awkward". Naomi was staring at her like she no longer knew what to make of her, and Shannon met her eyes. "Your full name is Naomi Imbesi."
"I know about your father," Shannon continued quickly. "I know about Virginia Usher. I know about Thandi Palane. And I know about Victor Cachat - stop!"
Shannon was out of her seat before she knew it. She held onto Naomi's elbow, because she had been about to dash out of the bar like armed thugs were after her. The name "Cachat" had broken her, Shannon saw. Even his name left her utterly terrified.
"Let go of me!" Naomi shrieked. "I can't believe you knew! You knew all along! You played me and - "
"No," Shannon interrupted, as calm as Naomi was hysterical. "I had no idea who you were when I met you. I only found out after Virginia approached me in my office and told me to stay away from you."
Naomi stopped trying to pull away. "She - she knew?" she asked in a whisper.
Shannon nodded. "I'm sorry, but apparently the FIS and the FIA have been watching you ever since you left Erewhon."
"Wha - "
Naomi's legs gave out from under her. Shannon quickly got both hands under Naomi's armpits and dragged her to a nearby booth. "Sit down," she said.
The bartender did as she was told, but Shannon was still afraid to take her eyes off her for a moment, lest she make another beeline for the doors.
Finally Naomi looked up, appearing to come out of her stupor a little. "Okay," she said softly. "I need you to answer my questions, and I need you to be completely truthful. Can you do that for me?"
"Of course I can," Shannon promised as she sat across from her.
Naomi swallowed. "Why am I being followed by the FIS?"
Shannon took a few seconds to answer, because the truth still disgusted her. "The Ushers felt it was in Haven's best interests in the long run if they knew where you were. That way if your father ever started looking for you, they could just hand you over and earn his gratitude."
"That's a pretty fucking big 'if'," Naomi said bitterly. "What did they tell you about me?"
"Both Virginia and Cachat said that you made some repeated and extremely offensive remarks about Thandi Palane in their presence, even after you learned she was sleeping with Cachat." Shannon paused, not knowing a right way to say these things. "Virginia also made some offensive remarks of her own and said you were out of your league during their operation."
Naomi squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head away. "All true," she admitted.
"I can't pass judgment on your qualifications as a spy," Shannon told her, "and frankly I don't care, but why did you behave that way towards Palane?"
"I wish I had a good answer to that," Naomi sighed. "I don't know. I suppose I had this image of myself as this glamorous, seductive spy, and at first Cachat seemed like the perfect match for me. So when my advances failed to excite him much, and then Thandi turned his head the way she did, I was furious. I was the heroine of this little adventure tale, and some girl soldier was swiping the spotlight." She shrugged. "I wasn't behaving rationally."
Intentionally angering a man of Cachat's reputation - or a Scrag like Palane - didn't strike Shannon as entirely rational either.
"And the worst part was, Victor wasn't even close to perfect for me," Naomi continued. "When I saw him in action, and realized what kind of person I'd been trying to get close to, it scared the shit out of me. Suddenly I wanted to get as far from spies and intrigue and adventure as possible. I had been in denial about how dangerous intelligence work can be, and when I couldn't deny it any longer, I knew I wasn't brave enough."
"You can't be too hard on yourself, Naomi," Shannon said. "You couldn't have been ready for a major interstellar covert operation involving Manticorans, Havenites, Solarians, the Masada and the Mesans. Most people wouldn't have fared any better."
"Yes, but I never thought I was 'most people'. I didn't want to be." Naomi gestured to the walls around them. "And now here I am, trying to hide among them. I'm not special. The only special person here is you, Vice Admiral."
"You're special," Shannon said stubbornly.
"Yeah, right," Naomi replied. Now, instead of frightened, she looked defeated. It wasn't an improvement.
"You are . . . to me, you are."
Naomi looked up, startled. "Shannon, why did you come here? Why did you have to tell me all of this?"
It was Shannon's turn to look away. "I made a mistake."
"What kind of mistake?"
"I told your father where you were."
"There wasn't a choice," Shannon said. "Once your father found out where you'd gone, you were no longer of any value to the FIS or the FIA. You're no longer under their surveillance, and you don't have to worry about being bundled off to Erewhon when it suits Virginia Usher's interests."
This seemed to mollify Naomi a little. "Oh. Still, you could have tried to tell me first."
"I was under orders to have no further communications with you. I was just lucky that it never occurred to them to make Walter Imbesi off-limits too."
"Wow," Naomi said. "You put a lot of effort into this, didn't you?"
"Yes, well," Shannon replied, embarrassed, "I managed to make your life more difficult anyway."
"Because your last girlfriend was a covert agent assigned to keep a closer eye on you, and they called her off when I contacted your father," Shannon admitted.
Naomi looked confused. "My last girlfriend? Shannon, that was you."
Shannon blinked. "What? But Cachat told me. They had an FIS agent pretending to be a businesswoman. They sent her to seduce you, he said."
"Ah," Naomi said. "Well, yeah, I think I know who you're talking about now. But I said no."
"Really?" Shannon asked, surprised.
Naomi blushed. "It was too soon after you, Shannon. I still missed you."
Shannon felt her own cheeks redden. "Oh."
"Besides," Naomi added, "why would I want that kind of girlfriend, even with the financial security she offered? Someone who'd pretend to want me until it was time to betray me to the FIS? No, thanks. I want a girl who'll defend me instead."
"I guess I didn't think of it like that," Shannon said.
"So is that the only reason you came?" Naomi asked. "Because you felt obligated? Sorry for me?"
"I did feel an obligation," Shannon told her. Then she slid her hand slowly along the tabletop until her fingertips were resting against Naomi's. "But I missed you too."
For the first time all night, Naomi smiled at her. "So what happens now?"
Shannon hadn't really planned this far ahead, but now that they had reached this point, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. "Stand up," she said, getting to her feet.
As soon as Naomi was standing, Shannon swiftly bent over, put one arm behind Naomi's knees, the other against her back, and picked her up. Naomi squeaked. "Shannon!"
"A while ago I told my superior officer that I couldn't exactly march in here in full uniform, sweep you off your feet, and carry you back to my base," Shannon said. "And I was right . . . I don't think I can carry you much farther than the shipthat's taking me back to my base."
Naomi stared at her, dumbfounded. "Do you really mean that?"
"You bet I do. Why should we both be lonely? Besides," she added, "I feel like I could fall in love with you, but I'll never know if we're on different planets."
"Could fall in - " Naomi continued to look at her for a moment, eyes even wider, before she buried her face in Shannon's neck. The vice admiral could feel the tears against her skin.
As Shannon carried her out the door, she decided not to mention one other reason for bringing Naomi back and seeing if that week together wasn't a fluke.
It would really piss Virginia off.
Author's Note – I wrote this for several reasons. One, Shannon Foraker is my favorite Honorverse character, but after she was put in charge of Bolthole, her role diminished drastically. We've also seen basically NOTHING of her personal life, to the point that we don't even know what her orientation is. Which made her an easy choice.
Two, I thought Naomi was poorly executed in "Crown of Slaves". I thought her behavior in the second half of the book was inconsistent with her behavior in the first half, I thought she was acting irrationally, and most importantly, the book never bothered to give an explanation as to WHY. I felt like the writers just decided to scapegoat her and toss her to the wolves.
Three, Naomi is openly bisexual. And I found it disturbingly ironic that, after several Honorverse books which appeared to have no gay characters at ALL, CoS introduced a lesbian and a bisexual woman, and both were portrayed unfavorably. I even noticed that another woman was named Jessica Stein, as in the bisexual main character in "Kissing Jessica Stein", and SHE was depicted negatively too. The series strikes me as very not-gay-friendly, and so I wanted to change that.
The ending, obviously, was inspired by Richard Gere and Debra Winger in "An Officer and a Gentleman" from the early 1980s.
I don't hate Virginia Usher. I just felt that her personality would mesh poorly with someone like Shannon.