Friday, February 12, 2010

Mission Control

Title: Mission Control
Author: Ranger

Shopping with Lieutenant Commander Rivington came somewhere between open heart surgery and having teeth drawn for sheer entertainment value.
Commander Scott turned slowly through 360 degrees for the fourth time, scanning the crowds for his partner. To get Riv into a shopping mall, it was necessary to take him by surprise- otherwise he found numerous other things of vital importance to do instead. Then once on site you required endless vigilance, dedication, and ideally several large, armed guards. Grimly, with the skills of a trained Starfleet officer, Scott began to walk back through the crowds of crew and base civilians, his eyes peeled for a tall, slight figure in Starfleet uniform. He was passing a rack of magazines when he picked out Riv. Buried in a copy of Spaceflight Now, shoulders propped against a wall, head down, lip out. Scott swiped the magazine out of his hands.
"We came here for you to buy clothes!"
"I didn't agree to anything," Riv said plaintively. "I don't need-"
"You don't own anything less than five years old that isn't uniform. Riv, move." Scott pointed at the mall. Riv rolled his eyes skyward and trailed back towards the main hall.
"We've been here for hours, can't we go home now?"
"It's been less than forty minutes."
"Can't we-"
"NO." Scott grabbed for Riv's hand before he could wander away again. Riv trailed with him, muttering quietly. Scott determinedly blocked his ears and held onto him. Riv's attention span was short and his interest in domestic chores minimal. Once bored, he wasn't the easiest of companions. He hovered, hands dug in his pockets, kicking at lint and doorstops while Scott made his own purchases until Scott felt his fingers curl with exasperation. He pushed Riv at the menswear departments, ignoring his glower.
"Go on. And don't just grab the first thing that you see, Rivington. I'll check."
"Yavolt, mein Fuhrer."
Scott gave him a Look. "WATCH it."
"I have uniforms," Riv said under his breath, heading towards the denim section. "PLENTY of uniforms-"
Scott took a deep breath and counted to ten, needing a break from Riv before he lost his temper. Riv had evaded this particular chore as long as he could: they were due to board the Argo in less than four hours.
If he keeps this up on the Argo, this is going to end in homicide, Scott found himself thinking, not for the first time. In just over two years of marriage, their time together had been spent during shared leave, a private couple without the influence of their separate Starfleet careers. From eighteen hundred hours today, they were colleagues as well as partners and Scott was dreading the transition. He left Riv in the shop and went outside, wanting some space to cool off.
"If Rivington is not brought under some sort of control," Admiral McDowell had said a week earlier in response to repeated pleas from Scott, "his Starfleet career options are very limited. Probably to a court martial. You can manage him, Stephen. He doesn't play these games with you."
No. Not when they were alone together. Stephen Scott knew he could keep domestic harmony with Riv, but work, too? In four hours he would become Kieran Rivington's direct superior- his commanding officer.
We're going to end up killing each other. Hating each other. This is exactly why we begged never to be assigned together…  and if he doesn't buy some damned clothes I'm going to solve the whole problem by throttling him here and now!
"Kieran, get back in that shop and pull your finger out!" Scott barked as Riv emerged empty-handed from the doorway. Several passers-by flinched. It was a tone Riv knew and he obeyed automatically, but Scott caught the apprehension in the look Riv gave him and it was more than just realising he was pushing a little too far.
I know, Scott thought, watching him drag back towards the menswear. You're worried too. It was the same look he'd seen years ago when they were first falling in love- the look that said What happens when I'm too much trouble? What happens when I push you too far?
Scott drew a deep breath and headed back into the shop.
He found Riv at the back of the store, fiddling with an ancient arcade game, still without any evidence of purchase. He jumped at the hand on his shoulder and spun, hands raised, face genuinely horrified.
"I was looking! I thought I'd better wait for you and-"
"I've had enough of this," Scott said bluntly. Riv's unwilling pace beside him suddenly gained enthusiasm.
"We're going?"
"We're going." Scott gripped his arm and steered him directly to the line of elevators that went up to the base residential decks.
The cabin was bare, all possessions long since transferred to the Argo. Even the bunk was stripped, leaving only their two kit bags side by side near the door. Scott led Riv inside, waited until the door shut behind them. The implications behind his continued grip on Riv's arm had sunk in by now: his partner looked less than happy and was only waiting for the closed doors to launch into the case for the defence.
"Scotty, you know I hate-"
"Drop them," Scott interrupted. Riv looked at him. Scott didn't usually refuse to discuss retribution unless he was really furious, but the usual signs of outrage weren't there. Scott took a seat on the edge of the bed and patted his knees.
"Come on."
"I didn't do anything awful-"
"Kieran," Scott warned. Riv muttered but unfastened his uniform pants.
"I know I'm irresistible, but if you don't let me stay dressed occasionally we're going to end up with a reputation-"
Scott took his wrist and pulled his partner down over his lap.
"You've been behaving like a brat all morning. It's like shopping with a toddler."
"Is that what you're mad about?"
"I'm not mad." Scott put a hand over his backside, patted gently, then drew his shorts down. "I just want you to listen to me."
"Believe me," Riv said, squirming, "I'm listening. This is rapt attention."
"Then take this on board. I do not want to spend my entire time on the Argo with the two of us in this position."
"I can appreciate that point."
"So I want to talk about how we handle this. To start with, I want us to go over the rules one more time just to be sure we're clear on them. The rules for US, not Starfleet. You're honest with me. You do your best to keep your temper. You behave politely and civilly- and?"
"And? That one's hard enough!"
Scott swatted the bare backside over his lap, hard. "And?"
"Ow! I tell you before I do anything mad and/or potentially dangerous! In your opinion."
"Good." Scott ignored the addendum to rule number four and ran his hand lightly over the single red imprint. Now I want to add a fifth."
"The fifth amendment. I wish," Riv muttered. Scott swatted him again, sharply enough to make him listen.
"You'd better have your mind on this, Kieran! A fifth rule, agreed on and stuck to. Which is that so long as we are on duty, we endeavour to maintain a good professional relationship. Junior and senior officer."
"Does that mean I have to salute you? I'm kidding, I'm kidding- okay, yes."
"And if you screw about on duty, I'm going to come down on you just as hard as I would any other junior officer."
"You'd better not do this to any of them."
"Only when I'm off-duty." Scott patted Riv's backside warningly. "I mean I want us to keep the two relationships separate. Completely separate. Our rules for our own relationship, Starfleet rules for the Starfleet relationship and never the twain shall meet. If we cross on Starfleet time we deal with it the Starfleet way with reports and the paperwork, or we'll have the whole crew involved in every dispute."
And every shipboard dispute will automatically become a domestic dispute, Scott thought grimly. THAT we avoid at all costs.
"Is that agreed?"
"Yes, sir. Can we include the right to remain silent as number six?"
"In your dreams." Scott tightened his grip as Riv moved to get off his lap. "Just where do you think you're going, my lad? That was item one on the agenda. Item two is a dissertation entitled Conduct for Starfleet Officers Whilst Shopping. I'd hate for you to miss it."
"I'm positively agog," Riv grumbled, flopping back down.
The Argo flew two week circuits, covering zone three of the deep sky between bases 9 and 12. The patrol ship carried emergency services and personnel, a strong engineering department and sixteen short range aircraft as well as a few heavier salvage craft. Their brief was essentially to provide policing, maintenance, assistance and rescue to all crafts using the air routes in their zone, to which end the aircraft squadrons stood to around the clock, ready to answer emergency calls.
Chen Nguyen, second in command and the practical manager of the Argo affairs, produced the first shift timetables within forty-eight hours of patrol. Scott saw him jogging down the corridor, clipboard in hand, and held the doors for him to reach the lift.
"Your other half just handed in the squadron rosters," Nguyen handed over the clipboard. "I'll say one thing for him, he's efficient. I can't believe this is the maniac you've been moaning to me about. The advance patrol went out dead on time this morning for the first time since I was assigned."
"He's exceptional," Scott said dryly, running through the lists. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
"He's certainly engaging. I saw him last night on the rec deck, charming the socks off the squadron leaders."
"I've never seen a team yet who wouldn't lie, cheat and steal for him. I keep telling them not to encourage him." Scott signed the lists. "I'll get these to Manterfield and post them. I can't see he'll argue."
"Has he met Riv yet?"
"They shook hands yesterday morning. I was on board six months before Manterfield remembered my name, I told Riv not to hold his breath."
Chen laughed. Patrol ships worked by delegation as their brief was so wide: Captain Manterfield had delegation down to a fine art. Scott was his human resources manager, Nguyen was his coordinator and the Flight officer- now Riv- dealt with all actual operations involving patrols, salvage and rescue. Manterfield did the paperwork. Actually, he was a talented diplomat and when he was needed, he did a good job, but Scott had served under few Commanding Officers who took so little direct interest in their ship.  The lift arrived at the control centre corridor and Nguyen stood back to allow Scott out.
"How are the two of you fitting into your cabin?"
"It's not large, let's put it that way."
"We don't exactly run to married quarters like the cruisers do," Nguyen said dryly. "I'm sorry. All I could think of to do was have you assigned a second cabin so at least you've got an office each."
"And a second bed if we're on different shifts." Scott tucked the clipboard under one arm and followed Chen down the hall. "We'll be fine. It's only eight weeks. The cruisers go out for years at a time-"
The corridor lighting abruptly turned blue and the spinners above each door began to flash. A second later the alarm siren started and the radio boy's voice clicked on over the intercom. "Key personnel to stations, duty teams stand by. Beta Squadron to the hangar deck."
Scott and Chen both broke into a run. If the relief squadron was being called down, the duty squadron was about to be scrambled.
Control was full of the communications team and the duty department officers. The most senior of which, Zeshan Malik, met them at the doorway.
"We've had a call from a destroyer. She had a bad run out of hyperspace, several malfunctions, had to do a major fuel dump in order to prevent an explosion. She's dead and drifting."
"On what path?" Scott demanded. Malik indicated the scanners.
"Straight for base nine. Certainly the base traffic lanes. The destroyer managed to get the majority of its people off in the lifecrafts before the power shut down altogether, but the key crew are still on board."
"What's her speed and position?" Nguyen said darkly. "These big things wallow like hell once the power's out."
"She's revolving. Not that fast, but she's out of control."
Scott and Nguyen exchanged glances. "We're going to have to scuttle her," Nguyen said very slowly. "Have we got any way at all of getting the rest of the crew off first?"
"Alpha Squadron's just gone to scramble," the radio boy reported. "They'll send back long range scans- ETA er- twenty-five minutes, sir."
"Can you establish communication with the destroyer?" Nguyen demanded. The radio boy looked back at his screen.
"I can try, sir."
"Do it. And page Captain Manterfield."
"Yes, sir."
"Stand to all emergency teams," Scott said to the inner communications officer, "Better call the department heads straight down, briefing room three, we'll look at the info we've got."
"Yes, sir. Flight went out with the scanning patrol; he left Lieutenant Walker in charge of the relief squadrons."
That was the automatic nickname for the Flight officer and Scott didn't question it. And it was natural he should have scrambled with his team. No Flight officer would send his crew out on a mission like this without taking a look himself first. It was Riv's job to decide if there was any way he could get a craft to the destroyer's hangar and out again- and how they were going to destroy the craft. That would have to be done, whether or not the crew could be evacuated. Nothing that size and speed could be allowed to hurtle through space for infinity. It was nearly half an hour before the communications post began to relay the pictures from the squadron. Scott and Nguyen stood in silence over a comm, watching the huge ship revolve like a drunken whale, so caught up now in her out of control wheeling she would be impossible to stop. Riv had clearly ordered his squadron to stay well back; the pictures were having to be amplified.
"It's going to be impossible," Nguyen said eventually. "No one's going to get near that. They're lucky they got anyone off at all before she started keeling."
Scott stared for a moment at the hulk, thinking of the handful of terrified men and women still locked within its shell. Then he reached for the intercom.
"Control. Patch me through to Rivington."
Strange to be speaking his partner's name, here in this place. Scott hesitated with his hand over the comm while he waited for an answer and was aware his stomach was tight with tension that had a lot to do with Riv being near that destroyer. The comm clicked.
"Commander, we're having trouble reaching Flight."
"They're not out of range yet, surely- is the destroyer causing radio turbulence?"
Nguyen stiffened. If it was, they were running out of options. If the destroyer wrecked radio signals around the base, the sheer volume of air traffic would make landing and take-off lethal. The risk to so many lives would dictate the destruction of the hulk, immediately. The radio boy hesitated, then said decisively,
"No, sir. Other crafts loud and clear. Maybe his high gain's out."
Scott's neck began to prickle.
"What are you getting when you raise him?"
"Mostly static."
Scott swore. "Patch me through anyway. Go on, I'll shout."
Nguyen raised an eyebrow. Scott leaned on the comm button as the static began to blast through the link.
"Argo to Flight, can you read me? Flight, this is Argo, acknowledge!"
Riv's voice was suspiciously- Scott wasn't sure, but the static didn't seem to be clouding his voice much.
"Argo, you are breaking up, say again."
"Flight, this is Argo," Scott said grimly. "I was saying how many wonderful answers to static I can think of. Would you like me to try one or two of them?"
Silence. Gradually the static eased down. "Argo, receiving you."
"Argo to Flight, what the HELL are you doing? And I warn you, if I hear any more static on this line, you'll be instantly recalled to the ship!"
"You should be receiving my pictures now-"
"We've got the pictures-" Scott broke off as a runner from the Control room entered and spoke rapidly to Nguyen. He leaned over and punched codes into the computer, entering the data units the boy had brought. He turned the screen towards Scott.
"The squadron's making a blood donation to Rivington. They've more or less emptied their fuel tanks into his, the squadron's headed back here. Except for two, presumably observers-"
"Flight," Scott snapped. Riv sounded matter of fact.
"Argo, I'm going to try refuelling the destroyer-"
"He's WHAT?" Nguyen demanded. Scott waved a hand to shut him up.
"That's insane, that manoeuvre was abandoned years ago as being lethal."
"I've done it in simulation, Scotty.  She's wheeling slowly enough for me to try. If I can give her enough even juice to get the generators back on, they can bring her out of spin and open the hangar deck maybe for five minutes."
Long enough to get the rest of the crew out. Scott looked at Nguyen, waiting for his usual ice-cold voice to demand Riv's return to the Argo. Instead Nguyen asked him bluntly,
"Can he do it?"
Scott looked down at the comm, liking this less and less by the second. "Shit. Yes he can. Probably."
Silence. Nguyen pushed up off the table.
"Tell him to go ahead. But he does it with an online navigator. Those planes aren't equipped for this kind of acrobatics."
"I heard," Riv said into the comm. "I'll wait for your signal, Argo."
"That'll be a first," Scott said bitterly. "I'll do it, Chen. For God's sake make him wait until I get to the Control room."
"Have you navigated with him before?"
Scott was already heading for the Control room at a dead run.
"I was the idiot who navigated him through the simulation."
It was Riv's idea of a fun couple of hours on the base. To programme the simulator to do the most ridiculous thing he could think of and then place bets against whether or not he could fly the mission. Scott had been a willing accomplice at the time, partly for the fun of playing with Riv, partly out of amusement for the sheer outrageousness of the imaginary missions. Now he was wracking his brains trying to think what other crazy rescues Riv had prepared himself for. He reached the Control room and the crew were already out of his way, handing him the headset and the chair in front of the navigation comm. Scott logged in rapidly with one hand, tuning the headset in with the other.
"Scotty!" Riv sounded somewhere between amused and delighted. "Going to navigate?"
"I am. You are dead, Rivington."
"How dead?"
"Write the will."
"If you're navigating, I'll consider it," Riv's calculations flashed up on-screen and the computer rapidly began to organise a flight plan. "This is what I want to do. Just do the maths to keep me from crashing this thing and you can kill me in peace and quiet after the shift."
"Count on it," Scott said sourly.  He raised his voice as he heard Riv's familiar laugh, putting the edge clearly into his tone. "Right. Kieran, pull yourself together and start listening. Get out of your current course, get clear and go round again, you're too close and going too fast. And calm down. Where are your observers?"
"Around somewhere."
"I said to settle down. LOOK . And start thinking."
"I can do this," Riv said a lot more quietly. "Don't start panicking."
"I know you can. You can do damn near anything. So long as you keep your head."
"I'm listening, commander."
"Reset approach. Log in, course five-five, three-seven-five-zero."
Riv's voice was subdued and concentrated. "Roger. Five-five, three-seven-five-zero. Speed eight-eight, observers on trail."
"Approaching hangar, I can see the lights coming back on line."
"Stand clear all Argo craft, you've done all you can."
"Clearing. There's a lifecraft powering up…. "
Scott blinked to get the conversation and the tension headache out from between his temples. Nguyen patted his shoulder and passed a coffee down into his hands. Scott sprawled back in his chair and watched the salvage crafts make their slow way back to the patroller with the rescued destroyer crew. Another clear up team was dealing with the final debris of the detonated destroyer.
"I agree with you, Stephen. He IS exceptional. I've never seen anyone pull off a refuel in the air before. Never heard of it without both crafts at anchor."
Scott grunted. Nguyen tapped his hand.
"Tell him. And while you tell him, point out from me that in future he discusses his plans with us BEFORE he puts them into operation. Or we may start making his life difficult."
"I'll talk to him," Scott said grimly. Nguyen gave him a wry smile.
"I think you'd better. McDowell had a quiet word with me, Steve. I know you and I know a little about Riv."
"Give a dog a bad name and hang him!" Scott said hotly. "Show me any tame Flight we've ever had who could have flown that stunt he just did!"
Nguyen chuckled. "One question. If we had recalled him like you threatened- would he have come?"
Scott winced. "I'd hope so."
Nguyen patted his shoulder as he passed. "Mmn. Don't go getting any stupid ideas about not taking your work home with you, will you, Stephen? We can't afford to have loose cannons on this ship. It isn't safe."
And Nguyen was a very old and very trusted friend. Scott gave him a slow, wry nod.
"Gotcha. Bang goes the fifth amendment."
"His right to remain silent?"
"My right to remain sane."
Riv had a definite and unfair advantage in a flight suit. Tall, dishevelled, his hair in his eyes, his helmet under one arm, he filled Scott's mind with numerous possibilities, none of which were appropriate for the time and place. He crossed the hangar, watching Riv toss his helmet across to a technician and join the crowd of pilots and medics around the rescued and shocky destroyer, as instantly concerned and reassuring as he was obviously delighted with his two flight observers. Scott paused to exchange a few quiet words with the destroyer's Captain who was ten minutes away from a mild bout of hysteria, and sent a runner to bring Manterfield to the sickbay to talk to him. This was one of the situations Manterfield was really good at. As the medics guided the crew away, Riv glanced up across the crowd and gave him that infectious, irrestistible smile. Deceptive in so many ways. It was the smile of a little boy and it always pierced Scott to the heart, but the secret was in the long legs that were still restless with controlled energy- always more energy than he knew what to do with- and the toss of the dark head.
When they'd first met, getting close to Riv had reminded Scott of breaking a colt to harness or a falcon to the glove. The same combination of battle and trust, with the same addendum that if he ever allowed Riv to win a battle, it would take weeks to repair the damage it would do to Riv's trust in him.
What happens when I'm too much trouble?
I'll never let that happen.
Riv forced his way through the crowd to Scott still reverberating with the adrenaline rush of the flight, and Scott returned the exuberant hug Riv gave him, not at all lost to a sheer sense of pride in him. Most of the squadron pilots were regarding him with frank awe. Nguyen's voice over the shipwide comm was already calling all involved crew to debriefings and this was no time to start discussing anything. Scott touched his cheek as he let Riv go.
"Well done. Well flown."
Riv grabbed his chin long enough to kiss him. "Thanks."
"Debrief." Scott swatted him gently. Riv snatched another rapid kiss and jogged up the catwalk.
They returned to base nine to deliver the rescued crew and casualties to the authorities there. Captain Manterfield was in the sickbay, talking to the destroyer Captain as they docked. He looked up in surprise at Scott.
"Stephen? Nothing wrong, is there?"
Scott gave the destroyer captain a polite nod.
"Might I go ashore for fifteen minutes, sir?"
"Of course." Manterfield said, bewildered. "Is it anything I can help with at all?"
"Thank you, sir; everything's fine."
There was only one solitary picture Scott had ever found of Riv as a kid. He kept it well hidden, aware by now that Riv was likely to lose or even destroy it if it came to his attention. Scott sat on the edge of the double bunk in his cabin and turned the little holo over in his fingers. An undersized scrap of a child, maybe nine or ten years old. Small for his age, thin, with dark hair hanging in dark and scowling eyes. Most likely taken by social services for records purposes, it was clear the child had not been happy to cooperate. It was the eyes that Scott always came back to, again and again. Shielded eyes, wary with a suspicion that didn't belong to a child of this age. Scott pocketed the holo rapidly as the door opened and rose to his feet. Riv was still flight-suited and from the oil stains, he'd been handling the salvage crafts. He also looked fractionally uncertain. A page over the intercom to the senior commander's cabin and office was radically different to a call from a lover and partner.
"You rang?"
Scott folded his arms.
"I did, Lieutenant. I was wondering if, now you've finished debriefing, you could explain to me why you felt it necessary to brief your squadron and begin salvage action without clearing it with Control first?"
Riv looked at him, eyebrows slightly raised. "You want to play this by the book?"
"Word for word," Scott assured him. Riv snapped to attention.
"SIT!" Scott thundered, pointing at the desk and chair. "How long have you been aboard? Fifty-two hours! That'sALL it took! Manoeuvering without orders, taking the law into your own hands, developing selective hearing when anyone tries to remonstrate with you! Do you think you're going to behave like this for the next eight weeks? If so, you have got another long and hard think coming!"
Riv opened his mouth. Scott pinioned him with a look and he closed it again. Scott pulled the desk computer around to face him, snapped it on and opened a file.
"I am the personnel manager, Lieutenant, and I keep things carefully documented. So what I would like you to do right now, is fill out an incident report and have it here, ready for me to read and sign in an hour's time. And I'll add now, I have plenty of these report forms available, so if you intend creating these incidents on a regular basis, you'd better develop a taste for paperwork! One hour, my lad, and it had better be completed!"
That was a challenge in itself. Starfleet was nothing if not obsessive about reports. The form was long, complex and included a request for a detailed accompanying statement of events. They were avoided by Starfleet personnel unless strictly necessary- usually only when a complaint or charge was likely to be logged. Scott fully intended starting to keep them a good deal more religiously over the next eight weeks. He walked past Riv's look of outrage and left him to work.
The report was being signed and logged when Scott returned to the cabin and Riv looked distinctly mutinous. Scott gestured him up from the desk and into the living area of the cabin.
"When are you off-duty?"
Riv glanced at the chronometre, startled. "Ten minutes."
"Then you're released from duty. Sit down."
Riv gave him a wary look. Scott sat down beside him.
"I want to talk to you. And this is purely personal."
"I knew it," Riv said resignedly, "You're pregnant."
Scott pulled the pillow off the end of the bed and swiped him with it. "I could strangle you sometimes!"
"But I'm cute with it," Riv fended him off, smiling. "Come on, Scotty, I know what the problem is. You want me transferred out of here and it's perfectly understandable."
"No," Scott said frankly. "I want you here on the Argo. For several reasons, not the least of which is that I'm starting to share McDowell's concerns about where you'll be in six months time if I don't keep a firm hand on you. This has to do with us. I was wrong about the fifth amendment. I want to know how you feel about repealing it."
Riv burst out laughing. "You want me to agree to repealing it now? Give me a week to think about it!"
"If it gets repealed at all, this offence still gets counted," Scott warned. "It's your decision, kiddo."
"What you mean is, you want to break my neck and you can't think how else to justify it," Riv teased him. Scott gave him a look and he sobered at once.
"Oh, Scotty, don't take it so seriously! You know I get carried away. Hell, I know I get carried away."
"You'd be accountable to me, personally, for every foot you put wrong. No matter whether it's on duty or not. 24/7."
"I thought it was you that couldn't handle that, not me," Riv said softly. Scott looked him in the eyes.
"Be sure, kid. Think about it. We don't have to decide now."
Riv got up and walked a few paces away, hands linked behind his neck. Scott looked down at his own hands, the gold ring on his left hand.
"Why didn't you tell me how bad things were getting, Kier? You only just scraped by without formal charges at base six when they threw you out."
"I didn't want you to know."
"Kiddo, there is nothing you can do that I won't help you with. I might not be thrilled about it, but I won't walk away."
"It scares the hell out of me," Riv admitted without looking at him. "I came that close, Steve. I really thought I'd had it that time."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"And say what?" Riv said bitterly. "Come out of the sky, stop doing the job you love and straighten me out. I'm a selfish bastard but I'm not quite that bad."
Scott got up, pulled him around and Riv's arms clenched around his neck. Scott held him tight and stroked his back, feeling the tension in his shoulders.
"Whatever you decide, I've got you. It's okay. When you're in trouble, don't blank me out. Talk to me. "

“If I say we repeal this damned amendment?" Riv said into his shoulder. Scott grinned.  
"You get your neck broken. If you say no, I'll do my best to help you keep yourself out of trouble. Either way, if you want me to help pull you out of danger, kiddo, you've got to let me hold your hand."
"Repeal it then."
"Be sure," Scott said gently.
"I am sure," Riv slipped out of his arms and stood back, mischief rapidly blocking out anything else that might have been in his eyes.  "Now can I plead insanity?"
Scott looked at him. Riv raised his eyes to the ceiling and began to divest himself of his flight suit. Scott went across to the drawer beside the bed and withdraw a wrapped package. Riv's eyebrows lifted as he unwrapped it.
"What the hell-"
"I thought we needed to add to the d├ęcor in this cabin," Scott said mildly, offering him the object. "I'm going to add it to the masks right on the wall over there."
Riv glanced across at the couple of Colony carnival masks- huge, grotesque and brightly-coloured things, mounted on the wall with the small spears and shields of the tribal dancers. The small, brightly painted object in his hand was not at all unlike the artifacts, and mounted with them, would probably go unnoticed. Unless you knew what it was that you were looking for. Once you took it down and tried it in your hand, it became a small, light and well-shaped paddle.
"When did you start plotting this!" Riv demanded. Scott held out a hand for the paddle.
"I saw it when we were on leave. I should have picked it up then. Were you undressing?"
Riv sighed and went on stripping. Scott held out a hand when he was down to his t-shirt and shorts and Riv went without enthusiasm to his partner. Scott took his hand and pulled him down over his lap.
"Can you give me a summary of your report, Lieutenant?"
Riv wriggled uncomfortably. "All right, all right. I knew the answer would probably be no if I asked you to try refuelling."
"So you set up the attempt without mentioning it to us. How far would you have gone with it if I hadn't managed to magically clear that static on your channel?"
"I'd have told you when I was in position. I'd done it in simulation."
"In simulation, if you crash and burn, you can go back and try again," Scott said grimly. "Remember why we decided if you suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to do anything even possibly dangerous, you were going to talk to me first?"
"Second opinion on the risks," Riv muttered. Scott slid a hand under the waistband of his shorts and drew them down to his thighs.
"Precisely. And if you EVER refuse to talk to me on radio again, for any reason, your life will cease to be worth living. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir."
Scott laid the paddle gently across his bare behind. Riv closed his eyes, bent his head and waited. The first few sharp swats made him jerk his head further into his folded arms and bare his teeth at the sting. Scott worked methodically, snapping the light wood inch by inch downwards with a thorough hand, aware within four or five impacts that Riv's breathing was already going ragged. He took no notice, determined Riv was going to develop a healthy respect for this paddle- healthy enough to make him stop and think when he was in the air and high on adrenaline.
"What are the regulations about communication with Control?"
"All-" Riv broke off and yelped, "All major changes of plan to be referred to Control unless direct loss of life is involved- which it was-"
"Not immediately. You had time to talk. Why are changes of plan referred back?"
"Because- ow! Damnit, Scotty, I can't talk while you're doing that!"
"Why don't you have a try?"
Scott cracked the paddle down sharply and Riv bucked over his lap. "All right! Scotty for Pete's sake- ow!"
"Changes of plan."
"Because back-up teams and emergency crews need up-to-date information-"
Riv yelped again and this time Scott could hear his voice cracking. He applied the paddle more soundly over the second circuit across Riv's bare and now scarlet backside.
"Do I need to tell you? Because other people will carry the can for your mistakes. When a junior officer takes a risk that goes wrong, some senior officer's career goes down the drain because a board of inquiry will want to know why he wasn't in control of his subaltern's actions. This is a ship in an active zone, Kieran, you do NOT screw about while we're in action. Is that understood?"
"Yes what?"
Riv didn't answer. It was very rarely Scott could reduce him to tears with a spanking but he was aware Riv was perilously close now and fighting it with every resource he had. He hardened his hand and concentrated the paddle's attentions on the most sensitive parts of his target.
Riv suddenly twisted on his lap and began to struggle with near his full strength. Scott tightened his grip and focused for a minute on holding him still, waiting as long as it took for Riv to realise and to give up. The battle seemed to go on for several minutes, then Riv collapsed over his knees once more. Scott once more gripped his far hip and returned the paddle to its third circuit.
"Yes what, Kieran?"
He heard the first unsteady choke and Riv's shoulders began to shake.  "Yes, sir…"
Scott didn’t say any more, just completed the last and hardest circuit of the paddle until Riv's chokes broke into outright tears without any dignity whatsoever. He was sobbing when Scott gripped his shoulder and slid him down to his knees. Scott laid down the paddle and looked down at him, somewhere between intense sympathy and a sense of satisfaction. It wasn't easy to reach through Kieran's thick skull.
"This is going to live on that wall, Kieran. In plain view. So look at it and THINK occasionally."
"I don't need to think," Riv choked out, struggling to calm his breathing. "Married you."
"If I thought you were at all serious, I'd have you reassigned tomorrow," Scott said dryly. "Come here."
Riv lifted his arms to fend Scott away. Scott pulled his hands down and held onto him. It was the touch Riv was afraid of, not the communication. There was little difference in their height, but he was by far the heavier and more muscular of the two. Within a few seconds Riv stopped struggling and Scott felt him start to cry again, but this time he clung. Physical contact was something Scott had taught him about only a few years ago in the days when Scott was dating a wildcard who thought that touching meant either sex or a fight. He wasn't the fastest of learners, but he tried hard.
Scott tangled his fingers in Riv's hair and put his faith in the hope that trying hard was going to be enough.
~The End~
Copyright Ranger 2010

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