The examination had been sheer hell. Goose paced outside, straining to hear the
muffled voices through the heavy wooden door, then had to give up when one of the
nurses dragged him off to tend to his concussion. By the time he returned, Niko
sleeping fitfully. He was at her side when she finally did wake. It was a
comfortable room in a country hospital, not too different from the one he had
taken her to after being shot by the Scarecrow. Comscreen in the corner, large
beds with a nurses call button affixed to each. He had asked they be in the same
room, insisted on it, knowing he did not want her to be alone when the sedative
finally wore off. The look on his face convinced them it would be the right thing
to do. They didn't dare not, not the way his eyes were blazing when they brought
the wounded rangers in.
His ribs had been bandaged, and the new skin where the gash had been
itched, and he had to restrain himself from scratching every few minutes. He
wore borrowed clothes, and had not spoken much since they were brought there.
He had asked not to be disturbed, not even by Doc or Zach, who he knew would be
on their way. They were outside, he had heard their muted voices through the
door. No doubt the country doctor had given them his report, explained where
they had been found, and in what condition. Everything but the one thing that
hurt the most, because Niko had yet to awaken and give her consent. Shane and
the Doctor who examined her were the only ones who knew.
And there was still the matter of Killbane. No body had been found. A
great deal of blood, easy to track at first, but the rain washed away the blood
and the tracks too quickly. They had lost him, in the end.
She stirred under the heavy quilt that looked like it had been made by
somebody's grandmother. Shane loved modern medicine. All her bruises and
scrapes had disappeared overnight. Now what about the scars that the doctors
couldn't see? Her eyelids twitched, and then opened slowly, revealing sparkling
blue-green depths. She was confused at first, a side effect of the drug they had
given her, unsure where she was. Shane held her hand in his own, and her fingers
tightened around his as she took the first painful breath after memory...
The eyes widened in fear, other hand clutching at the quilt. Then she
relaxed, and saw Shane for the first time.
"I thought... I thought it might have just been a nightmare..." She
swallowed, tears in her eyes. In a flannel nightgown one of the nurses had
brought for her, little pearl buttons up to her neck, hair clean and combed, she
looked nothing so much like a little girl tucked in for the night. The tears
began to fall, and he seated himself on the edge of the bed, took her in his
"It's okay, it's okay... He's dead," he lied. It killed him, but he lied.
She drew in a shuddering breath, and he held again until the quiet tears
stopped, and she drew in deep hiccuping breaths while he stroked her hair.
"Better?" He asked, giving her a glass of water to sip, and she nodded.
"The others are outside. I haven't spoken to them yet. Doc, and Zach. I think
Waldo and Zozo are on their way too. Walsh himself would have hopped on a
freighter, or maybe just brought the whole fleet with him. Green's World has
never seen so much activity."
"Do they know?" Her voice was very soft.
"No," he whispered.
"Then they never will. Never." She shook her head violently, almost
spilling the water. He took the glass from her shaking fingers. "I'm not sure
I want to go back."
"Then we won't. We'll go anywhere you want to go, do anything."
"They won't let you. The Council wants you to track down the rest of the
Supertroopers. The only reason they haven't locked you up is because you're the
only one who can find them."
"I don't care. I'll run, if you do."
"I won't run away. I would like to, but I won't. I can't. It won't ever
solve anything, not really." She wiped at her eyes, still feeling groggy from
the sedative. "Besides, BETA is home. Unless I choose Xanadu, which I won't,
then where else can I go? I won't run. I'll stand and fight."
"That's my girl." He kissed her forehead, and she rested her head on his
shoulder. So you're the runt's woman... the ugly words came flooding back, but
she pushed them away.
* * *
"Heard you stopped the business end of a digging instrument with your
forehead. Knock any sense into you, my Gooseman?" Doc joked when Goose finally
emerged from the room.
"We Supertrooper's have thick skulls." He tapped his temple, going along
with the jest.
"Tell me about it." He leaned casually against the wall of the hallway,
but both he and Zachary had circles under their eyes from worrying.
"I thought for sure Karen Walsh would have found a way to catch a ride with
"If there was a medal for trying, she would have aced it. Almost stowed
away. Flynn stopped her from sneaking on board. Commander would have nailed her
hide to the wall if she'd gotten away with it." Zach smiled at the memory. "She
was worried sick all the same. The kid is really fond of you two."
"And with a mug like yours, I can't imagine why." Doc winked.
"Can we see her now?" Zach finally voicing the question on all their
"She's awake. I think we can use the company. Rough night." He opened
the door slowly, saw her sitting up in the bed, trying to look rested. He took
the same seat at her side, felt her fingers searching for his, and took them,
knowing at this point no one really was unaware any longer.
"You look lovely as always." Doc bowed, making an elaborate arc with his
"Flatterer. I feel like hell." She squeezed Goose's fingers.
"I thought with you helping him fly that thing, he might be less prone to
crash into such nasty obstacles as planets. That's the fifth time in one year."
Zach wagged a finger at her.
"If it's got wings, I can crash it," Goose announced with pride. She
chuckled, and he was so relieved that she could laugh again...
"That wasn't so bad, now was it?" he asked her once the visitors had been
shooed out by the head nurse, a woman of eastern european descent who was not to
be trifled with.
"It was okay." She nodded, leaning against him. The hospital beds were
not meant to fit two, for obvious reasons, but Shane had managed to prop himself
up at her side, so she wouldn't have to fall asleep alone. "The doctor said we
can head home in a few days, once all the tests are finished. And then you are
to take it easy, on account of those ribs." She poked him in the side with a
finger. "He thinks it's too soon, though."
"I told him two days."
"He said it might take days..."
"You'll be fine in two days. You're too feisty." He wanted to get her the
hell off green as soon as possible.
"Where do you come up with a word like feisty?" She snuggled against his
"I look at you and think `Now there is a terribly feisty young woman. Look
at how she shoots and knows tae kwon do, and plays pool altogether too well for
someone brought up on a planet that is supposed to have absolutely no pool halls.
And she sings too. Now that is feisty-'" but she had dropped off to sleep
somewhere in the middle of the sentence, head still on his shoulder and he
chuckled. Completely worn out. Must be the drugs. Certainly couldn't be the
* * *
She woke in the middle of the night, a scream dying in her throat as she
realized where she was, whose arms where around her. In the dim light form the
window, she could make out Shane's features, his peaceful smile. He must be
having a good dream. I'm jealous. She sighed, overcome with a fit of shivering,
having broken out in a cold sweat, the blankets suddenly oppressive. She forced
herself to be still, lest she wake him. He deserved his rest too. It probably
tired him out, watching her all the time. She would have to be careful, as he
was balanced on the bed somewhat precariously. She did not move, but relished the
feel of his arms around her, body next to hers under the quilt. She couldn't
stop the shivering, but she could try to bury it for a while by just feeling, and
not thinking. She was thinking too much. It brought back bad memories.
He always looked so fierce awake. In sleep, he was very boyish really,
looking much younger than she knew him to be. There was perhaps eight years
between them. Not much, in the long run, though it had seemed so important at
first. She still remembered how he called her `girl' all the time, and in a way
that she didn't always mind. At least she knew now he meant it not in a
diminishing way at all. She would probably be `his girl' until she was eighty
years old. She almost laughed, except she was suddenly cold, and wished he was
awake so he could chase all the nightmares away with a kiss or a touch or a
whispered assurance. That was all she needed really.
* * *
They left the next afternoon, against doctor's orders. It was a quiet
trip, all of them in Ranger I, Zach and Doc sensing if not really knowing that
something had happened. None of the usual light banter. Buzz, Q-ball, and the
ambassadors met them in Walsh's office. Goose would give the report later,
alone. The two of them had agreed the Commander should know, but no one else.
The first week was the hardest. Niko spent most of it sequestered with Dr.
Leahy, at the commander's behest. Karen Walsh left countless messages with
Niko's home AI unit, all left unanswered. When she finally did see her friend,
she seemed tired, jumpy, and brittle. There were large circles beneath her eyes,
and she only seemed to half listen to what Karen had to say.
Dr. Leahy called Goose in to her office the next day. She was a smallish
woman, her blond hair pulled back into a french twist, and her English accent
gave a formality to her that was belied the bright gleam in her eyes. She was
very concerned about her patient, and it showed in her line of questioning. The
moment Shane was settled into one of the comfortable chairs, she began.
"Were you and Niko lovers before the rape?" This took him aback, and he
stiffened self-consciously. "Please answer honestly. I'd like to have a session
with both of you sometime soon, but to help her, I need to know."
"No," Gooseman looked uncomfortable. "Not yet. She wanted us to wait."
"She is going through a very difficult time. She needs reassurances
constantly. Don't be afraid to touch her, to show you still-"
"Doctor, I think you're underestimating her."
"Ranger Gooseman, I think you'd best listen to me, and listen well. If you
love her, you'd best stay by her. I know she may seem tough to you, and
indestructible, but appearances can be deceiving. Give her time."
"She jumps every time I come near her." Shane frowned darkly, feeling
"She's not reacting to you, just your presence. The scars of the attack
are just too raw. But she's trying."
"I know. I know how hard she's trying. It's wearing her out, the trying!
Doctor," Goose clenched and unclenched his fists. "I feel.... responsible."
She blinked as the large man got up and began to pace.
"Exactly how do you mean that, Ranger Gooseman?"
"Don't turn shrink on me. I just mean, it was Killbane's hatred for me
that moved him to do what he did. He wasn't striking out at her, he was striking
out at me, through her. Because I... because I love her, he knew how much it
"I had heard Killbane is dead."
"The body hasn't been recovered."
"Then you think he might still be alive?"
"If he is, then he'll want revenge. His whole life is built around it.
I don't want Niko to ever be hurt because of me again."
"I can't predict the future."
"I guess I'm not asking you to." He sighed, and fell back into the chair.
"I just need to talk to someone."
"`Shrinks' as you put it, can be like bartenders. Everyone needs a
sympathetic ear once in a while. We just generally charge more." Dr. Leahy
"She doesn't know."
"She doesn't know that Killbane might still be alive. I don't know if we
should tell her."
"It would be best not to keep anything from her, but I can see your
"I just don't want her to hear it from anyone else, to read it in an active
file or hear it as scuttlebutt."
"Then I would suggest telling her as soon as possible, and staying to talk
it through with her. Don't let her pull away from you, into herself, or you
might lose her." She watched the tall cowboy get up to go, still looking
troubled. "Cheer up, Ranger Gooseman. You may get lucky, he may really be
"I hope you're right, Doctor."
* * *
Goose met with Commander Walsh as soon as the session was over, who granted
them three weeks leave, effective immediately. It was late, but Goose went to
tell Niko the news anyway. He found her in her quarters.
She was in her robe, hair still damp, all the lights out, in front of the
large window that dominated one wall, staring at the patterns the rain made on
the glass. Her arms were crossed in front of her chest, hands holding fast to
the sides of her forearms, and she didn't seem to hear him approach. When he put
his hands on his shoulders, she flinched, and he saw the tracks of silent tears
on her cheeks, silver in the pale light from the window.
He knew what she was thinking, what memories were playing themselves over
and over in her mind, and he felt her fingers brush his hand, curl tight around
his as she began to shiver uncontrollably. He had never seen her so pale, so
frightened, so helpless, not since the rape.
"I don't want to be like this. I don't want to have to have these memories
every time I hear his name," she whispered, turning to him, her face in shadow.
"I don't want to see his face every time I close my eyes, hear the laughter when
I am alone."
"You're not alone." He held her tight, kissing away the tears. She
stiffened, but didn't move away.
"I am tired of waking screaming, not knowing where I am. I'm tired of
being afraid to sleep, for the dreams. Every night it's a battle, and I try to
think of you to drive away to darkness, but you're so far away. And I'm so
afraid." His heart felt as if it would break as he held the sobbing woman in his
"I need new memories," she whispered, mouth next to his ear. "I want to
think of this, the two of us, here, when it rains. I want this memory. I want
you." She pulled back to meet his eyes, and then, slowly, carefully, she lifted
his hand from her waist, and placed inside the robe on her breast.
"You're certain?" He asked, searching her eyes, and she nodded, still
shaking. Then he slipped the satin robe over her shoulders, kissing her neck,
hands in the damp mass of her hair, lifting her off her feet as they kissed, her
warm flesh pressed against him. She stroked his hair, touched the nape of his
neck, felt the cheekbone beneath her fingers, the hard shoulders as she slid down
the length of him. Then he scooped her up, and carried her into the next room,
his lips never leaving hers as he lovingly placed her on the bed.
I love you, he whispered in her ear. Over and over until they crawled
under the sheets, pulled the blanket close around them, snuggling together for
warmth, and fell into an exhausted sleep.
* * *
Goose awoke to screams. The rain had stopped, but room was pitch dark and
he fumbled for the crying woman amoung the blankets. Half awake she pushed away
his arms, and he held her tight, whispering into her hair.
"Shhh, it's okay."
"You were dead, I dreamt you were dead and he was there--" She couldn't
"It's okay, it's okay. I'm here." He stroked her hair, brushing away her
tears with his thumb.
"It was so real...so real...."
"Go back to sleep."