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Part Six -- by Becky Ratliff

(USS Saratoga, January 2065)

It was a quiet night at Tun's in spite of the crowd. West was a little out of sorts because Kylen and Rosie had disappeared with Vansen and the other female Wild Cards, and left him on his own. They were occupied with whatever mysterious rituals women went through before a wedding. Apparently once a fellow proposed, he'd done his part until it was time to stand up and say "I do." He felt distinctly like a fifth wheel. Hawkes had thought a poker game might cheer him up, they'd come down to Tun's looking for one. Their usual table was taken, but they saw McQueen at the bar and made their way over there.

There were a couple of empty barstools between him and a few people who looked like they'd been there a while already, judging from the empty glasses at that end of the bar. West didn't really pay any attention to them.

Shane had told McQueen about Nathan and Kylen's plans. "Congratulations, son. I know you two have waited a long time for this."

West grinned. "Yes, sir. It wasn't exactly the way we'd planned, but the hell with waiting any longer."

One of the people drinking at the end of the bar staggered and almost fell, the rest found that really hilarious. Hawkes shook his head, he'd have to kill at least a whole bottle to get that drunk.

"Will your folks be upset with you for eloping?" McQueen asked West.

"No, sir. As a wedding present, the squadron pooled their vidphone allotments and put together enough time that our folks will all be able to see the wedding at Kylen's dad's place. He's renting one of those big screen phones for the ceremony."

"The girls kicked you out of the barracks?"

"Yeah, that's the bridal boutique for the time being. Said it would be bad luck if I saw Kylen in her dress before the wedding."

Hawkes said, "We thought we'd get up a poker game."

West heard one of the drunks make a remark and heard Kylen's name, something about how she'd looked when she'd been rescued. West didn't like the tone of voice. He turned around. It was a guy named Pilcher, a regular Marine who didn't like Space Cav. They'd had a few minor run-ins before, nothing of any consequence though. "What was that again?"

"Just that she looked awful ... well fed ..."

West's vision turned red as he realized what the man was implying. He let out a wordless shout as he charged, within seconds the two men were on the deck punching and kicking. West was so mad he didn't know he was getting hit, he came out on top and started slamming his fist into Pilcher as if he was going to drive him through the deck plates. It occurred to Hawkes and McQueen at the same time that this wasn't just a bar brawl, Nathan wasn't going to stop on his own. Coop grabbed him and pulled him off, found himself using all his strength and training to do it. "Nate! That's enough, man, knock it off!"

McQueen yanked Pilcher to his feet and slammed him against the bulkhead. "Now hear this, you son of a bitch, if I ever hear you make a crack like that about Kylen Celina again, you forget about West and you worry about me! Do you understand me, Captain?"

"Sir! Yes, sir!"

"And get this, CFB -- if I ever find out that kind of bullshit got back to Miss Celina, you and I are going to have a discussion about that, too!"

"Sir! Yes, sir!"

"Now haul your sorry ass out of here."

Pilcher was all too glad to have the chance to do that, he'd found out fast that West was nowhere near as harmless as he looked ... especially where an insult to his fiancee was concerned. Much less, he ever wanted similar trouble with McQueen! Stone cold sober and well aware they'd got off easy, he and his friends made themselves scarce.

West's eyes were once again lit with rationality when McQueen turned around, and he was feeling his bruises. But he drew himself to attention and fell back on the extreme formality that so often expressed the strongest emotions. "Sir. The captain wishes to apologize for his behavior, sir."

McQueen replied, "The colonel sees no reason for an apology. The colonel's report will indicate that fact, if such a report becomes necessary."

"Thank you, sir."

McQueen sent them to get Nathan cleaned up, before Kylen happened to see him looking like he'd just come back from a ground-pounder. He gave Coop strict orders to take West straight to sickbay if he turned out to have anything worse than bruises wrong with him. He knew from experience that a person riding an adrenaline high like that could easily overlook a serious injury.

There were times he thought he had heard everything, but that crack had come out of left field ... he had wanted to let that arrogant bastard have a few shots of his own for good measure. Instead, he turned back to the bar and told Willie to set him up. The old man had a grin on his face, but he didn't say a word as he pulled out a bottle of the good stuff from under the bar.


West and Hawkes took a back corridor to the gym, where West had a change of clothes stowed. Coop commented, "Man, are you ever gonna have a shiner."

West winced as he touched his eye. "Oh, hell."

"What'll you tell Kylen? She'll want to know how you got that!"

West shrugged calmly, "I'll tell her the truth. Trust me."

Hawkes gave him a confused look, but let it be. Sometimes you couldn't figure NBs.

A hot shower helped, and West was fairly sure nothing was broken. Hawkes laughed, "Pilcher got the worst end of it. He was falling down drunk."

"Yeah. I really went off at him -- it's a wonder I didn't land us all in the brig."

"Like hell! If someone said that about Christy I'd have done the same thing. But, man, I thought you were gonna kill him."

West thought about it. "Maybe I was, Coop. I'm glad you busted it up."

"Not half as glad as Pilcher."


Kylen tried to see her dress in the head mirror, without much success. "How do you guys get your dress uniforms so neat without a full-length mirror!" She exclaimed.

Lisa laughed. "We help each other," she replied. "That, just like everything else!"

Vanessa opened a carefully folded packet of paper, to reveal a couple yards of white satin ribbon. "I'll braid this in your hair," she smiled. "We couldn't find anything for a veil, but there's a guy down in hydroponics who can do all kinds of flower arrangements. He said he'll make you a floral tiara, you'll look just like a fairy tale princess."

There weren't a lot of wedding gowns on board the Saratoga, but Vansen thought they'd improvised very well with a long white skirt and a silk and lace blouse. "You're going to knock Nathan's socks off when he sees you in that," she teased.

Nita grinned and said, "Well, Major, wait till he sees her in this!" She opened a black paper bag and pulled out a barely-there negligee.

She held it up, and Kylen's eyes widened. "Oh, my gosh!"

"I thought it would fit," Nita said, with a self-satisfied grin.

"Where did you get this!"

Lisa teased Nita, "Did you have anyone special in mind for that?"

"Get real, I couldn't get one leg in that!" Nita snickered. "I wear a large. So happens I knew where to trade for it. Jeez, you people didn't expect her to go to her wedding night in shorts, did you?!!"

Kylen's laughter was half nervousness and half delight. "I don't know if I've got the nerve to go in this, either!"

Lisa exclaimed, "You mean you guys never --!" She shut up in sudden embarrassment to have asked such a rude question, and popped her hand over her mouth.

Kylen shook her head, taking no offense. "When we were kids, we signed a 'True Love Waits' pledge at our church. I never asked him about before that, it's none of my business. But I never worried about afterwards. We both ... take promises seriously."

Vanessa said, "That's so sweet. And it explains a lot about Nathan, too, honey. Marines really get rowdy on leave, but Nathan never got mixed up in any of that kind of stuff. He used to get teased about it. Now it makes sense."

"I know." She smiled. "He never let what anyone else thought bother him." The delicate lace caught on her scarred palm, she carefully detached it to avoid snagging. "I hope he doesn't think--"

Vansen gently turned her hand over, Kylen reflexively closed her hand to hide the scars. She said, "You listen to me, Nathan thinks you are beautiful. He would think you were beautiful if you showed up in BDUs! And as far as this goes ...." Shane unfolded her fingers, still gently, but firmly. "...He won't even see a few scars. No more than you will notice his. Trust me."

Kylen smiled, and held the negligee up to her shoulders, standing on tiptoe to see in the mirror. "Oh, my God--!" She laughed.

Wickedly, Rosie teased, "Don't worry, you aren't going to have it on that long!"

Kylen flushed from the roots of her hair down to her collar, and giggled like a kid. She realized she hadn't laughed like that since before the prison camp.

There was a knock at the hatch. Nita asked, "Who's there?"

Hawkes replied, "It's just us, are you done playing fashion model in there yet?"

There was a mad scramble to put the dress and the negligee back in the bags. When everything was out of sight, Nita admitted them.

Everyone admired West's black eye. Kylen asked, "What happened?"

He said innocently, "My eye? I got that fighting a big ape while defending your honor."

Kylen put her hands on her hips. "Yeah, right .... what did you do, walk into a door?"

He kissed her. "A hatch, honey. On shipboard, you call it a hatch, not a door."

"I don't know about you, sweetheart, but I speak English." She gave the injury a critical look and decided it wasn't life-threatening. "Have you seen the Colonel?"

Hawkes said, "He was at the Tun, but try that observation bay up in officer's territory. He goes there to read a lot."

Kylen asked Rosie, "Are you coming?"

"I'll meet you back at our cabin. I don't have any eye shadow that will match this dress, is there anywhere I can get some?"

Nita said, "The PX. You'll have to give me the money and let me buy it for you on my PX card."

The girls went in different directions. Shane looked at West when they were gone. "So what did happen?"

"Hey, I don't lie. It was just a little trouble at the Tun."

Hawkes said, "Colonel McQueen was right there when it happened. It wasn't Nathan's fault. That guy Pilcher started it--!"

Shane's lips compressed to a thin line. "I know who you mean. Get some ice on that, Nate, before it swells shut. Gee, that's gonna look just lovely with your dress blues tomorrow," she commented sarcastically.

West hadn't thought of that. "Color matches, anyhow."


Kylen entered the cool darkness of the observation bay, there was a light on over one of the benches and that was where she found McQueen. He put his book down when he saw her. "Kylen."

"I'm sorry to interrupt, Cooper said you'd be here."

"You aren't interrupting."

She sat down on the end of the next bench. "Colonel, I always thought my father would give me away when I got married. He and I've been sending e-mail back and forth all day, and we -- Dad and I both would be honored if you'd stand in for him."

The request startled him, but he replied, "The honor would be mine, Kylen."

"Thank you, sir. You see, my mother and father gave me my life in the first place ... but in a very real way, you gave it back to me again down in that tunnel."

He shook his head. "All I did was point you in the right direction. You had to take the steps yourself. Don't ever sell yourself short for what you accomplished, Kylen."

Her smile lit her eyes. "I know. I know I can make it now. But I'd never have had the chance to be sure of that without you, and I love you for it. Nathan and I both do, even if he is too much of a guy to admit it."

McQueen's laughter went no further than his eyes. "I suppose we aren't real good at that."


Late that night in their quarters, Kylen carefully hung up her wedding outfit. Rosie said, "You mean you really never -- with anyone?"

"Not by choice. Just the AIs--"

Rosie's eyes went cold and hard. "That doesn't count. When I was on Demeter, the overseers were just as bad. It isn't the same thing, Kylen."

Kylen blinked hard. "Will Nathan know that?"

"Of course he will, nobody could be that dumb!" She declared bluntly.

"I'm kind of scared," she admitted.

"When you both want to, making love is the best thing in the whole world," her friend assured her. "Nathan would never hurt you."

"I know that! That isn't what I'm scared of. I'm afraid I won't be.... Well, I really don't know a lot!"

"So you learn," Rosie told her, grinning. "There really ain't that much to it!"

Kylen said, "Well, I know the basics, of course! I went to school. That isn't what I mean. Nathan's been a Marine for two years, and even after everything we've been through -- I'm still really just some stupid farm kid from the back end of nowhere."

Rosie laughed. "Just you wait, I'll bet they didn't teach you the good stuff in that school of yours. What, you think I knew any more than you do when I got off Demeter? But there was this guy I used to know in New York --!" She licked her lips and burst out laughing again. "Trust me, you'll have a hell of a lot of fun finding out what you don't already know." Kylen found herself laughing too.

She climbed up to the top bunk -- rack, the sailors called it -- and settled down for her last night as an unmarried girl. Tomorrow at this time she would be a new bride, a married woman. Rosie turned off the lights, and Kylen tried to still her excitement and sleep.

<end part six>

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