“Fury will rendezvous with Minstrel at position fifteen. We will be on course to Oleander Station to relieve Captain Islington by 1600 hours universal.”

“Very well, commander,” Jason Hunter replied. He put down his folio and leaned on his elbows to look intently at the screen. “You haven’t said anything about Pat.”

Jason knew Jayce was pretending to be over it. It’s what a captain would do for the benefit of her crew. Fury’s crew wasn’t Jason’s concern at the moment, however. His concern was his sister.

“What is there to say? I’ve had to live with it for almost five months now. Skywatch backed off, thankfully, after Oscar described what we were really up against, and after you went to bat for all our skippers. I really don’t think–”

“Yeah, but you haven’t said anything about Pat.” Jason had that look on his face his sister couldn’t just dismiss. It was true her “older” twin brother had spent most of his life teasing and play-fighting with her, but when he got that mix of protectiveness and concern in his eyes, it was disarming and sometimes painfully forthright.

It told Jayce he wasn’t going to be mollified with platitudes or pretended toughness. Jason’s was a powerful personality, and despite the fact Jayce was its mirror image, when she was the one hurting, her brother’s eyes carried an unavoidable message. It was part of their bond as siblings and twins, and it had been getting stronger every day since they were in kindergarten. Other kids tried to pick on Jayce when they were little, only to find themselves getting pummeled by her brother. Jason enforced his twin privilege. Only he was allowed to pick on his sister! Jayce returned the favor regularly. Their rivalry and family bond was what helped turn them into fleet officers. If Jason were hurting, Jayce would do and say the same things.

“What have we always told our enemies?”

Jayce was still trying to steel herself against the emotions she knew were just under the surface. Her brother wasn’t going to let her boil herself alive with the guilt, and that meant only one thing.

“If you take a shot at us, you better not miss,” she replied softly.

Jason smiled wearily. “It’s good to see you.”

Jayce closed her eyes. “I’d tell you never to pull another one of those stunts of yours again, but I know that’s a promise you can’t keep. I hope you’re going to take the situation seriously for a change.”

“You need some rest. Maybe if we can arrange to sit out a war or two, we can recharge our batteries. If we ever get liberty again, I’ll set you up at Balus on the Beaches. Three suns, three moons and the greatest tap house in civilized space, or uncivilized space depending on how many fugitive bounties are out on you. Moo and I lost our asses at poker there a few weeks back.”

“So you’re not taking this seriously.”

“None of us have a chance if I get somber and gloomy.”

“And now you’re going to do the ‘Captain’s job’ speech.”

“I learned it from the same professor you did, sis.”

“They gave him the MoH, Jason. Revenge got her sixth battle star, even though she’s an irradiated wreck. I didn’t know if I should be proud, or angry–”

“You were smart enough to hire a legend to command your number three cruiser. There’s no other captain he would have left the Academy to serve with. He was proud of you Jayce. Delilah will tell you all about it. He was floored by how fast you picked things up and how fast you cleared the book work. He would want you to carry on.”

Jayce sighed. “He always said it was either mystique or mistakes. A captain either makes him or herself larger than life and inspires his all-star crew or he screws up enough that he learns to avoid the same mistakes in the future.”

“He must have told you which road I took.” Another smirk.

“You’ve never been a details guy, big brother.”

“Have to leave that to others. I just pick the targets and give the firing orders. That’s why I recruited nothing but troublemakers. It’s also why I work with the fleet’s most notorious cruiser skipper.”

“You scared hell out of your crew.”

“It was that or put them in the same danger that destroyed the Dunkerque.”

Jayce didn’t answer. She looked like she was staring out a window. She folded her arms.

“You still haven’t said anything about Pat,” Jason said quietly.

“It was my fault!” Jayce shouted. “I should have been there! I would have been there, if–”

Jason let his sister go. This conversation was long overdue. Jayce stopped mid-word and tried to compose herself.

“I know Rebecca and Tom thought I was being cold at the service. But what am I supposed to say? ‘Hi, I’m Jayce Hunter. I’m the officer who ordered your father into an ambush while I was off chasing vapor trails two star systems away. Sorry for your loss. Now I have to go find another crew to kill?’”

“Now hold on a minute–”

“No, I’m not going to hold on a minute! Oscar might have gotten the admiralty to buy that ‘plenty of blame to go around’ argument, but you and I both know the captain is responsible for the lives under her command, even if she can convince others it wasn’t her fault. If I can’t accept responsibility then I don’t deserve to wear these oak leaves and I’m damn sure not qualified to turn them in for wings!”

"I’m responsible.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Jayce barked, tears welling. “Revenge was a Perseus ship. I recruited Pat. I gave him his command!”

“And Revenge was attached to my strike fleet when she engaged Atlantis 12. The only reason she had to screen for the assault force was because Argent didn’t get there in time. We were contending with the Lazarus issue. We were late. If we had been there six hours earlier, things wouldn’t have turned out the way they did.”

Jayce stared, making a point of not looking at the screen. It was a familiar sight. Jason had been watching her do this all her life.

“You can’t protect me this time.”

“Well, be that as it may, I’m going to protect you anyway. You’re my sister first. And the hell with oak leaves and wings, and the hell with Skywatch and starships! None of this is your fault. You were doing your duty. All of us were. Pat did his duty, and he fought until his weapons were exhausted and until he had nothing left to give. He didn’t win that Medal of Honor for himself. He won it for Perseus. He won it because he was proud to serve with the finest task force and the finest captain in the fleet!”

Jayce put her hand over her eyes.

“He won it for you.”

Jason’s sister cried quietly. It was something she could never show in front of the crew. She could never let anyone see her mourn for the dead in a theater of war. It was only in front of her brother that she could be flawed and human like this. The demands of the service required her to be something else entirely. Even though Rebecca and Tom were close friends and staunch comrades, Jayce would never put them in a position where they had to witness their commander in a moment of vulnerability. Jason was different. She had known him since before either of them were born, and they had been together their entire lives, sister only a half-stride behind brother every step of the way.

At the same time Jason knew if she didn’t face it now, the guilt would eat at her until it boiled over. The Bayone incident had left a tremendous scar behind. Hunter’s pilots and marines were contending with it, and so were the crews of the other ships in the strike fleet. Neither twin could take a chance on that scar becoming infected again. As brave and as capable an officer as Jayce was, her self-doubt would inevitably color her decision-making, and it would only get worse. Jason knew the realities of traumatic stress. Unaddressed, eventually it would create unnecessary risk and danger. They had to move forward. It’s what fleet did. It’s how victories were achieved.

But for now, it wasn’t about captain and commander, or battleship and cruiser. Brother and sister needed time to be with each other and restore their strength. The video communications link between Argent and Fury was their sanctuary. Jayce’s cruiser maneuvered to join DSS Minstrel and Argent remained on course to the Mycenae Ceti perimeter, but their respective captains stayed with each other over the commlink well into the night.

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