Chapter 1
The Beginning. The End.
A Friend's Interference
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They had been docked several days, and things were progressing as planned. The base personnel seemed to swarm over the ship like a lot of eager flies, but like flies, they were also causing much annoyance and confusion. The rumor had gone around since Buck's death, that the XO had shut herself in his quarters, refusing to come out for any reason. Those who were closer than most to the woman, didn't quite know what to do. But in the grander scale of the ship, it didn't matter much, as no one on the ship was free from the wounds of this last mission. No one had been free from the touch of death that prevailed, even if they still lived. But, though it may take much time, their wounds were healing...

Lysander touched the chime to Gear's quarters, judging this would be the most likely place of her solitude. In his hands he held a padd, orders he assumed, from the brass and to deliver directly to Jesa. The chime received no response; he chimed again, tapping the padd against his nails. Then when she didn't answer the second time, he faced a dilemma. The Admiral said it was urgent. So that left only one choice, though he really hated to barge in on her like this.

"Computer, Command override, Lysander, Omega three nine."

The doors slid open and his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Unlike most quarters, Gear's were painted more cheery colors. Ethan almost chuckled when he remembered the line in his bio stating his hatred for gunmetal gray, but the emotions within this space contradicted the color scheme. The odd thing was, Jesa wasn't apparent anywhere.

Ethan's eyes drifted from the immediate surroundings, to note that the bedroom door was standing open. "Jesa? Are you in here?" he called, but received no response. He grew slightly uncomfortable with intruding upon her privacy like this, even though she obviously had shown no qualms in doing the same to him. He walked to the door and peeked in. At first all he noticed was Jesa in a kind of low-fronted satin nightgown, and let out a sigh of relief, but then he noticed a rather large knife she held in her hands, poised over her heart.

Pain. So much unending pain. Just to change the pain was a goal... pain in her chest was easier to face than that which was hunting her. But she didn't wish it away. All she could do was writhe in it.

"JESA NO!" Ethan yelled, running to her side. But it was too late, Jesa didn't even look at or notice him, moving in one swift motion and plunging the knife into her heart. But she didn't collapse; she just looked at her chest and frowned slightly, then looked at Ethan.

Time seemed to freeze, Ethan gasped, a fish out of water, desperate to say or do something. Jesa turned her eyes to him, and blinked once, her face looking somewhat impassive, but certainly pain-ridden. Then, to Ethan's horror, she grasped the handle and pulled the blade firmly out. She held the bloody knife in her hands, the red stain streaking down the front of the fine satin material.

Ethan's first reaction was to call for help, but in shock he didn't, "Jesa..." racing across the final few feet that separated Ethan stepped forward to support his mortally wounded friend. "Jesa" he repeated, "Jesa, why? I know about Buck, I now how much you love him, but please... not this." Tears welled up in his eyes as he held Jesa. She allowed herself to rest against him, but didn't even seem to be sharing the same time continuum that he was in, and didn't react.

But on the knife she held almost tenderly in her hands, something strange happened. The red blood turned to a golden material, sliding off the knife and leaving the blade clean and shiny. Jesa said nothing but carefully allowed the liquid to flow into her hand, melting against the skin as soon as it touched. Then, with the same hand she lifted it over to her heart, where blood was pouring forth, and felt the wound tenderly, gently. In that instant, her upper chest turned the same semi-transparent orange goo, then back again, and the wound was no more.

Ethan stepped back; confusion reigned supreme through his mind. He had just seen one of his closest friends dying in his arms and now... "What... Who..." The blood, the mortal wound, and the recovery. Ethan staggered back a few more steps "A changeling..." he said, the shocked cold tone of his voice scaring even him. It just seemed so unreal, surreal. Jesa simply sat there, her body shivering in uncertainty, fear, and a great deal of shock. Slowly, she came back to the present. "Well, now you know." Jesa said softly, almost hopelessly, turning her gaze briefly to Ethan, with tears in her eyes. She stood up and quickly moved to the other room, out of Ethan's gaze, and judgment.

Left alone, his thoughts of the recent events terrorized him... his friend was a changeling. The simple truth stood supreme in the battleground of his mind. She was one of the enemy, one of those who had no respect for other sentient life; those who despised humans, and killed many of his friends and family. This was who she was? How could she be that, and be his friend.

He had fought against all of them, and their forces for life, and yet, here, she had grown to be who he would have fought for, and who, if the time came, would probably have died for... and yet, she was one of them. The war may well have been over but ill feelings were still present... and would ever be. His initial terror of the unknown gradually reduced to a manageable level, and Ethan followed Jesa into the other room. As he looked around the corner, he saw her.

Jesa was poised on the back of the couch, looking out at the window, leaning on its frame. She had a strange kind of surreal beauty at that moment, like a sad angel. She was leaning against the wall, her one arm resting over her stomach. Her other hand lay at her side, holding an object which Ethan couldn't see. Her red hair cascaded over her shoulder, hiding it from view, the cream colored nightgown she wore was amazingly absent of the bloodstain of a moment before. Her blue-grey eyes were fixed impassively on the window. But she didn't look at him, didn't acknowledge his presence, simply stared out into the inside of spacedock, when she really wanted to see the stars, the only home she had really known.

"Jesa." Ethan stood in the doorway "Jesa, Are you...ok?" Ethan almost winced at the stupidity of his question. Tears began to well up in his eyes again. She wasn't the enemy, she may be a Changeling, but more importantly she was Jesa Callen, his friend. "Jesa, please talk to me... Jesa..."

She turned her head slowly towards him, looking at him almost apathetically. Nothing shown through her face, which was truly a mask of herself, but it was also, just as truly, her. Then a slightly concerned expression sank into her features as she regarded him, particularly noting the tears shimmering in his eyes, even as they were in hers---though she had grown used to tears. Jesa turned her head away, slightly. "I can understand if you hold hatred." She said simply, concentrating on where the stars should be.

Ethan took a few cautious steps into the room. Looking out of the window he could see her reflection, the tears in her eyes. "Jesa, I don't hate you, you're my friend, a true friend. I care for you and I feel for you loss." Ethan paused, almost gulping for air, suffocating, desperate to end the silence. "When I saw the knife and the blood I thought you were gone. It was just the shock of seeing you... change, I don't care what you are, it's who you are that's important."

Jesa moved slowly down from the back of the couch, sitting instead in the corner with her arms around her knees, struggling in an internal battle that she hadn't let anyone see, and she really didn't want anyone to. She shivered slightly, but not against the cold, and looked up at Ethan's eyes, trying to smile, but somehow unable to do so, as though her face forgot how to form that expression. Her eyes moved from him to the seat beside her, in an invitation that she couldn't utter. "Thank you... I..." she tried to speak, feeling she owed him some explanation, but the only thing she could say was. "I'm... sorry."

Silently, as if on cue, Ethan moved up beside her, still staring out into the space beyond. They remained silent for a few seconds. "I'm the one who should be apologizing. I left you alone, when you need someone to support you." Ethan slowly raised his hand and placed it on her shoulder.

Jesa looked straight ahead, but flinched slightly at his touch, not in rejection though, simply at the unexpectedness of his movement. As soon as he touched her shoulder, she cried silently, looking straight ahead. And really the only indications were the glistening of her cheek and her breathing, which seemed irregular. "It is not your fault..." she spoke quietly. "I have... never been able to ask for what I needed most... I feel like my heart has been removed... I am sorry, for... doing that in front of you." Her words were halting, but extremely clear. Internally, she felt like a volcano, and she was only speaking one of every twenty things she felt she needed to say, of those which came into her head to say... the silence had been oppressive, somehow.

Ethan turned away from the empty view of space. "Jesa" using his hand on her shoulder to turn her to face him. She allowed him this, and relaxed her legs from her chest, tucking one before her and letting the other relax to the floor, but mostly she looked at him, really looked at him. "Jesa, don't be sorry, I'm here to help." Face to face, the evidence of tears on her face became more visible, but Ethan lacked the courage to wipe them away, as much as he wanted to ease her pain. If he had said such a thing, Jesa would only have responded that nothing could ease her pain. Not even time was an ally in this struggle.

Jesa breathed deeply but shakily, looking at him for a moment and then down at her hand, which still contained something. Slowly she opened her fingers to reveal an old-time pocket watch. "It was his grandfather's... he, he, gave it to me one mission..." she stopped, and gulped, trying to keep composure. "It was very important to him... I was afraid, because it was so important, I asked him if he was sure... he said..." her voice broke off, and when she spoke again it was a few pitches too high, betraying how close to open tears she was. "...That I was very important to him too." then she couldn't stand it, she burst into tears, and almost hugged him. But on some level she thought better of it, then looked down, not moving towards him, but sobbing openly.

Almost on reaction Ethan moved forward and hugged her, Jesa clutched the uniform on his back, crying into his shoulder without reserve. "Don't worry... things will be fine. I promise." He murmured, trying to be comforting. But as he held her in those moments, a pang of guilt flickered through Ethan's mind. Buck had been a good friend to him, but right now he was more worried about Jesa than mourning for his lost friend.

It took her several minutes for her to gain composure, and then she pulled back and looked at him. "Mourn the dead, but first, remember the living..." Other things to say had popped into Jesa's head, but they moved through so quickly, she couldn't get a hold on them. Why did this one stick? She didn't know. "The very words I live by." Ethan took a step back, "You know your not alone, I'll always be around if you ever want to talk."

Jesa breathed deeply, looking down at the watch once again. "It was stopped when he died... just a little after... I haven't been able to make it work since..." she breathed deeply. "Those words... were from a place I was a very, very long time ago... Oh, God... Ethan... I don't know how I can live without him. Every thought, every movement, everything seems... less worthwhile somehow." Jesa breathed, struggling to even get those words out, but somehow there were so many more she wanted to speak.

Ethan turned away from Jesa to look out into space one again. "I'm afraid I don't know the answer, just try to live one day at a time, Ad astra per aspera, A rough road leads to the stars."

Jesa looked out into space and laughed softly, humorlessly, shaking her head, the shiver returning to her. "I once thought; I had seen all of them I wanted to see... they're all I know... I wish I could change and go on somehow, leave this behind... like I have always done before."

Almost refusing to look at Jesa, Ethan continued to gaze out of the window. "But what would you be running away from, your memories? Here you have people who care about you. Out there..." gesturing towards the stars though they could not see them, "'ll be on you own, alone. Jesa, let us help you through this."

Jesa's voice came back softly. "I had always been on my own, Ethan... turned away many times, I have dealt with things, I don't think you could imagine, and I was determined to be alone here... It was a safe haven, I could do the role, but I couldn't have a life..." her voice quivered at this point. "Then Buck... he wouldn't leave me alone. He saw through my exterior, just as I saw through his..." her voice broke off. "I never had that before, and now I am without it, only this time..." she trailed off.

"That may have been true in the past, but you don't have to run know. People will respect you for who you are, and not what you are. If they have a problem with that, send to me, I'll sort them out." He looked directly at her a moment, engaging her eyes. "Seriously Jesa, don't do anything rash. See how things pan out in the next few days. I promise I'll stand by and support whatever decision you make then."

Jesa looked distant again, and nodded slightly. 'A few days can't make any difference... I know this as certain as my heart, and... I don't want them to anyway.' She thought silently, so many more thoughts exploding in her mind without her will. "I can't run again..." she said quietly, then looked up at Ethan. "Ethan?" she intoned inquisitively. "Did you come here for something else? I thought... you had a padd or something..." she looked around, seeming to have totally snapped to normalcy, which was, in fact, a completely false impression, but it was the only reaction Jesa knew to do... to slip into character.

"Uh... yes, here." Ethan handed the PADD to Jesa. "Orders from Starfleet command." Jesa took the PADD. Ethan turned to leave Jesa with her orders, and then paused. "Lieutenant Commander Callen, since I have not yet been relieved of command from the Isannah, I hereby order you to be ready for dinner at twenty hundred hours sharp. Is that understood?"

Inside, Jesa protested with all her might as something only emotional constricted painfully; outside, she simply nodded stoically. "Yes, sir... and where shall I report to?"

"I'll let you choose the restaurant. I just want to make sure you eat properly and get out of your quarters." As Ethan turned away and headed for the door, "Now if you excuse me, I have some fleet engineers to upset." Her words were very soft as she simply sat there on the couch. "Of course."

A moment later he was gone, leaving her in the room alone, the micro-universe that had become all that was left for her. She looked out through the viewport, the view of the Starbase suddenly dawned on her as though in staring at it she completely forgot what it was. 'Oh God... where we met...' she thought silently, choking back tears that pushed forward anew. 'We were to be married there... when we got back...' she shook at the thought, her tears becoming more insistent. 'Why Buck? WHY?' she couldn't stop them this time, and lay down on the couch, defeated---and wept.

Loaded: 03.10.2004

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