MD #090: Love and Loss
Love and Loss
Summary: Kelsey and Melissa finally meet up after the rescue of Kelsey.
Date: 7/7/2017 (OOC Date)
Related Logs: If there are no related logs, put 'None' — please, don't leave blank!)
Kelsey Melissa 
Recovery Ward
About half the size of the Medical Center, the Recovery Ward has fewer beds to allow space for those who are going through recovery. Rather than the drab gray of most of the center, the walls in here have been done in a neutral creme color. The beds are a little thicker and the blankets are actually present. There are a few clocks and the only other decoration are a couple of flatscreens that show muted movies from the ship's library, though tablets are common. Behind each bed is a small touchscreen for tracking vitals and is linked to Medical personnel tablets. A couple stacks of recent magazines are available near the door for nurses to pass around, too.
MD #090

After taking the frag and windscreen shrapnel at the railyard strike, Melissa is lain up in the recovery ward. There's wounds across her left side, peppered across arm and leg with a few that punched through around her survival vest. The wounds aren't terribly life threatening, but if she had gone without medical attention for very long she would have been in trouble. Saved by the jumpdrive once again. And Casey's quick work with it. After already having slept through the night, she's down for the next few days while she gets all the little swiss cheese holes patched up. The drugs are good, per usual, but she's on a light dose. Reading reports on her tablet, she's resting her legs under a blanket but is a gown up top for now. Randy seems to be lurking nearby, which has caught her attention a few times, but Randy seems to be here for something else so the Captain focuses on her work.

It doesn't last for too long. There are usually nurses in here in and out in a steady stream but people usually walk over to stop at beds. One figure in civvies, female even from the corner of Melissa's eye, stops a few beds down and is staring at her. Melissa can probably know who it is even before she looks over. Dressed in a gray Orion hoodie and green duty pants, there's a green Visitors tag clipped to the drawstring of the hood. Looking well young for her 21 years, Kelsey stands there with her hands at her side, looking scared and stoic – much like she's been summoned to the CO's Quarters after something really bad. After a moment of looking at that familiar face in the bed, nearly her own, she looks over the Captain's body at the bandages before rigidly moving her gaze back to her daughter's face. Her daughter. Its almost comical. Kelsey looks at her daughter and has very real memories of her mother. That sinks in even deeper than she wanted it to. It feels too familiar and her stomach knots.

Melissa is likewise frozen. She sits there, looking at the figure out of the corner of her downturned eyes. Whatever is on the datapad is left ignored and that item is slowly lowered to the other side of the bed. Kelsey is waiting for some kind of reaction and all Melissa can do is sit there like a deer in the headlights. She was still trying to think of how to approach her mom. What to say. How she even felt. Memories of being fourteen and alone, going days between meals sometimes, rage and fight their way to the surface. And the inability to sleep due to the hunger, praying against hope that her mom would rescue her. The hurt, the pain. The anger. All of these emotions she had repressed for so long vie for the surface of her expression. Before one can win out, she realizes what is happening and turns her head suddenly to look at her mom. All of it falls away as she see's some kid standing there. A teenager? Maybe? It all drops away as she just stares at her mother, appearing nearly ten years her junior. Something very deep inside rattles around and there's a maternal bubbling. Like Kelsey, it was the last thing she ever expected. She goes with what she knows: "Lieutenant Wescott. Take a seat. Seems we have a few things to discuss." The words are nearly breathless, but she's trying.

The look from Melissa is equally confusing for Kelsey. She had planned to wave or ask if she could sit. But caught off guard feeling like that, it feels strange to feel the conflicting emotions of concern for her daughter, and dread of seeing mom injured. Internally she has to consciously force herself to think of Melissa simply as family. Its just starting to focus when Melissa shatters that by speaking up and gesturing to a chair. Kelsey swallows and nods, promising to resolve this to herself later. The younger Wescott takes a chair from another bed and brings it over, sitting it down beside the bed and easily within striking distance. Kels has been through too much to chicken out of something like this. Getting slapped or struck by her moth- daughter is probably low on the totem of world-ending moments now that she is here and staring this strong, confident woman in the face. "Its no longer Lieutenant, Captain. I've got no standing or citizenship, which means no rank. You can give me the honors if you would like, but I'm not going to talk to my daughter using ranks. Not in this situation." There's the headstrong warfighter. "I'd appreciate it if you don't interrupt me. I have a few things I want to say to you. I don't care if you're ready, either. What happened between us as a family? There's never going to be a good time and the Second War, and this, taught me that life is too short."

Melissa was ready to go on with ranks, but suddenly this teenager is coming at her with confidence she can't pick up from half of the command ranked people running of the fleet. The longer she stares at her mom, the less things make sense with the age and how she looks physically. This isn't the woman she remembers. But the others are sure its her. Melissa is a little to shocked to say anything so she just stares at this kid, attempting to tell her what's up. Even as the dread begins to rise in her stomach, she reaches for the glass of water by her bed. Her throat suddenly feels like a desert.

"When I found out you were on this ship but weren't part of my rescue, I knew you weren't going to come see me in this room. I cried for a long time when I found out you were alive and doing well. Randy told me all about you and what you had been doing. Its pretty clear she doesn't know everything, though. Seems you're like your momma – you know how to leave things out and fill in the gaps with meaningless filler. Its comfortable. You can hide your pain there in the dark and everyone just assumes you're fine." Kelsey stares at her daughter and leans back in the chair, crossing her legs. "Even if we wanted to understand each other and why things happened the way they happened, you don't know what I've been through the same way that I will never know what you've been through. If I asked you to tell me what happened after Gramma died, would you tell me the whole story right now? I'm pretty sure you'd unload at me because you're a Wescott woman. Emotions and desires burn deep and can explode at the surface. That's part of what it means to be you, Melissa. I could see that in your eyes before you looked at me."

Melissa stares at the girl for a good portion of it, tense on pins and needles, until Kelsey calls her out on how she would react to talking about what happened after her great grandmother died. Those eyes lower and she takes an unsteady breath. "Don't you pretend to know the first thing about me. You don’t know the first thing about me." There's just an edge of bite there.

Kelsey leans forward, arms crossed on her knee. She looks right at her daughter and isn't afraid to say what needs to be said, head on. "Then don't you dare pretend to know the first thing about me because you have no idea who or what I am." There you go, Melissa. Get it out. "I'm not going to sit here and coddle you or try to make myself look like the holy queen of this situation. You're a grown-ass woman, Captain, and don't need some blast from the past frakking up your rotation the same way I didn't need to get yoinked through time and dropped into a world I don't know that's completely passed me by. I think its pretty clear you're not a fan of mine so let me make you an offer. You can give me an answer and change your mind any time." Kelsey leans back again and holds that steel gaze on her daughter.

Its been a long time since Melissa has ever stared down a Lieutenant and felt herself shrinking a little. Hearing her own words shoved right back into her face is a bit of a slap that gets her attention. She wants to retort with an insult, but Kelsey continues. Hearing that sort of brash honesty from her mother was really not how she ever pictured this going. She realizes all too late she's not in control of this conversation, even with the concession from the civilian sitting beside her. "I'm listening."

The on-point focus of her gaze slides away and she relaxes her tone. "No bullshit. No lies. I'll give you the straight deal with the questions you have, even if it hurts either of us. You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to. In exchange, I'd like a chance to get to know you sometime in the future. Not today. Not tomorrow. One day, in exchange, maybe we can have a beer at Charlies and we can figure some things out." The former Lieutenant holds her gaze on her daughter. "I'm not going to stay aboard the ship like a ghost. Definitely not as one of your Ghosts." There's a hint of smile there. "Even if I take a fleet job back, I'm going to try to hide out on Piraeus for awhile. I think its better for you if I'm not here. But I'll be close if you ever want to look me up."

Melissa does actually smile a little at the remark about the Ghosts. There's some relief with knowing Kelsey will be leaving, though. She can feel it lift from her shoulders and her eyes close with that. No small prayer answered there. If the intent was to buy some good graces, it worked. She lifts her eyes to look back at Kelsey and just looks at her. "Okay." The mounting urge to unleash a barrage of cruel questions rises like a building storm, flashing on the horizon behind her eyes. But she manages to hold that at bay just long enough to get her words out. "I've been telling everyone for more than a decade that I am proud to be your daughter. I've recruited for the fleet on that shoulder. I've been riding your coattails and have gotten favors and choices others in the fleet would never get except for the fact that you were some kind of war hero. What I think of you right now is irrelevant. I want to know what you think of what I've been doing."

That was not what she was expecting and it throws the girl off her game. Her brows pop and she looks to the side and away, thinking on it. A heavy exhale deflates her before she looks back. "Might as well." Kelsey says it with a low shrug. "If it wasn't you, they would just get someone else to recruit. Maybe they wouldn't be as inspiring. What do I think? I think you should care about what you think. I think highly of your accomplishments for what I know of them. How you get there is the journey you have to live with. Sometimes you do things you lose sleep over. Sometimes you get to do things that help you sleep better. All you can do is try to balance the columns." Kelsey looks at Melissa for the next part. "You want my unfiltered opinion? You don't need to seek my approval for anything you do, nor should you. I've done nothing to earn that from you except give birth to you, Melissa."

The Captain listens closely, watching the expressions on Kelsey's face. She's trying to discern something while she listens to what is being said. But when she realizes what the woman is saying to her, Melissa stops trying to think about whatever else is on her mind. The columns makes sense, sort of. Its starting to with the combat they have flown. The unfiltered opinion hits her in the chest, though, like a pitched brick. Her expression goes baleful and she can feel the sting of tears deep beneath her eyes. "Why would you say that to me?"

"Because you wanted the truth as I see it. You may not see it that way, but that's my opinion. I'm sure that's painful to hear in some regards. It sounds like your mom doesn't care." Kelsey shakes her head. "I do care about what you think because I think you're a respectable leader and a capable pilot, and also because we're blood. But Melissa? Look at us." She stares at the older woman. "I feel like I'm talking to my mom. I'm guessing you weirdly feel like you are staring at your unruly daughter. The fact that is that I'm sure your GG did more to be a mother to you than I ever did. If you want me to be your mom down the road then that's something I'll have to think about because honestly I don't know if I'll ever be able to do it."

The look on Melissa's face does nothing to quell the idea that there may be tears coming. All that time swapping between loving and hating her mother. Her great grandmother telling her to never ever judge her mother. Telling her to accept that her mom just was whom she became. ‘War changes people, hon.’ "I prayed you'd come back to me because I needed you, Momma," she breathes, heart wrenching through the words. "I was so alone."

Kelsey plays stoich well but that nearly wrecks her like a nuke. She doesn't visibly flinch but her breath goes ragged a moment and she looks down at her lap. Her left hand lifts, resting under her nose to shield her lips and the mighty, deeply cracked frown there. That hurt, even if it wasn't the intent. "I'm sorry, Melissa. Even if I had been there, I…" What can you say to that? Kelsey can feel her heart crushing like an empty beercan, remembering the photos of Melissa from her memorial service. And then without GG. Nobody else. Anyone would have been better than nobody? Right? She thinks back to the last 18 months and what its been like for her. "I asked GG twice if I could see you to try to explain things. She said no. She said a lot of unkind things and a lot of it was true. I'm not a role model for anyone and especially not to an impressionable pre-teen girl." She drops the hand and looks sadly at her knee. "I won't say that what happened to was good because blah blah here today. That's cheap. Neither of us want to be here today, having this conversation. I've tried replaying things over and over to see where I could have done better or made better decisions. Truth is, Melissa, I don't know that I ever could have. You're the daughter every mother wanted, born to the mother nobody deserved."

Melissa's tears come slowly and she wipes them aggressively at the end. "Shut up!" she nearly shouts. "Shut up! You shut the frak up!" Melissa nearly trembles with anger. "You told me that you were going to be truthful. You're a lying sack of dogshit right now. That's not an opinion, that's a godsdamned fact. I know for a fact you weren't always like this. Who fills in the gaps with crap to hide the painful truthes?" Her jaw trembles before she recites a line, "'Even as a baby you had the prettiest smile. You make me so proud to be attached to someone so pretty. No matter what happens in your life, every single day you should fight to find a reason to smile. You make the world a brighter place.' You wrote that in a letter to me to open on my sixteenth birthday. You wrote that letter before the war started." There's accusation there. "I waited until my sixteenth birthday to open that letter. It was the only thing I had left for you to give me. GG had been dead more than two years. I was starving. I had to pay taxes on the ranch and I was eating every other day, fed by other people's moms. Do you know how to make tens of thousands of cubits as a sixteen year old girl? What I had to think about?" She swallows hard. "I had given up. I was ready to quit and just do anything just to hold on to one last piece of my family. That ranch is all we had left. All I had left. Then I read that letter. Do you have any idea how long it had been since I'd smiled, mom? It made me remember how proud you were to wear that uniform." She's crying openly, but without sobbing or cracking her voice. "I hated you so much. But that- you weren't always like this." Her voice has gone quiet. "I know you weren't."

Kelsey took the first with surprise and seems about ready to round on her daughter, but suddenly she does feel like the daughter here. Her expression goes blank despite the deeply troubled look in her eyes. Being called out for her own bullshit doesn't elicit a smile or a surrender. What finally gets a reaction out of her is when Melissa so solemnly tells Kelsey that she knows her mom wasn't always heartless or distant. Leaning forward, her face is buried in her hands and there's no sound, just the view of a woman sobbing in total silence. Something startling about it is how adept she is at a skill like that and how silent she is. Sitting alone in a chair, by herself, it may be like looking at an analogy for her experience in the war, and after. Feet tucked up, heels on the chair, she sits in a ball and bleeds the emotional pain through her tears. Regret and sorrow cut deepest when your past is mapped out in front of you.

Melissa sits there, staring at this person crying like that. Her own tears are silent but from a different sort of open wound. This sort of thing doesn't feel good, but its a start. And the longer she sits there, staring at this girl in the chair, the more it settles in; The isolation and the realization of it is startling for Melissa. "Mom, do you love me? Its okay to say you don't."

Seconds drag out. There's a shameful shake of Kelsey's head.

Melissa's tears continue, but she doesn't really react to that so much as look on at her mother with a deep sadness. "You hate who you are because of that, don't you?" she whispers.

There's a slow nodding from Kelsey.

"Do you hate yourself because you can't love me? Because you don't know how anymore?" Melissa cannot survive this conversation off of yes or know answers. She needs answers to some fundamental questions that have been haunting her.

"Neither," Kelsey whispers into her hands. She eventually slides her hands down her face and looks at her daughter. Blotchy skin, bloodshot eyes, damp cheeks. Her voice, like her eyes are, is full of regret. "Coping was so hard. It still is. Only four of the whole wing survived from Warday to the end. I watched so many die. All the wounds over time. It hurts. Voices and faces haunt you at night. Trying to unwind that and fighting the urge to quit sometimes.. I woke up one day and realized I couldn't remember your face. Instead, I saw this young girl.. your same age.. She'd been shot by someone. We medevaced her off Picon to the hospital ship and I just remembered her staring at me, looking at me like she wanted to know why I had hurt her. Even though I hadn't done anything, she was all I could see when I thought of you. Why had I hurt you so much? Why had I exposed you to so much ugliness? How can you love your child and accept that look." Kelsey stares into nothing in a place far away, words haunting. "I stopped loving you because I wanted to protect you from what I felt myself becoming. It was a choice, Melissa. I had to convince myself I'd never loved you. I became numb in a lot of ways. A weapon. We were getting desperate and we needed dedicated strike pilots who could fly without fear, volunteer to never come home." Her eyes look down a little further. "Do have any idea what its like to choose between your daughter and a war effort?" She doesn't expect an answer. "Then the war ends and you can't turn it off. You try to drown it out. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Work. Anything you can do to cope and try to drown out what you've seen and done." Kelsey looks beaten.

Of all the things Melissa had thought she might hear, she never thought she would hear her mother to admit something like that. The madness of it. The insanity of war and that choice. She's so blown away that the tears just stop like someone turned them off. Left with her lips parted, she looks down at the sheets and is left without coherent thoughts. "Oh my Gods."

Kelsey sits there in silence for a long time, just staring at the floor. "Melissa, I regret not being there for you. More than anything else, I regret that. I don't know how to get back to where I was before the war. I'm really lost in so many ways. I'm not a danger to myself and you're clearly old enough to understand that I'm not a danger to you anymore. But I want you to understand that I've got a lot of healing to do. I want to be involved in your life. You might want me to be involved in mine, too, one day, but I know that I have a lot to work through." She narrows her eyes and takes a more confident breath. "If you're willing. One day." Kelsey looks over to Melissa.

This is so much for Melissa to take in and her thoughts are all over the place. She stares at the sheet, unable to force an answer to come to her mind. Her mother chose to convince herself she never loved her daughter. It hurts and twists. There's the urge to attack and say something equally painful. The need to reply in kind. Instead the Raptor Captain looks over to Kelsey and nods. "I have a lot of questions but I don't think I can ask them after some of this. I need time to think.” This will take a lifetime to rectify in her own mind. Her thoughts drift to the future, trying to picture herself ignoring calls and emails. And in other line she is calling her mom with happy news. Neither seem to work themselves in well. Its all so fast and its just too soon to consider. “Maybe after I have time to think about all this. I’m going to need awhile. This is.. I so frakking badly want to hate you. I don’t even know what to make of who we are to each other anymore. You don’t love me.” Her eyes drift to look over at Kelsey. “But you actually told me that. You didn’t lie.”

Kelsey fixes her daughter with a look of rough regret, but there’s also sympathy there. “You’re an adult, not a child. This situation sucks and you’re fighting a limited war. You need brutal honesty, not someone forcing you to ask questions when its just you alone with your thoughts, floating out there in the black or trying to fall asleep in your bunk.” Its spoken quietly, but there is professionalism and leadership there. “I’d prefer to think of us as two strangers, if you’re willing. Cousins, maybe. We’re related, we’re family. But neither of us know each other. I’ve wronged you and I’m trying to accept that. Haven’t gotten there much yet. And now you know how I feel to some degree. You have an honest base to start from. We can go anywhere from here. Like I said, I’m not sure I could ever be a mother for you but the future is a big, wide open space. There’s a lot of positive and negative potential. The difference is that I’m willing to leave you as judge and jury to my crimes. The trial stays open as long as you want it to. But I’ll do my best to testify to you with as much truth as I can give you.” Kelsey holds that gaze and expression. “You be you. I’ll be me. If things don’t work out, then they just don’t.”

Melissa listens, and the longer she does the more the ragey intents and desires seem to bleed to the background. She has to actually force her mind to clear, though, and reorganize. Staring at this young woman in the chair… yeah, that is a little easier. “Two strangers,” she sighs, still letting that simmer. “I’m not sure I can ever think of you as a cousin, to be honest. I kind of hate that idea.” Eyes drop to look down at the chair Kelsey sits in. “GG was my world, but she was never a mom. In high school, my friends had mothers and I saw their relationships. A lot of them sort of adopted me as a loose team. They tried to make sure I was clothed and in good health. I mean, at least as much as they could afford. Times were hard for a lot of people.” The eyes lift. “They gave advice and helped their daughters through the most awkward times of our lives.” The gaze she fixes Kelsey with is more to someone she is attempting to measure in a different light. “What advice would you give me, as a mom? …No bullshit excuses. Be a mom for one minute.”

Watching her daughter process that helps. There’s a calm in the room she can feel, settling over them. She feels her own relief begin to get more comfortable, that weight of her own mind lifting just a little more. The worst is over, for the moment. This is groundwork. A place to start over. But there is some obvious interest in her eyes at hearing more about her friends and the mothers who helped, though that’s left to the side for now. The request for advice? That leaves her at a loss and she takes the time to think on it. A long breath, “Don’t take candy from strangers, especially when they promise you everything. Its always a lie.” She’s serious, though, eyes on her daughter with it. “Don’t find the person you can live with. Don’t find the person you can’t live without. Find the person you can still get along with and partner with even when the times are at their worst. Friend, husband, wife, it doesn’t matter. Marriage or kids won’t make you happy. Being happy comes from inside.” She taps her heart with her fist twice gently, that greeting. “You have to be happy with yourself and who you are with first. A lot of happiness is predicated upon the trust and belief you hold in the people around you, your ‘tribe’ if you want to think of it that way. Those few people closest will help you figure that out. Don’t be afraid to trust, either. Don’t be afraid to believe in people. Its not a weakness, it’s a strength. Its only a weakness if you think of it as a vulnerability, Melissa. We Wescotts run so deep with our emotions and we guard it so hard. Our walls are concrete and steel. They don’t have to be. What you do with those walls and emotions is your own thing. You don’t have to be closed to people who want to be family. Your family aren’t the people you’re born to, they’re the people you hold closest. You choose your family. You’re just related to other people you never got to choose.”

Melissa listens to that and things start to click over in her mind. She’s nodding along, thinking about that before she even realizes she’s agreeing. It’s a viewpoint she’s heard before, but the source is something new. Kelsey says she doesn’t love her daughter, but there’s something to be said for the earnestness of the source. But something rings so true. “That’s why you say you don’t consider yourself to have ever been a mother, isn’t it? You don’t think you’ve played the role with anything like you believe it should be.” Melissa only halts a moment, looking at Kelsey, before she continues. “Don’t be arrogant. Your judgment over who and what a mother is and your ability to be-such isn’t for you to decide. It never was. You don’t get to decide that. That’s my decision.”

Kelsey listens to her daughter and leans to the side a bit. Her elbow rests on the arm of the chair and she rests her chin in the cup of her palm. A low smile appears, very slow and faint, but its there. There’s a lot of cause for self inflection. Her eyes look down, but there isn’t so much sadness there as it could be a bit of light. A new idea. Being so young, physically, so much of her emotions rule her. She knows it. It’s a moment where self-actualization plays a role. “I hate you for being more adult than I am. That’s so annoying,” she sighs with a bit of humor. Her eyes lift, just a touch of mirth and pride for her daughter in those blues. “But I will grudgingly admit that maybe, maybe you are right. But I reserve my right to opinions of myself. Happy sentiments can’t change the past.” Her tone goes more quiet, introspective. “Some day you might forgive me. I’m not sure I can forgive myself. Can we leave it there?” It’s a question of request and respect. Desiring a middle ground, Kelsey does want her own emotions on this legitimized.

Melissa coughs a little laugh at the idea of being more adult than her mother. “Well I am a Captain. And I am older than you in nine out of ten ways.” A return of humor is a start, and a healthy one. She doesn’t hold on to the smile, either, though. At the end f her thoughts, there’s an agreeable nod. “Fair. The context of how we got here is never going to be okay with me, either. But I think one day it could possibly hurt less. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurting a lot right now. But I think hurting more now is going to be better than holding on to questions and hatred later. After all, I’m the one who needs to be the adult about this.” She couldn’t help the cheeky remark.

Kelsey does find the humor in all of it and holds her humor with it, that low and reluctant smile parked on her face. ‘That’s my daughter. Look at her. Everyone was right about her.’ “I want to be you when I grow up.” Kelsey leaves it there and slowly rises from her chair, wanting to leave on a positive note. A better memory than an argument or one lecturing the other. “Thanks for talking to me, Melissa,” she says with a much more personable and tender voice. “You didn’t have to. I’ll be on P. You can look me up. Randy or Petra will probably know how to find me.” She moves to step aside, getting ready to turn and go.

“Wait, you’re leaving?” Melissa suddenly realizes the attachment that’s beginning to grow back. No. Don’t leave, momma. There’s disappointment on her face but she quells it. Those dark thoughts in the back of her mind drift around, unsettled still. “Oh, right. Yeah. Let’s leave this here for now. Sorry.” She looks down towards her datapad and the work to be done, but lifts a finger. Eyes turn back to her mother, looking her over a little differently. There’s more professional respect there. “Aegis,” she says, using her mom’s callsign. “Got any advice for a new squadron leader in combat?”

Kelsey only nods to the intent to leave. She’s really had all she can handle for right now before needing a drink to help her collect her mind. Maybe Randy has one of those joints. But the use of her callsign brings her back suddenly and she looks down to her daughter in the bed. There’s an unconscious movement to herself to stand a little straighter while she considers that, hands going behind her back. “Yeah, okay.” She had to lead often enough, even as a member of The Sixty. A lot of thoughts and memories burst around her mind before she settles on something personal. She speaks with her eyes down, looking like an off-duty Lieutenant speaking to her Captain. “Your people are not a resource. I don’t care what the Academy tells you. As a leader, forget all the bullshit about resource management. I had to read that during officer training. In war, you need to tend to your people, Melissa. Take care of them. Don’t be afraid to be what they need. Leading in peacetime and leading in combat are two different things. A big tenant is to never ask your people to do something that you wouldn’t do.” She looks back to Melissa. “Prove that. Never quit on your people, including yourself. Don’t think of yourself as separate. When you do, then you aren’t part of the group. Rank means shit when you get back to the bunkhouse. Do whatever you need to in order to take care of your squadron. They look to you to keep them safe. Its not your job, they aren’t your flock of delicate sheep. They’re grown-ass men and women. Point to the target and lead. If you can’t respect them to do that, they won’t respect you to lead them there.” She looks down. “And never accept candy from strangers. Especially the purple kind. It tastes the best and is the worst temptation.” She flashes a low, humorless smile and turns to go on that, heading for the hatch.

Melissa absorbs all that with a blank expression. Its like hearing that a huge chunk of your education is meaningless. But then its also replaced by a lot of context. She asked Aegis for advice, not her mother. Not a person who feels any debt. A woman who doesn’t love her, just a combat pilot with a lot of medals and admiration from people who far outrank her. Melissa watches her mother walk out the hatch without a word. When she’s gone, the woman lets her eyes drop to look down at the blanket again. Her whole world has been turned upside down in the box, shaken, and then opened up to drop out. Billboard is left to sort it on her own, and without further tears.

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