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JDL | CDR Stacker, CDL Valeese | "Aftermath and Conversations"

Posted on Thu Jan 28th, 2021 @ 7:29pm by Commander Valeese Stacker & Commander James Stacker

Mission: A Distant Thunder
Location: Stacker Quarters | Intelligence Section | Deck 681 | Cold Station Theta
Timeline: SD 242101.28

Raw. It was the perfect adjective to describe Valeese's physical and mental state. Bits of her hurt. Bits of her had bruised. The part that hurt the most wasn't anything she could physically place a finger on. It was most certainly a part of her soul that had been left 'injured' in the wake of what had transpired in the Ghost's office.

In part it was Ravnsson and his continued onslaught.

In part it had been the Ghost's feral response to the stimuli Ravnsson had introduced. The threats.

She'd experienced the possessive side of the Ghost in the past, some portion of her mind poked at her to remind her that Rune was likely conceived the night he'd retrieved her from the Naussicans - and that had been a night that had been anything but 'gentle and slow'. But he hadn't left a mark on her.

The bright purple of her eyes was remarkable even in the mirror, but her attention was quick to leave them in favor for the angry dusky plum bruises that stood out in violent contrast to the soft pale porcelain of her neck. She blinked, turning her head and leaning forward to get a better look as the way the color had rapidly taken over territory, radiating out from the epicenter of where his mouth had been against her flesh. From there, her eyes followed the contours of her body before she drug her chosen night shirt up and over her right hip, revealing several large finger pad sized bruises that had begun to blossom across the swell of her curves and along her upper thigh.

The inspection was ended with a heavy sigh and a shake of her wet head. She'd known the heat of her shower would bring them out and highlight them - but she'd needed it.

Had he intended to hurt her? The answer she came up with was a resounding NO! no matter how her brain framed the situation. Hurting her had never been his intention - he'd likely be horrified, genuinely horrified, to realize that he had. The heat of the moment, his anger, and her realization that his lack of control was utterly infectious had led them both down that dark road. There was no doubt of that as she reached for a little blue glass bottle of salve and began to dab it gently on the bruises she could see.

Had he known the state of her thoughts he might have experienced a grim sort of amusement. The morbid sort normally reserved for battlefields, hospital wards, and the squad bay in between missions. Taking her in that way had never been a fantasy, nor thought, that had ever crossed his mind. Yet at the same time he also thought he had better self-control. With the exception of one or two singular occurrences he thought - knew - he had always treated her well: with respect, care, kindness, and support. Three of those had been absent that afternoon.

It was a thought that troubled him deeply, starting an hour or so after she left his office. At first - like most things - he had been able to ignore it. An isolated thought here, a stray comment by someone else that caused him to mentally revisit their lunchtime encounter. By the time he was wrapping up his paperwork and getting ready to return to the station's lower levels, it had escalated into full-blown concern. The kind that left him with an uneasy and deeply shamed feeling in his gut.

This preponderance of weighty thought and mental self-reflection had continued all the way down the turbolift ride and right up to the door to his quarters. It had been noticed, of course. There was no way to avoid noticing the fact that the station's executive officer - a man who, while not a joker, was at least known for being a somewhat-decent conversationalist - was clearly lost in thoughts that didn't sit well with him. Just a look at his face would be sufficient to confirm that.

He even hesitated outside their quarters. Did he really want to go inside? Yes he decided after a few heartbeats. He had to known what he had done. The door hissing open showed him only the customary lower lighting. "Val?" he called, entering, trying not to let his concern enter his voice.

"Bathroom," she replied, wincing as she dabbed a particularly tender spot. The worse of the bruising could be hidden by a combination of high collars and a touch of carefully applied and blended makeup, but the skin would need to breathe and heal. It was studded with speckles of red bloodshot, proving that her flesh was far more delicate than she had previously believed. Damn her genetics. How the Founders had thought they were a warrior race was beyond her comprehension. The thought left a scowl on her face and she brushed damp hair off her shoulder and back behind her ear as she went in to administer a second round of ointment.

A hiss of breath from the doorway announced his presence. Rather, the hiss of air and the look on his face did. A combination of alarm, concern, and regret swirled there, prominently on display for her and her alone. "Damn. I really did treat you roughly," he muttered as he leaned against the doorjamb. There was no pride in the words; no telltale sense or indication of self-satisfaction. His eyes went from her to the floor, then back up to her. What might have once been vaguely sexual - eyes raking over her body - instead produced a slight wince in the corner of his mouth and corner of his eye, every time a new discoloration or bruise was observed.

"How can I make it up to you?"

"You don't."

The response was simple and Valeese paused in her work to look up at his reflection behind her in the mirror. The uncertainty across his face was just as foreign as the anger she'd seen earlier in the day. Neither suited him and neither left her comfortable in his presence, but she had long ago learned that people were often pushed into new extremes and out of their comfort zones and nothing was ever stagnant. The norm was comforting and it would return, but it remained the baseline of behavior of an individual. The Ghost's baseline was desperately trying to return.

"Things happen, James, it's not like you beat me. You weren't trying to hurt me."

He grunted, half in agreement, half in resignation, from his continued position. "You are the most logical woman I know. You're right, I wasn't. But ..." Her husband sighed and rubbed at his face. Slow at first, then vigorously for a few seconds, before the hand dropped away. "I know what set me off. Had almost all afternoon to think about it. That damned psychopath - whose name I won't speak in the sanctity of our quarters. Yes, I know it's foolish, but I won't do it." Aksel. Was this what he wanted? To inject uncertainty into what had been - until now - a stable and very prosperous relationship-turned-marriage? An unconscious grimace crossed his face at the very idea.

For the second time in as many minutes, Valeese halted her work. This time she sighed and set the little bottle down and reached to button up the collar of her shirt. The bruises on her hip would have to wait. It wasn't like anyone else - outside of their marriage - would have reason or ability to see them anyway.

"I'm aware that he set you off, so to speak. That much is obvious."

Her eyes flashed up to catch his face again as she washed the remnants of the ointment off her hands, "Or is there something more? Maybe about the topic in general?" The Vorta's curiosity won out against her general sentiments of resignation and momentary hurt, manifesting itself into yet another quest for knowledge.

"You mean besides his being a snake?" Several hours ago the tone would have been more bitter and harder-edged. Now it was more dulled and dialed-in. He came off the door and stepped forward, picking up the bottle and taking a moment to read the label before glancing at her. "Yeah, there's a lot more. Did you get all the ... bruises?" He stumbled over the last word, as another flash of discomfort ran across his face. The man was used to seeing bruises. It sometimes went hand-in-hand with being a MACO. But bruises under these circumstances were a different matter altogether. His thumb popped the lid open, as if in preparation.

The Ghost moved closer and the Vorta's eyes grew wider, betraying her own concerns and the last tingles of nervousness that illogically remained within her. Her teeth caught her lower lip as she shook her head, "There's a few on my hip," she admitted, "Not a big deal." Of course they were. If they weren't, she wouldn't have chosen to ignore them the moment he appeared. Valeese cleared her throat, resting her unbruised hip against the sink as she finally turned to face him, "What's the more? Maybe we'll figure out whatever it is he thinks he has on us." A good shot was made at nonchalance.

He cocked his head to one side, eyes narrowing at her as he refused to take the bait. "The last time you said 'not a big deal' - or something along those lines - to me, it turned out you were pregnant." The look on his face eased, tension lines fading and in some cases disappearing altogether. "I'm sorry for today, for being out of control. I'm here. Let me help, Val." Distantly, it occurred to him that the discussion taking place now mirrored sentiments of discussions months ago, when she was about to bolt from the station. It rankled him to realize, now, that she was facing distant echoes of what had happened before.

"I'm not..." She paused, checking herself before she said something that might not be completely true. Truth of the matter was that with their recent activities and decisions, she couldn't guarantee that she wasn't pregnant any more than she could guarantee that she was. A case of Schroedinger's womb. The thought nearly made her roll her eyes. "If I'm pregnant, we won't know for a couple weeks so there's that." She corrected herself, shaking her head and reaching to chase a couple wet curls from her face... Again.

His apology glanced off her sensibilities and she found herself resting her hand against the sink's cool basin. "You're dancing around the subject." She finally countered, realizing it was a two part tango. On her end, she was refusing to acknowledge the sting and impact the afternoon's 'incident' had left upon her or the need to let him back in when she'd inadvertently shut him out. "No secrets, remember?" It wasn't a happy moment when she gathered up the hem of her night shirt to expose his handiwork on her hip and thigh, muttering something about how she couldn't get a decent look at her lower back to see if there were more lurking there.

The exhaled hiss of breath left clear his particular appreciation of the bruising, and not in a pleasant manner either. In fact it wasn't long at all before he was on his knees and holding the ointment between two hands, as if to warm it up, before gently squeezing out a small amount. Dab, swirl, dab, swirl. Round and round his finger went on first one bruise, then two. It wasn't until he was working a larger amount over the third - a far more extensive one from his thumb - that he resumed speaking. "You're right: I was dancing around the subject, and with good reason. He came to my office and congratulated me on Rune's birth. Indicated that at some future point he'd be back to ask for the 'details.' And that was even before he brought up the subject of Commodore Ivanova."

"Then he's fishing and working to make you upset." Valeese winced and flinched briefly as his fingers found the deepest of the contusions. Stars above how it smarted, making her eyes water and her fingers tighten their grip upon the sink as he worked, "I'm sure the Admiralty is searching for answers and he's grasping at straws to hide some failure or another. Maybe they messed up part of their initial search." She added, finally daring to look down and watch him as he worked. She hadn't quite been ready to allow him to touch her again, but to deny him would have been foolish and off base. It would only had bred larger problems and instill false doubts. "They didn't find a body, James. Not even so much as a finger."

He made a thoughtful sound, glancing up at her before resuming what he was doing. "Then that would explain part of the conversation. He was very, and I do mean very -" he emphasized with a renewed glance upwards, even as his fingers remained in motion "- emphatic that any fuel for delusions of conspiracies be stamped out. Something about allowing the Commodore to rest in peace. According to him this was an unfortunate event and nothing more. Turn." The residue of the ointment smeared across her skin as he lifted the nightshirt higher, exposing her lower back. Another hiss of air at what he saw. But at least the voice was becoming more normalized and businesslike. Less unsteady and more back on solid ground as he engaged with the more functioning parts of his mind. Progress. Albeit limited.

So much for sleeping on her back... Or her side... The Vorta nearly groaned in pained frustration. Sleeping on her belly had become a nonchoice no matter how many pillows she attempted to curl around and she silently cursed her newfound inability to sleep in her favored fashions... At least until the worst of the bruises healed. "The Ascendancy seems suspicious, but the Ascendancy is flighty at best. It means their last known personal connection to the Federation is with Merlin and they don't view Merlin as a warrior standing on equal footing with the Empress." She could have muttered something about him being the Empress' bedfellow, complicating matters, but the entire known universe was already well aware of that entire plot twist. "It very likely is just an unfortunate event and even more unfortunate that his men bungled their investigation so he's grasping at straws to make it look like he knows something, which he doesn't." It was hard to come to terms with reality even though her husband was quite literally staring at it, "If he did... I'd already be dead and you wouldn't be fixing boo boos."

He grunted. "We haven't even gotten to the best part. He wants me to get close to the Vindicator senior officers; Commander Archer specifically. And he wants me to convince Merlin to get the Vindicator recalled to the station, so that 'the station's resources' can assist in the investigation."

"How convenient." She hissed, this time it wasn't the pain that colored her tone as much as her growing curiosity and distaste for the man being discussed, "He uses you because it's easy to pin horrible things on me because I happen to have been born Vorta." Her head shook and she peered over her shoulder at the man on his knees as best she possibly could. Being used as a pawn while wearing a crown, so seldom did it come down to it and yet there he was... Allowing himself to be used and manipulated in all the ways she had prayed he could have avoided had she left when she'd wanted to. The pang of guilt was hard to ignore. "You're going to do it... Aren't you. That's why you were so upset, because you feel cornered. Damned if you do and damned if you don't because both options go against everything you are and everything you hold dear."

His eyes flicked up to her face, again, before returning to the bruises on her back. A moment was taken to apply some ointment to his index finger, before it moved to start daubing-and-swirling it onto a patch of discoloration. Then he spoke. "I think what set me off was his being such a smug son-of-a-bitch, tossing out casual threats - hints of threats, I should say - against you and Rune. And talking all the while about 'conspiracy this' and 'conspiracy that.'" His eyes tightened.

"There's family history with conspiracies. A distant cousin: Edward Keyes. He got involved with the Vanguard terrorist group," he said, referring to an extremist group launched by a group of renegade Starfleet officers bent on an 'Earth-first' agenda, over a decade ago, "when they were running wild on the border. Up until his defection he was XO of the Resolution."

The tightening around his eyes was releasing as he spoke. "And now here I am, personally. The Director of Starfleet Intelligence potentially involved in a conspiracy. How deep it goes, I have no idea. Goals? No ideas. He implied other participants, though. And that really does scare me. Going up against him doesn't frighten me as much as it probably should. But other people I don't know about? That's a more terrifying prospect. Because even if he's dealt with, they can come out of the woodwork and threaten us."

"What makes you so certain that he isn't just a madman?" Valeese was slow to turn and deny him the rest, if any, bruises existed. Instead her dainty hands swooped in to capture his, bottle and all, and simply hold them. The nightshirt fell clumsily back into place, its progress impeded by the dampness left behind by the salve he'd been carefully applying. "What if this is nothing more than the rambling of someone who is losing their mental faculties and grasping at straws?" She asked, her ears slowly leaving the relative safety of being pressed tightly to her skull and largely hidden under her damp hair.

"His being a madman would continue to make him dangerous. Possibly even more of a danger to you and I," he answered simply, eyes going from the shirt to her eyes. His gaze shifted to one side and a whisper of a smile graced his face. Clearly he saw something he liked; quite probably her ears coming back into view. He had known her for long enough to know what that meant. But it didn't deter him from continuing to speak, and as he did that hint of a smile receded.

"A madman is unstable and unpredictable. They have no regard for norms and conventional wisdom. Couple that with his being the Director of Starfleet Intelligence, and it means he has vast resources at his disposal. But what I saw in his eyes today, heard in his voice, was anything but paranoid ranting. I don't think he's losing his faculties. It's clear he has some sort of plan and agenda, and I fear what it could be."

The Vorta nodded gently, understanding the depth and implications of his words. Ravnsson being a complete and utter lunatic was worse than Ravnsson not being a lunatic by a thin measure. "So, in short, we're still lodged between a rock and a hard place because you're worried about some folly he'll create if he's crossed. Got it."

"Simply put, yes," he said before rising to his feet, still looking at her. "I know I'm not crazy, Val. In the morning ... I've got a few things to do, and then I'm going to see Merlin. He has to know what was discussed yesterday. And before you say anything, yes, I will be careful."

Another nod, this one silent as she allowed her eyes to meet his. In the back of her mind she'd known that they'd never truly be free from his role within the Intelligence community. It singed her, leaving her feeling far more vulnerable and cornered than she cared to admit, to realize just how naïve she'd been to believe pretty promises. "You do whatever it is you feel you need to do, James." Releasing his hands, she reached to rub at the beginnings of a headache creeping along her brow, "I'll likely be in late tomorrow. I have to try and convince Arcadian that growing a couple stray hairs in the dead center of their head doesn't mean they're dying. So you'll have plenty of time to do... Whatever." Most of it was muttered as she stepped around him, leaving him there on the bathroom floor as she set off in search of ice.

He glanced down at the floor, hands on his hips. "Yeah. Plenty of time," he quietly told the tiles.


Commander James Stacker
Executive Officer

Commander Valeese Stacker
Chief Medical Officer


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