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Posted on Sun Dec 13, 2020 @ 10:51pm by Captain Madelina Weisz & Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas Barnes

Mission: The Nanjing
Location: XO's Quarters
Timeline: MD 7 || 1300 Hours

Tom could not believe that he could have been so careless. He had long cared for everyone else in his life, and he had betrayed them all. The Nanjing doctors had told him that he would be able to live a normal life, but Tom wasn’t so sure. He’d been exposed to the Borg Nanjing the longest, and he’d undergone an initial, horrific, transition. The Borg Nanjing had reformatted his cerebrum and twisted his sense of morality. They’d torn apart and rebuilt several of his organs, including his eyes, liver, stomach, lungs, and intestines. Most of these had been replaced with cloned organs, rebuilt from his undamaged DNA, but there were a few things that he’d been left with, including cybernetic eyes. These had initially been blue, but when Tom figured out he could reprogram the irises, he immediately restored his original brown eyes, at least in their initial appearance. If one looked closely enough, however, they would discover the change.

He felt every since change in his inside too. One did not simply open a chest cavity multiple times without having to deal with the bloating and the air that touched each organ. That discomfort would be lingering for a few months as well, and rightfully so. Every breath he took reminded him of what the Borg Nanjing had done to him.

For the first time in his life, Tom was afraid. Twenty years he had defiantly stood against the unknown, facing wars and Romulans and non-corporeal space entities. If he had only one regret from his final mission, it was that he had been converted into a Borg drone. If he had, he likely would have mindlessly been lead to his doom. Perishing as a controllable slave seemed preferable to the life before him now.

Tom couldn’t remain on Triumphant, nor did he feel he deserved to remain in Starfleet. A solid record was not enough to erase what he’d done. There was a part of him that had liked the upgrades, being able to evolve above his existence. His insides groaned, reminding him of his lost cybernetic enhancements, and the few pieces that had to be left behind to keep him alive. Tom felt sorry for the Marines who’d been converted. Too much of them had been lost to the process, and they were still more machine than he would ever be again. Their futures, too, had been forever altered because of his selfishness. He dared not think of the other lives he’d affected.

But none of that compared to the guilt over one person. Out of everyone he’d betrayed, he couldn’t believe that he had included Maddy in this. Tom wasn’t thinking when he began his assimilation. The Borg Nanjing were in full control of him at the time, tearing apart and upgrading his body. Maddy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He hated to think how she felt about all of this. In fact, he hated it so much that he hadn’t even tried to see her in the last few days.

But now, as he stood outside the room to her—their—quarters, Tom struggled to press the door chime. He was afraid of what to expect, but he couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. After what seemed like moments, he closed his eyes and let his hand do the work, timidly reaching up to press the button that would alert the occupant that someone was here.

Maddy sat on the couch inside the living room of their quarters staring at nothing in particular. She'd been doing a lot of that lately, her mind replaying everything she'd done over and over again. For three days, she didn't sleep, eat, or so much as move. No, she was full of shame and guilt, and hadn't spoken to anyone.

Not even Tom.

That was mostly because the Master Chief hadn't come home. Could she really blame him, though? He was probably feeling about as horrible as she was, if not worse. The redhead didn't blame him for any of it. He wasn't in control of himself. Not really.

A familiar sound pulled her out of her reverie. Was that the chime? Was someone standing on the other side of the door? There was only one way to find out, but Maddy wasn't sure she felt up to company. She supposed she could send whoever it was away. "I'm coming," the redhead called out, rising to her feet and moving toward the door. Her hand went to the panel on the side of the door and pressed the sensor that opened the door. She blinked when she saw who was standing on the other side.

"Tom?" Maddy asked in what sounded a bit like disbelief. Why didn't he just come inside? This definitely didn't look promising. "Come in." She stepped out of the way and made her way back toward the couch where she retook her seat. Lack of food and sleep had made her a little weak, and had started to affect her appearance.

He timidly entered the room. His eyes scanned the area while Maddy returned to the couch. Tom knew the quarters well, from the first time she'd snared him within her web, to all the fun memories they'd had together... His eyes stopped in the kitchen, fixating on the replicator plate where he'd produced countless elements for ingestion. Out everything he wished he could forget, he wanted to forget the taste of raw gold and titanium going down his throat.

"I, uh..." he said softly, trying not to look at her or make contact with Maddy. "I came to say that I'm, uh..." He glanced up, noticing for the first time what she was wearing. They'd moved in together not long ago, and Maddy made it no secret how much she enjoyed Tom's t-shirt collection. She was even wearing one now, the words "What happens in Risa stays in Risa" emblazoned upon her chest. Oh, how he wished that was true for so many other things.

Tom hung his head and shame and started to tear up. "I'm so sorry..." he whimpered.

Maddy swallowed back a lump in her throat and fought back tears of her own, but sadly, it was a battle she was losing. And fast. "Is that why you haven't been home in three days?" She asked barely above a whisper. Guilt. It was a hell of an emotion. "I don't blame you."

"How could I come home?" Tom asked her honestly, looking up to see her own drawn face. "I betrayed my team. I betrayed my crewmates. And even worse, I betrayed you. It's bad enough that I'll never get to look at you with my own eyes again, but so many have suffered because of me."

"But, you weren't of sound mind. Not really," she said softly. If anyone could sympathize with him, it was her. She'd done her share of truly horrible things herself, and it was going to take some time for her to recover from everything. Mentally. Physically. And emotionally. "We need to make amends as soon as we're able to."

Tom shook his head. "Triumphant's being towed to the nearest drydock, which is days away. Most of the crew is being reassigned, and they're already being transferred off the ship. Hell, ten percent of the crew has already left."

He closed his eyes, lowered his head and rubbed his temples. His new optics were giving him a headache, and though they were supposed to deactivate the moment he closed his eyes for more than a blink, his left eye remained on, scanning past the eyelid. "Sound mind or not, parts of it... parts of it were me. The Nanjing in my body... they knew of my attachment to you. They knew I wouldn't move forward without you."

"I didn't think people would be getting reassigned so soon, but then again, I haven't been in my office. Or former office. I suppose I'll have to eventually to pack my things," she said with a frown. Everything was so different now. Maddy turned her blue eyes to him. They weren't as vibrant as they used to be, but maybe some day that would change. "And how is that attachment now?" She had a feeling she knew what was coming next, but then, she always had a feeling she'd live her life alone.

"Former office?" Tom asked, looking up. Was Maddy leaving too? "My attachment... my feelings..." Tears welled in his eyes, and Tom struggled to hold in his pain and emotions. "After... after what happened, I couldn't bear seeing you. This is all my fault, and I couldn't see you in pain. I never wanted to hurt you, and I hurt you in ways I never could have imagined. I didn't think you'd want me around after that."

The tears Maddy fought so hard to keep from shedding finally rolled down her cheeks. She couldn't even bother to bring her hands up to wipe them away. "Why wouldn't I?" She asked softly, looking down at her hands that were settled on her lap. "I know things between us happened pretty fast, but I won't deny that I love you... possibly more than I've ever loved another being in my entire life. I get that some pretty terrible things happened, but I'm as responsible for those things as anyone else is."

Tom sniffled as he lost the ability to contain his emotions as well. For a moment, it didn't seem like arguing about who was more guilty was going to do either of them any good. "That's why I couldn't come home," he confessed. "The wounds go deep because I love you too damn much. I'm ashamed for what happened to you most of all. You never would have done those things if I hadn't forced the Nanjing on you."

Then, as a result of losing all control, Tom joined Maddy on the couch and embraced her fully. He held her tightly and laid his head on her shoulder as his own tears began to fall.

Maddy didn't hesitate to wrap her arms around him, holding him to her while they both cried. They'd been through hell, as had most of the crew, Nanjing and non-Nanjing. It was going to take some time for them all to heal, and hopefully in time, they would. Tom, especially, because she planned to see to it that he did. "What do you say we take some time and travel?" She asked him. "Not as members of Starfleet, but as Tom and Maddy."

Tom didn't let her go and instead remained fully committed to the embrace. "That's not a problem for me," he confessed. "As of this morning, I'm no longer a Master Chief."

"I'll support whatever decision you make," she said softly, pressing a soft kiss to his temple. "And I meant it when I said I'd follow you anywhere. I have a lot of free time since I'm no longer a Captain."

He released her, slid back on the couch, and looked her square in the eye. "You? You gave up command? Why?"

Maddy placed her hands back on her lap and frowned, but somehow managed to hold his gaze. "I didn't feel right continuing on in command. I need some time to heal. Not just phisically, but emotionally, mentalally and spiritually, too," she explained barely above a whisper. The last thing the former Captain wanted was for him to carry more guilt than he already did. "And don't blame yourself. I don't regret that choice, but now I have to know what happened with you. Did you resign?"

Tom nodded slowly. "It took a long time to get up to Master Chief. I've also seen many wonders of the universe, but never really took the time to enjoy them. This... The Nanjing have helped me to see that it's time to stop for a while and smell the roses. Besides, no one will trust a Master Chief who was responsible for the assimilation of a flagship."

"I would trust you. I do trust you," the redhead said. "And if you're willing to have a plus one, I'd like to stop and smell the roses, too."

He smiled, albeit weakly. "I'm more than willing," he told her. "In fact, I don't ever want to leave your side for as long as you'll have me."

Maddy took his face in her hands and leaned in to press a soft kiss to his lips. "I have no plans letting you go anywhere, Tom. You're stuck with me through all the good times and the bad," she said, smiling for the first time in a few days.

His smile strengthened, even if the emotions behind it were still unstable. If just one person believed in him, then that would be more than enough. "What did I ever do to deserve you?" he asked with a smile.

"You loved me without conditions," she answered, closing the distance that had been put between them. Maddy took his hands back into hers. "Just as I love you without conditions. Life may be a bit different for us now, but there's not another person alive that I want to spend it with."

That was all Tom needed to hear. He leaned forward and kissed her more passionately than ever before. All he needed was her, and Tom was not about to let her go, nor would he allow himself to try and let her go again. "Marry me," he said softly.

Maddy returned the kiss and pulled back when he did. The love she felt for the man sitting next to her was unlike anything she'd ever felt before, and wait... did she hear what she thought she did. "Did you just...?" She asked softly.

He nodded, confidently. "I don't want there to ever be a reason for things to divide us. I love you, Maddy, and while it may take me a while to forgive myself for what I've done, I know now that I can no longer walk my path alone."

"I love you, too," she said with tears in her eyes. Despite the wrong she'd done, it seemed like there was a happily ever after waiting for her. There was a time when Maddy didn't think she'd ever get her happily ever after, but for once in her life, it finally seemed possible. "And, yes, I will absolutely marry you. As soon as we're able to make it happen."

Tom smiled as he leapt in to embrace her. There was so much to do, and they could take all the time they want in putting it all together. "When were you planning on leaving? And did you have a destination in mind?"

Maddy held him for a few minutes with her head resting against his shoulder. She wanted to take in the moment and savor it before answering, but finally she did. "I plan to arrange for a transport vessel to meet me at the drydock once it's confirmed which one the ship will be docked at. As for a destination, I don't necessarily have one right now. Do you have any ideas?"

"I hear Alpha Centauri is nice this time of year," Tom replied. "It's not far from Earth, and it's also far away from any sort of trouble. A perfect place to relax."

"That sounds like as good a place as any to start the beginning of the rest of our lives," she said with a smile, looking forward to the new future they were making for themselves. "And, I know we both said we'd never consider it because of our careers, but given circumstances have changed, what would you say to the possibility of someday having a family?"

"One day." Tom's smile waned a bit, thinking that he had a lot to personally overcome before he could be responsible for a new life. "Right now, I just want to focus on us and figure out the new roads in front of us."

Maddy nodded her head. "One day," she repeated. "I'm still feeling quite selfish and want you all to myself. Nothing is changing any time soon, I promise. Besides, there's some serious traveling in our future."

Tom kept his smile. With his left hand, he reached up to brush away a lock of hair from her ear. "I like that," he said softly. "Well, I suppose we should get a few things packed."

"I packed almost everything already. Three days alone gave me a lot of time to think and find things to do to keep myself busy," she said. "But, there are some things left."

He scanned the room, just now noticing that several items were missing. "What all do you have left?" he asked.

"Our bedroom," she answered, glancing toward the closed door. "I haven't been in there much except to get to the bathroom."

Tom nodded, looking towards the bedroom. "Well, that'll be easy for me. I'm pretty sure all I have back there are clothes. Though, once you filter out the uniforms I'll never need again, it's really just the t-shirt collection and a few other items."

"I don't have much in there, either. We can get that done in less than an hour, which puts us one step closer to the next chapter in our lives," she said. "Do you think we should try to talk to Michael and Spencer before we leave?"

He shrugged. "It'd only be fair to the Commodore. After all, you have served with him for years before I came along."

Maddy looked thoughtful and nodded. She owed it to Michael and Spencer, and herself, to apologize in person. "Then we'll go see them once we've finished packing, and I've taken a shower."

"A perfect plan," Tom agreed. He rose from the couch and extended a hand to her. "Care to, uh, take our first step towards our future?"

"Our first step?" She asked, unsure what that might be short of finishing packing.

Tom smiled. "Packing and moving on with our lives. Seeing what's out there."

"Oh, yes. I thought you were talking about something else," she said, blushing a little as she rose to her feet. "Let's finish up what little needs to be packed, then I'll have someone come pick it up for us while we go see Michael and Spencer. Then, we'll be on our way to the rest of our lives."


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