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These Are The Voyages

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The Avalon isn’t the Starfleet flagship, or really anything close to it. It isn’t large, or prestigious, or even particularly new. In its unexciting history, it has gone on five-year missions, ferried minor diplomats, and been part of the Dominion war, if not a key part of it. It’s not the Enterprise, or the Camelot, or anything else exciting, not the first pick of anyone hoping for a Starfleet assignment. It’s not anything, really, except for Mithian’s first command, and Mithian loves it.

It’s in spacedock now, but Mithian spends half her days on it, making sure everything is stocked for the five-year mission they’ll be beginning in just a few days and checking in with her senior staff. She’s picked them all, with help from Admiral Caerleon, and has been talking with them all as much as she can while they’ve been on leave preparing for their assignment—their first assignment, for quite a few of them. They mightn’t be the Academy’s best and brightest, not its legends, but Mithian has read over their files enough times to be sure that they’re good at what they do, a breadth of experience and personality that will help them in their explorations and missions.

Today, though, is the first time they’ll all be meeting at once, and Mithian admits to some nervousness, if only to herself and to Admiral Caerleon. “I’m young for a captain,” she says when she stops by her office on her way to the Avalon for the meeting.

“You knew that already,” says Annis, looking up from her datapad with a great show of disinterest. “I knew that when I promoted you and told you to find a crew, actually. Are you questioning my judgment?”

Mithian deflates. “No, ma’am.”

“You aren’t the only young captain in Starfleet, Captain Nemeth. Not even the only one serving right now. You served with Captain Pendragon on the Camelot, didn’t you?” She nods. “You can’t do worse than him, it’s rare a week goes by without some sort of diplomatic incident.”

Mithian winces. She’s known Arthur since her first day at the Academy, and she isn’t surprised that his career so far is every bit as infamous as it is decorated. “His foster sister is my first officer,” she reminds Annis, as though they didn’t go rounds over it when Mithian wanted her and Annis brought up the fact that she’s even more of a loose cannon than her brother.

Annis sighs. “You’re ready for a command, Mithian. It’s only natural to be nervous when you’re going to meet your senior staff for the first time, and I won’t insult you by telling you to imagine them naked. I will remind you, however, that your Academy record is stellar, your brief field career has been remarkable, and you specialized in diplomacy, among other things. Officers are rowdy, but they aren’t worse than facing down Romulan rebels, and these officers you’ve chosen yourself.” Her face softens. “You’ll do fine. You’ve got quite some time, barring emergency missions, to do trips to easy, uninhabited planets to check on experiments and terraforming. You can sort out your crew then.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She squares her shoulders and salutes, even though it just makes Annis snort. “I suppose I’d best be going, if I want to make it to the ship before my staff does.”

“Of course. Do stop by afterwards and tell me how it goes.” Mithian almost makes it to the door before Annis speaks again. “Prophets be with you, Captain Nemeth.”

Mithian thinks of home and lets it steady her enough to get her out the door and towards the dock where her ship is waiting.

*

Despite her last-minute nervousness, Mithian is the first to the Avalon, or at least to the meeting room, and she manages to greet everyone as they come in as if she isn’t nervous. A few of them know each other, from the Academy or from assignments, and a few proactive ones know each other from being in touch once they saw the crew roster, and Mithian stays back while they filter in, to see where there may be problems in the future. Things are polite, despite her chief of security being more than a little intimidating and her first officer being equally so in her own way, and she allows herself a sigh of relief before stepping forward and calling the meeting to order.

“All of you know me, of course, but I’m Nemeth Mithian of Bajor, and I’m the captain of the Avalon.” She smiles around as everyone sits straighter in their chairs. “I don’t intend to run a very formal ship, so when we aren’t on duty you can feel free to call me Mithian.” She’d like to say she hopes to consider them friends, but she remembers a young teacher doing the same in her first year at the Academy and how terribly strange she found it. “We’ve all been talking for months, so I won’t interrogate you on the states of your varying departments. I’ll just ask you all to introduce yourselves to me and each other, for now.”

Morgana Pendragon, sitting next to her, sniffs but goes first. “I am Morgana Pendragon, of Vulcan, and I am the first officer.” Nobody looks surprised, of course—of all of them, Morgana is probably the most notorious, due to being the foster daughter and sister of Uther and Arthur Pendragon—but they all look very interested, and Mithian makes a note to keep an eye on that before nodding on down the line.

“Morgause Lothian, of the Klingon Empire, chief of security.” Morgause isn’t friendly, and Mithian isn’t sure how much she likes her, but she’s the most efficient warrior Mithian has ever met, and she won’t turn her nose up at that.

The helm crew is next, clustered together in command red just as the science blues are together elsewhere. “Isolde Golding, pilot, and I suppose I’m technically Terran but I was brought up all over space.”

“Vivian Fitzroy, and yes, my father is Admiral Fitzroy, I’m fifth-generation Starfleet. Communications officer.” Mithian winces at that introduction but does her best to hide it, giving Vivian the friendliest nod she can. Vivian’s a bit of a gamble, given her file is full of notes about her being difficult, but she’s a brilliant programmer and linguist, and Mithian needed both.

“Freya Bastet, navigator, Betazoid.”

“Elena O’Shea, chief of engineering,” is next, collar of her uniform askew, hair all in a mess, and a smudge of grease on her cheek, and she gives Mithian a grin with Mithian nods at her. Elena’s been on the ship more than even she has recently, making sure the warp drive is up to snuff, and they haven’t talked much, but Mithian likes her already. “Oh! And I’m Terran, but you could probably tell already.”

The last two around the table are both in science blues. “Guinevere Smith, but you can call me Gwen when I’m off-duty,” says the first, smiling around at everyone, though it goes a little tense when she looks at Morgana—something else to keep an eye on, but Mithian doesn’t do more than note it before her face brightens again. “Chief medical officer, and I’m Terran as well. Please let me know if there’s anything I need to do to make your physicals more comfortable.”

Before Mithian can thank her for her thoughtfulness, she’s interrupted by her science officer, who straightens himself up stiffer than Morgana, who has the benefit of Vulcan posture (she sometimes idly wonders if Vulcans have the proper amount of vertebrae, or simply metal in their spines), before he speaks. “George Brass, science officer, Terran. It’s a pleasure to serve with you, ma’am.”

“The pleasure’s all mine,” she assures them all. “You should all have information on your datapads about quarters and duties over the next few days, so I won’t bore you by reiterating them. If your quarters need atmosphere or climate adjustment, please let Elena or me know, and we’ll have that fixed as soon as may be, and if one of your underlings reports discomfort due to those things field the request and then pass it on the same route. If all goes well, we’re going to be together for five years, not counting occasional leave, and I don’t want anyone miserable.”

“And I’m a wizard for making things comfortable,” Elena contributes with a cheerful smile. “So don’t think you’re putting me out. I can only spend so much time communing with the warp core before I start feeling like a madwoman, so really, you’ll be doing me a favor.”

Mithian bites down on a laugh, though she’s gratified to see that Guinevere—Gwen, she makes note—and Isolde both chuckle. “Good, then. I’ll be checking in with all of you tomorrow about your progress and your crew rosters. Engineering and some incidental staff have been around already, but the rest of you should start getting your people settled in as well as you can. We leave in a week.”

She lets the meeting break up from there, falling into chatter, and keeps an eye on who goes to whom as well as she can. Morgana and Morgause stay close, and George seems fascinated by Morgana, asking her questions about Vulcan and telling her dreamily that he does his best to adhere to Surak’s principles as well as any human can. She frowns and tells him sharply that before Surak, her people were warriors, and Mithian sweeps in to take George away and ask if he’s received the briefings on their first few missions and the long-term terraforming experiments they’ll be checking in on. She’ll have to keep an eye on George and Morgana, then, but hopefully they won’t have much occasion to interact. She’ll liaise with Science as much as she can on her own.

By the time she excuses herself to answer a comm from the mess staff asking about a shipment of food the replicators don’t do as well, nearly everyone has had at least a bit of chatter with everyone else, and Mithian feels a little less worried that her first command is going to be a disaster.

*

A week later, the Avalon’s engines are humming, and Mithian is strapped into her chair on the bridge, everyone in place and her heart in her throat as she keeps her voice as steady as she can. “All personnel aboard?”

“Yes, Captain,” says Morgana, steady and sharp, settled into her own chair.

“Engines ready?”

This time it’s Elena’s voice through the comm. “Ready, Captain.”

“Ms. Golding?”

“Ready, Captain.”

“Course set for Essetir,” says Freya without being prompted, hands a blur on the navigation pad.

Mithian smiles and takes a deep breath, takes one look around at the launching dock, their last view of Earth even if it isn’t a very pretty one, and gives the command: “Thrusters on full.” They take off, spiraling into the atmosphere and out into orbit, Isolde piloting easily through the course Freya has set. “Go to warp speed,” she says, and settles in to watch space blur behind them.

She wants to cheer, and realizes that she’s hearing people shouting, and that it’s coming from her comm badge—Elena has left hers on, no doubt, as she’s sometimes prone to doing, and Mithian is hearing engineering celebrating their work getting them off smoothly. Mithian would dearly love to listen a little longer, pretend it’s a celebration of her first command off to a good start, but Morgana is giving the impression of rolling her eyes without once moving her face and Vivian is snorting over by her station, so she hits her badge. “Bridge to engineering.”

There’s a pause, and it gets quieter. “Go ahead.”

Mithian can’t help her smile when she answers Elena. “You might want to stop transmitting, Chief. And make sure that someone’s on duty during the celebration.”

Elena coughs. “Yes, Captain. O’Shea out.”

After a second, Mithian looks around the bridge, keeping protocol in mind as well as she can. “All systems running normally?”

“Yes, Captain,” Vivian calls over from where she’s coordinating chatter through all the ship’s systems.

“Excellent,” Mithian says, and sits back to watch space whiz by around them.

*

Mithian has always liked space, the times when she’s merely traveling from place to place. It’s quiet, and sometimes she likes sitting in her quarters with the lights dimmed, listening to the quiet hum of the engines. Sometimes, when she listens close enough, she can almost hear the vast empty silence out beyond, and it’s terrifying and a little thrilling. She’s in command, now, so she has a little less time to idle around, but the Avalon hums steadily on, and they’re well in Federation territory, so she isn’t on alert for danger as she might be elsewhere. If they’re ever given orders to the gamma quadrant, she’s sure she’ll be more on alert, but here they’re as safe as anyone exploring space can be.

She tends to her people and her projects and all the little problems that come up: an ensign who develops an allergy to Gwen’s hyposprays, George’s continued attempts to ask Morgana about Vulcan culture, the fact that a good half of the staff, including the security staff, is more than slightly terrified of Morgause. She joins the away teams on a few of their briefer missions but mostly allows Morgana to take them instead.

She’s lonely, a little, though she’s loath to mention it. Annis had warned her, after all, that being a young captain is difficult at times. On her other assignments, Mithian had friends and acquaintances around to while away the long hours: long chats with Arthur where they mostly played strategy games, holodeck adventures with Merlin (who is Arthur’s medical officer now and who shares her love of holodeck programs set far in Earth’s history full of castles and swords), language practice with some friends. Here, everyone is friendly, but she’s the captain, and they haven’t quite managed to forget it yet.

She’d hoped that Morgana would be a friend, even if it was a secondary concern at best when choosing her. She’s sharp and brilliant and sarcastic even though everyone says Vulcans can’t be, and Arthur spoke so highly of her when she knew him that she’d hoped they would become friends easily. Instead, Morgana spends her free hours sparring with Morgause or Isolde, or occasionally having lunches with Gwen, though Mithian isn’t quite sure what their relationship is.

George keeps to himself with his experiments, unless he is in the mood to enthuse about his projects (he does brilliant experiments with metals far beyond Mithian’s understanding, and she’s quite sure that only his occasional stuffiness kept one of the more prestigious science vessels from snapping him up). Gwen is kind to everyone, but often busy with Morgana. Isolde has a boyfriend outside of Starfleet, a trader, and is often chatting with him when she’s free. Freya, when she isn’t on the bridge, is cloistered in her quarters more often than not, and Mithian stops by to see her fairly often but doesn’t press her for company. Vivian settles in, after the first few missions, and shares a few dinners with Mithian, but one of George’s junior officers practically worships her and she quite enjoys the attention.

To Mithian’s surprise, it’s Elena who seeks her out for company, when she would have thought she would fit in easily with the others. When Mithian reports her replicator broken, she expects one of Elena’s ensigns to be sent up to her, but instead it’s Elena herself, a box of tools in hand and a smile on her face. “They’re all busy down there, and I thought I could do this and give my daily report at the same time,” she explains, and then cheerfully chatters for twenty minutes about the modifications she’s making to the engines while Mithian looks on. “Tell me if that breaks again,” she says at last, straightening up, grin never budging for a second. “It shouldn’t, but it’s always good to be sure. Stop by engineering tomorrow, I’ll show you everything I’ve been talking about.”

Mithian does stop by, once she comes off alpha shift on the bridge, and finds Elena in as much disarray as ever but flitting from station to station showing her people what to do, switching from replicators to atmosphere to computer systems to engines without even blinking. “Captain!” she says, grin breaking out across her face when she notices Mithian. “Nobody panic, we’re not in trouble, Captain Nemeth’s just come down to see what we’re doing with the engines. Continue as normal—yes, Ensign Starling, that means you too.”

“Good to see you all,” Mithian says, and then finds herself grabbed by Elena and towed in to see the engines.

Elena rattles on nearly faster than Mithian can understand, though she excelled in the engineering courses she had to take on command track. She talks about efficiency and warp capacity and a hundred other things, showing her tweaks, and all Mithian can take away from it is that Elena is even more brilliant than her files suggested. She picked her because her files had her down as steady and smart under pressure, if disorganized, but she supposes that if Elena weren’t in charge of a department before she wouldn’t have been allowed her own projects like this. “What do you think? May not make a perfect ten on the Avalon, but I think I can get her humming along every bit as well as the Camelot.”

“I think you’re amazing,” says Mithian, with perfect honesty, and enjoys the way it makes Elena blush. “If we get the results you say we will, you should write it up for Starfleet, so they can make modifications to other ships of this class.”

Elena grins at her. “Just wait until you see what I have in mind for the warp drive. We’ve barely improved since Scott’s day, and I have plenty of ideas.”

“You should come to dinner some evening, and tell me,” Mithian says, before she can stop herself, and then pauses, a little mortified. “I say that as a friend and not a captain, of course. You needn’t feel obligated.”

“Don’t be silly. Come to mine, in fact. I’ve got the replicator fiddled with perfectly, it’ll make you whatever you please. You can introduce me to the delights of Bajoran food! My nanny was Klingon, so I was brought up on racht.” Mithian can’t help making a face. “Yes, exactly. I can’t say I’ve ever replicated it, but I have undoubtedly eaten worse than anything you would recommend me.”

Mithian grins. “Hasperat.” And then, thinking over what Elena said: “Wait, a Klingon nanny?”

“I’ll tell you all about it later.” Elena gives her a suspicious look. “I’m a little worried about how pleased with yourself you look about whatever kind of food that is, but you’ll have to come by and see what we can do.” As though on cue, there’s a loud bang from one of the consoles. “Now, I’m very sorry, Captain, but I have to go see which one of my darling ensigns has decided to do violence to my precious equipment this time. Don’t worry, happens three times a day!”

Mithian is left standing in the engine room, a helpless grin on her face, and gives herself a few moments to revel in it before she goes to the cafeteria to find herself some lunch.

*

Elena is waiting when Mithian shows up, wearing off-duty clothes, some sort of trouser that they seem to wear on Earth that Mithian never did find comfortable and a blue shirt. Mithian, still in uniform because she just barely made it off shift before she realized she had to be in Elena’s quarters, instantly feels awkward, but Elena doesn’t seem to notice or mind. “I looked up Bajoran cuisine,” she says, shepherding Mithian in, and sitting her down at a table that’s mostly clean but peppered with little bits of machinery that Mithian really hopes don’t belong to the ship. “And hasperat, just so you know, but I told you I ate live Klingon worms, didn’t I? A little spice isn’t going to hurt me. And we’re having jumja sticks after, because I love sweet things.”

“You don’t have to cater to me, I’ve been eating Terran food—and every other kind of food—for years now.”

Elena doesn’t seem bothered in the least. “Yes, but I haven’t had an excuse to try Bajoran yet—I searched all over for a good Bajoran restaurant on Earth when I found out you were going to be my captain, but did you know it’s impossible to find one?”

“I’m aware. We’re still so new to the Federation, after all.”

“Stupid of me, of course you’re aware.” Elena sets out plates in front of each of them, newly replicated by the way they’re steaming. “You’re probably sick to death of being the only Bajoran most people know, so I shan’t ask you about it. And you’ve been on Earth on and off for years now, so it isn’t as though I can entertain you with stories of my home planet.”

Mithian can’t help smiling at the way Elena scowls down at her plate, trying to think of a topic of conversation. “You could tell me about your Klingon nanny, I’ve been curious about that all day.”

Elena seizes on the subject with every appearance of relief and spends the whole of dinner telling stories about her nanny and the unlikely series of events that led a Klingon to go into childcare as a field, and why her father ever hired this Grunhilda. In between, she eats the hasperat with every sign of enjoyment (though she does give up and replicate herself a cup of yogurt halfway through the meal, which Mithian assures her she doesn’t blame her for in the least) and asks Mithian how she decided to go into Starfleet and what it was like working on the Camelot under now-Admiral Pendragon.

“We’ll do this again,” says Elena after a second helping of hasperat and two jumja sticks, slumped backwards in her chair as if she’s contemplating sleeping right there. “If you like, of course.”

“I would like, I would absolutely love to, in fact. And maybe you can introduce me to some of your favorites, then.”

Elena beams. “I’m a woman of simple tastes, but I never turn down the excuse for my favorites. I had a Romulan commanding officer, my first assignment, so I’m quite fond of their food.” She yawns. “However, I’m afraid I may have to kick you out now, I was up early this morning to check over some things in the engine room and I’ll have to be up again tomorrow.”

Mithian stands immediately. “Of course. I would invite you to my quarters for the next time, but the replicator in there is mostly good for the basics, nothing fancy, and yours is delicious.”

“I’ll put yours on my to-fix list,” Elena promises, heaving herself out of her chair with a groan. “I’ve already done Freya’s and Vivian’s, and I suspect if Morgana and Morgause weren’t so terribly them about everything they would have already asked me. Replicators are another one of those things I want to encourage progress on, they’re the tech I learned on to start with, and … and that’s another long story, and I really shouldn’t get into it right now. Another time, Mithian?”

“Another time,” Mithian promises, and takes her leave. If she hums happily the whole way back to her quarters, nobody’s around to mention it.

*

Mithian is starting to be proud of the way her ship is coming together. Freya and Isolde are an efficient team at the helm, Vivian keeps everyone apprised of everything they need to hear, Gwen can patch up anything without batting an eyelash, Morgause keeps them safe, George checks on experiments with efficiency and aplomb, Elena continues increasing the ship’s efficiency, and Morgana reports and takes direction easily, the best professional support Mithian could have asked for.

The problem, though, is that no matter how well the ship is running, going through missions in record time and getting Admiral Caerleon’s approval, the team isn’t coming together at all. George continues fawning over Morgana, who ignores him in favor of Morgause. Gwen makes tentative sallies of friendship towards Morgana and gets only awkward lunches in response. Vivian sniffs at everyone unless someone is in the mood to ask about her family’s history in Starfleet, Freya keeps entirely to herself, and Isolde is busy with her boyfriend when she isn’t on duty.

Elena, though, is a miracle, and it’s hard not to tell her so as the weeks wear on and their dinners together become a regular thing. She has a habit of turning up with a chocolate cupcake or a cup of tea or a new discovery whenever Mithian is at her most frustrated, and she takes to spending their dinners gossiping merrily about the crew without ever once letting on that she must know that Mithian is having trouble getting them to connect. “And so George, of course,” she’s saying on this particular night, “is hoping Morgana turns out to be a traditional Vulcan, but nobody raised by Admiral Pendragon is going to adhere to the principles of logic so he’s barking up entirely the wrong tree, but he’ll continue to try, and meantime Ensign Starling is quite pining after him and he doesn’t even notice, it’s quite a mess.”

“Morgana isn’t fond of the Admiral, though,” Mithian points out, because she knows that much at least, if only through Arthur and a few off-hand comments of Morgana’s.

“Doesn’t have to be, does she? She was still raised by him more than she was raised on Vulcan, no matter she had a proper Vulcan tutor.”

“And Morgause?”

Elena shrugs. “They’re both fighters. Seen some things, no doubt, but then, haven’t we all? Academy friends, I think, who like each other all the more because the Admiral wasn’t overly happy about their friendship.”

Mithian thinks about asking what she means when she says they’ve all seen things, but it’s clear enough. It’s hard to find someone in Starfleet who doesn’t have a story to tell about why they joined, especially with the Dominion war in so many people’s childhoods. Even Elena probably has a story, but she’s got no business asking about it. “What about Morgana and Gwen, then?” she asks instead.

“That one’s easy. Childhood friendship.” She tilts her head. “Or maybe romance, I don’t know. Ended badly, either way, and they both feel terrible about it but Morgana is suppressing her feelings and all Gwen will do about it is apologize a lot.”

“Never become a captain,” Mithian says, propping her chin on her hand only because otherwise she’s going to beat her head against Elena’s table. “You’ll end up with a senior staff who circle each other like so many wary animals and give serious thought to retiring back to your home planet.”

Elena just laughs at her instead of sympathizing, which is more steadying than Mithian would have expected. “You aren’t doing so bad as all that. If anyone else had all of us on a staff, I would worry, but we like you, Mithian, I promise that we really do. And by the end of five years no doubt we’ll all be the best of friends, if Morgause hasn’t killed the lot of us by then.”

“It’s not the friendship I’m worried about, so much. It’s more the sinking feeling that we’re constantly two shifts from some sort of terrible explosion.” She sighs. “And of course I shouldn’t be telling you any of this.”

“Rubbish,” says Elena firmly. “It isn’t as though you’re sitting here telling me you hate any of us and wish you’d never picked us, you’re just frustrated. And we’re friends, you know? Really, properly friends. I’m not going to tell on you if you vent a little.”

It takes Mithian a second to muster an answer that isn’t just throwing her arms around Elena in thanks. She loves being in command, loves the Avalon, and Elena helps her remember why, but she doesn’t quite know how to say that. “Well then, I’ll vent and you can always feel free to do the same. If you’re worried, you can just let me know when you’re talking to me as a friend and not a captain, and I’ll … turn a blind eye if there’s anything I probably should report.”

Elena breaks out in dimples when she’s truly pleased, and she’s doing it now. “As a friend, then? Ensign Starling and poor George are going to be the story of this five-year mission, I can tell already. He’ll spend the first year pining after Morgana, and the second stewing in his heartbreak once she finally slaps him, and by then Branwen will be quite over her infatuation, and then he’ll have to woo her …”

Mithian listens to the story, which gets improbable to the levels of a good novel (or a bad one), until she’s laughing and Elena is pretending at offended dignity before she excuses herself to replicate a jumja stick because she’s grown quite addicted to them.

“It’ll all come out right, you know?” Elena says when Mithian finally admits that she’s got to turn in because there’s a long day of writing reports ahead of her tomorrow. “Like I said, it’s early days.”

*

They get called in on their first diplomatic assignment three months into their mission, to take an ambassador and her staff from a Romulan colony world to Risa, where they’ll be convening for a summit on rights for a few new planets that are being terraformed. Mithian spends the days on their way to the planet practicing her Romulan with Vivian at every opportunity, and Vivian even allows it without rolling her eyes, which is practically a miracle from what Mithian has seen.

As reward, Mithian takes Vivian down with her to pick up the ambassador, since if she’s any judge Ambassador Nimueh will take all the coddling they can give her. Nobody likes being given a ship with no prestige or history behind it at all for escort, especially not diplomats fast rising the ranks. Mithian makes sure that the whole away team is dressed in their most impeccable uniforms, and makes sure to introduce herself as the Avalon’s captain the moment Ambassador Nimueh greets them.

“It’s a pleasure, Captain Nemeth,” says the ambassador, and Mithian doesn’t let herself relax, not quite, because being on assignment and relaxed is always a mistake, but it eases something to know that Nimueh isn’t going to take offense at her escort. “My staff and your ensigns are packing the shuttle?”

“Yes, ma’am. We should be clear to go to the Avalon within five minutes. Unless there’s something you need to do last-minute?”

“Oh, no, not at all. I’m always early for things.”

They make polite chatter, with help from Vivian, who certainly knows how to turn on the charm even if she doesn’t bother to do it very often, and it isn’t long before an ensign comes trotting in to tell them that they’re clear to get on the shuttle. Mithian shepherds Ambassador Nimueh and the remainder of her staff onto the shuttle, which is a little cramped, but there’s no help for it, given that the Avalon’s small size means the shuttles by necessity must be small as well. Again, she checks with the ambassador to see if it’s going to be a problem, but there’s no sign of it, just Nimueh ordering around one of her aides.

Mithian catches Vivian when they get back on the ship, before she goes back to her station and Mithian goes to talk to Freya and Isolde about their route to Risa. “Well done, Lieutenant Fitzroy. Do you mind if I call on you on occasion to see to the ambassador when I have other duties?”

Vivian looks almost startled. “Not at all.”

“Good. They seem to like you,” she says, and quits while she’s ahead, since Vivian is smiling properly and that’s a better response than she’s had from her yet.

*

While Nimueh is on the ship, Mithian has dinner with her and whatever officers happen to go by that evening, and she finds herself missing dinners with Elena within days. Vivian makes herself available often, apparently pleased to be of use for her skills with the Romulan language even though the translator works perfectly. Even Morgana comes, and she and Nimueh aren’t precisely warm, but they do seem to enjoy one another’s company. Other than the occasional appearance from George, the rest of her senior staff habitually send their excuses, but the dinners give Mithian an excuse to get to know at least a few of her officers better, and she won’t look down on the chance.

Still, she stops by engineering more frequently than she usually does, to see what Elena’s doing with the engines and the maintenance and improvements she’s starting to design for the warp core. “What, are diplomats really that boring?” Elena asks when Mithian stops by for the third day in a row on an excuse that anyone could see through.

Mithian knows she must look somewhere near as mortified as she feels, and she’s only glad that none of the junior staff are looking at her directly, just Elena. “I’ll let you get back to work, sorry to bother you,” she says, a little stiffer than she means to.

Elena puts a hand out, looking a little sorry. “I’m not trying to send you away. And you’re welcome to check in on our progress down here whenever you please, I was just asking a question.”

And bothering Elena when she really oughtn’t, probably forcing herself on her past the friendship they’ve been working on, and Mithian backs up a step. “I was just stopping by, I’ll talk to you about the plans for the warp core soon. Thanks, Chief.” With that, she walks quickly out of the engine room and tells herself it isn’t fleeing at all.

Elena turns up to that night’s diplomatic dinner in a pretty yellow dress and gives Mithian’s hand a squeeze before she sits down. “Stop by whenever you like, I mean it, I always want to see you,” she whispers, and then sets herself to charming Ambassador Nimueh’s chief aide, who is twice her age but quite willing to be charmed.

Mithian, buoyed by her presence, does her best to be more than just polite, and ends the dinner promising Ambassador Nimueh to attend her in the rec rooms the next day to learn the basics to the martial art that Nimueh specializes in and thinks Mithian would enjoy.

To her surprise, Morgana falls into step with her when she excuses herself, instead of Elena (who has been distracted talking about mutual acquaintances from the Academy with Vivian, and Mithian isn’t jealous of her attention in the least). She doesn’t talk, but the company is encouraging enough, and Mithian keeps her own counsel as well, just giving Morgana a nod when she stops off at her quarters and getting one in return that seems a good deal friendlier than any she’s had from her before.

*

Morgause takes her aside when they’re four days out of Risa, when Mithian is exhausted from her duties on top of entertaining Nimueh. “There’s a ship, an older Romulan make, that’s been trailing us almost since we left the ambassador’s colony,” she says.

Mithian snaps to attention immediately. “Chasing? Or just happening to be going the same route?” She knows which theory Morgause favors, if she brought it to Mithian, but it’s always good to ask.

“They haven’t shown any signs of attacking us, but they haven’t hailed us to let us know that they’re friendly, either. And if a Romulan ship were going to Risa, wouldn’t they have brought the ambassador with them?”

“Probably.” Mithian frowns. “Make sure everyone is on alert, increase the ambassador’s detail as subtly as you can—see if any of your ensigns want to learn what she’s been teaching me these past few days, she’s a willing teacher and it will mean more security staff around her. I’m going to ask Vivian to hail them, we’ll see what to do from there.”

Morgause nods sharply. “Captain. Any other orders?”

“Just keep an eye on things. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Chief Lothian.”

The bridge is quiet, when Mithian makes her way there—Isolde and Freya are playing a game of three-dimensional tic-tac-toe on a console and Vivian is flipping through fashion holos on hers. All of them straighten up, looking a little guilty, when Mithian comes in. “What can we do for you?” Isolde asks after a moment, collecting herself.

“As you were, ladies, I just need to talk to Vivian for a moment, nobody’s in trouble. Lieutenant?” When Vivian nods, Mithian goes over to her. “Morgause tells me there’s been a Romulan ship trailing us almost since the ambassador’s world. Have you had a hail?”

“I put all hails in the logs,” says Vivian, sounding scandalized.

“I know that, I just wanted to be sure. Would you hail them for me, please? On screen,” she says to the room, and settles herself where she’ll be seen, a friendly smile on her face.

“Not responding,” says Vivian after a few minutes of pressing buttons. “Trying again. Transmitting.”

“This is the Federation starship Avalon, you’ve been in our trail. Please respond.” Nothing. “Identify yourself.” Still nothing. “Kill the channel, please, Vivian.”

Freya and Isolde are watching with wide eyes, and to her surprise Freya is the one who asks a question. “Is something wrong, Captain?”

“Just a better-safe-than-sorry moment, I’m sure,” says Mithian. “Being followed, but they could be on legitimate business even if they aren’t answering hails.”

“If they meant us harm, they would probably be cloaked,” Isolde contributes, pressing a few buttons on her console and looking at their proximity. “Still, they’re staying at a pretty precise distance, just out of range of standard proximity sensors but close enough to catch us if we go to warp quickly. Thank everything for Morgause keeping an eye on things. I’ll be on alert, Captain.”

“Thank you.” She checks the time. Elena will be off shift by now, and Mithian should host dinner for Ambassador Nimueh again, but she has other business to take care of. “Vivian, when you go to dinner would you please give the ambassador my regrets? Don’t tell her what’s going on if you can manage it, I need to talk to the rest of the senior staff as quickly as I can.”

“Engineering probably needs to be made aware,” Freya agrees, and Mithian suspects she’s probably teasing, but she doesn’t much mind. Freya teasing means that Freya is a little more comfortable than she has been, after all.

“We’ll have a senior staff meeting tomorrow morning to discuss the situation, everyone required to attend. Thank you, ladies. Vivian, whoever is manning the console tonight, let them know to wake me up for any communication from the Romulan vessel.”

*

Elena is in her room when Mithian goes to see her, sprawled out on her bed watching a new historical film about Montgomery Scott. “Oh, hello! Come join me, I’m just barely getting started. Everyone’s done Captain Kirk and Commander Spock to death, so we’re finally getting movies about the rest of that crew, and—”

“And your feelings about Montgomery Scott are well-documented, yes,” says Mithian, trying not to sound as fond as she feels. “I’m very sorry to intrude on your private time, but I’m actually here as a captain at the moment.”

That makes Elena sit up instantly, pausing her film. “What’s the problem?”

Mithian briefs her about the Romulan ship. “I don’t know if it’s cause for concern yet, but with the ambassador aboard I’m not going to take any chances. Your people should be prepared for fighting or for taking evasive maneuvers at any time.”

“Of course.” She grins a little. “Captain. If you excuse me for a minute I’ll let the night crew know to be on alert, and then we can learn more about the genius of Mr. Scott.”

“Much as I’d love to, I should probably talk to Morgana, maybe Gwen, make sure they’re alerted as well.”

Elena tilts her head. “Who warned you of the potential danger, again?”

“Morgause,” Mithian says, even though she said that right off.

“Then she told Morgana the second you left and you know it, and Morgana will let Gwen know, and it isn’t as though George needs to know tonight, so you can stay here and take deep breaths and pretend you aren’t panicking over the thought of commanding a ship during a potential battle while I talk to my night shift. Okay?”

Mithian wants very badly to be offended by that, but all she can manage is gratitude. She asks Elena’s replicator for a coffee even though she avoids it at night and drinks it at her table while Elena murmurs into her communicator, talking whoever’s in charge of engineering tonight through something. “Better?” asks Elena when she finishes up. “Everyone’s on alert, apparently Morgana already stopped by, so while apparently you two need to talk over your delegation strategy everything is under control.”

If Mithian collapsed and started talking about what a terrible captain she is and how half her senior staff doesn’t even trust her, Elena would probably be sympathetic and comforting, but she doesn’t want to put that on Elena, and she knows it’s just a matter of time and experience needed. “Thanks,” she says instead. “Going back to your movie?”

We are going back to my movie,” says Elena firmly. “What, you think after a few months I can’t tell when you’re upset? So we are going to watch a very attractive actor who looks nothing like Mr. Scott revolutionize half of Starfleet’s technology, and eat popcorn in the finest of Terran traditions.”

Mithian joins her, because there’s no use saying she doesn’t want to and it feels like ages since she’s had time to spend just with Elena even though Ambassador Nimueh hasn’t really been on the ship that long in the scheme of things. She falls asleep halfway through the movie, though, in the middle of one of Mr. Scott’s pieces of genius, and wakes up sprawled and uncomfortable with her head in Elena’s lap and Elena’s hand stroking distracted through her hair, as if she’s been doing it for a while but forgot to stop. She’s too tired to worry about dignity or embarrassment, but she does manage to squeeze Elena’s knee. “Sorry, didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”

Elena stops stroking her hair but doesn’t show any signs of wanting Mithian off her lap. “No worries, there haven’t been any disasters or I would have woken you. However, it is the middle of the night, and my movie finished half an hour ago, and we should both probably get some rest. Separately.”

Mithian is in the middle of sitting up at that last, so she doesn’t turn fast enough to see the look on Elena’s face, but there’s something in her tone on the last word that warms something in her stomach. “Separately,” she says, because it’s a good thing to remind herself of. If she and Elena do decide to be together—and she’s checked the fraternization regulations a few times to make sure that it would be acceptable, even though she knows it is, as long as they talk to the ship’s counselor about it—she doesn’t want it to be the result of adrenaline or worry or anything else that may make either one of them regret it later. “Thank you for taking me in.”

“Give them hell,” Elena says, staying on her bed while Mithian makes it to her feet and smoothes her clothes down. “See you for staff meeting in the morning.”

Mithian smiles the whole way back to her quarters.

*

Two days out of Risa, the Romulan ship attacks. It is, Mithian discovers with a sinking feeling once the first round of fire hits them, two ships rather than one, and the second one was cloaked the whole way. It’s a newer model, but still not very new, and there’s enough superficial damage to the hull that Mithian thinks it must have been scavenged. “Hail them,” she tells Vivian almost the second they’re hit, even though she doubts it will do any good.

“Have a response,” Vivian says half a second later, fingers flying at her console while she gets word out to the various departments what they need.

“On screen.” The man on the other ship is older, Romulan, calm enough that she knows this has been their plan all along. “This is Captain Nemeth of the starship Avalon, cease fire immediately.”

“We want the ambassador,” he says, almost pleasantly. “She has no right to represent our people.”

Mithian raises her eyebrows. “If you’ll pardon my saying so, the Romulan government’s files say differently. Stand down.”

“If Ambassador Nimueh and her staff are not delivered to us in ten minutes, we will be forced to continue our attack on your ship.”

“No one is forcing you to do anything. Stand down.” Behind her, the bridge is a mess of activity, Morgana arriving out of nowhere and snapping out a crisp set of standard orders for battle readiness, Morgause fast on her heels. Mithian is almost certain that they can deal with two ships, even with her own not anything close to the best in the fleet, but she also thinks it may be wiser to escape as fast as they can and lead the ships into the larger concentration of Federation ships closer to Risa. With a diplomatic summit going on, there are bound to be some important ships there.

“Our grievance is a legitimate one. We don’t believe the ambassador will work in the best interests of—”

“Your grievance is not legitimate if you file it with phaser fire,” Mithian points out, as mildly as she can. “Stand down.”

That upsets him enough to cut off the transmission, but they don’t start firing immediately, which is a good sign. He’s a man of honor, then, and he won’t fire until ten minutes pass. That gives her ten minutes—probably closer to eight, now, to go on the offensive rather than the defensive. Mithian takes a deep breath, and then Morgana is at her elbow. “The ambassador is safe in her chambers, under every override possible including medical with security staff outside the doors.”

“Good job thinking of medical override,” Mithian says. “Is everyone at their stations?”

“Ready and willing. What is your plan, Captain?”

“Fire at nine minutes and ten seconds from his ultimatum. Target both ships, the one that was cloaked first. We aren’t taking any chances, though, if Ambassador Nimueh is more important than previously thought to these negotiations.” She raises her voice enough to be heard across the bridge. “Ms. Golding, Ms. Bastet, be ready to take evasive maneuvers. Conference as quickly as you can over the next several minutes about our escape routes. Be prepared to go a little quicker than you’re used to.” She hits her comm badge. “Bridge to engineering.”

“Go ahead,” says Elena’s voice a second later, more serious than she’s used to but just as steady as ever.

“We’re fighting, but we need to be ready to run at the slightest hint of need.” She takes a deep breath. “How sure are you of your engine modifications?”

Elena sounds offended, and it would almost be funny if she weren’t pinning their lives on a second or two shaved off their time to warp, and their warp capacity higher than is on the ship’s record. “I’m always sure.”

“Sure enough for me to factor higher warp speed into our battle plans? Say, 9?”

There’s only a split second’s hesitation. “We can do it.”

“Good. Bridge out.”

Morgana is still at her shoulder when she looks around for the next thing to do, her eyebrows up in what might be a look of surprise. “This ship has a recorded speed of no higher than warp factor 8.63, and we have not yet taken it above warp factor 7, Captain.”

Mithian smiles, though it must look grim. “We have a very good chief of engineering. A very good staff overall, as a matter of fact. If you would please check in with Vivian and make sure everyone is at the ready and all personnel not involved in the fighting is secured somewhere?”

“Of course, Captain,” Morgana says, nodding and walking away, every step precise enough that she could undoubtedly measure the exact span of the bridge with them.

There are only a few minutes left on her count, and undoubtedly a hundred things to do and think of, but Mithian takes her time walking to her chair and fastening the straps. If nothing else, it gives her time to think. This isn’t her first battle, nor even her first one in command outside of training exercises—she was in charge of the Camelot for five terrifying minutes during the battle that earned her her promotion, when Admiral Pendragon was wounded and Arthur was fighting his way back from an away mission—but it’s her first in her own ship, and she’s all too aware of the potential for panic.

“Eight minutes passed,” Vivian says from her console. Mithian is a little worried that they haven’t been hailed again with a reiteration of the ultimatum, but he could just think that he has said quite enough and doesn’t need to explain further.

“Everyone stand by,” says Mithian.

There’s a certain quiet just before a battle, and it settles on the bridge the moment Mithian speaks. Freya and Isolde give each other sharp nods before returning to their controls, hopefully with at least three plans and failsafes. Morgana buckles herself into her seat at Mithian’s side with a nod of her own proving everything is at the ready. Morgause finds a seat as well, at a console ready to fire. Gwen must be getting ready for injuries and casualties, Elena must be doing last-minute tweaks to the engines and the warp core, and hopefully George has stabilized any delicate projects and shut himself away somewhere secure.

“Nine minutes,” says Vivian, and starts counting backwards from ten.

“Ready,” Mithian says over her “two,” and then the second she gets to “zero,” continues with “Fire.”

Their initial sally is met with instantaneous fire from both ships—their leader doesn’t even bother hailing Mithian again to express his disappointment or to make speeches at her again, which she appreciates, in an odd way. Instead, it’s simply fire upon fire, wearing away at each other’s shields, which are—“Holding well,” says Isolde before Mithian can even turn to ask her, the words lost in the general murmur of the bridge. “At seventy percent.”

“Bless engineering,” she says, and keeps snapping out orders, watching everyone jump to obey. The older ship, the one that hasn’t been cloaked, has taken several hits, but the other is doing worryingly well, and the Avalon only has so much power.

“It’s a war of attrition at this point,” Freya says from her console, where she’s been working at complex equations in between keeping them steady. “The question is just whose shields hold out longer.”

She has faith in Elena’s abilities, but she doesn’t want to divert more power to their shields when they might need it to run. “How likely is it that ours will outlast both of theirs?”

“Twenty percent,” says Freya. “Maybe thirty if we divert more power to them.”

Mithian frowns and takes a few breaths, even though she doesn’t really have the luxury of time for such things. Being steady is every bit as important as a quick reaction time. “Getting the ambassador where she needs to go is more important than sticking around for battle, I would say.” She hits her comm badge. “Bridge to engineering.”

“Go ahead,” says Elena, sounding a little breathless.

“How’s the warp drive?”

“We can do it.”

“Good. Prepare yourselves, down there, we’re going to be going for it. Bridge out.” She looks around. “Fire six more blasts, four for the newer ship, two for the older, and then prepare to go to full warp. Isolde, you can pilot at higher speeds than we’ve been doing?”

Isolde grins. “I’ve always loved going fast, Captain.”

“Good. Fire!” This round shakes both ships up, but also makes them redouble their efforts, and Mithian is glad they’re prepared to run—she’s not going to risk the ambassador. “Ms. Golding, Ms. Bastet—you know what to do. Impulse on full.”

The ship hums beneath them, Mithian mutters a brief prayer to the Prophets for safety, and then they’re leaving the Romulan ships in the dust, and only picking up speed. Vivian lets out a breathless noise, and Morgause a surprised one. Isolde laughs. “Look at her go! Factor of 8.7 and still climbing!”

“The Romulan ships are out of phaser range and in pursuit,” says Morgana, as poised as ever but with her eyebrows halfway up her forehead, as close to surprised as Mithian has seen her yet, no matter that she doesn’t adhere to Surak’s principles. “However, judging by their classes and their age and the damage to their shields, I estimate that they should not be able to go any faster than warp factor 8.”

“We’ll keep climbing, just in case. Commander, Lieutenant Fitzroy, would you please go check on Ambassador Nimueh and her staff? Assure them that we’re safe and will be arriving on Risa faster than previously assumed.” They both salute and go, leaving one of the ensigns to take Vivian’s post.

“What’s our speed, Ms. Golding?” Mithian asks.

“We’ve been holding steady at 9.74 for the last ten seconds,” Isolde reports, still grinning fit to burst. “Comfortable cruising speed, I would say. We’ll be in Risa in no time at all.”

Mithian turns to Freya. “And you’re set to navigate at this speed?” She gets a nod in return. “Good, then. Chief Lothian, do you have readings on the Romulan ships’ proximity?”

“Out of range and only getting further away.” Morgause sounds pleased with herself, and Mithian feels that way.

Those duties done, she taps her comm badge. “Bridge to engineering.”

“Go ahead, Captain!” Elena is giddy, and Mithian can’t help smiling at the sound of her voice.

“We’re at 9.7, engineering. Congratulations to everyone who’s been working to increase our capabilities.”

“To be precise, 9.74.” Of course she knows that. “You asked for 9, and I figured I could do you a little better,” says Elena, as if 9 wouldn’t have been enough of a miracle. “We’re all set down here, going to do some shield repair while we travel.”

“I’ll leave you to it, then. Bridge out.” She runs through her tasks in her head and remembers, with a guilty start, that she talked to Elena before remembering to ask Gwen about the injury count. They were never hit bad enough to have breached the hull, but the ship did rock a few times, and could easily have shaken people around enough to give them injuries.

Luckily, when word comes back from Gwen, it’s nothing bad, just a broken wrist, two concussions, and an engineering ensign caught in a small explosion (Mithian decides not to ask about that for her own sanity) who is now without eyebrows or dignity, and Mithian relaxes a little more. The Romulan ships aren’t anywhere close to catching up to them, and instead of getting to Risa in two days it should be a matter of hours instead, plenty of time to warn everyone that there may be trouble. Mithian gets out of her chair and walks over to the communications console, hitting the button to address the whole ship. “This is Captain Nemeth. Well done, everyone. Stay on alert, but you can stand down from battle stations.”

When Mithian goes back to her chair, Morgause even deigns to smile at her. “It’s an honor serving with you, Captain,” she says, and that’s about the best compliment Mithian could ever ask for.

*

Six hours later, when they come out of warp in Risa’s airspace, they’re hailed immediately, and when Mithian takes the call, there’s Arthur, looking terribly dashing and terribly confused in the Camelot’s captain’s chair. “Avalon, you aren’t expected for another forty hours. Has something gone wrong?”

Mithian, exhausted but unwilling to leave the bridge until she’s quite certain their Romulan friends won’t be bothering them again, grins at him. “We might be expecting some Romulan company in the near future, but we’ve outpaced them, so there’s time to prepare for them.”

Arthur makes the face he always makes when he’s trying not to laugh at something, and Mithian darts a quick look at Morgana, in the chair next to her, who seems to have been frozen into a marble statue at the sight of her brother’s face. “We’ll take that under advisement, Captain Nemeth. It’s good to see you again.”

“We’ll catch up on Risa,” she promises. “In the meantime, we have an ambassador on board who needs some extra security, so I’m going to deliver her and arrange it.”

This time, he does laugh. “Trust you lot to find trouble on what should be the easiest diplomatic assignment possible. I’ll look forward to hearing what you have to say.” His face disappears a second later, and Mithian is sure to wait a few seconds before she turns to Morgana.

Morgana, of course, is fully under control again, but she twitches something that almost might be a smile at Mithian when she catches her looking. It’s enough for now, anyway.

*

It takes twenty-four hours, a nap, a chat with Arthur, a brief battle with the Romulans, several reports filed, and a long-distance talk with Admiral Caerleon before Mithian can catch Elena alone.

Elena opens the door like she’s expecting her, a smile already on her face. “Shouldn’t you be on the planet? We’ve got a few days’ leave, and who passes up the opportunity for a bit of time on Risa?”

“You, apparently,” Mithian points out, and steps around her to come in. “I’ve been dealing with business, because the captain gets less leave than all of you, and also it took a while to get through to Admiral Caerleon’s office.”

Elena gestures her towards the table. “And how is the admiral?”

“Well. She said we did well, and that she would give you a commendation except that the thought of safety regulations is making her want to murder you a little, so instead you’re to write everything up very officially and she may deign to encourage you to publish it.” Elena laughs, and Mithian doesn’t bother biting down her fond smile. “She also says that at this rate we’re going to replace the Camelot as her favorite ship in her fleet, but I think that’s mostly because she’s not fond of Arthur.”

“I’ll just have to keep making improvements until we can beat the Camelot with one metaphorical arm tied behind our backs. Tea?”

“Please.” She sighs and rubs her temples. “We’re going back to science missions after this for a while, George will be pleased. Annis is even making noises about having us in the gamma quadrant, eventually.”

“George will be pleased.” Elena drums her fingers on the table, and when Mithian can’t find anything else to say, starts in on one of her litanies of what the crew is up to. “He’s bothering Morgana less, the past week or so, which I think has less to do with him finding someone else and more to do with Morgause being terrifying. I’m still really not sure if Morgana is sleeping with her, or if she’s sleeping with Gwen, or both of them, but I’m honestly not sure if I want to know. I do know Freya is probably down on Risa sleeping with Captain Pendragon’s hot pilot, but I figure that’s her own business, and—”

“I don’t know what I would do without you,” Mithian says, the words slipping out before she can quite vet them.

Elena pauses, eyes a little wide, and then smiles again, a little less enthusiastically than usual. “Command a much slower spaceship, no doubt.”

“Well, yes, but I mean without you.” Elena looks uncomfortable enough that Mithian should pull back, because their relationship isn’t forbidden under Starfleet codes of conduct, but it would still be very badly done of Mithian to put pressure on her. “You’re amazing,” she settles on, because that can be taken as completely platonic, and if Elena wants to take it as such, that’s her own business, and Mithian will go get drunk with Arthur and then do her best to forget about it.

“Well, likewise,” says Elena, looking a little more relaxed again. “I’d say we haven’t done too badly for ourselves.”

She could leave it there. Part of her wants to, wants to keep on being safe and friends with Elena because doing without her is unthinkable at this point and she suspects that if Elena stopped talking to her, her crew would mutiny within a day. Part of her, however, is a Starfleet captain, presently the youngest commanding her own ship (she beat Arthur out for the title by four months and two weeks), and if there’s anything that Starfleet’s captains have in common, it’s an occasional reckless disregard for common sense and a habit of falling in love with their officers. So, instead of bringing the conversation out to general discussion of the battle, and engineering’s great triumph, and Ambassador Nimueh’s insistence that she’s going to get their entire ship a commendation, Mithian reaches across the table and takes Elena’s hand in hers. “I don’t want to pressure you to do anything you don’t want to, but I would like to kiss you.”

Mithian is used to Elena coming back with an answer almost immediately even when she’s surprised, so the silence feels strange and uncomfortable. Worse, it’s suddenly impossible to read Elena’s expression beyond something a little deeper than surprise, when Elena has an incredibly open face. All of a sudden, she might as well be Morgana, or George when he’s trying to be a Vulcan again. “You what?” she says after a minute.

“Right, that might not have been one of my better plans,” Mithian says, and stands up. “I’m very sorry, and we can pretend this never happened if that makes it less strange for you, but I had really better—”

“You are not going anywhere,” Elena says, pointing at her and wearing the same mulish expression she does whenever Mithian worries too much that her senior staff hates her. She stands up as well, though the table is still between them. “You’re going to explain.”

“Explain what?” It’s a stupid thing to say, and she knows it is, but she can’t quite manage anything else.

“When you decided you want to kiss me, for one, and why you’re bringing it up now instead of when you fell asleep with your head in my lap and I thought I was going to die of sexual frustration, and—”

If there’s another trait Starfleet captains tend to share, it’s the way they press their advantage the second they realize they might have one. Before Elena finishes her sentence, Mithian is on the other side of the table, Elena’s face in her hands, and when Elena goes quiet with wide eyes but shows no sign of backing up, Mithian kisses her. “Ages,” she says when they pull apart, only going far enough to rest her forehead against Elena’s. “If that’s okay.”

“If that’s okay,” Elena parrots, but she sounds too fond for Mithian to believe her annoyance. “Of course it’s okay. I’ve thought you were gorgeous forever, and then you cemented it all by turning out to be nice, and for a while I thought for sure you were having some long distance love affair with Captain Pendragon before I decided that was probably stupid, and … you should kiss me again. Please stop me talking.”

Mithian obliges, and when she pulls away Elena makes an unsatisfied noise, but she still has a few things to say. “I like you so much. I’m so glad you want me too.”

“You are ridiculous,” Elena says, but she’s still close enough to brush Mithian’s nose with her own and she sounds too fond for it to be a real complaint.

“We’re on leave,” Mithian says instead of answering. “So we’ve got plenty of time to—”

“You aren’t leaving my quarters for the next twenty-four hours unless there’s an emergency,” Elena interrupts, a grin breaking out across her face, and kisses Mithian.

Mithian doesn’t have any objections in the least, but it turns out that it’s quite some time before she manages to say so.

*

Six months into her first five-year mission, Mithian throws a dinner for all her senior staff. They haven’t had a disaster in a few weeks, and are currently traveling between two entirely unobjectionable science missions, so Mithian figures it’s safe enough, and everyone is glad of the excuse for a celebration. They all turn up with dishes in their hands, replicated or cooked, depending on who they are and whether Elena has had a chance to upgrade their replicators yet (she still hasn’t got to Mithian’s, which she claims is because then Mithian will have no excuse to come to Elena’s quarters any longer but which is most likely because she is continuing her love affair with the warp drive and Mithian doesn’t have the heart to drag her away).

Mithian has provided a few safe choices, heavily weighted towards the Terran because half her senior staff is from Earth, but everyone is much more interested in trying one another’s odder offerings, and she can’t say that she minds. Morgause eats racht with some sort of curried sauce that Isolde brought for chicken, Elena eats it as well and gets a clap on the shoulder and applause, since no one else will touch the racht other than Mithian forcing a few bites down.

It’s the best her staff has ever dealt with one another. Morgana and Gwen argue happily about whether Morgana’s vegetarianism ought to extend to plants that may have some evidence of sentience, if not sapience, due to something experimental that Vivian apparently cooked herself out of supplies picked up on their latest set-down “in civilization.” Isolde and Morgause get into a debate about whether Isolde’s favorite martial art really counts as such, obviously well-worn, and George and Freya are laughing hysterically over something towards one end of the table.

Elena plants herself at Mithian’s side and watches everyone with a benevolent beam that suggests she’s either had a revelation about her latest project or a little too much to drink. “Look at us all getting along,” she whispers halfway through dinner, after George has managed to get through a whole conversation with Morgana without her looking like she wants to stab him and Morgause and Gwen have started talking about traditional Klingon hairstyles, of all things. “Aren’t you proud?”

“Mithian,” Isolde calls down the table before Mithian can answer that, “stop flirting with your girlfriend for a minute and tell Freya she’s wrong about her solution to this equation.”

Mithian raises her eyebrows. “You’re getting me to mediate this instead of Elena? She’s the engineer, she’ll have more math experience.”

“Oh, you know those two, it’s theoretical rubbish,” Elena says with a dismissive wave.

It is, in fact, theoretical math and therefore more Mithian’s interest than Elena’s, but it eventually evolves into a potential recalibration of the warp scale, since technology does need to keep up with changes, and that gets the whole table of them involved, equations scrawled out on every available surface, and Mithian will have to clean it up later but she doesn’t much care. They’re all still a little shy with one another, if that’s the right word, but it’s only six months on. They’ve got a few more years yet to iron it all out, become everything Mithian thought she could see glimmers of when picking their files out during long hours in Annis’s office. They’re already colleagues, working their way towards being friends. Maybe even, she thinks as she catches Vivian tugging on George’s ear to get his attention, a family.

“Pay attention,” Elena says, grabbing her hand and earning them an exasperated and indulgent look from Morgause. “If we manage to improve the warp scale for fun after dinner, the Avalon is going to go down in history, we need your help here.”

Mithian grins at her, propping her chin on her shoulder to get a better look at something Freya is sketching out. “I’m not too worried. I’m quite sure we’ll have other chances for that. In fact, I’m looking forward to them.”