Lovelace knocks on the door to the commander's quarters and the 'come in' comes almost immediately. The captain smiles to herself before opening the door and stepping in.
'Commander,' she greets her, 'how are you doing?'
Commander Minkowski is sitting on her bed with a deep frown on her face, her arms crossed in front of her chest. The complaint comes almost immediately, and it's all Lovelace can do to not be overwhelmed by the feeling of fondness that bubbles up inside her.
'I am fine ,' Minkowski says impatiently, 'and I really don't understand why Jacobi can just float about with a gunshot wound while I - the commanding officer of this ship, by the way - am benched in my quarters.'
'Jacobi got five star surgery and did not almost bleed out,' Lovelace explains. 'Besides, he knows not to strain himself with something as serious as a gunshot wound. '
Minkowski scoffs. 'I'm fine,' she insists again. Lovelace just raises one eyebrow.
'Well, I'd love to take your word for it, Commander, but unfortunately our medical officer is dead, so I'm just gonna have to go with my gut on this one. Terribly sorry.'
Minkowski rolls her eyes, but she gives up. 'What's the situation?'
Lovelace gives her the report. It doesn't feel exactly right to her either, not having Minkowski on the bridge. But she is hurt and with every sudden move she makes she hisses in pain and Lovelaces keeps getting flashes of the gun, and of pulling the trigger, and of the blood that spilled everywhere-
'Course is stable, so's everything else.' Because really, there isn't much to say except, we're on our way and we're going to be for a while. But Minkowski knows this, so she nods. 'And the others?'
Lovelace shrugs. 'Jacobi is busy with his own thoughts, I'd expect. Hera is with Pryce.'
Minkowski bites her lip, and when she asks the question that's really on her mind, she doesn't look at the captain. 'And Doug?'
Lovelace can’t fight the smile this time. It’s almost scary how quick the two of them jumped to a first name basis once they’d left the Hephaestus behind. It makes Lovelace think of another communications officer, the one that would frown at her when she called him Sam, even when he was dying and Lovelace was holding his hands.
She blinks the memory away. (It keeps getting easier, doing that. Lovelace isn't sure if she's relieved or concerned by this.)
She focuses on Minkowski.
‘He’s fine,’ she says. ‘Still going through his logs, I think. He did want to pay you a visit.’ She takes the opportunity to turn her back on Minkowski and the tired expression on her face and her arms and the bandage around her stomach and-
‘I’m gonna go tell him that you’re waiting,’ she says quietly. She opens the door, and-
Lovelace turns around and gives Minkowski a questioning look. She’s biting her lip. She looks afraid, which Lovelace thinks is very strange, because she’s Commander Renée Minkowski, and if anything, the world should be afraid of her.
Her brows furrow, just a little, at the title. That also doesn’t make any sense to Lovelace.
‘Could you- could you maybe just sit here, with me? For a moment?’
Lovelace would love to say no. To feign another emergency she has to take care of, because that’s so much easier than looking at Minkowski, battered and bruised and yet alive and so beautiful, so much easier than being alone with her.
She’d love to tell Minkowski no. But doing so has been getting increasingly more difficult the past few months.
So her answer is, ‘Of course.’ She doesn’t use the title this time, even though she’d like to.
God, she really disappeared into the star and came back a coward, didn’t she?
She makes her way over to Minkowski’s bed and sits down. They’re not sitting very close, their shoulders aren’t touching. Still, Lovelace is concentrating really hard to just look down at her hands, and to keep her breathing even.
When the silence gets too loud, she says the first thing that comes to mind.
‘Still see it in front of me when I close my eyes.’
Minkowski frowns, no doubt expecting something terrible and horrific. ‘What do you mean?’, she asks anyway, because she’s the bravest woman Lovelace has ever met.
Lovelace smiles, really this time. ‘You,’ she says. ‘You, with that goddamn harpoon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that in my entire life. Pulled the ground from right under my feet.’
It’s a little too honest, but it’s fine. Because it makes Minkowski laugh.
She laughs, and her face twists up in pain almost immediately.
‘Oh, damnit,’ she huffs, pressing a hand to her stomach. Lovelace does not think about taking her other hand. That would be foolish.
Not much more foolish than what she does next, but still.
‘I’m sorry,’ she says. She’s been wanting to apologise properly for a long time, but when they’d gone to find Ei- to find Doug, Minkowski had been dizzy with blood loss, and then she wasn’t conscious for days and Lovelace had no idea what she’d do if Minkowski died and Lovelace hadn’t managed to-
She wanted to apologise a long time ago. And there’s probably many more things to apologise for.
At least for the first time in years, Lovelace feels like she has time. To make things right.
Minkowski laughs again, or rather, she breathes out once with a grim smile on her face. ‘Don’t be,’ she says.
Lovelace frowns. ‘You don’t even know what I’m apologising for.’
‘Of course I do,’ Minkowski says softly. ‘It’s not exactly hard to guess.’
Lovelace chews on the next words for a while. She’s not usually this nervous.
Minkowski is really good at being Lovelace's ‘not usually’.
‘It still hurts?’
She isn’t sure if it’s a question either. But Minkowski answers anyway.
‘Yeah,’ she says, like Lovelace asked her about the weather. ‘It does. A lot.’
There’s no accusation in her voice, and that might be what Lovelace hates the most. She wants to apologise again, and then maybe a couple more times. She also wants to wrap her arms around Minkowski tightly and never let her go, and maybe press one or two or thirty kisses into her neck.
Instead she just says, ‘If there’s anything I can do-’
‘I’ll ask,’ Minkowski interrupts. Now she turns her head, and she’s looking right at Lovelace. Her breath hitches in her throat for a moment. She is… very close. ‘Of course. Thank you, Captain.’
Lovelace looks down, at the space between them. Her hand is resting on the bed, and so is Minkowski’s. There’s a lot of thoughts running through her head, and yet there’s only one thing she wants to say.
‘Call me Renée.’
Silence falls around them. Lovelace looks up.
Minkow- Renée is still looking at her. She doesn’t look nervous anymore. She just looks really, really beautiful.
‘I’m not your commander anymore,’ she says quietly. ‘I’m just- just Renée.’
It’s kind, and brave, and personal. And Lovelace would love to return the sentiment, tell her to call her Isabel, but she knows enough about every version of Captain Isabel Lovelace to know that hearing Renée Minkowski call her by her first name would be enough to really, honestly kill her. Permanently, this time.
So what she says instead is, ‘Renée.’
And it feels weird and wrong and strange and very, very big. Like it cannot possibly fit into her hands but Lovelace wants to keep holding it in them anyway.
‘Renée,’ she says again. And then Renée takes her hand. And time stops.
Lovelace doesn’t think at all when she puts her other hand on Renée’s stomach. She barely touches her, too scared to inflict more pain.
She wants to be gentle. She’s Isabel Lovelace, she’s death and resurrection and reckoning and survival, and she really, really wants to be gentle. She’s shot Renée in the stomach and she almost bled out under her hands, and Lovelace didn’t even have the time to tell her how utterly and foolishly in love with her she is, and now she wants to be gentle.
Renées breath hitches when Lovelace touches her, and she almost pulls away. It’s not a sound of pain, though. It’s something else.
‘Renée,’ Lovelace says for the third time, and then the commander is kissing her.
Lovelace has wanted this for a long time, and now that it’s actually happening, she’s clumsy and terrified. She kisses back, she puts a hand on Renées face, she pulls her closer, she breathes in all of her. This is the moment she finally understands that they’re really here, that the Hephaestus really is gone, consumed by the star, and that they’re really safe, and that they’re really going home.
For the first time, the thought doesn’t scare her.
The kiss is very careful and very short. Renée pulls back after just a few seconds. Lovelace fills the distance between them again and presses another kiss to Renée’s mouth.
Renée has her hand on Lovelace’s, and this must be the moment that both of them realise that they have no idea what they’re doing.
‘Sorry,’ Lovelace says, mainly because it’s the first thing she thinks of. She expects Renée to frown, maybe apologise herself and move away, create a new distance between the two of them. Instead, she just grins.
‘Are you? Are you really sorry?’, she asks.
Lovelace takes a moment to look at Renée. The tiny gleam in her eyes. She’s so beautiful. She’s so beautiful.
Oh, it’s not fair.
Then she laughs. It’s a whole and loud laugh, and Renée’s eyes follow the movement of Lovelace’s head with it.
‘No,’ Lovelace says. ‘Hell no. I'm not.'
Renée laughs at that, too. Carefully, because it still hurts. But she laughs. And when Lovelace moves closer to her and puts an arm around her, she leans against her and rests her head on her shoulder.
Lovelace presses a kiss down in Renée’s hair, and wonders what the hell she’s done to deserve something like this.