[personal profile] starwatcher_fic

Title: Ships that Pass...
Summary: A soldier protects a college student, just before a mission.
Style: Gen
Size: 4,505 words, about 8 pages in MS Word.
Warnings: A bit of unwanted sexual contact.
Notes: Written December, 2005. Two military acronyms used; if you don't know them, they're at the end of the story.
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Ships that Pass...

by StarWatcher

FRIDAY, MARCH 11, 1988

Captain James Ellison stared at the duffle bag on his bed as he ran through a mental checklist, confirming that he hadn't left anything out. They'd be in the bush for at least three months before pick-up -- longer if the mission required it -- and there'd be no running to the PX to grab a forgotten item. As it was, he and his team would be living off the land and wishing for the little luxuries of home long before they were brought back to the States.

He raised his head at a knock on the door. "Enter!"

Sergeant Vincent Sarris stepped into the room, snapped a sharp salute, then relaxed into easy informality at Captain Ellison's nod. Sarris considered Ellison was one of the better officers -- firm but fair, he took no guff, but supported his men one hundred percent. He was frequently too serious, though, and Vinnie had made it a personal goal to help his captain have a little fun when such occasions were available.

"Everyone's packed and ready to go, Captain. We thought we'd head out for one last night on the town, and wondered if you'd like to join us."

"We ship out at oh-seven-hundred, Sarris. Flying out while you're hung over is not a good idea, aside from the fact that it's against protocol."

"Sir! Yes, sir!" He grinned as he snapped another sharp salute. "None of us intend to get drunk. But there's a nice little spot near the University -- a real friendly atmosphere for drinking, and pretty ladies to dance with. It'll be our last chance for a long time; what d'you say?"

"I say the younger men might enjoy it, but you and I are a bit too old for college girls. And what would your wife say?"

Vinnie shrugged. "She knows I like to party, but I never go home with any girl but her. And it's not like I can hop down to San Diego for the night. TDY sucks, but Alice is a military wife; she knows I'll come back to her as soon as I can.

"In the meantime," he continued, "not all of the ladies at 'The Dancing Queen' are college girls; it attracts gals and guys up to our age, and older. You'll have a good time, Captain, I promise -- and you need to loosen up before the mission. Are you game?"

Ellison raised a bemused eyebrow. "Do you really expect me to be comfortable in a place called 'The Dancing Queen'? What -- no beer, just little colored drinks with cute paper umbrellas sticking out the top? No, thanks."

"No, Captain, it's not like that," Sarris earnestly assured him. "Yeah, I guess maybe the owner listened to too much ABBA, but the name doesn't change what's inside -- friendly atmosphere, good music, good drinks, billiards or darts in a side room if you want to play, and pretty ladies just looking for a good time. How can you beat that? It's way better than sitting alone in your quarters, trying to figure out how we're supposed to turn a bunch of illiterate savages into an organized militia capable of fighting the drug-runners. So come on; party tonight, plan tomorrow while we're stuck on a long flight. Sound good?"

Ellison capitulated. "Sounds good -- on one condition. For tonight, we're not captain, sergeant, or privates; we're Jim, Vinnie, Hank, Sammy and Pete. Got that?" He nudged his friend with an elbow and got an answering nod as they headed toward the door to gather the rest of the team.

Tommy Baker poked his head in the open door of Blair's dorm room. "Hey, Sandburg, you are coming with us to 'The Dancing Queen' tonight, aren't you? Melissa said she'd bring Gena along," he added with a knowing leer.

"Oh, yeah, man, I am so there; just finished my big Anthro paper and I am ready to par-tay!" he crowed. "And I'm thinkin' I can demonstrate some of my 'native tribal dance moves' to the gals." He essayed a practice hip-shimmy, and grinned at the look of revulsion on his friend's face. "Hey, don't knock it! I gotta have something to stack up against the jocks, and practically everybody bein' older'n me. Besides, I like to dance, and they won't serve me beer till I'm twenty-one; it's way better than sittin' around like a geek."

"Sandburg, in case you missed the memo, you are a geek," Tommy reminded him. "But you don't show off with it, and you're one of the funnest geeks we know, so we don't mind you coming along. Maybe some of that 'lady-magnetism' you seem to have will spread to the rest of us."

"Right; in your dreams," Blair laughed. "Hasn't anyone ever told you that some of us are born to greatness, and the rest of you can only aspire to it?" He spread his arms with a shoulder-shimmy that traveled upward and caused his long curls to bounce around his face. "You can study at my feet, but you'll never be as great as the master."

"Uh-huh, and tomorrow night I'll win the lottery. Meanwhile, you'll be so busy bopping to the music that you won't notice the rest of us scooping up the disappointed girls you're not dancing with. So save your fancy moves for the dance-floor, grab your coat and let's go; we're all meeting in the quad in five minutes."

"I'm comin', man, I'm comin'; Naomi Sandburg didn't raise any slugs." Together, they headed for the stairs, and a typical collegiate Friday night.

By unconscious and unrecognized habit, Ellison and his men grabbed a table in the far corner of the room. Aided by sitting in the raised dining section -- up three steps -- they would be able to observe the entire room and, with their backs to a solid wall, no unpleasant surprises would be able to sneak up on them. They ordered beers and snacks, then settled back to survey the terrain before making their moves.

Ellison noted that the place seemed to be well-managed. Despite the high spirits and the youth of many of the dancers, the bouncer had no reason to exercise his muscles; it seemed that a quiet word in the ear to anyone who appeared to be getting argumentative was enough to engender a cease-fire, and the combatants resolved their differences. Some of the clientele seemed awfully young, though...

"How does the management get away with serving drinks to minors?" he asked Sarris. "I thought the cops came down hard on anyone serving booze to underage kids."

"They don't," Vinnie assured him. "This place is really careful to check out everyone's ID. You saw it with Pete; everyone here is at least twenty-one, or a student at Rainier. If they're not yet twenty-one, they get an ink-stamp on the back of their hand, and if they have a stamp, they can only get non-alcoholic drinks. The kids don't seem to push it much; no other place accommodates them so readily, and they don't want to lose it.

"And now if you'll excuse me, I see a couple of ladies sittin' over there who look like they really need a dance. Sammy, you comin' with me?"

Ellison shook his head in amazement -- how did Sarris know this stuff? -- as he watched his men approach their targets. The ladies were apparently agreeable, and they were soon paired off and dancing to a song that he didn't even recognize.

He traded tall tales with Hank and Pete for awhile, until they, too, went to entice some young lovelies to dance. "C'mon, Cap," Pete urged before he left. "We're s'posed to be havin' fun tonight. Just look at all them gals waitin' for a tall, dark, handsome stranger to ask them to dance, and you're the answer to their prayers; how can you disappoint 'em?"

"Mainly because this isn't my style of music; I don't want look a fool out there. You go and uphold the image of the U.S. Army; I'll just sit here and watch the show." He grinned as he waved them off, then sat back to nurse his beer.

And it was entertaining, he decided, as he watched healthy young men and women enjoying themselves; he couldn't remember ever being that carefree, himself. Perhaps because only half of the crowd was old enough for alcohol, the atmosphere seemed livelier, but at the same time less frantic than at similar establishments he'd visited in the past. A local band -- they looked like college kids themselves -- provided the music, which was loud, but not at headache-inducing levels. The mix of colors that adorned the men as much as the women changed and rearranged in patterns as the dancing progressed, reminding him of the kaleidoscopes that had entranced him as a child.

As he watched the crowd, Ellison's gaze was drawn more and more often to one young man who seemed the epitome of lighthearted enjoyment. The kid looked barely sixteen although, according to Sarris, he had to be old enough to be a student at Rainier to be allowed in the door. Probably a freshman, Ellison decided, and quite a little peacock.

The kid had glossy chestnut hair falling in wild curls to his shoulders, and a brilliant smile that he bestowed on anyone who crossed his path; he exuded a joi de vivre that spread to everyone in his vicinity. He was wearing a white, loose, gauzy kind of shirt with billowing sleeves; the neck was open in a deep V, with dark chest hair peeking out. Bet he's real proud of that! Ellison thought in silent amusement. A pair of skin-tight jeans that left little to the imagination -- He's really advertising, there, Ellison mused -- completed the young man's attire; he'd obviously come intending to 'party hearty'.

The kid seemed happy to dance with anyone in the place, Ellison noted, male or female. Bisexual? he wondered to himself; there were half-a-dozen same-sex couples in the crowd, and no one seemed to care. Ah, the freedom of youth, he thought. And when the hell did I get old enough to think like that?

But careful watching indicated only restrained flirting with the female partners, and none at all with the males. Nah; the kid just likes to dance, doesn't care who with, he decided, noting the dazzling, enthusiastic smile that greeted each new partner. Ellison ordered another beer, let his gaze roam until he located and checked on each of his men, then continued watching the show.

The music ended and the band leader announced a fifteen-minute break so that the musicians could rest and refresh themselves. In high good humor, the dancers separated into pairs and groups and sought out some refreshment for themselves.

Blair collapsed into a chair at one of the larger tables and grabbed a napkin to mop his forehead. He grinned at the five males and eight females who had joined him. "Wow!" he exclaimed. "The place sure is jumpin' tonight! I need a little liquid pick-me-up before the band comes back, and maybe an incentive to get me back out on the floor. Gena, what d'you say?" He waggled his eyebrows and gave a mock leer that was neither given, nor taken, seriously.

Gena merely snorted and gave him an equally mock punch to the shoulder. "Knock it off, Blair; you're not fooling anyone. The only thing that would keep you from dancing is if you found one of your mythical sentinels, and followed it home. And besides, you're supposed to teach us that group dance you learned in Yemen."

"Not mythical." Blair made his usual protest by rote, unwilling to visit the argument again. "I'll find a sentinel one of these days." He spoke quickly to forestall the rebuttal he knew she was forming. "Till then let's have a few drinks and rest a bit. When the band comes back I'll see if they know anything like a polka, and we'll improvise."

Jerry protested. "Oh, come on, polka? You might as well try to get us into clog-dancing. It ain't gonna fly."

"Only the music is polka-ish," Blair explained patiently. "The movements are more like a line-dance, but in a circle. I'll lay odds you'll like it -- each guy gets to dance with each girl in the group, and every gal with every guy. Win-win for everybody, don't you think?" He winked broadly.

Ellison ordered another coffee; he'd switched from beer two hours ago when he'd realized that it would be up to him to serve as designated driver, or else they'd have to take a cab back to the base. The charm of the evening had long since worn off; his tolerance for the loud music was fading fast, and it was a strain to keep tabs on his men in the dim lighting. The only thing that was even remotely entertaining anymore was watching the handsome young peacock he'd noticed earlier. The kid could really move. The music seemed to flow through him as his hips and shoulders echoed the beat, his feet pounding the tempo, his hair flying as he spun on the floor. He abandoned himself to the pulsing rhythms, utterly unselfconscious and fully alive, his eyes sparkling with the sheer joy of movement and the freedom of the dance.

The kid's energy and enthusiasm seemed to have diminished not one iota over the past three hours; he never lacked a partner, had a dazzling smile for each, and rested only during the band's breaks. Even then he seemed to fly high, always the center of a large group, talking a mile a minute and waving his hands to punctuate whatever he was saying. Not that anyone seemed to mind -- the group members were alternately fascinated or amused by the peacock's exposition -- but Ellison wondered if the kid ever ran down. It might be fun to have him at a party, Ellison thought, but God help whoever has to live with such a motor-mouth.

The kid's current dance partner was a male who 'pinged' on Ellison's internal alert system. There was a hard look in his eyes, and his smile was just a shade this side of a sneer. But the kid didn't seem to notice; he was smiling up at the bigger man and chatting as they both executed the intricate dance moves.

The rhythm of the music slowed, and Hard-Eyes moved closer, grinding groin to groin as he leaned down to whisper in the kid's ear. The peacock's smile faltered and his eyes widened; he shook his head violently and tried to step back. But Hard-Eyes had a tight grip on the kid's hips -- a grip that would leave bruises, Ellison thought -- and continued to force the intimate contact.

Where the hell is the bouncer? Ellison wondered, searching the room. He couldn't see the man; maybe he'd gone to the john. Turning back to the drama below him, he saw the kid try unsuccessfully to knee Hard-Eyes in the balls. The bigger man just laughed and continued his low-key assault, seemingly confident that the other dancers were unaware of what was happening, or simply not caring if anyone noticed.

That's it! Ellison thought savagely, rising to intervene. Even as a child, he'd never been able to stand a bully.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, man?" Blair gasped. "This is a dance, not a make-out party!"

"You think you can shake that sweet little ass around and not have anyone notice?" Evan purred. "You've been flaunting it all night, and I'm just the man to take advantage of it."

"I've been dancing, you cretin! You understand the concept? Moving in rhythm to have fun, usually accompanied by music. There was nothing more to it than that." Blair could hardly contain his outrage -- or his desperation. He couldn't get loose from this Neanderthal's clutches... but he couldn't be dragged out the door without anyone noticing. Could he?

"Oh, there's a lot more to it than that, and we'll have plenty of fun with the rhythm I have in mind. So quit acting like an offended innocent and let's go somewhere more -- private."

"I am offended, you asshole!" Blair's anger was rising higher. "In the first place, I don't swing that way. In the second place, even if I did, force is not how it's done; it's supposed to be a mutually-agreed on, shared pleasure." He stopped struggling, waiting for an opening. "Pretty pathetic, that you can't find a reciprocal partner for your bed and have to take what isn't given. Must make you feel like a real big man, huh?" He twisted out of Evan's loosened grasp and aimed a knee at the bigger man's groin.

But it wasn't as easy as the books claimed; Evan easily sidestepped the blow, then reached out to grab Blair's upper arms, sinking his fingers deeply enough that there would be bruises in the morning. "Listen, you little shit," he snarled. "I'm --"

"You're going to drop your hands, step away from him, and leave this establishment," a firm, commanding voice ordered. "Quietly. If not, I'll be happy to throw you out."

Evan's eyes narrowed as he stared at the stranger in military drab who was trying to ruin his fun. No threat, he decided; the man was an inch shorter than him and twenty pounds lighter. "Yeah?" he challenged. "You and what army?"

The cool blue eyes facing him glinted with amusement. "I don't need an army; I grind up dirt like you and spit it out before breakfast. But if you insist..."

The music had stopped a couple of minutes earlier, and the people nearby were noticing the confrontation, waiting quietly to see what would happen. Out of the corner of his eye, Ellison saw Hank and Vinnie take up positions that flanked him, while Sammy and Pete moved to the other side of Hard-Eyes and the kid.

"If you insist," Ellison continued, "you'll discover that Rangers rarely travel alone, that we never back down from a fight, and that we get mighty pissed when we see a bully picking on someone who's smaller and weaker." He glanced at the crowd around them; several people were muttering angrily as they began to realize what had been happening to one of their own.

"On the other hand," Ellison said, "it seems that the army won't be needed. Why don't you discuss it with these good people; they don't seem too happy with your actions, either." He stepped back; far better to allow these young adults to enforce their own standards of conduct. When the word got around, boors like this would be less likely to try anything in the future.

Evan looked around, measuring the reaction of the crowd, and recognized a losing proposition. He thrust Blair away, violently, but the blue-eyed stranger moved in swiftly and prevented him from falling. Evan sneered down into Blair's face. "You're not worth it, you little shit! I bet you're a lousy fuck, anyway." He turned and stalked to the door while the disapproving silence of the crowd measured his every footstep.

As the door closed behind Evan the crowd broke into applause, and Blair's friends gathered around him, questioning and exclaiming. They urged him to one of the tables as the band started playing again, and the dancing resumed. Ellison nodded approval to his men, then they also collected their ladies for more dancing as he returned to his watch-post in the corner.

Ellison watched as the kid apparently explained what had happened to his friends, then seemed to shrug off their concern. His smile was only slightly dimmed as he shook his head, then escorted one of the ladies to the dance floor.

Spunky, Ellison concluded. The kid's got grit. Kept his head in a tight situation, too. He'll be okay. As the music ended, he glanced at his watch. Half an hour more, he decided, then he'd gather his men to head back to the base. He caught the waitress's eye and lifted his mug to request another cup of coffee.

Ellison watched in mild surprise as the kid took the coffee from the waitress, stopped at the bar to get another mug, then climbed the stairs to the dining level. He set one mug in front of Ellison, then sat down across the table and took a sip out of his own mug. He squinted across the table, apparently unable to see his rescuer's features clearly in the dim light, then gave a slight head-shake, as if deciding it didn't matter. The kid settled back in his chair, obviously prepared to stay awhile.

"Hi," he said quietly. "I'm Blair. And I want to thank you for... well, for coming to my rescue. That guy was just a little too big for me to handle, you know? Anyway, I really appreciate it."

"Jim," he replied. "And you're welcome. But I don't think you were in any real danger; he couldn't have dragged you to the door without someone noticing."

"Well, that's what I thought, but it was pretty uncomfortable anyway. And I know what it's like to be so involved in dancing that you don't notice anything else but the music and your partner; I'm not sure anyone would have paid attention unless I screamed like a girl. Not that there's anything wrong with a girl screaming in such a situation," he said earnestly. "How else would people know that she needed help? But between being smaller and younger than my classmates, and a geek besides, I have enough trouble getting any respect, you know? I don't need to look like a wimp, too."

He took a deep breath. "Anyway, things like that don't hardly ever happen here, even to the girls, but I guess there's always a bad apple floating around and you never really know, so I just had to say 'thank you'. And I gotta say, the way it only took one man standing up to that creep to lead everyone else into expressing social disapproval is really an interesting commentary on human dynamics; I think there'd be a good research paper in there, if I wanted to study it."

Ellison was astonished. "Some guy molests you on the dance floor and you think it's worthy of a research paper? You said you're a geek, but isn't that taking it a bit too far?"

The kid grinned and shrugged. "What can I say? Occupational hazard -- I'm an anthropologist. Or I will be in just a couple of years. The similarities and differences of the various human cultures is riveting stuff, man; I'll be studying it till I'm old and gray without learning it all. Of course --"

"Two years?" Ellison interrupted ruthlessly. He'd been correct in his observations; the kid was a real motor-mouth, and apparently was ready to talk for hours unless he was stopped. "Doesn't it take more than two years to get a degree, even for a geek?"

The kid ignored the implied disbelief. "Absolutely," he agreed. "But I started two years ago. I expect to get my Bachelor's next year, and my Master's two years after that. Of course, I could do the bookwork in a year, but there'll be several expeditions to go on, to get practical experience, and that time can't be compressed, you know? Besides...." He drifted to a pause at the narrow-eyed look of judgment on the face across from him, then started to snicker.

"Oh, I get it; you think I'm just a baby, a freshman, right?" He nodded at the lessening tension in the other man's posture, accepting that as confirmation. "Books and covers, man -- no judging, right? I'll be nineteen in a couple of months; started when I was sixteen, expect to have my doctorate by twenty-four. Can't get anywhere by standing still; the early bird catches the worm and all those other old clichés."

Ellison settled back in his chair as he felt his incipient headache start to fade. The kid was mildly entertaining, and his company would make the last half hour of this tedious evening pass a little faster. "So what's your payoff in all this? A guy who's working as hard as you say you are has to have some specific goal in mind. Fame and fortune by the time you're thirty?"

"Nah, that's kid-stuff," he insisted. "I intend to find a living, breathing sentinel, and learn all I can. You see, they're these guys who have heightened senses, and...."

An hour and a half later, Ellison and his men climbed into the jeep for the ride back to the base. The extra time had passed almost unnoticed; the kid certainly could keep a conversation going. But he'd probably never reach his life's goal; it was unlikely that sentinels existed anymore, if they ever had. The captain shook his head in silent amusement. Super-men with super-senses. How farfetched can you get? he wondered.

Because of the late hour, the men escorted the ladies from the parking lot toward their dorm. The large group walked briskly through the frosty air as they discussed plans for the rest of the weekend.

"So, Blair," Gena teased, "you spent a lot of time with that big, hunky soldier. Was he trying to start something with you? He might be worth crossing to the other side."

Blair snorted. "Get real! He wasn't 'interested' in me; that was just him being polite, and making sure that asshole Evan didn't come back. I mean, think about it," he continued, his hands starting to fly with the earnestness of his argument. "Can you see us as even plain old drinking-buddy friends? I know his type, and we're complete polar opposites. He's total by-the-book, buttoned-down establishment, and I'm go-where-the-wind-blows, do-your-own-thing anti-establishment. He's a soldier; he couldn't put up with me for more than two hours, and I guarantee I wouldn't have any fun being around him. Not that it would come up -- he said he's shipping out tomorrow -- but it's just ridiculous! There's no way we'd ever be comfortable together."

He shook his head in disgust as he rejected her suggestion, and told himself that the unusually intense rapport he'd felt with the big man was all in his mind. It's nonsense, he assured himself. Some people just insist on seeing a connection where there is none. How crazy can you get?

The End

Military Acronyms

PX - Post Exchange, a kind of on-base general store
TDY - Temporary Duty, a short-term assignment (up to two years); personnel don’t always take their families with them (depending on location).

The Dancing Queen,


You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life.
See that girl, watch that scene, dig in the dancing queen.

Friday night and the lights are low,
Looking out for the place to go
Where they play the right music,
Getting in the swing
You come in to look for a king.
Anybody could be that guy,
Night is young and the music's high.
With a bit of rock music, everything is fine,
You're in the mood for a dance,
And when you get the chance...

You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen,
Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tambourine.
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life,
See that girl, watch that scene, dig in the dancing queen.

You're a teaser, you turn 'em on,
Leave them burning and then you're gone.
Looking out for another, anyone will do,
You're in the mood for a dance,
And when you get the chance...

You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen,
Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tambourine.
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life,
See that girl, watch that scene, dig in the dancing queen.
                    Released 1976

Notes: I selected the date because the Switchman episode says, "Captain Ellison's team disappeared March 14, 1988." Checking the computer's calendar, I learned that date fell on a Monday. The story has to take place on Friday (per the song). The Friday before that was the 11th. If it's a rush mission, I guess they could leave early on Saturday, and get to Peru in time to be shot down on Monday. *g* I think it makes more sense than using the previous Friday, and having them take ten days to get shot down over Peru; Rangers wouldn't travel that slow.

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