STAR BLAZERS, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, and all related names and elements are copyright by Voyager Entertainment and Leiji Matsumoto. Star Blazers is a registered trademark of Jupiter Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Huge shout-out to Annie and Eva, who gave me the courage to let strangers read my writing!
May 12, 2202
If Mark had reservations about suggesting that Carina join the hospital’s support group, they did nothing to prepare him for how the group affected her. After her first couple of sessions, when she came away feeling worse than she had going in, he had encouraged her to give it a month to see if things improved, but nothing had changed. Sure, there was some discussion of dealing with the prejudices of the general public in day-to-day life, she told him, but as far as he could tell the sessions were mostly about man-bashing. Every Monday night she sat with the group for two hours; every Tuesday morning she met him for a walk with dark circles under her eyes, quiet and acting closed-off, bringing stories of the men who had broken the members’ hearts. Mark could almost see the wall Carina built around herself during the sessions. He would spend the better part of the week chiseling away at it, only to find it rebuilt the next Tuesday. It was frustrating and emotionally exhausting, and although he always listened to her with sympathy and tried to be understanding, his patience was feeling the strain and they had been snapping at each other a lot for the last couple of weeks. It had been nearly a month now since she began attending the meetings – he could only hope she would agree with him that it was time for her to stop attending.
He tried to keep his personal business out of the office, but he knew he wasn’t succeeding very well. He was concerned about Carina in addition to being frustrated, and his mood reflected it. His assistant Chrissie had called him on it more than once. She didn’t know the particulars, of course, but she knew his moodiness had something to do with Carina, and she took every opportunity to comment on their relationship.
“Commander,” she would say, “I don’t get why you’re putting yourself through this. Nothing is worth the effort you put into her, especially since you’re obviously not getting anything in return.” Mark was beginning to suspect that Carina was right when she told him the girl was interested in more from him than a job – he’d even he’d had to tell the girl to back off once or twice when she’d stepped over the line in digging at his friend. He shook his head at the thought of dating Chrissie. Even if he weren’t in love with someone else, he wouldn’t have the slightest interest in her. Still, her comments had become frequent and pointed enough that he was beginning to have a difficult time dismissing them.
Yesterday had been particularly tough. When he met Carina in the park, he could tell right away that she had barely slept Monday night. She had contributed very little to their conversation until the third time he asked her what had happened at Monday night’s meeting, at which point she had recounted for him numerous stories of lying, cheating boyfriends, fiancées and husbands, which it seemed the women in the group had been collecting from their childless friends and relatives. When he took her hand to comfort her, she had actually jerked it away from him – something she had never done before – and turned away, refusing to look at him, making only short, curt responses when he tried to talk to her. He wanted to shake her, to make her understand that what those men did wasn’t his fault, that he would never do that to her, but he wasn’t sure how to go about it. She seemed to be more afraid of love now than she had been when they first met. He remembered what Chrissie had said when he had gotten to the office: “Commander, she’s not good enough for you. She doesn’t appreciate what you do for her. Why can’t you see that?” He knew she was wrong, but the comment had stung, and it didn’t make the current situation any easier for him.
He’d been so wound up all day yesterday that he stopped at the hospital this morning to talk to Dr. Sane. The doctor spoke matter-of-factly. “She’s going through a lot right now, Venture. I believe she’s testing you, although I’d be very surprised if she’s even aware she’s doing it. If she treats you badly and it drives you away, then she’s proven to herself that her fear of losing you was well-founded.”
“But it’s not well-founded, Doc. She’s everything to me. How do I prove that to her?”
“I think you need to be patient a while longer. Carina spent a lot of years convincing herself that her infertility didn’t matter, that it didn’t really affect her life. There’s a reason only a handful of people know about it, you know – she’s never wanted to have to deal with it. That girl in the hospital brought all of it, all the stuff she thought was buried pretty deep, back up to the surface.”
Mark nodded. “I understand that. It’s just so hard, Doc. And I don’t think that ‘support group’ is so good for her, either. I agree she needs something, but listening to those women’s horror stories about their love lives isn’t doing anything to help her. Do you think she should stop going? See the psychologist individually instead, or maybe see somebody else?”
“Hmmm… You might be right. I’ll talk to her about it.” The doctor peered at Mark over the top of his glasses, his beady eyes weighing the situation. “You’re a good man, Venture. When you were in the hospital, I told Carina I was glad she was there to look out for you. Well, now I’m glad you’re here to look out for her. Give it a little more time before you get too worried. She’ll get over this hump soon, and you’ll be able to get on with your lives. And about time, too,” he added with a wink.
Mark hoped so. They
were scheduled to travel together for a few days next week, to begin training
the air traffic controllers at EDF in
She was coming this afternoon to work with him and young Pat Orion, who at Mark’s recommendation was being trained as his assistant in the control tower. Orion was a quick and eager student and would be well-prepared to handle everything while Mark was away, but they still had quite a bit to go over. Mark was a little worried. He knew that Carina wouldn’t let her mental state affect her work, but Orion lacked self-confidence, and any tension in the room would make him nervous. He would talk to her about it when she got here.
Shortly after lunch, Chrissie entered his office and closed the door. “Commander, Lieutenant Clark is here to see you. Should I send her in? She looks a little cranky.”
Carina considered it a power play on Chrissie’s part to get his formal approval before allowing her access to his office. Maybe she was right. At any rate, he was too tired and confused right now for games. He sighed and answered her testily – they had been over this more than once. “Private, you know Lieutenant Clark has free access to my office, unless you’re instructed otherwise. Send her in, and don’t refer to your superior officer as ‘cranky.’”
“Yes, sir.” The girl saluted and left his office with her eyes dancing. A moment later Carina entered.
“Hi,” he said, eyeing her a little warily. She did look tired and stressed.
“Hi.” She sank into a chair, trying to smile at him. “I swear, one of these days I’m going to tear a lock of that girl’s hair out when she gives me that smug little smirk.”
“Ignore it. Are you ready for this afternoon? Pat should be here soon.”
“Sure. We shouldn’t run too long today, right?”
Mark nodded and searched her face. “Will you be all right? Orion is still a little nervous, and I don’t want him to be uncomfortable.”
It was the wrong thing to say. She looked at him coldly. “I’m a professional, Mark, just like you are. I can manage to keep my hysterical female emotions in check for an afternoon.”
Oh, for… “I wasn’t implying that you couldn’t,” he replied irritably, clenching his fists. “Carina, like it or not, I’m on your side.”
She closed her eyes. “OK.” When she didn’t say more, he took a deep breath. He was about to respond further when his intercom buzzed, announcing Orion’s arrival. Mark and Carina looked at each other for a moment before standing to greet him.
He had to give her credit. While they were working with Pat, Carina had been, if not cheerful or warm, at least friendly and always professional. They finished early, sent Orion back to his regular post and retreated to Mark’s office, where they sat opposite each other at his conference table. “I think that went well,” Mark said cautiously. He had sensed her tension rising again after Orion had left them, and could see on her face that it would take very little to send her over the edge. Being alone with him seemed to bring out the worst in her these days.
“Yeah, he’ll be fine while we’re away. He’s a smart kid.”
Mark nodded. “He’s really come into his own.” After a pause, he asked gingerly, “Do you want to do something tonight? Go somewhere and relax?”
She hesitated, then shook her head. “I don’t think it would be a good idea, Mark.”
“Come on, Carina. When was the last time we went out and had fun together? Three weeks ago?” Chrissie’s digging comments had lodged in his mind. He gave everything to this relationship and got nothing in return. Carina didn’t notice or care about what he did for her. He tried to push the thoughts away, but he was so frustrated. “Carina, you need to get past this. I’m trying to be here for you – you know how hard I’m trying. Make an effort to give me a little something in return, will you?”
As the words left his mouth he wished he could take them back. “Oh, I’m sorry. Am I not giving you enough right now?” She bit the question at him nastily. “Please, let me set aside my existential crisis and stroke your ego so you can have more fun.”
He sat still for a moment before, with a surprising degree of calm, he got up, walked to the door of his office, opened it and told Chrissie she could go home for the day. There was a satisfied smirk on her face as she left; Mark would decide what to do about her later. He closed the door and turned back to Carina, concentrating on controlling his voice. “Look. I’m sorry that you’re hurting. I am. But I have been busting my back for weeks trying to make you feel better, and you haven’t even noticed. You haven’t once given me as much as a ‘thank you.’ Open your eyes, Carina. You’re not the only one who’s hurting here.”
“Who’s asking you to try to make me feel better, Mark? You can’t do it. You can’t imagine what I feel like right now. You have a choice here. I don’t. I’m the one who has to live with the fear and uncertainty every day.”
“Carina, what happened to those girls is not my fault. You have to stop treating me like the enemy. I put my heart and soul out there for you every day, and I let you trample on them because I don’t have a choice here. I’ve never had a choice where you’re concerned. If you can’t appreciate that, then I don’t know what else to say.”
He watched as the wall around her began to crack, as the emotion in her eyes changed from anger to anguish. But when a tear rolled down her cheek, her jaw crept forward stubbornly and her face became blank again. “I can’t talk about this right now,” she muttered, and practically ran from the room.
He called after her but didn’t follow. Instead he sank into the chair behind his desk and buried his face in his hands. He could get through to her if she would just listen to him. He knew he could. She had begun to hear what he was saying just now, he was sure of that, but as usual she had run away. Now she probably hated him, but at least he had gotten her attention. She had been so wrapped up in her own pain that she didn’t realize he was equally unhappy. Was it wrong for him to want her to acknowledge his feelings, too? Didn’t she know how much he loved her?
Maybe not, he realized with a jolt. She knew he loved her, sure, but did she know he was hopelessly in love with her? He’d always assumed so, and everyone else certainly seemed to know it, but he’d never actually told her. Maybe that was what he needed to do to get through to her – to pin her down and tell her how he felt, to let her know that she had no reason to be afraid. If he could get her to stop running, if he could force her to listen to him for five minutes, all of this wouldn’t matter.
Resolved, he began to formulate a plan. He would apologize to her first, get their friendship back on an even keel, and then find a time and a place where she wouldn’t be able to run from him. When she understood how he felt about her, they would be happy. Of course they would. There was no other possible outcome.
Feeling a little better, Mark decided to walk to the park before going home. Jordy was playing in a soccer match this afternoon – if he left now, he would be able to catch the second half of the game. Seeking out his mother on the sidelines, he put his hand on her back.
“Mark!” She exclaimed when she saw him. “I wasn’t expecting to see you.”
“I got out of work early and decided to come by.”
“Well, that’s nice of you. Jordy will be thrilled.”
He nodded and they stood in silence for a while, watching the children play. Mark was glad his mother didn’t try to get him to talk – his fight with Carina was replaying itself in his mind and he needed to think about the best way to make amends with her. Mom didn’t notice his silence – she was too distracted making faces at the baby held by the woman beside her. Mark glanced at them idly once or twice before a thought entered his mind and his stomach dropped. The family. “Mom,” he said quietly, “can I ask you about something?”
She turned to him, smiling. “Sure. What is it, Mark?”
“Mom, what would you think…” He wasn’t really sure how to approach the subject and paused awkwardly, organizing his thoughts. “I know you want grandchildren someday…” Trailing off, he took a breath and tried again. “Mom, how would you feel if I told you I had fallen in love with a girl who can’t have children?”
She frowned at him for a moment, then smiled gently, understanding, and touched his arm. “Mark, is that why you and Carina always insist that you’re just friends? Was Carina one of those girls who were affected by the radiation?”
He nodded sheepishly and spoke in a rush. “I love her, Mom, and I know she loves me, too. I’m going to tell her – I’m going to do whatever it takes to be with her. I hate to disappoint you, but I won’t change my mind.”
“Disappoint me? Mark, nothing you could tell me could disappoint me less.” She turned him to face her and put her hands on his shoulders. “Listen to me. Six months ago, we thought we had lost you. Even after you woke up, it seemed like you would never smile again. That was the worst time of my life. But then someone made you smile again. Someone brought you back to us. Would I like grandchildren someday? Sure. But the only thing your father and I really want is for you to be happy. We’ve never seen you happier than you are when you’re with Carina.”
It was true. Despite the rough time they were having this month, Carina made him happier than he could ever remember being. Mark smiled faintly, and his mother released his shoulders to take his hand in both of hers.
“We can see how much you love her, and we can also see how much she loves you. That makes us love her like a daughter. Nothing would make us happier than to see the two of you together.”
Mark breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Mom. Now all I have to do is get her to understand how much I love her. She’s afraid… But I won’t ever hurt her.” He looked at her earnestly.
“Of course you won’t. Just be honest with her, and she’ll understand. She loves you, Mark. Everything will work out.”
Mark smiled again as his mother hugged him tightly before turning back to Jordy’s game.