1. Chapter 1 by SLWalker
It was the perfect place for a hero to be memorialized.
Mountains rose around the valley in the lowering evening light, grand sharp sentinels, reflecting the Montana skies afire above them as the sun started settling towards a long summer twilight. The air itself was a dry kind of hot, but even before dark, the occasional breeze pulled towards the peaks and brought with it a coolness suggesting the impending nightfall.
The crowd of people was significant, but even that seemed small against the backdrop of the landscape. A variety of skin tones and textures, but all of them clad in black, like a flock of starlings.
This uniform had gotten a hell of a lot of wear this year already. As miserable as it would sound, if he tried to explain aloud, the services tended to blur one to another anymore; the passing of a living face, of dynamic traits, the sound of a voice becoming an image frozen in time.
This one, though, felt just that bit different.
Scotty stayed towards the back of the crowd, hands clasped behind his back, the high collar of his dress uniform tight against his throat, listening as they eulogized Sean Kelley and trying to figure out why his heart was aching.
It wasn't like they had ever become friends. And the last time Scotty had heard from Sean was two years before, that single postcard; the wolf peering out of the trees. He still had it, admittedly; a little dog-eared from traveling with him and being pinned on his bunk's wall on the Churchill, but intact.
Before that, the last time they'd spoken was at the inquiries back at the Academy, a brief moment where they tried -- maybe even succeeded -- in acknowledging without words each other’s choices during the storm that had both of them taking an almost fatal leap into the North Atlantic for essentially the same reasons.
Despite everything -- because of everything -- it didn't surprise Scotty that Sean had died brave. One of the last battles before the ceasefire; he'd managed to shove the techs he was in command of behind a blast door before the exploding conduit behind him sent a shard of shrapnel through his brainstem. He had been dead before he hit the ground; the Constitution had brought him and his other lost colleagues home, limping herself.
Sean had saved all of his techs, though. And all of them were in attendance here.
Scotty had started the war with protest music in his head and a certain defiance against the whole bloody thing humming in his spine; he didn't quite feel like the term pacifist fit him, but he didn't hate the Klingons and didn't have any investment in the war itself, not even when the Sun got caught in the crossfire and he'd nearly been killed.
Now-- he didn't know what to feel about the war or the Klingons except hate. Joe Albright was dead and gone two years and some months because of this. Keith O'Sullivan had blown his ship to smithereens not three months ago, taking a Klingon cruiser with him.
Here now Sean was dead, too.
Scotty might have been able to hold onto his internal neutrality even through those losses, because in the end, some part of him knew that their lives -- and his, and Cor's -- were only numbers and metrics to the people in charge. If they were lucky, they would get a medal for their sacrifices, but that was it. Wars like this weren’t waged for people like them.
He might have, if not for the Churchill.
His entire crew but for him and Cor; the nightmare images of them laying on the decks still tormented Scotty’s sleep four nights out of five, and he had long since lost count of the number of times he'd woken up badly since. Not only those who died fast and horrible, liquified in their skin, but being there for Lrr'ann's last little noises. M'rill's cries in the distance as she tried to fight and their occupiers hurt her. The Caitians were the only ones to linger after the bioweapon was set off, and their last hours were cruel beyond measure.
Thanks to this war, Scotty now knew what it felt like to beat another sentient being to death with nothing but his own strength, his terror, and a heavy spanner. And he could not detangle the horror of knowing what it felt like to wipe chips of bone and splattered blood off of his face from the fact he would do the same thing again if placed back there.
The reason he had done that stood next to him, wearing an identical uniform in all but the piping; silver for sciences instead of copper for ops. Cor knew what Scotty had done, even though he’d been on the floor curled up around the disruptor wound, but he hadn't seen it.
And Scotty was incredibly damn grateful for that.
But when he measured it all out -- everything he and his brother had been through, everything they had fought for painstakingly between them, the heart-to-heart press that came from knowing each other at their most raw and vulnerable and fragile -- this was the second time Scotty was aware that he had lived through something that Cor couldn't ever feel with or for him. And shouldn't ever, for that matter.
The first had been that jump into the Atlantic.
In that, it was Sean Kelley who had lived the same. Who knew, even where Cor couldn't, what that had felt like to leap into the dark growling, the cold lash of towering waves, and make a choice that could have been the last.
“It’s terrifying, isn’t it? I don’t know how to even-- say how horrible it was. How lonely. You know?”
That was the word. Lonely.
The postcard Sean had sent two years ago was a postscript on that conversation, and if Scotty had never figured out how he could explain his reconciliation with the meaning of both the talk and the image, he could still at least feel it somewhere under the maelstrom of a grief he couldn't help and a hatred he didn't want, and the sickening sense that something inside of him was twisted or tainted and could never come clean again.
He could still at least feel that it was there and something still good.
The wolf in the trees, peering out. Months before that, his brother calling him out of the wilderness.
His own words later, too, drifting in a narcotic haze, the first time he had been out of pain in well over a month; the impossible dichotomy of being so achingly tired while also being quietly terrified of the thought of being put under long enough for surgeons to repair all the damage he'd done to himself. And, not for the first time, his choosing to put a soul-deep amount of faith in knowing that Corry would protect him when he couldn't protect himself.
"Not just once," he'd murmured there, not able to hold his eyes open, but clinging to the conversation and the fact his brother was petting his hair, grounding him, because that was what safe meant.
Wolves and dogs are genetically almost identical. What's the real difference between them?
Size. Domesticity. Some other things more incidental than not. But those weren't the real answer:
Wolves don't need humans, and dogs do.
The first wolf didn't need humans, so it would have had to make a choice to come to the light of the fire.
"Not just once," he had explained, because he knew. "The first wolf to the fire woulda had to make that choice o'er an' o'er again."
To come back for a name. To come home to the island. To stand on the porch as peepers sang and say, can we go for a drive? And we should talk. To walk late on the shoreline trying to learn how to live with all of it, only to come home in the dark and find Cor waiting on the porch.
Sean, jumping from the Queen Mary. Sean, saving his techs on the Constitution.
Because wolves are pack animals. Family animals.
It was a kind of absolution.
The service ended and people drifted away. Scotty hadn't heard most of it; in fact, he only really made it back out of his own head when Cor had given him a tap on the shoulder before going to offer condolences and mingle with the other 'fleeters. Not only because Corry was the more inherently gregarious one, but also because it took some of the pressure off of Scotty to interact.
By then, the sky was starting to cool. Streaks of high pink, and the mountains a violet relief against it. It was a beautiful place.
The memorial stone was a nice one, too. Fit in with other, older Kelleys. The ops hook emblazoned on the Constitution's crest and a portrait of Sean in uniform opposite of it; his family's pride in his service on display.
Dates. Titles. A loved son and grandson and brother.
Scotty looked down at the stone figures in hand, part of a single piece; he wondered if he was being presumptuous, then decided that he didn't care if he was or not. It was one of a kind, a Maine artist's painstaking work; he'd commissioned it weeks ago, when notice of this service landed on him.
"Oh, he loved the wolves," a voice broke in, startling him after he set the piece on the top of Sean's stone. He looked over and found who he thought had to be Sean's grandmother there, smiling in that tremulous manner that preceded tears. "He would to go out with his Papa to try to spot them, ever since he was a boy."
Scotty wasn't terribly good at talking even on his best day, but right now, it felt almost impossible. He didn't know what words could really encompass the loss for her, or the complicated way he felt himself right now.
His throat ached.
She didn't seem to be looking for an answer, mercifully. Instead, she just petted down his arm, saying, "I'll make sure they're added permanently. He would have loved them."
"Thank you," Scotty managed, voice rough; he tried and probably failed to press a smile for her, then went to go and either collect his brother or hide on the periphery until Corry was ready to leave.
Behind him on Sean's memorial, two wolves in stone stood together.
A postscript of his own.