Homecoming King

Captain Sean McCormick returns to Titania after the war to try to reconcile with his estranged wife, but after two years of separation, is there any common ground left between them?

Warning: This story contains minor spoilers for Ticonderoga - Volume III.

Location: Benwalli Residential District, Titania Colony 01, Titania, Uranian Sphere
Date: Sat 01 Aug 123
Time: UST 1034

Zoning restrictions were strictly enforced, so the shops in the rail station and maybe a conbini would be the only stores you'd find in a residential district. Fortunately, there was a little flower shop at Benwalli Station.
As Sean stepped in, the bell chimed and a bubbly fortysomething woman chirped in a singsong voice, "Welcome, welcome!"
Sean looked around. He didn't know a thing about flowers. Would roses be enough? Maybe he should ask.
"I'm lookin' for some flowers," he said.
"Well, you've come to the right place," the woman said cheerily. "You'd be pretty disappointed if you went to the newsstand."
Ha ha. Real comedienne, this one.
"I thought ya could gimme a hand," Sean said. "I jus' got back an' I don't know a damn thing 'bout this shi--er, stuff."
He had to remind himself he was among civilians and needed to dial back the language a bit. The woman didn't seem bothered by it, though.
"Well, tell me the situation," the woman said.
"Ya see, I been gone a while, quite a while aksh'lly. I ain't seen my wife in all that time an' I wanna get somethin' nice."
"Well, you know flowers aren't just about looks," the woman said. "There's a language to them. They say something. What do you want to tell your wife?"
Sean shrugged.
"I dunno. That I love her, she's beautiful an' the best thing that's happened ta me. That I'm sorry an' I hope she'll take me back."
"What happened, if you don't mind my asking."
"The war happened," Sean said with a sigh. "She wanted me ta stay, but I had ta go. Couldn't leave my wingmates ta do all the fightin' an' dyin' for me."
The woman folded her arms and thought about it for a moment.
"There's only so much we can get out here, but I think I can whip something up for you."
From her wall of flowers, she started by picking out a half dozen long stem red roses, saying, "There's a lot you can say with just roses. We of course have the classic red for love, peach and a nice deep pink for appreciation, yellow to welcome you back and to ask for forgiveness, and then some baby's breath for purity of heart and to add some volume."
She held up the arrangement and asked him, "How does that look? Would you like a little more variety?"
"Nah, that's fine," Sean said. "That'll do."
"Alrighty then," the woman said, going over to a table behind the counter with all the tools of her trade. While she was binding some wire around the stems, she said, "The flowers here come pretreated, so they should keep for a month. Now I don't like to use it, but we offer a permanent preservative treatment, but that leaves the flowers looking like they're made of plastic. Defeats the whole point. Flowers are precious because they're short-lived, you know?"
"It's fine," Sean said. "We'll leave it au naturale, or as close as we can get it."
"Good choice."
Once the woman had the bouquet all wrapped up, she presented it to Sean and asked him, "Look good?"
"Yeah," Sean said. "Hopefully it'll do the trick."
"Oh, I'm sure it will."
Sean reached for his wallet, asking, "How much do I owe ya?"
"Oh, no charge," the woman said. "It's the least I can do to thank you for your service."
"Really? You sure?"
The woman smiled playfully and said, "Don't make me change my mind. Now you go make up with your wife."
"Alright," Sean said. "If you insist. Thank you."
"No, thank you."
"You have a nice day."
"You too. And good luck."
Particularly out here in the Colonies, walking around in uniform was more likely to get you spit on and cussed out than thanked by anyone. Lot of people out there who took out their beef with the government on the poor bastards doing their job to keep their sorry asses safe. Sure, there were plenty of jackasses in uniform, but that wasn't any excuse. Most of the damn civvies with a problem were bigger jackasses anyway.
No one started anything on this trip, thankfully, though he did catch some whispers and under-the-breath mutterings on the way over. People could think or say what they wanted, just so long as they didn't try to start anything. You weren't supposed to respond unless there was an actual physical threat to you or someone else, but Sean had gotten into more than one scrape in the past.
It was about a fifteen-minute walk from the rail station to their apartment. It had been a long time. Too long. He remembered the day she threw him out like it was yesterday. Once he got off TDRL, his mind was made and there was no going back.
Before he knew it, he was at the door. He wondered if his key still worked. It'd be better to ring the bell. Hopefully she didn't pick up a shift today. She usually didn't work weekends. With the money he kept sending her, she shouldn't have any reason to work any more than she felt like.
He stood there with flowers in hand, staring at the doorbell. A fine time for him to lose his nerve.
He couldn't turn back now. Sink or swim, he had to see it through.
He rang the doorbell and after about a minute, his wife Betty opened the door.
"Hey, babe," he said, holding up the bouquet. "I got ya flowers."
Looking thoroughly unimpressed, Betty crossed her arms and said, "It's been two years, Sean. Is that the best line you could come up with?"
"The war's over."
"It's been over for eight months."
"It's not like ever'one gets ta jus' pack up an' go home the moment the Council says it's over."
The explanation didn't help.
"Why are you here?" she asked, not openly hostile but not receptive in the slightest either.
It's not like he was expecting her to jump his bones the moment she saw him, but he was hoping for a little warmer of a reception than this.
"C'mon, babe, don't be like that. Ya know why I'm here. I'm here for you."
"You haven't been here for me for quite a while."
"Now that ain't fair. I had a responsibility."
Betty was leaning into the doorjamb, but she straightened herself back up and jabbed him in the chest with her finger.
"You paid that in full when you nearly got killed," she said. "Most people don't even dream of giving half as much, but you couldn't let it be. You had to scratch and claw your way back so you could run off and have another go at it."
"I didn't go back ta get myself killed," Sean said. "Ya got your proof right here."
"But you knew it could happen and you wanted me to just sit here waiting for a knock at the door."
"Don't tell me ya didn't know 'bout the risks going inta this."
"I dated a fighter jock," Betty said. "I didn't marry him. I married a wounded vet trying to piece his life back together after the war smashed it to bits."
"I didn't stop bein' a fighter jock just 'cause I was crippled," Sean said. "I didn't plan on stayin' crippled neither an' I seem to recall someone was in my corner at the time."
"I wanted you to get better so you could have a life, so we could have a life. I didn't think you'd go right back for more after what happened to you."
It's hard to say how long they would've argued or how hot it would've gotten if there wasn't the sound of a little kid's voice.
Betty turned and Sean could see a little boy about two or so wandering into the entryway.
"Who's the kid?" Sean asked. "That Suzie's or somethin'?"
He hadn't heard about Betty's sister Suzie being pregnant, but all that could've happened since he left.
"No, Sean," Betty said, "he's mine."
The news hit him like a kick in the teeth. Everyone in the service makes jokes about Jody, but you never think about it happening to you.
In a flush of anger, Sean threw down the bouquet and shouted, "What the hell, Betty!? Ya went an' got yourself knocked up an' ya di'n't even have the decency ta file for a divorce!?"
Him shouting like that made the kid start bawling, Betty rushed over to the kid and picked him up to try to calm him down. Sean was furious, but there was nothing he could do. Why did he even come out all this way?
As the kid's crying died down to just sniffling, Betty glared at Sean and said, "Sean, you big dumb idiot, you really think I'd cheat on you? You're the father."
If the realization that the kid was hers was a kick in the teeth, then the realization that the kid was his was a kick in the gut. He staggered back a step, muttering, "What? But, but how?"
Betty gave him a look.
"I think you of all people should know how."
"No, I mean..."
Betty sighed.
"I was four months pregnant when you left."
Four months... He was so busy trying to get reinstated that he wasn't home that much. Was she not showing yet when he left? No morning sickness or anything like that? How could he have missed it?
"Why... Why didn't ya tell me?"
Betty sighed again, looking at him with a mix of sympathy and sad resignation.
"You had your heart set on getting back in. I wasn't changing your mind, so there was no point in telling you. You'd say I did it on purpose to try to keep you here."
He was a father. He had a son. All this time, he had a son and didn't know it.
"Betty, you... ya had no right... Ya had no right ta keep it from me."
Still cradling their son, Betty told him, "Sean, there's a reason I didn't file for divorce and you're looking at him. I thought that maybe, maybe if you lived through the war, we could start over."
Start over... That was what he came here for, wasn't it?
He looked at the kid. His face was all red from crying and there was still big teardrops that hadn't rolled off his cheeks yet. He had bright greenish blue eyes, like Sean's mother. Other than that, he seemed to take after Betty more.
"What'dya... what'dya name him?" Sean asked awkwardly.
Betty was starting to tear up as she smiled and said, "Patrick, a good Scotirish name." She bounced the kid a bit and said, "Paddy-boy, look, it's Daddy."
The kid buried his face in Betty's shoulder. She walked up to Sean. Uncertainly, he reached out to touch the kid's head.
"Hey there, champ," he said. "Sorry I scared ya back there. It's like your momma says, Daddy's a big dumb idjit."
Sean could feel himself getting all misty-eyed himself. Dammit. You'd think he could take seeing his wife and kid without blubbering like a little girl.
Betty looked down at the bouquet on the ground.
"Bit of a waste, don't you think?"
Sean quickly picked up the bouquet, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand as he bent down.
"Sorry, 'bout that," he said. "They still look okay, don't they?"
Betty shook her head, not like she was telling him no but rather like he was hopeless.
"Come inside, Sean-bear," she said. "It's almost time for lunch."
Sean crossed the threshold and kicked off his shoes. He tried fluffing up the disheveled bouquet and said, "Ya know, there's a language ta flowers, ya see..."
"Tell me all about it," Betty said as she went into the living room and Sean followed.