Earlier today ...[ In which it is decided that none of the crew like zombies. Especially Beka and Dylan. TW for character death, violence, suicide themes. ]
The biggest surprise in the aftermath of the zombie attack on his ship comes from the ship herself. Rommie, who stood by him all day, even when he'd asked her to do other things. Rommie, who sometimes looks at him like she's just as confused by him as he is by Trance.
Rommie, who asks if she can speak to him alone and then leads him out onto the observation deck, where the stars are finally moving as they head towards a slippoint.
"When things got bad back there, I didn't think you were going to make it, and I realised something."
He thinks, then, that he knows where this is going. "I may be virtually indestructible, but you, you are..."
"Me, well, I just think I'm indestructible." He smiles, hands on his hips, teasing her like he would anyone else who said it to him.
But she's not anyone else. She's Rommie, and she's still new. Less than two years old in this form. New in this body, in this experience of being both a part of and separate from the ship itself. She blinks, smiles, and he recognizes the look she gets when she thinks something doesn't compute.
Even if it does.
"One day you're going to die, Dylan. And I care about you. Not just as a Captain, but as a person. I don't want to lose you. You're all that I have."
This would have been easier back in the High Guard days, when a captain was posted to a ship for four years and rotated off at the end of them, handing over to the first officer.
But he and Andromeda have been together longer than that.
There's no other captain for her and no other ship for him. But even if there were, he wouldn't want it. Not now. Not after she brought him through three hundred years in a black hole and brought him out again. Not after this time they've spent together drawing a line for civilization against the darkness that's fallen on the Three Galaxies.
Not after everything they've been to each other.
They used to warn captains, back in the day, what happened when their AIs became too attached to them. And vice-versa. But Dylan and Rommie ... they've been through things no captain and ship have ever faced before. And through it all, they've stood together.
"Rommie," he says, softly, shaking his head, "I can't promise I'll never die, but I promise you'll never lose me."
She may survive him, true, but if she does, there'll always be a place where she can hold onto him. She'd told him, once, that she didn't have a heart, that a warship was good for nothing but killing.
And he'd told her the captain was there to be the warship's heart. To temper her with the compassion her programming can't allow. But Rommie ...
She's learning those things herself.
Even if now, she's staring at him like he's an equation that's threatening to break space-time.
She closes her eyes, turns away, starts walking, staring into the gently moving stars through the window.
"How do you do it? Humans, how do humans do it? How do they make friends, have relationships?" She turns around, staring at him, her eyes pleading him for the answers. "Fall in love? How do they connect knowing that nothing is permanent, that even love dies?"
"You see, that's where you're wrong," he says, gently, stepping forward to close the gap between them. "Love doesn't die. It's the only thing that lasts forever. I mean, your body could be destroyed or run out of power." His gaze turns, staring out into the distance in the stars. "But when the universe ends and the last star burns out, the only thing left will be love."
He's spent so much time here, thinking about just that.
Staring out into space and remembering all the people he's lost. The crew who once bustled through the now-empty corridors of this beautiful ship. The ones killed at Hepahistos and the ones who made it but he'd never see again. His family, back on Tarn Vedra, lost to time, just like their planet. Comrades in arms. Even Gaheris.
And most of all, the love that still burns in his heart, the one he knows will still be there when all those stars are gone.
The one that means he knows exactly what Rommie's afraid of. Sara. Forever a part of his being, even after three hundred years.
When he looks back down at her, it's with a fond smile, but she's staring at him again, uncomprehending.
"I don't understand."
"Yes you do." And just like he would if she were human, he bends to press a kiss to her cheek. Her eyes are still full of questions as she looks back up at him, but he just smiles.
"Yes you do."