The hangar of the Battle Hymn was eerily vacant, and the scars of the final battle showed on the once pristine flight deck. The war was over though, and Steven felt like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. Now sitting lazily against an upright tool chest the pilot surveyed the damage. Many pilots had been lost in the last assault including a few from Green Squadron, and now Steven was left to reflect while his gaze settled on his own scarred fighter that had lived long enough to see him through the fight and safetly back to its resting spot on the Hymn.
Pushing himself off of the cold floor, Steven now proudly walked to his fighter, and after placing a hand on its pockmarked surface felt grateful to it and its counterparts that had also made it back. Among them, Fred had almost been taken down as well and had to duck out close to the end of the fighting, and Steven owed a great deal to Arcadia as well for stepping in to help the squadron leader. They were likely resting elsewhere, or getting medical treatment, so for the time being Steven felt uncomfortably alone.
Arcadia was in the midst of giving her own craft, Stygian Retribute, a loving pat down and thorough examination. She noticed, during her diagnostics, however, the squad leader looking a little too mopey for the occasion. Or maybe she just didn't like the general air of melancholy that had settled in the hangar. It seemed far too dead seeing as how the war had been won. There should be vibrant shouts! Cheers! Men clamoring for celebratory drinks and great, loud camaraderie. Instead, it seemed, the pilots' exhaustion had finally caught up to them. It was true, even Pilot Langdon was weary, but this empty feeling simply would not do. They had triumphed! And she'd be damned before they let that be forgotten.
With practiced grace, she slid down the nose of her craft and dropped the few feet to the hangar floor, landing in a crouch. Arcadia then made her way to Steven's ship, eying the damage uninterestedly. "Captain Kerning!" she called, getting his attention, and working up a smile. "This bunch can hardly stand, let alone celebrate. What do you say we see what sort of ruckus the Marines are making in the mess hall?" The smile that settled on her lips then was real.
Hearing his name, Steven turned to look as Arcadia approached him. He returned a weary smile of his own at her suggestion, and as he considered the offer he patted his hand against his fighter a couple times. "Now, I thought you hated marines?" he replied, his demeanor lifting with the arrival of good company. "And it is tempting, but then again, I never was much for rowdy celebration." He began to trail off.
"Actually, I think what I could use right now is a walk. Care to join me?" Steven asked Arcadia, suddenly seeming more enthusiastic.
At first Arcadia had crossed her arms and sighed, a little disappointed but having not yet surrendered the cause. Twice she nearly rebutted his statements, then stopped as the Captain found his second and third thoughts. She raised a curious brow at his offer, considered it for a moment, then nodded. "Sure, Captain. May I ask where we're going for a little walk?" She fell into stride beside him, and suddenly realized just how grimy she was. Fresh out of the cockpit, still in her flight suit, sweat matting and stringing much of her hair and making the underclothes stick awkwardly as she moved. She unzipped the suit halfway, revealing the standard issue short-sleeve beneath. Nothing provocative, just something to get a breeze flowing. On second thought, though, Arcadia realized she probably reeked. Too late she decided. I committed. If the Captain doesn't like it, he can deal.
"Nowhere special," Steven answered vaguely as he slowed slightly to match Arcadia's pace while keeping enough of space to lead. "Maybe a party, in time, but for now a walk just seems perfect, and having some company can only make it better. And, even if just for a bit, call me Steven. I need a small break from the military." Turning his head slightly, he saw Arcadia making herself more comfortable, and with another lazy smile he closed the distance between them a bit more so they were now walking close to shoulder and shoulder.
"I have been thinking a lot recently," he started to say, "about my early days as a pilot. And I always feel a bit silly when I do. I mean, I never really flew for any reason other than flying. There were the obvious reasons like stopping the Drathonians, and trying to fill my dad's shoes. But those reasons have since been met and replaced, and now when I think about flying it is to protect. Ya know, Jana and everyone close to me." He emphasized slightly.
"You ever have that? A time when your goals or priorities change?" Steven asked Arcadia as he looked over to her. "I mean, why do you fly?"
As they walked, she tucked her hands into pockets and listened with a smirk. Oh, Captain, always so serious. "Well, Steven," she began, her voice already taking on that familiar teasing tone, "I can't say I have. I've known since I was seven that flying was for me, and that was that. And I do it because I love doing it. And I have to do it. Not just because I crave it, but also because if I don't that means the Republic is one Double-Ace short." She smirked at him then. "Got it, by the way, on our final sortie. How's that for luck? Double-Ace and one to grow on." She took a deep breath before returning to the primary matter. "So no, it's always been... I dunno, a part of me I guess. I didn't have to think about it, really." Her smile shifted playfully. "But I'm not surprised the melancholy Green Leader is always reflecting. At this point, I'd be a little frightened if you weren't so introspective and honorable and all that. You'd probably make a really good monk. Maybe you should try to master Zen Buddhism now that you've got a little extra free time."
That was obviously an exaggeration; no one was going to have any extra free time for years to come. The end of war always heralded a cleanup phase, when wounds were licked, the dead were properly mourned, and rebuilding began. Arcadia wasn't too sure where she'd fit into the whole thing, but that was a decision for the Republic to make. She would just be happy to help.
A nice, full laugh left Steven's mouth after Arcadia's monk comment, and he had known the woman long enough now to be able to sift through what she says to get a decent idea of what she meant; or at least he was better now than when he had first welcomed her into the squad. "About what I was expecting," he chimed as he turned a corner slow enough to not seem abrupt to his companion. "I guess it comes a lot from suddenly realizing where I fit into the grand scheme. Instead of flying for myself, I began flying for my squadron, and then I began flying as a father, and I knew that I mattered in some small way beyond my work as a pilot." He began to trail off a bit. "I'm rambling on a bit aren't I? You may have a point about me becoming a monk." He laughed again.
The right corner of her mouth tweaked upward, displaying doubt or uncertainty. "Maybe not a monk. All the ones I've met respected the power of brevity." Then she fell silent, letting him finish his thoughts.
"I think what I am getting at is that, with the war now over, I have an opportunity to experience more. Go above and beyond the small world I was stuck in."
From there, Steven quieted down and continued to walk, seemingly with no real destination beyond wandering.
"Okay..." Arcadia was slightly at a loss as to what she should say. He hadn't asked her a question, or requested her insights, or even expressed a desire of her opinion. It seemed more like he was soundboarding his thoughts, mulling them over as he heard them. "Well, then I suppose you should figure out what it is you want to do with your newfound opportunity. The galaxy is at your feet, Cap-... Steven. You can go just about anywhere, even with little ball of energy wrapped around your shin." She referenced the first time she met little Jana. The little girl was clinging to her father's lower leg with a child's vicegrip, legs locked around his ankle. Maybe it had been the large crowds, maybe it had been some conversation Pilot Langdon had missed, but whatever the reason the girl had been determined to remain firmly attached to Steven, like a mussel clinging to a pier. "It all depends on what you want to do."
Steven seemed to chew on what Arcadia had said, running it through his mind a few times before answering. "What I want to do, huh?" he said before stopping in his tracks. The hallway they were in was in a small out of the way corner of the Hymn used for little more than access to some panels and ducts, but the bulkhead capping the hallway was perfectly smooth, and someone had used the empty space to paint a mural depicting Terra while it was still a sight to behold, silhouetted against a starry backdrop. At this end, Steven turned to face Arcadia. "I think I may finally have an idea of what that may be." He looked at the woman he had grown to know over the past few years, with her matted hair, slight glean of sweat, and the faint odor, and completely forgot about the mural.
Arcadia, however, was completely transfixed by it, and laid a hand upon the painted metal, eyebrows raised. It was impressive. "What, Steven? Are you going to be an artist?" Then she glanced at him, a playfully mocking expression on her face.
"Arcadia," Steven started as he proceeded to drop to one knee. "Will you marry me?"
Her jaw dropped, but a hand quickly rose to put it back in place and cover her mouth. A futile effort as it failed to hide her surprise. The hand fell away as she stared, and took a deep breath. "Steven, really...?" Then she shook her head and smiled. "It's about time you made a move, Steven Kerning. I was starting to think my charm had faded." She swallowed another deep breath, then exhaled heavily. "Yes, Steven. Yes, I will." And her face lit up with those words in a way not seen since the day she graduated Flight Academy. Then the smile, slipped, replaced by a curious stare. She cocked her head, wondering. "No ring, Steven?" That playfully mocking smile spread across her lips once again. She didn't need a ring, and couldn't blame him for not having one. But, her name was Arcadia Langdon. She couldn't resist one last sarcastic jab. "Honestly, how is a cute little thing like me supposed to fend off all my other suitors without a ring?" That mocking, playful smile held, with perhaps a tint of some new budding emotion.
A glowing smile grew on Steven's face, and he just about jumped for joy if not for Arcadia mentioning a ring. The color dropped from his face slightly as he was about to stutter a response, but he caught himself, recognizing her brand of humor in her following comment. With his face returning to a soft smile, Steven stood back up and gently grabbed Arcadia's hands with his own. "I am a super hero, I can take care of a couple rivals." With that, he leaned in and gave the sarcastic woman a kiss on the lips.