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Duty is a harsh Mistress

"Is it really worth it, Alec?"

Freeman didn't even attempt to pretend he didn't know what his old friend was talking about. "Is this about the two interceptors we lost last week, or rather, their pilots? I'm right, aren't I?"

"Alec, what right do we have to expect these fine young men and women to lay down their lifes? Lieutenant Delberg's funeral on Monday was a travesty no one save us knew about -- an empty coffin since the Lieutenant's body is irretrievably lost in space."

Plus burnt and torn apart beyond recognition should anyone ever manage to retrieve it. Freeman grimaced. Death in space -- never a pretty sight. But hell, poor, pretty Tamara Delberg would have deserved to find her rest in Earth's familiar soil, not spinning away endlessly in space...

"You knew about Tammy's little daughter, then." Calm, more a statement than a fact. Freeman shook himself a little, took a sip from his whiskey and sat down on the edge of the Commander's desk.

"Yes. The picture on the Lieutenant's desk was hard to miss. She will never know the truth, as neither her father and Ensign Tallant's fiancée. As far as they are concerned, the two were victims of a tragic equipment failure occurring while the studio's newest movie was being filmed. This excuse is getting old; the next time we'll have to claim it was a traffic accident again. And I couldn't even send someone to tell their families personally since it wouldn't have fit in with my image of a successful, ruthless producer. I had to leave it to Colonel Lake, calling them on the phone. Short, impersonal. Is this what our dream of S.H.A.D.O. has become? Telling families that their loved ones will never come home again?"

Freeman had never seen Straker this talkative -- and this depressed. "Ed, I shouldn't need to have to tell you this: If not for men and women like Tamara Delberg and John Tallant, we wouldn't have to make any similar phone calls. Because there wouldn't be anyone to pick up the phone on the other end. If even a single one of the UFOs had managed to get through to Earth, and the interceptors had failed, the aliens would have wiped out whole families, taken their organs and tried their best to sabotage our planetary defense systems. Tammy and John both knew of the dangers involved in this job, and they took it anyway. They could have chosen Dr. Jackson's mind-wipe drugs and returned to their civilian lifes with amnesia, but safe in the arms of their respective families. They didn't. They listened to you. They chose S.H.A.D.O."

"And perhaps that's what I blame myself for more than anything -- that I convinced them to choose S.H.A.D.O." Straker rubbed his temples. He looked old and defeated, his white-blond hair strangely dull.

Freeman suddenly had the overwhelming urge to shake him out of his self-pity, "'To serve and protect', Ed. Don't tell me you've forgotten. They weren't civilians when they learned about S.H.A.D.O. They both had military backgrounds, just like us. But instead of defending the United States, they decided to defend Earth. Against enemies far more dangerous than the few nations on this planet who still insist upon fighting their petty little wars. You know, you're not the only one who puts duty above personal considerations."

"Alec, don't..."

It was hard to go on, knowing how much it still hurt his friend and Commander. "'Don't' what? Remind you of Johnny? You just did your job to the best of your abilities. And while I don't know whether I'd have made the same decision, I can't fault you for yours. We're here to keep those fuckers out of our hemisphere. No matter the cost. Because we both know what the results would be if we lost, or if S.H.A.D.O. were disbanded. The planet sent on crash course to Earth was an example of the worst it could come to. People abducted, others used as spare part stocks for a dying race. No one here is safe; the public just believes they are because they don't know the truth." Freeman paused and regarded Straker carefully. Mock seriously: "Who are you and what have you done to my superior officer?"

Straker gave him a weak almost-smile. "Thank you for the pep talk, Alec. I guess... sometimes I just -- forget."

"Having no one to come home to can't help very much either," Freeman murmured.

A sardonically raised pale eyebrow: "No, but then, who among us -- in the command staff -- is indeed in a permanent relationship? Paul, you, Colonel Lake -- you all entered S.H.A.D.O. unmarried while my marriage fell apart in my early years here. We simply can't reconcile our duties and the demands a spouse would pose on both our time and our dedication."

"And sometimes we all get -- lonely." Freeman swallowed the last of his whiskey and put down the glass on the desk behind him.

Straker didn't say anything in return, but it was obvious he didn't contradict the truth of Freeman's statement.

"Ed..." Freeman looked like he wasn't sure whether he should continue or rather keep silent. With a visible jolt, he forced himself to speak: "You remember the night General Henderson called and told us the I.A.C. had decided to grant the funds necessary to continue building up S.H.A.D.O. in the next five years after the trial phase? That was the first time I ever got you to indulge in a little alcoholic celebration, and I told you..."

"I know what you told me. I hope you also still remember my answer; it was 'no'. And said answer is still valid." The coldness emanating from Straker would have scared off a lesser man.

Freeman wasn't impressed. "Why do you insist upon denying yourself? You kissed me back. Don't forget that, Commander, sir."

"This topic is closed. Alec, don't make me repeat myself another time. Now I'd appreciate it if you returned to working on your crew evaluation for March." The dismissal couldn't have been more obvious.

Freeman sighed and got up. He stepped through the door and involuntarily took a look back. Straker still looked pensive, but no longer as depressed or as rigidly closed off as before. He whispered, almost inaudibly, "One of these days, I'll make you admit to how you feel for me, old friend. I promise. All your reservations are not enough to keep me away forever." He gave a mock salute to the now closed door and smiled at the bent head of Straker's secretary who hadn't even glanced up from her typewriter. So Miss Ealand didn't notice how forced his smile looked.

Whistling, eternally good-natured Colonel Alec E. Freeman left Straker's outer office. He nodded at the young brunette in the hall and admired the long legs beneath the short, silver-shimmering mini-skirt. The young actress waiting for her interview at the Harlington-Straker Film Studios gave him an appreciative look in return and decided that acting was definitely right up her avenue.

Gerry Anderson's "U.F.O." ficlet by allaire mikháil, 1.174 words, Straker/Freeman UST, 3rd person POV, rated PG-13

The Straker/Freeman slash story I intend to write in this fandom is still only in my head and not on paper, but I suddenly had this overwhelming nostalgia for platin-blond hair, suits without buttons, futuristic sports cars and purple wigs... <g>
Read-through by Kylara Ingress who bravely waded through not only a fandom unknown to her, but also some really awkward sentences. I tried to change enough to remedy that, but don't know how well I succeeded. I haven't watched the series in a while, and that might show. Kylara, thank you very much!

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