Yukihiro stood at rigid attention, trying to ignore the sense of failure clawing at his guts as he kept his eyes glued to his commander's back. Their alien ... Yukihiro hated to think of them as saviors or allies, the way the Protoss were so willing to rain down death and destruction on populated worlds, but the truth was, without this fleet's intervention, Hyperion and everyone aboard her would have been absorbed by the Zerg by now. Cold comfort when he knew what was going to happen, probably already was happening, on the other side of that viewport.
The fleet's executor had offered Raynor one chance to prove this world wasn't already too infested to save. With Degan being a colony on the far edge of the Koprulu sector, not aligned with any of the other human populations, Raynor had thought – or perhaps merely hoped – they might have gone unnoticed in the Zerg's push into the sector. Degan had been a neo-luddite farm world, rim colonists who had wanted nothing to do with the interstellar politics of the Dominion OR Earth. And maybe if the colonists hadn't happened to have picked a planet once home to the Xel'naga, they could have had their wish to be left alone.
“This was the only way.”
“Bullshit,” Raynor growled at the Protoss officer who so calmly towered over them both.
“I assure you, Commander, we take no pleasure in this. But we know this enemy more completely than even you could imagine. This was the only way to ensure the complete destruction of this hive. I am sorry.”
“Sorry. Right. Tell that to the people we had to leave behind,” the commander snarled, his power armor clanking as he stomped away.
Yukihiro spared a quick glance at the viewport, then hurried to follow the commander. This whole day, this entire week had been nothing but a shit show. Not even the elegant beauty of the Protoss fleet could make anything about it better. Yes, Raynor's Raiders were lucky to be alive and that due entirely to the intervention of a single Protoss executor seeing something worth preserving in them. Right at that moment, though, Yukihiro wasn't sure it had been worth it.
“I'm going off-comm for the next ... four hours. Anything else comes up, deal with it,” Raynor grumbled as they started up the ramp into the Hyperion.
“Yes sir,” Yukihiro said, making a note of the time. It wasn't entirely in keeping with standard protocols and he might have a fight on his hands if anything did come up, but ... they were a mercenary outfit now. Raynor, being at the top of the chain of command, could make the rules whatever he wanted. And break them just as easily as well.
The bombardment would continue for another twenty to forty minutes, then the Protoss fleet would regroup before making the hyperspace jump to the next system with planets capable of sustaining Zerg life. What that meant for where they would be in four hours, Yukihiro didn't know and he doubted any Protoss would be willing to tell him. After two weeks with Tassadar's expeditionary fleet, Yukihiro's experience said the only one willing to even admit humans were worthy of conversation was their leader. And even he only ever gave information to Raynor.
Stepping backwards into his armor berth, Yukihiro took a deep breath as bolts whirred and his suit settled into its cradle for routine maintenance. As tempted as he was to light up a cigarette, he suppressed the urge for now and instead hiked his way from Marine Country up to Hyperion's main bridge, doing his best to ignore the little wrinkled noses and disdainful sniffs from the naval personnel who were a little too quick to forget Raynor had started as a Confederate Marine way before he had taken on the duties he now carried. As much as he was used to it, he was never going to be completely at ease with how quick some spacers were to look down their noses at the Marines, as if they were all nothing more than grunts.
Hyperion's bridge felt almost too quiet when Yukihiro finally stepped out onto it, manned at less than half power from what he could tell. Considering the battlecruiser was currently berthed inside a massive Protoss supercarrier, unable to do anything until they were next dropped, perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise. At least he could take some measure of comfort at seeing the captain but not his exec.
“Major,” Captain Horner said with a shallow nod. At least he didn't dismiss him out of hand, even if his eyes immediately went back to the tablet in his hand. “Have something to report?”
“Sir, Commander Raynor has gone off comm for the next –,” he paused to check his wrist comm, “– three hours and forty-eight minutes.”
The captain's jaw twitched, but for once that was all. Better than the alternative, he supposed, if only just.
“Very well, Major. You are dismissed.”
Yukihiro felt his own fists clench briefly, but he let it go. He was only Raynor's second as long as they were in the field – here in space, Captain Horner and his exec outranked him and there was nothing he could (or would) do about that. As much as he hated being up here, he would have preferred to stay on the bridge, to be sure he was kept in the loop while Raynor was off comm, but a dismissal was a dismissal. Nodding sharply, he turned and marched back into the waiting lift. If he was being cut out, well, there was nothing he could do about that right now. Except hope for the best and wait for Raynor to come back online.
By the time Yukihiro got released from the infirmary – with a (gentle. Ish) harangue from the duty medic about not getting cleared first thing on coming back aboard – ship time insisted it was the middle of the night. Yet when he tried to sleep, his dreams were nothing but nightmares. Things he had actually seen as a Marine, at Raynor's side through both Confederacy and Dominion actions, twisting and entwining with things he could only imagine. Zerg infestations, the hideous purple Creep that went everywhere the Zerg went, covering ground and buildings alike. He could still see it pulsing on the ground, smell the putrid stench of the Creep colonies, half plant, half beast, and entirely vile. People and buildings twisted out of form as they were absorbed and turned into something unholy.
And then there were the Protoss with their elegant ships and tremendous weapons that could turn entire worlds into molten balls of death. Countless millions had been slaughtered in the Protoss' ongoing war against the relentless Zerg, the human colonists were just the latest unfortunates caught in between them. In Yukihiro's nightmares, he could hear the people screaming as death rained down from above while he remained helpless to do anything but stand back and watch.
Yukihiro jerked awake with a soft cry, closing his eyes in relief to see Tetsuya hovering over him. Just another dream, a fabrication of his overly vivid imagination.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, pulling the man back down beside him.
“You don't have to apologize for your nightmares, Yuki,” his husband mumbled, shifting to rest his head on Yukihiro's chest. “I'm sure if I had seen the things you have, I'd be having them, too.”
Yukihiro's arms tightened around Tetsuya's waist. Just luck that they were still together, still both alive. If Raynor had waited two more days to make his break, Tetsuya would have already been transferred to another ship in the Dominion fleet and they might not have ever seen each other again. Being married didn't offer them any protections or promises when it came to duty assignments. Marines went where they were told and nurses got reassigned all the time.
“Take it this one was bad, too?”
“You've seen the news reports, yeah? You know how much the Confederacy used to scrub the hell out of those and Mengsk's Dominion isn't any better, but.... When the Protoss cleanse a planet ... yeah, it's bad.”
“It won't always be like this, surely,” Tetsu mumbled, tracing invisible patterns on Yukihiro's chest. “It's not like the Zerg are a true military, right? They're just beasts, aren't they? Some day they'll be exterminated and this will all just be a bad memory, surely.”
“Some day,” Yukihiro repeated, closing his eyes and pressing a kiss to Tetsu's hair. He didn't really believe it, but he wouldn't take away his husband's hope so easily. Sometimes hope was all they had. Even the tiniest hope was better than nothing but darkness.