Freebie Mondays: The Legend of the One-Armed Commander

Freebie Mondays: The Legend of the One-Armed Commander

You can probably tell the exact moment I stopped writing Domerin’s novels… It’s when he returned to my blog in force. What can I say? The man likes attention. Though in fairness, Space Domerin hasn’t really cropped up in awhile.

I’ve decided to change the way I do my serial stories since I no longer post prompts weekly. That means the next three freebie slots will be devoted to this story. I hope you enjoy it :3

Incidentally, if there’s a particular character or story you’d like to see more of, drop a message in the comments and I’ll make sure to give it priority.
. . .

Every time Domerin passed someone in a corridor, he caught himself checking their eyes, trying to calculate the direction they were looking in, expecting it to land squarely on the space beneath his right shoulder. The space where his sleeve lay flat against his chest because there was nothing to fill the small tube of fabric.

He hated the fact that there was no way to hide that emptiness, and that folding the empty sleeve across his chest and tucking it between buttons on the front of his shirt only seemed to highlight the fact that his arm was missing. Despite several reassurances from his boyfriend that it looked dignified and ample arguments from his daughter that some famous human general who had also been missing an arm used to wear his uniform exactly the same way, he wished there was some better solution for the situation. He could have worn the short sleeved version of the company uniform – the atmosphere on the ship was certainly warm enough for it – but he hated that even more because the empty hole only seemed to highlight the fact that nothing occupied the sleeve.

Of course, glancing at everyone’s faces as they passed inevitably drew their gazes in his direction. Several heads turned and nodded. Some bore genuinely relieved smiles, but other happy expressions were obviously forced. Some people nodded with no small amount of trepidation and seemed to deflate when they made it safely past the mercenary company’s commander.

None of these things were overly unusual; lots of people assumed they were in trouble when the mercenary commander looked upon them unexpectedly, and no one liked being the focus of Domerin Lorcasf’s anger. But it was dreadfully difficult to evaluate the source of those expressions in the few seconds he had before he passed each person, and he couldn’t help attributing everything to the flat sleeve plastered against his chest.

The most galling thing about it all was that his arm was out there somewhere, intact and functional. Yet here he was, struggling to get on without it.

“Excuse me, commander?”

The voice was so soft, Domerin almost missed it beneath the ambient chatter filling the corridor. Luckily, his ears were keen. They even twitched slightly as he turned to find a young woman wringing her hands together in front of her.

The smile she offered him was genuine, though it didn’t ease the worry from her pale blue eyes. There was hope lurking beneath it all; Domerin had seen enough of it in his time to recognize it, even when it was tinged with desperation.

“Yes?” he prompted softly when she didn’t speak.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” she started, breathless.

Domerin lifted his hand and flicked his wrist as if to dismiss the idea. “You aren’t bothering me,” he reassured. Then he set his fingers lightly against her elbow and drew her to the side of the hallway, out of the way of the regular traffic flow. “Is there something I can help you with?” he asked when she didn’t resume her abandoned statement.

“Maybe,” she admitted, a light blush creeping into her cheeks. “I’m one of the nurses who tended you while you were in the infirmary-“

“Avery.” He smiled. “I remember. You always put extra blueberries in my fruit cups.”

The color coating Avery’s cheeks seemed to engulf her face, but she nodded, her lips forming a more confident smile now that it was clear he did, in fact, remember her.

It was true that the White Dragons had grown too large for Domerin to recognize every face, though he tried to keep up with each influx of new recruits. But he made it a point to be familiar with the infirmary staff every time he ended up as a patient. He might be notoriously ill-tempered while he was recovering, but he did his damndest to make sure the nurses and doctors who looked after him and his people knew he appreciated their efforts – especially in light of his poor behavior.

“I wasn’t sure if you noticed,” she admitted sheepishly. “I know how important the small comforts can be, especially in a situation like yours. Which is why I wondered if you might help me.” The wringing of her hands increased, causing her knuckles to turn occasionally pale. She lowered her head and her pale hair fell in front of her face like a veil.

“If you’d like access to more supplies…” Domerin started, uncertain where she was going with this.

But Avery shook her head quickly. “I’m sorry,” she said in a rush. “Doctor Dael said you wouldn’t want to be bothered with this sort of thing but… Well, it’s an emergency.”

Concern flashed in Domerin’s dark eyes. Again, he laid his fingers lightly against her elbow. “What kind of emergency?” he demanded a little more sharply than he intended.

The nurse swallowed hard. “We have a patient… He came in right around the time you did, sir. I think he might have been stuck on planet during the rescue mission. Anyway, he was injured quiet badly. Fell from a cliff while he was trying to hide. He might have been okay if we could have extracted him right away but… Well his arm was so busted up we… We couldn’t save it.”

Domerin’s heart lodged itself in his throat. He was suddenly quite keenly aware of the empty sleeve plastered across his chest again. Of the lack of sharp fire emanating from the space a few inches below his right shoulder where the stump was capped with metal. He could almost feel his missing arm tingling in the empty air beside him, demanding all his focus turn to it.

He pushed the image out of his mind with a small shake of his head. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “But I’m not sure what I can do to help if the amputation has already taken place.”

“Really?” Avery seemed somewhat surprised by his response. Her eyes trailed to the empty space beneath Domerin’s right shoulder and he unconsciously shifted so that the right half of his body was farther away from her.

“Forgive my bluntness, Commander,” the nurse went on, needing no prompting this time, “but you are uniquely suited to help our patient. More so than anyone else on this ship. You know exactly what he’s going through.”

“It’s different,” Domerin insisted, shaking his head again. “My arm can still be recovered.”

“Maybe your current situation is different,” Avery agreed, her tone suggesting she had summoned a nurse’s patience from somewhere in the depths of her gut. “That doesn’t change the fact that you know what it feels like to lose an arm.”

Domerin turned his head and cleared his throat, suddenly uncomfortable with the whole conversation.

This time, it was Avery who laid a light hand on his elbow. “I just wondered if you would come talk to him. He’s losing hope and I think it would make a big difference if he had someone who could truly empathize with him. You don’t have to. But… Well, anyway, thank you for taking the time.”

She spun and darted down the corridor before Domerin could gather his wits enough to respond. It was terribly difficult to keep air in his lungs all the sudden. He didn’t like to acknowledge his injuries, especially not when they were so painfully obvious.

No one could force him to do this – or anything else. It was the one perk he maintained as the company’s commander.

But Avery was right; he did understand what it was like to lose a limb.

*   *   *

The patient in question was human and in his mid-thirties. He looked ragged and unkempt, his hair brushing his shoulders and an untrimmed beard beginning to form along his chin. But that could have been the result of chasing nurses away post incident. Domerin would have looked much the same way if his species was capable of growing facial hair.

The company commander instantly recognized the holoprojector perched on the bedside table. It  made the walls look like foreign environments. It was probably the same one that had occupied his room until he recovered enough to return to his quarters. But he had only been able to do that because Crescent and Robin had agreed to provide almost round-the-clock care between the two of them. Most members of the company didn’t have that kind of support close to hand, and they could only keep so many non-military personnel on staff.

Because of the longer hair and rugged beard, it took a minute for Domerin to match the name and face. Landon Vesvertan, one of the lieutenants who had been organizing the rescue mission before everything went belly-up. One of the men Domerin had been keeping his eye on for upcoming promotions.

The look Landon turned in Domerin’s direction when he walked through the door nearly stopped it beating. He recognized that look, had seen it on his own face in the mirror while he lay in bed waiting for doom to consume him shortly after the accident that stole his arm and both legs. Before the bionics, before the promise of hope, he had stared at himself from the padded pillows that supported him and labeled himself a walking corpse.

Landon’s eyes weren’t quite dead, they were too full of pain, but his gaze bore all the hallmarks of defeat.

Domerin didn’t shy away from that gaze as he made his way around the bed and lowered himself into the chair pulled close to its far side. For once, he didn’t feel self-conscious about the empty sleeve strapped across his chest. He sat with his right side toward the lieutenant and didn’t even cringe when the man’s dark, doom-filled eyes fell upon the empty space a few inches beneath his shoulder and lingered there.

“Commander,” Landon managed after a few moments to regain his wits. His voice was rough and raw. Either he hadn’t been using it much lately, or he had recently been overwhelmed by anger, sorrow or some heady mix of the two.

“Lieutenant Vesvertan,” Domerin replied with a sharp nod.

Landon’s proud surprise lasted only a moment before he barked a bitter laugh. “I’m pretty sure it’s just Landon now, sir.”

A hint of a smile crept over Domerin’s lips; he didn’t even have to force it. “Then am I just Domerin now?”

Landon’s eyes widened with shocked horror as he realized what he had just insinuated. He started to stammer an apology, but Domerin waved it away.

“How did it happen?” he said to change the subject. “If you want to talk about it, that is. You don’t have to.”

“There’s not much to say,” the lieutenant admitted with a shake of his grizzled head. “Did something stupid and paid for it. Moved too fast, foot slipped and I landed on my arm. Probably skidded quite a bit first but… Doesn’t really matter does it?”

“Mine was a landmine,” Domerin replied softly, his gaze momentarily fixed on the blanket that covered Lieutenant Vesvertan’s legs.

“I’m sorry?” the startled soldier replied, perhaps uncertain what else to say.

Domerin lifted his gaze and locked eyes with the man still propped in the hospital bed. There must be something tormented in his expression because Landon swallowed hard.

“I was out walking with a friend,” Domerin explained, his voice barely more than a whisper. Each word scraped against his throat, trying to get stuck, but he forced them out. “We were supposed to be in a safe place. At least, we thought we were. It was our first time venturing beyond the sheltered places where we grew up, places where the war was just a dream and we never really believed it would touch us.

“I heard the click when he put his foot down. He didn’t. I tried to warn him, tried to stop him, but it all happened so fast…” He shook his head.

“I… I had no idea,” Landon stammered. Domerin was somewhat relieved to notice that, while the man’s eyes were wide with disbelief, there was no hint of pity in his gaze.

Like Domerin, he understood what it was like to be on the other side of that kind of disaster.

“Most people don’t,” Domerin said. “And I’d appreciate if you’d keep this to yourself.”

“Of course,” Landon said without hesitation, making a quick gesture with one hand to seal the promise.

Domerin nodded acknowledgement.

“What happened?” Landon asked after a moment of silence passed between them. “To your friend, I mean.”

Domerin shook his head. That was one thing he couldn’t speak of. Not even with all these years between him and the experience.

“I woke up in a hospital,” he said instead. “They had already amputated my arm. But the explosion stole my legs too. They told me I would never walk again. That I was doomed to live the rest of my life from bed. In my society, you may as well have plague if you’re going to receive that kind of prognosis. The elders who raised me wrote me off without a second thought. I was useless if I couldn’t contribute to anything, and they made sure I knew it.”

A grim smile crept across Domerin’s lips. “They were wrong though.”

Landon’s eyes strayed toward Domerin’s legs. For once, it didn’t bother him. He could use them again, and that was all that mattered.

“Is that how you felt?” the soldier asked softly. “When you first woke up, I mean. Like you could prove them wrong?”

“Fuck no.” Domerin snorted.”I spent the first three days wishing I had died. My people live a long time, Lieutenant. I saw that time stretching out in front of me like a series of weights dropped on my chest. It was unbearable, the idea that I wouldn’t be able to do anything during all that time. That I would just have to wait and let all the years march past until I found release.”

He could tell by the way Landon inhaled sharply that he had been thinking something similar, probably not more than five minutes ago.

“But I was wrong too,” Domerin said softly, shaking his head again. “Granted, I wasn’t the architect of my fate. Not at first. Someone offered me a chance to try an experimental treatment and I was so desperate to get out of bed again that I signed my life away without a second thought. But I built all of this…” he waved his free hand to indicate both the ship and the mercenary company, “after the accident. All the good things in my life happened after that, in fact.

“If I had laid down and given up like I expected to those first few days, my daughter would never have been born. This mercenary company would never have existed, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I’d probably be laying in a stupor somewhere, if I hadn’t overdosed on drugs by now just to escape the monotony.”

“It’s hard,” Landon protested, though the words got caught in his throat. He coughed and tried again. “You can’t just get up and keep going after something like this. People don’t seem to get that.”

Domerin recognized the frustration in Landon’s voice and nodded to show his agreement.

“Hard is an understatement. There’s not a word in any language that describes what it’s like to start over after you lose a piece of yourself. If I invented one, I think it would be a scream.”

Relief suffused the soldier’s face and he nodded. Again, Domerin recognized the look on his face, as if he had just drawn his first deep breath after a long time struggling to keep his head above water.

“I was here a few weeks ago,” Domerin said after a moment. He had started down this path, he may as well finish. “Sitting where you’re sitting. The Daggers broke my implants when they took me. Busted my bionics. And I thought it was for good.”

“I… heard about that,” Landon admitted.

Everyone had heard about it.

“I thought I was done,” Domerin admitted, twisting his lips with disgust. “Thought I had spent my life living on borrowed time and it was time to pay dues for the years I got. Robin practically bit my ears off. She was so angry.”

Landon hesitated. Curious fire burned in his eyes but it was clear he was weary of overstepping his bounds. Domerin didn’t speak, but he did meet the man’s gaze, silently encouraging him to take the plunge.

“What… What did she say?” he asked breathlessly. “If you don’t mind my asking, sir.”

Domerin shrugged. “She told me that I was still me and nothing could ever change that, even if I did spend the rest of my life in bed. Hells, she told me that I could still lead this company. That no one would bat an eye about the fact that I was in a wheelchair because I was the commander.”

“They probably wouldn’t,” Landon replied, though he dropped his gaze the moment he said it. “I hope this isn’t too forward of me, sir, but you’re a legend to most of us.”

“I’m an idiot,” Domerin replied, though he smiled when he said it. “I didn’t believe a word she said. I wrote myself off again, tried to sever all my bonds so that people would be free of the useless burden I became.”

This time he didn’t wait for a response; he slid to his feet. It still felt good to be able to do that. He hoped the novelty never wore off, that he never forgot what it felt like when he was confined to his bed, so that he would always be grateful for this simple range of movement.

“I’m lucky my daughter is as stubborn as I am,” he admitted, grinning. “She didn’t give up on me, and I firmly believe that’s the reason I can walk today. In the end, she was right. I’m still the commander of this company, no matter how inadequate I feel.”

He set his arm on the railing of the bed and leaned forward so that his face was only a few inches away from Landon’s.

“And I imagine if I can command this company with just the one arm, you can still serve in it with one of yours missing.”

Landon’s eyes shimmered when Domerin stepped back. It wasn’t a trick of the light. He instantly raised his hand to wipe away the beads of moisture forming at the edges of his eyes.

“You… You’re willing to keep me on, sir?” he stammered, clearly overwhelmed by this vote of confidence. “I… I expected to get my papers as soon as the company medical treatment came to its end.”

“I’d be a pretty damn shitty commander if I tossed you out over something like this. Even if I wasn’t a one-armed man myself. Besides, I happen to know this bio-engineer who’s starting her own bionics program. You’d be first on her list if you’re interested. I can have her down here in an hour.”

Again, Landon swatted at several drops of moisture sliding free of his eyes. “I appreciate the offer, commander, but I could never afford-“

“You got injured on company time,” Domerin interrupted. “The company can foot the bill.”

Landon drew a deep, heavy breath, clearly overwhelmed by his sudden good fortune. “I don’t want to take more than you’d give anyone else, sir. You couldn’t possibly pay for every soldier who ever lost a limb in your company.”

“I don’t like to be told what I can and can’t do,” Domerin replied, his tone sharp, though his face quickly softened. “And maybe I will. No one knows better than me what it’s like to be in your position.”

“Can I… Can I tell you the honest truth, Commander?”

Domerin nodded without hesitation.

Again, Landon swallowed hard and drew several shallow breaths to overcome the emotion that must be building in his chest. His face was red and he no longer seemed to notice the tears sliding from his eyes.

“Even though I knew you lost your arm, like me, I never thought we were the same. I thought your iron will would carry you through everything and I was just a coward who couldn’t face being less than I used to be. I admired your strength but never believed I could live up to it. Before you came through that door I… I was ready to give up.”

Domerin smiled gently; this, too, he understood. “I suspect your nurses were aware of that. It was one of them – Avery – who brought your situation to my attention. I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner. Please know that if you ever need to talk to someone, you can talk to me. I’ll give you my personal contact information. Please don’t hesitate to make use of it any time of day. What you’re about to experience isn’t going to be easy. But you don’t have to do it alone. If you need me to teach you how to be a stubborn, intractable old goat to get to the other side, I’m more than happy to do that.”

Landon snorted a laugh. As soon as the laughter shook his chest it seemed to sink claws into his flesh. He spent several minutes laughing and rubbing moisture away from his eyes before he shook his head and regained his composure.

“Thank you, Commander. I… I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come to speak with me today.”

“You’re welcome, Landon. And when we’re here, it’s just Domerin. There are some matters that demand my attention now, but don’t forget what I said. Day or night. I might not be able to come right away but I’ll come when I can. You’re going to get through this. I’m going to make sure of it.”

Landon made a soft sound that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. “You know, I’ve told about ten people to fuck off for telling me that. But when you say it, I actually believe it.”

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