She didn't bring her back. That was all North Dakota could think. Yes she was aware that there was nothing she could have done that would've changed the outcome nor was recovery possible. When a submarine was lost, she was lost! There was a reason the black boats called it "eternal patrol". But North Dakota didn't think that way. Like all nuboats born in the states, she was given to the family of her first prospective commanding officer, now her captain Jerry Mitchell. She accompanied him onboard Michigan and was present for his daring escape from Iran, a SEAL team accompanying them. The experience had profoundly affected the then 2 year old pup and one could say she had been raised by SEALs. She was quick to adopt their adage, everyone comes home. But not today. Santa Fe wouldn't be coming home, nor would she ever. Dakota was so close, she easily could've dove beneath Santa Fe's sinking form and rescued her. At least she could've carried her remains home. But she was reeled in and forced to reluctantly, leave the area.

Now, 2 years later she had yet to forgive herself for that. As if that wasn't difficult enough she'd been ordered to attack and sink her closest friend. Since their meeting during the Sino-Littoral Alliance War, INS Chakra had gone from being a certified cheeky pain in the stern to a close confidant. She was actually more than that. At least, that's what Dakota thought. But when the American submarine had offered to bond, Chakra refused and had broken off all contact shortly thereafter. Dakota doubted that the Indian had lied about her feelings but everything changed with she learned of the scandal. A crazy plan conceived by India's top Admiral to finish the job started in the war and destroy China using nuclear weapons fired from Chakra. When she first learned about the plan, Dakota had wondered if Chakra was a willing participant and that was why she pushed her away. But she quickly pushed that aside. An operation like this didn't fit Chakra's character. She would never willingly harm another country unless she truly believed that country was her enemy. Dakota had to face the possibility that her lover was brainwashed or blackmailed into this. A thought that didn't ease the strain placed on her. Because she knew there was only one way this would end.

Breaking off contact with Dakota broke her heart. Receiving the orders to sail had broken her soul. As she sailed ever closer to Shanghai, Chakra had time to reflect and wonder if it was all worth it. The answer of course, was no. She'd stopped talking to her American lover for Dakota's sake. The American was sensitive and had too good a heart to be caught up in all this. When Dakota asked to bond, Chakra had been horrified. Not because she didn't want to have Dakota in her life permanently, she did. But because of Admiral Danakar's plan. Chakra knew this would be a suicide mission. Nothing short of several miracles would see her through alive. If the Chinese didn't kill her, then someone else would. By breaking off contact abruptly and rather rudely, Chakra hoped that Dakota would think she was no longer interested. And when she inevitably found out about the Admiral's plan, and the chatter indicated that she had judging by the joint Indian-American radio calls for her to return, Dakota would think Chakra had deliberately betrayed her. That was the INS submarine's hope. Dakota's heart was too big to love more than once. Chakra hoped that by playing this act, she could spare her lover the pain of her loss. Chakra dealt with her own pain simply because she knew she wouldn't live long with it anyways. As she approached Shanghai she prayed another submarine would be lying in wait for her there, to finish her off before this mad scheme could go any further.

Her wish was granted as out of nowhere appeared two Mark 48 torpedoes. Only one nation carried those fish, America. So the Americans had joined China in the fight. Chakra had expected their involvement but not this quickly. America must have deployed its submarines from its forward operating base in Guam. Submarine Squadron 15. Chakra knew the squadron well. It was where Dakota was stationed. Once longing for an encounter she now prayed fervently that it would end without any deaths. She picked up the American's signature and recognized it at once. Despite her ambush, Dakota did not have the will to kill her. But that didn't mean that Chakra could allow her attack to go unchallenged. She hoped that seeing her counterattack would send Dakota running but given the Virginia-class aggressive nature, Chakra did not believe that would be the case. Chakra had no choice. "Dakota, I'm sorry." She thought.

Dakota was surprised at the level of adrenaline that flooded her system shortly after firing the two torpedoes. She had been waiting for Chakra to appear but had not expected the Indian to emerge from the gloom that soon. Chakra was making up for lost time, it appeared. Dakota looked to her sonar display, her only real source of information. Down here, eyes were useless. It was sound that determined how battles were fought. Chakra had turned around and was now heading towards where she thought Dakota was. But Dakota had been expecting that and had deliberately launched the torpedoes one direction, then turned them 90 degrees in another direction. Chakra, after launching countermeasures that, much to Dakota's annoyance, took down her torpedoes, she launched her own weapons down the Mark 48s recorded track. Despite the seriousness of the battle, Dakota allowed herself a triumphant smile. "I'm not there, sweetheart." She whispered. She fired again, and again Chakra dodged her shots. "Oh come on!" Dakota growled as she watched her weapons fall for the decoy trick again. She hadn't expected Chakra to be an easy target. The Indian was well versed in underwater combat and was probably the only foreign submarine in the world that had a chance of beating her. Dakota would've let her if not for Chakra's dangerous cargo. Those nukes had to be taken care of and the only way to do that was to destroy the ship carrying them. Dakota readied herself for another salvo, and released a wall of countermeasure of her own for good measure.

Chakra fell for Dakota's wall of noise, naturally assuming that the American was hiding behind her countermeasures. It was standard doctrine and would've been Dakota's first fallback in battle as her training commanded her to do. But Dakota was not playing by the rules. She'd deliberately sent the wall of countermeasures that way, 90 degrees from her actual track. She waited patiently, her torpedoes loaded. She had tube 2 on standby. If this worked, she'd need only one shot. Chakra committed herself to the trap when she fired another spread of torpedoes at the countermeasures. Seconds later her sensors picked up the sound of high speed screws coming at her, 90 degrees off from where she had fired her weapons. It didn't take her much longer than that to realize that Dakota had tricked her. She launched noisemakers and turned hard, putting on all the speed she could muster. It wasn't enough and she knew it. She closed her eyes, pulling back the throttle as she gave up her desperate attempt at escape. What would she gain by losing Dakota anyways? Hundreds of millions of lives would be lost if she succeeded. The price of her lover's heart was a small price to pay for that, assuming she even still had it. She accepted her fate.

The torpedo struck her amidships, taking out two of her compartments. As water flooded in she became bow heavy and her stern broached the surface, propeller blades slicing at the air before she dropped down. She landed hard on the ocean floor, sliding along the hard rock that sliced into her hull causing even more damage. Her shaft couldn't take the blows and snapped, which got a scream out of the wounded submarine. Chakra was an Akula and a single torpedo was not enough to kill her but even she could not withstand the damage she had just been given. Eyes still closed she waited for the pain to subside and death to claim her. Instead she was surprised to feel soft fins supporting her and she felt herself slowly rising. She dared open her eyes as she broke the surface, gasping for air. When she did she could feel her mortal wounds. Her lungs were slowly filling with blood. She twisted around, trying to get a look at her rescuer and was not at all surprised to see who it was.

When Dakota heard the torpedo impact she was already in motion, racing down the weapon's track to her lover's position. Chakra was tough enough that the torpedo would not kill her immediately. She would have time to answer Dakota's questions. Chakra lay across her back at an angle, bow clear of the water. Her blood ran down her flanks, onto Dakota and then into the sea. Dakota deliberately avoided looking at the red water lapping her flanks, so as not to be alarmed by it. "Dakota, forgive me." Chakra's weak but welcome voice sounded in her ears. Dakota had never heard a more beautiful sound but right now she had questions she needed answered. "Why did you do it Chakra?" "Don't ask questions you already know the answer to Dakota. You know I never liked that." Chakra smiled. "But I don't know the answer! I don't believe for a second that you were a part of this crazy scheme to destroy China. But I can't figure out your motives, I just can't!" Dakota cried. "That is because you have never understood nor appreciated the value I place on those I care about." Chakra replied. Now Dakota seemed confused. "You did this, because of me?" She asked. "I did this to protect you." Chakra clarified. "Admiral Danakar promised not to kill you if I agreed to his plan." "So he did blackmail you." Dakota murmured. "Well why didn't you bond with me? You wanted to, don't deny it!" She added as Chakra opened her mouth to reply. "A bond would've been the perfect way to communicate that you were in trouble. I could've helped you." "And that is exactly why I didn't bond with you." Chakra murmured. The pain was starting to subside or maybe she was just getting used to it. It was hard to tell. "I know you, Dakota. You would've stuck your nose in too far in your efforts to help and it would've gone badly for you. That's why I needed to make you believe that I was a willing participant. You're too stubborn to keep yourself out of a situation like this entirely. I needed you angry at me so that when this attack did inevitably fail, the toll would not be as painful." "You knew I'd come here. You knew I'd ambush you, kill you if I had to." Dakota whispered. "Yes, I did know. Anger can be a powerful motivator Dakota but it can also be a great shield. If you had believed I had betrayed you, what would you have thought if you had killed me?" Chakra asked. "A little grief perhaps but mostly satisfaction. You mean a great deal to me Chakra, anger alone would not be enough to save me from the pain of hurting you." Dakota replied. "Oh you are sweet Dakota. Bless your young heart, my love!" Chakra exclaimed. She turned her head to the side, coughing. "Chakra?" Dakota twisted her head around to nuzzle her, concerned. Chakra spat blood, then slowly raised her eyes to look at her. She returned the nuzzle weakly. "Leave me, beloved. Go home, where you belong." "No." Dakota growled. "Dakota please..." "No! Everyone comes home!" Dakota all but snarled, her eyes intense. "I am not losing you like I lost Santa Fe. You're coming with me." "Then take these." Chakra had to work to pull the weapons out of her and her efforts earned her more lost blood but she carefully handed the nuclear torpedoes to the American. "Dispose of these in the deep. They will go off, 36 hours from now." She rasped. "Hold onto them for now Chakra. We're not that far from the 100 fathom curve. Drop them when I say." "Very well." Chakra sighed, resting her head across the back of Dakota's neck. The pain was still there but was continuing to fade away. Chakra wondered just how much longer she had left to live. She felt cold, in fact she started to shiver against Dakota who for her part responded to her lover's condition with an increase in speed. She could only go so fast on the surface but she gave it everything she had. Chakra for her part, dropped the torpedoes where she needed to as her lover raced for Guam.

After several hours, the coast of Taiwan finally disappeared from view. Dakota was making good time on her voyage to Guam. She had considered stopping in Japan as China was most certainly out of the question but the facilities at Guam were better suited to handling submarine emergencies. Chakra had said little since leaving the island behind, in fact she had said nothing at all. She'd stopped coughing and it was only her breaths against her neck and the occasional stroke of a fin down her side that told Dakota her lover was still alive. She did her best to keep Chakra awake and coherent. "You'll like Guam, it's a narrow channel to get into the harbor but it opens up very quickly. And we'll all love to have you. NC will chat your ear off and Oke City, our commander, tends to be a bit too by the book but she's cool. Oh and when in the morning, you can see the sun rise over the island's mountains..." Chakra smiled as she listened to her mate talk about her home. The gentle tones of her voice were soothing and relaxed Chakra. She no longer felt cold. In fact she felt radiantly warm. The sounds of a submarine at flank and the smell of sea spray gently washing her face faded away. She felt like she was floating on a soft, warm mattress back in India with a pillow that beckoned her. Who was she to ignore such an alluring sight?

A few hours later, Dakota pulled into Apra Harbor, Guam. She didn't feel anything, in fact she felt numb. She'd felt it when the warm breaths against her neck ceased and the blood that had been steadily dripping from Chakra onto her hull had long since cooled. But the American carried on with her task. She pulled into her dock and rolled ever so slightly. Chakra slid off her into the sea, landing gracefully on her side. Now Dakota could get a good look at her. As beautiful as Chakra was in life, death had given her a siren level of beauty. Her eyes were closed and there was a small smile on her face as though she was just in a beautiful dream. Dakota didn't want to look but she had to. She saw where her torpedo had struck, leaving a gaping hole in her left flank. Chakra had additional wounds from her impact with the ocean floor. Her shaft was broken, the propulsion just dangling there like the end of a snapped twig. Her keel was sliced open in a manner that no doctor alive today could've saved her from. Dakota wanted to cry. She wanted to feel something! She'd done all this, brought Chakra home and yet she had still died. But she'd brought her home. She hadn't left her there. She could've even bring herself to feel some elation at that. No elation, no grief, just a bone chilling numbness. She looked at Chakra again, seeing how peaceful she appeared to be. And when she did something changed in her. Dakota wasn't sure what it was exactly. But all she knew was that Chakra wasn't dead, she was sleeping peacefully. Chakra did often sleep very heavily. She rubbed her head against her flank. "You're so cold my love." She whispered. She lay down next to and slightly over her, bringing her slightly smaller but hotter bulk to bear. She gathered Chakra in her fins, resting her muzzle next to hers and closed her eyes.

Oklahoma City could not have felt more relieved than when she saw Jimmy Carter surface and make her way into the harbor. Several weeks had passed since the Indians failed attempt at destroying China and in that time Dakota hadn't left her dock once. She hadn't even moved an inch, nor had she said anything. It had taken 5 days for the coroners to get a hold of Chakra's body and that was only after they'd fired 3 sedative darts into a furiously overprotective Virginia-class submarine. Dakota had not said a word since that day and it was Oke's hope that Carter could talk some sense into her. She sighed, facing the enormous Seawolf-class. Carter looked tired but then again she had been called off her return trip home from a 4 month long patrol. It was very likely she hadn't slept in several days. "Thank you for coming on such short notice JC." Carter's mouth twitched slightly, as close to a smile as the stoic submarine got. "You asked me to come Oke. And I would not leave a fleetmate in such pain." She replied.

Carter had no problems locating Dakota. The Virginia-class was thin, not surprising considering she hadn't eaten much since she carried Chakra here. Her stern was to her but Carter already knew what her face looked like. She knew the look well. Sunken in, hollow eyes. Freshly dried tear stains. It was the look of defeat, the look of someone who had lost part of their soul. It was the look she herself had worn 6 years earlier when Traeger died. Even now she winced just thinking of her mate's name. She had not spoken it since that day. There was no question that Dakota knew she was there. Carter was positioned upwind of her and her scent carried as did the motion of her travel. But she said nothing as the larger submarine pulled into the dock next to her. Carter's hull brushed hers but Dakota gave no reply. Carter made her an herbal tea that would help her vocal chords should she choose to speak and set it down in front of her. Dakota paid it no mind. Sighing, the older submarine took a stab at helping her friend. "You'll never forgive yourself." She began. "Never. This will stay with you for the rest of your life. I could tell you to move past it. Learn to live with it, whatever. But I won't." She sensed a subtle shift in Dakota's body language as the Virginia-class started to give some of her attention to her. Carter went on. "You already know what you need to do. The Navy has taught you everything you need to know about handling grief. It seems to me you have accepted the fact that Chakra is dead." Just as Carter expected, Dakota flinched at the use of that name. She retreated from Carter, fins tucking in close to her body in a protective gesture as though she expected her chest to fall apart at any second. Carter watched her carefully. She was so fragile. Was this how she was when Traeger died? If so then Carter owed more to Connecticut than she previously thought. Her sister had pulled her out of this. She had done so, so Carter could help others pull out of their grief too.

"Blaming yourself will not help things. I'm not going to sit here and try and tell you that it wasn't your fault. Not because I believe it is but because it is irrelevant. It will not change what has already been done. What I do want you to do is to realize something. Something important." Carter paused, looking carefully at Dakota to see if she was paying attention. The other submarine had her eyes fixed straight ahead but she was occasionally glancing at Carter. "What I want you to realize is that you are lucky. Understand that, accept what has been done, is done. And do what your mate would've wanted you to do." Carter shifted back and forth for a few minutes. She really wasn't good at this sort of thing. Then she sighed. "I'll leave you to it." She said finally and began to back out. "Why?" Carter paused at Dakota's voice, quickly moving back up beside her. Dakota took a sip of the tea Carter had set down for her and repeated her question and there was a hint of anger in her tone. "Why do you think I'm lucky?" She asked. Carter closed her eyes, gathering herself and when she opened them her vision was slightly blurred and her voice was quivering. "Because you got a chance to say goodbye." She replied. She rested a fin across Dakota's shoulder then let it fall, retreating quickly from the area. She had never been comfortable with emotions, most certainly not her own. She left Dakota frowning as the submarine mulled over her words. What Carter said made sense, especially considering her past. Dakota had heard the stories about Traeger like all the other boats had. "She has it so much worse than me." She thought. She returned her attentions back to the cup and resumed drinking it, secretly enjoying the taste. And that's when she spotted Commander Mitchell coming towards her. He'd seen the whole thing and hesitantly approached his submarine. Dakota had been so unpredictable as of late that no one was allowed aboard her. Would she attack him? Dakota watched him for a moment, seemingly unsure about what she should do. Then she made her decision. If Carter could live through the pain of losing her mate without closure then the least Dakota could do was try and do the same. She leaned forward and pressed her muzzle gently into his outstretched hand. From another berth nearby, a teary eyed Carter watched the exchange with a real genuine smile.