Guilt shines again in his eyes,
Like two lost diamonds
October 20th, 2165.
'Archer, Jonathan, Admiral.'
The screen flashes, 'Voice recognition successful. Please enter security clearance and codes.'
'Security clearance alpha-five. Archer-sigma-omega-nine-five.'
Immediately, the logo of the new Federation is replaced with the tranquil features of Ambassador T'Pol.
'Admiral Archer,' she greets. 'I assume by this time that you have heard news of the fate of the Brimstone and her captain. I wish to offer you my most sincere regrets.' Jon wonders if regret isn't illogical. He wonders if she grieves for Reed.
'I have been in contact with Commander Mayweather on the Tellarite transport Charn, and he informs me that he and the remainder of the crew will reach the outpost at Turana in four days. I thought you would appreciate knowing.' Because Starfleet has always been slow to disseminate information, she doesn't say.
T'Pol has paused, leaning forward slightly and lowering her voice. 'Admiral, by the time this message reaches you, I will be on a ship headed for Earth. When I arrive, there is something we must discuss.' She raises an eyebrow, inclining her head, 'I hope you are well,' and then the message is over.
Taken aback by the abruptness of her sign-out, Jon sits back in the chair and stares at the ambassador's face, the message paused back at the beginning. She hasn't changed in ten years, he thinks, her youthful beauty a mockery to his own graying hair and deepening wrinkles, a dazzling reminder of everything that went before, as though by acting differently he could have kept it so.
'Was it T'Pol?'
Jon comes back to the present with a start. 'What?'
'The communiqué?' Hoshi repeats, 'Was it from T'Pol?'
He stares blankly at her for a moment. 'Oh... yes. She sends her regrets.'
'She knows already?'
'The ambassador moves in mysterious ways,' he says, a ghost of humor in his voice. 'She probably knew before we did. She said she's coming to Earth -- do you know anything about that?'
'No.' Hoshi shakes her head, looking a little confused. 'She wrote me a couple weeks ago, but she didn't mention leaving Andoria any time soon. It sounded like she had a lot on her plate. Maybe she's coming... for a memorial?'
'But no one's planned one yet,' Archer sighs, rubbing his face tiredly.
'Mysterious ways, Admiral,' Hoshi reminds him. 'Are you hungry?'
'Thanks, but I should start heading back to my place. It's getting late.'
For a moment it looks as though she's going to protest, but in the end she just smiles a little weakly. 'Okay. You know you can call me, any time...'
He gets up from the console and envelopes her in a hug. 'Thank you, Hoshi.' She doesn't reply but he feels her nodding into his chest, breathing very carefully.
'Look after yourself, Jon,' she says eventually.
He smiles fondly, hating that he's so glad to be leaving. 'You too.'
It's a clear night, the moon bright in the sky, the stars visible through the light from the streetlamps. He hates it.
He hates that he hasn't seen the stars from the other side of the clouds for so long. He hates that the light from the city diminishes them. He hates that being out there caused Trip's slow death, and Malcolm's, alone, so far from reach. He hates that he wasn't there to do something. Anything.
He hates these feelings of regret that keep surfacing because damn it, he made the right decision, and the possibility that he was wrong doesn't bear thinking about. He hates the nagging voice that tells him, as it has done for some years now, that all the time in the world wouldn't have mattered, because Malcolm would never have forgiven him. He hates how the gap between letters got longer and longer, and the way he convinced himself it was because he was busy, and that they hadn't even arranged to meet up when the Brimstone was due back to Earth in a few months because he hadn't gotten around to it yet.
He hates the thought that Malcolm might have gone to his death with the belief that Jon no longer cared, and maybe never had done. That's the thing he hates most, and he only has himself to blame.
More immediately, though, he hates the way his thigh is twingeing from just this light exercise, how his body is failing him before its time. Walking home from Dan and Hoshi's is farther than he's supposed to go. Ignoring the taxi that hums quietly by, he leans more heavily on his cane and continues. And as he walks, he hates.
Back at his apartment, Jon lets the door shut before leaning his weight against the wall, leg throbbing. He takes a moment to compose himself, and allow the pain to dissipate a little before limping through to the kitchen, where he fixes himself a drink. He takes his time over it, moving slowly because of his leg, and so it's a while before he sees the red light blinking on his console in the next room.
Sitting down, he opens the message more out of habit than any wish to see another sympathetic face with its empty condolences. He's so shocked by what actually comes up on the screen that he nearly drops his glass.
'Hello, Jon,' says Captain Reed.
Archer remembers lying naked in his bed with Reed stretched out beside him, no particular night of their short relationship. He remembers the drowsy, sated feeling from their previous lovemaking, and the dreamy smile in Malcolm's eyes, watching Jon as he ran a hand down Malcolm's spine.
He remembers the way his heart seemed to swell with tenderness, thinking that he had never seen his lieutenant so relaxed and unguarded, and that maybe the pleasure of the physical passion was surpassed by peaceful moments such as these. And then, thinking how much easier his life had become, knowing this was here at the end of the day, and the way his stomach had jumped at the illicit, un-talked-about hope of continuance.
'Do you want me to leave?' Malcolm had asked later, as Jon was drifting off to sleep. Jon had reached out, pulling him in closer, their lips meeting for a slow, tender kiss.
'I'd prefer you to stay.' He had paused. 'I'm so glad we did this, Malcolm.'
Jon remembers his lover's smile, lighting his entire face. 'Me too.'
He doesn't know at which point the sex became lovemaking in his memory. He does know that that conversation never happened
'Hello, Jon,' says Captain Reed, smiling a little sadly. 'This message has been programmed to be sent directly to your personal unit on the confirmation, in my personnel file, of my death.'
Archer takes a deep breath to dispel the absurd rush of hope that had swept over him on opening the message.
'If you're seeing this, I guess it means we never got the chance to talk. I'm truly sorry for that. But I've always believed that it is essential to say what must be said, before the opportunity is removed. Things have calmed down a lot recently, and patrolling the Neutral Zone is nowhere near as dangerous as it used to be, but... there are never any guarantees.' Malcolm pauses, glancing briefly out a window just in shot.
'As you can see, I'm on Earth. I was recently promoted to captain and am now awaiting transport to Alpha Centauri to meet up with my new ship and crew. You may remember that during my wait we had the opportunity to see something of each other.' Jon remembers that it was mostly at small gatherings, at which any kind of private conversation was impossible, but they had managed to have lunch together once.
'Seeing you again, after all this time, a lot of things came clear for me. I've missed you, Jon. I don't think I realized how much I did until I talked to you again. It's been a while.' He shakes his head. 'I was angry with you, for a long time after we stopped seeing each other. I tried not to let it affect our working relationship, and during that year of madness with the Xindi it was easy to distract myself, but I guess ultimately I failed. I'm sorry if I ever made things harder on you than they needed to be -- lucky that that promotion came along when it did, I suppose.
'From the beginning, I suspected that I never had the whole of you, but as long as I had you at all and you were happy, I always thought there would be plenty of time to let things develop. I never once thought you would leave me so suddenly, with so little explanation, when I believed you needed me most. It was difficult to accept, after risking so much, and I want you to know that I still think you made the biggest bloody mistake of your life,' he grins, and again there's something terribly sad about it, 'but I also want you to know that I do understand why you felt you had to do what you did. I stopped being angry a long time ago.
'I don't know why we still haven't sorted through this mess. Never the right time, I suppose. And the longer I left it, the harder it got. Then, what with the Romulans and everything that came after, it feels as though we barely stopped for breath during those years.
'But since then, now that things are calmer... I've been a coward. I have considered trying to talk to you about this, to try to discern how you feel. The truth is, it's been too long. I know you don't feel the way I do, I've known for a long time now, but I'm still afraid to hear you say it.
'I wish that so many things were different, that I could have told you this myself: I love you, Jonathan, I always have.'
Admiral Archer doesn't sleep. Instead he lies in bed feeling as though his body is ripping apart; as though he'll stop breathing from the ache in his throat; as though his chest will implode.
He thinks of all the times he could have said something, could have put things right between them. Looking back, there were so many opportunities, and he's hit with the burning realization of how different things could have been, if not for the decisions he made.
What a waste, Jon thinks. What a goddamned useless waste of a young, vibrant life. Younger still, he suddenly realizes, than he was when first in command of Enterprise. He thinks of everything he's been through since those early days. But beyond everything that Malcolm will never experience, Jon grieves for all the things *he* never will. His impotence in the vast face of the Universe is overwhelming; he can't yet comprehend the depth of his anger.
Out of the night the specters arise, and whisper the words that were never spoken into ears that ache from the burden, and the tang of his hot, bitter tears permeates Jon's body to the core. The pain is unbearable; with each beat of his heart the despair and the guilt stab at him in little, extinguishing gasps.
Part 1 | Part 3