May 1st, 2005
|the_moonmoth||09:16 pm - Each Second of Fear [4/5]|
Rage is fear of not being heard
Crime is fear of being defeated
Jon can still hear Malcolm's voice in his head, see the expression on his face so clearly, as though the twelve intervening years have served simply to focus it all ever more sharply. He had seen in his eyes that he wouldn't beg -- his indomitable pride -- even as he told Jon what a mistake he was making.
'We have to find the second weapon,' Jon had replied, 'I can't afford distractions.'
Malcolm hadn't bought it, reaching out to touch Jon's cheek, as he had done innumerable times over the last four months, asking for the truth. He had forced himself not to react, watching in silence as the shock and the reality, finally registering, had played out over Malcolm's face.
Jon had left shortly after that, never having been one for long goodbyes. He's amazed now at his cruelty, at his ignorance, but it's a dull recognition of yet another undesirable facet of himself. He thinks about what it means to still be in love with someone after twelve years of being parted from them.
Despite having been standing by the window for some time, it suddenly strikes Jon that the sun is in the sky. He gathers his things and leaves for his office and his desk.
The door chime rang, but Captain Archer didn't move to answer it. He sat in his dimly lit quarters staring out of his window at the starfield beyond, barefoot, wearing only the sweatpants he'd pulled on before the thought of the gym became too much.
The chime sounded again, and again he ignored it. He knew who it was, and what they wanted, and he was in no mood for it.
When the chime rang a third time, and the realization dawned that his visitor wasn't going to just leave, Archer rose in one sudden, fluid motion from the edge of the bed and moved to open the door.
'What do you want, Lieutenant?' He asked Reed, turning back into the darkness of his quarters. But it was Malcolm, not Enterprise's armory chief, who followed him, leaving his rank at the door as they had learned to do for each other a lifetime ago.
'We need to talk,' he said quietly, stopping just inside the door. Looking a little unsure as to where to put himself, he crossed his arms over his chest in that familiar gesture of defense, but in his jeans and t-shirt it looked different -- he just seemed lost.
'If you have a problem with my actions, Mr. Reed, you can file a complaint,' he said coldly.
'Oh you don't need to worry about that, *Sir*,' he replied, matching Jon's tone, dropping his arms to his sides. 'I haven't even put it in the log.'
'Then why are you here?'
Malcolm stared at him for a moment and then sighed heavily, glancing up at the ceiling. 'This isn't you, Jon,' he said. Archer turned away angrily and walked back to the porthole, bracing an arm on the wall above his head as he leaned into it. 'Threats? *Torture*? You could have killed a man today!'
'He's fine,' Jon shot back, 'and we have the information we needed.'
'And if he hadn't cracked? How far would you have gone?' Malcolm asked taking a step forward. 'Because you came *this* close to murder.'
'I don't have to explain myself to you, Malcolm.'
'No. No you don't. But eventually, there'll be someone-'
'I don't want to hear it,' he spat, spinning around to stare hard at Malcolm. The silence stretched between them like something tangible, like a memory or a bad dream, and Jon watched with a distant horror as he saw realization begin to dawn, and then quickly to freeze into fury, in Malcolm's pale eyes.
'Is this why?' he asked softly. When Jon didn't reply, and turned instead back to the stars, Malcolm walked right over and forced him back around, fingers digging into the flesh of his bicep. 'Is this why?' Malcolm repeated, voice rising. Jon tried to shake him off but Malcolm just tightened his grip, both hands on his shoulders now. 'This is your reason? Answer me!'
Jon's vision clouded with images of Orgoth's face, the look of terror as he realized that Jon was in fact serious, and would indeed let him die if he didn't tell him everything he wanted to know. The fact was, Jon wasn't sure how far he would have gone, couldn't be certain that he would have stopped. He didn't know. And that that felt unsatisfactory thrilled the very darkest part of him.
The heat of Malcolm's hands on his bare skin. The sudden, unbearable need to lose himself in something familiar. Using his hold on him, Jon pushed Malcolm roughly, backwards into the bulkhead, ignoring his grunt of pain at the sudden impact. Taking advantage of his surprise, Jon pushed his arms down and, pressing his body hard against Malcolm's, kissed him.
'You son of a bitch,' Malcolm hissed when Jon released his mouth, even as he grabbed his ass, crushing them even tighter together. Jon wound the fingers of one hand into his hair and pulled his head to the side, breathing raggedly into his ear and then lower, biting his way down Malcolm's neck until, reaching the junction where his neck met his shoulder, he sucked hard. Malcolm cried out, rocking his hips against Jon.
He pushed a thigh between Malcolm's legs, thrusting his hardened cock against the other man's hip. As he did so, Malcolm broke free of the hold on his head, and dragged Jon away from his neck, and back up to his face. The intensity in his eyes was nearly overwhelming, but Jon found himself drawn in by the tangled mix of rage and need and pain, crushing his lips against Malcolm's in a bruising kiss. Malcolm moaned as Jon pried his lips apart with his tongue, moving his hands up Jon's bare back, up to his neck and head, and then back down again, to the curve of his ass.
Jon worked a hand between them to get at Malcolm's fly. Pushing his jeans down past his hips he put a hand over the hard ridge in Malcolm's underwear and rubbed him through the fabric, making Malcolm gasp into Jon's open mouth, and reach down with trembling hands for the waistband of Jon's pants.
Malcolm freed them both of their underwear and they thrust into each other's hands, panting, covering each other in wet, open-mouthed kisses. Jon closed his eyes as the exquisite pressure built, his mind empty beyond the rhythm of Malcolm's hand on his penis, pumping roughly, too quickly and relentless. Jon came with a shout, thrusting erratically, sweating. A second later, Malcolm shuddered silently and then stilled, slumping away from Jon against the bulkhead, panting, his eyes closed.
For a while, there was only the sound of their breathing, and then Malcolm whispered, 'Jon, don't lose yourself for this cause.'
Jon surveyed Malcolm for a moment, flushed and beautiful, his eyes still closed as though he couldn't stand what he might see if he looked at Jon. Yes Malcolm, he thought, you're exactly right. This is why.
'Get out,' he said softly, looking away. Malcolm opened his eyes but didn't look at Jon, staring straight ahead, his pupils huge in the half-light. For a moment Jon expected him to protest, gazing at the opposite bulkhead with such hurt, but then he was pulling up his jeans, straightening his t-shirt. And then he was gone. Jon stood in the vacuum left in his wake, staring at the empty space where he had been.
He never apologized. What could he possibly say?
The comm. sounds. 'Admiral? There's someone here to see you.'
'Who is it, Lieutenant?' Jon asks his aide.
'A Lieutenant Commander Lloyd, Sir. She said you're expecting her,' says Lieutenant Carver.
'Thank you, send her in.'
A few seconds later the door slides open to reveal a neat young woman in her early thirties, uniform immaculately pressed, shoes shone to perfection and not a hair out of place in her scraped-back plait. Starfleet security, Jon thinks wryly.
'Good morning, Admiral.' She doesn't smile but holds out her hand. 'Commander Mary Lloyd, Starfleet security. It's an honor to meet you. I hope you got my message.'
Standing to greet her, Jon shakes her hand and then gestures to the chair across from him. 'I'm afraid not, Commander, I only just got in. How can I help you?'
Lloyd looks vaguely annoyed in a pinched sort of way, and takes a moment to arrange herself in her seat. 'As is standard practice, an enquiry has been opened into the destruction of the Warhawk class Federation vessel USS Brimstone NX-41. I'm heading up the investigation. I was hoping you'd be able to answer a few questions for me, Admiral Archer.'
Archer nods, 'Of course.'
'Good.' Lloyd lifts a slender black briefcase onto the desk and removes two padds. She types in a few commands to the first one and then places it between them -- a recorder. 'Brimstone enquiry, interview with Fleet Admiral Jonathan Archer, oh-nine-oh-seven, October 21st 2165. Admiral,' she glances at the second padd in her hand and then looks up at him, 'I understand that you used to be Captain Reed's commanding officer.'
'Yes, he served as my armory officer onboard Enterprise for four years.'
'During that time, did you ever have cause to discipline him?'
'Not officially, no.'
Jon frowns sitting forward. 'That's hardly relevant, commander. What's this about?'
She smiles thinly, 'Bear with me, Admiral. What do you know of Mr. Reed's involvement with a man named Aubrey Harris?'
'I've never heard of him.'
'Have you heard of Section 31?'
Lloyd fixes him with her sharp gaze, 'Did Mr. Reed ever spend time in the brig under your command?'
'Have you checked the records, Commander?' Archer asks, not bothering to hide his annoyance.
'Then you'll know that, no, Mr. Reed did not spend time in the brig under my command.'
'Sir, the official ship's record is in direct conflict with the logs of six junior officers serving on Enterprise at the time.'
'What are you getting at, Commander Lloyd?'
She stares at him for a long moment, seemingly sizing him up. 'I have reason to believe that the destruction of the Brimstone was no accident.' She says it slowly, as though unsure of the words.
Jon stares at her, astounded. 'What?'
Lloyd's mouth twitches but she's silent as she leans forward to pull a third padd from her briefcase. 'The Brimstone's computer core was found amongst the debris,' she says, 'Badly damaged but more or less intact. A lot of the data has been corrupted but my team managed to clean up a portion of the ship's log from the day of the explosion.' Eyes never leaving Archer's, she places it on the desk in front of him and sets it to play.
There's a hiss of static and then a voice, faint and grainy but instantly recognizable -- Malcolm Reed.
'All hands, this is the Captain, may I have your attention please. I have recently come into the possession of classified intelligence regarding Romulan incursion into the Neutral Zone, on which I feel we are obliged to act. Under no orders, and without the knowledge of Starfleet, I have set a course for the Neutral Zone, where we will cross the border in approximately thirty minutes. All crew must report to their department heads for briefing before this time. You may not 'opt out'. I do not take this action lightly, nor without the full support of the senior staff. Any complaints may be made to Commander Mayweather after the completion of this mission. Captain Reed out.'
Archer sits slowly back in his chair, face carefully neutral against his rising anger as he considers his next move.
And then his console beeps. 'Excuse me, Commander,' he says, pressing the button that will answer the call.
'Ah Jon, sorry to bother you,' Admiral Boothroyd smiles apologetically.
'No bother, Duncan,' Jon replies. 'What can I do for you?'
'Actually I'm trying to track down one of my people. Is Commander Lloyd there with you?'
Jon looks over at Lloyd, wondering what the head of Starfleet security wants with her in the middle of her investigation. 'Yes, she's right here.'
'Ah good, can you send her over immediately, please? I have an urgent matter I need to discuss with her.'
'Certainly. Archer out.' Closing the line he turns to Lloyd. 'You'd better get going, Commander.'
Lloyd nods curtly, the pinched expression back on her face. 'I'll be back to finish this later, Admiral.' He stares after her, expressionless.
When she's gone, Archer pushes his chair back with an explosive sigh and walks over to the window. Staring out into the grey morning, he tries to contain his anger as he wonders what could have possibly made Reed renew his involvement in covert ops after giving his word that the association was over, and why he's having to repeat the decade-old lies again, when the man they were intended to protect didn't keep his promise and lost his life in the process. And why the hell he'd put his ship and crew at risk to do it.
Jon remembers the last time he'd truly been angry with Malcolm, the last time they'd fought. It hadn't even been about them, not in the way it had been in the Expanse. Except that it was. In some way, it always was.
'Captain, there's nothing more I can add,' he remembers Reed saying.
'I won't accept that,' he'd replied, almost shouting, almost hissing in disgust. 'You've endangered every member of this crew. You answer to *me*.' He'd shaken his head in disbelief as Malcolm looked away, silent. 'I thought I knew you, Malcolm.'
Pacing about Malcolm's quarters, he'd felt an all too familiar pent-up energy, his words coming out in angry bursts. 'I'm your commanding officer. If you don't tell me what's going on, I'll go to Starfleet. Whatever you think you've been trying to keep hidden is going to come out. Is that what you want? *Is that what you want*?'
The Expanse had changed him in ways that he had anticipated, and in ways that he hadn't. The effects had lingered long after their safe return to Earth. He had become quicker to anger and cared less about masking it, his approach less considered, his response to threat faster and more deadly. He put it down to experience.
But Erika had warned him, in not so many words, that night on the mountain, that fresh air and a good fuck wouldn't solve anything for him, that he couldn't reclaim his prior self by recreating a lost feeling from a lost time, however great the need to reach out and touch and be touched in return. At the time, Jon had just been glad it was Erika, and not Malcolm.
Yet there he was -- it was only afterwards, alone in Reed's quarters, that he realized how desperate he had been for Malcolm to appeal to him as someone other than the captain he'd been forced to betray, as something other than a rank. How desperate he had been for Malcolm to call him Jon. And the anger returned. He was sure it served a purpose then.
At 1245, Jon crosses the concourse to the academy buildings, as he does every day, to meet Hoshi for lunch. The doors to the lecture theatre are open, the class over, but two cadets have stayed behind to ask their questions. Quietly, Jon slips in and stands in the corner, waiting to catch her attention. On the big screen at the front of the hall he can see some alien language, dissected into points of grammatical interest, recognizing it as Klingon but unable to make out anything familiar.
He's only kept waiting a couple minutes before Hoshi shoos her eager students out and sends them off to lunch.
'Popular as ever, Commander,' Jon says, walking over.
Hoshi smiles, straightening up her notes and packing them away. 'You know, I thought we worked hard to get our positions on Enterprise. These guys? I swear they don't sleep.' She looks up then, and frowns. 'You look tired.'
And suddenly, he really feels it. He imagines he looks very much like she does. He doesn't mention the three or so hours of dream-filled, restless sleep from which he awoke in the early hours of the morning. Instead, he tells her about his run-in with security and the Brimstone enquiry.
'Lieutenant Commander Lloyd?' Hoshi asks sympathetically.
'You too, huh.' She nods and he frowns down at the desk, unconsciously fiddling with a padd, aligning it to the desk's edge. 'She ask you anything... unexpected?'
'Like, about Malcolm's murky past unexpected?' He hears the attempted lightness in her voice, but there's something flat in her tone.
'Yeah, like that.'
Hoshi opens her mouth to reply, then closes it again and nods at the open door. Jon turns to see a handful of cadets walking by. 'Let's go get some lunch and take it back to my office,' Hoshi says, voice pitched low. 'We can talk about it there.'
'She asked me several questions about my relationship with Malcolm, the time we served together on Enterprise, that sort of thing. But then she started asking about his conduct -- if he'd ever been reprimanded or in any other kind of trouble. I said no, of course, but...' Hoshi pokes at her food, 'I got the feeling she knew I was hiding something.'
'What else did she say?' Jon asks, his meal similarly untouched.
'The last thing she asked me was about the Brimstone -- she said a lot of the debris was irretrievable because it was too deep into the Neutral Zone. She asked me if I knew why that might be. I told her that I'm not an engineer, but it would make sense if the explosion had been near to the border -- there would be drift,' she explains. Jon nods for her to continue. 'She thanked me, packed up her things and was just leaving when she turned back and told me, she said that the main body of the debris was more than a lightyear into the Neutral Zone. Drift caused by an antimatter explosion is barely a fraction of that in the given time frame, apparently.' Hoshi frowns. 'It's almost like she was warning me, but I have no idea what about.'
Jon watches her play with her lunch, a sense of unease beginning to form deep in his gut.
'You don't think... you don't think Malcolm was involved with Section 31 again, do you?' Hoshi asks after a moment.
Jon tells her what he knows.
Captain Archer looked at the small Xindi communications post on the view screen before him. He thought of Earth, of the seven million dead. He thought of each crew member who had died to get them here. He thought of T'Pol and her increasingly erratic behavior. He thought of Elizabeth Tucker, who he'd met once and liked, and of her brother's slow self-destruction. He thought of Reed's quest to beat Hayes into submission, of his fight for control over an increasingly chaotic situation. He thought of Sato, and of her gradual retreat from the ship's life beyond her duties. He thought of Phlox, who so rarely smiled anymore. He thought of Mayweather, who had once idolized him.
Cold fire burned through him. He was so tired of this, but they were so close.
He thought of his deteriorating relationships with each of his senior officers, of each unethical or morally ambiguous decision he'd made in the past months, of how it had felt, to be proud of his achievements. He glanced over at Lieutenant Reed, awaiting his orders at the tactical station, and thought of the way Malcolm used to look at him.
And he knew, in the shadow of that moon, that he couldn't let the post reveal their position. Not when the nightmare was so nearly at an end.
'Fire,' he ordered, and Reed fired, destroying the defenseless facility with a single torpedo. It was the only time he had ever asked Reed to kill in cold blood.
Afterwards, the silence for the lack of protest was deafening. Archer sat back down in his chair and tried to feel some of the remorse clearly showing on the lieutenant's face, but there was nothing. All he felt anymore was the unrelenting rage, the sharp edge of ice and determination. And sometimes... a distant, deepening sorrow for the loss of his soul. He remembered Reed's words, whispering in his mind like a prophecy, *Jon, don't lose yourself for this cause.*
And then Reed looked up, met his eyes. 'You did the right thing, Sir.'
Archer wondered if he hadn't already begun the payment for his crimes.
Admiral Archer glances at his desk chronometer: 1933. He's been working in his office all afternoon and evening, catching up on his paperwork, waiting for Lloyd to return. He and Sato talked it over for more than an hour, and he's got some questions of his own for the lieutenant commander. But she has yet to reappear.
His thigh has begun aching again from his walk home last night, the throbbing getting worse the longer he sits at his desk. Rising stiffly, Archer tries to stretch the ache out, and crosses his office to get a coffee from the resequencer. The technology has moved on since those early days on Enterprise, and the smell, at least, resembles coffee quite accurately.
Sitting back down, he notices the new message light flashing on his console, and opens it.
Subj: Brimstone Report
Re Mary Lloyd: my apologies for the inconvenience to you this morning. She's always been a bit of a maverick but that was one step too far. I reassigned her and had my aide complete the report. Thought you'd appreciate an advance viewing. We're putting it out on general issue tomorrow morning.
Taken aback, Jon frowns deeply as he looks over the message again to make sure he read it correctly. Opening the attached file, he scans through the body of the report until he reaches the conclusion.
After an extensive analysis of the Brimstone's debris and interviews with members of the crew (primarily first officer Commander Travis Mayweather and chief engineer Lieutenant Commander Helen Thalakis), it is the conclusion of this investigation that the Brimstone's destruction was brought about by a series of catastrophic system failures, beginning with the degradation of Y-line subroutines in the computer core and ending in a loss of magnetic field cohesion in the antimatter containment systems.
Jon skips ahead again.
Captain Malcolm Reed was able to pilot the ship to a safe distance from the crew's escape pods before the antimatter broke containment and annihilated with the surrounding matter, almost certainly preventing the loss of all hands. His actions are to be commended.
Thoughts churning, Archer forwards the file to Sato, and then goes back to the beginning, and reads the whole thing through.
'You think it's a cover-up?' Hoshi asks. In the limited view the screen affords, he can see she's at home, in the study adjacent to the playroom. He wonders if Aki's in there and if he's coloring again, or playing with his Warhawk. It occurs to him that it's around dinnertime and he wonders if he interrupted them. 'Jon?' Hoshi's voice is soft with concern at his distraction, her forehead wrinkled delicately.
'You have to admit there's something suspicious going on,' he replies to her first question, attention snapping back, ignoring her second. 'I looked up Lloyd's record -- it's exemplary. Not exactly the type you'd term a 'maverick.' I also looked up her transfer. They sent her to Mars, Hoshi.'
'But... there's nothing there.'
Archer nods, remembering his tour of the tiny facility in the middle of the stretching, rusty wasteland. 'She must have really pissed someone off.'
'Someone important,' Sato agrees, contemplative. 'How well do you know Admiral Boothroyd?'
'I worked closely with him during the Romulan war.' Jon shakes his head. 'He's a good man. If he's involved, it has to be because someone's leaning on him.' Neither of them speculates as to who that might be. Jon suspects they both know already. 'Something else,' he says after a few moments. 'Other than refusing to negotiate with us over the retrieval of the debris, we haven't heard a thing from the Romulans.'
'What does that mean?' Hoshi asks, frowning.
'I don't know, but if the debris is really as deep into the Neutral Zone as Lloyd suggested, it implies Brimstone was a lot closer to the border than she should have been. If that log was real, they may have even crossed it. You'd think the Romulans might have something to say about that,' he says darkly, disliking the direction that that train of thought is taking. He'd accused Malcolm once of working for the enemy and regretted it -- that he was able to suspect it of Malcolm; that Malcolm had given him cause to.
Hoshi sighs softly and lets her head fall into her hands, massaging her forehead with her fingertips. 'You really think he was involved in something.' It isn't a question and Jon doesn't answer it, doesn't trust himself to. 'I just... I can't believe...' She doesn't finish, her voice trembling, and when she looks up again her dark eyes are glittering almost black through a film of tears. Jon's throat tightens in response, aching with the grief and rage and this new betrayal, and a thought flashes through his mind, that maybe, maybe none of this would've have happened if they'd stayed together. No, he thinks forcefully, refusing to do that to himself.
'Hoshi,' he says a little hoarsely, 'I have to go meet T'Pol.'
She nods, unblinking, not allowing the tears to fall. 'I'm starting to think she might know something about all this.'
'Me too. I'll let you know what she has to say.'
He reaches over and presses the button that will end the transmission, and then sits, unmoving. The room hums softly, the sound of the fans that cool the electronics embedded in the walls and floor and ceiling of the building, the sound of his office breathing, mingling with his own breath and the sound of his pulse in his ears, thump, thump, speeding up, his heart thudding in his chest, his breath comes faster and he gets to his feet and he reaches for his cane and begins to walk towards the door, his nostrils flaring with his quickened breathing and the thrum of his pulse, and he throws his cane with all his strength across the room, into the opposite wall.
'Damn that stupid son of a bitch!'
Part 3 | Part 5