Title: Shades of Night

Author: Helyn Highwater

AUTHOR'S E-MAIL: helynhighwater@yahoo.com

Author's URL: http://us.geocities.com/helynhighwater/index.html

Date: 09/11/03

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Rating: PG-13?

Archive: Permission granted to post at EntSTSlash

Summary: Something bad happens.

Challenge: Response to my own challenge.

Warning: Okay this one is rather…intense. I know it sounds grim at first but bear with me. I promise you everything turns out okay.

The trouble with being dead is that you're never really gone. People will still remember that you lived until long after the ones who actually knew you themselves turn into dust. Even longer if you were ever a part of something as noteworthy as say, the *Enterprise.* Everyone, whether they leave descendants, friends, acquaintances, any sort of legacy or not will leave some kind of ripple in space and time. There's no reset button, no way to just put an end to a life and make everything go back to the way it was before. No matter how much you might want to.

I told Trip once that I didn't want to die. It wasn't a lie, not then and not now. But there have been times when I've been sure I wanted to die. Or make someone else die. But I see now that death doesn't really fix anything. He'll always be haunted, no matter what happens now.

Oh Jon, why did it have to happen? The last thing I ever wanted was to hurt you. Why did we have to venture out into space? Why did we have to become friends, lovers? Out of all the infinity of planets, why did we have to visit this particular blasted ball of rock? Nothing can ever just be simple. There's always got to be something seething beneath what you see on the surface. Things like political intrigue, a bloody xenophobic underground movement so threatened by our mere presence that they had to send out an assassin to take care of the problem permanently. I should have seen him sooner. There's no excuse for that and no changing it, either. But at least I'll have the benefit of one last laugh no matter how it all turns out. I didn't let him get you. Thank God he didn't get you.

I managed to save your life but we're both paying for it now. The pain of the blast I took is all mixed up in my mind with the near panic in your voice as soon as you realized what had happened. I hate myself for it, but part of me is selfishly glad to be the one on the surgeon's table. I couldn't stand to ever lose you, Jon. I'm just not strong enough, not in that way. I can barely stand to look at you now. I've never seen that lost, tortured look in your soulful eyes before, and pray I never will again. The sight is ripping its way through me so much worse than that blast wound did, than it ever could. You look so alone sitting there, shoulders slumped, in that hard chair in the corner of this alien hospital. It's odd to see you so still when you're upset, I've gotten so used to your pacing. I hope that's only my blood all over your front and drying in your hair where you must have scrubbed your fingers through it.

There are so many things I want to do, to say to you. I want to hold you and rock you, wrap you up tight so the pain can't find you, lay my hands over every familiar muscle, every line of stress on your brow, until they're all smooth and relaxed again. I want to tell you I'll always be with you and that I don't mind dying to protect something as important as you are to me. I want—no need—to make you understand that you *have* to survive this! Not just in body, Jon, but in mind, in spirit. You have to survive, to make my death mean something. I won't accept any less. I won't.

I feel a strange and terrible gravity pulling at me now but I only cling tighter to you and my determination. I won't leave you alone. I can't. I'll wait a thousand years to touch your face again if I have to but I Won't Give You Up. But the harder I hold onto you, the heavier I get. I can feel it all fading away but I'm not letting go of you. I'm fighting with all I have and then some, remembering all the things that draw me to you: your sense of wonder at every new discovery both big and small, your eagerness to help out whether it's a good idea or not, your playful sense of humor, stubbornness that would make a mule green with envy…Damn it, I can't have learned to never give up hope only for hope to fail me now! Why allow me this chance to see you if I don't get to stay with you in some way? I need to stay! I'm clawing madly for purchase but there's nothing left anywhere I reach.

There's only blackness, numbness and pressure scored to the distant, broken sound of someone's pitiful moaning. I've lost. I've lost you, Jon, and I'm so scared. This is it. I'm really gone, only I don't know where I am or what to do now. I'm crying, I know I am, but I can't feel it. This fear is all I know, fear and some faint ghost of comfort, like someone calling my name, someone sounding so much like my Jon I can't help but yearn toward it like a sailor to a siren. I've no will left in me to struggle and no reason to fight anymore. I've lost everything but this thick desperation to believe that it's Jon's sweet voice calling me closer, Jon's hand so lightly stroking my cheek. So I give all of myself over to the growing pain in the blinding light. I surrender to the odd smells and incessant beeping, the warmth on my cheek and the slowly focusing image of…of…My God! I don't believe it. It's…I've…I'm here! I'm really still alive! Those moist hazel eyes couldn't belong to anyone else, not that smile, still irresistible despite the surrounding stubble, or that low voice, rough with feeling but still so soothing. I've never seen anything so beautiful, so deeply moving, and I doubt I ever will again.

How long was I out? It seemed like both an eternity and mere moments. The surgery must be over already if Jon's allowed here at my bedside. I want to keep watching him so badly, but my eyes, damn them, don't want to stay open. I'm scared he'll slip away from me again. Or maybe I'm the one who might leave. I can't do it this time, can't bear to leave him again. I fight it, but I'm so weak now that it doesn't seem to be making any difference. His eyes are steady on mine, watching and trying to communicate. It suddenly sinks in what his mouth has been telling me. "I'm right here, Malcolm. It's okay, Love, I'll still be here when you wake up, I promise. I promise." Something in me eases and I'm slipping away again. I don't know how he always manages to figure out just what I need to hear but I'm so grateful he does. My clever, caring Jon. I guess oblivion can have me for a little while…

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