Husks

By Juli

September 2003


There was a time when the other crew members looked at me askance for being too bloodthirsty. Since the Xindi attack on Earth, however, I’ve become a Milquetoast compared to Jonathan. Gone is the bright-eyed explorer who used to captain the Enterprise with such charm and enthusiasm. In his place stands a hardened protector of the human race – a man I hardly recognize, although I still share his bed every night. At least, those nights he deigns to sleep. The change in his personality has become even more pronounced the last few weeks, as though Jonathan abandoned something of himself when we left Earth in search of our new enemy.

Damn bloody Expanse.

When Porthos whined, I realized I’d said that last aloud. Bending down, I ruffled the beagle’s ears in apology. “Sorry, boy,” I said softly. “I know you miss him too.”

Trip Tucker used to be my sounding board for all things Jonathan, but the Xindi had scarred him as well. While my lover carried the burden of saving our species on his shoulders, Trip’s viewpoint was a little more personal. All he wanted was vengeance for his sister. Both men were angry, burning with rage at the alien species that had killed millions of people and threatened humanity’s very existence. Jonathan’s wrath was that of righteousness and it burned like a banked fire. Ever smoldering, it was hard to anticipate when the flames would burst out and burn anew, crisping anything and anyone who got too close. Trip, on the other hand, burned brightly with personal loss. If Jonathan was a banked fire, then Trip was one that had just had gasoline poured on it. Tucker burned hot and bright. If he wasn’t careful, Trip would burn too fast, his anger consuming him in the process.

With both my lover and my best friend caught in an emotional conflagration, I was somewhat adrift. I’d never been one to rely emotionally on other people, but Jonathan had changed all that. By blithely reaching past all my inner barriers and stealing my heart, he’d cracked open the shell that I’d used to protect myself. Ironically, now that I needed someone to confide in, I couldn’t. I didn’t dare speak to T’Pol or Phlox, they might view my personal misgivings as a reflection on Jonathan’s ability to act as captain and that would be unacceptable. Despite his personality change, Jonathan was still the man to lead Enterprise and her crew; nothing could be allowed to interfere with that. That fact, however, was exactly why I couldn’t speak to Travis or Hoshi, either. Both were younger than myself and idolized Jonathan, as a man and as a captain – as well they should. No, I couldn’t unburden myself to them. They needed Jonathan up on a pedestal during this crisis and I couldn’t risk interfering with that.

By default, Porthos had become my primary confidant and it was an arrangement that suited us both. Not that Jonathan was neglecting his pet, but he was somewhat more distant with the little dog since the Xindi attack on Earth. Porthos tried even harder than I did to comfort Jonathan, but with only limited success. I can see by the doggy confusion in Porthos’ eyes that he doesn’t understand, but I do. Jonathan has taken on a weighty task – the salvation of the human race. He’s using his anger to fuel his determination, right or wrong as that tactic might be. It’s difficult, I imagine, maintaining that anger while cooing over a dog.

It’s difficult, I imagine, maintaining that anger while being in love but, like Porthos, I refuse to let Jonathan push me away.

Only Jonathan Archer would have left Earth on our original mission with his dog on board. At the time, I thought it horribly unprofessional. As I got to know Jonathan better, it endeared him to me, that he was so attached to the little animal that he wouldn’t leave him behind. I had been immensely relieved when Porthos accompanied the ship when leaving Earth a second time. It meant that the real Jonathan, my Jonathan, was still somewhere inside him, surviving despite being buried under the twin burdens of anger and responsibility.

The muffled thump of Porthos’ tail brushing against the floor alerted me to Jonathan’s arrival. I stood and watched with a smile as the dog enthusiastically greeted the man that was causing us both so much worry. Porthos’ obvious happiness cracked the mask of vengeance Jonathan typically wore and my lover smiled, although faintly.

“Hey there, big guy,” he said fondly, ruffling Porthos’ ears in a gesture similar to mine a few minutes ago. Not surprising, that, since I’d learned it from him.

Porthos was a wiggling bundle of canine joy. He licked any exposed piece of Jonathan’s skin he could find with sloppy kisses. Where he couldn’t find skin, he tugged on Jonathan’s uniform with his teeth, as if demanding his owner uncover more for him. Jonathan laughed at the dog’s antics, finally picking up the ecstatic animal and burying his face in Porthos’ soft fur.

I didn’t get worried until I saw Jonathan’s shoulders start to shake.

“Jonathan?” I asked, putting one cautious hand on his arm.

Jonathan looked at me, really looked at me, for what seemed the first time in weeks. His eyes were bright with tears. “There’s an old saying,” he said hoarsely. “It’s something about striving to be the type of man your dog thinks you are.”

He swallowed, put Porthos down on the floor with gentle speed, and then bolted for the bathroom.

I closed my eyes with relief as I heard the sounds of retching. When the security crewman I’d stationed outside the brig had reported that the captain had collected his prisoner with a phase pistol shoved in the alien’s face, I hadn’t wanted to believe it. To come and find Jonathan in the process of smothering him by using the decompression chamber had been a nightmare scene. The near-glee in Jonathan’s face when he retorted to my protest that the prisoner wouldn’t die for another twenty seconds… my stomach churned so much at the memory that I almost had to elbow Jonathan out of my way and use the basin myself.

Intellectually, I knew that Jonathan had to be ruthless; the future of our people was at stake. But, with every act of ruthlessness, every time he hardened his heart during the pursuit of the Xindi, Jonathan lost a piece of his own humanity. To someone else, the price would have been worth it. How, after all, do you balance the loss of one man’s soul against the worth of an entire world?

I was the wrong man to answer that question – Jonathan was my entire world.

Because I’d held myself apart emotionally from other people for so long, what had happened on Earth hadn’t hit me as hard as it had the others. Not as hard as it had Jonathan and certainly not as hard as it had Trip. Theoretically, I mourned the death of millions of people, but it didn’t have the emotional impact on me as it had the rest of the crew. What concerned me the most was Jonathan and the way he was ripping himself to shreds in order to become humanity’s defender.

I followed Jonathan into the bathroom, the sight of my lover on his knees and vomiting violently into the toilet causing hope to well in my heart. If his torture of the alien, Orgoth, sparked this kind of reaction in Jonathan, then he wasn’t totally lost to the vengeance yet. He wasn’t totally lost to me yet.

I knelt down and wrapped my arms around Jonathan’s waist, burying my face in his back. The retching finally stopped and the heaving wracking his body changed from vomiting to sobs.

“Shhh, love,” I crooned. I sat up and pulled him to me, settling us both against the bathroom wall. “It’s all right.”

I kept up a soothing patter of words as I combed my fingers through his sweat-darkened hair. Eventually, the shudders tapered off and I realized that Jonathan had fallen asleep in my arms. I sighed and kissed the top of his head. The bathroom floor wasn’t the most comfortable of beds, but I’d be damned if I’d move and risk disturbing his rest; he got so little of it any more. Porthos watched us from under the sink. When he realized that we were there to stay, he crept out and curled up against Jonathan’s side with a doggy sigh.

Despite his weeping, Jonathan’s face was not tear-streaked. His sobs had been dry and I couldn’t help but wonder what that meant. It wasn’t like Jonathan to cry, but then, it wasn’t like him to torture prisoners either. Had Jonathan wept at what he’d been forced to do? Or had he wept because such acts had become too easy?

As I carefully nuzzled the top of his head, I couldn’t help but think about how our relationship had changed since leaving Earth a second time. For a man who’d invested so much time in bolstering my self-confidence, my lover had been decidedly cavalier about agreeing to have military personnel onboard. He’d hardly acknowledged the difficult decision I’d had to make regarding who would undertake his and Trip’s rescue from the mine. And then there was the way he’d chastised me so soundly for being cautious and in front of T’Pol too.

The longer we chased the Xindi, the less Jonathan acted like the man I’d fallen in love with. What would I do when he became less human than the aliens we encountered, would I love him then?

I looked at Jonathan’s sleeping face. I’d seen it alight with the joy of exploration. I’d seen it frustrated as he was confronted with a moral dilemma that all the Starfleet training in the world couldn’t prepare him to face. I’d seen it above me, tender with love as he’d thrust himself inside of me.

Would I still love Jonathan, even if his search for the Xindi warped him beyond recognition, when his anger ate him up from the inside and left only a shell of a man? The answer was as easy to decide as it would be difficult to live.

Yes, God help me, I would.

~the end~

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