The rain was ice cold as it trickled down his back.
Jon stood silently before the two closed caskets, his expression as bleak as the sky overhead, and tried to pay attention to the service. The priest droned on, his words jumbled nonsense that didn't make any sense. Archer blinked, and suddenly, Phlox was the one giving the last rites. Lightning crawled across the sky, as if in response to the doctor's words, and rain fell in heavy sheets, blocking out Jon's view of the caskets. He opened his mouth to speak...
...and was suddenly in decon. The hum echoed loudly in his ears, and the intensity of the blue lights was almost painful. Raising a hand to shield his eyes, Jon realized that he was wearing his Starfleet uniform.
And it was bloody.
He tried wiping the crimson off of the uniform's sleeves, but the stain seemed to grow with each passing second. His boots were suddenly soaked, and Jon could feel the blood rising up his legs. Desperately, he tried to reach the door release, but found only smooth metal in its place. The blood was past his knees now, and still climbing. Glancing around, he froze at sight of the two people standing across decon, staring at him.
Trip and T'Pol were exactly like he last saw them, with the subcommander wearing her white bodysuit instead of the usual brown one, and Trip in the desert duty uniform. Neither spoke as they stared at him, and Jon screamed for help but no sound emerged from his mouth. The blood was now above his waist, and he again tried to implore his two senior officers to help him. Somehow, they seemed immune to the rising tide of crimson.
Suddenly, the blue lights of decon flashed brightly, and, to Jon's horror, the skin on the faces of his two friends began to burn. Apart from a single sad look that they shared, the two barely reacted as muscle and sinew and bone was slowly incinerated. Archer tried to look away, but his body ignored him. The blood climbed above his chest, and he could smell the stench of seared flesh. I'm sorry! he tried to shout as Trip and T'Pol dissolved away into dust, but the blood choked him as it climbed over his chin. He could taste it now, sharp and bitter and reeking of pain.
It tasted like death.
With a gasp, Jon jerked awake. His heart was racing, and he buried his face in his hands to keep himself from screaming. The smell of coffee was thick, and Archer glowered at the large spill that now covered a significant portion of his desk's surface. It was cold, of course, but had still made quite a mess, and Jon wondered what part of his subconscious had linked the spilled coffee to the dream he had just woken from.
On the monitor of Archer's systerm, a flashing message from the Science department drew his attention from mopping up the spill. For a long moment, he hesitated, unwilling to look at this latest analysis of the planetary situation they had left behind. Three hours had passed since they departed the system where Trip and T'Pol had died – or rather, had likely died – and every department aboard the ship had been studying the data in an attempt to understand what exactly Enterprise had done wrong.
So far, they hadn't found anything.
It was frustrating that, even by those impossible Vulcan standards, they didn't do anything wrong. Every one of the new policies put into place by Starfleet Command following the Paraagan colony disaster had been obeyed to the letter. And yet, two integral members of the crew had still been lost in what was shaping up to be a tragic accident.
Porthos whined from where he watched Jon, and the captain gave the beagle a sad look. As if picking up on Archer's emotions, the dog had seemed almost disconsolate or heart-broken. Given how affectionate the beagle had been to Trip or how fascinated by T'Pol, Jon found himself wondering if the dog could comprehend the loss.
"I need some sleep," Archer growled to himself as he pushed himself away from the desk. Today was going to be a tough one, between the memorial service for Trip and T'Pol and the subspace debriefing he was to give to the senior officers of Starfleet Command. He had to be sharp, and nightmares like the one that had just left him in a cold sweat wouldn't do anyone any good. Dressing quickly, he headed for the door.
"Ah, Captain," the doctor said in greeting as Jon entered sickbay. "How can I help you?"
"I can't sleep," Archer replied, before suddenly sighing. "No, that's not right. I can sleep, but the dreams...."
"Entirely understandable," Phlox said in commisseration. His normally jovial features were pinched in sadness. "You've lost two very good friends, and grief is a natural-"
"I don't need a lecture, dammit!" Jon snapped before he could stop himself. Suddenly angry at himself, his shoulders fell and he slumped back against one of the biobeds. "I left them behind," he muttered angrily, barely aware of the look of condolence that the doctor gave him. "If it had been me down there, they wouldn't have left."
"Captain," Phlox began, but Jon didn't notice, so lost in the miasma of self-disgust.
"They were counting on me to get them back," he said. "And I failed them." His anger grew, and he found himself speaking without thinking. "I promised Trip's parents to keep an eye on him when we shipped out, and now I've got to tell them that I sent him to die."
"We don't know that they're dead, Captain," the doctor pointed out, but Jon didn't hear him.
"What the hell am I supposed to say to them?" Archer pressed his palms into his eyes, and tried to will the pain to go away. It didn't work. "How do I tell them that he's dead?" he wondered. Abruptly, his anger dwindled into regret. "Especially since Trip has been avoiding me," Jon muttered sadly. The doctor nodded knowingly, and Archer frowned slightly. "What?" he asked.
"I have noticed," Phlox remarked, "that you have been spending a great deal of time with the subcommander in recent weeks." Innuendo dripped off of the doctor's words, and Jon's frown deepened.
"She was my first officer," Archer retorted, suddenly angry at the doctor's implication. He wondered when it became impossible for a man and a woman to work together without people assuming that they were romantically involved. Was this a Starfleet ship, or middle school? "It was my job to spend time with her."
"Are you attracted to her?" the doctor asked, seemingly out of nowhere, and Jon gave him an incredulous look.
"What?" he asked, eyes wide. "What kind of question is that?"
"A simple one." Phlox gave him a smile. "The subcommander is an attractive female by human standards, and you have been working in close proximity to her for a year."
"The answer is no." Jon glared at the doctor. "No, I wasn't attracted to her." He glanced away. "Not like Trip was, anyway," he said softly. Memories of the two commanders watching one another when the other wasn't looking would have caused him to smile if it didn't hurt so much.
"Ah." Once more, the doctor's expression was knowing. "I apologize for any insult, Captain. Some of your human mating rituals are still rather difficult for me to comprehend." The Denobulan's expression bordered on sheepish as he continued. "Besides," Phlox offered, "We don't know that they're dead."
"You've seen the same data I have, Phlox," Archer said grimly. "What are the chances that they survived? Maybe less than five percent."
"Both the subcommander and Mister Tucker are quite resourceful." Phlox offered a wider than normal smile. "Optimism, Captain," he said brightly. "Now let's see what we can do about your insomnia," the Denobulan decided. "I have some Aldebarian leeches that will put you right to sleep!"