He desperately wanted a shower.
Soval had vanished the moment they returned to Enterprise, although whether that was due to some residual ‘non-anger’ anger over some of the barbed remarks Shran had sent the former ambassador about his demotion – they had been in Andorian, so Archer remained in the dark about what exactly was said – or the tense discussion – Vulcans would never call it an argument, even on pain of death – that Soval had with V’Lar earlier, Jon didn’t know or, for that matter, care. The only thing he was focused on at the moment was getting the stink of Weytahn (or Paan Mokar, or whatever the hell it was called) off his skin. As for the uniform, well, he’d already decided that it was a lost cause and it was going into the trash the first chance he got.
Erika was waiting for him outside his cabin, a PADD in hand and a worried expression on her face. She gave him a quick head to toe once-over as if she didn’t entirely believe his earlier report that he was fine before visibly relaxing. The worry lines that recent weeks had carved into her forehead eased slightly as she offered him the small storage device. Jon immediately held up a hand.
“Can it wait?” he asked quickly. “I’m filthy and so tired right now that I can’t think straight.” Hernandez smiled.
“Just my preliminary report, sir,” she replied, lowering the PADD. “It can wait.”
“Good,” Jon breathed. He reached for the door annunciator but hesitated. “You did good today, Erika,” he said. His first officer gave him a flat, disbelieving look.
“I endangered the entire crew with a risky and dangerous move.” Jon waved the assessment off.
“You made a hard call,” he argued. “Yes, it was risky, but it worked and in the grand scheme of things, that’s all that matters.” When she continued to frown, Archer took a step closer to her, noting with some amusement how she scrunched up her nose at his smell. “Because you acted,” he said, “the Andorians and the Vulcans didn’t start shooting at each other, which gave us a chance to resolve that whole mess on the planet.” He shook off the memory of his own hesitation planetside and silently gave thanks that Malcolm had been there to pick up the slack. When exactly, Jon wondered, had he become so damned cautious? “This is the best chance in a long time for there to be real peace between the Andorians and the Vulcans,” he continued, “and it couldn’t have happened without you making a hard call.”
“If you say so.” Erika still sounded skeptical and Archer nodded.
“I do say so,” he insisted. “And my report to Starfleet will say so as well.” Erika smiled then.
“Thanks, Jon,” she said softly, voice pitched for his ears alone. She gave him a half-hearted shove toward the door of his cabin. “Now go take your shower, sir,” she ordered as she turned away and started walking toward the turbolift. “You really do stink.”
He spent entirely too much time under the hot spray, using both his daily allowance of hot water and an entire container of liquid soap in his attempt to wash away the stench of Weytahn – or was it Paan Mokar? Jon glowered and decided right then to start calling it Planet Fubar. He wondered if he could get Admiral Forrest to sign off on the new name – it wasn’t like the Andorians or Vulcans would understand it.
When he finally stepped out of the shower, his skin was bright red and wrinkled, but he still didn’t feel clean and, from the way Porthos retreated from him to hide in the corner, he didn’t smell clean either. He was still wearing nothing more than a towel around his waist when the comm. chirped.
“Bridge to Captain Archer.” Hoshi sounded more cheerful than she had in a while, which Jon hoped meant she had finally forgiven Travis for that whole Kaitaama mess a couple weeks back.
“This is Archer,” he said after thumbing the transmit button.
“Sir, I have Admiral Forrest on the line for you,” Hoshi announced. Archer sighed – that certainly hadn’t taken long – and glanced in the direction of his desk computer.
“I’ll take it here,” he said before pressing the button again. He was only halfway across the cabin when Maxwell Forrest’s image appeared on the screen of his computer.
“Did I catch you at a bad time, Jonathan?” the admiral asked with a smirk. Archer shook his head even as he double-checked that his towel was firmly secured. He took a seat in front of the computer.
“Not at all, sir,” he replied. “I just got out of the shower,” he started but Forrest held up a hand.
“No explanation necessary,” the older man said. He glanced down at his desk. “We just received the initial report from Ambassador V’Lar’s office regarding the situation there and I wanted to see if you could shed any light on it.”
“I don’t know, sir,” Jon admitted. “I haven’t read it yet.”
“I wouldn’t call it a page-turner,” Forrest said with a smile, “but the Vulcans seem … well, I don’t want to say happy. Satisfied, maybe?”
“Good.” Archer exhaled deeply. “It’s a mess out here, Max,” he said after a moment. His use of the admiral’s first name caused the admiral to relax slightly. “They were fighting over this stupid rock for a hundred years and if it hadn’t been for Shran bending first, I think they’d still be fighting over it for the next hundred years.”
“According to V’Lar,” the admiral said, “you and your crew were instrumental in preventing that from happening.” Jon tried to push back the self-disgust he felt and keep his expression calm.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “I’d like to single out both Commander Hernandez and Lieutenant Commander Reed for their exemplary actions today,” he added. “They made this possible, Admiral, not me.”
“Care to explain that, Captain?” Forrest’s voice was deceptively casual, but Jon recognized the underlying worry in the man’s tone. “Because both V’Lar and Soval were pleased with you for a change.” The admiral picked up a PADD and waved it in front of the camera. “Ambassador V’Lar said, and I quote, ‘during the course of the situation on Paan Mokar, Captain Archer displayed both caution and inventiveness, and should be commended for his role in crafting this cease fire.’ End quote.” Forrest lowered the PADD and looked up at the camera. “Well?” he demanded.
“Don’t you see the irony, sir?” Jon asked heavily. “Vulcans complimenting me on being cautious?” He shook his head. “I think I’ve lost my edge, Max.” The admiral’s eyes widened, but Archer kept talking. “When we were down there,” he said grimly, “I froze. I was so busy considering options, so busy second-guessing myself, that it paralyzed me.” He shook his head in disgust. “If Malcolm hadn’t been there to salvage the situation,” Jon grumbled, “I’m afraid I could have gotten us all killed.”
“Is this about Tucker?” Forrest asked a long, silent moment later.
“It’s about Trip,” Archer retorted tightly, “and T’Pol, and Cutler, and all the people at the Paraagan colony, and all the people on that planet where Trip died…”
“Jonathan.” There was steel in Forrest’s voice and it caused Archer to shut up. “We need you out there,” the admiral said calmly. “Right now, you’ve got the most deep space experience out of all of our ship captains, and we need that. Earth needs that.”
“Yes, sir,” Jon said automatically. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m just …”
“Tired,” Forrest finished. “I know.” He frowned. “And if I know you,” he added, “you’ve never really let yourself grieve for your friend.” The admiral shook his head. “Take it from me, Jonathan,” he said. “If you let it, that sort of thing will eat you up from the inside.” Though he knew that Forrest expected a response, Archer said nothing and simply sat there, waiting for the admiral’s next words. With a wry shake of his head, Forrest glanced down and Jon could see the stack of PADDs on the older man’s desk. “Before I let you go,” the admiral said, “I thought you should know that EarthGov is in official talks with opening an embassy on Krios Prime.”
“Travis is going to love that,” Jon remarked and Forrest laughed out loud.
“Speaking of Lieutenant Mayweather,” he said, “it seems he was requested by name to head up the embassy.” With a wicked smile, the admiral added, “Sounds like he definitely made an impression on the First Monarch’s daughter.”
“I hope you told them no,” Jon stated as he struggled to keep from snickering at the memory of Mayweather wearing only his underwear while Kaitaama was desperately trying to pull something on over the tee shirt she’d clearly borrowed from the lieutenant. It hadn’t taken a genius to figure out what had happened. “Travis is an integral part of this crew,” he continued, “and the ship wouldn’t be the same without him.”
“Relax, Jonathan.” The twinkle in Forrest’s eye stripped him of years. “I told them that he couldn’t be even be considered for an ambassadorial post until he’s made lieutenant commander at the very least.” His smile faded slightly. “So, of course,” the admiral muttered, “the Diplomatic Corps is pressuring us to promote him even though he isn’t ready.” He shook his head again. “I’ve held them off for now, but I thought you might want to know that they might go over my head on this one.”
“Thank you, sir,” Jon said honestly. He frowned – maybe he could enlist Soval’s aid in keeping Travis on the ship for now? Unless Mayweather actually wanted to take the position. He had seemed to like Princess Kaitaama well enough, although in Archer’s opinion, she had the personality of a particularly uninteresting toaster.
Forrest signed off soon after, and Jon quickly dressed in a clean uniform, using more deodorant than was probably advisable. Porthos whined pathetically in the corner, and Archer rolled his eyes but pulled a cube of strong cheddar from his tiny refrigeration unit anyway. The beagle barked loudly in approval and began wolfing down the cheese the moment Jon gave it to him.
None of the crew gave him so much as a second look as he walked through the corridors, and Jon once more felt a hint of depression begin to set in when he realized just how isolated he had become in the last few months. More and more, he relied on Erika or Malcolm to deal with the day-to-day running of the ship while he focused more on either interfacing with Soval over points of diplomacy or brooded in his cabin. Since Trip had died – T’Pol too, but Jon’s thoughts invariably turned first to his friend of ten years – he had felt lost and rudderless. It wasn’t until Tucker was gone that Archer realized how much he needed the younger man’s friendship to keep him stable and grounded. And how had he repaid Trip for all of those years of friendship? By getting him killed. What sort of man did that to his best friend?
He paused just over the threshold of the mess hall, noting with some relief that Ambassador Soval and Travis were sitting together once again, although Reed was also present this time, looking far more rested than Archer felt. The three men stirred at his approach.
“Gentlemen,” he said by way of greeting. “Ambassador, Lieutenant, I need to speak with the two of you, if you don’t mind.”
“I was on my way to the bridge anyway,” Malcolm said, although his meal was barely touched. He was up and heading toward the door before any of them could really react, or before Jon could offer praise on the armoury officer’s actions planetside. He made a mental note to do so later, maybe before his scheduled visit to Phlox for those damned leeches that helped Archer sleep.
“Earth is working on opening diplomatic relations with Krios Prime,” Jon said as he took Malcolm’s vacated seat. Travis suddenly looked tense. “Apparently,” Archer said softly, making sure that only Mayweather and Soval could hear him, “the First Monarch has requested you by name, Lieutenant, to head up the embassy.”
“Oh, God,” Travis moaned. He looked like he was about to be sick.
“This news does not please you?” Soval asked, one eyebrow climbing.
“Are you serious?” Mayweather asked. “I’m a pilot, dammit, not a diplomat!”
“It’d come with a promotion to lieutenant commander,” Jon remarked, “so if you’re interested-”
“I’m not!” Travis interrupted quickly. “Sir, I don’t want to leave Enterprise!” The former Boomer grimaced. “Besides,” he said, “I’m not exactly diplomat material.”
“I disagree,” Soval interjected, the remark causing Travis to shoot him a wide-eyed look of despair. “But I will concede that you need additional instruction before becoming an effective ambassador,” he added before shifting his eyes toward Jon. Archer nodded in understanding of the unspoken promise that the Vulcan would assist him in keeping Mayweather aboard. A carefully worded missive with both of their signatures would probably go a long way in keeping the vultures at bay for a while, at least until Princess Kaitaama moved on.
And when, Jon wondered, had he learned to communicate with Soval like this? Hell, he didn’t even like the Vulcan ambassador!
“You’re sure that you want to stay, Travis?” Archer asked. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“Well, somebody else can have it,” Mayweather said with passion. “I’m a spacer, sir. I belong in space, not on some planet most people haven’t even heard of.” He glowered. “I’d rather visit Andoria than go there.”
“Are you aware,” Soval asked blithely, “that the Andorian word for ‘accord’ is pronounced ‘fook’? The Mayweather Fook has a pleasant ring to it, does it not?”
“Not you too,” Travis groaned.
And Jon laughed.