April 7th 2157

Enterprise and Columbia were suspended in space over Earth, motionless and cocooned by the silver arms of space dock.  The crews of both of Starfleet’s flagships went about their business at a leisurely pace, a welcome change from the frantic activity that came from exploring the universe. They were tired and dirty; however, morale was high.  As soon as the maintenance was complete they would leave again for parts of the universe that no human has gone before, both ships a perfect fit for each other.

In the captain’s quarters on Columbia, Erika Hernandez placed her napkin down on the empty plate in front of her.  “I think the Solaria Nebula is worth another visit, don’t you?” she asked, raising her eyes gently to meet those of the man who sat opposite her.  Once again her heart skipped a beat. 

“You know, it has been a while,” Captain Jonathan Archer replied whimsically.  “Maybe we should ask the Admiral for more shore leave; go and take another look,” he added with a cheeky grin.  

Erika smiled back gently and studied the handsome captain for a few moments.  She had no doubt that she had feelings for Jonathan, but she knew, just by looking into his eyes, that he still had demons dwelling deep within him.  Though he appeared to be moving forward she knew he still had a long way to walk before true healing came, and she wanted to walk with him.  If only he’d let me.

Both captains had been sitting quietly, allowing their meals to settle.  They had spent the evening reminiscing about the last three years.  With Columbia due to leave soon, Erika had wanted to spend a bit more time with Jonathan before she left.  “I think to ask the Admiral for anything right now would be like asking to be knocked down to steward,’ she laughed.

A comfortable silence fell between them as Archer watched in wonder at the beautiful woman he had come to know more intimately over the last few years.  Her laughing eyes took his breath away.  Archer yearned to tell Erika exactly how he felt.

Their re-connecting, after the victory over the Xindi, proved to be fortuitous. It was a welcome change, breathing fresh air into a soul that was being driven to hell by the difficult decisions which needed to be made during the mission. 

For a few moments they savored the quiet.  The depth of their feelings drifted around the brightly lit room before Jonathan broke the silence.  “Erika...” he started hesitantly.

Erika didn’t respond immediately and carefully studied his face.  She was surprised to see how insecure, no, how uncomfortable, he looked.  “Jonathan!”

Archer’s heart pounded against his chest as he realized for the first time just how happy this woman made him, his insecurity stemming from his need to isolate himself emotionally from those close to him.  With sweaty palms Archer took a deep breath.  “I just wanted to say...” he started again, surprised at how such simple words could cause so much anxiety, he looked at Erica and tried again.  “I just wanted to say, how happy you have made me the last three years.”  There I said it, he mused to himself, the wave of relief palpable on his face.

Erika smiled gently and reached out her hand to his, an unspoken acknowledgment radiated from her.

Archer stared into her eyes as he felt the warmth of her hand in his.  Starting to feel slightly uncomfortable under her scrutiny he shifted his gaze slowly around the room and came to a stop when something caught his attention.  Getting up from his seat he walked over and picked up a book from the coffee table.  “What’s this?” he asked.

Erika rose from her chair and joined him, taking the book out of his hand she replied. “It’s a book of poetry by Zen Xi Tou.” She laughed softly at Jonathan’s bewildered expression.  “He’s a famous poet from the 2040’s, Jonathan,” she said, and waited for his confusion to clear. 

Jonathan searched his memory, but still came up with nothing. “Oh!” he finally said to try and mask his ignorance.

Erika laughed lightly. “No matter, Jonathan.  Why don’t you take it and have a read.”

Jonathan put his hands up.  “No, no, no, that’s alright, you keep it.  I’m not one for poetry.”  He chuckled at her feigned offence. 

“Come on Jonathan, it will enlighten you,” she replied, her eyes glinting with mischief.

Erika watched him closely and noticed a slight sheen across Jonathan’s forehead.  She decided to take mercy on him. “Okay then, let me read something to you.”  She flipped through the pages, finally coming across one of her favorites. “Here we go.  Captain’s Legacy.”

Heart of fire, mind of ice
Oh brave Captain, the sacrifice
And while my plight, others may not know
Thus my, spirit to boldly go
In hindsight, I have challenged my dream
For I have chosen the path unseen

Erika finished reading, and looked up into Jonathan’s eyes.  She held her breath in anticipation.

Archer returned her look.  “Very nice,” he said, a devilish smirk played on his lips.  He creased his eyebrows as he came to a decision.  Reaching out, he took the book from Erika, laid it down on the table and walked over to the controls on the nearby desk.  Soft jazz music filled the room as he wandered over to another switch and turned down the lights.  He walked back to Erika, took her by the hand, and led her into a slow dance. 

His heartbeat quickened as he drew her body close to his; his breath caught in his throat as he gazed deeply into her eyes.  Drinking in her gentle beauty, the wonderful curves of her body, Jonathan wondered to himself how he managed to get so lucky.  It’s time I showed this woman how I feel, Archer thought.  He drew her nearer in time with the gentle rhythm of the music.  He leaned into her, brushed a gentle kiss on her lips, then deepened it, to show her the full measure of his desire.

*****

She was startled when the safe haven of her white space was suddenly broken by his appearance.  She turned to him, willing herself to remain calm.  “Why are you here?” she asked, the surprise clear in her voice, this type of interaction between the two of them had not happened in some time.  Her shock was quickly tempered when she took a closer look at the man standing before her.  He looked lost, sad, very drawn and pale.

 “I don’t know,” Trip responded as he slowly turned taking in the familiar setting, his look of confusion growing.  “Something’s not right,” he mumbled.

T’Pol’s breath quickened as she continued to watch the commander, something deep within her started to raise her internal alarm.  “Trip?” she asked, trying to mask her concern.

Trip turned to face her.  “I don’t know...” he started as he stared into her eyes, “but I think I’m dead,” he continued with certainty.

T’Pol’s heart skipped a beat.  Something was wrong, something about this was terribly wrong.  She struggled to focus her thoughts as her mind frantically searched for a reason why he would utter a statement with such finality.  “What can you remember?” she asked.

Trip stood quietly for a moment as he struggled to bring his memories to the fore.  “It’s all a blur,” he started.  And for a confused moment both minds converged.  “I remember an Andorian child.  But she’s not...” His voice trailed off as he tried to make sense of his chaotic memories.

Then a scene appeared that made T’Pol’s heart contract.  This is a dream, she tried to assure herself, Captain Archer, standing frozen in despair; surrounded by simmering fires, then a bloodied Trip lying in sickbay.   “I’m cold, T’Pol,” he whispered as his face paled more.

A chilling fear ran up T’Pol’s spine.  And in a memory they both shared, she reached out her hand to his...  She was suddenly wrenched from her sleep when the comm beeped in her quarters and a familiar voice reached her ears.

“Bridge to Commander T’Pol,” Lieutenant Reed called.

Struggling to clear her head, T’Pol raised herself from her bed and walked to the comm.  “Yes, Lieutenant,” she answered quietly, her mind still filled with the remnants of her dream.

“I’m sorry to wake you, Commander, but we’re receiving a priority call from Starfleet,” Reed advised.

“Tell the captain I’m on my way,” she said.

“He’s not here, Commander,” replied Malcolm.

T’Pol straightened her back.  “Where is he?” she asked, slightly put off that the captain was not on his ship.

“He’s still on Columbia,” advised Malcolm.

T’Pol raised an eyebrow, perplexed. This late, she thought.   “Acknowledged,” she replied, then turned from the comm to ready herself to head for the bridge.

As she walked quickly through the hushed halls of E deck, on her way to the turbo lift, T’Pol’s thoughts were occupied by the lingering images of her dream.  But this was different; it didn’t feel like a dream, she reflected as she entered the lift. She stood still, staring at the lift door, her arms folded across her chest, when an unfamiliar feeling of fear stirred in her body as the image of a pale and bloodied commander flashed through her mind.  What did the Andorian child have to do with it, she wondered.  She knew there was more to this.

As the lift slowed, T’Pol straightened her posture and tried to push her concerns to the back of her mind.  By the time the lift door opened and she stepped onto the bridge, nobody would have guessed at the confusion she just experienced.

Stepping onto the bridge, her attention was drawn to Captains Archer and Hernandez who were already waiting for her on the viewscreen from Columbia’s bridge.  She smiled inwardly.  Though initially surprised that the captain was still on Columbia, she couldn’t begrudge him happiness that he apparently found with Captain Hernandez.  T’Pol acknowledged that the captain had suffered emotionally from the decisions he had to make while tracking down the Xindi weapon.  She also recognised that three years had not been enough time for those wounds to fully heal, but maybe now, with Captain Hernandez, he could finally find some peace.

Captain Archer smiled at her.  “Good evening, T’Pol.”

T’Pol raised an eyebrow.  “Good morning, Captains,” she replied, a hint of amusement in her voice.

Before much more could be said, Admiral Gardner appeared on the other half of the screen.  “Starbase Salem One is under attack,” he said without preamble, “I need you both to set a course immediately.”

On the bridge of Columbia, Captain Archer’s stomach knotted.  “Do we have any information about the attack,” he asked.

Admiral Gardner shook his head.  “None, Captain, the recording we received was very brief, and didn’t contain much information other than an SOS.”  Admiral Gardner’s eyes clouded over at the memory of the recording.  He looked back up at those present.  “Get there, Jonathan, as quickly as you can.”

Captain Archer nodded his head solemnly.  When the screen went blank he turned to Erika and sighed.  “Heart of Fire!”

With a smile, Erika turned to walk Jonathan to the airlock.

*****

Click here to read Chapter Two

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