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Part of USS Endeavour: Certain Dark Things

Certain Dark Things – 12

Infirmary, Starbase Bravo
February 2400
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‘Airex’s brain waves have stabilised and returned to match past levels,’ Pharan explained as he read from his PADD. ‘Yours are similarly levelling out. I will triple-check your test results on memory recall before I am prepared to say you’re recovered, but I’m optimistic that after some rest you can return to duty.’

He sat on the biobed and listened with slumped shoulders, nodding as needed. Only once the Guardian was done did he lift his head and say, ‘I will need to speak with the Symbiosis Commission.’

Pharan’s gaze softened. ‘Of course. We have experts to help work through a symbiont’s memories that may have been repressed.’

‘Nothing was repressed.’ Davir Airex stared at the stark white infirmary bulkhead. ‘Just hidden. There are things they need to know about Airex. About me.’

The Guardian lowered the PADD and eased onto the biobed beside him. ‘Remember your training and education, Davir. Whatever has happened, whatever you know – you are the keeper and the continuation of all who came before you. You are not them.’

Kind words, Airex thought. But words from the ignorant. Pharan did not know of Lerin, and while Airex would have to learn how to speak of his previous host, he was not going to practice here and now. Of those who didn’t yet know, the Symbiosis Commission had to be first.

So all he did was nod and smile and make the right sounds until Pharan left, only for his relief at being left alone to be short-lived when Valance stuck her head in the door.

‘I can come back,’ she said at his expression, ‘if you need to rest.’

Airex’s breath caught. ‘Time won’t make this easier,’ he admitted. ‘And you’re not the one who should feel guilty. I am.’

She slid in, hands clasped behind her back, tense in a way he was accustomed to, awkward in a way he was not accustomed to seeing. ‘How are you feeling?’

They had all been disorientated after waking up, and he’d been in no state to talk, reality and memory blurring together until Pharan could stabilise him fully. By the time he’d been coherent, Valance and Kharth were gone, discharged or ushered away or simply fleeing his presence.

‘Awake,’ he said simply, trying to meet her gaze and not stare at his hands. Her dark eyes felt cold, uncertain, and he had to fight to not squirm.

‘Right.’

He grimaced. ‘I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.’

She shifted her feet. ‘Is that an apology for not knowing, or an apology for what you did?’

Coherence after wakening had come with a sick feeling in his gut that now coiled tighter. ‘I meant – I am sorry. What I said in there was true. And Kharth was right.’

‘That you drove me off,’ said Valance in a low, level voice, ‘so I wouldn’t learn the truth about you. So you used your knowledge of me from our friendship to hurt me badly enough I’d leave you alone.’

He swallowed. ‘Yes.’ Then, ‘An apology doesn’t feel like enough, does it.’

‘No. It doesn’t.’ But she sighed. ‘Tell me what happened, Dav. To Lerin, to you.’

He wrung his hands together. ‘Lerin was a brilliant biochemist. But he had always been ambitious and driven, and in his early career he kept falling foul of ethical committees when he wanted to push his research too far, too fast. Official records said he accepted these restrictions, and took his work to border worlds where he could bring pharmaceutical solutions to problems faced by some of the most vulnerable in the Federation.’

‘Instead,’ Valance said slowly, ‘far from the eyes of the Federation and the Symbiosis Commission, he became a damn crime boss.’

‘It didn’t start out that way.’ He rubbed his eyes. ‘To do his research, he sometimes needed untraced resources from the black market. Then the spinward frontier became chaotic with the collapse of the Romulan Star Empire. Then Starfleet pulled out of the region. You know, for a time, when he controlled a series of black market smugglers and their enforcers, he viewed himself as doing good? That it was better for him to run this than someone worse.’

‘That sounds like a very convenient lie to tell himself.’

Airex slumped. ‘It was. By the late-eighties, he was nothing more than a thug feasting on the wealth of the collapsed Empire and the weakness of those in the old Neutral Zone. He worked through intermediaries because he had to protect his identity. If the Trill Symbiosis Commission learned the truth, he’d… they will do a lot to guard the integrity of the symbionts.’ That was the last part he’d never said, the cold dread that had lain in his chest the moment he’d woken up and discovered Lerin was not who anyone else thought. If others knew, what would happen to Airex?

Valance tensed at that. ‘Do they need to know?’

‘I can’t,’ he said falteringly, ‘do to my next host what Lerin did to me. I thought I was getting the life of a reclusive but brilliant mind who helped people. I woke up with the memory of Lerin’s murder by a rival gang.’ His shoulders hunched in. ‘I have to go to Trill once I’m discharged. Determine the fate of Airex.’

Perhaps it was his fear, perhaps his misery; perhaps Valance was just a better and stronger person than he’d worried, because now she took three quick steps towards him and grasped his shoulder. ‘All the time I have known you, you have been a good man. Dutiful, thoughtful, and kind. You aren’t him.’

He had to drag his gaze up to meet hers. ‘Thank you,’ he rasped, throat suddenly bone-dry. ‘You deserve credit for that, though. You helped me feel like a whole person for a while, and not like I was dragging around someone else’s ghosts and sins.’

Her eyes closed for a heartbeat, but they were clear when she looked at him again. ‘I know what it’s like to have a part of you deep inside that you don’t like and don’t trust, that’s like a traitor to yourself, that makes you someone you don’t like…’ She winced. ‘So how can I not forgive you?’

He felt his expression crease as he gazed gratefully up at her. ‘I’m proud of you, Karana. I know that’s a condescending thing to say. But this past year you’ve… you’ve seemed for the first time like you’re at peace in your own skin. And that took work.’

‘It’s work I believe you can do, too.’

It took a strange sort of courage to stand so she could pull him into a hug, but it paid off. She was warm and anchoring, the foundation he’d relied on the moment he’d found her. When he pulled back, his gaze was blurred. ‘There are people I’ve needed in my past lives, and people Davir Hargan needed. But you know that you’re the first person and the most important person to Davir Airex, right?’

Her smile was awkward now, the two of them long-unaccustomed to expressing themselves sincerely. ‘I’ve always believed in him. As the whole of who he is.’

‘And I have always believed in you.’ He swallowed hard. ‘My past lives never met you, but Airex knew and trusted you, knew you would keep us safe, so damned deeply, that it reached back through the centuries inside me. You saved me. Thank you.’

It was the better of the conversations he would have before he left Bravo.

Admiral Beckett was disgruntled at the idea he needed a leave of absence, but with the recommendations of Guardian Pharan and Counsellor Carraway, the Director of Fourth Fleet Intelligence accepted the temporary loss of one of his advisors with his usual gracelessness. For days Airex went through his records, let Pharan confirm he was recovered, packed, and brooded on the thought of coming face-to-face with the Trill Symbiosis Commission. And for days, he checked to see if Endeavour’s departure date had changed.

It was not until that last day that she finally came to see him. He was back in his quarters on the station, packed and ready to go at any time, not sure if he hoped for Saeihr Kharth to come by before she left or for her to slip away into the night.

And even when he opened the door to find her there, he couldn’t help but be surprised, and couldn’t help but be speechless.

It should have been liberating. For years he’d held his tongue, not just because he couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth, but because he didn’t have the words. He had been spared that last burden, at least; spared the agony of clawing through his own depths for courage enough. Now she knew, and he did not have to feel the unspoken hang between his every words, scramble and fail to grasp the way she endured in the spaces between his every line.

But he knew her well enough to know when she was uncertain; knew the faint frown that spoke of frustration at herself for being wrong-footed. She stared at his chest for a heartbeat, before looking up to meet his gaze. ‘Endeavour’s leaving in four hours.’

Even though they had not spoken in days; had hardly seen each other in months, the thought of her going made old aches in his heart creak. ‘I’m taking a leave of absence,’ he rasped. ‘I’m going back to Trill.’

She entered his quarters when he stepped back, both of them taut like coiled springs. ‘I hope,’ said Kharth after a moment, ‘you see your parents. No more secrets.’

He gave a nod with fresh guilt. ‘No more secrets.’ Breath rattled in him as he drew it. ‘Thank you.’

Her gaze fell on the window, itself just a holographic projection to make this internal room feel less cramped. It still showed the hustle and bustle of the sights beyond Bravo, the quiet hum of a starbase’s activities. ‘I didn’t do it just for you,’ she said at length. Then she swallowed. ‘I did do it for you.’

The aches in him felt like they might burst, and he took a quick step forward. ‘Saeihr -’

But she turned in that way she did, like a fighter ready to counter his strike by flipping him over her hip, parrying his words and feelings. ‘You should know,’ Kharth said in a rush, like if she didn’t say it quickly she wouldn’t say it at all, ‘that I don’t blame you for Lerin’s actions. I spent a lot of time – a lot of time – reading about Trill lives, and past hosts, and the psychology and social implications of it all. It never told me what I needed then, but I guess it means I understand now. I understand you’re not Lerin, and that you’re not responsible for what he did.’

‘Thank you.’ He didn’t quite believe it in himself.

‘But you are responsible for what you did about Lerin.’

His eyes slammed shut at the truth of these words. ‘Yes,’ he rasped.

‘I can’t begin to understand what it was like to wake up with his memories. But I do know what it’s like to have my life utterly destroyed. And you spent years, years driving away anyone who could possibly find the truth… not to protect us.’ When he dared look at her, he found more sadness in her gaze than the anger he’d expected. ‘You didn’t run from me to protect me. You ran from me to protect yourself.’

His shoulders slumped. ‘Yes,’ he croaked again.

‘You have a responsibility now,’ she pressed on. ‘Not just to Davir’s people that you hurt. But you understand that by running and hiding from Lerin, you abandoned any chance of righting his wrongs? There are other people like me, people he hurt who don’t understand why or what happened, and you…’ He heard her voice waver, bend but not break. ‘You have to make things right as best you can. Fix things he did, or at least give people the truth.’

He felt his nod be inadequate, like that of a child who’d been caught out and lectured. With a frown, he straightened. ‘You’re right,’ said Airex, and sounded and felt a little more like himself as he met her gaze, whoever that was. ‘Which means I can’t let you go thinking, even a little, like you weren’t enough. Like me leaving was a reflection of you, was a flaw of yours.’

Now she faltered, stepping back. ‘Dav…’

‘I expect nothing of you, I ask for nothing of you.’ He advanced, courage boiling in his chest because he was, at last, free. ‘And I can’t make it right, I can’t make right what Lerin did to you or what did to you. It might be churlish for me to say, again, that I loved you so much I had to run from you. But that was my weakness, my failing. Not yours.’ She hesitated, and he had to tilt his head to keep her gaze. ‘You understand me?’

‘No,’ she whispered simply. ‘But for the first time, I believe you.’ He watched her swallow hard, and then she took a step forward, trembling hand coming up for fingertips to brush against his chest. ‘I believed in you and I hated you. I wanted you and I wanted you out of my bones. You know what I’ve been through. Know that I don’t say it lightly when I say that you broke me.’

Another nod. ‘And I can’t begin to ask for your forgiveness.’

‘No,’ she whispered again, and now her eyes roamed across his face, and it would have been so easy to fall back four years, he thought, and act as if nothing had happened. ‘No, you can’t.’ But she stepped in and leaned up, and his breath caught as she kissed him gently on the cheek. ‘You need to go,’ she breathed against him. ‘Go and make things right.’

‘And you need to go,’ he breathed back, ‘and be… all that blazing strength they need and that I…’ He hesitated, but this was not a time to guard himself. He had done that for too long. ‘That I love you for.’

He felt her quaver with surprise, then hesitation. When she stepped back it was not the flight he’d feared, but a controlled withdrawal, a measured response that took her away without tearing her from him. She opened her mouth, the space between their lines a new yawning chasm, and he heard everything and nothing in the silence before she shook her head and turned away.

He did not stop her as she left. After all, they were both right: it was time to go. And only time would tell if they would come back.