Disclaimer: Star Trek (plus all its intellectual property) is owned by Paramount. No infringement intended.
The lyrics are from a song of the same title by 'Fairground Attraction'. This story came into my mind when I listened to it the other day.
Beta'd by Distracted, to whom all due thanks!
Jazz in a basement bar, the moon's on the rain
Drunk too much, spent too much, penniless again...
The slight figure in anonymous dark clothing slipped out into the night, breathing deeply of the mist-chill that had crept off the river. After the din of the club, the silence was welcome.
Part of him was glad to be alone at last. He'd only caught the Atlantic shuttle-service as a last-minute, impulsive thing, wanting to catch up with Maddie for a day or two before the ship left again. That's what came of acting impulsively. She'd been on holiday in Ireland with Aunt Sherry, but the British Government had got wind of his coming instead, and the current slippery incumbent of Downing Street had seized on a photo opportunity with England's 'hero of the Expanse'. Starfleet had insisted he comply. He'd faced the barrage of flashbulbs, the clamour of interrogation by the press, uneasily conscious that he looked more like a deer in the headlights than a bloody hero of the Expanse. Assaulted by questions, most of them inane, some intrusive, some utterly puerile, he'd tried to find answers that his exhausted, battered brain couldn't supply quickly enough. He'd never had Captain Archer's talent for occupying centre stage with grace, for doing the 'diplomat' thing; for at least part of his career his very life had depended on his ability to disappear into the background. The captain himself had seized the opportunity to disappear on his own account while the ship was being repaired and refitted; he had vanished into the mountains (rumour had it, in the company of Captain Erika Hernandez) and now Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, trapped where he least liked to be at the very best of times, wished heartily that he'd had the forethought to travel to the land of his forefathers by some less well-scrutinised route.
Still, they'd released him eventually, after a reception dinner that seemed to go on for several aeons and at which he'd had to exercise almost heroic self-restraint to avoid getting pissed out of his brains and regaling the assembled company with a few of the less pleasant aspects of being a 'hero of the Expanse'. The story had been sanitised almost beyond recognition for public consumption; by the time the account hit the papers it had read more like a fairy tale. The good ship Enterprise, crewed by saints and led by Archangel Archer (quite probably possessed of a flaming sword), had sallied forth into the vast unknown, and by means of various combinations of outstanding heroism, perseverance and ingenuity they had saved the day, returning home with their spotless honour intact. This had not, of course, been accomplished without shedding a few minor saints on the way, but hell, they had died like heroes too, painlessly and instantaneously, glad to give up their unimportant existences for the greater good, and none of them had close families to mourn them anyway. The triumphant remainder had returned to Earth to be feted and lionised, shining as heroes ought to shine, untainted, unscarred and glorious. Starfleet's best. Earth's saviours. Who wouldn't want to stand in their shoes today?
He had the taxi drop him some streets away from Maddie's flat and called in at a late-opening convenience shop, where he was able to buy a bottle of oblivion. He carried it back to the flat, let himself in (he had a standing invitation to use the guest bedroom when he was in London) and drank most of the bottle sitting alone in the lounge over the few hours till the dawn came up. At one point he switched the television on just to shut out the silence, but a glimpse of some stammering idiot with a shell-shocked expression being interrogated at a press conference soon had him reaching for the off switch. The whisky burned its way down his throat, sloshing in the bottle. His fingers clenched with remembered cold. Trip had gone to his family's place, of course, taking his grief over Lizzie and his passion for T'Pol with him like two heart-wounds that refused to heal. The Expanse had damaged Trip; the chief engineer had changed from an open, friendly, sociable soul into an embittered man consumed by the thirst for revenge. The destruction of the Xindi weapon had not slaked that thirst. The pain in Trip still needed an outlet, and deprived of one, it was festering. If he could have been persuaded to talk it might have helped, but Malcolm's one attempt to make him do so had resulted only in an explosion of wrath that showed him all too clearly how endangered their friendship would be if he persevered. So he had held his peace, hoping for the best. Not his favourite course of action at any time. But he was no trained counsellor, and Trip sure as hell didn't want to open up to a friend right now. Perhaps his family might have better luck getting through to him.
The morning sun found him passed out on the sofa, too drunk to stand up and stagger as far as the guest bedroom. He slept for most of the day, woke with the mother and father of all hangovers, and just about got as far as the bathroom before puking his guts up. Starfleet's finest Englishman, the hero of the Expanse, crouched over the toilet heaving for the best part of ten minutes. After that his legs had barely enough strength to lift him high enough and support him long enough to switch the shower on. As soon as the temperature moderated he crawled into the cubicle and sat on the floor, shaking, while the water fell on him and the faces of the dispensable dead passed in review in front of him, together with the swift and painless means of their heroic passing: burned, blasted, lacerated, eviscerated, suffocated, frozen, gone to their eternal reward with smiling faces, to be neither missed nor mourned by their colleagues, while any distant relations and friends they might have had remained equally and thankfully insensate, one and all. Bloody heroes, every one. God bless 'em!
Several mugs of strong black coffee and an analgesic eventually helped him to reassemble the wreckage into what felt like some semblance of working order, though he avoided catching sight of himself in a mirror. He dug out a change of clothes from his holdall and got dressed, then shaved by memory and ran a comb through his hair out of habit before thinking better of it and deliberately rumpling it again. Anything that made people connect him with that stage-struck idiot on the television last night had to go. Then he went into the kitchen and sat at the table by the window, looking out across the city under its broken layers of cloud and drifting sunshine. Half a packet of Rich Tea biscuits put a lining on his stomach, while he deliberately shut out the events of the past thirteen-odd years and let his mind go roaming back in time.
Oh sweetheart where are you tonight
I remember when we used to walk by the Thames
The lights on the Embankment like jewels on chains
I'll never forget what you said at the start
You said, 'I'll put a string of lights round your heart'...
How young he'd been then. She'd broken into his guarded heart almost without trying, shattering his defences with her laughter and overwhelming him with her sensuality. She had taught him that it was possible to live two completely different lives at once: on one hand the solitary, reserved, almost humourless student who had no interest in anything save his studies, and on the other a young man who laughed and loved, spending hours in a tangle of sheets and musk; alternately duelling with quotations from the classics and fine-tuning the skills he'd been born with, while the sunshine spilled through the window in a coverlet of gold across the bed.
I've got your photograph, the one that you signed
Tucked in my pocket, all tattered by time...
She hadn't wanted him to take that photograph. She had a thing about photographs. He'd used to joke that she had this superstition that the camera would take her soul away. Later - far too much later - he'd understood that permanence wasn't her thing. Photographs were a way of fixing the moment, and she'd lived for the Now. Not the past, not the future. Just the Now. He'd carried the thing around with him for years, even when it hurt so much that he couldn't even look at it. Only when he came on board Enterprise had he finally brought himself to get rid of it, and even then it had hurt to consign it to the rubbish bin. He'd wanted to shred it, as he automatically did with everything personal nowadays, but in the end he couldn't bring himself to do it.
She'd been a risk-taker, too. Sometimes he wondered if she'd been at least partly responsible for his addiction to adrenaline.
Oh sweetheart who's with you tonight
Are you there at the roundabouts, down in the park
Where you'd sneak through the railings when it's locked after dark
Is he learning the song you taught me at the start
The one the bells and the banjos played on our hearts...
She'd known that it wouldn't last. She'd known that his future lay elsewhere, in Starfleet, had understood him better than he had understood himself. He hadn't wanted to believe her. He'd thought it was forever.
He'd thought he could find her again in Caitlin, in Rochelle, in Deborah, or in half a dozen others whose names had faded along with the memories. He'd never understood that he was chasing a dream, a shadow. He'd never understood that every one of the string of failed relationships behind him had died because he couldn't stop chasing it, not until Hoshi was captured by the Xindi, when all the pieces fell into place just as his world teetered on the brink of collapse all over again.
He hoped it hadn't been obvious to everyone on board that from that point onwards he'd been a man moving in a nightmare. That his heart had turned to a frozen lump of dread inside him, a chunk of icy agony of which he was aware with every breath he drew while the outside of him continued to function with its customary efficiency: his ability to be two men in one skin come at last to its bitterest flowering... That he had promised himself hourly the pleasure of inflicting the slowest death he could contrive on anyone who'd touched her, who'd harmed her, who'd frightened her.
And then, when at last she was safe again, he'd discovered to his horror that he hadn't the courage to act on his longing. To find out if all she felt for him was friendship, that same emotion about which he'd fooled himself for far too long, pretending that it was all he felt for her. To show her the heart that had crumbled and collapsed inside him all those years ago, sealing itself off from ever being torn up and destroyed again. If all she wanted from him was friendship, then friendship she should continue to have. No word of his would cast a shadow on it. Even if and when she ... found someone who deserved her ... he'd still have that; he knew her generous nature. To Hoshi, a friend was for life.
Now the bars are all empty, everybody's gone home
Perhaps I'll walk down the Embankment alone...
He turned up his collar and headed down the street. The club had been dark; he'd been safely anonymous there. It seemed longer than thirteen years ago that he'd been in it last. He'd expected it to be painful, but the ache had no longer been there. Or if it had, it had been drowned out by a new and different ache. One that he might well have to live with for the rest of his life.
There was a fish and chip shop open just a couple of hundred metres away. The smell of it brought saliva rushing into his mouth. Real fish and chips ... now he knew he was home. 'And plenty of vinegar, please.' The proprietor looked at him narrowly. There was a television blaring away on one wall. Doubtless they watched the newscasts when they got a minute: the heroes of the Expanse were headline news. "You're not..."
"Nah." His slouch was anything but Starfleet; his grin was rakish, confident, worlds away from the half stunned officer blinded by flash photography. He allowed his accent to slide into broad Birmingham. "Stupid bastard, wasn't he? Though I don't suppose you need that much of a brain to fire a cannon."
The vehemence with which he was adjured to show some bloody gratitude to his betters sent him sashaying out of the shop with a cocky and unrepentant grin. Somehow that had felt more real than all the flowery speeches he'd heard since the ship docked.
He turned automatically towards the river. The walk along the Embankment had always been one of his favourites. Now perhaps he could enjoy it again while he ate his fish and chips.
A slight figure materialised out of the shadows beside him with a suddenness that had his right hand flashing automatically for the phase pistol that wasn't at his hip; but he realised in the same instant that the person was female. She was wearing a coat with a hood trimmed with fur; the street lighting couldn't find her face except as a dim oval. Nevertheless, something about her was so familiar that his pulse seemed to stop...
A slender hand lifted and pushed the hood back. She looked up at him as though not quite sure of her welcome.
"I thought you were going to your family in Japan," he said, when the silence had stretched out for far too long a time.
"So did I." She bit her lip. "Is this a mistake?"
"No." He couldn't stop staring at her. At the sweet line of her mouth, the perfection of her skin. "No. God. No. Hoshi, I love you."
Slowly she smiled. "It's taken you long enough to say it."
"It won't take me that long to show it."
He leaned forward and touched his lips to hers. Diffidently at first, then allowing all his pent-up longing to flow into it. The bag of chips fell unnoticed to the ground as he flung his arms around her.
Hoshi. His Hoshi, at last.
Oh, sweetheart, I'm glad that we met
And that there's jazz in the basement bars
And jewels on chains
'Cause I've drunk too much
And spent too much
But there's moon on the rain.
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