Title: The still of the night

Author: Vera Steine

Summary: The morning after, Expanse style, is not all it's cracked up to be.

Disclaimer: B&B and Paramount own all. And a fine mess they made of it, too. Oh, wait, that was me. Well, never mind…

The first two lines were taken from Lisa Miskovsky's song "Butterfly Man", from her album "Fallingwater". It's recommended listening for this piece, but if you don't have it, no sweat.

Rating: PG

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Category: Slash

Spoilers: season three, no specific episodes

Feedback: greatly appreciated, in any form. Good, bad, indifferent, please let me know!

Author's notes: This is the embodiment of my new year's resolution to write an Archer/Reed slash ficlet. Yes, you're reading it right, new year's resolution. Needless to say, it's taken me a while (to which some people can attest, since I whined to them about it). My therapist says I have a perfectionist streak, so I'll blame it on that. :)

Loki, honey, you know who you are and that I could not have done this without you, since you told me to start writing to begin with. You rock, babe! Sorry I kinda ruined "Minefield" for you... :)

As always, this wouldn't be possible without the people who make these wonderful characters come to life, so here's to Scott Bakula and Dominic Keating, who continue to awe me with their amazing talent. The third season hasn't given these two a lot of moments together, but the little glimpses I've seen have led me to keep my faith in the couple. This is based on the opening scene in "The Xindi", where Jon chews Malcolm out for no good reason (IMHO), and supposed to take place the night after the events of "Chosen Realm", but there are no references to either episode.



You took my pain and filled my empty heart

I stole your dreams, I broke your soul apart…

It was dark when he awoke, the familiar darkness of his quarters which, at night, were only lit by the stars streaking by the window. He was awake too many times lately, laying awake for long periods of time in the middle of the night, thinking about the mission, his crew, the things he'd done… A subject best avoided.

Something was different tonight. He struggled to wake enough to identify the defining factor. That's when he felt a warm body spooned up against his own.

"Jon?"

A body that had awoken.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," he whispered, an unnecessary apology since he had not even moved.

"You didn't," his companion replied. "I was awake already."

He did not know what to say to that for a moment, then replied, "Demons keeping you up?"

"Yes…" A pause. "Perhaps the same that are keeping you awake at this hour of the night."

The inherent question wasn't posed in the tone of voice, but was still present in the pregnant words. He felt obliged to answer to it, but stalled nonetheless. "What time is it?"

"A little past three."

The person lying beside him did not ask anything of him. Never had. Not even when they had come together, after two and a half years, just a mere few hours ago. Something he had stopped believing was possible since this mission began. Suddenly he asked, "Why are you here?"

A chuckle followed his question. "I should hope for the same reason you are. I care about you."

He had to challenge that assurance, as if torturing himself by reopening a wound. "After all that I've done?"

The warm form next to him shifted. "Jon, surely you know…" But the voice faltered in giving further assurance.

He knew. At least, he hoped that he knew. What he had believed to be impossible, then found the previous night to still be available, should not be taken so cruelly from him again. But he did what he had done since this began, for his own protection and that of the people around him. "I don't know. I don't know if I care enough or if I can even give you anything right now."

It would be strange that the person next to him, the one person whom he had pushed beyond his limits time and time again, should be trying to convince him of the veracity of his own feelings. But he did not. Instead, as he spoke with a slight tremor in his voice, the tremor of doubt, he said, "You don't need to give me anything, Jon."

It seemed strange to hear his own name spoken in that voice, a fantasy that he thought would always go unanswered. He felt grateful for the darkness, that veiled not only his emotions but also kept him from seeing the man he loved so much he had tried to break him. The paradox of that stabbed at his heart as it had for months. "Then why are you here?"

Again that same question. He wasn't sure which answer to it he was looking for, but he knew, hoped, that he would not get it.

The voice beside him grew stronger. "Because I care."

He frowned, but the darkness kept from revealing that. A tactical advantage. Considering the identity of his companion, that was somewhat ironic. "That's not enough. I certainly haven't given you any reason too."

"That's irrelevant, love."

The last word took his breath away, caused a world of opportunities lost and dreams that he thought he had forever buried run by his mind's eye. For the first time since he had awoken, he considered another outcome than the one that this situation had to have. He said, "How can what I've done be irrelevant?"

"Because it isn't you."

The reply was not nearly as enigmatic as it sounded. He understood perfectly what was being said. "I think you're sadly mistaken there. I won't change back overnight when this is over." When this was over. If this would ever be over…

"I'm not expecting you to."

"Then again, why?" There was irritation in his voice now, his emotions no longer covered solely by the lack of illumination and the circumstances. Maybe they never had been, considering that his companion had always been able to read him well.

"Because I cared," the person next to him replied again in his soft voice. Continuing quickly as if to forestall interruptions, "Because you needed me."

A silence befell the room. He had his answer, but it was not what he wanted to hear, yet he knew it was true. He could spend many a future night debating that fact with his mind, but his heart knew it was true. But what his heart felt had never, and would not, change the harsh circumstances they were in. "That doesn't change anything."

"No," his companion agreed. His voice held the tone of sad resignation as he said, "I think it is best that I leave."

And the warm body shifted away from him in the dark, leaving its imprint of warmth in the mattress, causing a sudden chill against his side. He felt it like he felt the stinging of the wound in his heart, reopening. He wanted to reach out, say it was different, would be different, could be different. But even as he longed for the courage to say the words, it was the same courage that kept him from saying them.

His companion knew he would not stop him. He saw it in his movements; the decisive way of dressing, that simple act told him. He would leave.

But there was a hesitation at the door.

"Jon… Things have not, and will not, change for me."

The words hung between them, unintentionally ominous. He knew he was required to answer. "I know, Malcolm."

The armory officer nodded, this time did not speak. He hit the button that opened the door, causing light to spill across the threshold. His face was taut. Then he stepped outside and the door closed.

He was alone in the darkness yet again, like every night before this and every one that would follow. The pain on the other man's face he had caused, like he had done before and would do again.

In the name of the mission.

finis