Disclaimer: see first chapter

Many, many thanks to Teresa, Malinear, dolphinology, pari106 and Mariel3 for their kind reviews.

Teresa: wow, I don't think I've ever had my writing compared to a painting before. Thank you so much!

Malinear: Hah, there was me thinking that "The Luckiest" was my least depressing chapter yet! I really must practice my happy face...

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Smoke

Leaf by leaf and page by page
Throw this book away.
All the sadness, all the rage,
Throw this book away.
Rip out the binding and tear the glue
All of the grief we never even knew
We had it all along
Now it's
Smoke.

The things we've written in it
Never really happened.
All the things we've written in it
Never really happened.
All of the people come and gone
Never really lived,
And all the people come have gone,
No-one to forgive.
Smoke.

We will not write a new one.
There will not be a new one,
Another one,
Another one.

The funeral was held on a sunny day. Of course, it was always sunny in Southern California, where Crocker had retired. That didn't change Lucas' feeling that the weather was deeply inappropriate; a feeling that only deepened when he saw who else was in attendance.

He had known Bridger would be there, of course; Crocker had been one of his oldest friends, and he had far more right to attend the funeral than Lucas himself did. It was still a shock, though, when he saw that familiar face across the cemetery, maybe a little more lined than the last time they had seen each other some five years before, but still unmistakeably him. He looked tired and sad. He looked the way that Lucas felt.

When he looked back on it later, he couldn't remember very much about the funeral itself; it was the wake that stood out in his memory. It was held on the seaQuest, as per the request Crocker had made in his will. Lucas tried hard to stay out of the way, standing in a corner with his drink, waiting for the moment that he would be able to escape to his quarters. When the moment finally came, he had almost made it out of the door when he found his way blocked by a familiar figure.

"Captain Bridger," he said, calmly. "It's good to see you again."

"Lucas." Bridger's tone was equally polite, but his smile was sad. For a moment, they simply stood, not looking at each other. Then Lucas opened his mouth to make his excuses, but Bridger beat him to it.

"There have been a lot of changes around here," he said, looking around the room. "I wonder if you'd care to take me on a tour."

Lucas hesitated. Bridger's smile faltered slightly. "Of course, I know you're very busy," he murmured, but Lucas was already shrugging his assent.

"This way," he muttered, and headed off towards the moon pool, not looking to see if Bridger was following behind.

-----

"Dr. Westphalen told me you were thinking of leaving."

Lucas looked up in surprise. It was the first thing Bridger had said since they had started the tour. Not that he was complaining; it was easier just not to talk. "Yeah," he said cautiously. "I've thought about it."

Bridger nodded. "Why?"

Lucas bit his lip, breathing out heavily through his nose. "It's complicated. I really don't want to talk about it." Not with you.

Bridger was silent for a moment; the only sound was their footsteps on the metal deck. A crew member passed, saluting the captain. "But it seems like everything's going really well for you here," Bridger started again, and Lucas stopped dead.

"Look," he said sharply, then drew a breath and started again more quietly. "You've got what you wanted. You never wanted me to enlist, and now you've been proved right. I can't handle it. Does that make you happy? Now, if you're done saying 'I told you so', I've got work to do." He turned on his heel, swallowing the lump of anger and tears in his throat, but Bridger grabbed his elbow.

"Wait a minute," he said, and Lucas recognised the tone from a hundred arguments. "This has nothing to do with what I want."

"Really?" Lucas looked back at him, feeling his expression harden. "You could have fooled me." And with that, he stalked off, cursing himself for having agreed to speak to Bridger in the first place.

-----

Somewhat less then an hour later, Lucas was working on the hologram system that had been reprioritised after the war had ended when he suddenly became aware that there was someone in the room. Whirling, he saw Bridger leaning in the doorway.

"The door was open," the older man said calmly.

Lucas pursed his lips. "Come on in," he said, trying to keep the hostility out of his voice. He saw Bridger's eyes stray to the hologram projector, which was currently showing a picture of Audrey Hepburn, a mid-20th-century actress. "I'm still trying to improve it," he said.

Bridger sat down on the bed. "She's pretty," he noted.

Lucas sank into a chair. "Yes," he said, feeling somehow helpless. "She was."

He was aware that Bridger was staring at him, but he didn't feel like meeting his gaze. There was an awkward silence. Then Bridger leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. "We need to talk, Lucas. We've needed to talk for a long time."

"No," Lucas broke in sharply. I do not want to have this conversation. "Maybe we needed to talk once. I think it's gone beyond that now."

He saw Bridger close his eyes, and realised suddenly how old he was looking. The sunlight in the cemetery had been deceptive: in the harsh glare of the ship's lighting he seemed to have aged almost a decade.

"You may be right," Bridger said slowly, and Lucas looked away again. "I've done a lot of things... said a lot of things... that I wish I could take back. But I know I can't."

"What's your point?" Lucas asked, and hated himself suddenly for the brusque tone in his voice.

"My point." Bridger looked exhausted. "My point is that I love you, kiddo. And I can't change the past, but I can change the future. I don't even know why you're not in my life any more. It doesn't make sense."

Lucas closed his eyes, willing himself not to hear the broken tone of the old man's voice. "Are you saying you can just forget everything that's happened? That it's that easy for you?"

"Yes." The answer was so unexpected that Lucas opened his eyes again, to find Bridger looking at him with a pleading expression that he had never seen on the captain's face before. "I don't care who said what and whose fault it was. I just care that I haven't spoken to you for five years. I don't want that to ever happen again."

Lucas looked away, staring at the hologram of the long-dead actress whose brittle beauty was still so enchanting. Can it really be that simple? he wondered, feeling a flare of desperate hope somewhere in his guts. "You're not the same person I thought you were," he said quietly.

"People change, kiddo. God knows, you're not the same kid who gave me lip in the moon pool in 2018." Lucas felt the corner of his mouth twitch slightly. He looked up, and this time he met Bridger's gaze.

"Who are you?" the older man asked, gently, and Lucas felt a lopsided grin form on his face.

"Who are you?" he replied.

Bridger grinned back, and Lucas felt a sudden surge of feelings, stronger than he'd had for a long time. It was as if his teenage self had been revived, with all the strength of emotion that entailed. If someone had asked him that morning whether he wanted to feel like a teenager again, he would have laughed at them; but now it seemed like a veil had been lifted from between himself and his inner life. Even the colours in his quarters seemed clearer and brighter. The problems that had seemed so insurmountable were still there, but somehow they seemed more like challenges than roadblocks now.

He realised he had been staring at Bridger like an idiot, and looked away, embarrassed. Bridger, though, did not seem to have noticed; he was staring like an idiot too. "So, are you going to stay, or what?"

Lucas felt his smile fade. "It's not that simple."

"Why not?" Bridger was warming to the subject now. "Come on, you like it here, don't you? I mean, it is your boat."

A dim memory from the distant past stirred inside Lucas. But the past isn't what's important, he reminded himself. The future is. Can it really be that simple? But for the life of him, he couldn't think of a reason why not. He was about to reply, but the chimes of the PA system interrupted him.

"Captain, you're wanted on the bridge."

Lucas looked at Bridger, and felt as if a great burden had been lifted off his shoulders. "I think that's me," he said.

Leaf by leaf and page by page
Throw this book away.
All the sadness, all the rage,
Throw this book away.
Rip out the binding and tear the glue
All of the grief we never even knew
We had it all along
Now it's
Smoke.

The things we've written in it
Never really happened.
All the things we've written in it
Never really happened.
All of the people come and gone
Never really lived,
And all the people come have gone,
No-one to forgive.
Smoke.

We will not write a new one.
There will not be a new one,
Another one,

Another one.


Here's an evening dark with shame:
Throw it on the fire.
Here's the time I took the blame:
Throw it on the fire.
Here is the time that we didn't speak it seems for years and years and
Here's a secret no-one will ever know
The reasons for the tears,
They are
Smoke.

We will not write a new one.
There will not be a new one,
Another one,
Another one.

Where do all the secrets live?
They travel in the air.
You can smell them when they burn,
They travel.
Those who say the past is not dead can
Stop and smell the smoke.
You keep saying the past is not dead, well
Stop and smell the smoke.
You keep on saying the past is not even past and
You keep saying.
We are
Smoke,
Smoke,
Smoke.