The Bridge
by HopefulR

Genre: Drama, episode addition
Rating: PG-13
Archive: Please ask me first.
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Enterprise is the property of CBS/Paramount. All original material herein is the property of its author.
Spoilers: through "Kir'Shara."
Summary: The impact of Admiral Forrest's death on two of his closest friends.

A/N: I wrote this piece because I wish we could have seen more of Soval and Forrest's friendship— something we didn't even know could have existed, until after the admiral was gone; and because I wish we could have seen how the relationship between Soval and Archer evolved after the events of the Vulcan arc.

This is one of the stories I submitted to Strange New Worlds 10.

Thanks to my betas Misplaced, boushh, and TJinLOCA.


The Bridge

Day One
United Earth Embassy
Shi'Kahr, Vulcan

Soval heard it first, with his more sensitive Vulcan hearing: a low, rolling rumble invading the serenity of the embassy's spacious lobby. He did not immediately understand the significance of the sound— but as soon as Admiral Forrest heard it, the human knew exactly what it was. In the next instant, he was grabbing Soval, pushing him without preamble to the polished floor. Soval felt a blast of searing heat on his face, and then the room burst apart in a terrible flash of light and thunder.

He did not know how much time passed before he fought his way back to consciousness, into a haze of smoldering rubble that glowed dimly from the light of a red emergency beacon. His face burned like fire, and the hearing in his right ear was gone. A heavy, limp weight lay across his body: Forrest.

Soval felt lightly over the human's back, and found the dark blue uniform shredded, wet with blood. The admiral had taken the brunt of the explosion's fury.

Soval heard shallow, labored breaths near his still-functional left ear. With care, he rolled Forrest onto his side, to facilitate breathing. In the dusty, red-tinged dimness, the admiral's skin was pale, cool and clammy to the touch. He was in deep shock.

Forrest groaned. "Damned... clumsy of me."

Soval felt a most uncharacteristic cascade of emotions threatening to overwhelm him: anger, helplessness, sorrow. He tucked the hood of his robe under the admiral's head to cushion it. "I believe that I shall never comprehend this tendency of your species to commit needless acts of heroism."

Forrest chuckled hoarsely. "You're just griping because now you'll have to break in a replacement."

Soval's throat tightened, forcing his voice to a broken whisper. "Maxwell..."

He felt Forrest's hand on his arm. "Soval, there's a pack of admirals back on Earth, any one of whom can take over for me. But you... a sympathetic Vulcan, crafty enough to keep the High Command off our backs while we do good work... you are irreplaceable." He lay back, fading, but his eyes remained fixed on Soval's. "You'll have to carry on for both of us, old friend."

Soval laid his hand over Forrest's. "I shall, old friend."

The admiral's lips quirked up in a faint smile. "Remember... impossible is just another obstacle to overcome."

It was one of the first lessons Soval had learned from this man, three decades ago, regarding humanity's stubborn determination to progress. Now, as Soval felt his friend's life slipping away, the words became Maxwell Forrest's epitaph, and his legacy.


NX-01 Enterprise
Orbiting Earth

Jonathan Archer had no time to process Forrest's death. He was too busy canceling all shore leaves, putting a rush on repairs, and making preparations to leave for Vulcan as soon as possible. He never stopped moving, from bridge to ready room to command center and back to the bridge again. He didn't even have a chance to change out of the sweaty workout clothes he'd been wearing when T'Pol brought him the news of the embassy bombing.

Finally, hours later, he had every call made or answered, every order given, and no responsibility pending until... He looked across the bridge to the comm station, where Hoshi Sato was updating the personnel roster; more of the crew had checked in. "Hoshi? When is Admiral Gardner due to call back?"

Hoshi checked her chronometer. "Seventeen minutes, sir," she replied quietly. The entire bridge staff had been speaking quietly around the captain; they were all acutely aware of the personal loss he had suffered.

Archer glanced at the science station. T'Pol wasn't back yet; he had her circulating among departments, authorizing or scrounging whatever supplies or personnel were needed. His eyes flicked to Malcolm Reed at Tactical, a calm British sea, as always, in the midst of the pre-launch chaos. "Malcolm, you have the bridge."

"Aye, sir," Malcolm responded with a crisp nod.

Archer gestured vaguely to his incongruous yellow jersey as he headed for the turbolift. "I'll be back in seventeen minutes." He forced a bit of wryness into his voice. "Looking a little more like a captain."

After the lift door shut behind him, Hoshi, Malcolm, and Travis Mayweather exchanged glances of concern and admiration for their commander. "He's been looking plenty captain-like to me," Travis said, to no one in particular.

x x x

Archer stripped off his clothes and turned his shower on full blast, then braced himself under the stinging-hot spray. Only then did he loosen his grip on his tenuous control and break down, letting the water drown out his sobs and wash away his tears. Fourteen minutes... that was all the time he had simply to be a man who had lost his friend and mentor. Then he would be captain of Enterprise once more, with no time to grieve properly until this mission was over.

He dragged himself out of the shower and toweled off, rubbing a clear spot in the steamed-up mirror. Red-rimmed eyes stared back at him. He looked like hell.

His head was pounding by the time he pulled out a clean uniform and tossed it on the bed, barely missing Porthos. The beagle sat up, shifting his weight restlessly from paw to paw, clearly distressed by his master's anguish. He whined once, softly. Archer stroked the dog's ears. "There's no fooling you, is there, boy?" Porthos licked his hand.

He was zipping up his jumpsuit when the door chime sounded. "Not yet," he pleaded under his breath. "I still have eight minutes." But he couldn't bring himself to ignore whoever was out there. He wiped a sleeve across his wet eyes, ran his fingers through his still-damp hair, and took a deep, steadying breath. "Come in."

The door slid open, and Doctor Phlox bustled in. "Captain."

Archer was in no mood for one of Phlox's "optimism" speeches right now. "I don't have much time, Doctor. Admiral Gardner's going to be yelling for me in a few minutes."

"I won't keep you long," the doctor replied briskly. "Sit, if you please."

With a puzzled frown, Archer sat on the bed. Phlox held up a hypospray. "This is for your headache." As Archer stared at the doctor in surprise, Phlox injected him. Then he produced a small bottle. "And these drops are for your eyes." He waited, bottle poised in mid-air. Obediently, Archer tipped his head back, and Phlox applied the eye drops.

Archer blinked a few times. His head was already starting to feel better. "How did you know?"

"I'm a doctor." Phlox set the eye drops on Archer's desk.

Archer smiled. "So you are."

They headed for the turbolift together. "I'll miss Admiral Forrest," Phlox said with a sigh. "When I first began working at Starfleet Medical, I noticed at once how personable he was, with both personnel and visitors alike, in spite of his responsibilities."

Archer nodded admiringly. "For an Operations man, he was quite a diplomat."

The doctor's blue eyes brightened with a recollection. "I remember one day early in my tenure there, when the admiral had escorted some sort of tour group to the cafeteria for lunch— families, about a dozen children. The young ones were looking a tad bored, and before long they started a food fight."

Archer broke into an astonished smile. "A food fight? At Starfleet?"

Phlox nodded. "Exactly so. The admiral stepped in to put a stop to it. As soon as he entered the battle zone, one young lady hit him dead center with a sizable glob of macaroni."

Archer winced in disbelief. "What did he do?"

Phlox pantomimed theatrically to illustrate. "He froze... the macaroni sliding down the front of his immaculate uniform..." Archer was chuckling now. Phlox smiled as he went on. "I was curious to see how he would react; I'd only spoken to him a couple of times at that point. Without saying a word, he turned his back on everyone. All of us in the cafeteria were watching by this time. Finally, he faced the children again— holding an enormous serving spoon of pasta salad, which he lobbed directly at his young attacker."

Archer burst out laughing. "Did he get her?"

"A bull's-eye!" Phlox said triumphantly. "Of course, an all-out war ensued. As the adults scattered to the sidelines, Admiral Forrest remained valiantly in the middle of the fray, endeavoring to mediate a cease-fire. Alas, he ended up serving largely as a convenient target for most of the food." He gave the captain one of his preternatural Denobulan smiles. "It was delightful to watch."

Archer was still grinning as they reached the turbolift. "Forrest was great with kids. He always taught at the summer space camps..." He trailed off, smiling sadly, which communicated more than words could. He boarded the lift, ready to get back to work. "Thanks, Doc."

"My pleasure, Captain." Phlox watched the turbolift doors close. Then, nodding to himself in satisfaction, he headed back to Sickbay.


Day Five
NX-01 Enterprise
Orbiting Vulcan

Cargo Bay Two was a makeshift morgue now, a somber sea of flag-draped coffins bearing the human victims of the embassy bombing. Archer searched the names until he found Forrest's casket, then stood there, his hands unconsciously smoothing the satin Starfleet emblem as he tried to recall when he'd last spoken to the admiral. There was that chat they'd had about some bureaucratic trifle after Arik Soong had been locked up again... nothing special.

Archer found it impossible to picture Forrest cold and lifeless. The image that kept springing to mind was the admiral's smile... it always seemed to hint of wonders yet to come. That was the Maxwell Forrest that Archer would remember.

We know who did it, he conveyed silently to his fallen friend. Vulcan Administrator V'Las's suspicions about the Syrrannite cult had been correct: Malcolm and Travis's search of the blast site had turned up a remnant of the bomb, which yielded DNA belonging to the Syrrannite leader T'Pau. You will have justice

The cargo bay door slid open behind him. "His death is a loss to both our worlds."

Soval.

His voice was quiet, imbued with an undercurrent of something that sounded very much like empathy, though it couldn't be, not from a Vulcan— especially not from this Vulcan. Archer gripped the edges of Forrest's casket as a flood of tactless "if-only" thoughts filled his mind, before he resolutely pushed them aside. Soval was alive and Forrest was dead, and it didn't make a damn bit of sense to him, but he had to accept it. "If you're lost, Ambassador," he said tightly, without turning around, "I can direct you to your shuttle."

He heard Soval's footsteps come to a stop a few meters behind him. "He saved my life," the Vulcan said quietly. "He could have saved himself." A trace of disbelief colored his tone, as if, even now, he could not fathom himself worthy of such a trade.

Archer squeezed his eyes shut as Soval's words cut through his gut like a dagger. Don't tell me this. Don't tell me that Forrest could have lived instead of you. But there had to be a reason; Forrest wasn't the heroic-idiot type. Perhaps he was simply doing his duty as a Starfleet officer— even if it meant sacrificing his life to save the one man who had been an implacable Vulcan thorn in his side for decades.

"He always put the mission first." Archer spoke the bitter words harshly as he moved to the far side of the casket, putting Forrest between himself and Soval. Even in death, the admiral would help keep him from Ambassador Cranky's throat; Forrest had always been an endlessly patient go-between.

With an effort, Archer forced himself to turn and face Soval. The Vulcan had removed his ceremonial robes of office, and now wore a simple, unadorned tunic and slacks of muted brown. Even in the soft light of this solemn room, the captain could see the ugly contusion that splayed across the ambassador's temple and cheekbone, and the healing lacerations on his ear— stark evidence of the injuries he had sustained in the bombing. His demeanor was markedly subdued, lacking the authoritarian arrogance Archer had come to expect from him whenever they crossed paths... but it was the undisguised melancholy on his face that took the captain completely by surprise.

Was Soval in mourning as well? All of Vulcan grieves with you today. Those were his words when he'd come aboard— a traditional Vulcan expression of sympathy. But did the ritual phrase actually have meaning beyond the words, for this species that expended such effort to show no emotion?

"The last time we spoke," Soval said, in a voice tinged with wistfulness, "he was anticipating the prospect of joint missions. Humans and Vulcans working together."

With a start, Archer realized that it was Forrest for whom Soval was grieving.

The enormity of that singular revelation hit the captain like a shockwave. If Forrest and Soval were friends... had they kept their friendship under wraps, in order not to incite the disapproval of the High Command and get Soval shipped back to Vulcan? Was it even possible that the ambassador's notoriously haughty reputation among humans was also a façade, to protect his professional position... even as he and Forrest surreptitiously worked together to effect change?

In a heartbeat, Jonathan Archer's lifelong perspective regarding Soval shifted, and he found the two of them standing on common ground. Forrest was no longer a barrier between them, but a bridge.

It took Archer a few seconds to find his footing before he spoke. "Then we have to make that possible, despite the High Command."

Almost imperceptibly, Soval nodded, those wizened eyes evidently perceiving the shift in Archer's attitude. He began to pace among the caskets. "It makes no sense to think the Syrrannites are responsible for this outrage."

So Soval's opening salvo was a direct contradiction of V'Las's official party line. It was breathtaking in its audacity. But what about T'Pau? "We have DNA evidence," Archer told him.

Soval didn't even flinch. His voice, his body language, his attitude— all had grown intensely focused. "Recheck everything, Captain. Question everything. And don't let them keep you on Enterprise. The answers you need are on Vulcan." His voice was ringing with emotion now— with anger. Anger! "However far you have to take this investigation, you have my support."

First a display of emotion, and now talk that smacked of treason? Soval must have serious issues with Administrator V'Las... issues that evidently could not be discussed openly, or circumvented directly. But working in secret with Archer and Enterprise...

The captain hoped the admiral was smiling, wherever he was, at the poetry of it. Soval hadn't even missed a step before hooking up with humans again, while continuing to keep the VHC in the dark. Maxwell Forrest would get his wish: humans and Vulcans— one of each, at any rate— working together.


Day Nine
Council Chambers
Seat of the Vulcan High Command
Shi'Kahr, Vulcan

Soval quietly entered the small antechamber off the main council room to find Captain Archer gazing pensively out the large bay window at the expansive view of the capital city. It was dusk now, and Shi'Kahr took on an ethereal glow as the sun dipped below the horizon, leaving behind a deep orange sky. Lights and meditation fires were coming alive all over the city, reflecting in the windows of the spire-like buildings.

"Captain Archer," Soval said in greeting. "It is good to see you."

As Archer turned, his melancholy expression lightened. "Ambassador."

"Soval. I was relieved of my post."

The captain looked apologetic. "Right. Commander Tucker filled me in." His appearance had changed markedly in the four days since Soval had last seen him. His bruises, sunburn, and signs of dehydration were mute testament to the physical struggles he must have endured while in the Forge. Yet there was no outward sign of the mental upheaval he must still be undergoing as the guardian of Surak's katra; Soval could only wonder at the effects such an experience would have on a human.

In truth, Soval himself had gone through no less profound a transformation, these past several days. His ability as a melder and his affinity for the humans were both public knowledge now, after decades of necessary concealment. He had been discharged from his position as Ambassador to Earth and summarily dismissed from the High Command. He had no idea what his future held... but he nevertheless felt emancipated.

Perhaps a bit too emancipated at present, in fact. He was still experiencing aftereffects of the torture device Commander Shran had employed to strip him of his emotional control. Even now, it was as if his every emotion were a raw, exposed nerve ending, sensitive to the barest trigger.

Archer regarded him with open gratitude, his exhaustion dismissing any attempt at formalities. "What you did— the mind-meld that got you sacked— thank you. Trip told me that without your assistance, they might never have learned that an official of the High Command planted the bomb in the embassy."

Soval inclined his head in acknowledgment.

Archer smiled, with a expression of satisfaction Soval had heard humans sometimes describe as wicked. "And when I last saw Administrator V'Las, he was being dragged out of here like a sack of dirty laundry after trying to destroy the Kir'Shara, so your ambassadorial status may yet change again."

Soval nodded. "That would be agreeable."

Archer grew serious. "I understand you also helped to avert another war with Andoria— and that they managed to rough you up again." He studied Soval with genuine concern. "How are you now?"

"I am still somewhat unsettled," Soval replied mildly. "Doctor Phlox assures me, however, that this condition is transitory."

From the doubtful look on Archer's face, Soval concluded that his reply was unconvincing. He permitted a modicum of teasing to show in his eyes. "You would understand the need for a certain period of recovery time, being a torture victim yourself."

Archer's eyebrows rose questioningly. "Me?"

"Carrying Surak's katra. A human robbed of free will... a Vulcan robbed of emotional control. Each predicament engenders its own unique measure of suffering."

The human laughed dryly. "You don't know the half of it. After T'Pau explained to the Council that the katra of Surak really existed, and was residing inside my mind, the ministers still wanted empirical evidence. So T'Pau proposed the method the Syrrannites routinely used."

Soval was taken aback. "Mind-melding?" Upon his arrival, T'Pau had given him a summary of the events that had transpired at T'Karath Sanctuary, including her aborted attempt to extract Surak from Archer's mind by force. The physical and emotional trauma the captain had suffered was likely more than enough to deter any human from voluntarily submitting to further melds.

Archer nodded. "She hauled them through my mind, one by one, to commune with Surak. You should've seen them— part shell-shocked, part fascinated by the process. Apparently a lifetime of preaching the debauched evils of melding to the Vulcan populace rubbed off on them, even though it's all hogwash."

"But what of your consciousness during the melds?" Soval asked, heedless of the concern he was displaying.

"True, I'm not a big fan of mind-melding. But the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the... Archer." The captain gave him a wan smile. "I did all right."

Soval raised a skeptical eyebrow, but said nothing. Archer had, after all, shown much the same reaction to Soval's assurance regarding his own health.

An oddly beneficial side effect of Soval's currently heightened sensitivity, though, was that he was more attuned to the emotional resonances of those around him... such as Captain Archer now. The emotional shift that the captain had made since their last meeting was almost palpable. On Enterprise, Archer had used his barely suppressed grief for Admiral Forrest much like a tightly coiled spring, to propel him onward in his search for the perpetrators of the embassy bombing. Now, with Security Chief Stel in custody, and Administrator V'Las likely never to hold power on Vulcan again, the captain's sorrow seemed to be a tide he was fighting to hold back, lest it overwhelm him.

Soval joined Archer at the window. The two men watched the color of the sky deepen to burnt umber, as more lights of Shi'Kahr winked on like beacons. Soval remembered other nights like this one, with a different human at his side, admiring the lights of the city. "When Admiral Forrest had occasion to come to Vulcan," he said, "he would often watch the sun set on Shi'Kahr. He thought the city quite beautiful at twilight."

Archer's voice was soft. "Even now, I find it hard to believe he's gone. He's always been such a steady, reliable presence in my life, for as long as I can remember... He was there to pick up the pieces after my father died, and again when I lost my mother... he was there to mentor me through Starfleet, to praise me and chew me out and have a drink with me at the 602 Club on way too many late nights. He saw me off when Enterprise launched. He was my sounding board, my confessor, my friend, my surrogate father. It was so easy to imagine that he would always be there..."

"He will be," Soval said. "As long as you remember him."

Archer nodded. He took a deep breath, as though attempting to banish the sadness that still clung to him. "A priest is on his way here from Mount Seleya to take Surak out of my head. I assume the katra will be sequestered away in a Holy of Holies, off limits to all but the most worthy of scholars." His manner grew amusingly conspiratorial. "So... while you still have the chance, would you care to touch Surak's mind?"

The prospect was enticing... but Soval did not wish to add to Archer's discomfort. The multiple melds with T'Pau and the Council ministers could not have been a pleasant experience for him. "Surely you have had enough of strangers invading your mind."

"You're not a stranger," Archer responded. "You were Admiral Forrest's friend." Soval detected a touch of stubbornness in the captain's attitude... and perhaps self-consciousness, as well. "I'm thinking you might even be my friend someday. So what better way to make further acquaintance with each other than to have you crowd into my head with Surak and me?"

Soval considered Archer's proposal. To meld with Surak would be a rare gift... but it occurred to Soval that there was also a gift he could offer to Archer. "I accept," he said.

Archer looked pleased... but also apprehensive, Soval noticed. As the captain took a deep, calming breath that seemed not to calm him at all, Soval stepped close, lightly touching his fingers to the human's face, finding the contact points. Attuned as he was now to emotion, he could already feel Archer mentally pulling away, putting up defenses. Soval felt a burst of compassion for him.

With an effort, he focused on the task at hand, beginning the ritual cadence: "My mind to your mind..." He reached out mentally, finding Archer's mind much easier to penetrate than that of the comatose guard with whom he had melded aboard Enterprise. "Our minds are merging..."

Suddenly Soval was struck with the full force of Archer's grief, deep and ragged, magnified by the hardships of the past several days. The ache in his heart was fresh, still waiting to be eased. Soval followed the trail of pain... and there was Archer, standing outside a room of rough-hewn stone, lit by the fire of several torches.

He's in the sanctuary, the captain said.

Come then, Soval replied. Let us proceed.

Archer looked confused. Nobody else let me in there.

As you pointed out earlier, Captain, Soval said calmly, I am not like the others.

Archer was clearly touched. Soval waited until the human joined him, and they entered the sanctuary room together.

In the glow of flickering torchlight, Surak looked disarmingly normal. Odd... Soval had imagined he would be taller, somehow.

The ghost of a smile played on Surak's lips. I am but a man, Soval.

Archer remained near the entrance as Soval stepped into the circle of firelight. He bowed his head in a gesture of respect. Surak. I am honored.

No, the logician responded. It is you who honors me.

Soval regarded the other man with surprise. I?

You risked your life to help save billions, Surak said.

It was the most logical course, Soval replied.

But not a practical one, it appears, Surak observed. I doubt that Administrator V'Las would have made the same choice. Your logic has left you without livelihood. Your reputation is in tatters. You are looked upon as a deviant

I have the truth! Soval declared. I have justice for the innocents who were lost— for my friend who was lost. I have honor. Nothing else is of any consequence.

Surak nodded, his eyes filled with respect. Well spoken, Soval. Well lived.

Soval was openly embarrassed by his outburst, and by the venerated leader's praise. I am but a man, Surak.

The Father of Logic smiled faintly. And a worthy one. He glanced past Soval. Now you must be on your way.

Soval felt a pang of disappointment. So soon?

Another task awaits you— one far more important than talking with me. Surak indicated Archer, hugging the shadows at the far end of the sanctuary room.

Soval nodded. He turned back to Surak, who raised his hand in the traditional ta'al. Peace and long life, Soval, the logician said.

Even as Soval returned the salute, he felt Surak's consciousness receding. The sanctuary faded away, leaving him in the solitary dimness with Captain Archer.

Soval sensed Archer's puzzlement that the meld had not yet been broken. Is there something else...? the captain asked.

Yes. Soval lowered his mental shields, bringing forth his gift: his own memories of Maxwell Forrest. Images began coalescing around Archer... Forrest with Soval, working at Starfleet, sharing meals, learning about each other's cultures, debating with the High Command... three decades of memories, going back to the first meeting between a young lieutenant commander from Operations and the newly installed Vulcan Ambassador to Earth, across a conference table at Starfleet.

A Vulcan and a human, working together. Maxwell Forrest's highest goal and fondest wish— he had lived it.

The memories cascaded down around Archer, enveloping him, filling his senses. He turned in a circle, trying to absorb them all at once, smiling, then laughing. Soval could feel the stabbing agony of the captain's grief being soothed by the reminiscences, the ache in his heart beginning to heal.

Carefully, Soval extricated himself from the meld, dropping his hand from Archer's face. The captain's eyes remained closed for a moment longer; when they finally opened, they were glistening with unshed tears. "Thank you," he whispered.

Soval nodded. Without another word, he turned to withdraw, wishing to give Archer privacy to explore his new memories of Admiral Forrest.

As the Vulcan turned to pull the door shut behind him, he caught a glimpse of Archer reflected in the dark glass of the window, as he gazed at the glittering cityscape below. The captain's tear-stained face was aglow with a smile of fond remembrance.

-end-