That Number Before Tears
by Jessie

Summary: Harper deals with the loss of a close friend.

Disclaimer: Andromeda, its character and situations are the property of some one who isn't me.

Author's Note: Well, 'Farscape' kinda depressed me last friday, so I just had this sudden urge to share that sadness with every one else. And I had already written a story in which Harper dies ('The Room Was Silent'), so the most likely thing to do next was, of course, write a story in which Trance dies. Thus- this story was born.

But, unlike that first angst-fest, this story doesn't make much use of any of the other characters besides Trance and Harper. Hopefully, however, that won't deter any one from reading. Or from giving me some of that awesome feedback that you know I live for :)

***

He pressed his lips together firmly. The taste in his mouth was familiar. That warm bittersweet taste of raw emotion and sweat trying to break free.

A rogue tear carefully raced down one cheek.

If there was a God- or a Divine, or a higher power of some kind- they certainly seemed random in their choice of ways to inflict pain. Like lightening. Or shooting stars. Those infinite odds stacked against the chance that something so rare would happen twice.

Yet there it was.

Of all the thoughts he could have been faced with, the first- and most unanticipated- was how much he, himself, had changed in the past two years.

Two years ago her death had meant retaliation. Revenge. Anger.

Now there was that tear.

How much he must have grown to go from anger to sadness in only two years time.

Maybe he was just out of practice. Maybe it was like riding a bike.

So many deaths in so short a time span, and a person had to learn how to swallow back the pain. Had to learn exactly how to tiptoe around each memory effectively. So that they disappeared behind him, as though never even there.

Maybe it had just been too long since the last death. And now he had forgotten how to handle it like he had when he was a child.

How did a person become six years old again?

How could he go back ten years? Twenty?

But you always remembered how to ride that bike, didn't you? You got on, a little wobbly at first- a little nervous- but sooner or later you were riding again.

Sooner or later he'd figure out how to swallow back this most recent death.

Another friend would die. Another family member. And he'd set his mouth into that tight frown. He'd taste that same familiar taste on his tongue.

And there wouldn't be that tear.

He felt suddenly very helpless. More so than he had before.

Because before it had just been the one. It had just been her. And- though her absence caused him more pain that any of the others' might have- he had known all along that he wasn't enough to save her.

He had never been enough.

But now he felt truly helpless. Because for some reason or another he had always just assumed that the others could take care of themselves. That they would always be there. That they were like the planets. Or the stars.

Yes, that's what they were to him. Stars.

Brilliant. Beautiful. Forever burning. Forever out of reach.

Yet, suddenly, he was realizing that even they could fade. Even they- so far away from who he was- could be taken from him.

He could feel the memories of them fall away from him like sand. Rough and swift through his fingers.

Dylan, and Beka, and Rev, and Rommie, and Tyr. They were never like him. And he never thought of them like he thought of himself. They were better than that. They were a step ahead. A cut above. A different breed of beings. Ones who had morals, and strengths, and better sense than he could claim.

And Trance . . .

His thoughts were chaotic. There was no order to them. No starting point or clear end. They just came. And when they left, they took a bit more of him with them.

But she had taken, by far the largest piece, he was certain.

How could he even pretend that the rest of them still meant the same to him as they had the day before? The week before?

Without warning or debate, they were suddenly strangers to him. None of them were even people any more. They were future trials. Future reasons to purse his lips together, and step lightly around memories.

He thought of the random things that he had noticed about the day. The meaningless things that his mind had latched onto and that now rested more clearly in his head than even the memory of her face. Or her voice.

He remembered the way that one of the lights had flickered. And how he had wondered, at the time, if it had been his imagination. Because when had the lights ever flickered on that work-of-art ship?

He remembered the sound of the door opening and closing. As if he hadn't heard that sound a hundred- a thousand- other times. As if even simple things like doors could be made more significant by the events around them.

It was strange; the thoughts that came to him when, if the universe had any sense at all, the only thought in his mind would be of her.

Instead, he remembered how much of a child he had felt like during that day, which was only now ending. That's what he had been, through all the hours. A child.

A child who had easily immersed himself in minor repairs, but who, all the same, couldn't quite manage to stay away. Some how he always found himself passing the doorway to the room where he knew she was.

He'd never look at it though. He'd keep his eyes to the ground. Or straight ahead. Or at the tools and diagrams in his hands.

Some one must have noticed the way he never set foot in the room, yet walked past it two- three- times each hour. Some one must have, because they had all been there at one point or another.

Hadn't they?

He suddenly couldn't remember. Could only see, in his mind, random faces of the crew as they watched him pass those doors.

He could still feel their eyes on him. And both the pity and the sadness that accompanied those gazes.

Had the rest of the crew somehow realized just what this meant to him? Had they figured it out in the way of slipstream routes and battle plans, just how difficult her leaving was for him? Had Dylan devised, with the help of his first officer and, perhaps, his ship, just what exactly the young man was going through, and how to fix it?

And had he come up with a plan B?

For a brief moment he wondered what the rest of the crew had said to her. And what she, in turn, had said to them.

He wondered who had cried. And who had held it in. Wondered if Rev had been there the whole time, watching the good-byes. Counseling the grief-stricken.

But the moment passed, and he remembered that he didn't really care what had passed between her and each of the others. Not when the memory of those doors still haunted him.

He blinked his eyes slowly. There were only so many times that he could do that without shedding another tear.

He remembered blinking in such a way as a child. When death was still a fairly new idea, and his young mind could still convince itself that counting the number of times he could blink before tears came was more important than whether or not Daddy was coming back.

He still felt as much like a child now as he had earlier in the day.

Only it was slightly different now, after everything that had happened. Because now he wasn't working. And he wasn't avoiding the worried gazes of the rest of the crew. He was just thinking.

And in the thoughts that came to him he was able to see just how close to childhood he had been that day. How close he still was.

Her death was like the one when he was nine.

But then, how was that girl on med deck- that unique and awe-inspiring girl- at all like his mother?

How were their deaths even remotely similar?

There was the sound of weapons fire to consider. The smell of smoke. The chill of an oncoming snowstorm. All of those things which had been present at his mother's final breaths that were nowhere to be found during Trance's.

So was it a mistake to compare the two days? And was it wrong of him to remember that long ago winter afternoon from his youth in this, of all moments? He felt guilty because of it. Yet couldn't escape the simple idea that the two losses were inter-linked in some way.

All of that short time between birth and nine years old, there had been a steady parade of death and disease. Like any child, he had never truly understood what it all meant. He just ate his rations like his mother told him to and listened to the heavy silence around the table that always came after some one close had gone to that whispered about place called the afterlife.

He had been beginning to think that this afterlife must have been a nice place for so many to be going there. At any rate, it had to be better than where he was.

But then, at nine years old, shots had been fired. And he had turned to see his mother lying on the ground. Only it wasn't his mother. It was some hollow, lifeless shell of her because she had gone on to that better place too.

And had left him behind.

As the cold pricked the exposed skin of his hands, and than leapt to his pink cheeks to bite at them as well, he, for the first time, really understood what it meant for some one to die. It meant that they were leaving him.

And every one- one day- would leave him.

And there was nothing he could do but curse into the neatly falling snow and demand, hoarsely, that he be the next to go. That he be with his mother.

He blinked again and demanded, in his mind, that he be the next to go.

So perhaps it wasn't that Trance was anything like his mother. Or that his mother's death had been anything similar to Trance's. It was his reaction to them.

Only, even at nine years old, he knew how not to cry.

After so many years, such tricks of the trade were beyond him.

He remembered those doors again.

The thought came back uncertainly, as though it understood that it had already had its turn with his psyche and now it had to leave him to the others. But there it was again anyway. Only this time, as if to redeem itself, it brought with it the memory of the room behind them.

It must have been his twenty-fifth pass by that room. Maybe his thirtieth. And he had just finished one of his many projects for that day, and was on his way to the next, when those doors opened with a suddenness that made him freeze in mid stride.

He heard footsteps coming toward him, and saw Rev Bem pass.

Perhaps the Magog had been called to command. Perhaps he was on a mission to retrieve some personal item of Trance's for her. Whatever it was, it didn't matter. Because it meant that, for, quite possibly the first time that day, the only person in the room was the girl.

He looked up just in time to see the doors close.

There was no right way to take that first step. And there was no right way to take that last one that passed through the doorway and put him inside of the room. But he did it anyway. And it wasn't for any brave or selfless reason. It was simply because he couldn't help it.

As he stood there, he realized that there weren't any words for what he needed to say. Only ones for what he was supposed to say. And even those couldn't make it past that taste in his mouth.

Luckily- in whatever twisted sense that that day could have had a bright side- Trance had spoken for him.

"Harper." She seemed surprised to see him, though her voice was soft and her expression was muted by her infection.

One more similarity between her and his mother. Both dead by enemy fire.

He stood there awkwardly, staring at her as though he couldn't believe she wouldn't be there in the morning and didn't want to. As though he were still nine years old, and she was the snow.

He swallowed.

She laid her head back down and waited for him to either speak or come closer.

In a sudden moment of courage, he did both.

"Will Rev be back soon?" Of all the things to say- of all the questions to ask- he would, of course, choose the most seemingly trivial.

She didn't seem to notice, however. And, in fact, almost appeared to realize just what kind of power her answer to the question could have.

"In a few minutes." She looked at him from the pillow her head rested on. "He didn't want to leave me, but . . ."

He scratched the back of his head and took another, hesitant step towards her. "I'm sorry that I . . ." He couldn't finish the apology. Couldn't even begin to try and explain why every one else had said good bye to her- had been checking in on her on countless occasion throughout the day- and he hadn't shown his face until now.

She smiled a little sympathetically, as though she understood, and he bowed his head.

"It's just that I'm not very good at this, ya know?" He almost mumbled the words, though they held a hint of the cockiness he tried to instill in them.

She nodded carefully.

"I mean, I- uh- I've known a lot of people who've died. And it's just . . . ya keep expecting it to get better the next time. Or ya keep expecting there not to be a next time. And then it just all sorta . . . falls apart, ya know?" He couldn't quite meet her eyes, though he knew she was staring at him, so he kept his gaze to the floor.

"But I just- uh- didn't want you to think that I . . . that I- you know- wouldn't be there for you. 'Cause I am. I just . . ." He shook his head slightly.

"You're here." She said the words for him, and he finally looked up.

What had happened in those past two years for him to want to hold her in that moment, instead of search the area for something to destroy?

He didn't know what to think of it all. Only knew that neither scenario offered much in the way of hope.

"I'm glad you're here." Her voice was so soft, if not for the utter silence in the room that followed each of her words he wouldn't have been able to hear her.

He took one final step forward, placing himself at her side where it was easy to let his gaze travel down to meet hers.

They stared at each other in the heavy quiet for long, innumerable moments.

"You came back to life the last time." When his voice finally managed to cut through the short distance between them, it was clearly in an effort to make the scene disappear. To make everything better again. And his words held that desperate defiance that was most often reserved for the relatives or lovers of the dying.

"That was different." She spoke simply, her eyes glazing over with unshed tears that he wanted to swear at.

"How?" His tone was still defensive. Desperate. As if pleading with her to make this like the last time, when his emotions were easily put to use through guns and explosions.

"It just was."

They stared at each other silently once more.

He wanted to think about how the universe would pay for this. And how he would make that possible. But his thoughts kept returning to the way her hair fell about her face. The way her skin tone had faded in the face of approaching death. The way her hands trembled, even though they rested at her side.

"Why?" He wasn't asking about her previous words, and both knew it. He was asking about the universe. About fate. And God. And whatever it was that was keeping him from ever being happy.

A tear fell from her cheek at his question.

Had she cried at every one else's good-byes?

Was that what this was? A goodbye?

The seconds multiplied slowly. The air in the room felt stale and unworthy of the moment. The lighting hung around them without the decency to apologize for its brash intrusion into this overwhelming scene.

"I'm so sorry." She whispered hoarsely to him, another tear falling.

He felt that he knew just what she was apologizing for. And it made his own eyes glaze over.

Because here was this girl on her death bed, this girl who had never been anything but good to him- had never been anything but perfect- apologizing for all the pain he'd ever faced. Apologizing for death after death that she'd had nothing to do with.

Even this newest one was nowhere near her fault. But she was apologizing for it any way. Because she really was sorry. And she really couldn't bare to see him suffer through one more loss.

Maybe that would have been the perfect time to break down. To finally let the reality of the day sink in, and allow his tears to fall. But something from his past- some forgotten defense mechanism- kept his emotions at bay.

She sniffled quietly, trying to blink back tears.

And he caved.

There was really nothing left to do but cave. There had never been anything to do but it.

And he felt guilty for having waited so long to admit it.

In her arms he felt somehow safer. As if nothing could touch them. As if it were suddenly possible to make this moment last for an eternity, and keep her alive inside of it.

He wrapped his own arms tightly around her and wanted to never let go. He convinced himself that this wasn't a new desire, and that it had not been dreamed up by a thousand other men when holding a thousand other women. This emotion had to be unique unto them.

When had they last held each other like this? Had they ever?

It seemed so natural to hug that they must have done it before.

He briefly recalled a time a few months prior, on the Maru. Death had seemed so certain, floating adrift in space, the Andromeda having no idea where they were. Him and her; and Beka, and Tyr. They all knew they were about to die, the cold of space biting through the hull to nip at their exposed flesh. Though Tyr had kept right on working. As though there had to be a way to fix that which was permanently broken.

And Harper had gone on working as well, unable to admit that there were some things that, even in the most desperate of situations, he could not repair. As the hours passed, he had slowly given up. Had slowly begun restricting his efforts to the main chamber, where he could at least, in his final moments, be with Trance and Beka.

When a Perseid science vessel had, by chance, happened upon them, saving them from that awesome fate, there was such joy in the air.

Beka had let out an audible sigh of relief, and could not fight the grin that appeared on her face.

Trance had grinned as well, absolutely bubbling with excitement and happiness. Like a child. Harper had given in to those emotions as well and, in between claims of how he had known all along that some one would find them, his arms had taken on a life of their own. And he had pulled Trance to him in an excited embrace.

It had been so easy to blame the incident on the moment.

And it had been just as effortless to forget about it.

But now, there it was again. They were in each other's arms for the second time since having first met nearly three years ago.

"I can't do this." He whispered into her hair, his eyes shut tightly against even the chance that a tear might escape.

She didn't say anything, only hugged him closer to her, and he responded by doing the same. Maybe, if he held on tight enough, he'd never have to let go.

"Tomorrow . . ." She whispered, then hesitated as she searched for all the words she needed. He felt her jaw against his. Felt it move slightly with each sound she made. Felt her chest against his, their lungs expanding and contracting as one.

He didn't want to hear her words. Didn't want to think about what tomorrow would be like. So he focused on the way her jaw felt pressed against his own. As if it belonged there.

But he heard the words anyway.

". . . I need you to do something for me." She took in a shaky breath. "Promise me you'll do it."

He closed his eyes even tighter, as if, in doing so, he could shut out the entire universe. "Yeah."

"Promise me."

"I promise." He had trouble making the vow, but forced himself to anyway.

She took in another breath that almost seemed to do more harm than good. "I need you to remember me."

He didn't understand.

"I would never forget . . ."

"Remember." She emphasized the word, turning her head just enough such that it was no longer her jaw against him that he felt, but the light brush of her lips and warm breath on his neck as she spoke.

For a moment he felt as though she were trying to tell him something without actually saying it.

But the moment passed, and he still didn't fully understand what she meant, but answered, regardless: "always."

She hesitated again, and he felt awed at the idea that, so close to death, there were still uncertainties to face. But he squeezed her tightly in silent encouragement, and she found the nerve to bring her head back slowly and press her lips against where his jaw came up and met his cheek.

The small kiss surprised him. But didn't seem inappropriate. She had probably done the same with Dylan. With Rev. Though he refused to think about that right now. He just concentrated on that spot where her lips had been, and reveled in the warmth that still radiated from it.

There was silence around them once again, and he, finding strength from a place that he couldn't begin to identify, turned his head slightly and kissed her gently on that spot near her ear.

Such moments were wasted on others. Such moments only really meant anything when it was certain that they would never take place again.

Trance, with more courage than he would have expected in a dying girl, pushed away just enough to face him yet still feel his arms at her sides.

"I'm so sorry." Her words stung him like few things could. But she softened the blow by kissing him again.

Softly. Carefully. Her lips pressed against his.

She moved away slowly, but he pulled her back to him.

She was crying again. He could taste the tears on her lips. He hated the universe for making her cry, but didn't attempt to stop it. She cried for the both of them.

He had changed so much in two years.

"Rev . . ." He didn't want to stop. Didn't want there to be another moment when he wasn't touching her. The desperation of the kiss- the pure emotion and heartache of it- hung on his lips and tongue still, and he didn't like the idea of walking away with only that feeling.

But he pulled back anyway, knowing he had to. Knowing another moment like that one would never happen again. Ever.

She nodded her head, her nose brushing against his as she did, and reminding him of how close they still were.

He swallowed and stepped back, wiping a tear from her cheek with his thumb as he did.

He must have passed those doors a hundred different times that day. Only that once did he pass through them into the room they guarded. And only once did he pass back through them, into the corridor that would know his footsteps as a permanent fixture.

As he walked away from them, Rev Bem walked back. And there was something about the Magog's soft steps and careful manner that suggested that he knew where the young man had spent the last few minutes.

Harper stared ahead and tried to control the steady stream of memories that assaulted him, as the mark of that one tear still mocked him in his efforts.

So what of his promise to her? Whatever part of him still remembered how to deal with death was telling him that forgetting was the best thing. Tiptoe around these newest memories like he had always done in the past.

Run carefully, yet swiftly, away from that which caused him pain.

[I]"Remember."[/I] He heard her voice again in his head, and tried not to cringe at it.

Then remembered other voices. His father's. His mother's. Again, his thoughts were random. Unpredictable. And he tightened his muscles against whatever thought might come next.

[I]"Remember."[/I] And how could he not?

With a suddenness to rival all other emotions, he realized that he couldn't not remember. That there it would always be. Her life. Her death. And it wasn't something he could walk around in the hopes that it would disappear if he ignored it for long enough.

She was too stubborn for that. And so was her memory.

He kept his lips pressed together firmly, the taste in his mouth growing stronger as he had one more startling realization.

[I]"Remember."[/I] He still wasn't sure what she had meant, but he knew, quite suddenly, that he would one day.

One day soon he would wake up, and there the answers would be. Like the missing pieces of a puzzle. Like the last few scenes of a book. One day it would all make sense.

Thoughts continued to come, in no particular pattern or order. Thoughts of the past. His childhood. His broken innocence. His mother's body. Thoughts of the future. The empty days. The distance that he would put between himself and the rest of the crew.

But then, as if trying to make it up to him, the universe let a moment pass in which his only thought was of her.

He blinked his eyes slowly. And resisted the urge to count.



The End.