The Coloured Counties
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
The title is from Bredon Hill, a poem by A.E. Housman.
John Sheridan's eyes snapped open, and he wondered what had woken him. It was dark, and quiet, with only a low light on the end table next to the bed shedding any illumination. For a moment, he was disoriented, wondering at the amount of space around him. This wasn't his cabin on the Agamemnon; the room felt too big, and was too light, even in the darkness. Lying still for a moment, he listened, and heard nothing. There was no one there. It was just a dream; another dream, a dream about Anna.
It wasn't surprising. After he'd seen Lizzie off, after he'd finished work, he'd returned to his quarters. He'd thought briefly about re-watching the data crystal his sister had left him, but decided against it. The scene was etched on his mind now; he wouldn't forget. It wasn't surprising after the last couple of days that the dreams had returned. Sitting up, he poured a glass of cool water from the steel pitcher by the bed. The cool fluid slid down easily, soothing a throat still stinging from tears he hadn't been able to shed. His mother had always told him to try and remember his nightmares; then they wouldn't come back. This hadn't exactly been a nightmare, but still he leaned back in the bed, his fingers interlaced behind his head, and tried to remember.
At first it had been familiar, one of several dark scenarios he'd grown accustomed to in the last two years. He'd been chasing Anna, down city streets and twisting alleys filled with dark shadows. She flitted away, just out of sight, her black dress merging with the cloudy darkness. He would run, heart pounding, after her. Every time he paused, he would catch a glimpse of white skin and red hair, flashing briefly across his vision, and he's start again, calling her name, calling to her to wait. At last, he'd stopped, out of breath and frantic, staring blankly into the black night, trying to see where she had gone. Then, abruptly, as dreams do, the scene changed.
He was laying flat on his back, bright sunlight outlining her flame-red hair as she leaned over him. The loose strands tickled his nose, and he reached up to tuck one wisp behind her ear. "Where am I?" he asked, not really wanting to hear the answer. Grass rustled beneath him as he moved, and a sweet dry smell rose from the crushed plants.
"Does it matter?" she said with a smile. "We're together. For now." She turned her head briefly, looking into the dark forest on the boundary of the wheat field. "I don't have much time. I wanted to show you something."
"Do you have to go?" His voice cracked on the words, like his heart had cracked when he'd heard her fate all those long months gone. She was looking away again, staring into the shadows under the dense trees. The field was full of ripe wheat, waving in a gentle wind, golden, like the hazel of her eyes as she turned to him.
"Of course I do. Everyone has to go, when it's time." She was wearing a sleeveless blue dress, scoop-necked, and made of some soft, clingy material. Her face was set off by a burnished copper halo silhouetted against the clear blue sky.
He propped himself up on one elbow, and stroked her bare arm with his hand. The skin was warm, and the soft light hair on her forearms was beaded with sweat. It was hot, he realized; the sun was beating down on them, and his hair was being lifted by the stiffening breeze. "You're not really here, are you?"
She shook her head, lips pressed tightly together, as if to hold in some great secret. "I just came to show you..."
He sat up and tried to take her in his arms, and the scene faded away again.
It was cooler, and there were patches of snow dotting the brown stubble of the field. He was walking alongside her, holding her hand. Her hand was cold; like snow, like death. He clutched at it, like a child.
"Now, look, John. This is what I wanted to show you." Anna knelt down and parted the dead and dying tufts of grass and spilled grain.
Following her down, looking over her shoulder, he stooped and stared. There were fine green shoots pushing their way up, through the dark loam. They almost shone against the black earth, a promise of the future in the fragile stems. He looked at Anna, her face intent, as she moved the damp, dying strands of wheat away from the living plants, freeing them, giving them the space they needed to grow. "I need to tell you something, Anna, before you go," he said urgently, not knowing how long they had.
"Of course," she said, not looking up from her work. "But it's not necessary. I know already."
"Know what?" he said. She seemed to be fading into the earth below her strong and capable hands.
Then he was standing, alone, his own hands closed on empty air. He could see her, at the far edge of the field, half-turned towards the dark forest. "Anna!" he called. "I love you!" She turned back, raised her hand to her eyes, shading them from the now setting sun. At his feet, the newly uncovered shoots had faded to grey in the dimming light. She nodded and raised her hand in farewell. Then she turned her back to him, straightened her shoulders, and walked away.
"I love you." The words were on his lips, spoken in the here and now. John leaned forward, blinking away the tears standing in his eyes, picked up the glass to take another sip of water, and checked the chronometer. Two more hours until he had to get up. He punched his pillow into soft submission, and fell back against it. As his mind slowed and stilled, he smiled: not a nightmare this time. He pictured the field, again, and Anna. Spring was always a surprise, every time it came around. Vaguely he remembered that he'd seen that color before, the soft grey-green of the new growth she had shown him. Eyes, he thought. The Minbari ambassador had green eyes...or were they grey? He'd have to remember to take a closer look. Tomorrow, he thought, there's plenty of time. It was just the beginning. He drifted off to a peaceful sleep, devoid of dreams.