Immediately following To Remember, To Forget
-=San Francisco, Earth=-
Wren felt him faltering, and she did all she could to bear as much of his weight as possible as his knees caved in beneath him.
Together they sank slowly to the Tavern's dusty, warped wood floor, until the moment they had found what passed for solid ground and she knew there was no farther he could fall. She released her hold on him for just a second, only long enough to move her hands from his body to his face.
"Rada," her voice sank, suffocated to near extinction beneath the veil of her tears. "You didn't choose any of this. Please, you have to believe that."
His eyes were closed, his countenance giving no indication that he was even hearing her now. His head bowed and she pressed her lips down into his hair, then to his forehead, and finally his cheek before she forced her lips to part from his skin.
I have to stop now, she told herself over and over, knowing that if she didn’t now she never would.
Rada however seemed incapable of stopping himself from anything, let alone from turning to her. His head soon came to rest against her shoulder, his face disappearing beneath her hair as he was overwhelmed by the scent of it. He was at once in that nothing place between surrendering completely to and totally incapable of any reaction to her nearness.
She could feel the conflict within him as emotions suppressed by the memory resequencing fought his reason to come to the surface. Her heart pounded so fast she could not believe it still resided within her chest.
This was the one moment she had most desperately feared but also so secretly longed for. Now that it had finally come, no longer just leaks through the dam but rather the unstoppable flood that broke it, she truly understood that she didn't know what the hell she was actually supposed to do. Words utterly deserted her, until all she could force from her lips was his name.
"I…’ he stammered, gulping for air as the atmosphere seemed to be sucked from the room through the cracks in the aging walls. "I remembered what I'd done but I couldn’t live with it. I took the coward's way, using every ounce of discipline to hide. To forget. I know it. I know what I did was something so horrible that I wanted to die. I…I want to die…"
He had spoken the last three words with so little emotion, not only in tone but truly in his heart as he so coldly spoke of the punishment he thought he deserved that Wren could not bear it a second longer.
"Don't ever say that. It's not true!”
"It is! I know that many people were hurt….killed. I…" he suddenly found he just could not go on.
She felt powerless, useless, as she watched him retreat. He began to pull his knees closer to his chest. The sudden change in posture terrified her; it was entirely too similar to the one she'd seen him in in Sickbay aboard the Sera, before they'd taken him for the resequencing procedure that had cost her his love in the last ditch effort to save his life.
She could not let him return to that place again; it was no different from draining water out of a sinking boat that would forever continue to drop lower until either they drowned or could find and fix the hole. She needed to say and to do everything that she could to try to help him, forgetting for just a little while that he was always slipping further down.
"So many more were saved, Rada, because of you. You were faced with an incomprehensible decision; one that any other man, every lesser man, would have been unable to make and you made it. You did the only thing that you could and you sacrificed everything, including yourself, to save millions of innocent people."
He opened his eyes, staring straight ahead at a fixed point in the distance. It was a point where he could almost see himself, that foolish stranger, standing over him, blindly unseeing as he looked at what he was becoming.
Wren felt the memories attempting to force their way through from his subconscious; viciously tearing him apart in the process.
"What have I done," he cried, his hands again covering his face in shame. "I do not deserve to live. I…"
"No!" Wren forced her body closer to his, wrenching his arms away from him and pulling them around her. She held onto him for dear life; for their life.
"Rada, my darling, you…" His emotions overwhelmed her now and she heaved heavy, shuddering sobs. "You saved us all. You're a hero. You did the only thing you could do though it was absolutely unthinkable to you because you are the best, most moral man I have ever known in my life. You didn't do this for yourself. You did it for everyone else. You did it for every telepath in the Alpha quadrant." She trembled as he stared at her in complete disbelief. "You did it for Lair Arie, and for Tam, and for…."
"I…" He pushed her away forcefully, desperately. The motion was powerful and it hurt her, though in no way could it have been called violent. Of all the things that Rada had ever been, violent was not one of them and never could be, not even in this moment of absolute truth.
"I did it for you, Wren," he said, in disbelief that he had missed the most basic fact of his life for so long. His eyes were suddenly so familiar, so loving, so recognising yet so empty of anything but loathing for what he saw he was. “I murdered a billion other people’s lovers. I cared about no one else just because I wanted you to live for my own sake.”
Wren was motionless now, except for the steady stream of tears she could not stop.
This was the ultimate cruel irony; that he feared he was a monster capable of hurting people; of bringing pain and ruin on entire worlds, when he was the one person in all of this who had been able to prevent those exact things from being carried out by others with premeditated, murderous intent.
Again he was hearing nothing; his mind frantically attempting to force the memories back into a box from which they were far too numerous to have ever come. His success was so limited as to leave his mind the prey of overpowering dizziness, the entire world a twisted distortion of facts half understood. He looked absolutely terrified.
"What are you?" he gasped, trying to pull away but far too weak to rise.
"Rada, listen to me…"
"What kind of telepathic control are you capable of...what have you done to me?"
His mind was breaking down into individual components, like a ship sealing off the compartments around damage to the hull and trapping fragments of him apart from one another. His long-held fear of telepaths asserted itself in this moment, even as he warred within himself because all so much of him wanted to do was to hold on to this particular telepath and kiss her until she too was too weak to stand.
Torn as he felt, he still couldn't accept that he had a right to do anything of the sort, even if it was all he wanted now.
He was clearly dying inside, but Wren still refused to give up.
"Rada, all I have ever tried to do..." Again her soft hands moved over his skin, up and down his arms before her slight, feminine fingers clasped hold of his and refused to let go. "All I have ever done is love you."
She pulled him nearer and pressed her cheek against his, her lips so near his ear that her breath made him shiver. "I loved you from the day I met you. Right here, on this planet. In this city…"
"In this room." His eyes were impossibly wide now, as uncertain as he was of absolutely everything else, he came to realize in this instant exactly why he had so easily broken into this place at her request. "We met in this room. We…"
Suddenly once more he screamed, his pain morphing into barely comprehensible words. His head twisted violently from side to side as if to avoid an unseen, attacking force.
“No…I can’t…I…” His mind was trying to suppress the memories again. It was a hopeless cause, like a single desperate man attempting to rebuild the city walls against the same gale force winds the ripped them down, still howling as he struggled.
He could feel his very ability to repress collapsing, his mind far too exhausted to continue on much longer. He rapidly cycled between stubborn refusal and weary acceptance of the knowledge that once they were gone, so was he.
“Why did I…?!” he half-asked the question, seeing so clearly now all his actions so irredeemable, like the villain in an ancient tragedy played out again and again.
“You had no choice,” she objected, though the words sounded as though they were more whispered by the brush of her tears than having passed her lips. “No one was meant to die. This was the only way no one would die.”
His every muscle was shaking, his lungs barely willing to draw in the necessary air to sustain him. He was growing ever weaker. “I knew,” he said, laughing softly, almost deliriously at his own thoughts. “I knew all that could happen. Yet, I did it anyway…”
Suddenly Wren’s eyes were wider than they’d even been already, as she felt an admiration for the man she’d loved so long that she hadn’t even realised she could for anyone.
“You knew this would happen to you,” she said in disbelief; not that he seemed to hear her words at all. It was clear to her now; Rada would never have cavalierly dismissed the possible deaths of even one person at his hands. He knew what could happen. He knew what it could do to him.
He did it anyway, because no matter what happened to him, she would survive it. He’d loved her that much.
There were now tears in his own eyes, each of a hundred drops that ran down his cheeks carrying with it a little of the man he was. Yet in the world of Rada’s mind it was the rest of reality that was breaking up all around him.
As he retreated further into his thoughts, the collage of simultaneous overlapping memories that had assaulted his eyes turned themselves inward and began to crack across the lines between them, falling and shattering to reveal behind them San Francisco Bay at vibrant sunset.
Every boat, every taste of the ocean, every silenced call of a bird was restored exactly as when his mind last brought him here. Yet a shadow hung over the land and instead of a limp emotionless form on the beach, in the distance he saw Wren sobbing on the ground.
“Can’t you see? You weren’t trying to save me for yourself,” she said sadly, watching him slip away as sand through her fingertips. “Please, you have to fight this for me. I need you.”
Though the image Rada saw was still so far away, he heard her in the perfect crystal clarity of a voice carried tenderly by the wind to his ears. As numb as he felt, in this still world not quite of nightmares but rather of faded dreams, he didn’t really hear it.
He was so tired and this world would be so easy to dissolve into. His mind swore to him that she didn’t really know who he was enough to love him anyway, and he found that though his small steps towards her across the sand grew no slower, he seemed not to move anymore.
It didn’t seem like he could help her no matter how he wanted to. The ocean waves were growing more violent, crashing behind her on the shore. He grew frustrated as he tried to reach her; his steps only seemed to draw him further away, until he could barely see her anymore.
“I didn’t think you could love me for who I am but I was wrong,” she said, her face buried in hands soaked in tears as she sank down further onto her knees. “I know you do.”
“Of course, I love you,” Rada said softly, though as the ocean began a mighty roar, even here he didn’t think she’d be able to hear him.
Rada knew so little now, but somehow he understood that this place had just become a much less comfortable one in which to die. From still air, the wind had grown vicious. The waves were now building higher, angrier. They attempted to drench her, yet each seemed to curve away from her before they struck, only to erase the sand around her, leaving nothing but blackness beneath the sea; an eternal distance to fall. The sun that had hovered above him set now, fading into an infinite night.
“No,” she said so miserably, in the real world taking him so tight in her arms, but here not even seeming to move.
To Rada’s mind, it was like her words were a response to what he’d said, and a small part of him woke again. Half the beach had now washed away; the malevolent waves had begun to form a whirlpool around her.
“Of course, I love you!” he shouted over the noise, it was the one thing he knew for sure in this mess. His voice seemed to echo all around him as if spoken not by his own lips. Yet, to his confusion, she still didn’t appear to hear him.
“This can’t be the end,” she pled. "Not after all we've been."
Soon the waves that were suddenly reaching much too far from the ocean were crashing down around him, up above the height of his knees. In a single movement the ground beneath him was ripped away, yet he somehow didn’t fall and here that made sense. He could even now hear her sob as the water moved rapidly all around the tiny sand island on which she still survived, threatening to consume her, and that was what his mind began to focus on.
“Rada…” her muffled voice, so much more distant than her physical form, could now only call his name.
He was growing so very cold as the circling, freezing water built to his neck, pulling him to and fro. His eyes still never left her as his steps beneath the water, growing now faster, began to draw him a little nearer.
It was still too far, it was still not enough. He was losing her; she was in pain, and he could take it no longer. He would and he should do anything to save her.
As he saw the beach now completely gone, except for Wren’s tiny island, in this flooded land of water that seemed to reach forever, there truly was only one thing left here to matter. The swelling tide threatened to pull him under, but something in him made him fight now against it. He was struggling against forces that felt far greater than himself and winds that should be able to rip him apart, yet he was somehow growing closer.
Soon his nose was buried and suddenly he was choking, having to fight to swim upward just enough to get above the water to breathe. For a terrifying moment she was lost from his sight. As his eyes left the water again, he could still see her, protected by a cone of water held back all around her by nothing but his will.
She still felt so far, even as his viciously kicking arms and legs were drawing him ever nearer. Though the world here was so loud now, he still heard her tears, even as the water filled his ears. This world should have been far too strong, still he found he was moving unstoppably towards her through the water, until eventually his movements felt unhindered by it at all.
Then finally he was so close to her, and he dove downwards into the water to the new ocean floor. He could see her just in front of him, as he was on the wrong side of very walls that kept her safe. He knew he had to get to her though and so without a single doubt for his course of action he thrust his arm through the water and into the small pocket of air around her, yet somehow the walls didn’t break. Finally she reacted to him, looking up to him, as his fingers brushed her cheek.
In an instant, everything changed. The world turned eerily silent, the water draining away, as he felt himself being dragged swiftly backwards. This time he knew he should not be afraid; she was moving with him.
He found the world around him was rapidly rebuilding. Soon it was no longer the confusing mess of images or memories but simply the walls and the roof of a small tavern in San Francisco. Wren was in front of it all, leaning over him so the tears that fell from her beautiful eyes were landing on his face. As she came into full focus, he found himself suddenly panting, gasping in pain for every breath, but with no fear for his life.
His strength was barely enough to move at all. Yet as he looked up to her and saw that she saw him; that she knew he remembered now and was still here, the strongest smile began to pass onto his lips that should be far too exhausted to do anything at all.
Her own lips greeted him with a beautiful sound, quite far from a sob, as she bent over to so passionately kiss him.
In spite of all that he still struggled for air he kissed her back, so lovingly, and she knew that it was real. Though tears were still in her eyes, when finally they broke the kiss, each of their faces was full of new hope and new adoration for one another.
Still looking up to her and with those same smiling lips, he whispered gloriously familiar words, words that seemed brand new in this moment along with the rest of the world.
Spoken so softly and with such certainty, they meant more to her than any others she'd ever heard. “I love you, Wren. I love you.”
Lt. Commander Rada Dengar
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012