“You know, ever since we met, I’ve noticed something about you,” Kyle said. He lay on a lounger beside Dani on a white sand beach in a quiet, less touristy part of Risa. There were a few others out enjoying the sand and sparkling water, but this particular beach wasn’t nearly as crowded as the more popular beaches located near the busier resorts.
“What’s that?” Dani asked, responding to Kyle’s statement.
“You’re attracted to men with power,” Kyle said.
Dani’s head whipped around to Kyle, as she prepared to fire a defense at him, but she hesitated before the rebuttal could leave her mouth. When she took a second to think about it, she realized that Kyle’s observation probably wasn’t that outrageous.
“Let’s see, there was Commander Riker, Gul Dukat…and now Captain Archer,” Kyle continued.
Instead of becoming defensive, Dani reflected on Kyle’s observation for a moment. “You’re right,” she said. “I never noticed it before because no one’s ever said it out loud to me. But in my defense, I grew up surrounded by powerful people. I’m accustomed to being around them.” She shrugged. “I guess it’s subconsciously affected what I find attractive in men.”
Kyle propped himself up on his elbow and angled himself to face Dani. “There’s something I’ve been dying to know for a while,” he said.
“What is it?” Dani asked.
“What exactly was the deal with Dukat?” Kyle asked. “I mean, how did you ever end up with him?”
“I don’t want to talk about him,” Dani said calmly, staring out at the ocean.
Kyle shook his head. “I’m sorry, I’m an idiot for even asking. I…I can imagine that the whole ordeal must have been devastating for you. I know you cared deeply for him.”
Dani looked at Kyle but didn’t say anything. “No doubt you heard about the condition I was in when they found me on Cardassia Prime,” she said.
“Yeah. They said it was Stockholm syndrome. But I know better than that.”
Dani released a small laugh. “Oh, really?” she asked, somewhat skeptically and somewhat warily. She was unsure of what Kyle was driving at here.
Kyle sat up on his lounger and swung his legs over the side so that he was now fully facing Dani. He buried his feet in the soft sand and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. “Ever since we found each other again, I’ve been struggling with something,” he said. “There’s something I’ve been debating whether or not to tell you. At first, I thought it would be best to just let the past stay in the past, but the more time that passes, the more I feel like I’m keeping a big secret from you, and it’s making me feel like shit.”
By this point, Dani had also sat up and turned to face Kyle. “Kyle — what is it?”
“Dani,” Kyle began, “I was there, that night on Cardassia Prime, when…when Dukat was killed.”
Dani’s mouth hung open, unable to form any words. She didn’t have to. Kyle knew that the information came as a total shocker to her.
He continued. “You were sitting there, crying over Dukat’s body,” Kyle said. “I told you that we had to leave because it wouldn’t be safe for you there without Dukat’s protection. On the way to the transport, I told you not to look back.”
Dani couldn’t believe she was hearing this. “But I distinctly remember a pair of brown eyes looking at me when those words were spoken. The face was covered by a mask, but I remember the eyes. Your eyes have been blue for as long as I’ve known you.”
“Everyone on that mission had their appearances altered slightly,” Kyle explained. “It’s a safety measure. We all had brown eyes then.”
Dani wanted to ask him why he’d never told her any of this, but she thought she knew the answer – that the mission had been classified.
“I would have told you sooner,” Kyle said, “Only…only…” He swallowed hard. “The phaser blast that killed him came from my rifle.”
Dani inhaled sharply. For a moment, she felt like she was watching Marac get shot all over again, only now, instead of a faceless, masked figure, it was Kyle’s face she saw at the other end of the rifle.
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Kyle quickly added. “I thought I was protecting you. At that time, I didn’t know the extent of your relationship with him. I just knew what I’d been told by my superiors, which was that you were being held at his house as a political prisoner. When he reached into his pocket, I had no way of knowing what he was going to bring out. Training kicked in, and when you’re in a situation like that, you shoot first and ask questions later.”
Dani rose from her lounger and began to walk away.
“Dani?” Kyle said, standing. “Dani?” He moved to go after her, but she shook her head and held her hand out behind her.
“I need to be by myself right now,” she said. “Please. It’s…I just want to be alone for a while.”
Kyle hung back. “Okay,” he said, nodding. “Okay.” He watched Dani walk away from him toward some unknown destination.
Dani didn’t know where she was going. She didn’t really care. She only wanted to be alone, away from everyone. So she kept walking until she could no longer see Kyle.
A nature path veered off from the beach, on Dani’s left. She couldn’t recall ever having been on this path in any of her previous trips to Risa. There was also the distinct possibility that this trail had ceased to exist by the 24th Century.
The lush foliage created a canopy over parts of the trail, providing shade. Beautiful slivers of sunlight shone through the trees, shimmering down onto the path below.
The setting was gorgeous and peaceful – but it still wasn’t enough to distract Dani from the news she’d just learned from Kyle. She knew he didn’t have a reason to lie, but she still couldn’t completely wrap her mind around the fact that he’d been there when Dukat had died – that he’d fired the blast that had killed him. It had been one of the most intimate and vulnerable moments of her life, and while part of her found comfort in the fact that it had been Kyle, rather than a stranger, who’d been there with her, another part of her was angry about that very same fact. She and Kyle had been good friends – part of a group of best friends – at the Academy, yet he never bothered to tell her that he’d been there for that traumatic event in her life, even after they’d reunited with each other for this current mission. It wasn’t fair for her to blame him for following orders, she knew, especially since she would have been obliged to do the same. But it still angered her.
I should at least give him credit for eventually speaking up, Dani thought.
The path she was following had started to curve so sharply that it could nearly be considered a corner. She didn’t see Jonathan Archer coming from the opposite direction until she’d already stumbled into him.
Startled by the run-in and shaken from her thoughts, Dani apologized and said, “My mind was somewhere else completely, and I wasn’t paying attention to what was in front of me.”
“It’s kind of a blind curve,” Archer said. “It’s a pleasant path when you aren’t having collisions, though.”
Dani managed a small grin. She was glad for the distraction, even if it was Archer, another complicated facet of her life.
“Have you been down this path before?” Archer asked her.
“No, surprisingly,” Dani replied. “For some reason, I never came across it in my time.” She shrugged. “Maybe it doesn’t exist anymore by then. Some resort could be sitting on top of it for all I know.”
“It’s a shame because it really is a beautiful walk,” Archer said. He and Dani began to walk together.
“Where does it lead?” Dani asked.
“I don’t know,” Archer said. “I guess we’ll find out.”
They walked in silence for a few moments. While Archer wasn’t at the top of her list of people she wanted to spend time with right now, he was here. And Dani needed to talk to someone. Since Archer was here, he would do.
Dani asked, “Have you ever had one of those moments where you find out something that makes you question something you used to think was unshakeable?”
“I think everyone has those moments,” Archer said. “Have you had one recently?”
Dani nodded, then launched into her story. “I was involved with a guy a while ago, and it was a complicated situation,” she began. “He wasn’t…a lot of people thought was a despicable person. And yeah, he did some reprehensible stuff in his past, a lot of it, actually. But somehow, I still managed to fall in love with this person. He died in my arms after being shot. I just found out that the man who shot him is a good friend of mine from the Academy.”
Archer studied her for a moment. “Kyle?”
Dani gave a small nod. “He was part of a covert team that was sent to rescue me,” she said. “It was, hands down, the worst day of my life, and I just found out that one of my best friends was responsible for it.”
“Are you sure it was him?” Archer asked.
“He just told me,” Dani said. “Not more than half an hour ago. It’s not like I can really fault him for it. He was performing his duty. And he didn’t know what my relationship with Marac was. But that doesn’t make the reality of it any better.
They stopped walking near a stone bench. “Are you okay?” Archer asked.
Dani walked over to the bench and sat down. “Honestly, I’m not sure,” she said. “I don’t know how I can ever look at Kyle again and not have all those memories come up. I’m glad he told me, but at the same time, I hate it because it feels like our relationship might never be the same now. I’m not really sure what to think now. Or what to say to him.”
Archer sat down beside her. “Maybe you shouldn’t try to think about saying the perfect thing right now,” he said. “Just say whatever comes naturally. Or say nothing at all for now. There’s no reason why you have to talk to him about it right away. What’s the rush? There are times that call for diplomacy and other times that call for simplicity. I think this is one of those situations where you need to rely on the latter.”
“Even if that mans not being able to be around Kyle right now?” Dani asked.
Archer nodded. “Yeah, I think so. I know that’s not an attractive prospect right now in your position, but if it’s something that you think is going to be a huge issue, something that you don’t want to have to deal with on top of everything else, doing nothing may be the best course of action right now.”
Dani sighed heavily. “This is not how I thought I’d be spending shore leave,” she said. “Reliving the one memory I wish I could forget forever.”
“You may not be able to avoid it forever, but you don’t have to think about it right now,” Archer said. “You don’t have I come up with a solution right this minute. Do you?”
Dani shook her head. “Have any suggestions for appropriate distractions?” she asked.
Archer ran through the sand right up to the shore line, then kept running, splashing water around him until he was finally far enough out to dive, full-body, into the surf. He went under for a few seconds before his head and torso broke through the surface again as he stood, now chest-deep in the water. He wiped water away from his eyes and face, and waved at Dani, beckoning her to join him.
Archer had brought Dani to a secluded bay just off the main trail where they’d first run into each other earlier in the day. At the moment, no one else was there, but it was literally off the beaten path, and wasn’t likely to become popular with most tourists.
Dani hesitated only a moment before ripping her sarong away and running into the water toward Archer. To her, it symbolized running away from everything that had been troubling he, from the problems that had arisen with Kyle to the issue of being stuck 200 years in the past. Though, being stuck in this particular time was proving not to be such a bad thing, she thought, especially since Jon Archer was turning out to be such a good ally.
As if to prove her point, a large wave crashed into Dani just as she approached Archer, and he caught her in his arms so that it didn’t knock her down. But even after the wave had receded, Archer didn’t let Dani go.
“Sorry,” Archer said. “I just can’t seem to let go of you.”
“That’s okay,” Dani said. “I don’t want you to.”
Archer took that as his cue. He leaned forward and kissed Dani, this time with much more confidence than he’d had the previous day in the caves.