… no matter how far we travel, or how fast we get there, the most profound discoveries are not necessarily beyond that next star. They're within us, woven into the threads that bind us, all of us, to each other. – Jonathan Archer
The rain spattering against the shuttle is relentless. It reminds me of the monsoon rains pelting the roof of my parents’ house in Malaysia when I was a child. I used to find it soothing, but the marked contrast with the silence of deep space nearly makes me forget where I am when I wake from a sleep I’d fought to avoid.
Rationally, I knew I couldn’t function without sleep, that I’d be of no help to the man lying on the other shuttle bunk, fading in and out of consciousness. But another part of me worried about not being available, should he need anything. Apparently, I lost that battle with exhaustion a few hours ago, still half-sitting on the narrow berth, propped up against the bulkhead. I retrieve a PADD from the floor; it must have slipped from my hands when I fell asleep while recording a log entry. Shaking off the sleep and a stiffness in my neck, my first priority is to check on the captain.
He appears to be asleep, resting more comfortably than he has over the last few days. He’s thrown off most of the blanket I’d tucked around him, but he doesn’t feel feverish, so I leave it where it is. I’d been worried about shock in the first hours after his injury, and knew he needed to be kept warm. His damp hair clung to his forehead then, but it’s dry now and I smooth it as best I can with my fingertips.
After our rough landing, I’d field-set and immobilized his broken leg. My emergency medic training and the shuttle’s medical supplies permitted that much. Phlox could mend the fracture properly in due time. I’m sure Jonathan will need another analgesic soon, but he’s not showing the restlessness I’ve come to associate with his being in pain.
The head injury was another matter. As best I could determine with the emergency medscanner, there was no internal bleeding, but he must have suffered a serious concussion to result in the intermittent unconsciousness and disorientation. Thankfully, that seems to be lessening, but for the first day and night it was touch and go… I was very afraid he was slipping away.
He had opened his eyes as I was treating a cut on his forehead, but managed only a few words. “Malcolm… where? Crashed?”
I don’t know if he was asking where we crashed or if he was looking for me. I’m not even sure he recognized me. He was in no condition for a status report so I kept it simple. I made sure my face was in his field of view and lightly rested a hand on his chest. “I’m right here – you’re safe. On the planet…” But he’d already closed his eyes and slipped back into sleep. Rest was the best thing for him, and I hoped it would be peaceful.
I remember feeling a moment of déjà vu. I’ve never forgotten my own brush with death in a shuttlepod. Waking in sickbay on Enterprise – safe, alive, and looking up into the face of the man I’d feared was dead – was almost overwhelming. The sound of his voice and the warmth of his hand on my chest had touched me deeply. So my hand lingered a little over his heart and I resolved not to let him wake up alone.
Personal Log – Malcolm Reed
Since being stranded here, I’ve had a lot of time to think about things, beginning with our mission. Captain Archer was eager to make the contact, to meet these people who had expressed a strong interest in the Coalition he’d worked so hard to build. Since their representative suggested a meeting location not too far from where Enterprise was due to drop off several passengers, the captain decided that a short detour by shuttle would be possible. He had nodded at me, saying only ‘Malcolm,’ and I’d hurriedly tossed some things into a duffle and joined him in the launch bay – much relieved that he understood the need for security precautions without being reminded.
The mission did not go as anticipated. The diplomatic meetings were unproductive, almost blatantly so. I’d had my suspicions from the first session, but the captain wanted to give it a chance – perhaps these people were vague and dissembling by nature. I blame myself for not recognizing that this was a setup. We were followed by an armed scout vessel when we left.
Noticing this, the captain wove an intricate course in the shuttlecraft, doubling back to verify our suspicion that we were indeed being followed. Since it would be impossible to outrun them long enough to reach Enterprise, he veered off toward what appeared to be a small Class M type planet. It showed signs of having extremely active ion storms in the upper atmosphere, which might throw the pursuit off our trail.
But before we got there, the first attack came.
I’ve spent much of today working on such repairs to the shuttle systems as are possible with the limited tools and supplies we have onboard. I did manage to get the comm working well enough to begin transmitting an automated distress signal. I don’t know if it will penetrate the ion activity, and I’m concerned about it being picked up by the hostile ship we landed here to evade. But the alternative – giving Enterprise no way to locate us – is unacceptable.
While attempting the repairs, I can’t stop thinking about our first night here. Jonathan had been feverish, tossing his head from side to side as he lay on the uncomfortably narrow bunk. Sometime during that long night, when I was afraid I really might lose him before help could arrive, he’d searched out my hand again, clasping it as an anchor… and he kept calling for me. It’s not unusual for him to use my name rather than my rank, but this didn’t sound the same as when he asks for information or is making casual conversation. The tone was intimate, his words making it clear that he was speaking to a Malcolm I’d never become – his lover.
The warmth of his hand holding onto mine provided an unexpected reassurance of something beyond the fact that he lived. In trying to understand why that was so important to me, I realized it was time to stop pretending I didn’t know the answer.
I thought there would always be tomorrow. Some part of me knew there was never a guarantee of that, even as another part insisted that there would be time. Time enough to let a relationship grow and develop, time enough to finally drop the last layer of defense that kept me from accepting what Jonathan had repeatedly offered… in his eyes, in his touches. But the status quo always prevailed, though maintaining it had become increasingly difficult for me as we faced death again and again.
I watched over him through the night. At one point, not knowing if he’d hear me – and half-afraid that he would – I leaned close and touched my lips to his, whispering words I’d never dare to say aloud. “Stay, love… until tomorrow.”
The next day was much the same. The rain continued unabated, soaking through my improvised rain-gear every time I ventured outside the shuttle. As I was drying off after one such trip, I thought I felt Jonathan’s gaze on me. Not normally much concerned with modesty, for some reason the thought that he might be watching me brought a flush to my face and another, less-expected, response from my body. But when I turned toward him, he appeared to be asleep… so I don’t know if I’d imagined the moment.
Trying to sort out my thoughts, I picked up the abandoned PADD and continue my log.
Resume Personal Log
After tending to Jonathan’s medical and personal needs, I find myself mulling over the way things have developed between us over the years – in particular, thinking about the occasions when we’ve drawn closer only to have one of us pull away… usually me.
The first time, he probably expected it. The bond between us after my attempted heroics in the minefield was new and fragile, and Jonathan seemed content at our having come so far from that mercifully interrupted breakfast. It left me with a lot to think about as I recuperated in sickbay.
I basked again in that one moment of clarity – both of us safely back on Enterprise, a smile on his lips and in his eyes, his arms supporting me as I leaned against his chest. It was an intimacy I’d surely never have permitted under any normal circumstances.
But all too soon the self-recrimination set in. What had I done… on the hull, in the launch bay? How much had I revealed about Malcolm Reed and what would Jonathan Archer do with all he had learned? I didn’t expect him to ‘bust my ass back to crewman’ as he’d mentioned on the hull, though he probably should have done. But I simply had no idea how to reconcile our personal versus professional relationships. How I could possibly maintain the latter after having shared so much of myself with the man who was, first and foremost, my commanding officer?
Not long afterward, when we were nearly executed as enemy spies, the intensity of our hours together seemed to propel us toward a desperate intimacy that I both craved and feared. In the end, I accepted the comfort of Jonathan’s words and his closeness, offering little in return except my fears. But the look in his eyes as he watched over me while I tried to sleep, and the catch in his voice as he pleaded for my life, said what I wouldn’t let him speak. On the gallows, I didn’t dare look at him, but felt his eyes on me until the moment the rescue party arrived.
Following the escape from Rura Penthe, Jonathan came to my quarters after being released from sickbay. Porthos was at his heels, tail wagging happily. He wanted to thank me for the rescue… as if his unmistakable joy when he’d recognized me hadn’t been thanks enough. That night his hand lingered a little longer than usual on my shoulder, but I still seemed unable to accept what he was offering, what he so plainly wanted us to share.
Perhaps if he had spoken of it aloud… I don’t know whether that was what I was waiting for. I’ve had so little experience with anything lasting longer than a single awkward date. Maybe I didn’t trust my own instincts enough to be sure that Jonathan was really interested in more than that, despite every indication that a one-night stand was the last thing he’d want from me.
On that evening in my quarters, we were interrupted by a call from the bridge, and his voice held more disappointment than hope as he left me with the suggestion that we might talk again later.
Later never happened. One thing led to another and another… and then the Xindi attacked Earth. And nearly everything changed. Despite all of the ways he was being affected by the burden he carried, I knew he still needed his tactical officer. And it became clear that he also needed me as something more – a devil’s advocate, a sounding board. I would be that for him. I listened when he needed to talk, swallowed hard when he lashed out, and stood by him even as he seemed hell-bent on sacrificing himself.
Oddly, that drew me closer. After all his words to me on the hull about heroics, he was clearly planning some of his own. I suspected it when he insisted on going to Azati Prime alone, and knew it with certainty when he wouldn’t allow me to detonate the Xindi weapon. That was to be his duty, his sacrifice… not to go down with his ship, but to go down saving it… saving us all… saving me.
I’ve never felt a loss more deeply than when I was sure he hadn’t survived the weapon destruction. People turned to one another for what comfort they could find, and I felt completely alone, mourning the passing of something I’d never allowed to flourish even as I mourned the man.
With Enterprise drawn into a series of crisis situations following the Xindi mission, we never did continue that conversation from over a year earlier. I didn’t know if he’d lost interest, or hope, or both. Then came the incident with Harris… I nearly lost everything, and sitting in my own brig I finally realized just how bloody much that would be.
Jonathan had always left it up to me about whether to take the next step. And I’ve spent more sleepless nights than I can count lost in thoughts of what it would be like to be with him… not just the fantasies that relieved the aching need, but thoughts of what it might be like to share our lives and grow old together. Perhaps that was the real fantasy, not the imagining of how he might touch me in bed.
During our confrontation over Harris, I saw another aspect of him – his anger at my betrayal of his trust was overlaid with disappointment, almost grief, for the loss of the trust and rapport we’d developed over the years. And something more – there was a possessiveness that he couldn’t or wouldn’t hide. I can’t really call it jealousy, though he might have assumed – incorrectly – there was more to my association with Harris than the prior and conflicting loyalty I thought I owed the bastard.
If he’d acted on what he clearly wanted to do in the moment when his face was mere inches from mine, I know I couldn’t have… wouldn’t have pushed him away. We were close enough that I could feel heat radiating from his body, and saw the pulse quicken in his neck. But that was the one time it was Jonathan who drew back. I’ve wondered if it was because while angry sex would have relieved a palpable tension, what we would have shared wouldn’t have been on the same terms as the partnership he truly wanted. For that matter, it wouldn’t have been how I’d imagined our first time together either. But I knew then that his feelings about me hadn’t disappeared… at least not until my betrayal.
I know how much I hurt him in breaking the trust between us. He didn’t need to mend it – he could have had me transferred immediately. But not only did I regain the Captain’s trust in his Tactical Officer, but also Jonathan’s trust in me personally. It took time, but I knew his forgiveness was real. That meant everything to me, and I was determined to be content with the way things were between us.
That might be part of the reason I was so affected by what I overheard here last night – when he was talking to me in his sleep as if I were his lover. I don’t know how I could possibly still deserve that kind of devotion, if I ever did.
Today, after so much silence, the sound of his voice startles me from my thoughts. “You look like hell, Malcolm.”
Despite the ragged hoarseness of his voice, I’m so relieved that he sounds so normal that I blurt out the first words that come to mind. “Begging your pardon, sir, but I could say the same.”
I reach for the bottle of water I kept nearby and offer it to him, slipping a hand beneath his head to help him lift it enough to drink. He licks his lips after taking a few sips and there is still confusion in his eyes and his words. “What happened? Last thing I remember is the shuttle being hit… attacked? Where are we… how long…?”
I lay my fingertips across his lips for a moment, stilling the questions that are tumbling out. The gesture surprises me; my days as his caregiver must have made me more casual about personal contact.
“We were attacked – very likely by rogue terrorists from Terra Prime. I’ve been analyzing the weapons signature and it appears to correlate with weapons known to remain in the possession of Terra Prime agents.” His eyes widen, and I add, “You probably don’t want to ask me how I know that, sir.”
There is more to explain. “They broke off the attack when they hit the tropopause. There was an ion storm that did a hell of a lot more damage than their weapons did… knocked out our communications and navigation systems.
“And you were injured in the attack. After the first volley broke through our hull plating, you ordered me to take the helm while you attempted to seal a fissure. Then the next attack hit, knocking you back against the opposite bulkhead. You landed badly, with a broken leg and a head injury.”
I pause only for a moment. “That was three days ago.”
I can see Jonathan trying to process what he’d heard… and what I’d left unsaid. He reaches for more water, taking his time, drinking slowly. When he does speak, his voice is calm and the words come more easily.
“I hope they’re on their way, Captain. I know you told T’Pol not to bring the ship anywhere near this area unless there was an emergency. I believe the prolonged break in communications would qualify as such, so I assume they will be arriving soon. But they’ve no sure way to contact us… and I don’t know if their sensors are going to be of much use in locating us if that ion storm is still active.”
With a problem to work on, Jonathan’s head seems to be clearing. “A beacon? Or did you set up some kind of rotating frequency signal?”
I shake my head. “Only the standard distress signal from the shuttle. My landing wasn’t the best, sir. We’re deep in some kind of ravine. A beacon would be more effectively deployed out in the open, preferably on a hilltop, but this shuttle isn’t going anywhere without major repairs to the propulsion system.”
I’m not sure how much else to tell him, but his eyes ask another question that deserves an answer. “I didn’t leave the shuttle for more than a few minutes at a time… only long enough to do some limited reconnaissance. I couldn’t leave you here alone.”
I don’t add the rest of the thought that had haunted me then… that I couldn’t bear to return and find he’d slipped away in my absence. And that I wouldn’t risk my own injury or death out there, which would mean leaving him to live or die alone.
“Nothing that appears to be sentient, at least that I could detect. The ion storms here seem to be unusually violent and persistent – it probably discouraged colonization.”
There is more that I need to say. I don’t know what he remembers of that first feverish, half-conscious day and night, but I tell him what I overheard.
It feels less awkward than I expected, addressing him by name when he’s awake to hear it. “We’ve spent the past few days in very close quarters… and I’ve tried to take as much care for your privacy as I could and still tend to your injuries and your personal needs.” I notice him glancing down at his half clothed body, and though he doesn’t blush, I do.
He nods and lowers his head to the makeshift pillow. I hope this hasn’t been too exhausting for him. But he doesn’t close his eyes, and his words shift from the professional to the personal as he tries to recall the past few days.
“I don’t remember much about the crash… and aftermath… at least not clearly. Mostly what I have are impressions of sound and touch. Your voice was an anchor, Malcolm. I felt detached from everything I knew I should be worried about, but hearing your voice – talking to me, recording logs – was something I could hold onto.”
I’m startled, and can’t keep my surprise out of my voice. “Recording logs? You heard that? I thought I was speaking too softly to disturb you. I should have written them rather than recording them, I suppose.”
I vividly remember the contents of those logs and feel the heat flushing my face… I had been thinking aloud when I composed those, trying to sort though the strands of my conflicting feelings and history with this man.
Returning to what I’d started to say to him, I apologize. “You were talking in your sleep, sir… I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”
“You could hardly help it… this shuttle isn’t very big. Did I incriminate anyone?”
His tone is light, but I still hesitate before replying. “Just yourself, perhaps… I’m not sure I was meant to hear it. I knew you weren’t fully conscious, but you seemed to be talking to me… rather personally.”
Taking a deep breath, I forge ahead. “And I need to ask… if you meant it as it sounded.”
There’s barely a moment’s hesitation before he replies. “Apparently we both heard things we didn’t expect to hear. But maybe that’s the only way either of us would ever have said them.”
Jonathan reaches for my hand, slowly stroking his thumb across my palm. I never realized that such a simple caress could feel so intimate.
“Your touch… when I was drifting, it distracted me from the pain and the fog. Thank you for that. It made me feel safe… if you were taking care of me, you’d also be taking care of everything else I should be worried about.“
He closes his eyes for a moment before reaching up to touch my cheek, smooth-shaven in contrast to his three-day growth. “I don’t know exactly what I might have said… but if it sounded like I cared about you, that I loved you… yes, it’s true. But I don’t want to force anything… I never wanted that.”
My breath catches and I press my cheek against his fingertips, wanting to prolong the moment. The time for dissembling has passed, on both our parts. I make sure that we make eye contact before replying. “You’re not. I’m ready to hear it now.”
“Are you sure, Malcolm?”
Jonathan’s voice is little more than a whisper, maybe from disuse or thirst, or perhaps as a result of what I’m seeing in his eyes – something that looks like hope vying with disbelief. That makes me even more certain of my decision. I nod, tightening my hand around his. “Yes. I’ve never been more sure of anything.”
He has every right to question me, not because he thinks I might be lying, but because we’ve been close to this moment more than once before. And he was seldom the one to draw away, to restore the façade of formality between us once the moment passed.
Jonathan pushes himself into a more upright position on the bunk. Moving his splinted leg is awkward and probably painful, so I slip an arm around his shoulders to help him. And I stay close beside him; there’s little space but I suddenly want to share his. After we get settled as comfortably as is possible, he has one more question for me. “Why now?”
There are so many ways I could answer that, but what comes out isn’t what I expected to say. “I love you.”
After surprising myself with the frank admission, the rest is easier. “I realized I couldn’t bear to lose you… not to death, not to indifference, not to my fears of impropriety. And if I wanted you to live, maybe I needed to choose to live along with you.”
The look in his eyes is intense, and holds some of the same possessiveness as I saw when he learned I’d betrayed him in dealing with Harris. “Malcolm, I’ve cared about you… loved you… for a long time. And I’ve always needed you. No matter whether we have a professional relationship, or a friendship… or much more... I need you. And you’ve always been there, during all we’ve both gone through. I can’t imagine you not being by my side.”
I nod, finally understanding why he would never push for anything other than what I could offer. It didn’t mean he didn’t want more, only that he was afraid of risking what we did share. Not unlike my own thinking, in the end.
He turns his hand in my clasp and threads our fingers together for a long moment before drawing me even closer, tilting my face up, holding my gaze all the while. I’m not sure which of us begins the kiss, but neither of us wants to end it… until the very unexpected beep of the comm panel interrupts the moment.
The static is fierce, but it’s clearly a signal from Enterprise. “Only Hoshi would use that particular frequency. The ion storm must have abated enough to get the signal through.”
“You’d better answer it, Lieutenant. She might not leave a message.”
I smile, and kiss him again before beginning to transmit a reply. “This isn’t over, love…”
The rain spattering against the shuttle is relentless. It reminds me of the monsoon rains pelting the roof of my parents’ house in Malaysia when I was a child. I used to find it soothing, but the marked contrast with the silence of deep space nearly makes me forget where I am when I wake at the sound of the comm.
The signal is unexpected, and I sit up too quickly – fast enough to make my head spin. I automatically glance over at the other bunk to check on Jonathan. But he’s not there – he’s at the controls, transmitting a response to the signal. I wonder if I’m dreaming; he has no splinted leg, no bruised forehead, no sign of any injury at all.
“Malcolm! You’re finally awake! I’ve been so worried – you took a bad bump to the head when we made a pretty rough landing here yesterday morning. An ion storm knocked out our navigation systems. You’ve been unconscious since then.”
“Landing yesterday? I hit my head?” I lift a tentative hand to my forehead, hearing the disbelief in my own voice, and to be honest, unsure of what is real and what isn’t.
“Jonathan…” The name slips out unwittingly. “I just spent three days caring for your injuries… but that wasn’t real? None of it happened?” My voice trails off into disappointment. “Nothing I heard you saying to me was really true?”
The concern etched on his face echoes in his reply. “I’ve been talking to you off and on while you were unconscious. I hoped my voice might reach you on some level. It sounds like you did hear me..." His brow furrows a bit as he pauses, trying to remember. "But I doubt that I said anything I didn't mean.”
I trace a fingertip across my lips, remembering how just moments ago I’d shared a kiss with this man... our first. Jonathan has been watching me intently, and apparently notices my small shiver at the vivid memory of that kiss.
Crossing the short distance between us, he perches next to me on the edge of the narrow bunk, reaching for my discarded blanket. Shaking my head, I take his hand instead, wrapping it in mine. Despite his evident surprise, he makes no move to withdraw it.
I don’t want to lose this moment and take a deep breath before trying to explain. “It seems… that little of what I experienced was real, only dreams or hallucinations. I must have hit my head rather soundly. But there are things we need to talk about… Jonathan.”
At the sound of his name, his hand trembles a little, still clasped in mine. And he nods, glancing from our joined hands to my face, searching my eyes.
“It seems we do. We’ll have plenty of time – Enterprise won’t be here for another two days.“
I’m unexpectedly relieved at the delay. Maybe there will be time…
His hand is warm and as his thumb strokes across my palm, the touch goes much deeper. It feels like a beginning.