Title: In the Bleak Midwinter

Author: MJ

Author's email: mjr91@aol.com

Author's URL: http://www.geocities.com/coffeeslash/mj/


Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: Sato/Cutler, Archer/Reed, Archer/Mayweather, Tucker/Reed

Rating: PG-13

Archive: yes to any list it's posted to, coffeeslash

Summary: Four crew members try to survive a shuttlepod wreck on a frozen planet.

Spoilers: None

Beta: Kyrdwyn, Red. Many thanks.

Author's note: Inspired by rank jealousy of shi shi and nostalgia. I wanted to play in their sandboxes.

WARNING: Deathfic

AN: Morbid squicks, either stated or implied, for the very sensitive. A character death—no angst involved, I promise—is the most obvious.

"Can it get any colder?" Jonathan Archer, captain of Enterprise, wrapped one of the blankets from the damaged shuttlepod around himself as he huddled by the fire in the cave.

"I guess it can try." Ensign Elizabeth Cutler shivered in the low temperature, matters made worse by her nearness to the cold wall of the enclosure and the shadow it cast upon the ground. Ensign Hoshi Sato lay on a sleeping bag beside her, a blanket and a jacket spread on top of her. Cutler bandaged a burn

on the back of Sato's hand and checked a bandage on her head as the slightly drugged communications officer moaned quietly. "She needs rest more than anything. That, and keeping her warm. At least she's not in shock. Not yet, anyway."

"Move her closer to the fire." Archer clambered to his feet and helped Cutler slide the sleeping bag nearer the crackling flames. "Body heat," he sighed at Cutler.


Archer smiled wryly in the dim light of the fire. "Hoshi told me last week. I'm not going to make any comments about fraternization, Ensign. At the moment, the fact has practical utility." He rubbed his hands together near the heat. "Speaking of practical…"

Footsteps could be heard coming from the darkness where a short tunnel led into the cave. "I found a few more logs of some kind—at any rate, they're something organic that burns fairly slowly. And I brought a few food packs and another blanket from the shuttle. I thought we might need them."

"Good job, Malcolm." Lieutenant Malcolm Reed tossed a food bar into Archer's hands as he dropped the wood near the fire pit. The blanket and other food he placed on the other side of the fire before settling down near Archer.

Reed looked across at the women. "How is she?"

"Banged up, bruised, pretty badly shaken up, cuts and scrapes. A lot of them, some pretty bad. Nothing broken, anyway. I sedated her so I could work on

the worst of them." Cutler paused. "I thought she might have a slight concussion but I think everything's okay. If infection doesn't set in, that is."

"Glad to hear it." Reed pitched a food bar at Cutler before opening one himself.

Archer tore open the wrappings of his ration bar and tossed the crumpled wrapper towards the flames. "Ensign?"

Cutler shifted a bit as she unwrapped her food bar. She was pressed against Sato's back. "Yes?"

He nodded quietly at the medic. "Take care of her."

"I'll…I'll try."


The two men sat side by side near the fire, watching the women sleep, Cutler spooned possessively around Sato. "I got hold of Trip," Reed whispered to Archer. "I was able to raise the ship for a few minutes during a break in the storm."

"What's he have to say?"

"Two weeks at the best, three more likely—possibly a month. The damage to the reactor…" Reed didn't need to finish the sentence. Bad enough that the shuttle had been damaged in the landing; worse that Enterprise had responded to a distress call at the same time, only to be damaged itself as it interceded in a battle between a trader's ship full of trellium and two Osaarian


"Can we hold out?"

Reed shrugged. "That depends on what you mean. We have fully charged phase pistols. There's a great deal of dead organic matter out there, more than enough to burn for a very long time. We can stay warm. You and I can probably jury-rig some containers and we can melt snow—I don't think there could ever possibly be a shortage of water, as much snow as there is out there. Rations, though—we have enough for a week to ten days, between the ration bars and a few meal trays there. We may have two weeks if we short the rations. I don't think every animal outside can be hibernating, though. We ought to be able to catch something and cook it. It won't exactly be Chef's cuisine, of course…"

Archer pursed his lips, thought for a moment. "It'll do. We don't exactly have a choice in the matter, so we'll make it work." He adjusted the blanket around him and turned to Reed. "It's only going to get colder, Malcolm. Get over here and we may as well try to get some sleep."

Reed raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure, Captain?" The question might have seemed innocuous enough from anyone else, the query of a male officer concerned with the propriety of sharing such an obvious degree of intimacy with his captain despite the admonitions of Starfleet survival training. From Reed, however, the question was more—not only because Reed knew survival technique far better than almost anyone. "I mean…"

Archer's voice dropped even lower than it already had simply to avoid waking the women. "Malcolm, this isn't about Trip or Travis. It isn't even about us. We're in a tight spot and a bad case of frostbite isn't going to help any of us."

"True. Whatever we have to do…Well, here's to old times, as it were." Reed pulled his sleeping bag over to Archer's, climbed in, and threw both his blanket and Archer's on top of the bags. Archer's arm curved around Malcolm as it had in their bed for two years of their past, before each of them, frustrated with the other personally as well as on the bridge, and needing comfort, had turned to the other men who had wanted them.


"I don't have enough supplies," Cutler said, frustrated. "I can't reduce the fever sufficiently, and the sepsis—what I've got in the kit is strong enough for something minor, but there's nothing I can do for her in the condition she's in." The medic slumped against Archer's chest. "I'm sorry, I don't know what to do here."

Archer put an arm around Cutler a bit awkwardly, trying to comfort her. "I know how hard this has to be for you."

"You don't know the half of it." The medic picked up a pebble near the fire pit and flung it at the wall with all her might. There was only the slightest clatter as the stone made contact with stone and then fell.

And indeed, he didn't know the half of it.

Hoshi Sato, he knew. That was, he had known her somewhat. Had known of her linguistic talents, had known her when she was teaching, had talked with her, eaten with her, had been her associate, and, he had thought, her friend. But he hadn't known much about her family, had he, and he'd never suspected that her friendship with Cutler had become something more, had been more for a few months before she'd confided in him, while he'd presumed she was still mooning over either Malcolm or Travis, both of whom adored her but neither of whom, he well knew, was likely to return the interest he thought he'd seen.

Pain, he knew—the pain of rejection, first from his friend in school, the one who didn't want him at all, then from the woman he would have married, who didn't want a Starfleet officer, then from Trip Tucker, who "didn't want to lose a friend," and then from Malcolm, who wanted…"less complication," was how Malcolm had put it. The complication of captain and lover, the complication

of sexual release and personal and professional irritation, all wrapped in one large human package with a bow around his neck. He didn't know Cutler's kind of pain, the kind that would be accompanied with an ultimate finality if a miracle didn't happen.

Only Porthos had never rejected him. And not Travis, not so far, but he could probably count on that rejection as well, somewhere down the pike. Porthos would cling to him, but Porthos was not there.

The cold was there, though, clinging to him closer than a distraught Elizabeth Cutler, closer than a lover, so close that the cold wasn't even quite cold any more, it simply *was*, as if it had become a part of his being. The cold was a second skin for three of them now, only Sato, with her fever, fighting off its embrace.

Jonathan Archer believed in luck. But he'd never seen a miracle. He didn't believe he would see one now.


Reed and Archer looked around the shuttlepod's exterior yet once more; it was a daily exercise in futility, but it was something vaguely official that they could do, something that allowed them to imagine that they were working. A few crew with EV suits would be required to repair the exterior damage; there was no way they could do it themselves. Archer opened the hatch, preparing to embark on yet another round of interior panel repairs that weren't truly needed, ready then to spend one or more hours trying to reach Enterprise on the comm equipment.

They had divided the labor on the shuttle towards the end of the first week. Archer bothered with interior repairs on the shuttle; Malcolm did most of the hauling of supplies and salvage for the cave. They had taken turns with the communications efforts, when either was at the shuttle. Cutler spent her time with Sato, watching her lover fade away slowly with the insufficient medical supplies at hand.

Archer berated himself for having had to be fascinated by a winter planet with few sentient biosigns; other than forest creatures, this area was completely deserted. There was no sign that either humans or any other sentient, advanced creatures had ever lived where they had landed. Evolution might be an interesting phenomenon, but it was worse than inconvenient—it was, in these circumstances, nearly impossible to deal with.


"How are our rations holding?" Archer looked through the bag Reed had just retrieved from the shuttle. Reed held a small dead animal in his arm that was a bit larger than an Earth squirrel.

"We're nearly out of the rations. However, I found this trying to get into the shuttlepod to root around. It ought to be edible. It's not large, but it's something. I'll go out tomorrow, try to find a few of them in the woods, or perhaps something larger, while you're working on the shuttlepod. If you like, I'll try to help you rig up more heat in there so we can work longer at one stretch inside the shuttle."

"Don't let it worry you," Archer replied. He reached around in a pack, looking for a knife. Gutting and skinning small animals wasn't the most amusing

time, but they had to eat, and at least it would be better than the snake he'd eaten in desert survival training; it would be cooked. Reed looked at Archer's grimace, amused, and reached over to take the knife. "No, I'll do it. Tonight, anyway."

"No problem, sir," Reed replied. "I don't mind. I'll do it here on out. It doesn't do to be squeamish at a time like this." He took the knife out of Archer's hand. "Somewhere or other, I'm sure this is in my job description."


"We can't bury her," Archer had sighed. "And we can't leave her in here, but the weather…and I don't think we'll be able to build anything large enough or hot enough outside…"

"We can still take care of it, Captain," Reed told him. "It's too cold to bury her in the ground, but we can take her out to the woods and bury her in the

snow. I think it would help Ensign Cutler, though, if you would be able to say a few words."

Archer agreed, of course. It was a captain's job not only to run a starship but to oversee its life—to marry, to bury, to celebrate, to mourn, whether he felt like it or not. And they needed Cutler—the three needed each other, the news coming as it had, before the latest storm had severed contact with Enterprise yet again, that it would be another week on top of the month estimated previously for the reactor to be fixed and for the ship to be able to get there.

It occurred to Archer that he had never realized before just how much he seemed to need Malcolm Reed. Love had been a factor in that once—love, and sexual need. Those feelings were still there in him, though maybe not in his armory officer. It was hard to tell sometimes just what Reed felt for anyone, or about anything. Now, however, the greatest factor was survival. He had thought he'd done well in survival training himself, but Reed seemed unflappably capable. Absurd to find oneself a ship's captain, yet that dependent on another human being. Reed had done that to him before; now, in a completely different way, he was doing it again.


"Come over here, Ensign," Archer had ordered. "Bring the sleeping bag."

"What?" "I'm ordering you to sleep over here with us. I'm not losing a medic to this weather, and if that means the three of us are huddling together all night, we'll only be that much warmer."

Cutler had moved her bag over to the men's side of the fire, against Reed's and Archer's bags. The maneuvering was awkward, but there were three of them now needing to survive the planet's winter season.


"I don't suppose we can access the Vulcan data base from the shuttlepod with the ship out of range right now, can we?" Reed asked the question as he roasted two more of the small creatures on a spit while Cutler stoked the fire under them. "No," Archer answered, distracted. "Why?"

"It's getting harder to find these out there. I wish I knew what kind of game there was further in the woods. There must be something a bit larger that's eating the smaller game."

"Are you sure about going into the woods?" Archer asked. "Do you want to go hunting in there by yourself?"

Reed turned to his ex-lover. "I don't care if there isn't another sentient biosign out there and I don't bloody care if there doesn't seem to be an animal in sight. The two of you need to stay together, Captain. I can take care of myself out there—it's my job to be able to. And my other job is to keep the ship's captain and crew safe. I can't do that if you two separate. We don't know what's out there and I'm not chancing either of you being left alone. I'll go out there, and I'll find something."


It had been two days since Reed had found food in the woods. It had been twenty-four hours since T'Pol had been able to contact them while Archer and Cutler worked in the shuttlepod, letting them know that Enterprise was limping along at Warp 1.5. The delays would be longer than planned, yet again.

"You didn't find anything on your last two trips out there, Malcolm," Archer protested as he used his phase pistol to melt another container of snow for drinking water. "The small game's not out there. Why risk frostbite?"

The armory officer adjusted a piece of blanket he had cut down to the size of a large scarf and wrapped it around his face, tucking one end in on itself, and checking that his thermal jacket was fastened. "Because I think I know exactly where I can find us something, Jon. I'll be back as soon as I can."

Reed had been as good as his word, carrying back a large, frozen hunk of meat. "I don't know what it was, but it died out there and froze. It was too large to carry so I just took part of it. I'm chancing the thing's edible." He

turned to Cutler as he began stripping off his outdoors gear. "If you get the cooking fire going, and if you can rig up a water container to sit over the fire, I'll try to cook it down. I don't think this will cook very well on a spit." Cutler complied. "You go lie down, now, Ensign, you're looking weak. If I cook this properly, we might get some soup out of it. I rather think you could use some."

Cutler nodded at him and pointed towards a dimly-lit corner. "I think there's still some salt and some hot sauce from the ration packs in one of the bags we brought back from the shuttlepod. If you're going to cook that with broth, we'll need it."

"Thank you. I never thought I was going to be famous for my cooking."

"Don't worry," Archer laughed. "You won't be. I'll be glad when Chef and company come rescue us." He carried over a container of water for the cooking.

"I'll even settle for Trip's fried catfish when we get back. Ration bars and fresh game aren't my idea of long-term staples."

"I'm wounded," Reed sighed dramatically. "Nonetheless, I agree with you. How Travis—no offense, Jon—learned to love ration bars on board a boomer ship, I have no idea."

"I don't either." Archer watched as Reed used his phase pistol to cut the meat into smaller pieces. Reed put one in the rigged-up pot, and carried the others closer to the mouth of the cave for storage. It was cold enough near the

opening of the cave that nothing already frozen was likely to thaw. "It'll be a while; you might as well rest."

"Good point." Reed settled into a pile of blankets and sleeping bags near the fire, beside Archer and Cutler. Archer was reminded of a dogpile, with the animals huddling together for warmth. Though the resources of dead debris had yielded more than enough fuel for both a campfire and a second cooking fire, even though after a few weeks they had managed to keep the small cave heated steadily so that it nearly held warmth in its walls, the three still behaved at all times as if an arctic blast might knock the occupants over at any moment, as if they were always completely freezing. He believed it entirely possible that even if he spent a year thawing out on Vulcan, he might never feel entirely warm again.

Reed's warmth against Archer's side, under a blanket Archer was throwing across the three of them, was all too familiar, all too comforting. How many nights had they curled up just this way on Archer's bunk, talking, watching movies, doing any of a hundred things that had sometimes been a prelude to making love, sometimes not. They had bickered, of course. Malcolm Reed had invariably

quarreled with his command decisions. He had quarreled with Reed's obsessions. Reed had sighed that Archer was too cut-and-dried in bed; he had pronounced Reed's particular sexual tastes close to pathological.

And in spite of it all, in spite of their driving each other to distraction with their more and less petty arguments, they had loved each other—perhaps still did on one level or another, despite their new relationships. Reed and Tucker were perhaps well suited to each other, though neither Reed nor Tucker tended to allude much to their relationship in front of Archer; Travis, Archer had to admit, was nothing more than a friendly and amusing distraction, hardly a serious relationship.

All of which was nothing to discuss with Reed at that moment, not with a coping but grieving Elizabeth Cutler beside them, who didn't need and certainly wouldn't want to be privy to the conversation, and who didn't deserve to be asked to take a hike out to the show dunes to get snow for drinking water at that time. Equally hard to discuss back at the ship, not with Travis and Tucker there with them.

Archer leaned back against a rolled-up sleeping bag and watched the fires burn, listened to the cooking pot simmer, wondering when too late was too late.


Reed came back into the cave with another large piece of frozen game, to find Archer and Cutler sitting together cheering. "Good news, I gather?" The meat went by the fire, as Reed shook off snow-covered outer gear and stashed it in the corner.

"I managed to get the ship for a few minutes," Archer told him. "They're on their way in. They haven't finished all of the repairs, but they can make it in two days."

Cutler grinned, though weakly. "And Phlox tells me he's glad I've been keeping a log on us; at least he'll have a medical log to go by. He thinks he and I might be able to write a paper on cold weather survival issues."

Reed smiled at both of them. "Two days? Well, the timing's perfect then, isn't it?" He grabbed the cooking pot and threw the hunk of frozen meat into it, looking around for their tiny stash of salt. "Are there any salt tablets in the medical supplies? That might be better than nothing."

Cutler scrambled to her feet and reached for the pack. "I think so, but what's this about the timing?"

"Am I the only one who's kept track of the date? Tomorrow's Christmas." Reed began humming as he worked; the tune niggled at Archer's brain until he finally recognized it as an old English Christmas carol.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan.
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Archer wondered if Reed had bothered to meditate on the irony of the choice, or if it was simply a childhood favorite of his. He was reminded once again, as he had been when dealing with Cutler before, of the things he didn't know about the people around him; that he'd only ever learned his own pain, not what meant anything to anyone else. He'd loved Malcolm Reed, maybe he still did, but he'd never really known him.


Commander Trip Tucker, chief engineer of Enterprise, shivered as he completed an examination of the damaged shuttlepod. "I think we'll just grapple it into launch bay; that'll be the easiest thing to do." He looked over at the cave, where Cutler was exiting with a large supply pack. Then he looked first at Archer, then at Reed. "Did you want us to bring everyone back up together…or should we have someone make a separate trip for Hoshi?"

Archer bit his lip, thinking; Reed shifted uneasily. "If I may…"

"Yes, Malcolm?" Archer couldn't escape noticing Tucker's glances at both men, as if expecting that something must have happened on the planet. Archer felt what struck him as unfortunate glee at his friend's insecurity.

"Er…if it's all the same…and I realize it may not be…might I suggest it would be most appropriate to leave Hoshi buried here, and have a memorial service on the ship?"

"She's just in a snowbank," Tucker responded. "No trouble for a couple of us to bring her back for a proper sendoff."

Reed cleared his throat. "Well, er…it may be cold, but it did take a bit for, um, freezing to occur. When I was out in the forest, hunting, I went to check. Er…um…animals, if you follow?" It was difficult to tell if the redness in his face was from the cold, or from an embarrassed flush.


"I'm afraid that she might best be remembered by us the way she was before; I think it's quite enough that I saw it."

Archer interceded quickly. "Let me take a look—I'll decide."

"Captain, I don't think —"

Archer pulled his jacket about him more tightly, trudging off towards the tree line. Tucker turned to Reed. "C'mon, we may as well help Liz stow this gear while we're all waiting to hear."

Not quite an hour later, a shaken Jonathan Archer returned from the forest and climbed into Tucker's functioning shuttlepod. He cast a somber glance at Reed before sighing and looking at Tucker. "Malcolm's right, Trip. We'll leave

Hoshi here. I think it's for the best."

Tucker shrugged. "Your call, Cap'n." The engineer began throwing switches as the hatch locked, as Archer's and Reed's eyes met in a conspiracy of silence that bound them more closely than even their relationship had. And it was suddenly clear to Archer that whatever else happened, for the rest of their lives, he and Reed would always be linked together with this bond. If he had never learned anything about Malcolm Reed before, he had learned it now. His current, admittedly shallow, relationship with Travis Mayweather meant nothing beside his new knowledge; he wondered if Reed's and Tucker's would survive it, or if this shared secret would bring him back together with Reed for every possible reason he could not want, rather than for any good ones.

The midwinter planet receded behind them, but Archer could still feel the cold going through him. He was sure, as he had imagined already, that he might never be warm again.

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