Title: As Others See Us

Author: Weebob

E-mail: weebob@fsmail.net

Date: 02/08/2004

Archive: Permission to archive granted to EntSTCommunity, Reeds Armory, Archer's Enterprise—and probably anyone else if they ask first!

Series/Fandom: ENT

Category: Slash

Rating: PG-13

Status: Complete

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Summary: Jon's forced to deal with some home truths.

Warnings: None

Series: n/a

Sequel to: n/a

Spoilers: Vague Season Three

Disclaimer: I don't own or have any rights to the Star Trek universe, "Enterprise", or any of its characters—they belong to UPN/Paramount. I am making no money from this story

A/N: I've hacked at this so often, that I'm not sure if its even coherent any more! BTW, this wasn't intended as a Valentine's fic—but feel free to consider it as such, if it floats your boat!


Trip Tucker normally found it hard to deny his friend anything—however, right now he was determined not to give in to him.

"Malcolm, Ah'm sorry but there's no point. Hoshi scanned the area thoroughly and found no trace of human bio signs or remains. The shuttle was destroyed. He didn' stand a chance."

Trying to control his temper, Reed paced as best he could in the confined space of the captain's Ready Room.

"Trip, we can't just write him off! He saved our lives, for God's sake! If he hadn't taken a shuttle out and rammed that alien ship…"

Wearily, the engineer sank down in a chair "Ah know that Malcolm, but we've got weapons damage and Admiral Forrest is anxious for us to get on with our mission. We have to get underway an' ah can't spare ya. "

Reed whirled on him, the anger on his face replaced by desperation "I know it's supposed to be uninhabited, but I'm sure I saw a transporter trace from the planet just as he hit the battle cruiser. It was gone in a nanosecond, because the explosion blinded our instruments, but I'm sure I saw it. I've checked our weapons and I've left nothing my team can't repair without me. Please, Trip. Let me go down and look for him. Please? He's never given up on me—even when everyone else has—I owe it to him to reciprocate."

Tucker rubbed at his eyes: he'd had far too little sleep since Jon had out-Malcolmed Malcolm and succeeded in sacrificing himself for his crew while Enterprise was dead in space and at the mercy of a hostile alien vessel with superior firepower. T'Pol was still unconscious in sickbay, having been injured while the ship was under attack, so the engineer now found himself in sole command of Enterprise, with little prospect of getting to bed any time soon.

Archer had been Trip's best friend but Malcolm had always seemed uncomfortable with the captain, so this extreme reaction to his loss was unexpected. Dragging himself to his feet, and giving in to his own need to deny Archer's death, Tucker made a decision he hoped he wouldn't regret.

"Alright, Malcolm, we need more information on the Xindi and the idea, before we were attacked, was to ask around for it in this system. Travis'll drop you on the planet at the point ya thought ya saw the transporter beam originate and Enterprise will continue as planned. T'Pol reckoned it'd take us about three or four days, so we'll loop around and pick ya up when we're through. After that, you're back on board and, if we have to, we'll say goodbye to the Cap'n then."

Malcolm exhaled explosively with relief. "Thanks Trip. I'll go and pack."

Lightly armed and carrying only basic survival gear, Malcolm Reed felt a pang of loneliness as he watched the Enterprise shuttle lift off from the planet's surface. Travis had set down in a clearing approximately one kilometre from where Reed estimated the transporter had been used and now the ball was firmly in his own court. Hoisting his backpack and switching on his scanner, he resolutely set off on what, he fervently hoped, would be a fruitful search.

After hours of hiking, he began to wonder if he'd been imagining things after all. He'd covered a lot of ground but there hadn't been as much as an interesting blip on his scanner—and now a storm was brewing and the light had begun to fade.

The wind sighed and moaned around him, a ghostly companion, as he trudged onward through the dark, forbidding forest. Somewhere in the undergrowth, an animal growled and the officer stiffened, phase pistol drawn, before cautiously moving on.

A sudden change in his scanner readout stopped him in his tracks. "A human bio sign! Thank God!"

Veering off in a new direction, he soon came upon a clearing with, to his amazement, a small log cabin, the smoke from its chimney being whipped around by the wind. Light glowed softly at the windows and he crept towards one, hopeful that the captain had sought shelter here yet uneasy at finding such a dwelling on what was supposed to be an uninhabited planet.

Peering through the glass, he saw the ragged and stooped figure of an old woman moving around inside. Another glance at his scanner still showed him only one bio sign and he felt his heart sink. Nevertheless, he could always ask if she had seen any uniformed strangers, beside himself, and maybe beg shelter from the storm.

A little nervously, he tapped the door and, as it opened, he found himself staring down at the crone, trying not to grin at how exactly she personified the old witch-woman in some of the fairytales of his childhood. Not sure if she would understand him, he gave her what he hoped was a friendly smile and apologised for disturbing her. To his surprise, she answered in perfect, if quaint, English.

"Come thee within, stranger. This is not a night for thee to roam abroad. Take food and shelter with me and tell me what thou seekest."

As she stood aside and bade him enter, Malcolm's eyes swept around the interior of the house. Bunches of herbs hung drying from the rafters and bottles of homemade wines stood on shelves around the room. On a workbench stood a pestle and mortar and several clay jars of varying sizes. He took a deep breath and immediately sneezed as a spicy, clove-like smell tickled at his nose.

The hag turned a toothless smile on him and answered his unspoken question. "I am a seer, stranger, living simply and seeking solitude to commune with the Powers. Do you desire to know the future or wish a remedy for what ails thee?"

Trying not to sneeze again, Malcolm shook his head. "No, no thank you, Madam. Actually, I'm searching for a friend of mine—a man, dressed like myself but taller and broader with a slightly different way of speaking. You haven't by chance seen such a stranger in the last day or so? I'm afraid he may have been injured."

Shaking her head, the woman drew some boiling broth from a large cast- iron pot hanging over the fire grate. "Nay, sire, nor has there been ought written in the stars, but there is a good chance he would have headed for the mountains. From there, a lost traveller such as he could see a far distance and mayhap find his way."

It was not what Reed had hoped for, but he had to admit the mountains were a likely destination for the captain. Hopefully, he was still in possession of his communicator and being at altitude, away from the dense forests covering much of the planet's landmass, would improve its reception and range.

Bidding Malcolm to sit at the table, the woman put the broth and some bread in front of him and gave him a horn spoon with which to eat. The food smelled appetising and Starfleet rations were unappealing at the best of times so, giving it a surreptitious scan while her back was turned, he thanked her and decided to risk a few mouthfuls.

Before he knew it, he had emptied the bowl and the crone was making a bed of animal skins for him before the fire. "Bide here the night and rest, sire, and on the morrow I will send thee on thy way with the loan of my beast—no more than a mule but a biddable enough animal—to carry thyself and thy goods."

There was a howling gale outside now so, despite his misgivings, Malcolm graciously accepted her hospitality and settled down to sleep with his phase pistol close to hand under the straw pillow he'd been given.

Reed wakened at dawn, to a breakfast of porridge, and was then presented with a bowl of warm water in which to wash and was given privacy to do so. Never willing to present as anything but a well- groomed officer, he shaved at the crone's cracked wall mirror and combed his hair, then stepped outside to relieve himself. The morning was clear and fine and he was startled to see, on a long tether and eating its own breakfast of fresh, green grass, the mule the crone had promised him the previous night.

The animal looked up and, despite himself, Malcolm smiled at the rather perplexed expression it wore as, still chewing determinedly, it stared back at him. "Hello boy! Looks like you weren't expecting to see me here. Well, get used to it: I understand we're to be travelling companions."

He patted the mule's neck and scratched its ears, feeling a little nervous as he realised it was a considerably larger animal than he was expecting. He was trying to get some idea of how docile it actually was when the crone came up behind him, carrying a well-used saddle and bridle. "It would be best for thee to make him ready thyself—he is somewhat wary of strangers at first. His name is Nathan. Speak to him and earn his trust."

Finishing his task, he gathered up his belongings as the woman told him the quickest way to the mountains. She gave him her blessing for the journey as he mounted the mule. "May the Powers go with thee, sire, and bring thee success. But heed my warning before thou dost venture. There are many dangers thou must face and much of ill thou wilt encounter. Think thee well on what I say and consider if the man thou dost seek is truly worth thine own peril."

The mule shifted under him, seemingly impatient to be on its way. "Madam, I serve on a ship and the man is my captain and my friend. There's nothing I would not do to see him safe."

Nodding her understanding, the woman let go of the beast's bridle and stepped back. "Go forth then, sire, and return in safety."

Calling back his profuse thanks, Malcolm set off pondering her words but, more so, his own.

Travelling through the forest at what seemed like a snail's pace, but was actually a good deal faster than he'd have managed on foot, Malcolm found himself passing time by talking to the mule: "You know, Nathan, I never dreamed those horse riding lessons I had to take at school would ever come in handy. Your mistress was very kind, letting me borrow you like this. Trip thinks I'm off my rocker, but I know what I saw and if there's the slightest chance the captain's alive, then I want to find him."

Quite soon, Reed found himself harried by swarms of biting insects. He did his best to cover every centimetre of exposed skin with repellent but, after an hour or so, he had come out in raised blotches and the itch was maddening. As he injected himself with anti- histamine, he could have sworn the mule was watching him: "Its alright for you: you have a tail to swish around at these bloody flies. Look at me! I'm being eaten alive."

As if in response, Nathan stepped forward and head-butted Malcolm very gently on the shoulder. Somehow, it seemed sympathetic and the lieutenant smiled. "Okay, I'm sorry for snapping at you. Come on, let's get going and see if we can leave them behind." Eventually, the sun came out and the flies seemed to vanish into the shade of the surrounding vegetation—which was just as well, since Reed found himself stripping off layers of clothing in the now- sweltering heat.

They plodded onwards for the rest of the morning, stopping briefly in a clearing for something to eat and drink. An animal resembling a deer suddenly raised its head from where it was browsing in the undergrowth near to their path. For a moment, it watched them—poised for flight but too frightened to move—then, at last, it darted off deeper into the forest.

Malcolm chuckled "Looks like the poor thing's about as comfortable in company as I am! I've always been a bit of a loner, Nathan, but the Captain wants his crew to be one big happy family, so he's always trying to…well, befriend me, I suppose. It goes against everything I was brought up to believe in—and I've told him its frightfully inappropriate—but he just won't give up."

He fell silent, remembering Archer's persistent digging into his private life and the man's determination to draw his armoury officer out of his shell. Then something unnerving slowly began to dawn on him: "Actually, I don't think I WANT him to give up!"

They resumed their journey shortly afterwards, the lieutenant silently mulling over his recent revelation. Nathan abruptly stopped in his tracks, pawing the ground and snorting uneasily. Malcolm sat straighter and swiftly took in the surrounding area, looking for any threat. "Its alright, old chap. I don't see…Ooof!"

Something solid slammed into him from his left, sending him tumbling into the thorn bushes lining the path then landing heavily on top of him. Covered in coarse black hair, and resembling a primate of some kind, it had lethal-looking fangs, and jagged claws, which raked at his flesh as it pinned him to the ground. And, to Malcolm's horror, it had brought along about twenty of its friends—all now dropping from the trees around him.

With a massive effort, he managed to dislodge his attacker and scramble to his feet, scrabbling amongst the bushes in search of the phase pistol, which had been thrown from its holster when he fell. The primate lunged at him, knocking him down again, and two others of its species joined in, grabbing at Malcolm's arms and pulling him in opposite directions until he felt like a wishbone. His panic grew as he realised how strong they were—too strong for him to fight off—and he was uncomfortably aware that their troupe was closing in around him.

To his surprise, just as his struggles were weakening, his assailants let go. While he lay gathering his wits, he saw why: the mule was charging at his assailants, stopping short before he trampled Reed. As they backed off, Nathan turned his attention to the bystanders, rearing up and threatening them with his flailing front hooves. As the ringleaders closed back in on Malcolm, he would charge again, scattering them for another few moments.

Dazed, and bleeding, the lieutenant resumed his searching for the phase pistol—finding it just as two of the primates leaped onto Nathan's back. The mule reared up, toppling its attackers, giving Malcolm the chance to spray them and their cohorts with phase pistol fire. "Okay Nathan, let's get out of here. I don't know how long they'll stay stunned and I'm not waiting to find out."

Scrambling back onto the still-jumpy mule, Malcolm, his uniform torn and bloody where the primates had bitten him and raked at him with their claws, urged his mount onwards.

They had travelled less than a 3 kilometres when a distant roaring sound became audible. As they moved forwards, it became louder and the lieutenant felt his stomach begin to knot. "Oh shit! Water!"

Turgid and cloudy with silt, the river rushed along towards a drop- off point in the far distance which, going by the cloud of spray above it, Malcolm assumed to be a very large waterfall. He shivered "There's no way round, Nathan. What the bloody hell am I going to do?"

Screeching and crashing in the forest behind them, heralding the imminent arrival of primates, helped him to a decision. "I hope to hell you can swim, my friend. Let's go, before I change my mind."

Wading out into the current, Malcolm clung to the reins as Nathan quickly overtook him. The mule seemed to be a strong swimmer and, although they were being swept ever closer to the waterfall, they were also making headway towards the far side. Behind them, the shrieking continued and Malcolm tried to concentrate on the consequences of staying in the forest as he fought against his horror of drowning. Freezing water enveloped him on a number of occasions, making him thrash around in terror, until Nathan's forward momentum brought him back to the surface.

Just as his consciousness was being leached away by cold and exhaustion, he felt his knees jar painfully against the riverbed. Forcing his stinging eyes to open, he saw the opposite bank approaching and stumbled to his feet as the mule dragged him to safety.

Snatching a fearful glance backwards, he saw that the primates had not even attempted to follow and were know skulking back the way they had come, squabbling amongst themselves. Flopping down on the grass, before his trembling legs gave way beneath him, he coughed up some muddy, foul-tasting, water and turned back to see his mount shaking himself vigorously. "Good idea, boy. Since you took the trouble to save my life, I suppose I should try not to catch pneumonia. The light's going, so we'll stop here for the night and I'll get a fire going while you have some supper."

Reed unstrapped the leather bucket, which hung from Nathan's saddle, and opened the goatskin pouch containing some of their dry goods. To his surprise and delight, no water had spoiled them and he was able to dole out a generous portion of oats for his companion. "When you're done, I'll get you some water—although, if you're anything like me, you've probably swallowed plenty already on the way over!"

The terrain became rockier after their river crossing, but there were enough trees dotted around to provide firewood and Malcolm soon had a nice little blaze going among a sheltering outcrop of rocks. Nathan hovered nearby, watching him huddle close to the flames to dry his uniform whilst eating a Starfleet ration bar. "These, my friend, are disgusting! So if you think you'd fancy one, forget it—unless you have a taste for sawdust."

His meagre meal over, Reed turned his attention to tending his injuries. Several of the wounds inflicted by the primates seemed to be infecting already so he cleaned and dressed him as best he could, coating the dressings with antibiotic ointment. He felt stiff and sore and that night, exhausted though he was, Malcolm slept little—waking every twenty minutes or so to throw more wood on the fire and scan for life signs other than their own.

The mule lay down and seemed to doze but, every time Malcolm woke, it lifted its head and studied him until he settled. Towards morning, awake yet again and feeling a little lost and anxious, he studied his companion. "What's it like being a mule, eh, Nathan? You chaps get quite a bad press for being stubborn and difficult—although, if Trip was here, he'd tell me I'm a good one to be talking! If truth be told though, his best buddy, the captain, is really quite obstinate too." Some damp wood on the fire spat and sizzled, startling Malcolm, and he prodded at it with a stick before continuing: "Mind you, although he sticks like a limpet, Captain Archer's always been very patient with me. I know you'll find this hard to believe, but I can be a touch…arrogant at times—my father's son in that one respect, regrettably. The captain used to be very good at taking me down a peg or two without humiliating me but, well, he's not quite so careful nowadays."

The mule twitched its ears, as if listening, and got up to graze at other side of the fire. "I know the pressure on him must be tremendous, but it's made him terribly focused and driven. I don't think he's smiled since we left Earth after our upgrade and—oh, and he WOULD smile if he could hear this—he doesn't fraternize anymore. He sighed sadly: "Especially with me."

Malcolm frowned as he realised how much Archer had affected him. "I…I'd never have thought that was appropriate before, let alone desirable, but he taught me how valuable it is to…to know, and be known to, one's crewmates. I never thought there would be anyone on Enterprise who'd WANT to know me, but he showed me I was wrong. And HE seemed to want to know me most of all—more deeply than anyone I've ever met. It was amazing, really."

Malcolm's voice trailed off miserably, and he contemplated the streaks of dawn light appearing in the sky before continuing: "Of course, now it's as if my presence is the last thing he needs. He misses no opportunity to dress me down—usually in front of a bloody audience. Major Hayes and his toy soldiers are on board purely because the captain requested them. He obviously didn't think I was up to my job…Maybe he's right."

Annoyed at himself for descending into bitterness and self-pity, the lieutenant rolled to his feet and began gathering up his few belongings, stuffing them into the mule's saddlebags. "I miss him, Nathan—the real Captain Archer who's still inside him somewhere, buried beneath all that hate. I won't believe he's changed forever and I won't believe he's dead!"

As the day wore on, Malcolm began to feel his injuries grow more painful and inflamed. It was beginning to look like the antibiotic ointment wasn't heading off any infection so, at their midday break, he changed his dressings and administered a second dose of antibiotic by hypo spray, adding a shot of pain relief, but there was now no doubt that he was distinctly unwell.

They made camp early, Reed feeling too sick to travel further that day and drifting into a fitful slumber, punctuated by fever-dreams. Several times, he wakened to find an apparently concerned Nathan nuzzling at his face and, oddly, it always coincided with the fire needing fed. Throwing on more wood, he patted the unsettled animal. "Thanks boy. Sorry I'm not very good company right now. Maybe in the morning."

Heavy rain arrived with the dawn and Reed's temperature was rocketing but, nonetheless, they continued their tortuous climb, higher and higher into the mountains. At intervals, Malcolm fruitlessly scanned the surrounding area for human bio signs and attempted to contact the captain on his communicator. Suddenly, just as he was ready to make camp for the third night, a blip appeared on his scanner and gave him his second wind. "Another human! And he's only about half a kilometre ahead!"

At his urging, Nathan reluctantly broke into a trot and they crested a steep slope to find themselves looking down into a natural amphitheatre, in the centre of which cowered a man—in Starfleet uniform.

Malcolm couldn't see the officer clearly, but he was bloodied and under attack by a group of what looked like cavemen—or maybe more evolved relatives of the primates he'd encountered earlier. The youngsters among them were pelting the man with stones while their elders brandished spears and appeared to be shouting encouragement.

Now Malcolm's heart began to race. Even with a phase pistol, he was no match for this tribe of around 30 individuals. He dismounted shakily and was surprised when the mule began to nuzzle him back from the brow of the hill. "Nathan! Stop it! It's the captain."

He checked the pistol was set to "stun" and mustered his courage. Even if he could shout, fire a few shots and make a show to frighten and scatter them a bit. That might give Archer time to get away. The mule urged him backwards again, uneasy and anxious to be off, but he had come to save his captain and would do so if it killed him.

"Alright Nathan, I'm going to tie you to that tree. I don't want you getting in my way when the fun starts." Giving the mule a final pat, and wishing he felt a bit less like death warmed up, Malcolm set off to the rescue.

His plan worked, after a fashion, although he took several blows from various projectiles and had to shoot some of the braver elders who had remained to fight. The lethargy he'd experienced throughout the day seemed to be enveloping him now, and he reached the injured man with difficulty, but the way was clear to get back to Nathan and the thought of escape spurred him on.

The officer was curled in a ball, trying to ward off the missiles coming his way, and Malcolm, stones of varying sizes raining down on him, stumbled forward and grabbed his arm. "Sir! Come on. There isn't much time."

Preoccupied with trying to get the man to his feet, Malcolm didn't see one of the more daring elders return—until the bloodied point of a spear, thrust into his back, erupted from his belly and he felt his legs fold beneath him. He cried out in shock: "No! Oh God, no! I've got to get him away. Please, God. Don't let me die until I get him away!"

The spear, barbed to cause maximum damage, was abruptly twisted then yanked backwards, and he blacked out momentarily as it ripped through his flesh. When he came to himself, he saw the other officer was on his knees now and looking at him with compassion.

But the face was not Jonathan Archer's: it was his father's.

The cavemen were closing in on him and Reed, shocked and pouring blood, tried to crawl over to his dropped phase pistol, but pain and weakness quickly put paid to that idea. He fell again—and, this time, he knew he wasn't getting up. It hurt incredibly as he felt rough hands grabbing at him, and dragging him along the ground, until he heard a new commotion and was abruptly dropped. A new swell of agony accompanied the impact and Malcolm's world faded out.


Lying on his side in wet grass, Reed wakened to hear the all too familiar sound of a hypo spray being loaded. Puzzled, he opened his eyes—to see a rather unkempt Jonathan Archer leaning over him.

"Captain!" He caught his breath as pain blossomed at his startled utterance.

"Easy, Lieutenant, I'm just gonna give you an analgesic."

Malcolm hadn't a clue what had happened! They were still in the natural amphitheatre but there was no sign of his attackers, or Admiral Reed or, for that matter, Nathan—yet the saddle, bridle, and all the gear he'd been carrying, lay around him on the grass. His suffering made it hard to focus and harder still to force out words, but he had to try.

"Captain, I…I don't understand…"

Archer sighed. "That makes two of us, Malcolm. One minute, I was so fucking angry that I was ramming a shuttle into a battle cruiser, the next…well, I was eating grass and you were scratching my ears and talking to some old witch straight out of a fairytale!

"When you went charging off to rescue that…" He hesitated as he recalled just who it was Malcolm had thought he was rescuing. "…that impostor, I tried to stop you, but you'd tied me too tightly. Eventually, I broke the goddamned branch off—but by then you'd been hurt and I…I thought you were dead. As I ran towards you, I suddenly became myself again, and—well, I guess that was as weird for them as it was for me. It sure scared our caveman buddies. A few phase pistol shots for luck and they were gone."

Malcolm squeezed his eyes shut then opened them again, willing himself to wake up from what he prayed was just a bad dream. Instead, a sudden memory startled him: "The officer. It was my father!"

Archer shook his head. "No, Malcolm. I don't know what that was, but it dematerialised after you collapsed. It certainly wasn't your father. Now come on, even though the cavemen are gone, we'd better not hang around here all the same. Think you can walk?"

Although the pain relief was making him feel a little better, Malcolm thought walking might be beyond him—but he nodded anyway—anxious to get his captain away from the primitives' territory and back to the shuttle's landing site.

Archer hauled him to his feet and he saw that bandages were wound tightly around his middle and, peeking out of them, was a corner of the special emergency dressing Phlox used to seal deep wounds until he could properly stop them bleeding. It didn't appear to be working too well though and, even dosed with painkiller, movement was agony.

Progress was frustratingly slow and soon consciousness was threatening to elude Reed again. Finally, he mustered all of his strength and shook off his human crutch. "Captain, this is futile. Take my scanner—the co-ordinates of the landing site are stored there—and the phase pistol, and go on without me. I'll rest awhile and follow on later."

Archer sighed "Always the martyr, Lieutenant. We'll both rest, then continue together. And that's final."

Malcolm was too exhausted to argue as the captain settled him against the trunk of a tree then heaved a sizeable boulder closer and used the phase pistol to heat it up sufficiently for it to glow and warm him.

It troubled him that the captain still seemed distant and was only speaking to him when absolutely necessary but, recalling their increasingly fractious relationship aboard Enterprise, he found himself unsurprised by the long silences.

After about half an hour, Archer scanned him then readied a hypo spray. "What's that for? I'm fine—just a little tired."

Archer pressed the instrument to his neck "We need to keep moving. This is a strong stimulant. Should be good for a few hours."

Instantly, Reed felt better and, when he was helped to his feet this time, he managed to walk, unaided, for almost a kilometre, before needing the taciturn captain's assistance. After four hours, however, his remaining strength deserted him and he slithered out of Archer's grasp and into the depths of unconsciousness.

He wakened in the flat, lush clearing where Travis had left him only days ago. There was no sign of Archer, and panic surged through him, making him cry out involuntarily: "Captain!"

Shouting, he decided, had not been the cleverest thing he'd ever done and he blinked back the blackness that was narrowing his vision. He tried to get up, pain and nausea rolling over him, but only made it to his knees before collapsing. A sudden touch on his shoulder, turning him onto his side, made him force his eyes open. Archer was back. "Captain…I…was worried."

The captain briefly squeezed his upper arm. " Enterprise commed, and you seemed to be sleeping, so I walked away a little to talk to them. Help's on the way: Travis and Phlox'll be here shortly."

Terrible pain was burning in his belly and his little attempt at movement had worsened the bleeding. The captain tightened the makeshift bandages, but Malcolm was weakening rapidly and "shortly" didn't sound nearly soon enough. Somewhere in the distance he could hear the approach of a shuttle, but he was just too damned tired to care. He could let go now: Jonathan was safe.

Once more aboard Enterprise, Archer distractedly let Elizabeth Cutler check him over while he watched Malcolm being prepped for emergency surgery. A strange sensation in his fingers caught his attention and he looked down, realising that Reed's blood had dried all over them. Somehow, it seemed appropriately symbolic, considering the Lieutenant was probably dying because of him.

The captain shifted uncomfortably at the thought. As Nathan the mule, he'd listened to Reed's monologue and been stunned to realise what an impact he'd had on the younger man. He was horrified at how badly he'd hurt the shy armoury officer—guilt tormenting him all the way up on the shuttle—and now he had to face some hard facts.

He'd admired Reed from the beginning: at first, the man's courage and dedication to duty then, later, his personality—finding it, at first, funny, then, gradually, endearing and mysterious. The more he knew about Malcolm, the more he wanted to know—teasing out as much information as he could at every opportunity—and the more he respected him as an officer and was attracted to him as a man.

By the time he and Malcolm had faced down the Borg together, the chemistry between them—although neither acknowledged it—was volatile.

Then came the Xindi.

The magnitude of Enterprise's new mission, and the a fanatical thirst for revenge, overpowered Archer's very being—including the part of him which, undoubtedly now, was falling in love with Malcolm. Unwittingly, the loyal Armoury Officer had become as big a threat to him as the Xindi—potentially dividing his attention, disrupting his focus, distracting him from his hate.

And so Reed had to be driven away. Archer couldn't cope with seeing those sad grey eyes grieving at what he'd become nor listen to the tremor in his soft voice as he tried tirelessly to persuade his captain that caution was better than blind vengeance. Now here he sat, the painful longing to see those eyes and hear that voice again eating him from the inside out. The moment Cutler pronounced him fit and well, he fled to his quarters—a self-condemned man.

A shower and a meal alone in his quarters, however, gave Archer time to work on his indignation. By the time he'd called Trip, and the now- recovered T'Pol, to his ready room, for an update on the mission's status, he'd convinced himself that all of his behaviour was justifiable in the line of duty. His officers were standing to leave when Phlox commed: "Captain, I thought you'd wish to know that Lieutenant Reed has come through surgery. His condition is grave, however, and the next 48 hours will be crucial."

Archer knew he should go and sit with Malcolm—gentle, devoted Malcolm, who worried about him even when he was dying himself—but he couldn't risk watching the object of both his desire and his guilt fighting for his life. Ignoring Trip's accusing glare, he stared at his fingernails, suddenly sure that he could still see blood ingrained around the cuticles. "Thank you, Doctor. Keep me informed. Archer out."

Day after day, the captain haunted his ship, trying to keep his mind fully occupied. The one place he avoided, though, was sickbay. He was sullen and withdrawn—snapping at any who suggested he should look in on Malcolm: insisting that he had no time.

After a full week, Trip Tucker finally cornered him in his quarters. "Permission to speak freely, Cap'n?"

At Archer's curt nod, the engineer slouched in the nearest chair and sighed. "Just what are ya playin' at Jon? Even T'Pol's been to visit Malcolm!"

Archer stared at his computer monitor. "I'm very busy, Trip. I don't really have time to discuss this."

"He's askin' for ya: worryin' 'bout ya. Wants to know if somethin's wrong."

Archer turned and glared at his friend. "I said, I don't have time to discuss this."

Tucker stared him down. "I've always respected ya, Cap'n, but ah'm strugglin' right now. Lyin' don't suit ya."

Archer whirled on the engineer. "Who the fuck do you think you are? My mother? If I say I don't have time, I don't have time. And neither do you. Dismissed, Commander." Speechless with anger, Tucker stormed out of Archer's quarters without a backward glance.

Furious, and even more conflicted now, Archer swept up his water polo ball and hurled it viciously at the bulkhead—only to see it caught by what appeared to be his late mother, looking just as he always remembered her from his childhood! "Temper, temper, Jonathan! Shouldn't the Enterprise captain be a model of maturity and decorum?"

Archer jabbed at the comm., intent on calling security, only to find it dead. "What the hell are you? And how did you get aboard Enterprise?"

The woman bounced the ball herself a few times, then tossed it back at him—catching him off-guard and smacking him painfully in the face. "Don't be so disrespectful to your elders, young man. I may not be your real mother, but I am a mother AND considerably older than you: quite a few eons older, in fact.

"My species is so powerful, and so much more evolved than your own, that your tiny brain would never be able to comprehend what we are—hence my choice to appear as people or characters uppermost in your own mind.

"I've been watching you for some time, Captain. I know you've been out here, exploring the galaxy, with a view to seeking out new life and new civilisations. Well I have to tell you that you badly need to brush up on your people skills before you inflict yourself on other species. If you were MY son, I'd have banished you to the other side of the Galactic Barrier—without supper—to teach you some manners. Now do sit down and stop throwing tantrums: its getting on my nerves."

Reflexively, Archer sat—but it wasn't long before he was on his feet again, his anger rising afresh. "Okay, since you won't tell me who you are, can you tell me if you're here for any specific reason, other than finding fault with me?"

Reclining gracefully on his bed, she smiled: "No, that's about it, really. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. Let me help you out a little. Perhaps you know me better like this…"

There was a flash of light then Archer saw the crone from the forest adopting a rather seductive pose on his bed. She sat up and cackled evilly at him. "What's wrong, Captain? Would you prefer something prettier between your sheets?"

Another flash lit the room and the crone was replaced by a naked, and vibrantly alive, Malcolm Reed.

Archer was still gaping at the sight when he was dazzled, yet again, by brilliantly white light and "Mrs Archer" was back. "Close your mouth, Jonathan, or you'll catch flies. Now…where was I? Oh yes! Finding fault—my favourite!"

Sitting up, she leaned forward on her knees and fixed him with her stern gaze: "What are you going to do about dear Malcolm? Call me a romantic, but he's the only reason I plucked you from a fiery death, when you hit that battle cruiser, and gave the pair of you a chance to sort out your feelings down on that planet."

Stunned, Archer spluttered defensively: "Our feelings are none of your fucking business! And what the hell gives you the right to hurt Malcolm? And why don't you make him better right now, if you're so all-powerful"

Folding her arms in an almost Reed-like gesture, she frowned: "Its not MY healing Malcolm needs. And I didn't hurt him: I simply stood back and let events take their course. Your lieutenant CHOSE to go into danger—despite my warnings—because he was desperate to find YOU.

"When he first came aboard Enterprise, he knew his job and was content to concentrate on doing it. He had no aspirations toward romance—he's never been good at that sort of thing. All he wanted was to do his duty. Until you started toying with him, that is." The captain had begun pacing and he whirled angrily at her words. "Toying? What are you talking about?"

She stood and glared back at him. "What else should I call it, Captain? You took an interest in him: drew him out of himself until his poor, lonely heart started to melt. Then the Xindi came and, for no good reason, just when you had him defenceless and in love with you, you started treating him like—and please excuse my language—shit."

Archer bristled: "I did not!"

"Yes you did, Jonathan. Don't contradict me! An unprovoked attack on part of your home planet, by a species you'd never heard of before, is tragic—but it doesn't give you the right to tear Lieutenant Reed apart every time he gives you a professional opinion. Or bring an unnecessary army of militaristic bullies on board and make him feel inadequate. Or discuss security matters with Major Hayes without the lieutenant's knowledge. Or humiliate him in front of the Major—and any other Tom, Dick or crew member who happens to be passing!"

Archer was unable to deny her accusations and so clutched at something else she'd said. "You don't know what you're talking about: Malcolm's not in love with me. He doesn't believe in fraternisation of any kind."

Unmoved, the woman continued: "You TAUGHT him to fraternise. And if he's not in love with you, why did he go through hell and—literally—high water for you down on that planet? Weren't you listening to him, "Nathan", when he poured out his feelings to you? Or were you determined not to hear?"

She turned to the window and stared out at the stars. "I made you a mule for a reason, Captain, it's the animal closest to your own personality."

Staring at her back, Archer saw his reflection in the window beside hers—and watched as it took on two long, twitching, ears! Suddenly, his guilt met his anger and he exploded. "I will deal with Lieutenant Reed as I see fit and in my own good time. Now get off my ship!"

She turned and glared at him: "He's giving up, Jonathan. Your own good time may not be good enough—consider that! And stop grinding your teeth. The noise is preventing you from listening to your heart."

With that, she was gone.

Sickbay was dimly lit when, ten minutes later, the captain passed quietly through its doors.

Archer startled as Phlox, seeming to appear from nowhere, suddenly spoke close behind him. "Ah Captain: its good to see you at last. The lieutenant isn't really making much progress and has been quite unwell today. He never reacts favourably to being in sickbay, but he seems to be worse than usual this time. Please do go and sit with him. No doubt he'll find a…um…friendly face comforting."

A little annoyed by the doctor's hesitation over the word "friendly", the captain wandered slowly towards the curtained-off bio bed to which Phlox gestured. Obviously, his uninvited female visitor was not the only one who felt he'd been a little prickly of late.

Malcolm's eyes were closed when Archer stepped through the curtain, but they fluttered open as the captain sat by the bed and, as he slowly registered who he saw, his expression brightened: "Captain! Oh, thank God! Are…are you alright sir?"

His voice sounded weak but Archer was nervous, and hyper-alert for the injured man's least utterance. He wanted to keep things light, but having this man—who he had treated exceptionally shabbily—so relieved to see him, and so concerned for HIS welfare, shook his resolve. "I get to thank him first, Malcolm. The last time I saw you, I was convinced you weren't gonna make it. And yes, I'm fine—although I've been a little windy after all those goddamned oats you kept feeding me."

Reed closed his eyes again and frowned a little, trying hard to master his feelings: "Oh dear. I particularly hoped that part had been a dream."

The captain smiled wanly. "No such luck! I never thought I'd see the day when I'd have died for those Starfleet ration bars you had. And, by the way, you weren't eating nearly enough of them. You're skinnier than a rail."

At the familiar chastisement, Reed's pale cheeks flushed and Archer felt his heart seize. His emotions were churning, and he really wasn't up to having this conversation, but there was something he needed to know. "Malcolm, Trip filled me in on what happened after I rammed the battle cruiser. You were the only one who believed I was still alive. Why? And why did you come after me?"

Malcolm gazed up at him and Archer saw tears shining in his eyes. When, at last, he spoke, his voice was quivering—but stronger than it had been a moment ago—and it carried a declaration straight from his bruised and battered heart. "I didn't believe you were alive. I just couldn't bear to think you were dead."

The statement was stunning in its simplicity and, coming from one so reserved as his armoury officer, it was precious beyond imagining. Guilt swamped him and Archer couldn't bear it. He had to get away. "Oh. Oh, I see. Well, I'm glad that you did." He stood quickly, almost knocking over his chair. "Its…its good to see you're on the mend. I'll pop by again, if I get the chance."

Swerving to avoid colliding with Phlox, Jonathan Archer, yet again, fled from his feelings.

In his time aboard Enterprise, Doctor Phlox had observed a lot of human behaviour and studied the different personalities exhibited by the crew he cared for—particularly those in command positions. The most wounded spirit he'd ever encountered, however, was the one currently bleeding out before him as he peeped round the privacy curtain. "Lieutenant. May I speak with you for a moment?"

Startled, Malcolm managed a weak smile for his physician, but his eyes were moist and he looked broken-hearted. "Yes, of course, Doctor. I wasn't going anywhere."

Stepping closer, Phlox began to disengage the various monitors that were still attached to his patient. "Hmm. Maybe its time you were. I have an anti-grav chair around here somewhere and I think you'd benefit from a change of scenery—a little outing to hydroponics, perhaps?"

Captain Jonathan Archer sat in his Ready Room wishing his shift were over. Malcolm had unnerved him earlier and, too restless to concentrate on the day's reports, he sat scowling at the computer monitor and idly flipping through Starfleet's database.

He came across his own biography, from a news item on the Enterprise launch, and read the glowing testimonials to his character. None of it was true! All those grand statements about his leadership abilities, courage and personal integrity weren't worth a damn! Hadn't he proved that tonight in sickbay? He—the man who allegedly stared danger in the face and laughed at it—was too much of a coward to face his failures and confront his own emotions!

When his interminable shift finally ended and he arrived at his quarters, he realised that his emotions were about to confront HIM!

The cabin was dimly lit and a single, perfect, red rose lay on his pillow. In the chair by the window, clad only in his sickbay gown and a lightweight robe, sat Malcolm Reed.

His mouth suddenly grown dry, Archer lifted the rose and sniffed its delicate scent: "For me?"

Watching him closely from the shadows, Reed nodded: "I don't feel this way about anybody else."

Fighting memories of the awkwardness of his teenage years, Archer slowly approached his armoury officer. "How…how does "this way" feel?"

Although he was visibly shaking now, Malcolm bravely held his gaze. "Frightening; exciting; confusing—I'm in love with you but I don't want you to hurt me anymore."

Archer set the rose down on the window ledge. "Oh Malcolm, I'm so sorry for all the pain I've caused. I think its long past time I stopped acting like an asshole and showed you how I really feel about you."

Leaning forward, the captain cupped Reed's face in his hands and pressed a lingering kiss on his lips. For a long moment, after he pulled away, Malcolm sat motionless, his eyes closed, as if committing the moment to memory. At last, he let out a gusting sigh and looked up at Archer. "Please don't let me be dreaming this."

Grinning, the captain knelt beside the low chair and kissed him again, more deeply this time, then began to work his way down the lieutenant's throat, nuzzling at his collarbone, nipping him gently with his teeth. "We're on a vital mission, and I need to keep my focus—but not at your expense. I tried to live without you, but it was like starving to death. I told myself I didn't need you, but I was wrong. You're all that I need, Malcolm. I know that now. Can you ever forgive me for what I've done to you?"

Archer almost sobbed with relief at the warmth of Reed's smile as he replied. "Yes. I think I can."

It took him a moment to notice that Malcolm was slumping forward in his chair, his breathing rapid and his brow misted with sweat. "Jeez, Malcolm, I'm sorry. I'm wearing you out here."

The lieutenant winced. "I'm fine, but just not up to sitting for long. Can…can we lie down for a while?"

Carefully, Archer helped the younger man to stand and led him slowly to the bed. He untied the belt of his robe and slid it off his shoulders then, on impulse, paused, fingering the ties at the back of the sickbay gown. "I want to look at you Malcolm. Is that okay?"

Ducking his head as he realised what was being asked, Reed blushed but gave his consent, and the sickbay gown quickly joined the robe on the floor.

The captain made Malcolm comfortable on the bed, his gaze all the while roaming over the slight but well-muscled body before him. At length, he sat down and gently traced the healing scars left by the primates' attack. "I thought they were going to tear you to pieces. I felt so helpless."

Watching Archer's exploring fingers, the armoury officer smiled shyly: "I'd have died right then if you hadn't distracted them."

Reed's knees were still bruised from where he'd been dragged through flooding river's shallows, across the rocky riverbed, and Archer leaned over to kiss them, eliciting a nervous giggle from the lieutenant. "For a man so scared of drowning, you coped well in the water. I was so proud of you."

Another blush crept up to Malcolm's hairline: "You kept me afloat. I'd have been swept away without you."

The captain turned his attention to the heavy bandaging swathing Malcolm's middle, giving support to the healing flesh below, and found himself speaking his thoughts aloud. "They almost killed you. Phlox didn't think you'd survive surgery. I let you take on an army of crazed—my god, I don't know WHAT they were: Neanderthals?—to save a man you thought was me. And then I left you alone in sickbay when you needed me most of all."

At that, Reed sat up rather too quickly, crying out as mending muscles pulled and twinged "You saved my life! I wouldn't even have made it as FAR as sickbay if you hadn't charged in to my rescue, then kept me going when I'd have given up."

At his movement, Archer instantly had an arm round his shoulders, supporting him, and Malcolm turned into his embrace. "Stuck in sickbay, I've had plenty of time to think things over. You HAVE been a total arsehole, and I won't ever let you treat me so badly again, but no more guilt. Just love me, Jon. That's all I ask."

Archer tentatively hugged the still-frail body beside him: "I do, Malcolm. I love you, heart and soul."

At that, Malcolm tugged the captain's head down for a rather desperate kiss, then began to fumble with Archer's jumpsuit zipper. When he spoke, his voice was suffused with urgency. "Weren't you going to SHOW me how you feel about me?"

An hour later, Jonathan Archer was like a man reborn. At the lieutenant's urging, he'd eased Malcolm onto his side and taken him slowly and tenderly, mindful of his fragile state but anxious to show his feelings and share his love. The lieutenant had opened himself trustingly to him, and was now curled in his arms, his head on Archer's chest and the blankets tucked cosily around him. He looked boyish and relaxed—far from the tense, strained creature the captain had created as he succumbed, post-Xindi, to his own fear and hatred.

Yawning, Reed opened his eyes and Archer felt long, curling, lashes brush against his chest, tickling a little. "How are you feeling, Malcolm? Maybe I should have waited…"

Reed's knee came up between Archer's thighs and gently nudged his, still delicate, genitals. "Not on your life! I haven't had such a good seeing-to in ages and I feel wonderful."

Laughing, Archer cuddled him closer. "Seeing-to? Is that what you call it? Malcolm, you're so good for me. I won't let myself forget that again."

Tilting his head up to look at his lover, Malcolm smiled lazily. "And you for me, love. I…What the bloody hell is THAT?"

Archer followed his gaze to the window and caught his breath in surprise. The stars had reformed to trace a definite heart shape, inside which, against the blackness of space, twinkled the initials "J.A." and "M.R". Underneath, in flowing characters, written in icy vapour like a comet's tail, were the words "About time too!"

The captain looked back at Malcolm and saw the starlight reflecting in his wide, surprised eyes. "Malcolm…Let me tell you a fairytale…"

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