Title: Thin Ice

Author: The Moonmoth

Author's Contact: moonmoth47@hotmail.com

Archive: Yes to Archers_Enterprise, EntSTCommunity and ReedsArcheryRange. Others are welcome but please ask first.

Rating: PG-13, just to be safe

Status: Complete

Series: Little Earthquakes

Sequel to: Caught

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Type: POV (Reed)

Warnings: Angst, and a distinct lack of Jon for an A/R fic—apologies.

Spoilers: Shuttle Pod One

Disclaimer: Paramount owns the characters, I just play with them. I did it for love, not money.

Beta: My thanks once again to Mareel, for her time, advice and insight, the latter of which has been invaluable in the writing of this story. My thanks also to anyone who's put up with my whinging at about this fic in the past month or so—Kez and Elf come to mind, but I'm sure there have been others.

Summary: Malcolm tries to deal with the emotions that have been awakened in the aftermath of his ordeal in shuttle pod one.

Author's Notes: The warm fluffies have been put away for this one. It wasn't easy to write and isn't intended to be easy to read. Although this series was inspired by the Little Earthquakes album by Tori Amos (all hail) you don't need to be familiar with the music to understand the fic. You probably don't even need to read the three preceding stories, but it might help put this one in context. The quote at the start has been ever so slightly fiddled.

Nerd Note: On the off-chance that anyone is interested, a holraum is a type of hollow container with a small hole in it that allows electromagnetic radiation in and then traps it, so it bounces around inside. They're used in the investigation of, amongst other things, black-bodies, which are perfect absorbers and emitters of radiation.

Feedback: Yes, please. All constructive criticism is welcome, you don't have to be nice, be as detailed as you like. It can only make me better.

"Mirror, mirror, where's the crystal palace? But I only can see myself, skating around the truth who I am. But I know, the ice is getting thin."—Tori Amos, 'Winter'


So, we made it. I'm too weak, too full of drugs, to feel anything beyond a faint relief and an ache that penetrates my body to the core. Waking, breaking the surface of consciousness, I breathe deeply and try to hold onto the knowledge that I'm neither dead nor in any danger of dying, and that I'm warm. But the memory of death is clinging tight and icy dread runs through me. I try to sit up, to run away and leave the fear behind me, but I'm so tired. The gentle touch of Captain Archer is enough to lay me down, back into the yielding pillow of my sickbay bed; his voice, soft with concern, murmurs a reassurance. His hand is resting on my shoulder, but really it's over my heart, his warmth diffusing through me until I can believe that I'm alive again, that I'm safe.

'Easy, Malcolm. You fellas had a nice little bout with hypothermia.'

'The commander?' The panic returns as I remember Trip. I look for him and he's there, lying in an adjacent bed, sleeping peacefully.

'He'll be fine.'

'It took nearly three hours to get your body temperatures back to normal,' Phlox adds, standing on the other side of Trip.

Captain Archer smiles at me reassuringly, but I can see the worry in the lines of his face: it was a close call. Overwhelmed, I close my eyes, trying to connect the fragmented thoughts running through my head, but little sense is to be made of them right now. Instead, images come unbidden into my mind's eye, of Trip and I floating frozen and alone in the desolation of space, and I feel like I'm falling.

Desperately I cast my anchor, opening my eyes and meeting Jon's, and suddenly I'm back in sickbay, safe and warm with my captain by my side. As I look at him, so many things come rushing back to me, and I'm flooded with emotions that I simply can't deal with in my current state. Ashamed of the tears that are threatening to be shed, I glance away and try feebly to explain myself.

'We saw debris from Enterprise on one of the asteroids. We assumed… We thought you were all…' But I can't finish without giving myself away. And not finishing, I say even more.

My distress engenders Jon's full compassion, and with a further squeeze of my shoulder he relieves me of their company.

'I'll tell you all about it in the morning.'

But I call T'Pol back, risking her scorn for one last reassurance that this is no dream. Her dispassionate response is oddly comforting and I allow myself a small smile.

Phlox is elsewhere in the infirmary, and I silently thank him for giving me this time alone. As T'Pol leaves he dims the lights and I once again look for Trip, letting my eyes linger on his untroubled face.

'Sleep well, my friend,' I whisper, adding silently, 'Thank you for your strength.' I could not have survived so long without him, of this I'm certain. I would have stayed in orbit around that damned asteroid, recording my letters until the air ran out and I became nothing more than a floating memorial to all that I'd lost. My heart aches powerfully as I remember… My eyes fill with tears once more, but Phlox's stimulant is wearing off and my exhaustion quickly overtakes me. I'm asleep before I can wipe the moisture from my skin.


I awaken several hours later as a violent shiver runs through my body. My first thoughts are of endless ice, white and unrelenting. But it was just a dream. Pulling myself into full awareness I try to convince myself that I'm not cold at all, tucked carefully into a thermal blanket on the heat-controlled biobed. But once more, I shiver—an uncontrollable spasm across my entire body. Forcing my eyes to stay open I concentrate avidly on the ceiling above me, the patterns of the lights and the fine imperfections of the panelling. Slowly, the reality of the dream drifts away and the shivers, thankfully, go with it. I carefully relax my taut muscles.

The privacy curtain has been drawn around our two beds and the lights directly above us are low, but the infirmary beyond is brightly lit and I can hear the doctor pottering around speaking softly to his creatures. It must be morning. Trip is still deeply asleep and this worries me a little, that he's so much more exhausted than I am. But his chest is rising and falling with regular, easy breaths and I close my eyes as I listen, comforted.

It then occurs to me that I'm still wearing the uniform I first put on more than three days ago… I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bed, and then hold myself very still, breathing deeply, trying to cling onto consciousness as my vision darkens around the edges and blood pounds in my ears. I shiver again a couple of times and the skin on my face suddenly seems clammy. I imagine that I've gone very pale.

'Phlox?' I manage to call weakly, feeling as though I'm about to vomit. 'Phlox?'

The doctor appears before me. 'Ah, good morning, Lieutenant. How are we feeling?'

Slowly, slowly, the dizziness and nausea are subsiding, and I chance adjusting my eyes to look up at him. 'Like I could do with a shower.' Not to mention a shave and a change of clothes.

The doctor checks my vital signs on the readout above my biobed, answering his own question as to the state of my health. Satisfied, he comes to stand in front of me. 'Certainly—you can use the shower at the back of sickbay.'

'I'd much rather return to my quarters,' I protest, relaxing my grip on the side of the biobed as my vision clears and my pulse begins to calm.

Phlox holds up his hand. 'Ah. Lieutenant. I'm afraid you'll be remaining here for at least one more day. Your body has been through quite an ordeal—you must take the time to let it heal.'

I slide off the bed to my feet, further protest on my lips, when another, albeit less intense wave of nausea hits and my legs wobble uncertainly under my weight. Grabbing hold of the bed I steady myself. 'Fine,' I eventually mutter through gritted teeth. 'But I'd appreciate something fresh to wear.'

Phlox simply watches me, infuriating amusement twinkling in his neon-bright eyes. 'There is a set of clean pyjamas each for you and Commander Tucker in one of the drawers, along with a few other items you might need.'

'Thank you,' I grimace. Shaking my head clear, I make my way a little unsteadily towards the back of the infirmary where the bathroom and shower stall reside.

'And Lieutenant Reed?' Phlox calls after me as he moves round to the commander's bed, 'You may want to keep the heat quite low. You still have the drugs in your system from the hypothermia treatments—you may experience some light-headedness.'

I don't bother replying. There isn't a chance in hell that I'm not turning the heat on full for each and every rationed minute. My body temperature may have returned to normal but there's something… I still feel cold to my core. It's inside me, all-pervading, hard and unremitting. Even now, just walking across the room away from my biobed and the protection of the thermal blanket, I've started once more to shiver.


The shower helped, and the clean pyjamas. They're heavier than standard issue medical pj's, heavy and warm, and the good doctor even left some thick socks. There was also a toothbrush and disposable shaving kit.

Reaching up to remove the bristle from my face I paused, remembering.

*And just what are you doing?*

*An officer at his best is always well groomed.*

The officer was all I had left. The professional, hollow shell. Trip was right: it was ridiculous to care about my appearance, but despite all facades, I didn't want to die, and the only thing I had to cling onto was Lieutenant Reed—cool, distant, immaculate. Even that last vestige of control over myself, my fate, was wrested from me. Everything was gone, everything I had ever cared about: my ship, my colleagues, and then my command over myself.

I stared at my foggy reflection for a while, then went ahead and shaved, hand ever so slightly trembling on the razor. And now, standing over Trip as he sleeps, the trembling continues. I tell myself that I'm tired, exhausted in fact, and drugged. And terrified, deep inside, that he won't wake up. And terrified of what will happen when he does.

I bared my soul to this man, in the frozen air of shuttle pod one, staring death in the face. I opened up to him in a way that I never have before to anyone, because I thought I was going to die. To go to my death, to die with Trip at my side, and yet to be so alone… the thought made me ache with a profound loneliness such as I have never known before. So I reached out, to make the connection I now realise I've always been missing, and by force of circumstance made him the closest friend I've ever had. What scares me is what happens to that friendship when he wakes up. He's blessed with easy manners and charm—forming relationships with others comes naturally to him, why should I be special in any way? And yet I think, now, that I need him. I realised something about myself during the time in which we thought Enterprise destroyed… something I can't bear to think about. I need Trip to be my friend, because otherwise I will seek closeness elsewhere. And I know exactly where, and with whom, and I cannot permit it.

I feel the back of my neck prickling at my disturbing train of thought, a kind of cold heat flushing my skin and pinching it tight. Trip is my connection, to life, to sanity. I want him to wake up, to talk to me as though he cares; I want him to stay asleep so that I might stay in this state of emotional limbo. Reaching out I tentatively lay my hand in the centre of his chest, feeling the faint pulse of his heart and the movement of his breathing. I look into his face, searching for something—I don't know what—but before long I'm lost in thought again. I don't know how long I stand there—it feels like a long time. But eventually my head starts to spin and I slip back onto my biobed, rolling up tight in the thermal blanket.


'Commander, I think you better come and take a look at this.'

The last words I would speak in ignorance of Jon's death. I knew, then. The closer we got to the wreckage, the harder I felt it—stone growing in the pit of my stomach, sucking the life from my veins until I became a statue. He was dead. I knew it before we saw the launch bay door, but it was then that I could no longer deny it.

I couldn't speak, couldn't breathe, couldn't see beyond the wreckage, couldn't think beyond an image of Jon's smiling face. And in that moment, I understood it all. All the jokes, all the dreams, the looks, letting him touch me, letting him get to me. I loved him. I loved him with a passion that scared me, a depth that drowned me.

As I stared at the asteroid, my soul left me. Into the rushing of the vacuum left in its wake, a crystalline structure of ice formed, beautiful in its intricate grief. He's dead. I love him.


I suppose I must have slept, but it barely feels like it. I wake having been aware of voices for some time, curled up in the same position I went to sleep in. The doctor stands with his back to me next to Trip's bed, and Captain Archer is the other side, opposite him. In between them, Trip is propped up into a sitting position.

I feel so heavy, and sort of… grey. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum from happy to sad. Or maybe just fallen off the scale altogether. I blink once or twice because the light is bright in my eyes, and shiver because I'm still too asleep to remember that I'm not cold anymore. It seems that even this small movement is enough to attract Jonathan's attention and our eyes meet momentarily before I allow my focus to slacken and drift away.

They continue talking a little longer, and then Phlox helps Trip out of bed and across sickbay. I anticipate Jon's coming over to me, but he doesn't immediately. With great effort I lift my head and find him standing at the foot of my bed looking down at me. His expression is difficult to interpret—perhaps apprehension, perhaps concern. I try to turn and sit up, and in a moment he's by my side, asking how I'm feeling, tilting the head of the biobed so that I can lean against it. I answer expressionlessly.

He's here, he says, with breakfast for Trip and me, and he grabs a tray that I hadn't noticed from a bedside table that wasn't there before. There's a muffin, a couple of slices of toast and some juice. I take the tray. He says he's assigned a steward to bring our meals here until we tell Chef otherwise. I nod, thank you sir. He says he's also here to tell me, as promised, about what happened. As he continues to speak, I break off a small piece of the muffin and think about eating it. It seems the polite thing to do. I put it in my mouth and chew, and then I swallow it. I do it again.

He's stopped talking and I realise that I wasn't listening. Looking up at him I meet his eyes, but instead of the safe harbour I found there last night, I feel myself falling, hear the air whistling in my ears as my body rushes away.

'Malcolm, are you sure you're okay?' He frowns and reaches out a hand to my shoulder.

I stiffen involuntarily at his touch. My eyes fall to the four pips on his right shoulder. 'Yes, captain.' Captain. And there, there it is. Before my eyes Jonathan Archer flattens from three dimensions to two. The man, Jon, was in the extra dimension, superfluous. Now he's gone, no more perceivable to me than the thickness of a perfect square. Only Captain Archer remains. I find solid ground again.

'You must be tired,' he says uncertainly. 'I'll leave you to rest.'

'Goodbye, sir.' He frowns, but leaves without further word. I wait for the sound of the door closing and then place the tray on the end of the bed and draw my legs up. Wrapping my arms around my knees I stare into space. I don't feel good about what's just happened; neither do I feel bad. I don't feel anything at all.


My Dearest Caitlin, *My Dearest Jonathan,*

By this time I'm certain you've learned of the tragedy that befell the starship Enterprise. *We found the wreckage of Enterprise on the asteroid, your eternal tomb.*

You've also undoubtedly learned that my colleague, Commander Charles Tucker, and I did manage to survive for a few days after the accident. It's during that brief time that I've chosen to correspond with you. *Commander Tucker would have me believe that we'll soon be picked up by some passing alien or other. I have no such hope. I have no hope of anything, any more.*

Although our relationship was short-lived, and at times tumultuous, I can't help but picture your beautiful face—it gives me great comfort. *Oh Jon, I mourn for you. I never told you—never realised… The joy you brought to my life was something that I always cherished, your quiet companionship, your understanding. I picture your face and can find no comfort.*

Think of me from time to time. *It's too late. I left it all too late.*

Cordially, Malcolm. *Jon…*


'Hey, you're up!' Trip grins at me, returning from the shower. He's changed into his pyjamas, identical to mine, but I notice he hasn't bothered with the socks. As he walks over, he rubs his hair with a towel, then discards it on his bed, leaving his hair sticking up all over the place.

'I was awake long before you, Mr. Tucker.' I try to make my voice acerbic but it just comes out flat.

'Didn't look like it to me earlier,' he replies playfully, 'lying there with your eyes shut and your mouth wide open… did you know you snore?'

'I got bored of waiting for you to rejoin the land of the living.' I rest my cheek on my knees, watching him as he rifles through the drawers at the head of his biobed. 'And I don't snore.'

Straightening up he looks around and then turns to me. 'Know where I can find a comb? And you do too snore.'

'No,' I reply. 'I couldn't find one either.' I survey him for a moment as he looks around in vain for Doctor Phlox. 'I wouldn't worry, you don't look any worse than usual.'

'Yeah, well, you aren't exactly a bunch of roses yourself.' I just blink at him, the effort of a response too great. He looks me over for a couple of seconds, then moves my breakfast tray back to the bedside table and comes to perch at the foot of my bed. 'How are you, anyway?'

I lift my head, meeting his eyes as I consider the question. 'Fine' doesn't seem to quite cover it this time. But I don't know what else I could say. I feel… confused, but oddly calm, like the world is a whirling tornado all around me, but I'm standing quiet and unmoved at the centre. I feel somewhere, deep inside, like I'm crying, but the sensation is so distant it's barely an echo. I feel like I'm hanging from a cliff by my fingers, slipping slowly towards the edge…

I shake my head and take a shaky breath. 'Honestly, Trip? I don't know,' I whisper, resting my forehead on my knees. I imagine the image I am presenting, hugging my knees, head bowed—cocooning myself. I imagine myself to be impenetrable, impervious to attack. And I imagine Trip, eyes bright with concern, reaching out to pull me free of the maelstrom in my head.

I almost sigh at his warm hand coming to rest on one of my forearms, the touch so sure and strong. 'Malcolm,' he says, his voice soft and powerful like an embrace, 'you're warm, you're heart's beating, you're back on Enterprise and we're all safe.' He pauses for a moment, and a certain meaningfulness enters his voice. 'You're going to be okay.'

I think about this for a moment and then decide that I'll just trust him for now. Lifting my head I murmur, 'Of course I am,' and I'm vaguely pleased to hear that some semblance of the caustic is back in my tone.

'That's more like it.' He smiles slightly, his blue eyes warm, and squeezes my arm before getting up again. 'Now, are you gonna finish that?' He gestures to my barely touched breakfast. ''Cause if not…'

'Go ahead, Commander. I'm not hungry.' Obviously this is not what he had intended for me to say. He looks at me, exasperation and concern showing clearly on his expressive face. I can't find it in myself to be irritated, or particularly moved in any way, but… 'Fine, give it here.' He hands me back the tray. Because he wants me to, I force myself to eat.


It got cold very quickly after Trip turned the heat down. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and got pissed on bourbon to try to keep it away, but minus five is just cold enough to be insidious, and I could feel it seeping into every part of me. Still, I was in high spirits—the kind of 'high' where you're teetering on a tightrope and one little shove will send you crashing down. I couldn't bear to think, and so, as we got more and more intoxicated, I talked incessantly at Trip. I told him about the girls I recorded my letters to, and why each and every relationship ended in disaster. I told him about my parents, my father's expectation that I would join the navy. I told him everything, *anything*, to avoid saying the one thing I was burning to say. I even talked about T'Pol.

Internally, I was counting down: one day and five hours left, one day and four hours, only one day and three… I came to terms with my own mortality a long time ago, back when I first decided to specialise in weapons and tactical during my Starfleet training. I knew what it meant—above and beyond the inherent dangers of space travel, where death was only a malfunction away, my life would from then on be forfeit to the protection of the men and women I served with. Now that I had failed so spectacularly, I felt somewhat at a loss. I felt somehow less than myself. Coupled with my earlier discoveries as to the nature of my feelings for my captain, the man slowly freezing to death beside Commander Tucker was merely wearing a Malcolm Reed suit. Maybe the real me had already gone on to a better place.

But the universe was not yet finished toying with me. When Hoshi commed us, it was like being hit by a wall of sheer joy and elation, realising that he was alive, that he was coming to get me. But we couldn't reply, nor did we have enough air to last until the rendezvous. If we exploded the impulse drive there was a chance they'd see us and speed up, but we had no way of knowing for sure, and without the engine powering most of the electronics, things would get even colder.

But if there was one chance in a million… all I knew was that I had to live long enough to see Jon one last time. I truly didn't care if I died from cold or shock or whatever after the fact, I just needed to rest my eyes on his face, just once more, in the full knowledge that this is the man I'm in love with.

I swear, I could feel each and every fractional decrease in temperature as the vacuum of space closed in around us, my flesh creaking like pack ice. Space: minus two hundred and seventy degrees centigrade, a mere three degrees kelvin; three degrees above absolute zero, three inches from death, with nothing but the white-noise cackle of the galaxy to remind us that we were still living. Trip and I sat on the floor of the shuttle pod, shoulder to shoulder, shaking spasmodically from the cold. My poor, rattled brain had all but shut down, and the only thing I could think about was getting home to Jon where it was warm and I'd be safe. But slowly, a thought had been pushing its way through the haze to the forefront of my mind. The thought was this: how can you endure such fallacy?

I came to realise, sitting in the wintry shuttle pod convulsing with cold, that somehow, once again, I'd managed to delude myself. Jon wouldn't be waiting for me with anything more than professional concern. Something I'd forgotten to consider—I'm in love with him, but he is not in love with me. Earlier, when I thought him dead, I allowed myself to feel my love for him with such appalling grief, because in my mind, had I just *told* him it would have all worked out. It was a matter of not enough time. The connection I had failed to make, upon realising that he was in fact alive, was that this fantasy was just that—a fantasy, a dream, an illusion. Unreal. Fake. Offensive, even. How could I think so low of my captain? Given all the time in existence, we could never be together.

'Trip?' I whispered. His head had fallen onto my shoulder and his eyes were closed. I thought he might have been asleep, but eventually he replied.

'Yeah, Malcolm?'

'I'm in love with Captain Archer.'

I don't know exactly why I told him, only that I wished to be understood. I needed there to be someone else in the known universe who knew me for what I was.

'Cap'n don't date guys,' he replied simply through chattering teeth, not moving from my shoulder.

I leaned my head back against the bulkhead and closed my eyes against this new and definite proof of my delusion. 'I'm in love with someone who could never return my feelings. How do you cope with that?'

I said it so softly; I didn't expect him to hear. He didn't reply immediately and I thought he'd gone back to sleep, but eventually, voice a cracked whisper, he said, 'I don't know, Mal. I don't know.' My chest began to heave with more than just shivers and I squeezed my eyes shut even tighter as if that alone could keep out the pain. Trip moved closer and wrapped an arm around my waist, pulling me against him. Instinctively I unclasped my arms from in front of my chest and opened up my blanket, pulling him into it, wrapping him tightly in my arms. 'You just gotta keep breathing—breathing and living. The rest will sort itself out.' The warmth and comfort his presence engendered helped to calm me and eventually the tightness in my throat and chest subsided. I couldn't say whether or not I cried, my skin by this point being so numb.

Many long minutes of silence later, fighting to keep my eyes open, I asked, 'Why did you try to give your life for me?' He mumbled something into my chest and curled up even tighter against me. That was to be my only answer, and soon after I fell into unconsciousness.


Our first visitors arrive about midday. Hoshi and Travis bring their lunch trays with them and soon after the steward brings Trip and me our meals. We eat together, sitting cross-legged on the biobeds, and I listen while Travis fills us in on what we've been missing, Hoshi occasionally passing comment.

I remember, on the shuttle pod, thinking how young these two were, what a waste it was. They're my friends, and somewhere, I know I'm glad that they're not dead, but I fail to really feel anything on the subject. I seem to be watching them through a sheet of glass, not a participant but an observer, cut off from their life. An interesting mix—Hoshi's wry observances, Travis's enthusiasm… I smile and nod, and find myself losing interest as my mind wanders away, my focus reflected back into myself by the wall.

I think about the man that I earlier exorcised from the captain—Jon. I love him. I'm resigned to that now. I suppose it's easier loving a ghost than a man. And if it was all just a dream anyway, why not continue dreaming? Maybe one day I'll have dreamed it enough to not know that it isn't real.

They leave. Hoshi gives Trip a quick hug and then does the same to me. I don't miss the concerned look she flashes me, nor the tentativeness in Travis's touch as he squeezes my shoulder, but I can't bring myself to care. The steward returns to retrieve our trays. Phlox appears with some kind of Denobulan board game, for us to pass the time, and embarks on an explanation of what seem to be overly complicated rules. Subcommander T'Pol arrives, enquires after our health, and leaves again. Lieutenant Hess tries to sneak in with engineering updates for Trip but is shooed out—we're supposed to be resting. Each time the door opens I expect to see Captain Archer, but he doesn't come.

We sit on Trip's bed as we try to figure out Phlox's game, tentatively setting out a few playing pieces.

'Cross there, octagon there, three-legged thing there…'

'I think the octagon goes here actually, sir.'

'You sure?'

'Fairly certain.'

'Okay, octagon there.' He picks up the next piece, a strange concave shape, and considers which way up it should go. Turning it over in his fingers he seems to consider it for a long time, frowning slightly.

'Do you… do you remember much?' he asks after a while.

I know he means more than he's saying, but it's too ambiguous. 'What do you mean?'

He moves to place the basin-shaped playing piece, but his hand hovers over the board, uncertain.

'That was some emotional roller coaster we went on. And after we turned the heat down…' His tone is deliberate and there's something very careful in the way he's looking at me. 'I guess my memory's a bit scrambled.'

I understand immediately that he's giving me an option—a way out, a tentative gesture to forget all that was said. I told him a lot of personal things, and I trust him to keep them private, but this is about something specific. When I don't reply, he continues.

'Sometimes, in situations like that… well, people say things…'

Maybe he doesn't believe that I meant it, or that I meant to say it. Maybe he thinks I was delirious. But it was the truth, and sharing it with him was a conscious decision. I want to tell him this, to beg him not to forget it, to understand what telling him cost me, but also *why* I did. I want to explain to him how it felt, to know that I might so easily die having never told anyone my greatest secret—the sheer loneliness that spectre provoked in me. But the words stick in my throat and I stare down at my hands in my lap. The game forgotten, Trip pushes the board aside and moves closer to me.

'Hell, Malcolm, I never was any good at subtlety so I'll just say it. At the end, what you told me—if you want me to forget about it, I will. Never happened. But it seemed pretty important to you at the time, and you haven't been yourself since we got back, so if you want to talk about it… you know… I'm all ears.'

My eyes stay rooted to my hands which rest nervously in my lap. I wanted this, so why is it now so hard to find the words? Talking about it makes it real, and reality is a fragile thing. Anyway, it was all just a dream, a fantasy. Captain Archer, the man on the bridge right now, is real; the man I'm in love with no longer exists. I know this because this morning I saw Jon disappear into the captain's pips.

I want so desperately to talk to Trip, but I can't. Lost, I stand and walk over to my own bed, leaning on it, trying to stop my head spinning. A shiver runs through me and I concentrate on that. I'm not cold, I'm not cold… I remember the feeling I had, of my soul fleeing my body, ice filling up the void left behind. I wonder if it isn't still out there, encircling the asteroid, while the ice—unyielding, unmelting—remains inside.

A hand on my shoulder turns me round and I meet Trip's eyes, deep with concern and confusion.

'Malcolm, please…'

I stare at him helplessly, trying to find the words for what I'm feeling. Where is the calm control of Lieutenant Reed? Not just the outward control over my actions and reactions, but the sense of control over the direction of my life. I'm adrift.

'Trip, this isn't me.' I shake my head, lost in the emptiness.

He's gripping both my shoulders now, like he's going to embrace me or shake me and I feel my body going rigid in response. But he does neither of these things—does nothing, in fact. Just continues gripping me tightly and staring at me intently, as though he could drag the answer out of my brain with the intensity of his gaze.

'Is something the matter, gentlemen?'

We both startle. Trip quickly withdraws his hands and greets the captain. I turn towards the intruder standing just inside the infirmary doors and for a moment I see Jon and I just feel so lost and alone I want to go to him and be held in his arms. But then I remember—Jon is gone, it's only the captain. Regaining my composure, I allow the coldness to flood me, drown out my senses. It's a reflex action, but even if I could stop it I wouldn't.

Commander Tucker and Captain Archer exchange a few words. I just let it all wash over me, responding automatically when required. I begin to feel tired and heavy, and when the captain leaves I lie down on my bed, waiting for sleep. It doesn't come immediately, and I think about ice and the nature of the human soul while waiting.


Phlox released us back to our quarters that evening, and the relief I felt at sinking into my own bed for the first time in a week was immeasurable. I felt things relaxing that I didn't realise I had been holding taut, began to feel an ache deep in my bones that I hadn't noticed before. I really hate sickbay. It's like being on show, some animal in a zoo for anyone to poke and prod at. The calm of my room was a very welcome change.

Trip commed me about 1800, to ask if I wanted to join him and some others for dinner. I declined, fed up with people and small talk. I just wanted to stay in my own quarters, by myself. Take a hot shower, maybe read a few reports.

It was almost as though I needed the silence, being myself so devoid of anything inside. The noisy, exuberant life pressing in on me on all sides reverberated painfully right through to my core, bouncing around the hollow shell like the black-body holraums I remember from my undergraduate days. More than once I found myself wandering over to the window, to lose myself in the ageless, gaping infinity of the stars.

I wondered vaguely what had happened to me these past few days, if I was somehow broken, malfunctioning. What would happen to me if I couldn't be fixed?

Later, I lay in my bed curled up tightly against the shivering. The environmental controls were already on high and I was sorely tempted to go to the quartermaster for thicker pyjamas and another blanket. But part of me refused to give in so easily—I had to be able to control it, just this one thing.

But I couldn't stop, and I couldn't understand why. Why was it so hard to just stop bloody shivering?


The next day I spent catching up on armoury and ship-wide reports, leaving my quarters only to eat. The day after that I went back on duty.

I seemed to float through the following days like a wraith, keeping to a quiet routine. I attended to my duties during the day, went to the gym after my shift, and later in the evening, after a hot shower, worked on various personal projects in my quarters. I took my work with me into the mess hall over lunch, in the hope of being left alone. Trip joined me a couple of times, but that was alright. It made it easier to refuse the invitations in the evenings. He made one more tentative go at discussing what was said on the shuttle, but that was all. After I said I didn't want to talk about it, he didn't mention it again. At night, I tried to control the shivering, but it didn't seem to be getting any easier.

I felt blank, grey. I saw the captain often, but there was no repeat of my confusion in sickbay. I saw him as a flat shape moving through the ship, a cardboard cut-out of a starship captain. He was nothing more than a rank, barely even a living entity. When he touched me I forced myself not to stiffen, and when he spoke to me I was polite and deferential. We'd never really interacted more than this anyway—nothing was different. I knew that it wasn't loss I was feeling, because my emotions were just a distant jumble of static fuzz. Mostly, I just felt indifferent.

But that day—that day was different. A little over a week had passed since the doctor released us, but I still wasn't sleeping well, the shivers keeping me awake into the night and the dreams continually waking me. But that morning I awoke not disturbed by images of ice or the vastness of space, but warm and comfortable, in the arms of the man I love, peaceful, contented. I tried to cling on to the dream, the sense of safety and reassurance, but of course it slipped away. Even then I didn't open my eyes, holding on to the sensation of Jon's body curled around my own.

A pain was growing in my chest that had nothing to do with the physical. I felt sick, the feeling deep beyond the nausea I felt in the infirmary, suffocating me, constricting my stomach and throat. I screwed up my eyes even tighter against a rising tide of emotion but nothing could keep the pain out. A huge sob escaped me as I gasped for breath against the thickness in my throat, and then again, and again. My body shook and I screwed my eyes shut so tightly I saw stars, but the tears still seeped away, down my cheeks and onto my bed. The sobs kept coming and I could barely breathe against them. I lay, helpless, trying not to cry out in my pain.

I tried so hard not to fall in love with him, but the realisation came too late. I toyed with my feelings, laughed with him, joked with him, all the time encouraging—I thought I could control it, but I've brought this on myself, and now I find myself in such a profound mess that I can't begin to see a way out. Damn it. And damn him for making it all so easy. The slippery slope to oblivion.

The sobs continued, racking my body until it ached. And like the shivers, I had no control over myself, no ability to stop it, a simple vessel to the outpouring of pain.


I don't know how long I stayed like that, and I don't remember falling asleep again, but I awoke to the sound of the door chime. Disorientated, I sat on the edge of the bed and called for my visitor to enter while trying to work out who'd want to see me at this time of the morning. Trip walked into the middle of the room and stood with his arms crossed over his chest, smirking.

'Rise and shine, sleepyhead. It's time for school.'

'What?' I stared at him in confusion.

'It's 0900—you were supposed to be on the bridge half an hour ago. Captain Archer sent me to find out where you'd got to.'

'Oh.' How was it so late? I'd only just woken up. Slowly, terribly, the dream came back to me and my tired eyes filled with tears again. I looked up at Trip, and he looked back at me, the smirk suddenly replaced by bewilderment. I felt it, too. I felt like a bottomless pit of sorrow and that's something so unlike me, and such a contrast to the emotional flatness of the past week. I had been walking along a plateau and now found myself at the edge, staring over the cliff.

'God, Trip, I hope I'm alright,' I whispered, imploring him silently to confirm it as he did in sickbay. I blinked, the surface tension broke, the tears rolled freely down my face.

And then Trip was at my side, arms around me, asking me to talk to him, to tell him what was wrong. I leaned against him, absorbing his warmth, savouring the feeling of contact with another human body, ignoring the great pang of sadness that it wasn't Jon there instead.

Again, he asked me to tell him what was wrong, but he already knew, and the only thing to be said was, 'Everything.'


Trip made my excuses to the captain and assigned one of my team to cover my bridge duties, which left me to work alone in the armoury for the rest of my shift. I think I'll always be in his debt for that. I don't think I could have handled seeing the captain right then, especially whilst on display to the rest of the bridge crew.

I can't remember the last time a day felt so long, or I felt so emotional. I felt like so much liquid, held together with nothing more than surface tension, and it was horrible. I don't think I've cried since… since I broke up with my first girlfriend, thirteen years ago. But I've never felt like this before, so soul-destroyingly empty. I knew the feeling wouldn't last, that the raw edge would be dulled, but at several points during the day it was difficult to remember that.

Captain Archer came to see me during the course of the afternoon. I had been expecting him to appear since lunch, and by then I'd managed to talk myself into some sort of fragile equilibrium. But it didn't take away the impact of that first moment, hearing the doors opening, turning round to see him walking towards me.

'Sir,' I greeted him, remembering my federation diplomacy course—speak first, take control of the situation. 'I trust you received my message. Let me apologise once more for what happened this morning. It was an inexcusable neglect of my duty—it won't happen again, Captain.'

He waved me off with a slight smile. 'Don't worry about it, Malcolm. Trip filled me in on everything—you can't help not feeling well. Have you been to see the doctor about it?'

'It's just a slight cold, sir. Probably caught it opening that bourbon on the shuttle pod.'

He chuckled at my wry comment. 'Still, he might be able to give you something. I'd like you to drop by after your shift. We don't want you sleeping through your alarm again tomorrow.'

'Of course, sir.' I had no intention of visiting Phlox in the near future, but I would play along for now.

There was a moment, then, thick with silence, when I looked into his eyes and had the impression of mirrors, reflecting back my own turmoil with an intensity I found hard to face. And… something else. A certain… tenderness? It felt so disconcerting to find the feelings I tried the hardest to hide staring right back at me, as though he was looking into the very core of my being, and I was struck with the desperate need to escape his scrutiny.

'Sir, if there's nothing else..?' I half turned away, back to my console, dismayed to hear such fragility in my voice.

'Listen, Malcolm.' He eyed me for a moment longer, a thoughtful frown forming across his features, as though weighing up his words. Then he seemingly changed his mind and shook his head, smiling wryly.

'Are you sure you're okay?' I looked back at him, into his clear green eyes, and wondered for a moment what it was he didn't say.

'Yes, sir, I'm fine.'

He patted my shoulder. 'See you tomorrow then, Lieutenant,' he said, turning to go, leaving me with the distinct impression that he didn't believe a single word I'd just said.

For much of the remainder of my shift, I sat at my workbench dissecting a Klingon phase pistol I'd salvaged from the raptor. I would normally find such a task consuming, but increasingly I found myself thinking about my disturbing lack of defence when it came to Jon, and if I had somehow allowed it to happen, or whether this was just my curse—to be so transparent to the one from whom I had most to hide.

I also thought about the look on Jon's face as he tried to decide whether or not to tell me something, wondering what that something was. Jon… therein lay the root of my introspection. In that look, in that smile, in the lines around his eyes and the set of his mouth, was the man. No longer the captain. Or maybe—both.

My last barrier was broken, my last defence breached. It was hardly surprising, after the turmoil of the morning, and I accepted it with the bare minimum of resistance. I just didn't have the strength.


I left the armoury as soon as my shift was over and headed straight for my quarters. I'd leave the gym tonight, maybe read a book or watch a film instead, and almost certainly be asleep by 2100. To my chagrin, Mr. Tucker had other ideas.

He appeared at my door barely five minutes after I got in, leaning against the frame as though he owned it.

'Come on,' he said, jerking his head in a gesture that I should follow him. 'Dinner.'

'What?' I stare at him, irritated. 'No.'

'What do you mean, 'No'?'

'I mean no. I'm not hungry. I'll grab something later.'

'You didn't eat breakfast.' It wasn't a question. 'And I didn't see you in the mess at lunch. Now Hoshi tells me she hasn't seen you—actually laid eyes on you—for three days. Three *days*, Malcolm! So you can get your ass out here, come to dinner and be sociable for a damn change.'

'Trip, I'm tired. Tomorrow, perhaps.'

He straightened up, looking as though he was about to yell something unholy at me, when Ensign Tanner exited his quarters opposite mine and stared at us quizzically for a moment before continuing down to the turbo-lift. Trip glared at me but held his tongue, instead stepping into my quarters where, I imagined, he could shout at me more privately. But when he spoke, his tone was soft.

'Goddamn it, Malcolm. You don't want to talk to me—fine—but you can't hide in here forever.'

'I'm not hiding,' I protested, even as I realised it was the truth. Trip just stared at me witheringly. I sighed, my tiredness washing over me in waves, and suddenly I didn't care anymore. Suddenly I just wanted this thing that had been hanging over us ever since we were rescued to be gone. 'Okay! I'm hiding! So what? I love him, Trip. I love him and it hurts like a phase pistol blast to the chest. And I can't escape it or ignore it—every day it's there. And I don't understand how just loving someone can be so bloody painful.' I stopped, rubbing my forehead absently, and walked over to the window. 'I asked you, on the shuttle, how I could cope with that. Well this is it: this is me coping.'

He was shaking his head even before I'd finished. 'You're not dealing with it at all! You're just hiding away in here like some hermit from the only people who can help you through this.'

'Oh?' I asked sharply, 'And who might they be? I didn't realise the tooth fairy and Father Christmas were onboard.'

'Your *friends*, Malcolm. God knows I don't know why sometimes, but we care about you.' I turned away angrily at this intrusion, this presumption. There was silence for several seconds, and then I heard Trip moving closer until I could see his reflection behind mine in the window. 'There's a saying, you know: too much solitude'll make you a Vulcan.'

I met his eyes in the window, looked him over cynically. 'Oh, really. I haven't heard that one.'

He shrugged. 'I just made it up. But it doesn't mean it isn't true,' he added promptly, seeing my expression. My stomach chose that particular moment to make a rather loud gurgling sound. I glared down at it reproachfully.

'Traitor.' Looking back up at Trip I sighed resignedly, too tired to protest anymore, too tired to fight. 'Fine… fine. Dinner it is. Lead the way, Mr. Tucker.'


It still hurts. Days go by, weeks pass, but life here is unrelenting and Trip was right—I can't hide from it all in my quarters. Some relief comes in the continuing influx of aliens and away missions, and the mission continues. But there are days when it's quiet onboard, and I sit at my workbench with something in pieces and stare into space. At these times I think about a lot of things; the symmetry of a perfect explosion, the fluctuations in my new energy shield, what's showing at movie night, the way his skin felt under my hands last week in decon.

There's a moment each morning, just after I become fully awake, just before I remember my dreams, when I find myself to be no longer in love with him. I lie in my bed staring at the wall, thinking of him, and I feel nothing at all other than the hope that it's finally over. Sometimes I carry this feeling with me into breakfast, but it never lasts beyond that because invariably, inexorably, I'll see him in the corridor or the lift, or finally on the bridge.

I haven't really talked to Trip beyond what was said that intense day I broke down in front of him. I don't think it's in me, to drag myself through all that again. I've never been an articulate person. But in a way it helps knowing that he knows, that I could go to him if I needed to.

One thing that has become increasingly apparent to me is that time is no healer when you're hermetically sealed onto a starship, forced every day to confront that which you wish to conceal. Time can only deepen the bruising, no matter how well I hide what I feel. Even from myself.

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