Written for: the_moonmoth
Word Count: 9844 (part 2)
Status: Complete (Part 2/2)
Summary: Love and loss... and finding their way back home
Warning: AU, reference to character deaths
Authors Notes: My thanks again to kayjayuu and evilleaper fof all of their help and for being a constant source of encouragement. And thanks to the_moonmoth for her patience in waiting for this to resolve in its own time.
For full notes, spoiler information and disclaimers, please see introductory Zero post.
Continued from Part 1/2
This Time by Mareel
Part 2: Enroute to rendezvous with Degra's ship
I finally got to meet Degra, the Xindi Humanoid whom Jonathan believes is crucial to the success of our mission. Using information he'd obtained from his counterpart in the other timeline, Jonathan was able to contact this Degra and arranged to meet with him here aboard Enterprise.
The evidence presented at that meeting was persuasive enough that Jonathan was invited to address the full Xindi Council. Degra made it clear that it was not going to be easy to convince the other Council members that the sphere-builders were not the benevolent Guardians they believed them to be. But any opportunity for a diplomatic resolution was worth the attempt, particularly since Degra confirmed that the weapon was nearly ready for deployment.
Degra offered to provide escort for Enterprise to the Council planet, without which I'm certain we would never get past its security perimeter. From a tactical viewpoint, we had to consider that this might be a trap, but Jonathan was certain that Degra could be trusted. Having met him, I could understand that trust; he appears to be a man of integrity.
I should have known he would be such, would have to have been for he and Jonathan to have reached an accord twice... once by stratagem, in his own timeline, and again here by appealing to the man behind the weapon designer. The latter tactic was a risk, as I warned Jonathan in my professional opinion, but he was determined to try the honest approach. I remember that conversation, one of the few we had in his quarters while I was still staying there. By some unspoken understanding, we only discussed the other timeline when we were in private.
"I didn't like the idea of having Phlox alter his memories the first time, but I saw no alternative. That weapon was one day nearer to launch with every day we were unable to locate it."
He took a breath and continued, not expecting any comment from me.
"I did what had to be done at that time, and I've used that information again in persuading Degra to even speak with me now."
I was watching his face as he spoke. His eyes had been focussed on something in the far distance, or even in the past, as he spoke of 'doing what had to be done,' but he brought his gaze back to meet mine as he continued. I wondered for a moment how many times he'd said those words to himself or to 'his' Malcolm, and whether it really convinced either of them. But those were questions I never asked, just as he never asked about Jon. They were an aching silence between us.
"I'm feeling some guilt about using information gained that way from his counterpart, but it would be worse to tamper with his mind if we don't have to. I've done too many things I'm not proud of on this mission, Malcolm. Please don't ask me to add to them."
I shook my head, hoping he understood that I would never have asked that. My job was to make him aware of the risks. It's what I've tried to do since this mission began... to advise, argue when it seemed appropriate, then pull back and let him step onto the ledge, be it a moral or a physical endangerment. Captain Archer's tactical officer understood his role, as did Jon's partner.
That didn't mean it was easy then, and it wasn't easy now with Jonathan, despite the difference in our personal relationship. But there is one thing I never forgot, could never forget -- although he had to stand alone on that ledge, I would always have his back. I still do. I hoped Jonathan knew that with as much certainty as Jon had known it.
Personal Log: Jonathan Archer
I'm not sleeping much tonight, so I thought I'd try to talk myself through some of what keeps running though my head as I lie here, half-watching the passing stars.
I miss him. I miss Malcolm... and worry that I'm not even sure I know which one. Actually, that's not quite true. I worry because I do know.
When I think of Malcolm, most of the images that come to mind are of the man who slept in this bed, the one who took care of Porthos when I was almost too overwhelmed by events to notice him. The Malcolm who wasn't ashamed of his tears or of letting me see them.
I do see the other Malcolm Reed in him... in his eyes when he looks up from his station and catches me glancing in his direction, in the tone of his voice and the way he crosses his arms when he argues with me, in the quiet fierceness, the protectiveness... all of it reassuring by its very familiarity. Even the arguments and disagreements are very familiar... as is the disapproval or disappointment I sense from him sometimes, whether he expresses it or not.
But it's the other side of this Malcolm that I miss, and I have no right to that part of him. His shields were down when I glimpsed that part of him most clearly. At first he thought I was the man he loved... then he was grieving. Of course he was open and vulnerable. If some of it spilled over to me, it's not his fault -- I was here, he was here.
Now he's not. And I miss him.
I find myself on guard around him sometimes. I don't want him to suspect any of this, any of how I'm starting to feel about him. The last thing I'd ever want him to think is that I'd see him as a substitute for the man I lost, the one I never really had, and probably never would have had. And I don't want pity, any more than he wants it from me.
He couldn't know that it's his uniqueness that is making me fall in love again. With him. It's a different love... from that moment I woke to feel him wrapped around me I felt something I've never felt before. Even though it wasn't for me, it was a taste of something I want very much. I'd dreamed so often of loving Malcolm, cherishing, protecting him... and of making love to him. Now there's another aspect to my dreams. I want him to feel that way toward me as well... and to be able to let go of my own control and simply let him love me.
I don't know exactly how that would translate to our bed, but I know it wouldn't be like any relationship I've ever imagined before.
Immediately following the encounter with the future-Enterprise
Our encounter with the future Enterprise continues to haunt me. If it represented nothing else, it was a glimpse into a possible future, perhaps even a probable one. The bleakness of the future I saw for Malcolm Reed was devastating -- solitary, childless on a ship full of families, perhaps destined to die an early death, alone.
I'm still not sure how I managed to get through that awkward lunch with Hoshi and Travis where we discussed this. Hoshi was just being friendly; she couldn't have known the effect her innocent question would have on me.
"... and who'd you end up with... on the other Enterprise? Did you get married? Have kids?"
Her casual curiosity slammed headlong into my own desolation.
"Actually I didn't. Apparently the Reed family line came to a rather unceremonious end. You'd think on a ship this size I would have been able to find someone..."
What she couldn't know is that I had found someone, and lost him. Jon and I had been fairly discreet about our relationship, mostly at my request. Had it been up to him, I believe Jon would have shouted it to the passing stars, heedless of anyone else overhearing him. I almost wish now that he had done; I might not feel so alone with my memories if other people also remembered us being together.
I was very relieved when the two of them left me to the untouched food on my tray, and to my thoughts of past and future. It was when those two thoughts intersected that I began to wonder if perhaps our present could still be a turning point.
Later that night
During the first fortnight after I'd moved back into my own quarters, Jonathan made a point of inviting me back to visit whenever I wished. Porthos missed me, it seemed. I missed him too, but never accepted the offer to visit him... to visit either of them.
So I was a bit surprised to find myself standing in front of the door to his quarters the night after we left the other Enterprise, speeding toward our rendezvous with Degra's ship. My hand went to the keypad automatically, but I drew it back sharply when I realized that this was not an official Security visit... and other than that, I had no right to let myself into the Captain's quarters. He might even have changed his personal passcode.
I felt a small smile forming at a memory that surfaced, despite it being a bittersweet one. Last year, in what I termed a fit of sappiness, Jon had incorporated my birthdate into that passcode. I don't think I ever told him how touched I was by the gesture, afraid that would only encourage more such. His kindness and care for me on my birthday was one of the first reasons I'd ever really let myself think of the possibility of a relationship with him.
While I was still standing outside his door, trying to decide whether to knock or to run back to my own quarters, that decision was taken out of my hands as the door opened. Jonathan was dressed very casually in grey sweatpants and a black t-shirt, and Porthos bounded through the door as soon as it opened enough to allow his passage. I had to smile at the enthusiastic greeting I received, and stooped to pet him and scratch behind his ears.
Only then did I stand... and notice Jonathan's smile. I hadn't seen much of it lately, for obvious reasons, and was glad to see that Porthos could still elicit one.
"He's missed you, Malcolm. It hasn't been the same without you there. No sleeping on the bed... isn't that right, Porthos?"
We both smiled a little at that. "Caught us," I murmured, mostly to Porthos.
"I'm glad you decided to stop by. We were just going for a quick walk, maybe swing by the mess hall for a bit of c-h-e-e-s-e, then the observation lounge. Would you like to come along?"
I nodded, and we walked in comfortable silence, my own thoughts slipping back to my previous late night rambles through the ship with Porthos. Jon would take my hand in the more deserted corridors, and it felt just clandestine enough to make my breath catch every time he did it. I pushed the memories aside, a little surprised that they were actually making me smile rather than compounding my sense of loss.
We settled onto opposite ends of a small couch in the rear observation lounge. Jon and I had come here a few times when we were courting, before we accepted the notion that his quarters were more comfortable and considerably more private.
Jonathan was sipping at a glass of iced tea. I occupied my hands with sweetening a cup of coffee, but never actually drank any of it. He was very quiet, gazing out at the stars. I had always wondered what Jon saw when he did that. Was he seeing them from the perspective of an astronomer, or of an explorer... or perhaps with the eyes of a poet? I'd never asked.
But I did that evening.
He didn't reply immediately, and I wondered for a moment if I'd crossed a line into too personal a realm. But after he'd gathered his thoughts, Jonathan's answer surprised me, not so much by its content, but with its simplicity and eloquence.
"I see my dreams, Malcolm. Past, present, future. All of them linked in some way to those stars."
Since he hadn't objected to that rather personal inquiry, I gathered my courage and asked the other question that had been on my mind all day.
"Do you think that future we saw is certain? Or could our actions, or our very knowledge of it, result in a different future?"
My eyes sought his, and held his gaze as I continued. "I couldn't help but wonder what things would have been like if Jon had lived, if he and I were still together when that happened. Would we have seen our grandchildren today?"
Neither of us seemed inclined to clarify the 'our'... and Jonathan's response was spoken so quietly that it might have been a whisper as he breached the space between us to touch my arm gently.
"I don't know, Malcolm. I hope so."
In the Captain's Ready Room
Things moved so quickly after Degra's death. Jonathan and I didn't have a chance to talk but once before events propelled us into those final decisions -- the ones he made on Degra's ship and in the core of the weapon itself.
I'd come to the bridge to let him know that my team was prepped and ready to transfer to Degra's faster ship, together with a seriously injured Lt. Sato and the Captain himself, if he still insisted on going along. I found him in his ready room, standing by the viewport. If I hadn't heard his quiet "Come in, Malcolm" I would have hesitated to disturb him. He half-turned toward me as I stood at ease and gave him the tactical report from his armoury officer.
"... and we're expecting they will be able to provide us with the rest of the information we require to disable the weapon... and how exactly to destroy it."
He nodded as I finished. "Thank you, Lieutenant. I know that Janar, and Degra's team, are expecting to brief us while we're chasing it down."
He turned back toward the viewport and I began to wonder if I was dismissed, but without looking at me, he asked a question that was clearly bothering him.
"Malcolm, do you think I was responsible for Degra's death?"
I forgot for the moment that this was Jonathan; the question was so much like those Jon had asked himself after some of his other decisions on this mission. And I knew he was asking the question of Malcolm, not his tactical officer. I shook my head, and then realized that he could see me only as a reflection in the viewport.
"Why do you think you are?"
Before he could reply, I continued.
"Jonathan, he was murdered, assassinated by his fellow Council member! I don't know all of Dolim's motives, but it's easy enough to speculate..."
He addressed his response to my reflection, his gaze still fixed somewhere beyond it, on the stars streaming past. Only his hand betrayed his tension in the way he was rubbing a thumb across his fingertips, a bit of nervous body language I knew all too well. When he spoke, the tightness was just as evident in his voice.
"I didn't have to pull the knife to be responsible, Malcolm. He wouldn't have been killed that way if I hadn't drawn him into all of this... not in this timeline..."
His voice trailed off almost to inaudible as he continued.
"... chalk up one more for the long list of things I'll have to live with, Malcolm."
I took the few steps necessary to close the distance between us and laid my hand on his back, silently begging him to turn toward me. After a moment he did, moving just past me to lean against the edge of his desk, his posture now more weary than tense.
It hurt to see him shouldering so much of the burden of this mission, but he always had done... there'd be no changing that. It was intrinsic to the man. To accept him was to accept that about him. I tried to reassure him just as I would have reassured Jon, by simply being a willing ear and reflecting his thoughts back to him, perhaps helping him to see his actions or decisions in another light. I could only hope it helped him somewhat.
"You did the right thing, Jonathan -- telling him the truth about what the sphere-builders are doing. If Daniels can be believed, there would be no more of a future for Degra's people than for ours. We just don't know how much time the Xindi might have... whether their end would be in his lifetime... or his children's lifetimes... or later."
I saw a flash of pain in his eyes, and had to curb an impulse to go to him and wrap my arms around him, reminding myself sharply that this was Jonathan, not Jon. I was his officer and his friend, nothing more.
"Degra's children... his family... meant everything to him. I know he didn't make his decision lightly..."
I nodded my agreement. "No, I'm sure he didn't. And his decisions were his own. You showed him the evidence, and it was persuasive."
He seemed to consider this for a long moment, and then shook his head almost imperceptibly, as if unwilling to agree completely.
"Degra was convinced, but he knew some of his people would consider it an act of betrayal. I know he was very aware that there would be consequences."
He paused, glancing at me for my reaction, as he so often did. I murmured my agreement, and when he continued I heard more conviction in his voice.
"But I think he'd choose the same path again, and I know that I would. That doesn't keep me from feeling guilty as hell about his death."
Jonathan was silent for a long time after that, looking out at the stars. I didn't know what I could say that would be of any help whatsoever. I touched his hand as I turned to go. He met my eyes and held my gaze for a long moment, but murmured only "Thank you, Malcolm."
I'm not sure what he was grateful for. I feel like I did so little to help, only listen... be there. Maybe that's all he needed, or all he would accept.
Personal Log: Jonathan Archer
This might well be my last log entry. Malcolm just told me that he's ready to take his team aboard Degra's ship to chase down and destroy the weapon. He tried to talk me out of even going with them, so I didn't tell him the rest of my plans. I will when the time comes, of course, and he'll protest that as well. But it won't make any difference. I've made my decision.
It's something I have to do myself, setting the final charges. We don't know the whole layout of the damn thing yet, but it's likely to be a risky job and there's no way in hell I'm ordering anyone else to do it. I won't be knowingly responsible for any more deaths. And I won't let Malcolm sacrifice himself in my place... I couldn't live with myself if I did. Not after all of the other deaths... here, and in that other time.
Malcolm... what can I say of him? What I regret most is that we didn't have enough time together. I wanted him to know that I love him, but I promised him I'd never push. He trusted me... he cared for me, held me when I hurt, and let me do the same for him. I couldn't burden him with a love he could not accept or return right now. Perhaps with time...
I'm leaving this log entry open and unlocked. If I don't return, maybe he'll find it someday, and know there was one thing I wanted to say to him...
I love you, Malcolm.
Personal Log -- Malcolm Reed (14.02.2153)
... I've lost him... again. And this time... it was me who never told him.
I'm numb now. Have been so since we had to accept that he didn't make if out of there alive... and had to return to Enterprise without him. I've never felt more alone in all my life.
I should have seen it coming, knowing the guilt he was carrying for all of the losses... for Degra's death... for everything he'd had to do that cut directly across his own sensibilities. Even if he wasn't sure he could make it back, he'd not ask, or permit, anyone else's sacrifice. Especially not mine.
I only wish I had told him... while there was still time.
In Jonathan's quarters, orbiting Earth (1944)
"Not home yet..."
Jonathan murmured those words to me when he reached out to clasp my shoulder as soon as he arrived on the bridge. I don't believe he was referring only to our being trapped in Earth's past, and the words and the thought stayed with me long after the moment passed.
When he entered his quarters for the night, Jonathan found me already there. I'd been waiting for him, and was half-lost in my thoughts, sitting in the middle of his bed with knees drawn up toward my chest, arms wrapped tightly around them. Porthos had been on the bed with me, but jumped down and ran to him as soon as the door opened. I didn't do the same, though the impulse did cross my mind, as it had when he'd stepped onto the bridge earlier -- alive, against all odds.
He stopped to pet the excited pup for a moment, but without taking his eyes from mine. When he got to his feet again, he crossed to the bed and sat on the edge of it, facing me, so close our hips were nearly touching. He breathed a single word as he reached out to take my face between his hands and kissed me.
I had expected to need to explain why I was in his quarters, sitting on his bed with Porthos, and I wanted to explain why I was returning his kiss, but he didn't want words yet. Yet once it began, I think part of me half-expected that his kiss might deepen into need and he'd have wanted all of me, then and there. It would likely have been a welcome release for us both, but would have left me, at least, with so many questions unasked and unanswered.
As it happened, that first kiss did linger... how could it not? I was holding Jonathan in my arms, after believing for over a week that I'd lost him just as I'd begun to realize how much he had become to me. He was holding me, touching my cheek with his fingertips as if to reassure himself that I was really there with him. But it was a tender kiss, not a passionate one. His tongue touched my lips so lightly it was barely a caress, much less a request. He wasn't asking more, was content to let the rest come in its own time.
The sweetness of his kiss and my joy at seeing him alive were overlaid with what I can only call a desperate need to be sure that all of this was real. I needed to know not only that Jonathan had truly returned safely... but that he was Jonathan -- the same man who ordered me to leave him on that Xindi weapon with steel in his voice and his heart in his eyes -- and not the result of another timeline manipulation by Daniels. That terrifying possibility had occurred to me only a short while before, as I was sitting on his bed trying to determine just when my feelings toward him had deepened from friendship into much more.
As the kiss ended, he began to draw back, his eyes searching mine, almost as if he were hesitant to ask or expect more. I was torn between wishing to lose myself in those green eyes and longing to find my way into his arms and be held close. All of this was still too overwhelming for words and I wouldn't have trusted my voice, regardless. Instead I reached out, hooking an arm around his neck to draw him near enough to slip my other arm around his waist and bury my face against his chest and shoulder. His arms closed around me, sheltering, shutting out everything but the two of us.
I didn't realize that I must have spoken aloud until I heard his voice softly echoing the thought that was foremost in my mind.
We simply held each other quietly for a long time. There were things I needed to say, but for the moment, I simply allowed the warmth and strength to envelope me, letting my hands roam across his back, his shoulders... and I shivered as his hands did the same. He was touching me so carefully, a little shyly... almost as if he feared I'd bolt or that I'd break. That care and his reticence told me all I needed to know about his identity.
I murmured against his neck. "I'm not going to run away, love. I want you to touch me... to make me know you're really here... with me."
His reply was mostly nonverbal... except for a few hushed, almost whispered words.
"I'm here... and I love you, Malcolm."
Those words unlocked my voice. I slipped from his arms and drew back enough to meet his eyes. I had to see his face as all the pent-up words poured out, probably half-incoherently.
"... thought I'd lost you, and I hadn't even told you... that I love you. Losing you like that... Jonathan, it felt even worse than before. I didn't even have the memories... of us. Only the regret..."
My voice broke, and I had to take a deep breath before I could go on. Jonathan started to say something, but I laid my fingertips across his lips and shook my head. There was more I needed to say and I didn't want the emotion to overwhelm me before I could get the words out.
"I should have told you. You deserved to know... before you..."
Jonathan murmured quiet reassurances and gathered me close to his chest again. Resting my head against his shoulder, I felt his heart beating strong and slow, and let his calm seep into me. After a few deep breaths, I found my voice again and continued, determined to tell him everything now.
"I wanted to be sure... things seemed so complicated. Then it was too late. I thought you had died not knowing... died believing that I didn't, or couldn't... see you as anyone more than my captain, or at most, as a friend. And then I found your log entry..."
My voice threatened to break again as I remembered how I'd reacted to hearing his voice speaking the words he'd left for me to hear. I lifted my head from his chest and reached for his hand, taking it in mine, clasping it tightly as I sought and found his eyes.
"That you wanted and needed to tell me that you loved me... I've thought so often about that, and about you, during these last days alone. And then when I heard your voice, saw your face again... I realized that it's really so simple: I love you, Jonathan. And it's you I've fallen in love with; I know that now. You and Jon have much in common, but you're not the same man. What we find together will be unique to us... will be our own."
My voice did break then, almost too full of emotion to continue, but I still needed to put it into words.
"... I love you, Jonathan. Please let me show you that... let me hold you, touch you. You said you love me... that means everything to me. Let me love you..."
He whispered a few words that went straight to my heart as he cupped his hands around my face, just before he kissed me and drew me down onto the bed beside him, our legs intertwining for the first time.
"Ahh, my Malcolm... let's try to find our way home... together."
Personal Log: Jonathan Archer
Malcolm knew I was awake this morning. Unlike that other time when I woke in his arms, today we both knew exactly where we were, and why. We'd finally fallen asleep along toward morning, after talking and loving until we'd exhausted both words and bodies.
We must have shifted positions sometime during sleep. I'd been holding him as we drifted off. He'd nestled close to my side, his head pillowed on my shoulder, his arm wrapped around my stomach. I remember thinking how perfectly he fit against me that way.
When I woke, I was wrapped around his backside... a mirror echo of the way he'd been lying against me that morning when he didn't realize I wasn't asleep. I was holding him close to me with an arm around his waist, and he'd covered my hand with his. My body knew very well where it was, and the strength of that response caught me by surprise. At my age... and after last night...
I didn't want to move at all yet, wanted to try to hold the moment a little longer... a very quiet moment compared to what we'd so recently shared, but one that felt just as meaningful by its very stillness.
I spent a few minutes lost in thoughts of our first night as lovers... of discovering Malcolm's body, his responses... of learning what makes him moan softly, or cry my name out loud... of how beautiful he looked, lying naked in our bed, fully aroused, wanting me.
When he told me he loved me, I could have been content just to hold him. Beside being beyond anything I thought he'd ever want from me, it was unlike holding anyone else I've ever known. Malcolm has a way of seeming to melt against me, as if he can't ever be close enough. And the first time our kiss deepened, the first time his lips parted at the touch of my tongue, all of my previous dreams of him just faded away, eclipsed by the reality of the man in my arms. All of my worries faded as well... though I know they're mostly banished, not resolved.
But the night is a happy blur after that. What I have are moments, images that stayed with me: shivering at the first touch of his hands on the bare skin of my stomach... feeling him tremble as I stroked the length of his gorgeous heavy cock... lifting my head to meet his eyes as I took him deep into my mouth, tasting him for the first time.
And there was another moment, with words I will never, ever forget.
'I want you in me, Jonathan... face to face, love... need you to fill me, to push deep inside me. I want you to be part of me the first time you come...'
My breath caught at all he was offering me... and all Malcolm was wanting from me. I saw so much love in his eyes, so much trust. There were no words for what I felt as I made love to him... and there still aren9;t. He fills my heart.
This morning, when I finally did move, it was to lean down and kiss him very softly... on the back of his neck, just where his neck meets his shoulder. That kiss from him had touched me so deeply... I wanted to return it.
His response was to sigh softly, sleepily... and to turn in my arms, slipping back into his place against my side, his head on my shoulder, murmuring very quietly.
'My Jonathan... love you... '
His words touched my heart and made my breath catch to hear them... not only for their affirmation of love... but because those words, and his love, were for me.
I only hope he realizes the kind of man it is that he loves.
Big Sur, California, two weeks after returning to Earth
We both needed to get away for a bit. The formal welcome ceremonies and the equally tedious debriefing sessions were taking a toll on all of us, but especially on Jonathan. The situation wasn't being improved by all of the publicity surrounding our return and the reality of being recognized nearly everywhere we went. When Admiral Forrest told Jonathan he needed to take some time away, I couldn't have agreed more strongly.
Jonathan chose the location. I don't know if he'd been there before, but it was a perfect choice -- remote enough to afford us the privacy we both craved, and a strenuous enough hike to burn off some of the accumulated tension and stress in physical exertion.
We'd spent every night together since our first, and I knew him well enough to realize that the euphoria of returning safely was wearing off, leaving him with all of the guilt and self-recrimination he'd been amassing all the while we were in the Expanse. At times it seemed as if he were trying to leave all of that part of himself outside our relationship, finding our bed to be a refuge, a way to forget... as Jon had done.
We didn't talk much as we hiked and climbed, and when we did, it pertained to the trip itself or to the beauty and solitude of the area we were hiking. I'd never seen much of California coast and was enjoying the rugged terrain and the glimpses we caught of the Pacific as we made our way to a simple campsite near the coastline. I think we both were drawn to surround ourselves with the outdoor sights and sounds and smells of Earth. I know I was seeing it with new eyes, knowing how near we'd come to losing it entirely.
Jonathan did take my hand from time to time, where the trail permitted us to walk side by side. I welcomed the contact, keeping my own worries to myself, hoping he'd choose to open up in his own way, in his own time.
Sitting by a small campfire the first night out, we ate the last of the sandwiches we'd packed, laughing as we realized that we'd just left ourselves no choice but to cook. All we had to do that night was heat water for tea, which we managed well enough, so there was hope for us. I was surprised that open fires were permitted at all, but Jonathan said he'd picked this area specifically because we were allowed to have one. He told me he'd often gone camping with his father when he was growing up, and it just wouldn't feel right without a campfire.
The air was cool after nightfall and there was a sea breeze, making the fire's warmth very welcome. We settled onto a blanket near the fire, sitting close together, his arm wrapped around my shoulder, enjoying that warmth and the flickering gold light cast by the flames. Without preamble, almost as if he were continuing a dialogue he'd been having with himself, Jonathan began to talk about how Daniels had 'reset' the timelines, enabling us to get home to Earth in our own century.
"After he'd tried to explain what he was doing about getting us back to the right century, Daniels turned to look at me directly and asked if I had any regrets about being part of a merged timeline. He said he had thought the merger would be seamless... but then admitted that he hadn't counted on the relationships between us... between our counterparts in the two timelines... being out of sync with one another."
I reached for his hand, wrapping my own around it, grateful that he wanted to talk about this, and wanting to give him as much reassurance as he needed or would accept from me. He paused at my touch, and for a moment I was almost afraid to hear the answer to the question I needed to ask.
"How did you answer him?"
"That I had no regrets for any of this... the successful mission, the safety of Earth and humanity's future... or for this... us..."
He looked down at our joined hands and then raised his eyes to meet mine. They seemed to hold his heart.
"This is where I belong. I've never been more certain of anything in my life. We were both given a second chance. This time is ours... we've made it our own... together."
I nodded, relieved that he had no second thoughts, no regrets about us, about our being together. But there was something in his voice that made me suspect there was more he wanted to say. His thumb moved over mine, stroking slowly, and it took him some time to begin speaking again. When he did, he looked up toward the stars, his gaze fixed somewhere out there.
"I've thought a lot about it since I answered Daniels that day. Maybe I oversimplified when I said I had no regrets. What about the Jon who died on Azati Prime... and the Malcolm who died on that other Enterprise along with the rest of that crew?"
He met my eyes again, turning toward me to take both of my hands in both of his.
"Daniels told me that now that this timestream is intact, it will be as if those other ones never existed... but he forgot something, again. They existed... you and I remember them."
I nodded and squeezed his hands before leaning close to kiss him, a chaste kiss, a way to say I loved him and I understood. I moved into the circle of his arms and we sat quietly for long enough that the fire was in need of another log before either of us cared to move enough to tend it.
"I'd better add a piece of wood, love, if we're going to sit out here for much longer. I'm warm enough with your arms wrapped around me, but I don't want you to get chilled."
After taking care of the fire, I rummaged through Jonathan's pack for the wool shirt he was sure was in there somewhere. He slipped it on and pulled me close to him again as we settled back into the easy silence.
I was comfortable enough that I didn't even move when he began to speak again. And maybe the way he was sitting mostly behind me made it easier for him to broach the subject. His voice was hesitant, as if he wasn't sure he wanted to talk about it at all.
"Malcolm, you told me once... that you didn't know how to let go of him... of Jon. When you said that, there was such a sadness, such an emptiness in your voice. It was heartbreaking. All I wanted in that moment was to somehow ease that pain for you, but I couldn't. All I could do was give you space, and time for healing. Now I worry that I might have pushed..."
I shook my head against his chest, murmuring a denial. "No... never that, Jonathan." He continued as if he hadn't heard me, or wasn't ready to believe it. Once he'd loosened the tight lid he'd kept on his fear, there was no stopping him from letting it all out.
"... by telling you how I felt... in that log I left for you to find. When you found out that I hadn't died, you may have felt you should respond to that... should reciprocate somehow."
He paused, collecting his thoughts or his courage to go on, and I didn't interrupt him. I'd wanted him to talk; I'd have to accept that there were things he needed to say. This had been a silence between us, something we'd set aside in our joy. Better to talk about it here... in this safe place together.
"It hasn't been so long, really... since you lost him. I wouldn't expect you to have let go of a love like you two shared."
I wanted to turn in his arms and bury my face against his chest, but he deserved the same honesty he'd just shown me. I settled for taking his hand in mine... holding it tightly as I replied.
"I thought about that too... before your return. And you're right. I didn't know how to let go of him... and I still don't. But I realized something important -- I don't need to, not completely. That love is part of my life... it brought me so much, made me change and grow. That's all part of me now. I didn't have to forget him to fall in love with you."
I looked up at the night sky, suddenly reminded of the evening with Jonathan and Porthos in the observation lounge when we both had gazed out at the stars of the Expanse as we talked of futures... and dreams. With my eyes still on these much more familiar stars, I reminded him of that night.
"I scarcely knew it was happening, until I saw that 'future' without you. I can still almost feel your hand on my arm when you reached over to reassure me, to share your hope. But I thought we'd have more time. I needed to be certain... and then all time ran out. It hurt like hell to know that I'd lost you without ever having had the courage to tell you."
I turned in his arms then, needing to see his face, his eyes. But I kept hold of his hand as he replied, almost as a lifeline... for both of us.
"I love you, Malcolm... never doubt that. You are my life. I just don't know..."
His voice dropped to a whisper so low I barely caught his words.
"I don't know how you could love me... after all I've done..."
I wanted so much to lay my fingertips over his lips and tell him it didn't matter, and to try to kiss away all of the doubt in his eyes. But we owed each other much more than that. I knew he needed to work through this, somehow, before he could begin to make any semblance of peace with himself, and before he could accept all I wanted to give him.
So I kept my hand wrapped around his and kissed him gently, trying to reassure with both actions and words.
"Jonathan... please know one thing. I do love you... will always love you, no matter what. Nothing you tell me will change that. Nothing."
He nodded and squeezed my hand, his voice none too steady as he continued.
"I don't deserve that kind of love, Malcolm. If you knew..."
Everything he'd been holding inside for so long broke free into his words. All I could do was return the squeeze of his hand as he collected himself to go on, to try to make me understand what he was feeling.
"... if you knew all I've done... all the things that left people dead... the decisions that tossed aside every shred of morality I ever possessed. There were times I thought we were all going to die out there... and sometimes..."
His voice sounded so bleak and had become so quiet that I wasn't sure I was catching all of his words.
"But we didn't. And now I have to live with all of it. Then I have to listen to people praising me as some kind of fucking hero... while others are condemning me for not having committed genocide... for leaving any Xindi alive anywhere. Oh god, I'm so sorry, Malcolm... this wasn't supposed to be about all that..."
I rubbed my thumb slowly across the hand I was holding, trying to calm without shutting down his torrent of thoughts.
"This is about anything that worries you, love. It's about all the guilt you've been carrying, all the regrets... and it's about sharing the burden of it with someone who loves you. I'm not going to judge you, Jonathan... and there's no 'deserving' in love. Jon taught... "
I paused... I'd never talked much about him to Jonathan... but maybe it was time to leave that behind too. I'd just explained how that relationship was part of me, avoiding any mention of him just felt wrong.
"Jon taught me that... actually, he told me that... and it took some time before I could completely believe it."
He was very quiet, not really responding to anything I was saying. I lifted my free hand to his face, gently turning his head so I could meet his eyes.
"I can only guess how hard this is. I ache for you, for what you're trying to come to terms with. I can only listen... but please... talk to me, love."
He finally nodded, and in a gesture that made my heart nearly melt, he turned his head to kiss the palm of my hand that was still resting against his cheek. It took him some time to gather his thoughts, and when he did, he surprised me by taking a very different tack.
"I told you once that I should have spoken to Malcolm... the Malcolm I first knew... after he rescued me from Rura Penthe. I knew there was something between us, something we both felt, that it wasn't just wishful dreaming on my part. I didn't tell him then, because I wanted to find the perfect moment. But after the attack on Earth, after we began the mission... the reason I didn't tell him was because I was very much afraid that he'd reject any overture from me."
He'd dropped his gaze as he spoke of his other Malcolm, but lifted his eyes to meet mine again.
"I did a lot of things, made a lot of choices that were pretty rough... on him, on me. Malcolm usually called me on them, made me really face what I was doing. I knew why he was doing that, but I didn't always like it... probably because I wished like hell that I had the option of agreeing with him.
"Sometimes I argued with him, other times I brushed him off... once I even relieved him of duty. He had every right to despise me; I know how much I must have disappointed him... as his captain... and as a man."
My first reaction was to shake my head in denial, but I remembered that this was Jonathan's perception... and was part of the weight he'd been carrying with him for months now. So I just squeezed his hand... hard... in silent acknowledgement.
"But he was always there... throughout it all, he was there with me... for me. There were moments when I wondered why anyone would stand by me, especially Malcolm. I think I gave up the idea of ever telling him how I felt about him, certain that there was no way he could ever love a man who did the things I was doing."
Jonathan turned his hand to wrap it around mine and hold it tightly, looking directly into my eyes. In a moment, I felt like we'd been transported back into the Expanse. The last time I'd seen that kind of pain in his eyes was when he'd asked me if he was to blame for Degra's death.
"I know I didn't have many alternatives to most of the things I regret the most. The stakes were too high to risk failure -- and my orders were to destroy that weapon and save Earth, whatever it took. And, worse yet, I know I'd probably make the same choices again, given the same situations and options. But I didn't even much like myself, the way I'd become... how could I have asked him to love me?
Unwilling to let go of my hand, Jonathan unwrapped his other arm from around me and rubbed that hand across his eyes before he could continue.
"How can I ask you to love that man, Malcolm? Even now? If you knew half of what I did..."
The tremble in his voice went straight to my heart. I couldn't be silently supportive any longer. I had to try to ease the pain in his eyes, and in his heart.
Without releasing his hand, I shifted my position so we could sit face to face. I leaned in to kiss him very softly and took his other hand as well, holding both of his hands clasped between my own. I felt a tremble there, and still don't know if it was from him or me. I needed to make this very very clear.
"Jonathan... listen to me. Don't forget... I know what Jon did... all of it up until Azati Prime. There were a lot of parallel events between our timelines... so many times when he made the same decisions as you had to make. Yes, he did things I didn't like, but I never stopped loving him, through it all. I didn't have to agree with the Captain's decisions... he never expected that of his tactical officer, just as you didn't. But he expected his orders to be obeyed... and I believe they always were... at whatever cost."
I waited for some sign that he was hearing me. He finally nodded, replying quietly, "Yes, you're right... always were... even the last..."
"Your last orders? That wasn't obedience, Jonathan. It was trust... that you'd never lie to me. You told me you had no intention of dying there."
I swallowed hard and closed my eyes, hoping to shut out even the memory of those final minutes on the weapon... and my corresponding, and contrasting, last image of Jon's silent kiss before he left for Azati Prime, which had left me with so little hope for his safe return.
"What I don't believe... won't believe, of Jon or you... is that any of this ever cost him his soul, or his humanity. And I know it didn't cost him his heart. I held that safe for him. I always tried to protect it as best I could, just as his armoury officer swore to protect his Captain's life and ship."
I paused then, trying to find the right words. He's always been the one with words, not me. But this was too important to me, to us, not to get it right.
"Jonathan, I'm the place you can always come home to... a constant reminder that you can still feel, you can love... you can regret. Throughout it all, I never lost Jon... until he died... and then I found you..."
My own eyes were wet now, but it didn't matter... I was not going to let go of his hands for any reason right now.
"... and I cannot bear to lose you now."
He shook his head and reached out to touch my cheek with his fingertips.
"You haven't Malcolm... I think you've helped find me..."
Our campfire had burned down to embers by the time we began to undress each other. We pulled the sleeping bags out of the tent... both of us preferring to spend the night under the stars.
As we'd simply held each other for a long time after words ran out, Jonathan had worried about his ability to respond to me if we tried to do any more than that, assuring me that it would have nothing to do with how he felt about me, but only to do with his own tension and inability to relax. I stopped his pre-emptive apologies in the only way I could have done. I kissed him, and kissed him again, then whispered against his lips that I'd always be happy just to hold him, feel him close to me. Beyond that... we had a lifetime ahead of us to love each other.
I undressed him slowly, covering his skin with kisses as I exposed it... his neck and shoulders, his chest and stomach. He sighed softly as I kissed my way down his neck, then moaned aloud as my mouth found a nipple and my hand threaded through his chest hair to find its mate, teasing it to hardness as well.
Despite his fears, by the time I'd gotten his trousers unfastened, he was more than ready to be free of them. I nuzzled against the base of his erection, one hand caressing his hip and slipping beneath it to cup his ass. My breath caught at the strength of my own response when my cheek brushed against the smooth skin of his cock, feeling it hardening even more so at my touch. But I wanted this to be all for Jonathan... all about showing him how very much I loved and wanted and needed him, every part of him.
After trailing wet kisses up the underside of his cock, and just before wrapping my lips around the head and taking him into my mouth, I heard him murmur my name in a low, throaty voice I'd never heard from him before.
"Malcolm... please... need you..."
I let him set the pace, taking my cues from the thrusts of his hips and the urgency in his voice as he moaned my name over and over. I'd thought we might take things slow and easy, but that wasn't what he needed and it wasn't long before his whole body shuddered as he came hard in my mouth. I held him there as he came down slowly, finally lifting my head and moving to cover his mouth with kisses and his body with my own.
He reached between us and wrapped his hand around my cock as I began to rub myself against him. The warmth and strength of his hand as he matched my own rhythm took my breath away and made coherent words impossible. I rocked my hips against his and could feel myself shiver when his other hand moved to my ass. I couldn't last long either, especially when I heard his voice close to my ear, low and still breathy, urging me to come for him.
There was nothing I wanted more,
He finally slept. I should have been as deeply asleep as Jonathan, spooned as I was against his back, my arm around his waist, my cheek pressed against the warm skin of his shoulder. We were both exhausted, from the words, and the tears, and the loving.
I didn't expect him to wake in the morning with no shadow of all he'd been trying to come to terms with. It would take time, but I had hope now that he'd begun to heal... and that we could work through the process together. As I told him at one point... I had demons of my own, regrets and guilt for some of my own decisions and actions. None of us came through the Expanse unscathed or unchanged.
But we came this far through it together... we'd find the rest of the way home, together.
Just before I fell asleep, I pressed a kiss onto his shoulder, near his neck. I knew he wasn't awake to know it, but it was important to me never to leave him, even to sleep, without telling him somehow that I loved him.
Along the Big Sur coast, two evenings later
We sat on a rocky outcrop, looking out over the Pacific as the sun set it afire in oranges and reds only to quench it to violet and then to inky black as the stars came out. There were no wavelets lapping at a sandy beach. The surf was breaking on the rocks below us, but it was a steady, rhythmic sound. I welcomed it, each wave a reaffirmation of our survival.
I was sitting between his legs, his arms wrapped around me, his bent knees completing my shelter. As the last light faded, I took his hand and laid it over my heart, covering it with my own. We hadn't spoken much as we watched the sunset. We had little inclination and less need for words than for the intimate silence between us.
We'd been far from silent the night before, when we added our unmuffled moans and whimpers to the sounds of the surf, and two names were carried away on the sea breeze.
I honestly don't remember if the name he gasped was 'Mal' or 'Malcolm' when I wrapped my hand around his waiting erection. It took only a few strokes before I felt the spasms of his release in my hand and surrounding my own cock, buried deep inside him for the first time. And I have no idea what name I cried out as I came soon after that, my whole body trembling as I did. I did know with absolute certainty that the names didn't matter anymore.
It was another 'first-time' for us and the whole experience had been almost overwhelming from the moment he'd kissed me and whispered against my lips, asking if I'd ever wanted him that way. I returned the kiss, my body already aching for him.
I remembered how Jon had occasionally wanted me to fuck him, but usually it was in the shower, hot and hard and fast. It was always good, but I knew that wasn’t what Jonathan was asking. I could hear in his voice that this meant more to him than hot sex.
His next words confirmed that. "I keep imagining how good it would feel... just to let go and feel you take me... touching me everywhere." He wanted this for us because he wanted me to have all of him... including all the facets of Jonathan that don't show on the surface.
His request touched me so deeply... this relationship was already following it's own path, different in many ways from my relationship with Jon. I murmured my response against his lips as well, keeping it very simple.
"Jonathan, yes... want you so much. All of you..."
So we sit quietly, pointing out the familiar stars to each other, knowing we have to return to the world tomorrow morning. But I know we're stronger now than we were before. Both of us.
Whatever happens, we'll get through it together. He'll have me by his side, loving him and knowing how much he loves me. That's what matters most to us now. Of course we both have our memories; they'll always be with us.
But this is our time.