If there is no love, then it is fear
October 21st, 2165.
Jon awakes from a light sleep wondering if he actually slept at all. It's dark outside; the chronometer reads 0430. He briefly considers trying to go back to sleep, but an image printed onto the back of his eyes from his dreams comes to the fore, and he quickly reaches over and turns on the light.
He gets up, showers and dresses in his dark blue admiral's uniform, though he leaves the jacket on the back of the desk chair for now. He makes a coffee, sits at the desk and checks his console for new messages. There's nothing since he went to bed -- it wasn't that long ago.
Opening a file, he begins reviewing the fleet deployment he had just been handed yesterday when he was informed of the Brimstone's destruction. Maybe it's the lack of sleep or that it's still dark outside, but he's finding it hard to concentrate.
It had seemed to him that his entire short-lived relationship with Reed could be characterized by thoughts and feelings that were never allowed to crystallize fully into realization. Now, in light of Malcolm's letter, he looks back and realizes that he should have known all along.
Captain Archer let himself into Reed's quarters to find Reed sitting at the desk, intent on whatever it was he was doing. Walking over to stand behind him, Jon leaned down and kissed the tip of his ear, scanning the text on the screen of the padd.
'You're back late, love,' Malcolm murmured, distracted.
Jon hesitated for a second as his pulse skipped at the unconscious endearment. 'I know, sorry. Phlox cornered me about those Altairan glow moths as I was leaving the bridge.' There was no response and Jon grinned wryly to himself. 'I hope I'm not interrupting anything.'
'What? Oh, no, just writing a letter to my parents.'
'Huh.' Jon laid a hand on Malcolm's shoulder, absently stroking the back of his neck with his thumb. 'Say anything about me?
'Your name may have been mentioned,' Malcolm hedged. 'Why?'
'Oh, just wondering what your dad would think about us.'
'I'm sure my father would disapprove wholeheartedly,' Malcolm said. Saving the letter and putting the padd to sleep mode, he grinned wolfishly up at Jon. 'Console me.'
'Malcolm,' he warned, 'we'll be late.' But he couldn't help grinning back, couldn't help his body's response to the way Malcolm was looking at him, and when Malcolm stood up and kissed him, he forgot for a moment about dinner and Trip and T'Pol waiting for them. Instead he gave himself up to the sensation of Malcolm's body seemingly melting into his, and the warmth that spread through him at the increasing tenderness in the kiss. He thought about Malcolm's earlier unconscious endearment and wondered what it meant. But his brain sort of skittered over that, filing it away as something to think about later.
Breaking off the kiss he gently pushed Malcolm away. 'Come on, we don't want to keep them waiting.'
Something flashed in Malcolm's eyes, but it was quick and Jon barely caught it as he turned to open the door.
'So, do you approve of the menu, Lieutenant?' Archer asked as the main course was brought in.
'I'm sure it'll be fine, Sir.' Malcolm smiled at him a little tightly. Genuinely uncomfortable or simply keeping up appearances, Jon didn't know.
'Aw come on, Malcolm!' Trip cried, incredulous. 'Real steak? I bet you haven't had that in months.'
'The charred flesh of what was once a living creature isn't something to get excited about, Commander,' T'Pol interjected, raising an eyebrow when he scowled at her.
Turning back to Malcolm, Trip tried again. 'This is the finest cuisine in Starfleet and that's all you have to say about it? '
'I hadn't given it much thought, Trip,' Malcolm replied. 'Unlike some, my day doesn't revolve around my stomach, and when I can put things in it.'
Trip looked injured. 'Good food is good for the soul,' he protested. 'Anyway, what happened to 'an army marches on its stomach'?'
'Oh I'm more than happy to eat, Commander. I'm just less discriminatory.'
Trip snorted. 'You mean discriminating.'
'In fact,' Malcolm continued, ignoring the interruption, 'When I was in the Starfleet training program I ate the same breakfast, lunch and supper every day.'
'You did what? For three years?'
Malcolm shrugged. 'I like consistency. It's good for the soul.'
Jon sat back, watching his armory officer mercilessly bait his chief engineer, enjoying the light and laughter in his eyes, seeming to illuminate his entire face. Not that Trip noticed, of course, falling hook, line and sinker for Malcolm's tall tale. He felt again that swell of affection in his chest as he watched his lover gradually relax into the setting, laughing at Trip's expression when T'Pol revealed she had done much the same for most of her life.
Trip just shook his head in disbelief, and then sighed happily as he popped a piece of steak in his mouth. 'Cap'n and I obviously have more refined tastes than you two.'
Jon held up his hands. 'Keep me out of this, Trip.' Malcolm grinned over at him and Jon held his gaze. For a long moment they just looked at each other, Jon still smiling, Malcolm's eyes sparkling. Then, catching himself, he realized that Trip had stopped talking.
'I doubt it would interest you then, Lieutenant, that Chef's cooked up a pineapple cobbler for dessert.'
'To answer your earlier question, Sir,' Malcolm replied smoothly, 'I wholeheartedly and unreservedly approve of the menu.'
Jon just smiled again.
Later, he lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, listening to Malcolm's steady breathing. Two months, he thought, and he was already used to this, having another warm body beside him every night again. It had been a while. And it *had* been every night, barring emergency and the occasional night shift. For two months. In a way it alarmed Jon just how quickly Malcolm had become a natural part of his life. He was used to having more control over his relationships, but then, he'd never done this in such a small, enclosed environment -- maybe it was inevitable.
And maybe it was completely inappropriate. The thought came to him every now and then. He remembered telling a class of kids last year that it was okay for officers to see one another, and it was in his book. For the most part. Starfleet continued to avoid the issue through vagueness, leaving it to the interpretation of the captain. But who judged for him? They'd been discreet so far -- he was fairly certain no one else knew -- and they'd both acted perfectly professionally while on duty. Still, he sometimes had the unnerving feeling that he'd yet to be really tested.
Sighing, Archer rolled over onto his side and scrutinized his sleeping lover. He was facing away towards the window, shirtless, the covers pushed down to his waist. The stars rushing by outside cast a silvery glow over his pale skin and Jon traced the outline of it down Malcolm's shoulder and bicep. Moving closer, he propped himself up on his elbow and peered down at Malcolm's face, strangely moved by how young he looked in sleep, how at peace. Careful not to jostle him, Jon leaned over and kissed him softly on the temple, closing his eyes as he breathed him in.
The sound of the comm. made him jump and Porthos whine and snuffle in his sleep. Malcolm stirred, breathing in deeply, then rolled onto his back and settled again to a deep sleep. Jon watched him for a second longer, then slid off the bed to answer the call before it disturbed either Malcolm or the beagle again.
'Archer. What is it?' He asked, trying not to sound like he was trying not to wake someone.
'Sorry to awaken you, Captain. There's an incoming message from Starfleet command: it's Admiral Forrest, Sir,' Ensign Chakrabhorti's disembodied voice told him.
'No problem, ensign, I was already awake.' He quickly glanced at the position of his console relative to the bed. 'I'll take it in my ready room.'
As quietly as possible, Archer pulled on a fresh uniform, put his hair in order and headed for the bridge.
An hour and a half later, Archer ended the transmission and immediately opened a comm. line to his quarters.
'Archer to Reed,' he said, waiting impatiently for a reply. 'Malcolm, wake up.'
'Jon? What's going on? Where are you?'
'In my ready room. Listen, Malcolm, I don't have time to explain right now but I need to call a meeting of the senior staff.'
There was a pause. 'I'd better get back to my quarters, then,' Lieutenant Reed said, sounding fully awake and more than a little concerned.
'See you in a few minutes. Archer out.'
Rubbing his face tiredly, Archer rose and stepped out onto the bridge. 'Ensign,' he called over to Chakrabhorti, 'Wake the senior staff and tell them to meet me in the conference room in fifteen minutes.'
'That includes Dr. Phlox.'
Thirty minutes later, Archer said his goodbyes to Admiral Forrest for the fourth time and made his way to meet his senior officers.
Stepping through the door he glanced around, checking that everyone was present, and then fixed his eyes squarely on Trip.
'There's been an attack on Earth.'
Trip stared at him. 'What do you mean, 'an attack'?'
'A probe,' Jon said, quietly. 'They don't know where it came from. It fired a weapon that cut a swath... four thousand kilometers long...' he glanced down, taking a breath before turning his best friend's world upside down, 'from Florida to Venezuela. There may have been a million casualties.'
'A million?' Malcolm repeated weakly.
Jon nodded, meeting his eye briefly, then looked around the room. 'We've been recalled.'
A little over four days later, Archer found himself pacing his quarters in a haze of angry energy, too restless to sleep, and too sore. He should remember not to argue with T'Pol before bedtime, he thought sourly.
Phlox had given him a mild analgesic for the strains and bruises he'd received from Silik's little visit, but that had been several hours ago. His shoulders and back ached viciously, head pounding.
Reaching the desk, Jon picked up a padd from the top of a pile and tried to concentrate on what it said but it was just more bad news, more revised estimates of the damage and the loss of life and he tossed it back in frustration. It clipped the pile and they all slid to the deck with a clatter. Archer muttered something vulgar and kicked at one of the offending padds.
Reed chose that moment to let himself in. Stopping short, he looked at Jon in surprise. Jon looked back. 'Are you alright?' Malcolm asked after a few seconds.
Jon continued to stare at Malcolm for a moment, then started to laugh at his own absurdity and the look on Malcolm's face. Then stopped, because it hurt.
'Ow,' he complained softly, putting a hand to the sharp twinge in his back. Malcolm was still staring at him, utterly perplexed. 'Sorry,' he said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. 'Long day.'
Malcolm shook his head, a wry half-smile on his face, and came to sit down next to Jon. 'You too?' He let out a soft chuckle, reaching up a hand to Jon's neck, gently massaging. Jon sighed and hung his head, trying to relax into the touch, then winced as the movement aggravated his back again. 'Sorry...' Malcolm withdrew his hand.
'No, it wasn't you.' Jon gingerly pulled his tee-shirt off, wincing a little, and revealed the angry red mark where one of the Suliban had kicked him.
'Silik,' Malcolm hissed, his disgust evident. He reached over and traced a finger lightly along the edge of the bruise. 'Did Phlox give you something?'
Jon nodded to the pot of gel on his bedside table. 'Analgesics for the pain and dermogel for the swelling.'
'Need any help?'
'I was hoping you'd say that.'
Malcolm smiled that small smile again and got up, telling Jon to lie down on his stomach. Picking up the pot he seated himself at Jon's side and gently began to rub the gel into the damaged skin. The contact hurt a little, but the gel was cool and soon began to soothe the pain.
His bruises taken care of, Jon heard Malcolm screwing the lid back on the pot and then let out a long, low moan as he began to massage the taut muscles in Jon's shoulders and neck.
'Better?' Malcolm asked after a while.
'Much better, thank you.' Jon smiled slightly, at last beginning to feel relaxed enough to sleep. Malcolm continued for a couple more minutes, then kissed the nape of Jon's neck and headed into the bathroom. While he was gone, Jon kicked off his pants and collapsed under the covers.
When Malcolm returned, Jon pulled him into his arms. 'God, Malcolm,' he sighed, and held onto him tightly.
The journey home was hardest on those with little but the bad news to distract them. Jon did his best to keep the crew focused and, more importantly, occupied. But six weeks was turning out to be a long time for people waiting for the worst, and a feeling of dreadful anticipation hung over them all. The only crewmembers with any real sense of purpose were Malcolm's team, who were making a series of alterations to the armory in preparation for a retrofit. Trip and his team were helping out, but there was only so much they could do in the limited space.
At night, Jon often found himself restless, too tired to concentrate anymore but too wired to sleep. With Malcolm working late more often than not, he and Trip fell into an odd pattern, occasionally finding each other prowling the ship and ending up in the captain's mess with a bottle of bourbon and two glasses.
'Any news?' Jon asked after a long silence one evening.
Trip looked up, his blue eyes desolate. 'Nothing.' He drained his glass and reached over to pour another. 'Got a message yesterday from my aunt Diana. My momma's not coping so well and she's gone down to stay for a while.' Jon didn't reply -- he'd stopped trying to find the right words several weeks before. Trip rubbed his sleepless eyes, then let his arm fall back onto the table. 'I'm sick of thinking about it, Cap'n.' Jon watched him fiddle with his glass for a while, lost in his own thoughts. 'So...' Trip said eventually, 'How long you been doing the horizontal dance with Malcolm?'
'What?' Jon raised his eyebrows in surprise, shifting uncomfortably under his friend's scrutiny.
Trip shrugged, the barest hint of humor in his face. 'You know a guy for a decade, you notice these things.'
'Three months, give or take,' Jon said after a moment. 'Do you think... does anyone else know?'
'I doubt it.'
Jon relaxed slightly, then frowned, staring down at the bourbon he'd been unconsciously swilling in the bottom of his glass. 'Trip... is it okay?'
'What do you mean?'
'Sometimes I worry that my having a relationship with one of the crew could cause problems.'
'Malcolm isn't just one of the crew, Cap'n. He's the last person on board to cause you trouble.' Jon glanced over at Trip, not entirely sure that his engineer had understood what he'd meant. 'Look, are you happy?'
Jon stared back down at his drink, hit with the sick, helpless sense of falling. 'Yes,' he replied quietly.
'Well then, there you go.'
Jon ducked under the exposed conduits in the access tube where Malcolm was working. 'Report, Lieutenant.'
'Captain,' Reed greeted, 'We've managed to increase efficiency to the phase cannons by another five percent thanks to the specs R and D sent us. This is the last one to be adjusted, should be done by noon tomorrow.'
Jon leaned against the bulkhead and watched Malcolm working on the starboard cannon. After a moment of silence, Reed sat back on his haunches and looked up at Jon. 'Something on your mind, Sir?'
Jon slid down the wall to sit opposite him in the small space, scrubbing a hand down his face.
'Should we be expecting another attack?' he asked.
Malcolm regarded him for a moment. 'It's what I'd do.'
'Oh?' Jon raised his eyebrows.
'Catch the enemy off-guard with an incisive first attack, assess their capabilities, cause chaos and then attack again before they've had a chance to regroup,' he explained. 'If they liked what they saw from the probe, the second attack is likely to be even more forceful.'
'If we're called on to defend Earth, is the crew ready for a combat situation?'
'As it stands we could probably hold our own, but it's my belief that you can never over-prepare for such eventualities. A lot of crewmembers need to work on their marksmanship and hand-to-hand skills should we be boarded, and running regular drills wouldn't hurt.'
'Is two weeks enough time?'
'Probably not.' As Jon had expected. He hung his head and contemplated his knees. 'But I'm sure,' Malcolm continued, shifting into a more comfortable position, sitting opposite Jon, 'that they're willing to do whatever they can in the time remaining.' He knocked Jon's knee gently with his own, making him smile, though a little ruefully.
'Thank you, Malcolm.'
Malcolm nodded and caught hold of Jon's hand. 'If all goes well here I should finish at a decent hour tonight...'
'I'll be waiting for you.' Jon squeezed Malcolm's hand briefly and then let go, rising to his feet. 'I'll see what I can do about arranging those drills.'
Admiral Forrest had sent him pictures of the destruction, but standing there on the bridge, seeing it for himself, it was only then that he began to grasp the magnitude of what it meant, of what he was going to have to do.
Malcolm had accused him of being naive in the past and in retrospect he may have been right. Not this time. He'd been to ground zero, seen the wreckage of the probe and the corpse of the anonymous pilot -- Jon knew there would be a war, and he had no illusions about what his role in it would be. When it was all over he was sure there'd be a price to pay, but he couldn't think about that day in, day out. All that mattered was the mission. He couldn't do it knowing that he would have to face up to himself at the end of every day. He didn't have that strength. He simply couldn't do it
Heart thudding, trying to ignore the rapidly encroaching feeling of nausea, he pressed the door chime and waited for Malcolm to let him in.
Part 2 | Part 4