For the Sins of Thy Father

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Title: For the Sins of Thy Father
Pairing: Reed/Sato
Category: Angst
Rating: PG
Summary: An off-kilter first contact reveals a part of Malcolm's past that he's been trying to forget for years, but it doesn't end there.
Author's Notes: Another one inspired by a review someone left for me.

Chapter 1: As Good a Reason as Any

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

hold my head up to the lies that you feed me
I'll fall under the spell you cast as you let me down

-- Sway, Vanessa Carlton

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


It's Mikey's birthday today. The apple of his parents' eyes turns six years old today, and everyone is out to celebrate it; both of his parents are standing there in front of him, so much taller than he is, each smiling with love, adoration for their eldest child, and something else there that the boy can't put a name to.

Grampa Hugs and Granny Gums (Mummy's parents) are standing behind the table, Grampa with a camera in his hands so that there will be more photographs to add to the ones he already has of his grandchildren. His other grandparents, he knows, will not be here today, but Mummy says that they send their love and that there's an extra big present from them, so he is not too concerned that they aren't there.

His little sister Lissy is only very little, but she is there as well, sucking on Daddy's finger as he holds her so she can see how big her big brother is on his birthday.

People he knows from school are there; his best friend Will and his second best friends Toby and Fergus are there, all dressed up smart in shirts and trousers. Mikey isn't too sure what he's wearing today, but Mummy told him he looked 'so grown-up' when she got him ready this morning, so he knows it's like his friends' clothes - all stiff white shirts and grey trousers that he can't run around in incase they get ruined.

Toby's mummy, one of Daddy's friends from work is there, and so is Will's daddy, who knows Mummy from her work as well.

They are all waiting for something to happen, and when Mikey turns around again, there is his auntie bringing in a birthday cake that is nearly as big as Lissy is. She sets it down on the table where Mikey, Will, Toby and Fergus are sat.

He counts - one, two, three, four, five, six candles; one for each of his years, and as Grampa Hugs holds up the camera to his face, and Mummy and Daddy start everybody in the room singing Happy Birthday, and when they all finish, Mikey takes a big deep breath and blows all six candles out in one go, and everybody claps and smiles.

Mikey is a smart boy - all his teachers say he's bright for his age, because he takes in everything around him - and as the grey smoke rises from the blown-out candles, Mikey looks up at Daddy's grey eyes, and Mummy's dark brown eyes, and wonders briefly why he and his little sister both look like Mummy, but only Lissy looks like their daddy.

o o o o o

Soft candlelight filled the small quarters, creating flickering shadows on the harsh angles and corners. Although protocol technically didn't allow open flames, these had been secured to the table (which had been 'borrowed' from the galley's collection of spares) and the chance of them causing any kind of accident was minimal, at most.

The table carried what the remnants of a meal that Chef (after much asking and pleading) had prepared especially for them, which was now forgotten as...

"Happy anniversary, love," Malcolm said softly, smiling as he held up his glass over the table.

Hoshi smiled back, and clinked her own glass with his. "Happy anniversary," she echoed, then added, "it doesn't feel like six months, does it?"

Malcolm shook his head. "It feels like a lot longer than that," he replied.

Hoshi nodded, but before she could say anything else the comm chirped, and they heard the captain's voice. "Bridge to Lieutenant Reed."

Malcolm grimaced and got up to answer the hail, muttering, "Killjoys," under his breath as he did so. "Reed here," he said into the comm.

"Malcolm, I need both you and Hoshi up on the bridge immediately," Captain Archer's voice told them.

"Aye sir," Malcolm replied, looking back at the table. "We're on our way. Sorry about that," he added as Hoshi got up.

She shook her head. "It wasn't your fault," she told him, "but if you're up for a little revenge?"

Malcolm smirked as he took her hand and they left his quarters and the remainders of their dinner behind them. When they reached the bridge, they silently went to their respective posts and sat down.

Jonathan Archer had already acknowledged each of them with a silent nod (having been staring at the flat display at the situation room's table), but someone else wasn't quite so passive in his greeting.

"Didn't interrupt anythin', did we?" Trip asked Malcolm with a grin from the situation table, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Before Malcolm could think up a suitably sarcastic reply, however, a very loud and very piercing beep erupted from Hoshi's station. "We're being hailed," she said after a few seconds. She cocked her head, taking in the alien language with skilled ease. "It sounds like a distress call, but I can't be certain."

Jonathan moved around to the command chair, and nodded. "There's a disabled transport vessel about half a light-year from here," he informed her.

Malcolm attacked his own station until he got the ship on his scanners. There was, as the captain had said, a vessel very much nearby. But... "I'm not picking up any lifesigns," he reported worriedly, double-checking his information, just to be certain, "although that could just be spatial interference."

"Could the signal be automated?" Trip wondered out loud from behind Malcolm's chair, making the lieutenant jump. "Y'know, in case of an emergency..."

"It's likely," Jonathan replied, although his tone of voice indicated he wasn't going down that route himself. "Travis, lay in a course. Warp two."

"Aye sir."

It only took a couple of minutes, but soon enough the ship was within visual range of the Enterprise... and it was not a pretty sight to look at, in Malcolm's private opinion. The end that had clearly once held the engine looked like half a discarded Christmas cracker, and the part that remained didn't appear to be in any better a condition; the outer hull sections were charred and black, and T'Pol informed the bridge in a calm voice that there was residual energy on one section of the hull that indicated that some kind of a firefight had taken place, although whether it had been one-sided or not couldn't be determined.

Jonathan, who had originally paled at first sight of the ship, had now regained some of his colour. "Any lifesigns?" he asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the scene that lay in front of them, and it was a tense seven seconds before the science officer responded in the affirmative; there were two very weak alien lifesigns in the one part of the ship that was still generating atmosphere.

As the captain ordered Trip and Malcolm to get over there in a shuttlepod to find out what they could, and to get the survivors onto Enterprise, it was all the armoury officer could do not to think wistfully of the candlelit quarters four decks above him as he climbed into an EV suit, ready to explore the "great unknown".


Chapter 2: The Best Policy

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

If this sounds phoney,
Don't say I didn't warn
This place suffocates,
And my heart yearns me on
But the one girl you want,
is waiting right here
-- Just Travelling Through, The Thrills

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


As Shuttlepod Two dropped out of the belly of the Enterprise, Malcolm grimaced slightly in the pilot's chair as the mild inertia caught up with his stomach.

"Hey, you're not gonna throw up on me, are ya?" Trip asked him, coming up from the back to sit in the co-pilot's chair. "'Cause ya don't look so good."

Mutely, Malcolm shook his head and tried to focus on the console in front of him instead of the unpleasant sensations building up where his stomach used to be.

Trip tried to adjust his position in the EV suit, and then gave up on it. "So," he continued, occasionally checking the sensor readouts for the alien ship, "you an' Hoshi."

"What about us?" Malcolm asked through gritted teeth.

"You gonna make an honest woman outta her?"

Malcolm looked at him, momentarily confused. "What?"

Trip grinned. "Are we goin' to be hearin' any weddin' bells soon?" he asked. "You gotta settle down sooner or later, Loo-tenant, and you don't find many people like her around these days."

There was a small pause, during which the engineer wondered briefly if he'd said the wrong thing. "I'm not so sure marriage will be on the agenda anytime soon," Malcolm replied shortly.

Trip stared. "Why not?"

"Do you see anybody capable of conducting a marriage ceremony around here?" Malcolm asked him. "And by that I do not mean the shotgun chapels that the science teams seem to regularly discover on shore leave."

"Cap'n'll probably do it for ya," Trip said. "Hell, he'd love ta, f'ya give him a chance."

The crippled alien vessel loomed up in front of Shuttlepod Two, and both men were temporarily distracted as they tried to find a safe enough place to dock. "Can I ask you a question, Trip?" Malcolm asked, eyes riveted on the sensor display that guided his control of the pod.


A soft whumph, and the shuttlepod made contact with the single intact docking port. "Why do you have marriage on the cards all of a sudden?"

Trip raised his eyebrows as he reached for his helmet and a scanner. "It's the ol' romantic in me," he replied. "An' I'm happy for ya. Maybe you should be as well."

"So happy that I want to just sweep my girlfriend down the aisle without a second's further notice?" Malcolm asked, his voice both muffled and tinny from inside his own helmet.

"Maybe." Trip started cranking open the upper hatch. "S'what people do when they're in love."

"In the movies, perhaps." Malcolm followed him up and out onto the deck of the alien vessel. He held out his scanner and turned around slowly. "That way," he said, pointing, "But they're getting fainter."

Without any further ado, and in near-complete silence both men slowly made their way through what turned out to be a veritable maze of partially destroyed corridors with only what appeared to be emergency forcefields preventing everything from being sucked out into vacuum.

A few minutes later they emerged into a large room, the contents of which were strewn everywhere. "Maybe this was their mess hall," Trip suggested through the comm link.

"Perhaps," Malcolm replied, looking around. "They should be in here."


Trip flashed his light around, trying to determine which of the gloomy shapes in the shadows had once been various pieces of furniture, and which could possibly be people. And then he saw it.

Or should be them? Two legs were poking out from underneath a flat piece of metalware, and try as he might, Trip couldn't get it to move. "I think I've found someone," he called out. "Could use - a little help," he added, panting from his futile efforts.

Malcolm joined him, and between them they managed to get the sheet completely away from the small pile of rubble, and lying in front of them was the unconscious form of a young-looking male.

"There's nobody else," Malcolm stated faintly, staring at his scanner. "He's the last one."

Trip nodded, his expression set. "Better get him back t'Enterprise, then," he said.

Malcolm took one last look around the forlorn room before nodding himself, and bending down to help Trip get the alien back to the shuttlepod.

o o o o o

On his first day back at school in September, less than a week after his birthday, Mikey knows that things have changed, that they are different from the summer term. He's in a different classroom with a new teacher, someone called Miss Macintosh, but he knows about that. He also knows that his best friend Will has moved away because his daddy has a new job somewhere far away. He knows that Fergus is now his new best friend, because they both like to run around and play pretend during playtime, like they did in the back garden after they ate Mikey's birthday cake, when Will was still there.

Although he isn't sure why, he knows that some of the boys in his class aren't talking to him anymore, like they did before the summer holidays, and he knows that some of the girls (who are icky) have been talking to him already, and he's only been back at school for a few hours.

Polly, Sarah and Hanna have been up to him three times during classtime, asking him if he had a nice birthday. Mikey doesn't know what to think about them, and instead has been concentrating on his sums, making Miss Macintosh happy with him already.

During the first playtime of the day, Mikey wanders off from Fergus and Toby by himself, and sits on a grass slope close to two of the teachers. He can hear them talking, although he can't understand everything that they're saying.

He hears his own name mentioned a few times, but he doesn't understand why the Year Two and Reception teachers would talk about him, because he's in Year One. He hears them talk about his daddy and his daddy's work, but he doesn't understand why two teachers would want to talk about that, either.

Mikey knows that what his daddy does at work is important, because both Mummy and Daddy say it is, and that it's Daddy's work that stops him from seeing Mikey and Lissy as much as Mummy does. He knows that Daddy's work is talked about by lots of important people, but he still doesn't know why two teachers would want to talk about it.

After a few minutes, Mikey gets up off the grass slope and walks back to where Toby and Fergus are starting a game of "It" with some of the girls, including Polly, Sarah and Hanna, and after a while he forgets about the teachers and what they were talking about.


Chapter 3: All Work and No Play

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

This is the place
Where all the devils plead
Their case to take from you
What they need
-- This is the place, Red Hot Chili Peppers

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


"How is he, Doctor?" Jonathan asked.

Phlox stopped scanning the unconscious man and instead looked at the monitor above the biobed. "Our little friend appears to have suffered mild radiation poisoning, which could possibly be a side effect from the weapons fire, although I can't be certain. Twenty percent burns on his left and lower sides, but with the right treatment, I see no reason why he shouldn't make a full recovery."

Jonathan looked down at the man's face, partially blackened and distorted. "How soon will he be awake?" he asked the doctor. "We're going to need to ask him a few questions."

"I'm keeping him under sedation for the time being," Phlox informed the captain, "but when that wears off he will most certainly wake by himself. I'll be sure to let you know when that happens."

"Okay," Jonathan answered, "and when Trip and Malcolm are out of decon, send them up to my ready room."

"Of course." The Denobulan's attention was already distracted as he bent down again to study the physiology of his patient.


Mikey's in the living room, reading a book to Lissy when Daddy comes home. He's been away for a few days because of his work, and when he comes home he's normally happy to see Mikey and Lissy, but something's different this time. Instead of bending down to hug Mikey or to pick Lissy up, Daddy goes straight through to the kitchen, where their mummy is starting to make dinner.

Mikey leaves Lissy with the book for a minute and goes over to the kitchen door. It isn't closed properly, and through the little gap he can hear his parents talking. Mummy tries to sound like she's happy to see Daddy, but Mikey knows she's only pretending, because she doesn't sound happy at all, although he doesn't know why.

He doesn't make any sounds while he stands there, but listens like he did on the grassy slope the other day, simply listening to what is being said. He doesn't understand all the words that Mummy and Daddy are saying to each other in quiet voices, and he doesn't know why they aren't happy to see each other, like they are when Daddy's been away in the past and then come home again.

After a little while a noise behind him makes Mikey turn around and he sees Lissy on the floor, waving around a piece of string from the wrapping of one of Mikey's birthday presents. He walks away from the kitchen door and goes to play with his little sister, leaving Mummy and Daddy behind him.

o o o o o

"My name is Jeth'ru," the alien said slowly. "I... what happened to my ship?"

Jonathan and Malcolm looked at each other briefly. "We're not sure exactly," Malcolm said eventually, uncrossing his arms and kneading his left wrist with the other hand. "We received a distress call, and -"

"Yes," Jeth'ru interrupted, his light grey skin even paler under the harsh Sickbay lights. "It's designed to do that in cases of emergency." He went pale and broke off. "That's what happened, wasn't it? There was an emergency..." He broke off again and looked around at the other biobeds, pristine and white either side of him. "I'm the only survivor, aren't I?"

Jonathan nodded silently, not entirely certain that he could say anything that would change any of what had happened.

Jeth'ru closed his eyes briefly, and when he opened them again, Malcolm could see what could have been the brightness of tears there, and he shifted uncomfortably on his feet, unsure exactly what to do next. Luckily for him, he was saved by the patient in question. "You'll need to contact my people, I assume," he said suddenly, breaking the silence.

Again, Jonathan nodded. However, it appeared that the alien had interpreted the captain's response and facial expression a little differently that intended, as he added quickly added, "You will have nothing to fear from my people, Captain. We are not a race of warriors."

Malcolm watched Jeth'ru as he spoke, and suddenly wondered what Hoshi would make of this little grey man. Certainly she was much better at the whole "people" thing than he was (which, admittedly, wasn't exactly difficult); indeed, she had often joked to him that his idea of diplomacy was blow stuff up, ask questions later, to which he had then replied that her idea of diplomacy was making pretty and acting smart with the natives because I can speak your language! She had then asked him which way was more effective in a first contact situation; unwilling to lose the debate, he had declared that it depended on the situation.

In this situation, it seemed that Hoshi's approach to interspecies diplomacy would be by far the most effective. She had already been able to enable Jeth'ru to be understood via the universal translator (from salvageable records from his ship), but there was still no reason why she couldn't perhaps talk to him a little more.

As soon as Phlox was busying himself with his newest patient again, Malcolm quietly put this proposition forward to Jonathan, who readily agreed, and the armoury officer was duly sent off to go find her.

o o o o o

At school the day after Daddy came home, Mikey is standing in the middle of the playground on his own, as he watches a football game that some of the older boys are playing. He knows Charlie, who is Toby's big brother, and he also knows Pat, who is Charlie's best friend, but he doesn't know who any of the other boys are.

Charlie scores a goal inbetween two squished-up jumpers at one end of the playground, and the boys on his team cheer for him. Mikey smiles when this happens, because he knows that Charlie wants to be a football player when he is older, but Toby wants to go into space and meet aliens, like their daddy did a long time ago, before Toby was born.

Mikey doesn't know what he wants to be when he's grown up, although last week he wanted to be a crocodile hunter, which was one of the pretend games that he and Fergus played out in the big field behind Fergus' back garden. Mikey gets a bit scared of heights, so he doesn't really like the idea of going into space to work, and he doesn't want to do what his daddy does for a job because he knows that Daddy does lots of boring things at his work, and that they take a long time because sometimes he has to go away for nearly a week.

And anyway, Mikey doesn't like the idea of going up into outer space to work because as well as the fact it's so high up, he'd miss Mummy, Daddy and Lissy too much.


Chapter 4: Thicker than Water

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

So if you're taking chances, know the chance you take
A broken heart's a high price to pay

-- Once Upon A Lifetime, Ronan Keating

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


Malcolm's hunch had proved right; in a little under two hours Ensign Sato had managed to coax out of Jeth'ru what would probably have taken the men on the senior staff at least a week, if not considerably longer. And now Hoshi was standing in the captain's ready room, trying not to let a prideful grin erupt on her face.

"They call themselves the Hanaya," she told Malcolm and Captain Archer. "They're mentioned in the Vulcan database a couple of times, mostly under really obscure referencing, and I don't think there was more than three or four lines on them in total, despite the fact they're a warp culture."

"Why would that be?" Jonathan wondered out loud.

Malcolm answered him. "Perhaps the Hanaya aren't quite what Vulcans would call a 'civilised' society," he commented dryly.

Hoshi nodded. "Jeth'ru says that they're very much a family-oriented people."

"In what way?" the captain asked her.

She paused for a moment, thinking, before she continued. "Apparently their life revolves around the family and familial matters. No estranged relatives, or 'black sheep', that sort of thing, and they get very emotional when it comes to... problems or matter involving family members."

Jonathan nodded. "I can see why the Vulcans wouldn't think very much of them, then," he commented, smiling slightly.

"They have limited empathic and telepathic abilities as well," Hoshi added, sounding serious.

Malcolm looked up instantly. "Anything that could pose a threat to us?" he asked, even surprising himself at how on-edge he sounded.

Hoshi shook her head, smiling. "Their abilities are extremely limited, according to Jeth'ru," she reassured him.

"How limited?" Malcolm persisted.

She shrugged. "I'm not too sure. He wasn't too sure about it either, something about only certain people having that ability."

Malcolm nodded, satisfied with the information at hand.

"But it's quite amazing," Hoshi continued, beginning to smile. "According to Jeth'ru, there are people on his world who can tell the story of a person's family without asking them any questions at all."

Again, Malcolm looked up sharply. "To what extent?" he asked her, and instantly Jonathan realised that the armoury officer was probably thinking about his own family, which wasn't the... the closest of any families that the captain had encountered in his time.

In response, he tried to allay Malcolm's worries. "I'm sure it's nothing too... probing," he said in an attempt to reassure the younger man.

The lieutenant nodded slowly, but said nothing more.

"What about getting our guest home?" Jonathan then said, looking back to Hoshi. "Is there a ship nearby that we can meet up with?"

"Not that he knows of," Hoshi replied, shaking her head. "But from what I can make out, his homeworld's about a day away at high warp. I can't be too sure, though."

The captain nodded. "Find out what you can, Ensign. Then we'll see about getting him back to his family."

o o o o o

Mikey sits quietly at the dinner table, he and Lissy waiting for their dinner. His little sister's sitting in the high chair that Daddy's sister gave her when she was born, and already she's dribbling from the corner of her mouth and making a mess down her bib. Mikey slips down from his chair, to go into the kitchen and find a tissue for her. He knows that there's a box of them in the drawer, and he gets them out and pulls a fistful out of the box to dry up Lissy's drool with.

As he passes by the counter where there are two small, empty plates, Mikey can see a small bundle of papers that have fallen off the side and onto the floor. He picks them up and looks at the top sheet before he puts them back next to the plates.

He knows that he maybe shouldn't look at them, because sometimes the papers are to do with Daddy's work, or to do with things that Mummy does when she's not busy looking after Lissy, and a lot of the time he doesn't know what's on the sheets anyway - the words are nearly always too long for him to know what they mean, despite him being on the green readers at school already.

Mikey doesn't know all of the words on the top sheet; there are a lot of them, and they're written very small, but there's one word near the top of the sheet that he can read easily, although he doesn't know what it means; it's nearly right next to what he knows is the name that grown-ups call Mummy, and it stands out from all of the other words, in big bold writing.


o o o o o

"Have you noticed Trip acting strange the last couple of days?" Malcolm asked Hoshi, pulling his shirt over his shoulders. He folded it and put it on the chair next to him.

She shook her head. "No more so than usual," she replied, grinning. She then grew a little more serious. "Why? What's he done this time?"

Malcolm shrugged his shoulders and slipped into the bed around and behind Hoshi, wrapping one of his arms around her chest. There was no way of avoiding answering the question (especially considering the fact that he had started the conversation in the first place), so he went for the blunt approach. "He thinks we should get married," he said, in a bit of a rush.

She stiffened beneath his arm, and twisted herself around so that she could see his face. "What do you think?" she asked him. "I mean, do you agree with him?"

Well, that one was unexpected. Malcolm watched Hoshi's eyes for a second, searching them for any kind of clue as to what she meant, and then gave up. "I don't know," he admitted. "Aren't we okay as we are now?"

She nodded. "I'd say a little better than just okay," she answered. "But I can't say that the idea of it hasn't been on my mind. But what do you think?" she asked again, repeating her question.

Malcolm smiled dryly. "I guess... I guess I'm not the world's biggest fan of getting married," he said, trying to put the vague swirls of emotion in his mind into words. "I mean, look at my parents," he added. "They've been married thirty, thirty-five years and look what it's done to them. My father, especially."

Hoshi stared back at him, a new kind of firmness in her expression. "Malcolm," she said forcefully, "you are not your father."

There was a small pause. "You know, that's probably the nicest thing anybody's ever said to me," he replied, trying not to sound bitter.

"I'm being serious."

"So am I."

"I know," Hoshi said quietly. She stretched her legs out underneath the cover. "I'm tired," she said after a while, "and by the look of it you are as well. We should try and get to sleep."

Malcolm nodded. "Big day ahead of us tomorrow," he added to her sentence, referring to the meeting the captain had organised with Hanayan representatives.

Hoshi smiled, closed her eyes and leaned in towards Malcolm's embrace. "Night," she murmured to some spot just below his right shoulder; within seconds her breathing evened out.

Malcolm tightened his arm around her, and for some time he simply lay there listening to her breathe, unable to sleep himself as memories of the last time he had talked about marriage with somebody... to somebody... resurfaced for the first time in over a year.

He'd be lying to himself if he'd tried to claim that he'd never thought about it since then, but this was first time in some time that Malcolm finally allowed himself to think about it... about her.


Interlude 1: I Remember

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

You run, you run
But this ain't livin'
You wish you could go back
and begin it, all over
But it's over

-- Very Kind, Will Young

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


Karen took a very deep breath, and then looked back at the computer screen in front of her, and at the portrait profile it showed of the man she was talk - no, the man that she was trying to talk to. This whole thing was starting to get on the wrong side of frustrating, and at a rapidly increasing rate, too.

"Look," she said. "I appreciate that fact that your job demands a lot of your time, and that it's a difficult one at times." She shook her head. "But there has to be some kind of mistake with this."

The man shook his head in response. "I'm afraid not, ma'am," he replied, with the air of someone used to this kind of conversation. "Results are always conclusive. There is simply no available margin for error."

"But there has to be." Karen stood her ground almost defiantly. "What you're telling me is... it's impossible."

"Nothing is impossible," the image on the screen admonished her. "There is only the unlikely and the highly improbable. Two hundred years ago, scientists claimed that faster-then-light travel was impossible, and look where we are today."

"I know, I know about that," Karen replied. She knew about the Enterprise. Heck, everyone knew about Enterprise. "But this... Doctor, this is way past 'unlikely' or 'highly improbable'. There is simply no way that what you're telling me can be true." She knew she was repeating herself, but right then she didn't really care either way; repeating the point only entrenched the facts deeper into her mind, which was really what she needed right now.

The man cocked his head to one side, a questioning expression appearing on his face. "Have you told anybody else about this?" he asked seriously.

"No. God, no. Have you any idea what this could mean - if it is true?"

"Which it is," she was told again.

Karen closed her eyes briefly. "I'm sorry for wasting your time like this, Doctor," she told the man with perfect sincerity. Then, without saying or doing anything else, she cut the connection, and the image on the computer screen went blank. She rolled her chair a little way out from the desk and brought her head down so that it was resting inches above her legs, supported by both arms. She then took another of deep breaths, staring down at the unchanging pattern on the carpet inbetween her feet. Dark blonde hair swung down either side of her face, but she made no effort to push it back out of the way.

The two letters she had been sent back from the laboratories sat on one side of the computer, the same width away from each other and both the computer itself and the edge of the desk, and all she could do was thank high heaven that her husband wasn't in the habit of vetting the senders of his wife's mail, which had been the case with a couple of ex's earlier on in life.

A couple of long, silent minutes passed before Karen moved again, getting up off the seat and going over to the cupboard where the family photo albums were kept. There were four of them in there, stacked neatly side-by-side, in perfect date order from left to right, right down to each page and without hesitation Karen pulled out the album furthest to the left.

She went back to the desk and sat back down again, pulling herself closer into the table surface, and both resting the album on the surface and opening it to the first page at the same time. Instantly a picture of her seventh birthday party greeted her, right above the image of her little brothers, twins, on their fourth birthday, both of them covered in what one could only hope was birthday cake (the other possibilities just didn't bear thinking about, even today).

On the next few pages were various effigies of the rest of her childhood and early adult years; a school trip to the museums and the old warp complex at Montana with her history class; her and her girlfriends before the school prom; her and her boyfriend at the prom, slow dancing to an old romantic ballad; graduating from university.

And then the ones she was looking for. Her first proper, adult relationship. The first man with whom she could have happily spent the rest of her life with. The first man she had loved.

He had had four pages of the photo album dedicated to him; eight sides in total, one for each of the months they had been together romantically. Smiling, Karen followed each image in front of her as they told her a story... They had first met in a bar, when she had mistaken him for her actual date for the evening, and had unwittingly planted a kiss on a complete stranger's cheek and hugged him from behind. To this day her excuse had firmly remained that the lights were dim and that "you men all look the same from behind, trust me". Her date, however, hadn't quite seen it like that, and that was the last that Karen had seen of him.

Ultimately, however, that didn't matter, and she and the stranger had hit it off immediately and spent the rest of the evening holed up in one corner of the bar, chatting and talking fairly freely about pretty much anything and everything that came to mind, despite the fact that she was an easy six or seven years older than he was. Two weeks later they were inseparable.

A week after that, they had met each other's friends and colleagues.

Seven weeks after the 'bar incident', they had moved in together, him fitting into her life and small flat as if he had always belonged there, something which had just seemed perfectly natural to the young couple.

Four months into the relationship, and the pair had evolved into a comfortable, comforting routine. Both of them started and finished their jobs at around the same time each day (too early and not early enough, respectively). Evenings were then spent either together or separately with friends, and every night Karen had had the security of somebody lying next to her in bed, knowing that he would be there in the morning, albeit until they had to get up and start the day all over again.

The subject of marriage had never really occurred to either of them until Karen's parents had said tactfully - well, as tactfully as they were capable of - that she wasn't getting any younger, and that while she had this gorgeous younger man in her life, shouldn't they really make moves to settle down together and start a family?

Seven months into the relationship, and Karen had started talking to him about it, questioning the possibility of them spending the rest of their lives together. At first, he had been set somewhat against it, and when probed, he had revealed a side to him - to his past - that Karen had had no idea about, that it existed at all, and once she was over the first real bombshell, she had tried to show him that this was real, that they could make it work.

And he had seemed to come around; over the following few weeks he slowly started to come around to the idea of it all, and for the first time in her adult life, Karen could see the chance for some real stability, something good that she could hold onto.

Until one morning, one bitterly cold January morning, when she woke up on Thursday to find that he had vanished, seemingly without a trace. All that remained of him was a single note on the side of the bed where he normally slept, placed dead centre on his favourite pillow.

Karen could still remember the exact wording of the note, although she had burned it long ago.

I never want to hurt you, and I hope with every fibre of my being that you'll find someone to be there every morning with you. I'm sorry that it has to be this way. I love you.

Karen closed the photo album, knowing what came next. Meeting someone on the rebound from this amazing man, starting to date someone who clearly loved her from the start, and within a fortnight of meeting Adult Relationship #2 they had moved in together and there were wedding plans, much to the joy of both sets of parents. It turned out that he needed stability as much she craved it, and they both were able to give each other what they needed, if not always what they wanted, and by the end of the year, Karen had both a stable, yet sometimes stolid husband and a child; the beginnings of a perfect family, she had stubbornly told herself until she had finally begun to believe it.

Putting the album back in the cupboard, next to the other three, Karen thought back to the conversation she had had with the doctor just a little while previously. He had talked about the Enterprise.

She had wanted to laugh in his face. The silly fool, of course she knew about the Enterprise - and not just the watered-down dilute that Mr and Mrs John Q. Dunderhead got from the media, either. She knew about the Enterprise; as much as she could know without actually being a crewmember on board the ship. She knew about it... she knew about it because he was there.

"You see, Malcolm," she said to a mercifully quiet and empty house. "I still remember."

Sometimes she wondered if he did, as well.


Chapter 5: No Smoke

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

it's alright to make mistakes you're only human
inside everybody's hiding something
-- slide, Dido

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


Looking back on events, Malcolm would never quite be able to recall exactly when he had eventually fallen asleep, if at all; by the next morning, when an away team from Enterprise (comprising of the captain, Malcolm himself and Hoshi) was standing in what appeared to be an open-air courtyard, it was all he could do to just stand up straight and keep his eyes open and trained forward.

He was, however, sufficiently aware enough to register the palpable happiness and relief when Jeth'ru was reunited with his father (as it turned out, his mother was one of the engineers that had died on the ship), and the profound gratitude that the Hanaya authorities had showed to the humans for helping them in this regard.

Feisaa, the 'High Mother' of the Hanayan people had then invited the three Starfleet officers to remain the rest of the day with her and her people, to "better facilitate understanding between our two families," as she had announced to a bemused-looking Jonathan and Malcolm, while Hoshi had simply smiled. From what Malcolm could gather, this was more to do with Hanaya dialects than any kind of formal diplomacy (and of course he fully intended to use this information against her at some point, if at all possible).

After what seemed like a fair eternity of being introduced to various high-browed yet genial officials and dignitaries, Malcolm had then found himself conversing with what he could only surmise to be the local equivalent of an armoury officer, who had introduced herself as Rebhun (and, incidentally, was Jeth'ru's sister through marriage).

"I have to admit, it's quite amazing," Malcolm remarked at one point, partially turning on the spot to get a better view of the courtyard.

Beside him, Rebhun considered this for a moment. Like her brother-in-law (the 'local' term was far too complicated to remember, let alone pronounce) she had the mottled pale grey skin, darker hair and sparkling silver eyes that seemed representative of her species. "What is?" she asked him.

In response Malcolm waved an arm out. "This," he said. "The courtyard, the scenery, the... the whole atmosphere." He grinned a little. "It feels like something from the Elizabethan era."

She cocked her head to one side. "A period from your people's history?"

"Yes," he replied, nodding. "Around six hundred years ago," he told her. "Right in the middle of a series of religious and political wars in that part of the world." He then shook his head. "How far we've come," he added with a wry half-grin, looking over at the captain and Feisaa, deep in their own conversation.

Rebhun nodded. "We used to have similar problems in our own history," she said thoughtfully. "At one time there were so many disputes between the tribes and tribal leaders over land and women that it became normal for one to exist in a perpetual state of war. But," she continued, "here we are today, one people, united by family."

Malcolm smiled almost wistfully. "We're not quite there yet," he allowed, watching Hoshi with two Hanayan diplomats out of the corner of his eye. She seemed to be having a good time out of it all, grinning widely and occasionally gesticulating with her arms and upper body, presumably as her linguistic skills temporarily failed to get her meaning across. She then caught Malcolm watching her (how she could tell when that happened, he would never know), and smiled briefly in his direction before continuing her flow with the Hanaya.

Briefly he felt a pang of guilt inside him as he continued to watch her - more openly this time - and he was fairly sure he knew the reason why. Without meaning to, he had let the memories of Karen to predominate all of his other thought processes... too many possibilities and "what-might-have-been's". It was probably Trip and his bloody talk of getting married, Malcolm had realised in the shower earlier that morning. The commander had, however unwittingly, sent Malcolm's brain onto overdrive, and even with Hoshi not twenty feet away, the lieutenant simply couldn't stop wondering where Karen was now, or if she was happy, or if she hated him or not for what he had done; for a while, he had certainly hated himself, but he had his reasons, and that much he still knew for certain. The voice of reason within him had told him repeatedly in the past that she was "just another ex I couldn't get close to", but still he couldn't help but wonder to himself what might have happened if he hadn't run...

He turned around again to see Rebhun watching him with an absent look on her face, and after a couple of seconds she perked up again. "I do have something to ask you, Lieutenant," she informed him gravely, a twinkle in her silver eyes.

"What?" he asked, somewhat warily, mentally castigating himself for not paying more attention to what she might have been saying.

Rebhun grinned. "Have you ever handled a phase-modulated weapon before?" she asked, a broadening grin spreading across her face.

Malcolm grinned back. He hadn't... well, not yet, anyway.

o o o o o

Late that night, Mikey wakes up in his bed, shaking a little from a bad dream he had been in, but he can't remember it now. Because it's so late he doesn't know if Mummy or Daddy will still be awake, so he's extra quiet as he gets out of bed and pads quietly down the hallway, past Lissy's bedroom, past Mummy and Daddy's bedroom... all the way to the bathroom at the end of the hall, the little night-light by the door still on so he knows where he's going.

When he's finished, Mikey comes out of the bathroom, and sees a light on in the downstairs hallway, and a shadow moving across the bottom of the stairs. He climbs down a couple of the steps, and sits on one of the stairs where he can peek through the banisters, and sees Daddy moving around the living room. He's only dressed in his pyjamas, but there's a little suitcase right by the front door. He keeps vanishing from Mikey's sight, but that's only because he can only see Daddy when he's up at the front end of the living room, not when he goes to the other end of the room, or into the kitchen or dining room.

The next time Daddy comes into view, Mikey can see him reading something in his hand, loose sheets waving around as he walks from one side of the living room to the other, a strange kind of expression on his face, almost as if he's angry and upset all at the same time.

Mikey stays to watch him for a few minutes before he stands up and quietly goes back to bed, and it's not long before he's asleep again, this time dreaming about going into outer space with Toby.

o o o o o

"I am sorry to hear about your father, Captain," Feisaa said seriously. "I know how hard it can be to lose a parent - any loved one."

Jonathan nodded. "There's... nothing, really, that can prepare you for that sort of loss," he answered somewhat evasively. "You just... have to learn to deal with it, really."

The High Mother tilted her head to one side. "You will find that that is the view of my people, Captain," she told him, "although our own experience with such intimate losses is... limited."

"To each his own way," Jonathan remarked softly, almost inaudibly in the open air.

To his surprise, however, Feisaa nodded, smiling. Then, "If you do not mind my intruding in this manner, Captain," she said, "I would wish - through you - to extend my own felicitations to your lieutenant."

"Malcolm?" Jonathan asked stupidly, as Hoshi and her two Hanaya came to join them.

"Of course," Feisaa replied, smiling.

"What about Malcolm?" Hoshi asked them both curiously.

Feisaa smiled again, the expression taking years off her wizened grey face. "The - how do you say it?" she asked the humans. "Someone special?"

Jonathan smiled back. "That's one way of putting it," he told her, instantly realising that she was one of the people Jeth'ru had described - a telepath.

She nodded. "His mind has been preoccupied with someone," she said, almost conspiratorially. "I would not normally say anything otherwise, but -" she broke off, floundering briefly for the words she wanted. "It... the voice within him is as loud as a beacon."

"In what way?" Jonathan asked her, and next to him Hoshi nodded her agreement with the question, the two diplomats having already wandered off across the courtyard.

The High Mother considered this for a moment before replying. "Again, I do not mean to intrude Captain, Ensign," she said, much more seriously.

"As long as it's good news," Jonathan told her lightly, "I'm sure Lieutenant Reed won't mind."

"There's someone waiting for him," Feisaa said. "Someone who for the moment still holds his heart."

Both Hoshi and Jonathan nodded, the former starting to smile a little bashfully, albeit perhaps a little in confusion at the High Mother's choice of words.

Feisaa continued. "This woman - he considers her to be what we would call a lifeone," she said. "The person to whom one is bonded for their lifetime."

Hoshi grinned suddenly as the full import of the alien woman's words sunk in. Maybe... maybe he did want this, after all, even if he hadn't said so - although he had been the one to bring up the issue of marriage the previous night. But still... something about the way Feisaa had said it...

She turned around, away from the conversation, and spotted Malcolm deep in conversation with one of the female Hanaya, both of them animated as they spoke to each other.

Behind her, she could hear Feisaa continue her little monologue. "... he misses her," she commented. "As though she's far away from him."

Hoshi blinked, while Jonathan simply looked a little bewildered. "I don't understand why that would be," he replied. "She's right here." He indicated Hoshi - or rather, he indicated her back.

"No," Feisaa enunciated, "he sees her back at the home they shared."

Jonathan shook his head as Hoshi whirled back around, eyes wide. "Who is?" she asked the Hanaya. "Who does he see?"

The High Mother's forehead furrowed for a moment, she deep in concentration. "...Karen," she announced eventually. "I believe that is the name his mind repeats within itself."

Hoshi stared at her.

o o o o o

When Mikey wakes up in the morning, and goes downstairs, the suitcase that was next to the door last night is gone.

Standing just outside the open door to the living room, he can see Mummy sitting at the computer, talking to somebody on the screen. A few minutes later she finishes what she is saying, and the screen goes blank.

Mummy gets up and comes over to the door where Mikey is, picking him up and balancing him on her hip. She tells him in a quiet voice that Daddy's gone away for a while, and that Uncle James is coming over this afternoon to help her look after Mikey and Lissy while Daddy's away.

Mikey likes Uncle James, although it's been a while since he's come and visited, because he does a lot of important work that takes a lot of time to do sometimes - like Daddy's work but not as boring.

He smiles and tells Mummy that he and Lissy will be good for Uncle James, and Mummy smiles back and says that he's a good boy.

o o o o o

Malcolm piloted the shuttlepod back to Enterprise; the tension and silence inside it was so sharp that Chef could have cut it with a knife. Hoshi hadn't spoken to him since they'd been on the surface, and even Captain Archer was being uncharacteristically distant, in Malcolm's private opinion. Usually the captain was quietly excited after a first contact that didn't involve chainsaws, or deserts, or widespread accidents; this one had actually gone fairly well, he thought. No shoot-em-up's, no long-lasting hostility between the two species, no unwitting betrothals of first-born children...

Going back to Malcolm's original line of thought, the silence continued to reign supreme as the shuttlepod came back into the launch bay, and as the three officers exited the pod and were scanned for decontaminants by Doctor Phlox, and as the three of them made their way to the turbolift.

In fact, the silence was only broken when the captain broke off from the small group on C-deck, presumably to head back to either his own quarters or the bridge. The instant he was around the corner and out of sight and earshot, Hoshi turned on Malcolm.

She looked him straight in the eyes. "Who's Karen?"


She shook her head. "Don't mess me around, Malcolm. Who is she?"

Shocked into muteness, Malcolm could only look at her. "I - she..."

Hoshi closed her eyes, taking a long, deep breath, and when she opened them again, there was something in them that Malcolm had never before seen there before. Anger... hurt...


"Six months we've been together," she told him quietly, with an air of extremely forced calm. "I mean, I can't expect to know about everyone you've ever been with - I don't want to know about everyone you've ever been with, but -" she broke off, shaking her head again, not meeting his eyes. She then started to speak again, her voice raising in pitch as she did so. "I had to find out - from an alien, of all the people who..."

Still, Malcolm couldn't say anything.

Hoshi took a step back from him. "I can't do this," she told him breathlessly, breathing heavily. "I can't!"

She turned on her heels and stalked off down the corridor. She reached the door to her quarters and opened it, but she didn't go in, standing just outside, still in the corridor. She looked down at the decking underneath her feet, then at the wall in front of her, and then back the way she had come, back towards Malcolm.

"You..." she began, her voice sounding dull, a blank look on her face. "Why didn't you tell me you've got a wife?"

She went inside, and as the door hissed closed, Malcolm's legs started moving, carrying him forwards until he was outside her quarters.

He knew that he could get his way inside in less than a minute, but he didn't.

Instead, he tried a different tactic.

"Hoshi," he said to the door, his voice even sounding hollow to his own ears, "listen to me - Hoshi!"

There was no answer from inside the quarters.


Chapter 6: Out of the Frying Pan

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Loose lips sunk ships
I'm getting to grips with what you said
No it's not in my head
I can't awaken the dead day after day
Why don't we talk about it?
Why do you always doubt that there
can be a better way?

-- Sexed Up, Robbie Williams

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


Malcolm rested his palms on the door, splayed out either side of his head, which was now pressed lightly against the cold metal composite. "Please, Hoshi," he whispered. "Please... just let me explain..." He laughed bitterly. "I can explain everythin'," he added in a perfect imitation of Trip. "Please," he repeated softly, reverting back to his own accent. It took every ounce of willpower he possessed not to just break down there and then.

After what seemed to his to be an eternity of waiting for some kind of response, the door underneath him opened, and he nearly fell forwards through the doorway, only just catching his balance at the last minute. Holding onto the wall still with one hand, he looked up to see Hoshi standing there. She still had the same, blank expression on her face, although Malcolm thought he could see the barest hint of sadness in her eyes.

She stood aside to let him come in, not meeting his eyes. "This had better be good," she told him quietly, indicating for him to sit on the bed while she crossed over the room to stand opposite him, leaning back against the wall. She folded her arms over her chest. Malcolm took the unspoken cue and ignoring the lump that was viciously building up in his throat, began to speak quietly.

o o o o o

Uncle James comes over that same afternoon, which surprises Mikey, because he knows that Uncle James is normally really busy because of his work. When he arrives, he picks up Lissy immediately from where she and Mikey are playing on the floor, and gives her a big hug before setting her back down and picking Mikey up instead.

He gives him a big hug as well, and says sorry for missing his birthday the other week. Mikey doesn't mind about that, and that's what he whispers into Uncle James' ear, and he smiles back.

He then puts Mikey back on the floor and asks both of them where their Mummy is. Lissy can't say proper words yet - she's too young - so Mikey says that Mummy was in the kitchen, looking at something on the dining table. Uncle James nods, smiles again, and then gets back up and goes into the kitchen.

He leaves the door open behind him, and in the living room Mikey can hear almost everything that they're saying. He knows that maybe he shouldn't be listening to grown-up talk, but still he can't not listen to them.

Uncle James says that he can talk to someone at work about it, if Mummy still wants him to.

Mummy says something quietly, then a little louder about something Mikey doesn't understand properly, but he hears his own name mentioned, as well as someone else. But he doesn't know who it is.

Someone called Malcolm.

o o o o o

"So why did you go?"

Malcolm shrugged listlessly, still staring down at the grey patternless floor. "I don't know," he said honestly, shaking his head a little. "Like I told you last night, talk of marriage, getting married... I don't know, it just scares me." He ran a hand through his hair, still not looking at anything above the floor. "It scared me then, as well. Karen and I... we were doing great as we were, and..." He paused again and drew a deep, shuddering breath that seemed to echo in the small space. "...and I ran. Bloody cowardly thing to do, I know, but..." He trailed off again, and was horrified to find a few seconds later that he was blinking back hot tears. "I just don't know," he managed finally. His shoulders began to shake involuntarily, and the next thing he knew was Hoshi coming over to the bed, finally moving, and sitting beside him on the bed... putting her arms around his shoulders and just holding him gently, his head buried in her shoulder as he tried not to cry.

The last thing he could remember before falling asleep was the soothing sound of Hoshi's voice, telling him everything was going to be okay. Just fine...

o o o o o

At the moment, Enterprise was cruising at a leisurely, almost relaxed warp one point five, its destination a small star system marked down by the Vulcan database as having diverse and widely varied trading routes intersecting the second largest moon of the fifth planet.

Also at the moment, Enterprise's captain, Jonathan Archer, was sat facing the computer screen in his ready room, staring in what was very nearly open-mouthed shock at a superior officer.

"Jon, this is the best I can do," Admiral Forrest said in earnest from his desk in Starfleet Headquarters. "I've spoken to the head of both weapons and engineering in Starfleet, and they both agree that this refitting would benefit Enterprise rather than be to her detriment."

He paused and stared intently out of the small screen. "And before you say anything else, I've checked your logs over the past couple weeks. If Commander Tucker can keep four point seven five, then you'll be home in just under six days at the latest."

"Look," Jonathan said as patiently as he could. "You and I both know we've got some of Starfleet's finest onboard this ship. We can carry out any necessary upgrades while we're out here. Just look at what Malcolm did with those cannons," he finished, smiling.

Forrest didn't return the sentiment, and he shook his head. "Enterprise is our flagship," he said. "We want her to have the best technology that we can install in her, and having the Jupiter repair teams carrying out the work will give your crew some time to relax. At home," he added pointedly. "With family and friends they won't have seen in over two years."

Jonathan nodded, accepting the orders with as good grace as he could muster at that moment. "When do you want me to change course?" he asked the admiral, mentally starting some of the calculations in his head.

The image on his computer screen smiled. "As soon as you can," Forrest told him. "She'll only be in dry dock for eight days, according to Brennan and Howarth's estimates," he added in a gesture of optimism.

Again, Jonathan nodded, accepting of the platitudes in the sentence. "I'll let helm know," he replied, making as if to get up.

Forrest smiled again. "See you in six days, Jon," he told the captain, and then leaned forward and cut the connection.

Staring at the blank screen for a while, Jonathan sighed. Sure, Enterprise could probably use a damn good service by the people who built her, but at the same time... it just wasn't the same as having Trip and Malcolm co-ordinate the efforts from their own departments. And sooner or later he'd have to get used to the idea that those two weren't going to be around forever.

"Pretty pessimistic of me, I know," he told the silent ready room with a wistful smile. "Heaven knows if the R&D departments are going to try and recruit those two while we're back home." He stopped suddenly, running the word over his tongue. Home. Home was Enterprise. Home was humanity's first warp five starship. Home was... home was here. Right here.

Home was also back in San Francisco, he told himself wryly as he finally got up out of his seat, crossed the room and went back out onto the bridge.

Just a strange kind of home, that was all.

o o o o o

On the bridge, Malcolm looked up as Captain Archer emerged from his ready room, a slightly worn-out look on the older man's face.

"Travis," Jonathan said, "we've got a new course."

"Where to, sir?" the helmsman asked, turning around on his seat.

The captain sighed. "Home," he replied. "We're heading back to Earth. Enterprise is going into spacedock for eight days, and then we go again," he added quickly, as if sensing the abrupt change in mood in the enclosed space.

Silently, Travis input the new co-ordinates, and Malcolm listened with half an ear as Archer relayed the same message to the rest of the crew from the command chair. A few seconds later, the ship tangibly shuddered a little as she executed a swift turn and a quick increase in speed.

"Can I ask you a question, Captain?" Malcolm asked after a few tense, silent minutes. Jonathan nodded, and Malcolm took a breath. "Who's going to be supervising the upgrades to the ship's systems?"

"The heads of weapon and engineering R&D, as well as the heads of maintenance and repair," the captain replied. "Commanders Jeffrey Howarth and James Brennan."

Malcolm nodded, seemingly satisfied by the information... but on the inside he was, well... he was a little shaken...

The woman turned around in the bar after watching her date leave abruptly, turned back to face Malcolm. "I'm sorry about that," she said to him, smiling widely. She almost sounded apologetic. "But like I said, you all look the same from behind."

Malcolm nodded silently, acutely aware of two of his own friends doing low wolf-whistles from the other end of the room.

She stuck her hand out, still grinning. "It's nice to meet you," she said, and Malcolm shook her hand, feeling oddly formal about the whole situation, which was odd - their first contact with each other a few minutes before had definitely been a lot more informal than this.

"Malcolm Reed," Malcolm told her, giving her a quirked half-smile.

"Nice to meet you, Malcolm Reed," the woman said, laughing under the dim lights. "I'm Karen. Karen Brennan. Now, since my plans seem to have... gone out of the door, so to speak, can I get you a drink?"

Mutely, Malcolm brought himself back to the present and stared down at his console. James Brennan, Karen Brennan. James... he'd met a James once... Karen's younger brother, but... no. It had to be a coincidence... Brennan wasn't an uncommon name, there had to be plenty of people called that.

His change in mood must have caught Hoshi's attention, because when he looked up again, she was watching him with a concerned expression on her face; when she thought nobody was looking, she mouthed the words Are you okay? to him.

Malcolm couldn't summon up the energy to look even vaguely reassuring, but he did nod at her. She seemed to accept that, and turned back to her own console, although he could see her looking back at him every now and again, as if to just check that he was indeed alright.

Six days. The two words rolled around inside the armoury officer's head, and he decided to make sure that his own department was in top shape for when they got back to the Sol system; getting some of the armoury team to run scans and diagnostics of the three cannons would be a good place to begin.

Ignoring the feeling of unease that was building up in the general area of his stomach, Malcolm began to make notes and plans for the armoury.

It was going to be a long six days.


Interlude 2: For Every Action

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Forsaking all I've fallen for I rise to meet the end
-- Whisper, Evanescence

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


James finished tucking the children into bed, after he had read them one of the many fairy tales that lined the shelf next to the door. He reached over to turn the lights off, but before he did, he looked back at his nephew, already fast asleep.

Mikey's pale blond hair was rumpled and spiky on the pillow, and he lay in an almost foetal position in the bed, clutching his favourite blanket to his chest as if it was a lifeline. James shook his head as he finally switched off the dim lamp. He was only small, he didn't deserve to go through any of this.

But now it was inevitable. James had spoken to Admiral Forrest, and forcefully but tactfully recommended the upgrades that his department staff were itching to install onto Enterprise. And now they were coming home... would be home, in a little under a day now. James had called the admiral less than a week ago.

Back downstairs, there was a flickering light coming from the dining room. Inside, James found his sister simply sitting at the table, facing away from it, staring blankly down at the floor inbetween her legs.

"He's not coming back." Karen's voice was low, pale, and it sounded as though she'd been crying, which, James knew, she had.

He pulled one of the chairs around the table and positioned it so that he could sit down in front of her. There was no point in asking who 'he' was, and James knew not to press the point too hard, but still he had to say something. "Did he say why?" he asked eventually.

Karen's face remained expressionless, although she didn't look up from the floor. "He didn't even have the decency to speak to me face to face," she said, beginning to sound angry. It was then that James noticed the computer chip lying face down on the table, next to her. "He sent a recorded message," she continued listlessly, "from his parents' house." She laughed mirthlessly.

"What did he say?" James pressed. Eventually she looked up.

"See for yourself," she said, handing him the chip. Carefully, slowly, James crossed the room and sat down at the computer that Karen used for work. He inserted the chip, and a few seconds later the screen filled with the profile image of Mr and Mrs Carson's dated living room, with the faded floral wallpaper travelling along the wall in the background. The message began to run automatically, and a few seconds after it started, a man came into view, sat down and looked into the recorder.

"I'm going to keep this brief," the man said shortly. "I want you to know where I am, and I also want you to know that for the time being, I'm not coming back. I've got all the things I need right now, and Dad will come round at some point to collect anything I've forgotten or didn't have time to get."

His voice was low, clipped, business-like and for a split second, James wanted nothing more than to reach out and hit him. Hard.

"I'll also want to arrange with you access to Melissa," the man continued, "if indeed this separation remains... permanent." On that last word, the first sign of any real emotion had crept into his voice, but without saying anything else he reached forward and the screen went blank; the end of the message.

James swore under his breath; when he turned back to face his sister, the older woman's shoulders were visibly shaking, back in the hunched position she had been in earlier. He went back over to her and gently put his arms around her, simply holding her. She buried herself straight into his chest, her head somewhere underneath the collar of his shirt.

Eventually she spoke up, her voice muffled by both James' shirt and her own tears. "He doesn't want to know about Mikey," she whispered, her voice barely audible He knows he's not his father... he just doesn't want t-t-to know any more... thinks I've b-betrayed him... lived a lie for si -six years." James didn't say anything, just tightening his grip and holding her closer.

"When did you find out?" he asked eventually, trying to soothe his sister, calm her.

There was a small pause. "I think I've always known," Karen murmured into his chest. "He looks so much like me, but he's so much like Malcolm always was... the way he behaves... talks... the way he is. I... I guess I just never wanted to believe that... that Gus wasn't his dad. We were a good family."

James remained silent, knowing in his heart that if she wanted to talk, then she should; get it all out of her system.

"Then, a few weeks ago," Karen continued, sounding a little calmer than before, "there was an... incident at school. Mikey'd had an allergic reaction to something in his meal. His teacher contacted me to let me know, and told me what'd happened... he's allergic to pineapple, James," she said. "Same as Malcolm." She paused again, and buried herself deeper into James' chest. "Paternity test confirmed Gus wasn't his father... Gus must've found the letter one night... And the rest, as they always say," she finished bitterly, her voice breaking. "The rest is bloody history."

Still James didn't say anything. He brought a hand up to Karen's back and started rubbing it in small circular motions, waiting for her to stop shaking and shuddering. A few minutes later she pulled away from him and sat up straight again. Her eyes were red and her hair was all mussed up from the shirt, but she made no move to do anything to it.

She took a deep breath and faced her brother. "Mum and Dad have agreed to look after Mikey and Lissy for a few days," she said, sounding more tired than James had ever heard before. "They'll be picked up first thing in the morning."

"Okay," James replied, nodding. "What about you?"

Karen smiled dryly. "I'll be fine. I always am, remember?" She shook her head, the smile fading. "Tomorrow," she said softly.

"Tomorrow," James echoed just as quietly.

She quirked a half-grin. "Is it too late to ask whether civilians are allowed on Jupiter Station or not?" she asked.

James chuckled. "Even if they're weren't - which they are for some things - I'm not the head of weapons R&D for nothing," he replied dryly. "Rank doth have its privileges, after all."

Karen nodded. "Okay," she said, "okay." She rubbed a hand over her eyes. "Tomorrow I go set off a few explosions," she quipped, her sense of humour still showing through the exhaustion.

And deep down, she knew they were going to be big explosions.


Chapter 7: Twice Shy

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Another mirage folds
into the haze of time recalled
And now the floodgates cannot hold
All my sorrow all my rage
A tear that falls on every page

-- The other side, David Gray

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


On the morning of the sixth day, Malcolm couldn't help but feel yet another surge of trepidation as the partially silhouetted image of Earth loomed ever larger on the bridge's viewscreen. He knew that if he shifted his gaze ever so slightly to the left, that Hoshi would be shooting him worried, concerned looks; he had done a pretty good job so far of avoiding nearly all human contact outside of his armoury staff, determined that James Brennan's department would be able to find no fault whatsoever with Enterprise's armoury while she was in dock.

It was this kind of fervour, fortunately, that seemed to be echoing all around the ship. Lieutenant Hess down in Engineering had twice been nearly reduced to tears because of the demands her commanding officer was making about the engine and various multiple scans, and in Malcolm's private opinion, the ship's science labs had never before been so meticulously cleaned in the few years since their installation. Everybody was getting uptight and it was showing.

And in all honesty, Malcolm had no real idea as to why he felt so scared about meeting James again, even if it was this time in the context of a superior officer. Logically, he knew that there was likely nothing to it; Brennan was head of a department that Malcolm was a major figure in. Therefore Brennan had... certain autonomy over what happened to everything that connected to the armoury; the weapons themselves, power supply, possible future upgrades... possible future personnel...

Heck, it was more than possible that Lieutenant Reed was (not for the first time) blowing things up out of all proportion. There was nothing... sinister... about an ex's younger brother being involved in bringing a starship home so that improvements could be implemented upon the original design.

So if that was true, then why the hell was Malcolm so scared?

o o o o o

It's still a little dark outside when Mikey is woken up by Uncle James, who says that he has to get dressed as quickly as he can. Uncle James then says that he and Mummy have to go somewhere, and that Mikey and Lissy are going to stay with Granny and Grampa for a little while.

Mikey doesn't say anything because he's still a little sleepy, but he does nod. Uncle James then nods back, smiles, and helps Mikey find a clean pair of socks and his favourite teddy bear to take with him.

It isn't long before Mikey's dressed and ready to go, although he does still feel very tired. It's lighter outside by the time everybody's ready to go, even though Lissy has fallen asleep on Mummy's shoulder, and it doesn't take long to get to Granny and Grampa's house, who don't live very far away from home at all. By then Mikey's nearly fallen asleep on Uncle James' lap, and when Grampa Hugs tucks him into the bed that he has at their house, Mikey falls asleep properly, hugging his teddy bear to him instead of his blanket, which he didn't bring with him.

And when Mummy and Uncle James finally leave to go wherever it is they're going to, Mikey doesn't hear them leave.

o o o o o

"It's an honour to meet you, Captain," James said sincerely, shaking Jonathan's hand. "I'm Commander Brennan, this is our engineering head Commander Howarth." Howarth nodded silently, looking every bit his fifty-odd years under the harsh lighting in the corridor of Enterprise.

"You'll forgive me if I'm getting a little ahead of myself, Commander," Jonathan replied, "but I'm quite anxious to know how long you plan to have the ship in dry dock for."

James smiled. He was taller than Malcolm remembered, or perhaps that was just his imagination. "If all goes according to schedule," the commander said, "then you'll be free to go in eight days.

Jonathan nodded, satisfied with the answer.

"And don't worry, sir," James added with a smile, "we'll take good care of her for you."

The captain smiled back. "I'll leave you with my officers, then," he said, picking up the small holdall he'd brought to the airlock with him. He indicated Trip and Malcolm, who were standing a little behind him. "They'll be able to answer any last-minute questions you might have before they go."

Brennan nodded at that, and Jonathan disappeared through the airlock and out of sight down the corridor, presumably heading in the direction of the shuttle bays. Trip and Malcolm were now the only two of Enterprise's crew left onboard; most of the rest were going back to their families for the eight days, with the exception of T'Pol, who was returning to the Vulcan Consulate in San Francisco, Travis, who had disappeared off somewhere with his climbing gear in tow, and Philip O'Malley from Malcolm's armoury team - he didn't have any family that he knew about, but he had decided to stay with some old friends in the south of Ireland for the week.

For the first time, Howarth spoke. "Commander Tucker," he said slowly, his voice low and gravelly, "I'll need you to stay around for a couple of hours just to help my teams familiarise themselves with the modifications you've made to the engine. Beyond that, we can do the rest on our own."

"Sure thing," Trip replied amiably. "D'you wanna start now?" When his counterpart nodded in the affirmative, both engineers walked away together, talking in low tones, leaving James and Malcolm to themselves by Enterprise's side of the airlock.

James finally looked Malcolm in the eyes, looking him up and down. "Long time, no see, Mister Reed," he said dryly, acknowledging for the first time that they had met before.

Nervously, Malcolm nodded. "You never said you were in Starfleet," he commented.

James shrugged. "Seven years ago I was but a lowly lieutenant working night shifts and going over design specs," he replied. "Nothing really to talk about."

"Right," Malcolm replied. Suddenly he found he was uncertain of how to proceed. "I... my armoury staff have already gone down to Earth for their shore leave," he said. "I don't know what you'll need to know about the cannons, or..." He trailed off.

"No," the commander told him. "Everything we need to know has already been included in the reports you sent back to Starfleet. Very efficient, Lieutenant."

Feeling oddly proud, Malcolm nodded, saying nothing. He fought down the sudden urge to fiddle with the sleeve of his uniform, and instead looked James directly in the eyes. "Is there anything else, Commander?" he asked.

James nodded. "Yes," he answered matter-of-factly. "If you'll come this way..." It wasn't a request; he turned around and walked back through the airlock to the spacedock side. Following him, Malcolm noted with no large amount of satisfaction that the feeling of trepidation he had felt that morning (and indeed the past six or seven days) was back tenfold. He thought of Hoshi, who had told him the night before that she was going back to her parents', and suddenly wished he had gone with her.

As Brennan led him in the general direction of crew quarters, Malcolm couldn't help but feel that he was walking into the proverbial lions' den.

It was a feeling that only increased as James stopped outside one set of quarters, and turned around to face the younger man. "Someone wants to talk to you," he said, indicating the closed doors. "If you need me, I'll be in your armoury." And with that, he went back the way they had just come, back to Enterprise.

Malcolm watched him turn the corner and disappear out of sight, before regarding the door next to him with a faint look. Judging by James'... behaviour, Malcolm had a pretty good idea of who it was going to be. It didn't take a genius, after all.

Feeling somewhat... he couldn't really describe it, only that it felt like he was pumped full of caffeine... feeling this, Malcolm thumbed the panel next to the door.

The two seconds it took to open were probably two of the longest seconds of his life; it hissed open, and Malcolm found himself standing less than two feet away from...


She stood to one side. "You'd better come in."

o o o o o

Later in the afternoon, Mikey is woken up by the sound of his sister in the cot at the other end of the small bedroom. He gets out of bed and goes over to see if she is okay, but by the time he gets there she is already sleeping again.

Mikey pulls Lissy's blanket a little closer around her back, to keep her warm. He then goes back over to his own bed and after a little while manages to tuck himself in, although it isn't the same as when Mummy or Grampa does it.

He watches his baby sister through the bars of her cot for a little while before he falls asleep again, cocooned from the world in a mass of blankets, pillows and his teddy bear.

o o o o o

Like her brother, Karen seemed taller than Malcolm remembered, and as he stepped inside the quarters he felt a wave of something like comfortable recognition at the Spartan surroundings; he'd spent four or five years in quarters like these before being posted to Enterprise.

He crossed right over to the other end of the small room, right by a small desk and chair, and turned back to face Karen, who was now smiling sadly. "Long time, no see," she said, unknowingly echoing her younger brother.

Malcolm nodded, his throat dry. It had been nearly seven years, by his count... seven years come January. "How - how've you been?" he asked eventually, unsure of what else to say.

Karen sat down on the bed, and Malcolm took a seat on the chair so that he was facing her. She laughed wearily. "Where do I start?" she asked rhetorically. "I mean... well, I guess things have been okay since you... well, you know."

"Since I left, you mean," Malcolm said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "When I ran away."

Karen looked up sharply. She seemed about to say something, but apparently thought better of it, because she simply regarded him with a strange look for several moments, and Malcolm quickly began to feel uncomfortable under the scrutiny.

When she finally spoke, it was so quietly that Malcolm nearly missed it altogether. "I wouldn't go quite that far," she murmured.

Malcolm sniffed. "Wouldn't you?" he asked her.

She looked at him again, the same unidentifiable expression on her face. "No," she said shortly. "I wouldn't."

"That makes one of us," Malcolm retorted acerbically. Then, "Why are you here?"

"Here?" Karen motioned the tiny quarters. "Or here, here?"

"Either," Malcolm replied. "Both."

She sighed and leaned back against the wall behind her, although she didn't relax. "James is department chief," she said, "and I'm fairly sure that one speaks for itself." Malcolm nodded. "And as for why I'm here at all..." She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "You left in rather a hurry, Malcolm," she said, using his name for the first time. "But you write good notes," she added mirthlessly. "Did you mean it?"

"Which part?" Malcolm asked, knowing what she was referring to.

Karen watched him, as if searching for something on his face. "Any of it."

"I meant all of it," he told her honestly, struggling to keep his voice from breaking. "Every single word."

She nodded. "You never could lie well," she commented. "And it still shows - who is she?"

Malcolm was caught off-guard. "Who?"

Karen smiled. "You're with someone. It's written all over your face," she told him plainly.

"Hoshi," Malcolm answered her, smiling shyly. "Her name's Hoshi."

Karen nodded in understanding. "The comm officer," she said, more to herself than anything else.

"Yes... are you... you know... are you... with anyone?" Malcolm asked, the warm feeling quickly replaced by something altogether more awkward.

Her answer came quickly and almost emotionlessly. "I was."

"Oh... I'm sorry," he replied sincerely.

Karen laughed mirthlessly. "You don't even know what you've got to be sorry about," she replied. "But that's not your fault."

Malcolm stared at her, and brought his chair a little closer to the bed. He'd picked up on the unspoken part of the sentence immediately. "What should I be sorry about?" he asked sharply, perhaps more so than he'd intended. There was also a tiny note of panic in his voice, he realised.

Once again, Karen looked straight into his eyes, brown eyes meeting grey. "The reason my husband left me," she said cryptically, ignoring Malcolm's start of surprise at the word 'husband', "and the reason I'm here right now. Like I said, it's not your fault. I..." She trailed off uncertainly, and began kneading her hands together, like she didn't know what else to do.

"What is it?" Malcolm asked her, suddenly full of concern for the woman he'd once loved.

Karen looked up again. "Congratulations, Malcolm, you're a father."


"Nine months after you left me," Karen said slowly, "I gave birth to a baby... my husband and I both thought the baby was his. I think it was partially rebound from you," she explained, noticing the look on Malcolm's face. "I didn't want to be on my own; I needed someone. He needed someone." She shrugged listlessly. "It worked. We both got what we needed. Someone else. A family."

Malcolm sat back in the chair, mentally trying to digest the information he had just been given. "Why are you telling me this?" he managed to ask, fully aware of the shocked expression that was probably on his face right at that moment.

"Malcolm," Karen told him. "You have a son."

"Why?" Malcolm repeated. "Why tell me now? Why wait this long to tell me? I... it's the twenty-second century, you can find almost anybody on this planet if you try hard enough."

Karen shook her head. "It's not that simple," she told him sadly. "Like I said, I was on the rebound from you... I only saw what I wanted to see...." She smiled wistfully. "I wanted so much for Mikey to be his."

"Mikey?" Malcolm asked.

"Michael," she amended. "Everyone calls him Mikey, though." She took a deep breath, then continued. "He looks enough like me for no questions to have been asked... you know, about dates and so on. But he reminded me so much of you," she told Malcolm. "He still does. But..." She trailed off for a moment. "I didn't ask any questions. I didn't want to. Mikey was my husband's son." She looked up again. "I didn't even know if you wanted to be found again or not," she told him. "The note you left was pretty final."

"Why, though?" Malcolm asked again. "Why here, why now?"

"You think I've got some master plan, some kind of ulterior motive, don't you?" Karen asked him; again, her question was rhetorical. Without waiting for an answer, she ploughed on. "I don't. To be honest, it was Dad who told me to try and find you... he told me that six years ago, when Mikey was a few days old. I never did listen to him enough," she commented wistfully. "I'm here," she added. "I'm here, right now, and... and I think it's about time someone else knows the truth." She shook her head. "He was right," she whispered to herself, so quietly that Malcolm nearly missed it. "He was right... I have been lying... to myself if nobody else..." A tear silently ran down her face.

Malcolm watched her for a moment, the pieces beginning to fall into place. She was right... part of this had been his fault. He'd run away, and it was because of that that this was happening now... Karen's sorrow... all the links in the chain started from that one moment nearly seven years ago. His action, everybody else's reaction.

And in that instant, Malcolm knew what needed to be done, at least in the here and now. "I'd like to meet him," he said softly, catching Karen's attention. "If that's okay."

Karen looked up at him.

Malcolm gave her a small, shy half-smile. "I'd like to meet my son."


Chapter 9: Like Father

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Live in virtue, no desire
In the grave an angel's choir
You look to heaven and wonder why
No one can see them in the sky

-- Angel (trans.), Rammstein

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Wer zu Leibzeit gut auf Erden
wird nach Tod ein Engel werden
den Blick gen Himmel fragst du dann
warum man sie nicht sehen kann

-- Engel, Rammstein

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


The next few hours were little more than a haze, a series of memories running into each other and blurring at the edges. Malcolm was vaguely aware of James reappearing in the small, cramped quarters... something about arranging a shuttlepod back down to Earth, while he stayed on Enterprise with his teams.

Then he was in the shuttle with Karen, both of them staring quietly out of the viewport at the front, down at the continent of Europe underneath swirling masses of white and grey clouds.

Then they were in a small town just a few miles away from where they had once shared a flat together; Malcolm, piloting the ground shuttle, silently followed Karen's directions to her parents' house, nodding in recognition when he knew where he was going.

Then they were standing in Peter and Roisin Brennan's tastefully decorated living room, the setting sun casting red and orange shadows through the net curtains that covered the wide windows.

"I think Dad's upstairs," Karen said, finally breaking the silence that had fallen since entering the house. "Wait here." She left Malcolm in the living room, and he immediately started to look around him, studying his surroundings with an attention that echoed his training in Starfleet. Not a lot had changed in over six years - the furniture was almost exactly the same, but the flowery yellow wallpaper that he remembered had been replaced with a much warmer shade of faded red. Framed photographs lined the walls at seemingly random intervals, and Malcolm smiled despite himself. Peter Brennan had always been an enthusiastic cameraman; something that had clearly passed down to his daughter.

He walked over to the wall furthest away from the wall, and studied one of the larger pictures; it showed Karen, another man, and a small boy, who couldn't have been more than three years old. The three of them were sitting on a blanket that had been laid out flat on some grass, and there was a line of trees in the background; a half-empty picnic hamper sat next to them.

Malcolm kept looking at it. The man... he had to be Karen's husband, then, judging by the way he had an arm around her back. The boy was sitting half on his lap and half on her lap, leaning forwards toward the camera. He looked to be small, with blond hair that was a paler shade of Karen's, and he was wearing the cheekiest smile Malcolm had ever seen on a child. He also had eyes that were the strangest shade of colour... some cross between pale blue and grey. The same shade as Malcolm's own eyes.

The boy... he had to be Mikey. Mesmerised by those eyes, Malcolm finally tore himself away and started to look at the other images that dotted the wall; most of them were combinations of Karen, Mikey and the unknown husband, as well as both Peter and Roisin, and once or twice there was another older couple who could only have been the husband's parents. Most intriguing, though, was the introduction of a second, much smaller child - a girl - who could almost have been a miniature replica of Karen's husband. Mikey's sister?

But still, it was Mikey that Malcolm kept looking at - to the point of searching each picture for him and just looking at the different stages of his life. This... this was what he had missed out on, then, wasn't it?

The door behind him creaked as it opened, and Malcolm turned around instantly, feeling guilty at having been caught looking at another family's photos, something which left him distinctly uneasy. Karen stepped slowly through the open door, and Malcolm was drawn to the small figure in her arms, curled into her body and shoulders, fast asleep and clutching a tatty little teddy in one arm.

Karen smiled. "Malcolm, this is..."

"Mikey," Malcolm finished, taking a step forward, taking a closer look at... at his son. "He's beautiful," he whispered, and again Karen smiled, this time out of what could only have been maternal pride.

"You'll have to keep quiet," she told him in a low voice. "Lissy's still sleeping."


Karen nodded. "Melissa. My husband's child." It was impossible not to miss the dry humour in the sentence.

Malcolm considered this for a moment. "Michael and Melissa," he repeated slowly.

She chuckled in response. "I didn't realise until a few months ago," she said. "You and your sister both have 'M' names, don't you?"

Nodding, Malcolm replied, "Coincidence?"

"I think so," Karen said. "Like I said, I didn't figure it out until James started talking about you. And then we got onto what we knew about your family. It must have been another memory of you." She shook her head. "I'm rambling," she added apologetically. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Malcolm told her, and he meant it. He reached out towards Mikey tentatively with one hand - slowly.

Karen watched him. "It's okay," she said, smiling again.

Malcolm nodded, and with a little more confidence reached out again to touch Mikey's cheek, and he studied the boy's face intently, trying to commit as much of it as he could to memory. "Where are Peter and Roisin?" he asked eventually, unable to look away from his son.

"Dad's upstairs, doing something to the spare room," Karen told him, "and Mum's gone to see someone about something. I didn't quite catch that last part."

Malcolm nodded again, to show that he had heard the answer, but he was still looking at Mikey...

"It's probably a daft question," Karen said suddenly, "but do you want to hold him? He won't wake up for a while, not like this."

Malcolm took a step backward. Slowly, he nodded, and Karen loosened her grip underneath Mikey's legs and showed Malcolm where to position his own arms so that the child wouldn't slip or fall. As Malcolm tried to find a way to hold his son comfortably, Mikey stirred a little before burying himself straight into the crook of Malcolm's shoulder, teddy and all, and then calmed down again, still sleeping soundly.

And there he was. It was nearly unbelievable; Malcolm Reed was holding his six-year-old son in his arms for the first time in his life.

Karen smiled, taking in the small scene with a seemingly contented expression on her face. "You look good like that," she whispered tenderly.

Malcolm smiled back, careful not to move too much. "To be honest, it feels a little... surreal, I suppose," he admitted, almost self-consciously. "But... it feels nice."

She nodded. "He's a lovely boy."

"I can see that," Malcolm replied, sneaking another look down at Mikey's face. From this angle he looked so peaceful... peaceful, contented, happy... he even looked angelic, although that may have been pushing things a little. But only a very little, Malcolm amended in his head.

"What happens now?" he asked out loud after few moments of simply standing there.

Karen looked uncertain. "I don't know," she admitted sadly. "My plan kind of ended at the point of speaking to you. I mean, the damage has already been done... my husband won't be coming back any time soon, and even then he won't want anything to do with Mikey. He's already said as much." She swallowed, and then smiled, looking a little uneasy. "It's up to you, Mal," she said. "The ball's in your court... I... it already feels like I've done too much... things I can't undo..." She trailed off uncertainly, with a vulnerability around her that went straight to Malcolm's heart.

Just then, Mikey stirred again and Malcolm rocked him gently, whispering softly to him until he settled again. "The way I see it," he said suddenly, still in the same quiet tone of voice, "I have two choices, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and each one has equal sized repercussions." Saying it out loud helped him - it helped him to sort out the jumble of thoughts and emotions going around and around in his head.

Without warning, he thought of Hoshi, and his heart clenched. She didn't deserve to get caught up in any of this, but in a way she already was. She knew about Karen, knew Malcolm still harboured... harboured something for her... affection, sentiment... whatever it was. Hoshi knew that Malcolm loved her, and valued the relationship that had developed onboard Enterprise.

Hoshi also knew that Lieutenant Malcolm Reed valued and honoured his responsibilities with as much intensity and dedication as he did the people he loved; a lesson he had learned from his father, a Royal Navy officer. And perhaps... perhaps that utter dedication to duty was as much Malcolm's biggest downfall as it was one of his greatest strengths.

Duty. Enterprise was his duty. And now, so were Karen and Mikey, as well as the unknown daughter and husband to a lesser extent.

Enterprise. Mikey. Which was more important?

Action, reaction. Cause, effect. One wrong move and...

Bringing himself back to the present, Malcolm looked up at Karen through what felt suspiciously like the beginning of tears. "And I've made that choice," he said, his voice sounding distant, as though he was somehow separated from himself. "I know what I'm going to do."


Chapter 9: All of the Above

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Tired of livin' like a blind man
I'm sick of sight without a sense of feeling

-- How you remind me, Nickelback

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


Malcolm leaned back against the wall behind the narrow bed, faintly annoyed with the thin, hard mattress and hospital-like pillows. Not that he was really complaining, though.

Well. He'd done it. He'd gone and bloody done it. Conversations he had had with different people in the space of a few hours were still fresh in his head, and Malcolm could remember each and every one of them, the first one more so than any of the others.

Jonathan Archer sitting in what could easily have been a Starfleet office, but equally likely to have been a particularly drab hotel room behind him, or even a wall in his apartment. He looks a little peeved at being disturbed during a period of shore leave, but acts wholly professionally.

"Is there something I can do for you, Malcolm?" he asks, surreptitiously trying to wipe flecks of sleep from his eyes.

The knot in Malcolm's stomach grows bigger by the second. "Yessir," he replies, perhaps a little quicker than he had intended. "It's... I..." He falters, uncertain of how to say it. "It's complicated, Captain," he finally settles for.

Archer smiles. "One word at a time, Lieutenant," he says good-naturedly.

Malcolm nods in response. "I'm not quite sure how to actually put this, sir," he begins, trying in vain to calm the carnival taking place where his stomach used to be, "but..."


Malcolm takes a deep breath and stares at the image of his commanding officer on the computer screen. "I'd like to request reassignment, Captain," he says firmly, calmly, assertively... all of the above.

Archer does a literal double take. "What?" he demands. "Where to? Why? When?"

"I'd like to request reassignment," Malcolm repeats slowly, as much for his own benefit as the captain's, "to Research and Development here on Earth. I assure you, I have good reason, and... immediately."

Jonathan Archer stares at the screen, almost as if Malcolm's suddenly grown a second head, a few horns and bright pink scales, such is the look on his face. He doesn't say anything for a few moments, but keeps staring.

After a few moments he appears to regain his composure. "This is Brennan's doing, isn't it?" he asks. He doesn't seem to notice Malcolm's flustered, nearly panicked look, and continues. "I was worried he and Howarth were going to try and pinch either you or Trip while we were back here."

Malcolm regards the captain for a moment. It would be so easy to just go along with that, pretend that all that was really going on was to do with his own expertise as an armourer. But that damned sense of duty that dear Daddy taught him is still a part of him, and Malcolm opens his mouth to speak again. "Actually, sir, that's only part of it." There's something in the way he says the sentence that catches the captain's attention, and as he takes a deep breath to go on, he can feel the older man focusing all of his undivided attention on him. "Certain... events recently have caused me to reconsider my... priorities," he adds, and does not fail to miss the captain's smothered amusement at the formality in the words.

Archer considers this for a moment. "Is this something to do with what happened back with the Hanaya?" he asks calmly; the hidden meaning there is very clear.

"Yes," Malcolm replies. "Although there's significantly more to it than that."

The captain nods. "I thought there would be," he comments darkly, and for the first time in the conversation, Malcolm smiles.

"I don't actually know how much you know about... about what happened with the Hanaya," he tells the senior officer. "Contrary to... telepathic opinion, I'm not married to anybody, and I sincerely doubt that will be the case in the near future. However, as I said, there are certain things that I now have to bear in mind, and perhaps give more precedence to than I would have before." Even he can't ignore the propriety in his own voice.

Archer nods again, but says nothing; for now he seems content to simply let Malcolm talk, let him explain himself as best he can.

"I'll put the reassignment request through the proper channels, of course," Malcolm adds, feeling somewhat calmer now that he's back on familiar territory, "as well as my own recommendation for your new armoury officer. Ensign Helen Maritas," he adds, for clarification.

"Why Maritas?" Archer enquires. "I was under the impression Ensign Rose was your second-in-command."

"True," Malcolm acquiesces, "but there is also the point that he is not entirely capable of running the armoury on Enterprise unassisted for more than an hour or two at a time, and he still displays a child-like candour when pulling shifts on the bridge, especially when he's covering the Alpha shift. Helen Maritas displays none of those qualities while officially on duty, and she has proven reliable as an emergency head of department on more than one occasion in the past."

Archer nods, satisfied with the information. "I'll see what Command say," he tells Malcolm. "They may want to put forward another candidate of their own if your request is accepted." That last part is little more than an empty phrase; both men know that Starfleet Command would never turn down Malcolm Reed if he requested to work directly from Headquarters - he has more practical experience of the weaponry equipment there than anybody else in the organisation.

Malcolm nods in return. "Thank you, Captain," he says, and he means every single word.

Archer smiles. "Enterprise won't be the same without you, Lieutenant," he states simply.

"Thank you."

Archer frowns. "This is all well and good," he remarks, "but there is still the matter of you and Hoshi, not to mention the other eighty or so crew you're going to leave behind. How do you plan to do that?"

Malcolm's prepared for this. "I'll talk to Hoshi," he promises the captain. "And..." His discomfort is clear, even through a comm link and a computer screen.

"Talk to Hoshi and get in contact with the people directly under your command," Archer tells him firmly, "as well as anybody else you see fit. I'll do the rest."

"Yessir," Malcolm replies. "Thank you, sir."

Jonathan Archer frowns a little, then nods one last time. "We'll be expecting new and improved specs from you," he informs the younger man, a note of joviality in his voice.

Malcolm smirks. "Of course," he answers, as though it was already a given.

"Okay," Archer says, nodding. "Good luck in the future, Mister Reed," he says.

"And you." Malcolm means it, too.

The captain leans forward into the screen. "Archer out." He then cuts the connection, and Malcolm is left looking into a black screen.

Malcolm leaned back against the wall behind the narrow bed, faintly annoyed with the thin, hard mattress and hospital-like pillows.

He'd done it. He'd managed to get in contact with Trip, Helen Maritas, and Matthew Rose, as well as Travis, Philip O'Malley (it was a strange kind of friendship the pair possessed, but a friendship nonetheless...), and a good two thirds of the security teams had had to have messages left for them with mothers and various relatives.

And then there was Hoshi.

By the time he had worked up the courage to call her, Malcolm was little more than a quivering wreck of nerves. After all, for all he knew, Hoshi could hate him for leaving Enterprise, for leaving her - for all intents and purposes that was what he would be doing, by taking the position in R&D. Hoshi could hate him for that - she could hate him, could have resented him... could have felt sorry for him...

But somewhere along the line, Malcolm had somehow managed to underestimate just how special a person Hoshi Sato was, and why he'd fallen in love with her in the first place; she had an amazing capacity to understand people - Malcolm especially; she'd actually admitted to him that she was expecting something like this to happen sooner or later, although the truth of the situation was a little more than she had been anticipating, so to speak. He had told her everything, and despite his worst fears, Hoshi had understood what Malcolm was doing and why he was doing it.

What were her exact words? "I love you, Malcolm. God knows I have to, after everything that's happened. But what you do is your decision. You can't lie to yourself, not any more. This... this is about more than just "us" now, Mal. Like you said, you've got priorities, and I respect that." She had then smiled sadly. "Keep in touch, okay? I'd hate to think I've lost you completely because of a six-year-old."

Damn his soul forever, but Malcolm still loved her too. And if he couldn't have the best of both worlds, then he'd do everything in his power to find a suitable compromise.

Enterprise, Karen. Hoshi, Mikey. There had to be room for middle ground in there somewhere...

He went back downstairs, and through the living room to the dining room, where somebody was sitting at the table with a colouring book and a few pens.

"Hello Malcolm," Mikey said, not looking up from a half-coloured picture of some Martians.

"Hi," Malcolm replied, smiling. Mikey's reaction to his mother telling him that the man sitting in the kitchen was his real daddy was... strange. The boy had given the adult man a long look before asking him what he did at work; when Malcolm replied that he used to work on a starship, Mikey had smiled, apparently satisfied with Malcolm's choice of occupation. Nothing more had since been said on the matter.

"Can I see what you're doing?" he asked, coming over to the dining table.

Mikey nodded and patted the chair next to him; following the unspoken order, Malcolm sat down. Finally the boy looked up. "I did this," he said, holding up the book open at a page showing a clumsily-coloured picture of a spaceship over a bright blue and orange planet. "And this." Mikey showed Malcolm the very last page in the book where on the inside cover, next to the Martians, he had drawn a group of people standing next to each other - in the true spirit of children his age, they were all stick figures, some taller than others, and some had long hair poking out of their heads - a clear sign that they were meant to be female. And each person had a name written underneath their feet in small, stilted handwriting.

Malcolm studied the picture for a moment. Two of the figures were labelled "Granny Gums" and "Grampa Hugs". Another, much tinier one had "baby Lissy" written underneath. "Uncle James" and "Uncle Nat" stood at one end, and both were identical. "me" stood in the very middle of the group of people; on one side of him was "Mummy" and on the other side...

A ridiculously short stick figure stood just to the right of "me", with the label "daddy Malcolm".

Malcolm stared at the people in the picture. Whoever it was that had said that young children give their trust unconditionally hadn't even begun to touch on the heart of the matter... the sight of a stick version of himself standing next to a child who'd known him less than two days was testament enough to that, surely.

"What do you think?" Mikey asked him. He seemed to be anxious for an answer.

Malcolm looked at his son for a few seconds before answering. "It's lovely," he told him, smiling again. "Very well drawn." Mikey beamed with pride.

He took a deep breath before continuing. "If it's alright with you," he told Mikey seriously, "there's somebody I'd like you to meet."

"Who?" Mikey asked shyly.

Malcolm smiled. "Somebody I like a lot," he said, surprising himself when he sounded nearly as shy as Mikey had. "And I know she'd like to meet you, too."

Mikey grinned widely. "Okay!" he said. "But first I have to get Moomoo." It took a second for Malcolm to figure that one out, then he realised; Moomoo was the worn teddy bear.

"Tell you what," Malcolm said, leaning down so that the two of them were face to face. "I'll say hello to her while you get Moomoo. Then you can meet her."

Mikey nodded. He then leaped down from the table and all but raced upstairs to find his bear. Watching him leave the room, Malcolm felt a sudden sense of unease, along with something else he couldn't quite name.

For your father, Michael, he said silently. For whatever he's done wrong, for any sins he's committed in his lifetime, I hope you turn out better.


-- end

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