by Juli

February 2002

"We saw the wreckage… we thought you were dead."

Jonathan Archer looked down at the man on the medical bed, his heart aching as he saw his lover's eyes fill up with tears. Malcolm Reed was an intensely private man, the captain could only imagine the depth of both the lieutenant's emotional anguish and physical depletion, that he was willing to let his feelings show so clearly in public. No doubt Malcolm would regret the display later and Archer geared himself up for another long talk. The legitimacy of his emotions was an issue they'd been working hard on since becoming romantically involved and Jonathan could only hope that the current crisis hadn't undermined Malcolm's hard-won progress on that particular issue.

But the discussion could wait until the tormented look was gone from the younger man's eyes.

The captain turned towards the Vulcan standing next to him. "T'Pol, I'd like you to take the bridge for the rest of the shift."

His second in command nodded at him and quickly left the infirmary, obviously discomfited by Reed's uncharacteristic lack of emotional control. Archer watched her leave, then swiftly moved to pull the privacy curtain around Malcolm's bed.

"I'm sorry…." Malcolm whispered, "I don't know what's wrong with me."

Archer patted his shoulder. "You're exhausted and still feeling the effects of prolonged exposure to low temperatures." The captain bent and removed one of his boots, then started working on the other. "Not to mention you've had a radical change in situations. From thinking your crewmates were dead and that you yourself were going to die slowly, to being rescued and finding out everyone was okay." By this time, Jonathan had removed both boots and reached to cup his lover's face tenderly. "In other words, you're human and you're reacting to a significant trauma. Give yourself a break."

Malcolm smiled through his unshed tears. "Yes, sir, Captain."

"None of that," Jonathan chided, pulling back the covers and clambering up onto the bed to join the other man. "I was your captain when we detected the explosion and wondered what had happened to the shuttle. I was your captain when Hoshi couldn't raise you on the comlink. I was your captain when we found the shuttle and realized your life signs were so low that they hardly scanned." He kissed Reed's surprised face, giving weight to his next words. "I'm tired of being your captain. Right now, I just want to be your lover and hold you. Okay?"

Reed relaxed at the need in the older man's voice and let himself be gathered into Jonathan's warm embrace.

"All right."

Archer pulled the covers up, situating his lover until Malcolm was positioned to his satisfaction, snuggled up close with his head tucked under Jonathan's chin. "Besides, the doctor said you still need to warm up a couple of degrees. Sharing body heat's one of the best ways to do the job."

Reed smiled at the excuse, pressing his ear to Archer's chest. "I can hear your heartbeat. You're really here. I'm not dreaming...  you're really alive."

Jonathan buried his nose in Malcolm's hair. "Yeah, I am… and so are you. Now, try and get some rest."

The younger man obeyed, his head remaining on Archer's chest so that his lover's heartbeat became his lullaby. The captain ignored his own advice, his hands roaming up and down the sleeping man's back, the touch serving as tactile evidence of Malcolm Reed's continued existence.

It had been a close call, but hardly the first that either had experienced and, based on their adventures so far, certainly it wouldn't be the last. Still, cocooned in one another's arms, the two men cherished the peace of comfort, events just past, having reminded them that it could be broken all to easily.

~the end~

Frangible = Capable of being broken; breakable.

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