Dr. Phlox and I would be having a chat in the very near future about the meaning of the word “fine.”
Instinctively, my eyes had swept the cave as I helped carry in the Novan, Akery. Malcolm Reed’s pale features immediately stood out in the dim and damp cavern and I almost dropped the injured man in my haste to check on my wounded crewman. Reed was an officer shot while covering my back, then had become a hostage to my fledgling diplomatic skills, and it was past time that the lieutenant’s needs took precedence over that of the lost humans. The Novans might be the descendants of a colony hit by tragedy, but Malcolm was one of my own.
And, if I were being honest with myself, my feelings for the quiet tactical officer went a little deeper than a captain’s sense of responsibility for a member of his crew.
Angry at myself for having inappropriate thoughts at a most inappropriate moment, I reached a hand down to my wounded officer, more pleased than I had a right to be at the obvious thankfulness in the younger man’s softly murmured greeting of “Captain...”
Sliding my hand down Reed’s arm, I clasped his elbow carefully, steadying him by gently grasping his shoulder with the other. “How are you holding up?” I asked, although now that I was closer, I could see the answer for myself. Naturally pale, Malcolm’s skin was several shades whiter than normal and there was a fine sheen of sweat on his skin. Through my hold on him, I could also feel a minute trembling running through his body. Shock, blood loss, and this damnable damp cave had not made it easy for the officer I had been forced to leave behind.
My chat with Dr. Phlox, the physician that had claimed that Malcolm would be “fine” for a few hours without treatment, moved up several notches on my to-do list.
Reed, characteristically, made light of his condition. “Not badly, all things considered,” he answered in response to my question. “But I wouldn’t mind getting this bullet out of my leg.” Considering this was the man who had claimed to be all right just moments after a bullet ripped through him, that admission was fairly significant.
Come to think of it, I needed to have a little chat with Malcolm too, about the meaning of the phrase “all right.”
Behind me, I could hear the voice of Nadette encouraging her son to tell their people about our offer to move them to a safer location. I turned to watch the formidable old woman for a moment, amused to note that she was giving her son hell for his use of the word “fine,” but then gave my attention back to Malcolm. Nadette’s opinion on the relocation was likely to do much more to sway the Novans than anything I could say and my presence was really was superfluous. Besides, having heard repeated Novan threats regarding Malcolm being gutted, now that I had my hands on the man, I was eager to get him to safety.
I refused to let myself linger over the actual *sensation* of finally having my hands on the man.
“Well, Lieutenant, I think it’s about time to get you out of here.”
Malcolm closed his eyes and simply nodded in response. I was disappointed, having enjoyed his wry remarks from earlier, about “just getting used to the place.” This quietness unsettled me more than his admission that the bullet was bothering him and I further resolved not to linger.
Wrapping one of my arms around his waist and draping one of his arms across my shoulders, I supported most of Reed’s weight and steered him out of the cavern into the passage way that led to the shuttle craft. We made our halting way for several meters, but it was obvious that it was difficult going for the wounded officer. Once we were around the corner and out of sight of the Novans, I decided an alternate means of travel would be need to be found.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Malcolm panted as we stopped. “I could have sworn I knew how to walk yesterday.” In his condition, even the short distance we’d come had tired him out. I thought it had been difficult the night before, leaving him behind, wounded but with silent confidence in me shining from his eyes. That was nothing, though, to hearing Malcolm apologize for being slow, when it was covering my back that had gotten him wounded in the first place.
“Don’t worry about it, Lieutenant.”
I let him rest for several minutes, then asked if he was ready to start again.
Reed grimaced and started using his arms to push himself up from the rock he’d been resting on. “At this rate, it will be at least another decade or two before we get back to Starfleet and let them know what happened to the colony.”
“Oh I don’t know,” I said as casually as I could manage. The man was wounded and not at his best, but far from down for the count. I had a feeling that I knew what Malcolm’s reaction was going to be to my plan and realized that my best hope for implementing it was to take action before he knew what was happening. “I think I’ve got an idea.”
I reached for Malcolm and he allowed the contact but, instead of taking his arm and helping support his weight the way I had done earlier, I seized his wrist and deftly flipped him over my shoulder.
“Captain!” As I’d guessed, my tactical officer was far from happy at my solution.
Reed instinctively struggled and I staggered as I adjusted to his weight. The Englishman had a slight frame and there wasn’t an ounce of extra fat on him, but it was difficult to balance the wriggling weight of a fully grown Starfleet officer. It wouldn’t do for the injured man to slip from my shoulder and fall to the hard cavern floor, so I grabbed whatever part of him I could reach to help steady the load.
Both of us were surprised when the part of him I happened to grab was his ass.
My surprise, at least, was a happy one and I resisted the temptation to caress the cloth-covered cheeks. Malcolm’s shock caused his body to still and I finally was able to get a word in edgewise.
“Sorry about that, Lieutenant, but it wouldn’t do your leg any good to take a tumble right now.”
“Sir, this is hardly necessary...” Malcolm’s voice was muffled but his discomfiture was obvious.
“I beg to differ, Lieutenant,” I responded tersely, my voice sounding rougher than I intended as I struggled to control my reaction to the smaller man’s proximity. “You’re not up for a long hike right now and I’m not inclined to rely on any more Novan hospitality.” Not giving him a chance to argue, I continued our journey to the shuttle. To cover the awkwardness of the situation, I launched into a detailed account about what we’d discovered about the colony and the revelations that had caused Nadette to change her mind about humans.
Reed was silent throughout the trek, but it was difficult to tell if that was due to his physical discomfort or if it was because he was embarrassed. I knew it wasn’t because I was giving a compelling description of the Novan revelations. If anything, my storytelling was disjointed. I kept becoming distracted by the temptation of Malcolm’s buttocks being inches from my face...
Before I knew it, we were nearly at the shuttle craft. Mindful of my shy officer’s dignity, I gently set him on his feet when were still out of sight.
“Thank you, sir,” he said stiffly, looking at a point somewhere over my shoulder.
Whether it was from embarrassment or from having his head hanging down, some color had returned to Malcolm’s face and I found the sight reassuring. My hand went out of its own violation and only at the very last minute was I able to force it to come down gently on his shoulder instead of tenderly smoothing his hair back into place.
“ Lieutenant Reed,” I said hastily, hoping to cover my lapse. As captain, it was inappropriate for me to make any advances towards one of my crew, no matter how much I wanted to. A relationship, if there was any chance for one, had to be initiated by the officer of lower rank. With someone as shy as Reed, that seemed unlikely to happen and I’d resigned myself to an unrequited attraction. “We’re going to have to have a talk about this tendency of yours to say you’re all right when in fact you’ve been wounded. I have issues with one of my officers making that kind of sacrifice.”
I was expecting Malcolm to blush. Kind of hoping for it, actually, since it was sexy as hell. Pathetic, yes, but since my rank meant that I couldn’t start a relationship, I had to take what comfort I could. What I didn’t expect, however, was the calm and steady look my junior officer pinned me with.
“I’d do it again, sir, in a minute,” he said quietly. “As the tactical officer, the safety of the Enterprise is my responsibility...”
“As the captain...” I interrupted. Or, at least, I tried to.
“You *are* the Enterprise, sir.” The other man cut me off before I could continue. “Perhaps when we know First Officer T’Pol more thoroughly or when Commander Tucker becomes more seasoned in command, the crew would be able to adjust if something happened to you. But at the moment, when we’re at the beginning of our mission, you are too important to the crew to lose. You *are* at the Enterprise, sir, and I don’t know what I’d do if we lost you. ” Realizing that he’d said too much, Malcolm retreated into awkwardness. “I mean, I don’t know what the crew would do if we lost you, sir.”
“Understood, Lieutenant,” I said, hard-pressed to stifle a grin. Perhaps my case wasn’t as hopeless as I thought since the object of my affections wasn’t quite as reticent as I’d assumed. “So, let me get this straight: you take another shot meant for me and I’m gonna get pissed but if I get dead in the line of duty, you’re gonna get pissed.”
Malcolm shifted from foot to foot and I realized his discomfort was at least in part due to his wound. Again wrapping an arm around his waist, I supported his weight once more as we finished the last leg of our journey to the shuttle craft. “Okay,” I said as we got underway, “I can live with that.”
“Fine.” Lieutenant Reed responded.
Funny, for the first time that day, I didn’t have slightest issue with the use of that particular four-lettered F-word.
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