Splash Down - Part Three

by Juli

November 2003


Jonathan’s neck hurt sharply from where he’d been leaning it against the rocky ledge. The stones bit into his shoulder; his t-shirt long having been removed to use as a rag to sluice water over Malc’m, keeping his skin moist. One arm was numb, from being wrapped around Malc’m’s shoulders, carefully holding the Sa’an under the water. Archer’s hip spasmed. One leg was wrapped around Malc’m’s tail, both to keep it submerged and to keep them from drifting away from the safety of the ledge.

It was undoubtedly the most uncomfortable position Jonathan Archer had been in during his whole life. Yet… he felt as though he could float there, forever, holding Malc’m. Having Malc’m nestle trustingly in his arms felt like the most natural thing in the world, despite the circumstances responsible for it.

Archer felt Malc’m stir and gently unwrapped himself from the Sa’an. He remembered the way Malc’m had instinctively struggled against him when Archer had first jumped into the pool to assist him. Given how weak Malc’m seemed, he didn’t want a repeat of the incident. As Jonathan’s arms loosened, however, Malc’m snuggled closer. Jonathan ran his hands up and down Malc’m’s lean back, hoping the gesture was as comforting for the alien as it would be for a human. Apparently, it was, because Malc’m made a small burbling sound similar to a sigh and tucked his head underneath Jonathan’s chin.

Not too displeased at the turn of events, Jonathan settled back and let Malc’m waken at his own pace. Since the Sa’an was facing Jonathan’s chest and was, therefore, under water, the captain couldn’t see the moment when Malc’m’s eyes opened. Instead, Archer could feel his companion’s eyelids flutter against his skin. The sensation tickled but Jonathan held himself steady. It wasn’t until Malc’m began to stretch and flex that Archer let him go, watching keenly as the Sa’an dipped down deeper into the pool.

Seeing that Malc’m seemed much improved, Jonathan felt himself relax and used the opportunity to carefully move his own cramped limbs. He didn’t become so lost in his own discomfort, however, that he didn’t track Malc’m’s progress. When the Sa’an approached him, Jonathan was ready to greet him.

“Welcome back,” Archer said warmly as Malc’m surfaced. “Are you feeling better?”

“Much,” Malc’m responded shyly. “Thank you.”

“It was my pleasure,” Jonathan responded, hoping Malc’m wasn’t aware of just how literally he meant those words. “I’m just sorry you got hurt helping me. That was the last thing I wanted.”

Malc’m shook his head even before Jonathan was through speaking. “It wasn’t your fault, J’han Taan. The weather on Water has always been a force to be reckoned with.”

“So I’ve learned,” Jonathan said with a sigh. Giving the Sa’an an assessing glance, he asked, “You feel up to telling me what happened?”

Malc’m briefly dipped his head back into the water before he began talking. “There was another storm, J’han Taan. Your device worked but I was only able to transmit your message twice.”

“Did they answer?” Jonathan asked, almost afraid to get a response.

“Almost immediately,” Malc’m reassured him. It was most distracting, floating face-to-face with J’han Taan. He was more used to peering up at the human. “It was a male who responded and a rather excitable one at that.”

Archer had a sneaking suspicion he knew who that excitable man was. “Could you understand anything he said?”

Malc’m shook his head. “Only this – ‘Cap’n Archa?’”

The sound of an alien mermaid doing a fairly decent impression of Trip Tucker was one of the most surreal experiences of Jonathan Archer’s life. “That sounds like my chief engineer.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t understand more of it,” Malc’m apologized, seeing a wistful look in J’han Taan’s eyes.

“No, no,” Archer reassured him. “They know I’m alive now. That’s the most important thing.”

Despite his words, Jonathan felt a little melancholy. Hearing Malc’m’s imitation of Trip brought home how much he missed his ship and his crew… and that he had yet to inform the latter of Ruth Cho’s death.

“J’han Taan, are you all right?” Malc’m had drifted closer and was looking at Jonathan in concern.

Jonathan smiled at the Sa’an. “I’m fine – just feeling a little homesick is all.”

“Ah,” Malc’m said and then added, firmly, “We should have you back with your ship soon.” He hid the pang those words cost him.

“Thanks to you,” Jonathan acknowledged. Pushing himself off the ledge, he floated closer to Malc’m. “I appreciate all you’ve done for me.”

Malc’m smiled at him awkwardly. He wasn’t sure what to say, not having had an abundance of experience accepting praise. Casting around desperately for a way to change the subject, he said the first thing that came to mind.

“It is good to see you in the water,” Malc’m baited the human. “I’d begun to think your stories of growing up near the ocean were just that – stories.”

Jonathan felt his mood lifting, as sudden as a Water storm. Not only was he happy that Malc’m was recovered enough to tease, but he was also grateful that the other man felt comfortable enough with him to do so.

“Next to you, I’m hardly graceful in the water,” the captain admitted. “And the sad thing is, for a human, I’m pretty aquatic.”

Malc’m slipped entirely under the water and swam around Jonathan, the movement causing gentle swells that rocked the captain. Archer was trying very hard not to blush; he was all too aware of how flirtatious his words had sounded. Now that Malc’m was obviously assessing how Jonathan moved in the water… the captain was wishing he’d taken the time to put his shirt back on.

“Do I pass inspection?” Archer asked when Malc’m’s head popped up near him.

“Oh, yes,” Malc’m responded. “For a legged creature, you actually swim quite well. I remember when I was learning how to wa-…” The Sa’an abruptly cut off what he was going to say. “No matter. When *I’m* learning a new skill, I’m rarely graceful at it. You do quite well.”

Jonathan opted not to remark on the lapse or ask for details on what Malc’m had been about to say. It appeared to be an uncomfortable subject. Archer had come to the conclusion fairly early on that Malc’m wasn’t telling him something and that it was something big. Given that he was an explorer, Jonathan knew it was an unusual attitude for him to have – he should have been pressing Malc’m for details. He couldn’t help it, though. It was beyond him to marr his time with Malc’m by making the Sa’an uncomfortable.

“J’han Taan,” Malc’m began, but then stopped.

“Yes?” The captain coaxed. His arms moved lazily through the water, keeping him afloat in the luminescent liquid.

“You’ve removed another piece of your protective coverings.” Malc’m’s tone wasn’t quite a question but wasn’t quite a statement either.

Jonathan felt himself blush again and hoped it could be attributed to the shine reflecting off the water. “It didn’t seem necessary. Humans wear clothing to help regulate the temperature of our bodies and to protect us from damaging our skin, but in the water, they hamper our movement.” He didn’t add that he’d needed the shirt to use as a tool for keeping Malc’m moist. Malc’m had too much misplaced guilt as it was.

“And the bottom piece,” Malc’m persisted, “It *is* still necessary? It does not hinder you?”

Jonathan cleared his throat. “Not really and, ah, humans also wear clothing for modesty purposes. It is very rare that a human is without that specific garment or something similar.”

“I see,” Malc’m said, eyes diverted. “May I assume, then, that it is normal for your genitalia to extend outside your body?”

This time, Archer coughed *and* cleared his throat. This was not a question his Starfleet training had prepared him to answer. “Yes.”

The captain was so busy covering his own embarrassment that he missed the slight expression of disappointment that flitted across Malc’m’s face.

Malc’m frowned. “That doesn’t seem very practical.”

Jonathan guessed that the Sa’an were similar to Earth’s cetacean species, genitalia were kept sheathed unless in use. He gulped as he thought about what that meant – in the water, anything that dangled could be mistaken for bait.

“Yes, I suppose it is,” Archer responded in a strangled voice.

Something in J’han Taan’s tone alerted Malc’m that the human was becoming uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken. He left off his musings, even though he was curious to know if he was correct with his theory that a solid blow to a human male’s groin area would incapacitate. In any case, he’d found out what he’d really wanted to know; J’han Taan’s sexual organ was not extended outside his body in reaction to Malc’m’s presence. It simply was always that way.

Shunting away his disappointment, Malc’m deliberately changed the subject. His time with his mate was short, he didn’t want J’han Taan to spend any of it feeling uncomfortable.

“Your people, when they come for you,” Malc’m asked, “How will they go about retrieving you?”

Jonathan gladly latched on to the new topic. “They’ll use a shuttle, I suppose. They’re built to withstand the vacuum of space, so it wouldn’t take much modification to make one seaworthy.

Malc’m tilted his head, a skeptical look on his face. “Better than the one you arrived in, I trust.”

Archer smiled tightly. “As long as it doesn’t get hit with a bolt of lightning strong enough to give a torpedo a run for its money OR gets grabbed by one of those Noi-ta of yours, it should do all right.”

The Sa’an looked thoughtful. “It’s too bad that you don’t have some of those protective coverings that will help you in the water.”

“Excuse me?” Jonathan felt like all of the air had left his body. “What did you say?”

Malc’m frowned at him. His statement had seemed perfectly legible to him, but he repeated it anyway. “I said, it’s too bad that you don’t have some of those protective coverings that will help you in the water.”

Jonathan groaned. “I am such an idiot – I forgot about the EVA suits.”

“The what?” Malc’m asked, confused by the riot of emotions playing across J’han Taan’s face.

“The EVA suits,” Archer repeated. “They’re designed to protect humans in space – they should work in the water too. I was trying to get to them when the shuttle walls breached. If they could be retrieved, then I would be able to get to the surface so that Enterprise can find me.”

Malc’m swallowed. “I can retrieve them for you,” He said softly, using sheer willpower to utter each word past the lump in his throat. Why was it that the only things he could do for his mate would result in J’han Taan leaving him?

“Malc’m, you’re a genius!” Jonathan whooped, lunging in the water to grab the other man. “An absolute genius.”

Caught up in J’han Taan’s joy, Malc’m forgot his own melancholy. “I doubt that. If I were a genius, I would have thought of it sooner.”

Jonathan smiled with fond exasperation at the other man’s self criticism. “Well, you thought about it before I did and it’s my equipment.”

“You’ve had extenuating circumstances,” Malc’m retorted. He let himself drift even closer to J’han Taan, enjoying seeing the human’s sea green eyes up close.

Archer shook his head in admiration. “You rescued me, retrieved my equipment, kept me fed and comfortable, contacted my ship and got injured doing it.”

“And I’ll do this for you too,” Malc’m claimed, making as though to dive.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Jonathan muttered, moving quickly and grabbing the Sa’an around the waist. It prevented Malc’m from diving but also brought the Sa’an back into the captain’s arms. “You’re not going until you fully recover.”

Malc’m scowled at him. “I’m fine, J’han Taan, I assure you.”

“Maybe so,” Archer responded, although privately he had the feeling that Malc’m would say he was fine no matter what, “But let’s err on the side of caution.” When Malc’m opened his mouth to protest, he added, “Besides, you don’t even know what an EVA suit looks like.”

That did it. Malc’m shut his mouth but continued to glare at Jonathan. Archer couldn’t help it, his body reacted to the affection he had for the tenacious Sa’an he was still holding. He squeezed Malc’m tight, watching as the Sa’an man’s eyes widened as he realized that he was pressed up against Jonathan’s body. The gently lapping water pushed the two men even closer, Malc’m sliding into Jonathan’s arms, a perfect fit. The smaller man tilted his head up as Jonathan bent his head down….

W-H-U-M-P

A green-furred soggy torpedo abruptly separated the two men. Jonathan was rudely shoved under the water and, by the time he surfaced, sputtering, Malc’m was already confronting an unrepentant Tc’hla.

“Tc’hala!” The Sa’an snapped at the wpa’ne. “What are you doing?” His eyes narrowed. “What are you doing *here,* you were supposed to go to the Pod. You couldn’t have possibly….”

That was when Malc’m noticed the object in Tc’hla’s mouth. His torrent of words stuttered to a halt. With a fragile calm, he turned to Archer. “J’han Taan, get out of the water. Now.”

Jonathan moved to obey, alarmed by the tone of the other man’s voice. “Malc’m, what is it?” The Sa’an was holding what appeared to be a carved piece of bone.

Malc’m lifted shocked eyes to Jonathan’s face. “My people, they’re on their way. Tc’hla ran into another scout.”

Archer pulled himself out of the pool, turning on the rocky ledge to face Malc’m. “I take it this is bad news?”

“I – I don’t know,” Malc’m faltered. “I would just feel better if you’re out of the water and away from the edge.”

Where his people couldn’t reach Jonathan, he didn’t need to add.

Jonathan didn’t have long to wait to see if Malc’m’s reaction was justified. No sooner than he’d backed up a couple of paces, two more Sa’an had joined Malc’m in the pool. They looked at Jonathan and then at Malc’m, displeasure evident on their faces. The two newcomers turned to face one another. No words were exchanged but Jonathan had the feeling he was missing something.

“My name is Jonathan Archer, of the starship Enterprise,” Jonathan introduced himself, trying very hard to forget that he was standing there in just his underwear. The captain had a gut feeling that, the longer that eerie silence went on, the worse off it was for him.

He had the satisfaction of seeing the strangers’ eyes widen as they realized they could understand his words. That minor victory was mitigated, however, by the way the two turned their backs on him to confront Malc’m.

“What have you done?” The first one said to Malc’m. To Jonathan’s ear, his voice sounded coarse, almost as though it had seen little use.

Malc’m’s chin came up. “I have assessed a potential threat to our Pod and, judging that he poses no potential to harm, am seeing to it that this human returns to the surface.”

“It understands our words,” the second hissed. From the way her breasts softly bobbed on the water, this one was obviously female. “You have betrayed your people.”

“*He* has already introduced himself to you,” Malc’m said firmly. “His name is J’han Taan Archa and he is no threat. His device translates his language, that is all. I have betrayed no one.”

“He is a stranger, in our waters,” the first countered. “A legged creature – he should not be here!”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Jonathan inserted himself into the conversation. There was no way he was going to sit back and let Malc’m take the blame for his presence. “It was an accident. Malc’m is right; I mean you no harm and I’ll return to my own people just as soon as I can.”

“No harm,” the female repeated scornfully. “There is a vessel that rides on the air, skimming the surface of our ocean, scaring our food sources and violating the Choosing remembrance. How can you say you mean no harm?”

“They’re looking for him,” Malc’m said quietly. His eyes flickered to Jonathan, imploring him to agree. “They will not leave until he is found.”

Jonathan immediately confirmed Malc’m’s claim. “That’s right, they won’t. They’ll come right down here if they have to. They won’t give up until they know what happened to me.”

The two new Sa’an didn’t like that idea. There was a lot more of that silent staring at one another and then they turned and glared at him. “So, leave,” the male ordered.

“I’m trying, but I’m not as well equipped to survive under the water as you are.” Jonathan said, with a forced smile. “Malc’m has a new plan. He’s going to retrieve some of my equipment, which hopefully will help me leave this cave. Then my people can come for me and we’ll all be happy.”

The male and female looked at each other one last time. Ignoring Jonathan completely, they issued orders to Malc’m. “Retrieve his equipment. See to it that he leaves. Then return to the Pod,” the female instructed. “The Pi’mka will want to speak to you.”

With that ominous pronouncement, the two dove out of sight.

Malc’m and Jonathan looked at each other in dismayed relief. The encounter had certainly broken the romantic atmosphere that had infused the cave just moments before.

“That went well,” Malc’m finally said with a shaky smile.

The scary part, Jonathan thought, was that the Sa’an really meant it.

*******************

For the first time in his life, Malc’m was glad to be so isolated from the rest of the Sa’an. After his fellow scouts’ treatment of J’han Taan, he was embarrassed by his people’s close mindedness. He’d been the one to warn J’han Taan to expect their attitude but being faced with it disappointed him just the same.

Shame and frustration fueled the strong sweeps of Malc’m’s tail, propelling him through the water at a fast clip. Tc’hla was hard-pressed to keep up. He didn’t dare slow down – he could feel eyes on him as he swam. No doubt P’ul and N’nau were watching him, not trusting him to do his duty. Malc’m was half inclined to send Tc’hla back to J’han Taan. Given how the other scouts had reacted to the mere presence of a human, he was concerned about what they would do if they realized Malc’m considered the alien to be his mate. He would feel better if Tc’hla had remained behind to guard J’han Taan.

In spite of his emotional turmoil, the thought made Malc’m smile. Had he tried to order Tc’hal to stay and guard J’han Taan, it would have been a fair bet that both of them would have reacted negatively to the idea. J’han Taan was just as protective of Malc’m as Tc’hla had ever been. It was really too bad that Tc’hla wasn’t shan-tent, then Malc’m could have explained J’han Taan’s protectiveness to her. It was probably the only thing that would improve her opinion of the human.

After the other scouts had left so precipitously, J’han Taan had been forced to agree that Malc’m needed to retrieve the EVA suits as soon as possible. Malc’m had sensed an undercurrent of excitement in his mate at a possible way to get him out of there. Still, J’han Taan had been concerned for Malc’m’s safety. The human had finally been convinced that Malc’m had rested all he needed, but then J’han Taan had insisted that Malc’m eat. Malc’m had gladly obliged him. Not only did he find that he was hungry, but was also curious about the foodstuffs J’han Taan had offered. Malc’m wasn’t sure what a “field ration” was, but it was remarkably edible. The taste was negligible but the texture was interesting, the dryness of it tickling Malc’m’s tongue.

J’han Taan had also offered a portion to Tc’hla, but there his generosity had backfired. The wpa’ne had been thoroughly disgusted by the taste, spitting out her mouthful immediately and rumbling at J’han Taan ominously. The two men had shared a laugh at her reaction and remembering that moment made Malc’m feel warm inside. He was immensely relieved that J’han Taan didn’t blame him for the unfriendly reception of the other scouts.

What had happened in the pool before the other scouts had arrived had only confirmed Malc’m’s growing conviction that J’han Taan *was* attracted to him. They had come so close to kissing… until Tc’hla had interrupted. The only good thing about her timing was that she prevented P’ul and N’nau from discovering them at an inopportune moment. Malc’m shuddered; that scenario did not bear thinking about.

Now that he knew that the attraction went both ways, J’han Taan’s safety was even more important to Malc’m. That meant getting the human off Water, preferably before any other Sa’an decided to become involved. Malc’m knew from personal experience that tolerance was hardly a characteristic of his people.

Tc’hla whuffled, picking up on Malc’m’s anxiety. They had reached the downed shuttle but Malc’m only gave it a cursory glance. After his previous trips to the vessel, and J’han Taan’s description, he knew what he was looking for wasn’t there. Coming to it still served a purpose - using the shuttle as his center point, Malc’m started swimming in ever-widening circles.

As soon as they’d initiated a familiar search pattern, Tc’hla settled down. She remained alert, as did Malc’m. They were dangerously near the type of terrain Noi-tas preferred. Malc’m himself had driven one off when he’d rescued J’han Taan, but sometimes they required several such lessons before being discouraged.

Malc’m was exploring a rocky outcrop when a shadow from above caught his eye. Immediately, he assumed a defensive stance and, keening her distress, Tc’hla swam to his side. In a matter of moments, the Noi-ta lunged at them, attacking from behind a particularly large rock formation. In a well-practiced maneuver, Malc’m easily evaded the large snapping jaws, firing his t-da’ho weapon as the Noi-ta passed by. The blast cut through the water in a shining arc, hitting the massive creature in the underside of its mouth. While Malc’m continued to fire at that sensitive area, Tc’hla attacked its tail. There were two vestigial legs located there that, while not really functional, contained numerous nerve endings. Although Tc’hla was only as large as the Noi-ta’s eye, she could inflict a lot of pain on it.

Malc’m could tell by the marks on the Noi-ta’s body that it was the same one he’d driven from J’han Taan’s shuttle before. Apparently, the Noi-ta recognized him too, or at least remembered that it had lost the last time it faced his kind. Quickly giving up, it turned tail and swam away.

At first, Malc’m simply watched it leave, but then his own comment to J’han Taan Acha came back to him. Noi-ta *were* attracted to shiny things and the locker J’han Taan had described was metallic. Rapidly making p his mind, Malc’m swam after the Noi-ta, intending to track it to its lair.

Tc’hla, predictably, was not fond of his choice. Whumping softly in protest, the wpa’ne did her best to hamper Malc’m’s progress. Whenever she placed her green-furred body in front of his, Malc’m simply swam around her. His lips were thin with tense frustration, but he didn’t reprimand her. Loyalty went two ways and for too long, Tc’hla had been Malc’m’s only friend, albeit one that wasn’t shan-tent. He hated to cause her distress but the need to help J’han Taan took precedence.

It was a harrowing journey. Malc’m had to keep track of the Noi-ta yet avoid being detected by it, manage to avoid any other unfriendly deep water creature, and deal with an unhappy Tc’hla. He could only hope that his hunch would prove correct.

After what seemed like an eternity, he saw the Noi-ta swim into a cave. Coming to rest behind a coral growth, Malc’m reconnoitered the area. From what he could see, the Noi-ta hadn’t been in residence long. The nest it had created outside its cave was relatively small; a large box-like metallic shape was easy to discern. J’han Taan’s locker was easily the largest trophy in the Noi-ta’s collection. The problem would be retrieving it. Large and well-armed with teeth, Noi-ta’s were easy enough to deal with in open water, using the proper weapons. While it was able to strike at will from its cave, however, Malc’m would be vulnerable as he tried to hoist a heavy object.

“Shhh, Tc’hla,” Malc’m soothed his companion. If Tc’hla hadn’t liked Malc’m following the Noi-ta, she was even more unhappy that he was lurking outside its cave. Malc’m took a moment to scratch under her chin to comfort her, sighing when she took his hand in her mouth and tried to tug him away.

Malc’m gently disengaged himself from the wpa’ne and turned his head back to the Noi-ta’s cave. Absently, he took his aki pendant in hand and rubbed it against his teeth, thinking. A flash of movement on the ocean floor caught his eye and Malc’m smiled when he saw what it was. A plan sprang to mind – one that Tc’hla wouldn’t like at all.

Swimming stealthily, Malc’m made his way down to the field of softly swaying movement. Gathering up as many of the ls’pao plants as he could, he just as carefully swam to the side of the Noi-ta’s lair. Malc’m removed his mesh belt and used it to tie the ls-pao together. Holding both his bundle and his weapon in one hand, he used the other to give Tc’hla the signal to stay. She whuffled her disagreement, but Malc’m repeated the gesture until she subsided into sullen obedience. Transferring his t-da’ho to his free hand, Malc’m made his move. Sacrificing stealth for speed, he darted in front of the opening to the Noi-ta’s cave. Before the massive creature could respond, Malc’m released the ls-pao and then swam backwards as fast as he could. He didn’t get nearly far enough away before the Noi-ta began to charge. Firing his t-da’ho, Malc’m hit the ls-pao dead on, igniting the gas inherent in the bulbous plants’ structure.

Given that they were deep in the ocean, it was a relatively small explosion. Malc’m didn’t need it to be big. He only intended on collapsing the cave entrance and, between his weapon and the ls-pao, he managed that quite nicely.

The concussion propelled Malc’m head over tail through the water. By the time he righted himself and swam back, the silt had begun to settle. Luckily, Tc’hla had obeyed for once and had remained behind. She huffed at Malc’m, chiding him soundly for his recklessness, but was unhurt. Rubble blocked the cave mouth but Malc’m could see traces of movement behind it. He was relieved; his intent was to contain the Noi-ta, not kill it. Given the size of the creature, it would eventually be able to nose its way out, but Malc’m and Tc’hla would be long gone before then.

Tc’hla’s relief at leaving the Noi-ta’s territory was deep enough that she didn’t protest when Malc’m appropriated her assistance in lifting the locker. Hefting their burden between them, the two made their slow way back to J’han Taan.

*******************

T’Pol watched the flurry of activity surrounding the shuttle with a dispassionate eye. Vulcans were familiar with the concept of the chain of command and valued it in their own starship command structure. Even so, it was doubtful that a Vulcan crew would have worked to recover their captain with the same fanaticism as Enterprise’s crew had.

A Vulcan crew respected their captain, acknowledging that she or he was the center of logical thinking for the ship. The brain, as it were. In contrast, Jonathan Archer, a human captain, was the living, beating heart of his ship. After serving aboard Enterprise as long as she had, T’Pol no longer knew which approach was better.

“Commander,” she called out as she neared the area where the engineering crew was feverishly working. “What is your progress on the shuttle modifications?”

Trip Tucker crawled out from underneath the shuttlePod and wiped his hand off before approaching her. “We’re comin’ along pretty good. When we’re done, this little beauty’ll swim better than Jacques Cousteau.”

T’Pol assumed that the comparison was a favorable one and made a mental note to research Cousteau later. “I have been analyzing the weather patterns and estimate there will be a break in the storm in the next several hours.”

Tucker’s eyes narrowed as he considered the timing involved. “Gonna be a bit tight, but we ought to be ready by then.”

“Very well. I shall inform Ensign Greene, so she can familiarize herself with the rescue pattern.” T’Pol nodded at the commander and turned to leave, only to find herself blocked by Tucker.

“Wait a minute, Sub-Commander,” Tucker demanded as he pulled her aside. “Travis is our best pilot, ain’t he gonna fly it?”

T’Pol raised on delicate eyebrow. “Ensign Mayweather’s relationship with Lieutenant Cho precludes his further involvement, he is too emotionally vested in the outcome.”

Tucker took a deep breath and T’Pol mentally braced herself for one of his all-too-human tirades. He surprised her – instead of lashing out at her, the commander exhaled and then managed to speak calmly.

“With all due respect, Sub-Commander,” he said carefully, “Travis is a boomer. That means he was brought up on a ship and I trust him to fly, no matter what the circumstances are. His girlfriend’s down there, you’ve got to let him be on the rescue mission.” The commander gestured towards the shuttle. “Send a back-up pilot if you have to, but let Travis go. It’s the humane thing to do.”

At that last statement, both of T’Pol’s eyebrows raised.

Tucker sighed. “I know, I know, bein’ humane’s a human trait, not a Vulcan one. But have a heart, Sub-Commander.” He turned pleading eyes on her. “Just this once.”

Remembering her earlier musings about Jonathan Archer being the heart of Enterprise, Tucker’s words swayed her. “Very well. Ensign Mayweather pilots – with an appropriate secondary pilot aboard for contingency purposes.”

Commander Tucker smiled. “Thanks, Sub-Commander. Now, with your permission, I best get back to work.”

T’Pol nodded at him and watched as Tucker trotted back to the shuttle. As she returned to the bridge, T’Pol reasoned that acceding to his request was the only response she could have made. Logic might prevail on a Vulcan ship but the Enterprise’s crew was human. Heart was what was needed for them to function. She could only hope that they would be successful in returning Enterprise’s heart, Jonathan Archer, back to the ship and crew who needed him.

*******************

This time, Jonathan Archer was too agitated to pace as Malc’m dove down out of sight. After the Sa’an had been injured helping Jonathan, Archer was loath to let him risk himself again. There was no help for it, much to the human’s disgust. Malc’m had been far too correct in his prediction of his people’s reaction to Jonathan Archer’s presence on their world. The captain was disappointed but not truly surprised. The Sa’an were hardly the first aliens who hadn’t greeted humans with open arms and probably wouldn’t be the last, either. What worried the captain most was the way the two new Sa’an had acted towards Malc’m. He could only hope that he hadn’t gotten the other man into trouble.

Archer sighed and scrubbed his face. It looked like the only way he could help Malc’m would be to leave Water as quickly as he could. With that in mind, Jonathan turned to his salvaged equipment. He went through it ruthlessly, picking out only those items that would likely help him prepare an EVA suit for a trip to the surface. Of the pieces that Malc’m had retrieved, the only one that the captain considered worthy of taking with him was the UT. Readying a protective conveyance for it took some doing, but he finally had something cobbled together that he thought would work.

After that, there was nothing for Jonathan to do but wait.

The human kept Malc’m’s advice in mind and stayed well out of the water. He sat back several paces from the pool’s edge and settled himself to watch the water, waiting for Malc’m’s return. He munched idly on a field ration, chuckling as he remembered Malc’m’s reaction to them. It was probably the Sa’an’s first experience with food that was dry. Or, at least, as dry as only a field ration could be. To give him credit, Malc’m had seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. Tc’hla’s reaction had been closer to that of most humans – pure disgust.

With a smile on his face, Jonathan eventually drifted off into an uneasy slumber. An undetermined time later, there was a disturbance in the water. It was only a few ripples in the pool’s surface, but it was enough to wake Archer. By the time Malc’m and Tc’hla emerged, the captain was fully alert and waiting for them.

“You found it!” Jonathan exclaimed as he saw what Malc’m and Tc’hla were towing. “How did you locate it?”

“It wasn’t difficult,” Malc’m responded, opting not to tell J’han Taan of the Noi-ta. “All it took was knowledge of the area and where it would have been most likely to fall.”

Jonathan crouched to the water’s edge and, with Malc’m pushing from the water, wrestled the locker onto the ledge. “This is amazing, Malc’m.”

Malc’m didn’t respond but he basked in the praise all the same. Jonathan immediately opened the locker and began digging through its contents. Malc’m spent a few anxious moments, absentmindedly petting Tc’hla while he waited for the human to assess the salvaged items.

Finally, Malc’m couldn’t stand the suspense any more. “Is it all there? Will it work?”

Jonathan sat back and smiled in satisfaction. “Yes, it is and, yes, I think it will.”

Malc’m closed his eyes in anguished relief. He was pleased that they’d found a way to get his mate back to the ocean surface, but dreaded the parting that was soon to come. “I’m glad.”

“Me too,” Jonathan said, coming to sit on the ledge and dangling his legs in the water. He winced when Tc’hla growled at him but defiantly stayed put.

The Sa’an didn’t like the effect that Tc’hla’s growl had on J’han Taan. Gestures sharp with irritation, he made the hand motions that ordered Tc’hla to leave. The wpa’ne whuffed a protested but Malc’m remained firm. He would not have his final time with J’han Taan marred by Tc’hla’s jealousy.

After Tc’hla reluctantly left, he turned back to J’han Taan. “My apologies, J’han Taan. Perhaps Tc’hla has been too well domesticated by the Sa’an – she shares my people’s distrust of strangers.”

Jonathan smiled in understanding. “It’s okay. I’m just sorry you had to send her away. I hate to deprive you of your assistant.”

Malc’m shrugged. “She’ll wait for me outside the cave entrance. I’ve asked her to watch for the signs that the latest storm has lifted. It may be a few hours, but we should have you swimming for home shortly.”

“I appreciate it.” Jonathan hesitated but then stoically forged ahead. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, Malc’m. I don’t know how I can ever thank you or how I’d ever be able to repay you.”

There was an awkward silence and Jonathan began to worry that he’d somehow offended the other man. “Malc’m?”

The Sa’an sighed deeply and lifted his head to meet the captain’s gaze. “I do know one thing you could do for me, J’han Taan.” Not explaining any further, Malc’m swam right up to Jonathan, insinuating his sleek body between the human’s legs. Before Jonathan could react, Malc’m reached up and grabbed the fabric of the t-shirt that Jonathan was again wearing. Pulling carefully, Malc’m brought Jonathan’s head down even as he surged slightly out of the water to meet him.

This time, there was no Tc’hla to push them apart. In spite of his surprise, Jonathan’s lips met Malc’m’s eagerly and the two men kissed deeply. Malc’m tasted faintly of salt but his mouth was the sweetest that the captain had ever sampled. When they pulled apart, Archer looked at the Sa’an in amazement. A stolen kiss was the last thing he’d expected from the shy alien.

Malc’m bobbed in the water, keeping a gentle grip on Jonathan’s shins to keep himself close. “I hope I didn’t offend, J’han Taan,” he said anxiously, mistaking the expression on the human’s face as disapproval. “But the way you acted before the other scouts arrived, I’d assumed you’d be amenable….”

Jonathan closed his knees as much as he could, keeping Malc’m from swimming away. “I am *most* amenable….” The human’s voice trailed off as he considered his words carefully.

“But…” Malc’m finished for him. “You have another human waiting for you?”

“A mate?” Jonathan asked. When Malc’m nodded, he shook his head. “No, I am not… attached… romantically to anyone right now, it’s just….” Again, the captain fumbled for what to say.

Malc’m had begun to hope with J’han Taan’s first words but deflated as the human again stumbled verbally. He’d caught the fact that J’han Taan had previously mated. He tried not to let that bother him, since J’han Taan was human and not Sa’an. Mating didn’t necessarily mean the same thing. What disturbed him more was the way J’han Taan was so reluctant to be with him – he could only come to one conclusion. “You do not find me attractive.” He bit his lip, thinking fast. Making a decision, he spoke quickly, before he could change his mind. “J’han Taan, if it is because I am not a legged creature, I can ch-….”

Jonathan felt Malc’m’s distress keenly. Feeling guilty for causing it with his own ineloquence, Archer slipped into the water and stopped the other man’s words with another kiss. “Malc’m, I find you attractive,” he said firmly. “Very attractive. It’s just that I’ll be leaving soon and it seems hardly fair to start something when I’ll be gone shortly afterwards.”

Malc’m broke free of Jonathan and began swimming around him. “So, because we only have *this* time together,” he said as he made a close pass to the human, “we should deny ourselves completely?” He dove underneath the captain and emerged in front of him. “When you return to your people, I would rather have something to remember you by.” He slid his body against Jonathan’s. “We will be apart in either case. To be apart without even had the chance to hold you… that seems cruel.”

Jonathan gasped. As Malc’m had pressed close, he’d felt the hot length of an erect penis slide against his skin. The touch went straight to his own groin and, suddenly, the soggy feel of his briefs was an unwelcome prison. Starfleet propriety flew out the window; abruptly, Jonathan Archer was a man eager to claim his mate. Malc’m swam by again and, this time, Jonathan grabbed him. Pulling the Sa’an close, he kissed Malc’m almost savagely. Malc’m responded, surging into his arms, soft whimpering noises escaping from his lips.

When Archer had first met Malc’m, he’d wondered how the tailed man’s skin would feel. Now he had free rein to explore it and he did, with both hands and mouth. Releasing Malc’m’s lips, he trailed a string of kisses down Malc’m’s neck, biting softly where it met the shoulder. Malc’m whimpered again, pulling frantically at Jonathan’s shirt. The Sa’an stretched the neck hole enough that he could reach the human’s skin and lost no time mimicking Jonathan’s actions. Archer growled and let go Malc’m long enough to yank the shirt over his head, tossing it with a wet plop onto the cave’s ledge.

The two men stared at each other, both chests heaving. Malc’m reached out and traced one finger down Jonathan’s skin, a look of awe on his face.

“J’han Taan, you’re beautiful,” he whispered.

Jonathan blinked. “No one’s ever said that to me before.”

Malc’m shook his head in disbelief. “Well, you are,” he said firmly. “Shame on them for not telling you.”

The captain smiled at his lover’s vehemence. “I’m glad you think so, but I happen to think I’m not the beautiful one here.”

Sensing that Malc’m’s shyness had returned, Jonathan floated closer to the Sa’an. This time his kisses were gentle and he felt Malc’m respond to them with a similar sweetness. He let Malc’m worry about keeping them afloat and allowed his fingers trail down the length of Malc’m’s back. He felt the skin become rougher as he reached Malc’m’s tail and he shifted his hands forward. His questing fingers soon found Malc’m’s cock, as hard as any human’s. He kissed Malc’m deeply before he grasped his lover’s penis gently, gratified to feel the Sa’an gasp into his mouth. He broke off the kiss to look down at what his hand was doing, guiding his fingers to explore the genital slit that housed Malc’m’s cock. Malc’m laid his head on Jonathan’s shoulder, his gasps becoming shallow as his body responded to the intimate touching.

“It’s okay,” Jonathan soothed. “Let go for me, love.”

Malc’m’s body rocked in time with the caresses and the coaxing words. Jonathan’s thumb rubbed a circle on the tip of Malc’m’s penis and it was all the Sa’an needed to go over the edge. Malc’m cried out softly and hid his face in Jonathan’s neck as his body stiffened. Jonathan felt the cock in his hand spasm and spurt as Malc’m’s tail flailed, the fluid from his lover’s release clouding the water.

“That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced,” Malc’m said softly when he recovered. The Sa’an did not remove his face from its hiding place and the way his lips brushed against Jonathan’s skin as he spoke made the captain shiver.

“*You* are the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced,” Jonathan assured him. “I’m only sorry it had to be my hand instead of my mouth.” He chuckled in self-mockery. “That’s yet another problem we can attribute to my not being able to breathe under water.”

His statement was enough to cause a wide-eyed Malc’m to lift his face. “Humans do that… with their mouths?” Malc’m had never observed, nor heard of, other Sa’an touching each other before mating. What he’d experienced already J’han Taan was more than he’d ever dreamed of, back when he’d still had delusions of ever attracting a mate. His time with J’han Taan might be short, but he’d already discovered there were benefits to having a human mate.

“When the relationship is very special, yes,” Jonathan answered, unaware of Malc’m’s inner dialogue. “And you are very special to me.”

“This protective covering,” Malc’m asked, seemingly randomly, as his hand wandered below the water and cupped Jonathan’s groin. “Is it necessary?”

“No,” Archer managed to say. The way Malc’m’s fingers rubbed him through the soaked fabric was enough to drive him crazy. The Sa’an found the opening in the front of the briefs and his hand darted inside, encountering Jonathan’s cock as it strained against the knitted garment.

“It seems uncomfortable,” Malc’m said shamelessly.

“Yes,” Jonathan groaned. The two men were near the cave’s ledge again and he propped himself against it as his frantic fingers pulled at the soggy material. The wet fabric wasn’t very cooperative and Archer moaned at the delay.

“Poor J’han Taan,” Malc’m crooned. “Here, let me help.”

Jonathan caught a glimpse of the mischievous glint in Malc’m’s eye as the Sa’an submerged himself. That was enough warning for him to grip the rocky ledge and just in time, too. He felt Malc’m’s hands strip him of the sodden garment and soon, the fabric missile was arcing out of the water and through the air, landing close to its t-shirt complement. Archer closed his eyes at the feeling of the water directly on his penis but he didn’t have long to relish the sensation. He felt Malc’m moving and then the most glorious feeling of a mouth brushing his erection.

Malc’m may have only heard of fellatio a few minutes before, but he proved himself a quick study. With the exploring skills of a scout, he orally mapped Jonathan’s sex, tracing each enlarged vein with the tip of his tongue before popping the tip in his mouth. The contrast of the soft water with the velvet heat of his lover’s mouth soon had Jonathan on the edge, but just as he felt his body tense up for orgasm, Malc’m left off his ministrations and resurfaced.

The Sa’an opened his mouth to speak but Jonathan didn’t bother to wait to hear what he had to say. Instead, he grabbed the other man and pulled him close, kissing him ardently. His tongue dove into Malc’m’s mouth and slid against its counterpart, even as Jonathan felt his lover’s penis meet and slide against his own. He felt Malc’m’s sex stiffen again, recovered from the orgasm his lover had experienced a few minutes before. When the Sa’an began to whimper and hump against him in earnest, Jonathan finally released him. He wrapped one hand around the back of Malc’m’s neck and bumped their foreheads together.

“Malc’m, I need to know what you want,” Jonathan said. If he thought wearing underwear while his cock was so hard, it was nothing compared to trying to form a coherent sentence while he felt himself ready to explode.

“You, J’han Taan,” Malc’m was apparently in a similar state. “I want you. To join together as mates, that’s what I want.”

Since that matched what he wanted, Jonathan was very satisfied with that answer. There was one problem – logistics.

“How?” The human asked.

Malc’m took Jonathan’s hand and kissed the fingertips. “When two male Sa’an come together,” he explained, guiding Archer’s hand to his genital slit. “They join here.”

Jonathan moaned as his fingers again explored this new feature. He could feel the point where Malc’m’s penis emerged from his body and that the opening was somewhat elastic. He carefully inserted one finger between Malc’m’s cock and the side of the slit, gratified to hear Malc’m gasp and to feel his lover clutch at his shoulders. “There?”

“Yes,” Malc’m breathed. “You’re large, J’han Taan, but it will work.”

“Are you sure?” Jonathan asked, even as he added another finger.

Malc’m nodded and cried out as he felt the added digit, trembling from the strain of not thrashing his tail and dislodging his lover. “Please, J’han Taan, *now.*”

Jonathan kissed Malc’m deeply before positioning his cock at the narrow opening. He moaned in pleasure as the length of Malc’m’s cock caressed his as he slid inside, the double sensation flooding his every nerve ending. Malc’m cried out again and stiffened in his arms, not uttering another sound as Jonathan pressed forward. Jonathan rocked back and forth, each time he penetrated, he entered the other man a little more deeply. Each time he withdrew, he slid his penis along the silken length of his lover’s. It was an experience unlike any other.

When Jonathan was finally fully sheathed, he found himself face to face with his lover. Taking advantage of the position, he kissed the Sa’an before bumping foreheads with him again. “You okay?”

Malc’m’s eyes seemed unfocused. “J’han Taan,” he murmured. “It’s so good….”

“Good,” Jonathan said succinctly, drowning in sensation and unable to be more eloquent. Gripping Malc’m strongly about the waist, he began moving the Sa’an, both of them crying out at the dual sensation of cocks brushing and Jonathan penetrating Malc’m deeply. Before long, Malc’m caught the rhythm, using his tail to deepen the human’s thrusts.

It was wonderful and it was exotic, but the thrusting went on for minutes without either man reaching a peak.

“J’han Taan,” the Sa’an finally moaned, frustration mounting. “I need… more.”

Jonathan hadn’t had one orgasm the way Malc’m had and was having a harder time holding back. Still, he didn’t want to orgasm before his lover had. “What can I do?”

Malc’m kissed him, loving the human’s immediate response. “How long did you say you can hold your breath?”

“About two minutes,” Jonathan responded, thrusting deeply and staying still so he could concentrate on speaking. He felt Malc’m’s body ripple around him, making it even more difficult to focus.

“Do you trust me?” Malc’m asked.

Jonathan didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely.”

Malc’m didn’t just smile, he grinned, and it was like the sun had come out in that dank, underwater cave. “Then take a deep breath, love.”

Guessing what his lover had in mind, Jonathan did just that. Malc’m wrapped his arms around Jonathan’s waist, pulling him away from the rocky ledge. Then he dove, his strong tail driving their conjoined bodies down into the water.

Weightless and out of control, Jonathan felt his body writhe and buck. He thrust into Malc’m madly, wrapping his legs around Malc’m and letting the Sa’an take care of the rest of their movement. He didn’t notice when they left the cave, bodies twirling and spinning as they coupled in the open water. The pleasure became mixed up in the way his body began to burn for oxygen, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was the body he was buried in and finding a way to penetrate even deeper. He wanted to push every molecule of his body into Malc’m’s, push until he didn’t know where he ended and Malc’m began.

Finally, Jonathan felt the telltale signs that he was nearing release. Shouting out Malc’m’s name, not caring that the ocean drowned his words as soon as they were uttered, he found Malc’m’s waist and pulled the Sa’an close. Feeling his cock spasm and pulse as he reached orgasm inside his lover, Jonathan couldn’t have said if he was underwater or on the moon.

He felt Malc’m’s body tighten around him and, as his vision went dark in the aftermath of a release unlike any he’d ever achieved, Jonathan Archer was content.

 

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