Malcolm grunted as he let Hoshi down on the floor next to him. The nasty mark on her forehead stood out in sharp relief. What the hell did they do to her? He felt a slow anger deep in his gut at what the Xindi had done to the Enterprise's communications officer.
And the woman he loved with his heart and soul. Of course, he kept his love to himself. Fraternization rules aside, he couldn't risk losing her as a friend. So he kept quiet and hoped that one day...
He felt, rather than saw the Xindi-reptilians creep closer to their position. With one smooth motion, he fired from behind the bulkhead, and smiled in grim humor as his blast caught one of the Xindi in the stomach. Unfortunately, at the same time, one of the MACOs cried out as she was hit in turn.
Damn! He glanced at the wounded MACO, sitting with her back to the wall, her comrade already examining her wound. Despite himself, he felt a surge of pride and approval for their cool under fire. Major Hayes would be proud. Malcolm made a mental reminder to tell Hayes when they got back to the Enterprise.
A soft murmur caught his attention. Hoshi's mouth moved silently and he leaned over to hear her. Her voice was barely audible, but he thought he heard her say his name. "I'm here, he whispered back. "Hold on, luv. We're getting out of here."
He distinctly heard Trip's voice over the communicator, something about the transporter not working, about having to transport them two at a time. Of course, it would have to get more complicated! Malcolm pushed the irritation out of his mind and jerked his head at one of the MACOs. "Take her," he snapped. "Beam back to the ship."
"Yes, sir!" the young man replied, and wrapped an arm around Hoshi. Malcolm bent down to whisper to her again. "It'll be all right, Hoshi. They'll take care of you on the ship. I'll be there in a moment."
She whimpered and her hand tightened on his arm. Malcolm took a deep breath and removed her hand, then touched her cheek in farewell. He met the MACO's curious gaze and shook his head. Then he turned his back as the transporter beam swept Hoshi and the MACO away.
"You two next," he called across to the remaining two MACOs. He relayed the message to Trip, then fired his phaser rifle at a Xindi who'd been aiming at them. The beam caught the Xindi in the face and drove him into the floor.
Too close, Malcolm thought. If they didn't get out of here soon, they'd be forced to retreat farther down the corridor, out of the relative safety of the bulkheads. They'd be in the open and vulnerable, like lambs for the slaughter. He gritted his teeth and provided the covering fire as the transporter beam hummed a second time. The MACOs disappeared in a sparkle of light.
He allowed himself a small smile. Hayes would be gratified to have all of his people alive and safe. Malcolm had lost Corporal Hawkins not long ago; at least there would be no more MACO deaths on his conscience.
A stray laser went past his face, close enough for him to feel its burn. The Xindi advanced on his position, forcing him to retreat in their wake. He glanced over his shoulder at the open corridor behind him. If he stepped out there, he was a dead man. Malcolm could sense, rather than see, the Xindi marksman hiding there, ready for the kill.
"Trip!" he shouted into his communicator. "I could use a change of scenery!"
"Stand by, Malcolm." Then he heard, "All right, got a lock on ya! Hang on!"
A lucky shot slammed into his right shoulder, spinning him around and making him lose his grip on the phaser rifle. Fire raced down his arm, but another Xindi burst caught him square in the center of his chest. In that split second, he saw that the marksman stood braced in the open doorway, his own rifle still smoking.
Then his surroundings dissolved, only to reform into the Enterprise's transporter room. He saw Trip leaning on the control board, as if he was on the verge of collapse himself. Malcolm managed a small smile at his best friend.
"Thank you, Trip," he said hoarsely.
The world spun and faded away.
He came out of a cloudy haze to find himself lying on a bed in Sickbay. His chest felt heavy; he looked down to see one of Phlox's creatures attached there. The wound was extensive, despite the creature's efforts to close it.
He was dying.
"Lie still and let it do its job," Phlox said. "You've been hurt badly, Lieutenant."
No, really? I wasn't aware of that, Doctor. He was too tired to be sarcastic. "Hoshi, is she--"
A second voice answered him. "She's all right, Lieutenant. You brought her home."
Malcolm managed to raise his head. "Hayes--"
"Lie down and shut up, Lieutenant. You're gonna be all right." There was a catch in Hayes's voice; so the major knew the truth as well.
Bloody marvelous. He's going to get my job after all. Somehow, the thought didn't bother him now as it would have a month before. It was a pity that just when he and Hayes had come to an understanding, he had to get himself shot. Bugger pride, Reed, just this once. If there was one man you'd trust to get the job done, it'd be Hayes. Admit it.
"Thank you for bringing my men back," Hayes said quietly. The major's hand tightened on Malcolm's uninjured shoulder.
"You're welcome," he rasped. "They were...exemplary. You'd be...proud of them." Malcolm summoned enough strength to turn his head enough to see the occupant of the other biobed. The blanket was pulled up to her chin; her long black hair fanned out on the pillow. Her face was leached of all color, but he saw the faint rise and fall of her chest.
Phlox answered his unspoken question. "She will heal, in time. You saved her life." The Denobulan's tone became alarmed. "Stay with us, Lieutenant. We need you. She needs you..?
At the same time, Hayes' voice said sharply, "Malcolm!"
He gazed at her, even as he felt darkness nibbling at the edge of his vision. No, he didn't want to lose sight of her. She would never know how much he had loved her, but perhaps that was for the best. Hoshi had been through enough, and it would be more difficult for her after he was gone.
She's alive and safe. That's the only thing that matters to me now. But there was one more thing he had to do. For the first and last time, he called Hayes by his name. "Jeremiah..."
"What is it, Malcolm?" He heard Hayes bend down to hear him better.
"Take care of my people. And tell--the Captain--tell him it was an honor serving with him."
"You'll be able to tell him yourself, Malcolm. Just hold on." Hayes's grip on his shoulder trembled, as if the major could anchor his soul to his body with pure force.
God, she's so beautiful. I love you, Hoshi. His thoughts were fading into mist, but he was no longer afraid. She vanished from his vision. Malcolm relaxed into the darkness, satisfied that he had fulfilled his ultimate duty at last.
Major Jeremiah Matthew Hayes stared as Doctor Phlox tried to start Lieutenant Reed's heart, but he knew the effort was useless. Reed was already gone, the light fading from the gray-blue eyes. Of all people, Malcolm Reed was the last person he'd expected to die.
"Rest easy, Malcolm. I'll let the Captain know, " Hayes murmured. He gave Reed's shoulder a final squeeze and forced himself to let go. A sudden thought brought a sad smile to his face. "You would've made a damn good MACO."
"Computer, record the death of Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, Armory Officer, on February 13, 2154, nineteen-hundred hours," Phlox said, his voice heavy with guilt and grief. The Denobulan pressed a hand over his eyes as he turned off his recorder with the other hand.
Hayes sighed and said, "You did all you could, Doctor." He followed Reed's empty gaze at the woman on the other biobed. His MACO had told him about Reed's strange behavior on the Xindi ship, just before they were beamed back to Enterprise. Malcolm Reed and Hoshi Sato? Hayes recalled all he had seen the past year, the tiny clues, the bits and pieces...why hadn't he seen it?
Face it, you idiot. You were too busy being a hardass to notice.
Sato cried out in her sleep, a shriek of agony that made everyone in Sickbay jump, even the major. Her eyes fluttered and her body jerked to and fro, as if she struggled with an unseen enemy. A medical technician came to her bedside with a hypospray. At Phlox's nod, the tech emptied the sedative into Sato's neck. The ensign settled back into an uneasy slumber, but her mouth moved in a silent plea.
Hayes shivered at the eerie coincidence. There was no way Sato could have realized Reed was dead, but he thought, She knows he's gone. She knows.
Phlox gently turned Reed's head, then closed the eyes forever. Finally, Phlox drew the sheet over Reed's face. "Major, I thought I heard the Lieutenant say something just before he died. Did you hear what it was?"
Hayes shook his head. "No, Doctor. I didn't." But he had heard, and it had been directed at Ensign Sato.
Ensign Hoshi Sato sat up in bed, unable to do much more. Phlox had reassured her that he had destroyed all of the parasites in her brain, but her pain was more than physical. The wave of self-loathing threatened to consume her and she allowed it to wash over her. It had all been her fault.
She had cracked the third code for the Xindi-reptilians. Now they were headed towards Earth, ready to finish the job they had started. She had helped them arm their weapon.
Malcolm was dead. He'd been shot while transporting back to the Enterprise, after he had brought her back home. The news ripped a hole within her. I never told him. I never told him that I loved him. If she hadn't been kidnapped by the Xindi, Malcolm would still be alive. So his death was her fault too.
She stared dully at the opposite wall. It was too much to absorb, too much to bear all at once. The Captain, Trip, Travis and even T'Pol had stopped by to see how she was doing. Malcolm's death had hit all of them hard; they all knew that Malcolm would probably die in the line of duty, but no one had expected it so soon. Malcolm had always managed to pull through in the face of incredible odds, but not this time.
Trip blamed himself for not pulling Malcolm out in time, but she assured him it wasn't his fault. She knew whose fault it was. Trip had held her as her body shook with grief, but she couldn't cry.
Hoshi's sensitive ears heard the swish of the privacy curtain. She jumped as a tall figure stepped closer to her bed, her fists clenched on the blankets. The MACO uniform identified him, and she gritted her teeth against what she really wanted to say. Why couldn't it have been you? If you had gone, Malcolm would still be alive. Why couldn't you have died instead?
Major Hayes flinched, as though he heard her unspoken accusation. "Ensign, I'm sorry for disturbing your rest. I'll leave you alone."
She recoiled at the harsh control in his tone and she felt ashamed at her initial reaction. Malcolm's death had hit Hayes pretty hard as well. "No, Jeremiah, please, don't leave."
He stared at her for a moment, then ruefully shook his head. "First Malcolm, then you. How did you know my first name? I tried to keep that secret."
Hoshi sighed and said, "I've got my sources. Please, sit down." She gestured to the chair and he sat with the air of a man waiting to be shot. She managed to slide her hand atop his gloved one. They sat in silence for a long time. Finally, she whispered, "I'm sorry, Jeremiah."
He turned to her with a sad smile. "For what? It wasn't your fault."
"I helped the Xindi, and if it wasn't for me, he'd be alive--"
"Hoshi." The use of her first name brought her up short. "I argued with him when he said he was going to rescue you from the Xindi. I tried to convince him that I should go, that he was too valuable to risk on this mission, but he was adamant about going himself to save you. 'It is my decision to make, Major, not yours and dammit, don't bloody stand in my way,' he said. I swear, the look on his face scared the hell out of me."
Hayes's precise imitation of Malcolm's British accent brought a sad smile to Hoshi's face. She squeezed his hand as he continued, "He was a good man and a good Armory officer. If he'd lived... I just wish--"he broke off, a blush on his cheeks and shrugged. "Um...you never heard that, all right?"
"Of course." She chuckled at his embarrassment; who would have known that Hayes had a soft spot? After their brawl in the gym, Hoshi suspected that the two had reached some sort of agreement. Now that friendship had been cut short before it had time to develop.
Like mine. Hoshi closed her eyes. No, she would not cry. Malcolm wouldn't want her to cry over him. She would endure it with a stiff upper lip, like he would have done. Her throat closed and she wrapped her arms around herself to keep from shaking. And damned if she was going to break down in front of Jeremiah Hayes, of all people.
Hayes's voice was quiet. "He loved you, you know."
She squeezed her eyes shut and nodded. Despite her best intentions, tears escaped from the corners of her eyes, and once they started, they didn't stop. Then she felt strong arms around her and moisture in her hair, and to her amazement, she knew Hayes was crying too.
They held each other and mourned for their friend and all that would never be.
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