Wearily entering Malcolm's quarters, Jon took a deep breath of the dusty air. He closed his eyes for a moment, savouring the earthy smell of dirt and sweat overlapping a familiar human scent. The dim lights allowed him to just make out Malcolm's wiry form sprawled in bed where he'd fallen after being discharged from decon, still wearing his stained excursion uniform. Jon couldn't help a small smile.
His tired legs twitched in his sleep, jerking so violently towards the edge of the bed he nearly tumbled off, arms shooting out to catch himself but only serving to unbalance him further. The sensation of falling must've been so acute, he sat up with a yell, knuckles white as he clung to the mattress.
"Malcolm," Jon greeted as quietly as possible.
Malcolm's head snapped towards him, his eyes narrowing as he struggled to keep them open. "Sir?" He stumbled to his feet, tugging at his collar as if preparing to change into his uniform. "Am I needed on the bridge?"
"Not at all, relax." Jon sat down on the end of the bed, smiling. "I just got off duty. These last few days have been unexpectedly rough up here, so I can't begin to imagine what they were like in those caves."
"You don't want to know," Malcolm mumbled, crumpling bonelessly back into bed until his head hit the wall. He grunted with a wince.
Jonathan stood and straightened his uniform. "Lie down on your stomach."
"I hardly think this is the time, Jon. I have dirt in places that dirt isn't meant to go."
Smirking, he patted Malcolm's shoulder. "Trust me."
With a groan, Malcolm flopped onto the mattress, dragging himself up until he lay with his arms folded beneath his head at the foot of the bed.
Jon exhaled slowly as he sat beside him, one hand at Malcolm's hip and the other between his shoulder blades. "Have you seen Phlox?"
"He was rather busy tending to Travis' leg," Malcolm mumbled, turning his head and squinting out of the corner of his eyes at what he could glimpse of Jon. "So I took a mild analgesic."
"Let me see if I can help." Jon's fingers stroked along the exposed skin between Malcolm's trousers and his shirt.
"Mmf," he moaned in acquiescence.
Jon moved his hands up under Malcolm's shirt and helped him pull it off, before gently rearranging Malcolm so his head rested on the mattress and his arms lay by his sides, shoulders relaxed.
From one of his pockets, he removed a small tub and unscrewed the lid, treating them to the fragrance of coconut. Retrieving a dab, he rubbed it into his palms to melt the butter before laying them on Malcolm's shoulders and stroking slowly down his back, covering his skin in a light sheen of oil.
Then he began his work, gently establishing awareness of the musculature along either side of Malcolm's spine, caressing and mapping the landscape under his skin. With alternating hands, he smoothed his palms across his hips and sides, applying gentle pressure with the heel of his thumbs as he worked upwards.
Malcolm moaned under his breath, feeling Jonathan tentatively examining the line of his vertebrae, pressing along the contour on either side with the tips of his fingers. Abruptly, the touch disappeared.
"I decided someone should take care of you." Jon knelt at the foot of the bed and rubbed Malcolm's shoulders in wide circles before dipping the pads of his fingers gently beneath the scapula and easing outwards. "And, if I'm honest, I need to cool down." He moved to Malcolm's tense neck, sweeping broad strokes across the nape and out down to his biceps.
"What did I miss?" Malcolm's eyebrow quirked but his eyes remained closed.
Jon sighed heavily through his nose. "There was a ship that got into some trouble leaving the planet, their reactor casings breached. The new government wouldn't let them land so we took the passengers onboard. One of them was quite seriously injured, but his species, the Antarans, have a long history with the Denobulans. He turned out to be quite a disagreeable patient when he found out who his doctor was."
"That's unfortunate." Malcolm felt his lover's hands kneading alternately across his back in a faint pushing-pulling motion, emphasis rolling from the heels to the balls of his palms.
"Yes, I almost forced Phlox into treating the man against his will." He shook his head. "Something of which I am not proud."
Skirting close to his spine, Jonathan pushed his thumbs into the muscle fibres as he moved slowly down towards Malcolm's hips and up again, occasionally probing and releasing minuscule knots of tension. His own back cracked loudly.
"Maybe it's you who needs the massage." Malcolm turned his head. "Though I rather doubt my hands are half as talented as yours."
"Your hands are talented at other things," he reassured with a grin. "Many, many other things." Jon returned to Malcolm's side and tugged at his belt. "Take off your pants."
"Yes, Sir." Malcolm rolled onto his back, smiling tiredly as he began to wriggle out of his dirty trousers.
Jon sighed softly as Malcolm's lean, muscular legs stretched out on the bed, absently rubbing his fingertips in circles along the inside of Malcolm's ankle. He watched, enrapt, as Malcolm pushed down his underwear too, first past that tantalising dip in his hips, and then further to join the rest of his clothes on the floor. Unable to resist, Jon leaned forward and caught his lips, relishing the caves of Xantoras under Malcolm's familiar, musky taste as he held his face in his hands.
"Now, lay back as you were." Jon indicated to the head of the bed this time. "I have good work to finish."
"Yes, Sir," Malcolm said again with a smirk, stealing another kiss before doing as ordered.
"Maybe Phlox has a massage table," Jon murmured contemplatively as he moved towards the foot of the bed again. "Possibly for physiotherapy. I should ask."
Malcolm grinned, though his voice had grown a little slurred and aimless. "If there is a next time, I vote it comes with a happy ending."
Jon snorted. "I'll keep that in mind."
His confident ministrations swept along the outside of Malcolm's hips, gifting slight pressure as he navigated the subtle contours of the joint socket, then over the swell of his buttocks and down his thighs. His thumbs pressed gently into the flesh as his hands circled in broad arcs, applying a little more pressure to Malcolm's calves as he outlined the swell of musculature with confident strokes, moving lighter, careful in the valley at the back of Malcolm’s knees as he moved over the blush of budding bruises.
Progressing to the left leg, Jon began with the gentlest of pulling motions to assess any stiffness in his joints. They breathed in counterpoint, heavy and assured, Malcolm expressing the smallest grunts and whimpers of pleasure as Jon worked and relished every sound.
Malcolm shattered the spell as he muttered, "Maybe you should avoid my feet, I've spent the last three days climbing with nary a shower in sight."
"I'm sure I'll live," Jonathan replied, appreciating Malcolm's shapely backside with his eyes as his fingers continued to work down his legs.
After a few gentle caresses along the soles of his feet, the pads of his thumbs pushed into the arch, eliciting a blissful groan. He chuckled. That sound alone was worth the slightly stale scent, and the coconut butter served to cover that nicely after a few moments.
"Fucking hell, Jon," Malcolm sighed as if on the edge of ecstasy.
"That's quite a compliment, Mr Reed." Jon carefully massaged his ankles before his thumbs dug in deep underneath the heel and ran down to the ball, kneading between each of his toes.
By the time he slid his fingers over Malcolm's left foot one last time, he'd begun to notice soft snoring from the head of the bed. He quietly moved to the bathroom to wash his hands, pausing in the doorway to watch the rise and fall of Malcolm's bare back, mapping with his eyes all the places he'd just touched.
Malcolm jerked again, his arm this time, reaching out and finding nothing. Jonathan smiled and stripped off his clothes, clasping the hand that hung off the edge and holding it within both of his own. Slowly he reached out and rested a palm in the small of Malcolm's back, stroking up his spine. Malcolm's entire body flinched and he shifted away, rolling onto his side, back against the wall.
Turning off the lights, Jon claimed the place beside him in bed. In the dark, he examined Malcolm with his other senses, kissing his neck for the salty sting of sweat, stroking his hair to stir that potent mix of Xantoras and Malcolm, listening to the inhale and exhale, occasionally shaky as he dreamed.
"Stop looking at me in the dark," Malcolm whispered. "It's like being in the caves again."
Jon smiled. "Goodnight, Malcolm."
"G'night." He clumsily met the corner of Jon's lips for a kiss before falling back to sleep.
The small bed wasn't ideal, but Jonathan would rather be pressed intimately against Malcolm than sprawled alone in his quarters. His lover welcomed him home, slinging an arm around his waist, and Jon closed his eyes.
As he hovered on the edge of slumber, he realised how Malcolm anchored him. Like Earth suspended in space so many light years away, Malcolm stood constant and sacred in Jon's world. As much as he loved exploring the stars, he could name no euphoria greater than remembering how it felt to stand upon the Earth and look upward, breathing the scent after rain. The stars had looked better from there, as they always did by Malcolm's side.
And though Xantoras was not their world, though it was neither the red rock of the Arizona desert caked to Malcolm’s skin, nor the golden sands of a California beach that clung to his eyelashes and gathered under his fingernails, the haunting smell could easily have been from one of those windswept moments.
The foundation stone was not, after all, the planet itself, but this man who embodied so much of it, right down to the smell.