Captain Archer has been too quiet today. God knows, sometimes I wish he would use less words in certain situations, but when he’s this quiet it’s painfully obvious that something is wrong.
It’s been a relatively slow week as far as our mission goes; this part of space just seems to be a backwater. No alien attacks, no gaseous anomalies – as far as I’m concerned, just plenty of time to work on some much-needed new defense systems.
I’ve been spending time down in the Armoury working on some of those ideas, putting in rather less bridge time than I usually do. But when I was at my station this afternoon, it was clear that the Captain had something on his mind. He was sitting quietly, toying with a PADD or watching the passing stars on the viewscreen. He wasn’t pacing the bridge as he often does when he’s trying to work out a solution to a problem. And he wasn’t asking for any data or input on anything from T’Pol, or Hoshi, or even from Trip down in Engineering.
The only person he seemed to be asking anything of was me – inquiring about the progress on the new torpedo targeting systems. I suggested that we might try out the new system on an asteroid or two. Knowing how a good explosion always cheers me up, I thought maybe it might lighten his mood as well. But his only reply was to shake his head and murmur something I could barely hear.
“Perhaps later, Malcolm… when we’re sure everything will work out okay.”
He had looked over toward me as he replied – nothing odd about that, really – but this time when our eyes caught, he didn’t glance away as he usually does.
Something about the way he’d said it made me think he wasn’t really talking about the torpedo targeting system at all. That’s when it hit me that I wasn’t even sure he was talking to me – more like talking to himself. But talking about what?
I continued to play around with the trajectory calculations I had been working on, but my mind was more on Captain… no, not quite that… more on Jonathan, the man who is my Captain. I generally don’t indulge in those thoughts on duty, and certainly not on the bridge where they might prove embarrassing.
He asked me to call him that once, probably more than once. But I never have used his name, not in addressing him. In the privacy of my thoughts, of course I have – there he is Jonathan… or Jon. But I know that for me, using his name would be crossing a line I don’t know if I’m able to cross… and don’t know that he’s really ready for me to cross it. He might have been just trying to put me at ease when he suggested it. But maybe not.
The bridge was very quiet for the rest of the shift. I probably glanced up more than I usually do, but it was hard not to notice how often when I did look up, it was to meet his silent gaze. But my thoughts were running in circles, both chasing and being pursued by my doubts and deep fears of what I was considering.
It is late evening before I come to my decision. I’ve spent enough sleepless nights prowling the corridors to know where I’m likely to find him. I don’t bother changing back into uniform; I am fairly certain he’ll be dressed casually as well, at this time of night and off-duty.
It seems I’m a bit early tonight. I have plenty of time to get a cup of tea from the galley and settle down with it on one of the big chairs near the viewport in the observation lounge.
I hear the skitter of small feet in the corridor well before the door opens. Not wanting to startle him, I call out a hello and smile as he nods a greeting and crosses the room toward me, Porthos bounding ahead of him. I think the pup has an amazing memory for those who have been kind to him because he comes right over and puts a paw up on my knee, with that ‘cheese, please’ look in his big eyes. I know he probably shouldn’t have it, but I can’t say no to those eyes, and give him the small bit I brought along for the occasion.
So far, nothing out of the ordinary. We’ve run into each other here before; usually we chat about the view or some detail of our current mission for a few minutes before I’m the one to make my excuses and leave him to his privacy.
Not tonight though. I try to steady my breathing a bit, but my heart is beating loudly enough that I’m sure he must hear it. He has settled onto a couch facing my chair, so I stand and cross the small distance to sit down beside him. I hadn’t been sure of exactly what I would say, but what comes out is very simple.
“May I join you, Jonathan?”
I thought the smile that lit his face and eyes would be reward enough, but there is more.
“Malcolm, I thought you’d never ask.”