A/N: Hello, one and all. I have recently been reading The Wish List by Eoin Colfer and it set off a few "plot bunnies" hopping around my head. This is possibly one of the most complicated and multi-layered stories I have ever come up with. Not that that's saying much, but anyway! This story will include a character death, but it won't be depressing. It may be angsty, it may deal with some fairly "deep" issues, but it will have a happy ending… but not of the clichéd, "living happy ever after" sort. I will hopefully deal with the difficult issue of death, the afterlife, and what lies between. I apologise if, in bringing in some of my own beliefs, I insult anyone of another faith. This isn't going to be a story on religion, and I will never attempt to bring in any religious ideas, just my own musings on the subject of heaven and hell. If you enjoy the story, please tell me, and if you didn't please tell me why not, and I will do my best to make it better.

Summary: Malcolm Reed is sent on a dangerous mission deep in the Expanse, to recover information about a possible Xindi military operation deep within an asteroid belt. The mission is fairly straight forward: go in under the cloak of the stolen Suliban cell ship, and come out with barely a scratch, and all the information needed to help unravel the mysteries of the Xindi. Except things don't always go according to plan, and a terrible tragedy occurs, leaving Enterprise grieving for their most loyal crewman. Except what they don't realise is that whilst they have lost a person they care about, they have gained a guardian angel. Malcolm Reed is torn between two paths: to stay with those he cares about until the ending of time, or to take a chance to see what truly lies behind that celestial barrier.

Disclaimer: I own nothing. I haven't even seen Season Three yet, which explains all the odd discrepancies that may crop up in this story. It is set just after The Expanse.

Chapter One

Malcolm Reed eyed the alien shuttle dubiously as he entered the shuttle bay. He glanced at Trip anxiously, noting the slightly worried expression on his friend's face.

"Are you sure this thing won't blow up on me as soon as I get her out of the airlock?" He asked, and his friend grinned nervously.

"Course not! Tough as old nails, this one." Trip replied heartily. A little too heartily, Malcolm thought.

"Trip?" The engineer glanced up from the padd he was poring over.

"Mmm?" The Brit frowned. Something was definitely up.

"Is there… something that you're not telling me, Trip?" He said suspiciously, as they strode over to the battered old craft. It was the Suliban cell ship, the one stolen from the distinctly hostile aliens after their occupation of the Enterprise a year or so ago. Trip glanced nervously from the ship, and back to Malcolm. The craft had taken something of a battering in the past few months, and Malcolm was none too eager to take to its helm. He had no choice, however. Orders were, after all, orders. But that didn't mean he had to like them.

"The thing ya need to know, Malcolm…" Trip began uncertainly, and Malcolm sighed, leaning against a bulkhead for support.

"I knew it." He stated simply. He sighed once more. "Go on. I'm ready." Trip gave him a puppy-dog look.

"Malcolm, I don't want you to have to go out there in that bunch of creaking bulkheads, ya know. I told Jon, he shouldn' be makin' ya do this, but - " Malcolm gave his friend a dangerous glare, usually reserved for the most despicable of enemies.

"Trip." He said, his tone low and serious. "Just tell me." The engineer hesitated, before quickly explaining after a quick glare from Malcolm.

"Ok. But don' say I didn' warn ya." Trip took a deep breath. "The last attack on Enterprise caused a flare-up in the main power grid. We were conducting experiments on the cell-ship when the blast hit…"

"Don't tell me." Malcolm breathed, realisation dawning across his face. "You had the cell-ship connected to the impulse engines, am I right?" Trip nodded heavily.

"Spot on. It screwed right bad with the engines, cloak, shields, everything." Malcolm closed his eyes in exasperation.

"And when were you and the captain intending to tell me this, then Trip?" He asked his eyes narrowed. Trip gave a helpless shrug.

"The cap'n though' it was better not to tell ya, he didn' want ta worry ya..." Trip trailed off, catching sight of the thunderous expression on his friend's face. "I'm sorry." He said quietly, and Malcolm shrugged, not meeting his eyes.

"We'd better get ready then." He muttered, determination lighting in his harsh grey eyes. Trip gaped at him.

"You cannot be serious!" He exclaimed in disbelief. "You really intend to fly that thing, after all I've just told you?" Malcolm glared at him, his eyes flashing dangerously.

"What do you expect me to do, disobey a direct order?" Trip remained silent. He felt guilty, guilty for deceiving his friend. He knew that Jon had his reasons for not telling Malcolm about the slight discrepancies in the cell-ships main functions - where he was going, Malcolm would need all eyes on the job at hand. No distractions. They were only small malfunctions, after all.

Then why was he feeling so worried about the upcoming mission? Why were alarm bells going off in his head, when he had personally checked, and passed the cell ship for controlled flight? And why was he desperately hoping that Malcolm would back out of the mission completely? You're just worried about him, that's all. Trip assured himself. Malcolm was, after all, the closest friend he had on Enterprise, apart from Jon, and he was usually far too busy with his work to have any time for Trip in any capacity apart from that as chief engineer. Trip knew that it was dangerous, forming such close bonds with someone on such a dangerous mission. He cared for Malcolm as a brother, he wasn't ashamed to admit. He knew that if anything happened to the armoury officer he would be just as grief stricken as he had been when Lizzie had died. Don't think like that, Charles! He thought furiously to himself. Even now, months after he had learnt of his sister's death, he still had nightmares about her, and the way she had died. He wanted revenge on the people who had killed her, and all those other millions of innocent people. Which is what this mission is all about, so stop agonising, you fool. He chided himself. Malcolm's mission was simple; to take the Suliban cell ship, cloaked, obviously, into a heavily guarded asteroid belt which T'Pol believed to be a secret military base for the Xindi, and get as much information about it as he could. Simple. No silly risks. Malcolm would only be gone a few days. So why did it feel as though they were saying goodbye forever?

*

Malcolm took a deep breath as he entered the cell-ship. He tapped the intercom for the bridge.

"Ready when you are, captain." He said, forcing down the hot bubble of anger which was threatening to explode within him. Malcolm understood why Archer had chosen not to tell him about the faults with the Suliban cell ship, but that didn't stop him being angry with the captain. He realised that the flaws were only tiny ones, and that telling him about them would only cause fatal distraction. But that didn't stop him being angry at the captain for trying to play God with his life.

"Very well. Good luck, Malcolm." Malcolm nodded, before realising how pointless it was when the captain couldn't see him. The ability to speak seemed to have failed him. He had felt nerves like this before, on training missions and the such, but he had never felt nerves like he was experiencing now. Perhaps it was because of the huge risk element involved, or maybe it was the fact that so much was depending on the information he was bringing back. Whatever it was, Malcolm Reed was, for perhaps the first time in his life, truly scared.

"Thankyou sir." He managed to choke out. He wiped the sweat from his brow with a shaking hand. For a moment he was torn between two minds – one, the wish that he could be anywhere but within the claustrophobic craft, and the other, overpowering realisation that he would never allow any other member of the Enterprise crew to put their lives at risk in such a way. "See you in three days." He said finally, half to himself. He would return. It would take more than a few asteroids to defeat Malcolm Stuart Reed.

*

"Good luck, Malcolm." Jonathon Archer murmured beneath his breath as he watched, on the viewscreen, the tiny cell ship drop from the underbelly of the ship, drift briefly in space for a moment, before disappearing. His insides writhed with guilt as he turned away from the screen.

"You have the bridge, T'Pol." He managed to choke out, before turning his back on the bridge and striding as fast as he could into his ready room. He sat down, and with a heavy sigh, returned to the pile of "paper" work which had been piling up on his desk for the past few months. He tried to concentrate on the work, but his mind kept wandering back to his armoury officer, who was at this very moment somewhere a few light years from Enterprise, alone in the dark expanse of space. Alone.

Jon shivered, trying to block out the pessimistic visions which were clawing their way through his consciousness. Malcolm, lying as though dead after the Shuttle Pod incident barely two years ago, Malcolm, ready to give his life for his friends and crew out on the hull of the ship, Malcolm, ready to risk his life in deep space, all for Enterprise and her mission… Archer closed his eyes in despair. He cared for Malcolm, he cared for every single member of his crew. But Malcolm Reed was a character to beat all. He was quiet, reserved, yet quirky and unpredictable in his own way. He was an enigma, both to Archer and to most of the crew. He never spoke out of turn, even when someone truly deserved it. Archer had heard it, earlier, on the bridge, knew that Malcolm had discovered the flaws in the cell-ship, but had still held his tongue. Archer knew how angry his officer must have felt, even though he would understand at the same time that it had been vital to the success of the mission that there were no distractions, nothing to draw his attention from the mission at hand. It had been necessary. Vital, even. A matter of life or death. Then why did Archer feel as though he had just signed his officer's death warrant?

*

A/N: All reviews are greatly appreciated.