For a while Malcolm simply lay on the floor where they'd dropped him, his throbbing cheek pressed against the cool deck plating and his breath coming in painful, wheezy gasps. Slowly his knees drew up of their own accord, his shoulders rounded and twisted until he was curled on his side. He shivered and wrapped his forearms over his torso, cradling his pummeled ribs. He was in too much pain to sleep, but not enough to find release in unconsciousness. Instead he drifted in between, hyper-aware of his physical state without remembering what he'd done to deserve it.
"Up, boy! Get up and get hold of that boom!"
"Can't," he muttered through his split lips. "Head hurts."
"Blast it, boy! Secure that boom before you capsize! You can whine about your head later."
The skinny eight year old climbed to his feet, squinting his eyes against the brittle spray of salt water. The boom that had clipped his skull and knocked him off his feet was swinging back his way. He had to catch it, and hold it, or he'd be tossed about again, maybe even overboard this time. The storm-churned water, foamy and gray, would close over his head as he sank lower and lower, lungs straining for one last breath of air...
"Malcolm! You can do it, boy!"
He couldn't see his father, but he didn't have to. His father said he could do it, and Stuart Reed never lied. Malcolm braced himself –
His hands were wrapped around the edge of the sink, supporting far too much of his weight as the interior of his quarters whirled in a merry dance. His right eye was a weeping purple slit, but if he squinted the left one just so he could make out his reflection in the mirror. "Lovely."
When the door slid open he tensed, certain for one heart-pounding moment that the Suliban had come back for him. He was casting about the head for a weapon when a familiar voice called out. "Lieutenant Reed? Ah, there you are." Doctor Phlox ran a practiced eye over his visible injuries and tut-tutted under his breath. "Come along, Lieutenant. Let's get you to sickbay."
Phlox met Archer at the entrance to sickbay. "I must say, it's very good to see you, Captain."
Archer smiled. He'd been getting a lot of that lately. "Good to be seen. How's Malcolm?"
"Resting, with the aid of a fairly strong analgesic. His injuries are painful, but not serious. You can see him if you like, though I doubt he'll be very responsive."
The captain nodded and made his way to the biobed in the corner, wincing at the swollen purple face of his armory officer. Malcolm was sleeping, eyes moving beneath closed lids. Archer hoped he was dreaming of something pleasant – he'd certainly earned himself a few nice dreams.
"Here, boy, let's have a look." Calloused hands captured his face, turning his head this way and that, peering into his eyes as though the secrets of the universe were held within. Fingers carded through his sodden hair, probing his scalp. "Well, you've got a bit of a bump, but I think you're all right, yes?"
Malcolm rubbed the sore spot and nodded. He felt as if his brain was being forced out his ears, but Father said he was all right, and Stuart Reed never lied. He shouted at you when you were scared and hurt, but he didn't lie.
"Come on, lad. Best get you home so your mother can fuss over you." Malcolm followed his father down the pier, but Stuart abruptly stopped. Kneeling, he tilted Malcolm's chin up with his index finger until their eyes met. His voice held an urgent tone that Malcolm couldn't ever remember hearing before. "You have to keep your head in a crisis, son. It's the most valuable skill any sailor can possess, and the most important thing I can teach you. One day it might save your life. Do you understand?"
Malcolm looked into those hard blue eyes, and for the first time he saw fear. It left him with the disquieting thought that his father had unexplored depths, churning and murky like the ocean he loved so much, full of treasures waiting for discovery if only Malcolm were bold enough. "Yes, sir. I understand."
"Good boy." Stuart stood and strode down the dock, ignoring the people who passed on either side. Malcolm was left to follow as best he could, navigating by an occasional glimpse of the dark head as his father appeared and disappeared in the crowd.
Malcolm stood in front of the mirror once more, poking at his swollen eye. "As if you weren't unattractive enough," he muttered, craning his neck to look at the lump on his jaw. His first shift back on duty had been uncomfortable, to say the least. Archer's dreadful gazelle story had been the most painful component by far. Still, if it convinced the Vulcans of humanity's readiness to explore space, Reed would do his part by not wincing on the bridge.
Reed shucked out of his uniform, still moving a bit gingerly thanks to slow-healing bruises. Clad in his regulation blue skivvies, he yawned and settled before the computer terminal to check his messages. Most of them could wait until tomorrow, but one from Captain Archer caught his eye. He opened it and scanned the contents.
Crew performance during the recent crisis...high standard I have come to expect...my privilege to recommend the following personnel for commendation...
Reed scanned the list of names, not surprised to find his own among them. Selfless defense of his shipmates, placing himself in harm's way...yes, yes, all those things were part of his job description. Reed was beginning to think he'd never understand Archer. He read further.
Lieutenant Reed's ability to remain calm in times of crisis has saved the lives of his fellow crewmembers on more than one occasion.
Leaning back in his chair, he drummed his fingers on the edge of the desk. For some reason he'd been thinking about his father a lot lately, even though they'd barely spoken since he'd left for the academy. Stubborn and prideful to the last...and I'm more like him than I care to think about.
Maybe, he mused, just maybe, it was time to start mending fences. Their quarrel seemed distant and pale after so many years, but he knew his father would never make the first move. The question was, could he be the bigger man and reach out across the distance that separated them?
"Computer," he finally said. "Open new message. Begin recording. Dear Father." Malcolm paused, considering his words. "Thank you."