Pamela woke first, but didn't move. She was still kind of tired, but that wasn't the reason. It just ... it felt good.
She did stir enough, though, that Malcolm woke. He kissed her ear, "How are you feeling?"
"Very good," she said, "You, um, I can tell. I'm not so sure I can perform again, or if we have the time. We have to talk."
"I suppose there's no getting 'round it," he said, breaking away and sitting up, "Pity there isn't more time."
"Yes," she said, eying him, "But, ugh, as little as I love it, the talk's gotta happen. Instead. Sorry."
"It's all right, Darling."
"Reed, I'm not the one," she said.
"No. I'm not. And you're not the one, either."
"No. Malcolm, I never get a chance to say or do anything noble," she said, "So just, just be quiet for a little bit and, and let me be noble for once. Okay?"
"All right," he said, getting up. He would listen without distraction.
"Like I said, I'm, I'm not. And you're not. And this is fun and all, but it's ..."
"Just fun?" he asked.
"No. More than that. But we gotta be fair to each other. This will be distance and apart- uh, -ness, and there will be other people and temptations and you can't expect me to wait. I can't expect you to, either. You don't have to."
"No. Let me speak a little now," he said, "You're, you're right," He paused for a moment.
"Yes. It feels a bit freeing, to say that aloud. But, I want you to know what this has all, what it has all meant to me. Can I tell you that?"
"Yes, of course," she slipped on her shoes.
"Throughout my life, my life as a lover, that is, I have either pined for the unattainable or held back with the ones I could have, and never truly got close to any of them. With you, though, it is, it has been, well, about testing my limits. About knowing what I could, could tolerate. Do you recall the first time I kissed you?"
"And I was being as careful as I could be, because I was afraid it would all shatter. My feelings, your interest, the moment, everything. That it would simply become pulverized if I pressed on it more than by the slightest amount. And you showed me – that you, and me, and what we could, what we have had, that it's all, it's all made from, from sterner stuff. None of it shattered. And I learned that I could do more, and be more, and feel more. The very limits of my intolerance have been stretched."
"You've seen how much you can take," she said, fixing her hair in the mirror's reflection.
"Yes. And I've determined that I can take a lot. I suppose that's a part of why I was able to consent to the Klingon doctor coming aboard. The old Malcolm would have been mortified, would have found every possible way to get out of that. I'm not saying that we became friends but I got to see him as a, well, as a person."
"I confess I was a bit alarmed when that lumm – the Klingon – picked me up. He did have one hand under my butt the entire time."
Malcolm smiled to himself a little, "I can't say as I totally blame him. You do have a rather nice one."
"Did you know that there's a new unit in my class?"
"Yes. It's about the RVV."
"What's the RVV?"
"The Reed Variant Vaccinia. How you saved all our lives with a bit of improvisation like they did on the Apollo Thirteen mission, where an air filter was made out of an old sock or something like that."
"Well, it wasn't just me," he said.
She smiled, then came over and kissed him, running her fingers along his chest before he put a tee shirt on, "I don't know if kissing makes it better or worse."
"I feel," he said, arms around her, "like we have unfinished business, you and I."
"We do," she admitted, "But I have to, I have to do things."
"Will you be back at the Academy?"
"I don't think so, at least not for now," she said, "I need to work on my, on myself."
"You know why. I've been using you as a therapist, and it's about time I talked to a real therapist instead. You know what they say? Physician, heal thyself. And I have to."
"Do you imagine you'll take one of those pharmaceutical cures?"
"Definitely not. I don't want to lose who I am, even though that's not necessarily that wonderful. It's Freud's old talking cure. It takes a lot longer, and it doesn't always work. But at least, at the end of it, I'll still be myself."
"You are a worthwhile person," he said, kissing her cheek, "With or without imperfections."
"With," she said, "I, I know my father has died. So there is now only one person I never want to speak with again. I don't think this will ever get me to forgive my mother. But, in time, I think I need to make peace with Lisa."
"Your sister, yes?"
"Yes, that's right. It's not her fault. My parents pretty much just had a dartboard, with two equal halves. One was me, and the other was her. They threw a dart, and I was hit, so I was the one they did it all to. The only thing Lisa's guilty of is not being hit with the dart. But it's our parents who set up the board and who threw the dart, and then acted on that. Not her. So she should be, I don't know if the word is forgiven. But at least tolerated by me."
"This, this unfinished business," Malcolm said, "I would like the opportunity to, to act upon it at some point. In the future."
"I think that could happen," she said tentatively.
"I'm not in the Solar System often," he said, "But I would like for you to be the first person I contact when I am."
"I will answer. And I will clear my schedule," she smiled, "There will be other, other courtiers, you know. But I will always make time to see the knave."
"And I will make sure that I spend time with you, my Queen," he said, "But there may be a few Princesses here and there," he smiled.
"That's all right," she said, "And as it should be. And there's going to be a time, someday, I bet, when you get to the Solar System and you don't think of contacting me. And that's going to be all right, too, because it will mean that you really did find the Queen. Oh, and when you do – be Alpha once in a while. Don't let her push you around."
He kissed her deeply, "Until then, Sweetheart."
There was a communications chime.
"Looks like it's time to go," she said.
"I'll see you out," he said.
Once the Somraw was within range, Keleth had the Communications Officer patch him through to Kronos.
L'Kor answered at once, lying in their bed.
"Did I wake you?" he asked.
"No. I was just lying here, thinking about you."
"I, I want to come home," he said.
"But your work is important."
"Not as important."
"I cannot do what I used to be able to," she said, "I cannot be fixed. So much of me is useless now."
"No," he said, fingering the lavaliere charm. It flashed a little, "You are the iron. You have always been the iron, and you still are. All I am, all I can ever offer you, is tin."
"That has always been more than enough," she said, "And it still is."
Captain Archer cleared his throat. Then Tripp did. Then Travis. Hoshi finally jogged Malcolm's arm. He was kissing Pamela in front of everyone, they were not letting go, and it had gone on for a while.
"Ahem. We have to go," Dr. Keating-Fong said.
Pamela and Malcolm finally broke apart.
"I will write to you," he said.
"I'll answer when I can," she breathed.
He put his hand on her face and smiled.
"This will, uh, the bumps will be gone the next time you see me," she promised.
"Doesn't matter either way," he said.
Tripp, Travis and Malcolm walked down the halls after the Nereid party had departed.
"You wanna talk about any of it?" Tripp asked tentatively.
"Uh, not right now," Malcolm said.
"Big winner," Travis said.
"Yes," Malcolm said, "I suppose I am," He smiled tightly and entered his quarters, alone.
Once the door had shut, he had one more thing to do, one more sonnet to write. He composed it, checked it over carefully, and hit Send.
The knave's reward was a broader smile, The damage done, outside and within And so the Queen departs this place We knew we could not be each other's last
a thing that rarely had been seen
It was not eternity, it was only for a little while
Could the knave help to heal the Queen?
and both needed the other's care
There were hearts, underneath, yet to win
but they needed, and still need, much repair
and leaves the knave, who broods and misses
and hopes they can, one day, again share space,
of not just their bodies, not just their kisses
All we can hope is not to merely be in each other's past
The damage done, outside and within
And so the Queen departs this place
We knew we could not be each other's last