He was fine.
Rage thundered through his veins as Malcolm pushed himself as hard as he could. Unable to sleep where he would have to deal with the blood-soaked dreams that were so often waiting for him when he closed his eyes, he'd decided to visit the gym and, for once, had found it completely empty. The treadmill had beckoned and he found one of T'Pol's higher settings still available for use. It was exhausting beyond belief – never before had he realized just how hard the Vulcan subcommander had pushed herself – but he kept at it, legs churning, arms pumping, lungs burning. Anything that would keep his mind off the crimson fury that threatened to blot out his vision and strip away his sense of control.
So he kept running.
No matter how he looked at it, today had been an unmitigated disaster. In between ducking Phlox's mandatory grief counseling sessions – why bother? He wasn't keen on sitting in a circle and sharing his bloody feelings with a bunch of crewmen he might have to send to their deaths in a few weeks – and getting up to speed with the new photonic torpedoes that had been loaded aboard Enterprise – Malcolm couldn't wait to blow apart a Xindi ship with them – he'd been forced to defuse a situation between Hayes and Commander Hernandez. As career military, Joss saw diplomats as (in his words) about as useful as 'tits on a bull.' Diplomats, the major insisted, never ceased to make a situation worse for the troopers in the mud, and amateur diplomats? They were twenty times worse.
After somehow settling the situation between the first officer and the MACO major, Reed had then been forced to endure one of the captain's strategy briefings with the entire command crew. Over the course of three miserable hours, Archer and Soval had discussed tactics about how best to proceed in order to resolve this mess peacefully. For some ridiculous reason, both of them seemed convinced that they could undo what had already happened and somehow save millions of lives already lost.
Reed, however, was a realist. Those people were dead and gone. No amount of wishing could bring them back. Just like Trip and T'Pol of the lovely bum and Liz Cutler whom everyone aboard liked, they weren't coming back. Hoping for miracles was an utter waste of time and all they had now was vengeance. Blood-soaked retribution of the sort one read about in the Old Testament.
And that was the only thing keeping Malcolm going right now.
The treadmill beeped, informing him that he had reached the end of this particular program, so Reed slowed his pace. His leg muscles felt like rubber but his mind was still buzzing, still turning over the names and faces of the people he'd lost, and Malcolm exhaled bitterly. What he needed right now was sleep but there wasn't a chance in hell he was going to go see Phlox, not with the Denobulan constantly wanting to talk about his feelings or his support structure or how he was dealing with his grief. None of them seemed to understand – he wasn't grieving, he was enraged. All he needed were some Xindi to kill. Preferably with a dull spork so it would last for a while.
"Damn, sir," a feminine voice said, catching him off guard and causing him to whip around to face the intruder. "That's a helluva workout," the MACO declared with approval. She was only a little shorter than he was, but solidly built with a frame that hinted at sensual deadliness. It took him a long moment to finally place her name – another symptom of his lack of sleep he suspected.
"Corporal Cole," he said by way of greeting before glancing around the otherwise empty gym. His eyes locked onto the heavy bag in the corner and he started to walk in that direction.
"Commander?" Cole called out and Malcolm paused, drawing in a deep breath. He swore, if she was going to offer her condolences on his loss like nearly every other person on this ship, he couldn't be held accountable for his actions. "Could you spot me, sir?" she asked while gesturing toward the free weights bench that the MACOs had brought with them. It was a simple enough request, one that made perfect sense, but Reed couldn't help but wonder if Joss was behind this, especially when the corporal began stretching. Better than most, Hayes would know that Malcolm didn't want to talk about Malaysia, or Maddie, or his parents, and it wouldn't surprise Reed in the slightest if this was one of the major's overly complicated plans.
Still, Cole did have an exceptional bum.
"I suppose I can," he said carefully.
They worked out in silence and Cole impressed him with both her stamina and general strength. He automatically began comparing her to his own abilities and ended up deciding that he had the edge in raw might, but her staying power was superior to his. The corporal also knew what she was doing when it came to seduction – when she needed help with the bench press, the bar was invariably quite close to her breasts and she made a point of brushing past his groin with her hand or her glorious bum at every opportunity. It was an interesting game, with the seducer and the target both aware of the objective but still going through the motions.
And Malcolm was very tempted. She was young, attractive, eager, and very probably exceptionally skilled in bed. A shadow team like Hayes commanded were expected to be both spies and commandos, capable of seducing their targets or sniping them from two kilometers away, and the fact that Joss cared enough to send one of his black widows on a mercy mission … well, that said it all, didn't it? Meaningless sex had always helped before, but back then, he always had the ability to sever ties with the woman in question and never again see her. That certainly wasn't possible here aboard Enterprise, not with how cramped the quarters already were thanks to the sudden addition of another thirty-five bodies. And he'd never been any good with women he had to work with. Look at how badly he'd botched up his friendship with Hoshi when she was just trying to find out his favorite food. Reed grimaced.
"Sir?" Cole asked and Malcolm knew that his expression had given away his thoughts. He sighed.
"I'm flattered, Corporal," he began, but Cole placed her fingers on his mouth.
"My name is Amanda," she said simply, "and before you ask, the major did not send me." Malcolm blinked.
"Really." He knew that he sounded disbelieving but honestly didn't care. Did she think he was a complete idiot? Hayes owed him his life three times over and if there was one thing Joss never forgot, it was a debt of honor.
"Really," she repeated. "I volunteered," she added with a warm smile. "He told me I was wasting my time, that Galahad was made of iron and too good for us common MACOs, but I figured I'd at least make the offer." Malcolm winced at the codename – what the bloody hell had he been thinking when he used it again to extract the captain? He'd walked away from that life, had walked away from Harris' machinations and being 'Galahad' for good years ago. Cole stepped closer, her hand dropping to his chest. "I know you're hurting, sir," she said softly. "And I'm not asking for anything in return." Malcolm swallowed … and silently amended his earlier thoughts: she wasn't just good at seduction, she was exceptional. "I just want to help however I can."
"I'll consider it," Malcolm rasped. He backed away from her, noting how easily Cole – Amanda, he corrected himself – slid back into a purely professional mode. A part of him wondered how many of his Starfleet crewmates would look at her with disdain for using her body in such a way, even as he realized that he was truly no different. He'd used women to get what he wanted in the past and had even once utilized what the MACOs called recreational therapy to recover from particularly traumatic missions, including the one that had caused him to walk away.
"See you around … Malcolm," the corporal said as she headed for the door, her hips swaying in such a way that it was impossible for him to look away. He sighed again before grabbing his towel and following her out. Cole was already out of sight when he exited the gym, and Reed decided that was probably for the best.
The mess hall wasn't as empty as Malcolm expected it to be, and he winced at the sight of Hoshi and Travis sitting together near one of the far windows. He was honestly glad that Sato had someone like the Boomer there to talk to, but the sharp stab of envy still coursed through him. The only person Malcolm truly thought of as a friend was long dead, killed on a stupid landing mission for no reason, and now, his entire family was gone too. He was utterly and completely alone because aliens who nobody had even heard of decided it had been a good idea to attack Earth.
Rage once more bubbled within his stomach, and Malcolm stormed toward the beverage dispenser for the largest container of water he could get. It was already half empty by the time he reached the door where he found Travis waiting.
"Lieutenant," he greeted. The helmsman frowned.
"You okay, sir?" he asked. "Because you look like crap."
"How's Hoshi?" Malcolm asked without bothering to answer the question. Travis' features reflected his growing despair and he glanced immediately in the direction of where the communications officer was sitting. She was staring at the glittering starfield with a distant expression.
"About as well as you'd expect," Mayweather replied. "I'm trying …" He trailed off and glanced down.
"You're doing fine, Travis," Reed said. "She's lucky to have you." At any other time, Malcolm might have even teased the helmsman for the obvious crush he had on Sato, but right now, he was too bloody tired to even care.
On his way back to his cabin, Malcolm narrowly avoided Phlox, knowing that if the doctor did corner him, he'd have to suffer through another lecture about the natural process of grief. Dodging the Denobulan required him to take an alternate route to his quarters, and it was a little after two shipboard-time when he reached his door. His shoulders slumped at the thought of yet another night of tossing and turning, but he input his code anyway, resigning himself to more nightmares. Even the steaming shower he took did little to ease the tension in his shoulders. The rage and … yes, the grief twisted his stomach in knots so badly that he wanted to scream.
So when his door chirped, announcing someone wanting to enter, he didn't even hesitate. And when it slid open and he saw Amanda Cole standing there, a question in her eyes, Malcolm did the only thing he could do.
He stepped aside and let her enter.