Chapter 1: Malcolm Reed
Malcolm Reed set his lecture bag down on the desk in his office and turned on his computer monitor. He was on campus early, as was his custom, mentally preparing for the term ahead. Without thinking, he grabbed for his 8:00 a.m. physics class binder from the meticulously organized bookshelf, opening up to the new semester's class roster. As he took a sip of black coffee, his sharp eyes surveyed the list of names that he'd learned by heart. Twenty students, several of whom were studying abroad from America. He ran a hand through his neatly combed hair with a sigh, trying to push down rising anxiety. He had rarely had good luck teaching Americans. While he was used to neat and orderly classrooms with fairly quiet and respectful students, Americans usually brought with them noise and chatter and all manner of rowdy behavior. Having taught at Oxford for several years now, he was somewhat used to the routine of students from different cultures and countries visiting, but Americans… well, they were in a class entirely their own.
Not that he had anything against them especially, having gone to school with and become good friends with many of them. In fact, he was currently in an ongoing, heated debate about the future of Aerospace engineering with his old dorm mate Charles Tucker III, who was hard at work at NASA headquarters; and he still kept in contact with one Hoshi Sato, who was teaching modern language and linguistics in Brazil.
He shook his head and gathered all the necessary course materials, setting up his laptop and backup USB drives in case of some kind of emergency. Malcolm was nothing if not thorough. He could already predict the sort of day he was going to have: at least three students would show up late and disrupt his lecture, half of his classes will not have read his emails and finished the necessary pages in the book, and the other half won't even realize they were supposed to have a book. There were many notable differences between the English and United States education systems, but some things were just universal. Timliness and failing to read their e-mails were among them.
He waited until fifteen minutes before class time to pack up all his materials and take the slow walk to the lecture hall. He took his usual route, hardly thinking about anything more than trying to survive the first day of lectures when he caught sight of a gaggle of young girls stepping out from their dorms, giggling much too loudly for that time of the morning. They were speaking very quickly in varying degrees of American English.
He also couldn't help noticing that many of them were quite attractive.
Not that he was looking for any particular reason. He knew the rules: there was no fraternizing with students. But there were no rules that said he couldn't admire them. And while he was well aware that while he was not the most attractive man in the world, he could be charming when he chose to be. He also knew that American women seemed to favor men with any sort of English accent.
Both him and the rather large group of girls arrived at a small archway at the same time. They both paused.
He saw his opportunity and quirked his most charming smile. "After you ladies."
As predicted, the girls giggled and thanked him in a chorus, eyeing him with extreme interest. Most appeared to be fresh out of high school, practically children. While he was only thirty-two, he still couldn't help feeling old. However, there was one girl trailing along in the back who appeared to be closer to his age, perhaps mid to late twenties. Her appearance much more striking compared to the others, and not simply because she was wearing weather-appropriate clothes. The girl wasn't particularly beautiful, but she certainly was… interesting. And not at all like the girls he usually found himself admiring.
She lifted her gaze from her book, and he found himself staring into large, stormy blue eyes fringed with dark lashes.
He opened his mouth to greet her.
"Malcolm! Just the man I was hoping to run into this morning."
Malcolm glanced back at his aged colleague only for a second, but that was all it took for the girl, and his opportunity, to pass.
He heaved a longsuffering sigh as he watched her disappear around a corner, and prepared himself for an unavoidablly long conversation. When he eventually extricated himself, he knew without even looking at his watch that he was going to be late to class. He hurried through the halls with some annoyance and strode into the classroom already stressed. He felt the whole room tense at his entrance, but he ignored them in favor of setting up the projector. He knew he was being terribly rude, but he had a lot to prepare for before he could start the lecture.
He had everything up and running in record time. He checked his watch. Only ten after, but it felt like he'd already lost an hour of precious time.
He cleared his throat, and the room immediately quieted. "Good-morning class, and welcome to Physics 101. My name is Professor Reed, and I will be taking you through your first term of study here at Oxford University."
He tucked his hands behind his back and surveyed the room. "I usually take a little time on the first day to get to know my class before attending to business, but as you may have noticed I was tardy this morning, causing us to fall behind on our timetable. So we shall have to dive right in, beginning with roll, a brief overview of the course syllabus, and then we will jump straight into the lecture."
He didn't bother to look at the list. "Anders, Jeffrey."
A raised hand. He nodded at him. He recognized the student from orientation.
Then came the first travel abroad student on his roster. "Brookhurst, Jasmine."
He looked around to identify the speaker. Stormy blue eyes met his from the middle of the second row. There was a small smile of recognition at the corner of her mouth, and though his mouth twitched to return it, he merely nodded his head and went on with the roll.
Chapter 2: Jasmine Brookhurst
Jasmine tried to keep her cool as she and Professor Reed finally broke eye contact. When they'd passed each other in the courtyard earlier he hadn't been wearing that robe, so she'd assumed he was one of the students. Now it turns out he was not only a professor, but her professor, and a man who was much more attractive than any professor of physics should legally be, in her opinion.
He seemed fairly young to be in a teaching position at Oxford, especially considering that most of the staff she'd seen during orientation week had been well over fifty. He looked to be in his early thirties, but it was possible he was older than he appeared. Maybe he had a really good skincare regimen? Or he had a much older and uglier version of himself hanging in his home office like The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Well, whatever his age, he was clearly intelligent enough to have met all the qualifications to teach at Oxford University, which is one of the reasons why she'd chosen not to get offended when he didn't return her tentative smile. Well, not too offended anyway. It certainly stung a little that he recognized her and didn't acknowledge it. She figured he was probably just a stickler for the rules. It was common knowledge that professors and students weren't supposed to mingle, and he was keeping up the same formal acknowledgment with the rest of the girls he'd met that morning, even the ones still making moon eyes at him.
So maybe she shouldn't take it too personally.
Based on how things were going so far, he seemed to be a very by-the-book kind of man. While he allowed food and drinks in the hall, cell-phone use was strictly prohibited during lecture hours by pain of expulsion from the class for the rest of the day. She thought that was a little extreme, but then again it was his classroom. He could do whatever he liked.
"How many of you received my e-mail I sent a week ago yesterday?"
About half the students, including herself, raised their hands.
"And how many of you read through the assigned pages and brought the book?"
This time, only Jasmine and a few others raised their hands.
"As I thought. Very well then, if the students who brought their books wouldn't mind sharing with the person next to them when we begin discussions, I would be very much obliged. To those of who did not bring your books, I expect you to be properly prepared for the next lecture. Understood?"
He spoke so sternly that several of her classmates started to vigorously nod their heads, even the ones who'd brought their books. She almost wanted to laugh.
"Good. Miss Brookhurst, if you would please read the first two paragraphs of the introduction, followed by Hayes who will read the second set of paragraphs, then Hernandez you can finish it off for us."
She hadn't expected to be called on so suddenly. Her heart beat fast as she flipped to the right page and tried not the stumble over the words. Was she reading clearly? Correctly? She hardly knew until she was done, and looked up to find Professor Reed watching her with what she assumed was his version of approval.
Was that a smirk? Or did he just have a tick? The expression was gone from his face so fast it was hard to tell.
She looked over at Jeremiah Hayes, who was sitting a few desks over in the front row. He offered her a nod before starting to read. Jeremiah was one of the few other students in her study abroad group who was over the age of twenty-five, and they'd happily ended up sitting next to each other during the flight. They didn't have very much in common, he was an ex-Navy Seal and she was studying for a degree in aerospace engineering, but they still fell into easy conversation. And since they were both older than the rest of the group, they'd naturally reached a mutual and unspoken understanding that they would stick together for the rest of the trip.
He wasn't a bad travel partner by half. While she wasn't particularly interested in him she couldn't deny he was good company and very attractive, at least if you favored the 'clean-cut All-American boy from Virginia' kind of vibe. Many of the girls they came across seemed to favor it in fact, especially after seeing his arms.
He did have very nice arms.
She blinked and realized that while she'd daydreamed the class had moved on without her. She was still staring at the back of Jeremiah's head even though he was no longer talking, and Hernandez slowly finishing off the intro. She hurried to catch up with the reading, and sneaked a look at Professor Reed. He was standing stiffly behind his desk wearing a look of slight annoyance. The frown he'd adopted was pretty formidable, and it was a look that seemed almost practiced. She suddenly had the idea that he might be ex-military.
He'd probably look much more at home wearing a uniform than that terrible robe. And more attractive too.
She buried a sigh.
Wow, she'd only been here a week and she already had a crush on the hard-nosed professor. He hadn't even done anything to make himself seem remotely charming, except smile once, but she still found herself liking him. Maybe because he was very good looking.
That probably should have been an embarrassing realization, but she chose to ignore that sentiment and turn her attention towards what she was here for in the first place: physics.
As his lecture began, she soon learned the kind of term she needed to be prepared for. She had a hard time keeping up with him at first, furiously writing notes so she didn't miss anything important. The powerpoints were thankfully available through the online portal, but she liked writing things down herself. As a professor, Malcolm Reed was exactly what she needed. He gave them a lot to work on, but he also welcomed questions and openly encouraged discussion. She could tell he really wanted them to understand the material.
She walked out of his classroom feeling like she'd been hit over the head with a textbook.
"I don't know about you, but that felt like I was back in Bootcamp."
"You'd know better than I would." Jasmine looked over at Jeremiah and let out a half-laugh. "But I imagine something very close to that. Can you believe that kid actually took out his phone after that warning Reed gave in the beginning of class? If looks could kill. I'm surprised he didn't throw him out of the classroom."
"He should have. That kid must be either really stupid, or have a death wish because I guarantee you that Reed is going to keep an eye on him now. He won't even be able to scratch his ass without Reed noticing it."
She snorted as he held open the door to their next class, and they took seats near each other.
As their next professor arrived, a middle-aged man with a jolly smile and a receding hairline, she couldn't help making a fleeting comparison. Professor Phlox seemed much more at home in those robes than Reed. Unfortunately, Jasmine didn't have much more time to consider her physics professor as the rest of the day flew by in a haze of powerpoints and hastily recorded notes, but every once in a while she found herself hearing his voice in her head whenever a fellow student would ask a stupid question:
"I can't tell whether you're joking or not..."
Chapter 3: Caught Reed Handed
The semester got on rather like Malcolm had expected. Certain students arrived at the lecture hall later and later as the second week came to an end, and most of the students were having a difficult time staying attentive save for a precious few, whom he had chosen to pour most of his efforts into teaching. He didn't want to admit it, but he was pleased to include one Jasmine Brookhurst in his circle of particularly good students. He couldn't deny that he picked on her on purpose, asking her slightly more difficult questions to see how she'd respond, and he'd been pleasantly surprised by how she'd risen to the occasion. She was intelligent, curious, and thirsty for knowledge. There was rarely a moment when she wasn't scratching away in her notebook, ravenously taking notes.
He was also forced to admit that Jeremiah Hayes was also an extremely good student. When the list of students had arrived for the new semester, he'd taken some time to do some research on their educational background. Hayes had an impressive resume, and based on what he'd seen in his transcripts, he most likely could have taught the class with just as much skill as Malcolm himself, and that was saying something.
Which is why he didn't quite understand why Hayes was at Oxford University taking an elementary physics course. He'd had a brief conversation with the man on the second day of class, asking him about his future educational goals. By his own admission Hayes didn't need any more time in school, he'd only chosen to travel abroad because it was paid for by the GI bill.
He didn't buy that excuse for a second.
He snatched his gym bag off his bed and strode out the door.
Having worked his way up to a lieutneant in the Army, Malcolm could always tell the men or women who would live and breathe in the action till the day they died. Hayes struck him as that sort of man. The whole situation smelled like special ops to him. There was no logical reason Hayes would have chosen to travel to England when he'd most likely served in more exotic places when on active duty. Not that it was any of his business, and he certainly couldn't blame him. He'd done a brief stint in covert operations in his early days, but after leaving the army he'd left all that behind. Family obligation had weighed heavily upon him. He'd already been a big dissappointment to his father by not joining the Navy, as was the Reed male tradition, so he'd chosen a more respectable career. While teaching hadn't been his first choice, but it was a presigious position, and it was one he was lucky to have. He'd gone up against many extremely well-qualified applicants, and though his father denied it, he knew he'd only made it through to the front of the line because of his father's connections with the superintendent.
He was in his father's debt, and as the first born son he had certain responsibilities he was duty bound to perfrom. So he chose not to scratch the itch in the back of his mind that had told him it was time to rise up and move on. Maybe he could take a holiday, like a tour of South America. Hoshi had been hounding him to come see her for years, and he could do with a little time in a tropical climate. He'd always rather liked beaches. However he immediately struck down the idea. He hardly had any time between terms to organize paperwork and enter grades, let alone go on holiday. Besides, she would be in the middle of teaching multiple classes and would hardly have any time to spare for him. He'd visit Hoshi when they both had a little more time.
He walked into the gym and put his things in the locker. After a light stretch he began fixing his hand wraps, the sound of weights being dropped to the floor causing him momentary disctraction. He didn't typically meet students in the gym, especially at five-thirty in the morning, but he wasn't surprised to discover that it was Hayes. The two of them exchanged cool nods, and then proceeded to ignore each other.
The two had reached a mutual, unspoken understanding that they should avoid each other at all costs.
He did a short round of shadow boxing and moving on to the bags. Within minutes sweat began to fly.
He was taking a short water break when she came in.
He froze with his bottle halfway to his mouth as he watched her shuffle through the door. He'd only ever seen Jasmine in long coats and boots, and quite frankly, he'd done his level best not to contemplate what kind of figure she had underneath all the layers. Now he didn't have to imagine anything at all.
Jasmine was not shaped like most English girls. While she was not a large girl, there was nothing small or dainty about her appearance. She rather put him in mind of the Venus de Milo: strong but full of soft curves.
And she had a really nice bum.
Seeing her now made him want to personally shake the hand of the man who invented women's athletic pants. God bless him.
His observation only took a few seconds, and he told himself he needed to look away before she noticed he was standing there gawking at her like an idiot.
"Morning." Her voice was a little scratchy from disuse, which Malcolm thought was endearing.
Hayes amusement was obvious. "Well look who finally decided to roll out of bed. Nice slippers. You think you're up for this, or would you like to use my gym bag as a pillow?"
"Ha ha, very funny. I stayed up late alright?"
"Trying to get through Hower's essay on thermodynamics?"
Malcolm heard her scoff. "Actually I was trying not to cry while I finished Reed's homework assignment. I must have gone through at least two gallons of coffee to finish that one assignment."
"Come on, it wasn't that bad."
"Speak for yourself Mr. 'I have several degrees but I'm going back to school because I like to travel for free'."
He chuckled slightly. "Fair enough."
The two lapsed into silence, and Malcolm peered around the bags to see Jasmine pulling on her shoes. Hayes went back to his weights, hefting 26kg. dumbells as if they weighed next to nothing. Malcolm wasn't as much of a heavy weights man himself, preferring to perfect his lean muscle rather than bulk, but he could admit that he was impressed by the man's raw strength.
Malcolm's gaze was drawn back to Jasmine, and he thought she looked like she would much rather be sleeping than be at the gym at this hour.
As she started to yawn their eyes met in the mirror.
He looked away so fast he almost got whiplash. He grit his teeth and went back to work.
He tried to anyway. His routine had been irreversibly damaged by her arrival. He did his best to keep his eyes averted, even when he felt her gaze repeatedly drift over towards where he'd set up shop near the punching bags, but it felt like a Herculean task. She was an extremely unwelcome distraction, especially when he was trying to look a bit more impressive than usual. It frustrated him that he couldn't seem to hit his marks with any sort of accuracy.
Eventually, he had to admit defeat and he packed up his things. Before stepping out the door, he allowed himself one last look over his shoulder.
Jasmine was getting ready to do another set of squats with a barbell, and she was watching him in the mirror.
Chapter 4: Gym Encounters
As she watched the door close behind him, Jasmine realized that she'd been given a rare opportunity to finally see Malcolm Reed in his natural habitat. She no longer needed to wonder why he was so energetic during lectures because he was clearly one of those people who woke up early in the morning and hit the ground running.
She was not one of those people.
Quite frankly, it was a fluke she'd even decided to go to the gym this morning. When Jeremiah had invited her to join him at five-thirty, she'd almost laughed in his face. But for whatever reason she'd had trouble sleeping last night, so, instead of tossing and turning in bed, she'd chosen to get up and attempt a workout. It was hard to get going at first, especially after learning that her extremely muscled and good looking professor was working out in the same room, but she'd eventually been able to get into her routine.
However, while she stayed busy trying to keep up with Jeremiah, she wasn't busy enough where she couldn't sneak looks at Malcolm between sets.
One of the downsides to working out in front of a mirror.
She wasn't just sneaking looks at him because of a silly crush. Kickboxing had always been fascinating to her, and although she'd dabbled in it in the past, she'd never gotten beyond learning the strikes. Malcolm, however, seemed to be a master, incorporating moves she'd never seen before. The way he'd moved through his workout had been mesmerizing. Sometimes he moved so fast she couldn't tell he'd struck the bag, the only tell-tale sign being that it shuttered and swayed. She somehow doubted Jeremiah could move so quickly.
She'd love to watch the two of them spar sometime. Jeremiah was strong and had considerable endurance, but Malcolm was all agility and lean muscle. It would be quite the matchup. However, the two men didn't appear to be interested in having much interaction, whether in the gym or outside of it. They'd obviously been working out in the same space for several weeks and had chosen not to acknowledge each other, which she thought was strange. From what she could tell, the two of them were cut from the same cloth. Both men came from a military background and had very particular routines. Why, she'd even bet her life they took their coffee the same way. Yet they avoided each other at every opportunity.
She supposed she just didn't understand men.
Jasmine paused her musings to finish her set, taking another break to wave good-bye to Jeremiah. When the door closed behind him, she was alone.
The story of her life.
Jasmine was twenty-seven years old and in all those years had never had a steady boyfriend. Not that she'd been trying very hard to get one. School and a career had taken precidence over relationships, but she was getting to that point in her life where having someone to come home to after a hard day at work sounded nice.
Now the difficult part was finding someone who was willing to date her, and time did not appear to be on her side. She wasn't old by any means, but she knew that it only got harder. She just didn't know how to date casually, always thinking about the long term and considering whether or not the man in question shared the same core beliefs, or whether his weird habit might annoy her sometime in the future. Maybe she was just too picky and needed to lower her expectations, but she couldn't seem to connect with the people she was really interested in. And it didn't help that she was naturally awkward around men she found attractive.
Like when she'd met Malcolm's gaze in the mirror in the middle of a yawn. I mean, she hadn't scripted that per se, but it was a prime example of how she typically behaved around handsome men. With very little poise.
She sighed and prepared for another set.
She was thankful he'd at least seen her in her favorite outfit. She'd almost showed up in what she'd worn to bed, which had been an oversized blue tye-dye t-shirt with a picture of a cat's head staring into outerspace.
Now that would have been embarrassing.
Chapter 5: Affliction
The class had broken up into groups to discuss their upcoming essays, and for once Malcolm was not taking advantage of the extra time. He stared into the depths of his tea, eyes unfocused, a large stack of unmarked homework assignments piled in front of him.
There was usually a system to the way a term progressed for him, making things like grading homework and fulfilling his school duties nothing more than business as usual. But this year was different. All the usual bureaucratic nonsense associated with working at the University was becoming exceedingly tiresome, and the superintendent seemed dead set on making his life difficult.
And now his father...
Malcolm let out a slow breath.
He was used to being considered a disappointment by his father. When he was young he'd tried so hard to please him, but it became clear very early on that he could never live up to his father's expectations, so he'd decided to distance himself. Despite his father's continued dissatisfaction with his life choices, all Malcolm had ever done was try to make his father proud. If there was one thing Malcolm had ever failed at in his life, it was knowing how to handle his father's criticim, which he doled out freely. It came in the form of a severe e-mail this morning, explaining how disappointed he was that Malcolm had rejected the prestigious position that had opened up at Cambridge.
A prestigious desk job at Cambridge.
Malcolm hadn't replied, deeming it unwise at the time. He wasn't one to be dramatic, so he was being perfectly honest when said that he would rather die than sit behind a desk for the rest of his life doing paperwork.
He tapped his pen against the stack of papers with a grimace. He wasn't too far away from that reality already.
His eyes turned to wander across the room, unconsciously seeking a distraction from his thoughts and almost immediately finding it. It was the occupant of the chair with the bright blue coat draped over the back of it who typically helped free his mind, and she was currently leaning towards the girl next to her, hands gesturing wildly. While her back was towards him, he could still imagine the animation that was usually present on her face when she got excited about something during class.
Malcolm let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes. He could admit that he'd always had a good appreciation of the fairer sex. While he hadn't had too many serious girlfriends, he'd been on more dates than he could count, although he couldn't seem to find anyone that he liked beyond the initial physical attraction. At the beginning of term Jasmine had been in the same category for him, a mere figure of interest, a woman he believed he could appreciate for a while before inevitably being distracted by someone else and moving on.
But for whatever reason he found himself unable to move on, which was a serious problem considering their current circumstances. He never imagined he'd begin to have feelings that were less than proper for a student, and now he couldn't seem to get away from her. She had somehow managed to insert herself more and more into his everyday routines. Besides classtimes, she used the same gym, ran the same routes around the city, and frequented the same restaurants and cafes to study in as he did. If he didn't know better, he would have thought she was doing it on purpose. However, as the term continued it was clear that she was unaware that she was causing him so much personal chaos.
Although he could admit that the chaos wasn't altogether unwelcome. His very limited interactions with her had opened his eyes to a completely different way of living, and was making him think about his life choices a little more than usual. She made the world seem like a brighter, more interesting place. And when she laughed… Malcolm didn't think he could ever tire of hearing it.
He wasn't the only one who admired her either. Many of his colleagues agreed that besides being an excellent student, they enjoyed having her in their class. Phlox seemed to have a special affinity for her. Apparently, she liked to listen to his stories about being an army medic and shared his appreciation of strange animals. He couldn't understand why anyone would get excited over seeing a video of an otter playing with a stuffed animal, or watch a chameleon blend into a box of crackers, but she did.
Her familiar laugh drew him out of his musings. Even though Hayes was in a separate group, they appeared to be sharing a private joke from across the room. Malcolm felt a twinge of jealousy.
He'd never been good at getting close to anyone. He'd had his sister until she went away to university, then when he'd made it into the army he'd quickly realized that he wasn't like the rest of the recruits. He took things much too seriously. Humor just wasn't his area of expertise. However, it was times like these that he wished it was.
It was a welcome relief to Malcolm when he looked at his watch and could finally call the end of class. Even though he still had to answer that email from his father, he was looking forward to getting off campus for a while. He needed to find a place where he could refocus and get some grading done.
"Excuse me professor? I'm sorry, I just have a quick question before you go."
He felt all his limbs stiffen with discomfort at the sound of her voice.
He schooled his face and turned. "What is it?"
He hated how snippy he sounded, but he couldn't help it. For whatever reason, his nerves turned him into an egregious ass whenever he was around her.
"I was just wondering, would it be alright if I picked a different subject for my essay? I know you said there was a list of essay prompts to choose from, but I wasn't sure if I had to stick to list or could pick my own."
His eyebrow rose. "What did you have in mind?"
"Quantum theory. I happened to run across an article last night and thought it would be an interesting subject to tackle."
"Ah yes, I recall hearing you speak to Hayes about it this morning. It was quite a compelling article."
She seemed to blush a little, though he wasn't exactly sure why. However it did bring out the color of her eyes most becomingly. "It really was! Quantum theory has always been fascinating to me, but I don't really know much about it. I know it's a bit more complicated of a subject than I'm used to, but I'd like to give it a try."
"By all means."
"Awesome! Thanks." She hesitated, grasping the strap of her backpack tightly.
He felt his palms start to sweat and clasped them behind his back. He really hoped she didn't try to start any small talk. He'd never been good at it and he certainly wasn't in the mood right now.
"Was there something else?"
She smiled awkwardly and pulled a curl of stray hair behind her ear.
He found himself automatically following the movement.
"Yes well I… I was just wondering. What kind of routine are you doing when you workout on the bags? It seems like kickboxing, but every once in a while you add in moves I don't recognize."
He was surprised at the subject of her question, but felt himself relax a little. This was something he could talk about without too much effort.
"I've learned several different practices of martial arts and I like to incorporate them all into my daily routine."
"So you're a mixed martial artist?"
"I suppose you could say that."
"Well it's a lot of fun to watch. You must practice hard to be that good."
He tried not to show how flattered he was by the compliment. "After I served in the Army I wanted to explore further into some of the styles we utilized in close quarters combat, like Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu, and Tai Chi. I liked the idea of tying them all together. It makes sparring more unpredictable."
"That's pretty amazing."
She seemed genuinely impressed, and he found himself warming up to the subject. "I like the challenge, and it certainly keeps things interesting. It also enables me to maintain the physical shape I want to be in."
"I'll bet it does. I tried to get into kickboxing a few years ago, and the conditioning was killer."
"It's quite a challenge if you don't have the proper stamina."
"I can lift weights and do crossfit all day, but straight up cardio? I can barely make it through one set of exercises." She paused as her watch buzzed, and he watched her frown before her eyes went wide. "Oh my gosh, I forgot that Phlox was going to bring Teddy in today!"
Malcolm raised an eyebrow. "Teddy?"
"Er, his fruit bat. He promised I could hold him for a little while before class. I'm so sorry but I have to go." She started to back away, wearing a distracted expression on her face. Probably thinking about that mangy bat. Maybe he should invest in some kind of animal and bring it to class, then perhaps she might consider him a more interesting conversationalist.
"Thanks again professor! I'll see you tomorrow."
He watched her hurry away with a slight smile on his face. He realized with some surprise that it was the first one he'd worn in over a week.
Hello all, and thank you so much for sticking with my story! I have thoroughly enjoyed writing Malcolm Reed with all his complexities, and I wanted you all to know that I have so much more planned for my favorite lieutenant and his Venus De Milo ;)
I also plan on bringing more favorite Enterprise faces into the story including, but not limited to, one particular furry four-legged friend in a winter coat and his faithful owner.
I hoped you enjoyed this latest installment, and stay tuned for more MalcolmxOC angst and friendship shenanigans! Cheers!
Chapter 6: Homesickness
"There you go, that's it. Keep your hands up."
Jasmine tensed as she deflected Jeremiah's cross, but was surprised by a body blow to her ribs. She gasped.
"Try not to get stuck in your head. You've got good instincts, give them a chance to do their job."
She blew a rogue hair out of her face and frowned. "Well my instincts aren't working very well at the moment."
It had been a long, hard week for Jasmine. Besides feeling beleaguered by a sudden and strong onslaught of emotions, she'd formed a theory that her professors were co-conspirators in a plot to coordinate their assignments so that they were all due at the same time. She had several papers to edit, an experiment to conduct, and she was extremely behind on research for that essay on quantum theory. She'd been burning the candle on both ends trying to meet various deadlines.
There was also that meeting with Professor Reed that hadn't gone exactly how she'd hoped.
She threw a particularly hard punch, which he almost didn't deflect.
"That's good, but try not to let your emotions dictate your actions. That's when you become predictable."
She was breathing hard as they circled each other. Jasmine's rising irritation fueled her desire to land something before their session was over, but as if to prove his point, Jeremiah blocked every move like he was some kind of mind reader. She threw a kick and he neatly sidestepped it, using her momentum to flip her to the floor.
She lay there for a moment before pushing herself onto her knees. "I think I'm about done for today."
"You can't quit now, or it'll be twice as hard for you to keep going next time."
He was right of course, but it didn't do anything to improve her attitude.
She huffed and struggled to her feet. As soon as she raised her hands he threw a slow punch, which she dodged with some annoyance.
His eyes never left her face, "Let's go through the movements again."
The outcome looked bleak, but she dutifully followed Jeremiah's lead for the next twenty minutes until he finally called it.
"You did good today."
She didn't trust herself to speak but turned her back towards him, roughly unwinding her hand wraps.
"I mean it. I could tell you wanted to give up, but you didn't. The first step in getting good at any practice is pushing past failure and learning from your mistakes."
It was hard to swallow sometimes, but one of the perks of being Jeremiah's friend was that he never sugar-coated the truth. If you ask for his opinion or feedback, he gave it honestly. She sat down and pulled on her snow boots as she tried to gather what was left of her pride.
"Are you planning on being here tomorrow?"
"I wouldn't miss it." She bit out.
He chuckled. "I have a feeling you're not going to let me push you around anymore."
"Not if I can help it."
"Good. I've been waiting for you to finally put up a fight."
She chucked a shoe at him, which he batted away effortlessly. "You going to the study hall tonight?"
"Yeah. Text me when you're on your way and I'll save you a seat."
He left and she went back to her dorm to shower.
Most of her frustration was aimed at herself rather than Jeremiah, who she knew was just trying to help. She allowed herself a longer shower than usual as she attempted to gather her wits. Her emotions always seemed to sneak up on her in the middle of the school year, and for whatever reason, she was having a hard time coping. She wished her mom was there to pull her into a big hug and tell her everything was going to be okay, but since that wasn't an option, she said a little prayer of strength as she threw her computer and class notes into a backpack and strode out into the snowy streets of Oxford.
She turned in the direction of St. Michael's Street, choosing to hunker down in a particularly cozy cafe that was one of her favorite study spots. After ordering a coffee she found a spot next to an outlet and opened her laptop to the quantum theory word doc to find that her mind was as blank as the third main point on her outline.
She rubbed her face in her hands. There was so much she needed to get done and she didn't even know where to start. The essay was the most pressing issue, but she'd had a hard time looking at it since she'd met with Malcolm to discuss her rough draft.
"You're outline was adequate, but your information is scattered and weak in several places. I did like your second point, but your first and third appeared to be the same. I would suggest combining them and creating a new third point, perhaps on the future of quantum theory. You will also need at least ten more credible sources in addition to the ones you already have cited, and please remember to change the format from MLA to APA before turning in the final draft."
Not the glowing review she was hoping for, and her pride was still recovering from the sting of his apathetic remarks. It was hard not to take it personally, especially since she'd thought they were actually beginning to get more comfortable around each other. He no longer tensed up when she approached him with a question, and he actually smiled every once and while when she made a joke.
She supposed it was stupid to think that they'd developed a friendship. It was more like a relaxed version of professionalism.
She stared out into the foggy street and sighed. She was glad Christmas break was almost here. She'd signed up for three terms at Oxford, and while it was only partway through the first term she was starting to feel homesick. To be perfectly honest, she'd thought it would happen sooner. Yesterday was the first time the whole family had been able to sit down together and chat with her, and after signing off she'd felt particularly forlorn.
This was the longest time she'd ever spent away from home, and she was finally starting to feel it. She missed her apartment that she shared with her older sister, and the routines she didn't realize she relied on to make her feel comfortable. She also missed spending time with her sister. They shared a room growing up and remained good friends as they got older. They typically spent most of their free time together, but according to last night's chat all that was about to change. After saying good-bye to their parents, her sister asked her to go on a private chat so she could share a big piece of news.
Jasmine smiled slightly, even as her throat tightened. She'd known it was coming. The guy that had been casually dating her sister had accidentally dropped the L-word. Since her sister had been in love with him since the moment they'd met, she'd received his declaration enthusiastically, and just like that their relationship had reached a more serious level. They were already talking about the top ten spots they wanted to live after they were married.
While he was a little too idealistic for her taste, Jasmine honestly liked the guy. He had his issues, but he seemed to truly love her sister, and that was all that mattered. Her sister had waited a long time to be loved by someone for who she was, and now she finally had it.
A stray tear made it's way down her cheek, and she swiped it away before anyone noticed. She suddenly found herself wishing she had someone who loved her like that. It would be nice to have someone special to think about, and to have someone who thought about her.
At the moment her love life was all but non-existent. She had two options, a reserved but straight-laced Navy Seal and a serious but passionate professor, and neither of them were currently on the table as romantic partners. Jeremiah had a girlfriend and Malcolm... Well, that probably wasn't going to happen. She was his student, and he certainly wasn't interested in her like that. He made sure they never touched, accidentally or otherwise, and he never addressed her as anything other than 'Brookhurst'.
Although... there were times she thought she could feel his eyes following her when she passed by, and on occasion, she'd thought she'd detected something like admiration in the way he talked to and about her.
Neither of those points would pass in a court of law as proof of romantic interest, but considering what he was like on any given day, they felt like unequivocal evidence. Too bad he was off-limits or she might actually try flirting to see what came out of it.
A gust of cold air cut through the balmy heat of the cafe, and just like that Jasmine's trail of thoughts scattered. With a sigh she turned back to the task at hand. The essay certainly wasn't going to fix itself, and when it was finished she wanted it to be the best essay on quantum physics Malcolm Reed had ever graded. It may not be an overture to romance, but hey, he seemed to value intelligence. Maybe she'd win him over with a romance of the mind.
Chapter 7: Unlikely Friendship
Something was definitely off. Malcolm had noticed the dark cloud that had settled over Jasmine's brow at the beginning of the week, chasing away her sunny smile, but he'd forced himself not to get involved. It wasn't any of his business, and she certainly hadn't come to him asking for help. But seeing her now, hiding in the corner of the cafe and silently wiping away tears, it was all he could do to stay in his seat.
He wanted to help her, but there so many reasons why he shouldn't. The most obvious reason was that he could lose his job, but he was also a pessimist whose skills did not include providing comfort. And yet he felt that it was duty as her professor to do... something. It couldn't hurt to talk to her in a professional capacity. After all, hadn't he just taken an hour long mental health seminar reminding him to check in on his students when they showed signs of emotional distress?
He took a quick look around. If anyone from the University came by and saw them together there could be trouble, but he didn't usually meet anyone here. The place was too modern for his colleagues, who preffered to relax in the more exclusive clubs.
He downed the rest of his tea and stood before he could lose his nerve.
He ran a critical eye over his face in a nearby mirror. He noticed for the first time the slight shadow on his jaw from a few days of being too busy to shave, and the deep frown lines that had carved themselves around his mouth and eyes. His many years in the army hadn't aged him nearly as much as working at the University had.
The slight tightening of his jaw was the only indication of inner turmoil on his otherwise unflappable visage.
Maybe he shouldn't do this. He was tired from a few days of overwork and he wasn't in any way qualified to handle this sort of situation. He should shoot a text to Phlox and ask him to speak with her when he saw her next. He was the psycholosigt after after, while he... well, he was just a physics teacher.
His traitorous feet took him forward and stopped in front of her table. "Is this seat taken?"
She looked up, startled. Her eyes were still red from crying. "Oh! Uh, no."
"Is that a no, you cannot sit here, or a no it's not taken?"
"No, it's free."
"Do you mind if I…?" He indicated the seat that was covered in her books and papers. The contents of her backpack had somehow spilled across the bench seat.
"Oh, I'm sorry." She was clearly flustered as she attempted to stuff all the papers back into her binder without straightening them. He gathered a few of the strays and offered her the small stack he'd neatly collected. She slipped them mindlessly into the middle of her bag before dumping it on the floor.
He did his best to act as if everything was perfectly normal as he set up his laptop, even while he felt panic begin to set in. In the army he'd learned how to lead his men into hostile situations and bring them all back out again safely; He could disassemble, clean, reassemble, and fire a handgun while blindfolded, and disarm a live bomb without breaking a sweat.
So why did his hands shake and rational thoughts flee from his head whenever he tried to have a normal conversation with this girl?
He cursed himself for not leaving this to Phlox. He was only a few minutes into the interaction and they were already off to a rocky start, but it was too late to back down now. He'd committed himself to at least try. Besides, the Reeds were not known for running away from a fight, even one they thought they might lose.
He cleared his throat. "How is your essay coming along?"
"I'm sorry to hear that. Out of all the rough drafts I've gone through so far, yours has been the most interesting."
"Most students approach academic papers dryly, focusing on facts and information without adding any life to the words. With yours, I could tell that you were excited about the subject and it made me curious to know more."
"I honestly didn't think you liked it, especially after the meeting."
He cast his mind back to their encounter and mentally kicked himself. He must have been so focused on trying to help her improve the paper that he'd forgotten to add the positive feedback with the criticism. He decided to remedy that now. "On the contrary, I enjoyed it very much. With the exception of a few students, the other essays are too similar to differentiate. Yours sticks out."
"In a good way I hope."
"Very much so." He shook his head. "I'm sure why, but I think my students are afraid I'll mark them down for trying to add excitement to their essays."
"Maybe your reputation precedes you."
"I have a reputation?"
She seemed suddenly uncomfortable, and he wasn't sure if he was more curious or worried about this new piece of information.
"Well, your class is the hard class."
"You hold your students to a high standard, and expect us to take your class as seriously as you do."
His eyesbrows rose. "Do other professors not expect the same? What about Phlox? I would have thought he at least would be on my side of things."
"He is, but he comes at it a different way." She hesitated a little before continuing. "He takes a more gentle approach to teaching than you do."
"And I suppose I'm seen as the drill sargeant." He knew it came out sounding just as childish as it had in his head.
"No, you're just more... serious."
"So my students believe I am something like the grim reaper."
"We don't think that."
"Perhaps you don't, but I'm sure they do."
He cringed inwardly as she tried, and failed to come up with a proper response. She settled with looking apologetic.
Malcolm struggled to recover his dignity. He hadn't come over here to have a pity party, but this conversation had begun to feel far too familiar, bringing back memories of a situation he'd encountered years ago while still at school.
He and Trip had spent the night in jail because of a slight misunderstanding with the police, and as was his custom, Malcolm had immediately gone to the worst-case scenario. Thinking that it was the end of his educational and future career aspirations, he'd used what was left of his phone battery to compose letters to his father, mother, sister, and last few girlfriends to apologize for how he'd let them all down.
The main difference between then and now was that while Jasmine was kind enough to remain silent, Trip had told him to shut up, which had entered them into a night long heated debate. It had ended in an unlikely friendship, however, as he now considered Trip to be one of his closest friends.
While he didn't forsee Jasmine calling him a "damn pessimist" anytime soon, or sharing a bottle of bourbon until they were both sloshed, perhaps there was another way he could salvage this situation. Perhaps this too could end up in an unlikely friendship.
If only he could stop acting like a bloody fool whenever she was around.
An awkward silence filled the space between them, but then her phone lit up and his eyes were drawn to the lock screen. There was a closeup of her and another girl hugging, their expressions halfway between disgust and laughter. The picture was not flattering in the least, but it held a sort of charm for him.
She must have seen him looking down at it because she hurried to explain. "It's me and my sister. We like to take ugly pictures together. It's kind of a thing."
He pretended he didn't see the furious blush that was painting her cheeks. "You don't look very much alike, if you don't mind my saying so."
"We don't. She's two years older than me and at least three inches taller. We're pretty different, but I think that's why we get along so well."
"You're close to your sister then."
She nodded and smiled, though it seemed slightly sad. "We've been renting an apartment together for the last few years, and it's been really nice. We share a lot of the same habits so she's not difficult to live with. I was able to talk to her last night, but all week I've just... I hear something I think is funny and I turn to share it with her, forgetting she's not here, and I get a little sad. I know it probably sounds silly..."
"Not at all. I have an older sister, Madeline. We were close as children. She was like a second mother to me, always making sure I got up and got dressed in time for school and made my lunches. I had a hard time of it when she went away to Secondary School. I cried almost every night for a month, although perhaps that was partly because I had to start making my own lunches. I only knew how to make one thing myself."
The ghost of a smile appeared on her face. "What was it?"
"Biscuits and jam with a little tin of fish."
She laughed, some of the sadness in her expression bleeding away. He put all the conviction he could into his voice. "I'm sure she misses you as much as you miss her."
They shared a smile, and when she looked back down at her laptop, the little curl she was always fighting with slipped out from behind her ear. He forced himself to look away, resisiting a mad urge to reach out and tuck it away himself.
He cleared his throat, feeling suddenly warm. "So, what is it about your essay that's troubling you?"
"Well, I have no idea how I'm going to merge those two points into one." She searched around the mess in her bag to find the paper he'd marked on. "And now I have to choose a whole new angle for the last point, and it feels like I'm not going to get it all done before next Friday."
"While I can't offer any advice regarding school outside office hours, I'll be in my office before class on Monday. However, I have every confidence you'll figure it out."
He tried not to make a face. "Hearing you call me 'professor' makes me feel like I'm at least one hundred years old."
"I'm sorry, I've never had a professor who's practically the same age as me." She chuckled awkwardly. "I guess I'm just not sure what to call you."
Don't say it. "Just call me Malcolm."
"Right. Well, I'm sorry for dumping all that on you Malcolm. I'm sure I've taken up too much of your time already."
"It's no imposition. It's only progress reports, and I can have them done quickly enough."
"You sound super excited about it."
"Very much the opposite."
She laughed. "Well then, I guess we both have our work cut out for us." She picked up her cup and wiggled it. "I'm all out, so I'm just going to..."
She stood up to get another cup, and he tried to pull his head out of the fog enough to get back to work. When she was once again seated, she put on her headphones without another word. They both settled into a comfortable silence that lasted for the next several hours, and he didn't stir from his seat until it was time for his scheduled meeting with the superintendent.
He packed up to leave, and she looked up as he slung his bag over his shoulder. She smiled and waved.
"Good-bye Miss Brookhurst."
"When you call me 'Miss Brookhurst' I feel like I'm a hundred years old."
He stared at her in shock. She bit back a smile.
Was she... teasing him?
It took him a moment to find enough of his wits to come up with an appropriate response.
"I suppose I'm simply not sure how to address you."
Her grin told him he'd said the right thing. "Jasmine's just fine."
"Good-bye Jasmine." He dipped his head and headed out the door. A stray and almost undetectable smile made its way onto his face.
Someway, somehow, he'd done it. Jasmine appeared to be back to her normal self, and while he'd had his moments, he'd managed to get through an entire conversation with her without making too much of an ass of himself.
Perhaps they'd formed an unlikely friendship after all.
Chapter 8: Dear Doctor
"Is everything alright Jasmine?"
Professor Phlox looked over the top of his glasses at her. "You seem particularly distracted today, and I don't think it has anything to do with finals."
"Oh uh… no, everything's fine." Jasmine tried to sit up a little straighter from her slouch in one of the couches in his office. She'd been absently feeding Teddy the fruit bat while staring at his desk, preoccupied with all little knick-knacks and trophies scattered across it from his many travels.
"In my experience, there is no such thing as fine."
She shrugged, watching the little bat play with its food before eating it. "I guess I've just been thinking about home and how different everything's going to be this Christmas."
"You're referring to your sister I presume."
Jasmine nodded, hoping the pain she felt didn't show on her face.
Over the last few Christmases, she and her sister had created their own tradition where they put on ugly Christmas sweaters and listened to Bing Crosby on vinyl while putting up the tree and lights. This year it didn't happen since she was in England, so her sister had carried on the tradition with her boyfriend. They'd decorated right after Thanksgiving and sent her pictures. The only thing missing was the tree, which they said they would wait to put up until she got home.
"This is going to sound terribly selfish..."
"But the ugly sweaters and vinyl was our thing."
A knowing look crossed his face. "And you feel that she shouldn't have included him in your tradition?"
"I know it sounds terrible." She sighed. "Jack's a great guy and I want him to feel like he's a part of the family, but the closer he gets to my sister, the farther apart we grow. I know it's totally normal and healthy, but I still feel like I'm being pushed aside like dirty laundry."
"Have you told your sister this?"
"I don't want to risk hurting her feelings. This is her first Christmas with Jack and I don't want my bah-humbug to spoil it. I'll get over it eventually, I just need some time."
"There are ways you could approach her about how you feel without hurting her feelings in the process."
"I don't think there's anything I can say to her right now that won't come out sounding totally childish."
He watched her with the eyes of someone who could see far more in a glance than most people could see in a lifetime. It made her want to squirm in her seat. Eventually, he turned back to his papers and she was able to relax again. "Is there anyone else you could talk to about it? Major Hayes, perhaps?"
She shook her head. "We're not that close."
"Friends at home?"
"I've tried to set up times to video chat but they've been pretty busy with kids and family commitments."
The only sound that prevailed for the next few minutes was the chittering of the fruit bat and Professor Phlox scratching notes on the papers he was grading. Jasmine had originally come to his office hours asking for advice on her final project and ended up staying when he brought Teddy out to eat and exercise. She didn't normally hang out with her professors, but Phlox was very easy to talk to. Besides being a retired army medic, he had a degree in psychology and was extremely interested in philosophy and religion. While not nearly as well informed as he, Jasmine enjoyed listening to him talk, and often asked him questions about all the places he'd been and the people groups he'd studied. He seemed to enjoy their conversations as much as she did.
She reached over to take a drink of Turkish coffee, which was something Professor Phlox had recently introduced her to. To say it was strong was an understatement, but she thought she was beginning to get used to it.
"Malcolm would give excellent advice if you gave him a chance."
She almost choked, frightening Teddy into a mild tizzy of flapping wings.
She swallowed her mouth full with a gasp. "I don't think we know each other well enough for that. Besides, he's my professor, wouldn't that be..."
"Innapropriate? Our code of conduct doesn't say you can't create platonic relationships with your students. Look at us. You're here, in my office, and we're talking about non-school related subjects."
"Well this is different."
"Different how? Because of our age?"
"No, it's not that."
"There would be nothing wrong with you seeking his advice unless you believe he has some sort of ulterior motive. Do you believe he harbors romantic feelings towards you?"
"What? No! Not at all."
"Then perhaps it is you who has feelings for him."
Jasmine made a disbelieving noise, but when his eyebrows rose, she floundered. "That's ridiculous! I can't... it's not..."
It didn't matter how much she tried to deny it. The truth was written across her face and they both knew it.
"If you don't mind my saying, it's perfectly natural for you to have developed a romantic interest in him. He is a very good looking fellow, and extremely intelligent. You're not the first girl whose heart was taken by his appeal."
Phlox leaned forward, his voice dipping down gently. "You know you can talk to me about anything. I may be your professor, but I'm also a doctor and a psychiatrist. You can speak as freely as you like and I am duty-bound to keep anything you relay to me absolutely confidential."
She worried her lip. It was embarrassing to admit her crush out loud, but she needed to talk to someone about it before she went crazy. She didn't have her usual support group nearby and as a result there was a lot on her mind.
"I can't deny that I like him, but I don't think anything good can come out of this." She put her head in her hands. "At least next term I won't be taking any of his classes, so I won't see him as often. That should put enough space between us to help me get over it."
"Get over it? Get over what? You've said that phrase to me several times today and on previous occasions. It makes me wonder what exactly you're trying to get over. You're feelings? There's no such thing as getting over your feelings, and I don't think you should have to. Just because they're not convenient does not mean they aren't valid."
She leaned forward in agitation. "Then what am I supposed to do? The only way I made it through this term was by pretending they didn't exist."
"Have you considered telling him how you feel?"
"And risk his job? I couldn't do that. And even if I did tell him, what if he doesn't share my feelings? Then we'd have to spend several months around each other being vaguely uncomfortable when we were just starting to become friends."
He smiled at her in his usual, comforting and calming way. "You can't live in the land of 'what if' forever."
There was silence as she brooded and Phlox watched her. The clocked chimed a quarter after 4. "I suppose you're right. There's nothing more that you can do."
Jasmine looked at him suspiciously.
"You said it yourself, you're his student and he is your professor. To even consider a relationship with him is a bad idea. However, you won't technically be his student next term."
She crossed her arms. "But I'll still be a student."
"You're absolutely right. Of course, you won't be a student forever, and neither will he be a professor forever. Things can change in a moment. He may not be a professor in a month or a year. Who knows what the future may hold. But you're right, there's nothing more you can do. Your hands are tied."
She scowled at him and he chuckled.
"What's your point professor."
"My point is that you always have a choice. Right now, you're choosing what's easiest, but you could make the choice you actually want to take."
"And what do I want?"
He sat back and watched her silently.
"I don't know what I want." She muttered.
"But you do, and this entire conversation has proved it. You just don't want to admit it out loud because it will make things difficult. But all the best things in life are difficult, I'm afraid. You can't keep running from that reality or you'll never get what you really want in life."
What did she want?
"What I want..." She started to say, but a knock at the door interrupted the thought.
"You'll have to excuse me while I answer this," Phlox said amiably. "Would you mind holding onto Teddy for me?"
She nodded mutely and gently gathered the bat into her hands. Thankfully it had become tired after its meal and was largely comatose.
"Come in," Phlox called out cheerfully, and the door opened.
Jasmine had been looking at the floor and was surprised when a beagle in a coat and boots came scampering over to her feet to sniff them. She carefully extricated her hands from one of Teddy's claws and reached down to pet him.
"Ah Malcolm, we were just talking about you. Don't worry, it was all good things."
Her hand froze in midair as her head came up and she locked eyes with none other than Malcolm Reed.
Chapter 9: old Friend(s)
Michaelmas was officially over for Malcolm Reed. All he had left was to turn in final grades, and that was something he could do from the train.
Free at last from one responsibility, and on to the next. He looked up at the snowy sky and stifled a sigh.
He wasn't looking forward to Christmas this year. He knew exactly how it would be: his mother would have his old room ready for him, decorated in the same way it's been every Christmas for the last 34 years. He'd have to sit through an uncomfortable dinner where his father would be cold and distant, while his mother did anything to keep them from arguing. His aunts would fuss over him, telling him that he didn't eat enough and asking when he was going to settle down and get married. His sister and brother-in-law would be the only ones not making suggestions for how he should be living his life, and while he loved Madeline as much as any brother could, he almost hoped the forecasted storm would be enough to shut down the trains. He'd have to spend Christmas alone, but at least he'd be unbothered with some time to think.
A muscle in his cheek ticked.
He hadn't been himself this last term. Ever since... well, he couldn't blame his dissatisfaction with his life entirely on her, but needless to say she'd played a major part in getting him to think over the last few months. He was getting restless. Something was missing, but he couldn't figure out what. His old routines had started to feel like a slow funeral march, and he couldn't think of a way out. Maybe it was time to get new hobbies. He'd been thinking about going back to the shooting range a few days a week. Or perhaps he could start teaching some classes on exobiology or Jiu-jitsu on the weekends.
There had to be something that could shake the lingering unease that had been mercilessly dogging his heels.
He wandered the icy courtyard in brooding silence, pondering his options until the crunch of snow nearby caught his attention. A man was walking towards him in a blue coat, head down against the little flurry of snow flakes. The man's decisive stride was vaguely familiar, as was the furry companion that appeared suddenly from behind a hedge.
The man's face appeared beneath a Cape Canaveral hat. "Well if it isn't my favorite arms officer."
Malcolm immediately came to attention. He lifted his arm in a salute. "Captain Archer!"
"At ease, lieutenant." Jonathan Archer smiled. He'd always been an awe-inspiring man, and not even the heavy coat and casual baseball cap could diminish his authoritative presence.
"It's good to see you Sir." Malcolm exchanged a handshake with Trip's old commanding officer. He heard a jangling and looked down at his feet. "And Porthos."
The dog was happily sniffing at his boots, wearing a yellow raincoat and wellies.
"The outfit was a gift from a friend last Christmas. Considering the weather here lately, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring it out of the back of my closet."
"How've you been Malcolm? It's been too long since we've heard any news about what you've been up to."
By 'we' he meant himself and possibly an old classmate or two from his school days who currently worked at NASA.
"I know sir, and I'm very sorry for it. I've just been so busy here. I have a lot of classes to prepare for and rarely have time to myself."
Malcolm watched Archer nod then squint around at the stately University. There was an all too familiar tilt to the corner of his mouth that hinted he was thinking of something other than the buildings.
"Have you been in contact with Trip lately?"
"Not in the last few weeks, but he did mention your visit to the ESA."
Captain Archer was set to become the Commanding Officer of the highly anticipated collaboration with the European Space Agency for mankind's first Mission to Mars. Trip was to be his Chief Engineer.
"Do you mind my asking what brings you to Oxford sir? It's quite a ways from Paris."
"I had some time before I was needed back in Florida, so I decided to come by and meet my new Chief Medical Officer face to face."
"Who do you mean sir?"
"Do you know Doctor Jonathan Phlox?"
"Phlox is going to be Chief Medical Officer?" Malcolm asked, dumbstruck.
"He said he wouldn't miss it for the world." Archer looked at him keenly.
Malcolm couldn't quite get his mind wrapped around this new piece of information. He had no idea Phlox had an interest in space exploration, let alone would consider going along on a two year mission to Mars.
"You know, Oxford is a pretty impressive place, but seems a little too quiet for an ex-army officer."
Archer smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "You free at the moment? I could use some help finding Doctor Phlox's office."
"I believe I can squeeze you into my schedule."
Malcolm lead the way out of the snowy courtyard.
Porthos jingled merrily behind them.
"I'm actually glad I bumped into you. I was going to try and hunt you down after my meeting. There are some things I wanted to discuss with you face to face."
That piqued his interest. "And what's that sir?"
"Why don't we discuss it over dinner? If you're free that is?"
"I have no plans at the present moment."
They walked a ways in silence.
"Have any plans for Christmas?" Archer asked eventually.
Malcolm walked stiffly beside the former Air-Force Captain. "Just the usual visit to my parents house in Chelsea. Dinner and all the accompanying festivities. And you sir?"
"I'll be spending Christmas Eve like a lab rat. They want me to run a few more emergency simulations with the crew."
"Does that mean your time at ESA was as successful as you'd hoped?"
"If you're asking if we managed to persuade them to move up the launch date? No, but considering they're providing us with their best Science and Chief Medical Officer for the mission, I'm doing my best not to complain."
"I wasn't aware they were providing anyone other than the Chief Medical Officer."
Archer made a noise that resembled frustration. "Trip was handling things fine on his own, but for whatever reason NASA believed he needed more assistance. So they went over his head to ask for the ESA's help. They agreed, but their one stipulation was that we replace our science officer with one of theirs. I met with Commander Tejal Polekar while I was down at headquarters."
"Commander Polekar… now why does that name sound familiar." Malcolm's eyes widened as it came to him. "You don't mean T'Pol do you?"
Archer's eyebrows rose. "T'Pol?"
"Thin, dark skinned, short brown hair. She came in already an officer. I thought my CO had no sense of humor, and then I met her."
Archer grinned. "Sounds about right, but what's with the nickname?"
"It started out as a bad joke during basic training. A few of the lads had a difficult time saying her name correctly, and came up with something a little easier to pronounce."
Archer's eyebrows rose even higher, if that was possible. "She was okay with that?"
Malcolm shrugged. "The name sort of slipped out one night at the pub, and she didn't seem particularly averse to it. In fact, she stated that it would simplify things for her."
"Huh. Doesn't really seem the type to take a joke."
"I know what you mean sir."
The corner of Archer's mouth lifted. "I can't wait to see the look on Trip's face when he learns she'll be working closely with him during launch."
Malcolm smirked. "I hope you'll keep me apprised."
They continued to talk about the upcoming Mars Mission as they walked side by side through the hallways to Phlox's office. The sound of voices from behind the door gave Malcolm pause. It was probably a student since it was currently his office hours, but he didn't think Phlox would mind an interruption considering the guest he was bringing with him.
He rapped his knuckles on the door and waited until he heard Phlox tell him he could enter.
Portho's bolted through the door as Malcolm stepped inside.
"Ah Malcolm, we were just talking about you. Don't worry, it was all good things."
His old military training had taught him to take in a room in a glance, so it did not take long for him to discover the other occupant in the room.
Who else but the girl he'd been avoiding like the plague for the last week of finals.
Chapter 10: Revelations
Her cheeks had turned an unnatural shade of red, and she was suddenly looking anywhere but at him.
"Who have you brought with you today my boy?"
He had a hard time bringing his scattered thoughts back under control. He hadn't expected to see her again till after Christmas. He'd been counting on it in fact.
"Forgive me, this is Jonathan Archer."
"Why of course, Captain Archer!" Phlox rose from his seat wearing a wide smile. He extended his hand to shake Archer's with unchecked enthusiasm. "I was told to expect you!"
"Good to finally meet you Doctor Phlox." Archer's smile was genuine. "I've heard a lot about you. I look forward to working closely with you in the future."
"So do I sir, so do I."
"When were you going to tell me you were leaving Oxford to work for NASA?" Malcolm asked, feeling slightly betrayed. A strange twinge of envy was twisting in his gut.
"I was one of the main candidates for the position, and although I was assured it would be mine, the decision wasn't finalized until a few days ago. I didn't want to celebrate prematurely. I wanted to tell you, but since I won't be leaving until after next term I thought we'd have plenty of time to discuss the change. And considering we'll still be working closely together..."
Archer made a funny coughing noise, drawing Malcolm's frown of confusion.
"What exactly does he mean by that sir?"
Archer was rubbing his chin, covering a wince. Or perhaps it was a smile. "That's what I was hoping to speak to you about."
"Ah, it seems I've been a bit premature." Phlox chuckled to himself, leaving Malcolm feeling more confused than ever.
He didn't have long to dwell on it, however, as Porthos barked and drew everyone's attention towards the sofa. The pup was trying to get to Jasmine's lap, which was laden with a half sandwich on a large plate. The problem was the wriggling black object in her hands, which she was trying her hardest to keep from flying away.
"Porthos, down!" Archer commanded.
The dog ignored him.
Archer pulled at the leash and knelt down to capture the dog in his arms. "I'm sorry about that, he's probably just interested in your sandwich. He loves cheese."
"It's alright, he can have my cheese if he wants it. I'm just having a little trouble here." She pulled the creature towards her chest, but it was trying its darndest to escape.
"Malcolm my boy, would you mind giving her a hand? It appears that my bat doesn't seem to agree with Captain Archer's dog."
"You want me to hold it?" Malcolm asked, trying not to sound as horrified as he felt.
"Only until he's back in his cage."
Malcolm cleared his throat as he tried to think about the best way to dislodge the agitated creature, but his mind was an absolute blank. Jasmine continued to coo and rub a finger over its back, and a few seconds later, it sat still under her calming touch.
"Open your hands and I'll try to hand him off," Jasmine said quietly, "I don't think he'll fly away now."
"Er, alright. If you think it's best." He opened his palms as she slowly opened her fingers towards his. The creature stayed put. Malcolm felt a moment of relief. It was clearly content to be where it was, but the anxiety returned as Jasmine gently coaxed it forward. His breath turned ragged as it crawled forward, it's dark and empty eyes searching for a hold. Its leathery wings rubbed dryly against his clammy skin.
"It's okay, he won't hurt you."
He wasn't sure whether she was talking to him or the animal until her hand closed around his. They were soft and warm, and for a moment he almsot forgot the creature. Their eyes met and she smiled encouragingly.
It hit him like a jolt of lightening.
He couldn't seem to look away, and he didn't want her to let go.
He was dissappointed when she broke contact. "Let me get the cage."
She moved the plate to the seat next to her and made for the other side of the room. He followed with much trepidition. He was afraid the tiny creature would sense the dog and whip back up into a frenzy. He didn't want to embarrass himself by dropping it to the floor and beating an undignified retreat, but he wasn't above doing so if the need arose. Thankfully it was not necessary, but he didn't breath comfotably again until it was back on its perch and the cage door was locked behind it.
"See, that wasn't so bad." She said as she slipped a black towel over the metal bars.
Her eyes searched his, although for what reason he couldn't even begin to fathom.
She moved to pull that curl away from her face, but stopped when she saw her hands. "I should probably get these washed."
"That's a sensible idea." Phlox chimed in, "And why don't you go with her Malcolm? I still have a few things I need to discuss with Captain Archer, and you clearly have some things you need to uh... resolve for yourself."
There was a kind of strange twinkle in the Doctor's eye as he said these words, and even Captain Archer seemed to be repressing a look of amusement. Malcolm could feel the heat rising up from his collar. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Archer nodded towards him. "Your hands lieutenant."
He looked down, and his face soured as he saw the small present the bat had left in his palm. "You're quite right."
"Off you go then."
And just like that he was dismissed.
Jasmine moved off and he followed, keeping his head held high even as he saw the two men exchanging looks out of the corner of his eye.
They knew. It was cursed luck she'd touched him. Somehow he'd forgotten all sense of discretion when their eyes had met, and when they'd touched...
He was going to be hearing about this later, make no mistake.
The two walked in awkward silence all the way to the loo, and when they arrived he took special care to regain his composure. He washed his face and combed his hair before stepping outside. She was waiting for him.
He put his hands behind his back as they looked at each other silently.
"So... you don't like bats."
He caught her small smile and felt irked. It seemed everyone was laughing at him today.
"I'm not fond of most animals." He said stiffly. "We don't tend to get along."
"Teddy was comfortable with you."
"I'll be happy if I never have to set eyes on it again." He repressed a shudder at the memory of its hot, leathery body inside his hands.
"I'm sorry you had to help."
Her apology was so sincere that he lost most of his ire.
"It wasn't an imposition." He stated, and they began a slow walk back. He tried to make conversation. "You have a few more finals to finish I believe."
"Just Philosphy and Economics. Then I'm home free."
"I suppose you'll be heading back home to family for Christmas." He stopped himself from saying more as a strange thought hit him. It had never occured to him that she might have a boyfriend, and he'd never bothered to ask.
He felt inexplicably sick.
"Yeah. I'm glad to be going home, but things will be a little different this year."
"Oh? How so?"
"This is my sister's first Christmas with her boyfriend, so it won't really be the same. We're spending Christmas Eve together, but she's going to his house on Christmas day to celebrate with his family."
"And you'll be at home, alone."
He didn't realize until after he said it how insensistive he sounded, but she didn't seem to mind. "No, I'll be spending the night with my parents and we're going to go to Disneyland. It's a family tradition."
Her word barely registered as he tried to figure out how to ask her if she had a boyfriend. He couldn't help thinking at the same time that he'd gone mad.
"What about you?"
"Hm? Oh, I'll be at my parents' for dinner on Christmas Day, and then on Boxing Day I'll be spending some time with my sister and her family."
"That sounds nice. Jeremiah is going to see his brother and his family for Christmas too. You know it seems like there's only a few single people left in our age group. Most of my friends are already married with kids. I mean- I'm so sorry, I guess I just assumed you were single."
She looked embarrassed, but relief flooded through him. She was single!
"You assumed correctly."
He was still staring at her as the look of horror crossed her face.
Cliff hangar! Surprise surprise!
In case anyone noticed, I was feeling a little angsty as I edited this particular chapter, but I refuse to apologize! Some good old fashioned, awkward Malcolm and Jasmine interactions were long overdue in my opinion. As we learned in Enterprise, Malcolm is no smooth operator, and Jasmine is just a little starstruck, so there are many more similar interactions to follow if you stick around for the continuation ;)
Chapter 11: The Disaster Artist
It took a few seconds before she connected the strange look on his face to the words that had just come out of her mouth. Her face was instantly hot.
If there was actually a good time to die from embarrassment it would be now, but since that event seemed fairly unlikely to occur, she scrambled to recover.
"I-I just meant that I'm glad that I didn't totally assume wrong, not good that you're single because I mean- I don't even know if you're happy being single or if you... you know...want to find someone or..."
She stumbled to a halt as a small smile turned up the corner of his mouth.
"Oh man." She groaned and put a hand up to cover her burning face. "I'm sorry, I'm just going to shut up now. I have no idea what I'm saying. It's been a long week and I'm tired."
"There's no need to apologize."
"You just make me so nervous."
"Well yeah, you're just so... so..."
"Intimidating," He finished bleakly, "Serious."
"No! It's just that I have trouble talking to people I find attractive."
This time she didn't even wait long enough to see his response, but closed her eyes and prayed that God would reach down from heaven to strike her dead. The silence that met these words was so complete that she was struck by the insane idea that perhaps he hadn't heard her, or better yet, that this was all a very bad dream and maybe if she counted to ten and opened her eyes she'd find herself back in bed.
Unfortunately, her unrealistic dream fizzled and died before she made it to the count of four.
"You find me attractive?"
His words were so quiet it was almost as if he was talking to himself. Jasmine peeked at him from the corner of her eye. He was staring at the ground frowning, which she didn't find particularly encouraging.
Her insides twisted painfully. When Phlox had advised her to tell Malcolm how she felt, she'd only entertained the idea for a moment, but suffice to say, word vomitting her feelings hadn't exactly been in any of her choice scenarios. And he clearly hadn't been prepared for it either, which made it so much worse. Now she wasn't sure if there was a way to salvage the situation.
Maybe the best way way forward was to just be completely honest and admit her feelings. Or maybe she could drop a stack of books on top of her head and end her misery. At the moment, both options felt more like a last resort. Perhaps if she thought hard enough an option C would present itself.
"Why were you and Phlox talking about me earlier?" He asked finally.
"He was giving me advice."
He was clearly putting two and two together, she could see it on his face. While he was typially a blank page, at this moment he seemed like an open book. She wasn't sure which one she preferred, especially after he looked her in the eye. She felt like he was staring into her soul, and for whatever reason she couldn't bring herself to look away no matter how much dread had crept into her chest.
"What kind of advice would he be giving to you about me?"
"Oh, you know..." She swallowed hard, "Relationship advice."
"I don't suppose you're referring to the type of relationship layed out for us in the school ordinances." He stated slowly.
"Well yes... and no."
"I would like us to be friends."
Her heart quickened. "Me too, but..."
His eyes were locked on hers, waiting expectantly for her to continue.
She bit her lip. "Just friends?"
Was that hope that just flickered in his eyes? He schooled his features before she could be sure.
He opened his mouth to respond when the door behind them opened with a hearty laugh from Phlox. She could feel the disappointment flooding through her as Malcolm's head practically whipped around as he took a hasty step backward.
"I'm glad we had the chance to meet Capain," Phlox was saying, "Please do send me the logs from the archives, I'd very much enjoy looking them over."
The two of them shook hands. Captain Archer was the first to notice the two of them standing there. She could only imagine what they must have looked like, Malcolm flushed red and herself looking incredibly uncomfortable, but she had a feeling that he would know exactly what had transpired between them. A twinkle in his eye told her he did.
"Malcolm," Captain Archer said with a grin, "You ready to get something to eat?"
"Of course sir." Malcolm turned his back to her and seemed eager to be gone.
She felt relieved while at the same time equally hurt and confused. At least they were no longer stuck in that awkward, stammering conversation, but she was desperate to know the answer to her question.
Now it looked like she might never get it.
"It was nice to make your acquaintance Jasmine." Captain Archer told her with a fatherly smile. She instantly responded to it with a smile of her own. She wasn't sure why he was being so friendly considering they hadn't exactly been introduced, but he seemed like a nice man. And his dog was dressed in a rain coat and booties, so he couldn't really be a bad guy, could he?
"Good bye Captain Archer. And good-bye Porthos."
The little Beagle wagged his tail as she bent down to pet him.
"Aren't you going to say good-bye to your friend lieutenant?"
"Good-bye Miss Brookhurst." He said stiffly, barely meeting her gaze.
"Bye Malcolm." She said sadly, and watched the two men disappear around the corner.
A moment of silence passed as she stared down the now empty hall.
"So?" Phlox asked expectantly.
She felt tears begin to fill her eyes. "It was a disaster."
Hello friends! I apologize for how long it's taken for me to put this thing on here, but I've just started school again so longer story intervals may, unfortunately, become the norm. I have a maths class which promises to take up a lot of my free time, even though my heart is with this story!
On another not really but sort of related note, I was pushing hard to put this particular chapter up as it was my birthday this last weekend! Or more specifically, on September 2, on the very same day as our favorite Lieutenant and Arms Officer, Malcolm Reed *Squee*! He was already my favorite character on the show, but let me tell you what, as soon as I learned we shared the same birthday I almost died. I can't handle how happy it makes me.
So while I'm here I might as well add, happy birthday Malcolm Reed! I look forward to continuing this lovely story with you!
Chapter 12: The Important Proposition
Well that was a bloody fiasco.
Malcolm had never thought of himself as a coward, but he still somehow found himself hiding from Captain Archer behind a fake interest in his plate. He was pretending to eat it although he'd long lost his appetite. Archer had always been a keen man, keener than most, which is why he'd been an amazing Captain in the Air Force, and why he had now been chosen to become the Commanding Officer for man's first trip to Mars.
That being said, it made hiding things from him extremely difficult. Let's say, impossible, which is why he now found himself taking the cowards way out. Captain Archer may not have looked at him or said anything about his uncomfortable good-bye to Jasmine, but he knew, he KNEW, he'd certainly noticed.
He just hoped that whatever the Captain needed to talk to him about would drive the cringeworthy interaction far from his mind.
He was trying very hard not to fidget under the Captain's steady gaze.
"Now that we've got some time, I hope you don't mind if I get right down to business."
Relief coursed through him. He felt as if he'd dodged a bullet. "By all means."
"As you know, I came to England to visit the ESA and meet with Commander- T'Pol was it?- And Doctor Phlox. The truth is, I didn't just come to Oxford to talk to Phlox. I came here to talk to you as well."
"Is there something I can do for you?"
"I want you to join my team."
Malcolm stared at him blankly.
"We need a good Mission Specialist, and I believe you would be a perfect fit for the position."
The full implications of what he was asking finally set in, causing Malcolm to sit back in his seat. He couldn't believe his ears. "You want me to join your mission to Mars?"
"You have all the necessary qualifications."
"But what about Erika Hernandez?"
Archer sat back and took a moment to savor a sip of coffee. Porthos whined at his feet and he reached down to give him a scratch. "What about her?"
"Her nephew was in one of my classes this year, and he informed me that his Aunt was going to be the Mission Specialist."
"While the mission was still in the planning stage, that was one possible option. However, Erika rightly felt herself to be ovequalified for the position, and is slated be the Commanding Officer of the second Mars mission. I know it's a little premature, but a few years or so after we've returned triumphant they're going to want to send another crew to begin testing for potential colonization."
Malcolm's head was spinning. "But I've never even considered… not in my wildest dreams..."
Him? Become an... astronaut? It seemed too fantastic to consider.
"I've already talked over my options with NASA, but I want you and they said they were willing to take you on as a potential candidate, providing you can pass all their tests. But I feel confident you'll be just fine with whatever they can throw at you."
"But I have no experience." Malcolm scoffed. "I don't even know what a Mission Specialist is let alone what he does."
"We still have a few years before the launch, and NASA is nothing if not thorough. You'll be well prepared by the time launch arrives."
As much as he appreciated Captain Archer's vote of confidence, Maclcolm wasn't entirely convinced. Certainly there were others far more qualified than himself for the position.
"Why me Sir?"
Captain Archer tilted his head in a manner very similar to the way Porthos cocked his head in response to a question he didn't understand.
"Of all the good men and women you know in the military circuit and from your time at the university, why did you think of me?"
"In case you've forgotten, I was your professor once."
"I haven't forgotten sir."
"Then you should know better than anyone why I chose you. Of all my students, you were the one who worked the hardest to understand everything there was to know about astrophysics, physics, theoretical physics, exobiology, you name it. It seemed like you couldn't get enough, so much so that I had to start sending all your questions to someone with a lot more knowledge of astrophysics than myself. You used to pursue knowledge with such passion, and you weren't happy until you'd found out the truth for yourself. Now I can't help but wonder..."
He let the sentence hang, but Malcolm didn't need him to explain any further.
He'd had such dreams after leaving school, but he'd put them somewhere on a back shelf after reality set in.
"If you need some time to think it over, that's completely understandable, but I'll need your answer no later than the first of the year."
"Thank you sir."
If Malcolm were to be completely honest with himself, when he was fresh out of the Army he would have jumped at the chance to join Archer on this mission, with no questions asked. He'd had nothing to hold him back after all, and he'd always had his eye on the skies. Now that he was older he had many things to consider. His family obligations, career, the future…
He ran a hand through his hair roughly. Part of the reason he hadn't wanted a career in the Navy, besides being aqua-phobic, was that it made him feel anchored to the ground. Yet here he was working at a University, more stuck than ever.
Maybe this was his opportunity for change.
He felt a small spark of hope ignite.
He squashed the bubble of hope before it could grow too big. He needed to think very carefully about this and not let his desires dictate his actions. This was no easy decision. It could affect the next five years, and change the course of his life forever.
Despite his iron grip on his emotions, he still felt a thrill go through him at the thought of it.
He was still deep in thought when he realized Captain Archer was staring at him expectantly.
"I'm sorry sir, did you ask me something?"
"I was simply wondering if everything was alright over there. You've been pretty quiet."
"I've just been thinking."
"You've hardly touched your food."
"I guess I don't have a very big appetite at the moment."
"You used to say the same kind of thing before exams." Archer smiled fondly at a memory, "Old habits die hard?"
He blew out his breath. "Rightly said Sir. But I could really use a stiff cup of tea about now."
"I'd be happy to join you any other time, but I'm afraid I need to catch a train in about..." he looked at his watch, "thirty minutes. I need to get back to the hotel to finish a briefing tonight."
Captain Archer threw down a large bill and stood up to slip on his jacket. "I'd ask you to seriously consider my offer, but it seems like you already are."
Malcolm stood up and took Archer's extended hand.
Archer gathered up Porthos' leash and paused his movement towards the door to look back at him. "You know, I dated Erika when she was still a student in the Academy."
Malcolm found himself thrown by the abrupt change in conversation. "Indeed?"
"While I wasn't strictly speaking an insructor, we didn't continue dating while she was still at school because it made things complicated. But eventually circumstances changed, and from where I'm standing now I'd say things worked out pretty well."
He'd had no idea Captain Hernandez had once been Captain Archer's student. Neither had he known that the two were a couple. He was still struggling to connect the dots as Archer went on.
"I hope you won't mind taking some advice from a man with some life experience. Ask her out on a date. From what Phlox tells me, she's worth the risk."
"I…. I don't know..." He swallowed back the lie as soon as he saw Archer's eye brow lift. He straightened his back. "I mean I'll think about it, Sir."
"Good. See you around lieutenant. And Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas Sir."
Chapter 13: A Christmas Miracle
"Attention all passengers of Norwegian Air Flight 237 to Los Angeles, we regret to inform you that your flight has once again been delayed due to the storm..."
The rest of the announcement was drowned out by a loud collective groan in the busy Heathrow terminal. Jasmine slouched back down into her chair with a heavy sigh. The day really couldn't get any worse. At this rate, it appeared that she might be spending Christmas sitting in a Heathrow terminal with hundreds of other anxious and unhappy people.
Merry Christmas. She thought glumly, and rubbed at her tired eyes.
She'd been up for almost twenty four hours now, but she hadn't been able to get any sleep because the terminal was loud and she had too much going on in her head.
She looked at her phone and tried to will the wi-fi to work. Due to the storm and the shear amount of people inside the airport, the internet was sketchy at best. She'd barely managed to send a message to her family letting them know about the delay almost ten hours ago, and she still hadn't received a response.
Well, there's no point in sticking around here any longer.
After indulging in a good stretch, she went in search of food. It was long overdue. She'd finished off the snacks she'd packed for the flight home hours ago. And since it appeared she'd be stuck at the airport indefinitely, there was no point in buying anything from an on the go shop. The food was overpriced and she had no desire to go back to the terminal so soon. The Thai place she chose put in her in front of a window, and after ordering curry she rested her head in her hand and stared out in to the endless white of the tarmac. The snow was really coming down, and it made her ache for the clear skies and warm temperatures of California.
She wondered what her family was doing, if they got her message and were worried about her. She hoped her missing Christmas wouldn't spoil it for anyone. She didn't want to think about everything she was going to miss out on: the smell of yummy candles and baked goods, the twinkling lights, warm hugs and candy canes. Everything that she'd been missing out on suddenly seemed so much more important since she realized she might not have them.
She hardly stirred from her position in front of the window even after her food came. As hungry as she was, she felt bone-jarringly tired.
"It's pretty bad out there, isn't it?"
She barely realized the voice was speaking to her until she turned her head and found the fatherly face of Captain Archer smiling down at her.
"Oh!" She sat up straighter with some surprise. She didn't expect to see the man ever again, let alone so soon after their last awkward meeting. "Hello."
"I take it you're on one of the delayed flights back to the U.S."
"Yes, to L.A." She nervously tucked an errant hair behind her ear, suddenly aware of her unkempt appearance. She was also unsure of how to address a Captain. "I'm not sure how long the delay will be, but they assured us it shouldn't be more than twenty four hours."
"That means you won't land until Christmas Eve at the earliest." He said with a slight frown.
"Yeah, but it'll be alright," She was trying to sound more positive than she felt, "My sister will be at her boyfriend's house this year, so we'll be doing our big family thing on Christmas Day anyway. And even if I don't make it, we'll figure something out. I'll have a whole month with them before I have to come back for next term."
"That's a good way to look at it."
She didn't mention that the entire idea of missing Christas was very hard to handle, but she swallowed down her disappointment. "What about you? I believe Doctor Phlox said you were going to Florida?"
He nodded. "Our flight boards in an hour."
Jasmine noticed Porthos staring up at her and gave the happy dog a pet on the head. "It won't be affected by the storm?"
"Apparently we'll be taking a more scenic route home. It'll take a few hours longer, but we'll make it around the storm."
"That's really nice," Jasmine answered, somewhat wistfully, "You'll be home soon then."
"I have NASA to thank for it."
His head tilted as the PA system sounded.
"Jonathan Archer to Gate 5, Jonathan Archer, Gate 5."
"It looks like that's my call. It was good to see you again. Jasmine Brookhurst, isn't it?"
She felt another jolt of surprise that he remembered her name. "Yes. I hope you have a safe trip home Captain, and a Merry Christmas."
"Thank you, same to you." He tilted his head. "I have a feeling you'll make it home right on time."
"I hope so." She said fervently.
His eyes crinkled as he smiled and left with a wave.
Despite her outward positivity, Jasmine couldn't help feeling annoyed that NASA had somehow managed to make a flight happen for him while she and everyone else had to stick it out. I guess that was a perk to working for the government. Even the elements couldn't keep you away from them.
She ate and tried not to think about how she was going to fill the long voids of time. Time passed slowly, or so she thought, especially when you have nothing to do but wait. After paying for her food, she began to wander some of the expensive shops, her mind inevitably strayed to the one person she couldn't stop thinking about.
I wonder what Malcolm's doing right now.
Despite Phlox's assurances, she couldn't help feeling like things would not work out between them. Not that they actually had anything going on, but for one shining moment she thought that maybe something could. I mean, she'd practically told him that she was interested in him, in several awkward and uncomfortable ways. If only the door hadn't opened in that exact moment, he might have answered.
Answered what? She didn't know, but she'd rather have had a flat out rejection than this terrible sense of dread that was consuming her thoughts.
"Would Jasmine Brookhurst please report to Gate 5. Once again, would Jasmine Brookhurst please report to Gate 5."
It took her a moment to realize they were calling her. She somehow found her way to Gate 5 and stepped up to the front desk somewhat tentatively.
"Jasmine Brookhurst?" The flight attendant asked brusquely.
"You were originally scheduled for Norwegian Air Flight 237 To Los Angeles?"
"We apologize for the delay. We recently had a cancellation on American Airlines Flight 6901 to Los Angeles. Is this something you'd like to take advantage of?"
Hoped blossomed in her chest as she nodded vigorously. "Definitely!"
"Very well, could I please have your passport."
She scrambled to hand it over.
The man was clicking away on the computer in silence until he handed it back to her. "Once arrived in Orlando International we have a red eye Delta flight scheduled to land in Los Angeles on the twenty third at 5 am."
"Florida..." She looked around suddenly at the empty terminal. The flight had clearly boarded already, but wasn't Captain Archer going to Florida as well?
She whipped back around.
"Thank you," She said fervently.
She craned her neck to take a look at the people on the flight as she was ushered to her seat. She wasn't sure if she should be looking for the Captain or not, but she had this feeling like she owed this to him. She didn't see him however, and in five minutes flat she was sitting in her seat in the plane was getting pushed back for taxi.
She smiled excitedly to herself as she stared around the man at the window to see outside. She was actually on her way back home.
It looked like it truly would be a Merry Christmas after all.
Well, I finally managed to post it! My life has been particularly hectic these last few weeks thanks to stats tests and just a busy life schedule, and I knew I needed to put out the next chapter before things really started to get away from me. I already have the next Malcolm chapter in the works (which is honestly what I'm here for XD), so I hope to get it out within the next two weeks!
Hope everyone is still enjoying the story, and I'm looking forward to taking you all through to the end of it! Cheers!
Chapter 14: A Very Reed Christmas
Malcolm! You're mother asked you how classes were going."
Malcolm recognized the slight tinge of annoyance in his father's voice, and his heart sank as he realized that tonight was going to be a typical Reed Christmas: lots of arguments and very little cheer.
He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry mother, I was lost in my thoughts."
"Thinking about something in particular? Or someone?"
He threw a somewhat annoyed glance at his aunt, who had unfortunately been seated next to him at the dinner table. He'd already been the recipient of several bony elbows over the past hour, as well as many not-so-subtle references to his perpetual singleness.
"Classes are going well." He said, purposefully ignoring his aunt's squinting eyes. "I had several particularly bright travel abroad students whom I believe will go far if they apply themselves."
"Americans." His father grunted with some distaste.
Malcolm's face twitched.
"Do you expect to have them in any of your classes after Christmas?" His sister Madeline asked.
"Are any of them good, church going girls?"
"I expect most of them will be taking other classes," He winced as his aunt landed another elbow in his ribs, "and I'm sure that there were a few good church going girls among them."
He realized he'd answered that far too quickly by the narrowing of his aunt's eyes and the sudden stiffness he sensed across the table.
"If I were to make an educated guess." He corrected. "I believe it is one of the largest religious denominations in America, although I can't be absolutely sure. It's against university policy to talk about religious views inside of a classroom."
"What about outside the classroom?"
"You know me father. I don't usually make it a habit of fraternizing with my students outside of the classroom environment."
He took a careful sip of wine, meeting his father's gaze with equal frankness. He hadn't told a lie. Talking with students outside of class was very unusual for him, and he usually make a habit of it. Usually. He just hoped his father would assume his son was far too responsible to get himself involved with a student.
His father hemmed after a tense moment of silence. "And so you shouldn't. No good has ever come from it. It's the same as a close relationship between a commanding officer and a subordinate. It puts all kinds of outrageous ideas into their heads, like delusions of grandeur."
Malcolm knew he was referring to his friendship with Jonathan Archer, and though it rankled him he chose to remain silent.
"But such a situation is not as reprehensible as a romantic entanglement between the ranks, which in the Navy is a punishable offence."
"However that is not the case in academia."
"But it would cost you your position." His father's voice rose along with the ruddy tinge to his cheeks. "No woman is worth the risk."
"In your opinion."
"Because it's the truth!"
"Well if that's the way you feel about it, then I'm sure mother is grateful you were never forced to choose between them. Although I'm sure you would have been much happier. If you had stayed married to the Navy, then perhaps you wouldn't have to live with the shame of having your only son turn out to be such a disappointment."
The shock in father's eyes usually would have been satisfaction enough for Malcolm, but he found himself unable to stop there.
"And while we're on the subject of disappointment, I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that I am planning on giving up my seat at Oxford for a position overseas. In Florida."
"Giving up your position!" His mother gasped. "What happened?"
"Nothing mother, except that I've finally found what I want to do with the rest of my life. Or at least the foreseeable future."
His father had finally recovered the use of his voice at this point, and some of his bluster was back. "And what exactly will you be doing overseas Malcolm? Are you finally going to listen to the advice of that American and go teach in some second rate college about astronomy?"
"No, but I will be joining Captain Archer's team during NASA's Mission to Mars."
The silence that met this ultimatum was absolute. Malcolm hadn't realized just how serious he was about accepting Captain Archer's offer until this moment, and it was as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
"Oh Malcolm, do you really mean it?"
"As a matter of fact I do, Madeline."
"Why this is wonderful! I remember as a boy you always dreamed of going to the stars."
His chin raised a fraction, feeling comforted in the fact that he had at least one person in his family who was happy for him.
"How could this have happened?" His mother turned to look at his father, who was turning an unhealthy shade of purple.
"Captain Archer approached me with the offer before the break. I wasn't sure at first if it was the right thing to do, but then I realized that it's what I want."
He looked at his sister, and gave her a small smile. "You know, I don't believe I've ever said those words out loud before. My life has always been driven by duty and caged in by security, but this... this is my opportunity. This is what I want, and I'm going to pursue it with everything that I have."
Her smile turned watery, and she sniffed.
"This is preposterous!" His father sputtered. "If you thought about what you're going to do for one moment-"
"I've thought about it at length actually, and I always do, with such decisions. Nothing I do with my life should ever come as a surprise to you father, or it wouldn't if you'd taken the time to know me at all." He stood up from his seat. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of things to do and some phone calls to make. I'm sorry to leave before dessert mother. I'll see you tomorrow evening Madeline, Jerry."
He grabbed his coat from off the rack and left without a backward glance. He wasn't sure if or when his father would recover from his announcement, but he hoped that his mother would eventually understand and be happy for him. Of the two of them, she was the most likely to try. For now, he at least he had his sister, and he knew there were more than a handful of people overseas who would be more than happy that he'd made this decision.
"Happy Christmas Malcolm." He turned up the collar of his coat, and forged against the cold winter wind with a smile.