Log Rhythms - Season Two
Bonnie woke and lay very still. Even without checking the chronometer she knew it was far too early in the morning to consider disturbing her sleeping companion. Besides which she had to admit she liked it where she was—spooned warmly behind Stephanie. Bonnie resisted the temptation to reach her arm around the blonde woman. Instead, she grudgingly settled for allowing her hand to rest gently on Stephanie's shoulder. She closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep.
Mayweather entered the launch bay and looked around. Spotting Commander Tucker next to Shuttlepod One, he called out cheerfully, "Morning, Commander!"
Tucker glanced up from checking over his toolkit. "Morning, Travis," he replied with little enthusiasm. He hadn't slept well despite Malcolm's presence, and he'd risen even earlier than he'd planned. He'd hated leaving his sleeping lover, particularly when he'd promised last night to stay with him as long as possible before he had to go on duty. The idea that Malcolm would have since woken alone in Trip's cabin gnawed at his conscience. He would have to apologize the moment he next saw the tactical officer.
"Everything okay, sir?" inquired Mayweather.
"Rough night," was Tucker's uninformative response. "Ready to start on the auto-pilot upgrades?"
"I wouldn't be so eager if I were you," joked Tucker, trying to regain some semblance of his usual pleasant demeanor. "This thing works well enough, you may just be out of a job."
"That's why I'm looking forward to working on it."
"Know your enemy," said Mayweather in an overly dramatic tone. Then he grinned. Tucker couldn't help but grin back; Mayweather's broad smile was just too infectious to leave anyone in a bad mood for long.
"Then let's get to work."
Malcolm passed a relatively leisurely early morning. He woke alone before the alarm sounded, unconsciously missing the warmth of his lover's body next to him. It took him a moment to remember Trip had an early shift. He rose and dressed, then stopped by the mess hall to grab a quick breakfast, which he took back to his own cabin to eat. Once he was sufficiently fed, he decided a quick shower and change of uniform were in order.
The captain's hail came while he was in the middle of dressing for duty.
"Archer to Lieutenant Reed."
Malcolm tossed his damp towel down the laundry chute as he crossed his cabin to the comm panel. He opened the line. "Go ahead, sir."
"I'd like you stop by my ready room before you go on duty this morning, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir." A number of possible reasons for the captain's request sprang to Malcolm's mind, but he kept his theories to himself. "I'll be there shortly."
"Good. Archer out."
Malcolm closed his end of the comm and quickly finished dressing. He combed through his drying hair with his fingers. A glance in the mirror told him he looked acceptable for a visit to the captain's office.
It was a short turbolift ride to the bridge. He nodded greetings to T'Pol, Sato, and the morning's helmsman, Ensign Hutchison, as he crossed the deck to Archer's ready room. He pressed the chime and heard Archer call, "Come in."
Reed entered the room, allowing the door to close behind him before speaking. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Have a seat," Archer said, waving a hand at the empty chair in front of the desk. The lieutenant sat, his neutral expression betraying nothing of his thoughts about this meeting. Archer leaned back in his chair, his eyes still on his computer monitor. "I was just going over last night's comm logs," he began. This was all it took for Reed to know why he was here. "There are some oddities. I think maybe you can shed some light on them."
"Possibly." Reed was still reticent; he didn't want to tip his hand quite yet. "What sort of oddities, sir?"
The captain fixed him with a stern look. He wasn't in the mood for a Q&A this morning. "I think you already know the answer to that. Now would you care to tell me why you used your authority to break into a subordinate's private mail? And why there's a notation in the records that you're to be notified the next time she receives a message from her family?"
"It's not against regulations, sir."
"Not when there's a good reason." Archer paused briefly. "I presume you have a good reason."
There was another silence.
"I'm waiting," the Captain prompted.
"It's personal, sir."
Archer frowned, his eyebrows drawing together. "There are a number of reasons why you might legitimately do what you did. All of them are reasons for concern, in my book. As Captain of this ship, I need to know what's going on."
Reed remained uncommunicative. "It's not my place to say, sir."
"But it's your place to intercept Ensign Cormack's correspondence?"
"I have no intention of intercepting anything, Captain," protested Reed. "I simply want to know when she gets another letter from home."
Here Reed hesitated again. What could he say that would satisfy the captain without betraying Cormack's privacy? "I want to be certain she isn't alone when she gets the letter."
"That suggests it's going to be very bad news," said Archer, somewhat taken aback. He couldn't say what he'd expected to hear, but it definitely wasn't this.
"It could be, yes, sir."
The Captain regarded his Tactical Officer in silence. Normally, this sort of reserve was something one desired in one's head of security; it was a good sign that he wouldn't readily hand over information. In the case of personal communications, however, it was annoying as hell. Archer sat back in his chair, letting his loosely-clasped hands rest in his lap. "That 'miscommunication' you had in the armory yesterday morning—might that have anything to do with what's going on?"
"Yes, sir," Reed answered promptly.
"And I saw from your report that you relieved Ensign Cormack of duty shortly thereafter, and haven't yet rescinded the order."
"Yes, sir," repeated the lieutenant.
Finally Archer had had enough of Reed's equivocating. He cut to the chase. "I don't know what's going on in your department, Malcolm, and it's clear that short of me ordering you, you're not going to tell me. I don't want to pry into the personal affairs of my crew, and I'm not trying to tell you how to run the armory, but I need to know if Ensign Cormack is going to pose any sort of danger to this ship."
"No, sir." Reed was firm. "I assure you she will not pose any danger to the ship or to any other member of the crew." He'd been ready for this question and had already formulated his response. He wondered if it sounded as rehearsed to Archer's ears as it did to his own.
It wasn't the formality of the language that caught the captain's ear, however; it was the words themselves. "Any other member of the crew?" Reed was silent. "I don't like mysteries, Lieutenant." The two men regarded one another across the desk, Archer's face dark with frustration, Reed's impassive. It was the captain who broke first. "I trust that whatever this is, it won't affect the smooth running of Enterprise. If it does, you'll be in here again. Understood?"
Without another word, Reed rose and departed.
Archer let out an irritated sigh when he'd gone. "I honestly do not know how he and Trip manage to get along so well," he muttered to the empty room.
Bonnie felt the woman next to her shift position. The slight movement was followed by a low moan of misery. The helmsman sat up carefully and looked down at Stephanie's pained expression. "Morning," she said softly.
"Don't shout," mumbled Stephanie. "What ?" She let the question dangle as memory assaulted her. "Shit." She tried to sit up but only got her head a centimeter off the pillow before giving up. "I'm sorry."
"Shh. It's okay," Bonnie assured her. "Hang on." She rose from the bunk, making sure the covers were tucked snugly around Stephanie as the blonde shifted wearily onto her back. "Cover your eyes." Obligingly, Stephanie let one arm fall across her face, hiding in the darkness. Bonnie turned on the bedside lamp and Stephanie could hear her picking up something from the shelf above the bunk. "Turn your head."
Not up to protesting, Stephanie turned her head away from the sound of the helmsman's voice. She felt a hypospray press against her neck and winced in response.
"How's that?" Bonnie asked.
Stephanie waited a moment for the contents of the injection to spread through her body. "Better," she managed finally. Cautiously she moved her arm from her eyes, squinting in the low light of the cabin. "Hey," she said as her eyes lit on the helmsman.
"Hey, yourself," replied Bonnie. "How are you?"
"Embarrassed as all hell, to start with." She pushed herself to a sitting position, sluggishly swinging her legs over the side of the bunk. Immediately Bonnie set down the hypo and sat beside her, helping her up.
Stephanie glanced at the empty bed across the room. "Where's Mae?"
There was an awkward silence eventually broken by Stephanie. "Sorry about " She trailed off. There was so much to apologize for, she didn't know where to begin.
"It's okay. Really."
"Shit." Stephanie rested her elbows on her knees and lowered her head into her hands.
Bonnie put an arm around her shoulders. "Are you gonna be sick again?" Stephanie shook her head once and Bonnie let out a relieved sigh. "You want some water?"
"Yes, please. And could you lace it with a little strychnine?"
Bonnie chuckled gently. "One glass of water, coming up. No strychnine. Sorry."
Stephanie waited in silence as Bonnie disappeared into the lav. She heard water running, and shortly thereafter the auburn-haired woman reappeared. "Here you go."
"Thanks." Stephanie took the glass and sipped at it.
Once again Bonnie sat beside her. "Do you " she began hesitantly, then paused. She nervously scratched one eyebrow with her opposite thumb and tried again. "Do you remember what happened?"
"Unfortunately, I think I'm pretty clear on damn near all of it."
Another silence as Stephanie continued to sip at the cool water. She imagined she could feel it running all the way down her throat, through her esophagus, and into her stomach. The cold tingling was a welcome change from the burning alcohol she'd consumed the night before.
"Do you remember why you started drinking?"
Stephanie's shoulders stiffened. "Yes," she replied tightly.
"You know," Bonnie began, trying to lighten the heavy mood, "once you shake off that hangover you've got, Mae's probably gonna kick your ass."
"Yeah. We're all taking numbers. I think Lieutenant Reed is second, and then Liz. I'm fourth, but at least I got in ahead of Commander Tucker. After all, he doesn't actually know what all happened."
"As if he needed a reason," Stephanie muttered bitterly to herself. Then she added sarcastically, "Terrific. Just what I need to make my life complete." She glared at Bonnie; it was easy when her head hurt so much. "It wasn't my first choice, you know."
"That's not why we're gonna kick your ass. Well, not as far as I know, anyway," Bonnie amended.
Now Stephanie was confused as much as angry. "Huh? What then? Did I do something even more heinous than I can remember while I was fucked up?"
"No. It was the dumbass thing you did before getting fucked up."
"Before? Shit! What did I do!?" Stephanie felt miserable enough without this bizarre conversation she was having. Here she was, waking up in the bed of someone she'd really wanted to wake up with, but instead of the morning following a night of hot sex, it followed a night of drunken idiocy.
"Why didn't you come to us when you got the news about your sister?"
"How did you find out—?"
"We saw the message you got from your brother-in-law."
"You what?! You broke into my mail?!" Stephanie's anger was back in a flash, momentarily subsuming the throbbing in her head. Conversely, the adrenaline rush only made her stomach twist more.
"No. I would've, but Lieutenant Reed did it instead."
"He has the authority. It's in Starfleet Regs. Something about when someone is incapacitated her C.O. might need to access her files to contact her family or find out what the hell sent her over the edge in the first place," said Bonnie pointedly.
"So?" echoed Stephanie, her mind not really on the words. Her stomach was roiling unpleasantly and it was taking all her willpower to keep from throwing up.
"So, when you got the news," persisted Bonnie, "why didn't you tell anyone? Why did you make us go looking for whatever had hurt you so bad you felt you had to hurt yourself?"
"Can we not talk about this right now?" asked Stephanie through clenched teeth.
Bonnie was about to argue when she took a good look at her friend. Stephanie's normally pale face looked positively sallow, and while one hand held the glass of water in a death-grip, the other was clenched in a fist in her lap.
"C'mon." Bonnie stood abruptly.
Bonnie yanked Stephanie to her feet and took away the glass. "C'mon," she repeated, helping the smaller woman to the lav. "I know that look too well." As she had the night before, she lowered Stephanie to her knees and raised the lid on the head.
Without hesitation, Stephanie leaned over the bowl and heaved, the little water she'd had coming back up on a wave of acid and bile. When the convulsions finally stopped, she sat back with a groan. Bonnie already had a damp cloth waiting.
"Here you go," she said, handing it to Stephanie.
"Thanks." Stephanie wiped her face. "Can I have that water back? I want to rinse my mouth out."
"Yeah. I'll get it." The helmsman rose and returned quickly with the water and the hypospray. She handed the glass over, and Stephanie took it gratefully. She rinsed out her mouth and spit the liquid into the head.
"Better," she declared. "Not good, but better."
"You want another injection?" offered Bonnie.
"What is it?"
"No clue. Phlox brought it by last night while you were asleep, and it helped a little before, didn't it?"
"I suppose so. Go for it." Stephanie tilted her head to the side and Bonnie administered another dose of the medication. "Where was this stuff when I was a kid, eh?" asked the blonde with a relieved sigh.
"Definitely better." Cautiously, she stood, letting her free hand rest on the edge of the sink for balance. "I think I might live to have my ass kicked now," she joked bitterly.
Bonnie rose, too, shutting the lid to the head and flushing it. "About that—" she began. The look on Stephanie's face was enough to stop her mid-phrase.
"Please," the armory ensign said. "I'm willing to have this conversation—in fact I'm pretty damn sure I'm gonna have it several times before the day is out—but can it wait until I've had a shower and some breakfast? I stink, and I'm starving."
Bonnie was surprised. "You want breakfast? You don't eat breakfast."
"I do when I'm getting over a hangover."
"Okay. I need to shower and get dressed, too, and I could sure use something to eat. How about I get my stuff, walk with you to your place for your stuff, and we can both grab a shower."
Stephanie wanted to make a suggestive comment about sharing a shower, but she was too embarrassed by her behavior the night before to even attempt that kind of joke right now. Shame, she thought sadly. So much for that. Instead she went with the antithetical option. She said flatly, "I don't need a keeper."
"I'm not going to do anything else stupid. No—" She paused, thinking. "Let me rephrase that. I'm not gonna go boozing it up again."
"I didn't suggest you were," argued Bonnie defensively. In truth, she, Mae, and Liz had all agreed to keep an eye on Stephanie today—until they were sure she would be all right on her own. It was as if Stephanie had read her mind.
"You didn't have to," the blonde said bitterly. "I've been here before."
"Can't I just be worried about you?" It was the rest of the truth—the part Bonnie was willing to share. "You were a mess when you showed up here last night. And you weren't in real great shape even five minutes ago. You can imagine whatever motives you want, but the fact is I care what happens to you. So like it or not, you're stuck with me as your shadow until I have to go on duty."
There was a tense silence as Stephanie's tired brain absorbed and processed the words she'd just heard. Her heart gave a small skip of hope, but she bashed it down cynically. "Fine," she said so sharply that Bonnie visibly winced. Stephanie wanted to apologize, but her stubborn streak wouldn't let her. "When do you go on duty?" she asked angrily.
Stephanie closed her eyes for a brief moment. She didn't think she could keep up her angry front that long when what she really wanted was this woman's company and comfort. She'd been good at staying mad when she was younger, but she'd happily fallen out of practice. "Whose turn is it to baby-sit after that?"
"You don't have to be such a bitch about it," snapped Bonnie, her patience finally cracking. "Face it. Your friends care about you. Gee, doesn't that just suck?"
"I didn't ask—" Stephanie began, but the helmsman cut her off.
"No, you didn't. And that's the point. You had a problem and you didn't ask for help. Not from Liz, not from Mae or me, not from Lieutenant Reed. There's a perfectly good counselor aboard, but you didn't even talk to him. You didn't trust any of us enough to talk to us. You just locked yourself up and dove into a bottle of vodka. Well excuse me for feeling hurt and pissed off." Bonnie was furious, her fiery temper running away with her good sense. "You know what? Go. You don't want to be around me? Fine. Get out. I have plenty of other things I could do with my morning than keep you company. Fuck you. Go."
Stephanie stared at her, stunned. She had no idea what to say. She clenched her jaw, this time fighting back tears rather than nausea. With one nod of her head, she turned and left the cabin.
Bonnie stood there for several seconds, shaking with fury. Then a horrible sinking feeling hit her in the gut as she realized what she'd done. She sank on shaking legs to her bunk, picked up the abandoned hypospray and fiddled with it absently as she muttered to herself. "Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck."
"Commander?" called Lawless.
"Over here," came the reply from across the launch bay.
The ensign made her way to the far shuttlepod and stuck her head through the open hatch. "I have the equipment you asked for." She handed the silver case she carried to the blond man. "How's it going?" she asked, glancing from him to Mayweather, who was flat on his back under the pod's control console.
"Pretty good," Tucker replied. He set the case on one of the benches and opened it up. "We ought to be ready for testing in another day or two."
Lawless nodded. "That's great."
"Yeah," agreed Mayweather, sliding out from under the console so he could see her while he talked. "If it works well enough, I might get a little extra time off," he joked.
"Liz'd like that," quipped Lawless. She turned to Tucker. "Did you need anything else, sir?"
"Okay. See you later." She turned to go.
"Wait," said Tucker, surprising her. Lawless stopped, an inquisitive look on her face.
Tucker looked at Mayweather. "I'll be right back." Without waiting for a reply, he hopped out of the shuttlepod. He gestured to Lawless to walk with him. Puzzled, she nodded and the two strolled slowly toward the door through which she'd first entered. When they were far enough from the shuttlepod that Tucker was certain they wouldn't be overheard, he asked, "How's Ensign Cormack?"
Lawless tried to hide her surprise at his inquiry, but she had only limited success. Tucker noticed and cursed himself inwardly. Malcolm was right; this problem he had with Stephanie had to stop.
"She's okay, I guess," Lawless said finally. "She and Bonnie were still asleep when I left this morning."
Tucker was confused. "She stayed with you two last night?"
"Yes, sir. We couldn't exactly take her back to her own cabin without someone noticing, after all," she added in an undertone.
"Right. Of course." He hesitated, not quite sure how his next question would be taken. "Do you know what happened? To set her off, I mean?"
Again Lawless was shocked, but this time she didn't try to hide it. "Lieutenant Reed didn't say?" she asked. Tucker shook his head. "Well I " She was stuck. She'd assumed Reed had told the commander everything. Now that she knew he hadn't, she wasn't sure what she should do. "It's really not my place," she said at last. "I'm sorry, sir."
"It's all right, Mae," Trip said. He hadn't really expected her to tell him. It seemed the protective streak towards Ensign Cormack wasn't limited to Malcolm. "I just wanted to make sure she was okay."
"Thank you, Commander," Mae replied, genuinely touched. "She'll appreciate that."
Tucker nodded mutely, not sure what else to say. Lawless recognized his discomfort and gave him a way out of the awkward moment.
"I've got to go. I told Lieutenant Hess I'd only be gone a minute. See you later, sir." She quickly left the launch bay. Once out in the corridor she headed back toward Main Engineering, bemused. Well, what the hell do you know?
Malcolm found his errant ensign in the mess hall. She was alone at a table. The remnants of food that remained on the dishes before her attested to the huge meal she'd consumed. He approached the table, his mug of hot black tea held in both hands. She didn't look up as he reached her. "May I join you?" he inquired formally.
Stephanie finally glanced up from the dregs of her latté. "Go ahead," she replied unenthusiastically.
He sat across from her and regarded her thoughtfully. She looked much better than she had last night. She'd showered and now wore a clean uniform. Her hair was once more in its usual tidy braid. Still, there were dark circles under her hazel eyes.
"How are you feeling?" he asked finally.
She looked at him and, ignoring his question, asked directly, "Is it your turn to yell at me?"
"I beg your pardon?" Malcolm was taken aback.
He knew nothing about the fight she'd had with Bonnie, nor was he a part of the women's plan to keep a watchful eye on Stephanie.
The ensign sighed. "Sorry," she said. "Nothing. Go on."
"I just wondered how you're feeling," he repeated. He sipped at his tea while he waited for her to answer.
She shrugged. "Alive. Stupid. Helpless." She stared down into her coffee mug, then glanced back up at him. "You mind if I get another before we go on? I promise not to take off."
Malcolm shook his head. "Of course not. I wouldn't presume to stand between you and your coffee," he added, trying to lighten her morose mood. He was rewarded with an almost-smile.
"Be right back." Stephanie took her mug to the drinks dispenser and ordered another double latté.
Malcolm watched her as she crossed the room, waited for her mug to fill, and then slowly meandered back. She looked exhausted; the uncharacteristic stoop of her shoulders particularly caught his attention. He fixed her with a concerned gaze as she resumed her seat.
Stephanie noticed his expression and was immediately on the alert. "What?"
"Is there anything I can do?"
At his gentle inquiry, her defensive wall crumbled. "Take me home?" she asked plaintively, then chuckled mirthlessly at the futility of her request. "Stupid, eh? I couldn't do any more there than I can here. Except maybe know what the hell was going on. I haven't heard anything since that one message, you know that? I don't even know if she survived the surgery."
"I'm certain you'll hear something soon."
"Soon," she echoed. "I hate waiting." She gave another dry laugh, and the sound struck Malcolm as particularly desolate.
"Have you talked to anyone about it?"
"Between sobering up and now? Only Bonnie." Her expression darkened at the memory.
On the alert for any subtle changes in his friend, Malcolm noticed it immediately. "What happened?"
Stephanie shrugged. "Nothing." Malcolm waited, sipping his tea. He knew if he was patient, she'd go on. He was right. "We got into an argument. Mostly about what a dumbass I was for not telling any of you what was going on."
"It's not entirely your fault," Malcolm said gently. He still blamed himself for his own part in her breakdown. No matter the rational arguments, he couldn't help but believe Stephanie would have been all right if only he hadn't reprimanded her. The boulder that broke the camel's back, he thought bitterly. Aloud, he said, "We should have noticed something was wrong. We had plenty of time to realize you were upset, but none of us did. If we had " His voice was heavy with guilt despite his attempt to hide it.
"If. I can think of a hell of a lot of ifs right now, and not one of them makes me feel any better." She looked at Malcolm, seeing the worried friend, not the Starfleet officer. "It's not your fault. It's mine. I know that, and I'll deal with it."
"It's no one's fault," argued Malcolm, wishing he believed it.
"Sure it is," countered Stephanie easily. "I fucked up, Malcolm. I'll deal. But this time," she added, "I'm asking for help. I've already got an appointment with Kyrin for tomorrow afternoon."
"And who knows? Maybe by then I'll know what happened back home."
"Maybe. Right now, though, I need to get back to work." He rose.
"Right." Stephanie stared into her mug, eyes trained on the bubbles of the foam. She suddenly didn't want to look her C.O. in the eye; his mention of work reminded her that she'd been relieved of duty.
Malcolm looked down at her bowed head. "And I expect you to be back on duty at 0700 tomorrow morning," he said firmly.
A slow smile spread across Stephanie's face—the first genuine smile she'd sported in several days. She looked up and resolutely met his gaze. "Yes, sir."
Malcolm and Trip sat at a mess hall table. They'd chatted quietly over dinner, each man sharing his day's more interesting events. Trip eagerly told his partner how he and Mayweather had made great progress with the upgraded auto-pilot in Shuttlepod One. Malcolm in turn related how he and his team had finally completed all their weapon testing and found everything to be in excellent condition. Neither man brought up the topic that was foremost in both of their minds.
Trip nibbled at a slice of pecan pie. It reminded Malcolm of something but it took him a moment to put his finger on what. When he did, he didn't know whether to laugh or to reach over and smack his lover on the head. He opted for neither. Instead he asked, "Are you busy tonight?"
Trip washed down a bite of his pie with a swallow of milk before answering. "Not really. Why?"
"I thought I'd stay in and watch a movie. Perhaps you'd like to join me?" In fact, the movie was just an excuse for the invitation; Malcolm had ulterior motives.
Trip was too caught up in his own agenda to notice the gleam in his partner's eyes. "Sure. I just have a errand to run first."
"An errand?" Malcolm chuckled. "You make it sound like you're going to run down to the shops for a liter of milk."
"Yeah," agreed Trip, equally amused. "Does sound kind of silly, doesn't it?" He took a last bite of pie. "Actually, I should probably do it now before it gets late."
"What are you doing, anyway?"
Trip was diffident. "I'd rather not say just yet. But I'll let you know how it goes."
"That's reasonable." Malcolm was dead curious, but he didn't pursue the issue. "See you in my cabin in I don't know. How long do you expect this 'errand' to take?"
Trip shrugged. "I don't really know. Not too long, I don't think. How about I meet you in half an hour?"
"All right," Trip echoed, rising from the table.
"Don't you want to know what movie?" Malcolm asked before his partner could get away.
It hadn't even occurred to Trip to ask. "Nah. Whatever you want to watch is fine."
Malcolm give him a curious look. "Are you sure you're feeling well?" he asked only half jokingly.
"Sure. I'll see you in a little bit." Trip departed, leaving Malcolm wondering.
"Liz, go. I'll be fine, I swear."
Liz regarded her bunkmate dubiously. "No, I'll stay. It's okay. Travis will understand."
Stephanie tried to stifle her annoyance. She knew her friend was only trying to take care of her. The trouble was that was what her friends had been doing all day. The only time she'd been alone was the time from her fight with Bonnie until lunch, when Mae and Liz had found her. After that, they'd not let her out of their sight. Mae had spent the afternoon with her, and now Liz was about to cancel her date so she could watch Stephanie all evening. It was ridiculous.
At least Stephanie had gotten no lecture from Mae. One swift smack up side the head and a vehement "Next time tell me when something's wrong!" was all the engineer had required to be satisfied her friend knew where she stood. Liz, on the other hand, kept giving Stephanie disappointed looks when she thought the blonde wasn't looking. Despite Liz's assurances that "I'm not disappointed in you. I'm just disappointed that you didn't trust me," the armory ensign didn't think she could take a whole evening of it.
Stephanie was about to protest again when the door to their quarters chimed. The two women exchanged a glance, confirming without a word that neither was expecting company. Liz opened the door.
"Commander," she said in surprise. "What can I do for you?"
"Is Ensign Cormack in?" Tucker asked. He was trying to be formal, businesslike, but he had the sinking feeling he wasn't fooling anyone.
Liz glanced over her shoulder at Stephanie who shrugged, an unreadable expression on her face. "She's right here. Come in." She stepped aside to allow the engineer room to enter. She glanced back and forth between her bunkmate and Tucker. Tucker shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other and glanced uncertainly at Cutler, then Cormack, and back to Cutler. It was clear to Liz that whatever he wanted to say, he wasn't going to say it with her there. She made up her mind instantly; she wasn't going anywhere until she knew what was up. She crossed her arms. "Is there something we can do for you, sir?" she asked again.
Trip met Liz's sharp gaze. He'd spent enough time as a patient in sickbay to recognize the firm set of her jaw and the narrowing of her eyes. He chuckled humorlessly to himself. Another one looking out for her, he thought, remembering his brief conversation with Lawless that morning. "Actually, I have something I want to discuss with Ensign Cormack," he answered pointedly. His meaning was clear; he wanted to speak with Stephanie alone.
"It's okay," Stephanie spoke up at last. She gave Liz a reassuring nod. "Go. Tell Travis I said hi," she added, hoping her friend would actually listen to her and leave.
Liz hesitated but finally gave in. "Okay," she said, resigned. "You know where to find me." She turned to Commander Tucker once more, arms no longer crossed but hanging loosely at her sides. He thought she looked almost ready to take a swing at him. "Good evening, Commander." She shot a final encouraging smile at her bunkmate. "See you later."
Silence descended on the cabin at Liz's departure. Stephanie continued to sit on her bunk, cross-legged, with her copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare open next to her. She waited wordlessly for the lecture she assumed was coming; she had no intention of helping it along.
"Mind if I sit down?" asked Trip at last. Stephanie shook her head, gesturing mutely toward the desk chair. Trip pulled it out and sat. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "What're you reading?" he asked, desperately searching for a way to make a connection with the ensign.
"Huh. I've never read that one. I liked which one was it?" He thought for a moment, searching his memory for the title. "King Lear."
Stephanie almost smiled. "That's my favorite," she admitted.
Another awkward silence fell. Still Stephanie waited. As far as she was concerned, the ball was entirely in Tucker's court. He'd sought her out after months of avoiding and ignoring her. She figured he'd get to the reason eventually.
"I heard a little bit about what happened last night." Tucker's words were hesitant, almost as if he was afraid of how Cormack would react. As it turned out, she didn't react at all. He was forced to continue without any idea of how his words were being received. "I don't know why you fell off the wagon, but I figure it must have been something pretty bad."
"You could say that," Stephanie said softly. She looked down at her hands, surprised to discover they were clenched so tightly together that her knuckles were white. She forced herself to release her grip and placed her open palms on her bent knees.
Trip watched in fascination, wondering what emotion was causing her tension. She's probably trying to keep from punching you, his mind told him. Just like Cutler was.
In fact, Stephanie was trying to keep her hands from shaking. She looked up and over at the tall engineer, hazel eyes meeting blue with the fierce intensity of a cornered animal. "Was there something you wanted to say to me, sir?"
"Malcolm thinks it was his fault. Well," he amended, "at least partly his fault."
Now Cormack was even more on the defensive. She naturally assumed Tucker was here to accuse her of blaming Reed for her own mistakes. "Did he tell you that?"
Tucker shook his head. "Not in so many words, but yeah. Said he should've noticed something was up."
"He told me the same thing this morning." She wanted to make certain there was no misunderstanding over what she said next. She looked directly into Tucker's eyes and continued. "I told him he was wrong. It's my own damn fault."
"Maybe, maybe not." Tucker shrugged. "You never know what might send you over the edge. You can't predict it."
Cormack looked at him quizzically, taken aback by his unexpectedly sympathetic reply. "You sound like you're talking from personal experience."
Trip shrugged again. "Not me personally, but I've seen it happen. Big family like mine, there are bound to be some problems."
"I get it. You don't have to tell me anything."
"Yeah I do." He looked at her solemnly. "I have to tell you I'm sorry."
It was the last thing she'd expected. For a moment she couldn't believe she'd heard him correctly. "Sir?"
"Trip," he corrected. "We're off duty. Call me Trip."
"Uhh " The ensign was completely stymied.
"I've been a jerk to you, and you didn't deserve it. You didn't do anything; it's my own hang up and I need to get over it."
"But what is it?" Stephanie exclaimed, her whirling mind finding something solid to grasp. "If I didn't do anything to piss you off, then what the hell is the problem?"
Trip knew it would come to this. He'd resigned himself to it when he'd decided to come talk to her. He was ready to look like an idiot. "I thought you were interested in Malcolm." Stephanie's eyes widened in shock. He continued before she could protest. "And you're my type."
Now Stephanie's brows furrowed. She tried to make his words make sense, but she couldn't quite manage it. Eventually, she gave up. "What?"
"You're my type," he repeated, blushing with embarrassment.
"I'm No. Malcolm's your type. What drug are you on?"
Trip let his head fall, stared into his lap before replying. "Natalie was a blonde. Curly hair, too. Cute and little, like you."
"I am not 'little'," Stephanie said firmly.
"You'd rather I call you short?" he countered, meeting her gaze once more.
The two glared at each for a moment. Abruptly, both burst out laughing. When they began to calm down, Stephanie asked, "Who the hell is Natalie?"
"My last ex," explained Trip.
"And I look like her?" She was still a bit bewildered.
"Not really. You just fit the same description, you know what I mean?" Stephanie nodded. "Same as my first real girlfriend, too." Now he looked at her slyly. "Short and blonde. Only neither of them had your color eyes."
"You've hardly looked me in the eye in six months. I can't believe you know what color they are."
"I don't," he admitted. "I just know they're not blue."
"I'm still confused. But before we go any further on this bizarre topic, let me assure you I have no designs on Malcolm," Stephanie said distinctly. "Or you for that matter," she added with a smirk. "I don't really go for blond men."
Trip was about to demand to know what was wrong with blond men when he stopped himself. He realized from her mischievous smile that she was baiting him. The sudden insight made him feel surprisingly good. That's the way friends tease each other, he thought.
Her next words made him uncertain again, however. "I also know," Stephanie continued firmly, "that you have no designs on me. Right?"
"Right!" he answered reassuringly, then wondered which of the two of them needed the reassurance more.
"Because if you did, I'd be forced to kick your ass from here to the Klingon homeworld."
"Excuse me, Ensign?" He was pretty damn sure she was serious in her threat.
"You heard me, Commander. I know you're not interested in me or any other short blonde chicks aboard this ship or anywhere else. Because that would be wrong."
Her meaning was clear. If he hurt Malcolm, she would hurt him—in a way that would likely require treatment from Doctor Phlox. He had no doubt she could and would follow through on her threat should he give her cause. "You'd risk your rank, your career, to protect Malcolm," he said in quiet realization.
So the protective streak runs both ways. That's good. He smiled, surprising her. Trip chuckled at her obvious bewilderment at his reaction. He decided to let her keep wondering. "So," he said finally, "we're good?"
"You tell me. It was never my idea to be un-good."
"Fair enough." He nodded. "From now on, no more acting like a jerk." He held out his right hand. "Friends?"
Stephanie took it and shook it firmly. "Friends." She held on tight when he tried to let go, forced him to meet her gaze. "They're hazel, and I am by no definition 'cute'. Got it?"
Trip laughed out loud. "Got it," he confirmed. She let him go and he sat back. "I should get going. Malcolm's expecting me." He stood.
"Have fun." Her implication was obvious in her tone of voice.
"We're watching a movie," Trip protested for no reason he could logically fathom.
"I don't know."
She gave him a knowing smile. "Yeah. You enjoy that 'movie'."
Again Trip blushed. "You're " He searched for right word.
"Evil?" offered Stephanie.
"I wasn't gonna go that far."
"You're too kind."
Trip shook his head. "You really aren't mad at me, are you?" At her curious expression, he explained. "For treating you so badly for so long, I mean."
"You're done with that, right?" Trip nodded. "We know where we both stand on the Malcolm issue, right?" He nodded again. "Then no, I'm not mad at you. It takes way too much energy to hold a grudge. You apologized; I accept the apology. We're cool."
"Just like that?"
"Did you want me to be mad at you?"
Trip hesitated. "It'd make me feel a little better, yeah."
"Well " Stephanie shrugged and gave him a bitter-sweet smile. "Tough."
"Okay. Do me one favor, though."
"Tell your friends."
"Tell my friends?"
"Yeah. Tell Mae and Liz. Tell anyone who might want to know that you and I are okay. Okay?"
"'Cause Liz looked like she wanted deck me when she left here, and Mae I'm pretty sure Mae's not real happy with me either." He paused, taking in her surprised expression. "Your friends really look out for you, you know? Even when you're not around to see it."
Stephanie blinked rapidly, fighting back unexpected tears. She swallowed against the lump that formed in her throat, and took a deep breath. "I didn't Thank you, Commander."
"Trip," he reminded her gently. He noticed the sudden brightness to her eyes and guessed at its cause.
"Trip," Stephanie repeated. "Thanks."
He simply nodded, a small, sympathetic smile on his lips. "See you 'round," he said, and departed.
Stephanie sat unmoving for several seconds, his words still echoing in her head. "Damn," she whispered. She sniffed as the tears began to run down her cheeks.
Mae glanced up from the datapad she was reading. "Hey, roomie," she said to her newly returned bunkmate.
"Hey," replied Bonnie glumly. She sat on her bed and listlessly pulled of her boots.
"Everything okay? You have a rough shift or something?" Mae put an electronic marker where she'd left off reading and set the pad on the floor next to her bunk.
"No. It was pretty dull, but not rough." Bonnie rose and began to undress. "How come you're still up?" she asked, hoping to get the subject off of herself.
"Couldn't put my book down."
Bonnie glanced at the discarded datapad. "Doesn't look like you had any trouble with that to me," she said. She decided her coveralls were good for another day of wear and hung them in her locker. She pulled off her black shirt and her socks, chucking them unceremoniously down the laundry chute.
"What's wrong?" persisted Mae. She sat up straighter and crossed her legs under her blanket.
Bonnie gave her friend a weary, frustrated look. "I had a fight with Stephanie this morning, okay? Happy now?" She took off her blues, trading them for silky green pajamas.
"You what? What happened?" Now Mae was all ears.
"I told you, I had a fight with Stephanie." She wandered into the lav and began to brush her teeth. Mae was out of bed and right behind her. The engineer stood in the doorway, arms crossed over her chest.
"What did you fight about?"
Her mouth full of toothpaste and a look of annoyance on her face, Bonnie just cocked her head at Mae.
"I can wait." This just got Mae a more annoyed glare, which she returned with a blithe smile.
Bonnie finished cleaning her teeth and began to wash her face. Mae waited.
Her evening ablutions complete, Bonnie scowled at her friend until Mae stepped aside, allowing her out of the lav and back into their cabin.
"So?" the engineer persisted.
"So, what?" Bonnie shut off the main cabin light, leaving only the glow of Mae's bedside light. "You know me: red-head, temper. I got mad. I told her to leave." She climbed into her bunk.
Mae was in shock. "You told her to leave? You were supposed to stay with her until I could be there! That explains why you weren't around when Liz and I found her at lunch."
"Well she didn't want me around, okay?" snapped the helmsman angrily.
"Sounds like it was the other way around," countered Mae. "You said you told her to leave."
Bonnie rolled onto one side, propping herself up on her elbow and glaring at her friend. "Yeah, after she made it abundantly clear that she didn't need or want a 'keeper'. Think about it. Just how thrilled was she when you and Liz descended on her like a pair of vultures?"
"We didn't—" Mae started to protest. She sat heavily on the edge of her bunk. "Okay, we did."
"She's an adult. She can take care of herself."
"I know. But she's our friend. We're supposed to watch out for her."
"That doesn't mean we should watch her twenty-four hours a day. It doesn't matter, anyway," continued the red-head, shifting onto her back and staring at the ceiling. For the first time ever, the narrow bunk felt too big, empty. She missed the cozy feeling of Stephanie beside her.
Mae noticed the change in her bunkmate's tone. "It'll be okay. Just talk to her."
"I can't. Not now."
"Yes, you can. If I know Stephanie, she's over the fight by now. She doesn't stay mad very long—kind of like you," she added.
"Maybe." It was clear Bonnie didn't really believe her.
"Trust me. Just apologize, and you can both forget it ever happened."
It was the wrong thing to say. Bonnie looked over at her sharply. She sat up again, leaning on one hand. "Apologize? I don't think so. It wasn't my idea to start the fight."
"It doesn't matter who started the fight! The important part is who starts the reconciliation."
"Hm," grunted Bonnie. She hated to admit it, but the engineer was right. "We'll see. She probably won't even give me a chance to apologize, anyway."
"Just try. It can't make matters worse, right?"
"I suppose not," the helmsman grudgingly agreed. She lay down once more.
Mae climbed back under the covers of her own bunk. "Ready for me to shut off the light?"
"Good night," said Mae. She turned off the light, plunging the room into darkness.
"Good night," replied Bonnie flatly.
It wasn't long before Mae was asleep. Bonnie continued to lie awake, staring out the sliver of the port she could see from her bunk.
The door to Malcolm's cabin slipped open. Trip stepped inside, but his lover was nowhere to be seen. "Malcolm?" he called as the door closed automatically behind him.
"Right here," the tactical officer replied, emerging from the lav. He was already dressed in loose pajama-bottoms and a t-shirt. "How was your errand?"
"Good. Real good."
"I'm glad to hear it." Malcolm was still intensely curious as to what it had been, but he didn't pry. Trip would tell him when he was ready to tell him.
"You look comfy," said Trip, nodding at Malcolm's outfit.
"I am. You should change, too. The movie's a long one; you'll want to get comfortable."
"I'll just run to my quarters and change. I won't be five minutes." He turned to go, but Malcolm stopped him.
"There's no need."
Malcolm gestured with his head toward the bank of drawers next to the closet. "Open the second one down."
Trip had an idea what he would find, but he didn't say a thing as he stepped to the dresser and opened the second drawer. Inside were pajamas, a couple of t-shirts, one of the soft black shirts they all wore under their Starfleet coveralls, two pairs of socks, and several sets of his preferred style of regulation skivvies.
"There's a uniform and extra boots in the closet," Malcolm said, a note of uncertainty in his voice. "I hope you don't mind, but after the debacle with Captain Archer I thought it might be a good idea to be prepared " He trailed off as he took in the wide grin that had spread across Trip's handsome face.
"It's great, Malcolm," Trip said with all sincerity. "It means a lot to me." He slid the drawer shut and opened the closet. As promised, there was a clean uniform for him hanging at the opposite end of the bar from Malcolm's and a spare pair of boots just below it. "Good idea," he said, noting the distance. "Wouldn't want to get them mixed up."
"Quite. You're not that much taller than I am, but enough that I don't think either of us would find the confusion comfortable. On a number of levels," he added wryly.
"No." Trip closed the closet. He turned to his partner, took Malcolm's hands in his own. "Thank you. It really means a lot that you let me in like this."
Malcolm shrugged noncommittally, trying to pretend it wasn't the big deal that it was. It had been a hard decision for him to make, to take this seemingly small step. Trip knew it, and he appreciated what it meant to his partner; as a result, it meant a great deal to the engineer, too.
"Thank you," Trip said again and kissed Malcolm sweetly. "Tomorrow, we can do the same for you at my place, if you want to."
Malcolm nodded almost shyly. "I'd like that."
"Then we'll do it." They smiled at one another for a moment. Trip was momentarily lost in the blue of his lover's eyes. He shook himself back to reality. "Hey, what about that movie you promised me?"
"Put on your pajamas, and I'll call it up."
"What is it, anyway?" Trip asked, pulling a pair of pants and a t-shirt from his drawer. He tossed them onto the bunk and began to undress.
"The Right Stuff," replied Malcolm from the computer. "Have you seen it?"
"Nope." Tucker pulled off his boots and set them neatly to one side, then unzipped his coveralls and stepped out of them. He made sure the pockets were empty and he removed the rank insignia from the shoulder before tossing the uniform down the laundry chute. Next, he took off his black shirt and his socks, sending both after the uniform. He glanced up to see Malcolm watching him appreciatively from across the room. "Yeah?" he asked.
"Nothing at all. Just enjoying the pre-show entertainment," quipped Malcolm.
Trip made a show of slowly removing his bright blue undershirt and tossing it down the laundry chute. Malcolm raised an expectant eyebrow, and the engineer slipped out of his underwear, spinning them on one finger before getting rid of them with the rest of his clothes.
"Mm-mm!" grunted Malcolm with delight. "Awfully nice."
"You've got good taste," quipped Trip with a sly grin. "But you promised me a movie." He pulled on his pajama pants and t-shirt, much to Malcolm's disappointment.
"The movie can wait " the tactical officer suggested.
"Nope. I've been looking forward to it since you mentioned it."
"You didn't even know what it was until two minutes ago."
"Doesn't mean I wasn't looking forward to it anyway." Trip crossed the cabin and put his hands on Malcolm's shoulders. "Do you know how much I love you?"
Malcolm was a bit surprised at the non sequitur, but he didn't mind the abrupt change in subject. "I've heard rumors," he replied slyly and gave his lover a cocky smile.
"Oh you have, huh?" Trip smirked back at him.
"What've ya heard?"
"All sorts of things." Malcolm reached out a hand and rested it lightly on Trip's chest, feeling his warmth through the thin fabric of his t-shirt.
"Yeah? Bet I know one you haven't heard."
"Is that so?" The hand trailed down to the waistband of Trip's pants, slipping just underneath it and traveling around behind the engineer.
"Yep." Trip had a hard time focusing. Malcolm's wandering hand massaged his buttock, and he could feel himself growing hard in response to the touch.
"What is it, then?"
"I " Focus, Trip! he ordered himself. "I talked to Stephanie tonight."
Malcolm stopped kneading, shocked and a little uncertain. "You did?"
"Uh-huh." Trip missed the strong caress but was grateful for the pause because it allowed him a moment to collect his thoughts. "I apologized."
"You did?" Malcolm said again. "And what did she say?"
"She said it was okay."
Malcolm's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "She did?"
"Yeah," Trip assured him. "She said it took too much energy to hold a grudge. You know," he continued, assessing his own feelings on the matter, "I think she's right. I feel a whole lot better than I did before."
"Oh, do you? Are you sure that doesn't have anything to do with this?" Malcolm squeezed Trip's bum enticingly.
"That's definitely having an effect, I'll admit," Trip joked. "C'mere, you." He pulled Malcolm the last few centimeters to him and kissed him soundly. They stood with their arms wrapped comfortably around one another for several moments before Trip spoke up once more. "Do you know how much I love you?" he murmured again into his lover's soft, dark hair.
"Yes," answered Malcolm with quiet joy. "I believe I do."