Log Rhythms - Season Two
Log Disclaimer: Ensign Ari Cohn belongs to Squeaky Lightfoot and is used with permission.
With delicacy and precision, she set two datapads and a small velvet bag on the smooth, gray surface of the table. She met the expectant gazes of the five people assembled. It had been several months since their last campaign and she'd spent a fair amount of that time planning another. Recent events had made her new plan surprisingly serendipitous. She was especially pleased with her current design, although no sign of it showed on her heart-shaped face. She smiled beatifically.
"Oh shit," said Cormack. "We're doomed."
Cutler laughed and finally took her seat at the head of the mess hall table. "That's entirely up to you," she replied, opening the velvet bag and dumping an array of brightly colored dice with a clatter.
"We can't be doomed yet," opined Mayweather. Smiling at Cutler so she'd know he was only teasing, he continued. "This is only our second session for this campaign. There'd be no fun in it for her if she couldn't torment us for another half-dozen meetings."
"At least," put in Lawless.
Cormack looked at the engineer and helmsman with false indignation. "You two dare to talk torment? Whose sordid past was dredged up last time?"
"Sordid past?" Sato perked up. "I missed that."
"And you're going to keep missing it."
Young, the only first-timer in the group, looked at them all. "Can we do this now? If she's going to torment us in some way," he said, gesturing to their Game Master, "we might as well get on with it."
Once again, Cutler smiled. "Thank you, Ian." She turned on both datapads and glanced at them. "Recap?"
As the leader of the group, Mayweather spoke up. "The newly outfitted Rescue Ranger is in high orbit over Mercury. Our comm officer, Kiki, has just picked up a distress call and we're trying to track down the source. Butch is at the helm, Barbarella is at the security station, and Bertha is keeping an eye on the engines."
"Are we sure we don't want Bertha at the comms?" inquired Sato of her character. "I know she's not as smart as Kiki, but with Kiki's luck we'll end up accidentally insulting any alien species we happen to meet."
"We'll cross that bridge when we meet an alien species."
"Which we haven't yet," interjected Cormack. She picked up her datapad in her good hand—her left arm was still in a sling from the incident on the jungle moon—and thumbed it on. "And according to my notes the distress call is coming through in English; we don't even need to use the UT."
"Correct," agreed Cutler.
"Can we track down the source of the transmission?"
"That depends. Give me your intelligence and luck quotients and your experience points."
Cormack didn’t even have to glance at her notes. "Ten total."
Cutler passed her two ten-sided dice. "Roll."
"High or low?" The blonde woman set down her pad and reached for the dice.
"You did that last time we met, too," said Young, interrupting her mid-shake. "Why do you always ask that?"
"Huh?" grunted Cormack, her concentration broken.
"Every time Liz hands you the dice, you ask 'High or low?' Why?"
"So I know what to roll," she explained, as if it were obvious.
"But you have no control over it."
"So why ask?"
Cormack rested her hand, still holding the dice, on the table. "Because. Now are we done? Can I roll?" she replied tersely.
"Hey, I was just asking." Young held up his hands in a defensive gesture.
"And I was answering."
Sensing tension rising, Sato laid a gentle hand on Young's forearm. "If it works for her, what’s the difference?" she asked, hoping to forestall further argument. "If she gets the roll she wants, we all benefit."
Cutler decided it was time to move on. She turned to her bunkmate. "Roll," she said, cutting off any more discussion.
Cormack nodded and narrowed her eyes in concentration. She shook the dice in her hand, muttering, "Come on, baby. Mama needs a new transmission source." She tossed the dice and everyone waited for them to come to a stop. "Fourteen!" she cried gleefully.
"The transmission is coming from a space station orbiting Venus," Cutler announced, reclaiming the dice and returning them to the pile next to her.
Mayweather leaned forward. "What sort of station is it?" he asked. "Starfleet? Military? Research?"
"Intelligence, luck, and experience points?" she countered easily.
She slid three twelve-sided dice down the table to him. "Roll."
"What do I need?"
"Less than eighteen."
He rolled. There was a collective moan of disappointment when he came up with nineteen.
Cutler smiled blithely. "You can’t tell, but it’s definitely of Earth origin."
"All right," said Mayweather, undaunted. "Butch, plot a course for the station, warp speed. Kiki, keep hailing them. See if we can get them to respond."
"Aye-aye, Skipper!" quipped Young, noting the order in his datapad. "Course plotted and laid in."
"Let's check it out."
"As you approach the station coordinates," Cutler informed them, "you pick up unusual energy readings."
"Recommend we raise the ship's forceshield," said Lawless.
"Agreed," Mayweather responded.
Lawless looked at Cutler. "I raise the defensive shields and take scans of the energy readings. What do I find?"
Wanting to get to the main action of the campaign, the Game Master didn't require Lawless to roll before giving her more information. "The readings are unusual, but you recognize the signature of tachyons."
"Tachyons?" queried Sato.
But Lawless smiled. "You've been reading those books I recommended, haven't you?"
"How did you guess?" Cutler grinned back.
"Hang on," interjected Young. "How come she didn't have to roll for that?"
"She just didn't," answered Cutler simply. "Sometime you do, sometimes you don't. That's the joy of being the GM."
"Ian," said Mayweather before they could get off track again. "Let it go, man. It's just part of the game."
Young shrugged, his expression doubtful. "If you say so."
Cutler didn't like where the evening kept trying to go, and it all seemed to be stemming from their newest player. Young was only slightly less versed in role-playing games than Sato, whose first campaign had been cut short when she'd had to work on a particularly difficult translation assignment. Somehow he always managed to ask his questions in the most challenging tone possible. Cutler tried to put it down to honest curiosity on his part and unfamiliarity with his personality on her own part, but it was getting difficult.
"When we're done tonight I'll be happy to loan you my copies of the various gaming handbooks," she offered pleasantly.
"Yeah, okay. Thanks."
He still looked dubious, but Cutler let it go. They had to get moving if they were going to cover any sort of ground this evening. "Okay, we were talking tachyons," she said, once more bringing the game back on track.
Cormack spoke up. "And you were about to tell us where they were coming from."
Cutler eyed her slyly. "No, I wasn't."
"Damn. I was hoping I'd get you."
"They must be coming from the space station," put in Lawless. She turned to Cutler. "Is there another option?"
"Check your scanners." Cutler passed her three six-sided dice.
Lawless rolled and announced the result. "Seventeen."
"There's no other option," the Game Master conceded.
"Hold on." Sato raised a hand to pause the conversation. "Tachyons are particles that can only travel faster than light speed, right?"
"And they're coming from the space station?"
"And the space station is of Earth origin."
"You're on a roll." Cutler grinned.
"Earth doesn't have the technology to create tachyons. There isn't even proof they exist; they're theoretical."
Cutler fought back a sigh. It was the same problem she'd had the first time she'd gamed with Sato. The communications officer had problems accepting things as real for the fictional world of the game.
"Willing suspension of disbelief," Cormack said before her roommate could reply. "Just like theatre. You have to willingly suspend your disbelief or none of this will work."
"Hey, back off," ordered Young defensively.
Cormack started in surprise. "What? I was just saying—"
"Well shut up."
"Excuse me?" Now the blonde woman was pissed off. "What is your problem?"
"Maybe you are," Young countered just as angrily.
The pair rose and leaned in across the table toward one another. Everyone else responded at once.
"Whoa!" "Hey!" "Come on now!" "Chill out, you guys!" "What the hell?" The last was Cormack's.
"I said lay off Hoshi!" Young nearly shouted into Cormack's face.
She leaned closer, not put off by his angry tones and expression. "What the hell is up your ass tonight, man?" she demanded of her fellow armory ensign.
Before he could respond, Sato once again rested her hand on his arm. "Ian, relax. It's okay."
"No, it's not," he argued.
"She wasn't doing anything. Let it drop."
He shrugged her off and sulkily sat back down. "Whatever."
Cutler made a quick decision. "Let's call it a night," she said. "There's nothing so urgent in the game that it can't wait until another time."
"That's a good idea," agreed Sato readily. "It's already late, and I think we nearly all have Alpha shift duty tomorrow."
There were several nods of confirmation from the others at the table. Only Cormack didn't respond; her only duty was to show up in sickbay for physical therapy at 0900 the next morning.
"Sure," Young said sharply. He grabbed his datapad and stood again. "See you later." He was out of the room before anyone else had moved.
"Well," said Sato, breaking the uncomfortable silence, "I've had better dates."
"I'm sorry," Cormack apologized. "I really didn't mean anything by what I said."
"I know. I don't know what's wrong with Ian tonight." Sato looked thoughtful. "I'm going to see if I can catch him." She rose, tucking her datapad into a pocket. "Sorry about Ian."
"You don't need to apologize for him," Cutler told her. "He's a big boy. He can apologize for himself."
"Once he gets his head out of his ass," interjected Cormack. All four of her companions gave her chastising looks. She remained unfazed. "You know I'm right."
Sato sighed. "I'm afraid you are," she reluctantly agreed. "Good-night, everyone."
A chorus of good-nights and one distinct call of "Good luck!" followed her as she left.
The door closed behind her and, guessing Young would be heading to his cabin, Sato turned to pursue her date. She caught up with him along a cross-corridor.
"Ian," she called.
Despite his better judgement, Young stopped walking and let her catch up. "Hey," he said as she reached him.
"Hi," answered Sato. The pair started walking again. "I'm not used to leaving a party unaccompanied," she joked, hoping to lighten the dark mood that had fallen over Young so unexpectedly. "What happened back there?"
Young shrugged. "I don't know," he said flatly. He knew it wouldn't satisfy her, but he wasn't willing to face any other answer.
"You picked that fight with Stephanie like she was " She hunted for an appropriate comparison. " like she was crewman Rostov. What's going on?"
The armory ensign shrugged again, but his heart raced suddenly. Half-formed thoughts and a secret he had no intention of sharing were hastily shoved aside before they could come to the forefront of his brain, where he would have to deal with them. Instead he fell back on his faithful standby, churlishness, hoping she’d take the hint and let things drop before he actually had to think. "Nothing. She just gets on my nerves sometimes."
"I thought you two were friends."
"We are. Don't your friends get on your nerves sometimes?"
Sato glanced at him sidelong. "Occasionally."
Young caught the look and returned it mirthlessly. "You're funny," he said flatly.
"I'm just saying you weren't acting like yourself tonight and I want to know what's wrong. Maybe I can help?" she offered.
"I can think of a couple of ways you could help," he practically leered at her.
Sato's face was a study of exasperation, her lips pressed together into a thin line. "Thanks," she said flatly, "but I don't think so. Do you?"
Young inwardly cursed his sudden and inappropriate lewdness. He wasn't even in the mood for sex—a rare enough thing in itself that it bothered him on some level—so he didn't know why he'd suggested it. That damn 'Casanova' tag must finally be going to my head, he figured, disgusted. "Fine. It was just a thought," he grumbled.
"I'd hardly rate it that highly."
Young paused briefly in annoyance. He was unable to come up with a suitable rejoinder and instead picked up the pace toward his cabin. Sato hurried to keep up with his long-legged stride, momentarily regretting her sharp words.
"Listen," she tried one more time, "I just thought if you told me what was wrong we could talk it out and try to fix it."
They turned a corner and stopped in front of Young's cabin. He rounded on her angrily. "You want to know what's wrong?" he echoed. "I told you I don't know. Maybe I'm tired from covering shifts alone that should have been shared with Cormack. Maybe I'm sick of people asking me what's wrong. Maybe I'm just a jerk and it's taken you this long to notice. I'll see you around." He keyed open his door and stormed inside, leaving Sato alone in the corridor.
She glared in shock at the closed door for a moment. "Maybe you are a jerk," she muttered, then shook her head. She knew him well enough to be unable to believe it. "No. Something's going on." She pondered who might have an idea just what it was, but came up blank. She gave up glaring and headed off to her own quarters to think.
In the cabin he shared with Young, Cohn lay on his back on his bunk. He looked up at the entrance of his roommate. "Hey," he said. He promptly hit a button on the datapad in his hands, pausing the movie he'd been watching on its small screen. "I didn't expect to see you so early."
"Disappointed?" Young flopped onto his own bunk, tossing his datapad on the floor beside it.
Cohn frowned and sat up, leaning on one elbow and looking at his friend. "No. Just a little surprised. Did the game break up early?"
Young snorted derisively. "Something like that." Sensing the other man's next question, he cut him off with a word. "Don't."
"Don't ask me what happened, what's wrong, what's going on, or what's up my ass."
Taken by surprise by his bunkmate's words, Cohn laughed. "Okay. I won't. I don't think I'd want to know if there was something up your ass, let alone what it might be. Besides your head sometimes, that is," he joked.
Ian relaxed for the first time all night. Ari's easy banter made him feel better immediately. He turned to look at the dark-haired man, a smirk curling his lips. "You're sure about that?"
Ari laughed harder and nodded decisively. "Absolutely. What you and Hoshi do in the privacy of her quarters is none of my business."
Ian's smile faded at that and he stared up at the ceiling. It wasn't what he and Hoshi had done together that was on his mind at the moment. Still, he tried to keep his tone light as he replied. He didn't want his friend getting curious about things he didn't want to talk about—and the one-night stand he'd had with Michael Rostov was at the top of his list of things he didn't want to talk about. "You got that right." He rolled onto his side, facing Ari again. "What're you reading?" he asked, pointing to the pad still in Cohn's hand. To his surprise, the other man blushed.
"I'm not reading," admitted Ari.
"What then? Are you watching a movie?"
Ari's flush deepened and he nodded.
His reaction piqued Ian's curiosity. He'd only asked because he'd wanted to steer the conversation away from himself, but this had become interesting. "What is it? It can't be a porn film because there aren't any in the database."
"And you'd know this because?" Ari asked, happy to deflect the inquiry.
"Because I looked," answered his bunkmate unabashedly. "There are some un-rated things that are pretty hot, but no actual porn. So what are you watching that's got you so embarrassed?"
Ari sighed. He'd known he would be caught one of these days; he wished he'd prepared a cover story for the occasion. As it was, all he had was the truth. "I'm watching Plan 9 from Outer Space."
"It's " He sighed again and bit the proverbial bullet. " an Ed Wood movie from the middle of the 20th century."
"So?" There was nothing in this news that seemed to Ian to be sufficient to have embarrassed his friend so much.
"So he made really bad B-movies."
The light dawned. "Ohhh! Now I get it. You're watching it because Mae likes it, right?"
"Yeah." Ari looked chagrined.
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with that. Why the hell do you think I agreed to play that role-playing game in the first place?" Ian reached over the edge of his bunk and retrieved his discarded datapad. He made sure he'd saved what little new information he'd entered that evening and shut off the device.
"You're playing because of Hoshi?"
Young nodded, trying to hide how stupid he felt about his motives in joining the game. I'm trying to convince Ari it's okay for him, so it should be okay for me too, right? he thought. But after the way he'd treated Hoshi tonight, he wondered if he'd be welcomed back to the game at all. Then he wondered if he wanted to be. He shook off the thought and focused on Ari again.
"I didn't know Hoshi gamed," Cohn said, unaware of his bunkmate's inner disquiet.
"She doesn't really. She did once, but had to quit because of that translation job with the Hipon. Remember that?"
"That was ages ago."
Ian smiled slyly. "You know, Mae's playing, too. You should join us. It'd save you from watching all those bad movies."
"They're not all bad," replied Ari defensively. He glanced at the still image on his pad's screen. A police officer was caught mid-motion, idly scratching his head with the point of his gun. "Although this one isn't going to win any major awards—or any minor ones for that matter. But I bet you'd really like Bubba Ho-Tep."
"Is that another Ed Weed film?"
"Ed Wood and no, it's a Bruce Campbell movie. You saw Army of Darkness when it ran on movie night, right?"
"Oh yeah." Ian gave a one-shouldered shrug. "That was pretty funny."
"Bubba Ho-Tep's even better."
Young shifted to an upright position and swung his legs over the edge of the bunk. He fixed his best friend with a sardonic stare. "I can't believe this. Listen to us."
"What?" Cohn sat up as well.
"It's Friday night and you and I are reduced to spending the evening with each other, talking about cheesy movies."
"Hey, I'm not the one who bailed on my date tonight."
Ian's lips pressed into a thin line. "No, you're the one who didn't even have a date."
There was no argument for this, so Ari offered none. Instead he said, "Screw you," and lay back on his bunk. He thumbed his movie on once more.
His bunkmate continued to stare at him for several seconds before finally rising. "I'm gonna get ready for bed," he muttered. Ian grabbed a towel and headed into the lav.
Jon sat back from the desk in his quarters and stretched. He rolled his head around in one direction and then the other, trying to work out the kinks in his neck from so many hours spent hunched in front of the computer screen. He'd been working steadily on his report for Starfleet Command for the past two days, but he'd had little success. He rose and crossed to his bed, sitting next to Porthos who sprawled lazily in the middle of it. Jon reached over and scratched the dog's head. Porthos yawned and rolled onto his back, deciding a tummy rub would be more to his liking. Jon chuckled lightly and obliged.
The door chimed.
Archer glanced down at his attire before responding. He supposed he ought to appear more professional before a member of his crew, but after nearly two years on Enterprise he found he couldn't be bothered worrying about a crewmember seeing him in his pajamas. Anyone stopping by unexpectedly at such a late hour would just have to deal with what he or she found. "Come in," he called.
The door opened and Trip took a couple of steps into the cabin. He wasn't quite as casually dressed as the captain, but this was obviously not an official visit. Hesitating in the doorway, he pushed up the sleeves on his tri-colored shirt and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "Evening, Captain. Mind if I come in?"
"Not at all."
"Thanks." He took another step inside and the door slipped shut behind him. Trip stalled at that point. He stood there, hands still deep in his pockets. Eventually, he tipped his head towards Porthos. "He looks happy."
As if he understood, Porthos wagged his tail. It thumped against the bed in a heavy staccato, making both men smile.
"He certainly seems to be," said Jon.
Trip crossed to the foot of the bed. Finally pulling his hands out, he sat and used one to scratch under Porthos's chin. The thumping of the dog's tail increased its speed.
The old friends sat there in companionable silence for a while. Eventually, Jon spoke up. "We could sit like this forever and he'd be perfectly content," he said, indicating Porthos with the hand he wasn't using to rub the dog's belly.
"Yeah. Doesn't take a lot to keep a dog happy," agreed Trip.
Jon knew that whatever had drawn the engineer there that evening, it wasn't a little quality time with Porthos. He decided it was time to take the lead. "Something I can do for you?" he asked.
"Have you finished your report on that timeship?" Trip answered with an apparent non sequitur.
"Not yet," Archer sighed. "You'd think after all the practice I've had at writing time travel related reports, this would be a snap, but somehow it's even more difficult than the previous ones."
"But Starfleet already knows some of it. Doesn't that help?"
"Unfortunately not." Another short silence fell, once more broken by Jon. "Is that what brought you here? Curiosity about my report to Starfleet?"
There was a moment's pause before Trip shook his head.
"So what's going on? You must have something better to do with a free evening than sit here petting my dog."
"Malcolm's working on his duty roster."
"And Porthos and I are the runners up?" teased Jon.
Trip suddenly realized how he must have sounded. "No. No. Sorry," he fumbled. Finally he stopped scratching Porthos. Jon followed suit, causing the dog to open his eyes and look at both men indignantly.
Jon chuckled. "It's okay, Trip. You're welcome to stop by any time, you know."
"I know, but I didn't mean—"
"It's okay," the older man repeated. "So tell me what you're really doing here."
Trip looked his friend in the eyes for the first time since entering the cabin. "If you could know the future, would you want to?"
"That's a tough question," replied Jon thoughtfully. "I've already seen one potential future, and I didn't like the look of it. I guess it would depend on how much or what part of the future you mean."
"Malcolm said he'd want to know, but I don't think I would."
"Are you talking about something specific, or just 'the future' generally?"
"Huh?" Trip was momentarily taken aback. He very rarely lied to Jon, but this time he did so without hesitation. He shook his head. "Nothing in particular."
Porthos rolled over onto his belly at that moment and barked once. Instinctively, Trip reached out and rubbed the dog's head, causing the beagle's long ears to flop comically. There was more on his mind, but he didn't know how to say it without giving away a secret he wasn't ready to share.
"So," the engineer said, "that device that Daniels left behind Have you ever you know ?"
"Used it to learn something about the future?"
"Only when I haven't been able to find another option."
"Like that timeship. You used it to figure out when that ship had come from."
"Yes, but you already knew that," Jon pointed out.
"So you haven't tried to look ahead and see where our mission is going or where the crew's lives are going?"
"No, I haven't. I'm not sure how much of any of that would be in there. I suppose the major points in our mission are probably mentioned, but I doubt there are a lot of specifics."
"I asked Daniels once if he could tell me how far Enterprise would get that day. He said their records weren't that detailed," agreed Trip dully.
Jon looked at him inquiringly. "Then why did you ask me about it if you already knew the answer?"
"No reason," the engineer lied for the second time that night.
"No. Just idle curiosity, I guess."
"Your mind sure goes to unusual places when you're bored," joked Jon.
"I'm not bored."
"No." This was the truth. Trip's mind was too busy for him to be bored; he simply couldn't tell the Captain what was keeping his mind so busy. He knew he could trust Jon, but there was a part of him that felt it would be a betrayal of Malcolm to discuss this with someone else first. Never mind Malcolm doesn't have a clue what's on my mind, he thought, almost annoyed with the irony of it. Aloud, he followed a different, more tangential course. "So, how detailed do you think Daniels's records are on non-mission stuff?"
Jon observed Trip closely as the younger man continued to sit there petting Porthos. He was clueless where this conversation was going. In fact he wasn't sure it was going anywhere at all; it just seemed to wander from topic to topic. He wondered what was going on in his old friend's head to lead him along such random paths. "What kind of stuff do you mean?" he asked. "I know there's a lot of technical data stored on that device. Are you looking for something that'll improve the efficiency of the warp engines?"
"Actually I was wondering if there was personal information in there. Like personnel records, family trees, that sort of thing."
"Family trees?" Jon was surprised. "I don't know." Suddenly he regretted not having more time to pay attention to his friend's well-being. There was something eating at Trip, and Jon had no idea what it was. A thought struck him. "Is this about Ah'len's baby?"
Trip was genuinely surprised. He stopped rubbing Porthos's head and sat up straight. "What? No! Funny," he continued in a tone completely devoid of all humor, "I haven't thought about Ah'len in months. Her little girl must be around a year old by now." His shoulders slumped and a disgusted expression planted itself on his face. "I always thought when the time came I'd make a pretty good dad. Now I wonder. I actually carried that baby for a while, and I haven't even thought of her in months. Is that awful of me?"
Jon shook his head. "No, that's not awful of you," he reassured him. "And I'm sure that when the time comes you'll make a great dad."
"When or if."
It was said so quietly that Jon wasn't sure Trip had meant it to be out loud at all. "Trip—" He paused, not knowing what he intended to say.
"Yeah?" Trip looked over at Jon and it was clear from his expression that he wasn't aware his comment had been overheard.
Jon forged ahead. "Am I really the person you should be having this conversation with?"
Trip feigned confusion, hoping Jon wouldn't recognize it as fake. "You think I should talk to Doctor Douglas or Phlox?"
Jon fixed him with a stare that called his bluff.
Trip lowered his head, knowing he was caught. "No, I know who you mean."
"You said Malcolm was working on the security duty roster, right?" asked Jon. He received a nod in return. "I don't think he'd mind if you interrupted him—not for something important."
Trip shrugged noncommittally. "That's debatable," he replied. He rose and headed to the door. "I should let you get back to work, too. Sorry I interrupted you."
Jon gave him a wry look and gestured to the languid puddle of happy dog lying in the middle of the bunk. "I obviously wasn't working that hard when you 'interrupted'."
This elicited a small smile from Trip, which was just what Jon had been hoping for.
"Still, I should let you get back to it. I'll see you later."
Before Jon could even say good-night, Trip made his escape. Jon looked at Porthos who, sensing eyes on him, opened his own and met his master's gaze.
"So, what did you make of that?"
Porthos's answer was definitive. "Woof!"
From the start, Cormack had found physical therapy to be a tedious and painful process. Today was no different—except for one thing. Today she might not have to put back on the sling she'd been wearing for the past two weeks. This faint hope kept her focused and intense during the morning's session.
Cormack was sweating slightly by the time Phlox was finished with her. The ship's physician fished a medical scanner from the pocket of his smock and used it to examine the ensign. Cormack was impatient for the results, but she concealed her anticipation by reaching with her good arm for a nearby towel and using it to mop her damp face. It was all she could do not to hold her breath. She let her healing arm rest lightly in her lap, crossing mental fingers that her efforts to stick to the strict physical therapy regimen would shortly pay off.
After what seemed an inordinately lengthy pause, Phlox looked at her and smiled. "You've made excellent progress, Ensign," he told her cheerfully. "I'm going to inform Lieutenant Reed that you can return to light duties tomorrow."
Despite his words, Stephanie refused to get her hopes up. "Don't lie to me, Doc."
"I don't lie to my patients," Phlox assured her. "You're cleared to return to light duties tomorrow, providing you continue to come here for physical therapy until we both feel you're fully healed. You needn't wear the sling any longer, but remember to be careful with that arm, hm?"
Cormack could barely stop herself from cheering. "Excellent! Whatever you say, Doc!" She leapt off the biobed and waved a none-too-fond farewell to the discarded sling that remained behind. "Ta-ta, you bloody harness," she sneered happily.
"I meant what I said," Phlox continued firmly. "Light duties only, and I expect to see you back here every other day."
Cormack was so pleased she didn't even argue. She was looking forward to doing all the little things she'd been unable to do for what felt like forever. And knowing she would be back at work the next day allowed her to enjoy the rest of her last free day. She smiled broadly. "Not a problem. So, I'm done with physical therapy until day after tomorrow, right?" she asked. She wanted to be sure there were no misunderstandings.
"Groovy! In that case, I'm going to take a shower, give my hair a proper washing, and put on some real clothes. I've had enough of elastic waistbands to last me a lifetime," she said, glaring down at her baggy slip-on pants. "And I never thought I'd say this, but I am so looking forward to putting on a bra. Do you realize I haven't been able to reach behind me to hook one all this time?"
"I was aware of the impediment," answered Phlox wryly, "but I admit that the bra issue hadn't occurred to me."
"It would if you were carrying a couple of kilos of unsupported weight on your chest. My back is exhausted."
"I could reduce the size of your breasts for you, if you'd prefer it," the doctor offered reasonably.
Cormack visibly blanched. "Bite your tongue!" she exclaimed, aghast. Then she grinned. "You'd do me more favors if you invented self-adhesive anti-grav units to put under them."
Phlox's eyes twinkled as he replied. "I'm afraid that's more Commander Tucker's department than mine."
"Somehow I don't think I'm going to ask him. So," she continued, completely jumping conversational tracks, "I'm good to go, eh? You'll let Lieutenant Reed know to put me back on rotation tomorrow morning, and all I have to do is find out what assignment he gives me, and we're back to normal? Light normal," she amended as she saw Phlox was about to remind her.
"Cool! See you day after tomorrow!" Still grinning, she left sickbay and headed for her cabin. Once there, Stephanie took a moment to stretch to her full height and more, going up on her toes and reaching toward the ceiling with both hands. Then, relaxing, she put both hands to her head and scratched at her scalp furiously. She leaned over and let her hair hang, still scratching. Finally satisfied, she stood up straight, shook out her ragged curls, and heaved a happy sigh. "That felt fabulous," she announced to the empty room. "Next order of business " She sat at the computer and typed up a quick note. She read it through to make sure she wasn't missing any important details before sending it off. Hopefully she would have a reply by the time she got back from the shower.
"Shower," she mumbled happily, eyes bright with anticipation. As quickly as she could, Stephanie gathered up everything she needed for a long, hot shower and headed out.
Ian's morning started earlier than usual. He had a stop to make before heading on duty and he wanted to be sure he had plenty of time. He planned to catch Hoshi in her quarters so he could apologize for being such a prick the previous night. He'd been confused and tense, and consequently pissed off; and he’d unfairly taken it out on her.
Surprising his bunkmate, who was only just waking up, he said, "Catch you later," and left the cabin.
He caught a turbolift and reached Hoshi's cabin quickly. Only Hoshi wasn't there. He rang the chime three times, but there was no answer. Guessing she was already in the mess hall, he reversed his path and headed down to E-deck.
Maybe I can talk to her over breakfast, Ian thought. He really wanted to make amends with her if he could before going on duty.
In the mess hall he struck out again. Not seeing her immediately, he got himself breakfast and sat down to eat it and wait. She must have been in the shower when I stopped by, he managed to convince himself. But time grew short and there was still no sign of her. He had to accept the fact that she was more than likely already at her station. Damn. The comm systems are still being repaired, he remembered suddenly. I bet she's already on the bridge.
So, leaving the last of his meal behind, he headed quickly to the bridge.
The lift doors opened and his supposition was immediately confirmed. There was Hoshi, flat on her back next to an engineer Ian couldn't identify because they both had their heads inside the base of the communications station. He cursed inwardly. He couldn't even tell her good morning.
Stymied and annoyed, he swallowed his frustration and nodded to Sub-commander T'Pol at the science station as he crossed the bridge to tactical. Travis arrived only seconds later and relieved Ensign Tanner at the helm. When several minutes passed and the Captain didn't appear, Ian guessed he was already in his ready room. That meant T'Pol was in command. It was going to be a quiet shift.
Three hours later, Ian desperately wished for the shift to be over. It was shaping up to be a tedious and lousy day and all he wanted was an end to it. Normally he liked bridge duty, especially those occasions when it was Alpha shift. He liked the feeling of responsibility and command that he usually got then. And even if the day was completely dreary, like today, he almost always had the side benefit of being able to see Hoshi at the comm station across the bridge. But between his rude actions last night and the fact that she was under her station as much as at it, he couldn't even enjoy that.
He fought back a sigh, ran yet another routine scan, and tired not to watch Hoshi and Ensign Snider working on repairs to the communications station. Not that he had anything against Snider; he didn't know her well enough to have an opinion on her one way or the other. What he didn't like was seeing them working so closely together in that cramped space.
Watching them, he felt like he was torn in two. A significant part of him wished he were the communications engineer so he would have an excuse to get that close to Hoshi. Another more realistic part suspected he'd find that position as inhospitable as a depressurized airlock this morning. He was positive Hoshi wouldn't welcome his company right now. They hadn't exchanged a word all morning. While he understood that this was perfectly reasonable considering the circumstances, he couldn’t help but grow more frustrated about it as the day progressed.
At least with Sub-commander T'Pol in charge the quiet's not so obvious, he thought morosely. It was always quiet on the bridge when T'Pol was in command. Ian likened it to the feeling one got inside a library; you didn't speak unless it was absolutely necessary. Hoshi can give me the cold shoulder all day and no one will think twice about it—but me.
For her part, Hoshi hadn't even noticed Ian was at the tactical station until nearly an hour into Alpha shift. All her attention was focused on Snider and the repairs. She briefly wished she could take a moment to talk to Ian, even if it was only to say hello, but she knew this was neither the time nor the place. She'd have to try talking to him later. Assuming he's actually willing to talk today, she thought skeptically. After last night, she had her doubts.
Brushing the thought aside, Hoshi slid out from under the console where Snider still worked. She got to her knees and leaned on the console. "Ready?" she asked the engineer.
"Ready," the strawberry-blonde woman answered.
Sato tapped in a command. The result was instantaneous. The console sparked, startling both women and everyone else on the bridge.
"Shut it down!" ordered Snider, unable to see that Sato was already doing just that.
The sparking stopped, but a light haze of smoke lingered over the comm station. Sato sighed and rested her forehead on her arm for a brief moment.
Across the bridge, Ian regarded her with worried eyes. He wished he could go to her, just give her shoulders a quick massage, anything to make her feel better. But even if it hadn't been generally inappropriate behavior, he knew it would only have annoyed her more. He was sure she was still mad at him. He accepted that she had every right to be. He'd been a prick. It was as simple as that.
"What happened?" Sato asked Snider as she once more joined her under the console.
"We must have missed a short in the power grid for the theta-band transmitter array," the other woman replied. "But I'll be damned if I can find it."
"Perhaps," said T'Pol from the science station next to them, "you would both benefit from a short break. I've observed that humans often miss obvious solutions when they are too close to the problem. And you, Ensign Snider, have been here since before I came on duty."
Sato and Snider sat up and exchanged a look. "Yes, ma'am," said the engineer. She didn't think it wise to inform her superior that she'd in fact been there since the start of Gamma shift.
Sato spoke up. "Thank you, Sub-commander, but we're so close to being finished "
"I could use a little food," admitted Snider almost apologetically. She, too, wanted to get the job done as soon as possible, but she recognized the sense in what T'Pol said.
Reluctantly Sato nodded her agreement. "Okay," she said as she climbed to her feet. She reached down a hand and helped Snider to rise. "I'll hail Ensign Donnelly to cover my station."
"I'll do it," Ian offered before she had a chance to act on her words. The rest of the bridge crew all eyed him in surprise. "I mean," he continued, trying not to appear as flustered as he felt, "if it's only a short break there's no point getting Ensign Donnelly up here. I can cover the comms and still run my scans."
Mayweather smirked at him from the helm station. He was lucky Ian was the only one in view; the three women were all behind him. Ian glared at him briefly, which just made Travis smirk more. He knew what the armory ensign was up to and he supported the effort to make nice with Hoshi. He also found it highly amusing.
T'Pol turned to look once more at Sato. "Ensign?"
Hoshi looked at Ian in mild surprise. He responded with a small, hopeful smile. "That would be fine. Thank you," she said, returning his smile.
"I'll expect you both back in thirty minutes," T'Pol informed the women.
"Yes, ma'am," Snider and Sato both replied and left the bridge.
In the turbolift on their way to E-deck, Snider spoke up. "That was nice of Ensign Young," she commented casually.
Sato nodded slowly in agreement. "Yeah." She was still a bit puzzled by his actions, but decided to take them as a good sign. She nodded more definitely. "He's a pretty good guy." Usually, her mind added. She chose to ignore it.
Evening found Stephanie and Bonnie sharing dinner, just as Stephanie's message to the helmsman had suggested. It wasn't cozy and romantic as the armory ensign would have wished, but it was still good. At least Bonnie wasn't in uniform for Gamma shift yet; she'd have plenty of time to change after eating and before the late-night shift began. Stephanie could almost pretend, looking at her companion's green blouse that so perfectly brought out her green eyes, that they would be able to spend the entire night together. It was a pipe dream and Stephanie knew it, but she still liked to pretend. Bonnie had been stuck working almost exclusively on Gamma shift since shortly after Enterprise had left Dekendi Three. While Stephanie was recovering from her injuries, they'd found it relatively easy to spend time together. Now, however, things were about to change.
"So I'm on Alpha shift again starting tomorrow morning," Stephanie said over the top of her water glass. "Any idea when you're going to get a change in your duty schedule?" Heart racing in hopeful anticipation, she took a sip and waited for the answer to her question.
Bonnie sighed heavily. It was her own fault she was on Gamma shift. She'd requested the change after her freak out over her relationship with Stephanie. Now that things were less confused and their relationship was moving forward, she thoroughly regretted her hasty request. She shook her head. "I wish I knew."
"Maybe if you asked to be switched back? You'd earned a spot in the Alpha shift rotation. Sub-commander T'Pol's got to take that into account, eh?"
"Maybe." Bonnie was dubious. She picked at her food and didn't meet her date's encouraging gaze.
"It can't hurt to ask," insisted Stephanie. "Then we'd still get to spend time together, even though we'll both be working again." At the other woman's continued hesitation, her gut clenched in self-doubt. "You do still want to spend time together, right?"
"Yeah!" answered Bonnie quickly, finally looking up.
"Okay. Good. Because for a second there you were looking a bit 'ugh', you know?"
"The 'ugh' was for the idea of asking the Sub-commander to put me back on regular Alpha shift duty, not for you," the helmsman hastened to assure her.
"You had an easy enough time asking her to take you off Alpha shift," accused the blonde.
"Bullshit," protested Bonnie. "It was not easy."
"Okay, sorry. But you did it, so you can do the opposite." It seemed perfectly obvious and straightforward to Stephanie. She didn't understand Bonnie's obvious reluctance.
"Easier said than done," the helmsman said, "but I'll do it. I'm way beyond sick of working nights anyway."
"Right. And now you have a really good reason not to work nights any more." Stephanie fixed her with a lascivious gaze and wiggled her eyebrows.
Bonnie chuckled grimly. "I doubt that's going to matter a rat's ass to Sub-commander T'Pol—not that I intend to mention it."
"Yeah, I suppose not," Stephanie conceded, her expression turning serious. She took a bite of salad and considered the problem. "When you asked the first time, did she want to know why you wanted to change shifts?"
Bonnie thought about it before answering. "No," she said finally. "She just said she'd take my request into consideration, and next thing I knew I was on Gamma shift."
"Then there's no reason to assume she'll ask this time, either."
"That's logical." Bonnie smirked at her own joke and was rewarded with an amused smile from her date.
Stephanie raised a single eyebrow and inclined her head ever so slightly. "It is."
Malcolm was alone in his cabin, but he knew he wouldn't be for long. Trip had caught him in the corridor outside the mess hall at lunch that afternoon and asked if he was free tonight. He'd said he was and now he was doing his best to make the statement true. It didn't take long. He made a quick addition to tomorrow morning's duty roster—adding Ensign Cormack to the group scheduled for the armory—and sent it off to Captain Archer. It felt good to have his full team whole and healthy once more.
He glanced at the time and rose from the computer abruptly. Trip would be there any moment and Malcolm was still in his uniform. He didn't know what, if anything, his lover had planned, but when they'd spoken earlier it hadn't sounded like it would be work. Whatever was on the evening's schedule, he didn't care to meet it in his Starfleet gear. He opened his closet and pulled out a worn pair of blue jeans that he knew Trip particularly liked on him, then selected a black t-shirt to go with them. He changed quickly and, deeming his uniform fit for a second day's duty, hung it in the closet for the morning.
As he debated whether it was worth the effort to put on shoes, the door chimed and then opened. Trip entered and Malcolm smiled at him. His smiled faded a bit when the engineer didn't return it. He tried to ignore the feeling of trepidation that crept into his belly. "You look good," he said, eyeing Trip appreciatively. The blond man was also in jeans, but wore a western-style shirt and cowboy boots with them. Malcolm adopted a Southern accent, asking coyly, "Why doncha come in and set a spell?"
The tease was lost on Trip, although he nodded and said, "Thanks." He passed by his lover and sat in the desk chair. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees and staring alternately at the floor, the wall, and nothing.
Anywhere but at me, Malcolm realized. He had the sudden, absurd wish that he'd put on shoes before Trip's arrival. He felt somehow at a disadvantage without them. "What's wrong?" he asked bluntly.
Malcolm waited, knowing it was a lie and knowing his partner would get to the problem in his own time.
Eventually, Trip spoke up again. "I was thinking about something." There was another pause as he apparently thought about whatever it was a bit more. "It makes sense. We spend most nights together, anyway," he added off-handedly.
"What makes sense?" asked Malcolm, confused. "Because at the moment, it isn't you."
The engineer looked up at last and fixed his lover with an intense blue stare. "We should move in together."
Malcolm was struck dumb. The suggestion had come completely out of the blue and he had no idea how to react. He sat on his bunk, using the moment to collect his spinning thoughts. "Move in together?" he echoed, stalling.
"Yeah." Now that the idea was out in the open, Trip's earlier reticence vanished. He sat up straighter in the chair. "I mean, we'd get to see each other more than we do now. And we wouldn't have to worry about 'your place or mine?' whenever we want to spend the night together; we'd just be at our place every night."
"I see." Malcolm was doing his best to keep the feeling of panic in his gut from entering his voice. "And did you think we'd both move into this cabin or yours? Or did you have another idea in mind?"
Trip shrugged, eager for the result but indifferent on the specifics. "Either one'd be fine, but my place is a little bigger. It's not a lot, but every centimeter counts, right? But if you'd rather I moved in here with you, that'd be fine," he added hastily, not wanting to seem pushy. "Either way, we'd want to order a bigger bunk from the quartermaster. The ones we both have are okay, but for every night you want something a little roomier," he added with a knowing leer.
Malcolm stared at him in silence and slowly Trip's enthusiasm ebbed. The fears he had harbored for the past few days, which he'd talked elliptically to Jon about, suddenly hit him like a cresting wave, washing from his head all the way to his toes. And it all stemmed from the timeship they'd found.
When Enterprise had discovered the ship from the future, Trip had felt excited. It had given Malcolm and him a chance to really work together, exploring the strange ship's dimensionally transcendental interior and later trying to make sense of the futuristic homing device. It was while they were engrossed in the latter that the conversation that now haunted him had taken place.
Reed leaned on the worktable next to Tucker, making notes in a datapad as the engineer made adjustments to the mysterious device before them. "If Daniels came here and offered you the chance to go to the 31st century, you wouldn't take it?" he asked the engineer suddenly.
Tucker considered the question then shook his head. He met Reed's expectant gaze evenly. "Some things are better left a mystery," he said.
Reed scoffed, chuckling lightly. "And you call yourself an explorer."
Despite his humor, Tucker wasn't entirely sure the armory officer was joking. "Where's the fun in exploring if you know how it all turns out?" he countered, eyes once more focused on his task. He was having no luck using the sonic screwdriver on the device, so he set it aside. "Hand me that micro-caliper?"
Reed stood straight, setting his datapad aside. Wordlessly, he fished the requested item from the toolkit and handed it to Tucker before reclaiming his pad and leaning on the table once more.
The engineer continued on his earlier line of thought. "Suppose you could look into some future book," he said, "and find out the name of the person you're gonna marry." He used the micro-caliper to gently grip the clear cylinder in the center of the futuristic contraption and turn it slightly. He was rewarded with a flickering glow from what he hoped was the power grid. "Would you want to know it?"
"Absolutely," Reed replied without hesitation. He smirked slightly. "Think of all the awkward first dates I could avoid."
Again, Tucker wasn't entirely convinced Reed was kidding. He felt a twinge of frustration that even after all their time together he wasn't able to read his partner as well as he would have liked. He kept his eyes on his work as he went on. "Fine. So one day you meet this person. You go out a few times, and you pop the question. This person says 'I do,' and the two of you live happily ever after."
"Now " Tucker fixed Reed with a stare. His heart pounded but he kept his expression blank and his tone even. " did you marry for love, or because some book told you to?"
The armory officer seemed oblivious to the import of Tucker's question. "If we're 'happily ever after,' what difference does it make?"
Trip's stomach had lurched unpleasantly at that moment, just as it did now. "You don't think it's a good idea, do you?" he asked flatly.
Malcolm considered his answer very carefully before speaking. "I don't know what to think," he admitted finally. It was obvious from the crestfallen look on Trip's face that this wasn't what the engineer wanted to hear. Malcolm tried to explain. "It hadn't occurred to me until just now when you suggested it. You've had time to think about it, I think I just need time, too to let the idea sink in if that's all right with you?" he added uncertainly.
"Sure," Trip said too quickly. "That's fine. That's a good idea. I shouldn't've sprung it on you like that."
"No, no!" protested Malcolm. "It's all right."
They were as awkward and uncomfortable as two teenagers on their first date. Neither knew what to say or do next and yet another silence fell.
"How long have you been thinking about this?" Malcolm broke the silence.
Trip shrugged. "A couple of months off and on. A lot more since " He hesitated, unsure whether or not he wanted Malcolm to know his whole motivation.
"Since?" prompted the dark-haired man.
Trip looked at him from across the room, taking in every inch of him, from his bare feet to the tiny lines of tension that crinkled the corners of his mouth and eyes. "Remember working on that transmitter? The one from that future ship, that we thought was a black box at first?" Malcolm nodded, puzzlement clear on his face. Trip went on. "You wondered what I'd do if Daniels showed up with a round-trip ticket to the 31st century."
"And you said you didn't want to know what was going to happen in the future," said Malcolm, filling in the blanks but still not sure what the puzzle would add up to be.
The engineer nodded. "But you " He hesitated again. It took all his effort to meet Malcolm's deep blue gaze and go on. "When you said you'd want to know who you'd end up marrying what if you'd looked ahead and found out it wasn't me?"
For the second time that night, Malcolm was dumbfounded. He'd thought the conversation Trip spoke of was idle chatter, nothing more meaningful than a talk about the weather. Apparently his lover had taken it far more to heart. "I I don't know," he stammered at last. "I never thought you were serious. It's not as if we really could look into a future book and find out."
"Sure we could."
"That device in Daniels's quarters. You know the security code for the door lock. We could go in, take it out, and have a look. No one would even know."
Malcolm's eyes went wide. "You're joking. Even if I thought it contained that sort of information, I couldn't do that."
Trip wasn't surprised by Malcolm's response to his suggestion; he hadn't truly believed the older man would go for it. And he knew the chances that Daniels's database of the future actually did have that kind of personal information was slim at best. He gave a half-hearted shrug. "It was worth asking. But you still haven't answered my question."
Malcolm was about to protest that he'd given the only answer he presently had, but something made him pause. The overly casual way Trip slouched in the chair and his false aura of relaxation—both belied by the look in his eyes—combined to draw Malcolm to an unforeseen conclusion.
"Trip," he said with some anxiety, "are you saying you want to get married?"
Another pregnant pause enveloped the room, falling like a wool blanket over the senses of both men.
Trip took a long, slow breath before answering. "Not today, but eventually, yeah." He looked at his lover and almost couldn't go on. The expression on Malcolm's face was unreadable, a blank even more devoid of emotion than a Vulcan's. He swallowed his fear and continued. "I'm old-fashioned that way," he explained almost apologetically. "Marriage, family, and all. I'm not saying it's something I have a concrete plan for. When we left Earth and I got that Dear John letter from Natalie " He paused briefly. Was it his imagination, or had Malcolm just tensed at the name? He went on. "Well, I wasn't looking for romance any time soon after that. Then you I love you. When I look into the future, even without any help from Daniels and his toys, I see you."
"I " Malcolm wasn't sure if his heart had simply stopped or if it was beating so quickly he couldn't feel the rhythm. "I don't think about the future. Not in the way you mean." He found it difficult to put the way he did think into words, but he tried hard to do so. He owed Trip that much. "I think in the here and now. If I'm looking at all into the future, it's to consider consequences of present actions, and in my line of work those are usually in the very near future."
"I'm not talking about your line of work," snapped Trip. The hurt look on his face had quickly succumbed to his building anger.
"I know you're not. I'm just trying to explain why I haven't thought about us the way you have."
"Well if you don't see us going where I see us going, what do you see?" Trip demanded accusingly.
It was Malcolm's turn to be snippy. "I don't see us ending, if that's what you're implying."
"Trip." Malcolm took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down. His problems were his own and he had no right to take out his anger with himself on Trip. He looked at the younger man's irate and expectant face; Trip was waiting impatiently for him to finish whatever he had begun to say. "I used to think the way you do about the future in general, I mean. I used to plan grand adventures and romances." He fought the urge to stop. It had been so long since he'd planned anything beyond the next duty roster or away mission—longer still since he had made any plans for a future with another person.
Trip's glare softened as he watched emotions he couldn't identify cross his lover's face. Malcolm looked to be fighting a war inside himself, and Trip didn't even know what the sides of the war were, let alone which would win. He started to say Malcolm's name, but the older man held up a hand to stop him and he fell silent.
After a tense pause, Malcolm went on. "You know I don't make friends easily. You know there aren't many people I trust emotionally, that is, not professionally. That's completely different," he added with some irony. He looked at Trip as if waiting for a reply. Trip just nodded. It was all Malcolm needed. "Have you ever wondered why?"
Trip nodded once more, but this time he took a chance and spoke up. "I figured it was something to do with your folks," he said, a hint of apology in his voice; he didn't want to upset his partner more if his assumption was wrong.
Malcolm gave a single, mirthless chuckle. "That's certainly a part of it, yes," he agreed. "There's more, of course. I'm sure you've guessed that by now." Another nod from Trip. A joyless smile from Malcolm. "Yes."
When Malcolm hesitated yet again, Trip jumped in. "You don't have to tell me. I mean, I'm here if you want to talk about whatever—whoever it was who hurt you so bad, but you don't have to say anything if you don't want to."
The tension drained from Malcolm's face and body like water wrung from a sponge. He truly hadn't wanted to go on. Even though he knew he still should, he leapt on Trip's words like a drowning man grabs a life preserver. "Thank you."
"Just do me a favor?"
"Try to think about it? About us, I mean. Even if you just think about the idea of us moving in together. Will you do that?"
It meant a lot to Trip to take that step forward in their relationship. It was obvious in his face, his eyes, in every muscle in his body. Malcolm nodded again. "I will."
It wasn't as much as he'd hoped for from this evening, but Trip was satisfied for the time being. There was one other thing he wanted to make clear, however. "All right. Now you need to know that if I ever meet whoever it was who hurt you so bad, I'll kick his sorry ass from Earth to Draylax and back again. And we might even make a detour to Vulcan along the way."
The younger man's firm declaration was almost enough to make Malcolm smile. "That would be difficult. I'm not at all certain he's still on Earth."
"We're not on Earth, either. That doesn't mean I won't make good on my promise. A Tucker never goes back on his word." Now Malcolm did smile a little. Trip saw it and grinned in response. "That's better. Now, unless you're done with my company for the evening, how about you invite me to make myself comfortable?"
Ignoring the fact that this was precisely what he'd done when Trip first arrived, Malcolm played along. "Why doncha take off yer shoes and stay a while?" he said in the same accent he'd used when inviting Trip in.
"Don't mind if I do," answered the younger man. He promptly kicked off his boots and placed them neatly to one side. Catching Malcolm's tiny but appreciative smirk out of the corner of his eye, Trip added, "Hey, I can learn. You want to watch a movie?"
"All right, but no Bela Lugosi or any of that lot."
"Actually, I was thinking of Humphrey Bogart and that lot." Trip smiled suggestively and wiggled his eyebrows.
Malcolm laughed. This was what he liked—no thoughts of the future beyond the evening and night ahead of them. "You know, we never seem to be able to get through that entire film without something distracting us," he said in feigned puzzlement.
"Yeah," agreed Trip, opening a drawer and pulling out a pair of padded handcuffs. He spun them casually on one finger as he called up the film on the computer. He paused to dim the cabin lights before joining Malcolm on the bed. "I wonder why that is?"