Log Rhythms - Season Two
Author's Notes: Ensign Ari Cohn and med-tech Savario D'Angelo belong to Squeaky Lightfoot and are used with permission—as is her vicious little plot bunny. ;->
Thanks to Squeaky for her medical beta brilliance.
"Good morning, everyone!" called Cormack cheerfully. She descended the metal stairway to the lower level of the armory, an unaccustomed bounce in her step.
Reed was the first to reply. "Good morning, Ensign. Welcome back."
"Thank you, sir." She smiled broadly. "It's good to be here."
Ensign Young and crewman Martinez exchanged doubtful looks, but neither spoke up. They both wondered if Cormack knew the plan for the day was maintenance. Her next question confirmed their suspicions that she was ignorant of the dreary shift ahead of them.
"What's the plan this a.m.?"
"Maintenance," Reed announced.
Cormack's face fell the tiniest bit, but she sucked it up and asked determinedly, "Where do you want to start?"
A ghost of a smile curled the corner of Reed's mouth at her reaction. He wasn't aware of anyone who actually enjoyed routine maintenance, but everyone on the armory team took a turn. It wasn't Cormack's turn now, strictly speaking, but Phlox had made it abundantly clear that she was to be restricted from any strenuous duty until he said otherwise. This was the easiest way for Reed to keep an eye on her activities. He wasn't even planning to allow her to crawl about in the jefferies tubes; Martinez or Young would be given that duty when it became necessary. Cormack could monitor the systems.
"Gamma shift ran full diagnostics overnight," the Lieutenant informed them. "Most systems are operating within acceptable parameters, but there are a few issues we need to address before going on to routine maintenance." He moved to the armory's main control station between the two forward torpedo tubes, and the others followed him. He called up the results of the previous night's diagnostics. "First and foremost, their scans picked up an anomaly in the power supply to the phase cannons." He tapped a couple of buttons and the area in question was centered and magnified on the screen. "The fault originates in section Q-33, but one of us will need to go in there to determine the extent of the damage."
Young eyed the data closely. "The readings suggest more than the usual wear and tear you'd expect," he commented, frowning.
"Agreed. However, considering the battering we took from the Suliban and the Tholians, it's not surprising. I suspect Commander Tucker's crew have their work cut out for them as well." In fact he knew this was the case. He and Tucker had discussed it briefly that morning. The high-warp chase with their Suliban pursuers had put as much strain on the engines as the attacks had put on Enterprise's weapons and defenses.
"I'll go in," offered Cormack eagerly. She was excited by the prospect of a little physical activity, even if it was just crawling around in jefferies tubes.
"Martinez will go in," Reed contradicted. Cormack's disappointment showed for a split-second before she got her expression under control. The Lieutenant noticed but didn't let it affect his decision. He looked at crewman Martinez for confirmation of his order. She nodded in understanding, and he turned his attention to Ensign Young. "I want you to monitor the power grid from here. Cormack and I will be at the secondary control console monitoring Martinez's progress."
"Aye, sir," said Young.
"Let's get to work."
Young took his station at the main console and called up schematics on the phase canons' power grid. From there he could keep an eye on anything within the system. Should another fault appear while the officers and Martinez were focused on the current problem, he would be the first to know and could alert them to any possible danger.
At the same time, the other three moved off toward the starboard bulkhead. Martinez paused at an equipment locker and took out a toolkit. She added a pair of power relays and nitrogen valves—the most likely mechanisms to need replacing. Next to her, Cormack withdrew a communicator from the locker and handed it to her.
"Gracias," Martinez said with a smile. She took the communicator, activated it, and tucked it into her sleeve pocket.
Reed had the access panel to the jefferies tube off by the time she was ready to go. Martinez climbed through the opening and, pushing her toolkit ahead of her, began to make her way toward section Q-33.
Cormack went to the secondary control panel and called up a trace on Martinez's communicator in order to more easily follow her progress. Q-33 wasn't far, and the crewman reached it quickly. "She's there," Cormack announced after only a few moments. She opened her own end of the comm and hailed Martinez. "What do you see?"
There was a pause before the other woman responded. Presumably she was scanning the damaged area. When she did reply, her voice betrayed more than her words, and her words weren't encouraging. "The power relay between primary plasma conduits Z-8 and Z-9 has degraded more than 52%," she announced.
"Any sign of plasma leakage?" Reed asked, joining Cormack at the console. She stepped aside to allow him full access to the panel.
"All right. I'm redirecting power from the unit and shunting the plasma flow off to secondary conduit Zed-alpha," he announced, his hands already ahead of his words.
"Reading full power shut down here," Martinez said through the comm. "Plasma flow through the unit has ceased."
"Let us know when the new relay is in place."
A warning light flashed on the armory's main control console. "I'm reading a surge in the power grid, section Q-31," Young announced from his post. "It looks like there's a micro-fracture in conduit Zed-alpha that scans didn't pick up before."
"I see it," said Reed. He tapped in a series of commands on the panel before him. If he could reroute the plasma flow again, he could shut off the damaged secondary conduit. Better still, once the new power relay was in, he could route it all back where it belonged.
As he worked, Cormack grabbed a scanner from the equipment locker and began to take readings of the area in question. It was directly behind the bulkhead that housed the secondary controls. "It's getting hot back there," she stated tersely.
"Martinez, have you got that relay in yet?" Reed asked through the open comm.
"Nearly, sir," came the crewman's reply.
"The extra plasma flow is overloading the conduit, and I can't get it to re-route to another one. Damn it!" he cursed in frustration. "Martinez!"
"I'm having trouble completing the connection," she said anxiously. "It refuses to seal properly."
"Leave it. Get out of there!" he shouted into the comm, his hands flashing over the controls like a concert pianist trying to finish the Minute Waltz in under thirty seconds.
Young's voice rose in pitch, tension tightening his vocal chords. "The power grid is destabilizing!"
"Temperature approaching critical," confirmed Cormack, just as Martinez emerged from the access shaft.
"Everyone out!" Reed commanded, eyes and hands never wavering from their objective.
"Sir—" Cormack started to protest.
In that moment, the secondary conduit blew. The bulkhead behind Reed's console exploded, sending burning metal flying like shrapnel. The force of the explosion threw him and the two women half way across the armory. Reed had only a split second to note the searing pain in his chest and face before slamming into the staircase. His head struck a metal tread, knocking him into oblivion.
The blast tossed Martinez like a rag doll. The wind was knocked out of her when she impacted the nearby starboard torpedo bay. She slumped to the deck, desperately trying to suck air into her lungs. Sharp pain met her attempts, making it that much harder to catch her breath. When she finally managed a deep inhale, she was overwhelmed with the bitter, acid-tasting smoke of the plasma fire. She coughed and gagged, the sudden contraction of muscles causing fresh agony to pierce her side.
Cormack landed hard on the deckplating, her newly healed arm twisted painfully underneath her. Phlox is gonna be pissed, she thought absurdly. She tried to roll onto her other side, but found that arm to be more useless than the one below her. She forced her aching left arm to lift her to a sitting position. Wondering why it wouldn't respond to her commands, she looked down at her useless right arm. The charred fabric of her uniform was indistinguishable from her burned flesh. The immediate shock passed and was replaced by pain. She screamed.
Only seconds had passed, but in that time all hell had broken loose in the armory. Emergency claxons blared at near-deafening levels. Flames licked the starboard bulkhead. The smoke was rapidly becoming too thick to see through.
Protected from the worst of the blast, Young was the only one still on his feet. "Lieutenant?" he shouted from his post between the two forward torpedo tubes. There was no response. He could hear Martinez coughing, and Cormack's scream had sent a shaft of terror down his spine. Cormack never screamed. Still, he didn't dare leave his post; the emergency fire-dampening systems hadn't responded. He worked frantically to shut down the plasma flow to the overloaded conduit, but without the main line to pour it back into, his options were severely limited. "Shit! Stephanie! Juliana! Lieutenant! Someone, answer me!"
To his surprise, it was Cormack who responded. "The Lieutenant's out!" she yelled back. She had managed to climb to her knees and could see that much through the growing haze. She crawled, one-armed, to where Martinez still sat slumped against the torpedo. "Can you move?"
Martinez nodded, less certain than she pretended. "I think my ribs are broken," she gasped through the smoke and pain.
Ignoring her own distress as best she could, Cormack helped her to rise. Both stood bent over at the waist to stay below the rising fumes as much as possible. Martinez clutched at her injured side. "Get out of here," Cormack ordered her, although she could barely see the door through the thick smoke. She shoved the injured crewman in roughly the direction of where she believed the exit to be. "Alert " The rest of the order was cut off as she inhaled fumes and coughed violently.
Martinez needed no further urging. She found the door and went through it, smoke billowing after her.
The flames that were centered at the gaping hole in the bulkhead were spreading. The heat was scorching even from across the room and it was rapidly growing more and more difficult to breathe and see. Tears streamed down Cormack's face as she fought her way to her unconscious C.O. She went to shake him in the hopes of rousing him, but stopped herself just in time. Burns and lacerations scored his face and chest, and blood matted the back of his head from where he'd hit it on the stairs. Better to leave him unconscious, she concluded quickly. She ignored the fact that she couldn't tell whether or not he was breathing. She had to believe he was.
"Get the hell out of here!" Young bellowed from across the room. He tried to bring the fire-dampening systems online manually, but they wouldn't respond. His hands flashed over the control console, but nothing worked. He had to think of something else or they, and everyone else aboard, would be dead.
"I'm not leaving you behind! Get over here and help me get Malcolm out!" Cormack hollered back. She managed to maneuver Reed into a position where she could get her hands under his arms. Using all her willpower to force her injured limb to function, she took a firm hold of the lieutenant and began to pull him towards the exit.
Young never moved from the main control console. "I can't! The fire's spreading, and automatic shutdowns and environmentals aren't working. I've got to vent the atmosphere before this whole place blows!"
"Ian, come on!" Cormack shouted, making painfully slow progress with her burden.
"I'm right behind you," Young insisted.
Cormack tried to protest, but inhaled another lungful of acrid smoke and choked. Struggling, she finally got herself and her C.O. clear of the door. Before she could release him and go back in after Young, it whooshed shut. She hit the comm panel. "Ian?" she called, gasping clean air into her burning lungs. There was no answer. "Ian!" Still nothing. "Fuck!"
"Armory, respond!" Archer demanded. He stood next to the main comm station where Ensign Sato tried desperately to open a connection to the armory. Tension creased the Captain's brow and he pressed his lips together tightly to keep from snapping at the young woman. She's doing what she can, he reminded himself repeatedly. He looked to his left, practically skewering T'Pol with his gaze. "What can you tell me?"
The Vulcan's reply was more terse than usual. She was clearly agitated by the unexpected and inexplicable emergency. "Damage reports are coming in now. An explosion has ruptured an interior bulkhead, cause unknown."
"Four." T'Pol looked up long enough to catch Archer's gaze. "That is the number of crew scheduled on today's armory duty roster," she reminded him.
He nodded. He'd thought that was the case, but he was grateful for her confirmation.
"Sir," said crewman Zabel from the tactical station. Archer spun to face him. "Just before the alarms went off I read a spike in the plasma flow through section Q-31. That would put it behind the armory's starboard bulkhead."
"That is consistent with current readings," confirmed T'Pol, her attention back on her console. "The temperature in the armory is rising rapidly."
"Armory emergency systems are off-line," added Zabel.
"Damn it!" Archer whirled on Sato. "Haven't you established a link yet?"
The comm ensign winced but responded evenly. "The armory's interior comm is off-line. There's nothing to link to."
Her voice belied none of her own fear about what was going on in the armory and, more importantly, what was happening to the people down there. "It's open, but it's linked somewhere else on board. Tracing it now, sir." It took only a moment to find the connection. "Sickbay."
Archer's first instinct was to order her to break into the connection, but good sense prevailed. If someone was talking to sickbay, there had to be a reason. He turned back to Zabel. "Get a team and get down there."
"Aye, sir." Zabel was across the bridge and into the turbolift almost before he'd finished speaking.
"T'Pol?" The Captain turned back to his second in command. "Are they clear? Can we seal off the area?"
"No. I'm still reading one individual inside the armory," she replied evenly.
Archer once more looked at Sato. "Get me Tucker."
Internally, the young woman heaved a sigh of relief. This was something she could do. "Go ahead, sir."
"Archer to Tucker."
Tucker's voice came through the comm anxiously. "What's going on, Cap'n? I've got warning lights going off like fireworks, and it's all coming from the armory."
"We're still trying to find out. I'll meet you on F-deck."
"On my way."
Archer strode purposefully to the lift. He glanced at T'Pol as he stepped inside. "You have the bridge."
The moment Cormack and Reed were clear, Young engaged the emergency overrides and sealed all the armory doors. Then he worked like a man possessed. Sweat poured down his face and he could feel the growing heat of the plasma fire begin to cook his skin through the minimal protection of his uniform. The fire-dampening systems had shorted out from the initial blast, and the torpedoes nearest the blaze were coming dangerously close to overheating. If he couldn't put out the fire quickly they would explode, taking Enterprise and her crew with them.
His best chance was to vent the armory's oxygen and replace it with nitrogen. It wouldn't be a healthy atmosphere for him, but it would only last a few moments—just long enough to snuff the fire. He was sure he could hold his breath until it was safe to start the oxygen flow again.
He activated the manual air-recycling system and ordered it to its fastest rate. New alarms rang, warning him of the danger of being stuck there without breathable air. He shut them off. Before the atmosphere became too thin, he took as deep a breath as he could, fighting the urge to cough as the hot, smoke-laden air burned his throat. He watched the readout on the console where the environmental conditions were displayed. The oxygen level was already down to 10% and continuing to drop. He mentally urged it on, glancing over his shoulder to where the fire still raged and spread.
Young felt the heat of the fire increase as it flared suddenly before going out. He would have grinned at his success, but he was in a hurry. He couldn't hold his breath forever. He refocused on the main control console only to be confronted by a blank, dark screen. His eyes widened in horror. It must have shorted out with that last flare, he thought frantically. But there are back-ups! his mind insisted. If he could just reactivate it But that command sequence was controlled from the secondary console, which was now nothing but a blackened, charred mass of metal and plastic.
His lungs began to ache, demanding he take in fresh oxygen. But there wasn't any. Environmental back-ups, his spinning brain told him. By the door. At least if he couldn't get them activated, he should be able to override the doorlock and escape that way. The rest of the ship's air cyclers could handle the extra nitrogen; it just wouldn't be pleasant for the people in the immediate area.
He stumbled toward the door, waving an arm in front of his face to clear the smoke from his eyes. He reached the staircase and grasped the railing for support. It was a mistake. The metal had been super-heated by the plasma flare and still retained more than enough residual heat to burn his hand. Instinctively he pulled it away, crying out at the sudden, blazing pain. Too late, he realized his second mistake. His cry had allowed the little oxygen left in his lungs to escape. He gasped and choked, unable to breathe. In his last moment of clarity, he reached for the door's control only to fall to the deckplating as blackness overwhelmed him.
"Ian! Fuck!" Cormack slammed the heel of her good hand against the comm. "Armory to sickbay. Emergency!"
"Lieutenant Reed's hurt, unconscious. Martinez is injured..." She glanced down at crewman who half-sat, half-laid against the opposite bulkhead. Martinez was ashen with pain and a glistening of red around her lips suggested more than the broken ribs she'd presumed earlier. " maybe a punctured lung? I—I don't know. Young's still inside. We need help!"
"I'm on my way."
In sickbay, Phlox closed the comm. He turned to see that both ensigns Cohn and Cutler had already gathered emergency medical kits. Cohn handed him a third kit as Cutler hailed two emergency med-techs and ordered them to F-deck. The trio rushed out.
The moment she heard the connection close, Cormack hailed the bridge.
T'Pol's modulated tones responded. "Ensign, report."
"There's been an explosion. Ensign Young is trapped in the armory. I can't override the locking code on the door. It's sealed " She broke off, coughing as a stray wisp of smoke re-aggravated her throat. " environmental shut-down," she managed to gasp.
"A rescue team is already on the way."
"Too slow!" Cormack protested. "You need to override the atmospheric controls, flood the armory with oxygen." She guessed that Ian had followed through on his intentions and flushed the oxygen from the room in order to extinguish the fire. She only hoped he hadn't panicked and vented the entire atmosphere. He's smarter than that, she tried to assure herself, but she knew too well how foolish mistakes could happen in a panic situation.
"Understood." There was a pause. "Armory atmosphere is returning to normal. The door will unlock automatically when the cycle is complete."
Before Cormack could reply, the corridor suddenly filled with people. To her muddled brain, they seemed to appear out of nowhere. There had been only the three of them—Reed, Martinez, and her. Now it felt like half the crew were there. The chaos was nearly overwhelming. She felt herself being pulled away from the armory door and fought to stay where she was. Ian was inside. She had to get him out.
"Stephanie!" It was Liz Cutler. "Stop fighting me! You're hurt. I need to treat you."
"But—" Her protest was stifled as she finally identified Zabel and Griffith working to open the door to the armory. "The atmosphere's not normalized yet," she tried to tell them. "Give it a second."
Tucker was the only one who seemed to hear her, but his attention was immediately ripped away by the sight of Reed's burned and bleeding form being transferred to an anti-grav gurney by med-techs D'Angelo and Northfield. "Jesus Christ! Malcolm!" He pushed through the crowded corridor to the lieutenant's side. "What the hell happened?"
Phlox scanned the injured man while the med-techs lifted crewman Martinez onto the second gurney. "Plasma burns, multiple lacerations, minor head trauma." He recited the damage like a laundry list and it infuriated Tucker.
"Minor?! He's unconscious and bleeding! God damn it, get him to sickbay!"
"I am working toward that goal, Commander," replied Phlox tersely.
Carefully, Cutler led her bunkmate out of the chaos. "Come on. You're only in the way." She pulled a hypospray from her med-kit and pressed it against Cormack's neck. Instantly the armory ensign felt better. She breathed more easily and the pain in her arm faded to a dull throb. Her senses clearer, she looked around.
Phlox's brief altercation with Tucker had died out as quickly as it had begun. Now the Denobulan was issuing orders to his team. Despite her triage training, most of his words were over Cormack's head, but the med-techs obviously understood. They secured first Reed and then Martinez to gurneys and promptly whisked them away.
Archer saw Tucker watch them go. He moved to the younger man's side and put a supportive hand on his shoulder. "I'm sure he'll be fine," he said softly enough that only Tucker could hear him. The engineer nodded, tight-lipped and not trusting himself to speak.
Cohn caught Phlox's gaze and said, "I'll stay here until they get Ian out. Right now the others need you more than I do."
"All right." Phlox nodded and followed the med-techs.
"We're going with them," Cutler informed her bunkmate gently, guiding the injured woman away.
"They need my help," argued Cormack, indicating the perfectly capable rescue team.
"No, they don't. Let's go." Cutler spared a moment to give Cohn a supportive look. "I'll send a med-tech back as soon as I can."
He nodded tightly. "Thanks."
"The door'll open on its own any second," shouted Cormack as she was being led away.
This time the others heard her, but it didn't matter. At that moment the door to the armory unlocked and slipped open.
T'Pol's voice came over the comm, startling everyone but Cormack. "Atmosphere has normalized. You should be able to access the armory now."
"We're in," answered Archer as Zabel and Cohn preceded him inside. The devastation was extensive, but nowhere so much as in the collapsed form of Ensign Young. The young man was sprawled just inside the door; it was necessary to step over him to enter the room.
Cohn knelt by his best friend's side, the terror in his gut shoved aside by his training. He had to remain detached and analytical if he was going to do Ian any good. "Help me get him on his back," he ordered Zabel. They carefully rolled Young over onto his back, and Cohn felt a pang of relief to see there was little physical damage immediately apparent. Then his stomach lurched as he realized Young wasn't breathing.
Cohn checked for his pulse without success, his scanner promptly giving him more bad news. "He's in respiratory and cardiac arrest," he informed Zabel, his newly drafted assistant. He handed the security crewman a pair of large scissors that he'd taken from his medical kit. "Get the top of his uniform off." As Zabel unzipped Young's coveralls and began cutting away the black shirt and blue tank underneath, Cohn quickly attached defibrillator lines to the scanner he was holding. The second Ian's chest was bare, he slapped them on. The scanner's beeping changed to an ominous monotone. "Flatline," Ari breathed. "Non-shockable rhythm." He reached into his open med-kit and withdrew a bag-valve mask. He fixed Zabel with an intense look. "Your CPR training is up-to-date, right?"
"Yes, sir," the crewman replied.
"Good," Cohn replied tersely. "Start."
As Zabel began compressions, Cohn pulled out his intubation kit from his bag and got the equipment ready. In a matter of seconds, he had Young's head tilted back and mouth open. "Stop," he ordered the crewman. "I'm going to insert the tube now." Zabel stopped and Cohn cleared a path for the tube. Please go in! he prayed, gently but firmly sliding the tube past Young's larynx into his lungs. The tube slid in with no resistance. Cohn let out the breath he'd been holding and quickly scanned Ian's chest. "Tube's in place," he said as he attached the bag-valve mask to the top of the mouthpiece. He squeezed the bag in his hand, forcing air into Ian's lungs.
Zabel began CPR once more. He counted. "One two three four five six seven " Another squeeze on the bag. Young's chest inflated as the air was forced in, then fell as it escaped with each compression. " eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen "
After a minute, Cohn halted him again. "Checking rhythm," he said, eyes glued to the scanner. There was no change, and Zabel sighed in defeat.
"Should we stop?" he asked, not relishing more compressions on a man who was already dead.
"No!" the ensign shouted. "You keep going until I tell you to stop!"
"Yes, sir," Zabel mumbled, returning to the task as Cohn squeezed more air into Young's body. "One two three " It went on.
Archer, Tucker, and Griffith moved around the armory, assessing the damage and trying to determine if there was any immediate danger. Tucker retrieved a functioning scanner from the equipment locker where it had had limited protection and scanned the gaping hole in the bulkhead. "Son of a bitch!" he exclaimed.
"What is it?" asked Archer, hurrying to his side.
"We're lucky we're still alive. This could've been a helluva lot worse."
The Captain eyed the charred mess dubiously. "I'll take your word on that for now."
"Sirs," Griffith called from across the room. "I have the main console back online." The officers approached the crewman. "It overheated temporarily, but it's working again now. I'm reading a fault behind the damaged bulkhead—a power relay that's not properly installed."
"Could that have caused the explosion?" Archer wanted to know.
Tucker narrowed the parameters of the scan. "No. My guess is they were trying to replace the relay but couldn't get it in before the other system went critical. It'll take some time to find out for sure, though. I'll get a team on it." He looked at Griffith. "Can you handle getting that power relay sorted out? One less thing to worry about will make this a lot easier."
"Yes, sir." He moved off to collect tools and disappeared through the scarred access shaft.
"I'll get a team together," Tucker continued flatly. He was running on auto-pilot and he and Archer both knew it. He tried to open a comm from the main console, only to find communications from the site were still offline. He seemed momentarily stymied.
Archer noticed his blank confusion and spoke gently. "Trip."
"Cap'n?" Tucker turned a puzzled look on his old friend.
"Go to sickbay. I'll have Lieutenant Hess organize an engineering team."
"I can do it," protested the Chief Engineer.
"I know you can. But so can she, and there's someone else who's going to need you. Go."
Tucker nodded and turned to go. He stopped short at the sight of Cohn and Zabel still methodically performing CPR on Ensign Young.
Zabel knew their task was futile, but he continued to press on Young's chest for fifteen counts every two breaths. He glanced up at Cohn, wondering if he should voice his doubts again. The crewman held his tongue when he saw the glistening tears that streamed unchecked and unnoticed down the medical assistant's face.
Cohn continued to work with machine-like precision. "Stop," he said again, and as Zabel leaned back, Ari keyed the scanner. This time the machine beeped with an erratic tone. "V-fib! A shockable rhythm!" he yelled with joy. He turned to the crewman. "He has a shockable rhythm! Get off!" Zabel jumped away from Young as if he'd been shot. Ari moved back and pressed the button on the scanner. Young's body contracted, but there was no change in the scanner's beeping. "Shocking again," Cohn said, pressing the button a second time. Young's body contracted more violently, but the beeping remained unchanged. Cohn shocked him a third time, but Young's heart still didn't resume its normal beating.
Zabel cleared his throat. "I think he's dead," he said delicately.
Cohn ignored him. Instead he pressed a hypospray against Young's neck. "Shocking again," he repeated, pressing the scanner's button for a fourth time.
Young gasped. His eyes flew open and his hands began grasping and pulling at the tube as he gagged.
"Get me my bag!" order Cohn, grabbing at it before Zabel could move. The ensign pulled out another hypospray and once again injected Young. "Easy, buddy," he said as Young's struggling slowed and then ceased. His eyelids fluttered and he slumped back, unconscious.
Zabel looked at Ari, then at Ian, eyes wide. "What happened? Is he okay?"
"Yeah," Ari said, squeezing another breath into Young and then wiping at his eyes with one sleeve. "I've knocked him out so he won't hyperventilate or pull at the tube," he explained. "But he's okay. He's really okay." He was beaming through his tears.
"Well, that's good," Zabel said awkwardly as med-techs D'Angelo and Northfield suddenly appeared at the door, an anti-grav stretcher between them.
Ian woke and surveyed his surroundings in groggy confusion. The light was low, but he easily made out the shapes of medical equipment around him. Sickbay, he thought muzzily. What—? Then it all came flooding back to him. The others! He looked around now with more focus, hoping to see if his C.O. and crewmates were also in sickbay recovering, but his biobed was enclosed by an opaque privacy curtain.
He started slightly as the curtain was pushed back enough for someone to enter.
Ari smiled at him. "My monitor said you were awake. How are you feeling?" he asked quietly, checking the screen above Ian's head.
Ian's voice was weak and raspy as he replied. "Like someone landed a shuttlepod on me." He tried to clear his throat, but found he sounded no better when he continued. "What happened after I passed out?"
"Your throat's bound to be sore for a day or two from the resuscitation tube and the smoke."
Ian nodded slightly in understanding, but remained focused on his query. "You didn't answer my question."
Ari wouldn't meet his gaze at first. The medical assistant was strangely reluctant to tell his friend the truth. Don't be dumb, he scolded himself. "You didn't just pass out," he said at last.
Ian fixed him with a puzzled look. It was easier than trying to talk.
"When we got to you, you were suffering from nitrogen asphyxiation. You were in cardiac and respiratory arrest."
The information sank into Ian's mind, its full import only slowly dawning on him. "I was dead," he rasped.
Ari nodded. "But not for long," he said hastily, as if it would make a difference. "We resuscitated you right away."
"I'm sorry I put you through that."
"It's not your fault. I'm just glad you're okay." Ari remembered the terrible fear he'd felt when he'd first discovered Ian on the floor of the armory. He pushed the feeling resolutely aside. "You're going to be fine," he said to reassure himself as much as his friend.
Another thought struck Ian and he asked, "But how did you get to me? I sealed the doors—"
"T'Pol was able to normalize the atmosphere in the armory from the bridge. It was easy to get in after that."
A look of sudden discovery crossed Ian's face and was rapidly replaced by an expression of self-disgust. "It never even occurred to me."
"That the armory's atmosphere could be vented from outside." He sighed and then coughed as it irritated his sore throat. "I'm an idiot."
"No you're not," protested Ari.
"You are," said a female voice, startling them both. Stephanie stood in the gap in the curtain, wearing standard issue sickbay pajamas. Her burned arm was bandaged and she held it gingerly away from her side as if she didn't want to accidentally bump it when she moved. She stepped beyond the curtain and stood by Ian's bed. "But so am I. I forgot the atmosphere could be vented from somewhere else, too. Hell, two somewhere elses—the bridge or Main Engineering."
"Shit," said Ian. "You're right."
"You didn't have to stay behind at all."
"And you shouldn't have locked me out," Stephanie continued accusingly.
"Huh?" said Ian at the same moment Ari asked, "What?"
She ignored the medical assistant and focused on her fellow armory ensign. "You had no business locking me out. I could have helped you, even if we were both too stupid to get out before cycling out the oxygen."
"I couldn't let you come back in," protested Ian. "It was a dangerous and potentially deadly environment."
"So what? So you deliberately endanger your own life when, if there'd been two of us—"
"Hang on!" cut in Ari. "That's enough."
Stephanie looked at him, mildly surprised. "What?"
"I'm not going to have you badgering my patient!" And my best friend! his mind added silently.
"I'm not badgering—"
Again he didn't let her finish. "You are by my definition." He drew back the curtain enough to look out into the rest of sickbay. "Liz," he called, catching the brunette's attention. "Would you please escort Ensign Cormack back to her own biobed?"
Liz approached and reached out a hand to her bunkmate. "Come on," she instructed her, taking her by the elbow. She didn't know what the problem was, but she assumed Ari had a good reason for his request.
Stephanie allowed herself to be guided away, but shot a glance back over her shoulder. "We're not done," she informed Ian.
"I know," he answered.
As Ari closed the curtain behind the women, he could hear Liz admonishing her friend. He turned back to Ian in time to catch him grimacing. Ari picked up a scanner from a nearby tray and ran it along Young's body. "Are you in pain?"
"How did you guess?" joked Ian humorlessly.
Suddenly Ari was all professionalism. "Are you having trouble breathing at all?"
"Some. My chest really feels like someone dumped a load of duratanium on it and left it there."
"You have some bruising from the CPR. It's completely normal. I'll give you an analgesic and dose of tri-ox compound to make it easier to breathe." He loaded a hypospray as he spoke and injected it into Ian's neck.
The effect was immediate. The armory ensign relaxed and inhaled deeply. "Thanks, buddy."
Ari smiled. "You're welcome."
There was a slight cough from the other side of the curtain. Ari approached it, ready to send Stephanie away should it be her again. He drew back the curtain and was surprised to see crewman Rostov standing there. "Michael. I thought Doctor Phlox released you."
"He did," the burly crewman replied. He had been repairing a shelf in one of the cargo bays when the accident in the armory had happened. He had foolishly forgone normal safety procedures in his repairs and as a result he'd been injured when vibrations from the explosion had knocked him and a heavy cargo container off the shelf. Like Martinez had in the blast, he'd suffered some broken ribs. He unconsciously rested a hand on his freshly healed side. "I'm on my way out, but I wanted to see if Ian was okay first."
"He'll be fine."
"Can I talk to him?"
Ari glanced questioningly over his shoulder at Ian, who gave him a small, tired nod of okay. "Yes," answered Ari, turning back to Rostov. "But don't stay too long. He needs to rest."
The crewman nodded. "Sure."
Ari left them alone, shutting the curtain around them.
"Hey," said Michael from where he stood.
"Hey," replied Ian. "What're you doing here?"
"I got clobbered by a cargo box while you guys were screwing with the plasma conduits. I figured I'd see if you're okay before going back to my quarters."
"Ari already told you I'm okay."
"So I wanted to see for myself." Michael approached to bed. "You look pretty good, considering what a dumbass thing you did."
"Christ," Ian swore softly. "Not you, too. I already got an earful from Cormack. I don't need another from you."
"Don't you? How stupid are you two anyway? You should have gotten the hell out of there and hailed engineering. They could've vented the whole atmosphere in seconds—without anyone getting hurt."
"Everyone was already hurt."
"Except you. I've heard what happened. You were fine until you asphyxiated yourself. Are you trying to tell me that was the best plan you could come up with?"
"That wasn't the original plan, you know," stated Ian angrily.
"The original plan was just as stupid. You could've been killed and it would've been for nothing."
"If it saved the rest of the crew and the ship, it wouldn't have been for nothing."
"It would when there was another, safer option." Michael was red-faced with anger but kept his voice low so as not to alert anyone else to their argument.
"What the hell do you care?" demanded Ian, confined to quiet fury due to his damaged throat.
"I broke up with Ethan."
Shocked silence met Rostov's announcement. Ian wondered if he'd heard right or if the pain meds Ari had given him were causing him to hallucinate. "Huh?"
"I broke up with Ethan," repeated Michael quietly but clearly.
"What does that have to do with anything? And why should I give a flying fuck whether you broke up with him or not?" Despite his claims of disinterest, Ian's heart rate increased suddenly with the news. He willed himself to stay calm so neither Ari nor anyone else who might be watching the monitors would notice and come to check on him. He wasn't ready for this conversation to end quite yet and the last thing they needed was an untimely interruption.
"I broke up with him for you."
"Broke up with him for you," the dark-haired crewman finished for him more gently this time.
"Oh." Inexplicably, Ian felt himself relax. His pulse returned to normal and his head and shoulders sank back onto the biobed. He hadn't really realized how tense he'd grown. Maybe it was the medication Ari had given or maybe he was finally letting down his defenses on his own. Whatever the impetus, Ian reached out to Michael with one hand only to discover it was bandaged. He'd completely forgotten he'd burned it on the armory stairway's railing. Letting it drop back by his side, he reached awkwardly across his body with the opposite arm and took Michael's hand. He was about to say more when they were suddenly interrupted.
"Hey, Ian, I heard—" Hoshi's greeting died a quick death as she rounded the curtain and caught sight of the two men holding hands. Her sharp mind took in the scene in a moment and she knew she'd inadvertently caught them in a moment of unguarded tenderness. Her brown eyes flashed from Ian's face to Michael's and back again, not knowing where to rest.
Ian yanked his hand from Michael's as if he'd just been stung.
"I'm sorry," Hoshi said. "I didn't I didn't " She took a breath, hoping to keep her voice calm, and looked Ian in the eye. "I'll come back later."
"Hoshi, wait!" he tried to call after her, but whether she didn't hear or chose not to, he didn't know. Hoshi disappeared and the two men heard the door to sickbay suddenly open and close. "Shit." Ian looked up at Michael, all tenderness toward the crewman gone. "Get out of here."
"I'll see you later."
"The hell you will," countered Ian without conviction.
Michael made no comment, but his expression spoke volumes. He left, pulling the curtain shut and leaving Ian alone at last. The ginger-haired young man closed his eyes, desperately searching his mind for one thing that would keep this from being the worst day of his life. When he found it, it brought little comfort as it carried painful memories with it. No one died today, he said to himself. Not today.
In sickbay's main area, Ari looked over in surprise as Hoshi rushed out so soon after having arrived. His bemusement grew as Rostov followed her, although at a far more leisurely pace. I wonder what's going on. He shook his head, dismissing the mystery for the moment. He had other things to deal with just then.
He approached the biobed where Stephanie sat talking with Liz. He looked at Liz, pointedly ignoring the other woman. "Doctor Phlox has given Ensign Cormack clearance to leave," he said coolly, handing over a datapad. "She's to return here tomorrow at 0800 so her bandages can be removed."
"Hello," said Stephanie indignantly. "I'm right here."
"And you're free to go." He looked at her, an angry challenge clear in his brown eyes.
She backed down a bit in surprise. She'd never seen him angry and she got the feeling she didn't want to. "I'm sorry you think I was badgering Ian," she said, guessing rightly that he was still mad at her over the incident.
"I don't just think it."
"Fine. Think whatever you want. He was stupid to lock me out when I could have helped him, and when he comes to his senses, he'll tell you I'm right."
"I doubt that."
Stephanie sighed in defeat. "Whatever. I'm sorry if I upset him or you," she apologized sincerely. "I realize I should have waited to talk to him about it." She slid off the biobed and looked at her bunkmate. "See you in our cabin."
Liz nodded. "I'll be late, but I'll be there."
The blonde gave her a tired nod in return and left sickbay. When she was gone, Liz turned to Ari. "She really is sorry, you know."
"She doesn't say it if it's not true," she persisted. "I think everything is just too fresh for all of us to be completely objective about what happened."
"I suppose so," conceded Ari, knowing she was right.
"Here." She picked up another datapad and handed it over to him. "Phlox has released Martinez, too. Why don't you give her the good news that she gets to sleep in her own bed tonight?"
He looked at the new pad. "She's cleared already?"
"Yes," confirmed Liz. "Her ribs are mended and there wasn't any internal organ damage, so she gets to go home."
"But the blood—?" He scanned the pad and let out a laugh of relief more than humor. "She bit her lip when she hit the torpedo? That's much better than the punctured lung we thought it was initially."
"It certainly is. You want to tell her?"
"He's overseeing Lieutenant Reed's dermal regeneration treatment."
"Oh. Okay. You know, the doctor and I can finish up on our own if you want to go. You and I are both past our shifts anyway."
"It's okay. I'll help you clean up, and when Phlox says he doesn't need either of us, you and I can share a drink in the mess hall," Liz offered kindly. "I think we could both use a little detox time after today, don't you?"
Ari nodded, surprising himself. "That's a great idea." Then he paused and frowned. "Travis isn't going to get upset if we do that, is he?"
Liz smiled as she answered. "He knows you and I are friends, and he knows I love him. He'll be fine."
Ari smiled back. "All right."
It was one of those rare occasions when Lieutenant Reed wished he had an office. Instead, he was forced to use his quarters in that capacity when he needed to speak privately with a subordinate. And when the armory is out of commission, he thought bitterly. It was two days since the explosion that had injured him and three other members of his team. Young was still in sickbay. Reed had only been released that morning. He'd been to the armory to check on the repair team's progress, only to be ordered out by Tucker. The engineer insisted he was acting on Phlox's orders, but Reed suspected his lover didn't want him to exert himself any more than the doctor did. All Reed's protests had been useless. He'd returned in defeat to his cabin where he'd spent the day reviewing every update that came from Trip's crew.
He shifted stiffly in his chair. Newly healed skin and muscles protested the movement, but he ignored them. The scene that was about to come was undoubtedly going to be far more uncomfortable than anything his body could throw at him just then.
At the same moment he checked the time, the door chimed. "Come in," he called.
Ensign Cormack entered, stepping far enough into the cabin for the door to slip shut behind her. Her friendly greeting died on her lips. Something about Reed's posture told her this wasn't a social call he'd requested. She adopted a more formal stance. "You wanted to see me, Lieutenant?"
"Yes. I want to talk to you about the incident in the armory the other day."
"I've read your report a number of times." He had the report onscreen and he glanced at it briefly, although he already knew exactly what it contained. "There's something in it that disturbs me."
Cormack was perplexed. She'd been very succinct and precise in her report; she couldn't think of anything disturbing beyond the horrible facts of the accident. "Sir?"
"You say you left Young behind in the armory when you dragged me out."
"Yes, sir." Her puzzlement increased.
Reed continued coolly. He hated doing this, but no hint of emotion played on his still, stoic visage. "You willfully left your fellow officer in a volatile environment."
"I What?" She frowned.
"You stated clearly in your report that you directed Martinez out, then dragged me from the armory. You made no attempt to remove Ensign Young."
"You think I—" Cormack was wide-eyed in amazement. She couldn't go on. She seethed internally, unable to believe she was hearing what she was hearing.
For his part, Reed couldn't believe one of his crew would deliberately leave another behind, but that was what the evidence showed. "You should have gotten Ensign Young out before me. Only then should you have come back for me, assuming conditions permitted it. Your actions were negligent and endangered the life of another officer."
Cormack was having trouble breathing. Her heart pounded at twice its normal rate. She managed to speak through the fierce clenching of her jaw. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"You have no idea what it was like in there," she said in a low, strained voice. "The smoke, the fire. I didn't know for sure that you weren't dead."
"All the more reason to leave me—" began Reed, but Cormack cut him off.
"Bullshit!" she spat. "I don't know how you would have reacted under the circumstances and I hope to hell neither of us ever has to find out. But I'm willing to bet my commission you couldn't have left your C.O. behind to die." Her voice rose with every word until she was shouting, her face red with fury.
"No one needed to be left behind to die," snapped Reed. "I would have thought one of you would have been smart enough to remember that Engineering could—"
Cormack interrupted him again, her anger making her reckless and belligerent. "I know I fucked up," she yelled. "Ian knows he fucked up, too, so you can skip telling him what an incompetent idiot he is too—assuming you were planning to," she added accusingly. "Or were you saving that special honor just for me?"
Reed rose, his expression stern. "Ensign—"
"How dare you?" Her voice was suddenly low and quiet, full of anger and betrayal. "How dare you accuse me—accuse either of us—of negligence? You have no idea!" She punched every word with all the rage that boiled up inside her. "You don't know!"
"Ensign! Stand down!"
Cormack bit back her next retort so sharply that Reed could hear her teeth snap together.
Without another sound, she turned on her heel and stormed from the room.
Reed sank into his chair. He looked down at his hands resting on the desk and was surprised to discover they were shaking slightly. He'd never before experienced a dispute like that with anyone under his command—and certainly never with a crewmate he thought of as a friend. He hoped never to have to again.
He looked up, staring for a moment at the closed door. A kernel of doubt niggled at him from the corner of his mind.
Had he been wrong?
No, said the commanding officer in his mind. He'd read her report multiple times. Her own words condemned her actions. He turned to the computer screen and re-read yet again the section that had so shocked him.
I saw that crewman Martinez was clear of the armory and went to Lieutenant Reed. He was injured and unconscious. I refrained from attempting to rouse him. I called to Ensign Young for assistance. He denied it, saying the environmental controls were offline and he intended to vent the armory's atmosphere.
I proceeded to drag Lieutenant Reed from the armory. Once clear, the door closed and locked behind us. I hailed Ensign Young, but was unable to reach him over the comm. I then proceeded to hail sickbay.
He stopped reading. There it was on the screen. She'd left Young behind and made only the most cursory attempt to contact him. She'd left him.
The words she'd spoken–Shouted.–still rang in his ears. "You don't know!" That much was undeniably true. He found he had to agree with her wish that he never have to find out.
Reed rubbed his tired eyes with the thumb and index finger of one hand. He needed to talk to someone, to get another perspective. His first thought was of Trip, but he immediately decided against disturbing him. The engineer was run ragged between supervising the repair teams and spending every other waking hour making sure Malcolm had everything he could possibly need and then some. That narrowed his options considerably.
Captain Archer? he thought, dismissing the idea almost before the thought was complete. That left him with only one logical choice.
When Stephanie left Reed's cabin she was so furious she didn't know what to do. She stood outside the door for several seconds, shaking with rage and shock. She needed something, someone who would be on her side. The time had gone Beta shift half an hour ago; Liz would be in sickbay. She glanced over her shoulder at Malcolm's door. That was no option.
"Mae," she muttered. She headed to the nearest turbolift and rode it to E-deck. Mae had always been there for her when the shit hit the fan. And it sure as hell's hit it now. Stephanie emerged onto the E-deck corridor and walked quickly towards Mae and Bonnie's cabin.
I yelled at him, she thought, the whole import of her actions finally sinking in. Fucking shit. I yelled at Malcolm—Lieutenant Reed. Panic gripped her and her heart leapt to marathon pace again. I yelled at Lieutenant Reed!
She reached her destination and entered without warning. "I yelled at Lieutenant Reed!"
Bonnie's startled and sleepy face met her frantic declaration. "What?"
"I yelled at him. I...I'm not sure what I said. Gods! I hope I didn't cuss him out! I can't remember. I..." She looked around the room, suddenly noticing the absence of the person she sought. "Where's Mae?"
"Armory," Bonnie answered. She approached Stephanie cautiously, taking in her flushed cheeks and shaking hands. "She's running the Beta shift repair team. Why don't you sit down?" Before you fall down, her mind added. She guided Stephanie to a seat on Mae's bunk; her own was still unmade as she had only just gotten out of it. "Do you want a glass of water?" Stephanie nodded and Bonnie hurried to the lav. She returned a moment later with a glass of cold water and handed it to the blonde. "Here."
Stephanie took it in both hands and drank it down. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Bonnie took the empty glass from her, asking, "Do you want more?"
"Okay." She set it aside on the desk and sat on her bunk. "Can you tell me what happened now?"
Stephanie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Her racing heart was finally slowing to normal and the shaking of her hands had almost ceased. "I'm in deep shit," she stated bluntly. "I'm gonna get busted down to steward and spend the rest of my career serving dog biscuits to Porthos."
Bonnie almost laughed, but realized in time that the other woman was deadly serious. "What did you do? Besides yell at Lieutenant Reed? I mean," she added before Stephanie could answer, "I know that's bad, but I can't believe that alone would get you busted to steward."
"You didn't hear it," replied the armory ensign morosely. "Gods! I wish I could remember if I cussed him out or not!"
"It really was that bad?"
"It really was that bad," confirmed Stephanie.
"So tell me what happened. Maybe then it won't seem that bad."
Stephanie gave Bonnie a hopeless look.
The helmsman shrugged. "It's worth a try. At least tell my why you yelled at him."
Stephanie's anger flared again at the memory. "He accused me of negligence."
"He said I had 'willfully left my fellow officer in a volatile environment'." She gave a derisive snort. "There's an irony. I can remember what he said perfectly, but I have no clue how I answered him—other than loudly, that is."
"Why the hell would he say something like that?" demanded Bonnie, offended on her friend's behalf.
"I don't know! He read my report on the accident in engineering—several times even. He said so. He must know I did everything I could!"
A small light dawned on Bonnie's brain. At least now she had some context into which to place the fight Stephanie had had with her C.O. His actions still made no sense to her, though. "He's on drugs," she declared. "Or he's just stupid."
Stephanie didn't seem to hear her. She sat there, staring furiously at the far wall. "I did everything I could!" she repeated softly, more to herself that to her companion. Her breathing quickened as her heart rate rose again. "I got Juliana out. I got Malcolm out. I tried to go back for Ian, but he locked me out. I tried!" Tears shone momentarily in her eyes, but were swiftly subsumed by her rage.
Bonnie watched in fearful fascination. She had seen Stephanie giddy, hurt, joyful, despairing, drunk beyond coherence, and sick the morning after. She thought she'd seen Stephanie angry, but she was wrong. Every other fit of temper had been a pale precursor to this too-calm wrath. It was enough to scare Bonnie's own indignation into rationality.
When she spoke, it was cautiously, afraid Stephanie might turn her anger on Bonnie as the nearest target. "You said he read your report, right?"
"Several times," the armory ensign answered through jaws so tight they didn't move.
"Then the answer has to be there somewhere. There's got to be something in it that the Lieutenant misunderstood."
Stephanie turned on her. "What's to misunderstand? Facts? You've written incident reports. You know that's what you put in them—facts."
"I still think he must have misunderstood something."
"Facts!" repeated Stephanie bitterly. She ticked them off on her fingers as she listed them for the helmsman, her voice rising in volume and pitch with each one. "Fact: secondary conduit Zed-alpha exploded." Sweet Goddess, why does it always have to be explosions is my world!? "Fact: Juliana, Malcolm, and I were hurt. Fact: I got Juliana up and close enough to the door that she could get out on her own. Fact: Malcolm was unconscious and I wasn't about to try and wake him with the injuries he had so I dragged him out of the burning, smoke-filled armory, saving his life!"
She was on her feet now, practically screaming. Bonnie rose, too, trying to get a word in, trying to calm her down. But Stephanie ranted on unchecked, frenetically pacing the small patch of deckplating between the bunks.
"Fact: I tried to go back for Ian, but he locked the fucking door and the god damned comm was down! I hailed sickbay. I hailed the bridge. I did everything I could!"
"I know you did!" Bonnie shouted back at her, finally grabbing Stephanie's attention. "So stop yelling at me!"
Her words brought the raging woman up short and Stephanie froze where she was in the dead center of the cabin. She held her breath for a moment and put both hands over her face, trying to calm down. Finally she let the breath out in an inarticulate exclamation of frustration. "Gagh!" She sat heavily on Bonnie's bunk and scrubbed her face with her hands. "I'm sorry."
"You're forgiven," answered the helmsman gently.
Stephanie looked up at her where she still stood at the foot of the bed. "You're not even dressed yet. Did you just get up?"
"Yeah. I hate working nights."
"I'm sure it doesn't help when I come in here and dump on you before you've even had a cup of tea or a shower. I'm sorry," Stephanie repeated.
"It's okay." Bonnie sat next to her and put a supportive arm around her. Stephanie leaned her head gratefully on Bonnie's shoulder. "I put in a request with Sub-commander T'Pol to be transferred back to Alpha shift," the helmsman said gently.
"Did she okay it?"
"Yeah. No questions asked, just like you said. I'm off duty tonight, and then I'm in Stellar Cartography first thing in the morning."
Stephanie managed a weak smile. "That's the first good news I've had today." Then a thought occurred to her. "You mean we actually both have tonight free?"
"I wish I was in a mood to take advantage of the fact."
"We'll have other nights," Bonnie reassured her. "You want to get something to eat with me now? I just need to wash up and get dressed."
"Mmm. Can we just sit here for a minute first?"
"Sure," agreed Bonnie. She pulled Stephanie into an embrace that the armory ensign readily returned. They sat that way for more than just a minute, but neither noticed the time passing, content simply to remain in one another's arms for the time being.
Eventually, Stephanie pulled away and Bonnie released her reluctantly. "Are you going to be okay?" she asked.
Stephanie shrugged. "I guess I'll find out the next time I hear from Lieutenant Reed, eh?"
There was nothing to say to that, so the helmsman replied with a non sequitur. "Give me a couple of minutes to make myself presentable and we'll go get some coffee. I bet you could use it."
"Gods yes," agreed Stephanie. She chose not to voice the thought that it would be especially nice if the coffee had a shot of whiskey in it. She didn't truly intend to add the liquor to the drink despite her incredibly strong desire to do so, and she didn't want to upset Bonnie any more than she already had by suggesting it even in jest. "Coffee would be most welcome."
"Then we'll get you some. And after that, we'll go over your report and see if we can figure out what Lieutenant Reed's been smoking." Bonnie stood and headed to the lav. "Give me ten minutes and I'll be ready to go, okay?" she said as she went.
"Okay." Stephanie watched until the door had shut behind the helmsman and then collapsed sideways on the bunk. She mumbled miserably into the rumpled covers, "I'm so screwed."
Reed rang the chime to T'Pol's quarters and immediately heard her reply, "Come in."
He opened the door. She rose from the desk as he entered the cabin. "Sub-commander," he said stiffly.
"Lieutenant," she responded. "You said you wished to discuss a personnel matter with me."
"Yes." He wasn't entirely certain where to begin. This wasn't a situation he'd ever envisioned, so he had no set plan for how to proceed.
"Would you care to sit down?" offered the Vulcan, as discomfited by the situation as he.
"No, thank you. I prefer to stand." Reed suddenly remembered the datapad he'd brought with him and looked down at it in his hand. "I wondered if you'd read Ensign Cormack's report on the incident in the armory."
"Ah. Good." He was relieved to hear this; he didn't know what he would have done if she hadn't. "What did you think of it?"
T'Pol looked at him in mild perplexity. "I found it succinct," she said.
"Hm. That's certainly an accurate description," he agreed dryly. "But was there anything in it that you found inappropriate?"
Now the Vulcan came as close to frowning as she ever did. "Do you mean there is something in her report that you find unacceptable?" she asked, drawing the most logical conclusion she could from what little information she had.
"Yes." He hesitated, but T'Pol simply waited in stoic silence for him to continue. "It was here, in the section where she describes the evacuation of the armory." He keyed on the datapad, which he already had cued to the part in question, and offered it to her.
"I remember it," said T'Pol, not taking the pad.
"And it didn't bother you at all?" he asked, desperate for her to understand without him having to explain it.
"No. I found that, aside from the initial error in judgment made by Ensigns Cormack and Young, both officers behaved in a logical fashion."
"But Cormack left Young in a potentially deadly environment!" Reed blurted. "And she admits right here in her report that she made almost no effort to get him out."
The Sub-commander raised an eyebrow. "I don't recall her saying anything of the sort and it would be inaccurate if she had."
Reed was beginning to think he'd made a huge mistake in trying to talk to T'Pol about this matter. He thought she of all people would understand the problem he was having. "It's right here." He thrust the datapad at her and this time she took it.
She scanned the section on the screen. Her expression was unchanged when she looked up and returned the pad to him. "I fail to see what you're suggesting. When Ensign Cormack was unable to reach Ensign Young within the armory, she immediately hailed sickbay. While it would have been more logical to hail the bridge or engineering first, I understand the human instinct to assist the injured crewmembers first. As her next hail was to the bridge, I believe her actions were reasonable. Perhaps if you discussed your concerns with Ensign Cormack, she could put your mind at ease on the matter."
Reed frowned. "I had considered that," he said, not caring to admit he'd considered it after having had the interview that had gone so poorly. He was slowly realizing that he'd acted rashly in dressing down Cormack for her actions during the emergency. He had never asked her to explain what she'd written in her report; he'd simply leapt to the least favorable conclusion and confronted her with it. I should have come here first, he thought in perfect hindsight. I should have taken the time to talk to Stephanie as her friend before attacking her as her commanding officer. He sighed in self-disgust. Bloody hell.
"Sub-commander," he replied, pulling himself from his unpleasant musings.
"Was there something else you wanted to discuss?"
"No. Thank you. You've been very helpful. Excuse me." He nodded a polite, if rushed, farewell and escaped to the corridor. I need to find Stephanie.
Bonnie looked covertly at Stephanie across the mess hall table, and frowned. The blonde woman sipped morosely at her second latté. Her eyes were red-rimmed and shiny, although so far she hadn't shed any tears. Bonnie was determined not to let it come to that. We're going to figure out how this happened, she thought determinedly, and then I'm going to rip Lieutenant Reed a new one for being such a prick.
Aloud, the helmsman asked, "Better now?"
Stephanie set her cup on the table and wrapped her fingers around it. She nodded. "Some, yeah. Thanks."
"You think you're ready to take a look at your report?" She had taken the time to download Stephanie's incident report before coming to the mess hall.
"I suppose," the armory ensign sighed unenthusiastically.
"Okay." Bonnie pushed away the remains of her breakfast, retaining only her mug of tea. The datapad that had sat untouched throughout the meal now became the center of the women's attention. Bonnie keyed on the pad, but before she could do anything more than that, Lieutenant Reed entered the room and approached them.
"Ensigns," he greeted them formally.
Cormack sat up very straight. She hoped she looked better than she felt or Reed was going to know instantly how upset she was, and she didn't want that. "Sir," she said.
Fraser's eyes narrowed, but she refrained from saying anything beyond a very chilly, "Lieutenant."
Reed's main focus was Cormack, but he spared a moment to look at the helmsman. The tone of her voice was unmistakably unwelcoming and her expression was one small step short of openly hostile. He knew she was protective of Stephanie, but he'd never expected to have that protective streak turned against him. He found it decidedly unpleasant.
He returned his gaze to Cormack. "May I have a word with you? Privately?"
Fraser almost protested, but a tiny shake of Cormack's head silenced her. The armory ensign rose. "Yes, sir." Without another word, she followed her C.O. from the room. Fraser stared daggers at the man's back until the mess hall doors closed behind them.
The pair strode wordlessly along the E-deck corridors. Cormack was surprised when Reed passed the first turbolift and kept going. She'd assumed he would lead her to the captain's office. Instead they continued walking in strained silence toward the stern of the ship.
Cormack was ready to explode with nervous tension when they finally stopped. Reed opened the door to the aft observation lounge and gestured for her to precede him inside. She did. The lights came on automatically as sensors identified movement in the room. Not knowing what else to do, she stopped in the middle of the room and turned to face her C.O. She stood at attention, waiting for the axe to fall.
"At ease, Ensign," Reed said. Cormack snapped to the at-ease posture and Reed sighed wearily. "I mean, relax, Stephanie."
Unwilling to be baited when she had no control over whatever was to come, she said brusquely, "No thank you, sir."
"Please don't make me order you to relax. It never works when the Captain does it to me."
His comment took her completely off guard and she gaped at him, uncertain how to respond.
"Well, that's a mild improvement at any rate," quipped Reed humorlessly. "Why don't we sit down?" He inclined his head toward the soft, inviting chairs that littered the room in small, conversational arrangements.
"I Uhh Huh." Utterly at a loss, Cormack sought the nearest chair and sat in it. The lieutenant sat opposite her. Only then did she see the datapad in his hand. She tensed once again, but remained seated.
"I thought perhaps we could talk about your report. I mean actually talk about it, rather than snapping and swearing at one another."
Cormack blanched. Shit! I did cuss him out! her mind exclaimed. "I apologize for my earlier behavior, sir," she said as evenly as she could manage.
"It was unexpected, but not entirely uncalled for," Reed acknowledged. Caught by surprise yet again, Cormack said nothing. The lieutenant continued uncomfortably. "I realized after our last meeting that I may have jumped to inaccurate conclusions regarding your actions during the emergency."
It was an obviously difficult admission for him. Cormack didn't know if his trouble with it stemmed from having to admit he'd been wrong, or the awkwardness of apologizing to a lower-ranking officer, or from something else entirely. She remained silent, waiting to see what he would do or say next.
"Why don't you tell me about what happened?" he asked her kindly.
"It's in my report," she answered emotionlessly.
"The facts are in your report. I want to hear what really happened."
There was silence as Cormack processed what he said. She had been prepared for another dressing down. She'd even been prepared to some extent to be hauled up before the Captain in order to be officially stripped of her rank and position. She hadn't been at all prepared for Malcolm's sympathetic and gentle inquiry.
She couldn't meet his eyes. Her hand twitched involuntarily, itching for a way to release some of her tension, but she fought the unruly appendage back down. "I " She took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. "I don't know where to start."
Reed frowned, but not at her words. When she'd twitched, he'd noticed the ruddy color of her right hand. It wasn't the red flush of blood heating it from inside, but the bight pink of newly healed skin—something he was too familiar with lately. "What happened to your hand?" he asked.
"Huh?" She looked at it and shrugged. It was as good a place as any for her to start her story. "It got burned. Third degree, Liz said. All the way up to the elbow."
Reed's frown deepened and his gut clenched. He'd heard nothing about this and, worse yet, he'd neither asked nor noticed anything when he'd seen her earlier. "You didn't put that in your report. Why don't you start there? Tell me what happened."
"I figured you'd have heard it from Phlox." She was reluctant to talk about it. The pain was still too fresh in her memory for her to be comfortable with it. "Or from Young or Martinez."
"No." He shook his head.
She shrugged again. "Nothing to tell, really. I got burned the same time you and Martinez were hurt—in the explosion." Stephanie swallowed hard, angrily fighting back a sob. "It's always explosions in my world," she muttered bitterly.
"I don't " The knot in Reed's gut twisted tighter. He was caught between anger at her for not telling him she'd been hurt and anger at himself for not asking. Then a new thought struck him. "Are you saying you were hurt that badly and you still managed to pull me out of there on your own?"
"Yeah. Somebody had to, eh? Martinez's ribs were busted, so she couldn't. Young was trying to put out the fire, so he couldn't. Hell was going to freeze over twice before I was going to leave you there, so " She shrugged yet again. It seemed perfectly plain to her. She had done what she had to do and that was all there was to it.
Reed was speechless for several seconds. He was beginning to understand just how truly off-base his accusations had been, and that appalled him. The knot in his stomach doubled. He looked at Cormack, who studiously avoided his gaze. "I had no idea," he said softly.
"Now you do," she replied flatly.
Reed knew he had to proceed carefully. This revelation was enough to convince him he'd been wrong, but it still didn't satisfy his need to know exactly what had happened after he'd been knocked unconscious. "But what about the rest of it?" he persisted cautiously. "I want to hear exactly what happened after the explosion."
Again the tears welled up in Stephanie's eyes and she fought them back. I will not cry. I will not cry, she thought over and over. "Explosions," she muttered. She finally looked him in the eye. "Why the hell did I go into armaments for a career?" she asked as if he might actually have an answer. "I've had enough explosions to last me a lifetime and then some."
Malcolm frowned again, perplexed. "I don't understand."
"When people I care about get hurt, it's always explosions."
Comprehension dawning, he said, "You mean when your sister was hurt."
Stephanie nodded. "And when my father was killed."
This was a shock to the lieutenant. He thought for a moment before a vague memory surfaced. Lawless had said something to this effect when Stephanie had had her breakdown that past September, but in the urgency of the time he'd barely even registered the information. "I'm sorry. I'd forgotten."
Stephanie was surprised. "How did you even know? That's not in my personnel records."
"No, it isn't." Hoping he wasn't getting anyone into trouble, he explained. "Mae mentioned it when you " He trailed off, not wanting to dredge up still more unpleasant memories for his friend.
"When I fell off the wagon?" she completed for him. "It's okay to talk about it."
"But that's not what we're talking about," Malcolm reminded her, pulling the conversation back on track. He was determined to get the full story out of her if it took all evening. There was something inside him that demanded to hear it; he couldn't let it go.
Understanding that Reed wasn't going to let the matter drop, and feeling somehow that he was right not to, Stephanie took a steadying breath and let it out slowly. She looked down at her hands resting rigidly in her lap, fighting the urge to fidget.
"I tried to get Ian out. You've got to believe that," she said softly, a note of desperation in her voice. "There wasn't anything I could do. It was chaos. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see. My arm hurt " An involuntary shudder shook her, the horror of the memory too recent not to affect her. Her healing limb throbbed unexpectedly, a phantom of the pain she'd experienced just two days before. She rubbed at it with her other hand. "It was awful," she continued with difficulty. "I've thought about it a lot, you know. Especially since this afternoon." She glanced warily at her C.O., but he just nodded at her to go on. "I kept trying to think of anything more I could have done, and I can't. I tried to go back in, but Ian had already closed and locked the doors. I tried to get in, but I couldn’t. I hailed him, but there was no answer. So I hailed the bridge, after I called sickbay, to get help to get him out."
She paused. She was about to take a risk, but after the day she'd had she figured she didn't have much to lose. Steeling herself, Stephanie looked Malcolm in the eye and asked, "How could you even suspect I didn't even try? What have I ever done that would make you think that badly of me?"
Malcolm was silent for several seconds before answering her. He could barely think through the churning in his gut. He couldn't believe how wrong he'd been. "Nothing," he said. "Nothing."
"Then why?" The tension in Stephanie's voice burned as hotly as the plasma fire had two days ago.
"I've thought about it a lot myself." He stared out at the streaks of light skimming past the large windows. They were dimmed by the light in the room but still stood out against the deep blackness of space. "I think I wanted to believe you could have done more." He paused and quickly corrected himself. "I wanted to believe more could have been done. You were right when you said I had no idea what it was like. I don't know what I would have done in your position. I'm lucky I've never yet had to make the sort of choice you had to make, and I hope I never do."
Stephanie stiffly nodded her agreement. "I hope you don't, too. It sucked. You know, looking back I can see that I panicked. I thought at the time that I was being all rational and cool under pressure, but I panicked. If I hadn't, Ian never would have had the chance to lock himself in."
"You had no control over his actions. You were injured and undoubtedly in shock. You can't torture yourself over twenty-twenty hindsight," said Malcolm, listing off all the points he realized he should have considered the first time. His own recent experiences had forcibly reminded him of that universal truth. Speaking as much to himself as to her, he added, "You have to chalk it up to experience and not make the same mistake next time."
"Gods forbid there'll ever be a next time!" declared Stephanie fervently.
"Agreed." He smiled a little at the ensign and was rewarded with a small, tentative smile from her in return.
"So," she asked cautiously, "I heard Ian was released from sickbay this morning. Have you talked to him yet?"
"No, although I intend to first thing tomorrow."
Stephanie didn't inquire further. She took it on faith that Malcolm would handle that interview better now that he and she had worked out their misunderstandings. She had mixed feelings about it, though. Part of her wanted not to be the only one to have had to go through the trauma of being falsely accused by her C.O. The more rational and kinder part of her was glad Ian would be spared that ordeal.
Sensing some continuing inner turmoil in her, Malcolm said, "I'm sorry I leapt to conclusions about you."
"You should never leap to conclusions because you'll have to swim back."
"I beg your pardon?" Malcolm replied, baffled.
"Sorry." Stephanie chuckled, although there was little amusement in it . "It's from a book I read as a kid. The Phantom Tollbooth. It had some entertainingly literal takes on phrases we take for granted. That one has always been one of my favorites."
The lieutenant smirked lightly. Trying to regain the lost feeling of camaraderie they used to share, he teased her gently. "I'm suddenly beginning to understand you a bit better."
"Yeah. Poor Doctor Douglas really has his work cut out for him with me, eh?" she joked back, but there was a veil behind her words and her small smile.
"I certainly don't envy him his job, despite everything that's happened in my department this week."
Stephanie chuckled and Malcolm joined her. Neither was truly comfortable, but both felt relief that the current misunderstanding now seemed to have passed.
The ensign sighed as the tension of the day lessened in their shared amusement. "If you'll excuse me, Lieutenant?" she asked. He nodded and she stood. "I think a little celebration is in order tonight, and I need to make some plans."
"Of course. Enjoy your evening."
"Thanks. You, too."
"And tell Ensign Fraser she needn't continue plotting violent and painful vengeance."
Stephanie stopped, bewildered. "Excuse me?"
"I'm jumping to conclusions again," Malcolm admitted wryly, "but judging from the look on her face when I came to get you, I don't think I'll be swimming anywhere."
For a moment, a close, shuttered expression rendered Stephanie’s usually mobile features into an unfamiliar mask before she carefully cracked a smile. "Yeah. You're probably right. I'll make sure she knows."
Hoshi stood outside the door of Ian's cabin. She didn't want to be there, but she refused to continue in ignorance and confusion when she could do something about it. Everything in her life depended on communication, and her relationship with him was a significant part of her life.
She reached out and resolutely rang the chime. There was only a moment's pause before the door was opened by Ensign Cohn. It wasn't what Hoshi had hoped for—she'd hoped to find Ian home alone—but she had her contingency plan in place.
"Is Ian in?" she asked the medical assistant. She watched Cohn glance over his shoulder into the dimly lit cabin. He turned back to her.
"He's asleep," he said quietly.
This was something the comm officer hadn't counted on. "But it's only 2100 hours."
Ari gestured for her to step back so he could join her in the corridor. She did and he followed, letting the door shut behind him. "Ian's still pretty wiped out. He only got out of sickbay this morning."
"Oh. Of course. When he wakes up, would you let him know I stopped by?"
He nodded. "Sure."
"Thanks." Hoshi smiled politely and walked away.
Ari waited until she was out of sight around a corner before reentering his cabin. Ian sat waiting for him in the semi-darkness, fully awake.
"Is she gone?" the armory ensign asked.
Ari nodded. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned a shoulder on the door frame. "Now are you going to tell me what this is all about?"
"Try another answer."
"You don't want to know. Trust me."
"Trust me," countered Ari. He pushed away from the wall and pulled out the desk chair. He turned it backwards and sat astride it. "What's going on? Did you two have a fight?"
"I don't understand."
"I just don't want to deal with what I'll have to deal with the next time I talk to her. Isn't that enough?"
Ian's broad shoulders slumped. He could see his friend wasn't going to let this one go easily. "I really think you don't want to know."
"Then you think wrong. Talk to me. If you don't, I'm going to pester you with every miserable detail of Plan 9 from Outer Space. That is not something you want to have happen."
"All right, all right." The armory ensign took a deep breath and let it out in a resigned sigh. "Hoshi's not the only person I've been seeing."
Ari's eyes widened. "You're kidding! After everything you went though to date her, you're seeing someone else at the same time? She doesn't know anything about it either, does she?" Ari accused.
"She didn't. She doesn't really know anything for sure. Hell, I don't know anything for sure." Ian lay back on his bunk and stared grimly at the ceiling.
"You're not the only one."
"Who else have you been dating?"
"Not 'dating'," Ian corrected. "I wouldn't call it 'dating'."
"Well what would you call it and with whom?" persisted his bunkmate in growing frustration.
"If you bother to think about it, you'll figure out 'whom'." He turned his head to look at Ari, watched him frown as he considered what Ian had said. He waited, wondering if Ari still remembered the night of Mae's birthday party and where Ian had spent that night. When he saw his bunkmate's eyes widen to the size of saucers, he knew Ari had figured it out.
"Rostov?!" Ari blurted, knowing in his heart he was right. "You've been screwing Rostov while you've been dating Hoshi?!"
Ian sat up quickly and faced him. "No! It was just that one time after Mae's party, and that was way before Hoshi and I got together," he said, conveniently ignoring the fact that he and Hoshi had had their first date less than two weeks after his encounter with Rostov. "But Michael won't let it go." He looked away then, unable to meet Ari's gaze as he made his next admission. "And I think I don't want him to let it go."
Ari was stunned into silence as his mind worked to assimilate all the new information. When his thoughts coalesced into words, they came in random spurts of semi-coherence. "You don't even like Rostov! Besides, he's been dating Novakovitch. And he's not an officer! If one of the command staff finds out—"
"Ari, shut up!" Ian glared at his best friend. "You're not telling me anything I don't know, but I can fill you in on something." Ari stared at him blankly, waiting. "Rostov broke up with Novakovitch the day of the explosion."
"He said he did it for me."
"But you don't even like him!" repeated Ari. "He knows you don't like him!" he added ardently.
"Shut up! I know that."
"How can he break up with someone for a guy who he knows doesn't even like him?"
"And what do you mean you don't want him to let it go?" continued Ari without pause. "I thought you were head-over-heels for Hoshi, and now you're hot for Michael?"
"No! Maybe. It's not that simple," protested Ian.
"Why the hell didn't you talk to me about all this earlier? You know you can trust me!"
"I don't tell you everything."
"Yes, you do."
"How would you know?"
This caused Ari to stall momentarily. "I Okay I wouldn't, but that doesn't change the fact that you slept with a crewman—which is totally against regulations and bad enough on its own, but now you think you want more. You're skating on incredibly thin ice, buddy. You can't—"
"This is why I didn't talk to you," Ian snapped, cutting him off.
An angry silence fell over the two men. The atmosphere in the cabin practically crackled with the energy of their dispute. As they glared at each other warily, it slowly dissipated, leaving both of them feeling flat and empty.
"It was his idea," Ian muttered. He knew it was no defense, but he felt the need to say it nonetheless.
"That's hardly the point," Ari began, then let it go. "I'd guessed that, anyway, back when it happened."
Another, less tense, silence filled the room. Eventually, it was broken by Ari.
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
"I have no fucking idea."
Reed ordered his usual tea from the drinks dispenser. He didn't generally like to have caffeine so soon before turning in, but Trip had left a message that he would join him tonight if Malcolm was willing. Willing, able, and too ready, Malcolm thought hungrily.
T'Pol entered the mess hall as he claimed his filled mug. "Good evening, Sub-commander," he said pleasantly.
"Good evening," she replied. She passed him and picked up an empty mug. He moved aside so she could place it under the drinks dispenser. "Chamomile tea, hot." Reed was about to leave when she stopped him with a question. "Did you have any success with the personnel matter we discussed this afternoon?"
"Yes, thank you. Your input was very helpful."
"Well, good night then." He didn't want to appear rude, but he was eager to return to his quarters.
Malcolm departed as quickly as decorum allowed. Once he was in his cabin, he set his tea on the nightstand and undressed. Still a bit sore from his injuries, it took him longer than usual to change into pajamas and deal with his discarded uniform.
Once he was ready for bed, he turned down the covers on the bunk and plumped up the pillows. He made himself comfortable against the bulkhead and picked up a datapad from where it sat next to his tea. He turned it on, found his place, and reclaimed his drink. He sipped at the tea, enjoying its warmth and flavor. It was one of the very few things he considered comfort food—hot Assam tea with just the tiniest splash of milk. Setting the mug aside, he turned his attention to his book. He didn't know precisely what time Trip would be there, but he figured the combination of caffeine and a novel by Paul Scott would keep him awake until the engineer's arrival.
Three hours later he woke up. His datapad rested on his chest where it had fallen from his grasp. He rubbed his eyes and blinked at the too-bright light of his reading lamp, wondering how he could have fallen asleep with it on. Hang on, he thought drowsily and with growing confusion, I left the main lights on. He sat up and looked around, the pad slipping to one side. "Trip," he said, spotting the engineer in the shadows just beyond the ring of light. "How long have you been here?"
The blond man shrugged. He didn't move from where he sat in the desk chair, which he'd pulled up beside the bunk. "Maybe half an hour," he offered. "I wasn't keeping track of time."
"What were you doing, then?" asked Malcolm. He pushed himself into a more upright position and picked up the datapad, marking the page and setting it aside.
"Watching you sleep," admitted his lover sheepishly. The flush of his cheeks was visible even in the dim light at the edge of the reading lamp's glow.
"You should have woken me."
"You looked so peaceful, I couldn't. And I knew you must be tired or you'd've woken up when I came in." That, even more than the dark circles under Malcolm’s eyes, had led Trip to his decision to just sit a while, watch his lover, and be grateful that Malcolm was still with him. They might not be living together yet, but Malcolm was still living, and for now, that was more than enough for Trip.
"I can't argue with that." Malcolm was a light sleeper—particularly compared to Trip. It was a rare night when he didn't wake up at least once because of some tiny sound or motion that the younger man never noticed. Then Malcolm frowned as a fleeting memory touched his thoughts and vanished. "I wasn't peaceful, though," he realized. "I was dreaming about something " Vague images fluttered through his mind, but he was unable to hang onto them.
"What was it?"
"I don't remember."
"Well," said Trip with a tilt of his head, "then it must not have been about me."
Malcolm chuckled. "In that case, you definitely should have woken me. Then you could have joined me that much sooner."
Trip grinned. "I can't argue with that," he echoed. "Think you can stay awake for ten minutes until I'm ready to join you?"
"I think I can find the incentive somewhere," Malcolm smirked back, eyeing the younger man with obvious desire and eagerness.
Trip's grin grew lascivious. "Make it five minutes."
The light was dimmed to a romantic level. Soft music played. Next to the computer monitor stood two glasses and a bottle of dealcoholized red wine. The bunk had been neatly made and then the covers turned down in an inviting but unassuming fashion. Stephanie took one more look around the cabin, her eyes resting on the wine. Gods, I wish I could remember what she was drinking at Mae's birthday party, she thought in trepidation. She'd chosen the Merlot because it needed no refrigeration and would only taste better as it sat open all evening.
The door chimed then and Stephanie smoothed down the front of her long black skirt before answering it. She opened the door and smiled. "Hello."
"Hey," answered Bonnie. She smiled back at the shorter woman, noticing the skirt and top Stephanie wore. She reached out a hand and ran it along one burgundy velvet sleeve. "Mmm. Soft."
"C'mon in." Stephanie ushered her inside and locked the door behind her.
Bonnie's eyes scanned the room, taking in the ambience, the wine, the bed. Her smile grew. She turned around to face Stephanie again and looked her up and down. "I feel underdressed," she commented, glancing down at her own attire.
Stephanie eyed her critically, from her earth-toned blouse, to her fitted slacks, to her leather mules. "More overdressed than under, if you ask me." Her eyebrows did a quick, suggestive wiggle. "Wine?" she offered sweetly.
"Are you going to get me drunk and take advantage of me?" Bonnie kept her tone light and teasing, although the sight of the wine bottle had caused her a moment of concern.
"I know I don't need to get you drunk to do everything I want with you, so no. You get to drink the same thing I'm drinking." Stephanie crossed the short distance to the desk and poured out two glasses of dark red liquid. She picked them up and handed one to the helmsman. "To Alpha shift," she toasted.
"To Alpha shift," echoed Bonnie. They clinked the glasses together gently and sipped the wine. Bonnie sighed appreciatively. "That's good. Who knew alcohol-free wine could be this tasty?"
"Me." Stephanie smiled. "Have a seat?"
Bonnie sat on the blonde woman's bunk, noticing but not commenting on its ready appearance. She smiled a little in anticipation, then the smile faded. She took another sip of wine. "So," she began. She hated to spoil the mood of the evening, but there were a few things she needed to know before she could really enjoy herself.
"So?" asked Stephanie when Bonnie didn't immediately go on.
"Your message said you'd worked things out with Lieutenant Reed."
Bonnie was doubtful. "Really? You really worked out everything? The fact that he called you irresponsible even though you saved his life? The fact that he didn't have a single clue as to what you were facing, and yet he just assumed you'd fucked up?"
"I did fuck up."
"One thing," insisted Bonnie. "And you weren't alone in that. You saved his ass, and Martinez's, and he still treated you like shit."
"Stop it." Stephanie frowned angrily. "I don't want to talk about now."
"No. Drop it. Can't you just accept that everything's okay and let it go? Please?" The blonde woman's tone was a mix of commanding and pleading. It didn't matter that a part of her knew Bonnie was right; a betrayal as great as the one she'd experienced wasn't really resolved in a single day. But she didn't want to think about that any more. She only wanted to spend a long, delicious night making love to Bonnie, devouring her with all of her senses.
Reluctantly, Bonnie nodded. She wanted this night as badly as Stephanie and so was willing to delay their discussion for a short while. There would be plenty of time tomorrow to talk about what had really happened between her and Reed. "Okay. I'll drop it—for now."
"That's all I'm asking." Stephanie's smile slowly returned. She set her glass on the desk and sat down beside the auburn-haired woman. Next, she carefully reclaimed Bonnie's drink and set it back down, too.
"I was enjoying that," protested the helmsman half-heartedly.
"You'll enjoy this, too." Stephanie leaned in and kissed her—a long, hot kiss that stole Bonnie's breath away.
"Mmmmm," moaned Bonnie happily as the blonde woman finally released her. "Nice."
Stephanie smirked smugly. "Told you you'd enjoy it. And I have many more plans for tonight." She ran her fingers along Bonnie's ear, tucking back an errant strand of curly auburn hair. Bonnie leaned into the touch and closed her eyes, smiling. "And we don't have to worry about any interruptions," continued Stephanie softly. As she spoke, her fingers trailed down the neckline of Bonnie's blouse and found the buttons. With deliberate precision, she undid each one in turn. "Liz is staying with Travis tonight and I've put a Do Not Disturb order on our comms. So, barring an emergency, we have the night all to ourselves. How does that sound to you?" The last button was released and she slipped her hands up along Bonnie's belly to her breasts, cupping them and gently teasing her nipples to hardness through the cream-colored lace of her bra.
Bonnie gasped in pleasure at the sensation and opened her eyes. Green eyes met hazel and both women grinned rapaciously. "That sounds perfect."