Log Rhythms - Season Two
"Woo-hoo!" exclaimed Stephanie. She spun in her seat to look over her shoulder at her bunkmate. "Check it out!"
Liz looked up from the book she was reading, and tucked an errant lock of brown hair behind her ear. "What?"
"Ryn sent me a copy of the Hoolie-gans live album that was recorded last August in Belfast."
"Great!" Liz had turned into an avid fan of the group after hearing just one of their songs.
"And Gemma sent the spring training reports for the entirety of the American League, plus vid footage of Vancouver's Opening Day festivities and game. It's like my birthday all over again!" She grinned broadly.
Liz couldn't resist her friend's smile. "Sounds like you're in for a fun evening."
"I'm in for a few. There's a lot here." Stephanie turned back to the screen, pondering what to open first.
"Wherever will you start?" queried Liz lightly.
Stephanie made a snap decision. "You mind if I play the new Hoolie-gans?"
It was what Liz had hoped. "Not at all."
Stephanie loaded the files. The cabin was suddenly assaulted by the sound of a cheering throng of people that led into wild Irish fiddling. She quickly lowered the volume to a more reasonable level. "Sorry." She shot her bunkmate a sheepish grin. "Malcolm and I were kicking back with the latest Cordelia's Sisters the other night."
Liz looked surprised. "Really? That's good."
"It's been way too long since you two just hung out," Liz said earnestly.
"Yeah," repeated Stephanie. She left her seat at the desk. Flopping onto her bunk, she rolled onto one side and rested her head on her hand, adjusting her coveralls so they didn't tug uncomfortably. It had taken the better part of a month for Malcolm and her to find that "more convenient time" to get together. It wasn't easy for Stephanie to keep quiet in the meantime. She really wanted to tell her friends, particularly Bonnie, but had resolved to wait until she had something substantial to tell them. "It was nice. Kind of weird, but nice."
"Weird how?" Liz lay down, consciously mirroring her friend's pose.
"I don't know. It had been so long, you know?"
Stephanie looked at her, a wry expression on her face. "Yeah, I know you guys were displeased with the situation for quite a while."
Liz didn't have to ask who "you guys" were. She knew. She gave a lopsided shrug. "We're your friends. We didn't like seeing you unhappy."
"It's okay to be unhappy sometimes." Although I was pretty fed up with it, too, Stephanie admitted to herself.
Liz didn't bother to comment. "So things are better between you and Malcolm," she said instead.
"But not perfect."
Stephanie lay on her back so she wouldn't have to meet Liz's gaze. She'd known this conversation would happen as soon as her friends found out she and Malcolm were rebuilding their friendship. That didn't mean she'd been looking forward to it, or that she wanted to have it now. And I'm going to have it again with Bonnie, and maybe with Mae, she thought. Right now, though, she was talking to Liz. She folded her arms behind her head. "Nothing in the universe is perfect," she said.
"That's not an answer."
"You didn't ask a question."
Liz gave an annoyed look that Stephanie didn't see. "So what was weird?" she asked.
"I don't know exactly." Stephanie stared at the ceiling for several moments, thinking. "You know how with some people you can go without seeing them for months or even years, and then when you do see them it's like no time has passed?"
"Sure. I have friends like that back home."
Stephanie turned her head and caught Liz's eye. "This was nothing like that." She rolled back onto her side and again leaned her head on her hand. "Malcolm's not someone who's easy to get to know. It's worth it when you do, but it's not easy. I felt like I was starting from scratch."
"But at least this time you already know it'll be worth the effort," Liz pointed out.
"Yeah, I know, but I'm still annoyed that I have to do the work again. I'm lazy by nature. I do my damnedest to do things right the first time because I don't want to do them twice."
"Even if you know the result will be what you want?"
"Irrelevant, unfortunately," Stephanie said, giving a one-shouldered shrug.
"What about him?"
"What about him?"
Liz sat up and crossed her legs, prompting Stephanie to sit upright, too. "Isn't he getting to know you again, too?"
"Yeah, but I'm easy to get to know." Stephanie leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and let her hands dangle between them.
"Huh? Yeah." Stephanie frowned in puzzlement. "Aren't I easy to get to know?"
Liz cocked her head to one side, thinking of the best way to say what she wanted to say. She wasn't sure she found it, but she gave it a shot. "Eventually."
"What does that mean?"
"It means The first time we met, you intimidated the hell out of me."
Stephanie was incredulous. She sat up straighter. "I what? You're kidding."
"What did I do that was intimidating?"
"You were in security, for one thing. I'm not proud of it, but I find that intimidating in pretty much anyone."
Liz ignored her and went on. "You immediately talked to me as if we'd known each other for years."
"I was friendly," protested Stephanie.
"Yes, but it was disconcerting. Here was someone I'd never met, whom I was likely to be spending the next several years rooming with, who worked in security, talking to me like an old friend." Liz tried to think of a similar situation that Stephanie might relate to. "You know how people who grow up together have sort of their own language? They make references to things that no one else knows about or understands?"
"Sure. My sister and I do that. Hell, Mae and I have known each other long enough that we do that."
"Exactly. You talked like you and I had that sort of connection, but we didn't. I was completely lost for the first three months after we left space dock."
"You didn't seem lost."
"I'm good at smiling and nodding and figuring things out later," Liz replied dryly.
"I had no idea." Stephanie was genuinely amazed. "I'm sorry."
"I got over it. But that's not the point."
"I've lost the point. Tell me what it is."
Liz chuckled. "The point is, you can be overwhelming, and I don't think that's necessarily the best way to draw Malcolm back out of that shell he lives in."
Stephanie thought about it a moment. "You have a point."
"I just made it."
"It's a good point."
"I think I'll pay Commander Tucker a visit." Stephanie rose and crossed to the computer. She didn't sit down, but slipped a blank datacard into the console.
Liz was brought up short by the non-sequitur. "What?"
"He's a baseball fan. He might like to read the spring training reports."
"We weren't talking about him, baseball, or spring training."
"No. We were talking about me and Malcolm getting to know each other all over again." When the "download complete" light flashed, she popped the card out and turned to face her friend. "And what better way to do that than to spend a little time with his significant other?"
"What better way?" echoed Liz, incredulous. "There are a lot of better ways."
"Yeah, but this is what I'm going to do right now."
"Right now. Should I leave the music on?"
"Yeah. Thanks. But—"
"I'll be back in time to eat dinner with you guys."
Again Liz knew who she meant, but their dinner plans weren't what concerned her. "Think about this," she cautioned, rising quickly to her feet.
"What's to think? He's a baseball fan. I have baseball news."
"See you at dinner." Stephanie slipped out the door.
Liz went after her, calling from the open doorway, "How would you like it if Malcolm went to Bonnie to spy on you?" She was pleased to see Stephanie hesitate. "You wouldn't, would you?"
Stephanie looked back over her shoulder. "No. But I'm not spying. I'm just going to give the Commander a copy of the spring training reports."
Liz doubted her sincerity, but chose to let it pass. "Good. I'll see you at dinner."
"Right." Stephanie quickly made her escape into the nearest turbolift.
Liz watched her go before returning to their cabin, shaking her head.
Stephanie rode the lift impatiently. She was annoyed with Liz's accusation because it was partly true. While she didn't intend to "spy" on Malcolm by visiting Trip, that didn't mean she wasn't interested in ingratiating herself with the ship's Chief Engineer. They weren't at odds anymore, but neither were they good friends. They shared a common interest that kept them on friendly terms. Well, two common interests if you count baseball, she thought as she stepped out of the lift onto B-deck.
She reached Trip's cabin and rang the chime. A moment passed before the door opened and she found herself facing Malcolm. He was dressed in sweats and a black t-shirt, and his feet were bare. "Hi," she said, surprised and a bit disconcerted. "I was looking for Commander Tucker."
"Hello," replied Malcolm, made equally ill at ease by her unexpected appearance. "He'll be out in a moment. Come in." He moved out of the way so Stephanie could enter.
She tried not to be obvious, but she couldn't help noticing the state of the cabin. Nothing seemed odd in and of itself—the room was tidy, the bed was made, and nothing appeared out of place. It was the sight of certain items that she knew for a fact she'd seen in Malcolm's quarters that struck her. His books on the Royal Navy's great historic battles, a framed photograph of his sister, and—the most telling—a wall-mounted display case with half a dozen antique firearms had all apparently found homes amongst Trip's things.
It was clear to her that Malcolm had moved in with Trip, and yet she and Malcolm had spent an entire evening together without him ever mentioning it. Of course, it's not exactly any of my business, she told herself.
Friends share good news, another part of her mind argued.
"Would you like to sit down?" Malcolm offered, uncertain what else to do. Of all the people to come to the door, he thought in annoyance. Then he realized, Of all the people to come to the door, she's probably the least likely to start gossiping about what she's seen.
"No thanks. I won't be here long." She held up the datacard. "I just got some news from home that I thought the Commander would appreciate."
They stood in awkward silence.
"So how are you?" Stephanie asked after a moment.
"I'm fine. You?"
To the relief of both of them, the door to the lav opened at that moment and Trip emerged. He, too, was clad in loose clothing and he looked even more startled by Stephanie's presence than Malcolm had. "Hey. What's going on?" he asked, looking from one to the other.
"I brought you something." Stephanie held out the datacard, which Trip took and glanced at. There was nothing on it to indicate what it contained. "I remembered you saying you're a Kansas City Royals fans, so when I got the spring training reports for the AL, I thought you'd like a copy."
Trip smiled, genuinely pleased. "Thanks! I'm not a Royals fan these days, but I look forward to reading it."
"Nope. I'm an Orcas fan."
"You're ? And when did this happen?"
"Over the break, when my little brother became a free agent and was picked up as the Orcas' new third baseman," Trip answered with a satisfied smile.
"Your ?" She wracked her brain. Who was the Royals' third baseman? she puzzled. Somebody Tucker, presumably, she thought back at herself. She tried to imagine the Orcas' announcer going through the Kansas City starting line-up.
Trip watched her thinking and smiled. "You want a hint?"
She eyed him sidelong. "Not if the hint is that his last name is Tucker. Paul!" she exclaimed suddenly.
Trip nodded. "Got it in one."
"He kicks ass! I had no idea he was your brother. Why didn't you ever say? We've needed a decent third baseman since Zapata retired after we won the World Series," she burbled.
"It never came up," answered Trip with a shrug.
"We should get together to watch the Opening Day game! My sister-in-law sent me a copy. Are you free Monday night?"
Malcolm watched the conversation with a mix of pleasure and consternation that he couldn't quite explain even to himself. He didn't want to interrupt them, but neither did he want them to go on chatting and leaving him further and further behind. Not for the first time he wondered if he ought to try harder to appreciate baseball, but he simply couldn't see the attraction of the game. He cleared his throat in the most subtle manner possible.
Trip caught his eye and his hint at the same moment.
Stephanie heard him, too, and realized she'd overstayed her welcome. "I'm sorry," she said, looking from Trip to Malcolm. "You guys are obviously headed to the gym. I should go."
"You don't have to," Malcolm said quickly. He hadn't meant to shoo her out, only find a way to turn the conversation to something he could participate in.
Stephanie shook her head. "I'm going to be late for dinner if I don't. And I've got a stop to make on the way." She smiled at Malcolm and then at Trip. "I'm looking forward to having a fellow Orcas fan around this season. They are woefully lacking on this ship."
"You'll have to bring me up to speed on the rest of the guys. I don't pay much attention to anyone who's not playing on the same team as Paul," Trip admitted.
"I'd be happy to. I'll see you gents later." She headed to the door.
"Monday," Trip reminded her. "I'm free Monday."
"Thanks again," Trip called after her as she left the cabin.
"See you later," added Malcolm.
Stephanie smiled back at them both. "See you."
The door shut, isolating Trip and Malcolm once more.
"Well," said Malcolm, "that went better than I expected."
Trip crossed to the desk and put the datacard where he wouldn't lose it. "You mean that she thinks we're dressed for the gym, when really—"
"That, too. And you thought I was being hyper-tidy when I made the bed right away." Malcolm looked at him pointedly, and Trip looked coyly contrite in return.
"I shouldn't have doubted you," he said in false penitence.
"No, you shouldn't," agreed Malcolm with only partially feigned austerity. "But I meant that she didn't comment on the fact that you and I are living together."
"You think she figured it out?"
"In less than five seconds, I should say. She is trained to be observant."
Trip approached his lover and faced him. "Is it really so bad?"
"That she knows? I suppose not," admitted Malcolm. "She talks a lot, but she's not a gossip."
"Not Stephanie. Anyone." Trip took Malcolm's hands in his own. "I think it's time we stopped trying to hide the fact that we're living together." Before Malcolm could protest, he went on. "While I agree with you that it's not anyone else's business how we live our lives, I disagree that it's something we need to keep secret."
"What do suggest?"
"For one thing, finally putting in a requisition for a bigger bed." Trip hoped Malcolm would smile at that, but instead he frowned.
"Is there a less personal way of going public?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" Trip released Malcolm's hands and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I mean, imagine what the quartermaster is going to think when he sees that request."
"Who cares? It's not his business to judge, just to fill requests."
"No, but that won't stop him thinking and probably talking. And he'll have to get the Captain's approval on that sort of structural change."
"It's just a bed, Malcolm," said Trip flatly. "Everyone knows we're together, so what difference does it make?"
"I don't want it being the first thing people think about when they see us together!" Malcolm insisted.
Dumbfounded, Trip sat staring at him for several seconds before speaking. "I just want to live our lives together, and you're worried about keeping up appearances."
"No?" Trip countered, his frustration clear. "Then explain to me what you are doing, because apparently I'm not figuring it out on my own."
Malcolm took a deep breath. Arguing with his lover was only fun when it was work-related. He tried hard to present his personal arguments as calmly as possible. "I prefer my private life to be private. I don't like the idea of people speculating on it."
"I think," replied Trip, choosing his words carefully, "that most people probably have better things to do with their time than wonder about what you and I do in bed together."
"Most people, I agree. It's the rest that bother me."
"You can't stop people from thinking, and if that's what they happen to think about Well, just be glad we don't have any of that weird magnetic ore on board making people psychic," joked Trip, hoping to soften their quarrel with a bit of humor.
Malcolm crossed his arms over his chest. "That's not funny," he said mirthlessly.
Trip rose and again went to stand directly in front of his partner. "I'm just saying you can't let what other people might think stop you from living your life on your own terms."
Malcolm had never thought of it in exactly that way. "Is that what I've been doing?" He wasn't being facetious; he genuinely wanted to know.
"That's what it looks like from here, though I'm not exactly an unbiased observer." Trip waited in well-hidden impatience while Malcolm stood there, mulling it over.
"Perhaps you're right," Malcolm said eventually. He uncrossed his arms—an indication that he was no longer feeling so defensive. "What real harm can come of putting in a request for a new bed?"
"None that I can think of," Trip answered, even though he guessed the question was rhetorical.
"All right. We'll fill out a requisition form and send it tonight."
Trip hesitated only a moment. "I already have one filled out. I've been saving it for when you were ready."
"I see," Malcolm said, a tiny smirk turning up the corner of his mouth.
Trip noticed and was pleased. It was solid evidence that Malcolm wasn't angry with him. He smiled slyly back. "Just because I wasn't an Eagle Scout doesn't mean I can't be prepared."
"I suppose you're right. Shall we send it now?"
"Oh for God's sake, Trip!" exclaimed Malcolm, half in amusement, half in exasperation. "Do it now or I might change my mind just to be contrary."
"Right. Wouldn't want that." Trip moved quickly to the computer, turned on the screen, and sent the requisition form he'd filled out one late night several weeks ago. "Too late to change your mind now." He smiled impishly at his lover.
"I think I can live with that."
"So are you going to watch the ballgame with us on Monday?"
"That, I choose not to live with."
Trip laughed. "Let's change clothes and get some dinner. We can celebrate a little."
"That's an excellent idea," smiled Malcolm.
Not everyone aboard was as pleased with their mail as Cormack. Ian hadn't opened the latest communiqué from his brother even though he'd had ample opportunity to view it without fear of interruption. He was about to put it off again by going to the gym when his bunkmate spoke up.
"There's still a message waiting for you," Ari said. He was seated at the computer, having just finished recording a letter home. The blinking "message waiting" light had distracted him the entire time.
"I know. I'll check it later." Ian sat on his bunk to pull on his running shoes. He planned to hit the treadmill for a while and then spend a therapeutic half-hour or so pummeling a punching bag.
"It's been sitting here for more than a day."
"Yeah? So?" Ian asked, still focused on his shoes.
"So what if it's from your brother again?"
"It can wait."
Ari frowned and sat back in the desk chair. "What's going on?"
"Don't you want to know what the message is? Or at least who it's from?"
Ian shrugged. He already knew who it was from, which was why he hadn't opened it. He was sure he didn't want to hear anything Brady had to say to him.
He stood and crossed the small cabin. Opening his locker, he withdrew a tank top and put it on. "You open it if it's bugging you so much."
"It's your mail."
Ian finally looked his bunkmate in the eye. "Read it if you want. I'm going to the gym."
"Ian—" Before Ari could say anything more, Ian left the cabin. Ari rose to follow and then decided against it. He sat back down at the desk and stared at the message light for more than a minute before forcing himself to rise again and walk away. It bothered him irrationally that Ian wouldn't open the communiqué, but he couldn't bring himself to open it in his stead. Despite Ian's suggestion that he read it, Ari felt it would be an invasion of his friend's privacy.
He had to get out of the cabin and stop thinking about it.
Ari opened a comm line and almost hailed Mae. He remembered in time that she was having a "girls' night" with Liz and some of the others, so he hailed Travis instead.
"Mayweather here," came the reply.
"Hey, Travis," Ari said. "I'm going to get some dinner. You want to join me?"
"Sounds good. When?"
There was a brief pause. "Sure. I'll see you in the mess hall."
"See you there."
Ari closed the line, took one last look at the blinking light on the computer, and left the room.
After they'd eaten dinner, Hoshi, Stephanie, Bonnie, Liz, and Mae moved to the Rec. Center and claimed a large, round table. Each woman had a drink in front of her and was clearly ready for a long evening.
Stephanie looked at Hoshi, who sat on her right. "You did bring the cards, I trust," she said.
"Of course," Hoshi answered. She pulled a deck from a pocket of her coveralls, opened the box, and began to shuffle the cards. "I trust you brought the 'chips'."
"Of course." Stephanie grinned and produced a bag of candy-coated chocolates. "I didn't have time to sort everyone's stake, though."
"She was too busy spying on Lieutenant Reed," explained Liz too casually. She was only partly serious, but that part wanted to know what her friends thought about the subject.
The others looked at Stephanie with varying degrees of curiosity. Stephanie looked at her bunkmate in irritation. While the charge of spying was marginally true, she didn't intend to admit it and she didn't care to have her actions scrutinized by everyone. "Spread rumors much?" She began to count out the candies into five equal piles.
Mae reached across the table and snagged the bag from her hands. "Go on," she said, taking over the counting. Before Stephanie's arrival at dinner that evening, Liz had told them about her off-duty evening with Malcolm. Mae was curious about what had transpired, but this news interested her even more.
Stephanie shot an aggravated look Mae's way, and then glanced at the others for a reprieve. She could see she wouldn't get one. Bonnie clearly wasn't going to let the subject go until she knew what was up. Her eyes held a certain intensity Stephanie knew well. There was no getting off the hook there, so she sucked it up and gave her side of the story. "I got a bunch of baseball news from my sister-in-law, and I thought Commander Tucker would like to see some of it. So I took a copy over to him."
"That's why you were a little late for dinner," said Bonnie, putting two and two together.
Hoshi began dealing. "Five card draw. Nothing wild." She was privy to some of the details of the turbulent friendship between Malcolm and Stephanie. She wasn't close enough to either of them to know everything, and she didn't care to. But she was honest enough with herself to admit to some curiosity. "How does that constitute spying on Lieutenant Reed?"
"It doesn't," Stephanie said, looking pointedly at Liz. She hadn't told any of them that she'd found not only Trip, but Malcolm as well when she'd gone to the Commander's quarters. "As Liz reminded me, I wouldn't appreciate someone snooping around my business." She reached an arm around Bonnie and pulled her close enough to kiss her cheek. Bonnie didn't resist, but Stephanie could tell she wasn't entirely thrilled. Stephanie assumed it was because of her alleged spying. I've got to thank Liz properly later, she thought sarcastically.
Hoshi finished dealing out five cards to each player, and then set the remaining stack before her on the table.
Mae pushed a pile of chocolates towards each of them before pulling her own to the right of her cards. "Ante up."
Stephanie released Bonnie, and they all claimed their stakes and cards. Each woman put in two candies and picked up her cards, rearranging her hand as she saw fit.
Bonnie was a bit irked with Stephanie, but kept it to herself for the moment. Why didn't she tell me she and Malcolm finally spent some down time together? she thought for the twentieth time since Liz had told them. Why did I have to hear it second-hand? She kept her eyes studiously on her cards as she asked, "So what did you find out?"
Stephanie knew she was referring to her so-called spying, but she wouldn't bite. "I found out Commander Tucker is no longer a Royals fan. I open with two." She tossed two small candies into the pot.
"Royals?" asked Hoshi. She didn't follow baseball.
"I'm in. Kansas City," Bonnie answered, adding her own two. Between Mae and Stephanie, she had no choice but to become educated about major league baseball. Ignorance of either league was not an option.
Liz added her bet next. "Raise three." She put a peanut-shaped candy into the pot. "And Lieutenant Reed?" she inquired, ironically still concerned that Stephanie was sticking her nose in where it didn't belong.
"Still not a fan of any team as far as I know," replied Stephanie, as Mae and Hoshi each tossed a peanut-shaped fiver into the small pile in the middle of the table. "I call." She added her own three to match the current bet, as did Bonnie. As soon as Bonnie had placed her bet, Stephanie said, "I'll take one." She discarded one card, and Hoshi dealt her a replacement. She picked it up and placed it carefully in with her other cards.
The round proceeded around the table. Bonnie traded in two cards, as did Liz. Mae took one.
"Dealer takes three," Hoshi said, discarding three and dealing herself new cards.
Several moments passed while the women again arranged their cards in their hands and studied their options.
"I'll start with three." Stephanie put in the corresponding candies.
"I see your three, and raise two more," Bonnie said, suiting action to words by adding a peanut-shaped chocolate.
"I'm out." Liz folded and sat back to watch the rest of the hand.
Mae contemplated her cards before responding. "Your five, and two more."
"I fold." Hoshi laid her cards face down on the table.
"Me, too," said Stephanie.
Bonnie looked across the table at her bunkmate. "You and me, baby. I'll see your two and raise three." Corresponding candies landed in the pot.
Mae kept her cool. "Your three, and another five."
"Your five, and five more," Bonnie replied with equal calm.
Not wanting to press her luck too early in the evening, Mae said, "I'll call," and matched the bet. "What've you got?"
"Three of a kind." Bonnie laid out her cards.
Mae shook her head in defeat. "Damn. Beats my two pair," she conceded.
Bonnie happily pulled the pile of candies towards her as Hoshi collected the cards and passed the deck to Stephanie for the next hand. "So," Bonnie said, arranging her "chips" for the next round, "tell us more about this baseball news."
This was a conversation Stephanie could get into. She shuffled as she spoke. "To begin with, there was a buttload of spring training reports."
"Is that a metric or imperial buttload?" quipped Mae.
"Metric," answered Stephanie with a smirk. Mae gave a low whistle of mock awe.
"What else did you get?" Bonnie wanted to know. She didn't have a specific direction for her questioning, but she held a hope that somehow it would lead to Stephanie telling her what Liz already had. Bonnie was having a hard time getting past the fact that Stephanie hadn't yet shared that information with her. I should let it go, she told herself firmly. But I'm not going to. Why would she keep it a secret?
"Oh! The best bit!" Stephanie grinned, practically bouncing with glee. "Full video coverage of the Orcas' Opening Day game and related festivities," she announced as if it were the most monumental thing imaginable.
She handed the shuffled deck to Hoshi to cut. "I don't understand how you can be so excited about a game that was played two weeks ago," Hoshi said.
"Three," Stephanie corrected her, and reclaimed the deck. "Five card draw again. This time Jacks are wild." She started dealing.
"That just strengthens my point," Hoshi continued. "The game was won or lost three weeks ago. There's nothing you can do to affect the outcome, so why get so excited?"
"Because it's baseball."
"Don't try to understand," Bonnie advised. Living with a Giants fan and dating an Orcas fan had taught her much. "Just give in and let it take you."
Stephanie and Mae both laughed at her grave tone.
Bonnie leaned in and spoke to Liz and Hoshi in a faux conspiratorial voice. "They think I'm kidding." She nodded towards the others.
"No, we don't," Stephanie assured her, still chuckling. "That's why we're laughing."
Bonnie sat back again. "So when are we watching, and who did they play?" There was no point assuming she wouldn't be watching the game at some point. Certainly Stephanie didn't require it, but Bonnie was inexorably being drawn into the fandom and she didn't really mind. It was something she could share with her lover, and the more things they shared, the better as far as she was concerned. So why didn't she share that she and Malcolm spent an evening hanging out together?
"We opened against Oakland, and we're watching Monday if that works for you," Stephanie answered.
"Good. That works for Commander Tucker, too."
"Commander Tucker?" Bonnie eyed Stephanie curiously.
"Are we playing?" Hoshi prompted, indicating the table and the stalled poker game.
"Sorry," said Stephanie. She and the others anted up and picked up their cards. "I told you he's not a Royals fan anymore."
"Bonnie, you have the opening bet," Hoshi said.
"That makes him an Orcas fan?" asked Mae.
Bonnie tossed two small candies into the center of the table. "Opening with two."
"Or an Oakland fan?" put in Liz. She glanced at her bunkmate over her cards. "You said Oakland opened against Vancouver, right?"
Mae was firm. "He's not an Oakland fan."
Despite herself, Hoshi asked, "Why do you say that?"
"Because if he is, we're going to have words," explained Mae, a San Francisco native who held no love for her team's interleague rival across the bay. "And that wouldn't be good for my career."
Stephanie looked across the table at her. "You needn't fear for your career. The Commander's an Orcas fan these days."
Liz put in two, as did Mae. "How did that happen?" the engineer asked indignantly. She was a firm believer that once you were a fan of a particular team, you stayed that way.
"His brother got picked up by the Orcas in the off-season."
Hoshi put in two and looked at Stephanie expectantly. "We are here to play poker, right?" she asked pointedly.
"We are," agreed Stephanie. "Two and five more." She added the appropriate candies to the pot.
The others eyed her in surprise. "Bold move," commented Bonnie.
"If you say so," Stephanie replied enigmatically.
Bonnie shook her head. "Fine. I call." She added her own five to the pot and looked at Liz expectantly.
"Call," Liz said, placing her bet.
"Fold." Mae laid down her cards.
"I'm in." Hoshi selected a peanut-shaped candy and tossed it in.
"Two, please," Bonnie requested from the dealer.
Stephanie dealt them to her and then looked at Liz. Liz stared hard back at her as she asked for a single card. Hoshi took two.
"Dealer takes three," Stephanie said evenly.
"What?" demanded Liz.
Stephanie just looked at her blandly and dealt herself three cards to replace the ones she removed from her hand.
"I start with three," said Bonnie, beginning the next round.
Liz eyed Stephanie carefully. "Three and five more." Candies clicked as she placed her bet.
"I'm out," Hoshi announced.
Stephanie eyed the pile. "Eight," she said thoughtfully. "And seven more." Peanut- and almond-shaped candies joined the pile.
"I fold," Bonnie replied promptly. She was less interested in the hand than the conversation anyway. She had a feeling she wasn't going to win many more hands that night, and there was no point in sacrificing her chocolates for a lost cause. Also, she had a feeling that Stephanie had deliberately derailed the conversation with her wild bet. What's she hiding? Bonnie wondered. Besides what I already know she's hiding, her mind added.
Liz's eyes narrowed. She suspected her bunkmate was bluffing, but wasn't yet certain. "Your seven and five more." An almond and two plain candies joined the growing pile.
Hoshi looked from Liz to Stephanie, wondering if it was already time for a little play-by-play announcing. They certainly looked intent enough, but it was still early in the evening. Usually Ho-ho McSwirl and Cupcake O'Fudge didn't come out to commentate until much later.
"I see your five," Stephanie said blandly, pushing a peanut-shaped chocolate forward. "Oh, and I raise another ten." She smiled as she followed the peanut with an almond.
"You are bluffing," Liz decided. Candies clicked into the pile. "I call. Show 'em."
Stephanie announced her cards as she laid them down. "A pair of sixes and a pair of nines."
"You bet all that on two pair?" Bonnie was incredulous. "Blowing that much chocolate is downright criminal."
"Oh, did I forget to mention this wild Jack that looks an awful lot like another nine to me?" Stephanie placed her final card face-up on the table, and then looked at Liz too innocently.
Liz laid down her own cards, conceding the hand. "Your luck can't last all night."
Stephanie chuckled wickedly. "You don't think so?" she asked, claiming her winnings. She didn't care if it was her only winning hand of the night as long as they stopped asking about Trip or Malcolm. She didn't mind discussing baseball, but any talk about the men was bound to lead Liz back to her allegations of spying. Stephanie had no desire to discuss that. She'd been fortunate enough in her cards this time to distract the others, as well as win a nice little pile of chocolates. She hoped her luck would hold, in that way at least.
It was late when the poker game finally broke up. The women collected their "chips" and Hoshi packed up the cards for next time.
"I'll clean up the rest of this," Stephanie offered, indicating the various empty glasses and the small plate Liz had used earlier to collect a pile of cookies from the mess hall.
"Sure," Mae answered at the same time Liz said, "Okay."
"I won't argue," put in Hoshi.
Stephanie chuckled at their ready replies. She looked at Bonnie. "Wait for me?"
"Sure," said Bonnie.
They all collected their winnings and said their good-nights.
Once the others had gone, the Rec. Center was empty except for Stephanie and Bonnie. Stephanie began to gather up the dishes. Bonnie sat and watched her, munching on what little chocolate she had left after a losing evening.
"That was fun," Stephanie said as she carried all the dishes to the bussing station in one corner of the room.
"Yeah, although you would say that, having won most of the chocolate."
Although her back was to her, Bonnie could hear the smile in Stephanie's voice as she replied, "I'll share with you. You only have to ask." Stephanie returned to the table and looked down at her lover who still sat nibbling. "Ready to go?"
Bonnie hesitated. "Not quite."
"Want to finish those first, eh?" Stephanie teased, smiling. She sat down and gathered her own candies into a bag.
"No," said Bonnie. She continued to munch on her dwindling chocolates as she considered what she wanted to say. "I wanted a little time alone with you, and I know I'm not going to get that after we leave here. At least not tonight."
"Yeah. You know, Liz is a great roommate, but part of me really wonders why she hasn't just moved in with Travis by now. Chocolate?" She held out the bag.
A silence fell, and Stephanie began to wonder if something was wrong. It wasn't like Bonnie to be so reticent. "Is everything okay?" she asked. "You seem quiet."
Taking the cue, Bonnie dove in with both feet. "Have you seen much of Malcolm lately?"
"I have actually," Stephanie answered, oblivious to Bonnie's slightly challenging tone. She smiled. "I meant to tell you, but I kept forgetting. He came over a few nights ago and we listened to the latest Cordelia's Sisters. Cool, eh?"
"Yeah, it is." Stephanie finally registered her lover's tone of voice. She frowned in a mix of confusion and annoyance. "I thought you'd be pleased."
"I am. I just wondered when you were going to tell me."
"Liz mentioned it before you got to dinner tonight. Why didn't you tell me?" Bonnie asked.
"I said, I kept forgetting," answered Stephanie a little defensively. "What's the problem?"
"Clearly not. I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, but I'm not sure why you're so upset about it."
Bonnie took a breath and let it out, obviously calming herself down. Her red-headed temper was getting the better of her, and she did her best to rein it in. "I'm sorry. It's just that I've been really worried about you. You might have told me right away when something good happened."
Stephanie's own thoughts came back to her. Friends share good news. "You're right. I'm sorry." This time her apology was entirely genuine. She reached out a hand and took Bonnie's with it. "Let's go for a walk. I'll tell you all about it."
"Okay." They rose. "Don't forget the chocolate," Bonnie said.
Stephanie laughed and picked up the bag. "You want to carry it?"
"Not yet. If I'm carrying it, I'm eating it, and that takes two hands. I'm not ready to let go of your hand just yet."
"Well when you're ready, I'll have the chocolate right here. Although you might want to save some for the baseball game."
"Wait until Monday? You know me better than that," quipped Bonnie, grinning.
Stephanie laughed again. "You're right. I'll make sure to have more by then."
"That's a good idea."
They left the Rec. Center hand-in-hand. "So," said Stephanie, as they strolled along corridors that were dimly lit for the night, "you were worried about me?"
Stephanie smiled and leaned her head briefly on her lover's shoulder. "Is it wrong that I think that's sweet?"
Bonnie gave her a tender smile. "No. But that doesn't mean you have my permission go off the deep end any time soon."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"This feels strange."
"We're dressed in civvies, and we're going to spend the evening in a superior officer's cabin. That doesn't strike you as odd?"
The weekend had passed quickly, and for once Stephanie was glad. It meant she didn't have to wait any longer to watch her beloved Orcas. She looked at her lover as they walked along one of Enterprise's E-deck corridors on their way to Trip and Malcolm's cabin. "I once spent three nights sleeping in Malcolm's bed. This is nothing."
Bonnie stopped short. "You ? What?!"
Stephanie laughed. "We were sick. Phlox confined us to Malcolm's quarters until we weren't contagious anymore."
"So you naturally slept in his bed?" challenged Bonnie.
"Malcolm was far too gentlemanly to let me sleep on the floor." She didn't add that she in turn had been too polite to make him sleep on the floor of his own cabin, and so they'd shared the bunk.
"Huh. Okay." They began walking again. "That's okay then."
"Jealous?" Stephanie asked in a lightly teasing tone.
"Yeah, but I'll get over it. I still think this is strange, though."
They reached the turbolift and stepped inside.
"It'll be fine. Think of it this way," Stephanie suggested as they ascended to B-deck, "you won't be the only one asking questions about what's going on and who everyone is."
"While that sounds encouraging, all it really means is that you have a larger audience to show off your frighteningly encyclopedic knowledge to."
Stephanie just laughed again. "At least you can console yourself with chocolate." Grinning, she held up the bag she carried and shook it, making the candy-coated chocolates inside rattle against each other invitingly. Bonnie couldn't help but smile back at her. Stephanie was glad. The fact was that she wasn't entirely comfortable with the evening's plan, either. Not for the first time she thought, I hope Malcolm's there, too. Even considering the still shaky ground of her friendship with Malcolm, she would feel more comfortable if he were there. She and Trip got along fine, but they weren't what she'd call friends. They didn't know each other well enough for that, despite one or two mutually held confidences. Where else is he going to go? she wondered. It's not like he has his own cabin anymore. Unless he kept that too? Gods, I hate not knowing what's going on in my friends' lives!
She and Bonnie reached their destination and discovered that Trip wasn't the only one waiting for them. Much to Stephanie's relief and pleasure, Malcolm answered the door when they rang the chime.
"I hope you don't mind my joining you," said Malcolm as he let the women into the cabin. "I decided to give this baseball thing another try." In truth he had decided it was better to spend the evening with friends than alone—even if it meant watching baseball.
"Of course not!" exclaimed Stephanie. "I see you've even donned the traditional ocean blue for the Orcas. Very nice."
Malcolm looked down at his shirt. He'd only chosen it because it was comfortable and he knew Trip liked it on him. He'd had no idea it related to the ball club. "Naturally," he covered, smiling.
Trip piped up, "He had a helluva time deciding between us and Who was it? James Joyce?"
"Don't you disrespect James Joyce," advised Stephanie. "He got me through grade eleven English. Well, him and Jack Daniels."
"Actually," Malcolm said, "it was D.H. Lawrence."
"In that case, diss away. I can't stand that man. Here." She pulled a datacard from the back pocket of her jeans and handed it to Trip. "It's the only file on the card."
Trip took the card and slipped it into the computer. "Have a seat," he offered. The bed had been transformed into a makeshift sofa through the use of ample pillows piled against the bulkhead.
"Thanks." Stephanie settled herself in and motioned for Bonnie to join her.
Not wanting to be pressed into the middle between her lover and either of the men, Bonnie sat next to her at the foot of the bed. She felt out of her element. She'd never been in the Commander's quarters, and had never expected to be. She wasn't sure how to behave, and Stephanie's apparent comfort only made her own discomfort more acute. She looked around the cabin, trying to find something to say that wasn't inappropriate or awkward. Her eyes skimmed over a photo of Trip's parents—the sliver-haired woman in the picture resembled him too closely for it to be anyone else. Next to that was a framed photo of a young blonde woman with kind blue eyes. Continuing to scan the room, she noticed a wall-mounted display case containing half a dozen old handguns. Bonnie thought that was a bit odd, until she noticed the antique diving helmet. That's just weird, she thought. Desperate to find something to say, she moved on. Finally her gaze landed on the computer. "Nice," she said. "Do all the command staff get such big screens?"
"It's not standard issue," Trip admitted. "Malcolm and I like to watch a lot of movies, so I upgraded the monitor. It's one of the lesser known side benefits of being an engineer."
"If that's all it takes, I'm going to make Mae do the same for our computer."
"I should have said Chief Engineer," Trip corrected himself, giving her a lighthearted smirk. He opened up the file and quickly took a seat on the bunk. "Malcolm? You ready?"
"As I'll ever be," Malcolm gamely replied.
Trip shifted to one side so the only place for Malcolm to sit was between him and Stephanie. He was pleased Malcolm had agreed to join them for the game. Trip was always happy for his company, and this time he was also glad that whatever problem Malcolm and Stephanie had had seemed to be resolved. Or at least it's getting resolved, he thought.
They all settled in as the video file began to play.
Ari paced the cabin, impatient and anxious. A part of him really wanted his bunkmate to walk though the door at that moment, while another quietly dreaded the conversation that would promptly ensue. Ari had hoped that when Ian returned to active duty things would improve, but instead they'd only gotten stranger. The two hadn't talked much, and that worried Ari. He was no counselor, but he knew Ian well enough to know that something was still bothering him. Ari needed to know what it was.
As he paced, his eye caught the "message waiting" light that continued to blink as it had for three days. He'd tried putting tape over it, but he still knew it was there, blinking incessantly behind the sticky cover. Finally he'd given up and removed the tape. Now, instead of studiously ignoring the light, he looked at if for several moments. Ian had told him to open it, to read it, but Ari couldn't bring himself to invade his friend's privacy that way. He wondered if he'd made the right decision. Maybe I should read it. Then maybe I'd know what's going on. But he didn't do it. Instead, he sat down at the desk and downloaded a book that he'd read half a dozen times to a datapad. He needed something to distract him from fretting about what he was going to say when Ian got back. When the download was complete, he rose again. Taking the pad over to his bunk, he stretched out and started to read.
Two chapters later, the cabin door opened and Ian entered. He glanced at his bunkmate, but said nothing as he headed to his locker.
"Hey," Ari said, sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bunk so he could face Ian directly.
"Hey," replied Ian. "Don't let me interrupt." He gestured toward the datapad in Ari's hand and then opened his locker, blocking his bunkmate from view.
"You're not interrupting." Ari set down the pad. This was why he'd chosen a book he already knew well—so he could put it aside at a moment's notice. "I was waiting for you. We need to talk."
Ian grimaced behind the door of his locker. He'd wondered when this would happen, when Ari would confront him. He was too smart to think it would never happen. "Uh-huh. This is about why I still haven't opened the letter from Brady," he said bluntly. He tossed his boots into the corner of the room and removed his coveralls.
"Is the letter from Brady?"
"Who the hell else would it be from?" Leaving his coveralls in a heap on his bunk, Ian went into the lav, shutting the door behind him.
Ari waited patiently for him to emerge. The moment he did, Ari asked, "Don't you want to know what he has to say?"
Ian continued to avoid Ari's gaze as he finished undressing and donned a pair of workout pants and a black t-shirt. "He's already told me Mom's dead. What else could he possibly have to say to me?" he concluded as he shoved his feet into his sneakers.
"Geez! That's a hell of a thing to say!" exclaimed Ari, surprised at his friend's cold reply.
Finally Ian looked his bunkmate in the eye. "What do you want from me, Ari? My brother and I don't talk. It took Mom's death to get him to send me a message at all. I have no interest in anything else he has to say. If it matters so much to you, you open it. I told you to days ago."
"It's your letter."
"Then why do you care so much about it?"
Ari didn't have a simple answer to that. He only knew that he was convinced that Ian needed to see whatever was in that letter. He tried another tactic. "Maybe this time there's something good to say."
Ari grew defensive. "You say that like it's an insult. There's nothing wrong with looking for a bright side to a bad situation."
"Is that what you were doing when you projected yourself into the shuttlepod to say good-bye? Looking on the bright side?" It was a low blow, and Ian almost regretted it. But the hurt look on Ari's face only reinforced his anger. He stood his ground.
"That was different," Ari said, trying hard to keep his tone cool and even. "I was dying."
"And my mom is already dead. Period. The end. Another letter from by big brother " He used the term with a special spite and bitterness. " isn't going to change that. She's dead and buried and I wasn't even there for the eulogy."
All of a sudden everything clicked in Ari's mind. "That's the problem, isn't it? You feel guilty because you weren't there."
"Don't be stupid," said Ian dismissively, but he no longer held his bunkmate's gaze.
"I'm not. I think I'm right."
"I don't do guilt."
"Bull!" Ari shot back. "You feel guilty that you never lived up to your father's expectations. You feel guilty that you weren't there for your mom. And you feel guilty because you hate your brother."
"What do you know about it? You don't know shit about any of it!" spat Ian furiously. His jaw tensed in anger and the muscle under his left eye twitched. His hands clenched into fists at his sides.
"The hell I don't!" Ari rose, his patience with his friend finally pushed past the breaking point. "I don't have to be the Ship's Counselor to figure it out. I know you."
"You don't know jack shit!"
"Oh. So the night you spent crying on my shoulder about your father was all what? A lie? An act? I don't think you're that good an actor or a liar. Or wait," Ari said as if suddenly struck with epiphany. "Maybe I dreamed it all."
"Shut up." Ian's tone was cold, his grey eyes as hard as granite.
Ari was too wound up in his own anger to recognize the danger. "You know, I don't expect you to tell me everything, but don't try to feed me this bullshit. I deserve more respect than that."
Ian couldn't believe his ears. "You deserve ? Fuck you!" Without warning, he swung a vicious right hook at his friend.
Ian's fist connected with Ari's jaw and Ari tasted blood. He took a step back as shock, anger, and disbelief wrestled within him. Anger won. He punched Ian hard in the gut.
Ian grunted and swung again, this time catching Ari just under his left eye. Ari's head swam. He had only a split second to register the wild fury in Ian's eyes before Ian dove at him, tackling him backwards onto his bunk. Ari landed with a grunt as his breath was knocked out of him.
Ian was a well-trained fighter and outweighed his bunkmate by several kilos. He used both to his advantage. Cursing Ari over and over, Ian pinned him to the bunk and pummeled him frenetically.
Ari struggled against Ian's weight. "Ian, stop!" he gasped, still fighting to regain his breath. He managed to free one arm. He struck out blindly and felt his fist connect with something hard. He guessed it was Ian's head, but in the chaos he couldn't be sure. "Stop! Get off!"
Ian stopped. Whether it was Ari's plea, or the blow to Ian's head, or whether Ian came to his senses on his own, neither of them knew. He released Ari and backed away until he ran into a wall and could go no farther.
"Jesus Christ," Ian panted, horrified. "Jesus Christ! Ari? Buddy, are you all right?" Frantic and afraid, he wanted to go to his friend, but at the same time he was terrified to touch him. "I'm so sorry! Jesus! Say something, man. Please!!"
Ari took a shaky breath, wondering if his ribs were cracked for the second time in as many months. He didn't move. "You bastard."
Relief washed over Ian. "Thank God! Ari, I'm so sorry, buddy. Are you okay?"
"No. I'm not." Ari used the sleeve of his sweatshirt to wipe blood from his nose and the corner of his mouth. Already he could feel his left eye swelling shut. He knew his jaw wasn't broken because he could still speak, but it would take a medical scan to find out about his ribs. He sat up gingerly and with one eye he glared at Ian, who was as far away as he could be without being outside the room.
Ian moved towards him, and Ari flinched involuntarily. Ian froze. "Oh Jesus," he said again. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"What can I do?" pleaded Ian, desperate to fix the terrible mess he'd made. "Tell me what to do." Again he moved forward, but Ari held up a hand to keep him back.
"Don't touch me. Get me a damp cloth and the first-aid kit from the lav."
Ian fetched both. He held out the damp washcloth, which Ari took and used to wipe more of the blood from his mouth and nose. "Tell me what to do," Ian said again.
"Give me the hypo with the pain killer, and the one with the anti-inflammatory."
Ian did as told, waiting several steps away as Ari injected himself with the medications.
The meds brought welcome relief, but they weren't a solution. "Cold pack," Ari ordered. Ian pulled the pack from the first-aid kit, squeezed it to release the chemicals that instantly chilled it, and then handed it over. Ari set aside the cloth and gingerly pressed the cold pack against the left side of his face. He closed his right eye.
He was still and silent for so long that Ian grew scared again. "Ari?" he asked in a small voice.
"What?" Ari replied sharply.
"What are you going to do?"
Ari opened his good eye and looked at him. "I'm going to go to sickbay."
Ian hesitated. "And then?"
"What do you want me to say, Ian?"
"I I don't know."
"I don't know either, Ian. So just shut up."
Ian fell silent once more. He watched Ari, who continued to sit there with the cold pack to his face. He wanted to help, to make everything okay again, but he didn't know how. I fucked up, he thought when he could think again. Oh God, I fucked up.
Eventually, Ari rose carefully to his feet. The pain had receded enough that he felt he could make the walk to sickbay.
Ian risked another quiet question. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"Oh, you're coming with me," Ari immediately confirmed. "You're going to be there to help me explain this to Phlox."
"Right." Ian went to the door and opened it.
"Move," said Ari.
Ian obediently preceded him out, and they made their way to sickbay.
The door closed, and Trip and Malcolm were once more alone in the cabin. Trip asked his lover lightly, "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"No," Malcolm admitted.
"Better than D.H. Lawrence?" Trip smiled playfully.
Malcolm pretended to think it over. "I'm not sure "
Trip laughed. "Don't let Stephanie hear you say that. She has some definite opinions on that subject."
"She certainly does," chuckled Malcolm. "I never thought I'd hear such an impassioned literary argument again as long as I lived."
"Again?" Trip asked in shock. "When did you ever hear one before?"
"It happened a lot at university."
"Sounds like you and your friends needed a better hobby."
Malcolm chuckled again, this time wryly. "It was during literature classes," he clarified.
"I suppose that makes it okay, then," conceded Trip. He began to collect up the empty soda and beer mugs, placing them in a bin that he would return to the galley in the morning. He wasn't sure how his next statement would go over, but he decided to risk it. "It's good to see you two talking again." It had bothered him for some time that Malcolm and Stephanie had stopped speaking to one another outside of work. He's got few enough close friends on this ship. I don't want him losing one of them, he thought. When Trip stopped to consider it, he recognized the irony of his feelings. Since his initial negative reaction to Malcolm and Stephanie's friendship, he'd done a complete about-face. Now he was glad his lover had someone besides himself to confide in or even just to hang out with. Sometimes it was hard for Trip to remember that not everyone made friends as easily as he did, particularly Malcolm.
Trip realized that several seconds had passed in silence. He looked over at Malcolm, who was methodically removing the extra pillows from the bunk and piling them in a corner out of the way. Damn, Trip thought. Just like me to stick my foot in it and spoil a great evening.
But as Trip berated himself, Malcolm was thinking, too.
He's right. It is nice to talk to her again. He knew he'd missed having her company, but the extent to which he'd missed it hadn't come home to him until tonight. Her enthusiasm for her baseball team had been infectious, and he'd found himself actually enjoying the game. And, although he couldn't remember now how the subject had come up, her argument about the value of D.H. Lawrence's writings versus those of James Joyce had been zealous enough that they'd actually paused the game so that she and Malcolm could debate the matter.
"I hope we didn't bore you too much with our arguing," Malcolm said suddenly. He'd cleared the bed of extra pillows and now sat on the edge of it.
Startled from his fretful musings, Trip was momentarily stymied. "Huh? No."
"Are you sure?" There was a teasing tone in Malcolm's voice as he went on. "There was no mention of science fiction or superheroes. I was afraid you might have gotten bored."
Trip grinned at the friendly dig. He leaned against the desk and crossed his arms over his chest. "Nope. If you can handle watching an occasional baseball game, I can handle listening to you and Stephanie arguing about dead British authors."
"James Joyce was Irish."
"I stand corrected."
Malcolm patted the bed next to him. "Come sit with me," he said, all teasing gone from his voice. Trip crossed the room and sat down beside him.
"What is it?"
Malcolm didn't say anything at first. He just looked at his lover—his bright blue eyes, his expressive and handsome face, his slightly self-conscious smile.
"What?" Trip repeated. He felt unusually bashful at Malcolm's intense scrutiny.
"Nothing," Malcolm said at last. "I'm just memorizing."
"Memorizing? You know what I look like, and if you forget I'll always be around to refresh your memory."
"But this moment will only last so long, and I want to remember it." Malcolm couldn't have explained why he felt that moment was so special, and he was glad Trip didn't ask. He only knew that he wanted to remember everything about that evening—from the cozy feeling of being snuggled up against his lover as they watched the game, to the way Trip's eyes had lit up when he learned Stephanie had brought chocolates to munch on. Even the absurd argument about literature held special significance somehow. In that moment, everything simply felt right.
Trip didn't understand, but he didn't argue. He just sat there and let Malcolm stare at him for as long as he needed to, and took that time to study his lover in return. How did I get so lucky? he wondered, suddenly awestruck by the man seated next to him. There was tenderness on Malcolm's face that few people were ever privileged enough to witness, and here he was on the receiving end of it. He allowed himself to fall into the pale blue depths of Malcolm's eyes, content to stay there forever.
Malcolm's quiet voice broke the silence. "Thank you."
Trip didn't know what he was being thanked for, but felt it best not to ask. "Any time," he said softly, and he meant it.
"Tell me that wasn't fun," Stephanie challenged her lover with a grin.
"Why would I do that?" replied Bonnie, her own smile just as wide. "It was fun. Even your crazy argument about literature was fun, although I'm damned if I can figure out how you got on the subject in the middle of the game. Before, it would have made sense, but in the middle of the fourth inning it was just random."
Stephanie took Bonnie's hand in her own as they walked along the corridor. "It's amazing what topics come up at a ball game. I once discussed Shakespeare, witchcraft, and cooking at one Orcas game." Reaching the turbolift, they hailed it and waited a few moments for it to arrive.
"My brain hurts just imagining it," joked Bonnie.
The lift arrived then. Once they were inside and in no danger of interruption, Bonnie went on. "Of course, any evening with you and chocolate in it is already well on its way to perfect."
Stephanie laughed and squeezed Bonnie's hand happily. "So, what else does it take to make an evening perfect?" she asked playfully.
They stepped out of the lift and continued on their way to Stephanie's cabin.
"Liz is out tonight, right?" Bonnie answered with another question.
"Spending the night with her man, yes."
"I'm imagining the birthday presents I gave you." Bonnie smiled salaciously, and Stephanie grinned back with equal licentiousness.
"I know right where they are."
"Then I'll be able to show you exactly what makes a perfect evening."
Stephanie felt a thrill of excitement and anticipation zing through her, followed by a familiar tingling. She turned shining, lustful eyes on her lover. "Ooo, I can't wait."
They picked up their pace.
Ian returned alone to his cabin. Phlox was keeping Ari in sickbay overnight—ostensibly for observation. Ian was sure that was only a small part of the reason. As soon as Phlox had learned what had happened, he'd ordered Ian from sickbay. Ian didn't have to be a student of Denobulan behavior to recognize the anger in Phlox's eyes and the unspoken threat in his voice. Leave now, or I'll have you removed by members of your own department.
He knew it wouldn't do him any good to object, so Ian had left without saying a word.
He entered the cabin. Everything was as they'd left it, of course. The damp and bloody cloth he'd fetched still sat on Ari's bunk, leaving a wet spot on the blanket. Ian picked it up and tossed it into the laundry. Next, he cleaned up the detritus of the first-aid kit. Both hypos still contained at least a single dose of medication, so he put them back in the kit and returned it to the lav. Coming out of the lav, he stopped at Ari's bunk again. He hadn't noticed the blood that was splattered on its surface until now. There wasn't a lot, but the sight still made his stomach turn. It wasn't the blood itself that caused him to feel sick. It was the fact that it was his best friend's blood, and Ian had been the one to spill it.
With rising bile at what he had done, Ian stripped the blanket and sheets from the bed. He pulled the pillow from its case, too, even though it was free of any stains. Then he shoved the lot down the laundry chute. He stared blankly for a moment at the bare mattress and pillow.
Abruptly, he left the cabin and went to the ship's stores for clean bedding. Returning once more, he proceeded to make up Ari's bunk with military precision.
When that was done, Ian stood in the middle of the room, looking for something more to do. He spotted the boots he'd carelessly chucked into one corner, as was his habit. He picked them up and put them away in his locker. Next he hung up the coveralls that he'd left piled on his bunk. The other pieces of his uniform lying around got thrown into the laundry.
Again he stood there seeking something to do, something that he could focus on so he could keep moving, keep from thinking. There was nothing.
His roving gaze landed on the blinking light on the computer, and he froze. For the first time it occurred to him to wonder why he had waited so long to open the message from Brady. What held him back? The worst had already happened, so what was he afraid of learning by listening to whatever his brother had to say? And if he had no intention of ever opening it, why hadn't he just deleted it days ago?
He had no answer for any of his questions.
Ian stood still, staring as if mesmerized by the blinking light. Several minutes passed before he shook himself from his reverie. Instead of going directly to the desk, however, he went to his locker. Reaching inside, he pulled out a half-empty bottle of whiskey. Then he went the lav and grabbed a glass. He opened the bottle and poured out a healthy measure of liquor. He drank it in one swallow and promptly refilled the glass. Setting the bottle aside but still open on the desk, he took the glass with him as he sat down in front of the computer.
Ian took a deep breath, enjoying the sensation as the liquor warmed him from the inside out. He took a smaller swallow this time and opened the communiqué.
Not surprisingly, it was a video letter. He was surprised, though, to see there were attachments, but he figured they could wait until he'd viewed the main message. Ian hit play, and it began.
"Hey," said the image on the screen.
Ian snorted derisively. Brady had never been particularly eloquent.
The recording went on.
"I met with the guy handling Mom's will. We read it today. Annie was there."
Annie was their mother's sister. Ian wasn't surprised. It was no secret that Annie had always been jealous of the match her sister Grace had made with Leland Young. She was undoubtedly there to find out if she'd inherited a stake in the ranch she so coveted.
"She went away plenty pissed off," Brady continued, as if he knew what Ian was thinking.
Ian found himself unconsciously mimicking his brother's smirk. One thing they'd always agreed on—they didn't care for their aunt.
"Everything else was pretty much what you'd expect, I suppose. I'm attaching a copy of the will for you read when you have time. I don't know what kind of free time you get on that ship of yours."
Ian got the distinct impression from his tone that Brady suspected Ian got a lot more free time than he actually did. Brady had made no effort to learn what his brother did for Starfleet, and Ian hadn't ever bothered to try to explain. There was no point.
"There's something else. I didn't know about it until today, or I'd've said something a long time ago." Brady appeared to brace himself, almost as if he anticipated an angry reaction from Ian even at that distance. "Dad left letters for us, you and me. We were supposed to get them when we each turned eighteen, but for whatever reason Mom never told us. I keep telling myself that maybe she just forgot. I don't know. Seems like a weird thing to just forget, eh?" He shrugged. "I don't know. It's not as if she wrote them. Anyway, I've attached yours to this message. I hope it helps. For what it's worth, little brother " Brady paused and consciously corrected himself. " Ian, I miss you. I know we're not friends, but whatever happens we're still family. I hope you're doing well, and if you get back to Earth sometime, come see me. Okay. Bye."
The video ended and Ian continued to stare at the blank screen. Dad left me a letter? Brady misses me? It was almost too much for his mind to absorb. He took another swig of whiskey.
Ian looked at the short list of attachments. One was labeled simply "will". The other was more elaborately titled with the date of his tenth birthday. The thought of hearing his father's voice for the first time in over fifteen years set Ian's heart racing, but whether with excitement or dread, he couldn't decide. With a sense of trepidation, he opened the letter from his father. He was surprised to see it was typed, not a video or even audio recording. He was both relieved and disappointed. Forestalling both emotions with another drink, he began to read.
Three years ago you came downstairs and declared your name was no longer Cody. From then on you were to be called Ian. I thought of that today as I watched you blow out the candles on your birthday cake. I still can't think why that moment made me think of the other. Maybe it has something to do with you growing up. I think I can see in you the man you're going to be. You and I may not always agree on what's best for you, but I realized when you were seven and you made your announcement in no uncertain terms, that you were your own man even then. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm proud of what I see in you today, just like I was proud of you then. I look forward to knowing the man you'll have become by the time you get this letter.
I love you, Ian.
It was signed simply, Dad.
Ian sat there for a long time. Tears trickled down his cheeks as he read words he'd never in his life thought he'd read. He was proud of me, he thought in astonishment. He was proud of me? He was proud of me.
And Mom never said a word.
The sudden upsurge of love he felt turned suddenly to bitter disappointment. Too choked with emotion even to curse, and too confused to know whom he wanted to damn, Ian sat there and stared at the letter from his father. He was proud of me then, and now look at me. He thought about his actions that evening against the man who was supposed to be his best friend. He thought about how poorly he'd treated both Michael and Hoshi before that. What's there to be proud of now?
A flurry of emotions twisted his gut. Love, hate, anger, joy, disgust—all of them churned together inside him until he thought he'd be sick. Instead he grabbed his empty whiskey glass and hurled it at the cabin door. The glass shattered on impact, scattering shards like shrapnel. He laid his head on his arms on the desk and sobbed until there was nothing left inside him. At last, exhaustion won out over sorrow, and he fell asleep.
She stood on the sidewalk staring up into the clear gray sky. A white sun shone down and she raised a hand to shield her eyes from its light. Someone rushing past jostled her shoulder and dislodged her shading hand. She squinted and quickly shaded her eyes again.
A mottled gray flying saucer moved in and eclipsed the sun, looking like a giant hubcap turned on its edge. As it spun in place, it made a low-pitched humming noise. She found the sound almost relaxing, and she continued to look up at the UFO curiously, pleased that it covered the sun so well. It really was awfully bright.
It's like one of those goofy B-movies of Mae's, she thought, amused. It's even all black and white. She looked harder, trying to spot the wires on the spinning saucer.
Someone bumped into her again. What am I, invisible? she thought in irritation. She looked around, hoping to find whoever had run into her and yell at them to watch where they were going. It was then she realized that she was the only one standing still in a river of fleeing people.
She frowned. The humming grew louder and was no longer a pleasant drone. Now the low rumbling reverberated painfully in her skull. She covered her ears. The UFO moved and revealed the bright white sun once more. She flinched, aching with the light and the noise. Someone screamed
Stephanie frowned in her sleep. She woke reluctantly, keeping her eyes firmly closed and hoping she was wrong. Pain sliced through one side of her head and she winced. Migraine, she thought. Damn. It had been years since she'd had one, but the sensation was one she would never forget. This one felt like it would be worse than any of its predecessors.
Another shot of pain followed the first, and she bit back a whimper as it spread through her head and down her neck. No, no, she silently pleaded with herself. She buried her face in her pillow. Tears leaked out from the corners of her eyes. She whimpered again.
Next to her in the narrow bunk, Bonnie roused slowly. "You okay?" she asked, her voice fuzzy with sleep.
Stephanie didn't pull her head out of her pillow as she grunted a negative reply. "Mm-mm."
Bonnie raised herself up on one elbow. "What's wrong?"
"Migraine," was Stephanie's muffled answer.
"You want Phlox?"
"Should I call Liz?"
"No." Another wave of intense pain crashed through her head. She squeezed her eyes shut tighter and started to cry.
Bonnie knew her partner had a high pain tolerance, so when she realized Stephanie was actually crying, it scared her. She tried to stay calm. "Hang on, sweetie," she said. She pushed back the covers and climbed carefully over Stephanie to get out of the bunk. She hurried to the lav for the first-aid kit. The light came on automatically as she entered. Stephanie whimpered in response and pressed her face harder into the pillow.
As quickly as she could, Bonnie found the hypo she sought and returned with it to the bed. Her stomach lurched anxiously when she saw that Stephanie had curled into a fetal position, every muscle tensed against the pain. "Hang on," Bonnie said again as she knelt by the bunk. She pressed the hypospray to Stephanie's neck and released a double dose of its analgesic into her system.
Several seconds ticked past in which neither woman moved. Then Stephanie relaxed enough to uncurl slightly. She took a deep breath, letting it out in a shuddering sigh.
"Okay?" Bonnie asked, still worried.
"Better." Stephanie opened her eyes a fraction of a centimeter. "Turn off the light?" Bonnie rose and quickly did so, plunging the room into darkness. Stephanie sighed again. "Thank you. More meds, please?"
Bonnie's eyes adjusted to the dim light provided by the stars that streaked by outside the small port. She squinted at the ampoule on the end of the hypo. There was one dose of painkiller left. Again she pressed it to Stephanie's neck and released the drug. "We'll have to call sickbay if you need more."
"No. I'll be okay now as long as it doesn't come back."
"Are you sure?" Bonnie had never before seen anyone taken out that quickly and completely by anything short of a phase-pistol shot. She was still freaked out. Her hands shook.
"Yeah. Come back to bed." Stephanie scooted over so there was room for Bonnie to join her again. She yawned and patted the bed. "Come on."
Bonnie was still uncertain, but she could see the exhaustion on Stephanie's face even in the heavy darkness. There was no point trying to talk about what had just happened or why. "Okay." She set the empty hypo on the shelf above the bunk, and then slipped in next to her lover. Immediately Stephanie snuggled up to her.
"My hero," she murmured, already half-way back to sleep. "Love you."
Bonnie smiled as a sudden surge of warmth filled her. It was the first time either of them had said those words, and she echoed them readily in a soft, happy voice. "Love you, too. Sleep well."
"Mmm," Stephanie mumbled, and fell fast asleep.
Archer took a sip of his coffee and scowled at the report on his computer screen. Phlox had sent it late last night, and it was the first thing the Captain had opened this morning. It wasn't the way he liked to start his day.
The ready room door chimed and he looked up. "Come," he called, more sharply than absolutely necessary.
Doctor Douglas entered, datapad in hand. "Is this a bad time?"
"No, no," Archer assured him, setting aside the mug he held. "In fact, I was going to contact you. Have a seat." Douglas sat down across the desk from him. "I've been reading Phlox's report on last night's incident with Ensigns Young and Cohn."
"Ah." Douglas nodded. He'd received a copy of the report also. "That's why I'm here." He indicated the datapad and set it on the desk.
"So I guessed."
"I'm curious, Captain, about how you plan to proceed on this matter."
Archer paused before answering. It was obvious there was something Douglas wasn't saying, and he wanted to know what it was. If this falls under doctor-patient confidentiality, I'm not going to be happy, he thought. "What don't I know about this?"
"There's more to this than I know," Archer stated bluntly. "From all prior reports, and from what I've heard generally, these men are good friends. What could possibly have provoked Young to attack Cohn? Barely two months ago he was saving Cohn's life." He found himself almost wishing some alien mind-control device or drug could be blamed. That was something he knew how to deal with.
Douglas knew now what information Archer was missing. Still, he phrased his thought as a question, in case he was mistaken. "Are you aware that Ensign Young's mother passed away recently?"
"No. I'm sorry to hear that, but I’m not sure how that has any bearing on the situation."
Douglas leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk. Archer thought it odd, but made no objection. "From what I've been told, her death was quite sudden and should have been preventable," the psychiatrist said. "The unexpected and futile death of a loved one when you are literally light years away and incapable of doing anything about it is extremely stressful. It can even be overwhelming for some people."
"You'll forgive me if this sounds callous, Doctor, but even if he were home instead of here, there wouldn't be anything he could do about it now."
"And wouldn't that frustrate you, if you were in that position? Helpless, perhaps feeling guilty, and left wondering if you couldn't have done something if only you had been there?"
Archer sat back in his chair. Having witnessed his own father's slow decline into death, he was familiar with the feeling of helplessness Douglas described. "All right. I see your point. Now explain to me what this has to do with the problem I have here." He gestured at the report still on his computer screen.
"Ian and Ari are very good friends," Douglas replied, deliberately using the ensigns' first names. He hoped it would make Archer feel more connected to them on a personal level, rather than just as a commanding officer. "You know the old saying, 'You always hurt the one you love'?"
Archer was momentarily confused. "Yes. Why? Are you saying they're in love?"
"No. I'm saying that, of everyone on this ship, Ian is closest to Ari. If you check the crew assignment records, you'll see they actually requested to be roomed together on this mission. I propose that when Ian was unable to face the loss of his mother and his own inability to affect any change in the situation back on Earth, he simply lashed out at the nearest target, both emotionally and physically."
"So you're saying Cohn was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Partly that. I don't expect Ari was entirely without blame in the incident, although without speaking to both men I can't support that with any facts. It's simply my experience with similar situations that the triggering event—the straw that breaks the camel's back—usually comes from an external source," he explained.
Archer sighed. "The incident," he echoed wearily. "I'm tired of that word coming up in conjunction with one of my officers." He paused, thinking. Douglas waited patiently for him to go on. Eventually, he did. "All right. Before I throw one or both of them into the brig, I'd like to hear what you suggest I do."
Douglas was prepared for this moment. "I suggest you allow both men to continue their duties." When he saw Archer was about to protest, he held up a hand. "Hear me out, please. I received a request from Ian for a counseling session as soon as possible. Unless you say otherwise, that session will take place shortly after I leave here. I've already cleared it with Lieutenant Reed. I also intend to speak with Ari, both independently and with Ian. Now, assuming that Ian is willing to work with me on a regular basis, and assuming that he and Ari are able to work out their current differences, I see no reason to remove anyone from duty. In fact, in the case of Ensign Young," he went on, this time deliberately switching back to the armory ensign's rank, "it would be more harmful than helpful."
Archer nodded, if reluctantly. "I think I see what you're getting at. If I lock him up, or even if I just suspend him again " He made a point of emphasizing the repeat nature of the situation. " it will only make him feel more helpless and frustrated, leading to a greater likelihood of more 'incidents'."
Archer scrubbed his palms over his face in an expression of his own frustration. "I'll be honest with you, Doctor, if we were anywhere near home, I'd turn this ship around and drop Young off at the first friendly outpost. However, since that's not an option, I'll defer to your judgment on this. But not forever. I want regular progress reports, and I don't want to see even a hint of another 'incident' involving Ensign Young, or he will be headed straight to the brig. Understood?"
"Absolutely. And I'll make sure he's aware of your position on the matter." Douglas picked up his datapad and stood, sensing the end of the meeting.
At that moment, Sato's voice came over the comm. She sounded unusually tense. "Bridge to Captain Archer."
"Go ahead." Archer nodded to Douglas, and the psychiatrist took it as the dismissal it was. Archer spoke to Sato again as Douglas departed. "What is it, Ensign?"
"Admiral Forrest for you, sir. Highest priority transmission."
"Put it through."
Cormack entered the armory, surprised to see Lieutenant Reed there. "Morning, sir," she said, descending the stairs from the upper level. She briefly considered trying to hide the latté she carried, then gave it up as a lost cause. "I thought you were on the bridge today."
"Sorry to see me again so soon?" joked Reed. He was in a particularly good mood that morning for no reason he could explain.
"No, sir, just surprised. I figured I'd be staring at Young's ugly mug all morning," Cormack wisecracked in reply. She sipped her latté.
Despite his next words, Reed's mood remained pleasant. "There was a last minute schedule change." He didn't go on to explain why.
For her part, Cormack wasn't particularly curious about it. She shrugged. "Oh." She yawned suddenly, covering her mouth with her free hand. "Excuse me."
"The late night get to you?" It had been past midnight when their small gathering had finally broken up the night before.
"That and the early morning migraine." When Reed frowned in concern, Cormack waved it off. "I'm fine. The first-aid kits are packed with good drugs." She yawned again, and then smiled in self-deprecation. "Just tired. Phase cannons this morning, correct?"
"Correct. Let's start with the aft cannon." They moved to the main control console and began their diagnostic.
Phlox set down the hand-held medical scanner. He smiled encouragingly at Ari, who sat facing him on a biobed. "It will take a few days for the bruises to fade, but the swelling around your eye has already gone down a great deal. How did you sleep?"
"Okay," Ari answered unenthusiastically. He would have preferred his own bed, but in the circumstances he understood why Phlox had kept him here overnight. "So I can work my regular shift?"
"I don't see why not." In fact, Phlox was happy to have Ari where he could keep an eye on him. As long as Ari remained in sickbay, Phlox didn't have to worry that he might run into his volatile bunkmate.
Ari looked down at the hospital pajamas he wore. "I think I'll shower and get dressed before getting to work," he said a little ironically.
"Use the shower in the decon chamber," suggested Phlox quickly. Normally it was reserved for people who needed to wash off decon gel or alien muck, but he felt there was sufficient reason to make an exception this time.
"I need a clean uniform," Ari pointed out. He appreciated his C.O.'s suggestion; he wasn't particularly eager to face Ian this morning. He didn't know what might happen, but he was still angry and suspected Ian was, too. He figured a meeting now wouldn't be pleasant for either of them.
Phlox thought hard and was struck with an idea. "Ah! I'll contact Liz. She's due in shortly. She could stop by your cabin and pick up what you need."
Ari hesitated, but finally nodded. Liz was a friend. It was okay to ask a friend for a favor—even a somewhat personal favor like this. I'll buy her a thank you drink sometime, he thought.
"You go shower," suggested Phlox. "I'll speak with Liz."
Phlox was as good as his word. By the time Ari was showered and dry, there was a full set of clean clothes waiting for him in the adjacent dressing room. He dressed and emerged from the decon area. Something in the air caught his attention and he sniffed experimentally. "Is that coffee?" he asked, coming into the sickbay's central area.
"It is," Liz said with a smile. She offered him a cup. "There's cream and sugar."
"Thanks." Ari helped himself to sugar, joking, "I could get used to mornings like this. Coffee delivered, pleasant company " He looked around. "Where's Phlox?"
Now Liz frowned a little. "Staff meeting. Captain Archer hailed all the command staff while you were in the shower."
"All the command staff?" echoed Ari in surprise. It wasn't every day Phlox's presence was required at a command staff meeting. "I wonder what's up."
Archer knew he would never forget that moment. He stepped onto the bridge, his face a stony mask. His entire senior staff was with him. They all knew what was going on, and they had all decided to stand with him while he made his announcement to the rest of the crew.
Sato took her station from Donnelly, as Mayweather and Reed also relieved their backups. T'Pol went to the science station, but did not sit down. Phlox stood near the turbolift with Tucker beside him. Rather than taking his own seat, Archer stood in front of it. He looked over at Sato. "Hail all hands," he said, his voice rough with emotion.
She nodded, and the three tones indicating an all-hands hail sounded throughout the ship.
"Attention, all crewmembers. I need your complete attention."
All around the ship, people stopped what they were doing to listen.
In the armory, Cormack paused in her diagnostic of the aft phase cannon targeting array. She flinched as a ghost of her migraine swept through her head and vanished abruptly.
Lawless looked up from monitoring the antimatter injectors on the main warp engine control console. She wondered idly how long it had been since she'd last heard the all-hands hail.
Fraser ceased her study of a new star map in Stellar Cartography, mildly annoyed at the distraction.
Young fell silent, frowning in confusion at Douglas over the desk in the psychiatrist's office. Douglas returned the frown with an equally perplexed expression.
Cohn set down his coffee cup on the sickbay counter and exchanged a concerned glance with Cutler. They both had the inexplicably unpleasant feeling that the hail had something to do with the command staff meeting.
Back on the bridge, Archer paused and steeled himself. Even having already made this announcement to his senior staff, he found the words difficult to say. He could barely believe they were true.
"There's been an attack on Earth. A probe of unknown origin fired an energy weapon that cut a four thousand kilometer swath through Florida, Cuba, and Venezuela." He paused again, partly to allow those listening to absorb this information, and partly to give himself a moment to collect his fraying emotions. "Casualties are currently estimated at over one million." Again he paused. He imagined he could hear the horrified and stunned reactions of the entire crew. "Enterprise has been recalled. We're changing course immediately for Earth. I will update you all as more information becomes available. Archer out." He glanced at Sato, who promptly closed the comm.
Without a word, Archer placed a hand on Mayweather's shoulder. The helmsman looked up at him, and Archer gave the young man a small nod. Mayweather understood. He laid in the course to Earth and increased the ship's speed to Warp 5.
Continued in Log Rhythms: Season Three