Log Rhythms - Season Two
Her footsteps echoed hollowly in the dark corridor. As she walked, her left boot squeaked on the metal floor with every other step. The only other sound was her own breathing.
She walked slowly, unable to see more than a foot or two ahead of her. Metal walls towered into unknown heights. Portraits hung on either side of the hallway, and what little light there was seemed to emanate from the framed images. She glanced to one side, then the other. She didn't recognize the men in either picture, although they seemed vaguely familiar somehow. At first glance, she thought they were the same person, dressed identically as they were in long-sleeved red shirts with black collars. She peered closely at the one on her right, noticed the odd insignia on the left breast of his shirt.
A uniform? she wondered. She continued forward. As she left the pair of pictures behind they darkened and went out. At the same moment another pair lit up dimly. Their light grew as she approached them. This time it was a man and a woman. The man looked much like the two before, his dark hair neatly slicked back. The woman was beautiful, with dark eyes in a sweet young face and rich brown hair piled in a highly improbable fashion atop her head. She, too, was in red, though her insignia was slightly different than the others', and she held a black box on a long strap in front of her.
Scanning equipment? The woman eyeing the picture shook her head in puzzlement and continued on.
Pair after pair of portraits stared down at her. Most of them were men, but occasionally a woman would look back at her with wide, doe-like eyes. Strangely, the women were all in soft focus.
Abruptly, the pictures changed. The ornate frames were gone, replaced by slick, bright silver ones.
That's different, she thought, looking at the first of these. It was a picture of a young blonde woman in gold and black. Bright blue eyes peered out of her attractive, sharp-featured face, and her arms were crossed. An insignia on her chest resembled the ones on the red-shirted people of the previous pictures, but this time it appeared to be jewelry rather than a sewn-on patch.
Turning to her right, she saw a young black man with a narrow, pleasant face. While he was dressed similarly to the woman on her left, where her uniform was gold, his was once again red.
Weird, she thought. She glanced back and forth from one to the other, looking for something she might use to identify them.
Then it struck her. The small, round, golden pips on their collars were rank insignia. The woman was a lieutenant, the man an ensign. Starfleet? But no. She continued to walk.
Pair after pair after pair of faces watched her passage down the seemingly endless hallway. She got the feeling the walls were curving, but with no point of reference it was impossible to tell.
Then abruptly, the pictures changed once again. Here was a single black-framed photograph of three men in white spacesuits, the orange launch tower distinct to early human space flight in the background. An American flag prominently adorned the sleeve of the left-most figure. I know I know who they are. But try as she might, she couldn't place them.
She walked on. A simple wooden frame held the image of a dark-haired man in a brown uniform, three stars on his blue epaulettes. Colonel? She turned, expecting to find another picture to complete the pair, but there was nothing. Why is he alone? she wondered.
And on. Another trio of men sat in a crowded cockpit. They were dressed in nondescript blue-gray flightsuits, each capped with a form-fitting white skullcap with built-in communications equipment. All of them were smiling.
And on. A larger group faced her. Here were seven people in blue flightsuits, the most prominent person a woman of about 40 with dark curly hair and a bright smile. She squinted, but the resolution was such that she couldn't make out the names on their uniforms. Across from them another group of seven, this time in orange spacesuits, smiled out at her. The two men at either end of the front row rested their helmets on their laps, and a stylized plaque stood at the center of the picture. She leaned closer and read the names on it: Husband, Brown, Clark, Chawala, Anderson, Ramon, McCool.
And stopped. This face she knew. Brown eyes alight, grin wide and cheerful, dark blue uniform with a single rank insignia on the right side.
Stephanie awoke with a start, her heart pounding. Her bunkmate was looking down at her with concerned eyes.
"Are you okay?" Liz asked. "You were talking in your sleep."
"Huh? Yeah." It took several moments for Stephanie to orient herself. She was in her bunk, the covers twisted and tangled around her. The small light over Liz's bed was on. "Did you ?" she began, not quite coherent enough to complete the thought.
"You sort of scared me with what you were saying. Are you okay?" she asked again.
"Yeah. I guess so. Yeah," Stephanie repeated. She leaned on her hands and pushed herself up into a sitting position.
Liz sat down on the edge of the bunk and looked at her closely. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah." It was more definite this time.
"What were you dreaming about?"
"I don't really remember. I think I was in a museum—or an art gallery. There were pictures of people."
"More like photographs. But I can't remember who any of them were." Her slowly clearing mind caught something Liz had said earlier. "What was I saying?" Stephanie asked suddenly.
"What was I saying that freaked you out?"
"Just the same thing over and over again," replied Liz hesitantly.
"And that was ?"
"You kept repeating, 'They're dead. They're all dead.'"
"Weird. Maybe it was the National Portrait Gallery in London, eh? With pictures of all those dead monarchs and whatnot. What time is it?"
Both women looked at the chronometer and at the same time said, "0330."
"Bugger. Sorry I woke you up." Stephanie yawned, sparking the same action in her roommate.
"It's okay," Liz replied through her yawn. She rose and moved back to her own bunk. "I don't think either of us will have much trouble getting back to sleep." She laid down and pulled the covers over herself. "Ready for me to turn out the light?"
"Hang on." Stephanie got out of her bunk, straightened out her bright pink pajamas, and then dealt with the tangled bedclothes. She was about to get back in when something occurred to her. "Be right back." She ducked into the lav and shut the door.
When she emerged a minute later, Liz was sitting on the edge of her bunk, waiting.
"What?" asked Stephanie.
"Power of suggestion," said Liz in mock annoyance. She disappeared into the lav, and a chuckling Stephanie climbed into bed.
It wasn't long before Liz returned, closing lav the door behind her. She settled into her bunk once more. "Ready?" she asked again.
Liz shut off the small bed-side lamp.
Minutes passed in silence. Before long, Liz's soft, even breathing told Stephanie she was asleep. Stephanie continued to lie awake, staring at the ceiling over her bunk. She knew she should remember who was in the pictures in her dream, but she couldn't. Try as she might, the knowledge stayed frustratingly just out of reach.
With a resigned sigh, she gave up. She rolled over and looked at the chronometer. 0423. Great. Just enough time to fall asleep before I have to wake up again.
"You're killing me!" exclaimed Lieutenant Reed in a strained voice.
Out of sight on the other side of sickbay, Cutler had to bite back a chuckle. She was working on inventorying the medical supplies, and had been privy to many such outbursts by the lieutenant over the last four days.
"It can't be ethical to cause a patient this much pain!" Reed continued once he'd been released from the torture of his physical therapy.
"It's unethical to harm a patient," Cutler heard Phlox reply pleasantly. "I can inflict as much pain as I like."
Good one, Phlox, she thought amusedly. Serves the Lieutenant right for all the complaining he's done. She knew it wasn't entirely fair, but Reed had hardly been a model patient.
It was a good thing Reed didn't know what she was thinking. Enterprise's Armory Officer knew he wasn't taking his therapy well; he didn't need to be reminded of it. The occasional jibe by the ship's physician helped keep him from feeling too sorry for himself, but the therapy was a painful and tedious process. Reed liked instant gratification. Phlox's prediction that it might be another two weeks before he could return to duty was maddening.
"The wound might heal faster if you'd allow me to apply a few more Regulan Blood Worms," Phlox suggested.
"Oh, you're not putting any more of those things inside my leg. You still haven't found the last one," Reed reminded him accusingly.
"He'll come out on his own," the doctor reassured him. "Eventually."
Reed made a disgusted sound. Again, the concealed Cutler fought hard not to laugh. I shouldn't be listening, she scolded herself firmly. Not that I can help it really, her minded added, trying to justify her actions. It's not like they're keeping their voices down. But still She resolved to try harder not to listen.
"It's bad enough my leg was perforated by an alien mine. All this " Reed continued, gesturing at the biobed, Phlox's monitors, the doctor himself, " isn't making my life any easier."
"Physical therapy isn't about making things easy, Lieutenant. It's about healing properly so you can resume your duties unimpaired."
"Just give me my trousers, please," said the lieutenant in a weary tone. Phlox handed them over and offered an arm to lean on while he put them on. Reed didn't like accepting the help, but it meant he could get dressed and out of there more quickly. It was just another fact of life as it now stood that annoyed him. "Thanks," he muttered. He tied the string on his workout pants—the only ones that felt comfortable against his injury—and sat once more to pull on his socks and shoes. It was another difficult activity, but one which he could perform sitting down and, as a result, without aid.
Once he was fully dressed he rose again, trying to put as little weight on his healing leg as possible.
"Don't forget this," said Phlox, holding out a lightweight metal cane.
Reed took it reluctantly. He hated needing its support, but he couldn't deny there was no way he would make it back to his quarters without it. "Thanks," he said again. He limped out of sickbay, hoping he wouldn't meet too many people before reaching his cabin.
It was shortly after he'd arrived in his quarters that he felt a change in the ship. "We've gone to warp," he muttered. He'd just sat down on his bunk, but he forced himself to rise again and cross to the computer terminal. He sat once more, leaning the hated cane against the desk, and called up the mission status. "Repair station?" He input a search that returned almost immediately with nothing. "Splendid."
This far from home, there were bound to be limited options when it came to repairs. Especially repairs as major as we need right now, his mind added. That didn't stop him being mildly annoyed. It seemed once again the captain was taking too much on faith. Or rather, he thought, eyes skimming the screen, too much on the word of a Tellarite freighter captain. Honestly. Do we even know what the Tellarites look like, never mind their political leanings? A quick search of the Vulcan database gave him answers to both.
"Hm," he said when he saw the image recorded there. "I've seen worse, I suppose." He read down the screen. "'Generally trustworthy.' Not much of an endorsement, if you ask me."
He ran another search, this time on the current location of Commander Tucker. He found him on the bridge. "Good. He'll know if T'Pol had more to say when the communication came through." The doctor may have taken Reed off duty, but that didn't stop the Armory Officer wanting to keep abreast of what was going on.
"So we're just going to go there and trust it's safe?"
"Malcolm, what choice do we have?" Trip was a little tired of the argument. He'd been more than happy to stop by Malcolm's quarters and update him on what was going on; he knew his partner didn't like being out of the loop, and he saw no reason not to keep him informed on ship's operations. But this was something else. There seemed to be nothing he could say that would allay Malcolm's concerns on the matter of the alien repair station. "Our hull's got a lot of holes in it, you know. We're years away from Jupiter Station unless we can patch them all up. We've got short-range communication only. As far as we can tell there's not a Vulcan ship within light-years, and d'you really want to ask for their help?"
"So the Captain will take help from an unknown alien on the word of another vaguely familiar alien rather than go to the Vulcans?" countered Malcolm.
"That's not what I said and you know it. Besides, I just told you there aren't any Vulcan ships in range. What's gotten into you, anyway?" Now Trip was concerned, too, but not about the mission. While it was like Malcolm to privately question the Captain's methods, he was being particularly argumentative this afternoon. "Is everything okay?"
"Does it look like everything's okay?" Malcolm shot back angrily. "We're practically defenseless in deep space and now we're flying blindly into what could easily be a trap!"
"And you're mad because there's nothing you can do about it," Trip added.
"I never said that."
"You didn't have to. It's obvious. Malcolm, I know you're going stir-crazy in here. Why don't you get out for a while? The only thing you've done for five days is sit here reading technical journals and then fret over the fact that you're just sitting here reading technical journals!"
"What do you expect me to do? I'm relieved of duty until Phlox says otherwise. And it isn't as if I can go to the gym and work out."
"And those are two of your top three favorite things to do," teased Trip. When Malcolm made no response, he tried again. "There's a whole database of movies and books."
"I suppose. But nothing appeals. There's really precious little entertainment on this ship when you think about it."
"I'm not entertaining enough?" quipped Trip, trying to pull his lover out of the pity party he'd thrown for himself. "After all, I'm the missing item on your top three list, right?"
"You're busy with the repairs. I hardly see you."
Malcolm was beginning to sound like a petulant child, and Trip didn't like it. "Malcolm, I'm sorry you're bored. I'm sorry you're antsy. But there's nothing more I can do about it than I'm already doing," the engineer said firmly. "I wish I could make everything better, but if the doc can't, I sure can't. I don't know what else you want me to do."
Malcolm sighed heavily. He was being a brat, and he knew it. He hated being sick. Worse. Not sick, but not well, he thought irritably. If I were sick, I wouldn't care if I were bored. "I'm sorry," he said finally. "I know there's nothing you can do."
"Listen," said Trip, moved by the frustrated and weary tone of his partner's voice. "I have to check up on some repair reports with the Captain. You want me to come by afterwards? Bring you some dinner? Maybe keep you company tonight? I know we're a little limited in recreational activities with you all banged up and all " His tone and the salacious look he gave Malcolm clearly showed what sort of 'recreational activities' he meant. " but I can think of a few things that ought to take your mind off your troubles for a little while at least."
Malcolm gave him a coy smile. "That'd be better than any movie in Enterprise's database," he said.
"Yeah," agreed Trip casually. "'Cause there's no gay porn in the database. I checked." Malcolm burst out laughing, and Trip grinned. "Made you laugh," the younger man said.
"Yes, you did. Thanks."
"Anytime." Trip rose from his seat on the bunk. Malcolm tried to rise, too, but Trip stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Don't get up. It's not worth the effort. I'll be back around 1900, okay?"
Trip leaned over and gave Malcolm a quick kiss. At least that was his plan. Instead, the smaller man caught the back of his head, pulling him close into a passionate, breath-stealing kiss. When Malcolm finally released him, Trip was momentarily stunned.
Malcolm smiled sweetly, waiting.
When the engineer finally regained his wits, he said, "You gotta stop doing that right before I'm supposed to meet with the Captain! He's gonna think I'm getting stupid if every time I see him I have this idiot grin on my face."
"I think it's quite fetching, myself."
"You're not my C.O."
"I could be. Not tonight, but when I'm feeling better "
Trip's eyes widened. "You don't mean like Starfleet, do you?" Malcolm shook his head ever so slightly. "I didn't think so." He pondered the possibilities. "That could be fun," he said after some thought. Suddenly the lascivious smirk that had begun to turn up one corner of his lips changed abruptly into an exasperated frown. "Great! Now I have to go see the Captain with an idiot grin and an erection! Thanks, Malcolm."
His dark-haired lover laughed again. "Think about something else. Like all the repairs still to do."
"Yeah," replied Trip, feeling his excitement fade. "That's a real mood-killer. All right, this time I'm really leaving. I'll see you at 1900."
"I look forward to it. While you ponder repairs, I'll ponder all the lovely things I'm going to do to you when I'm feeling one hundred percent again."
Trip squeezed his eyes shut. "Repairs, repairs, repairs," he repeated like a mantra. Malcolm continued to chuckle. Without looking his way, the engineer pointed an accusing finger at his lover. "You just be quiet. Repairs, repairs " He opened one eye enough to find the door and promptly escaped into the corridor still muttering. "Repairs, repairs "
Still Malcolm laughed—until it occurred to him that pondering all the delicious activities he wanted to do with his partner was hardly going to make the day any easier. He'd intended to torment Trip with his suggestions, but his plan had backfired.
How long is it until 1900? he wondered, glancing at the bedside chronometer. He sighed heavily, realizing it would be a long time before Trip returned.
He tried thinking about the repairs to calm his libido, as Trip had. Unfortunately that only brought to mind visions of the engineer—dirty, sweaty, hair mussed
Damn. It's going to be a very long afternoon.
Cormack made herself comfortable on the couch in Dr. Douglas's office. "Thanks for fitting me in, Kyrin."
"It's no trouble," the ship's counselor answered amiably. "To be perfectly honest, my job's been a little dull lately. While I'm pleased the crew is psychologically healthy, it's nice to have something to do besides write my research paper."
Cormack laughed. "I suppose it's tough when you're not getting any new research materials, eh?"
"Exactly. Now, what's the problem? You said something about a dream when you contacted me."
"Yeah. It was very surreal, and I'm not sure why it's still bugging me, but it is."
"Did you only have it once, or is it recurring like the last one?"
"Just once so far. Night before last. Liz woke me up from it, and I think I'm glad."
"Tell me about it."
Cormack recounted her dream of the portraits in as much detail as she could recall. The counselor took notes as she spoke.
"And that's when your bunkmate woke you?" Douglas asked when she finished.
"Yeah. She said I was talking in my sleep."
"I know," agreed Cormack. "I don't think I've ever done that before."
"Did she tell you what you were saying?"
"Yeah. That's why I'm glad she woke me up. She said I was saying, 'They're dead. They're all dead.'" She shuddered at the memory.
"Who do you think you were talking about?"
"Well it's got to be the people in the pictures, right? I mean, there wasn't anyone else there. Damn! I wish I could remember who they were!"
"Did you actually recognize individuals?" Douglas asked. "You said a moment ago they were familiar, but not that you knew them."
"I'm not sure." She gave a frustrated sigh. "Not a lot to go on, is it?"
"Don't worry. I'll do some research and see what I can come up with, okay?"
"In the meantime, and since you're here," the psychiatrist continued, "is there anything else you want to talk about?"
Cormack considered carefully before answering. "Yeah. Um This is going to sound paranoid, though."
"It's not the sort of thing I usually think about. I mean, I'm not normally insecure about this sort of thing, so it's not something that generally occurs to me, you know?"
"What isn't?" asked Douglas.
"I think Commander Tucker doesn't like me very much."
"What gives you that impression?"
"Lots of things, now that I've noticed at all. Really, I don't usually worry about whether or not someone likes me. But this is different."
The door chimed, startling Malcolm from an unintended nap. He sat up gingerly, not wanting to jar his leg, and checked the time. 1835, the chronometer read. He wasn't expecting Trip for another half hour. Puzzled, he called out, "Who is it?"
"It's Ensign Cormack, sir," came the reply.
"Hang on." He briefly considered rising to answer the door, but thought better of it and remained where he was. He ran a hand through his hair, hoping he didn't look as if he'd just woken up. "Come in."
The door opened and Cormack stepped inside. One glance from her and Reed knew his hopes were in vain. "I'm sorry! Did I wake you?" the ensign asked solicitously.
"It's all right," he assured her.
"No, I'm sorry. I should go." She turned to leave.
"Ensign." Cormack stopped. "You don't need to go. I assume you had a reason for dropping by?"
"Couple of things," she confirmed. She pulled a datapad from a pocket and handed it to him. "Status report. I know you're off duty, but I also know you'd rather not be. So here's an update on everything going on in the armory."
He glanced at the pad and smiled. "Thank you. It's good to know some people understand. Have a seat?"
"Thanks," said Cormack. She grabbed the chair at the computer desk and sat backward in it, facing him. She leaned her arms on the back. It was a pose that reminded Reed of Tucker; the engineer often sat there just like that. "I'm sure others understand," Cormack continued, unaware of his internal comparison. "They just have other stuff on their minds. I, on the other hand, am hip deep your job so I've got nothing else going on to distract me."
"Only hip deep? You don't have enough to do."
"Not true!" protested Cormack. "I'd be up to my eyeballs if Young and I weren't both covering your position."
"Hmm. I won't give you extra homework then," quipped Reed, chuckling. "It looks like you two are handling it well enough," he continued, examining the data on the pad.
"Thank you, but I'm looking forward to having you back on duty."
"As am I." Finally, he looked away from the pad long enough to ask, "You said there were a couple of reasons you stopped by?"
"Yes!" answered Cormack. "I almost forgot." She unzipped a sleeve pocket and pulled out a clear data card. She rose half way in order to hand it to him.
He reached out and took the card from her. "What's this?" he asked.
"Something from my personal music collection. I made a copy just for you, and I'd appreciate it if it didn't get loaded into the ship's database."
"Of course not, but what is it?"
"Daughters of Lear." Reed's eyes widened at this information. "I know, I know. I said there weren't any official recordings available. There aren't. This was a demo we cut in Lynn's garage. Cliché I know, but what can you do?" she added with a self-deprecating smirk. "Be warned—it's rough. No fancy sound equipment was harmed in the production of this recording," she quipped dryly.
"I can't wait to hear it," said Reed sincerely. "Will you put it on for me?" he asked, passing the card back to her. Seeing her hesitation, he added, "Please?"
"I don't know. I can listen to it, but I don't know if I can listen to it with you listening to it."
"I've heard some of it before," he reminded her. "Remember the documentary?"
"Gods! How could I forget?" They both laughed. "All right," she finally caved. Cormack turned around enough to slide the card into the computer. Moments later, music filled the room. "The volume okay?" she asked her host.
"Well, I usually prefer my Wiccan Punk quite loud, but that would put a damper on conversation," joked Reed. "It's fine."
"Okay. So, how are you doing otherwise?"
"Otherwise? Other than being half out of my mind from boredom, you mean?"
"Yeah. I figured that was a given, eh?" Cormack said with a chuckle. "I remember the last day we spent in quarantine."
"Ah. Yes." He gave her a wry smile. "I seem to recall that day as well."
The door chimed again at that moment, immediately followed by Trip's voice. "Hey, Malcolm, can you let me in? My hands are kind of full."
"Hang on," called Malcolm in reply. He reached for the cane he'd left nearby, but Cormack waved him off.
"I got it," she said, rising. She opened the door and stepped to the side to allow Commander Tucker to enter. "Evening, Commander. Here. Let me give you a hand." She took the tray he held and carefully placed it on the desk. She could feel the warmth coming off the two covered plates on the tray.
"Uh thanks," said Trip. He stopped just inside the room, taken aback at her unexpected presence. What the hell's she doin' here? he wondered.
As if he knew the engineer's thoughts, Malcolm spoke up. "Ensign Cormack was just dropping off a status report." He held up the datapad as evidence.
"And I was just leaving," the blonde woman added. It was obvious to her the commander wasn't happy to see her. She felt a judicious exit was in order. "Glad you're feeling better, Lieutenant. I can't wait for you to be back in the armory."
"Agreed. Thanks for the report, and the recording. I'll return it when I'm done listening to it."
"No, no! It's yours," insisted Cormack. "I made that copy for you. Just don't let it get around, eh? Gods only know what Mae or Liz would do with it."
"I won't. See you later."
"See you." She gave Reed a smile, which he returned. "Good night, Commander," she added with another smile to Tucker.
"Night," was his brief reply.
There was an awkward pause after the cabin door shut behind her. Malcolm broke it. "What do we have for dinner?" he asked.
"Fettuccini Alfredo," answered Trip, not moving from where he stood.
Malcolm levered himself to a standing position and laboriously limped the few feet to the desk, where he sat heavily. Trip never moved to help him.
"It smells delicious," the dark-haired man said, picking up the cover of one plate enough to take a sniff. "Are you going to join me? Or do you intend to continue your impersonation of a stone pillar?"
"What was Cormack doing here?" the engineer said by way of an answer.
"I told you. She brought me a report. It's on the bunk if you want to take a look at it," he added. He placed the cover back over the tray of food.
"And a recording?"
"It's playing now. Something not in the ship's database. I can turn it off if you don't like it."
"What is it?"
"A group called Daughters of Lear. What do you think of it?"
"I don't know."
"Listen to it for a moment."
"Because I asked you to. Please." He turned it up slightly.
Trip listened to the music for several bars. "I can't hardly make out the lyrics," he commented. Malcolm made no reply, and they continued to listen together in silence. "It's not a real clean recording, is it?"
"It's not studio quality, no," confirmed Malcolm.
"I suppose it's okay," Trip finally begrudged. "Not really my thing, though."
"All right. I'll listen to it later when you're not here." He shut off the recording but left the card where it was.
"So, Ensign Cormack gave it to you?"
"If it's not in the database, then it's something of hers, right?" Trip asked, a hint of accusation in his voice.
"Why does it matter?" countered Malcolm, responding more to the tone of his lover's query than the words. Something about Trip's question begged him to be quarrelsome.
"Why does it matter where it came from?"
"I don't " He trailed off.
"Don't what, Trip? I know you don't like Stephanie, although I have yet to learn why that is. Perhaps now is a good time to discuss it."
It was the conversation Trip had been dreading. He stood in stony silence.
"Well? What is it about her that bothers you so much?" Malcolm asked. He wanted to stand up, confront his partner on a more equal footing, more eye to eye. He decided it was worth the effort and the pain. He rose, keeping his weight balanced on his good leg and the desk. "Tell me what's going on inside that head of yours, because I can't suss out what you're thinking on my own."
"I just don't like her!" blurted Trip angrily.
"Yes, I think we've established that," said Malcolm acerbically. "Would you care to expand on that theme?"
"Not really, no."
"Let me try, then. Perhaps I can shed light on this little mystery. What might it be? Her outgoing personality? Her easygoing way with people? Her incredible competence at her job? Hmm. Those sound a lot like qualities I could ascribe to someone else I know." He glared at Trip pointedly.
"Hell. Opposites attract, right?" the younger man offered lamely. "So maybe we're just too much alike to get along."
"I don't believe that for a millisecond, and I'm willing to bet you don't either." He took a shaky step towards Trip, one hand still supported by the desk. "So what's going on?" he demanded.
"Why is it so important to you that I like her?" argued Trip defensively.
"Why? Why is it important that the man I love get along with my best friend? Oh, I don't know," he said sarcastically. "Call me old-fashioned, but I like the people I care about to care about each other, or at the very least be civil to one another!"
The closed expression on Trip's face made Malcolm pause.
"That's the problem, isn't it? You're jealous that she's my friend."
Still Trip said nothing.
"It's true, isn't it? My god, Trip!" he spat, anger and hurt mixing in his voice. "Aren't I allowed to have one friend, then?"
"Malcolm, that's not what "
"What? Spit it out. That's not what you were going to say? That's not what you meant? What do you mean?" Malcolm took another step toward his lover. He was irate enough to have forgotten the pain in his injured leg, and he foolishly put his full weight on it when he moved. "Gaah!" he cried out as the limb gave way painfully.
Trip caught him instinctively before he could fall. As soon as Malcolm regained his balance, he pushed the blond man away. "I'm fine," he said angrily.
"Let me help you."
"I said I'm fine." He limped slowly to his bunk, wincing with every tortuous step.
"Malcolm, please," Trip tried again, reaching out to give him the extra support he clearly needed.
"No!" Malcolm made it to the bunk and sat. The strain of the effort showed in his drawn and pale expression.
Trip looked at him, worried. "Should I call the doc?" he asked uncertainly.
"No," repeated his partner more quietly this time. "I'm tired of being drugged up on painkillers. I'll be fine in a minute."
This time, as the silence grew between them, Malcolm felt disinclined to break it. He couldn't make the engineer talk if he was determined not to. It was up to Trip now.
Minutes passed without either man moving or speaking. At last, Trip took a tentative step toward Malcolm and sat gingerly on the bunk beside him.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Malcolm simply waited in silence.
"Of course you can have friends," continued the younger man.
One friend, Malcolm corrected internally, but kept silent. I have one real friend on board besides you.
"As if it was even my decision," Trip added, chagrined. "I never meant to suggest you couldn't have friends. I'm not usually the jealous type." At Malcolm's doubtful look, he gave a rueful shrug. "Really. She just rubs me the wrong way."
"How? What has she done?"
"Nothing. Nothing on purpose," he amended. "She she makes you laugh."
"I'm sorry. I had no idea my happiness was a problem for you," snapped Malcolm bitterly.
"Malcolm, stop," entreated Trip. "You asked. I'm trying to answer, okay?"
"Okay. Go on."
Trip thought hard, trying to come up with words to express what was going on inside his head, as Malcolm had put it. "I guess I just don't like sharing you. That's all."
"I don't understand. Sharing me?"
"You see her on duty. You have meals with her off duty. You hang out together when I'm not around. I'm not saying you should sit around pining for me," he added hastily in anticipation of an argument. "I guess I don't know what I'm saying."
"She's only ever tried to help you and me, you know," Malcolm pointed out. "I don't necessarily agree with all her methods, but she's always meant well."
"Of course she has!" Malcolm was genuinely surprised by the question. "Why else would she do what she's done?"
"I don't know. Maybe maybe she has her own reasons."
"Trip, she's my friend," Malcolm said emphatically. "I trust her."
"I don't!" Trip said just as emphatically. "I just wonder what her motives are."
"Motives? That's an awfully paranoid thing to say. I thought I was supposed to be the suspicious type, not you." A thought occurred the armory officer. "Do you think she's some sort of threat? Is that it?"
He'd struck the heart of the matter, and he could see it in his lover's face before Trip said a word.
"What? No!" protested Trip too vehemently.
"Trip, how can you possibly believe that? She's not interested in me like that, I can assure you. And I most decidedly do not fancy her!"
"No?" queried the younger man doubtfully.
"No!" Malcolm gave him a wry look. "I thought you'd figured out by now that I prefer men. And one handsome blond engineer in particular."
"I know that, I just—" He couldn't complete the thought, didn't know how to complete it.
"Trip." Malcolm placed a warm, strong hand on his lover's thigh, used the other hand to draw Trip's face around to meet his gaze. "I love you. I'm not good at saying it, but I do love you. I don't understand where this whole problem between you and Stephanie started, and I understand it's not going to go away overnight. But whatever else goes on, please don't ever forget that."
Faced by Malcolm's concerned look and tender words, Trip could only nod weakly. It was enough for Malcolm. My god, thought the armory officer, looking into his lover's sweet face and clear blue eyes. How could I ever have thought I was prepared to die when I have this man to live for? He made a mental note to thank the Captain yet again for saving his life less than a week ago.
The two sat that way for some time before Malcolm finally spoke. "Come on," he said. "I'm famished. Help me to the table so we can have dinner."
"Nope," said Trip. "You stay here. It's not as romantic as breakfast, but how 'bout I bring you dinner in bed?"
"That sounds lovely," said Malcolm with a smile.