Log Rhythms - Season Two
Cormack was on her way to the mess hall for a midnight snack. She'd heard a rumor there were monster-sized chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, and she felt it was her duty to find out if the rumor was true. With glee, she discovered it was. She picked one off the tray, grabbed a napkin, and went for a stroll.
She wasn't terribly inclined to return to her cabin. She meandered aimlessly along the corridors of E-deck, idly munching her cookie. At this late hour there were precious few people about, and she met no one as she walked.
She knew eventually she'd have to go to bed but was delaying it as long as reasonably possible. The strange dream she'd had earlier in the week had returned last night. While she could recall no more about it than she'd already recounted to the ship's counselor, the dream had left her with a feeling of unease bordering on dread. She had no desire to experience it again.
Rounding a corner near the launch bays, she paused. Crap, she thought. Is this section still off limits? She couldn't quite remember. The crew had been ordered to stay out of the areas being repaired by the space station where they were presently docked. The launch bays were on the list for this evening, but she couldn't recall the time span during which they were out of bounds.
Out of the corner of one eye she saw movement. Turning quickly, she was just able to see someone in uniform enter Launch Bay One. Cormack gave a relieved sigh. Must be okay.
She popped the last bite of her snack in her mouth, wiped her fingers on the napkin, then pocketed it for later disposal. She was about to continue her ramble when she heard a noise from the direction of the launch bay. Curious, Cormack approached it and entered.
Her eyes widened at the sight before her. She rushed to the fallen figure of Ensign Mayweather, placed a hand on his neck, searching for a pulse.
"Oh Goddess," she whispered. She rose again quickly and, carefully avoiding the burned out EPS relay next to her, crossed to the comm panel on the opposite wall. "Cormack to Sickbay. Medical emergency in Launch Bay One."
Stupid git, Reed berated himself in silence. What's the first thing you do when you're finally healed up and back on duty? Go spying about the space station that was generous enough to provide the treatment. Excellent way to repay the hospitality.
"So?" said Tucker as the lift descended.
"So, what?" replied Reed tersely. Caught up in his own thoughts, he'd almost forgotten he wasn't alone.
"So, what do you think?"
"About what the Captain said."
"I think we're in trouble."
"But he wasn't real specific about the punishment, if you know what I mean."
Reed looked at Tucker. "'You're both restricted to quarters until further notice,'" he quoted in an excellent imitation of Archer's San Franciscan accent. "Hmm," he continued in his own voice, "yes, I see how that might be misinterpreted." His sarcastic tone belied his words. In truth, he was less angry with Trip for talking him into the misadventure that had eventually lead to their mutual dressing down by Captain Archer than he was with himself. I should have known better, he kept berating himself silently.
"Are you trying to be obtuse on purpose?" Tucker asked in frustration.
The turbo lift stopped and the men stepped out of it. They went no farther, but their conversation continued.
"Oh, insults. That's the way to win a man's heart."
"The Captain didn't specify whose quarters we're confined to."
Finally, Reed caught on to what the engineer meant. "Oh no," he protested. "We've already been reprimanded once tonight. I don't care to repeat the experience."
"No, Commander." He deliberately emphasized the title to keep the argument more formal than familiar. "I am spending the night in my quarters, and you are spending the night in yours. If we're lucky, Captain Archer will allow us return to our posts once we've left this bloody repair station."
The debate was suspended by a hail from the Captain. "Archer to Tucker."
Trip hit the comm panel next to the turbolift. "Go ahead, sir." Seeing Malcolm about to leave, he quickly grasped his arm and mouthed, Hang on. Malcolm paused, waiting impatiently.
"Meet me in Launch Bay One, and bring Lieutenant Reed. There's been an accident."
"Aye, sir." He closed the connection and gave Malcolm a significant look, which the lieutenant pointedly ignored. The turbolift doors opened immediately when he pressed the call button, and the two men stepped back inside.
Reed and Tucker entered the launch bay and stopped short. T'Pol and Archer were speaking with Doctor Phlox as a pair of med-techs loaded a body onto a gurney. Cormack stood silently to one side, her expression inscrutable as she watched Phlox and his team depart with the lifeless form of Travis Mayweather.
Tucker's eyes widened in horror and disbelief as they passed by and out of the launch bay. "Sir, what happened?" he asked as Archer approached them.
The captain looked at him but made no reply. Instead, he turned to Ensign Cormack. "You found him?"
She nodded. "Yes, sir," she answered flatly.
"Do you have any idea how much time passed between the accident and when you found him?"
"Less than a minute. I was walking. I couldn't sleep. I saw someone come in here, but I didn't see who until—" She paused, trying to keep control of her voice.
"This section was supposed to be off limits. What were you doing here?" Archer continued. There was no sound of accusation in his tone, but Cormack tensed nonetheless.
Reed noticed the subtle shift in her stance and took a half-step forward. Tucker put a hand on his shoulder, not trying to hold him back, but rather as a subtle suggestion he wait to find out where the Captain was headed with his questions.
"I didn't realize where I was immediately," Cormack continued. "When I did, I was going to turn around and go back. Then I saw someone " She took a breath to calm herself. "I saw Travis come in here, so I figured the area was clear after all."
"All right, Ensign. You're dismissed."
"Yes, sir." But she didn't move. "Sir?" she asked shakily.
"Permission to tell Ensign Cutler what's happened? She should know."
In the stress of the moment, Archer had all but forgotten about the relationship between the exobiologist and Enterprise's helmsman. He nodded.
"Thank you, sir." Cormack turned to go.
Reed put a supportive hand on her arm as she passed. "Will you be all right?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, sir." She left.
"All right," Archer addressed the remaining officers. "I want to know exactly what happened, why Travis was in a restricted area in his off hours, and what he was working on."
Out in the corridor, Cormack paused. She took a deep, steadying breath. She'd seen bodies before, even a friend once. Still, that wasn't what had her so upset.
She'd finally remembered the pictures from her dream.
Cormack pushed the discovery aside for the moment. She had other, more pressing things to deal with.
How am I gonna tell Liz?
Liz Cutler was in shock. She'd been surprised and disoriented when her bunkmate woke her, an unreadable expression on her face. Now, she sat in the harsh light, numb with disbelief. "What?" she asked weakly.
"Travis is dead," repeated Stephanie as gently as she could manage. "They're not a hundred percent sure what happened, but it looks like he was working on the EPS grid when a relay overloaded. He was killed by an isolytic shock." She was glad Malcolm had contacted her with this information before she'd woken Liz. Her own stalling, trying to figure out how best to tell her bunkmate the terrible news, had brought this unexpected benefit. Hopefully, this small piece of hard fact would help her friend comprehend what had happened.
Sometimes it's good to procrastinate a little, she thought with bitter humor.
"But he wasn't on duty tonight." Liz was confused. "Why was he working on the EPS grid?"
"I don't know, honey. That's all they've been able to figure out so far."
"He wasn't on duty," Liz repeated emphatically. "There must be a mistake. I had a late shift, but he didn't. He was going to have dinner with Hoshi over on the station. He left me a message. We're having lunch together tomorrow."
"A message?" Stephanie lit on this bit of news.
"What did it say?"
Liz looked at her as if she'd just grown antennae. "It said we're having lunch together tomorrow."
"Anything else? Did he mention any repairs? Anything he was going to do after dinner?"
"What? No. Nothing." She looked at her bunkmate, her brow furrowed. "He's really ?" She couldn't bring herself to say it yet.
Stephanie nodded sadly. "Yeah, honey, he is. I'm so sorry."
Liz didn't move for several seconds. Stephanie continued to sit beside her on the bunk, waiting in case her friend needed her.
Finally, Liz took a deep, shuddering breath and began to cry softly. Immediately, Stephanie put her arms around her weeping bunkmate and held her as growing sobs shook her slim frame.
"Shhh," crooned Stephanie softly, rocking her gently. "I'm here. I've got you."
Neither woman knew how much time had passed when the comm chirped. It was long enough that a small mountain of tissues was piled on the floor at their feet. It was long enough that Liz had cried herself out for the time being.
Stephanie placed a gentle hand on her friend's shoulder. "You going to be okay for a minute?" she asked softly.
Liz just nodded and wiped her red nose with another tissue.
Stephanie stood and opened the comm. "Cormack here," she said.
Phlox's voice answered her. "Is Ensign Cutler with you?"
"I'm right here," answered Liz from where she sat. "What—what is it?"
"I have some news for you."
It was a roller-coaster night of emotions for all of Enterprise's command staff, but the hardest hit crewmember was Elizabeth Cutler. The news that Travis was dead had struck her like a blow, stunning her briefly until reality sank in. Then there was the bizarre news that the body found in the launch bay wasn't Travis at all, but a clever replica. But where was Travis, in that case? Trapped inside the repair station, as it turned out.
Captain Archer and Sub-commander T'Pol had gone in to get him, but it was a close call. Liz didn't know all the details, but she knew Enterprise had only managed to break away from the station after a fight, and they'd taken minor damage in the escape.
Now Liz sat in sickbay next to Travis. Captain Archer had just left after checking up on the helmsman and confirming a breakfast meeting with the young man.
She took one of his strong hands in both of hers, lacing their fingers together. She gave him a smile, which he returned tiredly. "How are you feeling?" she asked, despite the fact he'd just answered the same question from Archer.
"Better," Travis replied. "Tired."
"Should I go? Let you get some sleep?"
Travis shook his head slightly. "I'll sleep better if you're here. If you don't mind staying," he added.
"Of course I don't mind! You get some rest. I'll be here when you wake up." She smiled again, sweetly.
"You're so beautiful," said Travis softly, reaching his free hand over to brush her tousled brown locks from her eyes.
"Go to sleep," she advised softly. "You're obviously too tired to see straight."
"I know what I see."
Liz gave a quiet laugh. She knew full well her eyes were puffy and her nose was red from all the crying she'd done over night. "Go to sleep," she repeated.
This time Travis gave no argument, but closed his eyes and soon drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
Liz, too, was beginning to nod off when Phlox gently touched her shoulder.
"I'm sorry if I startled you," he said quietly.
"It's okay," she replied just as softly. "What is it?"
"I thought you'd be more comfortable if you returned to your quarters to sleep."
"No, thank you. I told Travis I'd be here when he woke up."
"He won't wake up for quite some time, I'm sure," the Denobulan assured her. "He's been through a lot, and his body is in need of a good, long rest. I have a suggestion." At Liz's inquisitive, if somewhat foggy, look, he continued, "You're excused from your regular duties today, but I have another plan for you. Go to your cabin and get a few hours of sleep. Come back here when you're ready. I have a meeting with Doctor Douglas this afternoon. It would be helpful if you could stay here and keep an eye on things while I'm gone."
A slow smile cracked Liz's weary face. "I'd be happy to," she said.
"Hello!" said Douglas cheerily, ushering Phlox into his office. "How's your patient?"
"Ensign Mayweather is doing very well, I'm happy to say," replied the Denobulan pleasantly. He took a seat at one end of the sofa. The psychiatrist sat at the other end.
"Good, good." Douglas reached over to his desk and picked up a datapad. "What's on the agenda today?" he asked rhetorically, scanning the screen. His eyes lit upon the information he was seeking. "Ah. Of course."
"Yes. I'm a little concerned."
"You know, it's odd you should bring the subject up. Sub-commander T'Pol and I discussed it at some length back in January, before the trip to Risa."
"Of course!" said Phlox, echoing his colleagues words. "What did you make of her postulations?"
"I think she had a valid point, although I believe her view of the situation was naturally a bit skewed, being on the outside, as it were. That is, with Vulcans being on more of a schedule, so to speak," he clarified. "But then, none of us can truly know what's going on inside another person's head, can we? No matter what our patients choose to believe." He chuckled self-deprecatingly.
"True. Sometimes I think it's a shame; it could make diagnoses simpler under certain conditions. Other times, I don't think I'd want to know what a patient is thinking. Naturally, those are the ones most likely to tell me—whether I've asked them to or not."
At this, Douglas laughed outright. "Why do I think you're talking about Ensign Cormack?"
"Among others," Phlox confirmed. "But back to the subject at hand. I've observed a growing tension between the Captain and Sub-commander T'Pol."
"I see." Douglas wasn't overly surprised; the Captain's feelings towards Vulcans in general were well known. However, as he rarely saw either of the officers in question in a professional capacity, he hadn't any recent data to go by. He was working on the crew's semi-annual psychological reviews, but he'd begun with the enlisted crewmembers and hadn't yet gotten to the command staff. "Do you mean professional, personal ?"
"Primarily sexual, actually," Phlox informed him. "Apparently the Captain's shore leave wasn't as successful as intended."
"That's a shame." Douglas thought of his own visit to Risa. It had been lovely, if not in the way Phlox and he were discussing, but he'd had opportunities since to alleviate his own tension. A smile crossed his face at the thought of his handsome young lover, Liam. "But what makes you suspect there's sexual tension between Captain Archer and the Sub-commander?" he asked, pulling his mind back on topic. "I'm certainly aware of a fair amount of professional tension, but what you suggest is completely contrary to the Captain's psychological history."
"I've made a few observations," the physician replied. He handed Douglas a datapad.
"A few?" joked the psychiatrist, raising an eyebrow at the long list of notes Phlox had recorded. But he studied the data before him carefully. "Fascinating," he said at last. "I can't say I've seen any of this myself, but you work with both officers far more than I ever do. In fact, I think I'd probably be speechless with surprise if either of them ever sought my professional services of their own accord. May I make a copy of your notes?"
"By all means."
Douglas rose and moved to the seat behind his desk. "Won't take a moment." He quickly downloaded the information from the pad to his secured confidential files and handed the datapad back to Phlox. "I'll be sure to study this more in depth before our next meeting."
"How are the crew's psychological reviews going?" asked the Denobulan. "Is there anything I should be aware of?"
"No, I'm happy to say. Everyone I've examined is doing extraordinarily well in our present circumstances. There have been several cases of homesickness, of course, but with the damage to our long range communications repaired, the letters from home should come pouring in shortly. I know I'm certainly looking forward to hearing from family and friends."
"As am I," agreed Phlox. His wives didn't write terribly often, but two of his children were excellent correspondents. He was anxious to hear from them about their latest endeavors.
"What exciting news from home do you have this time?" asked Cutler with a smile.
"I'm an aunt again!" exclaimed her bunkmate happily. "Lalita Shukla Cormack. Look." She pointed to the monitor where there was a picture of a sleeping newborn baby with wisps of black hair escaping a tiny knit cap.
"No she's not," contradicted Cormack with a laugh. "But she will be when she stops looking like a squished plucked chicken."
"Stephanie!" Cutler couldn't help but laugh, too, at this description. She had to admit it was a fair one.
"There are some other pictures, too. Want to see?"
Once the subspace antenna was back online, the crew had begun receiving several weeks' worth of delayed communications. The exobiologist hadn't gotten much news, herself, but she was neither disappointed nor surprised. Her small immediate family was scattered throughout Earth's solar system, and they were all very busy. Instead, she took pleasure in watching her friend's excitement.
"That must be your sister," said Cutler, looking at a picture of a tall, dark-haired, and very pregnant woman wearing an apron and brandishing a wooden spoon like a weapon.
"Yeah. It's easier to get pictures of her when she's pregnant." At Cutler's surprised look, Cormack elucidated. "She can't run as fast, so it's easier to get away once you've snapped the pic. She's making her world famous Fireball Sauce here. It's never the same twice, but it's always killer."
"So what goes into it?"
"Roasted peppers, fresh peppers, onions, vinegar—I don't know what all. But it's always hot enough to make your eyeballs sweat," the blonde woman said wistfully. "She makes it with peppers she grows herself."
"It's not even summer yet there. Peppers aren't even remotely in season."
"She has a huge greenhouse. She's a horticulturist. See?" Cormack pointed to the picture of her sister. "Check out her apron."
Cutler looked more closely and was just able to make out the words on the apron. "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." She snickered. "That's funny."
"Yep," agreed Cormack happily. "It was a present from Kevin, so of course she has to wear it."
"I thought Kevin was three."
"Four. His birthday was in January."
"And he picked out the apron?" said Cutler doubtfully.
"Of course not! Gemma picked out the apron."
"Oh! I got it." She laughed again. "Clearly a wicked sense of humor is required if one is to be a member of your family."
"It's the first item on the application," quipped Cormack.
Cutler returned to her bunk and sat. "Anything else exciting going on?"
"The Orcas are leading the AL West, but it's way too early in the season to get your hopes up."
"Your hopes. I don't actually care, remember?" teased Cutler.
"Baseball snob. Anything else?"
"Cordelia's Sisters have a new album due out in July. And so do the Hoolie-gans."
"I hope your kind, wonderful, giving family is planning to send those to you," said Cutler hopefully.
"I'll make sure to ask," Cormack said with a knowing grin.
"The Kreetassans?" asked Archer wearily. "You're sure there aren't any other species nearby we could ask?"
"The Kreetassans are the logical choice," T'Pol replied. She stood across the desk from the Captain, hands clasped loosely behind her back. "Their planet is nearby. Their components are reliable and of high quality. We have a previous relationship with them."
Archer cut her off. "That's what I'm worried about. That 'previous relationship' didn't start off very well."
"It ended on amicable terms, however," the Vulcan pointed out.
"Why do I think we just got lucky? Or maybe the Kreetassan ambassador really liked Travis's smile?" It was the ensign who had actually apologized to the ambassador on behalf of his indisposed captain, and he'd done it well enough to restore the young relationship Archer had personally botched up.
Archer shook his head. He wasn't comfortable with the idea of contacting the temperamental Kreetassans again. They were so easily offended by things humans took for granted as ordinary facts of life. The thought that he would bungle a second contact as badly as he had their first made him edgy.
"Captain, we need a new plasma injector."
"I know," he said sharply. He took a moment to calm down. He wasn't angry with T'Pol; there was no reason to take his frustrations out on his Science Officer. "Sorry." He sighed. "Have Ensign Mayweather set a course for the Kreetassan homeworld. And see what sort of protocols we need to follow when we contact them. I'm sure there must be something about not speaking in contractions, or wearing a hat indoors, or some other ridiculous custom we need to know about."
"Sir," said T'Pol, a hint of admonishment in her well-modulated tones. "May I remind you it's that sort of attitude—"
Archer held up a hand to forestall her. "I know, Sub-commander. I just need to get it out of my system now while I can, so it doesn't come bubbling out when we get there."
T'Pol gave a small nod of understanding before leaving the ready room.
"At least my ship and crew are all in one piece again—not counting one iffy plasma injector," Archer muttered to himself.
The damage caused by their escape from the alien repair station had been easily fixed. Travis was his usual, cheerful self and back on duty. The captain sat back in his chair wearily and checked the time. I wonder if Trip's interested in tonight's movie? he thought. He was ready for a night of mindless entertainment, and the idea of watching Terminator 2, this week's offering, appealed.
He opened a comm line. "Archer to Trip." He waited several seconds, but there was no response. He tried again. "Archer to Trip, respond." A thought occurred to him and he quickly checked the time. He wouldn't be ? No. It's a little early for that.
Now he was getting concerned. "Commander Tucker, respond."
Finally he heard the chirp as the comm was opened at the other end. "Tucker here, sir. Can this wait?"
"What's going on, Trip? Why did you take so long to respond?"
"Uhh... Got...distracted," was the engineer's reply. "Can I call you back? We have sort of a medical emergency here."
"A what?!" exclaimed Archer, sitting up straighter in his chair.
"Really, sir, I'm sorry, but I need to call ya back," Tucker repeated.
The captain heard the unmistakable sound of the connection being closed. "What the hell?"
Deciding it was worthwhile to find out for himself what was going on, he rose and left his ready room.
"Course change has been implemented, Captain," T'Pol informed him as he crossed the bridge.
"Thank you, Sub-commander," he said, not slowing down. "Good to see you back at the helm, Travis," he added as he stepped into the turbolift.
"Thank you, sir," was the ensign's reply as the lift door shut.
Mayweather looked at T'Pol inquisitively, but if the Vulcan had any idea what had Archer in such a hurry, she gave no sign.
Moments later the Captain emerged onto E-deck. He turned and headed toward sickbay, then noticed something strange on the deckplating. He knelt down and touched an unusually dark spot. "Blood?" he muttered, perplexed. "What is going on?" He rose.
"Sir," said Sato, startling him. "I have a couple of suggestions regarding some communications protocols. I wonder if I could meet with you sometime soon to discuss them?"
"Sure, fine," he answered, only half aware of what the ensign had said.
Sato noticed his distraction and inquired, concerned, "Is something wrong, sir?" He showed her the smudge of blood on his fingers. Her eyes widened, and she looked him up and down, searching for an injury. "Are you all right?"
"It's not mine. Excuse me, Ensign. And have a steward come clean this up," he shot over his shoulder as he rushed off.
"Yes, sir!" she called after him.
Archer noted several more patches of blood staining the deckplating before he arrived at sickbay. He was about to open the door when Tucker emerged and they nearly collided.
"Trip! What's going on?" Archer demanded. Looking his friend over, he saw several blood stains on his usually neat uniform. "Are you okay? What happened?"
Tucker flushed. "Just a little accident, Captain," he answered hesitantly. "Everything's under control. What did you want to see me about?"
"Everything's under control?" Archer said skeptically.
Tucker's too innocent expression was a huge warning sign that he was hiding something. Archer knew the look well, and it had never fooled him.
"Well, if everything's under control, perhaps you can tell me whose blood this is?" He held up his hand, now sticky with drying blood, to point at the stains on his friend's uniform.
"It's Lieutenant Reed's, sir." The engineer made a conscious choice to use his lover's title rather than his first name. He was desperately hoping this interrogation wouldn't continue, but if it did he felt a bit of misdirection wasn't out of line. If it makes the Captain suspect a professional accident rather than a private one, I can live with a little deception, Trip thought.
Archer was well aware of Tucker's unusual reticence. It went right along with the wide-eyed innocent look he'd adopted. He decided to play along for the time being. "I see," he said. "And what sort of accident would have left a trail of Malcolm's blood across the deckplating of half of E-deck?"
"A broken nose."
"A broken nose?" echoed Archer in surprise. What the hell is going on? he wondered for the nth time.
"Yes, sir," affirmed Tucker.
"How did Lieutenant Reed's nose get broken?"
"It was an accident, sir."
"So you said." It's like pulling teeth. Archer regarded Tucker for several moments until he thought the engineer was going to squirm out of his skin at the scrutiny. "Care to elucidate?"
"Not really, sir."
"Tell me, Commander, am I going to have to order you to tell me how my Armory Officer accidentally ended up with a broken nose when we're not under attack and there are no fight certifications going on?"
Tucker's shoulders slumped and his face lost its innocent look in favor of pained embarrassment. "Please don't, Captain. You really don't want to know."
"I don't?" Archer had severe doubts on this point.
"No. Trust me." How to explain without having to explain? Tucker's frantically racing mind lit on an idea. "Remember last year when we intercepted that coded message from the Vulcans and it turned out to be a private letter to T'Pol?" he asked.
The Captain wasn't sure where his old friend was going, but that was par for the course with this conversation so far. "Yes, I remember."
"And remember I said you could order me to tell you what was in the letter, but you really wouldn't want to know?"
Ah, Archer thought in understanding. "This is something similar?"
"It's " He bit the bullet. " private, if you get what I mean, sir." Tucker looked at him with abashed but hopeful eyes.
"I see." There was a pause as Archer carefully considered his next words. "Is this the sort of accident that's likely to happen again?" he asked delicately.
Tucker's eyes widened in shock. "No, sir!" he protested vehemently. "I never meant It was just You startled me when you hailed me, and "
"Trip, stop. You're right. I don't want to know."
The engineer heaved a huge sigh of relief. "Yes, sir," he agreed.
"So, is Malcolm okay? You said everything was under control."
"He's in surgery."
This time it was Archer's turn to look shocked. "Surgery?!" Tucker just nodded. Without thinking, the captain exclaimed, "What the hell were you two doing that you broke his nose so badly he needs surgery?!" At Tucker's pained expression, he held up a hand. "Sorry. I'm sorry. We've already established that I don't want to know."
"And it won't happen again," Tucker reminded him.
"I'm glad to hear that."
There was a long pause as the old friends stood there, neither quite sure what to say next.
At length Archer broke the silence. "So, I don't suppose you're in any mood to go to the movie tonight."
Tucker stared at him a moment and then inexplicably burst out laughing. Archer found himself chuckling in response for no reason he could logically discern.
"No, sir," Tucker said through the laughter. He took a moment to calm down before he went on. "I promised Malcolm I'd be here when he came out of surgery."
"Of course. Do you want some company?" offered Archer.
Tucker nodded. "Yeah. I'd appreciate it."
The two reentered sickbay and immediately continued to the recovery area. They sat. Another silence fell, once again broken by the Captain.
"Do I want to know why you found my mentioning the movie so funny?" he asked warily.
"We were talking about the movie before before the accident."
"You'll be happy to know we're going to get that plasma injector for you," Archer said. It was on his mind, and he figured Tucker could use some good news.
The engineer perked up a little. "Yeah? Great! You decided it was worth talking to the Kreetassans again?"
"I hope it will be. After last time who knows?"
"Just make sure you eat before you leave the ship," joked Tucker.
Archer chuckled ironically. "I'll try to remember. If everything goes well, we may even be able to start up formal relations with them."
"Formal's right. I never thought anyone could be as easily offended as the Kreetassans. They should hand out a book to visiting aliens listing all the little things that might cause offense."
"I don't think there's enough storage space in all of Enterprise's datacore for a book that size."
Phlox poked his head into the room at that moment. "Ah! I thought I heard voices," he said pleasantly. "Good evening, Captain."
"How's Malcolm, Doc?" asked Tucker, rising. "Can I see him?"
"Oh, he'll be fine, Commander, in a few days. You're welcome to see him, of course. Although you might prefer to wait a little while."
"I don't think so."
Phlox shrugged noncommittally. "He's still under sedation, but it's up to you."
"Excuse me," Tucker said to Archer and Phlox. He quickly left recovery.
Archer regarded the physician. "Do you know what happened, Doctor?" he asked quietly.
"An accident is all I was told," the Denobulan replied. "And even if I knew more, I couldn't say. You know that, Captain," he admonished lightly.
"Yes, I do." He was stymied at every turn. He believed Trip when the engineer said he didn't want to know. That didn't stop his naturally curious nature from wondering.
"There are some mysteries that are better left mysteries," Phlox said as if he'd read the Captain's thoughts.
Reluctantly, Archer nodded.
In sickbay proper, Trip stood next to Malcolm's bed. The lieutenant was out cold, as Phlox had said he would be. Bandages hid his nose and much of the surrounding area, but the swelling and bruising were still apparent around them. Almost afraid to touch him for fear of hurting him more, Trip gently brushed mussed dark hair from his lover's forehead. He bent down and put his lips as close to Malcolm's ear as he dared. "I'm so sorry, darling," he whispered. "I promise I'll make it up to you."
He was surprised to hear Malcolm's weak reply. "You bloody better," he murmured.
Trip laughed in relief. "We Tuckers always keep our promises," he said softly, feigning indignation.
"Good." Malcolm's lids fluttered open, and the lieutenant worked to make aching, drug-weighted eyes focus on the handsome face so close to his own. "'Cause I'll remember."
"Go back to sleep," advised Trip. "I'll still be here."
"Okay," Malcolm agreed. There was no point in arguing; he couldn't keep his eyes open. He let them shut, and he was fast asleep.
Malcolm awoke disoriented. His head felt heavy, and it was difficult to breathe. He tried to look around, but could barely lift his head from the pillow. Sickbay, he identified finally. The events of the previous evening came flooding back with painful clarity. He raised a cautious hand and felt the bandages that enveloped a large portion of his face. Splendid. So much for the bad dream theory.
In the darkness off to his right he could see the shape of a body slumped in a chair. Listening, he could hear soft snoring. Trip, he thought with a silent chuckle. He's going to have quite a backache if he stays like that all night. He shifted on the biobed, trying to push himself to a sitting position.
At that moment, the curtain around the bay was quietly opened. "My monitors said you were awake," said Phlox softly. "How are you feeling, Lieutenant?" He raised the light level slightly, just enough to make the instruments clearly readable.
"Like my face impacted with a torpedo, to be honest," answered the armory officer. He gave in to Phlox's gentle pressure on his shoulder and laid back down.
"I'm not surprised. Whatever you and Commander Tucker were up to, it caused extensive damage to your nasal bones and maxilla."
"We weren't up to anything," protested Malcolm weakly. In fact they had been up to something, but nothing that should have resulted in physical damage.
Malcolm couldn't decide from his tones whether the Denobulan believed his protests or not. "You should wake Commander Tucker," he said, deliberately changing the subject.
Phlox glanced from the monitors to the sleeping engineer. "You're quite right." He raised his voice. "Wake up, Commander!"
Even with some slight warning, Malcolm started. Trip jerked awake and nearly out of his seat. "Huh? Wha—? Ow!" One hand flew up to his neck, massaging away the sudden sharp pain there.
"I expect your neck is somewhat stiff," continued Phlox. "I'll administer an analgesic if you feel you need it."
"Huh?" Trip said again. "No, thanks." He finally managed some coherency. He looked over at the doctor and Malcolm. "What's up? Is something wrong?"
"Nothing new," Phlox told him. "Perhaps you should return to your quarters," he suggested. "You'd be more comfortable there."
"Go," said Malcolm, surprising him. "Just because I'm stuck here doesn't mean you shouldn't get a decent night's sleep."
Trip checked the time. "Not that much of the night left," he said. He stood and stepped closer. He gave Phlox a questioning look; he didn't want to be in the doctor's way.
"It's all right, Commander," the Denobulan said. "I'm nearly finished." He turned his attention to his patient while the engineer stood by impatiently. "I expect the painkiller I gave you earlier is beginning to wear off."
"Yes," the lieutenant agreed.
"I know better than to give you more without asking."
Malcolm was stubborn when it came to medications; he didn't like things that clouded his thinking. This time, however, he didn't mind. "More meds would be welcome, actually," he said. At Trip's concerned look, he added tiredly, "What did you expect, love? It hurts."
"I'm really sorry, Malcolm."
"You can stop apologizing. It was an accident. I'm not going to hold it against you. But I am going to hold you to your promise to make it up to me."
Even in the dim light, Malcolm could see Trip flush. It wasn't his intention. He hadn't even meant to give the reminder out loud. Guess the meds are still working more than I realized, he thought, chagrined. I'll have to do my own apologizing later.
Trip gave Phlox a furtive look, wondering if he'd caught Malcolm's comment. The Denobulan was busy prepping a hypo and gave no sign that he'd heard the exchange at all, although in such close proximity he had to have. Trip gave silent thanks for the doctor's quirky sense of propriety and politeness. He could never guess when it was going to work in his favor, but he was very grateful it had this time.
Phlox pressed the filled hypo against Malcolm's neck, releasing a welcome flow of analgesic and sedative. That complete, he turned to Trip. "Are you staying or going, Commander?" he asked.
Much as he regretted the decision, he knew it was the right one. "I'm going. As soon as Malcolm falls asleep," Trip added hastily.
"I'll leave you two alone then. I'm sure you can let yourself out when you're ready, Commander. Don't keep him awake when he starts to drift off," he ordered sternly. "Any favors you have to repay should wait until tomorrow at the earliest, anyway."
Trip just dropped his head and nodded mutely. So much for propriety, he thought.
"Good night." Phlox smiled and left, pulling the curtain back around the medical bay.
After a moment, Malcolm spoke up softly. "Don't just stand there. Sit down. Talk to me until I fall asleep."
"About what?" asked Trip, his tone equally hushed. Nevertheless, he reached out and pulled the chair over. He sat and took Malcolm's hand in his own.
"Anything. Did you go see the movie?"
"I've been right here all evening."
"That can't have been interesting," Malcolm chided with a yawn. "You should have gone. I'd never have noticed."
"You might have. You might've woken up. I wanted to be here. Besides," his lover said gently, "I like watching you sleep."
Malcolm would have snorted derisively, but it was out of the question under the circumstances. He contented himself with a wry look at the handsome blond beside him. "Can't imagine what I ever did to deserve you."
"I was thinking the same about me and you."
Another silence fell, and Trip thought Malcolm had nodded off. Then his partner spoke again. "You're supposed to be talking to me," he scolded gently, opening eyes that had closed against his will.
"What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know." Malcolm yawned again.
"I should go."
"Not yet. Tell me about the engines. Have you found a replacement for that plasma injector that's been acting up?"
"Yeah. The Kreetassans have what we need. Captain said we're headed there now. Should be there day after tomorrow."
Malcolm moaned. "Not the Kreetassans." He was fighting to stay awake, and failing.
Trip chuckled. "Don't worry. The Captain's a trained diplomat. It'll be a simple away mission. Go to the planet, make nice, get the plasma injector, get out. I'm sure everything'll be fine." He watched his lover's eyes flutter closed.
"Just don't take " murmured Malcolm, already half asleep.
"What?" whispered Trip.
"Just don't let him take that dog."
Trip bit back a laugh; he didn't want to disturb Malcolm now that he was asleep again. Regretfully, Trip rose and, giving his partner's knuckles a soft kiss, left him to rest. Before he left sickbay, though, there was one thing he wanted to know.
"Hey, Doc?" he asked softly.
The Denobulan looked up from his computer terminal and turned a pleasant smile on the engineer. "Yes, Commander?"
"How long until Malcolm's all healed up?"
"I've knitted the bones, but it will be about a week before all the swelling and bruising have passed."
"And how long will he be off duty?"
"At least the next two days. I'd prefer three, if you could find a way to manage it?" he asked hopefully.
Trip was startled but understood the logic. If you want a stubborn and difficult patient to behave, you go to their significant other for help. "Sure, Doc. I can't guarantee anything, but I'll do my best." One look from the doctor and he knew his statement had been misinterpreted. Well, he thought, maybe not. If he was honest with himself, he had to admit Phlox probably had the right idea with his assumptions.
"So, at least two days off duty, huh?" he said, returning to his original train of thought. He chuckled. That meant he'd be off duty during the visit to the Kreetassans. "He's not gonna like that."
Stephanie took a deep breath and let it out before opening a comm line. "Cormack to Doctor Douglas."
"Go ahead," was the immediate reply.
"Hey, Kyrin. Do you have time to meet with me? I remembered some of that dream we were talking about the other day."
There was a brief pause while the psychiatrist presumably checked his schedule. "How does Friday at 1630 hours sound?"
"I told you not to let him take the dog."
"Come on, Malcolm," said Trip. "You can't blame Porthos. He was just doing what dogs do."
"I don't blame Porthos." The implication was clear.
"You're not blaming me for this, are you?"
Malcolm sighed heavily. "No, of course not."
He was more irked than angry. He couldn't argue that the mission to the Kreetassans' homeworld had ended with all parties happily in possession of what they wanted most—for Enterprise, a plasma injector; for the Kreetassans, a formal act of contrition from Captain Archer—but if Trip had listened to him in the beginning, and if Archer had listened to Trip He shook his head—something that had become much easier with the removal of the bandages that had swathed his nose for the past 72 hours. Too many ifs, he thought. If I'd been on duty, if anyone had listened to common sense, if the Kreetassans had bothered to check the genomes of all of the landing party members
"It was just a lot of unfortunate choices and circumstances colliding rather unpleasantly," the armory officer said at last. There was no point in stewing over it now despite the fact he felt sure he could have done something to prevent it if he'd been on duty.
"You couldn't've changed the Captain's mind, you know," Trip said. "I couldn't. T'Pol sure as hell couldn't. Even Ensign Cormack gave it a try." He begrudgingly had to admit she'd worked hard as the interim Armory Officer while Malcolm was on enforced medical leave.
"I know, I know. I simply can't help feeling there must have been something—"
"Stop beating yourself up over it, Malcolm," the engineer advised. "Porthos is fine. The plasma injector is fine. Even Starfleet's relationship with the Kreetassans is fine. Let it go." He rose from his seat on his bunk and approached Malcolm, who still stood in the middle of the cabin where he'd stopped upon entering. "Was there something else you wanted to talk about?" he asked suggestively, running a finger down Malcolm's arm.
"No." He knew what Trip was trying to do but wasn't yet inclined to play along. He felt like being contradictory for the moment.
"Come on. You didn't just stop by to chew me out, did you?"
"I might have," disputed Malcolm.
"But you didn't."
"We could have blown that whole away mission," Malcolm continued to argue, although his heart was no longer entirely in the fight.
"You're right. We could have." Trip's mind wasn't on his words. He placed a gentle hand on Malcolm's cheek, ran one thumb tenderly over his cheekbone. "Perfect. Just like the doc promised," he said, pleased.
"Hardly perfect. I still have two black eyes and I can only just breathe through my nose," protested Malcolm.
"You'll be all better in a few more days."
"A few more days. I've already spent more than half the month injured in some way."
"Oh," cooed Trip, lightly teasing. "Poor baby." He adopted a pouty look. "Malcolm doesn't like being sick. It makes him grumpy."
"Very funny," sniped Malcolm. He crossed his arms over his chest, his face an unintentional echo of his lover's expression.
Trip laughed. "Maybe I can cheer you up."
"I'll be cheered up when I go back on duty tomorrow morning, thank you."
"You don't want me to " The blond man leaned over and whispered into Malcolm's ear.
"You kiss your mother with that mouth, do you?" jibed his partner, but he was smiling. Trip's suggestion had intrigued him.
"I can do a lot of things with this mouth, as you well know," Trip quipped back. He nipped playfully at Malcolm's earlobe. Malcolm shivered.
"Oh really?" he asked, pretending to doubt. "Prove it."
"Mine or yours?"
"What do you think?"
Trip stepped away suddenly, and Malcolm felt a quick pang at the loss of the close contact. Before he could ask the younger man what he was doing, Trip spoke up.
"Just putting a 'Do Not Disturb' order on both our comms. Now the only ones who can interrupt are T'Pol or the Captain—and only if it's an emergency," he quickly added. He returned to his lover and stood very close. "Now, where were we?"