The fact that Hoshi was right didn't help; Reed knew he was overreacting. He didn't need it pointed out to him. All right, so maybe expecting the landing party to check in every ten minutes would be pushing it but it had been over thirty. The ship's Captain, Science Officer, and Chief Engineer were on an alien planet with a bunch of Vulcans and an unknown number of unidentified "visitors."
"Ensign Sato, hail the Captain," he ordered.
The voice that responded to the hail only increased his sense of unease. And the brief conversation that followed confirmed his worst suspicions.
" or make any attempt to approach the surface," the unfamiliar voice continued, "and I'll kill the hostages."
He thought he heard Captain Archer cry out something. Then the connection went dead.
"I've lost the signal," said Hoshi.
"Try T'Pol " Reed fought hard to keep his voice calm. " or Commander Tucker."
When there was no response to repeated hails, he made his decision. "Have Launch Bay put Shuttlepod Two on standby." There was no way these Andorians were going to kill any member of Enterprise's crew—and certainly not its blue-eyed Chief Engineer—as long as he had anything to say about it. Captain Archer had gotten him out of the Novan tunnels; even were it not his job, he intended to repay that debt. He found he wasn't as worried about T'Pol simply because she was Vulcan. By nature, she was less volatile than the rest of the landing party; it seemed logical to assume she was less likely to draw attention to herself in a Vulcan sanctuary. In any case, he'd been itching for some action. If he couldn't get the kind he really wanted, a good, old fashioned firefight was fine with him.
He hated waiting. Night had fallen over the sanctuary of P'Jem, and there'd been no further word from the landing party. T'Pol was right, although he had no idea she'd said it; he wasn't reckless. But the waiting was starting to get to him. The worst part was not knowing what was going on. Was the landing party all right? Was Trip all right? He pushed the thought away, pacing the two and a half steps back and forth in front of the captain's chair until Mayweather spoke.
"Sir, you're wearing a hole in the deckplating."
The young ensign was obviously tense, and Reed's constant pacing wasn't helping. He stopped just as the comm system beeped.
"What is it?"
He nearly bit his tongue to keep back the cry of relief when Trip's voice came through the static. "Enterprise, this is Commander Tucker. Repeat: Enterprise, this is Commander Tucker."
Through the brief exchange that followed, Reed fought to keep his feeling of rising panic from entering his voice. " Andorians, yes. I've been reading about them in the Vulcan database," he said, stammering slightly. Damn it, Reed! he snapped at himself. Pull it together! "Militaristic, blue-skinned "
"That's them," came Trip's voice from the planet.
"Well, what do they want?"
There was a sinking feeling in Reed's stomach as Trip relayed the information on the Andorians and their hostages. At word of their abuse of Captain Archer, his fists clenched in gut reaction. I've got to get them out of there! he thought angrily.
He wanted to act, but his hands were tied. The Captain's orders were to "sit tight," so that's what they were going to have to do. Incapable of actually sitting still at this point, Reed resumed his pacing. He was too distracted by his own thoughts to notice the look shared between his helmsman and Communications Officer.
At last! he thought. He'd been idle too long. He hadn't signed on to Starfleet just to sit around cooling his heels when others were in danger—especially not when those others included his Captain, not to mention the man he'd been attracted to from the first moment they'd met. He allowed himself just a split second to think back to that meeting, to Trip's easy smile and firm handshake. He'd known instantly that those were lips and hands he wanted to get to know better. Shoving the memory aside, he ordered his team to set their phase-pistols to stun. It didn't please the crewmen any more than it pleased him, but he wasn't about to go against the Captain's orders when lives were at stake.
He stepped up onto the transporter pad. "Crewman?" He looked inquiringly at the hesitant man in question.
"We've, uh heard stories, sir. It might not be safe."
"I've heard the same stories." And if it weren't my crew down there, there's no way in hell you'd catch me using this thing, he added to himself. "Now get up here." He stepped aside as the crewman joined him and another crewman on the pad. Reed looked at Sato. "Coordinates set?"
"Aye, sir," said Hoshi from the control console.
"Then energize " He gave the machine in which they stood a dubious look. " before we change our minds."
Having his molecules scrambled and resequenced was a sensation Reed didn't care to relive anytime soon. The important thing, however, was that he had lived through it, and he had a job to do. He barely had time to register the presence of the landing party before he and his team were scrambling into a tunnel behind the wall.
It was over quickly, and by the end his own distrust of Vulcans (and T'Pol in particular) had grown nearly as great as Commander Tucker's. In all fairness, there was no way of knowing if T'Pol was aware of the surveillance station before they'd discovered it hidden in the Vulcans' Reliquary—but there would always be doubt.
"No wonder it's such a private, holy place," he muttered to himself.
He glanced at his bedside chronometer, wondered if it had been long enough since their return from P'Jem to check on Trip without seeming like he was checking on Trip. It had been all he could do not to follow the commander to sickbay. Archer had been in worse shape than Trip, to look at them both, but Reed hadn't liked the fact that Trip seemed unable to focus on anything during their short flight back to Enterprise. In the end, he made the professional choice and stepped out of the way of the medical team as they took the injured officers and his tactical crewman away.
He put the finishing touches on his report for Captain Archer, then stood and stretched. Assuming Commander Tucker had been treated and immediately released from sickbay, he should be in his cabin by now. Probably resting. You shouldn't disturb him, he told himself. He considered arguing, but he knew what the outcome would be before it began.
Six minutes later he was outside Trip's quarters. He rang the door chime. There was no answer. He was considering ringing again when Dillard happened by.
"Are you looking for Commander Tucker, sir?" the man asked.
"Yes. I had a question for him about the warp nacelles," Reed lied quickly, wishing he'd thought to come up with a convincing cover story before being caught flat-footed.
"He's still in sickbay. Maybe I could answer your question."
That would require thinking one up, so, no. "No. Thank you. It's nothing urgent. I'll talk to him tomorrow."
"Yes, sir," Dillard said amiably and continued on to wherever he was headed.
Still in sickbay, Malcolm wondered. That doesn't sound good. He began walking roughly in the direction of his cabin, not really intending to go there, but feeling the need not to stand around in front of Trip's empty quarters looking like some love-struck idiot waiting for his sweetheart to come home. The moment he thought of a cover story, he changed direction.
If he wasn't so hung up on Trip, he'd have realized sooner what he should have done in the first place. He entered sickbay, spotted Dr. Phlox almost immediately.
"Doctor," he began, surreptitiously scanning the room for other occupants. "I thought I'd stop in and check on my crewman who was injured at P'Jem. Is he still here?"
"I've treated him and released him, Lieutenant," Phlox replied pleasantly, bustling about the room. "His injuries were minor. He'll be back on duty tomorrow."
"Excellent. Thanks." Reed hesitated just slightly before asking, "And the Captain and Commander Tucker?"
"The same goes for the Captain. I'm keeping Commander Tucker a little longer for some more tests."
Malcolm looked around again. "Then where is he?"
"In here." Phlox gestured to the medical scanner. "In fact, I was just about to open it up and let him out." So saying, he released the round door, and the diagnostic table slid out with Trip atop it—dressed only in his blues.
Malcolm clasped his hands in front of him to hide his reaction to the sudden sight.
"I'm really starting to dislike this contraption," Trip said. He tried to sit up but was held down, gently but firmly, by Dr. Phlox's hand.
"Not so fast, Commander," the Denobulan said. He scanned the panels above the bed for several seconds.
"Well, don't keep me in suspense, Doc. What's up?"
Trip hadn't seen Reed, and the lieutenant was glad. He was sure his expression held as much tension and concern as Tucker's voice did. He was clearly trying to play it cool, but Malcolm could hear the slight nuances of stress in the engineer's tones. They'd been on this mission together for less than ten weeks, and already he was fairly adept at reading the man's feelings through his voice and body language. Now, if he could just learn what he really needed to know
The doctor spoke, drawing him back to the matter at hand. "It's not as bad as I feared," he said.
"That's encouraging," answered Trip. "Can I sit up now?"
"Not just yet," said Phlox.
And not on my account, thought Malcolm, enjoying the profile view despite the seriousness of the situation. It was at that moment Trip turned his head and caught sight of the Armory Officer.
"Hey, Malcolm," Trip said, squinting slightly. "What're you doing here?"
"I just came by to check up on you all, only to discover you're the only one left. Don't tell me someone actually managed to do damage to that hard head of yours?" he joked.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant," Dr. Phlox said. It was only then that Reed realized how close he was standing to the diagnostic bed.
"Sorry," he said, backing up to give the doctor more room. I don't remember walking over here, he puzzled. That's a bad sign. Admit it, Malcolm—you've got it bad.
Phlox was still speaking, and he focused on the words. " fairly severe concussion, which is what's causing your dizziness and nausea. Don't worry. It's easily treated. Just lie still while I get the necessary remedy. Won't take a moment." He bustled off to get the item in question.
This time, Reed consciously stepped forward to the bedside. "Looks like the swelling's gone down already," he said, looking down at Trip's eye. "You look much better than you did back in the shuttlepod." He wanted to reach out, soothe away the pain in Trip's face. He succeeded in quelling the impulse, then felt oddly disappointed by his success.
"Who'd've thought one hit would've done so much damage, huh?" Trip gave a wry half-smile with the uninjured side of his face.
"Depends what that Andorian hit you with."
"Back end of one of those phase-rifles, actually."
Reed winced. "Ouch."
"You're telling me."
"Here we are." Dr. Phlox returned then, medicine in hand. "Just what the doctor ordered." He smiled at the ages old quip he'd only recently learned.
"I'll get out of your way, then," Reed said, backing away from the bed once again. "I'll see you tomorrow, Trip. I'm glad you're feeling better," he added, giving the commander a good-bye nod. "Doctor."
"Get some rest, Lieutenant," the doctor said to his retreating form. "You're looking a bit worn out, yourself."
"I will. Thanks." He made his escape and headed quickly to his cabin. That's not weariness, doctor, he thought, stepping into a blessedly empty lift. It's repressed sexual tension, and resting isn't going to make it go away.
Upon reaching his quarters, he immediately traded his uniform for workout gear and headed back out again. He figured twenty minutes beating up a punching bag would probably do the job nicely. A memory of Trip in his blues flashed through his mind. Okay, he amended, maybe thirty.
"Wow, Lieutenant," said a female voice. "Did the bag do something to piss you off?"
Reed abruptly stopped punching and kicking, and used both hands to stop the shuddering of the heavy punching bag. He'd lost track of how long he'd been in the gym, but it was long enough that the tape around his hands and bare feet was showing the wear. He was covered in sweat, and his shirt and loose-fitting, drawstring pants clung to him with it.
Having been caught completely unawares, he mustered as much self-possession as he could and looked at the person who'd spoken. "Ensign Cormack, hello," he said.
"Namaste," the blonde-haired ensign greeted him in return, giving a small bow. "We're off duty. You should just call me Stephanie," Cormack added with apparent ease. "Now, are you going to tell me what that poor bag did to call down your wrath so that I can avoid making the same mistake in the future?" She smiled, and Malcolm couldn't help but smile back.
"Nothing, I'm afraid."
"Yikes," quipped the ensign. "Note to self, beware Lieutenant Reed's unpredictable temper."
Reed chuckled. "If I'm going to call you Stephanie, you should call me Malcolm," he said, surprising himself. He wasn't always comfortable talking to women, but he'd worked with Cormack long enough to dispel his initial awkwardness. "So, what are you doing here?"
"Yoga." She indicated the thin mat she carried under one arm. "I've never yet been on a ship where there was enough room to do it my quarters, so here I am."
"I'll leave you to it, then. I'm sure all my pummeling would be rather distracting."
"Don't let me run you out," Cormack said quickly. "I've done yoga in here when there was a lot more noise than you were making when I came in just now. Besides, I always have these." She pulled out a small pair of headphones from the depths of a pants-pocket. "But I'm pretty good at blocking out extraneous sounds."
"It's all right. I should really go," Reed said. "Give this punching bag a chance to recover from its injuries." It was a lame joke and he knew it, but he wasn't trying to impress Cormack. Better to get the pointless chatter out of his system with her than have it come babbling out next time he saw Trip. He started to go.
"I have some thoughts about improving the accuracy of the ship's targeting scanners," Cormack blurted out. "Maybe I could discuss them with you tomorrow?"
He glanced back at her over his shoulder. "Certainly. I appreciated your input the other week on the phasic weapons. I'd like to hear your newest ideas. Are you free tomorrow at 1630 hours?"
"Off duty, remember?"
He gave her another friendly smile. "See you then, Stephanie." He picked up the towel he'd left on the nearby bench, mopped some of the sweat from his face and neck. He left the gym then, and so missed seeing the elated smile that spread across Cormack's face.
"Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, personal log: I'm still getting nowhere with Trip. I know I could go into the crew manifests and probably learn something useful, but it just feels so invasive, not to mention cowardly." Reed paused, thinking. "On the bright side, if things continue the way they are now, I'm going to be fitter than I've ever been in my life. Not a bad thing, I suppose. I'll certainly be prepared should the need for hand-to-hand combat arise in the near future." He sighed. "If you can call that a bright side. Computer, end log entry and seal with advanced personal code ‘Reed Alpha'."
Showered and ready for bed, Reed thought he might actually be able to sleep. The past twenty-four hours had been intense. Topped off by the nearly three-quarters of an hour he'd ended up spending in the gym, it was enough to wear out anyone—even an overly randy Tactical Officer. He tried to think if there was anything more he needed to do before catching some much-needed shut-eye.
"Computer, send mission report to Captain Archer, and notify me when it's been read." Normally, he preferred to submit his reports in person, but with the Captain recovering from the injuries he'd received at P'Jem, he didn't know when he'd be available. Better to send it electronically this time so it was there whenever Archer was ready for it.
"Computer, set morning alarm to the standard time," he said, shutting off the lights. He pulled back the bedclothes and climbed under them, sighing as tired muscles relaxed into the mattress. He lay there for several minutes, watching the stars streaming by outside until his eyes drifted shut and he fell asleep.
He lay on his side, spooned comfortably around his lover. Their naked bodies pressed close, not wanting to miss a single sensation of skin-on-skin. One arm was pillowing his partner's head, the other wrapped loosely around his waist. With his free hand, Malcolm brushed gentle fingers along smooth, muscular abs.
He felt more than heard the chuckle as Trip murmured, "Mm. Tickles."
"Sorry," he answered, equally softly. "Did I wake you?" He planted a row of tender kisses across Trip's shoulder, felt the resultant shiver that ran through the engineer's body. "Maybe I can make it up to you." He nibbled teasingly at an earlobe as his hand trailed lower. Strong but gentle fingers drew circular patterns along Tucker's belly, following the line of soft hairs down to their target.
Trip was already hard, and as Malcolm grasped him, he felt the tumescence echoed in his own member. He pressed closer as Trip gasped with pleasure. "You can wake me up this way anytime," the engineer practically purred.
Reed woke suddenly to the incessant chirping of his alarm and the hollowness of an empty bed, the only reality of his dream his urgently throbbing erection.
"Good bloody morning," he snarled. "Computer, alarm off."
End Log 2
As of 1 Sept 06: