Cormack and Lawless strolled down a corridor on Enterprise's E-deck. Both were dressed for a workout in loose draw-string pants and tank-tops. Stephanie was already barefoot in anticipation of their yoga session while Mae preferred to wait until after they'd finished with the weights to take off her sneakers. Each carried a small towel and a rolled up mat.
"Can you imagine what it must have been like?" Stephanie said. "I mean, twenty-two years with no one but your father and a bunch of holograms for company? Yikes."
Mae considered it. "There were times growing up I might have wished my brother was a hologram. Then I could have shut him off when I wanted to."
Both women laughed as they reached the ship's gym and went inside. There were a handful of people already there, but no one was using the weights. Putting their mats and towels aside, they released a weight bar from the rack and adjusted it for a warm-up set of bench presses.
"And think about it," Stephanie continued as she stood at the head of the bench, spotting her friend, "they'll be on their way home in less than twenty-four hours."
"Commander Tucker said it's going to take them a year to get to Kantare," replied Mae between presses.
The blonde gave a small shrug that went unwitnessed. "What's a year in space when you've spent so many stranded on an empty planet? At least they'll be getting somewhere."
Mae agreed but didn't respond, her energy focused on her warm-up.
"Think the Captain'll let us hang out another day to see their launch?"
Slowly Mae lowered the bar into its resting brackets. She sat up. "I think so." She and Stephanie swapped places. "The Commander is down on the planet right now delivering a protein resequencer."
Had she been in the right position Stephanie would have favored her friend with a perplexed look. As it was, she merely raised an eyebrow and grunted quizzically.
"Liana—did you meet Liana?"
"Liana discovered ice cream while touring the ship. Commander Tucker wanted to make sure she could have it on the way back to Kantare, so he and I spent half an hour programming the resequencer for it."
"Why did it take so long?" asked Stephanie, setting the weight bar in its rests. The pair swapped places once again.
"The programming didn't. It took that long for him to decide what five flavors to program it with."
Stephanie chuckled. "Now that's funny."
Reed decided to turn in early. The shot he'd taken from the Kantaren energy weapon hadn't done any real harm; it was that in combination with the ensuing chase and fight that had worn him out. "Still," he muttered to the empty cabin, "better than being stuck underground with a bullet in your leg." That day on Terra Nova so many months ago had not been a pleasant one for the tactical officer. He considered himself fortunate that this time his recovery didn't involve surgery. Instead all he needed was the chance to relax and recuperate in the comfort of his own quarters.
Unfortunately the time alone gave him the opportunity to think about the events of the past few days.
He sat down at the desk and set the computer to record. "Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, personal log " He paused, uncertain what it was he wanted to say. He was feeling uneasy. A little part of him knew it was unfounded, but he couldn't quite convince himself that little part was right. "Trip's been down on the planet a lot. I know he's just there as an engineer, but I can't help wondering if there isn't some sort of connection between him and the Kantaren woman, Liana."
Malcolm thought back on Trip's brief outburst in the Captain's ready room.
"I hear you've been spending a lot of time with Liana," Archer had said.
Immediately, Trip was on the defensive. "Did T'Pol say something? Sir I swear I've been nothing but a perfect gentleman."
Archer gave him a puzzled look that was echoed by Malcolm. "I'm sure you have, Trip. This doesn't have anything to do with that."
"Oh," the engineer had answered.
A little uncomfortably, Reed remembered thinking at the time. Trip may have simply been embarrassed, but Malcolm had been unable to gauge just what was going on inside his partner's head. Tucker had been unwilling to make eye contact, and the moment had passed as the Captain moved on to tell him what they had discovered.
That was all past now, but Malcolm couldn't help dwelling on the brief scene. He continued his recording.
"I wonder if he blames me at all for uncovering Liana's lies. It's all for the better now that I did; she and her father will finally be able to go home. But does Trip see what I did as I don't know a betrayal? I was only doing what the Captain asked—researching the Kantarens. Still Computer, pause recording."
The computer chirped its compliance and Malcolm sat back in the desk chair, trying to formulate what he wanted to say. The fact was he'd enjoyed punching holes in the alien woman's story. It was petty, but it was true; he was jealous. Logically, he knew he had no reason to be. Trip hadn't given any indication that he was attracted to Liana. He was an engineer and had been acting as such while on the planet. It was Malcolm's own insecurity that was causing his doubts.
"Fool me once " he muttered. It was an unfair comparison. Trip had never fooled him, never betrayed him. To put him in the came category as He stopped, not caring to follow that train of thought back to the person at its origin.
"Computer," he spoke up. "Cancel recording and delete log entry, authorization Reed theta zero seven, confirm."
The computer chirruped once more, the entry erased.
Reed rose and got ready for bed. With luck, he'd be able to concentrate enough to get through another chapter of the book he was currently reading before going to sleep.
The door chimed. Archer looked up from the computer and called out, "Come in."
The ready room door opened and Tucker stepped inside. "Evening, Captain," he said.
"How did your visit go? Did Ezral and Liana get everything they need to get home?" asked Archer, gesturing for the engineer to have a seat. He rose from his desk and joined the younger man in the more comfortable chairs across the room.
"Yep." There was a pause before Trip continued. "What'd you want to see me about?" he asked finally.
Archer didn't know just how to begin—ironic considering he was the one who had requested Trip come see him upon his return from the planet. "I wanted to ask you about something that happened earlier. Something you said."
Tucker was at a loss trying to come up with something he might have said that would have upset the Captain enough to call him to task for it. He couldn't think of anything. "Sir?"
"You implied that T'Pol might have a reason to say something about you and Liana."
"Oh. That. I was just jumping to conclusions," Trip said contritely. "I'll apologize to her if you think it's necessary. I never meant to suggest that she'd be telling tale out of class."
Archer was even more confused. "No. That's not what I meant." He paused, thinking. "I mean Was there something for her to be 'telling tales' about?"
Trip's eyes widened. "No, sir!" he said emphatically.
"Calm down, Trip." The Captain put out his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "I didn't think their was, but the way you reacted You can understand, right?"
Deliberately, Trip nodded. "Yes, sir. I suppose it could've seemed odd."
"Exactly. I just wanted to double check. We don't know anything about Kantaren mating habits. I wanted to be sure we weren't going to have any more little surprises—like with the Xyrillians." His mouth quirked in a teasing and suggestive smile.
Trip took the ribbing as the apology it was meant to be. "No," he agreed. "We wouldn't want that."
"Besides," continued Archer, biting the bullet, "Malcolm wouldn't have been too pleased, would he?" He waited, bracing himself for Trip's reaction. He'd observed the growing closeness between his Chief Engineer and his Armory Officer. He only hoped he'd made the right assumption of its nature.
The silence grew, and Archer began to regret his decision to speak.
"No," said Trip finally, startling the Captain. "He'd've been pretty pissed off, I bet." He looked over at his old friend. "How'd you know?"
"Like any scientist, through observation and deduction I made a guess."
Trip chuckled a little, as Archer had hoped he would. "What are you going to do?" the commander asked.
"Nothing. There's no regulation against fraternization between officers. You two are adults. Whatever happens, I expect you to continue behaving like adults. There is something I wonder, though."
"Were you ever going to tell me?"
Trip looked down at his hands, realizing they were clasped so tightly together the knuckles were turning white. He made the conscious effort to separate them. "I guess I wasn't sure what you'd say," he said, not looking up.
"You're my friend, Trip, not just my Chief Engineer. We've known each other a long time. Long enough, I hope, that when something good happens to you, you'll let me know."
"So you think it's a good thing?" The fair-haired man looked at his mentor and friend.
"Yes, I do. You seem happier than I've ever seen you except maybe when I told you you were posted to Enterprise," Archer added with a grin. "And God knows I've never seen Malcolm smile so much!"
Trip laughed. "He told me Ensign Cormack likes to call him 'Lieutenant Stoic'," he replied. "Guess she'll have to change that nickname, huh?"
"I think so," agreed Archer, chuckling.
"Mind if I join you, Lieutenant?"
Reed looked up into the pleasant, if somewhat groggy, visage of Ensign Cormack. "Of course not," he replied, gesturing to a chair.
"Thanks." She sat, never letting go of her precious morning latté.
"How many of those do you actually drink each day?" her C.O. asked, curious.
"Usually only one but that one is required." She emphasized her point with a sip and a sigh.
Reed chortled and shook his head. "I just don't see the appeal."
"We all have our little quirks. I for one could only eat that in the morning " She gestured at his ham and cheese omelet, toast, and juice. " when I was hung over."
"I thought you didn't drink," said Reed, remembering a brief conversation they'd once had.
He realized what she was implying and suddenly recalled what else she had said that previous time: Not anymore. It occurred to him that he must already have known; it was just now the knowledge was manifesting itself in his conscious mind. "Ah," was all he could come up with to say.
Cormack recognized his discomfort and immediately tried to assuage it. "It's okay. I don't mind talking about it. It just doesn't come up in conversation very often," she added with what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
With a small but thankful sigh, Reed took her attempt at lightening the mood and ran with it. "One does wonder how you get through the morning on nothing but a little calcium and an artificial stimulant," he teased. "Am I going to have to worry about you collapsing from hunger in the middle of an alien attack?"
"No worries there. I eat plenty, just not in the mornings."
Lawless just happened to be passing within earshot as Cormack spoke. "Hey, Stephanie. I didn't see you there," she said, turning and approaching her friend. If anything, the engineer looked even more bleary-eyed than Cormack. She nodded a tired greeting to Reed. "Morning, Lieutenant. Mind if I sit?"
"Please do," he replied.
"Sit," added Cormack. "Your crunchies will cease to be crunchy if you don't eat them quickly."
Nodding at the undeniable logic, Lawless sat and took a spoonful of cereal.
Cormack had another swallow of her latté and would have sworn she could feel the caffeine happily flooding her system. "If you don't mind my saying it, you look like shit this morning," she said to her friend.
"Fuck you," was the engineer's flat reply.
Cormack laughed. Reed's eyes widened.
"Sorry, Lieutenant," Lawless said, flushing a little.
"Quite all right. It's not as if I'm unfamiliar with the phrase," he said dryly. "I'm just not used to hearing it quite so unprovoked or so early in the morning. Except when I was quarantined with Stephanie, here."
"He's got a point, Mae," put in Cormack. "You sound like me this a.m. What's up?"
"I didn't sleep well," Lawless admitted reluctantly. "Well, I suppose to have not slept well I would have had to sleep at all, and I didn't. That's why the Cormack-like attitude and beverage choice." She took a swallow of her own steaming latté.
"Why didn't you go see the doc? Get yourself something to help you sleep?"
"That would have made too much sense. And by the time I'd finally decided to do it, it was time to get up anyway."
"Maybe if things are light in Engineering, Commander Tucker'll let you off duty early."
"Maybe." But Lawless sounded doubtful.
At the mention of Tucker, Reed's expression grew briefly grim, but the moment passed too quickly for either of his companions to notice.
Tucker looked up from what he was doing. "Yeah?"
"I'm reading a power drain. It's minor, but it's definitely there."
"Source?" He climbed quickly to the central station where Lieutenant Hess was monitoring the ship's systems.
"It's gone now, but " She trailed off. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she tried to trace the power drain.
"What is it?"
"I think it was coming from the Armory."
"The Armory?" echoed Tucker. Before he could continue, an alert appeared on the screen in front of them.
"There it is again!" exclaimed Hess.
Trip activated the comm. "Tucker to Reed."
The British Armory Officer's clipped tones came back at him. "I'm a bit busy, Commander. Can this wait?"
"No. What's going on down there?"
In the Armory on F-deck, Reed fought to keep the exasperation from his voice. "This really isn't a good time. I'm in the middle of an experiment."
"Well your 'experiment' is causing fluctuations in Enterprise's power grid. So why don't you take a little break until I can come down there and see what the hell you're doing to my ship?"
There was a brief silence before Reed replied. "Understood."
"Power back to normal," reported Hess.
"If you need me, I'll be in the Armory." Tucker all but leapt the half-dozen steps down to the main engineering deck and strode determinedly out.
Watching him go, the lieutenant could only shake her head and be glad she wasn't the one on the receiving end of her C.O.'s temper.
Cormack looked at Reed. "I'll " She paused, not knowing what she was going to suggest. She wanted to make a discreet exit, knowing Commander Tucker was on his way down and not wanting to be witness to the argument she expected was coming with him. It wasn't that she wanted to avoid getting chewed out by a superior officer; she just didn't want to watch her own C.O. getting chewed out—for his sake more than hers.
She needn't have worried.
Tucker entered the Armory, still striding forcefully. "Ensign," he began, "make yourself scarce."
"Sir." She shot Reed a sympathetic glance, but he was staring straight ahead at the Chief Engineer, no sign of emotion on his rigid features. Cormack didn't like that look, but there was nothing she could do. She hustled out of the Armory, leaving the two men alone.
Tucker looked at Reed. "So? Want to tell me what you're doing that's so important you could disrupt the ship's power grid, but not important enough to let the Chief Engineer know about it?"
Reed returned the look with a cool stare. "I'm working on developing an energy force field. I'm sure you're familiar with the concept from the time you spent on the Estvali ship."
Tucker's eyes narrowed slightly at the implied condescension but let it go.
"I'd run enough simulations to know the drain on the ship's power would be minimal—nothing that would effect normal functions," the lieutenant continued calmly, although under the surface he was fuming. "I can assure you, everything was under control and posed no risks to this vessel or anyone aboard."
"I'd like to be the one to say what poses a risk to this vessel," Tucker said sharply. "Let's see these simulations."
Reed gave a tight nod and called up the simulation results on the main control console. He stepped aside, allowing Tucker enough room to view the screen clearly. The engineer leaned in and examined the reports carefully.
"What about this?" he demanded, pointing at a series of figures. "You didn't think this would pose a risk?"
"Structural integrity was never compromised," answered Reed stiffly. "That was a single simulation, and I altered the necessary programs to compensate before we began actual tests. If you'd like to see the results of the work I've just been doing?" He keyed in the command to recall the data from the live tests he and Cormack had been performing.
Tucker examined them very carefully before finally nodding. "Okay," he said, his anger abated. He looked at Reed. "Just from now on, let me know when you're doing this kind of thing, will you?"
There was something in his tone that made Trip pause. He regarded the dark-haired tactical officer for a moment but could find nothing unusual in his expression or stance. Mentally shrugging off any doubts, he said, "I'll see you later."
Reed said nothing, but gave another tight nod. He watched the engineer exit the Armory and waited a few seconds for his anger to subside before opening a comm. "Reed to Cormack."
"Cormack here. Go ahead."
A small, mirthless smile quirked the corner of his lips as he replied, "It's safe to come back."
"Captain, we're being hailed by the Kantaren ship," said Ensign Sato from the comm station.
"Put it through." The captain sat up a little straighter as Sato patched the communication through to the main viewer. The gray-bearded image of Ezral appeared on screen. "What can we do for you?" said Archer with a smile.
"You've already done everything we could have asked and more." The irony of the comment wasn't lost on Enterprise's Captain. "I simply wanted to inform you that we'll be taking off momentarily."
"Glad to hear it. We wish you and your crew a safe journey home."
"Thank you, Captain."
The communication ended and the image of the alien man was replaced by the image of the planet that had been home to the crashed Kantaren ship for the past twenty-two years.
"They're firing thrusters," Mayweather reported from the helm.
They watched as the ship rose languorously from the planet surface. It left the atmosphere and turned smoothly in the vacuum of space, setting its sites for home. With a flash of light, the Kantarens engaged their warp engines and were gone.
"Travis, lay in a new course," said Archer.
"Heading?" asked the young ensign.
"One one three mark seven."
"One one three mark seven, aye. Course laid in."
"Ahead warp two."
Mayweather engaged the ship's warp engines and they were on their way, streaking off in a direction nearly opposite to the path the Kantarens had taken.
"According to the Vulcan database," said Archer, leaning back into the captain's chair, "there's an inhabited system just a few light years from here. It's not on our scheduled path, but we still haven't replaced our supplies so I thought we'd check it out."
"We've gone to warp," commented Cormack offhandedly.
Reed paused at the Armory's main console, noted the change in the feeling and sound of the ship. His shoulders relaxed ever so slightly. "You're right."
Cormack noticed the subtle change in her C.O. and friend. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. "Everything okay?" she asked, trying to maintain the air of nonchalance with which she'd started the conversation.
"Hmm? Fine," answered Reed. He was lying, and Cormack knew it. The ensign let it go for the moment. They were still working out the bugs on the new force field; there would be time off duty to ask him what was up.
Lawless couldn't help herself. She tried to stifle—or at least hide—the huge yawn. She failed.
"Tired, Ensign?" asked Tucker.
"No, sir," she lied.
He gave her look, joking, "Then I must be boring as hell."
Tucker laughed. "I'm kidding, Mae," he reassured her. "You do look tired, though. You feeling okay?"
"Yeah, I just didn't get much sleep last night." Try any, a little voice in her head said. She gave it a mental snarl, and the little voice shut up.
"Let me guess. You were up late gaming with Travis and the others, right?"
"Actually, no. I just couldn't sleep."
"I did my share of tossing and turning last night, too. Turned out the magnetic constrictors were slightly out of alignment overnight. Maybe that's what kept you up. I know I can't sleep real well when the engines aren't running right." He didn't mention that lack of company had also kept him from sleeping soundly. He was surprised how quickly he'd become accustomed to sharing a bunk with Malcolm—so quickly, in fact, he found he missed it on those nights they spent apart.
"I doubt it," Lawless was saying, "but I'm willing to believe anything if it means I can get some sleep tonight."
"Well, I took care of it first thing this morning, but if that wasn't it you might want to see the doc before you turn in tonight."
"I plan to."
"Tell me again where we're going?" said Liz.
"The Tandaran system," replied Travis. "Captain Archer's hoping we can do some barter and trade with them, seeing as we still need to restock some supplies."
"I've never heard of the Tandarans."
"Neither had I, but it's in the Vulcan database. There's not a lot of information, but Sub-commander T'Pol couldn't come up with a reason not to go, so "
"I'll have to take a look at the database. You never know when the captain might need a trained exobiologist." She gave him a wide, hopeful smile.
"If it comes up in conversation, I'll mention your name," Travis said with a grin.
The two were enjoying a little quiet time together before their friends were due for another gaming session. They were nearly done with the current campaign; Liz only had one or two little surprises left to throw at them. If they stayed on task, they'd be done very soon. She wasn't looking forward to finishing up the game, though. The prank she and Mae had played on her bunkmate gnawed at her. However, Liz had managed to convince herself they would be safe from Stephanies's wrath as long as the current scenario was still running. She had no basis for this belief, of course, but she found comfort in it nonetheless.
She snuggled in a little closer to Travis on the bench where they sat staring out at the stars. He put an arm around her shoulders, and she relaxed into his touch. At least here she felt safe no matter what her bunkmate might be plotting. Here was a place she could relax and forget about work, games, and the real world. Liz gave a small, contented sigh.
"What was that for?" asked Travis gently, glancing at her.
"Nothing," she answered. "Just happy."
He smiled broadly and held her a little closer.
Trip was at a loss. He'd stopped by the Armory when he got off duty, but Malcolm had already gone. He'd tried catching him at dinner but had failed there, too. Later that evening, he stopped by the gym. There he found Cormack in what he considered a highly disturbing and improbable yoga pose, but there was no Malcolm to be seen.
"You just missed him," Cormack told him in a slightly strained voice.
"Thanks," was all Tucker said before heading back out into the corridor. He didn't want to prolong the conversation; he was afraid the ensign would hurt herself trying to talk to him while she was tied in a knot.
He was beginning to wish he'd simply checked the ship's computer for Malcolm's location before ever leaving Engineering. "That would have been too easy," he muttered, striding down the corridor toward Malcolm's cabin. But he was out of luck there, too. This is getting stupid, he thought. He couldn't do a better job of avoiding me if he tried. One last inspiration struck him, and he headed toward the section's shower room.
One shower was running when he arrived. Of course, it hadn't occurred to him that he'd have no way of knowing who it was until the person emerged from the shower stall. If it was indeed Malcolm, that would be great; his search would be over. If it wasn't Malcolm He tried not to think of the consequences should he sit down to wait and have it turn out to be someone else.
The shower shut off, and he turned to make a hasty, and hopefully quiet, exit. No such luck. He moved too swiftly and banged his shin on the bench. The impact was so unexpected and painful he couldn't help letting out a startled exclamation.
Malcolm's face appeared over the stall door. His dark hair was wet and tousled, and Trip found himself smiling at the picture it created. "Hi," he said.
"Hi, yourself," replied Malcolm, a little perplexed.
"I was looking for you."
"Here I am." There was a small pause. "Are you all right?" asked Malcolm finally.
"Huh?" Trip glanced down; he was still rubbing the sore spot on his leg from where he'd collided with the bench. "Oh, yeah," he said, straightening up. "Just ran into the bench."
"So it seems." Still a bit uncertain as to the reason for Trip's presence right here and right now, Malcolm dried himself off and pulled on his burgundy-colored bathrobe. He stepped out of the stall, towel draped over one shoulder and sweaty work-out gear in one hand. "Was there something you wanted to see me about?" he asked when Tucker made no further attempt to begin a conversation.
"Are you okay? I mean, after that attack yesterday," Tucker added hastily, wondering why talking to his partner had suddenly become so difficult.
"Fine, thank you. Did you get the Kantarens everything they needed before they left?" There was a cool politeness to Reed's tone.
"Well, if there's nothing more—" Malcolm began.
Trip stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm. "I " He wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to say, but he knew he didn't want his lover to go just yet. He'd finally achieved his goal—he'd found Malcolm—but now the whole search seemed a bit silly and out of proportion. He flushed slightly, feeling oddly self-conscious. "I haven't seen much of you the past few days."
"You were awfully busy." Malcolm stepped around Trip and over to the laundry chute. He tossed the dirty clothes and towel into it.
The engineer watched him quizzically. There was a certain aloofness to Malcolm's attitude that mystified him, and he couldn't make heads or tails of where this little chat was going. "Yeah," Trip said. "I guess I just missed you."
Ever since they'd met the Kantaren woman, Liana, there had been a small kernel of doubt plaguing Malcolm. At Trip's words, it melted. He said simply, "I missed you, too."
Trip smiled, still strangely shy. "Really?"
Trip's smile grew. "Walk you home?" he offered lightly.
"Only if you promise to stay," answered Malcolm coyly, surprising himself. Bit of a one-eighty, Malcolm, his mind told him somewhat acerbically. Just getting back to where I should have been all the time, he answered himself, ending the argument.
"Sounds good." Trip reached out again and this time took Malcolm's hand. Malcolm winced slightly at the touch and pulled away. Trip's brow furrowed. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I think I over did it a little with the punching bag this evening."
"Let me see."
"I'm standing here in my bathrobe and you're pulling rank?" But Malcolm's tone belied his irritated words, and he held out his hand. "It didn't hurt earlier."
Trip took his hand gently, examining the bruised and swollen knuckles. "That bag must've really pissed you off," he said.
Malcolm gritted his teeth. "I suppose." He sucked air in sharply through his teeth, wincing. "If you're done, doctor " he began bitingly.
"That's a good idea." Trip released his hold. "Come on."
"I beg your pardon?"
"We're going to sickbay." He turned to go, but Malcolm stayed put. "Come on," Trip said, again.
"I'll be fine. A little ice, and it will be as good as new."
"Good as new, huh?" Trip reached out once more and took Malcolm's hand carefully; he wanted to make a point, not make matters worse.
Malcolm cried out, pulling swiftly away. "Agh! Bastard!"
"I love you, too," replied his partner sarcastically. "Let's go."
"Can I stop and put some pants on?" demanded Malcolm with equal sarcasm as Trip ushered him out into the corridor.
"Not on my account," the engineer replied with a smirk. Then his expression turned more serious. "What the hell were you doing to do that much damage to yourself, anyway?"
"Nothing," echoed Trip doubtfully.
"I must have gotten a bit overzealous with my work-out. That's all. I didn't even notice until " He suspended the thought as they passed a sciences crewman. The young man gave them a mildly puzzled look but continued on without comment. "Until you took my hand," finished Malcolm once the crewman was out of earshot.
"Your hand is the size of a grapefruit, and you're telling me you didn't notice?"
"You're exaggerating. And no." He didn't want to discuss it any further. Malcolm knew why he hadn't noticed the damage he was doing to himself; telling Trip wouldn't make it better, especially now he knew he'd been completely off-base in his assumptions. Never assume, right, Malcolm? he thought. Aloud, he said, "Can we drop this subject, please?"
Trip shrugged skeptically but acquiesced. "Sure." They reached sickbay. Just before he opened the door, Trip leaned toward his partner and said quietly, "Behave for the doc, and I'll make it worth your while."
Malcolm had no time to respond as Trip reached out and hit the control and the door slid open. Malcolm fought back the flush he knew was rising in his cheeks and elsewhere, shot a glance at Trip that clearly said, "I'll get you for that." Trip just smiled innocently.
"Hey, Doc," the engineer called out. "Got a patient for you."
Phlox turned from his work and rose. "What can I do for you gentlemen?" he asked in his pleasant tenor voice.
"Muhammad Ali here got a little out of hand."
"I beg your pardon?" said Phlox, completely confounded by the old human cultural reference.
"Never mind," said Tucker. "He hurt his hand." He gestured to Reed who held up the limb in question.
"My, my," clucked Phlox, gently taking it and examining it.
Reed bit back an obscenity as the Denobulan carefully tested one finger after another.
"He doesn't like it when you do that," put in Tucker, noticing and admiring his lover's restraint.
"That's not surprising." He released Reed's hand and said, "Sit down, please." Red sat, and the doctor pulled out a medical tricorder. He used it to examine Reed's hand more completely.
He couldn't have started with that? the injured man though acidly, but kept the thought to himself.
As Phlox continued the examination, Tucker explained the situation with a bit more mirth than Reed appreciated, but the lieutenant said nothing. In a small way, he was actually grateful. It wasn't the first time he'd gone a little overboard in the gym, and Phlox had been inclined to question him about it in the past. This time, though, Tucker's lighthearted narrative seemed to content the doctor; he didn't even give Reed an inquisitive look.
"There's a hairline fracture in your fourth metacarpal bone," Phlox told Reed. "Shouldn't take more than a few moments to fix." He pocketed the tricorder and retrieved another device from a cabinet. "Rest your hand on the table and hold still." Reed did as told. Slowly and precisely, Phlox ran the bone-knitter over his injured hand.
After a minute that felt more like ten to Reed, the Denobulan shut off the knitter. "Done," he pronounced. "I'll give you something to reduce the swelling, and you'll need to go easy on that hand for a few days, but you'll be fine." He replaced the device in its cabinet and selected a hypospray. Reed leaned his head a little to one side as the doctor injected it into his neck. "That should do the trick. Is there anything else I can do for either of you?"
"No, thank you, Doctor," said Reed politely but firmly. He was ready to be out of there and back in his own cabin. He stood, straightened his robe.
"Very good. You two gentlemen enjoy the rest of your evening." Phlox smiled broadly at the pair, his meaning obvious to even the most casual of observers. Thankfully, there were none.
The blush Malcolm had suppressed earlier rose to full bloom, although this time it was unaccompanied by any other reaction. A sidelong glance at Trip confirmed that he was in a similar state. Malcolm just managed a stiff "Good night, Doctor," before turning to leave. Trip was mute with embarrassment.
Phlox shrugged and shook his head, amused at their hasty exit. Humans do have the oddest reactions to the most basic things sometimes, he mused, tidying up the minor disarray their visit had caused.
Malcolm and Trip were most of the way to Malcolm's cabin before the engineer could speak. "Just how much does he know?" he asked in a strangled undertone.
"More than most, but still very little," was Malcolm's quiet reply. They reached his cabin and went inside, locking the door securely behind them.
"Just who knows what, exactly?" Trip wanted to know. He sat heavily on the bunk.
"As far as I know, only Stephanie and Doctor Phlox know anything for certain." Malcolm sat next to him, not sure if he should reach out or give his lover a little room to digest this piece of information. He was unprepared for what happened next.
"And the Captain."
"He figured it out."
"I see." There was little more to say about it.
"Are you okay with it?" Trip asked uncertainly.
Malcolm considered carefully before replying. "Yes. I am."
"He's an old friend," Trip continued, babbling. "I'm sure no one else knows. He's happy about it, if you care. I mean if it matters to you what he thinks. I mean—"
Malcolm stopped his lover's prattling with a tender kiss. When he pulled away, Trip was silent.
"I'm glad he knows," said Malcolm. "And I'd be lying if I said it didn't matter to me what he thought. He's my Captain," he said matter-of-factly.
Trip nodded in understanding.
"The fact is," continued Malcolm, running gentle fingers through Trip's fair hair. "I'm okay with anyone knowing Are you?"
It was Trip's turn to think. Was he okay with it? Was he secure enough in their relationship to let the world in on their secret?
He found he was.
"Yeah," said Trip with a smile.
"Good. Now that that's settled " Malcolm gave him a coy glance. " I'd say I behaved for the doctor. Wouldn't you agree?"
Stephanie was taking the long way home. She was still wound up after the night's gaming and felt like a walk before bed. Liz was spending the night with Travis, so she didn't have to worry about disturbing her by coming in late.
She turned a corner, strolling down a quiet corridor and passing no one as she went. It was already late, and most of the crew were likely to be asleep. Passing a familiar cabin door, Stephanie paused. She thought she'd heard something but wasn't sure. She waited, listening.
There it was again. She realized suddenly what it was and from whose quarters it was emanating. Giving a furtive glance up and down the corridor, she was reassured to find herself the only witness. With a small sigh of relief, she hurried on.
End Log 22
As of 1 Sept 06: