On his way to the mess hall for breakfast, Reed briefly considered stopping by sickbay to check on Cormack. Then he remembered a comment she'd once made about not being much of a morning person. Combining that fact with the trauma she'd experienced on the collapsing alien vessel, he decided to wait until mid-day to visit her.
So, the first official order of business for the day was to present his mission report to the captain. Malcolm sat at breakfast going over the report one last time.
"Mornin', Lieutenant," said Trip. "Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all, Commander," answered Malcolm, setting his datapad aside.
"Mission report?" Trip asked, sitting down and tucking into his scrambled eggs.
"Yes. Figured I'd best give it one more look before handing it in to the captain."
The Chief Engineer nodded his agreement, took a swallow of orange juice. "I sent mine just a few minutes ago. I don't usually like being there when he gets it, you know? Too much like being back in school. Especially since Hoshi and I don't know yet what, if anything, we actually managed to get from that alien computer."
"I trust you'll let me know if there's anything on their defensive systems and weaponry? Even damaged, it looked like quite a set up."
"You bet," Trip assured him. "I'm meeting with Hoshi at 0900 to work on it. So, how's Ensign Cormack doing?"
"I haven't been to see her yet this morning," Reed admitted. "After yesterday, I expect she could use her rest. Although, Dr. Phlox said last night she's going to be all right."
"That's good news. You really handled that well, you know. I was impressed; I bet the captain will be, too."
"I just did what needed to be done," said Malcolm, not meeting Trip's gaze. He wasn't overly comfortable with open praise—especially when the incident in question so easily could have gone the other way. "I'm planning to stop in and visit Cormack this afternoon."
"I'm sure she'll appreciate it. I know I did when I was hurt."
A thrill of energy raced through Reed's body. He tried to shake it off, hoped it went unnoticed by his breakfast companion. Trying to play it cool, he joked, "Which time?"
Trip looked at him across the small table, and said sincerely, "Both." He continued, oblivious to the fact that Malcolm had all but stopped breathing. "It means a lot to know you have friends looking out for you. I'm sure Ensign Cormack'll feel the same way I did."
Not exactly what I was hoping to hear, thought Reed, unable to avoid feeling a stab of disappointment. You've no one to blame but yourself, you know. You can't expect him to read your mind, and you certainly wouldn't want him to, considering where it's been lately.
Aloud, he said, "I should get going. I've got a lot to do this morning."
Reed spent the morning working on the modifications to the torpedo he and Cormack had opened up the day before. Was it only yesterday? A lot had happened in barely twenty-four hours. But then, that was the way of it aboard Enterprise; it was something of an "all-or-nothing" routine.
By lunchtime, he was more than ready for a break. He set down the scanner he was studying and rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger. There was something he was missing, he knew, but he'd been staring at the problem so long he couldn't see what it was.
"Definitely time for a break," he said to himself.
Making a quick stop at the mess hall to grab a cup of tea, he headed to sickbay. He found Dr. Phlox working on something he didn't recognize or even want to know about. Phlox was very good at what he did, but Reed found it was best not to ask too many questions of the alien doctor. Better to let him treat you and then find out afterwards what he treated you with.
"Hello, Doctor," Malcolm said.
"Good afternoon, Lieutenant," Phlox said, setting aside his current project. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm here to see Ensign Cormack, if she's up to having visitors."
"Certainly! She'll be glad of some company, I expect. Ensign Cutler brought her some mail earlier, but she's still having trouble with bright lights and focusing on small objects."
"Will that improve?" Reed asked, concerned.
"In a few days," the doctor assured him. "There's still some swelling behind her right eye from the blow to the head she took. It should dissipate naturally in a day or two."
"Good. Can I see her now?"
"Go right ahead, but don't stay too long. She's still weak, and I don't want her getting overtired." The doctor waved him through to Recovery.
The lights in the room were dim but not dark as he entered. Cormack lay on the bed. She looked to be asleep, but as he approached, her eyes opened and she looked at him.
"Lieutenant?" she said, squinting painfully.
"How are you?" he asked, stepping to the bedside so she wouldn't have to strain so hard to see him.
"Not great," she admitted, "but better. Thanks to you."
Reed gave a noncommittal shrug. He genuinely couldn't think of anything to say.
"I owe you my life," said Cormack.
"No, you don't," he said quickly.
"I'd be dead if you hadn't gotten me out of there and given me CPR. In my book, that's big check mark in the life-owing column."
"Just get better. That's all." He pulled over a chair and sat beside the bed. "Can you remember what happened?" he asked, curious despite himself.
"No. Just the shipquake, then nothing until I came to in the shuttlepod. I'm not even sure what hit me."
"You said it was a wall," Reed informed her.
"No wonder it hurt so much. Any word on when the doc's going to let me out of here?" she asked.
"What's your hurry? Have you got some big plans for the weekend?" he asked, gently teasing.
"Hardly. And you didn't answer the question."
"Dr. Phlox didn't say, but I got the impression it's going to be a few days."
"But I'm already going stir-crazy," the ensign complained.
"I doubt you'd be any less stir-crazy in your quarters. You certainly don't think the doctor is going to release you to duty yet, do you?"
"No," Stephanie grudgingly agreed. "But at least in my quarters I can listen to music. You'd think the ship's designers would have been smart enough to put in a sound system or something else entertaining for when people are stuck here."
"Perhaps you can suggest it when they build the new model," Reed said, chuckling.
"I just might," she answered. She gestured futilely at the datapad on the bedside table. "Liz brought me a letter from my sister, but I can't even read it. It makes my head hurt to try."
"Then I recommend you don't try. Why don't you get some sleep? The time will pass more quickly."
"Can't sleep. Bored," she said a little petulantly.
"Thanks very much," Reed said in mock offence.
"That's not what—" Cormack began to protest, then caught the teasing smile on the lieutenant's face. "Just for that, do me a favor."
"What would that be?"
"Skim through the letter and tell me if it says who won the All-Star Game."
"Baseball. I want to know if the AL or NL won this year."
"I really don't think I should," Reed said hesitantly. "There may be something personal you wouldn't want someone else to see."
"Please, Malcolm?" Stephanie all but pleaded. "They played it over three weeks ago, and I don't even know which of my guys started the game!" She gave him her most pathetic look, which was greatly enhanced by the bandage above her bruised right eye.
Reed considered her expression for a moment. "You're doing that just to make me feel guilty," he accused.
"Only if it works," she assured him.
In the end, he set his mug of tea on the table and reluctantly picked up the datapad. He was skimming through the screens when Dr. Phlox came in holding a portable medical scanner. He ran it slowly over Cormack as he spoke. "I hope Lieutenant Reed isn't wearing you out."
"Rather the opposite," muttered Reed, not looking up from the datapad.
Phlox gave a small chuckle, reviewed the information from his scan. "Head hurting again?" he asked Stephanie.
"A little," she admitted.
"You should tell me when you're in pain," he chided her gently. He crossed to a cabinet and picked up a hypospray.
"It's just a little headache."
"You'll recover more quickly if your body can concentrate solely on healing. Even a 'little headache' can be a distraction to your system." He placed the hypospray against her neck, released the drug. "This will relieve the pain, but it may also make you a bit sleepy. If it does, don't fight it. And you," he turned to Reed, who looked up at him, "see that she does as she's told."
"I have a hard enough time of that when we're on duty," said Reed wryly.
"As if!" protested Cormack.
Phlox chuckled again. "If I didn't know better," he said, "I'd say you two sound like an 'old married couple'. Lieutenant, please don't take too much longer here. Ensign Cormack does need to get more rest." He left the room, blissfully unaware of the reaction his statement had made on the remaining two occupants.
There was an awkward pause as each was caught up in his or her own thoughts, unaware that they were thinking almost the same thing.
Eventually, desperate to break the silence, Cormack said, "Did you find it?"
"What?" Reed looked at her, startled.
"The game. Did you find who won?"
He turned his attention back to the datapad screen. "Not yet. I've seen 'baseball' a couple of times but Hang on. Here it is. The American League won."
"Good! What was the score?" she added through a yawn.
He scanned down the page a little farther. "Two to one in the tenth inning."
"Hmm. Either the bats were dead or it was one hell of a pitchers' battle. Who got the win?"
"Sorry?" He was unsure if it was his own ignorance about the game or the drug affecting Cormack, but he was fairly certain he'd just answered that question.
"Pitcher. Who was the winning pitcher?" She yawned again, her eyelids drooping.
"I'd better go," Malcolm said, setting the datapad back on the table and picking up his tea.
"No, wait, I jus' wanna know " she trailed off, and Reed wondered if she was already asleep.
"I'll come back later and give you all the details, all right?" he said softly.
"Mmm. Okay. Long s'we won," murmured Cormack, her words slurring more and more. She fought unsuccessfully to keep her eyes open as she said, "Thanks f'r checkin' up on me. 'Preciate it " She was fading fast, and Reed could only catch a few words, but what he caught stunned him rigid. " make a good boyfriend C'mmander Tucker's lucky " But the sentence went unfinished as she drifted off to sleep.
Malcolm sat perfectly still, both hands clenched around his mug of tea. His mind raced. What did she mean? What did she know? Was she even aware of what she was saying? Worst of all: was it that obvious? He'd told no one but Dr. Phlox about his feelings toward Trip, and he knew the Denobulan wouldn't have said anything. If Cormack had figured it out, how long would it take for the other people he worked with daily to realize?
Something Trip said to him just after Enterprise had left Terra Nova popped into his mind: "So much for secrets on board a ship like this," Tucker had said. "Sooner or later, there just aren't any left."
Deciding there was nothing to be done about it at the moment he stood quietly, moved the chair back against the wall where he'd found it, and left the room. The lights of sickbay were harshly bright after the dim light of Recovery. He took a swallow of his now tepid tea, blinked a few times as his pupils adjusted.
"Is she asleep?" asked Phlox.
"Yes. Maybe she'll sleep better now knowing who won the All-Star Game," he said.
"Hmm. Baseball," Phlox said dubiously. "I tried following it for a time, but I just couldn't make sense of it all. Particularly something called the 'infield fly rule'."
"Not really my sport, either," Reed agreed with a shrug. "Yet somehow I've agreed to bring her the details of the game next time I stop in."
"That's what friends are for, as I believe the saying goes."
"I suppose so."
"And how are you doing, Lieutenant?"
"Fine, thanks," Reed said, his internal warning sensors going on alert.
"No ill effects from yesterday's adventure?"
"No. No complaints. Excuse me, Doctor," he said, readying his escape. "I really need to get back to work. And apparently, I have a bit of baseball research to do as well." He gave the Denobulan an ironic smile before slipping out the door to safety.
Captain Archer was sitting at his desk studying his computer screen when the ready room door chimed. "Come in," he called.
The door opened to reveal Lieutenant Reed. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes. Come on in, Lieutenant. Shut the door."
Reed did as ordered, and then stood at attention in the center of the room.
"At ease," said Archer.
The lieutenant shifted to the marginally more relaxed stance.
"I've reviewed your mission report. It's interesting reading, very concise. So concise, in fact, I almost feel it's incomplete."
Reed's expression didn't change as he asked, "Incomplete, sir?" He thought he knew where this was going, but had no desire to help it along.
"Yes. What I'm wondering is, am I missing a page? or did you make no mention of saving Ensign Cormack's life?"
"No, sir." He was right. He'd been avoiding this topic all day, first with Commander Tucker at breakfast, then with Cormack, herself, and again just a short time ago with Dr. Phlox. He had a feeling he wasn't getting out of it so easily this time.
Archer waited for more. When it didn't come, he said, "No, sir? No what, Lieutenant?"
"I didn't save Ensign Cormack's life, sir."
"Really? Because I have two other reports here that say you did."
Reed looked directly at the captain for the first time since entering the room. This was a man he trusted. If there was anyone aboard he could talk to about this, it was Archer. The question was, did he really want to talk about it? He made a decision. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
The captain didn't know what was coming, but he was certainly curious to find out. He regarded his Tactical Officer, realized that after nearly three and a half months aboard he knew little more about him than when he'd chosen him for the position. "Of course, Lieutenant." He hesitated to call him by his first name. His own instinct was to make the situation more casual, more relaxed, but he sensed from Reed this wasn't what he needed. He allowed the formality to continue.
"I can't be the one who saved Ensign Cormack's life, sir." Reed paused, took a steadying breath. "I can't be, because I'm the one who put that life in jeopardy."
So that's it, thought Archer. He leaned back in his chair. "Why do you say that?" he asked, although he knew the answer from his own experience.
"I chose Ensign Cormack for the assignment. If I hadn't, her life would never have been in danger on that ship."
Archer chose his words carefully. "You're right," he said, and noted the quick look of surprise that crossed Reed's face. "She wouldn't have been in danger there, but she might have here." He could see Malcolm considering this, but the lieutenant said nothing. "Whoever attacked those ships might have reappeared and attacked Enterprise while the landing party was away. Cormack might have been in the armory when a catastrophic malfunction caused her console to explode. Hell, she might have slipped getting out of the shower and hit her head." He paused, trying to gauge Reed's reaction, see if the younger man understood what he was driving at. He couldn't be sure; the Tactical Officer was well-schooled at the blank expression that accompanied the 'at east' stance. Maybe
"Every commanding officer eventually has to face the loss of a crewmember," he continued. "It's terrible, but it's inevitable. You can't let that potentiality cloud your judgement every time you assign someone to a mission. Be aware of the possibilities, and do your best to guard against problems. But know you can't control every variable, and you can't afford to second guess yourself."
Reed thought about what the captain said. It made sense. He knew it made sense, he'd just never had it put into words before. He felt a weight he hadn't known he was carrying lift from his shoulders.
"Understood," he said, finally.
The captain considered his Tactical Officer for a few more seconds, wondering if he really did understand. He certainly hoped so. "Dismissed, Lieutenant."
Reed snapped to attention once more, turned to go, but he paused at the door to look back over one shoulder. "Thank you, sir," he said.
Archer simply nodded.
It wasn't real. Malcolm knew he was dreaming, and he didn't care. He wrapped himself in his dream, sank deeper
into Trip's embrace. He ran his hands through his lover's hair, pulled him close in a passionate kiss. He wanted to touch every millimeter of him. Taste the salt and the sweet of him. They made love in the narrow bunk. Slowly at first, then passionately, almost frantically. Sweat-sheened bodies sliding, pressing against each other. Hands and mouths exploring every possibility. He sought solace and safety in the man he loved.
Afterwards, when both were too exhausted to rise again, they lay together, Malcolm wrapped in Trip's arms, his head pillowed on the engineer's strong chest. He closed his eyes, listened to the steady, comforting beat of Tucker's heart. Trip ran a hand through Malcolm's sweat-dampened hair, and Reed sighed contentedly. Gently, almost reverently, his fingers brushed across Trip's chest and belly, absently tracing the architecture of his ribs.
"Feeling better?" murmured Trip tenderly.
"Mm-hmm," agreed Malcolm, not yet ready for articulate speech.
"You believe again?"
For once, Reed woke feeling refreshed rather than frustrated from his dreams. He rolled to one side, peered through the dark at the bedside chronometer. It was still over three-quarters of an hour until his alarm would go off, but he was awake and feeling good, and he decided to get up.
"Computer, cancel alarm."
As he stood under the hot shower, he thought about the previous two days. Enterprise had almost lost a crewmember. A woman from his own team. A friend. The captain had put the incident in perspective for him. For his conscious mind, at least. He hadn't realized how deeply the near miss had affected him until his subconscious asked, in the voice of Commander Tucker, if he believed again. And his own answer: Yes. He believed again that he was alive. His dream that morning had been about more than simply sex. More, even, than love-making. It was a reaffirmation of life, of being alive. The thought was almost too much, too deep for so early in the morning. But it was true nonetheless.
He dried himself off, wrapped his robe about him, and headed back to his quarters to shave and dress. After all, he reminded himself, you have a baseball game to research. He smiled at the thought, then remembered something else from his visit with Cormack: the words "boyfriend" and "Commander Tucker". His smile quickly faded. It was going to be a long day.
End Log 6
As of 1 Sept 06: