"Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, personal log: I've delayed the inevitable long enough. Although in all fairness, it wasn't entirely my fault. I had help from the Nausicaans and the crew of the Fortunate. Despite that, I've managed to gather the information I need. That was actually the easy part. It's knowing I have to deliver it to Ensign Cormack that's worrying me.
"Part of me wants to let the matter lie, but the responsible, adult part knows it's not an option. Stephanie's comments the other day, no matter what effect Dr. Phlox's painkiller was having on her, were too close to home. I need to find out what she knows, and what she believes she knows, and set the record straight as it were." He shook his head at the unintentional pun. "Computer, end log entry."
Finding the information on the baseball game had been easier than he'd anticipated. While sporting events weren't high on Starfleet's list of important news topics, he'd discovered an engineering crewman who's nephew diligently sent any and all baseball news he could find to his uncle on board Enterprise. So, as Reed approached sickbay, he had in his hand a datapad containing the text of two of the more in-depth newspaper articles about the 2151 All-Star Game, including the fine-print stats on all the players. He'd read the articles and, aside from the many abbreviations, they had made a reasonable amount of sense. The stats, on the other hand, were nothing but abbreviations; he decided to leave it to Cormack to sort them out.
"Good morning, Doctor," he said as he strode into sickbay.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," Phlox replied amiably.
"Is Ensign Cormack up for a visitor?"
"Please." The Denobulan gave him a slightly desperate smile. "Any distraction you could provide would be appreciated. She's a charming woman, I'm sure, but between you and me," he added conspiratorially, "she's an insufferable patient."
Malcolm had to smile. "I have something that should keep her occupied for a little while," he said, holding up the datapad. "All-Star Game," he explained at Phlox's inquiring look.
"You know you may have to read it to her?"
"I guessed I might, so I familiarized myself with the text. Hopefully, it won't go too badly."
"Then be my guest," the doctor said emphatically.
Recovery was better lit than the last time he'd visited, although it was still darker than the garishly bright sickbay. Cormack spotted him the instant he entered the room.
"Malcolm!" she exclaimed. She was half-reclined on the bed, a datapad on her lap. "Thank the gods! I'm going nuts in here. Tell me you're here to say Dr. Phlox is releasing me from this purgatory."
"No such luck, I'm afraid," said Reed, pulling up a chair. "How's the eye?"
"Getting better. It took half the morning, but I finally got through the letter from my sister. Of course, part of that is her overly-wordy writing style."
"I suppose you won't be interested in this, then." He waved the datapad he carried nonchalantly in the air.
"What is it?" the ensign asked, suspicious.
"Just two articles recounting your All-Star Game. Nothing important."
"Oh! Gimme!" she cried, reaching for it, only to have him snatch it out of reach. "Tease! Hand it over!"
"I don't know," Reed taunted, giving her a mock concerned look. "Perhaps I should come back later when you're less agitated."
"I wouldn't be 'agitated' if you gave me the damn datapad," she argued.
"The game took over three hours to play. I expect it'll take you that long to read these."
"Then let me get started!"
"Well, I was going to offer to read them to you, but if you're going to take that attitude, maybe I'll just leave this for you to struggle through by yourself."
"No, no! You could read it to me! I'll be good."
Malcolm laughed. "Promises."
"Just let me get comfortable," Cormack said. She settled herself back into the bed, closed her eyes and declared, "Lay on, Macduff!"
"You've got your characters confused," said Reed, playing on her Shakespearean reference. "Macduff killed Macbeth. Malcolm succeeded him as king. Remember that."
She opened her eyes and gave him a disdainful look. "I am not calling you 'your majesty'. Not even on duty," she deadpanned back. "You going to read that now, or what?"
Malcolm grinned and began to read. He was glad he'd taken the time to go over the articles once already. Foreknowledge made it that much easier to slog through all the unfamiliar terminology. Occasionally, Cormack would stop him and ask him to read a sentence or two again. "To get it clear in my head," she explained.
Reed hadn't seen anyone so excited about anything since the expedition to the Akaali homeworld. Stephanie's face held the same look of thrilled anticipation that Trip's had when Enterprise spotted the Akaali's clipper-style ship. The thought of Trip reminded him of his other reason for being there, and he stumbled over what he was reading. "Sorry," he said. He backed up a little and continued.
Cormack seemed inordinately delighted when she learned that not only had her team's closer pitched the last inning, but her team's second baseman had driven in the winning run on a two-out double into the left field corner.
"That's my Mac!" she declared proudly. "Best second baseman in over a hundred years! Did you know he had ninety-five RBIs going into the All-Star break?"
"I take it that's a lot," said Reed.
"League leader," Cormack assured him. "May even be a league record, but don't quote me on that. I'd have to check."
"There are some player statistics here as well, but I thought I'd leave those for you to peruse at your leisure."
"Gods know I have enough of that. Dr. Phlox didn't happen to mention--?"
"I feel like I've been here for weeks!"
"My calculations put it at three days."
"You're so helpful," said Cormack flatly.
"That's my thanks for bringing you this riveting sporting news?"
"Sorry," she answered contritely. "Where'd you get it, anyway?"
"Crewman Kumata's nephew."
"Oh. Okay." She didn't bother to ask for a explanation. "I'll have to remember that next time I need a baseball fix and my sister's behind schedule. At least she had the decency to send me the league standings. We're still in first place in the AL, in case you were wondering. So, what have you been up to?" she asked. "I know a little of what went down with the Nausicaans and the Fortunate, but you were there, right? Did that freighter captain actually set you adrift in a leaking cargo hold?"
Reed considered for a moment. It was another opportunity to stall, to avoid what he'd really come here to talk about. He took a deep breath and said, "He wasn't the captain. And, actually, there's something else I want to discuss with you."
Cormack tensed visibly. "What's wrong?"
Reed was slightly taken aback. This wasn't the reaction he was expecting--not that he was entirely sure what to expect. "Nothing's wrong," he said unconvincingly.
"You're sure? Because I've heard that opening line before, and it rarely bodes well. If we were dating, I'd expect you to dump me now."
"No, nothing like that," he tried again to reassure her. "It's just There was something you said the other day, and I wondered what you meant by it."
Cormack fought back a wave of panic. What had she said? She desperately hoped it wasn't anything about her erstwhile crush on the lieutenant. That infatuation had changed to friendship, and she was glad. The last thing she needed now was for Malcolm to find out about it. She couldn't remember saying anything unusual or overly personal, but with the drugs Dr. Phlox had given her, she couldn't be sure.
Tentatively, she asked, "What'd I say?"
She looked as apprehensive as Reed felt. "I couldn't really hear it all," he started. "You were falling asleep, and I couldn't " He fumbled for the right words, came to the conclusion there weren't any "right words."
"Oh my gods. Whatever it was, I'm sorry. I take it back. It was the drugs," she babbled, nervously.
"Calm down. It's all right." He looked at her. "You don't remember any of this do you?"
"No," she admitted, unable to look him in the eye.
It was an out. He really wanted to take it, but he couldn't. "You said something about someone being a good " He was reluctant to use the term, but it was what the ensign had said. " 'boyfriend'." Cormack paled visibly. "And then something about Commander Tucker?"
"Shit. I'm so sorry. That was out of line. Your personal life is none of my business. I shouldn't have said that, even with the sedative. My mouth just must've run away without my brain."
"Wait. Calm down," he said, again. "It's okay. I just I need to know what you meant."
"I No. It's none of my business," she repeated. "I don't usually talk in my sleep, I swear. I--"
"Stephanie," Reed said firmly. Cormack shut up. "I don't want to have to ask again. Please."
"Geez," she sighed. "This is really embarrassing. You were being so nice, I just thought " Now or never, she was going to have to admit it. "I just thought you must be a great boyfriend. I mean, if you'd go to all this trouble for a friend, right? I just think Commander Tucker is really lucky to have you as his partner."
Malcolm fought to keep his voice steady, neutral. "Why do you think Commander Tucker and I are involved?"
Cormack didn't know what to say. It was the last thing she was expecting from the lieutenant. On one hand, she was relieved he wasn't angry. On the other hand, had he been upset with her, she'd have understood why and known how to deal with it. This, though This wasn't at all what she had anticipated. "What do you mean, why? You are, right? I mean, the way you reacted when he was hurt last month I figured I thought " Looking at the expression on Reed's face, she suddenly realized her error. "Shit. I shouldn't have thought. I'm sorry."
"It's all right. You're not entirely wrong."
"Still, I should have kept my nose out of it. Sorry."
"Stephanie, stop apologizing." Maybe it was better this way. Maybe having a friend to talk to about it would make it easier. And maybe he was fooling himself because he was tired of dealing with this alone. Whatever the result, he decided it was worth a try. "You're right about my feelings for Trip. You're simply not right about his reciprocating them."
"What?" she demanded, immediately on the defensive on behalf of her friend. "What the hell's wrong with him? How can he not--?"
She shut up again. Her mouth opened, but she swallowed the apology before it could escape.
"Thank you." Malcolm thought for a moment, deciding how much he was willing to tell her. "He doesn't know," he said, finally. "In fact, you bring the total number of people in on this little secret up to a whopping three. Dr. Phlox knows," he added at her puzzled look.
"That's not what I'm wondering," she said. She considered carefully before continuing. Admittedly, her own infatuation with the lieutenant had blinded her for a while, but once she'd realized he was gay and in love with Tucker, she'd also realized the signs had been there all along: his reaction when they brought the injured Chief Engineer back from the N-class planet; the way he'd leapt at the call from Phlox that night in the mess hall; the way she'd seen him look at the commander when he didn't think anyone noticed. It was all right there. "How can he not know?" she asked finally.
It was Malcolm's turn to look puzzled. "Because I haven't told him."
"But " She quickly thought better of what she was going to say. Somehow, she didn't think her pointing out how obvious his feelings were to anyone aware enough to look would help any. "Why not?" she said instead.
"There are a lot of answers to that question. Where do you want me to start?" he joked dryly.
"Wherever you want," answered Cormack sincerely. "But, seriously, Malcolm, if you love him, don't you think he should know?"
Reed froze. Love? He'd never used that word, not consciously. "I didn't say that," he protested.
"You said you have feelings for him, I know. I also know you. There's a saying, I think it's Arabic: 'Love, pregnancy, and riding on a camel cannot be hidden.'"
"What are you saying?" He looked suddenly tense, like a cornered animal ready to bolt.
"I'm saying that, sooner or later, you're going to slip. You'll do or say something you can't just dismiss as friendly concern or platonic affection. Then what?" She looked at him, concern in her hazel eyes.
"I need to go," Reed said, rising abruptly.
"Malcolm--" Cormack reached out a hand to stop him, but he moved away quickly.
"I have a lot of work to catch up on."
"Wait, please--" But it was too late; he was through the door and gone. Stephanie laid back against the pillows, cursing her poor handling of the situation. He was her friend. He'd shared a huge secret with her. And what had she done in return? Sent him scurrying for cover. "Well done, Cormack, you big idiot. Some friend you are."
In the nearest lift, Reed was having similar thoughts. Bloody buggering hell. That went splendidly. You're a git, Malcolm. A prize-winning git, he berated himself vehemently. She's your friend, for god's sake, and what do you do? The first time she tries to help you, you go running for cover.
The lift doors opened, and he stepped out, heading for his quarters.
"Malcolm!" someone called out.
Yanked out of his thoughts, Reed stopped in his tracks and looked around. At that moment, Mayweather caught up to him.
"Just the man I wanted to see," the helmsman said eagerly.
"Hallo, Travis," said Reed, shoving his angry thoughts aside and putting on his best 'friendly-professional' voice. "What can I do for you?"
"You got a minute? I need to ask you something."
The last thing Malcolm wanted right then was to play Q&A. He'd asked and answered enough questions in sickbay in the last half-hour to keep his brain spinning for the next twenty-four. Still, maybe Travis was being honest in his estimation of only needing him for "a minute." Right. And T'Pol will be performing a stand-up comedy routine at dinner tomorrow night, he thought caustically. "Sure. What's up?"
"You headed to your cabin?" asked Mayweather.
"Yes." Bloody hell. Now what?
"It's just, I think it'd be better if we talked in private."
Reed's blood ran cold. He hoped against hope this wasn't what he thought it was. How damned many people know about this? he wondered. And am I going to have to have a heart-to-heart with every bleeding one of them?! I should just make an all-hands announcement over the ship's comm system.
Silently, he led the way to his quarters. He keyed in the unlock code and ushered Mayweather inside. He stood in front of the only chair, blocking access to it and hoping the ensign would pick up the hint that he didn't want this to be a long conversation. "All right," he said. "Shoot. What's on your mind?"
Mayweather fidgeted for a moment, eyes scanning the room for anywhere else to sit. Finding none but the bed, he remained standing. Reed, for his part, was trying to keep a friendly expression on his face. It wasn't fair for him to take out his frustration on Travis just because the young man had hideously poor timing.
Finally, Travis spoke. "It's about Ensign Cutler."
Okay. Not what I was expecting. "What about Ensign Cutler?" Reed asked.
"You're not interested in her, right?"
This was so out of left field he wasn't sure what to say. (The random thought ran through his mind that the ages-old saying was probably a baseball reference.) "Interested in Ensign Cutler?" he repeated, stalling.
"Right." Mayweather looked at him nervously. "I mean, I got that impression. Before. You said I mean I know I'm the one who's been pushing you to ask her "
Malcolm wanted to laugh. Instead, he stood there stoically listening, his arms crossed over his chest. The mischievous--and admittedly slightly vengeful--part of him was enjoying watching his friend squirm. He wondered what had finally convinced Travis that he had no desire to date Ensign Cutler. He'd said so on many occasions in the past month, ever since that evening in the mess hall when Mayweather claimed she had been "checking him out."
Travis continued to babble. Reed doubted he'd completed a single sentence in the last two minutes. Finally, the lieutenant relented. "Travis, if you want to ask her out, go ahead. You don't need my permission."
"Really? You don't mind? It's just, I didn't want to step on anyone's toes, you know? In case you were interested in her. After all." Mayweather looked at him a little sheepishly. "It's silly, I know, seeing as you and Ensign Cormack are together. But I wanted to make sure."
For the second time that day, Malcolm was stunned into silence. It took his brain a moment to codify what Travis had just said. When it did
"What? Where did you get that idea?" he demanded.
"Hey, it's cool," Travis said reassuringly. "I know you're kind of keeping it quiet. Both on the Tactical Team and all that. Don't worry, though. I won't say anything to anyone."
"We're not together!" protested Reed, standing. It was almost too much. His day had gone from absurd to surreal. One more step and he was afraid he would enter the realm of the existentialists and be lost forever. He had to stop this here and now. "Cormack and I are not dating, seeing each other, involved, or any other euphemism you care to use. She's a friend. That's all."
"Sure." Travis gave him a knowing smile. "Whatever you say. I gotta go. Thanks." He left, leaving Reed fuming in impotent silence.
"Sod a dog," he cursed, sitting heavily. "Could this day possibly get any more bizarre?"
Several hours later, he discovered it was the wrong question to ask.
Reed finished up his workout, made a quick stop at his cabin for a robe and fresh towel, and headed for the showers. Trip found him on his way there. "Hey, Malcolm," the Chief Engineer said. "Got a minute?"
Déjà vu, thought Reed, then amended, only better. "I'm on my way to the shower, actually." You could join me? his mind added hopefully.
"That's okay. We can walk and talk."
Reed resumed his journey, but at a decidedly more leisurely pace. Trip strolled beside him.
"I stopped by sickbay to see Ensign Cormack," Tucker said.
"Oh?" Reed replied noncommittally.
"She's looking a lot better than when we brought her in."
"Yes. I expect she'll be out of there in another day or two."
"Yeah. She said you'd been by earlier." Trip said, hesitantly, "She seemed kind of upset about something."
"Really? She was fine before." Before she tried to be a friend, and I took off like a scared rabbit.
"I wondered if you might know what was up. It's none of my business " he began.
How many times have I heard that today? wondered Reed.
" but did you two have a fight about something?"
"No." Not technically. "I read her some news from home, and we chatted for a bit," he offered. It wasn't all of the truth by far, but it was true. The two men reached the crew shower room and entered.
"Huh. Well, that's good." Tucker sat on a bench, and Malcolm sat not far off.
"Did she say what was bothering her?" Reed asked, unwrapping the cloth tape from his hands and feet.
"Nope. It wasn't really anything she said. I just got the impression she thought you were I don't know, mad at her or something."
Malcolm stood, tossed the wad of used tape into a trash chute, and stepped into one of the shower cubicles. He shut the door, draped his towel over it. He hung his robe on a hook and began to undress, dropping his sweaty workout gear on the bench.
Trip continued. "Now, I know I'm not your C.O., but I don't like people under me fighting with each other, you know?"
Under you, on top of you, standing, sitting, kneeling Reed's mind wandered. He turned his back to the door, not wanting to share the visible effect of his thought process. Sure, the plexiglas was frosted, but it wasn't a guarantee of concealment for a silhouette in profile. "I can certainly understand that," he said.
"So, is there something going on?" asked the engineer reluctantly. "Maybe I can help. I know it's tough trying to have a relationship with someone under your command--"
"I can assure, Commander," Reed said quickly, "it's nothing like that."
"No," he said, emphatically. "I'm not sure where people are getting that idea about Ensign Cormack and me." Although I have a guess. "Unless you've been talking to Travis." Malcolm looked at Tucker over the shower door, no longer in any danger of disclosing hidden feelings. His desire to throttle Mayweather had quite counteracted any other urges.
Trip had the decency to look sheepish. "Well, he did say something "
"Cormack and I are not dating," said Reed with finality. "And I'd appreciate it if you could say as much to Ensign Mayweather. I've spoken to him myself, but somehow I don't think he was listening."
"Sure." Trip gave him a conciliatory half-smile. "Guess his imagination sort of ran away with him, huh?"
"Something like that." Reed stepped down into the shower, keyed in the temperature he wanted, and hit the jet.
Tucker stood. "After all," he joked over the sound of the water, "you wouldn't want folks to think you were spoken for when you're not. Might put the kibosh on any potential plans you might have." He chuckled.
"If you had any idea " muttered Reed.
"Nothing, Trip," he called out.
"All right. See you 'round."
In the silence that followed Tucker's departure, Malcolm stood under the hot water, letting it pound the tension from tired muscles. Great, he thought, pumping out a dollop of shampoo from the inset wall-dispenser and scrubbing it into his wet hair. I wonder if Stephanie's heard the latest rumor. One more thing I need to sort out with her--or at least warn her about.
By the time he finished his shower, he'd made up his mind: he would go back to his cabin to dress, and go immediately to sickbay. He knew he wouldn't sleep well until he'd had another chance to talk to Cormack and straighten everything out. So, wrapped in his robe, his dark hair towel-dried and standing in random spikes all over his head, he gathered up his kit and towel and stepped out of the shower cubicle.
"Huh, I'd never have taken you for a white terrycloth kind of guy," said Cormack from her seat on the shower room bench.
"Stephanie." Malcolm wasn't sure what to say, so he stuck to the obvious. "You shouldn't be out of sickbay."
"I'd have guessed a dark claret color with a paisley pattern," she continued, ignoring his comment.
Determined not to be distracted, he asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Dr. Phlox released me."
Reed just looked at her.
"Okay, okay. I snuck out past the duty nurse. It was the hospital pajamas that gave me away, wasn't it?"
"You should go back before they notice you've gone. You don't want me to have to send a security team all around the ship looking for you, do you?"
"I need to talk to you. There's something you should know."
"If it's the rumor about you and me, I've heard it." He gave up convincing her to return to sickbay. Instead, he tossed his dirty workout gear and his towel into the laundry chute, and sat beside her.
"I'm sorry," said Cormack.
"Why? It's not your fault. It's nobody's fault, really."
"Still, I had to talk to you as soon as I found out. Liz stopped by and told me. I told her to stomp on it," she assured him quickly.
"I've tried to do the same." At her quizzical look, he said, "Travis," then added hesitantly, "and Trip."
"Damn it!" Cormack swore quietly. "Where do people get these ideas?"
"Well, with the two of us sitting here dressed as we are "
"Good point. I should go." She rose.
"Are you sure you can make it back okay on your own?"
"I left a trail of bread crumbs."
"You know what I meant."
"Yeah. I'll be fine. No dizziness, no problems with depth perception or balance," she assured him. "I'm just a little stiff from lying around for the last few days," she added pointedly.
"All right. Listen," said Reed, standing also. "I was going to come see you after I got dressed. Go back to sickbay, and I'll see you there soon, okay?"
"Okay." She turned toward the door, but paused. "Liz said there's cheesecake in the mess hall. Bring me some? I haven't been allowed anything really good since we got back from the alien ship. 'Proper nutrition will speed the healing process,'" she said in a mediocre but identifiable imitation of Dr. Phlox.
Malcolm smiled, chuckling. "All right. I'll do what I can."
"Thanks. You're the best." Just before slipping out the door, she added, "As I'm sure Trip will be happy to discover, when you're ready." She shot him a smile and disappeared.
Reed ran a hand through his now nearly dry hair, muttering, "That answers that. Barring a run-in with a troupe of ballet-dancing Klingons, this day has become as bizarre as it possibly could I hope."
End Log 7
As of 1 Sept 06: