Title: 3 Days
Author: Joules Mer
Pairing T/R
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer:  Enterprise is the property of Paramount.  No profit was made, no copyright infringement is intended.
Archive: Yes to EntSTCommunity, Tim Ruben, and BLTS.  Anyone else e-mail me at julia_ocean_child@yahoo.co.uk for permission.

3 Days

    "Tucker to Enterprise."  Jon grinned, Trip was a bit early for his check in, which probably meant he wanted something.  He tried to keep his voice serious as he responded.

    "Enterprise here.  Go ahead Trip."

    "I've finished the repairs Cap'n, but I'd like to request a bit of extra time.  Their engineer has offered to show me the charging system for their warp coils.  They can have them ready to go in five minutes.  Ours take almost twenty."  Just as he'd suspected.  The excitement was clearly present in Trip's voice and Jon couldn't deny him anything when he sounded like that.  He did have to be the captain though.

    "Malcolm okay?"

    "Yes Sir.  He's stuck passing me my tools."  Malcolm had insisted on accompanying his lover on the away mission.  Citing Trip's track record to the captain until Jon had acquiesced.  It now seemed that Jon had finally been right about an issue that the armoury officer had disagreed with him on.  The Enki were a peaceful species, nothing would go wrong on this away mission.

    "All right Trip.  Take your time, we won't go anywhere."

    "Thanks Cap'n.  Tucker out."  The relief in Trip's voice was evident as he signed off.  Jon sat back in the captain's chair.  Life was good.


    He couldn't say how much later it was when his seemingly random train of thought was unpleasantly interrupted by T'Pol.  "Captain, I'm detecting an energy surge originating within the Enki vessel."  Jon swung around to face her.  Her tone was as close as the Vulcan came to sounding alarmed.  Which, in truth, wasn't very close.

    "Is the ship in danger?  Can you tell what happened?"  He swallowed down his panic.  Trip and Malcolm had to be safe.

    "The ship doesn't appear to be in any danger, the burst was quite localized."

    "Hail the away team Hoshi."  The ensign quickly moved to comply.  When the channel opened the bridge was treated to a background of frantic shouting in an alien language and then the terse voice of a worried Malcolm Reed.

    "We have a medical emergency, Captain.  There was an energy burst from the charging array and Commander Tucker has been hurt."

    Jon felt his stomach drop into his boots.  "How is he, Malcolm?  Can you take the shuttlepod back?"

    "I don't know how their technology works, Sir, but he seemed to take a very bad shock.  His pulse and respiration are irregular and he's unconscious."

    "Understood Malcolm, we'll transport you back as quickly as possible."  He nodded at Hoshi and she closed the channel.  "Have Phlox and Lieutenant Hess meet me at the transporter immediately."  He strode from the bridge before he could see Hoshi carry out his orders.


    Lieutenant Hess had already managed to lock onto Trip's biosign when the captain arrived.  He watched as his friend materialized with a shimmer and got a quick look before Phlox and his team swooped down onto their patient.  They quickly loaded Trip onto a gurney and rushed from the room.  He moved to stand next to Hess and directed her to transport Malcolm aboard.  They could send someone back for the shuttlepod later, right now Malcolm needed to be here with Trip.  A few seconds later Jon found himself looking into the haunted eyes of Malcolm Reed.  The man fairly leapt off the dais and proceeded to set a fast pace towards sickbay.  The captain quickly dismissed Hess and hurried after his armoury officer.  

    He finally caught up with Malcolm in sickbay.  Malcolm had slumped over while perched on the edge of a chair, his head dangling between his knees.  Phlox was nowhere to be seen, obviously still working to stabilize the commander.  A thick curtain cordoned off a corner of sickbay, obscuring the flurry of activity that Jon could hear occurring behind it.  Jon moved and sat in an empty chair alongside Malcolm.  He recalled with an increasing sense of gloom how his friend had looked on the transporter pad.  His chest moving with an odd, halting, fluttering motion and his skin deathly pale.  It seemed like an eternity later that the curtain finally twitched aside and a figure emerged.

    Malcolm's head snapped up and he gave a strangled, "Doctor?"  Jon felt his heart sink.  He didn't think he'd ever seen the normally jovial Denobulan this grim.

    Phlox took a deep breath before speaking.  "I've managed to stabilize his heartbeat but I had to intubate as he was having a great deal of difficulty breathing on his own.  

Malcolm's voice was hoarse with trepidation as he questioned the doctor.  "Will he recover?"

    "He's comatose.  His brainwaves are abnormal if present at all.  I don't know."  Jon saw Malcolm slump.  "I'll need to talk to you alone, Captain.  According to his living will you are designated to make medical decisions in his stead."  Jon flashed a worried look at Malcolm but saw only understanding in the other man's eyes.  While Trip and Malcolm were completely in love with each other, they hadn't been together long enough to get around to changing their wills.  

    Jon stood and went to follow Phlox into his office when they were interrupted by a pained, "Can I see him?"

    Phlox's expression seemed to soften momentarily, "Of course, Lieutenant.  There is a chair next to his bed."  Malcolm nodded, hustled across the room and slipped behind the curtain.  Jon stared at the curtain for a moment before he was jolted back to the present by Phlox.  "This way please."


    Jon sat in the doctor's chair and regarded the floor.  He could feel Phlox's eyes on him for a while before the doctor spoke.  "I'm afraid it is rather likely that Commander Tucker won't regain consciousness, Captain."  Nauseated, Jon could only nod.  "Are you aware the commander is listed as an organ donor?"

    Jon looked up in confusion.  "Of course, Doc.  Most of us are.  What does this have to do with anything?"  Phlox pursed his lips before answering.

    "Are you aware Ensign Castleman is on the waiting list?"  Jon felt like the proverbial rug and been pulled out from under his feet.


    "In two years he was supposed to return to Earth and try to have a transplant as quickly as possible.  He has an unfortunate genetic defect.  Starfleet Medical could only guarantee his health for four years of Enterprise's tour.  This was to be his last mission."

    "Couldn't he still wait for the two years?  Give Trip the longest possible time to recover?"

    Phlox shook his head sadly.  "The commander's living will is quite explicit.  He is comatose without proper brain activity and there is someone here who is currently on the transplant waiting list.  He expressed a wish to be kept on life support for three days before we could proceed with a transplant.  Besides, there are some extenuating circumstances that I was going to discuss with you at our meeting tomorrow."  Archer's eyes narrowed, he didn't think he'd like the sound of these extenuating circumstances.  Phlox continued, "If you'll remember the mission to Ninmah Prime."  Archer nodded warily.  "The science team was infected with a rather peculiar virus.  I managed to destroy it before it did any damage to the other members of the team.  Unfortunately, Mr. Castleman had an additional adverse reaction to the virus resulting in a degeneration of the septum. This condition is continuing to progress and has even spread to the outer wall of his heart.  All my attempts to regenerate the tissue thus far have failed.  It hasn't yet reached a stage where it impacts his duties, but it will soon.  I was going to recommend that the ensign return to Earth on the next Vulcan ship we can contact."

    "What if Castleman doesn't consent to the surgery?"

    "Then the commander will likely die in vain."  Jon bit his lip and looked at the floor.  "And Captain, the ensign can't afford to forgo the operation.  His own life is at stake as well."  He nodded mutely and turned to go.  Phlox's parting words echoed in the corridor, "Three days, Captain."

    Jon wandered the corridors, lost in thought.  He remembered how Trip had played recreational football with a team of fleet engineers.  He'd always insisted on wearing the number 3 jersey.  Three had always been his lucky number.


    His skin is so pale.  I gently trace the tip of my finger over his forehead, down a sideburn and along his jaw.  If it wasn't for the tube coming out of his throat I could convince myself that he's just asleep.  I can feel tears insistently prickling in my eyes, but I blink them back with an almost monumental effort.  "How could you do this to me?"  But no, that isn't fair at all.  Trip never asked for this.  He'd been so excited about the away mission.  His eyes had sparkled as he'd touted the virtues of the mission to the captain and I, determined to see if their technology could apply to Enterprise.  Trip was always trying to increase engine efficiency.  I went along to keep him safe.  Lots of good I did.  He'd always said he'd never leave me.  A wide smile had threatened to split his face in two and his eyes had been radiant as he told me we'd be together forever.  I pull out the chain that I'd kept hidden under my uniform.  It sits unassumingly around my neck and a once comforting weight hangs against my chest.  The weight of the ring he made for me.  "Don't leave me, Trip.  Please."  The tears fall.


    I don't know how long I've been wandering around the ship.  It might have been hours as I can feel a slight discomfort in the muscles of my legs.  I'm right outside of the observation lounge so I enter and am grateful that it's deserted.  I don't bother to turn on the lights as I move to sit on the couch nearest the windows.  The stars hang motionless in front of me, an eternal expanse of space and time.  Trip and I used to come here when we were tired and overworked.  Talking together and looking at the stars always managed to give us the strength to keep going.  We've been attacked and have killed to save ourselves.  We almost died in a desert on Zobral's world, and on countless other planets where we're nobodies, our lives inconsequential.  We've made difficult, soul wrenching decisions.  I remember when I was sure I'd killed the mining colony.  Malcolm may have been piloting, but as captain I'd killed them as sure as if I'd opened a plasma duct myself.  Trip and I came here to discuss that.  He helped me deal with my feelings of guilt and vowed to find out what had happened.  I remember when the Vissian cogenitor died.  I'd been so angry, but more at myself than him.  I saw his actions as a reflection of every time that I had failed, of every stupid decision that I've made.  So I yelled at him, and kicked him out of my ready room when he needed to talk.  I found him here that night.  Curled up with his knees tucked under his chin, staring at the expanse of stars.  I'd apologized for my harsh words and we'd truly discussed what had happened.  There had been tears, but it was a much more balanced Trip Tucker that I'd sent home to Malcolm.

    And then there is Malcolm.  Without a doubt that man is the best thing that has ever happened to Trip.  I know I should go to sickbay, but it's so hard.  I don't know how I can face Malcolm.  I'm the one that sent Trip on the repair mission.  I'm the one that said he could look at their charging array.  I'm the one that has to decide how he dies.  Do I have Phlox work as hard as he can to bring Trip back to us, regardless of his standard of living?  Or do I give the crew three days to say good bye before Ensign Castleman gets a new lease on life?  In many ways I'm responsible for Castleman too.  He's the most brilliant stellar cartographer ever to come through the academy.  Only 23 years old and I'd bet his understanding of the field could rival T'Pol's.  I always insisted on having the best people for Enterprise's crew, I never thought that would come back to haunt me.  I stand up slowly and head for the door.  I'll have to face Malcolm eventually, better sooner rather than later.


    The doors to sickbay swished open and Jonathan Archer forced himself to cross the threshold.  The curtain that cordoned off a corner of the room looked forbidding.  The room was silent except for some faint mechanical sounds from behind the curtain, he realized it must be the life support.  He tiptoed across the room, unwilling to break the oppressive silence.  He reached out with his right hand and slowly drew back the curtain.  Malcolm was leaning over the biobed, the palm of his right hand cupping Trip's face, the fingers of his left entwined with the inert man's.  There seemed to be something dangling from Malcolm's neck.  Jonathan peered at it intently until understanding hit him like a ton of bricks.  A whisper escaped his lips, "Oh god, no."

    Malcolm's head snapped up as he turned to face Jon.  "Malcolm?"  Jon found himself walking over to stand in front of Malcolm, he reached out and traced the metal loop hanging around the man's neck.  "You were?"

    Malcolm's haunted eyes met Jon's, "He proposed last night.  We were going to tell you at dinner tonight."  
    An enormous weight crashed down onto his shoulders.  "I'm so sorry Malcolm."  The words escaped him in an unstoppable puff of breath.

    "It's not your fault, Sir."  The words were a benediction, but he wouldn't let himself believe them yet.  They both turned to regard the man laying before them.  Malcolm reached out and gently caressed Trip's forehead.  When he spoke he startled Jonathan, "He almost looks asleep."  Jon gave a brief nod of affirmation and gently held his friend's limp hand in his own.  "What's going to happen?"

    "Phlox in trying too find out what's wrong."  Malcolm nodded and Jonathan forced himself to volunteer the rest of the information.  Malcolm deserved to know after all.  "Malcolm, Trip has a living will."  Malcolm spun to face Jon and regarded him with sharp eyes.

    "Just what kind of living will?"

    Jon took a deep breath.  "If there is a patient awaiting an organ transplant he's only to be kept on life support for three days before he's used as a donor.  In the interim I'm designated to make all medical decisions."

    "Oh."  The reply was so soft Jon almost didn't hear it. Malcolm resumed his stroking of Trip's forehead.  Jon reached out and took Malcolm's arm, forcing the lieutenant to face him.

    "Malcolm, Castleman needs a heart transplant."  Malcolm's mouth dropped open but Jon continued.  "Phlox is going to give him Trip's heart in three days unless Trip gets substantially better."

    Malcolm regarded him in shock for a moment before he managed to rouse himself enough to rasp out, "How much better?  What do we need to do?"

    At that moment Jon knew what he had to do, for Trip, Malcolm, and himself.  "We need to get him to wake up."  Jon paused to digest the implications of his next sentence.  "I'm going to tell Phlox to do whatever he can for Trip."  Malcolm nodded his assent.


    Twenty-four agonizing hours later Jon found himself in Phlox's office for an update on Trip.  The Denobulan pulled no punches when discussing Trip's condition.  "In truth, Captain, I'm not sure what's going on."  The doctor motioned for the captain to join him in front of a computer terminal and began to call up data.  "From my scans I'd say there's actually several different things wrong with the commander at once.  For example, his neurotransmitter levels, specifically acetylcholine, dopamine, and norepinephrine, are well below normal.  While this is occurring in his brain, portions of his peripheral nervous system are not functioning, but I can't find any other problems with his central nervous system."

    Archer's brow furrowed in confusion.  "What parts of his peripheral nervous system?"

    Phlox indicated the data he'd called up on the screen.  "His autonomic nervous system is functioning normally which means his heart is beating fine on its own.  His somatic nervous system is partially affected.  There doesn't seem to be any problem with his afferent pathways, but the efferent pathways don't seem to be capable of functioning.  Somehow, the resting potential just isn't there.  At first I thought..."

    Archer pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration and waved his free hand to stop the tide of medical babble.  "What does this mean, Phlox?"

    Phlox's mouth snapped shut and he contemplated how to answer the question.  "Well Captain, it means that signals can't get from his brain to his effectors."  Phlox saw the captain tense so he hastened to explain, "His muscles and glands.  I'm unsure how to proceed as I can't account for his current state.  If I can stabilize his neurotransmitters and if he regains consciousness, he will be able to receive sensory stimuli and even process it, just not react to it."

    "Can you stabilize his neurotransmitters?"

    Phlox considered the question carefully.  "There is a conventional therapy that should work in this case, Captain.  The problem is that if the commander regains consciousness he won't be able to give any outward signs.  We would be unable to determine if his previous mental state is intact."

    "You mean he could be brain damaged?"

    "That is certainly a possibility."

    Jon remembered a conversation that he'd had with Trip after the man had almost died on Titan.  Trip had stated that he didn't think he'd like to "stick around" if he wasn't "himself."  Jon had never fancied himself the type to be stuck arguing semantics with a comatose patient.

    "Do you think you can cure his paralysis?"

    "I can try, but I'm still unsure what I'm dealing with."

    "Keep me informed."  Jon headed for the bridge.  It was time to have a talk with the Enki about how their warp coils charged.


    Jonathan Archer was one frustrated starship captain.  He'd spent the last hour discussing Trip's condition with the Enki, but hadn't learned anything of value.  The Enki themselves were horrified by the accident and willing to do anything they could to help.  The only problem was that what they could do wasn't very much.  It seemed that knowledge of how their technology actually worked was possessed by a very select group of very learned people who didn't care to venture off of their homeworld.  The crew of their vessels were only expected to be able to operate them.  Not understand them.  This meant that a breakdown resulted in them having to comm any passing ship for help.  Which was how Trip had come to be on the En-lil, their vessel.

    He shifted in his chair and contemplated the padd sitting on his desk.  It only contained a single piece of information: the comm code for Trip's parents.  He wasn't sure if he should contact them yet or not.  Phlox still had almost two days to make Trip better.  Would you want to know that "your child might have two days to live and by the way he's comatose?"  In Jon's mind they had the right to know.  He definitely had to give them a chance to say good bye before the operation deadline.  He desperately wished he had someone that he could discuss these decisions with, but he was unwilling to do anything that could cause Malcolm further distress.  He buried his face in his hands for several long minutes before he sat up straight and composed himself.  He reached to the comm panel and opened a channel to the bridge.  "Archer to the bridge.  Hoshi, I need you to open a channel for me..."


    It was several hours later that Phlox's work was interrupted by a strange sound coming from his patient's area.  He almost ignored it, but felt compelled to investigate.  He quietly left his office and crept behind the curtain that separated Trip from the rest of sickbay.  A quick scan of the area showed him the source of the noise.  Malcolm Reed was hunched over in a chair, his face buried behind his hands.  The shaking of his shoulders told Phlox the man was crying.  "Lieutenant?"

    Malcolm's head snapped up and he regarded Phlox with wide eyes.  "Are you all right?"  It truly wasn't the best question for the situation, but Malcolm was sure to know what Phlox meant.  Malcolm warred with himself over the offer to talk and finally acquiesced.

    "It's my fault.  I should have protected him."  The words came out in a whisper.

    "I don't see how you could have kept this from happening, Lieutenant.  Could you have foreseen the overload?"

    Malcolm wouldn't allow himself to be comforted.  "I should have insisted that we go back to Enterprise.  We'd finished the repairs that they needed help with, there was no need to go poking our noses into strange alien technology."

    I don't think you had a choice in the matter, Lieutenant.  He is your senior officer and we both know what he's like when he's eager to see something.  Could you have convinced him that their charging array wasn't worth looking at?"

    "Of course not!  It was some bloody organic wonder."

    Phlox started.  "What?  What was organic?"

    Malcolm regarded him curiously.  "Their charging array is based on some type of organic circuitry.  It was biological engineering unlike anything I'd have ever thought possible."

    Phlox stared intently into space, his jaw working slightly as he concentrated intently on his own thoughts.  Several long seconds later a tiny, cautious smile, the first one in a while, started to crease his face.  He turned to face Malcolm and in his excitement he even placed a hand on the lieutenant's shoulder.  "I think I just might know what I'm dealing with."  With that he executed an admirable about face and hastened into his lab.


    "A biological agent?"

    "Absolutely Captain.  A rather peculiar little one at that."  He activated a screen and a picture came up.  It looked to Jonathan like some sort of coloured blob.  Phlox excitedly pointed to a colour coded region.  "Look at those binding sites!  The agent is quite sophisticated, Captain.  It's even small enough to be rapidly absorbed through the skin, which is what happened to Commander Tucker.  I'd guess that in their organic circuitry this agent must be very carefully targeted so that it doesn't act on circuits that rely on a charge separation of some sort.  For some reason it has identified some of the commander's neurons as its target, which is causing his paralysis."

    "Can you neutralize this agent?"

    "Of that I am uncertain, Captain."    

    Archer rounded on the doctor in his frustration.  "Phlox, I have 78 people that have been kept in the dark so far.  I don't want to put them through undue stress, but they would all want to say good bye.  I've apprised T'Pol of the situation so she'll be able to answer any questions that the crew might have, but I need to know what I should tell them."

    "I would say that it is, as you humans say, 'better safe than sorry'."

    Archer frowned at the answer before deciding that it was probably sound advice.  "Does Castleman know?"

    Phlox nodded, "I contacted him last night, but asked that he keep the information confidential until a ship-wide announcement was made."  Archer nodded in approval and moved to the comm system on the wall.

    He attempted to keep a tremor out of his voice and he addressed his crew.  "Attention all hands, this is the captain.  As some of you may know, there was an accident on the Enki vessel and Commander Tucker was severely injured.  Doctor Phlox is doing everything that he can, but this will be Trip's  final day on life support.  We are going to try one final procedure tonight at 1900 hours so anyone that wishes to see him should do so before 1800.  Questions may be directed to Sub-Commander T'Pol.  Archer out."  He took a moment to lean against the wall.  That was an announcement that he'd hoped he'd never have to make.  It had been one of his main fears ever since Trip had been assigned to Enterprise.  He finally straightened, "I'll be back at 1800, Doc, and I'll keep Malcolm away until then."  Phlox barely nodded, already absorbed in his work.


    Malcolm was still hunched over Trip's biobed when Jon left the doctor's office.  The lieutenant hadn't left sickbay since Trip had arrived, having meals delivered by a steward. Meals which invariably returned to the mess untouched. The man looked haggard, hair mussed and face ashen with dark bags under his eyes.  Jon knew Malcolm had gotten some sleep as after 36 hours the doctor had crept up and hit him with a hypo full of sedatives.  Malcolm's preoccupation with Trip had let Phlox carry off his stealth mission undetected until it was too late.  Jon walked up and placed a gentle hand on Malcolm's shoulder, wincing when he felt how Malcolm was trembling.  "Malcolm, did you hear the announcement?"  Malcolm nodded.  Phlox could shut off the comm so that it didn't disturb his patients.  Jon supposed there wasn't much need for that in this case.  "Soon lots of people will be here, Malcolm.  We should go away for a while, get something to eat."

    "I don't want to leave him."  Malcolm wouldn't look at him so Jon had to strain to hear what he said.  Jon gently moved his hand to Malcolm's back and rubbed slow circles over the taught muscles.

    "I know, Malcolm, but the other crewmembers deserve some time to see him."  Malcolm slumped forwards slightly and Jon felt him start to tremble more violently.

    "You mean time to say good bye."  The words were choked out as tears began to run down Malcolm's face.  Jon kept rubbing Malcolm's back and fought the urge to run away.  He wasn't sure how to deal with this.  He was terrified he'd say the wrong thing and the sight of the usually stoic man in tears rattled him.

    "Phlox thinks he might know what's wrong and he's working to find a cure for this.  He's going to try whatever he can come up with at 1900 so we can come back at 1800 hours and have some time with Trip beforehand.  Please come with me, Malcolm.  We can go to my quarters and have some tea so you don't have to talk to any other crewmembers.  He gently took Malcolm's hand and began to guide him from the room.  Malcolm didn't resist.


    Jon looked over at the figure curled up on his bed.  Malcolm was sound asleep, Porthos snoring gently alongside him.  After they had left sickbay Jon had carefully guided Malcolm to his quarters as the man seemed to be functioning on autopilot.  He'd sat Malcolm on his bed and then had a steward bring up soup and tea, insisting that Malcolm have at least a little of each.  Malcolm had been composed for the first hour or so, even tentatively discussing Trip's condition.  It was Porthos that eventually did him in.  The little dog had been sound asleep when they'd arrived and hadn't initially been disturbed by their quiet talking.  When he eventually woke up he'd come to Jon for a brief pet before going to investigate the intruder in his quarters.  After gently sniffing Malcolm's boots he'd given a little whine before launching himself onto Malcolm's lap and nuzzling the man's neck with his muzzle.  Malcolm had reached up with one hand and, instead of pushing the dog away as Jon expected him to, had hugged the animal tightly.  When Porthos licked him in return the man had completely broken down.  Harsh sobs had wracked his frame as he flopped backwards, taking Porthos with him.  Malcolm had lain there, sobbing and clutching the dog, until he eventually cried himself to sleep.  Jon figured his perceptive pet had been able to sense the misery rolling off Malcolm and tried to comfort him as best he could.

    Jon poured himself another mug of tea.  He'd contemplated opening a bottle of bourbon, but had decided that that wasn't the best course of action when so many people were relying on him.  He checked the chronometer, it read 1750 hours.  Jon gulped down his tea and placed his mug on the table.  It was time to head back to sickbay.  He reached over and gently shook Malcolm awake, "Malcolm, it's time."


    Jon and Malcolm had spent an hour with Trip.  Holding his hands and talking softly to him.  Telling him that they were there and that, in their own way, they loved him.  Jon had thanked him for being such a good friend to him, for helping him accomplish his father's dream.  Malcolm had thanked Trip for taking care of him, for being there for him, and for loving him.  They both looked up with nervous expectation when Phlox entered the room carrying a tray with two hyposprays on it.  Malcolm managed to speak first, "Doctor?"

    Phlox deposited the tray on a nearby counter and turned to address the two men.  "I think I may be able to counter the agent, at least temporarily, but you must remember that there is still the distinct possibility of brain damage."

    "What are you going to do?"

    "I've prepared two hyposprays.  The first should return his neurotransmitter levels to normal.  The second contains a chemical that should bind to the active site of the agent, altering it so that it can't inhibit neuron function.  The only problem is that I'm not sure how long they will stay bound.  It is quite likely that they will eventually separate, resulting in resumed loss of function."

    "What about the brain damage?"  Jon queried from the far side of the bed.

    "I'm hoping we can ascertain that when the commander wakes.  If not, I can perform a simple scan which should tell us what we need to know."  Jon looked to Malcolm briefly before turning back to the doctor.

    "Do it."


    Jon and Malcolm leaned over the biobed, desperately searching for indications that Trip might be waking up.  Suddenly, there was a slight twitch in the corner of his mouth.  It happened again, and then resolved itself into a proper frown.  Two voices started at once, " Trip?  Come on Trip, time to wake up."  Trip's beautiful blue eyes slowly opened and both men sighed in relief and felt giddy with the feeling of it.  Jon squeezed his friend's hand and addressed him, "Oh, Trip, we were so so worried.  How do you feel?"  The blue eyes didn't so much as move, not a glimmer was seen in their usually expressive depths.

    "Trip!"  Malcolm positively leapt off of his chair and shook the man's shoulder.  "Trip, look at me!"  Jonathan felt his stomach lurch alarmingly and he rushed over to a nearby waste bin and retched into it.  Phlox stepped into the space Jon had vacated and began scanning his patient.  Malcolm felt tears beginning to run down his face as he questioned the doctor, "Why won't he look at me?  What's wrong?"  Phlox kept scanning for a moment longer, closely watched by Jon and Malcolm.  Suddenly he turned the scanner off and when he looked at his companions he was actually smiling.

    "I don't think anything is wrong."

    Jon quickly moved to stand next to Malcolm.  "This," he indicated his friend whose eyes had just slid shut, "Certainly isn't normal, Doctor."

    "Ah, but it seems that my second hypospray acts much faster than the first.  I've managed to neutralize the agent, but we must wait a few more minutes for his brain activity to return to normal.  From how his brain is responding so far, I doubt that he's suffered any sort of severe brain injury."  Phlox smiled his wide Denobulan smile, "Optimism, Captain!"


    He could hear familiar voices.  The sound was comforting as he slowly blinked open his gritty eyes and squinted in the sudden light.  "Mmmalc."  He weakly cleared his sore throat and tried again, "Malcolm?  Jon?"
    "We're right here, Trip."  He could feel a hand gently clasp his own so he squeezed back.  Only, his hand didn't squeeze.  He tried again.  Nothing happened.  He could feel himself beginning to panic as an inventory of his limbs found them all unresponsive.

    His voice wavered with fear as he addressed the men at his bedside.  "Guys, somethin's wrong."  He gulped and fought to breathe, "I can't move.  Oh god, Mal, Johnny I can't move."  His throat felt raw and he tried to swallow, but couldn't work up enough saliva to soothe it.

    "Easy Trip."  Jon's hand was a comforting weight on his shoulder.  "Let the doc explain."  Trip looked to the Denobulan for understanding.

    Phlox's face appeared in his field of view and the doctor began to explain.  "There was an overload in the Enki's charging array.  At first we thought that you'd just received a bad shock, but it soon became clear that couldn't fully account for your condition.  They use an agent that prevents depolarization to stabilize their system.  Your tissue has been inundated with this agent, which is preventing the generation of a resting potential.  I have a chemical that can temporarily bind to their agent and render it ineffective for the duration of the binding.  I needed to test it so I introduced it into the tissues of your face and neck.

    "But if it's stopping my nerves from firing why can I breathe and feel someone hold my hand?"

    The doctor looked slightly abashed.  "I must confess, Commander, that I don't fully understand this agent.  For some reason it has only targeted parts of your somatic nervous system  Your autonomic nervous system remains relatively unaffected.  Your sore throat is a result of the time you spent intubated.  I can get you some ice if you'd like."

    "That sounds kinda nice."  Trip winced inwardly at the pronounced rasp in his voice.  The doctor bustled away and Trip's attention was drawn back to the two men still at his bedside.  He smiled at them weakly and was alarmed to see tears in their eyes.  "Hey, I'm o.k. guys."  The tears spilled over as they both cried freely in relief.

    "We thought we were going to lose you."

    "Naw," Trip grinned at them both, "I'm much too hard ta get rid of."

    "As if we'd ever want to."  They both placed a free hand on one of Trip's shoulders.  Revelling in the fact that he was here joking with them again.

    "Here we go."  Phlox carefully handed a cup full of ice chips to Malcolm and placed a tray of hypos on the counter.  "How about we return muscle control to the rest of your body?"

    "That sounds like one of the best ideas I've heard in a long time, Doc."  

    Phlox grinned and indicated the tray.  "I'm going to have to administer a dose of the chemical locally to each region that you want control of.  I've prepared enough for your entire body."

    "Let's get this show on the road."

    Phlox rubbed his hands together and selected the first hypo, "As you wish, Commander."

    Ten injections later Trip lay on his biobed waiting for the chemical to take effect.  "How much longer now?"

    "Ten seconds less than what he last said, Trip."  Trip glared at Jon as Phlox checked a chronometer.

    "It should start working now.  Can you move any extremities?"  Trip lay still for a moment and then both Jon and Malcolm felt him weakly squeeze their hands.

    "That's it Trip!"

    "I felt that, love."  Trip smiled up at them and then gently kicked up with his right leg, followed by his left.

    "Very good Commander!"  Phlox's blue eyes sparkled.  "How about we try sitting you up?"  Jon and Malcolm each carefully grasped Trip under an arm and slowly helped him into an upright position.  Trip gasped as the movement made his head spin and slumped forward slightly until his head cleared.  Phlox waited until his patient straightened before he asked, "How do you feel?"

    Trip took a careful inventory of his body, "My throat hurts, I feel kinda weak, and a bit tired."

    "That's to be expected, Commander.  Your system has taken quite a bad shock.  How about we lay you back down, give you some ice, and let you get some rest?"

    Trip eased himself back down and sucked on the ice Malcolm fed him.  He finished a few chips before a yawn contorted his features.  "I know I've been out for a while, but rest sounds pretty nice."

    "Of course."  Phlox dimmed the sickbay lights and addressed Jon and Malcolm, "I'll let you know when he wakes up."  The doctor's meaning was clear so Jon gave Trip's shoulder a quick squeeze and Malcolm leaned over for a kiss before they were ushered out of sickbay.

    "Dammit!"  The cry of frustration reverberated down the corridor.

    "Here, let me help you."

    "Back off."  The snarl was out of his mouth without a moment's thought.  Malcolm jumped backwards, hurt clearly showing in his wide eyes.  "I can do it myself."  Trip pushed off from the wall only to slump back against it as his legs refused to co-operate.

    Malcolm stepped forward and warily placed his hands on Trip's shoulders, "Here, let's go back to sickbay."

     Trip looked up and finally noticed the hurt in Malcolm's eyes.  "I'm sorry Mal.  It's just so damned frustrating."  He indicated his trembling legs, "I can't be the chief engineer on a starship if I can't even stand up or hold a tool."

    "Don't worry, love, Phlox will be able to fix this."  Trip sighed as Malcolm hefted him up and slipped under his right arm.  Malcolm shifted so that the bulk of Trip's weight was supported by his own shoulders and began walking them slowly down the corridor.  Trip used to believe what Malcolm had said.  For the first few days after he woke up he was convinced that he was just engaged in a waiting game.  That it would only be a matter of time before Phlox cured him.  Then four days went by, then five, then six and Trip wasn't so sure.  After seven days Trip felt himself becoming ensnared in a dark depression.  Unsure of his future and beginning to lose all hope that he would ever be back to normal.  The final straw came last night when he overheard part of a conversation between Jon and the doctor.  He closed his eyes and let the memory wash over him as he was guided down the corridor in defeat.


    Despite Malcolm's assurances that he would look after Trip, Phlox had insisted on keeping his patient in sickbay for observation as long as the agent was in his system.  Trip was lying on his biobed, overcome by a mind numbing boredom, when he heard voices in the doctor's office.  "How is he?"

    "As well as can be expected, Captain."  So Jon was one of the people talking.  Trip would have gone and closed the door, or at least made his presence known in case the talk was confidential, but his last injections had worn off and he was immobile.  Besides, listening to them was something to do.

    "Is there anything you can do for him?"  The reply was muffled but Trip clearly heard Jon's next words.  "The D'kyr will be near enough for a rendez-vous, they could take him back to Earth."  Phlox's reply was again muffled, but Trip's shock was so great he would probably have missed it anyway.  He felt dread curling through the pit of his stomach, they were going to send him home.  A burst of anger flared next.  How could they send him home?  He didn't deserve that!  Look at everything he'd done for them, how could they cast him aside like some worn out plasma coupling?  

    Because he was worn out.  He couldn't so much as twitch his little finger, that was why.  He felt ill at the thought of going home like this.  His poor family, what a burden he'd be, having to be looked after night and day.  And Malcolm, oh then there was Malcolm.  What would he do?  Trip had a sinking feeling that Malcolm would resign his commission, give up everything he'd ever worked for, to look after him.  How could he ask someone he loved to do that?  He wouldn't let himself be that selfish.  If he didn't get well enough to remain on Enterprise there was one thing he could do.  It would hurt terribly, but, he told himself, it was what had to be done.


    His legs stopped functioning altogether and he slid off of Malcolm's shoulder, jolting himself back to the present.  Yes, he now knew what he had to do.  Malcolm grabbed at him and tried to manhandle his dead weight into a more strategic position.  Trip flinched when Malcolm touched a sore spot, the frequent hypos had raised livid bruises where they were administered.  Malcolm finally put one of Trip's arms over each of his shoulders so the engineer was draped over his back and proceeded to drag him back to sickbay.  The cruel parody of how they used to make love wasn't lost on Trip.

    This walk to the observation lounge was supposed to be a triumph for Trip.  He'd figured that if he could make it there and back by himself he was well on the road to recovery and he would try and convince them to let him stay on Enterprise.  Three quarters of the way there Phlox's now not so wonderful seeming wonder drug had begun to wear off.  They finally reached sickbay and an exhausted Malcolm deposited Trip in a chair and went in search of the doctor.  Phlox came out with the now hated tray of hypos and proceeded to give Trip his injections before turning to Malcolm and scanning him as well.

    Malcolm's expression was bemused.  "What are you scanning me for, Doctor.  I'm fine."

    "This says otherwise, Mr. Reed.  You seem to have strained some of the muscles in your back carrying Commander Tucker.  This," here he jabbed Reed with a hypospray, "should help."

    Malcolm stood stock still for a second before an expression of bliss transformed his features and he stretched his back. "Ah, lovely."
    Trip hung his head in disgust.  Malcolm had hurt himself trying to look after him, that shouldn't have to happen.

    "Now, Commander, let's get you back to bed."  Trip let Malcolm and the doctor guide him back to the biobed.  He was disgusted by how much he trembled and by how weak he was.  When Phlox went back to his office Malcolm hovered around, taking off Trip's boots and placing a glass of water within reach of the bed.  He finally settled into a chair next to Trip's bed and removed a padd from a pocket of his uniform.  

    "Go to sleep if you want to, love.  I've got some reports from the armoury that I can catch up on."

    Trip licked his suddenly dry lips.  It was now or never.  "Malcolm, we need to talk."
    "Talk about what?"  Malcolm's adorable brow wrinkled in confusion and Trip was sorely tempted to tell him to forget it.

    "Us."  Trip watched as Malcolm's open face instantly became guarded.

    Malcolm sat back in his chair and cautiously asked, "What about us?"

    Trip had to steel himself to say his next words.  "I don't think 'us' is working out."

    Malcolm's face lost all colour.  Trip was afraid the man was going to faint straight away. "How can you say that?"  The hurt in his tone was boundless.  Malcolm choked back a sob, "We're going to get married, Trip.  You proposed."  The last words had an almost accusatory tone about them.

    Trip's emotional state couldn't take this conversation.  He had to end it now.  "I don't want ya to come visiting anymore, Malcolm.  I don't want ya to even think of looking after me."  Trip rolled over so he was facing away from Malcolm and buried his face in the pillow so Malcolm wouldn't be able to see him cry.

    Malcolm's voice cracked as he spoke.  "Are... are you breaking up with me?"

    The reply was muffled by Trip's pillow, but still audible, "Yes."  


    Jon strode down the corridor, barely resisting the urge to hum or whistle.  He greeted a passing crewman with a broad smile, the universe had been looking like a much brighter place ever since Trip woke up.  He felt bad that he hadn't been able to visit Trip yesterday, but with the bridge in T'Pol's capable hands he had a couple of hours free to spend with his friend today.  He marched into sickbay and threw a passing greeting to the doctor as he headed for Trip's cordoned off section.  "Afternoon, Doctor."

    Phlox jumped up and hurried over to stand between Jon and his destination.  "I'm afraid you can't go in there, Captain."

    "Is he sleeping?  I promise I'll be very quiet and just sit and read until he wakes up."  Jon made to move again and Phlox was forced to press a hand to the captain's chest to restrain him.

    "I'm afraid the commander is declining to see visitors."

    Jon was dumbstruck.  "What?"

    "I am obligated to prevent people from visiting the commander.  It was his request."

    "Why would he ask you to do that?"

    Phlox regarded the captain, aware he was treading the line between doctor patient confidentiality and captain's prerogative.  "He had a discussion with Lieutenant Reed the day before yesterday, some time after your morning visit.  Mr. Reed appeared to be quite distressed when he left.  A state that was mirrored by the commander.  It was quite some time before he was able to compose himself enough to tell me to refuse visitors access."  Phlox glanced anxiously at the screen and lowered his voice even more.  "I must confess that I'm worried about him.  He's refusing all treatment,  except for his injections, and refusing to allow me to perform scans.  All the meals that have been sent up from the mess since the incident with Mr. Reed have been returned untouched.  Today he began refusing fluids as well."

    Jon couldn't believe what the doctor was telling him.  "You mean he's starving himself?"

    The doctor sighed.  "It would appear so, Captain."  Phlox considered the situation for a moment before speaking.  "There doesn't seem to be anything that I can do at this stage.  Perhaps a talk with Lieutenant Reed could shed some light on this situation."

    Jon shook his head helplessly.  "Malcolm's off duty.  We were put through the wringer during those three days so I told him he could take time off until Trip was a bit better.  I haven't seen him lately, I just assumed he was with Trip."

    Phlox's lips pursed, "Then I suggest you find him soon.  Mr. Reed has the unfortunate tendency to neglect himself when he is upset."


    Jon stood outside the door and rang the chime again.  Malcolm hadn't answered when he was commed, but a quick scan showed that his biosign was in his quarters.  After four chimes Jon was no longer willing to give Malcolm the benefit of assuming he was asleep.  He glanced around quickly, making sure the corridor was empty before he punched in his override code and the door slid open.  He carefully stepped inside and the door slid shut behind him.

    Once sealed inside Malcolm's quarters the first thing that struck Jon was the smell.  From the pervading odour it was clear that someone had been sick in the bathroom, perhaps multiple times.  The main lights in the cabin were off, but a faint glow emanated from the bathroom where a light had been left on.  Jon looked at the floor and let his eyes adjust.  A bundle placed next to the door caught his eye.  His curiosity got the better of him and he bent down and opened the carefully wrapped package.  In the dim light he could just make out a flash of Hawaiian print.  It was one of Trip's famously garish shirts.  He unfolded the bundle further and found that it contained several similar shirts and two pairs of casual pants.  The middle contained what looked like Trip's workout clothes wrapped around something solid.  He unfolded the package and a picture frame fell out.  He turned it over and the photo caught his eye.  It was a picture of Malcolm and Trip that he hadn't seen before.  He scrutinized it.  It was obviously a photo of Malcolm and Trip the lovers.  Malcolm was standing front and centre with Trip positioned behind him.  Trip's arms were wrapped around Malcolm in a tight hug and Malcolm's hands were clasped over them.  The background was a brilliant sunset on Inanna Prime, the last planet they'd had shore leave on.  The photo slipped from his fingers as Jon realized the significance of the bundle.  "No."  He hadn't meant to speak aloud, but the word escaped him anyway.  He stood up quickly and peered into the depths of the tiny room.  He was just able to make out a human sized lump on Malcolm's bunk.  He stood and only managed to take one step towards the bed before he nearly fell flat on his back.  The object that had tripped him skittered across the metal floor and hit the wall with a definite clink.  He reached down and picked it up.  Holding it in the glow from the bathroom he was able to make out the words "Glenfiddich.  Aged 18 years."  It was empty.

    Jon held his head in his free hand.  How did the world go so wrong so fast?  He gently placed the bottle on the floor and walked over to Malcolm's bunk.  The blankets were pulled up so that they completely obscured the man on the bed.

    "Malcolm?"  The blankets didn't move so Jon reached out and gently shook a shoulder shaped bulge.  "Malcolm, wake up."  There was no reply from the seemingly lifeless heap and Jon began to get worried.  He flicked on the cabin lights and pulled back the blanket.  Malcolm was curled up on his right side.  Jon was relieved to see that his friend was breathing regularly.  He gently shook him again and Malcolm didn't even stir.  "Dammit Malcolm."  He crossed the room.  "Archer to sickbay."

    There was only a moments pause before Phlox answered.  "Sickbay here, what can I do for you?"

    "I need you in Malcolm's quarters.  He's unconscious, I think he's had too much to drink."

    "Understood.  I'll be there in a minute."  

    Jon moved back to the bed and placed his hand on Malcolm's shoulder.  "Please be o.k. Malcolm.  I need you strong if we're going to help Trip."  He gently moved his hand in small circles, hoping that Malcolm's state was just because he had drunk himself unconscious and not something worse.  The door slid open with Phlox's medical override code and the doctor stepped inside.  He hurried over to the bed and scanned the lieutenant.  He consulted the results before he removed two hyposprays from the case he'd brought with him.  He adjusted the dosage before administering one to the unconscious man.  "Doctor?"

    "He's got alcohol poisoning.  It's not a dangerously severe case if treated, but I'm glad that you found him when you did.  This injection should lower his blood alcohol level considerably.  It wouldn't do to have the lieutenant pickle himself."

    "No it wouldn't."  Jon's voice sounded tired.  "Can he stay here?  I don't think he'd want to go back to sickbay."

    "He shouldn't be left alone."

    "I'll stay with him."

    "That will be fine."  He handed the second hypospray to Jon.  "This should help with the hangover.  He'll be feeling pretty miserable when he wakes up."

    "Thank you."  Phlox nodded before standing and leaving.  Jon pulled the blanket up to Malcolm's chin before he settled himself at the computer terminal.  There were some reports he could access from there, and there was someone he wanted to contact when Malcolm woke up.


    He was absorbed in his reading when a faint groan caught his attention.  "Malcolm?"  The groan came again, louder this time.

    "Bloody hell."  The mumbled response had Jon on his feet and standing next to the bunk in record time.

    "Malcolm?  How do you feel?"  One eye opened a mere slit and Malcolm's brow furrowed.  Whether in confusion or pain Jon couldn't tell.

    "Awful."  The word sounded more like a croak.

    "I've got something that should help with that."  Jon brandished the hypospray and crouched beside the prone man.  Malcolm made to sit up, only to collapse back with a groan, covering his mouth as a wave of nausea assailed him.  Jon didn't waste any time, he hurriedly leaned over and pressed the hypospray to Malcolm's neck.  Malcolm kept his eyes tightly closed for several long seconds before he opened them and gingerly sat up.  Jon carefully perched on the edge of the bunk.  When it became clear the other man wasn't going to talk Jon decided he could start.  "You gave me quite a scare, Malcolm."

    Malcolm hung his head and brought his hands into his lap.  Jon could see that he had something tightly clasped in his right fist, he must have been holding it the entire time he was unconscious.  Jon was dismayed to see a few tears darken the blanket below Malcolm's face.  His voice was nearly a whisper, "I'm sorry.  I just wanted to stop hurting."  Jon gently reached out and prised open Malcolm's hand.  The fingers slowly uncurled to reveal Malcolm's engagement ring.

    "What happened?"

    Malcolm took a deep breath and told him everything.


    Breathe in, breathe out, in, out, in, out.  Trip didn't know how long he'd been laying on the biobed, and he didn't care.  The crying had finally stopped.  If he was perfectly honest he couldn't explain why he'd cried for the better part of the day.  Normally he bottled up his despair until it turned into anger and he lashed out at someone.  Malcolm had been on the receiving end of far too many of those incidents.  A wave of guilt rolled through him like a physical force at the thought of Malcolm and he felt the tears begin again.  He rolled over onto his side and curled in on himself, freely flowing tears dampening the pillow.  His stomach rumbled.  At an intellectual level Trip knew he was hungry, he just couldn't bring himself to care.  It was as if everything inside of him had darkened.  Everything that he used to care about, Malcolm, Jon, Enterprise, and his family, was gone.  All that he had left was his broken body and the knowledge that he was a burden.  He'd already made sure Malcolm wouldn't suffer because of him, but what of his family.  His parents shouldn't have to look after their thirty-something year old son because of his own stupid mistake.  And it was his mistake, he shouldn't have stood so close to the charging array.  He should know better than anyone how dangerous they could be.

    The sadness was like a living entity.  Dark and powerful it enveloped him until he was sure it would suffocate him.  When he'd told Phlox no visitors it was just because he knew Jon would try and talk him into letting Malcolm look after him.  The prospect had been so tempting Trip had known he had to keep his friends at bay so he didn't  rush back into Malcolm's arms.  A lifetime burden that Malcolm would live with.

    At first he'd refused extra medical treatment for his own sanity.  Phlox's incessant chatter while running scans was aggravating and he didn't want to snap at the doctor.  Then the darkness took over and he started to realize things, terrible things.  A meal from the mess arrived and Trip was about to dig in when, from out of the blue, came one little idea.  If you die you won't be a burden on your family.  The fact that he could even think something like that had initially shocked him.  Then he pondered it for a while.  That meal went back to the mess untouched, as did the one after it.  As the despair pervaded his soul he lost the will to care that he wasn't eating.  Then at a particularly bleak moment he noticed the glass of water on his bedside table.  In an offhand whim he decided that if he didn't care about eating he shouldn't care about drinking either.  He'd lain back on the bed and pondered how he'd gone from so strong and full of life to a useless burden so quickly.  The darkness took hold.   


    "Jonathan!"  The woman beamed at Jon through the vid link, her blue eyes marking her unquestionably as Trip's mother.  "It's so good to hear from you.  How is Charlie?  I haven't heard from him since the day after he woke up.  That boy seems to be determined to give us a scare every now and then."  She paused and scrutinized the captain.  "Why do I get the feelin' this isn't a social call?"

    "You're right."  Jon gestured apologetically, "I'm afraid this might not be a particularly pleasant call."  He motioned for Malcolm to join him in front of the monitor, "This is Malcolm Reed.  We need your advice."


    "So my boy broke off your engagement, won't see anyone, and now isn't eatin'?"  Malcolm nodded despondently.  

    Jon lay his hands flat on the table and leaned toward the monitor.  "We don't know what to do, especially since he won't see us.  I know you and Trip are close.  I was hoping you might know what he needs to get out of this mood."

    Carolyn turned to Jon "What he needs is a good thumpin'.  Doing that to Malcolm."  She shook her head in disgust.  "I like to think I raised him better than that."  She paused to consider for a moment, "You do know why he's doing this?"

    "Because..."  Jon looked to Malcolm who merely regarded him blankly.  "I don't know."

    Carolyn shifted in her chair to get more comfortable.  "Charlie's first year at the academy was a hard one for our family.  Elizabeth was still in high school and she missed her big brother terribly, not that she'd admit it mind you.  Then Charles was in an accident and had to be hospitalized.  He was eventually released, but he had to spend the better part of four months with me lookin' after him at home."  She paused and took a fortifying sip of the coffee that she'd had with her when the call came through.  "Charlie was doing fitness training with some fellow cadets, some sort of obstacle course..."  Jon and Malcolm nodded, knowing the course well, "when the wall they were climbing collapsed."  

    Malcolm paled.  "That wall is seven metres high."

    Carolyn nodded sadly, "Guess who was at the top?"  Malcolm blanched even more.

    "Trip."  Carolyn nodded at Jon.

    "Charlie.  He fell the whole way head first.  He'd been laying on the top reaching down to help pull his friends up.  He shattered his collarbone, broke one arm in three places, the other in two, broke two ribs and cracked three more, and suffered a hairline skull fracture and bad concussion.  He was in a hospital bed vomiting from the nausea whenever he tried to sit up or shift position."  She paused and collected herself before she continued.  "Even with modern medicine they had to give him leave.  They could fix a lot, but he still needed over a month off to recuperate enough to just go to a class and take some notes."  She leaned closer to the monitor.  "And do you know what?  We didn't hear a word about it."

    "What?  You mean he didn't tell you?"  

    "Not a word, Malcolm.  Not until months later.  He didn't come home like the doctor recommended.  He stayed in the residence and bribed his friends to cook for him, do his laundry, and go shopping.  I suspect they probably had to feed him at first, not that he'd ever want to admit that."  She sighed at the memory.  "And do ya know what he said when I finally found out that this had happened?  That he knew I was busy lookin' after Charles and Elizabeth so he'd pretended everything was okay because he didn't want to be a burden."

    Understanding washed over Malcolm.  "You mean he thinks he's trying to protect me?"

    "I don't doubt it."

    Malcolm felt the beginnings of a faint hope kindling in his heart.  "So he doesn't want to break up with me?"

    Carolyn looked him as close to straight in the eye as one can through a vid link.  "Malcolm, Charlie has told me so much about you.  He's completely in love with you, and a mother can tell these things.  I don't believe for one second that he wants to leave you.  He just doesn't want to hurt you, and he's misguided enough to think he'd hurt ya more by being a burden than by breaking up with you.  By hook or by crook you go talk to him, Malcolm.  He's as stubborn as his daddy, but they both eventually listen to the truth."


    Malcolm strode purposefully down the corridor.  Operation "Talk to Trip" aka "Knock Some Sense into the Stubborn Git" was well underway.  Jon had commed Phlox, asking the doctor to come to his ready room to discuss...something.  Malcolm was sure Phlox guessed what was afoot, but the Denobulan obediently obeyed his captain's request and promptly vacated sickbay.  Malcolm marched through the sickbay doors and strode over to Trip's curtain.  He grasped it firmly and yanked it aside, taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in the gesture.  Trip was on his side, facing away from the door.  He didn't stir at Malcolm's entrance.  "You're not going to ignore me, Mr. Tucker."  Malcolm reached over and placed a hand on Trip's shoulder.  "Turn over."  Trip didn't move so Malcolm pulled, "I said, turn over."

    Trip flopped onto his back.  Fresh tear tracks were visible on his cheeks and his eyes were puffy.  Malcolm threw Trip's words from earlier back at him.  "Trip, we need to talk."  Trip's eyes slowly tracked upwards until they met Malcolm's.  "I know why you tried to break up with me, Trip, and I need to say that I'm not buying what you said earlier.  I love you, and I'm not going anywhere.  Not even if you need some help from me."  Malcolm saw a lone tear leak out of Trip's right eye.  He gently picked up Trip's hand and clasped it in his own.  "Come on love, it's okay.  We'll be okay."

    "I dunno."  The words had a hoarse quality to them as they came from Trip's chapped lips.

    "You'll get better, love.  Just put a little more faith in Phlox, and me."

    Trip gently shook his head.  Tears streaked his face, he had to make him understand, "Malcolm.  I don't care anymore."

    Malcolm bit back his own anger.  While he could see where Trip was coming from, the stress of the last while had just about driven him round the bend.  "About what, Trip?"  He held back the comment that he wanted to spit at the man: "You obviously don't care to ask me what I actually think."

    A sob escaped Trip.  "Oh god Malcolm, I just don't care anymore.  I could die right now and I wouldn't care.  I'm so sad Malcolm."  He paused and his next words were a whisper.  "I'm scared."  

    Malcolm looked deeply into Trip's lacklustre eyes before they slid shut and tears leaked out the corners.  What Malcolm saw frightened him.  "I'm going to leave Trip."  Trip squeezed his hand more tightly, but his eyes remained shut.  "I'll be right back.  I just want to get the doctor.  I'll be right back, Trip."  He gently prised his hand from Trip's grasp and eased off of the edge of the bed.  He slowly backed out of the room, talking to his love until he reached he door, "...right back Trip."  The door slid shut behind him and he broke into a run for the nearest comm panel.


    "Clinical depression?"

    The doctor looked grim.  "Yes Captain.  One of the most severe cases that I've encountered."

    "What does that mean?  What can you do for him?"  Malcolm was sitting beside Trip on the biobed.  The other man was twisted so that he was pressed against Malcolm's chest, his face buried in Malcolm's neck.  Malcolm had one arm wrapped tightly around his fiancé, his free hand rubbed soothing circles on the man's back.

    Phlox called up the information from his scanner on the screen  "If you'll remember the commander's condition immediately after the accident.  I detected abnormal brain activity and low neurotransmitter levels, specifically acetylcholine, dopamine, and norepinephrine.  I used the standard treatment to return these levels to normal and thought that was the end of that particular problem.  Sometime after I performed my last scans the levels began to fluctuate again.  My current scans show that his serotonin and norepinephrine levels are well below what would be considered normal."  Phlox called up a diagram and explained as best he could.  "There is a direct link between neurotransmitter levels and clinical depression.  The three primary neurotransmitters that are involved in this relationship are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.  These neurotransmitters function within structures that regulate your emotions or stress reactions as well as drives such as appetite, sleep or sex."

    "So if those neurotransmitter levels are out of whack..."

    "This is the result."  Malcolm finished Jon's sentence as he hugged Trip more tightly.

    "Precisely.  I am able to diagnose a case of clinical depression due to the low neurotransmitter levels.  A diagnosis which is supported by the fact that he is presenting other symptoms such as high levels of cortisol in his blood.  You'll be glad to hear that major depressive disorder is quite treatable.  A series of injections should have him able to be back to his more genial self within a week.  I just need the commander's consent to begin treatment."

    "Trip?"  Malcolm gently placed a hand on the commander's jaw and titled it up so that he could whisper into his love's ear.  "Trip I know you're sad and I know you're frightened.  We can help you, Trip.  Please, Trip, will you let us help you?"
    After a moment Trip's head bobbed as he nodded.  Jon breathed a sigh of relief and Malcolm hugged Trip as he planted a kiss in the man's hair.  Phlox smiled his wide smile, "If you'll give me a moment to prepare his first injection."


    "Wake up love, time for dinner."  There was no reply so Malcolm reached down and tugged on the blankets.  

    "Mmmmmpfh."  Trip rolled over and slowly blinked open his eyes, squinting up at Malcolm.

    "That's better."  Malcolm busied himself unloading the tray that the mess had sent up to their quarters.  Their quarters.  That was something Malcolm could still scarcely believe had happened.

    After Trip had finally fallen asleep from a mild sedative the doctor administered, Jon and Malcolm had hovered around sickbay.  Neither had felt like leaving Trip alone so they had chatted with the doctor to buy more time.  Phlox had said that Trip might benefit from not being in an environment like sickbay.  He'd then stated, with a pointed look at Malcolm, that Trip should be looked after until the deep depression was gone.  Naturally, Malcolm immediately volunteered to stay in Trip's quarters, he didn't miss the look that passed between Jon and the doctor when he did so.  Jon spoke up, stating that he didn't think it was fair for Malcolm to try and squeeze into Trip's already cramped quarters.  The rapidity with which the doctor agreed made Malcolm sure they had some sort of agenda already planned.

    What they had planned turned out to be wonderful.  Archer had an engineering detail knock out the wall that separated Trip's quarters from Lieutenant Hess'.  The team then installed a second workstation, a second set of closets and shelves, and, most importantly in Malcolm's eyes, a double bed.  Hess had moved into Malcolm's quarters and Malcolm had moved in with Trip.  A process that wasn't that difficult as he'd already managed to accumulate a surprising amount of clutter in the other man's space.  Trip was two days into his antidepressant regimen when gave the first ghost of a smile anyone had seen in a long time.  It was when the door slid open to reveal his "new" home.

    It was now six days since Trip had accepted their help and the change was noticeable.  The crying fits were gone and after talking with his mother and Malcolm he was once again optimistic about his recovery.  His lethargy still worried Malcolm, but at least he was pleasant enough when awake.  "I was dreamin'."  The accusatory tone was belied by the smile twisting the corner of his mouth.  Malcolm leaned down and snagged a kiss.

    "Well, you can dream more later.  Right now Chef has sent up some rather delicious looking food that he's hoping you'll enjoy.  It wouldn't do to disappoint him."

    Trip acquiesced, "It does pay t'be on Chef's good side."  Malcolm helped Trip sit up comfortably before he gathered two plates of dinner and the necessary utensils and returned to the bed.  They ate dinner and talked about Malcolm's day.  Aside from a small mishap in the armoury it had been fairly uneventful, but Trip was eager to hear about life outside the confines of the quarters.  For the first time since the onset of his illness Trip cleaned his plate with his usual gusto.  Malcolm took the dirty dishes back to the tray and returned with a large slice of pecan pie and two forks.

    "I think Chef was hoping we could share."
    Trip grinned and indicated the pie and the surrounding room, "Is it just me or do ya get the feelin' we're surrounded by hopeless romantics?"

    "Not hopeless, love, they've got us to look at."  Malcolm broke off a corner of the pie and carefully fed it to Trip, delighting in the rapture present on Trip's face as he savoured his favourite dessert.  Trip broke off a piece and had it half way to Malcolm's mouth when his arm started to tremble.

    "Damn!"  His hand fell back onto the bed.  He looked at Malcolm apologetically, "I'm sorry, Mal.  It's these meds, they wear off so fast."

    "It's okay, Trip.  I'll get your evening boosters okay?"


    Malcolm collected a medical case from Trip's workstation and removed a set of hyposprays that Phlox had dropped off that morning.  He returned to the bed and pulled back the blankets, administering the injections as Phlox had taught him to.  When he was finished he pulled the blankets back up and noticed Trip trying unsuccessfully to muffle a yawn.

    "There you go, love.  Ready to sleep?"  Trip yawned again.

    "I'm sorry, Mal.  I'm just so tired."

    "I know, it's okay.  Is there anything I can get you?"

    Trip considered the request for a moment before he asked almost shyly, "I lost my teddy bear, can I borrow you?"

    Malcolm smiled broadly as he undressed and slipped under the covers.  He snuggled close to Trip, placing his hand over Trip's heart as he hugged him close.  The embrace brought a reassurance they both needed.


    "Ah, Lieutenant.  I was just about to contact you."  Malcolm smiled politely at the doctor as he attempted to balance the heavily laden tray.  "I received an urgent letter from Ensign Castleman today, the D'kyr was fortunately just within comm range."

    "Ah, that's very good, Doctor, but I'm afr..."  

    "It is most excellent news!  You see, while Ensign Castleman is a brilliant stellar cartographer he is also quite the biophysicist.  It would have been a great service to medicine if Starfleet had encouraged him to pursue that aptitude rather than the mapping of..."

    "Doctor."  It was Malcolm's turn to interject.  "I'd love to stay and chat, but I really want to get Trip's breakfast to him before it gets cold."

    "But Lieutenant, it concerns the commander's recovery!"

    Malcolm spun away from the door to face the doctor.  "How so, exactly?"

    "Ensign Castleman often assisted me in sickbay, he was actually instrumental in developing the chemical that temporarily inhibits the Enki's agent."

    "Doctor."  The warning was evident so Phlox hastened to his point.

    "Ensign Castleman was bored during his time on the D'kyr.  Since they wouldn't give him access to their stellar cartography equipment he tried to figure out how to neutralize the Enki's agent.  Yesterday he had a bit of a breakthrough so he sent me his theory.  I've tested it this morning with nothing but positive results.  I would say that Commander Tucker can be restored to perfect health by this evening."

    The crash of Malcolm's dropped tray resounded throughout the mess hall.


    Jon collapsed backwards onto his bed.  Too tired to move even as Porthos hopped up and began licking his master's face.  That had been one hell of a party.  He summoned the strength to reach up and loosen the collar of his dress uniform.  One good thing about being captain was that no one could hassle him if he decided to take tomorrow off.  He assessed himself critically.  His head was still swimming from the champagne, his throat was sore from talking all evening, and his feet were burning from too much dancing.  Yes, it had truly been a great night.  He stretched and let the memories wash over him, trying to imprint each one firmly so he wouldn't forget.

    Trip and Malcolm's wedding bands had been home made, each crafting the other's.  Trip had stripped the platinum from a spare warp coil component, forming it into a band which he'd inlaid with a diamond surrounded by two small dilithim crystals.  Malcolm had taken part of the lining from the outer phase cannon casing for the band.  Also platinum, Trip's ring was adorned with a diamond surrounded on either side by tiny rubies, originally from the laser sight of Malcolm favourite phase rifle.  Their vows had also been unique.  Jon was barely able to maintain the decorum befitting an officiant when Malcolm had declared he'd stick with Trip through "amorous aliens and alien children," among other things.

      The armoury staff had created a "fireworks display" for the couple.  Malcolm had looked distinctly proud as the bay windows had filled with light.  A series of micro-detonators attached to small payloads had made a large, heart shaped explosion with a distinctly rosy hue.

    Rostov had taped the entire ceremony, with a live transmission being sent to Earth.  Hoshi had declared herself official photographer, the only possible fault with her work was that she was quite enthusiastic.  Jon wasn't sure if the spots burned into his eyes would ever quite manage to fade.  Chef had outdone himself as usual.  The crowning achievement being the three tiered cake festooned with tiny stars in place of the traditional rosebuds.  Malcolm had been delighted to discover that the top tier was indeed pineapple.

    Jon was still amazed they'd managed to pull off the wedding so quickly.  He supposed he should have anticipated Trip asking for something like that as soon as he was better.  Jon remembered his excitement when Phlox summoned him to sickbay.  The doctor hadn't disappointed him either.  By late afternoon a final scan of Trip's body showed him to be free of the Enki's agent.  Jon was going to ask them to join him for dinner in the captain's mess that evening, but Trip had turned to Malcolm and stated that he wanted to go and test some of the "finer attributes" of their new quarters.  The lascivious look on Malcolm's face as he was led from sickbay made Jon suspect what Trip had truly meant.  His suspicions were confirmed the next morning when he received two requests for additional soundproofing of crew quarters.  Coincidentally, both requests came from quarters adjacent to Trip and Malcolm's.

    He sat up slowly and removed his boots, figuring it wouldn't kill him to sleep in his uniform for one night.  He was about to turn in when the message waiting light on his terminal caught his eye.  He pondered ignoring it, but knew that as captain he should definitely answer it.  He hauled himself up and made his way to his desk.  He logged in and was informed of the presence of one unread message.  Opening it, he found it was from a Vulcan captain.  The message itself was short, unemotional and to the point.

    "I hereby inform you of the death of Ensign Castleman due to heart failure.  Your crewman was pronounced dead at 2100 hours, 14 minutes by the chief medical officer of the D'kyr.  His body will be transferred to Starfleet at our earliest convenience."

    "Damn."  Jon shut off the monitor and crawled back into bed.  "Porthos, up."  The beagle could sleep on the big bed tonight.


    "Uncle Jon!"  There was an audible thump as Jon had the air knocked out of him by 15 kg of flying child.  "Do come along an lookit what I got."  Jon chuckled, his godson had one of the strangest, and most delightful, accents that he'd ever heard.  Jon allowed the child to drag him up through the door and inside the house.

    "Jon!"  He felt the air squeezed out of him a second time as Trip mimicked the earlier actions of his son.  "I'm so glad ya could come."

    "Well I heard there was someone I just had to meet."

    "Good thing you're not off roaming unexplored vacuum, eh"

    Jon playfully punched his friend's shoulder,  "Hey now, you did it for years."  They stopped in front of a closed door.  "Malcolm home?"  A smirk appeared on Trip's face.  "What?"  The smirk became even more pronounced.  "Trrrrriiiiiip," Archer drew out his friend's name, "what is it?"

    "Remember Malcolm Reed?  Malcolm 'I don't fraternize' Reed.  Malcolm 'I'm fine' Reed.  Enterprise's tough as nails armoury officer."  


    Trip grinned, "Well look at this."  He quietly opened the door part way.  Jon peered around the corner.

    "Oooooooooooh.  Hel-lo dar-ling.  Who's the sweetest little girl in the universe? "  This was followed by a series of kissing noises.

    Jon's eyes widened and he felt his jaw drop.  "I wish you could've been here when Charlie was born.  It was so funny to see him so concerned about something.  He fretted constantly that he wasn't doing absolutely everything right.  He's loosened up a bit for this little one here."  Jon felt a grin anchoring itself on his face at Trip's whispered comment.

    "Daddy!"  Charlie squeezed around the adults and ran into the room, plopping down next to his father on the sofa.

    "Hello love."  Malcolm gave his son a quick kiss before turning to the door.  "Who'd you bring with you?"

    Trip propelled Jon into the room, "Just an old friend."

    "Hi Malcolm.  How are you?"

    "I am absolutely brilliant, how are you, Admiral?"  Jon smiled at Malcolm's inflection of his new title.

    "No complaints, Malcolm."  

    "Come lookit my sister."  Charlie scooted over to make room for Jon beside Malcolm.  Jon settled himself and regarded the pink bundle cradled in Malcolm's arms.  "I don't believe I've had the pleasure of an introduction."  Malcolm gently transferred his daughter to Jon's arms.

    "Erica, meet your Uncle Jon.  Jon, meet your goddaughter."  Erica.  The name stirred something in Jon's memory.  It took him a moment to place it.  Ensign Eric Castleman.  His crewman who had died alone and far from Earth on a Vulcan ship.  The man that, for all intents and purposes, had saved his friend's life so many years ago.  Jon looked up and found Trip staring at him intently, as if he was seeking affirmation from his old friend.  He smiled down at the infant in his arms.

    "She's perfect."