Title: A Second Chance

Author: Joules Mer

Author's e-mail: julia_ocean_child@yahoo.co.uk

Author's URL: http://jmenterprise.popullus.net

Date: Posted to EntSTSlash 3/16/2004

Archive: Permission to archive granted to EntSTCommunity and BLTS.  All others ask me.

Fandom: Star Trek Enterprise

Category: Slash

Rating: PG-13

Pairing: Tucker/Reed

Summary:  "We're given second chances every day of our life. We don't usually take them, but they're there for the taking." -Andrew M. Greeley

Beta: None

Spoilers: Shuttlepod One Mentioned

Disclaimer: Enterprise is the property of Paramount.  All Star Trek characters were used without permission and solely for the enjoyment of Star Trek fans.  No profit has, or will, be made by this story.

A Second Chance


"We're given second chances every day of our life. We don't usually take them, but they're there for the taking."
-Andrew M. Greeley

    Trip slowly raised the lid and barely suppressed a gasp at the inlay and engraving.  A mother-of-pearl border marched around an intricate engraving of an old sailing vessel bucking on a roiling ocean.  There was a folded piece of the glossy photopaper that they used to make padd printouts on tucked into the corner joint, it fluttered loose when Trip touched it.  He tentatively unfolded and scanned it.  It was a dated printout from the announcement section of a daily news publication.  Trip cleared his throat and read softly to the dim room, "On September 2nd Stuart and Mary Reed proudly welcomed their first child into the world.  Malcolm Alexander Reed, weighing 3.56kg, arrived at 3:12 am.  Grandfather Admiral Geoffrey Reed (RN) is hoping to have his grandson sailing the seas as soon as he can hold a tiller."

    Trip's eyes misted up on their own accord and he carefully folded and returned the printout to its original location.  He took a deep breath to garner a measure of control over his emotions and turned his attention to the jumble of objects in the wooden box.  Laid on top of everything were three face down photo sized padd printouts.  Trip carefully picked them up and flipped the them over to reveal the pictures.  The first showed a smiling, dark haired toddler in a sailor suit and Trip couldn't help but grin, Malcolm had been cute when he was little.  The second was obviously a formal portrait.  A young Malcolm stood behind a chair holding a fair haired girl Trip supposed was his sister.  Both children were formally dressed and while Madeline was smiling broadly, Malcolm was regarding the camera with a solemn air.

    The third photograph was more of a mystery.  It had been taken out of doors and, if the graininess was anything to go by, clearly without enough light.  There was a small boy perched on the shoulders of a man in a uniform Trip wasn't familiar with.  The boy appeared to be laughing as he waved at the camera, a gesture mimicked by the man.  Although, he kept one hand firmly attached to his burden's leg, anchoring the child in place.  There was a large black shape in the background that Trip eventually identified as the distinctive conning tower of a submarine.  Trip remembered that Malcolm's great uncle had been the chief engineer on a submarine.  He squinted at the picture, could the dark haired boy be Stuart Reed?  But that didn't make sense either, as the man who's shoulders he was on seemed a bit old to be the young child's uncle.  Could it be Malcolm?  Trip thought of his own great uncle Andy and frowned.  Uncle Andy had been well past his prime when Trip arrived, mind you, Andy had been older than Charles Tucker the first.  Perhaps Stuart's father had a much younger brother.  Trip went to place the stack on Malcolm's immaculately made bunk when something on the back of the last photo caught his eye.  He brought it close to his face and squinted in the low light, it was someone's careful handwriting, "Edward, Malcolm, and the Clement.  July 8,"  The date trailed off into a smudge, but Malcolm looked to be no more than three or four in the photo.

    "So you did know him.  No wonder you were so eager to save us all in the Romulan minefield."

    Trip carefully set the pictures aside and turned back to the contents of the box.  A dull glow caught his eye and he carefully pulled out a cylindrical object.  Further inspection found that it was an antique brass collapsing telescope, much scuffed and dented, it looked like it had been a toy.  Considering what he knew of Malcolm's family, it probably had been.  He set the telescope next to the photos and reached back into the box.  

    The next item was a book of some sort.  Trip pulled it out and regarded the cover, "My First Astronomy Book."  He flipped open the front cover and found that a message was written on the inside, dated to Malcolm's sixth birthday.  Trip quashed a wave of guilt that rolled over him as he went to read it.  Sure, he was supposed to get the data disks out and deliver them, but Malcolm must have known his curiosity would get the better of him.  Anyway, it wasn't like his snooping could do any harm now.  Trip bit back a sob and read the note, "Dear Malcolm, Wishing you a very happy birthday.  Go wherever your dreams take you.  Love, Uncle Edward."  Surrounding the text were small sketches: a submarine, a dolphin, a sextant, and a stick figure gazing at a star.  Trip swiped his hand over his treacherous eyes and placed the book on the bunk.

    A pair of padds comprised the next strata.  They were older though, a design that had gone out of use years ago.  Trip carefully activated the first one and a line of text jumped out at him, "Dear Mr. Reed, It is with great pleasure that we notify you of your acceptance into Starfleet.  Your exemplary achievement at university and stellar references of character singled you out as a fine prospect for this organization.  There will be an orientation on..."  He smiled fondly and turned it off, he could still remember how excited he'd been to receive that letter himself.  When activated the next padd went it through a preprogrammed startup sequence.  Scrolling across the screen came the words.  "Dear Malcolm, I wish you didn't have to leave me all alone at school, but it's not like you have a choice about graduating!  I hope you have a wonderful time at uni.  Work hard there so I can have letters from 'Ensign Reed' before I graduate.  I'm so proud of you.  I'll miss you terribly and I hope you'll call often.  Love, Madeline.  P.S. Just in case you get homesick:"  And then the padd started displaying photographs: Madeline smiling at the camera, a teenage Malcolm and Madeline in front of a Christmas tree, Madeline on a horse, Malcolm and Madeline making faces at each other...

    Trip watched his friend's teenage years parade across the screen until it eventually finished and went dark.  Dipping back into the box his fingers encountered cool metal.  He snagged the irregular object and and pulled it out.  It was a tiny metal submarine, no larger than his thumb.  Trip turned it over in his hands a few times before placing it on the blanket.  He turned back to the box and removed the last large object from it.  It was a teddy bear.  Trip held the toy reverently, reminded of his own childhood friend.  Malcolm's bear was small, no more than 25 cm tall.  It's ears and nose were threadbare, one arm hung at an odd angle where it had clearly been sewn back on by an unskilled hand, and the right eye was different from the left.  In short, it looked like the recipient of a great deal of love from a small child.

    As he leaned over to lay the bear on the bed the box tilted and there was a clatter of small objects sliding and colliding.  Trip swiped at his treacherous eyes which had begun to mist up again before he fished out a few handfuls of the clutter and sorted through it carefully.  In the assortment there were what appeared to be scout badges, a pin that was given during the promotion ceremony to a distinguished new ensign, and a few data disks with labels like "Madeline's Letters: Uni" or "Madeline's Letters: Jupiter Station."  He finally found something he was actually looking for when he stumbled across a data disk simply marked "Hoshi".  Further searching revealed disks marked, "Travis", "Trip", "Phlox", "Captain Archer", "Subcommander T'Pol", and "Armoury Staff".  After ensuring that he had them all Trip carefully stacked them neatly and put them with his padd so he wouldn't forget any.  He'd deliver them after the service.

    Trip picked up the other disks, badges, pin, and assorted small objects, fully intending to return them to the box, when he realized that there were still two things left in the bottom.  Both appeared to be padd printouts, and both were face down.  He almost left them alone, but in the end his curiosity got the better of him.  It usually did.

    Trip reached in, carefully selected a photo, and flipped it over.  Two teenage boys in scout uniforms gazed back at him.  The one on the left was unquestionably Malcolm, even though he was clearly about 16 years old.  Trip had never seen a picture of the ginger haired boy on the right before, but he could recall Malcolm talking about a friend called Andrew from when he was a scout.  Just as he was about to put the picture back another detail caught his eye.  They were holding hands.  Trip raised the picture close to his face to be sure.  There was no doubt about it.  A young Malcolm was comfortably and, if the grip was anything to go by, intimately holding hands with another guy.  Trip felt like a man who had just had his world view turned upside down.

    Numbly, he set the photo down and with some trepidation picked up the final photo.  He turned it over to see a teenage Malcolm, now a couple of years older than in the last photo.  This Malcolm had blond streaks in his hair and was smiling broadly at the camera.  He had his arm around a blond haired boy no more than a few years older than himself, who seemed to be in the process of kissing his cheek.  Trip's eyes widened and he almost dropped the photo in shock.  He recognized the other boy, it was himself.


    After a careful sip I find that the beer tastes unfamiliar, darker and stronger than I'm used to.  The room is dim and just a little bit dank, the club is underground after all.  A bartender grins at me as he pours a drink and I can't keep a secret smile off my face.  I'm still too young to do this back home.  I take my drink and self consciously saunter over to the darkest corner I can find.  I carefully set the pint glass down on the stained tabletop and settle into the shadows.  Happy just to watch.

    The sound gets louder, the base turning into an insistent throbbing that wells up through the floor and walls.  The dance floor is jammed, a writhing mass of people that jump and stomp and grind.  My view is suddenly obstructed as someone slides into the empty chair across from me.  Black shirt, black hair, and in the low light, black eyes.  He, for it is indeed a he, flashes me a smile.


    "Hi."  The greeting almost catches in my throat, but I force it out.

    "When did you arrive?"  His tone is light, almost teasing, but there is a strange intensity underneath it.

    I smother a grin at the fact that my accent has given me away after just one word, "Yesterday."

    "In town for a while?"  He asks the question casually, but he watches me closely over the rim of his glass.

    "Gotta head home in three weeks."

    "Ah."  There is a pause and I can't help but feel that he is sizing me up.  All at once he smiles and holds out his hand, "I'm Alex."

    "Trip."  His grip is firm and confident as we shake hands.

    "Would you join me for a dance?"

    My tongue suddenly sticks to the roof of my mouth.  While I won't deny a certain curiosity, I've never actually swung that way before.  I open my mouth to decline when for some reason I throw caution, and all inhibition, to the wind and, "Sure," pops out instead.


    The next morning, after a decent sleep in, I collected my bag from the seedy downtown hostel and moved into what Alex affectionally called his "Ramshackle Flat."  It fit its name perfectly, with flaking plaster moulding, antiquated appliances, one main room (shared bathroom down the draughty hall), and a few holes in the kitchen floor.  To some people it would have been just dreadful, but to me it was just right, because Alex was there with me.  We took the city by storm, sightseeing all day and partying all night.

    Three weeks to the day later I sat on the edge of the bed next to a still sleeping Alex.  I gently ran my fingers through his hair, fingering the dyed blond highlights that had appeared once we left the dark pub that first night.  I planted a quick kiss on one of his high cheekbones, picked up my bag and left, closing the front door softly behind me.  I didn't wait until he woke up to say goodbye.  If I had, I never would have left.  I set off that day for Starfleet, and I didn't let myself look back.

    Trip tore himself from the memories and surveyed the photo, still numb with shock.  Alex.  Malcolm Alexander Reed.  Hadn't Malcolm once said he found his first name too stuffy?  He certainly was a lot, well, wilder for lack of a better word, back then, maybe he went by Alex to reflect that.  Even with a different name and hair, Trip couldn't believe he hadn't recognized the man he'd spent more than the last decade longing for.  To think he'd been serving with Alex, Malcolm, for over a year.  Trip shook his head slowly at the thought.  Suddenly, Trip was struck by another question: had Malcolm recognized him?  He'd never mentioned it, not even his flat or the summer spent in the city before he started university.  Mind you, how many people were there called "Trip" who had started at Starfleet that year?  Heck, he had yet to meet another "Trip" anywhere.  Malcolm must have known who he was, but why didn't he say anything?  

    Trip closed his eyes as a solitary tear leaked out and rolled down his cheek.  He'd only known the man for three weeks, but Trip could swear he'd thought about him almost every night for over ten years.  Trip had thought he'd lost the other man forever when he left him that morning.  He'd kept himself from even looking at photos from that time, all they did was make him want to quit Starfleet and go running back to that worn out flat.  He'd actually tried to look him up once.  When he was a Lieutenant Starfleet had sent him to give a lecture in England on warp theory.  He wound up staying in a hotel a few blocks from the hostel that he'd spent a night in eight years before.  On his last night in the city he'd gone out to get some air and had been unable to stop his feet from taking him down a familiar route of lively streets and dark alleyways to the building that housed the flat.  Trip had stood on the sidewalk in the rain and looked at the lighted window that glowed like a beacon in the gathering darkness.  He'd stayed that way until a woman had appeared silhouetted on the thin inner drapes.  When a taller male figure appeared next to her Trip had raised the collar of his jacket and walked on.  Only then feeling the cold rain lashing down on him.

    "Archer to Tucker."

    Trip started, barely managing to grab the box and prevent it from tumbling off his lap.  Trip coughed once to try and clear his throat and pressed the comm button, "Tucker here."  He couldn't help wince at the choked tone of his voice, although he hadn't given free reign to his grief, it still sounded like he'd been crying.

    "Would you join us in the situation room, Commander."
    "Gimme a minute and I'll be there, Cap'n."

    "Alright, Trip.  Archer out."

    Trip carefully returned everything to the box, save for the disks addressed to his crewmates and the photo of Alex and himself.  Those he placed in the zippered pocket of his uniform where the photo wouldn't get creased.  After making sure everything was back in place Trip closed the box and returned it to its place in Malcolm's locker before setting off for the bridge.


    "Trip."  At their captain's exclamation the assembled crew turned to look at him as he entered the room.  Trip was struck by the changes the last few days had wrought on his friends.  Jon looked like he'd aged 10 years, his face was grey and haggard.  The characteristic spark was missing from Travis' eyes, Hoshi's face was pinched, and there was no trace of the high-spirits that one usually associated with Doctor Phlox.  Even T'Pol seemed more solemn than usual, if that was at all possible.  He took his usual place around the table and tried to ignore the gap in the circle.

    When everyone was ready the captain took a breath and began, "I know this is a difficult issue, but Hoshi has come across... an irregularity... that might deserve some investigation.  I don't want to give the crew any false hope so you're not to discuss this with anyone else until we know more."

    "Cap'n?"  Trip couldn't help the sudden flood of hope that crashed over him.

    Jon's face was pained as he gave his friend a cautionary glance and Trip bit his tongue.  "Perhaps you could share what you've found, Hoshi."

    She nodded and began to carefully explain, "As you know, I've been monitoring transmissions on the surface.  There was an article about the accident in what is essentially their state newspaper.  The thing is, the account there doesn't match up with what they told us happened."

    "How so?"  Trip couldn't keep himself from interrupting.

    "While they list the victims, there's no mention of Lieutenant Reed's death."

    "Would there be some reason for that?  I mean, does the public necessarily know everything that's happening on their planet?  It wasn't so long ago on Earth that all kinds of things would be classified by the governments and kept from the average citizen."

    Hoshi shook her head at the captain's query, "According to everyone I've talked to all information is supposed to be fully and accurately disclosed to the public.  I do know that the branch of the government that conducted the investigation is quite separate from both the diplomatic branch and the state publications branch.  It's possible it was an oversight or an error."

    Trip's sinking heart was given new life when T'Pol spoke up, "I may have some information as well.  Since the explosion I have looked into past contact between the Reytan and other species.  In one instance approximately thirty years ago involving the Vulcan High Command, a Reytan diplomat was assigned to the delegation.  At some point he made a comment about the Reytan State that could be seen as unfavourable.  The next day he had been replaced.  It is unclear whether that was a coincidence or not, but when the High Command asked to speak with him he was unavailable.  The High Command requested to see him several times, but not only was he unavailable, no one in the diplomatic branch knew his exact whereabouts.  As far as we know he was never seen again.  A few years later a Sirilian envoy visited the planet.  Vulcan and Sirilia have had strong diplomatic ties for several centuries so we have full access to their cultural database.  During their visit one of the Sirilians was killed in what was termed an accident.  The leader of their envoy attested to this, however, it should be noted that he was later found to be in possession of a large quantity of Reyestans, a precious stone particular to this planet."

    The captain's brow furrowed, "So the Reytans might not be on the level."  T'Pol arched an eyebrow at his wording, but nodded.

    "Well then we've gotta do something!  We should contact that First Minister guy and ask what the hell's going on."

    Jon held up a hand forestalling further comment from his engineer, "Easy, Trip.  We have no proof of anything, just a funny newspaper article.  We know Malcolm was touring that weapons facility, we know he was there when he commed us half an hour before it blew, we couldn't find his biosign afterwards, and Phlox identified the remains they sent us."

    Trip turned pleading eyes on the doctor, feeling like he was grasping at straws that were slipping out of his hands, "But could that have been faked?  Just some blood or something?  I mean, they didn't send us much of anything?"

    Phlox's brilliant blue eyes were sad as he replied softly, "After an explosion of that magnitude there wouldn't be much left to find.  As I said yesterday, what they sent to us matched the genetic profile of Lieutenant Reed that is kept in the Starfleet database, and its state was consistent with going through an explosion.  There were definitely... tissue remains... in the sample as well."

    Trip blanched and was looking a little faint so Jon took over, "I'll contact the First Minister.  Hoshi, keep monitoring their transmissions and see if you can find any references to the explosion.  T'Pol, I want detailed scans of the planet.  I know there aren't any human biosigns, so take a look for dampening fields or anything that could interfere with sensors. I don't want to postpone the service without anything more concrete, so please be sure to keep quiet about this for now.  As it is, all the real evidence supports Malcolm being killed in the explosion and the crew can't handle any false hope right now.  As far as Starfleet is concerned Malcolm's dead and the report given to us by the Reytan ambassador is correct."

    Trip's face was a study of grim determination.  "Or there could be a conspiracy going on and someone has slipped up."

    He rubbed his tired eyes and refocused on the scan in front of him.  It looked the same as before, and the time before that, and the time before that.


    Trip slumped at his console for a moment before answering the captain tiredly with a drawn out, "Not a gawd damn thing."

    The Captain gave an audible sigh, "T'Pol hasn't found anything either."  He paused for a moment, aware how well his next statement would go over, "The service is supposed to start in less than two hours, maybe we should..."

    "Give up?"  There was a note of disbelief in the tone.  Trip turned sharp eyes on his superior, "I ain't giving up yet, Cap'n.  No way."

    "Trip, you said yourself that there isn't anything there!  It was a good try, but maybe it's time..."

    "No!  We could have missed something.  Just let me run one more scan!"

    Jon scrubbed a hand over his face, "How many have you run so far?"

    Trip's jaw set itself for a stand off and he ground out, "36."

    "And they've all shown?"
    Trip's glare could melt the casing of the warp engine, "Nothing."  Jon raised an eyebrow and Trip exploded, "But that doesn't mean we just give up.  Malcolm wouldn't give up if he were here.  Heck, Cap'n, it might show nothing but..."  Trip trailed off and suddenly turned back to the screen, his brow furrowing.


    "Shhh."  Trip absently waved a hand at his friend as he peered at the screen.  After a moment he zoomed in on a small region of the surface and spoke softly, "What do you see on this scan?"

    Jon obligingly leaned down and looked at the readout for a moment before speaking, "Nothing."

    Trip nodded slowly and agreed, "Absolutely nothing."


    "So isn't this region supposed to be a nature preserve or state forest or something?"

    "I think that's what the map says."

    "So."  Trip stressed the syllable as his thoughts ran at warp five.  "Have you ever heard of a forest with nothing in it?  I mean absolutely nothing?"    

    It was less than a second before Jon was at the comm, "Archer to T'Pol."


    "A total of fifteen square kilometres, all in remote locations."  T'Pol called up the information on the situation room's display.

    "How many separate areas?"

    "Commander Tucker and I have identified five, and we are quite confident we've found them all."

    "Do we have any idea what's actually there?"

    "We have examined the areas, all appear to be forested wilderness.  I would therefore theorize that something underground is producing a dampening field of some sort."

    "Can we break though it with sensors?"

    T'Pol considered her superior's question, "While warp capable, none of the Reytan's technology is superior to what I have encountered before.  If strengthened and calibrated to the proper frequency, it is likely that we can.  I can boost the power easily enough, but finding the correct frequency is a matter of trial and error."

    "How long do you think it will take?"

    "It takes approximately three hours to try a reasonable range of frequencies."

    "I want you to get right on it."  Jon shifted uncomfortably on his feet.  "I'm going to announce a postponement of the service and I'll let Travis and Hoshi know what's happening.  You'll probably get questioned by the crew, you can tell the truth, but don't get their hopes up.  We still don't have proof of anything."

    T'Pol nodded and went to carry out her orders.  When Trip went to follow her Jon reached out and stopped him.  Trip face was in need of a shave, and the circles smudged under his eyes were almost as dark as bruises.  "T'Pol can do that herself, Trip."


    "I want you to get some rest."

    "But sir!"

    "I mean it, Trip.  I can tell you haven't slept since this whole mess began and I want you fresh in case we need to take action.  You've worked hard enough today as it is."

    Trip's face showed his displeasure, but he didn't want to jeopardize his chance to be part of a possible rescue mission, "You'll let me know as soon as she thinks she's got it?"

    "Right away."

    Trip nodded resignedly, his compliance a sign of just how tired he really was. "I'll be in my quarters."


    The data disks made a clattering sound as he deposited them on his desk.  Trip carefully pulled the photo out after them and sauntered over to collapse on his bunk.  Trip stared at the snapshot, a smiling Alex stared back.  "Why didn't you say anything?"  The sheet of photo paper didn't offer any answers so Trip lay back and closed his eyes.  He wasn't going to go to sleep while Malcolm might still be alive, but his eyes were aching so he figured he could just close them for a moment.  Just one moment.


    He spun around at the familiar voice and couldn't help but laugh at what he saw.  "Alex!  You're not supposed to be in there!"

    Alex laughed at the admonishing tone and planted a theatrical kiss on the blond mannequin before climbing off the small bunk and back over the velvet rope that marked off the display.  "But Trip, he looked so much like you I couldn't resist."  Alex smiled winningly and changed his accent to something coarser, "You can't deny a sailor a little time with his sweetheart."

    "First of all, Alex, you ain't a sailor.  Second, this is a museum, and third,"  Trip looked at the cramped quarters, "The real me is too tall for that bunk."
    "Plus there's the company."  Alex waved his hand to indicate the mannequins that filled the rest of the wooden bunks.

    "How could I forget?"  Trip's eyes sparked as he slung an arm over Alex's shoulder's and steered him out onto the deck.  They stood for a moment in the sunshine.  "Where next?"

    Alex pointed to some buildings visible off the starboard side, "Naval College and perhaps the observatory, then we can take the DLR back, okay?"

    "Sounds great, but how about we grab some lunch first?"

    Alex's tone was one of mock exasperation, "Thinking with your stomach again, Trip?"  He considered for a moment and then a familiar twinkle asserted itself in his eyes, "You know, we did pass a little place on the way here.  What did the sign say?"  Alex adopted as much of the pose of Rodin's Thinker as he could while standing as he pretended to ponder.  "The Traditional Pie and Mash Shop with Liquor and Eels."  At Trip's askance look he grinned, "Come on, you claim to be an adventurous American."

    Trip's shudder was only part theatrics, "I dunno..."
    "Just trust me..."  Alex gave Trip a gentle push towards the stars that took them below and towards the exit.  Trip led the way, stepping aside as an elderly man being towed by a young boy crested the top of the stairs and hurried past.  He made sure Alex had followed before he descended into the ship, grasping the railing tightly as the sudden low light rendered him almost blind.

    Still mostly asleep Trip squirmed away from the feather light touch on his face.  "Trip?"  The word was a whispered puff of breath on his cheek.


    A finger stroked his brow more firmly, "Tri-ip."  His name was a bit louder now and drawn out into two syllables.

    "Sleepin'."  The word came out as a growly sigh.

    "No you're not."  The bed dipped as the other occupant shifted and then soft footsteps were heard crossing the room.  There were some sounds Trip couldn't identify and then music started.  Softly at first, and then it grew louder.  Classical music.  The footfalls returned and the mattress sunk as Alex climbed into bed next to Trip.  He was silent for a moment before he volunteered softly, "My father was stationed overseas for a couple of years so my parents decided to send me to a boarding school.  I was squeezed into a tiny room at the end of the corridor, I don't think it had been intended to be a student's room at all.  It overlooked the hall where the local orchestra rehearsed, occasionally they'd leave a door or window open into the alley between us.  Sometimes, if I opened my window and everyone else was quiet, I could hear them.  I found it relaxing."

    Trip pondered the statement, he hadn't met many teenagers who listened to this type of music before.  Eventually he let it wash over him and murmured, "It's nice."

    Alex nodded approvingly, "Handel, Largo from Xerxes."  He reached over and gently toyed with Trip's hair electing a happy sigh from the bed's other occupant.  His next whisper was in time with the music, "Go back to sleep."

    "No, wait!  We need sugar first, and a lighter so we can set it on fire.  Here, hold this spoon."

    "What?"  Trip eyed the brilliant green liquid in his glass, "Are you sure this stuff is safe?"

    Alex smiled indulgently, "Don't worry, they banned the nasty stuff that used to be in it ages ago.  This is quite safe... just don't drink to much."  He rummaged around in a drawer for a moment, "Where's my lighter?"

    "Oh."  Trip looked slightly chagrined, "I used it up lighting the candles last night.  I didn't realize it was on it's last legs."

    "Well we'll just have to drink it straight then."  He saw the look Trip was giving his glass, "Go on.  Try it."

    Trip took a cautious sip and the liquid seemed to evaporate on his tongue, filling his nostrils with a heady liquorice vapour.  His eyes widened and he swallowed what was left, eyes watering slightly as it burned all the way to the pit of his stomach.  "Wow."  He met Alex's mirthful gaze and grinned before taking another sip, enjoying the sensation.  He took another sip, and then another.  Then laughed and drank and talked and drank and drank some more with Alex until he overbalanced and flopped backwards, lying still as the room continued to spin in the most delightful manner.

    Trip looked up from the postcard he was writing as he felt someone playfully lick the back of his neck.  "Alex?"

    "It's late."

    "We've been up later."

    "But I was hoping to continue what we did earlier."

    Trip flushed at the memory of necking in the back of the movie theatre.  He set his writing aside and turned around, "And just what were you planning on doing?"
    "Well,"  Alex carefully drew him out of his chair and over to the bed, "I was going to start by snogging you senseless."

    Trip grinned at his boyfriend, "And then?"

    A slightly apprehensive look came over Alex's face, but he continued in a light tone, "I know you haven't done this before, but would it be fine with you if I were to Tucker."  Trip frowned at the odd statement and reached out for the warm body next to him.  

    "Archer to Tucker."  His hand banged into the wall next to his bunk and Trip started fully awake at the repeated hail.  Operating on muscle memory his fingers hit the comm button and the captain's voice filled the room, "We need you on the bridge, Trip."  The excitement was plain in Jon's voice, "We've found something."

    "On my way."  Trip grimaced as he wiped a streak of drool off of his cheek and peered at the chronometer on his desk.  Over two hours had passed.  Realizing what that meant he tucked the photo back into his pocket and took off for the bridge.


    "What have we got?"  Trip was on the bridge before the turbolift doors had fully opened.  He saw the viewer and stopped short, staring at the blotchy subsurface scan on the screen for a moment before he found his voice, "It looks like a prison."

    "There are five of them, each with their own dampening fields."  T'Pol went over the more detailed data available at her console, "I'm reading thousands of biosigns."

    The captain shifted to the edge of his seat, "Any human?"

    She punched in a request and the computer worked for a few moments, "I am reading one human biosign in the northernmost facility."

    Trip felt his knees go weak with relief.  He wobbled over to his chair and sat down heavily.  Everyone else on the bridge seemed to be breathing a collective sigh of relief as well.  Feeling as if a great weight had been lifted from him he asked, "Can you get a transporter lock?"

    "No.  The signal is too weak through the field.  Transporting would be unwise."

    Jon spun in his chair to face T'Pol, "What if a team goes down in a shuttlepod?"

    "The facility is underground.  It would likely be difficult to infiltrate without heavy casualties."

    "Well what should we do then?"

    T'Pol regarded the agitated engineer cooly, "If the signal were stronger it would be possible to attempt a successful beam out.  Since transporting to the surface shouldn't be a problem, someone could beam down with a pair of communicators.  Their signals should be strong enough to allow both people to transport back with them."

    "I'll go, Cap'n."

    Jon regarded his longtime friend with a sigh.  He knew that look, it meant that Trip would defy orders and beam himself down if he had to.  Finally he nodded, "Alright Trip."


    Trip stood nervously on the dais, spare communicator in one hand and phase pistol in the other.  "I have determined which room Lieutenant Reed is being held in and I've programmed the transporter to place to you within it."  T'Pol shifted took a step to her right so that she could clearly see the transporter controls the captain was manning, "We'll be awaiting your signal."  Trip gave a terse nod and fervently hoped that the gurney Phlox had waiting with him wouldn't be needed.

    "Take care."  Jon carefully slid the knobs on the transporter controls and a hum filled the air.  Trip's vision faded out and when it returned he found himself looking into the shocked face of the largest Reytan he'd ever seen.  The alien managed to take one step towards a console before Trip stunned him with a quick blast from his phase pistol.  As soon as the weapon discharged a loud klaxon filled the air, clearly an alarm of some sort.  Trip spun around and found a figure in a Starfleet uniform slumped forwards in a chair in front of him.

    "Malcolm!"  The figure didn't move so Trip thrust his communicator into Malcolm's slack hand and flipped his own open.  He yelled into the device over the scream of the alarm, phase pistol trained on the only door to the room, "Get him out of here, now!"  There was barely a pause before Malcolm shimmered and vanished.  The door burst open and a hulking Reytan stormed into the room.  Trip felled him and had turned his weapon on the one behind when he felt the familiar tingling sensation that accompanied the beginning of a transport.  The room faded out and Trip found himself back on Enterprise where organized chaos reigned in the hallway.

    Phlox had an unconscious Malcolm loaded on the gurney and Trip watched as an urgent command had his assistants pushing it towards sickbay as fast as was humanly possible.  Startled into action Trip leapt off the dais and took off towards sickbay with the captain, adrenaline still coursing through his system.


    They made it to sickbay in record time, but found that the thick privacy curtain had been drawn before they got there.  It was obvious that a flurry of activity was going on behind the curtain so Jon propelled his trembling friend into a nearby chair.  They waited in silence for what seemed like an eternity before the curtain was drawn aside and the doctor allowed them to approach the biobed.  There was a bandage wrapped tightly around Malcolm's chest, a sure sign of broken ribs.  His face had an archipelago of dark bruises mottling the entire left side and his lip was split and swollen.  "Doc?"

    Phlox turned tired eyes on them and smiled reassuringly, "With some time off duty, Mr. Reed should make a complete recovery."

    "What did they do to him?"

    "The lieutenant has clearly suffered several beatings.  He has one broken rib and two fractured, a parry fracture in his right forearm which will need time to knit, a series of burns on the sole of his right foot, damaged cartilage in his right knee, damaged fingers on his left hand, and severe bruising over his entire body.  From the welts raised on his back it would appear a cable or rod was used there on several occasions."

    "But what about the remains they gave us?"

    Phlox's eyes turned cold with barely suppressed anger at his patient's condition.  He reached down and carefully raised Malcolm's left hand so that it was clearly visible.  There was a bulky white bandage around the tip of every finger.

    The captain gasped, "Did the Reytans?"

    Phlox nodded grimly, "They removed almost a centimetre from the tip of each finger."

    "Oh gawd.  Will they..."  Trip trailed off, unsure if he wanted to know the answer to the question.

    "Fortunately they did not become infected and the nail was never completely removed.  I have treated them and with a bit of assistance expect them to be able to regenerate to roughly their previous state.  There may be some permanent numbness and loss of sensation though."

    Jon swallowed down a rising queasiness, "I have to go to the bridge and inform the crew."  He looked at his friend for a moment before arriving at a quick decision, "You're off duty until further notice, Trip."  The captain cast one last look at his subordinate before leaving the room almost as quickly as he'd come.

    Familiar blue-grey eyes were turned toward his own.  Trip stared back at the photo remembering all the minute details of the day.  He remembered how it had rained that morning before the sun came out, leaving the air still smelling like rain.  He remembered the little old lady who had taken the picture for them and how she'd had to do it twice because she'd had her finger over the lens the first time.  He remembered how the scent of Alex's shampoo had filled his nostrils as he kissed his cheek.

    "What's that?"

    He started slightly in his seat at the soft query, he hadn't heard anyone come into sickbay.  "Nothing, Cap'n.  Just an old photo of someone I knew."  Trip hurriedly tucked it back into his pocket and Jon tactfully let the matter drop.

    "I think everyone who's not on duty has lined up outside sickbay, they all need to see him to fully believe he's back with us.  I've told them they have to stay out until after he wakes up on his own and Phlox checks him over.  Does the doc know when he's going to wake up?"

    Trip shook his head, "No.  At least, he knows it won't be for a while."

    "You should go get some rest yourself."

    "Naw.  I'm good right here."

    Jon scrutinized his friend carefully before acquiescing to the conviction in Trip's tone.  "Okay.  I'll come back when he's awake."  He gave Trip a friendly pat on the shoulder, "Night."

    Trip's eyes didn't stray from Malcolm.  "Night."

    The sickbay doors slid shut behind Jon, cutting off the view of several crewmembers who were craning their necks to see through the fleeting opening.  Trip ran his fingers gently over the knuckles of Malcolm's good hand, willing Malcolm to wake up so they could talk, and wondering what on earth he was going to say.


    He wasn't quite fully asleep, but he wasn't awake either.  Something was tugging at the very edge of consciousness.  He tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, but it just wouldn't go away.  Slowly, he managed to blink his gritty eyes open and clear his sleep blurred vision, "Doc?"  Trip shifted in the chair and the blanket that had been draped over him slid to the floor.

    "Ah Commander!  Just in time."

    "What time is it?"  Trip's voice was still husky from sleep.

    "About 7:30, you fell asleep around three this morning."

    "Oh."  Realizing it was the beeping of Malcolm's biobed that had woken him Trip sat up straighter, wincing when a knot in his back protested the movement.  "Malcolm alright?"

    "Quite all right, Commander."  Phlox reached out and silenced the alarm.  "In fact, it means he's waking up.  I've already commed the captain, he'll be here shortly."

    Trip nodded at the doctor and slid his chair even closer to the biobed, it was suddenly important to him that he get to speak with Malcolm before anyone else.  His hopes were dashed when the doors to sickbay opened and the captain strode in before Malcolm had so much as batted an eye.

    "Here all night, Trip?"  Jon smiled knowingly at his friend.

    Despite his disappointment Trip gave a sheepish grin in response, "I did get some sleep."

    They moved to stand at opposite sides of the biobed where they had a clear view of Malcolm's face.  Phlox took up a position to the captain's left, several loaded hyposprays ready in case they were needed.  After a minute or two of close scrutiny a muscle in Malcolm's face twitched once, and then again.


    Malcolm's lip curled and he gave a soft sound akin to a moan before he slid his eyes open halfway.  There was a pause of no more than a second before memories of where he'd been surged back and he suddenly made as if to sit up, grunting in pain as his injuries reasserted themselves.

    "Easy, Malcolm."  A friendly hand on each of his shoulders gently pushed him back down onto the surface of the bed.  He blinked twice and fully opened his eyes, properly seeing his surroundings for the first time.

    "You rescued me."  The words croaked slightly in his throat and it was half statement, half question.

    "Trip and T'Pol broke through the dampening field and he beamed down to get you."

    Malcolm grimaced slightly, obviously struggled to keep a tight rein on his emotions, "I wasn't sure you'd come back.  I saw the explosion, and they said they'd given you remains."

    Jon cast a slightly uneasy look at Trip who replied, "We weren't about to give up."  Malcolm appeared satisfied at the conviction in his friend's tone and nodded slowly.

    Phlox finished consulting the scan he'd been running while the other were talking and broke into the conversation, "Can you tell me how you're feeling, Lieutenant?  Are you in any pain?"

    Malcolm considered for a moment before smiling slightly, "All things considered, I'm feeling pretty good.  It doesn't hurt just lying here, although my back does itch a bit."  He paused a beat and then, broken bones and all, began a familiar argument, "How long do I have to stay here?"

    Phlox smiled sweetly, grateful that Malcolm was around to engage in their usual battle of wills, "It will be some time before you can make it as far as the sickbay doors on your own, much less return to duty.  After a few days bed rest..."

    "Bed rest!"  The words were practically an indignant wail and the others couldn't help but smile in amusement and relief.

    "I expect you to stick to the doctor's orders, Malcolm."

    Malcolm gave a grimace accentuated by the fact that it hurt his face to do so, "Yes sir."

    Jon's face turned serious, hating to do this so soon after Malcolm's ordeal.  He took a deep breath and began cautiously, "I need to contact Starfleet and apprise them of the current situation.  Do you have any idea why they kidnapped you?  Were they trying to gather any specific information?"

    Malcolm's eyes clouded slightly at the memories and Jon felt a pang of guilt.  A feeling that intensified as Trip glared at him while Malcolm took a shuddering breath.  Jon was about to defy orders and tell his lieutenant that he could wait for a report when Malcolm started to speak softly,  "It was strange."  He paused and turned thoughtful eyes directly on the captain, "Given my position, there was so much they could have asked me.  So much information that would have compromised the security of Enterprise and even Earth, but they didn't ask for any of it.  Just the same question over and over, and it wasn't even something I could have answered if I'd wanted to."  Malcolm gave an ironic half smile before pitching his voice differently as he quoted, "What's your real mission?"

    "What?"  Trip was dumbfounded.

    "To them it was inconceivable that we would simply be on a mission of exploration.  They were convinced that we were out to infiltrate their government or annex them altogether, or some similar nonsense.  I stuck to the truth, but," Malcolm gave a self deprecating shrug, "I'm afraid I was less than convincing."

    "Malcolm!"  Trip gave a strangled protest and Jon took up the cause as well.

    "From the paranoia you've described I think they were inconvincible, Malcolm.  You stuck to the truth even though they hurt you, I think that's commendable."  Malcolm nodded slightly in acknowledgement of his superior's point and Jon smiled as he patted his officer's shoulder, "It's great to have you back.  You're an integral part of this ship, Malcolm, I don't know what we'd have done without you."  Malcolm flushed slightly in embarrassment, a hue that increased as his captain continued, "I'm continually impressed by your character and work.  I've sent a transmission to Starfleet recommending you for promotion, and before you think this is just from guilt or relief, I've had the paperwork completed for over a week and I was going to send it at the end of the month with my reports."

    "I... ah... thank you, sir."

    Jon grinned at his flustered officer for a moment before taking a step away from the biobed, "I'm afraid I have to grab something to eat and then have a lengthy chat with the brass.  Are you up for some visitors?"  The question was addressed to both Malcolm and Doctor Phlox.  When they both nodded Jon looked slightly relieved, "Then I'm going to start letting in the line up outside before they mutiny and storm the place."

    "Line up?"  Malcolm looked distinctly uneasy.

    "We did think that you were actually dead at first so there are a lot of people who need the reassurance of actually talking with you.  I'll tell them to keep it short, okay?"

    "All right."  Malcolm still looked slightly peakish at the thought of having to make small talk with a horde of highly emotional people, but he put on his usual brave face.

    Jon scrutinized Trip who had yet to move from his position near Malcolm's bed, "How about you join me for breakfast, Trip?  You can come back later if Phlox says it's okay."

    Trip recognized an order even when it was well disguised and trailed along behind the captain, casting one last look over his shoulder as the sickbay doors closed behind him.


    Trip carefully set the photo on his desk before flopping down onto his bunk, grimacing slightly as he realized he hadn't quite finished drying his hair.  He lay there for a moment, too worn out to move.  To say the day had been trying would be an understatement.  The crew was oscillating between being relieved and happy to have Malcolm alive and safe, and being angry at what had happened.  Emotions were running high and it seemed like everyone, even people who had barely crossed paths with Malcolm before, had gone to see him.  Even when that meant shirking their duties to do so.  That meant that even more work than usual was heaped on Trip's back, the fact that he had to look after the armoury as well didn't help matters.

    Trip had tried to corner Malcolm alone so he could talk to him.  The one useful thing about sickbay was that it made the injured party a captive audience.  He'd gone in during his lunch break, only to find that Travis and Hoshi had the same idea.  There was no way he could bring up their past with the ensigns present, so he'd been forced to make small talk for half an hour when all he wanted to do was sweep Malcolm up into a hug.  Mind you, given the state of Malcolm's back and ribs it would be a while before he could do that regardless of the presence of others.

    He'd tried to talk to Malcolm again after his shift. but was thwarted even before he could take a step into sickbay.  In an effort to stop the flood of people wearing a hole in his deck plating Phlox had locked the sickbay doors and attached a simple home made sign to them.  It simply read, "Lieutenant Reed is currently sleeping and is not to be disturbed until after he wakes tomorrow.  Please comm sickbay for admittance in the event of a medical emergency.  -Dr. Phlox."

    Trip rolled over and looked towards his desk where the photo lay.  It was the damnedest thing, but it was like he couldn't look at it enough.  It was almost like he expected it to vanish along with his chance to talk to Malcolm.  The initial euphoria that had filled him when Phlox had said Malcolm would be alright had dissipated, leave a niggling sense of foreboding in its stead.  Trip didn't have a clue what to say to make things right between them, he just knew he couldn't bear to mess up.  A dozen conversation starters flitted through his mind, but none of them seemed appropriate.  Finally, Trip turned off the lights and wormed his way under the covers.  He'd talk to Malcolm tomorrow, and he wasn't about to let himself chicken out.


    Frosted glass had never looked so intimidating before.  Trip raised his hand to hover just in front of the button to open the sickbay door, before dropping it once more.  Maybe he'd be better to come back later, after his shift.  Maybe he shouldn't even do this today.  Maybe he should wait until Malcolm was feeling better.  Just when he was about to carry on down the corridor approaching footfalls had him panicking and punching the button with his thumb, causing the doors to slide open smoothly.  He practically leapt into the room, but didn't feel any relief as the doors closed behind him.

    "Ah Commander!"  Phlox appeared before him smiling broadly, obviously alerted by the doors opening and closing.

    "Hey Doc, How's Malcolm?  Can I have some time to talk to him?"  Trip paused a beat and added as an afterthought, "Alone."

    "Of course, of course."  Phlox indicated the curtained off biobed, "He's finished his breakfast and is feeling a great deal better this morning.  Go right ahead, I'll be in my office."

    "Thanks."  Trip smiled and headed towards the curtain, aware that Malcolm had likely heard the exchange.  Drawing back the curtain revealed Malcolm propped up on a small mountain of Sickbay pillows.  He managed a smile when he saw his visitor and Trip was pleased to see that his eyes were clear and bright rather than slightly glazed by painkillers.  "Mornin' Malcolm.  You're looking better today."  That earned a wider smile even though it pulled abused flesh on his face.

    "Phlox insists I have to stay in bed for at least two more days.  I'd make a run for it, but I doubt I can hobble fast enough to escape, even though he hasn't been putting in his requisite hours in the gym."  

    Malcolm gave a gusty theatrical sigh and in that instant the gesture was so familiar to Trip that he couldn't stop himself from blurting out, "Gawd you look so much like my Alex when you do that."  Both men froze as the realization of what Trip had said sunk in.

    Eventually Malcolm licked his lips in a nervous gesture, "It's been a long time since anyone called me that."

    Trip watched his friend closely, but couldn't fathom what was flitting through Malcolm's eyes.  After a stretch of silence he finally unzipped his pocket and drew out the photo, "I found this when I was looking for the data disks."

    "I thought you might."  Malcolm's features were still inscrutable and Trip shifted nervously.



    "Aw, hell."  Trip scrubbed a hand through his hair in frustration at the cool mask in front of him, "Why didn't you say anything?"

    Malcolm blinked serenely, "Why should I have?"

    Trip gaped, "What?"

    "Why should I have?  You shook my hand like you'd never seen me before in your life."  He affected a southern accent, "Pleased ta meet ya, Lew-ten-ant."

    Trip could sense Malcolm's mask beginning to crack, but he pressed on regardless of the consequences, "I didn't recognize you!  It was over a decade ago, you look different, and you sure as hell act differently, Alex!"  Trip placed extra stress on the name.

    "I recognized you!"  Malcolm snapped the words out.

    "You had a photo!"

    "And you didn't?  I'm glad to know I meant so much to you that you didn't keep any bloody pictures!"

    Malcolm was red in the face and his breathing was harsh.  Trip felt his anger fizzle out into a small burst of fear that Phlox would burst in and kick him out for upsetting a patient.  If that happened it was unlikely Malcolm would speak to him off duty at all, and he'd get nothing but the proper officer mask while on duty.  If he messed this up he wouldn't get another shot at happiness.  Feeling suddenly tired Trip sank into the chair at Malcolm's bedside, ignoring the vehement glare that accompanied him doing so.  "It wasn't that at all."  Trip took a deep breath and forced himself to continue, I got rid of my photos because you were the one I couldn't have, and the one I wanted above all.  I got rid of the photos because so long as I had them I was completely hung up on you.  Heck, even without them I didn't look at another guy.  And the poor women, at some level I was rating them on the Alex scale of greatness and none of them could measure up."  Malcolm's face was a jumbled mix of emotions.  He looked slightly mollified, but was still clearly quite upset.  Trip continued softly, "I thought about you so much for so long.  I dreamed about running into you again.  I can't believe you were right under my nose for so long."

    Malcolm picked at one of his bandages with his good hand, not making eye contact as he spoke, "When I saw your name on the manifest I had my suspicions.  When you arrived that first morning with the captain I knew it was you."

    Trip slumped slightly in his seat, "I don't know what to say, Malcolm.  The man I met almost two years ago had a different name than the person I knew.  I think by the time shipping off on Enterprise was a reality, I'd almost given up on finding you again."  He surveyed the man in front of him for a moment, taking in the differences between what he remembered and what was before him, "Even your accent is a bit different."

    "Living with a bunch of Americans at Starfleet Headquarters will do that to you.  Besides, it's not that different, not to your ears."  He paused and the earlier anger seemed to drain out of him as well.  Eventually, he looked up and met Trip's eyes, "What do you want?"

    Trip didn't waver, "You."

    "I'm not Alex, Trip.  Not anymore."

    "I never thought I'd be saying this to anyone, but I don't care."

    Malcolm sighed at the determined look on Trip's face, "I'm tired, Trip.  This really isn't the best time for this."

    Trip took in the pinched and pale features, "Aw, hell, Malcolm.  I didn't mean to upset you while you're still in sickbay.  I didn't think..."

    "You tend not to."  There was a slightly acidic tone to the muttered comment.


    "I woke up that morning and you were gone, not even a bloody 'goodbye' much less an 'I love you' or  'thank you' or promise to write.  How was I supposed to feel, Trip?  How was I supposed to remember you?"

    "Oh, Malcolm."  Trip choked on his words at the realization of what he'd done.

    "I think you should leave."

    "But Mal!"

    "Now."  Malcolm closed his eyes in a dismissive gesture.  Trip hovered for a moment in indecision before he turned on his heel and left, the doors sliding shut smoothly behind him.

    The closing doors cut off Trip's receding footsteps and after a moment Malcolm carefully opened his eyes.  He blinked a few times before a smile slowly twisted the corners of his lips in and up.  Trip was sorry.  Trip wanted him.  He really, truly wanted him.  Malcolm lay there, lost in thought and smiling slightly, for a while before his eyes slid shut again.  It may have been morning, but he was still absolutely exhausted.  The night before had been full of nightmares, he'd woken from them countless times and only managed to get an hour or two of sleep.  Now, however, Malcolm slept peacefully for the first time in almost a week, his dreams full of light and laughter.  The look on Trip's face when he'd surveyed some of the pieces in the modern art gallery, acting like children as they spat roasted cashews off Blackfriars bridge, breaking into an improvised tap dance over Charles Darwin, and singing in the road on the way home from the pub.

    "Afternoon, Malcolm."
    Malcolm's gaze snapped up from where it had been fixed on a padd and he smiled at this visitor, "Good afternoon, Captain."

    Jon pulled a chair up to his subordinate's bedside and sat down, fixing Malcolm with a warm smile, "Reports from the armoury?"

    Malcolm sniffed derisively, "Hardly.  Travis tried to smuggle in the status reports, but Phlox got a hold of them.  Evidently the most excitement I'm allowed is a light novel."

    Malcolm was propped up on a stack of pillows and while his face was still mottled with scabbed cuts and fading bruises, the underlying pallor was gone.  "You're looking better."

    "I'll feel better when I'm out of sickbay.  It's been days!"

    Jon grinned at the characteristic response, "Phlox said anything about that yet?"

    "My ribs are feeling a lot better and Phlox is going to fit me with a brace for my knee.  He said that *perhaps* I could go for a walk to the mess this evening for some tea if I could find someone to go with me."

    "Well, Trip's off duty tonight so I guess he's already volunteered?"  Instead of answering what Jon had assumed to be an straightforward question Malcolm looked slightly pensive and even worried his lower lip with his teeth.  The captain's brow furrowed, "Malcolm?"

    Jon couldn't be sure, but Malcolm's shoulders seemed to slump slightly, "Actually, I haven't seen Commander Tucker lately."

    "Oh."  Jon faltered.  He knew Malcolm wouldn't like him to pry, but since Trip was his best friend he felt a genuine concern.  "I know they were doing some refits in engineering, I wouldn't put it past him to be pulling double or triple shifts again."  Even to Jon the explanation sounded weak.

    Malcolm shook his head slowly, "No, I know why."  He turned thoughtful eyes on his captain, "I suppose I need to talk to him, but I can't exactly comm him and tell him to come to sickbay.  Would you... would you tell him about the possibility of an outing this evening and ask if he could come?"

    While Malcolm met his captain's eyes, there was something about him that was still guarded so Jon withheld his questions, "Sure Malcolm, and if he can't leave engineering I'll come myself."

    Malcolm gave a ghost of a genuine smile at that and the conversation turned to the safe topic of the book he was reading.

    "Commander!  Right on time."  Phlox smiled at Trip before turning his attention back to the knee in front of him.  After a few tugs to make sure the velcro was firm and the straps tight he helped Malcolm sit up and lever himself off of the biobed to stand experimentally on the floor.  "I want you to be sure to walk slowly, just go to the mess, sit down for a bit, and come back.  That cartilage heals slowly enough without you overdoing your first real walk."

    "I'll keep him in line, Doc."  Trip gave a cautious grin and brightened when Malcolm didn't seem to mind his comment.

    "See that you do.  If he seems to be in discomfort bring him straight back."

    "Will do."

    Trip moved to stand next to Malcolm as the other man took a few careful steps with a pronounced limp.  "Very good Lieutenant! "  Phlox moved and opened the doors for them.  "I'll expect you back in a little while.  Remember not to overdo it."

    "I won't, Doctor."  Malcolm paused for a second and squared his shoulders before setting off down the corridor.
    ""Later, Doc."  Trip flashed him a quick smile before hurrying to catch up to Malcolm.  Once beside the other man he slowed down to keep pace with the awkward gait.  They were over half way to their destination when Trip finally broke the silence that had befallen them.  "So... Cap'n said you asked him to ask me to come?"


    "Oh... Any reason in particular?  You pretty much threw me out last time I saw you."

    "We need to talk.  Over a cuppa in a quiet corner of the mess hall seemed like as good a place as any.  It's usually deserted at this time in the evening."  Trip nodded slowly, unsure if he should welcome this turn of events or not.  They arrived at the door and Malcolm entered first, returning a wave to the crewmen sitting at the only occupied table in the room.  "Grab me a cup of my usual stuff and I'll get a seat."  So saying he proceeded to hobble over to a far table near the windows.  Trip got Malcolm's tea and a coffee for himself and joined Malcolm, a nervous air about him as he sank into the empty seat.

    Malcolm took a fortifying sip of his drink and began, "I owe you an apology.  I still stand by what I said, but I shouldn't have behaved like that."

    Trip waved a hand in a dismissive gesture, "Naw, it's okay.  I shouldn't have sprung it on you like that."  Malcolm nodded in agreement and silence descended again.  Trip took a thoughtful sip of his drink before speaking softly, "What else, Mal?  I think I've made it clear how I feel."

    "That you did."  Malcolm cupped the mug in his hands and looked into the liquid for a moment before he continued, "I don't know how I feel, Trip."  He slowly met his friend's eyes.  "It really hurt when you left like that, almost as much as when you didn't recognize me at all.  At first I thought you were just pretending, but then when we were stuck in Shuttlepod One I realized you weren't at all.  That hurt too.  I thought I'd meant more to you.  I didn't think you could just forget me."

    "I didn't, Malcolm."  Trip couldn't contain himself, "I truly didn't.  Heck, I haven't looked at another guy since."

    Malcolm raised an eyebrow before giving a mirthless chuckle, "If you really want to know, I went to women too, even though I'm bloody awkward around them."

    Trip's eyebrows raised, "Yeah?"


    "Huh."  Trip took another sip of his drink as both men tried to figure out what to say next.  "You know, Malcolm, while I won't deny that you're really different from the guy I fell for back then, I do really care for you now."

    Malcolm was startled that Trip had managed to hit on what was a real concern for him, "Really?"

    "Really.  You captivate me, Malcolm, just as you are."
    "Oh."  A faint blush was colouring Malcolm's cheeks, "I can say the same about you."

    Trip felt the thrill that accompanied hope rush through him, but he continued cautiously, "Would you give 'us' another chance?"

    "Malcolm!"  He frowned, that wasn't the voice he expected to hear next.

    "Hey Malcolm!"  Both men turned to find Hoshi and Travis, both in their workout gear hurrying towards their table.  "You finally escaped!  Good for you."  The ensigns sank into the two empty chairs at the table and Trip and Malcolm's private conversation was over.

    Trip helped Malcolm heave himself back up onto his biobed and lay down.  Despite his protests that he was "fine", it was clear he was flagging.  A fact that was demonstrated when he didn't put up any fuss as Trip busied himself taking off Malcolm's shoes and pulling the blanket back up.  Trip moved to stand at the head of the bed and smiled at Malcolm's yawn, "There you go."

    Malcolm blinked tiredly, they'd stayed in the mess hall with Travis and Hoshi much longer than they'd planned.  "Thank you."

    Unable to stop himself, Trip reached out and smoothed a lock of hair back from Malcolm's forehead, "You know, you never answered my question."

    "I know."  Malcolm's voice was so soft Trip almost had to lean down to hear him.


    Malcolm took slow a breath before turning a slightly tremulous smile on Trip, "I'm willing to give 'us' another chance.  We'll see what happens."  He yawned involuntarily and added, "Starting in the morning."

    A wide smile was fixed on Trip's face as he echoed happily, "In the morning."  He stayed by the bed until Malcolm closed his eyes and his breathing evened out.  Not seeing Phlox anywhere he dimmed the lights and tiptoed out of sickbay.  There was a definite spring in Trip's step as he walked down the corridor.

    "Ouch!"  The sharp pinch to his exposed backside had Trip banging his head on the bottom of the console he was fixing.  Muffled curses were heard as he slowly extracted himself from the mess of circuitry.  Trip climbed to his feet and found himself face to face with a grinning Malcolm Reed.  An admonishment died on his lips when Malcolm held up his left hand and wiggled his fingers for Trip to see.  His unbandaged left hand.  Trip reached out and caught the wrist so he could scrutinize the fingertips.  "Phlox took the bandages off?"

      Malcolm's grin widened as he nodded, "Just a few minutes ago."

    Trip peered at the pale new flesh, "How do they feel?"

    "A bit numb, but that should go away by the end of the week."  Trip carefully touched the tip of Malcolm's pinky and looked up expectantly.

    Malcolm couldn't keep a full blown smile off his face as he affirmed, "I felt that."

    Trip glanced around quickly to ensure none of his subordinates were hanging around before he raised the hand and planted a kiss on each fingertip.  Malcolm's eyes seemed to sparkle, "I felt those too."  He moved to stand even closer and whispered, "Aren't you off duty?"

    Trip had the grace to look chagrined, "I was just finishing up."

    "Well I suggest you finish up quickly.  I thought that perhaps we could go back to my quarters and test them out."

    "Test them out?"  If anyone but Malcolm had been present he'd have been embarrassed at the squeak in his tone.

    "Mmmhmmm,"  Malcolm licked his lips and nodded, "I do need to pay you back for cutting up my food for me lately, don't I?"

    Trip's eyes widened before he stepped back and scooped his tools into their case.  He stood again and cast a quick, wide eyed look at Malcolm, who merely licked his lips once more, before hollering to the other end of engineering, "Hey Rostov!  Forget that, I need you to finish this console."