Title: A Guy Like You and a Place Like This

Author: Joules Mer

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

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

Date: Posted to EntSTSlash Jan. 16, 2005

Archive: Everyone else ask first.

Fandom: Star Trek Enterprise

Category: Slash

Rating: PG

Pairing: Tu/R

Trip stumbles upon Malcolm in an unexpected place, and then winds up playing nurse.

Series:  None

Beta: None


Disclaimer: Enterprise is the property of Paramount.  No profit has been, or will be, made by this story.  

A/N: For Mary, who wanted a sic fic.   

   The thrum of the music was so loud it almost felt like his ribs were rattling.  As Trip surveyed the gyrating mass of people on the dance floor he reflected that Jupiter Station sure had changed in the last couple years.  He didn't recognize the place where he'd lived as a lieutenant while running space trials of warp engine designs.  The push to make it a tourist destination had done wonders.

    The song changed to another incessant electronic beat with repetitive vocals and he sipped at his drink.  It wasn't really his kind of music, but as the birthday boy this particular club had been Rostov's pick.  And boy, Trip thought as a young man in drag paraded by, he'd picked some club.  


    Trip turned at the barely audible word and found Hess indicating the dance floor with a raised eyebrow.  With a final swig he polished off his drink and nodded, letting her take his hand and lead him through the crush of men to a free spot on the floor.  The song changed to something he remembered hearing touted as a new release and he picked up the beat and began to dance, remembering why he'd used to go out so often before Enterprise shipped out.

    A number of songs later and he was beginning to feel a little winded.  He'd forgotten how much work dancing was.  As he twisted to the right something familiar caught his eye.  Trip froze, completely loosing the beat, as realization struck.  He knew the back of that head.  He'd stood behind it on the bridge often enough to recognize it anywhere.  Sure he must be mistaken, he reached out and gently prodded the closer shoulder.

    The figure spun around and a smile melted into an expression of shock that Trip was sure must be mirrored on his own face.  It was Malcolm Reed.  Malcolm Reed in an outfit accessorized with a pink necktie.

    After a moment of shock Malcolm smiled gamely and shouted, "Trip!  Great club isn't it?"

    Trip only managed to nod.

    Malcolm eyed his friend.  "Been here before?"  When Trip shook his head he shouted, "I ran into a few friends from university vacationing on the station.  Melody wanted to check this place out."  He pointed to a smiling woman by his side and Trip felt his former world view reassert himself.  Of course Malcolm was here with a girl, the pink necktie had probably been bought to wear here as a means of fitting in.  Malcolm had always hated drawing attention to himself.  He smiled at Melody and they shook hands as they shouted their names in each other's ears.

    As they continued dancing Hess rejoined him with a drink in hand and Malcolm danced close to Melody, albeit a bit more stiffly than before.  

    Trip had just got his groove back when Hess elbowed him in the ribs.  He turned to find her indicating that he should look to his right.  He dutifully did as she suggested and found a man giving Melody a hug; presumably another university friend.  Before Trip could introduce himself the man turned to Malcolm and started to dance well within Malcolm's personal space.  Trip lost the beat as he stopped altogether.  The man, wearing a tight shirt that proclaimed, "Be gentle, it's my first time," went from dancing in front of Malcolm to dancing *with* Malcolm.  What surprised Trip the most was that, aside from a nervous glance in his direction, Malcolm didn't seem to mind having another man gyrating against himself.

    He didn't move until Hess took his arm and shouted, "Let's get a drink."  The words were enough to shake him out of his stupor and he nodded.  He tried to say goodbye before Hess led him away, but Malcolm was absorbed in his companion.  He settled for giving Melody a smile and a wave.


    *Beep, beep, beep*  As he rolled over the increasing volume of the alarm seemed to coincide with an increasing pain in his head.  He flung out a hand and shut off the alarm, leaving a throbbing headache in the sudden silence.  His mouth felt fuzzy, and there was the unmistakable taste of sour beer on his tongue.  When he tried to recall the events that led him to this predicament he could only draw a blank, his stomach quickly filled the void by giving an ominous rumble of its displeasure with him.  If his stomach felt like that, Malcolm could only imagine what his liver wanted to do to him.

    Malcolm rolled out of bed and stumbled into the lav.  Haggard features peered back at him from the mirror and he winced.  He'd need a shower before he could even think of going on duty.  It wasn't until he was shaving that memories from the previous evening came back to him.  It was a good thing shaving technology was fairly advanced otherwise he'd have cut himself quite badly.  Why, of all the clubs, bars, and restaurants on Jupiter Station did Hess and Trip have to pick that one?  

    An alarm chimed to warn him that there were only fifteen minutes until his shift started.  In retrospect it seemed particularly idiotic to go out partying like that on the last night of shore leave.  Malcolm quickly finished shaving and cursed, he wouldn't have enough time to eat breakfast.  In a way that was a good thing, though, if he just ate one of the energy bars from his desk he wouldn't run the risk of seeing Trip in the mess hall.


    Malcolm twisted in his chair and his stomach gave an ominous lurch.  He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.

    "Are you all right, Lieutenant?"

    He forced his eyes open and tried to give the captain a reassuring smile.  "Just fine, Captain."

    Jon raised an eyebrow.  "You do realize you're off duty?"

    Malcolm surreptitiously checked the chronometer and sighed inwardly.  Lunchtime.  He'd be expected to make an appearance in the mess hall, but would do almost anything to get out of it.  "Yes, sir, but I wanted to run a diagnostic of the aft cannon systems."  He turned back to his console and punched a few buttons randomly.

    Jon shook his head and said, "Malcolm."

    He looked up.  "Yes sir?"

    "Go eat lunch.  That's an order."  Jon watched with thinly veiled amusement as Malcolm fought not to be insubordinate.

    His mouth was a thin line as he said, "Aye sir."

    Malcolm cursed silently as he secured his station.  He cursed all the way to the mess hall, and he cursed when he saw who was in it.  Trip was holding court at a table in the middle of the room, a gaggle of engineers laughing and talking.  He tried to blend into the background as he sidled over to the food cabinets.  The strategy failed.


    He tried to pretend he hadn't heard the call as he stood in front of the cabinets.  Pasta or sandwiches, neither option was very appealing.  A hand clamped down on his shoulder and he spun around.

    "Hey, Malcolm."

    It was Trip.  He tried to feign an innocent expression.  "Oh.  Hello Commander."

    The act wouldn't have worked if Trip hadn't been so nervous.  "I... I was wondering if we could talk.  About last night."  Malcolm felt his headache ratchet up another notch.  "It was kind of a surprise to see you there and..."

    It was at that moment that Novakovich walked by with a large bowl of Chef's seafood chowder.  One whiff of it and Malcolm's stomach gave up the fight.  He pushed Trip out of the way and ran for the doors.

    After a moment of shock Trip pulled himself together and ran after his friend.  Exiting the mess hall, he caught a glimpse of Malcolm ducking into the nearest washroom.  He sprinted into it and was confronted by a row of closed stall doors.  "Malcolm?"  There was the stomach turning sound of someone being violently ill.  He pulled open a stall door and found Malcolm on his knees in front of the toilet.  "Are you okay?"

    Malcolm retched and spat before weakly resting his head on his hands.  "I'm bloody lovely.  How are you, Commander?"

    Relieved that his friend was at least able to be sarcastic, Trip grabbed a communal glass and filled it with water from the sink.  He passed it to Malcolm and waited until the other man had rinsed his mouth out before saying, "Have you been to see Phlox?"

    Malcolm shook his head.  "No.  I just got off the bridge."

    Trip bit his lip.  "But if you're sick..."

    Malcolm hurried to defend himself.  "I was running late this morning and I thought I was just hung over."

    Trip nodded his understanding, he'd been a bit under the weather himself when he woke up.  "Can you get up?"  Malcolm wordlessly hauled himself to his feet and Trip smiled.  "Let's get you to the doctor."


    Despite his protests that he could manage by himself, Trip had accompanied Malcolm to sickbay.  He was waiting by the biobed as Phlox ran his scanner over Malcolm.

    "How long have you been feeling like this?"

    "Since this morning."

    "Mmmhmmm, and you vomited once?"

    "Yes."  Malcolm grimaced and said, "It was the smell of Novakovich's soup that did me in."

    Phlox consulted his scanner.  "Any other symptoms?"

    "I've got a headache, nothing much beyond that."

    The scanner beeped and Phlox set it aside.  "From what I can tell you've got something akin to the Denosite Flu, but it appears to be a much more virulent strain.  You probably picked it up on the station.  It's too late to stop it, but it should run its course within a week."

    Malcolm frowned.  "You mean I've got to feel like this for a whole week!"

    "Oh no."  Phlox smiled.  "Its symptoms typically start out mild and get worse."


    "Isn't there something you can give him, Doc?"  Trip smiled winningly at the physician.  "He looks pretty miserable."

    "I can give him something for the headache, but I'm afraid he's going to have to go into quarantine.  The Denosite Flu is very contagious five hours after the onset of symptoms and there is no vaccine.  If you'll proceed to the decontamination chamber, I'll arrange for some supplies to be sent down."

    Malcolm was aghast.  "The decon chamber!"

    "Of course."  Phlox rocked on the balls of his feet.  "It's the only area of the ship food and supplies can be transferred to and from without risking contamination."

    Trip raised an eyebrow.  "You mean Malcolm has to live in decon for a week?"

    "You too, Commander."

    Trip squawked, "What?"

    Phlox retrieved a hypospray and said, "You've probably already been infected.  If it's caught before a patient starts to present symptoms of the virus a simple hypospray can prevent them from developing, but you will still be contagious as it runs its course."  He stepped over to the commander and injected the contents of the hypospray into his neck.

    Trip rubbed at the injection site and frowned.  "But what about you?"

    Phlox smiled.  "Denobulans are noted for their immunity to the Denosite Flu."  He motioned for Malcolm to get off the biobed.  "All right, gentlemen.  To decon with you."

    Trip and Malcolm glanced at each other warily before trudging after the doctor.


    Trip punched a few more lines into his padd, even though he'd really finished the report over an hour ago.  When Phlox sealed them in decon Malcolm had gone straight for the bench and curled up facing the wall.  His tense shoulders almost dared Trip to break the silence in the small room.

    Just as Trip started to check through his report for a fifth time there was a beeping from the comm panel.  He looked up to find Phlox standing at the window holding a covered tray.  There was a click and a beep as the tray was pushed into the miniature airlock.  He hauled himself to his feet and walked over to the glass.

    "Hey Doc."

    "Hello, Commander.  I thought you might like something to eat."

    Trip retrieved the tray and grinned as he found a slice of pecan pie among its contents.  "Thanks Phlox."

    "I've notified the captain of your situation.  Bedding and other necessities are going to be sent down shortly.  If there's anything else you want feel free to comm.  I'll be back around dinnertime to check on you."

    "Sure."  Trip returned the doctor's smile with a glum impression of his usual smile.  "Later."  He watched the doctor's retreating back until it disappeared from his limited field of view before picking up the tray and heading back to the middle of the room.  He set it on the floor and unpacked two bottles of water, a slice of pie, some potato chips, and a bowl of broth he assumed was for Malcolm.  Realizing that it was hours since Malcolm had eaten anything he cautiously approached his friend.  "Hey, Malcolm."

    Malcolm stirred, but didn't give any other indication he'd heard.

    Trip placed a hand on Malcolm's shoulder.  "Hey Malcolm.  Have you eaten anything today?"

    Malcolm slowly rolled over and blinked up at his friend.  "I had breakfast."

    Trip frowned.  "I didn't see you in the mess."

    "I ate in my quarters."

    "Ate what?  You didn't get any food sent up to you."

    Malcolm shifted.  "I have some energy bars in my quarters."

    "All you've had today is an energy bar?  You must be starving!  Phlox sent you some soup, do you want that now?"

    Malcolm's pallor increased.  "I don't know... I'm really not feeling very well."

    Trip eyed his friend.  "You've got to eat something.  If you don't keep your strength up it will be harder to beat this bug."

    Malcolm swallowed and then nodded once as he sat up.  "I'll give it a try."

    Trip retrieved the soup and handed it to his friend.  Malcolm gave the broth a dubious look before carefully raising a spoonful to his lips and sipping cautiously.  It went down without a problem, as did the second and the third.  

    He managed to drain a third of the bowl before his stomach gave an ominous rumble.  "Uh oh."

    Trip glanced up quickly and said, "What?"  Instead of hearing a reply he found himself instinctively jumping backwards to keep his feet from being vomited on.  He recovered quickly and snatched the bowl from Malcolm's hands as the man heaved again.  He stepped over to the comm.  "Tucker to Phlox.  Can you send some cleaning supplies down?"

    Phlox didn't even question the request.  "They'll be down shortly."

    Trip closed the comm channel and stepped back to his friend's side.  "Malcolm?"  Malcolm had his eyes tightly closed.  "You done?"

    "Yes."  Humiliation coloured Malcolm's tone.

    Trip didn't quite know what to do so he wordlessly handed Malcolm a bottle of water so he could rinse his mouth out.  They sat in awkward silence until a steward appeared with the cleaning supplies he'd requested.  He retrieved them from the airlock, but when he made to crouch down Malcolm protested.

    "I can do that, Trip."

    Trip regarded his friend.  Malcolm was pale and a thin layer of sweat slicked his upper lip and forehead.  "I've got it."


    Trip mustered a smile and said, "It's okay."  He focused his attention on the task at hand and by the time he was satisfied that the floor was clean and the air deodorized Malcolm was asleep.


    Three days had gone terribly slowly.  Malcolm was asleep most of the time and radiated misery when awake.  The few times Trip had tried to engage him in conversation his replies had been monosyllabic.  Trip glanced over at his friend.  Malcolm had looked a bit flushed an hour ago, but had got cranky when Trip asked if he should take his temperature.  The way Malcolm had his blankets tightly wrapped around himself gave Trip pause.

    Trip set aside his padd with The Black Cat and crossed the decon chamber.  "Malcolm?"

    Malcolm rolled over, but kept the blanket bunched tightly around himself.  Trip was dismayed to see that he was shivering and flushed.  "Yes?"

    Trip set a hand on his friend's forehead firmly enough to prevent Malcolm squirming away.  Frowning at the heat under his hand he reached for the comm panel.  "Tucker to sickbay."

    He only had to wait a few seconds before Phlox's reassuring tones came out of the speaker.  "Phlox here.  How can I help you?"

    "Malcolm's got a fever.  I felt him and he's pretty hot."  For some reason Malcolm flushed even more at that comment.

    There was a pause as Phlox consulted the monitors in sickbay before saying, "I'll be down shortly."

    Trip closed the comm channel and looked down to find Malcolm scowling at him.  He ran a hand through his hair and said, "Don't you start.  You're sick and the doc needs to have a look at you."

    Malcolm rolled over to face the wall again.

    Trip scrubbed a hand over his face and went back to his movie.  When the comm chimed to indicate Phlox's arrival he put his padd back down and moved to stand in front of the glass.  "Hey Doc."

    "Hello, Commander."  Phlox put a case into the airlock.  "I've brought some medical supplies.  Perhaps we could start by determining the lieutenant's exact temperature."

    "Sure."  Trip retrieved the case and dug through a set of hyposprays to the oral thermometer.  He took it over to Malcolm who obediently sat up and put it in his mouth.  When it beeped he pulled it out and passed it to Trip without checking the reading.  Trip peered at the tiny numbers and said, "39.5."

    Phlox pursed his lips for a moment before saying, "I'd like you to put the remote monitor back on him.  I'll keep an eye on his temperature from sickbay."

    "No problem, Doc.  Thanks for coming down."

    Trip retrieved the monitor from where it had been discarded the day before after Malcolm complained that it itched.  "I'm not going to have to make this an order, am I?"

    Malcolm rolled his eyes before offering his left wrist.  Trip affixed the device and wandered back to his makeshift bed.  Maybe he'd get to finish his movie.

    It couldn't have been half an hour before the comm beeped again.  Trip took a breath before pausing his movie and setting the padd down.  The sight of Doctor Phlox outside the chamber had him hurrying up to the glass.

    Phlox open a comm channel and said, "His temperature has gone up to 41.2 degrees and that kind of increase is rather worrying.  I'd like to see if we can't get his temperature back down to a more reasonable level, or at least keep it from increasing."

    Nervous at the thought of having to be the nurse, Trip pulled the medical case back out and said, "Which hypospray should I give him?"

    Phlox gave that little smile that usually accompanied news he knew someone wouldn't like to hear.  "Actually, Commander, I had another treatment in mind."

    "What kind of treatment?"

    "In this case I think the lieutenant will benefit most from the secretions produced by Argothian flying ants."

    Trip paled.  "Argothian flying ants?"

    Phlox nodded and said, "I've brought three prime specimens for you to use."  He pushed a box with a porous lid into the airlock.  Once it cycled through Trip didn't make a move to retrieve it.  Phlox carried on in a businesslike tone, "You'll have to remove his shirt and gently place them on his abdomen.  They'll latch onto his skin and as they feed their numbing agent should also reduce his fever."

    In a weak voice he said, "Feed?"

    "On his blood.  In some ways they're comparable to an Earth mosquito.  To pick them up just grip them gently on their thorax, being careful not to damage the wings."

    Trip swallowed convulsively.  "Doc..."

    Phlox cut him off saying, "You'll be just fine, Commander.  Now I've got to get back to sickbay, there was a slight mishap in the galley and I have some patients that still need immediate treatment.  I'm one comm call away should you have any difficulties."

    "But Doc..."  It was no use, Phlox was already well down the corridor.  Trip retrieved the box, gripping it by one corner as he carried it to Malcolm's bed.  "Hey."  There was no response.  He reached out and gently prodded Malcolm's shoulder.  "Hey, Malcolm.  Wake up."

    Malcolm didn't even stir.  Trip gnawed on his lower lip until the heat radiating off his friend galvanized him into action.  "Okay, Malcolm, I've gotta roll you over so Phlox's magic bugs can do their thing."  He reached out and carefully maneuvered his friend into a supine position.  Feeling that talking might keep his nerves at bay, and might reassure Malcolm if he were dimly aware of what was going on, he said, "I've got to take your shirt off now."  Malcolm stayed limp as he started to tug at the garment.  Trip noticed that having his face completely relaxed made him look younger than he normally did.  "If you weren't feverish you'd look like you were relaxing on shore leave somewhere.  When you're feeling better we should have a talk about all the tension you carry around."  He managed to get the shirt off without damaging it and allowed his eyes to wander over Malcolm's torso.  "Geez, your abs could Travis' a run for their money.  How many hours do you spend in the gym anyway?"  

    Trip wasn't sure, but he thought he saw an eyelid twitch.  "I know, I know: trade secret."  He turned to the box and eyed it like it might bite.  "I guess I'd better see what I'm dealing with."  He carefully eased one corner of the lid up, only to slam it back down.  He let out a shaky breath and said, "I don't want to alarm you, Malcolm, but these things are 20 times the size of an Earth ant and about a hundred times more ugly."  Wiping his sweaty palms on his pants he said, "But I guess I've gotta suck it up and do this."

    Trip carefully eased the lid off so the insects inside wouldn't start moving around.  That done he rolled up his sleeve so they couldn't climb inside and reached into the box.  He almost dropped the first one as it started to squirm as soon as his fingers closed on it.  Gripping more firmly allowed him to quickly lift it over and deposit it on Malcolm's belly.  He watched with a kind of horrified fascination as a thin appendage uncurled and pierced Malcolm's skin.  He repeated the procedure with the second, the third giving him some trouble by trying to flap its wrinkled green wings and stab him with the spines on the top of its abdomen.  "Geez, Malcolm, that one fought back."  The ants eventually settled down, abdomens pulsing happily as they drank their fill.

    Trip wiped his fingers thoroughly and surveyed the scene for a moment before saying, "Hey, Malcolm.  Would you mind if I go sit over there?"

    Malcolm didn't move.

    Trip smiled weakly.  "I'll take that as a no."    


    The sound on the padd was turned up so he wouldn't have to hear the ants as they periodically fluttered their wings.  It was the top of the third and the Yankees were up 4-1.  A soft noise from the far side of the room caught his attention.  It almost sounded like...

    Trip dropped the padd on his bed and hurried across the room as Malcolm stirred again.  "Hey."  He kept his eyes fixed on Malcolm's face as he gently patted his friend's shoulder.  "It's okay, Malcolm."

    Malcolm shifted on the makeshift bed and grimaced, but his eyes remained shut.

    "You've got some critters on your stomach to help reduce your fever.  Phlox says they're fine so you just lie still and let them do their thing."  That seemed to work as Malcolm stilled and relaxed.  After a minute of calm Trip smiled fondly and said, "Out cold again?"  There wasn't a flicker of movement and his smile widened.  "Probably for the best."  He shivered involuntarily.  "I wouldn't want to be conscious if I were you."

    Trip patted Malcolm's shoulder again.  "I guess it's good you're here with me.  Imagine if you'd infected that man-eater Secorro."  He grinned and said, "She'd have come up with some medical reason to remove your pants as soon as the two of you were locked in."

    A few seconds of silence stretched into minutes before he softly said, "It was weird to run into you in that club.  I never figured you went that way.  I guess I'm either the most oblivious guy in the universe or you hid it really well.  Probably a bit of both."  At some point Trip had stopped patting and started stroking.  "Funny though.  I kind of wish you'd told me."  He chuckled and added, "Even though I haven't swung that was since college."  Satisfied that Malcolm was as comfortable as possible he gave one last stroke and went back to his baseball game.


    "How are you feeling?"

    "Like I'm in a zoo."  When his friend stopped laughing he gave a serious answer: "Better since Phlox took his bugs back.  A bit stir crazy though."

    Jon gave a sympathetic smile.  "Has Phlox said when you can get out of here?"

    Trip shrugged and said, "Should be tomorrow.  I'm probably not contagious anymore, but he doesn't want to take any chances."

    Jon tried to look over Trip's shoulder to the back of the decon chamber.  "How's Malcolm?"

    "Still out of it, but he's doing better.  His temperature is normal again and since he's practically sleeping 24 hours a day Phlox has him on some kind of energy shots and other drugs."  He shook his head helplessly and said, "I don't understand them I just administer them."

    "You've done a good job, Trip."

    Trip rubbed the back of his neck.  "I dunno..."

    "Seriously.  Phlox is really pleased with how you've been helping him.  Besides..."  Jon leaned towards the comm speaker conspiratorially and said, "I saw those winged ant things.  They were enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies."

    Trip allowed the hint of a proud smile to show itself.  "There was that."

    The padd Jon was carrying chimed a warning.  He smiled apologetically and said, "I've got to get back to the bridge.  Anything you want me to bring by later?"

    "Naw I'm fine.  Thanks for coming by."

    Jon started backing away.  "I'll bring you dinner later."

    "All right.  Thanks."

    Trip gave one last wave before turning back to survey the decon chamber.  As much as he enjoyed away missions, he didn't know if he'd be able to handle having to go through decontamination anytime soon.  The bland walls of the small space were making him go absolutely stir crazy.  A small motion caught his eye and he wandered over to where Malcolm was waking up.

    He crouched down as Malcolm's eyes opened and said, "Hey."

    Malcolm blinked a few times and smiled weakly.  "How long was I out this time?"

    Trip consulted the chronometer and said, "About  7 hours?  How do you feel?"

    Malcolm seemed to contemplate the question before he said, "Much better, actually.  A bit tired.  Any word on when we get out of here.  I can't wait to get back to my quarters and sleep in my own bed."

    Trip raised an eyebrow.  Malcolm must still be feeling pretty lousy if he was looking forward to bed and not to being back on duty.  "Tomorrow most likely.  Can I get you anything?"

    "Some water would be nice, and maybe that movie I was looking at earlier."

    "Are you sure?  You look like you could go back to sleep."

    Malcolm attempted to prop himself up on a few pillows.  "I'm not that tired.  I think I can stay awake for a bit."  Trip helped him sit up comfortably and then retrieved a padd and water bottle.

    He settled against the bulkhead beside Malcolm and said, "What's the show?"

    "The Life of Brian.  I was in the mood for something light and familiar."

    Trip frowned.  "The Life of Brian?"

    Malcolm eyed his friend.  "You haven't seen it?"

    "I don't think so."

    "You'd probably know if you have.  'Romanes Eunt Domus'?  Where he's declining it wrong and the centurion..."  Seeing an utter lack of comprehension on Trip's face Malcolm quirked a half smile and punched a button on the padd.  "I'll start it at the beginning."

    "You don't have..."

    Malcolm cut him off.  "I really don't mind.  It will be more enjoyable for both of us this way."

    Trip didn't bother arguing with that and settled himself so he had a good view of the padd where it rested on Malcolm's knees.  Despite Malcolm's protests that he wasn't very tired he fell asleep fairly quickly.  Trip gently lowered his friend to a more comfortable position and retrieved the padd.  He held it for a moment before retrieving a pair of earphones and carrying it over to his own bed.  While Malcolm's choice in movies wasn't quite like his own, this one really was quite funny.


    "What's the verdict, Doc?"

    Phlox waved a scanner over each of them in turn before smiling broadly.  "I'm happy to report that neither of you are the slightest bit contagious."

    Trip breathed a sigh of relief and smiled winningly.  "Does that mean I can head back to my own quarters?"

    "It does indeed.  I will insist, however, that you remain off duty until at least tomorrow afternoon.  Whether you feel like it or not, Commander, your system has been under considerable strain."

    "I couldn't care less, Doc.  I've got a date with my shower and a week's worth of hot water rations."

    "Very well, Commander."  Phlox turned his attention to where Malcolm was sitting.  "You're also free to go, but you'll probably be rather shaky on your feet so I'll contact someone to help you back to your quarters and get you settled.  I'm sure Ensign Mayweather won't mind..."

    Trip interrupted the doctor.  "I can do that."

    Malcolm gave a delicate sniff and said, "Are you sure?  I wouldn't want to keep you from your shower, Commander."

    "Hey!  You're none too fresh yourself."  Trip shrugged.  "I don't mind, Malcolm.  It's sort of on my way anyway, and I am off duty until tomorrow."

    Malcolm opened his mouth to point out that unless one took a very circuitous route, his quarters were actually closer to decon, but thought better of it.  "Lead the way."

    The short trek back to his quarters left Malcolm lightheaded and grateful that Trip had accompanied him.  He sank down on his bed and closed his eyes for a moment.  When he opened them he found Trip watching him.

    "You okay?"

    "Fine."  He rolled his eyes at the way Trip frowned at that word and amended: "A bit lightheaded, but otherwise all right."

    "Can I get you anything?"

    "Some water?"

    "Sure."  Trip grabbed a glass from Malcolm's shelf and filled it in the lav.  He returned to find Malcolm with his shirt rucked up gently prodding at the three red patches on his stomach.  "Just be glad you were out when I had to put those things on you.  They were 20 times the size of an Earth ant and about..."

    Malcolm grinned and finished the line with him, mimicking Trip's accent as they said, "A hundred times more ugly."  He chuckled, but his levity quickly vanished when he found Trip staring at him.  "What?"

    Trip frowned.  "How did you know I was going to say that?"

    Realizing his error, Malcolm tried to backpedal.  "Well, knowing you..."

    Horror was blossoming on Trip's face.  "Did you *hear* me?"  

    Malcolm blushed and plucked at his blanket.  "I felt too sick to move, but I could still hear everything just fine."

    Trip's face lost its colour.  "Everything?"

    Malcolm licked his lips nervously and nodded.

    "Even..."  Trip had the sickening feeling that he'd made his feelings all too clear.

    "That too."  They stared at each other in silence for a few moments before Malcolm mustered his courage and said, "I don't mind."

    Trip looked up sharply.  "You don't?"


    Trip was bewildered by the sudden admission and its implications.  "Oh..."

    Malcolm tried to steer the conversation.  "I was very impressed by your ability to 'suck it up' under duress."


    "Absolutely."  Malcolm's cheeks pinked slightly.  "I also found your talking... comforting."

    Trip wasn't sure he was hearing correctly.  "Comforting?"
    Malcolm nodded and said, "That stroking was a nice touch too.  I don't suppose you'd be willing to repeat that sometime."

    "Sometime... soon?"  The hope and mischief in Trip's tone was unmistakable.

    Malcolm chucked before turning semi-serious as he said, "Can you get me a toothbrush and some paste?"

    "Sure."  Feeling lighter than air Trip was halfway to the lav when he realized the request was a bit of a non sequitur.  He paused turned back.  "Why?"

    Malcolm swallowed and grimaced.  "My mouth feels..."  He hesitated, not wanting to say "like something died in it".  He settled for: "Unpleasant."  He quirked a half smile and said, "So I *really* need to brush my teeth before I kiss you."

    A somewhat goofy grin appeared on Trip's face.  "You want to kiss me?"

    Malcolm leaned forwards conspiratorially and with a wink said, "Maybe even more than once... so long as I don't fall asleep again waiting to clean my teeth."

    As he sprinted for the glass that held Malcolm's toothbrush, Trip realized that he was moving faster than he had for the fitness portion of his Starfleet admittance exam.