Title: Letting Go
Author: Joules Mer
Feedback: joulesmer@shaw.ca
Rating: PG
Pairing: T/R
Disclaimer:  Enterprise is the property of Paramount.  No profit was made, no copyright infringement was intended.
Archive: Yes to EntSTCommunity, Tim Ruben and BLTS.  Anyone else please ask.
Spoilers: Unexpected, First Flight, mild Shuttlepod One and Minefield.
Completed May 29, 2003.
A/N: "Queen Jane Approximately," "Farewell Angelina," and "Visions of Johanna" are copyright  1965, 1965, and 1966 (respectively) by Bob Dylan.

Letting Go

    "I'm picking up a distress call, Captain."  Hoshi's voice broke the monotony of a long day in empty space.

    "Let's hear it Ensign."

    "It's audio only, a bit garbled."  Hoshi worked at her console, "This is the best I can do Sir."  So saying, she patched the message through the bridge speakers.  A loud hissing preceded the voice of the speaker and the message itself crackled and popped.

    "This is the Xyrillian vessel...... requesting immediate assistance....... under attack by a Feraze freighter.... vessels in range please respond.  This is an emergency."  

    Hoshi cut off the message.  "It just keeps repeating after that."

    "How far away are we?"

    "An hour and a half at warp 4.5."  It was Malcolm who replied as he'd called up the information at the first sign of trouble.  

    "Set a course, Travis.  T'Pol, check the Vulcan database and get any information you have on the Feraze."  He leaned over and pressed the comm button, "Commander Tucker to the bridge."


    Enterprise dropped out of warp astern of the Xyrillian vessel.  The smaller ship was nearly destroyed.  Large scorch marks covered the hull, the result of heavy weapons fire.  A small debris field surrounded the ship and it was evident that several bulkheads had been blown off.  "What's their status, Malcolm?"  

    "I'm reading a major systems failure, Captain.  Several compartments have decompressed and those remaining intact are losing life support.  There's only one biosign but it's very weak.  I wouldn't attempt a transport."

    "T'Pol, any sign of the Feraze vessel?"
    "I'm not detecting anything on sensors Captain.  It should be noted that the Feraze are a highly xenophobic species. They would attack the Xyrillians if surprised but would not remain as that would risk further contact."

    He turned expectantly to Hoshi who answered his unasked question.  "I'm not getting any response to hails."

    He considered only a moment.  "Have them prep a shuttlepod, I want it standing by as soon as possible."  "She nodded and relayed the message.  "Malcolm, Trip you're with me, tell Phlox to meet us as we get suited up."  The three men strode from the bridge.


    The Xyrillian vessel was eerily quiet.  Main power was offline, the only illumination came from the lights on their EV suits.  They were slowly working their way towards a faint biosign when they came upon the first casualty, a Xyrillian male with a deep gash across his upper torso.  Trip gasped as the light fell upon the unfortunate man's face.  Archer didn't hide his reaction either, "It's Captain Trena'L."  Malcolm watched as Trip's face went ashen.


    They hurried through the ship as quickly as the slightly bulky suits would allow, sidestepping broken components and fallen Xyrillians.  They rounded a bend in the corridor and Trip, who had been leading the group, abruptly stopped.  The lights affixed to his helmet were directed at a still figure on the ground.  Although Malcolm couldn't clearly remember what the Xyrillian engineer looked like, Trip's posture told him everything he needed to know.  They had found Ah'Len.  She hadn't survived.  Trip carefully knelt and reached out with a gloved hand to touch her cheek.  The captain gently clasped Trip's upper arm, giving it a gentle squeeze through the suit.  He shifted sideways to make room as Malcolm approached the pair.  Malcolm crouched next to Trip and clumsily slung an arm as close to over Trip's shoulders as he could.  "Trip."  He spoke softly through the comm, "We've got to keep going."  Trip sagged towards the corpse and hung his head.  "We've got to keep going Trip."  He repeated and carried on, "Phlox has the remaining biosign fixed, it's further down the corridor and it's very faint.  We've got to hurry Trip."  Trip's helmet bobbed slightly as he nodded.  They lurched to their feet together and continued towards the faint life sign.


    The room they were led to was approximately nine meters square and looked to be the scene of some sort of explosion.  Debris was strewn throughout the entire area and a tangle of beams and wires hung from the ceiling.  Phlox checked his scanner, "The biosign is definitely originating from this compartment."

    Malcolm surveyed the room, "Then with all due respect doctor, where is the body?"  There were several heaps of debris but none seemed big enough to hide a person.  Phlox continued scanning while the other three each tackled a heap of debris.  Both Malcolm and the captain came up empty handed, Trip was more fortunate.

    "Jon!"  The captain positively leapt to his friend's side.  The unusual address was reason enough but there was something else in Trip's tone that necessitated quick action.  Trip was clasping something to the front of his suit.  At first Jon thought it was a bundle of rags, then it moved.  The doctor bustled over and at Phlox's command Trip tilted the bundle to reveal an infant Xyrillian, its tiny greenish eyes squinting up at the men in the harsh light from their suits.


        Trip has been in decon for over two hours.  I stood at the window for a while but he was completely entranced by the infant in the incubator, he didn't so much as glance up during the half hour I spent watching.  Trip has been uncharacteristically silent since he found the child, only uttering three words during our return trip in the shuttlepod.  We'd filled the shuttlepod with Xyrillian atmosphere in anticipation of survivors.  He was carefully holding the child while the doctor checked its vitals.  His head lamp was switched off so I couldn't see his face when he spoke, "Is it her?"  The doctor had replied with a simple "yes" and Trip has been completely absorbed with the child since.  I hadn't understood the exchange at the time but now, sitting in the mess hall, it is beginning to make a horrible kind of sense.  I think this must be the child that he carried during that frenzied time after our first contact.  Only Trip Tucker could go to fix a warp reactor and wind up pregnant, I'm almost glad we weren't together at the time.  Almost.

    "Bloody lovely."  

    I'm glad the mess is deserted at this time of night, it's far better to brood in private, away from the prying eyes of the well intentioned.  My tea has long since grown cold but I can't muster the energy to go replace it.  If I'm honest, I must admit that I'm rather alarmed by the turn my feelings are taking.  It seems that all my buried insecurities, that I had thought  well laid to rest, are being slowly resurrected.  I hunker down in the chair to think.  We never talked much about Trip's experiences with the Xyrillians, I didn't even know it was a she.  I do know he didn't have any hatred for Ah'Len, I'd even go so far as to say he liked her.  Now she's dead, but the baby girl in our hastily assembled decompression chamber is likely her daughter.  And it's another half hour before the baby and Trip get out of decon-cum-decompression.  Another half hour before I can try and talk to him.


    The sickbay lights were dimmed and it took a moment for Malcolm's eyes to adjust after he left the corridor.  When they did he caught sight of Trip bent over an incubator.  He was dressed in casual clothes Malcolm didn't immediately recognize.  Closer inspection let him conclude that the slightly baggy "NX-Test Program" sweats must belong to the captain.  He felt the now familiar niggling fear and jealousy until he quashed it by reasoning that the captain must have felt it a better solution than rummaging through their joint quarters in search of Trip's clothes.  The captain knew Malcolm hated any invasion of his privacy, he was also notified the exact moment Trip stepped out of the decon chamber, something Malcolm hadn't thought to request.  He approached quietly and Trip didn't seem to notice his presence until Malcolm placed his hand on Trip's shoulder.  Trip turned to look at Malcolm and his eyes seemed to be almost glowing.

    "Ain't she beautiful Mal?"  Malcolm dutifully looked into the incubator and was confronted by reddish-brown scales.

    "Quite."  At his appraisal the infant stirred in its sleep and whimpered.  Trip was there instantly, almost shouldering Malcolm out of his way as he hurried to bend over the child.  He reached out and gently stroked the small ridges on her skull.  Malcolm stood in the background and tried to identify the feeling that was brewing in his insides.  Trip began gently cooing at the fretful baby.  Malcolm turned and despondently walked to their quarters.  It would be a long night.


    In truth, they hadn't been together very long.  They had fully moved in together a scant two weeks ago but had spent every night of the last month and a half together, until now.  He'd tossed and turned for the last two hours, since it became evident that Trip was spending the night in sickbay.  With a snort of disgust Malcolm kicked the twisted sheets off the end of the bunk and rolled onto his stomach, clasping the pillow.  Hopefully the situation would be better in the morning.


     Malcolm turned over and squinted at the chronometer on the desk, 0300 and he was still wide awake.  He couldn't believe he was jealous of a baby.  Well, that wasn't it entirely.  All his past lovers had left him, usually when a better offer came along.  At some level his irrational side was becoming convinced that Trip would somehow leave him for Rosalie.  It was the third night since the Xyrillian had been brought aboard Enterprise and as yet Trip still hadn't slept in his own bed.  Trip had been sleeping, even eating, in sickbay, only leaving to work a short shift in engineering.  Little Rosie, as Trip called her, was fast becoming the apple of her "father's" eye.  It was plain that the role of father was how Trip now saw himself.  When a review of the vessel's logs hadn't yielded the name of the child Trip had christened her Rosalie due to the hue of her skin.  The name had seemed to spark some recognition in Captain Archer as well.  When Malcolm had subtly enquired he'd been told that it was from the day the Jon had met Trip, then a cocky lieutenant.  A more direct enquiry tied the name directly to Ruby.

    Therein lay the crux of Malcolm's worries.  Trip Tucker was a family man and Malcolm's familial experience was decidedly on the dysfunctional side.  He couldn't help but worry that Trip would someday leave him for a woman.  They'd go and get married and have children of their own, the picture perfect family.  His mind's eye showed him Trip and Ruby surrounded by a pack of children, each bearing an uncanny resemblance to a parent.  While society seemed accepting of same sex couples, it was still true that practically every single holiday card depicting a family would have a smiling mother and father.  He pounded the mattress in frustration and flopped onto his back.

    Family was an issue that had always been somewhat skirted.  He suspected it was because Trip might be afraid of his opinions.  In truth, however, Malcolm wasn't particularly opposed to the idea.  On several occasions he'd tried to picture their life together after Enterprise, some of his portraits had included children.  While a fancy bit of manipulation could create an embryo with half of Trip's genetic material and half of Malcolm's, the whole process was considerably more difficult than the old fashioned method.  In its defence it could create a Charlie IV that would somehow resemble his parents.  Since direct manipulation for a less than medical reason was unlawful you had to hope for the "right" traits to be passed on.  Images of possible Charlie IVs flooded his thoughts.  Slightly short with Trip's blue eyes and nose, and a mop of chocolate brown hair.  Taller, with Trip's blue eyes, blond hair, and Malcolm's defined cheekbones.  Trip's height, with dark hair, high cheekbones, straight nose, and Trip's eyes.  This was his son; always smiling, always with Trip's blue eyes.  He finally fell asleep and blue eyes filled his dreams.


        He reached for the chime again and was slightly disgusted when he stopped short of pressing it.  He told himself to get a grip and then held his breath as he firmly punched the button.  "Come."  He stepped inside.  "Malcolm!  What can I do for you?"  The captain was reclining on his bed, one hand holding a padd while the other was gently petting Porthos.

    "I hope I'm not disturbing you, Sir.  I was wondering if you would be available to..." here he faltered, "talk?"  Jon regarded his armoury officer.  Malcolm was standing at attention, carefully staring at a point somewhere beyond his left ear.  Malcolm's mask of professionalism was in place, but Jon could tell something was wrong, and he had a good idea what it was.

    "Anytime, Malcolm."  He gestured to a chair, "Why don't you sit down."

    "Thank you, Sir."

    "Malcolm, you're involved with my best friend and this clearly isn't a business call, please call me Jon."  Malcolm gave a curt nod so Jon continued, "What's on your mind?"

    Malcolm would have preferred to be talking to Travis about his insecurities.  Travis was someone he'd shared an easy banter with since space dock, not something that came easily or often to Malcolm.  He'd known, however, that the captain was the person he really had to talk to.  Not only would the captain have the answers he needed, the captain was the only person Trip wouldn't mind Malcolm talking to about intensely personal issues.  Now he was finally before Captain Archer, and he just couldn't figure out what to say.  The silence stretched.  It was Jon that finally broke it.

    "Are you being completely ignored too?"  The play of emotion on Malcolm's face told the captain he'd hit his mark.  Now it was up to Malcolm.  Jon waited.  After much eyeing of his own feet Malcolm drew in a long breath and began.

    "We never really talked about his experiences with the Xyrillians.  I was so afraid of pushing him away I didn't bring it up in case it still bothered him.  He mentioned Ah'Len occasionally, but not any more than Liana, or Ambassador Soval for that matter.  I guess I just let it go."  Malcolm shuffled his feet before continuing, "He's completely entranced Ca," he caught himself, " Jon.  I went to visit him in sickbay when she was asleep.  I tried to speak to him but he couldn't tear his eyes away from her.  He kept stroking her back and quietly talking to her.  I left."  Malcolm looked up at Jon, "I just left.  I couldn't stand it."  The captain watched, unmoving, as Malcolm brusquely swiped at his tearing eyes with the back of his hand.  "He loves her so much."  His voice dropped to a whisper, "I think I'm scared."

    Jon considered just how much he should tell Malcolm before settling on everything. "Once the reality of being pregnant sunk in, Trip was terrified.  He was so desperate to get the embryo out of him he didn't really think about what it meant to carry a child.  I know he wound up in tears on more than one occasion, and it wasn't just due to the hormones."  Porthos stirred and Jon paused to lightly scratch behind the beagle's ears.  "It was only after we'd parted ways with the Xyrillians that events caught up with him."  The captain shifted to a more comfortable position on the bed before he continued, "I caught him in the mess at 0400 two nights after we'd left them.  He was looking out the windows, and he looked like he'd been there a long time.  I talked with him, hoping he could get whatever it was off his chest and maybe go to sleep.  I didn't realize just how much the experience had affected him until we talked about it.  Trip told me how frightened he'd been.  He told me how it felt to look in the mirror and see the bulge pushing out, stretching his skin.  He said he'd always thought of the protrusion as a kind of inanimate 'it' until Ah'Len showed him 'it's' picture, and declared 'it' a she.  Then he realized that 'it' was going to be a child, a child he would never see.  It hurt him to let go, Malcolm.  I think the moment he saw her picture on the scanner he realized that he cared about her.  I think that surprised him."  Jon paused to choose his words carefully before he continued.  "Having her back, especially with Ah'Len gone, has brought all these feeling back.  Seeing her there, being able to touch her, might make him feel that it was worth it.  It comforts him now, Malcolm, but I think he's afraid of how much it might hurt to let go again."

    Jon let Malcolm consider what he'd already said before he continued. "And then there's you."  Malcolm looked up sharply.  "Contrary to what some of this crew might think, Trip does know what a serious relationship is.  And he's serious about you Malcolm, more serious than I've ever seen him before."  He made sure he had Malcolm's full attention before he continued, "He loves you Malcolm.  Don't ever doubt that."

    If Malcolm was going to go against generations of ingrained Reedness and have a heart-to-heart with his captain he might as well go all out.  He threw the remnants of his reservations to the wind, "You know, I used to be afraid that Trip loved you."  He paused and the captain regarded him with an almost sorrowful expression on his face.  "Now I know that he does, but it's okay.  It's a different kind of love than what we share."

    "He's my best friend, Malcolm."

    "And I wish I knew what it was like to have a friend like that."

    Jon favoured him with a sad smile.  Malcolm rose and silently left his captain's, now friend's, quarters.


    It was the fifth evening since Rosie had been brought on board and Trip was finally eating a meal outside of sickbay.  T'Pol was supervising a stellar cartography experiment so the captain's mess was occupied by Malcolm, Trip, and the captain himself.  Jon had practically ordered Trip to join them for dinner as he had stated that he preferred to eat in sickbay.  Jon had persisted, he knew Malcolm needed some time with Trip, but without Rosie's distracting presence.  Dinner had been quiet, talk had revolved around trivialities.  Now the pecan pie was almost gone and Jon wanted to discuss the real issues before Trip made a break for sickbay.  "Travis tells me that we'll be in orbit of the Xyrillian home world in about 48 hours.  We haven't been able to reach them on long range communication but we couldn't get their comm protocols from the portion of their computer memory that we could access.  It's a good thing their star charts were handy or we could have been wandering around for quite a while."  Malcolm gave him a weak smile while Trip continued to mope at his side of the table.  "I don't think we can stay at their planet too long.  While Starfleet is anxious to have a good diplomatic relationship with the Xyrillians, they want us to investigate a possible wormhole that's a few light years from here as soon as possible."  He carefully attempted to gauge Trip's reaction to what he had to say next, "We'll have to drop her off and carry on."

    It was then that Trip dropped a bombshell, "I don't think I can let her go again Cap'n."  There was a clank as Malcolm's dessert fork plummeted from his hand to the table.

    The captain carefully set his cutlery on the table and then turned to his best friend with all the calmness he could muster, "What, exactly, are you saying, Trip?"

    "I'm saying I want to be with her."  Jon spared a glance at Malcolm, who still appeared stunned, before he replied.

    "She can't stay here on Enterprise, Trip."  Trip looked down at his half eaten pie.

    "I know."  Jon tried to wrap his head around what his best friend was proposing.

    "If you leave Enterprise you won't be coming back.  You know that, right?  Starfleet would consider you unreliable and you'd never be in deep space again."  Trip nodded, eyes still downcast.  "I watched you work for this position for years Trip, you can't just throw it all away."  That didn't elicit a response so Jon tried harder.  "What about your family on Earth?  Your parents?  Your sisters?  You might never talk to them, let alone see them, again.  Surely you can't give that up?"  

    Trip kept his eyes downcast as he mumbled, "They'd understand."  Malcolm looked to be on the verge of throwing up.

    "What about us?"  Trip finally looked up.  "What about Malcolm and I?"  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Malcolm gripping his napkin so tightly his knuckles were white.  "I need you out here.  I can't be a good captain without you.  I can unwind with you, Trip."  He paused and swallowed before he continued, "You keep me human."  Jon could see that Malcolm wouldn't, or couldn't, speak right now so he endeavoured to speak on his behalf.  "What about Malcolm, Trip?"  Trip's head snapped around to face a still sick looking Malcolm.  "I've been your friend for a long time, I can tell when you're truly in love."  He watched emotions flicker across Trip's face.  "Don't leave Malcolm, Trip.  What the two of you share shouldn't be thrown away.  It's far, far too special for that.  From the moment I realized that the two of you had feelings for each other I could picture you growing old together.  Cherish that Trip, it's never happened before, and I've seen you through other 'serious' relationships."

    Trip's eyes returned to his unfinished dessert.  "Please think about this, Trip.  I don't think you've fully weighed out your options."

    Trip couldn't look either of them in the eye, "I gotta go, she needs feedin' now."  He left the room quickly, carefully avoiding eye contact all the way.  Jon clenched his hands into tight fists under the table.  He wanted to grab Trip and shake him.  To demand that he stay on Enterprise with Malcolm and himself.  To selfishly demand that he not leave his "family."

    He turned to the still too quiet Malcolm, "He'll come to his senses."  Malcolm turned away from the closed door to look at Jon.

    He almost choked on his words, "I hope you're right, Sir."  Jon didn't bother to correct Malcolm's form of address.


    It was 0900 the next morning and a hunched figure stood outside the captain's quarters.  It was the captains "day off," which meant Jon was probably working in his quarters instead of his ready room.  After some time he tentatively raised his hand and pressed the chime.  "Come."

    Trip entered and carefully placed a padd on the captain's desk.  "What's this?"  Jon picked it up and activated it, dread pooling in the pit of his stomach.  He hoped the padd didn't contain what he thought it did.

    "It's my resignation from Starfleet, Sir."  Jon let out an explosive breath and set down the pad as if it had stung him.  He turned to his friend but any protest died on his lips when he got a good look at Trip's face.

    "Trip, I'm not going to make this official until you step off this ship."  Trip swallowed convulsively.

    "I wouldn't expect any less from ya, Jon."  With that, he turned and left.  Jon stared numbly at the closed door.

    "What are we gonna do boy?"  The beagle merely cocked his head at him.


    "Archer to Reed."

    "Reed here, Sir."

    "Are you on duty, Malcolm?"  The lieutenant eyed his surroundings.

    "I am in the armoury, Sir.  What can I do for you?"  Jon called up the crew rotation and wasn't surprised at what he saw.  He lowered his voice so that it wouldn't carry far from Reed's handheld communicator.

    "It's your day off, Malcolm.  Consider yourself banned from the bridge and the armoury."
    "Sir?"  Reed's surprise was apparent.

    "We've got a problem Malcolm.  He came in an hour ago and tried to resign.  The papers are all in order but I won't accept it until he actually steps off of Enterprise.  The captain lowered his voice even more.  Malcolm might never forgive him if someone overheard such a personal conversation.  "I know you haven't talked with him since this whole mess began, I think now is the time."

    "Understood, Sir.  I'll go to sickbay tonight, I need some time to think first."

    "Okay, Malcolm.  Good luck.  Archer out."


    The sickbay lights were dimmed for the night even though it was only 1900.  Malcolm entered to find Trip sitting next to the incubator in one of the notoriously uncomfortable chairs.  This time Trip acknowledged his presence by standing as Malcolm moved to his side.  "The captain spoke with me."  Trip guiltily shuffled his feet but didn't reply.  "When were you going to tell me?"  

    More shuffling preceded a soft, "Soon."  Malcolm decided to drop that line of questing in favour of the more important one.

    "What are you planning on doing, Trip?"

    "I had Hoshi give me a translated copy of their database.  I went through it, lookin' for the diplomatic protocols and stuff that might apply to this."  He indicated himself and Rosie.  "It would work, Malcolm.  It's kind of like asylum, if I step onto their vessel or planet and ask to stay, I can stay.  They even let people like that adopt if there's 'extenuating circumstances.'  They gave some examples of what that would be and this would definitely count.  I'd be her daddy, Malcolm."

    "You'd leave your family on Earth?  You'd leave Enterprise?"  Trip nodded.  Malcolm sighed.

    "Enterprise is my first real family, Trip.  It's the first place I've felt I belong."

    "I can't ask you to give up your family, Malcolm."

    "Just my love?"  Trip looked at him, really looked at him.  Malcolm's eyes were glistening as unshed tears welled up uncontrollably.

    "Oh gawd, Malcolm.  Trip stepped forward to close the distance between them and carefully reached out to gently raise Malcolm's chin.  He kept his hand gently holding Malcolm's jaw as he looked into his love's eyes.  "I didn't think..."

    "No, Trip.  You sure didn't think."  Malcolm interrupted angrily.  "Do you have any idea what the last while has been like for me?  You ignore me, and the captain, and when we finally get you to talk you just announce that you're leaving us."  Malcolm roughly wiped away the tears that were running down his cheeks in time with his tirade.  "And for what Trip?"  Here Malcolm's control broke and he began to yell, "She's not even your daughter!"  Trip went absolutely white and his eyes widened alarmingly.  He took two jerky steps back from Malcolm, his gaze swinging between Malcolm's furious face and the tiny infant in the incubator.  "I love you, Trip.  I've never been in love like this before."  A hurt expression came over Malcolm's face, "You wouldn't even talk to me, Trip."  Trip stumbled and had to sit down in his chair.  "I think you've gone off on one of your impracticable and bloody idealistic tangents.  A very poorly thought out one at that, if you didn't even consider me, and the rest of Enterprise.  Malcolm lowered his voice as Phlox's menagerie was beginning to stir at the disturbance.  "Do you think that your little plan would really work out?"  Trip opened his mouth to speak but Malcolm hushed him and continued, "You'd be the only human on their planet, Trip.  Do you even know what long term exposure to their atmosphere would do to you?"  The slight furrowing of his brow told Malcolm Trip hadn't really considered that complication.  "Who is this best for?"


    "Are you doing what's best for her?  Or what's best for you?"  Trip's mouth opened and closed like a landed codfish.  "I didn't think you'd be able to answer that."  Malcolm's voice had a cutting edge to it.  "I think you need to get over your own feelings and do what's best for her.  You couldn't be a good parent for her Trip.  Think about it, being raised by the only human on a planet of Xyrillians.  I may not be very knowledgeable where happy childhoods are concerned, but I can say that that doesn't sound like one to me."  Malcolm stepped over and gently ran a hand over the back of the sleeping child, touching her for the first time.  "Look at her, Trip."  Trip obligingly leaned over.  "She's a Xyrillian.  Do you know anything whatsoever about them?  Their culture?  Their needs?"  He let Trip contemplate what he'd said, the anger flowing out of him during the respite.

    "I love you, Trip, and I want what's best for everyone."  He stepped closer to Trip, "I think you need to think about this some more, but know one thing,"  Malcolm gently took Trip's hand in his own, "If you go, Trip, I'm going with you."

    When Phlox entered sickbay the next morning he found the couple awkwardly spooned together on a too small biobed.  They were both sound asleep.


    Hoshi managed to contact the Xyrillians at around 0800.  Captain Archer had explained the situation and a Xyrillian vessel had been dispatched to rendezvous with them at 1800 hours.  Jon informed the crew, and pointedly gave Trip and Malcolm the day off.  He also asked the doctor to arrange as much privacy as possible for the couple, a request Phlox was happy to oblige.

    Docking had gone off without a hitch, the Xyrillians offering to decompress this time.  It was now 2100 hours and the captain, Trip, Malcolm, and Phlox were gathered around the airlock.  The hatch slid open to reveal two adult Xyrillians.  Pleasantries had already been exchanged via the viewscreen so one carefully extended its arms towards the bundle clasped in Trip's arms.  Trip bent down to whisper one last good-bye in her ear before he tenderly placed her in the arms of a stranger.  "I didn't know what ta call her."  Trip's voice was choked with emotion.  The Xyrillians looked on expectantly.  "We couldn't find a mention of her name in their records.  I kinda..."  He faltered before continuing, "I kinda called her Rosie, it's short for Rosalie, 'cause of the colour of her skin."

    "An apt name."  The Xyrillian holding her nodded at Trip before its companion spoke, "It is often the custom of our people to have the one that carries the child name it.  It is a name that she will keep."  Trip nodded, not trusting his voice.  He stood on the threshold of the airlock.  A single step on the floor of the Xyrillian vessel would be his resignation from Starfleet.  Trip glanced at Jon who was standing unobtrusively off to the side.  He gripped Malcolm's hand tightly and took one step, then another, towards the rest of his life.

    While Jon had managed to maintain his outward composure, his emotions were in a turmoil.  This was taking far too long.  He fought the urge to push the Xyrillians through the airlock and slam the hatch before Trip could follow.  Jon felt his heart skip a beat as Trip glanced at him, then took Malcolm's hand.  He couldn't believe the magnitude of the relief he felt when they backed away from the hatch, hand in hand.  He honestly couldn't say that he'd been confidant this would be the outcome. While Trip leaving was unthinkable, his character had made it a definite possibility.  Jon was infinitely thankful that Malcolm was able to keep Trip on Enterprise.  He owed Malcolm a debt that would take a lifetime to repay.  His thoughts were jarred back to the present as Trip spoke.

    "I've transmitted my  Starfleet contact information.  If she's ever in the solar system I'd appreciate a visit."  Then Trip Tucker did one of the hardest things he'd ever done.  He walked away.  And he didn't look back.


    They walked back to their quarters in silence, Malcolm covertly watched Trip without turning his head.  The southerner's expression was stoney, slight tremors of his jaw belied the hidden emotion.   After an age they reached their sanctuary and Malcolm ducked inside, followed by Trip.  They stood inside, silent.  Malcolm could tell that Trip had something to say, he just needed some time.  Eventually Trip breathed a sigh and turned to face his lover directly.  When he spoke Malcolm could see unshed tears in his eyes.

    "I just feel awful, Malcolm.  I ignored you, shut ya out.  Heck, I've bugged ya about doin' that to me and then I went and did it to you.  And then I was just going to go without even thinking.  I didn't want to leave ya."  Trip was getting himself wound up, "I always pictured you coming too, I never thought about what ya'd be giving up.  After I left her the first time..."  Malcolm couldn't take any more of Trip's tirade so he placed a placating hand on Trip's arm.

    "Shhh, it's okay.  I know."  Trip gave him a confused look.  "I talked with Jon."  Trip looked at Malcolm in disbelief.

    Trip gulped, "Talked?"

    "Talked, Trip.  It's what one does with their friends."  Trip had a hard time grasping what Malcolm was saying.

    "Talked?  With Jon?"  Trip emphasized the abbreviation of the captain's given name.  Malcolm just rolled his eyes.

    "Come off it, love.  Stranger things have happened."  Trip gave him a skeptical look.  "It was really quite helpful.  He's a very understanding person."

    "Huh.  Well.  Okay then."  Malcolm grinned, a speechless Trip Tucker was not an everyday occurrence.

    "He gave me some insight into what it was like for you.  Don't worry, Trip.  I know you, I understand."  Malcolm stepped forward and took one of Trip's hands.  "You're kind, sensitive, cavalier, quixotic, and bloody passionate.  You're the love of my life, Trip.  I'll never, ever, leave you.  Even if you behave like an ass."  Trip grinned through his tears and swooped in for a passionate kiss.  He gently thrust his tongue into Malcolm's mouth and stepped closer to facilitate more contact, but something was wrong.  Trip kissed him harder, but Malcolm simply wasn't responding.  He stepped back and found Malcolm vacantly smiling at him with an odd expression on his face.  He planted a quick peck on Malcolm's nose to get his attention.

    "What is it Mal?  Malcolm grinned, that drop dead sexy grin that made Trip's insides go through a gymnastics routine.  "C'mon, what is it?  Ya look like you're gonna start laughing or something.  Makes it hard to seduce ya."  Malcolm's grin only got wider.  After a moment he spoke.

    "Shortly before Enterprise left space dock, after the crew manifest was published, I was in Mill Valley looking at a new weapons system.  I was assailed by a strong bout of nostalgia and wound up at the 602 Club on a Saturday night.  I'd been there about half an hour when who should come in but Ruby, along with her husband."  Trip stiffened slightly at this bit of information.  A detail that didn't escape Malcolm's notice.  "We chatted for a bit, exchanged pleasantries and the like, she even congratulated me on my posting to Enterprise.  It was when we parted that she said something that never made sense, until now."  He paused and a thoughtful expression came over his face.  

    "An' what was that?"

    "She was walking away, but then she turned and said, 'When you meet the love of your life on Enterprise tell him that I wasn't keen on a C.T.IV.  It was Oswald, Laertes and Imogen.'  Then she just turned and walked away."  He considered a moment.  "I daresay Ruby predicted this," he waved his arm to indicate the two of them and their shared quarters, "before we even thought it possible."


     "I believe I remember you telling me about a challenge Ruby once issued."

    It suddenly made sense to Trip as well.  "Those were the...?  How was I supposed ta...?"  Trip could only babble.  Malcolm decided the befuddled expression on his lover's face was strangely endearing.  "What kinda name is Imogen?  I don't even know it that's for a boy or a girl!"  Malcolm pondered the question for a moment.


    "What?"  Malcolm sighed at Trip's question.  Time for Shakespeare for the comic book minded.

    "Imogen was the daughter of Cymbeline in the play by that name.  Oswald is the steward of Goneril in King Lear.  Laertes is Ophelia's brother.  There's the great sword fight at the end where Hamlet..."  Malcolm seemed to be gearing up for a weapons and tactics dissertation so Trip cut him off before he could continue.

    "Well thank you 'Professor Reed.'  Gimme some credit, I knew who Laertes was.  Can't help it if my school didn't have a 'core curriculum' can I. "  Malcolm looked to be on the verge of some witty retort so Trip continued grumbling before Malcolm could get a word in edgewise.  "What kinda names are those for a kid?  In this day an' age an Oswald would be eaten alive at elementary school."  Trip trailed off and thought for a moment before exclaiming,  "Damn."


    "Her daddy was a Shakespearean actor.  I shoulda known to try those kinda names."

    "Is that what you want?"  The words were out before Malcolm could think to stifle them.  He'd never planned on sharing this particular worry with Trip, always bottling it inside.  Maybe his subconscious had reached the breaking point.

    "Is what what I want?"  The somewhat confusing sentence told him he wouldn't be able to wriggle out of the trap he'd just set for himself.  Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.  It was finally time to get it all out in the open.

    "To have guessed the names and have married Ruby.  Or to just marry a woman and have children of your own.  You could be the family on the Christmas cards."  The last part of Malcolm's sentence didn't make much sense to Trip so he grasped at the beginning.

    "Malcolm, you have to understand something.  I don't want Ruby, or any other person: man or a woman.  I want you, Mal."  Malcolm gave him a cautiously guarded half smile so Trip worked harder.  "If I picture myself with someone, I picture you.  If I picture myself growing old with someone, I see you there with me.  And if I picture myself with a family, you're my husband.  You're the one with me, Malcolm.  Forever."  Trip carefully eyed Malcolm and was relieved to see that he was looking more at ease.  He continued cautiously, hoping he wasn't treading on a landmine,  "Even if I'd guessed them, it wouldn't have worked out.  I'm fairly set on 'Charles Tucker the Fourth' for a son of mine."

    Malcolm smiled as a familiar pair of blue eyes filled his mind's eye.  He could tell that this was Trip's roundabout way of asking the 'family question.'  "I would definitely be partial towards a Charles Tucker the Fourth."  At Trip's grin he continued, "I wouldn't mind a Daniel either.  If one is named after you the other should be named after my great uncle."  Trip nodded happily, knowing the significance of Malcolm's relative.  "For a girl, well, how about Jane, Angelina, or Johanna?  They remind me of you with your bloody harmonica."  He smiled at Trip's quizzical expression, "Bob Dylan, Love."

    Trip grinned as well as enlightenment dawned.  Malcolm would never cease to amaze him.