Title: The Sound of Silence

Author: Joules Mer

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

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

Date: Posted to EntSTSlash 7/4/2004

Archive: Yes to Warp 5, everyone else ask for permission.

Fandom: Star Trek Enterprise

Category: Slash

Rating: PG-13

Pairing: T/R

Summary:  Sometimes silence is the loudest sound of all.

Series:  None

Beta: None

Spoilers: none

Disclaimer: Enterprise is the property of Paramount.  If the title looks familiar it's because it's a fantastic song by Simon and Garfunkel, copyright P. Simon, 1964.  No profit was, or will be, made by this story.  

    "Hey Malcolm!"  Malcolm whirled around from the food cabinets to find a grinning Commander Tucker standing closely behind him.  "Where were you?  That's the third time I called you."  He looked from Malcolm's empty tray to the cabinet in front of them.  "You're the only person I know who could be that focused about what they're going to have for breakfast."

    Malcolm only grinned at the barb.  "I didn't hear you at all.  I guess pancakes vs. waffles is far more fascinating than I'd previously thought."  He grabbed a plate of pancakes and deposited it on his tray along with a small container of the peanut butter intended for toast.

    Trip wrinkled his nose.  "I still don't know why you always eat them like that."  As Malcolm opened his mouth to insist for the umpteenth time that they tasted good with peanut butter Trip took him by the elbow and steered him away from the cabinets.  "Come on, I got a table by the windows."


    "Malcolm?"  There was a short pause and then, "Hey, Malcolm."  There was another pause and then the voice returned with a note of feigned exasperation, "*Lieutenant Reed*"

    Malcolm's head snapped up from his console.  "Ah, sorry.  Sir?"

    Jon smiled indulgently.  "Your shift is over, Lieutenant."

    Malcolm's cheeks took on a pinkish hue.  "Oh.  Thank you, sir."  He cast a rueful glance at his console before continuing, "I must have been absorbed in my scans."

    "Well, they'll be there tomorrow so turn your console over to your replacement and go have some dinner.  I think there's pineapple cake tonight."

    The pinkish hue turned downright rosy but Malcolm vacated his seat, turning the empty chair in the direction of the ensign who had been standing to his left.  "Thank you, sir.  I'll see you tomorrow."

    A "night, Malcolm" made it into the lift just before the doors closed and cut off sound from the bridge.


    As was his usual habit Malcolm woke five minutes before he'd programmed his alarm to go off.  He lay in his warm bunk for a while, going over the day's schedule in his head and contemplating whether he should go to the gym or the movie that evening.  It was only when he'd settled on the movie that he realized it seemed like more than five minutes should have passed.  Malcolm raised his head from the pillow so that he could see his chronometer. 07:04, four minutes after the alarm should have gone off.  He cursed in his head and threw back the blankets, he'd have to take a look at his alarm when he got off duty.  He knew he'd programmed it properly as he'd set it for the week, and it had gone off fine for the last three days.

    Malcolm rolled out of his bunk and managed to take three steps before he realized something was wrong.  He couldn't hear his own footfalls.  Malcolm froze.  He couldn't even hear the soft thrum that was everpresent on Enterprise.  Rushing into his bathroom he stopped in front of the mirror watching as his jaw worked without sound issuing forth.  Malcolm held a trembling hand up to his mouth.  *Hello?*  He thought the word clearly, and there was a warm puff of breath on his palm, but nothing else.  Malcolm threw on a shirt, sweatpants and running shoes before all but sprinting out of his room and down the corridor.



    The name was louder than necessary and the tone was, for lack of a better word, odd.  He stopped in the corridor and turned to face his friend, a frown creasing his brow.  "Yeah, Malcolm?"

    "Trip?  Can you hear me?"

    The odd tone and panicked look on Malcolm's face convinced the engineer that something was very wrong.  He reached out and placed what he hoped was a calming hand on his friend's shoulder.  "Of course I can hear you.  What's wrong."

    As he spoke Malcolm froze, his horrified gaze fixed on Trip's face.  After a moment his face scrunched up and Trip was stuck by the absurd notion that Malcolm, stoicism embodied, was about to burst into tears.  Malcolm took a shuddering breath and spoke in that strange overloud tone, "I can't hear you, Trip!  I can't hear anything!  You have to help me, Trip, I can't hear anything at all."  


    Trip tried to look as reassuring as possible while Phlox ran the scanner over Malcolm yet again.  The man in question was perched on a biobed, his knuckles white where he gripped the edge.  Phlox consulted the display above the bed and fiddled with his scanner thoughtfully.  Trip couldn't wait any longer and burst out, "Doc?"

    Phlox frowned.  "His ears appear to be in perfect working order, which means his condition could be neurological."

    Trip felt ill.  "Neurological?"

    The doctor nodded.  "I'll need to take a more detailed scan with the imaging chamber."  He placed his hand on Malcolm's shoulder.  "Lieutenant?"  Malcolm looked up with raised eyebrows.  Phlox answered the gesture with a shrug and a wave towards the more sophisticated scanner.  Comprehending, Malcolm hopped off the biobed and went over to the scanner, climbing onto the bed when it slid out.  As Malcolm slid into the machine Trip sank into a chair and ran a hand over his face, wishing Malcolm's mysterious affliction would just go back to wherever it came from.

    After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time the scanner chirped and the bed slid back out.  Malcolm sat up and turned so he was sitting with his lower legs dangling over one side.  His face was pale and pinched with worry.  The doctor called up an image of Malcolm's brain, giving an involuntary tsking sound when he saw the results.  "Phlox?"

    It was the second thing Malcolm had said since entering sickbay.  He'd let Trip explain the situation earlier, only stating when asked that he'd felt fine when he went to bed, but had been unable to hear anything when he woke up.  Phlox shook his head and put aside his normal dislike of contact long enough to pat Malcolm's shoulder and hold up a finger, telling Malcolm he'd need a minute.  He called Trip over and pointed at the scan results.  "Look at this temporal lobe."

    Trip peered at the picture for a moment before turning to the doctor.  "Is that..." he fumbled for an appropriate word, "...blotch supposed to be there?"

    Phlox pursed his lips.  "No.  And I have no idea what it is or why it is there.  The other is the same."  Trip let out a gusty breath at that disheartening statement and Phlox continued, "Did you notice any symptoms yesterday?"

    "Well, he was a bit spaced out yesterday morning when I tried to talk to him.  Cap'n had the same thing happen, he mentioned it at dinner.  Maybe he just couldn't hear us."

    Phlox nodded and jotted down some notes on his padd.  "And did the Lieutenant seem like his normal self?  The temporal lobes do more than just deal with auditory stimuli."

    Trip shook his head.  "He was the same old Malcolm."

    Phlox jotted something on a padd and passed it to Malcolm who took it and regarded it curiously before speaking, "I can see and read this just fine, Doctor.  In fact, I  feel completely fine, I just can't hear anything."  He looked from Trip to the doctor, he didn't know what they'd been saying but gathered that his problem had something to do with his brain.  "Can you fix it?"

    Trip and Phlox gave each other a sideways glance before Phlox cautiously shrugged his shoulders.  Malcolm slumped slightly and the doctor took his padd back, hurriedly typing something in before handing it to the forlorn man.  Malcolm gave a ghost of a smile and spoke softly, "I know you'll do everything you can.  I have faith in you, Phlox.  If there is a cure for this you'll find it."  He twiddled his thumbs contemplatively for a moment before continuing, "I can't really go on duty like this, so can I go back to my quarters?"  At Phlox's grim look he hastened to continue, "I'm not getting any worse and you've taken all sorts of scans.  Please, I'd just like to go somewhere more comfortable."

    Knowing Malcolm was probably feeling rather frightened about the whole situation, and that being in sickbay probably only added to his anxiety, Phlox wanted to grant the request.  Unfortunately, he wasn't sure he should.  Sensing what was going on Trip hurried to enter the conversation, "I can go with him if you don't want him to be alone.  It might help too.  If we're alone I can probably get a better sense of whether he's himself."  

    That was one argument Phlox couldn't deny the validity of so he nodded for Malcolm's benefit before fixing the commander with a stern gaze.  "You're to comm me immediately if anything seems amiss."

    "I promise, Doc."

    "Good."  Phlox typed in a message detailing the agreement they'd arrived at and Malcolm smiled gratefully when he read it.

    Trip heaved himself out of the chair he'd sunk back into a short time ago, casting a weak smile at Malcolm as he went over to the comm unit built into the wall.  "Archer to Tucker."

    There was a pause before the captain opened a channel and responded, "Archer.  What's up, Trip?"

    Trip sighed, he hated to be the bearer of bad news.  "Malcolm and I aren't going to be able to be on duty today.  There wasn't anything on the agenda that can't be delegated so we're heading back to Malcolm's quarters.  I think you'd better come down to sickbay and talk to Phlox."  

    "What's wrong?"  The worry was plain in the man's tone.

    "It's Malcolm, Cap'n."  Trip glanced at his friend who was watching him closely before continuing, "He's deaf."


    Malcolm shook the dice in his hand three times before dropping them onto the board.  They skittered to a halt and he smiled in satisfaction.  Double fives.  He grinned as he stacked the four black checkers he'd managed to get on the same space, picking them up and setting them down five points closer to the end.  He could start bearing off now.  He looked up to find Trip giving him a dirty look which he returned with a seemingly casual shrug.  Trip scooped up the dice, making a great show of blowing on them for luck as he rolled.  It amounted to nothing though, as he rolled a one and a two.

    Trip rolled his eyes theatrically and was reaching for one of his white pieces when his hand inexplicably stopped in mid air.  He pushed back his chair and stood, Malcolm frowning as he tried to figure out what was going on.  It was only when Trip strode over to the door and opened it that Malcolm understood.  The doorbell had chimed.

    The door slid open and the captain stepped into the room carrying a precariously stacked set of covered trays from the mess hall.  He said something which made Trip laugh as he set the stack down on the table.  Jon smiled warmly and Malcolm returned the gesture somewhat weakly before indicating the trays as he spoke, "What's that?"

    Jon pointed at the clock before passing the top tray to Trip who had taken a seat on the bunk.  It was 12:00, lunchtime on Enterprise.  Malcolm was shocked, he hadn't realized that much time had passed.  Mind you, he mused as he took the proffered tray, that was probably what Trip had intended to have happen when he'd picked up the backgammon board from his quarters.


    They were back at the desk again, but they'd switched to Go.  Madeline had given him a set for Christmas the year before Enterprise's launch and it had come in handy during the spans when space was just a little too empty.  All at once, Trip jumped out of his chair.  Realizing what this meant Malcolm stood as well while the other man went to the door and opened it.  Hoshi stepped into his quarters.

    She smiled at them both and exchanged a few words with Trip before walking up to Malcolm, a determined expression on her face.  She stopped a meter in front of him and suddenly started forming shapes with her hands as she waved them around.

    Malcolm raised his right hand and manipulated it into seven positions, five of them distinct.  He thought for a moment before making several motions using both hands.  He finished by touching his lips with the fingertips of his flat right hand, smiling as he lowered it outwards quickly so that his palm faced the ceiling.

    The question that Trip was asking Hoshi was plain on his face so Malcolm replied, "I spelled my name and then said 'excuse me', 'stop', you help me' and 'thank you'.  And that's all the sign language I know."


    Malcolm rolled over again, the blanket twisting itself uncomfortably around his feet.  He kicked out, thrashing until they were freed and the blanket lay over him again.  He sat up and grabbed his pillow, punching the stuffing back into the centre before dropping it onto the bed and flopping back down.  He closed his eyes, but it was no use.  During the day there was so much to focus on that it never really got to him too much aside from the frustration, but at night with his eyes closed it was so obvious.  It was too quiet.  Malcolm tried reciting poetry in his head, getting as far as "My name is  Ozymandias, King of Kings" before realizing he'd never drop off while doing that.  Finally he rolled over to the edge of his bunk and slipped an arm out from under the blankets, letting it drop until his hand lay on the deck plating.  The thrum of Enterprise's engines was present as a minute vibration that tingled in his fingertips.  It was strangely comforting.  He felt his breathing slow down.  He felt like he was floating.  He fell asleep.


    "Trip!"  The other man spun around and smiled a greeting as Malcolm jogged to catch up.  "Where're you going?  Engneering?"  When his friend nodded at his guess Malcolm continued, "I saw Phlox, he till doesn't know whats wrong, but since nthings getting woorse I cn do watever I want."  Trip gave a thumbs up and Malcolm smiled as they walked down the corridor together.  After a moment of thought he continued as casually as possible, "My team's doin drills tday, and I cn't be a part of em.  Would y'help me fix the trgetting scannrs?  I reelly just need an extr pair of hans."

    Trip face told him immediately that the engineer was busy, but Malcolm handed his friend the padd he'd taken to carrying anyway.  Trip typed in a message and passed it back.  "Sorry, Malcolm.  The engine was being temperamental last night, which means I've got to track down the problem and fix it.  Maybe I'll have time tomorrow."

    "I'd lik to doit today.  Could I borro one of yr engneers?  They'd jst haf to do what I sad."  Trip's uncomfortable frown had him furrowing his brow, "Whot?"

    Trip reluctantly took the proffered padd and typed in a message, "You've kinda started slurring your words.  It would be a bit risky to have you directing something in the armoury considering what could be broken if they misunderstood you.  You know how sensitive those scanners are."

    The lines in his forehead deepened as he read the message.  "How baldly slrring?"

    Trip winced slightly and jotted down a response, "Well, I can understand most of what you say.  But sometimes I have to think about it."

    Malcolm's face fell.  "Oh."  Trip clearly felt bad even though there wasn't anything he could do about the situation.  He sucked in a breath before offering, "Maybe 'll jst go reed a buk.  Hven't had a chance to do that in awile."

    Trip brightened a bit at that and gave his friend a pat on the shoulder before carrying on towards engineering alone.  Malcolm stood in the corridor for a moment before heading back to his quarters.


    Malcolm stood in front of the mirror and scrutinized his face carefully.  Making sure he didn't blink at any time in the process, he clearly thought his name, *Malcolm.*  He took a breath and said it more slowly, *Mal-colm*.  That flash of tongue he'd seen the first time must have been the first "l".  You made that sound with the tip of your tongue against your front teeth, didn't you?  Or maybe it was really the transition from "aah" to "lll".  But what if his friend's didn't open their mouths as far as he did?  *Malcolm*, you could say it without someone being able to see the tip of your tongue move in your mouth.  He said it again, *Malcolm*, this time looking at the shapes his lips made and how his jaw worked.  *Malcolm*.  He'd be able to recognize it when he saw it, and even if he didn't catch anything else they said, he'd know they were talking to him.  Or about him.

    Malcolm smiled sadly at his reflection.  *Malcolm*.


    Trip punched in his code and the door slid open, a blast of sound greeting him.  He covered his ears against the assault and cautiously stepped into the room.  Malcolm was lying on his bunk,  shirtless, a speaker clasped to his chest.  Since Malcolm's eyes were closed Trip hurried over to his desk, releasing one ear so he could turn off the music as quickly as possible.  The sound cut out abruptly, Trip's ears ringing in the sudden silence.

    Malcolm's eyes snapped open and he sat up, setting the speaker on the floor before demanding, "What id you do at for?"  Trip jumped at Malcolm's outburst, his ears not ready for another jolt of sound.

    "Gawd, Malcolm!  You'll give yourself arrhythmia with it that loud."  When Malcolm only glared at him in response Trip ran a hand through his hair in frustration before waving him over to the computer.  When Malcolm complied Trip quickly typed in, "It was way too loud, Mal.  It hurt."

    Malcolm read the message and the anger seemed to melt from his rigid frame as he did so.  His shoulders slumped.  "I'm soory, Trip.  I idn't think what it would oo to yor ears."

    Trip frowned at his friend, bending back over the console to type in another message, "And what about your ears?  You'll want them in good working order when the doc fixes your hearing."

    Instead of answering his friend, Malcolm's gaze dropped to his boots.  It was clear what had been going on in his head.  Trip only hesitated a moment before pulling his friend into a hug, somewhat surprised when the other man relaxed into the embrace and clung to him.  They stood like that for a while, Trip rubbing slow circles over his friend's back.  While Malcolm wasn't crying openly, he was shaking slightly.  It was a bit of an emotional release, but it was plain he was holding the bulk of it back.  

    When Malcolm finally stopped shaking Trip released him and typed another message into the computer, "That would be giving up, Malcolm, and you don't want to do that.  I won't let you do that.  It just isn't you."  Malcolm did tear up a bit at that, but he nodded anyway and managed a weak smile.  The cursor leapt across the screen as Trip typed in one more word, "Good."  He thought for a moment before continuing, "If you want to put on music again that's fine, but I'll get you a pair of the ear protectors we have in engineering, okay?"

    Malcolm gave a ghost of a genuine smile, "Okay."


    The steward set a laden plate in front of him and Trip smiled broadly.  "That looks great!  T'Pol not joining us tonight?"

    "She ate earlier."  Jon poured a drink for his friend and continued, "The science team think they've discovered something weird about the metallicity of the nebula, they're running scans like crazy.  If I didn't know T'Pol better I'd say she was downright eager to get a look at the data."

    Trip smirked and dug into his catfish, rolling his eyes at the taste.  He swallowed and proclaimed, "I tell ya, Cap'n, Chef is *almost* as good as my momma when it comes to cooking this."  He took another bite before continuing, "But I suppose it is a handicap to start with something resequenced."  He'd almost polished it off when he noticed that the captain was looking awfully pleased with himself.  Trip regarded the remains of his dinner for a moment before setting down his utensils and indicating his plate as he spoke, "I take it you're responsible for this."

    Jon flushed slightly as he answered, "With what's been going on lately I thought you deserved a treat."

    Trip smiled weakly.  "It's much appreciated, Cap'n, but if anyone deserves a treat these days it's Malcolm."

    "And I've made sure there are plenty of pineapple desserts in the mess tonight.  Hoshi's having dinner with him now, I think she said something about sign language."

    "Okay."  Mollified, Trip wolfed down the last of his dinner before relaxing back into his chair.  "That was great, thanks Cap'n."

    "You haven't even seen dessert."

    Trip's eyes sparkled, "Dessert you say?  Would it perhaps be a pie of some sort?"

    Jon grinned at his friend.  "It just might."

    Trip chuckled and smiled at the steward who entered to substitute their empty dinner plates with full dessert ones.  He picked up the fork and took a bite of his favourite dessert, smiling his thanks to Jon as he chewed.

    The captain waited until the pecan pie was gone and coffee poured to tackle what worried him.  "How's Malcolm doing?"

    Trip frowned.  "I dunno, Cap'n.  I suppose as well as anyone can do in his situation.  He's put on a brave face for everyone else, but I kinda caught him earlier when he wasn't at his best."


    "Yeah,"  Trip paused, knowing Malcolm wouldn't want him to relate the incident with the music, "This whole situation has rattled him pretty good, and you know how Malcolm prides himself on being collected.  I don't think he knows how to deal with this.  From what I can tell he's frustrated, angry, and even downright frightened right now."  He took a sip of his coffee before continuing softly, "Hell, I was scared by the thought that it might be catching.  I can't imagine how terrifying it would be to just wake up deaf one morning."

    Jon nodded his agreement with Trip's sentiments.  "What's he been up to?  I've been so busy I haven't had a chance to see him since I brought lunch."

    Trip grimaced. "I think he spent today alone in his quarters.  He couldn't take part in whatever his team was doing."  He trailed off and fiddled idly with his teaspoon.


    "And he asked me if I would help him fix the targetting scanners.  I couldn't because I had to figure out what was up with the engine.  Then he asked if he could borrow one of my engineers.  I had to say no and he looked crushed, although he tried to hide it."

    Jon frowned.  "Did it take all your people to fix the engine?"

    Trip shook his head.  "Naw.  Malcolm's started slurring his words like Phlox said he would.  I can pretty well get what he says, but I couldn't have him giving instructions to someone who could misunderstand them.  We've done a lot of modifications to those systems, it seems like Fuller, Malcolm, and I are the only ones who know exactly how everything works, and the scanners are really sensitive.  Probably should get Hess completely up to speed on them as well."  Jon nodded along with his friend's ramblings, understanding that Trip was feeling a bit guilty for something beyond his control.  "I wish I could do something to make him feel a bit better."

    "You could offer to help him with the scanners tomorrow.  I'll bet that would make him feel more useful.  I know Malcolm hates being off duty."

    "I'll do that."  He took another sip of coffee before continuing, "I wish... I wish there was something else I could do to, I dunno, show him I'll stick with him and help him get through this.  He sometimes goes to dinner or movies with Travis, but I'm pretty much his best friend on Enterprise."  Trip tilted his cup so the liquid swirled just below the rim.  "I'm his best friend, and I can't even have a proper conversation with him."

    "Well," Jon carefully regarded his friend as he continued, "There is something you could do about that."

    Trip grinned as comprehension dawned.  "I think you're right, Cap'n."


    Malcolm blinked his eyes open and rolled over to face his chronometer.  0658 glowed in the dark room.  About thirty seconds after it turned to 0659 he held his breath and waited, keeping absolutely still.  The chronometer blinked 0700, a change that accompanied his alarm going off.  Malcolm turned his head slightly to ensure that the pillow wasn't covering his ear at all.  Nothing.  He sighed glumly and rolled over, pulling the blankets over his head and going back to sleep.

    When he woke again almost 45 minutes later he forced himself to roll out of bed and shuffle off into the bathroom.  The face in the mirror looked haggard and drawn.  Malcolm grimaced and reached for his shaving kit, quickly disposing of the stubble that had grown on his face.  He washed his face and wandered back into the main room of his quarters, not bothering to comb his hair.

    The padd Hoshi had given him was on the shelf by his bunk where he'd left it the night before.  He activated it and "Introduction to Sign Language" scrolled across the screen before it automatically jumped to the bookmark he'd placed in module 3.  A freakishly cheerful looking woman came on, smiling broadly she exaggerated the hand motions while text scrolled across the bottom of the little screen, "I'm hungry.  Are you hungry?  We are hungry.  I'm thirsty..."  Malcolm shut it off in disgust.

    He surveyed his quarters for a moment before getting out some of his seldom worn civilian clothing and pulling it on.  Malcolm briefly considered going to the gym, but grabbed a padd that contained a movie and settled back onto his bunk instead.  He didn't feel like putting up with other people right now.


    The movie was barely past the opening credits when he caught the motion of his door sliding open out of the corner of his eye.  He dropped the padd in frustration as the unwelcome intruder stepped into his room.  Malcolm rolled off the bed and stood, bracing himself for another awkward "conversation" that would just leave him feeling even more frustrated and disheartened.

    Trip smiled self consciously and consulted the padd he was holding before tucking it into his pocket and signing clumsily, "Hi.  How are you today?"

    Malcolm was momentarily dumbstruck.  After a moment he got over his amazement and couldn't stop the grin slowly but surely brightening up his face.  Trust Trip to surprise him out of he funk he was in.  Instead of speaking he signed back, "Fine, thanks.  How are you?"

    Trip's brow furrowed for a second before he brightened and signed back, "Great."  He thought for a second and then signed, "Breakfast?"  Punctuating the word by raising his eyebrows.

    Malcolm's stomach gave an involuntary rumble of discontent.  Trip smirked and Malcolm gave a sheepish roll of his eyes.  He waved an arm, speaking aloud, "Lead th' way."


    "Phlox to Commander Tucker."

    Trip looked up from the report he was reading and answered the hail, "Tucker here.  What can I do for you, Doc?"

    "I've been trying to contact Lieutenant Reed, but he isn't answering my messages.  I'd go to his quarters myself, but I have a rather sensitive experiment running right now."

    "Do you want me to go check on him?"

    "I was hoping you could bring him to sickbay, I'd like to show him something."

    Trip raised an eyebrow.  "Have you figured out what's wrong?"

    "I think you should bring him in, and we can talk then.  While I doubt he'd admit it, the lieutenant might appreciate the company."

    "Alright, Doc.  I'll head over now."

    "Thank you, Commander."  

    Trip closed the comm channel and switched off his padds before hurrying out of his quarters.  


    He shifted impatiently and pressed the chime again, but Malcolm still didn't answer.  When Malcolm had lost his hearing, it had soon become clear that they needed a way to contact him without always having to physically go to his quarters.  The day before yesterday Trip had rigged a communicator to vibrate when someone pressed his door chime or sent a message flagged urgent to his computer, and the system had always worked until now.  Trip knew Malcolm was in his quarters, so it was possible that he was in the shower.  After a final stab of the chime Trip reluctantly punched in his override code.  He hated to invade his friend's quarters uninvited, particularly since Malcolm was a rather private person.

    The lights in the cabin were dimmed and Trip's eyebrows raised in surprise, it was only a little after 1900.  Malcolm was in his bunk with the blanket wrapped tightly around him.  Judging by the foot and lower leg sticking out from under the covers, he hadn't bothered to undress.  

    "Oh, Malcolm."  He sighed and walked over to the bunk.  Trip had known Malcolm had been having a hard time dealing with his hearing loss, but he hadn't realized that his friend could actually be downright depressed.  The communicator was sitting on the mattress next to Malcolm's pillow, a padd beside it cast a glow into the dim room.  Trip picked up the padd and found that a movie was still playing, captions scrolling across the bottom of the tiny screen.  He shut it off and crouched next to the head of the bed, one hand going to rest on his friend's shoulder.  When Malcolm didn't stir he shook it gently, preventing his friend from initially rolling away from the contact.

    After a few good shakes Malcolm stirred and grunted before blinking his eyes open and scowling at the disturbance.  "What?"

    Trip gestured, "Up."

    The scowl deepened.  "Why should I?"

    A raised eyebrow met that comment before Trip repeated his earlier statement, "Up."

    Malcolm huffed before angrily pushing back the covers and sitting up.  "What d'yo want?"

    Trip picked up the padd and punched in a message before handing it back to Malcolm.  "Phlox asked me to bring you down to sickbay, he couldn't get a hold of you."  

    For some reason Malcolm looked even more upset at that.  Trip reached down and took his friend by the chin, tilting his face up so that the other man was forced to meet his gaze.  While looking searchingly at his friend Trip raised his eyebrows.

    Malcolm's gaze became shuttered.  "Y'really don't know?"

    Trip shook his head.

    Malcolm scrubbed a hand over his face.  "Yor the only one who treets me normly, y'know?  Cept for Hoshi, no on else can talk t'me.  But I'm jst a curiosty to her.  How long will it tak Lootenent Reed to learn anew language?  It's terrible!  Everyone jst avoids me 'cause I'm to akward and embarrassing t'be around, or they're terrified that 's catchin'.  And most of th time I'm alone bcause yo can't babysit me all the time."

    Trip was barely able to keep himself from taking a step backwards at the sudden outburst.  He regarded his miserable friend for a moment before grabbing the padd, punching in a longer message and passing it to Malcolm.  "Maybe folks are ashamed that they don't know how to talk to you.  People think pretty highly of you, Malcolm, and I know that your opinion of them matters to them.  Maybe they're afraid you'll think they're stupid if they try to talk to you and mess up.  Or maybe they're afraid of insulting you by trying to use body language, I know I was afraid of seeming condescending at first.  I'm sorry I haven't been able to be around more and that I've barely seen you since we went to breakfast the day before yesterday.  I've been really busy in engineering, but I shouldn't have let that keep me away.  I guess I wasn't thinking.  Do you think you'd be willing to give me a hand tomorrow?  A bunch of couplings need to be replaced and I need to figure out what keeps diverting power from D deck.  We could do it together?"

    Malcolm's features were fairly inscrutable while he was reading, but when he looked up Trip could tell he'd said the right thing.  "Id like that."

    Trip's broad grin spoke for him as he nodded his approval at Malcolm's answer.  After a moment he repeated his earlier gesture, "Up."

    This time Malcolm complied, and a slightly anxious look flitted across his face.  "Did Phlox say why he wonted me t'go to sickbay?"  When Trip shook his head Malcolm took a deep breath and said, "Then let's go findout."


    "Ah Lieutenant, Commander!"  Phlox bustled over with his characteristic smile in place which gave Trip a flicker of hope.  He directed Malcolm over to a chair and handed him a padd to read.  When Trip's attempts to read the padd over Malcolm's shoulder proved fruitless, he turned to the doctor.

    "What's up, Phlox?"

    Instead of answering directly the doctor tapped Malcolm his shoulder to get his attention.  When Malcolm looked up Phlox indicated the information on the padd's screen and pointed at Trip with a raised eyebrow.  Malcolm nodded in a dismissive manner and turned back to the padd.  Phlox returned to the anxious commander and smiled.  "I have figured out what is causing the lieutenant's hearing loss."

    Trip grinned.  "Really?  What's wrong?"

    "Do you remember the away mission to the M class planet a few weeks ago?  Where Mr. Reed fell in the swamp?"

    "Yeah, but don't let him hear you talking like that.  He was *pushed* in.  Can't remember who he claims pushed him though."

    Phlox nodded as he remembered the incident, "To use a human term, he picked up some hitchhikers.  I'm not sure where the exact point of entry was, but they have migrated to his brain.  They are essentially parasites, the secretion that is exuded after their deaths and as they break down is what is responsible for the lieutenant's condition.  Since Mr. Reed is not their normal host, they were unable to survive for long.  At this point there is a corpse in each temporal lobe."

    Trip shuddered at the thought.  "You mean he's got *bugs* in his brain?"

    "That is a rather colourful way of putting it, but essentially yes."

    "Why didn't anyone notice?  Isn't decon supposed to catch things like this?"

    "It was designed to, but unfortunately Mr. Reed, soiled as he was, didn't undergo a proper decontamination procedure.  When we were attacked by the ship whose captain claimed control over the planet, the lieutenant was ordered to the bridge.  I believe he showered in his quarters after the situation was resolved, and I was busy dealing with the crewmen who had been near the conduit that ruptured in the attack.  When I finally managed to track down the lieutenant he insisted he was fine and that he was urgently needed on the repair teams.  My hand scanner showed he was free from bacteria or viruses, so I'm afraid I did not force the matter."

    Trip had turned grey.  "What can you do about it?"

    "There is a procedure that I have devised.  I would have to remove the corpses and then attempt to neutralize their secretions, but I'm afraid it isn't without risks."


    "Even with modern medicine, it is still brain surgery.  I'm confident the procedure can be performed endoscopically, but neutralizing the chemical will likely be rather traumatic to the surrounding tissue.  It is not uncommon for the recovery period to involve weakness, balance problems, speech problems, fits and personality changes."

    "Whoa, Doc."  Trip held up his hands.  "Personality changes?  He'll still be Malcolm, won't he?"

    Phlox looked grim.  "He may not seem to be at first.  Since there wasn't a traumatic brain injury I would expect personality changes to diminish after a few days, but it could take weeks or months.  I'm afraid not much is certain about his recovery."

    "What happens if you don't do anything?"

    "Then Mr. Reed will most likely remain deaf.  The chemical is not breaking down or being flushed from his system."

    "Damn."  Trip rubbed a hand over his face and watched as Malcolm finished reading the padd.

    Malcolm looked up with a slightly haunted look in his eyes, but when he spoke he was resolute, "I want yo to doit."

    "What!"  Trip crouched in front of his friend and spoke slowly so that Malcolm could read his lips, "Are you sure?"

    Malcolm turned away from the intense gaze to look at the doctor, "Phlox?"

    Phlox held up a padd so that both Malcolm and Trip could read it, "I want you to take at least 24 hours to think about this, Lieutenant.  If you're still so certain we can schedule the procedure for the day after tomorrow."



    The new coupling slid into place and Malcolm tightened the clamps that held the wires in position.  He'd been doing this all afternoon, and while it was very repetitive work, he couldn't care less.  Work was work, and for the first time in a while he actually felt useful.  One last twist and he replaced the outer panel, he was done.  Malcolm stood up and worked all the kinks out of his lower back, crouching all day had left it full of knots.  After a few moments he packed up his toolkit and leaned against the bulkhead, he'd finished replacing all the couplings Trip had pointed out.  His friend's toolkit was open and spanners and ratchets were strewn around in front of an open panel.  While he replaced couplings, Trip had been handling the flow regulators.  The engineer had been working on the last one when he was called away to look at a funny power signature on C deck.  After a few minutes just standing around Malcolm shrugged and moved over to the open panel.  It wasn't like he hadn't replaced a regulator before.

    After removing all the screws that held the regulator in place Malcolm gave the component a firm tug.  It didn't move.  He tugged again, but it didn't so much as budge.  Exasperated, he reached one hand all the way into the small opening so see if it was fused to something behind it.  When a regulator burns out a small amount of the inner casing becomes molten, if this leaks out onto the surrounding components or wall it can make removal quite difficult.  He'd just jammed his hand in further when something slammed into him, knocking him to the deck.  He barely had time to process the sharp stab of pain in his wrist before a blinding flash and searing heat exploded from the panel he'd been working on.  

    Malcolm instinctively shut his eyes and bright spots danced in front of his eyelids.  He lay still, cradling his wrist as he tried to catch his breath.  Whatever had barrelled into him had left him winded.  All at once he felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder and he gave an involuntary grunt of pain as his wrist was jostled.  Malcolm blinked his eyes open and through the residual spots saw Trip's face, his nostrils flared with fear.  Trip reached out and cupped Malcolm's face in his hands as he sat up.  In response to the look on his friend's face he gave what he hoped was a reassuring look.  "I'm fine."  As Trip breathed a visible sigh of relief he gingerly raised his right arm, carefully cupped in his left.  "I think I might've brokn my wrist, tho."  

    Trip nodded and carefully helped him to his feet before giving a hand to Crewman Rostov who had obviously been what had slammed into Malcolm.  They exchanged a few words before Trip clapped his engineer on the back and sent him off to another part of the engine room.  Trip turned back to his friend and started to lead him towards sickbay, the arm he slung across Malcolm's back seeming completely natural.

    It was on the way to sickbay that Malcolm figured out what had happened.  Every so often the regulator casing would melt so that it interfered with nearby circuitry.  This meant that pulling the regulator loose could wrench the wires, causing a short or a spark.  While the flow to the regulator was shut down during repairs, there was always a small amount of volatile material pooled inside the component.  In very rare instances a spark had been known to cause the material to ignite and subsequently explode.  It was truly a freak accident, but it did occasionally happen.  During training Malcolm's roommates' girlfriend had had the same thing happen, but that was the only incident he knew about firsthand.  They did caution people about it though, the only warning you got that it was about to happen consisted of a whine that increased in pitch for a few seconds before the whole regulator blew.  When the whine started there was nothing you could do but run for cover.  The same explosion would have occurred if Trip had been the one replacing the component, but he'd have been able to get out of the way in time.  He certainly wouldn't have risked the safety of a subordinate by requiring them to play saviour.

    The sickbay doors loomed up ahead and Trip hustled Malcolm inside, only releasing his hold on the other man when Phlox descended on the pair.  Trip hovered around while the doctor scanned and fussed over his patient.  It was only a quiet word from Malcolm that had the doctor *suggesting* that perhaps Trip could go wait elsewhere as the bone regeneration would take a little while.  Trip was almost at the door when a call had him turning back.  "Trip!  Yo see why I'v gotta do it."  Trip opened his mouth to try to argue, but was cut off as Phlox pulled the privacy curtain around Malcolm's biobed.  He closed his mouth, realizing it wouldn't have done any good anyway, and trudged out of sickbay.


    Jon sank into the couch and smothered a laugh as his friend jumped, Trip had been pretty lost in thought.  "Cap'n!"

    "Hey, Trip.  What's up?"  The direct approach had always worked with his friend before.

    "Aw, nothing."  Trip scrubbed a hand through his hair leaving it in spiky disarray.

    Jon gave his friend a pointed look.  "You expect me to believe that?"

    Trip had the grace to look chagrined.  "No, I suppose not."  They sat in silence for a moment, Jon content to wait until Trip was ready to talk.  "It's Malcolm."

    The captain nodded.  "I thought so.  What's on your mind?"

    "You heard how the regulator blew on him today?  He's still in sickbay getting his wrist fixed."

    "Yeah, I heard.  Phlox said he'd be okay."

    "Well, he wants to go ahead with that surgery Phlox thought up."

    Jon frowned as comprehension dawned.  "From what I understand it seemed a bit risky."

    "You're damn right it is!  All that stuff about fits and personality changes, he might not even be Malcolm when it's done!"

    "That really worries you, doesn't it?"

    "Hell yes!  How can it not worry you?"

    "It does worry me, Trip, but I have complete confidence in Phlox.  If anyone can pull this off, he can."

    "I know, I know, but this is Malcolm we're talking about."

    "You'd rather have him deaf and back on Earth?"

    Trip sank further back into the cushions.  "I just don't want anything bad to happen to him, you know?"

    "I know, Trip, but this has to be Malcolm's call.  Do you really believe he'd be happy in a desk job on Earth?"

    Trip didn't even need to think about the answer.  "No, he wouldn't be happy at all."

    "I think you have to put aside your own worries and just be supportive of him.  If you're worried, imagine how he must feel."

    Trip breathed a gusty sigh as he spoke, "He must be terrified."

    Jon looked at his longtime friend carefully for a moment before clapping him on the back.  "Take care of him, Trip."

    The full import of the command didn't raise an eyebrow.  "I will, Cap'n."


    Step, step, step, turn, step, step, step...  Malcolm couldn't tell you why he paced when he was nervous, he'd done it since he was just a little kid.  In a way it seemed to help, but if he really wanted to expend enough energy to fall asleep Malcolm had a suspicion that he'd need to go to the gym.  He'd lost count of the number of times he'd been back and forth across the tiny room, but it must have been well over thirty when he felt the doorbell chime.  He pulled on a shirt and padded over to the door, crossing his fingers that it was the visitor he hoped for.

    Trip stepped into the room and took in Malcolm's bare feet, boxer shorts and rumpled t-shirt.  It looked like Malcolm had tried to go to bed to get some sleep.  Judging by how wide awake his friend looked, the attempt had failed miserably.  He gave Malcolm a slightly subdued smile before passing the other man a padd he'd brought with him.

    Malcolm raised his eyebrows questioningly before activating the device and reading the short message:

    I won't lie, the thought of you going ahead with this surgery scares me to death, but I want you to know I'll be here to help you get through it.  You can count on me, Malcolm, whatever happens.

    When Malcolm stared at the padd for much longer that it would have taken to read the message, Trip felt a tiny knot of fear that the gesture hadn't been appreciated at all.  He needn't have worried though, when Malcolm did look up his eyes were distinctly watery.

    "Oh, Malcolm."  Trip stepped forward and pulled his friend into a quick hug that lasted just long enough for Malcolm to regain his composure.

    When he pulled back Trip noticed the dark smudges underneath Malcolm's eyes.  His friend looked exhausted.  "Can't sleep?"

    Malcolm watched his lips intently and seemed to understand what had been said as he replied, "Too woundup."

    Trip nodded and noticed a loaded hypospray sitting on Malcolm's desk.  He indicated it with a raised eyebrow.

    "Phlox gave itto me, but I don like using them."  Trip gave Malcolm a pointed look and Malcolm acquiesced, "Fine, yor probably right."
    Trip pulled back the blankets and ushered his friend into bed before carefully administering the shot.  He retrieved his padd and punched in a short message, "I'll come by tomorrow morning and walk down with you."

    Malcolm gave a weak smile.  "Thanks."

    Seeing his friend's eyelids beginning to droop Trip dimmed the lights and tiptoed out of the room.


    The door slid open barely a second after Trip pressed the chime and Malcolm stood framed in the doorway.  Trip mustered the best smile he could manage and exaggerated the motions of his mouth while raising his eyebrows, "Ready?"

    Malcolm gave a jerky nod and stepped into the corridor.  They set off together and Trip could sense the nervousness radiating off his friend.  After a moment Malcolm broke the silence, "Thanks for comin wit me."

    Trip took a little while to reply before showing his padd, "I wasn't going to let you go alone.  The captain is going to give me some time off.  Phlox might release you from sickbay sooner if I promise to look after you.  I know how much you hate it there."

    Malcolm flushed slightly.  "You don have to play nursmaid for me."
    "I want to."

    Malcolm coloured more, but didn't want to argue.  "Thanks."

    They finally arrived at the frosted glass of sickbay and Malcolm had to visibly steel himself to enter, Trip followed closely on his heels.  Phlox bustled up to them immediately with some form of mint green Starfleet Medical garment in hand.  He proffered it and when Malcolm accepted the bundle he indicated a curtained off region.  After his friend had left to change Trip stood fidgeting next to the doctor.  "So how long is this going to take?"

    Phlox beamed, clearly in his element. "The entire procedure, including preparation, should take about an hour and a half.  He should wake up shortly after that, but I would not expect him to be lucid for some time."

    Trip ran a hand through his hair. "I was hoping I could be here, y'know, when he wakes up.  We're travelling through a whole lot of nothing with nothing in sight, so the cap'n has offered to relieve me of duty indefinitely."

    Phlox's grin widened.  "I'm sure Mr. Reed will appreciate your presence, even if he might not be able to acknowledge it at first.  I would suggest that you go and eat breakfast, I assume you haven't yet, I'll comm you when we move the lieutenant into recovery."

    "That'd be great, Doc."

    Malcolm shuffled back out, the one size fits all garment swamping him.  Phlox smiled at his patient and indicated a biobed by the operating room at the back of sickbay.  Trip could see one of the medical techs unobtrusively waiting to gown the doctor and assist in the procedure.  Malcolm looked visibly nervous.  "Could..."

    He trailed off but the doctor, who had doubtlessly heard requests of that sort before, understood.  "If Mr. Tucker pulls on one of the spare gowns, a mask, and a hair net, he can accompany you until you are under anaesthetic."  While he nodded as he spoke, the answer was largely for the benefit of the commander.

    Trip was touched that Malcolm wanted him there.  "Where're those things?"

    "There should be an extra set in the changing area.  We'll just wait here while you get dressed."

    Trip threw on the gear in record time, not failing to notice that the gown was sized to fit him rather than Phlox or his technician.  It appeared as if the doctor had predicted the request.  Rather than dwelling on how Phlox would have known he was accompanying Malcolm, Trip concentrated on making sure everything was in place before returning to the main part of sickbay.  

    Malcolm was perched on a biobed so Trip moved to join him.  The doctor approached with what appeared to be a pair of scissors and a razor.  Trip's eyebrows raised.  "Are you going to shave his head?"  

    "I can't have any hair getting in the way, and this is probably better than just shaving a few spots.  Besides, you wouldn't want any hair to have to wash when there are healing wounds.

    It was only when the first few locks fell that Malcolm commented, "Bloody hell."

    After a thorough shaving and a quick washing with a brownish soap of some sort the doctor declared Malcolm's head ready for the operating room.  Despite the seriousness of the situation Trip couldn't help a brief smile at how his friend looked hairless.  At least his head wasn't too knobby.

    Phlox gave them both a quick glance to be sure he hadn't missed anything before sternly instructing, "There will be two carts with sterilized equipment.  While it is all still wrapped up, please be sure not to bump anything."

    "Will do, Doc."

    Trip moved to stand next to Malcolm and the two walked into the operating room together.  Malcolm climbed onto the bed and lay down, averting his eyes from the assembled equipment.  Noticing this Trip moved so that he filled his friend's field of view.  Phlox approached with a loaded hypospray and Malcolm reached out and grabbed Trip's forearm with his right hand.  Trip carefully maneuvered so that he held Malcolm's hand in his own and gave a reassuring squeeze.  Malcolm's eyes flickered to his face and he gave a nervous quirk of his lips before nodding for the doctor to proceed.  The hypospray discharged into Malcolm's neck and it was barely three seconds before he was out cold.  Phlox retrieved a length of clear tubing and carefully moved Malcolm's head so that his airway was open.  "I think you'd better leave now, Commander.  I'll let you know as soon as we're done.  Be sure to close the door on your way out."

    "Yeah, okay."  Trip carefully set down Malcolm's lax hand and beat a hasty retreat from the room.


    It had been the longest hour of Trip's life.  Now he sat next to Malcolm's bed, his padd of Superman abandoned in favour of watching his friend breathe.  Malcolm's head was swathed in bandages, and in Trip's opinion he looked pretty terrible, but Phlox had declared the operation a success.  The parasite corpses had been removed, Phlox was dissecting what was left at that very moment, and the chemical had been neutralized.  All that was left was for Malcolm to wake up and get better, a process that already seemed to be taking a long time.  All at once Malcolm gave a little moan.  When the gesture was repeated along with a twitch Trip called for the doctor.  Phlox bustled into the room just in time to see Malcolm crack his eyes open halfway.

    "Malcolm?"  Malcolm gave a soft grunt, but it was unclear whether he had heard his name or not.  "Hey Mal?"  The hand that Trip was holding gave a definite twitch.  Trip looked to where the doctor was scanning his patient, muttering to himself all the while.  "Doc?"

    Phlox briefly looked up from his scanner.  "Everything looks good, Commander.  Keep in mind he is full of anticonvulsants, steroids, and sedative, among other things."

    Trip nodded and gave a muttered, "Right."  He turned back to his friend and continued, "Hey, Malcolm.  Can you look at me?"  After a moment Malcolm's gaze lazily tracked towards his friend.  Trip gave a broad smile.  "That's better.  Can you say anything?  Can you hear me?"  Instead of giving any answer Malcolm's gaze wandered to the ceiling before his eyes slowly shut.  "Damn."

    "I'm not sure he can actually hear you at this point, Commander.  The chemical that I had to use did cause some disruption of brain function, it will most likely be a while before we can determine whether his hearing has been restored.  I'm afraid that by current medical standards it was a rather invasive procedure."

    "But you think it worked?"

    "I do."

    Trip sat back in his chair.  "Good."

    Phlox finished what he was doing and regarded the commander.  "I'm going to return to my dissections before they break down any more.  He will probably sleep for a while, but you're welcome to stay.  I'll have some food sent from the mess hall."

    Trip smiled tiredly in appreciation.  "Thanks, Doc."


    "Hey, Malcolm."  This time his friend's gaze actually locked with his own.  Trip smiled.  "How are you feeling?"

    "Like shit."  

    Trip's eyes widened at the mumbled reply.  "Whoa."  He took hold of Malcolm's hand as he turned away and called, "Doc!  He's awake, I think he heard me!"

    Phlox hurried over to Malcolm's biobed, scanner in hand.  "Mr. Reed?"


    "You can hear me?"


    "I'll take that as a yes.  Can you tell me how you're feeling right now?"

    "Mmmm,"  Malcolm visibly struggled to get the words out, "Talkin toe fast, yo don't soun right."

    "But you can hear me?"

    "Yeah."  The word came out as a grunt and Trip turned to the doctor.

    "Why is he still slurring like that?  I thought he could hear now."

    "He can, although not quite as well as he used to.  His speech should improve quickly and I wouldn't be surprised if he can hear properly by tomorrow or the day after."

    "Oh, okay."  Trip vaguely remembered reading somewhere that slurred speech could occur after brain surgery, so maybe it wasn't even related to his hearing.

    "You have to remember that trauma has been inflicted on his brain, that doesn't make for instantaneous fixes."  

    "I'll remember, Doc."

    Phlox consulted his scanner.  "Everything appears just as I'd expect it to be this long after surgery.  I'll remove the drain once he goes to sleep again, which will probably be soon."  Trip nodded his understanding and tried not to think about the tube that protruded from the bandages.  Phlox pocketed his scanner.  "I'll be back to check on him in a little while."  So saying the doctor returned to his small office.



    "I don feel well."

    Trip gently rubbed a hand over Malcolm's shoulder.  "I know, Mal.  You'll feel better soon."


    "Yeah, I promise."

    Malcolm's lips twitched as if he were trying to smile and his eyes slid shut again.


    "I want to!"

    "Malcolm, you can't get up!  You know that.  You can't have any strain on your head."

    "Fuck you."

    Trip gaped at the dark scowl and strong language from his friend, then forced himself to remain calm.  "Malcolm, I don't want to argue with you.  I'm not going to help you up right now.  Phlox said that tomorrow you can probably try sitting in a chair."  Malcolm glowered and Trip sank back into his seat, keeping his face as neutral as possible.  After a minute or so Malcolm gave up glaring at his friend and turned his gaze to the ceiling instead.  Trip breathed a muted sigh and picked up his padd, it wasn't like he hadn't received the silent treatment from Malcolm before.


    "Good morning, Commander."

    Trip smiled at the doctor beaming at him before regarding his friend warily.  When Malcolm waved a hand from his supine position Trip's smile broadened.  "Morning Doc, Malcolm."

    "Morning, Trip."  No trace of the volatile behaviour of the day before was present, a fact which left Trip with a palpable sense of relief.

    "If you could assist, Commander, it would be much appreciated.  We're just going to let Mr. Reed try sitting up for a while."

    "Great, Doc.  What do you want me to do?"  Trip moved to stand between Malcolm's biobed and the chair that had been placed nearby.

    "If you could help him sit up first.  Then we can ease him off the biobed so he can walk to the chair.  I want you to stay close though, he will probably need help, even though it is a few steps."

    "I can take a few steps myself, Doctor."  Malcolm gave a habitual protest from the biobed.

    "No doubt that in your horizontal position you're sure you can, but I think you'll find this little endeavour quite taxing."

    Malcolm merely rolled his eyes theatrically at his friend and moved to sit up, doing so slowly and with effort.  Once he was up he slumped forward slightly and scrunched his eyes shut.  Trip's hand clamped down on Malcolm's shoulder.  "Malcolm?"  The worry was present in Trip's tone.

    "Spinning."  The word came out as a bit of a gasp.  Malcolm took a few slow breaths before he blinked his eyes open.  "It's still there, but not as bad."

    Phlox clucked, "Remember that dizziness is considered normal after what you have been through, Lieutenant."

    Malcolm paled slightly and shut his eyes again for a few seconds.  "I'll try to keep that in mind."  When he opened them again he gave Phlox a weak smile.  "I'm ready to try sitting in the chair, but I'm not sure about walking to it."

    "Well, let's just spin you around to start with."  Phlox took Malcolm's legs and manhandled them so that their owner was sitting on the edge of the biobed.  "If Mr. Tucker would please support your upper body."  Trip hurried to pull one of Malcolm's arms over his shoulders and wrap his own arm tightly around Malcolm's waist.  Phlox beamed as he spoke, "Excellent!  Now would you try sliding off the biobed and standing."  Malcolm gnawed on his lower lip as he allowed his legs to take some of his weight, Trip's arm keeping him from crashing to the floor.  "Good.  Now can you please walk over and sit in the chair, Commander Tucker will ensure you don't fall."  Malcolm nodded, too focused on what he was doing to talk.  Five difficult steps later Trip carefully lowered him into the chair.  "Very good, Lieutenant!  Now I don't want you staying up for too long, so perhaps Mr. Tucker could keep you company while I feed my animals.  When I'm done it will probably be time for you to go back to bed."

    "All right."

    "Sure, Doc."

    Phlox bustled off humming a foreign tune and Trip retrieved another chair from the other side of sickbay.  He sat down and was about to launch into conversation when he noticed how intently Malcolm was looking at him.  Trip's tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and he forgot what he had been going to say.  Malcolm broke the silence, "I think I should apologize for yesterday."

    Trip's tongue decided to spontaneously unstick itself and he protested, "No, Malcolm, you don't need to."

    "I was way out of line, Trip."

    "It was just one of those things Phlox warned us about, like your dizziness or being tired all the time.  You didn't mean it."

    Malcolm ducked his head.  "No, I'd never mean it."

    "See."  Trip waited until Malcolm looked up again and continued, "You'll get through this, Malcolm, and I'll be there the whole way.  It'll take more than some brain surgery induced cussing to get rid of me."  Malcolm cracked a weak smile at that and Trip gave himself a mental pat on the back.

    "So what is everyone else doing right now?"

    Trip bit back a laugh, he should have known Malcolm would turn the conversation to ship's business.  "Twiddling their thumbs.  There is absolutely nothing out there."

    "Absolutely nothing?"  Malcolm raised an eyebrow.

    "Wait, I tell a lie."  Trip bowed to Malcolm's skepticism, "We did pass some sorta supernova remnant a few days ago."

    Malcolm shook his head slowly, "I'm amazed people aren't climbing the walls from boredom."

    "I heard the science teams put together a petition asking for an additional movie night, or two.  I think the captain might give it the okay, so long as we're stuck in the middle of nowhere."

    "Wise decision, he likely couldn't subdue a mutiny without me."

    Trip chuckled but couldn't help raising an eyebrow, Malcolm was usually one for more self deprecating comments.  "Yeah, well, he's probably as bored as the rest of us."

    "I suppose I feel slightly better knowing I'm not missing out on anything."  Malcolm gave a wry grin and fiddled with the sash on the sickbay robe he was wearing.

    "Any idea when you're getting out of here?"  Trip couldn't help but ask, knowing his friend's dislike of sickbay was legendary on Enterprise.

    "No."  Malcolm huffed.  "He says I can't go back to my quarters without supervision, but I know I'd actually rest there.  I can't stand the scruffling noises whatever is in that cage makes, and don't even get me started on the bat."

    "Supervision, huh?"

    Malcolm rolled his eyes.  "Supposedly I need someone nearby to look after me, you'd think I was a bloody baby.  I tried to get him to make a med tech stay with me, but he said they couldn't be spared for round the clock supervision.  Evidently we only left spacedock with enough people to keep sickbay properly manned."

    "Does it need to be a med tech?  What if I stayed with you?"

    Malcolm looked at him carefully.  "I couldn't ask you to do that, Trip.  You shouldn't have to babysit me."

    "I'm offering."

    "Really?  You're sure you can?  What about your duties?"  Malcolm felt a glimmer of hope.

    "Cap'n will understand, and I'd really be happy to stay with you.  I know how much you hate it here."

    "You're sure?

    "I'm positive.  I'll talk to Phlox, okay?"

    Malcolm beamed at his friend.  "That would be lovely."


    "My own bed."  Malcolm burrowed under the covers and sighed softly, "You're a saint, Trip Tucker."

    Trip grinned and blushed at the same time.  "I dunno about that, Malcolm, but I think you're going to have to officially forgive me for a few of the 'incidents' you say were my fault."  He gave the mattress a shove which caused it to unroll and begin to self inflate.

    "Consider it a clean slate."  Malcolm yawned and continued in a rueful tone, "He would have discharged me from sickbay just before bedtime, I'm hardly going to get to enjoy being home today."

    A careful flick had a sleeping bag unrolling over the camping mattress.  "Well, he did have to get me up to speed on looking after you."

    Malcolm snorted, "Right.  Don't let him drink any alcohol, don't let him irritate the wounds... how hard is that?"

    "Hard enough when it's you, Malcolm Reed.  You're probably the world's worst patient."

    "I'm not *that* bad."  Trip gave him a pointed look.  "Well, I won't be for you, okay?"

    "Fine."  Trip crawled into his hastily assembled bed.  "I'm gonna turn the light out, anything else you needed?"

    "No.  I'm fine, thanks."

    Trip reached out and flicked a switch.  "Night."

    "Night, Trip."

    For a while the room was silent save for the sound of breathing, then there was a rustling sound from the bunk as Malcolm rolled over.  After a brief pause, it repeated.  And then again as he rolled back into his original position.  A few minutes later Malcolm tossed again.  "I thought you were tired."

    Malcolm froze at the sudden voice and then replied, "I am."

    Trip propped himself up on one elbow and turned to face where he knew the head of the bed to be.  "Doesn't sound like you're getting to sleep."

    Malcolm exhaled loudly, "Sorry."

    "Don't be.  What's up?"

    "My head itches."

    Trip frowned.  "Itches?"

    "Quite a lot."

    "Where the hair is growing in?"


    Trip flipped on the lights to a dim setting and sat up, looking to where Malcolm was blinking owlishly at him.  "It's keeping you awake?"


    "Hmm."  Trip knelt next to the bunk and regarded the head covered in bristly stubble with several round bandages for a moment.  "Lay back down."  When Malcolm complied he reached out to a patch of skin not covered by a bandage and began a very gentle massage.  Malcolm's eyes slowly slid shut at the gently ghosting touch and he mumbled something indistinct.  As Malcolm's breathing evened out and he fell asleep Trip allowed himself to smile.  After a few final strokes he crawled back to his own bed and turned out the lights.


    A thundering of drums broke the early morning silence, nearly drowning out a flurry of motion and an involuntary cry from the floor.  "Holy shit!"  Trip launched himself upwards, disoriented and unsure where he was.  He punched the lights on and clapped his hands firmly over his ears as the cymbals joined in.  Through the tears that had formed in his eyes from the sudden light Trip could see Malcolm sitting on his bunk with his hands over his own ears.  "Dammit Malcolm!"  Trip stumbled over to the desk and shut off the noise as quickly as he could.  He gingerly uncovered his still ringing ears and was about to snap at Malcolm when his friend surprised him.  Malcolm began to laugh.

    Loud and unrestrained chortles and guffaws wracked Malcolm's frame and Trip could only stare dumbly in astonishment.  It took him a few seconds to find his tongue and speak, "Malcolm?"

    Malcolm finally trailed off and looked up at Trip with eyes that glimmered wetly.  "It was my test."


    Malcolm waved at his desk.  "The alarm clock.  I always woke up just before it went off and waited, hoping that this morning I'd hear it go off."

    "What the hell was the music?"

    Malcolm beamed.  "Just a clip from the middle of something by Wagner, I wanted it to start with a bang.  I heard it, Trip!  This time I finally heard it!"

    Confronted with such a look of joy on his friend's face Trip couldn't bring himself to berate Malcolm for the volume of his 'test'.  Instead, he took an inordinate amount of satisfaction in disabling the alarm.  That done he turned back to the bunk where Malcolm had sunk back down onto his pillows, somewhat worn out after the sudden burst of energy so early in the morning.  "How are you feeling?"

    "Fine.  A bit tired, even though I just woke up."  Malcolm scratched self consciously at the stubble on his face.  "A bit scruffy, too."

    "How about I get you your shaving stuff and a portable mirror, and you can shave while I take a shower.  If that's alright."

    "Of course it's all right, you're living here too now."

    "Great."  Trip rummaged around in Malcolm's small bathroom until he found what he was looking for.  He gave the kit and mirror to Malcolm before pulling clothing and toiletries from the bag he'd brought with him and disappearing into the other room.

    Malcolm had finished shaving and was examining his head when Trip reappeared, still drying his hair.  "I look frightful."

    Trip walked over to the bed and grinned.  "It's not that bad."

    "It's all..." Malcolm waved a hand at his reflection, "fuzzy."  His lip curled in distaste.

    "It could be worse."  Trip carefully removed the mirror from Malcolm's grasp and retrieved the kit from the bed.  "You could have a knobby head."

    Malcolm's look of distaste deflated slightly.  "I suppose you're right."

    "Of course I'm right.  I'm a saint, remember?"

    "I think I'm going to regret calling you that."

    Trip frowned.  "Would you rather I returned you to sickbay?"

    "Oh glorious, wise, most selfless Trip..."

    "Stop it, stop it, you're making my head swell."  Trip waved a hand to quiet Malcolm.  "I'm going to have someone send up breakfast for us."

    "Then what?"  The prospect of a day in bed wasn't entirely appealing, even if he had company.

    "I have it on good information that your knowledge of classic movies leaves a lot to be desired.  We're starting with at least one today."

    Malcolm rolled his eyes.  "What a thing to do to a captive audience."


    As mushroom clouds ended and Vera Lynn trailed off Malcolm turned to find Trip grinning from ear to ear.  Noticing Malcolm's gaze Trip beamed at his friend.  "Well, what do you think?"

    "It was..." Malcolm fished for a word that could express what he though of the film, "Quite something."  Trip chuckled so Malcolm continued, "The explosions were nice, and it was rather amusing."  When his friend outright laughed Malcolm found himself reluctantly grinning at the movie as he carried on, "The whole thing is rather bizarre, Trip.  The major riding the bomb down like that, and what on earth was supposed to be the matter with that doctor?"

    "I dunno, Malcolm, it's a black comedy.  It doesn't have to make complete sense."

    "And that Group Captain Mandrake, did they really think British people were like that?"

    "Who knows, Malcolm.  The movie is from a long time ago."  Trip stood up and stretched to work out the kinks that had formed in his back from sitting in Malcolm's desk chair.  "So did you like it?"

    Malcolm sniffed before brightening.  "The special effects leave a lot to be desired, but I guess I have to say that I did enjoy... what was the title again?"

    "Dr. Strangelove."  Trip wagged his eyebrows as he continued, "Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb."

    Malcolm shook his head, "What a title."

    "Well it was a successful introduction to Kubrick so I'm happy.  Scootch up here."  Malcolm slid backwards on his bunk so he was sitting up straight, supported by a small mountain of pillows behind him.  Trip carefully set a tray over Malcolm lap and placed lunch and utensils on it.  

    Malcolm popped a piece of pineapple from the top of his fruit salad into his mouth and talked around it, "What delightful activities do you have planned for this afternoon?"

    "Something you're sure to enjoy."  Trip retrieved a padd at Malcolm's sceptical look waved it just out of his friend's reach.  "The latest tech and engineering journals have arrived from Earth.  I have it on good authority that one has an entire issue dedicated to phase modulated energy weapons.  I don't suppose you'd be interested in reading something like that?"

    Malcolm blushed at Trip's raised eyebrow.  "You know me far too well, Mr. Tucker."

    A snort of laughter met that comment.  "Eat your lunch."


    "Malcolm, slow down."

    "I'm fine."

    "You're just going to tire yourself out again."

    "I'm *fine*, Commander."

    Trip shook his head and lengthened his stride to match Malcolm's brisk pace.  Little spats like this were becoming increasingly more common, but it was probably more a reflection of Malcolm's frustration and boredom than anything Trip had done.  This last visit to Phlox hadn't helped.  The doctor had said that Malcolm's dizziness, which was still bothering him, would subside on its own and that there wasn't anything he could do to return Malcolm's energy level to normal.  As it was the lieutenant tired remarkably quickly.  Because of this Phlox had insisted that Malcolm remain off duty with Trip looking after him.  That order had gone over like the proverbial lead balloon.

    Malcolm finally reached his door and punched in the code with more force than was strictly necessary.  Once inside he kicked off his shoes, forcing Trip to dodge as one slid across the floor.  A dark scowl creased his face as he kicked them into place by the door.  "Do you need me to..."

    "No!"  Malcolm gave one last glare at his friend before storming into the small lav and practically slamming the pull out door behind him.

    Trip sank into Malcolm's chair and sighed, he wasn't sure how long he could take behaviour like that.  A clatter from the bathroom caused him to look up.  There weren't any further sounds.  "Malcolm?"  When a reply wasn't forthcoming Trip crossed the room to the door and knocked gently, "Malcolm?"  Trip bit his lip.  "Hey, Malcolm.  You okay?"  

    Trip gingerly slid the door open and his gaze was drawn to a figure sitting with his back to the bathroom wall.  Malcolm's knees were drawn up to his chest and his forehead rested on them.  Tip hurried over and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder.  "Malcolm?"

    "Sorry."  The voice sounded very small.

    Trip squatted down beside the other man.  "Do you want me to get Phlox?"

    Malcolm slowly raised his head.  "No."  He opened his eyes as he continued, "I got really dizzy, and I was so tired.  I just had to sit down, I couldn't stay upright."

    "Do you think you can get up now if I help you?"  When Malcolm nodded Trip hauled him upright and carefully walked him over to sit in the nearby chair.  Since Malcolm was still looking distinctly pale he grabbed a glass and hurried into the bathroom, returning with a full glass of water.  Trip held it out to Malcolm.  "Here, just take some small sips of this."

    Malcolm waved a hand.  "I'm fine."

    "It'll make you feel better."

    "I don't need it, Trip."

    "You sure look like you could use it.  Come on, Malcolm.  Have a sip and then I'll help you get back in bed."


    "Damn it Trip I don't want any fucking water!"  The glass sailed across the room and shattered on the far wall, the contents soaking a large portion of the bunk and Malcolm himself.  There was a long moment of pure shocked silence.  Then Malcolm's face contorted as if he might cry and Trip was seized by panic, he never knew what to do when people cried.  "Damn."  Malcolm's voice was nearly a whisper, "Damn, damn, damn."

    Trip cautiously reached out and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, "Malcolm?"

    "Bloody hell."  Malcolm's whole frame shuddered as he hissed, "This is so bloody frustrating.  I can't stand being like this.  I can't stand being so useless."

    "I know you've a very independent person, but you'll have to be willing to accept help.  There's no shame in that, Malcolm.  It doesn't mean you're weak."

    The calm tone of Trip's voice seemed to have an effect and Malcolm raised his head to reveal glistening eyes.  "I'm sorry, Trip.  I didn't mean to snap at you."

    "Don't worry about it, Malcolm.  I understand."  After giving his friend a minute to regain his composure Trip continued, "You look like you're about ready to drop, but your bed is full of glass and I'm willing to bet the water has soaked clear into the mattress by now."  When his friend groaned at the thought Trip held up a placating hand, "How about you put on a dry shirt and I'll help you walk over to my place.  You can have a nap and I'll read my mail, okay?"

    Malcolm smiled gratefully.  "Sounds like a plan."

    "Great.  Do you want to find something to wear or can I get you something from somewhere?"  Trip waited, terribly conscious of the fact that he was invading Malcolm's private living space.  He was quite sure his friend didn't like other people rummaging through his belongings.

    Malcolm didn't hesitate.  "The blue shirt in the third drawer down."


    After all the previous exertion the walk to Trip's quarters tired Malcolm completely.  He was barely able to get his shoes off before collapsing on Trip's bunk.  Trip pulled a blanket over his friend and smiled at the way Malcolm burrowed under the covers.  Malcolm's eyes shut the moment his head hit the pillow, but he heard Trip walk over to his desk and settle into the chair.  Malcolm wriggled a little, for a bunk that supposedly was identical to his own this bed felt rather different.  Or maybe it wasn't how it felt, maybe it was something else.  Malcolm inhaled deeply and a foreign smell assailed his nostrils.  He took another breath and pinned it down: it was the same bed, but it smelled like Trip.  With the blanket on top of him it was like being wrapped in the scent.  Malcolm took another breath through his nose, it wasn't a bad smell.  His last coherent thought was that maybe things weren't so unpleasant after all.


    A stirring from his bunk caused Trip to look up from the letter his parents had sent.  He smiled fondly as Malcolm curled up so that just a few wisps of dark hair peeked out from under the top of the blanket.  Sometimes Malcolm looked like such a little kid.  Trip frowned, not that he'd ever dare tell his friend that.  The blanket shifted as Malcolm twisted and Trip caught himself hoping his friend wasn't having a nightmare.  Trip sat back and allowed his mind to wander from the letter he'd been reading.  He's like Jon.  I worry about him way too much.  Cap'n is like a brother to me, I love him.  Love.  Malcolm.  He froze at the thought that flashed through his mind: I love him.  Trip shook his head as if to clear it.  "I love him, but I'm not in love with him.  It's a clear distinction."  Malcolm shifted on the bunk and Trip frowned.  "Right?"


    "...and then Porthos ate the damn thing!"  A voice was talking softly in the background as Malcolm woke up.  It took him a moment to remember where he was, even after he opened his eyes.  Slowly sitting up he spotted Trip at his desk, leaning close to the monitor and talking quietly.  The motion caught Trip's eye and he spared Malcolm a glance before continuing on with his narrative, "Cap'n panicked and hauled him down to the doc right away, and then had to explain what had happened.  Liz Cutler was in there working on some experiment, and you should have seen the look on her face when she overheard!  For a second I was afraid she was going to pass out from laughing."  Tip chuckled at the memory before grinning at Malcolm. "And look who's finally awake.  Malcolm, come over here."  Malcolm dutifully trudged across the room and crouched down so that the camera could pick him up.  "I'm recording a letter to my sister Elizabeth.  Lizzy, this is the Malcolm I've told you about."  Trip turned to his friend. "Malcolm, say hi."

    "Hello."  Malcolm smiled politely and wondered why Trip was having him do this.

    "See, he's just like I told you."  Malcolm frowned, unsure if that was a compliment or criticism.  Trip ploughed ahead, "Anyway, give my best to Luke and Alice.  Good luck on that project, be sure to send me a picture of the model.  Love you."  Trip turned off the recording device and forwarded his message to the communications station so it could be sent back to Earth.  Malcolm pulled himself up and perched on the edge of the desk, regarding his friend with a quizzical gaze.  "What?"

    Malcolm cursed inwardly at getting caught staring.  "Why did you have me?"  He waved a hand at the screen.

    "What?"  Trip frowned. "Say hi?"  Malcolm nodded.  "It was my sister."  As if that explained everything.


    "So?"  Trip's brow furrowed.  "So she's interested in my friends, and since I've talked about you before I thought she might like to see you."

    "You talk to your sister about your friends?"

    "Don't you?"  Trip was incredulous.

    Malcolm bit his lip.  "No, not really."

    "Then what do you talk about?"

    "We don't actually talk all that much."  Malcolm saw his friend's frown.  "She's closer to my father than anyone.  Maddie's an engineer in the navy.  I'm not sure what her rank is now, but they pulled her from being an engineer officer into some R and D program.  We don't really have all that much in common."

    "But she's your sister!"  Trip couldn't fathom what his friend was telling him.  "Lizzy isn't an engineer and when we were little she'd rather have a tea party than build a rocket.  We're pretty different, but that doesn't mean we don't talk to each other."

    "I'm afraid my family isn't much like yours, Trip.  It doesn't work that way in my family."

    "Why not?"

    "That's just the way it is."

    Malcolm's rigid posture told Trip he'd pushed too far, but he didn't want to give up.  Malcolm had never talked much about his family, and Trip thought it might be about time he did.  "Come on, Malcolm, there must be more to it than that."

    Malcolm was silent for a long moment as he inwardly warred with himself.  Finally, he gave in. "Make me some tea and I'll tell you, this could take a while."

    Trip beamed at the victory and hurried over to the small coffee and tea machine he kept under his desk.  A few minutes later he handed Malcolm a steaming mug and pulled his chair up beside the bunk.

    Malcolm settled himself on the bed and regarded the depths of his drink for a moment before speaking, "You know that my father is in the navy, and that my grandfather and great uncle were too?"  Trip nodded, afraid to talk lest he ruin the moment.  "As a young man my grandfather was in trouble.  Big trouble.  Trouble with his family, trouble with his friends, even trouble with the law.  He had no money and nowhere to go, so at his brother's advice he joined the Royal Navy.  It turned his life around."  Malcolm took a fortifying sip of his drink and continued, "When he had my father he made sure to impress upon him the greatness of the navy and what it had done for him.  My father was brought up worshipping the navy and what it stood for, it's no wonder he joined up as soon as he was old enough.  When I was born it was their greatest hope that I would follow in their footsteps.  I was instilled with a sense of hero worship for my great uncle, bedtime stories were of exploits on the high seas, birthday outings were trips to the naval docks and museums, and presents were toy boats and child sized uniforms to dress up and parade around in.  I was groomed for a life as a naval officer, Trip.  It was simply what was expected of me."

    Trip set his mug down and leaned forward so that he could catch everything that his friend was saying.  Malcolm grimaced as he continued, "Unfortunately, I was a complete and utter failure.  I was six when they realized I was aquaphobic.  They tried to have me 'get over it' until I was ten when they finally gave up on me.  As far as the majority of my family is concerned I'm nothing more than a dismal failure.  My sister on the other hand..."  Malcolm trailed off gave a mirthless chuckle before continuing, "It was only when they gave up on me that they discovered that my sister was exactly what they were looking for.  Madeline swam as naturally as a fish.  Madeline took sailing lessons and won regattas in her laser.  Madeline got to join the sea cadets a year early because she was so bloody keen and well behaved."  Trip frowned inwardly at the increasing bitterness in Malcolm's tone.  "Madeline was the Reed they wanted me to be."  Malcolm trailed off and swirled the tea in his mug for a moment before continuing, "They used to play us against each other, I don't know if they meant to or if that was just how they talked to children.  It was always, 'Oh Madeline, you sail so much better than Malcolm ever will!'  or 'Malcolm, why can't you join cadets like your sister?'  Madeline was the adversary I could never best."  

    Malcolm took a few sips from his mug and Trip forced himself to keep quiet.  "When I graduated from school I left home.  My aunt let me stay in her basement room while I went to university, I think she'd always had a soft spot for me.  When there were family gatherings Madeline would be the centre of attention as they had her recount how she won some race or received some commendation.  Aunt Sherry would always sit with me and ask about school and scouts or other things I was interested in.  She actually seemed to care about *me*."  Malcolm fidgeted on the bed.  "I called home fairly often after I moved out, but the conversation always turned to Madeline's exploits in the sea cadets or how I should join the navy as soon as I had my degree.  My father never completely gave up on me being a naval officer or working for them in some capacity.  Over time I called less frequently, by time we shipped out I wasn't even writing letters.  Madeline got a university cadetship entry, took engineering, and now works at some fancy research post in between actual tours on ships.  Last I heard she was testing some submersible in the arctic.  She's slowly but surely climbing the ranks, and I'm out in space."

    It took Trip a moment to grasp everything Malcolm had said, mostly because he couldn't fathom what it would be like to grow up in a family like that.  "Have you ever talked to her about all that?"

    Malcolm frowned at an idea he had never really considered.  "No."

    "Maybe you should."


    "Well, do you really know how she feels?"

    "I know how she feels!  All my life she just..."  Malcolm paused before continuing softly, "She just went along with it."

    "Hey."  Feeling slightly useless in the face of Malcolm's distress Trip patted his friend on the knee.

    "I wonder if she wanted to."  Malcolm's voice was so soft Trip had to strain to hear it.  "I've always assumed she did, but maybe I was wrong."

    "You know, Malcolm."  Trip spoke as gently as he could, "You could find out."

    Malcolm took a juddering breath.  "I suppose I could, Trip.  I don't see what good it will do, but maybe it's time I did anyway."

    Trip snatched a blank padd from his desk and passed it to his friend.  "How about you write a letter on this?  I can pass it on to Hoshi when you're done."

    Malcolm gave a weak attempt at a smile.  "That sounds like a plan."


    He'd been more confused than ever since Malcolm woke up.  Never before had Trip seen his friend be so candid and open about anything, least of all his family.  Trip was touched that Malcolm had opened up to him, an emotion that did nothing to convince him of his "love" versus "in love" assertion.  When it came to Malcolm, Trip was willing to admit to having a protective streak a kilometre wide.  He'd also admit to a fair bit of what he termed "brotherly affection."  Being "in love" with Malcolm he would deny vehemently.  He was straight, and as far as he knew Malcolm was too.  Okay, there had been the decade where he'd answered the "are you straight" question with "as far as I know," and there had been a little experimentation at university.  Well, maybe more experimentation than most people engaged in.  In truth, Trip admitted to himself, he probably wasn't as straight as most people thought he was.  Which created a problem as Malcolm was definitely as straight as most people thought he was.  There was a small noise from the direction of the bunk and Trip looked up to find Malcolm still hard at work on his letter.  The man was concentrating intently on the padd in his hands, and just the very tip of his tongue was peeking out from between his lips.  It was almost as if he'd been moistening his lips and forgotten what he was doing part way through.  The sight caused the unseemly quastion of whether Malcolm's lips were soft to flit through Trip's head.  Blushing terribly he forced his eyes back down to his own padd, but the words on the page weren't sufficiently distracting.  Terrified of being caught staring, or worse, Trip turned off his novel and grabbed earphones and a padd with a movie instead.  Even the opening credits rolled Trip was dismayed to find himself fixated on the state of his friendship with Malcolm. He decided he'd just have to get control of himself.  He had to be extremely careful lest Malcolm discover how he felt, not that he was really sure just what he was feeling yet.  With any luck this mysterious Malcolm fixation would go away by itself.  Hopefully soon.


    The rustling of blankets was oppressive in the darkened room.  The noise abruptly stopped and Malcolm relaxed, perhaps he could get to sleep now.  He barely given a minute's respite before there was the unmistakable sound of someone rolling over on a camping mattress.  The squeaking rustle repeated as Trip flopped onto his back.  Malcolm started to count to ten, and only managed to reach four before Trip changed position again.  Malcolm rolled onto his side and looked searchingly into the darkness beside the bunk.  "Trip?"

    Another rustle and then, "Yeah?"

    "Having trouble sleeping?"

    "Yeah, sorry if I'm bothering you."

    "What's wrong?"

    There was a pause before Trip admitted, "My back's kinda bugging me."

    Malcolm frowned.  "From sleeping on a camping mattress?"

    "I think so."  Trip gave a rueful chuckle, "I don't think I've ever slept on one for so long before."

    "Maybe you should go see the doctor."

    "Naw."  Trip had already considered that course of action.  He didn't want to be doped up, and he didn't want the doctor to suggest that someone else stay with Malcolm.  "I'll be fine once I find a comfortable position."  He rolled over again to prove his point, but found that the new position was worse.  Now it felt like his hip was actually touching down on the metal floor.

    There was a a rustling of blankets from the bunk as Malcolm slid back from the edge.  "Get in."

    "What?"  Trip was stunned.

    "Get in, there's enough room.  Since your back won't hurt you'll get to sleep, and without you tossing and turning down there I'll get to sleep."  Malcolm's tone was brisk and businesslike.

    Trip sat up.  "I dunno, Malcolm.  Those bunks are awfully small.  I doubt we'd fit."

    "Well there's only one way to find out."  Malcolm held the blankets up invitingly.  "And hurry up, I'm getting chilly like this."

    Argument successfully defeated, Trip reluctantly clambered into bed.  When the blankets settled over him they carried with them a residual warmth from his friend's body.  Malcolm rolled to face away from him, and Trip was surprised to discover that, while it was a bit tight, there was in fact room for both of them.  "Well whaddya know."

    Malcolm gave a sleepy murmur that sounded like, "Told you so."  Before Trip could respond he heard his friend's breathing soften and even out.  Trip rolled onto his side as well and, finally comfortable, quickly nodded off.  A minute later Malcolm's eyes opened and his breathing changed as he stopped feigning sleep.  With the upmost care he slowly rolled over so that he was facing his friend's back.  The weak light from the viewport allowed him to just make out the outline of Trip's shoulder.  Slowly, Malcolm smiled.


    Still half asleep, Trip rolled over under his deliciously warm blankets.  He gave a little sigh of utter bliss and stretched a bit before relaxing into the mattress.  Dozing on the borderline between asleep and awake, he could drift off again if he just got into the right position and relaxed.  Trip rolled over and slung a leg over the heat source, his arm wrapping around it like he was holding a pillow to his chest.  He let out a deep breath and gripped it more tightly, his cheek brushing up against something vaguely prickly on his Starfleet issue pillow.  Quite suddenly, something harrumphed right next to his ear.  Trip's eyes flew open and he barely managed to avoid falling off the edge of his bunk as he lunged to turn on the lights in his quarters.  Through eyes protesting the sudden glare he was mortified to find Malcolm blinking up at him.

    "Good morning, Trip."

    Trip's face flushed an even deeper shade of red as he did his best not to stammer.  "Mornin' Malcolm.  I'm, um, sorry about... that."

    A smile of a sort that Trip hadn't seen before alighted on the other man's features as he shook his head.  "It's quite all right.  Don't worry about it."

    "Oh, ah, okay."  Trip's eyes strayed to where their heads had been touching on the pillow and he gulped convulsively before practically leaping out of the small bunk.  "Anyway, I guess it's time we..."  He finally got a good look at the chronometer and trailed off in shock.  Trip turned back to find Malcolm regarding him as if nothing had happened.  After a moment he managed to find his voice.  "Why didn't you wake me?  Malcolm, it's practically lunch time!"

    Malcolm shrugged.  "You needed the rest.  You've been running yourself ragged looking after me and haven't been sleeping properly.  I wasn't about to wake you up."

    Unable to deny what his friend had said Trip shuffled his bare feet over the deck plating for a moment before looking up.  "Thanks."  Malcolm smiled just as his stomach took that moment to rumble demandingly.  Trip winced.  "I guess I'd better get dressed and see about finding some brunch for us."

    Malcolm threw his legs over the side of the bunk.  "If there's any left I'll have pancakes, half a grapefruit and tea.  Be sure to get some peanut butter."

    "Wouldn't forget it.  I think you've got me pretty well trained by now, Malcolm."  Trip pulled clean clothes out of his closet and then regarded them in indecision.  It was odd.  He'd changed in front of Malcolm countless times before in decon, the EV dressing area, and while camping.  Heck, when Malcolm was first let out of sickbay he'd had to help the other man get dressed.  But now that he'd started toying with the idea of *Malcolm* instead of just plain old Malcolm, he felt a bit uncomfortable doing so.  He set his clothes on the desk and made a show of rummaging through a drawer for clean socks as he tried to collect himself.  When he finally straightened up with a pair of socks in his hand Malcolm pushed himself off of the bed.

    "Mind if I borrow your shaver?  Being an invalid is bad enough without being scruffy."

    "Not at all."  In his relief Trip almost missed the little smirk Malcolm gave as he crossed the room.  He stared at the closed bathroom door for a moment before hurriedly getting changed.


    A chirp from the comm panel caused Trip to set down the padd he'd been reading and answer the hail, "Tucker."

    Hoshi's voice filled the cabin.  She was clearly on bridge duty as she began formally, "I've got someone on subspace for Lieutenant Reed.  Is he available?"

    Trip raised an eyebrow.  While the captain had to keep in touch with command, it was very rare for someone else to receive a transmission from Earth.  Hopefully nothing bad had happened.  "He'll be free in a minute.  If you patch it through to my console he can answer it here."

    "I'm patching it through now, Commander."  The link to the bridge was severed as Trip's monitor displayed the Starfleet logo with a waiting sign.

    Trip walked over to tap gently on the bathroom door.  "Malcolm?"

    The door slid open and Malcolm stood in the doorway, a soiled bandage in one hand and a bottle of the odd blue paste Phlox had instructed him to use to promote healing in the other.  Without the bandages a few small but still angry looking wounds were visible through the stubble on his head.  "Yes?"

    Trip waved a hand at the monitor.  "You've got a call."

    Malcolm's brow furrowed.  "A call?"

    "From Earth, I guess.  Hoshi patched it through."  Malcolm pushed past his friend and hurried over to sit down in the desk chair.  Seeing that the other man was about to open the channel Trip continued awkwardly, "Do you want me to go somewhere while you talk to whoever it is?"

    Malcolm shook his head.  "I can't think of anything it would be that I wouldn't want you to hear.  It's probably just Starfleet checking up on me after surgery."

    Trip grinned and tried to suppress the flash of warmth that had shot through him at Malcolm's words.  He was touched by the extent of the other man's trust.

    Malcolm smiled back before reaching forward to open the channel.  He froze at the image that filled the screen.  "Hello Malcolm."

    It took him a moment to overcome his surprise enough to answer the woman on the screen.  "Hello Madeline."  Malcolm blinked at the screen a few times before stammering, H-how..."

    Madeline ducked her head shyly before continuing, "I got your message this morning and I knew I had to talk to you.  I contacted Starfleet and said that I urgently needed to talk to you about a family matter.  They finally decided it was okay since you've never used up your monthly allotment of bandwidth since you joined Starfleet... plus, I was pretty insistent.  They probably think someone has died."  She frowned and peered more closely at the monitor as she scrutinized her brother.  "Malcolm, what happened to your hair?  And... did you cut your head?"

    "I... um, had to have some surgery."

    "Surgery!  You mean brain surgery?"

    Malcolm was almost surprised at the amount of concern evident on her features.  "I lost my hearing and our doctor had to perform surgery in order to restore it.  The procedure worked and I can hear as well as I used to.  I'm off duty for a little while longer, but I'll be fine."

    "You mean you were deaf?"  At her brother's nod she looked horrified.  "Oh, Malcolm, that must have been terrible."

    Unable to even bring himself to exaggerate Malcolm admitted, "It was awful.  Fortunately I had friends to help me get through it."

    "You've got good friends on Enterprise?"  There was a note of concern in her tone.

    "Oh yes."  Malcolm shot a shy smile at the bunk where Trip was sitting.  "One in particular."

    "I'm so glad to hear that, Malcolm.  You never had many friends when we were young."

    "I guess I didn't."  The words were barely more than a whisper.

    Silence descended as Malcolm fiddled with a stray padd.  It was Madeline who finally spoke, "Your letter came as a bit of a surprise.  Not what you said, but the fact that you said it at all."

    "I'm sorry.  I was a bit upset about things and..."

    "You needed to say it, Malcolm."  She gave a wan smile at the way her brother's mouth snapped shut as he was cut off.  "I understand."  Madeline took a deep breath and carried on, "I understand, and I'm sorry."


    "I'm sorry I wasn't a better sister for you, Malcolm."

    He was incredulous, "You were younger than me!  I was supposed to be the strong one.  You were supposed to look up to me, instead I was just a disappointment."

    "Oh, Malcolm."  There were years worth of sorrow in her eyes.  "I heard you that night.  Remember your heat vent?  It actually connected our two rooms."  Madeline paused for a moment before continuing softly, "I heard you crying that night.  After that I didn't look down on you at all.  I just felt sad for you, and I didn't know what to do."

    "I don't know what you could have done.  He had control of what happened in the house."

    Madeline fiddled with a stray lock of her hair.  "You were so quiet when we were younger, always hiding away.  I used to wonder if you hated me."

    "I did."  The admission was barely audible.  Instead of looking upset, Madeline merely nodded sadly.  "I don't blame you now, but when I was younger I couldn't stand you.  I was always in your shadow."  Malcolm's voice was dangerously close to breaking.  "I could never be what they wanted me to be, but you could.  I was just a coward, and you did it all so effortlessly."

    "If anyone was the coward it was me, I just went along with it all and played the role that would earn me the most rewards.  You're the bravest person I know, Malcolm.  You were ten years old and you said no.  I've admired you ever since."  At the look of disbelief on her brother's face Madeline affirmed, "Really and truly, Malcolm."  Her computer gave a warning chime and she grimaced.  "I've got to go or they'll cut me off.  Love you, take care.  Be sure to write."

    Malcolm managed to unstick his throat enough to force out, "I will, I..."  He cleared his throat and just managed to get out a few words before the screen went dark.  "I love you too."  He sat frozen in his friend's chair as remembered pain and new hope flashed through his eyes.  That conversation had been more than he could take in or cope with.

    Trip carefully crossed the room and drew Malcolm out of the chair.  He slung an arm over his friend's shoulders as he procured a tissue for Malcolm and walked them back over to sit on the bunk.  Malcolm gave a grateful but tremulous smile as he dabbed at his moist eyes.  Trip gave the other man a brief one armed hug.  "Your sister's quite the lady, finagling comm time like that."

    Malcolm gave a weak chuckle and seemed to lean into the embrace almost unconsciously.  "She is indeed.  Even when we were little she could twist people round her little finger."  He started to shake slightly, still shocked at what had transpired.  "I never thought she saw me like that.  I always thought she scorned me along with the rest of them."

    Trip held his friend more tightly in an effort to stop the tremors.  "She knows better, Malcolm.  Just like everyone on Enterprise, we know what kind of person you are."

    Malcolm sighed and slumped against his friend's side, head coming to rest on Trip's shoulder.  "That night she was talking about was when they sort of officially gave up on me.  For the last four years or so they had been hoping I'd just get over my aquaphobia and join the navy, they'd convinced themselves that that's what I wanted to do too.  But that night..."  Trip hardly dared to breathe lest he spoil the moment.  While it was possible that other people knew the general story of Malcolm's family, he had a feeling that no one else had heard this particular bit before.  "We were all crowded into the den.  Madeline and I were working on a puzzle on the floor while mother and father watched the news.  During the break a recruiting advertisement for Starfleet came on.  I remember being amazed as I watched it and turning to Madeline and telling her that's what I wanted to do when I was older.  Mother and father both overheard me.  She gasped.  He went berserk.  He yelled at me, asking what the bloody hell I'd meant by that.  He gripped my arm so hard it hurt.  I was so terrified I couldn't answer.  Father hauled me up and sent me to my room without dinner.  I could hear him yelling with grandpa on the communication system, all this stuff about tradition and respect and wondering what my problem was.  I just sort of hid on the far side of the bed and that's when I decided that I definitely wanted to get into Starfleet when I was older.  Even at that age I knew I wouldn't be able to join the navy, and I was positive I didn't want to anyway.  Later that night, after Madeline had been put to bed, he came and gave me a long lecture about how bad Starfleet was, how disappointing I was, and how I should go into the navy.  I just snapped and said I didn't want to join the navy.  I actually shouted at him.  For a moment I thought he was going to hit me, but of course he didn't.  He just called me a coward and left.  It was so quiet in our house after that.  Mother walked on tiptoes, Madeline was always out at some cadet or sailing function, and father wasn't talking to me.  I was so lonely."

    Malcolm scrubbed a hand over his face before continuing softly, "In retrospect it was like he thought I had decided to join Starfleet just to spite him and was punishing me for that, but I honestly wanted to."  His voice held a bitter note as he carried on, "I was ten years old and afraid of drowning, can you blame me for thinking space looked exciting?"  Malcolm gave a mirthless laugh.  "I guess in a way I did turn out like my father after all.  We were both too bloody stubborn to back down."

    Trip gave Malcolm a gentle squeeze and without thinking planted a soft kiss on his friend's temple.  He felt a moment of pure horror as he realized what he'd done before his stomach plummeted as Malcolm went completely rigid.


    Trip could feel his heart hammering in his chest as Malcolm slowly unfroze and broke away.  One of the other man's hands came up to ghost over the side of his own forehead.  "Did you just kiss me?"  Unable to come up with an intelligent reply Trip just stared dumbly back at his friend.  He couldn't read the look that was on Malcolm's face, but he felt more ill with each passing second.  All at once, Malcolm smiled and Trip felt a flood of relief so palpable he thought he might faint.  "You did, didn't you?"

    Still unsure what Malcolm's reaction would be, Trip nodded cautiously before words poured out in an awkward torrent.  "I'm sorry.  I... I guess I should have asked.  Or something.  You just looked sad and I didn't think.  I actually thought you should write to your sister, I didn't have ulterior motives or anything.  I wasn't trying to get you upset so that you looked like you needed a hug.  I mean..."

    Malcolm held up a hand to stop the flood and burst out, "Bloody hell, Trip.  I even had ulterior motives for letting you sleep in this morning."


    Malcolm resisted the urge to grin at the dumbfounded look on the other man's face.  "You did need your sleep, but it was awfully nice to watch you... even though it was a bit dark to do so properly.

    "You like to watch me sleep?"

    Malcolm gave a faint smile.  "I've always watched you sleep.  When we were camping, sharing a room planetside, or trapped in that shuttlepod.  You're.."  Malcolm faltered before continuing shyly, "You're beautiful, Trip."

    His mind still trying to fully comprehend the situation, Trip could only stammer, "Y-you're pretty damn good looking yourself."  At that, Malcolm laughed.  The infectious sound broke through Trip's bemusement and he started to softly chuckle as well.

    When they finally quieted down Malcolm quirked a half smile the other man.  "You know, there's something I've wanted to do for ages."

    Trip played right into his hands.  "What's that?"

    "This."  Malcolm leaned forward and when Trip didn't back away he proceeded to kiss the other man deeply.  Trip brought his arms up around Malcolm, running his hands over the other man's back.  When they finally had to break the kiss to breathe Malcolm panted slightly before asking, "May I make a suggestion?"

    Trip gave Malcolm's cheek a quick peck before replying, "Go right ahead."

    Malcolm smirked.  "Get rid of that awful camping mattress.  I think it's safe to say that you won't be needing it anymore."


    "Big day today."

    Trip turned and waited for his friend to catch up.  "He was grinning fit to burst when I saw him at lunch.  I think he's gone down to the armoury now, which means I'll have to drag him out when his time's up.  Phlox was pretty insistent that he not overdo it."

    Jon chuckled.  "Cut him some slack, it's his first full day back on duty."

    "Easy for you to say, you won't have to put up with the wrath of a Denobulan doctor.

    Jon smiled before fixing his friend with an assessing gaze.  "So how are you two?"

    Trip's grin told him all he needed to know as his friend answered, "We're good."

    They carried on down the corridor in silence before Jon indicated the approaching door to his quarters.  "Do you mind stepping inside for a minute?  I need to talk to you."

    "No problem."

    Once the door shut behind them Jon took a deep breath and began, "I've been in touch with Starfleet a lot lately about Malcolm.  They know I want to keep him onboard Enterprise, but they need me to be absolutely sure that he's okay.  I have Phlox's medical reports and they all say he's fine, but I wanted to talk to you.  You probably know him the best, has he changed since before he lost his hearing?"

    "Not really.  Well, he is more open about stuff."

    Jon's brow furrowed.  "Is that your influence or the brain trauma?"

    Trip shrugged.  "I mentioned it to Phlox, but he couldn't tell.  We might never know.  Starfleet doesn't need to worry about it though.  It doesn't have anything to do with his duties, by 'open' I just meant that he shares his feelings and family stuff more than he used to."

    The captain caught his friend worrying his lip.  "What is it?"

    "Sometimes..."  He let out an explosive breath and tried again, "Sometimes I wonder if I'm taking advantage of him.  If he's only with me because of the surgery."

    Jon thought about his reply for a moment before carefully choosing his words.  "I won't deny that Malcolm's ordeal brought the two of you closer together, but it hasn't clouded his judgement.  He wants to be with you, Trip.  Don't doubt that.  From what I can tell you're the best thing that has happened to him in a long time, perhaps ever."

    "I guess..."

    "You love him."  At his friend's look Jon continued, "I've known you for a long time, Trip.  I can tell.  Heck, you get this look in your eyes when he's just in the same room as you.  You're good for each other, Trip.  It shows."

    Trip thought about his friend's words for a moment before smiling slightly.  "Thanks, Cap'n."

    Jon clapped his friend on the back.  "Come on.  He's off duty now so I'll help you haul him out of the armoury.  Malcolm has to leave if I order him to, and he can't argue either.  We can all have dinner in my mess."

    Trip's smile broadened.  "Sounds like a good plan to me."


    The lights were off in the quarters and the soft breathing of someone deeply asleep whispered through the room.  Dregs of starlight filtering in through the large window didn't do much to illuminate the people in the bunk.  Trip was sprawled on his back, sound asleep.  Malcolm lay draped over the other man with his head pillowed on an expanse of bare chest, content to just listen to Trip's heart beat.  For the first time in his life he was utterly happy.