Title: The Sound of Silence
Author: Joules Mer
Author's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Summary: Sometimes silence is the loudest sound of all.
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
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,
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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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,
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
"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
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.
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?"
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?"
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.
"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."
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
"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
"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."
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
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
"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."
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
Malcolm looked at him carefully. "I couldn't ask
you to do that, Trip. You shouldn't have to babysit me."
"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."
"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
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."
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"Malcolm, slow down."
"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
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
"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
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
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
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."
"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.
"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."
There was a pause before Trip admitted, "My back's kinda
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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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."
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
"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
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.