TITLE: Here and Now

AUTHOR: HeidiM

E-mail: earth_to_heidi@yahoo.com

DATE: 03/01/02

RATING: G

DISCLAIMER: Just borrowin' the boys for a bit…

PAIR: Trip/Reed (who else?)

SPOILERS: Shuttlepod One


Timeline: just after Shuttlepod One

"You shoulda heard him, Jon. He was obsessed with dying and leaving messages for pretty much anyone he'd ever met. Here I was, actually tryin' to resolve the situation, and he just got kind of paralysed by it. I'm wondering if it's something we should be worried about."

Captain Archer sighed and shifted in his seat. "Well, Trip, I don't think leaving a last message is anything to get excited about, especially under the circumstances."

"Did you check the shuttle, see how many there were?"

Archer sighed again. "Yeah, I did, and, granted, there were a lot. But that doesn't mean we need to be concerned. Besides, Malcolm's never frozen up before. This was a very unique situation."

Trip was unconvinced. "Well, I don't want to be in that situation with him again."

The Captain studied his second officer. Trip still seemed pretty rattled by the whole ordeal, possibly was looking for someone to blame for how he was feeling.

"What is it you want me to do, Trip?"

"Just keep an eye on him, I guess. You see him on the bridge more than I do."

Archer nodded. "Okay, I will." He paused, not ready to dismiss Commander Tucker quite yet. "You drank that nice bottle of bourbon I had stashed there."

Trip smiled sheepishly. "Bad place to hide it, Captain, but it did help keep us warm."

"If I were a vindictive man, I'd make you give me one of yours."

"One of mine, sir?" Trip asked, big-eyed with false innocence.

"Don't try and tell me you came on this trip without a few personal luxuries."

"All right, I owe you. As soon as we get back to Earth, that's the first thing I'll do."

The Commander's mood had lightened, some life coming back into his eyes.

"Well, Trip, I have some things to do…"

"No problem, Captain, just wanted to talk a couple things out." The Commander got to his feet. "You will keep an eye on Malcolm?"

"I said I would."

Trip nodded. "Thank you, sir."

He left.

Archer did as he promised, watching Lieutenant Reed while on duty and off, but Malcolm appeared to have recovered from this recent trauma. He joked with Hoshi and Phlox in the mess, tended to speak up a little more in staff meetings. If anything, it had brought Malcolm out of his shell. He walked around the ship with an expression of pure delight in his eyes. Not that his professionalism suffered, he was still very proper and by-the-book, but his personality showed through now, a depth of warmth that took some crewmembers by surprise.

There'd been a hint of the true Malcolm in sick bay, when he'd gotten emotional over finding everyone alive. Archer wasn't particularly bothered by this change in his Armoury Officer – quite the contrary, he liked it – but, still, he felt the need to seek out a professional opinion, just to be certain he wasn't misreading anything. After a week of this surrepticious observation, he went to see Dr. Phlox.

"Captain," Phlox called from across sickbay, "you are just in time to see my arachnid. Very special little fellow he is, about to come out for his dinner."

Archer sighed inwardly, having no desire to look at whatever nightmare creature Phlox was cooing over, but, in the interests of good relations, he went over. After all, the good doctor had uncomplainingly ministered to Porthos several times now, when veterinary services were well outside the scope of his duties.

"This, Captain, is a Visian spider, an enviably precise creature," Phlox was saying. "They emerge from their lairs at exactly the same time every day. You could set the ship's clock by them."

With trepidation, Archer looked down into the glass tank, wrinkling his nose at the scent of decaying vegetation. Suddenly, the biggest spider he'd ever seen showed itself. The body was as big as two fists held together, legs reaching another 30 centimetres beyond that, covered in fine spines –

Archer saw all that in a split second. "That's not small!" he cried, recoiling.

"Oh, but he is, Captain. Others of his type have bodies about the size of a human head."

"He won't get that big, will he?"

"No, unfortunately, I have discovered he has a bit of a genetic disorder, and this is as big as he will get."

Thank god for that, Archer thought.

Phlox opened a container he had beside the tank. The doctor hummed to himself as he pulled what looked to be a sort of squirming, hairless rodent. Archer averted his eyes as the unfortunate creature was dropped into the tank.

"Now, Captain," Phlox said, closing everything up again, "what can I do for you?"

"I'd like a professional opinion, doctor."

"Of course. Happy to be of service."

Phlox drew himself up proudly, and Archer wondered – not for the first time – if the doctor found Enterprise a bit boring, since this impromptu visit brought such obvious pleasure.

"It's about Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker." Archer hesitated, not quite sure what to ask. "Do you think they're all right?"

Phlox was surprised. "I assure you, Captain, I would not have cleared them for duty without being fully recovered."

"No, you misunderstand me. I realize that physically they're fine."

"Are you inquiring about their psychological states?"

"Yes. I've found that they're both acting differently now."

Phlox thought for a moment. "I suppose I've noticed that Lieutenant Reed has become more open, but I don't see it as anything to be concerned about."

"You don't think it's a reaction to what they went through?"

"Well, of course it is, Captain, in Malcolm's case, anyway. I think he's truly grateful to be back here, and is letting everyone see it."

"Trip doesn't seem to feel that way."

"What do you mean?"

Archer paused, thinking. "Not that he didn't want to be rescued, but…I don't know. I guess I'm worried he's not handling it as well. Some kind of post-stress."

"Would you like me to examine him?"

The Captain shook his head. "No, not formally, but maybe you could contrive to run into him somewhere, and have a bit of a casual talk, see what you think."

"That's a bit underhanded."

"Yeah, I know, but I would appreciate it, doctor."

"I will do my best. However, Commander Tucker and I haven't had that many one-on-one conversations. I'm unsure of what to say."

"You'll think of something," Archer said.

***

Trip tossed in his sleep, awakening abruptly, shivering. Cold. His dreams were cold, the imagery nothing but a hazy plain where he couldn't get warm. He pulled the covers closer around him and curled up, his hands and feet like ice. He wondered if Malcolm was having dreams like this, considered asking him, but they hadn't really spoken much to each other since their rescue.

What a sight they must have been, huddled together, frosted over. The last few hours after blowing up the shuttle's engine he couldn't clearly remember, but at some point he and Malcolm had abandoned all notion of stoic, brave death and hugged together in a vain attempt to preserve body heat. It was comforting, too, slipping away in the embrace of a friend…but Enterprise had seen them in time. The next thing Trip remembered was Dr. Phlox's face hovering above him, and the bright lights of sick bay.

Part of his sleeplessness, he knew, was because of all the things he'd said to Malcolm that he hadn't apologized for. Thinking about it now, he recognized the hurt in the Lieutenant's eyes, and Trip felt bad for being so insensitive. That wasn't like him at all, and only a portion of it could be blamed on the stress of the situation. Upon reflection, he also realized that sending a message to Echo One was the right thing to do. If Enterprise had been destroyed, of course the people of Earth would want to know how and why. In the end, it came down to different approaches to the problem: Trip concentrated on the machinery, obsessively fiddling with components to stave off the anxiety, while Malcolm systematically recorded last words, putting his universe in order. These tasks should have been complementary; instead, they were a flashpoint.

And it was Malcolm's idea that had eventually saved them. Trip, Chief Engineer, supposed holder of all knowledge of things mechanical, never in a million years would have thought of jettisonning and destroying their engine. So he owed Malcolm, big-time.

Intellectually, he knew al that, but emotionally, he was angry with himself. He'd held out through most of the ordeal, being strong, and then had faltered and lost heart at the end. He was angry that he hadn't come up with their rescue plan, and that even his ultimate selfless act was flawed and thwarted by Malcolm, his life, in effect, being saved twice. Why the hell wasn't he more grateful? It made no sense to Trip why he was feeling this way. Resentful. Angry. Jealous of Malcolm and his apparent happiness. So much so, that he'd gone to the Captain to actually complain about it.

Trip sighed in the dark. He was wide awake, might as well get up and go for a walk.

He wandered the quiet corridors, meeting few crewmembers. In the empty mess, he lingered, debating over getting some tea or warm milk, but he didn't want anything, so, instead he stood at the portal, staring out at the stars.

The door opened behind him, and Phlox stepped through, stopping in surprise at the sight of Trip.

"Commander," he said, "are you unwell?"

"Just can't sleep."

Phlox came closer, the task the Captain had charged him with uppermost on his mind. This was the best opportunity he would get.

"Anything you'd like to talk about?" he asked, deciding on a direct approach. "Often people can't sleep when there's something on their mind."

Trip glanced at him, then back out the portal again. Maybe talking a little would help, but wouldn't Phlox just think he was being ungrateful and childish?

"Are the events in the Shuttlepod troubling you, Commander?" Phlox persisted.

"I guess they are," Trip admitted.

"In what way? I understand that being so close to death can be unsettling."

"It's not that."

"Then what?"

Trip looked at the doctor again, and shook his head. "You'll think poorly of me, Phlox, everybody will."

"Oh, I doubt that, Commander."

"I'm not proud of myself, not proud of how I behaved. Malcolm never said anything, but a lot of the time we were at each other's throats, me losing my temper, not acting like the senior officer. And in the end, it was Malcolm that got us rescued, and I'm grateful for that, I really am, but…" Trip trailed off, looking at Phlox helplessly.

The doctor nodded. "It has sewn the seeds of self-doubt."

"I said to Jon – the Captain – earlier that I never wanted to be in that situation with Malcolm again. What I meant was: I don't want to be in that situation again. Period."

Phlox sighed, unsure of what to say. Humans could be very sensitive, take words of comfort as insults, and the doctor was still learning how to temper his responses.

"Have you and Lieutenant Reed talked about this?" he asked. "His perspective could be helpful, and he is the only one who might truly understand."

Trip shook his head. "No, we haven't talked about it. I said some things to him that I regret, and I guess I don't want to face up to it yet."

"That might be a place to start. Clear the air, reach a new understanding, those are not merely worn-out cliches. It does the soul good to apologize, Mr. Tucker, no matter how difficult that might be."

"Why's he so happy, anyway?" Trip asked, bitterness leaching through. "It's not like Malcolm to be smiling all the time."

Phlox shrugged. "You'll have to ask him. Traumatic events affect everyone differently. He obviously has seen some good in what happened."

"Well, I don't understand that at all. I'm supposed to be the optimist."

"Oh, you still are, Commander, it's just overshadowed right now, and I think you know what you need to do."

Phlox stole quietly away, leaving Trip to think.

***

Phlox was right, Trip knew that. While Malcolm bore him no obvious malice, he kept his distance, saving his warmth for the others. Trip waited a few days, stealing his courage, finally encountering Malcolm alone one morning, on his way to the bridge.

"Commander," he said politely as he passed.

"Malcolm, hold on a second."

Reed stopped. "Yes, sir?"

"I'd, uh, I'd like to talk to you, later, off-duty."

"All right. What about?"

"I'll tell you then, okay? Come to my quarters, ‘bout 1900?"

Malcolm looked uncertain, but nodded. "Sure."

Hoshi came around a corner, nearly running into them.

"Good morning, sirs," she said cheerfully, then hesitated, gaze bouncing between their faces. "I'm sorry, am I interrupting something?"

"Not at all," Malcolm replied. "Walk you to the bridge, Ensign?"

"A pleasure, Lieutenant. Commander."

"Hoshi."

Trip watched them walk away, chatting amiably, obviously becoming fast friends. He sighed and headed for engineering, thinking about what he would say.

***

Malcolm was serially punctual, the soft tap on Trip's door coming at precisely 1900. Trip admitted him and offered him a seat, where Malcolm quietly waited for the Commander to reveal his purpose, expression slightly anxious. Trip sat on his bunk, elbows on his knees.

"I'm sorry," he finally said.

"For what?"

"The things I said in the shuttlepod. There was no need of it, and I really am sorry, Malcolm."

"It's forgotten," Malcolm replied, but the lingering hurt in his eyes belied his words.

"No, I don't think it is. You know, it's funny, but I'd always thought these kinds of experiences would bring people closer together, but that didn't seem to happen to us, did it?"

Malcolm looked down at the floor. "We're a unique case, I guess."

"No, I think it's because I was an idiot, getting angry at you."

Reed sighed. "The idiocy was mutual. I mean, what was I thinking with all those messages? Half the people wouldn't really care that I was dead. It's embarrassing. I wish I'd been able to erase them. I'm sorry you had to listen to me."

"Well, we're agreed then. Two idiots who're lucky to be alive, considering how they acted."

"Agreed."

"But I do owe you, Malcolm. It was you who got us rescued, and I've been a little ungrateful about it."

"Nonsense. I'm just glad my hand wasn't too frozen to grip that phase-pistol. If you'd thrown yourself out that airlock…" he trailed off, shaking his head.

"Yeah, you were pretty insubordinate, there. I meant to raise that with the Captain, but it must have slipped my mind."

This elicited a small smile.

"So, you'll forgive me for what I said?" Trip asked.

"Of course, if you'll forgive me for being so morbid."

"It's a deal."

Trip held out his hand, and they shook on it, Trip holding on a moment or two longer than was called for.

"Besides," Malcolm said, "all things considered, I thought we worked rather well together."

"You did? Well, maybe when we were drunk."

"No, I think the adversity kept us both going. Hard to just give up when you're so bloody angry at the other person. You want to stay alive to prove your point."

Trip shook his head. "The way you see the world sometimes, Malcolm, I just don't get it."

"The main thing is we were there for each other in the end."

Malcolm gazed at him steadily as he spoke, and Trip's mind flashed to their hugging together, Malcolm's head on his shoulder, thinking they'd run out of time…

"Next time," Trip said, "we'll have to try to be there for each other a little sooner."

"No offence, but hopefully there won't be a next time."

"Here and now, then."

Reed smiled warmly. "Here and now."

Silence for a few heartbeats, then Malcolm looked at his watch.

"Sorry," he said, "but Hoshi wanted me to meet her for tonight's movie."

"What's playing?"

"Some sappy romance drama, I think. You want to join us? We can make fun of it and annoy Hoshi."

"Sounds tempting. Maybe I will come along, if you don't think I'll be in the way."

It took Malcolm a moment to understand Trip's meaning.

"Hoshi's just a friend," he said firmly.

Trip nodded, surprised at how much this reply pleased him.

"Well, let's go then. I want a good seat."

They stood. Malcolm turned towards the door, then stopped.

"I'm glad we talked," he said, looking up at Trip.

"So am I."

They left, hurrying to meet Hoshi.


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