TITLE: A Snowcone's Chance

AUTHOR: Helyn Highwater

AUTHOR'S E-MAIL: helynhighwater@yahoo.com

Author's URL: http://us.geocities.com/helynhighwater/index.html

DATE: 12/08/02

SUMMARY: Trip crosses more than the desert.

PAIRINGS: Archer/Tucker


ARCHIVE: EntSTslash, Archer's Enterprise, Tim Ruben, anyone who wants it has only to ask

WARNINGS: Serious spoilers for Desert Crossing. It's also not been completely beta'd, so there may be a few mistakes.

FEEDBACK: Like, duh!

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Special thanks go to Leah, Red and Cat for helping me out with this. It took me a looooong time to get it done, but you stuck with me.


Most of Trip's attention was focused internally. He lay in the shuttlepod, feeling a bit dizzy, a bit disoriented and a lot like he'd walked to Hell and back twice, uphill both ways. There was no part of him that didn't ache, but his head and left side were by far the worst. His cousin seemed to be holding one of her infamously raucous parties in his cranium while a Klingon war party rushed his side with every shallow, panted breath. Trip's fuzzy mind couldn't quite decide if he was feeling too hot or too cold, but whatever the thermostat was set at, it needed to be calibrated. His skin felt gritty and scoured, which he supposed was normal after practically bathing in sand. He was bone weary and longing for nothing more than the simple solace of sleep, but he remembered that Jon needed him awake, for some reason that probably made good sense, so he steadfastly clung to consciousness.

His eyelids were both heavier and more stubborn than he seemed to remember them being, so he settled for trying to focus on his little universe through small slit openings. Someone, T'pol he thought, had removed his shirt and replaced it with something cool & wet. Thankfully, no one had pushed any water on him since he first stumbled in. He was too tired to want it and determined not to take any more of Jon's. His mama didn't raise anyone that didn't pull his weight or took more than his share. No sir. You don't shortchange anyone but most especially not your friends. Trip's mama was a wise and caring woman, and he resolved to com her as soon as he was able to catch up on his sleep. Probably sometime next month.

There was a soothing hand on his bare shoulder, familiar and comfortable. Trip was content to let it stay forever lightly rubbing slow circles. A warm, kindly voice spoke to him of snowcones and hanging in there a little longer because they were safe now and soon to be back home. Jon. Home. It sounded like heaven. He was also aware of less soothing tones directed at other voices from time to time but didn't spare the energy to listen.

The shuttlepod gave a small shiver, and Trip started. For a few moments he was back in Florida waters, whirring along in a small sub-aquatic vessel, being playfully nudged by an inquisitive dolphin. He turned his head to try and spy it through the viewport. No ocean hues met his gaze, only steel gray bulkhead, worried hazel green eyes, and strong but gentle hands shifting his body over onto something else. Trip remembered he was in space then, only tiny stars to be seen outside. All were distant suns beating down on their own planets, only seeming small from the distance, but that was okay because they were all too far away to bake him right now.

Suddenly there was something cool that stung slightly at his neck. He pried his eyes open a little wider and actively focused. Phlox was there, fiddling with an instrument and muttering. That was good. Trip trusted him. The doc was a bit eccentric by human standards, but he was laid back and friendly, didn't have that God complex that some doctors seemed to. The doc would know how to set the thermostat back to normal.

Then they were moving. The motion made him sick. Not sick enough to be in danger of losing his dinner, if he'd had any, but enough to be uncomfortably aware of it. On the upside, he was starting to breathe a little easier. He let his eyes shut for the moment to block out the drifting ceiling, but he could still hear his captain close by, telling Phlox about their little trip to Hell. Trip was sure they called the planet something else, but it would always be Hell to him. Too bad they had to leave the shuttle they came in on down there. He could have christened it the Handbasket.

He started to smile a bit at that thought, but it quickly turned to a wince and grimace when they hit a bump, and he was jostled. He moaned and wrapped his arm more tightly around ribs that reminded him sharply of the abuse they'd taken. The soothing touch was back at his shoulder.

"Sorry about that, Trip. We'll try not to do that again. Sick Bay's just ahead here, so I think we'll make it. Almost there." Jon sounded relieved, which helped relax Trip as much as the words.

"How are you feeling, Commander?" Phlox asked.

"Stick a fork in me, Doc, I'm done." Trip found that talking was a bit easier now that he wasn't panting so hard.


Trip frowned slightly. He seemed to remember the doc as being a little quicker on the uptake. "'M feelin' kinda cooked."

"Ah. The colorful phrasing you humans favor never ceases to amaze me."

Trip just nodded slightly, disinclined to have a conversation. He felt a little more alert since he came back aboard, but he was still hurting for sleep. Jon started rubbing circles on his shoulder again.

As predicted, they soon came to a stop under a familiar patch of ceiling. Jon helped Phlox transfer Trip smoothly onto the bed of the imaging chamber and then stepped back so he could hover without getting in the way. Trip had to concentrate to focus on him, but it was worth the effort. Say what you would about Jonathan Archer, he truly cared about his crew. He'd have worn the same look of worry for anyone on the ship, though he did seem a little antsier than Trip would have expected. Trip hoped the captain wasn't starting to feel anywhere near as badly as he himself did. He wouldn't wish that misery on anyone, excepting maybe Colonel Grat.

The imaging chamber sucked him in and blocked his view of Jon. Trip wrinkled his nose at the pervasive smell of plastic and disinfectant in the confined space. At least the air was cool. Trip shut his eyes for a moment while invisible fingers pried loose his body's secrets.

He started slightly at the movement as the imaging chamber slowly spit him back out again, revealing Phlox's almost cheerful face. "Well, Commander, the good news is that your body temperature seems to be slowly but surely returning to a normal level, and the betaberatin I administered earlier is evening your breathing out nicely. The bad news is that two of your ribs are broken and four are cracked. You've got some nasty bruising, sunburn and you're dehydrated. However, I don't anticipate any complications and expect you'll be back on your feet again soon. You'll need to stay here at least overnight, but we can talk about releasing you tomorrow. Right now, we're going to get you settled onto a bed so you can rest."

Jon, looking much more relaxed, appeared at his left side while the doc took the right. The two of them all but carried Trip, who tried to help but was too wiped out to do much to support himself, the few steps to the nearest bed. Phlox sat him down, while Jon lifted long legs up onto the bed and removed Trip's boots.


"Yeah," Trip managed with a tiny smile. He appreciated the attention, but the switch had set his head to pounding even harder and taxed what little strength he had left.

Phlox spoke up. "It's your turn now, Captain."

Jon sighed and reluctantly let the doc lead him out of Trip's easy line of sight. The engineer turned his head to try to follow, but Phlox stood between him and Jon. Trip sighed and let his eyes fall shut again, listening.

There wasn't much to hear at first, mostly just three men breathing underlaid with the light hum of technology. He must have drifted for a bit because his mind snapped back to attention at Phlox's voice. Trip chastised himself silently. *Jon needs me awake, dammit! Remember? Just hold on a little longer.*

"All in all, you managed to escape your ordeal pretty lightly, Captain. You're dehydrated, sunburnt and have your own share of nasty bruising, but it's nothing a little burn cream, a pitcher or two of water and a good night's rest won't do wonders for. I also recommend that you take it easy for the next day or so. For now, you're free to go as soon as I can locate that cream for you."

Trip released the breath he wasn't aware of holding at the same time Jon sighed tiredly. The captain spoke over the industrious rattling that was Phlox searching for ointment. "I guess I'd better grab a quick shower and then go make sure the door doesn't hit Zobral's ass on the way out."

Phlox must have given him a look because he was quick to add in a tone that managed to be both placating and slightly annoyed, "It won't take long and I'll rest once he's gone."

"Well, see that you rehydrate yourself at least," the doc replied in that sort of wry way he had that meant that he didn't approve but wasn't going to push the issue yet.

"Will do," Jon promised. Then, with a light pat to Trip's leg in parting, he was gone.

*Now what?* Trip thought miserably. *How am I supposed to stay awake with no distractions?* No sooner had he had that thought, then Phlox provided him with an answer.

"Are you awake, Commander?" came a soft-voiced query.

"Yeah," Trip managed in a rusty voice. He pried his eyes open a little to reveal the doc standing at the bedside with a small jar of something and an IV line.

"I'm just going to get you started on a drip to replace your lost fluids and then treat your sunburn. If your ribs aren't bothering you too badly, then we can wait until the morning to wrap them?" Trip nodded his assent. "This won't take long, and then you can rest properly."

Trip just sighed and watched the doc set up the line. He barely felt the stick and didn't bother to ask which drugs were added. He trusted Phlox.

Then gloved fingers were lightly applying salve to his hands. Trip hadn't been aware of how much his sautéed skin had been bothering him until the cream worked it's soothing magic. His face and neck suddenly seemed to flame in comparison, so he concentrated on his hands. Even the soft skin between his fingers was burnt.

Phlox soon started on his face and throat. Trip was reminded of the times he'd been out too long on the beach, and his mother had clucked over him and called him her lobster boy. Mama was a nurse, and she used much the same touch when she'd grease him up with aloe, gentle and efficient. He supposed everyone in the medical profession, if they were much good at what they did, cultivated that manner of contact or just came by it naturally. You could tell a lot about a person by the way they touched you. The doc lifted his head up a little and treated the back of his neck. Trip shivered at the sudden coolness. His nape had always been sensitive.

"There we are, Commander. Is that better?"

"Much," Trip replied gratefully.

The doc started peeling off his gloves. "I'll leave you to rest, then."

Trip realized that this left him without anything to hold his attention. Moving was the last thing he wanted to do right now, but it looked like his only choice. "Uh doc? Could we wrap my ribs, now?"

"Certainly. Is the pain bad?"

"Not really, but it's worse when I move, and I can be kinda restless at night." Actually Trip didn't know how restless he tended to be as no one who had ever shared a bed with him had commented on his sleeping habits. It was a small fib and better than exaggerating his pain level, which would likely earn him more drugs and/or further poking and prodding on top of the wrap. He didn't even truly feel ready to be wrapped up, much less anything else. He wished Jon would come back.

Phlox fetched what was basically a slightly less elastic version of an ace bandage. "Alright. I'll need you to lean up." The doc helped his patient sit up slowly. Trip was grateful for the support, as he was a bit dizzy again and lacked the energy to hold himself upright. The movement wasn't comfortable but didn't hurt as much as he'd expected. Now that he thought about it, his headache had eased off some as well, so he figured Phlox must have given him something for pain. That was good. Too bad there wasn't something in the mix to help with the fatigue…


Trip started slightly. "Huh?"

"I asked if you'd raise your arms a little for me. Unless you've changed your mind?"

Trip wanted nothing more than to sink back down onto the bed and find out if a coma was really as nice it sounded, but he wouldn't, couldn't, let Jon down. Especially now that he'd made it this far without breaking. So Trip shook his head carefully in deference to his dizziness, grit his teeth and lifted his arms as far up as he could manage. He only managed to hold them a few inches away from his side but fortunately that was all the clearance the doc needed. He was trembling by the time Phlox finished.

"There," Phlox said kindly as he lowered Trip back down. "We're all done now, so I'll leave you to your sleep."

"No." Trip mumbled, feeling like he was trying to talk through dense jamming.

"Do you need something else?"

Trip couldn't think of a single thing Phlox could do for him.

"You really should get some sleep now, Commander. It's long overdue."

"No. Can't."

"That's odd. Betaberatin does have a slight stimulant effect, but it shouldn't be affecting you to this degree…" The doc went on, but Trip had trouble making sense of the words. And suddenly Jon was back.

"Trip?" There was that hand on his shoulder again. Trip used the feeble fumes he was functioning on to open his eyes just enough to meet his friend's worried gaze. "You okay?"

"Tired," Trip slurred, barely able to understand himself. That was all right, though. Jon got it.

"Hey," Jon said warmly with a slight hint of teasing. "Didn't I promise you that you could sleep all you want once we got back to Enterprise? We're safe now. It's okay to let go."

"Jon…" Trip wasn't sure what he was trying to say, but he didn't get the chance to figure it out.

"Shhhh." Trip imagined he felt gentle fingertips stroking his forehead and into his hair. "Just sleep now, Trip. That's an order."

"Jon…" Trip whispered again as he finally lost the fight with sleep's gravity and plunged deeply into the darkness.


Jon sighed as he stroked the hair back off of his friend's scorched brow. He hated to see Trip hurting like this. He also hated that he was the one who'd dragged Trip down to the planet in the first place. Oh, he knew there wasn't any way he could have predicted what would happen down there, but some part of him couldn't help kicking himself for not respecting Trip's reluctance to brave the desert heat. He knew it was probably silly, because if Trip hadn't gone, Jon would simply have taken someone else, probably Malcolm as he'd threatened. Zobral would likely have been offended if only the captain showed up. Jon knew all that, but it didn't erase all of his guilt, nor did it silence that tiny, treacherous voice inside that insisted it would have been better if someone else had come in Trip's place. He wasn't proud of that voice. He cared about all of his crew and was prepared to back any one of them to the hilt. Naturally, he was more personally attached to the ones who were his friends. It was only human nature. But starship captains, much like parents, weren't allowed to have favorites. Beyond just being another rule to follow, fairness was important to Jon on its own merits, and he strove to treat everyone equally. But if he was honest with himself, there was a certain grain of truth to that little voice, which only made him shove it down all the more ruthlessly when he had to make command decisions.

Phlox cleared his throat, startling Jon slightly. "I hate to interrupt, Captain. For the commander's sake, I'm glad you stopped back in but unless you need more treatment, I think it's time for you to get some rest," the doc said kindly yet with firmness lurking in his tone.

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," Jon agreed, not looking up from Trip's still livid but peaceful face. He sighed resignedly and ran his thumb over Trip's hairline in silent farewell. Then he turned to face Phlox, who seemed intrigued, now that his face was visible, by Jon's interaction with Trip. Or, now that the engineer was finally asleep, perhaps his reaction to Trip would be the better way to put it. Either way, it seemed the ever curious Denobulan was understanding enough to tamp down on his interest and not ask about it. Jon appreciated that. "Goodnight, Doctor," he said with a tired smile.

"Goodnight, Captain," Phlox returned with a smile of his own.

Jon left Sickbay feeling the weight of command on his shoulders. Or maybe he was just tired. As much as Jon treasured his position and felt deeply honored to hold it, he also knew that being the ranking officer out in the vanguard of humanity in space with only a pitiful handful of regs to guide him could royally suck at times. Times when he had to order his people into danger; times when he had to push himself too hard because screwing up wasn't an option; times when his decisions could affect an entire people; times when he had to just walk away and hope for the best.

He nodded to Crewman Bates who despite being off duty and dressed in her civvies, still walked a little taller and nodded formally upon catching sight of him. He sighed as she passed. Perhaps the worst strain was the isolation of rank. There were very few people that he could talk to and just be Jon without the shadow of Captain Archer lurking. Trip was at the top of that list.

Porthos was eager to see him, as per usual. He ambushed his master as soon as the door opened, barking excitedly, tail wagging fit to fly off any second and all but dancing in place. Jon smiled and bent down to love on his other best friend. He didn't know how he'd get by without his beagle. A little unconditional love went a long way. "Hey there, buddy. Zobral's gone, and Trip's all settled in and doing okay now, so Papa's back to stay this time."

Giving Porthos a last good scratch behind the ears before straightening, Jon peeled his uniform off with relief. The goop Phlox had given him helped, but the material still chafed at his wrists and collar. "That's much better," he mumbled absently when he got down to his boxers. Jon poured himself a glass of water and took a long sip before setting it beside the bed. He hoped he wouldn't be up and down to use the refresher all night.

After Jon settled himself beneath the covers, he called Porthos up. The pup was snuggling against his side almost before the words left his lips. Jon smiled and petted him contentedly. He tended to get a little clingy whenever Jon was gone for much longer than a duty shift. Porthos hadn't had to do without his master for such a long stretch in awhile.

Jon remembered acutely the worry he'd felt down on the planet. It was a damn good thing they weren't stuck there any longer than they had been. He'd never seen Trip so miserable before and fervently hoped he never would again. "There was so little I could do for him," he groused aloud. "Just keep him awake, mostly. And maybe that helped keep his mind off it, but it sure didn't do much to make him FEEL better. If the shuttlepod hadn't shown up when the shooting started…" Jon shuddered.

This happened to him sometimes. He could stay calm and focused on the problem during a crisis. He would simply live firmly in the moment for the duration and a time afterward. But it would always hit him eventually, whether all at once or in small doses that crept in at quiet moments. His best friend, the man Jon cared for far more than was probably wise, could very well have died on those alien sands and there would have been no stopping it. If…

Jon shook his head sharply. "If is a very dangerous word," he stated decisively. Oh, if could fuel grand dreams that might, and sometimes did, come to fruition. Enterprise certainly wouldn't exist without if. But if, like all powerful forces, had it's double edge. If could stir up a longing for things that never were and never could be. If could torture you with horrors that never showed their ugly faces and never would. It was best not to imagine the ways Trip could have died right before his eyes.

Porthos whined and wiggled up to lick at Jon's face. "I'm okay, Porth, just borrowing trouble." He chuckled weakly. "The instructors at the Academy would give me hell if they could see me now." One of the many things that had been drilled into him during his training was that while it was important not to ignore the danger you face in a high risk job such as his, you couldn't afford to dwell on it, either. You should learn from your mistakes and keep yourself cautious but focus on the positive and not cripple yourself with guilt or anxiety. Jon leaned naturally toward optimism and most days it wasn't too hard to keep things in the proper perspective. But there were times when he had to work at it, especially the guilt thing. Trip was very good at helping him with the guilt thing. When he wasn't the cause of it, that is.

Jon chuckled again with greater strength than the last attempt. "If Trip were here right now, he'd tell me to get over myself and get some sleep." Porthos wagged his tail lazily in agreement. "Guess that means I'm outvoted, huh?" His only answer was a yawn. "Okay. Night, Porthos."

Jon yawned and deliberately relaxed tired muscles one by one while slowing his breathing in an effort to relax. He reminded himself how lucky he was to have two best friends who were good listeners. His body was soon ready for sleep, but his mind wasn't quite finished yet. "He called me Jon. I'm not even sure I remember the last time he called me that." Jon frowned, but sleep captured him before he could puzzle it out.


The next morning found Dr. Phlox checking over his sleeping patient. Commander Tucker's body temperature had returned to normal during the night, or at least what passed for night in space. The fluids he had administered were doing their job and could probably be dispensed with as soon as Tucker woke up. Phlox marveled, as he sometimes did, at the resiliency of human skin. Just eight and a half hours ago, his patient's hands, face and neck area had been red and angry looking with the beginning of blisters. This morning, the burn was still reddened, but to a much lesser degree, and the blisters had subsided. Human skin was quite fragile compared to some species', especially the more reptilian races, but its amazing capacity to heal went a long way toward making up for it. And such variety! There were almost as many different skin tones as there were hair colors.

Humans themselves seemed to share his fascination to some degree. They were a very tactile race compared to his own, very "hands on" as they would say. Humans certainly touched one another far more than Denobulans were inclined to. Phlox's crewmates regularly gave affectionate touches to mere friends, touches that would have been reserved strictly for one's spouses or children on his planet. Just last night, Captain Archer had stroked Commander Tucker's brow in the manner that a member of either species might use to comfort a sick child. Phlox found it curious that an adult would use the same gesture on another adult with whom he didn't share a family bond. Then again, humans seemed to have a much broader definition of family than his own people did. Ensign Mayweather had more than once spoken of those aboard the ship he'd grown up on as family, even though he actually had blood ties to only a few of them. He'd heard enough similar comments from others to conclude that humans families increased as much by friendship as by breeding.

There was also a great degree of creativity to be observed in human physical contact. It would never have occurred to any of his people to take a loved one into a headlock and draw knuckles across their scalp in what was referred to as a 'noogie' as a gesture of affection. Phlox smiled, thinking he might have to try that move out on Oxalla, his youngest wife, the next time he had a chance to see her. Oxalla was an adventurous soul, and that was much of what drew him to her. They shared a delight in discovery, and even though he had less history with her than he had with his other wives, it was Oxalla that he most wished could be with him on this journey. She would doubtless love every minute of it just as much as he did.

He chuckled, thinking of his first wife, Denell. She loved their homeland far too much to ever leave it for long. Her need to be around plants and other living things was almost as strong as the basic needs for food or sleep. Denell would never be able to live in the sterile conditions a starship offered. She would be "climbing the walls", as Commander Tucker might say, within a week. Denell would enjoy looking out at the stars, though, and the starlight would compliment her beauty nicely. Phlox chuckled again, this time at himself. Perhaps he was spending too much time among humans with their boundless imagination if he was "daydreaming" when all of his attention should be on his work. Still, he supposed there was nothing wrong with a little mental diversion, if practiced in moderation.

Further musing on the subject was cut off by the arrival of Captain Archer. Phlox noted his visitor looked better this morning. His skin showed similar improvement to Tucker's, his posture was straighter and the lines of fatigue around his eyes were absent.

"Good morning, Captain. You're looking well. How are you feeling?" the doctor greeted cheerfully.

Archer smiled. "Much better, thank you. How's Trip?" he inquired as he walked around to the patient's bedside.

"Commander Tucker is progressing quite well. His temperature is down, and most of the fluids he lost have been replaced. I'll probably be releasing him later today with the recommendation that he rest for the remainder of the day and tomorrow. After that, he should be ready to go back on duty." Phlox noticed the captain was looking down at the bed rather than making eye contact, and that one of his hands was resting lightly on Commander Tucker's shoulder.

"That's good to hear, doctor," Archer said, not quite looking away from his friend. "He gave me quite a scare down on that planet."

"The whole experience sounded quite harrowing," Phlox replied, hoping to encourage further talk. Human and Denobulan alike tended to find comfort in discussing their troubles.

"That's one way to put it," Archer agreed, nodding. "Trip and I have been friends for a long time, and this isn't the first time he's been in danger. This is definitely the worst one, though. Except maybe for that time when he had nitrogen narcosis. I never really thought I'd have to watch him die before. Even then it was different because the worst of it was over pretty quickly. This time I watched him get worse by degrees." Archer's voice sounded a little hoarse. Whether it that was due to emotion or simply a lingering effect of his time in the desert, Phlox wasn't sure.

"It's never easy to watch another being suffer, especially someone you care about."

"No matter how much you know the job can be dangerous or how well you think you're prepared deal with it, if something goes wrong, it never gets any easier." Archer gave a brief, humorless chuckle. "I'd worry about myself if it did." There was a moment of silence then. Phlox wasn't sure what to say or if he should even say anything. Then Archer spoke again. "Well, I'd better get going before my shift starts. Thank you, doctor."

"Have a good day, Captain," Phlox said with a smile. He watched Archer leave, hoping the Captain had found the visit helpful.


Trip wasn't sure at first what was going on. He felt groggy, the way he did when he woke up far ahead of the alarm. Only he wasn't in his quarters. The bed was firmer than it should have been, and the air too sterile, a bit warmer than he liked to keep it. He shifted slightly and became aware of the gritty, itchy feeling of his skin and the awakening pain in his ribs. Trip wondered how wiped out he must have been last night to go to bed without showering off that degree of dirt. No, not dirt, that wasn't right. Sand. Then he remembered where he was and why he was there. Jon?

He opened his eyes slowly, though it was easier than the last time he'd tried it, and squinted into the light he knew couldn't really be as blinding as it seemed. There was that same section of ceiling he remembered from his recovery after he and Malcolm did their popsicle impersonations. It put him in mind of an old song he'd heard once that had stuck in his head annoyingly for days afterward. It was all about going to extremes and went something like, "too high or too low, there ain't no in betweens." He couldn't recall any more of the lyrics off the top of his head, but it wasn't important. He smiled slightly, thinking he ought to tell Jon to keep the vintage portion of his music collection to himself next time. "Oh, I see you're awake, Commander," came Phlox's almost too cheerful voice. "I'll bid you good morning while it's still early enough. How are you feeling?"

Trip cleared his dry throat. "Like I could use a shower, something to drink, and about another week's worth of sleep or so. Not necessarily in that order. How's the Cap'n?"

The doc chuckled. "He's doing just fine. He will need to get extra rest and fluids for the next few days but he was doing well when I saw him this morning. I'll bring you some water."

Trip sighed, glad that his friend had come out of their ordeal so much better than he had. Trip felt better than he had last night but he still wasn't up to speed yet. *Not that it takes a whole lot to top last night,* he thought with a mental snort. Then he remembered how close an escape it had been; the suffocating closeness of dry, searing air; crumbling dust falling all around as he struggled for every breath, his insistence that Jon leave him behind; and his desperate wish not to be the cause of Jon's death. He swallowed hard. He was lucky to have made it back to Enterprise to be feeling anything, well or otherwise. *This may not be fun, but it sure beats the hell out of being dead. Hands down.*

Phlox returned with a large glass of water and a smile. "Do you need a straw?"

Trip shook his head. "Nah, that's alright. I think I'm ready to sit up now." If he'd been in his quarters, he would have been lazy, but as much as he liked the doc, he wasn't fond of spending time in sickbay as a patient. Anything he could do to look like he was improving, he would do.

His headache reasserted itself as soon as his head left the pillow, but it wasn't too awful, so he didn't mention it. He probably just wasn't fully hydrated yet. Trip's ribs also lodged their own protests but no more than he knew from experience was normal at this stage. Every muscle felt alarmingly like overdone pasta but they held him up with only a slight trembling to betray his weakness. If Phlox noticed, he chose not to comment. He simply handed over the water and stood close enough that he could steady his patient's hand if needed.

Trip couldn't think of any drink he'd ever had that tasted better. The water was cool and wet and tasted blessedly normal. He couldn't believe he'd ever thought the ship's water tasted a little too metallic. Right now, it was nothing short of true bliss, and he closed his eyes in appreciation.

"That," he stated with certainty after guzzling down over half the glass at once. "Is a slice of pure heaven."

Phlox chuckled. "I'm sure it is, but don't you usually reserve that distinction for pecan pie?"

Trip smiled. "Not today, Doc. I'm just happy to be here enjoying the simple things."

"Yes, I imagine a 'close call,' as you would say, does tend to put things in perspective."

Trip considered that a moment as he took another big sip of heaven. "You're not just whistling Dixie about that. I've looked death in the eye a few times before. You'd think it would kinda get to be almost old hat after while but each one is just as intense as the first and each one taught me something."

"Whistling Dixie?"

"It means you're not just saying something to say it, that you're serious. Basically, I was agreeing with you."

"Ah. Would you like some more water?" Phlox asked, gesturing at Trip's empty glass.

"Could I drink it in my quarters?" Trip asked hopefully, putting on his best "how could you say no to this face" expression.

The doc smiled. "I had a feeling that would be one of your first requests as soon as you woke up. As long as you promise to drink plenty of fluids, rest, and come to see me right away should your symptoms get worse, then I'll release you right now."

"Cross my heart and hope to—" Trip shook his head and smiled ruefully at himself. "Nevermind. You have my word, Doc." He handed the empty glass over to Phlox and slowly stood. He wasn't dizzy, but his overused muscles didn't feel completely steady.

"Will you need assistance getting to your quarters?"

Trip took a moment to consider it before saying, "Nah, I'll be fine if I just take it slow and easy." He shifted, and his bare arm brushed up against the wrap on his ribs, reminding him of his state of dress. "You uh, wouldn't happen to have a shirt I could borrow, would you?" he asked a bit sheepishly. He already didn't think he'd ever live down the time he had spent sneaking around in his underwear when those greedy, big-eared aliens had tried to pillage the ship. There was no sense in adding to that reputation if he could help it.

Phlox looked thoughtful. "I believe so. I also have some salve for your sunburn." He turned away to retrieve the items and refill Trip's water, but he continued to speak over his shoulder.

"I'll also want you to come back for a follow-up visit tomorrow morning. We can discuss your return to duty then."

Trip frowned, thinking of all the attention the ship still needed. Enterprise herself was still in recovery. "I won't be out for long will I?"

"I don't expect that you'll be out of commission for more than a few days. If you're doing well, I might approve you for light duty as early as the day after tomorrow. We'll just have to see how you're coming along." Phlox handed over the shirt, which turned out to be one of his medical smocks. Trip donned it slowly, trying not to aggravate his ribs. It was large on him and undoubtedly looked a bit goofy, but it was easier to get on than something more form-fitting and it would do until he got back to his quarters, at least.

Phlox gave him the water and the salve. "Take care of yourself, Commander."

"See 'ya tomorrow, Doc," Trip said, raising his water glass as if in toast and then sipping from it on his way out.

True to his word, Trip took it slow and easy on the way to his quarters, which happened to be fairly close by. He didn't see anyone along the way, which suited him just fine. He didn't feel like he had the energy to be social, nor did he want any help at the moment. It was enough not to think about anything more complicated than putting one foot in front of the other for a few minutes, interspersed with the occasional sweet sip of water.

His quarters were a welcome sight when he made it in. By then, his feet were dragging a bit and his ribs were starting to talk to him. The bed was inviting. Trip looked at the quilt his grandmother had given him with its haphazard collection of various blues, greens and browns, which somehow combined to make a harmonious pattern, and smiled. He'd always liked it for what it was, for the time and effort Gramma had put into it as well as the reminder of home. Ever since he and Malcolm had been stranded in a half-frozen shuttlepod, the warmth of that quilt at night had been of even greater comfort to him. His smile faded a bit. He didn't know if that extra comfort would still be there for him now. A small, humorless laugh rose out of his throat. "Maybe the heat and cold will cancel each other out, and I'll just feel completely normal again."

Trip shook his head at himself and sighed, shallowly in deference to his ribs. He undressed slowly, taking care to fold the smock Phlox had lent him. He put it on the end of his desk where he'd be sure to see it when he went back to sickbay tomorrow. After letting the rest of his outfit fall to the floor, Trip headed for the shower.


Jon closed his eyes and sighed. It was turning out to be a long day. A half shift would have suited him better, but the ship wouldn't stop running just because the captain wanted a nap. The plan had been to knock off at lunchtime. It was now mid afternoon and he was just getting his chance to eat now. He sighed again and took a bite of his stir fry, which was up to Chef's usual standard of excellence. Jon wished the same could be said for the engines.

The bridge crew had just spent the better part of two hours trying to track down and identify an anomaly in their path. It turned out to be nothing more than an ordinary asteroid that the sensors were reporting false information on. The readings had been strange to be sure, but not out of the realm of possibility so no one thought to run a diagnostic until the sensors had started to contradict themselves. The problem was actually related to the engine repairs. Normally, the two systems ran independently of each other but…Lieutenant Hess had explained exactly what went wrong not half an hour ago, but he'd already forgotten the specifics. The important thing was that engineering was aware of the glitch and were attending to it.

Engine repairs were progressing slowly but steadily. The whole department was working overtime and not a few personnel from other areas were pitching in where they could on top of their regular duties. Everyone hoped to have Enterprise running smoothly, or at least close to it by the time they reached Risa for much needed shore leave. Jon smiled. His crew was the best Earth had to offer and he never forgot that for a second. They always worked hard, but he knew they were working even harder in Trip's absence.

Jon doubted his engineer was even aware of it, but Trip's fellow 'denizens of the bowels of Enterprise' as he'd overheard someone refer to them once, really looked up to their chief. Despite occasional flares of temper, he got along well with his staff. Some of that could be attributed to his affable personality, but Jon also knew a lot was due to his willingness to work as hard or harder than everyone else. He didn't delegate all the dirtier jobs just because he could. True, he gave the orders and his word was law, but his staff seemed to feel more as if they worked alongside him than under him and they loved Trip for it. When he asked for extra effort, he got it with no complaints.

Jon sighed again. He hoped Trip was feeling better. He'd gotten an update from Phlox before the sensor fiasco and the doctor had been pleased with Trip's progress. Jon wasn't quite as optimistic, knowing Trip was good at acting more upbeat than he felt, especially when he wanted to break out of sickbay early. As soon as he managed to tear himself away from the bridge, Jon planned to go check on his friend. Maybe he'd even see about picking up a cherry snowcone along the way. The thought made him smile for the first time that afternoon.


Trip rolled, carefully, from his right side onto his back. He was sure it must have been the hundredth time he'd shifted in the last twenty minutes. Sleep sounded good to him, as tired as he still was, but he hadn't managed more than a fitful doze since his shower. The flesh was willing, but the mind wouldn't shut the hell up.

He suppressed a sigh and wondered what Jon was up to. *Stubborn cuss is probably on the bridge.* Trip shook his head in fond exasperation. Jon never did know when to quit. Trip's mama had said more than once that her son's best friend must have lingered last in line for sense to come in out of the rain when God was handing it out. Trip always laughed when she said that since he couldn't argue the point. Even when stuck in the middle of a desert on a strange, unfriendly planet with no more than a few precious sips of water, what did Jon do? Not only does he offer it to his friend, he threatens to pour it down said friend's throat. It probably never even occurred to him to drink it himself. The man just did not own a single shirt that didn't have his heart on somewhere on the sleeve. Trip had always admired that.

In fact, it was that same caring quality that first drew Trip so strongly to Jon and continued to. Trip recognized a kindred spirit in Jon and also someone who needed a friend to help him through the inevitable times when something went wrong that either couldn't be fixed or Jon managed to shoulder the blame for. Trip also recognized in himself a sucker for that combination. He couldn't have imagined a better buddy for himself.

Trip never met anyone he understood and accepted more or who one returned the favor in spades. For instance, Jon never made Trip feel silly or cowardly over his fear of bugs. Trip hadn't even told him about his boyhood run-in with a scorpion. The story wasn't a secret, he'd simply never felt the need to explain why nasty little crawling critters rattled his cage so much. Jon already understood that it wasn't just squeamishness.

Trip didn't think it was odd that Jon had conversations with his dog. Vocalizing his thoughts helped Jon focus sometimes and Porthos was family. That he was short, furry, cheese-loving family didn't matter to a bit to either of them. Trip had been there the day man and dog had adopted each other. It was love at first sight, pure and simple, on both sides. Trip could sympathize with the little beagle.

He'd seldom been one to have his head turned by anyone of the male persuasion, but from the very first moment he'd laid eyes on Jonathan Archer, Charles Tucker III hadn't been able to look away. Trip had walked into the room on the tail end of a joke someone was telling, just in time to catch Jon with his head thrown back in laughter. There were about a dozen other people that were laughing just as hard, but no one else that made Trip's heart beat a little faster. Jon's eyes were still alive with mirth a minute or so later when they were introduced.

Trip had been dating a lovely young woman by the name of Leah at the time and his reaction to Jon had been confusing. There was no sudden urge to fall upon the man and have his wicked way or anything, thankfully. If there had been, Trip would have avoided temptation in the interest of being faithful. No, it was more that his new friendship began to take up more time and attention than most other things in his life. Leah broke up with him not long after. He was quite sorry to see her go but couldn't blame her. In her place, he figured he would have been put out by the lack of attention, too. She had hung the blame squarely on work and he hadn't bothered to correct her.

After Leah's departure, Trip was left with even more time to spend with Jon. The opportunity was there to mention his attraction, but Trip just hadn't been ready to bring it up. He didn't know if it would be easier or harder to date his friend. One the one hand, they already had an easy rapport together that would likely go a long way towards easing any awkwardness and misunderstandings. On the other, his only romantic experience had been with women and none of those relationships had turned out to be great successes.

The attraction was always simmering under the surface, but it also always took a back seat to the friendship. Trip was satisfied with things the way they were. He may not have been sure what kind of a lover he'd be to Jon, but he did know how to be a damn good friend.

Besides, Jon had never shown an interest in men in all the time Trip knew him. A couple of months after Leah left, Jon had started seeing a woman. Trip smiled. Sara was the one whose mother had given Porthos to Jon. Though he'd been a bit jealous of her, Trip had to admit that Jon had good taste. Trip had even considered asking Sara's sister Kipli out, but it turned out she was already with some Brit named Dominic or something.

From then until now, it had been that way between Trip and Jon. They'd stuck close to each other like brothers. While they'd both been very focused on work, one or the other, sometimes both, would have a woman in his life for a while. None of those relationships had ever worked out, but their friendship endured. Trip's attraction to Jon had slowly, quietly grown into a deep love.

By the time Trip had come to fully realize and accept the depth of his feelings for Jon, he longer felt as if sharing his love was an option. They'd been buddies and only that for a long time. Trip wasn't worried that Jon would hate him, that the confession would murder their friendship, or even that Jon didn't love him back. That love just wasn't romantic on Jon's part. Trip sighed. He'd given it a lot of thought over the years. Jon was loyal, devoted, even affectionate, but Trip had seen the way he looked at a woman that interested him. That spark, that special kind of glow Jon had when he wanted someone was very distinctive. That look was a frequent guest star in Trip's dreams but never, not even once, had he ever seen that look directed at himself in his waking hours. Never.

So, he contented himself with his situation, made the most of it, reminded himself how lucky he was just to be close to Jon as a friend whenever futile hope rose up and tried to choke him. Serving on Enterprise had been both a blessing a curse for Trip, but he'd managed to keep a lid on those feelings, just as he always had. Today though…today he wondered if he shouldn't just come clean.

There wasn't a lot Jon wouldn't do for his best buddy but Trip never before realized just how deep that went. He'd been pretty out of it for a good bit of their time down on the planet, but Trip now had the mental clarity for the full impact of events to strike. Jon had sacrificed his last few sips of water, all but carried Trip for quite a distance, ignored his own discomfort to play nursemaid and even shielded Trip with his own body when the shooting started. The engineer shivered at the mere memory of being cradled in those strong arms as if he were something very precious. If Jon was willing to do all that, give that much of himself, perhaps he wouldn't be as averse to deepening their relationship as Trip thought. Perhaps he'd been fooling himself all along that friendship would always be enough.

Had it been any other issue of equal personal importance, he would have been frightened by the speed of his decision. All his misgivings seemed to have suddenly given up the ghost. All he felt was…relief and a deep sense of tranquillity. Trip wondered if this was how T'pol felt after meditating. If so, maybe they were onto something after all. He'd have to ask her about that sometime. It would be worth it for sheer shock value that he actually had a serious question about Vulcan culture. He smiled to himself as he climbed out of bed to dress. No, Vulcans repressed it all, tossed the baby out with the bath water. Love was worth every last moment of fear and uncertainty.


Standing outside the captain's quarters, Trip wasn't surprised when there was no answer to the chime. He pondered the merits of ratting Jon out to Phlox for working longer than he was supposed to versus the consequences. Tempting though the idea was, it just wasn't worth it. Jon would see to it that Trip couldn't so much as think about bending his own doctor's orders without a full report to the doc. Besides, he couldn't spill the beans without admitting to leaving his quarters when he was supposed to be taking it easy.

The engineer's body was quietly reminding him that it didn't share his spirit's renewed energy. Trip wanted to see Jon as soon as possible, before he had a chance to lose his nerve, but lacked the get up and go to track him down. He knew Jon would worry about him if he used the com to call the bridge. Trip needed Jon to be as relaxed as possible for the coming conversation.

That left him two choices. He could go back to his quarters and wait for Jon to come by and check on him. The mere thought made Trip feel a bit stir-crazy. No, he'd stay where he was. Luckily, he still remembered the door code from tracking down that stray squeak in the deck plating a while back. Trip doubted Jon would mind if he let himself in to wait and Porthos would appreciate the company. Besides, it wouldn't look right if he just sat down in the corridor. He'd probably fall asleep, end up being seen that way by half the ship and never be able to live it down.

With a quick glance to be sure the corridor was empty, Trip punched the door code. He slipped inside and just had to smile at what he found. *I wanted him relaxed, but not quite this relaxed.* Jon was down for the count on his bed, snoring lightly. He was dressed casually in jeans and a long-sleeved knit shirt Trip had given him as a birthday gift a few years back. Trip liked it because the sea-green color brought out Jon's eyes and the Titanic Swim Team logo on the front provided a perfect excuse to give it to him. Jon's legs were hanging off the bed, bare feet brushing the deck. Trip imagined him sitting down on the bed, intending to just rest for a moment, maybe cuddle Porthos a little and then drifting off. The beagle was stretched out close at Jon's side, just rousing himself to greet his visitor.

Porthos woke up quickly and trotted over to the foot of the bed. Trip was thankful there was no barking. He bent down to pet Porthos and whispered to him. "Hey there buddy. That tail of yours is liable to up and fly off if you wag it any harder. What'll your master say when he wakes up to find his dog is tailless, huh? Don't come howling to me if he cuts off that cheese you're not supposed to be having anyway."

Porthos basked in the attention, offering his belly to be rubbed. He seldom made that gesture for anyone but Jon. Trip smiled. "You're pulling out all the stops tonight, aren't you? You're just trying to con dinner out of me, I bet."

Knowing that Jon would have fed Porthos first thing, Trip didn't bother to check the food bowl. He continued the belly rub, unsure of what to do. He knew it would probably be best if he just left but was sorely tempted to stay. The thought of going back to his quarters now was still loathsome and it was a rare treat to watch Jon sleep. He could look all he liked without having to hide his appreciation. Sleep soothed years from that handsome face, eased away the gravity of command. Trip watched Jon's eyes grow restless beneath their lids and wondered what he was dreaming about.


It feels like the whole damn planet is shaking apart. What started as a bombardment now seems more like an earthquake. The blasts are almost continuous, rattling Jon's teeth with every impact. He's stretched himself atop Trip's overheated body to shield his friend from the debris raining down around them, but he's not sure how much more he can take. Another hard chunk bounces painfully across his back. Dust is thick in the air, clogging his lungs and enveloping them like a shroud. The blood rushing loud and rhythmic in his ears seems to plead with him. "Can't stay. Can't stay. Can't stay…"

But how can they leave? Jon can barely see the pillar beside them, much less a way out. He'll likely have to carry Trip and he can't figure out how to do that without exposing him to falling rubble. It might not even be any better out in the open with nothing between them and alien weaponry. But they have to risk it.

Trip lies still beneath him and Jon worries that he might not be awake. "Trip?" he calls out hoarsely, struggling to be heard over the din of their shelter systematically blowing to pieces. There isn't an answer and Trip doesn't move. Jon's stomach suddenly becomes like one of the solid chunks of stone falling around them. It isn't supposed to be like this!

"Trip!" he calls again, voice ragged with fear. He shakes the limp body beneath him but there is no response. Jon reaches for Trip's face, trying to rouse him.

The gritty cheek under his fingers is like ice. Jon doesn't understand. The man was a furnace just minutes ago, too hot to possibly be so cold now. "Are there blankets down there? I'm freezing," He hears Trip's voice say, only the sound doesn't come from Trip's mouth. It echoes from all around, drowning out the destruction.

"Trip!" Jon calls desperately. Something crashes onto his shoulder but he no longer cares. "What's happening?" he whispers.

"Desert sir? The heat, the dry air? You know how it sucks the life outta me." Jon chokes on a sob. He does know. Trip is dead because Jon didn't protect him like he should have. Now everything is shaking apart, including himself…


The shaking centered itself in his shoulder and everything else went still and quiet. The air was cool, clean and smelt familiar. "Jon?" It was Trip's voice again, but it was soft, close and didn't echo anymore. Jon almost didn't dare to hope.

He opened his eyes to see Trip's beautiful, living, breathing, concerned face. "You're alive," Jon said with wonder.

Trip frowned slightly. "Yeah I am. You okay?"

Jon reached up and lay his hand over the one that had been shaking his shoulder a moment ago. The fingers under his palm were warm, but not overheated. Trip didn't move away. "I am now," Jon said gratefully.

"Bad dream?"

Jon repressed a shudder. "You could say that."

"I thought you were still working when you didn't answer the doorbell, so I figured you wouldn't mind if I let myself in to wait. I was gonna let you sleep but you started getting restless and called for me, so I—"

"You haven't done that in a long time," Jon interrupted quietly.

Trip's brow wrinkled in confusion. "Let you sleep?"

"Called me Jon." He wasn't sure if he was talking about last night in sick bay or just a moment ago but supposed it didn't matter. "I missed that."

Trip colored just slightly and his gaze slipped down somewhere in the vicinity of Jon's chest. "Well, that's kinda what I came here to talk to you about."

It was Jon's turn to be confused. "What do you mean?"

Blue eyes still avoided green and Trip spoke softly, but his voice was steady. "I got to thinking about a lot of things this afternoon after Phlox let me loose, about what happened down on the planet and our history together. We've been good friends for a long time." Trip smiled a little, then grew thoughtful. "You know why I call you Cap'n all the time?" He glanced at Jon's face but looked away before Jon could read his eyes. "It's to remind myself not to get too cozy."

This might be about rank and the appearance of favoritism, but Jon didn't put it past his friend to come up with something completely unexpected. He stifled his first impulse to assure Trip of his welcome and simply asked, "What's too cozy?"

Trip gave a mirthless chuckle and shook his head. "It's something I've been dreaming about but keeping to myself for years, something I'm thinking lately I might should've shared with you. 'Specially since it started about the time I first laid eyes on you." Trip finally looked Jon in the eye then and held his gaze. He was gauging the reaction to his words, but also sharing something new. There was a special warmth in those blue eyes that Jon had never seen before, a warmth that raised goosebumps on his skin and caused a peculiar fluttering in his insides. It was suddenly very clear what they were talking about.

Jon sat up so they could see each other properly. Trip started to retrieve his hand from Jon's shoulder, but Jon took custody, holding that hand in both of his. "What held you back?"

"Gutlessness, resignation, force of habit, good old fashioned confusion, you name it. I've never been with a man and you've seen for yourself that I don't exactly have the best track record with women when it comes to the long term," Trip said with a self-depreciating grin.

"Did it ever occur to you that maybe those relationships didn't work out because you weren't with the one you really wanted? That's why none of mine worked out." Jon began leisurely stroking the back of Trip's hand with his thumb.

"So, how come *you* never said anything?"

"I didn't think I was your type." Jon held back the wide grin that was threatening to break out and continued seriously. "I'm a little tall for you. I'm not a voluptuous, fiery redhead or a pixie-cut blonde. My feet don't get along with high heels and to be honest, I just don't have the legs for a mini-skirt."

Jon's broad grin broke through as Trip started chuckling. "Not a damn thing wrong with those legs of yours, Jon." Trip looked him over with a critical eye. "The hair's a tad short, but it works for you. I don't think I'm quite ready to see you in high heels or a mini-skirt. At least, not until Halloween." The latter statement was punctuated with a wicked grin that quickly turned sly. "And as for the other, well…" Trip patted Jon's upper chest with his free hand. "I'm sure Phlox would love to try out a little minor surgery in his spare time."

There was a long moment of silence as they each tried to imagine that scenario. Both men burst out laughing at the same time. Trip was soon holding his side and groaning through his laughter, which sobered Jon. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, just kinda forgot about my ribs. I'll be fine."

"Why don't you lie down? I know you must be tired."

Trip managed a smile. "If I lie down now, Jon, I'm not too sure I'd be able to get up again anytime soon."

"Who says you have to?" Jon leaned in close. "Spend the night with me." He touched his forehead to Trip's and kissed him lightly on the lips before slowly pulling back just enough to make eye contact again.

Trip licked his lips and looked ready to melt into a puddle right where he sat. "Well, when you put it that way…" he drawled.

Jon chuckled. "Great." Jon got up and removed Trip's boots for him so he wouldn't have to bend down and aggravate his ribs. He took off his own jeans and top while Trip started easing himself out of his T-shirt.

Soon, they were both down to their regulation blues. They climbed into bed and after several minutes of shifting, finally nestled comfortably together under the covers. Jon sighed in deep contentment. It had been a long time since he last held a hard, male body. Jon had played both sides of the field but hadn't even looked at another man since he met Trip. It was well worth the wait.

Porthos hopped up and joined the party. He sniffed around both men thoroughly before licking Jon's face and then snuggling down into the small of Trip's back. "Does he do that every night?" Trip asked.

Jon smiled. "Most. He occasionally sticks to his own bed but he likes company."

"Oh. That's fine. I just hope I don't roll over onto him."

"Don't worry, if I haven't flattened him yet, you won't either."

Trip chuckled. "Okay."

All was quiet for several minutes. Jon thought Trip was asleep and was getting close to drifting off himself when the silence broke. "God, we are both stupid," Trip said and Jon felt the blond head shake ruefully. "All that wasted time…"

"Well, if we're both idiots, then we must deserve each other. And looking back on it, can you really say that time was wasted?"

Trip was quiet a moment while he thought it over. "No," he said, taking Jon's hand and twining their fingers. "I guess I can't at that."

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to the author.

Star Trek and Enterprise are copyrighted by Paramount. We don't own 'em—we just play with them. No money was made.
Please do not repost material without requesting permission directly from the author.
Archer's Enterprise is maintained by the Webmistress.