Duct Tape and Poker Faces

By E.M. Theis

Rating: PG

Genres: drama

Keywords: sickbay

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Disclaimer: The characters, plot, and places of Star Trek: Enterprise are the property of CBS and Paramount. No profit was made from this story, and no infringement was intended. This work was produced solely for entertainment.

Rating: PG (mild language)
Genre: Drama
Summary: After the strange disappearance of the silicon-based virus, Hoshi spends the night in Sickbay with Commander Tucker and Captain Archer.

 


Mission Date: August, 2154

The Commander hasn’t said much. He’s been strangely quiet since the incident was abruptly resolved, watching events unfold around him with a diffidence uncommon for him. He has a bewildered expression on his face, brow slightly furrowed but his features mostly slack, as though his mind is still dazed, as though he’s unable to keep up with the recent events. He looks tired, but he doesn’t seem to want to sleep. He sits on the biobed in the middle of Sickbay, and he doesn’t say anything.

It’s been nearly an hour since I awoke abruptly in Sickbay, half-dressed and unable to fathom how I even got here. The last things I clearly recall are his story, his comforting promise that I’d see my students again, his arms around me as tears of despair and frustration burned at my eyes. I can’t remember what he said then – strange for a linguist. I strive on words and yet I can only recall the succor his presence gave me and nearly none of the things he spoke. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d been alone, caught in that hellish situation. I know he took care of me. I can see it in the way that Phlox looks at him with sorrowful admiration, with a depthless gratitude. I wish I could recall more of what had happened. I wish I could thank him, but it seems a rather fruitless gesture. What worth is an empty “thank you”?

Doctor Phlox asked us to stay in Sickbay for the night. He wants to observe us, to ensure that the alien virus is, in truth, no longer a threat. I think he doesn’t understand what happened. I know that it’s a mystery to me. A mystery, but also a miracle, and I’m not about to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. Tout est bien qui finit bien. That’s my humble opinion

. But, looking at the Commander, I’m not certain he would agree. I think he might not be feeling quite right yet. He’s never been much of a mystery to me; he means what he says and says what he means. Not many people are so straight-forward, but sometimes I wonder if it’s all just an act with him after all. I found out (the hard way, of course) that he isn’t really much of a conversationalist when there’s something bothering him. He’s quite good at being what he is – a reactionist. Come to think of it, I’m not even certain that that’s a word. I don’t know what that says for our mission when the communications officer can’t even speak English. Then again, if the complaints of the doctor and the science officer are any indication, then neither can our Chief Engineer. But I digress.

I call him a “reactionist” because I feel that best defines his actions. He reacts. I’ve never really seen anything like it. After spending two days with him – and him alone – I can safely say that he rarely does anything else. Sometimes, I don’t even think he’d ever say a word unless someone talked to him first. Sure, he wasted no time in directing my actions while on the surface of the planet, and he was never one to turn away from small talk when the silence became unbearable. He talks to fill in the empty spaces. He talks to remind people that they’re not alone. He talks for other people and never for himself. Sometimes, I wonder if he would have anything to say, if he was alone. I wonder if he keeps a personal log. I’d bet he doesn’t. It’s probably all engineering and technical reports with him. The things that are important to him, he keeps close to his breast like a paranoid poker player shielding his cards from prying eyes.

But the Commander is good at poker, as well. He never lets his bluffs show by checking his hand. He knows those cards more intimately than he knows himself. And I wouldn’t bet a penny against the fact that he’s also holding a winning hand.

I feel a little sick. There’s an ache in my bones that the doctor’s medicine can’t quite relieve, and I know that the Commander feels it too. He’s looking at a place on the floor, listening to something the doctor is telling him. His face is pale, and his eyes aren’t as bright as they usually are. To be honest, I’m a little worried about him.

The Captain is, too. Captain Archer has been asked to stay with us, as well, though, from my understanding, he was only briefly exposed to the pathogen. He’s sitting on another bed, as close to the Commander as possible, and his hair – like mine – is still wet from a long shower. Captain Archer has interesting… well, for lack of a better term, “fits of passion”. He tries to remain the aloof commander, but it doesn’t work as well as he thinks it does. Things seep through his mask, little hints that light his eyes like glimmering tears. Many times, the only emotion we see from him is anger and frustration. Sometimes, things are as they used to be. He looks like he did three years ago. A smile, a gleam of curiosity and excitement in his eyes. Mostly, those moments happen in the company of Commander Tucker. Mostly.

And mostly, the angry man is drawn out from that shell by the Commander as well. I think Commander Tucker incites him purposefully, attempting to simply invoke a response of any kind when the Captain looks as though the universe is too cruel a place for humans. Sometimes, the Commander does it to no purpose. They are both passionate men, and, when their passions collide, it leads to some extraordinarily tense situations. I’m, of course, thinking of the transporter incident from a few weeks ago. I’ve never seen either of them so angry with the other. The Commander tends to spend part of his shift on the bridge, usually in the late afternoon, when things are slow, or he’s irritated with his own staff. Sometimes, if he’s annoyed, he can sit at that engineering station for hours and never say a word. He can out-silence T’Pol, if he puts his mind to it. But, when he doesn’t come to the bridge for days in a row, something is definitely wrong. Captain Archer takes the high road and says nothing about it. There’s no regulation against the Chief Engineer spending time in the main engine room.

Then, four days ago, the Commander was on the bridge before I even made it to my station. He was sitting at the science station, and Captain Archer was leaning over his shoulder. There was one of those smiles on the Captain’s face, and the smirk was mirrored on the Commander’s countenance. Like two little boys in a candy store. They’d found a Minshara-class planet, and suddenly everything was as it should have been.

They are an interesting pair. There must have been more to that situation than I had been able to discern. It isn’t uncommon for either of them to beat me when it comes to the call of duty, but Commander Tucker would have gone to his own department before the bridge. I suspected they had spent most of the night together, fiddling with the long-range sensors in an attempt to find that particular planet. Neither of them had looked any less energetic for the early start, but I discovered during our time in the Expanse that they had apparently boundless energy. It would not surprise me to find out that they were night owls in their younger days. Sometime during the night, they’d made peace.

I don’t pretend to understand how that’s possible. I do know that Commander Tucker has an ardent affection in his heart for everything and everyone around him. He holds a grudge about as well as Travis holds a tune – which is to say hardly at all. He pretends to be angry when it’s expected of him because it’s expected of him. Somehow, I get the feeling that skipping bridge shifts and dinners in the Captain’s Mess is more a punitive course for the Commander than it is for the Captain. I feel like he forgets who was right and who was wrong and just punishes himself. Something like a kid who goes to his room before his parents even discover that he’s done something wrong. He must have driven his parents mad when he was a boy. He probably still does. Sometimes, I forget the age difference between us. He is very youthful, and that often gives the impression that he is younger than his years. I’d be an old ninny, and he would always be young.

He’s one of the few people I’ve ever met who seems to become younger with the passing of hardships. Looking at him the past year has made my heart ache. Every moment spent in the Expanse made him seem more and more like a lost child, made the circumstances all the crueler for siphoning away that youthful life and replacing it with dull looks and dark eyes. Now that we’ve escaped that hellish time and space, the looks are gone, but he seems older. He even seems older now than he did less then twelve hours ago. I wonder if it’s possible for a virus to simply take years away from a man. He looks terrible. He looks worse than I do, and, as far as I understand it, I was in a far sorrier state than he was an hour ago.

Then again, he did give me the luxury of using the facilities adjacent to the sickbay first. A long, hot shower never felt so good. The warm water washed away the sweat and fatigue, and now I feel that I am comfortable and that I am home again – even if the biobed upon which I lay is nothing like my old apartment in San Francisco or my room back in Osaka or even my own quarters on board the ship. Somehow, I am content. The situation is resolved. The panic and despair no longer touch me, and I feel that I can simply walk away from this ordeal with the trouble-free acceptance that I was sick and that now I am not. I never would have thought the Commander to be a man who put so much stock in rationalizing a series of events, but that must be the task he’s currently undertaking. That intense look he gets when he’s concentrating isn’t quite there yet, but I can imagine that it will be in a few hours. Unlike me, he’s not simply accepting the resolution of these events as marvelous. Unlike me, he’s confused.

Confusion, I’ve found, is most easily avoided if you don’t think too hard about something. Doctor Phlox is talking to the Commander again, and he nods as he lays down some instructions. Commander Tucker follows the order obediently, unzipping the front of his uniform before gingerly removing his arms from the sleeves. I see now that his favoring of his right arm was not a product of my often over-active imagination. I did that to him. He’s lucky I didn’t break it. It was no lie when I told him that I hold a black belt in Aikido. At the airlock, even filled with delusional thoughts I can hardly recall even now, I think I proved that to him. I’m lucky I didn’t break it.

I hear the doctor utter the words “hairline fracture” and am forced to quickly reevaluate my previous thoughts. It’s possible that I did break his arm, and a wave of guilt and shame fills me. The doctor has his back to me, so I can’t see his expression. I wonder if Starfleet will give me another bad conduct discharge as the doctor, flabbergasted, asks him quite plainly how it happened.

But I am safe. The Commander says he tripped and fell. I can’t even hear the lie in his tone, but that, perhaps, is a hopeful mind clinging to a falsehood to save herself embarrassment. The doctor takes his words for truth and tells him to be more careful. He makes a joke about Travis’ inability to keep the ship level, which makes Captain Archer roll his eyes. But there’s a smile on the Captain’s face. He’s relieved.

The doctor helps the Commander free his arms from the dark navy undershirt, and I can hear a sharp intake of breath between clenched teeth as the garment is peeled away from his right wrist. I don’t recall applying the appropriate force to crack a bone there, and I have a thought that maybe the injury isn’t my fault at all. It’s possible that the Commander did, at some point, trip and fall. He was certainly the more light-headed of the two of us. I’m frankly surprised that he made it all the way down the corridors to the airlock to get me. Well, if he’s anything, he’s stubborn.

Phlox is taking a better scan of the injury before he decides that it’s minor and won’t require much attention at all. He turns from the Commander to walk leisurely across the room, where he stops in front of a cabinet filled with various supplies. He finds what he wants and walks back to Commander Tucker, who sits quietly while receiving treatment. The doctor opens a dish of some pungent-smelling gel and explains that the microbes within it are absorbed through the skin and promote bone growth. If the Commander is troubled by the thought of being exposed to more alien microbes, his expression doesn’t show it, and he calmly sits while the doctor smoothes the substance over the area of the break. I suppose Commander Tucker is rather intimate with the doctor’s sundry and exotic cures by this time in our voyage. Sometime during our mission in the Expanse, he easily beat out Lieutenant Reed for hours logged in Sickbay. It was fairly head-to-head in the betting pool for quite some time before the Xindi attack. The Lieutenant is prone to illness and has a number of allergies that tend to land him under Phlox’s care. The Commander attracts trouble. The two of them outdid the third person in the running – surprisingly, that was Travis, who I believe has broken limbs more often than anyone on the ship – by over thirty hours spent under the doctor’s care. Malcolm was winning by six hours before the terrible accident during the Commander’s warp experiment. After that, he needed to spend nearly three-hundred-sixty hours in Sickbay to catch up.

After that, the betting pool simply lost its appeal.

They were thinking about starting it up again; I heard Travis talking to Lieutenant Hess from Engineering about it. She thinks the pool should be more specific – as in: what ailment or accident will befall Commander Tucker should he leave the safety of the ship? Travis thinks that that’s ridiculous. He’s probably just thinking about the odds and the possibilities, however. There are far too many outcomes to possibly account for whenever Commander Tucker is involved. After all, how many other men can say they’ve been impregnated by an alien engineer? I don’t know if they actually went through with the entire thing before we left to explore our Klingon garbage heap. If they did, I wonder who won.

As for me, I never would have bet on an alien virus nearly taking his life – and mine along with it. These things just don’t happen like that. Despite the Captain’s fairly enthusiastic and dare I say reckless attitude toward exploring new worlds, he does abide by the “Vulcan Code of Exploration” as Commander Tucker likes to call it. He and Captain Archer had been running surface scans to check for this very issue when I’d walked on the bridge that morning four days ago. I think Commander T’Pol was even impressed by their analyses of the data. It’s rather amazing the quantity of knowledge those two men must have in their brains. I may be able to read sensor telemetry in thirty-eight different languages, but I would have no idea what any of it meant. Planet, oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, tolerable surface temperature. That’s about all I understand. That’s about all the communications officer needs to understand, and, for that, I’m grateful.

The doctor has just about completed his treatment of the Commander’s wrist, wrapping a bandage around it gently and tightly. Maybe he did fall. Wrist injuries are more commonly sustained when someone tries to break a fall with his hands. I feel a little bad. I can’t remember.

Commander Tucker asks him if he can take a shower, and I can hear how hoarse his voice still is. I wonder if maybe I was wrong about his reasons for being so quiet. I’ve come to the conclusion that no one can cough like the Commander can. Even with the cough suppressant the doctor gave us, every ten or fifteen minutes I could have sworn the Commander’s body was attempting to expel one of his lungs – and definitely without his consent. His eye would twitch a little, and he would tense, and then I’d know that he was trying so very hard not to cough. Even now, I can still see it though he’s doing a much better job at stifling the cough. It’s like his body doesn’t want to admit that he is well. I suppose mine isn’t entirely certain either. My knees felt like they were made of rubber when I was attempting to walk, and I still can’t help a shiver every now and then.

The doctor takes one final scan and assents, tells him that the water shouldn’t affect the treatment. The Commander slides off the bed, and he’s at least steady on his feet, which is more than I can say for how I did when I first stood. He’s actually quite stable, if slow, as he walks the distance across Sickbay toward the bathroom. He doesn’t look at me or the Captain or the doctor. Maybe he really doesn’t want to talk – sore throat or no. He’s hardly even paying attention to anything. His sleeves are hanging loosely from where his uniform is barely clinging to his hips. His blue undershirt is tight around his fine physique. His gait becomes a little unsteady as he walks by my bed, but he pretends to be unaffected even if he can’t stop his good hand from reaching out to steady himself against a counter.

Then he’s out of my line of sight, and I draw the blanket around me tighter. Doctor Phlox comes over to check on me, and he seems to think that everything is fine. He tells me to get some sleep and turns off the light above my bed. He raises his voice a bit and says the same thing to Captain Archer, who is rather obedient as well. The Captain extinguishes the light above his bed as well before he settles down and pulls a blanket over himself. For his part, the doctor has lowered the lights in the entire room so that only a light blue hue from one of the monitors illuminates his laboratory area. He leaves one light on: the one above the biobed preserved for the Commander. There’s a blanket and a pillow laid out for him. Phlox declares that he is going to the bridge to report to Commander T’Pol, and I’m relieved that he’s willing to leave us to our own machinations. Not that I’m going to do anything other than rest, but it means that he’s not too concerned about anything. He’s apparently decided that a relapse is unlikely. There’s no sign that the virus even existed. It’s a marvelous situation.

The doors to Sickbay open and close with a soft hiss, and then I’m alone with Captain Archer. I shift into a more comfortable position, adjusting the pillow beneath my head as I watch the Captain. He’s not really paying me much attention, apparently engrossed in some thoughts that he finds particularly relieving or particularly distressing. It’s hard to tell from this angle, but I’m not about to abandon my warm bed or to draw unnecessary attention to myself. The Captain was so jubilant when I woke, nearly bowling me over with his enthusiasm. I’d rather like to just take things easy at the moment.

I can hear the shower in the restroom, barely audible over the soft sounds unique to Sickbay, but the noises are more calming than disturbing. I close my eyes and feel the aches of my body slowly fading. I’m quite content to simply lie here for the rest of my life. I’m not exactly about to fall asleep, but I am resting, and the time passes quickly. I’m not sure how long it is before I hear the shower stop. Commander Tucker starts coughing again, loud enough to hear it through the closed door. I open my eyes and see that the Captain is sitting up in bed. He’s heard it too.

But it doesn’t seem to be anything serious. It stops after a few seconds, and I can hear him clearing his throat over the sound of running water. Then I hear him curse, and I’m rather reassured by that. If he can talk, it’s a fairly good sign that he’s not dying. A few more minutes pass, and I keep my eyes on Captain Archer. The Captain has swung his legs over the side of his bed, apparently waiting for the Commander. I think he thinks I’m asleep. I’m certainly unobtrusive enough, and, with the blanket curled so tightly around me, he would have to take a close look to see that my eyes are open in this darkness.

The door to the bathroom opens with a hiss, and light spills across the floor before the Commander extinguishes it. I can’t see him initially, but then he closes the door and wanders back into my sight. He exchanged his uniform for a set of Sickbay’s pajamas, and his gait is a little more wobbly as he walks to his bed. His arms are wrapped around his stomach, approximately where his diaphragm is located. The Captain slides off his bed, and they meet face-to-face. I hear Captain Archer ask him if he’s all right, and he nods slowly. The light above his bed casts shadows across both their faces, but the soft yellow illumination makes both of them look warm and compassionate. I don’t think they know I’m watching.

The Captain reaches out and engulfs Commander Tucker in a tight embrace. I’ve never seen them hug, but they do now. The Commander frees his own arms and returns the gesture, embracing his friend forcefully, and I can tell by his body language that he was scared. Strange how I can’t remember him being afraid before this moment. The Captain notices his fear as well, but he doesn’t say anything about it, simply offering solace and support. The scene is strangely touching – somehow unexpected and yet somehow right.

“I almost lost you,” the Captain says quietly.

There’s a moment of silence and then the Commander says, “For a moment there, I think you did.”

The admittance hurts me, sends a shiver down my spine. He’s right. He was dead. I was dead. I don’t remember anything about it. The last thing I recall is the airlock. The doctor said he had given me a strong sedative to prevent anything like that from happening again. Had this miracle never happened, I would have died quietly, passed without saying a final goodbye. My last words would have been spoken with anguish and despair. What a terrible ending. I’m glad I don’t remember it.

But I have a feeling that the Commander does. I have a feeling that he was aware of what was happening to him at that final moment, and I feel a hundred questions suddenly come to my mind. What was it like? What exactly does he remember? Is it more an impression of events? He was also sedated, but obviously he’d been somewhat aware of his surroundings. Doctor Phlox and Captain Archer hadn’t carried him to Sickbay; he’s not exactly light. Maybe Captain Archer would have the strength to do something like that, but probably not with the added weight of an EV suit. He must have helped them move him. But had he been conscious at that final moment? I’m worried about him.

The Captain instructs him to get some rest, pulling free of the Commander’s hug. Commander Tucker is reluctant to let go, but he does, and he rubs his jaw as Captain Archer guides him to the bed. He lies down, and it’s someone’s turn to take care of him for a change. The Captain covers him with the blanket and asks him if he wants to keep the light on. The Commander’s response isn’t verbal, and, with the Captain standing between me and him, I can’t quite see what it is. The light stays on, though, and Captain Archer climbs back into his own bed.

Commander Tucker sleeping with the light on. It makes me want to smile.

I close my eyes and decide that sleep is probably a good idea. Yet I stay awake for some time, listening to the soft breathing of my companions as they slowly drift off to their own personal dreams. Captain Archer falls asleep first, strangely enough. I can tell that it’s him because the Commander has a distinct sound when he sleeps. Just a way of breathing that’s uniquely him. He doesn’t snore; it’s probably just too hard to explain. I noticed it during our two-day mission on that horrible planet.

Sometime during my analysis of the men’s breathing patterns, I must have fallen asleep myself. I was resting in the comfort of a dreamless slumber when I heard a noise that was decidedly disturbing. While I was in the world of Nod, I didn’t immediately recognize what it was – only that I really did not want to abandon my siesta to get up and identify it. But it was insistent, and it woke me, and now I’m trying to blink sleep from my eyes as my head slowly clears from the fog of slumber.

The noise is a soft beeping that is clearly a warning of some kind. It takes me a moment to recall that I’m in Sickbay, and that the beeping is not the communications system paging me or my alarm. What it sounds like, in fact, is something akin to a monitor blaring an alert, and the noise is growing in both intensity and shrillness. My befuddled mind refuses to think for a long moment. And then a strangled gasp reaches my ears, and everything starts to make sense.

My gaze focuses on the Commander, where he’s sitting up in his bed, and I can practically feel the terror emanating from him. His eyes are wide, and the yellow lamp light is gleaming in the sweat that masks his features. Shadows cover the rest of his face, giving him a rather demonic look, making it seem as though he’s some creature from one of his movies – some monster of light and darkness. The noise is the monitor for his biobed; his heart’s racing, and his breathing is shallow and erratic. Seconds pass that seem to stretch into eternity, and I can only stare at him, my own heart suddenly pounding empathically.

Then the world comes crashing back to us. The Commander suddenly moves, suddenly takes a deep breath that leads to a cough and then another cough. I sit up, and my own fear is echoed by the heart monitor on my biobed. He’s attempting to get up from his bed, though where he wants to go is beyond me. The paroxysm of coughing continues as he slides from the bed, entangled in his blanket, but he simply collapses as his feet touch the ground. The Captain is awake now, or perhaps he had been awake and I simply missed that fact, so embroiled in my own horror was I.

I’m afraid that there’s something physically wrong with the Commander, and now, without a patient to monitor, the gauges on his biobed ominously blare a soft, flat tone. I can’t see Commander Tucker, but I can hear him. His coughing is violent, but my keen ears hear something else within it. He’s not simply coughing. He’s sobbing.

The Captain is calling for Doctor Phlox, but I can see that the doctor is already aware of the situation, and I almost have to take another look when I see Commander T’Pol with him. My eyes stray back to the Commander’s now-empty biobed, and there’s a chair sitting next to it. I wonder how long she’s been here, but I shake the thought from my mind as the two hurry over to where I still can’t quite see Commander Tucker.

Captain Archer reaches him first, and he kneels, so I can’t see either of them now. He’s trying to talk to Commander Tucker and the doctor at the same time and doing a poor job of expressing anything to either of them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him panic, but he’s pretty close to that state right now. And all the Commander seems able to do is cough and sob, which certainly doesn’t detract from the chaos currently overtaking the room.

The doctor orders calm, and the Captain seems to realize that he’s not doing a whole lot of good because he stops talking. Then Phlox and Commander T’Pol have reached the biobed. Phlox stoops out of sight as well, and I can hear the soft buzz of his handheld medical scanner. The Commander remains standing, but I can see the tension in her stance. The Expanse had certainly had an effect on her because I used to be able to easily read her, to understand and discern the emotions she had that always seemed to be just below the surface. Her face (and most definitely her eyes) always clued me into her feelings, as though I was looking at a bubbling brook beneath a thin layer of ice. Recently, she’s become harder to read than ever before, and I wonder about her discovery of the Kir’Shara, a collection of ancient Vulcan teachings. I think she’s inadvertently become somewhat attached to Commander Tucker, and I worry about what embracing these ancient teachings might mean to both of them.

But language isn’t limited to the audible tongue, and I’m adept at reading the unspoken as well. The underlying emotion remains between them. Commander Tucker might call it love. I believe T’Pol would think “affection” a more suitable term. I observe her concern for him plainly in the way she hovers over the people I can’t quite see, in the way she seems to be holding her breath in anxious wait. Her face is expressionless, and nothing is revealed in the dark glittering that is her eyes, but I can see it all the same. Vulcans may suppress emotion, but that doesn’t imply that it isn’t there. Looking at her, I’m suddenly reminded of one of those ancient teachings. Of course, I, too, procured a copy of the Kir’Shara before we left Vulcan. Ambassador Soval helped me obtain it, and he even offered a few tips on the translation. A communications officer needs to know more than words. Understanding culture is just as important. Every transmission is a diplomatic endeavor. Offense, I have found, can be easily given when misunderstanding exists.

As I look at Commander T’Pol, I can see that tension radiating off of her, as though she is trying with all her might not to act. Tilek svi’khaf-spol t’vathu – tilek svi’sha’veh. That proverb must be doubly true when the other is someone for which you care. And, not that I’m to judge Vulcan culture, but they care whether or not they say they do. If they didn’t, they would not so vigilantly watch over us. Even if their looks were meant to ensure we were not a threat, that still implies concern. Still, I don’t understand exactly why she’s standing there, letting Commander Tucker’s distress so obviously afflict her when she apparently has no intention of doing anything about it.

I’d hate to play poker against Commander T’Pol. If I can’t comprehend something as simple as a romantic relationship between Commander Tucker and her, then I don’t think I’d ever be able to determine her hand. I suppose, with her, it would all depend on the game. Four cards up, three down… perhaps I could speculate then. Unfortunately, she’s hiding all her cards behind her enviable control. I don’t think I’d be able to determine the Queen of Hearts from the Jack of Spades if she was holding the card face-out for the whole universe to see. Things tend to get blurry where love and logic are involved.

Finally, she does act. Maybe she finally came to the conclusion that whatever the Captain and the doctor are doing for Commander Tucker isn’t enough; I’m not sure. I can hear that awful choking and gasping despite the ministrations of both of the men. No doubt the situation calls for a feminine hand. And, visible emotions or not, Commander T’Pol is more a woman than Captain Archer will ever be.

But she’s disappeared from my view now, as well, and I decide that I won’t understand anything unless I can see what’s happening. I can’t even hear what the doctor is saying with the Commander’s coughing. So I swing my legs over the edge of the bed, pulling them free from my blanket in the process. My feet are bare, but the floor plating isn’t cold as I slowly stand. My head swims for a moment, but closing my eyes and swallowing clears the sensation. Then I wrap the blanket around my shoulders and walk the short distance. I pass the Captain’s rumpled bed. I pass the Commander’s, as well, noting that the blanket he’d dragged to the floor is caught on one of the corners of the furniture. Then I turn toward the head of his bed and watch the events unfold on the floor.

Commander Tucker did quite well in tripping himself up when he scrambled from the biobed. He’s caught in the gray folds of the blanket for the most part, though one arm is free from the confines of the material. He’s laying mostly on his side – from what I can decipher from the shadowed scene – and he’s gripping Captain Archer rather tightly on the arm. I can’t see much of his face, but the coughing is wracking his entire body, and what I can see of his features is mostly red. I also observe some evidence of my initial suspicion that he was crying. I can see the light glittering in the one blue eye within my line of vision. It builds and then spills over. Tears.

Captain Archer is trying to reassure him that it was only a dream, but I’m not sure he’s listening. The doctor says that there’s nothing wrong with him in relation to that sickness; this isn’t an attack similar to the one he suffered on the shuttlepod. I suddenly wonder if this is the result of a night terror. I had a cousin who was prone to episodes, and I remember a scene not unlike this one. She had been staying in our guest room with her brother and woke the entire house with her screaming. I was just a little girl then, but I remember following my parents to the room and seeing the overturned bed and the boy crying while my cousin shook and screamed. She’d been inconsolable for what seemed like an eternity to my young eyes. That’s all I can really recall. The next morning, they went back home. A few months later, they moved to Canada, and we haven’t spoken since.

Commander Tucker doesn’t seem exactly aware of anything around him. Not even when Commander T’Pol does something decidedly un-Vulcan does he take note of his surroundings. She touches him lightly, her fingers briefly caressing his jaw as if she can’t quite decide whether what she sees is real and requires physical evidence. Then she quickly removes her hand and steps over him, so she is out of the doctor’s way, and kneels. She says his name, and I almost expect her to use his nickname, but she doesn’t. It’s still formal with her. Rank and surname. Not that it matters. He’s not paying attention. How can he anyway, coughing and crying like that? I wonder if he can even see beyond the tears in his eyes.

The doctor is trying to calm him. I can’t tell if he’s hyperventilating or starved for oxygen, but he does seem on the verge of unconsciousness from what I can see. Granted, my vantage is fairly poor. The doctor has his back to me, so I can’t really see what he’s doing. The Captain is sitting on the left of the scene, one arm wrapped around the Commander’s shoulder and chest, the other cradling his head. Commander T’Pol is flanking Commander Tucker on the other side; she hasn’t attempted contact with him again, but I don’t think she’ll be able to resist his suffering for long despite her upbringing. I know I want to reach out and hug him, attempt to comfort him. He’s such a wonderful guy. Handsome, smart, funny. Maybe in another lifetime, it could have worked.

The fact is that the Commander is hopelessly in love. He has it bad. I never really thought much of true love or destiny, but it seems to me that if Commander Tucker never works out his relationship with Commander T’Pol, he’s doomed to bachelorhood. I’ve never seen anyone so hopeless. The way he throws himself into his work, into his hobbies, diversions, anything just so he doesn’t have to think about her. It’s not like I can’t see that. No dinners in the Captain’s Mess. No extra hours spent tweaking the sensors. He used to always find some minor sensor variation that needed his attention or a modification that absolutely required his special touch – little excuses to spend time near her. He pretended that that was natural, but he was so transparent. He still is.

The hiss of a hypospray draws me from my thoughts, and I return my attention to the scene before me. Doctor Phlox administered some sort of drug to the Commander, but I’m not sure what it was meant to do or even what it was. But whatever it is seems to at least help with the coughing, though it by no means calms him or even draws him from whatever personal hell he’s living (or reliving) in his mind. He’s crying more freely now, and that worries me. Despite all the tough situations he’s been in throughout the time I’ve known him, he’s never cried – Movie Nights aside.

There’s certainly something about the scene that stirs empathy deep within me. My heart feels like it’s about to break even though it could hardly be said that the Commander and I are the closest of friends. But he makes room in his heart for me, makes me feel like I’m just as important as everyone else in his life, and that makes it too easy to let him close to me. I feel like the Captain is the head of the ship, and Commander Tucker is its heart. If something were to happen to him, it would affect the greatest number of people on Enterprise. I don’t think there’s anyone on the ship who wouldn’t feel as though a piece of him simply ceased to exist if the Commander were to die. He has that effect on people. And a lot of the time, no one realizes what they have in a friend like him until that friend is gone. Sometimes, the peculiar relationships between our three line officers make me want to cry.

He seems to calm a bit, but I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the drugs that Doctor Phlox is liberally administering to him. The tears are still there, but the coughing is not. Captain Archer tells him to keep calm, reminds him that it was only a dream. He sounds pretty reassuring to me, but Commander Tucker’s not hearing a word of it. The Commander is quite simply going to hyperventilate if he keeps this up.

Not that that might be a terribly bad thing. At least, if he loses consciousness, it will put the gasping to rest, and it will stop the crying. But the doctor is already taking care of that, too. Another injection calms him even further, and I wonder what Phlox puts in those things. He’s probably halfway to cloud nine at the moment. Unfortunately, halfway doesn’t seem to be quite far enough.

“I died.”

His words sound vicious to my ears, if only for the dull bluntness that pervades them. He says the sentence again, his tone slightly different – slightly fanciful, slightly pained. Each repetition is a little different, as if he’s testing the words, as if he’s trying them on like you would some piece of clothing when you can’t quite decide if it fits. If I didn’t know better, I would have been intrigued by the exercise. Commander Tucker has subtle intonations in his inflections. Very distinctive. Very fun to hear. But what he’s saying chills me to the core, and I tighten my hold on the blanket around me.

I died.

Is he even talking about a dream?

No, I don’t think so. But maybe he is. Can you die in your dreams? Did I dream my own death when that last moment came? I don’t have any answers. I don’t often recollect my dreams at all. I tried keeping a journal once, but I never had anything to write in it. Sometimes, I dream about verb conjugations and speech patterns. Then I know I’ve been working too hard. I wonder if Commander Tucker dreams about power relays and warp field equations. Probably not. He’s been known to throw himself into his work, but dreams seem to be a little more personal for him. I mean, look at what a nightmare has reduced him to… I feel sick.

The Captain tells him again that it was a nightmare, that he’s fine, that he’s on Enterprise and that nothing is wrong. That last part sounds a little weak to me. I can think of plenty of things that are wrong. Then again, blurting them out would not be the most sensitive thing to do at the moment. Captain Archer takes a moment to disentangle the Commander’s body from the blanket, which doesn’t appear to be an easy task. I reach out and pull the blanket from where it’s caught on the edge of the biobed. Commander Tucker’s freed a bit by the action. Then Archer rolls him onto his back, and I can see the Commander’s face completely.

His skin is wet with sweat and tears, his mouth slightly agape, but he’s not talking anymore. The dim lighting makes it difficult to make out his exact expression, but his eyes are glazed from the drugs the doctor gave him. He looks upset but also detached. I don’t think he even cares where he is, or maybe he can’t even recognize the people around him. The Captain says that they should move him back to the bed. The Commander’s not going to stand on his own, though. They resolve to pick him up.

I have to remember never to underestimate the strength of a Vulcan again. Between Commander T’Pol and the Captain, they don’t even need the doctor to move Commander Tucker from the floor. He’s not a small man by any means. Certainly, Captain Archer is no weakling, but they make the weight of the engineer seem inconsequential. Commander T’Pol even pauses briefly to move out of the way, holding his body steady as if his mass means nothing to her. Then they lightly settle him back on the bed, and Commander T’Pol leans over to recover the blanket.

The Captain’s hand is resting on Commander Tucker’s shoulder. He says again how everything is going to be fine. But the Commander’s eyes are mostly closed, and he’s clearly fading fast. I’m fairly certain he’s going to go back to sleep, and that will be the end of this. He’s not going to remember this in the morning. I hope he doesn’t remember this in the morning.

Phlox assures the Captain that Commander Tucker will be fine. The biobed is registering his vital signs as perfectly normal for a man with a cocktail of sedatives in him. He’s going to have a hell of a hangover tomorrow morning. But he looks pretty peaceful now; the too-red color is fading from his face, and the Captain is wiping most of the sweat and tears away. Commander Tucker’s definitely out of it. He doesn’t even respond to the ministrations. His head lolls a little to one side after a slightly forceful touch, so the Captain stops to settle him more naturally on the bed, repositioning the pillow to better support his neck and head. Commander T’Pol pulls the blanket over his body, straightening the edges with quick, methodical motions that waste neither energy nor time. She is dreadfully efficient.

It doesn’t take much time for them all to exhaust the ways they can comfort the dead-to-the-world Commander Tucker. After all, there isn’t a lot someone can do in such a situation that holds any meaning in it. He’s not going to remember the way the Captain looks crushed and upset. He’s not going to remember the touches of Commander T’Pol that linger a little bit too long to be anything other than aching. She thinks she’s exuding a calm exterior, but she’s a little too predictable. People can’t change overnight – not even Vulcans. I think I understand that she’s trying to redefine herself, that she wants to – needs to – undertake that task on her own. I just wish she wouldn’t keep the Commander at arm’s length every time he’s there for her. I heard about their conversation in Engineering.

And every time her control slips just a little, every time she gives the sweetly subtle indication that he’s a little more important to her than the average Chief Engineer, he can never see it. Like now.

He’ll wake up and never know.

I wish someone could talk to him. But we’re either speaking a language he can’t quite understand, or he hasn’t found an argument compelling enough to listen to. Then again, nobody’s even tried to talk to him as far as I can tell. I don’t know why. Maybe he scares people. He’s pretty intense. Maybe they’re afraid of challenging him, afraid of changing something that seems immutable. I would be.

But silence can change things too.

The Captain turns to me, and he seems to finally realize that I’ve been standing here all this time. He looks like he doesn’t know what to say, and I’m sure that I don’t, either. I’m an intruder here, an outsider. Strange how I’ve just spent more time alone with him in the past three days than I believe either the Captain or the Commander has spent with him since we left spacedock with Doctor Soong. And yet I’m the one that doesn’t belong. I’m the one who shouldn’t have seen this.

He says that I should get some rest. Another command remains unspoken, but I don’t need to hear it to know what he wants me to do. Never mention this to anyone. As though I would. But I can’t blame him for being cautious. The last thing Commander Tucker needs is another rumor about him. I don’t understand how he can stand knowing he’s a hot topic for every crewmember on board this ship. It’s always been that way. People like knowing about him. They’re attracted to him – platonically or otherwise – so they watch him and talk about him. Because, somehow, his life makes our lives more interesting. Because, somehow, his pain makes us hurt. Because, somehow, his happiness is contagious, and his sorrow, and his smiles. He’s a part of everyone he touches, whether they want him to be or not.

The Captain lightly takes hold of my arm, and I jump slightly, startled. I realize that I’d been staring at Commander Tucker’s sleeping face, so I look away. Captain Archer gently moves me away from the bed, and my feet follow his directions even if my heart doesn’t want to. He guides me back to my own biobed, and I numbly allow myself to be led. Watching the Commander’s nightmare has drained me; I feel worse than I did before I went to sleep. I need a good night’s rest; everything always looks better in the morning.

He takes the blanket from my shoulders as I get back onto the bed, and he waits until I’m lying down again before he settles it back over me. I close my eyes briefly, and when I open them again, he’s gone from my bedside. I look back over to where the Commander is sleeping, and I am a silent observer as Commander T’Pol simply watches him. Then I close my eyes and fall asleep.

 


The next morning, things do look a lot better, but that might be because everyone is gone from sickbay. When I wake up, I’m alone save for the doctor. I slept for a cozy ten hours, which is more than I usually do. Doctor Phlox says that that was good, and I think I agree. I feel much better today. The ache isn’t so bad.

He’s given me the option of taking the day for rest or returning to light duty. His question brings back to my mind all the things that I’d forgotten during the stress of the mission. I had been working on an upgrade for my station on the bridge, trying to get Commander Tucker to allocate the manpower to install the new hardware. Things had been busy in Engineering; apparently, the Commander had a few upgrades of his own that he’d been working on for weeks. I badgered him while we were on the planet’s surface. He said he would see to it first thing when we got back and apologized for letting it slip to the back of the pile. I wonder if he remembered.

I figure Commander Tucker got the same choice this morning from the doctor. Knowing him, he took light duty. Knowing him, he probably took light duty with the intent of sneaking down to the main engine room and hiding for the entire duty shift – or maybe for two. He’s like that. Sometimes, I think he’d work even if every bone in his body was broken. He loves this ship in a way I can’t quite comprehend. As for me, I love languages, but I think his ardor for engineering puts my passion to shame. I can’t imagine waking up on this starship without him. He’s kept us safe for three years. I hope he continues to do so for the rest of our mission.

So I tell the doctor that I’ll take the light duty. I should just be able to head to the bridge, check in and work for a few hours, and be off in time for a late lunch. I don’t really feel like being confined in my quarters. I need some contact. Decontamination is a little claustrophobic when you spend too many hours in there. I feel the need to be around others.

He accepts my decision with instructions to return if I feel anything out of the ordinary. Otherwise, I’m to rest and eat three square meals and come back for a short check-up before I go to bed in the evening. I almost ask about Commander Tucker, but his expression makes me hold my tongue. He seems so glad that we’re all right; I don’t want to spoil the moment with a distressing memory. Truth be told, I can’t even be entirely certain that I didn’t dream the entire thing. Maybe I did. But then I think that I’ve never dreamt about Commander Tucker before, and I most certainly do not dream in such vivid detail. It wasn’t a dream. Why would it be one? Dream that Commander Tucker has a terrible nightmare and that his friends take a break from themselves to take care of him? How absurd.

It doesn’t matter anyway. I feel my good mood slipping away, and I decide to try a smile for Phlox in an attempt to salvage the moment. I’m going to get cleaned up and dressed and try to forget it all. It’s all too much to think about, and it doesn’t concern me. It shouldn’t concern me.

But somehow it does.

Still, I grab the clean uniform that the doctor brought for me and make my way toward the bathroom. Everything I need is there, and I go through my morning routine quickly, realizing quite simply that I’ve never been gladder to brush my teeth and shampoo my hair and just get ready for work. I realize I thought that I was never going to able to do these things again. I hadn’t thought about it, but I was ready to die, and that scares me.

I feel tears burning my eyes as I stand beneath the stream of warm water. I don’t want to cry, but I start to do so anyway. I can’t help it, and I don’t want to. Finally free of the stress, finally free of the danger, and I fall to pieces. It’s okay, though. The shower hides my soft sobs, and it feels good to let go of all the emotions I had bottled in my heart since I first woke to the surprised and fearful face of Captain Archer. Maybe the Commander and I can’t help but be traumatized by this. Maybe he’s stronger than me, but he can’t control his dreams, so his fears and pain are propagated there.

Maybe I’m strong too. I don’t often think that, but I do now. I made it through this. Sure, I might not have gotten through this without him, but I got through it. I’m alive. I can live.

When I’m finally clean and all the soap is all rinsed from my body and hair, I still remain in the shower. Many minutes pass, and I just can’t leave. All the tension is leaving my body, and my skin is getting wrinkled and pruned, but I’m too happy. Normally, I wouldn’t splurge like this, but I figure it’s reasonable now. I stay beneath the nice water until I can’t justify it any longer, and then I finally turn off the warm stream. I exit the small shower and reach for a towel to dry myself. My thoughts stray back to the Commander while I dry my hair and body, and I wonder why I can’t seem to stop thinking about him.

There’s something about the situation that draws my attention to him. Maybe I’ve just been with him so exclusively these past days that my subconscious is simply focused on him. I think of all the things he’s done for me in the three years I’ve known him and worry that I don’t really know him at all. He’s so infuriatingly private. When things really matter, he never says a word. Like when his sister died. Trying to get him open up about her was like coaxing a stray cat out of a hiding place. Only at least a cat is smart enough to come out for food.

I go through the rest of my morning ritual with a small degree of laziness. My only concern is that the doctor might think something happened to me. The thought of him storming the room while I’m in my birthday suit simultaneously mortifies and amuses me, so I quickly discard the towel and start getting dressed. Everything feels so right as I get into my uniform. The shower pretty much did away with most of the soreness, and I find myself feeling very enthusiastic. I can hardly wait to get to the bridge, to take a look at all the communications logs that I missed while on the away team. It sounds pretty nerdy, but that’s the way it is.

I check over my appearance in the mirror to ensure that my uniform is within acceptable dress codes. Then I carefully pin my insignia in its place and zip the jumpsuit the rest of the way. My hair is next. I dry it quickly and pull it back into a simple pony tail. I take a good look at my face and frown at the paleness of my skin. There are bags under my eyes as well, but I suppose it will have to do. I don’t feel like returning to my own cabin to attempt to hide them with cosmetics. I don’t think anyone will mind terribly. I look pretty good for a dead woman.

I pause to get my socks and boots on. Everything fits perfectly, and my uniform feels like an old friend welcoming me back. I check to ensure that the room is in some semblance of order before I go. The used towels end up in the laundry, as do my pajamas. I make sure nothing else is out of place before I open the door and turn out the light. I step back into Sickbay, and the doctor gives me a smile as he tends to his pets. I can see that he has some work open on the computer in his laboratory area, abandoned in favor of dispensing breakfast to his menagerie. I grin in reply, feeling strangely light. Then I tell him that I’m heading for the mess hall and invite him to join me. He politely declines. I guess I’m eating alone.

The mess is on the same deck as Sickbay, so it’s not a long walk. I start feeling a little less certain of myself as I go, however, a little weaker, a little light-headed. I don’t think it’s anything that a good breakfast won’t cure, though. I haven’t eaten anything for a good day, and though my stomach is a little queasy, I’m most certainly not going to let a little nausea get in the way of a plate of Chef’s blueberry pancakes. Nothing could get in the way of that.

I reach the mess hall without incident, and I don’t encounter anyone on my way. That’s not too surprising when I consider that I’m walking through the ship in between shifts. My shift started almost two hours ago, but I’m fairly certain that the Captain isn’t going to put me on report. The mess hall won’t be deserted, though. I know quite a few people who love to sleep in. Sleeping in, of course, means late breakfast. And it’s not like Chef doesn’t like to cook.

The doors to the mess hall open, and it has a number of people within it as I suspected it would. A lot of them don’t notice me when I enter, but a few look up at the sound of the doors opening, and I’m rewarded with smiles from everyone who sees me. I grin, as well, glad that the crew isn’t about to treat me like a leper for having made such a peculiar recovery from a highly contagious virus. I suppose “peculiar” is the norm on Enterprise these days. Augments, Vulcans betraying the High Command, a man surviving as a transporter pattern… All the new crewmembers certainly were quickly introduced to the quirks of living aboard the ship.

I suppose I use “quirks” loosely. They’re not so much quirks as hazards. Still, no one’s complained. That’s why we’re out here. Sometimes, you have to take risks to achieve a goal. Sometimes, you have to take risks so others won’t have to.

Still, this is a little bit too meaningful for breakfast. I discard my thoughts with more ease than I thought possible and head toward the area of the mess still set up with a breakfast buffet. Chef prepares buffets a few times a week – more often with breakfast than any other meal, which I assume is because of the limited items on the menu. If we’re forced to eat resequenced eggs every morning, at least he thinks to give us a choice of scrambled or over-easy or even poached. Once, he made eggs benedict, but I think that will never happen again. I have no idea why resequenced eggs taste different than normal fresh-off-the-chicken eggs. It probably has something to do with chemistry or biology or biochemistry – three courses I barely eked by in school. Regardless, resequenced eggs benedict… I shudder at the memory.

But even memories of breakfasts gone bad can’t make me turn away from the stack of glorious pancakes laid out on the dining table. I take some utensils and a plate and turn to the food waiting for me. Three of the delicious hotcakes make their way onto my plate followed by a few strips of crispy bacon and a scoop of scrambled eggs. Next onto the plate comes a small dish of what appears to be some sort of mixed fruit cocktail. I’m not picky; I’m famished.

I almost forget to stop and obtain something to drink from the dispenser, but the best I can come up with is grapefruit juice. Nothing else really seems appealing at the moment, and I’m not exactly a coffee person. Not like the Commander is, anyway. I swear, if he drank any more coffee, he’d sweat java.

There he is in my thoughts again, like some renegade agent determined to derail my day by insisting I worry about him. He’s fine. The doctor wouldn’t let him go if he wasn’t. Doctor Phlox isn’t just a physician; he’s qualified as a psychologist as well. Admittedly, his experience with humans in general is somewhat limited, but his experience with Commander Tucker is nigh infinite. They’re close, too. There isn’t a department on board that isn’t graced with the presence of our Chief Engineer at least once a week for maintenance, upgrades, or technical support, but the Commander has spent a lot of time with Doctor Phlox, talking about work and play. Commander Tucker gives the doctor movies to watch, and Phlox spends the next day discussing them incessantly. I swear, the Commander has created a monster.

And Denobulan males don’t generally touch others directly if at all possible, but I’ve seen Phlox grab the Commander on a number of occasions – though whether it was to stop him or get his attention or offer some degree of comfort, I can’t rightly say. I wonder if Sim changed something between them.

If it did, the Commander is oblivious, as per his usual. I know I’ve asked this of myself before, but I feel it’s worth asking again: How can someone that brilliant be such a dunce? Sometimes, I think he’s socially retarded. He’s good from a distance – very good (everyone needs a friend like Commander Tucker). But trying to get close to him – trying to get truly close to him – is like trying to force two magnets of the same polarity together. Good God, my analogies are even starting to sound like him. I’ve spent too much time around him. Pretty soon, I’ll end up cursing a storm and forgetting every bit of tact my diplomatic training instilled in me. Oh, don’t think that I don’t know about his “first contact” with the Arkonian pilot when he crashed on that moon two years ago. All the useful and poignant words in the English language and the first thing the Arkonian learned how to say was “damn it”…

I sigh and sit down at a table. Enough about him. How about breakfast? I reach for the condiments set out on the table and grab the small bottle of syrup. I’m rather liberal as I pour it over my pancakes, but I’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth. Next, my eggs get a little bit of salt and pepper, and then I’m ready to eat.

I don’t think anything ever tasted as good as that first bite of blueberry pancake. There’s something to be said for almost dying. It makes the rest of the universe all the sweeter. I’m appreciating things this morning because everything was one small moment from being torn from me forever. I have no intentions of rushing through my breakfast.

And I don’t. By the time I’m finished eating, most of the people who were sitting in the hall upon my arrival have already gone. A few newcomers also came in, but no one sat with me, which is fine. I don’t really know any of the people here all that well, enough to say “hello” in the corridors perhaps. A few people asked me how I was, and I gave them all a reassuring smile and a positively good answer. I am well. The food has rejuvenated me even more than the sleep did. As soon as I get to the bridge and feel the comfortable chair of the communications station beneath my butt, everything will once again be all right.

I rise and collect the remains of breakfast, kicking my chair under the table as I balance my almost-empty tray and glass. My knees are a little wobbly and I feel dizzy for a moment before I regain my equilibrium. Not even sick and this happens to me. I almost sigh, but I stifle the emotion and think of better things. Like the upgrade I know Commander Tucker wouldn’t have forgotten. It will be there, but there’s really only one way to find out.

The dishes go into the receptacle for them, and I head from the mess hall. Enthusiasm quickens my step toward the lift. It’s a short trip from the mess to the bridge. One can make it there in three minutes if the lift is ready and waiting. I would know. Sometimes, you need to know these things so you can sleep for the longest time possible in the morning.

The lift is there for me, ready and waiting. Things are going well. I step in and key my destination into the controls. The ride is short and sweet, and the lift doesn’t even pause for any other passengers. Three minutes from leaving the mess hall, the doors open and I’m on the bridge.

Travis turns to me as I step out onto the bridge, and the smile he gives me could light a black hole for brilliance. I’m vaguely reminded of a lot of weird questions that he asked us while we were in decon – vaguely because Commander Tucker fenced them for me while I mostly slept. I’ll have to remember to ask him about it later. I honestly have no idea what he was thinking. Maybe I was just hallucinating, and it didn’t really happen. He doesn’t seem to think that there’s anything strange, and it’s always easy to read his expressions. I don’t know how many times his bluffs have failed because of a wayward grin. His poker face is downright shameful.

He says hello and asks me how I am. My grin replies for me as I head toward my station. Crewman Baird sees me coming and vacates the chair with a smile as well. Everyone is happy, but I notice something a little peculiar in the way Baird is smirking. He thinks something is funny, but I’m not sure what it is.

I tell Travis that I’m feeling good, and he makes a joke about being late. I needle him with a mock-glare that is as ineffectual as it is insincere. Then Baird gets my attention as he sidles by, stepping away from the communications with a remark that he’s going to be working in the back of the bridge. He has some data from initial diagnostics on our new communications panel, and he suggests that I run my own scans so we can compare notes. I nod and sit down and feel content.

I look over the station, and suddenly Baird’s words register in my mind. New communications panel. The Commander installed it!

I swivel in my chair to see the panel – to ensure that it does, indeed, exist – and then I promptly burst out into laughter.

Had the Captain or Commander T’Pol been on the bridge, I might have felt embarrassed. As it was, however, not even Lieutenant Reed is at his station, and I think it’s rather likely that our most senior staff members are having something of a meeting in Captain Archer’s ready room. They tend to get together for a short debriefing after a mission. It’s probably for the best, considering the fact that I’m laughing uncontrollably with no sign of stopping. And it’s not a giggle, either. It’s raucous laughter.

My eyes sting with tears, and I gasp for breath as I attempt to reclaim my equanimity. But every time my vision clears just a little, my gaze lands on the atrocious silver lining along my beautiful new control panel, and I start laughing all over again. I just can’t believe it. I just can’t believe he would do it! But he did, and, when I hear the laughs from Travis and Baird, I’m aware of just how much the joke’s on me.

Duct tape. He installed the new panel on the communications unit with duct tape. And he used it liberally too. Everywhere he could apply the tape without interfering with the buttons and switches on the console, he did. I don’t even know where he found that much tape, or how he managed to do this before I got to work. I lean forward, resting my head on my arms as I laugh. It feels so good.

I wipe the tears from my eyes as I finally get some of my laughing under control. I can’t stop the giggles, and I need to take some deep breaths. My stomach starts to hurt, but it doesn’t concern me. This is simply too good.

I turn to the monstrosity of a console and tentatively press a button. The small display screen powers on immediately in response to my query. I can’t believe it. It works too. How did he get the Captain to allow this? Maybe it’s better not to ask something like that. For all I know, Captain Archer is in on the joke too.

I turn to Travis to see that the helmsman is watching me with a goofy grin. Oh, Commander Tucker. I swear I will get him for this. How, I have no idea. But I will.

The door that leads to Captain Archer’s ready room suddenly opens with a hiss, drawing my attention. Lieutenant Reed walks out onto the bridge, shaking his head as he talks at someone over his shoulder. “Someone” is, of course, my new nemesis, the Commander. I notice immediately that my original supposition this morning is wrong. He didn’t take light duty. He didn’t take any duty at all; he’s dressed in civilian clothing. He’s wearing a teal button-down shirt and a pair of grey slacks. His sleeves are pushed back to his elbows, and he’s careful of his right wrist, upon which I see a light-weight brace with which Doctor Phlox has no doubt provided him. He looks a little pale, and his expression is mostly blank.

That is, until he sees me.

I stare at him, trying to will my face into a stone mask of severity, but it doesn’t work. My lips are twitching, and I get to watch as Commander Tucker tries (unsuccessfully) to keep the smile off his face. I see Malcolm watching with amused interest as he steps to the tactical station, but mostly I’m too busy watching Commander Tucker as his expression of stoicism dissolves.

I can see how proud he is of himself. He can’t stop that smile from forming on his lips, and it simultaneously makes me want to laugh or sock him in the face. Of course, I’m not going to hit him. Firstly, he’s way on the other side of the bridge. Secondly, I already got the boot from Starfleet once. I don’t think they believe in three strikes. My amusement becomes too much to bear any longer, and I burst out laughing again.

My giggles ruin him, and, in that, I am victorious. He breaks out laughing as well, and I take a moment to catalog that this is probably the first time I’ve ever seen the Commander just break down and laugh. Oh, he giggles a lot – mostly this breathless chuckle that makes it seem like he doesn’t actually know whether or not laughing would be appropriate. But his smile is the most endearing part of his laughter, and it almost makes me forget that he’s mutilated my workstation with strips of duct tape.

Almost.

Captain Archer walks up behind the Commander. By this time, most of the bridge crew is snickering, though they can’t possibly know the entirety of the joke. The Captain has a smile on his face (and I know then that he gave his permission, allowing the Commander to embark in these shenanigans – and really, they’re both grown men!). He puts his hand on the Commander’s shoulder, and I see the true intent of the gesture. Commander Tucker is swaying slightly on his feet, and I’m not entirely certain his laughter is the primary cause. His broken arm is wrapped around his torso, which reminds me of last night, and I’m afraid that he’s going to start coughing again. I think the Captain is a little concerned about it, too, but it’s too hard to tell for certain. They’re back too their macho exteriors. No more hugs. Men are so dumb.

But, despite the pain that’s slowly creeping onto the Commander’s face, he still smiles. Everyone still smiles, and I don’t think anyone is bluffing. The laughing slowly calms down, and the bridge is basked in the glow that remains after the last happy chuckle fades into a mere echo. Duct tape. Who would have thought?

Captain Archer shakes his head in something akin to a rueful manner, which makes Travis chuckle again before he looks back to the helm controls. The Captain pats the Commander’s shoulder once before he moves beyond him to his chair. He says lowly that Commander Tucker should get some rest, and I agree. The engineer looks like the laughing fit just drained him of any energy he had. He definitely looks like he’s recovering from a bad night, and, in a way, I suppose he is.

Part of me wants to tell him how everyone cared for him when he wasn’t feeling well last night, but I can see in his eyes that he has no recollection of anything. When his sister died, his nightmares haunted him, and his blue eyes were often bright with a certain grief and determination like he was going to get himself through that time, like he wanted no one to know about it. But everyone could see the pain. Dreams like his aren’t satisfied with the night alone. He’s so wretchedly transparent.

Now, though, there’s no hurt in his eyes. There’s a lingering confusion on his face, but no indication that anything at all happened to him when he slept. I wish he remembered. I wish he would know how Commander T’Pol caressed his cheek so gently or how the Captain held him so tightly. But he doesn’t, and no one’s going to tell him.

My grandfather had a saying. Hohoemi wa kokoro to karada no tokkoyaku. Captain Archer is smiling.

I hope that’s enough for Trip.

END

 

Translations:
Tout est bien qui finit bien - All’s well that ends well.
Tilek svi’khaf-spol t’vathu – tilek svi’sha’veh - The spear in the other’s heart is the spear in your own.
Hohoemi wa kokoro to karada no tokkoyaku - A smile is a special remedy for a heart and mind.


Comments:

Leocentaur

Superbly written - a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish.  I didn't find it slow: I loved the painstaking observation - it was almost as though I were actually seeing what was happening.  Great characterisation, and intensely moving.

Hummingbird2

This is, in my humble opinion, the best Observer Effect post-ep ever written. Thank you.

Ezinma88
You're not alone Linda. Had to speed-read through this one, big time. Far too long and drawn out for me, I'm afraid. I always thought Hoshi would have more of a 'cheeky' inner-monologue...more dry wit. Take for instance: "But language isn’t limited to the audible tongue, and I’m adept at reading the unspoken as well" Or this: "I’d hate to play poker against Commander T’Pol. If I can’t comprehend something as simple as a romantic relationship between Commander Tucker and her, then I don’t think I’d ever be able to determine her hand". It just seems to be trying a little too hard. More well-to-do British person, than the Hoshi portrayed in the tv series. E88
Linda
Well, everyone else seems to really like this story and there are some great details in this first person monologue. But I found myself skipping over words, then sentences to get through it. It was a bit long for a me in this format - I wanted it to move faster. Maybe it was just my current mood but it seemed that the "show, don't tell" adage applies here. But there is some marvelous description in this story and everyone did seem in character.
justTripn
I meant, You have HER down.
justTripn
This is an excellent Hoshi POV. She would be very introverted, someone who could analyze the personal interactions at length. You have down. I like how she calls Trip a "reactionist." I like how she remains a linguist throughout and how you incorporated card playing and akido. LOVED the hug between Trip and Archer. Yes very unexpected. And the little sleeping with the light on detail. I'm a little leery of the long, long crying scene. One other criticism: for me, it's too in general. But you can WRITE.
Distracted
I love how you pulled sayings from 3 different languages. Very Hoshi.
Blacknblue
I always enjoyed this one. Thanks for bringing it back. :)
Dinah
This is a wonderful character study of both Trip and Hoshi. You also really caught the strong relationships Trip had with Archer and T'Pol. People can say a lot of things about Enterprise, but they have to admit that, on the whole, the show gave us interesting and complex characters. I thoroughly enjoyed your story. Thank you!
Asso
Delicately touching.
HopefulRomantic
I have always imagined that Hoshi, as a linguist, would be a meticulous observer, and this story is a masterful demonstration of that. I loved the marvelous, spot-on emotional portraits you painted of Archer, Trip, and their friendship with just a few beautifully-wrought sentences. Then you did it again with T'Pol, and just as effectively. One of my favorite moments: the quiet, emotional reunion between Archer and Trip that Hoshi secretly witnesses. Breathtaking. And fascinating that Hoshi accepts the miracle, while Trip, the engineer, doggedly works at deconstructing it, until he reaches the moment of his own death. The aftermath of the crisis is so poignant, with Hoshi seeing the concern and care shown by Archer and T'Pol that Trip won't remember when he awakens. There is so much emotion in this story...Trip crying as he realizes he died, Hoshi falling apart in the shower, everyone laughing on the bridge. The whole thing is filled with compassion and caring and hope. Hoshi's grandfather's saying is a lovely, uplifting ending. Thank you for a wonderful read.
Reanok
Wonderful story this has always been one of my favorite post Observer effect stories.Hoshi's pov of the Trip & T'Pol relationship was really showed that she knows they definitely have feelings for each other.

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