Author: Kylie Lee
Length: ~7500 words
Fandom: Star Trek: Enterprise
Type: Slash M/M and M/F
Summary: This series of dark vignettes is told from Tucker's POV as he and Reed initiate a regular sexual relationship and deal with the psychological fallout from their "Shuttlepod One" experience.
Feedback: Yes, please. Thanks to all who write; keep it coming.
Archive: Yes, at EntSTSlash, Tim Ruben, Archers_Enterprise, Allslash, Situation Room, Luminosity, Complete Kingdom of Slash, and WWoMB; anyone else, yes, but ask first.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns all the Enterprise characters. No money changed hands. This is not an attempt to infringe on copyright. Etc.
WARNING: Dark and disturbing and psychologically complex. One M/M sex scene is... extreme.
Comments: This is in the canon with "Acceptable Risk" and "Cold." It takes as a given that after "Shuttlepod One," T and R are deeply messed up. Think of this story as that scene in bad romantic movies where they show a montage of the principals doing stuff together, to show their relationship moving along, complete with soundtrack. This story riffs on that. (You're on your own for the soundtrack. I wrote it listening to Psychotrance 2001, if that helps any.) This has graphic M/M sex (and some M/F sex to boot). Do not read it if that offends you! Thanks to Kim for excellent beta work.
It was easy. It was ridiculously easy. A padd pressed into Commander Trip Tucker's hand--some data he had requested. Lieutenant Malcolm Reed saying, quietly, simply, "10 p.m. Thursday, your place. I'll be there. Leave the door open."
They were in Engineering, where tests were being run on some new equipment, so crew members were all over the place--even Captain Jonathan Archer, Tucker's good friend, was lending a hand, good-naturedly letting the engineering tech Tucker had put in charge of the installation, a lieutenant, boss him around. No one gave them a second look.
Tucker viewed the padd. "Looks good. This is just what I needed," he said; then, meeting Reed's eyes, "I'll be home. Your code lock is 8258. It'll open for you. If it doesn't open, something's come up. Then you can knock or leave. Let's make it a standing protocol." His tone was conversational. He didn't whisper.
"Got it." Louder: "Thank you. Sir."
"Thanks, Lieutenant," Tucker said, Reed turning away with an admiral's salute, a casual two-finger wave around the vicinity of his forehead.
Reed: the armory officer, reporting, nominally, to Commander Tucker, the third in command on the Enterprise and the man in charge of personnel, unless the Vulcan subcommander, T'Pol, who outranked him, decided she wanted to do it. Difficult, intense, private Reed, who was about to become Tucker's lover at 10 p.m. Thursday night.
"Oh, there. Oh, god."
Reed's tongue focused on a spot just below the head of Tucker's cock, his mouth closed over the tip. His hand, slippery with lubricant, folded around its base, and he squeezed slightly as he ran his hand up and down Tucker's length. He drew his hand down, pressing against Tucker's pubic hair, then took Tucker almost all the way inside his mouth, his mouth sucking. As he lifted his chin and swept his head back up, his tongue unerringly found Tucker's ultrasensitive place and stroked. A deep pulse of pleasure moved from Tucker's balls through his cock, but he didn't come. Reed repeated the movement. Tucker was panting.
Reed lifted his head. "Do you want to come?"
"Yes. No. Please don't stop."
Reed, head sideways, closed his lips around the ultrasensitive spot, sucked lightly, then licked it. Tucker's cock throbbed.
"What do you want me to do next?"
Tucker gasped for air. "Make yourself come. Masturbate on me."
Reed kept one hand on Tucker's cock and adjusted his body so he was straddling one of Tucker's legs. He handled both cocks simultaneously, one glistening dick in each hand, his hands slick. "Like this?" He knew just how hard to press. It was a fine line between pain and pleasure.
"Just like that. Oh, god. Faster."
Reed increased the pace. He used the palm of his hand to press his own dick against Tucker's leg, and he pushed in and out of the small space he created; the lubricant made a slight sucking sound. His other hand stroked hard, almost pulling at Tucker's cock. "Tell me what you want." His eyes were dark.
Tucker couldn't catch his breath. "I want to see you come. I want to watch you come. Hard and fast."
Reed's hand closed over his cock, and it took only about thirty seconds for him to push himself over the edge. Up until the moment he came, he kept his eyes locked with Tucker's. Tucker watched as the warm jets of come spattered against Reed's stomach and hand, against Tucker's own leg and thigh, Reed's breath coming in gasps. Reed, naked, vulnerable, and defenseless. Reed, coming.
There was a pause while Reed recovered. "Now what?" he asked breathlessly, balancing himself on his hands and knees. "Do you want to come inside me?"
"No." Tucker hadn't done that yet. He wasn't quite ready. Tucker stroked his own collarbone. A few red bruises bloomed, where Reed's mouth had been. "Kiss me here. Hard. Bite." Reed obliged, his mouth hot and demanding. "Stroke me here." He placed Reed's hands on his erection. "Yes. Like that. When I come, suck hard on my earlobe." It didn't take much. He had nearly come when Reed had. As his pleasure crested, he said, "Malcolm," and Reed's mouth closed, warm and wet, over his ear, drawing out his soul.
They were careful. They ate breakfast or lunch together occasionally--sometimes alone, sometimes with others. They never left somewhere together: one or the other would leave first, and if they had a date, the other would join him in his quarters a half hour or so later. They didn't sneak, and they chose times fairly late at night to minimize potential witnesses. They avoided times when the shifts changed. Tucker would walk down the corridor to Reed's quarters at 9:00 or 10:00 at night. He would walk right past if someone was in the hallway, then go up a level and back down before he stopped at Reed's door, entered the key code, and stepped through. He never looked around when he entered the key code. He did it quickly and boldly, and he knew Reed did the same. The visitor would leave early in the morning--by 5 a.m. for sure.
No one seemed to notice.
Doctor Phlox was the only one who knew, and he didn't really know; he could only suspect. After the shuttlepod incident, when Reed and Tucker had nearly died, he had kept them in sick bay for observation and had walked in on them while they were spooned together, asleep, in Reed's biobed. Reed was a friend of Phlox's; they often took meals together, particularly breakfast. If they talked about Tucker, or Reed and Tucker together, Reed didn't say anything about it to Tucker. Tucker didn't ask.
He wished he had a confidant aboard ship. His closest friend was Jon Archer, but he couldn't talk to the captain about--this. This thing. This thing between him and Reed. He had a kind of connection with Subcommander T'Pol, the end result of some misdirected mail he had accidentally read that contained something very personal about her life, but talking to her was even more unlikely than talking to Archer. It was tempting, though, because he knew he could count on her absolute discretion. But in the end, what would he gain? T'Pol wasn't the type to give advice. She would point out the logical thing to do, which was not pertinent here. And she didn't understand emotion.
He encoded a few personal logs on purchased commercial equipment--not Enterprise equipment. Not the Enterprise mainframe. He played them back after a week, listening to himself ramble, his voice unfamiliar--did he really sound like that?--then wiped them all. He used an industrial-level magnetic field to ensure the data couldn't be raised, realigned the memory, and then recorded some science fiction novels onto them for good measure.
When he thought about Reed, about what he and Reed did in bed, his stomach felt fluttery; he face grow warm; his breath quickened. Was it because it was forbidden? The excitement of doing the undoable? Because they were men? It was the same when Reed touched him: he felt excited, anticipatory, nervous, like he was about to jump out of an airplane and plummet to the ground.
He had dreams. Sometimes he dreamt of incredible cold, of being unable to move, of being able to see and hear but not feel or speak, trapped, helpless, frozen. Sometimes he dreamt of Reed, and he woke up throbbing, panting, stickiness on his stomach. Sometimes he dreamt of Natalie and her beautiful hair, which she wore down to her shoulders, plaited in a complex, traditional African style; he had liked to pull it gently through his fingers before he leaned down to kiss her. In his dreams, she looked up at him and smiled, and it was sunny outside.
Dream, or memory?
The sunlight filtered through the trees. Natalie was laughing. "Someone might see us," she whispered. "The trail is only two or three meters away. Are you crazy?"
Their packs were propped up against a tree just off the trail proper. Tucker had Natalie by the hand and was drawing her into a copse. The mountain air was intoxicating.
"Get those off." Tucker tussled with her, managed to extract her from her lightweight hiking trousers. "Come here."
She did. She pushed him to the ground and pulled his trousers down to his knees, baring his erection. Tucker felt the grass and some sticks against his bare ass. "My, my," she said thoughtfully. She leaned down and kissed him, then worked his shirt up. Her dark hands, with their perfect, oval-shaped, bloodred nails, contrasted with his white skin. She leaned over and kissed a nipple. She straddled him and slid herself onto him. She was wet and ready.
Tucker gasped at the sensation. No foreplay. No petting. Just Natalie in the outdoors. They heard some kids shout. The voices were too near. His cock leapt.
Natalie's head came up, listening. "Damn," she said. "Oh. You feel good. This is only going to take a second, Trip."
She gently raised herself up and down, Tucker's hands on her waist. She came quickly, partly the result of terror at being caught, her head thrown back. She rested her hands on his chest, breathing hard, when she was done, and he thrust himself deep inside her. As he came, he saw the blue sky, the trees, and Natalie watching him, and illuminating them all was a single bright shaft of light, beaming down from the sky.
His door gave a quiet "beep, beep," as programmed when someone hit 8258, which impinged on his consciousness. They didn't have a date that night. He must have imagined it.
No. Light footsteps. The mattress shifted slightly as someone sat on the edge of the bed. "Trip," Reed said quietly.
"Malcolm. Everything okay?"
A trembling exhalation. "No."
Sounds as Reed kicked off his shoes and pulled off clothing. The blankets shifted as Reed crawled in. He was shaking. Tucker turned to face him, pulled him close. Reed pressed his face against Tucker's bare shoulder, arms clenched hard around Tucker. His face was wet, but he was absolutely silent. Sometimes he inhaled hard, a half sniff. Tucker wiped Reed's face and nose with a corner of the sheet. He couldn't see Reed in the dark. Reed's incredible self-control deeply disturbed him. He understood that it was the only thing holding Reed together.
"Cold," Reed said at last. His voice was strained. He could barely speak. "Cold. And dark. And--and narrow. And forever."
"I know." Tucker touched Reed's face to find it, stroked his lips with his thumb, then brushed Reed's lips with his own, gently soothing. "I know." He did. They had the same dreams, the same nightmares.
Reed put a hand on Tucker's wrist and kissed him back. At first, he was desperate, his mouth hard and demanding, his teeth pushing against Tucker's. Eventually, he grew relaxed, warm, and sleepy. They fell asleep together.
When Tucker's alarm woke him up the next morning, Reed was gone.
Tucker, padd in hand, entered his key code on Reed's door. They had a date. The door rejected him. H'm. He rang the chime, and Reed's voice answered cheerfully, slightly distorted by the door's comm system. "Yes?"
"Malcolm, it's Trip. I brought that book by you wanted. Can I drop it off?"
The door slid open. Reed waved him in. "Do come in. Hoshi's here. Tea?"
Hoshi was perched on Reed's tiny two-person couch, a cup of tea in hand. Reed was clearly sitting in the chair across from her, the books and padds removed from its surface and stacked precariously on the floor next to it. "I don't want to intrude," he began. He handed Reed the padd, a prop he had brought along for this very reason. Just in case.
"Thanks very much." Reed waved it at him and set it down on the table next to the teapot. "It's no intrusion. We were just having a chat. We sat next to each other at today's film. What are you doing out so late?"
Tucker sat next to Hoshi, who scooted over to make room. "It's not that late, is it? I was clearing my desk in my office and ran across that book; thought I'd run it by before it got buried again. Oh, thanks." He took the proffered cup of tea. He refused Reed's offer of milk and sugar.
Hoshi picked up the padd and activated it. "I can't believe it. A science fiction novel?"
"I'm trying to broaden his horizons," Tucker confided. "Malcolm reads too much Joyce and Woolf. He needs to get out of that high-culture modernist period, if you ask me."
"I draw the line at comic books," Reed said. "Subtext notwithstanding."
"Graphic novels," Tucker corrected automatically. "But I think you'll like this novel. Although I don't know what the thing is that Heinlein has for redheads. It's kind of disturbing."
The talk was light and funny; Hoshi was a charming companion, with a quick wit and a sharp tongue. She had read some old science fiction about linguistics for a course she had taken in graduate school ("Delany's Babel-17!" she said excitedly) and drew Tucker out. Tucker stayed fifteen minutes, exactly long enough to finish a cup of tea and decline a biscuit, and then left over Hoshi and Reed's objections, pleading weariness and laundry.
He puttered in his quarters for a half hour, restless, until Reed touched base with him by calling him on his comm and seeing if he still wanted to come over; Hoshi had just left. It was just 9 p.m. "You know, I really am bushed," he told Reed. "I think I'll turn in. How about Tuesday?"
Pause. "Yes, Tuesday's fine. See you tomorrow, then."
Tucker hit his desk with the flat of his hand, hard, after he cut the comm. It stung. He lifted up his hand and looked curiously at the palm. As he watched, it grew slightly pink.
He rotated his wrist, watching his hand pivot. It didn't look familiar to him. He hit the desk over and over again, the rhythmic smacking loud in the silence of his quarters.
Tucker decided it was like being trapped in a movie or TV show. Everything seemed scripted--when he woke up, how he spent his days. The special effects in particular amused him. They were so--bad. Hokey. He imagined everything to be in black and white, except for him and Reed. He perceived the crew as faceless automatons, brushing by him, not seeing him. He was cut off from their senses, so when they acknowledged him, by speaking to him or moving around him so he could pass, he was faintly surprised. Weren't he and Reed the only ones alive on board ship?
So when they were not together, they were still together, because they were visible. If they were in the mess at the same time, eating at different tables, everyone was indistinct except for Reed across the room, gesticulating at a gray Ensign Baker or a gray Doctor Phlox. If they were both at the Friday night movie but sitting rows and rows apart, he could still spot Reed, in color despite the low light, sitting quietly among the ranks of seated crew. When Reed came to his quarters, or vice versa, they were a blaze of color together.
Then he realized it was the other way around. He and Reed were invisible, and everyone else was alive, going on without them. They were in shades of gray, and everyone else was in living color.
Maybe he had died on the shuttlepod after all. He couldn't tell. He couldn't remember.
He forgot to eat sometimes. Food didn't seem to have taste any more. He lost weight. Jon Archer started looking at him with concern during dinner at the captain's table. His favorite foods began appearing regularly on the dinner menu--Archer colluding with Chef to tempt him to eat. But thanks to Archer's menu planning, everyone made the surprising discovery that T'Pol liked the taste of fried okra, which Archer for some reason thought was incredibly amusing.
He had several more cold attacks, like the one he had in sick bay right after the shuttlepod experience: even though his body temperature was normal, he thought he was cold, complete with uncontrollable shivering and teeth chattering. He had one attack while he was alone in his quarters in the middle of the night, triggered, he thought, by a dream, but he couldn't really remember. It lasted two hours, and it took him another hour to get a grip on himself. He had another attack while working alone in a claustrophobic space. He managed to seal the entryway behind him, just making the space more enclosed, but nobody saw him. He curled up in a fetal position and waited for it to pass, listening to the sounds of the crew walk by within a meter of him.
Archer made several overtures to Tucker, asking him if he wanted to talk, that he was worried about him; Tucker pleaded weariness. It was true. He was tired all the time. He had to make himself exercise. Archer finally said he should talk to Phlox if he wouldn't talk to him. Tucker didn't say what he thought of that: it would go in his medical record then. His not-so-sealed medical record, supposedly private, but they all knew: the captain could view it at any time, and all the files would be analyzed from here to Sunday by the data jockeys at Starfleet. Those boys were just desperate for the dirt on the Enterprise crew. Nothing was sacred when long-term space exploration was at stake. But it was the thought of Jonathan Archer reading and judging--it was too much. He couldn't disappoint a man who trusted him so implicitly and so completely. He couldn't break that trust.
His second in command took over the Wednesday-morning shift-lead briefings for him. He didn't object--was grateful to her for her initiative. He showed up at the meetings (they were in the script, so he had to go) and told her she was doing a great job. She was.
In his dream, he and Natalie were hiking the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. He was wearing a pack. He could feel its weight on his back; he could feel the pressure of the strap around his waist, steadying it. And he could feel his feet slap against the ground, could feel his legs moving. That's why he was confused. In his dreams, he felt so clearly, so sharply.
He could see his breath in the cold. It was going to be night soon. He needed to camp, except he knew he couldn't stop moving. He had to keep moving. Natalie should be right ahead of him, but he had lost her. He hopped in place slightly, shifting the pack's weight, then took his bearings with a satellite compass. He struck out due east. The trees looked familiar somehow. Where was he? Had he left his pack somewhere? No, he was wearing his pack. He paused, confused, then resumed walking.
The wind cut through his jacket and he shivered. He came to the top of a rise and hesitated, then crested it, leaving the scraggly pine trees and rhododendrons behind. Spread out below him was a valley, and in the valley was a town, all sparkling Christmas lights and miniature roads. At the top of the hill, without cover, the cold bit deep.
The town was close. It would only take a few hours to hike down to it.
He knew he couldn't make it. He was weary to the bone. The cold had sapped his strength. He sat down abruptly and released his pack. He wrestled it off, then leaned against it. His breath puffed out, sparkling crystals in the rapidly fading light.
It started to snow.
One day, he was doing some routine maintenance in a conduit near some of the weaponry power relays, and he found Reed alone. A box of tools was at Reed's feet, and a few instruments were scattered around. Reed had both arms extended, propping himself against the wall, head down, as though he were recovering from a brisk run. As Tucker watched, Reed straightened, then leaned his body into the wall and rested his forehead against it. Reed's body language spoke of defeat and resignation.
Reed snapped around.
Reed gave a horribly false smile. "What do you think?" He was stretched incredibly tight. "But I'm in control. Isn't that the important thing?"
Tucker started toward with him, a hand outstretched in mute appeal.
"Don't--don't." Reed put up a hand. "If you touch me, I don't know what I'll do." He might snap. He might break. He might shatter into a thousand pieces.
Tucker understood. He nodded. "Have you seen Doctor Phlox?" he ventured.
"You know the answer to that. Doctor Phlox is your friend. He's not just a doctor."
Reed shook his head. "I haven't said a word. He hasn't asked."
"You can talk to him. You can tell him whatever you want. As a friend or as a doctor. You know that, right?"
Reed nodded. He took a deep breath, leaned down, and picked up an old-fashioned crescent wrench, a little bar of silver in his hand. "I'm--I'm realigning some coils. Do you want to lend a hand?"
"Sure." Pause. Tucker said quietly, "Please talk to Doctor Phlox. Please."
"Maybe I'll do that." Reed fiddled with the crescent wrench, then knelt and jerked out a panel. He set it against a wall, then turned and looked up at Tucker. "And you?"
Tucker said, "The captain has access to the medical records," as though that explained everything.
Reed shook his head slightly, not understanding.
"Jonathan Archer is my best friend on this ship. His good opinion means a lot to me. I want to keep it."
Reed looked him in the eye from his vantage point on the floor. "Is he?" he asked quietly. It wasn't really a question. "Have you spoken with him about--?" He let the sentence hang.
"No," Tucker admitted.
"You can tell him whatever you want," Reed said, reiterating Tucker's words from just a moment before.
"I don't think I can. Let's drop it." Tucker's voice was final.
Reed held his eyes for a moment, then deliberately broke the contact. He turned his attention to the panel, his fingers trembling slightly, and they worked together silently.
The slap was loud.
"Again, god damn it."
"Hit me again."
They were in Reed's quarters. It was either very early in the morning or very late at night, depending on your point of view--about 3 a.m. They were both nude.
Tucker, panting slightly, lunged toward Reed, who sidestepped him and punched him in the stomach.
"That's more like it."
"Stop it, Trip."
Tucker bared his teeth. "No."
Reed hit him in the stomach again, hard; when he doubled over, air partially knocked out of him, Reed clasped his hands together, brought them up, then walloped him between the shoulder blades. Tucker hit the floor, blood singing in his ears. Tucker made an inarticulate noise, flipped over, and grabbed Reed's leg, pulling him down. Tucker's collarbone and upper arms were ringed with bruises and bite marks, although Reed wouldn't break the skin.
Reed pushed him off and backed away on his hands and knees.
"Tell me what you want," Tucker said mockingly, sitting on his knees. That was their game. He loved that game. He would say what he wanted, and Reed would do it, or vice versa. No hesitation. No shame. Just action. And pleasure. And today, pain.
"I don't want anything." Reed struggled to his feet, steadying himself against his desk. "What do you want?"
"I told you. I want you to hit me."
"Why do you think?" He grabbed at Reed again and pulled him down.
Their struggle was in earnest. There was nothing playful about it. In the small quarters, it was more like a girls' catfight than wrestling. There was no technique. Reed, blue eyes blazing, kneed Tucker viciously in the stomach. Tucker, gasping for air, grabbed Reed's upper body and swung him over his shoulder, slapping him hard onto the ground. Reed's feet knocked against a chair in the small quarters and upset it, its contents, padds, books, and data disks scattering across the floor.
Reed scrabbled onto all fours, then pounced. He used a knee and his arms to push Tucker over onto his stomach, and then he twisted Tucker's left arm up and behind him. Tucker, face pushed into the carpet, deliberately relaxed, and when Reed loosened his grip, he brought his left arm around fast and knocked Reed sideways. Tucker grabbed one of Reed's arms with one hand to still the thrashing; his other arm went around Reed's throat, and his elbow pressed into Reed's collarbone, arm digging into his throat. He increased pressure deliberately, pulling Reed against his body, and Reed stilled. They were both enormously hard.
Tucker released Reed abruptly and pushed him forward onto all fours. "Now," he said.
"Now," Tucker repeated. He ran his fingers between Reed's butt cheeks, then spread them. "I'm ready now."
"Now." Tucker was implacable. But he wouldn't take Reed if Reed said no. He knew that Reed didn't want to say no. Reed wanted Tucker inside him.
A beat. "Damn you."
That was all the assent he was going to get. He found Reed's asshole and guided himself in for the first time. He didn't take it slow, the way Reed had, and there was only residual lubrication, left over from their encounter earlier that evening. The hard circle of muscle trembled. Reed was warm and tight. Tucker, hands on Reed's hips, pushed himself all the way in. He had to force himself in, pushing relentlessly. Reed was silent; if Tucker hurt him, he gave no indication of it. Tucker held still for a moment, buried, then began pumping. He reached one hand around and grasped Reed's cock, enjoying the now-familiar sliding feel of Reed's foreskin. Reed's entrance, elastic and ridged, stroked up and down his length, and past that entrance was warmness pressing all around. The pleasure was unendurable.
He came in a blinding flash of white and color. Reed came at about the same time, actually crying out, pulsing hard in Tucker's hand. Tucker panted for a few long moments after, then slid both his hands up and down Reed's back, stroking, Reed's sticky come glistening in the half light. He pulled himself out; Reed immediately collapsed onto his stomach. They lay side by side on the floor, surrounded by debris, not quite touching.
There was a long silence.
"Tell me what's wrong, Trip," Reed finally demanded.
Tucker told him the truth. "You're the only one who can make me feel." He didn't say the rest: You're the only one who's warm. You're the only one who's alive. Or, more simply: you're the only one. "Pain. Pleasure. They make me feel. You make me feel." He stressed the word "you."
Reed nodded. "You're scaring me." He rolled onto his side and touched the bruises he had inflicted on Tucker. His fingertips were cool. "I don't want to hurt you. It hurts me to hurt you."
"I'm sorry." Tears standing in his eyes, he reached over and tentatively stroked Reed's hair, brushing across Reed's temple.
"I didn't ever want you to take me in anger."
"Oh, lord, Malcolm. I'm not angry." Tucker blinked, and the tears fell. Reed brushed them away with the backs of his fingers. "Malcolm, are we dead?"
That was the real question.
Reed looked at him steadily. "I don't know," he confessed finally.
In his dream, it had started to snow.
Tucker, half-lying against his pack, watched as the snow gathered in tiny drifts on his coat. The cold started with his flesh first, then settled deeper. He struck his frozen legs and felt nothing, only the muted pressure against his bones. That seemed familiar. He did it again. The memory didn't loosen. "Wake up, Trip," he told himself. "This is a dream. Wake up."
He didn't wake up. Maybe it wasn't a dream.
He had lost Natalie. She must have gone on. He couldn't believe she didn't wait for him. Maybe she couldn't find him because it was dark now. Or maybe she was lost too.
Light, then. He had a light. Where was it? His numb hands unclipped the small flashlight from his belt after several tries. He clicked it on by hitting the button on its end against the ground. The light glimmered, and Tucker held it like a candle, the beam of light pointing up. He imagined the light as incredibly coherent, like a laser beam, cutting up through the darkness, able to escape the Earth's oppressive gravity well, beaming up into space, undispersed. He stared up at the beam of light. The snow swirling down seemed to circle around the light.
It looked familiar. Yes, he had it now. He was in space, and that wasn't snow; they were stars.
It was still cold.
He sat that way for a long time as the cold settled into his body and pressed him down, watching the stars turn around the column of light.
"Dang it, Ensign Baker, get control of it!" Tucker snapped. He and an engineering crew were manhandling some stuff around in a cargo bay, trying to make room for some new equipment Archer was negotiating for.
"Sorry, sir," Baker gasped. "I've got it now."
There was a heavy clunk as a five-foot-tall cylinder tipped over on its side, then a loud, sustained booming noise as it began to roll.
"Ooops." Baker's voice was contrite.
"Shit," said Lieutenant Fielding, trying to stop it with a metal rod he picked up. "It's heavy." He managed to turn its path, but he couldn't stop it. It whammed hard against a barrel against the wall. There was a loud clunk as the cylinder punched into the barrel. Fielding jumped back as gas started to escape, then quickly retreated to the other side of the cargo bay to rejoin his colleagues.
"Is that stuff dangerous?" Tucker asked.
"No, it's just a cylinder of inert trithilsium."
"No, the stuff in that barrel."
"Um, nitrogen, I think."
The high-pitched whine of gas escaping turned into a generalized wheezing sound, and the temperature abruptly dropped.
"Frozen nitrogen," Fielding said helpfully. "I think it's for sick bay." He raised his voice. "Everyone out! Now!" He shooed Baker and the other four members of the crew past him. "Commander?" His voice changed. "Are you all right?"
Tucker couldn't talk. He couldn't move. He had started to shiver.
Fielding didn't attempt conversation. He simply grabbed Tucker around the waist and dragged him a meter or two through the door, where Baker and the rest of the work crew were waiting. Baker sealed the door behind them. It was warmer in the corridor.
"Commander?" Baker's eyes were uncertain.
Tucker was panting. His teeth had begun to chatter. He shook his head slightly at Fielding, who was quick on the uptake. He put his hands on his knees, leaning over, and forced a coughing fit in an attempt to hide the chattering.
"Okay, everyone, listen up." Fielding's forceful voice brooked no question or argument. "Obviously, we have to wait a while before we go back in. Return to your regular duties. I'll round you up later to finish up. Go. Not you." He pointed at Baker. He waited until the rest of the crew had cleared the corridor. His voice dropped. "Baker, get the captain and tell him to come here right away. If we're not here, we're in sick bay. Not a word, got it?"
"Aye," Baker said faintly, and rabbited off.
"Can you make it to sick bay, sir?" Fielding asked. "Can I help you there?"
Tucker turned, butted his ass against the wall, then leaned back and slid down to a sitting position, arms clasping his legs. He shook his head. "Cold," he said. He was shaking. "God damn it," he whispered fiercely, over and over. "God damn it." It was happening again. This time, there were witnesses. And they had sent for the captain. It was all going to hit. He would get to watch it all hit in slow motion. God damn it. The captain would find out. He and the data boys would get it all now: the cold, the sex, the pain. And Reed. No privacy any more. He wasn't ready for people to try to understand something that he didn't understand himself.
Fielding paced restlessly, his face concerned.
They heard Archer's footsteps, quick but not quite running. Archer hove into view and made a beeline for them, eyes taking in the shivering Tucker and the restive Fielding. "Baker said to hurry. What happened?" he asked Fielding.
Fielding gave him a precis. "Can we get him to sick bay?" he finished.
"It's pretty quiet here. Let's get Doctor Phlox here to stabilize him. I think this happened before, when he was in sick bay."
A moment later, Fielding was at a comm panel, summoning the doctor. Archer sat down next to Tucker, who was clenched in on himself, desperately attempting to get control.
"Trip, just hang on. Doctor Phlox will be here soon. Can I do anything to help?" Archer's face looked down at him.
Tucker shook his head. He released his control slightly and let his teeth chatter. It sounded incredibly loud to his own ears--loud and weirdly fake. Another bad special effect.
"How's he been in Engineering lately?" Archer asked Fielding, looking up at the tall lieutenant, who had returned.
Fielding looked worried. "Not good. Working too hard. Not eating. Distant. He's taken on a new project that he works on all the time, and he's delegated some of his day-to-day stuff, which isn't like him."
"How long has this been going on?"
"I guess about a month. Ever since the shuttlepod incident."
"Thanks. You can go. I'll stay with him. It's too late to keep this under our hats, so let's just stick with discretion, shall we? Put the word out that he's got some virus or something."
Fielding nodded, saluted, and walked off without a backward glance, shoulders straight.
"Trip, the doctor will be right here." Archer didn't seem to realize he was repeating himself.
"Damn it, Trip, watching you do this is killing me." Archer disappeared for a moment through another cargo bay door, then returned, bearing a silvery blanket. He draped it over Tucker's shivering body. "I need you. Enterprise needs you. Trip, please talk to me."
Tucker got the words out clenched teeth. "There's stuff I can't tell you. Because you're the captain. Because when I talk to you, it's official."
"Medical records," Tucker clarified, then gave in to the cold. The blanket helped not at all. Where was Phlox with that ditrexate? He really, really didn't want to have a heart-to-heart talk with his captain right now.
"Are you telling me you're afraid to get help because it'll go on your medical records?" Archer's voice was unbelieving. "Trip, you had a near-death experience. Of course you need help. Please let us help you."
Then Phlox was there, bending over him, hypospray in hand. When Phlox pulled his collar to one side to administer the injection, he paused a moment. The hypospray hissed, and then Phlox was undoing the top part of his uniform and pulling aside the neck of the T-shirt underneath, fingers clinically stroking his collarbone.
"What are those?" he heard Archer ask. "Are those bruises?"
Phlox didn't say anything. There was a little pressure as Phlox ripped his T-shirt at the collar to get a better look. "Where else?" Phlox asked him.
"My arms. I'm cold. Don't take my shirt off."
"Are you cutting yourself? Burns?"
Tucker shook his head.
Phlox pulled Archer aside and they conferred briefly, voices low. Then the ditrexate hit and Tucker was able to unclench. He leaned his head back against the wall and extended his legs. He felt like a propped-up rag doll. A faintly nauseated rag doll. His pulse roared in his ears for a few long moments, then receded. He could feel the heat of his body radiating back from the blanket.
Archer knelt by Tucker. "Who did that to you?"
Tucker shook his head again. "I did it to myself."
Archer looked confused. He didn't get it.
Phlox was scanning him with a hand-held medical device. "Good," he said soothingly. "Much better. Commander, why are you doing this?" A finger touched a red bruise.
"It makes me feel," Tucker explained.
"What makes you feel?"
Tucker hesitated, then gave it straight. "Sex and pain. I can feel then." He pulled the blanket up protectively around his neck.
"Are you saying you can't feel?" Phlox asked.
Tucker nodded. He couldn't look at Archer--his good friend. What must he think? "I'm frozen. Am I--am I dead?"
Archer exhaled. "No," he said, his voice strange. "No, Trip, you're not dead." He stood up. "Can you make it to sick bay?"
"I think so." He allowed himself to be dragged up; he gave the captain back the blanket, and Archer absently folded it and tucked it under one arm. He walked beside Archer, gait slightly unsteady.
Natalie was gone. She wasn't anywhere. She hadn't come back. Tucker felt sorrow, but it was a distant thing. It was somehow all right that she had left. She had to move on. She couldn't wait for him. He understood that, but he was still sorry. He had liked her, and he had known she was something special, but she wanted him to love her. They hadn't had time for him to do that, and then it was too late.
Tucker stared at the swirling motes of light. He was frozen solid, and he couldn't move. He could see and hear and think, but he wasn't breathing. He couldn't feel his body. He must be dead. It wasn't bad, and it wasn't good. He pondered death briefly. Dead meant being unutterably weary. Dead meant that everything was in black and white. Dead meant that he couldn't feel. Everything was pushed away from him, separated from him by a thin envelope that nobody else could see, an envelope he couldn't breach. Inside the envelope, it was cold, as cold as the vacuum of space.
He wasn't holding the flashlight any more, but the beam of light was still there, only now it was coming from above, pinning him to the ground. The stars slowed suddenly, and he recognized where he was. He was in the asteroid belt, the motes resolving into stars in the background. He watched helplessly, pinned by the light, as a small asteroid looped toward him, impossibly slow, impossibly fast.
"No," he said, except he couldn't move his lips and no sound came out.
The asteroid hit, and his frozen body shattered. His body became the snow, the stars, circling around the light.
"--results in depression," Phlox's voice was saying. "They used to call it shell shock, when it happened to soldiers. Both Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed have displayed symptoms of this syndrome. I was aware of Lieutenant Reed's, um, symptoms, because he has sought care. Commander Tucker has not. In retrospect, he has exhibited many of the warning signs."
"Is he going to be okay?" Archer's voice was concerned.
"The prognosis is very good. This is a well-understood syndrome. Unfortunately, we don't have a psychologist on board, and my training in that venue is--well, limited. However, I can administer medication that should greatly ease the symptoms of despair, and I am in correspondence with a colleague in San Francisco at Starfleet Headquarters about mental health issues."
"Trip said he was worried about--about things going into his medical file."
"Medical files are confidential."
"They're not confidential enough."
"I don't know what to say. It's important to keep accurate records."
Archer sighed. "He's been so--withdrawn ever since the shuttlepod incident. My god. Wondering if he was dead. I can't believe he didn't say anything to me."
Tucker's biobed emitted a beep. Tucker opened his eyes. "Where's Malcolm?" he asked muzzily.
"I'll call him for you." Phlox promptly disappeared.
Archer pulled up a chair. "The doc is taking good care of you. You can't go back to work for a few days, though."
"I kind of figured."
"Damage control is under way. You have a virus."
"So that's what it is," Tucker said dryly. Then, sincerely: "Thanks."
"I'm really worried about you."
Archer touched his own collarbone. "Those bruises. You said pain and sex."
"Yeah. I can't tell you about that. I asked for it. To--to make me feel."
"Who is she?"
"I won't say."
"Is it just pain and sex with her?" Archer looked troubled.
"No. It's--it's everything."
"Good." Archer reached over and took one of Trip's hands in both of his. His hands felt dry and warm. "She can help you through this, then. I'll help too." Pause. "You stopped talking to me. Why?"
"Because there are some things I can't tell you."
"Because I'm your captain?"
"Partly that. Partly some other reasons."
"You can tell my anything, Trip. You know that. We've been friends--well, for a long time."
Tucker shook his head. "I don't want to change things between us. I--I've done some--stuff. Stuff that might scare you."
"What could you tell me that would change things? We've been through hell together. There is nothing you could say or do that would make me reject you."
"Thanks," Tucker whispered. Archer thought he meant it. Hell, maybe he did. But Archer talked the talk; Reed walked the walk. Good ol' boy Trip Tucker: always in a good mood, always ready to go, always up for a good time, always a joke or a cheerful word. That was the Trip Tucker who Jon Archer called a friend. The Trip Tucker who was Reed's lover, begging for pain and pleasure--he was another man altogether.
He heard the sick bay door whoosh, and a second later, Reed came in. Archer released his hand and leaned back in his chair, but he made no move to leave.
"Commander Tucker," Reed said, coming to the other side of the bed. His eyes flickered to Archer, then returned to Tucker. "Hello, Captain."
"I just wanted to see you, Malcolm. To make sure you were okay. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Trip. It's you I'm concerned about. Are you feeling better? Someone said you were sick--a virus." Reed reached out a hand, and Tucker clasped it, hard, as if someone had just thrown him a life raft. Reed stepped closer.
"No, I melted down. I guess I'm not dead after all. I needed to make sure--I needed to make sure that you weren't dead, either."
Reed nodded, his hand squeezing Tucker's. Tucker's eyes devoured him. Everything was on Reed's face. Surely Archer would see. "I'm not dead. I'm right here."
"Thanks for pulling me down from that airlock."
Tucker sensed rather than heard Archer's exhalation of surprise.
"I've invested far too much time trying to figure you out, Mr. Tucker," Reed said with a slight smile that didn't erase his expression of worry. In a gesture that forcibly reminded him of his last stint in sick bay, Reed stroked Tucker's hair gently back from his forehead. Their eyes were locked. They understood each other perfectly. Reed's intensity radiated.
Phlox broke in, as if on cue, before the intensity snapped. "Lieutenant, if I may have a word with you--?"
"Certainly." Reed squeezed Tucker's hand again and reluctantly released it. "I'll pop 'round later to check on you." He gave the captain an admiral's salute as he followed Phlox out, throwing a last concerned look over his shoulder right before he stepped through the doorway.
Archer leaned forward, forearms on his legs. "It's clear you two have bonded through adversity."
"You could say that," Tucker agreed.
"So tell me about the airlock," Archer invited. "I take it this was on the shuttlepod. Your report must have--missed something."
Tucker looked at his captain appraisingly. There were some things he couldn't tell Archer. But the airlock tale was not one of them. He had been cutting himself off from everyone. He needed a friend just now.
"Well, we had just about killed this very fine bottle of Kentucky bourbon we came across in the shuttlepod--" he started.
Archer broke in, horrified. "I was saving that as a present for someone!"
Tucker laughed and launched into his story.
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