Author: elfin
Pairing: Trip Tucker/Malcolm Reed
Archive: Britslash only
Rating: PG
Summary: Q pays a visit to Enterprise to teach them a small but
significant lesson
Disclaimer: blah blah

Email: elfin@burble.com

Thanks to Gryph for a SPEEDY beta!!! and of course for encouraging yet
another new fandom for me  ;-)
 


Choices

 

by elfin

 

"Captain, we've lost all power."

Archer rubbed his face with the palms of his hands.  It felt like
nothing was working at the moment.

Continuing transporter tests had succeeded only in turning an
up-rooted tree from an unnamed M-class planet into a small pile of
firewood, and turning a tiny rodent inside out.

The warp drives had been on and off line, 'up and down like a whore's
drawers', as Lieutenant Reed had colourfully put it.

Even the front view screen had been showing nothing but static for
hours on end.

Now, everything had apparently collapsed at the same time.

Archer hit the communicator button on the arm of his chair, hoping
that it at least would work.  "Commander Tucker?"  His patient tone
was underlined with the mild frustration of a man trying to take
charge of a star ship on which nothing seemed to be working.

"Sorry, Cap'n, but it's not us this time."

Archer sat up slightly.  "What?"

"Everything was just fine then it was like someone just pulled the plug."

"That would be your plug, Commander."

"I know, Cap'n.  But I'm telling you that it wasn't us."

Leaving the communications channel open, Archer pushed himself to his
feet.

"What's going on...?"  A bright, narrow flash of white light in the
centre of the bridge brushed his question away.

A second later, a tall man wearing a red suit and a devilish grin was
standing before him.

"Who the hell are you?"

The man held out his hand, but at the same time, he seemed to take in
his surroundings.  His hand dropped as Archer reached for it.

"What have you done with the place?"

All the bridge crew could do was stare at the stranger.

"It's so drab!  Still, décor was never your strong point."

"Our... my strong point?  Do I know you?"  The captain dropped his arm
back to his side, expression still curious.

"I didn't mean you personally."  Again, he extended his hand, smile
plastered on his face.  "I'm Q."

Archer finally shook hands.  "Q." He spoke with a slight incline of
his head.  "What are you doing on my ship?"

Q turned with a flourish.  "It's always my ship, my planet, my
goldfish."  He missed the frown.  "When will you people learn to share?"

Walking to the back of the bridge, Q continued to look around.

"How about how you got on board my ship?"

Q glanced at the man questioning him.  "Inquisitive from the
beginning, I see."  He sighed, stopping at the engineering station,
where Trip usually hovered next to Malcolm.  "I've met your species
before.  Or rather, since.  I taught them a lot."

Archer caught on.  "You're a time traveller!"

Q laughed.  "Something like that, yes.  I'm a member of the Continuum.
  We pass freely through time and space looking for lesser species to
annoy."  He focused on the panels in front of him.

A moment later, Jonathan shivered, a chill going down his spine.  Q's
presence was unnerving.  "What do you want with us?"

"Oh, nothing.  I merely thought we'd play a little game, to see if
you're already a mature race, or whether Picard's crew truly is - was
- the first generation we should bother with."

"Don't we have any choice in the matter?"

Q looked up.  "At least your sense of humour is the same.  You remind
me of Commander Riker."  He smiled.  "Let's see just how far you've come."

No one saw it coming.  They weren't even sure where Q had got the
small but heavy metal rod from.  Maybe no where, the same place he'd
come from.

But when he suddenly smashed it into the side of Malcolm's head, the
damage it caused was very real.  For an instant, the Englishman's
shocked stare met Archer's expression of horror.  Through the blood
and the mess, the fragments of skull as they pressed into his brain,
there was a moment of sheer surprise.

Reed was dead before his broken head hit the weapons console.


Hoshi screamed.  In the months they'd been aboard, she'd seen enough
to settle her nerves, but this was too much.

It was drowned by Archer's cry of denial.  He ran, launching himself
bodily over the railing, over the engineering panels to tackle Q to
the deck.

But before they landed they were impossibly standing, Q behind the
captain, one of Archer's arms locked painfully behind his back.  He
was so close to his dead Armory Officer that he could see the blood
running in a steady stream around the dip of his left, open, staring
eye, over his nose and down to the floor.

"Malc...."

Q's arm wrapped around his throat, cutting off his speech, and almost
his breathing.

"He doesn't have to die, Captain.  Try to work out where you went
wrong, and I'll fix this."

Archer was released, his legs making a valiant effort to keep him
upright.  Q was gone.

In the same moment, the tube door swished opened and Trip stepped out
onto the bridge.  "What the hell's going on up here?   I heard
screaming...."

Archer looked up to see his best friend's eyes coming to rest on
Malcolm's body, still sitting at his position.

"Trip...."  He willed himself to be able to walk in a straight line,
stepping around his dead crewman, arm up, palm out.  "Trip, don't...."

Too late.

Archer caught the engineer as he ran up the slope to the back of the
bridge.  "Malcolm!"  He fought his captain's restraining hold.  "Malcolm!"

"He's dead, Trip," Archer murmured softly, one arm wrapped around the
struggling man's waist, the other around his back.  "Don't."

Trip's fight lessened, tears filling his eyes.  "No...."

Archer leaned his forehead into the blond hair.  "Don't see him like
this," he whispered.  "Please."

With one final, strangled cry of pain, Trip pulled away.  Archer
expected him to run, but he didn't.  He just stood there, shaking.

Archer turned away, unable to bare the look in his friend's eyes.

What was it that Q had said?   'Work out where you went wrong'?  What
did that mean?

* * *

Six Months Earlier


Admiral Forrest looked up at the uniformed man standing before him.

"Trip Tucker?"

"Yes, Sir.  He's the best there is."  Archer watched his superior,
wondering what was wrong.  He'd been told he could pick his own crew
for Enterprise's maiden voyage, with one exception.  Commander Tucker
was the most decorated engineer in his field.  He wanted his new ship
to have the best of care.  "Is there a problem?"

  "You've also requested Lieutenant Malcolm Reed."

"Yes, Sir.  I've never worked with him before, but a friend of mine,
Captain Jack Maynard, recommended him, asked me to give him a chance."

"You don't know him?  Lieutenant Reed, I mean."

"No, Sir.  Why?"

"Nothing, Captain."  Forrest shuffled together the papers on his desk.
  "I'll do what I can for you, Jon."

"Thank you, Sir."

* * *

Present Day


Phlox was aware of the captain's constant glances at the covered body
lying on a medical bed not far from them.

"I understand how you must feel, Captain," he murmured, taking the
man's arm in a gentle grip and leading him to one side, so that
Malcolm Reed's body was no longer in direct line of sight.

"You can't possibly understand."  Archer's tone was measured, clipped.
  Never before had Phlox seen any human as wound up as the man before
him was now.  As if, at any moment, the pressure of holding together
this façade would become too much and he'd snap, destroying everything
around him in an attempt to somehow bring Reed back to them.  "I want
to tear this galaxy apart looking for that alien."

"It wouldn't change matters," Phlox reminded him in his patented
bedside manner.  "Lieutenant Reed would still be dead."

Archer's otherwise dead eyes blazed with rage for a single moment.
"He said he could fix this."

Phlox didn't answer.  He waited, let the other man pull himself back
together, that one crack in his armour just the first of too many
possible breakdowns.

Finally, Archer blinked, turning his head away, forcing back the pain.

"If it helps, he knew nothing of his fate.  He died instantly."

The words brought the flash of an image into Archer's mind; that awful
look of utter surprise of Malcolm's face in the moment his skull had
caved in under the impact of the metal in Q's fist.  He'd known.  And
in that second, in that sudden explosion of horror, Archer had been
unable to do anything to help his crewman, his friend.

Slamming his open palm against the door open button, Jonathan moved
sideways through the gap as soon as it was wide enough.  He had to
leave sickbay before he hurt someone.  Maybe himself.

A couple of hours later, Phlox looked up from his PADD to see
Commander Tucker standing just in front of the doors, eyes fixed on
Reed's covered body.

"Commander."  The doctor stood carefully, quietly pushing his chair back.

Trip's eyes never left the inert form.  "I had to come.  I wanted...
to see him.  One last time."

Phlox's hand hovered just above the commander's shoulder.  "I don't
think that's such a good idea," he murmured softly.  "Best to remember
him as he was."

But Trip shook his head slowly.  "I can't.  You don't understand."
Taking a deep breath, he stepped out from under the doctor's hand and
forced himself to keep moving until he was standing at the side of the
medical bed.

Phlox didn't follow.  He hung back, watching lest he should be needed
in any capacity.

Trip's shaking hand touched the edges of the clean blue sheet covering
his friend and colleague.  Swallowing back more tears, he took the
edge between his fingers and lifted it.

He was immediately thankful for the large piece of sterile gauze taped
loosely to the side of Malcolm's head, completely covering the fatal
wound.  The blood and matter had been cleaned from his face and neck,
from the hair on the right side of his head, the side that still remained.

He looked peaceful, eyes closed, blue-tinted lips slightly parted.  He
might have just been sleeping if it hadn't been for the fact that a
part of his head wasn't there anymore.

Walking around to the other side of the bed, Trip caught his breath in
a muted sob as he ran the backs of his fingers over Malcolm's cold cheek.

"Malc," he whispered softly.  "I'm so sorry.  I never told you...."
He lost it, tears escaping his control and falling in streams over his
face.  "Should've told you.  I wanted this too much and you were the
price."

* * *

Six Months Earlier


Trip let out the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding.

"It's your decision, Trip," Admiral Forrest told him uneasily.  "I
know both you and Malcolm want these posts but I don't know...."

"You don't know if the price is too high."

Forrest shrugged.  "Archer doesn't know about you two.  This is a high
profile mission, Trip, we just can't risk...."

"Can't risk the scandal of two senior officers on your flagship being
in a queer relationship.  That it?"

"If you'd stop finishing my sentences, that wasn't how I was going to
put it."

"But it was what you were going to say?"

Trip started to pace the large, open office.  "I thought the military
had changed over the last hundred years?  We've wiped out war and
famine, but we can't do anything about prejudice?"

"I'm sorry, Trip.  I won't take that risk - not with Enterprise."

"You of all people...."

"I know."  Forrest shook his head.  "Look, at least you'll be on the
same ship, under the same command.  It's better than nothing, right?"

* * *

Present Day


Leaning down, Trip touched his lips to the chilled forehead of his
dead friend.  He was shaking, his body tense with grief and anger.

As he straightened, Phlox's hand touched his arm, and he simply flew
apart.

*

Archer reached down and hesitantly wrapped his fingers around Trip's
hand.  His chief engineer was asleep in sickbay, blood laden with
sedatives.

"I'm sorry, Captain.  He was going to hurt himself."

"You did the right thing, Phlox."  His voice still had the clipped
tone to it.

Archer had been amazed at the amount of damage this one man had been
able to cause in sickbay.  He wondered if Trip felt any better.
Breaking things seemed like a wonderful release.  He'd briefly
considered breaking a shuttlecraft against a planet or a sun with
himself inside it.  Only his Starfleet training was keeping him from
doing it.

"I wasn't aware that Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed were so
close," Phlox informed him, a question underlying his words.

"They were friends...."

But the doctor was shaking his head.  "Just before he started to wreak
havoc on my sickbay, he kissed the Lieutenant's forehead."  Archer
frowned, glancing at Phlox.  "He also said somethings which I took to
mean that he regretted not speaking with Malcolm about."

"Like what?"

"Exactly that.  He was sorry that he'd never told him... whatever it was."

For a time they stood, the lab silent except for the ever-present
engines and the deep breathing of the sleeping officer.

"Should I... arrange Lieutenant Reed's funeral?" Phlox asked finally.

Archer shook his head emphatically.  "No!  Keep him... in stasis,
frozen, whatever.  This isn't happening.  There's a way to stop this
from happening, I just have to find it."

* * *

Six Months Earlier


Malcolm looked up as Trip closed the door of his apartment and leaned
back against it.  He didn't like the expression on his friend's face.

"What?"

"Bad news and good news."

Putting down the glass, Malcolm walked out from around the kitchen
counter to receive whatever news Trip had.

"We've both been picked for Enterprise."

Malcolm's eyes widened.  For a moment, he imagined his lover was
teasing him.  Then he realised it was true.

"Oh my God!  Trip, that's... that's fantastic!"  Trip wasn't smiling.
  "What's the bad news?"

Trip raked his eyes over the man standing before him.  He looked
devastating in just a simple shirt and jeans.  He looked incredible in
uniform.  How was he - Trip - going to be able to see him every day,
share the same shift, use the same mess hall....

"We have to end it."

"End what?"

"This.  Us.  Forrest doesn't want to risk a scandal."

Malcolm rolled his eyes.  It wasn't the angry reaction Trip had been
expecting.  "Come on, Trip, you're not serious.  You can't be."  He
was still smiling.  "We're passed all that in this day and age."

"Apparently not."

The smile faded.  Malcolm took a couple of steps forward.  "You are
serious about this."

"Malc...."

"And you've already decided to follow the order?"

Trip glanced away, unable to see the hurt in his lover's eyes.  "It's
an opportunity of a lifetime."

"You're right about that."  Sighing, Malcolm closed the remaining
distance and touched his lips to Trip's.  "Just for the record, I
always considered you the opportunity of a lifetime."

* * *

Present Day


Archer waited.  He had a call in to Admiral Forrest's office.

It had taken him nearly twenty-four hours.  He'd been back over
mission reports, accessed Reed's private journal, looked back through
Trip's photo collection.

And finally, he'd found something.  Just a phrase in one of Malcolm's
personal logs recorded in the first week of their then newly extended
mission.

'It was a high price to pay, but it's worth it, isn't it, del?'

That was it.  The only hint he could find that connected him to
Malcolm; he'd picked Reed for Enterprise's crew.  And somewhere along
the line, Malcolm had left someone behind.

"Captain Archer?"

He swung round.  "Admiral Forrest!  Thanks for returning my call."

"Is there a problem?"

Archer hesitated.  "There might be."  Malcolm's dead.  An alien
smashed his skull in because I did something.  "I need to know if
there were any... issues with me choosing Malcolm Reed for this crew."

Forrest frowned.  "What?  What sort of issues?"

"I don't know."  He sighed.  "I remember when I requested Trip be
assigned, you said something about Lieutenant Reed.  I just need to
know what you meant."

On the tiny screen, Forrest sat back.  "Why, Jon?  What's wrong?"

"Nothing."  Everything.  "Please."

Forrest was studying him over the billion miles between them.  It
seemed like an age before the admiral spoke again.  "All right, Jon.
But this is strictly between you and me."

"Of course."

"Lieutenant Reed was involved in a relationship before you left Earth."

Not big news.  Most people were.

"Sorry, I don't...."

"With Commander Tucker."

The news hit Archer hard.  He'd known Trip for almost nine years and
he'd had no idea....  It took a few moments for the news to sink in.

"I don't...."

"It wasn't serious, but it was serious enough for the council to
request they ended their relationship before boarding Enterprise."

"What?"  He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"The council didn't think it appropriate for two members of
Enterprise's senior crew to be involved in a... gay relationship.
They were given the choice, Captain.  They chose to end it."

"You asked two men to choose between one another and their careers?
Two of my crew?!"

"Jon, what's this all about?  It's been six months."

"I can't say right now.  Thanks, Admiral."

"Jon...."  He cut his superior off, ending the long-distance call.
He'd pay for that one, once the Admiral had left enough time for them
both to get over the admission.

Archer retired to his quarters, letting Porthos jump all over him as
he sank down into the mattress.  Why would the alien Q kill Malcolm
just because he and Trip had ended their relationship before coming
aboard Enterprise?  What else had he said?  Something about seeing how
far they'd come.

Why had Malcolm and Trip been asked to end their affair?

The risk of a scandal.

Okay.  Homophobia.  That was something he'd imagined - obviously
incorrectly - that they'd worked passed.

But what did he do wrong?  Request the two men, thus forcing them to
make the decision?

No.  That wasn't right.  They didn't have to end it.

So why did they?  Why agree?

Closing his eyes, absently scratching Porthos behind the ears, Jon
tried to think through everything Q had said.  He'd encountered humans
before, in the future.  Had he tested them like this?  Had he brutally
murdered one of their crew too?

Letting out a long breath, Jon let his anger go.  It wasn't going to
help Malcolm.  Not that anything could right now.  The man was already
dead - could this alien really bring him back?  Could he undo the
horror he'd inflicted?

Rubbing his eyes, he tried to make sense of it all.

And then he remembered something.  'I didn't mean you personally.'

Q wasn't interested in him, he was interested in the human race as a
species.  He didn't have to figure out where he'd gone wrong, but
where they'd gone wrong!

Archer sat up.  What a petty fucking lesson!  One slip and Malcolm was
dead?  No.  Q had to know they were learning.  He had to.

*

"Come to complete stop."  Archer bounded onto his bridge.  "Hoshi,
broadcast on all frequencies.  I want to speak to Q."

For an hour, they waited, Archer becoming more and more upset.  "That
bastard is playing with a man's life!" he exclaimed eventually,
pushing out of his seat to start pacing the bridge.

When he turned to pace back, he stopped in mid-stride.  Q was sitting
in the command chair.

"Well?"

"We made a simple mistake!"

"All mistakes are simple, Captain.  What you don't see are the
consequences.  One small error and yet the results are tragic."

"You said you'd fix it.  Malcolm shouldn't pay for the ignorance of
others."

Q cocked his head to one side, a sly smile touching his lips.  "You're
right, of course.  Your crewman will be fine.  But I warn you, I'll be
watching.  There are many other lessons to be learnt."

He vanished in a diamond flash of brilliant light just as the comm
channel to the bridge burst into life.  "Captain!"  Phlox.  "You
should come down to sickbay immediately."

*

Trip woke slowly, feeling his head pounding.  He lay quietly for a
moment, trying to recall what had led him to wake again in sickbay.
He could recognise the sterile smell without even opening his eyes.

A few moments of blissful ignorance.  And then he remembered.  Malcolm.

Oh, God.

He peeled his eyelids open.  And found himself looking straight into
his captain's eyes.  "Cap'n?"

Archer smiled indulgently and stepped to one side.

Two beds across from Trip, Phlox was fussing over Malcolm's injured
head.  Impossibly, Malcolm was fussing back, complaining that he had a
headache.

"Malc?"

Launching himself off the bed, Trip was about to rush over when Archer
grabbed his arm.  "Don't spook him.  Q didn't exactly turn back time."

Trip glanced up and nodded.  "But he is okay?"

"He will be."

Archer led Trip to the other bed.  Q hadn't stopped the wound from
being inflicted.  He'd just made it shallower.  Malcolm's brain hadn't
been smashed in.  But his skull had a hairline fracture and he'd lost
a lot of blood.

As Trip moved into Malcolm's line of sight, he smiled.  "Hey."

The Lieutenant's right eye tracked across, the left covered by the
large square of white gauze.  He gave Trip a woozy smile.  "Hey."

Phlox finished poking and prodding his new patient.  He took a
hypo-syringe of mild sedative and injected it quickly into Malcolm's
neck.  "You'll sleep for a time," he said gently.  "When you wake up,
you'll feel a lot better, you have my word."  He left them then, and
Archer too made a strategic withdrawal.

Nervously, Trip hovered.  As the sedative had been administered,
Malcolm had closed his eyes and now Trip waited until he thought the
other man was asleep.

Slowly, hesitantly, he reached down and wrapped his fingers around
Malcolm's hand.  He didn't say a word, just stood like that for a
while, thoughts running through his head.  And then he let go and left
sickbay.

*

Archer found his chief engineer in the mess hall, standing at the
window in the hull, staring out at the stars beyond.

"T'Pol told me what happened," he said without actually acknowledging
his captain's presence.  Archer was here as his friend, he knew, not
his superior.

"She's the only other one who knows."

But Trip was shaking his head.  "Don't matter, Jon.  I don't care who
knows."  He sighed, meeting Archer's gaze.  "I ended it.  I made the
decision for him.  I told him Enterprise was the opportunity of a
lifetime."  He'd never forget Malcolm's reply.  "He was so calm, so
accepting.  We weren't living together, anything like that.  It was
just casual, I guess we both knew it could happen."

Archer reached out, squeezed his friend's arm.  "Don't take any blame.
  If that alien hadn't chosen to... play with us, it would never have
mattered."

"But it does!"  Trip's sudden pique vanished just as quickly.  "Sorry."

"Listen, Trip.  As long as your first concern is this ship when you're
on duty, what you do with your personal time is no one else's business."

Tucker's head snapped up, and he tried to read his friend's
expression.  "Admiral Forrest...."

"Admiral Forrest isn't here is he?  Don't let outdated prejudices
stand between you and happiness, Trip."  Archer smiled at the look on
the commander's face.  "Hey," he held out his hands, "I'm a romantic
at heart."

Trip chuckled.  "I get that, Jon.  You keep a dog, for Christ's sake."
  Letting out a deep breath, he nodded.  "Thanks."

"No problem."

*

Malcolm opened his eyes.  Through one, he could see only a dim light
and immediately he lifted his fingers to remove the obstruction.

"Leave it, Malc."

With his good eye, Malcolm looked across at where Tucker was sitting
beside him.  Trip could see the fear in the deep grey-blue gaze.

"Take it easy."  Trip gently lowered the trembling hand from his face.
  "You're gonna be fine."

"Trip... what are you doing here?"

The commander smiled at the odd question.  "Just wanted to be here
when you woke up."

Malcolm frowned, the expression quickly changing to a wince as he
pulled the skin around the wound on the side of his head.

"We can talk later," Trip told him, touching the dark hair just above
his friend's ear.  "Go back to sleep."

"Not quite yet, if you please!"  Phlox put himself between the
commander and his patient.  "I'd like to examine you first,
Lieutenant, if you don't mind."

Trip stood back, waiting, gazing at Malcolm around Phlox's strangely
imposing form.  They'd talk later.  But not too much later, they had a
lot of time to make up for.


fin
elfin



 

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