Title: Fear Author: Annie Hall Special Thanks to: Molly Jordan Rated: PG 13 - language (Star Trek) Enterprise: Drama

FEAR

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed approached the red planet below Enterprise with some apprehension. He had discussed his earlier findings of dust particles with T'Pol, the Vulcan science officer, becoming a potential obstacle in this drilling mission. The shuttlepod approach only served to prove him correct as dust particles began to swirl up from the surface while they were still out of landing range. Lieutenant Reed was finding it difficult to navigate with the precise detail he felt he needed. Crewmen Angela Jonas and John Greene sat silently behind the nervous pilot. Reed's communications with Enterprise had seemed to them a bit odd. Reed conveying that visibility was extremely poor and their landing would be difficult; Sub-Commander T'pol explaining the dust would quickly settle and an attempt at landing should be made. The conversation over the comm link served to make John Greene very uneasy and he looked toward his fellow crewman Jonas. He knew though Jonas would never admit to it, she was feeling the same way. She had been a chatterbox since they entered the shuttle, now her silence told Greene more than her words ever could.

Malcolm made one more pass over the planet in an attempt to clear the dust from the specified landing point. He was caught off guard by a tall slender rock formation that seemed to suddenly appear in front of them, though he quickly maneuvered around it he was left to wonder why the visual sensors had not picked it up. He had no time to think on that now and tucked it away as he readied the shuttle landing it safely on the surface, Angela and John both breathing audible sighs of relief. Malcolm was feeling as uneasy as they were but turned about with a forced smile to lighten the atmosphere inside the pod. "What? You didn't trust me?" He quipped. Uneasy laughter filled the pod as the three readied themselves for the descent onto the planet.

"Sure wish EV suits weren't a go, too damn hard to maneuver." Jonas said reaching for her equipment. Greene gave her a hand wondering out loud if the larger marking beacons would be a good idea. Malcolm answered to the affirmative and suggested each of them also carry multiple flares. Greene handed them out, each of them placing six into their packs.

"Reed to Enterprise."

"Enterprise. Go ahead Lieutenant." T'Pol's voice came back.

"We are ready to step onto the planet's surface. Do you have visuals?"

"Yes we have visuals Lieutenant; the dust appears to be settling. T'Pol out."

T'Pol out? Nothing else? Jonas and Greene again flashed each other a confused glance. Reed just shook his head, she was in rare form this morning he thought. He opened the pod door and stepped out into the dusty darkness of the planet. Greene passed the drilling equipment and beacons through the opening and then waited for Jonas to exit the pod first then exited the pod himself and closed the door to keep the swirling dust out.

"Jesus it's dark." Jonas said. "Didn't think it was supposed to be this dark."

"I don't think that it is darkness, Jonas, I think it's the dust that hasn't settled yet. I don't believe it will be settling any too soon with so little gravitational pull here." Reed answered.

Greene was feeling tense and anxious. "Wonderful!" He complained, "if we can't see, how are we supposed to get two hundred meters from the pod to drill for the samples?"

Jonas wiped the collecting dust from her faceplate. "The beacons on the headgear aren't helping much Lieutenant. I'm going to try the larger one." She readied it and switched it on. Finding only a dim glow she switched it off and back on with the same result. "Lieutenant?" She questioned.

"Don't think it's the light Ang; think it's the dust." Greene replied again wiping his faceplate. "More like thick swamp fog." He continued.

Malcolm surveyed what he could see of the surface. "Are you getting any readings Greene?" He asked. "My scanner doesn't seem to be functioning."

Greene tried his scanner. "Nothing Sir."

"Jonas?" Reed asked.

"Nothing." She answered.

Reed moved to a different position and tried his scanner again. Greene leaned in toward Jonas and told her this planet was giving him the creeps. She giggled. "Afraid of the boogieman are we John?" She was joking but he knew she felt uneasy too. He knew they all did.

"Damn!" Reed said to himself. "Still nothing!" He shifted his attention to the beacon and the two crewmen. I don't think we'll get far with that light, Greene, do you think we can light a path with the flares?" He asked.

"Without current atmospheric readings Sir I am not sure that it would be wise. We don't really know what we are dealing with here. Personally, I don't think I would chance it."

"Other ideas?" He asked but none came. "Reed to Enterprise"

*****

Ensign Hoshi Sato sat at the communications panel throwing a sideways glance toward Ensign Travis Mayweather seated at the helm. Both had learned the fine art of communicating across the bridge in front of the captain without words. Though this time the communication was in front of T'Pol, the Vulcan Sub-Commander. Hoshi had never known Malcolm Reed to allow fear to come through his well disciplined exterior and when it had she had an inkling that this mission was moving toward something far from routine. The glance she received back from Travis told her he had heard it too and felt as uncomfortable about it as she did. The conversation between Malcolm and T'Pol continued.

"I am not certain we can make it two hundred meters from the shuttle Sub- Commander. As I have said, we have non-functioning scanners. Visuals are extremely poor. The beacons are not casting enough light and Crewman Greene tells me flares are out of the question."

"How far do you anticipate the beacon will allow you to go Lieutenant?" T'Pol asked.

Reed answered her. "Perhaps one hundred meters more or less, though I am not certain it would be wise to drill for core samples that close to the shuttle. What I am certain of is that the darkness, dust particles, and non-functioning scanners will make it visually impossible to go very far at all without loosing our bearings."

"I suggest you continue as far as you can at which point we can again consider whether drilling should take place." She said back.

"You do understand that visuals are non-existent much beyond two meters and we have no functioning scanners?" He asked.

"Yes Lieutenant, I understand and. You have placed a marker beacon, do you now assume because visuals are poor that you are in danger?" She asked.

Her condescending tone made him feel a bit childish in his fear and he wanted to explain further. "That is not what I am saying Sub-Commander. I am sayi.."

T'Pol cut him off. "If you do not wish to continue, I will inform the Captain that the mission has failed."

Malcolm wondered if T'Pol was being smug as acting captain. He was certain she was not entirely hearing what was being said. She would inform the Captain the mission had failed all right, he could hear her now; 'Captain the mission was called off because the Lieutenant and his crew are afraid of a little dust and darkness.' Malcolm Reed was not afraid of the dark, but something wasn't right here. He knew both crewman Jonas and Greene felt the same and everything in his being told him they needed to abort. T'Pol however had made a good point, fear was after all an emotion and it was definitely weighing on his judgment. He wiped the dust from his faceplate and looked with question at the other two. Both nodded they would stand by what ever he decided. Damn it, why did he feel so odd here? Why couldn't he just simply make the call? He found himself wishing Archer were on the other end of the comm link, or even Commander Tucker. Neither of them would have put him in this spot, he was sure they would have just called an order one way or the other from Enterprise.

"Lieutenant?" T'Pol interrupted his thought. "Will you be continuing?" Malcolm swallowed the lump of tension that was in his throat.

"Yes, Sub-Commander. I will keep you updated on our progress. Reed out."

Hoshi frowned letting her disappointment with the conversation that had just occurred show. She glanced again at Travis and found herself wishing Captain Archer would return from Engineering to relieve T'Pol of her bridge command. Now she thought, was not the time for an emotionless Vulcan to be in charge. Travis looked back at Hoshi and she knew from his expression the away team was in trouble.

*****

Malcolm instructed them to stay close together and Jonas and Greene made no attempt to disagree. "Let's try to get as far as we can from this beacon before we use the next one. We'll count our steps, figuring one and a half steps equals a meter. We should be able to estimate our distance that way. Once we get as far as we can we'll notify Enterprise and get an ok to drill."

"We damn well better get an okay to drill, I don't want to think I wasted all my time and energy in this creepy place for nothing at all!" Greene barked.

"I'm with him Lieutenant!" Jonas added. "I'm getting some really odd feelings here."

"What? Afraid of the boogieman Ang?" Greene poked her back with her earlier remark.

"No, just don't want to be wasting time here either." She replied.

Reed interrupted the relay. "Let's just get under way and get it done with shall we?"

The three set out into the darkness together, each consistently wiping the dust particles from their faceplates. Each step caused more particles to float up from the surface and the three instinctively began to take longer more exaggerated steps to keep it to a minimum. As the light from the beacon faded the three stopped. Figuring the steps they estimated they had come fifty-seven meters. Angela Jonas placed the second beacon. She switched it on. She smiled, this time the beacon light was brighter and some of the surrounding area came into view.

"Thought T'Pol said this planet was flat and barren Reed." Greene said seeing bits of vegetation on an enormous rock formation that jutted up from the surface as high as he could see.

Angela plucked a leaf from the odd plants that sprouted from the rock and dropped it into a specimen bag. She readied another bag and collected some scrapings from the rock as well.

Malcolm recalled the maneuver around the rock before they landed. This wasn't right, he was sure the surface was entirely flat on all the Enterprise scans. "I don't recall any plant life or surface perforations from the scans Greene. I would think we would have picked up something this massive don't you?"

"Yes Sir I do, but it can't have come from nowhere can it? Maybe the scans just didn't catch it because of the surface dust." Greene answered.

"I don't recall there being any dust when we did the scans." Jonas remarked. "I've got samples of the rock and the plant life. Also swept some dust particles into a bag, might have some significance." As she talked the back side of the rock caught her attention, it was covered with plant life. "Look at this!" She said. "This definitely isn't right."

"Lieutenant?" Greene questioned. "Sub-Commander T'Pol said there was no evidence of anything plant or animal living here, the scans could not have been this incomplete. Jonas is right, something isn't kosher."

Angela busied herself filling specimen containers. Greene cleaned his faceplate and beacons again and Reed made a call to Enterprise.

"Reed to Enterprise."

"Enterprise, go ahead Lieutenant."

"Sub-Commander, we have encountered some enormous rock formations at fifty- seven meters. They have great amounts of vegetation growth on the back side." "Back side?" T'Pol questioned.

Reed grunted in frustration and explained. "Only on one side. Perhaps north. Hard to tell without functioning scanners. Can you get a visual?"

"We are trying but the dust particles prevent clear visuals. I distinctly recall the scans showing no perforations and no vegetation. I would advise that you take small samples."

"We have already done that and are ready to proceed toward the drilling sight."

"You may proceed Lieutenant. T'Pol out."

"Ensign Mayweather, can you clear up the visuals?" T'Pol asked as she headed toward her science station. She needed to see for herself that the preliminary surface scans were wrong, or at the very least misleading.

"I keep trying, but there is just no way to get a clear visual through the dust particles. I might suggest that we go to the bio scanner, at least that way we would have some idea of where they are." Travis had to be bold; he was getting nervous at not being able to see the away team.

"Perhaps you are correct Ensign. Can you put the bio scanner on screen?"

"If you give me a few minutes I think I can handle that." Travis flashed a smile toward Hoshi who breathed a small sigh of relief. Blips on the screen would be better than nothing at all and in a few short minutes he had them. Three yellow blips on a dark screen all headed in the same direction. "I've got them." Travis said.

"On screen." T'Pol ordered.

"Yes!" Hoshi yelped as if it were a major accomplishment when the view screen went up.

"Reed to Enterprise."

"Enterprise."

"We have come approximately one hundred fifty meters give or take a step. The dust has settled somewhat and we are ready to place the drill with your permission."

"Permission granted." T'Pol answered.

"Reed out."

"Ensign, try normal visuals again." T'Pol asked of Travis.

"I have partial visual Sub-Commander." He answered. "Bringing it on screen."

*****

Jonas readied a smaller beacon to light the drilling rig as Greene and Malcolm set it up. The dust had stopped swirling around them and she used the beacon to survey the area before setting it down. The planet was extremely flat, red and barren here just like they had expected it to be. "Do you think that maybe we just landed in the wrong spot?" She asked.

"Don't know." Reed answered watching as the light touched the surface surrounding them. "Certainly don't recall anything other than flat when we...wait, go back. To the left Angela, do you see that?" He asked.

Greene saw a large jagged rock with dust swirling up from its base. "Whoa, was that there before?"

"How would we know? We haven't been able to see much of anything but each other." Jonas answered.

Reed had the odd feeling that it had not been there on her first sweep across but again he tucked the thought away.

Greene placed the drill against the surface. "Ready when you are Lieutenant."

"Me too Sir." Jonas said.

"Let me try one more surface scan before we start." He got nothing. "Odd that the com link works but the scanners won't."

"Shouldn't have said that out loud Sir." Angela remarked.

Reed chuckled. "Go ahead Greene. Twelve meters."

"Got it." Greene started the drill into the surface. "One meter Sir. Two meters. Four met... I'm getting some weird vibration here Lieutenant."

Reed took a step toward the drill and noticed a fissure beginning to form in front of it and suddenly it all made sense to him, he knew exactly what was happening. "Turn it off Greene!" He yelled; "and get away from it!"

"What?" Greene called back as Reed ran in and pushed him away. Dust particles billowed up from the fissure engulfing them in a dark cloud.

Greene suddenly understood and grabbed for Angela and when Malcolm knew they were all together he simply gave the order to run.

*****

T'Pol, Hoshi and Travis watched as Reed, Jonas, and Greene were engulfed in the darkness.

"Enter...se, Explosion. Head.. for the shuttlep..." Came over the comm.

"Oh my god!" Hoshi yelped.

"Travis, biosigns on screen." T'Pol ordered.

"Aye." He switched screens. Hoshi shut her eyes.

"Got em! They are together headed in one direction." Travis announced mostly for Hoshi's benefit and then turned toward T'Pol. "If there was an explosion do you think the captain should be informed?" Travis asked hoping she would take the hint..

Hoshi didn't give T'Pol the chance to answer, she was already on the shipboard comm calling Captain Archer to the bridge immediately with Commander Tucker. She realized halfway through that she hadn't waited for the decision from her superior and turned to face T'Pol. T'Pol raised one eyebrow and simply told Hoshi to keep the comm link open. Hoshi sighed in relief and turned back to her station.

*****

"Jesus, do we know if we're going in the right direction?" Jonas asked.

"No we don't but keep going anyway, with any luck we will be able to see a beacon soon." Reed said.

The three ran linked together as the dust collected on and around them. They had made it by Reeds estimation about forty meters when the first beacon came into view.

"Hallelujah!" Jonas barked out. "The first beacon. We're headed in the right direction!"

"Just keep going, the sooner we make the pod the sooner we are out of here!" Greene replied through ragged breaths.

Malcolm had a thought to pick up the beacon on the way through but just as quickly dismissed the idea for the time and effort it would cost them. Jonas had the same thought and as they passed the beacon she reached down and grabbed it pulling it up into the safety of her hand. She held it forward lighting the way. The dust appeared less and less as they headed toward the shuttle beacon that only now was becoming visible to them.

"Home stretch boys!" Jonas chirped.

Greene suddenly stopped causing the other two to be pulled backward onto the ground. The force of them falling sent the beacon forward onto the ground where it teetered on the edge of a large surface crack.

"Jesus John, tell somebody when you're going to do that!" Angela snapped pulling herself up off the ground."

"Sorry...fissure." Greene breathed out. "We'd have fallen in."

The ground shook around them and the beacon tipped over the edge into the spewing fissure that was fast becoming a crevice.

Malcolm took a deep breath. "Can we jump it?"

"Probably not together, maybe one at a time. I think I can make it." Greene answered.

"Jonas?" Reed questioned.

"What other choice do I have?" She asked.

"None" Greene fast answered. There was no time for discussion.

*****

Captain Jonathan Archer came fast off the turbolift onto the bridge with Commander Trip Tucker at his heel. "Report!" Archer demanded as he crossed toward T'Pol who fast vacated the Captain's chair. T'Pol filled them in with a fast and shortened version as Commander Tucker took up a position behind the tactical station. Viewing the screens before him. He gave a questioning glance toward Travis as T'Pol was finishing her briefing, he wanted to know if the Vulcan was telling it like it was. Travis glanced back with a look that told Tucker some of the specifics were being left out.

Archer sent T'Pol to the science station as he studied the blips on the screen. He bit his bottom lip and ran his hands through his hair. "What the hell happened, this was supposed to have been routine." He demanded of no one in particular. He sat in the captain's chair running his hands up and down his thighs in frustration stopping at the knee to tap his fingers. "Hoshi?" He asked, meaning 'can you reach them'.

"Sir, I am getting garbled voices but nothing I can understand." She answered.

"Keep trying." He replied.

"Yes Sir." She answered.

"T'Pol?" He barked.

"Biosigns are strong Captain." She answered.

"Looks like they're headed toward the shuttlepod Cap'n. Think I'm pickin it up with the scanner." Trip answered as Archer's eyes turned to him with question.

Archer stood up. "Travis can we pick them up on screen?"

"No Sir, too much dust." Travis replied.

"Damn it!" Archer breathed out a thick sigh as he started to pace.

"Captain it appears that they are stopping." T'Pol called.

Archer stopped pacing and turned toward the screens. The three blips had indeed stopped. "Anything Hoshi?"

"Nothing Sir."

"Nothing at all?" he questioned.

"No Sir. I'm sorry Sir." She replied.

Archer stepped behind Travis. "Can you bring us in any closer?"

"I could Sir but I'm afraid the dust we would kick up wouldn't help them or us at this point." Travis answered.

Archer turned to Trip. "Trip I want the grappler on line. I have a feeling they are going to need our help getting out of there."

"What about the transport Cap'n?" Trip offered.

"Not a chance Trip, it's not ready for human transport." Archer paced. "We been working on it Cap'n, you came through all right long before the upgrades we put in." Trip offered again.

"That's something we could debate Trip. Novokovich didn't. Remember?" Archer cringed at the memory.

Trip persisted. "But we could have them here now Cap'n while we are sure they are ok."

Archer bit. "Grappler Trip, that's my order. I can't stomach ordering them through the transport right now."

Trip relented. "Be nice if the Vulcan's would give us the tractor beam specs too." Trip muttered.

T'Pol made a statement back that surprised Trip; "Captain, it is neither logical or wise to give an order based on emotion and since we do not have tractor beam technology on board Enterprise, the Commander has a valid point"

Archer whirled round on his heel to face T'Pol, now was not the time he wanted to have two officers questioning his orders. "I am the Captain of this ship and I give the orders understood? Furthermore, I will give orders for whatever reason I deem necessary and my crew will follow those orders regardless of the reason they were given. Am I right?"

Tucker nodded a sullen yes and Archer looked toward T'Pol. Her military stance caught his rage. "T'Pol Am I right?" He demanded.

"Yes Sir." T'Pol answered in a formal manner and went back to her work.

"Not having emotion is what got them here to start with." Travis mumbled.

Archer hit Travis with a stare. "Travis you have something to add as well?" he barked.

Travis felt very ill at ease, he shouldn't have said anything and he knew it. He tried to apologize it away. "No Sir. Sorry Sir."

"I am sure I heard you add something to the conversation Travis and I would like to hear it now." Archer said a little calmer this time.

"Go ahead Trav, I think it needs ta be said." Trip encouraged and then looked across the bridge at T'Pol and added; "I think T'Pol needs to hear it."

T'Pol spoke. "I heard the Ensigns comment Commander. Contrary to what you believe I am not without emotion. My decisions however are based on logic. Perhaps you consider that wrong Commander but arguing the point now will not help the Lieutenant and his crew."

Archer looked from Trip to Travis to T'Pol, now wanting to know what Travis had just said for different reasons, but T'pol was right, now was not the time. "This will be discussed this later." He said.

Travis looked back to the console. "Sir, I think they are on the move again."

"T'Pol?" Archer asked.

"Two of the biosigns have weakened Captain." She answered.

"Anything Hoshi?" Archer again asked her. Hoshi shook her head no. He then looked toward Trip

"Grappler is on line and standing by Sir." Trip offered in military tone.

*****

Malcolm stood with Greene watching Jonas jump over the crevice.

"Looks like Jonas made it over you go next Greene." Reed ordered. "I am right behind you."

Greene jumped over landing hard and a searing twinge shot through his right leg. He went down on his backside just inches away from Jonas. He called to her but got no response, biting his bottom lip against the throbbing pain he pulled Jonas over to him and up across his lap. Reed made the jump landing upright and on his feet about a meter from them.

"Greene?" Reed questioned.

"Angela's suit has been compromised." Greene answered through labored breaths of his own. "Faceplate is cracked. I've covered the crack as tightly as I can. I can feel her trying to breathe but she isn't responding."

Reed fell to his knees to check the damage. The dust was again beginning to swallow them. He made a quick check of Angela. From what he could see she had passed out but was breathing albeit ragged. "We've got to get her back to the pod as soon as we can. She is breathing but I don't know how much air she has left or how much of the dust she has taken in. Do you think that together we can carry her?"

Greene wanted nothing more than to get her back to the pod and the regret in his voice came through. "I'm sorry, I can't help you Lieutenant, think I broke my leg when I landed."

Malcolm made a quick check over John and John saw the cringe when his eyes swept over the leg. Malcolm wondered how he had missed the fact that John Greene's leg was twisted underneath him in the wrong direction.

"Bad?" John asked of him.

"Very." Reed said back. "But we have all got to get out of here, and soon. I am going to have to release your leg. I think I can manage to pull you both if I can straighten it. Think you can you handle that?"

"Just get Ang back Malcolm. You can't get us both back, leave me here."

Malcolm stopped and looked squarely at a very frightened John Greene. "I won't do that John. None of us will die here do you understand?"

John muttered a yes and Malcolm maneuvered himself beside him grabbing the misplaced ankle in a tight grip. "Hold your breath, bite your lip, scream; whatever you have to do to get through this but don't lose your grip on Angela's suit John. Got it?"

"Yes Sir." John replied.

Malcolm fast yanked the mangled leg from under Greene placing it where it should be. John Greene sucked in a quick breath and then screamed out in pain.

"Worst is over are you still with me John?" Malcolm asked.

"Yes Sir I am." Greene grunted.

"Good, I want you to grab Angela the same way I am grabbing you but only with your free arm. Keep the other hand over her faceplate as tightly as you can." Malcolm positioned himself behind Greene pushed his arms under Johns and locked them around his chest by gripping his wrists. Greene did the same with Angela but with one arm across her chest grabbing a handful her suit and holding tightly to it. "I'm going to pull and I want you to try to push with your good leg."

Greene fought as hard as he could against the pain. "Don't know how far I can make it Lieutenant."

"You can make it as far as you need to John. Ready? One...two...three...push."

Reed pulled and Greene pushed as much as his pain would allow. He had gotten three good pushes in when he started to fade into unconsciousness. Reed knew he had to get them farther and would have to think fast to find something that would keep Greene alert. He began asking John simple questions, expecting answers as fast as he asked them. Greene began to think Reed was losing his mind. Reed on the other hand felt the influx of weight as Greene faded in and out of consciousness and he knew that if he lost him to the pain he would never be able to drag his weight.

Malcolm heard the hails from Enterprise but let them go. They had made it just over halfway back with Greene in the middle of an answer when he passed out. His weight slumped fully against Malcolm bringing him to his knees. Malcolm's hand swiftly landed over the crack in Angela's faceplate as John's slipped off. The choice had now been made for him; Angela would be first to go back. He would have to return for John Greene.

*****

"They've separated Captain" T'Pol announced.

Archer could see that on the screen as he paced. "Hoshi?"

Hoshi shook her head no.

"How far are they from the pod Trip? Can you tell?" Archer asked, still pacing.

"Maybe twenty meters give or take a step." Trip answered.

Archer's pacing stopped. "Is the grappler on line?" he asked.

Trip smiled to himself, how many times now had Archer asked the same question? "Yes Cap'n on line and ready to go."

"Just in case. Precautionary measure." Archer said hoping it was so.

"Yes Sir, precautionary measure. Understood." Trip agreed also hoping.

"Sir, I've got them." Hoshi yelped upping the volume.

"Reed to Enterprise,"

"Go ahead Malcolm" Archer replied.

Archer had no idea how relieved Reed had been to hear Archer on the other end. "Don't have much time. Planet surface is becoming extremely unstable. Pod is covered in six inches of dust. Not sure engines will start. Angela's suit has been compromised. Have patched the crack. She is breathing but not well. Greene has a badly broken leg. Going back for him now."

Archer's away team was in trouble and he had no idea what to say to give them comfort. "We have the grappler on line and are standing by Malcolm."

"Thank you sir, Reed out."

Archer sat heavily in his chair breathing the weight of the world audibly out through his mouth.

"Trip, the grappler is on line right?" Archer asked again.

"Ready to go Cap'n, but it's gonna be like gropin in the backseat at the movies. Don't have much of a visual and I'm gonna hafta feel my way. I'm tellin you Sir, I still think the transport's a better idea."

"Transport is out of the question Trip, get ready to grope."

*****

Malcolm made sure the crack was sealed tightly and that Angela was indeed breathing before he left her to get Greene. He was glad that he had chosen to dismiss Greene's earlier advice and use the flares to mark his path. They had certainly been difficult to reach and light while pulling Jonas toward the pod but he had managed and now made it back to Greene with little effort.

"John? Can you hear me John?" Malcolm asked clearing dust from Greene's faceplate, he then locked his arms again around him and gave a gallant pull. The size difference in the two men made it almost impossible for Reed to even budge John and he tried again to rouse him. "Crewman Greene I need your help here, that is an order!" He barked, hoping it would work.

"Lieutenant?" Greene asked not quite believing he had actually heard the Lieutenant he thought perhaps he was only imagining that he had.

"Yes John it's me." Malcolm answered in a sigh of relief. "I need your help to get you back to the shuttle."

"Angela?"

"Already back. Still breathing. You passed out couldn't drag you both. Are you up to helping me again?"

"With my good leg on the three count right? And Lieutenant, I was seventeen." Greene sighed a painful laugh.

"Pardon me? Seventeen?" Malcolm questioned as they made their first effort toward the pod.

"You asked about my first real kiss. Don't think I ever gave you the answer. I was seventeen she was sixteen and we're still kissing today. Don't think I finished telling you that."

"No John, you didn't." Malcolm smiled. "And I'm hoping you are referring to your wife." He laughed.

*****

Archer again was pacing the bridge hovering somewhere between Hoshi and Travis as they waited for Malcolm to signal they had made it to the shuttle. Each time Archer stopped pacing for a moment Trip knew he would for information from one of them. They all watched anxiously as the blips made their way across the screen getting ever closer to the pod. Archer ran his hands through his hair yet again and Trip knew from this signal he was about to stop. This time it was Trip's turn.

Trip spoke before Archer could. "The grappler's on line. Hoshi hasn't heard anything. T'Pol has three bio signs and Travis is still in the drivers seat. Cap'n you gotta stop pacin, you're makin us all nervous."

Archer looked at each of them and sat in his chair. His fingers began to tap. He knew it had only been minutes but it had seemed to last hours. Something was not right, he could feel it in the pit of his stomach and he couldn't sit still. He felt helpless and angry for allowing the mission to proceed in the first place and not being on the bridge when it had gone wrong was not helping matters.

"Reed to Enterprise."

The collective sighs of relief resonated across the bridge at the sound of Malcolm's voice.

"Go ahead Malcolm." Archer replied standing again.

"We are on board the shuttle. Jonas is still with us. Greene is conscious but in severe pain. I would advise you to have medical standing by. The surface is trembling; visibility is less than three meters Sir. I'm not sure we can lift off and I'm not sure how long we have to give it a go."

Archer made his way to Trip and Trip readied himself to catch the pod. "Medical is standing by Malcolm. We have the grappler on line and are ready to proceed. Sit tight and let us bring you home." "Aye, Sir." Reed replied.

Archer stepped toward Trip. "Are we within range?"

Trip studied his options. "Yes Cap'n, I think I can reach her."

"It's up to you then, give it the best shot you've got. I want them back here in one piece as soon as possible." He stood silently as Trip readied the equipment.

Trip dropped the grappling arm and maneuvered it for his best shot and let it go missing the pod completely. "Damn it!" He reeled the maglocks back in and compensated the distance of error. "Come on Trip you can do this, just concentrate." He said to himself. "Lets go darlin' lock on for me.... Got em!"

Archer clapped his hand together and a small cheer was heard across the bridge. "Reel them in Trip. Slow and steady."

"Didn't catch em to leave em there Cap'n." Trip smiled and started the pod on its upward journey.

*****

Malcolm turned to check his passengers, both appeared to be resting as comfortably as possible considering their conditions. He breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the maglocks hit the shuttle. "They've got us. Sit tight, we'll be home soon." He said though mostly to himself and leaned back against the seat to rest while he waited. He swept at the dust particles that were beginning to float into the air around him and contemplated the patterns he was making in them. He looked up the trail he had made with his hand and noticed they were making an odd pattern on the ceiling above him as well, a quite large but perfect circle that seemed to be moving toward the portside.

*****

"Son of a bitch!" Trip yelled.

"Trip?" Archer cocked his head.

Trip's voice became frantic. "The pod is slippin Cap'n. The locks aren't holdin."

"What do you mean the locks aren't holding?" Archer barked.

"What the hell kind of question is that? I mean the locks aren't holdin. I'm losin the pod." The space Trip had to work with had suddenly become too small, he had nowhere to turn and his mind whirled with specifics. "Jesus Trip put her back down!" Archer demanded.

"I'm tryin to do that but I'm not sure she'll get there before I lose her." Trip said frantically searching his mind for an answer.

"Then put her down faster Trip." Archer barked.

"Only way I can do that is to let her go, either way fifty-four meters isn't gonna be a very welcome fall Cap'n." He barked back.

Archer persisted. "Think Trip, there must be something you can try."

Trip lost his patience. "Jesus Cap'n, I'm tryin ta think and it sure as hell would be a lot easier if you'd just back off an let me do it."

An anxious Archer backed off giving Trip the space he was asking for.

Trip ran his hands over the panel and then through his damp hair and spoke directly to Archer. "I'm gonna try to turn the pod. Maybe it'll give me enough time to get em back to the surface."

Archer nodded his approval.

Trip worked oblivious to the silent bridge whose hope clung to his ablilty. He began urging the shuttle onward. "Come on darlin...turn...atta girl...hang on...hang on...a little farther. I got her turned but she's still slippin Cap'n." He swiftly pushed his hair back away from his face and concentrated on the pod.

"Slow and steady Trip. Keep her nose up"

"Twenty two meters...twenty...damn it, I'm losin her...come on darlin hang on...come on...fifteen meters...hang on...that's it...that's it...no...no...no! Aw sweet Jesus I lost em. Son of a bitch, I lost em." Trip bit his bottom lip scratched his head and began tapping his foot. "Think Trip think...faster Trip...come on Trip think faster." He stopped tapping. "Transporter!" Trip started fast off the bridge hesitating momentarily next to Archer. "Permission to use the transporter Sir."

Archer hesitated.

"Come on Cap'n yes or no."

"I'm not certain that it's the wisest choice Trip I..."

"Damn it Archer, If ya got a better idea lemme hear it." Tucker demanded in anger.

Archer started again. "No I don't but I can't let you risk..."

"Cap'n you're wastin time we don't have. I won't let em drop and die down there." And Trip started toward the lift.

"Trip maybe if we..."

Trip picked up his stride. "I don't got time for maybes. You figure that maybe out before I get there you let me know."

"Trip stop and listen to reason. Damn it Trip stop! Commander Tucker..." Archer barked at Trip's back as the lift door closed.

"We have visuals Captain." T'Pol announced. "Twenty-five seconds to impact. Twenty three..."

Archer saw red. The last thing he wanted right now was a logical Vulcan announcing the fact they could now see the impact of the pod and when she started with what sounded like a countdown his anger became so fierce it wouldn't allow him to verbalize what he was feeling. He started toward her.

"Twenty one seconds..." She again announced.

Travis turned the visuals off and glanced over at Hoshi who returned a thank you glance back.

"Twenty...."

Archer's rage flung him toward T'Pol. His body hit her station in an instant, his angry face within inches of hers. She wanted to step back but she did not dare. "I want your mouth closed now! That is an order!" His knuckles turned white as he gripped the console trying to maintain control. She did not move. Her gaze remained firmly locked with his making him even angrier. It took everything he had not to lunge at her and physically throw her from the bridge and her duties forever but in that instant her words came back to him; 'it is not wise to give an order based on emotion' and knew this time she had been correct. He had hesitated with Trip on the transport question far to long, perhaps costing lives. T'Pol was the only one aboard who could have made the call without thinking. He cursed at her under his breath and took in a deep breath and swallowed the angry lump in his throat. "I will be in transport. Travis, maintain position. Hoshi try to reach them." He hesitated and started to talk twice before finally letting a quiet and pained "T'Pol, you have the bridge" slip from his mouth.

*****

Archer shuddered as he came through the transport doors and saw the body that was materializing in the beam hoping that whomever it was would come through in one piece without surface materials fused through them. He sent a hopeful glance toward Trip and saw there not his friend but a brilliant master of machinery. Someone whose lack of instinct had been replaced by mechanical capabilities so profound that they had become just plain common sense to him. Archer had made a mistake not to trust Trip at the first mention of the transport and in his gut he knew his mistake had cost them.

"Get em out of there now!" Trip demanded. "And make it fast, got two more comin."

"It's Jonas Commander." One of the med team announced as they removed her from the platform.

"Her suit has been compromised, faceplate. Make sure you note that." He replied.

"Yes sir."

The second body began materializing on the platform. To Archer and Trip it seemed to take forever but just seconds later the med team had John Greene on his way to sickbay.

"Your turn Malcolm." Trip said. "I gotcha, you're on the way home."

As Malcolm appeared on the platform Archer sighed in relief, thankful that the same fear that had prevented him from making the choice had given Trip the strength to go over his head and do the right thing.

"Lieutenant Reed has been recovered Doctor. We are on our way." The med team advised.

Archer needed to apologize for his mistake and thank the commander for returning the team to Enterprise in what appeared to be one piece and he made his way toward Trip. Trip made his way in the opposite direction fast headed for the exit and simply brushed past Archer on his way out without so much as a glance of acknowledgement. Archer's first thought was to turn and follow at Trip's heels but past experience told him that right now all Trip wanted was to be alone.

Tucker wandered the corridor with his thoughts. He had no way of knowing if he had pulled them from the shuttle before it hit the surface, but when none of the bodies had been responsive on the transport platform he knew things were bad. He wanted to follow the team to medical but he was sure it was the first place Archer would go and right now Jonathan Archer was the last person he wanted to see. He wasn't in the mood to argue the point of his demeanor on the bridge or his obvious disregard for a superior officer; nor did he have the desire to defend himself against a Vulcan sub- commander whom he knew would push Jon hard to strip him of his command.

Tucker's wanderings finally brought him to engineering, the place he knew best and felt most comfortable in. It was fairly deserted, something Trip Tucker was certainly glad to see. He sat down on the grated metal steps leading toward the warp panel and began mulling over the should haves that traveled through his head.

Lieutenant Hess found him there two hours later after Archer notified her that he had not been answering calls. She was given an update the conditions of the team and was told to relay the information on to the Commander only if he was receptive to it. She understood Archer to say that if he was not she was to leave him be. Hess quietly placed her hand on Trip's shoulder to alert him to her presence. Trip looked up at her and waited for her to speak.

"Captain Archer tells me that all three are in very critical condition, the Lieutenant being the worst. Doctor Phlox will know more in the morning. I'm sorry Commander." She said.

Trip stood mustering a half smile toward the Lieutenant and looked her squarely in the eye. "I sent a memo to the staff and the Cap'n informing them that you are in charge of Engineering until further notice. They are to give you the same respect they have always given me." And disregarding the question in her eyes he thanked her verbally for the news and exited Engineering.

*****

Travis Mayweather was summoned to the Captains quarters just after the dinner hour the day following the incident. He was sure, because of the comment he had let slip out on the bridge that Archer would quiz Hoshi as well before he spoke to T'Pol. His suspicions appeared correct as he ran into Hoshi on his way to the Captains door. "Got to you first huh?" He asked her.

She smiled. "I feel like I wasn't much help. I really didn't know what he was asking for Travis." She said. "I told him what I could."

"He is looking for an answer that he'll never find. We all are. This shouldn't have happened." Travis said to her.

"Do you know how they are?" She asked referring to the three transported aboard.

"Doc won't let anybody see them yet. Don't even know if the Captain has been allowed. News is they're critical. Reed being the worst. I'm guessing he was still in the pod when it hit."

Hoshi grimaced and a tear spilled out of her right eye.

Travis pulled her into a hug as the tear fell into sobbing. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been so blunt." Travis comforted her until the sobbing subsided and she stepped back wiping the tears away with her hand. "Will you be ok?" he asked.

Hoshi mustered a smile and nodded her head yes.

"You're sure?" Travis asked again, again getting a yes nod. "Guess I can't put it off any longer then can I?"

Hoshi smiled as Travis smoothed his uniform and stepped in the direction of Archer's quarters.

Archer stood next to his window looking out at the glittering stars that were in sharp contrast with the planet that would be fast disappearing below them. He had ordered Enterprise into charted friendly territory making them easily accessible for families of the injured away team. They would not soon be continuing on their journey and sitting at arms length from family links made him feel more comfortable than sitting light years away. His door chimed and Pothos his beagle reminded him with a bark. "Porthos, behave yourself." Archer scolded and then called his okay for entrance.

"You wanted to see me Sir?" Travis asked as he stepped in taking a stance of attention.

"Yes Travis I did. I was hoping between you and Hoshi I could clear a few things up before I talk to T'Pol."

"Yes Sir." Travis said still rigid.

Archer gave a small laugh. "Relax Travis this isn't formal and you can dispense with the sir part. I just want to clear up any confusion I have about what went on before I was called to the bridge. I don't even want to think about filing a report just yet."

"I will help you all I can Captain."

"Thank you Travis I can use it. I'm afraid what I got from Hoshi just confused me even more." Archer motioned to the cushioned seat to his left. "Please feel free to sit Travis. Can I get you anything?"

"No, thank you and if you don't mind I think I will stand, kind of hard to sit after you've been doing it all day." Travis smiled.

"I understand that, though I'm afraid I do more pacing than sitting when I'm on the bridge." A smiling Archer leaned against his desk. "Travis, you said something on the bridge about T'Pol's lack of emotion causing the problem. Can you explain what you meant by that?"

Somehow Travis knew this would be the question given highest priority. He had rehearsed his answer to it over and over and now that the question was finally posed he went blank. "I was angry Captain, it was something I shouldn't have said."

"Are you sure Travis? Sometimes those little blurts can mean something very important in the long run. I tend to think this is one of those times."

"Yes I'm sure." But Travis wasn't sure and he knew Archer was not going to let it drop.

Archer raised his eyebrow with an expression that told Travis he needed to hear his explanation anyway and they would be there until he did. Travis shifted back and forth on his feet, he knew Archer was not demanding an answer for any other reason but to clarify exactly what it was that bothered him about the mission, but it didn't make him any more comfortable explaining his heated remark to his captain.

Travis tried to find the rehearsed parts of his statement. "I think if it had been you or anyone else but the Sub-Commander giving the orders on the bridge Sir, the mission would have stopped before it started that's all."

That didn't give Archer much and he knew Travis knew it. "Meaning?" Archer persisted.

Travis sighed and continued his rehearsed explanation. "Meaning there was something in Reed's voice that made me think things were not right planet side Captain. I heard as plain as anything. Hoshi heard it too. It was fear Captain. He was afraid of something there. The Sub-Commander didn't hear it. Reed even reiterated that they had no visuals and no scanners to work with and she didn't budge. I guess I think it would have been better if Reed had called it off." Travis changed his mind about standing and sat on the bunk across from Archer and waited for his response.

Archer squinted his eyes in thought. "Reed should have called it off?" He asked. "You mean T'Pol don't you?"

"No Sir, T'Pol gave Reed the option." Mayweather said. "What are you getting at Captain?" Archer sighed and stood. "Well, Hoshi said the same thing. Something about Reed deciding to continue because of T'Pol's side of the conversation. She says she thinks T'Pol made it sound like Reed was just being unreasonable."

"Well, Reed was insistent that T'Pol understand they had no visuals and no functioning scanners." Travis adjusted his position. "She told him she understood that and then asked Reed if he thought they were in danger 'simply because they couldn't see', kind of like he was just afraid of the dark. You know."

"Making him feel uncomfortable about calling it off would you say?"

"But she did give him the option Captain, well sort of. She told him if he 'wanted to call it off she would inform you.'" Mayweather used the same sarcastic tone of voice T'Pol had with Reed.

"Just like that? She said it just like that?" Archer questioned.

"That is the way I heard it Sir, but I wouldn't be able to say for certain that she used that tone of voice just to keep them there Captain. Why would she do that?"

Archer cocked his head. "I hope you're right Travis."

Travis squirmed a bit. "There were more transmissions after that Captain and every time my gut told me they needed to get out."

"So did mine Travis." Archer agreed.

"You did the best you could in a tough situation Sir." Travis offered.

"I'm not so sure." Archer said swinging the desk chair out and placing himself on it backwards facing Travis. He rested his arms on the chair back making Travis realize this conversation was far from over. "What about Commander Tucker?" Archer asked.

"Commander Tucker?" He returned the question, unsure what the captain was asking.

"Do you think he did the right thing?" Archer asked.

"I'm not sure what you are asking." Travis confessed, "are you asking me if he could have done a better job with the pod? I'm not the engineer captain, I'm not qualified to..."

Archer interrupted; "no, Travis, that isn't what I am asking." He shifted in the chair becoming suddenly uncomfortable about asking about discussing Trip, he hadn't even been able to bring himself to ask Hoshi for her thoughts. There was a fear within him that she would tend to agree that the commander had stepped out of line. Travis was different, Travis had spent his life shipside and Archer was sure he had seen situations like this one. He was sure Travis would be able to give an honest and well educated opinion of what had transpired. Archer needed that from him regardless of what the opinion might be. He spoke through the tension in his throat, "I'm asking about the transport situation."

"I will assume by the transport situation, Sir, that you are referring to the Commander's acting without your go ahead?" Mayweather asked.

Archer was relieved. Travis understood. "Exactly what I am asking Travis. I have a feeling it will come up with T'Pol and one way or another I want to be ready for it."

"Then you are asking me if I think the Commander deliberately disobeyed orders?" Travis questioned.

Archer eyes never shifted from Travis as he nodded to the affirmative feeling the need to explain himself further; "realizing of course, that if he did deliberately disobey orders, it could be seen by certain officers on board as grounds for dismissal."

"Understood Captain." Travis replied returning a look that told Archer he knew exactly what he meant. "Sir, I believe you had a very small window of opportunity and that left you with no time to discuss options. I think we were all under a great deal of stress and we all did what we had to do to get the team back here. If you look closely each one of us on that bridge spoke out of turn and disobeyed protocol at one point or another Sir. I have to believe that it was necessary because of the circumstance." Travis stopped in thought and cocked his head with a sigh; "If you are asking me if I think what Commander Tucker did was right then I would have to say yes. The situation called for quick thinking and because of that I think rank and protocol ceased to be the issue. The issue here becomes getting souls back on board Enterprise alive and in one piece."

'The issue here becomes getting souls back on board Enterprise alive'; Archer couldn't have said it better himself. He allowed a heavy sigh to escape his lips. "Thanks Travis, I knew you would see this from an angle I couldn't. I hesitated far too long with my order and I agree with you, Commander Tucker was right to take matters into his own hands. I just couldn't see how to justify it when it came up with T'Pol."

"Just so you know, Sir, I don't think you hesitated without good reason. You've been through the transport and you've seen first hand what can happen. Fear is a mighty powerful feeling, Captain, and I don't think it is an easy one to control."

"Or admit to Travis." Archer smiled. "Thank you. You've been a big help."

"Any time Captain." Travis smiled back as he stood. He then turned his attention toward another topic. "Sir, have you seen them?" he asked referring to the away team.

"Just briefly." Archer replied with a somber tone, "it doesn't look good for any of them Travis, especially Jonas and Reed. Dr. Phlox says he will 'know more in the morning'" Archer rubbed at his temples; "to be honest with you Travis, I think Doctor's must rehearse that line in med school, for the rest of us it's just going to be another long night."

"Was Reed still in the pod when..." Travis' voice drifted.

"It appears so Travis. Doctor Phlox says he has massive internal injuries that we know weren't there when..." Archer stopped mid sentence where the lump caught his throat.

The two each remained silent, each searching for the right thing to say.

"I'm sorry Captain." Travis at last offered when he found nothing better.

"Me too Travis." Archer shook his head. "Me too."

*****

Thoughts whirled through the commander's head like the dust on the planet below as his silent wanderings landed him outside the sickbay doors. He checked the time, 0200 hours. Sickbay would be empty except for the Denubulan doctor who never slept, still he nervously paced back and forth in front of the doors for a long while before finally making himself enter. Dr. Phlox was busy feeding his lab specimens but caught the scent of the commander's presence there and finished with the feedings early.

"Commander Tucker; what can I do for you?" Dr. Phlox enquired though quite certain he knew why the commander was there.

The exhausted commander glanced toward the occupied bio-beds and raised his brow with question.

Dr. Phlox drew in a breath; "they are all on the line between life and death Commander. I am afraid that we may lose Crewman Jonas and the Lieutenant. They have both suffered through some very severe trauma."

Trip Tucker turned away.

Phlox tried to instill a bit of hope in the distraught commander. "It is my understanding that humans are equipped with a strong will to survive. In my studies I have even noted that another human can sometimes provide an emotional link that can summon them back from death. It may prove beneficial to hear a familiar voice Commander, would you like to see them?"

Trip was not at all sure he really wanted to see them, suffering had never been easy for him to deal but he followed the Doctor to the end of the center bed. His gaze wandered up from the floor to the foot of the bed and then toward Phlox.

"Crewman Greene." Phlox said nodding toward the body in front of him. "Crewman Jonas to his right and Lieutenant Reed to his left. It would be best for you to view them in that order." Trip closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Will you be alright Commander?" Phlox asked.

Trip gave a nod of affirmation to the doctor.

"Talking to them would be helpful, bearing in mind however that they cannot answer back. Captain Archer has done so, but I believe the voice of a friend, as opposed to that of their captain, may be more beneficial." Phlox stepped away leaving Trip alone with the three of them.

Trip forced himself to look up toward the face of John Greene. Greene appeared as though he was simply sleeping for the night and Trip gained more courage to let his eyes wander toward the other two. Angela Jonas was different and his eyes shifted quickly away from the pasty color of her skin and the blue tone of her lips. Doctor Phlox wanted him to talk to her? What could he say? Everything seemed so pointless now. He blinked back the feeling of tears welling in his eyes and forced himself to look once again past Greene toward Malcolm Reed. 'Jesus' he said to himself quickly closing his eyes to wipe away the image as much as to resist the sudden urge he had to vomit. "Jesus;" he choked out, "I am so sorry."

*****

Archer turned onto his left side readjusting his pillow again. He had tossed and turned for the past five nights. Memories of the situation on the bridge had again snuck in and left him thinking about today's memorial for Angela Jonas. All the things he could have said and didn't, and all the things he did say that he shouldn't have. Talking with her family had been one of the hardest things he had ever been through in his life. He knew nothing he said would be remembered as much as the way he said it. He therefore decided not to force himself to be strong and bold; the loss of Jonas had been his as well and he wanted them to know that. He hoped that they walked away with the knowledge that their daughter would be missed just as much here as she would at home. He turned onto his back again adjusted the pillow and closed his eyes.

Sleep didn't come, instead he chose to mull once again over his conversation with T'Pol. She had apologized for not understanding the Lieutenant's apprehension regarding the mission. She had further insisted that Commander Tucker's wisdom in using the transport should have been headed earlier, perhaps allowing them to save the life of Crewman Jonas. She then reminded him that it had been human emotion that had launched Enterprise, and questioned as to whether the consequences of emotion had been worth the risk they caused you to take.

He readjusted his pillow.

Archer had first been angered by her smug insistence to place blame elsewhere, but he realized now that she had been right. He had been wrong to deny the use of the transport simply because he was afraid of the technology. He wondered if she actually thought Tucker was right to go over his head or if she realized his insubordination was cause for a dismissal she did not approve of. The two of them had never hidden the fact that they were not fond of each other but he knew they respected each other as fellow officers. Still, having T'Pol go the defensive route for Tucker was something he had never expected and he had to wonder if human nature was rubbing off on her.

He smiled to himself and turned onto his left side.

T'Pol's question again surfaced to haunt him. 'Are the consequences of human emotion worth the risks they cause you to take?' The more he thought about the question and the way it had been asked, the more he had to think she knew the answer was yes. If the answer had been otherwise, she would never have asked it of him. Archer turned again intent on simply readjusting his pillow, but instead tossed it to the floor and rose from the bunk. Porthos his beagle took advantage of the extra room by readjusting himself to a more comfortable position. Pulling on a t-shirt and pants Archer notified Porthos that he was about to have his comfortable spot for the rest of the night.

Archer left his quarters and made the trek to Trip's quarters knowing he wouldn't answer the door even if he was there. He hesitated before he pressed the pad making the decision to simply open the door himself if he got no response. Within seconds he found himself doing just that. The door slid open and he stepped into his friend's quarters touching the light pad as he did. The emptiness of the room enveloped around him and he slammed his frustrations against the light pad on his way out. Trip Tucker was not well and nothing Archer had tried to do had interrupted the downward spiral. Archer found himself suffering as well; without his forever cheerful, forever clumsy, and forever optimistic friend Archer felt very alone. *****

Dr. Phlox stood from his chair as the Captain entered Sickbay. "Captain, is there something I can do for you?" he questioned.

Archer frowned. "Thought I might find Trip here."

Phlox answered. "He was here a few hours ago and again, I tried to convince him that he needed to sleep."

"And?" Archer asked with some hope.

Phlox shook it off. "He simply gave me that look humans get when they don't want to be disturbed."

"I know that one well lately." Archer shifted on his feet as if he were turning to leave but didn't. "Is there anything you can do to help him Doctor?" he finally asked. "I'm at a loss. I've never seen him this far down before. I don't think he's eating or sleeping; hell I don't even think he's showered since the accident...."

Phlox thought before responding. "Emotional trauma is difficult Captain. Humans are very complex in that category. I am not sure there is much that I can do; there has yet to be discovered a remedy to ease that kind of suffering."

"There has to be something." Archer persisted.

"Perhaps I could give him something that would put him to sleep and give him nourishment internally if you feel that is necessary." Phlox replied.

"Don't you?" Archer asked beginning to pace.

Phlox smiled at the nervous human. "At this point Captain, no; however it may become necessary within the next forty-eight to seventy-two hours. Assuming, of course, that he doesn't just collapse into a deep sleep on his own from lack of proper care."

Archer stopped. "You underestimate his determination Doctor. I know this man; he could last forever this way." Archer ran his hand through his hair stopping to rub at the base of his neck and sighed heavily. "I want you to get whatever it is you need to put Trip out ready to go. I'm giving him twenty four hours. I can't wait forty-eight hours, if he doesn't come around soon, I'm going to be the one needing your help."

"I can do that Captain. The trick will be getting him to take it."

"Let me worry about that. I'll figure something out. Maybe even a phase pistol," he added, though mostly to himself.

Doctor Phlox cocked his head at Archer with a surprised look.

Archer smiled. "I wasn't serious Doc."

"Of course not Captain." Phlox said in such a way that Archer wondered if he was really convinced.

*****

Malcolm had been treading water for what seemed like hours frantically trying to keep his face above the surface. He dared not look at his father knowing the tears in his eyes would again give away his fear and the process of pushing him back under the water to counteract his fears would begin all over again. As a boy, he believed that his father's only reason for pushing him toward the limit was so that he could gain control over this fear. As a young man each time his father pulled him back up from the water's depths fighting for his life, his heart saw something different. This had become a sick and twisted game. A father's punishment for something a son could not control. Malcolm Reed made the decision that today, one way or the other, would be the last time his father would put him through this. Today he would win the game and take his life as far away from this one as he could. Even if it took drowning to do it.

He mustered the courage for one last indignant stare at his father and looked up toward the boat. The brightness of the sun struck his eyes and he turned his face against it catching a glimpse not of his father, but of a blue eyed officer. An officer that somewhere in recesses of his mind he thought he knew. He blinked against the sun to gain a better look but the officer was gone.

*****

Trip had no idea how he ended up in front of Malcolm's door, but he let himself in as he had countless times before retrieving something Malcolm was too stubborn to leave his post to get. Reed's empty room was not an unusual sight, Malcolm was rarely ever there, Trip often poked fun at him about standing in a corner to sleep so he wouldn't mess up his bed. He often wondered what kind of childhood Malcolm must have had but never asked, assuming if Malcolm wanted to share he would. If Trip had to guess he would have said that Malcolm had been born with the silver spoon; something Trip had always wished had been his lot in life. He glanced about the empty room his eyes coming to rest on the padd on Malcolm's bunk and he leaned in to pick it up. It was a personal letter to Malcolm from his sister Madeline. Trip returned it to the bunk, but something urged him to retrieve and read it.

Dearest Malcolm, As you know today was mum's birthday. I made myself go round to see her and found myself once again wishing that I hadn't done so. She quite enjoyed the note she received from you; although of course my gift was lacking. Hasn't it always been? I wish that you had been here to save me from all of this. Mum was ok, but for the gift part, however the good Sir was, as always, an angry bastard. Still going round about Starfleet being unnecessary and how the Royal Navy could teach them a few things. The good Sir is always and forever the same. Do you ever get the feeling change is difficult for the old bastard? Do you think we will ever see a real father in him? I miss you Malcolm. Luv to you. Forever. Madeline

Trip dropped his weight down onto the bunk creating a large crease which he quickly smoothed flat, and re-read the letter. Maybe Malcolm had never shared his life for a reason, maybe there weren't any high points to share. Who the hell calls their daddy Sir, and what kind of daddy allows it? Trip's daddy had never even let strangers call him that. His empty stomach suddenly wrenched and he stood up fast swallowing hard against the sudden need to vomit. He dropped the padd on the bunk and smoothed the covering back into it's perfection.

Enterprise was within family reach, and he thought it strange that Malcolm's father could know his child was about to die and still maintain foster enough hate to deny himself one last contact. His stomach wrenched again and the bile rose up into his throat fast forcing him to head for the toilet basin and vomit. Resting against the cold metal rim he realized just how lucky he was to have been born into a family with open arms and open hearts. Trip emptied his gut into the basin once more before the room went black. He found himself still there his head resting against the cold metal as the artificial daylight simulator slowly brightened the room around him.

*****

T'Pol looked up from her breakfast casting her gaze toward her despondent table partner. Archer had barely spoken this morning and his appearance was lacking. "Captain, did you not sleep well again?" She asked.

He cleared another path through his eggs with his fork. "I'm fine T'Pol."

"Captain, your appearance suggests that you are not sleeping well." She hesitated and then went forward with what she wanted to say. "Might I suggest Captain that a call to Lieutenant Novacek may be in order?"

Archer gave her the confused look she knew would be coming. "Meaning?"

"From what I ascertained while Kathryn was on board Captain she is the only other human who understands Commander Tucker as well as you do. I am suggesting that perhaps she may be able to offer some assistance here."

Archer blew a sigh through his pursed lips and stretched his neck to each side. T'Pol was right, Kathryn did understand Trip, sometimes better than Trip understood himself, but even now he didn't want to afford T'Pol the luxury of being right. "That may be true T'Pol but I'm not sure I would even know where to start looking for her right now."

T'Pol cocked her head raising her right eyebrow. "I believe I am correct in stating that your ability to find things has proven extremely effective in the past Captain."

Archer put his fork down and shook his head while a half smile crept across his face. Somehow he knew she wasn't going to pass up an opportunity prove herself right. "In other words you mean I could find her if I really want to."

"Yes Captain I believe you could. Perhaps Kathryn would prove to be beneficial to your own state of mind as well."

Archer pushed himself back from the table with a sigh. "Why must you always be right?"

T'Pol cocked her head as if she didn't understand. "Captain?"

Archer stood from the chair. "Damn if you aren't always just one step ahead of me T'Pol. Always knowing the next step before I have even finished with the last; and it goes without saying that I also need to learn to trust your instincts more as well."

T'Pol rose from her seat turning toward Archer uncertain if what she just heard was sarcasm or compliment. She chose to believe the latter. "Thank you Captain." She said. "Now if you will excuse me I will resume my duties." She turned to leave.

Archer called her back, he had no right to have been so biting. "T'Pol, wait a minute." There was a long hesitation before he finally spoke. Apologizing was not a difficult thing for him but admitting he was wrong, especially to a Vulcan was. "I want you to know that you were right to question my orders on the bridge. My fear of the transport stood in front of my judgment. Trip knew that and you knew that and I wouldn't listen. I owe you both an apology."

T'Pol relaxed her military stance. "Trying to anticipate the correct move with so little time can be quite difficult Captain. We had no way of knowing the shuttle would fall and I believe that perhaps you were correct; the grappler was the most logical first choice."

Archer wasn't sure she was sincere but smiled a thank you anyway. "I need you to take the bridge this morning. Have Hoshi start tracking the Lieutenant through Starfleet's database. I want to see if I can find Trip and give it one more try. Let me know if Hoshi finds her."

*****

Trip Tucker watched from across sickbay as Crewman Greene braced himself against a stool and gently talked to Lieutenant Reed. Greene had been able to walk out of sickbay the day before with the help of a temporary leg brace. Angela Jonas had not been so lucky. Now only Malcolm Reed was left, presumably to follow the same path as Jonas. He had tried to speak to Reed but the words tangled in his throat and he found himself unable to do much more than take his hand. He silently waited for Greene to leave sickbay before wandering toward Malcolm's bedside himself. Malcolm lay still and silent except in his struggle to breathe as Trip took Malcolm's hand into his own.

Doctor Phlox made his way toward the bio-bed to update the commander; "the Lieutenant has been able to breath on his own for just over four hours now. It isn't a pretty sight but his lungs have healed nicely and it was time for him to give them a try."

Trip waited for more from the Doctor but nothing more came. He wanted to know if it was a good sign. The breathing thing. He was sure it was but from the looks of Malcolm it certainly didn't seem so. He pulled the stool in closer toward the bio-bed and sat. He wanted to tell Malcolm to hang on. To stay here with them. To ask about his sister. He leaned in closer to Malcolm, the words again sticking in his throat. He knew he needed to force them out. Malcolm needed to know how sorry he was for what he had done and how much he needed the man to recover. Trip blinked back the tears in his eyes and forced himself to push the words to the surface. "I'm so sorry." He whispered to Malcolm. "I shouldn't have waited, hang on Malcolm, come back from where ever you are. We need ya here with us."

Archer entered sickbay catching a glimpse of Trip with Malcolm and he stopped short just inside the door. He hesitated for a long while before finally pushing himself to make his way toward them. Trip looked up from Malcolm to glance at Archer as he stood there next to him. Archer said nothing, simply placing his hand on his friends shoulder and waited for him to speak first. No words came.

"Trip, I'm sorry for all of this Trip," Archer whispered; "what can I do to help you?"

Trip looked up at his friend, trying to blink back the flood of tears behind his hollow eyes but he couldn't keep them there and turned his gaze back toward Malcolm.

Archer blinked back frustrated tears of his own. "I don't know where to go from here Charlie Tucker and I can't help you if you won't let me in."

Tucker wanted to let him in, share the pain he knew they both felt; but right at this moment he wasn't strong enough to keep the words from choking him and he would not allow them to force their way out in the form of tears.

There was a heavy sigh and for a moment Archer thought Trip would finally speak but again there were no words. "Trip, just so you know; I have Hoshi trying to reach Kathryn, T'Pol thought maybe the Kid could help both of us get through this." Archer released Trip's shoulder turned and left him alone with Malcolm and his tears.

*****

"T'Pol to Captain Archer." Jolted Archer from the nap he had fallen into.

Rubbing the back of his neck he stretched upright in the chair and reached for the comm.

"Go ahead T'Pol." He yawned.

"Captain, we have located the Lieutenant. Would you like us to try to reach her at this time?"

Archer sighed, he wasn't good at finding things he was good at ordering them found and he had been gifted with a crew that could work miracles. "Please do T'Pol...patch her through to my quarters if you reach her."

"Yes Captain." T'Pol responded.

"And T'Pol, please tell Hoshi I said thank you."

"Certainly Captain."

*****

Trip wandered from sickbay through the ship and into Transport. He ran his hand delicately over the console. He had always trusted this marvelous piece of machinery and wished that Archer had shared his commitment to it; if he had maybe the seconds that were wasted would have been put to better use and Malcolm wouldn't be there in sick bay waiting to die.

Mechanical workings had never been Archer's strong suit just as Archer's instinct had never been Trip's. The two of them complimented each other that way and the friendship they forged because of it had always been a deep one. As if they were twins born years and miles apart each instinctively understanding that the other belonged. Archer had pulled him back from the darkness more times than Trip wanted to remember and he knew he was alive now because of that. He knew he had to face Archer, he just couldn't bring himself to do it yet. Trip fully intended to hand his command over to him before Jon had to ask, but he wanted to be strong enough to look him in the eye when he did it. Strong enough to make him understand that it was ok and that things between them would never change because of the chain of command and it's protocol.

Trip's thoughts wandered to Kathryn the third and, sometimes he had thought, final piece in his life's puzzle. He couldn't help but feel that Archer was trying to reach Kathryn to notify her of his dismissal and then bring her on board to give him a cushion to fall back on. There was a time in his life when he wanted nothing more than to stay where she was forever but not now, not like this, and not for this reason.

His life and had finally begun to settle in around him on board Enterprise, giving him a comfort with himself that had never been there. For the first time he fit where he was and he was good at it. He didn't need her there anymore, a feeling he was becoming quite used to until the instant he lost the shuttle. In that second his life changed forever, there was no protocol, no line of fire, no manual to tell him what to do next and his instinct was lacking. His action was too slow on the upswing. He should have never stopped to ask Archer for an opinion. He wanted to think he did it because it was the right thing for a commanding officer to do, but he knew better. He knew the reason he stopped was because he was afraid to make the choice. Had he not been afraid and simply made the choice maybe Jonas and Reed would be walking the corridors with Greene, and Trip could take his dismissal knowing he sacrificed himself for someone else. Not because he had failed.

Trip Tucker stood knowing his life would never again be the same and there was nothing Jonathan Archer or Kathryn Novacek or anybody else could do about that now.

*****

The comm in Archer's quarters chimed. "Captain, I have the lieutenant on the link would you like me to patch her through now?" Hoshi asked.

"Yes Hoshi, thank you." Archer answered.

"You're welcome Sir." She said back.

Archer pressed the link and before him on the viewscreen was Kathryn. He smiled and sat down in front of her. "Hey Kid, I'm told you are a difficult one to find." He said.

Kathryn smiled back at him. "Give me one more day and I will be at the same address for three months. I'm headed home on shore leave tomorrow afternoon."

"Can you postpone that?" Archer asked.

The look Kathryn picked up from Archer was one of desperation; as if he was searching and she was the last place he could look. "You aren't calling to chat are you?" she questioned.

"No Kid, I'm not." he answered.

Her look grew serious. "What is it Jon?"

Archer gave her a brief summary ending with Trip's condition. "I need your help. He won't even look at me, just wanders the ship and maintains a vigil over Malcolm. I've tried everything from being a friend to giving him orders and it doesn't change a thing. I don't know what to do anymore and T'Pol seems to think maybe you do."

Kathryn shook her head trying to process everything she had just been told. "Jesus Jon, are you ok?" She asked.

"I'm making it." He didn't have any other choice, he was the Captain. "I have to."

He didn't have to and she knew that he knew that. "No, you have to take care of yourself first Jon. If you don't you won't be of any help to the rest of them. Captain or not, you are still human."

"Somebody here reminds me of that almost every day." He smiled.

She smiled back understanding the reference to T'Pol. "And no matter how much you hate to admit it, she is right. Take a day off and take care of yourself. God knows she can run that ship with her eyes closed."

"Don't remind me." he sighed.

She needed him to tell her he would take care of himself. "So you come first ok? And then you take care of Tuck."

Archer frowned. "Just tell me how to help him Kath."

"Fill me in a bit more Jon. Is he eating? sleeping?" She inquired.

Archer answered the questions he could one by one until Kathryn fell silent and then he waited. It was good to hear her voice even if nothing else came of this and as much as he didn't want to admit it to himself, T'Pol had been right about that too.

Kathryn began her surmise. "Sounds like he's hurt and angry Jon and he probably thinks he stepped out of line and lost his job too right?"

Archer hesitated. "Right." He sighed.

She hesitated and then sighed. "Well first off, don't let him know you are talking to me about it."

Archer bit his bottom lip and gave her a sorry look.

Kathryn breathed out a frustrated sigh "You already did." She shook her head. "Ok; so now he is probably thinking you called me to catch him when you take his command. Not too wise Jon."

His eyes lowered. "I hadn't thought about it that way Kid."

"But then you aren't always one to think before you do something are you Jon? Your gut isn't always right" she scolded.

Archer shook his head as if he was a child who had been caught doing something wrong by his mother. She had no idea how deeply she had just cut.

She continued. "Remember Jon if Tuck isn't listening to you or looking at his messages, and I'm sure he isn't, he doesn't know this wasn't his fault and he doesn't know he isn't going to be dismissed, think about that. You are his best friend, do you really think he wants you to have to be the one to take his job from him? Put your hands on the controls Jon. You have to understand that he feels responsible for all of this and he doesn't know how to face you as a Captain or a friend right now."

Kathryn and Jonathan sat silently facing each other via the viewer as he processed what she had just told him. The silence was somehow comforting to him, she filled a void in his life like the sister he never had.

"Jon, do you remember when Bobby died?" Kathryn finally asked.

"I have never forgotten Kid." How could he forget; he had lost his best friend that day.

"I told him not to go in and fly the maneuvers that day because something didn't feel right, remember?" She questioned.

"And he told you that little sisters and psychics didn't make his choices." He answered.

She snorted a small laugh. "I forgot that part! The thing here is that I blamed myself when he died because I didn't try hard enough to stop him."

She wasn't making sense to him yet. "But it wasn't your fault Kid, it was a mechanical failure."

"Exactly, Jon, but that didn't matter to me. I asked him not to go. The fault rested with me." She raised her brow to make a point.

Her meaning still wasn't clear to him. "Nobody stopped your brother Kath, you and I both know that. He did what he wanted when he wanted. Besides, the and the findings were pretty clear that..." Archer stopped with a thought, he was beginning to understand where she was going with this. "You're talking about your reaction and locking your sorry ass in his room for a week aren't you?"

Kathryn smiled and nodded a yes. "It will never matter what the findings are Jon, Tucker was at the controls therefore..."

"This becomes his fault." Archer said finishing her sentence, he was sure he understood where she was going with this.

"Exactly. I think that's where he is right now Jon and until he lets himself get good and angry about it that's where he'll stay...." She cocked her head as if trying to jar a memory from him.

Archer picked it up with a grin. "You wouldn't even come out of his room to go to the memorial service. I remember Kid. I chewed your ass from the other side of his door before I went and again after I came back. Pissed you off something awful."

"Yeah, you did piss me off but I came out of his room didn't I Jon?" She asked.

"As I recall it was quite a violent kid that came out of there." He laughed.

"You called me on it, made me realize how selfish I was being. You hit me right where it hurt the most you know? Call him on it Jon. Find a way to pull him back. Piss him off too."

He smiled. "I think maybe I can arrange that."

"Oh and Jon, you might want to be sure that there is a door between you and Tuck too." She laughed.

"I will Kid," he smiled. "I don't suppose you'd want to spend some of that shore leave here on Enterprise?"

"You have my co-ordinates Jon you tell me." She said.

He made the calculations. "Actually looks like you are fairly close. Maybe thirty-six hours give or take."

"If you want me there I can pull some strings and be ready to fly in an hour." She said leaving the choice to him.

"Please do." He smiled.

"You got it," she smiled back; "but Jon; you owe me that beach at home that I'm going to miss at home."

"I'll see what I can do," he replied with a large grin.

His smile seemed a bit too ill-behaved for her and she suddenly remembered his attempt at a beach from the past. "Blue water in a cup with sand around it won't cut it Jon. I want the real thing this time."

"You know me too well kid." He laughed.

"That I do Jon, sad isn't it?" she smiled; "by the way Jon this 'kid' wants you to sleep first and then worry about Tuck. I mean it. He's strong willed and god knows he'll last another day; who knows he may just come round on his own."

"I'll try." He lied.

She knew he lied. "No you won't."

"I promise." Again he lied.

"I believe you this far." She laughed shaking her head and pressing her index finger to her thumb.

"Love you kid." This was not a lie. Though it was an attempt to change the subject.

She smiled. "Nice attempt to change the subject Jon, I love you just as much; my thoughts are with you and Tuck and Malcolm. I will see you soon."

*****

Doctor Phlox put his fork down and studied the Sub-Commander's odd eating habits wishing he hadn't left his padd in Sickbay. So many times he needed to take notes, but here at the Captains Mess, perhaps was not the place anyway. He blinked his eyes and turned his attention toward the Captain.

"Captain you have been very quiet this evening. Are you feeling well?" He asked.

Archer glanced toward T'Pol and cocked his head, she raised her shoulders to answer his unasked question. She had not discussed her opinion of Archer's health with the doctor. Archer wrinkled his lip at her as if he didn't believe her silent answer and turned to answer Phlox.

"Just a little worn out Doctor that's all, nothing some peace of mind wouldn't cure."

Phlox picked up his napkin to wipe at his mouth. "That I'm afraid I can't give you Captain. I can however tell you that the Lieutenant is coming along nicely. He has regained most of his lung capacity and though his breathing continues to be labored his is able to obtain enough oxygen on his own to have permitted the removal of the breathing tube."

"Do you feel there has been enough improvement to warrant another notification of his family Doctor?" T'Pol asked.

Phlox cocked his head in thought while fidgeting with his napkin. "Yes and no Sub-Commander. The Lieutenant is still very much in danger, however his improvements are cause for hope to the contrary."

"Doctor, do you really think it's helping Malcolm to have Trip hovering over him like he is?" Archer asked.

Phlox placed his napkin on the table. "I certainly do not believe it has been a hindrance, if that is what you are asking Captain. It is my understanding that humans with an emotional connection on the outside tend to recuperate far better than those who have none."

"You are saying then that if we could have gotten Jonas' family here faster she may still be with us?" Archer asked.

Phlox nodded yes. "Her injuries were quite severe Captain, but perhaps with someone here to pull her back into this world things may have been quite different."

Archer raised his eyebrow and shook his head. "I don't believe that Doctor Phlox."

"Captain, I disagree, I think you do believe that." T'Pol interjected; "you have called the Commander back from the other world on several occasions yourself."

Archer again shook his head. "I don't recall Trip ever being in the 'other world' hanging on to life by a thread."

"Captain. The other world is never far away. Perhaps Commander Tucker was not as you put it 'hanging to life by a thread' however without your insistence to keep him in this world he may very well have been." T'Pol replied.

"You might be right, but this is the only world I know of and life and death are both pretty unpredictable things. I think you go when you go and you have no choice." Archer said.

Doctor Phlox scolded Archer. "I believe if you really thought about what you just said Captain, you would realize there have been many times that you have had a choice in matters of life and death. If it were otherwise you would have found it unnecessary to convince the Commander to stay in this world with you."

Archer shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Can we change the subject now?" He asked.

T'Pol raised her eyebrow and toyed with her spoon just to irritate the doctor who sat across from her. She knew he had been watching her eat and that he was taking mental notes. She could always tell and it bothered her to be treated as a specimen. "Captain did Lieutenant Novacek have any advice on dealing with the Commander?" She asked after she was completely sure Doctor Phlox had moved on to other things.

Archer wiped his face with his napkin and placed it over his plate. "She suggests that I piss him off."

"Piss him off?" T'Pol questioned as though she didn't understand.

Archer chuckled. "Make him angry." He said.

"Could be a wise idea Captain." Phlox nodded.

Archer picked up the tea decanter offering tea to T'Pol first and then to the Doctor before filling his glass. "She thinks if he gets good and pissed, excuse me angry, about what happened he'll realize what he's doing to himself and snap out of it."

"However, anger is a very powerful emotion Captain." T'Pol cautioned.

"I've been warned to be standing by with a phase pistol." Archer joked.

"Perhaps the remedy that would put the Commander to sleep should it need to be used would be a better idea Captain." Phlox offered as if Archer really would use the phase pistol.

"Of course you're right Doctor." Archer shook his head, certain that one day these two aliens he served with would understand human humor. "But one way or the other Trip has to sleep soon."

"And shower as well." T'Pol added.

"Perhaps your nasal numbing agent is not strong enough this time Sub- Commander?" Phlox mused, simply to let her know her earlier table antics had not been convincing.

T'Pol raised her eyebrow and pushed herself back from the table. "Captain if I may be excused?" She asked.

Archer noticed the exchange between the two guests at his table but decided not to ask. "Certainly T'Pol" he said bringing himself to a standing position as she excused herself from the room. Archer re-seated himself and turned his attention to the doctor. "Do you really think making Trip angry will work?"

Phlox leaned toward the captain. "I believe the idea has potential. I hadn't recalled the stages in the human grieving process until just now, however I believe anger plays a very integral part and Commander Tucker has yet to show any signs of anger whatsoever."

Archer leaned even closer toward the doctor feeling a bit unsure if this really was a good idea. Trip Tucker was neither female nor petite and he certainly recalled the strength an angry Kathryn had possessed. "Do you think you help me with this?"

"Certainly Captain, I can be there if the need arises in fact, I believe I can anger him myself if you would rather. Perhaps that way if things do not work toward the correct outcome I can simply give him the dose of sleeping agent I have prepared for him." He answered.

Archer shifted in his chair toying with his chin. "But I want to be sure once Trip is down if anything at all happens with Malcolm we will be able to rouse him. He would never forgive me if I let him sleep through anything that important."

"That can be arranged Captain." Phlox smiled.

"You're sure about wanting to do this Doctor? Tucker can be quite the stubborn ass." He cautioned.

Phlox smiled. Humans did not scare him, he had seen far worse. "Positive Captain. I suggest that you yourself put away your worries and sleep. I can arrange for something to be sent to your quarters to help you as well."

"Is it showing that much?" Archer asked.

Phlox raised his eyebrows nodding his head toward the affirmative. "Enterprise isn't going anywhere soon; we are in friendly territory, and there is certainly nothing wrong with a Captain letting his crew take care of his ship."

Archer protested. "I have civilians on board."

"If I am not mistaken Captain, Crewman Greene's wife left this afternoon and we have no more incoming family." Phlox anticipated Archer's next protest. "The lieutenant will continue to mend with or without you, as will the commander."

Archer rubbed at his temples, he was exhausted he just wouldn't admit it. It had been a long week. A very long week. "Dr. Phlox, do you think Malcolm has a chance?"

Phlox nodded his head. "I think it is a good sign he has held on this long Captain."

"But?" Archer wanted more than that, some sort of hope. Something he knew Phlox couldn't give.

"But I can't say for certain, I am very sorry Captain. Again, he will mend with or without you."

"I'm not afraid of the mending part." Archer confessed.

Dr. Phlox turned to face toward the human and looked him squarely in the eye; "Captain, if you are asking me if the lieutenant will die I can't say; if you are asking me if he will die tonight, I can tell you with great certainty that he will not. The signs of that have not presented themselves yet."

Archer propped his elbows on the table leaning his head into his hands and rubbed at his forehead bringing his fingers down over his eyes. This was a difficult choice, but one he knew he had to make. "You win. Something simple just to help me sleep. I don't want to wake up with a hangover or headache or anything else that will get in my way understood?"

Phlox smiled. "Understood Captain."

*****

Malcolm struggled to breath as the water closed in around his mouth inching its way closer and closer to the airway he tried so hard to keep above it. He would not fail this time. He would not give in to the man in the boat who continued to tease and taunt. The man who forever held the key to his existence just within view. He focused on his resolve to come away triumphant, alive or dead with the hope that either way the man in the boat would spend the rest of his life regretting he had ever treated another human being this way.

*****

Commander Tucker slipped into sickbay again in the wee hours of the morning to find Dr. Phlox adjusting the Lieutenant onto his left side. Tucker made his way to the bio-bed, his eyes questioning the Doctor's actions.

"Commander, if you wish to understand these medical processes why don't you simply ask?"

Tucker threw a perplexed stare in the doctor's direction. What the hell was the sarcasm for? he wondered.

"Some things are simple necessities Commander. Turning the Lieutenant serves a purpose just as everything else that goes on in my sickbay." Phlox's hand patted at the lower pocket of his smock reassuring himself that the hypo he had prepared for the commander was there just in case his attempt at anger produced rage. He continued his lengthy explanations for simple medical care knowing it would be nothing near what Tucker was there to hear. "Bathing for instance, the patients here are kept clean and dry to avoid contaminates that could cause further problems...."

The commander drew in a heavy sigh; he was tired and he didn't have time for one of the doctor's long winded stories all he wanted was the straight simple information he had been getting up until this morning. The muscles at the base of his neck were beginning to ache and the ache traveled down between his shoulder blades creeping toward his lower back.

The doctor continued with his jargon keeping a steady eye on the commander readying his hand on the hypo in his pocket for safe measure. "There is much to be said regarding taking proper care of the body commander. Basic human needs left unattended can..."

Trip felt his arms grow rigid and his hands clench against his side, this doctor would have to get to the point soon because if he didn't hell's fury would soon arrive at his doorstep. And the doctor kept on, this time attacking Tucker's lack of responsibility in caring for himself as he should his hand ready on the hypo. Tucker's teeth clenched, his breathing picked up and his voice boiled out of his mouth.

"You god dammed son of a bitch!" bellowed commander. "Just who the hell do you think you are to lecture me? You and that goddamned puppy dog grin. Jesus, your just like the rest of them, keepin him here like this. Not lettin him go one way or the other. Maybe you aren't even attemptin' to save him maybe you're just keepin him on as another one of your sick twisted lab projects. God knows ya got a cure for everything else in here and this is takin way to long...."

The doctors hand relaxed letting his weapon of choice drop to the bottom of the pocket. He responded calmly to the commanders rant as it echoed through sickbay and silently turned to fetch a glass of water for the man he knew would soon be emptied of his anger and to put in a call to the Captain.

Trip Tucker now somehow found himself hearing the words that were flying from his mouth for the second and third time as his body was beginning to relax from it's unyielding state. His gaze fell onto Malcolm Reed who lay silently there in front of him and the ranting abruptly stopped.

*****

The blue eyed officer had returned and Malcolm watched from the water as he made an attempt to overtake his father. The two shadows of blue cast against the harsh sunlight were soon locked in a violent struggle. A spattering of obscenities flew between them but in between came frequent encouraging words tossed in his direction by the officer. Malcolm smiled, he was beginning to like this officer, even gathering enough courage from his words to continue. A smile flashed across his face and for the first time the sun was hidden enough to reveal that the officer wore a Starfleet Uniform.

*****

"Jesus, Malcolm, I'm sorry." Trip said dropping onto the stool next to him. He tried to regain composure as the items that had come out of his mouth whirled again through his head. Things he never should have said out loud, even if he thought they were true, and most of them he realized far too late were not. He would need to apologize to the doctor as well. He dropped his head into his hands.

Doctor Phlox made his way to the commander with the water in hand. He stood silently next to him as Tucker's hand reached out and took the cup from him drank the water and handed it back. Malcolm's breathing rattled in the silence between them.

"It's my fault he's laying here." Tucker finally said.

Phlox said nothing.

"I made a mistake." Tucker admitted trying to begin an apology for his anger.

"Mistake, Commander?" The doctor questioned.

"Gettin angry too fast and thinkin too slow." Trip Tucker forced himself to look at the doctor. "I should've never hollered at you like that."

"It's quite all right Commander." Phlox said calmly.

Tucker didn't buy that. "No. You're wrong, it isn't; I was angry and some of those things that came out of my mouth should have never been said. I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted." Phlox replied.

A tear rolled from Trip's eye and down over his cheek and before he could get his hand there to stop it more followed. He blinked them back as best he could and curled his lips up into a smile beneath them. "I just wanna know that he is in there somewhere Doc."

"Indications of that are on the monitor Commander." Phlox said motioning to it.

Tucker shook his head. "Doesn't help me any Doc; don't understand it that well."

Dr. Phlox became a bit excited about the possibility of sharing his expertise with the commander. "I would be quite happy to teach you what to look for. Actually it should prove to be quite simple for an engineer; same type of diagnostics, they are simply being done on a different type of machine."

Tucker almost chuckled with the doctors comparison. "You don't owe me that after what I just said to you Doc."

"My teaching is not without a price Commander. I will expect that you eat first and then sleep." Phlox replied.

"Can't eat, just comes back up." Tucker cringed at the thought of going through that again.

"Perhaps you just haven't made the right choices." Phlox encouraged.

"And perhaps eatin just makes me sick." Tucker bit back.

Phlox tried another approach. "Sleeping then?"

Tucker sighed. "Actually eatin's easier, can't deal with the nightmares. "

Phlox took the commander's words as a decision. "Very well, let's get you something bland and nourishing and I will explain the graphs while you eat."

Phlox left the commander alone again with Malcolm Reed to ready a concoction that Trip's body would be able to tolerate. Trip Tucker, in the doctor's absence, checked the monitors above the bio-bed and made a mental note of those he already understood. Doctor Phlox returned with a large cup full of a thick pasty off-white mixture with a spoon submerged in it and handed it to Trip.

Trip studied it with apprehension, "what is it?" he asked, toying at it with the spoon. "looks like somethin T'Pol eats."

Phlox smiled. "I assure you Mr. Tucker, it is human food. More specifically a protein based dairy product very similar to ice cream, however not served cold."

"Pudding?" Trip hoped.

"If you wish." Phlox replied.

Trip toyed again with the spoon pulled a bit of the substance from the cup, putting it into his mouth. It wasn't anything like the taste or feel he expected and in fact it wasn't bad. He swallowed the first bite and then the second before the Doctor began explaining the graphs that he didn't understand. By the time the doctor finished Trip had eaten most of the content in from the cup.

"This is the mainline then, this one here?" Tucker pointed. "This one tells me everything is ok right?"

Phlox tapped his chin, this certainly was a simple way of putting it but at the very least it had been basically correct. "More or less commander, the others will become erratic first if anything should fail but as long as this line remains steady..."

"He's got a chance; right?" Trip interrupted.

Phlox nodded.

"And if it doesn't stay steady?" Trip asked.

Phlox grew sullen. "I'm afraid at that point there isn't much more I can do Commander; at that point there would have to be..."

"Some kind of miracle?" Captain Archer said finishing the doctor's sentence with his own thought.

"Sorry Captain, I didn't hear you come in." Doctor Phlox apologized.

Archer smiled. "I've been here for a while Doc. I didn't want to interrupt." His smile grew wider and he nodded a hello toward Trip. "Commander."

"Cap'n." Trip said back nervously stirring the spoon around in the empty cup.

Archer held his hand out for the cup and Trip responded by giving it to him. A simple gesture that encompassed the world of feelings between them. Archer ridded himself of the cup and spoon grabbing a stool on his way back toward Trip. He sat it down next to his friend and placed himself on it. The two sat in silence. Trip watching Malcolm as his chest rose and fell, Archer content to know that his friend had come back from where ever he was. Trip Tucker eventually turned his gaze from Malcolm Reed to Jonathan Archer and looked not into the eyes of his captain but into the eyes of his friend. Archer's face held a faint smile as he waited for Trip to speak first.

"I'm sorry Jon." Trip finally said, his thoughts wandering back to the bridge on the day of the accident. "I was wrong." His eyes fell toward the floor and he forced himself to again look at his friend. "I lost them and I was afraid we'd never get them back. I went over your head and I made the wrong choice. I won't make you ask for my command, I'll give it to ya. Just give me the chance to make this right before I do."

"Jesus Trip, do you think I've been waiting around for you to come back just so I could ask for your command?" Archer questioned.

Trip was a bit puzzled. Archer was not going to make this as easy as he had thought he would. "As a friend no; but as the Captain Jon, you have to."

Archer took a Captain's stance. "As the Captain, I file the reports Commander. God knows this one has been the most difficult by far. We lost a crewmember here, maybe two, but the fault was not yours."

Trip made an assumption. "You covered for me? Uh-uh, no. I can't allow that either Jon, I know what I did. So do you and so does the Vulcan. I let them fall and then I went outside of orders to get them back."

Archer tried to explain without too much detail. Detail that he thought could wait for another time. "There were other circumstances Trip, circumstances that I won't delve into now. You need to sleep first. I will tell you this much; what we all saw on the bridge was a thinking commander who took control of the situation and got his job done in spite of the obstacles that stood in his way."

"T'Pol?" Trip questioned.

Archer smiled, he hadn't believed that T'Pol had gone to bat for Trip Tucker and he was sure it would amaze him as well. "Saw the same thing Trip, told me so before I even asked her."

"You're serious?" Trip asked with the disbelief Archer knew would be coming.

"Amazing isn't it?" Archer asked with a smile.

"Yeah." Tucker yawned still not believing but not wanting to question it further either. His lack of sleep was beginning to catch up. "How's Malcolm really Jon?" he inquired.

"You probably know more than I do about that Trip. Doctor Phlox tells me all we can do is wait." Archer responded.

"Pretty much what he tells me too." Trip rubbed at his neck.

Archer saw that the commander was fading, the past week was fast catching up with him. "Trip, you need to sleep."

Trip shook his head no. "Can't sleep Jon. Nightmares."

"Let the doctor give you something to help with that." Archer suggested.

Trip persisted to the negative. "What if Malcolm...if he...I'd wanna be here."

Archer tried to comfort. "I will personally come and get you if you need to be here Trip."

Trip knew that Jon would keep his word. He ran his hand through his hair and across his face feeling the thick stubble. "Think I may need a shower first though."

Archer snorted a laugh. "You think you may need a shower? I'd say that was pretty much a given Trip."

Trip snorted a chuckle as well, "bad huh?"

Archer laughed and then teased. "T'Pol has had to double up on the nasal spray for the past three days if that tells you anything."

Trip teased back. "Yeah? Maybe I'll skip the shower then; let her suffer a while longer." He smiled.

Archer snorted again, "it's good to have you back my friend." He stood from his stool and held his hand out to help the commander stand as well, "now let's get you to your quarters."

Trip signaled for Archer to wait as he glanced up at the monitor to check what he had referred to as Malcolm's mainline. It glowed a bright steady rhythm as did the others. Trip drew in an exhausted breath and leaned in toward Malcolm. "You can do this Reed, I know you can make it through this. You just gotta give it everything ya got, ya hear me, everything!"

*****

Malcolm squinted against the bright sunlight trying to focus on the blonde officer in the boat who had just made a fearless attempt to gain control of the situation from his father. The sun made it too difficult to focus and though he knew the voice, he could not see the person it belonged to. This person he somehow knew, was there to give him a chance at a life without fear. Malcolm Reed had never known anyone with authority whose words and actions contained so much compassion. The blue eyed officer offered him more hope than he could fathom and he was overwhelmed.

*****

Archer pressed the keypad sequence that opened Trip's door and together they stepped into his quarters and made their way toward the bunk. Archer deposited him there and began rummaging through the room picking up odd clothing items looking for anything remotely clean.

"Jesus Trip, how do you manage to run such a streamlined Engineering Department and live like this?" He mumbled.

Trip sighed rolling his eyes, god did that just sound like his mother and he told Archer so. "Don't got time for this lecture now mom, what ya lookin for?"

Archer stopped and turned toward him with a mother's tone. "Something clean for you to put on when you get out of the shower."

Trip stretched his arms and yawned. "What do I need that for? Thought you were puttin me out with that hypo you got there."

Archer shook his head at the engineer. "Yeah, and if I need to come get you for any reason I don't want to have to dress you starting from square one." Trip relented but with a tone that said he wasn't going to be treated like a child. "Top drawer, left side. I can do this Jon, I don't need you to mother me."

Archer rummaged through the top drawer still not finding what he was looking for, he went to the second drawer; "You sure about that mothering part? Looks to me like somebody needs to mother you here." His search finally over he pulled out a clean set of underwear and socks. "Here we go, finally." He sighed. "Uniform?" He asked.

Trip scratched his head. "Closet. Should be one there. You know Jon, the only reason you keep your room neat as a pin is so you can deal with the mess on the outside of it don't ya?"

Archer sifted through the closet and pulled out a uniform. "Yeah, I've heard that before, but at least I can find my floor."

"Malcolm's room is the same way." Trip offered.

Archer was surprised. "The Lieutenant's quarters look like this?"

Trip snorted. "No, they look like yours, bet you two got a lot more in common than ya think." He watched as Archer searched further. "Towels are over there by that box and I can get the other stuff myself, will ya stop already? His family unable to be here?" Trip asked.

"Whose?" Archer asked, bringing the items he had collected to Trip.

"Malcolm's family, the Reed's, haven't been here have they?" He asked again and then asked the question he really wanted answered. "Did ya know he calls his daddy sir?"

"No." Archer answered hanging the uniform on the wall hook.

Trip asked for clarification. "No they haven't been here or no on the sir part."

"Both." Archer sat on the bunk next to his friend. "I don't remember the excuse they gave Trip, but it wasn't a very good one."

Trip's heart sank a bit, he had hoped there was a reason. "Did you ever call your daddy sir?" he asked.

Archer wanted to laugh. "Hell no. Did you?"

Tucker knew that about Jon and was just as sure that Jon knew his answer but he answered anyway. "Nope. Not once. What kind of daddy wants his own son to call him sir?" He wondered.

Archer thought and then answered. "Maybe it's customary for them Trip. Why are you worried about that now?"

Trip hoped Archer was right, but somehow he knew there was something more to it. Malcolm was tough to figure out and he couldn't shake the feeling that maybe his daddy was the reason. "Don't know, just thought it was strange."

Archer repeated his view. "Maybe to us, maybe not to him."

Trip agreed just to do so. "Maybe not."

Archer placed a hand on the commander's shoulder giving him a friendly squeeze. "How about you get in the shower and I pick up this room while I wait for you?"

Trip leaned into it, placing his hand over Jon's and squeezing back. "I don't need ya to wait Jon, I can manage the shower myself."

Archer stood from the bunk, he was sure Trip could manage the shower but he would need someone there to give him the hypo and he turned to ask. "What about the hypo?"

"That too." Trip answered.

Archer wanted to trust him but something told him not to. "Not sure I can trust you on that Trip."

Trip reacted as if he was a little hurt by Archer's mistrust. "So come back in a half hour. I told ya I don't need you to mother me Jon."

Archer relented, he hadn't meant come across as domineering. "I can do that Trip." He said and turned to go.

Trip called him back. "Jon?"

"Yeah?" He answered

Trip needed resolve. "You said there were other circumstances?"

Archer knew this was not the time. Too many details and Trip wasn't up to it. "We can save that for later Trip. The sooner you rest, the sooner we can deal with that ok?"

Trip persisted. "I should've been able to hang on to them Jon, somethin wasn't right." Archer said as little as he could. "A lot of it wasn't right Trip, but we didn't know that then. Again, Trip, this can wait."

Trip continued to question wondering if perhaps Jon was being vague for a reason and called him on it. "So you are takin my command and you just want me to sleep first so I can handle it is that it? Or are we waitin for Kath to get here?"

Archer had thought this problem had been taken care of. "Jesus Trip if I wanted to take your command I would have already done it. I'm not trying to put you off there are just way too many fine details and I need you to be at your best when we go over them. I want you clearheaded so you can suggest some changes in the Mechanics."

Trip sighed relief and frustration. "Can ya at least tell me why I lost them in the first place. I had em locked tight Jon I know I did."

Archer gave him that much in simple form. "You did Trip but the surface dust contained magnetic particles. Just got to be too much for the lock I guess, but that's not my expertise Trip, it's yours."

Trip's engineering wheels started to turn. "Maybe if we..."

Archer cut them off. "Not now Trip, it can wait. We aren't going anywhere for a while. At least not until Malcolm pulls through this and I want you to get in the shower and get some sleep."

Trip yawned, he was too tired to argue. He covered the yawn with his hand again feeling the thick stubble. "Think I'll skip shavin though, that ok with you Cap?"

Archer smiled. "Sure. I can let it slide this time Commander."

"See ya in a half hour then?" Tucker asked.

Archer replied. "Half hour, I'll be here."

*****

Trip Tucker waited for Jon to exit and pulled himself up from the bunk taking the towel with him. He avoided checking his look in the mirror for fear of what he might see looking back and placed the towel on the hook just outside of the shower. He was tired and sore and knew the warm water would fair well against him as he pulled the lever forward. The water ran while he stripped off the uniform he had been wearing since the accident and tossed it to the floor, he gave a quick thought toward picking it up later just to appease Archer and with a smile he thought against it. Once naked he stepped into the shower, braced himself against the wall and let the water wash over him finally giving in to the flood of emotion he had held back for so long. The slow trickle of tears became cleansing sobs, purging the guilt from his soul until there was nothing left in his body but the need for sleep. Trip soaped and rinsed, stepped out of the shower and toweled off on his way toward the bunk. The towel was tossed toward the corner and he pulled on the t-shirt and underwear making a mental note as to where the uniform and socks had been placed in case the need to dress fast arose. He collapsed onto the bunk pulling the cover over the bottom half of his body, turned onto his side and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

*****

Malcolm was losing his battle with the water and his father was not the last person he wished to see before he surrendered to it's depths. He searched through the suns glare for the kind blue eyes of the Starfleet Officer. This time he knew he was not coming out of the water alive. The bastard who kept him there would never again have the satisfaction of watching him struggle to regain control while beating him into submission with his words. Malcolm Reed watched and waited for the right time to simply slip under.

*****

The transport carrying Kathryn Novacek arrived two hours ahead of schedule and T'Pol and Crewman Andrews met her at the docking bay.

"Any new information?" Kathryn asked of the sub-commander after pleasantries had been exchanged and she had been informed that she would be bunking with crewman Andrews while she was aboard.

T'Pol responded, "the Lieutenant remains unresponsive though his body is healing. The captain is with him now; he asks that you join him when you are acquainted with your quarters."

Kathryn didn't ask any other questions, assuming that T'Pol had told her all she had intended to and was eager to return to her bridge duty. Kathryn recalled how difficult it had been to read the Vulcan's intentions during her short stint aboard Enterprise months ago. She thought it best to simply keep quiet. T'Pol exited the corridor toward the bridge as Kathryn and Andrews made the trek toward her quarters.

Andrews relaxed with the absence of the sub-commander and began to chatter about the goings on of the past week throwing in a quick recap of all the updates the crew had received regarding the incident since it happened. Kathryn smiled at the fact that some things never change. Crewman Andrews was still a wealth of information that she was quite capable of delivering.

"Well, here we are. Home at last." Andrews smiled tapping the entry code and stepping back for Kathryn to enter first when the door opened. "Again, Kathryn just like last time, you are welcome to the bottom bunk if you would rather."

Kathryn shook her head with a laugh. "Don't care where I sleep.."

"As long as it's warm and dry." She chimed in with Kathryn.

They both laughed and Kathryn dropped her duffle on the top bunk feeling very much at home. "I'll be fine up here."

*****

Kathryn tucked in next to Jonathan Archer as he watched Malcolm Reed sleep placing a gentle hand on his right shoulder, his left hand coming up across his chest to hold it there.

"Have you looked in on Trip?" He asked.

"No, I was told he was sleeping and I was more interested to know if you had slept as well." She smiled and turned her glance toward Malcolm; "how is he?" she asked.

Archer stood from the stool and walked her away from the sleeping patient. He drew in a deep breath and forced it back out in a sigh of frustration. "Nothing changes. Dr. Phlox says his body is healing but nothing changes."

"I'm sorry Jon," she said; "Reed is a tough man, maybe he just needs the rest."

"You know I can't even get his family here? Don't you think that odd?" He asked.

"Not where his father is concerned. According to Malcolm his father refused to ever set foot in anything concerned with Starfleet, but his mother and sister not coming I do find odd." She answered.

"The last I heard his sister was ill. I haven't heard since, but they don't even call to check on things on their own? We keep them informed but it just doesn't seem like enough you know?." He asked.

"Families are different Jon, and the way people deal with crisis is different. You can't base everyone else's feelings on the ones that you have." She answered.

"I'm glad you're here Kid." He pulled her into an embrace. "Feels good just to hear your voice." She returned the embrace and then pulled back letting her fingers trail down his arms and fold into his hands. "It feels good to see you too Jon. I'm glad I can be here for you." Her gaze returned to Malcolm. "God he hated having me in his armory looking over his shoulder," she smiled; "maybe if I told him I was here to take his job he'd come out of it."

"If it were that simple Kid, I'd tell him myself." Archer saddened.

"He'll get through Jon. Just give him time." She said.

Archer look turned to worry. "I can't give him much more time before they pull him out of here and send us on our way, they told me this morning I have three more days."

"I thought you were the Captain..." she started.

"But I don't own the ship." he interrupted.

"Politics?" she asked.

"Exactly." He sighed.

"Can't help you with that." she said.

****** Malcolm was tired but he wouldn't let himself give in while his father paced the boat watching with a sneering smile on his face. Watching and waiting for his chance to pull the boy in just to let him recover enough to go through it again. He could only guess that the Starfleet Officer had been taken out of action by the overconfident domineering Navy man. There was no fairness in life, only fear. Fear was all he had ever known. Every day he hoped for the change that had never presented itself. Today the blue eyed officer seemed to convey that the change had finally come and all Malcolm had to do was reach for it. Tears spilled from his eyes knowing that his father had even now snatched the change from him.

******

Kathryn stood just inside the door to his quarters watching Charlie Tucker as his shoulders rose and fell with the pattern of his breathing. Watching him breathe was something she had done more times than she could remember in the small space of time that she had known him. Something led her to believe this would be the last time she would ever watch him sleep like this and she waited until the memory was fully imprinted before she moved forward. She looked about his quarters, nothing about this man's housekeeping had changed. She smiled to herself as she contemplated where she would even begin to organize it. Jonathan Archer and Charlie Tucker were two completely different sorts. The humor and disorder in Tucker's life made it easier for him to deal with the fine meticulous detail of his life's work. Jonathan Archer on the other hand needed to keep personal meticulous detail to make it easier to deal with disorder on the outside and find humor in it when it came about. Where some would find this yin and yang a bit unnerving, for Archer and Tucker it had created a wonderful counterbalance in their friendship.

Kathryn picked up the stray clothing from the floor and furniture, placed them into the hamper and proceeded to straighten the rest of the room. The gentle hum of the engines producing a calm soothing atmosphere as she did so and it startled her when Tucker spoke.

"My momma always made me clean it myself when it got this bad." He said.

Kathryn turned toward him with a smile; "Your momma is a little more threatening than I am."

"You got that right." He laughed. "But she hugs more than she hollars."

"I remember that." Kathryn said placing herself on the bed facing him. "You are a lucky man Tuck."

"I know that, she tells me that every chance she gets," he smiled. "When did ya get here?" He took her hands into his own.

"About four hours ago." she answered.

"How long have I been out?" He questioned interlacing his fingers into hers.

"Almost twenty hours I think." She answered returning his grip on her hands.

"Your kidding?" He asked in disbelief.

"Not kidding Tuck. You needed it or you wouldn't still be here." She said.

He yawned. "Malcolm?"

She wanted to give him a better answer but there was none. "No change."

He pursed his lips and blew out a sigh. "I can't stand waitin. I need ta be doin somethin and there's nothin I can do. I'm afraid he's not gonna make the trip back here Kath and it's my fault."

Kathryn let go of his hands and wrapped her arms around him. "Tuck, it's not your fault." She said and then again she reaffirmed. "It's not your fault."

*****

Malcolm's father remained at the side of the boat as if he were a hawk circling his prey. Watching and waiting for the precise moment to snatch it from the water. Malcolm wished with all his might that for one second the man would turn his head and allow him to slip under the surface unseen. Even in death his father held him there, toying with him. Making certain his son knew who held the lifeline and just how far it could be pushed before it was pulled it back.

Malcolm had given up hope that the blue eyed officer would return, and he started to wonder if he had really ever been there at all.

*****

Archer and Phlox stood watching Malcolm as his breaths slowly became out of sync and ragged. Archer looked toward the doctor with a pained heart and the doctor responded. "Yes Captain, it is time to wake Mr. Tucker, I am sorry. There is nothing more I can do. At this point he needs a savior."

"How long?" Archer asked.

"It's hard to say Captain. I should think it would be a matter of hours." Phlox answered.

Archer pressed the comm to link Tucker's room trying to maintain a steady voice. "Archer to Novacek."

"Cap'n?" Tucker's voice came back.

Archer hadn't expected Tucker's voice and it hit his chest hard, suddenly his strength was gone, he tried to speak but the words stuck in his throat, "Sickbay. Now," he finally managed in a barely audible voice. Archer's legs weakened and he let himself slide his weight back against the wall and down onto the floor.

Tucker heard the words even before Jon spoke, he had known what this call was as soon as the comm buzzed. "I'm with ya Jon." Came back over the comm as Archer dropped his head to weep.

In a matter of minutes Trip Tucker was pulling Jonathan Archer up off of the sickbay floor. "I am not goin through this alone Jon, damn it. You're goin with me, and I'm tellin ya somethin else, Malcolm Reed is gettin a piece of my mind before he goes anywhere."

*****

Malcolm slipped under the water but fear managed to bring him back out. He was swallowing water and the familiar signs that he had felt so many times before were beginning to fast multiply. He was allowed to cough and spit and swallow just so many times before the bastard on board would pull him in.

Not this time, he thought, this time he was not being pulled back on board to do this another day. This time was the last time this time. He had chosen to die. No matter how afraid he was of the water, he was more afraid of the man who held him there. Over the years he realized that his fear had turned into hate. For whatever reason he did it he took one last deep breath and turned toward his father to give him one last defiant stare. His father was not there, instead he saw the comforting smile of the blue eyed Starfleet Officer. The defiant stare he meant to give softened into a smile and Malcolm Reed relaxed into the water.

*****

Tucker shook Reed. "You son of a bitch, leavin me here like this. How the hell am I supposed to live with this?"

"Tucker!" Archer yelled wrapping his arms around Trip and pulling him away from Reed. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Tucker struggled against him. "It was my fault Jon. I can't let him go like this, I can't. I don't know how..."

Archer held him back. Kathryn waited to assist if she needed to. Doctor Phlox readied a hypo.

"Beating him up isn't going to change that Trip. He's going one way or the other and If it were me I'd prefer to go with a friend at my side, not an enemy."

Tucker shook himself free of Archer and stepped back toward the bio bed, the lump of unresolved anger still in his throat.

"Malcolm. I'm sorry. I should've been there. I wasn't. I should've disobeyed the goddamned orders in the first place but I was afraid...and ya wanna know the funny part of all this? I was afraid to make the wrong goddamned choice. Afraid ta trust myself when I knew I was right. Jesus, this isn't fair. This just isn't fair."

*****

Malcolm maintained eye contact with the blue eyed officer as his body submerged under the surface, thankful that his father was not there to pull him back aboard. As he watched the officer's eyes took on a worried tone and he fast extended his hand over the side of the boat as far as he could. Somewhere in the recesses of Malcolm's brain an impulse told him to take the hand that was being offered. Malcolm's hand thrust forward toward the boat his fingers touching those extended toward him. He found it difficult to grasp but he made one more gallant effort

Trip grasped Malcolm's hand and at first it didn't register but he was suddenly sure that Reed had gripped back. "Reed, are you in there?" He asked and turned to Archer. "Cap'n he's holdin my hand."

"Doctor?" Archer asked.

Phlox offered them no hope. "Possibly just a reflex, Commander."

"Screw your reflex Doc he's holdin pretty tight for it ta be a reflex." Trip Tucker opened his fingers and pulled his arm up and away from the bio bed Malcolm's hand coming with him. "See!" Tucker said with and I told you so tone. "I think ya may wanna check that line right there on the monitor too, the one you told me to watch. Startin to look like hes comin back."

Archer turned to the doctor with question in his eyes.

Phlox tilted his head toward Archer in disbelief, "He's right Captain, though I'm not certain I would trust it to continue."

Malcolm coughed and spattered trying desparetely to rid his lungs of the water within them as the blue eyed officer pulled him on board and gently laid him down. Malcolm spattered and choked trying to remove the water from his lungs noting that the officer continued speaking soft encouraging words far unlike anything he had ever heard from his father.

"Come on Malcolm open your eyes. Come home. Ain't nobody here you gotta call Sir. Think even the Cap'n will let it slide." Trip inspired.

Malcolm Reed gripped Trip Tucker's hand and opened his eyes. He saw the blue eyed officer standing before him clearly now. He had been given a chance at a life far different from the one he had and he took it. Malcolm looked into the eyes that had promised him something more vowing to leave his father and his hate in the boat on the water forever and smiled.

The blue eyed officer smiled back through tear filled eyes. "You made it Malcolm," he whispered, "you made it."