By Thalia Drogna

Disclaimer: Enterprise doesn't belong to me, if it did then I wouldn't have cancelled it after only four series.

Rating: PG-13

Archive: yes, just ask first.

Spoilers: United, Home and most of Season Three.

AN: This was written in response to the fact that Trip should have been far sicker than he was after his run in with the reactor coolant on the Romulan drone. In typical Trek style they glossed over that bit and got the wrong symptoms for radiation poisoning. If you collapse from radiation poisoning then it's usually too late to do anything, but I guess it was more dramatic that way. Of course I take some poetic license here too, but if they can do it, then so can I.

This is my first try at writing a tag for an episode so I hope it worked.

One moment they were putting away their space suits, Reed smarting from Trip's idea of a joke, Trip laughing his head off at Reed's discomfort. Then suddenly the laughter had dissolved into a coughing fit and Trip was crumpling down to the floor. One moment he was fine and the next he wasn't. There hadn't been any indication that Trip was ill, in fact despite his ordeal at the hands of the Romulans, Trip had kept up with Reed.

"Trip, come on, get up. I'm not falling for another one of your practical jokes," said Reed as he continued to stow his gear, trying to ignore the prone Engineer. "Trip?"

When Trip didn't move, Reed wondered if perhaps this wasn't a joke. He moved to Trip's still body and felt for a pulse, expecting Trip to jump up at any moment and say gotcha. He held his breath for a moment as he had trouble locating the beat of blood in Trip's veins. It was there, but it was weak. He moved rapidly to the com and called Phlox. Suddenly his good mood had evaporated, this was no joke, something was terribly wrong.

All Reed could do was wait for medical assistance to arrive without any idea of how serious Trip's condition was or whether he should do anything. He kept his fingers on Trip's pulse, making sure that it didn't deteriorate any further. It was a reassuring flutter under his fingers and it was the only thing that was stopping him from outright panic. He'd nearly lost Trip on the ship and managed to pull him back, he couldn't lose him now that they were safe.

Phlox burst into the room looking a little out of breath, followed by one of his assistants. He crouched down beside Trip and ran his scanner over the unmoving man. Then he unexpectedly moved the scanner onto Reed. He pulled out a hypospray and injected its contents into Trip and then did the same with a second for Reed.

"Doctor?" asked Reed.

"Decon, both of you, now," snapped Phlox.

"What is it?" asked Reed worriedly but already grabbing Trip under the arm and manhandling him up towards the door to decon. As they had both been in their space suits the entire time they had been on the alien ship, no one had suggested that they needed to go through decontamination.

"Radiation poisoning, I need both of you to shower and get out of your clothes immediately. You know the procedure for radiation decontamination?"

"In theory," said Reed, "I've never needed to use it."

"Start by getting both of you into the shower and I'll talk you through the rest," said Phlox. "Commander Tucker's radiation level is higher than yours, but you still should go through decon. I'll need further tests to get an accurate reading of the dosages that you've both sustained."

Trip had started to come round a bit and was able to give Reed a little help as they manoeuvred into decon. Reed lay Trip down on one of the bunks temporarily while he quickly disrobed and turned on the shower, then set about undressing the Commander.

"Malcolm, what ya doing?" slurred Trip, "I know we're friends but isn't this moving a bit fast?"

"You're incorrigible, you know that?" replied Reed. Only Trip could be half unconscious and still joking. "You could give me a hand."

"What happened?" mumbled Trip.

"You've got radiation poisoning," said Reed, pulling off the remaining pieces of Trip's clothing. The clothes that they'd both been wearing went straight into a box with a lid, to be disposed of as hazardous waste. "We need to decontaminate you, before you start to glow in the dark."

"At least I wouldn't need a flash light to read in bed at night," said Trip, shakily, his eyes half closed.

"You don't now. That's what we have lights for." Reed helped Trip to sit upright. A confused and semi-conscious patient was not making this task any easier.

"I don't feel so good…" said Trip just as Reed had him upright. The Lieutenant just had enough time to grab a nearby bowl before Trip was violently sick. When Trip was finished he gave Reed a look which the Lieutenant knew all too well, it said "kill me now before I get any worse". It was a look that he'd often given himself in the mirror after a particularly uproarious night out drinking. Reed prised the bowl out of Trip's unbending fingers and pulled his friend into the shower, half holding him upright, half propping him in the corner of the shower stall.

He took soap from the dispenser and immediately began to lather Trip up. They had to stop the process twice so that Trip could throw up before they had themselves clean. Reed noticed that there was now blood in Trip's vomit, which worried him considerably. Phlox had issued helpful comments while they showered about ensuring that Reed cleaned under their nails and not to rub radiation damaged skin too hard. When Phlox was satisfied that they were thoroughly decontaminated, he allowed them out of the water.

Reed found that Phlox had placed soft cloths for them to dry themselves on, outside the shower. He wrapped Trip in two of them, feeling like he was the father of a small child as he helped his severely weakened and dazed superior officer to dry his hair and then the rest of his body. Luckily Trip seemed too out of it to worry about the indignity of it all. Finally he pulled a loose gown over Trip and settled him down on a bed, drawing a warm blanket over him. Then Reed finished rapidly drying himself before pulling on a T-shirt and sweat pants that Phlox had left for him. He moved to the window where Phlox was waiting to speak with him.

"I need all the information that you can give me about what happened on the ship," said Phlox from the other side of the glass partition.

"We decided to disable the ship from within," said Reed. "Trip found a junction that he thought would disable the systems that we needed, it was in a room off to the side of the bridge. They locked him in and flushed reactor coolant through the conduits. He'd left his helmet on the bridge so he was directly exposed to the radiation. It was more than his suit could have taken in any case. When he first measured it, it was at 100 roentgens. Maybe three minutes later he reported it had climbed to 180. He told me to leave him and get out but I refused, about which he was not happy. I informed our captors that I'd restore the power if they'd let Trip out. I reconnected the circuits, but left a phaser on overload, and they opened the door. Trip was unconscious or very nearly unconscious when I got to him. I got his helmet on him and the two of us got out of there before the phaser exploded. I thought he was okay, he seemed to be fine, just a little tired."

"How long approximately was he exposed without his helmet?" asked Phlox.

"I don't know, I was too busy trying to do something about it," snapped Read.

"An estimate then," said Phlox in calm, placating tones.

"Five minutes perhaps, he did manage to turn off the power for a moment, but it wasn't long," said Read.

"I need a blood sample from each of you, the medical kit is fully equipped so you shouldn't have any trouble. I'll want further samples at three hour intervals," said Phlox. "In the meantime lets get both of you started on anti-radiation drugs and we'll see where we go from there." Phlox gave Reed instructions on how to set the hyposprays, watched while Reed took the blood samples (labelling each carefully) and then left him alone with Trip, while he went to conduct the necessary tests.

"So how bad is it?" asked Trip as Reed injected him with the anti-radiation meds. Whatever Phlox had given him earlier was making him slightly more lucid.

"Phlox didn't say. He's taken the blood for testing, I suppose we'll know fairly soon," said Reed. He finished his own round of injections and took the seat opposite Trip.

They were both well aware that Trip had taken a huge dose of radiation even with his suit on, which would have protected him from some of it. They were equally aware that just because Reed wasn't displaying any symptoms at the moment, didn't mean that he wouldn't. Radiation could be a silent killer, you could be dying and not realise it until the full onset of symptoms by which point it was often too late to do anything. Medicine had made huge advances against radiation sickness over the years but over exposure to a radioactive source could still be deadly.

"When did you start feeling sick?" asked Reed.

"I don't know, sometime while we were on that damn ship. I put it down to all the adrenaline," said Trip, sleepily.

"Why didn't you say something when we were picked up by Enterprise?"

"You were happy to be back and so was I, seemed a shame to spoil the atmosphere."

"Seemed a shame to spoil the joke, you mean," replied Reed.

"Yeah, sorry, but I couldn't resist. Like I said, you're just too much of an easy target."

"You realise that this means war." Reed's grin became really quite menacing, but underneath he knew that this was simply an attempt on his part to keep Trip's mind off his other problems.

"Wouldn't have it any other way, Lieutenant," said Trip, with an answering smile.

"Get some sleep, Trip. I think you're going to need it," said Reed.

"Yeah, I feel pretty tired, but I ache as well and my stomach feels like its on some ace rollercoaster ride," said Trip.

"Do you want me to call Phlox?"

"Nah, don't bother him. I'll ride it out." Trip barely got the last word of the sentence out before he gagged and Reed automatically handed him the bowl again.

"I'm calling Phlox," said Reed and moved to the com. He conversed rapidly with the doctor and came away with more instructions for hyposprays. "Well the good news is that we can do something about the aches," he said adjusting a hypospray, "but the Doctor doesn't want to give you anything for the nausea. Apparently it could clash with the radiation meds that we've already taken, which is why he didn't give you anything in the first place."

"Great," muttered Trip sarcastically as Reed gave him yet another dose of a different drug. This time however the aches did disappear and that at least made him feel slightly better. "I've got to have taken a good few rads to be this badly laid up."

"If I remember my medical training correctly, it's impossible to say in the early stage how much radiation you took. Even quite low doses produce nausea and vomiting."

"Yeah, but that conduit was putting out 180 roentgens," said Trip.

"But your suit would have absorbed a lot," replied Reed.

"I thought you were the realist here," said Trip.

"Realism is not the same as fatalism. There's a good chance you only have mild radiation poisoning, which will clear up in a few days with Phlox's help," said Reed.

"I'm just doing the math," replied Trip. "Those suits aren't rated for 180 roentgens."

"Going on about it won't help. Why don't you tell me more about you and T'Pol?"

"So you can decide how you're going to ask her out?" asked Trip, grinning. He was almost certain that Reed wasn't interested in the Vulcan.

Reed was about to get defensive when Phlox appeared at the window again. Trip certainly didn't feel able to get up so he contented himself with sitting on the edge of the bed. Reed moved over to the window and pressed the com button to let Phlox speak.

"Lieutenant, your exposure was minimal, probably mostly from being in proximity to Commander Tucker. I doubt you'll even display any symptoms, but we'll take another blood test in three hours to be certain. You can leave decon if you wish to."

Reed nodded. "What about Trip?"

"That is rather more worrying. According to my tests, Commander, you absorbed about 220 rads within a short space of time. That means that you have severe radiation poisoning. Your white cell count is already down and you will most likely develop a fever. However, we have caught it in the early stages during which the anti-radiation medicines are most effective so I think the prognosis is good. I need to come in and insert an IV to replenish your lost blood cells and increase your anti-radiation drug dosage. The two combined should mean that you're out of decon in a couple of days."

"When am I going to stop throwing up, Doc?" asked Trip. Reed noted that Trip didn't whine he just asked for information.

"It usually takes a couple of days at these levels. Given the strength of the source that you were exposed to it could have been considerably worse," said Phlox. He was already screwing on his helmet so that he could safely enter decon.

"Don't I know it," replied Trip, before lying back down. He was absolutely exhausted and his eyes were getting hard to keep open. Even the prick of the needle for the drip couldn't bring him back to wakefulness for long.

When Trip awoke again, he could hear voices talking in low, hushed tones, probably trying not to wake him. He recognised them both, one was Malcolm and the other was the Captain.

"Phlox thinks he's going to be okay," said Reed. "He's going to have a few tough days though before he gets better."

"Like today. I heard what you did on the Romulan ship, that was good work. I'm beginning to think I should give in and appoint you as his personal bodyguard," said Archer. Trip felt slightly indignant at that remark but he was pleased by Reed's reply.

"I don't think that's quite necessary yet, sir," replied Reed. "Besides he's saved my life on the odd occasion as well. If he hadn't thought to refill our oxygen from the chemical fuel cell, then we'd both be breathing vacuum now. I'd have walked right by it without a second thought."

"The two of you work well together," said Archer. "Phlox said you're staying in decon until Trip can be moved to sickbay."

"It seemed like the most practical solution. Trip's out of it most of the time and he's pretty weak. He needs anti-radiation meds every three hours and a complete cocktail of other drugs. Phlox can't keep putting on a suit to come and look after him, and I've already been given the anti-radiation meds. Someone needs to make sure he's okay."

"It's still appreciated, Malcolm," said Archer.

"There's not much worse than being stuck in decon alone," said Reed.

Trip didn't hear the rest of the conversation because he'd drifted back to sleep. When he awoke again Malcolm was sitting on the opposite bunk and reading a padd.

"Hey, how are you feeling?" asked Reed.

"Terrible," replied Trip shakily.

"Are you hungry?"

"Even the thought of food makes me feel like throwing up," said Trip, miserably. "Are there meant to be two of you?"

"Go back to sleep," said Reed.

"Can't," replied Trip.

"You need to rest," said Reed.

"Has T'Pol come by?"

"Sorry, no."

"I shouldn't still be feeling this. She made it pretty clear that she wasn't interested in me," said Trip with a sigh.

"Maybe you should just give her some time," said Reed.

"Nah, she's got her logic and her Surak. She doesn't have time for an Engineer. What was I thinking? A Vulcan. Even if she wanted to love me back, she couldn't."

"She's still a beautiful woman and exactly your type."

"My type? What would my type be?"

"Beautiful, alien, intelligent, vulnerable, and happy to pick a fight with you."

"Am I that obvious?"

"One word, Kaitaama."

"Princess Kaitaama."

"Just because she was a princess doesn't mean that you didn't fall for her."

"She and I had something but it was never going anywhere. It's different with T'Pol."

"Trip, you have to move on. If she's not interested then you're only hurting yourself by hanging on."

"It's hard to move on when I see her everyday, I work with her. We have to be professional…" Trip stopped and coughed violently and then reached for the bowl. His stomach had nothing left in it except bile so he just wretched painfully. "This sucks," said Trip with as much feeling as he could muster, before collapsing back hard on the bed.

"Hoshi came by. Filled me in on what's been going on in our absence. Apparently our Captain won a fight to the death with our Andorian friend," said Reed, deciding that changing the subject was the best idea. Trip really didn't need any extra stress at the moment and he obviously found talking about T'Pol painful.

"Shran? He killed Shran?" asked Trip in disbelief.

"Actually they found a loop hole in the rules, seems "to the death" just means unable to fight any longer. Shran is looking a little lopsided. He's minus one antenna," smiled Reed.

Trip laughed before dissolving into another coughing fit. "Left or right?" he managed to ask, still smiling.

"I didn't ask. Apparently they do grow back. I hear that Rostov has the tape of the whole fight and has been saving it for us for when we get out of here," said Reed.

"That would make for some movie night. What exactly are you still doing here anyway?" asked Trip.

"Someone has to give you your medicine, replenish your drip, that sort of thing, and I'm off duty for a couple of days after our adventures. The Captain's finishing off the diplomatic niceties and sending the Tellarites on their way, so he doesn't need me at the moment. It'll be another couple of days before all the damage is repaired we can go after the Romulan ship again."

"I don't need a nursemaid. Go back to your phase cannons, Malcolm," said Trip, pulling the blanket closer around him and beginning to shiver.

"I don't think you're in any shape to be giving orders, Commander." Reed went over to Trip and helped him with his blankets, Trip was very weak and couldn't even roll over on his own.

"I feel like I'm getting worse not better," said Trip, grabbing the bowl to try and throw up again.

"Phlox says this is the worst of it. You should start to feel better tomorrow and hopefully your rad count will be down enough that we can get you out of here as well." Despite Reed's efforts to make Trip comfortable, decon wasn't designed for long stays and lack of human contact was always hard. Sickbay would at least mean Trip could have some visitors that weren't on the other side of a window.

Trip continued to shiver despite the extra blanket that Reed had just placed over him, sweat beading on his forehead.

"The fever's started," said Reed. Trip's skin was noticeably warmer than his own.

"You think?" said Trip sarcastically through chattering teeth.

Reed checked the drip and then went to get the hyposprays that Phlox had left. He pulled up the instructions for which medicines Trip needed this hour, plus the instructions that had been left for when the fever appeared. By the time Reed had finished the series of injections that Trip needed, he was asleep again.

The sleep he fell into was fitful and laden with dark nightmares. Reed occasionally shook him awake when he screamed out, thinking that he was still aboard the Romulan ship. Still being fried by radiation in the junction room. Reed talked to him but Trip was too ill and tired to have any real understanding of what was going on outside his own person hell.

He dreamt of T'Pol. How she'd wormed her way into his affections without him even realising. A nice dream. They'd gone from friends, to lovers, to he didn't know what, in less than six months. He'd come to appreciate her breathtaking insights, quiet conversation, assured manner and unbelievable beauty. When he finally realised that he loved her it had still been a shock to him, even after he'd realised that he cared for her. A nice dream that quickly turned into a nightmare.

She'd broken his heart by marrying someone else. He'd watched and it had been pure torture. It was as if she was the radiation poisoning that he was fighting. She was killing him from within, hurting him, making him weak, unable to function. But he would do it all again if she would turn around and tell him that she loved him. If she would just let him know that she felt the same, now that she was no longer bound to Koss. Instead there was only pain. T'Pol's coldness towards him was like an animal that clawed away at him, everyday taking a small piece of his soul.

Trip didn't know that he cried out for T'Pol in his delirium. She wasn't there to comfort him though, there was only a dedicated armoury officer who hadn't had a decent night's sleep for some time now.

"You have it bad, my friend," said Reed quietly to himself, as he once again injected Trip with the required drugs. Trip had fallen hard and he hoped for his sake that T'Pol reciprocated. Unrequited love was only noble in Shakespearean dramas.

When Trip did finally return to lucidity he was in sickbay, still hooked up to an IV but he felt better than he had done for some time. He was as weak as kitten, unable to even raise himself into a sitting position, but at least he was on the mend.

Someone moved in the periphery of his vision. He caught the doors of sickbay open and swish closed again, and the back of a purple catsuit receding down the hall.

Trip felt something break inside him. She hadn't been here to see him. She would have said something if she had. Probably just came to talk to Phlox. Finally he realised that no amount of time was going to bring T'Pol back to him, he'd had his chance and lost her. Now all he had to do was deal with that. He just wasn't sure if he could.

If he could have seen T'Pol standing in the corridor outside trying to compose herself to face the crew once again, then he would have arrived at a different conclusion. But he couldn't and no one was around to tell him just how wrong he was.