Title: Counselor

Author: Sita Z

Rating: K

Disclaimer: Not mine. No profit.

Summary: Phlox plays counselor for the crew.

Author's Note: Okay, I guess I should include a little warning in here... ahem... The Chamber of Slashdom has been opened, enemies of T/R, beware!... Sorry about that, been reading a lot of J.K. Rowling lately... anyway, what I'm trying to say, this story includes a slash pairing (very mild slash). Just wanted to let you know, so you can avoid the story if you don't like that.

This was written as a birthday fic for The Libran Iniquity, and yes, I know it's quite silly, but I wanted her to get a laugh out of it. A big thank you goes to my beta Gabi for her patience and support... as always, feedback is very welcome!

Phlox opened the bat cage, dropping a wriggling purple maggot inside and quickly pulled his hand back when a pointed appendage shot out of the dark, grabbing the unlucky maggot and very nearly part of his index finger as well.

"Now, now... there's no need to do that! I only fed you a few hours ago!"

The bat didn't seem to care, nibbling at the now-dead maggot and shooting him an insidious look out of her beady eyes. Phlox, who knew that she loved a good chase around sickbay almost as much as she loved her dinner maggots - especially if she could knock over some of the equipment in the process - wasted no time and closed the lid again. Through the fine wire netting of her cage, he could see her devouring the last remains of her maggot. When she was done, she began rearranging her wings and moving around on - or rather, under - her perch, obviously getting ready to go to sleep. He smiled fondly.

"That's my girl."

Not for the first time, he shook his head at himself. As he had told the Captain, Denobulans were not in the habit of keeping pets, and they were certainly not in the habit of talking to them. Ah, well. Very likely, it was living with Humans that did it to him. After all, Captain Archer was known to have frequent conversations with the quadruped living in his quarters, and he had witnessed Ensign Sato offer words of love and comfort to an alien slug they had picked up on an away mission. He guessed that having an occasional chat with his Pyrithian bat could still be seen as fairly normal. At least, except for consuming maggots and finding ways to escape from her cage, the bat had few interests in life, and certainly felt no desire to discuss the challenges of her private life with a neutral third party.

Phlox sighed as he placed the maggot container back on its shelf, remembering today's routine physicals with the senior crew. Someday, he told himself, someday he would come to understand these Humans, and once that was accomplished, he could take on the greater challenge of trying to understand their relationships...

"She just doesn't understand me!"

Enterprise's helmsman was sitting on a biobed, his legs dangling nervously as he watched Phlox run the scanner over his left thigh.

"Ah, it seems your recent rock climbing adventure has left no permanent damage, Ensign."

Phlox smiled and shut the device off, realizing at the same time that this wasn't the answer Mayweather was waiting for.

"I believe you were referring to Ensign Sato, were you not?"

Travis nodded miserably. "Yeah. We... had a little argument last night."

"Ah." Phlox leaned against the adjoining biobed, thinking that he could afford a few minutes to listen. He was already ahead of schedule and Mayweather's physical had only taken five minutes, as usual. And, after all, he was the closest thing to a counselor this crew had.

"Would you like to tell me about it?"

It was the cue Travis seemed to have been waiting for, since the next words all but gushed out of his mouth. "You see, I really don't know what I did this time. Okay, so maybe showing her that picture wasn't the best idea, but... there's no need to overreact, is there!"

"You showed her a picture."

"Yeah..." For some reason, Travis seemed slightly embarrassed. "You know, I've got this picture of an ex-girlfriend of mine... it's years ago that we broke up, I really don't see why she..."

"I take it you showed that picture to Ensign Sato," Phlox stated.

Travis nodded. "We were looking at some old pictures, and there was a photo of Sheila among them... but that's no reason to freak out like that!"

Phlox folded his hands over his scanner. "Ensign Sato was offended by the picture?"

"Yeah, the picture, or... I don't know. I said something about Sheila's looks, can't remember what it was, and suddenly she goes all quiet on me, and before I know it, she's yelling at me and telling me I'm an unfeeling idiot and what not! I really have no idea what I did!"

Phlox sighed inwardly. "From what you're telling me, it seems as if Ensign Sato perceived your keeping this picture and showing it to her as an act of deliberate tactlessness."

Travis' eyes widened. "What? I didn't show it to her to... to hurt her or anything! Until yesterday, I didn't even know that I still had it!"

"It may not have been your intention to hurt Ensign Sato, but I believe she has taken offence, maybe thinking that by showing her one of your former partners you intended to evoke feelings of jealousy in her."

"What?!" Travis' jaw dropped. "No! I just... I never meant for her to see that picture, it just..."

Phlox laid a hand on Travis' shoulder. "Ensign, I believe you'd do well to talk to Ensign Sato as soon as possible and rectify the situation. And do not forget to apologize."

Travis frowned. "But I didn't do anything!"

Phlox held up a hand. "No matter what you think you did or didn't do, I'm certain you'll be a lot more successful in your approach if you say your sorry first."

Travis sighed. "I guess you're right, doc." He hopped off the biobed and walked towards the sickbay doors, obviously deep in thought. Before he opened the door, however, he turned around one more time. "Uh, thanks, doctor. You know."

Phlox smiled. "It's my pleasure, Ensign."

"He doesn't understand me at all."

Hoshi leaned back against the biobed, crossing her arms in front of her chest. Phlox tucked away his hand scanner.

"You'll be pleased to know, Ensign, that your scan results are perfectly within the acceptable range." He paused. "I assume you are talking about Mr. Mayweather."

Hoshi sighed. "Yeah. Sorry I'm bothering you with this, doc..."

"Oh, not at all!" It was only fair, Phlox surmised, that after listening to his view of the matter he listened to hers as well. "Please, do continue."

Hoshi smiled at him. "Thanks. You know, it's just... he can be such an idiot! I mean, he's not an idiot per se, of course not, but he can be so... so dense sometimes!"

Phlox leaned against the biobed across from her, involuntarily adopting the same stance as he had with Travis before. "Are you referring to a particular incident, Ensign, or just speaking generally?"

Hoshi looked down at her hands. "Actually, I am. Referring to an incident, I mean. We had this argument last night..." She sighed. "He was showing me some old pictures from his time at Starfleet Academy, and there was one of him and his... his girlfriend at the time."

She bit her lip. "I know it's stupid, but... she was this really pretty girl, tall and with a body like a model... I guess I wasn't too happy that he still had her picture in the first place... and then he said that he thinks her eyes look very much like mine!" Her cheeks flushed. "I mean, can you believe it? There we are, looking at his pictures, and instead of not showing me that photo the first place, he's comparing me with her as if we're in some sort of competition!"

She glanced down at her hands. "I guess I kind of blew up at him after that... said some mean things. I know I was being stupid, but... come on! How could he do that and not realize it would hurt me?"

Phlox rested a hand on her shoulder. "It may sound unlikely, but I am quite certain Mr. Mayweather really did not know that he was hurting your feelings with his comment. I believe he wasn't even sure why you reacted the way you did."

Hoshi stared at him. "Are you serious? I mean, it's obvious, isn't it?"

"Obvious to you, Ensign. Not to him." The doctor smiled. "But do not worry yourself. I don't believe any serious harm was done. If I may offer a word of advice..."

"Yes, doctor?"

"When Mr. Mayweather comes to talk to you about your... misunderstanding, explain to him why you were hurt, and make sure you tell him exactly what you found offensive about his behavior. I believe it will make things easier for both of you."

She smiled. "Will do. Thanks for listening, doc."

He answered her smile with her bright grin of his own. "You're very welcome, Hoshi."

"Sometimes I think he doesn't understand me."

Lieutenant Reed's lips tightened, a sure sign that he was displeased. It wasn't exactly an unusual expression for the Lieutenant to be wearing when sitting on a biobed, but this time his disgruntlement seemed to have a different cause. Phlox picked up the hypospray with Reed's allergy blocker and pressed it against the Lieutenant's neck, where it emptied itself with a low hiss.

"There we go." Phlox discarded the empty hypo and, with a side glance, considered the Lieutenant's frustrated expression.

Here we go again, as the Captain would say.

"You mean Commander Tucker, Lieutenant?"

Malcolm nodded curtly. Phlox sighed inwardly, taking up his position next to the adjoining biobed.

"So, what do you mean when you say he doesn't understand you?"

The Lieutenant's face darkened, and his tone became more clipped as he continued. "I've told him time and again that when he's in my quarters, I expect him to keep things in a certain order. But does he listen to me? It's as I said, he doesn't seem to understand me when I'm talking to him."

Phlox could easily imagine the conversation that had taken place between the two men, but he asked his next question all the same, knowing that Malcolm expected him to. "Did something happen that made you think so?"

Malcolm crossed his arms. "You could say so. I came back from my shift yesterday to find the esteemed Mr. Tucker snoring away on my bunk, a plate with a half-eaten pie next to him and crumbs all over my sheets. Apparently he had felt the need to take a shower after his shift, using my bathroom and leaving wet footprints all over the place, his towel and his uniform on the floor and half my wardrobe stacked on the desk! He'd been looking for a shirt of his that he'd left in my closet, and saw no need to put my things back where they belong."

The Lieutenant paused for a second. "Now, I wouldn't mind if he didn't do that kind of thing on a regular basis. It's... inconsiderate."

Phlox leaned back against the biobed. "I take it you told him so?"

Malcolm briefly lowered his eyes. "Yes. I admit I may have been somewhat... harsh, but as I said, it's not the first time we had this discussion."

"And how did Mr. Tucker react?"

The Lieutenant looked up again, sounding more subdued as he continued. "He didn't seem to understand why I was not exactly happy to see him, and... well, it ended with him leaving the room. It's not that I wasn't looking forward to seeing him, but... it's not asking too much when I tell him that I don't want my quarters looking like a pigsty when I come from my shift."

Phlox nodded. "I think Commander Tucker would agree, Lieutenant."

"What?" Malcolm looked confused. "He didn't agree at all. He got offended and stomped out of the room."

Phlox let out a small sigh. "I don't think he left because you told him you didn't want to find your quarters in a state of disarray. I believe he got the impression you don't want him there."

Malcolm's eyes widened. "But I do! I was happy to see him! I mean, I... I was happy to see him, I was just angry because of the mess he'd made..."

The doctor nodded sagely. "I think you should tell him so. Explain that your reaction was, how do you call it, somewhat overboard..."

Malcolm looked about to protest, but then he decided against it.

"... and that you're happy to spend time with him as often as you can. I dare say I know Mr. Tucker fairly well, and I think you'll notice that everything else will take care of itself."

Malcolm nodded slowly. "I see what you mean, doctor. Thank you."

Phlox smiled. "Not a problem, Lieutenant."

"Y'know, doc, I've got a feelin' he jus' doesn't understand me."

Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III was a picture of misery as he sat on the bio bed, allowing Phlox to run the scanner over him. The doctor checked the readings on the small display, then placed the device back on his equipment cart.

"I believe you're talking about your partner?" he asked.

Trip nodded. "Malcolm, yeah. I don't know what's wrong with him. Sometimes he's jus' so... so..."

He didn't seem to find the right word to describe exactly what Malcolm was.

"Explosive?" Phlox offered, smiling slightly.

The Commander responded with a lop-sided grin of his own. "Yeah, I guess that's what he is." His grin disappeared again as he continued. "An' sometimes I get the feelin' that he doesn' really want me aroun', y'know what I mean... like I'm botherin' him or somethin'."

Phlox leaned against the bed behind him. "Did something happen to give you this impression?"

Tucker nodded. "Last night... my Wednesday shift ends a little earlier than his, an' I thought I'd go to his quarters an' wait for him there... I had this great movie that we'd both been dyin' to watch and I thought we could have ourselves a little quality time, after all that trouble in Engineerin' an' the Armory. Anyway, I got myself somethin' to eat in the messhall an' some popcorn for the movie, an' went to his quarters to wait. I guess I musta fallen asleep at some point, I was dead-beat. All I know is that I'm wakin' up and he's there, glarin' at me an' sayin' somethin' about this bein' the final straw. I swear, I had no idea what he was talkin' about at first. He kept goin' in that nasty tone o' voice, sayin' I was inconsiderate an' didn't give a damn 'bout his feelin's. I offered to clean up the stuff I'd left on the floor, but he said no, jus' leave it there since I was goin' to mess it up again anyway."

He sighed. "Well, at some point I got mad an' walked out... I mean, I know I made a mess, but I was gonna clean it up again. I was plannin' to, anyway, before I fell asleep... but that's no reason to... to bite my head off!"

Phlox crossed his arms. "Maybe not. And I don't think the Lieutenant meant to do so. I guess he was feeling as tired as you were, and was experiencing a certain frustration at the state his quarters were in."

Trip ducked his head. "Yeah, I know he hates it when I leave his stuff lyin' around. I thought I'd still have enough time to clean it up before he got back, I didn't mean to fall asleep..." He looked up. "I guess it musta seemed pretty rude to him."

For a moment, Phlox had the mental image of an old-fashioned lightbulb appearing over the Commander's head, and, for the second time that day, inwardly shook his head at himself.

I have to be careful not to overdo my research of human movies

I must have seen too many of those old cartoons...

, he thought.

"Probably," he said, returning his attention to the Commander. "And if I may say so, I believe you should tell Lieutenant Reed that you're sorry..."

"He's the one who blew up at me," Tucker muttered, but Phlox could see that his protest was only pro forma.

"Tell him that you're sorry and that it won't happen again. And I believe you've still got the movie you both wanted to see?"

Trip's face lit up. "That's right!" He hopped off the biobed, back to his usual energetic self. "I'll talk to him as soon as he gets back from the Armory. Thanks doc!"

And with that, he was out the door. Phlox smiled, picking up the hypospanner Tucker had forgotten and placing it on a nearby shelf. "Happy to help, Commander."

"She doesn't understand me."

Jonathan Archer rubbed the back of his neck, a gesture Phlox had come to recognize as a sign of helplessness in the Captain. The doctor took a little longer than necessary studying his scan data, sighing inwardly. Not that he didn't appreciate the trust everyone placed in him... but at the same time he found that he was really looking forward to a few quiet hours in the science lab.

"You mean Subcommander T'Pol?" he asked finally, setting his scanner aside.

The Captain nodded. "Yes, T'Pol. I mean... I don't expect her to give up any of her habits, and..." He trailed off.

"The Subcommander was offended by something you did?" Phlox prompted gently.

"Yeah, well..." The Captain sighed. "It's not really something I did. It's Porthos."

"Your bugle?" At the Captain's look, Phlox hastily corrected himself. "Beagle, I mean."

Archer nodded. "Yeah. And I realize that he doesn't exactly smell like roses and baby powder, but... see, he's my friend! And he's been sleeping in my bed for over two years. She can't expect us to give up on old habits just because she doesn't like the way he smells!"

Phlox wasn't sure what surprised him more - that the Captain's and T'Pol's relationship had proceeded to the point where she actually spent the night in his quarters, or the fact that the Captain expected a dog and a Vulcan to share the same sleeping space.

"Well," he said carefully, "I don't think the Subcommander would agree with you there..."

"No kidding." Archer sighed. "She straight-out refused to discuss it. Treated me as if I were a child refusing to see reason. You know, that's what really drives me mad about her: she's so goddamn stubborn."

Secretly, Phlox thought that if he were asked to share his bed with a furry, four-legged creature with a tendency towards bad breath, he might develop a stubborn side as well. Aloud he said: "Captain, I take it that Subcommander T'Pol didn't ask you to remove the beagle from your quarters. She only requested that he not be allowed to sleep on the bed."

Archer's eyes had widened at the idea of "removing" Porthos from his quarters. "Well, yes. But he's going to be unhappy..."

Phlox let out a small sigh. "Captain, I know you are very fond of your canine companion, but don't you think that your partner's feelings take precedence over his?"

The Captain looked somewhat guilty at that. "Of course I do, but..."

"It shouldn't take long for Porthos to get used to the new sleeping arrangements... and there's no reason you can't show him your affection when the Subcommander is around. Just remember to take her feelings into consideration as well."

Archer nodded. "I guess you're right, doc. I mean, I wouldn't want a Vulcan seh'lat sleeping in my bed, either..."

Phlox smiled. "Exactly, Captain. I believe it might be beneficial if you explained to the Subcommander that you have realized your error..."

"I will." Archer grinned as slid off the biobed. "Thanks for reading me the riot act, doc. I guess I had it coming."

Phlox merely smiled. "Any time, Captain. Any time."

"He fails to understand my logic."

Subcommander T'Pol sat ram-rod straight on the biobed, and only a slight twitch of her left eyebrow betrayed that she was... displeased. Phlox shut off the scanner, leaning back against the opposite bed with a small sigh.

Five down, one to go.

"I take it you are talking about the Captain."

"Indeed." She paused. "I do not see why Humans allow themselves to become emotionally attached to non-sentient beings, to the extent of allowing those beings to dictate their life."

Phlox was about to agree when for some reason the mental image of his bat perching on a shelf, the Captain climbing the counter with a catching net and he himself imitating the rutting call of a Denobulan tropical bird came to his mind. He settled for a simple "You mean Porthos, I assume."

"Indeed." T'Pol's eyebrow climbed higher. "Even Jonath- Captain Archer cannot deny that it is detrimental to a person's hygiene if they allow a furred carnivore to spend the night in their bed. However, he refuses to listen to reason, and I am not willing-"

She trailed off, obviously realizing what she was about to reveal. Phlox smiled gently.

"You're not willing to sleep in the same bed as Porthos."

T'Pol hesitated. Then: "No, I am not."

Phlox only nodded, waiting for her to continue. He had learned that when the crew came to him to talk about their problems, all they really wanted him to do was listen.

It is a good thing a doctor is used to doing so,

he thought with a small inward sigh.

T'Pol folded her hands in her lap. "I compiled a list with reasons why it is less than beneficial to have a dog sleeping in one's bed, and gave it to the Captain. He reacted in a most illogical way."

Phlox felt his own eyebrows approaching his hairline. "You... compiled a list?" No wonder the Captain reacted... illogically.

"Yes." T'Pol seemed unaware of the doctor's dismay. "It is more efficient than "having an endless discussion", as Humans would put it. Besides, I have noticed that Humans tend to take things more seriously if they have seen them written down somewhere."

"Subcommander..." Phlox sighed. "I agree with you about Porthos, but that's no way to handle problems in a relationship."

"Why not?" T'Pol seemed honestly confused. "Vulcans..."

"But Captain Archer is no Vulcan," Phlox reminded her gently. "I am fairly certain that he was hurt by your behavior."

T'Pol's eyebrows actually touched her bangs. "Hurt? I never intended to hurt him."

"I know you didn't," he said. "Still, by showing him a written list of your arguments and refusing to discuss them you were patronizing him, even if you never meant to do so. If you want the Captain to listen to you, you need to talk to him and not leave a written note."

T'Pol considered this, her eyebrows slowly returning to their normal position. "It is somewhat illogical, but I see what you mean, doctor. I will endeavor to remember this in the future. Still, I do not want Porthos in bed with us."

"Of course not." Phlox smiled. "And I believe the Captain will understand that if you talk to him about it."

"That would be fortunate." T'Pol slid off the bed and clasped her hands behind her back. "I appreciate your advice, doctor."

Phlox smiled, although the expression was a little weary. "That's what I'm here for, Subcommander."

After returning the maggot container to its proper place, Phlox considered going to the science lab as he had planned... but suddenly found himself too tired to do so. Instead he went back to the counter where the bat cage stood, and picked up a padd that lay half-hidden between various boxes and bottles.

"So... what have we learned today..." The doctor wasn't aware of a round, black eye opening in resignation, watching him through the wire netting of the cage as he began to type. "Let's see... 'Be careful about your choice of words when mentioning your former liaisons to your partner'...'Always make sure that your partner understands why you are displeased with him or her'." He paused, smiling a little as he remembered Lieutenant Reed. "'When expressing your displeasure, you should try to criticize your partner's actions and not him or her as a person', and of course...'Remember that your actions could be perceived as rude and thoughtless, even if you yourself don't see them that way'." He finished his sentence with a flourish. "Now, the Captain and the Subcommander, let's see... 'Your partner's feelings and needs are more important than those of your pet' and finally, 'Talking is an important element in any relationship'."

He put the padd back where it belonged, smiling at the bat who was watching him with seeming indifference. "You know, if this continues, I may well act on my idea and write that paper on human interaction... definitely a very complex subject of study."

The bat rearranged her wings, almost as if to cover her ears. The doctor failed to notice the movement, lost in thought again.

"Still, I believe I need to research the matter more thoroughly... there are still many things I don't understand. You know," he turned a little, now talking directly at the cage, "Crewman Cutler assisted me in the science lab a few days ago, and she seemed very quiet, almost as if she were preoccupied with something. When I asked her about it, all she said was "You really don't get it, do you?" Now, I am completely at a loss why she would say such a thing..."

The bat sighed, giving up any attempts not to listen. She took a firmer hold on her perch and assumed her usual "I'm all ears" position. It was going to be a long evening.

The End

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