Walk in the Dark

Disclaimer: Enterprise doesn't belong to me, I make no money from writing this, more's the pity. If I did own it then I wouldn't have cancelled it after only four series.

Archive: yes, just ask first.

AN: This is set post season four, but ignores the Trip/T'Pol bond (sorry T/T'P-ers but it just didn't fit). There will, however, be lots of friendship in this story.

"Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens. But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall." – Tolkien

Doctor Phlox had been extremely busy for the past couple of weeks. It was time for Enterprise's routine crew physicals, which were mandatory for all personnel. He was beginning to tire of conducting the same tests eighty plus times, which was why when Commander Trip Tucker walked into sick bay at the scheduled time he was extremely pleased to see him. It wasn't because he was particularly happy to see Tucker himself, who was almost as difficult a patient as Lieutenant Reed, but because he knew it signalled he was nearing the end of the physicals. T for Tucker meant he only had Ensign Vikram, Crewman Webster, Lieutenant Whittaker and Crewman Zusky to go.

Jovially he performed the required tests and then ushered the Commander onto the scanner bed. He initiated the required scan sequence, humming to himself as he did so. He was so happy to be nearing the end of the seemingly endless round of physicals that he was almost operating on auto-pilot and nearly missed it. Nearly. His discovery very quickly sobered his mood. He double checked but there had been no mistake. The scan alone wasn't enough to make a conclusive diagnosis though. The scanner's chamber opened and the bed bearing Trip slid out.

"Well, Doc, everything still in the right place?" asked Trip, cheerfully. Then he saw the Denobulan's face. "What is it?"

"It may be nothing, but I'd like to take a blood sample just to be sure. I noticed a small anomaly on your scan," said Phlox.

"An anomaly?" asked Trip.

"It probably isn't anything to worry about. Let me take the blood sample and do some tests," replied Phlox.

"Okay," sighed Trip and held out his arm. Phlox took out a hypo and located a suitable vein to take a blood sample from.

"Why don't you get dressed while I analyse this and then we can go over the results," said Phlox.

Trip nodded and went to find his clothes while Phlox moved to the microscope. He prayed fervently that he had been incorrect and the blood sample would prove him wrong, however in his logical centre he knew that was very unlikely. Trip emerged a few moments later, zipping up his uniform.

"So what's the verdict?" asked Trip, worriedly.

Phlox told him what he'd found and waited for the inevitable emotional display. It didn't come however, Commander Tucker just stood in front of him looking serious.

"You're sure?" he asked.

"Absolutely, I ran the test twice to be certain."

"How long?" Trip asked.

"I don't expect any symptoms will begin showing for several months. It's impossible to say how long it will be after that before you become too ill to work. Some people have lived for years with this disease. I can probably give you drugs to alleviate some of the symptoms but, as you know, there is currently no cure," said Phlox. "Although there is a lot of research into possible therapies that may help. We've caught this early so there's time for medical science to come up with something yet."

Trip just nodded.

"Commander, you are going to need some time to adjust to this development. You are also going to need to talk to someone about it. I'd like your permission to tell the Captain about my diagnosis," said Phlox.

"What?" asked Trip as if he hadn't really been listening. Then his brain seemed to catch up with what Phlox had said. "No, I don't want anyone to know, especially not the Captain. Have everyone tiptoeing around me like I'm made of glass or something, I don't think I could take that." Trip could just imagine what would happen, the Captain would never send him on another away mission again. He might even have his department taken away from him.

"You will have to tell them at some point," said Phlox.

"Not until I have to," said Trip.

"It is up to you who you tell but I strongly advise against keeping this to yourself. You will need the support of your family and friends through what could be a difficult time. You should at least consider informing your parents," said Phlox.

"No, it's too soon after Lizzie. They've lost their daughter, I can't tell them that they're losing a son as well," said Trip. "They'll have to know eventually but they need time."

"Very well," said Phlox with resignation. "I am here if you need someone to talk to. Don't hesitate to contact me if you begin to experience any symptoms, at least I can do something about that. I will want to see you once a month from now onwards so that I can monitor your condition. Remember that the better care you take of yourself the more likely you are to be able to fight this for a prolonged period."

Trip nodded again. "Thanks Doc. Send me a reminder when its time for me to come by again." With that he walked out of sick bay, as if nothing was wrong.

Phlox turned back to his microscope and felt his heart break. It seemed so unfair, but then when was terminal illness ever fair, especially in one so young. He worried that the Commander wasn't seeking the help of his friends and that he couldn't cope with this alone, but it was his decision how he dealt with this at the end of the day.

Trip walked down the corridor towards his quarters. He was due back in Engineering but he needed a moment to himself before he faced his team. Despite the front he'd put up for Phlox, the diagnosis had affected him deeply. He needed time to absorb what he'd just been told, although he suspected that there wasn't enough time in the world to really take it in. They all knew he was away for his annual physical so he had a little time. He found himself wandering towards the observation lounge, which he knew would be empty at the moment.

He stared out at the stars, trying to collect his thoughts. Phlox had said several months before symptoms began to show and even then it might be longer before he'd need to leave Enterprise. Trip reckoned that gave him at least a year to get himself organised. He'd need an alternative posting to Enterprise and he'd have to make sure that no one found out in that time, otherwise he'd never be able to get away quietly. He had a few favours owing to him and he was fairly certain that he could arrange a transfer without Archer knowing until the last minute. It had been easy enough with Columbia. He wouldn't be able to stand his friends watching him decline.

It was all so damn unfair. He should have had a long career ahead of him as Enterprise's Chief Engineer and instead it was going to be cut short. He hit his fist on the bulkhead beside him in frustration. He wondered why he hadn't broken down, sobbing, in front of Phlox. Wasn't that what people diagnosed with terminal illnesses were supposed to do? Instead he felt angry and all he could do was think about everything that he'd be missing. He took a deep breath and tried to pull himself together. He had to focus on the positive, otherwise he knew he'd drown in self pity and regrets.

He'd faced death so many times in the last few years that he'd lost count, but it had usually been sudden and unexpected with very little time to think about what was happening. And there had always been the hope that it would work out. This disease was going to give him a long time to contemplate his death and there was no way out.

Trip knew only a little of the history of the disease that he'd been diagnosed with, although he would definitely be finding out more as soon as he could find the time. The first rule of any battle, as Malcolm had told him on numerous occasions, was know thy enemy, and he sure as hell wasn't going down without a fight. However he knew that they hadn't found a cure in the last twenty years and he doubted that they would find it in the next twenty years. Certainly it wouldn't be in time to help him.

For the moment he'd make the most of his time on Enterprise.

He stayed a couple more minutes in the observation lounge before he made his way back to Engineering. He stepped through the hatch and was greeted by a smiling Lieutenant Hess.

"Physical go okay, sir?" asked his Second in Command.

"Yes, thanks, Anna. Did we get those flow regulators un-jammed?" he asked, smiling in return at the Lieutenant, and it was like everything was back to normal.

Life for Trip seemed to be pretty normal for the next few months. He did his best to forget about Phlox's diagnosis and get on with being Chief Engineer of Earth's first warp five starship. Trip almost allowed himself to believe that the Doctor's diagnosis was wrong when nothing immediately happened to him. He had been seeing Phlox once a month now for some time and so far his health had remained constant. He knew deep down that it wouldn't last but he allowed himself to hope that it would be a long time before he started to become symptomatic. He was aware that in a few rare cases it was years before symptoms began to show.

Of course it didn't last, as he'd known it couldn't, but it was nearly a full six months before the symptoms began to show.

At first he ignored it. There was a faint tremor in his left hand, that only really became annoying when he was doing fine work that he needed both hands for. Occasionally his muscles in the same hand would spasm a little. He put it down to tiredness, he'd been pulling long shifts in Engineering and skipping the occasional meal. It could have been low blood sugar. It didn't get better though, even after he'd had a good night's sleep and seemed to worsen when he became tired. He'd read all the information that Phlox had given him and he knew that this could be an early symptom, probably was exactly that, and it scared him to death. So he continued to ignore it, hoping that it would go away, but at the same time knowing that it wouldn't.

Until now it hadn't been a reality. It had been something that he could pretend wasn't happening to him. He hadn't even taken Phlox's advice when it came to cutting back his hours and eating more healthily. He was wondering if he should have done now, maybe he could have prolonged the onset of symptoms some more, but it was too late now to do anything about it.

He found excuses not to go back to the doctor, because he knew that when he did go to see Phlox he'd have to acknowledge the reality that he'd entered the symptomatic phase. Eventually he ran out of excuses but since he already knew what was causing the tremor, he decided that seeing Phlox wasn't urgent. He'd discuss it next week when he went in for his usual monthly check up. By the time he'd gone through all his excuses and reasons for not seeing the doctor it had already been there for a week without causing him any extra difficulties, so he went to his shift in Engineering as usual. An hour later he found himself in sickbay with a second degree electrical burn after his shaking hand had knocked a circuit that was still live. He couldn't hide the tremor from Phlox as he treated the burn.

"If you're going to hide your symptoms from me then I can't treat you," said Phlox quietly, as he tended to the wound. Phlox being quiet was never a good sign.

"I just figured that I knew what was causing it and there wasn't any reason to bother you with it before my check-up next week," said Trip, sucking air through his teeth as Phlox applied antiseptic and healing cream.

"If I am going to help you then I need you to give me all the information that you have. I can treat your symptoms even if we can't cure the disease. I still think you should talk to someone about this, you can't do this alone," said Phlox.

"I talk to you," said Trip.

"We discuss the medical aspects of your case, which isn't what I meant. I was thinking about the senior staff."

"No, they've all got enough to worry about," said Trip.

"Have you considered that maybe they would like to help you?" asked Phlox. "We are your friends. At least tell the Captain."

"Yeah, I'm sure the Captain's going to love watching me get more and more sick until I have to be discharged on disability," said Trip, sarcasm dripping from his tone. "I'm not telling anyone, until I have to. Especially not the Captain."

"You can't hide this forever. They will find out eventually whether you want them to or not."

"Maybe. Just let me do this my way, Doc."

Phlox sighed and picked up a hypospray that he then injected Trip with. He then handed Trip some hypospray cartridges full of a blue liquid.

"What's this?" asked Trip.

"It's to counteract the tremors and muscle spasms," said Phlox. "Take it every morning." Phlox set the hypospray so that it would deliver the correct dosage and handed it to Trip. "No more hiding symptoms."

Trip nodded. "Thanks, Doc," he said and hopped off the biobed.

Phlox shook his head as he watched the Commander leave and turned back to his lab bench. He was currently reviewing all the possible research that was available on the Commander's condition in the hopes that he could find some way of helping his patient. Unfortunately, at the moment there seemed to be very little progress being made in the field, which was extremely dispiriting for those caring for victims of the disease. Phlox did intend to begin his own lines of research and he hoped that eventually he might be able to find a cure, but at the moment that possibility seemed a long way off.

Ensign Sato handed Captain Archer the accident log for that week. It was procedure that the Captain always signed off on the accident log. Health and safety on board the ship was a very serious business and the accident log was a good way of making sure that any potential problems were brought to the Captain's attention.

He scanned the entries. Engineering usually had more than its fair share of injuries as it was probably the most physically demanding area to work in, with a corresponding amount of potential accidents. Trip was, however, usually extremely strict when it came to his people following safety precautions. He'd once seen the Commander bawl out a junior officer for forgetting to put on safety goggles whilst using a plasma torch for a five second burst. Generally speaking, Trip had already dealt with any safety issues in Engineering before they ever reached the Captain.

He spotted Trip's name on the list and noted that he'd burnt his hand on an open circuit. He'd already teased Trip at dinner a couple of days ago about that and the bizarre slime that Phlox liked to put on electrical burns. What caught his eye however was that it wasn't the only time Trip's name appeared. He'd also gashed his hand on a conduit casing and given himself another small electrical burn.

"Hoshi, is this right? It's not a duplicate entry?" asked Archer.

"Yes, sir, it's correct. I called Lieutenant Hess to make sure. I guess the Commander is just having a bad week," said Hoshi.

"Even in a bad week he shouldn't burn his hand twice," said Archer. "I wonder if there's a problem with those circuits."

Across the bridge Reed looked up and raised an eyebrow. "He's been working on the Armoury EPS grid this week, sir. I'm sure he would have alerted me to any particular difficulties."

"Maybe he is just having a bad week," said Archer.

"I don't know if it's just my imagination, but he has seemed a little distracted lately," said Reed.

"I noticed that too," said Hoshi.

"With these new phase cannons being installed he has had a lot of work to do," said Reed.

"He's been eating alone more recently. Chef says he gets meals sent to his quarters a lot." said Mayweather, from the helm.

"That's not like him," said Hoshi.

Archer settled back in his chair in contemplation. "I wonder if something's bothering him."

"He'd never tell us if there was," said Reed. After Trip's sister had been killed it had been months before he'd been ready to talk to anyone.

"Maybe that's just because no one's offered to listen," said Archer. "Hoshi, did we get any football matches in the last message packet?"

"Actually I was going to drop a data chip to Commander Tucker after my shift. Miami Dolphins versus New York Jets," smiled Hoshi.

"Perfect," said Archer, returning the grin.

It took most of the rest of that day between his other duties for Archer to track down Trip. He was well within the bowels of the ship in a Jeffries tube that was about as far away from main engineering as it was possible to get. Apparently he was working on something to do with the EPS grid for the Armoury but Archer wasn't sure how this part of the ship connected to the Armoury.

"Hey, Captain," said Trip, when Archer made his presence known, mainly from his inept scrabbling along the tight crawlspace. He knew there was a good reason why he'd chosen pilot over engineer. "What can I do for you? Got to be pretty important to get you down here."

"Haven't seen you for a couple of days. You would think that on a ship this size it would be impossible not to cross paths with someone, but it seems to be. Either that or you're avoiding me."

"I'm not avoiding you, I've just been busy." Trip continued working as he talked.

"Malcolm said that the new phase cannons have been giving you trouble," said Archer.

"Not trouble, just a lot of extra work." Trip carefully connected two wires and soldered them securely together.

"Think you could take a night off to keep me company. It's lonely at the top you know."

Trip broke off and grinned at his Captain. "Lonely at the top? When you start spouting clichés like that I know you've got something up your sleeve."

"Okay you got me. Hoshi got the latest message packet from Earth." Archer flashed the top of a data chip in his pocket at Trip. "Miami Dolphins versus the New York Jets."

"Your home state versus mine? That's going to be a grudge match, are you sure you're up to it? 'Cause I can tell you now that Miami will be trouncing your sorry New York butts."

"That's not how it played out last time, Commander," said Archer, teasingly.

"A low spot in an otherwise great season," said Trip, turning back to his circuits.

"So we're on for tonight then?" asked Archer.

Suddenly it was as if Trip remembered something and his expression changed. "I don't know, I've got a lot on."

"Malcolm said that you're ahead on the installation."

"Yeah, well Malcolm isn't the one that's coping with the Engineering side of this," said Trip. "He doesn't have to check the hundreds of EPS relays to make sure they're linked up properly and that they aren't going to overload under the pressure."

"Woah there. The boss is offering you the night off. Am I going to have to make this an order?"

"Captain, I'd really prefer to get this finished," said Trip.

"I'm beginning to see how you ended up with that burn on your hand. You're working too hard, Trip. You need a break and you're going to take one, even if I have to drag you out of this Jeffries tube."

Trip sighed. "Okay, you win. Miami Dolphins versus the Jets it is."

"I'll see you in the Captain's Mess for dinner and then we can go back to my quarters to watch the game." Archer said as he moved away down the Jeffries tube, pleased that he'd gained a victory.

Unfortunately Trip wasn't so happy about spending the evening with his Captain. Archer would undoubtedly want to know how he was, and then he'd have to lie and Trip was a bad liar. The Captain always knew when he was being less than truthful as well. He contemplated trying to get out of it, but he hit the same problem, Archer would know that he was lying. That would lead to more awkward questions that Trip didn't want to answer. The easiest thing for him to do was go along and pretend that nothing was wrong. It had worked so far.

"I swear that last play was straight out of the text books," said Trip, lifting his beer bottle to his lips.

"As much as I hate to say it, your guys are on form this season," said Archer, he was smarting from the loss but he was pleased to see Trip smiling. That was something his friend hadn't been doing much these past couple of months.

"Well you gave us a run for our money," replied Trip. He drained the dregs from his beer bottle. "Anyway, I guess I should get going. Got a long shift ahead of me tomorrow."

"You can stay for another beer," said Archer, already opening another and passing it to Trip.

Trip couldn't exactly argue now that he had the beer in his hand.

"We haven't had much chance to talk lately and you've kind of seemed down these past few months," said Archer.

Damn, busted, thought Trip, but he decided to bluff it out. "I'm fine. Just been a bit tired lately and I got a letter from home. It would have been Lizzie's birthday next week."

Archer nodded in understanding, pleased that he'd worked out what was bothering Trip. His sister had been very important to him and her birthday would just remind him how much he missed her. It would certainly explain why Trip hadn't felt much like socialising lately, but, if that was the explanation, why was it that Archer felt there was more to this.

"How are your parents doing?" asked Archer.

"Pretty good, I guess. It's been two years now and they're coming to terms with it."

"Are you coming to terms with it?" asked Archer.

Trip thought about it for a second. "Yes, I suppose I am."

Archer suddenly had an overwhelming feeling that Trip wasn't just talking about his sister's death, but before he could probe further, Trip was talking about his sister again and the moment had passed.

Phlox's medicine was keeping the symptoms at bay and Trip's life continued as it had before his diagnosis. When he remembered to take his medicine he was fine, but if he forgot then the tremors returned. It wouldn't have mattered but the tremors often resulted in some sort of injury, steady hands were useful in Engineering. Phlox had already noted that he was spending too much time in sick bay due to forgetting to take his medicine and Trip had promised to be more conscientious about it. He was sure that his crew had noticed that he was becoming more clumsy and he knew he'd give himself away if he wasn't more careful. After Archer's attempt to find out what was wrong, he was sure that his friends had realised that something was different.

He wondered if he forgot to take the medicine because his subconscious didn't want to believe that he was sick, it was certainly a possibility. Half the time he consciously didn't want to believe he was sick and taking medicine just reminded him of what was going to happen to him. Or maybe it was because he didn't want to leave the hypospray out in plain sight in case someone came into his quarters and saw it or asked him about it. As it was shut away in the bathroom cabinet he didn't have a visual reminder to take it. However his new resolve not to end up in sickbay went a long way to making sure that he got into a routine in the mornings of have shower, brush teeth, take medicine.

Of course the one day for several weeks that he'd forgotten again, was the day that they arrived at Colchis. He remembered just as he entered Engineering but he was already five minutes late for his staff meeting so he couldn't spare the time to go back to his quarters. He'd only been running late in the first place because he'd been so tired the night before that he'd fallen into bed and forgotten to set his alarm. He found he'd been getting more tired recently but he'd shrugged it off, they'd been busy lately.

He held the staff meeting, briefing his team on their latest mission and what to expect, but was interrupted by the com calling him to the bridge. They had arrived at Colchis and Trip was needed to go play diplomat. He decided that he could divert to his cabin to pick up his hypospray on the way to the shuttle bay. He wasn't sure how long they were going to be on Colchis for and he needed to be prepared. It would undo all his work if the Captain found his condition out because Trip got the shakes on an away mission. So far he'd always been able to pass it off as low blood sugar on the few occasions that people had caught him out.

It was only Archer and Trip who would be going down to the planet. The Colchans were a jumpy race and had stipulated that only two people would be allowed to visit and negotiate the trade agreement. The trade agreement was the main reason that Enterprise was at Colchis, which was otherwise a fairly unremarkable planet. Colchis was a hub for the dilithium trade. Dilithium was a crystalline substance used to focus energy in the warp engine and therefore part of Trip's area of expertise.

Trip was there to verify the quality of the crystals, their worth and exactly how much Starfleet would be needing, and Archer was there to negotiate the deal. In actuality any of Enterprise's engineers or scientists could have done Trip's job in this partnership, but it sounded more impressive when Archer introduced him as his Chief Engineer. Trip also had a sneaking suspicion that Archer had been trying to get him off the ship so that they could continue their heart to heart, which was of course the last thing that he wanted to do, but he couldn't exactly refuse to go or Archer would have wanted to know why.

Trip rapidly packed an overnight bag, shoved his hypospray of medication into his pocket and set off towards the shuttle bay. He met Archer there, who was giving T'Pol some last micro-management instructions which she was taking good naturedly. She bid goodbye to them and left to resume her duties, while Archer climbed into the pilot's seat and Trip secured the hatch.

The journey down to the planet was uneventful and they arrived in plenty of time for their rendezvous with the Colchan Trade Minister. The formal greetings were completed pleasantly and everything seemed to be going well as they were taken into the official residence of the minister. At that point the Colchans insisted that the humans be searched before they could be allowed into the inner sanctum of the official residence. Archer protested that it smacked of distrust but the Colchans refused to back down. Archer knew that they weren't carrying any weapons so had no real reason not to submit to the search. He lodged his formal protest and allowed the search to go ahead.

They searched Archer and found nothing of note, only a padd which contained his crib sheet for the trade negotiations. Trip was searched as well and after emptying his pockets, not an easy task given what was in his pockets, they found the hypospray filled with his medication. Archer hadn't really been paying attention to what was going on, so when a commotion erupted and the Colchans suddenly became very angry, Archer had no idea why. Trip was trying to explain something to the Colchans but he was having a hard time making himself heard.

The Colchans drew their weapons and fired on the two humans, which was when everything went black.