This story is set around the end of season two.

Thank you to SitaZ and RoaringMice for beta reading; and to Gabi2305 for her welcome advice.

111

Trip's muscles automatically tensed as he slowly pulled down the transporter's levers one more time. Come on, come on, he silently urged, his concentration focused on the readings before him.

Damn him and his sense of duty, he silently cursed, why couldn't he wait for the shuttlepod to bring him up?

Enterprise had been orbiting an M-class planet, and teams were mapping it and collecting samples. Malcolm had gone down to plant charges so that the science team could get some mineral specimens, but had asked to be transported back, stubbornly insisting that there was nothing else for him to do planet side and that his time was best spent in the Armoury.

"Trip, have you got him?" Archer's voice rang out. There was an edge to it that easily carried through the comm. link.

Trip glanced before him at the transporter area and then back at his readings. "Somethin's wrong, Capt'n, I can't seem to..." his voice died away as he cut everything out to concentrate solely on the task at hand.

"Trip?" Archer pressed.

Trip briefly pursed his lips before answering, "It looks like there might be some sort of contaminant in the data stream." A tiny part of his mind registered with astonishment that his voice sounded in control when his guts were a contorted knot. "Hold on... I think I might have him," he added just seconds later, glancing back up at the area in front of him.

Something flickered there, a fuzzy image that didn't seem to want to become reality, to take on flesh and bones. Then, slowly, Malcolm's shape took form.

"Bridge, I've got him," Trip shouted as he abandoned his position behind the console to hurry to his friend. Malcolm looked wobbly and confused.

"You alright?" Trip asked tautly as he got near him. Fighting the irrational fear that his hands would go right through Malcolm, he reached out and grabbed hold of the lieutenant's arms to steady him. Malcolm immediately anchored himself onto Trip and closed his eyes.

"Malcolm, what is it?" Trip asked again, with urgency.

Malcolm opened his eyes and blinked a couple of times, shaking his head as if to clear it. After a moment he appeared to realise where he was and met Trip's frowning gaze. "Nothing," he choked out, his hoarse voice belying the meaning of that single word. He took a step and stumbled. Trip caught him just in time before he collapsed to the floor, and gently helped him to sit down on the steps leading off the transporter's area.

"Doctor Phlox, report to the transporter room," the engineer shouted, knowing the comm. link was open.

"On my way," the doctor chimed.

Archer's anxious voice sounded again, in stark contrast with Phlox's incongruously cheerful tone. "Trip, is something wrong?"

"I've got him, Capt'n, but he seems pretty shaky," Trip replied, studying Malcolm's pale face. Not that his friend's face was ever anything other than pale, except for when he blushed, he tried to reassure himself.

Malcolm let his head fall forward and pressed two fingers onto his eyes. "All this fuss isn't necessary, I'm fine," he feebly protested. "Just a little dizzy."

"I had a hard time re-materialising you." Trip sounded tense, and his hands were still firmly on Malcolm's arms. "My readings said there was contaminant in the data stream."

Malcolm slowly raised his chin from his chest. He glanced at the engineer before breaking free of his grip and looking at his own hands, turning them around a couple of times. "I don't see anything that's not supposed to be there," he murmured. He shrugged and shook his head again, still looking a bit dazed.

Trip heaved a deep breath, but it did nothing to ease his mind. The transporter was one piece of equipment that made him a little uncomfortable, especially lately. He didn't advertise it, but deep down the idea that a person's molecules were pulled apart and then put together again, gave him the creeps. Particularly after that little incident when Hoshi had been trapped in the buffer for a few seconds and had thought she was disintegrating. What if the man working the damn machine made a mistake? He shuddered at the thought and saw Malcolm cast him a peering glance.

The lieutenant tilted his head and forced his lips into a smirk. "Quit worrying, Trip," he said, his voice a little stronger. "I'm fine." Lifting his eyebrows, he added with a soft chuckle, "Looks like you haven't managed to get rid of me yet."

Malcolm's joke finally lessened Trip's tension a little. Just then Archer and Phlox came rushing in, and the Doctor immediately knelt down near Reed, tricorder in hand.

Archer strode up to the two of them. "What happened?" he demanded, shifting his gaze from his Chief Engineer to his Armoury Officer and back again.

"I had readings sayin' that the data stream was contaminated," Trip repeated yet one more time, passing a nervous hand through his hair. "For a moment I feared we'd have another accident like that time with Novakovich."

"I'm all right, Captain," Reed said, his voice now steady. "I just felt a little light-headed for a moment, but it has passed."

"Lieutenant Reed seems to be perfectly fine," Phlox merrily announced, getting up.

"That's what I've been saying all along," Malcolm muttered, and Trip's features finally relaxed into a grin.

"This of course doesn't mean you can skip decon, Lieutenant," Phlox warned.

"What makes you think I'd want to do that, Doctor?" Reed asked in mock surprise. "Unlike sickbay, I actually enjoy the decon chamber." He pushed to his feet. Archer and Trip automatically held out steadying hands and Malcolm shot them a self-conscious glance.

"There are only a couple of hours left till the end of your shift, Malcolm. Why don't you take the rest of the day off?" Archer suggested

Reed straightened his shoulders. "Sir, I see no reason for it," he replied resolutely. "I feel fine and there is a job in the Armoury I really would like to finish up."

Trip rolled his eyes to Archer and the Captain smiled knowingly; then he turned serious again. "All right, Lieutenant," he said. "But don't overdo it. And if you feel dizzy again, I want you to go to sickbay immediately."

"Understood, Sir," Reed replied formally. Nodding to his superiors, he left.

TBC