"Stop that, Malcolm," Hoshi begged, trying to breathe in between giggles. "My sides hurt."

"But you injured your arms. My side hurts," Malcolm replied, grinning.

Phlox passed by, shaking his head. He couldn't remember ever having had such ruckus in sickbay. Since Lieutenant Reed had been transferred from the Vulcan ship the night before, Hoshi, who was still off duty, had spent a lot of time by his bedside, and much of it had been quite the loud experience. He wondered what the Vulcan doctor might have done to the usually quiet Armoury Officer.

The doors swished open and Captain Archer came through with Commander Tucker. Archer glanced at the merry-looking pair and exchanged an odd look with Phlox. "Didn't know that getting hurt made people so happy," he muttered to him, receiving in return a face-splitting smile.

Phlox waved them on. "Go ahead, Captain. I'll – ah, how do Humans say, now… oh yes: I'll grab a bite to eat," he said cheerfully before disappearing behind the still open doors.

Archer cleared his throat and Malcolm turned to him, a full grin still on his face. "Captain, Commander," he said, for once not snapping to near-attention in the presence of his C.O. If anything, his smile actually got wider.

Hoshi smiled a greeting.

"Malcolm," Archer acknowledged, amused at this unorthodox version of his Fourth-In-Command. "If it weren't that you already spend enough time in sickbay as it is, I'd advise you to do this more often: nice to see you're having such a good time."

"It's the blood transfusion, Capt'n," Trip joked. "He's got some Tucker in him now."

Malcolm groaned.

Archer chuckled softly. "I don't know if I like the sound of that," he quipped with a frown. "A man who likes to blow things up with some Tucker in him? No thanks."

Malcolm's smile widened again. "I can't but agree, Sir. As Chief of Security I'd have to arrest myself, I'd be a hazard to the ship."

"'Nough, you two," Trip ranted.

"So," Archer enquired when the general mirth had died away. "How long will I have to be without my Armoury Officer?"

That did make Reed's mood change. "The Doctor says another week, Captain. But I'm hoping I might be able to make him reconsider," he replied with a smirk. "Were your mediating efforts successful?" he asked after a moment.

"Well, I don't know." Archer shrugged. "They've been arguing for the past five hours, but at least I got them all sitting around a table."

"You did more than you should have, Sir," Malcolm commented.

Archer gave a lopsided smirk. "Well, Lieutenant, you too went beyond the call of duty. It should be me on this bed. I haven't had a chance to thank you yet."

"I only did what I had to," Malcolm said quietly.

"He had to keep a promise," Hoshi butted in, and all eyes turned to her. She blushed slightly. "Malcolm promised me he'd bring you all back safely." She frowned. "Although you also promised you wouldn't place yourself at risk unnecessarily."

Malcolm's eyes went wide. "And I didn't," he countered, defensively.

"Honest-ta-God Hosh, darling, he's tellin' the truth," Trip drawled. "I was there, I saw it all."

"Thank you, Trip," Malcolm said in mixed surprise and relief.

"Besides, don't ya know the man? He doesn't place himself in unnecessary danger, he attracts it."

"There is no scientific evidence to support your statement, Commander," an aristocratic voice said.

They all turned to see T'Pol approaching with Ambassador Soval.

"Although there is enough evidence to warrant research," T'Pol continued, eliciting in response various sounds ranging from amused to annoyed. "It is agreeable to see that you are feeling better, Lieutenant," she then said to Reed.

"Indeed," Soval echoed.

"Thank you." Malcolm straightened somewhat painfully to a more upright position and cleared his throat.

Archer mused that they had finally managed to make him completely uncomfortable.

"Ambassador," Archer greeted. "What brings you to Enterprise? I hope it doesn't have to do with the negotiations…" If he was honest with himself he'd never held much hope for their success.

"The negotiations have ended," Soval announced, lifting his eyebrows dramatically.

Archer's shoulders slumped and Trip grimaced. "Well, that's too bad," the Engineer said, voicing the general feeling.

Soval shot a slightly puzzled glance in T'Pol's direction.

"The Ambassador simply said that they have concluded," T'Pol clarified to Archer, hands latched behind her back. "Not that they have failed."

Archer's green eyes twinkled. "Ah," he said, raising his chin. "Does he actually mean they were successful?" he asked, restraining a smile.

Soval hugged his elbows. "As successful as we could have expected. Vulcans will help both Doronites and Felesians establish equally sophisticated monitoring stations. Both species also agreed to share their information with us."

Archer didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "A sort of cold war," he said, thinking aloud.

Soval shot another enquiring glance at T'Pol.

"An impasse," the Vulcan Science Officer explained.

At that moment they heard the doors swish open. Phlox came through them and stopped short, studying the crowd in surprise. "Captain, I'm afraid I am going to have to ask you all to leave. My patient needs to rest," he said in a firm voice.

"Of course, Doctor. Lieutenant, I'll stop by later on," Archer said with a self-conscious smile, beginning to herd Soval, T'Pol and Hoshi out.

"Just when the conversation was getting interesting," Malcolm muttered to Trip, who, being on the other side of his bed, had managed to escape their Captain's gathering arms. "Successful," he added under his breath, commenting Soval's words with a soft snort.

"Don't forget, that's Big Brother speakin'," Trip whispered back with a grin.

The leaving party was already at the door, but both Soval and T'Pol turned to shoot them odd looks.

"What is so peculiar with elder brothers on Earth?" Soval asked, frowning and turning to T'Pol.

"I am unable to answer you, Ambassador. I have no experience with human siblings."

It took way too long for the sickbay doors to close. A microsecond later Trip and Malcolm guffawed loudly, Malcolm holding his side.

"I believe your stay in sickbay might be longer than I had anticipated, Lieutenant," Phlox said sternly, passing a tricorder over him.

Malcolm sobered instantly and Trip patted him soothingly on the shoulder. "Need anythin'?" he asked, preparing to leave.

Malcolm put on a thoughtful expression. "How about that drink you promised me on Vegor 2 -- you know, the one from your secret stash?"

"A secret stash?" Phlox looked suddenly interested.

Trip's eyes were crossed by a glint. "Say, Doc. If I showed it ta you, what would you give me in exchange?" He put a meaningful hand on Malcolm's arm, and the Lieutenant looked at Phlox with open anticipation.

Phlox studied the two Officers, a hand on his chin. "I have a surplus of bloodworms, Commander. I could spare a couple. Perhaps even three."

Trip rolled his eyes. "Aw Gawd!" He smirked. "Sorry, Malcolm."

Phlox smiled his excessive smile. "Nice try, Commander," he said, shooing Trip out.

"Don't forget that drink," Malcolm called after him as the doors closed behind his friend.

With everyone gone, sickbay suddenly seemed lonely and too quiet. Malcolm leaned back into the biobed, feeling exhausted. Phlox was right, damn. He was still in need of rest and tired easily. He'd better follow doctor's orders or he'd be in here for longer than he could stand. He closed his eyes and let out a dejected sigh.

"Are you all right, Lieutenant?" Phlox's voice asked from behind his bed. "Any pain?"

Malcolm didn't have the energy to turn to him. Eyes still closed, he gave him his standard reply. "I'm fine, Doctor, thank you."

"I thought I heard you moan."

"It wasn't a moan," Malcolm said in slightly annoyed tones. "It was a sigh."

"Ah. You are tired, then."

The words had a funny ring to them, and had come from much closer, on Malcolm's right. Malcolm took a peek and found blue Denobulan eyes looking at him intently. He stared back.

"I thought you wanted me to rest," he said.

"I thought you wanted a drink," Phlox replied with a genial smile. With that he produced a thin, tall bottle from behind his back. He chuckled. "Commander Tucker is not the only person on this ship to have a secret stash. Ensigns Mayweather and Sato brought this back for me from Vegor 2." He cast Malcolm a conniving look. "One drink will not hurt you, despite your injuries. And since you need no analgesic..."

Malcolm eyed the yellow liquor with suspicion. It looked like… No, it couldn't possibly be…

Phlox twirled the bottle in a manner probably meant to be enticing, but all it did was give Malcolm a good view of its phosphorescent contents, confirming his suspicions. It was that swill from Vegor 2. Taking a fast decision, he wrapped an arm around his midsection. "Ouch. Bloody hell, not now…" He scrunched up his face in a pained expression and choked out, "Sorry, Doctor, but I think I'll need something for the pain after all."

Phlox's mirth faded abruptly, replaced by professional concern. "Let me take care of it, Mr. Reed." He moved away, muttering something about bad timing under his breath.

Just then the sickbay doors opened and Trip reappeared, a wide grin on his face.

"Promises are promises," he chimed, raising a bottle. But he hadn't taken another step that Phlox was there to stop him.

"I'm sorry, Commander, but this will have to wait."

"Oh, Doc!"

Malcolm groaned.

"As you can hear, Lieutenant Reed is in a fair amount of pain. I am about to sedate him so he can rest properly."

Sedate?... Malcolm opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything Phlox was at his side and a hypospray had been emptied into his bloodstream. Colours began to blend and the world started to fade away quickly.

Not quickly enough, though, for a bloody Denobulan voice, albeit distorted, was saying, "But since you're here, if you are willing to share your secret stash with me, Commander, I will share mine with you…"


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