Genre: General, episode addition, allusion to T/T romance
Archive: Please ask me first.
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Enterprise is the property of CBS/Paramount. All original material herein is the property of its author.
Spoilers: "Similitude." And A Night at the Opera.
Summary: Sequel to my story Preview of Coming Attraction. Movie Night is a memorable evening for Sim after all, thanks to Phlox
A/N: I don't know if two stories constitutes a series, but if so, credit boushh for coming up with the idea for the "Young Sim" series. And thanks to her, Jenna, and slj91 for their beta time
By the time Phlox entered the mess hall a few minutes before the movie was scheduled to begin, most of the seats had been taken, but Sim and his hoped-for movie date had not yet arrived. Phlox availed himself of the opportunity to collect a bowl of popcorn from the generous supply that Chef had set out on the back counter for the moviegoers.
"Doctor?" A shy, soft-spoken crewman from Maintenance was hovering a meter away. "How is Commander Tucker?"
Phlox dredged up the young woman's name from his mental database. "Crewman Haynie, isn't it?" She nodded. "There's been no change," he replied. "But that's to be expected."
Haynie ventured closer, crossing her arms, looking both self-conscious and concerned. "The Commander, he... well, I've been thinking about him."
"Oh?" Phlox recalled Penny Haynie as something of a social introvert. "Are you friends with him?"
She smiled in nervous disbelief. "Me? Oh, no. No. It's just... he helped me on our last tour of duty. There were problems back home... I needed someone to talk to." She ducked her head, her voice growing even quieter. "I don't make friends very well."
Phlox merely nodded, his expression one of uncluttered sympathy. Haynie continued, "Anyway, Commander Tucker... he listened. He helped me work through some things." Softly, she added, "He's very kind."
"We're doing our best to help him," Phlox reassured her.
Haynie's eyes rose to meet his again. "I know." She chewed her lip for a moment. "Sim... he's going to do something to help, isn't he?"
"That is our hope, yes."
Haynie managed a faint smile. "'Hope for the best.' That's what you say. Right?"
Phlox returned her smile. "Quite right."
The lights winked off and on, signaling one minute to curtain time. Haynie looked at the few remaining free seats, then expectantly back to Phlox, as if waiting for him to lead the way. "You go ahead," he told her. "I'll be along."
As Haynie took a seat, and stragglers grabbed bowls of popcorn, the mess hall door slid open to admit Sim— significantly without T'Pol. Phlox's heart sank. Apparently logic had dictated that she turn his invitation down. Or perhaps she was simply too busy; engineering was in a sorry state, after all. Whatever the reason, T'Pol's absence didn't come as a complete surprise to Phlox, but Sim must be disappointed.
The doctor was encouraged to see several crew members warmly greeting the youth— young man, Phlox amended, noting that Sim appeared the equivalent of twenty now. By some instinctive, unspoken pact, the crew seemed to have collectively agreed never to comment directly on Sim's rapidly-accelerated growth and ever-changing physical appearance; nevertheless, the subject was touched upon in roundabout ways. Tonight, several people made favorable mention of Sim's new gray jumpsuit, though no one inquired as to why he was wearing it. He accepted the compliments with bashful good grace.
When he finally made his way over to Phlox, he gamely offered a smile. "Just you and me tonight, Doc."
Phlox nodded in wordless acceptance; no more need be said. "I don't suppose you took time out to eat today?"
Sim visibly girded himself for a lecture. "I meant to. I did. But I got tied up doin' some fine-tuning on the plasma assembly for T'Pol, and the next thing I knew, it was—"
Phlox waved him silent with a knowing smile. "Say no more." Sim was becoming more like Commander Tucker with each passing day. He was even missing meals now, so absorbed was he in his new engineering duties. It was uncanny. "I expected as much," Phlox continued. He held up his bowl of popcorn. "Which is why I have dinner ready and waiting for you."
Sim laughed. "Let's sit down, then."
They found a pair of seats next to Haynie, at the end of a row in back, just as the room darkened and the movie screen lit up with the MGM logo, complete with its majestic-looking lion.
A Night at the Opera, as it turned out, was quite the crowd-pleaser. Phlox found it to be a marvelous offering, more polished and less surreal than the Marx Brothers' previous cinematic efforts.
About a half-hour into the film, Groucho Marx's Otis P. Driftwood, aboard a ship bound for New York and relegated to a stateroom the size of a closet, had just finished ordering a voluminous breakfast for himself and his three stowaways, in a sequence that delighted the audience. Under the laughter of the crowd, Phlox heard the faint scrape of the mess hall door— and out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a slim, sleekly-clad figure slipping inside, moving to the rear of the darkened room.
Under pretext of scratching an itch, Phlox turned a bit further in his chair to get a better look. T'Pol had backed into the corner, a purple silhouette wedged between the drink dispenser and the popcorn supply. In the dim light cast by the refrigerated shelving, she appeared somewhat bemused, as if she didn't quite know why she had come.
No one but Phlox had noticed her enter— and from the look of her uncertain glances toward the door, he judged that she might bolt back out at any moment. Whatever he did, he must act quickly.
Facing front again, he took stock of the situation. On his right, Sim was happily absorbed watching Driftwood's determinedly loopy efforts to invite virtually every visitor from the ship's staff into his already crowded stateroom. To Phlox's left was Haynie, similarly engrossed by the film, her popcorn forgotten.
Phlox peered into the bowl Haynie was cradling in her lap. No, not forgotten; she had eaten it all. The bowl was empty.
And Phlox's bowl was still half full. Aha...
Glancing one more time in Sim's direction to make sure he wasn't looking, Phlox dumped his popcorn into Haynie's bowl. Startled, she looked from the unexpected comestible largesse to the doctor. He smiled warmly at her before turning pointedly back to the movie screen, where Driftwood was addressing a manicurist who had wedged herself into the cabin to do his nails: "You'd better make 'em short. It's getting kind of crowded in here."
As the audience broke up again, Haynie followed Phlox's lead, returning her attention to the film. The doctor tucked his now-empty bowl back between himself and Sim just in time. The young man, his eyes still glued to the screen, reached for a handful of popcorn— only to find salty leavings. "That went mighty fast," he remarked wryly.
"Oh, dear," Phlox fretted in feigned contrition. "I've eaten it all, haven't I?" He picked up the bowl. "I'll get you some more."
Sim put a hand on Phlox's arm. "Naw, that's okay, Doc—"
"I insist," Phlox said firmly, starting to rise. "You must be starved."
Sim stood, taking the bowl away from Phlox. "I'll get it."
"But Sim, the movie—"
Sim pushed Phlox gently but firmly back into his chair. "I insist." With a grin, he headed for the back of the room.
Phlox sat back, smiling to himself. He'd been counting on Sim's courtesy, and the lad had come through splendidly.
Onscreen, the number of people in Driftwood's room had risen to a ridiculous degree, while Driftwood was inviting a cleaning woman in to join the throng. "You'll have to start on the ceiling," he was telling her. "It's the only place that isn't being occupied. Tell Aunt Minnie to send up a bigger room too, will ya?..."
Phlox took advantage of the crew members' laughter to sneak a look toward the back of the mess hall. A tall, slender gray silhouette had joined the petite purple shadow in the corner. They were talking quietly, as T'Pol delicately selected a few kernels of popcorn from Sim's proffered bowl with her fingertips. Her skittishness had abated, giving way to a demeanor of gentle graciousness, while Sim wore a look of shy contentment that had Phlox smiling as he settled back in his chair to enjoy more of the Marx Brothers' antics.
Late in the film, Driftwood and his companions were in the midst of turning a New York performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore into a spectacular disaster of comic farce when Sim returned to his seat, his bowl brimming with popcorn, and resumed watching the movie.
Phlox glanced toward the back corner. T'Pol was gone. Sim was already chuckling along with the rest of the moviegoers as the opera stage's backdrops kept changing behind— and in front of— the hapless Lassparri onstage, thanks to Tomasso's Tarzanesque swinging on the backstage ropes in the rafters.
Phlox turned to face the screen as well. "Enjoying yourself?" he asked casually.
Sim nodded, without taking his eyes off the movie. "More'n I expected."
"Yes, the Marx Brothers do make for a memorable evening," Phlox commented.
"Sure do." With a sly smile, Sim held out the bowl. "Popcorn?..."