Trip was watching Malcolm, sending stealthy glances in that direction while trying not to be obvious about it. Malcolm was eating with others from the armory, or not eating, actually. In reality, he was just playing with his spaghetti.
"He probably knows you're watching him, Commander," Hoshi said from across the small table she was sharing with Trip. "Care to tell me what's up?"
Trip smiled at being caught out, and was about to answer her when Malcolm looked up from his plate, caught Trip's eye and, raising one sarcastic brow, made a slight bow in his direction.
Feeling himself blush, Trip tore his eyes away. "I'd thought I was being surreptitious," he said to Hoshi, now trying to ignore Malcolm without being obvious about that. At Hoshi's look, he added a weak, "Apparently, I was being the exact opposite. Not only did you notice," he said, waving a fry in her direction. "But so did the object of my affec – "
Hoshi's eyebrows shot to her hairline.
Trip put both hands up, backpedalling. "That's just an expression my mother used to… Anyway," he sighed, knowing he was fighting a losing battle.
She looked at him in a manner that he'd swear was actually coquettish. "An expression of what, exactly? Because if this were a movie or something, at this point the writers would probably try to imply certain things."
Trip choked out a meager, "Yeah, but that's not… I mean… You know that wasn't what…" He let that trail off when he caught the look in her eye, a mix of merriment and what he'd come to term "evil Hoshi." He leaned forward across the table, pushing an accusatory finger in her direction. "You know you get me every time when you do that."
"Do what?" Hoshi asked, all false innosence.
Trip simply rolled his eyes at her. He was about to push the point, but he couldn't help notice when Malcolm stood, still obviously not having eaten, and said his goodbyes to his tablemates. "All right," Trip said, eyes trailing Malcolm as he threaded his way across the crowded mess. "That's odd."
"What is?" Hoshi asked as she twirled a piece of spaghetti with her fork. "I mean, other than you staring at him through half our meal."
"He didn't eat anything at breakfast, either," Trip said distractedly, thinking back on the meal they'd shared that morning.
"Could be nothing," Hoshi said, putting down her fork and pushing her tray away. Wryly, she added, "This isn't exactly one of chef's best."
"True," Trip said, casting a playfully wary glance to her dish. "I'd tried that last week, without success, and have since learned that we've run out of canned tomatoes, so that sauce is made from…" He winced. "Something other than tomatoes. Today, I stuck to the sandwiches." He pursed his lips. "But I don't think that's it."
"The lieutenant is kind of a picky eater."
"True," He leaned across the table, waving Hoshi forward as he said, "Malcolm once told me that when he was in Starfleet training, he ate the same three meals every day for a year."
Hoshi raised a brow in surprise, and glanced around as if to be sure the man in question wasn't nearby. "Why?" she asked. At Trip's answering shrug, she said, voice low, "His sister told me – you remember, back when I had to find out what his favorite foods were? Well, she told me that he once went for a whole week without eating."
"Why the hell would he do that?" Trip bit his lip; the swear having slipped out before he could catch it.
Hoshi waved off his concern. "I have no idea. Either for a contest or part of a training exercise. She couldn't actually remember."
"No Starfleet training I ever went through did that," Trip said, leaning back in his chair. "And if someone dared me to do it, I don't think I'd be taking them up on that one."
"Not even if they double dog dared you?"
"Not even," Trip said firmly.
"Me, neither," Hoshi said. She gave another sad look to her spaghetti. "Although maybe I should start." She slid a longing look toward Trip's food.
Trip laughed and moved half his sandwich from his plate onto hers.
Malcolm entered his quarters and exhaled loudly, glad for peace and quiet after the hustle of his armoury shift. He was hungry, but not overmuch, and headachy, which was largely what had kept him from eating. Sleep would likely fix him up, right as rain.
Stepping to his wardrobe, he slid out of his uniform and slipped into his most comfortable warm clothing: the knit shirt his sister had sent him for Christmas and his favourite pair of jogging bottoms. But first, for the headache, he fingered two pills from the bottle on his nightstand. Then, shrugging, he took out a third, and swallowed them dry. Settling into bed, burrowed under the covers, he considered reading, but was asleep before he could even complete the thought.
Malcolm swore himself awake at the sound of his door chime. Reaching blearily for the clock on his nightstand, he realised it was 21.00 hours, well within a reasonable time for someone to be stopping by. With a groan, he levered himself upright, resting at the bed's edge for a moment, head in his hands, eyes closed against the brightness of the room. He must have forgotten to put out the lights. "Ouch," he moaned. His headache was worse, not better, despite the hour or so of sleep he'd had, and fuck him from a height, but he really should have taken something for it before now. Now he was in pain, and tired, and freezing, and all he wanted to do was bury himself under his duvet again, so why was he up? Maybe the headache had woken him.
If he didn't get rid of the damn headache he'd soon lose all ability to function. There had to be… Phlox had once given him… Opening the drawer in his nightstand, he thrust a hand in blindly and pulled out an old hypo the doctor had given him after some past injury. Barely even thinking, jabbed it into the skin of his arm.
His gaze rose when the door went again. He'd forgotten about the door. He croaked a ragged, "Coming," in its general direction and stood – too suddenly – his head swam. He took a step and reached a hand to grab the desk, but missed and crashed to the floor in a clatter of books and papers. "Right," he muttered.
"Malcolm?" Trip called through the door. "You okay?"
"Sorry. Yes. One moment," Malcolm said. He pushed himself up onto all fours, then stood, more slowly this time. Hand to the desk, then the wall, he reached the door and opened it. Or made to.
He froze when he realised that there was a taxi, or something taxi-like, crouched in the corner of his room, and he knew that couldn't be right, as the pills he'd taken earlier – he'd forgotten he'd taken those – had clearly been labelled, "Does not cause hallucinations involving taxi cabs," or at least that's what he thought he remembered them saying, and yet here he was, and there it was, and so, in the end, he reckoned he should call Hoshi, because if anyone would know anything about taxi cabs lurking in the corners of one's room, it would be Hoshi, who was a linguist.
Or maybe an engineer. An engineer would be a better choice. Trip, for example. He was an engineer. He'd always had a hard time deciding between Trip and Hoshi. Both had appealing qualities, but in this case – he eyed the taxi warily, and it eyed him back – perhaps an engineer would be better suited to the task.
His turned to the door when the voice of the very man came through it. "Malcolm, are you okay?"
Malcolm laughed aloud. Okay? Was he okay? He supposed he was all right. Better than he'd been moments ago, before he'd taken Phlox's… whatever that had been. "I'd had a headache," he said aloud in the door's general direction before he slumped back against the wall and slid down its surface, settling puddled on the carpet. He supposed that taking Phlox's medications, which had been sitting in his nightstand for who knew how long, on top of the tiny yellow pills, which he'd forgotten he'd taken until he'd seen the yellow of the taxi, and all that on an empty stomach, had perhaps not been one of his best ideas.
"It's the taxis in New York that are yellow, right?" he asked.
"Malcolm, let me in," Trip said.
"Yes, please," Malcolm replied, thinking that did, in fact, seem to be a very good idea, because he wasn't sure that Phlox's meds had actually taken away his headache, but they'd certainly made him care less about it and everything else, and that could be good or bad, depending on how one looked at it, and what the thoughts of the taxi was. Or were. No matter the grammar, he was loathe to ask it.
"I'm letting myself in," Trip said.
"If you can," Malcolm added, falling to the side. He curled up on the floor with his back to the wall. "I've… You know me," he murmured, not even sure if Trip could hear him. As chief of security, he'd made sure his own door was far from easy to get through, although he supposed Trip was smart enough to figure it out. Eventually. Until then, he'd just rest here, and maybe, when he woke, that bleedin' taxi would be gone gone gone.
Cracking one eye open, he gave it his best evil look. "It's not polite to stare," he said to the thing. When it gave him a hurt look, he relented. "Well, so long as you stay over there for now, I suppose it's…," he yawned, and closed his eyes, "…fine."
He heard activity nearby, and someone calling his name, but he couldn't be bothered. It all seemed so distant, while this, here – the roughness of the carpet under his cheek, the smell of the cleaning fluid he'd used to remove the coffee he'd spilt the other day, the sensation of the world swimming past at speed – seemed much more immediate and important. He felt the tug of the water, the sea rushing over, around and through him, and dug his fingers into said carpet, trying to anchor himself there. But the effort took its toll and, tired of the struggle, he let go, speeding off with the current.
That was Phlox's voice. Phlox was a doctor and, despite the fact that he was an odd bird, a friend. Except when Malcolm was ill. Then Phlox was a doctor, and a bothersome one at that. Always poking and prodding, and not letting him alone. Peck peck peck.
"Lieutenant, open your eyes, please."
Malcolm managed to lever them open, revealing a very worried looking Trip, what seemed to be half the engineering staff, at least one medic, and Phlox, looking… well, Malcolm had shut his eyes again before he'd quite got to that point, so he wasn't sure how Phlox was looking. It was a bit difficult to tell, what with the bird mask the man was wearing.
"If you could depart, gentlemen," he heard Phlox instruct all and sundry. He heard the flutter and hum of a scanner, and then Phlox's voice, addressing someone – likely the medic. The tone was low, and Malcolm was only half paying attention, so what they said passed him by. There was the hiss of a hypo being prepared, and at that, Malcolm managed to raise a hand with a semi-coherent, "Don't."
"On the nightstand," Malcolm said quickly, already feeling the tug as the sea pulled him under again. "Across from the taxi," he slurred, and then he was gone.
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