Trip sat at Malcolm's bedside in sickbay, a place he'd been all too often over the past few years. His friend was lying flat on his back, sheet pulled up over his body, the only movement the steady rise and fall of his chest. The IV drip machine – Trip was sure the stupid thing actually had a name – gave a soft "snick", and the monitors above the bed flashed patterns of green, yellow and red.
God, he hated this place.
Phlox came into sickbay, and Trip called out, "What happened?"
Phlox stepped to Malcolm's bedside, concerned eyes on the monitors on the wall. "The lieutenant managed to combine two drugs that do not go well together," the doctor said, a master of understatement as always. "One of which had expired." His smile appeared. "He'll be fine now."
Trip found that he was unable to say anything in response to that. He stared at Malcolm. That sort of carelessness seemed unlike him. He lifted his gaze to Phlox.
Phlox nodded as if understanding what Trip was thinking. "He'd likely had a very high fever, which no doubt influenced his behavior."
That weak voice made Trip turn surprised eyes to the bed beside him. Malcolm lay there, red rimmed eyes seeming sunken in his pale face, but quite obviously awake.
"Hey," Trip said, sliding his chair closer as Phlox moved to the other side of the bed. "Good to have you back. How are you feeling?"
"Tired," Malcolm said, looking from Trip to the doctor. "What happened?"
"What do you remember?" Phlox asked as he continued his evaluation.
Malcolm blinked his confusion. Head cocked to the side, he said, "That can't be right."
"What can't be?" Trip asked.
"I remember a taxi," Malcolm said, frowning.
"A taxi," Trip said flatly, not sure where Malcolm was going with this.
Malcolm nodded. "In my room. It was yellow, like those in New York rather than…" He suddenly looked surprised. "I did this. Not on purpose, but I did it." He made to sit up, but Trip put a hand on his arm to settle him there. "Why in the world would I have done such a thing?"
Trip purposefully put on a slight smile. "Phlox said you had a fever, and from what you'd just said about the taxis, I'd guess you were hallucinating."
"Just the one," Malcolm said, hand over his eyes.
"Excuse me?" Trip said.
"Just one taxi," Malcolm said.
Trip drew the word out. "Okay." He exchanged a look with Phlox, but the doctor didn't seem to be overly concerned.
Malcolm pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'd had a headache, but I'd been handling it, or thought I had, until it got worse. So I finally took some pills, hoping to knock it out so I could get some sleep. Then… Hmm…" He draped his arm across his stomach and looked at Trip, point-blank. "I think I forgotten I'd taken the pills." He cocked his head. "Do you think the taxi was trying to tell me something?"
"Excuse me?" Trip repeated again. This time the look he shot to Phlox was one of alarm.
"The taxi," Malcolm said insistently. "It must have been there for a reason."
"Perhaps we should postpone this visit, Commander," Phlox said, voice low. "The lieutenant needs his rest."
"Is he all right?"
Phlox smiled gently. "He'll be fine in a few days."
"All right," Trip said. He knew that Phlox was usually right, but he'd believe that one when he saw it.
Malcolm entered the busy mess, grabbed some food blindly and made immediately for the lone empty table, which thankfully was off in the far corner of the room. He was just tucking into whatever he'd picked, which appeared to be some sort of pasta, when he felt two people approaching. He looked up to see Trip and Hoshi moving toward him, trays in hand. As they slid, uninvited, into the other chairs at the table, Hoshi said,
"I see you picked the spaghetti." She exchanged an amused glance with Trip.
"I did," Malcolm answered, not sure what she was on about. "Why?"
"No reason." She broke into a genuine smile. "Good to see you back. Phlox get you all fixed up?"
"He did," Malcolm said. This time, it was his turn to exchange a look with Trip. Phlox had fixed him up in all ways – including the elimination of both the hallucinations and his headache.
Trip said, "Yeah, fevers can really throw you for a loop." He took a bite of his salad and, around his mouthful, said, "Good to see you eating."
"It's good to actually be hungry," Malcolm responded. He was glad that Trip hadn't brought up anything beyond the illness. He knew Trip and Archer knew about his mistake with the medications, but he didn't want the ship to know.
"Actually…" Hoshi said, with a wince aimed at his pasta. "As your first meal, I'd, well…" She looked at Trip, then back to him, "…I'd strongly suggest the salad."
"Ah. Thank you." Malcolm pointedly pushed away his pasta and took a large bite of his salad instead.
"Any sign of taxis, Malcolm?" Trip said nonchalantly.
Malcolm gave him a piercing glare.
"Taxis?" Hoshi asked.
"It's nothing," Trip said hastily. Of course, he said it in such a way that Hoshi would know something was up, so Malcolm added,
"I may have hallucinated while I was ill."
"Taxis?" Hoshi asked.
Trip speared a vegetable with his fork. "Dreaming of taxis could mean all sorts of things: a coming change, travel, even."
"I think it meant that I was ill," Malcolm said, deadpan.
"Sometimes things have meaning, you don't even realise it until someone points it out." Hoshi winked at him, then went on. "Like that time, back before you got sick, you remember that lunch when Trip was mooning over you?"
Malcolm looked fully at her. "Mooning?"
Hoshi twirled a lock of her hair in her fingers. "You know, the one where he couldn't stop staring at you."
"Ah, yes," Malcolm said, casting an amused glance toward Trip, who sputtered something incoherent in response.
Hoshi dropped all play at flirtation. "He told me that you'd told him that during Starfleet training, you ate the same three meals every day for a year. And your sister – you remember, during that pineapple incident?"
He did indeed remember that; very well.
"She told me you'd once gone for a whole week without eating. So spill. What's the meaning behind all that?"
Trip laughed. "Yeah, come on, entertain us. What is up with you and food?"
Malcolm frowned. "It's not me and…" He sighed, knowing there was no way out of this one. He'd supposed it had simply been a matter of time; he was only surprised it had taken them this long. Putting down his fork, he began the story. "That was when I'd first moved to the U.S. I'd just come out of a period of time when I'd been vegan –"
"Excuse me?" Trip said.
Malcolm pointedly ignored the interruption. "I'd been vegan for something like three years. And more than that, my area of Malaysia was fairly evenly split between traditional Malay and Indian foods. I'd become used to a certain way of eating, but I felt, if I was to join Starfleet, I might need to be more open in terms of the foods I'd be willing to eat. But of course, I arrive in America, and everything tasted so odd, and then when I entered Starfleet, it was only made worse by the institutional food. I found the only things I could palate on that menu, and that were served with any regularity, were eggs, cheese and these odd soy based not-quite-chicken things. So yes, I ate pretty much the same things for a year, but I did mix it up a bit."
Trip leaned across his plate. "How? Cheese under your eggs as well as on top of them?"
"Ha. Ha," Hoshi said sarcastically.
"No," Malcolm said. "I'd have salad, or rice, or… I still ate certain things I'd had back before I'd joined Starfleet, but those weren't on offer every day, so yes, it was basically some combination of eggs, cheese and the chicken… erm…" He waved a hand vaguely.
Malcolm nodded gratefully. "Chicken pucks for close to a year, until I was done with the basics of my training."
"So what about the not eating for a week?" Hoshi asked.
"That, I did on a dare."
"Told you so," Hoshi said in Trip's direction.
"No you didn't," Trip volleyed. "I brought up the idea of the dare."
Malcolm watched them banter for a moment before he threw in, "Nice to know my eating patterns are such a topic of conversation. I'd no idea I was that interesting."
Hoshi actually blushed. "Well, Trip noticed you not eating."
"And you did get sick," Trip added, "so it was worth noticing."
Hoshi gave an evil smile before she said, slowly, "So no matter what he says, it wasn't like you were the object of his affections or anything."
"What?" Trip spat out. "I told you." He poked a fry at her, punctuating each word as he repeated, "I. TOLD. You. That was my mama's…"
Malcolm waved them both off. He smiled at Hoshi, then held Trip's eye. "It's fine. It's actually nice to be the object of so much attention."
Trip blushed, but didn't look away.
After a moment – the perfect comic beat – Hoshi said, "Something you two gentlemen want to tell me?"
"Maybe," Trip said, still staring at Malcolm. Then he fluttered his eyelashes flirtatiously.
Malcolm groaned and turned to Hoshi for help. Naturally, she took one look at him and batted her lashes as well.
At that, Malcolm burst out laughing.
Prompts: suryaofvulcan asked for:
Story 1: At the beginning of 'Harbringer', Trip tells Amanda Cole: "Malcolm once told me that when he was in Starfleet training, he ate the same three meals every day for a year." Give me either a) the story of how that happened, or b) the conversation in which Trip found out about it (or both!). I'd prefer Tucker/Reed slash or preslash, but can be gen if you like. At a stretch you could even make it Tucker/Cole het. More humour than angst, please.
Story 2: In 'Silent Enemy', Malcolm's sister tells Hoshi that he once went for a whole week without eating, either for a contest or as part of a training exercise, she can't remember which. Tell me the story. Can be Reed/Sato or gen. Extra points if it's Tucker/Reed slash or preslash.
Notes: No T'Pol/Tucker or abused!Malcolm in either story please.
Note: This line is based on one that I wrote for a "worst opening line to a story" contest. I was a runner up. Oddly proud of that achievement, I then dared myself to actually use it in a story. Thus I graced you with it. Lucky, lucky you. "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."