5

Crew Quarters, B Deck, 1230 hours, October 13 2152

As Trip looked at Reed a light of recognition lit behind his eyes. "You love her, don't you?" He bent down to look his friend in the eye. "Don't you, Malcolm?"

Reed shifted uncomfortably in the bed, smiling despite himself when he felt Jean's leg pressing against his through the blankets. He quickly tried to get a hold of himself and spoke softly to the covers, unable to meet his friend's gaze. "I'll get over it."

Trip sat down in the chair and shook his head, speechless. Every so often he'd look over at Reed with an expression of confused wonder on his face. It seemed like he wanted to ask the other man a question but couldn't quite find the right words.

"I don't want to hurt her, Trip, and you know how my relationships with women always turn out. I can't let the way I feel ruin our friendship. Besides, you got over her. I'll just have to do the same."

Trip shook his head. "That was completely different, Malcolm, and you know it. She knew how I felt and made it real clear that the feeling wasn't mutual. But she cares about you very much. She has for months. If you tell her how you feel I really don't think she'd shoot you down."

Reed chewed his lip for a moment, considering his friend's words. Maybe if I could. . . No. I won't let anyone hurt her, myself included. He shook his head and finally looked back up at Trip. "I'm not going to tell her, Trip, and please don't say anything to her about this."

"Dammit, Malcolm!"

Trip stood up from his chair, exploding at Reed, but he froze almost immediately and checked to see that Jean was still asleep. She moved very slightly but didn't wake up and he sighed in relief. Reed smiled at her affectionately and gently covered her with one of his blankets. "She could sleep through an air-raid, this one."

Trip glared at his friend. It was so obvious that Reed cared for her and they both knew that she cared about him deeply. What could he possibly be thinking?

"D'you really think that playin' it safe is always the best thing t'do?" His voice was tense as he tried to stop himself from shouting again.

"D'you have any idea what you're depriving yourself of? D'you really wanna be alone for the rest of your life? She cares about you, Malcolm. Hell, she might even love you and you're just gonna sit there and ignore it? I can't believe you."

He turned and headed for the door but stopped when he got there. For a long moment Trip stood silently with his back to Reed, trying to compose himself. This is your friend you're talkin' to. Don't be so hard on him. He might come to his senses on his own. Shoutin' at him isn't going to do any good.

Trip's shoulders slumped and he hung his head as he reached for the door control. Reed was surprised when his friend turned around to face him again. "I'm sorry for losing m'head, Malcolm. I still think you're making a mistake but it's your call. You an' Jean are my friends and I jus want both of you to be happy."

Reed nodded guardedly. "It's alright Trip, as long as this conversation stays between us."

Trip smiled. If he was angry with me he'd be calling me 'Commander.' I still don't agree with him but it's his life and I respect his decision. "I won't breathe a word."

He opened the door but turned around when he was halfway through the doorway. "Just so you know, when we were in that tavern and you were off sittin' by yourself . . . well, seeing you all alone and shivering seemed to almost cause her physical pain. I thought you should know that."

The door closed behind him as he disappeared into the corridor, leaving Reed to wrestle with his decision.