"Any idea what's wrong with him?"
Hoshi looked up at Travis Mayweather as the dark-skinned helmsman took his seat opposite her, a salad bowl on his tray.
"No idea," she answered.
Hoshi knew exactly who they were talking about. Lieutenant Malcolm Reed sat with his back to the two ensigns, gazing out of the large windows that showed an endless expanse of stars. Enterprise was stationary at the moment, assisting two freighters with necessary repairs to one badly maintained engine. Commander Tucker had spent the last days on the larger of the two ships, trying to get through the mass of semi-professional repairs. He had finally requested two of his engineering crew because otherwise he'd be on the ship for the next millennia.
Travis had tagged along for the first time and had visited a few more, but he had returned to Enterprise hours ago. There wasn't much he could do, except talk to the crew. Most of them were human, all of them had been in space all their lives, but after three years on Enterprise, Mayweather started to feel less and less of a space boomer. He belonged on this ship, not some freighter. It was where he felt more at home than in all the years before.
"It started after I got the latest batch of messages from Earth," Hoshi said thoughtfully, eyes on the silent lieutenant.
Reed had almost reverted back to his prior self: secluded, silent, very much on duty every minute of the day. He didn't socialize, kept to himself, and talked only when spoken to. His answers were polite but distant. It was as if all of them were strangers to him, not the friends he had made in the last years.
"Bad news?" Travis hazarded a guess.
"Maybe. Has the commander been here at all?"
"Nope. He's up to his eyebrows in work over there. Looking at that engine, it's a miracle they made it this far. I think he has to rebuild it all from scratch or close to it."
Hoshi sighed. "I wish he'd talk to us, but when I tried, all I got was a polite 'don't bother me'. Well, not in those exact words, but he said it nevertheless."
Mayweather nodded, studying the armory officer. "Let's hope Commander Tucker returns soon. I bet he can get it out of him."
If not him, who else? was the unspoken addition.
Malcolm had done his shift, had turned his station over to his replacement,
and now made his way through the winding corridors of Enterprise. He didn't
really have somewhere to go, but he didn't want to return to his quarters.
Being there, alone, meant he had time to think. Sitting in the mess hall
produced the same results. So, after some contemplating, he entered the
gym. Working out always took his mind off things.
Three hours later he was drenched in sweat, panting, muscles screaming at him. Malcolm stopped, stumbling away from the punching bag. His knuckles ached and when he looked at the bandages he winced. He had cracked the skin through the protective covers. Unwrapping his hands, he dabbed at the broken skin. It burned. With a sigh, he threw the soiled bandages into the disposal unit. Somehow, the work-out had done little to take his mind off things. He felt physically tired, but mentally he was still troubled by the latest messages from home.
There was no one to talk to. Not really. With Trip on the other ship, he was missing the only confidant in these matters he had. Oh sure, Hoshi and Travis were good friends. He liked them, but he didn't trust them that deeply. Not with his emotions. Not like Trip. He couldn't go to the captain either. This was a personal matter; nothing that concerned his superior. Trip was his superior, too – but he was also so much more.
Malcolm returned to his quarters and turned on the shower, losing himself in the sensation of the hot water caressing his skin. His muscles relaxed, but that was about it. Five minutes later he sat on his bed, clad in his sweat pants and a loose t-shirt, staring at the vid screen. Playing with the little message disk, he finally threw it on the table. He didn't want to listen to it again. He wanted news, he wanted answers... but the next communications batch wouldn't arrive till tomorrow.
Malcolm lay back and stared at the ceiling. The next shift wouldn't start in another four hours.
Way too long.
Making a decision, he rose abruptly, dressed in a fresh uniform, and proceeded to the armory.
* * *
Three and a half days crawling around in tubes and shafts, tight spaces
Trip sighed and barely managed to catch himself self before running his hand through his grimy hair. He had just returned to Enterprise, feeling immensely relieved to be home and on his way to a nice hot shower and something decent to eat. Not to mention Malcolm. That was what he looked forward to the most. Not the sex. Not exclusively. The physical aspect of their relationship had ceased to be the primary motivator a very long time ago. Oh, it was still mind-blowing. It was great to be with his lover, but Trip appreciated the simple presence a lot more.
Something connected them. Tightly. It was as if he had been missing Malcolm for all his life, a piece of his life that fit so perfectly into the hole Trip hadn't been aware of before meeting the man. Now he couldn't imagine not having Malcolm. Three days away from his lover wasn't all that bad, but he was glad he was back home.
Still, the success he had had with the repairs far outweighed the unpleasantries. The freighter's engine was running again and they would make it to their destination if they didn't tax it too much. Even Enterprise's sources were limited and the engine would have needed the teams of Jupiter station to make it as good as new once more. Trip knew he was good and so was his engineering team, but they weren't miracle workers.
The plan to unwind was interrupted by Jonathan Archer. The captain smiled at him as he exited the hangar bay and Trip gave him a half smile in return.
"So I heard you got their engine going?"
Tucker shrugged. "As best as my team could. They'll make it."
"Good. You did well over there."
"Thanks for the compliments, but I wouldn't have been able to do it alone."
Archer smiled. "You've got a good team."
"No argument from me. So, we're shadowin' them for a while or are on our way back to that star cluster?"
"The captain of the lead freighter assured me that they have things well in hand." Archer shrugged. "We'll be heading back to our original route."
"Good ta hear. I'll be in my shower in case you need me," Tucker quipped.
The captain grinned. "You earned yourself some time off. I'll see you later."
Trip smiled, then walked on to the lift.
Freshly showered, dressed in a clean uniform, his trek to the mess hall
ended when he ran into Phlox. The doctor nodded at the ensign who had accompanied
him and the man continued alone.
"Commander, a word please?"
"Sure. Mind if we have that in the mess hall? I'm starving. "
"Certainly." Phlox smiled. "I wouldn't mind a snack myself."
"So," Trip said ten minutes later as he dug into his vegetarian pasta.
"Have you talked to Mr. Reed lately?" the Denoblian asked, studying the stick of carrot he held.
"Lately as in... the last four days? Nope. Wasn't even aboard. Why?" Trip was suddenly worried. "Something wrong? Is he hurt?"
"No, not exactly. Mr. Reed sometimes has the tendency to skip his meals or overdo his exercises. You and I know it. In the last seventy-two hours he has done both. Ensigns Cutler and Sato commented on his lack of nutritional intake, the double shifts he's doing, and I have seen him abuse the punching bag and the padded walls again." Phlox looked levelly at Tucker. "Have you experienced any problems before you left for the freighter, Commander?"
Trip almost choked on his soda. "What? I mean, no! We had no problems at all. Doc, I know you double as the ship's counselor, but Mal an' I din't have a fight or a disagreement. I was actually plannin' on seein' him after this, spend some time with him… y'know…"
"Good to hear. But something triggered Lieutenant Reed's behavior."
The engineer looked thoughtful. Small curls of worry settled deep in his stomach. "Thanks for the heads up. I'll check the roaster and talk to him the moment he's off duty."
"He is now, Mr. Tucker. But as is his habit, he is still in the armory."
Trip nodded and stuffed the rest of the food in his mouth. "Thanks," he mumbled around it. "Then that's where I'm headed."
The armory was deserted. No wonder at this time. The day shift had retired
an hour ago and the night shift consisted of only two men; one on the bridge,
one down in the armory. The man in the armory was Malcolm Reed. He was
currently staring at the simulations on the screen, not really seeing anything.
But Trip was seeing him and what he saw multiplied his fears and worries.
Malcolm was pale, looked drawn and haggard. The sleeves of his uniform
had been rolled up, the zipper pulled down a little, and his eyes held
a hollow look.
"Mal?" he asked, voice soft.
The armory officer turned around. Gray eyes were shuttered, the face a mask of professional distance, of polite refusal. The moment he discovered who his visitor was, all masks dropped, all shields fell. Pain, fear and desperation were plainly written in his eyes, the need to have someone with him, the need for Trip.
Tucker stepped forward and suddenly found himself with an armful of Malcolm Reed, who returned the embrace fiercely, clinging to him like a drowning man. Tucker didn't care that someone might come in, see them. He didn't care that this was happening on duty, that Malcolm was officially still doing his job. He just didn't care. His lover needed him. Badly enough to let go of all his control and restraints in public, to actively seek his comfort. It had to be serious; very serious.
"Mal," he whispered into the unruly, dark hair.
It was one word, and it was the moment Malcolm lost it. Shoulders shook as he silently let go of control, ignored the very facts Trip was as well. He simply buried his head in the dark blue uniform, tears streaming down his face, but still no sound left his lips.
"Mal, what happened?" Trip murmured when the soundless sobs died down.
He kept a strong hold on the other man, rubbed his hands over the trembling back in a soothing pattern. For his lover to lose it so openly, to show his pain to not only him but also whoever might happen to enter, it had to be bad. Malcolm trusted him, was himself and gave in to his emotions when Trip was present. It made Tucker proud. But now, it also worried him to no end.
"Got a letter," Malcolm's hoarse voice broke the silence. It sounded muffled. "From my father."
Trip frowned. What could Stuart Reed have written that made his son lose it like this? The older Reed had accepted Malcolm and Trip's relationship. And even if he had somehow for some reason changed his mind, Malcolm would never react like this. He was stronger than that.
"About?" he prodded.
"Maddy. She… she was in an accident." Malcolm's voice faltered and he fought to regain at least a sliver of his former control.
"Oh god," Tucker murmured, holding his lover even tighter. Malcolm loved his older sister dearly. Both of them had a tight bond between them, he knew. "What happened?"
"Car accident. Multiple car pile up," Reed managed to get out. "Trip… they don't know… they don't know if she'll make it…. It's very bad…"
Trip buried his head in the dark hair, refusing to release the once again trembling man.
"I'm waiting… for news. Last letter was from three days ago… Trip, what if she…?"
Trip shushed him gently. "C'mon… let's go somewhere more private," he murmured.
He gently pulled his devastated lover along. Malcolm went willingly and Trip was only too glad that they met with no one. He quickly informed the lieutenant on the bridge to get someone to replace Malcolm. Maybe it was his imagination, but Summers sounded almost thankful and relieved. Well, knowing Malcolm's staff, they had tried everything to get their senior officer to take it easy and had started to worry about him.
Enterprise, with only 83 crewmembers, was a close-knit family by now. Being mostly on their own, in deep space, encountering many hostile threats, had made them one. Malcolm might not have realized it, but he belonged to that family as well, and his own staff respected him too much not to worry when he wasn't himself.
Arriving at his quarters, Trip maneuvered his lover inside and made him sit down on the bed. He crouched in front of the shaken man, looking into the liquid gray gaze.
"Want something to drink? Tea?"
Malcolm just stared at him, then finally nodded. "Sure," he murmured, not sounding very convinced that he actually did.
Trip got him a herbal tea and a glass of milk for himself. Malcolm's hands curled around the warm mug and he stared into the murky green liquid.
"What if she dies?" he whispered. "She's my only sister. She can't die… she just can't…"
The blond engineer sat down next to his lover and touched one trembling hand. "Don't think of that, Mal," he said softly. "Don't work yourself into a knot about what could be."
Reed shook his head and his hands clenched around the still full mug. "It could happen."
"It could," Trip amended. "And she could survive. You don't know that. Never give up hope."
Malcolm worried his lower lip with his teeth, staring at the floor. "I feel so helpless," he finally whispered. "I can't even be with her..."
"You are. With your heart."
Tucker took the mug out of unresisting hands and pulled his lover against him. Malcolm sank willingly into the strong embrace, needing Trip's closeness, his simple presence, to anchor himself to something stable in a world of worry and fear he was in. The blond just held on, murmuring softly to him, stroking his back and sides.
It was how Malcolm fell asleep.
Trip sighed softly, never ceasing his caress, his gentle touches of his lover's body. Even in his sleep, Malcolm reacted to them, burying closer to him, sighing, murmuring now and then.
Damn, Malcolm didn't need that. Not the worry, the pain, the devastation. He knew how close he was to his sister, how close she was to him. Even when his parents had distanced themselves from their son, Maddy had always been there. The big sister… It was tearing at his lover that he couldn't be with her now, wait in the hospital, on Earth. Instead, he was forced to wait for news from home, good or bad, do his duty as if nothing was wrong.
Somewhere throughout the hours, Tucker slipped free from his lover, padding silently over to the comm station and calling up Hoshi.
"Commander? What can I do for you?" the communication's officer asked. As far as Trip remembered, Hoshi had changed shifts and was doing the late night one today.
"Hoshi, did any messages come from Earth today? Private letters, something like it?"
"Let me check." There was a second of silence, then, "No, sir. I'm expecting them tomorrow."
Trip stared at the silent screen, chewing his lower lip, then he made a decision and called up the letter that had started all of this. He knew he might be breaching his lover's privacy, but he had to know and he didn't want Malcolm to tell him, opening the emotional wounds even wider. He hoped his lover would understand.
When he was done, Trip closed his eyes and exhaled silently.
Damn, damn, damn it all to hell!
Madeline Reed had been involved in a multi-car pile up on the freeway just outside her home town. She had been on her way home when two kilometers ahead of her a teenage driver had lost control of her car and had rammed another one. A chain reaction had ensued, involving ten other cars and a truck. Maddy had been unable to stop in time, had hit the end of the already wrecked cars, and then another truck had hit her. It was a small miracle she had survived. Firecrews had worked to free her from the wreck of her car. She had been flown to a hospital, on life support, with severe injuries to her spine and legs. There was also the matter of a serious concussion and possible brain damage.
He clicked the comm off and walked back to the bed, sitting down on the mattress and watching the pale, drawn features. Even in his sleep, Malcolm looked troubled.
"Oh, Mal," he murmured, finger-combing the wavy, chocolate brown hair.
Reed twitched a little, sighing, then quieted down. Trip smiled sadly and lay down beside the other man once more. He spooned up behind him, an arm around the slender waist, then laid his head on his folded, other arm. Listening to his lover's breathing, he wished there was something he could do.
* * *
The messages did come the next day. Malcolm had pulled off another shift,
against Trip's arguments and even a direct order to take the day off. Reed
could be one stubborn cuss, the engineer thought grimly. Head-strong, too.
He would go to the captain to override Tucker's orders if he had to. So
Trip had let him do his job. He understood the need to take his mind off
things with work, but it didn't do Malcolm any good not to face his demons.
The moment Hoshi had announced the incoming messages, Trip had hurried
off to his lover's quarters.
Using the door code, Trip let himself in. Malcolm was sitting at the comm station, face an unreadable mask. He was staring at the screen. Something twitched in his cheeks.
"Mal?" Trip asked carefully. "Anything?"
"Yes," came the rough reply, the voice trembling.
Trip stepped forward, both hands coming to rest on the rigid shoulders. He squeezed them gently.
"Dad wrote," the armory officer went on. "Maddy was in surgery two more times. One was an emergency surgery. They think she'll make it. No guarantees, though. Still looks bad."
Tucker bent down and wrapped his arms around shaking man. He pressed his face against his lover's neck and shoulder.
"She'll make it, Mal. She's strong."
"Her injuries are so severe, Trip. They nearly lost her the second time. She could be handicapped for life at best, a complete vegetable at worst… and if she is…" His voice died off.
"I know," he mumbled.
Malcolm's hands clenched and he fought back more tears. Trip scooted around the chair and framed the mask-like face with his hands.
"It's okay to cry, Malcolm. Really okay. Just me here."
"I shouldn't lose control like this," Reed managed in a watery, cracking voice.
"You're only human. Like the rest of us. Well, 'xcept T'Pol and Phlox. And I bet Phlox would cry. Not T'Pol." He smiled slightly. "But you're no Vulcan, Mal. You're allowed to let go."
He held the dark-man man for a long time, even after the tears had dried and the trembling had eased. It was what he needed. Human contact, and Trip was set on giving him as much as he let him.
* * *
It was over a week filled with waiting, hoping, praying, and watching
Malcolm move about the ship like an automaton. Even Archer was no longer
able to overlook the stone-like façade of the younger man. Trip
and Malcolm had talked about what Tucker should say if the captain asked.
The truth, Malcolm had decided. He didn't want to lie, but he also didn't need heaps of sympathy or well-meant offers to go off duty. At the moment he was on light duty anyway, with his staff filling in wherever they were needed. None of them had asked, but after it was established that Tucker and Reed weren't fighting or that it was a problem between lovers, they had simply supported their superior. If Malcolm wanted to talk, he would.
And not so much later, Archer had inquired about the lieutenant's behavior and Trip had told him about Maddy's accident, swearing him to silence. Jon would be sympathetic, but Malcolm didn't need sick leave or off time. He needed to work. A semblance of normalcy.
Trip spent all his free time with his lover, just sitting there, holding him, getting him to eat and sleep, and to lay off the gym. Malcolm was destroying himself with each session and Tucker had put a stop to it. There hadn't really been much of an argument.
When Hoshi announced another batch of letters, Trip took the small disk containing those addressed to Malcolm and delivered it personally.
Malcolm stared at the little data carrier, hands clenched around the
enduring piece of metal and plastic. Trip stood wordlessly at his side.
It was his decision alone to make. Read it…. or leave it alone. Stay in
his private hell of non-information.
But what if the news were bad? What if Maddy had gotten worse? What if she had…
Malcolm drew a shaky breath.
She was alive. His sister was alive. He had to believe in it.
The soft, Southern voice intruded into his mind, focusing him on the man next to him. A warm hand touched his tense back, rubbing it between his shoulder blades. It came to rest lightly against his neck. Silent support. Trip had an uncanny way of knowing what he was thinking. It spooked him sometimes.
Malcolm's hand unclenched and the disk bounced onto the desk. He stared at it for a full two seconds, then inhaled deeply, his midn made up. He was an officer of Starfleet. He could handle this. He would handle it! He inserted the disk into the reader and leaned back into the chair. Trip's touch never wavered and a second hand clasped lightly over his shoulder.
He felt as if a mountain had just fallen off his shoulders. Malcolm
sank back into his chair, hearing a rough laugh that had to be his own,
then a pair of strong arms surrounded him and Trip's relieved sigh reached
"She's going to make it," Reed whispered, disbelief in his voice.
"Told ya she's strong!"
He hugged his lover tightly, shaking. "Lord, Trip, she's going to make it!"
The news had been cautious, but Maddy was going to live. As to her injuries, the doctors were yet unsure about a possibly permanent handicap concerning her legs, but she was conscious, could answer questions. The still had to wait for the neurological results.
Trip kissed his forehead. "Yep, she is. She's a Reed all right! Too stubborn to give in."
Malcolm's eyes were shining with tears of relief. "Of course," he managed.
Trip gave him another kiss, this time a gentle lips-against-lips contact. He smiled.
"Wanna go for a walk?" he simply asked.
Reed inhaled shakily. "Sounds lovely."
His quarters were suddenly stuffy, too small, the walls pressing in. He had to get out, walk off the high level of adrenaline, the remnants of the shock he was still working through.
They ended up in the small lounge both men liked to frequent. It was a secluded spot, one used by those aboard Enterprise who wanted to be alone without having to return to their quarters – which some of the crew shared with another member. It was empty at this time of the night, for which Malcolm was thankful. Stars streaked by outside the large observation window. Enterprise had been on her way for three days now, leaving the freighters on their way to the colony they were supposed to deliver goods to. It was a calming scenery, familiar and new in one.
Reed sank into the comfortable couch, aware of is lover's presence next to him. Trip was silent, waiting for him, supportive.
"Wish I could visit her," he murmured.
A hand squeezed his wrist and Malcolm turned his head, meeting the compassionate blue gaze. "Guess she'd like that, too," the blond said softly.
"She's been needling me for ages to come home and pay her a visit. She wants to get to know you, meet you."
"Really?" Eyebrows rose.
Malcolm smiled. "Yes. You'd like her."
"Well, if she's anythin' like her lil' brother, I sure will," Tucker laughed.
Malcolm smiled more. "Actually, we're not that much alike." He was silent for a moment. "She annoyed the hell out of me when we were kids. Being older, she had, in my opinion, all the privileges. We fought a lot, but I think that only strengthened the bond."
"Know whatcha mean. I got siblings, too."
Malcolm nodded. "But you probably never had an older sister that read your first boyfriend the riot act, hm?"
Trip shot him a startled look. "She what?" he blurted.
The armory officer chuckled. "I was seventeen when I first discovered that I liked both men and women. Never anything serious. Not until Roy. I met him when I was nineteen. He was older than me. For me, it was love at first sight. At least I thought as much. He was what you might call a 'looker'."
"Do I have to be jealous?" Trip drawled.
"Probably. Back then, I wouldn't have given you a second glance."
"I'm crushed, Mal."
"Anyway… We got together, but he only saw me as a way to…. Well… relieve some tension." Malcolm stopped, his thoughts far away.
Trip was silent, but there was an expression in his eyes that reminded Malcolm of his sister's the day she had found out.
"He dumped me after a year. For another guy his own age. You can imagine how heartbroken I was. My parents never found out, but Maddy did." Malcolm smiled slightly at the memories, eyes regaining some of their sparkle. "She thought it had been a woman, but then I confessed my bi orientation to her. I expected the worst… All she did was verbally slap me, demanding why I had never told her that I had had a boyfriend for nearly a year, why I had never introduced him. You can imagine how dumbfound I was."
"Yep," Trip laughed. "I can. And then?"
"I told her all about it. She was angry at Roy. Well, spitting mad was more like it." A grin formed on the thin lips. "Maddy was mad enough to find him and give the man a piece of her mind: right in front of his new lover and some of his friends."
Tucker stared at him and Malcolm's grin widened. "She what?"
"Mind you, he lived on the other side of the planet, too."
"Remind me never to piss her off," Trip murmured and sank back into the couch, closer to Malcolm. "Then again, I guess Enterprise is ninety light years from home…."
"That never stopped her," the dark-haired man teased him.
"Oh thank you. Now I'll have nightmares about a Fury barging into my quarters and demandin' t'know what my intentions towards her lil' brother are!"
"And what are you intentions, Mr. Tucker?"
Trip shot him a seductive smile. "Only the best." He gave him a little kiss. "So, what became of this guy?"
"I actually have no clue. I didn't even know what Maddy had done until years later, when she accidentally brought it up. You can imagine my embarrassment."
"Guess you were also mighty flattered, hm?"
Malcolm shrugged. "Kinda. But what was worse… now that Maddy knew, she thought I needed some decent guy to take my mind off Roy."
"Don't tell me she started matchmakin'!"
Malcolm's expression said it all and Trip laughed out loud.
"Not funny," Reed muttered. "I was mortified when she arranged a double date. She and her current boyfriend, as well as her boyfriend's cousin, who happened to be gay. His name was Harry. Both of us were embarrassed about it and we soon discovered that while we liked each other, it was nothing permanent."
"So you tried it?" Trip teased gently.
Malcolm grinned. "Yes, we did. A few times, actually. Didn't work out. It didn't put Maddy down at all. Even when I dated a girl not much later, she always kept an eye and an ear out for possible male dates."
"Must have been fun."
"Huhm. Right. For her. Not for me. I'm surprised my parents never got a clue."
Trip pulled his legs up on the couch and sprawled on it, his head cushioned in his lover's lap. Malcolm had his feet up on a one-seater, crossed at the ankles. Trip entwined one hand with Malcolm's, letting it rest on his chest.
"So, y'think she'd have tried to matchmake with us as well?" he teased.
Reed looked into the dancing blue eyes and smiled, his free hand playing with the short, dark blond strands. "Probably. But in your case, I would have had some competition."
"Maddy. She told me several times in the past that she considers you sweet enough to eat and would gladly take over if I ever tired of you."
Trip grinned. "Too bad she's got no chance."
"Nope. Not one."
They spent a good deal of the night in the lounge, reliving Malcolm and Maddy's childhood. Reed was glad to have someone who listened, to cared, who wanted to be part of it. He needed to talk about his sister. He was glad beyond words that she had survived, that she was still there to annoy him, to tease him, to love him.
It was a day later that Malcolm slipped out of bed, careful not to wake
his lover, and padded to the view screen. He keyed in his personal code
and waited for an answer. Trip had been with him the last two nights. Nothing
had happened; he had just been there. It had done wonders for his sleeping.
Work had returned to the normal shift patterns and from the smiles and
expressions he got from his staff and his friends, they had noticed Malcolm's
lightening mood as well.
The screen lit up and Malcolm was told to please wait while the system checked for availability. Finally, after another two minutes of waiting, he was patched through.
The voice was a far cry from the usual, vibrant tone he was used to, but it was so good to hear it anyway.
"Hey, Maddy," he said softly.
A smile appeared on the too pale and tired features, the gray eyes lighting up with happiness.
"How are you?"
His older sister smiled more. "A lot better now. Thanks for calling. How's that hunk of a lover of yours?
Malcolm chuckled. "Sleeping." He grew serious. Trying to put into words what he felt, he failed miserably. He wanted to let his sister know how much he had worried, about his fears and nightmares, but he couldn't form a word.
He looked up, right into the understanding gaze of Madeline Reed. Knowing each other for all their lives made it possible to talk without ever uttering a sound. He smiled slightly.
"How's a guy supposed ta sleep with the two of you makin' such a ruckus," a Southern sarcastic drawl intruded, and a warm hand squeezed Malcolm's shoulder. "Hey, Mads."
Maddy answered the wide smile of the blond engineer. "Oh, what a sexy voice if I ever heard one!" she exclaimed, winking at him. "Hello, Trip. You are a sight for sore eyes. Much better than the pic Malcolm sent me."
"You can't be that bad off then," he teased. "Already tryin' ta steal your brother's man."
She laughed softly. "As if I stood a chance."
Malcolm leaned back, feeling Trip's body behind him, the hand on his shoulder a warm, welcome weight. "As if I let you," he challenged.
"So you think I couldn't?" his sister readily accepted.
"Not a chance."
"You've already lost," Malcolm proclaimed.
"Ah'm sorry ta tell ya," Trip drawled. "This one's mine and I'm a one Reed kinda guy."
Madeline pulled off a semi-serious pout. "Highly unfair. I'm not at my best right now."
Malcolm chuckled. "Even then you'd lose, sis. I get to keep him."
"That you do," she said softly, eyes warm. "I hope to see you two here one day. I haven't annoyed my little brother in person for ages now."
The lieutenant's eyes softened as well. "I miss you, too. Just get well, you hear? And keep me updated. We will be back to Earth."
"I will. And I'm counting on it." Her eyes fixed on Trip. "Trip, take care of him."
Or else, came the unspoken warning. Protective indeed.
"I will, Ma'am."
She laughed. "That's the attitude."
The screen went off after they had said their good-byes and Malcolm closed his eyes for a second, releasing a sigh.
"Mal? You okay?"
"Perfect," he answered.
"Then how about you come back to bed?" Trip asked with a faked whine. "It's way too early to be up."
Malcolm chuckled and rose, padding over to where his lover was already crawling into their bed. He received a little kiss as he lay next to the blond. It took him a while to get back to sleep, but for the first time in days, he no longer felt so worried. Maddy was okay. She would be fine. He just knew she would.
And he would keep his promise to visit her, bringing Trip along.
Now that would be fun.