Rating: PG-13 (a little implied discussion of whoopee and a little cussiní)
Author's Note: Instead of drowning Malcolm, I decided Iíd drown TíPol, torture Trip a little, and let Malcolm sort it all out. Thanks as always to my beta, justTripn.
“You know, I’m beginning to hate caves,” Trip said. “Who the hell would have guessed that going into space would require spending so much time underground?”
“At least it’s warmer down here than it is up there,” Malcolm said. “And the scenery is rather spectacular.”
“What we can see of it.” Trip waved his flashlight around, briefly illuminating the dramatic stalactites and stalagmites that loomed on either side of the tall cave they were currently plodding through. “Mostly I’m just watching my feet.”
“As long as Enterprise is delayed by the storm, we might as well use our time productively,” T’Pol’s said, her voice echoing slightly. She had moved ahead by several meters – or perhaps Trip had slowed down. “You may be interested to know, Commander, that I am picking up traces of dilithium in my scans.” To Malcolm she sounded a bit like a tired mother trying to bribe a cranky child with a biscuit.
Trip said, “Traces don’t help us power warp engines. We’d need the kind of good strong crystalline vein that would send your scanner into paroxysms of joy.” Under his breath, he added, “Not you, of course.”
Silence fell, punctuated by the sound of dripping and their careful footfalls. Malcolm wondered when the dynamics had changed to such a degree that T’Pol was the one trying to raise morale while Trip bitched. But the engineer had not been his old cheerful self for a long time now. He was especially brittle whenever it came to working with T’Pol, so Malcolm hadn’t exactly looked forward to this away mission.
Really, this was a perfect example why fraternizing between officers was a Very Bad Idea. No matter how tempting someone’s bum might be.
He supposed it could have been worse. T’Pol largely ignored Trip’s goading. Hoshi would have turned and confronted him by now; she had a terrifying frankness about such things, one that continually intrigued Malcolm but also served as a great big warning against trying anything. He could just imagine her at a staff meeting blurting out something like, “Look, just because I don’t want to sleep with you anymore doesn’t mean I’m not taking your recommendation seriously!”
Really, Malcolm thought, it was long past time Trip got over it. His friend needed to find another alien to romance so he could get T’Pol out of his system. Maybe even distract himself with someone on board. It wasn’t as if pretty young things weren’t continually trying to distract him. Malcolm often had a front seat in the mess hall as they came shyly forward with their various excuses to talk to Trip. The tactical officer sometimes felt just a touch of bitterness at how oblivious his friend seemed to what was on offer -- although it probably just as well Trip didn’t seem interested. The last thing the ship needed right now was another failed relationship.
T’Pol had moved even further ahead. He could barely make out her light bobbing in the distance. “Commander,” Malcolm called. “Perhaps we should try to stay a little closer together.”
“Why?” Trip muttered under his breath.
Suddenly there was a little shriek of surprise from up ahead, and T’Pol’s light disappeared.
“T’Pol!” Trip yelled, then said, “Oh shit!” and started running.
“Careful!” Malcolm yelled, trying to keep up without letting his momentum get so out of hand that whatever had claimed their first officer would claim him too. He rather doubted Trip would even think of it.
But the engineer came to a stop ahead of him, staring down into blackness, desperately peering down the thin beam of his light. A pool of water of unknown depth lay down a short but steep and extremely smooth incline. “T’Pol! T’Pol!” Trip screamed. “I can’t see her!” He put down his light, shrugged out of his pack, and began removing his shoes.
“Hold on. I’m tying a rope off,” Malcolm said, “You don’t know what’s in that water.”
“T’Pol’s in that water!”
Malcolm busied himself with the rope. “Trip! Remember your rescue training!”
Trip picked the flashlight up again, desperately shining it down into the pool. “She’s drowning!”
Malcolm looped the other end of the rope around the engineer’s waist and ran it carefully through the caribiners on Trip’s climbing belt. “You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do.” Trip sounded choked with grief already. “Oh God, Malcolm.”
“Slide on your bum, feet first,” Malcolm said, pushing down on Trip’s shoulders, trying to infuse him with the calm he would need. “Even if she is, there’s still time.”
And then Trip was sliding down the four or five meters of smooth, wet stone. The rope stopped him just before the edge of the pool and he called back, “Malcolm!” in frustration.
Malcolm played out more rope grimly. “Careful,” he warned him.
Then there was splashing, silence, more splashing, silence. Although he had tied it to a sturdy stalagmite, Malcolm didn’t dare let go of his braced grip on the rope long enough to redirect the flashlights he’d left at his feet, so he couldn’t see anything but a long trail of light across the smooth, polished floor of the cave, glistening with red minerals of some kind. He absently wondered if they were rubies as he listened desperately for a sign from either officer. “Trip!” he called.
If Trip didn’t start splashing soon, Malcolm was just plain going to haul him up and out of there.
Suddenly, more splashing. “I’ve got her!”
A moment later: “I don’t think she’s breathing!”
“I’m bringing you up,” Malcolm called and began to pull. At first it wasn’t difficult – they were in the water – but as soon as they hit the incline he might as well have been trying to haul two dead weights, because Trip couldn’t get any grip on the smooth surface of the wet stone. Malcolm hauled with all his might, desperately wishing he had access to a pulley, or even better a small motor. How the hell had Travis managed this before? Maybe wet people weighed more?
“Let me try the side,” Trip called, and there was more splashing. “Maybe it’s not as wet. Okay. Try it now.”
“Okay, we’re out of the water. Wait, I’m going to see if I can get her breathing.”
Malcolm heard the quick breaths of rescue breathing, and then, to his vast relief, the coughing and gagging that signaled their first officer was still with them.
“Cough it out,” Trip said, and she did, at length. The underground chamber echoed with horrific coughing, gagging, and retching, punctuated by “there, there,” and “that’s it,” from Trip.
“T’Pol?” Trip finally asked. Perhaps, just like Malcolm, he was beginning to worry about brain damage.
“Cold,” she rasped out.
“I know. We’ll get you to a warmer place.” Trip sounded weak with relief as he called, “Malcolm? If you could pull now ...”
Malcolm hauled. Periodically Trip got a grip on something and pushed. Between the two of them they soon got T’Pol up onto the dry floor of the cave a safe distance from the slippery slope.
“She wasn’t kidding about the cold,” Trip said. His teeth were beginning to chatter.
“You know the drill,” Malcolm said briskly. “Clothes off. Both of you. I’ll get the blankets.”
“Sorry,” he heard Trip say to T’Pol before he heard the sound of zippers unzipping and sodden clothing being pulled off. She hadn’t said anything more since that first ‘cold’ but her shallow rasping breaths were so loud it almost hurt to listen to them.
Malcolm put a thermal sheet on the floor of the cave and said, “Here.”
In the narrow beam of the light they barely registered as more than two pale ghosts before Malcolm dropped the two blankets over them and topped them off with another thermal sheet. “Let me get the scanner,” he said.
“Give me a flashlight,” Trip said.
Malcolm came back with a scanner and two flashlights. Trip was clearly taking a more thorough inventory of the Vulcan’s physical condition. Her eyes were shut, her breathing labored. “T’Pol?” he asked, shaking her gently. There was no response.
Malcolm ran the scanner down her body and back up. “She has pretty good bruise on her head,” he said, pointing it out. “And I’m not sure but I’d say her oxygen saturation level is low. Her temperature is normal … for a human.”
“That’s too low, for her. There were a lot of stalagmites under the water,” Trip said. He held T’Pol’s eyelids up and checked her pupils for reaction. “Oh man, those inner eyelids are weird. Probably she knocked her head. Any internal bleeding or swelling?”
Malcolm scanned and shook his head. “External bruising, a little inflammation, but nothing too dire as far as I can tell.”
“Good. We got any oxygen?”
“The kit has a small emergency supply,” Malcolm said, and went to get it. “But this doesn’t look like more than half an hour’s worth.”
“I’ll get this started,” Trip said, grabbing it from him. “Try to raise the ship.”
“We’re too far underground.”
“Just try, Malcolm.” Trip’s voice cracked. He fit a mask over T’Pol’s face and started the canister hissing.
“She’s going to be okay,” Malcolm said reassuringly. He quickly discovered that he couldn’t raise anybody, of course. “I’ll go to the entrance of the cave and see if I can raise them.”
“Good idea,” Trip said grimly. “Just put that med kit right here where I can reach it first.”
Malcolm hurried back through the cave as fast as he dared and to his vast relief, at the mouth of the cave he managed to raise Enterprise, though the connection was full of static and pops. Unfortunately, the same ion storm that had chased them out of orbit would prevent them from returning for at least another twelve hours. Malcolm talked to Phlox about what had happened to T’Pol, and got instructions.
“Is it better to move her back to the shuttlepod or keep her where she is?” Malcolm asked.
“That depends,” Phlox said. “Is it warm and safe where you are?”
“Warm enough,” Malcolm said, thinking of the body heat a naked engineer was giving off. “And safe too, as far as we know. It’s not exactly cozy, but the trip to the pod might be quite difficult. And cold.”
“Try to find a big rock or two you can safely heat up with your phase pistol,” Archer suggested, breaking into the conversation. “That should help. We’ll rendezvous with you in 12 hours. In the meantime, you know where to reach us, if the storm allows.”
“Aye sir,” Malcolm said, and headed back in.
Trip had pulled himself into a seated position against the wall of the cave, arms wrapped around the apparently unconscious, wheezing Vulcan in his lap, blankets pulled up tight against their necks. He had his eyes closed and his head was leaning back, but he straightened up as Malcolm approached. “Well?”
“They can’t get us for another twelve hours,” Malcolm said. “It’s the storm. But Phlox did suggest some medication.” He busied himself finding the various ampoules Phlox had recommended, then injecting them into T’Pol’s neck. She was completely unresponsive.
Trip said, “She’s not breathing well. I figured she might do better sitting up.” There was a fizzling sound and the canister stopped. “Great,” Trip said. “Malcolm, I’m not sure she’s going to make it twelve hours. I think she’s got water in her lungs.”
“No doubt Phlox’s medicines will help,” Malcolm said. “And there are still two hours of daylight left out there. I’m going to go to the shuttlepod and get some oxygen and some more food and then I’ll return. It shouldn’t take more than an hour at most.”
“I’d say we should come with you, but I don’t think the weather out there would do her any favors.”
“You’re not exactly dressed for it either. I’ll grab any supplies that might help. Oh, I almost forgot. The captain had a suggestion for heat.” He scanned the local geology, looking for a likely spot, then set his pistol just above stun and gave it a try. The rock began to glow.
“Thanks, Cap’n,” Trip said softly.
Malcolm took a moment to spread their wet clothing near the jury-rigged heater. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he said, and put a reassuring hand on Trip’s shoulder before he left.
When Malcolm returned – and he was quite grateful to get out of the bitter wind and snow outside – he could hear Trip talking animatedly when he was still some distance away. She must be feeling better, he thought, until he realized that it was a completely one-sided conversation. As he got even closer he decided that Trip was sounding manic, with just a touch of hysteria in his voice.
He went silent as Malcolm approached more closely – no doubt he could hear his footsteps echoing across the cave, or perhaps he’d seen the light bobbing.
“How is she?” Malcolm asked.
“Seems pretty much the same,” Trip said. “She was better for a little while after those shots, though. How soon can we give her more?”
“Not for another few hours,” Malcolm said. “But I have more oxygen.”
“Great,” Trip said, and held his hand out for the canister.
“And how are you doing?” Malcolm asked.
“I’m fine. Got me a nice comfy space heater in my lap, can’t complain.”
“What were you just going on about?” Malcolm asked.
Trip grimaced. “All the ways in which the Kir’Shara is full of shit. I was kind of hoping I’d provoke her into waking up, but it’s also stuff I’ve been thinking about for awhile.”
“Well, you sure know how to charm a girl. Attack her religion. Works every time.”
Trip snorted. “Can’t really do any worse than I already am.”
“I don’t know about that. You look pretty cozy from here.”
Trip smirked. “You want to come share our blankets?”
“Don’t tempt me.” Malcolm pulled a selection of meals out of his pack. “I’m starving. What will it be? Meatloaf? Sea bass? Mushroom risotto?”
“I would think it would be pretty obvious how best to divide that up,” Trip said. “But I’m not hungry.”
Malcolm said. “It takes more calories to cope with the cold. I wonder if I could heat this up with my phase pistol, too?”
“Why don’t you just heat up that rock again and use it as an oven?”
“Good idea.” Malcolm took his plate out and put it next to the rock after he’d gotten it glowing again. “That must be why you’re the engineer.”
Trip gave him a brief, tight smile and sighed, shifting himself a little. He was probably getting pretty uncomfortable sitting there in the same position. T’Pol moaned slightly and turned into his arms.
“Do you need a break?” Malcolm asked.
“Yes, actually. Nature’s calling.”
“Hey, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” They’d had this conversation before. Shuttlepods had no toilets.
“Peeing on a lady definitely isn’t anything my momma taught me.” Trip softly lay the Vulcan down on her side, adjusting the oxygen mask to make sure it didn’t come loose. Malcolm politely moved the light away to give his naked superior a modicum of modesty.
“Back in a jiff,” Trip said.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Malcolm held up a waste pack.
“Come on, Malcolm. It’s an uninhabited planet.”
“You could fall into another lake looking for the right spot. Or at least smell the joint up.”
“Okay, fine, whatever,” Trip grumbled and moved off a little, his bare feet quietly padding across the cave floor. A few minutes later he returned. “You think our clothes are dry yet?”
“They’re right over there. But skin-to-skin is recommended for victims of hypothermia.”
“I don’t think that’s her biggest problem, and I’d just as soon have my underwear on when she wakes up.” There was the sound of rummaging. “Yeah, these are okay. Maybe I can sit on my jacket.”
“Indeed,” Malcolm said. “The upholstery on this cave floor leaves something to be desired.”
Trip padded back in his Starfleet blues with his and T’Pol’s jackets in one hand and the waste pack in his other. He stowed the latter and grabbed the meatloaf. “Changed my mind. I am hungry.”
“You ought to be.”
Trip put his meal next to Malcolm’s in their homemade oven and returned to T’Pol. “T’Pol? You want something to eat?”
Her only response was a particularly awful choking cough.
Trip quickly raised her back up to a sitting position in his lap again. “Can you cough it up?” He pounded lightly on her back. “T’Pol?”
She coughed some more, eventually bringing up a clump of phlegm.
“That’s it,” Trip said encouragingly, even as he shared a worried look with Malcolm.
She burrowed into his chest and lapsed back into her raspy, rattling breathing. Trip readjusted the mask over her mouth and nose and said, “Maybe I’ll pass on dinner for now.”
“I’ll get it for you,” Malcolm said. He put it at the engineer’s side, and Trip did manage to eat forkful by forkful. Malcolm did, too. They chewed and listened to T’Pol breathe in the scant blue light given off by the lantern. It was definitely one of the weirder meals in the tactical officer’s life.
“How long now?” Trip said, when Malcolm had collected his plate.
“Until Enterprise comes? Ten hours.”
“That’s not good enough.”
“T’Pol’s pretty tough. She’ll be okay.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without her. I mean, without her being there somewhere. I pretty much already have to do without her. But at least I know she’s there, you know?”
“I’m not sure I do,” Malcolm said. Trip had never struck him as someone who would put up with repeated rejection, but T’Pol had had his friend twisted into knots for years now. It was the one thing about Trip that Malcolm didn’t get.
“You know, it’s not really my fault,” Trip said. “It’s a Vulcan thing. A ‘mating bond’. We kind of … accidentally formed one.”
Malcolm gaped, though Trip probably couldn’t see him doing it. The lantern was sitting close to their patient. “Are you joking?”
Trip didn’t respond. Malcolm feared he was offended and wanted to keep him talking, so he said, “What do you mean, ‘accidentally’?”
A sigh. “She was still high on that Trellium from the ship of crazy Vulcans. You saw how nuts that made her. And I was a mess in the Expanse. One thing led to another and -- well…” He coughed. “We didn’t realize it at first, but we’re kind of stuck now. She has this theory that if we avoid each other it might wear off, but that’s pretty much shot to hell at the moment.” He looked down at the woman nestled in his arms and smoothed her hair. “This is like heroin to an addict, Malcolm. Give me this on a regular basis and I’m okay. I’m better than okay, I’m on top of the world. Take it away from me for any length of time and I just start feeling awful.”
“That explains a lot, actually. Your moods have gotten a little … extreme … lately.”
“Tell me about it. I think her theory that it will somehow wear off is dead wrong. But I’ve never forced a woman to do anything she didn’t want to before and I don’t really want to start now.”
“I don’t know if that’s all that logical in this situation,” Malcolm said.
“Yeah, well. She’s the logical one,” Trip said. “I’m just the poor schmuck who should have known better.”
“How could you possibly have known?” Hell, Trip had just told him about it and Malcolm still didn’t quite understand what the hell he was talking about.
“I could have asked if there was any weird alien shit we were going to have to deal with. Though she wasn’t really in a terribly conversational mood the night it happened.”
“The night? That’s all it took? One night?”
Trip sighed. “She seems to think so. Honestly, I don’t know. We spent a hell of a lot of time together in the Expanse. By the time that night came along, I may have already been a lost man. I just didn’t want to admit it.” He looked down at the woman in his arms. “And the only person in the universe who’s less willing to admit stuff like that than me is her. We’re doomed.”
Trip’s words didn’t match his tone of voice, which was oddly contented. Maybe it was the heroin effect of having his alien girlfriend in his arms, even if she was still rasping for every breath.
“So is this why you don’t seem to care when the ladies flirt with you in the mess hall?”
“Yep. On a good day, it’s amusing to see how irritated you get about it. On a bad day, it’s just annoying.”
Malcolm cleaned up their meals and took another scan of the Vulcan. Phlox had told him how to set it for Vulcan bio-signs. “You’ll be glad to hear her temp is up to Vulcan norm.”
“That’s good,” Trip said. He gave a heavy sigh and settled back against the cave wall. T’Pol stirred just long enough to wrap an arm possessively around him. “Get some sleep, Mal.”
“Someone should stay awake.”
“I’m awake. I’m not going to sleep. When can I give her more medicine?”
Malcolm checked his chronometer. “A little less than two hours.”
“Good. Go to sleep, Lieutenant.”
“Aye, Commander,” Malcolm said, and settled down on another thermal sheet with his coat as a pillow. He doubted he would fall asleep, but he might as well try.
Malcolm was awakened an unknown amount of time later by a mumbled conversation nearby. He blinked and stared up into the almost total darkness of the high cave ceiling overhead.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Trip sounded pretty official.
“Lieutenant Reed suggested we should stay closer together. I believe I then illustrated why that would have been a good idea.”
Malcolm smiled grimly into the darkness. No kidding.
Trip snorted softly. “That you did.”
“Though as I recall, you didn’t agree with him.” If she could manage to get that arch tone in her voice, raspy as it was, she must really be feeling better.
“Yeah, well, maybe I was cranky because I hadn’t had any close contact with my bond mate lately.”
There was a long silence.
Trip’s voice turned a little brusque. “Anyway, please don’t go drowning yourself again. It’s very bad for the mission. Do you want to get dressed now?”
“No.” Her voice sounded very small.
“No?” He was clearly surprised.
“I am comfortable here,” she said.
“Oh. Okay.” Now Trip’s voice was the one that was small.
Malcolm smiled and closed his eyes. Perhaps it would be best to try to get some more sleep if he could.
The next time he woke up, he rolled over, trying to find a more comfortable position on the hard cave floor, and opened his eyes to see Trip, fully uniformed, bringing a meal to T’Pol, also fully uniformed.
He sat up, feeling a little dazed at the realization he must have slept through quite a bit of activity. “What time is it?”
“Daybreak, supposedly,” Trip said. “Enterprise should be here in a couple of hours.”
“You certainly seem to be feeling better, Commander,” Malcolm said to the science officer.
“Yes,” she said. Her voice was still raspy, but she no longer appeared to be struggling to breathe. The oxygen mask had apparently been stowed.
Malcolm grabbed one of the waste packs. “Excuse me a moment,” he said, and took a flashlight to guide him safely into the darkness beyond their light.
When he returned, Trip was zipping up his jacket. “I’m going to hike up to the opening and see if I can contact the ship,” he said. “I need to stretch my legs.”
Malcolm looked for any trace of rancor or grimness in his friend’s expression and saw none. Maybe he really did just need to stretch his legs. “Okay. Be careful.”
“I’m always careful,” Trip said, with a smirk.
Malcolm got himself a water pack and a protein bar. T’Pol was quietly sitting and eating the mushroom risotto. It seemed like an odd choice for breakfast, but then to a Vulcan mushroom risotto might seem pretty weird at any time. Could fungus even grow on a planet as dry as Vulcan? Or rice?
“Glad you’re feeling better,” he said.
She never had been much for small talk. And Trip would be another twenty-five minutes at least.
“You gave us quite a scare last night,” he said.
“Not your fault. He saved your life, you know,” he said. “You weren’t breathing.”
She looked up at him, but said nothing.
What would the true friend of a lovelorn engineer say in a situation like this? Malcolm licked his lips nervously. “I’m sure he would have done it anyway, but I also don’t think he could bear the thought of life without you in it.”
She stared at him with those big eyes in the blue-tinged light from the lantern and Malcolm wondered if his friend was a lucky bastard, or perhaps the unluckiest bastard ever.
“I just thought you should know,” he added.
“Thank you,” she said.
Silence fell again. Malcolm gnawed industriously on his protein bar. It seemed it was made to last forever. Maybe it was Starfleet’s way of helping one avoid boredom on away missions. Either that or the damned thing was stale.
“I wouldn’t want to live without him either,” she said suddenly, which shocked Malcolm so much he choked on a piece of the bar and started to cough. “Are you okay, Lieutenant?” she asked.
Malcolm coughed and then laughed a little. “Yes, I’m fine. Apparently we’re all fine.”
Her head turned in the direction Trip had gone. She was waiting for him, he thought. Wanting to make sure he was fine, too.
He smiled to himself and took another bite.
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