"A Matter of Trust"
Author's Notes: Written for the 2008 ENT Ficathon for: tli . The challenge: Reed and Hayes are on a stakeout to find a Xindi informant. Focus is on a growing mutual respect and even friendship between them, with world-building as a background to the stakeout a bonus.
Thanks to Ladyhawke Legend for the beta! Much appreciated! :)
It reminded him way too much of Panama: the heat, the humidity, the hiss of water droplets as they hit the damp ground. Too much green for his taste; odd that he thought it was too much, after seven months on a starship. If you think this is bad, think about how Lieutenant Reed must feel. He’s even less inclined to withstand this kind of terrain than you are. Major Matthew Hayes’s mouth quirked upward in a smile as he mentally added, Which isn’t saying much.
He sat, crossed-legged, on the edge of the rickety wooden raft. A bead of sweat slid down his temple and was lost in his short, dark hair, but he couldn’t afford to wipe it away. His gloved hands tightened around the barge-pole as he tried to ignore the buzzing of alien mosquitoes in his ear. One of those mosquitoes landed on his cheek and he automatically slapped at it.
“Ha, gotcha,” he muttered under his breath. “Damn bloodsucker...”
“Are you all right, Major?”
Hayes swore again as he twisted himself around to answer. “Mosquitoes,” he replied shortly. “I thought I left them behind when we got into the Expanse.”
“Some things in the universe are a constant, it seems.” The other boatman’s tone was equal parts of sarcasm and sympathy. “I never did get used to them in Malaysia, during the rainy season. Bloody damn midges.” Lieutenant Malcolm Reed sighed and shook his head. “I suppose you never dealt with them in Arizona.”
“I’m from New Mexico, but I more than made up for it when I was stationed in Panama.” Hayes slapped at another annoying bug.
“Panama? What were you doing there?”
Hayes smirked. “Sorry, that’s classified, Lieutenant.”
“Ah, one of those.” Reed’s tone indicated that he knew exactly what Hayes was talking about. “If you tell me, you'd have to kill me.”
“That’s the idea.” He swore again as he slapped at another mosquito. “I can see why Commander Tucker hates insects.”
Reed shrugged. “My father fancied himself an amateur entomologist. I suppose we ought to capture a few samples and send the lot to him.”
“Be my guest.” Hayes glanced sideways at Reed, but the Armory Officer’s face was hidden by the hood of his robe. That’s the first time he’s ever mentioned anything about his family. Ever since their brawl in Enterprise’s gym, they’d come to some sort of truce. Granted, Hayes would never count Reed as his best friend, but at least they were more or less on the same page. “My dad would’ve taken care of them with an elephant gun.”
“A bit of overkill, but effective.”
“Yeah.” A series of short splashes caught Hayes’ attention. He raised his pole; Reed did the same. A pair of golden eyes rose from the depths of the swamp, blinked twice, and then sank back into the muddy muck. A second later, a tentacle broke the surface of the water and came inches away from Reed’s face before it disappeared. Reed actually jumped back in surprise.
“Looks like the aquatic life has become quite fond of you, Lieutenant," Hayes jibed.
Reed glared at him, but Hayes saw that his face was pale, even paler than usual. “I don’t find that humorous at all, Major.”
“You all right?”
The major winced, for that seemed to be Reed's standard answer for everything, and it annoyed him. He couldn’t see the scratch on Reed’s chest, for it was hidden underneath the cloak, but he knew it had to hurt like hell. One bad thing about a stakeout here is that the local flora is as dangerous as the natives, he thought. Less than twenty-four hours after arriving here, a vine had taken a liking to the Armory officer, to the point where it--she?--had tried to "get acquainted" with Reed. Hayes would have found it humorous, if the vine hadn't pitched a fit after Reed torched it with his phase pistol.
“We have to get you back up to Sickbay.”
Reed slipped the chronometer out of the pocket of his robe and glanced at it. “After we find our informant and get him to safety.”
“You think he’s gonna show?”
“I was under the impression that he was risking a lot to come here.”
“Do you trust him?”
Reed’s voice became humorous again. “No, but I trust you to cover my arse, just in case.”
“Thanks for the opportunity,” Hayes joked. This time, he saw a slight smile on Reed’s face. Perhaps the stiff Brit had finally realized that Hayes really didn’t want his job as Head of Security. Hayes certainly hoped so.
I’m really looking forward to a shower, a cup of black coffee, and about twelve hours worth of sleep. It was hard to believe it’d been only forty-eight hours since he and Reed had come to this planet to find their Xindi informant. Unfortunately, the major didn’t know who the informant was; Reed had been the primary contact. All Hayes knew was that it was not a Reptilian. They’d watched and waited, until one of the natives tipped them off to a possible rendezvous place. So now they posed as boatmen on this alien river, still watching and waiting.
C’mon, where are you? Hayes wondered. A piercing screech answered him, and he raised his pole again as the nearby bushes rustled with movement. Hayes spotted a figure hiding in the trees, its bearded face almost indistinguishable from the leaves. The strangely-shaped almond eyes peered out with utmost suspicion – a Xindi, but a Primate.
Harsh voices echoed over the swamp and thin beams of yellow light swept across the brackish water. “He cannot be far,” a voice grated roughly, like two concrete bricks being scraped against one another. “Search the trees. He’s hiding from us.”
Reed pointed silently overhead as the shadow leaped from branch to branch over the river. Hayes nodded and used his pole to cast the raft off into the water. They glided softly over the surface, as Reed kept a sharp eye on their quarry, while Hayes steered them in the right direction.
Finally, they entered a cove hidden along the shore. Hayes carefully maneuvered the raft until they were parallel to the muddy land. His eyes widened as another cloaked shadow stepped out from the trees. This one was smaller, but obviously a Primate as well.
“Jarkonin,” said Reed with a small smile.
“Our contact?” Hayes asked out of the corner of his mouth.
Jarkonin managed to return the smile, but it trembled at the edges. “ I cannot let the Reptilians be victorious; they are monsters. I have the information you seek, but we must act quickly. My decoy cannot distract them for long.”
“Then let’s go on without delay,” Reed said.
Jarkonin stepped lightly onto the raft with a dancer’s grace. Hayes tossed him another barge-pole, and together, they continued on their journey down the river. Hayes suddenly noticed the tremble of the Armory officer’s hands, despite Reed’s attempt to hide it.
“It’s getting worse, isn’t it.” Hayes’s quiet words were a statement, not a question. He couldn’t see Reed’s face, but the blue-gray eyes within the hood were feverishly bright.
“I used the last of the antivenom an hour ago,” Reed answered, his accent more pronounced, but its tone seemed distracted. “I’m fine, Major.”
"I suppose 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' applies to plants, too." Hayes hadn't meant to sound sarcastic, but he was losing patience with Reed's stubbornness. He saw too much of it within himself and the resemblance bothered him more than he cared to admit.
"I can hold out until we get to safety."
“The hell you can. Sit down before I knock you down with this pole. Sir.”
Reed glared at him and said nothing, but only continued to help push the raft through the water. Hayes bit back a curse and shook his head. Stubborn ass. I hope I’m not gonna have to carry him out of here...
"You are a major?"
Hayes gave Jarkonin a curious glance. "Yes."
"And the other one is your superior?" The Xindi's face showed more than curiosity.
"The Reptilians know who you are."
The simple statement brought Hayes up short. "What? Me? How?"
"They just know." Jarkonin shrugged as best as he could while he struggled with his barge-pole. He glanced up and his eyes widened in alarm. "We have reached the rapids. Brace yourself, Major."
The river narrowed through the trees and its flow became swift. Reed's face grew even paler as the shore went by in the blur. Hayes saw something that he hadn't expected to see in the Armory officer's face: fear. The raft scraped against a rock and nearly capsized them; Reed skidded across the soaked wood, his curses loud enough to be heard over the roar of the water. Hayes reached over and grabbed him by the hem of his robe, then single-handedly hauled him back onto the raft.
"Easy, Lieutenant. You okay?"
Reed managed a nod, but the fact that he'd nearly gone overboard rattled him. Hayes saw--something--within the man's eyes: vulnerability. Reed, vulnerable? Then the major realized, It's the water. Something about the water scares him. He's aquaphobic? I thought he comes from a Royal Navy family. Another high wave slammed into Hayes and he nearly lost his pole. At the last possible moment, his fingers snagged the edge of the raft, but the chill of the river made them numb. It was Reed who pulled him to safety before he was swept into the river.
"Thanks," Hayes gasped. "I owe you."
Reed's eyes flashed and whatever weakness Hayes had seen was submerged under a look of determination. "Take the starboard side, Major. Jarkonin and I will take the port. We must redistribute our weight or we'll go under."
Hayes nodded; he wasn't going to question Reed's seamanship. He stood and tried to regain control of the runaway raft. Reed did the same on the left side as white spray filled the air and soaked all three of them from head to toe. Jakonin’s eyes bulged in fright as he hung on for dear life, for he'd lost his pole while the two Humans were distracted. Reed cursed the water under his breath as the channel split into two branches, one leading to the left, the other straight ahead.
“Which way?” Hayes shouted.
“Left,” Malcolm gasped. “We go left.”
Hayes nodded and steered the raft towards the left-most branch. The edge of the raft scraped against the rocks with such force that they nearly capsized. Reed shifted his weight to compensate as Hayes did the same. It was more exhilarating than white-water rafting; the adrenalin gave Hayesa strength that went beyond exhaustion. They entered a slower pool of water. Hayes glanced over at Reed, who clutched his pole with the grip of a dying man. It wasn’t just their harrowing trip down the river that had unsettled Reed’s nerves.
“Help Jakonin to the shore while I secure the raft," suggested Hayes.
The lieutenant only nodded and proceeded to assist Jakonin to terra firma. The fact that Reed hadn’t objected was an indication to his mental state, and Hayes’s worry doubled. “Shuttlepod?”
“Five hundred meters over there,” Reed answered. “Let’s get out of here. Jakonin?”
"Here." Jakonin replied, as he shook water out of his silver-white fur. Hayes heard something rattle in his fur, like a string of beads. Despite Reed's obvious discomfort from his wound and the trip down the river, the Armory officer's reflexes were much faster. Reed seized the Primate by the neck and a metal chain snapped. A palm-sized sensor bounced on the muddy bank, then dropped into the water. Hayes caught a glimpse of its screen before it sank forever.
Three locator dots, two green and one red. Hayes's eyes met Reed's as they both understood the situation at the same time. They had been set up. Their Xindi informant had led them into a trap. Jakonin shouted something in his native language that the translator didn’t catch. The trees burst into a rain of hissing shadows. Hayes swung his pole around by reflex and clipped his attacker on the side of the head. Then his defensive skills kicked in and he neatly sidestepped another punch aimed at his midsection.
“Reptilians!” Reed hissed. “Bloody hell!” The air whistled as he ducked under a set of claws, then he grabbed the Reptilian’s wrist and redirected it into the nearest tree. It slammed into the trunk with a bone-shattering crunch, slid to the ground, and moved no more. Reed picked up the Reptilian’s blaster and fired directly at Hayes’s head.
Oh sh--The major ducked and the beam struck a third attacker behind him. Hayes rolled out of the way. He looked up and realized that Reed had drilled the Reptilian right between the eyes. Never gonna rib him about his shooting percentage again...
But there were more of them moving through the trees and Reed was tiring fast. His breaths were coming out in heavy gasps now. The Reptilians sensed their prey was weakening and they were closing in for the kill. Reed snapped his head toward Hayes and shouted, “Get to the shuttlepod, Major! That’s a direct order!”
Hayes scooped up another blaster and shot the Reptilian who was about to drop onto Reed from an overhanging tree branch. He used that as an excuse to “mishear” the order. “Come on, Lieutenant, before I throw you over my shoulder and carry you out myself!”
The brackish water exploded outward and a thick, slimy vine whipped out and slammed into the Reptilians, scattering them like bowling pins. Unfortunately, Hayes was also in its direct path and found himself plastered upside down against the nearest tree. Then he slipped to the ground, just barely avoiding landing on his head. He tasted blood in his mouth; whatever had hit him packed quite a wallop.
Ouch. I think that vine has a grudge against Human males now. Thanks, Malcolm, for peeving her enough that she had to take it out on me. The inane thought went through his mind in a split second; he must be going into shock. He stared upward at Jakonin, who stood over him with a Reptilian blaster in his hand. The Xindi shook his head and whispered, “It is a pity that your kind is too trusting, Major.”
Jakonin’s hand tightened on the trigger and Hayes heard a popping sound. The Primate’s eyes glazed over and he fell over sideways, the blaster landing on the soft mud beside him.
Hayes managed to raise his head and saw Reed lying on his stomach. The Armory Officer smirked faintly as he lowered the blaster with shaking hands. Hayes crawled over to his side and said, “You can be my partner on the firing range any time, Lieutenant.”
“As long as you don’t blow out any more bulkheads, Major,” Reed retorted, but the insult fell flat.
“That’s twice I owe you.”
“Deduct it from the two I owe you and we'll call it even.”
"Just don't run into any more lovesick vines and I'll think about it."
Reed snorted in derision. "Not one word about this when we get back aboard ship, Major. Not one word."
Hayes chuckled. "My lips are sealed, Lieutenant. I won't tell anyone. Scout's honor." He managed to wrap an arm around Reed and together they half-stumbled, half-dragged themselves to the shuttlepod. Reed insisted on initiating liftoff, but then Hayes took over, while Malcolm slumped in the co-pilot’s seat.
“I guess this mission was a bust,” Hayes muttered under his breath. “Turns out Jakonin was a plant to get us killed. I won’t be so inclined to take the Xindi at their word next time.”
Reed opened one eye. “Yes. Jakonin wasn’t trustworthy, but I’m grateful that you weren’t as eager to stab me in the back.”
“Not to say that I wasn’t tempted,” Hayes joked. This time, he saw a slight smile on Reed’s face. That was a change, Reed trusting him. Granted, they still weren’t the best of friends, but perhaps they could find some common ground. If Reed was willing to try, so was he.
“All a matter of trust, isn’t it,” Reed said.
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