"Ghost of a Chance"

Author - Sue Christian | Genre - Christmas | Main Story | Rating - PG-13

Trip * Malcolm Fanfic Home

Title: Ghost of a Chance

Author: Sue Christian

Author's e-mail: smc5597@aol.com

Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: Tucker/Reed

Rating: G

Category: Slash

Summary: 'A Christmas Carol', Enterprise style

Spoilers: The Expanse, Season 3

Disclaimer: All characters and things Enterprise belong to Paramount, I just like to take them out and play with them occasionally.  I make no money from this and have nothing that’d make it worth anyone’s while suing me.

Comments: Apart from being my Enterprise Christmas story for 2003, this is also my response to Regina Bellatrix's request for a birthday fic for 30th December. She wanted Tu/R, longish, and offered the quotation from Sophocles as inspiration.

Beta reader(s): None, owing to time constraints. I needed to get this posted before Christmas was completely over! But thanks go to Charles Dickens for the format.

Archived to EntSTSlash on 01/03/2004.
Archived at Trip*Malcolm with the author's express permission.

1. Lizzie's ghost

Trip Tucker hunched a shoulder and tried to focus on the panel in front of him, but the festive jollity, subdued though it was in engineering, refused to be shut out. He reached for the toolbox at his side, and caught sight of Travis Mayweather, who was working with him to correct a glitch in the helm control. The young ensign positively radiated tension and unease.

My fault, Trip acknowledge to himself with a sigh.

'Something wrong, Commander?' Travis asked, uncertainly.

'No.' Trip frowned at a sudden burst of laughter from the walkway above them. 'Nothing that couldn't be fixed by people concentrating on their work,' he finished shortly.

Travis turned back to his task without comment.

Trip sighed again and clambered to his feet. 'I'm going to swap out the relays,' he said, picking up his toolbox. 'I'll be in the shaft if you need me.'

Hunkered down in the confined space of the maintenance shaft, Trip started to replace the first of the fourteen relays. It was a simple, routine job any one of his subordinates could have done in their sleep, but he'd jumped at the excuse to get away on his own. Unfortunately, while his body worked on autopilot his mind had time to wander.

He knew damn well it was his fault that Travis was so uncomfortable working alongside him. He had that effect on just about everyone these days.

'But it's not my fault I can't get into the goddamned Christmas spirit,' he muttered, tiredly. Since chef, of all people, had persuaded Captain Archer that a Christmas Day party would be good for morale it seemed like everyone on board was hip deep in fun and carols.

Well, not everyone, of course. T'Pol wasn't full of Christmas cheer, thankfully. It would have made their already awkward neuro-pressure sessions unbearable if she was. And the novelty even seemed to have worn off for Doctor Phlox, seeing as how this was his third Enterprise Christmas.

And then there was Malcolm.

Trip cursed under his breath as his vision unaccountably blurred.

It wasn't his fault Malcolm didn't understand he couldn't cope with a relationship right now. It wasn't his fault Malcolm had kept sticking his nose in where it wasn't wanted until Trip had been forced to put him in his place. It wasn't his fault Malcolm had gotten reckless on away missions lately. It wasn't his fault Malcolm had had to be carried two pain-filled kilometres back to the shuttlepod, Major Hayes's grey uniform crimson with Malcolm's blood. It wasn't his fault Malcolm was lying in sickbay, his leg so badly smashed up rumour had it he might never walk again without crutches.

'It's not my fault,' he said savagely, as he pushed home the final relay. 'I don't have time for this now.'

He dragged himself out of the maintenance shaft and across to his office to check the results of his and Travis's work.

'Trip, there you are.'

He jumped at the captain's voice. Here was another person, if not exactly full of the Christmas spirit, at least putting on a brave show for the crew. Jonathan Archer. His friend. Trip knew the months since the attack on Earth had been hard on Jon too, and that he, Trip, hadn't been as supportive as he should have. Enterprise's new mission weighed heavy on her captain's shoulders.

But here Jon was, getting over it, moving on, getting back to normal so he could concentrate more clearly. And refusing to understand why Trip couldn't do the same.

'Cap'n, what can I do for you?'

'Just thought I'd come an see how you were getting on with the helm controls.'

'Fine. Looks like we may have got it licked. Just got a few more tests to run.' Trip turned back to the computer, hoping the captain would take the hint and leave him alone.

No such luck.

'So. You decided about tomorrow yet?'

'Tomorrow?' He looked up at Archer, blankly.

'Tomorrow. The party. Today's Christmas Eve, Trip. The party's tomorrow.'

'Oh. No, Cap'n, I'm not really in the mood. I think I'll stay on duty, let the rest of my staff go.'

'Trip,' Archer began.

'Just leave it alone, will you!' Trip snapped. He stopped, took a deep breath and scrubbed a hand through his hair. 'I'm sorry, sir. That was out of line. But I can't be doing with this party thing. Just doesn't seem right. You and the others enjoy yourselves if you want to, but just let me be. Please.'

And the captain had left him alone, moving off for a quick word with Travis before leaving engineering without a backward glance at his erstwhile friend.

At the end of his shift, Trip grabbed a quick dinner in the mess hall. He ate alone, a mini dampening-field of gloom spreading out from where he sat. When he noticed one of his engineers nod in his direction and joke to her companions, 'Bah! Humbug!', he briefly considered tearing her off a strip, but in the end he just got up and left.

Entering his quarters, Trip locked the door and put a 'do not disturb' flag on his comm. Picking up his harmonica he toyed with it for a while, but wasn't in the mood to play. As he replaced it on the shelf his eyes fell on the framed picture of his sister, Lizzie. It had been taken not long before her death. She sat at a cafe table, her blue dress bright in the sunlight, her long blond hair framing her face as she laughed at the photographer. It was the picture that haunted his nightmares of her death in the Xindi attack. But it was also how he liked to remember her, happy and carefree.

'I'm going to get the bastards who killed you, Lizzie,' he promised her laughing image.

'What good will that do?'

Startled, Trip spun around. 'Lizzie?' He goggled at the apparition perched on the edge of his bed. It was his sister, just as she looked in the photograph, but paler, transparent almost. 'Lizzie?' he repeated, then, shaking off his stunned surprise, 'What in hell are you?' He reached out and jabbed the comm button on his desk console. 'Tucker to security, intruder alert.'

The apparition laughed. 'You didn't used to be so slow to catch on.'

Ignoring her comment, Trip repeated his hail to security and , when he got no reply, started towards the door.

'Please don't go! I've come such a long way. Please, Charlie, stay and talk.'

Only Lizzie called him Charlie, and in just that way. In spite of himself Trip was drawn towards the bed.

'What are you?' he asked again.

'I'm Lizzie.'

'Lizzie's dead.'

'Yes.' The apparition's smile faltered. 'And that's made you very sad.'

Trip gave a harsh, joyless laugh. 'That surprises you?'

'No. But, Charlie, there's a difference between mourning my death and destroying your own life.'

'You are not Lizzie,' he accused. 'Lizzie's dead.'

'I know it's difficult to believe, Charlie, but I am Lizzie. Lizzie's ghost anyway. And I've come to help you.'

'Help me? How?' The whole situation was surreal, but this...whatever it was, sitting there looked so like Lizzie that he found it impossible to leave, or do anything that might make her...it leave. He sat on the bed, at the far end from the ghost.

'I know my death must have hit you hard, Charlie, but what you're doing, pushing everyone away, that's just making things worse. You won't let your friends even try to help you, and even worse, you won't help the one who depends on you. So I've come to help.'

'No one can help. Lizzie's dead and I don't care if you are her ghost, you can't make things better.'

'You're right about that, at least. The only person who can make things better is you, Charlie. But at least I can show you your choices, and what they'll mean. I've enlisted three spirits to guide you.'

'More ghosts. What good will they do?'

'They'll show you the possibilities, Charlie. That's all they can do. Which path you decide to take is entirely up to you. The first spirit will come to you tonight at one o'clock, the second at the same time tomorrow and the third at exactly midnight the following night.'

'That's some haunting. Can't I just see them all tonight and get it over with?'

'Doesn't work like that. You always were impatient, but better to be haunted now than for the rest of your life. Make your choice wisely, and never forget that I love you, Charlie.' Lizzie's ghost extended a fading hand and caressed his cheek with nearly invisible fingers.

Trip jerked awake. He was sitting on the end of his bunk, leaning awkwardly against the bulkhead, Lizzie's picture on the pillow besides him.

'Shit.' He looked around the room, almost convinced that he'd see her, but of course, he was alone. Resignedly he put the photograph back on the shelf and got himself ready for bed. As he turned out the light and closed his eyes in hope of sleep the clock on his nightstand read 23.36.

2. Christmas Past

Trip rolled over onto his back, wondering what had woken him, surprised that he'd actually been asleep. As he lay in the dark he heard the town hall clock strike one. He was just about to turn over and try to go back to sleep when the incongruity of what he'd heard registered. Sitting up, he fumbled for the lighting control, confused when he couldn't find it.

'Light's on the other side, Trip, just where it's always been.'


Even the dark, Trip recognised his mother's voice. Not that it was fully dark now, he realised, as a glowing form materialised at the foot of his bed. His bed back in the big attic bedroom at the top of the Tucker family home, the room he'd claimed for his own on his eleventh birthday. He swung his legs out of bed and stood up, not really surprised to realise he was fully dressed.

'You're the first of the ghosts, aren't you? The ones Lizzie talked about. Not my Mom.'

'Oh, I am your mother, Trip. One version of her, anyway. I'm here to show you your past.'

'Why? What good will that do?'

'How can you make the right choice about the future if you can't remember the past?'

'I do remember the past,' Trip protested. 'I don't need a ghost to show me how things used to be.'

'Let's go see shall we, son. See just how well you remember.'

As his mother's spirit took hold of his arm the scene faded and reformed around them and Trip found himself in the living room of the house.

A tall, full, Christmas tree stood in the picture window, it's coloured lights shining for passers by to see. A fair haired boy of about eight stood on a chair tying tinplate decorations in the shape of planes and spaceships to the branches, while on the floor a little girl with the palest of blond hair and a scarlet face bawled her eyes out. A younger version of his mother bustled into the room and swept the crying toddler into her arms.

'What have you done now, Trip Tucker?' the woman demanded. 'Can't I leave you to look after your sister for five minutes?'

'Haven't done nothing,' the young Trip replied. 'She wants fairies on the tree, and angels, is all.'

'Then let her have some, for goodness sake.'

'But it's my turn to chose, Mama,' he protested. 'Jack was last year, and this year is mine. Lizzie can chose next year.'

'Just hang a couple of angels, Trip. It won't spoil your arrangement.'

'Yes it will. It'll look stupid, spaceships and angels. Why does she have to get everything she wants?'

'Because she's your baby sister, Trip. It wouldn't hurt you to be kind to her once in a while.'

'No, Mama.' The boy sulkily conceded defeat and picked up the box of painted cardboard angels. Taking one out he dangled it in front of the little girl. 'See, Lizzie, an angel. Show me where you want it hung.'

'I'd forgotten just how much I used to hate that,' the older Trip said. 'Any time she couldn't get her own way, Lizzie would scream the place down 'til Mom or Pop came and made me do what she wanted. Seems so stupid now. I kinda wish I could tell her I'm sorry. Can I make her hear me?'

'No,' his ghost mother replied. 'We're here to observe only. You learned to put up with her eventually,' she added, with a smile.

As she spoke the scene shifted again. They were in the same room, but now a sofa stood under the window and the tree, which was in the alcove by the fire, was tastefully hung with glass balls and ribbons, and lights like candles on the ends of the branches.

Once more, Lizzie and Trip were there alone, and once more Lizzie was crying. But this time Lizzie, looking about fourteen, was held tightly in her big brother's arms as she sobbed against his shoulder.

'Don't cry, Lizzie, please. It'll be all right.'

'How can it be all right?' she wailed. 'It's Christmas Eve and Andy's broken up with me and now I can't go to the party and I'm so unhappy.'

It all came out in one long tumble of words, making it difficult to work out what she was more upset about, being dumped by her boyfriend or not being able to go to the party. But apparently the twenty year old Trip knew.

'You can still go to the party, Lizzie,' he said.

'Not on my own I can't. It's too far, and Mama said I could only go because Andy was taking me, and now that he won't, I can't.'

The older Trip remembered the night on the town with the guys he'd had planed. The night out he'd cancelled for Lizzie.

'I'll take you,' his younger self said, and Trip watched the radiant smile spread across Lizzie's face as her guardian angel of a brother came to her rescue once again.

'She always could twist me 'round her little finger,' he said.

'It's because you loved her, Trip,' the ghost said. 'You were always there to make things right.'

'Not when it really mattered, I wasn't.'

'And what if you had been, Trip? What could you have done? Die alongside her? Who would that have helped? Not me or your father and brother, that's for sure.'

Before Trip could reply the room faded, reforming into a Spartan grey office, with a rather glum version of himself in a Starfleet lieutenant's uniform sitting at the desk. A calendar on the wall showed the date as December 24, 2144.

'This is the year I couldn't get home for Christmas,' Trip realised. 'We were heavy into tests leading up to breaking the warp three barrier and all leave was cancelled.'

As they watched, the door opened and Jonathan Archer, a commander's pips on his uniform shoulder, walked in.

'Trip, you nearly finished here?'

'Getting there. Why, you need me in the hanger?'

'No, no. We're about done there for tonight.' Archer wandered across the room and started fidgeting with the padds on the shelf. 'I just thought you might fancy a drink. Christmas Eve and all. I've got some 15 year old bourbon at home.'

'I don't know, Jon. I'd really like to get these calculations finished tonight, and I'm going to need a clear head in the morning. Why don't you try the 602? Duval said he was going with some of the others.'

Archer's shoulders slumped, but he managed a smile for Trip as he said, 'Yeah, maybe I'll do that. See you in the morning then.'

Archer left and the younger Trip buried his head in his calculations again.

'I shoulda gone with him. Jon always did find Christmas hard. Reminds him of when his daddy died. I wasn't much help to him then, just like I'm not now.' He turned to the ghost. 'This is depressing, we finished yet?'

'Almost, son. Just one more call to pay.'

As she spoke Trip's old office rippled around them and reformed into Enterprise's mess hall. The room was decked out with an odd looking tree and coloured streamers.

'Our first Christmas in space,' Trip marvelled, taking in all the happy people around him. 'That yellow tree never did look right. I remember we got it on some pre-industrial planet. Went into the woods at night and Malcolm cut it down with a phase pistol. Then when we dragged it back to the shuttlepod we couldn't hardly get it in. He complained all the way back about the branches sticking in him.'

He turned, looking for himself in the crowded room, drawing in a sharp breath when he finally located his target.

He was standing with Malcolm by one of the windows. They were facing each other--Malcolm with his hands on Trip's waist, Trip gripping both Malcolm's shoulders--apparently oblivious to the party carrying on around them. Hoshi Sato pushed past them with a comment he couldn't hear and he watched as Trip laughed self-consciously and Malcolm ducked his head, blushing.

'That's the first time he told me he loved me.'

Trip cleared his throat to cover the catch in his voice and turned away, but he found himself drawn back to the tableau.

'I was so happy. We both were. It should have stayed like that. Not this...this...' He angrily wiped a tear from his eye. 'I want to go back,' he demanded. 'I don't want to see us like we should be. Like we can't be any more. I want him so bad, and I can't 'cause I promised Lizzie. Take me back. Please.'

3. Christmas Present


Trip woke with a start and looked around with confusion. He was lying on a biobed in Enterprise's sickbay, but had no recollection of how or why he was there.

'Ah, Commander, you're awake. Good, good.' Phlox bustled over to him, a disturbing Denobulan smile splitting his face. 'Up you get now. It's one o'clock. Time to be going.'

'Damn,' Trip muttered, dropping back onto the pillows. 'You're another of the ghosts, aren't you?'

'Yes, and we have a lot to see, so quickly, please, if you don't mind.'

'When is this?'

'This is now, Commander. This is what's going on around you at present, but which you're too blind to see. Now come with me, please.'

The ghost Phlox took Trip on a tour of the ship. The bridge, the armoury, engineering, the mess hall: everywhere they went the story was the same. Plans were being made for tomorrow's Christmas party and crewmembers were discussing what to wear, what they could contribute to the festivities, what hours they had off duty to attend, but always the conversation eventually came around to those who would not be attending: Trip and, more particularly, Malcolm Reed.

Time and again Trip was forced to listen to people, some of them he considered good friends, condemn his behaviour. They didn't all have the details right, and he was shocked at some of the rumours apparently circulating of what he'd done and said.

He tried to protest, to put his side of the story. Several times he stepped forward to argue a point of fact or to disagree with an opinion, only to pull up in frustration as he realised people could neither see nor hear him.

'This isn't right,' he objected to his guide. 'They don't understand.'

'No, quite clearly they don't,' the ghost agreed, with all Phlox's maddening alien calm.

'That's not what I mean! You know that. There's reasons--the attack. I have to be able to concentrate, to focus on our mission. They have to know that. Malcolm has to know that.'

'Yes, well, let's see, shall we?'

Before Trip could say anything else, they were in sickbay, in the curtained off section where Malcolm's biobed stood.

The lieutenant was propped up against a pile of pillows, the blanket covering him from the waist down clearly outlining the support frame around his injured leg. There was quite a crowd gathered around the bed: Mayweather and Sato, Tanner, and Foster from the armoury, Major Hayes, Dr. Phlox and crewman Cutler. They all had glasses containing a variety of beverages. A table had been positioned across the bed, holding what was clearly Malcolm's Christmas lunch.

There was an air of forced jollity as the visitors made determinedly upbeat small-talk, careful to include the lieutenant in their conversation, while Malcolm picked listlessly at his food. To Trip, and presumably also to those around the bed, it was obvious that Malcolm was not enjoying the fuss and attention, well-meant though it was.

Travis was trying to convince Malcolm to allow them to move his biobed to the mess hall later in the evening so that he could join in the party. Malcolm wouldn't hear of it, becoming agitated when pressed. Eventually he complained fretfully that he wasn't hungry any more, that he was tired and needed to sleep.

The party broke up in a rather subdued mood. Travis and Hoshi promised to return later to keep Malcolm company, but he had his eyes closed and refused to acknowledge them.

As the doors slid closed behind the others, Phlox turned to Malcolm with a disapproving frown.

'That wasn't very polite, Lieutenant,' he admonished.

'What do you expect?' Malcolm retorted petulantly. 'I don't know why they bother. They only come because they feel sorry for me. I can't stand that. I wish they'd just leave me alone.'

'I'm sure you don't really mean that.'

'Yes I do. I'm used to being abandoned, after all,' he said bitterly. 'I'm stuck here, a useless cripple. I can't work. I'm never going to be able to walk unaided.'

'We don't know that,' the doctor objected. 'When we start your physical therapy tomorrow I'll be able to make a better assessment of your condition. It will take time, but I have every confidence the with the right attitude--'

'Don't!' Malcolm interrupted. 'I'm fed up with lectures about my attitude. 'Keep positive', 'look on the bright side.' There is no bright side as far as I'm concerned, and the only thing I'm positive about is that I'm just a useless drain on Enterprise's resources. You shouldn't be wasting your time on me, Doctor. I'm not worth it.'

'Lieutenant,' Phlox began, but Malcolm turned his head away and refused to listen.

'I'm tired, and I really do want to be left alone,' he snapped.

With a resigned shake of his head, Phlox left the area, pulling the privacy curtain behind him. Trip, followed by the ghost Phlox, walked around the bed and watched Malcolm closely, but it looked as if he may have been telling the truth about being tired as his breathing deepened and he relaxed into sleep.

'Will he be all right?' Trip asked, trying to keep any emotion out of his voice.

'That depends,' the ghost said.

'On what? On me?'

The ghost continued as if Trip hadn't spoken. 'The picture is clouded, uncertain, but I see an empty chair on the bridge and a different face in the armoury.'

'You mean he's right, he won't walk again?'

The ghost's eyes, bright with compassion, met Trip's. 'That's not what you mean, is it? You mean he's going to die. He's going to give up and die.' Trip turned to the sleeping man, reaching out to shake him awake before he realised that he couldn't. He settled for shouting, even though he knew he couldn't be heard. 'You can't do that, Malcolm. You can't just give up. What about the ship? What about the people who need you? What about me?' Trip swung back to face the ghost. 'It doesn't have to happen like that, does it? Can it be changed?'

'The future is always dependant on the past,' was the ghost's enigmatic reply.

The vista around them changed again, shifting and swirling to finally coalesce into the captain's quarters.

Archer was dressed in civvies, presumably ready for the party. A bottle of bourbon was open on the table and as Trip and the ghost Phlox watched, Archer poured himself a measure. He raised the glass in a toast towards the framed photograph of his father, Henry Archer.

'Still miss you, Dad,' he said. 'Now more than ever. Happy Christmas.' Archer took a drink from the glass, then raised it again. 'And Happy Christmas, Trip, wherever you are,' he said, sadly, before finishing the drink and calling Porthos to heel.

Archer and his dog left, leaving the ghost and a puzzled Trip behind.

'What did he mean, 'wherever you are'? I thought you said this was the present. I'm here, aren't I?'

'Are you?' the ghost asked. 'Commander Tucker is here, certainly. Going through the motions: duty, eat, sleep--or not sleep, as the case may be. But as for whether or not Trip is here...'

The ghost's form faded into mist and Trip could see through it to the clock on Archer's nightstand as the numbers changed to read midnight.

4. Christmas Yet to Come

This time Trip was expecting the change and opened his eyes looking for the ghost. He was surprised to find himself in T'Pol's quarters, lying face down on her meditation mat as he often did during their neuro-pressure sessions. Rolling onto his back, he eyed the Vulcan kneeling alongside him.

'You're the ghost, right?' T'Pol inclined her head in a stately nod. 'We've had past and present, so I'm guessing you're future.

'Logical,' the ghost T'Pol agreed.

'We're still on Enterprise, so not far in the future presumably.'

'Far enough. Come, let us see.'

As soon as they stepped into the corridor Trip noticed the change. Gone was the tension, the sense of desperate urgency that had hung over Enterprise since they set out on their mission to the Expanse. The atmosphere on board this Enterprise was of satisfaction and a scarcely suppressed excited happiness.

'The mission's over? We were successful?' When the ghost didn't reply he asked, 'Did we beat the Xindi? When is this?'

'This is the future. Humanity is no longer at war with the Xindi.'

'We did it! That's good, right?'

'You do not ask the cost.'

Trip's pleasure at Enterprise's victory dimmed abruptly. 'Cost? You mean Malcolm?'

T'Pol lead him to sickbay and to a biobed where a Human form lay draped with a blanket.

'Did he have to die? I mean, he had a dangerous job, he knew it could kill him, but he wouldn't have wanted to die like that. Couldn't someone have done something?'

'For Lieutenant Reed? Yes, someone could have done something, but chose not to.' Trip looked away guiltily but before he could collect himself enough to comment, T'Pol continued. 'However, you are mistaken in your identification.'


Phlox and the captain emerged from the doctor's officer and crossed to the biobed.

'I'm sorry, Captain. He planned it well. By the time anyone realised, there was nothing I could do.'

'I know, Phlox. It wasn't your fault. He died a long time ago.'

They were in engineering. The sudden transition confused Trip so that he missed the first part of the conversation he was witnessing.

'It is difficult.' It was Trip's second in command, Hess speaking, her hand toying with the third pip on her uniform. 'It's not that he's going to be missed exactly. You know what he was like to work with.'

Her companion, Michael Rostov, grimaced. 'Especially since Lieutenant Reed...'

'Yeah. That caused a lot of bad feeling.'

'Are they talking about me? What's going on here, T'Pol, or whatever you are?'

Instead of replying the ghost took hold of his arm and the scene shifted around them.

They were back in sickbay.

At first Trip thought they had returned to the previous scene, then he noticed that the shrouded body on the biobed was a shorter, slighter figure and realised that they had gone to a different time.

'Malcolm,' Trip whispered, stepping closer to the bed.

Phlox was standing besides the bed, his head bent. The captain and Hoshi Sato joined him, moving in front of Trip, as if protecting the body from him.

Trip bit his lip and choked back a sob.

The sickbay doors slid open and Travis Mayweather rushed in, slowing to a halt when he saw the covered body. Hoshi hurried over to give him a hug.

'Travis. I'm sorry you couldn't be here, but it was very peaceful. He just fell asleep and wouldn't wake up.'

The two ensigns held each other, crying. Trip sniffed and wiped his own eyes.

'What...what's going to happen to...have you decided...'

Captain Archer answered the distraught Travis gently. 'I thought maybe he'd want to stay in space, but you knew him best, Travis. What do you think?'

'What about Commander Tucker, sir, don't you think--'

'No I don't,' Archer interrupted coldly. 'Commander Tucker forfeited any rights he might have had in this matter.'

Trip turned to the T'Pol ghost, his vision blurred by tears.

'All this, the things I've been shown, are they things that will happen, or only things that may happen? You wouldn't show me all this if there was nothing I could do about it, would you? I can change all this, can't I, if I just stop acting like an idiot?' he pleaded.

The ghost's expression softened and he thought he saw compassion in T'Pol's brown eyes.

'I'll learn the lessons you've been showing me. All of you, past, present and future. I understand what I've got to do, and I will do it if you just give me the chance. Please. I don't want to let Malcolm die. Tell me I can change that.'

'"One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love",' T'Pol said. 'The words of Sophocles, one of Humanity's great writers. You would do well to remember them.'

Trip grasped the hope the ghost's words offered and hung on tight.

'I will. I'll remember what all of you have said. I promise.'

He reached to grasp the ghost's arm, trying to reinforce what he was saying, to prove he meant it. The arm changed as he touched it; the silky cloth of T'Pol's exercise clothes becoming coarse under his hand. He opened his eyes and was astonished to find he was in his own quarters, lying on his bunk, clutching his blanket as if he were drowning and it was his only lifeline.

5. The End Of It

Trip sat up, swung his legs off the bed and stretched. The clock on his nightstand read 0620. He felt refreshed, as if he'd had full night's good sleep, only the dried tears on his face said differently. Lizzie had said that the ghosts would visit him on three consecutive nights. He remembered their visits vividly, but had no recollection of any time between them. Crossing to his desk, he checked the date on the computer: December 25th, Christmas Day.

'So it was only one night. I can still have Christmas,' he said excitedly.

He raised his eyes to the shelf above the desk, to the photograph of Lizzie.

'Thanks, Sis. Thanks for showing me that just because I love you, it don't mean that I can't love Malcolm too. I miss you something fierce, always will, but I'll try to keep going, to keep living my life. For you, Lizzie.'

Lizzie smiled down at him from the photograph, as she always did, but today, as he smiled back at her for the first time in a long while, he thought there was an extra sparkle in her eyes.

He got washed and dressed, all the while going over in his mind his plans for the rest of the day. First port of call was, as always, engineering to check the overnight logs and to make sure his presence wasn't required.

He strode into the engine room with a bounce in his step and was met by Margaret Hess, his second in command. He was happy to see that she had only a lieutenant's two pips on her uniform. She handed him the report from gamma shift and he scanned it quickly before outlining what he wanted doing that day. Duty dealt with, he moved on to personal matters.

'About the party tonight,' he started. Hess stiffened, a wary, almost frightened, expression crossing her face, and Trip felt ashamed that his behaviour had caused a member of his team, and someone he considered a friend, to react to him like that. 'It's nothing bad,' he assured her. 'I just wanted to ask if you'd mind finishing at eight instead of seven to let me show my face at the party?'

'Sir? Yes, er, I mean no. No, no problem.'

'Great, thanks,' he said, ignoring her obvious confusion. 'There's a couple of things I need to do. I'll be in sickbay if you need me. Oh, and Happy Christmas, Mags.'

He left engineering, torn between guilt and amusement at the amazed glances he was getting from his staff.

In sickbay he was met by Phlox, who was obviously surprised to see him there.

'Commander. What can I do for you. You look well rested.'

'I am, Doc. Best night's sleep in a long time. Is Malcolm awake? Can I go see him?'

'Yes, and no, I don't think so.'

Phlox's reply brought Trip up short. He wasn't sure what sort of reception he'd get from Malcolm, but he certainly hadn't expected the doctor to refuse to let him see him.

Phlox glanced towards the curtain which Trip knew screened Malcolm's bed. 'My office if you please, Commander.'

Once in the small office, Trip took the proffered chair and waited nervously for the doctor to close the door and sit himself at his desk.

'Why do you want to see Mr. Reed, Commander?'

'Doc?' Trip was beginning to feel his earlier excitement drain away. How could he put things right if he couldn't talk to Malcolm.

'There was a time when you would have been a welcome visitor, but I'm not sure that that is still the case. Mr. Reed's emotional state is somewhat fragile at the moment. I can not permit anything to upset him further.'

'I don't want to upset him, Doc. I want to make things better. I know I've treated him real bad. I was so wrapped up in my own misery that I couldn't see what I was doing to Malcolm. Didn't care, even,' he admitted sadly. 'But I want to put that right. I...it's difficult to explain, but I had a vision...a dream I guess you'd call it. It made me see what a damn fool I've been, how much I need Malcolm, and how much he needs me.'

'A dream?'

'Yes. Lizzie spoke to me, and she sent ghosts from the past, present and future. They showed me what I was doing, how badly I was letting Malcolm down. And what might happen, how...how Malcolm might die. I can't let that happen, Doc. You gotta let me see him. Let me try and make things right between us.'

'You spoke to your dead sister, and she sent ghosts to show you the error of your ways?'

Phlox was looking at him very strangely and Trip was worried that he was making things worse, not better.

'I know it sounds crazy, but it was a dream, a nightmare really. At least, I think it was. Does it matter, so long as it knocked some sense into me?'

'I suppose not,' Phlox conceded. 'And it is true that dreams can sometimes help Humans face their fears and choose the correct course of action.'

'So you're gonna let me see him?'

'Yes,' Phlox held up a warning hand as Trip leapt to his feet, 'provided Mr. Reed agrees.'

'Before you go ask him, Doc, what's the word on his leg? I've heard rumours that it might not heal real good, that he might not be able to get back on duty. Not that it'd make a difference,' he said hurriedly, as Phlox gave him a questioning look. 'I mean, I want him to get better and all, but if he didn't, if he can't walk properly...well, I just want you to know, I'll stick with him whatever.'

'Lieutenant Reed is never an easy patient, as you know. He's too impatient for quick results and gets despondent at the slightest setback. I have never been successful in impressing upon him the importance of a positive mental attitude to the healing process. It is true that I have expressed doubts about how his leg is healing. But if you are serious in your wish to, as you put it, 'make things better between you', then hopefully his attitude will improve, and if that happens then I see no reason why he should not, eventually, make a full recovery. Now if you will kindly wait here, I will go and let him know that you would like to see him. Assuming he agrees, I shall be monitoring his condition from here during your visit, Commander, and at the first sign of distress I'm afraid I shall have to ask you to leave. Understood, hmm?'

'Understood, and agreed, Doc.'

Trip was relieved to have got past this hurdle, but he had an anxious few minutes waiting until Phlox returned to say that Malcolm was willing to see him.

He hesitated with his hand on the curtain, paralysed by the fear that Malcolm wouldn't want him, would refuse to accept his apology and tell him to get lost. Then he remembered Lizzie's smile in the photograph, and the ghost T'Pol telling him that love would free him from life's pains, and he made himself believe that all would be well, because there was no other acceptable outcome.

Malcolm was sitting in bed, propped up by pillows. Trip was shocked at how pale he was; his complexion seemed almost translucent, his grey eyes two dark hollows, their depths exaggerated by his high cheekbones. And he was so thin! The normally slender but well-muscled body looked wasted, fragile.


Malcolm's voice--at least that was the same--broke the spell.

'Malcolm.' Trip shifted his weight uneasily from foot to foot, not certain, now he was here, how to begin.

He looked at Malcolm and saw the pain. Not physical pain, but pain nevertheless, and caused by his, Trip's, own behaviour. He saw the tension in the frail form, and the tentative expression of hope. But it was the shadow of fear in Malcolm's eyes that galvanised him into action. It was clear that Malcolm was afraid of the reason for Trip's visit and was mentally preparing himself for some new crushing disappointment.

Two strides took him to the bedside and he reached out to grasp Malcolm's nearest hand in both of his. 'I'm sorry, Malcolm. For everything. For shutting you out and pushing you away. For not realising how much I need you, how much you mean to me. For being an asshole. For not being there for you when you needed me. I'm so very sorry. Can you forgive me?'

Hope shone briefly in Malcolm's eyes before being overtaken by his natural pessimism.

'Did Phlox put you up to this?' he demanded roughly, pulling his hand out of Trip's grasp. 'To try and improve my attitude,' he sneered.

Trip was well used to Malcolm's 'attack is the best defence' method of dealing with expected disappointment, and fortunately his experiences with the ghosts had left him thinking clearly enough to recognise it for what it was. Instead of being put out by the words he latched onto the meaning behind them and took hope from it.

'No! This has nothing to do with Phlox. In fact he put me through the third degree before he let me in here. Made me promise not to upset you.' He tried to take Malcolm's hand again, but the lieutenant wouldn't let him, folding his arms to keep it out of reach.

'So what has caused this sudden about face then? Three weeks I've been stuck in here and this is the first time you've come to see me. In fact the last time we spoke you said I was a luxury you hadn't got time for and told me to get out of your face and out of your life.'

The desperate sadness in Malcolm's voice almost broke Trip's heart.

'I know and I'm sorry. I was way out of line, speaking to you like that. I don't have an excuse. Nothing can excuse how I've treated you.' Trip hung his head and, since he couldn't hold Malcolm's hand, he twisted his own together. 'When the Xindi attacked Earth, when Lizzie died, my world fell apart. Nothing that bad's ever happened to me before. I didn't know what to do, how to deal with the hurt. Mom and Pop and Jack, they had each other for support and the rest of the family. But I was out here on my own. And yeah, I know I had you and I had Jon, but that wasn't the same. Now, I think that's a load of bull. I always felt like you were family, heck I'm closer to you than I am to more than half of my blood relations. But I wasn't thinking straight. And then I just seemed to keep making things worse instead of better, and even though I knew I was doing it and wanted to stop, I couldn't.' He finally looked up at Malcolm. 'Am I making any sense here?'

'So I'll ask again, what changed your mind?' Malcolm insisted, truculently. Suddenly a sound, half gasp half sob, escaped him. 'It's because you feel sorry for me, isn't it? Now my leg's smashed up? If that's it, you can get out of here now. I don't need your pity, or anyone else's.'

'For crying out loud, Malcolm, I don't pity you. I mean, I'm sorry you got--'

'Why not?' Malcolm interrupted. 'Everyone else does. Poor, fucked up Lieutenant Reed. Got careless and now he's crippled. That's why they keep coming to see me, trying to cheer me up. They'd like to stop, I'm sure. It must be getting tedious by now, after all. But they can't--because they pity me.'

He was becoming increasingly agitated as he spoke. Trip, conscious of Phlox's monitoring, could see his one chance to make amends slipping out of his grasp.

'Will you just shut up. Stop that goddamn whining and listen!' he shouted, jumping to his feet.

Malcolm immediately fell into a shocked silence.

'Christ, Malcolm, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that.' Trip sank back into the chair, dragging a hand through his hair in frustration. 'It's just, if you get upset, Phlox is going to throw me out, and I really need to tell you this. I love you, and I need you. I know I've been treating you like shit, and I'm more sorry about that than you can know. I don't care if your leg is smashed up or not. I mean...I do care, but that's not why I'm here. I want you, Malcolm. If you're crippled, then that's how I'll take you, but I gotta tell you that Phlox says your leg can get better, if only you'd try.'

For a long moment Malcolm just stared at him blankly. Then, quietly, uncertainly, but with no trace of whining, he asked, 'So what did make you change your mind?'

'Sophocles and Charles Dickens, or maybe it was just the corn dogs from last night. Okay, now I know I'm not making any sense,' he said, with a snort as he saw Malcolm was giving him the same strange look Phlox had. 'I had a dream. I'm pretty certain now that's what it musta been, but it sure seemed real at the time. Lizzie was in it, and three ghosts, like "A Christmas Carol", you know? Though that's only just occurred to me.'

'And Sophocles?'

'Something one of the ghosts said. I'll tell you all about it later. If you'll let me?'

He sat tensely, trying to gauge what Malcolm was thinking, but the lieutenant had all his shields up and was giving no clues away.

Eventually Malcolm unfolded his arms to pluck nervously at the bedcover.

'You really mean it? You want us to be together again, like we were?' His voice shook and he wouldn't meet Trip's eyes, focusing instead on the pleats his fingers were busy making in his blanket.

'Yes,' Trip said fervently. 'I really mean it, and I want us to be together again. If you'll have me back after what I've put you through.'

'I should say no. Make you suffer,' Malcolm said with a flash of spirit. But he didn't sound as if his heart was in it, and when he did finally look up and meet Trip's gaze his eyes were awash with tears.

'Ah, don't cry, love, please.'

Standing, Trip hugged Malcolm to him, rubbing a hand in gentle circles on his back.

Phlox chose that moment to join them, making Trip suspect that his monitoring had been conducted from far closer than his office.

'What did I say about upsetting Mr. Reed?' he asked. But his smile belied his words. 'I take it you gentlemen have reached an understanding?' He bustled about, checking the monitors at the head of the biobed, while Trip laid Malcolm back against the pillows.

'Yeah, we're good.' Trip replied. 'That's right, ain't it, Malcolm?' he asked, the smile on Malcolm's pale face all the answer he needed.

'I'm happy to hear that,' Phlox said. 'But now I think Mr. Reed would benefit from some peace and quiet.' Raising a hand to forestall the objections from both men, he continued to Malcolm. 'You need to conserve your strength. We start your physical therapy tomorrow, and it's going to take a great deal of hard work to get you back on your feet. And I do expect you to get back on your feet, Lieutenant. Don't forget that.' Apparently satisfied that Malcolm believed him, he turned to Trip. 'Commander, maybe you'd like to return at lunchtime, hmm? You can make it your duty to ensure that Mr. Reed eats properly from now on.'

'Will do, Doc.' Trip said, ignoring Malcolm's long-suffering look and melodramatic sigh. Leaning forward, he cupped Malcolm's face with one hand, running his thumb over the prominent cheekbone before planting a kiss on his forehead. 'See you later, darlin',' he promised.

'Yes,' Malcolm said happily. 'I'm counting on it.'

Trip stepped between the curtains just as the sickbay doors slid open to admit Captain Archer.

'Trip,' Archer said, his surprise evident. 'What are you doing here?'

'Something I should have done a long time ago, Jon. Making things right with Malcolm.'

'Really? Right, as in back together again?'

'Yeah,' Trip confirmed. 'It's gonna take time. He didn't say it, but I know it'll be hard for Malcolm to learn to trust me again. But at least we've--I've taken the first step.' He rubbed his hands on his thighs, wanting to take another first step but not sure how to go about it. Seemingly his friend of eleven years understood.

'You had breakfast yet,' Archer asked.

'No. I checked engineering then came straight here to see Malcolm.'

'Me neither. Care to join me?'

'I'd like that, Cap'n. If you're sure?'

'Of course I'm sure, Trip. It's been a while. I've missed our morning chats.'

'Yeah, me too. And Malcolm's not the only person I owe an apology.'

'Let's save it until after breakfast, eh?'

The last of Trip's fears fell away as the familiar weight of Archer's arm settled across his shoulders.

'Welcome back, Trip,' Archer said as he steered his chief engineer towards the door. 'And Happy Christmas.'



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