Ashes

by The Grrrl

Title: Ashes

Author: The Grrrl

Author's email: thegrrrl2002@yahoo.com

Author's URL: http://www.geocities.com/coffeeslash/thegrrrl/

Archive: Ask first.

Fandom: Star Trek Enterprise

Date: 08/15/2003

Pairing: Tucker/Reed

Rating: R

Summary: During the events of 2.26 "The Expanse," Trip copes with the loss of his sister and his relationship with Malcolm.

Spoilers: 2.26 "The Expanse".

Notes: This is unbeta'd, because, oh, I don't know why. I just had to get this done and over with. Sorry for any errors. This is different than the stuff I generally write, but I just had to get it out of my head. This episode bugged me, because the loss of Trip's sister was crammed in there with so much other stuff going on that it didn't get the attention it deserved. Oh, and I may have played fast and loose with the timeline in the episode, because it wasn't clear to me how long it took for Enterprise to return to Earth. Or how long they were on Earth. So I made it up.

"Is there going to be some kind of service?" Malcolm asks as we stride down the corridor.

My stomach clenches. "For Lizzie? If you're talking about a funeral, it's kind of pointless when there's nothing left." Nothing at all, just a goddamn hole in the ground.

But Malcolm won't leave it alone. "Well, I guess I was talking about a memorial," he continues.

"My sister wasn't big on memorials," I tell him. I wish he would give up already. "I read there was a day of remembrance for all the victims a couple of months ago. Sorry you missed it."

"Why are you so obsessed with memorials?" I demand. Memorials. Right. As if I was in any danger of forgetting her.

Now he gets all defensive. "I'm not obsessed," he says.

I tell him, "She's dead. So are 7 million others. She was no more important than any of them."

"She was more important to you. There's nothing wrong with admitting to that."

Look who's suddenly Lieutenant Touchy-Feely. I'm tempted to laugh, but instead I snarl, "I'm getting real tired of you telling me what I can and can't do. I don't need you to remind me that Elizabeth was killed. So just let it alone. Maybe you should pay more attention to upgrading your weapons so you can blow the hell out of these bastards when we find them." I turn and walk away, leaving him standing alone in the hallway.

TWO MONTHS EARLIER

"I'm tellin' you, I know she's gone, Malcolm."

"Trip, you can't be certain—"

"I would have heard from her by now. Somehow, someway Lizzie would have gotten a message through to me. She'd know how worried I'd be." I slap the control panel to open the door to engineering, slap it a whole lot harder than I need to. My palm stings, and I'm almost surprised by the sensation. I didn't think I could feel anything anymore.

"Listen," Malcolm said, touching my arm, stopping me. "Communication on Earth is all bollixed up, you know that. It's only been three weeks, give it time. Don't go leaping to conclusions."

"I'm not leaping to anything, Malcolm. It's a perfectly reasonable conclusion."

"Trip, I know how impetuous you can be. But we can't be certain of anything right now."

"Well now, far as I can tell can be as certain as I damn well please, can't I?" I say, yanking my arm away from him. I march up the stairs to the warp core platform, where I pretend to busily examine the readouts. I can still see Malcolm, out of the corner of my eye, standing there. Waiting for a response. He's getting on my nerves. Finally I turn to him.

"Is there anything else I can do for you, Lieutenant?" I ask.

Malcolm's eyes narrow. He opens his mouth, about to speak again, but after a furtive glance at the crewmen bustling around, closes it again. "No, sir. "

It's pretty obvious by the hard line of his mouth that I've pissed him off, but I honest to god don't care. He just doesn't understand. I'm not jumping to some willy-nilly conclusion about Lizzie. He doesn't know Lizzie. Or me, for that fact. I've spent the last three weeks trying to convince myself she must have been out of town. Pretty little Lizzie, all grown up and traveling to big cities doing her architect thing. She travels all the time, so of course, she must have been checking out that site in Paris, or visiting her colleagues in LA. And Florida's a big state. Could have been any part that got hit. So I waited to hear from her, checking my messages every hour of every day. But the days went gone by and there was nothing, not a peep. I left messages with friends, relatives, coworkers, anyone I could think of but each response came back negative.

So now I have to face the truth. She's gone. Dead and gone. My little baby sister, who I promised to always take care of.

***

I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I can't stop reliving that moment. It runs through my head, over and over again, and it's like I'm there for real. In that damn senior staff meeting, waiting for Jonathan, wondering what's up. And Jonathan marching right on in and telling us bluntly that there was an attack on earth. From Florida to Venezuela, he said. Florida. When I heard the word the room spun and I swore I was in one of those damn funhouses Liz and used to go to when we were kids. Only this time I'm still waiting to get to the room with the funny mirrors.

My comm is chirping at me, interrupting my thoughts but I'm too comfortable and don't feel like moving. I just want to ignore it. But that wouldn't be right. I pull it out of my pocket with clumsy fingers, and finally open it up

"Tucker here," I announce, my head still resting on the pillow.

"Mr. Tucker, " Even though the tinny speaker I can tell it's Jonathan. "It's dinner time," he informs me. "T'Pol and I are waiting on you."

Dinner. I feel nauseous just at the thought of it. "Don't bother, Cap'n. I, uh, grabbed something earlier," I lie blandly. "Got my hands full here anyway. Goin' over reports…" My voice trails off, because I've run out of energy and I know Jonathan doesn't believe a word of it anyhow. I'm just not hungry, and the thought of making idle dinner conversion fills me with dread for some reason.

The line is silent for a moment, and I can imagine the two of them exchanging knowing glances. "All right, Trip. I'll have the chef put something aside for you just in case. You might get hungry later. "

"Yeah." I can't think of what else to say. "Thanks," I add a beat later, then snap the comm shut. I examine the small device for a moment, so sleek and shiny, then toss it over to my desk. It slides across the slick surface, ricochets off a pad and falls to the floor. I contemplate it for a time, and decide against picking it up, because that would involve getting out of bed. I have a ceiling to stare at. And a moment in time to relive.

Some time later the door chime wakes me. "Yeah, c'mon in," I mumble, rubbing my face. I didn't expect to fall asleep. I figure got to be Jonathan, since he's been hovering over me lately, getting on my nerves to be honest. But no, it's Malcolm. I don't know what time it is but he's in his civvies, so it must be late in the evening.

"Hello, Trip," he says, coming right on in and sitting on the edge of my bed. Uninvited.

I stare up at him, not bothering to raise my head from the pillow. "Listen, Malcolm, I'm really not in the mood. I have a headache."

He rolls his eyes. "Don't be a bloody idiot, Trip. I'm not here for sex. I just wanted to talk."

"Fine." I roll over onto my side, so I don't have to see his eyes, they way they look right into me. "I'm not in the mood for that, either."

Malcolm touches my shoulder, squeezes it, and then just rests his hand there. His touch used to excite me, used to get me so hungry and hard that I'd be all over him in an instant. Like I'd lose my mind if I didn't make love to him. I'd want him so badly that I'd willingly put up with all of his damn fool rules and regulations. But that was another time, and it must have been another Trip. Because I can't remember how it felt to be that horny, to roll around in bed with Malcolm like that. To be so hot and bothered that I'd wrap my legs around his waist and beg him to fuck me. I can see it in my mind's eye, almost like I was watching a dirty movie. But I can't feel it.

"We're only five days from earth," Malcolm is saying. "I wanted to let you know that I asked the captain for permission for us to visit the site. He said he'd put in the request."

I sigh and curl myself up into a ball. It's kind of chilly in here. "I don't really see the point."

He has a hell of a lot of nerve going ahead and doing that without my knowledge. I should be pissed, I should tell him to mind his own fucking business, but I can't dredge up enough energy to so.

"I think you need to see it," he insists.

Now ain't that a laugh. "Since when do you know what I need?" I ask.

"What? Oh lord. Trip, come now. I thought we had an agreement. I thought we were—"

I unwind my body and flip over to look at him. "What, Malcolm. Tell me, what were we?"

He gets quiet after that, folding his arms across his chest, mouth pursed. Then he nods. "Right then." He stands up. "Sorry I woke you."

I stare at the door for a long time after it closes. For some reason my room suddenly feels empty and cold, and as vast as space.

***

The wind blows all around us as I stare in shock. I can't be seeing this. We must be in the wrong place. No way can this be my home. Because there's nothing. More nothing than I've ever seen in my life. It just can't be.

"I'm so sorry," Malcolm says quietly as he gazes out into the distance.

I check my GPS, then point to the north, my hand shaking. "The house was over there. Less than a kilometer. See over there?" I point to the empty space just to the east. "That was the old movie theater. When we were kids, if I didn't take my sister with me, she'd scream like a banshee." Not to mention she'd scream like a banshee when I did, because I always went to see some real scary horror movie or another. I still remember the astonished look on her face when she finally caught on that I was screaming right along with her.

"You're certain now she was here when it happened?" he asks.

My chest feels real tight, like my body's caught in a giant's fist. "Someone would have heard from her by now if she wasn't," I said, for the hundredth time.

"I'm sorry," he says. "Careful, Trip—"

I'm standing at the edge of the cliff, trying to see more of the nothing. Nothing, not even ashes. Malcolm tugs at my elbow and I let him lead me away from the edge. "How could anyone do this?" I ask as we stumble over the rough ground. "Seven million folks, gone, just like that?" I snap my fingers. "Because of something that might happen in the future? They have to make this big empty spot in the earth? What gives them the right to do this? I hope the cap'n gets permission for us to pay a visit to these guys. Because they are going to be sorry they ever laid eyes on our planet."

***

The steak is just the way I like it, charred on the outside, but with bloody juice oozing out from the inside. I stare at it, sickened by the sight. I think about those Vulcans who came out of the Deliphic Expanse, the ones that were all opened up and turned inside out. I push the steak aside in disgust and toy with my mashed potatoes instead.

"So how is our Lieutenant Reed coping with General Casey and his troupes?" Jonathan asks me as he slices into his steak with gusto.

I shrug. "Beats me, Cap'n." I glance up to see him looking surprised, fork frozen in midair.

"Oh." Jonathan pauses, then says, "I thought you and he were—"

"What? Screwin' each other? Not any more."

"Trip—" He winces, as if my rough language actual hurt him.

"Because that's all it was, you know. Two guys workin' together who would get off together every once in a while," I tell him, startling myself with my tone of voice.

Jonathan frowns and shakes his head as he puts his fork down. "Trip, you know it was more than that. You told me so yourself. You cared a great deal for him."

"Maybe I did once. But not anymore. I can't be distracted from my duty by things like that no more." I shove my plate aside. My duty now is to go and kick the ass of those god damn aliens, for Lizzie's sake. To make understand just what humans are capable of, one we get riled up.

Jonathan reaches across the table and pushes my plate back in front of me. I start to protest but he gives me that look, the one that says he's the captain and I'm not. So I go back to the mashed potatoes, since it the only thing on the plate that looks even vaguely palatable. Those peas—no. Too green. And round. For some reason that really bothers me.

"And what does Malcolm say about that?" Jon asks.

"About what?" I say through a mouthful of mashed potatoes, even though I know perfectly well what he's talking about. "About not wanting to see him anymore," Jon says patiently.

"Beats me," I say, after I swallow. For just second I'm sure it's going to come right back up, but then my stomach settles. "But anyway," I wave a forkful of potato at him, "anyway, he always made it clear to me that we weren't an item, that it wasn't a real relationship. Hell, he wouldn't even sit next to me at the movies because someone might get to thinkin' we were."

"He's a very private man, Trip. But it's obvious he still really cares about you. He went to the blast sight in Florida with you. He was the one who asked for permission to—"

"The hell with him," I snap. I can't to listen to Jonathan extol the virtues of Malcolm for one more minute. So I push my chair back and rise from the table. "If you'll excuse me, Cap'n, I have an engine to tend to."

Jonathan watches me leave. Despite my rudeness I can tell that he's not even mad at me. All I can see that damn concerned look on his face, the one that everyone seems to have lately when they look at me. I wish they'd all leave me alone.

Especially Malcolm. Every time I turn around, there he is. Talking to me. Asking me how I'm doing. Looking me up and down, then suggesting we stop at the mess for snack. He doesn't seem to understand that I don't need him. I'm doing just fine without him.

THE PRESENT

He follows me down the hallway, of course. Finally I spin around and face him.

"Didn't you hear me? Or maybe you don't understand English—"

He cuts me off in mid sentence, which really bugs the hell out me. "Trip, why the hell are you shutting everyone out like this? Why won't you even bloody talk to me? "

He's speaking so softly, so calmly, like he's oh so much more reasonable than I am. Like I've got the corner on the market when it comes to being impetuous. "I said let it alone," I repeat to him, enunciating carefully, as if speaking to a little kid. "Go play with your photonic torpedoes, Lieutenant. That's an order." I poke his chest with my finger as I say it, just to be really obnoxious.

And it works. Malcolm grabs my wrist, eyes glaring, angry now. "If that's how you want it to be, Commander, I will leave you the hell alone."

Oh. How dare he even—"No, that's how you want it to be. And don't even try to deny it. Alone. Dammit Malcolm, you always left me alone. In the middle of the goddamn night. You always had to sneak off, just in case, oh my god, someone might figure out you had actually had thing going with the ship's chief engineer. 'Cause that would be such a god damn shameful thing to admit to."

His jaw literally drops, and if I weren't so pissed off it would have been funny.

"You never cared enough to want to wake up next to me, did you?" I demand.

"Trip, hold it, you don't understand, I was—"

"Did you?" I ask again, almost shouting at him. "Did you care at all? Or were you just so ashamed of bein' with me you couldn't stand anyone else knowin' about us?"

I wait for an answer, staring at him. Part of me can't believe we are doing this, right here, in the middle of the busy corridor, of all places. A crewman slips past us, moving quickly, looking down as he goes by. Pretending that he doesn't notice a thing.

"Did you?" I ask one more time, quieter now. "Did you care?"

"I didn't want to," Malcolm finally admits. His eyes meet mine. "It's wasn't right. Wasn't appropriate. But—"

"Well then, you're absolutely right. It's not appropriate. So let's just get on with our lives, Mr. Reed. We have plenty of work to do before we get to the Expanse." I tell him, trying to keep my voice steady. None of it mattered anymore, I told myself as I headed for the lift. It is over between us, whatever the hell it was that we had.

As I walk away I hear him tell me, "I was never ashamed, Trip. Far from it."

But I don't turn around.

***

Her wet hair hangs down in her face, but I can still see her laughing blue eyes. She's only ten years old here, but there are signs of the beautiful young woman she would grow into—strong cheekbones, wide, smiling mouth, pert nose. Pale skin that wouldn't tan worth a darn. I smile back at her.

Then I hear the sound of my door opening behind me. "Good evening, Trip," Malcolm says as he enters my room.

"Malcolm," I sigh. "What the hell is with you? Can't you take no for an answer? There's a reason why I didn't answer my door. I don't want to talk to you."

"And there's a reason why I used my security code," he answers. "Because I believe need to talk."

"Ain't that just dandy," I say. "I think this is what folks call an 'impasse'. Now please leave."

But he doesn't leave. Instead he pulls up a chair and sits himself right next to me, gazing at the picture on my screen. "Lizzie," he states.

I nod. "Yup. Old picture though. On vacation, at the beach. Seemed like we spend half our lives swimmin' in the ocean." I stop, annoyed that I've said so much to him. Because I don't want to talk. Not to him.

"Who's that scrawny child next to her?" he asks.

I turn to look at him, about to tell him to get the hell out of my face. But I can't, the words stick in throat when I see his face, see that faint twinkle in his eye. I abruptly flash back to being in bed with him, his strong hands on my body, the sound of his laughter as we tumble around, trying to undress each other at the same time.

"Is that—wait," Malcolm looks to the screen, then back at me. "That's you, isn't it. How very charming." he continues. "Have you a more recent image of her?"

Reluctantly, I flip to the next page. "She's 'bout seventeen here," I explain. "Goin' to her high school prom." It's one of my favorites pictures of her. She's sticking her tongue out at the camera, her blond hair flowing down past her shoulders. She's wearing a lavender gown—no, wait, mauve, as she so carefully pointed out to me—with these sparkly threads running through it. I had told her she looked like a fairy princess in it, and she promptly put her hand to my forehead and called for Ma, announcing that I must be delirious with fever.

"Lovely," Malcolm says. "And unmistakably Tucker. Show me more, if you don't mind."

I couldn't help myself. I displayed for him nearly every damn image in the album. Lizzie and me on the beach, her laughing at me as I try to wrap her up in a brightly blue towel, because all she was wearing was this little bikini. Really, she was way too young to go around hardly dressed like that. Boys were noticing.

Lizzie at college, Lizzie at graduation, standing proudly in her cap and gown. I was so proud of her. Lizzie in front of the first building she ever designed, a tall, soaring structure, all bright white with clean, graceful lines. Her hair is shorter in the picture, cut close to her head in a way that made her eyes look enormous. I like the way she's standing, her arms are flung out, presenting the building to whoever was taking the picture. I can't even remember who it was. I was up on Jupiter station at the time, wishing I could have been there for her. She looks happy in the picture, though, happy, smug, and more than just a little tired. I thought it was a gorgeous building, even though I told her it looked just the real big sandcastles we used to build.

Pictures aren't enough, though. They can't really capture who Liz really is. There's so much more her Liz than just what she looks like. To really understand her beauty and intelligence you have to see her, hear her voice, watch her move. So I pull up her last communication, dated about a month before the attack, and play it for Malcolm. And for myself, I suppose.

Liz leans into the vid camera, rocking back and forth, all lively, like she just might burst out of her chair if she's not careful. She skips from one subject to another, then stops herself with a burst of laughter, rubbing her hand across her short, rumbled hair. Apologizing for her scattered thoughts. Things are so hectic, she explains. She's taking on a big new project, a museum in Georgia, and meanwhile just put the finishing touches on her new home office, so much more room than that awful studio she used to use in town. She gets kind of quiet next, telling me how she looks up at the stars every night, waving, imagining that she can see Enterprise making it's way across the galaxy. She tells me how much she misses me, that she worries about me, and that she can't wait till I get back home again. She blows me a kiss. Then the screen goes blank.

"Bye Lizzie," I whisper. My eyes are wet.

"She's marvelous, Trip," Malcolm tells me.

I had forgotten he was there "Yeah," I say, blinking rapidly. "She was really something."

"Thank you for sharing her with me. I wish I could have met her."

"Malcolm, " I say, facing him now. I think maybe his eyes are leaking a little bit too. "She's gone. She's really gone. I'm never gonna see her again." My voice catches. "My baby sister."

He nods sadly. "I'm so sorry. I know—if it had been my sister." He shrugs. "I don't know what I would do."

I lean my head on his shoulder, my heart hurting so much I'm sure it's going to break. Malcolm puts his arms around me and holds me. And keeps on holding me, for a long, long time.

***

Milk. That's supposed to help you sleep. I rub my itchy, burning eyes as the glass fills. I notice I'm not the only one up. There are plenty of folks hanging out here in the mess, even though it's the wee hours of the morning. And they're not doing the third shift or anything. Nobody is really talking much, they're just sitting there, tired faces, eating or drinking as they poke at their datapadds. They're all on edge, I realize. I had been so caught up in my own grief that I hadn't noticed the effect the pending mission was having on everyone. The level tension is getting higher the closer we get to this mysterious Expanse.

Me, I can't wait to get there. I'm ready to do some serious butt-kicking when we arrive. We still have over a month to go. It feels like forever, though. I'm more than ready to make them pay for Lizzie's death. Her murder. Because that's what it was. Murder. Seven million people murdered by these Xindi.

But I'm not going to be able to do anyone any good if I can't sleep. Goddamn nightmares. I contemplate going to see Phlox for some meds, but dismiss the idea right away. I can handle this myself. I pick up the glass, trying to hold it steady as I raise it to my lips.

"Oh, hello, Commander." Malcolm's crisp voice greets me. I turn to see him entering the room.

"Lieutenant," I nod in response. We're so damn polite to one another now. "Late night?" I can see some of the crew starting to look up. Probably hoping they are going to get another show.

"Just working a little late, sir. Going over some specs." He looks me over carefully, his face softening. "Trip, you look like hell."

"Thank you kindly." I am being sarcastic, but I couldn't help noticing that he pretty much looked all right. Actually more than all right. He looks good in his tight teeshirt and loose, baggy sweats. He has a lot of nerve, coming in here looking that good.

"Are you all right? You haven't been sleeping at all, have you?"

"No, not really," I admit. I wonder why he cares but I'm too exhausted to even bother with a smartassed reply.

Malcolm notices the omission and begins to look even more concerned. "Trip," he starts, then sighs. "All right. I confess. I wasn't working. I couldn't sleep either. Went to your quarters, but you weren't there so I came looking here."

"Yeah, now you've found me. Now what do you want, Malcolm?"

"To apologize."

I frown, momentarily confused. This is a new one. "For what?"

He takes a deep breath. "For treating you as I did. For leaving during the night. For not sitting next to you in the movies. I didn't know—I didn't realize that was so important to you."

I shake my head. I don't want to hear this, not now. But he gets right up into my face, tugging at my sleeve. "I didn't want to get involved, Trip," he tells me. "Emotionally. I told myself that this was an important mission, and that I didn't want to lose my objectivity. I held back. I couldn't let myself care about you." I want to step away from him but I can't seem to make my legs work. "Oh," I say, "So you could suck my dick and lick my ass but it didn't mean anything?" I make sure at least half the room hears it. Which isn't hard, because the room is getting real quiet. "Isn't that special?" I'm being crude but my heart is beating faster, just because he's in the room with me. Because I can smell him standing so close to me. Because I can remember how good his naked body feels against mine.

And that just really bugs the hell out of me.

"Didn't quite work out that way," Malcolm tells me calmly.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Malcolm, Because I've come to the conclusion that you're right. We have some mighty big battles in our future, and we shouldn't be—" I searched for the right word. "Fraternizing." I finish with a flourish, waving my glass of milk, slopping some onto the floor.

"Pity. Because I've come to realize—" he hesitates, looks at the wet spot on the floor, then back up at me. "After what has happened—I've concluded that life is so very fragile. It's a gift, not to be squandered. As is love. It's all too easy to lose one another."

His words slowly sink into my thick skull. "Love?" I ask weakly.

"Yes. Love. As in I love you," he says, his voice loud and clear.

I just stare at him, stupidly. "Oh." The room is spinning around, just like in that damn funhouse, I think maybe I've just found the room with the crazy mirrors. Because this can't be Malcolm, standing right in front of me, telling me and everyone else in the room that he loves me.

He tilts his head to one side, waiting.

At last I find my voice. "I think I like your conclusion a whole lot better than mine."

He steps closer, reaches his arms out and takes my head in his hands. "I thought you'd see it my way," he murmurs just before kissing me. As I kiss him back, I swear I can hear Lizzie's laughter. She always did like a happy ending.

EPILOGUE

My alarm is going off, dragging me reluctantly out of a deep sleep. Damn it. I try to move but I'm all tangled up in something. Something warm and alive and breathing.

"Malcolm?" I ask, blinking in surprise.

He mumbles something into my neck.

"Hey, Malcolm," I say, nuzzling the top of his head. "You forgot to leave."

He snorts, and then nips my neck.

"Goodness gracious, what will people say?" I exclaim with mock concern. "Folks just might get to thinkin'—"

Malcolm stops my words with a kiss. "You're a bloody pain in the arse, you know that?" he growls.

"You know it better than anyone, darlin'." I kiss him soundly, and for the first time in what feels like forever, I get a warm, tingly feeling deep down in my groin. He smells so good, that indescribable Malcolm smell that speaks of warmth, comfort and sex. Scorching hot sex. I slip my hands beneath his teeshirt to caress his back, and his skin is as soft and sexy as I remembered it. And all at once I want him, I need him. My body is alive and on fire for him, for Malcolm, for this man who loves me, who even told a whole roomful of sleepy crewmembers so.

I roll him on top of him, and he sighs with pleasure as our body and our groins come together. Propping myself up on my arms, I look at him, amazed at what I've got. What I nearly lost. What I may lose in the future.

I stare at him until his nudges me with his hips. "Well, come on now, surely you remember how to do it," he teases.

I laugh as I push up his shirt and get down to business.

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