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Amaranthine

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The Mess Hall is quite crowded this evening, Hoshi thought as she looked up from reviewing the report she wanted to hand in to the captain the next morning. Several crewmen sat at tables sharing dinner with their friends and bunkmates. Hoshi had chosen to sit alone, taking the evening to enjoy a bit of passive interaction by watching the crew and listening to bits and pieces of their dialogues. However, if any of her friends showed up, she definitely wouldn't mind having a cheerful conversation herself. 

Her mind wandered as she thought of the busy week past this evening and the one ahead. Enterprise was about to drop off numerous crewmen for shore leave at home, but Earth wouldn't be in reach within the next six days and until then there were plenty of things that needed to be done. Was there ever a time Enterprise needed nothing to be doneIf it was repairs, medical examinations or training sessions - whenever the ship didn't pick up a distress call or found yet another planet to discover, the senior staff would simply find something else to keep their department occupied for the meantime. No time for a lot of privacy and personal relationships. 

Occasionally, there were moments she'd bet she'd seen rather personal interactions among her friends - certainly, a few relationships had settled among the crew during the past four years, but none seemed to have developed among the senior officers. Now, Hoshi wasn't entirely sure anymore. 

She was nobody to ask about the most recent gossip but with eyes and ears almost everywhere on the ship due to several friendships she had developed, she was almost always up to date - and there was for sure no harm in being a bit curious, was there? Nonobody will hear anything from me. Sipping her mint tea, she remembered what a friend down in the Armory had told her about a conversation between Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed almost three years ago. Funny how memories always come up at unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways. 

After Enterprise got attacked by an unknown species and being left in the dire need of a few repairs, Archer had set course towards Jupiter Station, aiming at extending the weaponry on his ship. Enterprise was meant to have three phase canons aboard which were, due to their early departure, not installed by September 2151. The whole incident had everyone caught up in work for the rest of their flight to Jupiter Station, leading to a rather capricious cooperation between Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed. 

"Have you still got those guns of yours hooked up to the impulse engines?" the Commander asked approaching the Armory Officer in Canon port one. 

"I'm just disconnecting them now." Reed answered without hesitation, determined to let actions follow his words. 

"Hang on a minute." Trip's sudden objection forced Malcolm to stop and look up at him. "You're sure this'll work?" A determined short nod was followed by Reed's response given with absolute certainty, prohibiting Trip's earlier doubts.

" Yes, Commander, I am."

"Then based on the recommendation of the Armory Officer, the Chief Engineer finds the level of risk acceptable." Trip smiled cautiously, trying to keep his authority visible after all.

"In that case, if the Chief Engineer wouldn't mind getting his hands dirty, I could use some help."

Hoshi remembered the crewman who had secretly listened to the dialogue between his superior officer and the Chief Engineer say that it was much more the tone than the words alone that implied a certain intimacy between the two men. Of course, this was not entirely clear, but she had more than enough evidence for her assumption. A thought struck her mind as she looked out of the window at the passing stars looking like oddly colored lines at warp 3. In November 2151, Tucker and Reed had been surrounded by an ocean of stars in the belief of dying in Shuttlepod One. Hoshi could barely imagine the thoughts and emotions that must have come upon the two men. Although, she had to admit to herself, I did get a brief insight into their thoughts, didn't I? 

Captain Archer he demanded her to check the log records and to her surprise, there was far more materiel than probably even her two friends had known. She had checked the entries, identifying a few as letters and an explanation of the circumstances Reed and Tucker had faced. The further material, however, seemed to be rather unplanned - she quickly had figured that Lieutenant Reed had simply forgotten about the recording at some point and since the small vessel was severely damaged, a malfunction had caused the computer to leave the recording soundless and therefore unnoticed. Hoshi had found a few dialogues due to that malfunction that she didn't share with anyone regarding the fact that they were not of any need or interest for the captain. Besides, the commander and the lieutenant were probably thankful not having their conversations spread. Certainly, there had been difficult situations.

"What's your problem with having a little hope?" The commander had asked, rather cranky.

"What's your problem with facing the truth?" Reed responded with a question, simply emphasizing what he had been certain of the past hours, the logs and letters were evidence enough to clarify his position. Clearly, Tucker didn't share his opinion on that aspect (if ever).

"You're a regular grim reaper, Malcolm. Anyone ever tell you that? Well, if this little trip is a death sentence, then it would seem to me we're entitled to a last meal. What'll it be? I'm afraid our selection is somewhat limited."

"I'm not hungry." A clinking sound followed Lieutenant Reed's brief response.

"Well, then how about a drink?"

"I don't drink on duty."

"Are you serious? We're dead men, remember?" Now it was Trip's turn on saying out loud what Malcolm had been thinking all along, but he was still far from letting it hit him. "What's the matter, Lieutenant? Are you afraid the autopsy will show your blood-alcohol level was too high to pilot a shuttle?" The noises that could be heard through the recording were questionable, but Hoshi guessed that somebody took glasses and filled them with leftover Bourbon. "Live a little. That's an order." Another awkward sound was recognizable, followed by Reed's rough, doubtful voice.

"Do you really think that's going to provide any heat?" 

"The bourbon'll provide the heat. The candle's just for mood." 

The mood, Hoshi had thought. More like candlelight dinner with old Kentucky Bourbon, huh? She knew after all that the mood the Chief Engineer had mentioned was far from romantic, but there was for sure something in his voice, even hidden under the melancholy, that added to her assumptions. 

Another memory flashed through her mind, also from those records she had listened to. Something she knew was probably one of the most emotional and intense moments she'd ever get from her friends, especially from Malcolm who was after all distanced from the few who he considered his friends. 

The communication panel released a few clicking sounds as if something - or, more likely somebody - was trying to speak to them without actually sending a word. 

"It's probably nothing, right?" Lieutenant Reed had said, although a certain curiosity was recognizable in his voice. A rushing and uncontrolled rustling followed a moment of silence.

"It's definitely not nothing." It was Trip who seemed to be a lot closer to the comm panel as much as the recording.

"Well then, that means it's something. What is it? Well, is it something or someone, because if it's someone-"

"Shush!"

"Sorry." A moment of brief silence followed the Lieutenant's muttered apology before Tucker spoke again.

"Definitely someone."

"We have no way to respond, do we? This is like the plane flying over the desert island in a lost-at-sea movie."

"Malcolm!"

"Sorry. Happy endings. I must think happy endings." 

Right, happy endings...If only Malcolm had known just what a happy ending they were about to get! A broad smile crossed Hoshi's face as she remembered how this horror trip had ended for both of the men. For sure, hypothermia was close to killing them, but Enterprise had found them in just the right time for a complete recovery. When Reed awoke as the first to do so, the captain had assured him they'd both be fine again if they'd rest - Commander Tucker was, according to a crewman who had just been on duty, fast asleep. Crewman Novakovich had also told her he had heard the lieutenant talk to Commander Tucker probably thinking it'd not be overheard by anyone. 

"Trip? Mind if I call you Trip? Sleep well, my friend." 

Friend, for sure! Hoshi thought as she emptied her mug, standing. She was certain that by that time, neither of the men had been aware of the feelings she assumed they were having. But, she added in thoughts, they had plenty of time to notice and I know about a lot more auspicious situations and conversations! 

Suddenly, Hoshi remembered how Victoria had once told her about a conversation she had overheard. Hoshi always wondered how her friend was so lucky to gain all that information every time something was going on between the two senior officers. Lucky me…she thought.

It was late when Trip and Malcolm were the last to stay from Beta Shift, Gamma Shift was done by Lieutenant Hess. Reed and Tucker were working on purging a clogged injector assembly. Main Engineering was quiet, there were not a lot of things going on – luckily. Victoria couldn’t help but listen to her C.O. and the Armory Officer.

“Damn this stupid-“ Commander Tucker sighed when a cloud of steam and smoke escaped the injectors.

“I am not going to ask how you managed this…” Reed stared at the forming cotton-like clouds. “You know, Trip, I certainly know a way this’d work better.”

“You do?” The Chief Engineer raised his glance, puzzled, strained. He looked terribly tired and lost. Victoria watched the two older men interact. There was nothing else going on anyway.

“Why don’t you just massage it with your magic fingers?” Lieutenant Hess was both, confused and delighted. It was rare to hear the Armory Officer tease his friend in front of other people, especially when they were still on duty. This was something she definitely had to tell Hoshi.

That Victoria had done and Hoshi was quite thankful. She was sure the both men were a lot closer than they’d ever admit. She knew and someday, they would show it.

Though, she was willing to give it a rest for tonight. 

*

"Commander!" Trip looked up from the console he had approached to check the matter antimatter reaction, making sure his lady was running smoothly. At this late hour, he didn't expect anybody to talk to him - More likely had most of his own crew left, being relieved by only few crewmen taking the Gamma Shift that night. Lieutenant Reed made his way, rather stiff but quickly.

"Lieutenant?"

"May I have a word with you, Commander?"

"Sure." Trip checked the console once more before leading the Armory Officer into a quiet corner of Main Engineering. "What can I do for you, Lieutenant?"

"I am certain the captain told you about the-" Reed thought of a nicer way to put it, trying not to show his discomfort with the captain's decision. "- General overhaul of the systems?"

"He did."

"May I speak frankly, sir?"

"Go ahead."

"I would be a lot calmer about this overhaul if we would have our departments check the possible risks and changes arising from it beforehand. We have six days left and I am convinced that Captain Archer would allow us a complete insight into the new system's database."

"He would, probably. And I do understand your concerns, Lieutenant. I'll see what I can do at breakfast tomorrow morning." The Armory Officer nodded with the glimpse of a smile, knowing that Trip was invited into the Captain's Mess for the next morning. Curious at Reed not moving to leave Main Engineering, Tucker looked at him once more.

"Was there something else you'd like to talk about, Lieutenant?"

"Yes. There was." Lieutenant Reed looked at his shoes, trying to figure out whether he should have asked Trip rather off duty but concluded that, technically, they weren't on duty anymore either. 

"Mind telling me?"

"I was just...wondering if you were up for dinner tomorrow."

"I see. Dinner sounds good, Malcolm. I'd like that."

"So, you're not busy in the evening? Schedule clear?" Commander Tucker was unsure where this conversation was heading but curious enough to let Reed take the lead of it. 

"I'm free at 1900."

"What about dinner at 1930 then? That'd leave about an hour until they're running the film..."

"Malcolm, are you suggesting to spend the evening watching an old-fashioned Sci-Fi classic?" Trip couldn't hide the smile he had felt coming due to his friend's rather nervous, almost shy behavior. He knew the man as the stiff and straight-forward though never impolite Tactical Officer who could have been the prime example for military. Of course, throughout the past four years they had served on Enterprise, he had also gotten to see bits and pieces of Malcolm Reed, the man behind the military facade. Still, every time the curtain opened up, Trip was surprised. 

"I guess I am, Trip..."

"You wouldn't like to spend the evening another way, say, with a proper candlelight dinner?" Reed looked up at the Chief Engineer, eyes wide and Trip would bet he could see the hint of a blush on the Armory Officer's cheeks. As Reed hadn't said a word even a few moments later, Trip broke the silence again. "We could, of course, spend our evening watching an old-fashioned Sci-Fi classic, I wouldn't mind, just-"

"No! Honestly, I didn't have proper dinner in ages, actually. I'd appreciate that."

"Great! I'll make sure that Chef keeps a table reserved for 1930."

"Good."

"Is it?"

"Very."

Neither of the men noticed that their rather private conversation was overheard by Lieutenant Hess who was part of the Gamma Shift crew - and a close friend of Hoshi Sato. 

**   

Archer sat on the chair in front of his computer, rereading the message he had received from Admiral Leonard featuring general commands and reports from Starfleet along with an overview of the system's overhaul Enterprise was supposed to receive when they reached Earth. He was relieved to return to his own apartment and let others deal with the 'improvements' of his lady but a tiny voice in his head kept telling him it wasn't right to leave Enterprise in somebody else's hands. 

Porthos stood and let out a muffled bark.

"Yes, yes, I know. I know. Alright, let me just take a shower, will you?" Another muffled bark was the beagle's response before he laid down on his dog bed, waiting for his master to reappear. Archer had to smile at his companion's forced patience. He knew that Porthos was the only reason he didn't spend many nights sleepless reading reports and personnel files.  When his master entered the room fifteen minutes later, the beagle raised his head and waggled his tail. 

"Yes, I promise, I won't read the files once more. Come on up!" Jonathan sat down on his bunk and thumped on the blanket. Porthos padded over to him and jumped up on his master's bed joyfully. 

"I just wished somebody would stay aboard and have a cautious eye on the work they're planning to do." 

"Hmpf!"

"I know, I shouldn't be this suspicious. But think of it, old boy, you wouldn't want to leave your home renovated by foreign people, would you?"

"Mmf."

"See? But I promised the crew shore leave without any exceptions. After all, they definitely deserve it. Don't you think so?"

"Mrrf."

"I wonder if anybody would stay without any complaint if I asked. T'Pol didn't seem too keen on going back to Vulcan. On the other hand, I wouldn't like to ask her - she's always my first choice to have an eye on everything if it's not Trip."

"Hmurff!"

"I know. Don't tell me. But if I asked Malcolm, he wouldn't hesitate to follow my demand. He isn't likely to tell me if it wouldn't fit into his schedule...Leaving everything to him for three weeks and him only isn't alright either, is it?"

"Mppff!"

"Alright then, what if I asked someone to keep him company? Does that make it any better?" This time, the dog didn't respond with anything but a look of reproach. "Fine, I'll stop talking. Let's go get some sleep. I'll think about it tomorrow." Jonathan stood once again and turned off the light before laying down in his bunk. 

***

"Good morning!" Hoshi set down the datapad she had planned on reading during breakfast. 

"Morning, Victoria." she smiled at Lieutenant Hess who held a tray with scrambled egg and two slices of toast. 

"May I join you? You seemed busy reading."

"It's fine, take a seat." Hoshi nodded at the young engineer who sat down in the opposite chair. 

"So..." Hess took a bite from one of her toasts, taking a moment to start the conversation. "What were you reading?"

"Oh! It was just a...a novel Lieutenant Reed had recommended to me."

"Hoshi, you're probably the only ensign who'll ever get a book recommendation from Lieutenant Reed. You're also probably the only ensign who'll ever get any kind of recommendation from any senior officer!" Both of the women chuckled and Ensign Sato couldn't help but agree with the accuracy. Although...

"Travis might as well ask the lieutenant for an interesting lecture! After all, we simply spent more time with them than with the junior officers..." 

"Still, you don't get to hear as many private conversations as we do down in Engineering!" Victoria threw an auspicious glance at the Communication Officer, noticing the curiosity in her eyes. "Whatever I tell you, you didn't hear it from me! Deal?"

"Deal. Now tell me, please!" 

"Okay, so I heard Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker when I had Gamma Shift yesterday night. Apparently, they're having a date this evening, 1930 hours." Hess recounted what she had heard the two men say, stating once in a while that she was only guessing it could be a date from the intonation she had perceived. Hoshi knew; Reed and Tucker would never admit it, not even to themselves, even if it was. It was good news anyway, no matter which kind of feelings this dinner was based on. She was curious how they'd interact - there was no way she couldn't possibly find out because there was only the Mess Hall they could choose to dine and this was exactly where she'd be. That might get interesting! Hoshi thought, smiling to herself.

**

"So..." Lieutenant Reed took a bite from his roast beef, eyeing his counterpart curiously, unsure how to start a proper conversation. Even after years of knowing Trip it was anything but easy to speak to him as relaxed as the Commander was. "How did it go down in Engineering today?"

"Oh, c'mon, Malcolm! You can do better than that!" It was by no means an accusation, simply a reminder that being off duty and enjoying a candlelight dinner weren't supposed to bear the topic work.

"Alright. You're right. Did you talk to Captain Archer?"

"I guess you're referring to your request?" It was more of a statement than a question since Commander Tucker was certain he was right. "I did. He said he was even thankful if we checked on everything beforehand. Guess he doesn't like it either leaving everything in others' hands."

"I suppose." Trip raised his glance at the older man's brief reply, shaking his head with a gentle smile. Did I honestly expect him to be a bit more talkative? In fact, he knew the answer - he hadn't expected it, but he'd hoped so. Knowing he couldn't dig any further into his friend's safe castle if he wouldn't get the walls to crack, Trip tried another technique.

"The captain also mentioned that his-" He paused, thinking about the proper words. "- discomfort concerning Enterprise being left in others' hands for a while made him consider to ask somebody to stay aboard."

"Any idea who he was referring to as this somebody?" Relieved that the new technique had a seemingly positive effect on his friend, Trip continued recounting the situation at breakfast that morning.

"No, he didn't mention a name. But..." The Chief Engineer took a moment to look into Reed's curious eyes, carefully intending to hide another smile.

"But?"

"But I did tell him I wasn't exactly planning on visiting my family since they're all quite busy with the current harvest - they'd only be bothered if I were sticking 'round all the time."

"I hope you also told him that I wasn't intending to visit my family either!" Now, Tucker couldn't hide the grin anymore. Family was a topic Malcolm usually seemed to become grim about whenever it was mentioned, it was like playing with fire when one intently spoke about it around him. This time, luckily, it didn't seem to bother him at all.  

"I told him that I figured you weren't likely to plan anything in particular for shore leave. Thought I shouldn't go into detail." Malcolm nodded, somewhat thankful that the younger man left the matter only briefly discussed. After all, he didn't like sharing personal information, if it was with friends or with the captain.

"You...do know what that means, you and me most likely alone aboard Enterprise?"

"Movie nights, candlelight dinners and sleepovers?" joked Trip, chuckling a bit. Reed joined in in his muffled laughter at first but nodded slightly seconds later. 

"Sounds like a plan to me. We might even try to ask Chef if he can store a pecan pie for you." 

"We might as well ask Chef to leave some pineapple for you, too."

"Mhmm...Candlelight dinner, film night, a sleepover and dessert - I'm in!" 

Only a few tables away from the two men, Hoshi Sato smiled to herself at the interlude she had just perceived. She knew after all that her friends were mostly joking, but just witnessing the closeness between the two men - friendship status or not - was a pleasure for her. She was wondering how the three weeks aboard Enterprise all by themselves would benefit them.

*

Chapter Text

 It was early in the morning when Evander Graeme stepped into his office, taking a quick glance at today's schedule. He had ordered the whole crew to have another appointment with him before they'd reach Earth - without any exceptions. After all, the Brit had to hand in his psychological surveys to the Starfleet Command.
Better get prepared before the first session starts...Breakfast mightn't be bad either. He thought, leaving his office again and heading to the Mess Hall, a datapad with his first patient's personnel files and the notes he had taken during the last session in his left hand.

*

The doorbell chirped, announcing the arrival of Graeme's first patient.

“Come on in, Shaun.” The young Scotsman entered, fidgeting a bit. It was an image Evander knew very well, he saw it approximately once a week. “Want some tea?”

"Yes, thank you. Black tea would be great." Evander stood and went to the opposite bulkhead where his own drink dispenser stood, demanding two cups of tea. 

“Have a seat, Shaun.” The Doctor watched his patient carefully, noticing the insecurity that was beyond what he had ticked as common for Crewman Baird. “How's it been last week?”

“Quite alright, thank you.”

“No further incidents?” Shaun shook his head, reaching out to the cup of Black Tea Doctor Graeme gave him. “You weren't assigned to Alpha Shift that week, am I right?”

“Honestly, Eve, I was assigned to Gamma Shift all week.” Evander nodded understandingly, knowing that Gamma Shift was the easiest way for the Scotsman to escape his social anxiety. 

“Does anybody, apart from us, know about your anxiety?” The young man shook his head at first, stopping, remaining motionless for a brief moment, then shrugging slightly. “Mind explaining your gestures to me?”

 “I think Ian knows. Maybe Ethan, my bunkmate…And... Hoshi knows that I'm not completely okay because I asked her to assign me to Gamma Shift for the meantime...” Shaun sipped his tea, a thoughtful expression straining his facial features. “The captain might as well know, it's written in my medical files. I don't know if he checked them before Enterprise set off in first place...”

 “Alright. Ian. Do you think he knows or are you certain?” Evander noticed an oh-so-slight change in Shaun's demeanor - this frown, the sudden stiffness, it was all familiar to him. 

 “I think he does know. But I'm not sure. Y'know, Eve, he's seen me during a panic attack and he's been around me when I was freaking out because of Alpha Shift! I'm pretty sure he knows or, at least, guesses.”

 “Your relationship is still a good one, I suppose?”

 “Haven't seen him in two days. He's assigned to Beta Shift most of the time, there's barely any chance to see him. He's going off duty and to sleep when I'm about to go on duty.” A certain sadness in the young man's pale green eyes caught the Doctor's glance, leaving him in suspicion and curiosity. 

 “I bet you'd like to change that?”

 “Of course!”

 “Any plans for shore leave? You'll have a whole bunch of time.” Shaun hesitated but shook his head after an encouraging look from the psychiatrist. "None? Why don't you ask Ian if he's planning on doing anything in particular? Maybe you could join him!" Evander was careful with his suggestion, knowing well enough that Shaun Baird was that kind of a man that'd rather take two steps back than one forward if he fell back into his old stigma. 

 “I'd like that...”

 “I am certain he won't complain, hm? Was there something else you'd like to discuss today?”

 “No, thank you, Eve! With a bit of luck I might catch Ian for breakfast just now.” Relieved at the enthusiasm of his most frequent patient, Doctor Graeme stood and typed the results of their session into the datapad he had prepared. 

 “Just let me check this with you, I need your ‘okay’ on the review. We're at 'high level of social anxiety' after all, but I'm going to add 'therapy seems to have an auspicious effect on the patient'?”

 “Sounds good! Thank you once more, Eve. Also for the tea.”

 “Anytime.”

 **

Evander studied his schedule once more. Thirteen patients ahead - the last day of therapy sessions was by far the busiest one. He was confident that most of today's sessions would neither last long nor be extremely emotional. When he finished the examinations of the crew, he could start reviewing his psychological surveys; it'd leave him five more days, that should doubtlessly be enough. 

The Brit looked at the name of his next patient. Ah, Victoria...That shouldn't be one to worry about! In fact, Graeme hadn't taken many notes in their last session and that had also been a fair while ago. There were still twenty minutes left to review her personnel files so he'd be prepared for their session.

 ***

Lieutenant Hess made her way through the corridors of B Deck as she walked to Graeme's office. She hadn't known what to tell him when she heard the whole crew was supposed to see him before shore leave, but that changed just this morning. She knew what to tell Evander and she was certain it'd be a good conversation. Hess didn't hesitate before ringing the doorbell and entering immediately after Graeme's “Come in”. 

“Victoria, it's a pleasure to see you!”

“As if I had a choice!” The blonde woman joked, heading straight to the couch nearby. The psychiatrist smiled at her, noticing the humorous and honest atmosphere she immediately created.

“Would you like a cup of tea or shall I leave you alone?”

“I'd prefer a latté!”

“A latté it is, then.” Evander took a mug from a drawer and put it under the drink dispenser, ordering a latté and meanwhile taking his cup of tea from Shaun's session. “Do you have anything interesting to tell me about or shall I just write 'No psychological treatment required due to unquestionably good health of the patient'?” It was by no means an accusation, Victoria immediately noticed the cheerful tease Graeme was allowed to use on her from time to time.

“You can write that, but I do have something to tell you.”

“Now I'm curious! Go ahead, what's the update?” He sat in the armchair opposite her and leaned back, one hand around his mug, the other supporting his lightly tilted head. 

 “Family.”

 "Family update?”

 “In any imaginable way, yup.”

 “Enlighten me, Victoria, my imagination is slightly wasted for the moment.” Lieutenant Hess smiled gently, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her thighs, about to start an enumeration.

 “Okay, so, first: my brother-“

 “Anthony, is it?” A brief nod from the young woman.

 “He sent me a video recording from my family. Apparently, they have celebrated Anthony's wedding - his wife took his last name, so, family update number two!”

“Hold on. Are you telling me your beloved brother did NOT invite his little sister to his wedding? What a prat!” Victoria chuckled at the joked insult, knowing very well that Evander was nobody to become rude easily. 

 “They were in a rush, you know? Because, now, family update three: I'm an aunt! Jasmine and Anthony Hess are now proud parents of Louise, a sweet little girl of best health!”

 “Why, congratulations, Miss Hess, I am certain you will be a good aunt.” Victoria smiled, a grateful expression brightening her already shining blue eyes. This is it. This is what I'm working for, this is the greatest achievement in my career and God bless it every single time, Doctor Graeme thought, smiling, too. “I suppose you'll be visiting your family then?”

 “Yes, exactly! I was planning to do a road trip through Arizona in first place, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of time for that, too. I have to fulfill my duties as a sister and aunt, don't I?” 

 “Certainly! Honestly, Victoria. Not speaking as a psychiatrist, although I am fairly proud of my métier! Speaking as a friend, I am sure you'll do great.”

 “Thank you, Evander...”

 ****

 Being left with a lasting contentedness, Evander Graeme had a look at his next patient's files. He studied them carefully, reviewing the notes left from former sessions. 

 “I see...” he said aloud, his expression concerned, strained. “This won't be easy, I'd take a bet on that. I wonder...” but he didn't go on, lost in his train of thoughts.

 *****

 The chirrup of the door interrupted Doctor Graeme who was still sitting at his desk, reading the data he had collected over the past few weeks. Startled, he looked up, only slowly realizing what had caused the interruption.

 “Ah! Come in, Ethan, please.” The Science Division Crewman entered the room, dark circles underlining his remarkably pale face. “Take a seat, please. May I offer you a cup of tea?”

 “I'd be grateful for Tai Guan Yin.” Evander nodded, typing in the command and ordering another cup of Green tea for himself. 

 “Sleepless night, I suppose?”

 “Was haunted by nightmares. Even with Phlox's hypospray.” A soundless yawn stressed the Crewman's words and Doctor Graeme smiled emphatically in response. 

 “I guess that is what you'd like to talk about today?”

 “I guess...If only talking would do the trick. I'm barely capable of concentrating on work, I really have no clue how everyone who had lost family during the Xindi attack survived the weeks afterwards...” Ethan let out a frustrated sigh, remembering many of his friends suffering from insomnia and nightmares after they had lost families in the attack about a year earlier. They hadn't stopped working and he understood the logic behind it but, unlike them, he couldn't help it but fall into a deep black hole.

 “Ethan, if talking would do the trick, people would listen more carefully to one another, wars would have been prevented and humans probably wouldn't be the same they are today...” Evander chose his words carefully before going on. It was always a thin line between hitting the core of the problem and activating the alarm bells in his patient's head. “However, losing somebody close is always a traumatic experience. It will last, time won't eventually erase the feelings, but trust me, they will fade. Now, do you mind telling me what this dream has been about?” 

 Ethan sighed once more, placing his hands on either side of his thighs on the edge of the couch, stemming his weight on one hand at first, then on the other. “I was at the Central Park at home...With Mom, Dad and Auntie Nora.”

 “Go on.”

 “As a child, I used to take a run to the lions, you know? Nora always rushed to me, I was simply waiting for her...I remembered. I-I mean, in the dream. Six-year-old me, running to the lions in midwinter, waiting for Auntie Nora. But-" A soundless sob escaped Ethan's mouth, before he finished his sentence. "But she wasn't going to come. She'll never come back and I know...I just didn't-” Another sob, this time uncontrollable and soundly. 

 “You didn't process it yet, I see. Look, Ethan, she isn't long gone yet, it'll take time until you can perorate with this incident.”

 “Just...How long?”

 “A week, A month. A year. Two years. I can't tell, Ethan, it differs from each person to another. It took me almost five years until I could stop crying over my parents' death.” Ethan looked up at him, tears wetting his face, reddening his eyes. 

 “I'm sorry...Doc...I-I didn't-...Didn't know your parents were-“

 “It's fine. Barely anyone does. It's no pleasant topic after all, is it? But I'm fine talking about it. Tell me, are you going to visit your family?”

 “I'm...not sure.” Crewman Novakovich had shaken off the worst and his voice steadied. “I don't know if that is what I need...”

 “You seem to be a family person, I think it'd definitely help you cope with the loss. It is your decision after all, I can only serve with my professional experience...” The New Yorker nodded briefly, sniffing once more before getting to his feet. “Ask Doctor Phlox for a stronger medication just until we reach Earth. I trust you to use it properly.” There was a certain warning tone in his voice as Evander spoke. Ethan nodded at him, smiling weakly, but a shimmer of hope grew stronger in the Crewman's hazel eyes. 

 “Thank you, Doc...”

 ******

 It was 1000 hours the next time Doctor Graeme had a look at the chronometer on his desk. Time for a quick walk! His next patient would be Lieutenant Reed, always on time, assumingly, but that would be in another fifteen minutes. Evander stepped out of his office, smiling at the passing crewmen.
It had taken most of the crew quite a while until they had accepted the psychiatrist aboard. Starfleet had demanded Captain Archer to choose a psychiatrist right after the whole incident with the Xindi and Enterprise’s flight through the expanse in 2153. Certainly, the crew had needed psychological examinations after they had lost family and friends in the attacks on Earth. Now, the calm, friendly man from Guernsey was a welcomed conversational partner.

 “Good morning, Doc!”

 “Good morning.” He nodded at a crewman, then smiled at another passing crewmember. He really did feel welcome.

 *******

 Malcolm hesitated to reach out to the panel next to the office door. After all, he didn’t like to talk about anything personal – especially not with someone he didn’t consider his friend. Wouldn’t it have been necessary to show up to the appointment, he certainly wouldn’t have gone. The lieutenant was about to turn around again when the familiar voice approached him.

 “Come on in, lieutenant. I can see you from here.” Reed hissed, taking another deep breath before he took a step into the office.

 “Doctor Graeme.”

“Lieutenant Reed. Tea?”

 “With pleasure.”

 “Sencha?”

 “Please.” Evander was used to the brief, tight-lipped conversations with the lieutenant. Even after a few sessions with him, Malcolm Reed wasn’t even close to open up and Evander was sure this wasn’t going to happen that close in time either.

 “Are you willing to talk to me today, lieutenant?” Doctor Graeme passed his patient the cup of tea, sitting down opposite him, smiling politely.

 “Thank you. As you might have guessed, I am not pleased with this…situation, but I assure you I was not going to sit here in silence for the total of thirty minutes. Besides, I have gotten mail yesterday that I would like to mention.”

 “Now you did, lieutenant. Are you going to tell me more about that mail or am I supposed to note down that my ‘patient does not require much more than a bit of conversation with friends’?” An amused half-smile rushed over Reed’s face before he leaned back in the couch. It was by far not relaxing, but Doctor Graeme knew that this was the best he would probably ever get from the stiff, dutiful man.

 “I did intend to talk to you about it. Don’t worry, I am not trying to make this conversation any worse.” This time Evander was certain that his counterpart was smiling. He was curious what had led to the sudden change in demeanor. He was unsure whether something specific had happened or whether it was already helpful to have two Brits in one room, not being surrounded by the majority of American crewmembers.

 “Who sent you mail, lieutenant?”

 “Madeline. My sister.”

“You mentioned her – once? And never again. I guess it was a surprise?”

 “It was, definitely. I didn’t expect any messages from England.” The psychiatrist immediately noticed how Malcolm was not referring to England as ‘home’. He had read and heard about a rather distanced relationship between the Brit and his parents but receiving this information directly from the lieutenant himself set off alarm bells in the Doctor’s head.

 “What did she say, if I am allowed to ask?”

 “She told me that she was going to stay in San Francisco for about two weeks. Bit of casual formalities aside. Everyone’d be doing just fine. Mother and Father would send their greetings. I only believe half of what she says but from all of my…” Malcolm hesitated, unsure what word to use, how to put it without it sounding completely awkward. He decided on the easiest. “…family…She’s the one I’d appreciate the most to see once more. It has been a while, Doc.”

 “How long?”

 “Years. Far from years, even. She wants to meet me.”

 “Are you?”

 “I can barely decline, can I? She’s my little sister, after all. And she never did anything that would at least explain my demeanor towards her.” The Brit sighed quietly, clenching the hand to a fist that wasn’t holding the cup of still warm Sencha tea. He had stiffened a bit, his eyes on the opposite wall, focusing on something far beyond the material world.

 “You can decline. It is your right as a human-being to isolate yourself if you feel the need to. Now, that is not very useful, of course. But I am asking you once more, lieutenant. Are you going to meet your sister?”

 “I am uncertain. Honestly. One side of the medal is that I do want to see Maddy and hear how she has been doing all the time. Blimey, Doc! I don’t even know what she’s doing!”

 “What about the other side of the medal, then?”

 “I might not go for shore leave. The captain has concerns about the general overhaul of the ship’s systems and I have heard from Tri-…Commander Tucker that Captain Archer would like to have someone aboard Enterprise to keep an eye on those people.” Evander had recognized the split second in which Lieutenant Reed had changed from saying Tucker’s nickname to calling him by rank and surname. It was obvious to him that there was a relationship between both of the senior officers that was beyond colleagues. Did he really open up to that Southerner? More likely, did he really open up that much to anyone that he starts calling them by their nicks? Apparently.

 “I suppose you were the one willing to stay aboard?”

 “I thought about it. I was not going to visit anyone, originally. I didn’t plan on doing anything else, either. Tr…Trip and I, we wanted to stay aboard together.” A smile rushed over Evander’s lips as his patient finally seemed to be more open towards him. Finally…

 “Did you think of letting your sister come aboard for a short while? You’d see each other, you could still stay aboard Enterprise. With her temporarily stuck in San Francisco it should be of no difficulty for her to come up here with the shuttlepod that might bring everyone down to Starfleet Command, right?” Reed nodded firmly, briefly, inhaling the tea’s scent before drinking from it, thinking.

 “I’m not sure if Maddy would want to be traveling with a shuttlepod. I’m not sure either if Trip would want to meet her or vice versa. Honestly, I’m not sure if I want her to be traveling with a shuttlepod or if I want them to meet each other.” Doctor Graeme examined his patient’s thoughtful expression, his nervous fidgeting, the stormy grey-blue eyes. Only Reed himself could attend the fight that was taking place in his wandering mind in that precise moment, Evander knew that, but he could be there, help him listen to the voices, understand what exactly he felt and thought.

 “That, lieutenant, is something you will have to clarify for yourself. But I am certain that neither Commander Tucker nor Madeline would be disinclined to meet each other, don’t you think so?” Malcolm looked up into the two differently colored eyes of the psychiatrist, one dark brown, the other light blue. They were filled with what he would call ‘sympathy with a glimpse of a mysterious hidden truth’ although he didn’t know what exactly he meant by that himself.

 “Certainly.” Without warning, Malcolm stood, placing the mug on a small table nearby, stiffening once again. “Thank you, Doctor Graeme, your advice has been of great use today. Have a pleasant day.”

 “Have a pleasant day yourself, lieutenant.” Wordlessly, Reed left the office, leaving Evander in mild surprise of what had just happened between them.

 ********

 After being left with a mildly awkward feeling in his chest, Evander was happy to see his next patient would be Helmsman Travis Mayweather. Furthermore, he was happy that Travis would arrive in less than five minutes which meant he wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to occupy himself. He’d simply have a look at the Ensign’s files before preparing a glass of lime juice for the young man.

 *********

 The door chimed once again and Evander smiled. “Come on in, come in!” he lilted, standing. The young ensign stepped inside, smiling equally joyful.

 “Good morning, Doctor!”

 “Good morning, Travis! I hope you had a good day so far? Sit down!” Travis sat, eyeing the lime juice with a broad smile. Doctor Graeme joined him, nodding gladly he remembered right that the young Ensign preferred lime juice over any tea he’d be offered.

 “Mmhmm! Lime juice – perfect! Everything went well on the bridge, we’re literally just heading home. No calls, no interruptions, just…’home’!”

 “’Home’ for most, but what about shore leave in your terms? I though all of your family is working aboard freighters?” Travis nodded, taking a sip from his juice before responding properly.

 “They are. But the Horizon will approach Earth within the next few days, too! I thought about visiting my family for a while before I’d have to return for the next takeoff…”

 “Very well. I bet it’d be a pleasure to your family if you’d accompany them for a while, wouldn’t it?” Both of the men enjoyed the relaxing, cheerful atmosphere that was rather unlikely in Graeme’s office. Most people didn’t stop by for telling Evander about the positive things in their lives; after all, he was mainly demanded to listen to their problems, giving advice whenever it was possible. Of course, he tried his best to fulfill those expectations but he wouldn’t decline any positive stories from his patients.

 “Definitely. I wrote a letter to my mother just a few days ago, telling her I’d like to come aboard for as long as they’d be around in this sector…”

 “Did you already receive an answer?”

 “No, not yet…She’s been busy ever since Dad died, even though Paul did a lot for Horizon, too…It’s hard to find a time in which they can respond, not being chest-deep in work and repairs!”

 “I’m sure she’ll just answer in time!” One thing Evander appreciated a lot about the young Ensign was that he always showed his moods to him. If he was sad, happy, furious, it didn’t matter, he wouldn’t hide it from the psychiatrist. I wish more crewmembers would do that. Spares a lot of difficulties.

 “I bet she will. One hour before our arrival! But…” Mayweather took another sip from his half-emptied juice and looked up into the curious eyes of his counterpart. “What about you, Doc? Are you going anywhere?”

 “Well, I wasn’t planning on visiting anyone in particular – I wouldn’t know who. But I thought of returning to Guernsey, look if I find old friends…It’s my home after all, there should be somebody who’d be happy for my return!” Both men shared a smile, before Doctor Graeme’s expression grew serious once more. “But now back to you Travis. Anything else you’d like to share?”

 “Actually…No, Doctor! I’m quite happy right now! Thank you for the offer, though!”

 “Please, Travis, it’s my job after all!”

 **********

 Heart still filled with joy, the psychiatrist decided to move the furniture in his office, each just a tiny bit. He attempted to find pleasure in his rearrangements, knowing he’d not leave it like that anyway. It was anything but pleasant, he was exhausted and his hands were sore when he threw another look at the chronometer, but he was certainly happy to have spent his time with something different than studying files, eating or drinking tea. Even another walk wouldn’t have done what the physical activity had done just now.
Five minutes ahead…Plus, Miss Collins might be tardy again…Thinking of it, Evander decided to skim the files for the most important information – Sweden, twin sister named Maya, Shakespeare, old-fashioned weaponry, fan of cuisine of all kinds; his young patient was anything but the average person. Still, he really looked forward to the young bubbly lady. Always had a preference for the odd ones, eh, Eve?

 ***********

 “Nica, where’re you heading?” the red-head stopped immediately as she heard the familiar voice of her friend approaching her. Victoria Hess glanced at her, curiously.

 “Psych appointment with Eve.” The smaller woman said straight-forward, not showing her annoyance, neither really hiding it. 

“OH! I had mine just this morning…Eve’s in a good mood today – don’t screw it!” joked the engineer. Veronica made a face and shrugged, before chuckling at her friend.

 “I’ll do what I can! Y’know me, Victoria! Now, if you’d excuse me, I am already late for my oh-so-important appointment. And the Armory won’t be waiting patiently either…”

 “I thought Lieutenant Reed had his appointment today, too?” Curiously, the engineer took hold of the smaller woman’s left arm, forcing her to stop abruptly. Veronica turned to face her, smiling wryly.

 “You think that’d be a reason for him to excuse my ‘inappropriate tardiness’? I can’t stand those two Brits, ugh…” The engineer laughed at her friend’s exaggeration, waving her good-bye as the Armory crewman chimed to enter the psychiatrist’s office.

 “Come in, Miss Collins. On time, as always, hm?”

 “Don’t. You don’t want to destroy my mood already, Evander.” The Brit chuckled at the already hot temper the young woman showed only seconds after she had entered the room.

 “Tea?”

 “More like Bourbon.”

 “I heard you’re not off duty when you’re dismissed from our appointment. Otherwise I wouldn’t have minded.”

 “Fine. Coffee would be great.”

 “Take a seat, please. Do you know that you’re just as ineloquent as your superior officer?”

 “Goddamn Brits…” Veronica muttered under her breath, aiming for her statement not to be overheard. Apparently, she wasn’t quiet enough.

 “Was there anything else you wanted to say to or about me or Lieutenant Reed?” Doctor Graeme passed her a cup of black coffee and sat in his armchair once more, smiling at the young crewman patiently.

 “No. I’m sorry, Doc, I’m just…”

 “Just…?”

 “Stressed out. Lieutenant Reed is literally being sadistic right now. It’s like he doesn’t care we’re all exhausted and stressed! It’s like he’s not feeling ANYTHING! But once he’s able to torture us with yet more work, he’s SMILING!” Surprised at the sudden outburst of emotion, the psychiatrist examined his patient thoughtfully, carefully pondering what he should say next.

 “Do you honestly feel that way about him or do you say those words due to uncontrollable emotions you just felt in that exact moment?”

 “I don’t even care! This man is crazy! And I mean it.”

 “Miss Collins, I somewhat don’t believe you actually hate the lieutenant. I do see that he has high expectations that might be almost unbearable from time to time, but I’d be flabbergasted if you actually feel hatred for that man.”

 “Bloody Brits!” Veronica muttered once more, this time not giving a damn about the fact that Evander heard her. He understood that she was cursing him and Lieutenant Reed in her current condition of rage but he was certain there was more beyond it.

 “Mind telling me what he has done to you?”

 “He’s making us work longer shifts, more exhausting tasks, I mean, we’re currently not having any distress calls or war or just anything that would require this much work. I don’t know, maybe he’s just bored and doesn’t want us to be as bored as he is. We're supposed to double-check everything.” 

 “Thought about asking the lieutenant why he's expecting you to do it?” 

 “It's not worth it. He'd probably just cut me off and say I should mind my own business.” The young woman shook her head in disbelief and disgust, both clearly visual as it was common for Veronica. Doctor Graeme knew that she was by far someone he could read better than most, something that made his job a lot easier. 

 “Veronica, I assume it'd be best if you actually did ask him because I am certain that Lieutenant Reed will fully understand your discomfort. Furthermore, you are supposed to tell your superior when you are in distress. And I believe it's not only you, is it?”

 “No. Everyone is talking about it whenever Reed isn't in the Armory. But I already have a feeling that he's not entirely happy with me working under his command.” Evander nodded, understanding full well that the Brit down in the Armory certainly didn't always act as gentle and relaxed as Trip Tucker did. He had been talking to several crewmembers working in the Armory, noticing a pattern in their words and emotions. 

 “I suppose it's time that somebody intervenes. You are not the first to tell me about such feelings towards Mister Reed - I am convinced you should be the one to talk to him, though, since you are clearly the one who'd be the most honest, hm?” Slowly, the red-head nodded and stood, looking up to the taller man.

 “Thanks, Doc. I'll see what I can do. If you'd excuse me now, I'll be late for my Shift.”

 ************

 Almost halfway through the busy day, the psychiatrist chose to organize the files of the crewmembers he had examined already. It’d make his work with the survey reviews a lot easier if they were neatly organized. Besides, he really appreciated a bit of neatness in his office. It was a habit he wouldn’t call his best but definitely not a bad one either.
He’d have another ten minutes and he didn’t need to have a look at his next patient’s file – he knew full well who it was and what he should be expecting.

 *************

 The door chimed once more and Evander smiled firmly as T’Pol entered.

 “Commander.”

 “Doctor.”

 “Would you like some tea?” The Brit took a few steps towards his drink dispenser, taking out another mug.

 “I’d take a green tea, thank you, Doctor.” Evander nodded slightly and ordered two cups of green tea, gesturing the Science Officer to sit down on the couch. T’Pol sat, eyeing the bright room suspiciously. She appreciated the psychiatrist’s efforts concerning the crew but she’d never be pleased with therapeutic treatment.

 “How was your week?”

 “I cannot complain, Doctor Graeme, thank you.”

 “No further symptoms? I assume the migraines have stopped then, too?” The Vulcan nodded, taking the cup of green tea thankfully. “I expected worse, if I may be honest with you.”

 “The anomalies have caused several symptoms that stayed just until yesterday, your expectations are certainly not invalid. I am simply grateful there has not been any lasting damage.”

 “So am I. You were one of my gravest patients.” Graeme smiled politely, taking a sip from his tea.

 “Doctor, I am sure you have worse patients than me.”

 “Barely. A few. A handful, but during the past year there have been barely any reasons for most crewmembers to call on a psychiatrist.” He spotted a certain definiteness in the Vulcan’s eyes as she listened to his words and knew immediately this was about to be the end of their session. She was not going to stay among those few patients and he understood. Now that the anomalies and – along with them her symptoms – had faded, he wouldn’t see the Science Officer more often than for settled routine inspections. “I assume there is nothing else you’d like to tell me?”

 “No, thank you, Doctor Graeme.” T’Pol stood and nodded firmly before exiting rather quickly and leaving the psychiatrist in his office. Blimey! But what did I expect…? Another look at the chronometer on his desk told him that it was lunchtime and he’d gladly take a walk to the Mess Hall, hoping to find somebody he could have a decent chatter with.

 **************

 Entering the Mess Hall, Evander immediately spotted a pair he was definitely appreciating a decent chatter with. He chose a plate of pasta and ordered pineapple juice, contradicting his casual tea preferences. He’d have more than enough tea for the whole day thinking of the seven appointments ahead he’d spent with a cup of tea to keep his patience. When the glass was filled with bright yellow liquid, the Brit took it and headed in the direction he had chosen right away.

 A few steps away, Trip Tucker and Malcolm Reed were enjoying a good meal and a conversation as best as they could. They were busy all day regarding the checks they were doing on all of the ship’s systems, it’d take the total of five days they had and they were granted only a brief break before they’d have to return to their work.

 “I can’t believe you actually shouted at her…” Tucker chuckled, shaking his head in disbelief, not knowing what to say to his counterpart.

 “I did not shout at her. Not exactly. Besides, we’re all a bit tense, this is what it was about anyway, isn’t it?”

 “Doesn’t mean you’d have to shout at your crewman!”

 “I did not shout at her! I simply told her that she should not be complaining in such a discourteous tone.”

 “Yeah, you told her. Loudly. Very loudly.”

 “Bollocks!”

 “Malcolm. Honestly!” Trip took a sip from his orange juice before continuing. “Now she’s probably on even worse terms with you. Congratulations, Mister Reed!”

 “Can we please drop this for a second? I’d appreciate it very much to enjoy my lunch with you without thinking of work for a while.”

 “Would you?”

 “Very.” The Armory Officer darted a warning glance at the younger man before returning to take a bite from his chicken. They didn’t notice that their interlude was overheard by the approaching psychiatrist who grew even more curious as he recognized certain aspects he had discussed with Crewman Collins just a few hours ago.

 “Gentlemen, may I join you?” he asked firmly, unsure whether he was allowed to interrupt their brief moment of togetherness.

 “Sure, take a seat, Doc!” Unlike Trip, Malcolm just smiled politely and nodded stiffly before lowering his glance once more. “We were just talking about-“

 “Trip, shut your mouth or I’ll shove this bloody steak of yours into it.”

 “Are you threatening me, lieutenant?”

 “Call this whatever you want but I dare you to speak of this little incident once more within the next twenty minutes and I cannot promise to stay nice.”

 “Actually, lieutenant, please, don’t take any offence, but it was hard to miss the topic of your conversation.” Evander smiled apologetically before continuing. “I spoke to Miss Collins today and I am sincerely sorry but I believe her word with you – I assume that was it? – has grown on my responsibility.”

 “I suppose.”

 “I thought it would have been helpful for both sides.”

 “It certainly was.” Almost shocked by the brief, dry responses coming from the Armory Officer, Trip meant to intervene without hesitation. He knew that Evander never intended to harm anyone, in fact, he was far more of a healer, otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen to help people, would he?

 “Malcolm, come on. What’s so bad?”

 “Nothing.”

 “No? Then why do you act as if there was something? I thought Eve did help you today?”

 “Yes. He did. Sorry, Doctor, I guess I’m still a bit…displeased.”

 “Displeased? You’re simply in the dire need of a few quiet days on this ship with nobody but…me…” The challenging shimmer in the Chief Engineer’s blue eyes was unmissable but Malcolm tried his very best not to fall for it too easily. The psychiatrist didn’t need to know about the gentle tease Trip was trying out on his friend lately, neither was he supposed to analyze the Brit’s demeanor around the Southerner. This was something they’d sort out between themselves.

 Graeme noticed the slightly sensual atmosphere building up between the two men and knew immediately a quick exit would be welcomed. He didn’t think twice, taking the last bite of his Toast Hawaii and standing only a split second later.

 “Gentlemen. I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your day! Mister Reed. Trip, I’ll see you this afternoon – don’t be late!” Another nod towards both of the men, Evander Graeme left the Mess Hall, placing his tray on a counter close to the kitchen. He’d have a bit of time left until Nelson Dillard would have his appointment and he was happily spending it in his office again.

 ***************

 “Victoria? I've got my appointment with Doctor Graeme in a few, may I leave now?” Main Engineering was quiet, most crewmen were doing checks and inventory. Commander Tucker had told the few crewmen who had their psychological examinations today as well to simply go when they'd need to. He himself had just left the room to discuss the results of the morning with Lieutenant Reed, giving the command to Victoria Hess. 

 “Go ahead, Nelson. Good luck...” Victoria knew exactly that the crewman would need the appointment not only for the settled examinations but rather for his actual well-being. Nelson Dillard nodded thankfully, leaving the room and heading to a turbolift to get to B Deck. 

 When he reached the psychiatrist's office and chimed the door, he was immediately greeted by a broad smile from the Brit. 

 “Hello, hello! Come in, come in, Nelson.” 

 “Thank you, Evander...”

 “Can I offer you some tea?”

 “Yes, thank you...I'd like a cup of Assam.” Doctor Graeme nodded with a broad smile, examining his patient. He noticed the tenseness in the younger man's demeanor and thought immediately of a bit of distracting chatter. 

 “How's it going in Engineering?”

 “Busy, mostly. Commander Tucker wants us to take a few minutes off whenever we need a clear head because most of us are working two shifts a day...In the end he's barely taking the breaks himself.”

 “You think I should remind him today? He's got his appointment this afternoon.”

 “Maybe...He's probably working three shifts, only taking breaks for breakfast, lunch or dinner!” The doctor smiled understandingly and passed his patient the tea mug. 

 “I assume we'll stick to our current topic?”

 “Yes, I'd...appreciate that. I've had another...” Nelson thought strongly, cupping his mug with both hands. He didn't quite know how to voice his thoughts and emotions. “-another breakdown, somehow...Ian was with me so I was calming down faster but-“ His voice broke, his hands began trembling awfully. 

 “He can't make it stop either, that's it, I assume?” The engineer nodded and bit the inside of his cheek as he set down his mug. There had been no session since he started talking to Doctor Graeme that wasn't filled with either tears or a mild panic attack. 

“Can you tell me what caused the incident yesterday?”

 “I guess...I guess it was a letter from my mother...”

 “Did she mention anything in particular?”

 "No. No, really, I think it was just that she did write a letter...We've barely been talking since I joined Starfleet and I just...I never expect a word from her...It's not that we'd have a bad relationship, we just...don't talk...” Tears were dripping down on the engineer's uniform, wetting his face. His voice was shaking as he tried to put his thoughts into words. 

 “You told me your father died in combat twenty-three years ago...” Evander assured his assumption with a tiny nod from the younger man before continuing. “Do you think your emotions concerning this loss have gotten worse throughout the years?”

 “I... I think so, yes. I believe that...The older I get, the more I realize what he did and what I lost with him...” The Brit's eyes focused on the trembling of his counterpart, the increasing tears, the shaky voice. The reaction his patient was showing was far worse than the one from any session before. 

 “Nelson, the loss of a family member is always traumatizing to a certain point. Your loss seems to me as rather...worrying. You might as well ask Doctor Phlox about stronger medication - don't get me wrong, I don't want to heal you by drugging you, but the intensity of your breakdowns allows stronger meds as long as you keep talking to me.”

 “I will...I just want to be...happier, you know? Everything hurts...I feel lost...” The thoughts that had struck the engineer had been a huge burden. He was relieved voicing them just now, knowing they wouldn’t be underestimated. Nelson felt as if he was at a loss every time he talked about his father – it was a feeling that had settled, but one he’d never get used to.

 “You have never been diagnosed with anything, is that correct?”

 “Yeah…Well, I wasn’t tested on anything, either…”

 “Never thought of demanding a diagnosis? Because, frankly, I assume you might be suffering from severe mental damage due to your trauma.”

 “Anything in particular, Doc?”

 “Without a proper diagnosis, I can barely say anything but my assumptions are heading into the field of a possible depression.” Nelson nodded cautiously, eyes widening as he processed what he had just been told. He surely had thought about several things, but depression? It didn’t cross his mind because he was only suffering when he was triggered by something – whatever it might be.

 “And you could…?” The engineer raised his glance once more, fixing his counterpart with his reddened blue-grey eyes.

 “I could make a diagnosis concerning your mental condition, yes.”

 “When…?”

 “As soon as you feel the need to, actually. I’ll have to finish the crew examinations today and I’ll be surely busy during the next few days but if you happen to be in the dire need of certainty and treatment I will definitely take the time needed.” Evander didn’t hesitate, not even for a brief second. After all, this was not only his job but his vocation and he’d be damned not to do everything possible for his patients.

 “I’d really appreciate that, Doc…I wish I were happier but if what you say is a reason for why I’m not…I’d at least not feel guilty about being sad when I’m not supposed to…”

 “Oh please, Nelson! In this room, you’re supposed to feel whatever is on your mind and in your heart. This is why you are here. Now, would you send me your shift roster today so I can offer you an appointment? I’d try to find some time this evening to send it to you.”

 “Sure. Thanks again. You’re amazing, I don’t know if anyone ever tells you but you’re a hell of a good doc!” Evander was filled with joy at this heartwarming comment – In fact, he barely ever heard that he was doing a good job, he was mostly rewarded with subtle changes in his patients’ wellbeing and demeanor whenever a session went very well. Still, hearing the words for the first time in quite a while, he was more than pleased with himself.

 **************

 Due to his previous patient, Graeme wasn’t left with a lot of time to review his next patient’s files. Sessions always came with an uncertainty regarding the time that he left between each session, especially when he demanded those examinations limited in time. Knowing his next patient would be one of his favorites, he wasn’t as bothered at the much too short time for an actual break.
Liz for sure has a bit of chatter prepared for me, even if there is something on her mind…He thought, smiling to himself only slightly before returning to the files he had just examined.

 *************

 “So, what are you going to tell him?” The young Science Division crewman asked, watching Elizabeth Cutler as she approached the office doors.

 “Not sure…Probably just a bit friends talk, you know?”

 “Between you and him or about somebody?”

 “About somebody.”

 “Anyone I know?”

 “You know all of my friends, I assume!”

 “True though…See you!” The brunette nodded a brief good-bye before chiming in into Doctor Graeme’s office. The older man sat at his desk, hands folded in front of him, his elbows resting on the tabletop. When she emerged, he smiled at her as heartwarmingly as always, getting to his feet quickly but not in the least inelegant. Something about the man from Guernsey was, above all, gracious and magnificent.

 “Elizabeth, take a seat, please! Herbal tea for you?”

 “Yes! Thanks.” The Science Division crewman sat with a smile, watching the psychiatrist as he ordered another cup of tea for her. She had looked forward to that appointment, she even checked that the two men she wanted to talk about had had their appointments already so the doctor wasn’t completely left in ambiguity.

 “Something on your mind today?”

 “Kind of, yes…Nothing serious, just worried…” 

“Worried?” The Brit asked, puzzled, as he passed her the mug. “Has something occurred I should be informed about?”

 “Honestly, I guess you already know…It’s just – I am worried about Ethan and Nelson…” Liz sipped her tea, waiting for any kind of reaction. She wasn’t expecting anything in particular.

 “I see.” The brief reply coming from the doctor incited her to keep talking.

 “I’m just thinking they aren’t doing half as well as they pretend to be. They don’t exactly lie about it either, I just think they try to hide it so we don’t worry too much!” Evander nodded slightly but he knew as well that he wasn’t supposed to talk about it. The younger woman noticed the stiffness in the psychiatrist’s demeanor and knew almost immediately he couldn’t say a word.

 “Confidentiality?” She asked softly and Evander nodded with an apologetic smile. “It’s alright, Doc. Just…Will they be fine?”

 “They will be fine, for sure. Might take a while, but I assure you they will be fine and I am certain they are happy to have you as a friend.”

 “Can I do anything to help them? I’m not asking for any detail, I just want to make it a bit easier for them.” Considering the Science Division crewman, the Brit tilted his head to one side at first, then to the other.

 “Of course, you could do those little things for them, I assume a coffee and a nice chatter might do them very well once in a while…”

 “Coffee, huh?”

 “Or a tea. Breakfast mightn’t be as bad either!” 

“Sounds nice…”

 “Elizabeth, I am certain you are a great friend for both of them. And I mean it.” She nodded in thanks and took another sip from her mug. A smile rushed over her lips and caught Doctor Graeme’s eyes, transferring to him. “Now, do you need anything else? Or am I supposed to write you’re nobody to be worried about in my terms?”

 “I am fine, really! One less to worry about, you should be thankful, Doc!”

 “I am! Still, I do get sentimental knowing you won’t be on my couch more often for a nice chatter.”

 “Oh, are you the one in the need of tea, breakfast and a nice chatter in the morning?”

 “Maybe?” Both chuckled, rising and placing their mugs on the encounter. Seconds later, Elizabeth Cutler left the office waving good-bye to the still chuckling Brit. What a pleasant conversation this has been.

 ************

When Evander took a few steps towards his desk to take a look at the chronometer, he was pleased to find out he’d have a bit of time for a short walk around the ship once again. He left his office, locking the doors before heading to a turbolift. It was a habit he had developed already as a child - the more you lock up everything, the safer it is. Simply logical but on this ship, it was basically of no use. Eve just couldn't help it.
Smiling to himself, the Brit made his way along the corridors, enjoying the decrease in tension in his sore limbs. Doctor Graeme was pleased to meet a few crewmen, greeting them joyfully. It was a great day. Certainly. 
The psychiatrist had a look at a panel nearby, demanding the current time. He immediately decided he'd simply take a walk towards his next patient and hailed a turbolift to head to E Deck. 

On his way, he didn't meet a lot more crewmembers; barely anyone was around, the majority was on duty, probably also working on the checks Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker had ordered. It was afternoon, either people had their shifts or they spent the time in their quarters. At least I suppose so...
He reached his destination and considered whether to enter or simply stay there and wait, when Trip Tucker left Main Engineering, almost bumping into the Brit. 

 "Eve? What are you doing down here?" 

 "I just went for a quick walk and strode along the corridors when I thought I might just meet you eventually." The Chief Engineer raised an eyebrow in suspicion but shook the thoughts off, smiling at the pure and honest demeanor of the Brit.

 “Alright then. Here we go, you met me. Shall I join you on the way back to your office?”

 “That’d be quite pleasant, Trip!” The two men walked in companionable silence, striding along the corridors as they headed in the direction of the nearest turbolift. Reaching it, they entered and demanded B Deck. Both men enjoyed the silence, each following their own train of thoughts.

 If only I had something I could tell Evander… The commander thought, Wonder what Malcolm told him today? Gods, I wish I could just talk to him without any urgency. Guess I’m spending too little time with my friends. The trip to B Deck wouldn’t last that long and there was only brief time to think of anything in particular. Trip wasn’t sure whether he was pleased by the short ride or not.

 Meanwhile, the psychiatrist remembered the conversation he had witnessed only a few hours ago during lunch. I assume they did enjoy that bit of time they could spend together. Hopefully I’ll be getting a bit of recent news! Perhaps he’ll drop a word about the two… Interrupted by the lift doors opening, they left mostly blank in thoughts and as quiet as before. It took only a few more meters before they reached their destination and entered the bright office.

 ***********

 “Tea?”

 “Coffee would be much more appreciated, honestly.”

 “Of course. Black, I assume?”

 “Yeah, thank you!” Trip sat on the couch and considered briefly before he voiced his doubts. “Actually, Eve, don’t get me wrong, but I have literally no clue what I’m supposed to talk about…”

 “If I may suggest something-” The Brit passed him a cup of steaming coffee. “Lieutenant Reed told me the two of you were likely to stay aboard Enterprise during shore leave?”

 “Oh! Yes, it offered itself…”

 “Any plans for that period of time?”

 “I…do, yes. Confidentiality?”

 “Always, this is part of my job, remember?” Evander smiled gently, glancing at his counterpart. 

“Frankly, this is probably rather Trip talking to Eve than Commander Tucker talking to Doctor Graeme, alright? So…Since Malcom and I will be most likely alone, I’d like to get him to one or another…personal meeting.”

 “That kind of meeting that turns out to be a date?” Trip glanced at him suspiciously, a quizzical frown showing on his face. Evander smiled sheepishly, taking a sip from his tea. “Oh please, Trip, I above all should be able to tell when somebody literally worships another person, especially when this somebody is a friend of mine!”

 “Right, of course. Yes, that kind that turns out to be a date. I just wonder if he’d be interested in me…I mean, what are the chances? He’s gorgeous, if a bit too dutiful and stubborn at times, but I guess that’s even one more reason for me to try.” The engineer sighed in desperation. “I feel like a teenage boy chickening out about his first crush!”

 “You might as well sound alike, but I assure you, I understand your insecurity. Just trust me when I say that your doubts aren’t necessary.”

 “They’re not? How do you know?”

 “I observe. Malcolm feels a lot more comfortable around you than anyone else. Besides, - you didn’t hear this from me! – In his session today, he didn’t talk about you as ‘Commander Tucker’ but as ‘Trip’.”

 “No way…” There was a mixture of pleasure and astonishment written in the engineer’s face. His eyes had widened at the psychiatrist’s words. He clearly hadn’t expected a returning of his feelings for the Armory Officer. Double-strike that he was comfortably using his nickname.

 “He did. And if that is no sign, I don’t know what is when we talk about Mister Reed.”

 “Absolutely…You think he’d be up for a movie night and dinner?” 

“He’s a man of good manners, I am certain he wouldn’t decline. Furthermore, I do believe he’d appreciate it, yes.” Trip smiled and looked the older man in the eyes. Graeme always knew the proper words that needed to be said without telling lies. That's probably why he is appreciated by so many... The engineer himself got along very well with the Brit. He had to admit that Graeme wasn't the easiest person to get along with, but once you did it'd definitely be worth it. 

 "He often acted a bit more..." The younger man thought, unsure how to describe what he had recognized within the past four years. "... Closer? Physically and emotionally..."

 "I see."

 "Oh c'mon, Eve, don't do that psychiatrist thing. I like you, don't screw it like that!" Doctor Graeme looked at Tucker apologetically and smiled in sympathy. As a child he hadn't liked it either when psychiatrists fulfilled the cliché - that was the reason why he had chosen his occupation; he wanted to make things in a different manner. 

 "I'm sorry, Trip. Sometimes I can't help it but follow the well-known patterns. Now, I wish you good luck with your dates. Is there something else you'd like to talk about?"

 "I... No, but...I guess I should." Trip stiffened as Evander glanced at him, curiously and suspiciously. "Look, I... Barely slept in a while...I even asked Phlox for meds, but..." 

 "They don't work, is that it?" The Chief Engineer nodded only slightly. Graeme knew that his patient didn't like to admit his insomniac nights. "Can you take a guess on the cause?" 

 "Honestly? No idea. I didn't have any nightmares that could explain it and work isn't that hard either. Routine checks. Nothing special..."

 "Alright. No nightmares. No worries about work. Personal difficulties with anyone?" Trip shook his head once. "What about past trauma that mightn't be visual on the surface but have an impact on you on a subtler basis?" 

 The younger man eyed the psychiatrist suspiciously, cautiously, before he responded. "Are you referring to Lizzie?" It had been two years since his younger sister Elizabeth had died in the Xindi attack on earth. Back then, Trip had suffered a lot of sleepless nights filled with traumatizing nightmares. When Doctor Graeme was ordered aboard Enterprise as the ship's psychiatrist, he had spent many sessions with Trip talking about his loss but it had appeared to Evander that his patient wasn't suffering from insomniac nights anymore.

 "I have to voice my assumptions, whether they're valid or not is for you to decide."

 "But are you?"

 "It is one of the possibilities I have to take into consideration, yes. I do not believe that is the cause for your lack of sleep but it might be still." Trip nodded understandingly. It took him a while of consideration which the both men spent in companionable silence. Is it Lizzie? He thought, sipping at his coffee. Is it? No...No it's not Lizzie... He nodded slightly. If not Lizzie, someone else? No. 

 "Eve, I think it's nothing like that either." 

 "Alright then. Mind spending the next three and a half weeks observing your sleeping schedules before we dig into it any further after shore leave?" 

 "No... That sounds good... Maybe Malcolm helps me sleep better..." There was a hint of a sneaky glance in his eyes as he stood, placing his empty coffee mug on the counter. 

 "I wish you the best! Have a good evening, Trip."

 "Good evening yourself, Evander!"

 **********

 Evander knew there were only four patients to go but it was fairly late already and he was certain his next patients were going to be a lot of work. 

"If only we wouldn't be thrown into this vicious circle of dangers and loss..." He sighed to himself, placing his mug under the drinks dispenser. "Computer, green tea, steaming." The mug was filled with a steaming golden-green liquid. At least there's a few minutes left to check Ian's files...

 *********

 The chirrup of the door interrupted his reading and the psychiatrist stood, putting on the well-known smile he gave every single one of his patients, no matter what state he himself was in. 

 "Come on in, Ian."

 "Thanks, Doc. Have I interrupted you?" The Irish man asked, eyeing Evander quizzically. 

 "No worries, only reviewing something. Can I offer you a cup of tea?" The psychiatrist took a few steps to the drinks dispenser, almost certain his patient was likely to follow his offer. 

 "That'd be great. Sencha, please." Graeme nodded in response and ordered a cup of Sencha.

 "Something on your mind today?" Graeme had noticed the distracted look in Ensign Hutchinson's eyes as The younger man had sat down on the couch. He took a guess about the cause but kept his assumptions to himself. 

 "Kind of... You spoke with Shaun, didn't you?" The psychiatrist nodded briefly and passed Ian the cup of tea before sitting down in front of him. "I'm afraid he's avoiding me, y'know? I barely get to see him..." 

 "Did you talk to him about it? Despite of barely seeing him, of course."

 "No...It's like he's trying to push me away - whenever I try to talk to him he just gives me excuses and walks away. Maybe he isn't, but it feels like he's doing this on purpose." The ensign sighed heavily and stared at the floor, avoiding further eye contact with the psychiatrist. He didn't want to see the older man's reaction. Words had to be enough. 

 "It is not up to me to tell you what Shaun is experiencing. Now, what I can tell you is that he did not voice anything that'd cause assumptions concerning a breakup if that's what you're expecting. Furthermore, he did tell me he'd wish to spend more time with you." Ian's eyes brightened at Evander's words and he sat up immediately, more attentively. A split second later, his eyes focused on the psychiatrist thoughtfully. It was almost like an interrogation.

 "So there is something going on with Shaun..." Evander knew it was far more of an assumption than an actual question but he was also certain that his patient was expecting a proper response. 

 "I fear there is, yes, Ian."

 "I've checked his schedule. He's been with you at least once a week. That's not routine, clearly." The ensign looked up for a brief moment, his glance requesting verification. 

 "Certainly."

 "And I saw him freak out that one day. He was going crazy, completely out of control over his body. Is that it?" 

 "I'm sorry, Ian, I still do have my confidentiality vow with your partner. It's not up to me to tell you. I don't expect him to actively tell you, though, since he seems far too insecure to initiate that kind of conversation." Graeme took a sip from his tea and examined his patient. If one person was meant to never avoid any kind of conversation, it was Ian Hutchison. It wouldn't take him a minute to decide whether or not to, he'd simply take the lead. 

 "You're expecting me to ask him about it right away, aren't you?"

 "I do not expect anything, Ian. I suggest, at the most. But mostly, I simply give my patients the information needed and let them decide what to do with it."  

"Sneaky."

 "Hmpf." The psychiatrist smiled wryly while setting down his cup on the small table that separate the couch and the doctor's armchair. "That's my job. I'm not supposed to decide anything for anyone."

 "True. But you'd suggest it, wouldn't you?"

 "Can't disagree."

 "Alright. You think he'd like dinner-breakfast after his shift this night?" The ensign stood, ready to leave the doctor's office. Evander nodded slightly in response before he stood, too. "Good. Thanks, Doc."

 "You're welcome." 

 ********

 1803.
Evander set his chin on his hands, carefully studying the files he had reviewed so far. The three patients he had left for the evening were senior staff. Take it as you like it, but senior staff has fewer serious issues. Kind of ironic...
1805.
Doctor Phlox was nobody to arrive late. The psychiatrist wondered where his favorite fellow was and what kept him from their appointment. It wasn't even an appointment Phlox had ordered for himself, instead he had told Eve he'd take the scheduled appointment to talk about his insomniac patients. 
1808.

 "Alright then, let's see what keeps him busy." Doctor Graeme stood and left his office, locking the door once again.

 *******

 In sickbay, the Denobulan was caught up in feeding his menagerie. It was dinnertime and none of his alien creatures was likely to wait. A collective rumbling and rattling went through the cages of each species, accompanied by screeching and purrs and all kinds of other animal sounds. 

  "Yes, you'll all get a proper dinner, don't worry!" He looked at a larva in a small glass cage, smiling apologetically. "Alright, almost all of you." The Doctor took the tiny larva from his cage and made a few steps towards another cage, throwing the petite cream-colored worm into it. The action was followed by an atrocious sound and intense rattling from the cage before it fell silent again. "Now, who else is hungry?"

 Before Phlox could move over to another inhabitant of his menagerie, the door slid open revealing his colleague, Doctor Evander Graeme.

 "Ah, Evander!"

 "Phlox. I see that's what kept you from coming to my office!"

 "Oh, is it that late already?" A subtle nod from the psychiatrist confirmed the physician's assumption. "I am terribly sorry, Evander. I hope you can spare another five minutes after the end of our session's original duration? Come on in and take a seat, please." Evander stepped further inside, striding towards a biobed and sitting on its edge, carefully examining the room. Luckily, he hadn't spent too much time in sickbay, although - he had to admit - the company was by far the best he could wish for. He and Phlox had become friends quite quickly when he came aboard Enterprise. The friendly and curious nature of the Denobulan together with the department they shared had made it a lot easier for the Brit to get to know Phlox. Most crewmembers had certainly respected Graeme, but barely anyone had really appreciated his appearance. 

"Now, let me collect my notes. Excuse me for a second?" Evander nodded in response, studying the room once more. Although the rattling among the cages had gone silent, there were still certain noises that revealed their habitants. 
He certainly has a weakness for the odd ones, too...

 "Subjects: Crewman Novakovich and Commander Tucker. I assume you have a certain knowledge about those cases, hm?" 

 "I do. They did see me today, too. Ethan shall get higher doses of his medication. I demanded Trip to stay calm and observe his own sleeping patterns for the duration of shore leave." It was only a brief overview but it was by far enough for both of the medics. It was irrelevant whether it was professional med talk or friendly chatter, they got along in all sorts of terms. Eve enjoyed the easygoing and joyful nature of the ship's doctor. 
"Denobulan nature!" Phlox had once told him. 

 "Alright. I will see what I can do about Ethan. It is quite risky to change the dose of his medication, his systems do not respond very well to it." A concerned look of his counterpart caught his eye and he smiled firmly, shaking his head. "Don't worry, Eve, I will give the man a few hours more to sleep. There'll be a possibility, I assure you." 

 "Fine. Now, would you mind telling me about Shaun's physical condition?" After today's session, the young Scotsman's anxiety did worry the psychiatrist more than usually, although Shaun hadn't faced any further confrontation. It was simply the fact that the Communication crewman couldn't face anyone without shaking and flinching that made him worry.

 "Terribly high blood pressure and several cramps due to a high muscle tension, I fear. Whenever he entered sickbay, his condition was far from alright." 

 "Meds?"

 "They do have an effect on him, otherwise he'd pass out every time his anxiety caught up to him."

 "Stronger meds?"

 "Impossible. That'd most likely kill him." He noticed the uncontended glare of Graeme and knew immediately he'd have to explain. "Look, Eve, Mister Baird does have a seriously high tolerance for both, the analgesics and the tranquilizer. A stronger dose would basically shut his systems down to a minimum that is close to a collapse."

 "I see. However, only avoiding social interaction is not a long-term solution. I assume you did see that he has been assigned to Gamma shift?" The Denobulan nodded and sighed thoughtfully. “It’ll do for now, certainly, but he can’t hide forever. Besides, he isn’t even sure whether Ian or the captain have any knowledge of his condition.”

 “I see.” Phlox checked the data he had collected throughout the past few weeks, showing the Communication crewman’s symptoms and vital systems. Evander was right, something needed to be done. “Do you think it’d be of any use if we had a talk with the captain?”

 “Honestly, I consider this an action Shaun’s supposed to take.” Graeme raised his glance as the Denobulan approached him. “Although I have to voice my doubt that he will actually do so. His anxiety level might even increase in front of the captain.”

 “So?” Phlox examined the psychiatrist, noticed the uncertainty written in his face, his expression strained. He knew very well that the Brit wasn’t likely to intervene when it came to his patients. Graeme was a listener, an advisor at best, but acting without his patients’ approval was beyond his comfort zone. Maybe even beyond his moral code?

 “I am not pleased to talk to the captain about this matter.” He looked the Denobulan right in the eyes, taking a deep breath to steady himself. “But I assure you I will talk to Captain Archer. Fate will have it that he’ll be my next patient.”

 “So be it.”

 “I assume that is all you were intending to talk about? Am I supposed to describe your condition as ‘absolutely fine with no further treatment of any kind required’?” Phlox nodded slightly, waving farewell to his dear friend and colleague.

 ******

 When Evander re-emerged in his office, he sat down in front of the computer, staring at the screen for a brief moment before he turned it on. He had taken quite a while for this but now he had a bit of time left and he was tired of hiding. Graeme opened the file that had been waiting for several days.

 “It’s now or never.” The Brit whispered to himself, starting the short video message. The image of a young man appeared. Blond curls framed the pale face, blue eyes glistened. Evander knew this face too well. At the end of the message, the picture of his cousin froze and so did Eve. He had feared what his cousin would tell him and now he felt simply blank. It took the psychiatrist another deep breath before he rose and went back to professional mode.

 *****

 The door chimed only seconds later but it took another moment for Doctor Graeme to register the noise and comprehend the situation. Finally, he put on a broad smile, facing the door. 

 "Come on in, Captain." The door opened and Jonathan Archer stepped inside, his small friend and companion, Porthos, by his side. 

 "You don't mind if he stays with us, do you, Doctor?" 

 "No, certainly not! I believe he's perfectly confidential. Now, would you like a cup of tea?" Graeme stood and took a few steps to his drink dispenser. Archer sat down on the couch, his beagle close by his side. 

 "Yes, I'd appreciate that. Surprise me, Doc." No sooner said than done, Graeme held a cup of herbal tea in his hand, placing it on the small table next to the psychiatrist's armchair and passed Jonathan Archer another cup filled with golden liquid. "Lemon tea, I assume?"

 "Absolutely correct. Now, Captain, what's on your mind today?" 

 "There's quite a bit rambling on my mind if I'm honest. In first place, I am not contented with my decision to keep Trip and Lieutenant Reed aboard. It doesn't seem to be any fair to me. Apart from that, I have concerns about the new personnel." The captain twitched his fingers absently, staring at the floor thoughtfully. Doctor Graeme examined his patient as he folded his hands and leaned back in his armchair. 

 "So, let's start with shore leave. Did Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed seem any displeased with your decision?" 

 "No. Not in the least. Still, neither Trip nor Lieutenant Reed would ever complain. Trip's just too good of a friend and Mister Reed is way too loyal to not follow any orders." Evander studied the older man's expression carefully, acknowledging the captain's words. He was certainly right. Reed was nobody to voice any wishes and Commander Tucker known as the captain's best friend wouldn't say a word either. But Evander knew much more than the older man in front of him did. 

 "Now, that is something I can work with. Besides, I can assure you that both, Mister Tucker and Mister Reed, are really looking forward to those three weeks most likely alone aboard Enterprise." 

 "I guess I should keep that secret, eh?" 

 "I do believe that this is part of the confidentiality they're going to break by themselves already - especially Trip. You shouldn't hail all hands about this, of course, but I am certain that this little vacation won't stay a secret anyway." Graeme smiled at the captain who understood in amusement what the psychiatrist was referring to. Trip was a good keeper of secrets and he could be a real gentleman once in a while but his excitement about certain things always spread quite easily. Jonathan remembered how his friend had seemed nearly overjoyed when he offered himself for watching the overhaul. Naturally, Trip didn't quite like it when someone else did something to his engines. This time, Jon was sure about it, his friend had seemed more than just curious and unsure about the work that'd be done. 
Porthos was the one who broke the silence with a muffled bark, wiggling his tail joyfully. 

 "I know, it's alright, no more complaints. Got it, old boy." The captain petted the small beagle's head and shook his head smiling. 

 "Something else on your mind, captain?" Evander took a sip from his tea, watching the older man carefully, curiously. Archer nodded slightly but took a sip from his own tea before answering. 

 "I am worried about the new personnel. Enterprise has become a family. It's likely to happen that new crewmembers won't be able to integrate into this construction." 

 "I assume you haven't sent the personnel files of the chosen members yet?" A brief nod from the older man was response enough for the Brit. "How about you ask someone you trust for another overview?" 

 "That is what I wanted to ask from you. As the only one with a completed, general psychological degree I thought you were the most competent person." Archer smiled innocently, knowing full well that Graeme had work piling up. Certainly, he had thought of asking Trip or T'Pol, just like Phlox who had a degree in psychology, too. Still, the Brit appeared to be his best choice. 

 "I am flattered, captain. Now, I strongly believe you know that I am quite caught up in work."

 "I do." Archer kept hold of his innocent smile, deep inside wondering how far he could go before the Brit would lose his gentle and polite demeanor. 

 "Alright then. Is there a certain due date that I'd be supposed to keep in mind?"

 "Around three days before Enterprise takes off again. I had a nice talk with Admiral Gardener about it." 

 "I assume it took quite a while to convince him?" Evander had a good relationship with the admiral and it hadn't taken him long to see that Gardener was no-one to give in easily. He himself had tried several times, more than half of those tries failed. 

"It did. Which is why I am in the dire need of your psychological review of those possible crewmembers." 

 "Naturally." Graeme glared at Archer for a brief moment but he knew better than this. A sigh escaped his mouth before he could actually say something. "Alright then. I assume there is nothing more that I could throw into this conversation. Send me the files by tomorrow and I will have a look at them."

 "Thank you, Doc! You really are an enrichment to our crew." Evander nodded slightly in response. It was appreciation for the captain's words - after all, he was barely told that he was liked or needed. It was tiring from time to time but once in a while, a nice word to him or about him was all he needed to keep going. 

 "Leading back to more cheerful topics, where were you planning to go during shore leave, captain? If I am allowed to ask." 

 "You are! I thought I should visit a friend of mine... It's the one Porthos belonged to when he was a little puppy. Might see his brothers once more..." Archer has his glance lowered, focusing on the ground and a spot far beyond the materialistic world. Evander watched him carefully, noticing the absence. 

 "Captain?" The older man looked the psychiatrist right in the eyes, smiling apologetically. 

 "I'm sorry. I was just thinking about how time has passed since I visited my friend the last time..."

 "I see. Time certainly passes quickly when you enjoy the meantime!" A brief exchange of polite smiles followed before Graeme continued. "Is there something else you'd like to discuss?" 

 "No. Thank you, Doc. I guess I'm needed on the bridge." Archer stood and smiled once more, placing his mug on the table in front of him. "C'mon, Porthos." 

 "Enjoy your evening, Captain!" Waving a last time, Archer left Graeme's office. 
Just one more, Eve thought, shaking his head with a sad smile on his face, straining his expression. 

 ****

 Even though Dusk and Dawn were no terms in space, Evander could sense the night falling upon Enterprise. Night Shift was about to start which meant his next patient would come right after Beta Shift ended. It'd give him another few minutes to let his thoughts float, line up in new paths. 
The Brit was uncertain what attitude he should keep towards his cousin's message. This is going to be a bloody long night...

 He remembered his cousin's word and a frown marked his face. 
"It's a shame, Eve!" Shame, my arse, York... Evander had thought when he listened to the video message. York was the only one ever sending mail to him but once he did, the occasions were considerably awkward. 
"Stop believing you were happy." Why, thank you, York, till I heard this I actually was happy... It was not the first time his cousin wanted to intervene and take control over Graeme's personal affairs. After a while, the Brit had become used to it and it didn't bother him as much anymore. 
It still does, though... Evander sighed once more as he leaned forward, his arms on his office table, hands entwined. The chronometer said 800 p.m.
It is going to be a bloody long night...

 ***

 His last patient arrived at time as he expected. Unlike a few crewmembers, she didn't try to hide from the psychiatrist. It pleased him.

 "Come in, Hoshi." The young Communication Ensign entered, smiling as the doctor stood. In fact, enjoying a talk with Evander after an exhausting work day was a pleasure. Although during her shift nothing special had occurred, a nice variation of her routine was very welcome.

“Can I get you a cup of tea?”

“Yes, please! A cup of chamomile tea would be great.”

“Chamomile it is.” The psychiatrist keyed the orders into the panel of the drink dispenser. Not once did he turn around to face Hoshi, not once did he say another word before he sat down, passing the cup of herbal tea over to her. The young woman certainly noticed, but she didn’t dare to inquire any further.
“Now. Any plans for shore leave?”

“Yes.” The Ensign was more than ready and willing to tell Graeme about her plans. Priorities. She thought, as she took a sip from her cup. “I was planning on visiting my parents, actually. They messaged me a while ago asking when I’d be back to come home for a while.”

“I assume you are excited to tell them about all of your adventures?” Evander forced a polite, gentle smile. It wasn’t his nature to fake anything but neither could he behave impolite and self-centered in front of one of his patients. Don’t be silly, Eve, you’re not a child. Behave yourself!

“I wouldn’t quite call them adventures but yes, I really am incredibly excited!” The Brit acknowledged her response with a nod. It got more and more difficult for him to concentrate on Hoshi and his own professionality. “What about you, Eve, will you visit family?”

Caught unprepared, Evander needed a moment to process her words and even when he did, he couldn’t help but hesitate before answering. “Whatever remains of it. I suppose.” His chest got tighter and tighter, causing his breath to flatten. Now is not the time, Eve…Focus. “However. Have you anything in particular you’d like to do with your family?”

Hoshi was surprised by the psychiatrist’s tight-lipped, short-tempered demeanor. Something was completely off and she didn’t quite like it. After all, he was an awfully nice and incredibly essential crewmember. However, it was none of her business. “Actually, no, I don’t. There’s a few festivals we might attend but nothing in particular that we’d have booked yet.”

“I see. I believe there are many possible sights and festivals?”

“There are…We’ll see!”

“Something else on your mind, dear?” Evander examined the young woman, his glance steadying as he sipped his tea thoughtfully. Hoshi nodded once, then looked around as if someone were listening.

“I do get full confidentiality, right?”

“Absolutely.”

“You won’t tell anyone what I’m telling you now?”

“That is what confidentiality is about, dear.” It took another glance of insurance before Hoshi nodded and leaned forward, folding her hands in her lap.

“Okay. So. I have a certain…theory about two crewmembers.”

“Crewmembers?” Evander inquired.

“Senior officers.”

“Anyone in particular you’d like to name or are we going to stay with anonymity?” He was curious and quite contended that he could conjure a smile from her. Hoshi seemed to like that kind of inquiry at some point.

“Confidentiality, right?”

“Absolutely.”

“Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed. I am convinced they’re sort of falling more and more for each other without quite noticing it themselves, you know? Don’t get me wrong! I do have evidence!” Suddenly, Hoshi was completely eager on telling the Brit everything she had considered only a few days ago. She felt incredibly energetic now that she had a case she could follow up. Awkwardly, it felt like a project.

“Let me get this right. You assume Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed have romantic feelings for each other without being certain about it yet? I am curious, do tell me more.”

“I believe their bond has evolved throughout the past few years, Eve. I am pretty sure about this, actually. But I don’t like spreading rumors, after all.”

“Of course not. I do get your point, though, dear. Why don’t you keep telling me about your inquiries when we meet?” Evander liked talking to Hoshi, her cheerful and curious nature always healed his saddening soul. Still, he was happy to spend some time without any company for the rest of the evening. He could barely focus on the young ensign’s words, his mind was far too occupied.

“Sure. Sounds good. Now, it’s late, I guess I’ll go to sleep! Enjoy your evening, Eve!”

“Have a pleasant night yourself, Hoshi.” The psychiatrist smiled once more before he returned the cups to the encounter. It had been one hell of a multifaceted day.

**

“Chief Psychological Officer, Evander Graeme, 22nd February, 2155. As expected, I finished my psychological examinations of the crew today. By tomorrow morning, I will have started formulating the surveys. Presumably, I will be finished just in time to send the reviews to Starfleet Command.” Evander took a steadying breath. It was late by now, far after 2300 hours. “Furthermore…Captain Archer asked me today to review the personnel files of possibly attending crewmen for Enterprise’s next trip. I fear I mightn’t finish them in time, though. However, I feel honored by the captain’s trust in me and I will doubtlessly try to assist him with his choice.”

The psychiatrist shook his head with, being overwhelmed by another wall of thoughts. All he had to do was finish his last professional log entry but even that seemed to be too exhausting. The chirrup from the computer reminded him that the audio was not finished yet.

“I am finding myself thrown into a personal crisis. I fear I might be distracted during the next few days which might also cause a delay in my reports. However, I am nobody to take personal affairs out on work. If I find myself being affected in a worrying extent, the captain will be the first to know. Computer, end log entry.” The chirp confirmed his order and the man stood, walking towards the office door.
“What a bloody day…”

Evander stepped out, locking the door behind him before he walked to the closest turbolift that’d bring him to his quarters. Although he mightn’t be able to sleep, finding a bit of time to relax was very welcome after all.

*

 

Chapter Text

It was far from late by now, both of the men were certain about that as there were only few crewmen in the Mess Hall. More likely had nobody entered or left the room in over an hour - the little group staying near the window had only been interested in a late night snack and a round of poker. Across the room, far closer to the serving case in order to avoid long walks when in the need of nourishment for the nerves, the two senior officers were going through promotions for the staff. The exhaustion of either the Commander or the Lieutenant were quite noticeable by the frequent yawning in between of their discussion. Coffee had kept them from being out of their mind towards the end.

Trip couldn't help it but share a gentle smile when his friend let out another yawn, barely noticing it himself.

"More coffee?" he asked softly, already taking both of the mugs as if he knew the answer. Frankly, he did - it would have been more than suspicious if Malcolm changed his mind after the past three times Trip had asked him.

"Sounds good to me." the Brit answered briefly, leaning back in the seat and closing his eyes for a short moment.

"Ah could also bring y'a piece o' pineapple pie. Guess you'd need it..."

"Don't you dare, Tucker. I'm quite alright with coffee, thank you."

  "Just coffee? Ye sure?"

  "Pretty much."

  "What a shame." The Lieutenant clearly recognized the tease in his friend's voice but didn't aim on discussing the subject more than it was required. When Trip noticed he wouldn't get a response, he stood up and placed one of the mugs under the drink dispenser and ordered coffee. To the surprise of the Lieutenant, he walked past him, placing the mug in front of his friend and making his way to a refrigerator in which Chef usually stored alcoholic drinks.

  "What are you intending to do there?" Malcolm was certain he knew the Commander's aim although he was hoping Trip didn't actually consider it.

  "Ah'm 'intending' to get me some Bourbon, Lewtennant~" The familiar mock in his voice when he imitated the Brit's accent as much as the choice of word couldn't be missed, although it got affected by his Southern drawl.

  "Have you lost your mind?!"

  "Not yet, nah!"

  "Trip, we're not off duty yet!"

  "We ain't onduty either, technically. C'mon, Mal, what's the harm?" Lieutenant Reed wasn't sure whether he was more caught up on the subject itself or on the odd nickname Trip had never used before. The perplexity he felt offered time enough for the Commander to grab a bottle of Bourbon from within the refrigerator and take a glass from a nearby cupboard. "Want some?"

  "No, thank you, I appreciate the offer but I'm not willing to report to the captain due to the abuse of alcohol while on duty..."

  "Mal, c'mon! We ain't onduty! Besides, what should a glass o' Bourbon do to me, anyway?" There it was again. Certainly, the exhaustion along with the feeling of comfort around Malcolm had caused Trip's fallback on his severe accent. Still, that was no considerable explanation for the sudden change in names, was it?
Blimey, the Armory Officer thought, but it's Trip Tucker, after all. I shouldn't be too surprised.

" May I remind you of your current duty? That glass of Bourbon might affect your judgement on those promotions. I doubt you're likely to enjoy a talk with the captain about your fairly questionable decisions, are you?"

  *

  The discussion was overheard by the group that sat around the table near the window. The group of crewmen, among them Communication Officer Hoshi Sato, had started guessing what was going on on the other side of the Mess Hall, questioning why Lieutenant Reed was complaining this vehemently. It was an unexpected change of topic as they had been discussing the possible promotions just before, curiosity and gossip equally present.

  "They're your friends after all, Hoshi! Come on, can't you just creep in for a second and see what you can find out?" Crewman Dillard said, looking at the Communication Officer with a begging glance. He didn't dare to make his curiosity any more obvious since his superior was the one deciding over his future right there at the table across the room.

  "I'm dying of curiosity!" exclaimed Liz Cutler, running a hand through her soft brown hair. Hoshi shook her head chuckling, knowing none of her friends would stop grouching if she wasn't going to spy on the two superiors. She stood and pretended to get another glass of juice when she passed the table where Trip and Malcolm were still discussing.

  **

  "I'm certain the captain wouldn't trust your judgement if he knew you were sipping Bourbon while making your decisions."

  "Would ye trust mah judgment?"

  "Honestly? No."

  "Oh, c'mon, it's just one glass, Ah'm not talkin' 'bout a bottle!"

  "Doesn't matter. Now do me a favour and put it back into the refrigerator where it belonged and let us work through these names. It's late and I was definitely not planning on staying here throughout the whole night." Malcolm wasn't sure what had driven Captain Archer as he told them to do the promotions together but whatever it was, he was certainly not capable of standing this much longer. What a stubborn twit this man can be! he thought, though admitting, As if you wouldn't be as stubborn at times, Malcolm... The irony forced him to pull a half-smile when Hoshi approached them.

  "Gentlemen. How's it going?"

  "Hoshi. Bloody bad for the moment."

  "Nah, bit outta perspective there,  ain't'ya?" the teasing snarl coming from Commander Tucker filled the Armory Officer with rage. He tried to calm down, knowing that if he started complaining once more, Trip would make him shut up - the one way around or the other. Hold on, Malcolm - What ways were you thinking of? Shut it, that's neither the proper time, nor the proper place.

" So, are there many names already to show to the captain?" Aiming on gathering new information for her fellow friends Hoshi went on with the questions, trying to act the least suspicious possible.

  "Not too many so far, honestly. Skimming the profiles and reports, there are not nearly as many as I've expected."

  "Though Mal's a tough nut to crack, Ah was tryin' convince him o' many fellas but he didn't let me." Amused by the language the commander used - additionally slightly surprised by the name he gave the Lieutenant  - Hoshi smiled, tilting her head and trying to catch a glimpse of a few names typed on the datapad. Quickly caught by Malcolm's cautious eye, she backed away as he took the datapad with a firm smile.

  "Someone's being curious!"

  "Can't take it amiss. Ah'd go nuts 'f Ah were to be waitin'."

  "I am utterlysurprised to hear that from you, Mister Tucker." Curious at her friends' behavior but knowing it was none of her business, Hoshi left the two way-too-tired men having fun combined with business.

  ***

„Ian, I don’t understand why you are freaking out about this!“ A few days had passed and the crewmembers were impatiently waiting for the pre-set lists to be published to know whether or not they would possibly be promoted. Shaun and Ian had chosen to spend the evening off together. If only there wasn’t a certain invitation by Crewman Nelson Dillard, Ian’s bunkmate, who asked both of the men to join him and a few friends on a little gaming session. “Look, I am not exactly happy being around a group of people who I barely know well enough but Nelson is your friend!”

“That doesn’t give him the right to take away our alone-time. This is our first evening off in literally weeks, Shaun, why don’t you want to spend it with me only?” Shaun looked up at the taller man, he could see the pain in his lover’s eyes, burning him from the inside. The Scotsman immediately felt sorry knowing full well that it was a special evening. But he remembered.

“Ian, please, you haveto believe me that I want to spend this evening with you only, it’s just-…” The younger man hesitated, fumbling with his knuckles and twitching a bit as he shifted from one leg to the other. Ian grew cold, he steadied himself. Shaun felt intimidated as he watched his lover position himself into this almost predatory, offensive stance.

“Just…? What is it, Shaun, spit it out.”

“Doctor Graeme said I should spend more time in groups of people whenever possible.”

“Doctor Graeme. Of course, this bloody Brit!” Ian hissed as he turned away. Frustration and anger were raging in his stomach, he felt his muscles tense and couldn’t help but clench his hands to fists. Shaun could read him very well and right now, he was terribly scared of his lover.

“It’s not his fault! Besides, he really has been helping me lately. Ian. You need to understand.” The Scotsman started shaking, his lungs felt as if they were on fire. Every muscle in his body began to hurt as the tension in his limbs grew. He was scared, so scared. Shaun’s eyes were tearing up and all he wanted was to just escape this terrible, terrible situation. But he couldn’t – he had to face it.

“You spent actually more time with him than with me. Explain to me, what the eff is going on, Shaun?!”

“Please…Ian, he’s helping me, I…” The younger man’s voice broke as he couldn’t do anything but drop to the floor – his sore limbs simply couldn’t take it anymore. His whole body was shaking and he was out of breath, rocking back and forth, tears running down his face in warm streams.

“Hey…Hey, Shaun…It’s fine, okay? It’s fine.” Ian kneeled down next to him, wrapping his arms around the shaking body. He felt sorry, terribly sorry. “I’m here, buddy…I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

“I'm so sorry... I'm sorry I…I've disappointed you...”

"No, no, no, no, no. Look. I'm not disappointed because you spend time with him. Okay?” The Irish man gently grabbed the smaller man’s chin and pulled his head up a little so his lover would look him in the eyes.
“I'm disappointed because I don't know what's going on. And you know I get a bit rude from time to time when I'm confused..."
Shaun couldn’t help but smile at this confession – he knew. He certainly did. But it was true, he forgot at times, especially when he got anxious.

"I do… I'm sorry..."

"Now. Tell me what's going on...?" The older man smiled gently as he took Shaun’s hands, squeezing them briefly. It was only a small gesture but Shaun knew by then why he loved this man so much. He saw it once more but he simply was not capable of telling him. Not yet. Not now.

"Not... Right now...I’m sorry, Ian…"

“It’s fine, darling…It’s okay. So, shall we just quickly free you from those awful tears and then take a walk to the fellas in the Mess Hall?”

“Yes, I’d like that…”

****

It was quite late when the two Brits entered the Mess Hall, frankly surprising Nelson who had already started to create a plan B if they weren’t capable of playing the original game they meant to play for this evening.

“Ian! What a surprise, I didn’t think you’d come!”

“I didn’t think this little fella would get me to come.” He squeezed Shaun’s hand gently before he let go, knowing full well that his partner didn’t like to show their relationship openly.

“We thought we’d have to make up a plan B! King Class can only be played by six if you want it to be a proper challenge!” The two Brits sat down at the group table, greeting everyone. The group that was gathered around them consisted of Hoshi Sato, Ethan Novakovich, Elizabeth Cutler and, obviously, Nelson Dillard.

“Really? If it’s not us, who did you invite before?”

“Either Victoria and Nica or Commander Tucker and Travis.” Hoshi said, smiling gently.

“Only you can get the Commanderto join, eh?” Ian shook his head in disbelief. He couldn’t quite grasp just how Hoshi made it this much further than he himself had ever gone. The Irish man was 35 by now, counting the days till he’d turn 36, he had been Ensign for several years by now, yet he never got into touch with the superior officers more than in a work relationship.

“Someone jealous?”

“Me? Never!” For a short while, the Mess Hall was filled with echoing laughter. Shaun could already feel his heart pounding as he tried to integrate, to laugh, but – God damn it, why is it so loud…?
“So, King Class,” Ian’s voice interrupted the noise. He had no idea what was going on but he saw his lover tense and if there was anything he was capable of doing to make it just any better, he would. “What’s it what we’re gonna play here, fellas?”

“King Class is a game with three elements. Six players.” Nelson stood and stepped into the middle of the Mess Hall with a broad smile. The Brits followed him, curious, yet suspicious. “Actually, it’s a game of my own creation!”

“Oooh, proud boy, I see!”

“Proud indeed! Okay, now. Three elements. Those are: A snooker table-,” He pointed to the left side of the hall where a standard snooker table stood, “A simple chess board-,” He turned a solid 90° facing the hind wall where a table near one of the large windows was prepared with an old wooden chess set, “And, ladies and gentlemen, the one and only master game I will never lose at-“

“Oh shut up, Dillard, I will kick you off your stupid throne!” Ethan had stood up while Nelson had gracefully wandered to the right side of a room. As he turned around, his glance was filled with dramatically faked pain and disappointment. Everybody had to laugh at this scene, knowing full well that Nelson could be a real drama queen if one encouraged him just enough.

“Thou shalt not bring dishonour over me, thou meddlesome loon!”

Slow down, Shakespeare! Now better go on or we might never be able to play.”

“Alright. Hang on, where was I- Ah, right, now, the one and only master game I will never lose at: 3D Chess!” Nelson gestured towards a table on the right side of the room, presenting a table with a 3D chess set.
“Now, rules. It’s always one versus one – quelle surprise!”

“Oh, stop it, Nelson, a blunt explanation would be enough.”

“Stop complaining, Novakovich. Or do it better.”

“I will, cherry blossom. We’ll start off with Snooker: That’s where the two of you sweeties will start. You’re playing one frame, got it? Usually the ones who had the least points or the youngest and oldest would compete, but since you’re the only fellas who don’t have any points, you’ll start there. Alrighty?”

“Righty-o, mate.” Ian had taken a few steps towards his lover who stood far away, as close to the door as possible without making it look too obvious. Anxiety hit him every few seconds and breathing was a major trouble but this was what he was supposed to do, right? Right…

“Okay, so. Our drama queen, Nelson, and I, we are going to rock 3D chess. Hoshi and Liz will begin with a simple chess match. At best, we’ll all get a match done in the time you finish your frame over there – if not, the biggest tendency to win counts. Got it?” Both of the Brits nodded slightly, carefully listening. None of them wanted to ask any weird questions in the middle of the game. Attention was a given.

“Great. So. When done, the winner of each match will get to the next game. That means, winner of you fellas gets to chess, loser stays at snooker. Winner of chess gets to 3D chess, loser will go to snooker. 3D chess winner stays, loser gets to basic chess. Easy, right?”

“Right.”

“Now, gotcha, eh? Point is, each match gives you points or you lose some. If you win snooker, you get three points. Losing it means you lose three points. Winning chess means you get six points, for 3D chess it is nine points. No point loss if you lose.”

“Look, I don’t want to insult your genius, but isn’t it a bit unfair like that?” Ian had listened closely and he didn’t aim to destroy the mood. Yet, as someone who was taught about fair play throughout all his life, he couldn’t resist.

“Buddy, you gonna win and you’ll do fine. There’s no fun if there’s not a bit of a teaser, eh? Kay, now, winner of all will get a reward of their choice. Everything clear?”

“Everything clear…” While four of the dimly lit schemes rushed to the tables, chattering already in excitement, Ian turned to his lover, cautious. “Are you okay, darling?”

“Yes, I…I’m fine, don’t worry, really.”

“Stop lying. I can see the tension in literally all your limbs.”

“I’m coping, Ian, I may need time but I won’t let this shit stop me now. Not anymore or I’ll be damned to keep on calling this a life. Now, shall we?” Confusion made Ian furrow his brows and he took another moment to process what the Scotsman just said. Confusion, that was what he’d feel for the next few minutes.

In fact, by the end of the game, the confusion had dissolved and winner of the whole game was, quelle surprise, Nelson Dillard.

*****

“How is it going, Lieutenant?”

“Quite fine, Commander.”

“Is that so?”

“Why are you asking? You’re making me suspicious.” Lieutenant Reed leaned back throwing a glance over his shoulder. Trip was approaching him from behind, smiling in a frankly perky way.

“I was just wondering if you were intending to finish this soon…” The Southerner grabbed the backrest and leaned onto it, forcing the Brit to stay in that rather uncommon position. Reed closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the quiet, peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.

“’Soon’ meaning ‘now’…?”

“’Soon’ meaning ‘don’t make me wait any longer’…” Trip had leaned forward even more, his face only inches away from Malcolm’s ear, as he whispered his response.

“Sneaky, I see…”

“Oh, c’mon, Malcolm, I don’t invite you for dinner in my quarters if you’re not even planning on eating!”

“I can eat whiledoing my work, you know?”

“Oh no, really? Do you see the fucks I give, Lieutenant?” Trip stood, skillfully turning the chair and facing the Brit with a broad smile. “Dinner?” 

Malcolm shook his head in amusement as he stood up. He knew there was no way he’d be able to stop the Commander – he had always been and would always be a stubborn little prat. Too bad I have taken a great fancy to this stubborn little prat… “Dinner sounds great, Mister Tucker.”

“Please take a seat.”

“What will I be served today, Mister Tucker?”

“I have…Well, it’s not the best I would ever offer but…We have Shepherd’s Pie and Crème brûlée.”

“Why, that sounds good.” Trip couldn’t help it but smile. He hadn’t spent a lot of time with his friend lately, they were, after all, working on system check-ups, preparing everything for the overhaul, not even talking about the promotion pre-set lists.

“You remember who was on our lists?”

“I don’t remember, but…” Malcolm reached behind his chair to grab a datapad that was placed on a desk. “I’ve got it here. Hoshi wanted to try and raise her rank. Didn’t know she was thinking about leading positions-“

“Leading position? As a lieutenant? Dream on, Mal, I’m sure even your personnel will get ahead of you!” The commander let out a muffled laugh after he had said that and leaned back in his chair. How he missed the time spent with the Brit, a little teaser once in a while. He couldn’t resist.

“Why, thank you, Mister Tucker. I wasn’t exactly planning on getting promotions by myself though. Now, shall we go on?”

“Please.”

“Alright. Then we have a few of your people set – it’s more about their reputation though. We’ve got…” Trip was barely listening as he watched the Brit study the data in front of him, yet again forgetting to eat. It was ridiculously odd, but the Southerner really enjoyed just watching him, listening. Weird, isn’t it?
“Trip…Commander Tucker, can you hear me…?”

“Yessir.” The commander blurted out, unsure exactly how caught up he had been in his thoughts and imaginations. “’xcuse me, I am absolutely focused.”

“Uh-huh, I can see that. However. Last on our list: Crewman Elizabeth Cutler, Science Division.”

******

“Liz? Sweetie, are you okay?” Victoria had just finished Gamma Shift and had immediately left for her quarters just to find her bunkmate wrapped up in herself sitting on her bed. “You look awfully pale; do you want me to call Phlox…?”

“No…It’s fine…” Elizabeth Cutler was shaking slightly, still processing what she had just read. She couldn’t quite grasp her thoughts, everything inside her was a mess. She was a mess.

“Liz…What’s wrong? You’re anything butfine. I can see that.” Victoria sat down next to her friend and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Wanna tell me what’s up?”

Liz didn’t answer, she raised her finger only briefly, pointing to her computer. At first, Victoria was slightly confused as she stood up. Only when she noticed the document file in the middle of the screen, she seemed to understand.

“Lizzy, have you been taken?” A tiny, almost imperceptible nod was the only sign she received. “But…Liz, that’s amazing!”

“Is it…?”

“Why, of course!” Victoria turned to face her friend just to find her motionless, curled up in a ball, shaking. “Isn’t it…? I thought you always wanted to get an official rank…?”

“I did.”

“Well, where’s the problem, hon…?”

“I don’t know, Victoria! I just don’t know! Do I deserve this? Am I even capable? Why isn’t there Ethan’s name on this damn list?! I just – I don’t know!” The brunette stirred, loosening the grip around her knees. In a sudden outburst Victoria didn’t expect, her friend started rocking back and forth, tears streaming down her face. The blonde rushed back to Liz, sitting down again.

“Hey, shht, it’s okay, Sweetie…It’s alright. Look, you worked so hard to get this promotion. Frankly, Ethan didn’t even try – He toldme he didn’t exactly want it. But, I’m sure he would try to help you study and practice…” Victoria could feel the body next to her shiver slightly but she seemed to calm down as well.

“I feel like I’m not ready…”

“I remember feeling the same…But Phlox and Commander Tucker will do the main check, right? They’re absolutely supportive, trust me. Don’t worry, you’ll do fine…” Liz looked up at her friend. Victoria knew she wouldn’t be able to stop the fear, but she could do everything to put risks and chances into perspective. Sometimes rationality was the best way of coping with fear.

“Thank you, Tori…Now, go to sleep, please…You must be tired.”

“I’m fine, hon. Commander Tucker treated me with a café frappe so I’m alright.”

“How generous…”

“Do I hear irony?” The glimpse of a smile appeared on Liz’s lips as she sat up, straightening her back and slightly shaking her head.

“Never…”

“He’s a nice guy!”

“That’s what you say.”

“That’s what it is!”

“Uh-huh.”

“Liz!”

“Yup.”

“C’mon!!”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Elizabeth Cutler, you-!” The rest of the morning ended in a bunch of down feathers, emptied pillowcases and exhausted laughter.

*******

It was midday, three days until Enterprise would reach Earth, close enough for video calls. Evander was working on his surveys after all, he was anything but prepared at his cousin’s call. Neither the time, nor the place, he thought, as he answered.

“Eve! Finally, the Lord must have heard me!”

“York, the Lord has precious little to do with this matter. And, frankly, I don’t have time-“

“You never have time for me!” Eve set down the datapad he had planned on working on. It was crystal clear, York would not accept another delay. He had always been this stubborn, it was nothing new for the Brit. Back when they were children, York was always the one who’d get what he wanted. Eve himself? He preferred to keep his wishes to himself.

“I barely have time to sleep right now, York, this is not about you. And you know that. Now, what is so important that you have to keep me from working?”

“You sure listened to my message?”

“I certainly did, yes.”

“See, you were planning on coming home anyway so why not try and socialize! The occasion isn’t the best, I must admit, yet…You could need it anyway.” Doctor Graeme leaned back in his recliner, folding his hands in his lap, listening carefully. Patience was the key to win over his enthusiastic cousin.

“I am doing fine regarding social interaction. Remember, I’m a therapist. Besides, I made friends.”

“How many? One…? Two?”

“Two good friends are more than enough when they are the ones you can trust. I am appreciated here, York, they may not adore me, but they do appreciate my presence.” York snorted and shook his head. Eve knew that he wasn’t pleased with that answer but it was never his intention to please his cousin.

“Okay. Got it. You don’t needto socialize. But I can give you a bunch of good reasons why you should!”

“Go ahead.”

“First of all: You’re a bloody handsome man. If I had your genes, darling, I’d go wild.” Evander knew very well what York was talking about, yet he never really felt that handsome. Of course, his rare condition of heterochromia made him fairly special. Apart from that, he shared quite a few similarities with his cousin; honey-colored curls, freckles, rather pale skin, meager limbs. Nothing new.

“As you can see, I don’t. Besides, I am a bit older than you are.”

“Five years, please. That’s not that much of a difference, is it?”

“Actually-“

“Whatever. Second: Mom misses you. And not only her, a bunch of grannies and friends do, too.”

“I told you I would come home. I am not likely to go and live in our old cottage, York. I won’t do that and you know that. And…about those friends: I barely had any and as far as I know, they left for Vegas and  other places.” York let out a histrionic sigh, shaking his head in disbelief. He wasn’t surprised, disappointed still.

“Eve, you had friends. Many friends.”

“They weren’t friends. They were false-faced scallywag.”

“Eve, you’re such a stubborn prick, really, I’m trying to set something up for you but you’re not even remotely approachable!”

“Maybe because I feel quite comfortable with my life the way it is. I don’t need to change it.” Evander felt rage and confusion twisting his stomach. He didn’t like being interrogated and criticized about his lifestyle, in fact, he had left for Starfleet to avoid any more criticism. He had settled, he had clarified things for himself. There was no need to change it and he didn’t ask for it. Yet again, this stupid prat has to pry about things that are none of his business!

“How do you know you’re not just avoiding the truth? Turn your back, Eve, but-“

“I dare you, BE quiet, York! I don’t have the time for any of this, now if you would excuse me?” Not allowing any more words, Doctor Graeme cut the line and stood, his hands clenched to fists, hardly hanging on to keep his calm. Thiswas anythingbut alright, anythingbut needed. If Doctor Phlox hadn’t invited him for lunch in the Mess Hall, he wouldn’t have known what to do with all the anger, all the rage. Rare feelings for the usually even-tempered Brit.
“This isn’t supposed to happen again. I cannot allow this to happen again.” Eve took another deep breath before he left his office, locking the door as usual, casually and with a polite smile walking along the corridors, striding towards the Mess Hall.

********

On the other side of the Mess Hall, a small group of people had gathered around a table. After Victoria had found her shocked bunkmate in their quarters, she had casually asked all of their friends to meet up for lunch. However, Hoshi couldn’t make it since she was still running Alpha Shift on the bridge. Ethan, Nelson and Veronica, however, had come, all curious and excited.

“Who would have thought that little Miss Lizzy Cutler would be the first of us lonely crewmen to get a chance and climb the rank ladder?” Nelson said in a teasing voice as everyone had settled down and organized themselves.

“Well, look at it that way, Dillard, when she gets a promotion, all girls around you will be able to shout orders at you! Isn’t it sad that only you boys would stay down there on the bottom of this ladder?” Veronica shot back, smiling cheekily. Nelson raised an eyebrow, surprised at the younger lady’s sassiness towards him.

“Stick it, the two of you. We are not going to talk about the ‘what if’s before it actually happens. The most important thing is to help Liz to even get through this.”

“Thanks, Tori…” Elizabeth Cutler still felt anything but good about her promotion. She knew that her friends would celebrate it but she wasn’t sad that Victoria kept the neutral position. “Guys, I’m glad you’re in such a good mood, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to think.”

“Why? Are you afraid you’re not ready? Because, Liz, you are. I’ve seen you work so much harder just to get there.” Ethan straightened his back and folded his hands on the table. He had seen Liz pulling night shifts just to get ready to step up and here she was – he just knew she was ready.

“Ethan, I…I don’t know, I just feel like this is too much – out of a sudden…I don’t know…”

“Liz…When I learned anything during the past four years working with you, it is definitely that you’re the most hard-working and genuine person I have ever met. And, frankly, as a doctor-to-be, I have met several people like that.” For a brief moment, a buzzing silence fell among the group. Ethan smiled gently at the brunette who looked merely confused and surprised. It was Nelson who broke the silence.

“Look, Miss Cutler. As your friend, I have to tell you that he’s right, as his buddy, I have to tell you that he’s currently talking deep shit and I have no idea why.” A collective laugh erupted, Ethan threw a chopstick at the San Franciscan. “Okay, no. Really, you’re scared? Got it. But you have my back. I’m not exactly good with all that med crap, but I can help you with the other stuff.”

“And the med crapwill be no trouble for the two of us, eh?” Ethan threw a glance at Nelson, then gently pressed Liz’s hand. The younger woman appreciated her friends’ effort, yet she felt insecure. Nothing but a smile was left, together with a dull feeling of fear, insecurity, being overwhelmed.

*********

Only two hours later, when the group had split, Ethan went back to his quarters. He wasn’t surprised to find his bunkmate, Shaun Baird, since he used to take night shifts lately. What surprised him was that Shaun was unusually caught up in his thoughts when Ethan entered the room.

“Hey, buddy, you alright there?” The scheme of the Scotsman was crouched down on his bunk, hands wrapped tightly together, eyes fixed on one spot on the opposite wall. He still didn’t answer. “Shaun?”

“What? Sorry…”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes. No…Well…” Shaun sat up, looking up at his friend and tilting his head slightly.

“Well…?” Ethan kept standing inches away from the now closed door, looking at him irritated, unsure what to do.

“I might need your help, Ethan.” The med crewman sat down next to Shaun, leaving enough space because he knew that Shaun felt easily uncomfortable.

“Need my help on what exactly? Is something wrong? Are you going to tell me about a breakup or ship crisis or…?”

“No! No. Hell no.”

“So?” Shaun avoided any eye contact, there was still a lump in his throat, an unsettling feeling in his stomach. He knew very well what he was capable of and what he wasn’t capable of, but he needed help on this matter.

“I need to talk to Ian. And – no, it’s not about a breakup.” Ethan let out a soft chuckle, he knew his bunkmate was nobody who had a good sense of humor but at times, he had a rather relaxed talk with him.

“Well, if not about a breakup, what is it about?”

“Remember that one time you found me in the bathroom, shaking and stuff?”

“Yes. Vividly.”

“Right…It’s a frequent issue. Can’t help it. Even weekly therapy won’t do the trick for now.” Ethan noticed a subtle tremor in his bunkmate’s interwoven hands. His thoughts were roaming, he had already guessed something like this, yet he never dared to ask.

“Anxiety issues, hm?” Shaun nodded briefly, even a gulp was hard for that instant. “So, you want to talk to Ian about your anxiety. Damn, has he really never seen you like that?”

“He did. He did. Okay, not at my worst, not like you did, but…” A moment of horror sent a shiver down his spine as Shaun remembered the night Ethan found him lying on the bathroom floor, sobbing, shaking, all nosebleeds and cold sweat. It was a terrible memory but, just like Ethan did, he could remember it vividly.

“Okay. Look, I don’t know Ian that well, buddy, you know that. But I think he’d appreciate blunt honesty.”

“Last time I tried to tell him I panicked. I can’t do that again, tell me, WHY do I even freak out once I try to talk to my boyfriend?” Ethan hesitated for a moment when Shaun stood up, shaking hands, breath trembling. He didn’t want to trigger anything, yet he felt like he had to talk.

“I think…You know, it might be the best if you tell yourself it’s not bad if you break down in front of him because…He’d see what it means for you…for the both of you…” Ethan leaned back, watching his friend carefully. He wasn’t sure whether he got to the core of the matter or rather hit the core. Frankly, he hadn’t been confronted with a situation like this before.

“Might be…I think it’s weird for me to actually talk about it. I mean it’s obviously an issue but why do I even have it? Isn’t it rather stupid how everything makes me feel uncomfortable?”

“Shaun, anxiety is irrational but it’s a serious condition. It affects your body and your brain. It is valid.”

“Then why can’t I just go to sickbay, take my proper medication and get well again?!” Fear turned to anger, rage forced the slender body to tremble. Hands clenched to fists, breathing heavily. Ethan tried to be tender, one wrong move and it would be over.

“Because there’s things in this world we just can’t cure yet, buddy. Especially mental illnesses can’t be cured that easily. Treated, yes, but not healed.” For a brief moment, silence fell over the room. Seconds later, the Scotsman dropped onto the bed, letting out a deep sigh. “You’ll do fine, Shaun. Maybe you won’t be top of the class, maybe you won’t ever win over anxiety, but you’ll do fine. Because you’re strong after all.”

“Getting deep there, huh?”

“Deep is my thing, buddy, I am living the deep!” It felt weird joking around after such a talk, Ethan didn’t quite know what to think of it, but intuitively it just felt about right. “Though, Shaun…I might need your help on that kind of matter as well.”

“Why, what’s up?”

“Remember Crewman Liz Cutler? Exobiology and entomology? She’s on the pre-set lists for promotions and I have a feeling she’s having trouble coping with the stress.”

“And you think I might be of any help for her? You think she’s got anxiety?” Glad it wasn’t about him anymore, Shaun leaned forward, eyeing his bunkmate curiously. He hadn’t thought that anybody would have the same struggles as him.

“I don’t know, honestly, but I feel like she might have trouble with it as well…So, if anything happens in that sort of way, can I…Like…Tell her about you and maybe you can help her?” Ethan wasn’t quite sure how that would come across, it felt awkward to talk about hypothetical situations, yet he thought it would be necessary.

“Sure, you can. I’m fine with that. But! Now I’ve got to go and look for my handsome man, if you’d excuse me?”

“Good luck, buddy. I believe in you.”

**********

It had been another rather hideous day for Liz, she wasn’t used to the sudden pressure and she couldn’t quite focus. The promotions, everything she’d have to revise and to do – what was a med ensign even supposed to do? What would they expect? She felt her heart pumping way too hard and out of a sudden, she felt intensely uncomfortable.

“Miss Cutler? Are you alright?” Doctor Phlox noticed her bizarre demeanor this afternoon although he couldn’t quite tell what was going on. Yet, Denobulans were a culture of harmony and positivity, it felt odd if someone wasn’t entirely themselves and doing just fine.

“Yes, I’m sorry, Doctor…”

“Don’t say sorry, dear, you seem to have something on your mind. Would you like to talk about it?” Phlox set a small box filled with grubs aside, smiling gently at the brunette who still held a datapad, though not really noticing it herself.

“Would I like to…?” Liz couldn’t grasp a thought for another moment until, out of a sudden, she understood. Yes, I do like to talk about it. Moreover, I NEED to talk about it. “Yes, Doctor, actually it’d be amazing if you’d let me out for a talk with Doctor Graeme.”

“Oh dear, are you alright? Please, you are dismissed if you would like to see him.” Still confused, the Denobulan watched Elizabeth leave sickbay with such a strong determination he hadn’t seen on her face in quite a while.

Out on the corridors, Liz finally had time to think clearly. She had thought about studying for the examinations she would surely have, yet she didn’t know whatto study. Of course, she could have asked Phlox but it wasn’t the initial problem, was it?
No, it’s not…

The sudden chirrup the med crewman triggered by ringing Doctor Graeme’s office door surprised her although she felt almost embarrassed about it. She was just so caught up in her own thoughts. At first, she didn’t even notice the Brit’s response.

“Enter, please.” The man repeated, this time a bit louder. Liz took a few steps inside, finding the psychiatrist sitting at his desk, casually hands folded on the table, smiling politely, examining her. “What can I do for you, Elizabeth?”

“I’m set for promotions.” Liz wasn’t quite sure just how those words burst out of her mouth within seconds. It happened without thinking but for an instant, that felt right. “I don’t know what to do, Doc. I need advice.”

Evander leaned back for a moment and looked at her, studied her. It was almost scary how he kept staring, how he didn’t blink once. Only when she started feeling uncomfortable, lowering her glance, he stood. “Take a seat, please. Can I offer you tea?”

“I’m fine. Thanks.”

“Promotions? Sounds exciting. What do you need advice on?” Doctor Graeme sat down in his chair, facing his patient showing hardly any more emotions. This was it, this was what he was working at, analytically get to the core of his patients’ issues. The game was on.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to study, Doc. I don’t know what they will expect me to do, I have no idea. And, worst of all, I don’t feel like I am ready for it.” Elizabeth took a deep breath, straightening her back. She didn’t understand what made her say all those things, she didn’t even see her own thoughts clear, yet she was just glad it worked somehow.

“Well, I am sure that your knowledge about basic medicine is broad enough. That will be needed, I can assure you. Apart from that, as far as I know, you might get a task where you have to analyze your patient’s condition and set up the proper treatment. This is just a guess, though. In general, you’ll have to show theoretical basic knowledge, dull learning, but you also have to show that you can react spontaneously in given situations.” Doctor Graeme wasn’t sure whether or not he was supposed to talk about promotion tasks but he felt that it was necessary information to reassure his patient. Nothing wrong with that.

“But that can’t be it, right?”

“Since Ensign is an officer’s rank, you will have to show knowledge about which responsibilities and requirements your hopefully soon-to-be rank will give you. Thus meaning you need to know everything an ensign can and cannot do, or more likely: is required or prohibited to do.”

“This is it? This is all? All I have to do is repeat med talk, build up a scenario and recite what I as an ensign shall and shall not do?” Surprise mixed up with confusion, Liz felt anything but sure, anything but safe. It sounded easier than she expected it to be.

“This is it. Now, about the not feeling ready-“

“No worries about that, Doc, I’ve got a bunch of really good and supportive friends who are voluntary helping me.”

*********

The Armory was a mess, system checks were running again and the rooms were packed. Lieutenant Reed had asked every available crewman to help, he even took a few of Trip’s Engineering team to help out. The checkups could of course be done in time without that much work on one evening, but punctual as the Brit was, he needed his reports to be done fairly early.

“Collins! Over here.” Veronica had noticed that the lieutenant was anything but calm today and she felt that, whatever he wanted to talk about, she had to be very careful with what she said.

“Sir?”

“I need you to do something that requires full concentration. There is no way you will mess this up because if you do-…” He didn’t need to say any more for her to understand. A brief moment of silence and way too intense eye contact emphasized that.
“I have to leave for a moment, I dare you to take over for the meantime. Everyone has to tell you the results, Note. Them. Down. If anything goes wrong, all of this would be for nothing. And take note of these assemblies, check them up, please. Can you do that?”

“Of course, sir.” Another brief exchange of glances accompanied by a short nod and the Brit left the room, leaving Veronica with a mass of responsibility. She was convinced only being asked to do it was a big deal of trust for the lieutenant, she felt honored, yet she just couldn’t disappoint him now.

“Assemblies…Righty-o…” The young woman smiled looking at the technical mess in front of her. She really enjoyed working on machinery. She found herself caught up in her element.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Reed made his way through the corridors, striding towards Main Engineering. When he entered, he was quite surprised to find the hall in a rather empty, neat condition. He hadn’t expected Engineering to be all organized, when his own organization down in the Armory was rather chaotic.

“Tell me your secret, Mister Tucker…” Trip stood on the ladder that led up onto the engine, surprised to hear this familiar voice, he turned around. A smile rushed over his face as he saw the approaching Armory Officer.

“Lieutenant?”

“How come your usually chaotic, southern influenced mess of Engineering actually looks better organized than my always neat and tidy, well-thought-out and planned Armory?”

“I don’t know, Mister Reed, I might just take more time to stretch my plans. It’s late in the evening, most crewmen lose their concentration.”

“It’s merely nineteen-hundred, Trip, please. They know exactly what working shifts for me means.”

“Doesn’t mean everyone’s capable of doing it. And…” Trip climbed down the ladder, turning around just to face the smaller man with a brief smile. “Neither are you on the long run, Malcolm. Don’t push yourself, we have three days left.”

“Three days which are filled with report-writing and promotions, right. Which is why Iunlike youwant to have my check-ups done by tomorrow morning.”

“So I can’t invite your for dinner, right?” Trip raised an eyebrow, watching his counterpart scrutinizing.

“As much as I appreciate the offer, Commander, I have to decline.” The commander nodded, he knew very well this was his final word, he wouldn’t get the Brit to take the rest of the evening off. Of course not.

“Well then, why did you come in here in first place, lieutenant?”

“I may be in the need of your crewmen for the rest of the night.”

“Go ahead, you see, Engineering’s finally running smoothly. But you know, you could have just called me over the com?” Suspicion led the commander to examine Lieutenant Reed more intensely. He was nobody who would just leave the Armory in somebody else’s hands just like that.

“Of course. I suppose I needed a bit of a clear mind. Besides,…” Malcolm looked around the room, noticing that nobody was close  enough to hear them talking. “Frankly, I am overwhelmed. You’re right, I can’t take it on the long run. But I have to keep it up, Trip. And from all the people on this ship, you’re the only one who’ll ever know about this, alright?”

Trip took a moment before he responded. He saw that his friend hadn’t slept well, he noticed how pale he looked, how exhausted. He hardly couldn’t take it to see him like that. “Alright…” There were other ways to treat him, other ways to help him out on one thing or another.

“Thank you…Now, I’ve got to go. See you around.” Without another word, without another glance, Malcolm left Engineering, heading back down to the Armory. Back there, he had to realize it wasn’t a bad idea to trust Veronica on everything, she had done a great job.

********

“Anxiety…”

“Yup…” Ian and Shaun both sat next to each other on Ian’s bunk. Nelson had left for his shift so the two men were alone in the small room. Shaun had felt the urge to tell his partner all day, all week. He still didn’t know how he had made it now, but somehow the words had just come out of his mouth.

“It’s a big deal, darling…You know that…?”

“’f course…It’s not like I didn’t have any struggles with it myself.”

“So…This is what you’ve been talking about with Doctor Graeme?” Ian was unsure how to cope with this new information, yet he tried to hide his confusion. Shaun needed him now, he had to be careful. Of course, he had guessed something like this was wrong, he had noticed the few signs. Hearing it though – that was another level.

“He helped me cope with it. I’m taking medication but it isn’t doing the trick. And…I can’t hide in night shifts all the time.” Shaun took a deep breath, clearing his own mind. He was a mess, his whole mind was spinning. “Look, Ian…I’m trying really hard to learn how to cope with it but I’m not even done learning that it’s okay to be this vulnerable. You see I need time. I may never be able to go to one of those conventions you like so much and I might never be able to deal with Irish family gatherings. But does that make me less of the man you love…?”

“No…No, it doesn’t. I may struggle with certain things, but it doesn’t change the way I see you. More likely, it explains a lot.” Ian smiled gently. He felt the warmth of his partner, squeezed his hand briefly. “It may be just another obstacle to overcome on our way, hm?”

“Just another obstacle, yes…” Shaun was delighted that is lover didn’t just give up on him now that the issue was discussed. He had feared a lot worse, happy that none of that happened. Not as bad of a day as I assumed…

*******

By the later evening, the Armory had emptied, several crewmen were dismissed, having done their job well enough. Those who were left were caught up in work, running on adrenaline and caffeine. Veronica was one of those, being left by nearly all the people she considered good colleagues and friends. She was caught off guard when the door opened, even more surprised to see Commander Tucker approaching her.

“Miss Collins.” He nodded politely. Just now, Veronica noticed that he was holding a covered bowl.

“Sir?”

“Mind telling me where your boss is at?” The ensign understood what was going on and she was more than grateful that someone was taking care of that matter. She smiled gently.

“He’s over there, sir. Good luck with that!”

“Thanks, I guess I’ll need it.” The commander strode through the hall, amazed by how busy the Armory still was. He wasn’t too surprised to find his friend with datapads piling up, surrounded by parts he guessed were taken from weaponry.
“Lieutenant!” The glare Trip got for his sudden call was definitely worth it, he couldn’t resist teasing his friend. He had been working too much and assuming from the mess around him, it’d become even more.

“Commander, what are you doing here that late?”

“Well, Mister Reed, if you don’t have the time to get dinner, dinner will come to you.” Unsatisfied by the fact that Malcolm simply had turned back around facing his work and not reacting to any of what the commander said, Trip simply sat down next to him, placing the bowl between them. “Malcolm, you need to eat something. Look, I won’t stop you from work even though I don’t like seeing you risk your health right now, but I won’t stop you. Just eat. Please.”

“Trip, I’m fine. I’ll be finished soon.”

“Yeah, I can see that! Datapads piling up, there’s still reports you’ll be getting and I don’t even know what thatis!” The Southerner gestured towards the thousands of tiny parts surrounding them while his accent thickened. He was worried and once in a while, his worry turned to rage. “God damn it, Mal, will you pleasejust eat this one bowl?”

“Fine! What even is it what you thought you’d bring me…?”

“Plain rice with mushrooms. There was not much left, I just hope you won’t kill me for the mushrooms.” Trip sat back, leaning onto his hands. He was relieved that Malcolm finally gave in. He watched him take the bowl, eyeing it curiously, hunger burning in his eyes.

“Oh please, Trip, for God’s sake I worship mushrooms.”

“More than pineapple?”

“No. Pineapple is on another level, that’s not worshipping anymore.” A soft chuckle escaped the two men as they sat on the floor, both just hoping that none of the crewmen would distract them for now. Although…, Trip thought, I’m sure Miss Collins will take care of it…
“Trip?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you. I don’t really know whether I’m coming or going, I’m slammed with work and frankly? You’re the only one who dares to approach me…”

“That’s because you’re freaking scary when you’re caught up in your work. People don’t easily know how to even talk to you without being shouted at or getting a gun pressed against their throat.”

“Am I really that terrible?” Malcolm paused for a moment, throwing a glance at the engineer. He knew his social reputation wasn’t the best, he just never got to ask about it.

“I’ve heard complaints. Well, more likely: Eve has heard complaints and told me that he was worried about the work situation in the Armory. Now, as much of a detective as I am, I thought I’d check on you because I know that you’re putting pressure on everyone when you’re not doing fine.” Trip carefully looked around the room to make sure nobody was watching, before he sat a bit closer to his friend, placing his hand on the broad shoulder of the older man. For a brief moment, the Brit tensed, seconds later he let go and, if only for a moment, Trip felt the weight of his friend close to his chest.
“You know, Mal, you really need that vacation.”

“So do you, Mister Tucker.” Malcolm took another deep breath before he straightened his back again. “Now, if you’d excuse me…I still have to finish this.”

“Just make sure you don’t go to bed too late. I need you ready and wide awake for the examinations tomorrow.”

“Of course.” Trip let out a sigh, he knew he wasn’t welcome much longer. While the lieutenant was back into his work, the commander took the bowl and stood up, ready to leave the Armory. He turned around and examined his friend once more.
“I can feel you staring, Tucker. Something you want to tell me?”

“Good night, Malcolm…”

“Good night.” Trip smiled to himself as he went back through the hall. Veronica watched him, surprised by his calm and relaxed departure. She stopped him in his tracks.

“Commander! Did you really get him to eat?”

“Please, Miss Collins, four years being colleagues and friends – I could get this man to everything”

******

In the meantime, up in Ethan and Shaun’s quarters, study hell had broken out. Ethan had promised Liz Cutler to help her study and revise the medical contents for her examinations the next day. Shaun hadn’t complained about it since he had accidentally interrupted them after his talk with his partner. Now he sat on his bunk, reading a collection of Shakespeare.

“Oh gods, Ethan, I can’t do that!”

“Lizzy, please. You know everything, I just tested you on this three times!”

“What if it’s not enough? Or too much? What if, out of a sudden, I just forget?!” Elizabeth sat on the floor, something she liked to do when studying or concentrating. Datapads, a set of anatomic models laying around her. “This is a mess. Iam a mess!”

“Liz, it’s alright! It’s fine.” Ethan sat kneeled down next to her, grabbing a few things and putting them away, making sure that they didn’t trip over anything. He saw that his friend was completely stressed out over the examinations and everything that would be expected from her. Right now, she was breathing rather heavily, sweating, biting her lip; This was anything but good.
“Elizabeth. Focus on calming down for once. It’s not helping when you’re all anxious whilestudying.”

“I don’t have the timefor calming down and I don’t have the timefor being anxious!” Now Shaun was ready to interfere, he set down his book and got up. If there was one thing he could do, it was talk about what to do and what not to do when feeling anxious.

“Listen, Elizabeth. Refusal is never helping. You know why? Because anxiety doesn’t give a single shit about whether you have time for it or not.” Ethan looked up at the Scotsman thankfully. Indeed, something like this was quite helpful for the moment, he appreciated his friend’s help on that matter.

“I-I…Don’t even have anxiety, I’m just stressed out! That’s it. See, I’m not hyperventilating, not shaking, I’m alright.”

“Anxiety comes in many shapes. It’s a feeling, the way it is affecting your body is completely individual. Just because I may be shaking and running out of air within seconds doesn’t mean you couldn’t have exactly the same feeling and still not show those signs of anxiety.” Shaun examined the younger woman, he knew she wouldn’t like him giving her life lessons, yet he felt the urge to explain certain things. Maybe it would help her understand herself better.

“But…Even if it is, fine, I need to get rid of it! I just can’t let this happen now, this would literally destroy all chances on an official rank!” Liz felt incredibly uncomfortable, she couldn’t quite grasp the feeling, but she was sure it wasn’t good. Her stomach felt sore, a prickling went through her limbs. The brunette understood, yet she disavowed it.

“As I said, refusal won’t do the trick. Look, I’m pretty much in my infancy when we’re talking ways of coping. But I’ve learned that a clear mind serves an anxious soul. Get yourself some tea, sit down, breathe. Take a break. Breaks are alright. Moreover, breaks are important.” Liz smiled when she heard the sweet Scottish accent embedding those words. She never really noticed Ethan’s bunkmate, from what she had heard, he was much more of a night owl, Ian Hutchison was his partner, he was a fairly good snooker player – that was what she remembered from their gaming session a few days ago. Now she had to realize that he really was a gentleman, a true sweetheart.
“Besides, from what I heard, knowing nothing much about med talk, you know everything very well. Try to think of that. You’re well prepared. You can do that. And even if it doesn’t end that well, you have done your very best.”

“Thank you, Shaun…You’re really nice…”

“No problem, young lady. Now, if you don’t mind: Macbeth is waiting.” He sat back down on his bunk, picking up his book. The moment he read yet another sentence, he looked all contented, all dreamy. In fact, Ethan often had a feeling that this kind of distraction brought his bunkmate into another world, far, far away.

*****

Doctor Graeme sat at his desk, drumming his fingers on the table. He couldn’t resist but review his surveys and reports. He was a lonesome man, spending his time working was nothing unusual. It was no problem either, he knew very well that he was easily distracted from grief or loneliness, why not use that?

“Alright, Eve, the only thing missing is a rather creepy Persian cat so you can spend your lonely evenings drinking tea and patting a demanding and hideously odd creature.” In fact, he had been thinking of getting a cat since pets weren’t prohibited and he was, in fact, a lonely man who could need a companion. In opposition to his ideas, he was nobody capable of caring for a pet. He couldn’t even keep flowers alive, why try and put an animal’s life in danger?
“Funny…You can keep people from attempting suicide, but keeping flowers alive is too much trouble, huh?”

The Brit shook his head. It had become a ridiculous habit to soliloquize. However, he couldn’t stop. Closing the final reports, Graeme closed the files and turned off the computer. It was late, he knew that but he couldn’t help it; he had plans for a late-night-walk. When he left his office, he threw another glance around the room, then locking the doors.

The corridors were mainly empty, only few souls were wandering around solely. Evander enjoyed the quiet, the nearly sacred atmosphere that lay upon those corridors late at night. It was a realization he made once in a while. A sentiment of comfort. Oddly satisfying.

“If only alone-time didn’t mean loneliness…”

****

The next morning was filled with rushing, chattiness and nervous outbursts. Everyone who had been set for promotion examinations was going to be tested by their superior officer, Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed, and, above all, by the captain himself. It was nothing unusual to be nervous, that’s what everyone was told, but nobody felt any better about that.

Trip wasn’t surprised to find Lieutenant Reed looking rather pale and extremely exhausted. He was still disappointed. After the brief moment on the previous evening he had hoped his friend would at least have tried to take care of himself.

“Did you sleep, like, at all?”

“I did. In fact. For about two hours.” The Armory Officer could barely hold back a yawn and was rather relieved when his friend came that close to him that he could lean on to him for a moment.

“This is anything but healthy, you know that?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Then why don’t you-“

“Gentlemen, focus on the task at hand, please.” The captain had entered the bridge, his four-legged companion by his side. The bridge was crowded, several crewmen from Command Division stood in small groups. “I don’t know why I demanded that.”

“Get the business done before the long break. That’s what you said, Jon.”

“Bad idea, Trip. It was a bad idea.” Archer knew it was going to be a rough day, examining nearly a quarter of the crew. However, it was right. He wanted to have it done before the break. “Alright, kids, let’s get this done.”

“First on the list is helm, next is comm. Last will be Miss Cutler in Science Division. How bad there’s none of our department!” Trip was the only one who felt capable of any humor in those stressful days. The two other men surely appreciated it, yet it felt a bit out of place.

“Helm it is…”

***

Hours later, a large group had gathered in the Mess Hall, among them Liz Cutler, relieved that she had overcome her fear regarding the examinations. Ethan had asked all their friends to celebrate that occasion as much as just the last two days before Enterprise would reach Earth and ‘summer break’ would start.

Liz was rather overwhelmed by the group, she hadn’t quite realized how many friends she had and how many people cared about her. But here they were: Victoria, Veronica, Ethan, Hoshi, even Ian and Shaun had come. I wonder where Nelson is…

She didn’t get any further with her train of thoughts, Ethan stood up and raised a glass of tequila. There he was, a 37 years old New Yorker medic, lonesome, yet he never stopped enjoying life with all of its adventures. A pure soul although he lost all of his family. Wounded, but healing himself every day. A good friend. Liz had met him four years ago, Science Division brought them together as much as a mission they joined in their first year on Enterprise. Now, there he was, raising a glass for her.

“Ladies and Gentlemen! This is to Liz for being the best friend although she may be a bit of a mess sometimes!”

“To Liz!” What a magic, Liz thought as she chuckled to herself. Her friends surrounding her, she felt comfortable, safe. Every single one of them was with her, making it a great, unique moment. Every single one? No…

“Liz! Lizzy!” Everybody turned around as they heard the familiar voice approach them. There he was, Nelson Dillard, almost sprinting towards them with a broad smile. “Liz, check this out!”

“What is it…?” Elizabeth took the datapad Nelson hold out to her while breathing heavily. She didn’t quite understand at first, but then she realized. “Is this…? Am I…?”

“Yes, Ma’am, you may now officially bark orders!” A rumbling and a mix of celebratory shouts went through the rows as Liz felt her heart nearly explode for a moment. Everything around her suddenly seemed surreal, as if she was caught under a dome of glass, every sound suddenly turned dull, far away. Was it real? It felt impossible to grasp the moment, impossible to understand.

“Let me give you another toast. Everyone! To EnsignLiz Cutler!”

“To Ensign Liz Cutler!” Cheers and laughter created this joyful moment, this nearly solemn atmosphere. After all those years of hard work, she finally saw herself fulfill her dreams. What a majestic day.

**

The next morning, a similarly solemn atmosphere lay upon the captain’s ready room. Every promoted crewman had gone through this ceremony already, Liz was the last to go. The captain, Commander Tucker, Doctor Phlox and Lieutenant Reed had gathered around her. The brunette still couldn’t quite realize what was going on around her, it felt all like an absurd dream.

“Miss Cutler.”

“Sir?” Jon smiled at the younger woman as he stood in front of her. If anyone today deserved this, she will be the one…The captain turned around, looked at the three men and nodded briefly.

“Attention, gentlemen! The insignia please, Mister Reed.” Malcolm held a small box in which the insignia was hidden, that one small thing that would make everything whole. Remembering his own first official rank, the captain wanted to make it just as special for Liz, knowing she was one of the most loyal and hardworking crewmen aboard Enterprise. He turned around, smiling once more briefly. “Ensign, your collar.”

Liz straightened her back and tilted her head slightly to one side. Excitement mixed with simple joy, but this was it. This was it. It was happening, it was real. The captain was the first to congratulate her, Phlox as her superior went next, proud of his protégé. It was real. Although it all seemed still as if she was caught in a bubble, far away, by the end of the day, it had sunk in and the young woman could celebrate the evening with a round of King Class and a girl’s night with her bunkmate Victoria. What a crazy, yet so beautiful day, she thought, joyfully.

*