Sensory Deprivation 

by Juli

August 2002


"Gently, Captain, I havenít yet determined if Lieutenant Reed sustained any internal injuries."

As he loosened his hold on his injured lover, Jonathan Archer barely refrained from glaring at the Denobulan physician. It wasnít Phloxís fault Malcolm had been injured or that heíd been held for days by hostile aliens until his release could be negotiated. Telling himself not to take out his repressed worry and outrage on the doctor who was trying to help, Archer settled as best he could on the shuttlepodís hard floor. Reed was a limp but precious burden in his arms, the dark head lolling as Jonathan shifted to accommodate Phloxís exam of the unconscious man.

Once again, an away mission had gone horribly wrong. When the team had set down to survey a likely planet, they hadnít realized that they werenít its only visitors. Unfortunately, the other explorers werenít any friendlier than the Klingons and, as all too often occurred, Malcolm insured his crewmatesí safety at the expense of his own. Archer had heard the lieutenantís grunt of pain when Reed went down, but had barely begun to turn back before the armory officer was overrun by the hostile insectoids attacking them. Novakovich and Mayweather had manhandled the captain back to the shuttle and, damning the duty that made it necessary, Archer had accompanied them back to the Enterprise .

Two days later, he cradled Malcolmís battered form tenderly while Phlox tried to assess the damage.

"Doc?" The single syllable conveyed all of Jonathanís worries.

Phlox looked up from his handheld equipment, a soothing look on his face. "I need to evaluate his condition with the more sophisticated equipment on the Enterprise , but I believe the lieutenant will make a full recovery."

Archer nodded curtly, relief a spike through his heart. "Why is he unconscious?"

"Iím not quite sure," Phlox sighed. "There are some anomalous readings; a chemical or two in his system that I canít identify," the doctor then hastened to reassure, "but they donít seem to be toxic. In all, he is quite battered and several of his ribs are cracked. He will be sore for several days, Captain, but as the lieutenant himself would say, he will be fine.í"

Jonathan grinned suddenly. "Is that Malcolmís definition of fine or yours?"

Before Phlox could answer, TíPol sought Archerís attention. "Captain, the Enterprise is hailing us."

"Put them through," he instructed.

"Capín," Tuckerís voice was heard, the worry easily read in his tone. "Weíre showiní six life signs on board. Everything okay?"

"Everythingís just fine," Archer responded, smiling broadly at Hoshiís barely repressed giggle at the use of Malcolmís infamous F word. "The hostage exchange went off without a hitch, thanks to the ladies. Weíve retrieved our armory officer and are on our way back."

"He okay?"

Jonathan shot a look at Phlox, who nodded. "Not exactly but the doc here says heís going to be."

Tripís sigh was audible over the communications system. "Good." Then, more hesitantly, the commander added, "Now, capín?"

Archer swallowed, hearing the longing in his second loverís voice. He knew what it had cost Trip to stay behind while they went to get Malcolm back. "Not yet... but soon." Jonathanís voice was laden with promise. "Archer out."

Malcolm chose that moment to moan softly, his head moving slightly against Jonathanís shoulder. Phlox pointed his scanning device at the Englishman, nodding in satisfaction. "Heís waking up, Captain."

Jonathan eagerly cupped his loverís check in his hand. "Malcolm? Are you with us? Come on, open your eyes."

Dark lashes fluttered but didnít open. Instead, one hand tentatively came up and patted the surface Reed was laying on. Namely, Archer. Malcolm tilted his head, burrowing his face into the captainís neck and breathing deeply. "Jonathan," the injured man murmured softly.

"Thatís right, Malcolm, youíre safe." Archer was grinning. "Look this way, the doctorís got some questions he wants to ask you." Suiting action to words, Jonathan gently grasped Reedís chin, tilting the smaller manís face towards the physician.

Everyone except TíPol, who didnít have an emotional reaction to anything, and Ensign Chuk, who was piloting the shuttle, gasped. Malcolmís eyes were open, but were covered in an opaque white film. Reed, obviously, was blind.

"Doctor...," Archer said tersely.

Phlox was already studying his scanner. "Now I know what at least one of those anomalous chemicals is doing in Lieutenant Reedís system."

Hoshiís stunned voice asked the next question. "Is it permanent?"

"I donít know," the Denobulan admitted. Then, after frowning deeply at his medical equipment, he reluctantly delivered some additional bad news. "Iím sorry to report that his hearing is affected as well."

Archerís grip on his lover tightened, causing a muffled gasp from the injured man. "What are you saying?"

Voice full of regret, Phlox explained. "Lieutenant Reed has been rendered deaf and blind, Captain. He can neither see nor hear you."

Horrified, Jonathan looked down at the form in his arms. Malcolm appeared to have lost consciousness again, a fact which Phlox quickly confirmed. Archer was lost in thought for the rest of the short trip back to the Enterprise , mind tumbling over the possibilities and consequences of Reedís condition. He roused, however, when the shuttle docked with the larger ship, placing Malcolm on the medical stretcher with infinite care.

"I will go relieve Commander Tucker on the bridge," TíPol stated after the transfer had been made.

Archer had been making to follow his lover, but stopped to grip the Vulcanís arm. "You did extremely well today, Sub-Commander. Thank you."

TíPol acknowledged the compliment with a nod. "I did nothing that you could not have done equally well, had the Bíchk!Tpck not been a rigidly matriarchal society."

The Vulcan wasnít giving herself quite enough credit. Not only were the Bíchk!Tpck a rabidly female-dominated society, but the insectoids seemed devoid of emotion as well. Both traits factored in to why the original away team had been so spectacularly unsuccessful in making first contact. In retrospect, they realized that all of the team members had been male, a fact that obviously had not gone unnoticed by the Bíchk!Tpck. It was only when Tripís oddball suggestion for neutralizing the attacking insectoids had worked and they were able to capture half a dozen of the big "bugs" that progress had been made. Once the female connection was made, Jonathan had given TíPol the responsibility of negotiating for Reedís release. Not only had the Vulcan done so, but the Bíchk!Tpck were so impressed with her that they invited her back to their homeward as an ambassador. TíPol had declined and the two groups had gone their separate ways.

"That might be so, but circumstances being what they were, Iím glad you were here to help out." Jonathan gave her a tired smile. "As both a captain and as someone who cares for Malcolm deeply, thank you for helping us get him back."

It was TíPolís turn to offer a compliment, albeit a backhanded one. "Given your... emotional... complications with this series of events, you handled yourself most professionally. More so than I would have expected for a human."

Archer thought about her statement for a moment, finally recognizing it as praise. "Thanks."

The Vulcan nodded again. "I do not believe that Commander Tucker fared as well. With your permission, I shall relieve him of his bridge duty so that he may verify Lieutenant Reedís condition for himself."

"That sounds like a great idea, thanks." Archer clapped his science officer on the shoulder, forgetting for the moment that the gesture wasnít likely to be appreciated. His long legs soon caught him up to the stretcher and he moved to accompany Malcolm into sickbay.

Dr. Phlox, however, had other ideas. "I think youíd better wait back here, Captain." The Denobulan suggested, pressing a hand against Jonathanís chest as the captain sought to follow his lover deeper into the medical area.

"What if Malcolm wakes up and doesnít realize where he is?"

"If that occurs, I will come and get you and you can reassure him." The physicianís voice was firm. "In the meantime, itís been my experience that it is difficult for a loved one to see a patient receive initial treatment."

Archer was frustrated, but stood without further protest as Phlox disappeared behind the barrier that curtained off the treatment cubicle. Outside sickbay doors, he might be in charge, but here, Dr. Phloxís word was law.

Trip found him there, pacing, a few minutes later.

The engineer pulled up short when he got a good look at his loverís face. "John, whatís thí matter?" He grabbed the older manís shoulders, forcing him to stop his agitated movement. "I thought you said Malcolm was gonna be all right?"

Jonathan gently removed Tuckerís hands from his shoulders, keeping them loosely grasped in his own. "Trip, thereís been a complication...."

"Complication?" The commander repeated. "I donít like the sound of that."

Archer felt his loverís hands go cold in his. "It may not even be permanent, Phlox isnít sure yet."

"Sure of what?"

Jonathan sighed inwardly. Trip had taken this whole situation particularly hard. It had been bad enough that Malcolm had been hurt and held hostage by aliens, but the aliens were insectoids and Trip was notorious in his dislike of bugs. Then, Archer had refused to allow him to come on the hostage exchange. The captain hadnít wanted to exclude the commander, but it was a matter of practicality. The Bíchk!Tpck were very anti-male and the negotiating team had to be comprised of all females. Archer and Phlox had remained hidden in the shuttle, but at least Jonathan had been planet-side. Trip had been left in charge of the Enterprise and it had stretched both of their professionalism to make that decision.

"John?"

Archer kicked himself. The situation was bad, but his silence was making it even worse for Trip. "We donít know why and Phlox isnít sure how yet, but Malcolm canít see or hear."

Tuckerís forehead puckered. "Heís blind? And deaf?"

Glumly, Jonathan nodded. "But thereís a possibility that it may be temporary. Thereís a couple of chemicals in Malcolmís system that Phlox hasnít identified yet."

Tucker lifted stricken eyes to the older man. "That donít sound too reassuriní, John." The commander gulped. "Now?"

Trip had been asking now ever since Reed had been taken. Tucker hadnít been on the away team, but seeing the recorded images of the attack and who had grabbed their lover had shaken the engineer. Not that Archer blamed him. The captain had been there and the creatures had thoroughly unnerved him. The Bíchk!Tpck had long and narrow heads with deadly-looking mandibles. Much taller than humans, the multifaceted eyes looked cold and utterly foreign as they towered above him. That spark of sentience or compassion, traits his race rather arrogantly tended to call humanity, were not present in these creatures. Long, stick-like appendages originated from bulbous black bodies and ended in sharp claws.

And Malcolm had been at the mercy of these pitiless creatures for two days.

Seeing that they were alone in the area, Archer pulled Trip close to him. "Now," the older man said.

Having received permission, Trip slowly fell apart. He started out by cursing the Bíchk!Tpck and whatever godforsaken planet that had spawned them. The engineer railed at security officers in general that were too eager to be heroes and Malcolm specifically for having been hurt in the first place. Trip wasnít spared either. He denounced himself for not having been on the away team, somehow thinking that his presence could have changed the outcome.

Jonathan waited until the stream of words came to an awkward halt. "You done?"

Tucker pulled away, refusing to look at his lover. "Yeah, I guess so."

Archer balked at allowing Trip to retreat, tugging the engineer back close. "I notice that you didnít blame me. I was there; shouldnít I have prevented it from happening?"

"Youíre the captain," Tucker responded. "I know how seriously you take that responsibility. Even without askiní, I know you did everything humanly possible. Twerenít your fault."

"Then it wasnít yours either," Jonathan said firmly. "Or Malcolmís."

Trip smiled in spite of himself. "I sípose youíre right."

"Of course I am," Archer said, throwing Tuckerís words back at him. "Iím the captain, remember?"

Their attention was diverted when Phlox came out of the treatment cubicle. "Gentlemen, I have an update for you on Lieutenant Reedís condition."

"Donít keep us waitiní, Doc, how is he?" Tripís concern made him impatient.

"As I told Captain Archer earlier, heís battered. Heís received a multitude of blows to the torso area, causing a great deal of bruising and soft tissue damage. Although several ribs are cracked and several of his internal organs are bruised, he is lucky in that there is no internal bleeding."

"What about his sight and hearing?" Jonathan asked.

Phloxís face fell. "No change, Iím afraid. Iíve determined that there is a chemical block involved, but so far, itís too complex for me to analyze. I have samples and will continue to research, but it may be best to just leave well enough alone in the hopes that they will dissipate of their own accord."

"You mean, whateverís keeping him blind and deaf might just... dissolve?" Tucker sounded unsure.

"Itís possible," Phlox responded, ushering the two men into the area where Malcolm was. "I will, of course, continue to look for alternative treatments, but sometimes the best course of action is to let the body heal itself."

"And thereís nothing you can do to hasten the process?" Archer asked.

Phlox shook his head slowly. "Not without knowing more. Human sight and hearing are delicate senses. One does not lightly interfere with them."

Whatever response Malcolmís lovers would have made was cut short by their arrival at his bedside. Reed was stretched out on the medical bed, the paleness of his skin marred by livid bruises covering his upper body. A bright white bandage was wrapped around his ribs, its pristine condition emphasizing the marks on his skin.

"The bastards," Tucker muttered, conveniently forgetting that all the Bíchk!Tpck theyíd encountered were female. "Whyíd they do this?"

Phlox didnít realize it was a rhetorical question. "Iíve never come across a sentient insectoid species before. However, some extrapolations from the behavior of other, non-sentient, insectoid creatures might safely be made."

The chief engineer looked at him skeptically. "Like what?"

"Well, the Bíchk!Tpck might be an example of a species that masticates their food externally before ingesting it. Or, it could be," the doctor went on enthusiastically, ignoring how one of his audience members was turning green, "that they are a race that lays their eggs in the bodies of the living or newly dead. His captors could have been preparing Mr. Reed to be an egg receptacle by softening his body tissue."

"Or it could be," Jonathan came to Tripís rescue by interrupting the physicianís hypothesizing, "that Malcolm just put up one hell of a fight." The captain took one of the dark-haired manís hands into his own.

Trip smiled at the older man weakly, picking up the other of Malcolmís hands. "I bet he did."

Phlox, not entirely adept at interacting with humans, realized that heíd made a blunder. "Iím sure he did at that." The Denobulan sighed. "As for taking his sight and hearing, my guess is that it was an attempt to control Mr. Reed. Or perhaps some form of experimentation. Iíd like to think, however, that a species mature enough to develop space flight would be beyond such torturous acts."

Neither of the humans responded, not having the answer to that statement. Instead, they stared down at their injured mate, anxious for him to wake up. After a few minutes, Malcolm obliged them.

The armory officerís eyes fluttered opened, a quickly stifled moan barely sounding. Archer and Tucker both squeezed the hand they were holding and Reed immediately responded. "Jonathan? Trip? Is that you?"

Trip looked helplessly at the captain, unsure of how to answer a man that could neither see nor hear him.

Remembering the brief moment that Malcolm had been awake on the shuttle, Jonathan carefully leaned forward. The older man brushed his fingers against Reedís face before nuzzling his cheek against his.

Malcolm smiled, turning his face and breathing as deeply as his damaged ribs allowed. "Jonathan," he said sleepily. Archer squeezed his hand in response.

That mystery solved, Reed tugged on the other hand and Tucker obediently bent down. This time, Malcolm disengaged their hands and reached blindly for the engineerís face. When he encountered skin, Reed groped until he found his loverís nose, fingers tracing its upturned shape. "Trip," the armory officer exclaimed, smiling when he felt Tuckerís head nod an affirmative.

Reed patted around him on the bed, hands searching for clues as to his whereabouts. "Sickbay?" He finally asked. Jonathan captured one of the hands and brought it to his cheek so that the blind man could feel his nod. "Iím... free... then? Those... creatures... are gone?"

Trip grabbed the other hand and brought it to his cheek, both men nodding vigorously.

"Good," Malcolm murmured before yawning. "I... canít hear you or see you either. Do you know that?"

Again, his lovers nodded.

"Iíd... Iíd rather hoped Iíd wake up and have all five senses back." No doubt, if Malcolm could have heard his own voice, he would have been able to keep the forlorn tone out of it. "Dr. Phlox can fix it, canít he?"

Jonathan and Trip looked at each other, not sure how to convey the mixed message that the physician had given them. After a long hesitation, Archer took Malcolmís hand in his and slowly moved it in a back-and-forth motion.

"Is that a maybe?" Malcolm asked. Trip nodded reluctantly. Reed sighed, wincing when it caused his ribs to hurt. "Well, I suppose thatís better than nothing."

Tucker looked at his injured lover, then up at Archer. "This is hopeless, John, how are we supposed to communicate with him?"

"I donít know, just the best that we can, I suppose." Jonathan bent forward and kissed Malcolm lightly on the forehand, stroking the younger manís hair back and Reedís eyes began to droop. Soon, the armory officer was again asleep and his lovers looked to Phlox for guidance.

"Youíre doing just fine, gentlemen," Phlox assured him. "Sleep is the best thing for the lieutenant right now."

+++++++

"Captain Archer?" Hoshi Sato tentatively poked her head into the curtained off cubicle that was Malcolmís. "The Sub-Commander sent me down to see you."

Jonathan Archer was in uniform and was seated next to Lieutenant Reedís bed. The captain was due on the bridge in a few minutes and was spending what time he could with his recovering lover. Trip was off duty and dressed more comfortably. He had appointed himself Malcolmís chief nurse and had just assisted the impaired man with a drink of water. Nodding a greeting to the ensign, he put the glass aside and helped Malcolm settle back against the pillow.

"Come on in, Hoshi," Archer said, watching wistfully as Trip tended their lover. Smiling to take the sting out of his words, he obliquely asked the young ensign why sheíd intruded into their quiet time. "Did TíPol send out a search party? I didnít realize I was late for duty."

Hoshi blushed. "Itís not that, sir. It was just... I was thinking... after what the Bíchk!Tpck did to Lieutenant Reed... it probably makes it difficult for you to communicate with him. I think I might have come up with a way to help with that and TíPol thought you would want to know right away."

Jonathan stood up. "Sheís right, I do. Weíve been spelling words out with our fingers, but itís slow. Do you have anything better?"

"I think so, sir," Hoshi said, stepping fully into the little area. "Morse code."

"ĎMorse code,í" Trip repeated. "Whatís that?"

The ensign smiled. "Itís actually something old, back in the telegraph days, when humanity was just developing mass communication."

"I remember reading about it in history class," Jonathan said, "but isnít it dependent on sound? Or being written?"

"Not really," Hoshi responded, gaining confidence as she got deeper into the conversation. "Itís based on short bursts, called dots and longer ones, called dashes. If you modify it into tactile code instead, then Malcolm wouldnít need to see or hear. A dot becomes a tap and a dash could be a stroke."

"Oh, Iím beginniní to like the sound of this," Trip said, mustering up a grin. "Strokiní Malcolmís got real potential."

Hoshi blushed again but gamely continued, "And the best thing about it is, that Malcolm comes from a military family...."

"He probably already knows it," Jonathan finished for her. "Hoshi, youíre a genius."

"I wouldnít say that," the ensign protested. "There are probably better ways for him to communicate, but with his condition probably temporary, this should do for the short term."

"So, how do we get started?" Trip was eager to talk to Malcolm. Theyíd found that the spelling of words with their fingers worked, but could be tedious and, especially if your penmanship was as bad as Tuckerís, led to misunderstanding.

"First, I think we need to establish with the lieutenant what we intend to do," Hoshi approached the bed. "Letís start with S-O-S, thatís one that everybody knows."

The young woman reached for Malcolmís hand but was totally unprepared for his reaction. The armory officer was awake and, with Trip standing so close to the bed, knew from his loverís body language that he was talking to someone. Reed, however, thought that Archer was the only other person in the room. He hadnít sensed Hoshiís arrival and her grabbing his hand was totally unexpected. Startled, Malcolm flinched violently from the contact and nearly scrabbled right off the bed, sightless eyes darting frantically in a fruitless attempt to tell where the threat was coming from.

"Whoa!" Trip said, even though he knew Malcolm couldnít hear him. Wrapping his arms around the injured man, he steadied Reed. "What the hell was that?"

Jonathan joined him at the bed, gently stroking their loverís dark hair. "We forget, unless he feels your movement, he doesnít know youíre there. Hoshi surprised him, thatís all."

"Iím sorry," the ensign was nearly in tears. She counted Malcolm a friend as well as a superior officer and was upset to see him so... frightened. It wasnít a word sheíd ever expected to apply to their tactical officer.

"Not your fault, we should have thought of that." Archer stepped on Tripís foot when he saw the younger man open his mouth. He had a feeling that Tucker wouldnít be so easy to forgive but it truly wasnít Hoshiís fault. "Tell you what, that padd youíve got has the basics on it, right?" When the young woman nodded, he continued. "Why donít you leave that here and you can come by later to see how heís doing?"

The grateful ensign dropped the padd on the captainís vacant chair and, with one last apology, made a hasty retreat.

"Iím sorry," Malcolm whispered. "I feel like such a fool. Itís just, once they took my sight, I never knew when one of them would brush up against me and after they took my hearing, I couldnít even tell from the clicking nose that one of them was near."

His lovers flinched at the hoarse voice and the shocked horror that it contained. Helpless, yet, to comfort in any other way, they touched their lover gently, trying to convey without words that he wasnít alone.

+++++++

Trip took one step into the cabin and stopped dead in his tracks, a broad grin splitting his handsome face as he took in the tranquil scene in front of him. "Now, if that ainít a sight worth cominí home for."

Shirtless, Jonathan was reclining on the bed, his upper body propped up against the headboard. Malcolm, his torso still swathed in protective wrappings, was draped across the older man. As the sleeping armory officerís head was pillowed on Archerís broad chest, one of Reedís hands was curled so that his fingers were lightly tangled in Jonathanís chest hair. The captain had a padd in one hand and was absently stroking the sleeping manís back with the other, Porthos curled up at their feet.

Archer looked up and smiled, readily putting his reading aside as Trip approached the bed. "We were waiting for you."

Trip leaned down to kiss the older man and then reached across to brush the hair off Malcolmís forehead. "I guess we can tell the doc that we were right. Heís restiní better here than in sickbay."

"Makes perfect sense," Jonathan agreed, both men watching Malcolm fondly as they remembered their argument with Phlox regarding releasing him to their private quarters. "He can relax here. In a more closed environment, he has a better sense of whatís going on around him. No more surprises like with Hoshi." The captain looked at Tucker. "Come join us, thereís room."

Trip didnít need to be asked twice. Quickly stripping off his uniform, he slipped into a pair of sweatpants and approached Reedís side of the bed. "How goes the Morse Code?" He and Jonathan had taken turns, making sure their bridge shifts didnít overlap so that one of them could always be with the injured man. Even so soon after Malcolm had been hurt, they couldnít afford not to do their duty.

"Slow," Jonathan nodded towards the discarded padd. "Oh, Malcolm knows it well enough but Iím a little slower on the uptake."

As if hearing himself talked about, Malcolm stirred and blinked his eyes open. Archer brushed his hand against Reedís as it lay on his chest, reminding the armory officer that he wasnít alone. Trip brushed his thumb along his loversí twined hands, careful not to startle Malcolm. Reed smiled and reached up blindly for Tuckerís face. Finding it, his fingers went unerringly for the engineerís nose.

"Trip," Malcolm said with sleepy satisfaction.

Tucker smiled ruefully. "When he gets better, Malcolm and I are gonna have a talk about his sudden fascination with my nose."

"Well, it is your most distinguishing feature," Archer grinned at him. "At least, the most distinguishing one that Malcolm can grab in polite company."

Oblivious to the conversation going on above him, Reed pushed against Archer. "Move over, John, we need to make room for Trip."

"Yes, sir," Jonathan replied, grin widening as he looked up at Trip. "I think heís feeling better."

Tucker nodded, his expression becoming thoughtful as he pondered the ramifications. "Yeah... and that means his frustration levelís gonna skyrocket." By this time, Archer had shifted as instructed and Trip clambered into the bed. "Malcolmís not Ďxactly the type to want to sit around much, but until Phlox finds a way to fix his eyes and ears, what is there for him to do?"

"Weíll figure something out," Jonathan responded, sounding a lot more confident than he felt. Heíd just contacted Phlox an hour ago for an update, only to find that the research remained fruitless. "I have every confidence in Phlox and in Malcolm."

"Yeah, me too," Tucker said, burying his nose into the soft skin at the back of Reedís neck. Archer wrapped himself around the armory officer from the front and soon the only sound in the cabin was the contented sound of deep breathing, accompanied by the muffled sound of Porthosí tail thumping against the bedcovers.

 

+++++++

Chittering noises, whistles and clicks that didnít even sound remotely sentient.... blackness so dark and moist that it almost seemed alive... brushing up against a hard carapace - recoiling as he realized the slick, hard shell was a living creature... blessing whatever providence that led to him being in this situation rather than Trip or John....

Fighting against things his mind automatically classified as monsters... losing, badly... making attempt after attempt to get free of the poking, battering claws... being slammed against a surface and having something spit into his face, thinking only at the very last minute to keep his mouth closed... what little vision the gloom of his prison allowed him fading... noises muted to nothing... unable to anticipate by sight or sound the blows that continued to fall....

Malcolm Reed moaned in his sleep, the grip of the painkillers too strong to allow him break the clutches of the nightmare. Exhausted themselves, Jonathan and Trip responded instinctively, stroking and murmuring to their mate without fully waking.

Sensing the humanity of their touch, even if he couldnít hear their comforting words, Malcolm descended into a more peaceful slumber.

+++++++

"Well, Doc, is there any change?"

Phlox looked up at the impatient engineer. "Oh, yes. Lieutenant Reedís healing nicely. It would be quite safe to let him move out of bed now. Carefully, of course. Those ribs are still tender, I imagine."

Trip grimaced. "Thatís not what I meant."

The Denobulan sighed, thankful it was only the chief engineer he was facing and not the captain. "I know, Commander. Iím sorry. No, there is no change to Mr. Reedís sight and hearing." The physician saw Tuckerís face fall. Phlox had received a promising communication with his former colleagues at the Interspecies Medical Exchange program, but it was too soon to know if their suggestions would prove helpful. The last thing that Malcolm Reed or his mates needed was false hope. Still, Phlox was worried about all three men. Being without two major senses would be difficult for the younger man, but Tucker and Archer would suffer nearly as much from not being able to help him. It was an untenable situation and one that Phlox was determined to rectify.

"Trip?" Malcolm blindly reached for his lover, trusting Tucker to tell him what the verdict was. Trip bit his lip and brought Malcolmís hand to his cheek, shaking his head to indicate that there was no change. Disappointed but not surprised, Reed turned his back on the other two men.

"Iím sure a solution will present itself, I have all the top medical minds at my disposal working on the problem," Phlox said, as confidently as he could. "In the meantime, now that the lieutenant will be less dependent on the pain killers, it would be best to find a way to occupy his mind."

Tucker frowned; unnerved to hear a medical professional utter his same concern from the night before. "I donít suppose we could keep him on the pain medicine a might longer, could we?"

Phlox gave him his best doctor glare. "I should say not, Mr. Tucker. Iím going to pretend you didnít suggest that." When Trip blushed and looked embarrassed, the Denobulan relented a bit. "Not that I havenít been tempted a time or two to use the same tactic on Mr. Reed myself. He is most reluctant to accept bed rest gracefully."

Trip saw the doctor to the door, smiling. "Yeah, I know what you mean." After Phlox left, he looked at Malcolm thoughtfully, wondering what the hell he could find that would hold the interest of someone who could neither see nor hear.

Looking at the curve of his loverís back, the commander spoke, even though he knew the other man couldnít hear him. "Weíll think of somethiní, babe, donít you worry about it." The engineer picked up the padd with the Morse Code information. "ĎTil then, I guess we can start with you teachiní me how to talk to you."

+++++++

Movement woke Jonathan Archer.

The captain had fallen asleep, curled up with Malcolm on their bed. Archer hadnít been too deep into slumber; it bothered him how much time his supposedly recovering lover spent napping. Phlox assured them that he was improving and wouldnít need as much rest, but Jonathan had a feeling it was the younger manís way of dealing with his impairment. While Archer didnít blame Malcolm for having a hard time handling his condition, neither did he want to see him retreat from the world. So far, though, he and Trip hadnít come up with anything to occupy Reedís mind.

Archer followed Malcolm as the other man climbed off the bed, intending to offer assistance. His helping hands were impatiently batted away, however.

"Iíve been going to the necessity all by myself since I was a lad," Reed said testily. "I think I can manage."

Jonathan sighed and let him go. The times that Malcolm didnít withdraw by sleeping saw him increasingly grumpy. The armory officer had always been independent and having to rely so much on others had to be frustrating for him.

Not to mention frightening.

Respecting his loverís need to do for himself for a change, Archer bit his lip and watched while Malcolm fumbled his way to their quartersí bathroom facilities. It hurt, physically hurt, to see his normally graceful lover move so hesitantly. Roused by the activity, Porthos hopped up and made as if to follow Reed, but Jonathan grabbed the dog before he could jump down. The last thing Malcolm needed at the moment was a moving speed bump.

Settling back on the bed, the captain affectionately rubbed his petís ears. "If heís feeling well enough to be cranky, Porthos," Jonathan said to the dog, trying to find a positive angle on the situation, "that meanís heís feeling better... the bruises and the ribs, anyway."

The warmth of the bed and the furry comfort of the animal pressed close lulled Jonathan into a light doze. Given the peaceful feeling heíd achieved, the clatter from the bathroom - accompanied by a muffled curse - made for a rude awakening.

 

"What the hell...," Archer muttered. The captain moved the dog aside and quickly crossed the room.

When he got there, Jonathan immediately saw Malcolm on his knees, groping blindly around him with his hands. To Archerís relief, the lieutenant was apparently unhurt, although by the look on his face, his frustration level had risen to new heights.

Reed felt the air movement from the door opening and knew he was no longer alone. Sitting back on his haunches, the armory officer sighed. "I just felt scruffy," he simply stated.

Jonathan had been searching for whatever it was that Reed had obviously dropped. He looked up at his loverís explanation. "You are the most stubborn man Iíve ever met," the older man murmured, half in complaint and half in admiration. He couldnít break himself of the habit of speaking aloud to Malcolm, even though the other man couldnít hear him. To do so would be to give up and that Jonathan wouldnít do. "I would have been glad to help you...."

The captain broke off his gentle diatribe, noticing the defeated slump to Reedís shoulders and the listless way the Englishman stroked Porthos, whoíd accompanied his master to investigate the noise. It hit Jonathan, then, that there was more to this maneuver than simple personal hygiene. The vast majority of Malcolmís existence since encountering the Bíchk!Tpck had spun hopelessly out of his control. This one thing - maintaining what he regarded as an officerís proper appearance - was one aspect of his life that Malcolm could control. No wonder heíd insisted on it and no wonder heíd attempted it himself.

With that frame of mind, Jonathan gently took his loverís hand. With laborious concentration, he tapped and stroked a single word on the back of Reedís wrist.

The reaction was immediate - the lieutenant snorted. "ĎSexy?í" Malcolm appeared to consider it and then suddenly grinned. "I think you need your eyes checked, John. Tripís the one who looks sexy in stubble, not me."

Jonathan shared the grin, glad to see a glimmer of Malcolmís dry sense of humor. Finally finding the razor, he handed it to Reed and helped the smaller man to his feet. Turning the armory officer to the sink, he stood behind the blind man, allowing Malcolm to do all the work.

The tenseness of Reedís body eased with the familiar motions and Archer knew heíd made the right decision. With his normal precision, Malcolm did a decent job of shaving, but it was inevitable that some spots would be missed. The dark-haired man patted at his face and grimaced when he felt his mistakes. "Fix me, please." He said succinctly, holding the shaving implement out for his lover to take.

The captain was touched; it was the first time that he could remember Malcolm actually asking for help. He hadnít needed to before; Trip and Jonathan had always anticipated his needs and took care of them before anything could be articulated.

Reaching around the smaller man, Archer brought his arms up, delicately holding the electric razor. Moving slowly and carefully, he touched up the job that Malcolm had done, enjoying the way that Reedís trim body leaned back and molded itself to his. It was almost disappointment when he finished. The two men stayed that way, Malcolm snuggling even further into Jonathanís embrace.

"Oh, this is nice," Reed eventually murmured. "Much better than a spa in Mexico."

Jonathan had never been to a spa. Still, he couldnít help but agree. Approving of the other man being so soothed and content, the captain put his mind to thinking of ways to make his lover even more relaxed. He thought a moment and then tapped another word onto Malcolmís hand.

"ĎShower?í" The lieutenant considered the suggestion, then smiled. "Yes, that would be lovely."

Archer pressed a quick kiss to the back of Malcolmís neck, enjoying the way it made his mate shiver. Turning the water on, Jonathan shooed Porthos out of the small room before divesting himself of his clothes. Malcolm had been even quicker and Archer had to restrain himself from protesting as Reed cautiously made his way into the shower. Reed was still an adult, even hampered by nonfunctional senses, he could handle such an easy task.

Joining his lover under the water, Jonathan immediately realized that he might not be able to handle the task at hand... getting soapy with a naked Malcolm Reed and not rising to the occasion would be a pretty hefty challenge.

It didnít help that Malcolm was almost moaning in his appreciation of getting thoroughly clean. "I donít care what this waterís recycled from, it feels good. Iím so glad to be rid of those bandages - sponge baths just arenít the same."

Archer gulped. It looked like his self-control was going to be tested. Unpleasant as the restraint was, however, it was also necessary. Dr. Phlox had cautioned that Malcolm was only recovered enough for light physical activity... and, besides, Trip wasnít there. While the threesome did occasionally indulge in pairs when the third mate was busy, it wasnít something they did often. The two older men hadnít gratified themselves yet, preferring to wait until Malcolm could participate; it wouldnít be fair to start something when Trip wasnít there too.

"Hey, can anybody join thí party or is this shindig by invite only?"

Jonathan grinned... speak of the devil.

"No invitation necessary," Jonathan called, "as long as youíve got the right attire." The captain tapped Malcolm a warning, letting him know that they were about to be joined by a third party. Feeling playful, he chose Malcolmís nose as the receiving body part, causing Reed to wrinkle it at the unfamiliar touch.

"I think I can handle that," Trip entered the bathroom, shucking his uniform as he walked. "As long as the dress code is for my birthday suit."

Jonathan steadied Malcolm as Tucker climbed in with them. Managing to fit all three of them into the small space was a challenge under the best of circumstances, but the experience had always more than compensated for the effort. Trip stroked Reedís cheek in a hello and immediately noticed how smooth it was.

"He was feeling scruffy," Archer said, noticing the question in Tuckerís eyes.

"Aw, hell," the engineered responded, disappointed. "I thought Malcolm was damn sexy in stubble. He donít often let us see him all rumpled and mussed. Itís a good look for him."

Archer chuckled. "Thatís what I tried to tell him, but you know how he...."

"What are you doing here? I didnít think your shift was over yet," Reed said, not realizing that he was interrupting the older man. The armory officer groped for Tucker. "Not that Iím complaining, just surprised."

Trip gasped as Malcolmís fumbling hand brushed up against a particularly sensitive piece of flesh. Grabbing the wandering appendage, he tapped a succinct message.

"A surprise?" Reedís forehead creased as the Englishman tried to puzzle out the meaning. "Yes, I know your being here now is a surprise. I just wanted to know why." Trip started to get a little bit hurt at the dark-haired manís insistence but Malcolmís next question cleared up why he wanted Tuckerís presence clarified. "Youíre not neglecting your duties because of me, are you?"

Tucker closed his eyes. Opening them, he saw Jonathan looking at him in sympathy. "Yeah, I know, John," the engineer said before Archer could get a word in, "patience is a virtue... but Malcolmís not real good at communicatiní the emotional stuff even when he can hear."

The tip of his tongue sticking out in concentration, Trip tried again. The pats and strokes that stood for the abbreviated language Malcolm was forced by his disability to use went on for several heartbeats. When Trip was finally done, Reed tried again.

"Youíre not the surprise, you brought a surprise? For me?"

Trip took Malcolmís hand and brought it to his cheek so that the younger man could feel him nod. When he saw the armory officerís smile of success, he turned the hand over and kissed its palm, a reward for them both.

As Archer watched the tender gesture, his body reminded him that he was pressed in a small space with the slick and nude bodies of the two men he loved. "You know," the captain said hoarsely, "they say that when someone loses one of their senses, the others become stronger to compensate."

"Is that right?" Trip grinned. "You suppose we should find out if Malcolmís tactile sense has gotten better?" The engineer put action to words, stroking up and down Reedís torso. Even with his bourgeoning desire, however, Trip was careful to keep his touch gentle.

"Purely for scientific purposes, of course," Jonathan concurred, leaning over Reedís shoulder to kiss Tucker fiercely, then moving to trail tender kisses down the side of Malcolmís neck.

The two blonds moved to stroke and pet their mate, their caresses becoming firmer as the action became more heated. They vied for the attention of their loverís mouth, taking turns at stealing Malcolmís breath and replacing it with their own.

When Reed started to tremble and his breathing became labored, they hardly noticed, thinking him in the grips of desire. And when he moaned, they assumed that he was as involved in the act as they were, lost in the drive to reconnect with each other physically.

"D-don-donít..." Malcolm stuttered.

Trip grinned around the earlobe he was sucking. Pulling one arm free of the tangle their bodies had become, he sensually stroked a question onto Malcolmís skin. Unfortunately, Malcolm was too deep into confusion to understand.

"S-stop," Reed said.

His lovers thought it was a continuation of the previous phrase and that he was telling them not to stop. They were disabused of that notion when a sharp elbow jabbed sharply back into Jonathanís stomach. Before the captain could even complete his grunt of pain, another blow landed on Tuckerís collarbone and, flailing wildly, Malcolm stumbled out of the shower.

"Stop! Just stop," he cried out, staggering until he hit the wall. Leaning heavily against its hard surface, the Englishman slid down until he was crouched on the floor. "Just... stop." Malcolmís panicked breathing reverberated in the small room.

Jonathan and Trip looked at each other in shock. Then, both of them exploded into motion.

"What the hell happened? We were enjoyiní ourselves, then... what? Whatíd we do to make him act like that?" Tucker sounded almost as panicked as Reed.

Archer didnít know any more than Trip did, but managed - just barely - to keep his head. "No, donít," he said as Tucker made to grab Malcolm. He knew that the engineer just wanted to comfort their distraught mate but Reed obviously was in no state to accept it. "Here, give him this," Jonathan handed Trip a towel.

As the captain moved to turn the water in the shower off, Tucker looked down at the towel and then to his huddled lover. Trip contemplated the best way to offer it to Malcolm without upsetting him further. Finally, he unfolded the white terrycloth, draping it over Reedís knees like a blanket.

Malcolm flinched at the touch but, realizing what it was, clutched the soft material to him like a lifeline.

Tense, Archer handed another towel to Trip before taking one for himself. He might be impatient by Vulcan standards but he knew when it was time to back off.

"John, what are we gonna do?" Trip asked, automatically drying himself as he knelt as close to Malcolm as the armory officer would allow. "If he wonít let us touch him, how are we supposed to talk to him?"

Archer placed a steadying hand on the engineerís shoulder. "If we canít talk to Malcolm, weíll just have to wait until Malcolm talks to us."

Tucker looked skeptically at Reed. He hated the way the bugsí mysterious opaque film shrouded his loverís eyes. "How long you figure thatíll take?"

Jonathan shrugged. "Doesnít matter, we can wait as long as it takes..." The captain was interrupted by a hoarse whisper made by the man in question.

"Iím sorry... so sorry," Reed said brokenly.

Jonathan knelt next to Trip. The two older men looked at each other helplessly, not knowing if it was safe to touch their lover. Luckily, Malcolm continued to speak without encouragement.

"I couldnít see either of you... or hear any of the sounds of our lovemaking," Reed said desperately. "And with the shower... I couldnít smell your scents. The water, it washed away even your taste when we kissed."

"Aw, hell," Trip swore softly, seeing where Malcolm was headed.

"I knew, I knew up here," Reed thumped himself on the forehead with a finger, "that it was you. I know your touch, the way your bodies feel. But for a moment... without sight, without sound, without taste or smell... it could have been anyoneís hands on me, touching me." The Englishmanís voice became fierce. "I donít want anyoneís hands; I want the two of you!" Reedís fury left him. "Iím a bloody fool."

Jonathan swallowed heavily and carefully touched Malcolmís arm. When his hand wasnít shrugged off, he tried to convey a message of comfort. The captain had only gotten two words completed, though, before his dark-haired lover erupted.

"Itís most certainly not okay," Malcolm said, slapping away Archerís fingers. Jonathan had been trying to tell him that his reaction was okay but Reed misunderstood. "Itís as far from okay as it can get! I want my sight back; I want my hearing back; I want to make love with my mates without acting like a bloody virgin."

Trip tried next. He gently stroked Malcolmís arm, not trying any words until he felt the tight muscles ease. When they did, he tried a one word message of his own.

"Patience?" Malcolm snorted bitterly. "Now thereís the pot calling the kettle black."

Archer gently rubbed the engineerís back, knowing the words had stung. "Keep going; youíre on a roll. Sarcasmís a better reaction than anger; at least it means heís thinking." Jonathan smiled sadly. "Consider it this wayÖ itís good that heís getting it out of his system... and that he trusts us this much."

Tucker gulped. "Thatís easy for you to say," he muttered and then turned to tap another message to the impaired member of their trio. This one was longer than the others and took Reed a minute to decipher. When he did, Malcolm was startled into laughter.

"Yes, I suppose it would make the Vulcans eat their words at that, to see a human being patient... but I hardly think TíPol would be willing to eat hers with chopsticks." Reedís smile faded. "But what if being patient doesnít work? Itís been days alreadyÖ what if Phlox canít fix my eyes and ears? The Enterprise hardly needs a cripple for its chief of security."

Jonathan joined the conversation, carefully touching his lover with a message of his own.

Reed lowered his head. "You need me, even as I am? I know I need the two of you, but Iíll step aside if a cure canít be found. Iím sure the Vulcan High Command would be happy to escort a human failure back to Earth, even if itís only one person. If it comes to that, I wonít stand in the way of your Starfleet careers."

Tucker gasped at the outlandish offer but it was Jonathan that responded to the comment. The motions he used were firm enough to be almost painful as the captain emphasized his point.

It was Malcolmís turn to gasp. "Screw Starfleet? John!"

Trip grinned and grabbed Reedís other arm, repeating the comment. The Englishman blinked and then, very slowly smiled. "Youíre both idiots," he said before bringing both menís hands up and kissing them gently. "But youíre my idiots."

"Damn straight," Tucker murmured.

Jonathan touch-painted another message onto Malcolmís skin, this time using the armory officerís freshly shaved cheek. His fingers were in the perfect place to feel the flush of heat as Reed blushed.

"Iím trying to trust Phlox... if he can figure out a cure for a whole species in a manner of days, then he should be able to figure this out." Malcolm sighed deeply. "Itís just hard to be patient and trust... and not to worry."

All three men became silent at that, then Trip suddenly stood up and snapped his fingers. "Well, maybe what Malcolm needs is a distraction. I finally thought up somethiní that might take his mind off things. For a little while, anyway."

"That sounds like a good idea," Jonathan agreed. While it was good for Malcolm to get his fears into the air so they wouldnít fester inside of him, his worries wouldnít be solved in one session.

Even in the few days that Malcolm had been hampered with his sensory limitations, theyíd become adept at common chores like getting dressed. In short order, all three had donned the soft knit garments of their off-duty clothes and Reed was sitting on the desk chair waiting for his surprise. Tucker picked up a box from where heíd left it by the door and carefully placed it in his loverís lap. Gingerly, Reed put his hands inside the carton, trying to identify what it contained.

"What is that stuff?" Jonathan asked. At first glance, the box looked like it was fully of junk... technical looking pieces of junk... distressingly familiar technical looking pieces of junk. "Trip... that isnít what I think it is, is it?"

Tucker looked defensive. "Malcolm once told me that a good security officer could put his weapon together one handed and weariní a blindfold." The engineer shrugged. "The blindfold isnít necessary thanks to those damn bugs but I could always tie one of his arms behind his back if you think I should."

Archer opened his mouth and shut it a couple of times. "Need I remind you that we have a very limited number of those available... and if Malcolm puts it together wrong, he could blow a hole into something, or someone?"

The commander was saved from answering by an equally shocked exclamation from Malcolm. "Dear Lord, these are the pieces of a phase pistol. Trip, what did you do?"

Tucker squatted next his lover and used his fingers to make a request.

"Fix it?" Reed sputtered. "Are you mad?"

Trip repeated his plea and the armory officer shook his head in disgusted acquiescence. "All right, Iíll try. But when we finally can properly talk again, Mr. Tucker, you and I are going to have a long conversation about this."

The engineer grinned up Archer. "See that enthusiasm? Malcolm considers those pistols his personal babies. Wonít fix all his problems, but might take his mind off Ďem for a bit."

Jonathan tried not to smile but it was hard, seeing the way Reed was already fussing over the broken weapon. "And if he puts a hole in the cabin wall, youíll repair it?"

"Oh ye of little faith," Trip teased as he stood. "Malcolmís not gonna put a hole in the wall, in himself, or in Porthos either." Tucker dropped his voice to a whisper. "I held back the power source. Itís no more dangerous than any other puzzle."

The captain couldnít resist, he swooped in and kissed Trip thoroughly. "Youíre a lot smarter than people give you credit for," he teased. "That was a stroke of genius."

"I canít believe you let this pistol get in this kind of condition," Malcolm grumped. "Itís a precision weapon, not a toy." The armory officer felt one of his lovers move by him. Reaching out blindly, he grabbed an arm. "Thank you," Reed said quietly. "Both of youÖ for everything."

This time, when his lovers responded by touching him with messages of patience and trust, Malcolm let himself be convinced.

+++++++

~Continued in Part 2~

 

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