Mommy's Little Soldier

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Title: Mommy's Little Soldier
Pairing: Implied Reed/Elizabeth Tucker
Category: Angst/Drama
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Trip is pulled into another universe where his 'other' is nowhere to be found. Curiosity gets the better of him, and that's where the story begins.
Author's Note: The "implied" pairing is so implied as to be almost nonexistent. However I've recently unearthed two or three sheets of notes for a full series of fic set in the MLS alternate universe, and they all place some emphasis on the Malcolm/Lizzie Tucker pairing. If I can find the time, I'll get them written.

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o



"Shit." He rattled the small piece of equipment again. It didn't do anything, but it still got rid of some of his tension. Not a lot, but some. "Shit. Why aren't they answerin'?"

The sudden sound of footsteps behind him, and quickly he stilled, shoving his hand, and the item in it, firmly into his pocket. Without making another sound he walked away from the other people approaching. At this time of night, it could only be a pair of screechers coming. He had learned early on to avoid them, but it was fear of missing the meeting time rather than a fear of this new threat that made him move now. Through the rest of the park - rather a loose term - and out of the gate at the far end before someone grabbing a tight hold of his shoulder.

Turning around, he recognised his potential assailant as one of the wardens - secretly nicknamed screechers by anybody out of earshot of one of them. He smiled nervously. "Scared me a little there."

The screecher didn't return the smile. "You seem to be in rather a hurry, sir. Where are you going in such a rush?"

He had already perfected his answer - had needed to. "S'posed ta be meetin' a friend," he said breathlessly, still feigning reactions. "Either he's really late, or I've shown up too early." He attempted a grin and managed a short, humourless laugh. "Typical, really."

The screecher didn't return the sentiment, either. "Name?"

He also knew by now that resistance to a screecher was useless. "Will," he said, a vague memory of lessons in tactics from an old friend. "Will Tucker." He pushed his handful of technology further down into his jacket pocket, as far as it would go without breaking the stitching.

There was a long pause before the screecher spoke. "Everything seems to be in order, Mister Tucker," after checking some kind of portable database. "Don't go attracting any trouble, now. It wouldn't do at all."

"Yeah." 'Will' was already starting to walk away. "It wouldn't." He didn't even consider looking back again until he had rounded at least three corners, but even then he still fancied that there was someone watching him. He walked and walked, but he didn't look back.

He knew really that the only real incursion a screecher could bring about was a night in a cell for causing public disorder, but he also knew that that was something he had to avoid at all costs. He fingered the lump of metal in his pocket again. That was why. One sketchy, fritzing communication with someone he knew, and he had started to come back to the exact same spot at the exact same time, hoping for a repeat result. Hoping for some help.

Hoping for a way back home.

Because Charles Tucker III didn't belong in this universe.

He belonged in his own.

o o o o o

Commander Tucker, Lieutenant Reed, Major Hayes and Sergeant Kemper had been following up on a lead about Xindi primates on a near-deserted world. Following a strange reading on his scanner, Trip had had allowed himself to leave the group and wander into a small network of caves. Further and further in he had gone until he had lost any kind of contact with the other three men. He had tried to backtrack, but failed - he was lost. He kept trying to work his way back outside when he had followed a spill of light to what he had thought was the cave's exit.

He had come out of a tiny cave on a beach on Earth with no idea how he had got there, or how to get back to the others - the cave on the beach was thirteen metres deep and led to a solid stone wall. It had taken Trip mere hours to figure out what was wrong with his surroundings, and it wasn't until a full day had passed that his now empty stomach had told him to get off the beach and do something constructive.

Finding himself both a temporary job and somewhere to stay had been easy - pitifully so, in fact. The old woman who owned the house that he rented a small (cramped) bedroom in didn't seem to care that this man was wild-eyed, scruffy, and more than likely an illecit. In return for a week's (extortionate) rent up front she had shown him to a room no bigger than a broom closet. But it had a bed (creaky), it had a roof (leaky), and for the moment he didn't care what kind of place he had, as long it was somewhere he wouldn't be caught. The job was clearing rubble from this end of the crater that the Xindi had left behind them when they'd razed Earth. The hours were crappy, and the pay was worse than during his student days, but he really didn't give a shit. The money he got covered rent and a few other amenities. Food, clothing, and a false identity.

Charles Tucker III didn't exist in this universe.

Will Tucker did. It was a memory of the Malcolm Reed of his own universe - he had told Trip (and most of the other senior staff) that in any kind of situation where he (or they) could personally be in any kind of danger, to give a false name - a false name that was as close to the truth as possible. Your middle name and your surname, in other words. By this logic, it was explained, Malcolm became Alexander Reed, Captain Archer became Luke Archer, and Trip became William Tucker. Or Will for short. Will Tucker, pleased ta meet ya.

A little chat with the local fixer, the promise of most of his wages for the next couple of weeks, and Will Tucker was a legacit. In layman's terms a legal citizen, as opposed to an illegal one. The Xindi, he had learned from coworkers, were also to blame for the screechers patrolling around in the evenings and after dark. The chameleon-like abilities of the Suliban were already well known (and well feared) in this place, and the added knowledge of an alien attack in their own sky from out of nowhere and six million officially dead had put Earth's central government right on edge. Anyone was a suspect. And so Trip - playing the part of Will - had to keep as low a profile as possible.

This action was a lot simpler for him to understand. With Enterprise off searching for the Xindi, happenings on the ship were widely reported, and just about any idiot with half a brain cell could walk into a library and ask for official records about the starship. Trip/Will had done just this, despite the odd looks he had received from the librarian who had fetched the files for him. He had soon found out why.

Enterprise was in disgrace. Failure to protect Earth from the Xindi attack had meant that they had been packed off to find the Xindi weapon almost as soon as they had made it back to Earth, with almost no additional backup and none of the upgrades that "his" Enterprise had received before leaving Spacedock. Trip/Will knew that in his own universe, the Xindi attack had been completely unexpected by Earth; the same was apparently true in this universe, but still "this" Enterprise was a worldwide scapegoat now. And nobody was expecting them to make it back alive.

He had done his research, though, and found out what he needed to know. There was no Charles Tucker III in this universe that he could find anywhere, and other people he knew seemed to be missing as well.

Captain of the Enterprise: Jonathan Archer
Doctor: Iain Bracken
Science officer: Elizabeth Cutler
Tactical officer: Helen Maritas
Helm officer: Paul Mayweather (also first officer)
Comm. officer: Hoshi Sato
Chief engineer: Elizabeth Tucker (also line/second officer)

He had found the list of senior staff on the first page of the files he had been given, and had almost cried there and then when he realised that in this universe, at least, Lizzy was alive. Doing a slightly odd job compared to the Lizzy he had lost in his own universe, but she was alive. The only other name on the list that was "right" (from his perspective) was Hoshi's; this Mayweather he had heard of and about, but never actually met.

The Vulcans were nowhere to be found after '53, when after the Xindi attack they had pretty much packed up and left Earth to it (the Consulate building in San Francisco remained abandoned, according to records), and nobody seemed to have heard of Denobulans at all; there was no record of contact between them and humans, at least.

Trip/Will wasn't sure whether to be relieved or not that Malcolm wasn't one of the senior staff on this Enterprise. On the one hand, he too could also be non-existent, but then again there was also the chance that he was here, on Earth. In his universe Malcolm had considered him a friend. Maybe things were the same in their universe as well, or at least as close to the same as they could be. Then again, maybe not. But he was never going to find out just sitting on his ass and doing nothing but shift rubble days after day.

And it was while walking through a dilapidated park on his way back to the old bat's house a couple of days ago (exactly three weeks after arriving here) that, inexplicably, his communicator had chirped. Making sure that none of the screechers or for that matter that anybody else was nearby, Trip/Will pulled out his communicator and flipped it open. There was so much static and interference and other noises that it was almost impossible to make out a voice at the other end. But after a few agonising seconds the static had cleared enough for him to be able to make out Jonathan Archer's voice, asking for any kind of response. Trip/Will had given one, and then received the best bit of news that he had received since coming to this hell on Earth - "his" Enterprise were working on a way to pull him back through whatever it was that had gotten him here in the first place. Just hold tight, and soon he'd be home again.

For the next two days, he had returned to that same spot in the park, hoping that they'd be able to communicate with him, but it was to no avail. It seemed to be a one-shot event, and all he could do was, in fact, sit tight and hope that his crewmates could find a way to get him back home again.

o o o o o


Leaving the incident with the screecher behind him, Will fumbled in his pockets for a key, and let himself into the house belonging to the old bat. Her real name was Joanna McCready, but Will had privately christened her the old bat. She nagged, she moaned and she was never satisfied. He bypassed the kitchen where he knew she'd be, and went straight on up to his own little corner of Hell. He locked the door behind him.

He went over to the bed and from underneath the mattress pulled out the files that the librarian had found for him in the library - and let him keep. Not the ones about the Enterprise - he had only needed to see those the once. No. These files were everything he could find about Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Tucker, second officer of a disgraced starship. Her professional records were good - not particularly exemplary, but competent enough for a warp engineer. But it was her personal detail, her own private life that interested Will the most. Through reading he had found out that when Enterprise first left Spacedock at the very end of 2151, Commander Tucker was both the highest ranking woman in Starfleet and also the first officer of the ship. By the end of '53, she had been demoted, repromoted and then demoted again, leaving her with the rank of Lieutenant Commander and diminished position in the chain of command of the Enterprise. Back when people on Earth had given a shit about the Enterprise and her crew, there had been speculation that Elizabeth Tucker had been in a relationship with Commander Mayweather that had gone sour; this had caused "erratic behaviour" that had led to the yo-yo-ing rank situation. Various medical reports that had been collected together suggested that she was harbouring deep-rooted personal problems, but these problems - if indeed there were any - had never been determined.

Personal records told Will that Elizabeth Tucker had two brothers and one sister, all older than her, named Andrew, Michael and Belinda respectively. No mention of a Charlie Tucker, which had initially led to him adopting his middle name here. Elizabeth's parents were both dead, had been for a number of years. She was unmarried and had no children.

In "his" family, Trip was the third of five children; Lizzy and Michael were the youngest and Belinda and Andy the oldest. But in this universe there had been no mention of a fifth Tucker child at all, anywhere he looked. As though "he" had never existed.

But someone else he knew did. Also included in the files was a datapadd with a list of all the Starfleet personnel with whom Elizabeth Tucker had had training, concordance or any kind of contact with before boarding the Enterprise. And under a subsection titled "Tactical and weapon training" was Commander Reed, Malcolm, although a footnote also added that Commander Reed had retired from Starfleet early on medical grounds. There was even a home address given in his permanent record, no more than ten miles or so from where Will was working.


Will waited for the weekend to come around, in the meantime attacking his work at the crater with more gusto than any of the others there had seen from him before - or from anyone, for that matter - and more than once he caught whispered conversations labelling him as anything from weird to plain crazy or even demented. Considering that he was a brilliant warp engineer shovelling rocks from one place to another in a parallel universe, Will could see how he could have been thought of as a little weird, but in his opinion crazy was just going over the top.

Friday afternoon came, and the evening came with it as well. Trip/Will had now been in this universe for a little over four weeks, and with no other sign of his Enterprise other than that single communication and the order to just wait. The way he saw it, he had maybe a few days at the most left in this place, and for whatever reason, he wanted to know what had happened to Charlie Tucker in this universe - if indeed he had ever existed.

Saturday morning left Will with a whole two days before having to show up to shift rocks again; two days in which, as he saw it, he could find out about the Trip in this universe, and maybe a couple other people as well.

He set off early Saturday morning, long before the old bat would be awake and bitching again, and walked most of the way to the address in Malcolm's Starfleet file. Well, technically he walked all of it, but it didn't feel like he had walked that far. A lot of it was faster-than-normal walking, mostly to keep out of the way of randomly patrolling screechers and other people who looked like they were out to cause trouble rather than prevent it. Will didn't want to take any chances. Luckily for him, he wasn't challenged by anybody.

He reached Malcolm's address in just under two hours. He looked down at the scrap of paper he had just pulled out of his pocket, covered with untidy handwriting, then up at the building in front of him. Down at the paper, up at the building. Paper, building. Paper... building.

The Malcolm Reed he knew would probably have a heart attack, looking at this place. The building was old and battered; most of the windows were boarded up, and there were lights shining through the cracks of most of them. The whole place smelled of dust and shit. There was a small comm panel by the front door, and Will went over and examined it. Right by the button for number thirteen was "Reed" in neat, precise handwriting, although the corners of the little bit of paper were crumbly, the ink was fading and the paper itself was a musty shade of yellow.

Will thumbed the comm. There was a crackling sound as the two-way connection opened. For the longest time there was no reply, before a voice answered. "Yes. Who is it?"

The voice was twisted, pained... but undeniably clipped and English. "Commander Reed?" Will asked.

"Who wants to know?" Malcolm asked in return.

Will took a deep breath, steeled himself. "Charles Tucker," he replied. "Lizzy's big brother."

There was a deathly silence at the other end before the connection went dead. Before Will could do anything else the catch in the door next to him clicked - he was allowed to go up. Inside, the building didn't appear to be in much better a condition than the outside. The musty smell was everywhere, and Will could have sworn that the stairs creaked everytime he put too much weight on one at once. All too soon he was standing outside the door to number thirteen. Slowly, carefully, Will pushed the door open. It creaked as it moved, but it eventually swung all the way open, leaving Will staring down the wrong end of a shotgun.

Holding it was a man who could have once been Malcolm Reed. Scars and crinkled burns lined one side of his face, and there was a dullness in his eyes that didn't seem to belong there. He looked older, as well. "Suliban," he said hoarsely, releasing the catch of the gun, its aim never wavering.

Will's breath caught in his throat. "You gotta let me explain," he said. "I'm not a Suliban."

"Liar." The gun's aim went from Will's chest to his neck. "Charles Tucker is dead. You look the part, whatever you are, but you're not him."

Chills ran down Will's spine, and he forced himself to breathe evenly. "It - it's a lil' complicated, Malcolm," he said. "But you gotta trust me on this."

Malcolm eyed him from behind the shotgun. "I don't remember telling you that we were on first name terms," he growled. Then, "Your name." He jerked the gun, then resettled its aim at Will's jugular. "Now."

"Charles Tucker," Will replied. "But you can call me Will."

"Will?" Malcolm repeated. He sounded sceptical. "First we're Charles, now we're Will. Do make your mind up." His voice dripped sarcasm. Something that didn't change between realities, then.

"Quit aimin' that thing at me, an' I'll tell ya whatever ya want to know," Will said, holding his hands out wide, to show he wasn't carrying any kind of weapon.

Slowly Malcolm lowered the shotgun, then jerked his head inside his apartment. "In." His voice brooked no argument, and glad that he was still in one piece, Trip/Will quickly stepped inside. There was another click behind him as Malcolm closed the door and another series of clicks as he locked it securely. He picked up the shotgun again and placed it on a rack above the mantelpiece in the small living area. He turned back to look at Trip/Will. "Explain yourself."

"My name's Charles Tucker, an' I'm the chief engineer an' line officer of the Enterprise NX-01."

"Wrong on both counts," Malcolm said, leaning back against the wall next to the mantel. "Elizabeth, not Charles, holds those positions on the Enterprise."

"I'm not from this universe."

Malcolm raised an eyebrow. "Creative. Do go on."

"Myself, an' three other crewmembers were searchin' this small planet lookin' for some Xindi we were told went there from time to time. I followed some signals on my scanner into a cave network an' when I came out again, I was on Earth. I don't know how, I don't know why, but I'm stranded here, at least for the moment."

"Only for the moment?" Now Malcolm sounded amused.

"Yeah." Trip/Will stood his ground. "My ship's workin' on a way ta get me back home, but I don't know any more than that."

"What are you planning to do until that happens?" Malcolm asked him.

Trip/Will shook his head. "I don't know," he replied honestly. "I wasn't even sure I was gonna try an' find anybody 'til the other day."

Malcolm eyed him speculatively. "And yet here you are," he said.

"Yeah," Trip/Will replied. Then, "If you're anythin' like the Malcolm I know, aren't you s'posed ta be a lot more sceptical about this sorta thing?" he asked.

"Well, I don't know about the Malcolm you know," Malcolm replied, moving away from the living area and going into the even tinier kitchenette, "but I'm plenty sceptical. Just you're not the first person to talk about parallel universes." He reached into a cupboard and pulled out a couple of cans, tossed one along the counter. Trip/Will picked it up. It was beer. Warmer than it maybe should have been, but beer nonetheless.

He didn't open the can. "Who else's been talkin' about them, then?"

Malcolm didn't miss a beat, taking a long swig of his own beer first. "Elizabeth." Ignoring the shocked expression on the other man's face, he continued. "Early on in its mission, a shuttlepod from Enterprise blundered through some kind of wormhole and ended up in a parallel universe. Elizabeth and Paul were onboard. They were in that other place for less than a week before finding their way back."

"What happened?"

"They claimed to have found another Enterprise," Malcolm said. "Widely reported among the upper ranks of Starfleet, but nothing went any further than that, you understand. You see, the Enterprise they found was operating under a completely barbaric system. Corporal punishment for minor infractions, a dictatorship of captain, that sort of thing. But that wasn't what spooked Elizabeth the most. The thing that got her was the behaviour of the other Enterprise's captain." He paused, almost dramatically. "Charlie Tucker, cap'n of the most barbaric ship most of us had ever heard of. Didn't bother anyone else particularly, but it got to Elizabeth. She was never quite the same after that."

"Because in this universe, Charles is dead," Trip/Will said slowly.

Malcolm nodded crisply. "Exactly."

"What - what happened to him?"

"Here?" Malcolm asked. Trip/Will nodded. "Not my place to tell you, even if you are him," he added mirthlessly. He thought about it for a moment, noticing the expression on the other man's face. "I can't tell you, but I could maybe show you."

Trip nodded. "Please," he said quietly.

Malcolm nodded as well. "Alright," he said. "I don't know why, but I believe you are who you say who are." He pulled a jacket off a nearby chair and started to put it on. "Do you not have anything warmer than that?" he asked, indicating what Trip was wearing; he shook his head. "You're going to need it where we're going," he said in a softer tone. "I'll find you something. Hang on." He disappeared into another room, and came back a few minutes later with a couple of jumpers. "Try these," he said, passing them over to Trip. The first was a bit snug, but the second was a little baggier - it was this one Trip kept on. He just couldn't help but wonder exactly where they were going that extra layers were needed.

Malcolm let him down and out of the apartment building, and from behind it produced one of the most clapped-out cars that Trip had ever seen. Again, if the Malcolm he knew could see this, he would probably drop dead on the spot, because "this" Malcolm had already climbed inside, and was motioning for Trip to do the same. He got in.

For the first half hour or so they drove in silence, Malcolm concentrating on driving and keeping the car's engine going, and Trip staring out of the window, letting this strange new world just race by him. Then as they pulled out onto a quieter road, heading (Trip thought) north, Malcolm spoke for the first time. "Back in my apartment, you said something about the Malcolm you know." He took his eyes off the road for a second to look at Trip. "What is he like?"

Trip settled for staring out of the front of the car. "Stubborn, anal, a pain in the ass..." He broke off and looked sideways at Malcolm, who was now staring stoically at the road ahead of him. "He's also one of the strongest people I know," Trip added softly. "What about you?" he asked, indicating the uneven lines of scars and burns running down the near side of Malcolm's face.

"Isn't it amazing what happens when plasma manifolds go boom right in front of your face?" Malcolm asked facetiously, dropping the car's speed to make a sharp corner. "And this is the diluted version. Docs took over a year to get it down to this, but by then I guess I couldn't be arsed anymore. I'd already been kicked out of the 'Fleet because of it, I didn't really see any point in making myself look any more normal." He chuckled dryly. "I've barely had a proper conversation with anyone in years. You wouldn't believe what kind of a turn off this is with people."

He couldn't.

"So why Will?" Malcolm asked. "All the names you could have picked, Charlie boy, why Will?"

"Somethin' the other Malcolm told us once, durin' a security briefin'," Trip answered. He adopted an English accent. "If in any kind of danger, adopt a false name that you will remember, blah blah blah. My middle name's William," he added, reverting to his normal accent. "Will for short."

"Ah." Then, "We're here."

"Where's here?"

"There," Malcolm told him, pointing.

"There" turned out to be a tatty looking motel on the edge of a town. Ignoring Trip's sceptical looks, Malcolm parked the car outside the motel and led him inside. In there they went straight through to the bar. Malcolm parked himself at a table in one corner; a little uneasy, Trip sat down beside him. Malcolm seemed to be waiting for something to happen; his eyes were trained on the door they had just come in by, and after a couple of minutes, he said softly: "Three... two... one."

As if right on cue, two other men came through to the bar as well, and took up residence at the table next to Trip and Malcolm. They were both beefy-looking - definitely overweight, and they wouldn't have looked out of place as bouncers or the like. One of them peered over at Malcolm. "Whatcha doin' here, Reed?" he asked, eyes lighting up upon recognition. "S'not your usual day o' the week to be in here, boy."

Malcolm raised an eyebrow, stretching a couple of the scars on his face. "Brought a friend with me, Ed," he replied in such a thick Southern accent that for a second Trip was thrown.

Ed dutifully eyeballed Trip. "Not seen you round here before, neither," he said. "Whatsya name?"

"Will - Will Tucker."

"Tucker?" Ed asked. "Not never seen a Tucker round here in years. Hey, Ned!" he said, poking his companion. "Whensa last time you sawa Tucker round here?"

Ed and Ned? Sounded like a bad comedy duo, and Trip/Will tried not to snigger. However, Ned looked up from a stare with something on the floor. "Tucker?" he asked. "Not seen me a Tucker since lil' Charlie and his brothers was playing space cadets over by dem park. Why d'you ask, Ed?"

Ed poked a large thumb back at Trip/Will, who had started involuntarily at the mention of his counterpart. "This fella here says he's a Tucker."

Ned stared at Trip/Will for a moment before looking away. "He don't look like no Tucker," he said eventually. "Too damn scrawny. Daddy Tucker would never let none o' his kids get that skinny."

"An' Mama Tucker would never let her kids outta that there house," Ed said, laughing at his own joke. A second later Ned joined in as well, the both of them lost in their own little world until Ned stopped laughing. "She loved that boy, tho'," he said, looking over at the other table. "Lil' Charlie. Told everyone around he was gonna grow up an' go inta space, show dem Vulcans whatfor! You mark my words, Tucker," he said, jabbing a beefy finger at Trip. "She was mighty upset when that kid died. Damn near killed her - would have, too, if not for the little girlie she had. Whatser name again?" he asked, turning back to Ed.

"Lizzy," Ed dutifully supplied. "Little Liz'beth Tucker. You know," he said to Ned, "I remember her when she was this damn high - no kiddin'! I..."

Trip felt rather than saw Malcolm put a hand on his shoulder. "You want to get out of here?"

Trip nodded. They left Ed and Ned to their talking and got back in the car. They didn't move for several minutes, Malcolm staring blankly at the steering wheel and Trip staring anywhere that wasn't in the car. "There's one more place," Malcolm said softly. He looked over at Trip. "If you still want to, that is."

Throat dry, Trip nodded. "Yeah," he whispered. "Yeah, I want to."

"Okay." Malcolm started the car up, and once again Trip found himself watching parts of the world go by from his little window before realising that they had once again stopped. They were outside a small church now. Both men got out of the car - Malcolm was right, it was colder here, and silently he took Trip by the arm and guided him through the courtyard to the small cemetery at the rear of the building. Right at the back of the little garden there was a smooth granite headstone, set a little apart from the others. Crouching down in front of it, Trip could read the words that had been etched into the stone - the edges were a little worn by the years, but the inscription was still legible.


Underneath that was a pair of dates, and Trip read them wordlessly. "He was four years old," he said, his voice sounding rough. "Lizzy was born when I was five." A thought suddenly occurred to him. He turned around to face Malcolm. "How come you know about all this?"

"Elizabeth and I met during her weapons training for Enterprise, shortly before I was booted," Malcolm replied. "We grew... close."

Trip nodded. "Glad it was you," he said honestly. "The Paul Mayweather I know about's a lil' uptight."

"Aren't I supposed to be?" Malcolm asked facetiously, looking down at Charlie's gravestone.

"Yeah, but you're different," Trip told him, standing up. "You're... Malcolm."

Malcolm blinked. "Is that supposed to be a compliment?"


They started to walk back to the car. "And you say you and this other Reed are actually friends?" Malcolm asked.

"Yep." Trip grinned.

"Good for him," Malcolm said absently. "Good for both of you." They got back to the car, and they both got in, although once again Malcolm didn't start the car up straight away. "It's been good getting to know you, Will," he said sincerely, looking over at the other man.

"You too, Commander," Trip replied.

Malcolm started revving the car up. "Now all we've got to do is get you back to where you belong."

"Amen to that." The car finally started and kicked up clouds of dust as it backed out of the paved courtyard and started to head back towards what was, for now, home.

o o o o o

Two days later, Trip Tucker stood on a stone-covered beach right in the middle of what felt like gale-force winds. He had lost his uniform weeks before, and was now still wearing pretty much the same things he had been wearing since arriving in this universe; trousers and a jumper in colours that blended in, avoided notice. He still had his communicator in his pocket, and had managed to retrieve his scanner and phase pistol from inside the cave itself.

How they had managed to do it, he had no idea, but the people on "his" Enterprise had managed to find a way to open up the cave again, as it were. All Trip had to do was walk through it again, like he had done on that planet, and he'd end up exactly where he had started - deep in the cave network, but this time with a sensor lock firmly in place and a shuttlepod on standby once he emerged to take him home.

Trip stared at the cave for what seemed like hours, not moving, not speaking, not doing anything. Malcolm was standing there beside him, having got him down here, having gotten him around the early morning screechers without so much as a peep from them. After all, the last thing Will Tucker needed was to be put in overnight confinement when he was supposed to be crossing between two not-so-completely different realities. That wouldn't do at all.

Before he moved to go in the cave, Trip turned to face Malcolm. "Thank you," he said.

"What for?" Malcolm asked.

Trip shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe just knowin' that someone here cares about Lizzy," he replied. "Look after her for me?"

"Of course," Malcolm said, smiling. "You know I will."

"Yeah..." Trip looked back up towards the cave. "Have a good life, Malcolm."

"And you, Will," Malcolm replied as Trip went into the cave. Darkness surrounded him, as it had done before, but still he kept going forward. Logistically - and because he had done scans - he knew that the beach cave was only thirteen metres deep, but he'd already gone a lot further than that, and now he thought about it, he couldn't hear the sea any more, either.

It had worked. So far.

Trip kept on walking, and after what seemed like eternity and a day, his communicator chirruped. He flipped it open. "Tucker."

"Damn, it's good to hear your voice, sir," Hoshi said. "We've been worried sick about you."

"No need to worry about me, Ensign, I can take care of myself," Trip replied jokingly. "'Cept... you wouldn't happen to know which way I gotta go now, do you?"

"Of course." Slowly, Hoshi guided him out of the cave network and into open air, where - true to expectation - there was indeed a shuttlepod waiting for him. And standing beside it...

"Hey, Loo-tenant," Trip called out, shielding his eyes against the bright sunlight. "D'ya miss me?"

"Hardly," Malcolm replied dryly. "We had decent shows on at Movie Night for a change without you there."

"Oh, I'm wounded," Trip grinned, pocketing his communicator. He rubbed his hands together. "Now, any chance of gettin' home?"

"Of course," Malcolm said. "He opened the pod's hatch. "After you..." he added with a dramatic flourish. He got inside after Trip and closed the hatch after him. "On second thought... all due respect, Commander, you smell worse than my aunt's compost heap."

Not at all delicately, Trip lifted up one of his arms and smelt his armpit. "Hmm... I don't think it's too bad," he said brightly.

Malcolm slipped into the pilot's seat. "That's because you don't know any better, Yank," he said in a friendly tone. "S'good to have you back, though," he said. "Not been the same here without you."

"Dishin' out compliments already?" Trip asked, leaning back on the bench. "Last month really been that borin'?"

"Trust me, you do not want to know," Malcolm shot back dryly as the shuttlepod powered up and left the planet's atmosphere.

o o o o o


Later that night, Trip rolled around in bed, unable to sleep. He had been pronounced perfectly healthy by Doctor Phlox, if not a little undernourished (but that wouldn't be a problem to rectify). He had all but bounced into Engineering after the check-up, to the cheers of most of the engineers on duty in there, and best of all he had spent dinner talking with Malcolm. Proper talking, not the same old friendly sniping. They'd managed to clear up a lot of the animosity that had still been between them, and Trip had spent some time telling Lieutenant Malcolm Reed about his commander counterpart, and even a little of what had happened to his own counterpart as a child.

It was probably no wonder that he was having trouble sleeping, and indeed it was true. Every time Trip closed his eyes all he could see was himself as a four-year-old, trailing around the house after his heavily pregnant mother, with two-year-old Michael in tow. He remembered how, at one point, he had tripped over one of Michael's toys and scraped his knee on the skirting board.

His mother had instantly picked him up and carried him through to the kitchen where she started cleaning the scrape and dressing it with a plaster. When she was done she lifted little Charlie up, resting partially on the bump that was his baby sister, hugged him tightly and kissed his forehead. "You're gonna be all better soon, okay?" she had said to him. "You be Mommy's brave little soldier and don't cry. C'mon." And with that she had led him and Michael back into the playpen before going to find Belinda and her friend.

Back in the present, Trip rolled over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.


He'd write to his mommy in the morning.

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