Chapter 1: Illicit Dreams

Caution: This Fan Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Fa/Fa, Consensual, Romantic, BiSexual, Heterosexual, Fan Fiction, Science Fiction, Space, Aliens, Polygamy/Polyamory, Oriental Female, Oral Sex, Anal Sex, Masturbation, Petting, Sex Toys, Workplace, Nudism, War, .

Desc: Fan Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1: Illicit Dreams - Charles Tucker III has paid a devastating price for his successful raid on the Romulan shipyards. The "First Quad" has a mountain to climb to heal the fallen Engineer, but the late Eldest Mother had been convinced he would achieve greatness despite all adversity. Will he prove her right with the help of three loving companions?

Bilbao, Spain, November 1st 2157

His hands roamed her body as her big, firm breasts glistened with water running over them. As he gently caressed the soft skin of her bust, they groaned their pleasure into each other's throat with their tongues engaged in a wrestling match for more pleasure. Neither of them was paying attention to the shower, despite the fact that the hot water was slowly running out. He gasped when her strong hand gently grabbed his erection...

Malcolm Reed, Chief Executive Officer of "Reed Industrial Research and Production Corporation", woke up with a start and slammed his fist on the table in despair and frustration. The hope that working himself to shreds to get his fledgling company going would rid him of the forbidden dreams he had about T'Pol, or even of threesomes with her and Hoshi, had not come true. On the contrary, the harder he worked, the more likely he was to fall asleep at his desk and then end up having even more of them.

Once the dream-induced erection had subsided he stood up and looked out of the window. What had started as a small laboratory, bought from their remaining savings, was now a veritable small factory, providing jobs for eighty humans and a Vulcan intern who served as his personal assistant. He had come up with several prototypes for small force-field generators for civilian use, two of which were now in production and selling exceptionally well. But even with this success, the profits of RIRP were still somewhat modest. It was more than enough to pay infrastructure maintenance and fairly good wages to all employees, but his own salary was necessarily set rather low or he would end up cutting into the balance too heavily. Most of their private expenses were paid from T'Pol's generous Starfleet salary and Trip's disability pension. Especially the latter made him recoil in disgust at himself, as in return for partly living off Trip's disability benefits, the only thing he could bring to the communal table were illicit fantasies of shagging T'Pol.

He poured himself a glass of whiskey and downed it in one go, before taking a look at the schematics on his desk. It was his draft of a three mega joule variable force-field generator as specified in a tender invited by Starfleet. Considering that his company was a mere speck on the economical radar, he could only imagine that Falks had something to do with the fact that his company was even deemed worthy of being sent the official information. On the other hand, he had invented the whole bloody principle in the first place, and had worked on better generators two years ago when they were still repairing space stations for Starfleet. Coming up with a first prototype had been easy, but he had no idea how he would go about financing the necessary expansion of production facilities should he win the contract.

His office in Bilbao had slowly become more of a hiding place to him as their house in Morro Jable on Fuerteventura had become a place of sadness. Their new home was set in a lovely garden not far from the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean, but the atmosphere had grown more and more desperate with every hospital visit that they came back from with no news of improvement in Trip's condition. The engineer was still in the Intensive Care Unit at the Berlin Charité University clinic in the care of faithful Dr. Phlox, who had given up all other assignments in order to be able to care for the man who had been one of his most frequent patients over the years.

Malcolm had shirked some of the last few visits to the hospital as it became increasingly painful to see Trip literally decline before his eyes. The once muscular chest of his friend had begun to look fallen in, while his legs, immobile for over seven months, were as thin as other people's arms. It pained the Englishman beyond words to see Trip in such a state, and he had become too spineless to face the sight every day.

And somehow, which was almost worse, he had lost touch with Hoshi amid all this. Too ashamed to touch her, because of the guilt that he also had intimate thoughts of T'Pol, he had retracted into his time-honored shell, somehow contriving to ignore her increasingly obvious puzzled hurt. Had she but known it, he reasoned in the tortured recesses of his mind, he was doing her a kindness. After all, no sex was better than accidentally crying out the Vulcan's name while making love to Hoshi; how would she feel if in the throes of their deepest intimacy, she heard her husband speak the name of another woman? He longed for his wife's gentle touch, the overpowering force of her love whenever she kissed him, but he was trapped in his own self-reproach.

He downed another whiskey before answering the comms hail that had sounded for several seconds already. He pushed the button and Hoshi's face appeared on the screen.

"You look like hell, sweetie," he heard her say after a while of just staring at each other.

"Long day, love. But I have the prototype ready. Now it's just a matter of presenting a good case."

He could see her momentary frown that she smoothed away immediately. She didn't want a report on the state of business affairs. She wanted to know if and when he was coming home. He had not done so the last two nights. He looked over at the corner of his office, and the divan there on which he had spent two nights of very fitful and very lonely sleep.

"Want me to come over?" Hoshi asked softly.

Every fiber in his body was screaming, 'Oh God, yes, please come!' He wanted to beg her to make love to him without having to remember T'Pol's perpetually sad eyes. He wanted her to be the exorcist who freed him from the urge to console the devastated Vulcan by taking her in his arms. But he couldn't jump over his own shadow.

Shadows. His life had always held too many shadows. There had been a time when he'd thought he'd won free of them, but it seemed he was still what he'd always been – an unfaithful little shit who couldn't even keep his desire fixed on the woman of his dreams, the woman he'd promised to honor and cherish, forsaking all others. These exact words – as the Eldest Mother had pointed out – were never really spoken during their wedding vows. There had been – strictly speaking – not even a phrase that restricted those vows to Hoshi alone, but that were all semantics. The fact had been implicit for as long as wedding vows had been taken on Earth. There was no variant that amended them with 'or someone you cherish in equal love'.

"I'd prefer someone stays with T'Pol. She's been quite unstable lately." He was still a good liar, too. His voice was commendably even. The sound of it made him feel sick with self-disgust.

His heart cramped when he saw his wife's accepting nod that came way too soon for his comfort. He knew that either T'Pol's condition was even worse than expected, or Hoshi had not even expected to be with him tonight and had just called pro forma to collect another polite 'no, thank you'.

"I love you," she said softly.

He wanted to reply, but the words stuck in his throat. He just nodded, and tried to smile, pantomiming a blown kiss as he closed off the link.

He downed another whiskey and started working on his business proposal to Starfleet. Getting this contract was something he could do to take his mind off the hollow grinding of uselessness and guilt that was the tenor of his life these days.

"Is he staying in the office again?"

Hoshi looked over at T'Pol and nodded sadly in answer to the question. Her heart cramped when she saw the utter sorrow in the Vulcan's eyes.

They had divided most of their days between visiting Trip in the hospital and getting started on their research. She had watched yet more of the life drain from T'Pol's eyes with every disappointing visit to the hospital over the last two months since the Marconi had finally reached Earth to transfer almost two hundred heavily wounded casualties to various clinics all over the planet.

Both she and her friend were people with little need for creature comforts, so even though T'Pol and Malcolm were the only ones actually earning money, they didn't need to be too miserly. The fact that T'Pol had taken to growing much of her food herself had helped a lot, too. Fuerteventura was dry and hot, making Vulcan plants thrive on the otherwise nutrient-poor soil of the island.

The house had needed little modification to facilitate the eventual return of Trip. One of the previous owners had been a quadriplegic, so despite only having two floors, the house was equipped with a large enough elevator to fit a wheel chair and there were no steps or kerbs anywhere in it. The only major changes they had made was the erection of a high, opaque fence around the estate and the exchange of one-way mirror glass for the originally plain glass in the windows. T'Pol, still stubbornly insistent and convinced that Trip would wake up, was hell-bent that nobody should catch even a glimpse him in his expectedly pitiful state. But with every passing day the wait became more and more of a burden for the Vulcan.

Hoshi sighed silently. For all intents and purposes the house was perfect to accommodate her habit of not wearing clothes at home, but it didn't feel as good anymore. Malcolm – on the increasingly rare occasions he could be bothered to come home to them at all – didn't even touch her; lately he seemed hardly able to look at her. The fact that Trip wouldn't be able to see her really sank in when she realized that she would never again notice the little looks he had stolen at her naked body, thinking that she didn't notice it. Hard on the realization of that came a wave of self-contempt: he'd lost his eyesight and all she could find to worry about was the fact that she wouldn't be getting any more illicit kicks from his admiration! Except for when she was going to bed she had all but abandoned her once favorite habit.

Three days ago a large delivery of five electric wheelchairs had arrived, paid for by Malcolm's company. In one of the rare times on which they could actually get Malcolm to talk about Trip, they had decided that they would produce a small number of prototypes, and once in use by Trip, would improve them until they worked perfectly for him. Once that was done, it was planned that Malcolm's company would mass produce them – another potentially lucrative source of income.

The reasons for that were obvious. T'Pol had discovered via her network of contacts that no fewer than two hundred humans alone had lost both sight and use of their legs in the fights with the Romulans. And neither Starfleet nor the Government was investing anything into research. Unfortunately, that arrangement was the most Malcolm had involved himself in Trip's recovery so far.

She sighed a second time, thinking about her absent husband. It wasn't so hard to see what he was running away from. He hardly ever talked about Trip anymore. He had visited him almost daily until recently, but it didn't take telepathic abilities to see how hard he was hit by Trip's physical decline. And there was still the sword of Damocles hanging over their marriage as she had not yet found the courage to admit that she had fallen in love with Trip; but then neither had her husband yet disclosed his own guilty secret – she had known for some time that he had also grown more than fond of T'Pol.

T'Pol had never shown any sign of feeling threatened by the knowledge that her mate was now desired by two of them. She had encouraged Hoshi to kiss him upon arrival or when leaving after hospital visits, and the fact that she let her visit him alone if her duty schedule did not allow her to come along was a great sign of acceptance. Normally she should be happy, but she couldn't shake the guilt of having betrayed the vows she had taken before Malcolm and the world. It was all a hideous mess.

It would have been easy to use the cheap cop-out and blame Malcolm for 'driving' her into the arms of another man, considering that currently their marriage existed merely on paper; but it would be patently unfair towards Malcolm as, first, the attraction to Trip had developed at a time when their marriage couldn't have been in better shape and, second, it would fail to address the reasons for their current crisis.

It had taken Malcolm almost four months to work through the aftermath of his mind-rape by the section and the cold-blooded murder of Tolaris. She wasn't sure that he had really put all that behind him forever, but at least the nightmares had stopped. But how was she supposed to help him overcome the current crisis? Sure, it could become better once Trip woke up, and Phlox's recent message that they would now start to induce the waking-up phase made that a rather hopeful prospect. But would Malcolm really cope better with seeing Trip working around his disabilities? Considering that she could barely cope with the reality of his blindness herself, it didn't sound realistic that Malcolm could. And neither she nor T'Pol had a solution ready to help Malcolm, even though all four of them had promised to look out for each other. Leaving Malcolm alone with his problems was just another notch on her guilty conscience.

She shook herself out of her thoughts and saw T'Pol ready to go downstairs for the night.

"T'Pol," she called out softly to stop her retreat. "I would like that you sleep up here today."

"I will get a pillow and a blanket," the Vulcan agreed with a nod.

"No need to, our bed has everything and I've changed the sheets and covers today."

Seeing the surprised look on the Vulcan's face, as she obviously realized that Hoshi had meant sharing the big double bed, she provided the explanation.

"T'Pol, we've both been sleeping lousily lately. After such a long time neither of us is used to sleeping alone. I've heard you cry yourself to sleep last night and it broke my heart. And we both know how far your control must be gone to make you cry openly. We've both promised each other to stop at nothing to help Trip. And that includes taking care of his wife."

She saw that T'Pol was too tired to argue and just nodded instead. Standing up, she took the Vulcan's hand and wrapped her in a hug. The gentle consolation, which was more or less the only intimate touch her friend had 'enjoyed' in more than half a year, was too much and the other woman broke down almost at once, weeping. Hoshi held her gently as T'Pol failed to fight the tears.

T'Pau walked along the narrow corridor towards the only door from which light still emanated at this late hour. She would have to speak to Malcolm about the security measures in his company. The fact that he as a former security officer had not trained his security staff enough to know the company rules was worrying. It only strengthened her impression that he was not himself lately.

Since an internship was mandatory as part of her schooling, Malcolm had hired her about a month ago. She would probably be the first Vulcan ever to serve her internship in a human factory as opposed to one of the many spiritual retreats or shipyards on Vulcan outposts. So technically, she had the right to be on the premises, but the security detail at the factory entrance should know that workers who were not part of production were not supposed to be inside the factory after 10pm. It could land him serious trouble with the authorities.

She entered the office unasked and gasped in shock when she saw a nearly empty bottle of hard liquor on his desk. Malcolm was still working on some sort of document, but she doubted the quality of the result would stand up to scrutiny. Since she was responsible for proof-reading company communication, she had noticed that over the last ten days some of his documents had been written in unacceptable quality, requiring a lot of correction.

"Would it not be better if you stopped writing documents while inebriated?" she asked when he didn't acknowledge her presence.

"T-T'Pau," he said, his speech slurred from the influence of ethanol. "You're not supposed to be here this late."

"Tell that to your security detail at the entrance," she replied and brazenly shoved him back into his chair when he got up, most likely to call – and probably dismiss – the security employees currently on duty. Robbed of his balance by the debilitating substance he'd consumed, he fell back onto his office chair heavily. He glared at her, but she held his infuriated gaze.

His face, for once unguarded, showed too clearly the extent of his distress. He looked haggard and ill. He was unshaven, and that, for a man who'd always taken some pride in always appearing scrupulously neat and tidy, told a tale in itself.

"What are you doing, Malcolm?" she asked more gently, deviating from the formal 'Mr. Reed' she used during work hours. "Your wife, T'Pol and Charles are depending and relying on you and you inebriate yourself, putting the company's competitive chances in danger by producing incoherent documents that take me hours to correct. Do you really believe poisoning yourself will solve the problems that you face?"

"Is this you or the Eldest Mother talking?" he returned sourly.

"I can think for myself," T'Pau answered, and sat down not far from him. His gaze was unfocused but remained aimed in her direction. She judged him to be not completely inebriated, although she wasn't sure if that was a good thing, considering the amount of the substance he had already ingested.

"It's just a bloody mess," he admitted and she could see tears threatening to flow; a loss of control which he tried to disguise by pushing a shaky hand across his eyes. His normally strong emotional restraint was all but gone under influence of alcohol.

She reached over and took his hand, which prompted him to look up at her and pull his hand free.

"I don't think that's a good idea," he said with a bitter, exhausted smile. "With my luck I'd end up falling in love with you as well."

"That's, how would you say, 'bollocks'," T'Pau insisted and got a slightly more genuine smile in return at her use of invective – surprising, to say the least, in a Vulcan. "First of all, I'm way too young and second, I'm not T'Pol."

Her words had evidently touched a nerve. His mouth tightened. His eyes held her off like leveled blades.

"Don't tell me the Eldest has given you all that palaver about how irrelevant our wedding vows are too. They aren't irrelevant, dammit."

"In your case, they are," she stated flatly. "You made yours despite the fact that you were attracted to both Hoshi and T'Pol, and she did the same while being attracted to both Charles and you in the same fashion. You both hid behind a traditional ritual to avoid having to deal with the fact that tradition has no definitive guidance on how your lives have developed."

She could see that he didn't have an answer to that. How could he – she had seen his mind during the mind meld on the station.

"That Hoshi and Trip love each other has been obvious for quite some time," he said sadly, dropping his gaze to the floor. "When I realized, I ... I didn't know how to react. I thought we'd been happy, but I obviously wasn't enough for her. Otherwise, why would she..." He broke off with a soft, bitter laugh, plainly recognizing the irony. "I thought she still loved me, but how do you know when something like that happens? I thought if I didn't say anything, maybe she'd ... but whether he'd have ... Heck, I'm not even sure I'd have been upset if they'd acted on it, got it out of their systems. Not that they ever could now, now that Trip's..."

He stopped mid-sentence and his emotions broke through the last of his defenses. He rested his face in his palms and the tears began trickling between his fingers. He made no sound, but his shoulders heaved in a shattering sob.

"I do not understand," she said softly. "The four of you did everything together, except for sexual relations. It will be like that again. Charles will wake up. He is my En'ahr'at if you remember and therefore I get to know at least some of the details of his recovery. I know that tomorrow they will start taking him out of the artificially induced coma."

She saw him look up in a mixture of hope and awful despair. His eyes were drowned, but they held her gaze steadily enough.

"You make it all sound so easy, but it isn't, T'Pau," he insisted.

"Then explain it to me."

"You're right. We did everything but having sex together. But that's the point. For humans, being in love involves intimacy. It's an important part of showing someone you love him or her. Now Trip, even if he wakes up, can't even make love to them anymore. And what am I supposed to do? Help myself to both the girls – assuming either of them actually want me? While he can only watch? Fuck it, he can't even watch! And even if he could –" he swallowed another sob – "what the fuck would that do to him? I know what it'd do to me!"

He sprang to his feet.

She observed him pace the room, his gait unsteady.

"You are consumed by guilt."

"Bloody hell, yes I am! How can I not be?" he screamed in agony. The face he turned towards her was beaded with sweat. His chest rose and fell jerkily as he gulped at air, trying not to break down again.

Having seen into his katra so deeply, she understood more of the pressures that were destroying him than he did. For him, his love was in direct conflict with his honor – the honor that meant more to him than almost anything else. The honor in which he had been raised, which demanded he should sacrifice everything rather than betray his given word.

Nevertheless, understanding him did not mean that she should stand by and allow him to destroy himself and annihilate the other three members of his putative quad without lifting a finger to stop him. This was a case where he could, and should, benefit from a dose of cold-blooded Vulcan pragmatism.

"And it clouds your judgment," she continued calmly. "Instead of destroying yourself, you should look for ways to help Charles. You can have the monetary resources if you concentrate on winning the Starfleet contract instead of drinking and pitying yourself."

She could see his enraged glare at her in response to the irreverent address. But he needed to hear it now, as in the morning he would be 'Mr. Reed' again – she would never show him disrespect in front of his employees.

"Doctor Phlox will need resources for research. You could hire him as the company's medical officer. If we get the contract, this factory will need to grow to a size where one is needed. You could easily provide him with the resources to research ways to help Charles. It would be a much greater sign of your affection for T'Pol to give her Charles back than just engaging in sexual relations with her, no matter how important the latter is for humans."

She watched as he sat back on the desk chair, ready to grab the bottle again. His hand stopped halfway and instead he made a violent slashing movement with the blade of it. With a loud clunk the bottle landed in the rubbish bin.

For a time he said nothing, just sat staring darkly at the table. Then he lifted his head and faced her. "I hear all that, T'Pau, and you're right. But the truth is, even if we get the Starfleet contract, we don't have the resources to fund the necessary expansion and the banks aren't charitable institutes. I'd love nothing more than to build Phlox a huge bloody laboratory. Heck, I've even thought about trying to get access to that madman Arik Soong. With his knowledge about genetics, he must have something up his sleeve."

"Which alternative methods of procuring funds have you explored?" she asked calmly.

"How many are there? We're too small a company to be floated at the stock-exchange, and after getting away with the murder of Tolaris, I'm not going to push my luck by robbing a bank."

"What about our clan? Charles, T'Pol and I are members of it. You and Hoshi are associated members as En'ahr'at of Lorian and I get to hear every day that the Eldest Mother is quite fond of you. I imagine we could certainly make a convincing case that the clan should invest in the company."

His mouth dropped open, and with an amusedly raised eyebrow she reached forward and lifted his chin with her index finger.

"It is something we will talk about when your mind is clear. It would be prudent to retire now."

Not giving any protest, he shrugged off his rumpled business suit and staggered towards the divan in his underwear. He fell heavily down on it, face first, and she helped him become comfortable.

"How come you're here this late anyway?"

"I was taking a walk and saw there was still light in your office. Seeing that this was the third day in a row it has happened, I became concerned – and as we saw, not without reason," she said, pulling up the blanket over him.

"T'Pau, thank you. I think that was the kick in the bum I needed."

She said nothing, but just nodded her acceptance.

"Would you make an appointment tomorrow for when Phlox wants to start waking up Trip?"

"I will. Good Night, Malcolm."

Without waiting for the answer, she took the rubbish bag with the bottle in it out of the paper bin and switched off the lights before she left his office.

Hoshi woke up, well rested for the first time in many days. T'Pol's head was resting on her chest. It had been a harrowing experience to hold the Vulcan for two hours while she wept, unable to stop the tears. She knew only too well if it went as far as openly crying, T'Pol was neglecting her meditation; and she would have to pay more attention to that in the next days.

She gently rubbed the other woman's back to wake her up as they would have to be in Berlin in four hours. Slowly T'Pol came to and looked up to her. On a crazy impulse Hoshi kissed her. Before she knew what was happening, the Vulcan was on top of her, hungrily and eagerly returning the kiss.

With an overpowering urgency Hoshi drove her tongue into T'Pol's mouth and reached down to grab the Vulcan's buttocks. As they both had been sleeping naked there was no underwear or any other form of night clothing in the way of their roaming hands.

She gently rolled T'Pol off her until the Vulcan came to lie on her back and she started to run the tip of her tongue along her lover's torso until she had reached the towering breasts of her partner. Gently she started to suckle her nipples until they were rock hard and erect. She started twirling her tongue over the sensitive flesh around them, which was greeted by a series of low guttural moans and an arched back.

The slender human felt the Vulcan's hand roaming up her thigh in search of the sweet spot and she raised a leg to give her partner better access. Without much hesitation T'Pol stuck her middle and index finger into Hoshi's drenched opening while gently starting to circle her pleasure knob. The young linguist's vision swam in sheer lust as she felt the so thoroughly missed touch and she continued to pay even more attention to making her companion feel good, remembering that her Vulcan partner had been bereft of any intimacy for close to seven months now; and hell, she was beginning to feel pretty damn bereft of it herself lately.

After more pleasuring each other in the somewhat awkward position, Hoshi wiggled herself free and mounted T'Pol, thrusting her tongue in the Vulcan's love triangle, while shoving her own gently into her partners face. She squealed in delight when she felt T'Pol's tentative nibbling of her burning pleasure sport. Holding her lover's lower body in place by grabbing her buttocks, she licked and slurped the Vulcan to a howling orgasm, following suit herself a few moments later.

Breathing heavily, the two women lay closely entangled, recovering from the first orgasms they had had in two and seven months respectively. What had started as a chaste 'good morning' kiss had ended in a furious – and quite desperate – bout of woman-on-woman love-making.

"We need to talk to Malcolm about what has happened," T'Pol suggested, still out of breath.

Hoshi just nodded weakly, still caught in the simmering euphoria of the climax and the feeling of T'Pol's soft skin on hers.

"I'd say we drop by his company after our visit to the hospital. This time I won't be brushed off."

"That's unfair Hoshi," she heard T'Pol say. "He is not brushing you off deliberately. He is as caught up in his pain as we are. He merely copes differently, and without your intervention I submit my coping strategy wasn't the most effective either."

The Vulcan sat up and Hoshi did the same. Their bodies were still glistening with a thin layer of sweat.

"It is not difficult to see that Malcolm struggles to accept Trip's physical decline. On top of it he is consumed by guilt about having fallen in love with me. I have spent enough time with him before our lives fell apart to make that distinction."

"Is it a mutual feeling?" Hoshi asked, although she was sure she already knew the answer.

The Vulcan closed her eyes and nodded.

"I'm not angry T'Pol," she said, taking the Vulcan's hand. "How could I? I've fallen in love with Trip and you were more understanding than I could have ever expected. But I feel guilty, because Trip doesn't get a say in this. He'll wake up one day, burdened with enough problems to last a lifetime and we don't know how he'll feel about this. What are we going to do, T'Pol?"

"I don't know the answer Hoshi. I simply don't know."

"Doctor, may I have a minute?"

"Oh, Mr. Reed; It is good to see you."

"I won't ask any details until the girls arrive, but when they do I want you to tell us the whole bloody truth. We're all distraught enough, but the last thing we need is false hopes."

"I understand," the Denobulan said. "There is not too much false hope I could give anyway without lying."

Malcolm nodded grimly, understanding what Phlox was trying to say.

"A question doctor; would you be willing to conduct further research into possible therapies if it was properly funded, and facilities and equipment were provided to your specification?"

"What therapies do you have in mind?" the Denobulan asked, his interest obviously piqued.

"Whatever is possible. I doubt we could restore his sight without involving a cybernetics expert, and I'll be working on hiring one, but perhaps we could make him walk again and one shouldn't rule out the importance of restoring his sexual functionality. Due to his increased lifespan he and T'Pol have something like a century ahead of them in which they are supposed to be sexually active. Hell, even if the legs and the eyes take some time it would give him at least some quality of life back."

Phlox eyed him thoughtfully.

"That would require very advanced genetic research, Mr. Reed, and your world is not known to be very comfortable with the thought."

"I don't give a flying toss about the world, doctor. We're talking about Trip here. Whenever he can be released from hospital, I want to offer you the post of chief medical officer in my company. Since we adhere to the strictest work safety standards, I doubt you'd be too busy patching up injured workers, but it'd allow you to conduct research in a properly funded laboratory. And since we're planning to build wheel chairs once T'Pol and Hoshi are done designing the prototype, we'll have to get a license as a health research company anyway. That would allow us to legally conduct genetic research." The slightly veiled gaze said that nobody would be too upfront about it if the aforementioned research happened to stray in directions which Earth's scientific communities considered unethical.

"A most intriguing proposal, Mr. Reed, and if you can provide the environment you described, I would sign up with you in a heartbeat – as you humans are so fond of saying."

"Thank you doctor. That means a lot to me. If you find the time to get started on those specifications – the earlier the better."

T'Pol walked into Trip's ICU room, sporting a surgeon's clothing, complete with face mask, as was required. They had been here so often over the last two months that all three of them had their own set of clothing, which after the visit went to the maintenance department for cleaning and disinfection and was ready again the next day. She was surprised to see Malcolm already seated next to Trip's bed, holding his friend's hand.

She saw Hoshi walk over to him and take his hand. In absence of any ability to kiss, due to the masks, they put their foreheads together and remained in silence for a few moments. It was noticeable that Malcolm pulled away first.

The Vulcan took a seat on the opposite side of the bed, taking Trip's right hand. She watched Hoshi approach Trip and deliberately lower the mask to kiss his unresponsive lips lightly. Considering that the young woman hadn't done the same for her husband it was a clear message that she was expecting an explanation from Malcolm for his prolonged absence. T'Pol shook her head very slightly in Hoshi's direction letting her know that she didn't consider that demonstration with favor, considering that they now had a lot more to confess than Malcolm – at least, as far as they were aware of, though she guessed that among Hoshi's fears was the possibility that her husband's increasing distance betokened an affair. It was, however, unlikely that a man so committed to fidelity would have been likely to stray, however unhappy he might be.

It was impossible that Malcolm did not get that very pointed message from his wife. Nevertheless, his eyes did not give away much of a reaction. It was completely impossible to discern his emotional responses half as accurately with so much of his face covered by the mask, but all she could detect in his gaze at that moment was an exhausted, unhappy apathy.

The arrival of Phlox ended her mental soliloquy.

"We will start reducing the amount of sedatives now over a period of one month," the Denobulan explained without so much as a preamble.

"What sort of time schedule are we looking at, doctor?" she heard Malcolm ask, and T'Pol felt a little uneasy about the business-like sound of his inquiry. It sounded as if he had just asked when a new machine for his company would be delivered.

"I cannot make any definitive predictions, but I expect no major signs of awareness within the first six weeks. From then on it will be a slow progress."

"Can we do anything to help?" Hoshi's question came almost instantly.

"If you can spare the time you could sit with him, talk, read to him, hold his hand," Phlox explained. "We have no definitive knowledge of how aware his mind will be, but we know that patients who are being talked to generally recover faster and to a greater degree."

"Deal!" Hoshi proclaimed and T'Pol knew immediately that the matter was non-negotiable. Not that she actually would want to negotiate; it seemed to be another 'hint' for Malcolm.

"Has his long-term prognosis changed in any way?" T'Pol asked.

"Little," Phlox said. "There are no longer any internal hemorrhages, so we can deduce that he will either remain in a persistent vegetative state or if he will recover, he will do so to full awareness. From the data I have gathered so far I would say the prognosis heavily favors the latter. If he wakes up to full alertness he will not be mentally disabled."

T'Pol let out a sigh of relief, unable, or perhaps unwilling, to suppress it.

"As far as his bodily functions are concerned, he will be paralyzed from the waist down and have no eyesight. We will continue research, and I would say at least the use of his legs and some sexual functionality could possibly be restored," the doctor said with a look at Malcolm that she couldn't quite decipher. "But I would not dare to make an estimation of how long it will take. We could succeed within a year, but it could just as well take us a decade."

"When do you think this 'reading and talking to' routine starts making sense, doctor?" the Englishman asked, and she now felt a pang of anger as it still seemed to her as if he was approaching this like a business endeavor, dictated by the result of an effort versus result analysis.

"I would say two weeks from now at the earliest," Phlox suggested. "Until then the concentration of sedatives is still too high."

"Thank you doctor."

Evidently inferring from the dull tone that the questioning was over, the Denobulan left, though not before distributing encouraging smiles all round.

T'Pol stood up and walked over to Malcolm. She took his hand, ignoring the way he flinched from her grasp.

"Will you accompany us in a walk in the hospital park, Malcolm? Hoshi and I have some issues to discuss with you."

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