Title: Cabin Fever

Author: Caroline Crane

Email: caroline_crane@hotmail.com

Website: http://desiderium.slashcity.net/

Date: 11/10/01

Category: Slash

Rating: PG

Pairing: Archer/Tucker, Tucker/Reed

Series Title: Heart on Fire

Previous story: Heart on Fire

Next story: Plausible Deniability

Summary: Archer catches Trip coming out of quarters that don't belong to him and Trip can't figure out why he feels so guilty.

Spoilers: Strange New World

He thinks I don't remember. It would be almost funny if it wasn't so pathetic, the way he looks at me sometimes when he's trying to figure out if there's some deeper meaning behind what I say to him. I still can't believe he has to question it, he should know that what I say is almost never exactly what I mean. He's known me long enough to know better than to take me at face value. I thought I'd pointed that out the night I asked him to share my bed, but if he wants to pretend that night never happened I'll play his little game.

Not like there's anything else I can do, he is the Captain after all. Maybe I should have turned down this assignment, being in such close quarters with my best friend as my boss is probably one of the more stupid decisions I've made in my life. I couldn't do it, though, I knew even when I accepted the commission that I should turn it down but it was the chance of a lifetime. Think of it, being among the first humans to explore Space and meet new civilizations? Nobody in their right mind would turn that down, at least no Starfleet officer worth the uniform. Besides, if I turned him down when he asked me he wouldn't have let up until I gave him a good enough reason, and we both knew where that would lead eventually.

So when he asked me to come on board and serve as his Engineer I said "sure thing, Johnny, you bet, pal. No problem, nothing else in this world I'd rather do". I like to lay the sarcasm on thick, he knows when I'm blowing smoke but it's fun to watch him try to be serious while I'm making fun of him in front of his superiors. I know it drives him crazy, I know there are times when I push him so far that if we weren't standing in front of the Admiral he'd take a swing at me. Sometimes I wish he would, sometimes I push him just a little further than I should just to see if I can get him to lose it in front of somebody really important. I swear half the time I can't tell what he's thinking, you'd think I'd be able to tell after all these years but he's a master at turning off his feelings when they're inconvenient.

Like that night I asked him to stay, for instance. I could have sworn there was something going on between us, I didn't say anything for years because he's usually such a straight arrow but that night there was just something in the air. Or maybe it was the something in all the whiskey I drank that night that made me finally say it out loud, but I never expected him to look at me the way he did. I mean he actually looked ashamed, whether he was ashamed of me for asking or ashamed of himself for considering it I guess I'll never know. No, sir, you don't have to tell me twice, so I never brought it up again. Not to Jon, not to anybody. I barely even let myself think about it, because thinking about it just made it sound like a good idea and who knew what I'd end up saying the next time I found myself drunk around him. If I didn't let myself think about it I wouldn't run the risk of bringing it up again, at least that's what I told myself.

I wasn't doing too bad, either, I mean we were still best friends and the idea that he wanted more from me than he was saying only crossed my mind when my guard was completely down. That is until the day before yesterday, when my best friend happened to be in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. Well, no, I guess he could have been about half an hour earlier and he could have been in the room instead of just catching me leaving Malcolm's quarters, but from the expression on his face when he saw me I'm guessing he drew all the right conclusions from what he saw.

Not that it's any of his damn business, at least that's what I've been trying to convince myself since I first saw that look on his face. It's been burned into my memory since that moment, no matter how he looks at me now all I can see is that look of disappointment. Disappointment mixed with…nah, I know better. Jon's not jealous of any part of my life, he barely tolerates a lot of my habits and when it comes to my love life he just keeps his mouth shut. Just like he did that night, instead of telling me how disgusting my proposal was he just told me to sleep it off and report for duty in the morning. Guess I should have known better than to offer, but I could have sworn I was right about him and me.

Just one more time I guessed wrong when it came to Jonathan Archer, chalk another bad call up for the books. If it was about anybody else he'd laugh at me and tell me I should have known better, that that's what I get for screwing around with anybody that happens to look at me twice. It wasn't about anybody else, though—this time it was about him, and he doesn't have anything to say for the first time since I've known him. Course now I've seen him speechless twice, seeing as he didn't have anything to say about me and Lieutenant Reed either. The thing is, it's not really fair because I could have been doing anything in Malcolm's quarters. Granted we don't usually get along that well, he's such a stickler for rules and I prefer to do things my way. But that doesn't mean we can't get along, and anyway what we were doing doesn't require a lot of talk. Still, there was no reason for Jon to just assume that was what we were up to.

Truth is he hasn't even asked, so for all I know he's disappointed in me about something else and I'm beating myself up for no reason. What I can't figure out is why I feel so damn guilty. I don't owe him anything, being my best friend doesn't give him the right to dictate what I do in my free time. If I want to sleep with half the ship it's none of his damn business, as long as I don't break any of Starfleet's precious rules. Don't get me wrong, I love my job and all but sometimes the rules get a little…let's just say stifling. If it wasn't for the rules I think Jon would have a lot more fun, that's for sure. Then again sometimes I think he needs the rules to give him an excuse not to do half the stuff he dreams up in that mind of his.

It's always been this way between us, he's the overachiever who's chasing his father's dream and I'm the one that's along for the ride. I never really minded until the first time he looked at me and I could see the disappointment. Before then I'd always told myself he didn't care what I did, and he talks such a good game that sometimes I can still almost believe that. Almost. Not quite, though—not quite because every time he looks at me now I can see the disappointment, even if it isn't there I still see it no matter what we're talking about.

It was just a little cabin fever, that's all. We've been floating around in space for so long I was starting to go crazy, we haven't so much as run into another ship in weeks. I know it's getting to our fearless leader too, he won't admit it but I can always tell when he's getting restless. He starts talking to his dog a lot more, for one thing. Me, I find other ways to occupy my time, and it just so happened that he walked past Reed's quarters at the exact moment I was leaving. Maybe he was looking for me, he was headed in the direction of my quarters but from the look on his face when he ran into me it was obvious he hadn't expected to find me where he did.

I keep going over it in my head, what he could have seen in those few seconds that gave away what I'd been up to. Then I remind myself that not only is it none of his business what I do with my free time, but he's never shown any interest in my love life one way or the other. In fact the only time he's ever stopped to notice who I'm sleeping with is when he's laughing at me for hitting on a woman that he considers out of my league. He's never said anything about any of the men.

When he thinks of it he likes to point out the way I go through relationships, as if the other person involved is some kind of victim and I'm breaking hearts left and right. He never really stops to consider that maybe the people I get involved with aren't looking for a commitment any more than I am, but I don't bother to point that out to him. It's just not practical, not in our line of work. Even if you go and fall in love with somebody that's wearing the same uniform as you the chances of you getting stationed on different sides of the planet are better than you'd think. Those just aren't the kind of odds I like, not when my heart's involved. I know Jon doesn't think I'm even capable of falling in love, but he doesn't know everything about me. Truth is I'm just smart enough not to let it get that far.

Take Reed, for instance—Malcolm's a decent enough guy, he's a little too rigid for my taste but he's nice to look at and the shy thing's a real turn-on. Personally I'd choose Travis over him but Trav's not really interested, at least not as far as I can tell. I'd take Jon over both of them, of course, but we already know the answer to that one. I can just hear him now, even if he couldn't blame it on me being drunk he'd think of some other excuse. "I'm a starship captain now, Trip. It wouldn't be appropriate, Trip. You're suffering delusions again, Trip. Report to Medical and make sure you don't have any more of that alien pollen in your system, Trip." I could roll my eyes at him until I'm dizzy but it wouldn't make a dent in his armor, he'd be safe in the knowledge that he was doing his duty to Starfleet.

Just look at the way he sucks up to T'Pol like she's going to somehow deliver the human race into the good graces of the rest of the universe. She doesn't even like us, I can see her looking down her nose at us and thinking to herself how superior she is. I know Jon can see it too, but he doesn't even flinch when she gets in his face and starts telling him how to run his ship. Sure, he's stood up to her a few times but you can tell he kind of likes having her around. Like she's a novelty or a side show at a damn carnival. Does it disgust me? Hell yeah. Is it for the right reasons? That's a good question.

I mean as long as I've known him the Vulcans have always been the enemy, they were the ones that kept his father from fulfilling his dream while he was still alive. They're the reason Jon went into Starfleet in the first place, so he could see his dad's dream through when the Vulcans finally got off their high horse and let us start thinking for ourselves again. All that time I stood by him, I fought by his side and made sure he got to see his dad's engine put to the purpose it was designed for. Sure, he paid me back by making me his Engineer and first officer once the Enterprise was finally operational, but I don't know if he really understands why I helped him out when everyone else was telling him to listen to the Vulcans because they'd gone before us and they knew what they were talking about.

I'm not really sure I understand it myself, to tell you the truth.

We're talking about my best friend here, he probably knows me better than anybody else in the universe and sometimes I wonder if I know him at all. It's like there are two Archers, there's my buddy Jon and then there's Captain Archer, by the book and all starched collars and protocol. I like the first version a lot better, he's the one that keeps a stash of my favorite whiskey in his quarters and razzes me about the women I hit on when we go out together. I guess he still hasn't figured out that sometimes I aim too high on purpose. Means I go home alone, but it also means I don't have to leave him alone in the bar to fend for himself.

I know, I know, he's a big boy and he can take care of himself. It's just that sometimes he seems kind of helpless, like if it wasn't for the uniform he wouldn't really know what to do with himself. This life was his dad's dream, after all, and even though he says it's his too sometimes I wonder what he's not telling me. I guess we all have our secrets, even Starfleet captains. I know he likes what he does, most of the time it even makes sense that he's gotten as far as he has in his career. Doesn't leave a lot of time for a personal life, though, and that's the part I don't get. Every once in awhile I get the feeling that he doesn't want a personal life, like it would complicate things too much. The rest of the time I just get the feeling that I'm missing something that's right in front of me.

For a long time I thought I knew what it was, I could have sworn there was something going on between us even if neither of us ever talked about it. Until the night I finally brought it up, that is—after that night I stopped telling myself I knew what made Jonathan Archer tick. So I offered him what I thought we both wanted and he turned me down, it's not like that's the first time I've gotten shot down. It's just the way he looked at me like he didn't even recognize me, then the way he never brought up that night again and made it clear without even saying the words that the subject was off limits. He's still my best friend, we still hang out in his quarters and talk about the mission or the crew or whatever but we don't talk about that night. We don't talk about much of anything personal since we got on board the Enterprise, whether that's him being a good captain or him not wanting to know me anymore I couldn't tell you. I don't mind admitting that that's a little hard to take, he's the first person I met when we started at the Academy and I can't imagine not having him around anymore.

So I tell myself it's just him following whatever rules he thinks Starfleet wants him to follow and I keep my extracurricular activities to myself. Sometimes I do something petty like request permission to camp out on a planet with Travis just to see if he'll deny my request or think of some excuse to keep me away from my other friends. Of course that little camping trip came back to haunt me, so to speak, but I knew it got under Jon's skin that I asked so in a way it was worth it. I don't even know why I do stuff like that, if he wants to push me away in the name of being a good captain I've got other ways to occupy my time. There's more than one way to skin a cat, after all. So why does it bug me so much when he keeps me at arm's length and practically falls over himself including T'Pol in practically every conversation we have about the crew? I don't know, I wish it didn't but it's not gonna change until I figure out why it bothers me so much.

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