Title: Last Calls and First Kisses

Author: Caroline Crane

Email: caroline_crane@hotmail.com

Website: desiderium.slashcity.net/

Date: 11/26/01

Category: Slash

Rating: PG-13

Pairing: Archer/Tucker

Summary: A shameless piece of fluff set pre-Enterprise. Trip and Jon bond on the way home from a bar. It's got a touch of angst too. Hey, I'm a slash writer. Angst is my life.

"Your mark's leaving," Jon pointed out, raising an eyebrow as he watched a tiny brunette slide into her jacket and pick up her purse.

Trip followed his best friend's gaze to the girl in question, shrugging as he watched her follow her friends out of the bar. "My mark? Interesting choice of words, Johnny," he said, grinning as he turned back to his friend. "Hey, you're the one that was flirting with her," Jon shot back, mirroring the other man's grin as he picked up the beer he'd been nursing. "I just thought you'd like to know that your window of opportunity is about to close."

"Just as well," Trip said as he signaled to the bartender for another beer. "My heart wasn't really in it anyway."

"I didn't think your heart was the key to whatever you wanted from her," Jon murmured into his glass, low enough that Trip had to lean into him.


"Nothing," Jon answered, downing the last of his beer as the bartender set two fresh mugs down in front of them. He took the opportunity to study his best friend's profile as Trip picked up his beer and swallowed the cool liquid, fascinated by the movement of the other man's throat and the way his jaw worked as he finally pulled the glass away from his mouth and let out a satisfied sigh. As soon as Trip set the glass down Jon averted his gaze, studying his own beer as he told himself to get a grip. They were friends—just friends. Sure, they'd been pretty inseparable since they met three years ago, but they were still just buddies. They picked up women together, they drank beer and told stories about their time in the Academy and their lives growing up in separate parts of the United States, but they'd never be anything more than friends.

He'd resigned himself to that a long time ago, because no matter how much he wished it weren't true Trip was always chasing some skirt. He flirted with everyone, and anyway he didn't do serious so there was no point in brooding over it. He picked up his beer and held it to his lips, the bitter taste of the alcohol making him wince as he set the glass back down. He couldn't keep doing this to himself, no matter how much he enjoyed spending every second he could with Trip he couldn't keep torturing himself over something that he couldn't have.

"Johnny, you okay?" his friend asked, and Jon turned to see the concerned expression marring Trip's normally beautiful features. He truly was beautiful, from his easy grin to the way his blond hair brushed the collar of his uniform at the back to the long, perfect fingers on each hand. Jon had spent more hours contemplating those hands than he'd ever admit, and he shoved the thought aside with all the force left in him and cleared his throat.

"Sure, Trip, I'm fine," he answered, glancing down at his watch. "You know it's almost last call. We've gotta quit shutting this place down."

There was that lazy grin again, mocking him as Trip shook his head slightly. "Come on, buddy, it's not like we do it that often. Not nearly often enough, in fact. You've gotta learn to loosen up."

Jon chuckled low in his throat and pushed himself off the bar stool just as the bartender announced that indeed it was last call. If Trip only knew what Jon thought about all the nights they sat together in the bar he'd never suggest that Jon 'loosen up' again. "So you keep telling me. Come on, we better get back before we get court martialed for abandoning ship."

"Can you abandon ship when it's in drydock?" Trip mused, raising his eyebrows at his own question as he lifted his glass and drained the contents. When the last drops of beer were gone he stood and tossed a few bills on the bar before turning and following Jon out of the bar. He paused when they stepped into the cool night air, letting the salt-infused San Francisco breeze wash over him as he closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes again Jon was facing him, an amused smile lighting up his best friend's face.

"Are you going to make it back to Starfleet or should I call a cab? Because I'm not carrying you," Jon said.

"Nah, I'm fine, Johnny," Trip answered. "Just enjoying the moment. Every once in awhile you just gotta stop and live in the moment, you know?"

Jon nodded, although he wasn't entirely sure he did know exactly what Trip meant. In fact, he couldn't think of one time in his life when he'd just let himself be without thinking of the consequences. Trip did it all the time, of course—it was part of what attracted Jon to him in the first place. Trip's energy was like nothing he'd ever seen before, it was infectious and it made people want to be around him. He made it easier for Jon to let go, to ease up on the regulations and the old bitterness left by the failure his father's life had become and enjoy himself once in awhile.

He started when he felt Trip's arm slide around his shoulders, looking up and meeting his friend's amused gaze with a startled expression. "Relax, Johnny. It's just me. Come on, let's go home."

"Yeah," Jon answered, barely registering the sound of his own voice. His mind was frozen on the fact that Trip's arm was still around him, guiding him back in the direction of Starfleet. Not that his friend hadn't touched him plenty of times before—there were hugs, casual pats on the back, those friendly touches that anyone could explain away. He'd memorized and carefully catalogued every single instance over the past three years, storing every single touch in the secret part of his heart that he only thought about when he was alone with his unrequited misery.

This, though—this was definitely new. This was extended touching, Trip's arm had been around his shoulders for at least a full minute now with no indication that he was planning to move it any time soon. He didn't want to draw attention to it for fear he'd lose the contact, but he had to know. He couldn't look his friend in the eye the next day if he didn't ask him. He worked up his most amused grin and glanced over at the other man, noting with some alarm how close their faces really were. "You're so drunk you need me to help you walk?"

To his surprise Trip didn't pull his arm away, he only laughed and squeezed Jon's shoulder slightly. "Nope, in fact I don't think I'm really drunk at all. The salt air woke me right up."

Jon stole another glance over at the other man's profile, Trip's words playing over and over in his head: Every once in awhile you just gotta stop and live in the moment. He wished he could be that brave, he wished he could just reach for his friend without thinking about the consequences. More than anything he wished he could just tell Trip the truth, once and for all and consequences be damned. They'd known each other long enough that he wasn't even so much afraid of Trip not wanting to be his friend anymore if he knew how Jon felt. What he was really afraid of was finding out that Trip could never feel the same way about him.

"Johnny," Trip said, his voice lower than Jon remembered. He blinked as he realized for the first time that Trip was staring back at him, something shining in his eyes that Jon couldn't quite put his finger on. And they were so close, so close that he could feel Trip's breath tickling his cheek as they slowed to a complete stop. Stop. Live in the moment. That's what Trip had said, and if he couldn't take his best friend's advice then whose could he take? He trusted Trip with his life, after all, he should be able to trust him with his heart.

"I love you," Jon said. It was short and sweet, a simple statement of fact. There was no arguing its meaning, it was what it was. He wanted to laugh at how terrified he'd been of those three tiny words—now that he'd actually said them out loud he felt incredibly light, as though he'd been carrying around a burden that he didn't even know was there.

Trip smiled and squeezed his shoulder again before he turned away and they fell into step together again. "You're the best friend I've ever had, Johnny," Trip said, his eyes straight ahead and his voice so low Jon had to lean into him to catch what he'd said.

Jon felt his heart fall as soon as he heard the words 'best friend', but he steeled himself against the disappointment and told himself that he shouldn't have expected anything different. He'd known it was a lost cause before he said the words, and it was enough that he could still count on Trip to be there when it counted. If he never loved him back that way it didn't change the fact that Trip truly was the best friend he'd ever had.

He noted vaguely that they were only a few blocks from Starfleet now, and soon he'd be alone in his quarters and he'd have plenty of time for remorse. For now he was just going to enjoy the feeling of Trip's arm around him and hope that they'd still be friends in the morning. Only when he took another step forward Trip's arm slid off his shoulders, and he stopped and looked back to find his friend standing in the center of the sidewalk, his forehead furrowed as he tried to puzzle something out.

"Trip?" Jon said, his heart in his throat as he realized that the end of their friendship could come before morning after all. Regret hit him in a dizzying wave, threatening to knock his legs out from under him as the reality of what he'd done began to sink in.

Trip was still standing in front of him, one hand clasped behind his neck and the other on his hip as he stared at Jon. "Say, Johnny," he said slowly, his gaze wandering to the stars above them before he turned back to his friend and continued, "when you say you love me…"

Jon curled his hands into tight fists, his fingernails digging into his palms as he struggled not to roll his eyes. It just figured, the one time he threw caution to the wind and just said what he was thinking Trip had to dissect it. He couldn't just let it be the way Jon let the thousand random things that came out of Trip's mouth lie. What the hell did he expect, a definition of the word 'love'? There were a thousand answers to that one, Jon knew that. But he knew Trip didn't get involved in serious relationships, he should have known better than to just blurt it out like that. "Forget it, Trip. It was just the beer talking."

"No," Trip said, shaking his head vigorously as he took a few steps toward his friend. "You barely touched your last beer and you only had two before that. I've seen you walk away from a lot more than two beers and change, Jon."

He stopped talking again and leaned forward, searching his best friend's defiant expression for any hint of what was going on behind those dark eyes. "Did you mean it?"

This time Jon didn't bother fighting the urge to roll his eyes, throwing in a heavy sigh for good measure. For a brilliant engineer Trip could be impossibly dense sometimes, and Jon was beginning to suspect that he did it on purpose. It was just like his best friend to force him to spell it out, even though he was fairly sure now that Trip knew exactly what he meant when he'd said 'I love you'. "Yes, Trip. I meant it. Although right now I'm not sure why."

A lazy grin lit up Trip's face as he reached out again, his hand settling on the front of Jon's chest this time. His fingers closed around the fabric of his uniform as he eased the other man forward, pausing when their lips were barely an inch apart. "I was wondering when you were gonna get around to telling me," he murmured before he closed the rest of the distance between them, fusing their lips together. Jon's lips parted in a silent, startled cry, and Trip's tongue flicked across his bottom lip before sliding into his mouth, his arms sliding around Jon's waist as he pulled his friend tight against him. Jon's mouth moved automatically against the hot mouth pressed against it, his brain on overdrive as he tried to decide if this was real or just some vivid dream. His dreams never felt this real, though, and in his dreams Trip's mouth didn't taste vaguely of hops. His clothes never smelled of a mixture of salt air and Trip, either…come to think of it in his dreams there wasn't usually any smell at all.

Finally satisfied that he wasn't dreaming, he let his hands wander up Trip's back to finally slide through that golden hair. Just as he suspected, it was as soft as corn silk. He smiled at the image of Farmboy Trip, surrounded by corn and looking for all the world like a wide-eyed innocent. Not so innocent after all, Jon thought wryly as Trip's hands began to wander.

"What's so funny?" Trip asked when he pulled away, his expression guarded as he watched his best friend succumb to laughter.

"Nothing," Jon said, shaking his head as he tried to regain his composure. "Just laughing at myself for being an idiot. Come on, let's go home."

"Yeah, home. I like the sound of that," Trip answered, sliding his arm around Jon's shoulders again as they started back down the sidewalk together.

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