Title: Dreams and Reality

Author: Shamrock

Author's e-mail: CopterCrasherInc@aol.com

Date: 03/18/02

Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Rating: NC-17

Category: Slash

Summary: Reed wants Archer, Trip give advice, and Porthos gets some screen time.

Spoilers: Breaking the Ice, Shuttlepod One, Strange New World, Silent Enemy, Sleeping Dog

Comments: This is for J.D. "C'mon—It's ARCHER AND REED!!!" Rush, because without her prod—ah, encouragemnt, I wouldn't have tackled a Reed story at this point. It's all for you, baby! May a temporal displacement transport you to another realm where Malcolm Reed, Melvin Frohike, and Sam Beckett wait on you and and foot and Quantum Leap, The Lone Gumen, and The Pretender were never cancelled.

Beta reader(s): Big, huge, momumental thanks to Kylara Ingress, for betaing this despite the fact that she was getting over a humdinger of a cold. You're amazing. May a little miniature Al recruit his cousins Ben and Tony to hunt down all cold germs and beat them into the consistency of pudding so you never have to get sick again! And big thanks to J.D. Rush for her help as well. This story is better because of them both.

I want him.

I don't know how I reached this point, really, I don't. Don't know what it is about this ship, this crew, that has me feeling this way.

Feeling. Ah, yes. Let's look at that, shall we?

There's Hoshi. Kind girl, very sweet. I've enjoyed working with her, training her to use weaponry a bit better. I think she and I are going to be…friends. Yes, friends. Maybe even good ones.

There's Commander Tucker—or Trip, as I now call him. Guess it's not too much of a surprise that such a—what is the term?—good old boy doesn't stand on ceremony. I think we're probably more alike than either of us would truly care to admit. He's as dedicated to the engines as I am to the safety of the ship and crew, and both go hand in hand. I like Trip very much, and hope that our friendship continues to grow, despite our (many) differences.

There's Dr. Phlox. I respect him, and actually feel something of a bond with him. He's an alien on a ship full of humans. I often have felt that way in my life—like an outsider looking in.

There's Travis. He's level-headed, enthusiastic, an excellent navigator. He's command material, just you wait and see. Someday, we'll see him at the helm of his own ship, I've no doubt.

There's T'Pol. Ah, yes, T'Pol. The Enigmatic One. She has a very nice bum. She was also the means I used to reassure myself that I wasn't dreaming when I woke up in Sickbay after Trip and I nearly died in that shuttlepod. It was so much like my dream, I had to ask her, had to know it was real. I knew if she actually said something about heroics, that would mean it wasn't. I needed to know it was real, that we really were back. I guess in a way, T'Pol and I are alike—I'm not much easier to read than she is sometimes, I know.

And…there's Captain Archer.

Archer. I like the way the name sounds. Like the way it feels in my mouth. Strong and commanding, brave and brash. A growl, a caress.

I like the way he feeds Porthos cheese, even though he knows he shouldn't. I like the way he paces, even when he has to duck under beams to do it—he's so full of energy, it's like watching a torpedo about to detonate. Explosive. Dangerous. Beautiful.

Forget wanting him. I love him.

That scares me. Terrifies, actually. I'd rather face off against a dozen Klingons armed with only a toothpick than face that disturbing little truth. And yet, there it is. Every day, there it is. In briefings, in the Armory, on the Bridge…it's everywhere I go.

Seems he is, too. Can't seem to get away from him. He's everywhere. He's in the bloody air, for God's sakes.


Sometimes, I fantasize about calling him Jon. Sometimes I say it out loud in my quarters, trying it out: Jon.

That's different from Archer. No, I know they're the same person, I know that. I'm not an idiot. But Archer is…commanding. Forceful. He dives into everything head-first. He's our captain, our leader.

Jon is…well, he's the one who gives Porthos the cheese. The one who pleaded with Trip to trust him, to stop aiming his weapon at T'Pol when the commander went a bit crackers on us.

I seriously suspect he's the one who made sure I had pineapple cake on my birthday. I wasn't even expecting anyone—least of all him—to know, or to care, about my birthday. But that—I couldn't believe it. It's a memory I'll treasure forever, that he cared that much.

No, love isn't too strong a word. Not at all. Not even for someone with as little experience as I have in the area.

"Malcolm? You okay?"

Damn him and his concern! "Yes, Captain. I'm fine."

Great. He's wearing his patented You're-Not-Gonna-Get-One-Over-On-Me-I'm-a-Captain expression.

"A word in private, Lieutenant?" he says briskly, then turns and strides for the doors.

Damn, he looks good in uniform…I have to swallow hard and remind myself to breathe as I follow him into his Ready Room.

Once we're alone, he looks me up and down in a way that is frankly more than a little disconcerting. Like he knows me better than he should.

Like…he…knows….Oh, God, please, no! No, not that!

"Malcolm, relax. What's been eating you lately? You're all…tense. More so than usual."

"It's nothing, Sir," I reply, trying to hit a comfortable balance between standing rigidly to attention and letting my legs just slide out from under me. I'm concentrating so hard on this task—knees slightly bent, hands clasped loosely behind your back, balance on the balls of your feet, tilt your head just a little so your neck doesn't snap—that I don't notice he's moved right in front of me, just inches away. God, I can smell him, and he smells so good—so intoxicating. "Look, Reed," and I hate it when he calls me Reed, I want him to call me Malcolm, but I can't think about that, I've got to focus on what he's saying, "you're not fooling me. I can tell something's bothering you. Now, I don't like to see that in my crew, especially in people who hold such vital positions. If you won't talk to me about it, you've got to promise me you'll talk to someone. That's an order, Lieutenant," and Lieutenant's even worse than Reed, but he's still talking, "and I want your word that you will follow it. Am I understood?"

"Yes, Sir. Perfectly, Sir. You have my word." Well, my tongue may feel ridiculously thick, but at least I didn't squeak.

He gives me an appraising look, and nods once. "Good. I don't want to see you on the Bridge again until you've done so." I nod in return. "Dismissed."

I manage to make it back to my quarters before I hyperventilate. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Damn. I knew it was affecting my work, I knew it, but I didn't know it was so bad that others could tell, too. Damn.

I feel a deep urge to blow something up.

Instead, I leave my quarters to find someone to talk to so I can get back to the Bridge.

Someone. Ha. I know who I'm looking for. It doesn't take me long to reach my destination.

"Hey, Malcolm. Whatcha doin' down here in Engineering? Things too borin' up on the Bridge?"

"Hardly. I was wondering if…if we might have a bit of a chat?"

"Sure, no sweat." Trip climbs down and grins eagerly at me. "You wanna go to the Mess Hall? Get a bite to eat or somethin'?"

"Uh, actually, no. This is more of a…private discussion."

Suddenly, he's all seriousness, and I wonder yet again at his rapid changes in mood. As we walk out together, he asks, "Is anything the matter?"

"Well, actually…" I start as he leads me to his quarters, which are our closest shot at privacy, "I'm doing this by Captain Archer's orders."

He grins as he taps in the code to open his door. "Ah, good ol' Johnny. So, what's goin' on?" he asks as the door closes behind us.

"He—he noticed that something was bothering me, and he won't let me back on the Bridge until I…discuss it with someone," I answer, taking a seat next to him on his bunk.

"I'm listenin'."

"Trip…you can't tell anyone. Please, promise me."

"Just between us. You got it," he assures me, and I know he'll keep his word. Trip's honorable. Now, it's confession time. Breathe in, breathe out, come on and bite the bullet here, you great ninny, orders are orders.

"I…seem to have…fallen in love." The words come haltingly, but at least they come.

Trip claps me on the back. "Well, that's great! Who's the lucky lady?"

I can feel myself blush furiously, and curse the genetic makeup that ensures that it'll be so bloody obvious that no one could ever miss it. "The, uh, 'lucky lady' is our esteemed captain," I admit, not looking at my companion.

There's dead silence for a long moment. Too long. I look up, and Trip's face is contorted in the strangest expression—like he's a few microseconds away from exploding—

"Ha, ha, ha, ha!" into laughter.

Rising angrily, I bite off my following words with a harshness that surprises even me. "I didn't come here to be mocked, Commander. If you will excuse me —" But before I can escape, he has a hold of my arm.

Still chuckling, he says, "So-sorry about that, Malcolm. Didn't mean it that way. C'mon, sit back down." I guess he can tell I'm going to protest, because he sobers completely and says, "Please? Least let me explain." Reluctantly, I do so, not understanding how the man who claims to be my friend could laugh at my dilemma like that. "Ya see, you're not the only one on this ship I've played confessor to. I've also done it for Jon. That laughter? Malcolm, it wasn't aimed at you. That was sheer, unadulterated relief. You have any idea how many times I've had to listen to Jon get downright poetic about you? Frankly, it'll be a huge relief to have him aimin' that poetry at you instead of me."

"You mean —"

"Yep. He's crazy about you. Hell, I'm not even sure 'crazy' is the right word. 'Demented', maybe. I'm kinda surprised he hasn't just thrown you over a terminal, if ya catch my drift. I've gotta say, I've known Jonathan Archer for a lot of years—nearly a decade now—but I've never seen him like this. Never this gone on someone. I'd say the guy's in love, big time."

"Love?" I ask weakly, thinking surely this must be a joke. Suddenly, I'm very grateful I'm sitting down, as my legs have gone a bit quivery. "With…me?" "With you. Now, all we gotta do is get the pair of you together. Preferably before I develop cavities from havin' to listen to one more of his 'Odes to Malcolm'. I swear, I was on the verge of killing him."

"I am afraid, Commander, that if you were to do that, I would then be forced to kill you," I reply.

Trip chuckles and slaps me on the back again, and I feel a warm rush of friendship unlike any I've ever experienced. For the first time in my life, I belong.

"Sooo…how are we gonna work this?" he asks me.

"I suppose proclaiming my love on the Bridge is out?" I ask dryly.

"Oh, man. I'd pay good money to see that. Johnny'd probably faint on the spot." I try, and fail, to visualize him fainting. "But you're probably right. Bad idea." He thinks for a moment. "You know, he hates to eat alone. Absolutely hates it. What say I get him to invite you for dinner, then conveniently be needed in Engineering? Give you some time alone with him."

I can feel myself go pale. "I wouldn't know what to say!" I protest, getting a little dizzy at the mere picture. I can see it now—me, all tongue-tied, him trying far too hard to fill the silence, as he always does.

Trip's hand is back, but now it's gently massaging the base of my neck. I'm so unused to that sort of thing that I have to remind myself: this is Trip. He is my friend, and he only wants to help. Besides, it feels nice. I guess it is helping. "Hey, relax there, buddy. That's the problem—you're thinkin' too much. Just…let it happen. Start out by brushin' his foot under the table with yours. Reach for somethin' at the same time he does so your hands touch. Talk weapons—he loves it when you talk weapons. Says you glow. Just be yourself, but with the knowledge that he feels the same. Smile. He loves it when you smile. Says you don't do enough of it. Meet his eyes. An' remember this: it won't matter if the most engaging topic of conversation you can come up with is—is botany. He'll still wax poetic 'bout it later. But if he's waxin' poetical about it to me, I really will have to kill him, and you'll kill me, and where would Enterprise be without its captain an' chief engineer?" That makes me laugh, and I feel some of the tension drain out of my shoulders.

"I will do my best to keep you from that grisly fate, Commander Tucker," I say, feeling much better than I have for quite some time.

"Well, see that you do," he says, a wide grin on his face and his blue eyes sparkling.

"Oh, my God," I groan, cradling my head in my hands as the realization hits.

"What?" Trip asks, concerned.

"I just realized—I have a date with the captain tonight!" I moan into my hands. I hear Trip chuckle.

"Don't look at it as a date. Look at it as…a dinner with possibilities."

I take a deep breath. "A dinner with possibilities. Okay. I can handle that." I lift my head to look at him. "Thank you," I say quietly, with great feeling. The word doesn't come near what I feel right now—the gratitude could practically split me in two—but Trip just grins his little grin and slaps my back again.

"Happy to help. Even happier to know I won't have to endure another speech about how your eyes are…how did he put it?…'blue like the ocean, brighter than a million stars'."

I lose my breath again. "He—he actually said that?"

"Oh, yeah." He shudders. "Ya see what you're in for?" The grin falls from his face, and suddenly, he's as serious as I've ever seen him. "Malcolm? Treat him right. Please, don't hurt him. I've got to ask you that." His eyes are intense now, and searching mine.

"Trip, I promise. I won't hurt him, ever. I'd sooner shoot myself."

He smiles. "I know. Just—needed to hear it. And just so you know, I'll be extracting the same promise from him later. The two of you are going to be good to each other, or I'm gonna kick both your butts."

"Trip, I seriously doubt you could take either one of us," I reply with a little grin of my own.

He shakes his head. "Guess the old saying's right. Love does make you stupid." Before I can retort, he stands, and I follow his lead. "Look, you'd better stay off the Bridge and away from Jon for the rest of the day. It'll only make things worse. I'd better go get things set up with him an' then get back to Engineering. If I don't see you before tonight, then good luck. Not that you'll need it, but…" he shrugs, "good luck, all the same."

"Thank you, Trip. For everything."

"No problem. See ya later."

We leave his quarters, and he goes off to find the captain as I head to the Armory for some target practice. Maybe Hoshi will show up and give me a distraction….

I'm standing outside the captain's private dining room. My palms feel like I've slicked them with oil, they're sweating so badly. I think there must be some crossed wires between my sweat glands and my salivary glands because my mouth is dryer than a cotton ball on the desert floor. I think the messages are getting mixed up.

I don't know how long I've been standing here, but I do know I am starting to feel a bit silly. Bracing myself mentally, I head inside and nearly pass out when I see him.

As per Trip's advice, I have gone casual this evening. So has the captain, and the sight has my knees buckling. Tight black pants, but not too tight. Blue shirt that hugs his broad shoulders and chest, but hangs loosely around his waist. Forget the food, he looks good enough to eat.

"Uhh…Trip won't be joining us," he says, just a hair faster than normal. If I didn't know what I know, I might not have noticed at all. "He's needed in Engineering. So, it'll just be you and me tonight." A flash of anxiety breaks over his face like a storm cloud. "That is all right, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes," I say too quickly. "Perfectly all right, I assure you." He beams at me, and I feel as though every sun in the galaxy is shining on me, full-blast. Such warmth, such…love. Yes. It really is. Trip was right. Guess I was too busy trying to hide my feelings to see his.

No more of that foolishness.

I smile back at him, and I wouldn't have thought it possible, but his smile actually widens. Dazzling. Blinding. My God, he's amazing.

I again lose track of time as I gaze at him. I never would have thought that just standing and looking at someone could be such an all-consuming activity, but it is. Everything in me is focused on him, on drinking in every last detail.

Suddenly, he clears his throat and gestures towards the table. We sit, and my nerves return with a vengeance. I take hurried sip of water, trying to cool myself off a bit and give myself some breathing room. When I look up, he's fiddling with his napkin.

Somehow, I center myself and remember Trip's advice. Biting my lower lip, I slowly, let one of my feet seek out one of his under the table. I hear him gasp when they make contact and I don't pull back immediately. I'm not looking at him, though. Too easy to lose myself in his beauty if I'm looking at him.

Then it's my turn to gasp as I feel a touch against my other foot. Looking up, I see a pair of eyes that would put Porthos' to shame. He's begging me to take control here, because he can't. Superior/subordinate. It has to be me.

Throwing caution to the wind, and wondering how I got this bold, I reach across the table for his hand…and accidentally hit one of the glasses. Both of us rush to steady it, keeping it from spilling. For a second I think I've ruined the mood, but I haven't. Now, our hands are together on the glass—all four of them. It's like they're glued together.

I look up into his eyes, and shudder at the blatant, burning hunger there. I can feel his hands trembling against my own—or are those my hands trembling? I don't know. Don't care.

He's standing, and since he's not relinquishing my hands, he's taking me with him. Walking backwards, he reaches the door to the Galley, and with a swift motion he's locked it. Then he moves me so that I'm walking backwards, and he locks the other door.

He's still devouring me with his eyes, but still begging, too. Still can't make the first move.

I can't take it anymore; this is torture. Before I can wonder where this boldness is coming from, I've grabbed his shirtfront in both hands and have yanked him close, pressing our lips together in a fiery kiss.

I thought he was devouring me with his eyes just a moment ago. I was wrong. Now, he's devouring me, swallowing me whole. His hands are clutched in my brown wavy hair possessively, and I know he's playing for keeps. My hands are still tangled in his shirt, fingers tightening their hold as his tongue demands entrance to my mouth. I moan as it introduces itself to my own and they proceed to tie themselves into knots.

That moan seems to have had quite an effect on Jon (well, don't you think it would be a bit foolish to refer to him as 'Archer' or something like that? His tongue is in my mouth, for God's sake!) judging by the way his fingers splay out on my scalp and drag me closer, holding me to him even tighter.

There's a desperate need here, pounding through us both, and once again, I'm taking the lead. Releasing his shirt, I move my hands to the hemline and slip up under it, needing to feel bare flesh. He groans into my mouth, and it sounds like he's saying my name, but it's hard to tell because our lips are pressed so hard against one another.

My hands start exploring, running up and down smooth skin. It feels so good to hold him like this, to feel him in my arms at last. His hands are sliding down my front now, and I can't help but moan as he lingers over my nipples, teasing them through my shirt.

"I want you, Malcolm," he groans directly in my ear, breath and words conspiring to drive me insane. It wasn't like I could doubt it, the way he's thrown himself into it like this, but still, to hear it does funny things to my insides, things I haven't ever felt before. His lips are hot and possessive on my neck, and that's doing funny things to me, too.

"You've got me," I gasp as he nibbles at my pulse. My hands are grasping at his muscular back helplessly as he moves to my other ear.

"Say my name," he pleads, panting. "Please, Malcolm. Need to hear you say it." His lips never stop moving on me, and now his hands have slipped under my shirt, and God help me but they're as big and strong and gentle and demanding as he himself is. I wonder how I ever did without this in my life. "Please," he begs again in a whisper against my skin, and I'm made aware of forgetting the passage of time yet again.

"Jonathan," I gasp, and he trembles hard, shuddering. I like that reaction. "Jon," I repeat, and this time he moans and crushes me to him with those strong arms.

Suddenly, my shirt is gone and he's attacking me. That's the only word for it. His mouth is all over my chest and shoulders, and if he wasn't holding me so tightly, I'd be sinking to the floor in a useless puddle of goo. Especially when his lips and teeth find one of my nipples. I whimper and clamp my lips together hard to keep from making noise. But he knows. He moves up, and God, his lips are at my ear again, and just his breath is nearly enough to make me pass out. "Don't fight it, Malcolm," he purrs. "I want to hear them. Want to hear you lose control." He rubs a thumb hard over one of my excruciatingly-sensitive nipples, and I bite back another moan, not used to letting go. He repeats the motion on the other side, but this time he's prying my lips apart with his tongue and I moan loudly against his mouth. "There now," he murmurs against my lips. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

I'm gazing at him, and he's so gorgeous, it takes my breath away. He's all flushed and rosy like he just got out of the shower—I shudder briefly at that powerful visual—his beautiful eyes are wild and needy, and his lips are so swollen and pink. Something in me just snaps at the sight, and suddenly I'm ripping his shirt off of him.

Whatever madness has ensnared me has also trapped him—he's growling deep in his throat and working hard to divest me of my pants. Before I recognize what he's doing, he's on his knees in front of me, clutching hard at my thighs and hips. I barely have time to miss his arms around me before he's taken me, hard and fast, into his throat.

Well, if he wants loud, he's got it. I throw my head back and scream. When I look back down, his eyes are shining impishly up at me, looking for all the world like a child with a lollipop. I'm not used to this, not used to giving myself over to someone like this, but…he looks so happy…and I'd be lying if I said this didn't feel bloody good. My pants are pooled around my ankles, and I don't even care. My God, I'm shaking. I've never shook with desire like this before. My knees are buckling, but it doesn't matter because he's supporting me now, holding me up as his lips, tongue, and teeth draw a symphony of groans and gasps from me like a skilled conductor. My hands are clutching at his shoulders as I start spinning away towards oblivion.

I don't know how, but he's got all of me in his mouth now, and God help me, he's swallowing, and oh, God, it's unlike anything I've ever felt, no one has ever done this to me before. My moans are overlapping themselves now, becoming one long anguished cry. I can feel it building in me, so familiar yet so new at the same time. It's never been like this before, with this passion. All that exuberant energy of his is focused on me now, and I can't handle it. I don't even know what I'm saying anymore, all know is how desperate I am for climax. I'm shuddering with it, and from somewhere I hear my voice chanting his name, that name I've dreamed of calling him to his face for so long now. I don't even know what he's doing anymore, I've lost the words, lost everything but sensation and need.

The end hits before I'm really expecting it, so I can't warn him, but he's undeterred—in fact, he's growling again, and as I explode helplessly into the haven of his beautiful mouth, he draws all of it down his throat greedily, not missing a single drop.

I lost the ability to stand unaided a long time ago, but now he's releasing his hold just enough for me to slide down to my knees, and he guides me into his arms as I pant. I can't believe what just happened. Surely, that was too good for me? Things like that aren't supposed to happen to me, not really. Dreams are all well and good, but ones like this aren't supposed to come true. I'm not accustomed to it.

I bury my head against his shoulder, trying to adjust my view of the world to include dreams that actually come true, and fail. It's too much, it's much too big, and I'm shaking with it.

"It's okay, Malcolm," he says quietly, kissing my hair. I feel like sobbing back that it bloody well is not okay, but he's capturing my face in my hands and turning me to look at him. I try to move away, ashamed of the tears streaming down my cheeks. Surely now, he'll see how weak I truly am, see that he's far too good for me?

But no. He's kissing away the moisture with gentle brushes of his lips, capturing each tear as though it were infinitely precious to him. "Oh, Malcolm," he breathes, stroking my cheeks with his thumbs. "No one's ever really made love to you before, have they?"

I can feel myself bristle at that. I may not be terribly experienced, but I'm no virgin. But he sees the change in me, and he continues. "I didn't mean it that way. I mean, you've never done this with love, have you? You've never seen what it can be with—with love." And I realize he's right. I've had sex, but I haven't made love, and there is a difference. Jon has shown me the difference. I shake my head, gazing at this incredible man in wonder. He pulls me close again and whispers in my ear, "I'm going to change that. I swear. You'll always have love, I promise you."

I can feel his hardness between us, and a flush of shame hits me that I've neglected him. Reaching to cup him through his pants, I whisper back, "So will you…Jon." He shudders with the sound of his name and the grazing of my fingers over his most sensitive organ. "Fair warning," I say as I push his pants down over his hips, "what I'm going to do is sure to pale in comparison to what you just did to me."

"Malcolm," he gasps, clutching hard at my shoulders as his eyes squeeze shut, "I think I'm past the point of caring. I nearly came when you did. That's what you do to me." He cries out in delicious anguish and throws his head back as I envelop him in my hand and start to stroke. I can't resist latching onto his throat, loving the taste of his sweat on my tongue, so salty and masculine and very, very Jon.

But it's not enough. I want to taste him, taste him like he tasted me, and that need takes control of me. I move down to take him into my mouth, and he falls slightly back, bracing himself with his strong arms. He unbends his knees, stretching out his long, glorious legs, moaning my name as I start to move on him.

God, this is good. He tastes so good, feels so good. I never dreamed it would be like this. His breath is coming even faster now, and the clipped phrases and gasps coming from him are the most thrilling things I've ever heard. He's shaking hard now, trembling, and I know he's close.

I move a little faster in empathy, and he's sobbing, screaming out my name, and I shiver with the sound. No one's ever screamed my name like that before.

When his release hits, I'm not quite prepared for it. But I do my best to swallow it all, and what I miss, I lap up ravenously, not wanting to lose any of it.

His arms go out, and he flops onto his back, panting up at the ceiling. I reluctantly release him and move up to hold him as he held me, and to see what he looks like post-climax.

What I see takes my breath away.

He's crying. Just like I did. I don't believe it. My eyes well up with fresh tears at the sight, and I lean over him, kissing his tears away. I end up at his lips, brushing light kisses over them, whispering how much I love him. He crushes me to him, holding me tightly to his chest as he brings his emotions under control.

"Malcolm," he breathes a few moments later, his hands in my hair again. "God…that was amazing."

I chuckle. "You're easily impressed, Jon."

"Not at all," he says, sitting up. "I want…I want you to stop doing that. Stop selling yourself short. The man I fell in love with is drop-dead gorgeous and an extraordinary lover. I won't listen to anyone say otherwise, including you. Understood?"

I don't know how I'm going to do that. But he's serious. He won't let me put myself down around him. "Understood," I reply, giving him a nervous smile. He grins and wraps me up again. I lean into it, feeling very welcome and at home.

Suddenly, his stomach growls, and the sound is echoed by mine. We both laugh. "Talk about eating dessert first," I mutter as we get to our feet and get dressed.

Dinner is unlike any meal I've ever had. Jon and I joke and talk and laugh. We hold hands often. It's amazing, and I never want it to end. After finally being so close to someone, after breaking down all those walls, I don't want to be alone. I don't want to put the walls back up yet.

"So," Jon says, spearing a piece of pasta with his fork, "where do you want to sleep tonight?"

I nearly strangle on my tea. It's like he read my mind, like he knew. He pats me on the back as I try to catch my breath. "What?" I manage to choke out, needing confirmation.

"Well, I was thinking, my quarters are bigger, but if you'd be more comfortable in yours, we can sleep there." There's a pause as he chews a bit of food thoughtfully. "You do want to spend the night together, right?" he asks, and he sounds vulnerable, unsure.

It's so unlike him, and my heart leaps to know he trusts me like that, to show me that side of himself. "I don't have a preference," I answer, taking another drink to soothe the hoarseness in my throat that was caused by the screaming and made worse by my choking a moment earlier. I grin at him as I continue. "As long as we're together, it doesn't matter to me."

He beams boyishly at me, and my insides go all…squiggly. I grin back with a chuckle. If someone had told me when I woke up this morning that I'd be going to sleep tonight with Jonathan Archer, I would have thought they were completely mad.

"A toast," Jon says, taking his wine glass and lifting it. I echo the motion, meeting his bright, glowing eyes. "To…friends and lovers," he says, his eyebrows raised.

"Friends and lovers," I repeat, clinking my glass with his.

The mention of friends makes me think of Trip, and I find myself telling him about our conversation, how tonight wouldn't have been possible at all without him, and Jon smiles warmly.

"You know, he sometimes talks about owing me for saving his life when he had that episode of nitrogen narcosis. I've always told him he didn't owe me a thing, but…he—he never would accept that. Now, I can tell him we're even," he says, swirling the wine in his glass as he speaks.

"Well, you may be even, but I still owe him," I say, taking a measured sip of my own wine. I've been going very light on it tonight—I don't want to be drunk on anything but Jon.

"Not at all," he grins. "Now, he doesn't have to listen to me carry on about you, and believe me, he'll be grateful."

"He, uh, he might have said something to that effect," I mumble as I take a bite.

"Did he?" he asks, eyes sparkling. "Really? That's…very interesting," he says with an evil smirk, and I have a feeling Trip may be in for another monologue about my eyes. I can't help but laugh.

When I stop, Jon's gazing at me, lips slightly parted. "You're gorgeous when you laugh," he breathes, looking completely enchanted. He leans forward, a slight leer on his features. "You, uh, wanna skip dessert?"

"Not at all," I reply, doing my best to make my voice sound like it's at least in the same neighborhood as erotic. "I just want dessert to be you." Jon shivers, and his gaze goes all hungry again.



"Let's call it a night."

"Sounds lovely," I say, entranced by his eyes.

We head for his quarters—they're closer, and, as Jon said, bigger. More homelike, too—I didn't bring much more than the bare essentials. He pauses outside for a moment, but before I can ask what he's doing, he's scooping me up and carrying me inside.

"You're carrying me over the threshold?" I ask, not able to keep the slight twinge of sarcasm out of my voice. "Does that make me the blushing bride?"

"Don't know about bride, but you sure are blushing, Malcolm!" Damn him—he's right.

Porthos barks twice at us, tail wagging like mad in greeting. "Aw, what is it, Porthos?" Jon asks, setting me down on my feet to greet the dog. I smile as I watch him play with his pet—or is Porthos playing with his pet? "Are you jealous of Malcolm? Don't worry, you're still my number-one boy." He flashes me a bone-melting grin over his shoulder.

I kneel down next to them to scratch Porthos behind the ears. "He's probably just worried I'll take all the cheese."

"It wouldn't matter if you did." He cups Porthos' head in his hands. "Because you don't get any cheese, right, boy?" I look at him with his dog, so happy he seems ready to explode with it. And I know that Porthos gets cheese whenever he wants, because tough-guy Captain Archer turns into a mountain of fluff when faced with those puppy-dog eyes.

I can't resist. I lean over and kiss his cheek. He beams over at me, then looks down at his dog. "Well, if you are jealous, you're just going to have to get over it. Malcolm's going to be here a lot from now on."

My heart warms with that, hearing the open assumption that I'm going to be an active part of his life.

And I realize, my entire life, I have been on the outside looking in. I've always…stood back from everyone, watching life happen around me. But I'm not watching anymore. I'm living.

I'm finally living.

My lover looks at me, a sly grin on his face. "I think I'm ready for dessert now," he says quietly, eyes raking shamelessly up and down my body.

"Thought you'd never say," I reply breathlessly.

We don't quite make it to his bunk….

The next day, I run into Trip in the corridor. "Why, Malcolm, you're glowing. Guess things went well last night?"

"You could say that," I answer, not able to keep my lips from turning up slightly.

"Well, that is great. Congratulations." He squeezes my shoulder, a huge grin on his face. But there's something in his eyes, a certain clouding. Before I can ask him, though, we're interrupted.

"Ah, Trip. Just the man I wanted to see," comes Jon's voice behind us. He slings an arm around Trip and throws me a mischievous wink.

I almost feel sorry for the commander….

I watch them walk off together, my lover and my friend, filled with a peace I have rarely known in my life. I know if I wasn't due to meet Hoshi in a few minutes in the Armory for practice, I'd be more than welcome to go with them. This is probably the first time in my life I've really felt like that.


It's a good feeling.

Once, before Enterprise, I would have said I didn't have any real friends. Now…it's another story.

For a long moment, I gaze at the corner where Jon and Trip have disappeared, knowing that Jon would figure out what was disturbing Trip a lot easier than I probably could. I turn, heading for the Armory, trying harder than I've had to for years to keep my face impassive.

The ridiculous grin that keeps wanting to come out has its beginnings in the way I woke up. Jon brought me breakfast in bed this morning. He fed me pieces of pineapple, licking the juice off my lips after every bite. Remembering that, I self-consciously lick my lips, tasting faint traces of pineapple and Jon, both equally sweet.

"Wow! What put that spring in your step?" Hoshi asks me as I enter the Armory. I smile what I hope is an inscrutable smile and hand her one of the weapons she has the hardest time aiming accurately. "Oh, come on! You practically bounce in here, wearing a grin like I've never seen you wear before, and you expect me to just let it go? Talk. Now."

"I slept very well, that's all, Ensign," I say, but she's not fooled. I know she's not. Aiming at the projected light on the wall and firing, she proceeds to nearly send my legs out from under me with her next comment.

"Oh, Captain Archer rocked you to sleep then, did he?" she asks, firing and scoring a hit, in more ways than one.

"What? How —" I sputter, disbelieving.

"There are more languages than those that are spoken." She fires once more, hitting the target again. Perceptive lady. "How—how long have you known?" I ask weakly.

"Since a moment ago, when you all but admitted you spent the night with him," she answers, shooting and missing the target this time. "But I've suspected for a while now. Figured him out first. You know, when you and Travis were," she fires and hits, "down on that asteroid, we tried to get you out ourselves. He wouldn't trust the navigator to get us close enough," she fires and misses, "to rescue you. He took over himself. And there was more than just a captain's concern for his crew there. At least, I thought so." She fires and hits. "You were tougher. Much tougher. But I've watched you on the Bridge sometimes. And I caught you gazing at him more than once." She fires and misses, shoots again and hits. "I kind of thought the whole thing was coming to a head yesterday, when he pulled you into his Ready Room."

"I guess you could say it did," I reply, a bit breathless and very unsure how to deal with this.

She puts the weapon down on table and squeezes my shoulder with her hand. "Don't worry. I won't tell anyone."

I manage a smile for her. "Thank you, Hoshi."

"Though, I gotta admit, it's going to be hard to keep this to myself…."

"Well, if you want a fellow conspirator, Commander Tucker knows," I tell her absently, handing her another weapon. "Your aim is improving, Ensign."

"You really think so?" she says, accepting my change in topic with grace. Hoshi's good that way. And I know she understands what it is for me to be even this open. I can trust her. She won't abuse it.

"Certainly. It's like all things. It just takes practice." I smile as I see the truth in my own words. Maybe being human just takes a little practice, too.

"Damn, but I missed you today," Jon says, keeping me effectively pinned between his strong body and the bulkhead.

"We were only a few meters away from each other, Jon," I point out, gasping as he licks at my neck. "Oh, and by the way, Hoshi knows." That makes him freeze, and I almost wish I hadn't said it—his lips on my skin feel so very good—but he needs to know.


"Apparently, subtle isn't our strong suit. She's known for a while. Long before we did, to hear her tell it." He sighs and pulls away, and I shudder with the sudden wave of cold that passes over me with his absence. "Jon?" I ask, feeling hurt but not showing it.

He knows, though. Guess that doesn't surprise me much. He takes my hand, and we sit down on his bunk together. "Malcolm, can I—can I hold you for a while? Just hold you?"

I can't help but worry at that tone in his voice, but if he needs to hold me, then I certainly am not going to argue the point. "Jon, you never have to ask me that. Of course you may."

"Thank you," he says gratefully, and a moment later, he's spooned up against my back, nose buried in my hair. I can tell he's thinking—I just wish I knew if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

I can't stand it for too long. The silence and uncertainty get to me, and I have to ask. "Jon?" my voice says in the stillness, and I wince at the pathetic nervousness I hear in it, that childish quiver.

And Jon hears it all. "I'm not letting you go, Malcolm," he says, sounding very determined and squeezing me tightly for a moment. "I'd sooner give up Enterprise." I bite my bottom lip at that, at the idea of him making that big of a sacrifice for me. "I'm just thinking, something will have to be done regarding the crew. I mean, if Hoshi already knew, it's only a matter of time before everyone figures it out. And while you may be Mr. Inscrutable, I've never been any good at hiding what I'm feeling." "Well, I'm not doing such a great job myself lately," I admit. "Remember yesterday?" I can feel his nod. "And it was even worse today. I mean, I kept getting…strange looks. Not to mention a couple of point-blank questions. People are already wondering what's different about me." I sigh, knowing he's right, knowing it's just a matter of time before people find out.

"Well…if they're going to find out anyway, we shouldn't even try to hide this. And there are no rules strictly discouraging relationships like this. The only real rule is that ranking officers can't use their rank to force someone into it."

"And you didn't. I made all the first moves. So we're in the clear there."

"Yeah." Jon kisses the back of my neck and I sigh again, this time with pleasure. He groans and says, "If you don't stop making those sounds, I'm gonna lose my train of thought."

"Well, if you would cease treating my neck like a smorgasbord, maybe I'd stop making those sounds," I reply dryly, very aware of his lips grazing my flesh. I move one hand back to his hip, running it up and down his thigh as he slowly grinds into me.

"Aw, hell. We've got all night to talk. We'll figure something out," he says, moving to unzip my uniform. I grin at his impatience, then gasp as his hand finds its way inside and under my shirt. "You feel so good, Malcolm," he whispers in my ear.

"You feel pretty good yourself," I murmur back, trying to turn so I can get at his uniform. But he stops me.

"Uh-uh. Don't move."

"Jon," I say, slightly alarmed.

"Shh. Relax." He strokes my stomach lightly. "Talk to me, Malcolm."

"Talk?" I ask in surprise, not sure what he means.

I hear him chuckle. "Tell me what you want."

"Want? I don't understand."

"Yeah, I kinda figured that," he mutters. "Do you want me, love?" As he speaks, his hand moves lower, running one finger along the evidence that I do want him through my uniform.

"I should think that would be obvious," I manage, squirming slightly at his touch.

"Specifics, Malcolm, I want specifics. Tell me what you want me to do."

Suddenly, I understand his game. He knows how reticent I am, but he won't stand for that in bed. "Jon, I—I just want…to be with you."

"You are with me," he points out, nuzzling into my neck. "I want to know what you want me to do."

"I —" I don't know what to tell him. I've never been comfortable voicing requests, even as a child. Military upbringing, and all that. Though I suppose I can't blame it all on that. My sister is nowhere near so…reserved.

"Malcolm," he murmurs, his voice a caress. I love the way he says my name. "This can't work if you don't tell me what you need, what you like."

"I like everything you do," I gasp as his hand cups me. I release a strangled moan as he moves his hand back up again, taking my chin and tilting my face to his.

"Please," he whispers over my cheek.

He needs me to tell him, and again I am struck with this…vulnerable side he's showing me. It occurs to me that showing it probably isn't easy for him. He's the proud sort, doesn't like to show weakness. But he's showing it right now.

He…trusts me.

Don't get me wrong, I trust him. It surprises me how much. But this…I don't know if I can do it.

But I sure as hell can try. For Jon, I'll try.

"I—I want," I swallow nervously, "I want…you on top of me. I want your weight."

He turns me so I'm on my back and climbs on top of me. I can't hold back a groan at how good that feels.

Jon is gazing down at me now, and my heart speeds up in a momentary flash of anxiety. I hope he's not going to ask for more detail. It was hard enough to get that much out.

He draws my lower lip into his mouth and sucks gently on it. Then he moves to my ear and whispers, "Thank you." I sigh in relief. I know he'll want more from me later, but he'll let it go for now. He'll let me get a bit more adjusted to the idea of being that open before asking me for more.

He's taking his time now—we're both still fully dressed, and neither of us is moving to change that yet.

"Have I ever told you," he starts, propping himself up on his upper arms, "how much I love your lips? They're always so pink. The first time I saw you, all I could think about was kissing those lips. And those cheekbones…extraordinary." He grins. "You're blushing. My mission was a success. And I didn't even have to mention those sparkling…blue-green…eyes."

I shake my head up at him. "You have gone completely 'round the bend, haven't you?"

"In a matter of speaking," he nods. "What can I say? You bring it out in me."

I wrap my arms around his neck, more pleased at his words than I am showing, but I've no doubt that he knows. "So, we have a madman in command. I don't know if I like the sound of that," I say as he lowers himself again and starts mouthing the skin under my ear.

"Mmm," he mumbles against my neck. "Guess I could put T'Pol in charge for a few days until I'm better." He pulls back and grins at me wolfishly. "Until I've…gotten you out of my system."

"That's all well and good for you. But who'll be in charge down in the Armory while I'm getting you out of my system?"

"I should've known I couldn't compete with the phase cannons," he says with a smirk.

I can't resist. I reach down between his legs, and when he gasps, I retort, "Seems like you have a very nice…phase cannon, Captain." After all, Trip did say he likes it when I talk about weapons!

"Well," he swallows, "there's no one I trust with…weaponry more than you."

"Heavy weaponry, Jonathan," I reply with a sly grin. "You could kill someone with that thing."

He tilts his head to one side and quirks his brows. "Only when it's loaded," he deadpans.

We both fall into helpless laughter. It feels good to laugh with him. Sex isn't supposed to be like this. It's supposed to be serious. You're not supposed to laugh in bed.

So why does it feel so bloody good?

When we calm down, he gazes down at me with sparkling eyes. "You're so beautiful," I say quietly, the words coming by pure instinct. I move my hands to his face and stroke his cheeks with my thumbs. "I mean…God, you're just breathtaking," I whisper, one of my hands trailing up to run through his short golden hair.

Our lips meet in a soft, breathy, kiss. His mouth is warm and loving on mine, and I think about the fantasies I had about kissing him before that first desperate kiss last night. I never thought it would be like this. The passionate kisses are ten times more passionate; the soft kisses are almost unbearably tender. The fantasies don't come close to the real thing.

We start to undress ourselves, hands trembling as we slowly strip. If the mood last night was desperate and focused on the end result, tonight it is gentle and loving, with the journey being the main focus. We kiss, we explore. The feel of his bare skin touching mine all the way down, the feel of his strong body covering mine…it's incredible. I let my hands skim up and down his back, feeling those sleek muscles ripple under my touch. His hands are cupping my face as he kisses me again and again, each one making me want another.

There's not a single part of us not making love right now. Our feet, our legs, our arms, our lips—every part of us is involved as we slowly pleasure one another. I can feel his heart beating against my chest, and I slide my hand around to rest over that steady rhythm as I gaze into his eyes.

"I love you, Jon," I whisper, my heart overflowing with it. He smiles warmly down at me, and I bask in the fire my words have stoked in his eyes.

"I love you, too," he says quietly, and gently grinds his hips into mine. I throw my head back and moan, the sensation of our swollen lengths meeting and rubbing together too intense for words. I know I'm flushed, the heat flooding my body as he slowly thrusts, and I move to meet him.

I can't hold back any longer. I need to touch him. Reaching between us, I grasp him, so hot and hard and heavy in my hand. He groans and pushes into the touch, eyes clenching shut in pleasure. I experiment, trying different rhythms and pressures, finding the ones he likes best. I only hope I'll be able to remember them later—he's doing the same thing to me, and it's very…distracting.

He leans back, face flushed and his hair plastered to his head with sweat, eyes glazed and hungry. He's magnificent. One of his hands is cupping the side of my face, his thumb stroking over my swollen lips as we thrust. My free hand skims down his trim flank and travels down to his bum, squeezing one firm cheek—I can't help a sudden image of T'Pol from flashing across my mind, and quickly reach the obvious conclusion: Jon's bum is much nicer. He groans and pushes back into the contact. Encouraged, I let my fingers explore the area between those gorgeous globes of flesh.

Jon cries out, low and shuddering, right against my ear. "God, Malcolm," he pants hoarsely. "Pl-please…please more. Need more." He's moving more urgently into my hands now, and I can't deny him anything. My fingers tease at him, and I am amazed at how that thick ring of muscle gives at the gentle pressure. One of my fingers pushes inside, and he moans loudly, biting my earlobe as he pushes back into it. His breathing is almost violent in its harshness, and he's bucking into me, obviously on high overload. He's lost now, but I've got him, and I won't let him fall.

His breathing is coming in loud, sobbing gulps and gasps, and I find myself speaking to him—I've never been one for talking in bed, but now, I want to, need to. Need him to know I'm here and I've got him.

"Come for me, Jon," I breathe, moving my hands a little harder and faster. He moans, and I feel him shake his head frantically, his sweaty hair brushing my cheek. "Jon, it's okay, I'm here. Let go. For me, darling?" I push a little farther inside of him, finding what must be his prostate—he screams, and his whole body shakes and trembles as he spasms into my hand, his grip on my hair tightening almost painfully. Then he slumps against me, helpless and boneless after his orgasm, panting in my ear.

I cradle him, holding him close as he comes down, whispering endearments to him. A few moments later, he lifts his head, a slightly disconcerted look on his face. "I'm sorry," he says, meeting my eyes with searching gaze.

"Whatever for?" I ask in astonishment. For an answer, he squeezes me once (he never did let go, even while he was climaxing). "Jon, you gave me what I asked for, you know. No need to apologize for that."

He smiles warmly at me, and then gives me a kiss with trembling lips. Suddenly, he rolls us so I'm on top. I sit back, straddling his legs, so I can get a better view of him. Stroking my cheek with one long finger, he asks, "Have you…ever had a male lover before?"

I don't know what to make of this now, of all times, but something in his voice—that thoughtful tone—makes me answer without hesitation. "I, uh, experimented a bit. At the Academy. No one I'd really call a lover, though." I smile down at him. "I can't say that I've really ever had a lover before this." That sparks one of his glowing grins, the kind that makes me shiver all over.

Jon runs one finger up and down the thick vein of my erection, causing me to gasp and my eyes to roll back in my head. "Have you ever…" he trails off, and I feel a momentary confusion, but then I look into his eyes and know exactly what he's talking about.

"No," I whisper. "Never that." I'm not one for personal revelations, or asking personal questions, but I feel I need to now. "What about you?"

"Once. A long time ago, at the Academy."

"Why…why are you asking this now, Jon?" I ask, almost afraid of the answer.

"Because I…I want you inside of me, Malcolm. And I needed to know how much experience you have."

"You…want…me…." I swallow hard, nearly coming with the mere image of being inside of him.

"Yes," he says simply, stroking my jaw. "Will you?"

Sweet Jesus, how can I refuse? Not trusting my voice, I nod.

"Thank you," he whispers.

I know what's going to happen next—or at least have an idea of the mechanics involved, anyway—and I'm praying fervently that I don't hurt him. "I'll—I'll need something to use —" I say haltingly, feeling my cheeks redden with embarrassment. He laughs softly and leans up to give me a kiss. Then he motions towards the bathroom.

"Ah, the return of the Blushing Bride," he teases with a grin. "You'll find it on the table in the bathroom."

Shakily, I get up to fetch what is needed, Porthos following me as I go. I take a moment to splash my face with cold water, trying to cool my blood somewhat so this isn't over as soon as it begins. "What do you say, boy?" I murmur to the dog as I use one of Jon's towels to dry off with. "You think it's time for me to make your master howl?" Porthos just wags his tail eagerly, and I chuckle at myself—at my nervousness, at my talking to a dog, at the ridiculous-looking man I see in the mirror. He looks…giddy.

I don't know that I've ever looked giddy before. I don't know that I've ever felt giddy before.

I shake my head and glance down at Porthos. "Hey, maybe we can train you to fetch this stuff on command. How does that sound?" I bend at the waist to scratch his ears, then I go back out to my lover.

He's spread out on the bed, fingers laced behind his head, legs spread in invitation. As my eyes travel up and down his breathtaking form, I have to wonder if I've been gone longer than I thought—he's aroused again. Catching my gaze, he chuckles, and I meet his eyes. "What can I say? You're quite the aphrodisiac. Besides, I've wanted this from the moment I first saw you."

I heave a martyred sigh. "Don't tell me you wanted me for this assignment for the sole purpose of getting me into bed."

He quirks his brows, grins, and replies, "Guilty as charged." We both chuckle, and then he says, "Honestly, I wouldn't have wanted to set out with anyone else in charge of Tactical. Simply put, you're the best Starfleet has to offer. I figured if we were going to be the first humans out here, we better be the best as well. I went out of my way to make sure all my officers were top-notch. As soon as I read your file, I knew I wanted you here. I knew that if I headed out with someone else, the first time a crisis hit, I'd be kicking myself: 'If only I'd managed to get Lieutenant Reed.'" He smiles. "I was pretty relieved when I got word that you'd accepted the post."

I can't help but snort. "Like I'd pass this up. I'd have walked on my tongue on broken glass for this assignment."

"Well, not everyone was so keen on the idea. I practically had to beg Hoshi when we had to leave early."

That makes me smile, and I come over to the bunk and sit down. "You never would have had to beg me. More like I would have begged you. I…I just wanted to explore, in the broad sense of the term. Excitement, adventure. I know mine's a navy family, and the sea is in my blood, but…" I gaze out the window, "the stars are in my soul, Jon." I chuckle briefly. "The sea is in my blood, the stars are in my soul, and you're in my heart." I turn back to him, surprised to see the awe-struck look on his face.

"That was beautiful, Malcolm," he says quietly.

I shake my head. "A little sentimental, maybe, but the truth," I say, with a self-depreciating grin. Before I can think about what I'm doing, I'm leaning forward to plant a brief kiss on the tip of his big toe.

"Do I have to worry about you having some kind of foot fetish, Malcolm?" he teases.

"Not at all. I am only obsessed with feet that belong to you. I'm also obsessed with your hands, your legs, your bum, your arms, your eyes, your lips, your bum, your chin, your chest, and your bum. I have a Jonathan Archer fetish."

"You, uh, listed 'bum' three times."

"Well, it's a very nice bum." I bite back a smile as that image of T'Pol flits across my mind again.

"I see."

"Now who's the Blushing Bride?" I joke, laughing at the image of me trying to carry him anywhere. Speaking of bums, I'd fall flat on mine if I tried that.

"I…guess that would be me," he admits easily, cheeks (and everywhere else!) scarlet. "So…you gonna do something with that?" he asks, nodding at the jar I'm holding.

I open it, and when the scent hits me, I have to ask. "When did you get this?"

He sits up and dips his finger into the jar, then lifts it to my lips. I draw it into my mouth, slowly and lovingly cleaning the digit. "Now, Malcolm," he mildly scolds as I lap up all traces of pineapple flavoring from his skin, "you're just going to have to get used to the idea that I have secrets. Chief among them is how I got my hands on pineapple-flavored lubricant," he grins.

Suddenly, I don't feel like joking anymore. Neither does he, by the look in his eyes as he settles himself back against the pillows. "What—how do I do this, Jon?" I ask quietly, timidly. If I have to, I'm pretty sure I can wing it without instruction, but I want him to tell me how to make this good for him. If this is only about my pleasure, then this isn't going to happen.

He draws his knees up, exposing himself even more, and I groan and clench my eyes, the display almost too much. "Use your fingers first," he says in a low voice, "and plenty of lube."

I swallow hard and kneel between his wide-flung thighs. Following his instructions, I coat my fingers with the sweet-smelling substance. My hand trembles as I lower it, moving it between his legs. He moans as I make contact with him, his head falling back in ecstasy.

I take my time, wanting there to be only pleasure for him. I'm completely enchanted—I've forgotten about my own need as I concentrate on my task. I am focused entirely on his tight entrance around my fingers. By the time I've worked three into him, he's writhing and begging for more, and it is his pleading that finally pulls me out of my trance.

I don't need to be told how to go from here. I cover myself with the lubricant and position myself. Then, watching his face for any sign of distress, I let myself push inside.

He makes a sound that's a combination moan and gasp, moist lips parted as little puffs of air escape his mouth. He meets my eyes, and I see in them all the encouragement I need. I start to move, and…'incredible' is too mild a word. The mere idea of being inside of Jon is overwhelming. The reality—I can't believe I'm actually inside of him. He's tight, so tight, and hot, and velvety, and it feels so good, so bloody right….

His legs wrap possessively around me as I thrust into him. "Jon," I gasp, needing to say his name, needing that sense of reality. I don't know how long I can last. I don't know how I've lasted this long. And the way he's undulating under me, meeting my thrusts with his own…I don't think my control is going to hold out much longer. "Jon," I say, and this time, it's a warning.

"It's okay," he pants, hands everywhere. He wants me to lose control. I can see that. He wants to know it goes both ways.

It does.

Just being around him lowers my guard. But he wants more than that. He wants me to show my soul.

And I can't help but give him what he wants.

His love is calling me deeper and farther than I've ever been. It's splitting me open and destroying me even as it puts me back together. Throwing me off a cliff and then catching me—it's all the same here. He's all around me, everywhere.

He's in the air.

All traces of gentleness and tenderness just dissipate, and I plunge harder and harder into him, sobbing out his name. His legs tighten on me, steadying me.

Loving me.

"Let go, Malcolm," he urges softly, eyes aglow. I can feel him drinking the sight of me with sweat trailing down the sides of my face and down my cheeks and neck, my hair all mussed and my muscles straining as I seek release. "Damn," he breathes, sounding awe-struck, then he cries out as I rake across his prostate. He's absolutely glorious in his pleasure. And that sends me over the edge. Bracing myself on either side of him, I give myself over to my body's need, wildly thrusting into him, reduced to pure animalistic searching.

Jon is moaning in abandon, but I'm barely aware of it as my release hits, the jagged shards slamming into me like slivers of glass, cutting through the tension in my body and leaving me limp and exhausted.

I collapse on top of him, burying my flushed face in his shoulder as my breathing slows down from chaotic and enters the neighborhood of rapid.

One of Jon's hands is in my hair, and the other is stroking lazily up and down my back with gentle brushes. It's soothing. Vaguely, I'm aware of wetness on our stomachs, and realize he must have come, too, but I don't remember it.

"Malcolm? You okay?" Jon's voice is quiet, breathy.

"I'll let you know when I make it back," I reply, still panting. He chuckles and turns his face to kiss my cheek. Lifting my head, I search his expression. "Are you all right?"

His smile is blinding. "I've wanted you to do that since I met you. And it was more than worth the wait." He strokes across my lips with a thumb. "You were fantastic." I start to pull out and roll off of him, but he stops me. "What's your hurry? Stay a while, lover," he purrs.

"Well…if you insist," I say, snuggling into his chest.

I'm asleep before I even realize how tired I am.

"Is it just me, or is the cap'n havin' a hard time sittin' down today?" Trip asks me as he sits down next to me in the Mess Hall, a knowing glint in his eyes.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Trip."

"Sure ya don't." He meets my eyes, and I snort and turn away briefly before looking back at him.

"Commander Tucker, I don't know what you're implying, but I really do not know what you're talking about."

"Riiiiight," he says knowingly, nodding. He leans in. "Sleep well, Lieutenant?" he asks, wagging his eyebrows at me.

"Very well, thank you."

"Uh-huh." He laughs. "Damn, Malcolm, you're too easy. Two minutes, and you're already blushin'. An' I thought Johnny was an easy target!"

"Do you intend to torment us like this for the rest of our lives?" I ask him, hating that he's right. But I also enjoy the gentle ribbing—it's the kind you only get from a good friend.

"I'm goin' easy on you, Malcolm. You'd better get used to it," he says, taking a bite. I groan.

"Trip?" I ask a few moments later.


"Have you…has the crew been saying anything?"

"Not that I've heard. But it's bound to come out, sooner or later. It's only a matter of time." He's quiet for a moment, then asks, "Are you guys ready for that?"

I can't help but sigh. "Honestly, I don't know. I don't know how everyone will take it. It's been worrying me a bit. If it was anyone else, it wouldn't be so bad, but…the captain…that's another story."

"Why? Is he supposed to—to live like a monk, or somethin'? Look, Jonathan Archer is probably the best friend I've ever had. I've got more respect for him than for anyone I've ever known. He's a great man. But…he is no monk." He takes a drink of his coffee.

"I never said he was. But I do fear that there are some…potential conflicts."

"Well, a'course there are potential conflicts. It's a relationship. If it was just meaningless sex, then you'd be in the clear. But it's not. You, Lieutenant," he stabs his fork in my direction, "are in love. So is he. So you have to worry about a few more things than you would if you'd gotten involved with—with Hoshi. Or Travis, for that matter," he says with a smirk. "The question is, is it worth it?"

"Command crew, please report to the Bridge," comes Jon's voice over the comm link. Trip and I exchange glances as we head out.

"What in hell is that?" Trip breathes as we come onto the Bridge and catch sight of what has to be the biggest ship I've ever seen on the viewscreen.

I take my post at Tactical, falling into the protective mode I always fall into when there's a possible threat to the ship.

"I don't recommend a fight with them, Sir," I say, seeing the weapons our 'friends' are carrying. "I doubt we could stand up to them."

Just then, I notice something wrong on one of my monitors, but I don't even have a chance to call out a warning before my console explodes. There's a flash of red pain, a flash of white light, and then a solid wave of black. My head hits something sickeningly hard, and I'm out before I hit the floor.

Jon's calling me. "Malcolm? Malcolm! Wake up." No. I don't want to wake up. "That's an order, Lieutenant," he says sternly. I open my eyes, as much from the desperate tone in his voice as the fact that he ordered me to. "Oh, thank God," he says, shoulders slumping in obvious relief. "Thought I'd lost you there for a second." He strokes my hair carefully, oblivious to the Bridge crew's eyes on us.

"Over here, Doc," I hear Trip's quiet, strained voice. Lifting my head, I see Hoshi's worried eyes on me, and Travis', too. Even T'Pol looks a little strange. They're watching Jon, too, obviously not accustomed to…to what? What has he been saying and doing while I was out?

I try to sit up and immediately regret it as dizziness assaults me, almost a living thing in its attack. "Shh. Just relax," Jon says soothingly, gently pushing me back down. "You're going to be fine." I can tell he's saying as much for himself and the crew as for me.

"Yes, Sir," I say.

"If you will move back a bit, Captain, I need to see to my patient," Phlox says calmly. Jon meets my eyes for a second, checking silently with me. I answer with a small nod, and he stands and moves a few feet away, taking his worried-but-very-in-command stance. "Let's see here, Lieutenant. Ah, yes. Nothing too serious, I don't think, but I do want to keep an eye on you overnight."

"My head…" I start, but he only nods.

"Yes, you can expect a headache for a while. You may be mildly concussed; I will need to check once I have you settled in Sickbay. Here, this," he injects something into my neck, "should help to ease the pain. Now, I need to get you into Sickbay. If you will wait for a moment and let me —"

"No need." Jon steps forward and carefully takes me in his arms. Trip gets the door, and I'm carried to Sickbay by Captain Archer.

I would be embarrassed under other circumstances, having to be carried like a helpless child, but whatever Phlox gave me seems to be doing more than just killing the pain. I find myself snuggling into Jon's shoulder as the world goes hazy. "Jon?" I mumble.

"What is it, love?" he murmurs against my hair, voice pitched for my ears alone.

"Mmmph," I reply into his uniform, feeling very warm. I've forgotten what I wanted to say. The world fades out again.

"Uhhh," I groan, blinking into the light. It hurts, and I close my eyes again.

"Good morning, Lieutenant," comes Phlox's maddeningly cheery voice. I groan again, and throw an arm over my eyes. "Captain, I believe he is awake."

There's a shuffling noise, and I feel a cool hand take mine and pull it away from my face. "Malcolm?" I open my eyes again. It still hurts, but seeing Jon makes the pain worth it. Phlox is nowhere to be seen, and I assume he's giving us some privacy. "Hey. You feeling better?" he asks me, searching my face with concerned eyes.

"Just wonderful," I groan, trying to sit up. Jon tries to settle me back down, but I shake my head. "I'm fine," I say, waving him off. "Head still hurts, but it's nothing I can't handle. How long was I out?"

"It's been about twelve hours."

I think for a moment. "We were attacked, weren't we?"

"Uh, no. It wasn't an attack."

"Well, you could've fooled me."

"Me, too. But they really weren't attacking. They were scanning us, and apparently, something in their scan didn't react well with our scanner in your console. They realized what happened almost immediately, and apologized. Their captain will be relieved to hear you're awake." He smiles. "But not as relieved as this captain is."

"Was anyone else injured?"

"Not too badly. A few minor burns here and there. You got the worst of it, and even then, the blast didn't do as much damage as when you hit your head on the way down. The doctor wants you to take it easy for a couple of days, but you can return to duty tomorrow." He sighs. "And…Hoshi and Trip are no longer the only ones who know about us, I think," he says hesitatingly.

"Did you do something foolish, love?" I ask teasingly.

"I was the picture of command correctness." I look at him incredulously, and he caves. "Well, except when I held your hand, stroked your hair, and murfmpelf." He clears his throat and looks away.


"I…may have called you mehbfleve."


He sighs loudly. "There…may have been…some mention of…you being my love within hearing range of the entire Bridge crew," he mumbles.

"You're not serious."

"Oh, I'm very serious," he says, turning back to me, a sheepish expression on his face. "I…got carried away, okay? You really scared me." He sighs.

I put a hand on his shoulder. "Jon…this was an accident. But you do realize that it's probably not the last time I'm going to end up in Sickbay?"

"Don't say that!" he snaps. Then he lowers his voice. "I've never had a relationship with someone under my command before. I know I have to be prepared to send you into danger. That's part of the job description…especially yours."

"What about Commander Tucker?"

"What about him?" he asks, looking at me sharply.

"You've been friends with him for a long time. You've worked with him, served with him. And you don't have a problem sending him into dangerous situations."

"That's different," he protests, then sighs again. "I don't think I'll have a problem keeping our personal life out of our duties. I know my first duty is to the ship, to Starfleet. I don't expect to be breaking or bending any rules for you. I…thought I could be both your lover and the captain at the same time. But for a few moments there, I wasn't the captain. I was just a man whose lover was hurt. If we'd been really attacked in those moments, I doubt I would have noticed. And that's not a good thing."

I want to tell him that he's being too hard on himself, but I know I'd have been the same way. We're both far harder on ourselves than on anyone else. I'm not going to be able to make him feel better about the situation, but…maybe I can distract him for a while.

"I'm sure that's not true. It may feel like that, but if we had been attacked, you'd have probably taken over my post." He chuckles, but without humor. "Jon, it's okay. Everything turned out all right."

"This time." He meets my eyes, and suddenly I'm worried. Worried he may not think our relationship is going to work now that he's seen the possibility of losing me up close and personal. But I do my best not to let on.

"How is everyone…taking it?"

"Well, no one's said anything…within my range of hearing, at least. They're careful around Trip, too, since they know how close he is to me. But they're not so careful around Hoshi. And from what she's said, they're…having some fun with it. It's news, gossip. Scuttlebutt. But it doesn't look like it's going to be a real problem. Everyone will talk about it until the next rumor gets started, and eventually, it'll just be accepted that we're together. It'll be a part of life. And then it won't be anything special enough to even talk about. Unless we take to public displays of our personal life." I shudder and he laughs. "C'mon, Malcolm—don't tell me you haven't fantasized about making love on the Bridge."

"Not with an audience! And I'd rather try it in a torpedo tube, anyway."

"You know, we might actually be able to get away with that," he says thoughtfully.

"Speaking of torpedo tubes…think you might like to try mine out soon?"

It takes him a moment to figure out what I mean. "You want me to?" he asks quietly, fingers in my hair.

I nod. "Yes, I do," I answer simply, seriously.

"When you're better, then," he says, brushing a kiss over my forehead. "I've got to go now. I need to let our…new friends know you're all right so they can be on their way. They've been calling every hour, checking up on you. They've been very concerned."

"Go then," I say, squeezing his hand. He moves to go, but I hold him back for a second. "But promise me something first."

"Anything." "Promise me you'll get some rest. If you'll pardon me for saying so, Captain, you look like hell."

He grins. "I promise." And then he's gone, leaving me alone in Sickbay.

Well…not alone. Dr. Phlox chooses this moment to come out of hiding. "How are you feeling, Lieutenant?" he asks, checking the bioscans by the bed.

I think for a moment. "Good enough to go back to my quarters?" I try.

"I don't see any reason why not. But I want you back here if you feel any signs of dizziness, nausea, or if your headache gets any worse, things of that nature."

"You have my word. Thank you, Doctor." I climb down from the bed. I can tell he's watching me as I do, making sure I'm steady before he lets me go. I guess I pass muster because he lets me leave without a word.

Back in my quarters, I realize almost immediately that I don't really have anything to do here. Most of my free time, I spend actually doing things—running scans on our weapons systems, training people to handle weaponry they're not accustomed to, target practice—I keep myself occupied with my duties. I do go to the movies, but it's not like they're shown in the middle of the day. Downtime is not something I handle well.

Well, at least it won't be for long. Jon said I could return to duty tomorrow. And he'll be off-duty himself in a few hours, or at least as off-duty as the captain of a ship can be. I guess I just have some time to kill.

I'm not tired, after twelve hours of sleep, but my head still hurts, so I don't feel like reading. I'm just wondering how I'm going to fill the next few hours when my stomach rumbles. Well, there's a start.

I head to the Mess Hall, and on the way I run into Trip. "Well, hello there, Lieutenant. Feelin' better?" he asks as he falls in at my side.

"Actually, yes," I answer as we go in together. "How are things in Engineering?"

"Nothin' special goin' on there. Big fuss was getting Tactical back up and runnin'."

We make small talk for a few moments as we choose our meals and drinks and settle at a table. Then he looks me in the eye and says, "I guess the cap'n will have told you about his little scene on the Bridge." I wince. "No, it wasn't that bad, not really. I mean, there's not a question about your relationship now, but he didn't go all weepy or anything. Least not that I saw. He stayed very much in command. It was fine, I promise you."

"He doesn't seem to think so," I confide.

"You're not worried he's gonna break it off, are ya?" He studies me, and then lowers his fork. "Malcolm, that's insane."

"Is it? Trip, his first duty is to the ship and the crew. Someday, he may have to face the possibility of having to make a choice. He knows that, but I don't think he really saw it before."

"Well, what about that? It's not only him, you know. The same goes for you. Same goes for anyone who might get involved while serving on a starship."

"Yes, but he's the captain, Trip," I explain patiently. "It's different for him…."

"Okay. So it's different for him. So it's a little harder. Takes a little more effort. Trust me, you're worth it to him. You know how he spent last night?" I shake my head. "In Sickbay, sleepin' on a biobed. That is, when he did sleep. I, uh," and he's quiet for a moment as he tries to find the words, almost like he doesn't want to admit it, "I came down to Sickbay to check in on you before I went to bed last night. It was late—the repairs to Tactical were pretty extensive. Anyway, I wanted to see how you were doin' before I hit the hay. I come in, and there he is. An' he wasn't sleeping, Malcolm. He was sittin' up and watching you sleep. I mean, you weren't that seriously hurt—to hear the doc tell it, the only reason you were out that long in the first place was you were a little more sensitive to the painkiller he gave you than he'd anticipated you bein'—and Jon still stayed down there.

"He knows you're the Armory Officer, Malcolm. He knows your job carries even more risk than the rest of ours do. He doesn't like it, but…he'll live with it. I know the man, an' I'm tellin' ya, he'll live with the risk before living without you. Hell, he's been pinin' for you for over seven months now, pinin' like I've never seen him pine before. That's not goin' away. He'd still be in love with you if you weren't seein' each other. An' that risk of losing you would still be there. He knows that. Believe me, he does. We had a long talk last night, and he said it would kill him if somethin' happened to you down the road somewhere and the two of you hadn't made the most of the time you had. He can live with the risks, Malcolm. He really can."

"Can the crew? I don't want them thinking he'll give me special treatment because I'm his lover," I point out.

"I think they have more faith in Cap'n Archer than that," he says, picking up his fork and tucking back into his meal. "An' if they don't…time will prove 'em wrong. 'Cause if it's one thing Jon is, it's fair. You don't hear any grumblin' 'bout me getting my job 'cause he and I are buddies, doya?" I shake my head. "Well, there ya go."

By the time we finish our lunch, I'm feeling better and Trip has helped to lay a lot of my worries to rest. We part company and he heads back to Engineering. I decide to go back to my quarters and do some reading—my headache is almost gone now.

I'm just finishing my book when the door buzzes. "Come in," I say, setting the book aside on my desk.

"Hey there," Jon says with a little smile.

"Hey there, yourself," I say, smiling back. "You're off early."

"Uh, no, no, not really," he replies, and I check my chronometer. Sure enough, I've lost track of time. "And it sure doesn't feel like it, either." I can tell that much—he looks tired.

"Come here," I say, going to my bunk and sitting cross-legged on it, indicating he should sit in front of me. He does so, and I begin to massage his shoulders.

"Mmm. But I should be babying you, Malcolm. You're the one who was hurt," he protests.

"I'm fine. My head doesn't even hurt anymore," I assure him. "Besides, I actually slept last night. A little bird told me you didn't."

"Trrriiiiip," he groans in a reproach to the absent engineer, then sighs at my ministrations.

It doesn't take too long before I've worked all the knots out of his neck and shoulders, and by that point, he's falling asleep sitting up. I guide him onto his back and manage to pull the covers out from under him to cover him up with. I stretch out beside him, propping my head up with one hand. I watch him sleep as he watched me: studying the rise and fall of his chest, the way his nostrils flare as he breathes, the little twitches of his lips, and the movements of his eyes under his lids as he dreams.

I suppose none of us knows what the future holds. We could run into the Klingons tomorrow and they could blow up the ship. Jon could send me out with an away team and I might wind up with some strange poisoning that Dr. Phlox won't be able to treat. The inertial dampeners could unexpectedly fail while we're in warp and we all could end up the same texture as hamburger.

We could continue on this mission and it could be a smashing success, resulting in promotions for Jon and for me. Maybe someday he'll make admiral and I'll make captain, and he'll end up giving me orders from Starfleet Command to carry out on my own ship.

Maybe we'll end up old and gray together, living in San Francisco and boring young cadets with our stories, and they will feel obligated to listen to our every word.

No matter what awaits us, though, we'll face it together if I have anything to say about it.

And while I could be mistaken, I believe that Jon feels the same.

"Sleep well, my love," I murmur, placing one hand on his broad chest to feel his heartbeat. And I know that while he may be the one sleeping, my dreams are the ones coming true.

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