Title: I'm Having One of Those Days

Author: MJ

Author's e-mail: mjr91@aol.com

Author's URL: http://www.geocities.com/coffeeslash/mj/

Date: 05/31/02

Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Rating: R

Archive: Archer's Enterprise

Series: Xynobia

Previous story: It's Going to Be One of Those Evenings

Next story: It's Gonna Be a Bumpy Night

Summary: Archer and Reed finally get hitched. Malcolm gets turned on by big, long hard things that explode when he handles them. Trip gets drunk. Porthos voices an opinion. Sequel to "It's Going to be One of Those Evenings."

Author Note: All filk from the lovely Westerfilk Songbook. There's a longstanding tradition that every ST series has had at least one fanfic that mentions Leslie Fish's infamous filk "Banned From Argo"—I believe this is the first ENTfic to do so. Who cares if they've actually heard of Argo yet? B&B have played faster and looser with canon than I have.

Ensign Nancy Watkins, Armory second officer on Enterprise, fidgeted nervously as she looked about her surroundings on the Xynobian starship Garmandra. The official dinner the night before had been fun; she'd never expected to be invited on an away visit with a friendly planet's main battle cruiser. However, waking up this morning to realize she'd actually agreed to have Garmandra's captain, Jamaya, marry her off to her partner was giving her the biggest case of butterflies in the stomach she'd ever imagined. It was even worse than the first time she'd actually had to fire a phase pistol in combat.

The only thing that had kept her from losing control over her stomach when she'd been fighting was the thought that her superior officer and object of minor hero worship, Malcolm Reed, Starfleet's master of all things weapons-related as far as she knew, was in the same fight with her and that he would have been severely disappointed, she was sure, if she'd thrown up in front of him. He hadn't blinked the entire time, and she wanted to be just like that someday. Or to be able to look like it, anyhow.

Now, she looked around for support from her idol once again. She'd asked him to give her away at the ceremony, and he'd cheerfully agreed once he'd gotten over his surprise. She couldn't have asked her parents; they were galaxies away, after all, and besides, she wasn't sure they'd have been all that thrilled about Lieutenant Nereida Patel anyway. They'd have wanted her to get hitched with a male, certainly, and almost definitely that idiotic space-agriculture broker who was the son of her father's best friend from college. Dwayne was boring, ugly, and male. Nereida was none of those things. Reed had been quiet but supportive of her relationship with the junior engineer, and had once or twice actually given her some good personal advice, although she'd never realized just how close he'd been to the situation until the day she'd nearly tripped over the God of Phase Cannons in a clinch with Enterprise's captain. There couldn't have been a better person to ask to give her away.

Unfortunately, unlike a phase pistol shootout, when her idol could be counted on not even to break a sweat with phase fire going right past his head, Malcolm Reed was currently looking even more discomfited than she was. No one else might know that he was a nervous wreck at the moment, but she worked with him every day. She could see that little twitch at the side of his lip. Anyone else with a minor tic like that might be only mildly worried, but it was as close as Reed ever came to displaying outright panic in a presumably non-crisis situation, and after working with him every day for over a year, she knew it.

"How are you. Sir?" she asked, walking over to him as he stared out at space.

"Me? Fine, Ensign. Nothing a few rounds of target practice wouldn't cure. I'd really feel much calmer if I had something to shoot just about now. How are you doing?"

"I'm starting to understand why shooting at inanimate objects is therapeutic. I'm ready to faint."

"You'd better not; you'd disappoint Lieutenant Patel terribly. As well as me, of course. I'm rather looking forward to this. Aside from the privilege of marrying off my best shot, you're giving me some practice. I might wind up doing this for my sister one day, so I'd better learn the ropes now."

Watkins laughed. "I don't think my getting hitched is why you're having the jitters, Sir."

Reed drew himself up to his full height and took a breath. "I do not have, as you put it, 'the jitters,' Ensign. I am merely concerned, as I have every right to be, as to all the possible ramifications of all of today's events. Which do, of course, include, er, the fact that I am, as everyone knows, umm…" He parted his hands, held them up in a gesture indicating that he'd said more than enough, and took another breath.

"Of course, Sir. My error." She smiled to herself. Reed had every right to be on edge; after all, he wasn't merely giving her away, but was being married himself. He might have been less nervous if Commander Tucker hadn't nearly bludgeoned the Captain into proposing to him in public just over twelve hours before. Not only had the proposal been public—and at an official dinner on the Xynobian ship, no less—but so had the bludgeoning. It was anyone's guess as to what part of the whole incident was most likely to send Reed into a nervous fit of obsessive decorum.

Reed turned and looked out the window again. "What on earth?" Another shuttlepod from Enterprise was approaching to dock with Garmandra. Why anyone was heading over was anyone's guess. Archer and Reed were already on Garmandra, along with Trip Tucker, who was Archer's best man as well as dogsitter for Porthos, whom Trip had thought deserved to be along for such a major event for his master. Watkins and Patel had traveled on the shuttlepod with the three senior officers and Porthos.

Katama, the Xynobian woman who served as second in command on Garmandra, came over a few moments later. "Lieutenant Reed? Sub-Commander T'Pol has arrived from your ship. She wishes to speak with you privately."

Reed turned to Watkins and shrugged. "I have no idea. Excuse me, Ensign." He followed Katama down the corridor and into a small conference room. T'Pol, in formal Vulcan robes rather than her usual uniform, was seated at the table.

"Please, Lieutenant, sit down." Reed slid into a chair across from T'Pol, who sat bolt-upright with her hands folded together upon the table. "Thank you. I am aware that you and Captain Archer had not anticipated the behavior of the crew this morning on the Bridge before you departed."

"No," Reed agreed. "It was rather unexpected. It was rather gratifying, actually; we had been a bit concerned with how the crew would take the news, so to speak."

"I am aware, also, that I did not extend my congratulations to either of you with regard to today's events. I, like the other members of the crew, was somewhat surprised. I had not been aware that you and the Captain had become a couple."

"Well, we hadn't exactly made a public announcement. Not until the Xynobians asked him to bring his partner for dinner, and then I suppose everyone got the news."

"The point is, Lieutenant, that I should not like my silence this morning to be interpreted as a lack of congratulations in regard to this ceremony. I do, in fact, wish you and the Captain well. I am not familiar with Earth customs in regard to marriage, however, and had some difficulty trying to understand exactly what was expected in the way of offering such sentiments."

"That's quite all right, Sub-Commander. I understand perfectly."

T'Pol raised a hand for silence. "After you and the Captain left, I was able to ask Ensign Sato some questions with regard to Earth customs. I understand that you and the Captain are performing one such custom for Ensign Watkins and Lieutenant Patel. Since their parents are unavailable, apparently you are standing in for their parents as their superior officers."

Malcolm nodded. "Right. Watkins is one of my Armory crew. I'm happy to do it for her."

"I understand that the Captain has asked Commander Tucker, as his friend, to be present for him. However, you do not have anyone with you. Why is that?"

Malcolm looked at T'Pol and gave a slight shrug. "The reasons my family aren't here should be obvious. As for anyone else…Hoshi and Travis are friends, but I didn't feel quite right about asking Travis for some reason, and Hoshi rather took off as social director of this whole event."

T'Pol pursed her lips. "I do not think that it is right for you to be the only one who does this without another officer present on your behalf. If you do not mind, I should like to undertake this for you. It would be a very great privilege. I do not understand very much about how humans conduct these matters, but on Vulcan it would be very wrong otherwise. Would you permit me to do this for you?"

Reed screwed his eyes shut and lowered his head for a moment. T'Pol recognized that he was experiencing some strong emotion, although the nature of it eluded her. When he opened his eyes and looked at her again, his eyes were slightly moist.

"No, T'Pol. I am the one who is privileged. Thank you very much."


"All of this," Jamaya, captain of Garmandra, explained briefly, "is actually a very old ceremony. You'll hear a few parts that have been in it since the days when they used to kidnap young adults and sell them into slavery. Nobody likes to change it, though. Tradition and all that." He pointed at some lines of text in a small handbook. "Most of it dates back to when my own country, Ulmandria, had a clan system. I don't suppose you have one these days, either?"

Jonathan Archer shook his head in a negative. "Not for a few centuries in our larger countries."

"Good. I'll just leave out the dull part about the clan adoption, then. We still have a few real traditionalists who dig up their families' clan backgrounds for bondings."

"My God, this planet was settled by Scots," Reed sighed. "Please tell me the clans don't play bagpipes at weddings, too."

"Bagpipes?" Jamaya mulled over the concept. "Oh, you mean those horrible noisy things that people from Picara tuck under their arms and squeeze?" He stared uncomprehendingly as Reed buried his face in one hand for a moment. "And, of course, we still have a few smaller provinces on the planet, like Picara, where the clan system is still in effect. My crew from those areas usually insist on both the clan adoption and those noisy things. Whoever's presenting the party being bonded has a few questions to answer, but everything's fairly obvious. It's not likely you'd give a wrong answer to anything and stop the ceremony. I don't think it's ever happened."

"With my luck," Reed said easily, "I'll wind up accidentally selling Ensign Watkins to a slave trader."

"Oh, I don't think so," Jamaya laughed. "The ceremony is fairly simple, really. The entire idea is that bondmates are pledged to share all things with each other; we represent that during the ceremony with the exchange of some small loaves of bread, dishes of salt, and goblets of wine. In the mountain provinces, some clans still have the couple do a blood bonding over the bread, but…really. I don't think that's been done in Ulmandria for at least two or three hundred years. Any questions?"

"Uh, yeah." The response was from Commander Tucker, who was leaning in a corner. "Cap'n, can I please put these blasted tin cans down yet?" A string of tin cans festooned Tucker's neck. After Archer had removed them from Porthos, who was now curled up at Tucker's feet, and after he had quickly fingered Tucker as the culprit, he'd told Tucker exactly what he could do with the decorations. The original suggestion had been anatomically impossible, but Archer had remedied that by dumping them on Tucker.

Archer glanced at Reed. Malcolm merely snickered. "Against my better judgment, Trip, I'll let you trash them. Have you learned your lesson?"

"Let's pretend I did and get on with it, okay?" It was doubtful that Trip could have looked more sullen if he'd tried. It was close to the expression Porthos had given Archer in the shuttlepod before Archer had rescued the beagle from Trip's decorating.

A quick grin. "Okay, Trip, you're on reprieve." Gratefully, Trip yanked the cans from his neck and deposited them in a corner. Archer turned back to Malcolm. "Why is T'Pol here?"

Jamaya exited the room, preparing to perform his stated favorite duty as a ship's captain. Reed had never seen anyone who enjoyed weddings of any kind as much as Jamaya apparently did. He looked up at the ceiling before answering. "I think I've been adopted."

Archer pondered the idea. "Okay. You both have pokers up your asses; I guess you could be related."

"I most certainly do not have a poker up my arse, Jonathan Archer. You ought to know damned well what's up there."

"Ow!" Trip called. "That's more than I need to know, you two." He took Porthos and walked out to the corridor to clear his head and to get away from the sight of metal cans. Seeing Garan, Jamaya's bondmate, in the corridor, he walked over to say hello. The Xynobian bent down to give Porthos a scratch behind the ears. Garan, senior Communications Officer on Garmandra, prided himself on his ability to decode other languages. English was incredibly simple, he explained to Trip. Klingon had been much harder, and he hoped that someday he could forget he'd learned it. He would be damned if he couldn't translate canine.

As they stood in the corridor waiting for Jamaya and his assistants to finish setting up in the auditorium, Garan began to wonder if defeat might not be the order of the day. "I don't know," he explained, looking at the beagle whose language eluded him. "It's a very limited vocabulary. So far all I've been able to make out are the words 'fun,' 'happy,' 'go for ride,' and 'where's the cheese?' Does that last one make any sense to you?"

"Uh, yeah. It does."

"And something, if I understand it correctly, about you looking better in…" Garan scratched his head, "hmm…a tin garland than he does."

Trip glowered at Porthos. The dog looked up and wagged his tail cheerily at the chief engineer. "Thanks a lot, buddy," Trip growled.

Porthos made a series of yips. Trip looked over at Garan. "My, my," Garan clucked. "I do believe he's trying to tell a joke."

"What's that?"

"He wants to know if you know the difference between your leg and a fire hydrant."

"Yeah, I do," Trip snorted, staring down at his best friend's other best friend. "And don't you even try."


The events on Garmandra, once Jamaya proclaimed that everything was ready, were a series of blurs, of moments recalled by Reed in snapshot imagery, which was in fact much how he remembered them occurring.

The crew of Garmandra in red Xynobian dress uniforms. T'Pol in her robes. Jamaya wearing a sash over his uniform, covered with medals, that vaguely reminded both Archer and Reed of their own Scout badge sashes. Incense, of all things, which seemed to please T'Pol, but which Reed sorely feared was going to trigger his allergies. The last thing he wanted anyone remembering about the day was that he'd had a massive sneezing fit.

Jamaya's voice booming. "Who brings this woman to be bonded?"

Reed, calmly. "I do." He always managed to look much calmer than he felt. There wasn't a lip twitch in sight. And, thank the Lord for small favors, no sniffling yet. The incense seemed not to be a problem.

"Is she a free woman of your own people?"

"She is."

"Has she been brought among us by choice or by force?"

"By choice."

Watkins stepping forward, hugging Reed on the way, looking over at Nereida Patel, who was radiant in a way she never was down in Engineering, in a purple and gold sari and with gold ribbon twisted in hair braided high on her head. Archer behind Patel, managing to look excessively proud of the junior engineer. Watkins moving the small salt dish as if she were carrying a vial of radioactive isotopes. Patel nervously trying not to spill the wine goblet she was passing to Watkins.

And then T'Pol was nudging Reed in the back with her hand, urging him to move forward, and his stomach dropped several feet below the flooring of the room. How he could be vaguely nauseated when his stomach had left his body eluded him, but it was happening. He remembered that his mother had once said something about being nervous enough to faint when she'd married his father; undoubtedly, this was the same thing. But Archer looked—no, not calm, that wasn't quite it. Not calm—no, smug. Intensely self-satisfied, the way Porthos looked when he'd stolen a large bite of cheese from his master's table before anyone could stop him. And all of that personal satisfaction seemed to be aimed, quite possessively, directly at Malcolm. Malcolm couldn't recall anyone ever having looked at him just that way before, but it really was rather pleasant.

He kept himself together, fighting nervousness he'd never noticed when facing off against angry Naussicans, by pushing himself into a Zen-like, nearly robotic state, trying to observe himself and his actions. His best martial arts instructor had taught it to him, primarily for dealing with multiple-opponent hand-to-hand combat. He might have to write a letter to Sensei, who had probably never heard of one of his students using the discipline to stay in one piece for something like this. Breathing slowly, Malcolm watched himself in action, focusing on his hands as he lifted a small, rounded loaf of bread from an engraved bronze plate, trying not to look at Archer's hands, and trying even harder not to think of what those hands were capable of doing to him, of what they'd been doing to him only two nights before… …and saying something, which apparently wasn't the wrong thing, whatever he was saying, and trying to look at his lover without looking directly into his lover's eyes, which would have been absolutely fatal; no way to keep focused at all on anything around him other than those impossibly green eyes of Jonathan Archer's if he looked anywhere near them…

…and Archer had a hand in the small of his back, the other hand in his hair, and Malcolm wasn't sure if that was a kiss, or if it was mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, because it occurred to him that he had to have quit breathing minutes before, and whatever Jon was doing to him, it was certainly shaking him back into present reality.

The reality—oh, mother of God—was that he'd just gotten himself married. To Jonathan Archer. The captain of his frigging ship. In front of several officers from Enterprise, any number of very friendly aliens, and his lover's dog. Things like this did not happen to Reeds. Things like this were too major to happen to a Reed…and, if he ever lived through it, possibly too pleasant.

Porthos shook free of Trip and bounded over to Archer and Reed. Archer bent down to pick Porthos up and dangle him in Malcolm's face. Malcolm grinned weakly. "Almost forgotten I'd married a man with a family."

"Love me, love my dog." Archer nuzzled Porthos and set him back down.

"Not a problem," Malcolm smiled. "My God, we're married."

Archer grinned widely. "Yeah, I think so."


"By the way, Captain Archer," Jamaya said, drawing him aside as Archer and Reed attempted to make their way back to the shuttlepod, "I've spoken to Starship Command. They would very much like to meet with you while you are visiting. I explained the purpose of your own visit, and they have seen fit to book you and Lieutenant Reed a suite at a hotel near Starship Command Headquarters. It's really one of the nicest hotels in the city. Vice Admiral Denoria sends her compliments and hopes you'll accept the hospitality."

"That's really very kind of you," Archer responded, "but it's not really necessary." The attempted refusal was no more than a courtesy. An actual attempt to argue the matter would have been pointless and would have created ill-will; besides, the Xynobians, he suspected, probably had a better idea of luxury accommodations than did most people, and the thought of spending several days with Malcolm in a plush hotel room had its undeniable charms.

"Nonsense," Jamaya snorted. "Consider it a diplomatic perk from Starship Command. They're quite beside themselves that we've made contact with such a very similar planet and that you're taking advantage of what we offer. In fact, Vice Admiral Denoria says she'd love to hear more about this Starfleet business your people have. Mixed crews from different planets? We've been contemplating something of the sort with some of our neighbors, but no use reinventing the wheel when you're starting up, is there?"

"I suppose not," Archer agreed.

"Lovely. We'll see you back at your ship, then."


The luncheon plates were being removed from the mess hall tables by galley crew pressed into waiter service. Trip took the opportunity to clang a spoon against his water glass to attract attention. As people around the room quieted, he rose to his feet. "Thank you, everyone. I s'pose everyone knows why we're here today, what with these two happy couples an' all. And, of course, also to meet with our new friends here from Xynobia, where we'll be able to take shore leave in a couple of hours. Now, first off, mainly because he's in too good a mood to think clearly, I kinda took advantage of the Cap'n and I conned him into givin' us all extended shore leave. We'll be in orbit around Xynobia for a week, folks." That provoked massive cheering. "Before y'all leave, please check your schedules; most of us will be on ship for a few days during the leave period, and we're doing a rotation." That received no response, to no one's surprise. Booing at the announcement of a work schedule during shore leave would hardly have been appropriate for the occasion.

"Now," Trip continued, "before anything else happens 'round here, like hittin' that bar over in the corner, I have to take care of a couple of important administrative duties as best man. The most important one, usually, is gettin' to kiss the bride. Which I guess kinda makes me one lucky bastard because there looks to me like there's more than one here. Ensign?" Nancy Watkins gave Trip a huge peck on the cheek. Trip grinned. "Lieutenant?" Nereida Patel smooched Trip firmly, to applause. "Hey, Nereida, I gotta work with you every day—don't get Nancy jealous yet!" He turned around, smirking. "Hey, Malcolm, you don't think you're gettin' off that easy, do you?" Bending down, he planted a short, loud kiss right on Reed's lips, an act that seemed to draw more applause than bussing Patel had.

Reed looked up. Gauging his voice, he grinned and retorted loud enough for the crowd, "If that's all the better you can do, Trip, no wonder you're still single."

"Forgetting anyone, Trip?" Archer called from beside Malcolm, to laughter from the better part of the room.

"No, Sir," Trip announced. "You outrank me, and I ain't kissin' no one who can bust me down a rank for makin' an ass of myself." He accepted the continued laughter as his due. "And with that, I think we can get directly to havin' a party," he announced as the people around him began to regain control of themselves. "That bar over there looks kinda lonely."

Archer and Malcolm began working the crowd; or, perhaps, the crowd was working them over. If Archer had feared any backlash from the crew, he certainly wasn't seeing it; of course, anyone who had any serious problems had probably skipped out on the event, and he, at least, wasn't about to count heads. Besides, whatever anyone might think the next day, or the next week, about the matter, if anything was certain on a starship it was that any excuse for a party would do, and no one was going to complain about a party.

Where several crew members had managed to obtain presents and wrapping paper was beyond anyone's guess, but Watkins and Patel were being loaded up with boxes. Archer and Reed were receiving fewer items, but were astonished to see just how many bottles of really good liquor had apparently been stashed away on the ship. A bottle of very old Saurian brandy that Mayweather's family had acquired during the course of trading was the most fascinating of the lot, however. Several officers pressed up to the two men to ask if there was anything they wanted; apparently there were plans for massive shopping expeditions while they were visiting the Xynobian capital. The phrase "no, not a toaster oven" slowly began turning into a mantra as gift suggestions were offered by determined shoppers.

"I am really fascinated by the Xynobians, Captain," Phlox beamed at Archer about an hour after surviving the gauntlet. "Their biological structure is almost exactly like that of humans, with a few minor exceptions. They are the only humanoids I have ever encountered who reproduce by parthenogenesis. Completely non-sexual reproduction. It's quite amazing."

"Fuck," Trip cursed. He looked at Archer. "Here I was, gettin' ready to hassle you and Malcolm about which one of you was gonna wind up with mornin' sickness in a month or so. Guess I'll never be able to get even with you two."

Archer turned around with a jerk, nearly spilling his champagne. "What the hell is that ruckus?"

Trip peered through the crowd in the Mess Hall, over human and Xynobian heads. "Nothin', Cap'n. Looks like a few of the boys had a bit much to drink. They're teachin' the Xynobians some old Starfleet drinkin' songs. No harm there."

"You want to bet? Listen to what they're singing." Trip listened; then, like Archer, he winced. Every Starfleet officer and virtually all enlisted crew knew the song; most cadets were sick of it by their second year at the Academy. The crowd might have been singing off-key, except that no one had ever known just what key it was in. They weren't all together on the words…although no one could remember just how some of the verses went.

"The pay out here in Starfleet they say is mighty fine; they give you a hundred dollars and they take out ninety-nine," someone warbled. "Oh, I don't want no more of Starfleet life; gee, ma, I wanna go. Vulcan's the place, you know! Gee, ma, I wanna go home!"

Trip shrugged. "Could be worse. They start singing 'Banned From Argo,' you could have Malcolm throw them all in the brig for a week."

"The engineers in Starfleet they say are mighty fine; they live on Scotch and water and just a drop of wine. Oh, I don't want no more of Starfleet life; gee, ma, I wanna go…" Trip gave the crowd a look that suggested Malcolm could round them up anytime, anyway.

Another group had started up across the room from the first, louder and even more off key. "The crewman she got stewed…She danced in the corridor nude…They had to send for Security to take her away…Oh, what a waste; she didn't get chased. The captain really missed out on something that day…So start up the starship drive…They're roasting the engines alive…"

Phlox rubbed his hands together joyfully. "Oh, if I'd only brought a recorder with me!"

Archer rolled his eyes. "Where's Hoshi? I think this crowd's had about enough to drink. Where's Malcolm, anyway?"

Trip looked around more carefully, then grinned. "Check it out." He pointed across the room. Malcolm, glass in hand, had his free arm thrown around Garmandra's navigator, Latana, and, with the help of a couple of ensigns wearing red trim, was clearly trying to teach her the words of another song. Garan and Kamata appeared to be taking notes. "I ain't heard that one in a coon's age."

"Security…What the heck came over me, to sign on in Security?" one of the ensigns with Malcolm sang into his own glass. Malcolm was snickering. "I believe in immortality…Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be. Some asshole has just phasered me…Oh, I serve in Security…"

Archer set his glass down. "I think it's time Malcolm and I escaped from this party. I'm going to round up my husband, and I think we'd better get our things and get planetside."

Trip looked alarmed. "You're going to your cabins? Now?"

"That's where our things are, isn't…uh, Trip, what else did you do today?"

"Um…" Trip stood at attention, hands straight at his sides, upper lip quivering slightly. "Uh, Cap'n…Sir…I took the liberty, of…um…thinkin' as how you wouldn't mind, Sir…"

"Out with it, Trip."

"Uh, I had all of Malcolm's stuff moved to your cabin, Sir. It's a little cramped, I admit; I was gonna see about doin' a few cabin reassignments and spendin' some of my leave time seein' if I could take down part of an interior wall and try to get you two a little more space, an' all that…but you might have a bit of a rough time gettin' packed."

"Uh, thank you. I think. Sounds like you'll be spending your whole shore leave up here, Trip."

"Not if I can help it. I'd like to see the planet a little, just to say I did if nothing else. 'Course, the more leave time I spend up here, the safer my ass is, though." Trip grinned. "Seriously, Hoshi says the capital's a pretty mixed town, so most of us oughta be fine down there. But if I am up here most of my leave fixing things up, I deserve it for everything I've pulled the past couple of days. I'm not settin' foot off ship until I've got your cabin re-done for you two. It's the least I can do to apologize for everything." Trip smiled awkwardly.

Archer slapped him on the back. "Don't apologize. I'm still going to kill you, but don't apologize. I have the feeling this is probably the best way everything could have worked out."


The hotel suite was fabulous, one of the sort that a Starfleet officer could never afford left to his own devices if it had been on Earth. There was no clue as to what it might have cost here on Xynobia. Since Xynobia's Starship Command was hosting them, however, as a diplomatic nicety, Archer—who had a clue about how these things worked back at Starfleet—was fairly certain that the government got a substantial, probably contracted, discount that he would never have gotten if he'd asked for the room himself.

Not that either he or Reed were going to complain. Malcolm had actually let down his guard so far as to bounce on the extremely comfortable, and admittedly huge, bed. "Jon. You have to try this out."

"Sure," Archer told him, smiling at his lover's idiocy. "Get undressed and we'll see if we can break it."

"Really," Malcolm snorted. "Is sex all you can think about?"

"Considering that we just got married this morning, I'd say it's a reasonable thing to have on my mind, wouldn't you?"

Malcolm seated himself upright on the edge of the bed, his feet over the edge, boot heels dragging into the carpeting. The carpet was nearly as thick as the bed, or so it felt. So were the towels, which was useful, because the room also had a whirlpool in it. Xynobians clearly knew how to have a good time in a hotel room. "Look…Jon…I know this sounds completely insane…"

Archer bit his lip. It was only to have been expected, given Malcolm, wasn't it? He should have known this would happen. "Second thoughts? Regrets?" Archer seated himself on the bed beside Malcolm. He hated to do it; it was the last thing he wanted, but he was going to have to make the offer. "I'm not going to deny that we got shoved into doing this. It won't thrill the Xynobians, but I'm sure there's some kind of procedure for annulments on this planet, too."

"Jonathan Archer." Malcolm's voice was so sharp it could have cut steel. "I thought I was the lunatic, but if that's what you thought I meant, I wonder!" He laughed. To Archer's relief, the laugh was considerably warmer than the reprimand. "No, of course not." An arm snaked around Archer's waist, pulling him alongside the length and warmth of the younger man. "Believe me, if I hadn't wanted to do this, it wouldn't have happened and we wouldn't be here right now." The laughter had thawed Malcolm's voice to its normal tone. "What I was going to say…and I'm sure this is completely demented…is—I'm actually a little nervous about things. The…um…sex." Malcolm's face was sheepish.

Archer turned the younger man to face him and slid his own hand over Malcolm's shoulder. "We've done this how many times? And as I recall, the first time we did, you nearly shredded my uniform."

A grin lightened Malcolm's embarrassment. "I know. But we've never been married before, have we? It's just…it all seems different."

His lover chuckled, running a hand along Malcolm's cheek. "Good Lord, I think you just turned into a blushing virgin."

"I am not blushing," Reed protested. "And I am most certainly *not*—" Continuing the protest further was impossible, however; as Archer's mouth covered his firmly, lips parted, hungry with need. Archer could feel Malcolm relaxing in his grasp as the younger man's lips opened wider, Reed's tongue meeting his, challenging it, then withdrawing, waiting for Archer to take over again. The kiss went on, longer, deeper yet, and it was like everything Archer had ever thought would overwhelm him in his life was happening at once—his acceptance letter from the Academy; the water polo championships; his first view of Earth from a ship's viewscreen; the first time he'd taken a cruiser into orbit.

Archer broke it, with a grin, when he heard the moans coming from Malcolm's throat. "Still nervous?"

"Hell, no," Malcolm growled back at him, reaching over and using a sparring maneuver to throw Archer against the bed. He shifted position and clambered on top of Archer to pin him down. "Do I look like it?"

Archer lay against the bedspread, his hair disheveled against the alien fabric, framing his own flushed face. "Not in the least." He reached up and clutched Malcolm's hips. "And thank God for that." His hands began rocking Malcolm against his waist and his rapidly hardening erection. "I love you, Malcolm. I wish I knew how to tell you how much, but I'm a ship's captain, not a writer. The only way I know how to tell you is to make love with you. Will you let me?"

Malcolm smiled ferally, eyes darkened with lust. He pinned Archer's shoulders to the bed. The sound Archer could have sworn he heard was closest to a lion preparing to roar. "Let you?" Malcolm purred evilly. "I think you need to take a look at things here, Mr. high-and-mighty starship-captain thinks-he's-the-boss Jonathan Archer," he teased. "You're mine, you hear me?"

"Oh, yeah." Archer could feel his erection beginning to throb nearly painfully at Reed's roughhousing. The idea of dropping the mantle of rank and enjoying letting Malcolm take complete control of the situation was turning him on incredibly. And in the small part of his brain that was still processing thought rationally, it occurred to him that perhaps the best gift he could give both his lover and himself that evening in particular was the absolute certainty that Jonathan Archer's ability to control anyone else's life in any way ended at the bedroom door. "Believe me, I hear you." He let go of Malcolm's hips and dropped his arms against the bed. "Anything you want, love."

"You. Naked. Now." Malcolm issued the order without any heat, moving his hips so that Archer could sit up to undress. Reed began shedding his own clothing as he watched Archer's movements. Archer took the opportunity to stand up and strip off his clothes slowly, well aware of the other man's gaze upon him. Being the object of his lover's open desire was an aphrodisiac all by itself.

Their clothing was strewn on the floor of the room in a way that neither officer, particularly Malcolm, could ever have borne under ordinary circumstances, even the many times they'd made love in Archer's cabin. Right now, neither one cared much about the condition of such useless items. Malcolm was oblivious to the piles of fabric heaped on the carpet; he was engrossed in watching Archer place himself back down on the bed inch by inch, muscles rippling slightly with the movements, drawing one knee up to leave himself glaringly exposed to Malcolm's view. Archer drew his lover's attention away from the sight with one huskily whispered question. "How do you want me?"

Malcolm eased himself onto the bed, surveying the vast expanse of nude male in front of him. Watching Archer stroking his erection gently, and swallowing audibly at the sight, he managed to get out, "Just like that, Jon. I want to see your face when you come."

"Do we have any lube handy?"

Reed brandished a small tube in the palm of his hand. "I had more merit badges than you did, remember? I'm always prepared."

"Well, don't just show it off, use it."

"God," Malcolm sighed, "there's nothing worse than a pushy bottom." A series of kisses trailing along Archer's side as he uncapped the tube indicated his lack of actual concern. Archer gasped as he felt Malcolm, fingers slightly cold with the lubricant, reach around, and then into him. As Malcolm continued to work gently at penetrating his lover, he slid up slightly, and licked at, then gently bit, Archer's nipple.

"Jesus, Malcolm, hurry up!"

Malcolm merely chuckled from the back of his throat as he ran the edge of his teeth across the erect nipple again. The fingers that had first caught Archer's attention disappeared from his ass as Malcolm applied the lubricant to himself. "Are you *sure* you're ready for this?" he purred at his partner.

"Malcolm…" Archer trailed weakly.

"Very well, then…" Slithering over Archer's leg, he arranged himself between Archer's thighs, taking in the sight of his older lover's writhing and running a hand down his own chest. Suddenly, Malcolm grabbed Archer's hand. "Oh, no. Not yet," he chided, as he removed the hand from a spot far too close to it's owner's rigid flesh. "Hang on for the ride."

Archer groaned with pleasure as his lover entered him. Malcolm began slowly, then thrust more vigorously as Archer responded to his efforts. They moved together, bodies slick with perspiration, both now vocalizing their passion as Malcolm reached down to begin pumping Archer's length. The end, when it came, was nearly overwhelming, Archer bucking against the bed, then sinking into it, Malcolm collapsing on top of him, bodies sliding against each other from their perspiration. Too exhausted to bother cleaning up from their exertion, they fell asleep against each other, one of Malcolm's arms thrown possessively across Archer's chest.


"Some honeymoon," Archer chuckled as he and Malcolm walked down a street in the capital, a block from Xymandria's Starship Command Headquarters. "We could stay in bed all day—or in the whirlpool—but no, you have to go get culture. *Why* are we going to a museum?"

Malcolm's face looked like that of a small child on Christmas morning. "Because," he explained as patiently as he could—which wasn't very patiently at all, since he wanted to be there already, "this is Xymandria's military weaponry museum. They have a complete collection of everything used in this part of this galaxy. Can you *imagine*?" He tugged eagerly at Archers hand. "Come on!"

Archer had known perfectly well where they were heading; he had merely been teasing his lover. Malcolm was acting exactly like an overeager six-year old, and Archer loved it. It was rare to see Malcolm actually let himself go, even in bed, although Malcolm had certainly managed to do that just that the night before. Malcolm's reserve, however, was so natural to him that it was a pleasure to see him drop it entirely during the day, in public, and allow himself to be excited. Knowing Malcolm, of course, it was no surprise that something to do with weapons would be the ticket. "To see a pile of rusty old laser cannons?" Archer sighed. "Very well. But I'd never do it for anyone else; I just want you to know that." The tiny smile he was trying to hide at the corners of his mouth belied the misery he professed.

Malcolm stopped short under a tree alongside the sidewalk. "Of course, Captain." He slid his arms around Archer's waist. "Look at this," he said. "This is incredible. Everyone here is really exactly like us."

"We landed on a planet full of clones?" Archer deadpanned. He knew what Malcolm meant. It didn't take sharp observation to see that the area was full of same-sex couples walking around holding hands, window shopping, stopping at the outdoor cafes, and sitting on the grass at the park across the street. "No, you're right. There aren't a lot of places back on Earth where we could go around like this without being pretty noticeable."

"I know. People would stare if we did this." Malcolm slid one hand up Archer's back into his hair and pulled his head down for a kiss. "I think I like it here."

"Me too." Archer returned the kiss. "I could get used to this pretty fast."

"Watch out, then. If we were any more popular, the Starship Command here would be offering us commissions in their fleet."

"Don't even joke about that," Archer sighed. "I'm halfway expecting it." He gave Malcolm a peck on the cheek. "Come on; you're the one who wanted to rush to the museum." They continued the walk to the museum, Malcolm checking quickly to make sure that he had a scanner and a padd tucked into a small pack he was carrying. Leave it to Malcolm to be taking notes on the museum.

Malcolm, once at the museum was…what? Archer couldn't quite decide. "A kid in a candy store" came to mind, but so did "criminally insane" and "obsessive". It was entirely possible that Malcolm should simply have brought a sleeping bag and rations and have prepared to stay in the museum for a week. The sidearms display intrigued him mightily; he stood sketching the design on several guns and pistols of various sorts, fondling the ones that were left out for public inspection with a decided air of what was either awe or lust; it was hard to tell.

But it was the heavy artillery that really tested Malcolm's ability to control himself, and, for once, he was failing miserably at that self-appointed task. Far too interesting to scan in every torpedo and cannon, to record specs, to reach out and fondle the public display pieces and start muttering about modifications. Had he begun rolling on the floor, writhing and speaking in tongues, Archer would hardly have been surprised; his lover was having a religious experience right in front of his face.

"Photon torpedoes?" Malcolm suddenly muttered sharply. "Whoa there—there was a panel for these on that Klingon ship, but I never got to find out what they were…" He dug an old-fashioned sketch pad out of his pack and began diagramming on it. The muttering became more erratic the longer he worked. Archer left a display of ships' cannon banks to watch Reed at work with his new find. Archeologists, he thought, must have looked like this when preparing to excavate the Pyramids. "If I can just figure how…" came out audibly as Malcolm talked pointedly with himself. Plainly, there would be models being built in the ship's armory until Reed, Watkins and company figured out just how these worked and if they could duplicate them.

Finally, Malcolm sat down on the floor, finished making notes in his padd, and placed everything on the floor with a sigh. Archer suppressed a grin. "Having fun?"

"This," Malcolm proclaimed with solemnity, "is serious work. I told you we needed to get here." He pulled himself to his feet and propped himself against a small display cannon, absently running a hand across its finish.

"No." Archer shook his head at his lover. "I know you, Malcolm. You're enjoying yourself."

"Think so, hmm?" Malcolm continued running his hand along the cannon, suddenly just a bit more deliberately. "Maybe you're right." The arm motion was beginning to hold Archer's attention. "I like weaponry. You ought to know that much by now," he purred in a voice that went directly to Archer's groin. "I like things that are long…and hard…and explode when I set them off." Malcolm's hand began trailing to the end of the cannon, his slender fingers running their way around the rim. Archer bit the inside of his lip, hard, and hoped that no one was about to walk around the corner. "Do you think there's anything around here that would match that description?"

Archer could feel everything Reed's hand was doing to the cannon directly on himself. Malcolm had used his hands on him just that way more than once. Nonetheless, trying to remain calm seemed a good idea. Seeing Malcolm coming on to him like this in a public place was exciting, to say the least, but what he felt like doing with Malcolm just then and what he was actually willing to let anyone catch them doing were two very different things. "I'm not sure. There might be something under wraps somewhere around here…"

Malcolm shot Archer a look that could have melted the hull of the ship. "Well, you'd better help me find it soon…because I've got half a mind to have you throw me over this baby and have at me right here."

Archer had to grin. "And you say *I'm* a pushy bottom?" He crossed the display area, only to have Malcolm grab him by the waistband and rub his own leg between Archer's thighs, right up against the partial erection he'd been sporting for the past few minutes watching Malcolm in action. "People are going to see us."

"There hasn't been anyone else in this exhibit area for nearly an hour," Malcolm growled. "Now, how long is it going to take for me to get you to fuck me senseless?"

"About as long as it takes for us to get back to the hotel," Archer told Malcolm, holding him by the shoulders, "because we're not doing it here, sorry."

Malcolm gave Archer his best "wet puppy" look. It didn't match Porthos, but it packed a punch anyway.

"I'll make it up to you," Archer promised, leaning into Malcolm's insistent leg.

"Really?" Malcolm drawled out the word. "Can I lure you into the Armory some night and show you what I've been thinking about you, me, and the torpedo tubes?"

"Are you serious?"

Malcolm grabbed Archer by the ass and pulled him in even further. "Oh, am I serious. You'd be surprised what a body can do with some of the things I've got."

Archer nuzzled Malcolm's neck. "Mmmm. You'll have to show me what you've got. Get that stuff you put on the floor. We're leaving. Now."

"Some captain you are," Malcolm teased. "Takes you *forever* to get around to issuing orders."

They walked back from the museum to their hotel at a considerably faster pace than they had used to get there. Despite Archer's best intentions, they nearly didn't make it back to the hotel anyway. He'd never realized just how much Reed really enjoyed weaponry—he'd known that his lover was obsessive about the subject, but getting that turned on by it…At least it was providing Archer some serious thoughts about what to give Malcolm for Christmas.

By the time they made it into their hotel room and to the bed, Archer's shirt looked nearly like the uniform Reed had all but torn off of him the first time they'd made love. "Maybe I should bring a phase pistol to bed with me," Archer laughed as they began throwing off clothing.

"No need. That phase cannon of yours is more than enough. Lube's over there," Malcolm pointed as he threw himself onto the bed. "Let's see you fire that thing at me…"

They fell asleep quickly afterwards, tangled in sheets that they'd left well the worse for wear. They woke, groggily, when Archer's communicator went off. He reached over to the nightstand for it. "Archer."

"Captain? This is Ensign Devers." Devers was Hoshi's backup on Communications. "Xynobian Starship Command has asked if you and the Lieutenant can be available for dinner at Vice Admiral Denoria's home this evening."

"Sure," Archer sighed into the device. He would rather have thrown it out the window, but it was too late now. "Tell the Admiral that we'd be honored to be her guests at dinner. Call me back with the details. Archer out." He shoved the offending piece of technology back on the nightstand. "I hate to tell you this, but we're going to have to shower and get dressed."

Malcolm rolled over sleepily. "We have to go out?"

"Command performance." Archer eased himself off of the bed. ""Believe me, it wasn't my idea to schedule this right now."


They arrived at the Vice Admiral's home, located near Starship Command Headquarters, to find a moderately large crowd gathered there. Fortunately, Vice Admiral Denoria had a large home, but the rooms were still crowded. Judging from the reception he and Malcolm were receiving, even if they weren't the guests of honor, people had still shown up to get a look at the visitors. Denoria herself was wearing something that didn't look like either the duty uniforms or dress uniforms that the crew of Garmandra had worn; she and her bondmate, Canalia, were wearing matching outfits that looked much like Vulcan robes. These appeared, from what Archer could gather, to be the formal robes from Denoria's native province.

A look around the room established that Jamaya and Garan were there as well. Jamaya greeted the two men cheerfully and began introducing them to everyone in the room. Archer muttered a silent prayer of thanks that Trip wasn't there to talk them into anything. The last official Xynobian dinner Trip had attended had resulted in Archer's having to issue a public proposal to Malcolm; he couldn't begin to imagine what Trip would do for an encore.

Denoria swept over to the group. "Hello. You must be Captain Archer and Lieutenant Reed. I am so pleased you could make it this evening. I'm sorry dinner is on such short notice, but I just received orders to leave for a meeting on Aegaeria—one of our neighboring planets—in two days. I wanted to have the opportunity to meet you before I left. I have a few ideas I'd like to bounce off of the two of you at dinner. I hear you do like our food?"

"It's delicious," Malcolm told her.

"Good; I'm pleased to hear it. My cook is wonderful. Captain Archer, would you care to take me in to dinner?"

Denoria's "few ideas" were an interesting concept. She was interested in a series of joint military exercises with Starfleet, followed by an exchange of cadets for military studies. "Frankly," she sighed at one point, "I have no idea why we, and you, and Aegaeria, and a few of the other more or less civilized planets don't simply form some kind of cooperative organization. We all have to deal with Klingons, and the Suliban, and—have you met those dreadful Ferengi yet? They're quite impossible. But nobody's gotten together on this. There ought to be an organization for joint defense, if for no other reasons. Perhaps you might propose to your Starfleet that we should have a joint task force looking into this kind of thing. Some kind of military or diplomatic federation. Do you think there might be any interest in that on your end?"

Archer took a drink from his water glass. "I think there might be a great deal of interest, especially if it's presented properly. This is just the sort of thing that we've talked about, but we're new to space, we don't really know that many other planets. We don't really have anyone to ask to join us yet, and the Vulcans don't really think we're ready to grow up."

"Oh, don't let them worry you," Denoria fussed. "We can introduce your people to several other planets in this galaxy that would love to make contacts further towards your sector of space. They're interested in working with anyone that has experience in dealing with the Suliban. I'll see to it that you have contacts set up with them before I ship out." She nodded towards a uniformed steward, who began clearing dinner plates.

"Thank you. That's very kind."

"No thanks required, Captain. I'm sure you'll be able to arrange a conference call for our Starship Command with your Starfleet admiralty for introductions?"

"That won't be a problem."

"There's just one more thing to discuss before dessert," Denoria told Archer and Reed. "Military attaches. I presume that's customary with your people as well." As she introduced the topic, servers emerged from the kitchen with huge trays of desserts. "Try the yellow ones," she told the two men. "The filling's one of our tropical fruits. I'm really quite fond of it."

Malcolm laughed as he took a bite of the recommended pastry. "My God, it's the next thing to pineapple. That does it, Jon. We're moving here when we retire. Or sooner."

Discussion after dinner, some political, some cross-cultural, but mostly the sort of social shop-talk that was common to all ship's officers and fleet officers, no matter where, went well into the night, moving from the dinner tables to the Vice Admiral's living room. Trouble, or what looked very much like it, arrived as the after-dinner conversation was wrapping up and as Reed and Archer were preparing to depart from Denoria's home. A Xynobian Starship Command security guard arrived at the door, and was shown in by a household staff member. After a few brief words with the Vice Admiral, the door opened again. Two more military police entered, propping up a disheveled, drunk, and dripping-wet Trip Tucker between them.

Archer and Reed looked at each other. "Oh, God," Malcolm sighed. "We just get these people warmed up for discussions with Starfleet, and Trip creates an interplanetary incident."

"Calm down," Archer whispered soothingly. "We'd better see what happened first." He left Malcolm's side and walked into the hallway, where the Vice Admiral was in discussion with the leader of the security detail. Trip was propped up against a wall, the two other MP's observing him, though looking more alarmed than wary. "I see you've met my Chief Engineer, Admiral. I gather there's a problem."

Listening in, Malcolm headed to the door leading into the hallway, wishing he had bothered to bring a phase pistol. You never knew just what a situation like this was going to lead to.

"Yes, Captain Archer," Denoria chuckled. "It seems your officer here had a good time in town tonight."

"I sure did, Cap'n," Trip slurred cheerily. "Nardanus—he's the Chief Engineer on Garmandra—invited me out with him an' his bondmate, who's an engineer too, an' a couple of Garmandra's other engineers, an' we all kinda went out to see the town." He grinned up at his host. "Nice town you folks got here, by the way, Ma'am. Gotta tell you that. Real nice place." Trip turned back to Archer. "Sooooo…we had a few beers at this one bar, Cap'n, Sir. An' we left an' we had a few more beers at this other bar his buddy Kliatus knew, an' then we went to another one, an' we ate there, an' the beer there was really good." Trip grinned again. "An' that place is over by the Starship Command Headquarters, y'know? Where there's this biiiiig statue, in the middle of this biiiiig fountain. An' it's got this biiiiig fence up aroun' it. So we kinda all took our clothes off, y'know, and we climbed up the fence, an' lemme tell you, that is one damn fine fountain they got here."

The leader of the security team looked slightly embarrassed. "We responded to a call that there were fountain jumpers. When we arrived, we found your Chief Engineer mixed in with the crew from Garmandra. We got everyone out of the fountain, got them dressed, and escorted the rest of them back to their ship. Understanding, Sir, that you were down here," the officer addressed Archer, "we thought it best if we got hold of you directly."

"Has he been charged with anything?" Archer asked, frowning.

"No, Sir. Since he was a visiting officer on military property, we thought it would be more appropriate to leave that up to you."

Archer looked surprised. "I have to say, that's not quite what I'm used to. I've had to send legal officers out more than once in my time to have crew bailed out for pulling that kind of stunt."

"Nice folks they got down here, Cap'n," Trip explained patiently.

Denoria merely smiled and waved a hand. "I don't want you to think either that we're a wide open town, as it were, or that we're making some kind of special exception for visitors. Well, maybe we are, just a bit. But the fountain's on our Officer Candidate School property, and fountain jumping's an old sport with the cadets. In fact, it's supposed to be a solemn cadet obligation to do it the week prior to graduation, whether you've done it before or not." She shrugged and grinned sheepishly. "I'm afraid a fair number of old grads who come into town and have a few too many drinks try it pretty regularly. We don't bother booking them; what's the point? I guess your Chief Engineer's an honorary Starship Command OCS graduate now."

"I always did good in school," Trip volunteered.

Archer shook his head, doing his best to suppress a laugh. "You're going back up to the ship, Mr. Tucker." He turned to the security guard again. "Can one of your men take him up, or shall I get a team down here?"

Malcolm stepped forward. "Suggestion, Captain? Please, *please* let me take him into custody. I can have our boys let him sleep it off in the brig and then let him out when he wakes up tomorrow. I'm just sorry I won't see his face when he wakes up and sees where he is."

Archer deliberated. "That's awful, Malcolm."

"Jon? Please?" Malcolm pleaded, a laugh playing around his eyes.

"Go ahead, Captain," the Vice Admiral suggested. "You just got bonded; you might as well get used to doing what your bondmate asks you to do—or tells you—right now. If you start doing what he wants now, he'll have you pretty well trained by your first anniversary." A wink. "Once I just gave up and started doing everything Canalia wanted, life got much easier for me." She looked around the room. "And in this case, I have to say, I think the Lieutenant has an excellent point."

Archer nodded. "All right, Malcolm. Just hurry back down." He looked over at Trip, who was busily engaged in holding up the wall with his body. "Trip," he moralized, "I do hope you've learned something from this experience."

"I certainly did," Trip nearly sang.

"Good. I hope you understand from going out and spending the evening getting yourself shitfaced with some people who are very different from you, and whom you were practically afraid of a few days ago, that people are really a lot alike everywhere. No matter what our apparent differences are."

"Whatever you said," Trip agreed, dismissively. "I learned real important stuff, too. The beer on this planet is damn good stuff. Kinda sneaks up on ya, but it is truly fine brew. Gotta make a big note on that for the bloody Vulcan database."

Archer rubbed his face and began to laugh. "Malcolm, let's have this security detail deliver Trip to the brig and get ourselves back to the hotel. I think we're having one of those days."


The senior staff sat in the Captain's Mess, talking about their leave and working their way through several recipes Chef had proclaimed to have discovered planetside during the leave. Archer spent most of the meal contributing little, mostly listening to Hoshi and Travis recount their adventures for the week, and trying to avoid gazing stupidly at Malcolm, who was seated directly to his left. By the time dessert rolled around, however, he cleared his throat and announced, "There's something I think we need to discuss." Eyes around the table turned to face him. "The Xynobians are anticipating an official attache from Starfleet to arrive in three weeks to a month. They've requested, however, that a liaison officer stay here until the attache arrives. That means that someone from the ship's going to have to stay behind for about a month, and that we'll either be passing back in this direction to pick them up, or having the ship bringing the attache rendezvous with us to return our officer."

There was a mild display of interest at the seats; who was it that Archer had in mind? Looking around at them, Archer continued. "I should probably tell you right now that it was specifically requested that Malcolm and I stay."

"Now, you just can't do that, Cap'n," Trip pointed out. "Bad enough not to have one of you here for a month, but I ain't gonna try runnin' this ship without both of you for that long."

"True," Malcolm observed, "but considering that I just got married this week, Trip, would you like to ask me what I think of splitting us up for a month?"

"That, too," Trip agreed. "So, Cap'n, it looks to me like the proposal's out. You delegatin' someone else?"

Archer smiled. "Well, Trip, since you mention it, I was thinking that you seem to be getting along pretty well with the Starship Command crowd, especially the engineers and the MP's. And I know you like the beer." There was general laughter; Trip hadn't been stingy with the others in the details of his misadventures. Only T'Pol looked at all askance at the reference.

"Now, y'know, that'd be a fine idea 'cept for one thing. I ain't worried anymore about the guys down there checkin' me out; I've kinda worked my way past that business, which ain't hard when you been drunk and naked with 'em in MP custody." Trip pushed his plate aside. "But there just ain't enough gals there willin' to check me out to balance things out. The odds just ain't in my favor for the long term."

"Well, well," Malcolm sniped. "Now you know what I think it's like back home."

Trip snorted. "You got no business goin' there now, Malcolm. You're married; you're not allowed to worry about bad odds for meetin' anyone."

"Just making a point, Commander." Malcolm took a sip of water and caught a nod from Hoshi.

"I know, Malcolm. I had my head up my ass and it was pretty dark up there. I think I've kinda jimmied it out, okay?" He began fidgeting with his napkin. "Seriously, though, Cap'n, what's your game plan?"

Archer leaned back in his chair. "Trip? Malcolm? Can you do without Patel and Watkins for a month?"

Reed and Trip looked at each other. "Sure," Trip said slowly. "I'd rather not if I didn't have to, but it's better than no Captain and no Tactical Officer."

"I can manage for a few weeks, certainly," Malcolm deliberated, "as long as you promise me not to get us into anything requiring major weapons repairs. Or another shootout with angry Naussicans."

"Good. Because I already asked Patel if she'd do it. They seem to be delighted to have the temporary assignment." He folded his napkin carelessly and placed it on the table.

"That's swell," Trip said. "Now that we've got that squared away, Cap'n, I was just thinkin'—"

Archer cut in. "Trip, could you do me a big favor?"

"Anything, Cap'n."

"Don't. Think. Okay?" Archer held a hand up. "Just give me a week or so where you promise me you won't think."

A week was probably Trip's limit. Alas, Archer thought, for him, and for Malcolm, to recover from the events that his best friend had put them through for the past week, a week of Trip's not having ideas might not be nearly enough.

Years might not be enough.

"Sure, Cap'n," Trip proceeded, uncannily as if he had not heard a word Archer had said. " 'Cept for just this one thing, okay?" He began prattling on about his latest brilliant insight.

Archer contemplated for a moment whether Starfleet regulations prohibited stabbing his subordinate officers with a dessert fork, or whether he should just have Malcolm arrest Trip for disobeying an order. Malcolm's recent unholy delight at suggesting that Trip should be hauled to the brig just for breathing was obviously starting to rub off on him. He passed a hand over his forehead. Yes, it certainly was one of those days.

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