Title: It's Gonna Be a Bumpy Night

Author: MJ

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

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

Date: 06/14/02

Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: A/R

Rating: Make it an R this time.

Archive: Archer's Enterprise

Series: Xynobia

Previous story: I'm Having One of Those Days

Next story: I Think I'm Allergic to Morning

Summary: Archer and Reed try settling into married life. It isn't always easy, and Trip isn't helping. Lieutenant Patel loves Xynobia, and Ensign Watkins loves firearms. And Trip's started dating someone totally unexpected…

Notes: Title's from the movie "All About Eve"—"Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy night." Trip's subplot was inspired by a note from thegrrrl—thanks for the inspiration.

Jonathan Archer, captain of Enterprise, rose from his seat on the Bridge with a slight groan and a hand pressed to his lower back. "If anyone needs me," he sighed, "I'll be in my ready room. Maintain course, Travis." He left the Bridge walking with evident, although apparently minor, pain. Two sets of eyes tracked his movement minutely—his lover's and his best friend's. Once he was safely off the Bridge, Trip Tucker, said best friend, leaned over and whispered with a snicker into Lieutenant Malcolm Reed's ear.

"Malcolm, whatever you're doin' with the Cap'n in bed, do you think you could go at it a little easier? You're ridin' him so hard he can't walk."

Reed laughed at Trip's observation. "I don't think that has anything to do with my technique. His back's still out from the other night. Which wouldn't have happened if you'd finished that job in our cabin before you went planetside to get bombed," he added maliciously. At least he was smiling, so Trip knew that death wasn't imminent.

When Archer and Malcolm had returned from a too-short shore-leave-cum-honeymoon on Xynobia and had reached what was now their joint quarters, Archer had insisted on attempting to carry Malcolm over the threshold, despite Malcolm's protestations to the very, very contrary. The attempt might have been successful if Trip had completed the enlargement of Archer's cabin; the fact that he hadn't finished the renovations had permitted him to leave a set of tools, particularly one ratchet-headed screwdriver, on the floor right by the door. Archer might have seen it if Malcolm's body hadn't blocked the view.

Malcolm had landed on his feet when Archer tripped; Archer, on the other hand, had ended up leaning over the bed with a hand pressed into his sacroiliac region, wincing. He'd headed directly to Sickbay, but Phlox, for all his virtues, was a doctor, not a chiropractor. Archer made a mental note at the time to suggest that starships add back-crackers to the staff; Malcolm refused to allow him consider adding a couple of geishas to walk on the crew's backs, which Archer had also thought was a sound concept, and which had intrigued Phlox to no end.

Trip heaved his shoulders. "Sorry. I kinda got anxious to go out partying. I still ain't forgotten wakin' up in the brig with Ensign Dawes starin' me down an' wavin' that pot of coffee in my face. I didn't get a lot of work done until that hangover cleared up."

Mayweather looked over from the navigation console. "You mean Phlox hasn't got some bloodsucking slime creature that cures hangovers?"

"If he does," Trip pronounced, "he ain't usin' 'em on *my* body. I'll get over tyin' one on the old-fashioned way, thanks."

Malcolm patted Tucker on the shoulder. "A few leeches never hurt anyone."

"Wanna bet?" Trip shut down the console at his seat. "I'm headin' back to the ranch. Gotta show Carson and Chang the ropes what with Patel off ship for a month."


Lieutenant Nereida Patel looked out the window of the furnished apartment at Xynobia's Starship Command Headquarters. The view was incredible, the sunset a riot of pink, purple, and orange that was like nothing she'd ever seen at home in Delhi as a child, and like nothing she'd seen growing up in California or training with Starfleet.

"What are you looking at?" Nancy Watkins, Malcolm's favorite Armory ensign, asked her partner. She came up behind Patel and slid her arms around Patel's waist. The assignment to Xynobia for the better part of a month suited her as an extended honeymoon, since she didn't have that much work assigned while she and Patel were there. The thought of spending a few days thoroughly exploring the arms museum while Nereida was meeting with Starship Command brass intrigued her; she hoped that Reed had been able to get there despite the short time he and Archer would have had planetside. There was bound to be something in the sidearms section that she could duplicate back on board Enterprise when they returned.

"Nothing. Everything. I love it here," Patel sighed. "I know we have a duty to the ship, but I'd like to stay here. I wonder if Starfleet would be willing to give me this assignment permanently."

"What?" Watkins was appalled. Xynobia was a wonderful place—the idea of being on a planet where almost everyone was gay and the food was terrific had its charms—but she wasn't ready to give up the guaranteed promotion that the Enterprise mission carried with it. And she wasn't ready to leave the Armory by a longshot. No opportunity to build weapons and get into a battle to test them if she stayed here, instead of working with Malcolm Reed. "I really think we need to discuss this. Can't we just come back here after the mission's up?"

"Come on, Nancy. You don't want an adventure?"

"What do you call adventure?" Watkins huffed, pacing around the room. "Sitting in meetings with really friendly people who agree with you? What a fucking bore! If we were on the ship right now, I might have to go after a Suliban intruder or face off against some Klingon maniac. That's adventure."

"That's how Security teams get killed," Patel replied, turning away from the window. "We just got married and all you can think about is how to get yourself killed? We need to be thinking about settling down, and this is just the planet to do it."

"We need to think about our commitment to the ship! We've been assigned for a five-year mission, not until whenever we think we'd like a bit of a change in scenery."

"Do you love me or not?"

"What kind of a stupid-ass question is that, Nereida?"

"It's not stupid-ass, you bitch. I'm being serious. If you love me, you'll want to think about what we need to do to have a life, not just be ships' drones."

"Well, if you really loved me, you'd know how much Munitions means to me. So there. And who's the bitch, you whiner?"

Patel looked at Watkins with an expression that could have melted steel. "Oh, Nancy…do you realize? We're having our first argument!"

Watkins stared back. "We are! Isn't this amazing? Our first big fight!" She grabbed Patel around the waist and squeezed hard, knocking the breath out of her lover. "This is great. I love you!"

Patel threw her arms over Watkins' shoulders. "You are so silly. I love you, too."

The opportunity to start playing with the zipper of Patel's uniform presented itself to Watkins. She tugged it down gently, revealing a beautifully curved expanse of blue uniform undershirt, and began running one hand gently over Patel's breasts through the fabric. "You don't really have to be anywhere for a while, do you?"

Patel writhed against Watkins' touch. "Not if you don't, gorgeous." She let go of Watkins long enough to shrug out of the sleeves of her jumpsuit, then slid her arms around Watkins again and began running her fingers along Watkins' neck. "What do you say we move this back to bed?"

"I'd say that sounds like an order, Lieutenant," Watkins purred. "Gonna spank me if I argue?"

"Only if you're really lucky, beautiful…"


Jonathan Archer sat at the computer terminal in his ready room. Admiral Forrest's face was on the monitor. "Good work on the Xynobia matter, Jon," Forrest praised. "This is the sort of thing that not only does what we set out to do with this mission, but has considerable military and diplomatic benefits for us. Not only that, but we have the chance for some excellent public relations here. We've got friends with advanced technology who aren't Vulcans and who are willing to share. *And* they're exactly like us. No green blood, no pointed ears—they're press-friendly."

Archer paused. "They're not *exactly* like us, Sir. Or at least not exactly like most of us. Did you read the entire set of field notes?"

Forrest stared. "What did I miss?"

"Apparently, Sir, you missed that the vast majority of Xynobians—eighty or ninety percent—are homosexual and that they reproduce by parthenogenesis. They weren't quite sure what to make out of the idea that most of Earth is heterosexual and reproduces through sexual activity. No matter how tolerant people are of what looks like a small minority back home, I'm not sure how people are going to react to this kind of news."

The Admiral looked stunned. "Oh." He shook his head. "Well, we'll find some way to deal with it. Thank God press isn't my department. Nonetheless, you did good work with them. How did you manage to make friends with them so easily?"

Archer grinned. "It wasn't hard. There are a few gay couples on the ship. Two of the couples that I know of are all officers. I figured the Xynobians might relate better to them than they would to the rest of the crew. Apparently I was right."

"Since you left Lieutenant Patel, who I believe is in Engineering, as the temporary Starfleet representative until we get a higher-ranking officer there for exchange, I'm presuming that she and her friend are one of those pairs," Forrest stated. "That seems to be fairly low rank for this type of posting."

"It is," Archer mused, "but the only other choice meant leaving T'Pol in charge of the ship. I didn't think you'd appreciate my staying on Xynobia with Lieutenant Reed until the delegation arrived."

Archer couldn't see Forrest's hands, but the Admiral's unseen gestures probably included fist-pounding if his steaming face was any indication of his mood. "What?" was the only thing out of Forrest's mouth.

Archer shrugged. "I'm aware of the regulations, Sir; however, I don't believe there's that much of a problem. Although he's under my command, he does run his own department. The difference in rank, if I recall, isn't sufficiently large to be outside regulations. And there's no regulation prohibiting married couples from serving on the same ship, including in a supervisory situation."

"What the hell…Jonathan Archer, what are you talking about?"

"I'll be forwarding copies of the paperwork for myself and the lieutenant, and for Patel and Ensign Watkins, to Starfleet for reference. You can have Legal check it out but everything should be valid." Even though his lower back was killing him that day, the look on Admiral Forrest's face was worth sitting at the monitor. The shock was worth every moment of muscle spasm.

"Captain…" Forrest drawled out. "You're telling me…"

"That I got married on mission? Yes, Sir. I don't recall being told that I couldn't. I apologize that Malcolm and I didn't have time to send out announcements, or I'd have let you know." Forrest's face was a particularly delightful shade of purple. "However, I'd appreciate having a benefits adjustment on our pay, if someone can forward the paperwork to Benefits Administration."

"I'm sending this to Legal!" Forrest cursed. "It's already established that gay couples in Starfleet don't have joint benefits any more than any other unmarried couples."

"Send it to Legal," Archer told him. "I just told you to do that. According to Xynobian law, Malcolm and I are legally married. I know Starfleet's come up with some idiotic decisions before, but I don't think it's going to be able to get us un-married. And if it did, I don't think that's going to make our new friends very happy at all. They were particularly delighted to be able to do the wedding. I want the benefits adjusted, or you can explain away the diplomatic incident we'll have if Starfleet doesn't recognize it."

Forrest pondered the statement. The man was nothing if not sensitive to publicity. "Have the paperwork sent in," he capitulated. "I'll sign off on it myself. You're entitled to two weeks' leave, you know, for weddings, but I hope you and Reed might consider deferring the matter given the work you have going on right now."

"Of course, Sir. Malcolm has some particularly interesting weapons information from our trip there, so I'm sure he won't want to put things down just yet."

"Weapons information?" Forrest asked, his color beginning to normalize. "What kind of weapons information?"

"According to Malcolm," Archer pursued cheerily, "he's got scans from their military museum of virtually every hand weapon and missile used by the Xynobians and their neighboring planets for the past three hundred years, including some missile systems that he believes are also in use by the Klingons."

Forrest's eyes boggled momentarily. "If he's got those, Jon, I'll marry the man myself. I want copies of the Klingon weapons scans sent back here immediately. That torpedo jock of yours can marry anything he wants; if he's got those for us, I'd put him in for promotion myself even if he married a Vulcan-Klingon half-breed imbecile."

"May I quote you to him on that, Admiral?"

"Don't even try. You get back to work. And for God's sake quit marrying off your crew—you're on a mission, not running a flying honeymoon resort shuttle."


Malcolm Reed, Armory Officer of Enterprise, was notably nothing if not weapons-obsessive. He was sitting at a work station in the Armory, looking at a 3-D schematic he'd created that week and carefully fitting a piece of molded metal to another one, checking for fit and trying to decide if he had properly copied the lines of one of the sidearms he'd seen in the Xynobian arms museum. Working on the inner components could wait until Watkins got back—with the time she and Patel were scheduled to remain on the planet, she should have ample time to visit the museum if she and her new spouse ever made it out of bed—but he could get this much done right now at least as an exercise. If nothing else, it suggested possible modifications to the phase pistol design. The photon torpedo question was going to have to wait; there was too much else to do.

The pistol, on the other hand, deserved immediate completion. Given the capacity of the Xynobian firearm, it also deserved nothing short of a live target for its initial tests. And the perfect candidate for first victim was undoubtedly Trip Tucker.

Malcolm, being a generous soul in his own estimation, had forgiven Trip for badgering Archer into proposing to him at the Xynobian dinner. It wasn't, after all, as if they hadn't been in a serious relationship already. And it certainly wasn't as if things hadn't been wonderful so far—not that they'd been married for more than ten days yet. He'd even forgiven Trip for showing up drunk in MP custody at the dinner with Vice Admiral Denoria. Everyone had been amused, after all, by Trip's fountain-jumping exploit. And—proof, had he ever doubted it, that Jonathan Archer really loved him, Archer had let him have Trip thrown in the brig to sober up. The reaction his Security team had gotten to enjoy when Trip came to and figured out where he was had been worth anything.

No, Trip would remain unforgiven for one horrible, dreadful, massive sin. He'd failed to finish remodeling Archer's cabin after moving Reed's things in with Archer's. Not only was everything still cramped until Trip finished the work, but his things really had no place to go. Porthos had already begun filching his uniform undershirts to drag into his dog bed, for some reason and to his own great irritation. Archer *would* think that was funny, damn him. He was wearing his last clean undershirt today and praying that ship's laundry would have his uniforms ready for him by late afternoon so he'd be ready for the next day. He couldn't borrow any of Archer's undershirts—and why wouldn't Porthos swipe those, blast him?—since, although they might be snug across the broad expanse of shoulder and chest that he still delighted in exploring after several months together, he'd be absolutely lost in them if he wore them himself. While he enjoyed nothing in life more than being pressed against Jonathan Archer's muscular upper body, he had no illusion that if he wore Archer's wardrobe he'd look like anything other than a child in his father's clothing.

One of these days, he'd just have to kill Trip, no matter how close a friend he was. Although, discretion being the better part of valor and all that, he'd probably be best off waiting for Trip to finish getting the cabin done first.

The comm panel above his work station buzzed. "Archer to Reed."

Reed hit the switch automatically. "Reed here, Captain."

"Check the time. If you're not up to your neck, can I buy you lunch?" They'd been eating together in the captain's mess for most of their meals, although Malcolm liked eating with the junior officers as well, particularly Travis and Hoshi. T'Pol had joined them for lunch the day before; Trip was currently declining invitations to the captain's mess, whether out of embarrassment for his own recent behavior or fear that Archer and Malcolm were going to scandalize him with ill-considered newlywed behavior, Malcolm wasn't sure.

"For you, anytime."

"Fifteen minutes?"

"It's a date. I'll meet you down there."

They met in the captain's mess, although Malcolm was there closer to twenty minutes later thanks to a query from one of the Armory crewmen about disposal of crepe paper from torpedo tubes. As he made his way to lunch, Malcolm chalked up another reason for Trip's imminent demise; who else would have hung crepe wedding bells in one of the tubes? He thanked God that he hadn't had to blow up anything large since the wedding, or there could have been a disaster prior to the inspection.

Lunch was a haphazard affair at best. Chef's cooking was hardly the problem; rather, the difficulty was that with no one else there to talk to, Archer and Reed were having a hard time paying attention to the food or to much of anything except each other. Not that this was a bad thing, of course—if you didn't count spilling water glasses, accidentally dropping forks, and winding up with food on your uniform from trying to get cute feeding each other. Chef would have been horrified had he known, Malcolm was sure.

"Damn," Archer swore after dessert, ice cream having been a particularly dangerous choice, "I'm going to have to change uniforms." He gave Malcolm a look that suggested he'd barely started having lunch, and that Malcolm was the rest of it. "Feel like coming back to help me?"

"I'd love to," Malcolm observed, "but my C.O. hates it when I'm late getting back on duty."

Archer smiled. "I think I can persuade him to let you take a little extra time today," he whispered in Malcolm's ear. "Care to join me?"


It was odd, the sensation of walking to one cabin together, completely unconcerned about whether anyone noticed them; odd, also, the thought that not only did no one particularly care about the occasional slight display of affection, but that some of the crew—Hoshi in particular, though God alone knew why—seemed to think that it was utterly adorable when they did let a touch slip in public. Apparently, Malcolm supposed, Hoshi was romance-happy. She was certainly putting energy now into trying to find a girl for Travis. He silently wished Travis luck with Hoshi's helpfulness as he and Archer headed back to their quarters.

Said quarters were, to put it delicately, a mess. Trip had been in a few times to continue work on the expansion, but what looked to be a great deal more remained to be done. The wall into the next cabin had been partly removed but was not finished off; construction dust was thick on that end of the area, and Malcolm, though he could access the dresser and closet, was reluctant to put any of his belongings into the still heavily dust-coated area. Porthos was entranced with the additional space and ran cheerily back and forth, tracking the dust everywhere around the functional cabin area. Some larger tools were stashed in the new area and around the open wall, as well as in the second cabin's bathroom.

The fact that the expanded area actually had two baths, having been two cabins, was the biggest secret on Enterprise. Enlisted crew and ensigns all shared cabins with only one bathroom in each cabin. There were two new lieutenants who were sharing a cabin with one bath. Archer, Reed, and Tucker were all sensitive to the thought that if anything Archer and Reed did would inspire a mutiny, it would be letting on that they had enough bathroom space for two people.

Trip's latest concern had been sleeping space. He'd muttered darkly the day before that as there were now parties on board ship who were reasonably expected to be sharing beds officially, no one had considered berth size in the ship's quarters. It was an open secret, if not a running joke, that sex in the berths was probable but that sleeping afterwards was impossible. More than one couple who had sent one lover back to their own cabin in the middle of the night had done so because there wasn't room for both of them to sleep in the same bunk. Trip had also pointed out the all-too-obvious—that Archer was fairly large for one of the berths to begin with, so thank God Malcolm was slightly on the smaller side. Furniture was his new obsession.

He'd been told that his idea was noble but that Malcolm and Archer would survive the problem temporarily as long as he got the rest of the construction in the cabin squared away in everyone's lifetime. So far, it was a good thing that humans had long life spans.

Once in the cabin after lunch, Archer pulled a clean uniform out of his wardrobe and quickly moved his rank insignia over to it before unzipping the uniform he was wearing. "Hmm, I think I need some help getting out of this uniform…"

"Is that an invitation?" Malcolm came up behind Archer, sliding an arm around Archer's waist and moving the other hand up to massage Archer's neck.

Archer wriggled his neck around under his lover's touch. "I could make it an order if it'd be more fun…"

"I don't think we've got that much time to play." Malcolm reached his hands to Archer's shoulders and began working the jumpsuit down from Archer's body as Archer kicked off his boots.

"Says who?" Archer groused. "My ship, my rules. We just got married, and if I want to make love with you right after lunch, I don't think anything short of a Suliban attack should stop us. Fuck the time."

Malcolm helped Archer step out of the uniform as Archer pulled his uniform shirt over his head. "I love it when you're all butch and decisive like that."

Archer reached around and pulled Malcolm in for a hug. "The hell you say. And I think one of us is way overdressed for this party." Smothering Malcolm's mouth with his own, he tugged at Malcolm's uniform zipper and began peeling clothing off of the younger man.

Malcolm broke free from the kiss for one moment. "Let's take this to the bed." He quickly shed the rest of his uniform as Archer pulled down the blanket and fumbled for the lube. "You found it," he noted.

"You weren't the only Eagle Scout around," Archer laughed. "I'm trying to be prepared."

"Are you, now?" Malcolm purred as he clambered onto the bed. "Well, the party's right here…" The purring, along with other sounds that might have been alien languages unknown to Hoshi, continued as Archer took him, not gently, but with as much fervor as could be exercised by a man with a lower back injury.

Archer was oblivious to everything except Malcolm's cries of pleasure; Malcolm to everything except the incredible feeling of being possessed by his lover. They were unaware of anything around them, in fact, until their passion was interrupted by three strangled sounds from across the cabin.

"Oh. Mah. Gawd."

Horrible recognition searing into Archer's brain, he jerked back involuntarily. The move was worse than unfortunate, given the region of his original injury; he rolled off of Malcolm in pain, doubling over in the bed. "Oh, God…Trip, what the hell are *you* doing here?"

Trip shrugged as he blushed in embarrassment, proffering a tool kit as Malcolm reached in annoyance for the sheets. "Uh, what I was gonna be doin', Sir, was workin' on that wall over there, on the wirin' I have to reroute…but it looks like I came at a pretty bad time. God, I'm sorry."

Malcolm sat up and began fussing over Archer's back. "You're sorry, all right, Trip. What is it, love, the back again? Damn." He looked over at Trip. "Call Phlox. We need to get Jon down to Sickbay. His back's out on him again." The look he gave Trip plainly stated that everything to do with Archer's back was entirely Trip's fault, and that Trip was going to be the one responsible for fixing it. "And would you mind throwing my clothes over here?" The request was based not only in the need to get dressed, but also in the fact of Porthos, now excited, bouncing around the cabin with dust-covered paws.

"Uh, sure," Trip replied, staring numbly. He handed Malcolm his uniform before hitting the comm panel and speaking briefly with Phlox. "Umm…Phlox wants to know—can Jon make it down there with help, or should he send a gurney?"

The reply came through gritted teeth. "I'll walk, thanks." Archer sat up with a wince. "And please, Trip, could you try knocking first next time?"

"Sorry, Sir," Trip mumbled. "I really wasn't expectin' y'all to be in, or I wouldn't 'a shown up in the first place."

Malcolm, mostly dressed, was rummaging through Archer's clothing. "Come on, love; we'll have to get you dressed." He pulled sweatpants and a shirt out of Archer's closet. "Preferably in something Phlox can get to your back in without your having to wriggle in and out."

Archer nodded silently, gratefully submitting to his lover's and his friend's assistance in pulling himself together and helping him to Sickbay. There were, to everyone's relief, few crew in the corridors towards Sickbay, leaving little notice of Archer's reinjury.

Phlox examined Archer's back with curiosity. "This is quite a reinjury, Captain. I had warned you to avoid excessive strain on the area and to be careful of sudden movements, I believe. What were you doing?"

The silence that ensued was deafening. Archer inhaled; Malcolm blushed. Trip stared with fascination at the ceiling. "Really, gentlemen, that's not very helpful." Phlox ran another scan of the captain's back.

Phlox's knowledge of human anatomy and medicine was undoubtedly excellent, but his limitations on human psychology sometimes displayed themselves at the worst times. "Well," Trip sighed in embarrassment, "The Cap'n and Malcolm were in their cabin, kinda goin' about things, y'know, and then when I showed up, uh —"

Phlox nodded. "Ah, I see. Captain, surely it should have occurred to you that the effort involved in having two partners at once might have been too much exertion? You'll really have to stop that for the time being." He began fussing with an injector as the three humans looked at each other, unsure if trying to correct Phlox would be useful or only likely to make matters worse.

The unspoken consensus was "worse." Archer heaved a sigh. "Of course, you're right. I certainly won't be trying that any time soon."

Phlox completed the injection. "Please see that you don't. And frankly, to allow this to heal, I'd suggest that you avoid any sexual activity for the next two weeks. Do all three of you understand me?"

Malcolm bit his lip. "Perfectly, Doctor." He glared at Trip with a look that left nothing pertaining to Trip's imminent demise to the engineer's imagination. Tucker could only pray for swift, painless death as opposed to the slow, agonizing torture that Reed's gaze promised for him.


Phlox had suggested that Archer consider a day or two in bed. The captain had considered the suggestion for all of the three seconds he thought it warranted, and rejected it out of hand. His ship, his duty to get on the Bridge—although he'd acquiesced to staying in bed for the rest of the afternoon and evening after his injection. Trip had stayed away from the cabin, since it would be impossible to work on the construction while Archer was resting, and Malcolm had busied himself in the Armory until well in the evening, partly to give Archer space to rest, and partly to work off sexual frustration. Going for two weeks without sex, when he'd been married less than two weeks so far, sounded like a punishment Trip should have to endure, not him. Of course he and Archer had been active prior to the wedding, but the time for lovemaking had been sporadic, based on when they could get together without being seen, rather than on having the luxury of being able to assert a right to time with one's spouse. And they'd only once been able to spend the entire night together in those months.

There was going to be far too much time in the gym working off excess energy for the next two weeks.

There was also the matter of dealing with getting his lover back on the Bridge the next morning, and for a few mornings after that, until he was feeling better able to deal with the walking and with the annoyance of sitting.

The other annoyances became clear the next morning.

Before their wedding on the Garmandra, Malcolm would never have dreamed of showing up on the Bridge with his lover, except for the few times they had been together at night when emergencies had arisen and Archer had covered for everyone's inability to locate Malcolm by telling them that he'd grab Malcolm on his way to the Bridge. Now, it would seem peculiar for them not to show up together, for them not to function as a matched set; in fact, it seemed expected. To Malcolm, the entire investing of a relationship with "they're married, it's expected" was nearly baffling, but he was starting to appreciate some of its privileges.

Being expected to help Jonathan Archer limp onto the Bridge after breakfast was not one of those privileges. It was a duty he didn't in the least mind undertaking, and certainly no one had a better right to do it, but it wasn't a privilege.

Worse yet, Trip wasn't on the Bridge that morning; no way to torture him with guilt prior to his slow and ignominious death.

He liked Trip, but Trip was just going to have to die one of these days. The thought cheered him up a bit as he helped Archer to the captain's chair.

Hoshi and Travis stared, as unobtrusively as they could—which wasn't subtly at all—as Malcolm squeezed in some padding that Phlox had warned them Archer was going to need. They stared more as Archer slowly, with Malcolm's help, eased himself into the chair.

Staring at their captain was a bad idea. That meant frequent turns, when Archer wasn't looking their way, to stare at Malcolm. Whatever Malcolm and the captain were doing, Archer's inability to sit was becoming more pronounced over the past few days. The look on Hoshi's face reflected amazement at Malcolm's obviously incredible drive. The look on Travis's face, on the other hand, suggested his positive astonishment that his captain spent so much time taking it from Malcolm. He'd not had the nerve to let his friend know that there was a betting pool on who was doing what to whom in bed; from what Travis could see, he'd put his money on the wrong bet.

The other Bridge crew members were looking as well, though from a distance. Most of them were behind Malcolm, anyway; he didn't have to deal with the odd expressions any of them might be showing. He couldn't usually feel any of them drilling holes in the back of his head with their eyes, so he made up his mind not to worry about them. Travis and Hoshi, however, could be trouble.

Malcolm had a good idea that Hoshi and Travis were staring him down, and he wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of a response. Best simply to immerse himself in all the work that needed to be done at his console, to throw himself totally into a systems check, to tune Hoshi and Travis out. To ignore their glances, their thoughts, all sight and sound.

To ignore, unfortunately, the words, "Mr. Reed?" thrown at him by the captain. Twice.

Archer cleared his throat and tried once again to get Reed's attention. "Malcolm?"

The sound of his lover's voice finally succeeded in penetrating Malcolm's brain. Still up to his neck focusing on the systems check, he didn't miss one beat in responding to it automatically. "Yes, love?"

Hoshi and Travis tried, pathetically, to stifle giggles; a few of the other crew didn't even try. Those noises penetrated Reed's consciousness as something that might require attention. He looked up from the systems check to see Hoshi covering her mouth with her hand, spluttering behind it, and his lover facing him, mouth open in astonishment.

Seeing Malcolm's attention, Archer finally found his voice. "Mr. Reed, the feeling is mutual but I think we need to leave it off the Bridge."

A raised eyebrow as horrible thoughts flooded Malcolm's mind. "I apparently said something I don't quite realize I said."

"Apparently. I don't mind a certain degree of informality on the Bridge, Malcolm, but please try to leave the personal endearments out of it. I'm sure everyone here's well aware of the facts already."

Malcolm flushed furiously. "Sorry, Sir."

"I was asking you to check on the charge strength for the hull plating polarization. Travis says there's a meteor storm coming up."

"Yes, Sir." Malcolm switched the systems check to automatic as he reviewed the polarization question. "We could go to maximum if we needed it, but for a meteor storm, seventy-five percent should be sufficient under normal circumstances. How soon until it hits?"

"It's not that close," Travis replied. "Just wanted everyone on alert. Maybe forty minutes. Fasten your seat belts; it's gonna be a bumpy ride."

"Fine." Malcolm set an adjustment. "We'll be ready." He sent a message down to the Armory and a second to Engineering, alerting Trip and his crew. In a long meteor storm, the power question was more critical than the mere ability to go to polarization; it was Engineering that would have its hands full. "Anything large enough to need blasting?"

"Might be," Travis replied calmly, checking his readings. "Wouldn't hurt to have the phase cannons ready judging by the size of a couple of these babies."


The meteor storm was weathered, but not without difficulty. As Malcolm had feared, the engines had taken a beating from the length of the storm. Keeping the hull polarized for extensive periods of time, especially when Malcolm was firing phase cannons, wasn't something the engines took well. Trip, cursing Patel's absence and another senior engineer's stay in Sickbay, was hard at work on repairs, shorthanded.

An hour into Trip's aggravation, Hoshi looked up from her console. "Captain, there's a Xynobian ship contacting us. It's Admiral Denoria."

"Put her on."

Denoria appeared on the viewscreen in normal Xynobian military dress, as opposed to the regional robes she had worn at her dinner. "Captain Archer. Good to see you. Did you bump into that meteor storm, by any chance?"

"Thanks for asking. Yes, we did."

"So did we. I'm on my way from Aegaeria to Carlanion, and we went right through the damned thing. We're patching up a few holes in the exterior plating; I think we'll be done soon. How did you come through?"

"We're working on engine repairs. I don't mind admitting we're short on engineers at the moment."

"Hold on." She turned to one of the ship's officers briefly. "We'll be here a little while anyway; would you like us to send a couple of engineers over to help your Mr. Tucker? I presume he's out of your brig by now."

"He is, and thank you, we'd appreciate the help."

"Certainly. We'll be sending a shuttle over in about fifteen minutes, your time. Oh, and please say hello to Lieutenant Reed for me. When you come back to Xynobia to pick up Lieutenant Patel, my bondmate, Canalia, plans to have more of those pastries for him. She never bakes for me any more; I think I'm jealous." Denoria laughed. "We'll have those engineers over shortly. Denoria out."

About an hour later, a shuttle from the Xynobian ship arrived in Enterprise's shuttle bay. Three engineers emerged to meet Trip, who was waiting to greet them and to take them to Engineering, and Malcolm. The composition of the work party made both men blink. There was one male engineer, Garalda, who had been with Trip at the time of the fountain-jumping incident, and two female engineers. One of them, a young woman, introduced herself as Tanima. The third, both officers recognized immediately, although Trip had only met her when he'd been massively drunk.

"Admiral Denoria?" Malcolm gulped, coming to attention. "We weren't expecting you to—"

A wave of her hand and a gesture indicating her utility uniform silenced him. "I was a ship's engineer for years before I ever got kicked upstairs to a damned desk job. No one ever lets me have any fun any more. I'm sure Mr. Tucker knows exactly what I mean."

Trip grinned. "I sure do, ma'am."

"Now, let's get to those engines. You and I need to teach these babies here what a real job of work looks like, Commander. And Lieutenant, if you'll please oblige us by not telling your bondmate I'm on board until we've got this under control, I'll thank you. I have the terrible feeling he'd stand on protocol and insist on a formal greeting before I've had a chance to get my hands dirty. Now, Mr. Tucker, throw me a wrench and I'll show you a trick or two about warp engines I don't think your people have seen."

"Yes, ma'am."

Trip led the work party to Engineering, a mile-wide grin on his face. Malcolm smiled and shook his head. The Captain was certainly going to get a surprise about their dinner plans, which suddenly included an admiral. At least, with her there, there was going to be no way Trip could refuse dinner in the captain's mess that night. An evening unwinding over engineering shop talk would probably be good for everyone.


Captain Jonathan Archer tried not to wince as he shifted in his seat at dinner. "It was quite a surprise to hear that you were leading the engineering delegation, Admiral." He passed her the platter of linguine with clam sauce. "Malcolm sat on the news for two hours. If we'd have known earlier, I'd have had a more elaborate dinner planned."

"That wasn't necessary," she replied evenly. "I just wanted a chance to get my hands dirty again. Unlike you, some of us didn't start out planning to captain a ship. I started my career repairing shuttles during the Third Klingon War." She passed the plate to Trip and pushed a lock of hair out of her face. "My big dream was to have Mr. Tucker's job on one of our ships. I had it, too; chief engineer on Cyxanthus. Unfortunately, I was also the first officer. Our captain was killed during a Suliban attack and I wound up playing captain. I did that job too well and got kicked upstairs. I absolutely hate desk work; it's not a fit job for man or beast. A trained sku'thalyx could do paperwork. And thanks to protocol, all I could do today on our ship was watch everyone else work. So when you asked for a hand in Engineering, I thought I'd escape. I didn't think you'd mind."

"I don't. I'm delighted to have you on board—I only wish I'd known earlier, as I said." Archer leaned across the table to refill Denoria's wine glass. "I hope the quarters for you and your crew will be all right." The damage to the engines had been worse than anticipated; the Xynobians were staying on board overnight to help complete repairs the next day.

"They'll be fine," she assured him. "I wish you wouldn't insist I'm a visiting dignitary. I'm the same kind of blasted grease sku'thalyx Mr. Tucker is. I'd be perfectly happy sleeping on a skid under one of the housings—I used to do it often enough back when. How about you, Mr. Tucker?"

Trip grinned. "Guilty as charged, ma'am. And—thanks for showing me that heat exhaust bypass rerouting trick."

"I told you I could show you a few things. Just be sure you pass them on to Lieutenant Patel when she's back on board. You want as many people as possible to know how to do that. It'll save you a lot of engine wear when you're polarizing. Frankly," she said, addressing Malcolm, "what you really need to look at is developing deflectors. Much less of an energy drain, especially during a combat situation. Polarization's all well and good, but if you're attacking and defending at the same time, you can't afford the energy drain to your weapons circuits that I suspect you're getting when you polarize. There's some nice Aegaerian deflector technology I can have routed to you when you swing back towards Xynobia, if you're interested."

Malcolm was a man in love. "Deflector shields, Admiral?" For a brief moment, Archer was prepared to be jealous of the gaze Malcolm was bestowing on their visitor. The jealousy lasted only until he remembered Malcolm's arousal at the Xynobian arms museum. The remembrance was sufficient to replace jealousy with total frustration—Malcolm was next to him at the table, getting turned on as hell by an offer of advanced alien defensive technology, and Archer was under doctor's orders to ignore the stimulus of an overheated Malcolm Reed for the rest of the evening. Going to the ship's gym to work it off was equally impossible thanks to the injury; a long cold shower sounded like the order of the day.

"Deflector shields, Lieutenant. My pleasure. And, of course, a pile of those pastries you liked so much at dinner. They're not exactly equivalent presents, but I think you'll enjoy both of them," she said, smiling at Malcolm. Archer made a note to himself that Malcolm appeared to be the secret weapon of diplomacy with the Xynobians. As long as they didn't find out about Malcolm's sexual fetish for cannons and torpedoes, he thought, recalling their honeymoon shore leave in the capital.

A steward began clearing the table for dessert. Tucker waved a hand over his plate and requested no dessert. "If y'all will excuse me, I think I should check in on our other two Engineering guests. They've been hangin' out with Carson and Chang all evenin'. Can't do that to guests; it ain't right."

Archer grinned at his friend. "You're excused, Trip. Go make sure they're surviving the onslaught."

Tucker nodded to Denoria as he exited the room. "It's nice getting to meet him when he's not jumping in fountains," she confided to Archer and Reed. "He really does excellent work. If you'd ever like to do a training exchange, he'd be perfect."

"I'm just glad you're getting a chance to see the normal Commander Tucker," Archer told her. "He's not usually the type who gets hauled in by MP's."

"Never thought he was," she laughed. "Everyone's entitled to a little hell-raising on shore leave." A grin. "Which reminds me, Lieutenant—you're ordnance, of course—did you get to the arms museum?"

"Yes. I was fascinated. I only wish I'd had more time there."

Denoria nodded. "Canalia, my bondmate—she used to be an ordnance officer. Gods, speaking of hell-raising—when we were bonded, I don't mind telling you…she dragged me there every day for a week. You have no idea what she tried doing to me in the middle of the propulsion weapons exhibit, right on a launcher."

Archer and Reed turned to face each other, both blushing.

"I thought as much," Denoria chuckled. "You ordnance types are all alike."


Garalda sat in Trip's cabin, on the chair by the desk, assisting Trip in the destruction of innocent bourbon that had harmed no one. Sentenced to death, the bourbon died by the fastest route—immediate consumption. Even being trapped on a shuttlepod with Malcolm and killing a bottle of Kentucky's best liquid gold while freezing to death wasn't enough to turn Trip off of truly serious drinking. And Garalda had helped him with some of that very serious drinking once before, the night they'd both gotten hauled out of the fountain at Starship Command along with a few of Garalda's engineer buddies.

Trip needed the liquor tonight. A few good, solid drinks and you could jump naked into a fountain with people you'd just met, in front of half the damned town. He wanted that "aw, hell" frame of mind, and Garalda was just the guy to have around while he was trying to get there.

"So, Garalda…when we were out drinkin' a couple weeks ago, you remember what you asked me?"

Garalda pounded a shot, poured another, and passed the bottle over to Trip. "I asked you rather a lot, I thought."

Trip poured and drank. "About whether I'd ever—um…"

"Had sex with a man? I remember. I think I told you what a waste it was that you're trying to save yourself for women, of all things. I know, you keep telling me that on Earth there are actually women who'd go out of their way to sleep with men, but I just can't imagine it. Why are you asking—change your mind?"

Trip poured another shot and passed the bottle. He nodded at the other engineer. "Could be. I'm…well, I'm not sure. I'm thinkin' about it. I was wonderin' if you'd changed your mind about bein' interested."

Garalda smiled wryly. "No, don't think so. I told you already what I think about you—I'm certainly game. What changed your mind? Realized I was right?"

"Not exactly," Trip said slowly. "I just…saw something…yesterday…that makes me wonder if I'm not missin' out on something."

Garalda tossed back another shot before reaching over to lay one hand on Trip's knee. "Oh, you don't need to wonder. I told you that you were missing something. And I'd be very happy to show you just what it is."

Trip leaned in towards Garalda. "Well then, why dontcha?"

Garalda leaned in as well, his lips brushing against Trip's. "We can start right here." Garalda began kissing Trip in earnest, as Trip found himself responding more eagerly than he'd thought he would, his lips parting to admit the other man's probing tongue. His own lack of distaste for the experience surprised him; he hadn't expected it to be this pleasant, even though Garalda was certainly attractive enough.

His mind flashed back to walking in on Archer and Reed making love. The thing that had shocked him the most, that had riveted his attention and burned the sight into his brain, had been Malcolm. Malcolm, who had been on bottom, who had been taking everything Archer could give him, had been completely out of his mind with pleasure. Malcolm, the straitest-laced human he'd ever met short of a Sunday school teacher, had completely let go, and for what? For taking it from another man.

If there was one thing any heterosexual man knew, if there was one thing that had been drilled into the brain of Charles Tucker the Third, it was that your ass was sacred. Nobody, but nobody, got near it, and that was why—well, it wasn't correct for him to use that kind of word about his best friend, or another one of his friends like Malcolm, even though those were the words other guys taught you to use, even in this supposedly advanced century, but that was why guys who had sex with other guys were way beyond the pale, because Real Men didn't take it like women. Real Men would never be on the bottom of anything like that.

But Malcolm Reed was pretty damned macho, even though he was, face it, a runt, and Malcolm had been enjoying the hell out of being on bottom. No way could he have been faking that kind of enjoyment. Yet any macho kind of guy would know that was no fun at all, it was supposed to be painful, and pretty disgusting, and the worst thing that could happen to anyone with a dick…except if Malcolm's reaction to it was to be believed, all of that was the biggest pack of lies Trip had ever encountered.

Trip knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted to feel exactly the way Malcolm had, because anything that could make Malcolm Reed go that crazy had to be pretty damned mind-blowing. "We can start here," Trip said, reaching out to unbutton Garalda's work shirt, "but I want to wind up with you in me."

Damn, had he just said that?

"I see you figured out what you were missing," Garalda laughed, tugging at Trip's uniform zipper. "You're catching on…"


"I can't sleep." Archer glanced at a digital chronograph. 0230. Thank God he'd assigned himself a midday shift.

"Neither can I." Malcolm burrowed against Archer, sighing. "Can't think why. Want to take Porthos for a walk? Maybe that'll put us right." It was more likely that making love with Archer would put them both to sleep, but according to Phlox, that was out of the question. Malcolm pondered Phlox's knowledge of human sexual activity, wondering idly if Phlox was including a little mutual masturbation as part of the "no sex" restrictions with Archer's back. However the way Jon thrashed around in bed, maybe even that was out.

"There's a thought." Archer sat up, swinging his feet over the edge of the bunk. "Porthos? C'mere, boy." Porthos seemed not to have been sleeping deeply himself; the beagle shook himself, rising, and trotted over to the bed. "Want us to take you for a walk, fella?" The tail-wagging and full-body bouncing in place made the answer obvious. Late-night walkies it was.

The two men dressed quickly, pulling on casual clothing. The ship's corridors were nearly empty at this hour unless something critical was occurring; what they wore didn't really matter. They made a round of the deck, Porthos waddling along merrily.

"Want to go to the next deck? It's not much of a change, but at least it's not the *very* same deck," Malcolm proposed as they completed a circuit.

"Why not? Maybe Trip's still up. We can always harass him."

"We should." They took the long route around, one that Archer had worked out some time before for the express purpose of giving Porthos a good stroll from deck to deck, and eventually found themselves exactly where they had planned to be, right in the vicinity of Trip's quarters.

"Sound like he's up?" There was some faint noise inside the cabin.

"We could check." Archer pushed the buzzer. No response. "Either we're hearing things, or Trip's gotten lucky."

Malcolm grinned. "Can't imagine with whom. Or why she'd bother. Anyway, love, why should he get lucky when it's his fault we can't? It's not right."

"I know, but what can you do? C'mon, let's get Porthos some more action here."

They circuited the deck, wandering about, nodding to a few crew who were walking through for various reasons. Finally, they returned to Trip's cabin. Archer put an arm out, barring Malcolm's path, as he heard the door to Trip's cabin open.

"I should get back to my cabin." Archer and Reed looked at each other; the voice was definitely male.

"Mmmm…sure we can't make those engines take an extra day to fix? Squeeze in some time for a repeat performance?" That was Trip. But he couldn't have meant what that sounded like, could he?

"Not with the Admiral working on them; sorry. She's too good at it. When are you picking up your crew?"

"Ten days? Two weeks? Somewhere in there."

"If you've got time when your ship comes in to pick them up, get hold of me. I'll be on leave then. I'd love to see you again."

"Will do. Meet me for breakfast?"

"Of course. See you then." There was the quite audible sound of a kiss. Archer and Reed watched, astonished, as Garalda exited Trip's cabin and headed in the opposite direction.

The door slid shut. Malcolm turned to look at his lover. "I'll be damned."

"It can't be what it looked like," Archer whispered feebly. "It just can't."

Malcolm tugged at Archer's arm and steered Archer and Porthos back the same way they'd come down the corridor. "And I suppose you have a better explanation for that conversation?"

"I have no explanation for it. But Trip…with a man? I'd never have believed it."

"And trying to schedule another date, at that. Not to mention all that fussing we had to put up with about the evils of Xynobian men being after his arse."

"Lord, I thought *he* was shocked when *we* came out to him." Archer bent down to scratch Porthos. "Sounds like he's got no room to talk."

"Let's go back to the cabin," Malcolm suggested. "I think I could try to sleep now. I've had more than enough excitement for the night."

"Agreed. C'mon, boy, time to go to bed." Porthos wagged his tail; it was definitely time for good dogs to turn in for the night.


Archer met Lieutenant Patel at Xynobian Starship Command. "You're looking well, Lieutenant. Life on the ground agreeing with you?"

"All too well, Sir. Has the ship managed to survive without me?"

"Just barely. We took a meteor hit that required some repairs in Engineering. I understand Mr. Tucker missed you immensely."

"Sorry I wasn't there, Sir. I understand that Admiral Denoria pinch-hit for me."

"She appeared to be having fun doing it."

"So I heard." Patel picked up a briefcase. "This is the material I'm bringing back. Commander Riggins and his partner are taking over the posting tomorrow. I'll be on board by 0930."

"Don't rush," Archer assured her. "I know you and the Ensign will have things you need to get together. Where is Watkins, by the way?"

"She's over at the arms museum. She's taking some final scans of Aegaerian pulse cannons today. She's been there nearly every afternoon for two and a half weeks." Patel had a look of utter frustration all over her face.

"Lieutenant Reed only went there twice, but we weren't here that long. He took me there the first time. It was…an interesting experience."

Patel held up a hand. "Please, Sir…if it's what I think, I don't want to know."

"You, too?" They looked at each other and nodded slowly. "Oh."

"Should I report to Commander Tucker yet?" she asked, trying to change the subject.

"He's taken leave today," Archer said, trying to stifle a grin. "He told me he's attending some kind of engineering meeting here and he won't be back until tomorrow morning." Archer would have believed Trip's excuse if he hadn't heard Trip's post-coital date-making with Garalda. He wondered when he'd be able to hold the information over Trip's head.

"Anything I should be at, Sir?"

"I—I really don't think so, Lieutenant. I think Mr. Tucker would prefer to…um…handle the matter himself."

"Very good, Sir. If there's nothing else?"

"No. You'd better get going before Watkins gets out of the museum. I do understand, Lieutenant. All too well."

Archer sighed and looked around the Starship Command lobby at the display from Xynobia's Third Klingon War. It might provide something to talk about with Admiral Denoria when he and Malcolm went to her home for dinner that evening, as if the deflector shield discussion wouldn't be enough to keep Malcolm occupied for the evening anyway.

A uniformed messenger approached him. "Captain Archer?"


"A message for you from Lieutenant Reed. He's at the arms museum with Ensign Watkins and says he'll meet you at 1630 hours."

Malcolm was at the arms museum again? With Watkins? And Phlox had just released him from that damned medical order? Dinner with the Admiral was scheduled for 1930 hours…

He'd have to fasten his seat belt. It was gonna be a bumpy night.

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