Title: I Think I'm Allergic to Morning

Author: MJ

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

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

Date: 06/26/02

Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: A/R

Archive: Archer's Enterprise

Series: Xynobia

Previous story: It's Gonna Be a Bumpy Night

Rating: Make it an R

Summary: Love and marriage, love and marriage—how's that song go? Enterprise gets some visitors, and Malcolm thinks Trip's sniffing around the wrong one. Meanwhile, Malcolm and Archer learn to cope with the concept of in-laws…

Legally unnecessary disclaimer: pretend I wrote one if it makes you feel better.

Personal disclaimer: I apologize to Milton Bradley for the end of this story. I apologize to any Sentinel fans who think that any mention of anthropologists means Blair Sandburg is about to arrive—sorry, you can calm down now.

Author Note: Title stolen, with love, from the creator of the other famous beagle, Snoopy—Charles Schulz. I forget if this was the title of one of the Peanuts paperbacks or just used in one of the strips, but I've never forgotten the line. Porthos said I should use it.

Re the spelling of a certain name in here—Paramount spells it one way, but I believe the British still use the French spelling most of the time. I have NEVER considered Paramount infallible. If they were, we KNOW what would be going on in those episodes.

Malcolm Reed, Armory and Tactical Officer of Enterprise, sat at a desk in the quarters he shared with Jonathan Archer. Facing the stars, he held a recorder for a voice transmission in his hand.

"Hullo, Snotface. I know it's been a while since I messaged you last, but we've had a great deal happening on ship. Most of it's been good news; some of it even seems to be spilling over to me." Porthos, hearing Malcolm's voice, shook himself out of a nap and waddled over to curl up at Malcolm's feet.

"I understand that Admiral Forrest is recommending me for a promotion, which I suppose is good news. I managed to locate some Klingon weaponry design and send it to Starfleet, and I suppose they're rewarding me. It wasn't all that difficult, really; it was on display in a museum on Xynobia. I don't know what kind of news Xynobia's getting in the Earth press; I know Starfleet and their Starship Command are exchanging legations. I seem to have had something to do with that, too, but I can assure you I wasn't trying to do anything in particular at the time. I suppose I should tell Mum and the old man about the promotion, but he won't bloody care anyway, will he?

"The bigger news, I would guess, is that I've gotten married. Yes, on ship. I don't mind telling you, but I can't suppose that the old man cares one bit. If he does, it'll only be to finally write me out of the will, as if he's got anything worth leaving anyway. I think you'll be happy enough for me, though I don't know if the detail will come as a bit of a surprise or not. The whole set of circumstances is really too complicated to explain right now, but the basic point is that I seem to have gotten myself married to our captain. Yes, *that* captain.

"Don't take me wrong the way I put that, it's only that it still surprises me that I've done it. I'm still in a bit of shock, I suppose. Things like this aren't exactly supposed to happen to me, now are they? I'm still having to pinch myself occasionally to believe I've been married for two months. I wish you were here, Snotter; I think you'd like him. I don't quite know what I should tell you about him; I have no idea what they report about him, or about anything on this ship, back home. I'll figure you know pretty well what he looks like, so I'll pass over that. All I can tell you is what I know about him. He's a good man, Maddy. He's gentle, and he's kind, and he loves dogs, and he says he loves me and I believe him. I love him, too, Snotnose—more than I've ever loved anyone, except, of course, for my runny-nosed little sister.

"I need to get on shift, Snotter. I'll send another disk as soon as I can. I love you."

Malcolm was so focused on his message to Madeleine that he never heard the cabin door open. Nor had he noticed that he'd had a listener standing in the doorway. Jonathan Archer backed away from the door as quietly as possible, hoping that Malcolm, whom he hadn't meant to disturb, didn't notice its closing. Malcolm finished processing the disk, still unheeding of the observation. Archer made his way to the Bridge, half-smiling to himself, and thinking quite busily.

As soon as he reached the Bridge, T'Pol met him. "Captain? I have a staffing issue that I believe requires your direct input."

"Why?" he asked. "Let's go on in," he said, nodding to the ready room, "and look at it."

T'Pol followed him into the ready room, remaining standing as Archer sat down. "It seems that there is a staffing problem in Engineering. Commander Tucker brought it to my attention last night."


"Although Lieutenant Patel is back, Ensign Chang has developed a problem with a herniated disk that will require substantial recuperation time after treatment—at least four weeks, according to Phlox. Additionally, Crewman Bergman is pregnant and has requested light duty pending an intended transfer off ship at the next starbase stop."

"So we're short on personnel, I take it. Does Commander Tucker have a solution?"

"Yes, Captain." T'Pol said no more, and her lips were tight. She didn't appear to be pleased.

"Very well, T'Pol. What is he proposing?" Archer asked.

"He says that he has been in contact with Xynobian Starship Command, and that one of their engineers is available for temporary dispatch to Enterprise. I was concerned because of his representation that he has been in direct contact with their Command without going through either of us."

Archer placed a bet in his own mind and judged his words. Trip had no idea that he and Malcolm knew about the relationship Trip had formed with one of the Xynobian engineers; certainly no one else on board knew, as Trip had been more than usually circumspect about it. The fact that one of Starfleet's most infamous ladies' men had suddenly wound up in a relationship with another man was probably the cause of the sudden extreme discretion. "Did he mention the name of the engineer in question?"

"Yes. Subcommander Garalda. He was on our ship to do repairs after the meteor storm."

"Yes; I'm aware of that. He's a friend of Commander Tucker's, and he's based at Starship Command. I believe that's what he meant by being in contact with their Command. Is Commander Tucker certain that we need the coverage?"

"Quite, Captain."

"How long would it take for Garalda to get here, as opposed to lining up a temporary replacement from Starfleet?"

"A Xynobian ship could be here in just over a week. Assuming a suitable replacement were available immediately from Starfleet, I don't believe we could have anyone here in less than three weeks. Commander Tucker thinks that it would take a month to have someone ready."

"Then we need someone as soon as possible. Do you have any problem with Subcommander Garalda serving as a temporary replacement?"

"Not if you do not, Captain."

"We might as well work on improving our interplanetary relations." Hadn't Trip said once, when Archer and Reed had come out to him privately, that he'd believed in improving interplanetary relations one woman at a time? Apparently Trip was broadening his scope. "We'll take the assistance from the Xynobians." And he'd pray that Trip and Garalda together didn't wind up equaling less than one engineer once they started playing house on board Enterprise. He didn't begrudge his friend the relationship—although its emergence so soon after listening to Trip's semi-phobic rants when he'd first come out to his friend made him want to deck Tucker—but he hoped that Starfleet and Starship Command weren't unintentionally funding a month-long private party for Trip and Garalda.

"Very good, Captain." T'Pol left Archer's ready room, and left him musing over dealing with Trip, as well as dealing with what he'd overheard Malcolm dictating to his sister Madeleine.

He reached for his private console. "This is Jonathan Archer, Captain of Enterprise." A Starfleet communications crewman signaled reply. "Please connect me to Personnel Division." He already had full access to every crew member's personnel files, which were all on ship's records, but he needed some planetside resources at the moment.


Hoshi looked up from the communications console. "Captain, we're being hailed by a Xynobian military transport. They're requesting permission to send over two passengers."

"Two?" Archer had expected the Xynobians to arrive with Garalda any day; in fact, they were a few days later than he'd thought. But who was the second? It had been about two weeks since he'd contacted Starfleet. Of course, there were Xynobian ships at Starfleet now, but could everything really have happened this quickly?

Hoshi checked the message. "Two, Captain. Subcommander Garalda, and one Earth civilian passenger."

Sometimes Starfleet failed to get off its collective asses, and sometimes it outdid itself. This was apparently the latter case. Admiral Forrest must have done direct intervention to have accomplished this. "Very good. Thank you, Hoshi. Permission to board granted. Mr. Reed, would you accompany me to the shuttle bay?"

"Yes, Sir." Malcolm exited the Bridge with Archer. "Any reason why the two of us are supervising arrivals? Are we blocking Trip from seeing Garalda or is the civilian dignitary the Prime Minister of Russia?"

"What dignitary?" Archer asked. "They only said 'civilian'. I'm sure it *is* someone important, but I don't think they're exactly a head of state, or we'd have had official notice."

"That's true," Malcolm mused as they made their way to the bay. "Any idea who it is?"

"I think we're about to get a surprise. Why do you think I wanted you down here? You're not head of security for nothing. Besides, I don't want Trip greeting Garalda—we don't need them going into rut in the middle of the bay."

"Lord," Malcolm sighed, "when do we get the chance to torture Trip about that?"

"We don't. Not yet, anyway. I'd like to smack him one myself, but unless they say or do something, he'd know we'd been checking up on him."

"We only found out by accident," Malcolm protested.

"Look, you know they won't be able to keep it quiet if they're together on board for a month to six weeks," Archer assured his lover. "Wait until they slip up. Then you can harass him all you want. He deserves it."

Finally, the Xynobian shuttle was docked. The shuttle door opened, and a crewman assisted the first passenger, Garalda, out of the pod, along with Garalda's standard-issue duffel and a heavily loaded engineer's toolkit. Garalda shook hands with Archer and Reed. "Good to see you, Captain. Lieutenant."

"Good to see you, too," Archer assured him. "Welcome back on board. Do you know your way to Engineering? Mr. Tucker's got his hands full down there. We have the same cabin for you as last time."

"Very good, Captain." Garalda nodded to them and made his way out of the bay.

Archer entered the shuttle himself, to Malcolm's surprise, motioning the crewman away. "Hello. I'm Captain Jonathan Archer. I'm very pleased to meet you. You got my message, of course."

A soft female voice replied. "Yes. Thank you for inviting me. I can tell you, I dropped everything to be here. Of course, it's summer right now so it was no problem dropping everything. This was much better than working on my off-term research."

Malcolm's stomach relocated itself to the floor of the bay.

Archer handed off a set of bags to the waiting crewman and stepped out of the shuttle, assisting the slight, brown-haired woman to exit. He looked over at Malcolm, who was practically shaking. "Malcolm, I think you know my sister-in-law Madeleine?"

Madeleine ran over and threw her arms around her brother. "Bogger!"

Malcolm grabbed her by her waist and heaved her into the air for a moment. "You're getting fat, Snotter." He looked over at Archer. "You knew about this."

"Knew about it?" Archer chuckled. "I'm the one who arranged it. I thought you could use the surprise. Besides, I thought I should get a chance to meet my family."

"The part that counts, anyway," Madeleine replied. "I'm sure you know we're a bit…estranged from our parents. Particularly Bogger."

"Please, let's not talk about them," Malcolm sighed. "Not yet, anyway. You look wonderful, Snotter—even if you *are* getting pudgy. Of course, sitting about nine months of the year teaching anthropology *will* do that."

The crewman took Madeleine's luggage. "You're a professor?" Archer asked.

"Not really. I took my masters' degree; then I took a position teaching 101. It's more of a teaching assistant's job while I'm working on my doctorate; eventually you hope they'll move you into a real job teaching real classes."

"I'm still impressed," Archer replied.

"Doesn't take much, though, does it?" Malcolm asked. "You married me."

"I'm pretty hard to impress, Malcolm. Of course, in your case I *might* make an exception," his lover chided. "I might just have been blinded by lust."

"Then don't even look at Maddy. She's the good-looking one of us."

"Don't be silly, Bogger. You know you got voted head boy just because all the girls had a crush on you."

"Yes, and I had a crush on the school football hero."

"They knew that, idiot, but they voted for you anyway," Madeleine retorted.

Archer grinned. "Madeleine, why don't you join us for lunch? I think I need to be filled in on some things about my husband." "No, you don't," Malcolm moaned. "There are some secrets man was not meant to know."

"There are some secrets sisters were meant to spill," his sister replied, taking Archer's arm. "Anything you want to know about Bogger, all you have to do is ask."

Malcolm pressed a hand to his head. "No, don't. Please don't."

Archer seized the opportunity. "Well, to begin with…'Bogger'?"

"I had a speech impediment as a young girl. Couldn't do a thing with 'th' sounds. It seems to have stuck."

"That's enough personal disclosure," Malcolm informed her, taking her other arm. "Lunch."

Archer heaved an exaggerated sigh, then grinned at his lover. "Yes, dear."


Trip slid out from under an engine housing. "Gar?"

"Yes?" The Xynobian stood monitoring the readings on one of the consoles as Bergman, just barely visibly pregnant, adjusted settings at another.

"Get down here and check the left coupling." He forced himself to his feet. "Patel? I'd like you to switch over the relays to the new settings. Bergman, hold those settings on the right panel."

"Yes, Sir." The young woman nodded. Garalda crouched down, wrenches in hand, and wormed under the housing.

"Gar, when you're sure the coupling's as tight as you can get it, adjust the release valve."

"Got it," came a muffled voice from under the engine. "Give that booster a shot once I'm out from here." Garalda crawled back out and stretched, then crouched down for a view of the release valve.

Trip edged in beside Nereida Patel. "Okay, hit the release valve control once I start this up."

"Check." Patel pushed up her sleeves and threw a switch. Trip checked the dials, threw the booster switch, and nudged her arm. Patel crossed her fingers and switched on the release valve control.

"We've got it," Garalda called up from the floor. "Valve's working."

"Great job, everyone," Trip told them. "Take a break. Gar, you want to get something to drink?"

"Sure." Garalda reached out to grab hold of a rail and pulled himself up, then straightened out his work uniform. "I hope you're buying."

"Hey, you think a chief engineer's made of money?" Trip threw an arm over Garalda's shoulder. The gesture might have looked perfectly innocent to anyone in the room; however, Patel took a second look, catching a fast glimpse of the look on Tucker's face. She filed it away for future reference, and made a note to tell her lover, Nancy Watkins, who worked for Lieutenant Reed in the Armory. Things on board were starting to get interesting.


"But the thing that really intrigues me," Madeleine explained to Archer, Malcolm, and Trip at dinner, "is closed societies. In fact, part of why I'm here—Admiral Forrest got it authorized for me—is to look at the crew on a long-term mission like this as a closed society. You do have interaction with others, but by and large, the population is insular and self-sustaining. In those respects, diverse as the crew may be, you're still comparable to any closed society on Earth."

Trip set down his silverware for a moment, despite the excellent job Chef had done with the roast beef. "What you're sayin' then, is that you'd predict that many of the same customs and practices that develop in the protection of traditional insular societies on Earth would also crop up on board Enterprise, and that gives rise, separately, to the question of whether those behaviors are adopted by all insular societies out of need, or whether they're manifestations of primary biological impulses among all people regardless of their society of origin, since, although this is a small-scale insular society, it's made up of people who are all from non-closed societies." Archer looked over at Trip; he'd never heard Trip wax on the subject of anthropology before. They'd been friends for years; he knew Trip wasn't the yokel he liked to pretend he was, but Trip's areas of knowledge still surprised him occasionally.

Madeleine nodded excitedly, her hair bobbing at her shoulders. 'Exactly, Mr. Tucker."

"Trip, please."

"Of course. That's it exactly, Trip. Carstairs and McClanahan did an exhaustive study of remaining insular societies back in 2125, but that point was entirely omitted. The fact of the diverse backgrounds of this crew makes this particularly interesting."

"But didn't Krementz cover it in her study on space stations?" Trip continued. Malcolm was eyeing Trip now. Trip might know something of the subject, certainly, but that didn't mean he was entitled to look that interested in discussing it with Malcolm's sister, did it? Malcolm knew Trip Tucker, and this bore watching.

"Only partially, because she felt that space stations didn't really fulfill the requirements for insular societies as she predicated them. But I'm astonished to find anyone who knows her work." Madeleine returned to her roast beef. "Captain Archer, your cook is amazing. This is absolutely wonderful."

"I'll be sure to tell him." Archer grinned. "Trip, I didn't know you'd studied anthropology."

"Really, Cap'n?" Trip cocked an eye at Archer. "'Course I majored in Engineering, but I took a few courses. Did enough to do field work one summer in Central America." He looked over at Madeleine. "It's been a while, though, but if you need any help while you're here…"

"That's very kind," she told him. "I may have to take you up on that." She turned back to Archer. "Now that my justification for spending my break on board ship visiting my brother has been firmly established, is it time for me to start telling stories about him?"

"No. Absolutely not." That was Malcolm.

"Yes." "Come on, tell." Those were from Archer and Trip, simultaneously.

"Well, there was the time he poked the eye out of my favorite dolly. Her name was Matilda Louise, and she was beautiful, and she had eyes that opened and closed. I loved putting her to bed and waking her up just to watch her blink. Bogger here was playing pirate at the time, and I had to rescue Matilda Louise from walking the plank by ransoming her with a week's worth of sweets. When he was done torturing her that way, he put her one eye out so she could wear an eye patch and be a pirate, too."

Malcolm glowered. "I did *not* put her eye out. She was attacked by a crocodile in the marshes where my ship was anchored. It was entirely an accident."

"And so was putting the salt in my tea set's sugar bowl when my friends came over, I presume?"

"No, that was because Margarethe Wensleyfield was a toffee-nosed snot," Malcolm retorted. "She deserved it, the little fiend. I thought the time I dipped your tea party's lemon wedges in alum to get back at her was a much better prank."

Archer stared. "My God, I married a criminal maniac."

"It was merely the start of my path towards a career in destruction." Malcolm gazed at her smugly. "It made me what I am today."

"Yep," Trip snickered. "A paranoid guy with an obsession for explosives."

"Explosives!" Madeleine snickered. "What about the time you blew up the gardener's shed at school?"

"What about it?" Malcolm defended as a steward removed his plate. "It wasn't my fault. I wasn't ready to design my own explosives at the time so I was completely reliant on the ones Bridey McMahon was cooking up in the labs after classes. Everything else went perfectly. My launcher worked, my trajectory calculations worked—if Bridey had only formulated his fuel mixture correctly, the headmaster's office would have had a beautiful hole in the window. But no, the thing petered out and landed in the gardener's shed, and the chemicals ignited. I'm certainly not responsible for that, and you can't prove otherwise."

"Boy, Malcolm," Trip laughed, rubbing his hands together, "you ain't changed one bit."

"I certainly have," Malcolm proclaimed. "I've learned that if I want a job done right I have to do damned near everything myself. Particularly weapons design."

"On that note," Archer sighed, "I think we'd better break up this party. Hoshi and Travis are expecting Malcolm to bring Madeleine along for the movie tonight."

"Sure you won't come?" Malcolm asked Archer.

"No. T'Pol and I have some reports to go over. And you know the crew's a little more relaxed when I'm not there. You and Madeleine go have a good time. She can call it research."

"Very well, then. See you later, love." Malcolm leaned over and kissed Archer quickly; the kiss was returned, equally briefly. "Have a good evening."

"As much as I can. You two get moving."

Malcolm escorted Madeleine out of the captain's mess. Madeleine turned to him. "I like him, Malcolm. Even if he is damn fool enough to worship the ground you walk on." "Don't be silly."

"I'm not. He's practically wearing his heart on his sleeve. He absolutely adores you." She allowed her brother to lead her towards the movie screening. "I wish I'd meet someone like that."

"You're certainly making a hit with Trip."

"Oh, right." Malcolm steered her down an inner corridor. "He's perfectly nice, and he does know his stuff, but he was just being friendly," she insisted. "I might ask him to help me a little, though. It's always nice to have someone around who knows a little about what I'm doing."

"Just watch out for him. Trip's…um…"

"A ladies' man? I rather figured that. Thanks, Bogger, you're a love, but I *am* capable of taking care of myself. Let me handle that, and you take care of your husband. I think that's a fair division of labor."


Jonathan Archer blinked his eyes in the darkened cabin, adjusting his eyes again to the dim light so that he could see the man curled up against his side. Malcolm Reed lay there in the half-darkness, nearly asleep, hair tousled against the pillow, lips bruised and swollen from kissing. Normally Archer found Malcolm attractive, certainly—to call him classically handsome would have failed to describe him—but at moments like this, seeing Malcolm sleepy and sated from their lovemaking, he found the younger man especially desirable.

It would amaze Malcolm's friends, Archer thought, and possibly even his sister, if they saw him alone with Archer. Military discipline, British reserve, whatever they chose to term his apparently natural reticence, was something Malcolm left at the cabin door. That reticence wasn't natural to him when he was with his lover. In bed, Malcolm was every bit as uninhibited as he appeared to be reserved elsewhere. His utter abandon when making love to Archer, the sheer wantonness with which he offered himself up to be made love to, as he had that night, would no doubt astonish them if they knew of it. The fact that no one else knew of it, that Malcolm revealed that depth of passion only to him, was particularly satisfying to him. Malcolm's passion was an intensely personal gift to him, and he always found himself responding to it as he had never responded to any other lover.

Malcolm opened one eye sleepily. "Penny for your thoughts?"

"Just how glad I am that I married you."

The answer prompted a burrowing movement up against Archer's body, leaving Malcolm's head pillowed on Archer's shoulder. "No happier than I am."


The buzzer to Trip's cabin sounded. "Come in." The door slid open, and Garalda entered.

"You busy?"

Trip looked up from the padd he was studying. "Never too busy for you, lover." He leaned back into an embrace from Garalda as the Xynobian engineer peered at the padd intently.

"And not too busy to be looking over Professor Reed's field notes, either, I see."

Trip shrugged. The shrug felt good; it rubbed him directly against Garalda's chest. "I offered to give her a hand with this study she's doin' on ship. I'm summarizin' results on some interviews she did the past few days. It's kinda fun; haven't done this since college." He tossed the padd aside.

"Lieutenant Reed's sister is a very attractive woman," Garalda observed. "Is she one of those Earth women who is interested in men?"

"No clue," Trip told him. "I ain't asked, and she ain't told me. But she's a looker. Jealous?"

Garalda bent over and nibbled on Trip's neck. "Maybe. You're spending a lot of time with her."

"I'm spendin' one hell of a lot of time with you, lover," Trip growled, grabbing at Garalda's arm. "And you're wastin' some of that time tonight with us still bein' in our clothes." He rose from the desk and turned to begin tugging at Garalda's uniform.

Garalda held Trip back for one second. "You've always liked women, Trip. You're sure you wouldn't rather be with her?"

Trip blinked. "I don't even know if she's interested."

"But you didn't tell me that you're not interested," Garalda replied.

"Look, Gar, I can't say I'm not interested in an attractive, intelligent woman. But that isn't sayin' I'm not interested in a hot, handsome, brilliant engineer. The one who's right in here with me and better let me get those clothes off of him 'fore I have to have a fight about it with him."

Garalda relented. "Well, when you put it like that…you humans do keep your cabins terribly warm." He let go of Trip and threw off his uniform shirt. "Any better?"

Trip sat down on his bunk. "Hmm…a little…maybe you need to get a little cooler, though?" Trip unzipped his own uniform jumpsuit and shrugged out of the sleeves. "And I might have to join you."

Realizing that he was being watched, Garalda began peeling off the remainder of his uniform more slowly, stretching and flexing his muscles as he did so. "Oh, I think you'd better join me. I'd get awfully bored having to do this all myself…"

"But it'd be so much fun to watch it," Trip purred back, shedding the jumpsuit entirely.

"Oh, you'll have more fun helping." Garalda moved down to the bunk himself. "So you might as well start helping yourself."

Trip pushed Garalda down on the bed, fastening his lips to an exposed nipple. "Might as well start helpin' myself right here, huh?" He began laving Garalda's chest with his tongue, feeling the Xynobian writhing under him, solid muscle moving under smooth skin. One hand slid up to caress the side of Garalda's face; the other moved considerably lower, finding its way to the other engineer's erection. "Hmm…maybe I'd like helpin' myself to this even better…" He wriggled down the bunk, along Garalda's body, until he was able to take his lover's length in his mouth.

Garalda bucked under the sensation of being engulfed in Trip's mouth. "Damn, you've gotten good at that."

Trip let go of Garalda long enough to blurt out, "An engineer's gotta be a quick study." Returning to the focus of his attention, he swirled his tongue over the head of his lover's cock, then down the ridge on the underside. Garalda let out a moan as Trip ran his lips over him, then swallowed him once again and began sucking his lover in earnest.

"Gods, Trip…yeah, damn it…faster, yeah…that's it…oh…yeah, like that…" The flood of words devolved into a long groan as the Xynobian came in his lover's mouth. Trip swallowed, then slid back up the bed to wrap an arm around his partner, watching Garalda relax against him. "Whoo. Anything I can do for you?" Garalda finally inquired.

"You're tired," Trip told him. "Maybe in the mornin', gorgeous." He reached over to dim the cabin lights. "Let's get some sleep."

"What time should I leave?"

"Leave? Didn't know you were in a rush. How 'bout you just stay the night?" Trip suggested. "Looks as bad to go sneakin' around at this point, if not worse, than just getting' up in the mornin' and leavin' then, and it's a lot less comfortable." Trip reached around to set the alarm on his chronograph. "So you just settle on in, okay?"


T'Pol, Trip, and Malcolm were gathered in Archer's ready room, musing over away-mission protocols with Archer. Madeleine sat in a corner, padd in hand, watching the attempted consensus-building process. The attempted, or alleged, consensus-building procedure could be described simply, Madeleine thought. Everyone else made suggestions; T'Pol shot them down as illogical. Malcolm proposed that the ship's captain had no business going on almost all away-missions; Archer shot his lover down in flames. T'Pol proposed that safety precautions needed to be stressed considering Trip's track record for injuries; Malcolm agreed, Trip objected, and Archer looked for a place to hide. That put the away-mission protocol back into Malcolm's court.

"I wouldn't be objecting to your going on so many away-missions, Captain, if, indeed, we had the protocols in place that T'Pol is proposing. Our safety record is far from unimpeachable. I really must suggest that for first contacts planetside we need a larger security detail and fewer officers. We're only lucky no one's been killed to date. Senior officers, such as yourself and Commander Tucker, are not expendable."

"No one's expendable, Mr. Reed."

"Be that as it may, Captain, if anyone's in the line of fire, it should at least be someone whose job it is to deal with that, and not someone whose job is to direct the activity of everyone else on this ship."

"I appreciate your concern, Mr. Reed, but at the moment the answer is no, to you and to T'Pol. If an initial contact is non-hostile, I believe that the presence of a higher-ranking officer is important for credibility. And despite both of your concerns, I think that any serious change in protocol on the matter needs to come from Starfleet, not from below. And that's my final word on the subject right now."

The rest of the officers accepted the dismissal. Trip nodded to Malcolm on the way out of the ready room. "Look, Malcolm, I don't know about the rest of it, but you're right that the Cap'n's on entirely too many of the away-missions. And he's about as likely to ask Starfleet if a change in protocol's in order as I am to quit eatin' fried chicken. You need to keep pesterin' him about this one."

"Are you serious?"

Trip stared Malcolm down. "No one else has a better opportunity to keep makin' the point. If he's not listenin' in meetings, maybe he'll buy some pillow talk."

Malcolm moved to his station on the Bridge as Trip followed. "Trip," Malcolm mouthed, "I absolutely hate the idea of using my personal relationship to the Captain to try pressing any kind of advantage."

"Yeah? Try tellin' yourself that if Jon gets killed. I'm only his friend. He's married to you. You've got home court advantage back in your quarters, and y' ain't doin' it for you, you're doin' it for all of us. He might listen to you when there's nobody else around to posture in front of."

"Look, I'll see. I can't promise anything."

"Just try, Malcolm. That's all. Just try." Trip patted Reed on the shoulder and departed for Engineering before Archer came onto the Bridge.


The party in the C Deck lounge was in full swing. Any reason was reason enough for a party among the crew; the ostensible excuse that night was a joint birthday party for Ensign Martsoff and Crewman Sorenson, although there was no doubt that at least a few people were more interested in seeing one of the other party guests, Malcolm's sister. Madeleine Reed was in a corner, mostly chatting with her brother and being aware that she was an object of observation.

One of the observers wandered over with a glass of punch. "Here y'go; y' looked thirsty," Trip announced, handing her the glass.

'Thanks, Trip," Madeleine sighed. "I don't know if it's just me or it's warm in here."

"It's prob'ly my fault," Trip apologized. "The joys of recycled air. I'll buzz Engineerin' and have someone check th' system."

"Don't do all that just for me," she protested.

"Why not?" Trip countered. "Can't have a pretty lady like you swelterin' in th' lounge, can I?"

"That's extremely kind of you." She smiled back at Trip, who excused himself and headed for a comm panel to order an air system check. Meanwhile, Hoshi, with Watkins and Patel in tow, made a beeline for Madeleine to introduce her to a few of the other women.

When Trip returned to the area, Madeleine was in the middle of a cluster. Malcolm wasn't. He walked over to Trip, glowering.

"What's up, Malcolm?" Trip asked. "The Cap'n give you a bad time about the away-mission issue?"

"I haven't spoken to him privately yet," Reed stated flatly. "I'll let you know when I do, if you're still alive."

"What're you talkin' 'bout?" Trip goggled.

"What do you think you're doing with my sister?"

"Me?" Trip gulped. "Nothin'. What's this about?"

"You're flirting with my sister, Trip. You obviously don't care about your continued existence, do you?"

"Look," Trip defended, "I flirt. Y'know that. It's perfectly harmless."

"I don't care, Trip. Quit it. If you're going to play both sides of the fence, don't drag my sister into it; it's not fair."

"Malcolm! I am *not* playin' for both teams."

"Oh? I suppose you have a new term for it, then? I thought you were busy engaging in interplanetary bedroom diplomacy with our Xynobian acquaintances."

Trip stared in amazement. "How'd you know about that?"

"Never mind," Malcolm snorted. "I don't care about you and Garalda, except that it pisses me to hell that Jon and I had to listen to your rant about us and then you turn around and wind up with a Xynobian engineer in your bed. But if you're going to go around experimenting with your sexuality all over the goddamned galaxy, keep my sister out of your lab, for Christ's sakes."

"Malcolm, I'm not after Madeleine, all right?"

Reed raised an eyebrow at Tucker. "You'd better not be. If either of your hands gets closer to her than handling her research materials, there's going to be a phase pistol jammed in a part of your body that Subcommander Garalda's going to miss."

Trip sighed. "Look, Malcolm, I'm seein' someone. I've never gone around playin' the field when I'm involved, and I'm not startin' now. Yeah, I'm seein' a guy. I don't know what that means yet. I don't know how serious it is. But I'm not gonna fuck it up getting' involved with anyone else right now. To be honest, if I weren't seein' Gar, I'd be very interested in your sister. She's good-lookin', she's intelligent—damn, she's a lot like you, actually. But my dance card's booked right now, okay?" He clamped a hand to Malcolm's shoulder.

Malcolm nodded slowly at Trip. "Okay. I'll trust you on it. Just as long as you know where I stand on it."

"Oh, I know. You're almost as possessive about your sister as you are about your husband. I can read that loud and clear." Trip dropped the topic, and changed his expression radically, as Madeleine came back over. "Welcome back, Maddy. Room any better?"

"It certainly is. You didn't change the air system just for me, did you?"

"Of course I did. Wouldn't 've done it for anyone else. Can I get you another drink? How about you, Malcolm?"

Malcolm had to marvel at Trip's resilience. "Thanks, but no. I should get moving shortly. I have a business meeting with the Captain before bed. He'll find out about it when I start it."


Watkins and Patel were still talking to Hoshi.

"You two look wonderful," Hoshi gushed. "Married life's obviously agreeing with you."

Watkins nodded. "It's great, Hoshi—you should try it. You keep trying to fix everyone else up—we need to find somebody for you. Besides, Nereida and I owe you for fixing us up last year."

Patel squeezed Watkins' waist. "Really, Hoshi, you need to think about yourself for once. Quit worrying about Travis and start looking for someone for yourself before we do it for you."

Watkins laughed. "Definitely, woman. We have to get you a date. What do you like? Muscles? Brains? Commander Tucker? Half of the women on ship are lined up for him but I bet Nereida can move you up the list."

Patel slapped her face. "Damn, I forgot to tell you! Ladies, I think Commander Tucker's been taken off the eligibility list."

Watkins goggled at her partner. "No."


Hoshi began bouncing on her toes. "Who? Who? Why haven't I heard?"

Patel gestured for the other two women to move in closer. "You'll never believe what I saw in Engineering yesterday. I forgot to tell you, Nancy. Guess who Commander Tucker was looking at like he hadn't eaten in a week? And who left with him afterwards?"

"No. Who?"

Patel dropped her arms around the other two women and lowered her head, her hair falling over her shoulders. "Subcommander Garalda."

"No way!" That from Watkins.

"He's a guy!" That from a bemused Hoshi. "I thought he only liked women."

"Surprise, surprise," Patel snickered. "I don't think so."

Watkins pursed her lips. "So does anyone else know?"

"I don't think so."

"Well, I guess we shouldn't tell anyone. We didn't tell anyone about Lieutenant Reed and the Captain."

"Yeah, but Lieutenant Reed asked us not to. Besides, that wasn't news. Tucker and a guy? That's big news."

"We really shouldn't spread it around," Hoshi sighed. "But I wonder if it's serious? Subcommander Garalda's only here on a temporary assignment. I hope they can work it out." She clasped her hands together anxiously. "It would be so nice if they were serious."

"You just want another wedding," Watkins accused Hoshi.

"Of course. I love weddings. Nereida, you have to keep an eye on them. Figure out what's going on there. We need to make sure they stick together."

Watkins turned her head. "Then you'd better keep the Commander away from the Lieutenant's sister," she said, watching Tucker and Madeleine Reed talking.

"But they're working together on Professor Reed's project," Patel objected. "There's nothing wrong with that. And we shouldn't interfere with it, either."

"Right," Hoshi said, "but you need to make sure that he doesn't get distracted."

"Shhh," Patel fussed, watching Tucker and Madeleine. She looked over the two. "It looks okay to me. He's just doing his usual routine over there. He flirts with everyone. Even me, and he knows how far that'll get him."

"Well, if you're sure…" Hoshi trailed off. Seeing Travis beyond Tucker, talking to one of the crewwomen from lab sciences, the subject changed to Mayweather's prospects with the biochemist.


Malcolm Reed woke groggily, feeling most of the bones in his body aching as he raised himself into a sitting position on the couch in his quarters. "Ugh."

Jonathan Archer looked over from his position on their bed. "Sleep well?"

"Horribly. I think I'm allergic to morning. Today, anyway. How did you sleep?"

"Miserably. Sleeping alone with you on the other side of the cabin was terrible."

"Try sleeping on this couch. If I'm uncomfortable, you'd die. It's not nearly your size."

"I have a better idea. Let's try not having any more rip-roaring arguments immediately before bed." Archer propped himself up on his elbow. "I think we need to set some ground rules about a few things."

Malcolm tried stretching, feeling joints popping back into place. "Apparently so. My mother always said that going to bed angry was a bad idea. I'd have to say she was right. We might start with that."

"Agreed. And I might start off by apologizing to you about losing my temper. I didn't realize that the away-mission protocols issue made you that upset."

"It's not just me, love. T'Pol's got a point, you know. Even Trip's concerned; in fact, he's the one who asked me to bring it back up to you."

"All right," Archer sighed, "I'll re-evaluate the matter. I promise."

"I should apologize, too," Malcolm stated as he moved towards the bed. "I lost my temper, too."

"Not until after I did. I can't blame you for getting upset. I was pretty awful, I'm afraid."

"At least you didn't try pulling rank on me."

Archer shook his head. "I'd never do that to you, love—not in here, not under any circumstances. If I've kept anything in mind, that's been it. I don't wear my rank in bed, and I'm certainly not going to wear it at home. On duty, that's one thing. In here, I'd never forgive myself—and you wouldn't, either. So…forgive me?"

Malcolm crawled onto the bunk, straddling Archer's hips. "Hmm. You'll just have to make it up to me, then." He ran a hand along the side of Archer's face. "What do you say to that?"

"I think I could handle that…" Archer growled, running his hands along Malcolm's sides, feeling muscle rippling under smooth skin as he trailed Malcolm's body. Malcolm responded with a groan, falling forward and propping himself with one arm as his free hand traced a pattern through Archer's chest hair. Archer responded by reaching up to Malcolm's nipples, feeling them harden under his touch.

Malcolm lowered himself onto Archer's chest, leaning down further to take possession of Archer's lips with his own, gently at first, then with increasing fervor as his lover responded. As they kissed, Archer reached out, fumbling, for a small tube that was pressed, wordlessly, into Malcolm's hand.

Malcolm's eyes flickered onto the tube as he broke the embrace. "I gather you want me on top…"

Archer laughed mirthlessly. "I certainly fucked you over last night, love; I think it's your turn."

Malcolm pressed a finger to Archer's lips, shaking his head. "It doesn't work that way. Getting even's for enemies, not lovers. I'll be on top, but only because we'd both enjoy it, not to make some kind of point. We shouldn't use sex—or not having it—like that."

"Fair enough. Now, come on already."

Malcolm smiled at him. "Oh…anxious, are we?" In answer, his lover merely glowered.

Their lovemaking was harder and faster than usual, partly out of Malcolm's own desire, but partly out of Archer's own seeking of absolution for the night before; the gentler, slower pace Malcolm normally took was hardly what his lover wanted or needed now. Malcolm climaxed quickly; his hand had barely touched Archer's erection when Archer also erupted, the evidence of his own passion covering both of them.

Malcolm finally withdrew from Archer to curl against his side. "What time are you due on the Bridge?"

"I'll be fine if I skip breakfast. Don't worry," Archer told him.

"I always worry. It's my job."

"Getting to the Bridge on time or not because you seduced me is hardly a security matter."

"It could be. What if there was an attack on the ship while you were running late?"

"Then we'd get a rude interruption. Between Porthos and Trip, that's happened before. Relax."

"Relaxing is definitely *not* in my job description."

"I'll have it rewritten for you. Right after the part about fucking the captain senseless on demand."

"So that's what you really hired me for?"

"I'm afraid my guilty secret's been discovered." Archer kissed Malcolm's cheek. "And with that, I'm going to go shower."


Madeleine Reed sat in a spare chair in Trip's cabin as the engineer ran data through the ship's computer system. "There y'go," he pronounced, "full set of correlations on that interview data from the past two weeks." He saved it to a personal disk and handed it to her. He sipped at a beer that had been standing on the desk; Madeleine drank from a bottle she was holding.

"Thanks very much, Trip," she told him. "That helps me considerably."

"Just glad I could do it. The things I'm findin' out about some of my crewmates, it's fascinatin' me." He flashed a toothy grin at her; she smiled back.

"Glad you're enjoying yourself."

"Havin' a blast. Say, y'know who you need to talk to? Travis, our navigator—you've met him a couple of times, I think. He's a boomer. Born on a ship, never set foot on Earth until he joined Starfleet. There's a perspective for you."

"I didn't think of that. Thanks very much; I'll talk to him tomorrow." She took another pull at the longneck, then stared across the cabin at the opposite wall. "Trip?"


" Can I ask you something?"

"Sure, ask away." He turned his chair away from the desk to face her.

"Bo—um, Malcolm—had told me about you once or twice, and I got the impression you were a bit of a, um, ladies' man. But I haven't seen anything resembling that. Is that just a story that's gotten around about you, or…"


"Or don't you find me attractive?" She looked over the neck of the bottle at Trip, her gray eyes taking in the details of his face, trying to read his expression. "I was rather hoping things might get a little more…personal between us."

Trip blushed slightly, an uncommon event for the chief engineer, and set down his beer. "Maddy…trust me, it's not you. Not in the least. I wasn't kiddin' when I told you at the party how pretty you are. If things were different, I'd've asked you out in a heartbeat. But your brother's a good friend of mine—and he's married to my very best friend, who's only the captain of this ship. If I'd'a made a pass at you and you said no, I'd be as good as dead. Not to mention that if you'd say yes and your brother found out…"

"Oh, Bogger's bark's worse than his bite. Usually, anyway." She fingered the top button of her shirt. "If that's your biggest concern…I can handle Malcolm. I always have."

"Uh, Maddy…" Trip ran a hand over his face. "There's somethin' else. And it's kinda more important than that. I've been keepin' it quiet, but I'm seein' somebody. Like I say, if things were different, I'd be very interested, but I'm not exactly available."

Madeleine fidgeted behind her beer bottle. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"I don't think too many people do. I'm kinda hopin' they don't; not yet, anyway."

"Why?" she asked. "As outgoing as you are, keeping a relationship that close to your chest doesn't sound like you. Is she married?"

Trip deliberated for a moment. "That ain't it, exactly…"

As he fumbled for words, the door slid open and Garalda strode into the cabin. "Hey, you." Then he noticed the visitor. "Oh, hello, Professor Reed."

The fact that Garalda knew Trip's access code wasn't lost on Madeleine. She nodded understandingly at Trip. "No need to explain."

Garalda stood behind Trip. "Am I interrupting something? Is this a bad time? I can come back if you're still working."

Madeleine shook her head. "Nonsense. Trip and I were just finishing up some work and wasting time talking about nothing."

"Actually, Gar, I was telling her about us."

Garalda looked down at his seated lover. "Really? I thought you were trying to keep things quiet."

"Turns out Malcolm and the Cap'n already know anyway." Madeleine blinked, as did Trip's lover. "Malcolm told me at the party. I don't think anyone else does—least, I hope not."

"Malcolm knows?" Madeleine asked. "He's never said a word to me."

Trip reached up and slid his hand along Garalda's arm. "I don't even know how he found out. Don't care, actually. I'm startin' to be glad someone does know, anyway. This business keepin' things quiet's a pain in the ass."

Garalda chuckled, dropping his other arm along Trip's chest. "So, ready to move to Xynobia with me?"

"Not on your life."

Madeleine set down her empty bottle. "On *that* note, gentlemen, I'm going to say goodnight." She picked up her folders and the disk Trip had saved. "Thanks again, Trip. And I'll be sure to talk to Travis. His background's so different from everyone else's; I'm sure the information will be valuable. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Night, Maddy." Trip leaned back into Garalda's embrace.

"So, was I interrupting something?"

"Not in the least." The answer was true enough; nothing had happened. And far be it for Trip Tucker to be caught dead giving away the details of a lady's private conversation. Especially when it had involved making a pass at him.


"Sato to Reed."

Madeleine pressed the comm panel's switch. "Reed here."

"Maddy? I have a private transmission download for you. I can download here and send it to you, or I can download it to the system in your cabin. Which would you prefer?"

"Can I save it to personal audio or video disk from the system here?"

"Not a problem," Hoshi told her.

"Thanks. I'll take it here."

"Signal me when you're ready for me to redirect to your system."

"Can do. Reed out." Madeleine switched off the comm and moved over to the desk. She pressed the sequence for signaling the communications conn and watched the download begin.

When she had watched the entire message, she put a personal disk in the system and ordered a message save. She wasn't going to waste what she'd just seen. The transmission saved, she pocketed the disk and left her quarters.

Her destination was not that far off from the cabin she'd been occupying—it was, in fact, the cabin her brother shared with the man he'd married. Madeleine buzzed at the door.

"Come in." She entered the cabin and found Malcolm curled up on the bunk reading while Archer sat at one of the desks working on a report. "Oh, hello, Madeleine," Archer said. "Malcolm," he coughed, "your sister's here."

"Oh." Diverted from his reading, Malcolm put the book down.

"You're nose in," Madeleine observed, "and with your nose, that's saying something. What are you reading?"

Malcolm grinned as he sat up. "Waugh. 'Brideshead Revisited.'"

"*Oh*. Interesting choice, Bogger."

Archer looked up from his report. "Malcolm's the intellectual, I'm afraid. I stick to technical journals, sports, and biographies. I gather I'm missing something?"

Madeleine laughed. "It's the story of a middle-class boy who falls in love with a rich boy at university, gets intimidated by the rich boy's titled father, and leaves his boyfriend to marry his boyfriend's sister. Or something like that."

"Close enough," Malcolm agreed.

"I hope this means I'm not supposed to leave you for your sister," Archer asked.

"Most definitely not. Because then I'd have to kill both of you, and I'd miss my sister." Malcolm stretched as his lover pondered the implication of Malcolm's latest general death threat. "Anyway, Snotter, I presume you dropped by to do more than squeeze all of Waugh into one sentence."

"Of course, stupid. I was going to squeeze all of Forster into one sentence next. Starting with 'Maurice', just for you."

"Do you think you could explain Joyce while you're at it?" Archer asked. "I'm still trying to figure out how Malcolm reads him. I can't make heads or tails of Joyce."

"I can explain Joyce in two words," Madeleine pronounced. "He's Irish. End of story."

"Now, wait," Malcolm protested. "There's more to Joyce than that."

"Okay," Madeleine relented. "He's Irish and he has a thing for some girl named Molly. End of story. Next up, Shakespeare."

"What *are* you doing here, Snotter?"

"I come bearing gifts." She dangled the disk in front of her brother.

"'I fear the geek even when she bears gifts,'" Malcolm mis- paraphrased from first-year Latin.

"Very funny, Bogger. Just for that, you can play it without me." The disk was tossed to Malcolm carelessly. He caught it as she headed for the door. "I think you and Jon should probably play it without me anyway. Three's a crowd. I'll see you later." She slipped out as Malcolm examined the disk.

Archer looked over at his lover. "Are you going to play it?"

"I may as well. Lord only knows what she's up to." Malcolm rose and carried the disk to the other desk, at which he usually worked when in the cabin. His movement startled Porthos, who had been napping under the desk. Porthos had taken to napping near Malcolm's desk, along with hiding Malcolm's uniform shirts in his doggie bed.

Malcolm ran the playback, Archer coming up behind him to see what it was. The monitor showed a picture of a somewhat older woman, graying hair swept up. Archer recognized the face from one brief contact during their first year out.

"Madeleine, it's your mother. I hope all is going well for you. Needless to say, I was surprised to hear that you are on your brother's ship. I certainly have not discussed it with your father; his reaction would, I think, be quite predictable.

"Thank you for relaying the news from Malcolm. I hear little or nothing from him, which I suppose satisfies your father. Your father never bothers to play messages from you, and barely listens to anything I tell him you've said, so you need have no fear that anything you've told me will get back to him. I can only suppose that the fact that he was never there while the two of you grew up explains his inability to care about anything either of you does now. A pity, as I'm so very proud of both of you. I have no idea what would be required to make your father view your brother as anything except the worst disappointment in his life. How he can be so obsessed with your brother's choice of service astounds me, and I was raised in the Navy myself. There are very few applicants accepted as Starfleet officers; I can understand that this is an honor, even if he cannot. But you and I have discussed all this before.

"So Malcolm is married? I regret to hear it, but only because it pains me as a mother to discover that my child's done something like that, and I knew nothing about it and couldn't be there. To a man? That hardly surprises me; I rather expected that, but then, I'm his mother. I don't think your father has ever noticed anything about either of you. I gather you've known about your brother for years, but you two were always very close. I've never known, but I always thought as much. Surely you realize that it makes no difference to me; I have only wanted both of you to be happy. I think, on the other hand, your father needn't know this yet. Part of his ego is his family name. I doubt if the concept that your brother is involved with a man would in itself be as disturbing to him as the thought that the all-important Reed name is simply not being carried on. That, however, is a theory I don't choose to test at this time.

"Thank you for telling me about Jonathan Archer. All that I know of the man, I suppose, is what was shown on the news when Enterprise was commissioned for this mission, and what we hear on the news occasionally when Starfleet reports that they've discovered something. Other than that, I have seen him once, when he spoke to us concerning your brother before his birthday the other year. I admit I was struck, even then, by the thought that a man who barely knew my son was more interested in finding out about him than his own father ever has been. I don't believe that it occurred to me then that he might be in love with Malcolm. Apparently he was. You've always been a good judge of character, dear; I'll accept your evaluation of the man until I have a chance to see him for myself. If he is even half the man you say he is, I am happy for Malcolm. I doubt if that would give him much consolation—it's his father's approval he's always wanted, and that's the one thing I believe he will never have. Your father is too stubborn and too proud to admit he could ever be wrong about anything. That, however, is your father's loss, not Malcolm's.

"You might tell Malcolm to write to me. Your father is far too self-absorbed to be concerned about anything not addressed directly to him; that's something I suppose Malcolm has never realized. If nothing else, I should appreciate the chance to hear from him about the one thing that's finally succeeded in making him happy. If he has succeeded in making my child happy, then Jonathan Archer is a far more important man than the media say he is.

"Please give my love to your brother, and again, you might tell him to write to me. He should know by now that, unlike his father, I will actually respond to him. I love both of you. Be sure to tell him." The picture faded from the screen.

Malcolm stared as Archer went back over to his desk and began rummaging. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for a disk. I think I owe a letter to my mother-in-law."


Madeleine took a last look over her luggage. The shuttlepod that would drop her off at Starbase 6 was leaving shortly. Everything seemed to be in order. She hugged Trip. "Thanks for the help."

"Anytime," he told her, hugging back.

"And…good luck. With—you know."

"Thanks." He gave her a kiss on the cheek, under the distant but menacing watch of her older brother, who was finishing shuttlepod departure preparations.

"Can I help you load that?" The question came from Travis, who had just shown up in the launch bay.

"Why, thank you very much," Madeleine said, beaming. "That would be lovely." The tone in her voice caught Malcolm's attention…and why in blazes wasn't it aimed at Trip?

"Didn't want you to leave without my getting to say goodbye again." Travis stashed her bags in the shuttle. Malcolm looked over at Trip, questioning. Trip made a face and shrugged.

"So, are you going to write to me?" Madeleine asked the navigator.

"Only if you promise to write back." He put a muscular arm around her and kissed her firmly.

"I—I think I can manage that." She grinned back at Travis.

"You better, little girl." He patted her on the shoulder.

Malcolm jumped out of the shuttlepod. "Travis, may I have a word with you?"


Trip, having a far better clue as to what was about to happen than Travis did, began backing towards the exit.

"Travis," Malcolm pursued, closing in on the younger man, "you just kissed my sister."

"Uh, yeah, I did."

"Would you enlighten me as to just what's been going on with you and my sister?" Malcolm's voice had dropped to a growl as he came up on Travis.

"Hey, easy there, Malcolm. Nothing." Travis put his hands up. "I promise, okay?"

"I don't think that looked—or sounded—like 'nothing', Travis…" Malcolm was turning an astonishing shade of purple. If it had been humanly possible for steam to come out of his ears, steam would have been roiling.

"Look, Malcolm, she went out with me and Hoshi a couple of times, she interviewed me, and I—all I did was show her some zero-gravity tricks and stuff…"

"Zero-gravity?" Malcolm all but shouted. "I *know* what you can bloody do in zero gravity! And so help me, Travis, if you tried that with my sister—!" Malcolm set chase after the navigator, who was trying to do the equivalent of ducking out of the way of an enraged bull elephant.

Madeleine turned to Trip. "What's Malcolm talking about?"

Trip blushed. "It's not fit for ladies. Trust me." He nodded towards the shuttlepod. "You want to wait for Malcolm to finish killin' Travis, or should I just take you down there myself?"

She considered for a moment. "Maybe you'd better. He looks like he's going to be a while flaying Travis alive. Lead on, MacDuff." Trip took Madeleine's arm as she stepped into the shuttlepod. "Thanks. Isn't Garalda coming to see me off?"

"I wish, but he's with Patel fixing a cooling duct problem," Trip explained as he clambered into the pod. "Too bad. He really had one hell of a time the other night," Trip chuckled.

"You mean he had more fun than I had watching when you two were going at it?" Madeleine asked incredulously.

"Hell, I think you nearly converted a Xynobian male there, Maddy. I mean, I was impressed."

She laughed, her hair bouncing as she did. "Oh, come on, you weren't too shabby yourself."

"Hey," Trip winced, "you said I was a lot better than that when we were doing it."

"I've…reconsidered. Garalda's much better," she said, teasing.

"His first time? I don't think so!"

"He was incredible," Madeleine corrected. "Best Twister player I've ever met anywhere."

"The hell you say," Trip snarled. "I won the ship championship last quarter." He adjusted his seat and hailed the Bridge. "Shuttlepod Two, preparing to launch."

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