TITLE: A Mere Formality

AUTHOR: Julian Lee

EMAIL: thwarted1066@yahoo.com

URL: http://www.geocities.com/thwarted1066/index.html

DATE: 10/21/02

CATEGORY: Archer/Tucker


ARCHIVE: To list archives; all others please ask, though I probably won't say no.

DISCLAIMER: May the Rodenberry empire live long and prosper. I'm making no money off this (or anything else, come to that), so please don't sue.

SUMMARY: "Computer, pause recording," or, how one interview with Captain Archer became the most painful ten minutes of Trip's life.

NOTES: For Angie, who waved, and then prodded; and for Gayle, who chose wisely.

COMMENTS: "…and several of them said, 'Couldn't help but notice,' <snip, snip> 'trouble with the link,' etc. etc., 'do you think you could repost?'" To quote Charlie Korsmo: "Do I? Boy, do I ever!" So here, once again, is the fic. Enjoy. -Julian.

"April 10, 2150. This is a recording of the interview between Captain Jonathan Archer of the Starship Enterprise, and Commander Charles Tucker III, Starfleet. Computer, pause recording." Jon looked across the desk. "What are you smirking at?"

"Nothin'." The twinkle in Trip's eyes belied his words. "Just can't get over you sayin' that—'Captain Jonathan Archer of the Starship Enterprise.' Sounds real good."

"Thank you." Jon smiled almost shyly. "Can we get on with it?"

Trip waved his hand airily. "Be my guest, Cap'n."

Jon rolled his eyes. "Computer, resume recording. Commander Tucker, you have petitioned to be the chief engineer for Enterprise's forthcoming mission, is that correct?"

"Yes, sir."

"Your Academy and service records attest to your abilities and accomplishments, and Admiral Forrest's recommendation is most impressive."

"Thank you, sir."

"Computer, pause recording." Jon's eyes narrowed, and he peered anxiously at Trip. "For God's sake, Trip, would you relax? This is just a formality, you know that."

Trip shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Sorry, Jon; I can't help it. I've never had to sit through one of these official interviews before."

"I know. I've been doing them all week, and I'm about to request that the crew be assembled by dart-board." He shook his head. "Yesterday I was talking with the tac officer the Admiral keeps going on about—Malcolm Reed?—and the man is such a stickler for protocol and regulations…he's clearly the most qualified for the job, but I can't imagine being on ship with him for five years. He seemed very…disapproving of me."

Trip grinned in spite of himself. "He's British, Cap'n. They do things funny over there."

"I will refrain from making the obvious comment about the South."

"And you'd be real smart to do that." Trip winked.

"So, will you relax? Pretend you're stll a student at the Academy, trying to impress Angela Brody with tales of your remarkable engineering talents." The men chuckled at the memory. "Computer, resume recording. Commander Tucker, please describe a situation in which you…"

As Jon outlined the kind of interview question Trip had hoped he'd avoided by joining Starfleet—the brain-numbing "what three words best describe you" crap that didn't tell anyone a damned thing about a man's ability to do a job—Trip let his mind wander a bit. He *would* make it through this interview. The alternative was unthinkable.

"Computer, pause recording."

Trip looked up. Jon was glaring at him. "What?"

"Are you going to answer the question any time before Enterprise is scheduled to leave?"

"I'm sorry, Cap'n. What was the question?"

With an exasperated sigh, Jon stood and came around the front of the desk. "What's wrong?"

Trip's eyes widened. "You're kiddin' me. I'm sittin' here in uniform, shoes all shined up and everything, across the desk from the man I've shared a bed with for goin' on three years now, and who I hope will be my C.O. on a deep-space mission for the next five, tryin' to survive the interview that will decide if I get to go on that mission—and you want to know what's *wrong*?"

"I've told you a dozen times—the interview is a formality." Jon sighed and perched on the edge of his desk. "Your record—"

"My record won't matter a damn if everyone thinks I get this job just 'cause I'm sleeping with the Captain."

"Damn it, Trip, you're the best man for the job!"

"The job of sleeping with the Captain?"

Jon slammed his hand down on the desk. "For God's sake, Trip—" He stopped abruptly and shook his head. "Can we, maybe, start over?"

Trip took several deep breaths and brought his heart rate back to its normal level. "A course. I'm sorry, Cap'n."

Jon smiled and reached down, touching Trip's hand lightly. "It's all right. Let's just get this thing done." He returned to his chair and settled into it, fixing Trip with a warm but warning glance. Trip nodded in acknowledgement. "Computer, resume recording. Commander Tucker, why have you requested a position onboard Enterprise?" Across the desk, Jon's eyes implored Trip to make this answer a good one.

Trip's gaze became slightly unfocused, and he looked beyond Jon, beyond the window behind the desk, out someplace he'd never seen anywhere but in his dreams. "For a number a years now," he said, looking over to grin almost apologetically at Jon, who knew damned well how many years Trip was talking about, "I've heard stories of deep-space exploration, of reachin' new places and cultures and finding out about this universe we're floatin' around in. I wanna know who else's out there, and what they can teach us. I wanna know how much we have it in us to become." Trip grinned; this speech was worthy of Jon himself. It oughta be; it was no less than what Jon had been telling him every night for the past three years. "The Vulcans have been great about teachin' us what they think we need to know, but it's time we got out there and found out what we *really* need to know."

"Computer, delete the last sentence of Commander Tucker's statement and pause recording."

Trip spread his hands wide. "What? What's the problem now?"

"While I appreciated the fervor of your response, insulting the Vulcan High Command during your official interview is not going to endear you to Starfleet Command."

"Like I give a shit about the Vulcans," Trip muttered.

"Well, you'd better," Jon hissed. "As much as we hate it, they're the ones who decide whether or not Enterprise leaves that docking port, and if you're going to be part of my crew, you'll show them some respect!"

"They treat us like kids!"

"I'm well aware of that, Trip! Don't you think I'm better aware of that than anyone? But the only way to make them stop is to prove them wrong, not to show them just how childish we can be!"

"Are you sayin' I'm bein' childish?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying, Trip!"

Trip's eyes flashed fire. "Ask me the next question."


"Next question, *Captain.*"

Jon's jaw clenched. "Computer, resume recording. Obviously, Commander, Enterprise's stated mission, to seek out new life and new civilizations, is going to put us in contact with any number of peoples whose way of life is very different from ours. How do you intend to handle such encounters?"

"I''ve had a lot of practice interacting with people who aren't like me, Captain," Trip said, his eyes still hard. "Even people I don't quite get along with. If everybody stays civil, there's no need for things to get outta hand."

"But what if we were to encounter a hostile race, or one whose customs we find personally repugnant, or who feel the same about us?"

Trip's eyebrows dipped. Why was Jon baiting him? And there was no question that that was what the man was doing—pushing Trip, needling him until he snapped and—and did what, exactly? Was Jon *trying* to prove him unfit for service aboard Enterprise? "I guess I'll just have to keep an open mind."

"And if an encounter were to turn hostile due to a misunderstanding involving customs and cultures?"

"I don't back down from a fight, Captain. If things got ugly, I'd defend Enterprise and her crew with everything I had."

That answer brought a wide smile to Jon's lips, and Trip relaxed slightly. "Next question: interpersonal relationships among the crew. Enterprise is not a large ship; an eighty-two member crew will live on board for five years. How will you handle interactions with your fellow crew-members for such a long period of time in such close quarters?"

Trip grinned. "I'm a pretty easy-goin' guy, Captain. There aren't too many people I can't find some connection with. Long as everybody respects that a person has to have their own private time and space every once in a while, I don't see any reason why we won't be all right."

"But surely, there are some people who just…rub each other the wrong way." Jon leaned back and drummed his long fingers against the armrests of his chair, a sure sign of a challenge.

Trip shrugged, unfazed. "Well, that's kinda the point of these interviews, isn't it? To make sure you assemble a crew that's gonna mesh?"

"That's true. It is." Jon chuckled, then immediately sobered again. "What about personal issues? We ourselves come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and there may be fellow crewmembers who do things you don't approve of. What then?"

"Like I said, Captain, I'm a live-'n-let-live kinda guy. If you're not hurtin' anybody by doin' what you do, I won't say anything about it."

"And if a fellow crewmember does not extend the same courtesy to you?" He was doing it again; Trip knew it. "If something in your own life, though it harms no one, runs counter to their beliefs, and they try to create difficulties for you because of it?"

Trip snapped. "Well, I figure I'll run right to the Cap'n and tell 'im about the bullies beatin' up on his little toy."

"Computer! Delete Commander Tucker's last comment and pause recording." Jon came around the desk again, but this time Trip was ready for him, leaping out of his own chair, fists balled at his sides. "Damn it, Trip—"

"You *pushed* me, Jon. What the hell were you tryin' to prove?"

Jon grabbed Trip's shoulders and held them fast. "Listen to me, Trip. You are, without question, *the* best candidate to be Enterprise's chief engineer. I know it; Admiral Forrest knows it; even the damned Vulcan High Command knows it. You are *it.* There's no one else I'd even consider for the post. But you and I have to be very, *very* careful. If there is even a *hint* of impropriety, the whole game's off. No one can ever accuse me, even for an instant, of holding you to a lower standard because you're my lover."

"Jon, the instant I think you're holdin' me to a lower standard 'cause I'm your lover, I will personally kick your ass to Jupiter Station and back. You know that."

Jon's breath escaped in a huff. "Yes. I guess I do."

"What I worry about," Trip continued, his adrenaline starting to stand down, "is you holding me to a standard so much higher I can't hope ta keep up."

"I'm not—"

"Did you ask Malcolm Reed all those questions about onboard relations? If he's the hard-ass you say he is, he's gonna be rubbin' folks all sortsa wrong ways for the next five years. Did you ask *him* what he's gonna do about it?"

Jon sighed, and Trip knew he'd made his point heard. "No."

"Then back off." Trip deflated, the enormity of what almost happened here finally hitting him. He took a tentative step towards Jon. "You're gonna be gone for five *years,* Jon," he said, his voice catching slightly. "I *have* to be on that ship."

Jon's hand came up and cupped Trip's cheek. "You will be, Trip. I promise." Leaning forward, Jon kissed him, and the ghost of every lingering doubt fled Trip's mind. Jonathan Archer was a man of his word, and his kisses were soliloquies. When Jon pulled away, his eyes sparkled, a faint smile curved his lips, and the nervous animosity of the last ten minutes was completely forgotten. "I think we've had enough of this interview," he said gently.

"Are you sure?"

"I told you, Trip; you've got the post. This was a formality for the official Starfleet records."

Trip grinned ruefully. "We didn't get much that can be used in the official Starfleet records. Is it gonna be enough for the Admiral?"

Jon smiled and kissed Trip again. "It'll be fine," he said, waving his hand in the general direction of the ceiling. "I'll just tell him the computer had some trouble recording."

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