Title: Words Unspoken

Author: MizzMarcee

Contact: MizzMarcee@yahoo.com

URL: http://geocities.com/mizzmarcee/index.html

Date: 09/16/03

Fandom: Star Trek Enterprise

Category: Slash

Rating: PG-13

Pairing: Tucker/other [Tucker/Rostov], Archer/Tucker implied

Spoilers: Vox Sola, Cogenitor, The Expanse

Summary: Michael Rostov tries to find some quiet time for himself but discovers much more in the process.

AN: This story is part of the Engineer-Fuh-Q-Fest. For more information, go to http://www.geocities.com/engineer_fuh_q_fest/

Feedback: Always welcome

Disclaimer: Copyright September 2003 by MizzMarcee (aka, Marcee Evans). This story is an original work of amateur fiction based on Enterprise, which is owned by TPTB (i.e., The Powers That Be, namely Paramount, Viacom, and all its entities). The author has absolutely no intention of infringing on the intellectual property rights of TPTB and makes no money on this whatsoever. The author's copyright only extends to the original material in this work.

Warnings: This story contains m/m sexual situations, angst, and issues of grief and grieving. If this is not your cup of Java, please surf elsewhere. References to Vox Sola, Cogenitor, and The Expanse.

Archive: Engineer-Fuh-Q-Fest, EntSTSlash, Captain_and_the_Commander, ASC*/ASCEML, Archer's Enterprise, and BLTS provided that all header information is included. Please archive complete text only. All others please ask first by contacting me at MizzMarcee@yahoo.com. Thanks.

Beta: This story was not betaed. All errors, typos, and other blunders are mine and mine alone.


Michael Rostov wandered the silent corridors of Enterprise, hoping he wouldn't bump into anyone along the way. Dressed in sweats, he stealthily moved closer to his goal—Engineering.

Well, perhaps his target was not the main section of Engineering, where the members of the gamma shift were keeping an eye on Henry Archer's prized engine. He didn't plan on just barging into the main work area and risk running into anyone tonight. He just needed to get away from his bunkmate for a few hours, that's all.

Given the fact they were about a week away from entering the Delphi Expanse, everyone aboard was on edge. They all felt the tension. It was there 24/7. He knew he needed his sleep, but his new roommate, Gibbons, snored loud enough to wake the dead, and he just had to find a quiet place where he could clear his head and think for a moment. That was all he asked, not much, really.

He found the access hatch that had been his target all along. As an engineer, he knew all of the nooks and crannies in this area better than anybody aboard ship. Well…perhaps everyone except for the commander, that is.

He palmed open the hatch and crawled into the narrow corridor. Silently closing the hatch behind him, he crouched for a moment and listened. He didn't hear anyone up ahead, so he let out his held breath. He had looked at the duty roster for the gamma shift and noticed that no one was scheduled to work in this part of engineering that evening. That meant he'd have it all to himself.

The ceiling was low in this section, so he had to squat down and slide himself through the access tube to get to the larger artery that led to his favorite quiet space.

As he threaded his way through the tight corridor, he thought once again to his mother and father's tearful good-bye as Enterprise was about to depart on this dangerous mission. His parents were proud of him, of course, a fourth generation Russian-American who had grown up listening to stories about Yuri Gagarin—a distant relative on his mother's side. And now, he was back in space, on a mission to stop the Xindi from launching more attacks on Earth.

This was not a drill. Like Commander Tucker said, "It's the real deal." Everyone was quite aware they could die just by entering the Delphi Expanse. He had heard plenty of horror stories—enough to give him sleepless nights at first. He had seen reports of the destruction wrought by the Xindi probe. Even from orbit, it looked pretty horrendous. But even that didn't compare to what his imagination conjured up about the great unknown that awaited them within the Expanse. Would Enterprise be any match for such a terrible weapon that could destroy so much…murder so many? Would they be able to survive in such a hostile environment? And, more to the point, would he survive to return home to his parents?

To his credit, Captain Archer informed the crew of the risks. No one knew if they'd be successful in their mission, or if they'd ever see home again. The captain told the crew that neither he nor Starfleet would hold it against anyone who had reservations about remaining a member of the crew. He recognized that their original mission had been about exploration and peace, not as an offensive force whose mission was to take whatever means necessary to seek out the Xindi and eliminate the threat to Earth. It spoke to the crew's dedication to the captain that only a handful chose to stay behind and serve Starfleet on Earth, while the rest of the crew remained loyal to Archer and the mission, Rostov one of them. Although his parents were fearful that they'd never see their son again, Michael knew he couldn't stay behind. He knew he couldn't sit this one out—not when his captain, the crew, and this ship needed him.

But then, if he were totally honest with himself, he'd admit that the real reason he couldn't stand to be left behind was because he couldn't let Commander Tucker down. Come hell or high water, his place was beside the chief engineer—no matter what may come.

He stopped for a moment to wipe the beads of sweat from his brow. The temperature changed markedly in this section. He likened it to his late grandmother's small greenhouse back on Earth—not too hot, but just warm enough to be soothing instead of stifling.

Michael's assignment aboard Earth's first deep-space vessel was a dream come true. It had always been his goal to serve as an engineer on any space-faring ship—even a freighter if Starfleet wouldn't have him. Landing the job on Enterprise was a thrill of a lifetime; however, it paled in comparison to working side-by-side with Commander Tucker. When he was first introduced to the commander, well…who wouldn't want to just fall in love with that soft southern drawl; the strong, lean body; the honest, warm personality; and the gorgeous blue eyes that were part and parcel of Charles Tucker, the Third?

He sighed softly, scrubbing his eyes with his fingers. Yeah, he had fallen for his boss right then and there. However, he was just a crewman and knew his place in the hierarchy that was Starfleet. He spent the next two years burying his true feelings deep inside, flirting instead with some of the other crewmen, like Kelly, in order to hide his unrequited love. He was Russian after all—well, his ancestors had been, at least—and he grew up listening to wonderful, angst-filled stories about loss, perseverance, and denying one's true love for a nobler purpose. He had never questioned what exactly was noble about refraining from following your heart's desire, at least not until now.

Michael shook his head as he began to move silently forward through the narrow corridor. His grandmother used to say that you should never get the thing that you desired most because, in her words, "getting is never as good as wanting."

Well…he could certainly spend a lot of time wanting. And wanting prompted him to imagine the commander's strong hands reaching out to him, pulling him close, and feeling those soft but firm lips against his.

'Yeah, as if that's ever going to happen!' Michael admonished himself with a wry chuckle. He didn't even dare imagine himself calling the commander "Trip," knowing if he did he'd most certainly screw up and use the casual name at an inappropriate time. Still, the thought of Charles Tucker made him feel warm in all the right places.

Through it all, Michael tried to love the commander in the only way he thought possible—by always doing his best, never overlooking the smallest detail, and trying to be the best damn engineer he could. Although Tucker could be a tough taskmaster when the stakes were high, Michael found that the commander was fair. He never assigned any job to a crewman that he hadn't done himself on most occasions. He was the first one on the job and didn't flinch at hard work or getting himself filthy from head to toe on a repair. Michael had worked under another engineer as a journeyman while he was learning the trade, and there was no comparison between Chief Fridley and Commander Tucker. They had totally different working styles and personalities. And, although Michael knew it was his job to do his best for anyone who was his superior, it just made it that much easier to do all he could for Commander Tucker.

So, when the time came to decide whether he would remain on Earth or leave for the Expanse and, perhaps, lose his life—there was no question. His duty was to be by Tucker's side, helping to make sure the ship was ready for whatever perils they would face during their mission. Perhaps it was the Russian romantic in him because, although he generally had a cheerful spirit, there was a distinct part of him that understood his duty was to serve and, if necessary, die alongside his comrades.

Michael opened another hatch and climbed through. After closing the door, he shut his eyes and let out a deep sigh. He was close. He could hear the steady rhythm of the massive Warp 5 engine in this crawlspace. It felt as though the engine was surrounding him on all sides. It was a powerful sensation, almost sensual and, for a moment, Michael sank down and allowed his body to respond to the pulsing energy that coursed so nearby. He knew he was safe here, the shielding protecting him from any harmful effects.

Michael ran his fingertips over his brow, wiping the sweat that suddenly had formed there. He could feel his cock jump in reaction to the throbbing vibration of the engine. It always had this effect on him. Having to deal with a roommate who worked the same shift as himself didn't allow for much privacy. Moments like this were scarce—where he could allow himself to savor his private fantasies and just let go. Well, he admonished his impatient body, it wasn't time—not yet, anyway. He hadn't arrived at 'his' spot. It was just around the corner.

He pulled himself upright and shrugged off his sweat pants, shirt and boots, venturing further socking-footed in only his regulation blue briefs and undershirt.

Turning the corner to the right, Michael almost didn't see the hunched figure that sat propped against the bulkhead to one side. He tumbled over the reclining form and rolled instinctively away, suddenly fearful that he had come upon a stowaway or intruder. But, when he scrambled back to his feet into a defensive crouch, he came face-to-face with striking blue eyes and a disheveled mop of dirty- blond hair.

"C…commander? Sir?" Michael gasped, looking up into Tucker's eyes—eyes that were red-rimmed and set above flushed cheeks streaked with tears.

"I'm…I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know…I didn't…," Michael rambled, looking down at the floor as if seeing Tucker in such a state would turn him into a block of salt.

"Rostov, I…," Tucker began, his voice hoarse. "I didn't think anyone knew about this place. I…I guess I'll leave now."

Turning towards his superior officer, Michael watched as the commander levered himself upright into a crouch. He felt his chest constrict into a cold ache of worry. Allowing his concern to win over better judgment, he reached out and grabbed Tucker's wrist before the other man could move away. "Commander, please wait." Michael knew he was taking a risk by touching the commander, but something was definitely not right here and it frightened him. "Don't go, sir. I'm the one who should leave. You were here first. I'm so sorry to have barged in on you."

Tucker turned away from him and Michael could feel the man shaking.

"Please, sir. You've got me worried here. Please sit down."

Tucker seemed to be on auto-pilot and obeyed Michael's suggestion without question. He didn't even protest as Rostov grasped the commander by the upper arms and helped him down into a sitting position. The older man kept his gaze to the floor, never making eye contact. He then leaned over, raised his hands up, and scrubbed his face in his upturned palms.

Michael didn't know quite what to do. He knelt down next to Tucker and, when the chief didn't say anything, he tentatively placed his hand on the other man's shoulder.

"Don't!" Tucker gasped, viciously twisting away from Michael's hand. "I…I don't want yer sympathy. I can't…!"

Michael snatched his hand away, as if burned. He sat back on his heels, giving the commander a little more space.

Suddenly, the blond head snapped up. Blue eyes widened as Tucker glanced around at the floor in mounting panic.

"Where…where is my padd? I had it right here before ya ran me over."

Michael started to search the floor to his left, while the commander scrambled to his knees to look in the other direction.

He crawled through the short corridor ahead, trying not to think about the other man's anguished state. Finding the padd had slid into the corner at the next juncture, Michael scooped it up. He didn't plan for it to happen, but as he raised the padd, he caught a glimpse of the tiny screen. He stared for a moment, gazing at the image of a young woman's smiling face. She was pretty, with long blond hair, blue eyes, and an unmistakable resemblance to Commander Tucker. She appeared to be speaking, but the sound had been apparently turned low or off altogether.

He hesitated, and then looked back towards the other man and said, "I found it, sir."

Tucker rushed to him, blue eyes focused on the object in Michael's possession.

Handing it over, he watched as Tucker gripped the padd tightly in both hands as if it were the most precious thing in the universe to him. As they walked back to the spot where Tucker had once sat, Michael watched his commanding officer. The light from the screen glowed upwards, illuminating Tucker's weary face. It was then that Michael noticed the dark circles under the blue eyes and the way the other man's jaw was clenched tight, as though he was just barely holding in his emotions.

Knowing he shouldn't pry, but unable to just leave his commander in such a state, Michael leaned in a bit closer and whispered, "Is that…?"

"Lizzie," Tucker choked with a nod of his head. The commander slid down into a sitting position, resting his back against the bulkhead in much the same position he was in when Michael literally stumbled over him moments before. He gazed at the image for a long, silent moment, and then turned off the padd.

Face shrouded in the shadows, the older man added, "She sent me this message a while ago. I didn't get a chance to reply back and now…now it's too late."

Michael knew whatever he said wouldn't be enough, but he ventured, "I'm sure she understood, sir." He chuckled slightly, trying to lighten the mood a little, "Even my parents understand that sometimes we don't have a lot of time to devote to writing letters home."

Tucker shook his head. "I should'a made the time. I should'a wrote her back. She…had met someone. She said he was pretty special and things were gettin' serious. She teased that it was too bad I wouldn't be home for the wedding, but she'd save me a piece of the weddin' cake." He let out a deep sigh. "That damn thing with the Vissians. I got Lizzie's message right before. And then afterwards, well…I just couldn't face her, feeling the way I did, knowing how I had screwed up, knowing how disappointed Lizzie'd be in me."

Michael crouched in silence, just letting the commander talk. He had heard rumors about something going terribly wrong during their first contact with the Vissians—something to do with a person called Cogenitor. Some said Commander Tucker was at fault. This was the first he had ever heard the commander speak on the subject and, although he was curious, he really didn't want to pry, especially under the present circumstances.

"Commander…," Michael whispered, "Forgive me for saying so, but if your sister was anything like my family, she would have been proud just knowing that you're out here, reaching for the stars."

He began to reach out with the intent of placing his hand on the other man's shoulder.

"No…," Tucker moaned, pulling away before Michael could touch him. "It was all my fault. I should'a known. Should'a known that there'd be a price to pay for my stupid mistake. But why did it have to be Lizzie? Why Lizzie? Why?"

"Sir?" Michael asked, his voice hushed. "I don't understand. How could you be responsible for your sister's death?"

Tucker didn't answer, just turned away so his back was facing Michael. Leaning his left side against the bulkhead, the commander curled his legs up towards his chest and rested his head on his knees.

Michael stared at Tucker's tense back for a long, silent moment, wondering what to do. Had he a communicator, he may have ventured to contact the captain. He was out of his depth here and perhaps the captain, who had a much closer relationship with the commander than he had, could reach the grieving man.

However, he had no communicator. And he wasn't sure he should just leave Tucker in this state. It was obvious the commander needed someone to help him through his grief. Michael had experience with grief, having lost his beloved grandmother shortly before the launch of Enterprise two years before. But the commander was apparently harboring much bigger demons than Michael was capable of understanding or dealing with.

At a loss to how best to proceed, he ended up doing what his father had done as he sat curled up at their home, grieving for Grandma Katya. It had helped him then and Michael hoped it would comfort Commander Tucker in some small way.

He knelt down and placed his hands gently on top of the other man's broad shoulders. He could feel the tense muscles ripple beneath his touch, as if the man was getting ready to bolt. Undaunted, he began a slow massage down each shoulder, and then along the upper back.

Realizing that words were not needed, and if he opened his mouth now he'd probably say something dumb that he'd regret later, he remained silent as he continued to rub his fingertips in soothing patterns across the man's back.

As he ran the palms of his hands over the man's shoulders again, Michael leaned in a bit closer and breathed in, noticing for the first time the commander's soft musk and the way the casual clothing Tucker wore accentuated his muscular back and arms in the muted lighting. Despite himself, his gaze moved lower, admiring the man's narrow hips and ass. He felt his body begin to respond to the stimulus. Never in his wildest dreams had he ever thought he'd touch the commander in this way. He knew that he should feel guilty. After all, he began to rub Tucker's shoulders to help comfort him, to let him know that he was with a friend—NOT to seduce him. But now, Michael's body was having trouble differentiating between comforting and sensual touch. He couldn't get the images out of his mind—images of his body, and that of the commander's, moving against each other with wild passion. It didn't take long before Michael was rock hard. He now regretted stripping off his sweats. It would be impossible to hide his arousal dressed only in his standard blue briefs.

Trying not to dwell on his own body's reaction, he focused his attention back on the commander. He noticed that the tension in Tucker's shoulders was almost gone and his breathing had slowed markedly. For a moment, Michael wondered whether the other man had fallen asleep. Tucker had looked incredibly exhausted, as though he hadn't slept well for a very long time.

Moving his right hand higher, he rubbed his fingertips for the first time into the back of the commander's neck. It was nearly impossible to keep himself from leaning down and kissing the smooth skin on Tucker's nape but, somehow, he managed to fight back the impulse. He figured the commander would deck him if he went any further with his ministrations by actually kissing him. But, oh, did he want to do just that.

Michael inched his gentle massage higher, wanting so badly to run his fingers through the man's blond hair. He felt Tucker's body shiver slightly and then suddenly unfold to lean back into him. In a low, sleepy voice, the other man slurred, "Jon…!"

Rostov fought back a startled gasp as he felt Tucker's back press into his chest and the man's head came to a rest against his shoulder. As he sat back on his heels, Michael felt himself go hard again. The commander didn't seem to mind, just moaned sleepily, "Jonny," and then relaxed into Michael's embrace.



As he supported the other man's weight, Michael allowed the name to sink into the silence of their shared hiding place. Of course, ever since that incident with the alien creature in Cargo Bay 2, he had known that another had captured Commander Tucker's heart a long time ago. He had seen it clearly within the commander's mind after the five of them found themselves trapped in the alien's web and they were slowly being absorbed into the creature.

Michael had to shiver as he recalled the scene. They had nearly died that day. Afterwards, he found he couldn't tell his parents the entire story. They didn't need to know that some alien being had nearly assimilated his life force and that the only reason he and the others were still alive was because Ensign Sato had figured out a way to communicate with it at the last possible moment. He overheard Doctor Phlox telling the captain in sickbay after their rescue that another few minutes and they would have been beyond saving. Michael still shivered whenever he thought of it. There was no use giving his parents nightmares when he had experienced far too many night terrors of white-webbed aliens for his own good since then.

A lot of what happened that day in Cargo Bay 2 seemed like a hazy blur. What little Michael did recall with crystal clarity was when they discovered that they could read each other's thoughts. Tucker realized he couldn't block Michael and the others from seeing the mounting fear he was experiencing, not so much for himself, but in losing Captain Archer—his lover. The realization that he was sharing their secret relationship tipped the commander over the edge, pushing him into a panic to free himself from the alien. The raw emotions put a strain on all of them as the alien reacted negatively to the struggling commander. Through it all, Michael could hear the captain's soothing thoughts try to break through Tucker's panicked mind.

At the time, Michael felt guilty that he had been forced to witness such an intimate exchange between Archer and the commander. However, between the captain's verbal and non-verbal reassurances, Tucker finally calmed and the alien creature stopped assailing them. It was perhaps fortunate that Michael was the only other one conscious at the time besides Tucker and the captain. The other two who were similarly ensnared in the alien's clutches—Crewman Kelly and a member of Lieutenant Reed's security team—were unconscious so only Michael was aware that there was a deep and abiding love between the two senior officers, a secret relationship that went much deeper than outward appearances.

Michael was never sure how well he shielded his own feelings for the commander, but none of them ever mentioned the episode again after that. Life seemed to return to normal, and Michael vowed to himself that he'd never tell a soul about Archer and Tucker's relationship. Still, late at night, when he thought Gibbons was sound asleep, he let his mind wander to imagined images of what the captain and his chief engineer would be doing in bed at that very moment. Sometimes, he imagined himself in Archer's place, feeling the strong, supple body of Commander Tucker pinning him down, their naked bodies entwined, and…

Michael blinked.

Focusing back on the present, he ran his right hand across Tucker's chest and whispered, almost breathlessly, "Sir?" He kept his voice feather-soft. If Tucker was asleep, he certainly didn't want to startle him.

When the commander didn't answer, Michael pondered for a long moment over what to do. Tucker's body was starting to get heavy in his embrace. In time, he'd have to do something. As much as he'd like to, he couldn't hold the commander all night like this. Besides, he was certain Tucker wouldn't be happy to find himself in the arms of someone other than the captain. It wasn't right to continue with the charade any longer.

With deep regret, Michael gave Tucker a brief but loving hug from behind. As much as he wanted to hold the commander and take away his pain, he had to let go. After brushing a light kiss against the man's temple, Michael gently pushed Tucker forward and carefully leaned the limp body on its left side against the bulkhead. Pulling away, he instantly felt the loss of that physical contact. But, despite his attraction to the chief engineer, Michael knew it was the honorable thing to do.

He moved into a crouching position, looking once more upon the exhausted commander to make sure the man was well positioned and wasn't about to slide to the floor. He noticed that Tucker was still clutching the padd. This man, who he loved secretly, had lost so much. But Michael knew the commander would get through this with the love and support of his friends—most importantly the captain. It would just take time, just like it had taken Michael a long time until the grief for his grandmother turned into warm memories. Grandma Katya often told him that the number of years wasn't important, but what you did with the time you were given. She said it wasn't about the number of credits you had in the bank, or the possessions you owned, but the love and joy you brought others during your brief visit. Those were the important things that a person left behind. Maybe Commander Tucker would realize that, too, someday and he'd be able to remember his beloved sister with love instead of grief.

With one last look, Michael silently crept back the way he had come. Finding his sweats, he pulled on his outer garments and boots, then made his way back through the narrow corridors that led to the main passage just outside of Engineering. It seemed to go a lot faster traversing in this direction and in no time at all he was crawling through the hatch.

He was just about to haul himself up to his feet when he came face-to- face with a moist black nose and a tongue that licked him on the cheek. Looking up, past the familiar canine that continued to wash his face, he found himself gazing into the captain's bemused face.

"That's enough, Porthos. Heel," Archer commanded, tugging gently on the leash.

The beagle sat back on his haunches at the captain's feet and looked up at his master.

"Good boy."

Rostov felt the captain's gaze return to him.

"Crewman Rostov," Archer stated, seemingly trying to keep the humor out of his voice and act the stern captain, but failing. "So tell me, what are you doing crawling around here by yourself at this time of night?"

Michael scrambled to his feet, standing at attention despite the fact he was dressed in his sweats. At least, he thought to himself, he hadn't run into the captain in his underwear. "Just finding a quiet spot for reflection, sir." Then, with a crooked grin, he added, "My roommate snores."

The captain looked down at him, a smile tugging on his lips. "I understand completely. I've bunked with roommates in the past whose snoring could literally rattle the deck plating." The older man's face turned grim, and he added, "You know I need the crew well rested for what we face ahead, don't you? If it continues to be a problem, perhaps Dr. Phlox can help Gibbons with his snoring problem—or we can switch bunkmates so you're paired with someone who works gamma shift."

"Thank you, sir. I would appreciate that. Gibbons is a good sort, but I'd rather not have to resort to earplugs."

"Very well," Archer said. "I'll ask Sub-Commander T'Pol to determine a suitable arrangement so everyone can get their rest. We can't have you falling asleep at your station in Engineering, can we? I'm sure Commander Tucker wouldn't appreciate that."

Michael smiled at Tucker's name. "Thank you again, sir."

Archer seemed to be about ready to dismiss him and continue on his walk, but Michael continued, "Sir? About Commander Tucker…"

With that, a concerned expression formed over Archer's face. "What about the commander?"

Michael didn't quite know where to start in explaining how he came across Commander Tucker, but perhaps it wasn't dumb luck that caused him to run into the captain just now. However, he had to admit he would have preferred contacting the captain over the comm instead of giving this information face-to-face. It just seemed a little too intimate—looking into the captain's face and telling him about his lover.

"Sir, when I went to my favorite quiet place just now…well, I literally ran over Commander Tucker."

Archer's eyebrows lifted high on his forehead in surprise. "He's in there?"

"Yes, sir," Michael answered, nodding towards the access hatch he had just exited. "He…I've never seen him so distraught, sir. He's grieving over his sister. I tried to get him to talk."

Archer sighed and looked down at the floor, as if in embarrassment. "With this new mission, I'm afraid I haven't been able to be there for him…" His voice trailed off. Finally, he looked back and Michael could read the obvious pain that was etched on the older man's face. The captain seemed haunted as he added softly, "No…I've been a pretty poor excuse of a friend lately."

"He told me a little about his sister," Michael added, trying to steer the conversation back to Tucker instead of Archer's apparent feelings of failure. "The commander had a padd. He said he received a last message from her right before our first contact with the Vissians. He wasn't able to reply to his sister's last message before she…well, before the attack on Earth." Michael reached up and brushed his fingers nervously through his dark hair. He wasn't certain whether it was the right thing to do, telling the captain about what Commander Tucker said. He hated to burden Captain Archer further, but Michael knew the man needed to know in order to help. "He seems to blame himself for her death, sir—like it was the price he had to pay for whatever happened to the Vissians."

He heard the captain let out a sad groan and then whisper, "Oh god, Trip."

An expression of overwhelming regret passed across the captain's face before the older man turned away.

Michael looked around before he continued, making sure no one else was in the corridor. Of course, at this time of the duty shift, no one but those trying to work off a sleepless night would find their way to this particular section of the ship. "I'm sorry, sir. I probably shouldn't have told you what he said, but he scared me. I know you love him, sir—that you love each other very much. He needed a friend and I did what I could, but I know it wasn't enough. I think he needs you, sir."

Archer looked back and the two men made eye contact for an extended period of time. Not for the first time, Michael worried that he had said the wrong thing, his direct words apparently catching the captain off guard. Then, a soft expression formed over Archer's face, finally transforming into a gentle look of love.

"You're right, Michael. I do love Trip…down to the very center of my soul. I know you care for him too, in your own way."

Michael started to say something, but the captain waved his hand to silence him. "I knew he was having a difficult time coming to terms with Lizzie's death. It's my fault that I've let this mission keep me from being a good friend to him." He paused, looking down at Porthos, who still stood obediently by his master's side. "To be honest, the reason I came down here was to find him. However, I hadn't had much luck until I ran into you. Porthos isn't a good bloodhound unless he's looking for cheese."

Michael had to grin.

"So…he's still in there? Any chance he could exit out another way without us knowing about it?" Archer asked, nodding towards the hatch.

"No, sir. The main way out is through this access hatch," he replied. "After he told me about his sister, he fell asleep. I didn't want to leave him behind like that, all alone…but I thought you should know. I thought it best that he wakes up in the presence of a friend."

Archer nodded his head and a smile formed over his lips. "Thank you, Michael. Thanks for helping Trip tonight, and for being a good friend to him."

Michael felt his cheeks blush slightly. "You're welcome, sir."

The captain leaned down and peered into the hatch that Michael had just exited.

"Sir?" he asked, wanting to delay the captain a moment before he was dismissed. He waited until Archer turned towards him again before continuing. "I know we never talked about what happened in Cargo Bay 2 all those months ago, but I just want you to know—I'm happy for you and the commander. I'm sorry I had to intrude on your privacy like that."

"It's okay, Michael," Archer reassured, "We both knew we could trust you. Besides, that thing didn't really give us an option of keeping secrets from each other, now did it?"

He felt his cheeks blush again, only this time much harder. "You're a lucky man, sir. You both are lucky to have each other."

The captain reached out and patted him on the upper arm. "You'll find someone, Michael. And when you do, I just hope he will make you as happy as Trip makes me every day I have him in my life."

The two men gazed at each other for a silent moment.

With a hasty nod, Archer led Porthos through the access hatch. Still holding onto the dog's leash, the captain glanced back. "Do I need directions? I don't exactly want to get lost counting on Porthos' bloodhound abilities to find him."

Michael shook his head with a slight laugh. "Just follow the corridor until you can go no further and then take a left. You'll reach another access hatch. Once through, take a right and you'll probably run into him just like I did."

"Understood," Archer replied with a broad grin." Sleep well, Michael. And thanks again."

"You're welcome, sir."

After Archer climbed through the hatch, Michael could hear the captain's voice say, "Come on, boy…let's find Trip."

Once the captain sealed the hatch, Michael turned and started walking towards his quarters. As he walked, he decided to stop by sickbay along the way. Perhaps he'd resort to using earplugs just this one time so he could get a good night's sleep tonight. Although, as exhausted as he felt at the moment, perhaps he wouldn't need a sleep aid. He found dealing with such highly charged emotions was physically taxing, and this night was no exception. However, he couldn't blame Tucker for that. Michael figured a lot of that energy went towards trying to fight against his growing arousal as he embraced the commander's body. Well, he was going to have to keep those thoughts away for the night. Now that he was certain the captain knew his attraction towards Tucker, he'd have to be extra vigilant.

Perhaps he should check out the new crewmen who just joined on this new mission to the Expanse. There was one guy in particular—a member of the MACO team who someone said grew up in Duluth—that was really cute. Perhaps, instead of mooning over someone he could never have, he should take the captain's advice and keep looking. His grandmother always told him that love could happen where you least expected it. Perhaps that was true even out here in the endless expanse of space.

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