Title: Plausible Deniability

Author: Caroline Crane

Email: caroline_crane@hotmail.com

Website: http://desiderium.slashcity.net/

Date: 11/18/01

Category: Slash

Rating: R

Pairing: Archer/Tucker, Tucker/Reed, Reed/Mayweather

Series Title: Heart on Fire

Previous story: Cabin Fever

Summary: Malcolm and Trip kill a little more time together and talk a little about what's bothering them both.

Spoilers: Breaking the Ice

Comments: I just want to point out that I resisted slashing Travis because I didn't want to slash every major character on the damn show, but after watching "Breaking the Ice" I saw how much Malcolm needs him so I finally gave in. Well, sort of, I love Malcolm best of all, that's why I'll torture him the most.

A snowman. It was silly really, just a harmless bit of fun. But I should have known better, I am Ensign Mayweather's superior after all and I should have set a better example. I can't quite contain a smile at the memory of the ridiculous-looking snow Vulcan, however, or deny that I derived more pleasure out of Travis' delight in the whim than I did out of the snowman itself. I sigh and look down at my tea, realizing that I've let it sit for so long that it's lukewarm and undrinkable. Perhaps I should have gone back to my quarters rather than try to sit in the mess hall and act as though I'm not losing my mind.

The Captain was right to reprimand me for allowing us to get caught up in frivolities while on a mission, we were selected to be the first humans to set foot on a comet after all and I knew better than to allow either of us to get distracted. I find it difficult to deny Travis a bit of fun now and then, however—well, if I'm truly honest with myself I must admit that I'd have trouble denying Travis anything. It's ridiculous to get caught up in indulging his whims when we're little more than colleagues, but one look in those wide, innocent eyes and I'm afraid I turn to putty in his hands.

We don't even socialize, we are after all ten years apart in age and he's quite popular with the other Ensigns on board. He seems to have hit it off with Commander Tucker but as far as I can tell there's nothing going on between them. I know from personal experience, however, that just because the Commander appears disinterested doesn't necessarily make it so. I never would have suspected his attraction to me, that is until I found him at the door to my quarters one night after a long, particularly dull shift. Half an hour later when we were both naked and rolling around in my sheets with a decided lack of decorum I still couldn't believe that he was interested in me, but nevertheless there it was.

I didn't delude myself even then that it was anything more than what it was: Commander Tucker—Trip—looking for a distraction and taking me along for the ride. Not that I minded, really, he's an attractive man and we get along well enough most of the time. I don't fool myself that he's the type to make sweeping declarations of love or any kind of commitment, though—his reputation most certainly precedes him. Besides, he's not Travis.

I fought my feelings for Travis as long as I possibly could, and even after I gave in to them I knew I couldn't act on them. I still know that, every moment I spend on the bridge with him is a form of torture but I know I can't do a bloody thing about it. Still, even knowing that I can never act on my feelings doesn't deter me from wanting to be in his company, from savoring every moment I get to bask in his youthful exuberance and his wide-eyed passion for each new adventure. His enthusiasm is infectious, we're all out here because we wanted to explore new horizons but Travis has a way of making everything seem more exciting that it would be without him.

Perhaps it's just the years I have on him, my admittedly jaded perspective on life has made me more cautious than I used to be. So his enthusiasm attracted me immediately because it reminded me of how I used to look at life, but then again it's also a painful reminder of how far we really are from one another. He's beautiful and young and so full of life, and I'm bound in so many ways by the rules of Starfleet. I know I let myself be governed by them, even the Captain seems willing to step outside the strict letter of regulations more readily than myself but in a way it's the rules that keep me from completely losing my mind. Maybe I shouldn't have accepted this commission. I'm the envy of every weapons expert in Starfleet, of course, and I like to flatter myself that I'm among the best. Still, if I'd stayed on Earth I wouldn't have fallen under the spell of someone so impossibly out of my reach. The draw of exploring space and meeting new races wasn't as appealing to me as the temptation of all the technology I'd be seeing, I realize that nearly everyone on the Enterprise is here because of the excitement of exploring new worlds but for me it's always been the technology that holds my interest. When I'm with Travis I find myself a little more excited at the prospect of exploration, however, his exuberance is as endearing as it is overwhelming.

He's sitting just across the mess hall from me, at the center of a group of his young friends. I'm sure he doesn't even notice my presence, and why should he? He's no doubt recounting our adventures on the comet's surface and embellishing the details of our near-death experience. Not that it wasn't terrifying at the time, for a few horrible moments I actually wondered if we'd die together inside the comet. I never thought of confessing my feelings to him, though, not even in the face of death. What would the point have been even if we were facing certain death? I can already imagine the mixture of horror and pity in his eyes were I ever to tell him how I feel, and I have no wish to see it in actuality.

I find myself stealing more and more glimpses at him as he talks animatedly, oblivious to the fact that I'm watching his every gesture. Even his hands are expressive, the way they move as he describes our adventure together. I find myself wishing I could hear his recounting of the story, to hear the way he describes me and my role in getting him safely back to the shuttle. It's vain of me to hope that he's speaking highly of me to his friends, after all I am only a Lieutenant and the tactical officer. I can hardly expect any of his friends to be interested in my role in any of our adventures, not when they are basking in his energy.

I'm so lost in contemplation of what Travis might be telling them about me that I don't even notice the Commander's presence until he pulls out the chair next to me and slides into it. When I look over at him he's wearing that smirk of his that always manages to irritate me, but I pull myself together and manage a weak smile in return. "Commander," I say, refraining from asking him what he wants. I know I'll only sound put out by his sudden appearance, and I have no wish to draw anyone's attention to the reason for my brooding.

"Looked like you could use a little company," he says, raising his eyebrows and inching a little closer. "You okay, Malcolm?"

"Certainly," I answer, doing my best to look surprised by the question.

"I heard the Captain chewed you out for that whole snowman incident," he says, but there's a twinkle of mischief in his eye and I know immediately that he's up to something.

I sigh and give up any hope of getting him to go away any time soon. He is, after all, an amusing distraction, and it wouldn't hurt to get my mind off Travis for awhile. "It was a well-deserved reprimand, I'm afraid. My behavior was less than professional."

"Aw, come on, Malcolm, everybody needs a little fun in their lives. You know as well as I do that things tend to get a little boring out here," he says, still smiling as he glances toward the door. "So…did you have any plans for the evening or can I interest you in some more fun?"

For a moment I consider turning him down, I know as well as he does that this thing between us isn't going anywhere. Still, it's one of the more enjoyable ways I've found to pass the time on board, and it's not as though we're hurting anyone. Besides, the prospect of going back to my quarters alone is less than appealing. Finally I smile and nod, pushing back my chair as he stands up. "Alright, Commander."

"Geez, Malcolm, lose the Commander," he tells me. "Considering I think it's safe if you call me Trip. Unless you have some authority fetish you want to tell me about, because I can work with that…"

I give him a wry half-grin and roll my eyes as I follow him out of the mess hall, the sound of his laughter echoing in my mind as I look back over my shoulder for one more glimpse of Travis. My smile fades as I realize he's staring right at me, his features frozen in a half-smile and his mouth slightly open as though he was about to speak. Just for a moment I wonder…but no, he couldn't possibly. He's only just happened to look up at the exact moment we got up to leave, it's only a coincidence. A second later he blinks and then his expression shifts to a small smile and a nod of recognition, and I feel myself nod back automatically before I force myself to turn and walk out of the mess hall.

Trip's already halfway down the corridor before he realizes I'm not right behind him, and he turns and watches me until I catch up. I force myself to look up at him, he's frowning slightly and his arms are crossed over his chest. "You sure you're up for this? I'm not trying to pressure you for a repeat performance, I mean if you're not interested…"

"Not at all, Comm…Trip," I correct myself with a small smile. "I rather think I could use the…distraction."

He smiles and starts back down the corridor, and I find myself thankful for the first time that he's not given to romantic notions. When we reach my quarters I unlock the door and stand aside to let him in, but instead of pouncing on me like he did the first time we found ourselves alone together he sits down on the edge of the bed and looks up at me. I feel my forehead furrow as I wonder what he's up to, but I make my way toward him anyway and sit down on the mattress next to him.

He leans toward me and reaches for my uniform shirt, tugging it over my head and tossing it on the floor as I return the favor. When our shirts are disposed of he dips his head to capture my lips under his own, his tongue teasing my lips apart as he eases us down onto the mattress. I close my eyes and let my mind go blank, pushing thoughts of Travis and what I'm doing traveling through space out of my head as I lose myself in the feeling of his skin against mine. His hands are traveling over the bare skin of my shoulders and chest, and I hear a low groan tear from my throat as his groin presses against mine.

When he tears his lips away from mine I bury my face in the warm skin between his chin and shoulder, nipping gently at his throat and collarbone. His hands are still moving on my skin, reaching for the waistband of my pants as I run my tongue along the hollow of his throat. He moans as I hit a particularly sensitive spot, his hands leaving my skin to push himself up so he's looking down at me. "Are you sure you're alright, Malcolm?"

"Bloody inconvenient time to ask that, isn't it?" I snap, moving my hips underneath him to try to get him back on track.

He grins and rolls off me, reaching for my waistband once again and pulling my uniform down my legs. "Sorry, didn't mean to spoil the mood. It's just you seemed a little distracted when I found you in the mess hall. Something on your mind?"

"The only thing that's on my mind right now is why you've still got half your clothes on," I growl, covering the lie with a scowl as I reach for him again. A low chuckle rumbles through his chest as I begin tugging at his pants, doing my best to avoid eye contact as we struggle to get him free of the restrictive material. When his pants have joined mine on the floor he pulls me toward him again, running one hand down my chest and sliding the other under my chin to force me to look at him. "We're friends, right, Malcolm?"

"Bloody hell," I mutter, frustration mingling with annoyance as I realize I should have listened to my instincts and turned him down in the first place. Leave it to Trip to start getting philosophical on the one night when I don't want to think at all. "I said I was looking for a distraction, not a counseling session."

He smiles more sheepishly this time and runs his thumb across my lips. It's a soothing feeling but it's not what I want right now, the last thing I want from the Commander is a sympathetic ear. In fact I was rather looking forward to hot, fast and thoroughly exhausting sex that would leave me so weary I'd sleep too hard to dream. "Look, I'm not trying to pry. I was just thinking, you know, we're friends so if you want to talk about whatever's bothering you we could do that too."

"Well thank you, but I'd really rather not discuss it," I answer, catching his hand and pulling it away from my face. He lets me pull him back onto the mattress but I know even as I start kissing his neck again that he's not going to give up so easily.

"So you don't want to talk about the way you were staring at Travis when I walked into the mess hall."

My mouth and hands freeze against his chest and I close my eyes, letting out a frustrated sigh as I fall back against the pillow. He settles down next to me and begins tracing a pattern on my collarbone, but I can't even let myself enjoy that. Not now, not when he's called me on the very thing I was hoping to avoid. I tried so hard to be careful not to let anyone notice, but obviously I've only been fooling myself. "No point talking about that, is there?"

"It might help to talk about it," he says matter-of-factly, and my eyes snap open again as I contemplate pushing him off the bed and ordering him out of my room. He must recognize the flash of anger in my eyes because he leans forward and plants what I suppose is meant to be a placating kiss on my mouth. "Hey, if you don't want to talk about it that's alright. I'm just trying to tell you I understand where you're coming from."

That confession gives me pause—the thought of Trip suffering the anguish of unrequited love is almost ridiculous enough to be laughable. He's everything I'm not, after all; as careful and calculating as I am, Trip is equally as reckless, he sees something he wants and he reaches for it without a thought about consequences. That's certainly the impression he's always given me, at any rate. I push myself up and look down at him, momentarily forgetting that we were in the middle of something rather pressing when he decided he wanted to talk. "What on earth are you talking about?"

He sighs and lies back on the pillows, his arms folded behind his head as he looks up at me. "You know, I'm starting to get a little tired of everyone assuming I don't have any feelings. I mean, I like to have a good time as much as the next guy, but that doesn't mean I don't care about anything. I can see where you'd think that considering the circumstances, but…"

I know he's not talking about having feelings for me, that much is certain. Can't help wondering who he's thinking about, though. His eyes are clouded now and he's staring up at me but I know it's not me he's looking at. So Commander Charles Tucker and I have a little more in common than I thought, this is an interesting turn of events indeed. I reach out without thinking and run a hand along his jaw line, pity overtaking me as I realize that he's suffering as much as I am in his own way. "I never thought you were unfeeling, Trip," I say softly, earning a small smile as his eyes fall closed. "In fact you're very well-liked among the crew, and I know Captain Archer thinks the world of your abilities."

He doesn't answer, but as soon as the captain's name passes my lips he flinches under my touch. It's subtle, so subtle in fact that I almost dismiss it as an ill-timed flash of regret at starting this conversation in the first place. As I watch his face his jaw tenses just slightly, though, and I realize that it wasn't a coincidence after all. I know it's bad form to press the issue but he did start it, after all. "You and the captain have known one another for quite a long time, haven't you?"

I get my confirmation when his eyes open again and his hand reaches up to grab my wrist. For a moment there's such a raw vulnerability in his expression that my heart actually aches, but then he blinks and it's gone, replaced by a determined scowl. "Maybe you were right," he says as he pulls me toward him. "Too much conversation can be a bad thing."

I know I'll regret saying it but I can't help myself, as much as I don't want to talk about my own heartache something tells me he wouldn't have brought it up if he didn't want to talk about his. "No sense talking about what you know you can't have, Trip. That's what I was trying to tell you."

"How do you know you can't have it?" he asks, stopping in his efforts to get me back down on the pillow.

"Come on, Trip, you know Travis. You're his friend," I answer, part of the anger in my voice stemming from the fact that he's asking stupid questions and the rest of it a direct result of the fact that he's gotten me to admit to my feelings for the Ensign.

He nods his understanding and lets out a resigned sigh. "Guess I can see your point there, I mean I've never asked him but he doesn't really seem the type, does he?" He smiles sympathetically and finally lets go of my wrist, entwining our hands together instead. "Still, though, you never know until you ask."

"Have you?" I counter, holding his gaze despite his obvious discomfort at the tables being turned on him.

"Trust me, I know," he answers, sadness creeping back into his voice for a moment before he pushes it away. I let him pull me back down this time, closing my eyes and losing myself in the feeling of his lips pressing against mine. And I won't think about Travis, I'll tell myself he's not thinking about Archer either and maybe, just maybe I'll believe it.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to the author.

Star Trek and Enterprise are copyrighted by Paramount. We don't own 'em—we just play with them. No money was made.
Please do not repost material without requesting permission directly from the author.
Archer's Enterprise is maintained by the Webmistress.