Title: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Authors: Kylie Lee and MJ

E-mail: kylielee1000@hotmail.com and MJR91@aol.com

Authors' URL: http://www.geocities.com/kylielee1000/ and http://www.geocities.com/coffeeslash/mj/

Date: 09/05/02

Length: ~7,000 words

Fandom: Star Trek: Enterprise

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Type: Slash M/M

Rating: NC-17

Status: Complete

Summary: Only one person among the crew on shore leave doesn't know Archer and Reed are lovers, so they resolve to tell him. Except he finds out first, along with…someone else. Oops.

Feedback: Yes

Series: Under the Disco Ball

Previous story: Scotch on the Rocks

Archive: Yes to EntSTSlash, Tim Ruben, Archer's Enterprise, WWoMB, Allslash, Complete Kingdom of Slash, and Luminosity (aka the usual suspects). Anyone else, ask.

Disclaimer: Original material copyright 2002 Kylie Lee and MJ. This is not an attempt to infringe on Paramount's copyright. No money was made.

Spoilers: None

Warnings: None

Comment: Many thanks for beta work by Cinmbria and Kim! The Under the Disco Ball canon is now closed. Thanks to all (BelovedGoddess, MJ, and Tim) for playing. Thanks also to everyone for the positive feedback! The title rationales are as follows: the first fics' titles are parallel notions based on the Prince song ("Dance, Music, Sex, Romance"). The second fics' titles are the name of a drink. The third and final fics' titles really begin with the word "Caught": thus, "Caught…between a rock and a hard place."

"Oh, Malcolm. Yes. There."


"Quit it."


"Damn it! Stop that."

"You told me not to stop a moment ago."

"Then go back to doing what you were doing before. Please."

"Ah! This, then."

Jonathan Archer's only response was a low groan.

"I'll take that as a yes."

Archer watched as Malcolm Reed's head dipped down again. Reed's warm mouth enveloped his cock. He closed his eyes and thrust gently into Reed's mouth. Reed pressed his hips into the mattress, and the dildo inside him brushed his prostate. He shivered in pleasure. He didn't want it to end. Then Reed's mouth left his cock and moved up his body, licking.

Reed had been tormenting him for a half hour—well, really the whole evening, because they had gone out to dinner with the other bridge officers and couldn't show even casual affection in public. Archer had to admit that the affection they wanted to show each other was undoubtedly inappropriate in a public setting, especially for a ship's captain. Even though Hoshi Sato and Trip Tucker had both discovered they were lovers, certainly Travis Mayweather didn't know, which meant that the rest of the ship still might not hear the news. Reed hadn't let that stop him, just as he hadn't let it stop them the other night, when he'd done the same thing when he, Archer, and Tucker had been having drinks in the hotel bar.

This time, however, Reed had gone further. He'd fondled Archer into an erection through his trousers under the cover of the tablecloth. He'd pressed his thigh into Archer's. He'd stroked Archer's knee and over to the inside of Archer's leg. He'd casually put his arm against the back of Archer's chair so he could lean over and talk to Mayweather behind Archer's head. He'd actually played footsie. They'd made out like teenagers in the stall of the restaurant's bathroom for perhaps two minutes and gotten so hard that it took ten minutes and a lot of cold water to get back to a reasonably civilized state of semiarousal, then had to make up a story about why they were gone so long and why Reed's hair was wet.

Now, at last, was the culmination of a night of teasing. Archer and Reed had spent every night of shore leave together. The privacy afforded by the hotel, by everyone having separate rooms on separate floors, the large beds; the hedonistically large whirlpool tub in the bathroom, just the right size for two—it was getting so that Archer was beginning to resent leaving his room. He'd much rather be Reed's sex slave for the entire duration of shore leave, but they'd filled their days with art galleries, shopping, and sightseeing and their evenings with long dinners and dancing at nightclubs. In fact, two nights ago, they'd had quite a lot of fun on the dance floor. Enough for Sato to call them on it. Archer had been trying to play it cool in public since then, but Reed had been testing the limits at dinner.

Reed's mouth wandered back down Archer's body. "God, you're gorgeous," Reed breathed. "Here?"


"Yes, what?"

"Yes, Lieutenant?" Archer grinned. He knew what reaction he'd get.

"Try again." Reed grinned back. There was no rank in the bedroom. Archer had insisted on that after their first night together.

Reed ran a hand down Archer's leg. Archer groaned. "Yes, please," he tried. He'd already seen what would happen if he called Reed "Cupcake" during sex, and he didn't care to repeat the experience. "Yes, love. Yes."

"Much better. Tell me when you're going to come."

Reed's hands pushed him down into the mattress again, and again, the dildo stroked. Then Reed deliberately set a rhythm. When Archer began bucking and thrusting, Reed encouraged him with little noises, hanging onto Archer's cock, mouth hungry. Archer felt the pleasure build, and when he knew he couldn't stand it any more, he said, "I'm coming." As he circled his ass, thrusting onto the dildo, thrusting into Reed's mouth, just about ready to come, Reed activated it, and the slight buzzing sensation deep inside him sparked a pulsing, throbbing orgasm. Archer came hard, grinding his ass into the mattress, spurting into Reed's mouth over and over again. When he was done, he lay back, limp, still pressing his butt down, feeling the slight buzz against his prostate. For a long few seconds, it felt wonderful, like he could get hard again, but then suddenly, it was too much sensation, and he groaned and rolled onto his side. Reed deactivated the device and withdrew it, then put his arms around Archer.

"Was that nice?" Reed asked.

"Oh, god. Nice? Nice doesn't go there." His orgasm had had the quality of spiritual transcendence.

"Because you looked like you were enjoying it." Reed's hand stroked his body.

"I enjoyed it. Oh, god." His sphincter fluttered, and he pushed his ass back into Reed's body. Reed was hard. "Come inside me," he invited.



"You'll be sore," Reed demurred. "We've been…busy lately." His breath was warm against Archer's neck.

"Haven't noticed any problems so far," Archer said. "It's okay. Really. And…I want to try those cuffs." He saw the named items on the dresser, part of Reed's shopping expedition to the nearby weapons emporium. They'd eyed each other in the store when Reed had found the devices, which weren't quite like any either had seen before, both thinking about things other than Reed's infamous weapons collection.

Reed gave in. "You're going to kill your wrists."

"I won't. Come on. You know you're dying to do this."

There was a brief interlude as Reed crawled out of bed to grab one of the sets of cuffs and the small key that went with them. Reed's eyes were a dark gray; he was incredibly excited. He quickly cuffed Archer's right wrist—Archer wasn't about to ask just where Reed had acquired his facility with handcuffs—and ran the rest of the unit through a piece of carved work in the headboard, bringing the other cuff out and pulling Archer's free wrist up to and into it. After a moment with the lube, Reed pushed Archer's legs up and quickly sheathed himself. Reed's hands grasped his hips as Reed smoothly slid in and out. Archer could feel Reed grow more and more excited—it wasn't just his moans; it was the way his hands clutched, the way his hips moved. Every now and then, Archer's sphincter would flutter. He doubted he would grow hard enough for another round; he had come twice already. But it would be fun to try. When Reed's cock brushed his prostate, he felt tiny jolts of pleasure.

Archer felt Reed push in and out frantically, then climax inside him, fingers pushing into his hips as he thrust in and out, pounding Archer, coming hard. Reed said, "Oh, god," over and over again while he came, voice raw with pleasure. Reed fell against his lover's chest for a few moments, gasping. Archer felt Reed's hand stroke up and down as he pulled out. Then Reed's reached for the nightstand and the key; he opened the cuffs, removed them from Archer's wrists, and tossed them on the floor.

"Bloody hell, I couldn't handle this every day," Reed gasped after a few minutes. Archer could see Reed's pulse thudding in his neck.

"It's too much for every day," Archer agreed.

"Did you strain your wrists?"

"Give me a minute." Archer rubbed his wrists gently; he'd been excited enough while they'd made love to miss that the cuffs had cut off his circulation when he'd pulled his legs up.

Finally Archer settled on one arm next to his lover and surveyed the dark-haired lieutenant. Reed had called Archer "gorgeous," but Archer begged to differ when he considered how well the adjective described Reed. His slight, well-muscled body, his dark hair, those extraordinary eyes—well, "gorgeous" was as good a word as any. He'd gotten lucky. Reed was handsome, frighteningly intelligent, and both wildly passionate and far too creative in bed under his professional British exterior. It wasn't too much to say that he adored Reed, and he was fairly certain the feeling was reciprocated. Over the course of the last few days, Archer had realized that if they wanted to try maintaining the relationship back on board—and Reed seemed to want that as much as he did—they were going to have to acknowledge their relationship publicly. Secrecy seemed disrespectful to what they thought of each other, and on a ship with eighty-three people on it, privacy enough to keep a serious relationship a secret was hard to come by. Archer thought the shipboard habit of people sneaking out of their partners' rooms in the middle of the night hoping not to be noticed was only slightly undignified for a ship's captain and one of his senior staff. It helped that Hoshi Sato and Trip Tucker had found out.

Archer reached over and lightly touched Reed's hair. Reed said, "Mmm," rolled over, and rested his head on Archer's chest.

"The wrists are fine," Archer told him. He began stroking Reed's stomach and side. "It's getting late," he whispered. "Do you want to go to sleep?"

"I don't know if I can sleep," Reed responded. He was almost purring with contentment. "Strangely, I feel as though I've just run a marathon. I'm still wound up."

"Well, then, do you want to make out?"

Reed considered. "Certainly. We could do that."

Archer turned off the light. "Sometimes making out leads to sleeping," he said in explanation.

"Sometimes it leads to sex," Reed said suggestively.

"Again?" Archer laughed.

"You never know," Reed said, and Archer touched his lips to Reed's as they lost themselves in the warmth of the other.

They had a hard time getting out of bed the next morning. They had been slowly waking up when Mayweather called Archer's room—far too early in the morning for Archer's taste. Mayweather invited him to breakfast with him and Tucker. "I can't get hold of Lieutenant Reed or Hoshi," Mayweather told Archer. "I left messages, though."

"Maybe they're in the shower or something," Archer said. "I'll stop by their rooms on my way over and bring them along if I find them." He pushed Reed's head away from his stomach with a mouthed "Stop that"; Reed's kisses had turned into tickles.

"Great. Thanks."

Archer and Reed stopped by Sato's room on their way down to the lobby, but no one seemed to be in. They met Tucker and Mayweather in the midst of controlled hotel turmoil, as the staff seemed to be setting up for some sort of meeting or convention, and walked over to a quaint cafe that Mayweather's guidebook rated highly. Their server, a very young woman with choppy skunk-striped hair that looked as if it had been styled after a twentieth-century horror movie monster, hovered anxiously as they ordered and ate. It quickly became clear that she was flirting with Mayweather. If Mayweather so much as looked over a shoulder, she rushed to the table to see what he wanted. Mayweather treated her with amused courtesy and ignored the reaction of his crewmates and captain.

"Anybody know where Hoshi got to?" Archer asked when their plates were cleared.

"I think Hoshi's keeping busy with someone she met at the club," Mayweather said.

"What makes you say that?" Archer asked.

"When I left my room this morning, after I called you, I saw them in the hallway this morning, leaving her room together. I may…uh…have overheard something about a day trip to see Wollis Falls."

"*May* have overheard?" Archer said.

"I have very good hearing," Mayweather said calmly. The Boomer was used to differentiating every different squeak and creak aboard aging freighters; his power of overhearing conversations in the mess hall and sorting out the gossip, derived from that freighter crew survival skill, was legend among his friends.

"I've read about the falls," Reed put in. "They're supposed to be beautiful."

"Well, then, why don't we go and see for ourselves?" Archer asked. "Who's up for it?"

"Cap'n," Tucker said warningly. "Are we spying on Hoshi?"

"She's a friend of mine. I hear that she's seeing someone? I need to be certain she's not mixed up with the wrong kind of guy."

"I don't think that's a question," Mayweather said. "In fact, I don't think that's a problem at all. No problem, nope." He all but whistled. "So what's the deal, then?" Tucker asked, slightly annoyed. "Travis, why're we stickin' our noses—"

"Travis, Commander," Reed sighed.

They subsided briefly.

Mayweather settled in. "I didn't mean to imply that Hoshi was into one-night stands or something."

"Clearly it's a relationship," Tucker said. "One of those two-day relationships. I know all about those."

"Oh, do you now?" Archer said, smiling. "Didn't know yours lasted that long," he teased his friend.

"What would hold Hoshi's interest?" Tucker continued. "Let's see. He's probably got a PhD in Vulcan dialects, but he's also a championship dancer, and in his spare time, he tutors disadvantaged kids and rescues stray animals."

"Stop this ridiculous speculation," Reed ordered. "The captain invited us to go with him to visit Wollis Falls. I, for one, intend to take him up on it. We leave tomorrow after lunch, so this is the last day for a proper day trip."

Mayweather agreed. He'd seen pictures of the falls in his tourist guide, which he'd been perusing over breakfast, and they were spectacular. "I'm in," he said. "Commander?"

Tucker extended his hand, palm down, and waved it from side to side, indicating he was uncertain. "I don't know," he said. "I was kinda thinkin' about checkin' out a museum they have that's supposed to have an exhibition of historical engines."

"Is there a description of the falls in that guidebook?" Archer asked, indicating Mayweather's slim, glossy commercial padd.

Mayweather pushed it over to him. "Yes, sir," he said.

"May I borrow this for a while?"


Archer flipped through the index, found the entry, linked to it, and quickly skimmed it. "Looks like from where we are, it takes two hours to get there by public transportation. And it looks like the route there is scenic in its own right." He considered briefly. "So if we leave at ten, we'll be there in time for lunch. We can have a picnic by the falls, or we could eat at the restaurant that overlooks it. What do you think?"

"I think a picnic sounds like more fun," Tucker said. "We've done a lot of restaurants the past few days. Might be nice for us to be able to not have so many people around all the time, huh?" He gave Archer and Reed a meaningful glance, one that Mayweather totally missed as he stared out a window. Archer winked at him, and he chuckled.

Mayweather turned, surprised. "What?" he asked. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," Tucker said, voice strangled.

Archer shook his head. "Thank god you don't do this while you're on duty." He pointed the guidebook at Tucker for emphasis. "You're going, and that's an order. And you're in charge of the picnic lunch. Got it?"

"Yes, sir, Cap'n," Tucker said.

Archer returned to his perusal of the guidebook. "We can have dinner at the restaurant if we stay that long. And wear hiking gear and comfortable shoes, everyone. There are some nice trails there."

"I think I'll return to the hotel and change. Shall we meet in the lobby at ten, then?" Reed stood up.

The plan was agreed to. Archer stood up too. "I'll walk over with you," he said.

"That leaves us with the bill," Mayweather pointed out.

"Exactly," Reed said. "Thanks for breakfast."

Tucker slid out of his chair, saying, "Gosh, I have to get going too. I have to arrange for lunch. Breakfast was delicious, Travis."

Travis sighed. "I'm a generous guy," he said. "See you at ten." He settled back and waved at them as they exited, then turned his attention to the guidebook which he had finally rescued. The server hovered solicitously at his elbow as she refilled his cup; she blushed at his smile, and Mayweather pretended not to notice.

Tucker, Archer, and Reed stepped outside and stood together on the sidewalk. It was a beautiful day. "Which way?" Archer asked his chief engineer.

"I'm going to that little café on Bird Street," Tucker decided. "They had a takeout menu posted that looked good." He cocked his head. "Look, Cap'n, when are you going to tell people?"

"Tell them what?" Reed asked.

"He means, about us," Archer said. "That we're lovers."

Reed sighed. "Must we?"

"Trip knows. Hoshi knows. And neither can keep their mouth shut."

"It's true," Tucker said regretfully. They all knew that wasn't true at all. Sato wasn't the gossip everyone thought; Mayweather was far worse. And Tucker, for all his gregariousness, could hold a secret every bit as well as Reed, and both Reed and Archer knew it.

Tucker said, "People are gonna find out, no matter how cautious you two are, and don't you think they'd rather hear it from the parties involved, instead of sitting around in the mess hall gossipin' about what they think is having going on aboard ship? People might gossip anyway, but at least there won't be a lot of unneeded speculatin' about what their cap'n's up to, which just isn't right."

Reed sighed. "Then I suppose we'll have to tell them. Fine." He grimaced. "I gather we'd best start with Travis. I'll tell him. I'll stop by his room at five minutes to ten and tell him then, so I don't have to do any explaining."

"Good plan." Archer put an arm around Reed, and Reed slid his arm around Archer's waist. "Let's go. See you at ten, Trip."

They walked right past the window of the restaurant, arms around each other, and looked inside as they passed. Archer saw Mayweather, sipping from a mug, ostentatiously engrossed in the guidebook. The server was staring at his broad shoulders longingly from across the room. No doubt Mayweather was trying to distance himself from her. Although she was cute, she was much too pierced and tattooed for Mayweather. Archer suppressed a grin.

The hotel was only a few minutes' walk away, but Reed wanted to buy a souvenir for his sister Madeline, so they spent several minutes in a quaint shop with jewelry that was handcrafted by the owner. Archer tried to help Reed pick out some earrings, but he had to tease Reed when Reed admitted he didn't know whether or not his sister had pierced ears. They settled on a coral bracelet instead. "It will help her get over the shock," Reed said as they stepped back outside.

"The shock?"

"When I tell her I'm dating a wonderful man."

"What's the shock, the wonderful part or the man part?"

"Actually, the dating part," Reed said dryly.

"You're going to tell your sister?" Archer asked. He knew that Reed was unlikely to tell his parents, but he hadn't really considered any of the other people he knew were in Reed's life—his best friend Mark, Madeline, his other friends from home and from Starfleet.

"If I tell the entire ship, I should tell my sister," Reed said firmly. "I've decided."

"Good decision."

Reed played with the bag his purchase was wrapped in. "Look, I'm nervous enough just at having to talk to Travis about this."

Archer reached out and clasped Reed's hand briefly, then released it. "It's okay," he said gently. "You just do what you have to do, when you have to do it."

"Oh, god." Reed banged his head gently against Archer's shoulder.

"What, embarrassed about us?" Reed looked shocked. "Not at all," he protested.

"What, then?"

"Butterflies. I'm all over butterflies when I think of telling them."

"You know why I think you're nervous?"

"No, why?"

"Because you're afraid of their reaction. You're afraid of their happiness or their disapproval. It doesn't matter what the reaction is. It's that they're going to have one."

Reed nodded. "Yes, of course you're right." He hesitated. "It seems like a terribly big thing, to admit to those around one how deeply one feels." He inhaled. "How deeply *I* feel," he corrected. "I prefer that those around me not know what I am thinking. I prefer that they not know the depth of my capacity to feel. When I tell them this, I give them something important. When I tell them, I become vulnerable. I prefer to be perceived as invulnerable."

They were at the foot of the steps leading up to the hotel. Archer pulled Reed up onto the steps and hugged him. "No one wants to hurt you," he said into Reed's hair. "No one is invulnerable. I think the crew and your friends and your sister will all be happy to hear that you are indeed vulnerable."

"Well, Madeline will certainly be delighted." Reed clutched him close, then released him, and they started up the steps. "It's ridiculous. I just have to tell the crew a simple fact about my life. And it should be easy telling all of them as opposed to my parents. The crew couldn't possibly disapprove of you, because you're their captain, and because they know you, whereas my parents certainly could, because they've never met you." Reed held the door for Archer, then followed him into the hotel lobby. "How much time do we have?"

Archer checked. "About a half hour."

"Let's hurry up to your room, then." Although Reed had his own room, he had moved most of his things to Archer's suite instead.

Archer stopped and fell back a few steps. "Damn." He looked across the marble-and-mirrored lobby as a delegation walked past—several freighter captains, three members of the Vulcan High Command, and, Reed noticed as Archer pulled him even further back and around a corner, Admiral Forrest and another admiral who wasn't as easy to identify from the distance, surrounded by a staff of lower-ranking officers and a few warrant officers. Two women in uniform, obviously Draylaxian, brought up the rear. "There's a trade negotiation going on. I completely forgot. The Vulcans must have brought the Starfleet contingent with them. I can't believe they're all staying at this hotel. Damn," he swore again. "And Admiral Forrest's probably been in contact with T'Pol. She should have contacted me." He thought for a moment. "If we get out of here in time, I can just apologize for our missing him."

Archer pushed a button to call the lift, his arm draped around Reed as they waited. Archer remembered when he'd first told his father about himself; it was in a letter he sent home, to San Francisco, when he'd been serving on the Montana, a scout ship. He and his friend at the time had been lovers for about four months when they both got notification that they had been posted to the Montana. What had been progressing as a tentative, fuck-buddy relationship had quickly turned more serious. Very soon after that, he'd told his family. The response back from his father had been relief: a combination of "it's about time!" and "I'd figured as much." The relationship hadn't lasted, not after Allen had gotten transferred to the Columbia and met someone else at Jupiter Station, and when Archer had recovered from the breakup, none of his relationships, with men or women—and it had been almost entirely women these past few years—had been at all serious. But he couldn't imagine his family not knowing about such an important part of his life, and he wished his father were still alive to hear about Reed, to hear that his son was finally falling in love again. Reed didn't rely on his family for emotional support the way he had. Archer was sorry that Reed didn't know what that was like.

They stepped into the lift as it sighed open. The lifts at the hotel were ridiculously old and slow, but they were quaint. When the door had finally shut and Reed had pressed the ornate button to indicate the floor, Archer turned Reed to him, leaned down, and kissed him hard. Reed, surprised, kissed him back.

"What's that for?" Reed asked when Archer came up for air.

"Nothing," Archer said. He pushed Reed against the wall and kissed him again, his hands holding Reed's hips, keeping his lover firmly in place. "Just giving the security staff something to watch. I'm always thinking about security men, you know. I aim to entertain them." He kissed Reed again.

"So thoughtful of you. Let's make it good, then, shall we?" Reed's free hand stroked Archer's back, and he pulled Archer closer to him, one leg between Archer's.

Reed gently bit Archer's lower lip, and Archer groaned as he rubbed his groin against Reed's stomach. Reed's mouth drew him in. His body responded. He and Reed had been kissing for less than a minute, and already he thought he was going to explode. When the lift door slid open, they stumbled out. Reed's hands were on the buttons of his shirt and their mouths were still locked together as they made their awkward way to Archer's room. Archer pulled at Reed's shirt, untucking it. Reed's shirt had buttons too. They were too much work. He ripped at the fabric as he pulled out his room key. Buttons bounced on the carpeted floor.

"Don't stop," Reed said when Archer took his mouth off Reed's long enough to insert the key card in the door. "Please. Don't ever stop."

Archer, kissing Reed, stroking Reed's warm skin, pushed the door open and barely managed to get the key out of the lock before he and Reed were inside, trailing shoes and shirts. He dropped the key, and Reed must have dropped the package with Madeline's bracelet, because both his hands were on the front of Archer's trousers, undoing them.

"Now," Reed said definitely, stroking Archer's throbbing erection. "Inside me, now, Jon."

Archer pushed Reed into the bathroom, the long mirror that ran the length of the bathroom reflecting the light from the sitting room area. They were both frantic. His fingers were clumsy as he dug through the kit on the counter for lube. Then he had Reed's trousers down. He pushed Reed over the counter, squirted the lube into his hand, and slid himself right through the lube and directly into Reed.

Reed was hot and tight. Archer buried himself to the hilt and groaned. He was only going to last a second. His lubed hand stroked up and down Reed's shaft, and he began thrusting, his hand tightly squeezing up and down Reed's erection. He felt red heat boil up from his balls, and he didn't attempt to stretch out his pleasure. He let his climax wash over him as he pushed hard into Reed, feeling himself pulse deep inside Reed's heat as his eyes met Reed's in the mirror. Then Reed's eyes closed and his hips bucked as he came, his own hand tightly cupping Archer's as it worked over Reed. The two men groaned in pleasure as they abandoned themselves to orgasm. Reed's arm flung out to steady them, and he knocked the kit off the counter, sending paraphernalia everywhere. Archer barely noticed. The explosion of sound was hidden in his climax. He closed his eyes as his cock pulsed again and again, focusing on the exquisite sensation of coming inside Reed, and when he opened them, his eyes met the shocked eyes of Admiral Forrest and Travis Mayweather in the mirror.

"Oh, shit," he gasped. "Uh—Admiral?" He pulled out of Reed and leaned against the counter, then sat down heavily on the commode, a combination of his legs refusing to hold him and tripping over the trousers around his ankles.

Reed said, "Travis?" as his own eyes opened. He leaned both arms against the counter, his come-covered hand slipping slightly. Then he saw the onlookers and froze.

Forrest was beet red and leaning against the wall; Mayweather was covering his face with his hand; he had something in his hand: the guidebook. "I'm so sorry—" he began. He tried again. "We heard noises—" He took a step backward, and his heel knocked against something. Mayweather turned even redder as he looked down. It was the vibrator Archer and Reed had tried the night before. Also on the floor were a couple of interestingly shaped plastic bottles of lube, scented massage oil, a variety of wrapped condoms, every variety of handcuff sold by the local weapons shop, and various other items. Some of them, being Malcolm's, were probably every bit as lethal as they looked.

"Excuse me," Forrest said firmly. He turned on his heel and strode out. Mayweather, still covering his face, slinked out slowly behind the admiral. Archer and Reed heard the door in the main room click shut behind him.

Reed sat down on the edge of the bathtub. He panted for a minute or two, then finally said, "'Oh, shit' about sums it up."

"Well, at least Travis didn't find out through anyone else," Archer chuckled glumly. "Although I wasn't quite ready to send our wedding announcement to Starfleet Headquarters." Archer kicked off his trousers and briefs.

Reed turned on the bathtub's tap and wet a washcloth. "I'm just so glad that my friend got the news by seeing me with my boyfriend up my arse and me coming all over my stomach and chest. So very dignified." He began cleaning himself off. "And I don't think the admiral really wanted find out just how to address your Christmas card this year by getting quite that eyeful."

In spite of himself, Archer began to laugh as he grabbed a second washcloth. After a moment, Reed grinned wryly, then joined in. "I'd better go see Admiral Forrest," Archer said. "This needs a serious apology."

"Want me to come along?" Reed offered.

Archer shook his head. "No, it's all right. Rather than going to tell Travis, though, I suggest you go comfort him. I really thought he was going to faint there."

Reed began cleaning up seriously. "Looks like we're timing it just right," he informed his lover. "We'll get up there at about five till. We can still meet Trip at ten."

"Oh, good," Archer said brightly. "I'd hate to miss the day trip."

"Ah. Sarcasm. I see my sense of humor's starting to rub off on you, love."

"Yes," Archer said.

Archer wrapped his arms around his lover, pressing his body against Reed's. "You know how I feel about you, right?" he said.

Reed dropped the washcloth into the tub. "Yes, I do," he responded. They clung to each other for a moment.

"Okay, then, tell me how I feel about you."

Reed stroked the side of Archer's face. "You love me," he said. "How do I feel about you?"

"You love me too." Archer touched the middle of Reed's chest gently with his index finger. "You feel it here."

"I do. You're absolutely right. How do you know that?"

"Easy. I feel it too." He kissed Reed and rose. "It'll be okay. The Admiral is more embarrassed than we are. I absolutely guarantee it. And Travis—well, he probably is, too."

Reed and Mayweather met Tucker in the lobby at ten. He was sitting on a large brown leather couch that made him seem small. Next to him were two backpacks—probably lunch. Mayweather set his backpack next to Tucker's gear and sat next to him.

"Nice gear," Tucker observed. Mayweather was wearing hiking gear. Tucker was wearing hiking gear too, but Mayweather's appeared high-tech and performance-based. It implied that Mayweather was an expert hiker—and in fact, he was. "Isn't it kind of…tight?"

"Yes," Mayweather answered absently. "So it doesn't get caught on stuff as you hike."

"What's wrong, Travis?"

Reed laughed and addressed Tucker. "Travis found out about Jon and me."

"You two having a problem about it?"

"Uh, well…" Mayweather trailed off. "It's…*how* I found out."

There was a long pause. "Ohhh," Tucker said when he got it. "Ouch."

"And I'd offered to take Admiral Forrest to the captain's room to say hello. He walked in on…um…with me."

Tucker could barely cover his smile fast enough.

"Jon's talking to the admiral right now," Reed explained to Tucker.

"What, you don't lock the door?"

"I suppose we were busy. It got caught open accidentally." Reed cleared his throat, embarrassed. "Anyway. Tell us about lunch."

"That was a terrible transition."

Reed started laughing. "I know."

"Well, let me see. We have the weird-smelling, aqua cheese course, followed by the inexplicable, somewhat meatlike course, and the oddly amusing blue vegetable course. All accompanied, by the way, by the fizzy green wine course."

"Yum," Mayweather said. "Is there a zany dessert course?"

"I don't know if 'zany' is the right word." Tucker's eyes shifted. "Oh, here they are." He struggled out of the sofa, then turned and gave Mayweather a hand up as Archer and Admiral Forrest approached. Reed rose, apparently unsure of whether to salute the admiral or shoot himself. Archer was wearing hiking gear too, although it wasn't as form-fitting as Mayweather's, and was older in style, like Reed's and Tucker's.

Archer's eyebrows rose slightly as he took in Mayweather. Then he cleared his throat. "I have an announcement to make," he said without preamble as he came to rest beside the sofa. "Malcolm and I are an item."

Reed raised an eyebrow. "I can't believe it. Are you positive? Us?"

"I assure you," Archer responded stiffly.

"If you say so," Reed said doubtfully.

"Well, it's not news to me," Tucker said. "But I'm very happy for you nonetheless. Oh—and good to see you, sir," he added, nodding at Forrest. "Come on, Malcolm, help me with this." Reed and Tucker began arranging backpacks and bickering as Archer and Mayweather eyed each other.

Mayweather said "sir" just as Archer said "Travis." They both paused.

Admiral Forrest cleared his throat and held up a hand to indicate he wanted to speak. "I'm extremely embarrassed, and I'm terribly sorry," Forrest said. "I heard that you were here, and I thought I'd pay my respects. That was when I ran into your Mr. Mayweather here. Mr. Mayweather was kind enough to offer to walk me to your suite. I planned to say hello, but the door was open, the hallway was messy, and we heard, um, noises in the bathroom. We thought there were intruders or something, and we just walked in. I just—that is—oh, hell, Jon, I'm simply extremely embarrassed. I was quite shocked. I had no idea. But I apologize. I shouldn't have come in uninvited." There was a brief pause. "That's all," the admiral concluded.

"It's all right, Admiral; no harm done. Travis," Archer continued, "we were going to tell you today anyway. I'm sure Malcolm told you that."

"Yeah," Mayweather replied, nodding. "I kinda guessed before he did, though, you know?"

"I think that's clear," Archer said dryly.

"Yes, sir. I apologize, by the way, sir."

"Apology accepted. Let's go view those falls and find Ensign Sato and her friend."

"Yes, sir."

The trip to Wollis Falls was a lot of fun. They had their picnic lunch—the dessert was indeed zany—and then went for hikes. Mayweather wanted to hike the most difficult trail, but only Archer had the hiking skill to go with him, so they set off, leaving Reed and Tucker to take an easier trail around the other side. They spent about an hour at the top, taking pictures. The view was spectacular. The hike initially started out with strained silence, but by the time they had reached the top, Archer and Mayweather were making normal exchanges. It was good that they had this time alone—although Archer would have preferred to have Reed with him to enjoy the view.

They met for dinner in the restaurant, which was a casual place that catered to hikers and tourists; their garb wasn't at all out of place, and neither was their sweatiness. Mayweather was just beginning to think that they'd go the whole day without seeing Sato when, during dessert, Mayweather perked up and waved wildly.

"They're here," he whispered. Archer, Reed, and Tucker stared in the direction Mayweather had indicated. They saw Sato—and, with her, the redhead Tucker had been dancing with two nights before, who hadn't followed up on his invitation to her. A moment later, Sato and the striking woman came up to the table. Tucker shook his head, amused, and grinned at them, nodding at the redhead. Up close, her hair was more of a gold-red.

"Captain," Sato said. She didn't exactly sound thrilled. "I didn't know you were coming up to the falls today."

Archer just said, "Yep," and waited expectantly.

Sato didn't leap right in, so Tucker pushed it along.

"Hi, Lauren," he said, leaning back in his chair and extending his hand to the redhead. "Hoshi and I work together. Didn't get to introduce you two the other night."

The redhead took Tucker's hand, now smiling herself. "I'm Lauren Stone," she said to Archer.

She shook hands all around as they introduced themselves, and then took a chair when offered one, so Sato had to sit down too. She looked grumpy.

"What do you do?" Reed asked her. "Are you a communications specialist like Hoshi?"

"Oh, no," Stone laughed. "I'm a linguistics professor, on Vulcan. I specialize in early Vulcan poetics. I came up here for the trade negotiations a few days early to look around, but then I'll have to do some translating when the meetings start. I also do some volunteer work, tutoring the slower kids at the Starfleet compound, to bring them up to speed so they can apply for university. And I help with the compound's pet spay/neuter program."

Mayweather blinked.

"I was thinking you might be a dancer," Mayweather confided. "You have the body type, you walk like a dancer, and I saw you on the dance floor at the club."

"That's funny, I was going to say the same about you," Stone said. "I used to dance. And you look really familiar to me. Have we met?"

"I don't think so," Mayweather said. "Just at the club a few nights ago."

"No, I'm sure of it," Stone insisted. She snapped her fingers. "Six years ago, the gardeji competition on Draylax?"

"Yes," Mayweather said, voice incredulous. "I placed third."

"I knew it." Stone looked delighted. "I placed fifth."

"Gardeji?" Sato put in, before the mutual admiration could get too extreme.

"It's a Draylaxian dance form," Mayweather said. "It's very stylized. I used to practice it with my sister on our freighter, and we entered a few competitions on Draylax."

"I can't imagine this," Reed said. "I'm full of surprises," Mayweather said. "Well, would you all like to see? I have a player and some disks with me." He turned to Stone, apparently his new best friend. "Shall we show them how it's done?"

"Oh, I'd love to," Stone said.

"Come on."

They paid the bill and left, heading for the area where they had picnicked earlier. Archer put his arm around Reed as they all walked, talking and laughing. Sato fell in beside them.

"Lauren is really nice," Reed offered. "She's smart and she's pretty."

"I know," Sato said gloomily. "What, are the two of you out now?"

"Oh, we forgot to tell you," Archer said with some amusement. "Malcolm and I are dating. In fact, we're quite serious."

"You make a cute couple."

Reed smiled wryly. "Thanks. 'Cute' is apparently what we're going for."

"So it's definitely no secret?"

"No," Archer said. "Admiral Forrest kind of tripped over us today, so I guess we're going public. Considering that Starfleet's been put on notice, I don't think it's classified information."

"Well, good," Sato said. "It's hard to sneak around. I know. Excuse me." Stone had called to her, and she hurried to catch up.

Archer and Reed leaned into each other and trailed behind the rest of the crew as they entered the picnic area, which was mostly deserted. They caught up just as Mayweather turned on the music, and as the others made themselves comfortable on one of the picnic tables, Mayweather and Stone danced gardeji. It looked to Archer like a combination between martial arts and tango, with slow undulations of the hips and stylized arm movements. Although they had just met, the two of them moved perfectly in time with each other. The movements and the music were sultry and implied tropical heat and sex. Stone spoke quietly every now and then, and Archer realized she was cueing their movements. They took a bow when the song ended, and when the next song on the disk began, Reed left Archer behind and stood beside them.

"Can you show me?" he asked.

"Sure." Stone took a step forward and held out a hand to Reed as Mayweather stood beside Reed and showed him the foot placement. Mayweather's fingers snapped quietly. "Feel the beat?"

Reed nodded. "Got it."

Stone took over. "Let's go. Left arm around me, then right hand and arm like so. Good. Right foot back, switch weight and turn."

Reed listened to her soft cues. Stone had been using some kind of cueing shortcut with Mayweather, but she was spelling it out for him. His body found the beat, and he began moving to it. He wasn't as smooth as Mayweather and Stone, but Archer, watching him, thought that he wasn't doing too badly. He was trying to match his movements to Stone's. The steps began repeating, and his movements smoothed as he became more comfortable. By the fourth repetition, they were all together, and he began smiling and getting into it. When the song ended, all three took a bow, and the three members of the audience clapped and hooted.

"You're a quick study," Stone told him.

"Thanks." "You'd be better than me with some practice," Mayweather said. "Does anyone else want to learn?"

Tucker, Sato and Archer declined, and Mayweather swapped disks. "How about some regular dancing?" he asked. A slow waltz began playing.

Tucker grinned, ready to show off his best manners. "Travis, will you dance with me?" Everyone knew Tucker had learned to dance in elementary school.

"Sure." Mayweather put his arm around the engineer and they began moving expertly. Sato and Stone were next, Stone smiling over at the engineer. "Come on, Malcolm." Archer pulled Reed against him and gave him a kiss. "I'm leading."


"Again." He found the beat of the music and they began moving, Reed easily following Archer's lead, warm body leaning intimately into Archer's. They danced together until the sun set and the stars came out.

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