Title: Culture Shock

Author: Joules Mer

Rating: PG-13

Pairing: T/R

Website: jmenterprise.popullus.net

Disclaimer: Enterprise is the property of Paramount.  No profit was made, no copyright infringement is intended.

Archive:  Yes to EntSTCommunity.  All others ask me for permission (julia_ocean_child@yahoo.co.uk).

Spoilers: Cogenitor mentioned.

Warning:  Touches on the non-con theme.  I find it pretty mild, but it might bother you.  Just a heads up.

Summary:  "The database wasn't clear on exactly what they do or where you would find them outside of a private home.  The basic idea is that they don't say no.  Ever.  They're red."

Culture Shock

    The thrum of the music was electric, he could feel it shaking his very bones.  Trip grasped his drink in one hand and leaned against the bar, watching the aliens on the dance floor with frank admiration.  One in particular caught his attention.  The man was a bit shorter than the rest.  He had a wiry frame, hard muscles clearly visible as he was only dressed in a pair of tight fitting pants.  Trip felt his stomach churn as the man turned and caught him staring.  Trip smiled and felt a rush of excitement as the gesture was returned.

    Trip finished his drink in a gulp and watched closely as his mystery man wended his way through the crowd to join him at the bar.  The alien regarded him, "I don't think I've seen your kind before.  We don't look very different, though.  Your nose is different, your eyes are larger than mine, and your hair is entirely the wrong colour."  The alien reached up and ran his fingers through Trip's hair.  It was considerably lighter than the jet black that was his species norm.

    "I'm Trip."

    "I am Martinak."  The words had a slightly tinny quality to them, an effect of the universal translator.  "You do know why my people come to this type of club.  Don't you, Trip?"  The alien tried out his name.  Rolling it off the tip of his forked tongue.

    "Yeah."  He knew exactly why they came to this place.  It was for the sole purpose of getting to know people... intimately.

    "I saw you staring at me.  Was there anything in particular that you wanted."  Martinak was clearly flirting.  At least by human standards.

    Trip was thrilled by his own anonymity.  On this planet he could do anything, be anyone.  No one here would ever see him again.  Emboldened, he stepped closer to Martinak.  "I want you."

    The alien's eyes sparkled in the light.  "Then shall you have me."  Trip grinned as the other man took him by the hand and led him through a door at the back of the club.  It shut behind them, abruptly cutting off the frenzied music.  He stepped closer to Martinak, wanting to be sure they were at a mutual understanding.  They kissed.  Hard and frantically, hands roaming over each others backs.  Martinak eventually broke the kiss and took him by the hand once more, leading him into a back room where he proceeded to remove Trip's shirt as soon as the door shut behind them.

    "Hey, wait a second.  Are ya sure we should do this here?"

    "Do not worry.  I am allowed here."

    "Oh.  Do ya work here?"

    The alien smiled at him seductively.  "Something like that."


    Trip climbed through the hatch of Shuttlepod Two and found Captain Archer already waiting for him.  Malcolm Reed was in the pilot's seat running through a quick pre-flight check.  "Mornin' Cap'n, Malcolm."

    "Good morning, Trip.  You're looking quite...refreshed this morning."  Trip grinned at his long time friend.  "I take it you went to one of the establishments that the ambassador suggested."

    "I take it ya didn't." 

    Jon rolled his eyes.  "You know full well I had to meet with the governor.  You're just lucky I took pity on you and let you enjoy our last night here.  Next time I'll be sure put you in a nice long meeting with some bureaucrat."  Malcolm smirked in the pilot's seat before the pod gently lifted off.

    "We should be docking in approximately five minutes, Captain."

    "Thanks Malcolm."  Jon turned his attention back to Trip.  "So what happened?"

    "Now, now Cap'n.  A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."  He wagged his eyebrows at the captain.

    "You're incorrigible, Trip."

    "You know it Jon."  He settled more comfortably on the bench.  "How'd the meeting go?"
    "Quite well actually.  The governor is interested in..." The rest of the trip back to Enterprise was spent discussing the possibilities of trade between Starfleet and their new friends.  When they docked Jon went to check in with the doctor before going to the bridge.  Trip helped Malcolm secure the pod before they joined him to brief the senior staff.  They finished stowing their gear and began checking that the pod was secure.

    "So how was it?"  Trip smiled at his friend's query. 

    "Pretty neat Malcolm.  I'm sorry I didn't get a closer look at their defence grid, ya'd a liked it."

    "I don't doubt that."  There was a pause as Malcolm closed the hatch.  "I read the cultural information that they transmitted.  It gave mention of a system of slavery on their planet.  Did you notice it at all?"


    "Yes.  T'Pol says it would be hard to notice if you didn't know to look for it.  Evidently, it's been a part of their culture for thousands of years.  The slaves don't look any different from a normal citizen, they just wear a necklace that denotes what type they are."

    "That's interestin'.  They didn't mention it to me and I didn't notice anythin'.  So there's different types?"

    Malcolm joined him on the port side of the pod.  "Yes there are even different classes of slaves.  Intellectuals, who wear yellow beaded necklaces, are tutors or instructors.  Soldiers or bodyguards are below that, they wear purple.  Then there are menial labourers, green.  And finally some sort of pleasure slave."

    Trip regarded his friend with a raised eyebrow.  "Pleasure slaves?"

    "Yes.  The database wasn't clear on exactly what they do or where you would find them outside of a private home.  The basic idea is that they don't say no.  Ever.  They're red."

    Trip started as a flash of a memory hit him.  He was in the back room of the alien club.  Martinak was writhing beneath him, red beads sitting against the sweat soaked flesh of the alien's hard chest.  Trip felt his breakfast rise into his throat.  He was barely able to shove Malcolm aside as he vomited onto the deck plating.


    One moment I was talking with my friend, the next I was being shoved roughly backwards.  I jumped further back as soon as I realized what was going on, barely able to resist the instinctual urge to vomit as well.  When I looked up again Trip was bracing himself against the pod with one hand, the other wrapped tightly around his still heaving stomach.  Wrinkling my nose against the smell I carefully stepped up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder.

    "Hey.  Are you okay?"  There was no answer, Trip's eyes remained tightly closed.  "Do you need me to call Phlox?"

    "No!"  Trip started almost violently, abruptly turning away from the pod and the mess on the floor.  When he looked at me his eyes were wild, almost feverish.  He faced me, chest heaving for a moment before he visible collected himself and turned into the man I knew.  "Naw, Malcolm.  I'm just fine.  My breakfast wasn't sitting so well is all."  I regarded him suspiciously.

    "I think you should go see Phlox."  He made to protest so I gave him what my sister used to refer to as "The Look," complete with capitals.  He knew I was right, he hadn't even checked in with the doctor since the away mission and protocol demanded that he do so.  Besides, he knew I'd stun him and drag him there if I had to.

    "Fine."  He grimaced and looked uncomfortable for a moment before he spat onto the mess on the floor.  "I really need ta rinse my mouth out anyway."  I gently took him by the arm and steered him from the room.  Warning the crewman on duty that a cleanup team was needed as we passed him by.


    "So you suddenly fell ill?  Did you experience a fever or chills?" 

    Trip sat on a biobed sipping from a cup of water.  "I'm telling ya, Doc, it was just my breakfast deciding to make a repeat appearance.  I'm fine."  I narrowed my eyes at that.  That was my line, and I knew what it really meant.

    "Well, you don't appear to be sick, Commander.  I can't detect any alien microbes or spores that would account for your condition.  Just avoid whatever it was you ate this morning in the future."

    "Sure thing, Doc.  I'll be fine."

    I wanted to believe that.  I truly did. I actually could so long as I didn't look in his eyes.  What I saw there gave me cause for alarm, for beneath a veneer of Tucker charm they were haunted.  He hopped off of the biobed and was out the door so quickly I had to run to catch up with him.


    "Gentlemen, nice of you to join us."  The eyes of everyone in the situation room were on us as we slipped into our places around the table.

    "Sorry, Cap'n.  Took a bit longer with Phlox than I thought."  I watched the captain scrutinize his friend.  For an instant I thought he saw what I did, but the the moment passed and he resumed the briefing.  I didn't pay much attention to what was being said, I knew most of it already anyway.  I watched Trip closely throughout, he definitely seemed more subdued than usual.  It was a far cry from his earlier behaviour in the shuttlepod.  He was quiet throughout most of the briefing.  Only coming to life when T'Pol mentioned what we'd found in the database.

    "I didn't know there was slavery on the planet."  The captain sounded incredulous.  "I didn't even notice.  Did you, Trip?"

    "Nope."  The reply was quiet.  Too quiet, a fact that only I seemed to have noticed.

    "It is deeply ingrained in their culture, Captain.  It is quite likely that it didn't occur to them to mention it.  To them, the idea that Enterprise doesn't have slaves could be inconceivable."

    Jon looked thoughtful.  "Well, that's definitely something to mention in my report to Starfleet.  Do they have many slaves?"

    "There are several classes of slaves..."  Trip began to fidget almost imperceptibly, "In translation, they are intellectual, soldier, labourer, and pleasure."  Trip went distinctly white at the last word.

    "Ah, Cap'n."  T'Pol's lecture ceased and all eyes swung around to Trip.  "I'm not feeling so hot.  I'd like to go lie down, if I could."

    The captain's face was instantly full of concern for his friend.  "Of course, Trip.  Are you all right?  Do you need to see Phlox?"

    "Already did.  Just my breakfast ain't sitting so well.  So much for alien grub, huh?"  Everyone around the table relaxed and made sympathetic noises, all having had interesting experiences with alien cuisine.

    "You're off duty for today, and you can take tomorrow off as well if you're still not feeling better, okay."

     "Thanks Cap'n."  Trip gave everyone a weak smile before he turned and left the room.  I tried to catch the captain's eye to see if he was as concerned as I was, but he seemed to take Trip's explanation at face value.

    "What were you saying, T'Pol?"

    "The different types are identified by..."


    Kentucky bourbon.  The liquor burns its way down my throat.  Each gulp is a penance.

    I spent the day in my quarters.  I finished writing reports and performance reviews, set the crew rotation for the next month, and even moved on to some technical journals I'd been meaning to read.  It was all a distraction, though.  I'd have done anything to keep from thinking of last night.  Malcolm tried to get me to join him for dinner in the mess.  I told him I'd already grabbed a bite to eat.  In truth, I couldn't face the thought of food, let alone Malcolm.  I know he suspects something.  I think I scared him when I lost it in the shuttlebay.  I'll have to avoid him for a while, I can't afford to have him find out the truth.  I couldn't handle the disgust that I know would be evident on his face.  I couldn't live with Malcolm hating me.  I love him too much.

    I tried to sleep earlier, but the nightmares were too powerful.  I was back on the planet with Martinak.  He came to me in my dreams, eyes full of hate.  Of hurt.  Asking me why I'd done that to him.  In my dreams the true connotations of his words were evident.

    "You do know why my people come to this type of club.  Don't you, Trip?"  He was testing out the water, making sure I knew what I was doing.  I thought I knew.  My god I thought I knew.

     "I saw you staring at me.  Was there anything in particular that you wanted."  Asking.  Offering, because he had to.  Because the owner of the club owned him like a piece of meat.

    "Then shall you have me."  Because he couldn't say no.

    I took him.  I took him and he couldn't say no.  My stomach rebels again and I retch.  I can feel tears running down my face.  The chronometer blinks over to 0350.  I have to stop thinking about Martinak.  Think about something else, anything else.

    Malcolm.  I fell for Malcolm in the physical sense the moment I laid eyes on him.  Then he opened his mouth and that gloriously accented voice poured out and I was hopelessly lost.  It was pure, unadulterated lust.  Over time, though, I grew to know the man.  It wasn't long before I fell in love with the enigmatic person that is Malcolm Reed.  Someday I might have the courage to tell him how I feel, but that isn't a risk I'm strong enough to take right now.  Memories of Martinak come flooding back.  Don't hate me, Malcolm.  Please.


    Now I'm definitely worried about him.  I arrived at the mess hall at 0700 this morning and stayed until five minutes before my 0900 meeting with the captain.  I took some padds with me and finished the week's paperwork, keeping one eye on the mess hall doors to see if he came in.  He didn't, and I know he wasn't in the captain's mess because Captain Archer was only there from 0725 to 0745.  If there was one constant in the universe it was that Trip Tucker would not miss a meal.  Unless his beloved warp engine was running less than perfectly, of course.  I know for a fact that the warp engine is fine because I commed engineering this morning to ask, and although I felt like an idiot doing that it told me what I need to know.  The warp engine is fine, and Trip isn't.

    I tried to make some tactful inquiries during my meeting with the captain.  When I expressed my concern about his condition the captain assured me that, according to Phlox, he's fine and doesn't know what Trip could possibly have eaten to make himself ill.  While normally a perceptive individual, Captain Archer can be incredibly oblivious sometimes.  My shift is almost over and I haven't seen hide nor hair of Commander Tucker.  I made a few excuses to visit engineering throughout the day, from what I can tell he left Lieutenant Hess in command and took the day off.  I check the chronometer impatiently and am relieved to find that I'm officially off duty.  I take a quick moment to smooth my hair and ensure that my uniform looks presentable before I make my way to Trip's quarters.  We have something to discuss.  I just wish I knew what it was.


    I press the chime again.  "Who is it?"

    "It's Malcolm.  I need to talk to you, Trip."  Which is true in a sense.  If I don't I'll probably go absolutely batty worrying about him.  I almost used our titles since he'd be forced to answer the door if I came in an official capacity, but I don't want this to start off on the wrong foot.

    "Ummmm, just gimmie a sec."  I frown.  I don't think Trip has ever had me wait outside before he let me into his quarters.  Not even that time when he'd practically just stepped out of the shower.  Normally he'd let me sit in his quarters while he finishes in the lav or with a report.  I suddenly wonder if he has someone over and can't understand the inexplicable surge of emotion that accompanies that thought.  The door finally opens and I step into his quarters which, aside from Trip and his possessions, are empty.  He waves me to his desk as he takes a seat on his bunk.

    "What's up Malcolm?"  Oh so casual.  I decide to cut to the chase.
    "What's wrong, Trip?"

    "Nothin's wrong."  I give him a skeptical look and he continues,  "I dunno what you're talking about.  I'm fine, just a bad breakfast."  His eyes belie his words.  Time to be pushy.

    "Trip, I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong."

    He snapped.  "Nothin's wrong Malcolm."  He shouted so loudly I'm sure they could hear us on A deck.  "Will ya leave me alone already?  I told ya I'm fine."  I know I shouldn't do this, but I can't help it.  I lose my composure and suddenly I'm yelling back at him.

    "You're so bloody stubborn, Trip.  Can't you just accept a little help when you need it?"

    "Oh that's rich Malcolm, coming from you."  He glances around the room, looking like a caged animal.  It's clear that he wants to end this discussion as quickly as possible.  He could try and order me out, but we both know how stubborn I can be.  Trip jumps up and strides towards the door, "I don't want to hear another word about this out of you, Lieutenant."  The door slides shut behind him and I'm left alone in his quarters. 


    I sat there stunned for a moment.  That didn't go quite like I'd planned.  I move to stand up and my foot collides with something hidden under Trip's workstation.  I reach down and pick up an empty bourbon bottle.  I now know why it took Trip a while to answer the door.  I look around the quarters carefully and see the corner of a wrinkled uniform sticking out the bottom of his closet.  There is also a suspicious lump in his bedspread.  I walk over and flick back the blanket.  An empty glass is hidden next to the pillow.  A quick sniff confirms that it recently contained bourbon.  I plop down to sit on his bunk.  What could possibly be going on?  Think Malcolm, think.  You're the brightest bloody tactical officer in the fleet, you can figure out this little mystery.  Something starts to niggle at my consciousness, something that I'd forgotten.  What was it?  I tried to force myself to remember, and then, all at once, there it was.

    Trip was sitting on the edge of the biobed as Phlox scanned him from the head down.

    "So you suddenly fell ill?  Did you experience a fever or chills?" 

    Trip sipped from a cup of water, in retrospect he looked distinctly nervous.  "I'm telling ya, Doc, it was just my breakfast deciding to make a repeat appearance.  I'm fine."

    Phlox's scanner reached Trip's waist and paused there for a moment.  I almost remember the doctor's posture changing when he saw the readings.  For some reason he quickly looked up at me before turning back to his patient.  The look that Trip gave him was blocked by the doctor's back, but there was a definite pause before Phlox continued.

    "Well, you don't appear to be sick, Commander.  I can't detect any alien microbes or spores that would account for your condition.  Just avoid whatever it was you ate this morning in the future."

    "Sure thing, Doc.  I'll be fine."

    The only possible conclusion is that Phlox saw something on his scan that he couldn't discuss with me there.  Something Trip didn't want him to discuss.  Whatever it was it didn't seem to be a health risk.  Even with me standing right there Phlox could have come up with any number of innocuous reasons to ask Trip to return later.  Reasons I wouldn't have questioned.

    Trip's behaviour is a true conundrum.  He was his usual gregarious self in the shuttlepod.  His downward turn only seemed to occur once we returned to the ship.  Specifically, when we were chatting in the launch bay.

    Trip regarded me with a raised eyebrow.  "Pleasure slaves?"

    "Yes.  The database wasn't clear on exactly what they do or where you would find them outside of a private home.  The basic idea is that they don't say no.  Ever.  They're red."

    His reaction had been almost immediate, and it had been violent.  In fact, it was a similar conversation that had sparked his sudden flight from the briefing room.  I could feel the wheels turning in my brain.  What could slaves and that scan by Phlox possib.... Oh bloody hell.


    The insistent beeping of the comm roused him from a light slumber.  He rolled over and punched a button to answer the hail.  "Archer."

    Hoshi's voice filled his cabin.  "Captain, I've got Admiral Forrest waiting to speak with you.  He says it's urgent."

    Jon groaned inwardly and levered himself into a sitting position.  "I'll take it here, Hoshi."

     "Aye Sir."  The channel to the bridge closed and Jon crawled out of bed, pulling a shirt on as he sat at his desk.  He punched a button and his superior's face filled the monitor.


    Forrest took in the captain's appearance and looked slightly contrite.  "Sorry to disturb you at this hour, Jon, but we've got a bit of a situation here."

    "A situation?"

    "The Vulcans got wind of what occurred during your mission and have started crying for Commander Tucker's blood.  I'd like to say that whatever Commander Tucker does on his own time is his business, but since it was a first contact situation things are getting a little out of hand.  Unfortunately, they've managed to convince some pretty important people that the incident should at least be looked into.  I'm hoping that you can provide some insight."

    Jon's brow furrowed in confusion, "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, Admiral."

    Whatever the admiral had been going to say was lost as his mouth shut with an audible snap.  "You don't know?"  Jon shook his head helplessly.  The admiral sighed and settled himself more comfortably in his chair.  "After reading your reports Starfleet decided to ask if the Ea would be interested in sharing technological information.  Weapons R&D was particularly interested in their orbital defence grid.  We arranged for a signal to be patched through to their governor so that we could negotiate in real time.  The Vulcans asked to be present during the conference.  I didn't think it was a good idea, but I was overruled by people who were anxious to prove that Starfleet can make its own allies.  The conference was going well until the topic of the Ea's system of slavery was brought up.  Some people were afraid we'd look like we were condoning it.  Their governor looked puzzled and asked why it was an issue now since it hadn't been a problem before.  That's when Ambassador Soval spoke up, he wanted to know if you had appeared to approve of, or condone the slavery while you were there.  The governor asked how else he should interpret 'an officer of Enterprise laying with a red slave'."  Forrest scrubbed his hand over his short cropped hair.  "As you can imagine the place erupted."

    Jon felt like the proverbial rug had been pulled out from underfoot.  "A red slave?  That's a..."  He trailed off as the admiral nodded.  "Trip wouldn't do something like that."

    The Admiral nodded, "He might run his mouth off and make the odd foolhardy decision, but that doesn't sound like him to me either."  Forrest paused for a moment before he continued, "At this stage there are two things that can happen.  The first is that Commander Tucker is recalled to Earth and faces a court martial.  I don't think that is in the best interest of Enterprise or the mission so I've pushed for the second."

    Jon practically held his breath.  "And that is?"

    "That a full hearing be carried out on Enterprise.  Essentially, we want something like a captain's mast."

    "You want me to try Trip?"  Disbelief was evident in the captain's voice.

    "And sentence him or send him home if necessary.  He's embarrassed a lot of influential people, Jon.  It will have to be for real.  You'll need a credible prosecutor if you want them to agree to this."

    "T'Pol can do it."  Jon couldn't believe what he was planning.

    The Admiral nodded in approval, "That should meet their demands.  I want you to proceed with this as soon as possible."  Forrest went to end the transmission when one last thought occurred to him, " And Jon, get him a damn fine defence."

    Jon nodded at the Admiral, "The best, Sir."


    "You've got to be joking."  Jon started, he couldn't remember the last time Malcolm had lost his composure.  "What are they accusing him of?  When did he break a regulation?"

    "There was an incident during the last away mission."

    Malcolm waved his hand, cutting off his superior officer.  "I'm aware of it, but I don't see what they can charge him with. "

    "Conduct unbecoming an officer."

    "Bollocks!  That's the most idiotic, trumped up charge I've ever..."

    "Malcolm!"  Malcolm jumped and his cheeks flushed in embarrassment as he finally remembered who he was speaking to.  "You say you know about it.  Did Trip talk to you?"

    Malcolm resumed his at ease posture,"He hasn't said anything, I figured it out."  Jon slumped in his chair and wondered why he hadn't figured anything out.  He thought he was a closer friend to Trip than Malcolm.  "Command is insistent that some form of trial take place.  They're going to call it a captain's mast and make me preside.  I've appointed T'Pol the prosecutor, of sorts.  I was hoping you would act as Trip's defence."

    "I would like that position a great deal, Sir."

    "Good.  They want the hearing to take place in a week, but let me know if that isn't enough time."  Malcolm nodded.  "Thank you, Malcolm.  Please send Trip in on your way out.  I didn't want to speak with him until I'd sorted out who would be acting in his defence."

    "Yes Sir."  Malcolm executed an about face and exited the room.  Jon barely managed to sigh before his long time friend entered his ready room. 

    "Hey Cap'n.  What's up?"

    "I think you'd better sit down, Trip."


    The door slid open and I was greeted by the sight of Trip glaring at me from across the room.  I stepped inside and, when it became obvious one wasn't going to be offered, took a seat.  Trip's posture was clearly closed off, even hostile, and I didn't have a clue what to do or say.  I did the only thing I could.  I waited.

    Trip spoke first, I'd known I could out last him.  "Why are ya here?"  I knew he was expecting me to say 'because the captain told me to come.'  While that was a partial truth, it wasn't my real reason.  I knew that if I wanted to have any hope of him opening up to I'd need to be honest.

    "Because you're my best friend and I'm going to make sure you don't have to go anywhere.  I know you Trip, and while I might not know all the details I don't believe you have done anything wrong."  He was unable to mask the surprise that flitted across his face so I pressed on.  "Trip, I can't help you unless you let me.  You have to tell me everything."

    He nodded despondently and there was a pause before he finally opened up.  "I just thought I'd go out dancin'.  Maybe have a drink, ya know?  I knew what the clubs were for, but I wasn't really planning on that.  I just thought I'd take a break, have some fun."  Trip's eyes were a bit unfocused as the memory took over.  "Then I saw him there.  He was gorgeous, dancin' like that.  He saw me starin' and came over.  We talked a bit and then he showed me into this back room.  I didn't know he couldn't say no, Malcolm.  I didn't know."  There was a pause and I could tell that Trip was warring with himself.  There was something else weighing on his conscience.

    "What else?"

    "Malcolm." Trip wouldn't meet my eyes as he gasped out the next sentence.  "Martinak, he looked like ya.  He looked like ya, Malcolm."  He curled in on himself.  "I'm sorry, Malcolm.  I shouldn't've...ya shouldn't have had ta..."  He trailed off into a sob as he curled up on the bunk.  I sat there, dumbstruck.  I could feel a faint flush creeping up my neck.  Me.  He looked like me.  Trip Trucker, renowned ladies man, wanted to have sex with an alien that looked like me.  To quote the captain, 'I'll be damned.'


    I sat stunned for quite some time before I remembered my companion.  Trip was still curled up and looked absolutely miserable, I felt awful and gave myself a mental slap.  'How could you leave him like that you stupid twat?'  I carefully edged across the room and sighed when the other man cringed away.  "Trip."  Trip didn't move, his entire posture screamed despair and defeat.  "Trip, look at me.  Please."  I gently reached out and used my index finger to guide Trip's chin upwards until the man was forced to look at me.  "It's all right, Trip."  I watched as disbelief followed by hope blossomed in his eyes.

    "It's alright?"

    I leaned in close so that my meaning would be clear, "It's more than all right, Trip."  I kept leaning in and only paused to murmur, "It's brilliant," before my lips closed over Trip's in a gentle kiss.  When he pulled back the look of rapture on his face was almost blinding in its intensity.  Trip gently raised a hand and ran his fingers over his own lips.

    "It's really alright."  The wonder in his voice was unmistakable.

    I smiled at him, "Yes, Trip, it is."

    He smiled back, "Wow."  I almost laughed at his characteristic response.  He leaned in this time and we kissed until I gently placed my hand on his chest and pushed him back.  I could see the unasked question in his eyes.  I flashed him a smile to let him know that everything was fine.

    "As much as I'd like to continue this.  I think we should ensure that we'll have the chance to explore these feelings for more than a week."  I felt bad at the pain that crossed his features when he remembered the real reason behind my visit and cursed Starfleet Command and the Vulcans in general.  He nodded so I returned to my seat and took out the pad I'd brought to take notes with.  He took a deep, shaky breath and began to talk.

    "I almost stayed back at my room and read the cultural database.  Then I thought that maybe I deserved a break so I went to the club.  I should've read the database, Malcolm.  What kinda officer am I?"

    "I think you're an officer that had been working very hard.  I think you deserved a break and I think the captain gave you the night off so that you could take a break."

    Trip's mumbled reply was barely audible, "Kay, point taken."

    "Trip, they're trying to get to you for conduct unbecoming.  We have to prove you didn't do anything wrong, intentionally or otherwise.  And we have to be convincing because we're up against T'Pol."

    His voice was a whisper, "But what if I did do something wrong?"


    Malcolm tightened his grip as the man in his arms stirred.  He planted a gentle kiss on the top of Trip's head and smiled in satisfaction when the he didn't wake.  Malcolm turned back to his careful scrutiny of the padd he held in his free hand, the details of Starfleet vs. Lieutenant Morrison scrolling down the screen.  He sighed and rubbed his exhausted eyes.  This case was like so many before it, somewhat applicable, but not precedent setting for Trip.  Malcolm's eyes were burning, but he couldn't quite bring himself to quit for the night.  T'Pol was looking like a more and more formidable opponent with every minute that went by.  When his vision blurred he finally admitted defeat and turned off the padd, gently placing it out of the way.  He lay back, wrapping his other arm around Trip, pulling the man into a snug embrace.  He was exhausted, but far too wound up to actually go to sleep.  Trip's words from earlier ran through his head,  "After Charles I swore....I swore I'd never judge another culture by human standards.  I wouldn't impose human values on them.  I swore I wouldn't hurt another alien by being....me."  Trip had been absolutely distraught, it was clear that this encounter had opened old wounds.  Wounds that probably hadn't really been healed at all.  For such an emotional person, Trip could be surprisingly adept at masking his own hurt.  Malcolm had comforted and persuaded, talking until Trip had seemed at least somewhat willing to reassess his feelings of guilt.  While Malcolm wasn't sure he'd convinced Trip of his innocence, the other man was now ready to defend himself at the hearing.  Malcolm shifted as Trip stirred again.  The other man had finally fallen asleep an hour ago.  He'd been absolutely exhausted, it was clear he hadn't slept the night before.  Malcolm gave him another gentle kiss, delighting in the gesture of affection.  He turned his head and looked out of Trip's window at the stars as his eyes slowly slid shut.


    "An annotation in his service record, no formal reprimand or demotion, and immediate transfer to Jupiter Station or Earth."

    Malcolm's eyebrows rose, this was her idea of a generous offer?   "I'm afraid that is unacceptable."

    The Vulcan gazed at him impassively, "It would be wise to accept it, Lieutenant.  If the trial proceeds Starfleet will be asking for demotion and reassignment, or even discharge depending on the testimony.  I have been advised that this is the best offer you are going to receive."

    Malcolm crossed his arms, "It's still not good enough, Sub Commander."

    T'Pol placed her padd on the table, "Lieutenant, Mr. Tucker does not deny his own actions.  The logical course of action would be to accept this offer."

    "I can't do that."  The words were softly spoken, but the conviction was plain.

    "Have you considered that your emotional attachment to Commander Tucker may be impairing your judgement?"  Malcolm couldn't help but gape at her so she explained, "I witnessed an interaction in sickbay after he had been stranded on the Arkonian moon.  I don't believe anyone else was privy to it."  Malcolm bloody well thought not.  It had been 0200 hours and Trip had been asleep.  Malcolm's nocturnal visit had resulted from wanting to assure himself that his friend was fine, but he'd ended up caressing the other man's cheek.  He considered asking the Sub Commander what she had been doing up at that hour, but thought better of it.  It wouldn't do to pry.

    "I can assure you my 'emotional attachment' to Trip will not impair my ability to act in his defence."  Malcolm winced, he'd actually called him Trip.  T'Pol merely inclined one sculpted eyebrow. 


    "Tell me again what happened." 

    Trip rolled his eyes at Malcolm, "Again?"  There was a distinct whine in the tone.

    Malcolm frowned, "Yes again.  You can't afford to miss anything or add something that I don't know about tomorrow."

    Trip made a face, "Malcolm, you know what happened, I know what happened.  Can we please just let it alone for a while?" 

    Malcolm looked closely at Trip, noting how tired he looked.  He took pity, hoping he wouldn't pay for it at the trial tomorrow, "Fine, love."  Trip smiled at the endearment.  "Let's go to bed, it's rather late."  Trip nodded gratefully, quickly shucking off his clothes and slipping under the covers.  Malcolm did the same and clambered in after the southerner.  Trip twined himself around the other man and was asleep within a few minutes.  Malcolm lay awake for quite some time, the words of T'Pol running through his head.  Would his attachment to Trip really be detrimental to the man's defence?  He couldn't bear to fail Trip.  He didn't know what he would do if he was torn away from the man that he cared so deeply for.  Enterprise was the first place that had been home to him, but Trip was the man that he loved, even if he had yet to tell him that.  Could he, should he, go back to Earth with Trip?  Malcolm chided himself on his idle and worrisome thoughts.  Trip wouldn't be recalled or drummed out of the fleet.  He couldn't be.  Malcolm wouldn't let that happen.


    "Commander Charles Tucker III you stand accused of conduct unbecoming an officer.  How do you wish to plead?"  The captain looked distinctly uncomfortable as he read the padd.  Malcolm couldn't blame him.  Not only was he presiding over his best friend's trial, but the protocol for this whole affair had been cobbled together so quickly that no one was truly comfortable with it.

    "Not guilty, sir."  Malcolm nodded approvingly at the conviction in Trip's tone.  At least things had gotten off to a good start.

    Malcolm noticed that the captain looked as relieved at Trip's plea as he felt, how they expected Jon to be fully impartial he couldn't say.  "Very well.  The prosecution may begin."

    Malcolm and Trip watched anxiously as T'Pol, padd in hand, stalked to the front of the room.  "Commander Tucker, do you deny that you accompanied Captain Archer on a diplomatic mission to the Ea home world?"

    Trip turned wide eyes to Malcolm, the sudden questioning making the proceedings very real.  At Malcolm's slight nod he answered, "No."

    "Do you deny that you engaged in sexual intercourse with the Ea named Martinak?"


    "Do you deny that this individual was a slave and thus unable to refuse your advances?"

    Trip's voice was a whisper, "No."

    T'Pol turned to the captain, "By his own admissions he is clearly guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer.  As a Starfleet officer it is Commander Tucker's responsibility to act with the highest moral standards.  His actions should reflect the views and ideologies of Starfleet and humanity as a whole.  This duty is of particular importance during first contact situations where he is presenting an alien culture with their first impressions of humanity.  The act of copulating with a slave is  not condoned by Starfleet.  It does not reflect the values that institution, and indeed humanity in general, consider their own.  It presented the Ea with a picture of humanity that is not accurate.  For these reasons Commander Tucker is guilty of the aforementioned charge."  She strode back to her seat amid a stunned silence.

    After a moment Archer was able to continue, "Thank you, Sub commander.  The defence may now take the floor."  Malcolm gulped as he rose from his chair.  T'Pol's opening remarks would be a tough act to follow.

    Malcolm walked to the front of the room and assumed an "at ease" stance, he consulted his padd while trying to hide his nerves as best he could.

    "Commander Tucker, were you intoxicated on the night in question?"

    "No.  I'd only had one drink."

    "Did you approach Martinak, or did he approach you?"

    "It seemed pretty mutual."  Jon leaned forward in his chair in interest at that statement.

    "Would you please explain."

    Trip nodded, "Well.  He looked at me so I smiled at him.  He smiled back and walked over to where I was standing."

    "So he approached you?"

    "Yeah, I guess he did.  He walked up ta me and ran his hand through my hair.  I'd heard people hooked up at the club so I assumed he was comin' on ta me."

    "Were you aware that slavery existed on the planet?"


    "Did Martinak give you any indication that he was a slave or prohibited from refusing to have sex?"


    "To your knowledge, does Starfleet prohibit fraternizing or being intimate with an alien individual during away missions?"

    "Thank you, Commander."  He turned to face the captain, " As you can see, Commander Tucker did not disregard any Starfleet regulations or guidelines.  Nor did he intentionally misrepresent Starfleet and humanity.  He merely acted on the information that was available to him at the time, which is not grounds for being charged with conduct unbecoming an officer."

    Malcolm returned to his seat and gave himself a figurative pat on the back for a job well done.  He didn't think he'd missed or forgotten anything he wanted to say.  The captain regarded the people assembled before him for a moment before consulting his own notes and continuing the proceedings.  "Sub commander T'Pol, the floor is yours if you would like it."

    "I would, Captain."  She stood and took three graceful steps forward, "Commander Tucker, would you please describe the conversation that occurred prior to your copulation."

    The tips of Trip's ears pinked slightly at having to discuss sex with T'Pol, "Well, he ran his hand through my hair and said he didn't think he'd seen anyone like me before."  Trip continued self consciously, aware of both Malcolm and T'Pol taking notes while he spoke.  "...and then he said 'something like that' and we, ya know."  He trailed off and tugged at his earlobe with his right hand, an outward sign of his discomfort.

    T'Pol quoted Martinak's words back to him, "Was there anything in particular that you wanted?"  She fixed him with a steely gaze, "Then you shall have me."  She took a slow step towards Trip's seat, "Something like that."  T'Pol paused for a moment before continuing, "Those words did not give you any pause for thought?  You did not consider their meaning at all?"

    Trip could feel himself becoming defensive, "I thought he was flirtin' with me!"

    "How did you come to that conclusion?"

    "Well the way he was actin' and what he said."

    "So you based your interpretations of an alien's behaviour on your understanding of human custom, even though there is no reason why the two should be alike?"

    The colour left Trip's face so quickly Malcolm was afraid the man was going to faint.  He appeared dumbstruck for a moment before he managed to whisper, "Yes."

    T'Pol pivoted to face the captain, "As you can see the commander was grossly negligent in his analysis of the situation.  He imposed human values on alien customs rather than examining the situation critically and logically.  An inappropriate act that is part of a pattern of behaviour on his part with another such example being the incident involving the Vissian cogenitor.  This behaviour is clearly unbecoming a Starfleet officer and demonstrates that Commander Tucker is ill-suited for first contact situations.  He should indeed be recalled to Earth as the prosecution suggests."

    Trip was gripping the arms of his chair hard enough to turn his knuckles white.  Jon glanced at his friend in alarm before standing, "Thank you, Sub commander."  He cleared his throat nervously before continuing, "I think that perhaps we should adjourn until 0900 tomorrow, unless the defence would like the floor right now."

    Malcolm rose on slightly shaky legs, "Tomorrow will be fine, sir."

    "Very well, you're dismissed."  T'Pol and the captain left the room immediately, but Trip didn't stir from his seat.

    "Trip?"  When Trip didn't move Malcolm crossed the room and crouched so that he was at eye level with the seated man. 

    A tear was slowly rolling down Trip's cheek and he sniffed as he croaked out two words, "She's right."

    "Oh Trip."  Malcolm faltered, wanting to comfort his friend yet unsure what Trip needed to hear.  All the while terrified of saying the wrong thing.  He settled for gently reaching out and pulling the unresisting man into a hug.


    Malcolm pressed down on Trip's shoulder to quell the other man's fidgeting. 

    "I don't understand why I've gotta do this, Malcolm."

    "You've 'gotta do this' because you're beating yourself up over something that you shouldn't.  Trip, the only person who has been hurt recently is you.  I've tried to tell you that, but you can't manage to believe me.  Perhaps you'll believe him."

    "But Mal..."

    "But nothing."  Malcolm's tone was gentle, but firm enough to forestall any further whinging from Trip.  The monitor showed that a connection between Enterprise and the Ea home world had been established, all they had to do now was specify Martinak's identification number.  "Do you want me to stay or go?"

    "Um," Trip squirmed in his seat, unsure what he wanted to say.  He didn't want Malcolm to think any less of him from what he might overhear, but it would be nice to have a comforting presence nearby.  "Stay."

    Malcolm smiled slightly as he pressed the button to initiate a connection and crouched next to Trip's chair.  It was only a few seconds before the call was answered.  Malcolm marvelled at the handsome face that filled the monitor.  Different species or not, there was more than a passing resemblance between Martinak and himself.

    "Hello?"  Although the U.T. removed the inflection, alien culture or not the question was evident from the look on Martinak's face.

    "Um, Hi Martinak.  I dunno if you remember me or not..."  Trip's uneasy greeting trailed off as Martinak scrutinized the monitor for a moment before replying.

    "Trip is it not?  We were together at the club some time ago."

    "Yeah."  Malcolm watched out of the corner of his eye as Trip's cheeks pinked slightly.  "I was wondering if we could talk about that."

    Martinak still appeared confused as he answered.  "If you feel it is necessary, of course we can.  I am not needed anywhere at the moment.  What exactly do you want to say?"

    "Well, my culture is a bit different than yours.  Um, we don't have slaves on Earth, at least not anymore." Martinak gave what Trip understood to be the Ea's equivalent of a nod so he continued, "See, I don't feel I should have, um, slept with you."

    Martinak's features creased slighted as he appeared to think about what Trip had said, "I don't understand.  Why shouldn't we have copulated?"

    Trip was fully blushing and he ran his hand through his hair self consciously before he replied, "Well, on my world, um, sex is between two consenting individuals... and you couldn't exactly say no.  I feel like I've taken advantage of you."

    Malcolm held his breath as he waited for Martinak's reply.  He hoped he'd predicted what the alien would say correctly.  If not, Martinak's next words could crush Trip.  Malcolm suddenly wasn't sure this conversation had been a great idea.  Further worrying was forestalled as Martinak replied, "As I remember it, we weren't on your world, Trip.  As for your actual concerns, I must say I don't understand them.  I am a red slave and that is what I do, there is no right or wrong about it."  If anything Martinak almost seemed amused, "If it makes you feel better, I can tell you that I quite enjoyed our time together.  Your skill made it a most pleasurable experience for both of us."  Trip made a strangled sound which Martinak ignored as he continued, "With all I know about seduction I can tell you one thing, Trip.  I seduced you.  If you think you had your wicked way with me you're wrong."

    "Oh."  Trip squirmed slightly in his seat, "So you don't dislike me?  You don't mind having to do that?"

    "Why should I mind?  It is an enjoyable way to spend my evenings and much easier than what many people have to do to earn a living."  There was some action off screen which Martinak looked at for a moment before turning back to them, "I should go.  It was nice to talk with you Trip.  If you come to Ea again perhaps we could repeat what happened last time."

    "I dunno about that, I'm kinda involved with someone right now."  Malcolm grinned at Trip's words.  "Thanks for speaking with me, you've made me feel a lot better."

    "It was nothing, Trip.  Your human sense of morality in this matter is cute.  Misguided, but cute."  The screen went dark as Martinak closed the connection.  Trip turned to Malcolm.  He was blushing all the way to the roots of his hair, but he was actually smiling, "He doesn't hate me.  I didn't hurt him or anything."

    Malcolm almost sighed with relief, "No you didn't."

    Trip smiled more broadly, "Then let's try and convince the Cap'n to let me stay on Enterprise."

    Malcolm smiled back, "Anything you say, Trip."


    This was really the first time that Jonathan Archer had truly questioned his position as CO of Enterprise.  For as long as he could remember, he'd felt that he was meant to command this ship.  But now he wasn't sure if he could handle the responsibility that came with it.  A faint whimper caught his attention and he lowered his padd to find a pair of brown eyes looking imploringly at him.  "Oh, boy, I'm sorry."  Jon dropped the padd and climbed out of his chair, pausing to work the knots out of his back, before retrieving a bag from the top of a cabinet.  He winced as his knees popped when he crouched to pour the kibble into his pet's dish.  "You should have had this ages ago."  Porthos gave him one last admonishing look before he practically inhaled his supper.  "What am I gonna do boy?"  Jon flopped down on his bunk and Porthos joined him a moment later after having licked his bowl clean.  "I can't send Trip home.  Enterprise wouldn't be the same without him.  Heck, sometimes it seems like he's the only thing that keeps me sane out here.  He's the only one I can really relax with and just be myself rather than Captain Archer.  Besides you, of course."  Porthos gave what Jon interpreted to be a little snuff of agreement so he continued.  "I know Trip has made some bad choices out here, but we all have.  Besides, this farce of a captain's mast is just supposed to be about the incident with the Ea, not what he's done in the past.  T'Pol may have had a lot of good points, but so did Malcolm.  He probably had even more than she did and Trip added a few good ones of his own today."  Porthos thumped his tail softly against the blanket a few times and Jon resumed petting him.  "I don't think I can condemn Trip in good conscience, but I'm,"  he lowered his voice and whispered to his dog, "I'm a bit afraid, boy."  Porthos bunted Jon with his nose so he continued, "I know it's stupid, but I'm afraid of what will happen if I can't justify my decision.  I've got some of the most important people in Starfleet looking over my shoulder and breathing down my neck, and they've made it perfectly clear what will happen if I appear to be guilty of favouritism."  Jon trailed off and Porthos gave a little whine.  "I know boy, but it's hard."  He sat up and looked at his pet for a moment, "I suppose you're right though.  You usually are."  Porthos licked his hand and Jon acquiesced, "Fine, I'll call Forrest right now." 

    He levered himself off of the bed and turned on his computer, less than a minute later the admiral's face filled the screen, "Hi Jon, I take it you've come to a decision?"

    "Yes sir, I have."

    "And what would it be?"

    "That Commander Tucker is not guilty of the charges."

    The admiral raised an eyebrow, "This might ruffle a few feathers..."

    Jon couldn't stop himself from interrupting, "Sir, can you honestly say you wouldn't have done the same thing in his position?"

    Forrest continued as if Jon hadn't said a word, "...but it's the right decision."  Jon's mouth shut with an audible snap and the admiral smiled at his subordinate.  "It wouldn't be right to recall him, Jon, and I'm glad you have the balls to stand up to them.  This is one of the reasons why you were selected as captain, you know.  Duvall would probably have folded like a house of cards, but you stand up for what's right even if it puts you at risk."  Forrest shifted in his seat as his smile faded, "I'll pass along your decision, and I'll fight for it.  From what I've read he didn't break any explicitly stated regulation and he didn't knowingly do anything improper.  There's nothing they can do anyway, we played by their rules and they lost.  I just wish this hadn't happened.  It's amazing what being embarrassed in front of the Vulcans can do to people.  How's Trip holding up?"

    "As well as can be expected."

    "Beating himself up I take it."

    "Quite horribly.  It brought back a lot of guilt about the Vissians as well.  I think he'd convinced himself he was a horrible person, but Malcolm set him straight.  He argued quite well for himself today."

    "If there's one thing I know about Commander Tucker it's that he's not a horrible person.  He's just impulsive, hot-headed, argumentative, idealistic, good at running his mouth off..."  Both men smiled in fond remembrance as Forrest trailed off.  "Well, I'd better let you go.  I'm sure a few people are anxious to know your decision, although I doubt T'Pol would ever admit it.  Take care, and please, Jon, keep him in line.  For my sanity and his sake."

    "I'll do my best, sir."  Forrest closed the connection and Jon's screen reverted to the Starfleet logo screensaver.  "Well, boy, it looks like Trip's going to be fine.  I just wish almost every calamity of this mission didn't have to happen to him.  Or have him as the cause of it."  Jon opened the inter-ship messaging program and typed in a brief message to T'Pol informing her of this decision.  Calling everyone together for a formal verdict seemed a bit daunting given how tired he felt right now.  The message sent to Trip and Malcolm was even shorter, "Not guilty.  Dinner will be in the captain's mess at 18:00."  If Jon had been reading the glances Trip had been making at Malcolm correctly, they still had a few things to discuss.


    "But why does he want me there?"  Trip stifled a smile at the near-panic present in his lover's tone and watched as Malcolm smoothed his hair for the umpteenth time.

    "Because you defended me?  That sounds like a good reason."

    "I suppose, but you know I've never been completely comfortable socializing with my superior officers."

    Trip smirked, "Oh?  Then what do you call what we did last night 'cause you seemed awfully comfortable with that."

    The colour seemed to drain from Malcolm's face, "Oh Trip, what if he's figured out that we're together?"

    Trip shrugged, "So what?  I wouldn't put it past him, he's certainly known me long enough to read my behaviour pretty well."  Malcolm blanched even more and Trip chuckled, "He'll be fine with it Malcolm, and we do have to tell him eventually, so finish fixing your hair and let's go."


    "Wine, Malcolm?"

    "Uh, that would be lovely."  Trip smirked at the faint flush that appeared on Malcolm's cheeks.  The man was so cute when he was flustered.


    "You bet, Cap'n."

    Jon smiled as he poured his friend a generous glass of the burgundy liquid.  "I propose a toast.  To someone who must have been a very skilled lawyer in another life."

    Trip smiled as well and raised his glass, "To my defence."  Malcolm flushed even more, but accepted the toast with his usual graciousness.  Trip licked his lips after sampling the wine, "Good stuff Cap'n, just what I need."

    Jon grinned, "I've been hiding a few bottles away for a rainy day.  I think Forrest could use some as well after what he must have put up with at command today.  The senior admirals must have been intolerable, not to mention Soval."

    "Gawd, I can only imagine.  Thanks for keeping me here, Cap'n."

    "It was the right decision, all things considered, but T'Pol did have some valid points.  I hope you've learned something from this."

    Trip was sombre when he responded, "I think I finally did, Cap'n.  I know I'll certainly look at aliens and first contacts differently from now on, and I'll definitely consider the full consequences of my actions very carefully."

    "I'm glad to hear that.  Command will be watching you closely for a while, please don't give them any reason to question your post on Enterprise again.  The ship wouldn't be the same without you."

    Trip smiled at Jon's obviously heartfelt words.  "I'll be good, Cap'n.  You and Malcolm can help keep me in line."

    Jon looked sly at that, "About you two..."  Malcolm's impression of a deer caught in headlights confirmed what he'd suspected, "So you are an item?"

    Trip chuckled, "Not much gets by you does it."  He sobered slightly and regarded his friend calmly,  "Yeah we are now."

    "Then congratulations."  Jon smiled at the look on Malcolm's face, "At ease, Malcolm.  I'm happy for you two, and Starfleet doesn't have a place in the cabins of its crewmembers, so long as they keep their personal life in their cabins."

    "Understood, Cap'n."
    "Understood, sir, and thank you."

    "There is some quid pro quo that goes with it though."

    "Oh?"  Trip's expression was guarded.

    "I don't tell Novakovich and Travis, who you know would have a dozen scandalous pieces of gossip through the rumour mill and round the ship in no time, and Malcolm here agrees to keep you out of trouble."

    Malcolm shrugged and his tone was clipped and dry, "A fair enough deal, although it will be considerably more work on my part."

    "Hey now, I ain't that bad."  A pair of raised eyebrows was his only reply.


    "Malcolm?  You awake?"

    "Mmmmbarely."  The voice was sleep slurred and Trip felt Malcolm shift next to him.  Trip wrapped an arm around him and gently ran his fingers through the soft hair at the back of Malcolm's neck.

    "I wanna thank you, Mal."


    "I couldn't have gotten through this without you, Malcolm.  You showed me the difference between intentionally doing wrong and just being misguided or making stupid decisions.  I promise you, Mal, I won't interpret an alien's behaviour as if they were human, and I'll always remember that I'm a representative of Starfleet and Earth."

    Malcolm shifted slightly so that his face wasn't pressed into Trip's side, "That's a rather grand promise, Trip."

    "I know, but I'm gonna stick to it.  I'm not going to give Starfleet any reason to separate us, not now and not ever.  I love you too much, Malcolm."

    Malcolm suddenly stiffened beside him and Trip realized he'd said a bit more than he'd intended.  Malcolm levered himself up slightly so that he could look at Trip's face, although he couldn't see much of anything in the dark room.  "You love me?"

    Trip swallowed convulsively but answered honestly, "Yes."

    "Oh."  Malcolm felt a smile twist his lips, "Well that's good, because I love you too.  A great deal, in fact."  The air was promptly squeezed out of Malcolm as Trip gripped him in a crushing hug.

    "Oh darlin' that's wonderful."

    Malcolm hugged back for a minute before wiggling to extricate himself from the constricting embrace, "I suppose some good has come out of all of this, Trip."


    "We'll be more aware of our actions during away missions, Starfleet is going to make some formal guidelines for first contact, and, best of all, we're together."

    Trip tucked Malcolm's head under his chin and pressed a light kiss into his dark hair, "Forever, darlin'."