Title: A Hard Rain
Author: Joules Mer
Rating: PG
Pairing: T/R
Disclaimer: The characters depicted in this story are the property of Paramount.  The title and song lyrics are from Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" copyright 1963.
Feedback: julia_ocean_child@yahoo.co.uk
Archive:  Yes to EntSTcommunity and Tim Ruben.  All others please ask.
Length: 6,300 words
Spoilers:  Mild for Unexpected, Shuttlepod One, Oasis, Desert Crossing and Precious Cargo.
A/N:  This is a response to Nadai's 11,000th post challenge on EntSTSlash.  No beta as usual...I should really get one sometime.

As Malcolm would say: "Happy endings.  Must think happy endings."

A Hard Rain

He kissed him.
Once for  Ah'len.
Twice for Kaitaama.
Three times for the desert.
And four, four for Liana with her naive smile.


    The string quartet moved on to Beethoven as waiters glided through the crowd dispensing fluted glasses of champagne.  Admirals brushed shoulders with enlisted personnel and scientists as Malcolm Reed tried to emulate anonymity among the potted palm trees.  He self-consciously sipped his drink and surveyed the hastily prepared reception which served to announce the imminent departure of Enterprise.  Although the entire room was quite upbeat, there was a particularly boisterous table directly across from him.  Still laughing, a figure in the centre  raised his head and caught Malcolm's eye.  Blue eyes met grey and Malcolm found himself riveted to the spot.  The owner of said blue eyes excused himself with a rather distracted air and made his way over to Malcolm.  He held out his hand, "Trip Tucker, and I don't believe I've had the pleasure of an introduction."

    The wide, utterly glowing smile.  The accent, so unlike anything his ear was attuned to.  The butterflies in his stomach launched into the rhumba.  They'd chatted.  They'd had a drink.  They'd rushed out together, hand in hand.  Behind them, the band played on.

    Civilian dress parties can be dangerous when one is in Starfleet.  Malcolm remembered how years ago a fellow ensign had made advances on what turned out to be the survival training instructor.  That misadventure had made for a very uncomfortable three weeks in the Himalayas.   The Trip Tucker Malcolm had fallen for had been sporting a dark blue suit that complemented his eyes.  Imagine his surprise when the man's closet was found to contain a rack of Starfleet uniforms, crisply ironed with red piping and the rank insignia of commander.

    He would have backed away. He'd have buried his feelings and covered his face in a mask of the upmost propriety.  Only the whirlwind that was Trip Tucker had prevented that.  He'd been implored, cajoled and positively romanced beyond the limits of the shutters that hid his soul.


    Malcolm kissed him passionately, deeply, marking him as his own.  He finally broke the kiss, brushing his thumb over the abused lips as he slowly pulled back.  Wide, shocked green eyes met his own.  Malcolm quirked a half smile at them as he fully backed away.


    "Why didn't ya tell me Mal?"

    "I.."  any rebuttal died as he focused on  his lover.  Trip's face was slack and his normally expressive eyes were dull.

    "I've done some stuff I ain't too proud of Mal.  But I always, always tell ya right away."  Trip sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair before he continued.

    "D'ya know what it's like ta have your best friend tell ya what a good kisser your lover is?  I loved you and I loved being in love with you.  Didn't that mean anything to ya?"  Trip's use of the past tense shook Malcolm to his very core.  He sat opposite Trip with his head bowed, knowing he should respond but unsure of what to say.   "I think we should take a break from each other Malcolm."  His head shot up and a protest formed on his lips but Trip had already turned away.

The door slid shut with an air of finality that made Malcolm want to cry.


    His hand reached for the doorbell for the third time that evening.  This time he forced it to press the button.  Trip would know it was him.  For the first few months of the mission their nightly routine had consisted of Malcolm arriving at Trip's door at this time.  The couple would make use of the privacy Trip's larger cabin afforded them until Malcolm returned unnoticed to his own at 0500.

    He rang again, and again until he heard the call to enter.  Trip was seated in his desk chair staring at the stars.  His harmonica lay on the desk and his back was to the door.  Music filtered through the cabin speakers, it was a singer Malcolm had heard Trip accompany on the harmonica.  He stopped inside the door and stood still.  The music surrounded them as the song continued.

"...I met one man who was wounded in love,
I met another man who was wounded with hatred,
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall."

"Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin',
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
But I'll know my song well before I start singin',
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall."

    The song ended, leaving an oppressive silence in its wake.  Just as Malcolm was going to begin his prepared speech Trip spoke.  "I lied to Phlox."  He kept his back to Malcolm as he continued, "I also used my rank in a manipulative manner."  Malcolm paused at this revelation, sensing that Trip had more he needed to say.

    "Some folks on  Earth have made it quite clear to me that they consider me Enterprise's first officer.  I went to Phlox and said there had been an incident surrounding the away mission you and Jon were on.  I said that in the capacity of the commissioned first officer I needed ta ask some questions that could pry into medical records.  I said I needed ta know if there had been any medical condition that could've affected your conduct.  God Malcolm, ya don't know how badly I wanted ya to've been hallucinating 'cause of an allergy or purposefully drugged or drunk or anything.  But he said no.  He said anything that happened was of your own volition."  Trip spun in his chair to the point that Malcolm could see his eyes glistening in the dimly lit room.  "I found out what happened from Jon, if ya wanted ta leave me couldn't ya have told me that ta my face.  God, if Jon didn't know we were together he sure knows now.  I lost it Malcolm.  We were just talking about stuff.  We hadn't had a chance to unwind together since the away mission.  He, he was describing it ta me.  How the festival was like New Years, how couples would kiss."  Trip began fiddling with his harmonica.  "I asked if there were any attractive aliens that he'd smooched..."


    Jon responded negatively but a faint flush could be seen creeping up his neck.  Trip crowed in delight and began tormenting his friend.  "C'mon Cap'n, spill the beans.  Ya can't hide this from me, I've known ya too long!"

    "Trip!  It wasn't like that, it wasn't an alien."

    Trip goggled at this bit of news.  "Hoshi!"
    "No!  What do you take me for Trip?"
    "You wound me Jon!  Okay I'll just keep guessing.  Rostov?  He was the pilot that mission, right?  Details, Jon, I want details."

    "Fine, it was Malcolm.  He just grabbed me and the next thing I knew he was laying them on me.  I'd have decked him if I wasn't so shocked.  I don't think anyone from Enterprise saw us but Trip, he's a damn fine kisser!  He does this thing with his tongue where...you okay?"

    Trip looked positively ashen.  He set his drink on the table and Jon was alarmed to see that his hands were shaking.  "Malcolm kissed you?"

    "Yes Trip, do I need to call the doc?  You really don't look so good."

    "Malcolm kissed ya more than once?"  Trip's voice was raised.  Porthos started from where he had been sleeping on the bed.

    "That's what I said Trip, now what's going on?"

    Trip jumped out of his chair as if it contained a scorpion.  "GODDAM IT WHAT IN THE HELL IS HE TRYING TA PULL HOW COULD HE DO THAT TO YA?"  Porthos sat up and began to howl along with Trip's tirade.  "HE'D BETTER HAVE A DAMN GOOD EXPLANATION FOR THIS AND WHY HE DIDN'T TELL ME SOONER."  Jon got to his feet and laid a hand on his friend's arm.

    "Easy Trip, easy.  Why don't you tell me what's going on."

    Trip turned to look at his friend and Jon was shocked to see unshed tears in his eyes.  "I'm sorry Jon, I gotta go.  Trip spoke softly before he turned and fled from the room.


    The harmonica slipped from his grasp and clattered on the desk.  "I didn't tell Jon 'cause you asked me not to.  Do you have any idea how hard it was to hide 'us' from him.  I've never, ever, kept something from him, we're supposed to trust each other.  After this he'll probably never trust me the same way again.  You're a real trip, you know that Malcolm.  One blow and you've taken my heart and my best friend.  I guess that's what you tactical guys are good at."

    Malcolm's stoic reserves were at their end and he couldn't stay quiet any longer.  "I'm sorry Trip, I really am and I have a lot I have to say because..."

    "Don't"  The interruption was soft but effective.  "I can't take this yet Malcolm.  You had two weeks, two whole weeks after the away mission to say something but you didn't."

    "Trip, I..."

    "Just go."

    So he went.


    It was 1300 hours two days later.  Malcolm had just entered the mess hall when he felt a hand at his elbow gently but firmly guiding him into the captain's mess.  The door shut behind them and the captain rounded on him, cold fury in his eyes.  "Am I to presume, Mr. Reed, that you were in an established relationship with Commander Tucker at the time of the away mission?"

    Malcolm gulped, the Adam's apple bobbing in his throat. "Yes Sir.  I apologize for my conduct I..."   The captain cut him off.

    "I didn't take up the matter earlier because you've been a perfect officer the rest of the time but god help me Malcolm, if Trip keeps hurting because of you, you'll be off this ship so fast you won't know what hit you."  Jon scrutinized the face of his armoury officer before he continued.  "Why Malcolm?"


    "Why did you do that to him?  Do you have any idea how badly you've hurt him?"

    "I didn't do it to hurt Trip.  That was never a conscious intent on my part.  I just... I can't explain it to you but I don't want 'us' to be over."    

    "Then you'd damn well better tell him that, and soon."

    Malcolm lowered his gaze to the floor, unable to meet his superior's eyes.  "But, I'm not really comfortable expressing my emotions.  Now in particular."

    "Then I suggest you get 'comfortable,' for Trip's sake.  And your own."  The door closed behind him as the captain strode out.

    Malcolm took a seat at the empty table and held his head in his hands as he tried to get a grasp on his tumultuous thoughts.  The only thing that he was certain of danced in the front of his mind.  Trip Tucker was the best thing that had ever happened to him.  Their  time together had been the highlight of his otherwise unhappy life.  

    When he had discovered their mutual postings to Enterprise he'd been stunned.  He'd tried to end the relationship before it truly got started but Trip wouldn't let that happen.  Trip had argued with a tenacity Malcolm had never seen equalled.  He'd methodically shot down every point Malcolm could make until he found himself agreeing to, in Trip's words, "Give it a try."

    Once Trip had scored that first victory it became clear he was determined to keep Malcolm.  From quick kisses in the turbolift to a multitude of whispered "I love you"s and footsie at the most inappropriate of times, Malcolm's ethics had bent under the constant  barrage of affection.  The  warmth he felt when he remembered his "private" birthday celebrations could transcend the permanent ache that had marred his soul for the last two weeks.  Now he had to return the favour.  Now he had to court Trip Tucker, to explain what happened and try to have Trip take him back.  But would Trip ever have him again?  And that begged the even more pressing question, how to begin?


    Trip Tucker was the epitome of professionalism.  The extent of which was so out of character that people were starting to notice.  Malcolm Reed was eating a late lunch in the mess hall with Travis and Hoshi.  He had tried to engage in their friendly banter but found his mind preoccupied with a certain engineer.  He desperately wished he could discuss his problem with someone but knew that was impossible.  He couldn't let any one else know, not yet, and his tactical sense told him the captain was barely able to keep from flattening him.  He idly wondered if Trip had talked to the captain about the situation.  He doubted he had.   Trip might be a shameless flirt but he was incredibly loyal when all was said and done.  Malcolm hadn't wanted to share before and Trip would respect that to the end.  It must be incredibly hard for him to have no one to talk to.  "Commander!"  Malcolm was started out of his reverie by Hoshi.  "Commander, come eat with us."  Trip Tucker walked slowly over to their table, he was carefully balancing a tray which contained a sandwich and what looked like tomato soup.

    Travis grinned when Trip reached them.  "Pull up a chair Sir, we haven't had a chance to chat in ages.

    Trip gave what was, in Malcolm's opinion, a rather forced smile as he responded to the younger crew members.  "I'm sorry but I've gotta get back ta engineering."  This statement was followed by the rather thin excuse, "Plasma's been running a bit hot lately."

    Travis tried to mask his disbelief, but failed in his response.  "But you've been cooped up in there for days Sir.  I haven't seen you on the bridge at all."  That, Macolm interjected mentally, is because I'm there.

    "Couldn't an ensign or Lieutenant Hess look into it Sir?"  Hoshi added, helpful as always.  "You do have crew under your command."

    "Yes, and that includes the three of you so I've gotta go.  Ensigns." Trip nodded his head before adding "Lieutenant" as he performed an about face and exited the room.

    "That," said Travis, "was weird."

    "Any idea what's wrong with him.  He's been...distant lately."  Travis shook his head at Hoshi's question and Malcolm tried to play it cool.  A cool he nearly lost at her next comment.

    "One of us should talk to him, try to see what's wrong."

    "Good idea, shall we draw straws or what?"

    "No!"  They both turned to him, surprised at his outburst .  "I mean, I know him best.  I'll do it."  The two ensigns shared a glance before Travis spoke up.


    "After my shift today."  They nodded, appeased, and lunch continued.


    Misaligned targeting scanners had kept Malcolm in the armoury until well after the end of his shift.  It was 1900 hours when he finally made his way into engineering.  He tried to remain undetected as he scouted around in search of clues that could tell him the whereabouts of the Chief Engineer.  It wasn't too long before he had a partial answer.

    At Trip's workstation was a sandwich, minus a corner, and a bowl of cold soup with an immaculate soupspoon.   Malcolm sighed and collected the tray.  He dumped the food down the disposal chute and took the tray with him as he left engineering.  He could drop it at the mess hall on his way to Trip's quarters.

    Once again Malcolm found himself ringing Trip's door chime.  This time the door didn't open.  Malcolm hadn't really expected it to.  Well he was chief of security for a reason.  In 45 seconds flat the door to Trip's quarters slid softly open.  Malcolm scanned the room, he took in the largely uneaten dinner on the desk and the uniform draped over the back of the chair before his gaze settled on the room's sole occupant.

    Trip Tucker was reading a book.  A real book, leather bound with paper pages, it looked positively ancient.  He set it beside himself on the bed and Malcolm glimpsed the piece of paper that served as a bookmark.  It looked as though it had come with the book and someone had written on it in careful, even script.  "Charlie- 'Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow.' "  Good advice James Dean, thought Malcolm as he dragged his eyes up from the book.  Here goes nothing.

    "We need to talk."  Trip's face was sallow, it looked to Malcolm like he'd lost weight.

    "I'm fine Malcolm, I don't need ya."

    "Come on Trip, we know both know your definition of 'fine' is comparable to mine.  You're not fine Trip.  You're shut off from the crew, you haven't been eating and if I know you, you've probably been drinking."

    "Oh, and you're fine?" Trip snorted, "Then I'm glad I meant oh so much to ya."

    "That's not what I meant Trip, you know that."

    "Then what exactly did you mean Malcolm?"  The blue eyes were lit with a hostile intensity.

    "Can we start over?"

    Trip wouldn't give an inch.  "To what are you referring?  This conversation?  I suppose so. Us?  I don't think so."  Malcolm's heart sank with the last statement but he would work with whatever he was given.  He removed the uniform from the chair and sat down.  He carefully looked Trip in the eyes.

    "I think I have some explaining to do."

    Trip couldn't remain calm any longer.  "You're damn right, and that's probably the last thing we're gonna agree on.  What d'ya expect me ta do?"  He pitched his voice in a falsetto as he quoted some arcane source. "Loosie, ya got some 'splanin' to dooo!  And then what?  It's all fine and dandy?"

    The bite of Trip's sarcasm was underscored by the pain that could be seen in his eyes.  "No Trip, it's not fine.  Not right away.  Please let me try to make it better.  Let me, let me do what I should have done a long time ago."  Trip looked at him warily before giving an almost imperceptible nod.  Malcolm breathed a silent sigh of relief before he prepared himself to continue.

    "Trip, I kissed the Captain on the away mission."

    "Multiple times."  Trip wasn't going to make this easy.

    "It was an isolated incident."

    "It was my best friend!"  

    Malcolm forced himself to continue calmly.  "And it will never happen again."  Trip snorted.  "I'm deeply sorry, I never wanted to hurt you or end the relationship.  I was jealous of you."  Trip's head snapped up and he looked at Malcolm, really looked, for the first time that evening.  Malcolm kept going and the words started to come out of him in a rush.  "I'm jealous of you in so many ways.  Your family is wonderful and Jonathan Archer is the perfect best friend.  Mark was never a friend like that, he tolerated my presence because I could tutor him so he'd get better grades.  My family never loved me like yours does, you're surrounded by love Trip Tucker and you don't know how lucky you are.   It seems like there hasn't been an away mission where you haven't been snogged senseless.  Ah'len got you pregnant, Liana you kissed and Kaitaama you tell me you just kissed but I found you in your skivvies.  It seems like something always comes between us Trip.  We had that special day off together planned and then you take off into the desert with the captain.  You scared me to death that day Trip, then I found you sheltered under the captain's body.  It was him you reached out to when we maneuvered through their defence grid, his hand you tried to hold."  Malcolm paused and took a long, shuddering breath.  "Then  I was on an away mission and so was he and we were surrounded by snogging.    So I kissed him and as I did that was what filled my mind.  Ah'len, Liana, Kaitaama and Jon,  not that I hate you Trip, not that I wanted to end it.  I was jealous Trip, of him and of you.  I'm so bloody neurotic Trip."

    Trip tried his best to understand Malcolm's admission.  "So it was revenge?  Ya know those events didn't mean anythin'."

    "Yes.  No.  I don't know."

    "Well what is it Mal?"

    Malcolm's heart leapt at the use of his nickname and he rushed to continue.  "I know I said they didn't bother me, but I think they did.  You know just how many failed relationships I have behind me."  Trip, remembering the incident in the shuttlepod, grunted an affirmative.  "They all left me Trip, every last one of them.  And they always left me for another person that I couldn't compete with.  I guess I had trouble convincing myself you wouldn't too.  To me, each one of those was the beginning of the end.  I just don't think I could take being left again.

    "So you tried to leave first?"

    "I didn't want it to be over, but if it was I wanted it to be my choice for once.  I wasn't really thinking straight Trip."

    "Well that's fer sure.  Malcolm, I was never going to leave ya.  I never wanted ta for a second."

    "I know Trip, I'm sorry.  I'd been harbouring these doubts for so long that when I was on that away mission with someone else you care about and everyone started snogging  I couldn't help it, I just acted on impulse."  Malcolm made sure he had Trip's full attention before he continued.  "Could we start over.  Really start 'us' over?"    

    "I'm not sure it's a good idea Malcolm."  He sighed, "I've been in Starfleet for over 12 years and I'd never misused my authority before.  I'd always worked so hard to be the model officer, I guess I have a lot ta prove in that arena."  He paused and moved on the bed so he was sitting up straighter.  "D'ya know why I'm a commander Malcolm?"

    "No, I did wonder though as we're almost the same age."

    "It's 'cause of the engine ya know.  When I was still a cadet it was a given that I'd be an engineer.  I was recruited to the warp five project fresh from the graduation ceremony.  When I got there, some didn't take so kindly ta my presence.  People had spent their entire careers on that engine, and now they were supposed to listen to what I had ta say.  They called me 'the kid', drowned me out at meetings and sent me ta get the coffee.  I remember the night the engine first worked.  We had it set up for a final test, I was manning the coolant intakes, Duvall had plasma and Johnson was doin' somethin' with the dilithium.  Even Jon was there as an observer.  Only problem was, it wasn't goin' so hot.  No one knew what ta do differently 'cause they had expected it ta work.  Everyone had stepped back from their panels but me, I reached over and made a routine adjustment.  That's when it happened."  Trip seemed to glow at the memory.  "It lit up like a Christmas tree and this beautiful thrumming filled the room.  The floor was shaking and everybody was jumping and laughing and frantically scanning readouts.  There was this admiral in charge of the test and  I heard him call out my name.  I went over and the next thing I knew he was pinning a new pip on my uniform.  It was an instant promotion Malcolm, years ahead of schedule.  He saluted and told me he'd been waiting for years ta do that ta the person who got the engine ta work.  Jon took me out drinking to celebrate, that's when we became friends."  The grin that had become established on his face slowly faded as he returned to the present.  "The thing is Malcolm, I didn't do anything.  The engine just chose that moment ta kick in.  I tried to explain it ta them but they didn't want ta admit a mistake so I kept the promotion.  But Malcolm, this whole rank in a sham.  I shouldn't be a commander at all."  Trip dropped his gaze to his hands as he continued.  "Since then I've tried so hard to show them I can do it.  I tried so hard to be a good officer, to earn my position.  Now look what I've done.  It's what ya do ta me Malcolm, I'd never been in love like that before.  I was so sure that 'us' was a good idea but now I dunno."

    "Then, as you once said,"  Malcolm put on his best southern drawl, " 'let me convince ya'."

    Trip looked up, he seemed unsure but Malcolm was certain there was a glimmer of hope in his eyes.  "I can't live like this Malcolm, always uncertain.  I was sure it was over but now...please don't toy with me."

    "Give me one week."


    Malcolm leaned across Trip's desk.  "Give me one week to show you that 'us' is a good thing."

    Trip seemed to consider the idea for a prolonged amount of time.  Finally he nodded.


    He exited Trip's quarters and was almost bowled over by Jonathan Archer.  The captain was in the middle of a walk with Porthos and it was clear he had intended to stop at Trip's.  The captain looked searchingly into his face and Malcolm felt himself flush under the intense scrutiny.  Malcolm knew he looked terrible and he guessed it was still evident that he'd been crying.  "You talked to him?"  Malcolm could only nod.

    "Right, let's go."  With that Malcolm found himself being steered by the captain through Enterprise's corridors.  They paused briefly at the door to the captain's quarters as he pressed in the code before ushering Malcolm in first.  Malcolm gratefully sank into the chair that the Jon indicated as the captain went to place food out for Porthos.  Malcolm was still glumly sitting when Jon returned and thrust a glass of scotch into his hands.  The captain settled in a chair where he had a clear view of his armoury officer.  "Trip's always said I'm a good listener.  I'm willing to look beyond what happened on the away mission and listen to you.  But it better sound like something that will help Trip."

    Malcolm took a deep swig of his drink before he met his captain's gaze.  Slowly, hesitantly, he began to speak.  Once he began, he found it hard to stop.  Jon didn't interrupt him save to refill his drink.  When he finally trailed off the captain regarded him in silence for a moment before speaking.

    "Looks like you need a plan."


    Romance.  The whole concept was something that positively baffled Malcolm.  Affection was not prevalent in the Reed household, indeed, public displays of affection had been frowned upon when he was a child.  This had left him totally unprepared for the complex world of dating that awaited him.  Malcolm had gone through what he understood to be the expected motions of Valentines Day, but his efforts always fell short somehow.  Now he sat in the mess hall, sipping lukewarm tea and despondently surveying the pad in front of him.

Mission:  The Romancing of Trip
Duration: 7 days
Known Obstacles:  Should be considered a hostile target.  May try to thwart plans.
Known Weaknesses of Target:
-Penchant for pecan pie
-Enjoys sentimental movies, particularly those with Ingrid Bergman (esp. Casablanca).
-Often works past end of shift.  Predictable behaviour when engines aren't running smoothly.
-Probably still has feelings for me.
Methods of Assault:

    He sighed and erased 'footsie'.  It was well into day one and he had yet to make any definite plans.  For the first time in his life Malcolm was having trouble filling out a standard tactical analysis, partly because he had a sinking feeling that this was not the way he should be approaching his problem.

    Malcolm pondered on, oblivious to the attention his woebegone demeanour was drawing.

    "What's eating him?"

    "I don't know, but he's been there for at least an hour."

    "Time to act?"

    "I think so.  Just try to keep him from getting defensive."

    "Play it cool?"


    They sauntered over.  "Lieutenant."

    "May we join you?"
    "Hoshi...Travis, of course."  He noted they appeared to have already eaten.  "Is something the matter?"

    "We were hoping you could tell us."  Hoshi groaned and suppressed the urge to blurt out a 'great job Travis.'  Tact was crucial when talking to the reticent lieutenant.

    "I'm fi.."  He couldn't bring himself to say it this time.  After a pause Malcolm decided to take one of the greatest risks of his life.  He opened up.  "Howdoyouwinsomeoneback?"  The words came out in a rush.

    Hoshi and Travis tried to mask their surprise.  It was Hoshi that recovered first.  "That depends.  Who is it?"

    "I can't exactly say."  It didn't matter, she hadn't really been expecting a straight answer.

    "Well at least tell us what happened."  Over his initial shock, Travis was eager to help.

    "I did something... unfortunate."

    "As in stupid?"  Hoshi glared at Travis.

    "Yes."  Malcolm blushed slightly.  He imagined their faces if he'd said 'As in snogging the captain senseless.'

    Ignoring Hoshi's warning glances, Travis plowed ahead.  "Just how stupid are we talking here?"

    "Really quite imbecilic."

    "Sounds like it's time for drastic measures.  Sweep them off their feet, show them what they're missing."    

    Malcolm turned to Hoshi as the voice of practicality.  "Don't do anything too forward yet.  Kissing is out.  That should be left until it can be mutual."  Malcolm nodded.  "Other than that I can't say more  without knowing the person."  At Malcolm's standoffish look she relented.  "I'm sure you'll do just fine.  Be yourself Malcolm, how can they resist?"  Malcolm managed a weak smile.

    The ensigns stood.  "We're due on the bridge soon, I'll talk to you later?"  Malcolm nodded at Hoshi's subtle question.

    Hoshi was already across the mess hall as Travis, smirking, turned to Malcolm.  "Go get 'em Tiger!"  Malcolm groaned, wondering just what he'd unleashed on an unsuspecting bridge crew.


    Day one was fast drawing to a close and Malcolm knew some gesture was expected.  The more he thought about it, the more Hoshi's advice made sense.  If he was trying to convince Trip they should be together, shouldn't he just show him what it could be like?  Sure, they had been a couple for quite some time, but in light of recent events Trip would probably need a reminder of how nice it had been.  Besides, he'd always been the more passive partner in the relationship.  It was Trip who spent time planning things for them to do together and Trip who had instigated every little impropriety they'd committed.  He felt himself flush at the memory of the snogging, not to mention fondling, that had occurred in the turbolift.  

    He dragged himself away from the memories and used his console to access the engineering status report.  If the engines weren't up to scratch he knew one gesture that would definitely be appreciated.  


    It had been a long day for Trip Tucker.  While the rank of chief engineer was high, the job still entailed crawling around in cramped spaces.  He stretched in an attempt to remove some of the knots in his lower back before he made his way to his console.  A malfunctioning  plasma injector, misaligned warp coils and gravity plating on the fritz  had made for a tiring day.  Not to mention the fact that he still had a good hour of paperwork left.  He entered the alcove that served as an office and stopped dead.  Carefully arranged on his desk was a slice of pecan pie, fork balanced on the side of the plate, and a thermos.  He crossed his fingers and unscrewed the lid of the thermos.  The aroma of hot coffee filled his nostrils.  He inhaled deeply.  Heaven.


    The next four days were filled with similar gestures.  Malcolm found the whole time span to be rather frustrating.  No matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried, Trip wouldn't give any indication of his feelings.  Malcolm could just hope he was on the right track and try to increase the intensity.

    Although technically off duty until 1300 hours, Malcolm made his way to the situation room for an early senior staff meeting.  He took a seat between T'Pol and the captain, strategically placing himself across from Trip's chair.  Trip finally arrived, offering news of a near calamity in engineering to explain his tardiness, and the meeting got underway.  T'Pol was beginning what was sure to be a tedious monologue on spacial anomalies so Malcolm buried his ideas about propriety and carefully slipped his right foot out of its boot.  He paused, unsure.  Although he'd eventually become a willing participant, he'd never initiated this action before.  Malcolm tried to look nonchalant as he carefully extended his leg under the table.  His foot came in contact with a clothed shin and the slight start that Trip gave assured him he had the right person.  He began gently stroking the lower part of Trip's leg, sliding up the shin to the knee, around the outside and then running back down the calf.  Malcolm kept this up for the duration of T'Pol's report but was dismayed at the lack of response.  Trip didn't so much as glance in his direction.  The doctor began a short briefing on a vaccine he wanted to administer, a sure sign that the meeting was winding down.  Resigned, Malcolm was about to return his foot to its boot when he felt it.  A slow, deliberate stroke down his left leg.  


    There was a definite spring in his step as he walked back to his quarters.  He quickly keyed in his code and entered.  An odd splash of colour on his desk caught his eye.  There was a bottle of red wine with a padd propped against it.  He activated the padd and one sentence came up.  "Excellent with catfish."  Malcolm grinned and moved on to his desk console where a new message was flashing.  It had been sent to both himself and the galley and read, "Chef, Lieutenant Reed may need to make some special requests of the galley tomorrow.  I hope you will be able to accommodate them.  Sincerely, Captain Archer."  Malcolm's grin widened, that was probably the closest the captain had ever come to issuing chef an order.  He sat down and began to plan day 7 with renewed vigour.


    When Trip Tucker arrived in engineering the next morning he found a new message flashing on his console.  Curious, he called it up immediately.  The message was short,  "Dinner, 1830"  followed by a string of numbers that could only be Malcolm's door code.


    At exactly 1830 hours Trip stood outside Malcolm's door.  He wiped his slightly sweaty palms before reaching to key in the access code.  The door slid open to reveal the interior of the room.  The furniture had been re-arranged and a table brought in.  He scanned the room, trying to take in the changes until something caught his eye.  Malcolm, sitting at the far side of the table, wearing the same black shirt as when they'd first met, flashed a tremulous smile at him.  Trip stepped into the room and the door slid shut.  The table was set for two, catfish occupied a place of honour in the centre amongst dishes of vegetables.  Two long blue candles, a direct violation of safety protocols, flickered from alongside the fish.  A full glass of wine was set out at each place.  Malcolm remained sitting as Trip took another step forwards.  The empty chair beckoned to him, the picture of everything he had dreamed of from the moment he set eyes on Malcolm Reed.  He became aware of the music that was softly filtering from the room's speakers.  It was a very familiar Beethoven piece, String Quartet No. 9.  To some it might appear to be an odd choice for the couple, but it had always seemed like 'their' song.  

    They ate in silence, savouring the moment together.


    Malcolm lay firmly ensconced in Trip's embrace, Casablanca playing on the video monitor.  He shifted slightly and Trip's arms tightened around him.  A soft kiss was bestowed on the top of his head.  There was still a lot left to be said, but it was looking like a happy ending.