By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept...
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones...
-- from The Waste Land, TS Eliot
"Good work, Malcolm." Jonathan Archer, Captain of Enterprise, was more than satisfied with Lieutenant Malcolm Reed's handiwork. Reed had quite neatly succeeded in blasting their way through an asteroid field that had been mined and abandoned, apparently some decades ago, and was nothing more than a drifting death trap for any ship coming upon it unawares. Archer had expected the ship to sustain minor damage, nothing that couldn't be repaired easily, but Reed had managed to pull off the stunt with no damage whatsoever to the ship.
Reed's only reply was a small, satisfied nod and a "Thank you, Sir." He returned immediately to a set of adjustments at the weapons station, recalibrating the phase cannons.
Archer watched his Tactical Officer silently for a moment, allowing himself the pleasure of seeing Reed's brow furrowed in concentration under the thick, dark hair, the gray eyes peering intently at the board, fingers delicately adjusting the control settings. If Reed had the slightest idea of how attractive he was, he certainly didn't let on that he knew it. As Archer watched him at work, he wondered idly what those fingers would feel like on his body, how it would feel to have those eyes looking at him with that same kind of focus. He turned around before Reed could look up and see him, and before anyone else looking his way could notice the flush he was feeling from thinking about Reed.
"Let's get out of here, Mr. Mayweather."
That Malcolm Reed had secrets, Archer knew. What they were, he had no idea. What it would take to get Reed to open up to him, to be comfortable around him as a confidant, as a friend, he had no clue. Even more dubious was whether Reed would consider him for a lover. And that, alas, was what he most wanted.
* * *
The buzzer to Jonathan Archer's cabin sounded. "Come in." Archer looked up from his desk. "Oh, hi, Trip. Sit down. You want a drink? You look like you could use one."
"I feel like I could use a dozen." Tucker plopped himself comfortably on the edge of Archer's bunk, grateful to unwind.
"Beer okay?" Archer got up from his chair and rummaged in a small refrigerator.
"Fine." Tucker accepted the proffered bottle gratefully, sighing in pleasure as the cold bottle reached his hand. It had been a long day.
Archer opened his own beer and sat back down in full "best friend and chief counselor" mode. "Now, suppose you tell me about it."
"It's Malcolm, Cap'n," Tucker explained. "Him 'n me - we kind of squared off about the power grids again. I don't know what it is with him, he's a nice enough guy, I like him... but every time we go head-to-head, it's like... I don't know, like I'm the one who's s'posed t' be answerin' to him. It's not insubordination, exactly - it's more like he thinks *I'm* bein' insubordinate. I don't get it. I don't know how to deal with it. And it ticks the hell out of me, if y' don't mind my sayin' so."
"I'm not the one who has to mind, Trip." Archer took a gulp of his beer, then looked across at his younger friend.
"What do you mean by that?"
Archer leaned back in his chair, musing. "Trip, six months before we set sail, what was your rank?"
"Lieutenant Commander," Tucker replied, baffled. "You know that."
"What was Malcolm's rank?"
"I don't know... he couldn't 'a been an ensign... lieutenant, I guess."
"You'd guess wrong. He was a lieutenant commander as well. You got promoted shortly before your assignment. If everything had gone according to plan, Malcolm would have been, as well, just about the same time. I already had my eye on him for Tactical, so I kept him, but let me tell you, I got some flack about it from a few people."
Trip goggled. "Malcolm got busted down? What the hell for? Insubordination I could almost believe, but..."
"He's only like that with you, Trip. He's never done it to me or to T'Pol. I think it's because both of you were scheduled for promotion at the same time, and he knows that, but he got docked. It's got to hurt him like hell. As for why he got docked, I don't know all the details. All I can tell you is that he was working for Walter Gordon on Starbase-2, and Gordon didn't exactly have a reputation for being staggeringly fair with his men. He left Starfleet shortly after the incident, I understand. Admiral Forrest told me that he knows some of the details, and he indicated to me that he was certain that Malcolm's demotion was unjustified, but that Malcolm, for whatever reason, wouldn't defend himself so they had to let it stick. I'm satisfied with his assessment."
"I wonder why Malcolm didn't fight it." Tucker swilled a large portion of what was left in his bottle.
"Forrest didn't tell me, if he even knows. He told me that Malcolm apparently preferred the demotion to letting out the details surrounding it. Which is surprising, but it doesn't speak well for Gordon, because I've never heard of Malcolm Reed being described in anything but glowing terms from anyone except Gordon and some of the team who investigated the incident, and Gordon's own reputation isn't exactly sterling. But the next time you and Malcolm have a go-round, you might try remembering what he's seeing when he sees your pips."
Trip nodded. "I think I understand. Malcolm's the type who ain't much for makin' waves unless he has to, so whatever happened, he'd rather let it go an' get on with things than go back revisitin' garbage. But my promotion's gotta be right in his face when we argue. Kinda like pickin' at a scab. Damn." He set the bottle down. "One thing I'll tell ya, I'm sorry as hell I pulled rank on him back on that shuttlepod. That musta stung." Trip bit his lip, pondering possibilities. "I'm gonna try to watch it. But I'd sure as hell like to know what happened on Starbase-2 with Captain Gordon."
Jonathan Archer wondered the very same thing. Admiral Forrest had praised Reed highly, had offered a general statement that Reed had almost certainly been justified for what had happened - Archer knew what Reed had done to Captain Gordon; it didn't bear third-hand repetition to Tucker - but had never given Archer an explanation, had only said that he knew that Reed of all people must have had a good motive for offering no defense. And while Reed certainly enjoyed his work to an unnatural degree - his fondness for death and destruction was unparalleled by anything except his skill at both - he was hardly violent, much closer to reticent, in his personal dealings. He'd had no reason to have to confront Reed about the matter, and he didn't intend to.
The better question was whether to work up the courage to tell Reed how he felt. Which had absolutely nothing to do with the incident with Gordon at all, but everything to do with an incredibly attractive, wildly intelligent, clearly overeducated, and particularly deadly Armory officer with a dry but very nasty sense of humor.
Archer tossed his empty bottle into a recycler and meditated on his prospects, which were almost certainly rather dim at best.
* * *
The mess hall was usually nearly uninhabited at 2300 hours, with only the occasional gamma-shift breakfaster, late worker, or potential insomniac occupying a solitary corner. If you were one of the above and were lucky, if you stayed a bit later you might see current couples who were about to head back to their own cabins grabbing something to eat together before going separate ways, which raised your status in the gossip pool.
Trip Tucker wandered in, planning on a snack before turning in for the night, to see Malcolm Reed working at one of the tables, padd in hand, an empty cake plate pushed aside. Trip quickly picked up a slice of pie and a glass of milk, then made a beeline for Reed's corner. "Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all." Reed pushed the empty plate further aside. The two men got along very well when they weren't having turf wars over the power supply. "How are you doing this evening?"
"Wish I were tireder. I hope the milk helps. You?"
"Tired, but I want to finish this bloody report before bed."
"Gotcha. Hey, Malcolm..." Trip took a bite of his pie as he waited for a response.
"About the other afternoon. I'm sorry I got into it with ya about the power grid. I didn't hafta get so mean about it."
"No need to apologize, Commander." Trip winced at the reference to his rank, recalling what Archer had said. "You were perfectly entitled to make your point."
"I'm still sorry, Malcolm. Look, there's something I feel like I gotta ask you."
Reed sat back in his chair. "Yes?"
"I was talkin' to the Cap'n... actually, I was askin' him for advice about how to keep you an' me from rippin' each other to pieces when we argue." Reed was about to respond; Trip put up his hand. "Wait; let me finish. I know we're friends, but you know how it gets when we argue. Anyway, the Cap'n told me somethin'. Not much. He said... well, he said that back when you worked for Cap'n Gordon, Gordon busted you down from Lieutenant Commander to Lieutenant just when you were up for promotion, an' he said he'd heard it wasn't a fair deal. I dunno what happened, I don't need to know, but I just wanted to let you know I'm sorry if you feel like there's a rank issue between us. 'Cause as far as I'm concerned, there ain't. I'm in charge of Engineerin', you're in charge of the Armory and weapons, and that puts us both on the same footin'. Except when there's two of us, an air shortage, an' an airlock. Okay?"
Reed gave a half-smile. "Thanks. I'm surprised the Captain mentioned it, though I never asked him not to. There's not much to tell. The record's quite clear that I happened to beat Captain Gordon to a rather nice pulp for no particular reason."
"From what the Cap'n says, sounds like his breathin's a reason." Trip put his fork down, waiting to hear more from Malcolm.
"As a matter of fact, I had a very good reason indeed, but I didn't think it was wise to reveal it to the investigating officers."
"You took a demotion instead of defendin' yourself? That makes no sense."
"I didn't quite think they'd believe me. And if they did, there were some personal matters involved, which included someone else there, that I thought were better left undiscussed. I knew this mission would be coming up, I thought I had a decent shot at getting it even with the demotion, and from what I'd heard, I was sure that Captain Archer would be fair in evaluating me for it. I'll get the rank back eventually."
"Did ya ever tell the Cap'n what really happened?"
"No, but he's never asked."
"Think you can tell me? I know I'm buttin' in here, but y'know I won't tell anyone."
"Walter Gordon's a bit of a throwback to the Nineteenth Century. He thinks his crew's his own personal slaves. And I *do* mean 'personal'."
"You're talkin' about sex?" Tucker asked, amazed.
"Not everyone, certainly. But some of us. He found out that I was in a relationship with one of the other male officers, and decided that if I liked men, I'd love him. As a matter of fact, you couldn't pay me enough to give that bloody bugger the time of day, let alone a blow job." Reed made a face, then gave Tucker a half-smile as Tucker winced. "Alas, he's rather bad at taking 'no' for an answer. Even when it's being given repeatedly. One day I had to make my point a bit more graphically than I wanted. Breaking a few bones does tend to help enhance one's point when being ignored."
Tucker stared. "Malcolm, there's regulations against sexual harassment. You know that." It was amazing that a situation such as the one just described had gone unreported - especially by Reed, whom he sometimes thought lived just to enforce the rules.
"Have you ever worked on a starbase? It's almost impossible to get messages out to Starfleet privately. Aside from that, my other relationship would almost certainly have come out... and considering that he was married and had three children back home, he didn't need that. Gordon threatened to mention that if I did anything about the problem. I didn't want to take that chance for David. So I did what I thought I had to do, and when it got investigated, I still didn't want to take the chance that David would get mentioned anywhere along the line. His wife had no idea about him, and I was hardly about to make any trouble there."
"Whew." Tucker shook his head at his plate, not quite able to look at Reed after the confession. "That's a lot to go through. I see why ya did it, though, and I can't blame ya on either count - either sluggin' the bastard, or keepin' your mouth shut. I don't quite know what to say."
"I'd prefer it if you said nothing at all," Reed told his companion quietly. "It's a closed chapter now - at least I hope it is. And it's not one I really relish anyone finding out about, if you understand me. I scarcely like admitting that I assaulted a superior officer, and I like discussing the entire set of circumstances even less."
Tucker nodded. He understood quite well. Still, one question came to his mind, something he didn't know about his friend. "Sure. No problem. Uh, mind if I ask - you and your friend still together after all that?"
"David? He took a transfer to Jupiter Station. His wife's there with him. I'm very much afraid that's all over now. Still, it's his place to deal with his wife about it, if he wants to - it's not mine, or anyone else's, to make it a public announcement."
"Nice to know someone still has some kind of standards," Trip observed. "And you know I won't say anything to anyone - not even the Cap'n. Look, I better go and try to get some kinda sleep, and you want to finish that report."
Reed cast his eyes on the chronograph across the mess hall. "I can finish it in the morning. I think I'll try that sleep idea of yours - it does come highly recommended, I understand." He tucked the padd under his arm as he stood, and he and Tucker disposed of their dishes together before heading back, now blearily, to their respective cabins.
* * *
"Out of water polo disks?" Tucker asked his best friend as he settled into the couch in Jonathan Archer's cabin. Archer was looking nothing short of dejected, and Tucker was rummaging through his mind to find things that cheered up Archer.
"No, I still have that new one you got me, thanks. I'm just not into watching anything at the moment." Archer sank onto his bunk, fidgeting.
Tucker opened a bottle of Scotch. "Let ol' Doc Trip here give you a hand, Cap'n." He poured a generous amount into two glasses and, appraising them, handed the slightly larger measure to Archer. "Let's see if this helps. If it don't, Phlox has some new leeches you might like t' meet."
Archer shuddered and made a face as he took the drink. "I don't think so." He looked at the glass, then raised it to his friend. "Prosit."
"Through the lips, over the gums, look out stomach, here it comes." They both drank, though Tucker noticed that Archer was gulping a bit more than usual. This bottle might die more quickly than he'd thought. He waited a moment, then sat his own glass down and folded his arms. "My turn tonight. What's wrong? And don't even *try* that 'nothing' routine; won't ork.
"Loud and clear." Archer lay down on the bunk, knees drawn up, glass still firmly attached to his hand.
"So, talk. What's wrong with you?"
Archer knew there was no way out of the discussion. Lying wasn't worth it, anyway, and talking to Tucker night just help; you never knew. "It's Malcolm."
"Malcolm? What's the problem with Malcolm?"
"Not a damned thing as far as I can see." Archer returned to nursing his Scotch.
"Sooo..." Trip puzzled. "Your problem is Malcolm, who has no problem. I don't get - ah, wait a sec, now I get it." He chuckled, then grinned at his old friend. "I think our esteemed Cap'n here has a crush on a certain Tactical Officer - is that it?"
Archer frowned at Tucker's statement. "Mr. Tucker, starship captains do *not* have crushes, as you call them, on their officers. It's unseemly. It's undignified. It's... juvenile."
Trip snickered. "Okay, does 'unrequited love' sound better?"
Another drink. "That's much better. It's suggestive of deep, hopeless longing untainted by idiotic teenage hormones."
"Damn, now you're even *talkin'* like Malcolm."
"Thanks. I think." Archer held out his glass, waving it in Tucker's general direction. "Another one, thanks."
Tucker poured another healthy slug into Archer's glass, but less than he had poured earlier. "There y'go, Cap'n." His own glass was still half-full. Were Archer feeling more upbeat, his glass would hardly have been empty yet. Tucker thought it might pay to keep an eye on the rationing. The last thing Archer needed was to get drunk, or to fight a hangover in the morning; that would only make things worse, all told.
"Thanks." Archer began making close personal acquaintance with the refill, although it looked as if the drink might go down a bit more slowly than the first. Perhaps he had just needed to take the edge off of some raw emotions.
"Look, Cap'n," Trip sighed. "If you're feelin' that way 'bout Malcolm, why not tell him? What's the worst thing that can happen?" It seemed to be practical advice; it was certainly the sort that Archer always tossed back at him when he was having his own issues about various things - often, over the years, women. What was good for the goose - or for Tucker - was probably equally good advice for Archer. The worst thing that could happen to anyone who was chickening out on advancing a possible relationship was rejection. That, or a barstool over the head from someone's boyfriend or husband - Trip had met a few of those in his time, too. Archer had certainly had one or two disasters of his own in the past, as Trip remembered, though he'd been a bit better at picking 'em than Tucker had. It probably helped that Archer was more inclined to go for longer periods without anyone in his life; ten years older than Tucker, he'd had enough experience to be willing to do without a relationship rather than court disaster. Tucker still enjoyed taking the risks that Archer had tired of.
"The worst thing? I can get shot down in flames. Hell, I don't even know if he's even interested in men in the first place. I think he might be, but I haven't got a clue except my own gut feeling, and that's failed me before. If he isn't, he could resent that I even suggested anything, and then life on board would be living hell for a while."
Yes, Archer was prepared for automatic disaster. However, Tucker was relatively sure, after talking with the Tactical Officer, that he knew better than Archer how matters stood with Reed. He knew he couldn't give away Reed's secrets, but for this, he thought, there might be some room around the edges. "Cap'n, I think I ought to let you in on somethin' then."
"I was talkin' to Malcolm one day," Tucker fabricated placidly, "and, well, you know the kinda things people bullshit about... anyway, I don't know too much about it, but he did say something about some guy he'd kinda dated in the past. Not on Enterprise, though, back before." He took another sip of the Scotch; good lying was thirsty work. "So... so much for that problem. Quit sittin' on your ass mopin' and go play Cyrano de Bergerac or somethin'. Read him sonnets outside his door, or grab him in the lounge and rip off his uniform, or go to the Armory and talk plasma cannons to him, but quit sittin' here drinkin' and feelin' sorry for yerself 'cause you're not sure if he might be interested. He might not be, y'never know, but no, you're *not* wrong about your gut reaction there. He ain't gonna belt ya one 'cause he only likes girls."
Archer sat up on the bunk again. "You're serious?"
"I didn't think you *were* a Scout."
"Never made Eagle like you and Malcolm, but yeah. I kinda blew my campin' badges. Wasn't too good with the bugs and things in the woods. Bad at plant identification, too - never wipe your butt with any plant with three leaves, at least on Earth, lemme tell you. But Scout's honor, Malcolm told me for a fact he'd dated at least one guy."
The news clearly had made Archer's whole day. "That changes things a lot, doesn't it?" The previous doom-and-gloom expression was gone, replaced by a faint glow of hope. It suited Archer much better than the other look.
"Seems that way to me," Tucker told his friend. "So you gonna keep drinkin' and bendin' my ear, or ya gonna go tell him?"
"Let me have a chance to get brave about it," Archer laughed. It was amazing, Tucker had seen it before; a man who had no fear of battle, no fear of going into areas of space no human had ever seen, was as timid about professing his interest in other people as Tucker was about meeting strange new insects. Each of them showed his own level of cowardice in his own way. But Archer would work himself up to it eventually; Tucker had seen that before, too. And Jonathan Archer was something when he got himself worked up to it.
* * *
It had been something approximating lunchtime on a fairly busy day. Both Archer and Reed were off the next day, Archer knew; if things went well, as he'd planned, neither would have to worry about being on the Bridge on time. If things progressed a bit more slowly, perhaps Reed would be willing to spend part of the day off with Archer - at target practice, if Archer had to, just for them to have an excuse to be together. He stopped by Reed's station on his way to the mess hall. "Malcolm?"
"I'd appreciate it if you'd join me for dinner this evening. Maybe you could enlighten me on that flanking maneuver you'd once mentioned using during exercises when you were on the Cassiopeia. I'm curious as to how well that would work on a ship of this size."
"Certainly. I'd be delighted." Reed's face was positively glowing, and it was a pleasure to see. Archer wondered if that was how Reed looked in bed; did he glow that same way? Did he flush? He blushed so easily... Was he as silent in bed as he was generally? Or did he let loose, did he moan? Would he call out Archer's name when he came? Reed's semi-permanent decorum was a challenge; Archer wanted to make Reed lose control, to see Reed throw himself into orgasm the same way he seems to want to throw himself into the pleasure of a really good torpedo hit. Surely the man's sexual urges hadn't been completely subsumed by his delight in destructive explosions; according to Tucker, he still dated. It was high time Reed's captain gave him something else to do, rather than just force him to wait for the next torpedo launch for excitement. And it would be Archer's very great pleasure to arrange just that, in his quarters.
"Great. I'll see you then. Is there anything particular you'd like to have, or should I just order roast beef?"
"It really doesn't matter, Sir. As long as it's *not* the resequenced meat loaf." Reed flashed a small smile at Archer. He was apparently quite unaware of its effect on Archer's nerves, or his libido.
"No? I thought that was everyone's favorite. But I'll see what else Chef can come up with." He clamped a hand on Reed's shoulder for a moment, praying it wasn't for a second too long, or a trifle too tight, and headed on to lunch. Reed was probably waiting for Travis to finish some last-minute course corrections before leaving the Bridge for the mess hall.
Reed arrived for dinner that evening still in uniform, as was Archer. Just as he entered the Captain's Mess, a steward arrived with dinner - somehow or other, for no one knew Chef's secrets, grilled sole had been produced. Reed looked at it appreciatively. "That doesn't *smell* resequenced..."
Archer smiled, happy that Reed was pleased. "According to Chef, it's not. And neither is the broccoli or the hollandaise sauce."
"Don't tell me there's pineapple cake for dessert," Reed teased.
"No - it's pineapple ice, actually."
Archer nodded. "I told Chef it was you, and he insisted."
The dinner progressed pleasantly enough, as Archer had thought it would; it was easy to draw Reed out when you started him on weapons or tactical matters, and Archer was well aware that Reed had enjoyed working Tactical on Cassiopeia before his unhappy hitch on Starbase-2. Whatever had happened between Reed and Gordon at the end, it hadn't been a good mission for Reed in the first place; it had been nothing except directing the Security crew and keeping the defensive positioning in place - but starbases were usually ignored as tactical positions, at least these days. He'd been stuck running a crew of MP's whose main jobs were picking up drunks and pickpockets on the base - not work for an officer of Reed's caliber. Cassiopeia, a light cruiser, had been more Reed's speed. It had been on Cassiopeia that Reed had developed his piloting skills as well as completing his Bridge officer certification; the ship had been light enough and small enough for him to run the flanking targeting from the command conn as both pilot and tactician. That was what had earned him his lieutenant commander's pips in the first place.
Getting Reed started on that, focusing him on something Archer knew he was inordinately proud of - as he'd a right to be - was the easiest way in the world to relax him, to make him comfortable, to get him to open up. Considering that it was something Archer genuinely wanted to know, his own responses were equally unforced. And nothing, in Jonathan Archer's book, opened another human being, man or woman, up to seduction like allowing them to preen themselves in front of you for an extended period of time. Reed had tried to be modest, but it hadn't been easy for him; he'd been fluffing his own feathers as he talked, a male bird puffing up for the rest of the flock to admire, and Archer had fed that admiration right back to him.
The stewards cleared the table, brought out dessert. Archer picked up his coffee and looked at Reed over the rim of his cup while Reed started in on the pineapple ice. It was time to go in for the kill. "Malcolm?"
"We're off duty, Malcolm; please feel free to drop that 'sir' anytime. My name's Jon, and I much prefer having my friends call me that than hearing it out of the mouth of that damned Suliban Silik."
"He calls you that?" Reed asked, evidently nonplussed.
"I think it's a little personal from someone who's only known me well enough to try killing me, don't you think?" Archer asked wryly. "As I say, I'd rather hear it from my friends. That 'sir' business gets to be tiring. I never got called that at home."
"Then you were never my father," Reed laughed.
"No offense to you, Malcolm, but I'd hate to have you think of me that way under any circumstances."
"That's right. You've talked to my father."
Archer grinned at the younger man. "True enough. I know what you're saying. But seriously, Malcolm... if there's any way I'd want you to think of me, paternal is definitely *not* it." He reached across, draping his fingers lightly over Reed's wrist. "Can we talk about it?" he asked quietly. "My quarters?"
The response was as immediate and as automatic as Reed's drawing a phase pistol against a weapon. He was on his feet, not openly hostile, but definitely not happy; it was the most sudden switch in mood Archer had ever seen. "Captain, it's been a very pleasant evening but I'm afraid it will be ending here. I'll see you on the Bridge. Good night, Sir."
* * *
Tucker didn't see Archer until dinner the next night. "So, Cap'n, how was your day off? You and Malcolm manage to set any records for fireworks after dinner?"
Archer grimaced. "Fireworks? More like shot down in flames. He walked out on me, and I'd barely gotten a word out of my mouth. I stopped by the Armory today; he was in there, pistol practice with a couple of ensigns... he was more distant than the first time I met him. I've gone over everything in my head a dozen times, Trip. I can't imagine what I said, what I did - one second, everything was fine, and a minute later, he was ready to walk out and all but throwing my rank in my face."
Tucker buried his head in his hands, ignoring the food around him. "Shit, Cap'n, this is all my fault. I shoulda seen this comin' - shoulda said somethin' to ya, but I promised Malcolm I wouldn't tell anyone... and I didn't think he'd take it like that..."
Archer reached forward, tugging one of Tucker's hands away from his face. "What in God's name are you talking about?"
Tucker was red-faced. "Remember what you told me about Malcolm and Cap'n Gordon? He and I wound up talkin' about it once recently. He told me what happened with him and Gordon - the stuff you didn't know about. He made me promise not to tell anyone."
"What the hell happened, and what's that have to do with... with..."
"Look," Tucker sighed, grasping his friend's hand. "Remember, I'm breakin' a promise to another friend here, but I think you need to hear this. It ain't pretty. Gordon's a major league prick. Malcolm, he was seein' one of the other guys on the base. This fella was married, had kids, wife was planetside. Gordon found out, an' he tried to blackmail Malcolm into having sex with him, or somethin' like that. When Malcolm tried to say no, threatened to turn him in, Gordon threatened to expose his boyfriend. The whole thing escalated, and finally Malcolm just gave him the kinda horsewhippin' he deserved. Gordon wanted to get even, so he had Malcolm busted down for assaulting him, 'cause he knew Malcolm wouldn't say anything, still tryin' to protect the other fella." Tucker paused for a deep breath, watching Archer go pale. "You're so - well, you're so laid back, you're so *not* Gordon, it never occurred to me... he must be scared shitless of his CO coming on to him after that."
"You should have told me," Archer chided.
"How could I? I promised Malcolm. And honest, I really didn't think... I mean, what have you got in common with Gordon?"
"I'm a Starfleet captain," Archer said quietly to his friend. "One who just happens to be Malcolm Reed's commanding officer. That seems to be enough for Malcolm, right now. It's enough, anyway, that he seems to think he can't trust me - at least, not on a personal level. I hope to God he's still up to dealing with me on the Bridge. I don't want to have to replace him - I'm worried he might ask for a transfer, now that you've told me this."
Tucker looked closely at Archer. "Jon, listen to me. Maybe you're right - maybe I shoulda toldja. Maybe I shoulda known. I didn't. That's my fault, an' I'm sorry. But it is not - now, listen to me - it is *not* the end of the world. Not of yours, not of his. It may take a little time, but you two can work this out. You're listenin' to me; he ain't told me he's not speakin' to me. As long as you're both talkin' - to me, at any rate, if not each other - there's still a chance you can resolve things. Might be a little dicey for a while, but it can happen. You may not get what you want - you may not have Malcolm for a lover - but you can get back to square one with him, and you can get him to trust you again. But it's not gonna be overnight, and it's gonna be work. Are you willing to work for it?"
"Am I wi-what on earth? Of course I am. And when did *you* take up relationship counseling?"
"I've gotten enough of it from you, Cap'n. We're jus' changin' hats here."
Archer gave a half-smile. "You always were a quick study."
* * *
If Jonathan Archer were to go by Tucker's last predictions, Tucker was nothing short of a prophet. Thawing out his Tactical Officer to something less than an Antarctic iceberg was likely to take the next century to accomplish, judging by Archer's reception on the Bridge from the man. He'd thought before that Malcolm Reed could be reserved? He'd thought before that Reed could put up a wall? He'd thought before that Reed made the usual degree of military correctness look sloppy? He'd never realized that Reed could bring military correctness and detachment, with no possible offense to be taken, to a level that could freeze you in your tracks.
He'd never heard a blander, more tone-neutral "Good day, Sir" from anything less than a voice-programmed computer.
He'd never realized that it was possible for another sighted human being to look straight at you and never see you.
His Tactical Officer, in his presence, had turned into an android with munitions and strategy competence. At any rate, that was what was getting thrown at him. Reed's brief exchanges with Mayweather and Sato on the Bridge hadn't changed in the slightest. Reed seemed friendly enough to Tucker when Tucker came to the Bridge, even knowing that Tucker was the Captain's confidant.
Towards Archer, however, there was nothing. Reed wasn't ignoring him; he was the picture of absolute competence, as always. But the barrier he'd erected between himself and Archer was just as strong, though just as invisible, as the hull plating polarization he put on when the ship was under attack.
Archer wasn't sure he'd live long enough to thaw out this cold war.
A week later, he was certain he wouldn't live to see the thaw. He'd barely had a chance to speak to Tucker, but he'd gathered that Tucker and Reed also hadn't had the opportunity to speak about it, if Reed intended to do so at all. Reed had been busy with a refit on one of the phase cannons, since the recalibrations were refusing to stay set, and Tucker had been supervising fabrication of a new air recycling unit, trying to cope with the crew's irritation at dealing with the continual stuffiness filtration and recycling caused. Several of the crew, Reed among them, had complained about its effects on their allergies. Seven days down, and no polar ice cap melting in sight, he sighed to himself.
Meanwhile, he'd been greeted politely but icily in corridors, had received the most abrupt of "Aye, Sir" responses on the Bridge, had been all but ignored when he'd entered the ship's gym while Reed was working out. The friendliest Reed had been was when he'd encountered Archer in a corridor with Porthos, but all of the warmth had been directed at Porthos. It was comforting to know that whatever Reed thought of him, Reed wasn't taking it out on the beagle. Archer didn't think that, even in better circumstances, he could love a man petty enough to bring any kind of dispute down to the level of someone's pets. Obscurely, the fact that Reed could still scratch Porthos' ears in the corridor while refusing to speak to Archer only made Reed that much more appealing at the moment, because Archer was now able to add "kind to animals despite their owners" to his personal list of Reed's charms.
It didn't make wishing Reed would speak to him any easier. And it didn't show signs of Reed warming back up to him yet. He could have ordered Reed to adjust his attitude, but while that would have made daily relations appear more civil, it would have guaranteed that nothing would ever come of the fact. Reed had to want to step down if there was any chance of working things out; pulling rank would only make Archer one step closer to Walter Gordon, and if that happened, everything else was pointless.
Patience was said to be a virtue. Jonathan Archer had never considered himself particularly virtuous, and he certainly didn't feel that way right now. Patience was a pain in the ass, and Tucker was going to get told about that. Just as soon as there was any time to talk to him about it.
* * *
The buzzer sounded just as Tucker stepped out of the shower. "Uh, who is it?"
"It's Lieutenant Reed, Commander," came a formal reply from outside.
"Sure, c'mon in." Tucker finished toweling himself off as Reed entered.
"Perhaps I should come back later?"
"Nah. Grab a drink if ya want, sit down, an' let me get a chance to throw somethin' on." Modesty was something one lost quickly in Starfleet, even among those who didn't spend much time sandwiched into the sardine cans that passed as ships. Once you'd been through a few group decontaminations and had spread decon gel over most of the bodies of both people you'd die to sleep with and people you'd pay not to see undressed, it was hard to care who saw what. That everyone on a ship had to suit up for EV suits in the same room also made you care less that you'd ever thought you could about who saw you naked, and when. After drying off, Tucker grabbed a pair of pants and a pullover and classified himself as now clothed. "May as well grab one for me, too, while you're at it." He climbed onto his bunk and took a bottle from Reed's hand. "Thanks. Hey, been a busy week."
"That it has," Reed acknowledged, opening his own bottle. "I didn't even realize I hadn't said hello in nearly two weeks until sometime last night. I thought I'd better stop by and see how you were doing now that the air recycler's been modified."
"See how *I* was doin'? *You're* the one with the allergies. Noticin' any difference?"
Reed nodded. "As a matter of fact, yes." He raised his bottle to Tucker. "For which I thank you. The fewer allergy treatments I have to get from Sickbay, the happier I am."
"We aim to please." Tucker chuckled. "Anything else up, or are you just here for the beer? Not that that ain't a good enough reason by me."
Reed shrugged. "The beer sounded like a decent idea. Anything to get away from another double shift on that blasted phase cannon. Why in blazes the damned thing just decided to quit holding its calibrations is beyond me. I'm beginning to think that the calibration program's been corrupted somewhere."
"If you want a hand lookin' it over, just ask. Anything I can do to help, let me know."
"I might take you up on that." Reed contemplated his beer for a moment.
Tucker decided to seize the opportunity. "Anything else wrong, Malcolm?"
Reed looked at Tucker quizzically. "Why do you ask?"
"I dunno," Tucker told him, changing hands on his bottle and quickly wiping the condensation from it with his sleeve. "You've seemed... I dunno... I guess... a little edgy up on the Bridge."
"Really," Tucker told him firmly. "And I don't think it's all the cannon. You wanna get it off your chest?"
Reed squeezed his eyes shut firmly. "Not really."
"Okay, Malcolm. What is it - or, more likely, who is it? You can't freeze people out like that. Not when you're tryin' to work there with 'em. Trust me, I know. You gonna tell Uncle Trip about it, or am I gonna have to ask every person on the Bridge if they're the one you're havin' the attitude problem with?" If Malcolm didn't know he knew what was wrong, the threat of asking around should be enough to scare a response from his friend.
Apparently, it was quite enough. "Oh, God, Trip, where do you want me to start?"
"Well, how many people do ya need to freeze out?"
"And that 'one' is?"
"With all due respect, Trip - I know he's your friend, a lot longer than I've been..." Reed was fidgeting now, shifting in the chair, fiddling with the bottle. He was plainly nervous about the situation with Archer.
"The Cap'n?" Tucker took a long drink. He was probably going to be doing some more dissembling this evening, and even thinking about that was enough to work up a thirst. But if he was going to get this mess straightened out - he wondered just how he'd assigned himself the task, anyway, except that Jonathan Archer was his best friend and Archer's current distress was probably his fault - he could hardly let Reed know that he'd spoken to Archer. "How couldja be havin' a problem with him? Jon's the easiest guy in the world to get along with."
"Maybe for some people." Reed looked positively stricken. Tucker felt like a Grade A jerk; Archer was right; it should have occurred to him that Reed might still be that sensitive about an approach from a superior officer. He'd been so wrapped up in thinking that Archer was in love with Reed and the discovery that Reed was available, that he'd missed a warning shot right over his head when he and Reed had talked.
"Uh, what happened?"
Reed fidgeted even more uncomfortably. "He didn't tell you?"
"Hey, busy as we've been, who's had time to talk? Anyway, the Cap'n don't always put me in the know about everything." This evening was going to need more than one beer at this rate. At least nothing was a flat-out lie. "You wanna tell me? Y'know I won't say anything if y'don't want me to." Well, most of it wasn't a flat-out lie.
A drawn-out sigh. "You'll remember what I told you about what transpired on my last mission with Captain Gordon." Trip nodded. "Unfortunately, several nights ago, I became rather agitated to discover that our good Captain Archer also seems to be afflicted with a case of personal over-interest in me. I believe he knows some of the details; I'm sure Admiral Forrest would at least have told the Captain what he knew of it... and I really dislike the thought that history is repeating itself on me quite this quickly. I really rather feel as if I have a sign around my neck telling superior officers that I tend to fancy men, and they all red-flag me then as the likeliest target, whether I'd be interested or not."
Damn, Reed did have a complex. It was certainly obvious that not only had Gordon hurt Reed personally, but that he really had terrified Reed. There must have been more to the story than Reed had let on, even if not much, but it would be Reed's style to leave out the most hurtful details. Tucker racked his brain, which felt distressingly empty at the moment, for the proper thing to say. "Y'know, Malcolm, you're right, I've known Jon Archer for most of a decade. I've heard whatcha said 'bout Cap'n Gordon. I can tell you, and you oughta know, the only thing they have in common is they both breathe oxygen. There ain't one mean bone in Jonathan Archer's body 'less you've hurt someone he cares about. And Jon - well, I know he ain't one for cheap sex. If he told you he was interested in you, he wasn't tryin' to harass you, and he wasn't just out for an easy lay for the night. He is *not* that kinda guy." Not a lie in the bunch, but he finished the bottle anyway; maybe he was just thirsty. Reed saw the beer's sudden death and reached for another one for Tucker on the spot. Tucker accepted it gratefully.
It was clear from Reed's expression that he was trying to sort through Tucker's comments. Tucker decided to press the advantage, since an important question, one Archer hadn't even raised, had come to mind. "Look, Malcolm, I want you t' tell me jus' one thing. If Jon Archer weren't your captain - if he was just a man you knew named Jonathan Archer, would you be havin' this reaction? Or would you have wanted to go out with him?"
Now, that was something Reed clearly hadn't expected him to ask. It also looked as if Tucker had scored a bull's-eye. "I... I... oh, good Lord, Trip." Reed took a deep breath. The look wasn't so much one of not having thought about the question before as not knowing how to put the words. "I'm not blind, and I'm not stupid, and if you're asking me if I think Jonathan Archer's at all desirable, for heaven's sakes, of course I do."
He'd half-expected the answer, but he was still dumbfounded. "Then what's the problem? You're interested, he's interested... why slam the door on anything before it even happens? He's a good guy, Malcolm - he deserves you givin' him a chance."
Reed rolled the beer bottle between his hands, then drank again. "Frankly, I'm afraid. Everything you say may be true, but it's very difficult for me to get past what's already happened with my last commanding officer. Once bitten, twice shy, I suppose."
Tucker shook his head. "Try gettin' past it, Malcolm. You owe it to both of you. Just be fair to the man."
"After what happened the other night, I should think it's a little late."
"Don't be too sure of that," Tucker chided. "Just try keepin' an open mind, and let that wall down some. You might be surprised." He drained the second beer in one long gulp. Giving his best advice - and knowing it was true - was even thirstier work than the other.
* * *
Reed looked up at the darkening orange sky, now rapidly clouding as well as fading after the sunset. "Storm's coming up shortly, Sir," he told Archer. "We'd be best not to leave until that blows over." He checked his scanner. "I'd actually recommend we stay down here overnight, and I'll pilot the shuttlepod back in the morning. Everything should have blown over by then."
Archer peered into the distance himself. Reed had suggested leaving the surface an hour before, but Archer had been too curious about some of the rock formations to leave. The time had allowed Cutler to gather some additional botanical samples as well. However, Reed had been right; the delay was costing them a night either in the pod or in one of the caves. "I think you're right. We may as well get the packs out and hike over to the caves." He pulled out his communicator and notified Sato and T'Pol. "Cutler!" he called over to the woman stooped over a small plant. "Storm's coming up. We're staying down here tonight, but we'd better head for the caves."
Cutler looked up, shivering. She'd had a bad experience staying overnight in a cave on one of their away missions. "If it's all the same to you, Sir, and if it's safe, I'd just as soon stay in the shuttlepod overnight. I've had my share of caves for a bit."
The Captain nodded. "That's right, you were one of the crew who..." He hated even to mention the hallucinations. Tucker had nearly killed T'Pol under the strength of the hallucinations the crew had been having. It was entirely understandable that Cutler felt uncomfortable at the idea. "Malcolm, would she be safe in the shuttlepod?"
Reed checked the readings again. "Rain, lightning... if one doesn't mind the noise, it's as safe as anyplace. I'd vote for the cave myself. The shuttlepod's a bit small to sleep all three of us comfortably, so we'd have to split up, but," he said, turning to Cutler, "if you're not uncomfortable being alone in the storm, there certainly aren't any large or dangerous life forms anywhere in the area, and even if there were, I don't think they'll come out during a heavy thunderstorm."
"I'd prefer the cave myself," Archer agreed. He'd slept in shuttlepods a few times in his life; even with no one else in the pod, the space was too small for him to get his body into any comfortable position. Someone Cutler's size, or Reed's, perhaps, but for him it was impossible. "Let's grab those packs and head over there." He pointed to a cave they had checked earlier, about twenty-five meters away from the shuttlepod. Whatever humanoids had lived in the cave were centuries dead, and nothing was left in the caves except their art, which he and Reed had scanned. However, the cave and its fire pit still looked about as comfortable as a cave ever did - which meant that it had more room than the shuttlepod did. Besides, though he was loath to admit it, he'd never quite rid himself of his Boy Scout fondness for camping out.
Reed, who had beaten Archer at merit badge collection, apparently still had it too. "Aye, Sir." The look on his face was as cheerful, if not more so, than anything Archer had seen in the past few weeks. Admittedly, about eight or nine days after Reed had shot him down and then refused to speak to him, the ice had thawed slightly. All Tucker had said was, "Toldja, Cap'n; just hold your horses." Archer thought Tucker knew something, but he wasn't quite sure what that was. Maybe Tucker and Reed had talked more than Tucker had indicated. But the thought of camping out during the storm made Reed look almost as if he'd finally made it back to where they'd started. If that was the case, then Archer was willing to bless the alleged inconvenience. The Tactical Officer climbed back into the shuttlepod and tossed out two overnight packs before exiting. "Yours is still in there," Reed assured Cutler. "And there's plenty of water."
"As if we'll need it with the rain that's coming," she laughed, stowing her samples. "You two had better head on over there; I just felt a few drops."
"See you in the morning," Archer told her as he and Reed hoisted packs and trudged back to the cave. He cleared his throat to get Reed's attention. "We need to grab some wood before it gets wet. I can take your pack ahead if you want to do that."
"Certainly." Reed handed the pack, which was more bulky than heavy, to Archer, who forged on ahead as Reed looked around for suitable firewood. There were any number of dead trees in the area, pieces of branches lying all around, making the task easier than not. Reed was far from a large man, but as his sparring opponents could attest, he was a strong one, stronger than most of the larger Security crew members, so gathering a reasonable supply of wood in one or two trips wasn't an effort.
He brought in the first load to find Archer setting up a light and just starting to untie the packs. "I'll be back in a moment. This should do for kindling, but there are a few larger pieces I'd like to get." Returning several minutes later, an armload of heavier pieces assembled, he was able to report, "It's still just sputtering, but that storm's about to break" - there was a loud clap of thunder, and the sound of Noah's flood beginning to come down in torrents - "any second."
"Well, you made it back just in time," Archer told him. "Put those down here." The captain was finishing stacking kindling in the fire pit. "Phase pistol?"
Reed handed the gun over. "What for?"
"Little trick I discovered when Trip and I were visiting Zobral." Archer aimed at the kindling and set it aflame. "Throw on a couple of those logs."
"I need to set up a third phase pistol setting," Reed observed as he finished building the fire. "'Kill', 'stun', and 'barbecue lighter'." He stepped back to admire his handiwork before sitting down. "There; that's got it."
Archer was sitting across from Reed, his face and hair lit up by the firelight. It was evident that Reed was trying not to notice him. "So, Malcolm, have we got marshmallows?"
"Marshmallows, Sir? I'm afraid not. That was why we needed to leave earlier, you see," Reed explained.
"No marshmallows? I suppose we could tell ghost stories, but we really need Travis for that."
Reed grinned. Archer gave an inward sigh of relief to see the younger man finally relaxing in his presence. "I suppose we could have a hand shadow contest in here. Although if you'll toss me one of the small tool kits, I could modify that lighter setting for the phase pistols now. Of course, then *everyone* would want one..."
"We'll just have to keep the low setting a secret," Archer told him. "I know what we could do - we can decide what resequenced food item is worse than the meat loaf."
"Sir, Phlox *likes* the meat loaf."
"He also likes alien bats, leeches, and having multiple mothers-in-law. I'm not sure Denobulan standards of taste count." That got a laugh out of Reed, which Archer found reassuring. Perhaps it was worth the risk... "And there's nobody here but a couple of overage Scouts on a camping trip, Malcolm, so *please* quit calling me 'sir'. I'll order that if I have to. You're making me feel old."
Fortunately, Reed had entered into the spirit of the event, or was trying to. "Very good, Si-um, wait, no, I can't call you that. If you really don't want to feel old, as you say...my old troop used to give each of us nicknames; did yours?"
"Absolutely. We used really bad phony Native American names. I liked to swim, of course, so I got stuck with the horrible moniker of 'Running Brook.' Which you can believe I never let anyone hear again. Especially on my college water polo team."
Reed tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to keep from laughing. After pulling himself together and taking a deep breath, he nodded. "Very well, then... 'Running Brook.' Mine wasn't much better. I was 'Fawkes.'"
"As in Guy Fawkes Day?"
"Precisely. Which we celebrate a bit like your Fourth of July. Bonfires, fireworks, explosions... you see the fit, of course."
"So you were a champion of destruction even then," Archer marveled.
"Indeed... Running Brook." Another snicker. Archer was relieved at the sound. A man who had just agreed to call you by your Scout camp nickname, and was unable to control his amusement at it, was going to have problems continuing to keep up a wall intended to keep you out.
Good Lord, even Tucker didn't know his Scout camp nickname.
The dire revelation and Reed's collapse at its discovery had accomplished what three weeks of attempting patience hadn't; Reed was suddenly more relaxed than he'd ever been in Archer's presence. Maybe there was something to all that 'male bonding' babble Tucker had been known to spout from time to time; he wasn't sure. But the exchange of juvenile secret camping information had opened the wellspring of bad camp stories, which appeared to be identical no matter what country you came from. The two men spent the rest of the evening keeping the fire stoked, listening to the storm and trading camping mishaps.
It surprised Archer that Reed was the one who made the first venture out of safe conversational territory. In the middle of one camp reminiscence further in the evening, lying down on the floor of the cave, knees up, arms behind his head, Reed mused, "The head scout on that trip was a boy named Colin Llewellyn. He was sixteen and absolutely gorgeous. First other boy I'd ever done anything serious with - I mean, I'd fooled around a bit, before, but Colin... well..." He trailed off into silence, but not, evidently, into embarrassment. It didn't seem to have been offered as a deliberate disclosure, merely something that had come into Reed's mind.
Trust; it was trust. Reed was feeling comfortable enough with him to mention the story for no particular reason, even though a few weeks before he'd been afraid of a sexual advance from Archer. He was grateful for the display; no point pushing the matter to a personal level between the two of them yet. But a display of that kind of trust required his own disclosure; he knew that. "I don't remember anything like that with anyone at camp. I guess, for me, it was my last year of high school. Another senior on the swimming team. Greg - you know, I can't think of his last name. He was captain in the relays. It didn't last long - he knocked up the homecoming queen shortly after that."
"I'm fairly certain Colin never knocked any girls up. I believe he's a monk now." Reed saw Archer's disbelieving stare. "No, I'm serious. Really. He's an Anglican monk, and does religious calligraphy. He always *was* good with his hands," Reed laughed.
"Malcolm... would you tell me about Walter Gordon?" Where did that come from, and why? It was probably the stupidest thing he could have asked, the very thing most likely to set back everything they'd accomplished the entire evening. But if Reed really was relaxed, if Reed really did trust him right now, perhaps it was the only thing that would clear the air between them.
Reed sat up. "You mean about what happened? You really don't know?"
Best not to say what he really knew or how he knew it. "The official word I got, from Admiral Forrest, was that Gordon requested your demotion after an incident in which you severely injured him. Forrest said he thought it was justified, but he never told me why. Gordon had a reputation for being a slave driver; I know that much. He was always pointed out to me as the perfect role model for what *not* to do to your crew."
Reed laughed bitterly. "Whoever said that, I'll second it. If you really want to know... he was trying to blackmail me into sleeping with him. He'd found out I had a lover on base, and that my... er... friend... was married and had children. Gordon threatened to tell his wife about me if I didn't go along with it. It was bad enough my friend was married as it was, I truly don't care for homewrecking... if his wife had found out... well, you know. Gordon never did understand the word 'no' from his men. Not for any reason. So one night after I'd told him what he could do with himself in the most exquisite language imaginable, he broke into my cabin. Given a choice between doing him and doing him in, as it were, I thought murdering the blasted sonofabitch was the lesser of the two evils. It might have been more convenient if I'd managed the job a bit better, because when he came around in the infirmary, he let me know that he was docking me a grade and that if I fought it, my friend's wife was *still* going to hear about it. So I kept my mouth shut and took the demotion. End of story, I'm afraid."
So that had been it; there had been more than Reed had told Tucker, though not much more. Still, the part Reed had left out of the version he'd given Tucker, small though it was, might have been the worst of it. "I think Admiral Forrest was right," Archer mused. "You didn't have any choice there. But Malcolm," he said across the fire, "I'm not Walter Gordon. I've never forced anyone into bed, and I don't intend to start now. Especially not with anyone I care about. But I understand what you must have been thinking the other week at dinner. I can't tell you how sorry I am about that."
"It's all right," Reed replied quietly. "I was wrong myself; all I could think about was the last time that had happened to me. I ought to know by now that no one is anything like Gordon, least of all you." He rose to get another log for the fire. "Blast; I should have brought in more wood. It's going to get cold in here tonight."
"It's getting a bit damp, as well," Archer observed. "And that fire's not going to stay lit all night. I know what I'd suggest under other circumstances, Malcolm, but I really don't want to make you uncomfortable..."
Reed came around to the packs, which were on Archer's side of the fire. "One bag under, to block the damp; the other bag on top, both in it, to stay warm. Standard advice, I believe." He began unfastening the sleeping bags. "And better than risking a bout with whatever kind of pneumonia you can contract on this miserable hunk of rock, if you ask me."
Archer reached over, his hand circling Reed's wrist. "Not if you're not comfortable with it, Malcolm. I don't ever want you to think I've said something just to get you into bed with me."
"No... no, I know better than that." Reed slid down to meet Archer, allowing Archer to draw him closer in against Archer's body. He moved his free hand to Archer's face, guiding it down just enough for him to be able to meet Archer's lips with his own. "I know much better than that." He brushed his lips against Archer's more firmly now, allowing Archer to see that he was quite aware of what he was doing. "And this ground *is* getting damp; maybe we should continue this someplace a little warmer?"
"How much can we do in a sleeping bag?" Archer asked.
"Ah, I *knew* there was a reason I got more badges than you did..." Reed kissed Archer again, now more possessively. "I *told* you Colin was good with his hands; I should really show you a few things..."
Later that night, the fire dead and only a few charred embers still smoldering in the dark, Jonathan Archer had to admit that Colin Llewellyn had really been one of the most resourceful campers in the history of Scouting. Reed was curled up, sleepy and sated, his head pillowed against Archer's shoulder, having demonstrated technique that undoubtedly required a merit badge of its own. Archer stroked the brown hair that was pressing against his neck, rewarded by Reed's burrowing comfortably against him. "Night, Malcolm."
"Good night... Running Brook." A small snort of laughter came from Reed's nose.
"If you ever call me that name in bed again, I may have to kill you," Archer mumbled tiredly.
"We're not in bed tonight, we're camping. But I'm sure I'll find something *else* to call you next time... Good night, Jon." Hearing Malcolm saying his name as they were falling asleep was worth everything the past few weeks had put him through.
* * *
"You look tired," Cutler observed when Archer and Reed arrived at the shuttlepod in the morning. "Did you sleep all right?"
"We didn't sleep much," Reed replied. In fact, they had awakened sometime during the night for a demonstration of some of Colin's other camping secrets. Reed had certainly learned to be prepared when he'd been a Scout.
"I warned you about caves," Cutler scolded. "Don't say I didn't." She moved specimens out of the way as Reed and Archer climbed into the shuttlepod.
* * *
"So," Tucker asked Archer at dinner that night, "Malcolm looks like a new man. So do you, by the way. I guess you two worked things out down there?"
"You could say that." Archer moved his salad plate out of the way, turning his attention to a plate of pasta.
"Thought you might. Kinda why I suggested you spend that last hour down there when Malcolm checked about leaving."
Archer stared at his friend. "You *knew* that storm was coming up?"
"And that Malcolm's got too much sense to fight one in a shuttlepod if he can help it? Yep. Travis saw that storm comin' and called it to my attention, I must admit."
"You deliberately stranded us down there in that storm?"
"Worked, didn't it?" Tucker beamed at the thought of his own brilliance. "I figured Cutler'd want her own space an' you two could go cozy up together for hours in the rain."
"You could have been wrong," Archer growled.
"Wasn't, was I? I know you two, damn it. Rain, a nice cozy fire, everything y'all need to get the human mind workin' on curlin' up together an' makin' out like rabbits. You *did* make out like rabbits, right? Don't disappoint me here."
"Trip, sometimes you scare me."
"Thanks, Cap'n. Now, hurry up an' finish eatin'. Haven't you got somethin' better to do after dinner?"
Archer raised an eyebrow. "Now, really. What would that be?"
"Hey, if I hafta tell ya, I don't think Malcolm's gonna be too happy with ya..." Tucker grinned. "So finish up and get outa here. And all this here marriage counselin' is makin' me thirsty - I figure Travis and I have a few beers we gotta go kill once I make sure you and a certain Tactical Officer are gonna be out of my hair this evenin'." There were no two ways about it. Matchmaking was a very thirsty business.