Trip Tucker was not having a good day.
Which was a little surprising, because it had started really well. After weeks of dithering, blithering and long fruitless arguments with himself, he had finally got up the nerve to ask Malcolm Reed on a date.
Well, sort of.
He hadn't actually said it was a date, after all. And Malcolm's spontaneous but unsurprising discovery that the human body was incapable of extracting oxygen directly from pancakes hadn't exactly helped.
But Malcolm had agreed to come to the Weapons Exhibition at the Kelakkan Science Museum with him, and that was cause for celebration in Trip's book, which, if it had been a real one, would doubtless have had Malcolm's name and lots of cartoon hearts doodled across the cover.
The exhibition itself was quite interesting too; lots of bizarrely shaped blades with intricately carved handles and ancient blunderbusses with muzzles that wouldn't look out of place on a euphonium. Better still, Malcolm was in his element, peering in fascination at various implements of mayhem and clearly having a whale of a time imagining himself wreaking havoc with some of them.
The fly in the ointment was their Kelakkan guide, Minaka.
If Trip had thought about it at all, he'd assumed that their guide would be a crusty old professor, who'd shuffle round after them and keep a vague eye on them to make sure they didn't pocket any of the exhibits.
Minaka might well have been a professor, but he was neither crusty nor old, as far as Trip could tell. He certainly didn't shuffle. In fact he was charming, friendly and extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the exhibits. He was also quite handsome once you got used to the long mustache-like tentacles around his mouth. The tentacles varied widely in colour between individual Kelakkans. Minaka's were emerald green, matching his hair and eyes. All of which was entirely forgivable if he hadn't latched onto Malcolm like a giant lamprey as soon as he discovered the armory officer's enthusiasm for things that were sharp and pointy or went boom, or better still, both.
Trip had never grown to hate anyone quite so quickly before. If looks could kill, Minaka would have been a small charred patch on the Museum floor twenty minutes into the tour.
//If he touches my Malcolm once more I'm gonna take that damned thing and shove it where the sun don't shine, and to hell with diplomacy.// Trip thought furiously, as the Kelakkan tapped Malcolm on the arm to draw his attention to some detail of the antique battleaxe they were examining. One of the bright green tentacles looked alarmingly as though it were about to caress the armory officer's cheek.
But even as he thought it, he knew he wouldn't do it, and not just because Jon had promised faithfully that next time Trip screwed up a First Contact he'd have a brig built so that he could personally throw Trip into it. That might not even be so bad, if Malcolm was in charge of making sure he didn't escape.
No. He'd keep quiet and peer at curly Kelakkan swords and not slice Minaka into teeny little pieces with them, because Malcolm was happy. And he wasn't going to screw *that* up if he could help it.
God, he'd got it bad.
Trip blamed the chocolate.
If it hadn't been for that enticing cocoa scent drifting round the turbo lift one morning on the way to the bridge he might have gone on happily floating along De Nile river indefinitely. Or so he told himself. But he'd had to ask why Enterprise's armory officer was going on duty smelling like an Oompa Loompa who'd got too wrapped up in his work, hadn't he? Idiot.
Malcolm had flushed and muttered something unintelligible from which Trip had managed to decipher the words "Travis" and "pudding". And something had hit Trip like a sucker punch to the gut, leaving him wondering //What the hell was that, and where did it come from?// as the lift decanted them both on to the bridge. He spent the rest of the shift like a man who'd left his brain in his other suit.
It wasn't until lunchtime, halfway through the grinning helmsman's account of how he'd conned Malcolm into being pelted with pudding as part of a bogus "boomer tradition" that Trip realised he'd automatically assumed a far more erotic scenario. He'd been jealous. Because if anyone was going to lick pudding off Malcolm, it should be him.
At which point the clue bus slewed to a halt outside a movie theatre whose main feature was apparently entitled "YOU'RE IN LOVE WITH MALCOLM REED, YOU FOOL". Trip had a sneaking feeling that he knew who was playing the lead in that one. At least he hoped it was the lead and not the comedy sidekick.
"Commander?" Travis looked puzzled, as well he might, since his explanation of why the chocolate scent was so persistent (some chemical he'd cajoled from Phlox to make the pudding a better consistency turned out to also be an extremely efficient scent fixative) hadn't really called for that sort of response.
"Sorry Travis. Just remembered somethin' important. Gotta go."
And he'd spent the next couple of weeks running, trying to hide, failing miserably and snapping at everyone in reach, including Malcolm. //Because that's really gonna help, isn't it?// he told himself on the latest occasion as he watched Malcolm's face take on the I'm-hurt-but-I-don't-want-anyone-to-know expression that always made Trip want to kiss him. Ah, who was he kidding, any expression of Malcolm's made Trip want to kiss him. Not to mention do other things to him that it was no use thinking about, because even if Malcolm was interested, there was no way he'd ever contemplate a relationship with a senior officer, was there?
Until finally he'd woken up this morning and decided that he had to do something before he went completely hatstand and carved his and Malcolm's initials on the warp core casing - and the fact that he could actually contemplate doing that to the other love of his life proved how far gone he was. That was when he'd checked his schedule for the day and found the invitation to a guided tour of the Weapons Exhibition. //Eureka!// he'd thought.
Trip stared glumly at a watchamacallit hung on the wall in front of him and wondered how you were supposed to kill someone with it. He decided he could probably come up with several ways and was mentally trying a few of them out on Minaka with moderately satisfying results, when Malcolm's voice interrupted him.
"You're bored, aren't you commander?"
"No, no," he protested, still anxious not to spoil the fun, "Just fascinated by this, er….”
It was the smirk that did it. That smirk had always driven him crazy, although to begin with he hadn't known why. This time it made the last vestiges of Trip's sanity merrily wave goodbye as they floated away past a display of ornate thumbscrews - at least that's what Trip hoped they were and he'd studiously avoided a closer look at them - and he thought vaguely that he was almost certainly going to get up close and personal with one of the exhibits very soon now, but dammit, at least he was going to get up close and personal with Malcolm first.
And then he was kissing Malcolm and nothing else mattered for a while. It took several seconds to register that not only was Malcolm not pushing him away and looking for something to disembowel him with, he was actually kissing *back* and pulling him closer, at which point Trip decided that sanity was decidedly overrated.
"Ah....sirs?" Hell. Why couldn't he kill Minaka, again? Oh. Yeah. Unhappy Malcolm. Right.
Malcolm. Who he'd just kissed. In public. In front of Minaka. And a group of wide-eyed, giggling Kelakkan preschoolers, apparently. He was definitely dead.
But if he was dead, he'd apparently racked up enough good deeds to get into heaven because Malcolm was smiling at him, and what's more, still had one arm curled possessively around Trip's waist as he turned to speak to the guide.
"Our apologies, Minaka. No offence meant, we just got a little, ah... carried away."
But for some reason, Minaka was positively beaming at them, his tentacles waving gently in the manner that Trip vaguely recalled meant great happiness.
"Offence sirs? But of course not! I can't begin to tell you how honoured we are!"
"Honoured?" Trip was beginning to wonder if he was having some sort of bizarre dream, and was about to wake up in his quarters. Or maybe the UT was malfunctioning and Minaka had actually just called them a pair of repulsive alien exhibitionists?
"But of course sirs! After all, it's not every day we see distinguished offworld visitors plight their troth in our humble museum - you will hold the wedding here, won't you?"
Wedding? Oh, hell. Trip looked at Malcolm with incredulous despair and saw the same expression glazing the face of his ....fiancé, apparently. He was definitely doomed. If Malcolm didn't kill him for this, Jon would. He wondered if it was too late to go for the bizarre dream option after all. Although, given the way Malcolm was hanging on to him, he could stand not waking up for a bit longer.