Log Rhythms - Season Two
It had been ten days and still they waited for the other shoe to fall. Malcolm was one step short of full paranoia; Trip was on the verge of believing it would never happen.
"He hasn't said anything?" Malcolm asked the engineer over breakfast in the mess hall.
"Not a word," confirmed Trip. "But I'm having dinner with him and T'Pol tonight."
"I don't envy you."
"Come on, Malcolm. If it was going to happen, it would have happened by now. I'm willing to bet she never told him about it at all."
"That doesn't mean she won't eventually."
"Eventually," echoed Trip. "By the time eventually rolls around, it'll be so far in the past the Captain won't even care."
"Trip," Malcolm lowered his voice, "we could have destroyed two shuttlepods. And correct me if I'm wrong, but we don't have the materials aboard to build replacements."
"We could build one," countered the engineer. "Maybe."
"I think we should tell him."
"Are you serious?" But Trip could tell by his partner's expression that he was absolutely serious. "Why?"
"To get it over with. To come clean," insisted Malcolm. "It's the right thing to do."
"Says you. I think the right thing to do is to just chalk it up to good luck instead of bad, for once, and move on. You've got to let it go at some point, Malcolm. Stop worrying about it. There are better things to think about. Like Saturday." He smiled suggestively.
"You're not still seriously considering your birthday dinner plan, are you?" queried Malcolm, astonished.
"Your birthday dinner, darlin', and you bet I am." Trip's blue eyes twinkled with mirth and mischief.
"But—" He stopped short, uncertain what to say. He had to admit, even if only to himself, that for the first time in years he was very much looking forward to celebrating his birthday, and it was entirely due to the handsome man sitting across from him.
"But nothing," declared Trip with finality. "I've got the whole evening planned out. That's assuming you haven't changed your mind about going to the movie?"
"I haven't. I've never seen Casablanca, and I admit I'm intrigued by it."
"Even though there aren't any big explosions?" quipped Trip, who'd seen the film half a dozen times and still expected to cry over it and its incomparable leading lady.
Malcolm gave him a sardonic look. "If I disliked every movie that didn't have explosions, I would be severely limiting myself."
"And if you did like every movie that had explosions, we could've gone to see Terminator 2, and someone I know wouldn't have gotten his nose broken."
"It was worth it for your apology," answered Malcolm with a libidinous grin. He was rewarded with an equally salacious smile from his lover.
"That was a good night, wasn't it?" Trip sighed, remembering.
"It was." Malcolm sipped thoughtfully at his tea. "Were you planning anything similar for Saturday night by any chance?"
Trip smiled again. "I have a few things in mind. Something a little different that I think you'll like."
Across the mess hall, Stephanie was silently savoring her latté and waiting for Mae. She glanced up at the sound of the door opening, but was disappointed when two communications crewmen entered. Wonder where she is? she thought. Wonder if I should hail her? It wasn't impossible that the engineer had overslept as Stephanie, herself, had done in the not so distant past.
The door whooshed open again, and this time Mae entered with Bonnie in tow. Stephanie waved a weary hand in their direction and got a small wave back. The two women chose their breakfasts, ordered their morning beverages, and joined her at the small, round table.
"Morning," said Mae.
"Hey," replied Stephanie eloquently. She mustered up a smile for the new arrivals, then looked at Mae. "You didn't tell me we'd be three this morning."
"Should I go?" asked Bonnie, who knew perfectly well Stephanie hadn't meant to sound unwelcoming.
Realizing her brain was still functioning a little slowly, Stephanie apologized. "No. Of course not. It's just that if I'd known you were coming, I'd've worked harder to be conscious when you got here."
"I don't rate consciousness from you?" teased Mae, taking a bite of cereal.
"Did you require consciousness from me?" asked Stephanie in return.
"Not really." Mae shrugged amiably. "How'd your present-making go last night?"
"Better and better." Finally Stephanie managed a real smile. "I've got the recipe all worked out, and Hoshi and I are going to work on getting the flavors just right tonight."
"Flavors?" asked Bonnie.
"Are you going to elaborate?"
"Why not?" Mae wanted to know.
"It's not your birthday present," Stephanie said as if it explained everything.
As far as her companions were concerned, it didn't. "So?" they both said in unison, then laughed.
Even Stephanie chuckled. "Oh no, you're not bunkmates," she joked.
"Come on," pressed Mae. "What is it?"
"No. Forget it." Stephanie was adamant. "No one gets to know until Malcolm knows."
"Yeah. She kind of had to seeing as she's helping. But don't even think about leaning on her for the info," the blonde woman continued, realizing what her friend was likely planning. "She's sworn to secrecy in four languages."
"What if I offered to give you a hand?" said Bonnie suddenly.
"You said you're cooking again tonight. What if I helped? Then would I get to know?"
Stephanie considered the helmsman carefully before continuing. While she didn't want to let out her secret, she was tempted by the thought of spending the evening with Bonnie. And an extra pair of hands wouldn't hurt, her mind added in justification of her desires.
"Can you keep a secret?" Stephanie asked Bonnie abruptly. She couldn't help but notice the significant look that passed between the helmsman and her bunkmate at her query. "What?"
"Nothing," said Mae too innocently.
"I can keep a secret," Bonnie answered at the same moment.
Stephanie eyes them both suspiciously. "Now I’m curious." A thought occurred to her. "Does this have anything to do with when Lieutenant Reed locked you in the brig?" she asked Bonnie.
Mae was about to say no when Bonnie beat her to the punch.
"Yeah," she said.
The engineer looked at her in shock. "It does?"
Bonnie gave her a sidelong glance. "Sort of," she answered tightly.
Stephanie watched the exchange with growing fascination. "Tell! Tell!" she finally exclaimed.
Bonnie made sure Mae didn't intend to answer before she spoke. She needn't have worried; Mae was just as curious as Stephanie now.
"I was trying to get into the classified personnel files."
"Whose?" Stephanie wanted to know.
Mae already had a guess, knowing what she knew about Bonnie's "secret." She kept her mouth shut and listened, wondering how Bonnie was going to get out of this.
"It doesn't matter," the helmsman said.
"Well, why then?" Stephanie tried another tactic.
"Really," Bonnie insisted, "it doesn't matter." The last thing she needed was for Stephanie to find out she was the focus of Bonnie's security breaching activities. "We were all obsessed with crazy shit right then. Unfortunately for me your boss was obsessed with new security protocols, and I was stupid enough to trip his alarms. Have you ever been stunned with one of those phase pistols? It hurts!"
"Oh my gods! He stunned you?" Stephanie was amazed. She knew something of Malcolm's actions during their trip through the mind-bending radiation, but this little tidbit had gone unmentioned.
"Yeah," confirmed Bonnie, happy to have shifted the conversation. "I don't expect it's something he's likely to mention outside of a report to the captain or something."
Stephanie smirked now. "No, I don't suppose it is."
Mae fought back a grin of her own. "You're plotting something, aren't you?"
"No. No, right now I'm just filing it away for later use. I'll plot something then."
"I'm so glad I'm not Lieutenant Reed."
"So?" asked Bonnie.
"So?" echoed Stephanie, confused.
"Can I help with the cooking tonight?"
"Oh!" The tactical ensign thought hard and came to an unexpected conclusion. "No." Bonnie's face fell just enough to make Stephanie immediately regret her choice. No, she told herself firmly. You'd get all caught up in testing the product, and you'd never get done. "Sorry," she said aloud. "But once Malcolm's birthday is past, I'll share the leftovers."
Even without knowing what would be left over, Bonnie was delighted. "Excellent." She grinned.
"Taste this," said Cormack, holding up a long-handled spoon. "Careful. It's still pretty warm."
Sato dipped a fingertip into the dark liquid and licked it thoughtfully. She shrugged. "I guess it's good. I'm not big on bitter-sweet."
"No?" The blonde ran a finger along the bowl of the spoon and then sucked the chocolate from it. "It's my favorite."
"But is it Malcolm's?"
"I don't know, sadly. I'm making an assumption based on his beer preference and my own tastes."
This made no sense to the comm officer. "What? Why?"
"He likes Guinness. I liked Guinness. I love very dark, bitter-sweet chocolate."
"Therefore, you're hoping he does, too," finished Sato.
"Yep. But we have others, just in case. Try the milk."
Sato took a small spoon and dipped it into the warm milk chocolate. She smiled as she pulled the spoon from her mouth. "Now that's good!"
"Good. Time to get the flavors right."
"What about texture? You know, once it's been spread?"
"Damn! Good point." Cormack set her long spoon across the pot of dark chocolate and looked around. "We need something fairly smooth and flexible."
"I know." Sato disappeared into a pantry and returned almost immediately with a thin sheet of baking pan liner. "Will this do?"
"Almost as good as the real thing," answered Cormack with a smile. I should have asked Bonnie to come, she thought briefly.
No, you shouldn't, she told herself firmly. We discussed this, and we made the right decision for now. She ladled out a small amount of chocolate into a bowl then set it aside. "Where are the brushes?" she asked.
Sato glanced around and spotted them. "Here." She chose the widest of the group and held it suspended over the vat of dark chocolate. "Shall I?"
"Be my guest."
She dipped the tip of the brush into the warm liquid, then drew something on the baking sheet.
Cormack tilted her head to look at it. "Korean?" she asked.
"Thanks. What's it say?"
"It's the character for 'journey'."
It took Cormack a moment before she made the connection. "Trip," she said, laughing.
Sato grinned mischievously. "Exactly."
"Very nice." She returned the grin before getting back to business. "I'll separate these pots into smaller batches, and we can start mixing in the flavors."
Malcolm smoothed the front of his shirt for the nth time. He was dressed in the exact outfit he'd worn on his first date with Trip. Even if he didn't know it was a date, he reminded himself, amused at the memory. Still, the symmetry pleased him, even if it would be lost on his lover. Perhaps tonight I'll tell him Or perhaps not. He allowed himself a small, wry smile.
He raised a hand to open the door to the captain's private dining room, but stopped himself suddenly. He still had reservations about this evening. The first and foremost was, of course, that he and Trip would be using the Captain's Mess without the captain present. It just didn't feel right to him.
Not that I want the Captain to be here, he thought. But it still feels like a breach of protocol—especially when we still don't know if T'Pol told him about our shuttlepod race.
But there was something deeper that caused him to hesitate, one hand hovering over the door's control. It had been many years since he'd had someone special with whom to celebrate his birthday, and that relationship had ended badly.
Worse than badly. Over ten years had passed, but he could still recall it as if it were yesterday. He remembered the oppressively silent flat, the motes of dust caught in the late-afternoon sun that poured callously through the window. He even remembered his absurd desire that it rain so the outside world would echo his inner misery. Oddly enough, it had rained two days later—the day he'd left London to join Starfleet.
He took a deep breath, forcibly yanking himself from the unpleasant retrospection. That was years ago, he told himself firmly. And Trip isn't him. Even now he couldn't quite bring himself to mentally voice the name of the man who had hurt him so badly. Years of practice had taught him to bury the painful memory in the darkest corners of his mind. He did this now, shaking off the dour expression that had settled on his face. It was his birthday and he intended to enjoy it. He opened the door.
A white cloth adorned the table, which was set for two. There was a small vase with a red rose in it in the center, and a carafe of red wine and two large goblets at one end. The only thing missing was candlelight.
Trip stood by the window, regarding the stars, but he turned and smiled broadly at Malcolm's arrival. "Hey," he said in greeting and quickly rounded the table to embrace his lover. They kissed warmly. "Happy Birthday."
Malcolm smiled. "Thanks."
"Can I offer you a glass of wine?" asked Trip. He found it fun to play the host—something he wasn't overly practiced at but which he enjoyed immensely.
Trip picked up a goblet and poured a good measure of the garnet-red liquid into it.
"What are we having?" asked Malcolm, taking the offered glass.
"Australian Shiraz," the blond man answered, pouring one for himself. "I don't know much about reds, but Chef said it's a good one."
Malcolm swirled the wine around in his glass, admiring the color and the bouquet. He detected the scents of oak and black cherry, and he thought there was even a hint of plum. He was no connoisseur, but he thought it smelled delicious. "It certainly is."
"A toast," declared Trip, raising his goblet. Malcolm followed suit and waited for his partner's toast. "To lots more birthday celebrations together." They clinked the glasses gently against one another and sipped the wine.
"That is lovely," said Malcolm, savoring the full, heady flavor.
"Are you hungry?"
"Good." Trip opened the side door to the Captain's Mess, and a steward appeared carrying two covered plates. Tucker watched Malcolm a little nervously as the steward set the plates down and removed the covers before withdrawing silently. He had no idea if his lover would like what he'd asked Chef to prepare. He relaxed as a smile spread across Malcolm's face. "You like it?" he asked hopefully.
"It looks and smells wonderful. I haven't had traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in years."
"You're sure it's not too cliché?" It had been Trip's greatest concern. He'd found it a disturbing realization that, beyond pineapple, he didn't really know what his partner most enjoyed eating. So he'd made a guess and gone with a dish that was almost synonymous with English cooking.
"It's perfect," Malcolm assured him gently, and placed a tender kiss on the blond man's lips. "And I'm starving." He took the seat nearest him, and Trip moved back around the table and sat opposite him with his back to the star field passing outside the windows.
"Well we can't have you wasting away!" declared Trip jokingly. "Dig in!"
Archer entered the mess hall. He was well aware of the curious glances he garnered as he collected cutlery, chose a plate of roasted lemon chicken and salad, and filled a glass with iced tea from the drinks dispenser. It was the first time he'd really dined with the crew. Considering his relatively casual command style, it was ironic that it had taken him nearly a year and a half to do so. That irony was not lost on the captain.
He noticed Doctor Phlox alone at a far table. At least there's some dinner company I'm familiar with, and vice versa, he thought, heading in the Denobulan's direction.
"Good evening," he said pleasantly. "May I join you?"
"Captain!" exclaimed Phlox cheerily. "Please, have a seat! To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I figured it was past time I did a little mealtime mingling," answered Archer as he sat. "And my own dining room is otherwise occupied this evening."
"Is it? By whom?" asked the doctor, curious. After all it was the Captain's Mess. If he wasn't using it, who was?
"It's Lieutenant Reed's birthday. I know I shouldn't play favorites, but when Trip said he wanted to plan a special dinner for him, I just couldn't bring myself to say no."
Phlox was mildly surprised. "Really? Well, that was very generous of you, Captain. Considering."
"Considering?" echoed Archer. He sliced off a bite of chicken and popped it into his mouth.
"Considering the event on that uninhabited planet the other week."
The captain washed his bite down with a swallow of iced tea. "I'm afraid I don't follow you, Doctor."
"The shuttlepod race, of course," clarified the Denobulan as if everyone on the ship should know what he was talking about. Still, his dinner companion was at a loss.
"Shuttlepod race?" Archer asked.
"I assumed T'Pol had told you about it."
"I can't say as she did."
"Really? I'm surprised."
"Maybe you'd like to share what you know about this shuttlepod race," suggested Archer, trying to restrain his impatience.
"I only know what little I heard from Ensign Mayweather. I understand that when Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed went to collect the shuttlepod the commander and Ensign Sato had been forced to leave behind, they took the pair of pods for a bit of a race before returning to Enterprise."
"Excuse me?" Archer was flabbergasted. He'd not heard word one about the incident.
"Yes. Sub-commander T'Pol hailed them and recommended they return to the ship right away, as there was another storm moving in. From what Ensign Mayweather said, they returned immediately and that was the end of it." He regarded the captain closely. "Are you saying you didn't know?"
"No, I didn't. So," continued Archer, just to be certain he had his facts straight, "two of my command staff went for a joy ride on an alien planet where at any moment they could have encountered a diamagnetic storm or, if memory serves, the side of a mountain?"
"I really thought the sub-commander had put it in her report." Phlox suddenly looked abashed as he realized what he'd just done. "I hope I haven't spoiled the gentlemen's evening."
"Oh, don't worry, Doctor," said Archer, although Phlox found his tone and expression more than a little worrying. "I won't be disturbing their evening at all."
Across the room, the mess hall door opened, and Cormack and Lawless entered. The pair headed straight for the food.
"I'm so hungry!" exclaimed Cormack. She studied her dinner options and settled on a plate of salmon, rice pilaf, and roasted vegetables.
"Didn't you get lunch?" her friend inquired, claiming a plate of ravioli with mushrooms and spinach in a creamy sauce. She inhaled it deeply and sighed happily. "Ah! Garlic."
"No, I didn't." Cormak picked up a glass and placed it under the drinks dispenser. "Water, cold." She glanced over her shoulder at her dinner companion as the glass filled. "I was busy wrapping Malcolm's birthday prezzy." She claimed her glass of water and moved out of the way.
Lawless placed her own glass on the pad. "Cola, very cold. You're still not going to tell me what it is, are you."
"Come on. What's the big secret?"
"I'm not telling you."
"Fine." Lawless picked up her drink. "Let's find a place to sit." She scanned the room for an empty table and instead found her bunkmate. The helmsman was sitting alone reading a datapad with great intensity. "There's Bonnie," she said, nodding her head in her direction. "Let's join her."
Cormack was hesitant. "She looks busy."
"It's probably just a technical manual. Come on." Without waiting for an answer, the engineer headed towards the table where Fraser sat.
"Mae!" Cormack called after her, then repeated more quietly but more intensely, "Mae!" Lawless didn't respond. Finally, not wanting to draw attention to herself, Cormack reluctantly followed her.
The engineer heard her friend's protests and had no intention of listening to them. When opportunity presents itself so conveniently it's stupid to ignore it, she thought with finality. She caught a glimpse of Cormack from the corner of her eye. Good, you just keep coming.
Lawless reached Fraser's table. "Hey, lady!" she said heartily, startling her from her reading. Mae set down her dinner and took a seat.
"Hey, yourself!" Bonnie all but slammed her datapad face down on the table. "What's up?"
"Mind if we join you?"
"Seeing as you already sat your ass down, I guess I'll say, 'Go ahead!'"
Stephanie had caught up and was hovering to one side. She was fairly sure Bonnie hadn't seen her there yet. She shifted her weight on her feet nervously. "We don't have to," she said, feeling oddly shy and awkward.
For the second time, Bonnie started. "Hey!" she said again. She hadn't noticed the blonde woman's approach.
"You're busy. We shouldn't've interrupted."
"No! It's okay!" she said a bit more loudly than absolutely necessary. "I was just " Bonnie picked up the datapad and quickly shut it off. " reading a letter from home." It wasn't true but since she tucked it into a pocket and zipped it in, the others had no way of knowing. "Have a seat."
"If you're sure "
"Sure I'm sure!"
Finally, Stephanie sat. "Thanks."
Mae watched the exchange with great hidden interest. Inside she was laughing. It's as bad as high school. They are so hot for each other, but they can't see beyond their own attraction to know the other is attracted, too.
"So," Stephanie said. She was desperate to start a conversation; the silence felt too uncomfortable to her. It's because you're hormonal and you're a coward, she told herself with disdain. "What's the news from home?"
Bonnie was momentarily stymied. She hadn't actually gotten a letter from home in a week. "Uhh " Her mind spun, frantically trying to remember something from the message. The news from home? her mind echoed Stephanie's words. How about I know all about your band days? And your band nights, too. I could tell you a thing or two about them. The thought connected with another, and she all but cheered with relief. "My cousin's band finally signed a recording contract," she said at last.
"Really? That's cool! What kind of band is it?"
"You wouldn't have heard of them," answered the helmsman reticently. "They play some really weird stuff."
"But what?" put in Mae. She knew of her bunkmate's cousin's group, but Bonnie had never shared more information on them than the fact they existed.
"It's a weird Celtic Inuit Punk thing." Bonnie shook her head. "It's an acquired taste." Stephanie and Mae both looked at her wide-eyed. Bonnie glanced back and forth between them, surprised and not a little concerned. "What?"
"Rowan's Circle?" said Stephanie when she could find her voice. "Your cousin's band is Rowan's Circle, isn't it?"
"How the hell did you know that?"
"I have their demo! My sister-in-law sent it to me."
Now the women were grinning at one another, each for her own reasons happy to have found a safe common ground on which to connect. Again, Mae regarded them, laughing internally. Oh yeah. I'm so right on this one, she thought with satisfaction.
"Did you go through that entire box of tissues?" asked Malcolm, chuckling.
"Nah. Only about half of it," joked Trip, returning the box to its usual place on his nightstand. The two men were in Tucker's quarters, having just seen Casablanca. As usual, Trip had cried at the movie. "You know my track record with Ingrid Bergman," he added in his own defense.
"I do. It's a good thing she's centuries dead, or I might become jealous of your feelings for her."
Trip laced his fingers into the beltloops on either side of Malcolm's waistband and pulled the shorter man close. "You got nothing to worry about on that front, darlin'," he purred in his lover's ear.
A shiver ran through Malcolm at the feel of Trip's hot breath on his neck. "I'm glad to hear it," Malcolm murmured in reply, and wrapped his arms about his partner. "I've had a lovely evening."
Trip pressed warm kisses against Malcolm's cheek. "It ain't over yet."
"Ah, more good news." Malcolm closed his eyes, enjoying the softness of the younger man's lips on his skin. "You said the other morning you had something special in mind," he said softly.
"Yep. I did," affirmed Trip. Reluctantly, he pulled away. Malcolm opened his eyes and looked at him, curious but patient. "I thought a game might be fun. Something a little different."
"What sort of game?"
"Some role-playing." At his lover's bemused expression, he added, "And I'm not talking the kind Travis and them get up to sometimes."
"I hope not," replied Mealcolm teasingly.
"You check the door and the comm, and I'll get what I got."
Without a word, Malcolm made certain the cabin door was locked and their comms had a Do Not Disturb order on them. When he'd done that, he looked up from the computer console to see Trip, a lascivious grin on his face, standing by the bed where an odd assortment of clothing and other items were laid out. Malcolm was intrigued. "What's this?"
"You can pick. Do you want to be Rick, Victor Laszlo, or Captain Renault?"
A smile as wicked as his lover's spread across Malcolm's face. He didn't bother to wonder where Trip had gotten the costumes. Tucker was an engineer; he knew how the ship's resequencers worked. "That all depends," he began, crossing the room so he was standing a bare handbreadth from Trip. "Who do you want to be?"
Trip had his own ideas about the game, but he wanted to be certain that Malcolm got whatever he desired. "Sure you don't want first pick?" he asked.
Malcolm nodded, looking deeply into Trip's pale blue eyes. "I'm sure. Who do you want to be?" he repeated.
"I thought I could be Captain Renault."
"Ah. And I could be either the daring fugitive you wish to apprehend or the clever adversary you wish to best—and with whom you go strolling off into the night."
Trip wasn't sure if it was the close proximity of his partner—although they had yet to touch since he'd gotten out the costumes—or if it was their discussion of possibilities for the remainder of the evening's entertainment that had him so turned on. He guessed it was a combination of the two. Whatever the cause, he could feel his growing erection pressing against the seam of his pants. He wondered if Malcolm was in a similar state. Unfortunately the armory officer was too close for Trip to be able to glance down and see, but not quite close enough for him to feel. It was almost maddening.
He restrained his desire to reach out a hand and find out if Malcolm was as aroused by the situation as he was. Don't rush it, he ordered himself. Wait and play the game. You'll find out soon enough.
"I think," said Malcolm, breaking into his lover's lustful line of thought, "I'll be Rick." He adopted an American accent, although he didn't go so far as to attempt to impersonate Humphrey Bogart. "Owner of Rick's Café Américain—a hot spot for political intrigue and forbidden romance."
Trip grinned. "I hope you don't expect me to sound like I'm French. I want to seduce you, not make you laugh."
Malcolm returned his smile willingly, and answered in his own voice, "I like your accent just the way it is."
"Aw shucks," said the engineer, intentionally over-emphasizing his usual light twang.
Malcolm chuckled and leaned against the blond man, running his hands down Trip's strong back as he pulled him against his body. His chuckle deepened as he felt his partner's hardness press against his own. He planted a long, slow kiss on Trip's waiting lips. When he finally released him, Malcolm looked again into bright blue eyes. "Shall we dress?" he asked sweetly, then added with mischief in his voice, "so that we can undress?"
"Absolutely!" agreed Trip with such vehemence that both men laughed out loud.
It was 0600. Commander Tucker was due on duty at 0700. It was reasonable to assume he was awake—not that Archer assumed this at all. In his estimation, it was a better bet that Trip would still be sound asleep, presumably with Malcolm as neither man had removed the DND command from his comm ident.
Archer considered carefully before opening a comm line. "Archer to Commander Tucker," he said with exaggerated cheerfulness. He's going to hate me for this, he thought, smiling to himself. He waited a few seconds and repeated his hail. Finally, there was a reply.
"Tucker here," came the engineer's voice. Clearly Archer's assumption had been right; he sounded like he'd just been woken up. "Wha's up, Cap'n? There a problem?"
"No problem, Trip. There's just a new procedure I'm considering implementing, and I wanted to discuss it with you. I thought we could meet for breakfast."
"Sure. Say in ten minutes?" Archer had to bite his lip to keep from laughing and blowing the gaff.
"Ten minutes?" echoed Tucker, flustered.
"Even better," continued Archer as if the idea had just occurred to him, "I'll swing by your cabin now and we can walk to breakfast together."
"Now?!" Near panic was evident in the younger man's voice, and Archer felt a pang of remorse at his actions. It passed quickly.
"Sure! I'll see you in a minute. Archer out." He closed the comm before Tucker could protest, and finally laughed out loud. He took a moment to calm himself before rising and exiting his ready room.
In Tucker's quarters, Trip and Malcolm were in an all-out panic. Trip managed to grab a robe and toss it to his lover. "Put that on," he ordered. Malcolm didn't argue, pulling it on and wrapping it around his naked body.
"What are you going to do?" he asked, tying the belt on the robe.
"I don't know! Just help me get this stuff in the closet." Trip shoved a pile of 1940s era costuming into the small closet. "And if you find any underwear, put it on!"
"Trip—" Malcolm began, passing him a WWII era gendarme's uniform and a pair of handcuffs that were tangled up with a necktie.
But the blond was too absorbed with what he was doing to hear him. "The gunbelt!" he exclaimed suddenly. He frantically looked around, but it was Malcolm who located the item and tucked it into a nearby drawer.
"Trip—" he tried again.
"Go get dressed." Trip pressed Malcolm's civvies from the night before into his arms and pushed him towards the lav. He gave a silent thanks for his lover's innate tidiness; these at least were folded and easy to find in the chaotic aftermath of last night's lovemaking.
"All right," said Malcolm finally. He took a moment to slip out of the borrowed robe. "You might want this, though—unless you want Captain Archer to see you naked. Frankly, that's a pleasure I'd prefer you left for me alone." He handed it to Trip and disappeared into the lav.
For a split second, Trip stood stunned. In his frenzy he'd forgotten he was, like Malcolm, completely nude. "Shit!" he exclaimed, pulling on the robe just as the door chimed. "Who is it?" he called, stalling for time.
"It's me, Trip," answered Archer through the door. It didn't seem worthwhile to bother with a comm line.
"Just a second, Captain!" Trip continued to snatch up the remnants of the previous evening and cram them into closet and drawers.
"Is there a problem, Trip?" asked Archer solicitously, still through the closed and locked door.
"No, sir." He sounded unconvincing even to himself. He gave the room one last glance. It would have to do; he couldn't stall the captain any longer. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he opened the door. "Morning, Captain," he said, ushering his old friend in.
Archer entered the cabin, trying hard to maintain a neutral expression. "Everything all right, Commander?"
"You don't look like you're ready for breakfast."
"You caught me a little off guard with your hail," admitted Trip reluctantly.
"I hope I didn't interrupt anything," Archer said apologetically. He surreptitiously bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing as his old friend blushed scarlet to the roots of his blond hair.
"No! No, sir. I was asleep, is all. You woke me up."
"Ah! I see." He nodded knowingly and glanced around the cabin.
It was obvious to Trip that Archer was wondering where Malcolm was. After all, Jon knew it was Malcolm's birthday yesterday; it made sense to assume the two officers would have spent the night together. There was no way Trip was going to volunteer the information, however.
"What did you want to talk to me about, Captain?" asked Trip, hoping this would distract him from his visual perusal of the cabin.
"Hmm?" Archer would have feigned distraction, but he didn't need to. His roving eyes had caught something his mind wasn't immediately able to explain away. He forced himself to look Trip in the eye. "Oh! It can wait."
"You get dressed and meet me in my private dining room," suggested Archer. "We'll talk there."
"Really. It's nothing urgent. I'm simply thinking of instituting a policy of random spot inspections, and I figured you'd have some opinions on the subject."
Trip stared at him, stunned. Finally, his tongue rediscovered speech. "You What?"
"You know," continued Archer breezily, although he didn't know how much longer he could keep up the façade. "Malcolm's told me on more than one occasion that he feels discipline on board is a bit lax. I thought spot inspections might be a good way to keep everyone on his or her toes."
Still Trip stared in disbelief. "Malcolm's told you ?" The words were there, but forming a complete sentence was temporarily beyond his capabilities.
"Yes. Malcolm's told me. You can thank him for me when he comes out of the lav."
"Uhh " Again, all articulation was lost to the engineer.
"Or better yet, you can both join me in the Captain's Mess in ten minutes. We can discuss appropriate and inappropriate use of shuttlepods."
At last Trip understood what was really going on, and this time he didn't even try to reply. He simply nodded mutely.
It was enough for Archer. He nodded once in return and turned to depart. He paused only briefly in the doorway to add, because he knew Trip was wondering it, "No. T'Pol didn't tell me. Ten minutes," he reiterated, and left.
Trip locked the door behind him and leaned heavily against it. Reed emerged from the lav dressed in the clothes he'd worn the night before.
"I'll go get changed," the dark-haired man suggested awkwardly. Trip nodded, then froze, his eyes lighting on an object across the cabin. Malcolm noticed the sudden change in his expression and asked, concerned, "What is it?"
Without a word, Trip pushed away from the door and crossed the room. He picked up something from the floor just below the edge of the desk. There was no doubt in his mind that the captain had seen it there, too.
"What is it?" repeated Malcolm anxiously.
Trip turned and held up what he'd found. It was a tan fedora.
Malcolm's eyes widened. "You don't think the captain ?" he began.
"What do you think?" answered Trip, finally putting together a coherent phrase.
"You better go. Time's wasting, and neither of us is exactly dressed for duty."
"You're right." Malcolm spared a moment to give his lover a quick kiss. "See you in the Captain's Mess."
Trip nodded. "See you there."
Malcolm departed and made the short trip to his own cabin. He almost stumbled over the package at his door before he saw it. He absently picked it up and brought it in with him. He guessed it must be a birthday present, and he had a fair idea as to whom it was from. But what it contained could be anything. He set it on the bed.
As quickly as he could, he traded civilian gear for Starfleet, tossing his wrinkled clothes into the laundry chute. He brushed his teeth, ran an electric razor over his morning stubble, and did his best to tidy his short, brown hair. He wished he had time for a quick shower, but it was out of the question. I hope neither Trip nor I run into Porthos today, he thought suddenly. Then a worse realization struck him. T'Pol! She didn't have the sensitive nose of the beagle, but it was more than likely she would be able to detect the scent of sex on him and his lover. Splendid. I hope that nasal numbing agent of hers is working properly.
Then he glanced at the chronometer. Two minutes. Damn. It was barely enough time to get to the Captain's Mess, and that was if luck and the turbolifts were with him. The mysterious package sitting patiently on his bunk would have to wait.
Hoshi waited as her mug filled with steaming black tea. When the dispenser stopped, she picked up the mug and carried it with her plate of waffles to a table where Stephanie sat alone. "Morning," she said. "May I?" She indicated the empty chair with a nod of her head.
"Hi. Go ahead," answered Stephanie. She took a swallow of her latté, then stared into the depths of the coffee mug.
"Everything all right?" Hoshi asked, noticing her momentary distraction.
"I'm going to need another of these." Stephanie looked across the table at the comm officer. "I got here early this morning so I could make sure to catch Malcolm before we went on duty."
"Right!" Hoshi dropped her voice to a conspiratorial level. "Did he like his present?"
"I don't know," answered Stephanie equally softly. "He hasn't turned up yet."
"Maybe he's sleeping in."
A subtle gleam in Hoshi's eye made Stephanie chuckle. "I'd have thought that, too, but I know he has bridge duty this morning. He can't be sleeping in."
"Unless he overslept."
"You don't think he really did?" She considered the possibility. "No. He's as fanatical about timeliness as he is about neatness. It must be something else."
"That could've gone worse," said Trip as he and Malcolm left the captain's private dining room.
"Only if he'd been somewhere he could have reasonably thrown us off the ship," countered Malcolm.
"The Captain'd never throw us off the ship."
"Maybe not directly into deep space "
"He was just making a point; he wasn't really mad. Not like when we got caught sneaking around that alien space station. That was mad. Besides, I don't know what you're complaining about." They paused at the turbolift, and Malcolm pressed the call button. "You should feel better now that it's all out in the open. That's what you wanted, right?"
Malcolm sighed, knowing it was true. "I suppose so," he admitted. "At least now the other shoe has fallen, and we don't have to keep wondering if or when it will."
"Right. So cheer up." The lift arrived and the door slid open. Malcolm was about to step in when Trip stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Have a good day. I love you." The engineer kissed his partner sweetly, then released him. Trip waved as the now smiling Malcolm entered the lift.
"I love you, too," Malcolm said just before the door slipped shut, separating him from his lover. He requested the bridge and continued to smile as the lift took him upward.
Considering how it had begun, Reed's day really had gone surprisingly well. Not another word had been said about the illicit shuttlepod race; the captain had made his point at breakfast and seemed to have let the matter go.
Trip was right, Reed thought as he handed his post off to Ensign Young for Beta shift. I definitely feel better now that it's over.
He caught the turbolift and rode alone to his deck. He hadn't been back to his quarters since the morning, and he was looking forward to a little quiet solitude. He unlocked the door and went inside. There, waiting on his bunk exactly where he'd left it, was the package he'd found that morning. He'd forgotten all about it.
Remembering the determined and almost threatening certitude with which Ensign Cormack had picked up the challenge of his birthday, he locked the cabin door and approached the package cautiously. "What have you come up with?" he asked to the empty room.
He sat on the bunk and pulled the card from the top of the present.
Malcolm— it read.
"'Paint a masterpiece'?" he puzzled, thoroughly confused. "What on Earth is she on about?" His curiosity piqued, he unwrapped the package. His confusion didn't fade as he saw a set of six small, clear containers set in a tray. Each looked like it held about one hundred milliliters of thick liquid. Half a dozen paint brushes in a variety of sizes accompanied the containers. He picked up the first jar and read the label. "Bitter-sweet." And the next. "Bitter-sweet with pineapple." And the next. "Semi-sweet with pineapple." His confusion grew with each one. "Milk chocolate. Milk chocolate with pecan. Caramel with pecan." With all six containers out of the tray, he saw another card in the bottom. "This had better be an explanation," he muttered, picking it up. "I don't want to have to call her to come explain this in person."
He opened the second card, and his eyes widened. It was an instruction manual on the proper care and application of edible body paint. "Good lord." He started to laugh. He couldn't help it. It was a very thoughtful, if somewhat disturbing, gift. "Trip has got to make it up with Stephanie, or I'm never going to be able to use this!" His laughter welled at the absurdity of the situation. The present was obviously meant to be shared with his partner—why else would Stephanie have included the pecan flavorings? But until she and Trip were on better terms, Malcolm doubted the engineer would be overly inclined to make use of it simply because of its origin.
"Damn," he muttered as his laughter slowly abated. "As if I didn't already have enough motivation to get the two of them back on friendly terms." He sighed and opened the jar labeled 'Bitter-sweet with pineapple', and smelled it. Picking up a brush, he dipped it in and licked the small dollop of chocolate from it. He smiled and sighed heavily. "Those two had better make it up soon," he declared.