Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

by The Grrrl

Title: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Author: The Grrrl

Author's email: thegrrrl2002@yahoo.com

Author's URL: http://www.geocities.com/coffeeslash/thegrrrl/

Archive: Ask first.

Fandom: Star Trek Enterprise

Date: Dec 6, 2002

Pairing: Tucker/Reed

Rating: NC-17

Summary: There's something weird happening on board the Enterprise, and Malcolm seems to be in middle of it. In the meanwhile, Malcolm wants, needs and desperately desires a certain Chief Engineer.

Author's notes: I owe a great many thanks to my betas, Kim and Kylie. They encourage and inspire me endlessly, and listen so patiently when I whine about my fics. You two rock! Warm fuzzies to you both. I couldn't do this without either of you.

PART 1

Eyes closed, Malcolm relaxed into the spray of hot water, luxuriating in the sensation of heat on his tense neck and shoulders. It had been a long, hard day. His chest heaved in a heavy sigh, as his hands, slippery with soap, slid from his chest down to his groin. He had spent his entire shift with the ship's chief engineer, recalibrating the sensor arrays, spent the entire shift hyperaware of every move the man made, aware of every muscle underneath the uniform. He had tried to act casual in the man's presence, contributing the occasional wry remark, pretending not to be entranced by those sparkling blue eyes and lively countenance, all the while fearing that his very inappropriate and unprofessional desire was painfully obvious to everyone—and to Trip in particular.

His hands wandered down to his balls, stroking them gently as he washed away the day's sweat. It seemed to him that the ship had been overly warm. Or was it just because of the way the damn man constantly touched him—a pat on the back, a squeeze of his shoulder, a brush of fingers against his as they passed equipment back and forth—that heated him up?

It was like a sickness, Malcolm supposed. All he had to do was endure, and eventually he would recover and be his normal self again and he would stop this ridiculous moth-to-the-flame business. He had to because his growing obsession, his constant thoughts of the man, were driving him to distraction. He had to constantly remind himself that Trip was his friend, and that was all. All that he ever would be. The sooner he convinced himself of that, the better. But instead his wayward mind wandered off to thoughts of Trip as a lover. Would he be sweet and romantic, or playful and energetic? Slow, intense, and passionate? Or maybe he would be a little bit of everything; maybe his hands would be playful and his kisses sweet, or maybe those kisses would be harsh and the hands slow, intense.

Malcolm groaned at the images in his mind, of Trip naked, his hard body pressed against his. Maybe in the shower with him, water streaming down that golden skin. Pushing Malcolm against the wall.

Unable to resist, Malcolm succumbed to temptation, reaching for his engorged cock. He leaned back against the shower wall as he stroked himself languidly, seeing sunny blue eyes and a boyish smile as he rubbed and squeezed himself, breath quickening as he imagined that supple body against his, clever hands sliding down his body, a warm, generous mouth taking him in—

He gasped softly as he climaxed, hot liquid coating his hand and then washing away with the water. He rested against the cold wall until he caught his breath. Then, embarrassed by his actions, he turned the water up higher, and rinsed the soap from his body.

Without warning, the water became painfully hot.

"Shit!" he exclaimed. He leapt back and slammed his palm against the control, turning the spray off. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of an odd, shimmering light dancing along the walls. Next thing he knew, he was being slammed down to the floor of the shower and was cursing again as he landed painfully on an elbow. Gravity surge? The gravity plating must be malfunctioning. He struggled to stand but could not. The lights flickered and dimmed, the pressure on his body increased to painful proportions. His ribs ached as he struggled to breathe. He wondered how much worse it could get before the system overloaded. Surely there were overrides—

The weight lifted. He lay still for a moment, feeling unpleasantly cold and damp as he inhaled deeply, once, twice, before attempting to stand. As he struggled to his feet he was glad he hadn't fallen on his head—to be found naked and unconscious in his shower would have been terribly embarrassing. He took a few tenuous steps and thought the gravity felt normal, although he couldn't be sure. There was one thing he could be sure of, though—his long, hard day wasn't finished.

He was already in uniform and putting his shoes on when the announcement came for all senior officers to report to the bridge.

***

When Malcolm arrived in the situation room, the chief engineer was already deep in discussion with the captain. He took in Trip's attire—tee-shirt and jeans—with dismay. Old, worn jeans, jeans that cupped his ass snugly. Malcolm moaned inwardly—hadn't he suffered enough for one day? The man looked positively sinful. He could not resist moving to a position in the room that allowed him full view of said ass.

Trip appeared bewildered as he tapped at the console. "I can't explain it, Cap'n. One minute we're rollin' along as usual, and the next minute everything's off-scale. Some sort of power surge, but I can't begin to figure out the source." He noticed Malcolm. "Hey, Lieutenant."

"Commander. Captain," Malcolm acknowledged. He was tempted to add a third greeting, aimed at Trip's backside.

"Do you think it has something to do with the recalibrations you two were working on?" Archer asked.

Malcolm and Trip looked at each other. Malcolm was concerned: could he have somehow caused the malfunction? But Trip was shaking his head. "No, sir. I can't imagine what we could have done."

"Do you think it could have been external? Maybe from a cloaked ship?" Malcolm asked. He hated this whole cloaking device concept. Enemies could be lurking anywhere.

"Captain, Lieutenant, Commander," T'Pol greeted each of them with a nod of her delicate head as she entered the room. "I don't believe it was a cloaked ship, Lieutenant. I have found the probable cause of the power surge." She called up an image on the large screen.

"Yeah, that's the nebula we're takin' a look at," Trip commented, in a "so what" tone of voice.

"There was a small burst of energy that coincided with the power surge 7.9 minutes ago."

"How come we didn't detect the energy burst earlier?" the Captain asked, before anyone else could ask the same.

"The sensors aren't calibrated to detect it at this level."

"Well, at least it's comforting to know that our safety overrides are working properly," Archer said. Trust the captain to find the bright side of everything. "And no one's been seriously injured."

"'Cept Hess broke her arm," Trip pointed out. He looked disturbed, and Malcolm could sympathize. He liked Lieutenant Hess, too.

"Is she going to be all right?" Malcolm asked, then immediately felt foolish. It was only a broken arm—of course she was going to survive.

But Trip answered him seriously. "Yeah, the doc says she should be right as rain soon enough. But it was broken in three places. I hear she took a heck of a fall off the ladder." He was shaking his head as he spoke. "The gravity surge just yanked her right off."

"Trip, Malcolm, I'd like a full check of the systems. Tonight," the captain ordered. "I'm sorry, I know you two put in a long day—" As he spoke there was a bump in the power, and the lights and screens hiccuped. Archer raised his brows in alarm.

"We're on it, Cap'n," Trip said.

"Right away, sir," Malcolm replied at the same time.

Trip grinned at him and slapped him lightly on the back. "C'mon, Lieutenant," he said, motioning to Malcolm with the padd in his hand as he left the room.

Malcolm trotted after him, trying not to stare at his senior officer's fine ass. And failing miserably.

***

"The gravity plating seems to be runnin' just fine on backup," Trip said to Malcolm, eyeing the console. "And that's good to know. I know all the systems checked out fine when we left Earth, but with the beating this ship's been taking…"

"My thoughts precisely," agreed Malcolm.

The door opened, and they both turned to see T'Pol enter the small Engineering room.

"What can we do for you, Sub-commander?" Trip called out.

"I'm here to offer my assistance. The captain has told me the gravity array has suffered some damage." T'Pol quirked her brow as she approached. The smell of burned-out couplings was strong, even to Malcolm's nose, and he could imagine it was overwhelming for the Vulcan.

"Happy to have all the help you can give. Here you go." Trip tossed a scanner to her and they got to work on the array.

Malcolm felt a brief, guilty wave of irritation at the intrusion. He appreciated the help, but he wanted Trip and his frayed jeans all to himself. Perhaps it was just as well, he reasoned. Perhaps the Vulcan's solemn presence would help him keep his inappropriate thoughts of the engineer at bay.

"Now, this would go a lot quicker if we had x-ray vision," Trip said conversationally as they slowly scanned the workings of the gravity array.

"X-rays would not penetrate this material," stated T'Pol.

"Well, Superman's x-ray vision would penetrate just about anything. He must have used special x-rays."

"X-rays cannot be anything other than what they are. Radiant energy in the form of…" T'Pol stopped. Malcolm took his eyes off his scanner to watch, curious. T'Pol was eyeing the Commander thoughtfully. "But you are already well aware of that."

Malcolm wasn't deceived by the facetious comment, either. Behind the southern man's casual, even at times goofy demeanor lay a keen mind—maybe even a brilliant mind. The contrast fascinated Malcolm no end. He sometimes wondered if it was intentional, if Trip played up his soft-spoken drawl and boyish enthusiasm to lower people's expectations. It would be quite the tactical advantage. He wouldn't put it past him.

"You with me here, Malcolm?" Trip was motioning to him. "Can you hand me those calipers?" he asked again, clearly amused by Malcolm's woolgathering.

"Of course, sorry." Malcolm reached for the nearby toolkit. "Just lost in thought."

"Well now, don't hurt yourself."

"Oh, yes. Very amusing, sir."

Trip looked at him and chuckled, nudging Malcolm with his elbow.

No, Malcolm realized, it probably was not intentional. He suspected that with Trip, what you saw was what you got. Who he was was all right there, right out in front. He envied a man so comfortable in his own skin.

"I always wanted to have x-ray vision when I was growing up. So I could see what was inside of everything," Trip continued as he worked. "Could come in handy lots of ways."

How appropriate for an engineer, Malcolm mused. He could picture Trip as a small boy, taking apart anything he could get his hands on. He looked over and and could have sworn Trip was giving him a sly glance, looking at him, good lord—eyeing him up? No, surely that couldn't be. His overly active imagination must be running away with him. He turned back to his scanner, his heart thudding in his chest. Through his daze, he realized the device was flashing an alert message.

"Found one," he said. He put down the scanner and released the small panel, peering inside at the singed microcircuit.

"Damn, fried that sonofabitch up good."

Trip was suddenly standing right behind him, so close Malcolm could feel warm breath on his neck, causing an exceedingly inappropriate stirring deep in his body. "Indeed," he managed. He was tugging at the release, but it wouldn't budge. "Must have warped." He pulled harder, and the latch gave. But the circuit still wouldn't move.

"Wait, let me help—"

If the man got any closer he'd be in my uniform with me, Malcolm thought. He grasped the circuit itself and yanked, hard. "Got it—I think—dammit!" The piece snapped in his hand, and a sharp pain pierced his thumb.

"Hurt yourself? Lemme see—"

"It's nothing, really, just a scratch." A drop of blood oozed from his thumb onto the floor, and Malcolm instinctively put his thumb in his mouth, licking the small wound.

"Oh, now look, you're makin' a mess," Trip scolded him.

T'Pol appeared with the first aid kit.

Malcolm protested, "T'Pol, really it's nothing—" But he let the two of them clean off his thumb and apply a small bandage. He felt silly, but he supposed it was better than getting blood everywhere. He loved the way Trip held his hand steady as T'Pol applied the disinfectant. He was getting more besotted by the minute, he thought. Time to get a grip.

"Feel well enough to carry on?" Trip was asking him, his blue eyes twinkling.

"Wounded as I am, I feel it is my sworn duty to soldier on."

"Brave man." Trip patted his back.

"Curious," T'Pol said.

They both turned to see her staring at her scanner.

"I have detected an unusual energy reading. Resembling the burst from the nebula. But now it is gone." She stepped toward Malcolm, scanned him, and then scanned the floor next to him. "There it is—no—"

"You gettin' flaky on us, T'Pol?" Trip asked.

T'Pol ignored his comment. "It is possible the scanner was malfunctioning."

"Is there any way the energy could have been stored up in the system somehow? And released when I removed the circuit?" Malcolm asked.

"I don't see how that would be possible." She stood still for a moment, still watching the readouts on her scanner. Then shook her head slowly. "I can no longer detect it."

"Superman would be able to."

***

"Have you guys been working all night?" Hoshi asked brightly.

"We most certainly have." Malcolm set his tray down and fell heavily into his seat, noting with disgust that he had sloshed coffee onto his pancakes. He was tired to the bone, but when Trip sat next to him, brushing against his leg, he was instantly alert.

"Yeah, the surge burned out the couplings in the gravitational array, which meant we had to go through and scan each and every one of them." Trip waved his fork. "But we got 'em all. With only minor casualties." He gestured to Malcolm's hand.

"Injured in the line of duty." He stuck his thumb out for Hoshi to see. The sad truth was that he loved every minute of it, despite his exhaustion. They had both gotten fairly punchy near the end, and a few clumsy mishaps with the calipers due to his bandaged thumb launched them into mutual giggling fits.

"But starting right now we are both off duty for the next 24 hours," Trip stated proudly.

"Any big plans?" Hoshi asked.

"Sleep. Then sleep some more." Trip turned to Malcolm. "How 'bout you?"

Malcolm thought for a moment. "I think perhaps I'll get some sleep."

Travis joined them, his tray piled high with food. "Did you leave any for the rest of the crew?" Hoshi asked tartly, looking over the bacon, eggs, hash browns, and biscuits and gravy with dismay.

"I was hungry," Travis said. He feigned a slap to her hand as she stole a slice of his bacon. "Hey, what happened last night with the gravity? I was on the treadmill and next thing I knew I was on the floor. Startled the hell out of me. At first, when I couldn't get up, I thought I had had a heart attack."

"Oh, you poor thing," Hoshi sympathized. "Better cut down on the bacon, then." She helped herself to more. "I was getting some hot chocolate. Dropped the cup and then fell smack down into the puddle."

"Didn't burn yourself, did you?" Malcolm asked.

"No, but since the water systems were down, I couldn't shower, and I had to smell like chocolate all night. I don't think I'll be wanting hot chocolate again any time soon," Hoshi added with a grimace.

"And here I thought you were tryin' out a new perfume," Trip teased.

Hoshi playfully punched his arm. "Very funny. I showered this morning."

"How about you, Commander?" Travis asked.

"I was lyin' in bed, readin', safe and sound."

Malcolm gave him a sideways glance. Reading? He pictured the man curled up in bed with a book. He wondered what kind of book it was.

"And you, Malcolm?" Hoshi was asking him.

"Huh? Oh, right." Malcolm felt his face grow hot at the memory of jerking off and prayed he wasn't blushing. "I was, ah, showering." Quickly changing the subject, he turned to Trip and said, "By the way, the water grew rather unpleasantly hot just before the surge. We need to check the safety thermostat."

"You didn't get burned, did you?" Hoshi asked him.

"No, I got it off in time." Got off in time too. Hell, he was getting worse than a bloody adolescent.

"Well, listen," Hoshi touched his arm. "Let's postpone the target practice today. I'll work on it on my own. You need to get some sleep." She waved a finger between him and Trip. "Both of you."

She and Travis left a few minutes later, the Boomer having made short work of his large breakfast. Malcolm looked at the food sitting on his plate, too tired to even eat.

Trip watched the two ensigns walk away. "You and Hoshi been spendin' a lot of time on the phaser stuff, huh?" He eyed Malcolm speculatively.

"Yes, she's really come a long way." He was very pleased with her progress. An eager student, the young woman was truly a pleasure to work with.

"I noticed on that mining colony. She handled that pistol like a pro." Trip was frowning. "Very impressive."

Malcolm puzzled over Trip's expression. Why was the man so interested in Hoshi's phaser abilities? Or rather—hell, he was interested in her, period. He felt a cold, dull pain in his gut. Trip was trying to determine if Malcolm had any designs on her. How bloody ironic. If the man only knew. "Just doing my duty as armory officer," Malcolm said quietly. "If you'll excuse me, sir?" He had to get out of there.

At the man's nod and wave of the hand, he took his tray and left.

***

Instead of heading back to his quarters, Malcolm wandered the ship, eventually ending up sitting in the darkness of the armory, strumming his fingers against his thighs, berating himself for being such a fool. He needed to get past this. He should be able to control his feelings better. Of course Trip would be interested in Hoshi. She was a beautiful, intelligent woman. Most likely he only dated women anyway. He had no evidence that Trip even went for men. He knew of a failed relationship with a woman. Natalie? She sent him a Dear John letter a few months after the mission began. Malcolm thought that had been rather low-class of her, even though secretly he was pleased. And only felt a little bit of guilt, since Trip had been sad but resigned—not tragically heartbroken or mournful, and with no mention, at least to him, of the woman at all after the letter.

And now Trip was surely casting about for someone closer, more available. And female. And he could live with that, really, he could. He would get a handle on his desire and constant yearning and carry on as he always did.

He closed his eyes, feeling the darkness encroaching on his soul. He was so very tired. Tired of it all. With a deep sigh, he leaned his head back and fell into a fitful doze.

A scuffling sound brought him around. Leaping up from the chair, instantly awake, he knocked his knee painfully on the console. His heart pounded as his gaze swept across the room. Nothing. Wait, there—a swift dark movement, so faint he could have imagined it.

"Lights!" he shouted.

The lights flashed on, and he blinked at the brightness, dazed and disoriented. How long had he slept? He checked the time. Less than a half hour. He listened again, cocking his head to one side. Silence greeted him. Rats? The ship couldn't have any sort of vermin, could it? He stalked around the room, feeling rather foolish but searching anyway, under the chairs, behind the console units, even in the storage cabinets. The room was empty—and silent except for the sound of his breathing.

He must have imagined it. He had been asleep and dreamed the whole thing. The ship couldn't have rats, for heaven's sake. What's more, the room was shut tight, making it impossible for any small creature to get in or out. Despite all his rationalizations, he found himself reaching for a nearby scanner.

After scanning and rescanning the room, he was convinced there had been nothing there, nothing at all. He told himself he was simply punchy from lack of sleep. More likely, his brain was permanently addled from the continued longing for a certain chief engineer, he thought as he scratched absently at his arm. He pulled his sleeve up and saw a patch of tiny red bumps. Great. The stress must be making his allergies act up. He made a mental note to check with Phlox later that day. But first, sleep.

He left the armory, wound his way through Enterprise's gray corridors toward the lift, eager to fall into bed and have the day be over at last. As he turned the last corner, he saw Trip getting into the lift. The man saw him coming and held the doors for him. Not surprisingly, Trip looked exhausted, his eyes puffy with lack of sleep, his face drawn.

"Malcolm, shouldn't you be in bed by now?" Trip asked as he leaned back against the wall and stretched, easing tensed muscles. The lift door closed, and Trip set the destination.

"As should you, sir." Malcolm was mesmerized by the peek of skin revealed as Trip's shirt rode up while the man lifted his arms to stretch further.

"True enough. We both should be in bed." Trip grinned.

Bed? "We, er, yes. We should," Malcolm stammered, tearing his eyes away. He felt flushed. A little lightheaded. He stared at his feet, then at the dull colorless walls of the lift. "Be in bed. Both of us," he repeated. Then felt like an idiot.

"I would have crashed an hour ago but the warp coils were out of whack from that surge," Trip continued.

"Couldn't your people handle it?" Malcolm asked, relieved to be talking technical. "You really aren't Superman, you know. Despite your x-ray vision."

Trip snorted. "Yeah, and it's a damn shame. But I just can't sleep if my engines aren't up to par."

Malcolm gave a small laugh. "I know what you mean. I can't sleep if the cannons are offline."

The lift stopped, and the two men exited. Trip's shoulder brushed against his as they walked together, a comfortable silence between them. Malcolm nearly reached his room when the wave of dizziness hit him. He stumbled as the floor tilted crazily beneath him and his vision grayed. And then two strong arms were circling his waist, supporting him.

"Whoa there, Malcolm, you okay?"

Trip's voice sounded as though it was coming from a distance. Malcolm struggled to stay on his feet, leaning against the strong chest. "Fine. I'm fine, Trip." Despite his discomfort, Malcolm registered that the man smelled good. Very good, in a sweaty, unwashed, desirable, earthy sort of way. Malcolm raised his head to find that his face was only centimeters from Trip's. He froze.

"Oh, sure you're fine. What's with the swoonin' in my arms then?" Trip asked, his voice teasing and gentle at the same time.

Malcolm fell in with Trip's cue and snorted at Trip's choice of words. "Just felt like playing the southern belle." He felt dangerously giddy. "Must be watching too many old movies." Fainting in the man's arms. How utterly ridiculous. He pictured himself in a big hoop skirt and choked back giggles. As his head began to clear, he realized that he was clinging to Trip. He found his feet and tried to push himself away. Such lovely biceps beneath his hands.

But Trip would not let him go. And Malcolm didn't really want him to.

"Maybe you should go see Phlox."

"Maybe I should get some sleep."

"You might be sick." Trip put one hand to Malcolm's forehead.

Malcolm did his best to appear annoyed. "I assure you, I am not feverish. Or ill in any way." He was acutely aware of Trip's other hand, resting comfortably at the small of his back. As if it belonged there. His own hands were still resting on Trip's upper arms, although he was no longer clutching at them, and he nearly gave in to the urge to stroke along the muscles.

Trip lowered his hand from Malcolm's forehead to his shoulder, knuckles brushing Malcolm's cheek along the way. An accident, surely. But any minute now Trip was going to notice that a certain part of Malcolm's body was taking notice of this closeness. Malcolm abruptly slipped away from Trip's grasp.

"I am perfectly all right, or at least I will be as soon as I get some sleep," Malcolm babbled as he backed away. "Please. Goodnight, Trip."

Trip bit his lip and shook his head. "If you insist. But I'll be keepin' an eye on you, Malcolm." He sighed. "G'night, then."

PART 2

Malcolm wasn't sure what exactly woke him. He swam out from his heavy slumber slowly, feeling disoriented. Then he remembered he had slept most of the day, had had a late dinner in the mess, and then had gone back to sleep. Too much sleep, perhaps. He lay motionless in the dark, eyes closed, wondering if he should get up. His arm itched again. Damn, he still hadn't gone to see Phlox about his allergy shots.

There was a soft sound in the room. He was instantly alert and listening, and dread filled his heart. Something—someone was there in the room with him. He blinked, but it didn't help: the dark was still impenetrable. Still silence. Just like in the armory. Was he imagining it again? The hairs on the back of his neck rose. He slowly turned his head, not really wanting to see.

There was a sharp scrambling sound beside his head. He sat up sharply, his head swimming, and yelled for the lights. It had been on the bed, next to him, he realized with horror. Then the lights were on, and he was sitting alone in his room, his heart thudding in his ears.

Nothing. He surveyed the room, eyes wide, listening. He noted the time on the clock—0300 hrs. The only sound was his own panicky breathing. Where the hell was it? And how had it escaped? And how had it gotten in? And most importantly, what the hell was it? Malcolm realized he was sitting in the center of the bed, hugging his knees, blanket wrapped around him. Feeling foolish, he was about to get up off the bed when another fear slammed into him.

Perhaps it hadn't left the room after all. Perhaps it was under the bed.

He felt utterly ridiculous. He was the Enterprise's armory officer, for heaven's sake, yet here he was frightened of, well, of a monster under his bed. As if he were a small child. He couldn't contact security—he was security. And if he called for help, what could he say? He was quite certain there would be no evidence that any creature had been in his quarters—just like the lack of evidence that anything out of the ordinary had been in the armory. He had convinced himself that he had imagined the event in the armory, the product of exhaustion and confusion when he awoke. Now he wasn't so sure.

If he raised an alarm, he would have to face the concerned gaze of the crew, of the captain. They would wonder if he was under too much stress, hearing things that no one could hear, seeing things no one else saw. They would murmur sympathetically and then exchange worried looks, Trip and the captain especially. No, he would rather not have that happen.

Worse yet, there was a niggling doubt growing inside of him. What if he were under too much stress? What if there really was nothing there? What if he was becoming just like his dotty old great-uncle, Cedric, whom everyone spoke of in hushed tones but never really talked about? Malcolm wasn't certain which affliction Uncle Cedric had actually suffered from, but perhaps it was schizophrenia. And Malcolm had been told he was a touch paranoid at times. Maybe auditory hallucinations were part of the natural progression of the disease.

Malcolm hitched the blanket up more tightly around him, shaking his head. He was being unreasonable. It was most certainly some sort of natural phenomenon. Some creature had gotten on board the ship and it was his duty to inform the captain. And he would do so if he ever summoned the courage to step off the bloody bed. He checked the clock again. Ten minutes had passed. The room was still and silent. Reaching over to the nightstand, Malcolm retrieved his scanner. Then stood on the bed, carefully scanning the room. Nothing. He scanned the bed again and thought about the brief energy signature T'Pol had detected earlier. They had checked the ship from stem to stern, and hadn't seen it again. Weird. Perhaps there was a connection.

He sat heavily on the bed, tossing the scanner aside. Or perhaps he was just getting, as Trip would put it, flaky. Not enough sleep, too much on his mind. Too much unrequited lust. He really should get back to sleep. He looked down at his crotch and considered masturbating. No, he was just too wide awake to sleep. He scratched his arm and cautiously put first one foot, then the other on the floor. When nothing grabbed his ankles, he stood, reached for his tee-shirt to wear with his pajama bottoms, and left the room.

He took the lift to another deck, then trotted down the corridor, slowing when he reached Trip's door. Malcolm hesitated, then tapped softly on the door instead of ringing the chime. He hoped it wouldn't awaken Trip if he were already asleep. Malcolm waited, shifting his weight from foot to foot, more uncertain than ever. He didn't know what he would say if Trip did come to the door. Still, he tapped again. He didn't know what else to do. He was about to leave, not sure why he had come in the first place, other than the obvious, that he was simply drawn to the man, had to be near him, when Trip answered the door.

"Hey, Malcolm," Trip murmured, scratching his head as he leaned against the door frame. He was clad only in loose, soft pajama bottoms.

Oh god. Bed. He looked like bed, Malcolm thought. All thoughts of mysterious scurrying creatures fled his mind. He couldn't take his eyes off the furred chest, the dark nipples. A flat, tight stomach. A shadowed navel. A tantalizing glimpse of tawny hair under the arm as Trip rubbed his eyes, blinking from the soft light of the corridor. When Malcolm tried to pull his eyes away from that chest he found them focused on the saggy old pajama bottoms, riding low on the hips, skewed to one side, revealing a sharply defined hipbone, skin pulled taut over it. He was beautiful, he was breathtaking, and Malcolm wanted him so badly it hurt. What the hell was he doing here?

"Malcolm?" His vision spoke to him.

"Oh, uh, sorry, I must have woken you up—" Malcolm blurted out as he looked up at Trip's face, finally, feeling flushed and embarrassed. He was certain that his need was blindingly obvious, that Trip would take one look at his face and know. And pity him.

But Trip merely smiled. "Nope. Couldn't sleep. C'mon in." If he was at all surprised to find Malcolm standing at his door, clad only in his nightclothes, he gave no indication. He reached out and touched Malcolm's arm, gently guiding him into his dimly lit quarters.

The door slid shut with a quiet swoosh, startling Malcolm. He turned to find himself face to face with Trip. He didn't know what to say. How could he possibly speak, standing this close? It was one thing when they were on duty, with their uniforms, scanners, and padds barriers between them. Shielding him. But now, to stand near this half-naked man, so very lovely, in a quiet, private room, dimly lit, rumpled bed in clear view—

He realized Trip was looking at him, brows raised, waiting for him to say something. "I couldn't sleep, either," he mumbled, stupidly. Suddenly the weird happenings in his quarters seemed far away and unimportant. It had surely been a just a bad dream. He had no idea why he was here. Maybe to swoon in his arms again? He should go. He should really go. Right now.

"So you decided to come by and see me?" Trip's smile was slow and lazy, and it did terrible things to Malcolm's insides. "Now, ain't that sweet. Tell me, what can I do for you?" the man asked, stepping closer to him. "Because I'll do whatever you want."

Good lord. Trip thought he came here to—oh, good lord. He felt lightheaded, the blood obviously rushing from his brain to another part of his body, lower down. This was the dream. Because this sort of thing, well, this sort of thing just didn't happen to him. Ever. "I just—I just wanted—" Malcolm hesitated, unable to speak as his stomach tied itself into knots.

"You want what?" Trip reached out to him, his hand lightly touching his cheek. He was too close now, and Malcolm could feel his presence like a physical force, heat flowing off his body in waves.

"I want—" Malcolm repeated, dazed now, staring at those lips, so close to his. The touch on his cheek burned into his skin.

"Please, Malcolm, tell me what you want," Trip pleaded, his voice barely above a whisper.

He was so close, so much of him, still touching his face, and there was so much skin in front of him, so much hair, those swirls on his chest—with a soft sound that was half-groan, half-growl, Malcolm reached up and kissed him, kissed him hard, wrapping his arms around that bare, slender waist, holding him close, and kissing him for all he was worth.

And to his surprise and delight Trip kissed him back, his lips soft and sweet against Malcolm's. Their lips parted and Malcolm shivered as their tongues met, sliding over each other, tasting, licking, seeking. The kisses warmed him, heated the burning, aching need deep within him. Trip's hands were on him, stroking his back, burrowing into his hair, as his own hands explored the expanse of Trip's back, the bare skin silky to the touch.

They pressed closer together, their bodies touching, and Malcolm felt something nudge against his hip. Trip was excited, he realized, just as excited and as hard as he was. Trip was hard and he, Malcolm, did it for him. By just kissing him.

But then Trip stopped kissing him. "Whuh?" Malcolm started to protest.

In explanation, his shirt was pulled off over his head. "That's better," said Trip. He pulled Malcolm into his arms, their chests touching, skin against skin. "Much better." He began kissing and suckling on the side of Malcolm's neck, hitting all the right spots, making Malcolm groan again with delight as he rubbed against Trip's body. He felt the sharp teeth nibbling on his shoulder, the hot, hard chest against his, the slide of silky skin under his fingers as he touched Trip's back, neck, sides, arms, and then, oh, sliding down, his hands cupping that hard, tight ass. It was lovely, just lovely, fitting so nicely in his hands. It was even lovelier to slip his hands beneath the loose waistband of the pants, and to finally put his hands directly on that gorgeous, slightly furred ass. He was sure it was possible to die from the sheer joy it, from the sheer joy of sensation.

Trip's hands bumped his arms. He was reaching down to his own waist, and Malcolm thought Trip was going to remove his hands, that somehow Malcolm had offended him by grabbing his ass so rudely. "Sorry," he gasped, pulling his hands back. He was sure Trip was going to pull away, apologize, and send him off.

But instead, he saw that Trip was trying to undo his pajama bottoms. His fingers brushed Trip's as Trip untied them, and the pants slid down, catching on Trip's jutting erection. Then the pants pooled around his ankles and Trip was naked. Naked in front of him, looking hungry in a way Malcolm never had never seen before.

Trip took Malcolm by the shoulders, turned him around, and laid him down on that messy bed. His hands glided down Malcolm body, and Malcolm writhed helplessly. By the time those hands touched his throbbing cock, he was whimpering. He let Trip strip off his clothes. Trip's mouth was on his stomach, kissing him, devouring him. He whimpered and gasped every time the lips and tongue found a new spot, on his neck, on his shoulders, on his collarbone. He arched his back and almost yelped as that mouth found one of his nipples, sucking, licking, nibbling. Then Trip moved to the other side, and Malcolm felt another shock of pleasure surging through his body as Trip lavished attention on the other hard nub of flesh. Malcolm ran his hands through the short, silky hair, holding Trip's head steady as Malcolm pushed his chest harder against that hot, seeking mouth.

He grabbed Trip's shoulders, wanting to pull him up so he could repay the favor. He got as far as Trip's neck, delighting in the smell and sharp, salty taste of the man when Trip groaned and pushed him hard, so that he fell flat back on the bed. Malcolm frantically pulled Trip over him, their erections touching.

They gasped in unison. "Oh, yeah, Malcolm," Trip growled. He began rocking his hips against Malcolm's, sending jolts of pleasure through Malcolm's body with every stroke. "Oh, yeah, darlin', this is just—" Trip's eyes were wide with surprise.

Malcolm understood. He was shocked how perfectly their bodies fitted together, how utterly wonderful it was to have so much skin rubbing over him, how instinctive their rhythm was. He wrapped his legs around Trip's waist as Trip thrust relentlessly against him, their cocks crashing together over and over. Malcolm marveled again that the hard, sweaty body between his legs, driving him into the mattress, was Trip, his friend. His friend who wanted him.

"Trip," he murmured, holding onto Trip's shoulders, "Oh, Trip." He covered Trip's neck with fierce, hot kisses, murmuring his name over and over. It was good, so bloody good, after so much wanting, so much needing. It was so much better than he could have ever dreamed, the way Trip was driving against him, the friction sending insane surges of pleasure through his body.

He threw his head back against the pillow. Trip immediately went for his exposed throat, suckling and moaning against his skin. Malcolm felt teeth and grabbed the back of Trip's head, holding him there, wanting to just feel it, to have this man eat him alive. To possess him entirely. He slid his legs down against Trip's, his feet on the bed, and he used them to brace himself, arching his hips up to thrust hard against Trip, their rhythm increasing steadily, yet in perfect time with each other.

Malcolm wanted it to last forever but he knew it couldn't; it felt too good. Every thrust of their bodies took him closer and closer. Trip grabbed his face and watched him, and Malcolm saw the blue eyes intense with passion, flushed face, and opened mouth, a tongue flicking over his lips. It was the most astonishing thing he had ever seen, and he came hard, mind-blowing pleasure burst through him, making him shudder and tremble under Trip's body.

"Oh, god, Trip—"

The last of the tremors were still racing through his body when Trip thrust one last time and then froze, pressing his face against Malcolm's cheek with a loud moan. Then hot liquid spread across Malcolm's stomach in spurts and Trip collapsed on Malcolm's body.

Malcolm wrapped his arms around the sweating, panting man, listening to soft, postorgasmic whimpers. He decided he liked that sound very much. Very much indeed. He couldn't truly believe this had happened, with the man he had wanted for so long. His head was spinning.

"Mmmm. Malcolm…" Trip slid off to one side, smearing the sticky liquid on their stomachs, and nuzzled Malcolm's neck contentedly. "That was nice. Very nice."

Malcolm turned to face him and caught Trip's mouth in a fierce kiss.

"Does that mean you agree?" Trip murmured a moment or two later, moving down to kiss his throat.

Malcolm gave a little huff of laughter and leaned into the kisses. His hands strayed to Trip's shoulders, enjoying the play of muscles beneath the damp skin. He felt Trip sigh as he rested his face against Malcolm's neck. "Bloody amazing, Trip."

They lay quietly together, recovering. As Malcolm's head cleared, the full realization of what they had just done hit him. He began to feel uneasy. Was this just a casual, one-time occurrence? Now that they finished, should he leave? Did Trip expect him to sleep there? He wanted to. He wanted to stay in this extraordinary man's arms forever.

A few minutes later, though, Trip pulled himself up and got off the bed. Malcolm felt a sharp pang of disappointment and moved to get up also. Back to his quarters then, or maybe the mess. But Trip merely retrieved a towel and plopped back on the bed, bouncing a little. He gave Malcolm a shy grin before first wiping Malcolm's stomach and cock clean, then his own. "Gettin' a little drippy here."

"Thank you," Malcolm said awkwardly.

Trip flung the towel away and sat back on the bed, legs sprawled, gazing at Malcolm. Malcolm began to feel uncomfortable under the intense scrutiny.

His discomfort was apparently noticeable, because Trip put a hand on Malcolm's leg, patting it reassuringly. "Just wanted to take a good look at you." The patting turned into stroking. "Didn't really get a chance before. I was a little too, well, you know, excited." He grimaced. "Sorry about just slammin' you down on the bed like that. Not much finesse, I know. You deserve better than that."

The shy, uncertain grin on Trip's face surprised Malcolm. This was a change from the self-assured man who had seduced him. How very curious. "Quite all right. It's the enthusiasm that counts," Malcolm added.

"Well, I got lots of that." Trip picked up Malcolm's hand and kissed the bandaged thumb. "Kept wantin' to kiss you while we were checkin' out the systems last night. Just wanted to throw down my scanner and kiss you senseless."

"And why didn't you?"

"Wasn't sure how you would react."

"I probably would have torn your uniform off and had my way with you."

"Well, if I had known that…" Trip grinned.

Malcolm was puzzled. But Trip was the one who had come on to him here—or did Trip think Malcolm showed up just to—?

Trip was running his hand down Malcolm's leg. "You're so gorgeous, you know." He lifted Malcolm's leg, bending it, and ran his hands along Malcolm's calf. "You got great legs." He frowned. "Hey, this is the one that got repaired by the station—how does it feel?"

"Like new."

"What was that healer-thingy like? Did it hurt?" Trip was watching Malcolm's leg work as he moved it around, flexing his knee.

"No, just tingled a bit."

"Huh. That was one damn creepy place."

Malcolm pulled a pillow under his head and let Trip play with his leg. An engineer with a new toy. "Lovely air ducts, though," he said pointedly.

"Hey, now, I didn't exactly twist your arm." But Trip flashed a sheepish look at Malcolm as he spoke, then returned his attention to Malcolm's leg. Although now, Malcolm realized, he was focused more on Malcolm's groin as he flexed the leg.

"Can't believe I went along with your foolish idea." The captain had been furious with them. An entirely humiliating experience, except for the fact their excursion had laid the way to rescue Travis.

"Can't believe you did either. Shame on you." Trip raised Malcolm's foot to his lips.

Malcolm was surprised and delighted to feel soft kisses on the delicate arch of his foot. Trip continued on and licked his toes. "Trip?" he asked.

"Mmmm?"

"Do you have, er, a foot fetish of sorts?" Not that he would mind if the man did. He decided Trip could play with any part of his body that he so pleased.

Trip had lowered Malcolm's foot and was rubbing it against his chest. "Sorry. Is this really weird? I think it's more like I have a Malcolm fetish of sorts. Just want to touch every part."

Malcolm slid his foot down Trip's body until he reached the golden-brown thatch of hair at his crotch. "I sort of sensed that, especially when you began to rub every part of your body against mine." He shifted his foot further down, pressing it against Trip's half-hard penis. The organ twitched at his touch.

Placing his hand over Malcolm's foot, Trip pushed it more firmly against his groin. "Oh yeah, darlin'. Think maybe I really do have a foot fetish going on." He wagged his brows suggestively and ground his swelling cock against Malcolm's foot.

Malcolm laughed softly. Playful. He had suspected playful. He suddenly wanted to experience all of Trip's moods. He'd happily start with playful.

"Or maybe it's a leg fetish. A Malcolm leg fetish." Trip straddled Malcolm's flexed leg and rubbed himself against it, using his palm to push his penis along Malcolm's shin. He crawled further up Malcolm's leg, pushing it flat, and pressed his organ onto Malcolm's thigh, groaning theatrically. "Ohhh, Malcolm…"

Malcolm began to laugh harder. "Trip—"

"No, wait, I think it's a Malcolm hip fetish." He scooted up further, and pressed himself into Malcolm's hip, bumping the now fully engorged head over Malcolm's hipbone. He rocked back and forth, eyes closed, enraptured expression on his face. "Oh yeah. The hip is doin' it for me."

"Trip, I think you've lost your bloody mind—"

"Maybe the belly would be even better." Trip swung his leg over Malcolm's body and the hard, heavy weight of Trip's erect cock thumped onto Malcolm's stomach.

A drop of precome smeared on Malcolm's body. Malcolm could smell the sweat and come on Trip's skin. Silly segued quickly into erotic. Malcolm put his hands on Trip's waist and lifted him off to the side. Laughing, Trip let himself be manhandled into position in the corner of the bed, against the wall. "Wait, Malcolm—I wasn't done—"

Malcolm pushed Trip's legs apart and settled himself in between, on his stomach, with his body stretched out on the bed. "Oh yes you were." He was surprised at his own boldness as he eyed the long, slightly curved cock hungrily, then took it into his mouth.

"Oh, god, Malcolm—"

Trip's cock tasted of come—sharp, salty, and utterly wonderful. Malcolm groaned and sucked hard, drawing it deep into his mouth. He felt Trip's body jerk and shudder with pleasure.

"Malcolm…good…oh, Malcolm."

It was something Malcolm would never get tired of hearing, he was sure. Trip whispered his name over and over, squirming as Malcolm took his balls in his hand, squeezing carefully. Trip pulled his knees up, exposing himself further to Malcolm's ministrations, his fingers resting against either side of Malcolm's head.

Malcolm groaned again and turned his attention to Trip's balls, nuzzling the heavy, hairy sacs. He sucked one into his mouth, then the other, causing Trip to whimper with short, tiny gasps of delight.

Good lord. He was really doing this, sucking on the balls of his senior officer, his friend, the ship's chief engineer, the captain's closest friend. Making the man squirm, invoking soft sounds. It was an incredible turn-on. He rubbed himself against the mattress as he continued sucking and licking, then turned his attention back to Trip's eager cock. One long suck and he felt the blood rushing through the shaft. Trip was close. He could sense it in the trembling body, in the almost wordless murmurs. He sucked harder, swiping his tongue across the tip, clutching the base with his fingers.

"Mal—Malcolm…gonna…"

And then Trip came, jerking his hips, pulsing long and hard down Malcolm's throat. Malcolm held him in his mouth, tonguing the slit gently, until the last of the shudders faded and Trip was telling him to stop, that it was too much.

Malcolm sat back on his haunches, hand lightly fingering his own erection, and gazed at the sight before him. Trip was sprawled, eyes closed, against the wall in what looked to be a rather uncomfortable position. Malcolm felt a surge of pride that he did this, he made this lovely man limp with pleasure.

Trip opened his eyes. He smiled a sexy, satiated smile. He looked at Malcolm's mouth and touched it with his finger. "You're good at that," he said.

"I was inspired." Malcolm's voice was ragged, catching in his throat. He still had the taste of Trip in his mouth, the smell of him filling his senses. He kissed the fingers lingering at his mouth, then nestled his cheek into Trip's hand, closing his eyes. A quick movement, and then Trip's mouth was on his, kissing him. Another hand joined his on his cock. Trip's tongue was in his mouth. He was dizzy with excitement.

Trip shifted position and lay back on the bed, pulling Malcolm on top of him, removing his hand from Malcolm's cock, without breaking the kiss. Malcolm went with the flow, landing comfortably on the hard, hot body underneath him. Trip grabbed Malcolm under the arms and pulled him up so that he could kiss Malcolm's throat.

The feel of those nimble lips on his neck made Malcolm shiver as he propped himself up on his arms, giving the man beneath him all the access he needed. Trip guided his body further up, until Malcolm's chest slid over his face, and now a nipple was in Trip's mouth, and it was Malcolm turn to cry out. Trip worked the small nub of flesh relentlessly before kissing his way across Malcolm's chest and nibbling on the other. Malcolm's blood was roaring in his ears.

"You ain't the only one inspired here," Trip said. "God, you taste good. Bring yourself up here."

Trip was tugging at Malcolm's hips. Oh lord. His stomach twisted with excitement as he realized what Trip was about to do. He let Trip position him, knees on either side of Trip's head, his straining, twitching cock poised over that extraordinary mouth. There was a sense of the power in this position, and the fact that Trip would make himself so vulnerable rocked Malcolm to the core. He held onto the bookcase above the bed, supporting his body as he lowered himself into Trip's mouth, letting the other man determine how deep he penetrated that luscious mouth.

He almost lost it when he felt the wet, warm mouth engulf him. God, it was good. So bloody good. He closed his eyes. His little jerk-off fantasies in the shower hadn't even come close. He struggled to control himself, holding back, keeping the thrusts into that welcoming mouth short and small, his body taut with excitement. It was so good. He wanted to ream Trip's mouth, to fuck him hard, jam his cock deep down Trip's throat. He shook and sweated with the effort of restraint.

He opened his eyes and looked down to see his engorged dick sliding in and out of Trip's mouth. The image seared into his brain and he immediately came, hard, without warning. Strong arms held onto his hips as he shook with the force of it, the pleasure ripping through his body, leaving small shudders in its wake.

When he finished, he collapsed in a heap at Trip's side, his exhausted body unable to hold him up anymore. "Sorry—" he panted, "Sorry, didn't warn you—" It was horribly impolite of him, he knew. Not everyone wanted a mouthful of come, no matter how much they enjoyed giving head.

"Like I couldn't tell what was coming?" Trip hugged him, and they ended up on their sides, face to face, lips touching. Trip kissed him hard, again and again, while he entwined his legs with Malcolm's.

Malcolm didn't have the strength to do anything other than kiss him back. Thoughts whirled through his brain. He wondered again if he should leave, if Trip preferred sleeping alone. He wondered what time it was, if there was any night shift left to sleep through. He wondered if Trip's mouth ever got tired.

"Think you can sleep now?" Trip asked, his lips moving against Malcolm's as he spoke.

Malcolm decided he liked that sensation. Or, more likely, he just liked anything involving Trip's mouth. He grinned, pressing his face in closer. "No, I don't think so. Give me just a moment and I'll be ready to go again."

"Liar. Liar." Trip's breath puffed against Malcolm's lips as he laughed.

"Pants on fire?"

"You're not wearing any pants."

Back to being silly. Malcolm hoped fervently that this wasn't going to be end of it, that he'd get to have this sexy, intense, silly, playful man again and again.

They were kissing again, long, lingering kisses, tongues just resting against each other, and Malcolm was floating away, buoyed with the moist, delicious sensation of those lips against his, his brain buzzing, and then everything faded to gray as he finally slept.

Malcolm woke slowly, swimming out of sleep with great effort. There was an odd sensation on his shoulder. Something was in bed with him—or someone. He smiled. Trip was kissing his shoulder. Memories of the night before came back with a rush. Sex. Bloody marvelous sex. With Trip. Starring Trip's ever-busy mouth.

With great effort he rolled over to face his lover and was greeted by a soft, gentle kiss, this time on his lips. "Good morning," he murmured into Trip's mouth. Eyes still closed, his hands reached out to finger that gloriously hairy chest.

"Mornin', darlin'."

They kissed again. And again. Then Malcolm realized he could no longer ignore the pressure in his bladder. Reluctantly he disengaged himself.

"Where you goin'?"

"Lav." But when Malcolm got to his feet, the room spun dizzily. Next thing he knew, Trip was at his side, arms around him, gently lowering him down to sit on the bed.

"Malcolm!" Trip's voice was tender, concerned, and scolding all at the same time. "You're still not feelin' good, are you? You didn't go see Phlox?" he accused.

"I'm—" Malcolm hung his head down, desperately willing it to clear. "I was feeling better—I was busy, didn't get a chance."

"Well, bein' that you're off duty today and all, think you can find some time to see the doc?"

Malcolm raised his head. "I just got up too quickly. I'm sure it's nothing."

"You are one stubborn son of a bitch, you know that? You're going to see Phlox. Now."

Trip's tone made it clear Malcolm did not have a choice. This was Commander Tucker speaking, Malcolm realized, not the playful lover of the night before. His stomach tightened. "Is that an order, sir?"

"If it has to be."

Malcolm's head shot up and he glared at the naked man before him. Trip met his gaze without blinking, his expression bemused, but still soft and gentle. "Malcolm, I have way too much respect for you to treat you any different now that we're—you know—involved."

"Are we?" Malcolm challenged. He felt a dark, guilty pleasure and relief at the crestfallen expression on the engineer's face. He did care.

"I thought," Trip hesitated, then started again. "I thought there was something special between us. Thought you felt it too." He frowned and scrubbed at his hair, leaving it tufted in all directions. "You sayin' that it was just sex? You just came here last night because you were horny, and now," he waved his hands, "that's it?"

Malcolm was astonished, then delighted, by Trip's dismay. The man truly cared for him. Wanted him. "Actually, I'm not sure at all why I came here last night," he said softly, almost to himself. He felt Trip ease onto the bed next to him. Not touching him.

"Oh."

"But when you pulled me into your quarters and started rubbing your half-naked body against me, I realized it had been a bloody good idea." He turned to face Trip. "You have no idea how badly I've wanted this. Wanted you."

He was pulled into a fierce hug, and Trip kissed him again. "You know, you're right. Sometimes I'd think maybe you were interested, I'd catch you lookin' or something. But then you'd be back to the doin' the proper Starfleet officer thing, and I just—just would be confused, I guess." He kissed Malcolm's neck, then his shoulder, tiny, sweet, nibbling kisses. Malcolm leaned into the kisses, his hand finding it's way to Trip's groin and closing around the hot, hard dick.

Trip disengaged himself with a groan, getting up from the bed. "We keep doin' that and we'll never get you to sickbay."

"Perish the thought," Malcolm stated dryly. "I can think of better ways to spend a day off."

"Don't you give me any trouble, Mr. Reed," said Trip as he began to get dressed. "And maybe we should stop by your room and get you some clothes—unless you want to go to sickbay in your PJs?"

PART 3

Malcolm sat on the biobed, feet dangling, fidgeting uncomfortably as the silence wore on. He watched as the doctor entered something onto his touchscreen, and then continued the scan.

"Well?" Trip finally burst out, trying to peer over the doctor's shoulder to see the screen.

"Interesting," said Phlox. He scanned the red bumps on Malcolm's arm for the third time, and Malcolm had a powerful urge to scratch at them.

Finally the doctor put down his scanner. "And you say you've been tired and have had two episodes of dizziness?"

Malcolm could see Trip frowning at him from the corner of his eye. "Well, yes, it's been a long two days, with the recalibrations and then the gravity plating failure." He was getting anxious.

Phlox nodded. "It's more than lack of sleep. Mr. Reed, you are actually quite anemic. And I have detected traces of what appears to be an alien protein on your left arm. Nothing I can identify. There are also five microscopic wounds in your arm—puncture wounds—in various stages of healing." Phlox rubbed his chin. "Hmmm. If I didn't know better I'd say something has been feeding off of you."

"Anemic? Something's been what?" Malcolm was dumfounded. He turned to Trip, but the man was at the comm panel, speaking to the captain.

"Cap'n, I think you should get down to sickbay. Quick-like. There is some sort of alien creature on board this ship."

Malcolm jerked his arm as Phlox began swabbing it. "Just taking another sample for analysis," Phlox said gently. "Didn't mean to alarm you."

So he hadn't been hearing things. A thought occurred to Malcolm and he began to feel even more ill. "So while I was sleeping in my room, there was something actually touching me? An alien? I wasn't dreaming it?" he murmured, more to himself than to the doctor.

"What was that? Did you actually see it?" Phlox began, but at that moment the sickbay doors opened and the captain and T'Pol strode. Then Phlox turned back to Malcolm, "Did you get a good look at it?"

The armory. Malcolm thought back to sitting in the dark, in the armory, agonizing over Trip. He had been exhausted, frustrated, overcome with emotion. Those noises—

"Look at what? Malcolm, are you all right?" Jonathan asked, his voice full of gentle concern. "What's going on? Phlox? Trip?"

Still stunned, Malcolm recalled those sounds—a slight scuffling—the sounds he dismissed as being in his imagination. As part of a dream. What the hell had he been thinking?

"He's just a bit anemic, captain," Phlox answered, putting down his scanner. "It appears that Malcolm has lost nearly 300 ml of blood. And there are puncture wounds on his arm, with traces of a protein I cannot identify. Seems to me that something is, well, drinking his blood."

He had fucked up royally. It was his worst nightmare: allowing an alien to board the ship. Rather than reporting suspicious sounds, he let himself be distracted by Trip. He had actually been horny and naked with Trip while some sort of alien being was loose among the crew. Someone could have been killed while he was sliding his dick into the engineer's mouth.

"Like a vampire? You're tellin' me we have a god damn vampire on this ship?" Trip interjected.

He had gotten lost in Trip—so lost he could think of nothing else. His obsession endangered the entire crew.

The captain asked, "What did it look like?"

They all turned to Malcolm, and he realized they were waiting for him to speak. "I didn't see a thing," he exclaimed, agitated. "Twice I thought I heard something, but there was never anything there. I—I scanned." Malcolm clenched his fists. "If I had known it was genuine, I would have reported it."

"Of course you would have, Lieutenant." Phlox was trying to soothe him. "This is for the anemia—" Malcolm felt a hypospray against his neck. "And this is for the allergic reaction to the proteins." Then a second hypospray.

"So he's gonna be okay?" asked Trip, touching Malcolm's shoulder.

"Malcolm, please, start from the beginning," the captain requested.

Malcolm found himself describing the series of events that brought him to sickbay, the noise in the armory, his dizzy spell the previous day. His waking in the middle of the night.

"So, last night you thought you heard something? What time?" Trip asked sharply.

"I don't know. Around 0300 hours?" Malcolm answered.

The captain asked gently, "And why didn't you report this?"

Because I got lost. Because I'm needy and—"I—I thought it had been just a dream." He continued his story, but found he was stumbling over his words, trying to make his interaction with Trip that morning sound casual. "This morning, I stopped at Mr. Tucker's quarters to discuss—" He coughed, trying to buy time, trying to think of a good reason to be in the man's quarters in the morning, but all he could think of was waking up next to Trip's warm body.

Trip saved him. "We were talkin' about the environmental controls—you know, the problem with the safety override for the water temperature. An' Malcolm almost fainted. Again." Trip stressed the last word and fixed a steady stare on Malcolm.

Malcolm closed his eyes, thankful for Trip's assistance. If he had only listened to Trip, and gone to see the doctor yesterday.

"Okay, Okay." Malcolm opened his eyes again to see Captain Archer holding his hands up.

"Each time I thought I had heard something I had scanned the room thoroughly and found nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from the rash on my arm, where it was most likely…" Malcolm surveyed his arm, stomach churning. How very revolting.

"Nothing showed up at all? Dr. Phlox, do you have any idea what kind of creature this is?" asked Jonathan. "It appears to be is invisible to our standard bioscans, and to the naked eye?"

While listening to the conversation, Phlox had been scanning the database. "Sorry, Captain. The proteins don't match with anything I see here. They are quite unusual in that they are breaking down rather quickly. Perhaps the term breaking down isn't correct—I'm not detecting any byproducts of the breakdown. None of the molecular components I would expect. It's almost as if they are disappearing."

"How can that be?" T'Pol asked.

"Very good question, Sub-commander."

T'Pol contemplated Malcolm thoughtfully. "Mr. Reed, you said you were in a dark room each time you heard something?"

Malcolm nodded. "You believe it is sensitive to the light?"

"It's possible," Phlox put in.

"All right," said the captain, "Doctor, I want every single crew member scanned for any evidence of," he waved his hand, at a momentary lost for words, "of blood loss or puncture wounds or rashes. T'Pol, I want you to go over everything our sensors picked up over the last forty-eight hours. I think that energy burst from the nebula is a good place to start. Trip, I want you to organize a team and go over every place Malcolm has been with a fine-tooth comb. We need to figure out what the hell in on ship and attacking my crew."

"Aye, Cap'n." Trip patted Malcolm's arm gently before leaving sickbay, T'Pol at his side.

"Er, Captain, sir—" Malcolm began. He had to do something. Anything.

"Malcolm, I want you to get some rest," Jonathan said.

He didn't need any bloody rest. "Captain, it is entirely my fault, I should have reported my suspicions immediately. I'm so sorry."

"Malcolm, a noise in the dark, while you're asleep? How could you have known? If it were something more overt, you would have reported it. I'm just glad we know about now, before you were seriously harmed."

"Thank you, sir. But I should have known better." Malcolm lay back and closed his eyes. Phlox ushered the captain out and drew the curtain around his bed.

To his surprise, Malcolm did sleep a little, despite the sounds of the crew entering in groups for their scans by Phlox. As he dozed, he thought he dreamed of odd shapes moving about in a black haze, and of falling through that haze, falling forever.

***

"Malcolm," a voice whispered. "You awake?"

Disoriented and groggy, Malcolm opened his eyes, not knowing where he was. Then he remembered. Sick bay. Aliens. And Trip, petting his head, leaning down to for a quick kiss. "Trip," he murmured. They needed to talk, even though Malcolm didn't really want to talk, he only wanted to pull Trip down into the bed with him, and kiss every inch of Trip's warm, silky skin.

"How are you feelin'?"

"Sleepy."

They both heard the captain enter sickbay, speaking to Phlox, asking more questions. "He's awake, Cap'n," Trip called out, moving the curtain aside.

Malcolm noted that T'Pol was with them also and thought they may as well move the situation room into sickbay, too. "Did you find out what it is?"

Jonathan came to his side. "So far, we've found out nothing." He tugged at the curtain distractedly. "No trace of alien DNA, or proteins, or anything of the sort."

"That's not surprising," called out Phlox, from the other side of the room. "The entire protein sample has simply vanished. And Mr Reed, so far, you're the only one who has been affected. No one else."

"Captain, I believe the unusual energy signature I detected near Mr. Reed while we analyzed the couplings may be related," added T'Pol. "I'm reanalyzing our sensor scans to detect it. The analysis should be ready in a few hours."

"This must have something to do with that power surge." The captain turned to Malcolm. "The first incident was a few hours after the surge, right?"

Malcolm nodded. "More like eight hours afterwards, but yes. You think it got on the ship then?"

Trip cut in. "Why the heck is it only after Malcolm?"

"It likes the way the lieutenant tastes?" suggested Phlox.

Malcolm could see Trip blush as he turned away. Such a sweet man. A sweet, distracting man.

"We have to find out what exactly we are dealing with here," said the captain.

Malcolm knew what he had to do. "Captain, there's one thing we do know. This alien thing comes out only when I'm alone in a dark room. So use me as bait. Put me in a dark room, turn out the lights—"

"No way, Cap'n—tell him we ain't—"

Jonathan held up a hand to silence Trip, and Malcolm continued, "We could set up monitoring devices and scanners. It will be perfectly safe. I've only suffered a little anemia so far, nothing life-threatening."

The captain nodded thoughtfully. "But without knowing anything about this creature—I just don't know. We may be putting your life in danger. I'm not sure this is the way to go. It's risky."

"Please, Captain, let me do this." It was his fault the creature had not been detected right away. It was only right that he be the one to take the risk.

Phlox scanned Malcolm. "Captain, Mr. Reed has suffered no lasting effects from the attacks. Another exposure would not be risking great harm."

"And what if this thing has gotten stronger since it's been eatin' so well?" Trip asked him. "Cap'n, I can't believe you are even considering this. It's way too dangerous. I can't even believe you would suggest this, Malcolm."

"What do you think, T'Pol?" asked the captain, ignoring Trip's outburst.

T'Pol thought for a moment. "I believe that if we are nearby, monitoring Mr. Reed, the danger would be minimal. It may be our only way to determine how to go about ridding our ship of this being. If Leiutenant Reed is willing."

"I am," Malcolm put in.

Jonathan nodded. "You sure about this, Malcolm?"

"Oh, yes, sir. Quite sure," An enemy he couldn't see, one that left no traces behind. Just marvelous. Malcolm felt apprehensive, but was determined to see this through.

***

Hours later, Malcolm was sitting on the bed, watching Trip set up the sensors. His heart was heavy. He had given the situation between them a great deal of thought, and it had become clear to him now that it couldn't work between them. He couldn't have Trip and do his duty properly at the same time.

"I just have a bad feelin' about this, Malcolm. We have no idea how dangerous this creature is. Hell, we don't even know what this creature is." He eyed Malcolm speculatively. "An' you're not lookin' too confident yourself."

"This is our only option," Malcolm said quietly.

Trip frowned at the tone of Malcolm's voice. "What is it? What's the matter? You change your mind?" He sat next to Malcolm and rested his hand on the back of Malcolm's neck.

Malcolm didn't want to talk about it at the moment. He was uneasy enough. But he couldn't help himself. "It's us. I don't know if I can do this." Trip's hand was warm, and his body was already responding to the man's nearness. "Us."

"Why not?" Trip's hand slid off, making Malcolm feel light, as if he might float off into space.

In response to Malcolm's continued silence, Trip spoke again, more harshly now. "Why the hell not? What are you tryin' to tell me, Malcolm?"

Malcolm looked away from those eyes, burning him now. "When I went to your quarters that night, I wanted to tell you there might have been something in my quarters," he said slowly. "But when I saw you—when you came onto me like that, I just forgot everything I was doing. God, you looked so good, I just wanted you. Needed you. I didn't do my duty as a Starfleet officer and report the problem." He spoke the last sentence crisply, as if in a formal hearing.

"Well, maybe I shouldn't have been thinking with my dick—that ever occur to you?" Trip put his hand on Malcolm's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "It was pretty damn stupid of me, not to mention embarrassing. My mind went right into the gutter when I saw you standing there, lookin' so, well—" He didn't finish his sentence, just got up and began stabbing at the controls on the sensor.

"But that's exactly my point, Trip, we put the ship in danger because—because—"

"Because we are a couple of horny bastards?" Trip finished for him. He turned in the chair and faced Malcolm. "Listen Malcolm. Yes, maybe you should have reported the sounds. The first time, in the armory. And I shouldn't have assumed you came to my quarters in the middle of the night just to be with me."

"I could have told you about it at any time. But I chose not to. I—I forgot."

"Hey, from how you describe it, I probably would have thought I was only dreamin' it too. Don't be so hard on yourself."

"I'm supposed to be protecting the bloody ship," Malcolm barked out, "not getting it on with the chief engineer!"

"We're only human, Malcolm. Shit like this happens. We're all makin' mistakes out here, in case you haven't noticed. The important thing is that we learn something from it. And then move on."

Malcolm twisted the edge of the blanket. "So what I've learned is being in a relationship with you impairs my ability to perform as the ship's armory officer."

"Technically, we weren't in a relationship at the time. Ever stop to think that might have been the problem?" Trip had put down his tools and was staring at him again, hands balled on his hips, head tilted to one side.

Malcolm laid his head back against the wall and groaned. The man was so bloody infuriating at times. Did they have to discuss this now? With everyone just outside his door? This was hard enough for him to do, why was the man being so deliberately obtuse? Couldn't Trip see that he was right? "Trip—"

"Don't just dismiss what I'm saying without thinkin' about it. Like how you dismissed my suggestion to go see Phlox. You know, just 'cause I'm from the south and I got this accent doesn't mean I'm stupid." Trip slumped back into the chair, agitated, fussing again with the sensor controls.

Even more frustrated now, Malcolm growled, "I did not say or imply in any way that I think you're stupid, Trip. Did I?" He wasn't like that, was he? He suddenly felt cold inside. He hadn't gone to see the doctor when Trip first suggested it.

"Can't get this damn thing to accept the new parameters," Trip complained. He picked up his data padd, frowned at it, then threw it back onto the desk with a bang. "You know, Malcolm, I just don't know where you get off bein' so high and mighty." He stood up so swiftly the chair fell back, clattering onto the floor. "Like you're so perfect you can't make mistakes. Why can't you just loosen the hell up?" he asked, pacing in front of Malcolm. "Maybe I am stupid. Stupid enough to believe you really cared about me. Maybe bein' together would have been more complicated, but if you really cared, you would have dealt with that. Guess I was wrong about you."

"Trip, please don't say that." The pain in Trip's face cut him like a knife. How could he not know how much he cared?

But Trip turned his back and returned to the sensor, examining it. They were both silent for a moment. Then Trip said quietly, "Had it on the wrong setting." His fingers danced across the control panel. "There. It's set now." He rubbed his eyes, righted the chair he had knocked over, then left the room without looking at Malcolm.

Malcolm wanted to call out after him, but Phlox and the captain entered as Trip left, the captain giving Trip a worried look as the man brushed past him. "Malcolm, are you sure you want to go through with this?" asked Jonathan, "You look a little disturbed. Having second thoughts?"

If you only knew, thought Malcolm. He wondered how much they had heard. "No, sir, I'm fine. Let's get started." He really didn't care if something came out from under his bed and devoured him whole. He wished it would.

Jonathan hesitated, and Malcolm fought to control his emotions, to present a cool, calm exterior but all he could hear was Trip's final words to him—that he thought Malcolm didn't really care.

Jonathan nodded to Phlox. Phlox held up a hypospray. "This will help you get to sleep. It's fast acting, and then will wear off just as quickly. I have an antagonist ready if we need to wake you before then."

Malcolm accepted the hypospray. After quick pinch to the neck, he lay back down. "Somehow, I really don't feel as though I can sleep," he said. He wished Trip were here with him. He hated to do this when things were unsettled between them. It was distracting. He knew he'd be lucky if Trip ever spoke to him again.

Jonathan patted his shoulder and then Malcolm was alone in the dark. He could see nothing in the complete blackness. He felt odd, knowing that he was being watched, recorded, scanned on several different wavelengths—and, if Trip was out there, being cursed. And he deserved it.

He wondered if he would see the creature this time. He had no sense of whether it was big or small. How strange would it be? Would he recognize it when he saw it? He yawned and rolled over, feeling the drug from Phlox begin to take effect in spite of his agitation. He was never going to actually sleep though. He was sure of it. He closed his eyes, allowing images to flit through his mind. Images of Trip, always of Trip. So many nights thinking of the man. Trip, naked in his arms, holding him, stroking his ass. Trip sliding a hand down between them. Trip pressing Malcolm's back against the wall, Malcolm thrusting, greedy and wanting, into Trip's hand while Trip watched him.

Malcolm rolled over again, half asleep, confused, his hand on his own swollen dick. Where was—shouldn't Trip be here with him? Malcolm needed him. Didn't Trip know that?

Trip smiling at Malcolm, laughing in delight, holding Malcolm's foot to his groin. Trip kissing him, so gentle and loving, nibbling on his body. Trip's mouth, so very talented, nuzzling his arm, licking his wrist—

But it wasn't Trip. Malcolm looked down to see the vague outline of a long, grey appendage touching his arm, stroking it. Both fascinated and repulsed, Malcolm tried to see what the appendage, was attached to, but he couldn't focus. He slid his body forward on the bed, trying to get a better look, trying to see through the black haze surrounding it. He couldn't see, it was as if it was behind a curtain. Closer—there—and he could make out what looked to be large compound eyes, a bluish glow to them, so intense it hurt his eyes.

Moving closer to the creature was a mistake, because the darkness was swallowing him up now, he was slipping through the curtain, and there was a visceral feeling of emptiness, a desolation so vast it threatened to engulf his soul. He panicked. He tried to scramble back, away from it, to free his arm of the mouth, but two more appendages latched onto his wrist, cutting his skin, holding him in place, then yanking him in. He cried out in pain as he fell forward, into the nothingness. Pain seared through his arm, and to his utter horror he realized he was being pulled through the floor, down into blackness.

With a start he realized he could see the alien clearly now, he must have crossed the border, because now he could clearly see claws cutting into his skin, the long proboscis protruding from the triangular head, the dead, flat eyes, the awful, white, segmented body dragging behind it. Swelling, with a faint, pinkish patch on the bottom. His blood, filling that distended body. And beyond it, hundreds more, scurrying forward on short, wrongly jointed legs, mouthpieces uncoiling, and he was sliding toward them, unable to stop it from pulling on him. Surely it would tear his hand off with those claws, and he couldn't scream, he needed to call for help, couldn't Trip see what was happening? He couldn't get enough air even to breathe—

Voices behind him, distorted, as if he were underwater. A sense of something moving, just outside his field of vision. Something solid touching him—a hand—grabbing one ankle, then another, pulling on him, dragging him back. They were at a standoff. He was half in the creature's world, half in his.

One of the aliens lunged for his other arm. It took all Malcolm's strength but he managed to make a fist, slamming it into the thing's eye. The eye shattered apart like a crystal. He was being pulled harder, back up into the ship, into his world. He twisted his captured arm and gripped the disgusting, soft, white appendage holding onto him and wrenched it toward him, at the same time curling his body into a ball and bending his knees. Whoever was at his ankles pulled again hard. He prayed they wouldn't let go.

A strange feeling washed over him as he passed through that curtain of darkness again. He hit something solid with a thump—the floor. He was on the floor of his quarters. Hands were at his waist, grabbing his clothes, and the bright lights blinded him. The pain in his arm was excruciating. The voices were clearer—Trip's, the captain's. Warm liquid spread over him. Blood.

His arm—he opened his eyes and to his horror, it was right there, on his arm, vibrating madly, eyes splintering apart, looking all the more alien and horrible and wrong in the light. Malcolm had to get it off him. He flung his arm against the side of the bed and it smashed apart with an awful wet splat, a sound he knew he would be hearing in his mind for years to come, along with the image of the pale, reddish mess on the bed and floor, bits of creature still twitching, and his own blood still oozing from his arm and puddling on the rug. There was movement all around him, shouting, pointing, orders being given. Hands still gripped his legs and shirt, Trip and the captain were still holding onto him as if he might slip away again. He was thankful for it.

He let the voices and movements wash over him and he lay back and closed his eyes. He couldn't speak. He was exhausted. He realized Phlox was next to him, and that it was Trip touching him, touching his head.

"Here," Phlox was saying. "Just apply pressure here. One hand, like this."

Malcolm felt something pushing down near his underarm. It hurt and he mumbled a protest.

"Shhh, Malcolm, it's okay. We have you now." Trip's voice was shaking. "You got it. It's dead."

Malcolm struggled to open his eyes. Trip's face was looming above him, his eyes still wide with shock. "Trip," he managed through dry lips, "there are more. Hundreds more."

Trip blinked at him. "Hundreds?"

"Trip, this was—a bad idea," he whispered. He wanted to tell the man he was right, it had been a stupid idea. He almost died. He almost was swallowed by the emptiness. Almost lost everything.

Trip's hand was in his hair, stroking him. "It's okay now, Malcolm. Not gonna let you go."

Malcolm tried to speak again but failed. Too weak. His blood was roaring in his ears and he couldn't focus on Trip's face. It was as though he was falling into the creature's world again, and he fought against it, seeing those blank electric blue compound eyes again. Then something probed his wrist. He jerked his arm away, struggling to free himself.

"Hold him down, Commander—"

"Stop it, Malcolm, hold still!" A heavy weight settled on his chest and he realized Trip was restraining him. "Let the doc do his thing," Trip said, more gently. Then he crouched even closer to Malcolm, leaned down and began whispering in his ear, reassuring him, soothing him, keeping him anchored in this world.

***

Malcolm woke to the sound of Trip's voice—a very nearly hysterical voice.

"…god-damn ugly bug feeding on Malcolm. Nearly pulled him through, he was disappearin' down into the floor, what a great fucking idea that was…"

"Trip—" Malcolm opened his eyes to see Dr. Phlox staring at the biobed monitor.

"Ah, you are awake. The creature managed to slice your wrist quite badly." Phlox nodded at Malcolm's left wrist, which was hidden beneath bandages. It throbbed uncomfortably, but wasn't painful. He must be drugged up. "You lost a great deal of blood, but you'll be just fine. You've had no adverse reactions to the blood substitute. I've repaired the tendons, and I did a rather nice job if I do say so myself. You'll be fine."

"Thank you, Doctor," rasped Malcolm. His mouth felt dry.

Trip and the Captain appeared at the bed. Trip squeezed his shoulder, and then glared at the captain as the man patted Malcolm's other shoulder.

"Malcolm, I'm sorry," the captain said. "That was a huge mistake. I—we nearly lost you to those awful things." There was overwhelming distress on the man's face.

"It's all right, sir. I knew there was a risk." He saw the concern in the faces around him and felt guilty. It had been his idea, after all.

Jonathan answered him harshly. "But it was my command decision to make. I should have known better." He turned away from Malcolm abruptly, nearly colliding with Phlox.

"Captain," the doctor said, putting his hands on Jonathan's shoulders. "His injuries are not life-threatening, and we did collect a great deal of valuable data on the creature." He turned to Malcolm. "I'm curious, Mr. Reed. What exactly did you see when it pulled you under the floor?"

Malcolm shuddered. "More creatures. And—darkness. I felt something in my soul, a kind of blackness. It's hard to explain." He thought for a moment. "It was vast, and empty. And horrible. That feeling—it was the worst part of it all." The pain in his arm was nothing compared to it. What if he had gotten lost in that realm? Would he feel that bleakness forever?

"Interesting," Phlox commented. "Captain, I wonder if he was seeing into another dimension."

Malcolm rested his eyes on Trip, tuning out the conversation. The engineer looked furious, and hurt. He met Malcolm's gaze, then looked away, watching the monitor on the wall beyond them. Malcolm closed his eyes, still feeling the horror of the incident, still feeling the hollowness of the other world inside of him. It was impossible to explain how it made him feel so empty, so bereft. He just knew he didn't want to be alone. It was as though he had lived a lifetime without love compressed down into those minutes. Now he wanted Trip next to him in the bed, wanted to see Trip smiling and laughing again. He wanted to take back the past, to undo the pain he'd caused Trip. He needed to tell Trip how much he cared. He needed to feel again. Whatever his shortcomings as armory officer were he'd deal with them on his own. He just needed to feel the joy of being together, to indulge in the sensation of Trip touching him.

T'Pol arrived, and gave her report on the creature. She had managed to briefly scan the remains of it, which were rapidly fading from his room, much like the blood sample. Thank god, Malcolm thought. He wondered if bits and pieces of the dead alien were reappearing in it's realm. He wasn't sure he could bear going back into his quarters, even with the creature gone. T'Pol said she had never seen anything like it before. The best she could speculate was that it was some sort of parasite. She had found very little brain matter, so the creature was unlikely to be intelligent. It bore an energy signature similar to what she had briefly detected in the gravity control center, where Malcolm had injured himself and bled.

"It must have formed some sort of attraction to Mr. Reed at that point," she said.

"So that's why it's only been going for Malcolm?" Jonathan asked.

"Perhaps." She produced a data padd. "The analysis of the energy burst from the nebula has been completed. Seconds after the particles struck Enterprise, a stream of the same form of energy flowed from one of the gas giants in the nebula to the ship. I believe it was pulled in by the gravitational surge."

Trip cut in as the captain examined the data. "You think that is their home planet? Any way we could send them back home?"

The room was silent for a moment. "Can't we just undo what we did?" Malcolm asked, factiously. "Go back to the nebula, and turn off the gravity? Maybe they'll just," he waved his hand, "float away."

T'Pol and the captain exchanged glances, T'Pol looking, Malcolm noted with satisfaction, almost surprised. "It's worth a try, what do you think, Sub-commander?" Jonathan asked.

"The idea is intriguing," she said slowly.

"In the meanwhile, it's clear that light repels these beings. I suggest you keep to brightly lit areas, Lieutenant," suggested the captain.

"Yes, sir," Malcolm said fervently.

The captain left, and T'Pol and the doctor began conferring over the data. Phlox was excited by the strange creature, and the Vulcan seemed just as fascinated. Malcolm was not.

Trip lingered by the bed, looking uncertain. "Glad you're okay," the engineer told him, touching his arm, then letting his hand drop back to his side.

"Trip, I'm sorry. Sorry I didn't listen to you." Malcolm wanted Trip to touch him again, wanted it with an incredible fierceness.

"Which time?" Trip asked.

"Every time."

"Yeah, well," Trip rubbed his palms over his thighs and hesitated. Then said, "I'd better go. Get everything ready for the gravity switch-off."

"Don't. Please." Malcolm knew if Trip walked away from him now he'd fall back into that emptiness, creature or no. He needed Trip to hold him again.

"Why?"

"I need you. I was wrong, I was afraid," he said desperately. He kept his voice low. Phlox and T'Pol weren't paying attention to them. "I—"

"Don't." Trip interrupted him, holding his hands up as if to stop Malcolm's flow of words. "Don't jerk me around Malcolm. I'm scared too. I'm scared how much it will hurt next time you tell me to go away," he said. Then, relenting, he said more gently, "This whole thing's got me spooked. Maybe…later."

Malcolm watched Trip leave the room, wanting to call out after him. He wanted to climb off the bed and run after the engineer, to hold him, to comfort him, to tell Trip how much he cared, to confess to Trip he was the biggest fool in the world.

How the hell could he have possibly thought that wanting and having, having it all could be any less distracting than wanting and not having?

PART 4

"So I'm free to go, Doctor?" Six more hours until they reached the nebula, and Malcolm was anxious to escape sickbay. Trip was at his side, and they needed to talk. Alone. Malcolm figured it was officially "later". The ship and crew were fully prepared for the gravity being shut down, and, wonder of wonders, Trip was assigned to watch over him until they reached their destination. He wondered if it was a coincidence. How much did the captain pick up between him and Trip?

"Free and clear. No strenuous activity for at least 24 hours, mind you. Keep a close eye on him, Mr. Tucker. And keep him confined to brightly lit spaces," Phlox added.

"Yes, Doctor." Trip tossed over his shoulder as they exited. "Bright lights. Got it."

"Hey, slow down, Lieutenant," Trip ordered jogging to keep up. "Cap'n says I'm on bug-watch tonight, so don't try to run away. Unless you would prefer someone else be assigned this duty." Trip's voice was brusque, his words, clipped.

"Absolutely not." They reached the lift, and Malcolm entered the destination. "You know, I really don't want to go back to my quarters just yet. I keep seeing that thing squished all over my bed." He shivered theatrically.

"Malcolm, it's gone. Dead. It disappeared back into it's own dimension or whatever you want to call it."

"I know. I really just need to talk to you. In private. Please?"

Trip leaned his head back against the wall of the lift and closed his eyes. "I don't see what we have to talk about." He sounded tired. Malcolm wanted to touch him, wanted to stroke his face and comfort him.

But he led Malcolm to his quarters nonetheless. At last they were alone, in Trip's room. Trip turned on every light up as far as it would go. A very simple anti-monster strategy, Malcolm thought, feeling a little like a hothouse flower. Very accommodating of the nasty little buggers. The lights produced irregular shadows along opposite wall and Malcolm stared at them, thinking of triangular heads and compound eyes.

"All right." Trip stood stiffly in the middle of the room, arms folded against his chest. "What do you want to discuss, Lieutenant?" The soft drawl had a hard edge to it.

"I did something stupid, Commander." Malcolm leaned against Trip's desk. "A few days ago." It felt like a lifetime ago. Malcolm sighed and continued. "Instead of reporting some suspicious noises in my quarters, I instead allowed myself to be distracted by a beautiful man."

"Is that right?"

Undeterred by the cold voice, Malcolm continued. "He touched me. We kissed. We made love. He was marvelous. He was everything I ever wanted. You see, this was someone I cared a great deal about. I had longed to be with him, ever since, well, ever since I met him. And to finally be with him—it was utterly amazing."

"It was." Trip's voice was softer now, sadder.

"But then I drove that lovely man away, told him I was afraid that I couldn't do my duty and be with him."

"Why'd you tell him that?"

"Because I'm a bleedin' idiot."

Trip gave a bitter laugh. "You'll get no argument from me."

"Rightfully so." Malcolm gathered up his courage and said bluntly. "I panicked. Being a Starfleet officer is everything to me. I'm an anal-retentive bastard so when I realized I made an error in judgement, I just panicked." He grimaced. "I'm not used to making mistakes," he said, rubbing his forehead. He felt like it was all he had done since the mission began.

"And you thought tellin' me to take a hike would fix it."

"It was a mistake. Rumor has it I'm only human. I've learned from it and now it's time to move on."

Trip unfolded his arms, stalked over to Malcolm and thrust a finger at him. "No fair, Malcolm, throwin' my words back at me like that."

This was better. Trip was only a few feet from him now, squinting a little in the glare of the desk lamp. He was close enough for Malcolm to touch, but Malcolm didn't dare, not yet.

"It was good advice," he said, as Trip rolled his eyes. "You see, I've also learned that setting myself out as bait for aliens is not a very good idea. I think I'll try and avoid doing that from now on, too." His heart leapt at the slight twitch at the corner of Trip's mouth. Maybe Trip could forgive him after all.

"Well, you see that you do. Took ten years off my life, you little shit."

"I was damn scared myself. They were nasty, ugly creatures. I thought I was going to be dinner." He carefully removed his bandaged wrist from the sling, wiggling his fingers experimentally. "It still hurts. A truly dreadful ordeal." He gave Trip his most mournful look. "A fellow could use a bit of comforting after something like that."

"You have no shame, no shame at all, Malcolm Reed."

"A hug would be nice." He was shameless, and he knew it. He'd use any strategy to get Trip back, including sobbing at the man's feet. But it worked. Trip reached out to him and Malcolm found himself in a warm, gentle embrace. Thank god. He closed his eyes, letting out his breath, embarrassed by the way his body was trembling. He tucked an arm around the other man's waist and rested his head on his shoulder, trying to stop shaking. He breathed in Trip's scent and it was just so bloody marvelous, so he simply leaned against Trip, letting Trip hold him just right, letting Trip's hand rubbing lazy circles on his back.

Trip spoke softly into his ear. "How's that? Feelin' any better?"

Malcolm lifted his head, and looked into Trip's eyes. "No. Maybe a kiss would help."

"I'm thinkin' shameless doesn't even begin to describe you." Still, Trip cupped the back of his head and pressed a sweet, bone-melting kiss to his lips. A second kiss from those warm, mobile lips sent delicious feelings stirring.

"Better?" Trip whispered against his cheek.

"Much." Malcolm pressed his face against Trip's. "Although…I'm actually still a tad weak. Perhaps if we were lying down?"

Trip pulled back. "Would the bed be okay?" he asked earnestly.

"I think it will do."

Next thing he knew he was laughing as Trip guided him to the bed, accusing him of being the most presumptuous man he had ever met. They stretched out on the bed on their sides, facing one another. Trip began kissing him—long, slow, languorous kisses and Malcolm felt as though he was in heaven as Trip's tongue swiped against his.

"Please, Trip," he groaned when they paused to breathe. "Don't ever let me do something that stupid again."

"Like what—be dinner for some monster or try and leave me?"

"Both. I didn't realize how much I had hurt you." He kissed Trip again, running his good hand down Trip's chest. "Forgive me?"

"I'm thinkin' about it. I suppose I could have come on a little too strong myself."

Malcolm pressed his fingers to Trip's mouth. "No. I rather like the fact you don't seem to do anything by half-measures." Trip's mouth curved into a grin beneath his fingers. Malcolm ran a fingertip along the soft lips.

"I've been accused of that once or twice before."

Malcolm kissed him again, while his hand continued down Trip's chest and lower, until he was touching Trip's swollen cock through the layers of uniform. Trip strained against his hand and made a small, needy sound that thrilled Malcolm, his mouth becoming more desperate and hungry as they kissed.

Trip moved Malcolm's hand and gently rolled Malcolm onto his back. He propped himself on an elbow, and cupped Malcolm's face, staring into his eyes. "We can do this Malcolm. We can be together, and be good Starfleet officers. It may not always be easy. I'm startin' to think nothin' with you will ever be easy." But Trip was smiling as he said it.

Malcolm just stared at him. "Thank you for being so, so good to me," he stammered, feeling awkward because it was such a stupid thing to say. But there were no words for what he was feeling. Relief. Joy. "And for being so," he snuggled in closer to the warm body, "comforting."

"Anything else I can do to help you recover from your terrible ordeal?" asked Trip.

"Perhaps if we were both naked I'd feel even more comforted."

"You think?" Trip sat back, skimming his hands down Malcolm's chest as he moved. He climbed over Malcolm, settling in at his feet. "Allow me."

Malcolm sat up against the pillow and watched as the man removed his shoes for him, one by one. Watched him contemplate the feet before him. Watched the sly grin grow on Trip's face as he pulled Malcolm's socks off oh so slowly. Trip began to stroke the soles of Malcolm's feet. He tugged on Malcolm's toes.

"Ooooh, these toes…"

Malcolm burst out laughing. The man was insane. Deliciously so. Hot, sexy, and nuts. And all his. Trip bent down and licked his toes, and Malcolm laughed harder, his laughter fueled by utter relief that Trip was so willing to forgive him, that things were all right between them.

Trip crawled up between his legs and rubbed his nose against Malcolm's. "I like that."

"What?" wheezed Malcolm, wiping the tears from his eyes.

"Hearin' you laugh. It's good. Damn good." He kissed Malcolm, and Malcolm welcomed the now-familiar taste and feel of Trip's mouth. The feel of that tongue sliding against his. He slid his good hand around Trip's neck. Then he felt Trip's hands on his thighs and he moaned.

"Make love to me, Trip," he said.

Trip nuzzled his cheek. "Mmm. Didn't the doc say somethin' about you needing to rest?"

"Oh, you'll be doing all the work. I'm just going to lie back and enjoy it." He heard Trip's sharp intake of breath at his words and grinned. "Doctor's orders, don't you know."

"Doctor's orders were for you to rest. I shouldn't," Trip protested, but his face betrayed his eagerness.

"Yes you should." Malcolm struggled out of his coverall, hampered by the bandage on his wrist.

"You lost a lot of blood. A lot of blood." Trip had leaned back to avoid getting hit with Malcolm's arm as he awkwardly removed his shirt. "It was all over the place—"

Malcolm unzipped his pants, and released his hard cock, allowing it to spring free. "Obviously Phlox gave me plenty of the replacement stuff." He was almost painfully hard. "Please. Make love to me. Fuck me." He grabbed Trip by the collar and pulled him closer. "Do anything to me. Do everything to me."

Trip looked startled. Then he kissed Malcolm, hard. Kissed him again. "Damn-just hearin' you say that, well—damn." Trip spread Malcolm's legs, hands caressing his thigh. "You have no idea what it does to me."

Malcolm released his grip on Trip's uniform and reached for Trip's crotch, squeezing gently. "I'm getting some idea."

Trip laughed, a low, husky sound that went straight to Malcolm's groin. Trip's hands were hot on his body, even through the material of his pants. Malcolm tried to shimmy out of them, a difficult task with only one hand.

"Damn uniform—"

"Here, let me—." In the blink of an eye Malcolm was naked, and Trip's talented fingers were dancing lightly along the length of his swollen cock. When Trip rubbed his thumb over the head, smearing a drop of precome over the tip, Malcolm's hips jerked helplessly. Trip leaned down and lightly brushed his lips on the head of his cock, then licked. Malcolm could only throw his head back and moan. This was good. This—Trip's touch—was right.

Trip stood then, never taking his eyes off of Malcolm as he slowly unzipped his uniform. Malcolm licked his lips in anticipation, watching in awe as the bright lights revealed the lovely body in stark relief—lean thighs, flat stomach, the fine, furred chest, all that marvelous skin, the sprinkling of freckles—all just crying out to be touched. Then Trip slid off his briefs and Malcolm couldn't take his eyes off that pretty cock, swollen and red, swaying heavily against Trip's thigh.

Trip retrieved the lube from a drawer and sat next to Malcolm on the bed. Malcolm promptly began touching as much of that skin as possible. "You've done this before?" Trip asked, and Malcolm smiled again at the shyness in his voice.

"Yes, Trip, I have. Now let's get on with it," he growled, nibbling along his ribs, tasting his skin. It tasted as good as it looked.

"Uh-uh." Trip put a hand on his shoulder. "Seems like all the trouble we've been havin' has been due to you not listenin' to me," he drawled. "So I think it's about time you started." He kissed Malcolm hard, pushing his head down to the pillow. "Do you have a problem with that, Lieutenant?" he asked sternly, then palliated his words by licking Malcolm's ear.

"No problem at all, sir." Malcolm croaked. Oh lord, he wasn't getting the playful lover today. He could do obedient. He could do anything this man wanted him to.

"Glad to hear it. Now lie back down." Trip's hand was moving from his shoulder, down across his chest, and Malcolm allowed himself to be spread out on the bed. Trip's hand toyed with his nipple. He stretched and closed his eyes, pushing his chest against Trip's hand. So very nice. Now Trip was kissing his chest, licking his nipples, while his hand moved further south.

"Please, Trip, please—" He needed Trip to touch him there, to hold him—just like that, Malcolm thought as felt Trip's hand wrap around his dick. He strained forward, but the teasing hand only gripped him briefly, then let go.

"Trip—" Malcolm protested. He opened his eyes to see Trip gazing at him hungrily. He reached for Trip's head, to bring him down for a kiss, but Trip leaned back out of reach.

"Turn over," Trip commanded gruffly.

Malcolm immediately flipped over onto his stomach. He was being obedient today.

"Good job, Mr. Reed. Very snappy."

Trip skimmed his fingertips along Malcolm's back, teasing slowly. Malcolm arched his back like a cat under Trip's hands, shivers of delight rippling through his body at the delicate touch. He let out a small moan.

"You have something to say, Lieutenant Reed?"

"Mmmm," Malcolm answered. He didn't want Trip to stop. Ever.

"I didn't quite catch that." The fingers danced along his ass. "By the way, Mr. Reed, I think I'm going to recommend your backside for a commendation. It performs admirably."

Malcolm snorted into the pillow. He gasped as Trip stopped touching and began licking, starting at his neck, long wet swipes of his tongue making Malcolm dazed and shivery. Malcolm raised himself up and twisted around, wanting another taste of that capable tongue, but Trip chuckled and moved out of reach, licking down along Malcolm's spine. Malcolm dropped his head to the pillow, waiting, wondering if Trip was about to—oh god yes. He was.

Malcolm moaned into the pillow as Trip's tongue worked its way down the cleft of his ass, flicking over the sensitive opening. It was so good, excruciatingly good. His body came alive at Trip's touch—in a way that no other man or woman had ever done before. He got a mouthful of pillow as he groaned again, deep, low noises of pleasure and longing. He pushed his hips into the mattress, rubbing his cock along the crumpled bedding and then Trip pushed his tongue inside. Malcolm was desperate, clawing at the sheets, hips moving constantly under that busy tongue. When he bumped his wounded wrist against the bedframe the pain barely registered, he was so far gone. Then Trip stopped, when the warm, wet tongue was no longer on him or in him, he groaned in dismay.

"Trip," he gasped. "Wha—oh god. Yes." A cool, slick finger gently pressed against the relaxed opening, then slid in easily. Oh yes. This was even better. Then more pressure as another finger entered. Malcolm took a deep breath and released it in a long, shuddering sigh, ending with a soft moan, as those fingers began to move inside of him. Trip's fingers. Trip was actually reaching inside of him, touching him intimately.

"C'mon, turn over again." Trip patted him on the hip and Malcolm lifted his legs and rolled over onto his back, slowly this time, Trip's fingers never leaving his body.

Malcolm licked his dry lips. "More," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. He wrapped his legs around the man kneeling between his legs, getting leverage so he could bear down on Trip's fingers. "More."

"You'll get more when I decide you're ready," Trip stated, almost primly, but Malcolm could see that his eyes were anything but as Malcolm wriggled his ass against Trip's fingers. Trip reached out his hand and touched Malcolm's chest, then teased Malcolm's nipples again, squeezing gently at first, then harder as Malcolm moaned in delight. "God damn, Malcolm, look at you. So damn hot."

Malcolm thought maybe he should be ashamed, because he was losing it here, so obvious under the blazing lights that he had no self-control at all, but he felt deliciously slutty and wanton and this was Trip, and this, all this, was so right. He snatched up Trip's hand and kissed it, sucking two fingers into his mouth, unconsciously matching the action his in ass.

"Shit, Malcolm, you're killin' me here—" Trip pulled his hand away, and the fingers slipped out of Malcolm's ass, leaving him bereft until he realized Trip was fumbling awkwardly with the lube. And Malcolm knew he wasn't the only one losing it, because Trip's hands were trembling as he managed to squeeze out a palmful of lube, then Trip threw the tube aside and greased his own cock swiftly.

"Malcolm—" Trip panted as he pressed his slick cock against Malcolm's anus. "Just tell me—" Trip faltered.

"Anything, love, anything." Malcolm lifted one leg onto Trip's shoulder. "Oh, god, Trip, just do it." The hard, blunt head of Trip's cock against his ass felt so right; it was Trip's cock, Trip was about to fuck him and he wanted it so badly he could barely speak.

"Tell me—you won't leave again," Trip commanded, his voice stronger now. "Tell me—oh—you won't be a stupid sonofabitch—" He was pushing the head of his cock almost into Malcolm's ass now, not quite in, yielding when Malcolm tried to push back against it.

"—never leave you, always want you, always did, you should know—never stopped—oh, OH—" Trip was inside him now, and he couldn't give voice to any words at all. Just incoherent noises as Trip filled his body, stretched him to his limit. He could feel Trip moving inside of him, thrusting slow and deep, he could feel his heat, his need, then his weight as the man leaned forward, his body hot and hairy and sweaty on Malcolm's chest, his lips and tongue wet and hungry and frantic against Malcolm's mouth. He drove into Malcolm with long, hard strokes, angling his hips just right, grunting as he pushed in deep.

White-hot flashes of pleasure sang through Malcolm's body with every thrust, and Malcolm clung to Trip's shoulders blindly, hands sweaty and slick against the hard muscles. Trip bit his neck, whispering his name, thrusting faster now. It was too good, Malcolm was so close, the pleasure uncoiling and surging through his body, he was close but not there, just on the edge and in desperation, he reached between their heaving bodies to grasp his own cock.

In an instant, Trip's hand snatched his wrist and pulled his hand away, pinning it next to his head. "Not yet, Lieutenant," Trip grunted in a way that was so perfect, so absolutely wonderful that Malcolm promptly disobeyed a direct order and came long and hard, with thick spurts onto his belly, giving voice to a deep, heavy moan as his climax burst from his soul.

Trip gasped out something that sounded suspiciously like "insubordinate"; then Malcolm watched in wonder as his lover came, thrusting erratically, his eyes closed, and Malcolm could not believe how utterly breathtaking Trip was in his ecstasy.

***

Hours later, they were on the bridge, strapped into their seats with the gravity plating disengaged, silently observing the stream of energy flowing from the ship out to the blue gas giant. Malcolm was slightly breathless and flushed from exertion, or the excitement. Or was it anxiety? He never wanted to see the alien bloodsuckers again. He fervently hoped this plan worked.

"T'Pol?" Jonathan asked, gripping the arms of his captain's chair.

"It bears the same signature that we have associated with the aliens," she said. "Perhaps we have been successful." She watched her console. "There. It is finished."

They gazed at the image of the planet, and nothing out of the ordinary appeared. "Travis," said Jonathan, never taking his eyes from the image, "get us out of here."

"Yes, sir."

"Cap'n, should I get the gravity back on line?" Trip asked.

"Let's get some distance between us and that damn planet first." He turned to Malcolm. "Hopefully that did it, Malcolm."

"Well, sir, there's one way to find out—"

"No!" shouted Trip and the captain simultaneously.

Malcolm could feel Trip's eyes burning into him. "Just a thought," he backpedaled.

"So, Malcolm," Travis said, "were they really inter-dimensional vampires? Out of all the people in the universe, how did you manage to become the target of interdimensional vampires?" He was shaking his head in disbelief. "It's like some sort of Twilight Zone episode."

"They aren't really vampires, Travis, not in the movie-sense," Malcolm told him, laughing. "Just parasites, as far as we can tell."

"Well, I hope they're gone."

Malcolm nodded. "Me too."

"Captain, I suggest keeping our sensors calibrated to detect the energy signal, and that we continue scanning the ship for any signs," T'Pol recommended.

"Good idea. In the meantime, Trip, maybe you can continue keeping a close eye on the lieutenant?" the captain asked a smile playing on his lips.

"Sure, Cap'n. No problem."

The captain nodded, satisfied. Malcolm stole a glance at his lover, wondering again how much the captain knew about them. Then realized he didn't care. It didn't matter. All that mattered was that he wasn't going to be alone anymore, that he and Trip were together, that he would get to touch and hold Trip whenever he wanted to. While he was off-duty, that is. He was, after all, a proper Starfleet officer.

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