The Fish Story

by The Grrrl

Title: The Fish Story

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: Oct 14, 2002

Pairing: Tucker/Reed

Rating: NC-17

Summary: The away team visits a lovely planet to take some samples. Trip lets something slip. And the wildlife gets a little wild.

Author's notes: This story was inspired by a plotbunny from Kim, thank you so much, dearie! It took some time to settle in properly and become a fic. Cheers to both Kim and Kylie for their wonderful beta'ing—always on the ball! Thanks for all the encouragement.

PART 1

Isn't this beautiful, Trip?" Jonathan gestures toward the impressive vista before us with a grand sweep of his arm.

I climb out of the shuttle and take in the view. "Just gorgeous, sir."

I know he's just tickled to death to be here. He loves the great outdoors, and he seems to love an alien great outdoors even better. Camping out under a strange-looking set of stars just makes him as happy as can be. Right now, Jon is seeing a turquoise-blue sky, majestic trees, a slow-moving river, and rolling hills dotted with wildflowers. He's thinking of great adventures, new discoveries, and the challenges of a rugged terrain. But that's the Captain's way of seeing things. He's a big-picture kind of guy, which is what makes him so good at being captain.

Me, I'm already missing Engineering. I look around and see dirt and bugs—bugs that probably sting or bite, or, with my luck, both. And I'm thinking about being tired and hungry and trying to sleep with a big rock digging into my back, because no matter where I put my sleeping bag, that rock is going to be there. I'm also wondering when the windstorm/mind-blowing pollen/shapeshifters/Suliban/swarm of locusts or whatever will occur. I'm usually a fairly optimistic kind of guy, but I haven't exactly been batting a thousand on away missions. I think something along those lines has also occurred to Malcolm, who had the nerve to mutter "do you think it's safe to take him along?" to the Captain as we were boarding the shuttle. And the fact that he's my lover doesn't really take the sting out that smart-assed little comment.

But here we are, having just arrived on this M-class planet, which I have to admit is kind of pretty. And it's also got some amazing genetic diversity, according to Phlox and Cutler. It's so amazing that they want to take half the planet back to the ship with them in little vials. At least that's what it seems like from the number of sample containers they packed. The two of them were just bubbling over with excitement on the shuttle ride down. And now, as they get off the shuttle, they are just downright giddy.

T'Pol already has her scanner out as she steps out of the shuttlepod. She doesn't even look at the gorgeous view—she just keeps her eyes on the data readout of her scanner. Back on Enterprise, when she first saw the data from the preliminary scans, she said it was "fascinating." And both eyebrows went up. I don't think I've ever seen her so excited. I was tempted to offer her my chair in case she was feeling light-headed.

Meanwhile, Jonathan is craning his neck, staring at some birds gliding overhead, nearly tripping over a rock because he's not watching where he's going.

Finally Malcolm gets off the shuttle, also scanning the area. He's blinking a little in the bright sunlight. And I can tell by the tight line of his mouth that he's more than a little pissed that he couldn't get off first and secure the area. From what, I don't know. When the shuttle touched down, Malcolm jumped right up, but the Captain beat him to the door, released the latch, and was out as quick as a wink. Now Malcolm is scowling a little, looking around, already doing a head count, I'm sure.

Cutler's at the river's edge. "Dr. Phlox, I think there are fish in here," she calls out.

The doc is right there with her in a flash. "Yes, I see." He's leaning over the scanner in her hand. Leaning in real close. He must have bad eyes or something.

"Damn. They keep going out of range of the scanner." Cutler looks frustrated, and pokes at the instrument, then shakes her head. "Can't get them again."

"Maybe we'll just have to do some fishing." The Captain has joined them by the water. "Think they'll taste good?"

Cutler looks aghast. "Sir, we should be studying them, not eating them." Then she realizes he was kidding with her and looks sheepish. I join them at water's edge, laughing too, because I know the feeling. Been there myself with Jonathan.

I peer down into the water, but I can't see much. The water is murky—there isn't much of a flow here. It's more like we are on the edge of a marshy, oxbow lake than a river. There's also a lot of green stuff floating on top. "What the heck is that stuff?" I ask our exobiology team members.

"Looks like duckweed," offers Cutler. She kneels down and swirls her finger in it.

"Careful—" I warn. I may be starting to sound like Malcolm but last time I stuck my fingers in something, I ended up pregnant.

Cutler just laughs and examines the little green, free-floating plants stuck to her finger. "Just an aquatic plant, Commander."

"Shall we take some samples of it?" asks Phlox.

They grin at each other and head back to the shuttle. I've noticed they work together pretty well, and they seem to be friends. That's nice.

I notice Malcolm has put his scanner away, apparently satisfied we are not in any imminent danger. "Hey, Malcolm," I call out to him, putting down the supplies I had lugged out of the back of the shuttle. "Give me a hand." Everyone else is too busy exploring already to help set up camp. Not that I mind, really. I'm afraid Jonathan is about to call me over to admire the little shrub he's staring at, and I'm not sure what the appropriate response to it would be. But a moment later Phlox and Cutler go over to him and they start talking and gesturing, so I'm safe for now.

"I wish the Captain would understand that as security officer, I should have been the first one out of the shuttle," grumbles Malcolm as I hand him the tents.

"Sounded to me like this is a pretty safe planet—no big animals of any kind. Just a whole lot of bugs and plants with fascinating DNA," I point out to him.

"Maybe that's what the scans showed, but you can never be certain."

That's my Malcolm, as paranoid as ever.

He glares at me. "And I'm not being paranoid."

***

After dinner, we sit around the campfire. I'm watching Malcolm and the Captain bond over their Eagle Scout adventures. I'd like to be bonding with Malcolm right now if I could. He looks good by firelight, the light catching his face, dancing over those high cheekbones. I want to make love to him by firelight, to see it flickering over his naked body, glistening with sweat, moving against my body.

The simple truth is that I want Malcolm. Constantly. I feel like such a horny bastard, sitting here lusting over him like this, but I can't help myself. This kind of persistent, aching need for my lover's touch is a completely new experience for me.

But despite my longing, we are on a mission, and I have to settle for watching my best friend and my lover try and outdo each other with their stories. I think they're having a good time. I'm glad to see Malcolm so relaxed around Jonathan. Malcolm was a little taken aback by the Captain's easy-going command style at first. I could tell he didn't approve, didn't quite know what to make of the man. But after that nasty incident with the Romulan mine, when Malcolm was pinned to the hull of the ship, things seem easier between them. I guess they had a good talk out there. Malcolm won't really tell me about it, most likely because I get all frantic even at the mention of it. I swear it took ten years off my life watching that mine explode. I came so close to losing both of them. I had nightmares for weeks, waking up in the middle of the night, soaking wet with sweat. Malcolm had to hold me close, touch me, reassure me that he's still alive and kicking. Only then was I able to fall back to sleep.

I banish the bad thoughts from my mind and try to enjoy the moment. It is soothing, what with the sounds of crickets, or whatever passes for crickets on this planet, and the water lapping at the banks of the river behind me. I lean back, still watching Malcolm, only half-listening to the multiple conversations flowing around me.

Jonathan and Malcolm are chuckling now, Malcolm leaning back on his arms and shaking his head ruefully. His eyes catch mine over the fire, and he gives me a smile that warms me to the core. And I'm smiling back at him. There's nothing I'd like more than to tell Jonathan about Malcolm and me, to share with him how happy I am. But Malcolm doesn't think it's such a good idea. And he may be right. Jonathan's the captain, and maybe he wouldn't be too pleased about such things going on in his crew. I know that Jonathan, my friend, would be thrilled, but Captain Archer? I just don't know. Although once in a while I catch Jonathan giving me that sly little grin, and I'd swear he already knows. It's no secret that I don't have much of a poker face, and Jonathan knows me all too well.

Phlox, T'Pol, and Cutler are to the right of me, and they are plotting and planning the next day's sampling festivities. There's some minor disagreement going on, because Cutler snatches Phlox's padd from him and starts pulling up some data and gesturing at it. Phlox nods and then laughs, and T'Pol just raises one eyebrow a little, then nods. I think we're all in for a busy day tomorrow. But I'm glad they are having fun. It must be tough being an exobiologist on a spaceship. At least I get to play with my engines every day.

I can hear the Captain. "On that note, Lieutenant, I suggest we call it a night." He pats Malcolm on the shoulder.

"Indeed, Captain. We all have a busy day tomorrow," says Phlox. "I suggest we start out bright and early."

We all get up and finish up the duties around the campsite. Malcolm starts to put the fire out, and I kneel right next to him to help. Because I'm such a nice guy. It has nothing to do with the opportunity to rub my leg against his, to be in contact with his body even in this small way.

"You're not still flauntin' that badge thing over the Cap'n, are you?" I tease as I hand him the bucket of dirt.

Malcolm chuckles. "Of course I am. Can't help that I was a better scout than he." He scoops some dirt onto the dying fire.

"Wish I was sharing a tent with you tonight," I whisper. I'll be bunking with the Captain tonight, and Malcolm has the honor of sharing a tent with Dr. Phlox.

"Not so sure that would be a good idea, Commander. One thing would lead to another, and with the way you yell and carry on during intimate moments, it could get embarrassing."

I'm glad it's dark out because I suspect I'm blushing just a bit. "I can't help it."

"Can't say I'm complaining. I find it rather motivating." Malcolm adds one last shovelful of dirt onto the banked fire.

"You're so damn sweet, Malcolm."

"Right." I can barely see his face, but I'll bet he's rolling his eyes.

"Have a fun night with Phlox. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, you hear?" I furtively glance around, and, seeing that no one is looking, I drop a quick kiss on Malcolm's cheek. His skin is warm against my lips. Even that brief touch sends a thrill through my body. Then I head toward my tent.

***

I sit on my sleeping bag and pull off my uniform. I can't decide whether to sleep in my underwear or what. I watch the Captain out of the corner of my eye and see that he's putting on sweats, so I do the same.

"All set?" he asks, hand on the lamp, ready to switch it off.

"Wait a second, Cap'n." I unzip my sleeping bag completely and perform a thorough inspection of the interior. Jonathan starts to chuckle and I scowl at him. I don't see what is so funny. "Can't be too careful on these planets, sir." When I'm satisfied, I zip it up partially, nod to Jon, and slide in. He turns off the light, still laughing just a bit.

We both lie in the darkness for a few minutes, listening to the wind in the trees. I wonder what Malcolm is doing.

"Seems like old times, doesn't it, Trip?"

We've spent a fair bit of time camping out together, not all of it Starfleet related. We've had fun together, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the whole thing. "Yeah. It's nice. We haven't been off the ship in some time." I pause, then roll over to face him, my head propped up on my hand. "Let me ask you something, Cap'n. Has it been everything you expected it to be?"

"Commanding the Enterprise?" Jon is thoughtful for a minute. Then he answers. "It's been more than I ever imagined it could be. More exciting, more terrifying, more agonizing, more thrilling—more fun than I ever could have dreamed."

That about sums up my feelings, too. "You know, we're making history—"

"—With every light year," the Captain finishes for me. "Now let me ask you something, Trip." In the darkness I can see him turn to face me. He sighs and slowly says, "How come you haven't told me about you and—"

My heart nearly stops in my chest. He knows. The Captain knows. "Oh, shit Captain," I say, fast. I feel like a heel. "I'm sorry. Malcolm wanted to keep it a secret, and I just didn't know—"

"Malcolm? You're involved with Malcolm?" He sounds downright surprised.

"Malcolm? Did I say Malcolm?" God damn. He didn't know. But he sure as hell does now.

"Yes Trip, Malcolm. That's what I heard you say."

"Oh. I guess that's what I said then." I'm not making any sense, I realize. I can't believe I just spilled the beans like that.

"Actually, Trip, I knew you were involved with someone, I just didn't know who. Malcolm, huh?"

He actually sounds a little amused. I'm not sure why. But I'm feeling like the biggest idiot in the world, having just blurted it out. Although to be honest, if Jonathan asked me point-blank, I would have answered him. He deserves that much. "Well, Captain, it's Malcolm. We've been involved for about three months now."

"So why didn't you tell me, Trip?" He sounds hurt. "You didn't have to keep it from me."

"I wanted to tell you, but Malcolm didn't, and I was worried about the whole 'fraternizing' thing, and, well, you're the Cap'n now…"

Jonathan interrupts my babbling. "Trip, you know that whole 'no fraternizing' policy is pretty much a joke. No one enforces it. And I may be the captain of this crew, but you are still my friend. I thought you knew you could trust me. I don't ever want you to think you can't come and talk to me about something."

His voice is gently scolding, but I can hear the hurt in it too. I feel like a jerk. But I'm also relieved that it's out. "Thanks Cap'n. I know. I just—I don't know what I was thinking. I'm sorry."

"Don't be," he says gently. "And I like Malcolm. He treating you right?"

I can't tell if he's kidding or not. "He's wonderful." I try not to sound too starry-eyed and gushy, but I don't think I've been successful.

"Good. I have noticed a certain, let's just say, twinkle in your eye lately. The kind you get when you're getting laid on a regular basis."

"Captain!" Now I'm really embarrassed.

"So is this the first time you've had a relationship with another man? Other than lusting madly after that bartender on Jupiter station?"

"Great, Cap'n. Like I'm not embarrassed enough, you had to go and remind me of how I made a fool of myself over that guy." I lie on my back, staring up at the tent in dismay. Another in a long series of folks where the feeling was not at all mutual.

"Now, Trip, George was the fool," Jonathan says kindly.

"Nice of you to say, sir." We're quiet for a minute, then I realize Jonathan is still waiting for an answer. "Yes, it's the first relationship I've had with another guy." Talking about this kind of stuff with Jonathan makes me want to squirm. And not the same kind of squirming Malcolm inspires in me.

"You and Malcolm." Jonathan is quiet for minute. "You two are so different. I guess opposites really do attract?"

"I guess so, Cap'n." That comment makes me think. Malcolm and I are opposites in a lot of ways. And we're certainly attracted. But we also drive each other crazy on occasion.

"I'm happy for you, Trip."

I know he really is. "Thank you, Cap'n."

We bid each other goodnight. It takes me a while to fall asleep. It feels strange not to be all wrapped up in Malcolm. I've gotten used to the smell of him in my bed, the feel of his hard, hot body against mine, the way he grasps my hand and holds it against his chest as he dozes off. Funny how fast you can get accustomed to being with someone like that.

***

Breakfast is a pleasant affair. Jonathan surprises everyone, except me, of course, by making pancakes. It's my favorite part of camping with Jonathan. Everyone is very appreciative, and we all dig in with gusto.

When we are finished, we all get our assignments. T'Pol starts to get the gear ready, then just stands there, looking kind of confused.

"Crewman Cutler, were you using the EM analyzer this morning?"

Cutler replies, "No, Subcommander. I haven't seen it since we were on Enterprise."

"It is no longer here." T'Pol turns to Phlox, who just shrugs and shakes his head. She looks inquisitively at each of us in turn, and we deny any knowledge of it.

"Maybe you forgot to bring it?" I suggest brightly.

She just gives me a withering glare and doesn't deign to answer. Okay, so it was a stupid question. We spend some time rummaging around the camp looking for it, but it doesn't turn up.

"I'm sure we can make do without it," Phlox says. "After all, our scanners cover almost the same range."

"But the dedicated analyzer is far more accurate, Doctor."

I can see that T'Pol is frustrated, but because the instrument is nowhere to be found, she eventually agrees with the good doctor. She gives us our sampling assignments and gear. Malcolm and I are heading due north.

As we all pick up our gear bags, T'Pol says to me, "Commander Tucker, I recommend that you avoid smelling any flowers that you may come across."

I give her a double take as I hear snickering behind me. "Jeez, you get stoned on pollen one time and no one ever lets you forget it," I sulk.

"Trip," the captain reminds me, "you did almost kill her."

So he has a point there.

"I'll keep a close eye on him, sir," says Malcolm. I glare at him but he just stares back at me innocently. Then looks down my body and back up again, very pointedly. Oh.

"If he starts giving you any trouble, just stun him," the Captain says.

I just throw my hands in the air and start heading north. At least I think it's north.

PART 2

Soon Malcolm and I are walking through a field, armed with sample vials and a padd describing our sampling plan. It seems to include a lot of dirt, for some reason. If you ask me, dirt is one of those things you make sure you don't bring back onto a ship. At least not near any warp engines. But heck, it makes the biologists excited, so I dutifully fill yet another vial as Malcolm investigates the small insects running around the stalks of the grassy stuff. The sample plans include "anything that looks interesting," which I don't quite get, but Malcolm seems to take it right in stride and is on the lookout for "interesting." I guess it was all that Eagle Scout training he had.

As he carefully taps some bugs into the vial, I call out casually, "Oh, by the way, Malcolm?"

There must be something in my tone of voice that gives away my nervousness because he turns around and stares at me. "What is it, Trip?"

"The Cap'n knows about us."

"What?" He snaps the lid of the vial closed. "Trip, I can't believe—you know how I felt about him knowing about us. I can't believe you told him. When I precisely asked you not too." His voice sounds cool and frosty.

"Did you really think we could keep it from him forever?" He wasn't expecting to, was he?

"I had just hoped I would have some say in the matter."

I'm poking at the dirt with the sampling spatula. I knew this would upset him. "Listen, Malcolm, I'm sorry. It was just that he could tell I was involved with someone, and, well, it was easy for him to figure out who." Especially when I blurted it right out. But it was sort of the truth, I figured. No sense letting Malcolm know what an idiot I can be sometimes. Although I suspect the thought has already occurred to him.

I look away from my dirt and steal a glance at Malcolm. He's collecting more bugs, bright blue ones this time. His face is stony. "Malcolm?" I ask. "The Captain is my friend. He's okay with this. More than okay."

"Well, I'm glad he's okay with it," says Malcolm.

"Isn't that what matters? And really, Malcolm, it's a small crew. Everyone knows each other's business. Did you really think we could keep it a secret forever?"

"You just don't understand, Trip." His tone has reached icy. Along with his eyes. Then he walks away from me and begins to study the branches of a nearby bush.

I'm getting worried. I don't like this cool business. If he had blown up at me, it would have been all right. I can deal just fine with Malcolm being pissed at me. As a matter of fact, I kind of like it when Malcolm is all fired up, even when I'm just as mad at him as he is at me. We've had some good fights. And even better make-up sex. Lots of make-up sex. But I don't know how to deal with the coldness. It's not something I have any frame of reference for. I can't decide if I should just leave him alone for a while, or try to get him to tell me what's going on in his head. I keep watching him as he carefully lifts the broad leaves, examining the underside of each one for, I suppose, more bugs. He jumps a bit as something large buzzes up out of the bush and flies off.

I can't stand it any more. I put my vials down and march right over to him. "Malcolm, how can I understand if you won't tell me?" I ask.

He gives me a cool stare. "I don't want to talk about it right now." Then he goes back to his bug hunt.

***

We spend the rest of the afternoon in silence, speaking to each other oh-so-politely, and only when we absolutely need to. By time the sun is getting low in the sky, I am ready to explode. I just don't handle the cold-shoulder treatment well. It's not how we do it at home. Where I'm from, we holler and wave our arms around, and sometimes we throw things, but then it's over and done with. It might take a couple of years of hollering, like with my Aunt Ruthie and Aunt Belinda. But now, at least as far as I know, the two sisters are friends again.

But this, I don't know how to fix. It's one of the parts of Malcolm I just don't get. Is this how the Reeds did it at home? It must have been awful, if you ask me. Silence is not a good thing. Right now I'm not exactly sure what he's upset about. The Captain is okay with us being involved. Isn't that what Malcolm had been worried about? I personally wouldn't mind if the whole entire crew knew we were lovers. But right now, only the Captain knows for sure. And he was kind of upset with me for keeping it from him. I still feel like of bad about that. I really think I hurt his feelings.

I toss one more scoopful of dirt into a duly marked vial. I'm tired of this sampling thing and tired of the great outdoors. I'm sweaty, my uniform has dirt on it, and I probably have some "interesting" bugs in my pockets and up my pants leg. I look around for Malcolm.

He's about 50 meters away from me, sorting through his stash of vials. He doesn't look hot and sweaty at all. And his uniform is clean. I don't know how he manages that. Always the proper officer, even while on sampling duty. A thought occurs to me. He has always been concerned with being proper. Obeying the rules. It's a Reed kind of thing, from what I know of his family. Is it the fact that he's breaking the rules that's eating at him so much? Or the fact that his Captain knows that he's breaking the rules? Our noble captain, who, in Malcolm's opinion, breaks way too many rules himself? And gets way too familiar with his crew?

Now I have to know for sure. I trot up to him, calling out his name. He turns, and tilts his head to one side, his expression one of patient tolerance. "You're pissed because you're breaking a big old rule and the Captain knows it now!" I announce.

He looks at me like I have two heads. "Don't be daft, Trip," he says, a little too quickly.

But I'm onto him now. "Holier-than-thou Lieutenant Reed, caught breaking the rules. Getting very familiar with a superior officer." I decide to live dangerously. "Because he can't keep his hands off of a certain chief engineer," I add smugly.

Malcolm spins around to face me. "You are so bloody obnoxious, do you know that? I have absolutely no idea what I see in you," he spits out.

"Let me see. I'm gorgeous, charming, and witty, have great taste in men, and I am very good with my hands." I wag my eyebrows at him to emphasize that last part.

"What you have is a dangerously overinflated ego." He turns back to his vials, but not before I see a ghost of a smile on his face. The feeling of relief hits me like a physical force. There's hope for us yet.

Malcolm finishes fiddling around with his vials. I just stand there next to him, watching. Every now and then he gives a little look my way but I'm not moving. Finally he pulls out his padd and checks it. "We have one more set of samples to take, Commander, over there, by the river," he says in a very businesslike fashion.

I go back to get my pack, and we begin walking through the field together. The grass is almost waist-high here, which concerns me just a mite. You never know what could be lurking beneath. But I push forward bravely, with both the grass and Malcolm.

"So, did startin' a relationship with me go against your better judgment?" I ask.

"Completely." He gives me a look that pretty much says it still does. "Officers of disparate ranks should not fraternize. It's not appropriate."

He's very serious and I get scared again, because he says it like it's one of the great truths of the universe. I had no idea he felt that deeply about it. I touch his shoulder and stop walking. "Malcolm, are you sayin' you don't want to be with me any more? That what we are doing is wrong?"

He shakes his head. "No, I'm not saying that at all. I love you," he says mournfully, as if it's his greatest misfortune in life. "But you and I being lovers—it's just difficult for me. It goes against who I am. Everything I've ever been."

"Well, sorry I'm causin' you so much trouble," I say, feeling more than a little miffed now. Because being with Malcolm feels so right to me. So—necessary. Like breathing. I don't understand why it can't be that way for him.

He sighs. "I suppose I will just have to adjust to the fact that I'm engaging in inappropriate behavior. Quite deliberately so."

I take his hand, and he doesn't pull back. "Change is good for a person, Malcolm. Trust me. We will make this work." We have to. I can't bear the thought of the alternative.

He squeezes my hand. "I trust you," he says softly. "I always did." Then he sighs and looks out over the field. "I'm still terribly embarrassed to face the Captain. Especially considering what I said regarding his command style. His familiarity with his crew."

"Don't you worry about the Captain. He understands a lot about people. You just don't have much experience being inappropriate, do you?" I ask.

He shakes his head, somewhat regretfully. "We're gonna have to work on that."

***

I watch Malcolm as Malcolm watches the birds floating on the river. I think we're okay now. We've finished with our sampling at last. I'm still thinking about what he said to me. That being with me goes against his better judgment. I don't want our relationship to be something that he has to struggle with in order to accept. I know we are two very different people, but we love each other. Love conquers all, doesn't it? I wonder if he believes that.

The breeze is ruffling his hair and he looks pensive. And of course I can't resist him. I have to touch him. I need to touch him.

I lean over and kiss his neck, just beneath his ear.

Predictably, Malcolm "Not-While-We're-On-Duty" Reed twists away and protests. "Trip, what are you doing?" he demands.

"Had to give you just a little kiss."

Malcolm's giving me that high-and-mighty look. I step forward and reach to kiss him again, but he moves away. "Oh, no, you don't."

I roll my eyes. "Malcolm, what would it hurt to be just a little inappropriate here—there ain't no one around for miles. And we're—we're samplin'. That's not exactly bein' on duty." I wave my arms at the gear.

Malcolm looks thoughtful for a moment, and I immediately take advantage of it. Before he knows what's happening, I'm hugging him close and kissing the hell out of him. I'm real relieved when he doesn't even hesitate but kisses me right back. We're lingering over the kiss, mouths open, tongues meetin' and greetin', and my hands are sliding down his back, but before they reach their destination, he pushes me off and backs away.

"Oh, no you don't, Mr. Tucker."

"What?" I try real hard to look innocent.

"That's why I should never kiss you while on duty."

"Why?"

Malcolm gets a threatening look on his face, like a thunderstorm waiting to happen, and begins to approach me. "Because I immediately want more than just a kiss."

"Me too." I'm touched that he feels the same way. "And what's wrong with that?" Isn't that what being lovers is all about? I don't even realize I'm stepping back from him.

He's stepping closer, and I've backed myself against a great big tree. He's looking pretty mean, although I know he's messing with me. I like him like this, though. It gets me really, really turned on. He's right in front of me, almost touching. I put my hands up to touch his shoulders, but he snatches my wrist with his hands and holds them against the tree, next to my head. I get rock hard in one second flat. I like to feel his strength. He's not hurting me or anything, but I get a sense of the power behind that grip. I try to kiss him but he pulls his head back out of reach.

Then he looks at me thoughtfully. "All right, then, shall we practice being inappropriate, Commander?" Malcolm rubs his crotch against mine, the lightest of touches. His hard-on strokes against mine and I gasp. I'm off balance here, leaning back against the tree, legs spread, and he's staked out a space right in between. "Or do you just want a kiss?" He brushes his lips against mine and slides ever so lightly against my cock again. Barely touching me both times. But I'm breathing heavy, and my cock is throbbing, my balls are aching.

"More than a kiss now."

His hands move up from my wrists and clasp my hands, fingers intertwining with mine, still holding them by my head. "Am I doing this right?" he teases me, as he continues his cock-to-cock caressing. He watches my face as he tortures me.

"Malcolm," I moan. I'm so turned on I can't think straight.

"I missed you last night." he growls. "Couldn't sleep. I've become so used to having your body pressed up against mine at night."

I'm starting to feel it now, feel the pleasure coiling up inside my body. He's still rubbing against me, so slow and gentle. "Or maybe it's just that I need to be covered in come to sleep now. All sticky and sweaty. Covered with the smell of you. Never thought I'd need that to sleep."

Oh god. To hear him say that. I can't take my eyes off of his. He's looking straight at me, watching me bite my lip as I moan.

"You own me, Trip. How the hell did that happen?" he asks me, earnestly.

All the while he's grinding his hips against mine, slowly increasing the pressure, supplying my straining cock with needed friction. It's wonderful, and it's too much, and I feel the release rising up inside of me and all at once I arch my back and I'm coming.

I've never been more surprised in my entire life.

I open my eyes to Malcolm's astonished face. "Trip?" he asks. Then he grabs my face and kisses me. Holds me close. "Sorry—I didn't mean to—" He looks me up and down.

Damn. I've never come in my pants before. I slide down to the ground, feeling a little shaky. And limp. And ridiculously content. And a little embarrassed. Malcolm sits next to me. I used to have at least a little self-control once upon a time, honest. Poor Malcolm. He probably never had a relationship with someone so horny and clueless before. But the concern on his face is fading, and he's starting to look pleased. And more than just a little smug.

"Sorry," he says at last. Although he's not really looking very sorry at all. "I didn't realize you were, er, about to go off."

"It was the part about the come that got to me," I admit.

"Oh. How very interesting." Malcolm looks thoughtful. I can tell he's filing that one away for further use. "Are you dreadfully uncomfortable?"

"It's fine." I smile at him, even though I'm starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable. I tug at the crotch of my uniform, and see the big wet spot there. Malcolm brushes his hand across it, then takes my hand. He kisses it. I like the feel of his lips on my palm. Tickles a bit. He kisses it again. His face softens.

"You always manage to completely astonish me, Trip," he says softly. "Watching you come like that, with me scarcely touching you—it was incredibly…erotic."

"Really?" Can't say I've ever been accused of being erotic before. Lord knows I wasn't trying to be. I'm not feeling quite so sheepish any more. Especially with the way Malcolm's eyes are burning into me. He looks like he's ready to eat me alive, and my heart starts to race.

He owns me, too. Owned me from the very start.

I want to tell him this but he stands up, smoothing out his uniform and slipping his hands into his pockets to rearrange things beneath. I sigh, thinking of how good he'd taste right now, but I'm thinking we've made a lot of progress already on this inappropriate business, and I decide not to push it. With a great deal of effort, I stand up too. Then the reality of the situation sinks in. I really am uncomfortable. I check my watch and realize we need to be back at camp in less than a half-hour.

"Shit, Malcolm, I got pants full of come and T'Pol's gonna take one sniff and know it." I'm starting to panic. Like I haven't embarrassed myself enough around T'Pol. I doubt she would say anything, but she would just give me that look, the one that says she knows, and I would know that she knows. I shudder, wondering if I can get back to camp and get changed and washed up before anyone else gets there.

Malcolm is beginning to smirk. "You can just tell her that you found sampling to be a so very stimulating experience."

"Somehow, I just don't think she's gonna buy that." I'm frowning at Malcolm, despite the fact that he looks so cute smirking like that. "I'm gonna clean up a bit." I start toward the river, then pause. "We're goin' to be okay now, aren't we?"

Malcolm ruffles my hair and kisses me.

I smile again and head for the riverbank. I kneel on the bank, unzip my coverall, slip my arms out of the sleeves, and start to pull my shirt over my head when something yanks on my uniform. I yelp and almost fall into the water.

Malcolm comes running up, worried. "What is it?"

My uniform sleeve is hanging in the water. "I don't know. My uniform caught on something, I guess."

Then to our mutual astonishment, a little green fishlike creature pops out of the water, grabs the sleeve with two small hands, and pulls hard. He's not much bigger than a squirrel, but I'm so surprised and off balance that this time I do fall into the water.

"Shit," I sputter. The water is shallow, but the bank is muddy, and now the fish has his buddies helping him out. Three of them are pulling on my sleeve. "Give me that back," I demand, pulling on it but slipping on the mud as I do so. I flop further into the water. "Malcolm!"

Malcolm is no help at all. He's on his knees, laughing so hard that there are tears running down his face.

"Oh, sure, this is real funny, Malcolm," I growl. Although I'm fascinated by the sight. I've never seen him laugh like that. So freely. It's—it's very sexy. I want him.

Another tug on my sleeve distracts me. Those little guys just don't give up. I'm kneeling in mud, and the water is only up to my waist. But when I try to get up, they pull hard and I lose my balance again. I'm tempted to just take the damn uniform off and give it to them, but I just can't bear the thought of marching back to camp in my underwear.

"Do you want me to stun them for you?" Malcolm manages to gasp out.

"Yes!" I shout back. But he's starting to recover, and finally reaches a hand out to me. I grab his lower arm with my very muddy hand, and he pulls me out of the water. I use my free hand to yank hard enough on the sleeve to free it from those stubborn little buggers. We scramble back away from the water and the fish disappear with a distinct plunk.

"You all right, Trip?" Malcolm asks solicitously, but I can tell he's about to go off again.

I look down at myself. I'm a mess. I run a muddy hand through my hair before I realize what I'm doing. "Just fine. Malcolm. Just fine." At least I won't have to worry about T'Pol smelling anything other than mud.

PART 3

Just as we reach camp, we meet up with the Captain and T'Pol. They both stare at me, of course. T'Pol gives a delicate little sniff, and I freeze, wondering if she could smell it—no, the water would have washed everything away. Vulcan noses aren't that sensitive, are they?

The Captain finally asks me what happened, and I'm trying explain, ignoring the little snorts of laughter from Malcolm when something strange catches my eye.

"Cap'n," I say, pointing to at the campsite as we enter. "Why is there a sleeping bag in the middle of the site?" Then I realize it's moving. "God damn!" I run over to it, grab one end, and pull hard.

Jonathan's right behind me, and he grabs me when I almost lose my balance as the damn critters pull back. He lifts the bag up and stares in astonishment at the fishlike creatures hanging on for dear life on the underside. I notice with a start that they have six legs. No wonder they pull so hard.

"Trip?" He's starting to laugh.

"Cap'n, trust me, it's no laughing matter." I'm trying to shake them off the sleeping bag when I hear a shriek of dismay from the other side of camp.

"My samples!" I hear splashing and turn to see Crewman Cutler running into the water, the shiny metal sampling case floating ahead of her, just out of reach. Because it's got a lot of air in it, the little buggers are having hard time getting it under, and she manages to rescue it—but not before going down face-first in the shallow, mucky water. Fortunately, Phlox is there to pull her out. She's sputtering and covered with mud and river weed, and she's cursing like a sailor.

And speaking of cursing, I can hear Malcolm behind me.

"Oh, bloody hell, they're all over the damn place," he snarls.

He's right. Quite a few of our items are sliding toward the water at an alarming rate. Some of them being carried, others dragged or pushed. I snatch up a padd and two scanners. "Let go!" I shake a scanner until the fish drops off it. It actually has the nerve to grab onto my pants leg when it hits the ground, as if it's going to take me home. Single-minded little creatures.

I realize I have absolutely no idea what to do with the rescued equipment. There's at least fifty of the little things scampering around camp now. They are incredibly agile, running over the top of the tents, tugging at flaps, support tubing—anything they can wrap their little suction cup fingers around.

There's more splashing at the water's edge. T'Pol and the Captain are rescuing more vial cases. One of them looks suspiciously like the case Cutler just rescued. "Subcommander? Doc? I'm open to any suggestions—" I can hear the Captain yell out just before he slips and goes down. "Malcolm? Trip?"

Malcolm looks as bewildered as I feel. He's holding a padd and an air sampler in his hand, looking around desperately. He tries to put the items on the table, but before he's even set them down, three fishes race up and start grabbing. He lifts the padd and sampler again. He turns, and I see a fish clamber up his backside. Before I can even speak, it grabs his phase pistol, tugs hard, and runs off with it held high above its head.

Malcolm drops what he's holding and runs after it, cursing a blue streak. He does a very impressive diving tackle at the edge and gets his hands around the phaser, but then he slips and goes into the water anyway.

Now it's my turn to laugh as I hurry to the water's edge to help with the sample cases. Not that the situation is all that funny, but then again, compared to some of the things we've faced, it's not so bad at all. And the Captain's getting a handle on it.

"T'Pol! Get to the shuttle! Everyone else, set up a line, and we'll pass the equipment hand to hand until it's stowed away."

We hustle to get in place, and soon there's some sort of order to the chaos. It's kind of like a bizarre relay race as we hand off various items to each other, but fortunately, the fish don't venture all the way to the shuttle, and the most critical items are stashed away safely.

The tents are more of a challenge. No matter how carefully we fold them up, there's always a fish stuck inside. And one of them, after it's folded up, disappears into the water. I actually feel kind of good when it does. I mean, those poor critters were really determined to take something back with them.

***

The shuttle ride back seems to take twice as long as the ride down to the planet. Maybe it's because I'm wet, cold and covered with river weed. We all are. Cutler and T'Pol are clutching the sample cases, happy that their vials all made it back in one piece. The Captain's getting mud all over the shuttle controls but he's teasing T'Pol, telling her that she may have a career in mud wrestling in her future. She is not amused. I get the feeling she's not happy about being plastered with mud and river weed, although I have to admit she carries it off with great dignity. Meanwhile, Cutler has to explain to Phlox what mud wrestling is.

"Do you think they were some form of intelligent being?" I ask Cutler when she's finished.

"Maybe we should send Hoshi down to talk with them," offers Malcolm with a grin.

"Well," she says thoughtfully, "I did manage to scan one briefly, while it was hanging off the edge of a scanner. I didn't detect any higher brain function."

"So what did they want with the stuff?" I ask.

"Perhaps," says Phlox, "they were gathering nesting material."

"They must be mighty pleased with the tent then," Jonathan says. "Think if we go back tomorrow we'll find them camping out in it?"

We all laugh at that one. Except T'Pol, of course.

Now Phlox is scanning all of us. "What's the verdict, Doc?" I ask, hoping beyond hope we don't need decon this time. Malcolm is irresistibly rumpled and muddy. I have plans for him, and those plans do not include decon and the rest of the away team. No, my plans include just the two of us.

"Hmmmm." Phlox just looks at his scanner thoughtfully as he scans me. Then smiles. "No parasites. No pathogens. You'll all be happy to know, no decon."

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, happily anticipating, long, hot showers. I know I am.

***

We stroll through the corridors, our waterlogged boots squishing as we walk. We're getting some strange looks from the various crewmen we pass, but Malcolm merely nods his head in greeting. Dignity personified, that's my Malcolm.

When we finally get inside my quarters I kiss Malcolm the way I've been wanting to kiss him all day—slow and easy, my tongue deep in his mouth, checking out the territory. Malcolm moans into my mouth, returning the kiss with interest. His mouth is wet and hot and utterly delicious. His arms snake around my neck and my hands find their way to his ass. I pull him in close so our groins are touching. I can feel his hard-on and I know he can't miss mine through our damp, muddy uniforms. The rough cloth feels cool against my skin. In no time at all the kiss goes from slow and easy to something more crazy. We hold each other tight and pour everything we've got into it. I think my lips are going to be bruised but I don't want to stop. His tongue is sliding against mine with the same rhythm of the thrusting of his hips and I'm starting to whimper. I really don't want to come in my pants again. I pull away. I need to breathe. So does Malcolm, I think. He's looking mighty dazed.

"Shower?" I say, panting.

Malcolm unzips my uniform and pushes it off my shoulders. "No."

"Really?" I'm surprised.

"Really. I want you like this. I like the way you smell right now. Earthy. Green. Mmmm. Good."

His voice is a low, needy growl which goes right to my cock. Not that it wasn't happily standing at attention already from that kiss. Then he's pulling my shirt up over my head and I inhale sharply as his mouth lands on my nipple. "Oh god, Malcolm—" He starts on it with his tongue and I'm totally gone by time he's using his teeth. I'm arching my back toward him, one hand in his hair, the other clutching at his uniform. He's running his hands up and down my back, then moves over to make a fuss over the other nipple. My knees threaten to give out.

He stops to continue undressing me and my brain clears a bit—enough to realize we aren't nearly naked enough. I step out of my boots and pull my uniform off the rest of the way. I hear him laugh and look at him curiously.

"Trip, how did you get so much muck inside your bloody uniform?"

I look down, and notice my chest, stomach and right leg are pretty dirty, liberally sprinkled with river weed. I shrug and grin, then hug him close, rubbing the bulge at his crotch.

He presses himself into my hand with a little moan. I stroke him some more, and he grabs at my shoulders for a second, then decides his uniform is in the way and struggles to get out of it. I help him out because he seems to be a little distracted by my hand on his dick. I move it only long enough to pull his clothes past his hips; then my hand is wrapped around the hot flesh. He shudders and cries out at the contact. I hold him close, and kiss any part of him that I can reach. I lick his collarbone and taste dirt.

Malcolm stumbles a bit because his pants are around his ankles. So we stop what we're doing and I help him get clear of it. I take the opportunity to look over his wonderfully naked body and find he's taken just as much mud and river weed back to the ship as I have. He's got streaks of the stuff decorating his shoulders and chest, plus a whole mess from the knees down. He looks hot—all messy and turned on. I wrap my arms around his naked, dirty body and decide we really do smell kind of good. I still expect him to drag me off into the shower but he just rubs his body against mine, smearing the mud around, nuzzling at my neck, making a satisfied little sound. It is still such a thrill to have Malcolm, naked, rubbing against me, practically purring.

I take his head in my hands. He has muck in his hair, too. "I love you, Malcolm," I tell him earnestly. I kiss him again. And again. I want him. My body aches with how much I want him.

"Trip, if you only knew how much I love you. Need you." He kisses me, then pulls me over to the bed. I tug the covers off the bed, figuring we should try and avoid getting everything in the room dirty. While Malcolm leans over to get the lubricant I sit on the edge of the bed, find a clean spot on his belly and start nibbling. I love the feel of his skin in my mouth, so sleek and silky, yet I can feel the hard muscle moving underneath. All of my previous lovers have been women, so everything about Malcolm's body has been a discovery for me. He's lean, muscular, and strong, and if I'm a little rough with him, he likes it all the better. I trail kisses down to his hip, and sink my teeth into the soft skin there. He gasps, but I can feel his dick twitch against my chest. I look up at his face, and he smiles, then answers my unasked question.

"Yes, I liked that."

I'm pleased, and intrigued. I'm holding his cock again, and move down to taste it, but he pushes me back on the bed and climbs in next to me. We're kneeling, facing each other. I touch the mud on his shoulder and think about being on the planet with him. I pull him close and hug him again. "Bein' with you Malcolm—needing you, needing your touch—feels so right to me," I tell him. "I wish it was the same for you."

Malcolm closes his eyes. "When we're together like this, just you and I, naked, it feels right to me too," he whispers. "We belong together. Nothing else exists. Only our love. Our passion."

The way he says it shakes me to my very core. I understand, I think, how deeply he feels it. How much he loves me. "You really mean that, don't you," I say. "I mean, to overcome how wrong, how inappropriate it seems to you for us to be together…"

He opens his eyes. "I must be madly, insanely in love with you." He doesn't sound sad at all now, but actually pretty happy about it. He touches my face with his fingers, just barely brushing my cheek with his fingertips. "I'm envious, you know."

"Of what?"

"It comes so easy to you. The way that you love. No holds barred. It's so bloody marvelous to be loved by you."

"It is?" I tell him. "Good." I press my forehead to his. "Because you're kind of stuck with me. I'm not goin' anywhere, no matter how big a pain in the ass you are." I'm being a wiseass now, because no one has ever said anything that sweet to me and I don't know what else to do. I think Malcolm understands that, because he just laughs a little and rubs his body against mine again. And all at once I just want to feel him loving me, to feel as much of him as possible.

"Malcolm," I say, "make love to me. Love me."

He looks at my face, then gets it. "Are you sure?"

"Yes." I've never been more certain of anything in my life. I want him in me.

"Oh."

I'd swear he looks nervous. I'm not at all. I lay back and wrap one leg around him, stroking his back with my heel. He looks me over, and I can see the love and desire in his eyes, and it's all for me. It feels so god damned right. He leans himself over my body, kissing my nose and my lips. Then he licks my mouth. I lick him back. Our mouths meet for a long, luscious kiss. Then he tells me very earnestly, "I love you Trip." He kisses me some more.

Then I get a little speech from him. "Now, if anything makes you uncomfortable, you let me know. We can stop at any time. It may hurt a little before it starts feeling good."

He's being serious and concerned. It's endearing. But I'm not worried at all. Just real horny. "I know. I trust you, Malcolm. I—oh. Oh. Mmmm."

I'm incoherent because his hand is on my cock, sliding over the tip, then back down again. I brace my feet against the mattress and push my hips up, needing more contact. His hand goes further down, cupping my balls, cradling them in his hand. He's so gentle. I lay my head back, close my eyes and just enjoy having Malcolm touch me with those wonderful hands. He stokes my cock again, then I feel the other hand between the cheeks of my ass, fingers cool and slick. I pull my knees up to my chest as one of those fingers glides inside of me. It's more than a little weird, but not unpleasant. Malcolm takes one of my legs and pulls it up over his shoulder. His finger pushes in further, and I'm feeling a little fullness and then even more so when a second finger goes in. I realize I've tensed up in anticipation so I take a deep breath and try to relax. He's rubbing my stomach, murmuring soothing words. When he starts move his fingers inside of me it feels strange, and oh, it's starting to feel nice, very nice, then—I'll be damned—it's a whole lot more than nice. "Whoa, Malcolm—that's—ooohh—good. Real good." I'm squirming, trying to push down on his fingers, trying anything to get more of him in me.

He grins at me, looking a mite relieved. I realize he's been kind of nervous about me liking this. He kisses the inside of my muddy thigh, then nibbles, which, along with the fingers in my ass, makes me just throw my head back and groan. Things get a little tighter and I think he's worked another finger in there. I make as many encouraging noises as I can, which isn't too big a challenge. I probably couldn't stop making noise if I had to.

"Feeling all right?" asks Malcolm.

I raise my head to look at him. "Whaddya think?" I manage between gasps.

My leg slips from his shoulder as he leans forward to kiss me. "I think I'm the luckiest man in the world." He kisses me again, tongue in my mouth as he thrusts his fingers into me, and I almost come right there and then. I grab his shoulders, and run my hands down his back. It feels strange for a second, then I realize the mud is drying onto to his skin. I wonder if I'm getting dirt up my ass. Not that I care much at this point.

Malcolm slips from my grip as he pulls himself back. The fingers come out of my butt and I miss them immediately. He gets himself ready, applying lube to his erection and repositioning my legs. I toss him a pillow and he slides it under my butt. Something hard and blunt pushes against my anus and I'm thinking no way is that ever going to go in. He pushes harder, grunting, and then—he's in me. It burns a little and I feel tight and full. I must have gasped or something because Malcolm holds still.

"Okay?" he asks.

I look at the concerned face above me. He's a little flushed and is starting to sweat. "Yeah, it don't hurt much at all."

He slides the rest of the way in, nice and slow, and holds still again, waiting until I'm comfortable with it. I wiggle around some under him, getting used to the feel of him inside me. He reaches a hand out, trembling a little, and strokes my face. "My god, Trip, I'm inside of you," he says, and I catch a note of wonder in his voice. "I've wanted to—for so long. Wanted to make you feel as good as you make me feel."

I can tell he's struggling with it, wanting to do more, but holding back for me. I can feel his balls up against my ass, and his warm, dirty body against my thighs. This is good. I like this. I don't know why I waited so long. His arms are propping him up, on either side of me, and I can't resist running my hands along them.

"Keep goin'." I tell him. "Keep goin' and don't ever stop." I want him inside of me forever.

"Never." Malcolm whispers and begins to move in and out of me. It still burns a little, but as he pushes in, he hits that spot, and I practically see stars. I yell and buck up underneath him. I slide my legs from his shoulders and wrap them around his waist. I can feel him in me, feel his strength, the way he's moving, sliding into me. I didn't know I could feel so much in there. He's so deep inside of me it's like he's part of my body. He's touching places in me that have never been touched, it feels so good and I didn't even know I could feel good there. There's pleasure radiating out from deep in my soul, there's river weed falling from Malcolm's hair onto my chest, and the dried dirt on our bodies is turning back to mud from our sweat. We're moving together, rocking, skin upon skin, and I want more, I want it faster and harder, I need it because he's driving me insane with pleasure.

"Trip—wait—slow down—" Malcolm gasps, then has the nerve to grab my hips and hold still.

"No—sonofabitch, don't stop—fuck!" The words pour out of my mouth before I can stop them. I can't even believe it's me saying such things. I'm not usually this rude.

"Such a filthy mouth." Malcolm is panting as he presses down to kiss my filthy mouth. His stomach rubs against my cock and I yelp into his mouth. I wrap every limb I have around him and we start moving again. "God, Trip. You are so—" With a small cry he pushes himself back up, grabs my legs and pounds into me with long, sweeping strokes. "You are—" he groans, and I'm groaning too, because now my whole body is alive and singing, every stroke bringing me closer and closer to oblivion. I can't take it any more, I grab at my own cock, rubbing it roughly, and for a second, I teeter at the edge, and then at last the orgasm rushes through me, and I'm overcome with long, hard shakes while Malcolm cries out my name and comes too.

After it's over, we just stay in position, Malcolm still inside of me, head hanging down, chest heaving. Then he rubs his cheek against my knee. "You are so astonishing, Trip," he finally says.

I'm just lying there, eyes closed, completely unable to move. Now I know the meaning of the term "thoroughly fucked." Every molecule in my body is happy and content. Fantastically happy. "Love you too, darlin'," I mumble.

"Hope you're not sore tomorrow." He slides his softening penis out of me, which makes me twitch.

"I don't care." I feel a little achy right now, but I'll never admit it. "Let's do it again." I smile at him. "Now."

"Does that mean you liked it?"

I open one eye and look at him. Does he really need to ask? "I'm not sure. Let's try it again."

He nips my knee. I take his hand in mine.

"It was amazin' Malcolm. You're amazin'."

"I'm not amazing. I'm a difficult, neurotic pain in the arse."

"My ass feels just fine. And I'm amazed. At the way you love me."

He laughs and shakes his head. Then slowly runs a finger through the mud, river weed, and semen on my chest. "Shower? Then food?"

I shake my head. "Cuddle," I demand, reaching out to him.

He doesn't even hesitate, just smiles and sprawls himself out on my chest. I wrap my arms around him, hugging him close as he tucks his head into my neck. Our legs entwine, and he lets out a contented sigh. "You're good for me, Trip," he murmurs.

I just kiss his mud-filled hair and hold him even tighter.

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