Author: Kylie Lee
Length: ~15,000 words
Pairing: Archer/Tucker, Archer/Reed
Fandom: Star Trek: Enterprise
Type: Slash M/M
Summary: As Archer and Tucker struggle through the desert in "Desert Crossing," Archer finds himself responsible for his new lover's well-being and safety.
Feedback: Oh, yes--do please write me with your reaction. I compulsively check my e-mail and the list every twenty minutes after I post a fic, desperately hoping someone will write.
Archive: Yes, at EntSTSlash, Tim Ruben, Archers_Enterprise, Allslash, Situation Room, Luminosity, Complete Kingdom of Slash, and WWoMB; anyone else, yes, but ask first.
Disclaimer: Original material copyright 2002 Kylie Lee. Material taken from the episode is copyrighted by Paramount. This is not an attempt to infringe on Paramount's copyright. No money changed hands; no profit was made. We all know the drill.
Spoilers: "Desert Crossing"
Comments: My gig is canon, and I did my best to work with what I was given--no matter how inconsistent or badly thought out by TPTB. A huge thank-you and garlands of roses to my fabulous betas, Kim, Grrrl, and Sarah. And thanks also to my chat pals, Kipli, Kalita, and the Redhead, for encouragement.
It is more than 40 degrees out, but, as Captain Jonathan Archer had joked earlier, it is a dry heat. He and his chief engineer, Commander Trip Tucker, step out of the shuttlepod and are greeted by the heat and by Zobral, who seems extremely happy to see them. Zobral had hailed them a few days ago with ship systems trouble, and Tucker had been ecstatic: he performed the repairs on the alien ship himself. Zobral has invited Archer and Tucker to dinner on his home planet to say thank you, and even though it means a delay, Archer agreed. Zobral is a tall man who tends to say just what he thinks. He's the kind of man who tells a joke and then laughs at it himself, taking his listeners along, no matter how bad the joke. Cheerful and direct, that's Zobral.
After the climate-controlled coolness of the shuttlepod, the heat is almost overwhelming, but Archer knows that once his body gets acclimated, it won't seem so bad. Zobral leads them to his house in the settlement, and they all step inside. It's cooler, but not by much. Zobral, the perfect host, plies them with food, presses a gift on Archer, something made by a Suliban. The way Zobral is acting, the way he looks at Archer when he invokes the Suliban, is disturbing. A prickle of uneasiness runs down Archer's spine.
The food is wonderful--exotic, spicy--although Archer could have done without knowing the ingredients. It's served on a bunch of little plates, which they hand around. The bread in particular is excellent, rectangular and thin and a little chewy, with brown spots on it where it has been grilled. T'Pol would hate it: most food is eaten with the hands. Zobral seems to have gone all out. He has a servant who pours wine and fetches dishes, a small man in deep blue robes with dark, glittering eyes who watches them closely. They drink yalasat, a cactus wine, and discuss water and their planets.
They are just finishing dinner when a bell sounds. Zobral informs them that it's announcing the start of the geskana match--a game. Apparently Zobral plays. He invites them to play as well. Despite the food they have just eaten, the wine they have just drunk, Archer feels up to it. He's been cooped up on board ship for months now. He wants to stretch his legs, get up enough speed to run flat out. They follow Zobral outside, and the heat hits them, but not as hard as before.
Archer and Tucker, sunglasses on, stand on the sidelines and watch the first quarter of the game. It's hard and fast. The teams are divided by shirts and skins, and Archer can see tattoos down the arms of the shirtless players, black bars or circles decorating the skin. Zobral's chin is tattooed. He also sees tattoos around the neck, on the back, and wonders if they mean anything. All the tattoos seem to be symmetrical in shape, and they are all black--no color. He turns his attention to the men watching the game and is struck by the lack of presence of women. He doesn't see any. Not only are no women playing, but no women are cheering on their lovers, brothers, or sons. There don't seem to be any children, either. Uneasiness strikes, but it's hard to reconcile that feeling with the kindness and openness of their host. He looks at Tucker, whose arms are crossed as he surveys the field. Tucker notices Archer watching him, inclines his head, smiles, then turns his attention back to the game.
Archer does likewise. Geskana seems to be kind of like lacrosse: the players use a stick with a scoop on one end to toss a glowing blue ball around. Goals are scored by maneuvering the ball through a small hole, just a little bigger than the ball itself, punched in a round piece of rock suspended a few meters up, between two pieces of wood sunk into the sand. The game looks to be no rules and full contact: players aggressively knock into each other and throw opponents to the ground as they jockey for position on the field and as they seek to take the ball from their opponents.
Zobral makes a goal, the first in the game. He cheers himself, and Archer has to laugh at the man's unbridled enthusiasm. His teammates join in the cheering. Zobral jogs over to them. "Think you're ready?" he asks, smiling.
"I'll give it a shot, Captain," Tucker volunteers.
"I can't promise we'll win any trophies," Archer cautions.
"This is an ideal game for men like you," Zobral says inexplicably.
They're to play skins, so he and Tucker strip off their shirts. Archer tries to keep his eyes off his lover's body and fails. Tucker is stunning. Tucker sees him looking and gives him a smile and a quick eyebrow raise. Then again, he's looking too. Archer smiles at him; his heart throbs, and he wonders if Tucker can tell, just by looking at his face, what he and the armory officer, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, Tucker's ex-lover, had done together two days before. For a moment, he remembers Reed's face, his abandon, the deep, hot, pulsing pleasure, and the feeling segues into guilt. Then Archer, pushing away the memory, grabs one of the sticks, and he and Tucker jog onto the playing field to meet their teammates.
They don't ask for slack, and they aren't cut any. The young men they're playing with are fast, their hand-eye coordination superb. Archer, feeling old, pushes himself through the slight lethargy caused by the wine at dinner, until it burns off. Tucker seems determined to show how hard he can play too. They both leap for impossible shots, the strange long-handled sticks in their hands becoming more familiar and controllable as they play. Archer and Tucker both take some spectacular falls, but they quickly learn to control the sticks and pass the blue ball with some degree of accuracy. As his body warms, Archer ceases to notice the heat. He slides into the pattern of the game, even picks up some strategy from watching his teammates. He and Tucker work together without discussing it, falling into old, familiar patterns of play from their days of pickup baseball or football games.
It feels wonderful. He enjoys the freedom of being able to leap without hitting his head on a too-low ceiling. He enjoys the sight of a horizon. He enjoys the aggression of the game, the dead run his body can reach when pushed. It's been too long since he's been planetside. He's missed it.
Archer woke up before the alarm went off. He turned and was ridiculously pleased to see Tucker still beside him, asleep on his stomach, the red sheet covering his legs but leaving his back and part of his ass bare. He made himself comfortable and surveyed Tucker for a few long moments. Tucker's body was toned and sculpted--which was to be expected because Enterprise had a rigorous exercise program, heavy on the weights to ensure that bone mass would not be lost, a rule that is a remnant of the days before artificial gravity had been perfected. Everyone on board was buff--with the possible exception of Doctor Phlox. But not everyone on board was beautiful. Tucker was beautiful.
Archer lightly stroked Tucker's back. The skin was soft and faintly furred under his touch. When Tucker stirred, he removed his hand. He wasn't ready for his new lover to wake up. He wanted to look at him, to watch him, a while longer. Tucker's face was turned away from him, but his short, brown-blond hair was mussed from sleep and last night's sex.
Tucker's left arm was tucked under the pillow, and the other was flung out. The fingers of his right hand were curled in. Archer would recognize that hand anywhere--its texture, the play of the muscles, the pattern of the blue veins just under the surface, the way the skin over his knuckles was a little coarser. Competent hands. Hands that could manipulate incredibly complex machinery. Hands that could dance across the smooth top of a console. Hands that could hold cards, break apart a dinner roll, stroke Porthos. Hands that, as he had discovered last night, could incite him, Archer, to heights of pleasure he hadn't experienced before.
Archer found he was smiling. He slid his body up slightly so he could just see Tucker's face in profile--the snub nose, the face younger somehow in sleep. Tucker was here, in Archer's bed. He could get used to that. Archer tentatively touched Tucker's shoulder blade, his hand enjoying the feel of Tucker's sleep-warm body, then stroked down slowly, finally cupping a hand on Tucker's ass. The planes of muscle moved slightly as Tucker stirred. Tucker flipped his head around to face Archer and smiled at him. "Morning, Captain," he said drowsily, his drawl evident.
"Morning." Archer responded. He settled onto an elbow and continued petting Tucker with long, soothing strokes. Then he found a knot in a shoulder and gently worried it with his fingers, and Tucker sighed in pleasure, eyes closing drowsily. "Does this hurt?"
"In a good way."
Archer stroked his fingertips across the knot. "I sometimes wish I could reach in and grab the pain and pull it out long, like pulling string out. I could wind it around my fingers and then throw it away." He trailed a finger down Tucker's back, then returned to the knot. "It never works," he finished. "Why are you so tense?" He regretted the words as soon as he had said them. Tucker's boyfriend had recently broken up with him. Of course he was tense. Tucker had responded to the emotional turmoil by working harder. And seducing Archer. Not that Archer had been at all hard to seduce.
Tucker didn't seem perturbed. "Too much console time. It makes my back seize up too."
Archer laughed at Tucker's hopeful tone, but he obligingly ran his hand down to the small of Tucker's back, then stroked, pushing harder. "Here?" he asked.
"Oh, yeah. Just to the right a little."
Archer sat up, then straddled Tucker's legs. He used both hands to knead Tucker's back, using a fist to work the small of Tucker's back. Tucker gave theatrical moans to help him along. Archer pushed hard, stroked hard, Tucker's flesh warming under his hands. Meanwhile, touching Tucker was having an effect Archer should have seen coming: Archer was growing hard, and it wasn't just the automatic early morning hard-on. He slid his cock between the cheeks of Tucker's ass and stroked gently as he continued rubbing Tucker's back. When he finished, he slid off Tucker and sat cross-legged beside him; in turn, Tucker settled onto his side, his erection showing that he, too, was not immune to touch.
Tucker's hand curled around Archer's hard cock. Archer smiled at the pressure. "I can't believe how big you are," Tucker commented.
Archer had heard that before. "Are you telling me I have a career in the porn industry if this captain thing doesn't work out?"
"You said it, not me." Tucker rubbed up and down Archer's shaft. Archer focused on the sensation, on his pleasure at Tucker's touch. "I don't think you're quite that big. I don't think it reaches down to your knees."
"Yes, it's just a few centimeters short," Archer joked. He slid a hand around Tucker's hip and leaned in for a kiss. It was long and lingering. He loved kissing Tucker in the morning, before Tucker was fully awake. The sleepy look in his eyes, the softness of his lips, the warmth of his skin--it drew him in. "Join me for a shower?"
"Give me a minute first?"
They took turns in the lavatory. Then Archer adjusted the lavatory's thermostat and humidity controls, followed Tucker into the one-person shower, and hit the water. They both managed to get wet and saturate their hair before it clicked off automatically. Enterprise conserved water; long, hot showers were out, but if you turned the heat up in the bathroom and were clever, you could simulate it. Tucker squeezed a generous amount of soap into his hand and began lathering Archer, paying special attention to his chest, arms, and legs, and then, laughing, his cock. Archer relaxed against the stall's wall and enjoyed the feel of Tucker's hands. His erection was a pleasurable throbbing. Then it was his turn, and he was lathering up Tucker, feeling the texture of Tucker's skin change as the soap turned him slick. He focused on Tucker's cock, back, and ass, but he managed to cover all of Tucker's body, including his feet, in bubbles.
Then he was leaning toward Tucker, eyes locked, and he felt his heart rate increase when Tucker put his arms around his shoulders, pulled him against his body, and kissed him. Archer slid a little, feet uncertain on the shower stall floor, then settled against Tucker's body. The two men's tongues twined together, increasingly desperate as the heat between them escalated, caught fire. Tucker's hand closed around Archer's enormous hardness, and Archer's hand closed around Tucker. Tucker's cock felt hot and slick.
They pushed together, then slid, chest against chest, then pushed together again, hands working, tongues demanding, Archer leaning against Tucker. Tucker moaned under Archer's mouth when Archer's fingers focused on Tucker's sensitive spot, and he said "Captain" as his cock jerked hard and rhythmically as he came. Tucker's orgasm triggered Archer's; Archer supported himself with one arm against the shower wall, kissing Tucker hard as his knees became unreliable. The feeling of Tucker's hand on his cock, Tucker's body pressing against his, and Tucker's warm tongue plundering his mouth as he climaxed was indescribable. The pleasure bloomed out from his groin and abdomen, hot and pulsing. Tucker rubbed Archer's cock against Tucker's stomach as come jetted against the engineer's body.
Archer lifted his mouth from Tucker's and said, heartfelt, "Oh, god." He relaxed against Tucker, still pinning him against the wall, and kissed him again, but this time, his mouth was gentle. Archer raised his hands from Tucker's spent cock, trailed them up Tucker's soapy chest, and slid them around Tucker's head, urging it closer. As his mouth nibbled Tucker's, his fingers gently stroked Tucker's jawline and up behind his ears. Tucker's hand caressed Archer's ass and thigh. They kissed for a long few minutes as they recovered, Tucker giving small moans that Archer found deeply erotic. Then Tucker reached out and hit the water, and they were doused in hot wetness. They washed each other's hair next, fingers buried in hair, movements slow and caressing, exchanging languid kisses, Tucker's eyes dark and heavy-lidded. Then another rinse cleared away all the soap. They finally, reluctantly, broke apart as they dried.
Archer didn't want to stop touching Tucker. He wanted to curl up next to Tucker, cuddle Tucker's body next to his. He wanted to stroke Tucker's arms and torso, wanted to admire his musculature with his fingertips. He wanted, more than anything, to be one with Tucker the way they had been one during the Unity, a oneness that transcended the pleasure of the body. He remembered that time in Tucker's quarters, kneeling at Tucker's feet while Tucker sat in a chair, his hands stroking Tucker's legs, with that weird doubling as he both gave and received the touching, a moment between the two of them before the rest of the five that made up the Unity had arrived, mind-linked by the alien creature that had captured them in the cargo hold. That's what he wanted: to give and receive in that feedback loop, longing and giving inextricably mixed.
His heart constricted as he followed Tucker out of the shower into the steamy bathroom proper. It had to be wrong to want so much, to yearn so much. He reached out and caught Tucker's hand in his before Tucker could open the door and exit. Tucker turned to him in inquiry, and Archer brought his hand up and cupped Tucker's neck. He didn't lean in for a kiss; he just looked at his chief engineer, so recently become his lover.
Tucker didn't say a word. He met his captain's eyes directly. He didn't smile or laugh. He simply raised up a hand, warm from the shower, and grasped Archer's wrist gently. Archer could feel Tucker's strong heartbeat, and he became aware of his own heartbeat under Tucker's hand. The beats were slow and steady, pulsing heat and life.
They stayed that way for a few long moments, before Archer dropped his hand, before they exited the bathroom and got dressed.
Archer has just barely missed making a goal. T'Pol calls during the pause while the ball is being reset.
"What's the problem?" Archer asks, walking off to one side. T'Pol wants to talk to him in private.
"I've been contacted by a government official in a city about 200 kilometers from where you are now. He claims that you're in danger."
"What kind of danger?"
"According to him, Zobral and his men are terrorists. They have been responsible for numerous attacks on civilian targets within the city."
Archer feels a prickle of uneasiness. "Maybe I'm wrong, but they don't seem like terrorists to me."
"Perhaps not. But until we're certain who they are, I suggest you return to the ship."
Archer looks over at his teammates, sitting in a row, laughing and joking. He knows their names now. As he turns his attention back to his communicator, he is again struck by the lack of women and children. He remembers the eyes of the man who served them at dinner as they watched him intently, appraisingly. Something is wrong. He hates to think that Zobral is not what he seems. "We're on our way."
He makes up some excuse for Zobral, something about the ship requiring some repairs that can't wait, and Tucker quickly twigs that something is wrong and backs him up. They gather their stuff and prepare to head back to the shuttlepod.
Zobral doesn't want to see them go. He speaks rapidly, his expression intense. "I wanted this to wait until later, but I beg you. Let me explain the real reason I asked you here. You have a reputation for being fair--a man of great integrity. When you hear what I have to say, I am certain you will want to help us."
What the hell? Archer shares a look with Tucker, nods. They follow Zobral back to his house, settle in as Zobral starts his story. It's all too familiar: a caste system; people treated unfairly; lack of political representation. Zobral as much as admits he's a terrorist--but of course, he's really a patriot, seeking to gain the attention of the caste in power, the Torothans, with targeted strikes.
What Archer can't see was how he can help in any way. Then he feels coldness in the pit of his stomach when Zobral mentions the Suliban they freed from the detention camp. The small sculpture Zobral gave him at dinner takes on a new significance. It seems Archer's reputation has preceded him: he is gaining a systemwide reputation as a warrior. Or, he thinks reflectively, an inveterate do-gooder with absolutely no understanding of how his actions affect the power structures in place in this sector of space. Someone like that can be easily manipulated--like Zobral seeks to manipulate him now. He's been such an idiot. Zobral's ship hadn't needed repairs; he'd deliberately sabotaged it so he could seek their help and make contact. So he could lure them to the surface and ask for their help--or insist on it.
Then there is a high-pitched whine, followed by explosions. He feels the concussion through his feet. His uneasiness escalates. He and Tucker are in a bad situation. They really need to get back to Enterprise. Archer is out of his element and hates the feeling of powerlessness that goes with it. Then someone comes in with intelligence: two Torothian cruisers are strafing them, and the first run took out some of the encampment's defensive cannons. If there was any doubt about Zobral--affable host, or terrorist?--it disappears when Zobral opens a cabinet and hands weapons around. The arsenal is amazing. Reed would love it. Zobral pulls a trapdoor open, and reluctantly, Archer and Tucker slide into the shelter, a wood-lined cellar that is, luckily, relatively cool. They can't leave: the shuttlepod will be seen and shot down. They had best sit tight. Zobral seems to think that the strafing will only last a few hours. It seems to be the kind of fight that is so common that it has become more ritual than threat.
Zobral shuts the trapdoor, and Archer and Tucker look at each other in the sudden dimness. They don't say anything. Instead, they listen to explosions and yells and shots.
Archer stuck his padd in a pocket of his uniform and used the fingers of both hands to pry gently, then more aggressively, at the flux regulator. It was stuck. He was in the armory, working with Malcolm Reed on a project to make the weaponry redundantly controllable. Because Enterprise had left space dock ahead of schedule, not all the weapons were on line, and of those that were, some were more controllable from the armory than from the bridge. Archer wanted the same level of control from both sites. In a crisis situation, the last thing he wanted was an armory officer who needed to leave one station to go to another. A few weeks before, he had run some numbers to assess the situation. He had been working with Reed via their consoles to exchange data and set up a repair schedule. Now he needed to finish gathering the data so an actual engineer could do the work, but he couldn't get to it without removing the damn flux regulator so he could plug his tricoder into the manifold.
Tucker should have been helping them, but he was on board the alien ship, conducting repairs. Earlier that day, they had received a distress signal from a small cargo craft. They had altered course from Risa to the ship. Once again, plans for shore leave had to be delayed. The ship's pilot or captain--Archer wasn't sure which; maybe he was both--was named Zobral. Zobral had asked for assistance, and Archer was happy to oblige. He liked Zobral; the man was refreshingly direct. He was glad to help, glad that they had finally met an alien species that seemed to have a sense of humor.
It was no good. The flux regulator would not budge. It was frustrating; it was such a minor thing. He should have the data by now so he could proceed to the next step. Archer tapped it with an index finger. It felt warm to the touch. Should it be hot? His fingers tightened as he wrenched at it. No good. He paused before he tried again, absently shaking his sore fingers. His eyes were drawn to the reflective surface in front of him. It provided a distorted view of Reed behind him as Reed rebuilt one of the targeting systems to allow it to accept input from a remote station, such as a console on the bridge. Reed was absolutely focused and intent. He had a gift for shutting out everything around him when he needed to. It was valuable during battle, but it was irritating in everyday life. Archer always felt guilty when he had to interrupt Reed.
Archer watched as the distorted Reed pushed up his sleeves and ran a hand through his hair as he pondered his next move. Reed knew about Tucker and Archer. Archer had been present when the realization hit his eyes. Reed had been surprised and angry, but after an initial unprofessional scene, he had reverted to form: polite, deferential--well, Reed's version of deferential, with its edge of self-confidence bordering on arrogance. He had apologized to Archer later. He had said there would be no other outbursts, and there hadn't been. In fact, Reed seemed determined to prove that there was no problem, that he could remain friendly with both his ex-lover and his ex-lover's new lover. Reed was difficult to read. If he harbored resentment or ill-will to Tucker or to Archer, Archer didn't see it.
Before Reed could resume his task, Archer said, turning, "Malcolm, can you help me with this flux regulator? I can't lift it out, and I need to get underneath it."
"Certainly, sir." Reed leaned down, briefly giving Archer a fine view of his ass, and selected a tool before walking over. "Let me see." Reed first wiggled the regulator to confirm that it was stuck. His fingernails were short and neat, his hands strong and familiar. "Yes, it's well in there." His gray-blue eyes focused on the task ahead of him. "In fact, I think the wrong coupling was used to affix it."
"It's hot to the touch," Archer added.
"I see that," Reed confirmed. "That's not right."
Archer, head bent next to Reed's, was suddenly overwhelmed by Reed's nearness. He could smell Reed, a combination of the scent of his skin and the stuff he put in his hair. Horribly, Archer's body responded: his cock stirred, his heart rate accelerated. He had a sudden desire to brush Reed's hair with his palm. Archer quickly backed off. "Let me give you some room," he said lamely.
Reed's eyes flickered to him, then returned to the flux regulator. Reed deployed the tool and managed to pry the device free. He lifted it out and examined the bottom of the part, then the site from which he had just lifted it. "H'm," Reed muttered. "Definitely the wrong coupling." He tugged hard, and the coupling came off in his hand. "Here," he said absently, handing over the flux regulator, eyes turned to the coupling he had removed.
Archer accepted the part. His fingers brushed Reed's, and he couldn't help it: he flinched at the contact, his hand pulling back too quickly, his body taking a step back. Reed's nearness was overwhelming him. If he stayed near him much longer, Reed was going to notice his very uncaptainly erection. "You know, Malcolm," he said, thinking fast, "I think I need the specs. I'll be right back. I'll download them to a padd from my ready room."
Reed knew as well as he did that the specs were available in the armory's console, but it was the only thing Archer could think of on the spur of the moment that would get him out of the room. He exited quickly, Reed's eyes following him, face puzzled, then paused in the corridor to get control of himself. What would Reed think? Reed knew that Archer was sleeping with Tucker. How could he explain his physical response to Reed? What was wrong with him?
It presses down on Archer like a hand. They have been walking forever. It's day now. He imagines he can feel the pressure of the rays beating against him. The rays feel angry. When they had set out, it had seemed like a good idea at the time--get some distance between them and the fighting. Strangely, it had been Tucker's idea that they strike out: "I don't know about you, but I'd rather take my chances out in that desert," he said.
"I thought you hated the desert," Archer responded.
"Not tonight," Tucker retorted, and a mortar hit, and they ran for the shuttlepod.
Of course, it had been night then. Now he wishes they had stayed in the shelter, as instructed. They would probably have been safe. He sighs. No, they had had to leave; the ceiling was unstable, and part of it had come down right on top of him when the strafing got too close. The building they had been in had been basically demolished. And they didn't know enough about Zobral or his allies.
They have no food. They don't have enough water. Neither has a hat, and there's no shelter for miles. T'Pol hasn't come to get them. Reed hasn't blasted his way to their rescue. No shuttlepod has come screaming out of the sky. He longs to see Travis Mayweather hotdogging a shuttle down. He would love to reprimand Mayweather for driving dangerously right about now.
"Never be unprepared," he whispers to himself.
Catherine had told him that--him and Tucker, during the two-week Australian desert training that Starfleet had sent them on a few years ago. Tucker had been a lieutenant commander then, and Archer had just received his captaincy. It was the kind of experience best seen in retrospect. Their survival team, all four of them--he and Tucker and the two women, Lawrence and Perry--had failed the final exam. Catherine, the Aboriginal Australian instructor who owned the company that gave the course, had stranded them, and they had to walk back to base with insufficient food and water. It was Archer's first test as a leader, as a captain, and he had failed that too. They had enjoyed the first week, the desert training part when they learned to use the equipment. But the second week, the long walk back--that had been different. They had eaten a lot of snake meat.
Tucker looks bad, but he's not complaining. He walks beside Archer or just behind Archer, footsteps uncertain. He will follow his captain anywhere. Archer isn't sure why Tucker is so affected. Maybe he drank too much wine at dinner and thus is more dehydrated. Archer is hot, but he feels like he can go on. He's not sure how much farther Tucker can go.
Never be unprepared.
He doesn't have any of the things they had in the survival training. They had had special suits to wear that kept them cool and recycled their sweat and urine; special compasses that used exact global positioning technology; tents, food, water. They had had Catherine, a survival expert, with them--at least, until she left, removing most of the equipment, disabling their compasses, leaving only a small amount of food and water, leaving them to walk back. He had understood the test at the time: Starfleet would send in a prepared, trained team with matériel and supplies, so they had to learn how to do that, but nobody could say what would happen in the field.
"Two men out in the open," Tucker gasps. "You think they would have spotted us by now." He looks up into the blue sky and yells, "We're down here!" They both stagger a little as they crest a rise. The dunes undulate up and down. Archer has so much sand in his shoes that there's absolutely no point in emptying them. The sand grates against his feet, shredding his socks, getting between his toes.
"You're going to have to yell a little louder than that," Archer advises Tucker.
"You sure we're going in the right direction?" Tucker inquires.
Archer says, "It was east of the camp. We're heading east." At long last, they are on a level area. Archer, body still sore from the game, welcomes the relatively easiness of the walk. When they had returned to the shuttlepod to grab canteens of water, Archer had spotted what looked like a deserted encampment. No lights, no fires, no people. Just what he and Tucker need right about now.
"About thirty kilometers." He honestly hadn't expected to have to walk to it. He had assumed that T'Pol would come get them. She hasn't.
Tucker's voice is unbelieving "Thirty?" He bends down, slows his pace. His inability to keep up worries Archer. "What if we find more of Zobral's men inside?"
"It looked abandoned."
"All I saw was sand. I don't remember any buildings."
"That's because you forgot your survival training. Take a good look on your way in at your surroundings."
"Didn't they also say something about only walking at night?" He gasps. "Can't we wait until it cools down a little?"
"That could be another eight or nine hours. We need to find shelter."
"Twenty minutes, Captain," Tucker begs.
"Ten?" Tucker staggers, collapses to his knees, and groans. Archer puts a hand on Tucker's shoulder, then kneels next to him. They are both sweating, fabric wet under their arms and across their chests. They are exuding sweat, wasting water.
Tucker opens his canteen. "To cherry-flavored snow cones," he says in toast. "What I wouldn't give for one right about now." He takes a pull from the canteen; he has to throw his head back. It must be getting low. Then Tucker perks up, clearly listening to something. "You hear that?"
Archer listens. He can't hear anything. "What?"
"Sounds like a ship."
"I think the heat's getting to you."
"No. Listen." Then Archer hears it too: a distant humming. "Over there." Tucker points. "A shuttlepod?"
The sound is wrong for that. "No. Something a lot bigger."
If it isn't Enterprise, then it is likely something they don't want to see. He's moving before he's aware of it, digging himself and Tucker into the sand. They cover themselves completely in the warm, dry, sliding material. As he lies there, unable to see what's going on, Archer imagines he can feel all the water being sucked from his body by the thirsty sand as it tries to kill him. It's hard to breathe, and he can't open his mouth. He tilts his head so his chin is tucked into his chest and breathes shallowly through his nose. He can't sense Tucker. He is completely alone. He hears a large ship move overheard. It makes several passes. After a while, there is silence.
Archer awkwardly shovels himself out, Tucker close behind. He shakes off the sand. Tucker rises to his elbows next to him, coughs, and spits. His entire body is coated with a fine layer of sandy dust. Archer imagines he looks the same: weirdly pale-faced, exhausted. Hot.
"Are you all right?" Archer asks Tucker, clapping him on back.
"Yeah." Tucker doesn't sound convinced.
Archer tapped the padd impatiently as he waited for the lift to deposit him on the bridge. The lift sighed and the door slid open, and he strode out as another crew member got in. A moment later, he stopped and looked around. Damn. This wasn't the bridge. He had gotten off on the wrong floor, not realizing that the lift had stopped to pick up someone else. He really wasn't paying attention. He had been thinking about his reaction to Reed the other day. He'd returned to the armory after downloading the specs, after he had gotten control of himself, and had worked alongside Reed for another two hours without incident.
He started back for the lift, but then paused. He was in crew quarters, and Tucker's quarters were just around the bend. He knew for a fact that Tucker, taking a respite from repairing the alien ship to attend to his normal ship's duties, was in a meeting with T'Pol, Hess, and Baker.
He hesitated, then found a panel and activated it. If he was going to be underhanded and sneaky, it would be best if he did not get caught. He contacted the bridge. Reed answered. He queried Reed for some useless information, then, satisfied, deactivated the panel. He had thought Reed was in command of the ship and therefore was on the bridge, and he was right. Archer nodded. With T'Pol and Tucker unavailable, Reed wouldn't leave his post until Archer came back. Which would be any minute now. As soon as he finished doing what he was about to do.
Archer walked to the door of Tucker's quarters. A few people were wandering around, but nobody seemed curious. He self-consciously greeted two crew members, then hesitated in front of Tucker's door. Finally, he reached up and entered Reed's key code.
The door slid open. After a long moment, it shut automatically, shutting off the view of Tucker's neat quarters.
Archer's stomach clenched. He wasn't surprised. He really wasn't. Tucker had not deactivated Reed's passcode, but he may have just forgotten. But Archer didn't think so.
One lift ride later, he was outside Reed's quarters. He entered the passcode--it was the same for both of them, a simple string of numbers up the center of the ten-key pad--but the door stubbornly remained shut.
Archer got back in the lift and considered. He felt slightly ill. It was all so metaphorical. Tucker, still hopeful. Reed, still refusing to bend.
Archer, caught in the middle.
An eon has passed. Archer's world is heat, and exhaustion, and putting one foot in front of the other, and then doing it again. Every now and then, he has the presence of mind to check and confirm that they are heading toward their goal. His mind is white noise. He can't think clearly, and he doesn't try. He merely exists. Until Tucker, walking just behind him, staggers. Archer turns when Tucker falls, face in the sand. Then the world slips back into focus.
He walks back to Tucker, kneels by him, drags him to his knees. "Come on. We've got to keep moving. Come on." Tucker's body is heavy, almost limp, under his hands.
"But my shift doesn't begin for another six hours."
Archer frowns. Mental confusion. This is a bad sign. "Hey, we're almost there."
"Where? Where are we going?"
"Nice little place I know. Plenty of shade." He pats Tucker awkwardly.
"Are there blankets down there?"
Archer is confused. "Huh?"
"I'm freezing." Tucker collapses down into the sand again. Archer, for a long, horrible moment, wonders if Tucker is having another cold attack, like he had after the shuttlepod incident. He would begin uncontrollably shivering and his teeth would chatter. He would experience all the symptoms of cold without actually being cold.
Then he understands. "Heat exhaustion. Here. Come here." He pulls Tucker up and uncaps the canteen Tucker wears strapped across his body. "There you go. Easy. Easy." Tucker's head tilts back all the way. He isn't swallowing. Archer's mouth suddenly grows even more dry. Tucker's canteen is empty. He extends his own. "Here, take mine. Go ahead."
Tucker shakes his head adamantly. "No, sir. I'm not taking another man's water."
"You go ahead." Archer pulls rank. Tucker understands rank. "That's an order."
Tucker struggles to his feet. "Got to keep moving."
"Take the water, or I'll knock you on your ass and pour it down your throat."
Tucker looks at him for a long moment, then, sinking back onto his knees, accepts the canteen. Again his head tilts back. A few drops of water slide into Tucker's mouth, and then Archer's canteen, too, is empty. Tucker's arm relaxes, and the canteen slaps the ground a little too hard. "Thanks," Tucker says. His tone of voice isn't ironic, but somehow, the irony comes through.
They have no food. Now they have no water. And all around them, the desert spreads, empty and barren. It will kill them if it can.
Shelter. They need shelter.
Archer puts his arm around his chief engineer and hauls him up. He supports Tucker's weight with his own, and once again, they struggle forward.
Tucker had pulled the panel shut too hastily; it wasn't locked in properly, and light leaked around the edges. In the half-light of the conduit, Archer could only see his lover; the rest of the space was dark, except for the beams of light around the edges of the door. It was as if only the two of them existed, suspended in some other world where time had no meaning. Archer's uniform was pushed around his ankles and he was lying on his back, hands behind his head to cushion it, cock throbbing in time to his heartbeat, as Tucker, fully dressed, bent to giving him one of the finest blow jobs he had ever received in his life.
Tucker released his cock, leaving it straining in the suddenly cold air. His fingers slid up Archer's body, under the blue T-shirt and under his regulation undershirt, trailing warmth and fire. Tucker's lips found his, and Archer kissed him desperately. "Don't you dare stop," Archer hissed.
"Don't talk. Someone might hear us." Tucker bit Archer's lower lip gently, and Archer moaned.
"I thought you liked it when I talked," Archer whispered back.
"You can talk as dirty as you want when we're in your quarters. Now hush up."
Tucker's mouth kissed and licked some more, and one hand descended to circle Archer's cock. Archer groaned at the contact and rotated his hips. Tucker moved his lips to Archer's ear, rolling his earlobe with his lips and tongue, hand still busy on Archer's cock, and Archer exhaled hard. "Please," he said softly. "Suck me, Trip. I want to come in your mouth."
"None of that, Captain." Tucker's voice was amused. "Shhh." The last was said very quietly, just air against his ear, as the laughing voices of some crewmen wafted by. They froze, absolutely silent, until the crewmen had passed. The corridor with the conduit's entry was fairly quiet, but they could hear people walking by every now and then. About fifteen minutes earlier, Archer and Tucker had happened to run into each other in that corridor, which at the time was deserted. It was midday; Tucker had come back to Enterprise to grab some lunch before he resumed repairs on Zobral's ship; the project had turned into a four-day overhaul of the ship's systems. Archer had slid his hand around Tucker's neck, their eyes met, and that was all it took: they were both hard. Touch had ignited the fire, and they allowed it to consume them. Their quarters were too far away. They couldn't wait. Tucker had hastily opened a conduit, then, just as hastily, Archer's uniform. Archer was not prone to taking risks like this, and neither was Tucker, but somehow, here they were, together in the dark.
Tucker put a hand on either side of Archer's elbows and flipped his right leg over Archer's body, so he was straddling him. He pressed his body against Archer's, warming it, and returned to teasing Archer's mouth with his own. Archer felt the ridge of Tucker's erection through his uniform. He pressed his own erection against the coarse fabric. He was throbbing. Tucker kissed his way down Archer's body, mouth pausing every now and then to pay particular attention to what seemed to Archer to be random spots, tongue slowly circling: a nipple, a spot on his side at the bottom of his ribcage, another just below his belly button.
Then Tucker reached Archer's erection again. Archer shut his eyes as Tucker's mouth circled him. He had been so close before; then Tucker had stopped sucking and started kissing, giving him time to recover. Now he was building the intensity again. Tucker's fingers brushed his balls, then gently kneaded them as his tongue licked the head of his cock. Tucker lifted his head and blew on his lover's dick as his hands stroked up and down Archer's length, pressing hard. Archer's body tightened at the cold shock and the pressure of Tucker's hands. Then Tucker's mouth descended, taking in as much of Archer's huge cock as he could, and Tucker settled into a smooth up-and-down movement, the hand at the base of Archer's cock squeezing in concert. Archer opened his eyes again and watched Tucker's brown-blond head dip down and up. Tension coiled in his balls and at the base of his cock.
Tucker took as much of Archer in his mouth as he could and paused, tongue moving in gentle, small up-and-down movements, and then slid his thumb and forefinger up Archer's dick and into his own mouth. Somehow, the feeling of Tucker's fingers against his cock while inside Tucker's mouth was incredibly erotic. Archer felt a pulse of pressure and pleasure travel through his balls and dick. He was so close. He was going to come any second. His hands were still behind his head, elbows spread wide. He pushed his ass against the conduit's cold floor and rotated his hips, thrusting.
Tucker increased the pressure of his mouth and began dipping up and down, hand sliding, fingers moving in and out of his mouth. Archer fought his desire to make noise, but he couldn't help it: he uttered an involuntary exclamation as his balls tightened and he exploded, his body on fire. His cock pulsed hard as he jetted over and over again into Tucker's sucking mouth. The engineer expertly licked and swallowed, mouth and tongue laving Archer's throbbing cock. Archer's body clenched as he came, the effort of trying to keep quiet after that first telltale sound.
Then, through the redness of his climax: "Did you hear that?" The voice came through quite clearly. Someone was outside in the corridor.
Archer's cock continued its rhythmic pulsing; Tucker's mouth continued sucking. Archer's back arched. Tucker put a hand on Archer's stomach and pushed, a warning. Archer was beyond thought or care, his existence reduced to his orgasm.
"Oh, nothing. I thought I heard a noise."
"Hey, this conduit isn't sealed right."
Archer held his breath. He couldn't possibly be in a more compromising position. He didn't care. His cock throbbed its last, and Tucker's mouth gentled. Tucker ceased his up-and-down movement, but he kept his mouth closed around Archer's phallus. Neither of them moved.
Archer could just see around Tucker's body as the conduit's entryway jittered. The light around the edges was abruptly extinguished as the entryway was seated properly. "There," the voice of the unknown crewman said. "Are you going to the movie tomorrow night?"
The bantering voices faded, and there was silence. After a long few moments of quiet, Tucker raised his mouth from Archer's spent cock.
"What did I say about no noise?" he hissed.
"Sorry. I couldn't help it." He drew Tucker up to him and kissed him. "God, that was wonderful." His body was suffused with pleasure and warmth. "You are very, very good at that." He spoke almost silently, more puffs of air than voice.
"Why, thank you, Captain. My pleasure." Then Tucker pulled back and unfastened his uniform. He pulled it down over his shoulders and waist, bringing his briefs with it. He put his head next to Archer's. "You got me pretty hot. But I think we'd better make this fast." He rubbed his face against Archer's, then withdrew.
He knelt beside Archer's body, hand on his own cock. Archer watched, transfixed, as Tucker masturbated, occasionally rubbing his throbbing cock against Archer's body, pre-come sticky against his skin. Then Tucker threw his head back, hand working, breathing ragged. Archer could feel the pulse presaging Tucker's orgasm. He rolled onto his side and put his mouth on Tucker's cock. Tucker shivered, hand still stroking up and down. His fingers now slid into Archer's mouth. Archer fit himself into Tucker's rhythm, a counterpoint, sucking Tucker's cock and fingers, then pulling back to roll his tongue against the head of Tucker's cock, pressing hard against Tucker's sensitive spot. Then Tucker exhaled sharply and came. Archer accepted his come, the taste filling his mouth. Tucker didn't make any noise as his body shivered in reaction. The only sound was his ragged breath.
When he was done, Tucker relaxed against the conduit wall for a long few moments, then lay next to Archer, their bare knees and groins pressing together, uniforms still around their ankles. Tucker was still breathing hard. Archer reached out and gently stroked Tucker's lips with his thumb. Tucker opened his mouth and sucked Archer's thumb in. A wave of pleasure, almost like orgasm, washed over Archer, and he gasped. Then Tucker's index finger stroked Archer's lips, and Archer drew it in. They sucked on each other's fingers, gently stroking and licking, as they recovered. Every now and then, they heard someone walk by, just a meter or two from where they were lying.
"If we stay here like this, I'm going to need to do all this again," Archer whispered at last, when Tucker's breathing had returned to normal. "I think we need to get back to work."
"Aye, Captain," Tucker said, saliva-wet fingers trailing across Archer's face. "Lord, that was something." He kissed Archer's lips.
"Yes, it was," Archer agreed fervently. He didn't know if it was Tucker's expert technique, his desire for Tucker, the sheer stupidity of their stunt, or the threat of getting caught: he hadn't come like that in a long, long time. There was definitely something between them--a kind of heat that drew them together, a heat that, since Unity, was easy to ignite into overt arousal.
He felt coldness as Tucker rolled to the side, back against the conduit's wall, and pulled his briefs and uniform up and his undershirt and T-shirt down. Archer followed suit. It was hard to put on a uniform without standing up. Then they sat side by side and, laughing, arranged each other's hair as best they could. Then there was a tense moment as Tucker tried to figure out how to open the conduit's door from the wrong side. It wouldn't do to be found trapped together. They had to wait twice for crew members to clear the corridor. Then Tucker muscled the door open, they slithered out, and Archer sealed it. They continued on their way, not touching, chatting companionably.
All told, it had taken them an hour to traverse the few dozen meters that comprised that corridor.
Archer had hoped that when they reached the shelter, it would afford them relief from the heat. He should have known better. The shelter is in ruins, mostly broken walls standing tall. He finds a room with a partial ceiling and props Tucker up against a pillar. Light streams between the boards that comprise the ceiling. Archer finds himself wondering where all the wood he sees around him came from. There are not many oases on this planet. Maybe they trade for the wood. Maybe they grow it somehow.
They sit and pant for a long few moments. "Home sweet home," Tucker says, then shuts his eyes. He looks terrible. His heartbeat is too fast, his skin is clammy, and although he is now tracking with events around him, Archer fears heatstroke. If only there were some water. Tucker is seriously sunburned, his fair skin angry and red.
Archer struggles to his feet and does a quick reconnaissance. He finds a black metal basin with a few centimeters of water in it. Archer examines it. It's a funny color. He uses a handy metal dipper to scoop some up.
"I hope you're not planning to hog that all for yourself," Tucker jokes weakly.
Archer sniffs. It smells foul. He drops the dipper back into the basin. "That water's off the menu." There's no way they can drink it. It's clearly tainted. He could soak a cloth in it, use it to cool Tucker's skin, but it's more important that Tucker drink the water--isn't it? Is rehydration or cooling more important? He shakes his head, confused, and tries to make his mind work. He doesn't remember. It will be night soon, so he decides to save the water to drink: Tucker will cool off when the ambient temperature cools. But how can he make the water drinkable? Can he boil it? He's too tired to think of a way of making a fire. He just needs to rest for a minute. He staggers back and sits next to Tucker.
"Now this... is my idea of a great time," Tucker says. Archer grins weakly but doesn't respond.
Night falls about an hour after they found the shelter, bringing with it, as Archer had hoped, some relief from the heat. Now the danger is cold. While Tucker drowses, halfway been awareness and sleep, Archer pulls down some boards, breaks them up as best he can, and sets them in a fire pit demarcated by stones. He has to risk a fire. He plays with the stun setting on his phase pistol; the high setting would just incinerate the wood, poof, which he doesn't want. He wants it to catch fire. He aims and fires, striking a rock full on. The nimbus of the stun strokes the wood. Archer can see it. He wafts the ray back and forth, and the wood grows hot, hotter. Finally, with a small sound, it ignites. He lets up the trigger on the phase pistol. The weapon feels hot in his hand. It's not meant for sustained fire, just bursts, but he's done it. Fire.
Next task: purifying the water. He rigs up an apparatus, sets it over the fire, and carefully pours the water in. It takes forever to boil. Archer is patient and careful. Every now and then, he speaks to Tucker, making sure Tucker is awake. He is terribly afraid that if someone doesn't come and rescue them soon, Tucker will slide into a coma and die. He doesn't want to watch Tucker die. Right now, Tucker isn't his lover, his friend. Right now, he's a crewman for whom Archer, in some military sense, is responsible. Tucker hadn't wanted to come planetside; Tucker doesn't like the desert. Archer had talked him into it. He feels guilty about that. But mostly, right now, he feels responsible.
Where is T'Pol? He stares up at the sky, willing a bright light to arc across it, a sign of his salvation. He has his communicator, so T'Pol should be able to find him. He last talked to her when he was in the underground shelter. Apparently some kind of jamming signal is keeping communications down. "Come on, T'Pol," he prays. "You're always around when I don't want you. Now I want you. Where are you?" He pulls the sleeve of his uniform down to cover his hand, then quickly pulls the apparatus with the boiling water out of the direct heat so it can cool.
His mind runs through scenarios. T'Pol can't come get him because she judges the risk to be too great. T'Pol can't come get him because she has taken over the Enterprise and has claimed the ship for Vulcan in some kind of stunning military coup. T'Pol can't come get him because Enterprise has been blown to smithereens by some of this planet's more aggressive and foolhardy inhabitants.
Tucker says his name. Archer turns, relieved. Tucker has been sliding in and out, but he has responded to Archer's words, trying to joke.
"What'd you do, rub two sticks together?" Tucker asks, seeming to notice the fire for the first time.
"I found a new use for the stun setting." The water is cool enough to touch now. He pours it carefully into a canteen and makes his way to Tucker. "It may not taste too good, but I think I boiled away anything that could hurt us."
"No, thanks. I'm not thirsty."
"Let's not get into that argument again." Archer holds the canteen for Tucker, and Tucker tentatively takes a sip, then turns to the side and spits it out. Archer had tried some earlier, when it was still hot. It does indeed taste foul.
"Worse than blood soup," Tucker jokes. He had liked the blood soup before he found out what it was made of.
"You need water."
"Oh... what I need is sleep."
"You've got a fever, Trip. You're heart's racing. You've got all the symptoms of heatstroke. If you fall asleep, you could lapse into a coma."
"A coma. That sounds nice." Tucker closes his eyes.
"When we get back to Enterprise, you can sleep all you want. But right now, you got to stay with me and drink this water. If I had a needle with me, I'd give it to you intravenously, but I don't. Come on, sit up." Tucker changes position, accepts the water, drinks, and keeps it down. "There you go." Archer's hand is on Tucker's back. Tucker feels the same to him: strong, alive. He knows that the strength is an illusion. In addition to the heatstroke, Tucker had been injured during the geskana match, bruising some ribs when he'd been tossed to the ground. Tucker swallows again. "Good."
Tucker coughs, then sits back against the pillar again. Archer makes himself comfortable, turning to face Tucker. Tucker looks tired. "Commander." Archer's voice is warning.
How to keep Tucker awake? Keep him talking. "The warp reactor... break it down for me."
"What are the eight major components?"
"You've got to be kidding me."
"Name them. That's an order." Tucker responds to orders. He had once ordered Tucker to keep his helmet on when Tucker desperately wanted to remove it, and only trust in his superior officer, the ingrained military discipline of following orders, had saved his life.
Tucker shuts his eyes, rolls his head away from Archer. His weariness is so great that Archer can sense it coming from him in great waves. Tucker is barely able to keep his eyes open, barely able to track. "Well... there's the drumsticks... thighs... wings... You got anything to eat around here?"
"Not at the moment," Archer responds. Maybe he could catch a snake or something. He had gotten good at that in Australia. "But when we get back to Enterprise, I'll have Chef make you a dinner you will never forget. What would you like? Anything." He keeps Tucker talking as they set the menu. Then he plays a round of Geography with Tucker, trying to engage him. Tucker keeps panting for air. Archer feeds him sips of water, and Tucker is able to keep it down. That's a good sign. If Tucker were vomiting, he would be very worried indeed.
During the Geography game, it happens. A mortar hits nearby. Archer feels the shock through the bones of his body. They have been found. A wall near him collapses under the force. He does a quick reconnaissance, checking the area, and he sees a ship with a configuration he doesn't recognize. It's coming in for another run. Who is it? Zobral? Or the ruling faction, the Torothans? But it doesn't matter. It's not a Starfleet ship, and it's headed right for them.
Archer turns to Tucker. "Get your head down!"
"Get down!" He puts his arm around Tucker and pulls him close, shielding him with his body. The mortar falls. Debris flies all around, and the ceiling partially collapses. Archer releases Tucker, then turns to haul him to his feet. "We've got to get out of here. Come on!"
He puts his arm around Tucker again, and they head out.
There was an impromptu meeting in Archer's quarters just after dinner, but even after T'Pol, Hess (representing Engineering because Tucker was still on repair detail), and Sato left, Reed lingered. "May I have a word, sir?" he asked deferentially. His eyes, however, were not deferential. Typical.
"Sure, Malcolm. What can I do for you?" Archer turned in his chair and gave Reed his undivided attention.
Reed hesitated. "It's a personal matter, sir."
Archer nodded. "Then you can drop the 'sir.' You can call me Jon if you like." He didn't expect Reed to do that, but he extended the offer anyway.
Reed sat down, then ran his hands nervously up and down his legs. Archer eyed him curiously. It wasn't like Reed to shed his veneer of possession and self-control.
"I'm wondering--" Reed broke off, then tried again. "I'm wondering if I did something to anger you."
Archer was taken aback. "What?"
Reed chose his words carefully. "The other day in the armory, I got the distinct impression that you couldn't get far enough away from me. And you flinched when I touched you. That's not the only example. If it's about Commander Tucker--"
Archer cut in before Reed could go there. "No, nothing like that."
"Well, if I've offended you, or done something inappropriate, I need to know."
Archer sighed. "No, Malcolm, you haven't done anything wrong. It's--it's me." At Reed's questioning eyes, he stood up and began to pace. "Ah, hell." Archer paused, back to Reed, and began. "It was the Unity. I learned a lot about you, a lot of really personal stuff. I feel like I know you better than our relationship warrants." He turned to Reed, whose face had closed off, likely at the mention of the Unity. "I think my reaction, backing off, was in response to this. I tried to create a distance."
Reed had found his voice. "What kind of things?"
Archer was blunt. "Things Trip knew. Like I said--personal things." He remembered Tucker's memory of making love with Reed vividly. It had been an intensely erotic experience, even second hand. But it hadn't just been actions or events. The Unity had linked together emotion, thought. "For instance, I know you're uncircumcised. I know you enjoy having Trip inside you. I know you don't swallow come." Reed was growing paler and paler. "Shall I go on?" Archer made his voice harsh. He was deliberately pushing Reed away, trying to create that distance.
"No. No, I don't think so."
"And I know how Trip feels--felt about you. I feel it too." Archer let that hang.
"Are you declaring your undying love for me?" Reed asked sardonically. "Because if so, I want a promotion."
Archer gave a startled laugh. "No, I think you're safe. Malcolm, the fact of the matter is, I'm mixed up. Trip, me, you--it's a mess. I am pulling away from you to try to create a distance, to protect both of us. I apologize if my--my strategies to deal with it make you uncomfortable." Archer made his voice final, a hint for Reed to leave.
Reed obediently stood up. His eyes met Archer's, and Archer felt a shock. That--that feeling. That heat. It was what he was running away from. It was hard to remember that he had no relationship with Reed that would warrant his feeling the way he did. Then the link broke as Reed turned and headed for the door.
Archer was across the room in two steps, and a moment later, one hand was on Reed's shoulder. Reed, almost at the door, pulled around in surprise, eyebrows up in a query, and then Archer, listening to his body instead of his mind, one hand still on Reed's shoulder, leaned down and kissed him.
The feel of Reed's mouth was at once frighteningly alien and wonderfully familiar. Archer pressed his advantage--Reed had frozen in shock--by taking a step closer, then increasing the pressure of his lips.
After a long moment, Reed's lips opened, and their tongues touched gently. Archer inhaled sharply at the contact, then turned his attention to Reed. Archer's tongue stroked Reed's, first gently, then harder. Then he was nibbling and sucking gently on Reed's upper lip. He moved to the side of Reed's face, kissing along the jawline, to Reed's ear. Taking his earlobe between his lips, he used his tongue to toy with it. Reed loved that. Next, he pulled it into his mouth and gave several powerful, sucking pulls. Reed exhaled slightly, and Archer became aware of Reed's erection, the heat of Reed's groin radiating. With a last swoop of his tongue, he pulled back. His hand was still on Reed's shoulder. He released it, took a single step back.
"You're shorter and smaller than I remember," Archer said after a moment. It was because Tucker was just a touch shorter and smaller than Archer, Archer realized. He thought of Reed as Tucker thought of Reed, with Tucker's body sense. "But you taste the same."
"And here for me, it was our first kiss," said Reed lightly. His eyes did not match his voice's tone.
"Not for me. I know just what you like."
Reed looked speculative. "Do you now. Why don't you show me, then, Captain?"
"Don't call me that."
"Trip calls me that. Call me Jon."
"All right, then... Jon." There was a slight hesitation before Reed said his name. "Show me. Show me what I like."
Archer stepped closer to Reed, chest against chest, and stroked Reed's jawline, where he had just kissed him a moment ago, with the backs of his fingers, and then kissed him very gently, nibbling. He made the kiss last a long time, alternating between skimming, light kisses and deep, tonguing kisses until Reed was warm and breathless. He pulled back slightly, and they looked at each other for a long moment. Archer couldn't read the expression in Reed's eyes.
Then Reed slid his hands up against Archer's chest, wound his hands behind Archer's neck, and leaned up. Archer met him. The kiss started out gentle, as before, but then Reed, fingers hardening against Archer's neck, deepened it aggressively. He raked Archer's mouth with his tongue. Archer could feel the press of Reed's teeth. Archer's face pressed hard against Reed's as he responded in kind; he could feel Reed's body tightening as he pushed against his captain. Lust and anger were in Reed's kiss, and lust and anger were in Archer's response. Archer knew that Reed's reaction, his anger, had something to do with Tucker. In a way, so did Archer's response. If Reed wanted it rough, Archer could oblige.
Archer broke off the kiss and pushed Reed away. He unfastened Reed's uniform in an abrupt single movement, then pulled it down past his shoulders, then grabbed Reed's T-shirt. He did it so quickly that Reed barely had time to react. When the T-shirt ripped, he put a hand on either side of the rip and tore it in two. Reed's face betrayed no shock or surprise. He shrugged off his uniform, made of sturdy, flame-retardant, untearable material, as Archer finished shredding Reed's T-shirt. Reed wasn't wearing an undershirt. Archer pulled the T-shirt off Reed's body and threw it to the ground next to the discarded uniform. Reed looked just like he remembered: slight, beautifully muscled, uncircumcised penis hard and slightly skewed to Reed's right.
Then Reed was pulling at Archer's uniform. He grabbed a handful of fabric on Archer's back and whirled Archer around, half throwing, half pushing him onto the bed. He forced Archer down on all fours. "Yes, do show me what I like, Jon," he said, low and angry, accent clipped, irony heavy when he said Archer's name. "I'm sure you'll like it too." His voice was infinitely bitter. He yanked at Archer's uniform, pulling it hard against Archer. "God damn you." The pull of the fabric around Archer's neck made him gag slightly. Archer unfastened the uniform, then rotated his shoulders to one side so Reed could pull it off. "God damn you," Reed repeated, manhandling Archer as he removed the coverall, pushing him with angry, uncaring hands. "I could have borne it if you had been a woman," Reed hissed. "I can't compete with a woman. God damn you."
Archer didn't respond. Reed pulled the fabric of Archer's undershirt hard against Archer until it tore, the ripping sound loud, the blue weirdly electric against the red bedding. Archer was panting with lust and anger. Both of them were balancing on their knees on the bed. Archer reached out and pulled Reed against him, then kissed him, bending Reed's body back. Their cocks brushed together as their tongues fought.
Then Reed, by dint of some well-placed kneeing, managed to push the larger man underneath him as they struggled for dominance. Reed put his hands on Archer's wrists and pinioned him against the bed, panting. For a moment, Archer relaxed, and their eyes met. They understood each other perfectly. This wasn't about desire, or love, or pleasure.
Then Archer threw one leg over Reed, unbalancing him, and broke his hold. They had switched positions: Reed was now underneath Archer. Archer pressed his advantage. He grabbed Reed around the waist and flipped him onto his stomach, then hauled him up onto his knees, forcing him forward with an arm around his waist as Archer, also on his knees, walked him to the head of the bed. Archer managed to control Reed while he grabbed the lubricant and a wrapped condom.
"No muss, no fuss?" Reed asked, voice slightly breathless.
"Hardly," Archer answered, pushing Reed back down and squirting lube generously between Reed's cheeks. "Stop it. I mean it." He knocked one of Reed's arms out from under him to unbalance him, effectively stopping Reed's struggle, and tugged him back about a meter, so they were in the center of the bed. He placed one corner of the condom's wrapper in his mouth and ripped it open. He stuck the fingers of his right hand into the condom and slid it through the lube. He made sure it was well coated. "You like to have Trip inside you. I'm betting you'll like this." Archer's cock was too big; he'd fit inside, of course, but he'd likely hurt Reed, and he didn't want to hurt Reed. He wanted Reed to enjoy this. He would use his hand instead. He slid a finger inside Reed, then another, then another. "My my my. You're tight." Without getting his thumb inside Reed too, his range was limited, but it was likely enough.
Archer still had one arm around Reed's waist. Now he released the arm and pushed Reed's upper body down, hand splayed on Reed's back, pushing down mercilessly. Reed gave an abortive twist sideways, but Archer foiled it by hitting him between the shoulder blades and jerking Reed's body back. He increased his pressure, mashing Reed's shoulders and face against the bed, Reed's ass raised. "It's all about power, Malcolm," he told his armory officer. "Who has it." He slid his fingers into Reed more firmly. "Who wants it." He stroked back and paused. "No, wait, it's not about power. It's about Trip. Who has him. Who wants him." He leaned his head down. "I have him, Malcolm. Do you want him?"
Reed groaned. Archer couldn't tell if it was a groan of pain or pleasure. "No," Reed said. "You're welcome to my leavings. I can't see him without seeing all five of you. It makes me feel ill to think of the two of you together." He didn't say the word, but it hung there, unspoken, between them: betrayal.
"Words, words, words, Malcolm." Then he was silent as he focused on the feel of Reed around his hand: the slick heat, the pressure. Reed's sphincter was tight and pulsed hard against his fingers as Reed's body reacted to the invasion. The light jazz playing in the background was an incongruous contrast to the sucking sounds of Reed's body and the lube as Archer stroked. He curved his fingers slightly and pushed in a little more, making a J-shaped stroke with the dip at the end of the movement, pushing down toward Reed's cock, stimulating his prostate. Archer imagined fitting his whole hand in, Reed's sphincter closing around his wrist, and his balls tightened.
Archer continued stroking rhythmically, and Reed began moaning on the downward stroke. Archer felt Reed's back relax. Archer knew that Reed's cock was wagging in concert with his touch. He removed his hand from Reed's back and pushed Reed onto his side, managing to keep his other hand embedded. Reed drew in a breath and Archer knew he was going to kick, so he pinched Reed's stomach and gave a curt warning. Reed stilled. He withdrew his hand, arranged Reed's top leg so it bent up, and then slid into Reed again, arm between Reed's legs. Next, he slid his body down. Reed moaned in anticipation, then pleasure as Archer took the purple head of Reed's cock in his mouth. The taste was familiar. Archer used his tongue to push down the foreskin, then toyed with the spongy head. The position was awkward, but he resumed sliding his fingers in and out of Reed's ass, using as much pressure as he could.
Reed's moaning was a tremendous turn-on. Archer knew from the Unity, knew from Tucker, that Reed rarely broke his self-control. He was intense during sex, but quiet. But Reed was enjoying Archer's dominance, enjoying Archer's stroking. Archer opened his mouth wider and drew in Reed's whole length, holding the back of his throat open so he wouldn't gag. Reed was thrusting slightly but trying not to. Archer pushed in hard with his fingers and sucked hard with his mouth, holding Reed suspended between. He held it for a long moment, then withdrew his mouth and pulled his fingers out until just his fingertips were inside.
Reed groaned when Archer withdrew. "Don't stop," Reed whispered, touching Archer's head lightly. Archer's cock leapt at the slight pressure. He knew what he felt, the emotion blossoming in his chest, was what Tucker felt, that it was Tucker's joy in fucking Reed, the beloved, not his own, but Tucker had never done this to Reed. Surely some part of it must be what he, Archer, felt for this private, difficult man. The intensity of the feeling made him breathless.
"Tell me why you're with me," Archer demanded. He licked Reed's cock. "Tell the truth." He withdrew his hand slightly, then pushed in again, as far as he could. He was starting to cramp; his fingers were pressed in close to each other, and Reed was tight. He released slightly, relaxing his hand, then pushed in again, managing to fit in one more finger.
Reed groaned at the added pressure. "Revenge," he said.
"Very good. For that, you get this." Archer's mouth closed on Reed's length again, and he ran his mouth up and down, tongue swirling, hand working. He pulled back again when Reed's balls tightened. He waited a long moment.
"Oh, god," Reed cried, gasping for air. "Damn it. Damn it." Despair was in his voice.
"Something you want, Malcolm?"
"Trip. I want Trip. Oh, god." His voice broke as Archer dipped his head down again, once again stopping just before Reed could come.
"You had Trip. You let him go. He's mine now." Archer put a hand on Reed's stomach and looked up into Reed's face. Archer was incredibly hard. It was taking huge amounts of self-control to avoid removing his hand and sliding himself into Reed's tightness. "I have Trip's memories. I want you. Do you want me?"
"I think I want you to beg for it," Archer said thoughtfully. "Are you up to it, Malcolm?"
Reed was. Archer listened to the broken pleading, to the gasping, to the cries. When Reed wound down, Archer bent to pleasuring Reed. His hand and mouth worked in concert, strong and rhythmic, until Reed's balls tightened and his dick exploded. Heavy jets of come forced their way into Archer's mouth. The taste, familiar, coupled with Reed's inarticulate cries, almost made Archer come, but he focused on Reed and Reed's climax. He had never seen--Tucker had never seen--Reed's self-control break to this degree. It was intensely erotic.
When Reed collapsed, breathing hard, Archer withdrew his hand and pushed Reed onto his back. He discarded the soiled condom by turning it inside out and throwing it to the floor. He knelt on his hands and knees over Reed, his cock, huge and hard, brushing Reed's stomach, and grabbed Reed's head with his hands. He put his mouth on Reed's, and when Reed's mouth opened, he opened his lips and let Reed's own come slide into Reed's mouth. Reed, surprised, tried to pull back and turn his face away, but Archer, implacable, kept his mouth on Reed's until Reed reluctantly swallowed, gagging.
"That's what Trip tastes when he dreams about you," Archer said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, then wiping Reed's mouth impersonally with his fingers. He leaned down again and kissed Reed hard, and Reed's tongue met his. They shared the taste of Reed's come, spreading it between them. "My turn. Suck me, and swallow when I come."
There was no argument, but Archer hadn't expected any. Archer settled on his back, and Reed knelt to the side, one hand on Archer's chest, one hand around the base of his cock. Reed bent his head down and began sucking Archer, his head dipping down and up. His teeth scraped lightly and his tongue swirled around the cap of Archer's cock, then down. He wasn't able to take in all of Archer's length--Archer was too big for that--but he used his hand at the base of Archer's cock, squeezing and stroking up and down. It took only a few minutes before Archer felt the buildup in his dick and balls, and then he was pushing into the hotness of Reed's mouth, crying out, his cock spurting, his climax blooming heavy and red. Reed's head drew back slightly, focusing on the top third of Archer's cock, while his hand rubbed up and down Archer's shaft, his mouth sucking hard. He swallowed at the top of the upward motion, over and over again. He wasn't gagging any more.
When Archer was done, Reed released him and then sat back on his heels, watching as Archer recovered.
"Feel better?" Archer asked at last, when he could speak, voice ironic. The specter of Tucker was still there between them.
"Much." Reed touched his lips and deliberately swallowed. He looked faintly surprised at something. "You?"
"There's just one thing."
Before Archer could react, he was face-down on the floor, Reed's hold on the arm behind his back firm and unbreakable, Reed's body weight pressing him down. Reed leaned down and put his mouth by Archer's ear. "It's all about power, Jon. Who has it. Who wants it." He abruptly released Archer, who rolled over on his back. "And who grants it." His eyes glittered dangerously.
"Words, words, words, Malcolm," Archer said mockingly. He pulled Reed down on the floor next to him. Reed allowed it. They turned face to face, and Reed put a hand on Archer's neck, clear gray eyes on his. Archer pulled Reed close as he kissed him. His tenderness was a marked contrast to the aggressive sex they had just shared. Reed moaned slightly, and Archer moaned in response. He tasted himself. God. Reed was so tight and hot. He could see how Tucker still desired him. The pleasure Archer found in Reed's pleasure was intoxicating. He would do anything to see Reed lose control like that again. Anything.
That realization made him pull back slightly. Reed opened his eyes, silently questioning. Archer felt like it was all there on his face: his surprise, his desire, and, yes, that articulation of what Tucker, and by extension, via the Unity, what Archer felt for Reed. He supposed he could call it love, but it was love without context, love without the support of shared experience. He saw it all now, and the breathtaking loss he felt in the pit of his stomach when he realized he couldn't have Reed must have been what Tucker felt when Reed broke it off. Crippling loss. What was it Tucker had said, when he had told Archer that he and Reed had separated? "Sometimes it hurts a little bit. Like a cut. Sometimes it hurts a lot. Like being eviscerated."
He closed his eyes briefly. He and Tucker had shared experiences. He and Tucker had heat between them that fanned into flame. But what was underneath the pull of respect, friendship, attraction, and simple lust? He had thought he knew. He had thought it could be love. But now, here with Reed, he didn't know. He couldn't tell. He wanted them both.
No, that was wrong. Tucker and Reed wanted each other. He was just an observer, contextless emotions given to him by the Unity. Where were his emotions? He knew his desire for Tucker had looped back during Unity, and he was horribly afraid that Tucker--really Tucker, Tucker alone--felt nothing but simple friendship, that the fire between them was Archer's lust alone, made manifest by the Unity.
"Jon?" Reed's voice was quiet.
Archer pulled Reed in and kissed him goodbye. Then he reached over and grabbed Reed's uniform off the floor. Rising, he tossed it into Reed's surprised face. "You had your revenge, Malcolm. You fucked the man who's fucking your ex-lover. Well, it's over now. Get dressed and get out." He held Reed silent and pinned under his glare, and then turned and went into the lavatory.
He drew out his shower as long as he could. When he came out, twenty minutes later, Reed was gone.
Behind them, as they struggle away from the shelter, another mortar hits. Archer and Tucker collapse, then turn and look behind them. They see the ship, turning, coming in for another pass.
"Come on, come on," Archer urges, and they grab each other again and move forward.
More mortars. More shockwaves. "I'm just slowing you down," Tucker gasps. "Go."
"I don't remember taking orders from you," Archer responds grimly.
He watches as a ship descends fast, cutting them off. One ship in front, one ship in back. Hell. He draws his weapon, ready to run, to shoot, to yell, to attack, to kill. Then it clicks into focus and relief floods him. It's a shuttlepod. It's about damn time. A moment later, it settles to the ground, and the hatch opens. T'Pol lets them in, grabbing Tucker with her superior Vulcan strength and hauling him in easily. Then he takes the hand extended to him. He's surprised: it's Zobral.
T'Pol begins administering water to Tucker. Her face is impassive as usual. Archer has never been so glad to see anybody in his life. He accepts the canteen he's handed and drinks. He can't catch his breath. He's surprised to see that Reed is piloting the shuttle, not Mayweather. Who the hell is running things on Enterprise? Archer can't read Reed's face; he seems pleased to see them, but he doesn't say anything. Instead, he turns his attention to the controls, and the shuttle lifts off fast. Zobral joins him a second later. He seems to be helping Reed navigate. Archer lets his capable crew run the show. He's absolutely exhausted. And Tucker--if Doctor Phlox can get his hands on him, Tucker will probably be all right. Tucker had drunk water, he hadn't vomited, and he hadn't lapsed into a coma.
Archer drinks again, monitoring himself, taking tiny sips with long pauses in between. The water tastes neutral and slightly metallic. The shuttle's interior is too cold, and he shivers as his sweat dries. He lies back on the floor of the shuttle. His relief over their rescue, over Tucker's health, is palpable. He turns his head and watches T'Pol efficiently tend to Tucker. During the geskana match, he had been aware of Tucker as man: of his body, of his bare chest and back, of his strength. But during the desert trek, he had become Tucker's captain, not Tucker's friend or Tucker's lover. He had used rank to reach Tucker, to snap Tucker into the instant obedience that so often meant the difference between life and death.
Archer shuts his eyes. Being captain--it is who he is. When things are down to the wire, he isn't anyone's lover. He isn't anyone's friend. He is the captain of the Enterprise, the finest ship in the fleet. He is in charge of the safety and the lives of the best men and women Starfleet had to offer. He can't afford to be sentimental. He has to be in command. He got himself into this mess, and he brought his crew with him. He's been irresponsible.
He needs to think. He needs to understand the implications of his actions better. But he's safe--he's safe, and Tucker is alive. He succeeded. Now he needs to sleep.
Archer releases his control and allows his body to relax against the shuttle's floor. He drops one arm down by his side; he sets the hand with the canteen on his stomach. He exhales, a long, slow breath, and then he is asleep.
For once, sick bay isn't deserted. Phlox is about ready to give a routine examination to a crew member, and he waves Archer in. "Commander Tucker's doing fine," he says chirpily. "He's had quite a few visitors."
"I'm not surprised," Archer says. "Trip's a popular guy." Trip is responding well to treatment for his heatstroke, but he's in sick bay for another night for observation. Zobral has left. Things are, more or less, back to normal.
"He tires easily. Don't stay longer than a half hour."
Phlox and Archer part; Archer heads for the section of sick bay that houses the biobeds, and Phlox heads for the exam rooms, waving the crewman ahead of him.
"Hey," Archer says softly, smiling, entering the room.
"Hey, Captain," Tucker replies, smiling back. Tucker reaches out his hand and Archer clasps it. "I always end up here. I want you to know that this is my own personal biobed. Doctor Phlox is going to put a little copper plaque on it to commemorate me."
"So who's been to visit?" Archer pulls up a chair and makes himself comfortable.
"Besides you? Hess, Travis, Malcolm, Hoshi, T'Pol, Michael, Denise, Mark--everybody, really."
"Glad to hear it."
Tucker sighs. "I don't know what the universe has against me. I'm starting to take it personally."
"You know what you need? A vacation. Risa." Archer lets the word hang in the air.
"When's the lottery?" Tucker perks up at the thought. The delay in getting to Risa means that they are limited in the personnel they can send down; Risan policy is to allow down only thirty people at a time, to cut down on what the Risan authorities euphemistically call "incidents." Originally, Archer had planned to send the crew down in rotation, but now, to keep to their timetable, they only have time to send a single group. Archer and T'Pol have devised a lottery system for crew members interested in going down.
"Soon. But I think if Doctor Phlox says you need a vacation, then you win automatically, doctor's orders. Or I can put you on the survey team if you want. You can think of it as a working vacation."
Tucker shakes his head. "I don't think so. I prefer honest-to-god vacations. I'll take my chances with the lottery, like you and everybody else."
Archer shrugs. He'd expected Tucker to say just that. "Trip, I have to talk to you."
Tucker raises his eyebrows. "Okay," he says agreeably.
Archer looks at Tucker. He looks terrible. He has a bad sunburn, and his skin has begun to peel. His lips are covered with some clear, greasy medication. An intravenous line snakes into one arm, rehydrating him. Archer inhales to speak, then can't find the words. Tucker's eyes still draw him in. Somewhere under all the confusion were clean emotions felt by Jonathan Archer alone. He needs time to find them. He knows that fundamentally, he doesn't feel what he feels. He and Tucker walked through hell, and they came back as colleagues, not lovers.
"Captain?" Tucker looks worried. "Just spit it out. It can't be that bad."
"Trip, I slept with Malcolm."
There is a horrible silence.
"I went by your room the other day and tried your code. Malcolm's code. It still works."
Tucker still doesn't say anything. His face is red from sunburn, but the skin around his lips has turned white.
"I can't be--I can't be your lover anymore. I'm sorry."
Tucker frowns. "Because I still want Malcolm? Or--or because you want Malcolm?" His voice is tentative.
Archer shakes his head. "Neither. Because you never wanted me. When you close your eyes, you see Malcolm. You don't see me. You never saw me. You see a reflection of what I feel for you. You see your captain, not a lover." He pauses. "And I deserve better." He lets it hang.
"Captain, I have feelings for you," Tucker says quietly.
"I don't doubt that."
"I think it's more than the Unity."
"Trip, I don't think so."
"I know you feel something for me." Tucker's voice is low and intense.
Archer stands up. He feels like his heart is going to explode. It is physically painful. "You know I do," he says quietly. "Friendship. Lust. I don't know what else. It's not enough. I can be your captain. I'm pretty sure I can be your friend again. We've shared a lot, and I literally trust you with my life. But I won't be your lover any more." He meets Tucker's eyes. His voice is final.
Tucker slowly nods. "One voice, alone," he says quietly. "Again." He laughs a humorless laugh.
"We're separate people, Trip. It's okay to be alone."
"Sometimes, it doesn't feel like it."
Archer takes one of Tucker's hands in his. He remembers admiring that hand a lifetime ago. He will do his best to damp the fire, but he fears that for himself at least, the embers between them would always smolder. But Archer is Tucker's captain. Tucker will follow wherever he leads. That's what a captain does: he leads. And through sheer will and example, he will lead Tucker back into friendship.
"I know," he says softly. "I know." He places Tucker's hand carefully on the covers. "Get better, Trip," he says, and he turns and walks out the door.
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