Title: Acceptable Risk
Author: Kylie Lee
Length: ~6400 words
Type: Slash M/M
Series: Acceptable Risk
Summary: Tucker and Reed discover that their interaction goes beyond anger. Way beyond.
Feedback: Yes, please
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: Paramount owns all the Enterprise characters. No money changed hands. This is not an attempt to infringe on copyright. Etc.
Spoilers: "Silent Enemy"
Comments: Original content © Kylie Lee 2002. I quote dialogue here that is from the show, which Paramount owns. Just riffing on it, guys, just riffing
Commander Trip Tucker hit hard beside the door as it snicked open. He rarely lost his cool. In fact, he prided himself on his ability to maintain calm. But he had just had a little interview with Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, the armory officer, and he was just about ready to deck the man.
The silent ship had attacked without reason, and now it was dogging them. They were undergunned; their present weaponry hadn't made a dent. The phase cannons Enterprise was equipped for--weapons that just might work against that ship--hadn't yet been installed. Enterprise had left Jupiter Station almost without warning on its first mission, and although the cannon ports were in place, they only had one prototype phase cannon.
Tucker and Reed had had a quick meeting and decided to help along Captain Archer's plan to return to Jupiter Station to have the techs put in the weaponry. Tucker knew his crew, and he knew they could do it just as well, if not better, than the techs in Jupiter Station. His men were pulling double shifts to get the job done. They were installing the existing phase cannon and using it and the specs to build two more.
Tucker stepped into the lift and automatically set his destination, gritting his teeth. He'd run into Reed just as the targeting scanners were being calibrated--and a good thing, too. Reed, acting as though he actually had the authority to do so, had decided to route the power for the cannons directly from the impulse engines, and the relays between, Tucker thought, would likely blow. It had apparently not occurred to Reed to run this little notion by Tucker first. The man clearly thought he had more power and autonomy than he did. Tucker had jerked him back.
"The relays were rated to handle that much power," Reed had said, the tone of his voice indicating his irritation at having to state the obvious. He'd pointed out that the inverters would cut in if there was an overload. "I've run a dozen simulations. It's an acceptable risk."
"I'll run you a dozen simulations," Tucker muttered to himself, exiting the lift and heading for the cafeteria. He smiled and exchanged a breezy greeting with an ensign. He really needed to get something to eat, because he sure wasn't going to get any sleep. "Cocky bastard." He'd told Reed, "When it comes to my fine ship's systems, why don't you let the chief engineer decide what's an acceptable risk?"
They were nose to nose, faces inches apart, about ready to come to blows, Tucker pointing out that shortcuts could kill, when Reed had backed down. He'd broken eye contact and said simply, "Yes, sir." Well, Tucker admitted to himself, he'd pretty much pulled rank on the guy. Reed was only a lieutenant. Tucker particularly hated winning arguments by pulling rank. But the way Reed always said "sir": it was "sir," to rhyme with "incompetent bastard." It just dripped with contempt, especially with that little pause in front of it, which implied that it was an afterthought. Or maybe it was just Reed's British accent.
Well, Reed could play with his guns all he wanted. He just needed to leave the ship's power systems alone. Usually he got along fine with his colleague--in fact, they saw a lot of each other and got on well as a rule--but when Reed decided he was right, he simply would not back down. Sometimes, when he actually bothered to try to convince someone of his point of view, rather than simply bludgeoning him with it, he would try logic first, then emotion, apparently not noticing that no still meant no.
Reed had an odd intensity sometimes. Tucker couldn't quite put his finger on it. He had felt it when the two of them were standing face to face, arguing. He didn't know what would happen if that tension ever snapped. Fisticuffs would ensue, no doubt. Reed was smaller than him, but only by a few inches, but he would be dogged in a fight. But--Reed would back down. Because Tucker outranked him.
"Trip!" Ensign Hoshi Sato, the communications expert, waved at him. She had a mug of coffee and a half-eaten muffin in front of her. "Can I ask you a question?" She gestured to the empty chair next to her.
Trip set his tray of ravioli down next to Sato's and sat. "Shoot."
"How well do you know Malcolm Reed?"
"Are you going to ask me what his favorite food is?"
"How did you know?"
"You're not the first person to ask me that today. I don't know what his favorite food is. I don't care what his favorite food is."
Sato looked surprised. "I thought you liked Lieutenant Reed."
"I like him fine. I'm just mad at him right now."
"Why, what'd he do?"
Tucker picked up his fork and toyed with a piece of ravioli. "He wanted to bypass the EPS grid and plug those phase cannons of his right into the impulse engines."
Sato shrugged. "So?"
"So you're not supposed to do that. It might blow up. Those cannons draw a lot of power, and I want to make real sure that the infrastructure between the power source and the cannons will hold." He morosely took a bite of ravioli.
"Well, won't the inverters cut in if there's a power surge?"
Tucker cocked an eyebrow at her. "You been talking to Malcolm? He said the same thing."
"I reviewed Enterprise's specs pretty thoroughly when I took this post. After all, communications ties in with engineering, and I have to review the communications systems to authorize you tech guys to do repairs. What did you think of his simulations? I assume he ran simulations."
"Yes, of course. But I didn't review them."
Sato used a finger to free a chunk from her muffin. "Trip, I seriously doubt that Lieutenant Reed will blow up the ship."
"I'm not so sure. He said it was an acceptable risk. His words. Like he can decide what's acceptable when it's an engineering concern."
"Ohhh, I think I get it."
Tucker gave her a look and turned his attention back to the food. "Okay, I'll bite. What?"
Sato leaned forward and dropped her voice, smiling wickedly. "He didn't ask permission. He had this great idea but he didn't get permission."
Tucker tossed down his fork and looked her in the eye. "No, he did not."
"What's that saying? It's easier to obtain forgiveness than permission?"
"Yeah, I've heard that one." Tucker dabbed his bread in the ravioli's sauce. "I guess I'd better review Malcolm's simulations." Trust Sato to cut to the chase. It wasn't a bad idea. What did he expect, a tactful Reed? That would never happen. Tucker had to admit he was kind of--well, proprietary about Enterprise.
"I guess you'd better." Sato picked up her empty plate and her mug and got up to leave. "I think I'll visit Doctor Phlox in sick bay later today and see if he knows anything about Lieutenant Reed's food preferences. I see them eating breakfast together a lot."
"Good luck on your mission."
Sato tapped her finger on the top of the table to punctuate her words. "As God is my witness, I will find out Lieutenant Reed's favorite food."
Several days later, Tucker, wearing jeans and a red long-sleeved T-shirt, rang the chime at Reed's door, a tall, heavy box cradled in one arm. He had to ring again before Reed opened it. Reed was wearing an untucked black T-shirt and a pair of ratty trousers that had once been uniform dress. He looked tired, the lines on his face more prominent than usual. His hair, which was normally perfect, was actually messy.
"Commander," Reed greeted him, a trace of surprise in his voice. "Is something wrong? What time is it? Am I late for something?" He rubbed his face, then his head, clearly disoriented. Tucker watched with interest as Reed's hair resumed its normal, perfect shape.
"No, you're not late for anything. It's 9 P.M. I just thought I'd drop by." A thought struck Tucker. "Are you alone? 'Cause if you're not, I can just drop this off." He raised the box.
"Yes, I'm alone. Oh, sorry, yes. Do come in." Reed moved aside and Tucker stepped over the threshold. Reed shut the door automatically and gestured at the box. "What do you have there?"
Tucker handed it to him. "Take a look and see." He cleared his throat. "I just kind of wanted to apologize, you know, for that little argument the other day. Thought you'd enjoy this." He looked around. The quarters were clean and neat. No clothes on the floor. The bed looked made, even though Tucker was pretty sure he'd woken the man up. Reed looked to be a reader. He saw a lot of books and padds, and not all of the titles were technical ones.
Reed opened the top of the box. "A peace offering, is it? It's not necessary, Commander. I'm simply glad you reconsidered. Many men wouldn't change their minds the way you did."
"Acceptable risk. Yeah, I figured in the long run that you were right and I was wrong. Funny how that happens sometimes."
"Well, thank you." Reed slid the bottle out of the tall gold box and turned it so he could read the label. "Oh, my. Thank you."
Tucker had had to call in a favor to get his hands on it, but even so, it had cost him. "Think of it as a birthday gift if you'd prefer. Is it something you'll enjoy?"
"Yes, very much." Reed twisted the cork to break the seal, then lifted it out and sniffed. "Single-malt scotch. And a fine bottle of it indeed." Sato had used her sleuthing skills to find out Reed's favorite food--pineapple--but Tucker figured Reed was British and would therefore be partial to heavy beers served at room temperature and to scotch. Of the two, the latter was easier to come by on Enterprise. If you knew who to ask. And if you traded some day shifts for night shifts. And if a small amount of cash exchanged hands.
Reed motioned Tucker to a seat on the small couch, the only horizontal surface besides the bed not covered by neat stacks of books and padds, then pulled some small cut-glass glasses off a shelf. A striking matching decanter, empty, stood next to them. They were all sparkling clean. "Will you have some scotch with me?" Reed asked. Tucker gave an answer in the affirmative, and Reed continued, "These are vodka glasses, which are small, but all my regular tumblers are awaiting a wash. I don't have anything bigger that's clean. Unless you'd rather drink straight from the bottle?" He waved the bottle invitingly at Tucker.
Tucker laughed. "No thanks. One of those little glasses would be just fine." Reed poured a hefty slug in each glass, a single shot nearly filling it, then handed one to Tucker. "These are pretty," Tucker commented, holding the glass up to the light. The amber liquid glowed in the light, the cut glass foregrounding the color.
"Thanks. A friend of mine got me the decanter and a set of eight glasses on a trip to Russia. I've only broken two of the glasses, and they've been well traveled. I don't drink much vodka, though. The decanter is usually empty." He eyed it thoughtfully. "I suppose I could put the scotch in it, but I'm not sure of the seal."
Tucker wet his lips with the scotch. "Oh, good stuff," he said appreciatively, then took a real sip, closing his eyes and feeling the burn as it went down. Reed took a sip of his own, then sat on the couch next to Tucker, legs extended far forward, stretching out; he wasn't wearing shoes, just socks. Reed set the glass on his stomach and twiddled it from side to side.
Right. He should probably get down to the reason for his visit so Reed could get back to bed. "I just wanted to say sorry about getting so mad," Tucker began.
Reed looked sideways at him and took a sip of his scotch. "I was out of line. I shouldn't have bypassed the EPS grid without getting your approval."
That was what Tucker had wanted to hear--but three days ago, not now. "No, it was a good idea, and the risk was acceptable. And best of all, it worked. I was just bent out of shape because you--because you didn't get permission. But that little argument we had--"
Reed had the grace to look embarrassed. "No, really. Sir."
"Let's just say, there's enough blame to go around." Tucker drained his glass and allowed Reed to refill it. "I would prefer that you ask my permission as chief engineer before you do major things like attaching huge power-draining weapons directly to the impulse engines, but it was wrong of me to reject your idea out of hand. I didn't listen to your idea because you did an end run around my authority." Tucker realized he wasn't looking at Reed. Apologies usually went down better if you looked at the person you were apologizing to. He turned to face the lieutenant and finished, "I'm sorry and it won't happen again."
Reed looked confused. "You're apologizing to me?"
"Because I did something wrong and I feel bad about it. When that happens, I apologize. It's just a little something my mother taught me."
"Oh." Reed finished off his scotch and looked at the empty glass.
Tucker continued. "I wouldn't be much of a chief engineer if I didn't listen to my people. I didn't listen to you."
"Well, I'm sorry I flouted your authority." Now it was his turn to look up. "I'll try to do better."
Tucker laughed. At least the man was honest. No false promises here. "You do that. Listen, Malcolm, I do get furious with you. Man, you can piss me off. You decide you're right about something and you just will not back down. But you're all right."
Reed gave him an admiral's salute: a kind of wave around the forehead with two fingers. "Thank you. Sir."
"And that--do you do that on purpose?"
"That 'sir' stuff."
"What 'sir' stuff?"
"Never mind." Tucker took another pull, then leaned back, matching his posture to Reed's. Tucker had much longer legs. "And you can call me Trip, you know. Sometimes you do." He turned his head and found Reed looking intently at him. "Something wrong?"
Reed lowered his eyes, shook his head, tossed back his scotch like a shot, then busied himself with refilling his glass. "These glasses are far too small. Maybe we should drink from the bottle after all."
Tucker leaned forward, elbows on knees, took the bottle from Reed, and poured himself another glassful too. The glasses only held about two hefty sips. As he set the bottle down on the ground between them and wiggled the cork back in, Reed continued. "It is odd, isn't it. You really piss me off too." The American phrase was uttered with extra clarity by the Brit. "We always seem to be arguing, but here we are, sharing a bottle of fine scotch. Can't think of anyone better, in fact."
He held up his glass in an ironic salute, and Tucker clinked it with his own. They drained their glasses slowly in companionable silence, but neither made a move for a refill. Reed's odd intensity had returned, and Tucker had a feeling he should make his excuses and mosey on out. He didn't. He was curious. The silence stretched.
When Reed took the glass from his hand and set it next to his on the ground near the couch, Tucker did nothing. When Reed took his hand, he let him. When Reed, eyes locking with Tucker's, moved his body to straddle Tucker's seated body, he let him. When Reed leaned in close and brushed his cheek against Tucker's, he let him. And when Reed's mouth gently, persuasively closed on his, he kissed him back.
Tucker didn't shut his eyes as he and Reed kissed. It was a light kiss, an exploratory kiss, to test reaction. He slid his hands up Reed's thighs, settled on his hips, and then urged him slightly closer. Reed pulled his head back and opened his eyes. The intensity was still there, and the visceral link Tucker felt as their eyes met made him catch his breath. Reed slid his body forward. Tucker, hands settled lightly on Reed's ass, was dimly aware of Reed's erection pushing against his stomach, and his own cock stirred. They stared at each other, face to face, Reed breathing heavily, for a long moment. Reed's pupils were huge.
This time it was Tucker who bridged the gap, and Reed did not close his eyes this time either. Tucker, in silent answer to Reed's unspoken question, deepened the kiss, testing Reed with his tongue. Reed tasted of scotch, and his lips were surprisingly soft. One of Reed's hands slid up Tucker's neck, and he cupped the side of Tucker's head, his thumb gently stroking Tucker's jaw, then lightly under the ear. The sensation, coupled with the increasingly desperate kisses they were exchanging, was deeply erotic, and Tucker became aware of his own erection, throbbing hard. Reed's eyes half closed, and he pulled back, sliding his hands to Tucker's chest, as if pushing him away. His ass brushed on Tucker's erection, and the slight pressure caused his cock to jerk.
"Do you want to stop?" Reed's voice was deeper than usual.
"No. Do you?"
This time, there was no pretense of tenderness. Hands, mouths desperately sought the other, and Reed leaned heavily into Tucker, as if to hold him down, temporarily taller, the ridge of his erection rubbing against Tucker's stomach through the layers of clothing. Tucker gasped when Reed captured one of his fingers in his mouth and sucked hard on it. Tucker's cock leapt. He lost all track of time, abandoning himself to sensation, to Reed's mouth and Reed's scotch-scented breath, to Reed's scent, to the feel of Reed's skin under that T-shirt, to Reed's intense, electric gaze.
He came to himself again when he noticed Reed's fingers, trembling slightly, were pushing aside his red T-shirt. untucking it from the trousers. Tucker slid his hands back under Reed's black T-shirt and caressed the warm skin, just as Reed's hands were doing to him. Reed's eyes darkened at the contact. A moment later, their T-shirts were off, and chest pressed against chest. The kisses had become simple, inarticulate expressions of desperation and need. Tucker pulled Reed closer to him and rubbed his face against Reed's chest. Reed's chin and cheek brushed the top of his head. He realized that Reed was rubbing his erection against Tucker's body. Reed's legs were still tucked on either side of Tucker.
"Are your legs going to sleep?" Tucker asked breathlessly. His hands were working on Reed's waistband.
Tucker pushed Reed off, then unfastened Reed's trousers. Reed, staggering slightly, managed to get them off, revealing his phallus, so erect that it almost touched his own stomach. He was uncircumcised. Tucker kicked his shoes off while Reed's hands pulled at his fly. Tucker stood up, stepped out of his trousers, and wrapped his arms around Reed, who suddenly seemed much shorter and smaller. Tucker kissed the side of Reed's face, gently tongued his earlobe, and trailed his tongue down Reed's neck. Reed's hands caressed Tucker's collarbone, and Tucker felt one of his nipples taken into Reed's mouth. The wet suction nearly undid him.
He didn't yet quite dare touch Reed's cock, which was pulsing against Tucker's abdomen, leaving its own trail of fire, along with a sticky trail of pre-come. Reed, however, had no such inhibitions. His tongue still circling a nipple, he reached down with one hand and gently grabbed Tucker's cock. He rubbed his hand up and down its length, then stroked the sensitive head with his thumb. Tucker groaned and drew Reed's head up, then kissed him again. The pressure of Reed's hand on his cock was exquisite.
Reed's hand on his cock developed a rhythm, which they matched with their tongues: his hand stroked down and up three times; then he folded his hand around the shaft and rubbed the tip of Tucker's cock against his skin. Tucker stopped him when he got too close by pulling his hand aside. Reed, understanding, clasped his hand and drew him to the bed on the other side of the room. A dark blue duvet had been hastily pulled across the bed to make it look made; he had indeed woken Reed up with his unannounced visit. Reed twitched the duvet aside, and the two of them fell onto the bed.
For a moment, they lay next to each other, chest to chest, eyes locked. It was crazy, Tucker thought, that they had said practically nothing. There didn't seem to be anything to say. Were they making love? Or were they just fucking? Was this thing between them anger, sex, or simple human need? He pushed Reed back onto his back and set his mouth on Reed's navel. Tucker brushed his cheek, with its day's growth of beard, against Reed's stomach and was rewarded with a sigh. Reed's hands found his head; his hair was too short to weave his fingers into.
Tucker's hands moved from Reed's hips down to his thighs, then lightly brushed his cock. He had never seen an uncircumcised penis up close before. The fold of skin seemed to hide the head. He slid the skin down, feeling it move against Reed's hardness, and exposed the tip, then set his mouth on the head, which was a dusky rose in color. He swirled his tongue experimentally around the tip, tasting it, eliciting a heartfelt "oh, god" from Reed. His own erection throbbing almost painfully between his legs, he cupped Reed's balls in one hand, moved the other hand up and down Reed's cock, and sucked at the tip. Then he slid his hand down to the base and pulled as much of Reed's cock as he could into his own mouth. He slid his mouth up and down, sucking hard, tongue swirling against the unfamiliar sliding skin, until Reed told him to stop. He stopped immediately; the hand cupping Reed's balls felt them throb slightly, but Reed didn't come.
A moment later, Reed was pulling him up next to him. Reed, without words, urged him onto all fours. Tucker, in a haze of sexual need, his cock weeping, obeyed. He had a good idea of what was going to happen when he heard Reed pull something out of the bedside table's drawer. Cold lubricant slid between his butt cheeks, and his cockstand dwindled slightly at the sensation. Sounds indicated that Reed was applying some to his own cock. Then he felt Reed's hand sliding on his ass, moving the slick stuff around and warming it. A finger trailed down the crack between his cheeks, then gently insinuated itself in his asshole. Another finger joined it. Tucker's cock wagged in sympathy at the unfamiliar probing. A moment later, the head of Reed's phallus pressed where the finger had been, and with a slight push, Reed lodged the tip of his cock inside Tucker. He paused.
"Is this all right?" Reed asked. "Does it hurt?"
"Oh god. Please don't stop." Tucker's voice didn't sound like his own.
Reed pushed in slowly. Tucker could feel the tight ring of his sphincter muscle surrounding Reed's hard cock. Reed had slid in about two inches when Tucker said, "Wait," and Reed stopped, gasping. Tucker deliberately relaxed himself, allowing Reed to stretch him. The sensation was not unpleasant, but it was slightly painful; it burned a little. "All right," he said at last, and Reed, grasping his hips, slid in until his balls brushed Tucker's butt cheeks. There was a long pause while Reed fought for control. Tucker could feel Reed's length of him inside as a heavy pressure. Then Reed slid one hand around and grasped Tucker's cock. His hand was still slick from the lubricant he had used, and the feel of his slippery hand on Tucker's cock while Reed was embedded in him was tremendously exciting.
Reed gently slid his own cock back, his hand sliding back on Tucker's cock simultaneously until his hand touched his balls, until only the head of his dick was lodged inside Tucker, and then he pushed forward again, the hand on Tucker's phallus matching his movement. He did it again, his movements exquisitely slow and controlled, and then again. And again.
Tucker was shaking, in part from reaction, excitement, and scotch, and in part because he was supporting his body weight and part of Reed's on his hands and knees. Then Reed let go of Tucker's dick and grabbed his hips, pulling Tucker savagely to him as he pushed forward, then releasing as he pulled back. His movement became harder, faster, and less controlled. Tucker could feel Reed's balls slapping against his ass every time he buried himself. He focused on relaxing his asshole, but he knew he was going to be sore tomorrow. Reed was moaning; he was very close. Tucker pushed himself up so he was sitting on his knees, then partially sat back onto Reed. Reed uttered a surprised "oh," his fingers convulsing into Tucker's hips. He pushed hard, hard, hard into Tucker, released, then pushed in again and came, his body rocking rhythmically into Tucker's. Tucker could feel the warm jets spurting inside him. He wished he could see Reed's face.
They tilted over to one side, still locked together. The pressure inside Tucker lessened as Reed softened. They lay together, sweating and panting, until Reed pulled out. Tucker felt the liquid seep out of his asshole as he immediately flipped over onto his back, revealing his huge erection. This time, it was Reed who kissed Tucker's belly, who slid his hands down to his inner thighs, who took his dick between his lips. The warm mouth took almost his whole length in, then withdrew. Reed's hand stroked up and down his length a few times, and then Reed set his mouth on Tucker again. This time, he sucked instead of just drawing his mouth up and down. Again, his mouth withdrew, and his hand stroked. By means of this slow torture, Tucker's erection grew even larger. He fought not to thrust. He discovered he was panting, and he tried to calm his breathing. His heart was thudding. He was wrought to a fever pitch.
Sensing this, Reed slid one hand underneath his ass, the other hand curved around the base of his phallus. One of Reed's fingers slid across his asshole just as his mouth took in his length again. Tucker bent one leg to give Reed better access. The sucking this time did not stop, and Reed built up a rhythm, one or two fingers gliding across his sensitive asshole and his mouth descending and ascending, his hand gripping, then massaging the base of his cock, sometimes stroking his straining balls. Tucker's hands found Reed's head, and he convulsively pushed his fingers into his hair, implicitly begging him not to stop. He heard himself saying, over and over, "Please. Please."
One of Reed's fingers slid into his asshole just as the rhythm began to accelerate, and Tucker, uttering a small cry, abandoned all pretense of control and poured himself over and over again into Reed's hot mouth. Reed didn't swallow Tucker's come. Instead, he continued his mouth's sucking up-and-down movement, the come spilling out onto Tucker's lower abdomen and puddling, mixed with saliva and the slick lubricant.
When Tucker had gone soft, Reed gently released him, then rubbed the come across Tucker's stomach and hips. He insinuated himself next to Tucker, who was still breathing heavily, and kissed him full on the mouth. Tucker could taste his own seed, slightly bitter. He felt heavy. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to clean up. He wanted to do all that again.
"Is it okay if I crash here tonight, Malcolm?" he asked sleepily, stroking Reed's face.
"Any time." Reed pulled the duvet up over their rapidly cooling bodies and dimmed the lights.
Tucker rolled on his side and pulled Reed in. "Anybody else on Enterprise you do this with?" Tucker asked, his breath ruffling Reed's hair.
"You're the only one," Reed answered. "Sir."
It was a week before Tucker and Reed were alone again. Tucker had not really paid attention to how often he saw Reed until that night. Reed was everywhere. He was climbing in conduits in tubes. He was in the lift. He was eating breakfast with Doctor Phlox. He was arguing with someone in a corridor. He was in and out of engineering to check on power relays. But he never seemed to be alone.
He began to suspect that Reed was avoiding him and wondered if he should drop by his quarters again, this time during the day. But Reed didn't hesitate to make eye contact; he smiled; he said hello; and they had entire conversations, and not always about work. In fact, things were exactly as they were before. Except they weren't.
They had woken when Reed's alarm went off at about seven in the morning. They had retreated to opposite sides of the bed while they slept, although they had awoken at about 4 A.M. for another interlude. Reed silenced the alarm, and they turned to face each other. Tucker put out a hand and stroked Reed's hair, using his fingers as a comb. It went from messy to smooth, and Tucker was delighted. He smiled at Reed, who looked supremely relaxed, and Reed smiled back and hitched closer. "Morning," he said.
"Morning," Tucker echoed. He turned on his side, facing Reed, head propped up on one elbow, and stroked Reed's flat stomach. It was soft to the touch, lightly furred with fine hair. Underneath were flat planes of muscle. Tucker was struck by how much different a man's body was than a woman's. Natalie's body, for example, was all soft roundness.
"Isn't it Wednesday?" Reed asked. He reached up a hand and caressed Tucker's arm. His fingers were warm. The intensity that had characterized him last night was gone, replaced by a relaxed quietness.
Tucker didn't stop his stroking. "I guess so. Why?"
"I thought you had a staff briefing every Wednesday at eight with the shift leads."
"Aw, hell." Tucker turned to look at the clock. "Mind if I use your facilities?"
"Of course. Just give me a moment first." Reed withdrew and disappeared into the bathroom, giving Tucker just a glimpse of his nude body, and emerged a few minutes later. "All yours."
"Thanks." Tucker managed to get ready in fifteen minutes. Reed's bathroom was immaculate, although in a corner was a basin stacked with dirty tumblers, mugs, and plates: Reed's washing up. When he rooted around in Reed's stuff for depilatory cream, he suspected that the things in the drawers were alphabetized. While he was in the shower, Reed had popped in with Tucker's jeans and T-shirt, which luckily wasn't too badly wrinkled, and some fresh underwear and socks, taken from Reed's own store.
When he emerged, Reed had put his old dress trousers back on and was puttering around, shirtless. A small kettle was heating water. The bed had been made, the blue duvet tossed neatly across it and the pillows arranged just so. "Tea?" Reed offered.
Tucker shook his head. "No, I'll get coffee with breakfast. I'll stop by the mess and grab something, or my stomach will be growling all through the meeting. I have to stop by my quarters and put on a uniform first." He hesitated. "I really have to go."
Reed nodded. "Do you want to talk about--this?" He waved a hand to encompass what he couldn't say.
"I guess we better."
"Soon." What had just happened between them? "I need to think." Tucker felt incredibly awkward. Was he supposed to kiss the guy goodbye or what?
Reed took care of his indecision by stepping toward him and doing just that: kissing him goodbye. In keeping with Reed's easy sleepiness, it was a kiss without demand or promise. "I've never attempted to seduce a senior officer before," Reed said. "Much less a male senior officer."
Tucker laughed. "You succeeded spectacularly."
"I really had no idea," Reed responded. "It seemed like--an acceptable risk. At the time. I'm certain part of it was the scotch. And the apology. I never expected such an apology."
Tucker thought he had better confess. "I've never done this before. With a man."
Reed met his eyes. "Nor have I."
The kettle whistled; the moment was gone. Tucker left as Reed was making his morning tea.
Since then, Tucker had been pulling double shifts. Because the shifts weren't contiguous, his sleeping patterns suffered, and a week went by without him really being aware of how much time had passed or what day it was. He managed to do a lot of thinking; he suspected he was distracted at work.
So when he entered the darkened mess hall at 3 A.M. on a break and found Reed there, alone, reviewing some padds and sipping tea, he got a tray of food and sat right down. "Sorry," he began without preamble. "I've been pulling doubles."
Reed nodded and stacked the padds. "I noticed."
"I'm not avoiding you." Tucker was defending himself. "I had to pay off that scotch. I traded some shifts for it."
Reed was amused. "Really."
"Yep. Worth it, though."
"Why didn't you simply rearrange the schedule?" Reed's eyes were wide and innocent over the rim of his mug.
"Now, I'm shocked you would say that," Tucker drawled. "That wouldn't be ethical. It was a private deal between me and Ensign Baker."
"Well, I suppose we've both had time to think."
Tucker nodded, adjusted his tray, and took a breath. They may as well get right to it. "Yeah, I did some thinking this week. There's this--intensity," he began. "Between us. In you. Especially when we argue. I guess that's what turned into--into--"
"Sex?" Reed suggested.
"Sex," Tucker agreed.
"Trip, I'm fairly certain I'm straight," Reed said flatly.
Tucker nodded. "I'm fairly certain I am too." He gestured. "So how do you explain it?"
Reed shifted slightly. "Do we need to? Maybe I should apologize."
"Why?" Tucker frowned.
"What was it you said? 'Because I did something wrong and I feel bad about it. When that happens, I apologize.' Your words, I believe." Reed took a breath. "I was wrong to seduce a superior officer. The stupidity of it is simply breathtaking, really; this could affect our working relationship, which I value. I should apologize for that at the least."
Tucker shook his head. "I wish you wouldn't," he said. "It takes two to tango, and I guess I didn't think very hard about it at the time, but I suppose it would put you in a tight spot." He took a sip of water. "If you apologize, it implies regret, and I hope you don't regret what we did."
Reed said, "No. I don't regret it."
"I don't think it's affected our working relationship. I think we're handling it just fine. If you want, I can ask Captain Archer to do your performance reviews."
Reed shook his head. "No, I trust you. You'll be fair."
"So what happens now?" Tucker used the wet bottom of his glass to make overlapping rings on the tabletop. "Reed, I won't lie. That was one of the most intense experiences of my life. The possibility that it might happen again kind of scares me. But I want it to happen again."
"There was no other 'but.'"
Reed rested his head in a hand. "Well, here's the but I'm thinking. Do you want our peers to know we're sleeping together?"
Tucker hesitated. "No," he said at last. "Because for all anyone knows, we're two straight men, and anyway, I'm technically your boss. Not to mention, from the vibe I'm getting from this conversation, it may have been a one-time thing."
"Are we going to have a relationship?"
"We have a relationship."
"We have a working relationship."
"Malcolm, just lay it on the line."
Reed sat back in his chair, fingers laced around his mug. "It was an intense experience for me too. I initiated it, after all." He smiled ruefully. "Freud would have a field day with the power dynamics of our little encounter." He shook his head. "When I dream about sex, I dream about women. When I have fantasies, I fantasize about women. I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to seduce women. What about you?"
Tucker sighed. "Yeah."
"In fact, at the moment, I'm a touch obsessed with a particular female crew member who figures large in my fantasies. I can't deny that there's this--something between the two of us. I acted on it that night and that was likely a mistake on my part. I can't regret it happened, though. But I think it would be ill advised for me--and you--to pursue a partnership with another man."
Tucker nodded. "I have to say that I agree with you." He slid his water glass away, leaving a trail of water. "I have never had a conversation this direct before about relationships. It's pretty refreshing. So I have to ask--"
Tucker cleared his throat. "Couldn't we just have a sexual relationship, without the emotional relationship part? I mean, we don't have to date."
Reed just looked at him.
"Yeah, all right," Tucker said, giving in. "Sorry."
They both looked around as the door snicked open. T'Pol, the Vulcan subcommander, strode in, then checked. "Excuse me," she said, her voice formal. "I didn't realize anyone else was here."
"T'Pol," Reed said happily. Tucker looked sidewise at him; yes, Reed had the object of his fantasies in his sights. "Do come sit with us. We were just talking about--about--"
"Human mating rituals," Tucker supplied. "We would love to hear your point of view."
T'Pol hesitated. "I feel I am intruding on a private conversation," she said.
"Not at all," Tucker said. "Have a seat."
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