Title: Holding Back, Part 2: Tucker's POV
Author: Kylie Lee
Length: ~7200 words
Pairing: Tucker/Reed
Fandom: Star Trek: Enterprise
Type: Slash M/M
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Tucker and Reed sort through their relationship as Archer inexplicably dogs Tucker.
Feedback: Oh, my, yes.
Archive: Yes, at EntSTSlash, Tim Ruben, Archers_Enterprise, Allslash, Situation Room, Luminosity, Complete Kingdom of Slash, and WWoMB; anyone else, yes, but ask first.
Author's archive: It's here.
Disclaimer: Paramount, an entity with more money than I will ever see, owns all the Enterprise characters. No money changed hands. No profit was made. This is not an attempt to infringe on copyright. I beg TPTB and their expensive lawyers not to sue me.
Spoilers: None.
Comments: Thanks to Kim the Beta Goddess!

"Talk to me, girl," Commander Trip Tucker commanded his second, Lieutenant Hess, as she leaned into the open door of his office, an inquiring look on her face. They had a great working relationship. They were so used to each other now that they tended to ignore each other most of the time, but they got a lot of work done. After Tucker had chosen her, they quickly had dispensed with niceties and got right down to business. Neither took offense.

Hess looked positively wicked. "It's all under control." She lowered her voice. "I just talked to Chef."

"And?" He flipped his fingers at her, inviting her in.

As she stepped in, she shut the door behind her so they wouldn't be overheard. "And the whole New Orleans theme is a go. He can do the food."

"What about the music?"

Hess pulled padds, data disks, and flimsies out of a chair and sat down. "After Chef came on board, I talked to Ensign Baker, like you suggested, and Baker was a veritable font of info."

Tucker nodded. "Names?"

Hess ticked the names off on her fingers. "Bennett on trombone. Porter on trumpet. Sanchez on drums. Soccoro on piano. Baker on bass. Of course. And apparently Gustafson sings jazz."

"It's quite a lineup. Who did you delegate it to?"

"Baker didn't want to do it. Sanchez. He's really excited. He's going to arrange the rehearsals. And he promises they'll be up and running by B-day."

B-day was their not-so-original code name for their secret project: arranging a surprise birthday party for Lieutenant Fielding. Hess and Tucker had decided that the ship needed a morale boost, and Fielding was kind of a straight-laced, suck-up jerk, fast-tracking for a promotion, big on the all work and no play, so they would kill two birds with one stone: they would have a great party, and Fielding would be forced to pretend to have a good time. It was a win-win situation. Fielding had lived in New Orleans for six years when he attended school, and thus the theme was born.

"Great job, Hess. What else? Got any Engineering-type work-related stuff?"

"No, nothing worth mentioning." Hess hove to her feet. "Why is it so hot in here?" She had undone the top of her uniform and absently unbuttoned her three-button T-shirt while they talked. Now she pulled at her shirt, puffing air in.

"The thermometer's on the fritz and I haven't had time to fix it yet. It's just easier to leave the door open." Tucker had the top part of his uniform undone too, and he had rolled his sleeves up.

"Do you want me to repair it?"

"Would you?" Tucker was tremendously grateful. He was starting work on a big installation and it was running him ragged. He was almost done with setup, and then--oh happy day--he could delegate. "Do you have time? I must not be keeping you busy enough."

"Yes, I have time. No problem. I can do it now. I'll go get a toolbox and pull a temperature sensor out of store." Hess smiled at him. "This is just too much fun. I love conspiring against Fielding." Left unspoken was the reason: Fielding had jockeyed for the job Hess now had, and he resented her for getting it over him.

"Glad to give you the opportunity," Tucker responded. "Get going; I've got work to do."

"Yes, sir."

Hess had barely left when Captain Archer popped in. "Was that Lieutenant Hess?" Archer asked.

Tucker barely spared his friend a glance. "Probably. She works here, you know."

"Ah. Very funny."

"Something I can do for you?"

"No, not really. Just thought I'd drop by and say hello."

Tucker eyed his captain. "Hello. And goodbye. I have a ton of work. Remember that installation?"

Archer half-raised his arms in mock surrender. "Sorry. Are we still on for lunch tomorrow?"

Tucker walked around his desk and checked his calendar. "Yep," he responded. "Noon. On your way out, could you prop that door open?"

"Of course."

"Nice seeing you, Captain," Tucker called after him. Then, under his breath: "What is with that guy?"


Tucker awoke to the beeping of the alarm. He shut it off automatically. It was 3:30 a.m. He had to get back to his quarters.

He lay back for a long moment, considering. He hated having to get up at such odd hours, then go back to bed. He hated having to sneak around. He hated not being able to touch Reed in public.

About five minutes later, he was still lying there, running mentally through the previous day: preparing the installation; he and Hess hiding in the cargo bay, seconds away from being discovered by Fielding; finding the teddy bears and the coffee cache; reconfiguring some machinery; programming some new equipment; eating lunch with Sato; running a long meeting in the afternoon. It seemed to him that he'd been seeing the captain more than usual lately. He seemed to be underfoot. In fact, the only time he hadn't seen the captain was in the cargo bay.

"Trip, are you awake?" Reed's voice was quiet.

"Yes. I just don't want to move."

There was a slight rustling as Reed snuggled closer. They were both nude. "I don't want you to move. I wish you could stay here, not moving." They both knew he couldn't.

Tucker laughed, a short, unfunny laugh. "Maybe we could ask to be bunkmates--share a room."

"Yes, why not? Or we could get rooms next to each other and laser a hole between the quarters."

Tucker considered. "That's actually a really good idea," he told Reed.

Reed began stroking his chest. Tucker captured his hand, then unfolded Reed's fingers, his own fingers trailing against Reed's palm. He drew Reed's index finger into his mouth and sucked on it, then drew his tongue around Reed's fingernail. He felt Reed's breath quicken. He tasted the faint saltiness of Reed's skin. He and Reed hadn't showered after their previous encounter; he could still smell sweat and semen. Reed smelled--like himself. He could drown in that smell.

He released Reed's hand altogether, then rolled over and pinned Reed under his body. He supported his weight on his hands on either side of Reed's shoulders, then leaned down and took Reed's mouth in his. Their cocks brushed together lightly, then more firmly as the kiss deepened and they hardened. Reed's cock, slowly lengthening, stroked against his crotch and stomach, warm.

He reversed his body so that his cock was by Reed's mouth, and they settled into a sixty-nine. He took Reed in his mouth as Reed took him into his. They didn't waste time with toying or playing because they were both tired and Tucker had to get back to his quarters. Reed used his hands to help control Tucker's weight over him. The best thing about making love with another man--or maybe it was just Reed--was the complete lack of posing. They knew what they wanted, and they knew how to get it. They knew what hurt, they knew how hard to press, and they knew what felt really, really good.

Like this. This felt really, really good. Reed's mouth was warm and liquid. He found himself imitating Reed's movements on Reed's cock, so it was almost as if Reed were fellating himself. When Reed realized what he was doing, he took the opportunity to show Tucker just what he liked: long, hard, sucking pulls along his length, pressing along the shaft with the tongue, increasing the suction around the tip, and then a slow slide back down. Tucker could sense Reed's excitement building. There was no noise except for the slight thrum of the ship's engines and the sounds their mouths made on each other. As Tucker tightened his mouth around the head of Reed's cock, Reed moaned slightly; Tucker felt it more than heard it.

Then Reed unerringly found Tucker's sensitive spot, and Tucker pulled back Reed's foreskin a little and found the corresponding spot on Reed--less sensitive on Reed, it acted as a trigger for Tucker's pleasure. It was a kind of signal: Reed was warning him that he was about to come. They were completely focused on each other. He felt Reed's balls contract slightly, and then Reed was spurting. The warmth, the taste, coupled with Reed's sucking, drove him over the edge too. They pulsed in each other's mouths for what seemed like an eternity--an eternity of them suspended together.

Tucker reversed his position again, snuggling close to Reed in the small bed. He found a tissue and handed it to Reed. Reed hated to swallow come. He preferred to spit it out. "Do you think I'm cute?" he asked his lover, bringing the lights up slightly. He was still a little breathless.

"Cute?" Reed sounded puzzled.

"Lieutenant Hess said I was cute yesterday."

"Did she now."

"Not that way."

Reed gazed at him in the half-light. "'Cute' is a word for soft toys, not for men. So no, you're not cute."

"Thank you."

"Am I cute?"

Tucker considered. "No, but you're mighty good-looking. And you have really good hair." He touched it to emphasize his point. Not that it looked good at the moment. But Reed looked incredibly sexy--nude and rumpled, supremely relaxed, his eyes half shut and a smile on his face.

"Thank you. I like the way you look very much--especially right now." He stroked Tucker's face. "Anyone else on board ship you admire?"

"Besides T'Pol?"

"I mean men."

"Oh, I don't know. Captain Archer, I guess. He's pretty good-looking too."

"Captain Archer, your very good friend?"

"I don't have designs on him."

"Good." Reed kissed him. "I think I like having you to myself."

"Don't worry about that. What about you?"

"What about me what?"

"What men aboard ship do you admire? Present company excluded."

Reed considered. "Travis," he said at last.

"H'm," Tucker said thoughtfully. "I can see that."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing." Tucker, smiling, rolled out of bed and turned the lights up a little. "Oh, the time. I don't have time to take a shower."

"I doubt you'll run into anybody at this hour."

"You'd be surprised." Tucker pulled on his underwear, Reed looking on with undisguised appreciation. He couldn't find one of his socks, so he got a new pair out of one of Reed's drawers. "As long as nobody sniffs me, I'll get away with it. My quarters aren't that far away." He reached for his uniform.

He stepped out the door a few minutes later, after a lingering goodbye kiss. He still had the taste of Reed in his mouth and the smell of Reed on his skin as he headed toward the lift at the end of the corridor, prop padds in hand, absently tugging at his collar to straighten it.

"Trip?" a familiar voice said hesitantly behind him.

The corridor had been empty just a second before. Trip, heart thudding, jerked around and saw Archer. "Captain," he said weakly. "Hi, Porthos." He squatted down to pet Porthos and give himself time to think. What was Archer doing? Walking his dog, presumably.

Archer articulated the question first. "What are you doing up so late?"

Had Archer seen him coming out of Reed's quarters? He didn't think so. "Oh, this and that," he said evasively. He was pretty sure the captain was leaping from conclusion to conclusion, each more interesting and unlikely than the last. Oh, lord. "Just heading back to my quarters. What about you?"

"Porthos thinks we're on Earth. He wants to go for a walk. He won't let me sleep unless I take him on a few circuits. I wonder what he thinks of it; there are no other dog smells here."

"I think Taylor keeps a cat," Tucker said at random, Porthos was intrigued by his smell and was aggressively attempting to sniff him, so he stood up, pushing Porthos's head away firmly. "We should get Porthos together with it, just to see what would happen." Another shove. "Stop it, Porthos."

"There's an idea." Archer looked like he was dying of curiosity. Archer knew he was seeing somebody, but he thought it was a woman. The captain had stopped dropping hints and trying to figure out who "she" was, but apparently, curiosity unsatisfied, he was being sneaky instead of direct now. Archer went on, reluctantly, "I guess you'd better get on home and get some sleep."

Relieved, Tucker seized the bone Archer threw him. "See you tomorrow, Captain." With a little wave, he turned his back on the captain and resumed his walk down the hall. He felt Archer's eyes burning in an area between his shoulder blades, like a laser gun sight taking aim before the shooter pulled the trigger. He could only relax once he had turned the corner.


Tucker entered his quarters with only a few minutes to spare. He was expecting Reed at 7:00 p.m., which was earlier than their usual dates, but Reed couldn't stay more than an hour; he had to meet with someone who was working second shift, and Reed hadn't yet prepped for the meeting. He put on some light background music, poured himself a beer, and began tidying the room.

Although Tucker was not hideously messy, Reed was far neater than he was, and he had begun cleaning up more often ever since Reed had been coming over. Tucker had discovered that part of Reed's almost fanatical neatness and cleanliness stemmed from allergies. Reed was used to keeping everything clean and free of dust and other particles, and even though there were far fewer allergens on board Enterprise than back home, he was in the habit of being neat.

His door emitted its warning beep beep, and Reed strode through. As usual, he was carrying a few padds. Whenever one visited the other, props were in order.

"How was dinner with the captain and T'Pol?" Reed asked without preamble, setting his props down on Tucker's desk.

"The usual. Nothing interesting. The captain did mention that you'd be joining us tomorrow, so that'll be good." Tucker neatened a stack of data disks and slid them into a holder. "Want a beer?"

"No, thank you."

Tucker wagged his eyebrows at Reed. "What do you want?"

"I think you know." Reed smiled at him.

Well, time was short. Tucker stepped over to Reed and brushed his fingers through his hair. Reed's eyes closed and opened slowly, his pupils dilating. Tucker slid his hand down around the back of Reed's ear and along Reed's jaw. He moved his head closer but didn't pull Reed in for a kiss. "Like this?" he whispered, his hand stroking and teasing Reed's face and neck. Tucker's other arm slid around Reed's back and waist and urged him closer.

Reed reached up and touched Tucker's lips with a thumb, sending a shock through Tucker's stomach. It was always like that when Reed touched him. Then Reed's lips, warm and alive, were on his. "Like this," Reed responded, and then he was kissing Tucker again.

Tucker focused on the sensation of Reed: Reed under his mouth, Reed under his hands. He remembered the first time they had kissed, in Reed's quarters. Reed had sat on his lap, facing him, and kissed him, and then everything had become a blur of taste and sensation and excitement. It was the same now, along with the same undercurrent of need, tinged with an edge of desperation. He slid his fingers around to the nape of Reed's neck, fingertips caressing the skin and the soft stubble of shaved hair from Reed's last haircut.

Reed made a soft noise, not quite a moan. He was an incredibly self-controlled person, and Tucker loved to make him break that control. He loved to watch Reed come, to watch that self-control dissolve into uninhibited pleasure. He had mentioned this to Reed, and Reed was working on being a little more demonstrative when they made love, made easier by Reed's discovery that Tucker's excitement increased when Reed made noise. The first time Tucker had actually heard Reed cry out when he came was the first time he had penetrated Reed. Just the memory of it made him hard.

Tucker deeped their kiss, then pushed Reed, a little roughly, against the wall next to the door. He unfastened Reed's uniform and pushed it down around his knees and ankles, then slid down Reed's underwear. Reed's uncircumcised cock beckoned to him. He fell to his knees and took Reed into his mouth, one hand stroking the base of Reed's cock and the other sliding up under Reed's T-shirt, feeling the soft, faintly furred skin and underneath, the hard muscle. Reed touched Tucker's head lightly when Tucker found a rhythm. Tucker's free hand wandered around to Reed's ass and cupped a cheek. He felt the play of the muscle as Reed slightly shifted his weight. He took Reed in as far as he could manage.

He was sucking Reed deep and hard when the door chime went off. Reed jerked forward, startled; the chime had gone off right next to his ear. Tucker withdrew hastily.

"Bloody hell," Reed swore, tripping over his uniform, which was still around his feet, his erection huge and red. He collapsed against the wall to steady himself. "Expecting someone, are you?"

Tucker stood up. "Of course not." He pressed his thumb against the comm. "Yes," he said, making his voice brusque. Just then, Reed, who had pushed himself off the wall, tipped over and fell. Tucker shut his eyes when he hit.

"Trip, it's Jon. Can I come in?"

Oh, better and better. Tucker said "Sure, just a second" as Reed, flipping onto his back on the floor, reached down and pulled the lower part of his uniform and underwear up to his waist, then scrambled up. Tucker lifted up his thumb. "Shit. Shit. Get in the bathroom."

Reed, moving fast, did so, snatching something off Tucker's desk on his way in. Tucker checked out the room. Only one beer. Bed made. No clothing strewn around. No evidence.


He whirled around. Reed tossed him the thing he had pulled from the desk: a flimsy. Tucker caught it in midair automatically. "Hold it in front of you," Reed advised. There was a scraping noise as he pulled something else that Tucker couldn't see into the small room, and then he sealed the door behind him.

Tucker looked down, clutching the flimsy. Oh, that. No evidence except for his hard-on. Well, that should go down in a minute or two. Holding it--casually, he hoped--in front of his body, he punched the door open. Only about ten seconds had passed since the captain had rung.

"Captain," he said easily. "What's up?" "Captain," which Tucker pronounced "Cap'n," was Tucker's nickname for his friend. He hardly ever called him Jon, or Jonny. Tucker had done it ever since the day Archer had been promoted. They had gone out to celebrate with some friends, and Tucker had toasted "his friend, the captain" over and over. It had become a running joke, then had turned into something affectionately automatic.

"Hi, Trip. Got a minute? I was wondering if I could ask you something." Archer stepped over the threshold.

"Sure." Tucker forced himself to meet Archer's eyes. His fingers wanted to fiddle with the flimsy, but if he did that, it would cause the plastic to shake, only drawing attention to his--little problem.

"Is everything okay? I thought I heard something fall." Archer's eyes scanned the neat room.

Tucker thought fast. "I just knocked something over when I got up to answer the door. Want a beer?" Damn, that was stupid. Now the captain would stay, and Reed needed to leave to make his meeting. Plus--what if the captain had to go to the bathroom? He'd be far more likely to have to visit the facilities if Tucker plied him with beer.

It was too late. "Sure, I'd like that."

Well, at least he could distract Archer for a second. "You know where they are. I have a nice variety. Help yourself."

While Archer was occupied, Tucker took the opportunity to arrange himself in his desk chair, automatically responding to Archer's casual comments and questions. He crossed an ankle over the other leg, flimsy strategically placed on his lap; his beer was in one hand, propped on his crossed knee.

Archer sat down in the only other chair in Tucker's quarters. Tucker didn't really have his quarters laid out for entertaining; he didn't have a little couch, like Reed did. "I wanted to ask you about the installation," Archer began after a pull from his beer, and he launched into his question.

Tucker, on autopilot, thought he heard a thumping noise from the bathroom, but he couldn't be sure. He tried to keep his face neutral as he responded to the captain's questions. He was trying hard to look like he was paying attention. He hoped he was making sense.

Archer suddenly cut in. "What was that?"

"What was what?"

"I heard a noise."


"From the bathroom." Archer stood up and strode to the bathroom door.

Tucker opened his mouth, then shut it. Well, at least his erection had receded completely. He tossed the flimsy back onto his desk, considered his three-quarters-full glass of beer, and then drank it down.

Just before the captain could open the bathroom door, it slid open and Reed popped out. Reed managed to pull back before running headlong into his superior officer. "Captain," he said, his voice surprised.

"Malcolm, what are you doing here?"

Reed was holding a toolbox. Tucker recognized it; it had been by his bed. That must be what Reed had pulled into the bathroom. "I was just fixing Commander Tucker's water-heating system." He turned his eyes to Tucker. "Trip, it was just a faulty chip." He displayed it. Tucker was impressed. "I replaced it. I don't know why you didn't catch it yourself. It'll be fine now--no more sudden cold showers."

"Great," Tucker said weakly. The man was a genius. An absolute, brilliant genius. "Um, thanks for looking at it for me. Join us for a beer?"

Reed checked the time. "Certainly, I'd like that. I have a meeting later this evening, however, so I can only stay for a few minutes."

"Have a seat." Their eyes met for a long moment, and then Tucker turned aside to get him a beer.

It was probably just as well that they were interrupted. On his way out, Reed almost literally ran into Hess, who was bringing by the information Tucker had requested. She handed it off to Tucker and departed. She still had some B-day things to do. His quarters were Grand Central Station today.

And the captain. Why was the captain around all the time? And why did he keep asking about Hess?


An impromptu poker game, designed to teach T'Pol the rudiments of the game, broke up around 9 p.m. Tucker had deliberately not called the captain about it--he wanted to spend some relaxation time without Archer lurking for once--but Archer had dropped by the mess by chance and had taken Mayweather's place. Partially because of Archer's presence, Tucker had found himself flirting outrageously with Sato, who he could count on to encourage him. After the game, Tucker dropped by his quarters long enough to pick up a few bricks of those coffee beans that he and Hess had discovered in the cargo bay, and he brought them by Archer's room. Archer, pleased and delighted, had accepted them with alacrity. He had only stayed about fifteen minutes. No sooner had he returned home when his comm beeped. It was Reed. They didn't have a date that night, although they'd seen each other at the game a half hour earlier.

"Where have you been?" Reed asked without preamble. Tucker told him. "Well, I had quite an interesting conversation in the lift with Captain Archer, probably just moments before you saw him. He wanted to know if you and Hoshi were dating."

"Really?" said Tucker, surprised. Archer hadn't asked him about that. "What makes him think that?"

Reed's voice was dry. "Your overt flirting during the poker game."

"Oh. That." Tucker brightened. "At least it will throw everyone off."

"Except Hoshi."

Oh, damn. "I didn't think of that." Still, Tucker felt wronged. Sato had flirted with him first; he just fell into it. "I like and appreciate women. The captain knows that."

"I know you like and appreciate women."

"Are you--jealous?" The comm was voice only; he would have preferred a vid pickup too so he could better assess Reed's state of mind. "Look, do you want me to come over? Or do you want to come over here?"

"No. And yes, I suppose I am jealous. I can't compete with women."

Tucker couldn't believe they were having this conversation. Jealous rants from Reed? Mr. Let's Take It As It Comes Reed? Mr. T'Pol Has A Lovely Bum Reed? Reed had looked askance at him after he had kissed Liana in full view of everyone, but he hadn't pitched a fit. "You can't. I mean, you aren't. I'm not interested in Hoshi or any other woman on board that way. I mean, there is no competing going on." Oh, great. He was babbling.

"Trip, are we exclusive?"

"That's it, I'm coming over."

"No, don't. I mean it." Reed sounded tired. "I'll see you tomorrow." He cut the comm.

Tucker sat back heavily. Shit. But Reed had a good point. Were they seeing one another exclusively? Deep down, he hadn't thought so. But Reed's reaction indicated that Reed wanted exclusivity.

Well, he couldn't have his cake and eat it too. He pondered Reed's and his relationship. They rarely talked about it directly. There was affection, and quite a lot of sex. Quite a lot of very interesting sex. Right after Tucker's little breakdown, they had scaled back the interesting level; nurturing and tender would be the adjectives he would use. Now they were beginning to experiment again. But he realized that underneath it all, he wasn't being fair to Reed. Reed gave Tucker all of himself, but Tucker was holding back. He had been keeping his options open. That little conversation they had just had was Reed's way of calling him on it.

As he lay in bed, arms crossed behind his head, considering the ceiling, he remembered Reed looking at him over the poker table, saying as part of Sato's Vulcan-speak game, "Your existence is required to complete my own." He remembered that for that moment, it seemed that only the two of them were at that table.

Great. He wasn't going to get any sleep tonight at all.


Tucker awkwardly balanced a little plate full of something spicy, a paper napkin, a fork, and his beer. The B-day party for Fielding was in full swing. He and Hess had exchanged a high five during the cake cutting; Fielding was incredibly embarrassed but trying to be graceful. It was a beautiful thing to see. Tucker knew he was being a terrible supervisor. He had enjoyed it way too much--but it was nothing as compared with Hess. Maybe now she would get over her weird--whatever it was about Fielding.

He was taking a break from dancing, and he joined Reed on the sidelines. "Wallflower?" he inquired, eyebrows raised.

"I danced with Hoshi and with Susan."

"Do you want to dance with me?"

"Are you asking?"


"No. Not here."

"We can get a big group of people together if you want. That way, you could dance with Travis too, and I could check out the captain."

He had made Reed smile. "No, that's all right." The smile disappeared and Reed stepped slightly closer. "Your mixed messages are confusing me," he said.

"And here I thought I was such a straight-ahead kind of guy." Tucker sighed. "What do you mean?" He was serious now. He hadn't had a chance to talk to Reed after the whole exclusivity issue had been raised.

"Your kissing women in full view of the crew. Your asking me to dance--presumably in front of the crew. Flirting with Hoshi. I don't understand. Do you want to tell people about us? Or do you want to be straight?"

Tucker opened his mouth, then closed it. "I don't know," he confessed at last. "I mean, I don't know how I feel or what I want."

"Are you flirting with women as a cover, or are you really flirting?"

Tucker had to be honest. "Really flirting. I guess it bothers you."

Reed didn't say anything. He raised his eyebrows expectantly and took a sip of his red wine.

Tucker mentally grabbed his shovel and prepared to dig himself a grave. "It bothers me to hide, to sneak around. I think I flirt--with Liana, with Hoshi--because with them I could be out in the open. Not hiding. But at the same time, I'm not ready to tell people about--well, you know." He waved his fork to encompass what he couldn't say.

Reed nodded. Tucker took a swig of beer. He noticed that Archer was watching them from across the room. He imagined he and Reed looked very intent, deep in conversation. Arguing again.

Tucker continued. "I don't know what to make of this--this thing between us. It's valuable to me. I'm sorry I'm hurting you." Reed made a small noise of negation. Tucker pointed his fork at him. "We definitely need to talk--not here, somewhere private. You're being too quiet. Am I in trouble?"

"What do you think?"

"I think I am."


"And you saw me with my arm around Hoshi."

"I did indeed. What do you have to say for yourself?"

Tucker considered. "I'm sorry and I won't let you see it again."

Reed laughed. "It will have to do."

"Honestly, she's just as interested in me as I am in her--that is to say, not at all."

Reed looked dubious. Just then, Mayweather came up to talk to them, and the conversation perforce turned.

But when Reed came to his quarters that night, they didn't talk after all. Tucker wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, because he was still thinking about exclusivity, and he still wasn't sure what he would say if Reed asked him directly. But they hardly exchanged a word. Tucker had barely waited for the door to snick shut behind Reed before he attacked him, and then it was all pulling off clothes and exchanging frantic kisses and making desperate love on the floor, and then on the bed, and then in the shower.

If they couldn't talk, their bodies could.


Tucker rounded the corner and paused long enough to hit the button to open sick bay's doors. Although he really didn't like sick bay--he thought it was the way it smelled; there was a faint odor of bleach or something medicinal underneath the regular smell of the recycled air--he had almost begun enjoying his sessions with Doctor Phlox. They met twice a week. Sometimes they talked; sometimes Phlox stuck him on a biobed and had him practice some relaxation techniques that were supposed to help him visualize and focus. It had helped a lot with his panic attacks in claustrophobic spaces. Phlox sometimes asked him about Reed. He had been honest with Phlox: he wasn't comfortable talking about their relationship, and no, thanks for your concern, he was no longer asking Reed to bite him or bruise him. He was still on medication after his meltdown, which had helped drag him out of the dark place he had been for about a month, after the shuttlepod incident.

Sick bay was empty. He automatically headed to the back area, where the private encounter rooms were located. Between decon and counseling, he was seeing way, way, way too much of Phlox lately.

Reed and Phlox were rearranging one of the encounter rooms, which doubled as private examination rooms. The examination bed had been shoved against one wall and chairs moved into the center of the room. "Ah, hello, Commander Tucker," said Phlox brightly. The alien always seemed to be in a good mood.

"Hi," Trip responded. "Malcolm, what are you doing here?"

"Joint session," Reed responded. "Could you fetch another chair from that other room, please?"

"Sure." Tucker suited action to words. He keyed the door to stay open so he could fit the chair through.

"Didn't you get my message?" Phlox asked him a minute later, motioning them to sit.

"I haven't checked my personal messages today yet, only the ones in Engineering. Don't worry, it's fine." They all sat down and Phlox began.

"I wanted to see both of you so that we could discuss your relationship in terms of the traumatic experience you had. I want to ensure that your relationship can recover from the self-destructive impulses that characterized it formerly."

Tucker mentally translated this into English. He didn't like the sound of the translation. "You mean, we're in--couples therapy?"

Phlox looked surprised. "I suppose you could call it that, yes."

Tucker put his head in his hands. "Argh. I can't believe you're doing this to me."

"Doing what?"

Tucker raised his head. "Couples therapy! I mean--" He was literally at a loss for words. "Couples therapy!" he finished redundantly. He could think of no term more hideous.

"I don't know if I'm comfortable talking about our--relationship," Reed said, his tone almost apologetic.

"Human men don't talk about relationships very much," Tucker told the alien doctor. "Women talk about relationships. Men just sort of have them."

"The two of us haven't really discussed our relationship in direct terms," Reed added. "We tend to talk about other things when we're together."

"Well, what do you talk about?"

Reed thought for a second. "Work, I suppose. Books. Food. Um, women."

"Malcolm talks about guns and weapons a lot," Tucker inserted.

"Surely not that much," Reed objected.

"What about yesterday's twenty-minute conversation about power differentials between the model EM-33 and the model PS-20 hand-held energy weapons?"

"PS-22," Reed corrected automatically. "And their power differentials aren't really comparable. You're taking my remarks out of context."

Tucker appealed to Phlox. "See?"

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," Phlox soothed. "If we could just focus here for a moment. I want to take you through a visualization exercise."

Tucker and Reed listened as Phlox outlined the parameters. They were to visualize objects or situations they associated with their relationship, and then Phlox would help them analyze the images. Phlox stressed that it was important to not censor their reactions. Tucker was growing more and more embarrassed, and Reed was growing more and more delighted at Tucker's embarrassment. Phlox had them work through a sample visualization ("When I think of Trip, I think of three-dimensional recording devices," Reed began inauspiciously), but they were interrupted by the beeping of a page. Phlox was apparently running an experiment that he absolutely had to tend to.

"I'll be back in just a moment," the doctor called from outside the open door. "Visualize! Visualize!"

Reed caught Tucker's eye and started to laugh. "Visualize!" he repeated, perfectly imitating Phlox's plummy tones and accent.


"I just wanted to see where Doctor Phlox would take that notion."

"Do me a favor--pick something a little less phallic in shape next time, would you?"

"Well, then, what shall we visualize?"

"You, me, Hoshi, and a biobed?" It was an old joke, but it still got a laugh.

Reed took Tucker's hands in his. "Back to fantasies, is it? Bloody predictable. Let's see. You, me, T'Pol, and decon?" He tugged Tucker slightly closer.

"How about--you and me, just the two of us, on some hedonistic pleasure planet, where nobody knows who we are?" Tucker stepped inside Reed's personal space. Reed slid his arms up around Tucker's neck, and Tucker's arms went around Reed's waist. Tucker leaned forward, nose brushing Reed's dark, perfect hair, then dipped his head to the side, mouth near Reed's ear. He dropped his voice. "We could hold hands on the beach. I could admire you wearing skimpy clothing. We could go skinny-dipping."

"Are you sure you're not confusing this with your all-purpose girl fantasy?"

"Pretty sure." Tucker drew his head back slightly and met Reed's amused look. "Don't worry; I don't imagine you in a bikini. Or--you could admire me wearing skimpy clothing. Whatever. I'm equal opportunity that way."

"It sounds more appealing every moment. Would there be fruit drinks with little umbrellas in them?"

Tucker shook his head. "That's clearly your all-purpose girl fantasy. When I think of being at the beach with you, I do not visualize fruit drinks with little umbrellas in them. We would drink manly drinks--gin and tonics, maybe. Are those manly? Well, vodka shots then. We would spread suntan lotion on each other and get all sandy. We would sit in the sun. I would read horribly trashy novels, and you would read--oh, I don't know, how about the latest Starfleet updates for plasma cannons? Or you could catch up on your Joyce."

Reed, smiling, returned to his Phlox voice. It was eerie. The man was a born mimic. "Commander Tucker, analyze this fantasy of yours for me, please, paying special attention to the image of--suntan lotion." Reed was laughing at him.

Tucker stepped even closer, pressing his body against Reed's, and became serious. "Oh, I don't think it needs much in the line of analyzing. I want to be free to acknowledge our relationship in public."

Reed fell into his mood. He looked troubled. "Do you feel--constrained?"

"Hell, yes. What about you?"

"I suppose I do."

"Do you want to--well--tell people?"

Reed hesitated. "Do you?"

There was a long silence.

"I guess that answers that," Tucker said glumly. "I'm sorry." Not being able to acknowledge Reed in public--it was driving him crazy. It was making him do stupid things that resulted in a wedge being driven between them.

"No, it's all right." Reed came up slightly on his toes and brushed Tucker's mouth lightly with his own. Tucker, caught in that blue gaze, opened his mouth under Reed's. One of his hands came around and cupped Reed's jaw. He loved to touch Reed's face as they kissed; the slight scratchiness of Reed's day's worth of beard was delightful to him. In response, Reed slid one of his hands behind Tucker's neck. Reed shut his eyes and relaxed to his regular height as Tucker bent down. Their tongues twined together, Reed tasting wonderful and familiar. When had Reed become so necessary to him? It had crept up on him. The image of the two of them on a beach, with no need to censor their words or actions, with nobody caring, beckoned to him more than he could admit.

He wasn't sure if he heard something or sensed a movement. His eyes were drawn to the open door; he'd forgotten to key it shut after he brought that chair in. But instead of Doctor Phlox, Jonathan Archer was standing there, one hand wrapped in a makeshift bandage, a look of stunned incomprehension on his face. Reed was facing the wrong way to see the door easily.

Tucker's pulse stepped up slightly, but he managed to not react. His eyes met Archer's for a long second, and then he deliberately broke the contact. His mind raced. He was almost relieved that his friend had found out. Reed hadn't seen Archer, and he wanted to keep it that way, until he could talk to his best friend. He felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Archer had found out, and now in turn, Tucker would find out the repercussions--whether it would cost him a friendship. But at least he would know where he stood. Now he could be honest with one other person, someone important to him, and that relieved him tremendously.

He turned his attention back to Reed, releasing Reed's mouth for a moment for a breath, eliciting a sleepy look, a lazy smile, and a whispered "don't stop now" from his lover. Tucker deliberately kissed him again, sensing rather than seeing Archer withdraw from the door. After another long moment, he pulled back again, just enough to be able to focus on Reed's eyes. The way Reed was looking at him was--well, proprietary. Exclusive. Reed's emotions were naked, lips slightly parted, eyes heavy-lidded. Tucker felt a rush of desire so strong that it was almost as if he had been hit hard in the stomach. He had to catch his breath.

In the space of a long second, Tucker's engineer's mind considered: he remembered their first kiss in Reed's quarters, Reed tasting of smoky scotch. He remembered dying on the shuttlepod, Reed the last thing he saw. He remembered Reed biting him on his upper arm while Tucker came, the pain and pleasure mingling into thudding sensation. He remembered the ecstasy of burying himself in Reed the first time. He remembered the way Reed stroked his hair back from his forehead when he was lying in sick bay, infinitely tender. He remembered the look on Reed's face after Tucker had kissed Liana, abruptly closed off, though he had said nothing. He remembered breakfast with Reed, poker with Reed, arguments in conduits with Reed, long sessions of tale-spinning with Reed.

Reed knew him in a way no one else did. He was not embarrassed or ashamed to tell Reed his thoughts, fantasies, or fears. Complex, difficult, intense, gun-mad, smart, handsome, funny: Reed had become woven into the fabric of his life. He didn't like the terms--the secrecy; the sneaking; the early-morning walks down the deserted corridors to his own quarters--but he would pay that price. Exclusivity. With Reed, it would be easy.

He bent down again, seeking Reed's mouth, and this time, he didn't hold back. He used his mouth on Reed's to tell him everything, to express things he couldn't put into words, to apologize, to give Reed that part of himself that he had held back because he was afraid.

"Oh, my," Reed whispered when they pulled apart an eternity later. He had felt it too: Tucker's absolute surrender. He stood, quiet and warm, in Tucker's arms. They didn't have to say it. It was just there, that emotion they couldn't talk about yet, that Tucker had just identified, that Reed had known all along, and that underlay everything between them. He could put a word to it now.

So that's what it was.