"It's a Wonderful Enterprise"

Author - Gigi Sinclair | Genres - Angst - Q | Main Story | Rating - R
Trip * Malcolm Fanfic Home

Title: It's a Wonderful Enterprise

Author: Gigi Sinclair

Author's e-mail: canada_gail@hotmail.com

Author's Web site: http://angelfire.com/trek/gigislash

Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: Tucker/Reed

Rating: R

Category: Slash

Summary: Malcolm goes Jimmy Stewart as our favorite omnipotent being shows him what life would have been like if he'd followed his father's wishes.

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Not even a percentage. This is a nonprofit fanfic. No copyright infringement is intended or should be inferred.

Comments: This is not a new story. If you're familiar with Tim Ruben's site, or with my own, you may have already read it. It's here through special request of Bandybones, and also because I would like to archive it at the EntSTSlash archive.

Archived to EntSTSlash on 01/15/2003.
Archived at Trip*Malcolm with the author's express permission.

"Clean laundry?" Trip groaned and rolled onto his back.

"What?" Malcolm propped himself up on one elbow. "You asked me what my favourite Christmas smell was, and I told you. Clean laundry."

"Listen, babe..."

"Don't call me that."

"I know you weapons types like to shoot your cannons as soon as they're loaded, if you get my drift, but let me explain a little Engineering thing called foreplay." Malcolm snorted.

"You must be joking. Your idea of foreplay is to throw me on the bed and yell: 'Warp drive engaged.'" Trip shook his head theatrically.

"Malcolm, darling, I don't give a rat's ass what your favourite smell is. It was supposed to be a come-on."

"A come-on? You already had your tongue in my throat and your hand between my legs. If you ask me, I'd say the come-on had already arrived." Malcolm smiled. If he had to choose, he'd say this was his favourite part about being with Trip. Jokey pseudo-arguments in bed. Oh, sure, the sex was fantastic and everything, but he'd had great sex before. Great sex with a guy who was also his best friend, however, was a new experience.

"The idea, my dear, was that I'd ask you what your favourite smell was, you'd say it was me, and then we'd kiss a whole bunch and get laid."


"It's OK. I just thought it would be obvious to a guy of your considerable experience."

"You forget, Trip, darling, that my experience was not picked up in seedy bars with big-breasted women called Ruby Sue."

"I guess I can forgive you, then."

"Want to try again?"

"Sure thing." Sitting up, Trip looked at Malcolm, cleared his throat, and said, in a stagey voice that reminded Malcolm of awards night at his public school: "Say, Malcolm, what's your favourite smell?"

"Ooh, tough one, Trip. But I'd have to say a combination of engine grease and malt liquor." He blinked ingenuously at his lover. "How was that?" Trip laughed and lay back, pulling Malcolm on top of him.

"Good enough." The kissing was accomplished, but before they could move on to Phase Two of Trip's plan, Malcolm pulled away.

"We've got to stop."

"Why?" Trip grinned. "You forget your birth control? Well, I'll take the chance if you will, but I've already been knocked up once, and a good Southern girl doesn't get two buns in the oven without pushing someone into a shotgun wedding..." Malcolm lay a finger on Trip's lips, one of the only ways to get him to shut up. The other, even more effective, method involved another portion of Malcolm's anatomy, but they didn't have time for that at the moment.

"I've got to go to work." Trip raised his head to look at Malcolm's clock.

"Shit, babe, you've still got twenty minutes. That's plenty of time. I'm a fast worker." But Malcolm was already off the bed, looking for his underwear.

"We're supposed to get messages from Earth today." He pulled on his regulation blue shorts and went over to the computer. Trip, after a pained, long-suffering sigh, got off the bed and stood behind Malcolm, hands on his shoulders.

"You're turning down a ride on the Trip-enator to check your mail? What, you got a boyfriend in Liverpool or Plymouth or somewhere who's supposed to be sending you some dirty pictures?" It was said as a joke, but there was an undercurrent of jealousy. Which pleased Malcolm more than he liked to admit, even to himself.

"No. I'm expecting a message from my sister." He glanced back at Trip. "Putting up with you takes enough effort as it is. I don't need other guys."

"Good." The hands started to move, rubbing Malcolm's shoulders. "Although, if you wanted to give it a try, I was thinking of asking the Captain to join us one night."


"Or T'Pol, maybe, if you'd rather swing that way. Hell, you're already obsessed with her ass. Course, I think mine's nicer, but if we got the two of them together, you could do kind of a comparison. Maybe even," he lowered his voice and bent down to bite Malcolm's earlobe. "A taste test?" Malcolm laughed as the first message, from an old Academy friend serving on the Millennium Eagle, came onto the screen. Encouraged, Trip came around to kneel in front of Malcolm's chair. "Still, if you're busy at the moment, I can always entertain myself. You don't even have to pay attention if you don't want." He put a hand on Malcolm's waistband, which Malcolm slapped away.

"Trip! You can't blow me while I'm watching a message from my sister."


"Because I don't really want to associate that sensation with her picture. I'm already fucked up enough..." Malcolm trailed off as the image of his friend was replaced by that of his father.

The Admiral cleared his throat, coughed a few times, and looked into the recorder.

"Reed. This is your father." A lengthy pause, during which Trip reluctantly got off his knees and settled on Malcolm's lap instead. "Your mother tells me your ship will be docking at the Harrison Space Station on the thirteenth of the month. I gather she got the information from your sister." Another pause. "In any case, she---your mother, that is---thinks I ought to come pay you a visit. Not my idea, of course, but you know what your mother's like when she gets something into her head. Won't give me a moment's peace until I see you. So I suppose, unless it's against regulations..." he sounded hopeful, but only for a moment. "But if it's not, I guess I'll be seeing you there. At Harrison." The Admiral blinked and hesitated. Then he turned around and called: "How do you turn this bloody thing off?"

It was the last message. Malcolm switched off the computer and leaned back on the chair.


"I'll say." Trip agreed, sympathetically indignant. "Your own dad calls you by your last name?"

"Only when he's feeling affectionate." And only when there was no one else around to hear it. Malcolm stood up, dumping his lover onto the floor. "The captain has to tell him he can't come. It's the only thing to do."

"Come on, Mal. He can't be that bad." Trip relocated himself to the bed. "And we've still got fifteen minutes..."

"No, he's not that bad. He's a hell of a lot worse." Malcolm narrowed his eyes at Trip. "This is your fault, you know."


"I bet they hadn't even thought of me in years, until you and the captain had the brilliant idea to ask them what kind of food I like."

"Hey." Trip held up his hands. "That was Jon's idea, OK? I had my own plans for your birthday, and they involved you being drunk and depressed and me showing up with a bottle of scotch and a couple of creatively placed bows. Jon screwed me just as much as he did you over that thing..." Malcolm looked at him.

"You should get going."

"Malcolm, come on."

"Or stay here, if you want, but I have to speak to the captain before I start work."

"Don't you think you're overreacting?"

"No. Overreacting would be if I threw myself into the engines."

"You'd better not. I just finished working on them." Trip lay back and closed his eyes. At any other time, Malcolm would have been tempted to stay and watch him sleep, but there were more pressing concerns now. Instead, he picked up his towel and headed for the bathroom.

"Don't worry, Trip. I won't resort to that unless my father decides to stay a week."

"I think that's great." Jonathan Archer smiled in his usual hearty yet obtuse way.

"But it sets a bad precedent," Malcolm insisted. "If I start having visitors, everyone will want to see their families as soon as we get anywhere near Earth."

"It's all right. I don't think anyone will mind us making an exception for you, Lieutenant."

"I mind! I don't want people to think I'm getting some sort of special treatment..."

"They won't think that." Malcolm clenched his fists and restrained the desire to punch his captain right in his smirking face. "I think everyone would be very pleased to see you improve your relationship with your father. I know I'm looking forward to it." This left Malcolm with no choice but to spell it out.

"Captain, with all due respect," which, at the moment, was nil, "I don't want him here."

"Come on, now, Lieutenant. He is your father."

"He's also a complete bastard."

"He can't be that bad."

"The only people who say that, Captain, are the ones who haven't met him." Archer looked at him evenly. Since the initially pointless, then near-fatal asteroid charting mission that had kick-started his relationship with Trip, Malcolm had suspected the captain of harbouring matchmaking tendencies. Tendencies which certainly seemed to be in full swing at the moment. It was only unfortunate that the only match for his father was Satan, and he seemed content to wait until the old man popped off.

"I think I'll send Admiral Reed a personal message inviting him to visit the Enterprise. And Malcolm, please. Try to smile." He smiled all right, all the way to the practice range, where he obliterated several targets, keeping his father and Jonathan Archer in mind the whole time.

"Guess who?" As his shift neared its end, Malcolm was standing at his console, jabbing buttons far more violently than necessary, when someone came up behind him and slipped his arms around Malcolm's waist.

"If it's not Ensign Baker with that report I asked for, then I don't want to know." Trip's arms tightened and he nuzzled Malcolm's neck.

"What if it is Ensign Baker?"

"Then I would suggest she take her hands off me before I report her for sexual harassment." Trip laughed.

"I guess things didn't go so great with the captain, then."

"He's issuing my father a personal invitation to visit the ship."

"Want me to talk to him?"

"No." Trip let go and stood beside him.

"You're not still sulking, are you?"

"I'm not sulking, I'm bloody furious."

"Why? I'll help you."

"Help me?" Malcolm stared at him. He'd slept and showered since Malcolm had last seen him, but the silly, uncomprehending grin was still on his face. "How are you going to do that?"

"You know, butter the old guy up. I'm pretty good at it, if I do say so. All you gotta do is go up to him, stick out your hand like this," he extended a hand to Malcolm, "And say, 'I gotta tell you, sir, you raised a damn fine boy. Best weapons officer I ever had the pleasure of working with. Not to mention a really great fu..."

"Trip!" Trip obediently amended his sentence to:

"Football player," as Lieutenant Walker passed by.

"It's not funny," Malcolm hissed, when the lieutenant had disappeared.

"Does that mean I can't call him Daddy?" Malcolm stiffened and drew himself up to his full height. Which wasn't quite as impressive as he'd have liked, but he had to work with what he had.

"If you want to help me, Commander Tucker, then I would ask that you re-examine my plans to equip the Enterprise with more efficient cannons." Trip's smile evaporated.

"For Christ's sake, Malcolm, I thought we were over this."

"I believe my proposal is still valid, and if you would take the time to look at the plans, you would see that despite your protests, only a negligible percentage of engine power would be lost."

"It's true what they say, you know." Trip scowled at him. "No one can push your buttons like your spouse."

"We're not married, Commander."

"I know, Lieutenant." Trip stared at him. Malcolm stared right back. "Sometimes I think that's the only reason I'm still sane."

Malcolm spent most of the night either having nightmares about his father's visit or trying to think of ways he could prevent him from coming (so far, the best plan seemed to be to hijack his father's shuttle and crash it into the nearest uninhabited desert.) That morning, when the night shift was coming off duty and the afternoon shift, of which Malcolm thankfully was one, still slept, he heard a knock on his door and, groggily, went over to answer it.

"This Lieutenant Malcolm Tucker's place?" Trip asked. There was a bottle of scotch in his hand and a yellow bow in his hair. Malcolm gave in despite himself.

"That depends. Are you Commander Charles Reed?" Trip considered this.

"Hey, Charles Reed. I like that. Has kind of a ring to it. Good ol' Charlie Reed. Charles Reed, Esquire." He stepped into the cabin. "Like my bow? It's not the only one, by the way."

"Where are the others?"

"That's for you to find out. Want a drink?"

"It's kind of early." Trip considered this.

"Yeah, you're probably right. Save it for later, then." He put the scotch on the table and sat on Malcolm's bed, while Malcolm tried to think what he had done to deserve this. Since the best way to find out was to ask, he did that.

"Trip, why?"

"Why what?"

"Why do you put up with me? I'm a stuck up, fucked up, neurotic, arrogant, annoying, fixated, obsessive, violent, perverted, power-hungry, short-tempered, approval-craving..." He could have gone on for hours.

"Sure." Trip nodded pleasantly. "But you're my fella." Malcolm laughed. It was that or burst into tears.

"Your fella? Who are you, Eliza Doolittle?"

"No." He pulled Malcolm onto the bed. "I'm just good ol' Charlie Reed."

"I think I'm going to vomit."

"Well, don't do it over your clothes. You look great."

"I look like a weasel."

"A sexy weasel." Trip sat beside him and flung an arm around Malcolm's shoulders. "You're gonna to knock your dad's eyes out." That mental image didn't help with the nausea.

"Trip! He's my father."

"I don't mean he'll want to jump you. Although he was in the Navy..."


"I just meant he'll be amazed to see how handsome," Trip leaned over to plant a kiss on the side of Malcolm's head. "And brilliant," he moved to Malcolm's temple. "And confident," down to the nose, "His little boy looks." Trip terminated his journey with a lingering kiss on Malcolm's lips.

"Trust me," Malcolm replied, as soon as he was physically able. "He won't notice. He barely used to notice if I was in the same room as him."

"Great. That means I can do you right there on the bridge."

"If you can get the Captain and T'Pol to look the other way."

"No chance there. T'Pol would want to watch so she could report it back to her superiors."

"And the Captain?" Malcolm sighed, like the reluctant straight man in a comedy duo. He often felt like that around Trip, who had compounded the feeling when, after Malcolm admitted it to him, he said he was glad he could make Malcolm feel like a straight man in at least one sense.

"Let's just say Johnny's kinks could fill the Grand Canyon." Malcolm smiled weakly, then immediately felt bad. He'd treated Trip terribly, especially in the last few days, but he was still here, still trying to make Malcolm laugh. It was appalling, Malcolm thought, how unworthy he was of his lover. Partner. Whatever.

"Listen, Trip," Malcolm gripped Trip's hand, which served the additional purpose of stopping his own from shaking. "I have to apologize. I know I haven't been...overly receptive lately."

"If that means you're sorry you've been more frigid than a frozen Vulcan, it's OK. You're nervous." He leaned in to hug Malcolm close. "But one day, I'm gonna take you to a Tucker family reunion. I tell you, your daddy's gonna look like Santa Claus after you've seen Aunt May and Aunt Eloise digging into each other like a couple of pissed off polecats." Malcolm tried to look amused, although it wasn't particularly funny. This wasn't the first time Trip had made a remark about taking Malcolm home to his parents, and Malcolm couldn't help but wonder how many other men, and women, had heard the same lines. He sat, awkwardly comfortable, in Trip's arms for a long moment, until Trip said: "One thing, though, babe. If you want to live to see it, you're gonna have to start breathing."

Harrison Station wasn't much to look at. An interstellar Stuckey's, as Trip referred to it, it was further out than Jupiter Station, and didn't have half the amenities. Still, it was solid ground, or the next best thing, and the crew jumped at the chance to get off the ship for a few hours. Except for the senior officers, who, to Malcolm's extreme embarrassment, had been asked to stay and greet Admiral Reed.

He wore his uniform. Malcolm had expected him to. He wore it everywhere except to bed, and, now that he thought of it, Malcolm couldn't one hundred percent guarantee the Admiral didn't sleep it in as well. The Captain's plan was for them to assemble in the docking bay to meet the Admiral. When Malcolm tried to explain this wasn't necessary, Archer jumped to the conclusion that Malcolm wanted some time alone with his father, so it was decreed that the other officers would wait on the bridge. Which meant that Malcolm had to stand alone in the docking bay, his palms sweating and his stomach churning, until the Admiral arrived.

"Reed." Stepping on board, his father acknowledged him with a nod. Then, apparently deciding this was not sufficient, he added, "Malcolm," and extended a hand.

"Sir." Malcolm took the offered hand and immediately saw a flicker of disgust cross his father's face. He should have wiped his hand first, Malcolm realized, too late. In the Admiral's world, only little girls and pooftahs had sweaty palms.

"So this is your ship." The Admiral clasped his hands behind his back.

"Yes." A lengthy pause ensued, which Malcolm broke by clearing his throat.

"The captain and the other officers are waiting on the bridge."

"Yes, I though they must be." The Admiral's disapproval couldn't have been more evident if Malcolm had told him the senior staff were currently engaging in group sex on the navigation equipment. "In the navy, they would have gathered to welcome an admiral on board."

"The captain wanted to give us a moment alone." The Admiral raised his eyebrows and Malcolm felt his anger slowly mounting, in the same way it had when his father, on one of his rare visits home, had bullied his sister or one of his childhood friends.

"How very unusual."

They walked to the bridge in silence, the only sound an occasional disparaging sniff as the Admiral glared at a bulkhead or a turbolift. During one of Malcolm's recent late night panic attacks, Trip had told him there was no reason to care what his father thought.

"Listen, babe, you're a terrific guy, you're brilliant at your job, and if I do say so, you've got great taste in men. I'm proud of you, the captain's proud of you, and who gives a damn if your stuck-up prick of a dad isn't?" Malcolm knew it was true. He was a grown man, for God's sake. His father's opinions shouldn't affect him one way or the other. But they did, which was exactly why, until the intervention of his good fairy Archer, he hadn't spoken to his parents in years. Anything, even complete estrangement, was better than constant criticism from the man Malcolm was still desperate to impress.

Just before they arrived on the bridge, Malcolm was struck by the horrifying possibility that the captain might try to make his father feel welcome. Visions of a party, complete with streamers and, God forbid, a cake danced through his mind, but the fears were unfounded. On the bridge, Captain Archer, T'Pol and Trip were going about their normal duties, or at least pretending to.

"Welcome on board, Admiral." When Malcolm and his father arrived, the captain immediately stepped forward and offered a salute. His lips pursed, the Admiral gave a small, almost imperceptible, salute in return and stared at the captain's mouth.

"What happened to you, Captain?" Archer put a hand to his split lip.

"Had a little run-in with some not too friendly fellows on the way here. Not too serious."

"I should hope not. Nothing damages morale like an injured leader." As Malcolm strained to remember the last time the captain had encountered an alien species without being injured, Archer laughed in a way that didn't sound completely genuine. Still, he gamely continued with the introductions.

"This is our second in command, Sub-commander T'Pol."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Admiral Reed." T'Pol inclined her head graciously. Malcolm watched, nervously chewing a fingernail, as his father struggled to decide what aspect of her offended him the most.

He settled on gender, which was a surprise. Malcolm's money had been on the Vulcan thing.

"People call me old-fashioned, Captain Asher, but I don't believe in women in the upper ranks. Haven't the heads for it. There were no women at Horatio Nelson's side at the Battle of Trafalgar."

"Many things have changed since Horatio Nelson's time," the captain leapt to T'Pol's defence and Malcolm immediately felt bad that he hadn't. Of course, T'Pol was perfectly capable of defending herself.

"Indeed, Admiral," she put in, "There have been many instances throughout human history of female military leaders. In your own country, for example, Queen Boudicca led the ancient Britons in battle against the Romans. In the sixteenth century, both Queen Elizabeth the First and Mary, Queen of Scots commanded armies. I could continue." The Admiral gave her a look that would have frozen molten lead, but T'Pol just looked back, unfazed. Malcolm had often wanted to kiss her, but he had never been so close to actually doing it.

"It leads to fraternization." The Admiral continued, as if T'Pol hadn't spoken. "Damned nuisance, not to mention dangerous. A distraction's the last thing a man needs as he's heading into battle." Archer forced another laugh as Malcolm quietly prayed for a sudden, speedy death. His own or his father's, he wasn't bothered which.

"Well, sir, I can assure you Malcolm doesn't let anything distract him from his duties."

"Of course not." The 'you utter fool' part was implied. "He's a Reed."

This was the closest thing to a compliment his father had ever given him. He was so busy basking in it, while at the same time loathing himself for being so pathetic, that he scarcely heard Archer introducing the Admiral to Trip. Trip's response, however, was unmistakable.

"I gotta tell you, Admiral, I'm real pleased to meet you." He grabbed the Admiral's hand and pumped it like he was drilling for oil. "That boy of yours sure is something special. I don't think I've ever had a better man under me." Malcolm choked, earning a scathing look from his father and a helpful pat on the back from Archer.

"Engineer, eh? All the decent engineers I've ever met were Scottish. Brilliant engineers, the Scots. Almost makes up for the drinking." He regarded Trip coolly. "Are you of Scottish descent?" Trip put on his goofiest smile, the one that made people think he was a good ole idiot. Including Malcolm, until he found out differently.

"I don't think so, sir, but I can drink any man under the table." He leaned forward and gave the Admiral a conspiratorial wink. "And, you know, a lot of people think I've got a little Englishman in me."

"For God's sake, Malcolm, stop that infernal coughing." The Admiral scowled at his son, then turned to Captain Archer who was still doing his best to pretend he was enjoying himself.

"Well, now you know the team, maybe I could show you around the ship." "Yes." The Admiral replied, as enthusiastically as if Archer had offered to give him a three-hour lecture on Vulcan flora. "Perhaps. After I've seen Malcolm's quarters."

The quarters weren't up to par, but Malcolm hadn't expected they would be. He stood at attention by the door as his father inspected the place like he was about to perform heart surgery in it, examining the furniture for any traces of dust. When he knelt to peer under the bed, Malcolm couldn't contain himself anymore.

"Why are you here?" The Admiral stood up, brushing non-existent dirt off his knees.

"I told you, Malcolm. Your mother thought it was a good idea."

"You've never listened to her before."

"No." He tried not to flinch under his father's gaze. He was a grown man, he repeated to himself. A competent one, even. Security officer on Starfleet's flagship. It was ridiculous to cower in front of his father. Unfortunately, old habits died hard. "All right, Malcolm. I came because I think you've wasted your life and squandered your abilities in a shameful manner." Part of Malcolm knew this was a horrible thing to say to your child. The other, larger, part was overjoyed that his father had implied he had abilities to squander. "I haven't changed my mind. However." The Admiral was the only person Malcolm had met who could make that word a sentence unto itself. "Even if I am extremely disappointed in you, you are still my son." He seemed to gag a little on those last two words, but Malcolm didn't care. He felt like crying, and he felt ashamed that he felt like crying. Fortunately, before he had the chance to humiliate himself any further, there was a knock on the door. Malcolm dived to open it, revealing the captain and Trip.

"If you're ready, sir, we can start the tour immediately. It's a big ship."

"Of course." The Admiral didn't bother to conceal his sigh. Neither did Archer. "Come along, Malcolm."

"Actually, Admiral," Trip interrupted, smiling. "If you don't mind, I gotta talk to Malcolm about something. Cannons. We'll catch you up."

The door had barely slid shut when Trip had his arms around Malcolm.

"How are you holding up?"

"Fine." If 'fine' could be interpreted to mean 'miserably conflicted.' But he'd expected no less.

"You know, I don't think he's that bad." Trip let him go and flopped down on the bed.


"Well, I'm not saying I'd like to spend every Thanksgiving with him, but he's got a kind of unpolished charm."

"Unpolished charm?" Malcolm sat on his bed. "Are you blind?"

"No, I mean it. I bet he's really funny when he's got a couple of drinks in him. Not as funny as his boy, though." Trip pulled him down until they were lying together, his chest against Malcolm's back.

"I'm not funny."

"Course you are." He chuckled. "I thought you were gonna have a heart attack when I said that thing about you being the best man under me."

"Well, really, Trip." Trip laughed and kissed the back of his neck.

"It's true, though. Actually, you're pretty good in all the positions." He pressed his hands around Malcolm's waist and moved the kisses lower. Malcolm tried to squirm away, but Trip held him fast.

"Stop it. I've got to catch up to the captain and my father."

"Jon's not expecting you to." Trip murmured against his shoulder.

"I can't leave him alone with my father."

"He knows we've got some very," kiss, "important," kiss, "business to discuss."

"But he's the captain. We can't just abandon him."

"Let's just say Johnny owed me more than a few favours. And I called them all in on this." Trip's hands found Malcolm's zipper. Malcolm shook his head and sat up.

"I can't, Trip. Not while my father's here. It's...weird." Trip's irritated look lasted only a second.

"OK." He turned onto his back and arranged his lover next to him, Malcolm's head on his chest. "We'll just lie like this, then. If it's not too weird."


"Malcolm." He huffed irritably.


It didn't quite work. They were still---apart from the cold snap just before the Admiral's arrival---unable to lie on the same bed without getting up to something. Literally. Trip didn't give up and, eventually, Malcolm gave in. With grace, in his own opinion.

"Trip. Trip. Trip," Malcolm had to start the sentence three times before he remembered how he wanted to finish it. "Isn't this taking l-longer than usual?"

"Why?" Trip grinned and panted. "You getting bored, darling?"

"Not...ah, not, not exactly." Malcolm closed his eyes and tightened his legs around Trip, earning a responsive moan in return.

"I asked T'Pol to give me some Vulcan techniques to improve my stamina." Even in the throes of sex, Trip could talk, comprehensibly and at length. It was one of the many skills Malcolm admired, but didn't always appreciate. "I didn't tell her what kind of stamina, though. Didn't want to...scandalize her." Malcolm pressed Trip's head to his chest and opened his eyes to glance at the clock. Even if the Admiral stopped in every room to talk about how much better things were in the navy, and Malcolm had no doubt he would do just that, they would certainly be back soon. Trip raised his eyes. "Did you just look at the clock?"

"No," Malcolm lied. Trip bit his neck. "Ouch! What was that for?"

"If you're still thinking of your daddy, it means there's something I'm not doing right." Trip kissed him hard. It was a good half a minute before Malcolm had recovered enough to reply:

"You're perfect. I just don't..." He trailed off as Trip readjusted his position and Malcolm suddenly couldn't form a coherent thought. Fortunately, Trip seemed to know where he was going with it, anyway.

"They won't walk in on us." He whispered before jamming his tongue back in Malcolm's mouth and renewing his assault for the final time. Famous last words, Malcolm thought, but didn't say them. Not even after the door opened and the captain and the Admiral were suddenly very distracted from their discussion about warp drives.

Malcolm had always been meticulously cautious when it came to everything. His caution extended even to his relationship with Trip. It took months of bickering, a shared near-death experience, several quasi-dates and a frank discussion about their motivations, emotions and sexual histories before Malcolm agreed to sleep with him. Even now, six months later, Malcolm was painstakingly circumspect about when and where they could be seen together, about when and how they left each other's quarters, and how often they had to stage public quarrels (although this last was disturbingly easy to accomplish.) Trip, when he was in a bad mood, saw these measures as signs Malcolm was ashamed of him, while Malcolm claimed they were simply the result of him thinking with his head instead of his crotch. It was remarkably unfortunate, therefore, that Malcolm chose this moment, instead of say, last Wednesday in the Jeffries tube or three Sundays ago in Engineering, to give his crotch a say for once.

Not that the experience was a total washout. It was, for example, the first time he'd ever heard the captain say: "Holy shit." Under normal circumstances, Malcolm would have loved that. He liked it when his superior officers showed less decorum than he did, although, at the moment, he wasn't in a position to be casting stones. Trip jumped up like, as he would have put it, a "Girl Scout sitting on a rattlesnake" and Malcolm sat bolt upright, thanking God that for once, they had climbed under the sheets. It was a small comfort.

Malcolm couldn't remember the last time his father had been speechless from shock, rather than just disgust. Malcolm couldn't think of anything to say, either. Even Trip was struck dumb. It was Captain Archer who recovered the power of speech first.

"Sorry, guys. Admiral, if you'll come to the bridge, it seems that Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker are still discussing business." Even with the furrowed brows, he couldn't quite pull it off. The Admiral drew himself to his full height (five foot seven, which, Malcolm knew, had always been the bane of his existence) and looked Malcolm in the eye.

"Listen to me, Reed, because I'm only going to say this once." His voice was calm, but that had always worried Malcolm more than when he was shouting and bawling. "You are a disgrace to my country, a disappointment to me, and a blight on my family name. You're no son of mine." Then he left. Archer stood in the doorway for a moment, blinking and running his hand through his hair.

"Sorry, Malcolm. Sorry, Trip, I thought...I mean, I took as long as I could..."


"Right." He gave an apologetic smile. "I'll see you in a minute."

"Fuck." The nausea Malcolm had felt before his father's arrival paled in comparison to this. He couldn't, actually, remember ever feeling so sick in his life.

"It's not the end of the world, OK, Malcolm?" Trip put out a hand to Malcolm who pushed it away.

"That's easy for you to say. You weren't just disowned. Your father didn't just see you..." He couldn't even get the words out, so he settled on: "Fuck," which was quite appropriate. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and put his head in his hands. Right away, Trip had a hand on his back.

"Leave me alone."

"No. You always do this, Malcolm. To everyone. We do everything we can to try and help you, and you push us away. I can tell you, it's pretty damn annoying."

"You want to know annoying?" Malcolm turned around. "People who refuse to leave me alone." He felt a sudden, desperate urge to blow something up. Since that wasn't an option at the moment, he went for the next best thing, and blew up himself. "You want to help me, Trip? Then you should leave me the hell alone. It's your fault I'm in this, anyway." Trip did a passable impression of a goldfish.

"Me? You're insane." Perhaps, but that wasn't utmost in Malcolm's mind at the moment.

"Then let me tell you something really crazy, Trip. I wish I'd never met you, and I wish to God I'd never heard of the fucking Enterprise."

Trip stopped. Not just talking, which would have been a minor miracle in itself, but stopped altogether, frozen on the bed with a scowl on his face.

"Whee doggies!" There was one door to Malcolm's cabin, and no other way in. Logically, it was impossible for a stranger wearing jeans and cowboy boots to appear out of nowhere, but there he was. The man pushed back his ten-gallon hat and looked Trip up and down. "Now that there's one prime piece of beef."

"Who the hell are you?" Malcolm wasn't fearless by any means, but his fears were of the neurotic, emotional kind, and usually centred on dying unloved and alone. Unexplained intruders in his cabin just made him angry.

"Just think of me as your good ol'fashioned fairy godfather." The man looked between Malcolm and Trip. Malcolm, rather belatedly, remembered he was naked and grabbed a pillow off the bed. "I'm mighty sure y'all can relate to that, Malcolm." Malcolm glanced at Trip, who hadn't moved.

"What have you done to him?"

"Relax, pardner. He's A-OK." Cursing Trip, who had made him remove his cache of weapons and assorted toys from his quarters, Malcolm reached out and pushed the comm button.

"Reed to bridge."

"Oh, gawd." The man took off his hat and threw it at Trip. It landed on the commander's head and, as preoccupied as Malcolm was at the moment, he had to admit it didn't look half-bad. "And I thought Mr. Woof was slow on the uptake." The man's accent disappeared, replaced by a generic Yankee American, as he sat on Malcolm's chair. "They can't hear you. It's just you and me, Mal, old boy." Malcolm clenched his fists.

"If you have harmed any member of this crew, I swear..."

"They're just taking a little break. And while we're on the subject, I gotta say, the jumpsuits," he winced, "Not a great look, unless you're planning on leaping out of the ship with a parachute on your back. Will you guys ever be happy when they bring in the miniskirts and the thigh boots. Although I'm not sure they'll come in your size, Mal."

"I'm warning you, you are trespassing on a Starfleet vessel..." The man yawned.

"Yeah, I know. Yet another 'Enterprise', right? And Captain Jonathan Archer's your man. Tall guy, great hair, gets beaten up about once a week. I'd give him a six out of ten. No Jean-Luc, but at least he's not forever yammering on about the Prime Directive like that frigid Janeway bitch. Actually, I gotta tell you, I really admire how old Johnny jumps right in there with both feet, even when he doesn't have a clue what's going on." Malcolm said nothing, but he did regret he was naked. He'd never engaged in naked hand-to-hand combat before (unless you counted the occasional wrestling match with Trip), but he was always open to new challenges.

"And you, my friend, are Lieutenant Malcolm Reed." The stranger adopted an upper-class Oxbridge accent that sounded, in Malcolm's opinion, nothing like him. "Armoury officer, psychological weirdo and Foghorn Leghorn's bed buddy." He studied Malcolm closely. "Or is it more than that? What brings the two of you together? Flowers and chocolates?" Out of nowhere, a vase of roses and a red, heart-shaped box appeared on his table. "Whips and chains?" A long bullwhip and a pair of handcuffs materialized on the headboard. "Crumpets and catfish?" A plate of scones appeared, with a silver tea service and a fried catfish on a plate. Malcolm felt his heart rate increase. Jesus, he thought, what he wouldn't give for a nice, normal burglar once in a while.

The non-human intruder took a bite of scone.

"Rather tasty, actually." He licked a finger and continued, conversationally, "So, do you love him?" When he said it, cartoon-style hearts actually appeared in the man's eyes. Malcolm, by no means a damsel in distress, found himself wishing Trip was awake. Or that the Captain was around. He hated facing weirdness alone. "I'll take that as a yes, old sport. Ever told the blighter? No, wait, let me guess you don't need to say it, because he already knows. I'll tell you something, my old cupcake, humans know bugger all unless you spell it out for them. With pictures." Malcolm took a deep breath.

"I'll ask you one more time. Who are you, and why are you here?" The man sighed and put down his unfinished scone.

"Case in point. All right, Mal," he returned to the generic accent. "If the fairy godfather thing doesn't work for you, call me Clarence."


"Not a Jimmy Stewart fan either, huh?" Another sigh. "All right, then. The name's Q. Ever heard of a guy called God? Well, I'm his stunt double."

"Kew?" Malcolm blinked. "Like Kew Gardens?" Q hesitated a moment, then laughed.

"Oh, you are too precious. I know a certain redheaded doctor who would be all over you. Of course, the age difference might be a problem. No, Q as in the eighteenth letter of the alphabet. Starts 'quill', 'question', and 'queer'. Yeah, I thought you'd like that last one. I'm here, Malcolm old boy, because I know you guys aren't supposed to meet me till Picard, but a friend of mine told me how sweet his Captain Kirk was, so I thought I'd see if you people get more amusing the further back we go. I can't say I'm disappointed." Well, Malcolm thought, he'd tried reason, but the man was clearly insane. It was now or never. With a rebel yell, he rushed at Q. And landed on his naked behind with a sore shoulder and a serious rugburn.

"That's enough of that, Mal. I'm here to help you." Malcolm rubbed his shoulder and tried to decide if he should call the bridge again. "You said you wished you'd never heard of the 'Enterprise.' Was that lovers' tiff hyperbole, or was it the truth?"

"I meant it." And he meant it even more now he was trapped in his quarters with a babbling madman.

"Then today," the madman grinned, "Is your lucky day. By the way, how do you look in mustard yellow?"

It was dark, the only light coming from nearby lamps. The deck of the ship rolled beneath them. Malcolm looked down to see he was dressed in a black and mustard yellow shirt and black trousers, and standing on what was quite obviously, from the dark wavy stuff underneath it, a boat. He started and gripped the nearest railing.

"What the hell is this?"

"Your life, Mal." Malcolm looked up to see Q, dressed in full naval admiral's kit. "Sorry about your clothes, but they're better than the jumpsuit, trust me." Q gazed at Malcolm and wiped away a tear. "Makes me quite nostalgic, really." Malcolm was about to launch into another diatribe about who the hell he thought he was and what the hell he thought he was doing, but he was distracted by the sudden appearance of a man who looked exactly like him. He was in navy uniform, walking across the deck towards them.

"Who's that?"


"What?" Malcolm stared at the man. They did look remarkably similar, but... "That's impossible." Q squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Now I know why they say never get involved with a species that doesn't have at least warp eight." He looked up. "Ever heard of parallel dimensions? Alternate universes?"

"Sort of."

"Well, this is one. So it's you, but it's not you." Malcolm looked blank. "It's you as you would have been if you'd made different choices. So it's not really you but...know what? Let's forget it. We'll call him...I don't know...Malcolm X, OK?"

"Can he...can he see us?"

"Never read 'A Christmas Carol' either, I guess, Mal."


"Just watch him, for Q's sake."

Malcolm X stopped in the middle of the deck, where a long line of what looked like old-fashioned cannons were lined up. Another man, also in uniform, came up behind him.

"The crowd's waiting, Reed."

"Almost ready, sir." Malcolm X looked at him with barely concealed annoyance. Malcolm knew how he felt. "Stand back, please. We don't want to take off an arm." The other man laughed.

"Or something else."

"Quite." God, what a ninny. Malcolm's heart leaped with sympathy for poor Malcolm X.

Malcolm watched with interest as his double, having assured the other man was standing far enough back, lit the first fuse. There was a whizzing sound as something went rocketing into the sky. A moment later, it exploded into a bright arc of fluorescent green. A distant cheer went up, and Malcolm looked out to see a crowd standing on the far-off shoreline.

"What's going on?" He turned back to Q, who had changed his clothes and was now wearing a white suit and a boater hat with a red, white and blue brim. There was a whistle in his mouth and a Union Jack flag in his hand.

"Queen Jennifer's Golden Jubilee."

"But the monarchy was abolished in 2044." Malcolm X shot off another firework, this one red.

"Look, Malcolm, there are an infinite number of alternate universes out there. If you really want me to shuffle through all of them until I find the one where everything is exactly the same except you didn't go into Starfleet, I will. But this is close enough, trust me."

Malcolm watched Malcolm X launch a dozen more fireworks. The crowd then launched into a song Malcolm recognized only from history classes: "God Save the Queen." In his universe, it had been banned with the abolition of the monarchy, replaced by "God Bless America" as the English national anthem. Malcolm X, however, stood at attention, saluting smartly, until the song finished.

"Well done, Reed." The other officer congratulated Malcolm X with a pat on the back. "Keep it up, and one day we'll let you fire weapons." Malcolm and Q were the only people who saw the rude gesture Malcolm X made at the man's retreating back.

The ship disappeared, and Malcolm found himself standing in the entranceway of a rather posh house. Malcolm, who could pick up on things as quickly as anyone else, said:

"Is this where he lives?"

"You got it. And here's the lovely Mrs. Reed." Q whistled as a tall, thin and extremely attractive woman came down the stairs and opened the hall closet. Malcolm's jaw hit the floor.

"His wife?" Although he was very definitely with Trip, Malcolm had never quite gotten over his obsession with T'Pol. This woman looked a little like her, if the Vulcan had long blonde hair, a tight silk blouse, and breasts the size of watermelons. Malcolm nearly passed out when the woman bent down to pull a pair of shoes out of the closet. "You mean if I hadn't gone into Starfleet, I could have married her?"

"That's not very loyal, Malcolm. What about Foghorn Leghorn?" The hell with him, Malcolm thought. Q sighed. "I'm omnipotent, Malcolm. I can hear you."

"I'm home, dear." Before Malcolm could think anything else, the door opened and Malcolm X came in.

"Where the bloody hell have you been?" The blonde siren turned on Malcolm X.

"At the Queen's Jubilee. I told you about it. You said you might bring the children down..." Malcolm wondered if he ever sounded as sycophantic and cringing as Malcolm X. And if that was why he seemed to have trouble making friends.

"I didn't have time. Your fucking au pair walked out and the little bitch lifted my mother's pearls." She shoved her feet into a pair of stiletto heels.

"Um, I don't think so, Emma, dearest." Malcolm X looked at her. "Didn't you pawn the pearls yourself last time you and Derek went to Paris?"

"Is that your idea of being fucking supportive, Malcolm?" Emma pulled on a full-length fur coat. "Because if it is, you can bloody well sod off."

"Sorry, sweetheart." Malcolm X simpered at her. "Where are you going?"

"What the fuck business is it of yours?"

"Well, darling, it is the middle of the night."

"I'm going to Derek's." Malcolm X winced a little.

"Again, dear? I know he is your...editor and everything, but you do seem to spend an awful lot of time with him..."

"You don't own me, Malcolm."

"I know, dearest, it's just that..."

"Your parents rang again, by the way. They want us to go for Sunday lunch. You can take the ankle-biters if you want, but I'm not going there again. The old bastard spends the whole time ogling my tits." She grabbed a gold lam purse and opened the door. "I'll be back tomorrow, unless we decide to go to Switzerland."

"All right, dear. Thank you for letting me know." Malcolm X smiled. "Have fun."

"Fuck you." She slammed the door behind her, rattling the pictures on the walls.

Malcolm could feel Q's eyes on him, but he avoided his gaze, watching instead as his double went upstairs. Ignoring Q, Malcolm followed himself, until they arrived in a children's bedroom. It was full of toys, and Malcolm nearly tripped over a rocking horse as he watched Malcolm X gazing at the sleeping children. There were two, a dark-haired girl and a blond boy, in beds on either side of the room. Malcolm felt his heart stir a little. He liked children. It wasn't at all macho, but he liked the idea of having a little person who depended on you and loved you no mater what. He and Trip had spoken, always jokingly, about them, but Trip had no interest in having one. "Imagine if it was born with my engineering skills and your obsession with explosives," he'd said. "We'd create a monster." These children didn't look like monsters. More like sleeping angels, Malcolm thought, until he remembered the omnipotence thing.

"Isn't that sweet." Q pursed his lips. "I'm all mushy inside. But you know what they say, Mal, boy." Malcolm X reached out to touch the girl's head. Immediately, she woke up, screaming. The screaming only increased when she saw her father by her side, and she flailed her fists at him.

"I don't want you, I want my Mummy! Where's my Mummy?" The boy, awakened by the screaming, joined in. Malcolm X ran between them, ineffectually, before finally kicking over the rocking horse, which increased the screams, and slamming out of the room.

"They're great," Q finished. "As long as they're someone else's."

"But there's got to be something good about his life." Malcolm yelled to be heard over the screams. "He can't be completely miserable."

"Why? That's reserved for you, is it?" Q hollered, plugging his ears. The boy, red faced, had flung himself out of the bed and was lying on the floor, kicking.

"No. It's just that..." Q winced and held up a finger.

"Hold on. We'll talk about it downstairs."

They reappeared in another part of the house, some kind of office. Malcolm X was sitting at the desk, a bottle of scotch in front of him. Q shook his head.

"Phew. That's better. What were you saying?"

"He can't be totally unhappy."

"Well, as it happens, I think ol' Malcolm X does have a hobby." Q pointed to the desk. Malcolm X took a long drink, then went over to the bookcase. Casting a guilty glance around, he pulled out a book, and the glossy magazine hidden behind it.

"Pornography?" Malcolm was disappointed, and a little disgusted. He hadn't resorted to that since he was at the Academy.

"Even better." Malcolm X sat back down, a look of lust on his face. Panting a little, he began to flick through the magazine. Malcolm stepped forward until he could see the pictures. Instead of the splayed orifices and naked flesh he'd been expecting, he saw a photo of the Big Dipper. Then one of the horseshoe nebula, and another of Jupiter.

"Get my drift?"

"Yes, I think so." Malcolm rubbed his eyes. "It's a little...a little hard to take in, that's all." It wasn't a great feeling to know that somewhere, there existed a Malcolm that was a complete and utter wuss.

"Well, take it in, Mal. We're not done yet."

"What? But I..."

"Want to go home?" Q produced a magic wand and waved it theatrically. "Your wish is my command."

The bridge was empty, except for Hoshi and a huge, barrel-chested man Malcolm didn't recognize, but who was standing at his, Malcolm's, station.

"Where's the Captain?" Malcolm asked.

"Dead," was Q's succinct reply.


"Yeah." Q shrugged. "Him and Token Mayweather bought the farm back in that Suliban detention camp."

"But we rescued him!"

"No. They tried. You, I think, were at home dodging Wedgwood plates being flung by the lovely Emma at the time."

Malcolm had mixed feelings about Captain Archer. The most recognizable included admiration, frustration, profound gratitude for always giving Trip everything he wanted, and intense annoyance because Trip then expected Malcolm to do the same. But dead...

"How did it happen?"

"The usual way, I guess. A shutting down of the body's vital systems following a trauma." Malcolm looked at Q. He had changed into the same outfit, although instead of mustard yellow, Q's shirt was mostly red.

"I mean, why didn't they stop it?"

"Like I said, they tried to..." "Hey, Hoshi." The barrel-chested man whined, in a surprisingly light voice. "I'm going for a break, OK?" Hoshi looked coldly at him.

"You just came back from a break, Terry." He ignored her.

"Let me know if the Cap decides to grace us with his presence." Terry left the bridge as Malcolm asked:

"Where's T'Pol?"

"They dropped her off on Vulcan. No point in taking her all the way back to Earth. And I guess they were in the neighbourhood."

"So that means..." Q grinned.

"Yeah. You're the captain's mistress. Well, not really, of course, but..."

"Where is he?" Q laughed.

"Oh, I see. So now you're concerned. Five minutes ago, you were ditching him for the bitch in the fur." Diplomacy was not, strictly speaking, one of Malcolm's strong suits. It took an act of supreme will for him to grit his teeth and say:

"I'd like to see Trip."

"What's the magic word?" Malcolm forced a sarcastic smile.


"Not in this universe, buddy boy." Q stared at him for a long moment. Malcolm blinked.

"I...I don't know..." Q considered this and, with a wave of his hand, decreed:

"Close enough."

Under normal circumstances, Malcolm disliked setting foot in Trip's quarters. You never knew what you were going to step on. Or trip over, or sit on. Once, as a surprise for Trip and a favour to himself, Malcolm had spent an entire day off cleaning and reorganizing the cabin. When he got home, Trip was very surprised, quite grateful, and they had very nice sex (made all the nicer because Malcolm didn't have to worry about getting an inappropriate object lodged in an inappropriate place.) The next day, the quarters were exactly as they had been before Malcolm went in. Trip's slightly chagrined explanation had been: "Sorry, babe, but I couldn't find anything."

In that case, Malcolm thought, unless this version of Trip was vastly different from his own, he should have been able to find whatever he wanted. The floor of the cabin was covered in clothes, PADDS and, Malcolm noticed, more liquor bottles than he'd thought were on board. All of them empty.

Trip himself was slumped over his computer. There was another bottle, this one only mostly empty, dangling from his hand, and he frequently interrupted the message he was sending to take a drink.

"Listen, darlin'," he slurred between swigs, "I know we've had our problems in the past, but I really need you, Natalie." Malcolm's heart sank. Half-expecting to lose your lover to a woman sooner or later didn't make it any easier to accept the women in his past. Natalie was a particular thorn in Malcolm's side. Trip had the class, and the sense, not to mention her to Malcolm, but Malcolm knew all about her. He often imagined her face when he was doing his target practice. "So come on, darlin'," Trip begged. Malcolm was slightly comforted that Trip hadn't called her babe. He hated it when Trip called him that, but that didn't mean Malcolm wanted him using it on other people. "I'm begging ya, Natalie, get the damn court order lifted and let me see you when I get home, OK?" He was almost crying as he finished. Malcolm felt a surge of tenderness for the man. Trip in tears was a sight Malcolm had seen only once, and it was moving enough to melt the heart of the hardest weapons officer.

"I'll be right back." Q declared suddenly. "Don't touch anything." He disappeared, leaving Malcolm alone with Trip. Malcolm had never made a habit of listening to people who held him prisoner, and he wasn't about to start just because the prison happened to be an alternate universe. Confident that Trip couldn't see him, Malcolm came up behind him and stood, gazing at the man who wasn't really his lover, but was close enough for now. Malcolm jumped when Trip looked back at him and said:

"You ain't Johnny."

"No," Malcolm admitted. And it had caused him a great deal of anxiety at the start of their relationship. The fears were only abated when Trip explained very clearly that, after eight years of platonic friendship, he wasn't going to jump the captain the moment he, Trip, got involved with someone else.

"When I'm as drunk as this, I usually see Johnny. Or pink elephants. Which you ain't, either." Trip smiled pleasantly. "So who are you?" Malcolm hesitated, unsure how to respond. Contrary to what he'd told Q, he knew quite a bit about parallel universes, mostly from the same trashy comic books he'd once accused Trip of reading, and he knew you could cause serious damage by saying the wrong thing. Or saying anything at all.

Still, he couldn't ignore Trip. So Malcolm smiled and went with what seemed like the safest bet.

"A friend." Trip looked him up and down.

"I think I'd remember a friend like you." It was Trip, and he was drunk, but Malcolm still blushed a little.

"It's rather complicated." He had barely spoken the words when Trip burst into tears.

"Sorry." Parallel dimension or not, Malcolm's heart broke. He couldn't help himsef. He put his arms around the other man, and let Trip sob into his shoulder.

"No, I'm sorry." Trip sniffed, pulling away and wiping his eyes. "It's just that since Johnny died..."

"It's OK." Usually, if anything, Trip was the one comforting him. Malcolm was so surprised by the role reversal that, before he could stop himself, he leaned towards Trip and did something very familiar.

Malcolm understood, thanks to the comics, that this wasn't really his Trip. But with his eyes closed, it was very difficult to tell the difference. Kissing this Trip filled Malcolm with the same feelings he had when he kissed the other one. Tenderness, excitement, incredulity that this man could possibly want him. Amusement at knowing that Trip, Mr. Suave himself, Ladykiller Tucker with a black book the size of the Earth telephone directory, still kissed like a slobbering teenager. But most of all, the feeling Malcolm had was one of deep and abiding satisfaction. There were only two places he got that, in the armoury and in Trip's arms.

"I gotta drink more bourbon," Trip smiled, when Malcolm broke the kiss. "That never happens with the scotch."

"What is it with you people and touching things?" Reluctantly, Malcolm backed away from Trip and looked at Q. "It's like you have some sort of genetic deficiency. Do you know, you're the only species in the universe that is technologically advanced yet still has to put fences around power stations? Everyone else just stays away." Malcolm said nothing. Trip, on the other hand, looked between them, considered a moment, and said:

"I think I like the first guy better." Q shook his head with disgust.

"You're needed on the bridge, Captain." He made it sound like an insult.

"What?" Immediately, Hoshi's voice came over the comm link.

"Captain Tucker, we need you on the bridge. Urgently." Malcolm felt a rush of adrenaline, as he always did when the ship was in danger.

"See?" Q smirked. Trip drained the bottle, steadied himself on the back of his chair, slurred:

"I'm on my way," and lurched off in the general direction of the bridge. Malcolm wanted desperately to follow, but was prevented by Q who, after muttering something about someone called Jean-Luc, said: "I think we'd better meet him there."

"We've tried hailing them, sir, but there's been no reply."

"Try again." Malcolm watched as Trip headed for the captain's chair, hesitated, and leaned against the helm instead. Hoshi shook her head. On the screen, an unidentified ship floated, making no effort to approach but not retreating, either. Trip looked between Hoshi, Terry the weapons officer, and the two helmsmen, clearly at a loss. Malcolm wasn't sure what to do, either, but he had a definite bad feeling about the whole situation.

"Blow them out of the fucking sky, love."

"Shh!" Q hissed. Malcolm glanced over to see a paper bag in his hand. Q offered it to Malcolm without taking his eyes off the action. "Popcorn?"

"Let me try," was Trip's eventual decision. Malcolm chewed his fingernail as Trip clenched and unclenched his fists, cleared his throat and said: "Hi. This is Acting Captain Charles Tucker of the Enterprise." Apparently satisfied with that, he continued, a little more confidently: "We sure would appreciate it if y'all could tell us who you are and what you're doing out here. Please."

"What leadership." Q shook his head. "Makes you wonder why he's not a captain in every dimension."

"Shut up." Malcolm had been ready to snap since Q's first appearance. This seemed like the ideal opportunity to let himself do it. "Just shut up, all right? Trip's fucking brilliant and if he's not a captain it's not because he doesn't deserve it, it's because he doesn't want it."

"Strong words for someone who wished they'd never met the man." Q replied, around a mouthful of popcorn.

"All right," Malcolm sighed. "I get it. I'm sorry, I take it all back. Can you let him off the hook now?"

"That's not up to me, Mal." The screen flickered and a face appeared on the screen.

"Captain Tucker. We bring a message from the Suliban." The man smiled. "They say to tell you, the captain and the ensign made a wonderful addition to their national museum. Schoolchildren come from all over to look at their heads on pikes." Malcolm would have fired the minute the words were out of the man's mouth. Terry, on the other hand, seemed to be examining his nails.

"Mr. Hudson, fire at will." Trip said the words with more dignity than Malcolm had ever heard from him.

"Sorry, Captain," Terry leaned forward. "What was that?" An explosion was the short answer, and not the good kind. Malcolm barely had time to register the look of resignation on Trip's face before the Enterprise was blown to smithereens.

Malcolm hadn't been honest with Q. He had seen 'It's a Wonderful Life', and he had of course read 'A Christmas Carol.' So when the ship blew up, he expected to find himself back on his Enterprise, in bed with Trip. Instead, he opened his eyes to see nothing but white fog.

"Q?" There was no answer. Malcolm, refusing to panic, tried again. "What's going on?" Still, nothing. "I'm sorry," he tried. "I should never have said what I did." Malcolm turned around, looking for any sign of the man, but the fog was impenetrable. "Clarence?" Malcolm tried. He had never been so relieved to hear a condescending laugh.

"Come on, Mal. Did you really think it was going to be that easy?" Malcolm turned to find himself face to face with Q, who was now wearing a long white robe. "Humans never cease to amaze me. They either want to make things impossibly difficult for themselves, or they want everything handed over on a silver platter."

"What are you talking about?"

"We're not done yet."

"But I changed my mind. I learned my lesson. I want to be on the Enterprise, and I want to be with Trip." Q smiled.

"But what if you had to choose?" Malcolm blinked and Q continued. "You think you're a pretty good shot. So here." A real, old fashioned hand gun, complete with pearl handles appeared in Malcolm's hand. At any other time, Malcolm would have been thrilled to spend hours happily looking over the intricate mechanics and appreciating the craftsmanship. Unfortunately, he was rather preoccupied at the moment.

"You bastard."

"No, not really. See those two lights over there?" Q pointed. Through the fog, Malcolm could just make out the lights, one red and one green. The distance was hard to judge, but they were at least a hundred metres away. "Hit the red one, and you go back to the Enterprise."

"My Enterprise?"

"Of course. With some slight improvements." Q checked the list off on his fingers. "You're the best weapons officer in Starfleet."

"That's already true." Q raised an eyebrow.

"And you're modest, too. You're a legend in your own time, you're every boy's hero and you can have any man or woman you want."

"I don't want any one."

"I'm not finished." Q smiled. "You're also the apple of your father's eye."


"Thought that'd catch your interest. He talks about you constantly, and not just to say what a pathetic louse you are. He's got a shrine to you in his living room, he bores people rigid with your baby videos, and every time you're on TV, he jumps up and says: 'That's my boy.'"

"My father does that," Malcolm asked, suspicious.

"He does."

"What's the catch?" Q clapped him on the back.

"Now you're learning. The catch is, no Trip."

"He's not dead is he?"

"No, he's there. He's just the one person in the universe immune to your charms. It's a good deal, Mal." Malcolm looked at the gun.

"What if I hit the green light?" Assuming, of course, that he could hit the broad side of a barn at this distance with such primitive technology.

"Then it's back to navy pyrotechnics."

"And back to Emma?"

"Nah, I wouldn't wish her on Lieutenant Woof, let alone you. So when you get back from a hard day's fireworks, Trip'll be warming your bed."

"My Trip."

"None other than."

"Not the miserable alcoholic."

"Isn't that one yours?" Malcolm was nothing if not realistic, so he asked:

"What if I don't hit either?"

"In that case, Mal, you'd better get used to this." He gestured at the fog. It dind't come as a complete surprise.

"How many shots do I get?"


"It's not fair."

"Nothing ever is." He smiled. "What you've got to ask yourself is, which one do you want to aim for?"

In more than twenty years of shooting at targets, animals, aliens and (accidentally of course) annoying Academy instructors, Malcolm had always had a steady hand. It was shaking now. He closed one eye and pointed the gun at the red light. Starfleet success beyond his wildest dreams and the approval of his father. Everything he'd ever wanted. Almost.

He moved the gun over until it was aimed at the green light. Trip was the best thing to ever happen to him. He was a great friend, a fantastic lover, and the best partner he'd ever had. The question was, whether all that was worth an unsatisfying job in a place he hated.

Malcolm opened his eye and dropped the gun to his side.

"Having trouble deciding?"

"It's an impossible choice." But it wasn't really. And of course, Q knew that.

"You know what you want. And I don't have all day, Mal."

"OK." Taking a deep breath, Malcolm aimed the gun at one of the lights. He was about to pull the trigger when Q suddenly shouted:

"Oh, come on." Malcolm turned to look. Q was staring up, evidently talking to someone. "You're no fun at all, you know that?" He glanced down at Malcolm. "Gotta go, Mal."


"Do me a favour. Don't tell anyone about this. No one would believe you, anyway. And for God's sake, don't make me come back." Q shuddered. "Those jumpsuits..."

"Well, you know what, Malcolm? It's fine with me." Trip got out of the bed and started hunting around for his clothes. Malcolm looked down, to find himself naked in his own bed. At least, that was what it seemed like.

"Trip?" He said it tentatively, unsure of the reply. But when Trip snapped:

"What the hell is your problem now?" He knew he was home.

"Don't go. I'm sorry."

"Sure." Trip pulled on his uniform.

"Really. Please stay." Trip stopped and Malcolm took advantage of the hesitation to continue. "I want you." Trip laughed.

"Not as much as you want your daddy to love you."

"More." It had been the green light in his sights when Q had interrupted him. He'd never even considered aiming for the red light. And he'd been almost annoyed at not getting to fire the gun. Now he'd never know if he'd have made the shot or not.

"Malcolm, it doesn't work." Trip sat down on the bed. "You say all sorts of stuff, but the minute something happens, you want to do everything on your own. It's like I only matter when you're happy and when you're not I can go to hell. And that's not what this is about for me."

"I love you." With those three simple words, Malcolm attained the impossible. He shut Trip up. "I want to be with you. For good." It had taken a dimension-hopping omnipotent being to make him see it, but now he did, nothing was clearer.

"Are you serious?" Malcolm nodded. "You and me. Permanently."

"You don't have to sound so enthusiastic, Trip."

"I just never thought..."

"Look," Malcolm bristled. "If this isn't what you want..." It was Trip's turn to cut him off. He, Malcolm noticed, had a much more refined technique, stopping Malcolm's tongue with his own.

"Of course it's what I want." He smiled and stated, simply: "I love you, too. Now, you'd better go talk to your dad."

"Fuck him." Malcolm gazed dreamily at Trip.

"Gladly, but I'd never hear the end of it. And permanently is a long time to listen to you whine."

"I've got nothing to say to him." Malcolm had never had anything to say to him. "Let the captain deal with him." He lay down, pulling Trip with him.

This time, they were able to finish what they'd started. Malcolm wouldn't have cared if they had been interrupted. Let people watch if they wanted to. He'd happily broadcast it to the whole bloody ship. Afterwards, they lay together for a long while. Malcolm thought Trip had gone to sleep until he heard Trip murmur:

"You know, it probably wouldn't kill me to take a look at those plans of yours." Malcolm smiled.


"And you know," Trip sighed, "In a few years, if we end up back on Earth, and if you're still big on the kid thing, I guess that's something we could discuss. Hell, my mom'd be pleased as punch if Charles Tucker IV grew up with a real English accent."

"I don't know, Trip." Malcolm hesitated, thinking of Malcolm X's horrors. But then, he thought, Charles Tucker IV wouldn't have Emma for a mother. "Would we have to call him that?"

"Why? You got a better idea?"

"Yeah." Malcolm smiled. "What about Clarence?"



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