"Human Touch - Part One: Under My Skin"
Disclaimer: They’re not mine.
Summary: Between ‘Home’ and ‘Borderland’, Trip and Malcolm lay some ghosts to
Betas: SueC, Shivvlan and Bianca – Thanks for the many helpful comments and
suggestions. All mistakes are mine.
Author’s note: I chose the location of Trip's parents' new home before hurricane
Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I did consider changing it when I heard the news,
but decided to leave it as a tribute to those who are rebuilding their lives in
New Orleans and Biloxi. I'm sure those cities will still exist in the 2150s.
Date: May 12th 2154
It’s all my sister’s fault. I was absolutely fine until I took Trip to see Maddy
in London, but now all the feelings I’ve been suppressing for so long have
surfaced again, and I have no idea how I’m going to deal with them this time.
I sink down to sit on my bunk and scrub a hand across my face as I think about
He came back from Vulcan sooner than I’d expected, and I knew something must
have happened between him and T’Pol when he turned up at my door bearing a
bottle of my favourite Armagnac. Ever since we were stranded together in that
shuttlepod a few months into our first mission, liquor has been a signal that
one of us needs to talk. Our friendship isn’t based entirely on sitting around
drinking together, but sometimes it’s easier to get the important things out if
we’re at least partially inebriated. It’s an odd sort of friendship, but it
works. We grew apart for a while after his sister was killed in the Xindi attack
and he was almost consumed by his anger and hatred. I barely recognised him then:
he wasn’t the Trip Tucker who had become my first real friend aboard Enterprise.
That experience will always be with him of course, but the old easy-going Trip
is beginning to shine through again. During the horrendous mission to the
Delphic Expanse he may have turned to T’Pol for bodily comfort, but as the
captain seemed to withdraw from his friend more and more, Trip began to come to
me once again to talk, usually bringing whatever variety of alien booze he could
lay his hands on. We talked through his feelings about the clone who sacrificed
himself in order to save Trip’s life. We talked about the ship of innocent
aliens we stranded three years from home in a dangerous area of space when we
stole their warp coil. We talked about how difficult it was for him to work with
Degra. We talked about T’Pol and the life they had supposedly shared on the
other Enterprise. Eventually, we even talked about Lizzie. When I needed it he
helped me chase away the demons whispering at the back of my mind that it was my
fault we had lost so many good people on that mission, and after the weapon was
finally destroyed, he sought me out to drink a toast to Captain Archer, just to
make sure I wasn’t blaming myself for leaving him behind. Which I was, of course.
He went to Vulcan full of high hopes for his relationship with T’Pol and I
honestly wished he would find happiness with her, but when he returned alone, I
could see that he was devastated, and gradually as we sat and drank he told me
the whole sordid tale.
“I love her, Malcolm,” he said at the end of it, “but now it’s too late. I stood
by and let that son of a bitch Koss blackmail her into marrying him.” Looking as
if he might be on the verge of tears, he took a long pull of his drink.
Privately I thought that nothing Trip could have said or done would have made
any difference to T’Pol’s actions, but I knew that saying so wouldn’t help.
“What a mess,” I said, going for the understatement of the year.
He glanced up at me, his mouth quirking into a small, ironic grin. “I gotta
agree with ya on that.”
“So what will you do now?”
He shrugged and blew out a huge sigh. “Not much I can do, is there? Just try to
do my job and not think about her any more.” He paused. “And get drunk with you
occasionally, if you don’t mind?”
I smiled at the almost pleading tone in his voice. “You know my price,” I said
lightly, lifting the bottle and refilling our glasses. After more than three
years he’s learned that I like a good single malt or brandy. At least he doesn’t
bring that gut-rot bourbon any more. “You wouldn’t consider … an affair?” I said
carefully. “If the marriage is essentially a sham?”
He shook his head vigorously. “I believe a marriage is sacred, Malcolm, no
matter how it happened. Even if T’Pol was willin’, I don’t think I could ever
get over the feeling we were doing something … sinful. It’s not like I have any
prior claim on her. She was never mine.”
I nodded. I imagined T’Pol would feel the same way in any case. Whatever I might
feel about her personally, and privately I thought her treatment of Trip in the
Expanse had been fairly shoddy, from what I know of Vulcan culture, they mate
for life and infidelity is virtually unheard of.
I was mindful of my plans for the morning and I stole a glance at the clock, but
Trip caught me.
“God, how’d it get so late?” he said, standing and scrubbing a hand through his
hair. “I should go.”
“No, it’s OK, really,” I said. “It’s just, I’m going to see Maddy in the morning
– my weekend off – and I haven’t packed yet.”
“Your sister? Great!” he said. “I was surprised when I got back and found you
still on board.”
“I’ve been down to San Francisco a couple of times,” I said, rubbing my jaw as I
remembered the bar-fight I’d stupidly become involved in. “But I wanted to make
sure the phase cannon upgrades were under way before I took any real time off.”
He rolled his eyes; as if he wouldn’t have been doing exactly the same thing if
the maintenance crews had been tinkering with his engines. Then an idea occurred
to me. “Why don’t you come along? Maddy would love to meet you.”
He looked doubtful. “Nah, I couldn’t, could I? I don’t wanna intrude on your
time with your sister.”
“Nonsense! At least it’ll prove to her that I’ve made some friends aboard
Enterprise. And you weren’t due back for another few days anyway. You haven’t
reported in yet, have you?”
“Nope. Just dumped my stuff in my cabin and came ‘round here. Are you sure your
sister won’t mind?”
I looked him over. Tall, blond and gorgeous. No, Maddy wouldn’t mind one bit.
I flinched as I heard her shrieking my name half-way across Gatwick spaceport’s
main concourse. My sister’s exuberance more than compensates for my more
reticent nature, and it’s even a little infectious. I returned her enthusiastic
hug and took note of Trip’s bemused expression as I put Maddy down. I doubt he’s
ever thought of me as the hugging type.
“Maddy, I’d like you to meet Commander Charles Tucker the third.”
“Hello, Commander,” she said, taking his hand with a frankly appraising glance
up and down his body. “Madeleine Reed. My friends call me Maddy.”
“And mine call me Trip,” he said, and his smile was like a sunrise bursting over
his face. My sister can do that to people.
“I hope you boys don’t mind bunking up together,” she said as she led us out to
the car. “I only have one spare bedroom in the new flat.”
“That’s one more than you had in the last one,” I remarked, and I heard Trip
chuckle beside me.
“It’s not like we haven’t done it before,” he said.
I was impressed. Maddy had landed a very nice flat in a prime location in
Bayswater, overlooking Hyde Park. I always find it surprising how much green
space there is in the heart of the city, and a large chunk of it was right on
Maddy’s doorstep. I guessed her graphic design business must have been doing
We spent the afternoon just talking over endless cups of tea. It helped that
both Maddy and Trip have outgoing personalities, and with me as their mutual
target they were soon the best of friends as Maddy supplied amusing stories
about our childhood and Trip did the same about our adventures on Enterprise. I
allowed myself to fade into the background a little and just kept them from
getting too outrageous as I enjoyed the company of the two people I care most
about in the universe. It gave me a nice warm glow just to be with them, and as
I watched their animated discussion I realised that the things I love about
Maddy are the same qualities that I admire in Trip. They share the same open
friendliness, the same innocence and enthusiasm for life.
Later that evening Maddy linked her arm through mine as we ambled along
Bayswater Road enjoying the unseasonable warmth and looking for somewhere to
have dinner. Trip had strolled on ahead when Maddy had stopped to press her nose
against the window of one of the little antique shops we were passing, and I
sniggered as I realised she was enjoying the way he filled out his jeans as we
trailed after him. I had to admit the view wasn’t bad.
“Your commander is rather scrumptious,” she said confidentially.
“That he is, but he’s not my commander, not in the way you mean.”
“Oh, come on, don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it,” she teased.
“Maddy.” My voice carried a gentle warning. “He’s my superior in the chain of
command, and I don’t approve of that sort of fraternisation.”
“Now that’s Dad talking.”
“And besides, he’s not interested in men.”
“Oooh! One for me, then?” she said, gleefully squeezing my arm.
“You’re incorrigible,” I told her, laughing as I shook my head. I knew she was
joking, but it wouldn’t have been the first time we’d both been captivated by
the same man.
“His accent’s lovely. Where’s he from?”
“Oh. Oh!” Her eyes widened as the implications of that one word hit home. “Did
he lose anyone?”
She hugged my arm a bit tighter after that, and I was glad of it.
“And you brought him here because?”
She can see right through me sometimes. “Because someone’s just let him down,
badly, and he’s hurting.”
“And you think we can kiss it better?” She’d gone back to joking, but suddenly I
wasn’t in the mood.
“Maddy, don’t …” Don’t what, exactly? Don’t tease me about this? Don’t make it
any harder than it already is? Don’t make me face the way I really feel about
him? She read my tone and turned me around to face her.
“Oh god, Malcolm, you do love him, don’t you?” she said in quiet dismay.
“No!” I protested, then I crumbled as she stared me down. “Well yes, at one time
I did, but I put it aside. Now he’s the closest friend I’ve ever had, and that’s
far more important to me than anything else he could be.”
“Either way, Malcolm, he’s under your skin.”
“Hey, you two.” Trip’s salutation interrupted our intense conversation. “There’s
an Italian place up here that looks pretty good. D’you wanna give it a try?”
I should have known Trip would be a snuggler.
I doubt he realised that when Maddy had talked about ‘bunking up’ together, she
meant the two of us sharing a double bed, but we’ve slept in worse conditions,
and he didn’t seem too fazed by the idea. I was having more difficulty however.
My conversation with Maddy earlier had left me somewhat unsettled. I hadn’t
thought about Trip in that way for a very long time. I’d been attracted to him
when we first met, at least when he wasn’t irritating me beyond belief, but I’d
made up my mind to avoid complications in my personal life when I joined
Enterprise. I’d had enough of those in San Francisco, and having a romantic or
even just a sexual relationship while working closely with someone in a closed
community of eighty-three souls is fraught with difficulties, as Trip is finding
out. So I sublimated my unrequited love and desire for the man into feelings of
friendship, and I was surprisingly successful. I never allowed myself to
fantasise about him: to imagine his strong, capable hands on my body or his warm
mouth kissing mine or his rich southern drawl moaning my name as we made love.
Granted, he led me into some ‘adventures’ that perhaps I wouldn’t have engaged
in otherwise, but I managed not to be jealous of the women he flirted with. Or
even the ones he slept with. But now that Maddy had stirred up all those old
feelings I didn’t know whether the thought of sharing a bed with him was
tempting or terrifying.
So when I woke the next morning to find Trip’s arms around me and his head
pillowed on my chest I couldn’t help smiling at the irony. I only took a few
moments to enjoy the sleepy look on his face and the warmth of his body pressed
up against mine before I shook him gently.
“Um … Trip?” I said as he grunted in protest and tried to burrow into me.
“Huh?” He raised his head at last, then his eyes widened as he realised where he
was and with whom. “Oh geez, Malcolm, I’m sorry!” he said, springing away from
me across the bed as if he’d been electrocuted. “I guess I’m not used to
sleeping with someone.”
“It’s OK, Trip,” I laughed, “I promise I won’t hold it against you.”
He smiled at the terrible pun and relaxed a bit.
“I had a good time yesterday,” he said, lying back and stretching out on his
side of the bed. “Thanks for bringing me.”
“I thought you might enjoy the company.”
“You mean you thought you could distract me.” He gave me a knowing look.
“That too,” I admitted.
“I like Maddy,” he said after a while. “She’s a lot different from you though.”
I chuckled. “This is true. When you grow up with parents as stuffy as ours you
can really only choose between conformity or rebellion.”
“Hm … lemme guess which one you chose …” he mused, teasing.
Being the battle-hardened tactician that I am, I had no choice but to hit him
with my pillow. He grabbed his and retaliated with more force than skill, and
before we knew it we were chasing each other over the bed in the middle of a
full-blown pillow-fight. I was enjoying myself so much that I was in serious
danger of pinning him to the bed and snogging him senseless when Maddy came to
investigate the raised voices and strange thumping noises coming from her spare
“Starfleet’s finest, my arse!” she said as she caught Trip whacking me with his
pillow, and as she left the room again we both collapsed on the bed giggling as
we realised how ridiculous we must have looked.
As I looked at him, flushed and breathless, blue eyes sparkling with mirth, I
realised I was in serious trouble. I’m an expert at hiding my feelings, and at
hiding from them, and for the last three years I’ve been denying to myself that
I felt anything other than friendship for this man. Yet my sister only took a
few hours to see through my carefully constructed self-delusion and shatter it.
As much as I love her, I wish she hadn’t made me face this. I can’t imagine how
I’ll make it through our next mission loving him, yet knowing he loves someone
“I still miss Lizzie,” he said, breaking into my thoughts. Obviously he’d been
lost in his own for a few minutes.
I turned on my side to face him and reached over to lay my hand on his shoulder,
hating myself for lusting after him when he’s in so much pain. I don’t know what
I’d do if I lost Maddy. “Is that why you haven’t gone to see your parents?” I
asked, as gently as I could.
He took a deep, shuddering breath, and I knew I’d hit the mark. “I don’t know if
I can face my Mom and Dad yet.”
I nodded understanding. He’d only really begun to mourn Lizzie after we’d found
the Xindi weapon, and I could see that the wound was still raw. The thought of
having to deal with the potential changes in the rest of his family seemed to
frighten him. “Have you heard from them since we got back?”
“Yeah, I spoke to my Mom on the comm. just before I left for Vulcan.” He turned
on his side to face me and caught the hand that still rested on his shoulder,
pulling it to his chest. “She looked so sad, Malcolm. I dunno if I can deal with
I could feel his heart beating and the warmth of his skin through his soft grey
t-shirt, and his eyes, usually so open and revealing, were unreadable as he
shifted through a multitude of emotions. I remembered how close he had been to
his family before the Xindi attack; how he had always been writing letters to
his parents or his brother. Or Lizzie.
“Trip,” I said, trying to choose my words carefully, “the Xindi took your sister
from you. Don’t let them take the rest of your family. We only have a few days
left in spacedock, and then we’ll be away again for who knows how long. Go and
He didn’t speak for a long time, and for a while I thought I’d blown it, but he
was still holding my hand against his chest like a lifeline, as if drawing
comfort from the simple touch of another human being. At last he seemed to come
to a resolution.
“I know it’s asking a lot, but would ya come with me?”
I let out the breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. “Of course I will.”
“Mom, yer gonna squash me!” Trip’s protest was muffled inside his mother’s
fierce embrace, but I noticed he was hugging her back almost as tightly.
“I’m just glad you’ve come home, son.” There were tears on her face, but they
weren’t what Trip had feared. They were tears of joy.
After our second day in London we’d caught a commercial flight to New Orleans
and then made our way to Trip’s parents’ new home in Biloxi, Mississippi. I
could see Trip’s apprehension growing with every mile of our journey, and I
belatedly realised he hadn’t even told them we were coming. He was unusually
quiet and kept picking at his fingers and shuffling his feet, lost in his own
thoughts most of the time.
“I’m scared,” he admitted to me at one point. “There’s a gaping hole in our
family where Lizzie should be. I don’t know if I can fill it.”
“That’s not what they’re looking for, Trip,” I tried to reassure him. “They just
want their son back.” He gave me a feeble smile.
All his fears were swept away once we reached his parents’ home and he was
wrapped in the tightest hug in history.
His father turned to me and offered his hand. “It’s good to see you again,
“Likewise, Mr Tucker.”
I was surprised they even remembered me. I’d met Charlie and Libby Tucker
briefly when I’d accompanied Trip to the Xindi trench over a year ago, but they
had still been in shock after witnessing the destruction of their former home
town and losing their only daughter. Even so, they’d made me feel welcome in
their home for a couple of hours, and I liked them. Although their primary focus
was on Trip as we talked as much as we could about the events of the last year,
they never made me feel excluded, and at times I flushed with embarrassment at
the way Trip spoke about me.
After dinner I did my usual disappearing act and wandered out onto the back
porch as Trip and his parents settled into the living room. I wanted to give
them some time alone together, and between their Florida dialect and the family
shorthand I was having trouble understanding them anyway. I was looking up at
the stars, wondering where our next mission would take us and thinking I was
glad Trip would be with me whatever our relationship might be, when I heard a
footstep behind me. I turned around expecting to see Trip, but instead I came
face to face with his father.
“At ease, Lieutenant,” he said, chuckling, as he saw that my posture had
automatically straightened. He walked over to stand beside me and leaned on the
railing. “I wanted to thank you for bringing Trip home safe to us,” he said
“Just doing my job, sir,” I said, thinking of the many who hadn’t made it this
He shook his head. “I don’t just mean from the mission. I mean here, tonight.”
He sighed. “Libby was devastated when he told us he was spending his shore leave
on Vulcan. I mean, we knew he’d made it home, that he was okay, but as a parent
you want to see it for yourself. Especially after Elizabeth …” he tailed off,
unable to finish the thought. “Anyways, I don’t know how it happened, but I get
the feeling you had a lot to do with getting him here. We’re grateful.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
He smiled sideways at me, and suddenly I was looking at Lorian. Now I know why
Trip trusted the half-Vulcan captain so implicitly. “Malcolm, no-one’s called me
‘sir’ in a long time. My friends call me Charlie, and I’d be pleased to count
you among them.”
“I’d be honoured, Charlie,” I said, placing a little emphasis on the name as I
stuck out my hand. He shook it, and it almost felt like he was welcoming me into
“Y’know, I was a police officer for thirty years,” he ruminated as he leaned
back on the rail. “A detective for eighteen. But I did my best to protect my
kids from what I saw out there. I didn’t want my family exposed to some of the
things I learned in my line of work.” He sighed, shaking his head. “Maybe I
should have. Maybe then what happened to Lizzie wouldn’t have hit us so hard.”
I remembered how young and unworldly Trip had seemed when Enterprise was first
launched. “I think you know that’s not true,” I said.
“Yeah, you’re right, Malcolm. We tell ourselves we’ve improved the lot of the
Human race, that we’ve beaten poverty and war and disease. But whether you’re up
there among the stars or down here on Earth, there will always be people around
who will do terrible things to one another. Just to make a dollar or a dime. For
power or influence. Out of love or out of fear.” He turned and stared straight
into my eyes, and I felt like he was looking into my very soul. “We understand
that, you and I. Trip doesn’t, even now. Jon Archer sure as hell doesn’t.”
“I won’t comment on the abilities of my commanding officer, Charlie, even to a
friend,” I said in warning.
“And it does you credit, son. I however am under no such constraint. Jonathan
Archer might be a fine starship captain, and I know Trip counts him as a friend,
but at heart he’s an idealist. Starfleet’s golden boy and Henry Archer’s son. He
doesn’t understand the evil that men – or women, or aliens for that matter –
inflict on one another, but he’s naïve and arrogant enough to think he can fix
it, and that’s gonna get him or someone close to him killed one day.” He paused,
treating me to that penetrating stare again. “You, on the other hand, are a
realist. You see things as they are, not how you would wish them to be. You’re a
protector, like me. I think you’re the one who keeps those people safe, and I’m
real glad you’re up there watchin’ my son’s back.”
I agreed with his assessment, but I did feel the need to defend my captain
somewhat. “Captain Archer’s saved my life more than once,” I told him.
“Personally. And he put himself at risk to do it. He protects his people.”
“I’ve no doubt he’ll do his utmost to get ‘em out of a sticky situation, but
I’ll bet you wouldn’t have let ‘em get into it in the first place.”
I had to smirk at that, remembering the times I’d clashed with the captain, and
with Trip, about the definition of ‘acceptable risk’. “No-one said exploring
space would be easy or safe,” I parroted one of Trip’s favourite sayings.
“I don’t envy you, son. Just remember you won’t be able to protect ‘em from
everything, and don’t beat yourself up too much if someone gets hurt. I know
you’ll have done your best to prevent it.”
“Ah, so this is where you two have been hiding,” Libby Tucker said as she and
Trip stepped out to join us on the porch. “We thought you’d gotten lost.”
As the conversation bubbled up around me again I stood back, still a little
shell-shocked from my conversation with Charlie Tucker, in particular the
affectionate way he’d called me ‘son’. My own father can’t even manage to do
that. I looked over at Trip. He was happy again, as if a great weight had been
lifted from him. I don’t normally allow myself to imagine things that can never
be, but for a few moments I wondered how it would feel to really be a part of
But of course by morning the real world had intruded on my little fantasy, and
we were recalled to Enterprise, all shore leave cancelled. The remnants of one
of Earth’s past conflicts have risen up and attacked the Klingons, and we are
once again in the firing line. T’Pol has returned from Vulcan married and with
the commissioned rank of commander, and Trip is doing a fair impression of being
As for me, I’m pretending I’m a Vulcan, that my feelings are irrelevant. That I
don’t experience love or pain. That he isn’t under my skin.
End of Part 1
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