Christmas Countdown: December 23
"Oh, it's not, either. You're exaggeratin' , Malcolm."
Jonathan Archer walked into his quarters and right into the middle of an argument. He stopped at the entrance, both to assess the situation and to see how long it took his lovers to notice him.
The two younger men were hanging Christmas lights and Jonathan didn't need anyone to tell him who had hung what. One half of the quarters was decorated with military precision, with no light either higher or lower than the other. The other half, while still neat, wasn't quite as perfect.
"That string is at least a centimeter off," Malcolm told Trip.
"A whole centimeter?" Jonathan could see that Trip was trying hard not to smile. "That's terrible."
"You wouldn't be so casual about it if we were discussing you beloved warp engine," Malcolm's bangs had fallen into his eyes and, impatient, he jerked his head to the side.
"But we're not," Trip pointed out. "It's just Christmas lights."
Jonathan was about to jump into the fray, but just then Porthos came over to greet him. The moment he got a good look at his pet, Jonathan forgot all about Christmas lights.
"Who put antlers on my dog?" Jonathan demanded.
The other two men immediately left off their argument and turned to him with twin looks of innocence on their faces. The disagreement was apparently forgotten in the need to face Jonathan with a united front.
"I think he looks quite fetching," Malcolm offered. His defense of Porthos' headgear meant that Trip was probably the culprit.
"And you?" Jonathan turned to Trip, keeping a stern look on his face. "Do you think it looks `fetching' too?"
Trip grinned at him. "Tis the season."
Jonathan relented enough to chuckle. "I suppose it is." He took the cloth antlers off Porthos and stood to hand them to Trip. "Just leave Porth out of from now on, okay?"
"Spoilsport, " Trip muttered. Jonathan laughed and kissed him.
Behind them, Malcolm cleared his throat. "I wasn't the perpetrator, but I was an accomplice."
Jonathan knew a request for a kiss when he heard one and willingly bestowed it. "Seriously, fellas, the lights look great." He grinned at Malcolm. "A little crooked in places, but that's okay."
"So, your shift went all right?" Trip asked Jonathan, ignoring Malcolm's smug expression. "T'Pol gonna handle things for a while?"
"Unless there's an emergency, yes," Jonathan assured him. "She said that Christmas is a human holiday and she didn't mind working a double shift."
"That was awfully kind of her," Malcolm commented.
Trip snorted. "Don't you mean logical?"
"It doesn't matter," Jonathan replied. He rubbed his hands together. "We have the third seating for the holiday dinner and that's not for another hour. What can we do to pass the time?"
Just the hint of a smile played around Malcolm's lips. "I'm sure we can think of something."
"Well, I don't know about you, darlin'," Trip threw an arm over Malcolm's shoulders. "But what I have in mind'll take more'n an hour."
"I'm talking about presents," Jonathan explained. "And then after we've fortified ourselves with a holiday dinner, we'll give the other a try."
"I hope we do more than try," Malcolm murmured. "Surely we have adequate practice by now to actually be successful."
Trip nudged Jonathan. "What ever happened to our shy, proper Lieutenant Reed?"
"I think we might have corrupted him," Jonathan laughed.
"I, for one, am glad he's gone," Malcolm stated firmly. "He was a right proper prig." Before either of his lovers could protest, he added pointedly, "I believe there was some mention of presents?"
Jonathan and Trip exchanged a glance, but allowed themselves to be distracted. Christmas was not the day to be poking at Malcolm; they'd just have to do all they could to reassure their lover in nonverbal ways that he was loved, no matter what. The men scattered throughout the small quarters, each man retrieving the gift he'd prepared for the other two.
The crew of the Enterprise had been encouraged to bring personal items on the voyage, but they'd had strict weight and space restrictions. No one had given a thought to Christmas gifts as they tried to pack enough items to make their off-duty time more bearable. Since there was a lack of physical items to give as presents, crew members who wanted to give presents at Christmas found it easier to give certificates for services or favors; a chance to pick the film on movie night, taking early shifts for a week, or even being given someone else's dessert at dinner. Serving on the Enterprise wasn't all the thrill of exploration, there were periods of extreme boredom too. If nothing else, Christmas was providing a welcome distraction. Jonathan, Trip and Malcolm were no different.
"Okay, who goes first?" Trip asked when they'd each gotten their gifts out of hiding and were sitting together again.
"Well, I'm captain," Jonathan used his rank shamelessly. "I guess I do."
He handed first Trip and then Malcolm matching boxes. The two younger men exchanged glances and came to a silent agreement to open their gifts simultaneously. Jonathan grinned as they found their pads and read what was on the display. Equally silently, they showed each other their padd and then turned to Jonathan.
"You named a system after each of us?" Malcolm asked.
"Yes," Jonathan explained. "The Tucker system has two suns and is always bright and hot, with a lot of thermal activity." He kissed Trip. "The Reed system has no sun, but reflects the light emitted by several nearby celestial bodies. Every three days there is a build up of unstable gas, resulting in the most spectacular explosions." He kissed Malcolm. "They're right next to each other."
"And is there an Archer system?" Trip asked.
Jonathan shook his head. "No, but there is a comet that orbits between the two systems on a regular basis."
"It's perfect," Malcolm declared "We'll be together in the stars together forever."
"I'm glad you like it," Jonathan said softly. He waited until both of them had kissed him. "Trip, your turn."
Trip shook his head. "That's gonna b hard to top."
"It's not the gift, it's the thought that matters," Malcolm pointed out. "You're always telling me to be confident in this relationship; now it's your turn."
His words bolstered Trip's spirits. "You're right, what's good for the goose is good for the gander." He handed out one of the envelopes to Jonathan. "You first."
Jonathan eager opened it and read the simple card inside. "Thank you, Trip." The card was for a dozen early morning dog walks, so that Jonathan could sleep in.
After Jonathan had also kissed him in a thank you, Trip handed the other envelope to Malcolm. Inside was another card, this one for a dozen hand-to-hand combat training sessions together. To an outsider, it might have seemed as though his gift to Malcolm was really one to himself, but the lovers knew better. Malcolm had been after Trip to put in some additional work on his self-defense work, but Trip had always balked at the notion. This particular gift would give Malcolm a little added piece of mind; something that was short in supply when it came to the safety of the people he cared about.
"Thank you, love," Malcolm said softly. "This means a lot."
"You'll take it easy on me, though, right?" Trip asked with a laugh.
Malcolm kissed him. "Of course not, that would defeat the purpose."
"I'm going to be black and blue," Trip commented ruefully.
"Most likely," Malcolm agreed. "But it'll be worth it, trust me." He took a deep breath. "And now it's my turn to gift you. Hold out your hands, both of you."
Jonathan and Trip did as their lover asked. Malcolm drew a brightly covered object from a plain bag and gave it to the two of them. It wasn't a box, it was a tube and the paper was gathered in bunches on either end.
"This is an old Christmas custom in England," Malcolm explained. "Trip, you hold here." He guided Trip's hand to one side of the tube. "And, Jonathan, you hold the other side." Malcolm nodded when he saw they'd obeyed his directions. "All right, now pull it apart."
"Are you sure, Malcolm?" Jonathan asked. "It'll ruin it."
"It's quite all right," Malcolm assured him. "That's what's supposed to happen."
Trip shrugged and pulled, as did Jonathan. The paper-covered tube did pull apart, but as it did, there was a popping sound. Surprised, Jonathan and Trip both dropped it. Malcolm laughed.
"What the hell was that?" Trip demanded.
Malcolm bent to pick up the pieces. "It's called a cracker. It's really quite harmless. You put small gifts in them." He held up a card similar to what Trip had used. "Or, in some cases, not so small. Come, you should read it together."
Jonathan leaned over Trip's shoulder and saw Malcolm's neat printing. It was easy to read, but even so, Jonathan had to look at it twice. He could tell from the stillness of Trip's body that the gift was affecting him the same way.
"Malcolm, are you sure?" Jonathan asked. Malcolm had been the third to join their trio and it had been necessary coax him into into it. What he'd just given the other two was a far, far cry from the shy man he'd been before.
"Quite sure," Malcolm stated firmly. "I even spoke to Dr. Phlox about it, to make sure it was physically possible."
Trip swallowed heavily. "You did?"
"Yes," Malcolm answered. "And he assured me with the proper preparation that it could be done." He blushed. "He wanted to watch, but I told him in no uncertain terms that there would be no witnesses."
Jonathan took a shaky breath. "Trip, I do believe we've corrupted him."
Trip had a silly grin on his face. "You won't hear me complainin'. Idn't it time to eat yet, I want to get that out of the way so we can come back here."
"Much preparation, " Malcolm admonished him. "And preferably when I have some leave coming to recuperate."
"You got it," Archer promised. He kissed Malcolm and cupped his chin. "Thank you, Malcolm."
"Hey, my turn," Trip protested. When Archer let Malcolm go, Trip took his place. "Thanks. You give good presents, Mal."
"The same is true for you, Mr. Tucker," Malcolm reassured him.
"Come on, it is time to eat," Jonathan put an arm around each of his lover's shoulders and guided them to the door. "Let's get this meal out of the way."
`Out of the way' for a meal that Chef had been working on for a week.
"Yeah and we'll come back here for dessert," Trip crowed. "Let's get this party started."
They were a long way from home, but it was shaping up to be one of Jonathan's best Christmases ever. . . as long as he could keep the antlers away from his dog.
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