One Fine Day
I could learn to hate Commander Tucker.
Not because of his personality. I might envy his easy camaraderie with the other crew members but I’ve long been resigned to the fact that such friendly ease is simply not my way. I’m also not envious of Tucker’s technical talents. I don’t think of myself as a vain man but I know my own worth to the Enterprise. Tactical operations may not be as flashy as engineering, but should our path be unfortunate enough to cross a foe, then my skills will be every bit as needed. I don’t know who it was who said “walk softly and carry a big stick,” but it is a philosophy I hold close to my heart.
I don’t even begrudge Tucker his friendship with Jonathan Archer. Even as I am aware of my own disposition and place on the ship, I’m also smart enough to know when something is out of my reach. Archer is my captain and right from the moment I’d been offered a place on the Enterprise’s crew, I’d resolved not to aspire to more.
No, my burgeoning hatred for Charles Tucker had nothing to do with his charm, his skill, or his closeness to our commanding officer. Rather, my negative feelings for the Enterprise’s resident southern gentleman could be summed up in two words.
I’d known Archer was a fan of the game, ever since he’d suggested that I’d make a good “two meter man,” but I’d never paid much attention to the implications. I didn’t have that luxury any longer, thanks to Tucker. Ever since the engineer had waxed eloquent in his descriptions of Archer in action in the pool, my every waking moment had been filled with daydreams of Archer’s likely water polo team attire... a bathing suit, tight and absurdly tiny. The glorious expanse of his bare chest, one stray water droplet snaking its way down his golden skin towards his naval...
My reverie was broken by the characteristic *whoosh* of an opening door. Startled, I realized that in my fantasizing, my legs had ceased to pump and I hurried to rectify that situation. It wouldn’t do to be caught wool-gathering. I was perhaps the most frequent visitor to the ship’s gymnasium, but obviously I was hardly the only crew member to make use of the training equipment. Normally in this hour I had the place to myself, which was why this was my favorite time of day for a workout, and I was curious as to the identity of the newcomer. Having accelerated my exercise to an acceptable level, I glanced over to see who it was.
To my chagrin, the object of my daydreaming had walked in the door. Jonathan Archer, dressed in a t-shirt and baggy shorts, with Porthos bouncing at his heels.
“Malcolm,” he nodded a greeting to me and I responded with an equally short, “Sir.”
Porthos saved me from further embarrassment by yipping at his master and, distracted, Archer turned towards the animal. “You’re impatient tonight, aren’t you, boy? C’mon, time to sweat off that cheese.”
The mirrored gymnasium walls allowed me to observe as the captain led his four-footed friend to a specially rigged treadmill. The little dog hopped up without hesitation and soon was trotting happily away, the equipment specially programmed to meet his needs. After all, even the Enterprise’s canine contingent had to keep fit.
I smiled as I remembered the public reaction when it was revealed that Jonathan Archer would be taking his beagle with him into space. Although pets had long been allowed on vessels for morale reasons, the Enterprise would be humanity’s first try at deep space exploration. We literally did not know what worlds and aliens we would be encountering and a number of animal welfare organizations had protested Archer bringing an “innocent” pet along for the ride. With his typical aplomb, the captain had invited a number of the most vocal opponents aboard during the last frantic weeks before our first mission. By the time their tour of the nearly-complete vessel was over, Archer not only had the most vocal of his antagonists eating out of his hand but they were also ready to go back to Earth and champion him. The few remaining critics that hadn’t been won to his cause, he simply bowled over with a dogged determination not to leave Porthos behind.
You just have to admire a man who wouldn’t abandon his dog.
One of the crew already on the Enterprise during the whole bru-ha-ha, I’d found the whole Porthos incident highly enlightening. I’d never worked with Archer before and the scant months during the ship’s final fitting wasn’t long enough to get a true measure of how the man would react in the field. True, facing down a herd of misguided animal rights advocates wasn’t the ultimate demonstration of Archer’s tactics, but it was more firsthand experience with him than I’d had before... and I liked what I saw, in more ways than one... which, of course, had me thinking of water polo again.
“Aren’t you going at that kind of hard for someone just out of the infirmary?”
The friendly voice broke through my daydreams and, acting in reflex, I glanced up -- right into Jonathan Archer’s concerned gaze. He was upside down, given my current position, but a lovely vision nonetheless. Up close and out of the usual jumpsuit, I could see that the hair on his arms was kissed with golden too...
Once I tore my eyes and my attention away from the older man, I realized he had been right. The exercise cycle I was on, the new type that had the user laying flat on his back with the pedal-like mechanism mounted to the wall, was best utilized in a steady, somewhat slow, rhythm. I’d been entirely caught up in my musings, and with my emotions fueled by Archer’s proximity, my legs had reacted accordingly. As a result, I’d pedaled much harder and faster than intended, as the twinge in the muscle Phlox had so recently repaired reminded me.
All of these details flashed through my mind quickly. “Just eager to get back in form and ready for duty,” I managed to pant in response to the original question, hoping that any flush to my face would be attributed to exercise.
The captain scrutinized me closely before offering me a hand up. “Don’t overdo it. I appreciate your determination to get back to work, Malcolm, but I won’t have you doing even more damage to yourself in your enthusiasm.”
I let Archer help me sit, glad to be wearing sweatpants that would hide my body’s reaction to the other man. All too soon, however, I was upright and Archer’s hand was withdrawn. I immediately missed the contact. Before, when I’d been ill after leaving the Novan’s caves, I’d had pleasant dreams about Jonathan Archer’s touch. It had been odd, I’d always heard delirium-induced hallucinations were supposed to be frightening, but mine had been full of those large and sensual hands. Stroking my arm. Brushing my forehead. Comforting and caring.
“What are you smiling at?”
Luckily for me, I’d been facing in the general direction of the treadmill while, once again, my thoughts had wandered. Nodding at Archer’s pet, I bald-faced lied my way out of it. “Porthos. Some of the other crew would do well to be as diligent as he is with their exercise routines.”
Archer laughed in appreciation, but I could have sworn I saw some other emotion flash through his eyes. Was it disappointment I saw or was I merely trying to see something that wasn’t there? Resolutely, I put my conversation with Commander Tucker out of my mind, not quite ready to believe in it yet.
“There’s only so many planets I can take a dog to, so he’s got to use alternate means to work off some of his energy,” Archer said with a sigh. “Maybe those activists were right. Maybe I should have left him on Earth where he belonged.”
“Nonsense,” I said firmly, not needing time to think about it. “He would have been miserable without you. Porthos is right where he belongs.”
The captain was silent for a moment and I began to wonder if I’d overstepped myself. Jonathan Archer was a rather casual leader, but was still my commanding officer. To my relief, he smiled at me.
“Thanks for the reassurance,” he said. Then, in an obvious attempt to change the subject, he gestured towards the exercise equipment I’d just been using. “I’ve never tried this thing. Since Porthos is hogging the treadmill, you want to show me how it works?”
The next few minutes were equal slices of heaven and hell, as I helped the captain find the most comfortable position on the apparatus and adjusted it for his longer body. While I enjoyed a legitimate excuse to touch the other man, it was difficult to keep the extent of my enthusiasm concealed.
“That should do it, sir,” I was finally said, glad that I’d managed not to give myself away. “Just play with it until you find a rhythm that you like, then pump away for as long as you can manage.”
Even as the words left my mouth, I could have bit my tongue off in embarrassment, but if Archer noticed that my instructions were poorly worded, he gave no sign. For several contented moments, I just watched those powerful thighs thrust back and forth on the pedals.
“Malcolm, are you sure you have the resistance set properly on this thing?” The captain asked. “It seems awfully high.”
“Just a moment, sir, let me check.” Chagrined that I might not have correctly calibrated the machinery for him, I tapped at the dial in question. “That’s odd, it seems to be stuck.”
Bracing myself, I leaned over where Archer lay so I could fiddle with the manual controls. The readings I saw there necessitated a quick inspection of the line, which in turn meant assaying the pumping mechanism itself, where I finally found the problem. A minor adjustment soon had it put to rights. “There. That should do the trick.”
It was only when I’d finished fixing the equipment that I became aware that my repair work had resulted in my straddling the captain’s prone body, my face mere centimeters away from the older man’s groin. Said groin seemed to be pretty happy about it too, if the conspicuous tenting of Archer’s shorts was any indication.
“Sir?” I clambered off Archer’s body, jumping back as if jolted by an electric bolt.
For a few moments, the only sound was the hum of the running treadmill and the sound of three creatures panting. One as a result of exercise and two because of surprise.
Archer sighed heavily at my continued silence and slowly sat up. Sitting with his head down, he seemed to collect himself for a moment and then lifted his head to look at me sadly. “I’m sorry, Malcolm. That reaction is inexcusable for a captain to have to a man under his command.” Getting up, he made as if to move past me. “It won’t happen again.”
One look at those puppy dog eyes and I knew that I couldn’t ignore my conversation with Trip anymore. It still seemed too good to be true, but I now had indisputable physical proof that Jonathan Archer *was* attracted to me. Cautious I may be, but not foolish.
“That would be a pity,” I murmured, putting one hand on Jonathan’s arm as he moved past me. “I rather liked that reaction.”
The taller man stared at my hand for a moment, then his gaze traveled the length of my arm and up, until he was meeting my eyes. “A pity? Really?”
“Really.” I know that I’m not as expressive as Tucker or Mayweather, but somehow I must have managed to put what I was feeling into my expression because Archer looked at me for a long while and then smiled.
One of the hands I’d been so focused on minutes before reached up to cup my face. “Really,” he repeated, stroking my lips with his thumb.
Had I thought earlier that the man’s skin was golden? In our current position, I could feel heat radiating from him like a sun and, just as a lesser planetary sphere is captured by a sun’s gravity well, I felt myself swaying towards him. That rogue part of my mind, the same portion that goads me into making wry comments at odd moments, immediately leapt from that mental comparison to the phrase “heavenly body.” I clamped down on it ruthlessly. With Jonathan slowly bending towards me, I didn’t want to ruin our first kiss with an inappropriate quip.
Jonathan kept his eyes locked tightly on mine as he tilted his head down, but he would find no hesitation on my part. I leaned forward eagerly, my body naturally fitting itself to his. The first brush of our lips was soft and civilized, both of us careful as we explored new territory. It didn’t stay that way long, though, and soon I was breathless at the intensity. Holding on to the other man, I pressed myself as close to him as possible, craving even more body contact. Completely lost in Jonathan, I was heedless of the fact that we were in a public place and that another of the crew could walk in on us at any moment. I only knew that I had to have more. My recently healed leg chose that unfortunate moment to give out.
Jonathan caught me before I could fall and I grumbled as he assisted me over to a nearby bench. “Damn leg,” I muttered, “Phlox should have cut it off when he had the chance.”
The captain was squatting next to me, busy rubbing the misbehaving limb, and gave me an amused look. “That would be a pity,” he said. By the looks of his grin, he was getting a lot of satisfaction at throwing my own words back at me. “I find I rather like this leg.” My expression must have said volumes, because his amused look became a laugh and he pulled me in for a quick kiss. “Anybody ever tell you that you’re cute when you pout?”
“I do *not* pout,” I corrected him, grabbing him by the back of the neck when he would have pulled away. “I glower and grimace and occasionally sulk, but pouting is not part of my repertoire.” I bumped my forehead against his. “And tactical officers are not cute.”
Bringing up my designation was *not* a good idea. I could feel Archer’s body stiffen and I immediately regretted letting my fool mouth run away from me.
“Maybe it’s good your leg acted up,” Jonathan said slowly. “Let’s not go too fast. It’s an extended mission, we’ve got lots of time. Let’s take this relationship slowly.”
I let him pull away. I enjoyed being so close to him that our breath mingled, but I needed to be able to see his face clearly. “Then there will be one?” When John looked confused, I clarified. “A relationship?”
He brushed the hair out of my eyes, our kisses having mussed us both somewhat. “I’d like for there to be, but I don’t want you to feel pressured...”
“Jonathan,” I said, capturing his hand so he would focus on what I was saying, “Do you think I’m attracted to you simply because you’re the captain?”
“No,” Archer said, forcefully and with a little bit of irritation at the suggestion, so I knew he was being truthful.
“Then don’t think that I feel pressured into this,” I suddenly grinned, “Aside from the pressure my own body’s bringing to bear, that is.” He grinned back and I knew that I’d convinced him that harassment was not an issue.
A short bark from the other side of the gym warned us and Jonathan turned quick enough to catch the beagle-sized missile that had launched itself at him. “What’s the matter, boy? You jealous of someone else getting the attention?”
Porthos didn’t appear to be, bouncing up to lick me as often as he did his owner, causing both of us to laugh.
“I think he likes you,” Jonathan said, patently pleased by his pet’s behavior. “Porthos has excellent taste in men.”
“Of course he does,” I responded. “He loves you, doesn’t he?”
For some reason, that comment made Archer growl. I didn’t really mind, since he also snagged me in for a passionate kiss. Unfortunately, Jonathan was a little too enthusiastic and I toppled from the bench. All three of us, man and dog alike, ended up in a pile on the floor.
“That does it,” Jonathan said from the bottom of the heap. “We are definitely waiting to take this further until your leg is completely healed.”
I allowed myself to be assisted from the floor, not protesting that much when Jonathan insisted that we stop by the infirmary to make sure that our antics and my exercise hadn’t caused any further damage. Since any likelihood of further physical activities was pretty much nonexistent for the time being, I decided to make the most of it, limping a little as we exited the gym and headed down the corridor. That got me the desired result, Jonathan’s arm around my waist as he steadied me and for a perfectly legitimate reason too, should we happen to come across anyone else.
Perhaps, I decided as I reflected on recent events, I wouldn’t hate Commander Tucker after all.
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