Fine Motor Skills
For all his ostentatious displays designed to show me that his leg was in working order, I had a lingering feeling if I hadn’t opened my door when I did, Malcolm would have bolted. Luckily for both of us, I had invoked captain’s privilege and had an observation camera recently installed outside my quarters. Trip had been all too willing to accommodate me on that request, which had me vaguely worried. My chief engineer was usually more than happy to be helpful, so it wasn’t that. In my experience, however, he only bent over backwards on such trivial requests when he was trying to charm his way out of trouble. It made me wonder what he’d been up to, that he felt the need to butter me up....
All thoughts of anyone else flew out of mind when I opened the door and found Malcolm standing there, hands behind him and shifting uncomfortably from side to side. The younger man was dressed in black pants and a sleeveless gray knit shirt. I indulged myself with a nice long look as I leaned against the door frame. Our uniforms are comfortable, I’ll give them that, but the way they hid a body like Malcolm’s was a damn shame. “Hello.”
The simple greeting evidently relaxed my visitor and I was rewarded with a smile. “Hello yourself. I hope I’m not too early?”
“Not at all,” I assured him, backing into my quarters and gesturing for the lieutenant to follow. “Come on in.”
The other man had been in my quarters before, but never on personal business. I watched those sharp eyes take in the addition to the room – a small table set for two. When he commented, however, it had to do with a conspicuous absence.
I felt my smile slip away. “I lent him to Hoshi for the evening. Porth is a real good listener.”
Each person who signed aboard the Enterprise had known the voyage would be a long one. In theory, we were all aware that the distances involved would mean, sooner or later, we’d be out of reach at a time when our families needed us. For Hoshi, that time had come sooner rather than later. The Enterprise’s crew had become a family of sorts in the months we’d been in space and everyone felt bad for the young ensign as she struggled with the news of her grandmother’s death. Since I’d personally twisted her arm to get her to come, lending Hoshi my dog while she was grieving seemed the least I could do.
“That was a kindness,” Malcolm said softly, touching me on the arm. As the armory officer, I knew that Reed took his position as the ship’s chief defender very personally. Of all my crew, he probably understood my sense of responsibility more than anyone else. We shared a knowing glance and then he smiled. “Does this make Porthos an official member of the crew? As our morale officer?”
I knew it was an obvious attempt to cheer me up and, in spite of how accountable I felt for Hoshi’s pain, it worked. I found myself laughing as I responded, “I suppose it does at that. As long as he doesn’t expect to be paid in cheese.”
Malcolm had kept his hands behind his back as he’d perused the room and, even as he dropped one hand from my arm, I realized that the other was still hidden. I’d assumed the formality of his stance was due to lingering shyness but now I wasn’t so sure. Taking a closer look, I saw he was holding something, an item he obviously didn’t want me to see. “What’s that? I hope you didn’t bring anything for the meal - I told you dinner was on me tonight.”
Malcolm blushed and reluctantly showed me what he’d been concealing. Cradled on the palm his hand was a miniature version of the Enterprise, exquisitely constructed out of what appeared to be nothing more than folded paper.
“I noticed the renderings you have in your ready room,” he awkwardly explained, “Of all the vessels named Enterprise. I hope it’s not presumptuous of me, but I thought I would add to your collection.”
“It’s not presumptuous at all,” I said as I accepted the gift. “Believe me, I’ll never get enough of looking at this ship.” I marveled at the tiny reproduction. “Is this origami?”
The other man nodded his head. “Yes, you know we were all told that having a hobby could ease the psychological strain of a long galactic voyage and were encouraged to bring something with us.... I suppose origami hardly seems appropriate for a weapons officer, but I find the precision it requires helps me in my mental discipline.”
I’d hardly heard Malcolm’s explanation. My mind had been busy imagining those slender fingers deftly manipulating the paper... and then extrapolating how good they would feel on my body.
I looked up, realizing that my fantasizing had gotten the better of me and that Malcolm’s voice had tapered off. I firmly reined in my imagination. With the real thing in front of me, I’d soon be past the need for dreaming anyway. “Sorry, I was just admiring the details.”
“Speaking of admiration,” Malcolm said, taking a deep breath. “Something smells delicious.”
I carefully placed the paper Enterprise on a shelf for safe-keeping. Porthos was a well-mannered dog, but there was no use in tempting him by leaving it within reach. Taking Reed by the hand, I led him to the table and sat him down. “Welcome to Chez Archers. What we’re lacking in ambience, I’d like to think we make up for in the quality in our clientele.”
“I have no arguments about the company, I assure you.” I was pleased to see the flicker of desire in Malcolm’s eyes as he said that, glad that I’d chosen to wear my favorite pair of jeans for this evening. The last time I’d worn them, Phlox had pulled me aside and warned me that overly constricting certain parts of the body was most inadvisable. The comment had proven to me that, while the good doctor had a basic understanding of human anatomy, he still had a lot to learn about our behavior.
With a flourish, I removed the cover off the food container. “Dinner is served.”
Malcolm looked inside the dish, then shot me a glance that was full of amused surprise. “Pineapple chicken?”
“Remember, a little bird did tell us that pineapple is your favorite food,” I served him and then spooned some up for myself, watching his face carefully as he took his first bite. “Good?”
He’d closed his eyes, his expression one of rapture. “It’s beyond good. It’s wonderful.” He smiled and looked at me. “I’ve never seen this served in the general mess. I’ll have to give Chef my compliments. Maybe he’ll make it for the whole crew.”
I grinned, thoroughly pleased with myself. “I suppose I could be convinced to give him the recipe.”
“You made this?” Malcolm asked, pointing to his plate with his fork, eyes wide in disbelief.
“Well, I *am* good for a few things other than captaining the ship,” I teased, laughing as I took a very satisfied bite of my own meal. “I know that,” he said, shaking his head ruefully as I chuckled, knowing then that I’d been teasing. “I’m just astonished that Chef let you into his kitchen. He’s very territorial, even more protective of it than you are of the Enterprise as a whole. I’m surprised he didn’t make you promise to let him pilot the ship in exchange.”
I felt myself stiffen a bit. The Chef’s possessive nature was well-known. “Well, only in an uninhabited area of space and only for a few minutes. And *only* with Travis riding shotgun.”
Malcolm blinked. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope.” I took another bite.
“You’d let Chef pilot the Enterprise, all so that you could make me dinner?”
I put my fork down, taking his free hand in mine. “I could have ordered him to let me into the kitchen, but that would have been a bad president. Chef’s the *real* morale office onboard but it’s got to be hard for him, stuck down in the galley all of the time. This way, he gets a chance to get out of the kitchen and feel more like a part of the ship’s crew.”
“And you get a chance to cook.” The lieutenant didn’t phrase it as a question.
“Of course,” I said, squeezing his hand before letting go. “I could have let Chef have his turn in the pilot’s chair at any time. I was just saving it for a special occasion.”
Malcolm followed my example and took another bit of his dinner. “You never did say how you found out pineapple’s my favorite food.”
“Like Hoshi said, we have our sources,” I replied. I looked at him, considering. In truth, we *had* gone to great lengths to get what, when you came down to it, was a pretty trivial piece of information. Malcolm deserved to hear about it from me, rather than finding it out from a member of his family. “By the way, while we were investigating, we did talk to your parents and a few...”
The younger man had been swallowing when I said “parents” and started to choke. I immediately got up from my chair and quickly came to his side, pounding on his back until the obstruction cleared.
“My parents?” He wheezed, when he had breath to talk.
“That seemed like a reasonable place to start.” Confused, I went back to my own chair, watching in puzzlement as Reed took a gulp of water.
“You, the captain of the starship Enterprise,” he said when he put his glass down, “Contacted *my* parents and asked them what I like to have for supper?”
“Well, yeah,” I answered, unable to keep the defensive tone out of my voice. “Is there a problem with that?”
My dinner companion dropped his head into his hands and I soon noticed his shoulders were shaking. I’d been afraid of this, one reason I’d been so cagey with my answers whenever he’d asked how we’d found out about the pineapple. What dark family secret had I stumbled across?
“Malcolm, you alright?” I finally asked.
When the younger man lifted his head, I was confused but relieved to realize that he’d been laughing, not crying. Quietly and with restraint, as he did everything, but Malcolm had been laughing.
“John,” he said when he finally got himself under control. “My parents are Isolationists.”
Isolationists. People that believed that it was a huge mistake for humanity to reach for the stars and had protested our entry into space. Thankfully, by this day and age, their protests had been nonviolent and had mostly been in the nature of demonstrations and attempts at prohibited legislation. Unfortunately, that had been enough, not to keep humanity from space but hamper our efforts. The fact that a group - even a small one - with their beliefs existed on earth... it had given the Vulcans yet another reason to not help us. A delay that had prevented my father from seeing his dream realized.
“Isolationists,” I echoed, not able to gather my thoughts into anything more coherent.
The weakness in my voice stopped Malcolm’s laugher cold. He picked up my slack hand and looked me earnestly in the eye. “My *parents* are Isolationists, John, not me. That’s why they were so resentful when I joined Starfleet instead of the Navy. But I never shared their beliefs, not even when I was a boy.”
“That’s why your father was so bitter about the ocean not being big enough,” I murmured.
He grinned suddenly. “I can only imagine his reaction to having a humanity-imperiling starship captain calling him from light years out in space. He’ll never live it down with his species imperialist friends.” Malcolm grew serious again. “I hope you don’t fault me for not saying anything earlier,” he continued. “But, having that in your background, it’s not exactly something to inspire confidence in you with one’s crewmates.”
Coming out of my surprise, I looked at him in curiosity. “There’s nothing about it in your records.”
He looked embarrassed but didn’t make an attempt to break our gaze. “I didn’t think it was relevant. They were never active Isolationists, so they never partook in any demonstrations or the like. They believed in the cause but not enough to do more than snipe about it in private.” His voice turned bitter. “I don’t think there’s anything my parents are passionate about.” I filled in the rest. “And you thought it would count against you with Starfleet, even if you don’t share in their convictions.”
He nodded, his grip loosening somewhat as I didn’t seem horrified. “Starfleet’s so new and there’s so many who want to join. I didn’t mean to deceive anyone, but since I’m not an Isolationist myself, it didn’t seem important. I didn’t want there to be any reason for me to be weeded out.”
I stroked his hand with my fingers. “Well, it’s not important. Not to me and not to Starfleet.”
Malcolm smiled. “They’re wrong, you know.”
He nodded. “And all the Isolationists,” he looked away as he struggled for the words, then locked gazes with me again. “They’re so afraid that we’ll become so enamored and overwhelmed by other cultures, that we’ll loose ourselves. But they’re wrong about that. Out here, in deep space, I’ve learned more about being human than I ever did on Earth.”
I gave the idea some consideration and found that it fit my own experiences perfectly. In interacting with alien cultures, hell, in interacting with my own Vulcan science officer, I’d had to repeatedly confront what was important to me as a member of my species. The voyage had been not only an exploration of the galaxy, but a refinement of what it meant to be human.
“When we get back home,” I offered. “We’ll go visit your parents and explain it to them.”
Malcolm snorted. “You say you’ve talked to my father once, can you imagine convincing him of anything?” He took an almost savage bit of his meal and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was wishing it was his parent that he could masticate instead.
“Okay, but when we get back, there’s this little Chinese restaurant I want to take you to,” I said, moving the conversation to less emotionally laden topics.
We spent the rest of the meal telling one another of our favorite spots on Earth, comparing them to some of the planetary sights we’d seen on our journey. By the time the meal was over, our conversation was on a much more even keel.
“So, now you know I like origami,” Malcolm eventually said as he leaned back from the table. “Since you can’t indulge your interest in cooking, not without relinquishing control of Enterprise anyway, what hobbies do you use when you need a diversion from duty?”
“Well, there’s Porthos,” I said, but then quickly corrected myself. “But I consider him more of a friend than a hobby. Water polo is out,” I grinned at him, “I tried, but I couldn’t get Starfleet to fit a swimming pool into the ship’s design.” I got up to move the table aside as best I could in the cramped quarters. “A shame,” He murmured and I could see the frank appreciation in his eyes as he looked me over from head to toe.
“That leaves just one other recreational pursuit that I enjoy,” I said as I extended my hand to him. “But it works best when two people are involved.”
Malcolm let me pull him from his seat and I quickly folded both of the chairs and moved them out of the way. Then, having cleared a small floor space, I turned to the consol and pushed a couple of buttons. The lights immediately dimmed and a soft melody wafted across the cabin. Turning back to my partner, I pulled him close, encouraging him to move to the music.
“Dancing?” He said in dismay as he realized my intent. “John, I can’t dance - I have two left feet!”
“Nonsense,” I assured him, ignoring the way his body had stiffened when the music started. “I’ve seen you practice martial arts moves, you’re very graceful.”
“All right, it’s your feet at risk,” he retorted. “But you can’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Given his reticent nature, I had a feeling that Malcolm would protest my idea, so I’d chosen the music with care. It had a slow, soothing rhythm and all it really required was for you to hold onto your partner and sway. Soon, I felt my partner’s body relax against mine, Reed’s arms seemingly came up of their own volition to wrap around my neck. My hands instinctively dropped down to cup his ass, pulling him closer and grinding our bodies together.
As the younger man gasped at the sensation, I reached down and whispered into his ear. “So, what do you think of my hobby now?”
Malcolm pulled back and smiled sweetly. “I can think of other recreational pursuits involving two people that I’d like to try instead.”
When he led me to the bed and showed me what he meant, I had to agree.
Afterwards, we lay wrapped in one another, the music long gone and the only sound that remained was our gasps as we tried to bring our breathing under control. Malcolm stretched out on top of me, laying where he’d collapsed. I didn’t mind in the least, as I was far from ready to let go.
“Lieutenant,” I eventually murmured as I stroked up my hands up and down his sweaty back, “I commend you on your creative use of leftovers. Although, I have to admit, when I said dinner was ‘on me tonight,’ that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
“I always got excellent marks for resourcefulness in my Starfleet courses.” Malcolm leaned up to lick a last trace of pineapple sauce from the underside of my chin. “Besides, I really do love pineapple, as a topping on all sorts of things.” He groaned and hid his face in the crook of my neck. “Listen to me, I sound like I’m in a bad pornographic film.”
“Well, I’m told I do have that effect on people.” I bent to kiss the top of his dark head, smiling into his rumpled hair. “You know, Phlox is going to be disappointed.”
Reed wiggled until we were face to face. “Phlox? Why?”
It was a struggle to keep my face straight but I managed. “He’s been wanting to observe two humans mating. He’ll be sorry to hear he missed his chance.”
Malcolm tilted his head to the side in an obvious thinking pose. “It should be a simple matter to modify the security camera Commander Tucker installed outside your cabin. That way, we can re-route a live feed to directly to Dr. Phlox’s quarters. He missed the opening festivities, of course, but surely we can think of something interesting for him to observe.”
I growled and flipped the smaller man, pinning him underneath me. Only then did I see the twinkle in his eye. “You’re kidding.”
“Of course,” he answered easily, pressing up for a kiss. Once our lips parted, he freed one hand and traced over my face with his fingertips. “You’re the captain, John. I know I’ll be sharing you with nearly eighty people every day,” When I opened my mouth to protest, he stopped me by placing one finger over my lips. “Don’t. That’s the way it has to be. I know that and I wouldn’t expect less from you.” His understanding expression turned into a frown. “But I’m not turning our relationship into a peep show, educational or otherwise, so an alien physician can observe human coital habits.”
“Well, all right then,” I responded, feeling a stupid smile spreading across my face, “but the night is still young. How about we come up with something interesting to do, even if Dr. Phlox *won’t* be observing?”
Malcolm grinned, “I’ve got an idea, why don’t you teach me how to tango?”
Then he pulled me under the covers.... which was just fine by me.
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