Title: Creature Comforts
Author: Waldo.
Pairing: Tucker/Reed
Rating: T
Summary: After the Xindi attack Earth, Trip won't let anyone get close to him. So Malcolm gets creative to find a way to give him some comfort.

Creature Comforts

By Waldo.

It had happened a few times before – most notably the third day into Enterprise's first voyage. Porthos had somehow gotten himself out of the Captain's quarters and gone for a little walk on his own. So Trip was only slightly surprised to find the critter sitting in front of his quarters when he finally dragged himself home that night.

"Got out again, huh?" he asked the forlorn dog. "Come on, I don't think Jon's gonna be off the bridge for a while yet." He keyed in his door code and shooed the dog in before him. "How long you been out wanderin' anyway?" he asked as the door shut behind them. None of them had been keeping regular hours since they'd learned of the attack on Earth. But now with Phlox rounding up everyone after he decided they'd worked long enough, Trip had no choice but to go off duty for a while. Good thing too. Who knows how long Porthos would have been wandering around if he hadn't found him?

He got a beer from the small refrigerator and wrenched the top off. Porthos whined a little as he drank it. "Jon would kill me if I gave you beer, but I gotta have something around here to use as a water bowl." He dug through a cabinet stuffed full of food he'd picked up while they'd been home. He tossed a box of cookies on the desk and then took out a small plastic bowl full of hard candies. He dumped the candies in a pile on the desk and filled the bowl with a bottle of water from the fridge. "There ya go."

He took the box of cookies and rummaged through it looking for something without chocolate. Jon had given him a good long lecture about what chocolate could do to dogs the one time he'd found Trip sharing a cupcake with Porthos when the dog had only been a puppy. Finally finding a plain sugar cookie, he broke it in half and tossed one of the pieces of it to Porthos. He'd kept an eye on him a few times when the Captain had been away from the ship for more than a day and he wondered if he still had any dog food in his room. He dug through the cabinet again, but didn't come up with anything. "Sorry, Porthos, you're gonna have to wait for the Captain to give you dinner."

Trip realized he should call and let the Captain know where his sometimes-too-brave pooch had gotten off to, but the truth was, he didn't mind the company. Jon would look here eventually, he reasoned. Porthos had the half cookie between his paws and was nibbling merrily away.

Trip dropped onto the couch and just watched him for a while. When Porthos had finished his snack he went back and finished his water. Trip leaned over from where he was and refilled it with the rest of the water bottle. "I suppose now that I've fed and watered ya, you'll want me to walk you too." He sighed, sincerely hoping that wouldn't be the case for a while. He didn't want to go anywhere anytime soon. Porthos drank a little more water and then came and sat expectantly near Trip's feet. Too well trained to jump up on furniture uninvited he settled for laying his paws on Trip's knees and stretching his long back.

Laughing, Trip patted his lap. "Come on," he said, giving the dog a boost when he couldn't get his rear end up onto the couch. He stretched out, pulling Porthos onto his chest. "Lizzie loved dogs. Especially that really dumb mutt we had as a kid. Dog was dumber than a box of rocks, but you couldn't tell Lizzie that," he whispered as he scratched between Porthos' ears. "She was just telling me that if she got that contract in Atlanta she was going to get a Terrier to keep her company up there. One of those little white ones. She'd'a liked you. Then again, everyone likes you, don't they?" He imitated the Beagle's pout. "Well, okay, except T'Pol. But she needs to get over that. It's not like you bit her."

The first time Porthos had gotten out, Archer had noticed on his lunch break, when he'd gone down to check on him. He spent the next half-hour looking for him, with no success. When he'd had to go back to his office to take a call from Admiral Forrest, he'd called the bridge where Trip was on duty and asked him to make an announcement that the crew should be on the look out for an unarmed, but very disarming, beagle that seemed to have taken off.

It was about two hours after that that T'Pol had called the bridge to inform him that she had indeed found the poor creature. "I'll call the Captain, let him know to come get him."

There had been a hesitation. "Perhaps, if this animal is acquainted with you, you could come remove it."

Just then he'd heard a loud bark through the open communicator line. "Tell me you're not having problems with Porthos," he'd laughed. "He's a 10 kilo puppy!"

Trip swore she sounded annoyed when she answered, "If I move he will attempt to injure me. If I injure… him… the Captain will be most displeased. It is only logical that if this creature is comfortable with you that you come down here and keep this situation from escalating."

So Trip had handed the con to Malcolm and set off after the errant pup.

He'd put Porthos in his own quarters for the rest of his shift and called the Captain to let him know that the dog had been found safe and sound and was now sleeping on his bed. When he dropped the runaway off before dinner he'd explained what he'd seen. "Your dog's got good taste, Jon – he had T'Pol cornered in a storage room and was doing that pointin' thing beagles do when you're huntin' something."

Jon had laughed, realizing that he was going to have to find time for Porthos and T'Pol to get to know one another a little better.

Trip sighed at his memories. Their first time out of Spacedock hadn't been a picnic. They were still installing things and calibrating everything and he didn't even know about a quarter of the crew he was told were his, not to mention the armory officers he found himself working with so often. But it had been new and exciting – a challenge to rise to.

Now he felt about a hundred years older. Now things worked better, people knew each other, and while that certainly made for a better running ship, there was something about the initial sense of being boldly launched into the unknown with only their wits to guide them that was lost. It was a lot easier to tap dance around regulations when the device the regulation was predicated on wasn't fully functional yet. Trip loathed the sheer number of seemingly unnecessary regulations they were forced to endure. So many of them were just to make the Vulcans happy. The captain said he understood the reason for most of them and Malcolm seemed to revel in them, but they there were days when Trip thought that any large number of them were invented simply to piss him off.

But now, with the unwarranted attack on Earth, Starfleet seemed to be taking the gloves off. Trip supposed he should be happy about that, but he was finding it pretty hard to be happy about much of anything lately.

It amazed him how different the unknown looked now. He hated feeling so damn suspicious of everything. He'd always taken a little bit of pride in his unchecked optimism and enthusiasm. He'd let Malcolm and the captain worry about there being Klingons behind every asteroid.

For the thousandth time in the last week, he checked his initial impulse to do what he did under stress – to write Lizzie. To explain what he could and work out some stuff in his head. To tell her what he was seeing and that he was okay. He realized that there was a huge hole in his soul where he'd kept the idea that she was at home worrying about him, so he better not let anything happen to him. It'd upset her.

"Oh, god, Porthos, she's gone. What the hell am I supposed to do now?" He felt a few tears run into his ears, but couldn't summon the strength to wipe them away. He could feel an even bigger storm coiling in his gut, but he held it back, letting go just enough to make sure that the dam wouldn't break at a less appropriate moment. It was nice having Porthos there, someone he could talk to who wouldn't push, wouldn't keep asking questions, but at the same time, it wasn't enough. Malcolm was sure to still be pissed about that display in the corridor earlier.

"I blew that one bad," he muttered to the dog. "I spend two years trying to get the guy's head out of the armory - off his damn guns - and get him relating to people as people and then as soon as he makes an effort to do exactly that I damn near take his head off and tell him the only thing he is good for is blowin' stuff up."

He wondered if Malcolm ever felt guilty for the lives he had to take as part of his duty. He had a hard time thinking that he didn't every once in a while. As much as Malcolm'd like people to think he was an automaton, he wasn't, and Trip had had the privilege lately of discovering exactly how deeply Malcolm could feel. At the same time he had to have some way of switching it off. Otherwise how could he keep doing it? Greater good and all that, he supposed. Those Xindii from the future were willing to die to protect their planet, kill whomever they had to to protect their greater good.

He suddenly felt nauseous. He didn't want to start understanding the enemy. And he sure as hell didn't want to start comparing the man he loved with them. He rolled to his feet quickly, dislodging Porthos. "Come on, boy, time to take you home." He needed to get up and move. He needed to not be alone with thoughts like those.

Archer was in loose gray pants and a white t-shirt reading reports when Trip chimed. "Come in." Trip noticed absently that Archer never asked who it was when someone rang the bell to his quarters, no matter what the hour. He was always available to any member of his crew. He sighed. Jonathan Archer was a Good Man. A good man he'd been letting down lately. He'd been letting a whole lot of people down recently, he thought. Including Malcolm, who certainly didn't deserve his ire earlier. He sighed again. He'd work on that one tomorrow.

"Hey dad, I found a puppy, can I keep him?" he quipped, but the smile he'd forced didn't reach his eyes.

Archer took the dog back from him and pointed to the dog bed in the corner. Porthos trotted off but stopped at his bowl and looked up imploringly. Archer sighed and grabbed a bag of dog food.

"Sorry, I didn't have any dog food for him. I gave him some water and half a cookie though." Trip leaned against the doorjamb, thumbs hooked in his pockets.

"Cookies, huh?" Archer scratched the dog under his chin as he put the food on the floor for him. "No cheese for you tonight, then." He glanced up at Trip, "What about you? Dinner?"

"Someone brought sandwiches around to Engineering while we were getting that new converter in place." Trip studied his boots as he spoke.

Archer looked long and hard at him. "But did you eat any of them?" he pushed for clarification.

Trip shrugged.

"You have to take care of yourself, Trip. You aren't helping her by pushing away people who care about you and not taking care of yourself." Archer moved to the couch and indicated for Trip to sit.

Trip reined in the impulse to yell that nothing would help her any more and that there was no her any more; for her and for seven million other people there was nothing to be done. He dropped heavily onto the couch and considered what the captain had said. "You heard about that, huh?" he asked when he realized Archer had made an oblique reference to the fight he'd had with Malcolm.

"It's a small ship," Archer consoled. Usually Trip was one of the primary branches of the ship's grapevine, so he shouldn't have been surprised when the talk going around was about him, but it seemed to be. "Trip, of the eighty-three people on this ship only you and Crewman Bentivas lost family. We're all hurting that this happened to 'us' – humans, but we have no way of focusing that hurt. Seven million people is a number that our brains can't readily comprehend. So we try to make it smaller, make it… personal. So we're all hurting for you. We all want to help if we can. It's probably even worse for you now since Bentivas decided to stay home to take care of his grandmother now that his mother's gone.

"I'll tell people to give you space if that's what you really want, but you've never been that kind of guy. You're always the first to offer comfort to anyone who needs it. God knows I've been on the receiving end more than once, and you've been a godsend. People just want to give back a little of what you've given them in the past."

Trip nodded. "I know. It's just… it's hard. There's nothing left. No body to bury, no apartment to close out, no kids to take care of. It's like she was never there."

Archer nodded. They'd been trying to get Trip to talk for almost a week and now that he was, he had no idea what to say. He knew that Elizabeth had been an architect, but he didn't know if any of her designs were of any kind of acclaim. She'd only been 30 when she'd died, was that enough time to make your name as a designer?

When the silence dragged on, Trip felt tears pricking at him again. He stood hastily and moved for the door. "Well, anyway, I thought I'd bring back your dog."

He was gone before Archer could ask him to stay for a while.

Malcolm was tapping furiously at a PADD with one hand and holding a cup of tea with the other when Trip came into the mess hall. He grabbed some coffee and a banana nut muffin before joining the other man. "May I?"

The formalness of the request startled Malcolm. "Of course."

Trip sighed. At least he wasn't tacking that damn 'sir' on everything again, but Malcolm had back that guarded awkwardness he'd spent two years trying to break through. Trip wasn't sure if he should just get to the apology or try some small talk to see if his apology would be accepted at this point.

"So, I had a visitor last night," he said as he stirred sugar into his coffee. Damn, he'd never been a coward before, why couldn't he just get to the point?

Malcolm raised an eyebrow.

"Porthos got loose again. Found him sitting in front of my door."

"Really?" Malcolm didn't quite seem to be blowing him off, but neither did he seem at all shocked that the captain's dog had gotten out of his room and set up camp in front of his.

"Yeah. Captain was still on the bridge when I left Engineering for the night, so I just kept him with me for a while."

"Was he good company?"

If Trip thought that was an odd question, he didn't show it on his face. "Yeah, actually. He's cute as hell and he knows it. Plays it to the hilt. Talked me out of one of those cookies I brought from home."

Malcolm smiled slightly at that.

Trip sipped his coffee for a minute. "You know… the captain didn't seem all too shocked by his being missing. Didn't call around looking for him when he got home. That's kind of odd, isn't it?"

Malcolm just shrugged and looked at Trip over his tea mug.

"Malcolm… exactly what part of that dog showing up on my doorstep had to do with you?" Trip didn't sound mad, more like… embarrassed.

Malcolm looked around the mess. There weren't too many people there yet, but he still would have preferred to have this conversation in private. Their last public conversation about private matters had gone so spectacularly badly. Nothing to be done for it now. "I'm sorry about yesterday," he said quietly, one hand gently resting on Trip's wrist. "My timing… sucked," he said, trying out one of his friend's favorite expressions. "The corridor, while we were both on duty, was no place for that conversation. I apologize."

Trip dropped his head into his hands. He didn't want Malcolm apologizing for caring. He rolled his words around in his head before speaking. "I'll agree that the timing wasn't very good, but the sentiment was. I shouldn't have shouted like that and I never should have… I didn't mean to imply that you were only good for blowin' things up. I've been trying to get you to quit thinking like that for two years. That was pretty insensitive of me and way out of line. I should be the one apologizing."

"You needed me to back off. I wasn't listening to more subtle hints; you did what you had to in order to protect yourself. I don't blame you." Malcolm was gently rubbing his thumb over the inside of Trip's wrist.

Getting back to the question of the moment, Trip flipped his hand over and captured Malcolm's with it. "So, how did Porthos end up in front of my quarters?"

"You weren't ready to talk to anyone, yet at the same time I couldn't bear the idea of you being alone." Malcolm shrugged.

Trip started laughing for the first time since they'd left Earth. "I have the most bizarre image of how that conversation had to have gone. 'Scuse me sir, can I borrow your dog?"

"Yes, well… Frighteningly enough that was almost exactly how it had happened." Malcolm had been nearly desperate to find something that would console his lover. Only now did he realize how ridiculous the request must have sounded to anyone outside his own head and thought processes. Smiling back he said, "It seems to have worked. This is the first time I've seen you smile since we left home."

"You busy after your shift tonight?" Trip was suddenly serious once more.

"Not unless those damn couplings get stuck again. Then we'll be pulling out power conduits all –"

"Get someone else to do it tonight, okay?" Trip cut in. They both had a habit of staying to work late if they were going to order any of their crew to do the same, but not tonight. Trip squeezed his hand tight. "Come up to the observation deck with me tonight. I want to have a drink and tell someone about Lizzie."

Malcolm squeezed his hand back. "I'll be there."

"I know."