WARNING!!! This is an Archer-Reed story and has a 'T' rating for the slash element, but there is nothing explicit. If it is not your thing, don't read!

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything. I own nothing, and I'm not getting paid for this.

Summary: Malcolm decides to practice his tactical skills to stop them getting rusty, and annoys the pants off Jonathan in the process!

Comments: Thanks to my beta, Kathy, who as usual, pointed out all my mistakes.

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The First Flower.

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed was not only the most dangerous man aboard Enterprise, he was also thesneakiest. He had learnt to be sneaky as part of his training as tactical officer, although he wouldn't usually refer to his special abilities in this manner to others. There were many other words to describe what he did, like sleight-of-hand, subterfuge, strategy, devious, surreptitious, stealthy, cryptic, mysterious, obscure, private, unofficial... The list goes on. But basically they all meant the same thing - sneaky!

Well, Malcolm had decided that over the next week or two he would put his skills to the test, in order to resolve a small problem that he had.

The problem was Captain Jonathan Archer.

Eighteen months into Enterprise's first mission and Malcolm still didn't know where he stood with the Captain. During this time he had gradually realised that Captain Archer meant more to him than just his captain. Malcolm wanted the man. Really wanted him. And he was pretty sure that his feelings were reciprocated. But there was this fraternisation thing. He had been brought up to believe that one did not fraternise with one's superior officers, and the captain couldn't make the first move or it could be misread as pressurising the subordinate. Malcolm was too much of a stickler for the rules to approach the captain, but obviously, unless he did, his chance of a relationship with Jonathan Archer would never happen.

So he decided to bend his own rules!

It was a momentous decision for Malcolm, and so he thought he'd make it a bit of a game.

He planned the first part down to the last detail. Then he made his move.

It was time for the alpha shift to take over from the gamma shift on the bridge. Malcolm timed his entry onto the bridge so that he would be neither the first nor the last to arrive. As he stepped out of the turbolift he saw that Ensigns Travis Mayweather and Hoshi Sato were already at their stations. There was no sign of Commander Charles Tucker III or Sub-Commander T'Pol. This suited Malcolm perfectly. He walked over to Hoshi as she sat at her station, and said quietly,

"You really need some target practice, Hoshi. Come down to the armoury at 1400 if you're free."

"Yes, OK. I'll do that, Malcolm." She smiled her reply.

Malcolm nodded and turned to cross the bridge to his station opposite. To do so he had to pass the command chair. He never altered his stride, but as he passed the chair he flicked his wrist slightly and a small, pink flower dropped onto the seat. He reached his station, sat down and started to work.

A few moments later the turbolift doors opened and out stepped Trip Tucker and T'Pol. They were talking animatedly about something but soon separated to go to their various stations. The captain arrived moments later.

Captain Archer was about to sit in his chair when he spotted the flower!

"What's this?" he asked, holding it up for all to see.

"It would appear to be a flower", said T'Pol.

"Yes, T'Pol. I can see that," he was rather irritated with her for stating the obvious. "But what is a flower doing on my chair?" He looked around at the bridge crew, obviously expecting one of them to know something.

Travis raised his hands and said, "Nothing to do with me, Captain."

Hoshi shrugged and shook her head, "Me neither," was her response.

T'Pol merely raised an eyebrow.

Malcolm took a step backwards. "Please don't bring it any nearer," he said. "It might set off my hay fever."

"Shucks, Cap'n," said Trip. "I'm jealous. Why just you? Why haven't we all got one?"

"Hoshi," the captain turned to her, "do you recognise it? I'm sure it's not an Earth flower."

Hoshi moved towards him to take a closer look.

She held the delicate thing between thumb and finger, looked at it closely, then sniffed it.

"I agree, it's not from Earth. I think it came from that M-class planet we visited a couple of months back. You know, the one where they had flowers everywhere."

"I think you're right, Ensign," T'Pol took the flower from Hoshi and examined it. "It was among the plants that we collected from Balenthia. They used flowers where we would use signs. Shop signs. Road signs. Information for visitors. Each flower had a meaning and in order to give information you had to put the appropriate plants together in the right order. It was extremely complicated, and very easy to make a mistake."

"The Victorians had a language of flowers," Trip joined in. "I wonder if it was something like that?"

"Similar, but much more complicated, I think," said Hoshi. "The Victorians would use flowers to send messages to their sweethearts. We probably all know that a single red rose means 'I love you'."

"Hey, perhaps this is a message for the Cap'n." Trip grinned broadly at his friend.

Jonathan Archer glared back at him "I doubt that very much."

"Might be worth checking up," shrugged Trip before going back to his station.

The others followed suit and soon it was back to the business of the day.

In Hydroponics they were not used to the Captain wandering aimlessly around, and were giving him some puzzled looks. He had left T'Pol on the bridge and come down here to satisfy his curiosity but wasn't prepared for the hundreds of plants that confronted him. Last time he'd visited this area the place was virtually empty, but that was before they'd visited several planets.

Eventually he stopped by Ensign Cooper and showed her the flower.

"Do you recognise this," he asked.

"Yes, Sir." she replied. "We've got a few of them over there." She pointed behind him to where a group of plants was happily thriving. He went over and compared his flower with them. It was certainly the same. The flower was rather like a Swiss gentian except that it was not blue, but a delicate pink, with a greenish tinge at the base, and the leaves were round and flat, not sword-shaped.

"Do many people come here asking for flowers?" he asked Cooper.

"Oh, yes." she laughed. "The crew's quarters are so dull that the women in particular like to use flowers to brighten them. Men come for them, too, but whether for themselves or to give to their girlfriends, I wouldn't know."

"Does this one have a name yet?"

"No, Sir. We haven't got around to naming them."

"Thank you, Cooper. You're doing a good job."

Archer left Hydroponics as puzzled as before.

After lunch, Archer retired to his ready-room and started to look through the pile of PADDs that were waiting for his attention. On the top was one from Lt. Reed requesting permission to make some minor upgrades to the weapons system. Archer sighed. Most people would make minor upgrades and tell him about them after the event - but not Malcolm. He had to do things by the book and ask permission first. Malcolm irritated him. But in a nice way. Just looking at his armoury officer was enough to make him tingle all over. He found himself looking at Malcolm rather frequently, wishing that he would be on the receiving end of that half smile he had. Or longing to run his fingers through that chestnut hair... He sighed again, scrolled through Malcolm's suggestions quickly, signed the PADD and set it aside. He reached for the next one.

He'd got about half-way down the pile when he found one that puzzled him. It was full of flower pictures. Closer inspection showed that they were not Earth flowers, and that each one had a few words written underneath.

The first one he stopped to look at - a pink daisy-like flower - said 'This way up'

The next - a yellow daisy - said 'Fragile'.

A white daisy said 'Keep cool'.

While a red daisy said 'Danger'.

Archer gazed at the padd for a while completely mystified. Then it hit him. It was the flower language of Balenthia. Whoever had left him the flower, had now provided him with the means of finding out what it meant. But there were hundreds of flowers listed on this PADD. How would he find just one, rather insignificant bloom? Without the name of the flower, there was only one way - the hard way. He scrolled to the beginning and began to look at each flower in turn. He could pass by some of them quickly since they were obviously not his flower, being the wrong colour, shape, or size. But there seemed to be a lot of small, pink blooms. After a while he put the PADD down, deciding to go to the mess for a cup of coffee.

"Coffee. Black." he said to the machine, and stood back waiting for his cup to be filled.

Across the room he saw Hoshi and Travis with their heads together, clearly working on some sort of problem. He took his coffee and went back to his ready room. He should have joined the two ensigns!

"Hey, that one looks a bit like it." Travis jabbed his finger at the PADD.

"Yes, but look what it says. 'Keep in straight lines.' I don't think that is a suitable message for the captain." Hoshi pointed out.

"OK. Keep looking." Travis looked dejected. They'd spent their lunch hour and now this coffee break searching for one flower, and still hadn't found it.

"I wish I could remember which was which. I spent ages translating the messages of these flowers, you wouldn't think finding one would be so difficult."

"Could the messages be grouped in any way?" Travis asked. "I mean, we don't need to look at any that are concerned with commerce, or industry for example."

"You're right," Hoshi agreed. "I don't know why I didn't think of that. We need to find personal messages. And yes, they are grouped." She scrolled quickly through the PADD then stopped suddenly.

"Here we are. 'Come home', 'Don't leave me', 'Hurry back'. I think we're in the right area."

"Well, it'll have to wait. Coffee break's over."

"Oh, dear. We'd better hurry or we'll get an eyebrow from T'Pol." She stowed the PADD in a pocket and followed Travis back to the bridge.

Malcolm, who had kept a very low profile during the day, chose an empty table in a corner for his dinner that evening, but soon found his space being invaded by two very cheerful ensigns.

"Hi, Malcolm. Can we join you?" How could he refuse Hoshi's request?

"Of course," he said, waving them to a seat, "There's plenty of room."

They sat down with their trays and arranged themselves comfortably.

Soon, however, Hoshi pulled out a PADD.

"We've been trying to discover the meaning of the Captain's flower." she informed Malcolm.

"Since I did the original translations of the flower language, it should have been relatively easy. But it's not proving to be so."

"Oh, that's a shame." Malcolm responded. "I don't think I would be of any help in that department."

"No matter, Malcolm." said Travis. "If we wanted someone to pick the lock on Chef's fridge we'd know where to come."

"Hi, there. Room for one more?" Trip Tucker was standing behind Travis with his tray.

"The more the merrier." Malcolm moved to make space for his friend.

"Watcha got there Hoshi?" Trip asked, indicating the padd with it's masses of flower pictures.

"It's the translation I made of the flower language on Balenthia. You know, " she said, waving the PADD at everyone, "I made three copies of this but there were only two when I went to get this one. Whoever left the flower probably has the other."

"Ah," said Malcolm, "now that's where I could come in useful. I can find out for you who has the other copy."

"Oh, yes. Please do Malcolm."

"We've found a group of flowers which could possibly lead us to the right one," Travis told Malcolm and Trip, " but it will still take a lot of searching."

"Why don't you get me the other copy and I'll help, too?" Trip offered.

"OK. Trip," Hoshi seemed rather relieved, "I'll bring it to your quarters later."

They all spent the rest of the meal scrolling through a lot more flowers and discounting them all as not being appropriate, even if they did look right.

Finally Trip put the padd down in frustration. "It's no good, I'm whacked. I've had enough for today. I'm gonna hit the sack."

"I heartily agree with you," said Malcolm, standing up. "I'm off to bed, too. Goodnight everyone."

They all decided to turn in and general 'good nights' were said as they left the mess.

Malcolm was pleased with himself. He had spent a pleasant half-hour leading the other three up the garden path and back again. What they didn't realise was that they had seen the right flower on three separate occasions, but Malcolm had cleverly convinced them that it was not. He went to bed wondering how far the Captain had got searching through his PADD.

The Captain had not got very far. He had not discovered the groupings, and was simply scrolling through every flower on the list! It was going to take him forever.

The next morning Hoshi bounced up to Malcolm in the corridor to the mess as he was going for breakfast.

"Malcolm." she called, all breathless. "Guess what? We found it!"

"Congratulations, Hoshi. What did you find?"

"The flower, silly."

"What did you call me, Ensign?"

"Oh don't be so stuffy, Malcolm. We found the flower."

"And so now you know what it means?" He opened the mess door for them both to enter.

"Yes. And you'd never guess."

"Then I think you'd better tell me, before you burst."

"It means 'Your rear is very pleasing to look at'. Or that's as near as I could get, anyway."

"Hmm. 'Your rear is very pleasing to look at'." Malcolm mused, gazing pointedly at Hoshi's rear. "Sounds a bit stilted to me. How about - erm -'You've got a very nice bum'?"

"Why Malcolm," Hoshi said wide-eyed with amazement. "That's perfect. How did you think of that?"

He shrugged, and went to get his meal.

On the bridge later that day, Hoshi asked Captain Archer if he had found the meaning of his flower, and was not surprised to hear he had not.

"I spent hours last night looking at different flowers, but couldn't find anything that seemed right." he answered in a rather melancholy fashion.

"Then you'll be pleased to know we've found it for you."

"You have? How?"

She explained about the PADD and the groupings, and how she, Travis and Trip had eventually found it.

"That's great," he said. "So what does it mean?"

"It means, Sir, 'You have a very nice - ass'."

"Oh. Really?" He blushed and suddenly seemed very interested in his shoes.

"Somebody obviously fancies you, Cap'n, and is trying to tell you." Trip grinned at Archer from his position behind Malcolm.

"Hrmm. Enough of this nonsense. Let's get some work done." He disappeared into his ready room and the rest of the bridge crew turned to focus on their workstations.

Trip turned to Malcolm, "Whoever's doing this is winding him up real tight."

"When he finds, out it will be very interesting. Do you think we'll have fireworks?" Malcolm smirked.

"Sure to." Trip moved to the engineering console and punched a few buttons. "I hope he finds out soon. The longer it goes on, the bigger the fireworks."

Behind Trip's back, Malcolm's eyes lit up with glee.

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The Second Flower.

Two days later, the captain reached into the pocket in his sleeve for his communicator - and pulled out another flower. The look on his face was a picture. Malcolm, watching from across the shuttlebay, just managed to keep a straight face.

"Something wrong, Captain?" he asked, whipping out his phase pistol.

"No, Malcolm. No. Just - this." And he held out the rather wilted flower. Well, it had been there for a few hours now.

Malcolm took it gingerly since he didn't want his hay fever to start. "I take it this is another 'message', Sir?"

"I suppose so. Keep quiet about it, Malcolm. I don't want everyone knowing "

"I'm the soul of discretion, Sir."

"I know. And I appreciate it."

"Shall I ask Hoshi to identify it, Sir? Or would you rather do it yourself?"

"I'll do it myself. Ask Hoshi, that is." He took the flower back from Malcolm, unintentionally brushing his fingers over Malcolm's as he did so. The touch sent shivers along Malcolm's arm, through his torso and ended up deep inside him. He stifled a groan as the captain turned away and left the shuttlebay.

Malcolm wasn't the only one affected. Archer felt the touch, too, and wished fervently that it was his armoury officer who was sending him flower messages, but from all appearances,the lieutenant was certainly not involved in this game.

The comm beeped in Hoshi's quarters. "Hoshi, can I speak to you? I've had another message."

"Certainly, Captain. Shall I come to your ready room?"

"Yes, and make it asap?"

"Will do. Sato out."

With a grin on her face, she picked up the PADD and headed for the bridge.

Hoshi pored over the PADD for several minutes then she looked up and said, "I think I've found it, Captain."

The look in his eyes could have been excitement - anticipation. "Tell me" he said rather hoarsely.

" It says, 'I drown in your eyes', as near as I can make out, Sir."

"Thank you. Will you keep this to yourself, please?"

"Of course, Sir." She showed him the section he would need to look in if he received any more 'messages'.

"I don't suppose you have any idea who's behind this?"

"'Fraid not. The one person I thought would be capable of doing something like this is Malcolm. But with flowers? And his allergies? He's been helping us search this database, and he offered to find the person who has the third copy."

"I take it he's had no luck yet, then?"

"No. Sorry."

"You'd best get back to your quarters, then. Thanks for your help."

"You're welcome. Goodnight, Sir."

When Hoshi had gone, he sat for some time just staring at the little green five-petalled flower. He found it in his pocket, and from the looks of it, it had been there some time, so - how did it get there in the first place?

He thought back to earlier when they were preparing to go down to the uninhabited planet they had been orbiting for twenty-four hours. Besides Malcolm, there was Travis piloting, and T'Pol. Trip had come to the shuttlebay and was moaning again about being left behind. They had gone down to the surface, and then Hoshi had commed the Captain to say that Admiral Forrest wanted to speak to him. So he had to drop everything and return to the ship, Malcolm piloting as Travis was otherwise engaged. They'd been gone less than an hour, but that flower had certainly been in his pocket for a lot longer than that, judging by the state of it.

So it was before he arrived in the shuttlebay. What was he doing before that? He couldn't think. His brain seemed to have turned to mush. He put the flower back in the glass of water which had revived it somewhat, and got ready for bed. His last thought as he dozed off was of Malcolm - who was afraid of drowning - drowning in his eyes. How he wished it were true!

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The Third Flower.

It was late at night, a couple of days later, and Captain Archer was taking Porthos for his walk round the corridors of Enterprise. As usual, it was quiet. But man and dog enjoyed the walk. It gave time for the one to mull over the day's problems, and the other to investigate any new smells that had appeared since last he came this way.

Crewman Jacobs appeared around the corner and approached the Captain. "Sorry to disturb your walk, Sir," he said apologetically, "but could I just ask you something?"

"Of course. No problem." Archer smiled at the man, putting him at ease immediately.

Porthos, meanwhile, had been distracted. Somewhere he could smell cheese. Sniff, sniff. Ah, yes. That way. He trotted off merrily back the way they had come. One hand offered him the cheese, while the other petted him around the neck. What a nice man! Then he was sent back to his master, who had just finished talking to Crewman Jacobs.

"There you are, boy. Where did you disappear to?" Archer bent down to scratch Porthos' ear, and found a deep purple flower tucked into his collar. He straightened up immediately, looked in the direction Porthos had come from, then sprinted that way. He rounded the corner - but the corridor was completely empty. He was much too late, of course. Porthos, naturally, had run with him, thinking it was a new game. Now he was waiting for the next part.

"Let's go home." Archer said, "I've got another message to decipher." Porthos trotted along beside his master, wondering if the man with the cheese would be around the next corner. He was. But concealed behind an access panel in the wall.

It took Archer a mere five minutes to find the meaning of this latest message. It was very simple.

'I want you.'

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The Fourth Flower.

During the next three days, the Captain was on tenterhooks. He tried not to let his edginess show whilst he was on duty, but he found it very difficult. He hadn't even got a clue as to who was sending him flowers. He had discounted all the bridge crew for one reason or another, but could not for the life of him, think of anyone else it could be.

He encountered Malcolm in the turbolift on his way to the mess hall, and found his armoury officer was looking at him in a concerned fashion.

"Are you well, Sir?" he asked.

"Yes, thank you, Malcolm." Archer replied. "Why do you ask? Don't I look well?"

"You look - frazzled, Sir."

"Frazzled. I can always rely on you to come up with an interesting word, can't I?"

"I do my best, Sir."

"But you're right. I do feel somewhat frazzled, Malcolm. I have had three flowers to date, and I'm a bundle of nerves wondering if, or when, there will be another."

"You've had three, Sir? I had only been told about two."

"Well now you know. It's three. By the way, have you had any luck finding out who has the other data PADD?"

"Yes, actually." Malcolm looked a bit embarrassed. "It's you, Sir."

"Me? I know I've got one, but there are three. One is in the science department, I have one and - Hoshi - had - the other." His voice tailed off as he realised what he had been saying.

"And Hoshi's copy is back in the science department." Malcolm finished off for him.

"So we're no closer to finding out who this person is."

"Never mind, Sir. Remember the saying 'It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive.' Think of the fun you're having trying to work this out. When you've solved it you could be disappointed."

"Only if it turns out to be not the person I want it to be."

Malcolm looked into the captain's eyes and said, "I don't suppose you'd care to tell me who that is, would you, Sir?"

Malcolm lowered his eyes and looked straight ahead, directly at Archer's lips. Malcolm's tongue came out briefly, moistened his upper lip, then disappeared again.

Archer trembling all over at the sight of that luscious, pink tongue, pulled himself up straight, and answered, "Not at this particular moment. No."

The lift arrived at E deck and Malcolm stood aside to let his captain out first. Instead of going to the mess, Archer turned in the opposite direction and went to his quarters.

Malcolm went into the mess hall, chose his meal, then looked for somewhere to sit.

"Over here, Mal." Trip's voice called him from across the room. Malcolm nodded in response and made his way over. Travis and Hoshi were there too.

After spending a few minutes discussing the day's events, Travis mentioned the Captain's 'problem'.

"It's a good thing we're not doing anything that requires a lot of delicate negotiations by him, 'cos I don't think he'd be up to it right now."

"I saw him in the lift just now and told him he looked a bit frazzled." Malcolm said.

"He still doesn't know where these flowers are coming from," Hoshi added, "and he's getting more and more puzzled about it."

"I wonder if he's had any more." Trip seemed to be thinking aloud. "That could explain why he's still worrying about them. You'd think if there were just those two he'd have forgotten about it by now."

Malcolm turned to the engineer, "Why don't you talk to him, Trip. You've been his friend for some time, now. He might open up to you."

"I could try. I know he's got a thing about somebody on board, but I don't know who. He may be worried that his admirer is not the person he fancies."

"I can see how that would be a problem." Hoshi frowned into her cup. Then she looked at Trip. "I think you should ask him straight out who it is he wants."

"What good will knowing that do?" Trip asked.

"Well, we could then find a way of proving or disproving that person as being behind all this."

"I suppose that could get us a step nearer the solution." Trip didn't seem too happy with the suggestion, but agreed to try it. "I'll go see him soon as I've finished here," he promised.

Malcolm got up to leave, "I'll see you all in the morning. I've got some work to catch up on."

To a chorus of "Goodnight, Malcolm." he dumped the remains of his meal in the recycler and headed for the door.

He did not, however, head for the armoury, or his quarters. Instead he ran quickly down the corridor leading to Archer's quarters. Luckily there was no-one around, and Trip had not yet left the mess. He went right up to Archer's door, pressed his hand against it, then disappeared down the corridor, away from the mess hall.

Moments later, Trip came up to Archer's quarters, rather nervous about what he was supposed to be talking to his friend about. But all that flew out of his mind when he saw what was stuck to the door. It was a flower. A blue flower. Looking at it more closely he decided it was rather like a small orchid. Trip looked up and down the corridor, but of course there was no-one there.

He pressed the chime. Archer opened the door surprised, but pleased to see Trip.

"Hi, Jon. How long have you been in here?"

"I don't know. Maybe fifteen minutes. Why?"

"Look at this." Trip stepped aside so that Archer could see the flower.

"That wasn't there when I came in." he said, puzzled.

"So it was put there in the last fifteen minutes."

"But who...?"

"Good question." Trip answered. He took the flower off the door and went into the room.

"How many have you had now, Jon?" he asked.

"That's the fourth."

"When did you get the third one?"

"Three days ago."

"Three days...? And when were you going to tell me? I am your friend, Jon. You can talk to me, you know."

"I know. I'm sorry. I suppose I was trying to ignore them, you know, then maybe they'd go away."

"Well, they're obviously not going to. So did you find out what the third one meant?"

"Yes."

"And..."

"'I want you'."

"Uhuh. So now we'd better see what this one is saying to you, hadn't we?"

Archer retrieved the PADD from a shelf and handed it to Trip.

"Don't you want to do it?" Trip asked.

"I'm a bit nervous. It's a bit like opening your exam results."

"OK. " Trip scrolled down until he found the right section, then started comparing the flower with the pictures. Archer opened a bottle of Andorian ale and poured them both a glass. It didn't help much. Half and hour later Trip was still searching.

"I must have missed it somewhere." He stood up and stretched. "You know, Malcolm's good at this sort of thing, puzzles and such. Why don't you ask him to come and help?"

"No, no, Trip. Not Malcolm. Hoshi, perhaps."

"Why not Malcolm?" Trip looked at his friend and Archer was actually blushing. "It's him! It's Malcolm you want, isn't it?"

Archer nodded, miserably. "But Malcolm couldn't possibly have put all these flowers where I could find them. And anyway, he'd have to go to Hydroponics for them. Think what that would to for his allergies!"

"I think Malcolm could overcome a little problem like that if he had to. Now, shall we get Hoshi to come and help?"

"No, we'll manage." And they both settled down to search the data PADD again.

Ten minutes later they had found it.

"Bingo!" exclaimed Trip. "This is it."

"Show me," ordered Archer. Trip passed the PADD to him, and Archer read the three words underneath the blue orchid.

'I need you'.

Blue eyes met green eyes across the table.

"You know what this means, don't you?" Trip whispered as if afraid someone would hear.

"No. What?"

"There'll be one more."

"How can you be so sure?"

"There's a song from around 1960, sung by Elvis Presley I think, called 'I want you, I need you, I love you.' There just has to be another one."

Archer was silent for a moment staring at the blue flower, rolling the stem between finger and thumb. "Trip." he said quietly. "If it's not Malcolm - I don't know what I'll do."

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I could always ask him outright, if you like?"

"NO." Archer was adamant. "No, Trip. We'll let this thing play out. See what happens."

"OK. Your call. But if you need to talk, don't forget me, will you?"

"I promise I'll call you if I need to talk."

"In the meantime, I suggest we have a watch put on whichever flower means 'I love you'. That way we might find out who's behind this."

"I agree, Trip. Can I leave that up to you?"

"Sure thing, Jon. Now I think it's about time I was going. Need to get my beauty sleep, you know."

"Thanks for everything, Trip. Goodnight." Trip left Archer's quarters and spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out if it was possible for Malcolm to be the person behind this stunt. He didn't come up with any clear solutions and went to sleep still puzzled by it all.

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The Fifth Flower.

Trip went down to visit Hydroponics. He spoke to the technician on duty and showed her a picture of the flower he was interested in.

"It's right over here, Commander." she said, leading him to the plant. Trip thought it seemed rather insignificant to be a declaration of love, but that's what it was according to Hoshi's translation on the PADD. The flowers were white, and bell-shaped. A bit like lily-of-the-valley, but slightly larger.

"You're sure this is the right one?" he asked.

"Quite sure, Sir."

"Then I'd like you to do me a favour. I want you to keep a watch on this plant for a day or two. Don't stop anyone from getting to it, but let me know if anyone, anyone at all, takes even the slightest amount of interest in it. Could you do that, please?"

"I couldn't do so personally all that time, but I can make sure someone is watching it at any given moment."

"Thank you. I appreciate your co-operation."

"But why, Commander? Why does this particular plant need watching?"

"I really can't tell you why, Lieutenant. It's confidential."

He turned to go, but the technician called after him, "Sir, when you said 'anyone'..."

"I meant exactly that. From the captain down to the newest crewman second class. OK?"

"Right, Sir."

Trip left the lab feeling that there wasn't much else he could do, other than to watch Malcolm, and he intended to do that very closely!

Malcolm knew that he was being watched, not just by Trip, but by the captain, too. The trouble was they gave themselves away so easily. There was always one or other of them in the room or area he was in, and they kept looking at him. Trip accompanied him to the mess for a coffee break, and the captain invited him to join himself, Trip and T'Pol for lunch. The captain decided he needed some target practice, so joined Malcolm's class that afternoon, and so it went on.

Malcolm wasn't bothered. He had already acquired his final flower. He was happy to let them play detective. All he had to do was to place this last bloom in its very special position. And that was the difficult part.

He waited until Archer finished his shift for the day. He knew that it was the captain's habit to go straight to his quarters, feed Porthos, and then have a shower. So the captain's whereabouts he could account for. Trip was the unknown quantity. There was no telling where he would be at that precise time, other than tailing Malcolm. So Malcolm needed to have him exactly where he wanted him.

About the time that the captain ended his shift, Malcolm was in the armoury, well aware that Trip was hiding in a corner behind some equipment. He went across to one of the torpedo tubes and crawled inside. For the next fifteen minutes there could be heard the sounds of tools being used, muttered curses and such noises as Malcolm was wont to make whilst realigning his precious weapons. He exited the tube, went to the computer console and pressed a few buttons.

"Damn," he said. "Still not right." He disappeared back inside the tube. More noises, curses, bangs and so on continued for a while, then he re-emerged, tapped buttons on the console again, and this time smiled with relief. He wiped his greasy hands on a rag and left the armoury. Trip slowly got up, rubbing life back into his somewhat numb bum, and followed Malcolm back to his quarters, where his quarry stayed for the next couple of hours.

Meanwhile, Archer, having fed, and fussed over his dog, went into his bathroom to shower. He emerged ten minutes later feeling refreshed and ready for a quiet evening. Porthos was sleeping on his cushion at the foot of the bed and Archer, looking fondly at him thought that sometimes it would be good to be a dog. No responsibilities. No worries. Just take life as it comes. And a little cheese now and then. He sighed and dressed in jeans and tee shirt. As he pulled his shirt over his head, he thought he saw something odd. He pulled the shirt down quickly and stared at his bed.

There, lying centrally on the pillow, was a single red rose!

He froze. He stood staring at the flower for several seconds before he could move. Then he hit the comm button.

"Archer to Tucker"

"Tucker here. Go ahead, sir."

"I need you to come to my quarters immediately, Trip."

"You sound - odd, Cap'n. Is everything OK?"

"No. It isn't. Get here PDQ."

"On my way. Tucker out."

When Trip entered Archer's quarters, it was to see his friend standing stock still in the middle of the room. He pointed to the bed.

Trip gasped. "A red rose?"

"Why isn't it the white flower? We've had the wrong one watched." Archer wailed. "How did it get here?"

"I assume it wasn't here when you came into your quarters?" Trip asked.

"No. And it wasn't here when I went into the bathroom. But it was when I came out."

"So it was brought during the time you were having a shower. That didn't give him a very large window of opportunity." Trip went over and picked up the flower. "Hey. There's a note with it." Sure enough, there was a small card attached to the stem.

Archer took the card with trembling fingers. It read, 'The rear observation lounge. 2100'

"What do you think it means?" he asked.

"Pretty obvious, isn't it?" Trip snorted. "You go there and find out who it is."

"Oh. er - yes." Archer sounded dazed, out of it momentarily. "Where was Malcolm when I left you?"

"I followed him to the armoury. Don't worry, he didn't see me. I hid myself quite well. Only problem is I couldn't see him, but I could hear him, though. He was tinkering inside one of the torpedo tubes realigning it or something. Anyway it kept him busy for a while, then I followed him to his quarters. He's still there as far as I know."

"So you think there's no way he could have been here?"

"Absolutely not!" Trip was emphatic.

"Well, if it's somebody other than Malcolm, I'm really not interested." Archer sounded very dejected.

"But you'll have to go and meet him - or her, of course - or you'll be forever wondering."

Trip was right; he'd have to keep this appointment.

"In the meantime," Trip said, "I'll persuade Malcolm to have dinner with me and apologise for keeping tabs on him all day."

"And I'll get ready for this meeting."

Trip departed, leaving a very unhappy captain behind.

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The Showdown.

Malcolm was more than happy to join Trip for dinner, so they went to the mess together. When they had settled themselves at a quiet table, Trip said, "I owe you an apology, Malcolm"

"Do you? What for? I don't recall you doing anything recently to upset me."

"That's because you weren't supposed to know I was doing it."

"Sounds mysterious. What have you been up to?"

"Following you around all day."

"Really? What on Earth...? I mean, why would you want to do that?"

"We, that's the Cap'n and I, thought you might be the person leaving these flowers, so we.."

"Tried to catch me at it? Oh, Trip. I thought you knew me better than that. If I had been the person responsible you would never have 'caught me at it'. I am the Tactical officer, after all"

"I know, I know." Trip sighed. "But he's very good, whoever he is."

"So it would seem. Have there been any more messages lately?"

"A red rose was left on his pillow sometime in the ten minutes he was taking a shower."

"What! You mean somebody entered his room whilst he was in the bathroom, and left again without being spotted?"

"Yes."

"Why wasn't I called? This could be a security risk. No-one should be able to gain access to the captain's quarters without permission. I'm the only one allowed to do that." Malcolm was horrified. It was all Trip could do to stop him from rushing off to investigate.

Inwardly, Malcolm was laughing his socks off. He was having difficulty keeping a straight face. After all, he had just told Trip that he could enter the captain's quarters any time he liked!

Trip was not thinking straight. He was an intelligent man. He should have understood what Malcolm had just told him - but he didn't. He was too concerned for the Captain.

He told Malcolm about the note left with the rose, but didn't mention the place and time.

"And does the captain intend being there?" Malcolm asked.

"Oh, yes. If only to solve this mystery. But he's convinced he will be disappointed in who he finds there."

"Why? Who would he like it to be?"

"I can't tell you that, Malcolm. It's confidential."

"Fair enough. But I'd like to get my hands on this person who can get into the captain's quarters whenever he wishes."

"You and me both. But we'll know as soon as the Cap'n meets him. He's gonna call me, and I think you should come as well. It being a security problem, an' all."

"OK. I'll meet you - at the rear observation lounge, was it? - at 2100. But right now I have one or two things to do." He rose from the table, nodded to Trip and left the mess.

Trip got up thinking that there was something he should have picked up on, but couldn't for the life of him think what it was. All the way back to his quarters it niggled him, but he just couldn't put his finger on it.

Malcolm grinned to himself as he left the mess. He had given Trip another big clue, and he hadn't spotted it. How did Malcolm know the time and place of the meeting?

He hastened to his quarters to shower and change, then picking up certain items, he walked quickly to the turbolift, went down to F deck and made his way to the rear observation lounge. He had chosen this one because it was not used quite as much as any of the others, being further from most living quarters. However he had come early because if there was anyone there, he would have to persuade them to leave.

Fortunately the room was empty.

"Wonderful," he thought. "This makes things easier."

He locked the door to prevent anyone else from entering, put a bottle of scotch and two glasses on the coffee table - then sat down to wait. He was actually very nervous about the upcoming meeting, not knowing how Archer would take it. But he had to go through with it now. It was 2047 hours.

At 2050, a few metres back in the corridor outside, the captain approached Trip, who was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, waiting.

"Have you seen anyone enter?"

Trip shook his head. "Nope. But I've only been here a couple of minutes."

"It's still only ten minutes to. He's either in there already, or we'll catch him as he comes."

"I asked Malcolm to meet us here. We may need to take this person into custody."

"Good thinking, Trip. Now we just need to wait. I'm not going up to that door until 2100."

Ten minutes passed very slowly.

At precisely 2100 Malcolm unlocked the door on the inside, then returned to his seat.

As Malcolm sat down, Archer put his finger on the button to open the door. As it slid open he suddenly thought, 'Malcolm's not here yet. It's not like him to be late.' Then he walked into the room. A comfortable sofa had its back to the door, but facing the big picture window, and someone was sitting on it. He could just see the top of a dark head. The room was low-lit and there was soft music playing.

He walked round the end of the sofa and finally came face to face with his admirer.

"Malcolm." The name came from his lips soft and low, as though his throat was hoarse.

Malcolm looked up at him with those beautiful grey eyes, and said softly, "Who did you expect to see?"

"I'd hoped... but we were sure it was not you."

"I gave Trip a couple of clues this evening." He waved the captain to the seat beside him, and filled the glasses, pushing one towards Archer.

"I should have known it had to be you. Security - tactics- it's all your area of expertise. If anyone could do this it would be you." Archer sat down close to Malcolm, his heart beating rather faster than usual.

"Anyone from my security team could have done most of it quite easily. Some parts needed extra care." Malcolm was cool and calm on the outside, but his insides were churning. He swallowed half of his drink.

" I don't understand why you needed to do this, Malcolm. Why didn't you just talk to me?"

"Skills need to be practiced in order to prevent them from going rusty. How can I practice sleight-of-hand, subterfuge and others, on a starship during a peaceful mission?"

"So you cooked up this whole thing just to get in a bit of practice?"

"I needed the practice, and I also wanted to get you here. I just combined the two."

"Well, I'm here, and Trip's outside. I'd better tell him he needn't wait." Archer went to the door and opened it.

"Cap'n," said Trip. "Are you OK? Malcolm never showed."

"I'm fine, Trip. In fact, more that fine. Malcolm's in here."

"What? But... How...?"

"We'll talk in the morning. Goodnight, Trip."

"'Night, Cap'n." Trip said to the closing door, his face a picture of bewilderment.

Inside the room there was not much talking going on as the two men got to know each other more intimately.

Later, while they snuggled together on the big sofa, Archer had to ask his new lover some more questions.

"I have to know, Malcolm, how did you get the flowers out of the hydroponics lab?"

"That did pose quite a problem, actually, as I knew the air would be full of pollen which my allergies wouldn't be able to cope with. I toyed with the idea of asking Phlox for some extra medication, but I would have needed it four times for four visits. And Phlox would have been very curious about one request, never mind four. So I had to find another way around it. Then I remembered the portable ventilators in sickbay. Problem solved. I made sure the canister was full, then breathed in pure oxygen each time I was in the lab."

"But how come nobody saw you walking around Hydroponics with an oxygen mask over your face?"

"Jon," Malcolm said, turning round in the man's arms so he could look into his face. "If I don't want people to see me, then no matter what the circumstances are, they won't see me. I can persuade them to think they've seen something else, or even nothing at all. I walked through Hydroponics with a mask on my face four times, and no-one saw me."

"Four times? What about the rose?"

"Simple. I just asked Ensign Cooper to bring me one. And she did."

"Just like that, huh?"

"Just like that." Malcolm snuggled into the crook of Jon's neck, "Anything else you want to know, Luv? "

"How long have you been planning this?"

"Ever since Hoshi started translating the flower messages. That's what gave me the idea."

"But why the red rose? Why not a Balenthian flower? We were having it watched, you know. We never thought of roses."

"I had intended to use the Balenthian flower. But have you seen it? No, I thought I'll go with tradition and get a red rose."

"And you snuck it into my quarters this evening."

Malcolm giggled, actually giggled!

"Trip followed you around all day." Archer said. "You didn't have the opportunity."

"Oh, Jon. I knew exactly where Trip was all the time. I heard him follow me into the armoury, so I pretended to work on one of the torpedo tubes. I made a lot of suitable noises and recorded them on to a data disc. Then I set the recording going, slipped out of the armoury to your cabin, got back just before the recording finished, and climbed back inside the tube. Trip had no idea that I'd been gone."

"He said he couldn't see you, but that you were making plenty of noise."

"That was his fault for hiding where he could hear, but not see. And I bet he was very uncomfortable. He must have been there an hour or more."

"Poor Trip. He was trying so hard to help."

"And I told him that I was the only one allowed to access your quarters. He didn't seem to understand the importance of what I'd said, though. Pity. I wish he had. The result could have been very interesting."

"Malcolm, I don't know whether to be mad at you, throw you into the brig, or what."

"I'm sure I need to be reprimanded at the very least. But it was in a good cause."

"Oh, yes. A very good cause."

The room went quiet as their lips met in a passionate kiss, putting a stop to any more talking, and pretty soon there were fireworks!

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