Thanks for reading so far. This one's a true short story, and this is the final chapter. Enjoy!

x-x

Malcolm stepped up onto Trip and Hoshi's porch, the sinking sun setting the flowers in the windowboxes aglow in electric pinks, reds and purples. He let his fingers caress their soft petals as he passed. There were advantages to living in the suburbs, as Trip and Hoshi did. A house, rather than an apartment. A yard. A driveway. Trees. Flowers. Air that smelt of air, rather than exhaust. He wouldn't mind living out here someday himself.

Moving the wine he'd brought to his other hand, he rang the bell.

The door jangled, then opened to reveal Trip in all his glory: sandy hair in studied disarray, beer in one hand, plate in the other, he smiled broadly when he saw Malcolm in the doorway, only to look down as a small dog raced past his leg. "Shit, shit, could you..." he shoved the plate into Malcolm's free hand as he dashed past and grabbed the tiny mutt off the steps. He stalked past Malcolm, back through the door and up the staircase just inside, muttering something to the dog of which Malcolm only caught, "...supposed to be upstairs, you mangy..."

Left where he was standing on the porch, bottle of wine in one hand and Trip's plate in the other, Malcolm stared after Trip's retreating back. He could hear the sound of voices from somewhere inside, so he shrugged and entered, shoving the door shut with his foot.

Trip bounded back down the stairs. "Sorry, Malcolm," he said, his Florida accent soft, rounded by his years in New York. He accepted the plate with the hand holding the beer, then the wine with his free hand. "We're all out on the back deck. Beer's in the cooler, munchies on the table." Juggling wine and food, he nodded down the hallway with his head, blue eyes flashing gaily. "I'll be out in a minute." Turning, he entered the kitchen.

Malcolm hesitated in the hallway. Okay, something was going on. Trip wasn't normally that giddy.

He strode purposefully down the hall, toward the doorway leading onto the deck, and then... made a sharp right into the toilet, shutting the door firmly behind him. There was enough sunlight coming in the small window to let him see, so he didn't bother with the room lights. Peering at himself in the mirror, he ran the tap, using some of the water to tame his hair. Trip and Hoshi were definitely up to something. He could tell. He'd known them for long enough to know when they were scheming. He straightened his shirt and, taking a breath, he braced himself. Whatever it was that Trip and Hoshi were planning, better to face it now and get it over with. He pulled open the door and stepped out.

And slammed straight into the man from the rink.

The man took a quick step back, grabbing Malcolm by the arm to steady him. "Ah, Jesus. Sorry. You okay?"

Malcolm's eyes went to the hand on his arm before he stared up into the man's green eyes. Of course. Hoshi had... damn her.

The man smiled and released his grasp. "I didn't realise anyone was in there."

"Yeah," Malcolm said, and could have kicked himself for being such a tongue-tied prat.

The man cocked his head, brow wrinkling in slight puzzlement. "You look familiar. Have we met?"

Malcolm rubbed his arm where the man had grabbed him. "At the rink, earlier."

"Oh, right," the man replied, eyes brightening. He held out a hand. "I'm Jon."

"Malcolm."

Jon shook his hand firmly. "Nice to meet you, Malcolm," he said. He hesitated a moment, then nodded past Malcolm's shoulder and said, "Do you mind?"

"Oh, sorry. Right." Malcolm said hurriedly, dropping Jon's hand as he moved out of the way.

As Jon went into the toilet, closing the door behind him, Malcolm leaned back against the wall for support. He shut his eyes. No wonder he couldn't find someone. If he couldn't even talk to the few men he did find attractive -

Hoshi's voice came from in front of him, interrupting his thoughts. "Malcolm, you okay?"

He opened his eyes and gave her a wry look. "You are such a bitch," he whispered, keeping his voice low so that the man in the room beyond wouldn't hear.

"Yes, I am," Hoshi replied, matching his tone. "But I'm your bitch." She smiled. "And you're welcome."

He rolled his eyes at her and pushed away from the wall, intending to leave her there. Two strides down the hall she tugged at his arm and pulled him into the living room. "He didn't bring a date."

"That doesn't mean he's gay."

"No, but it probably means he's available." She looked up as Jon walked past the room, moving toward the deck. "So go," she said, using her hands to shoo him off. "Find out."

Malcolm stepped to the clear glass door that led onto the deck, taking a moment to get a feel for the situation. There were six other people at the party, most of them faces he'd seen at one rink or another, and he nodded to a few people in greeting. Jon was leaning on the railing, back to him as he looked out at the small lawn. The man had just the sort of athletic build that he liked - strong, broad shoulders, a tight waist, and he was tall - a good few inches taller than he himself was. Definitely not a skater's body. Besides Trip, who was an engineer, Jon was probably the only non-skater at the party. Knowing a conversational opening when he saw it, Malcolm slid open the screen and stepped outside.

Trip caught his eye and smiled, indicating the man with a tilt of his beer. Malcolm sighed, knowing that if he didn't at least make the attempt, he'd get a never-ending rash of shit from both Trip and Hoshi. So once more into the breech, he snagged a bottle from the cooler by the doorway, twisted off its top, and took a fortifying pull as he approached Jon.

"You seem to have survived the first day of class," he said as he slid in beside the man.

Jon turned to him, a look of surprised pleasure on his face. "Well, I have to admit, it had been a while since I'd been on skates."

Malcolm nodded, taking a quick sip of his drink, the liquid cool on his tongue but already warming his cheeks. "Did you skate when you were young?"

"Hockey's kind of compulsory upstate. Something about being so close to Canada..."

Malcolm laughed.

"Yourself?" Jon asked, raising his eyebrows as he drank from his own bottle.

Malcolm nodded. "I'm a coach now."

"I take it you're not from New York?" Jon asked, waving his bottle to indicate the area around them.

Malcolm's lip quirked as he said, "Not quite. England. Yourself?"

"Upstate," Jon said, brow wrinkling slightly. Then he added, pointedly, "New York."

"Ah, right," Malcolm said. He could feel the heat rising to his cheeks. "You'd said as much. Sorry." Thank God the evening had cooled from the heat of the day. This conversation alone was making him sweat.

"No problem." Jon's eyes moved back to the area beyond the deck, and Malcolm leaned forward on the railing beside him, grateful to have a moment to compose himself. Hoshi and Trip really did have a nice garden. The patch of grass led down to a straggle of birch trees, just beyond which was a small brook. It was almost fully into twilight now, and the evening breeze was causing the leaves on the trees to sway, adding their gentle swish to the babble of the water, the clinks of glasses and soft sounds of conversation coming from behind him. He could almost picture deer nibbling the grass, or bunnies frolicking, or the like. It was almost ridiculously serene.

"What brought you here?" Jon asked after a bit.

"Skating," Malcolm said. "My partner brought me over -"

"Partner?" Jon asked, turning to face him.

Malcolm looked up at the man from where he leaned on the railing. "My dance partner..." he paused, trying to say this right. "Ice dance. I moved here when I was sixteen, to skate with Rachel Stein."

Jon looked shocked. "You're Malcolm Reed."

Malcolm stood away from the railing. "I am."

"I remember you," Jon said, tapping his fingers against his bottle. "Saw you on TV or something, Nationals maybe. You were pretty good."

"Thank you." Malcolm was surprised Jon knew of him. Most American men didn't even know what ice dance was, never mind actually know any of the key players. Although it had been an Olympic year, so more people were watching. Likely Jon's wife or girlfriend had watched, and had made him.

"So, are you married?" Jon asked, taking a long drink from his beer and finishing off the bottle.

Malcolm blinked at the non sequetor and the fact that the man was, apparently, a mind reader. "Sorry?"

"Or, you know, with anyone?"

"Er... No," Malcolm finally said.

Jon pinned him with his gaze, the twilight, if anything, making his eyes seem greener. He smiled slowly. "Good," he said.

Malcolm felt his heart rise into his throat, and his hand tightened around the bottle. "Ah," he said after a moment.

Jon held up his empty beer. "Want another?"

Only then did Malcolm realise that his own was empty. "Please." He leaned back against the railing and let his eyes follow Jon as the man turned and walked to the cooler. He had to admit, for a fifty-or-whatever-year-old, the man had a nice... His gaze rose to find Hoshi standing in the doorway, a huge grin on her face. "Bitch," he mouthed. She stuck her tongue out at him, but before he could respond, Jon had stood and was back at his side, handing him a beer.

Jon leaned against the railing beside him, watching Trip at the other end of the deck. Trip had pulled out the grill, and the smells of cooking food were already wafting over the party.

Malcolm kept his eyes on Trip, because Jon... Jon was standing far too close beside him. He could feel the heat of the man radiating along his right side, and he took a grateful swig of the beer, glad to have something to do other than think about -

He jumped when he felt Jon's hand brush against his forearm, fingers moving lightly against his bare skin. That felt good. Too good. That tiny touch pulsed up his arm, down his chest, and directly to his groin. His breath caught, and he tensed. There was something he needed to know before this went any further, before he... before they...

"Are you married, Jon?" he asked, voice coming out in a near whisper. Jon had a daughter, and it didn't matter how attractive he found the man, or how long it had been since he himself had last been in a relationship, there was no bloody way he was going to be the one who -

"No," Jon said from beside him, his voice quiet. "Never have been. You met my daughter earlier, Emily. She's my family."

"Where is she?" Malcolm asked, knowing the question was a sort of a test.

"Home with her moms."

Malcolm had to let that sink in for a beat. Then he turned to face Jon. "Moms?"

Jon hesitated, looking as if he was braced for whatever Malcolm's response would be to what he was about to say. "I helped a couple of lesbian friends have a baby."

"Oh," Malcolm said in a rush of breath. He smiled, feeling immeasurably relieved. "That's nice."

"It is, actually." Jon's face lit up in a huge grin. "Best thing I've ever done."

Malcolm's relief came out in a laugh.

"What's so funny?"

"I'd figured you were married and straight."

Jon's fingers traced down Malcolm's arm, to his hand, and tangled with his own. "Turns out you were wrong on both counts." Jon squeezed his hand gently, then let it go, keeping his hand just beside Malcolm's. "Actually, I wanted to ask you something."

Malcolm's fingers tensed on the bottle, and he could actually feel his heart in his chest as he waited for - he wasn't sure what, but in his experience, anytime anyone started with "I want to ask you something", that "something" was of significance.

"I'm thinking about taking up ice dance," Jon said, deadpan. He turned his head in Malcolm's direction, his eyes cheerful. "I could use a coach."

Malcolm tried to hold back a smile as he raised a meaningful brow. "You know I'm not cheap, right?"

"I'd figured as much," Jon said, tone gone a bit sly. "So I'd need to make it worth your while."

Malcolm rubbed his index finger against other man's. "I might be willing to take some of it in trade." He took a swig from his bottle and then, lips pursed, he cast a pointed glance to Jon's feet. "You'd need to buy a real pair of skates first."

"What?" Jon asked, seeming genuinely surprised. "What's wrong with hockey skates?"

Ready to launch into an explanation, Malcolm turned his head and looked into Jon's eyes. He felt the man's gaze on him, through him, and realised that this... He took a deep breath, and he smiled. This, as with anything that was worth the effort, could take some time.

x-x

The original request: Archer/Reed romance AU wherein Jon meets Malcolm in some other capacity than on the ship, a little angst getting together, but with happy fluffy ending (please, no mention of either of them with another person)