This is a bit late for the 4th of July, but I hope all of you who approve of Tucker/Reed slash will enjoy it nonetheless.
The Glorious Fourth
Lieutenant Malcolm Reed was royally ticked off as he left the captain's mess after a breakfast meeting with Captain Archer and the Enterprise's chief engineer, Charles "Trip" Tucker. Now, one might find that surprising, given that he had just been informed that power to his phase cannons had been increased by 10 and that he would be given the opportunity to test them that evening.
The problem, from his perspective, was threefold. First, he had spent the better part of his free time for the last month pouring over schematics, reviewing warp theory and phased weapons theory and carefully documenting how a power increase of 25 was well within safety tolerances and would be of benefit to the ship. Trip allowed as how Malcolm had done excellent and accurate work, but he still wanted to err on the conservative side, so a 10 increase was all he was going to get. As usual, the captain had backed up his best friend and blithely disregarded Malcolm's carefully worded but impassioned plea to the contrary. "As if Mr. Tucker were conservative in anything else!" Malcolm thought. Certainly not in his choice of off-duty attire nor in his activities on shore leave, particularly as they might affect my career." Malcolm might have added "nor in his preferences in intimate activities", but at the moment he wasn't much inclined to think of Trip in his role as lover.
That was the second part of the problem. "Does someone who professes to love you tell you, in the presence of your commanding officer, that, and I quote: 'Ya have the makin's of a real fine engineer there, Mal. Ya ever git tired of playin' with your pop guns and wanna git serious 'bout it, then I might just take ya on as my apprentice.'?" Bloody hell! He was an engineer with the degrees to prove it. Even if it was only a joke, it was in bloody poor taste.
Of course, the whole thing boiled down to what constituted the third part of the problem. The real reason he was being allowed to fire the phase cannons with their increased power was not because such drills were necessary and prudent but because today with the 4th of July and his Yankee captain, most of his crewmates and, yes, even his lover, who any other day of the year was proud to be a Rebel, wanted fireworks! Well, it might be Independence Day for them, but for the only English-born officer on Enterprise it was an officially sanctioned day of torment. Anyone, regardless of rank or nationality, felt it perfectly acceptable on this particular day to tease him mercilessly about his heritage, and the leader of the pack was Trip.
It had started bright and early that morning, 0500 to be exact, when instead of the usual sound of his alarm, he had awakened to music. It took him a moment to place it, but when he realized what day it was, he knew. It was a very old march called The World Turned Upside Down. Tradition had it that this was what was played when General Lord Cornwallis' command had marched out to surrendered to that upstart colonial, George Washington, at Yorktown. The music seemed to be coming from the comm system, and he couldn't mute it. That bit of jury-rigging required the expertise of Trip Tucker, but Trip was already gone. A blinking PADD on his desk informed him: "Mornin', darlin'. A little somethin' came up in Engineerin'. I'll see ya later at breakfast with Jon. Luv ya! Trip"
At 0600, while on his way to the mess hall for that aforementioned breakfast meeting with Jon and Trip, the turbolift came to a sudden and unexpected halt that nearly threw him to the deck. The comm system treated him to a stirring rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. Once again, he couldn't mute it, and he couldn't escape.
"I wonder if the Yanks know that the tune for their national anthem is an old English drinking song? One would have to be pissed to the gills to try to hit that high note. Of course, being pissed to the gills would preclude actually succeeding." Malcolm snorted. "Rockets' red glare, indeed! William Congreve's rockets were bloody useless as weapons. Great for inspiring panic, though, especially when they did a U-turn in midair and came back on those who fired them."
Once in the mess hall, he collected his usual breakfast, pancakes and peanut butter, from Chef. "I suppose you've thrown my tea overboard again?" he remarked to the man in a much aggrieved tone of voice. Chef shrugged apologetically and muttered something about "no taxation without representation" in an accent that vaguely resembled JFK's, but the only thing that was being taxed was Malcolm's patience. His tea hadn't really gone out the airlock - it had merely been made off limits to him for the day - but he hadn't known that the first time they'd pulled that trick. He'd been furious (and hurt). The next year, he'd picked the lock on Chef's pantry. He was chief of security, after all. The following year, and from then on, a sign had been posted on the pantry door: "By order of the Captain - Authorized Personnel Only. Keep Out, Mr. Reed!" They counted on his congenital inability to disobey a direct order.
It appeared that he was early for the meeting, so he sipped his coffee and toyed with his food. How had he gotten into the habit of putting peanut butter on his pancakes? Saints preserve him, but was he turning into a Yank? From what he could tell, they put one of three things on everything they ate: Ketchup, chocolate or peanut butter.
He'd just taken another sip of his coffee when the comm system began playing Yankee Doodle.
"Leave it to the Yanks to be totally oblivious to the fact that the song, popular in the British army, was meant as an insult. Back in the mid-1700s during the French and Indian War, a doodle was a fool, the sort of man who would think that merely putting a plume in his hat would make him a general." Malcolm resisted the urge to paint Captain Archer with that brush, but he did note that his CO was 15 minutes late for the scheduled meeting.
"Wasn't there something in the song about that? Ah yes, 'stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.' Macaroni then was a dandy, a foppish young man (rather like Trip) not something Chef would prepare for dinner. They still hadn't figured it out some 150 years later when George M. Cohan had written a song extolling the song that was an insult."
Suddenly, Malcolm realized why a day filled with American patriotic music was going to be this year's special torment. For Movie Night earlier in the week, Trip had shown Yankee Doodle Dandy starring James Cagney in the role of Cohan. Trip hadn't appreciated it when he'd tried to set him straight about the song. The unwelcome serenade came to an end just as the senior officers finally made their appearance for breakfast. Malcolm was very careful to give no clue that he'd noticed anything out of the ordinary so far that day despite all their little hints. He refused to give them the satisfaction.
After the fiasco of the breakfast meeting, he'd finally been able to retreat to the relative privacy of his office in the armory. He knew better than to think that Trip's playlist wouldn't follow him there, but by now most people aboard Enterprise had the sense to just leave him be when he was in his office with the door closed. At least here he could suffer whatever else the day had in store for him free of the prying eyes and sharp tongues of others.
In spite of himself, he had to smile at the next selection. The old minstrel show tune really was quite catchy. He could understand why it was still popular albeit 300 years old. Only Trip would have the audacity to include Dixie, the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy, in a list of American patriotic songs. He was pretty sure he knew how he'd talked Archer into it, too. Malcolm himself had told Trip that he'd read somewhere that when the news of Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse had made its way to Washington and a crowd had begun to gather on the White House lawn, President Lincoln had ordered the Marine Band to play one of his favorite songs to entertain them. The song had been Dixie. Some people hadn't been pleased, but Lincoln had allowed as how it was a fine song, north or south, and the late unpleasantness was behind them now in any case. Malcolm's smile faded as he reflected that when he'd taken up with Trip, he'd shown considerable interest in his lover's heritage, but Trip seemed to care little for his.
Lunchtime rolled around, and hunger forced Malcolm to make what he knew would be the tactical error of going to the mess hall to grab some food. As he usually did for the day, Chef had prepared picnic food: Hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, coleslaw, Boston baked beans and watermelon. If he hadn't been in a bad mood, Malcolm wouldn't have found the menu all that objectionable - rather like American pub grub - but of course, he was feeling cranky. "Aren't the Sandwich Islands - Hawaii - the 50th state? I know they grow pineapple there. They have it in abundance, the lucky devils. Don't they actually eat any of it?"
Hoshi always tended the shaved ice machine, although she'd stepped out for a moment and left Travis in charge. Nonetheless, Malcolm thought he'd check to see if pineapple was a featured flavor. Unfortunately, red bean, Hoshi's favorite, was all that remained. Travis had a piece of advice for Malcolm, though. In a voice a bit louder than necessary, he explained that Chef would be throwing a New England-style clambake for dinner, and it wouldn't just be clams he'd be serving, either, but lobsters as well. Malcolm, being a lobster back (a Yankee term of derision for the red-uniformed British soldier of the 1700s) had best beware. Malcolm politely thanked him for the warning. His face remained quite bland as his mind was seething, "I wish I were a bloody lobster! Those claws are quite formidable weapons. I know exactly who I'd like to pinch with them and where!" One could probably safely assume that it wouldn't be a "love pinch" either.
Malcolm decided to return to the safety of his office and just "liberate" a protein bar from one of the ration packs. To his dismay, he had to pass a table crowded by much of the Engineering team. There was no way for him to escape unobserved. As he hurried down the corridor to the turbolift, he could still hear the chorus chanting, "Redcoat alert! Redcoat alert!" at the top of their lungs.
Another George M. Cohan song, Over There, greeted him on his return to his office. He took great satisfaction in bringing to mind the old World War II saying that had been popular in England, especially right before D-Day when the small island nation had been awash in Americans: "There's only three things wrong with the Yanks: They're overpaid, oversexed and over here!"
Malcolm's afternoon went no better than his morning had; in fact, it was worse. There seemed to be something wrong with the air recycler in his office, so he had to leave the door open. More than once, a song would begin to play, and without thinking, he would stand and come to attention. He would blush deep red when he realized where he was and that Her Sovereign Majesty, Queen Diana, was light-years away. The members of the Armory team who saw this had the sense to remain silent, even if they couldn't suppress their smiles. "Trip knows damn well that 'America/My Country 'Tis of Thee' has the same tune as 'God Save the Queen.' It's probably the only thing he knows about my heritage!"
By the time the overamplified voice of Kate Smith had finished singing God Bless America for the third time, Malcolm decided to head for the bridge to prepare his terminal for the evening's live fire exercises/fireworks display. T'Pol would have the conn. The logical, unemotional Vulcan woman never took part in the crew's 4th of July merriment (a.k.a. Malcolm bashing) and wouldn't allow the bridge crew under her command to do so either. At last! He could enjoy some peace and quiet with his weapons.
He'd been working along steadily and actually enjoying himself for the first time all day. He didn't realize how late it had become until the comm began to play the old Pat Benetar song Hit Me with Your Best Shot. It wasn't a patriotic song by any means, but it had been popular with the Yanks (and the British 7th Armoured Brigade?) during one of the innumerable wars in the Persian Gulf around the turn of the last century.
He looked up and was amazed to find the bridge crowded with members of all three shifts. Archer was comfortably ensconced in the command chair. "I believe that's your cue, Mr. Reed. You may fire when ready."
The exercise had gone off (if you'll pardon the pun) without a hitch. Malcolm was quite pleased with the phase cannons' performance, and judging by the "oohs" and "aahs" he was hearing from his crewmates, they were as well. Eventually, though, the simulations came to an end, and the comm began to play the great John Philip Sousa march Stars and Stripes Forever. Malcolm almost expected the said flag to drop down from the top of the view screen. If he were honest with himself, though, he would have to admit that he liked this work. After all, the British were known for their marches for military band from the age of Victoria. This one fit in nicely with that heritage, even if it did belong to the Yanks. He thought that if they ever did change their national anthem, then they should change it to this.
"Hey, Mal! That was great! Ya comin' down to the mess hall? Chef's puttin' out dessert." Malcolm didn't bother to answer as he left the bridge. It had been a long day. He'd had enough. Trip gazed after him with puzzled eyes.
Malcolm keyed his code into the door of the quarters he shared with Trip. Once inside, he began to get ready for bed. He fleetingly wished that he could have his old quarters back, if only for tonight, but he'd thrown in his lot with Trip, and on a small ship chronically lacking in living space, his quarters had been reassigned. Why were relationships so bloody hard? He loved Trip - most of the time - and was fairly certain that the feeling was returned - most of the time. Sometimes, Trip treated him with a tenderness that continued to astound him, but at other times, like today, he was, at best, thoughtless, and at worst, thick as a brick. No doubt he'd come home expecting him (Malcolm) to provide more personal fireworks.
Malcolm had just dozed off when Trip came bounding in and turned up the lights. "Sorry, Mal. I wondered where you'd gone off to, but I figured you were maybe puttin' the phase cannons to bed." Trip continued to chatter as he changed out of his uniform. "Chef had nice warm apple pie with all that crumbly cinnamon stuff on top and homemade vanilla ice cream to go with. Don't ya go tellin' Mama now, but I swear it was as good as hers."
"He made a pot of tea fer ya, Mal. The real stuff, too, with leaves - none of that instant crud - and used that pretty Royal Doulton china pot. And he had milk fer ya to put in it. T'Pol and Hoshi hope ya don't mind that they drank it when it was clear ya weren't comin'." Trip's voice took on a bit of a questioning note.
"Oh, and he knows ya like cheese with yer apple pie." Even without looking at him, Malcolm knew that Trip had made a wry face. "So he had a couple slices of cheddar fer ya. Not that reconstituted, resequenced, whatever it is, but the honest to God real stuff from England. Porthos finally ate that, so if he licks ya from stem ta stern the next time he sees ya, you'll know why."
Mercifully, Trip finally stopped talking and turned down the lights. He crawled into bed and immediately threw an arm about Malcolm. His fingers lightly played over the Englishman's chest, ribs and abdomen. Oh yeah, he was definitely looking to light a fuse, and he did, just not the one he was expecting.
"Charles, it's been a tedious and quite fatiguing day. I'm really not in the mood." Malcolm took a grim satisfaction in noting that the minute he called Trip "Charles", his hand had stilled. The offending hand and arm had been withdrawn immediately thereafter without a word.
A few moments later, though, he felt a hand come to rest lightly on his shoulder. "Sorry, Mal. Is this OK?" Trip's voice was contrite; the question sincere.
"Fine," Malcolm said, a bit more sharply than he had intended. He knew Trip would never force himself upon him the way some of the older, bigger boys at school had, the way his first male lover had. The incident at Travis' birthday party was as close as he'd ever come to that sort of behavior and he'd been mightily ashamed. He'd told him, with tears in his eyes, "Mal, I couldn't enjoy myself if I knew you weren't enjoyin' it, too."
Trip was quiet for awhile and then said, "I think I know why you're all out of sorts today, Mal."
"Do tell!" Malcolm said in a tone of voice acid enough to eat through hull plating.
"Well, the way I figure it, you're mad 'cause we've been teasing ya 'bout being a redcoat back then. I don't think ya would have been, though."
"No, I wouldn't have been. I would have been in the Royal Navy. The navy wears blue, hence the color 'navy blue', although I shouldn't have expected someone as sartorially challenged as yourself to know that."
Trip didn't take the bait. "Well, ya could have been in the Royal Marines. Any paintin's I've ever seen of them, they were wearing red. Looked just like regular army to me. But I don't think ya would've liked the water any more then than ya do now." The hand on his shoulder squeezed gently in sympathy. It was true that Trip teased Malcolm about a lot of things, but never about his fear of drowning.
"Look, Mal, you're smart, resourceful and real independent-minded. Not to mention you're the best man with weapons I know. You wouldn't have been satisfied with one of them Brown Bess muskets. Hell, ya can't hit the broad side of a barn with one of them things 'less you're standin' right next to it. A couple of Tuckers found that out the hard way down at Shiloh Meetin' House. They didn't have a Springfield or an Enfield or any kind of field, just the musket. Spent the rest of the war up in Chicago at Camp Douglas as guests of the Lincoln government. It was real embarrassin', but at least they survived."
"Nah, you would've had a Baker rifle. Harder to load but a lot more accurate over distance. Yeah, for sure, you would've been in the Rifles, one of the 'Chosen Men.' They wore green. The French called 'em 'grasshoppers'." Trip's hand skipped lightly over Malcolm's chest as he finally turned on his back to face him.
"How in the world do you know about the Rifles?" he asked in surprise. In fact, he was so surprised that he didn't bother to correct Trip. The Baker rifle hadn't been accepted into service until 1801, long after the American Revolution.
"Remember a coupla months ago when I had that report on the warp core enhancements to present at the staff meetin'?"
"Yes, you said the PADD had malfunctioned and you needed to retrieve the back-up. As I recall, T'Pol was a bit put out by the delay."
"Truth be told, Mal, I just grabbed the wrong PADD that morning. I was probably distracted." Malcolm blushed. It wasn't difficult to distract Trip in the morning. "Anyway, when I got to the meetin' I found I had your PADD with all those Bernard Cornwell Sharpe's Rifles stories on it."
"I wondered where that had gone missing."
"Sorry, Mal, but I kinda got hooked. Richard Sharpe sorta reminds me of you."
Malcolm snorted. "In what way? The fact that he's around 6'2"? Has a scar on his face? Beds beautiful women?"
"I ain't got a problem with 5'9", Mal. We fit together pretty good." Trip leaned in and lightly kissed the top of Malcolm's head to emphasize his point. "And I like yer face just the way it is." Trip's fingers gently caressed Malcolm's high cheekbones. "But I ain't dignifyin' that last bit by makin' any comment!" Trip laughed, but then turned serious. "He reminds me of you 'cause he's always the first into the breech, he's always askin' to lead the forlorn hopes, he's always thinkin' he's only as good as his next battle and he's always got somethin' to prove."
"It's the nature of the job, Trip," Malcolm said quietly as he turned away from him and back onto his side.
Trip was quiet for quite awhile, and then he said very softly, "Malcolm, ya do know yer my chosen man, don't ya?"
Malcolm wasn't sure how to respond. He hoped it was true. On any other day, he might have answered in the affirmative almost immediately. Today, though - well, he couldn't bear the thought of this being another trick. "I suppose so," he finally ventured.
"Ya don't sound too sure. I guess I need to do somethin' more to convince ya." Malcolm felt Trip turn away and get out of bed and heard him rummage about in one of the desk drawers.
He returned to bed and called for the lights to brighten a bit. "I've been thinkin' 'bout doin' this for a long time. I even got the Cap'n's permission. I wanted to do it just right, in the right place, at the right time. I wanted it to be perfect."
"You asked the Captain's permission to do what exactly?" Malcolm had turned to face Trip. His eyes were wide with panic.
"Normally, I would've asked yer dad, but . . ." Trip shrugged as he let the thought trail off.
"But your 'good buddy', the Captain, was so much more likely to say 'yes' to whatever your harebrained scheme was."
"It wasn't like that, Mal. It wasn't Trip askin' Jon; it was Commander Tucker asking Captain Archer about Lieutenant Reed. I ain't been so scared since we damn near died in the 'pod. We had a real serious discussion, and I'll have ya know it took a long time to get to 'yes'."
The panic in Malcolm's eyes had escalated to outright fear. "What did the Captain give you permission to do to me? Why couldn't you just ask me?"
"'Cause I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy, Mal. I told ya, I wanted to do this right. Now calm down, darlin'. I need ya to focus and hear what I'm sayin'. Trust me, whatever ya think it is, it ain't."
"That's not in the least bit reassuring, Commander."
"Look, Malcolm, I love ya. Sure, Jon and I are best friends and I'm blessed to have him in my life, but I've never felt for him what I do for you. Nobody can tick me off the way ya do, but there's nobody I want to come home to at night more than you, either. Ya got a smart mouth and a superior attitude, but there's no one more comfortin' to fall asleep beside at night or to wake up next to in the mornin'."
"Yer gorgeous, smart, funny as hell when ya wanna be and good in bed. Ya don't know what a gem ya are. Sometimes I think that's sad, and sometimes I think it's part of yer charm. Yer never borin', Mal, that's fer sure. One minute yer Rambo and the next yer Bambi caught in the headlights. I know ya don't show many people that side of yerself, and I'm honored that ya trust me enough to show me."
"Malcolm, I've already shared my body with ya. I want to share my life with ya - all of it, no matter how long or short. I want to share the good shore leave times and the horrible times when we think we're gonna die. I want to share my life with ya whether we both make admiral or get busted down to crewman. I want to be with ya whether yer in sickbay or in the gym wipin' the floor with me."
There was something vaguely familiar about the cadence of Trip's declaration - and then it hit him. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Good Lord! Was Trip proposing to him? Had he sought the Captain's permission to ask for his hand in marriage? If so, then Trip had been right. Of all the scenarios that had flashed through his mind and terrified him, this hadn't been one of them.
"Yer a great guy, Mal. I know ya could do better'n me. I got a way of puttin' my mouth in drive while my brain is still in park. I kinda take things fer granted sometimes, and sometimes I'm pretty damn dense. But Malcolm, like I said, I love you. I'll be faithful to ya. I won't lie to ya. I'll do my best to stand beside ya and support ya. I only wanna do this once, Mal, and I wanna do it right." Trip paused to take a deep breath, "Malcolm, I'd be mighty obliged if ya'd do me the honor of becomin' my husband."
He opened the small blue box in his hand and held it out for Malcolm to see. Inside were two plain, broad bands of fine Andorian gold. "Malcolm, look inside the first one."
Malcolm was still stunned by the turn the night had taken. With trembling fingers he plucked the nearest ring from the box and tilted it toward the light. Engraved in flowing script were the words of the ancient Earth religion: "I am my beloved's." He knew the saying would be completed inside the other ring: "And my beloved is mine." He raised his eyes to Trip's anxious, expectant and beautiful face. He couldn't trust himself to do more than to whisper, "Yes, please."
Trip grinned in sheer delight. He took the ring from Malcolm and carefully slid it onto the fourth finger of Malcolm's right hand. "This here's a ring of promise Mal. I promise ya, no more alien babes whether they're bimbos, princesses or first officers. Like it says, I'm yours, all yours and only yours."
Malcolm's hand was still shaking as he placed the other ring on the fourth finger of Trip's right hand. He simply couldn't speak, and he could no longer hold back the tears. "Aw, Mal, baby!" Trip eased Malcolm onto his back and began to kiss away the tears. Malcolm brought his arms up to embrace Trip. "Mama's got another sayin': 'May the bond between ya be so close that when one cries, the other tastes salt'."
There was one other piece of business Trip needed to take care of before he gave himself over to pleasure. "Darlin', yer a fine engineer, and I wouldn't take ya from your weapons 'cause they're where ya belong - ain't nobody better - and you'd be miserable. I shouldn't have said what I did in front of the Cap'n this mornin', even jokin' around, and I'm sorry."
"Forgiven, love," Malcolm said simply. He was amazed at how easy it was. He returned Trip's kisses with growing passion and soon enough they, indeed, had their own personal fireworks.
Later, Malcolm stretched languorously like a great cat beside his sleeping fiancé. He was finally content in body, mind and spirit. "Soonest convenient" as the old naval dispatches would have said, he and Trip would stand before the Captain, in the presence of the crew, and repeat the words that would bind them together. He could never consider the 4th of July in the same way again. What had once been a day of exclusion, ridicule, torment and dread had been transformed by love into the Glorious Fourth.