Author's notes: Please be forewarned this story contains several references to (off-screen) corporal punishment between the main characters, and also graphic (on-screen) love-making between those characters. If either of these types of interaction squick or offend you, then please don't read any further -- you have been warned.

Dedication: This story is for machingmonkey who wanted to know what the psychological impact of the storyline in Aftermath - Laying down the Law would be on our poor Captain Archer, so here it is in all it's neurotic glory. And for mizzmarcee who wanted to read about them making up, and so they do, but only after a bit more angst first, because I'm evil that way! Enjoy, I hope it was worth the wait!

Feedback: Roses are red, violets are blue, feedback is welcome, flames reflect on you.

Disclaimer: Enterprise and her crew do not belong to me - my only profit is my joy in these characters and the Star Trek ideal they embody.

Spoilers: Cogenitor, First Flight.


Part 1

Jonathan Archer couldn't sleep, and while that was certainly inconvenient, it was ok. However this meant that Captain Jonathan Archer wasn't getting any sleep either, and that on the other hand, was cause for genuine alarm.

It had been three days since he had taken his Chief Engineer in hand as it were, and by no co-incidence it had also been three nights since he had been able to get a wink of sleep. Jonathan had been prone to bouts of insomnia all his life, so as such this was nothing new. He usually dealt with the situation when it arose by reading or watching water polo until his eyes hurt too much for him to keep them open any longer and sleep was usually not too far away at that point. This time, however, well this time was different. For one thing, previously he hadn't been in command of Starfleet's first Warp 5 starship, with all the hopes and dreams of Starfleet, not to mention the human race on his back. For another thing, it had never gone on quite this long, and frankly he was surprised he was even still functioning. Truth be told, if the reactions of the crew were anything to go by these past couple of days, it could be questioned whether he was in fact still functioning.

Jon lay in his bed, and listened to the dull hum of the ship around him. He turned over, lay still for a second, and turned back resisting the urge to punch his pillow in a juvenile display of sheer frustration. He checked the chrono for the umpteenth time and finally dragged himself into a sitting position. It was 03:10, and groaning loudly to himself, he mentally upped the tally to a full four nights without sleep. No point in staying in bed now. He was due on the bridge in just under three hours.

Cradling his head in his hands he wondered not for the first time what was causing this. Things had seemed all right when he and Trip had made up the other night. They had spent the remainder of the evening, and part of the early morning reveling in the taste, touch and smell of each other's skin, enjoying the passion of being together again. They had fed off the passion that they each inspired in the other until it had claimed them both. Afterwards they had lain together in the wake of their lovemaking, enjoying the feeling that each had forgiven the other, and reveling in the glow of such a clear indication that their love for each other was still very much alive even after their Cogenitor-induced rift had threatened to end everything they cared about. In fact the thought crossed both their minds that it seemed perhaps even stronger than ever before.

So then exactly what, was the problem? Once his thoroughly sated, not to mention well-fucked lover had drifted at last into a deep slumber, Jon had found himself wide awake, and had not been able to sleep since, that was the problem, and he didn't know what to do about it, but it was clear that it would shortly reach crisis proportions. He had yelled at each of his Bridge crew at least twice yesterday, and surely his patience wouldn't be appreciably better today with yet another sleepless night under his belt. Their patience with him would shortly reach an end, and then what would happen? He hardly dared think. He was the Captain, and he could if he chose pull rank if any inappropriate comments or behaviour began to manifest, but ultimately, he also needed these people, who he not only commanded, but also called his family here in the darkness of space, to trust him, and to pull rank over a bout of grumpiness would certainly not inspire such trust.

Steeling himself for the day ahead, Jon showered, shaved, dressed and headed for the Captain's mess. It was still only 03:45 so his Steward would not yet be expecting him, however, he needed to get out of his quarters. When he got to the mess he got himself a coffee, sat down by one of the large windows, and promptly lost himself in contemplation of the stars as they whipped by at high speed.

As he let his mind wander he was confronted all at once by the past. The stars disappeared from his field of vision and instead he found himself in his mind's eye, back in San Francisco, on a beautiful summer evening just after his first year at Starfleet Academy had ended. He recalled he had decided to stay on for the summer, and had gotten a job clerking for an Admiral. In addition to getting room and board and access to the training labs, he was also earning a small salary, which would help with his tuition for the following year. It occurred to Archer to wonder why he had been drawn to this memory, until his vision shifted again. Now it was later the same the same evening, and he recalled that he had gone and met up with some friends to have a few drinks and have some laughs about what they had all been up to that week. They had gotten quite rowdy, more from being in high spirits than from any drinking they had been doing. They were hardly drunk. He and his friends had all been in the same boat, they were all saving as much of their salaries as possible for next school year, but they liked to meet as much for the talk as for the drink. When their rowdiness began to annoy other patrons of the small bar, they had been asked to leave. Once outside they had run into another Starfleet student by the name of A.G. Robinson, a kid who Archer had always found far too smug and arrogant to tolerate for very long. Out of respect for the school rules, he had never risen to the bait that Robinson seemed to delight in throwing at him, bait that was usually comprised of jibes having to do with either his own lack of skill and prowess at whatever the subject of the day was, or worse still, his father's lack of skill and prowess at said subject. Perhaps it was the fact that the school term was over, perhaps because he was in such high spirits and was buoyed by the presence of his friends around him, and perhaps the drinks he had had also played a role. In any case, the first insult had barely left A.G.'s lips when Archer's fist lashed out and connected solidly with A.G's jaw. That was all it took for his friends to join in the melee. Archer was the born leader of his group of friends, and his leadership in this case was all too clear. They had proceeded to begin to beat the snot out of A.G. Robinson, before Archer had been able to regain his head and call a stop to the mass attack.

His memory shifted again, forward a good many years now, he was sitting in Club 602 with a then Lieutenant Tucker, bemoaning the loss of the NX Prototype, the cancellation of the entire NX Program for the foreseeable future and cursing the idiot who had caused the whole mess. They had been drinking steadily, when once again the hapless A.G. Robinson chose to put in an appearance. His timing could not have been worse, and his attitude and jibes had not changed appreciably for all that he had aged and matured. Once again it had not taken long and Archer's fist had reconnected with A.G.'s jaw, this time with all the strength of a fully-grown, more than slightly drunk and completely enraged man. In the end, Tucker and another bar patron had had to pull them apart by force.

Archer's perspective shifted once more, and he found himself confronted once again with a window of stars and the horrifying realization that he had now upped the total of times he had struck someone without physical provocation, from twice to three times. After each of the incidents with A.G. Archer had sworn to himself to never, ever again hit someone for any reason other than out of self-defense. It was one of those things, which he could never explain to anyone else, but was simply central, to who he knew he was. For Jonathan Archer, to strike first, to strike out of anger, jealousy, frustration or any other emotion was wrong. To ever hit anyone at all for any reason other than in self-defense was an action that only someone bereft of all morals would take, and it was a slippery slope to start down. It would be all to easy to lower that barrier now and again, to lash out, and even easier for those under his command to get the impression that such behaviour was acceptable. It wouldn't take much for a ship of explorers under the leadership of a bully, to become a ship of bullies, and now at last he understood what was bothering him. With power, came responsibility not to abuse that power, and God help him, that was precisely what he had just done with Commander Tucker.

So lost in thought was he, that he did not hear the Lieutenant approach, in fact he didn't realize there was anyone else around at all until he belatedly heard himself being addressed by name,

"Captain? Captain Archer? Is everything ok sir?"

Archer made an effort to pull himself together before he turned to face the Lieutenant,

"Yes Lieutenant, everything's fine."

"Do you mind if I have a seat sir?" Reed ventured gesturing with the cup of tea in his hand.

"Suit yourself Lieutenant" Archer managed to reply, as he worked at suppressing a sigh. He sincerely hoped that the Lieutenant wasn't going to try to be a friend to him right now. He needed to be left alone, and didn't think he'd be able to tolerate any interference no matter how well intentioned without becoming very angry.

Lieutenant Reed glanced at the Captain out of the corner of his eye as he faced the window with its stars. The Captain's answer had been a bald faced lie, and Reed knew it. In fact the whole Bridge crew knew that everything was most definitely NOT fine with the Captain. The Captain Archer they all knew and loved was generally an even-tempered, good-humoured, extraordinarily patient, and downright gregarious man. This being the case, the Captain Archer they had spent the last several days dealing with, was not by any stretch of the imagination ok. The uncharacteristic bursts of temper, the softly spoken yet harsh commands and impatient demands for information that was at times trivial, and yet was needed immediately or else more temper followed. Commander Tucker seemed to catch a rather large proportion of the friction and was banished to Engineering on more than one occasion during the day to make some spurious repair or another. The others who were left behind caught plenty of it too though, and Hoshi had nearly burst into tears towards the tail end of her shift yesterday when a particularly vicious-toned remark had come her way. Even T'Pol had shown signs of what was clearly utter disbelief when taking part in a lengthy and completely unnecessary argument over yet another triviality.

As he sat there, deciding how best to approach the Captain, Reed took a moment to reflect back. He knew that this change in Archer had begun directly after the episode with the Cogenitor. At first he had seemed saddened, even depressed. He had appeared frequently to be lost in deep thought and isolated by his own grief. Then just over three days ago, something had changed, and at first he had seemed to be rallying, but then this downward spiral into what appeared to be anger and frustration had begun, and no one knew what to do. At first the feeling had been to just let the Captain be, and let him work through what was troubling him, but by the end of yesterday's shift that was clearly no longer an option. The Captain had stormed off the bridge at the precise moment his shift ended and Reed to his great discomfort had found himself hosting impromptu meeting, the general consensus of which had been to advise Dr. Phlox of the Captain's change in demeanor and let the good Doctor deal with the unruly Captain. Commander Tucker had been mysteriously and annoyingly quiet during what essentially had amounted to a Bridge-wide bitch session, and when it started to draw to a close the Commander had slipped out as quietly as he could, clearly trying to avoid drawing attention to himself. This had left Reed to finish refereeing the bitch session, and with the final decision as to how to proceed resting on his shoulders.

He knew instinctively what his first step would have to be, and after a quick wash, and an even quicker dinner, the Lieutenant had gone in search of Commander Tucker, fully intending to make the Commander talk, by any and all means necessary. Reed had a good idea of what might be going on. If he had needed any confirmation, he now had it, Commander Tucker's silence and his slinking exit off the bridge had said more than enough.

Being the Tactical Officer on a starship, and therefore in charge of the security of all on that starship required many skills, and Malcolm had them in spades, he hadn't been selected for Enterprise's maiden voyage by any mere chance. He like many of the crew had been hand picked and were deemed to be Starfleet's finest, and among the many highly coveted skills he had was the ability to observe keenly, noting a high level of detail and then analyzing what was observed and remembering the information gleaned, keeping it for future reference when it might just come in handy, or even save someone's life.

And in a nutshell, that was how he knew. That was how he had known for quite some time now, that Captain Archer and Commander Tucker shared much more than the close friendship they projected to the crew. There was no question, they were best friends, but Reed knew they were also romantically involved, and what's more, he knew they had been for some time. Since before they had left Jupiter station he felt for certain, and even longer than that he suspected. He thought perhaps it even dated back to their time working on the NX Program together with that other pilot A.G. Robinson.

He finally tracked Tucker down in the gym. The Commander appeared to be trying to set a new record for jerk and lift repetitions with a heavily laden weight bar. He was sweating profusely and appeared oblivious to his surroundings as his huffed and puffed his way through his repetitions. Reed didn't waste any time, and walked right over to the Commander and stood in front of him, automatically drawing his eyes. He had decided that with the Commander it was best not to pull any punches. He knew the Commander respected honesty above all else, and that to toy with him and try to wheedle information out of him by pretending friendship would simply cause him to become angry.

"Commander, I'd like a word with you if you please"

"Not now Malcolm, I'm kinda busy here" Tucker gasped in return, and purposely looked away, avoiding Reed's eyes.

"Commander, I'm afraid it's urgent, so if you would be so kind as to put off your training for the Mr. Universe pageant for another day, I would greatly appreciate it."

That got Tucker's attention, and scowling like a thundercloud he replied,

"Alrigh' Malcolm, that's not too funny ya know? Yer sense of humour needs a bit of work, ya don't use it enough, and then ya go an' say somethin' like that and ya wonder why people think yer a bit weird."

Reed responded with his own frown and raised his voice just slightly,

"With all due respect Commander, I didn't come here to discuss my sense of humour, it's quality or lack thereof. I need to speak with you about your relationship with the Captain, and we can do that here in the middle of the gym, or we can go and find somewhere quiet to discuss it, but I guarantee you I'm not leaving until I've got some answers."

Despite his recent exertions, the Commander's face paled noticeably, as he looked around quickly to reassure himself they were alone, and then he replied with some vehemence to cover his concern,

"My relationship with the Captain? I'm his best friend Malcolm, but that don' make me his babysitter, and if ya think ya can talk to me so I can talk to him and make everything all better, ya better think again. This is Jonathan Archer we're talkin' about here, Henry Archer's only son, and I may be his best friend, but he's got a mind of his own and will ram his head clear through brick walls if the fancy takes 'im. I seen him do it before, and no doubt he will again, he's every bit as stubborn as his dear old Dad, and thank god for the both of 'em with that stubbornness or we'd sure as hell not be out here"

"I am in agreement with you Commander that we all have both the Captain and his father to thank for our opportunity to serve aboard Enterprise, however the relationship of which I spoke was not that of friendship. I know that you know what I'm talking about, and I understand why you've both gone to such lengths to cover it, but rest assured I'm the only one who knows your secret, and hiding it from me has ceased to be an option at this point. That being said, I still need to speak with you about said relationship, so did you want to continue the conversation here, or shall we adjourn to somewhere less public?"

The Commander's face had gone from rather white to a sickly shade of green during the last part of Reed's speech, and he now fixed Malcolm with a rather heart-shattering and beseeching look

"Ya know about us?" he all but whispered.

Malcolm only nodded in reply.

"Ah, shit...Jon's gonna kill me...ya figured it out 'cause of me didn't ya? I did something showy that gave it away right?"

At Tucker's look of utter despair, Malcolm decided to tell him the whole truth and put him out of his misery,

"No, actually Commander, it wasn't something you did, or even something that the Captain did. It was a series of interactions between the two of you, observed over a long period of time, during enforced confinement on a Starship that brought me finally to that conclusion. I'm trained to observe. It's what I do, whether in a dangerous, unknown or combat situation, or whether I'm simply relaxing with some of the crew off shift. You are one of the people on board this ship I know best, and the Captain by the very nature of his rank is one of the people I observe most closely. It didn't take either of you doing anything particularly revealing for me to draw my own conclusions about what I was seeing."

"Oh…" said Tucker, "Sorry Malcolm, you have to understand, this is so strange for me. I mean Jon an' I've kept this secret for so many years, I guess we kinda figured that by now we're so good at it that no one'd ever figure it out, and that's the way we wanted it…"

Tucker trailed off, but then resumed after seeing the look of alarm on Reed's face.

"Don't worry Malcolm, it's ok, I'm not upset or anythin', and I don't think Jon'll be either once he gets over the shock this is gonna give 'im. In fact it's kinda nice to be able to talk about it for a switch…I just wish that things were a bit different than they are right now…the timing's kinda bad that's fer darn sure…not your timing, just the timing in general I mean…ah, shit…nevermin', I dunno what I'm saying here." Trip's voice cracked and he turned his head away.

Malcolm regarded the Commander and chose his next words with some care,

"Trip, I'd like to help if I can. Help him, help you, and help you both for that matter. I'm not here to judge, and to be quite blunt, I don't have any problems with you having a relationship with the Captain, in fact, I'm happy for both of you. You both deserve happiness, and if you've found it in each other romantically, as you certainly have with your friendship, then I don't think any of the crew will be anything less than pleased for you either should this eventually come out."

That bold statement elicited a look of surprise tinged with hope from the Commander and seeing this Malcolm continued,

"I don't know what I can do, but what I can tell you is that whatever is going on can't continue. The Captain is going to have a mutiny on his hands if things don't change soon. You're a Senior Officer, and I'm sure you will agree with me on that level at least, right?"

"Yeah, we're in a real pickle alright" Tucker sighed shaking his head.

"So, let's go somewhere and see if we can at least shed some light on what's going on…I don't know that you'll have all the answers, but let's at least try…please?" Malcolm almost pleaded.

Tucker stopped and seemed to contemplate Reed's intentions and finally replied,

"Okay Malcolm, just let me take a quick shower and we'll talk. Meet me in my quarters in half an hour?"

"Sounds good Commander, I'll be there." Reed smiled and then as an afterthought added "Shall I bring some refreshments?"

"Yeah, why not…see if ya can scrounge up some pie or somethin' for me will ya?"

"Understood. See you in half an hour then."

When Reed had found himself at the Commander's door a short half hour later, fully laden down with pie, milk and some other snacks he hoped the Commander would like, he marveled to himself again how nice it was to be able to really "talk" to someone. The joy of opening up to them, and having them open up to you in return. He thanked his lucky stars once again that he and Tucker had had that opportunity to get to know each other during that horrifying Shuttle pod accident. While it had been occurring the experience had been nothing less that terrifying. Facing one's mortality was never a pleasant experience, but in that short space of time he now realized he had been forced to break through barriers that he had always thought to be impenetrable, and he had begun the process of reversing his aversion to emotional interactions with his crewmates, and even begun to understand the possible joy to be had in having a friend. His life had changed for the better after that experience, and continued to improve with each passing day. He was grateful that it had been Trip Tucker he had been stranded with and credited the Commander with helping make the transition as bearable as possible for him. He felt that the Commander was the best friend he had ever had, and he now wanted to help Trip just as Trip had helped him, as one friend does for another.

Reed managed to free one hand just enough to buzz at the Commander's door, and the door opened almost immediately, Tucker reaching to help unload some of the goodies from Reed's hands.

Once inside, Tucker motioned for Reed to take a seat on the chair by the workstation, and he seated himself cross legged on the bed, snagging a piece of pie and some milk enroute.

There was a moment of awkward silence, before Tucker forced a grin and said,

"Ya know, I'm not gonna bite yer head off, so go ahead and say what's on yer mind."

Reed laughed despite himself and then giving Tucker a searching look, decided to jump right in with both feet. No point in beating around the bush here.

"Fair enough Commander…" he started, only to be interrupted by Tucker's amused sounding voice,

"Ah, Malcolm, let's jus' drop the whole "Commander" thing shall we, considerin' what we're gonna be talking about, I'm not so sure that's really appropriate, ya know? We're friends, an' we're off duty, jus' call me Trip okay?"

"Ok, Trip it is then" Malcolm agreed with a smile, before he continued with his previous train of thought, "How about I tell you what I've been able to put together and you can then confirm, deny or correct what I've told you? That way you're not put in the position of telling me, and you can honestly tell the Captain that I already knew. I suggest this because I definitely do not want to cause any additional problems for the two of you."

"Thanks Mal, I appreciate that, I really do."

"Ok then..." Malcolm began, "here's what I know..."

Part 2

Much later, an exhausted Lieutenant Reed made his way back to his quarters. He now knew more than he ever thought he'd want to know about the relationship between the ship's Captain and his Chief Engineer. Certainly Trip had not told him everything. But he had confirmed what Reed already knew, and told him quite a lot more. In addition Reed had been able to figure out still more by drawing some fairly reliable conclusions of his own when he had thought back over the last few days, now taking not only the Captain's behaviour into account, but also Trip's. What was surprising though, was that he was not uncomfortable with the knowledge he had gained. In fact, he felt very empowered by the trust the Commander had shown him, and he swore to himself, now more than ever that he was going to do whatever he could to get things back to normal. He wanted to do this for his friend, and he also wanted to do this for the good of the entire crew, and that felt good.

So now that he had tracked down the Captain, and at 4 o'clock in the morning no less, Reed was in position to put all his hard work into action. Somehow though, now that he was faced with the obviously brooding Captain in person, all his well-rehearsed lines had flown right out of his head and he found himself at a loss for words. He waited a minute or two in the hopes that some of them would come back to him, but no such luck, and at long last he decided there was nothing for it but to forge ahead and stick his head in the lion's mouth. The exceedingly apt imagery of this thought was not lost on Reed as he gathered his thoughts and began,

"Captain, I wouldn't normally intrude on your privacy, but something has come to my attention and I felt it would be best to discuss it with you directly rather than putting it in a formal report."

"Go ahead Lieutenant" was the terse response.

Ok, so not exactly a warm welcome, but at least he was still allowed to continue, Reed thought,

"It has come to my attention that you may be having difficulty sleeping, and that this might be at the root of your rather obvious discomfort over the last few days."

"I've always been prone to insomnia Malcolm, it's nothing new. It'll take a few days, until I'm finally able to fall asleep, but eventually I always do. Human physiology eventually takes over and you don't have a choice but to sleep. You needn't worry yourself about it, it's under control." The Captain's tone had softened somewhat, and his change from the formal mode of address indicated a shift as well, but the tone of his voice was long suffering, and he made it clear he wished to be left alone by more than the words he had chosen.

"I say this with all possible respect sir, but this situation is far from being under control."

Archer turned his head sharply to face Reed at this pronouncement, and Reed quickly rushed on before his lost his nerve.

"Sir, I don't believe that this is simply about a case of insomnia. If I did I would simply have gone to Dr. Phlox and he would be the one sitting here with you now. That being said, I believe there is a great deal more going on here than a few sleepless nights, and I believe it has to do with the aftermath of the Cogenitor situation, and more importantly it has to do with your relationship with Commander Tucker."

The silence that followed his last statement was truly terrifying, and Reed found himself physically bracing for an attack, though he knew intellectually that the chances of a physical attack were slim. A verbal one, now that was a different story, and Reed actually found himself wondering why the yelling had not yet started.

When the response came, it was not what he expected. The Captain had turned to stare out the window as he had made his declaration, and he now continued to look straight ahead as he spoke, his tone bitter,

"So you've discovered our little secret have you? Ah well, I guess eventually someone had to. You know I'm sure that Starfleet regulations prohibit this type of relationship, but being the stickler for rules that you are, I'm guessing you've already long since reported this finding of yours."

It wasn't quite a question, but Reed decided to treat it as one.

"No Sir, and to be quite frank with you, I've no intention of reporting this "finding of mine" as you called it, or anything else I've learned about you, or any of the rest of the crew to Starfleet Headquarters. The only instance in which I would feel compelled to make such a distasteful call and report information behind the back of my Captain or crew, would be in a situation where lives are at stake. Most certainly not where the information involved is of a personal nature, and where it's really none of anyone's business but those involved in it."

This comment was delivered perhaps more forcefully than he had intended, but Reed had found himself disgusted with the assumption that he would resort to such petty tattle-tale behaviour, that he would rat out the Captain for having a personal relationship with a person he was in love with, and had been for so long.

Reed's vehemence was not lost on Archer, and he again brought his eyes over to meet Reed's. The Lieutenant looked scared out of his mind, but he was clearly determined to see this through. Archer sighed.

"I'm sorry Malcolm, that wasn't a very nice thing for me to imply I guess. Trip and I've kept this secret a very long time. I'm guessing you've already spoken to him, so you probably know how long. I'll spare you a repetition of the boring details and just say that we have lived in fear of the day when someone finally put two and two together and got four. We've spent a ridiculous amount of energy hiding something that should be one of the most beautiful human experiences and I guess with that comes a certain amount of bitterness."

"Captain, I can't say I can even begin to understand what that has been like for you. What I can say is that in all honesty, is that I'm very happy for both of you. I imagine the rest of the crew would be too if they knew. They are all very fond of both you and the Commander, and that you've found happiness with each other would really just be the icing on the cake I suspect. Your friendship is legendary, the camaraderie you share brings smiles to everyone's faces, they love to watch you two joke and laugh with each other. If they knew you were also in love and lovers, I don't think the affection they have for either of you would be diminished in any way."

Malcolm paused briefly before continuing,

"In fact, it's that affection that brings me here at this ungodly hour. Captain, are you aware that your behaviour since the incident with the Cogenitor has become increasingly erratic? At first it seemed that you were simply grief-stricken, and that was to be expected, but then about 3 days ago, something changed and you've grown increasingly irritable and irrational with each passing day. You're right in your assumption that I've spoken with Commander Tucker, and from that conversation I was able to glean a few facts, though he was by no means completely forthcoming. I understand you met with him 4 nights ago to try to iron out the bad feelings left behind from the official reprimand you gave the Commander, and that as far as the Commander was concerned everything was ok again by the next morning, but it appears that what he thought and what has been going on inside your head are not one and the same. He told me he has tried to speak with you on numerous occasions since that night, but that you've done everything but push him out an airlock to get him away from you. He is clearly confused as to why this is, and where your behaviour towards him is coming from. The only light he was able to shed on the situation was that he was aware you sometimes suffered from insomnia and that the longer you went without sleep the more irritable you became. He made this assumption I gather because he found you gone the morning after you..."

"Ok, Malcolm I get the picture, you don't have to spell it out for me there." Archer interrupted his face flaming. My God, could this get any worse he thought to himself.

"Look, Malcolm I appreciate your concern, but really I'll be fine as soon as I get some sleep, and as for the concerns about Commander Tucker and myself, that will be fine too. It's nothing to worry about."

"Captain, I have to disagree. You're in very grave danger of losing the trust of the crew at this moment. You've already lost their goodwill, that happened several days ago in fact. If this continues you'll have a full-fledged mutiny on your hands, and I'm not talking about the kind where they take over the ship by force, I'm talking about the kind where people stop caring about the job they do and the role they play in the safety and well being of everyone else on the ship. Where indifference replaces conscientiousness because the entire team has become dysfunctional from the leader on down. Something happened four nights ago with Commander Tucker that has you bothered more than you're willing to admit. I couldn't get the Commander to talk about it, but I didn't have to. After careful consideration, I believe I now know what happened that night, but what I don't know is why you've reacted the way you have."

Apparently it could get worse. Much worse, Archer mused. Shit, shit, what?

"I believe this conversation is over Lieutenant, dismissed" Archer said with all the sharpness he could muster.

Well it was worth a try he figured, but he doubted that the pig-headed Lieutenant would take the hint. Oh, this was going to get so much worse before it was going to get any better. Maybe he should just kill himself now. It would be faster and less painful he was sure.

A glance at the Lieutenant's face told him more than enough about the war going on inside Malcolm Reed at that moment. He clearly had more to say, much more no doubt, but he had been officially dismissed. Idly, Archer wondered which side would win, the trying-to-be-a-friend side or the must-follow-the-rules-at-all-costs side.

"Sir, I've no doubt I'm out of line here, you've dismissed me, but with all due respect, I'm not leaving until this situation has been resolved to my satisfaction. The security of the crew rests on the every whim of its Captain, and right now that is not a comforting thought for me."

Well, well, surprises happen every day Archer thought to himself. It appeared the Lieutenant had decided to fight for what he wanted. Well if he wanted a fight, that could be arranged.

"You're right Lieutenant, you're out of line." Archer said in a deadly tone, his anger at the situation he found himself in, and the Lieutenant's nerve at confronting him on it taking hold.

Reed paled noticeably, but continued on,

"Sir, please, if you'll just bear with me here. Whatever it was that happened between you and Commander Tucker is none of my business. In all honesty I strongly believe in that old adage that what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedroom is not only none of my business or concern, but not mine to judge, whatever it is they might do, period, end of story. Now on the other hand what is my business and my concern is when it begins to impact the job you do as Captain of this ship. I can say I don't have any problems with your personal life up to the point where that personal life leaves you in a state such as the one you are in currently. We've reached that point now, and therefore I need to urge you in the strongest possible way to resolve whatever it is that is troubling you, so that you return to a state of mind more fit for commanding a Starship, and the people on it."

"Lieutenant, are you saying I am unfit for command?" Captain Archer asked, his eyes snapping, and voice now trembling with barely contained anger, "because, that's what it sounded like you just said, and if that's the case I would advise you to think very carefully about what the next words out of your mouth are."

Reed swallowed hard, and thoughts of spending time in the brig for insubordination, disobeying a direct order, questioning the orders of a superior, conduct unbecoming an officer and a hundred other malfeasances swam through his head in the fraction of a second it took him to decide how to respond. In the end he opted to state nothing less and nothing more than complete truth of his intentions,

"Captain, what I am saying is that that is - precisely - what I will be saying to Dr. Phlox if this goes on for even one more day."

Archer's anger was now a living force in the room with them. Reed could feel it assaulting his senses as the Captain stood up, drew himself up to his full height and ground out,

"That sounded distinctly like a threat Lieutenant...I don't think I need to tell you that you are coming perilously close to crossing that line you're not supposed to cross with a superior officer?"

"No sir, you don't." Reed said, rising to his feet as well and standing at attention before his exceedingly angry Captain.

Then pausing briefly he continued "Permission to speak freely sir?"

Everything in Archer's body language screamed at him not to push things any further, and yet, Reed had not accomplished what needed to be done, and so he had no choice he felt but to continue.

The Captain looked at the Lieutenant in disbelief. Did he hear that correctly, had the Lieutenant just asked for permission to speak freely? Good God, he thought to himself, did the man have a death wish? Any sane man would stand down and back away at this point, not continue to push. This determination was starting to intrigue the Captain though, not that he would admit that to himself at this remove. Even through his anger though, he was truly surprised by the sheer gall of this action by Reed, and now with his curiosity piqued, he couldn't bring himself to back away either.

"Very well, permission granted Lieutenant"

Reed took a moment to compose himself and try to stop his knees from shaking before he continued,

"Captain, what I've been trying to say here, and doing a truly piss-poor job of I might add, is that we're concerned about you. We, all of us, from the lowliest crewman to your Senior Officers, are worried. Nothing less than that would give me the inclination to intrude on your personal life, nothing less than that would cause me to question your fitness for command, and nothing less than that would have caused me to be standing here having this conversation with you. I came here not to offer threats, but to offer friendship, as inappropriate as that might be, to a man who in addition to being my Superior Officer, is also a man I highly respect and have begun to consider a friend myself. What I've been trying to get you to see, is that you need to resolve this issue with Commander Tucker, and since it involves the Commander, and he is your best friend, regardless of whatever else he might be to you, he is the person who is most likely to be able to help you work this out. I'd wager in this case, he would be more effective in helping you than even our good Dr. Phlox would be. But for that to happen you have to go and talk to the Commander, not keep sending him to the opposite end of the ship from where you are."

Reed paused to take a breath, and seeing he had the Captain's undivided attention he softly continued,

"Captain, what it boils down to is that your position as Captain of this ship places a large burden of responsibility on your shoulders, a burden you have proven yourself more than capable of bearing with great success on more occasions than I can count. You've proven your fitness for command beyond a shadow of a doubt to all on board this ship, and by dint of that you've gained their trust. Along the way, by simply being who you are, you've also gained their affection and goodwill. They look to you, and in fact we all look to you, for security and stability, for confidence and reassurance, and for leadership. We're a very long way from home out here, and there is very little that is familiar to most of us, and that's why we look to you, and we need you to be there, to be provide all those things for us. I know it's not fair, and that you deserve some downtime too, and that you should have the right to have a bad day, or a bad week even, but life's not always fair. I think you knew what the stakes were when you chose to accept the role you're in, and I believe you made that choice with open eyes. I also believe you knew what the responsibilities were that would come with your choice, but please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong."

Reed paused again, and hearing only silence he said the only thing left to say,

"Is the situation fair? No, it's not. You deserve a break every bit as much as anyone else on this ship. But there is only you here sir, you are the Captain, and we need you to be the Captain. The only question left to address is what are you going to do about this situation so we get our Captain back?"

The bold question hung in the air between them as they stared each other in the eyes. Finally Archer broke eye contact, and sighed loudly, as he wearily sat down and motioned for Reed to do the same.

They sat in silence for a while until at last Archer raised his eyes from the floor to look at Reed. He gave a somewhat sheepish half-smile and then said,

"You know Malcolm, that felt an awful lot like you were giving me the proverbial kick in the pants, so I'd get off my ass, stop feeling sorry for myself and go straighten things out with Trip" the smile broadened, and Malcolm breathing an almost audible sigh of relief, slowly returned the smile.

"You know sir, I believe you'll find that's exactly what I was doing."

Having at last disengaged himself from Lieutenant Reed with the excuse that he needed to walk Porthos, the Captain had headed back to his quarters mulling over the insights he had gained from his little trip down memory lane, and the most interesting if intrusive conversation with Malcolm. He could see now that he had let his well-known fear of physically striking someone without provocation in the form of personal danger or being struck first convince him that he had in fact physically abused Trip during their impromptu discipline session the other night. The two types of physical striking were obviously vastly different, he had certainly not taken his fists to the Commander's face after all, but he would clearly need to come to some resolution over his discomfort with the idea of having raised his hand to the Commander at all, in the shape of a fist or no.

Another insight he discovered that was that his lack of sleep had blown things increasingly out of perspective for him until he had come to view himself as some kind of monster, who dared not be in the same room as the Commander for fear of lashing out yet again. Poor Trip, he thought to himself, what must he be thinking? Having reached his quarters, the Captain found himself with the overwhelming desire to talk to Trip and clear things up as soon as possible. He didn't want to wait another minute to assuage the pain that he realized his lover must be in right now. Suiting action to thought, upon entering his quarters Archer immediately used the comm to contact Commander Tucker. Tucker's slightly incoherent response indicated that he had still been asleep but Archer promptly ordered him to appear in the Captain's mess in exactly half an hour for breakfast, and Tucker had woken up immediately sounding both relieved and happy at the change in the Captain's tone of voice, and he accidentally disconnected the call in his haste to get ready.

At 06:00 a smiling Captain Archer and smiling Commander Tucker took their places on the Bridge, and one by one, everyone on the Bridge began to smile. Soon everyone was smiling, though the brightest smile of all was by far Malcolm Reed's.

Later that afternoon, Commander Tucker made his way back to his quarters whistling cheerfully to himself. He had spent most of the afternoon supervising his team who were going over the implementation plan for an innovative new upgrade they were all eager to try. The afternoon had gone well, in fact the entire day had gone well, and he was feeling pretty good about the world just now. Such a switch from the last few days he thought to himself as he let himself into his quarters.

His mind was clearly somewhere else or he would have noticed the presence fall in behind him as he strode towards the middle of the room not bothering to turn on the lights. As it was, he only had a split second to register the fact that there was someone in his quarters before he found himself being propelled bodily across the room and up against the nearest wall. Once he was pinned against the wall, the intruder then proceeded to kiss the breath right out of him. With that kind of greeting, it didn't take the Commander long to identify his "intruder". Jon's lips pressing hard against his was not a feeling he felt he could ever mistake for anything else in the world. Trip tried tentatively to kiss back, but he was easily overpowered, this kiss was going to be Jon's all the way. Trip realized that Jon was clearly in full dominant-male mode this evening, and he knew from experience when Jon was like that he was like a force of nature, there was just nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the ride. Trip felt he could definitely live with that and so he gave in to the persistent mouth that was clamped tightly over his. He opened his mouth wider to give Jon better access and submitted to fully having his mouth explored, reveling in the sensations of his lover's tongue as it ran around his mouth, over his teeth and dueled with his own tongue. Trip's submission was not missed by Jon, he had been waiting for it in fact, and now that he had it, he was going to savour it.

Jon began to maneuver Trip towards the bed, not breaking his lip-lock for a moment. He continued to maneuver until he had Trip right up against the edge of the bed with his calves, at which point he broke the kiss, and with no where left for Trip to go, it only took one small push from Jon, and Trip was down on the bed. Jon immediately pounced on him, pinning his arms up by the side of his head, and resuming his kiss as though he had never stopped. He continued to passionately kiss his lover for all he was worth, putting all the verbal apologies he had given that morning in the Captain's mess, into his every physical move now. He was determined to show Trip precisely how he felt about the younger man's presence in his life, how much he meant to him, how much he loved him. He wanted to be explicitly clear and he knew just how to do it. Jon began alternating kissing Trip on the mouth with kissing his face, his eyelids, his nose, nibbling on an ear or two and slowly making his way to Trip's adam's apple. The recipient of his silent attentions was beginning to emit small moans and groans at intervals and Jon knew it was time to lose their clothing. He proceeded to strip Trip down first, and then started to follow suit by beginning to remove his own clothes, but he had noticed Trip roll onto his side to watch him strip and Trip's hand making it's way towards his growing erection.

Jon stepped in to put a stop to that with a softly spoken, but firm "No, not yet Trip."

And he pushed Trip's hand away. This action elicited a delightful whimper of frustrated arousal from his lover, which sent electrical shocks down to his groin, causing his own erection to harden considerably.

Once he was down to his bare skin as well, he resumed his previous position, straddling Trip's waist, and recapturing his wrists, pinning his arms up around his ears. Trip was hot now, his eyes dark with arousal, and his breath catching in his throat as their erections rubbed against each other from Jon's movements.

Jon now turned his attention to each of Trip's nipples in turn. Nibbling and sucking until they were hard little pebbles, and then moving further down Trip's chest to his navel.

Trip by this time was restless with passion and it was taking more and more of Jon's strength to hold his wrists. Finally as Jon lips grazed the fuzzy hair leading down from his navel, Trip gave a cry and began to plead.

"Oh God, Jon, please...yer killing me here...please...ohhhhh lower... please..."

Jon locked eyes with Trip and then slowly, ever so slowly began to oblige. He kissed his way down until at last he arrived at the object of his desire, and then looking Trip straight in the eye he slowly took Trip's cock into his mouth.

Trip bucked his hips immediately and started moaning.

Jon never failed to be delighted by Trip's uninhibited responses in bed. Trip's body was one big erogenous zone, and the joy of bringing Trip to a state of incoherent moaning and mumbling was unsurpassable by anything else in the world that Jon could think of.

Sensing Trip was getting close, he removed his mouth from Trip's cock and pushed his lover's knees back spreading his legs completely. Trip had already retrieved the lube from the night table drawer, and handed it to him now.

Jon looked up at Trip and watched him from his vantage point between his lover's leg's as he began to prepare him, first with one finger, then with two, and finally inserting three fingers fully. As Trip responded to this new stimulation, Jon was struck dumb by how incredibly gorgeous this man in front of him was. Sitting there with his legs spread wide in such an extraordinarily vulnerable position, his head tossing from side to side in passion, Trip was simply stunning. Jon felt his heart melt and he could feel tears building up in his eyes as he wondered to himself what he could have done in life to deserve such an incredible friend and lover, and to deserve such unwavering and unconditional love as was given to him every day by Charles "Trip" Tucker the III.

Trip sensed the change in Jon's emotions, he had always been able to do that, and this time was no exception. And while he couldn't read minds, the look on Jon's face and the unshed tears standing in his eyes told him all he needed to know about what thoughts were going through his lover's head. In response he looked Jon in the eye and said, "I feel the same way about ya too ya know...keep thinkin' how did I ever get so gosh-darned lucky? I love ya Jonathan Archer, I always have, I always will"

"I love you too Charles Tucker" Jon replied in a voice thick with emotion, as a couple of the tears made a breakaway down his cheeks. "I love you too".

Trip grinned a grin that could only be described as lascivious in response, and then said with a great deal of eyebrow waggling,

"Do ya, well then come on an' show me already!"

Jon laughed and resumed his preparation, but Trip had had enough,

"I want ya in me Jon, an' I mean now!" And so saying he reached forward and pulled Jon in for a kiss before reaching down between them and positioning Jon's well-lubed cock at his entrance. Never breaking eye contact Jon took his cue and slowly pushed himself forward into Trip, and when was fully in, he held still for a long moment, watching Trip's face carefully.

Once he was sure Trip was ok, Jon began to move his hips, pumping in and out of Trip, in the age-old rhythm. Slowly their breathing became more and more erratic, and their movements more frantic, until at last there was only them in the universe, just them, two bodies, two souls inextricably entwined, one entity with no beginning and no end.

Jon continued to move, Trip moving in tandem with him and finally locking eyes, they reached the edge. Trip came first calling Jon's name and digging his fingernails into Jon's back as they clung together, Jon was right behind him, and he fell into Trip's arms calling out Trip's name as the strength in his arms deserted him completely.

In the immediate post-coital haze, Trip had enough sense to pull a blanket over them, to keep them warm while they snuggled for a while. What he had not reckoned with was Jon's lack of sleep finally catching up with him, and so after a couple of attempts to engage Jon in some loving pillow-talk, he was highly amused to find that his lover, whose motto was "never-go-right-to-sleep-after-sex-because-it's-insensitive-and-rude" was clearly out for the count.

He climbed carefully out of bed and got a damp washcloth, which he used to clean them both up with. He then climbed back into bed and Jon immediately responded by curling up close to him with and putting his head on Trip's shoulder, before resuming his snoring.

Trip smiled down at his lover's face, and stroked Jon's cheek as he began to drowse too.

"Sleep well Jon, yer safe in my arms now, an' I'm never lettin' go of ya" he managed to whisper, just before sleep claimed him too.

- End -