This story is dedicated to my fanfic pals Serit and LoyaulteMeLie, the Dominic Keating Estrogen Brigade and all of the Malcolm Reed fangirls worldwide. You know who you are!

Written for fun, Paramount/CBS owns the boys... you know the drill. Betaed by the lovely and talented LoyaulteMeLie. Reviews are much appreciated!

1 – Important Business

Mess Hall, E Deck, 0710 hours, November 8, 2151

Today was the day. Jean Olenick, Enterprise's Deputy Medical Officer, was tired of waiting, tired of dropping hints, and she damn sure was tired of wondering if the man she had fallen in love with thought of her as anything more than his best friend. Today was the day when she would find out, one way or the other, if her faith in storybook endings would be bolstered or puréed by real-world experience. Yes sir. Today.

She came into the Mess Hall and spotted him fairly quickly: Malcolm Reed, the man who had been occupying her thoughts for the last two months.

She got herself a tray and joined the buffet line, helping herself to scrambled eggs, toast, yogurt and a mug of tea from the drinks dispenser. She headed over to the table where Malcolm was sitting and greeted him with a smile. "Good morning."

He took his eyes off of his PADD long enough to smile up at her, but his version of the gesture seemed to lack enthusiasm. "Morning."

She sat down, puzzled but by no means discouraged by his cool demeanor. Whenever he was wrapped up in a project, his focus elsewhere, particularly on social matters, tended to suffer. "Working on something interesting?"

Malcolm shook his head at the PADD with a short, huffed breath and met her eyes. "Only if you think that Shuttlepod targeting scanners are a particularly riveting subject."

She started to work on her eggs, flashing him a wry look. "Can't say that I do. Then again, I'm not a weapons expert or an engineer."

He set the PADD down and took a sip of his own tea. "Well, those systems need to be tested, and by my calculations, for the test to be accurate it must be conducted at least twenty-thousand kilometres from Enterprise." Malcolm grimaced. "As you pointed out, the test will require an engineer as well as a weapons expert, so I will have the pleasure of Commander Tucker's company in Shuttlepod One for the next three and a half days. We're due to launch at 0830."

"Oh." Jean's heart sank. The conversation she had planned on having with Malcolm wasn't something which could be discussed anywhere as public as the Mess Hall or a corridor, and if things went as she hoped they would, it would be borderline cruel to squeeze in their talk between breakfast and disembarking on a four day away mission. After all, they were both victims of involuntary Starfleet celibacy, and getting more than Mal's hopes up before sending him off in a cramped Shuttlepod with Trip, where he would have no recourse for relieving any tension? That just wouldn't be right. She tried to hide her disappointment, but Malcolm caught on that something was amiss.

"What is it?"

She forced a smile and ate a bit of her yogurt. "I just wanted to talk to you about something important today. It's best discussed in private and it's a conversation I'd rather not rush."

He raised his eyebrows, apparently intrigued. "Fair enough. We'll talk when I get back." He nodded, smiling pleasantly, and she wondered if he had any idea what the topic might be. He was very intelligent in the academic sense, which was one of the qualities that she admired most about him, but when it came to reading human social cues, she sometimes thought that he was less skilled than Phlox.

She changed gears, going back to the topic of 'two men in a boat.' "So, almost four days alone with Trip." She canted her head to one side and asked in a mock-innocent voice, "You looking forward to it?"

Malcolm gave her a guarded look, then shrugged and picked up his PADD with a grudging smile. "We have had a few entertaining conversations, but I'm hardly 'looking forward' to being cooped up with him in a shuttle until the twelfth. His optimism tends to set my teeth on edge at the best of times, and there isn't exactly any way to have time to oneself in a shuttlecraft. I suspect he'll regale me with stories running the gamut between alligators and anti-matter injectors."

"Mister Reed, you are a curmudgeon." She tossed her napkin at him, making sure that the cloth covered his PADD's screen. "Maybe the cramped quarters will give you a chance to practice socializing. Not that I'm even close to getting tired of your company, but expanding your circle of friends isn't a terrible idea."

He shook off her napkin and shot her a withering glance. "I hardly think that working on shuttle targeting scanners will foster any sort of lasting bond between us—"

"Mal…" she reached across the table and tapped the back of his hand with her index finger. "Please? I've warmed up to him since we launched—" She raised her hands in mock surrender at his startled look. "Strictly platonic warming, of course, and I'd like to be able to socialize with both of you without anyone feeling uncomfortable. Just… give him a chance, okay?"

He let out a long-suffering sigh. "Very well. I'll need something to read, just in case we finish the tests early. Enterprise will be dropping us off and then heading to an asteroid field for some mapping project, so I'll need some form of entertainment other than Mistah Tuckah's fascinating stories and anecdotes."

She nodded. Her breakfast was mostly eaten by that point, and Malcolm's food was long gone. He seemed about ready to leave, so she scrambled for an excuse to see him again before he left for his mission. "I can download something to a PADD for you while you're getting ready. How does Ulysses sound?"

He pushed his chair back, standing up with the PADD still in hand, and a genuine smile lit up his face. "That sounds perfect, actually. I've always been fond of Joyce. Can you put it on this one and meet me in Launch Bay One in half an hour?"

Jean smiled, taking the proffered PADD from him. "Sure thing. I'll see you then." Their fingers brushed during the hand-off and it took every bit of her self-control to not pounce on him right there. She couldn't be sure, but it seemed that his smile had widened slightly during the brief moment of physical contact. Well, at least that was a good sign.

Malcolm bobbed his head and briefly fiddled with his napkin, suddenly seeming nervous. "I'll…" he cleared his throat and started again. "I'll miss you, Jean."

She smiled at him, touched and pleasantly surprised that he had said so. "I'll miss you too, Mal. Try to stay out of trouble, okay?"

He nodded again and headed for the Mess door, leaving behind a slightly rumpled napkin. Jean stared thoughtfully at the cloth while she finished her breakfast. She remembered Hoshi saying something about Malcolm worrying at his napkin during what had come to be known as "The Enchilada Debacle", and wondered if it was significant that he had been doing something similar just now. It had certainly been a long time since he had acted nervous around her, and only one crazy long shot of a reason for such behavior occurred to her, but she was reluctant to get her hopes up.

She took the PADD to her quarters so she could use the terminal there to download the book. She could have used any terminal on board, really, but she had a surprise planned for Malcolm, and to do it right she needed some privacy. It seemed that today wasn't going to be the day after all, but the day wasn't too far off, and she had one more big hint to drop before the twelfth rolled around.