It Takes Two to Tangle

By Eireann

Rating: PG

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Chapter 4

Chapter 4

 

The Christmas party was at its height as Captain Archer walked through the door. He’d been on the bridge until half an hour ago, leaving himself just time to grab a quick shower and a change into leisure clothes. The duty roster was arranged so that everyone would have at least an hour at the party, though naturally the ship had to be kept at full readiness just like it was on every other night of the year; alien civilisations were no respecters of human traditions, however inconvenient that might be.

He grabbed himself a glass of mulled wine and looked around at the crew, who by the noise level were having themselves a whale of a time. Dr Phlox, expansively genial in a Santa hat, was handing round the mince pies. Trip was laughingly kissing his deputy Lieutenant Hess under the mistletoe hanging from one of the bulkheads, but it was noticeable both that T’Pol was watching him intently and that the kiss was a smacking one on the cheek as opposed to the full-on one on the mouth that it had been last year. Archer noted both facts and filed them away firmly in a mental folder labelled ‘Things I’m Not Going to Think About Tonight’.

Having been reminded of the existence of that irksome folder, he remembered the other item in it. Over the past couple of months he had been obliged to replace that item quite forcibly on several occasions, the ship’s grapevine being what it was. Now, of all times, the two people concerned should have been conspicuously present and behaving themselves with impeccable propriety. Last year even Malcolm had unbent sufficiently to receive a few decorous kisses under the aforementioned mistletoe, whilst a giggling Hoshi had been in almost permanent demand beneath it; even he himself had been dragged in for a suitably chaste peck or two, not that he’d minded of course. The stresses and strains of their mission demanded an occasion where the constraints of rank had to be relaxed a bit, and Christmas fitted the bill admirably.

Not wanting to jump to conclusions, the captain began mingling. In between chatting to people who would rarely have the opportunity to speak to him during the course of the year, he kept an unobtrusive eye out for his tactical officer and communications officer. A very short time was enough to show him that neither of them was present. He knew they weren’t on duty, and a soft word into the nearest comm. station revealed they weren’t in either of their quarters either.  A slight frown of irritation creased his forehead. Tonight, whatever they were up to that was the best-kept or worst-kept secret in Starfleet, the two of them should have known better than to stay away.  He’d thought better of both of them.

Suddenly the lights dropped by about seventy percent and the background music stopped.  Conversation halted; people looked at first puzzled, then apprehensive. A couple of the younger crew members who’d been making use of the cleared space left for dancing groaned with disappointment, which they hurriedly stifled as they vacated the dance floor under the natural conclusion that the captain had requested silence in which to make some kind of speech and would need the space for that purpose. He always did, and he had a few brief words ready for later in the evening, but he certainly hadn’t organised this. Whatever was happening, he was as bewildered by it as everyone else.  Automatically he looked at Trip, who left T'Pol and headed towards him with an expression of anxiety. 

The engineer had got perhaps halfway before a single brilliant overhead light silently illuminated a chair that had been left slightly forward of the others. The door into the corridor hissed open and while everyone was staring at the inexplicable chair a slight form slipped through the crowd and stepped into the open space of the dance floor.

She was all in red, from the cluster of feathers that secured her dark silky hair high on her head to the high-heeled sandals on which she paced towards the chair. The scarlet kimono was tied loosely at her waist, the same flaring colour as the lipstick that turned her mouth into a sultry pout. In a stunned silence she reached the chair, twirled about and sat down on it, one knee crossed over the other and her upper body bent forward over them in a posture of taut anticipation, her slender hands placed gracefully on her shin.

Almost in the same instant the same carefully prepared computer programme slammed music through the speaker system again. This was not the same cheerful background as before, however. It was measured but inexorable; it was driven, compelling and tense; even those who had heard nothing like it before were caught up in its pulsing South American heartbeat.  And as if called into existence by that feral, urgent phrasing a second shadow slipped through the door and stalked into the light: male, muscular, prowling like a leopard seeking its prey, with the light slithering on black leather and the grey eyes glittering and dangerous.

The clandestine hours of secrecy paid off. The ring of watching eyes might not have existed.  As he snatched her up by her jaw, the kimono fell back over the chair in a bright rippling flood and an unheard gasp went around at the sight of the sinuous body now revealed in a daring, long red silk gown cut away to the top of the thigh. The rhythm of the Argentine Tango took hold of them and they were swept away by it; they moved with the deadly concentration of posturing cobras, legs flashing and scything, bodies touching and retreating, eyes locked like those of fencers in a duel to the death. She turned away, disdainful, and he whipped her back to him by her wrist so that she melted against him, one long leg extended out of the slit gown with the red sandal pointed as his hand ran possessively down her body and his breath scorched the side of her neck. The music broke them apart again and they circled, feet darting, sex and death in an inescapable struggle for mastery. 

Suddenly she launched herself at him, twisting somehow in his grasp so that when he caught her across his shoulder she lay arched, fully extended, until he swung around to catch her as her weight slid in what looked like a fall but ended in her pressed back against the length of his body, her fingers twisting in his hair and their mirrored expressions burning with a passionate hunger that brought perspiration into the palms of more than one of the riveted watchers. The burst of relieved applause was part of another excluded and irrelevant world; neither of them heard it. He swung her back on to her feet and followed up fast, a slim and lethal shadow, sending her sliding through his braced and parted legs before swivelling away to snap for an instant into a bare-chested pose that brought an involuntary gasp from some female members of the audience. She twisted over and he caught her wrist again to drag her slowly back up towards him until she froze, arrested for a split second with her lips a breath away from his, his right hand in the small of her back partly supporting her weight as he hung over her like impending doom. Then, as the music crashed into a crescendo, she threw her arms wide and dropped backwards into a posture of total surrender, suspended completely in his grip while he flung his free arm skywards in triumph.

For a fraction of a second there was complete silence. Then thunderous applause broke out, and the two of them righted themselves and stood panting, grinning from ear to ear.  The usually stone-faced lieutenant was, indeed, simply unrecognisable.

“Malc, that was amazin’!” Trip was the first to hurl himself forwards and deliver a slap between the shoulder blades that his friend (at that moment) could really and truly have done without, being already exhausted with exertion and nerves.  “You sly ol’ fox, you!”  He turned to Hoshi and swept her into a bear hug.  “You were incredible!  Both of you!  I’d never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself!

Captain Archer found himself in the unusual position of having to elbow his way through an excited hubbub in order to get a word in edgeways in his own ship. “‘Word of a Reed’, Lieutenant?” he said teasingly, when he had got close enough to do so.  “So, that’s what the big secret was about!  I loved every minute of it!  And Hoshi, you looked fabulous!

Sub-Commander T'Pol had come more decorously in his wake. She looked somewhat austere, perhaps suspecting that she’d witnessed some unseemly human pre-mating ritual that had irretrievably lowered the tone of the mess hall. “That was a very ... athletic performance, Lieutenant, Ensign,” she said, sounding as though she was choosing her words with painful exactitude in case she might possibly be in danger of being thought to applaud the content as opposed to the performance.

“Thank you very much, Sub-Commander,” responded Hoshi with a meekness belied by her flashing smile. 

“But the costumes! Where did you get the costumes?” Ensign Hess demanded from over Trip’s shoulder.

“The one person we had to let into the secret. The quartermaster!” Hoshi blew a playful kiss in the direction of the guilty party, who had considered himself amply paid for his services already by the change from exercising his talents on the mundane repairing and replacing of uniforms, and by the sensation of being one jump ahead of everyone on the ship, right up to the captain himself. He grinned right back at her and waved a glass of champagne.

“Hoshi! You look absolutely stunning!” Travis took her hand and planted a kiss on it. His face still wore a look of absolute incredulity as he swept a stare down that extremely provocative dress which did so much to display curves that her uniform somehow contrived to play down.  “I’d ask you to dance, but after that ... hell, I don’t dare!”

“It sure was a tough act to follow!” chortled Trip. “Which reminds me, Malc... how are you gonna top that next year?”

“Next year?” The lieutenant raised his head from a cautious sniff of his armpits, which close contact with a leather jacket had reduced to a faintly unsavoury condition despite the application of a dozen hefty squirts of anti-perspirant beforehand. “You think I’m going to make a habit of this?”

“Ooh, yes, please!” chorused a dozen female voices, at which he turned slightly pink.

Tucker guffawed. “It’s official, Malc. Security officer, tactical officer and ship’s pin-up!” He shot a wink at those tight leather pants and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “I know you put it in there to get the girls lookin’, but if I were you I’d make sure you get that banana back to the galley before chef notices it’s missin’.”

“Piss off, Trip!” He hid his blushes behind a glass of mulled wine that someone considerately handed to him.

“Remarkable. Quite remarkable!” Phlox hove into view, beaming. “And I believe the bridge crew were able to enjoy the whole performance via the ship’s video link. I’m sure they were every bit as entertained by it as I was!”

Crap. He’d been hoping that there were at least a few souls on board who might have missed it.  Now he wasn’t going to be able to walk down a corridor without someone eyeing his bum to check how different it looked out of leather.  He felt a hand squeeze his arm, and looked down to see Hoshi smiling up at him.  A strand of dark hair had fallen out of its constraints and dropped momentarily across her face, and she blew it aside.  “Malcolm, you were amazing.  I knew you would be.”

“Humph.” She didn’t have to know for how many aeons it seemed that he had stood outside the mess hall door, almost shaking with nerves that were worse than anything he’d ever felt with a phase pistol in his hand and wishing with all the fervour of which he was capable that he’d had the sense to turn down this insane idea flat as soon as it had been broached. He still wasn’t sure what had carried him into the room and across the floor: it hadn’t felt like courage, but more like the utter recklessness of the damned. Still, it had been an experience, he’d give it that. He grinned wryly back at her, acknowledging the compliment. “You were pretty amazing yourself, Hoshi.”  He put an arm around her waist and squeezed, to a chorus of oohs and aahs.  Normally it would have been an act totally outside his universe, but after the other places he’d had to get used to grabbing, a waist was definitely not an issue.  And hell, it was Christmas after all.

 

*               *               *

 

It wasn’t particularly late when Lieutenant Reed walked back alone to his quarters; he was on duty early in the morning, and with that in view he’d also been sparing with the alcohol once Hoshi had been commandeered for less demanding dances with a queue of eager would-be partners, of whom Travis had been the first despite his protests of inadequacy. He was very tired, but a strange sense of satisfaction warmed him. It wasn’t the same sort of feeling as his job gave him, deeply satisfying as that could sometimes be; it was more to do with the sense of belonging that had somehow enfolded him this evening, a feeling that had so desperately eluded him for most of his childhood. He’d worried that in lowering his guard among his fellow crewmen he’d forfeit their respect; now he realised that Hoshi had been right, and the fear had been groundless. He was never going to be able to replicate Trip’s easy style of leadership, nor the captain’s, and it wouldn’t have been appropriate to try even if he wanted to: his job was to remain ever vigilant, ever suspicious, and if he dropped his hard façade by even a fraction while on duty then he would have failed in it. Nevertheless, the world was no longer the mostly cold and comfortless place it had been up to a couple of months ago – and more broadly speaking, up till an hour or so ago. He was no longer protecting his colleagues. He was protecting his friends.

Damn, as Trip would say, but it felt good.

 

End

 

Administrator's note: Click here for original artwork beautifully illustrating this story: http://www.triaxiansilk.com/index.php?page=fanart_artwork

 


Comments:

Cogito

You definitely got me with this one!

My first thought was Tango, but after what Trip overheard in the cargo bay that sounded a lot more intimate than dancing. As it turned out, it was a lot more intimate than dancing!

I bet Malcolm never learned this at home, but he could well have learned ballroom dancing which is similar in some respects. Just without the testosterone. And the smoldering. And Hoshi.

I chuckled at Archer's 'folder'. I expect that TnT and now Hoshi and Malcolm have kept that pretty full over the past few months.

I can well imagine DK pulling this off. It is Hoshi I have a harder time imagining being this much of an exhibitionist, but I've always believed there's more to this girl than the timid mouse we saw on screen. I can imagine them both doing it - not just the show at the end, but the planning and scheming and sneaking around that lead up to it. I bet they would both have enjoyed that immensely. I have a suspicion that they'll manage to find some pretext to continue seeing each other in their off-duty hours, perhaps just out of a sense of cameradery and devilment, but perhaps something more.

Your subtle nods towards TnT were all noticed and very much appreciated, by the way. :)

It stands alone as a story, but I would really enjoy seeing more of these people living their day to day lives, and not just rushing around saving the universe from the latest villain-of-the-week.

Alelou

Very nice.  I'm not sure I totally buy that Malcolm would ever do that, but the quiet ones ARE the ones you have to watch. I really enjoyed Jon's 'folder,' too.

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