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No More Blackened Catfish...Pt 4
No More Blackened Catfish or Pecan Pie*
His head swiveled in a double take. T’Pol WAS running on the treadmill next to him. His mouth flapped like a fish on a hook. Speechless, he let his eyes speak for him, roving over her body, arms fluidly and effortlessly pumping as her legs stretched and kicked out behind her.
She had changed into athletic wear that left her midriff exposed. Her cropped top was stained in a vee of perspiration, which caused the material to cling to her breasts, which bounced lightly as she ran. He was transfixed.
His body took command, since his brain appeared to have taken a vacation. He found himself peddling in time with her, enjoying the sensation of muscles stretching and blood coursing through his body.
The feathery wisps of hair that floated around her face unfettered during the day lay damp against her skin. He imagined what it would be like to nuzzle the pulse point on her neck. Between his imagination and the energy he was expending his body felt as if it would burst into flames. As he knew that he had been staring longer than was appropriate, he expected her to douse his fire with an icy cold glare. Instead she increased the heat by returning his scrutiny, her eyes roving over his chest, until they came to rest on his face.
“You never use my name.” He lobbied the accusation.
“You never gave me permission to use your name or your sobriquet,” she returned.
“You did not accept my invitation to attend a movie.” He hit a long shot.
“You did not ask me to accompany you, merely cajoled me to attend.” She made the point.
It was her turn to serve, “I tried pecan pie.”
“Lizzie made the best pecan pie in the world,” his return was short and sharp. “And catfish.”
She let that one whiz past.
“They haven’t tasted the same since…” He slowed his pace.
She adjusted her stride. “I will ask Chef to remove them from the menu.”
“And Hayes?” The toxic bitterness that had enveloped him since his sister’s death threatened the tenuous connection they had made in the sweat and heat.
“What of Major Hayes?”
“Nothin’.” Tucker wiped his chest with the towel that he had hung on the handle bars of the bike.
Her eyes followed every movement. When he wiped his pectoral muscles she moistened her lips with her tongue.
I’m going mad. The thought restrained him from crossing the floor to press skin against skin, heartbeat on heartbeat. He steadied himself on the seat of the bike when he staggered under the weight of insight. She’s toyin’ with me. Don’t make a fool of yourself, Tucker.
He breathed deeply to contain the panic. “Goodnight, T’Pol.”
“Goodnight, Commander.” She emphasized his rank.
Reed looked up from the computer terminal in the armoury to find his Captain standing over him. He stiffened to attention.
“At ease, Lieutenant.” When Malcolm failed to relax, Archer added, “That’s an order.”
“Yes, sir,” he replied, without moving a muscle.
“Travis and T’Pol have been scanning the region since we arrived. They have found no signs of activity, hostile or friendly.” Archer wandered about the room inspecting this and that while he spoke.
Sweat broke out on Reed’s upper lip as he watched the peripatetic stroll. He knew intellectually that the weapons and equipment stored here were in immaculate condition. Emotionally he felt as if he were nine again at boarding school, waiting in his dorm room for his housemother’s inspection of his bed-making skills.
“How successful was the weapons training?” Archer threw the question over his shoulder, keeping his back to the armoury officer.
“Major Hayes seconded two of his contingent to assist me with the task. That enabled us to train three at a time. Our people aren’t experts, but we should be able to repel borders more efficiently than in the past.”
“Excellent. Have you issued weapons to everyone?” Archer had turned to face the younger man so that the praise was delivered to his face.
“No sir. I have had installed, however, weapons caches at strategic points on every deck.” Archer smiled, so Reed continued. “With your permission, sir, I would like to assign codes to all personnel so that they can access the caches should we be boarded?”
“Of course.” Archer headed toward the armoury door. He paused at the access panel, turning to face Reed again.
“I have decided to remain in this region of space for another 24 hours. Our people could do with some recreation and relaxation.”
“Until tonight then.” Arched pressed the button that opened the door then left the room.
Reed’s emotion swung between annoyance and admiration. The annoyance was in response to the Captain’s clear message that he expected to see Reed at the gathering this evening. The admiration was the manner in which Archer communicated his expectation without actually making it an order.
Trip was flipping through the menu in the mess hall when Archer found him.
“May I join you?” There was a ripple of whispering. His request had been loud enough for all the diners to hear.
“My pleasure, Cap’n.”
Trip hid his suspicion. Archer dined in the Captain’s mess most meals because he believed the crew was more relaxed in his absence. Something was on the man’s mind.
“Anything new on the menu?” asked Archer.
There’s been a change.” To Archer’s raised eyebrow of enquiry, he responded, “Not additions, but deletions.”
“Chef has deleted items from the menu?” Archer’s curiosity was peaked. “Has he run out of certain ingredients?”
“I mean deleted, as in gone never to be seen again, not as in temporarily unavailable.”
Archer flipped rapidly through the menu. “I give up. What’s gone?”
“Blackened catfish and pecan pie.”
Only when there was one last mouthful of coffee in the mug each of them held did Archer reveal the reason for his change in routine.
“I want to commend you, Hayes and T’Pol for your solution to the social integration issue.” He had lowered his voice so that only Trip could hear.
“Thank you, but I had little to do with it.”
“You got T’Pol to participate.” Archer sighed. “That’s more than I have been able to do in two years.”
“You’re over estimatin’ my role in the thing,” Trip insisted. “I got her to attend the meeting. It was Hayes who made her feel comfortable enough to suggest the idea.”
“Do you think there’s something going on there?” Archer had not meant to pry. He merely responded to the stimulus.
“Perhaps, but I can’t say for sure.” Trip suppressed the jealousy that seethed at the mention of the possibility.
“Well, we’ll get a better sense of which way the romantic winds are blowing tonight at the function.”
Trip frowned. “We?”
“20:00, here in the mess hall.” Archer swallowed the last of his coffee and left.
“Aye, aye, Captain,” muttered trip under his breath, he had planned to skip the event. Archer had pulled rank without pulling rank.
End of Part 4
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