Travis didn't get it. Everybody said it was perfect weather for a barbecue, sunny skies and just the right temperature. It wasn't. It was hot. And not the pleasant, clean heat radiating from an overworked warp core. It was hot and sticky and terrible. Travis felt like he was sweating like a bull. He felt like he was chewing the air every time he breathed in. He felt like he was about to die.
And the worst part was everyone else seemed fine. From the new recruits he didn't recognize, to what seemed to be the entire old Enterprise crew, to the alien ambassador delegations, nobody seemed half as affected by the heat as Travis. There was Archer (an Admiral now), smiling and laughing as he talked to his husband. Shran. The Andorian who grew up on a literal ice moon. How was he fine when Travis was sweltering? It wasn't fair. Maybe Travis was coming down with something. Maybe-
"Hey Travis." Hoshi said casually, looking stunning (and perfectly comfortable) in her flowy sundress and large hat. She gave him a warm smile. "Excuse me. Hello Captain Mayweather, sir!" Her salute was adorable under her sunhat. Travis smiled weakly and returned it.
"Perfect weather for a picnic." She said cheerily.
"No it's not." Travis said miserably. "It's too hot and it feels like the air is sweating onto me. I think the sun's gotten closer. It's terrible and I have no idea how you're all so fine."
"Have you been talking to the Tellarites?" Hoshi laughed, but when Travis didn't respond she looked at him questioningly. Then her eyes moved over his whole body and she looked taken aback. She stared at Travis for a moment, taking in his sorry state. She pursued his lips and gave him a firm look.
"I may not be a doctor, but I'm pretty sure you're on your way to heat exhaustion. Have you been in the sun this whole time?"
"Yes?" Was he not supposed to be?
"Let's get you into the shade." Her cool hand slipped into his own fevered one, and she led Travis over to a large tree and helped him sit down in the grass up against it. She put a hand on his clammy forehead. "Rest."
Travis closed his eyes and put his head against the tree, surrendering to his exhaustion.
"He alright?" That was Trip. He'd recognize that friendly drawl anywhere.
"Yeah, he got a little too hot." Hoshi sounded sympathetic. Trip whistled.
"I'll bet. San Francisco in the summer after a lifetime of twenty degrees Celsius and ten percent humidity? C'mon Trav, where's that survival training? You've gotta take care of yourself." He could feel the warmth from the Floridian's body. He must be crouched down, talking eye-to-eye with Travis.
"That's Captain Mayweather to you, Commander." Travis said weakly. Trip chuckled.
"Aw, he'll be fine." He gave Travis a friendly pat on the shoulder and stood up again. Hoshi pressed something blessedly cool into his hand.
"Here, have some water."
He opened his eyes to smile gratefully at her.
"Just doing my job. It's in pretty bad form if someone dies at the first official Federation barbecue." She said lightly. Someone called her name, and she glanced over but returned her gaze to Travis. He waved her off.
"Go, have fun. I'll be fine."
"If you're sure?"
"Yeah." So Hoshi gave him one last smile and scampered off to a cluster of people. Travis sat back against the tree and enjoyed his ice-cold water in slow sips, watching the scene. Here in the shade, it was actually pretty nice. He saw some young Starfleet recruits he didn't recognize in a circle, holding some water guns. Maybe in a few minutes he'd go over there. Yeah.
"Hard to believe it. After all this time… " Susan shook her head sadly.
"I know. I miss him. It's hard to believe he's gone." Hideaki sighed, looking pensively into his beer.
"He did well by us." Amanda assured him, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. "And we did well by him."
"I know, it's just… It's hard, you know?" Everyone else hummed sympathetically and nodded in agreement.
"We all miss him." Mario downed the rest of his beer, which meant he was about to say something important. Everyone waited patiently; when he brought the can away from his lips, his eyes were wet. He licked his lips before speaking, words solemn.
"But he did what he did because he had to. He knew that Starfleet came before us. Before any one of us MACOs. The Major… he knew what we all knew." Mario's voice got thick, and his eyes lowered. "That the greater good came first. That there are those who need protecting. Those who are worth fighting for, worth…"
"If you stop talking about me like I'm still dead, I'll give you a hot dog." Hayes called amiably from about a meter away.
The cluster of MACOs collectively sighed as they looked at Major Hayes. The smoke from the grill did smell delicious. The Major regarded them with slight amusement, one hand on the ugly red apron the Romeros had gotten him. His lips twitched, a sign of how amused he was by the MACOs antics.
"Really. I hope you weren't like this when I actually was dead." A chorus of no, sirs met him as they all shuffled up to the grill for a hotdog.
Travis had assured her that he'd be okay, and Hoshi… Hoshi believed him, but she still wanted to get a second opinion. So she trotted over to the other half of the giant lawn, which was where the entire Denobulan delegation was set up. By just inviting Phlox's family and the family of the official Denobulan ambassador, they had as many people as everyone else combined. Among the smiling faces and croaking children Hoshi sought out Phlox, who was talking with a Denobulan man she didn't recognize.
"Hoshi! I am surprised to see you here so soon. Has someone eaten too many 'hot dogs'?" Hoshi winced, both ashamed of the truth of the fact that she was seeking him out for work reasons, and by the fact that he said it completely earnestly and pleasantly.
"Sorry, Doctor. No, it's just that I think Travis has heat exhaustion. I'd like you to make sure he's okay."
"Of course! Lead on." Phlox didn't seem upset, keeping pace with Hoshi as she led him over to Travis's tree. The other Denobulan followed. "Hoshi, have you met Yilian? Yilian is the second husband of my first wife, Kazoh." They shared a quick kiss before resuming walking.
<It is good to meet you, Yilian.> Hoshi said in her best Denobulan. Yilian's blue eyes widened for a moment in shock before he broke into a distinctly Denobulan grin.
<It is good to meet you too, Hoshi.> He said, also in Denobulan. <You must be the Hoshi who can speak any language. Absolutely remarkable. You don't have any accent.> Then they were at the tree where Travis was resting under, looking wet and miserable. Phlox bent down, checking his pulse. Yilian smiled at his husband before turning back to Hoshi, who had flushed slightly with the attention.
<Well, I'm flattered Phlox has told you about me. I try to practice my Denobulan with Phlox when I can. He's one of my,> She chose her words carefully, <Most important friends. He helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life. Having him on the Enterprise has meant a lot to a lot of people.>
<I am glad this is the case.> Yilian's eyes dimmed slightly. <It has been difficult, with Phlox away from home and family for so long. If he has been doing things of so much importance, though, it is good that he left.>
<Does he tell you> -- she stopped herself before she said the wrong adjective/noun, tried for a different sentence structure -- <Does he share the majority of our travels with his family?>
Yilian laughed at that, a high, chattering sound that reminded her of Phlox. <Kazoh and I say that he is too busy writing love letters to Dr. Lucas to keep us up to date on everything, but we get> (Here were a few sounds Hoshi couldn't identify, but she assumed it was the word for "a lot" that she had been looking for earlier) <of his adventures.> Yilian turned and nodded. <I think your friend is alright.> Hoshi turned and Travis was standing, some of the color back to his skin, looking less exhausted. She hugged him tightly.
"Travis! Thank you, Phlox."
"Oh, think nothing of it." Phlox winked. "I think Captain Mayweather is just glad I didn't need to get out any bloodworms."
"Man, you've ruined my understanding of medicine, Doc." He complained good-naturedly. "I'm going to be asking my new CMO where the animals are, and she's going to think I've gone crazy."
"Well, if you like, I could get in contact with her and recommend-"
"No, no, that's fine." Travis awkwardly cut off Phlox, who had an eager expression. "Thank you for the help."
"That is my job." He turned to Yilian. "You see, my husband, the thrilling and dangerous trials I face on a daily basis. Why, some days I treat two paper cuts!" Travis looked a little embarrassed, and Hoshi tugged him down to whisper in his ear.
"Come on. It's better to get a little help from Phlox than to be sitting with a fever all day." He gave a quiet chuckle and a sheepish nod.
"You're right. I feel much better now." His breath tickled the hair by her ear. "I'm serious though, that I'm going to look like an idiot once I have a CMO who doesn't give out leeches."
"Now that you're feeling better, would you care to dance?" Phlox said, making Travis and Hoshi turn and face the two Denobulans. Travis opened his mouth, probably to say that the rock ballad currently playing wasn't exactly dance music, but Phlox kept talking.
"It is just about time for the circle dance… if you think you can keep up." Phlox knew how to get Travis on board. He grinned, and Hoshi knew what his answer was going to be before he said it.
"Well, count me in. I hope you don't mind me not knowing the steps, though."
"You'll pick it up in no time, I'm sure." Yilian smiled indulgently, and he and Phlox smelled each other for a moment. Travis and Hoshi politely looked away.
"My husband is a very good dancer. It makes up for his poor singing." Yilian explained. The four of them started back to the Denobulan side of the lawn.
"Well, luckily for the children, I am not planning on singing today." Once they were near where a dance was clearly being set up, Phlox turned to Hoshi and Travis.
"Now, watch closely. The steps are very simple. First you cross left to right…"
"Hello, Trip." Trip's hand brushed hers in a quick kiss. He looked pleased to see her again. "I hope you are enjoying yourself."
"You bet. It's been forever since I've done a barbecue. Forgot how fun they are."
"Indeed." She paused. "I have found the… tofu pups… to be acceptable." Making small talk was not easy, but Trip was always genuinely interested in what she had to say, no matter how meaningless. An example: When she mentioned eating food, a basic activity of living, he nodded enthusiastically and worked to keep the truly inconsequential line of conversation going as if it were a philosophical debate.
"Yeah, I never thought it was possible to grill those things without 'em falling apart and turning into mush, but I'll be damned if everything Hayes is making doesn't smell good. I've been to a lot of barbecues, but I think he's a dab hand at it."
"From what I am hearing, barbecues are a part of every human's life." She said it neutrally, but Trip grinned at her like she'd said a particularly funny joke.
"Well, depends where you live, of course, and what your childhood was like… but yeah, pretty much every Earth culture has some version of this." He gestured broadly. Indeed, the humans seemed the most at ease with the peculiar social event, followed by the Denobulans, who thrived on the confusing tangle of interpersonal relations (and were currently engaged in some sort of very complicated dance), followed by the Tellarites who were engaged in 'friendly bitching', as Trip would say. The Andorians seemed uncertain of the rules of this particular type of event, but seemed to be appeased by the food and the Human's attempts to get each of them into friendly conversation. The Vulcans had been avoiding the other groups for the entire event, so far. They circled around the edges like cats, displacing whenever a cloud of people threatened to engage.
It was no wonder that relations between Humans and Vulcans were so hard to keep friendly. Culturally, the two were the least compatible of the various species Humans had ended up allying with. Well. As Ambassador V'Lar would have said, trust and friendship were hard to win and often jealously guarded, but well worth almost any price. It would not do for the Vulcans to be completely separate from their allies if the goal of this event was to 'make nice', as Admiral Archer said.
Politics. As usual, it threatened to give her a headache.
"My husband." Trip, who had been contemplating the crowds along with her, turned as she gave him another quick kiss.
"Doing work? This is supposed to be fun, T'Pol." It was unsettling how well he could read her sometimes. "And I know Vulcans can have fun, don't give me that look."
"Perhaps." Was all she said before doing an about-face and going to the diplomatic face of Vulcan to the Federation. Soval was tucked under a tree, standing stiffly while also trying to be as unnoticeable as possible. It did not work.
"Ambassador." T'Pol stared coolly at Soval, who was looking very stressed at the combination of the many factions of aliens fraternizing in one place and observing whatever was happening over at the Denobulan side of the lawn. T'Pol could only hope it didn't end in an orgy. Soval collected himself somewhat at T'Pol's voice, looking… it would be rude to say relieved, but perhaps refreshed was appropriate.
"Commander?" It was a question as much as it was an acknowledgement of her presence. They regarded each other for a short moment, then T'Pol turned to where Trip had politely stayed by the trees to let her have a moment alone with Soval. What a thoughtful Human he was.
"My husband, attend." She did not need to raise her voice; Trip gladly made his way over with a long, unhurried stride. As she turned she noticed Soval's face tighten a miniscule amount. She did not comment on it.
"Ambassador, it's a pleasure to see you." Trip said warmly, a polite smile on his face. He started. "Oh! My bad. Live long and prosper." He was getting better at the ta'al, she thought approvingly.
"Peace and long life." Soval replied neutrally, before turning to T'Pol with a slight raise to his brow. She turned to Trip.
"As Ambassador Soval has the duty of documenting this historically important event, he has graciously offered to photograph us." He had not. "Specifically, to record us as 'an item'." Even if he had agreed to the first, he would have never volunteered for the second. "To demonstrate the existence of good relations between Vulcans and Humans." It was debatable if such a thing even existed.
Soval looked scandalized. Trip looked delighted. T'Pol felt illogically pleased with herself.
"Well, I've always wanted to have a kiss in the history books."
Soval flushed slightly green. "This is a joke."
"No, Ambassador." Trip coughed and covered his mouth with his hand to disguise the spike of amusement that flared through their bond as Soval's face fell imperceptibly. "In fact, there are images which are reproduced in history textbooks of the kissing of the lips. It is-"
"The logic is clear behind your request." Soval interrupted her loudly, looking alarmed. "What is it you want me to do?"
Trip looked at her and grinned, bright as sand at sunrise.
"Just start taking pictures. We'll tell you when to stop."
T'Pol took no pride in forcing Ambassador Soval to partake in recreational activities. However, it was only logical to enjoy kissing Trip. Which she did. Several times. He dipped her dramatically, then they kissed standing face-to-face, then they touched fingers, faces neutral and stately. They held each position until they decided Soval had taken enough pictures. Several times she had to bite Trip's lip to prevent him from laughing; by the time they decided they were finished, Soval was looking slightly pained. But he had participated, and that was the necessary thing.
"Thank you kindly, Ambassador." Trip said brightly, taking the camera from the Ambassador before he could smash it.
"And this was necessary because?" Trip opened his mouth but Soval quickly waved a hand. "Never mind. Peace and long life to you both."
"Don't forget to try the tofu dogs!" Trip called after him as Soval beat a hasty retreat back to the Vulcan delegation. "T'Pol says they're not half bad."
"It would be undignified for the Ambassador to eat food with his hands, even in an informal setting such as this." T'Pol said, her hand still intertwined with Trip's.
"Didn't you get a fork?" It was merely a logical observation that Trip looked cute when his brow was wrinkled.
"Apparently the Tellarite delegation insisted on taking all of them."
Shran would deny it vigorously, but he had a small, lazy smile on his face as he watched the festivities. As far as human parties went, this was definitely successful. The Vulcans looked like joyless bastards, because Vulcans always looked like joyless bastards, but he suspected that even they were having fun. As much fun as a Vulcan was legally allowed to have, at least. They were dressed for the heat in their lightweight layered robes. For his part, Shran was glad he'd taken Archer's suggestion and gone with the ABBA crop top. He would have probably started shrinking from water loss if he had worn a full formal outfit.
"Thavan!" And there was his precious daughter. Shran scooped her up as she ran headfirst into him, twirling her in a small circle that made her pink dress poof out. She had chosen it herself, because it matched Archer's skin -- something which seemed to confuse the human, but as an admiral he had at least learned when to pick his battles, and had let it go with as much grace as he was able.
"Causing trouble?" He asked her in a mock-suspicious tone, though his relaxed antennae gave him away. She giggled, bringing her own antennae to his for a kiss.
"No." She looked away, which meant she was lying. He couldn't bring himself to care. There were enough people here that it was most likely that she hadn't insulted anybody important enough to worry.
"What's daddy doing?" Shran looked over to where Archer was standing very close to the cooking apparatus, which had a particularly miserable-looking human standing there. Shran took pity on them, and looked at his daughter.
"Daddy is making an idiot of himself." Talla buried her face in shoulder as she laughed.
"Daddy's always making an idiot of himself." She twisted her head to look at his face, curious as she could sense his change in intentions.
"Are you ready for a lesson in politics, little one?"
"Yeah." She waved her antennae eagerly, his amused excitement rubbing off on her. Just the emotions of everybody around had her in a state that Jonathan had described as a 'sugar high' all day.
"This is what we call 'damage control', sweetie." With that, he whispered some instructions in her ear, before setting her down on the grass. She was off like a torpedo shot, making a straight line to her dad.
Shran followed, schooling his expression into what he hoped was a stern, bored face. It wouldn't do to let Archer know he was having fun, after all.
MACO technically didn't exist anymore, thanks to the Federation being an organization based on trust and not on independent military contractors. After everything he'd seen, Hayes couldn't fault them for that, even if his training required him to register at least a token protest at the move. Starfleet, however, had actually surprised him with their generosity, trying to keep on as many of the MACOs in an official Starfleet capacity as were willing to stay. Hayes wasn't afraid to admit that he was damn proud of how the sharks posted to the Enterprise had adapted, learning ships functions, taking off their camo and putting on their pips with grace.
It was a grey area. It was a transitional time. The one thing that was certain was that the game was changing. But some factors could be predicted with reasonable certainty. Even though Hayes technically wasn't in either MACO or Starfleet right now, he would definitely be court-martialed for slapping Admiral Archer in the face. Possibly stripped of rank and barred from working in space again. Still. It was sorely tempting.
"Oh, I used to use the grill. I never used charcoal, though. Is it different than gas? I know that when you have a gas grill, you want to put all the stuff closer to the center." He looked at Hayes and gave an encouraging smile. "You can relax, you know."
Hayes clenched his jaw hard enough to feel his teeth creak. He was trying to relax. But Admiral Archer, the man who apparently didn't know the definition of "division of labor", was making that a little difficult. Hayes had never met someone who backseat grilled before, but there really was a first time for everything after all.
"Do you want to take over, sir?" Hayes asked politely. He channeled all of his conditioning in the sanctity of the chain of command as he deferentially offered a set of slightly greasy tongs to the man who had single-handedly made the Federation of Planets possible.
"Oh, no, you're doing a great job." Archer assured him. Great. Well, if leaving the army didn't work out for him, at least Hayes could be reasonably sure that Archer would give him a recommendation for the position of line chef.
"Daddy!" A little pink-and-green blur tackled Archer at full strength, staggering the man. Shran followed behind. smirking. Hayes had never been so glad to see the Andorian in his life.
"Talla wants you to pick her up." Shran said.
"Yeah." Talla's eyes were wide, innocent. "Pick me up, daddy." Archer picked her up, laughing, swinging her up into the air so that she shrieked with joy. She grabbed at Archer's face with little hands, but Archer tossed her up again and blew a raspberry on her neck so that she collapsed into shrieking giggles. Hayes had to admit that the little alien girl, in her pink party dress, might be the cutest damn thing he had ever seen in his life, especially as she squirmed in the arms of the beaming Admiral.
Admiral Archer finally left the grill, his little girl tugging at his hair and demanding a pony-ride. Hayes looked at Shran, who was watching them go, expressionless save for a slight crinkling of his eyes. And whatever the antennae meant.
"Thank you." He said. Shran gave him a brief glance, smirking before he looked down at the tongs in Hayes' hand and, at last, the grill.
"What are those?"
"Hot dogs. These ones," Hayes gestured to the left side of the grill, "Are meat, and those are tofu."
"Hot dogs?" Shran's eyes widened slightly in shock.
"It's the name. They're not made from dogs, sir, they're made from livestock." Shran squinted suspiciously at the franks on the grill, before passing his final judgement with a sneer.
"They look disgusting." You know what, Hayes could respect that. They did look kind of gross, especially if you compared them to the animals they supposedly came from. Or plants, in the case of the tofu pups. Definitely a worse name, though it was pretty stiff competition all things being equal. Shran hadn't left. Why? He was still staring intently at the grill.
"Can I get you one?" A long moment of consideration followed.
"Meat, or tofu?"
So Hayes got to have the slightly surreal experience of handing an honest-to-god alien a hot dog. On a paper plate. It was perfectly charred, hot off the grill, in a bun just toasted enough to be crispy without crumbly. Jonathan Archer, eat your heart out. Hayes knew what he was doing. Shran's antennae curled forwards slightly as he examined the offending item.
"You can hold the bun and eat the whole thing together with your hands." Hayes explained, adjusting the ugly red apron that proclaimed him GRILL SERGEANT. The Romeros thought they were funny when they got it for him. "Like a sandwich." Shit. Did they have sandwiches on Andoria? Shran cautiously squeezed the bun.
"Is that all?" He asked with a lot of fucking bravado for a guy who didn't even know what a hot dog was.
"Well, you can add toppings." Hayes gestured to what the MACOs had dubbed "the munitions station". It had just about every condiment known to man. Including some that Hayes, personally, wouldn't put on a hot dog, but Kemper swore by his 'coney dog'. To each their own, he supposed. Shran was looking at the table with the same well-concealed bafflement that Hayes knew he had on his own face when looking at ancient alien languages. Oh. Hayes was probably giving him too many options.
"If you've never had one before, you might want to try it plain."
Wrong thing to say. Shran's eyes lit up with the implication of a challenge. God help him.
"What is supposed to top it?" Shran eyed the various standard-sized, labeled bottles of condiments with suspicion. His antennae lay backwards against his head.
"Well, uh…" Really, when did this become his life? "Try the ketchup. That one." And, hell, now he was invested. Hayes watched with well-guarded concern as Shran picked up the bottle and squeezed it. "Careful, it's-"
The ketchup exploded everywhere. Shran blinked at the murder scene that was now his plate. Ketchup radiated outwards from the point of impact, directly on the middle of the hot dog. It was a horror show. The beautiful, lovingly cooked hot dog had been tarred and feathered, if both the tar and the feathers in this very rough metaphor were ketchup.
Shran licked a glob of ketchup off his knuckles. "Hm."
Hayes took a moment to mourn the poor hot dog before Shran's next motion set off alarm bells. "That's definitely enough ketchup." Hayes assured Shran, who reluctantly put down the ketchup bottle. Really, it was just adding insult to injury.
This was it. The moment of truth. Hayes held his breath as Shran examined his mostly-red hot dog, bringing the plate to his face level so he could more easily take a corner and shove it in his mouth. He chewed slowly. His face betrayed nothing. Hayes didn't know what that motion of the antennae meant.
He looked into Hayes' eyes and gave him a small nod. "Better than it looks."
If Hayes was a lesser man, he would probably whoop and pump his fist. Add 'interspecies diplomacy' onto his record, please. As it was, he just gave Shran a napkin.
"Glad you like it, sir."
"I'll take three more."
"Of course, sir." After getting him a new plate with three hot dogs neatly lined up on it, Hayes strategically positioned himself so that he was faced away from the terrible things Shran was doing to his hot dogs with the ketchup bottle. Unfortunately, he could still hear them.
Hayes was just glad he hadn't told him about relish.
Archer was in an indulgent mood, so he was busy taking Talla around to wherever she saw fit. She was sitting on his shoulders, small but shockingly heavy, leading him around by his hair.
"Travis!" She demanded, so they went to Travis. The man had recovered from his heat exhaustion with the help of Phlox, and had been caught up in a vigorous Denobulan circle dance for a while along with Hoshi. He was relaxing now, surrounded by a group of horrified ensigns. As Archer got closer, he caught the tail end of what was either a mediocre ghost story or a deeply disturbing true account of Travis's life aboard the Horizon.
"So that's why there's no spaghetti ration on starships anymore." He concluded, before looking over at Archer.
"Captain." Archer stuck his hand out, and Travis shook it with a goofy grin.
"Admiral." He offered a hand to Talla, who grabbed it in an almost-handshake. "Talla."
Now that introductions were finished, Travis let go of Talla's hand, but she clung to it with her iron baby grip, forcing Travis to stand with his arm awkwardly raised by Archer's head where Talla was perched. He took it in stride. He was a better diplomat than Archer.
"Dad won't let me give you bugs." Talla said confidentially, unaware or uncaring that Dad was within earshot.
"Well, that's not very nice of him." Travis said consolingly. Archer shot him a warning glare. Talla bounced on his shoulders, delighted to finally find someone who understood the great injustice she had suffered.
"Zhavey lets me bring her bugs." She continued. Travis tried to gently worm his hand out of her grip, with no luck. "I get ice worms myself. I'm smart!"
"You are smart, honey, but Travis isn't your zhavey. You can't bring him bugs." As Travis finally slipped his hand free from her vice-like grip, Talla brought out the trump card.
"Uncle Trip let me bring him bugs."
Archer's brow furrowed, now concerned and totally thrown for a loop.
"Talla, when did Uncle Trip let you bring him bugs?" He knew better than to ask why -- the answer would be because Talla was a child, and children loving bugs was a universal constant -- but he was concerned at the idea that she had been unattended long enough to dig up earthworms and bring them to Trip. Shran had said he was going to watch her. But Shran thought Archer was overbearing with his parenting style. But Archer was just taking necessary precautions. But maybe they were excessive. But Shran shouldn't have left Talla alone if he'd told Archer he was going to watch her.
"Dad. Daddy." A little green hand was slapping his face to get his attention. Archer had been zoning out.
"Yes, honey?" He took a few deep breaths, trying to calm down.
"Thavan's doing a dip-la-mat-ik upset." Archer spun around and watched as Shran's face crumpled in rage. He was rearing back his plate of mashed potatoes menacingly, his ABBA crop top riding up on his chest.
"Shit." Archer said eloquently. "Talla, hold on." Talla shrieked with laughter as Archer ran over to his husband. Shran lowered the plate of mashed potatoes and looked over as Archer, laden with a laughing child, skidded to a halt in front of him. Soval hadn't looked that relieved since war between Andoria and Vulcan was averted.
"Shran." Archer used his best 'pleasant, but firm' voice. "Ambassador."
"Admiral Archer." Soval's eyes flicked between them all uncertainly, eventually settling on the child watching him with eager eyes from atop Archer's shoulders.
"How are you enjoying the barbecue?" He could practically feel Shran's rage, waves of emotion coming off him. Archer inched forward to place his body between them. Soval drew himself up, hands clasped behind his back.
"It is a fascinating view into Earth traditions. I hope that this form of cultural sharing is encouraged for all species who join the Federation." It was a well-polished answer, one Archer suspected Soval had said more than once today. He gave a broad smile.
"Of course! I think we should all share with each other. I hope that we can see a Vulcan-" Shran abruptly turned on his heel and left. Archer stopped talking, floundering for a moment, watching Shran stalk off.
He turned back. He shouldn't ask. He didn't need to ask. There was no benefit in asking.
"What happened?" Damn it. Soval, for his part, folded his hands behind his hand, expression inscrutable as usual.
"Nothing, since you arrived before there could be an… incident." Talla buzzed uncomfortably, and Archer took her off his shoulders. She tried to run off, but Archer caught the back of her dress.
"Ambassador Soval, if I can-"
"No." Soval brought a hand up in a small, sharp gesture. "Please, Admiral. Do not worry about it. There was no incident." His eyes flickered over to where Shran was standing, arms folded, by a tree. "I understand that you want to be… a mediator." Soval sent a sharp look at Archer, something almost raw in his gaze. "Let this go. There is nothing to be done."
Archer realized he was tapping his thumb against his hand, and consciously opened his fingers to stop it.
"Okay." He said. Soval nodded once.
"Are you angry at Thavan?" Talla said, antennae curled low.
"No, child." Soval said firmly. "I am just an adult. Adults have complicated relationships with each other."
"Okay." Talla swung her arms, clearly bored. "Daddy can I go with Thavan?" Archer looked back to where Shran was seething. He made a quick decision.
"How about you go find Uncle Trip?" Talla's eyes lit up and her antennae stuck straight up. Bingo.
"Can I bring him a bug?" Archer smiled indulgently at his daughter.
"Yes." Talla was off like a rocket.
The adults stood together in an awkward silence for a few moments.
"Raising children is difficult." Soval said eventually. Archer looked at the clouds. They were calm and fluffy.
"I think Surak said that." Archer said after a moment. "But there was something else, too, that made it a metaphor."
"Much popular philosophy is in metaphors, because one feels smarter for discerning the meaning."
"No, that's fortune cookies." Archer said automatically. He could feel Soval's questioning pause. "Never mind. Do you have children, Soval?" That seemed like the kind of thing he should know. After ten (twelve, if you counted the time before Enterprise, which Archer tended not to) years of knowing the guy that was a pretty important fact which Archer should know as a diplomat, as well as a friend. Oh god, was he friends with Soval? He was friends with Soval.
"I do not." Soval said, interrupting Archer's existential crisis. "I intended to when I was younger, but it was impossible given my duties as an ambassador to Earth."
"Oh." Oh. "I'm sorry to hear that." Archer said sincerely.
"Save your pity, Admiral." Soval said, not unkindly. "It was a calculated choice. I was neither coerced into it, nor trapped into a path I did not want."
"I see." Archer didn't know what to say now, so he started sweating. Soval saved him from making an idiot of himself further.
"Thank you for stopping your husband from throwing food at me, admiral."
"I didn't do anything." Archer said, like an idiot. Soval gave him a pitying look.
"There may be hope for you yet, as a diplomat." And he turned and left with a swish of robes.
Okay. Well, that was weird. Archer doubted either Soval or Shran would appreciate hearing it, but Archer privately thought they had similar approaches to diplomacy. They didn't mince words or care much for the other party's feelings.
Hell, that was Archer too, wasn't it. They were just three bulls, butting heads. Maybe this Federation thing would work out after all. A newfound spring in his step, Archer decided to go get some iced tea.
While Malcolm generally preferred to be doing something valuable with his time, since this gathering was technically the first large inter-species communal gathering of the new Federation (didn't quite roll off the tongue, but maybe it sounded better in Vulcan) it was, technically speaking, very important. Which meant he had to be on his best behavior. But also he had to be casual, approachable. Whilst being a good representative of Earth. But he wasn't allowed to constantly be checking security.
And mingling. God help him, he had to mingle. Well, Malcolm wasn't one to disobey direct orders. So in the end there was nothing to be done for it; Malcolm put on his bravest face and attended the first Federation barbecue. He talked to the other members of the Enterprise that he knew. He walked a few circuits around the grassy lawn while trying very hard not to look like he was doing surveillance. There were a lot of people and no security and it was giving him hives. Wait, no -- he checked his arm quickly -- the hives were from the grass.
And yet. Somehow, despite his best efforts, Malcolm was having a good time. It helped that it was nice outside. It was warm and sunny, and his allergies were only a minor nuisance thanks to the truly impressive cocktail of drugs Phlox had given him that morning. Chatting with people was easy enough, given that his self-assigned route meant he didn't stay with one group for too long. What was he missing? There was something at the back of his mind that he should do…
He scrubbed his eyes, which were suddenly watering -- not from allergies, but from smoke. Ah. That was it. His partner. Malcolm did an about-face and headed in the direction of Jeremiah Hayes. It was impossible to miss him; for one thing, he had stayed within a two-meter radius of the grills for the entire event, and for another thing, he had on that ridiculous apron.
He walked right up behind him, rolling slightly onto the balls of his feet so he could look over Hayes' shoulder at the vegetables and meats on the grill.
"Is that a squash?" He said in disbelief. Hayes spun around and clacked the tongs together menacingly.
"Don't even start." He warned with a vitriol that surprised Malcolm.
"Stress of the job getting to you, Major?" He answered easily. Hayes smiled, an expression held more in his eyes than his mouth, and a knot inside of Malcolm untied itself.
"Not a chance, Lieutenant." Their words might have been between strangers, if it weren't for the fact that there wasn't quite enough space between them, the fact that Hayes' eyes darted down to his lips. "But you know, when the boss is interfering with your job, it makes it a lot harder." Malcolm winced. Touche.
"You're supposed to be relaxing, you know." Malcolm said, taking in Hayes' not-quite-defensive stance over the grill.
"I am relaxing." Hayes said simply. He turned back to his task, which seemed to be flipping over individual pieces of squash with the tongs. There were a lot of pieces of squash. "What have you been doing?"
"Mingling." Malcolm said smugly. The tongs paused. Hayes shot him a narrow look. He resumed flipping over squash.
"Sounds like fun." He said dryly.
"Oh, yes. I'll have you know I'm quite the life of the party." Hayes almost laughed at that. Malcolm moved to his other side, so that the smoke would stop stinging his eyes, and caught a glimpse of Trip. He was holding water pistols. Oh yes.
"If you'll excuse me, I really must be getting back to it." He said breezily. Hayes turned to face him, a paper plate in one hand.
"Before you go, try the zucchini."
"Must I?" Malcolm eyed the vegetables with concern. They looked somehow both crispy and slimy.
"Are there no forks left?" He couldn't keep the disbelief from his voice as he looked at the plate of zucchini which Hayes had handed him, along with a flimsy plastic knife.
"Nope." Hayes didn't waver, staring down Malcolm steadily. Well, sacrifices made in the name of love and all that. Malcolm stabbed a zucchini with the plastic knife and brought it rather inelegantly to his mouth, chewing slowly.
"This is rather good." He said, surprised. The smile on Hayes' face was pure satisfaction.
"Does it have your approval, sir?" The lean forward broke his parade rest, that and the light dancing in his eyes.
"Oh yes. Excellent work." Malcolm put the fork on the plate to give Hayes a grave salute, lips twitching. "Carry on, Major." Malcolm could see, over Hayes' shoulder, the cloud of ex-MACOs descending on the grill as if they could sense that the squash were done. As much as he enjoyed flirting with Hayes, Malcolm decided it was time to make himself scarce.
"As you were." Malcolm turned to leave, but just then Hayes said his name. Malcolm turned, curious, and Hayes caught his lips in a quick kiss.
It was completely innocent, but the PDA still made Malcolm blush pink as Hayes pulled away. He looked much too pleased with himself.
"Alright." Malcolm said, aware he was grinning like a loon. He turned around and stalked off before the MACOs could see his face.
He finished the squash. They really were tasty.
Trip was in fact getting a game together. A group of Vulcans were standing nearby, looking thoroughly unimpressed, but three Andorians and a Tellarite were standing with the gaggle of ensigns, watching with rapt attention as Trip explained the rules to water tag. A young woman saw Malcolm sidle up to the group and passed him a water gun with a quick smile. Malcolm tuned out Trip slightly as he fiddled with his new toy. Childish, of course, but it had a full tank of water, and it really wasn't at all unlike the old EMs…
Trip's expression went from jovial to serious in a heartbeat as he saw Malcolm with the water pistol. Everyone else shuffled away from Trip as they followed his line of sight and saw the Lieutenant holding the child's toy as if it were a deadly instrument.
"Malcolm…" He said warningly. Malcolm gave him a small, evil smile. And brought the gun up. And blasted Trip right in the face. Oh, it was beautiful. The expression on the blond's face made him wish he had a camera. It looked like some had gotten up his nose. Before the Commander could finish hacking and spitting out water Malcolm was running away with his new weapon.
"MALCOLM!" He heard Trip, properly peeved, hollering after him. "YOU GET BACK HERE!" Malcolm suddenly strafed to the right -- not a moment too soon, as Trip's yelling was soon accompanied by water aimed wildly at Malcolm. Somewhere in the distance was Hoshi's bright laughter.
Malcolm ran like a frightened hare for a few meters, but Trip got wise and nicked him in the small of the back. Cold water made his whole body shudder, splashing against his shirt and making the light cotton cling uncomfortably to his back.
It was war. Malcolm turned on his heel and brought his hand out to shoot Trip. He got two shots, right to Trip's chest, but since they were shooting water guns and not actual weaponry Trip just kept barrelling towards him.
Until he got blasted in the side of the head by an overenthusiastic Andorian. Trip yelped and changed directions, shooting automatically at this new threat. It didn't take long for the game of water tag to devolve into a free-for-all. Onlookers were in danger -- Malcolm took a quick look around for the Vulcans, relieved to see they had made themselves scarce. Ah, there was Trip. Malcolm drew, aimed, and nailed Trip in the back of the head. Bingo. But out of nowhere Archer was there with a gun, too, and soaked Malcolm directly in the face. He shot the Admiral and kept running.
It was madness. It was absolutely childish. It was the most fun Malcolm had all day by far. He ended up completely soaked and shivering by the time his gun was completely out of water. Trip seemed to be in the same scenario, his gun by his side, cautiously approaching Malcolm.
"You surrendering?" Trip called from a few meters away. An easy shot, if Malcolm had any water left,which he didn't.
"Never." Trip shook his head, then made eye contact with something over his shoulder.
"Hoshi, now!" Trip yelled. Malcolm only had time to turn around halfway before a bucket of ice-cold water was dumped on his head. He promptly fell to the ground.
"Cheating! You're cheating!" He spluttered, hacking up water as he tore the bucket off his head. "Bringing in outside help."
"Sorry, Malcolm." Hoshi said comfortingly. She put a hand on his soggy shoulder.
"No you're not." He grumbled.
"No I'm not." She agreed easily.
Malcolm sighed. Trip was hooting with laughter, and then Hoshi was, and then Malcolm was, sitting on the grass and soaking wet.
"Hey there, Phlox."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"No, no, no need to be sorry. I'm sure my family is shocked, but I have become much more used to casual touch aboard the Enterprise."
"Still. Hope I didn't make you feel uncomfortable."
"Well, thank you for your consideration. Out of the twenty times I have been purposefully touched in passing today, you are the only one who apologized."
"As I said. I have gotten used to it. I can't say I've ever seen the crew this happy about anything. Not even on Risa."
"Well, a little vacation to take the edge off isn't quite the same as starting an intergalactic alliance."
"...Yeah, why not?"
"You know, maybe we should have some sort of… sensitivity training. I'm pretty sure a Vulcan would bust a fuse if you put a hand on their shoulder, just 'cuz you're being friendly. And that's not the sort of thing anyone at Starfleet's talking about."
"Well, T'Pol has managed."
"Not all Vulcans are as considerate as T'Pol."
"Hah! I hope you tell her that."
"Every day. Or, you know. Somethin' along those lines. A bit nicer than that."
"It is all about phrasing, commander."
"What is that?"
"Salt potatoes. Want some?"
"Why yes, thank you."
"You can have the rest. I got too many."
"How very thoughtful of you."
"Yeah, I got them just for you."
"Are you havin' fun?"
"Good. I'm glad."
"Would you like to meet my family, Trip?"
"I'm afraid to say yes… but yes."
Archer sat under a tree. There wasn't much breeze but the evening air was starting to cool his clammy skin. Here in the twilight he didn't feel like Admiral Archer of the newly-forged Federation. He just felt loose and relaxed all over. His hands were curled in between the plush grass, somewhat matted down from the day's activities. He'd been helping to clean up, of course, but nothing would catch on fire if he took a little break. So he was taking a little break. He had forgotten what the air smelled like here. It was sort of thick, and now that the wind had shifted it smelled like salt from the bay. He breathed it in deeply. He'd never seen a sunset in Dolores Park before. Or if he had, he hadn't cared about it.
He looked up at the sound of boots crunching on the ground and smiled at Shran. Shran's antennae came together, but he stayed standing when Archer patted the ground next to him.
"What are you doing?" He asked instead, all the normal hard edges rounded out of his voice, leaving something… not soft, but softer than usual.
"Touching the grass." Archer said honestly. "It's nice." He could tell Shran was looking at him oddly, but he didn't quite care. He felt lighter. Younger. Ecstasy threatened to bubble out of his throat in a hysterical giggle.
"Is that one of your past-times?" Shran finally sat down next to him. Jonathan immediately scooched closer so that their arms were touching.
"Yes. Any classes on, on human behavior should include grass-touching. It's a sacred ritual meant to connect us with the Earth." Shran squinted at him for a long moment.
"You are being funny."
"Yes, I am." He did laugh, then, when Shran's antennae tickled his forehead in a kiss.
"You are in a very good mood." Archer just rested his head lightly on Shran's shoulder. It was a romantic move, but it was hell on his neck, so he stopped after about a minute.
"Talla still asleep?"
"Okay. Just checking. You were the one saying she might jump up again after a nap."
"She will be asleep for at least the next twelve hours."
"A bold estimate."
"The excitement tired her out."
"But not you?" Shran turned, then, and caught Jonathan's lips in a proper kiss. He gave a little smile when they parted.
"No." Archer felt like they were sharing secrets, just the two of them, invisible.
"Well, that's good. Because I'm absolutely exhausted. I hope you can carry both of us back to the hotel." Shran's antennae came back in a gesture which, Archer had found, was the Andorian equivalent of an eye roll.
"I am not carrying you." Archer leaned in for another kiss, grinning and chasing Shran's face with his own when Shran pulled out of range petulantly.
"Oh, so you'll carry Talla, but you won't carry me?" Archer gave his best puppy-dog eyes.
"No, pinkskin, I'm not carrying you." Shran said, exasperated. He slapped his hand childishly onto Archer's to hold him at arm's length. Archer didn't let that stop him, just kissing Shran's hand wherever he could reach. Shran gave a disgusted grunt and pulled his hand away. Triumphant, Archer nuzzled his face into Shran's to cover him with kisses.
"You just said you were tired."
"I am." Archer didn't elaborate, planting a final obnoxiously loud kiss onto Shran's cheek before letting him go. Shran turned to face the sunset. They were quiet.
Archer's hand found Shran's. Shran turned his palm upwards to lace their fingers together, giving Archer a little squeeze.
"This was good." Shran said softly. "I was impressed."
"High praise, coming from my husband."
"It is. You should feel honored."
"Oh," And here Archer just couldn't resist bringing his lips to Shran one more time, "I do."