Author: Cincoflex@aol.com
Rating: NC17 (Eventually) ENT Phlox/Other

Summary: Sometimes similarities are more obvious than differences.

Feedback? I'd love to hear from you! Cincoflex@aol.com


Apples and Oranges

Cincoflex

 

The dish was supposed to be unbreakable, a resilient polymer made just for space stations labs, nevertheless, the last one on the stack slipped from her fingers and hit the grating on the deck at some precise mathematical point, shattering.

"Damn!" Angrily, Lieutenant April Franklin dropped on all fours and began to collect the jagged pieces into a central pile, berating herself the entire time.

"Stupid dish--why I have to physically count an inventory that's already listed in the computer manifest anyway--" Anger had a price; a huge sliver sliced its way into the webbing between her thumb and index finger. She gasped. Blood began to gush down her thumb and Franklin slowly stood up, holding her wounded hand. She headed out the door for Sickbay, still chiding herself for breaking the dish.

Fortunately the trip merely consisted of walking ten steps down the corridor, but by the time she reached Sickbay, she was swaying.

"Hold on . . ." came a calm voice. A strong arm pressed behind her shoulders, and when she looked up, neon blue eyes met hers. "That's quite a leak you've sprung there."

"Dropped a dish," she muttered, glancing down at her blood-covered hand. More continued to splash on the floor, and she felt her knees start to wobble. The arm behind her back tightened.

"None of that--" came the calm voice again. "Let's get you in the chair." In three steps she felt herself half-carried, half-led to the examination chair. Lt. Franklin sagged against the backrest, feeling her hand being raised. She looked up again, and the bright blue eyes were twinkling.

"Can you spell your name backwards for me?" It was such a strange demand that she weakly laughed.

"Yes--"

"Then go ahead." Franklin felt something cool and jellylike being smeared across her palm. Licking her lips and closing her eyes, she began.

"N-i-l-k-n . . ." the jelly was drying, tightening to a squeeze all the way through her hand. " . .A-r-F-l-i-r-p-A" the last came out in a gasp as she felt the stinging burn of the sliver sliding back out of the wound.

"Got it. " Came a satisfied reply. "This shard is at least a centimeter. Let's get a little more gel on this."

For a moment, she didn't say anything, but watched the doctor efficiently cover her hand and spray it with silicone sealant. He caught her eye.

'Well, April Franklin, you may have nicked the tendon there, so try not to use it for a few days." His strong fingers released hers.

"Thank you." She could not stop looking at him; he returned the scrutiny for a long moment, liking what he saw. Franklin was a willowy woman the color of mocha, with long beaded braids neatly gathered at the nape of her slender neck. Her guileless dark eyes were flecked with green, and her generous mouth was curved into a smile. He smiled back.

"I'm Doctor Phlox, " he added. Franklin nodded, scrutinizing him. Phlox was a barrel chested man with segmented ridges framing his eyes and upper cheekbones. His tangled dark hair was longer than Starfleet regulation, reaching nearly to his shoulders.

"I'm Lieutenant Franklin--" Without thinking, she extended her hand forward and he cupped it so gently between his own that she barely felt his touch.

"Yes, I know. I thought I told you not to use this for a few days." His tone was light and teasing. She blushed.

"I'm sorry--I'm a little flustered I guess."

"A common reaction to blood loss," he reassured her without releasing her hand. "What is your work designation?"

"Xenobiology. Sub commander T'Pol has me taking inventory of the labs and I got a little careless with the sample dishes." Her voice conveyed her distinct lack of enthusiasm for the job. Phlox shrugged, thinking quickly.

"Perhaps you'd be better incorporated here with me in Sickbay. I have a number of exotic species for use in my practice. It would be helpful to have someone to monitor my healing agents and supplies for the duration of our trip. Would that be of interest to you?"

"Yes," Franklin blurted eagerly, "yes it would. Hands on experience is priceless in this field! And I'll be far more careful, I promise."

"Good. I will speak with Sub Commander T'Pol today then." He let go of her hand and made a courtly nod of his head in a dismissive gesture. Franklin slid out of the chair and headed for the door; Phlox watched her stride away as a thoughtful expression crossed his face.

"One more lovely exotic to study--" he murmured to himself.


Lieutenant Franklin settled in to the routine of Sickbay under Phlox's gentle guidance. After a few weeks of orientation and study, he showed her the extent of the living medical collection: the eels, the scour bugs, the environmental boxes filled with cocoons and pods and eggs. She delighted in the cuddly dream puffs ("Soporific and safe") and the tank of throbbing colorful jelly tube babies that wriggled and bounced around her wrists.

"And what do these darlings do?" she laughed, plunging her arms into the tank on the table. Phlox scooped one up and wrapped it around his arm, where is began to thrum with a strong vibration.

"Massage therapy mostly. Very good for the lower back and neck."

"Mmmm. I sense some nonmedical potential too--" she murmured. Phlox squinted at the worm from around his forearm and chuckled

"Certainly, but I wouldn't share the self-gratification idea just yet- -we're only a few weeks out, and I think most of the crew are still interested in each other."

Franklin blushed, and to cover it, began to help peel the jelly tube from the doctor's arm. He could feel the heat radiating from her face.

"Are you embarrassed? I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable."

"No, no--it's fine. I'm just not used to anyone else being quite so candid," Franklin admitted. "Usually it's just me making the bold remarks."

Phlox took the jelly tube, gently setting it down among the others. It chimed happily and began to bounce away. Franklin watched it go.

"While I understand the physiology of humans, some of their psych- social interactions will probably puzzle me forever." Phlox mused out loud. "You, April Franklin, are an attractive healthy female of your species who shouldn't have any trouble finding a sexual partner."

"Nice of you to think so, but its not that simple." Franklin told him as they moved to the next environment cube. "It all comes down to the glitch in our biology that gives us the option of mating for pleasure as well as procreation."

"Really?" Phlox rolled up part of his sleeve and slid on a glowing green glove. With one deft thrust, he shoved his hand forward through the stasis field of the cube. Inside, tiny lights buzzed about madly. April slowly began to don a glove.

"Really. I have lots of trouble trying to keep the two options in separate mind frames." She wriggled her fingers against the edge of the containment unit, pressing harder until the field gave way and admitted her hand. Phlox could smell the soft sweetness of her hair as she moved closer to him.

"My species already does. Our reproduction requires very specific conditions and chemistry that would be nearly impossible to duplicate off of my homeworld," came his murmur. He waved his hand, and the lights swarmed around it. April mirrored his move, and grinned as the lights clustered over her fingers in bright clumps.

"So I guess that would make you a swinging bachelor of the stars."

His expression grew thoughtful; the ridges at his temples grew a deeper beige that April had learned to recognize as a blush.

"Not quite. Culturally, to be unmated at my age is somewhat of --"

-- An anomaly?" she offered gently. He nodded.

"I was going to say a disgrace, but anomaly will do. Joining the Enterprise was the equivalent of taking a vow of celibacy." The lights in the cube began to flicker and drop away from his glove; he extracted his hand. Franklin did the same and sighed.

"Now I think that's an *incredible* waste . . . " when she looked up, the doctor's zygomatic ridges were nearly mauve. She bit her lip.

"Sorry, that just sort of slipped out--"

Before either of them could say anything further, the door slid open, and 18 pounds of intensely curious beagle bolted in. Captain Archer followed.

"Porthos!" Came his exasperated mutter. "Get back here--"

Easily, April scooped up the dog, letting it snuffle her face in a happy fashion. Phlox turned to the captain as he peeled off his glove and tossed it away.

"More lactose-induced flatulence?"

"No--cheddar's off his list for good." Archer replied wryly. "Ever since our science officer threatened to plug him up with a cork--we're just taking a walk."

Franklin cooed over Porthos, who responded with a serious face washing tongue bath before she set him down again.

"Oooooo, he's a prime specimen of the Canis Familiaris. "She grinned. "Beagles have a lot of bounce to the ounce."

"You're telling me. If we don't find another planet with trees soon, he's liable to drive us all nuts." Archer gave Franklin an appraising look and smiled. "April Franklin, right? Xenobiologist with a specialty in invertebrates?"

"Yes sir. " She met his gaze with a small smile.

"Lieutenant Franklin has graciously agreed to help me monitor the species here in Sickbay," Dr Phlox announced. Archer gave a nod.

"Sounds like a good idea . . . it might be helpful if someone else on this ship knew what these creatures can do."

"Indeed. She has good--insight." Phlox shot Franklin a glance and she felt her face go warm under the scrutiny of those amused blue eyes. Archer, nobody's fool by a long shot, hid a grin as he patted his dog.

"Well, gotta get this mammalian quadruped moving -- you two carry on."

The door closed behind him, and an awkward silence descended on Sickbay in the wake of Archer's double entendre. Finally Phlox took in a deep breath and murmured,

"I thank you for the compliment, April Franklin-- Male egotism is not limited to humans by any means."

Franklin crossed her arms and laughed gently.

"You're welcome. Now let's look at the rest of the zoo, shall we?"


*

Gradually Porthos became a part of Franklin's responsibilities as well--by tacit agreement she walked, fed and entertained the beagle when the Captain was busy and by doing so gave Archer's conscience a rest. None of the other creatures were neglected though--she had an intuitive knack for knowing when any were failing to thrive. Even T' Pol acknowledged that Franklin seemed "well-suited" for her responsibilities.

And there was always Phlox. She looked forward to seeing him, sharing a joke or an observation while on duty. He gave her the encouragement and freedom to start with some basic experiments of her own, and helped her document them. All in all, April Franklin began to feel a growing sense of personal satisfaction with her place in the scheme of things on the Enterprise.

But she was unprepared for Phlox's stricken expression when she entered Sickbay late in the afternoon. He looked up from his worktable, his eyes overly bright as he slowly turned the computer screen off.

"What's wrong?" she stepped closer to where he was sitting. The doctor didn't speak for a moment, but drew in a deep breath.

"A message from Starfleet. One of my fathers has died."

"Oh! I'm so sorry--" Instinctively Franklin dropped her hand up to his shoulder and rubbed it gently. Phlox closed his eyes, although she couldn't tell if it was out of grief or fatigue.

"The accident was very quick, and I know that he didn't have time to suffer. However, it's still a loss that's very hard to accept."

His dark curls brushed against her fingers as he turned his face away from her. Franklin made a small sound of comfort. After a moment, she asked,

"You said he was one of your fathers?"

"The elder. He saw the ship off when we began our mission." Phlox's voice was heavy with grief. "He came all the way to the Earth just to see it."

Franklin slid her arms around the doctor's shoulders, holding him, feeling the tension of suppressed pain begin to loosen. Phlox let his arm encircle her waist. He hitched a breath, as she stroked his tangled hair.

"It's all right . . .," she murmured gently as he rested his temple against her ribs. For a moment, she felt the hungry strength of his embrace, but he reluctantly let her go after one tight squeeze and stood up.

"Thank you.," he murmured. April nodded. They both looked up when the door opened for T'Pol. She glided forward to Phlox and inclined her head in a graceful manner.

"You have my condolences for the loss of your greater father. I offer my services for his shendul if you desire." A rare warmth seeped through her words though her face remained serenely neutral. The doctor's expression shifted to one of thoughtful concentration, as if he were suddenly considering his situation.

"The shendul . . . while I appreciate your sympathetic offer, Sub Commander, I will need time to decide. Thank you."

Making another slight accepting nod, T'Pol turned back to the door, and for the first time, Franklin found herself feeling some warmth towards the Science officer.

Later that day, Franklin made an excuse to visit T'Pol when they were both off-duty. The ship's database had no information about Phlox's homeworld. let alone customs, and she was curious as to why the doctor had turned down the sub commander's offer.

T'Pol received her with a slight pursing of her lips, but no real surprise. She invited Franklin in, and the elevated heat of the cabin's temperature brushed against her face. The decor was unexpectedly lovely, with candles and incense gracing the cabin. Most stunning of all was large photo of ochre desert against one wall.

"You are here in regard to the doctor," T'Pol stated. Franklin nodded. The Vulcan gestured for Franklin to sit, which she did.

"I want to help him, and I want to know what a shendul is. Is it a memorial service of some sort? A penitence?" T'Pol nodded.

"Perceptive of you, lieutenant. shendul is memorial of another's life, highlighting the achievements through symbolic reenactment. It lasts for a day, and touches on major phases of an individual's life. Phlox will re-create his father's achievements for a day if he follows the proscribed ritual."

"I see." Franklin closed her eyes for a moment. "You offered to help him--can you?"

"I could, if he had chosen me, represent the others that touched his father's life. Other members of his family would normally do that for him, but Enterprise will not be returning in time for Phlox to participate in the ceremony on his home world." A hint of sadness in T' Poll's voice came through; Franklin looked up to see the Vulcan studying her.

"You care for him." again, it was a simple statement. Franklin bit her lower lip, but T'Pol continued. "Good. It is important for him to perform the shendul soon. Grief accumulates in those of his race. Without the final touchstone of shendul, he will suffer. Are you willing to help him with this ritual?"

"Yes."

"Then I will have the pertinent files downloaded to your quarters." T'Pol managed a lighter tone, adding, "I hypothesize that by the time the doctor is ready for your assistance, you will be fully versed in the ceremony."


Two days later, Franklin watched Phlox go through the buffet line. He was pale. The plate he held was nearly empty. She sidled up to him and earned a brief nod as he caught her eye.

"You're not eating."

"Which one of us is the doctor?" he chided lightly. April nodded. She gently laid a hand on his sleeve and murmured,

"I just wanted you to know that if you need me for your greater father's shendul, I would be honored to participate."

Phlox shot her a piercing glance of mix of relief and gratitude; Franklin pinkened. Steering them to a table, the doctor set the empty plate down and spoke urgently.

"To be honest, you were my first choice, but I wasn't sure how to approach you."

"We're friends." she replied simply. "I'd be humbled to share in the memorial of your greater father."

"Thank you." Phlox flashed a smile of sincerity. He looked down at the nearly empty plate, absently rolling a grape under one finger. "Do you know anything about a shendul?"

Three hours of reading had given Franklin enough confidence to nod.

"I know that you'll be symbolically reliving high points of his life- -one meal for all the meals he ate, one new skill for all that he learned-- that sort of thing. It seems that a lot of the ceremony depends on the individual involved."

"You're right, of course," Phlox admitted, visibly pleased at her response. Emboldened, Franklin took the grape from his plate and ate it. She spoke up.

"So when did you want to perform this service?"

"Starting tomorrow morning I think . . . This won't be a full and formal shendul, but we should have all we need right here on Enterprise."

"Are you ready?" Phlox smiled at Franklin, who nodded. They were sitting across from each other at a table in the biology lab. By way of an answer, Franklin smoothed her braids back and nodded. Phlox took a deep breath and hummed a long note.

"The life of my greater father Dovox began on an afternoon in the time of Petang," he chanted. "His was an easy joyous birth, and his fathers were well pleased."

Franklin copied the long humming note.

"Dovox, his mother and two fathers are honored and remembered this day, " she chimed in her husky contralto, holding out her hands. Phlox gently set an egg into it. The warm shell quivered in her palm; Phlox wrapped his hands around hers, helping to cup it. She watched with fascination as the egg began to roll in jerky movements. Phlox's hands were warm and strong a tiny triangular hole appeared on the shell and April grinned. Across from her, Phlox grinned too.

"Here it comes--"

"The beginning of life . . ." Phlox lightly shook his head. "I never tire of its marvel."

Within a few minutes, the baby chick had managed to crack through the shell cupped in their hands. It staggered, bumping into the fragments before rising on tiny feet and chirping feebly. April held it gently, looking it over.

"And so one birth stands for that of Dovox, and all of us who came after," Phlox chanted. He stroked its head with a finger before scooping it out of her hands and carrying to the environment box with the other chicks.

The rest of the day kept a mystical tone for Franklin as Phlox had taught her games from his childhood, songs from his planet and fed her foods from his culture. Always, they chanted the litany to Dovox before each new activity, and in the course of the hours she could see Phlox begin to regain his optimistic nature. Between ceremonial milestones, they had talked--more intimately and openly than they had before--about their lives. By the time evening came, quiet satisfaction suffused them both. They shared the meal to Dovox in the relative quiet of Sickbay.

"You do have a first name, don't you?" she asked as they picked up the dishes from the ceremonial meal. Phlox nodded, grimacing the way people do when they are reluctant to admit something.

"It's Lowyndovonar," he admitted. Franklin managed not to laugh, but he caught a glimpse of her face and sighed. "Go ahead . . . even by Denobulan standards it's unwieldy and pretentious. "

"It's--different. Did you have a nickname?"

"Not really. We often use our Family names and I did so as soon as I could." He told her with resignation. Franklin looked in her wineglass.

"Maybe you need a nickname. Phlox is fine for everyday use, but once in a while someone might want to call you something less formal, you know."

He arched an eyebrow at her. "That sounds suspiciously flirtatious." Franklin blushed again, this time her face going pink under her mocha- colored skin, but she lifted her chin and refused to be cowed.

"Just my bluntness again--after all, on earth, Phlox is a groundcover plant."

"Nothing wrong with that. The ground needs covering." Phlox pointed out as he refilled their wineglasses. Franklin shook her head, her braid beads softly clinking. She took a sip as he added,

"Of course, if you gave me one, then it would fit in nicely with the shendul. My greater father was a generous man." He sat down next to her and waited.

"Hmmmm. A gift for all gifts given and received. All right. A lot of nicknames are diminutives . . .Lo, Lowyn, Lodov, Dovonar--" she hummed out thoughtfully. Phlox pursed his mouth into a smile, and Franklin knew from the expression that she'd said something funny.

"What? What is it?"

"Lodov. In Nausican, that translates to murderer. Not good auspices for my medical practice."

"Ooh, right. Well what about Lowyn?"

"Lowyn--" Phlox cocked his head thoughtfully. Emboldened by proximity and wine, Franklin reached a hand to his face and ran two fingers over one of the occipital ridges that framed his cheekbone. Instinctively he turned his face to her hand, pressing his cheek against the caressing palm. Franklin held her breath.

Finally, with visible reluctance, Phlox pulled away from her touch. His voice was husky.

"It is a fine gift, April Franklin. So one gift stands for all that Dovox gave or received to the joy of those who came after."

Tears prickle her eyes; she moved to wipe them. Phlox handed her a dinner napkin and watched.

"Sorry--" she snuffled.

"Your tears are welcome. I have yet to shed mine," he told her kindly. "It is time to walk."

In the last hours of the night, Franklin silently strode beside the doctor down the corridors of Enterprise. They kept pace, not speaking, choosing turns and paths a random. Tears were running down Phlox's face, blue streaks that sparkled as they slid down his cheeks. Franklin could sense the residual sorrow draining out of him with every step. They meet no one else, and the comforting sounds of the ship filled the quiet.

Finally Phlox stopped, and sleepily, Franklin realized they had reached her cabin door. He turned to her.

"You have done me a great service, April Franklin, and in Dovox's memory I thank you. Now as your physician, I advise that you sleep for the next ten hours or so."

"Don't I get a kiss goodnight?" she asked without thinking. Slightly startled, Phlox's eyes widened with amusement, but having spoken her thoughts, she met that gaze.

"If you wish."

"I wish," she told him firmly. Before her courage failed her, Franklin leaned forward and gently pressed her mouth to his. It was a soft graceful kiss that lingered until they finally broke apart, and Franklin could see that Phlox was as moved by it as she was.

"Oh my," came her sigh.

"My thoughts exactly," He whispered.


The tenor had changed; both of them sensed it in the undertone of their time together. Franklin found herself constantly aware of the doctor's presence in Sickbay; Phlox's voice took on a softer tone when he spoke to her. But neither of them seemed to know what to do or say to breach the new awkwardness that stood between them. Stiffly, they managed their daily routines as a week passed. Finally, Phlox pushed himself away from the research station and rubbed his eyes.

"I've been reading this enzyme analysis for twenty minutes and still have no idea what it says." he announced. Across the room, Franklin looked up from the eels she'd been weighing.

"Maybe you need a break," she replied cautiously, scooping the cold invertebrate off the scale and gently setting it back in the petri dish it came from. Phlox sighed and stood up.

"What I *need*, April, Franklin, is a frank discussion with you." The statement hung in the air for moment, sending both a chill and a surge of delight though Franklin's body. Slowly she wiped her hands off and turned around to find Phlox there, his expression serious. He cleared his throat.

"It is obvious that we are uncomfortable around each other now, and I need to discover if it is for the same reasons or not."

Franklin gave a crooked smile. "I don't know, Lowyn--You go first."

Phlox drew in a breath. "Very well. My discomfort stems from the fact that I'm attracted to you."

Franklin moved closer, crossing into the delicate barrier of personal space.

"How attracted?" she demanded breathlessly. Phlox swallowed hard before admitting,

"Very."

"--Good." Franklin breathed into his face. Her voice dropped into a whisper as she let her lips graze against his cheek. "Because I'd hate to think I was the only one feeling that way." Her arms slid around him; Phlox eagerly enveloped her in a hug and they stood that way for a while, not speaking, simply basking in the contact.

Finally Phlox spoke, his words muffled against Franklin's temple.

"If we were on Denobula, this would be the point in our courtship that I would physically submit myself to your inspection. My culture has a pragmatic approach to relationships, and since our society is traditionally biased to favor the female, we still maintain that it is entirely your sex's prerogative to accept me or not."

Franklin looked up into his face.

"Inspection . . . as in looking over your--"

"--Naked body, yes." He shrugged. "How else can you make an informed decision?"

Franklin looked slightly startled; her eyes widened as she realized Phlox was calmly waiting for an answer.

"Ah--all right. I'm pretty sure I could handle a--visual confirmation-- of your qualifications," she told him. The doctor reluctantly loosened his hug.

"If this is distressing for you--"

"No, no--I'm looking forward to it." April admitted sincerely. "It will make for an interesting first date."

Phlox took her face in his hands, looking intently at her, his expression flickering between hope and solemnity.

"It is my fondest wish that you will find me desirable, April Franklin, but I will bear it if you do not."

She shook her head impatiently at this foolish notion and laid a hand on his mouth before he could speak again.

"I already find you desirable. What I need to find is more about Denobulan culture. I really don't want to screw this up, Lowyn--"

"Rest assured you can't, " came his smiling response. "I've given your cabin monitor access to several databases stored here in Sickbay. When you are ready to receive me--you have but to call."

With that, he gently tweaked her nose and walked back to his enzyme report.


So Franklin curled up in her cabin and read, leaving Phlox to tend to the specimens and patients in Sickbay. Twice in the following days she emerged, bleary-eyed to make her way through the buffet lines and carry back plates. Afterwards she slept the deep and dreamless sleep of the weary, a small smile on her lips.

A soft knock at her door; Franklin let out the breath she'd been holding. Lightly she called, "come in," and bit her lips. The door hissed open, revealing Phlox standing there, arms crossed behind his back.

"Welcome to my cabin." She gestured over her shoulder at the tiny quarters, but Phlox barely noticed it, keeping his attention on her as he stepped over the doorsill. He took a deep breath, his neon blue eyes glowing.

"Lilac?"

"Yes. My mother makes the extract for her shop in Atlanta. Do you like it?" she asked, knowing the answer already by the look on his face. Phlox gave slow nod. Franklin reached for his hand and tugged, pulling him over to the Spartan chairs in the room. He followed her willingly and sat. Franklin circled behind him and stood.

"So--" she began, reciting from memory. "You, Lowyndovonar Phlox seek to be my lover."

"Yes."

"And will accept my decision be it in your favor or not."

"Yes."

Franklin sighed deeply and came back in front of him, sitting herself down.

"Then show me."

Slowly, Phlox stood and reached for his collar, unfastening it. He pulled the tunic over his head in one smooth motion, leaving his tangled hair flaring over his shoulders. Franklin waited.

With no motion wasted, the doctor slipped out of the rest of his uniform, gently draping the clothing on Franklin's chair arm. Once he was finished, he stood quietly managing a calmness that completely escaped Franklin. Enough blushing heat radiated from her face to bring the cabin's temperature up by a few degrees. She coughed.

"Wow, It's . . ."

Phlox glanced down and shrugged as Franklin managed to get to her feet and step towards him. She tentatively reached a hand out; he made a small gesture of acquiescence that reassured her. She touched the hollow at the base of his throat.

"I didn't think you would have any chest hair . . ." Franklin whispered in fascination. Phlox closed his eyes as she let her fingertips slide though the soft down between his nipples. Her other hand lightly caressed his gilled ear. He shivered, and Franklin drew away in concern.

"Did I hurt you?"

"No . . ." His hoarse reply spoke volumes about the degree of self- control and the sound of it made her shudder herself.

Boldly, Franklin circled around him, ran her hands over his shoulders, up the back of his neck, down his ribs, letting her palms learn the warm consistency of his skin. By the time her questing strokes reached his hips, she could hear his slightly labored breathing. Franklin hesitated, wondering if she dared put his submission to the test. Her hand slipped down, sliding around the heavy silken mass, toying with the segmented ridges that ran down the considerable heft of it. Phlox was holding his breath, she realized, his eyes closed, but he was losing his concentration, with a seductively interesting result.

In truth, Franklin knew that her own breathing was now erratic, and her stroking, caressing fingers seemed to have a will of their own. She lifted her face to his, huskily whispering,

"--Archer to Phlox," the jarring interruption startled them; Franklin half-turned to cast accusing eyes on the pocket of the tunic draped on the chair arm. Phlox reached for it with ill grace.

"Captain," he snapped brusquely.

"Doctor, we've got a medical emergency on the bridge."

"On my way." Phlox shuddered a moment, and swiftly began to dress. He cast a rueful look at Franklin, who stood watching him.

"Come back. Whatever the hour, Lowyn, please return to me."

"Since you have not passed judgment, I must." he promised, pulling on his tunic. With a last longing glance at her, he left the cabin.


Within twenty minutes Phlox was back.

"A circuit overload on the bridge left Lieutenant Mayweather with some minor second degree burns on his arms," he reassured her. "Nothing serious."

"Good." Franklin replied awkwardly. "I'm glad." She took Phlox's hand and guided him to one of the chairs, gesturing for him to sit, then cleared her throat.

"Before I tell you whether I want you for my lover, I want you to see something."

"What?"

"Me, " she confessed gently. "I respect your culture, but I don't think it's right . . ." Franklin slid the straps of her dress down, ". that you don't get the same chance to know what you're getting." The silk slid off her body with a whispery rustle, landing in a pool of cloth at her feet. Startled, Phlox drew in a deep breath. Franklin inclined her head; the long braids cascading over her shoulders, the beads on the ends softly clicking together. She waited.

"April . . ." he breathed. She stepped close enough for her smooth thigh to brush the back of his hand.

"It's only fair, Lowyn--" she pulled him to his feet, taking his unresisting hands to cup her breasts. The expression on his face made Franklin smile; his lips came down on hers with a fervent sweetness that drew a moan from her. Phlox kissed her harder, and she opened her mouth to his, tasting the heat of his tongue against hers.

Her hands reached for him, tugging, unfastening, freeing him, Phlox broke the kiss long enough to chuckle softly in her ear.

"Slow down, April, slow down. I have no desire to lose a perfectly good uniform to lust."

She rolled her eyes making him laugh again; even as he managed to slip out of his clothes and pull her into his arms. The first press of flesh to flesh was silky and warm; April shuddered with happy anticipation against Phlox, who ran his broad hands down her spine.

"The lilac combined with your skin are intoxicating," he murmured. April licked his shoulder.

"Hmmm, you taste pretty good too." She replied. "Sort of sweet and mild." With a few tugs, she managed to steer him to the bunk and tumble on top of him. The bunk was Starfleet standard size, neither roomy nor soft. Neither April or Phlox cared at the moment, caught up in far more interesting activities.

"So . . . you," Phlox kissed her between words, "have been . . . reading . . . up on Denobulan . . ."

" . . . Culture and physiognomy," she murmured back, her long braids swaying in a curtain around her face. "Oh . . . yeah." April giggled, her hands coming up to lightly tickle the ridges on his face. Phlox groaned lightly.

"Anywhere these are, I have your number," her breathing was a little more forced as his mouth caressed her breasts.

"You do indeed," came his strained reply. "April, you understand that although our bodies are compatible, there are some . . . proportional differences . . ."

"Is that polite way of reminding me you're hung like a horse? I' ve got eyes, Lowyn." She slithered a hand between them, her touch gentle but firm. Phlox responded by cupping her bottom.

"I don't want to hurt you," he admitted, his face a comical study in pleasure and chagrin. April dropped her knees on either side of his hips and rose up, smiling down at him. With deft fingers, she guided his cock, pressing the head of it lightly against her wetness.

"I want you, whether it hurts or not.," she told him simply. Before he could say another word, she pushed herself down in one sensuously slow stroke; the sheer pleasure of the moment made her throw her head back and moan. Phlox's grip on her bottom tightened, a shuddering growl escaped him, and his eyes flared an incandescent blue. April braced her hands on his broad chest and lifted herself again eagerly, a soft sigh punctuating each stroke. Faster and faster she moved; Phlox lifted and pulled her with gentle strength until moments later when she writhed, braids whipping around her shoulders as she reached her climax.

She reached down, cupping his face in her hands; at her touch, Phlox spasmed, arching up, hands sliding up her back, pulling her down to him. Blue tears slid down the sides of his cheeks to drop in his tangled hair. April felt their heartbeats pressing against each other. She sighed, and they held each other for a long time.

"Lowyn?'' came her low whisper. Stiffly, she slid off of his stomach and shifted to the left side, wedged between him and the wall.

"Yes love?" he murmured, his voice soft and content. April slid an arm across his chest; he took the hand and kissed the palm.

"I'm getting cold . . ." He reached for the blanket at the foot of the bed, draping it over themselves before he rolled over to face her and spoke again.

"Now what did you really wish to say, April?" he demanded gently. She met his eyes.

"Lowyn, I know we both have busy duty schedules, and sometimes life here on the Enterprise can get hectic with all sorts of crisis situations which makes it hard to have private lives . . . I--" her hand toyed with his chest.

"Yes?"

"I want you to consider . . . maybe moving in with me."

"No."

She stiffened until he continued, "April, I have the larger quarters and enough space for a real bed. As your lover, it's my duty to provide these things for you."

"Really?" the relief in her face startled him; he urgently pressed a kiss to her mouth.

"Only if you accept my offer--the choice is always yours."

"I choose," she grinned. "I am truly appreciating your culture, Lowyn." drowsily, she draped a leg over him, and burrowed into his shoulder. He held her and dropped off to sleep himself.


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