Despite the gravity of the situation, despite being preoccupied with getting the Captain back in one piece, somewhere in the back of his mind Trip made a mental note. Hours later, with Jon back home and the ship underway again, Trip allowed the memory to come up again.
Malcolm looked really cute when he got to blow something up. There was a manic glee in the little smirk that turned up the corner of his mouth, an expression Malcolm didn't wear often enough.
Trip shook his head at himself. "Cute" and "Malcolm" were not words he ever expected to put together in a sentence. He couldn't imagine Malcolm's reaction to hearing such a thing. He'd probably beat the tar out of the person who said it.
He finished the report log for the day and sat back in his chair. It was almost the end of his shift, and he allowed his thoughts to wander. The past few weeks had been pretty tiring, what with AG dying, the Captain getting kidnapped, and the Cogenitor...
Trip winced, eyes closing briefly. The guilt and the pain were still there, but he was handling them better. The first couple days after had been so awful; he hadn't been sure how to move on. Until Malcolm came to him.
He could still remember feeling Malcolm holding him. Granted, at the time, he wasn't thinking about much but his own pain, but now he could still distinctly recall what it felt like to have Malcolm so close.
Scenes from the past few months flashed before his eyes. The night in Malcolm's quarters, when he was so upset. Malcolm screaming at him in Engineering. Malcolm rolling his eyes at one of Trip's bad jokes.
He owed Malcolm a conversation, about a lot of things. They had never really talked about what happened that night in Malcolm's quarters...although the more time passed, the more Trip wondered if he just imagined the entire thing. But there was still something hanging, unsaid, between them. Trip had been putting it off for too long.
Well, he thought to himself, maybe this was the tomorrow he'd been avoiding. His shift ended, and he decided to go to Malcolm's quarters.
He walked briskly down the corridor, trying not to consider what he was doing. He was afraid if he thought too much, he'd panic—again— and run away, again. So he concentrated on walking.
Trip heard a voice ahead of him, speaking quietly, and he slowed down. As he rounded the corner, he recognized Malcolm. Trip was about to call out to the other man when he heard a new voice.
Malcolm was standing in the corridor, arms folded across his chest. Jessy Giordano was in front of him, eyes were cast down at the floor.
Trip stopped, instinctively feeling that this was a private conversation. He was about to turn around when Malcolm moved. Trip could plainly see Malcolm reach up and gently brush a stray lock of hair back from her face. The intimacy of the gesture startled him.
Jessy looked up at Malcolm with what was obviously an adoring expression.
Somehow Trip forced his body to move. His heart seemed to be stabbing his chest as he silently turned and walked away from the couple in the corridor. He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, while humiliation seethed through every fiber of his being.
At about the time Trip was leaving Engineering, Malcolm had crossed paths with Jessy as he headed for the gym and she headed for the Bridge.
"Good evening, Lieutenant."
"Evening sir. Busy day?"
He shrugged, flipping the towel he was carrying back and forth. "We've been invited to establish a first contact with a new species in a system about two days away." Jessy shot him a look and he shook his head to her unasked question. "They seem peaceful, mostly concerned with trade and mining. I'd like you to review the information from the database, though, and make sure the sensors are calibrated to recognize their ship configurations."
"Yes, sir." She started to walk away, but Malcolm put his hand on her arm and stopped her.
"Are you alright?"
"Of course, sir," she said too quickly.
He folded his arms and simply looked at her for a long moment. Jessy dropped her eyes in defeat. "I'd hoped you'd forgotten like everyone else," she said quietly.
He sighed. "Ordering you into a situation where you nearly died is not something I'm likely to forget, Lieutenant."
She rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth. "For the one hundredth time, Malcolm," she emphasized his first name, "I volunteered. Let it go."
"Somehow I don't think that's going to happen," he said dryly.
She grinned slightly and shrugged. "I hadn't even realized the date until last night." She looked down at her left arm, where underneath her uniform the scar still lingered. "Then it all came rushing back," she said. Her voice trembled slightly. Malcolm unfolded one of his arms and brushed his fingers over her temple, smoothing back a stray piece of her hair. He couldn't think of anything to say, so he merely looked at her, quiet sympathy in his face.
Jessy shook herself back to the present. "To be honest, the thing that's worried me most is that people will start remembering. Someone will decide to hold some sort of anniversary parade in my honor or something."
Malcolm chuckled, refolding his arms.
"As long as that doesn't happen, I'll be fine." Jessy said.
His eyebrows went up and she sighed. 'Fine' was a word they both used so often it had lost all meaning. "I meant I'll be alright."
"You'll tell me if you're not?"
She nodded, and he squeezed her shoulder gently. They headed in separate directions. "Good night, Lieutenant."
A few days later, Trip walked into the gym and paused. Jessy was stretching out on the mat. She looked up and saw him. He hesitated, then went to the bicycles. He nodded briefly at her and then kept his eyes to himself.
Jessy watched him walk in. She saw the cold little nod and frowned. Something was going on with Tucker and she had no idea what. They didn't encounter each other all that often, but she had always liked him and believed they got along well. However, lately he was treating her very strangely. Dan Kowalski, her best friend and the head of the night shift in Engineering, said something seemed to be on the Commander's mind, but Jessy hadn't heard of him being this distant to anyone else.
For several minutes as they both stretched, so did the silence. Jessy watched Trip as he studiously avoided looking at her. She was moving from worry to anger. Whatever she had done, he should at least tell her about it.
She finally went and stood in front of him just as he was about to get on the bike, forcing him to acknowledge her. "Commander?"
"What is it, Lieutenant?" he asked. His voice was harsh. Jessy flinched but she was determined to get to the bottom of this.
"Permission to speak, sir?" she asked formally.
"I'm getting the distinct impression that you're upset with me for some reason, sir. Only I don't know what it is or how to fix it. If there's a problem I'd like you to tell me so that I can address it."
There was a brief silence and a muscle in Trip's jaw worked furiously. "I'm just a little concerned about your relationship with Lieutenant Reed," he said coldly.
Her eyes widened in confusion. "Sir?"
Trip pulled himself up straight, looking down at her. "How exactly would you describe your relationship with Malcolm?"
"We're friends, Commander. Good friends." Her eyes searched his face warily.
He took a half a step forward, into her personal space. "Is that all?"
She refused to back away from him, although her instinct was to duck back. "We've been through a lot together in the past year." Her left hand clenched into a fist unconsciously.
"And that's brought you closer, huh?" he was practically sneering.
Jessy felt her temper start to slip. She wasn't about to let him cheapen her friendship with Malcolm, even if Tucker was the second highest ranking human on board. She fired back. "Lieutenant Reed doesn't trust many people and frankly, neither do I. I'm proud to say that he considers me a friend."
Trip blinked, then suddenly he was turning bright red. He backed away, not looking at her. "I'm sorry, Jess," he said, sounding far more like his usual self.
"Commander?" Jessy was now thoroughly confused. One minute Tucker was practically accusing her of being Malcolm's lover and now he was apologizing?
"There's been some stuff going on with me and I've been taking it out on you. It's not fair. I apologize." He held out his hand. "It won't happen again, I promise."
Jessy stared at him uncertainly for a moment, but Tucker avoided meeting her eyes. Not sure what else to do, she took his outstretched hand.
He gathered up his towel and before she could say anything else, he left the gym.
Jessy looked after him for a long moment, replaying their conversation in her head. Realization dawned and she whispered to herself, "I'll be damned."
The chime rang and Trip opened the door without asking, knowing what was coming.
Malcolm stalked into his quarters, not bothering with a greeting. He whipped around to face Trip. Fury was radiating off his entire body.
"What in hell did you think you were doing? Grilling Giordano about our working relationship? Have you taken complete leave of your senses?" Malcolm barked at him.
Trip flinched. He had half-hoped Jessy wouldn't go to Malcolm about their miserable conversation in the gym, but realistically, he knew better. Now Trip would have to face the consequences.
When Trip didn't answer him right away, Malcolm attacked again. "If you felt something inappropriate was going on between my own second in command and myself you should have come to ME to address it first. You had no business invading Jessy's privacy like that when you hadn't even spoken to me."
The poison drop of jealousy in Trip's veins resurfaced. "Oh, it's 'Jessy' now? Since when did you drop your iron-clad formality with your junior officers?"
"Around about the same time you accused me of having an affair with one of them but didn't have the balls to tell me to my face."
"I never said anything about you having an affair—"
"Oh really?" Malcolm snapped. "Asking about the nature of our relationship? You don't think I could tell where that line of questioning was going?"
"Well, fine. You're here now. You want to tell me what's going on between you two?"
Trip rolled his eyes. "Oh don't give me that. I saw—" he stopped abruptly. He hadn't intended to mention what he had seen in the corridor.
"Saw what?" Malcolm's eyes narrowed dangerously.
Trip sighed, an aching tiredness suddenly overwhelming him. He wanted this to go away. Whatever these feelings were that he seemed to have for Malcolm. All the stupid things he had done because of them in the past few months, the sleepless nights, the worrying. He wanted it just to end.
Malcolm stood there glaring, waiting. Realizing there was no way out, Trip took a deep breath. "I saw the two of you in the corridor the other day." Malcolm stared at him blankly. "You...you were touching her hair." Trip wondered if this entire thing had always been as totally ridiculous as it sounded when he said it out loud.
It took a long minute of thinking before Malcolm could recall what exactly Trip had seen. The righteous anger on his face was replaced with a stunned disbelief. "You've been acting like a jackass towards Jessy because you saw me touch her hair?"
"Um, well..." Trip doubted he'd ever felt quite this embarrassed in his life.
"You're utterly off your rocker, you know that?" Malcolm said wearily. He sat down on Trip's unmade bed and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "Do you remember what happened a year ago last week?" Trip frowned, thinking, but before he could figure it out, Malcolm answered his own question. "The Faicians? The fight, where Jessy nearly died? Where you, if you recall, saved her life."
"Oh..." was all Trip said, comprehension crossing his face.
"Then came the dawn," Malcolm observed sardonically.
"Yes. And she was—"
"I get it now." Trip closed his eyes, praying for a nice temporal disturbance to appear in his quarters and get him out of this mess. They remained quiet for a long minute. Trip searched for the explanation he knew he owed his friend.
"It was just so weird, Malcolm," Trip began. "I just...I've never seen you so...intimate with anyone else on board."
Malcolm gave him a wry smile. "Jealous?" His eyes locked with the engineer's, but Trip knew Malcolm saw the unmistakable shudder that went through his body. Malcolm's eyes went wide.
Trip froze. Yes. Say yes, dammit. Just to see what he does. He forced himself to continue his explanation instead. "The more I thought about it—and then the two of you were in Engineering the other day, laughing about something—it all seemed to fit."
Malcolm got up and walked over to him. "So you concocted a romance between Jessy and myself." His expression became concerned. "Why in heaven's name didn't you talk to me?"
"I didn't want to believe it." He looked away from the intensity in Malcolm's gray-blue eyes.
"That doesn't explain why you were so hostile towards her. "
Trip began to tremble slightly. "I wasn't really angry at her," he said in a low voice.
"Who were you angry at then?" Malcolm's voice matched his.
"You." Liar. "Because you didn't tell me."
"There's nothing to tell." Malcolm stepped away. "Jessy and I are very good friends. You know—" he turned back towards the other man, a catch in his voice. "You of all people Trip, know how hard it is for me to keep my friends."
A new wave of guilt assaulted him. For the first time it occurred to Trip that he might have damaged Malcolm's relationship with Jessy by his stupidity. He had been so wrapped up in his own feelings he hadn't stopped to consider what effect his actions might be having on anyone else. "Oh God, Malcolm, I'm so sorry." Without thinking, his hand closed around Malcolm's upper arm.
They stood still for a moment, Malcolm looking down at Trip's fingers, Trip trying to come up with something to say that would make everything alright again.
Malcolm shook his head, and started to pull away but Trip held on insistently. His heart was hammering like fury but he abruptly wondered what he was so scared of. Embarrassing himself in front of Malcolm? He couldn't do much worse than he had already done in the past 10 minutes.
Malcolm met Trip's eyes, and Trip was startled to see the pleading look on his face. Malcolm shook his head again, muttering, "I can't do this again, Trip." He started to twist his arm out of Trip's grasp.
Malcolm stopped when he felt fingers touch the side of his face. Trip's fingers, brushing against his cheek. He stood still, apparently too shocked to move.
Trip took a deep breath, like he was about to dive under water. "Yes."
"Yes, I was jealous."
Malcolm's eyes widened. Before he had time to say anything else, Trip's lips met his own.
It was just about the most tentative first kiss of Trip's life. He was afraid to push too hard, and Malcolm took his time responding. But when Malcolm's lips parted slightly, and Trip felt the warm breath against his cheek, it felt like his universe had just been altered.
Trip pulled away, breathing deeply. Malcolm's eyes remained shut, forehead resting against Trip's. Trip felt like his entire nervous system was on overload.
He was such a fool. He had made everything so complicated, built the whole situation up into this titanic mess, when it was all so ridiculously simple.
He wanted Malcolm. Heart, soul, and body.
The clarity of it was blinding.
Malcolm opened his eyes for a brief moment, and then Trip kissed him again, with no hesitancy this time. His fingers found their way into Malcolm's hair, his lips and his tongue taking possession of the lieutenant's mouth. Malcolm pressed close in response, giving a small moan of pleasure at suddenly being taken over in this fashion. Malcolm wrapped his arms around Trip's waist, steadying them both.
Oxygen was becoming an issue when the ship-wide comm. sounded and Archer's voice broke them apart. "Senior staff report to the Conference Room, immediately."
The two of them stood for a moment, staring at each other, breathing hard. In unison, they both swore. "Shit."
Trip attempted to collect his thoughts. He gestured at his clothes. "Malcolm, I need to change—"
Malcolm nodded, though his eyes raked up and down Trip's body with obvious intent. He took a steadying breath and moved towards the door. "I'll see you up there."
Trip headed for his closet to grab a fresh uniform. He paused as he realized Malcolm was still in the doorway, looking back at him.
Their eyes met, just for a moment. Trip felt goose bumps break out all over his body as they stared at each other. Malcolm threw him a small half-smile, and then Lieutenant Reed was gone.
Trip yanked off his gym clothes and tried to calm down. Two minutes later, Commander Tucker was on his way to the conference room as well.