Spoilers: Major for Shuttlepod One, very minor to Unexpected.
Archive: Warp 5 complex, anyone else please ask first.
Beta: None, so all suggestions and comments welcolmed.
Summary: The boys are safe and sound after SP1, but have a few things to sort out.
A/N: The obligatory Shuttlepod One T/R fic. No home should be without one!
Malcolm lingered outside Commander Tucker's - Trip's - quarters, arguing with himself over whether he should ring the doorbell. It hadn't really been a conscious decision to get even this far; he'd heard that Trip had finally been released from sickbay and suddenly found himself in the corridor in front of the other man's door, with only the briefest detour to his own cabin first. He was going to take Trip a little get well soon present.
It all seemed so silly now though, a daft gesture. A waste of the Commander's time, too. He was probably asleep anyway, Phlox had been very clear with his instructions to both men: complete bed rest, off duty for the rest of the week. Of course, Trip was in a far worse state than Malcolm, which explained why the Lieutenant had found himself running combat simulations in the Armoury three hours after his own release from Phlox's domain, rather than resting as prescribed. Or at least that's what Malcolm told himself. Truth was he just couldn't stand the thought of lying alone in his quarters trying to pretend that his time freezing and slowly asphyxiating in Shuttlepod One had been an adventure and not the single most terrifying experience of his life.
And if Trip felt anywhere near the same then he could do with the company. So that, as they say, decided that. Malcolm jabbed his thumb resolutely onto the chime button.
"S'open," Trip called, his voice muffled through the bulkhead.
Malcolm pressed the door release, and as the door whooshed open he took a steadying breath, clasped his gift a little tighter behind his back and stepped inside.
"Hello, Commander." Trip was sat up on his bunk; his back against the far wall, one of the foil-like ThermoBlankets Phlox had dug out of storage wrapped snugly around his shoulders. "I hope I'm not bothering you?"
Trip grinned beneath a face full of blonde scrubby stubble. "Hell no, Malcolm. You know, I've had half the crew traipse through here in the last few hours - been gettin' more tired openin' the door every two minutes than I woulda in Engineerin'," he laughed, "that's why I figure the open door policy is the way o' the future. Anyhow the only person I really wanted to stop by was you."
Malcolm tried not to look quite as surprised, and hopeful, as he felt. "Me?"
"Sure. I know the Doc reckons you're fine an' all, but I kinda wanted to see for myself, you know?"
Malcolm smiled a little sheepishly. "Why do you think I'm here?"
"Maybe to take me to the prom?" Trip replied with a glint in his bright blue eyes that belied his deadpan tone.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Well the last time a guy showed up on my doorstep hiding somethin' behind his back and looking kinda awkward it was Lizzie's prom date. Now, I don't live with my sister anymore... so, chocolates or flowers? Just please don't let it be a bottle of bourbon." He cocked his head, thinking about his last statement and grinned as he amended it, "Leastways not for a few more days."
"Uh, actually none of the above. It's just, well, nothing really," Malcolm brought his hand out in front of him, and displayed several sheets of multicoloured paper to Trip.
"Can't see. C'mere." Obligingly Malcolm stepped closer to the bed. "Geez, Malcolm, sit down. You make the place look untidy."
Malcolm's snort of derision wasn't even nearly concealed. "I make the place untidy? At least I shaved."
"Hell, we're not back on that again, are we?" Trip countered, scratching at his chin. "It'll be gone by the time I'm back on duty."
"I rather assumed you'd be ready and raring to get back to your precious engine."
"Hess can cope. I still feel a bit... I don't know... aren't you cold?" Trip finished his question with a shiver that couldn't have been timed better. He hugged the blanket closer, his bright blue eyes seeking reassurance from his friend.
"Bloody freezing," Malcolm admitted with a grimace. "I'm wearing half my wardrobe under my uniform."
"Thought you looked fatter, just didn't like to say."
"How kind. You know, Phlox says we're not really cold, it's just our brains not being able to adjust to the fact that we're -"
"Safe. Warm. Breathing," Trip interrupted. "I know; he gave me the same lecture. Didja also get the 'alcohol is contraindicated in cases of hypothermia' one?"
"Oh yes. And whilst we're on the subject of medical misconceptions, apparently hair and nails do not grow after death, it's the skin that retracts."
"Get off it already!"
Malcolm chuckled, "Okay, okay. Subject closed, promise."
"So what did you bring me?" He reached out took the forgotten paper from Malcolm's hand. "You're kidding! Superman?"
"Laced with metaphor. Layer upon layer of subtext," Malcolm said dryly.
"But how? I mean, a real comic book... I'm sure someone woulda mentioned if we'd passed a shopping mall recently."
"It's mine. Not an original obviously, a reproduction. A friend of mine at school used to get them and swap them for bits and pieces at breaktime. My father didn't approve of comics, thought they were a waste of time. He threw the rest out one evening when I was at Scouts, but I had that one with me at the time so it survived the cull."
Despite complaining of the lingering cold feeling, Malcolm felt himself blush red hot. He generally avoided talking about his childhood, precisely because it was an era filled with stories about his parents trying to mould him into something he wasn't, either by removing things he cherished or forcing him into situations he loathed. It always seemed to sound so terribly pathetic when told to someone who hadn't endured his upbringing, and if there was one thing that his parents had very successfully instilled into him it was a sense of pride. He hated those 'poor dear' looks people gave him if he mentioned that he'd never been very close to his family, but then he'd told Trip that on the Shuttlepod and Trip, well, maybe he had misread the man, but it looked like he understood.
"And you kept hold of it since." There was no mockery or incredulity in Trip's voice and it wasn't a question as the answer was obvious, just words marking time as he contemplated something. "So all that stuff you said...?"
"I always promised I wouldn't turn into the insufferable snob my father is. Seemed to happen without my realising it though. He only ever judges people on three criteria: accent, education and career. He sent me away to school in England to combat the first two. Third's been something of a sticking point between us though."
"What's he got against Starfleet?"
"It's not the Navy."
"Well, no." Trip shrugged.
"That's it." Malcolm sighed, half wondering how Trip made it so easy to venture into this uncomfortable territory but disinclined to stop now. "It doesn't matter what I do anymore. I was proud when I got assigned to Enterprise, but to my parents it was totally inconsequential. It makes no difference if I'm on Earth, Jupiter Station or the flagship of the Fleet to them. All they hear is 'not the Navy' and the rest they tune out."
"Why?" Malcolm snapped free of his gloom and turned an accusatory glare on Trip. "Why in God's name should you be sorry for me? I don't need your pity, Mister Tucker."
"Hey now, that's not what I meant. I don't pity you. You're real good at what you do, they should be proud to be your parents." Malcolm looked away, embarrassed. He wasn't embarrassed by Trip's assertion that his parents should be proud - he'd heard that line before and it had never really rung true - but he felt awful for sniping at Trip. And worse still when he heard Trip's next, softly spoken, comment: "I know I'm proud to be your friend."
Unable to look the man in the face, Malcolm tried to lighten the mood with a rather strained attempt at levity. "Even though I threatened you with a phase pistol?"
"Or because you threatened me with a phase pistol. Took guts Malcolm, a coward would have let me go, saved himself." Malcolm chanced a look at Trip, but the older man was staring out the window to the stars that streaked past endlessly. When he spoke again his tone was subdued, "Or maybe a coward would have tried to kill himself quick before it all got too unbearable."
"You weren't a coward, Commander." Malcolm winced as he heard the accidental formality of his tone, but if Trip noticed he made no sign of it.
"I was. You said so yourself at the time." He waved his hand, dismissing Malcolm's unspoken rebuttal. "I didn't want to have to deal with the reality of our slow and painful deaths. I just wanted it all over. Finished. I tried convincing myself over and over that it'd all be alright and when I started to think that it wasn't I was gonna give up. I'd have left you on your own to deal."
"But you didn't," Malcolm said with conviction.
"You had a phase pistol trained on me!"
The memory of those few fleeting seconds back on the Pod sprang unhappily to mind. Their situation had been desperate, and Malcolm knew that Trip would have sacrificed himself given the opportunity. It had frightened him more than he would ever care to admit to see the odd combination of despair and determination in the usually warm eyes of his friend. And it touched him more than he would ever know how to admit that Trip was willing to do that for him. It wasn't fair though; to let Trip beat himself up over one foolish, quixotic, terrified moment.
"I was so bloody cold - not to mention plastered - even if I could have pulled the trigger my aim would have been shot to buggery."
Trip stared at him for a moment, before there was a flicker of understanding and a weak version of the famous Tucker Smile. "Good bluff then."
"Thank you." Malcolm shuffled uncomfortably on the bed. "I did mean what I said though. I would rather have had Enterprise find us both dead. I wasn't convinced they'd find us in time but, whichever way it was going to go, I didn't want to be alone."
Trip's smile powered up to a more reassuring level. "Yeah, well, no one died. We're both okay."
"Yeah," Malcolm agreed. "Cold. But okay."
"So, you wanna share?" Trip extended his arm, holding out his blanket like a wide silver wing, "You can help me read my comic. There might be long words in it." He grinned the grin that saw so many people write off Starfleet's finest engineer as a redneck hick.
"I don't want to intrude."
"Lieutenant Reed, get your butt over here now. I might not be as alluring as T'Pol and her 'awfully nice bum' but seeing as she ain't ever gonna give you a second glance you may as well spend some time with me."
Malcolm didn't need more prompting. Trip wasn't T'Pol but that didn't mean he didn't have an allure of his very own. He shifted around and scooted up the bed until he was tucked in against Trip's side, the older man's arm draped over his shoulders. It was more comfortable there than he'd ever have guessed, and it wasn't just the warmth of Trip's body heat still trapped under the blanket, it was the lazy hug, the companionable silence. It had been years since he'd been as close either physically or emotionally as he was to Trip then.
"There's one thing I've been meaning to ask you though, Malcolm."
"Just who the hell is Stinky?" Malcolm groaned, hanging his head. "Hey now, c'mon, Malcolm. It must have been some dream to have you talking aloud like that, and making such an effort to change the subject and distract me after." He leaned heavily into Malcolm, a sort of conspiratorial nudge, squeezing his shoulder. There'd be no escape now.
"I obviously didn't do a good enough job in distracting you."
Trip shook his head emphatically. "Spill, Reed."
With a heavy sigh Malcolm did as he was told, "Me."
"Me. I'm 'Stinky'." Trip let out an explosive snort of laughter that Malcolm could feel ripple though his body. "Okay, now I really need more information."
"It was a dream about waking up on Enterprise having been rescued. We were on biobeds in sickbay and the Sub-commander was telling me how brave I was in rescuing you, and I told her my nickname was 'Stinky' and it made her smile." Malcolm finished rattling off his brief explanation, knowing full well how ridiculous it sounded, and questioning again how Trip got through his defences so effortlessly. "She has a very pretty smile," he added, in a vain attempt to explain his reasoning.
Frowning, Trip said, "You chatted up T'Pol with me lying right there next to you?" He picked at the tie on his robe, unfathomably avoiding Malcolm's scrutiny. "I mean... in the same room? Most people woulda imagined a beach at sunset or something..."
"I really was quite preoccupied with the thought of us getting back to safety at the time."
"Yeah well, why T'Pol anyway? Alright, so she has a fine ass, but she's Vulcan, Mal, she's not gonna smile no matter what crazy nickname you christen yourself. I just don't get it. If you wanna be with someone you gotta... click with them. Your personalities have to spark. Don't you think?"
Trip's gaze held Malcolm's, daring him to disagree, but there was something else there as well. A message was displayed in those bright blue eyes, a longing that made Malcolm's breath hitch when he deciphered it. Surely Trip couldn't mean him?
"So..." Malcolm began hesitantly, "is there anyone on board who you feel you 'click' with?"
Trip's mouth opened but no words were forthcoming, he closed it again, shook his head and looked away. Malcolm was at a loss for what to do. Here he was practically cuddling the man but all communication seemed to have halted; and just when the communication seemed to be leading them somewhere.
"Don't think I've ever heard you call me that before. Sure beats 'Mista Tucka' though," Trip said, in a passable attempt at mimicking Malcolm's clipped accent. "You always make that sound like some kinda insult."
"I'm sorry about that. I don't mean it to sound insulting." At Trip's questioning look Malcolm smiled, relieving the tension between them. "Well, sometimes..."
"Well, I probably deserve it. Sometimes."
"You haven't answered my question," Malcolm pressed. If Trip did have feelings for him then now was the time to act, before they got back on duty, back to being Commander and Lieutenant and it all felt too odd. "Whether there's someone on Enterprise you'd like to get to know better?"
"There is. But they're not interested. Already got their sights set on someone else, someone who couldn't be any more different to me"
"That doesn't necessarily mean anything though. Maybe it's just a crush, an infatuation. Sometimes it's preferable to fantasise about someone who you know'll never be interested, so that when they ignore you in real life it doesn't hurt as much. Like having a crush on a teacher at school, if they did make a pass at you you'd go running, yes? It's different from having genuine feelings, like you said. A rapport."
"T'Pol's an infatuation?"
"Good God, yes!" Malcolm said, "I couldn't imagine growing old with her, or just lying in on a Sunday morning watching the Newscast with her."
"Or having a little Malcolm Reed Junior?"
"I wouldn't inflict that name on a child! But quite honestly I've never envisaged having children."
"I think you'd make a good dad."
"Doubtful, but that's not what I meant. The thing is, whilst I have a deep appreciation for the female form, I always imagined the person I would spend my life with would be a man." Malcolm paused, waiting for a reaction from Trip. There was none. He seemed to all intents to have simply stopped, and was statue-like beside Malcolm. "So biologically speaking it'd be a bit of a problem. Trip?"
"There are ways round these things, you know Mal." He spoke softly, clearly gathering courage, "Adoption, surrogacy, Xyrillians..." Finally turning back toward Malcolm, he smiled, his eyes twinkling. "Like I said on the shuttle, I fully expect a Charles Tucker the Fourth one day, whoever I choose to spend my life with."
Malcolm felt his heartbeat pick up the pace in his chest, a knot of expectation forming inside him. "So, who'd you have in mind?"
Trip tightened his embrace under the blanket. "Isn't it obvious?"
Bringing his hand up to find Trip's on his shoulder, he clasped it reassuringly. "It's been obvious for a while, I just thought I'd better hear you say it before I risked another charge of insubordination and kissed you."
"What are you waiting for then? Kiss me already!" Trip laughed, though it was cut short by the lips that locked on to his.
The kiss was slow and languorous, exploring each other with all the time in the universe. It was so enjoyable that it took Malcolm some time to realise how uncomfortable it was to be twisting sideways into it. Barely breaking contact, Malcolm swung himself round to straddle Trip, his knees either side of the other man's hips.
"Comfy?" Trip asked, amused, as he felt Malcolm's weight press him heavily against the mattress. He cupped Malcolm's firm backside and pulled him closer.
"Uh huh," Malcolm answered, tracing Trip's fuzzy jaw line with a string of kisses.
"'Cause I think you're sittin' on your comic book..."
Malcolm paused in his ministrations, to a disappointed grunt from his partner, and shifted enough to pull the crumpled comic out from under him and toss it to the floor beside the bunk. "Sod the comic. Who needs to read about a grown man parading around with his underwear on show when one can be physically stripping a grown man down to his underwear? That is if you're not too cold?"
"Oh," Trip replied, already fumbling with the zipper on Malcolm's uniform, "I can think of a few ways to keep us warm that we didn't come up with on the Shuttle. Want me to show you?" And with that he pulled Malcolm into a deep, searing kiss.