What a night! Porthos, I'm glad you'll listen to me, because I don't know who else I can talk to about any of this. And I sure as hell can't sleep.
It didn't start off so badly. Since Malcolm had a late shift, I thought maybe Trip and I could spend the evening with a few beers watching the Stanford/UCLA quarter-finals. Since the two of them got together, Trip doesn't have too much time left for kicking back with his old friend.
He didn't answer his comm, and I finally tracked him down in one of the warp nacelles; he said there were some adjustments that he'd been wanting to try out. But he was doing more brooding than engineering. I know Trip well enough to know he's a piss-poor liar. It's why I stopped playing poker with him; it always felt like I was cheating to see his bluffs in his eyes. He was lying now, no doubt about it, and he knew I could tell.
"Let's get the hell out of this cramped space, Trip. You look like you could use a friend. We can talk about it in my quarters over a beer," I told him.
He shook his head and picked up a flux coupler, examining it like he'd never seen one before. I decided I needed to up the ante. "Actually, I've got some great bourbon that I don't want to drink alone. Come on, let's go."
Whether from a long habit of following my orders, even when they weren't really intended that way, or because he knew I wouldn't stop badgering him, he finally agreed. It took a lot more of that bourbon than I expected before he gave me any clue about what was bothering him. I don't think he noticed that I'd barely touched mine.
"I think I'm losin' Malcolm."
That wasn't what I was expecting to hear. I knew he'd never really come to terms with his sister's death in the Xindi attack on Earth, although he was coping with it much better than he had at first. I credited Malcolm for sticking by him even when he was pushing everyone away in his rage. But maybe he'd gotten a message from his family that had opened the wound again.
This was worse. I decided maybe I might need another drink after all, but thought better of it. I needed my wits about me for this one.
"What makes you say that, Trip?"
"I dunno. Something he said last night that I don't think he meant to say."
"Were you arguing over some project of his, or about mission strategy?"
I know that Trip and Malcolm don't see our mission here in quite the same light; Trip's quest to avenge his sister's death worries him. Malcolm knows enough about dealing death to be suspicious of anyone's motives for wanting to do so—especially his own. It's what makes his an invaluable voice amidst the growing militancy at Starfleet Command.
Trip took his time answering. "There wasn't any argument. He just said something that made me think there's someone else he'd rather be with, that's all."
He poured another shot. "Look, can we just talk about something else?"
But I couldn't leave it alone. I kept pushing him, and he finally lashed out at me.
"God damn it, Jon. I don't even know why the hell I'm here talkin' to you about any of this. You want to know what the hell he said, why don't you just go ask him. I'm sure he'd be more than happy to talk to you about it." He slammed his glass down and was out the door before I could say anything else.
I should have just gone to bed. Let the two of them work it out. But I knew I wouldn't sleep.
Porthos and I went for a walk instead. Not to find Malcolm, just to get out of the cabin and try to clear my head. I didn't even go anywhere near his quarters. Some part of me hoped maybe Trip had gone there; maybe they would patch things up.
And I remembered the last time I'd been in Malcolm's quarters. It hadn't ended well. I've had people say 'no' to me before. But it never sounded that hollow. Or so much like 'yes.'
Maybe that was just wishful thinking though, because he and Trip got together not long afterward. They seemed so good together, how could I not be happy for them both. Malcolm had relaxed a bit, smiling and laughing more than I'd ever seen from him. And Trip seemed calmer, less impetuous—at least before the Xindi attack.
I let Porthos lead the way and we ended up in the small observation lounge near the mess hall. Chef sometimes relaxes there during his breaks, and Porthos knows that there are often treats to be begged. No luck tonight, boy. The place was empty.
No. It wasn't empty. A lone figure was curled into the corner of the couch facing the viewport.
Malcolm looked like hell.
I should have left him alone, but Porthos bounded ahead, trotting over to Malcolm and putting a paw on his knee as he did when he was hoping for a treat from Chef. Malcolm stroked his ears and back absently as we exchanged pleasantries.
Okay, this was going to have to come from me. He didn't know I'd even talked to Trip. I sat down awkwardly and cleared my throat.
"I just talked to Trip. He was pretty upset, Malcolm. Is there anything I can do?"
Malcolm's expression was unreadable. His eyes were dark and his mouth was a thin line—there was no trace of the storm-grey pools and sensuous lips that still haunted my dreams sometimes. "I don't believe so, sir. It's just something I have to deal with."
"Well, I think you might need to deal with whatever it is together. Trip thinks he's losing you."
"Is that what he told you, Captain? Did he tell you why?"
"No, just that maybe I should ask you. Malcolm, I didn't come here tonight to meddle in your personal life. I wasn't expecting to find anyone here—Porthos led the way. He was looking for Chef, I think."
"It's all right, Captain. I'm fine; I just couldn't sleep in my quarters so I came up here."
"C'mon, Porthos. Let's head back home; it's past my bedtime too."
I had hoped he would ask me to stay and talk awhile, but it was up to him now. I touched his shoulder lightly as I turned to go.
"Goodnight, Malcolm. I know this is really none of my business, but I want you to know I'm here if you decide you want an ear...or a shoulder."
I was nearly to the door when I heard his soft reply.
"Don't tempt me, Jonathan. Not again."