Log Rhythms - Season Two
Author's Notes: Many thanks to SueC for her insight into the UK university system. I've played a bit loose with the info she provided based on the wild assumption that after 150 years and the Eugenics Wars things might be a little bit different. ;-)
Trip draped one arm over Malcolm's shoulders as they walked. It was very late and both men were tired after the New Year's Eve festivities. They lazily wended their way toward Trip's quarters.
"So did you have fun?" Trip asked, his words a little slurred from exhaustion enhanced by several beers. He fiddled idly with the harmonica in his hand, turning it around and around and occasionally tapping it against his thigh.
"I did," Malcolm answered, surprised that it was actually the truth. The party in Engineering hadn't been his favorite kind of gathering, but in all honesty no social event involving more than about four people was his kind of gathering.
Malcolm smiled. He knew what his lover was getting at and he couldn't blame him. "Really," he echoed. "The beer, the music—"
Trip snorted in satisfaction.
"—but mostly the company," Malcolm concluded as if he hadn't been interrupted.
They continued along the corridor in silence. Trip yawned hugely. Malcolm couldn't help but yawn in reaction.
"I'm wiped out," Trip announced as they reached the door to his quarters. He keyed open the lock and the two went inside.
Once they were alone in the privacy of the cabin, Trip turned to Malcolm, wrapped both arms around the shorter man, and kissed him soundly. "Happy New Year, Malcolm," he said, smiling lovingly.
Malcolm tried to return the smile with equal warmth, but Trip's words only reminded him of something he had to do. He'd made a promise to himself that after the New Year he would tell his partner what really happened during his crossing with the non-corporeal alien. To tell him what happened back on Earth before I joined Starfleet, he thought.
"Happy New Year to you, too," Malcolm replied, stepping away from him.
Trip's smile faded until it was nearly a frown. "What's up? Are you okay?"
"You don't sound fine." Trip's tone grew suspicious. "You didn't have a good time at the Engineering party, did you?" he challenged, pointing at Malcolm with his harmonica.
"No, I did!" insisted Malcolm. "This isn't about that."
"'This' what? What is 'this' and what is it about?" Trip sat heavily on the bunk and eyed Malcolm critically. "You've been acting kind of weird for days."
Malcolm was unsurprised to learn that Trip had noticed a change in him lately. It was to be expected. "I know. I'm sorry."
"So what's going on?" Trip's tone was concerned and challenging at the same time.
Malcolm regarded him closely. Trip's hair was still fairly tidy, but his beard had grown out to a blond shadow since he'd last shaved early that morning. His blue eyes were tired, but clear and inquisitive. Malcolm could see his tension, too, the nervous fidgeting with the harmonica in his hands. He could also see the fatigue in Trip's face and in the very way he held himself.
I should wait until morning, Malcolm thought, then immediately dismissed the idea. I've waited too long to do this. He approached Trip on the bed, but didn't sit. "Can we talk?"
"Huh? Of course," Trip replied, puzzled and a little concerned. In his experience, no good conversation ever started with those words. He patted the bunk next to him invitingly and finally set aside his harmonica on the nightstand. "Sit down."
Malcolm instead sat at the foot of the bed, as far from his partner as possible without actually crossing the room to the desk chair.
Trip noticed and frowned. "What's going on with you?"
"Do you remember those aliens who tried to take over Enterprise?"
"Which ones?" Trip couldn't help but wisecrack.
Malcolm chuckled. "Fair enough. I meant the non-corporeal life-forms who tried to steal our bodies as well as the ship."
"Oh, those aliens. Yeah, of course I remember them. What's that got to do with–?"
Malcolm held up a hand, stopping his question. "Just let me do this. Please."
Trip's stomach lurched and it wasn't because he'd had too much to drink. "Okay." He wanted to ask all sorts of questions, but nothing he thought of was any better than what he'd already asked. He reined in his curiosity, impatience, and fear as best he could and waited for Malcolm to go on.
Malcolm sat in silence for several moments, collecting and organizing his thoughts. "Do you remember asking me where I'd gone during the crossing?"
"Well, what I told you was only part of the truth. I did go back to that day with my sister," he said reassuringly, wondering if his assurance was for himself or his lover. "But I also went back to another day." He visibly hesitated. Years of practice had kept the events of his past buried deeply in the darkest corner of his mind. Now that he was about to tell the story, he wasn't entirely sure how to go about it.
Trip didn't know what was going on in his partner's head, but he could tell it was hurting Malcolm just to think about it. "You don't have to tell me," he said gently.
"That's what you said then, too." Malcolm chuckled once mirthlessly, a joyless and ironic half-smile curling his lips. "No. I do have to tell you. You said yourself that I've been acting strangely lately. It's not fair to you to keep on like this. You should know what happened."
"No, Trip, it's not okay. I love you and you deserve better than I've treated you."
"You've treated me better than anyone ever has," protested Trip immediately.
Malcolm shook his head. "Not lately. I can't have lately." He continued before Trip could protest again. "I haven't been all here, and you should know why."
Trip thought before nodding again. He knew Malcolm was right. He'd noticed his lover's distraction over the past week or so. There was no denying it, so he didn't try. "All right."
"Do you remember the night you asked me to move in with you?"
"Of course. You promised to think about it," Trip reminded him quickly.
"I did and I have. Before I give you an answer, though, you need the facts. After that you might not want me to move in."
Trip couldn't stand the suspense any longer. "Malcolm, what the hell are you driving at?"
"Rupert Murray." Malcolm felt a weight lift just by saying the name. He'd kept it buried for so long, not even allowing himself to think it, that to finally speak his old lover's name aloud was liberating.
"Who?" Trip was completely bewildered.
"The person whose ass you promised to kick from Earth to Draylax and back again, remember? His name is Rupert Murray."
A light went on inside Trip's head. "The one who hurt you somehow. Hurt you so badly you don't trust people."
Malcolm nodded. "The very one. I met him my first year at university. He was the graduate student T.A. for the theatre course I was taking."
"Theatre?" queried Trip in surprise. "You took an acting class?"
"No," Malcolm corrected. "It was Pre-War Playwrights or something like that. Stoppard, Churchill, Wilson—that sort of thing. I think I took it more to annoy my father than anything else," Malcolm added, his tone full of irony. "But as it turned out I loved it. And of course that was where I met Rupert. He was everything. Handsome, smart, witty." An almost wistful expression overtook Malcolm's face as he began to remember all the good memories he'd locked away along with the bad.
Trip's stomach turned again and he resisted the urge to grab a pillow to hold. He wondered if Malcolm ever looked like that when he thought about the two of them. He couldn't bring himself to ask.
Malcolm went on wryly. "He was my first 'older man'."
"Your first ?" Trip started, but couldn't complete the question. As it turned out, he didn't need to.
"Not my first lover, if that's what you're wondering," Malcolm finished for him.
The look on Trip's face was enough to confirm that this was what he'd thought.
Malcolm shook his head once. "No. I'd had few fumbling encounters and one particular fuck-buddy before that." Trip noticeably started at Malcolm's candid answer, but Malcolm went on without pause. "Kid stuff mainly. You know what it's like when you're young, inexperienced, curious horny."
Trip nodded slightly, a light flush in his cheeks as he remembered his own youthful trysts. "Yeah, I know."
"But with Rupert it was different."
"Hang on." There was something bothering the engineer and he couldn't let his lover go on until he had an answer. "Wasn't it against the rules for a student and a teacher to, you know ?"
"And that would apply to grad T.A.s, too, right?" Trip couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that the Malcolm he knew would ever violate regulations like that.
It was obvious what he was driving at, so Malcolm explained. "Of course, if one were taking a class administered by that T.A. Rupert and I didn't start seeing one another seriously until Summer Term." Malcolm collected his thoughts so he could explain chronologically. "We met Fall Term, but he didn't know I was interested until I took another class simply because he was the teacher's assistant for it. I think that was what won him over, really. I think it appealed to his ego," he added acerbically. "It was a wretched class in Restoration Theatre. I never would have passed it without his help. That was how we really got to know one another—when he tutored me in that course. It was worth slogging through The Country Wife to discover that he was just as interested in me as I was in him. After that I made it a point not to take any class he T.A.'d. It was a shame really. He was an excellent teacher."
Trip had to physically bite his tongue to keep from asking the question that leapt to his mind. Instead, he waited silently for Malcolm to go on.
By then, Malcolm was so caught up in the huge flood of memories that he barely noticed Trip at all.
Summer Term final exams were over, and Malcolm was free for a whole fortnight before Fall Term was scheduled to begin. Normally he would have been expected to visit his family over the break, but his father had just been transferred to New Guinea. Malcolm still could have visited, but the new relocation and the resultant settling in period were excuse enough for him to stay in London. And it meant he could spend the holiday with Rupert.
He walked the few blocks from campus to his tiny flat with a bounce in his step. Reaching the flat, he went inside and unceremoniously dumped his pack on the small table just inside the door. He would put it and its contents away properly later. Right now he was so relieved to have his exams over with that he simply couldn't be bothered.
He glanced at the clock on the clapped-out old cooker. It was a quarter of two. Malcolm had another three hours until Rupert's last exam was over.
"Plenty of time," he said aloud to the empty apartment. I can go shopping for dinner, have a shower, and still make it to Rupert's before he gets in. Malcolm wasn't much of a cook, but there were a few things he could do well and he'd promised Rupert a special end-of-term supper tonight.
They'd been dating for most of Summer Term, although they'd kept their meetings strictly off-campus. Malcolm was careful not to take any of Rupert's classes after the second one that past winter. Spring and Summer Terms had been a bit of a misery as their paths rarely crossed during the day; although both men had agreed it was better they not be seen together on campus until they'd let some time pass since their earlier student-teacher relationship. It wasn't unusual for an undergraduate and a grad student to date, but not when one was in a position of academic authority over the other.
But now it's been long enough we can do what we want, Malcolm thought cheerfully, a broad grin on his young face. He dug into his pack for his wallet and tucked it into the pocket of his jeans. Next, he grabbed a shopping bag from the linen drawer, made sure he had the list he'd written up the previous night, and headed back out into the warm afternoon sun.
"It was at dinner that night that Rupert asked me to move in with him. He said he wanted to make the relationship public," Malcolm explained. Then he paused and pursed his lips. "Well, no," he corrected himself dryly. "What he actually said was that he wanted to 'premier it before the world'." He frowned as his thoughts turned even deeper inward. "At least some things never change."
Trip wanted to know exactly what Malcolm meant, but he said nothing. He didn't know how Malcolm would react to anything he might ask. He couldn't decide if he was more afraid his lover would answer him, or stop his story right there.
Unaware of Trip's silent deliberation, Malcolm took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts once again. "I moved in immediately. It was like a dream at first—cliché as that sounds. His flat was in a fabulous building in Earl's Court—Victorian architecture, but post-war construction. It wasn't a huge place, but compared to my grim little undergraduate flat it was positively palatial. It had a working fireplace and built-in bookshelves that he'd filled with scripts and old theatrical criticism texts and whatnot. Of course I thought the best thing about the place was Rupert.
"He worked a lot. He was a T.A. for two classes every term on top of his own course load. But I didn't mind. I was young and correspondingly stupid. I was drunk on the feeling that comes from having a boyfriend who's something of a status symbol. There I was, barely out of my first year, and I'd bagged myself a graduate student. I thought I was quite the mature adult." He snorted derisively. "Not bloody likely."
Trip finally dared a question. "So what happened?"
"Nothing at first. We settled into a routine that worked well for us. Classes, study, and free time—it all fell into a comfortable, relatively predictable pattern. We managed to take our winter holiday together in Edinburgh that year. Have you ever seen Edinburgh in the snow?" Malcolm asked Trip unexpectedly, turning clear blue eyes on his lover.
Trip's heart skipped a beat. Malcolm looked so happy at this particular memory that it unnerved him a little. He shook his head. "I've never been there," he answered stiffly.
Malcolm smiled nostalgically and continued. "It was brilliant. We rang in the New Year in this tremendous old pub on the Royal Mile. At midnight everyone rushed out into the street to cheer and sing. The castle was in the background, looming and beautiful all at once. Of course nearly everyone in the pub were tourists like Rupert and I," he went on. "New Year's is more of a family holiday in Scotland, I guess." He shrugged. "I was more than happy to be on the opposite side of the planet from my family. All I needed was Rupert. He was wonderful. He was my friend, my lover, my mentor. He took care of me.
"That trip to Edinburgh was our first real vacation together—the first time we'd gotten away from university, away from London for more than a day at a time. I over-romanticized it in my mind; I thought of it as something of a honeymoon." Malcolm shook his head, chuckling sadly and a little fondly at the young man he used to be. He didn't see the way Trip's face tensed and paled at his words, or the way the engineer clutched, white-knuckled, at the edge of the mattress.
"We had a wonderful time that week up until New Year's itself," Malcolm added with a somewhat sheepish tone.
Malcolm and Rupert clinked their pint glasses together one last time, shouting "Sláinte!" and "Happy New Year!" with the rest of the crowd before downing the dregs of their beers. Each had one arm wrapped around his lover's shoulders and they leaned on one another for support and warmth in the cold night air. As one, they stumbled over the cobblestones of the Royal Mile and back into the stuffy and crowded pub.
Once they'd pushed and jostled their way to the bar, Rupert placed his empty glass on it and reached to take Malcolm's from his dangling hand.
"Another round!" the very drunk Malcolm shouted cheerfully.
"I don't think so, baby," Rupert replied as he set the younger man's glass next to his own. "You've had plenty."
Malcolm pouted. "Just one more?" he pleaded, using his best sad puppy dog expression.
Rupert couldn't help but smile at that face, but he didn't back down. "Not tonight," he said gently. "You want to be up and about early enough to see the castle in the morning light, right?"
Malcolm nodded. He vaguely remembered having said something to that effect.
"All right then. No more beer tonight."
They'd run a tab over the course of the evening and Rupert quickly got the bill from the bartender and paid it. Then he led Malcolm—who continued to protest despite his agreement mere moments before—back out into the street, grabbing their heavy coats from the overloaded pegs by the door on their way out. Several of the happy revelers still outside noticed them and laughed, enjoying the sight of someone even drunker than they were. Rupert merely smiled back, giving them all a chagrined look and a one-shouldered shrug. A large, burly man clapped him on the shoulder sympathetically, nearly knocking him, and consequently Malcolm, to the ground. But Rupert managed to keep himself and his burden upright long enough to wend their way out of the throng.
Rupert half carried and half dragged his drunken lover along the Royal Mile for a few blocks. In his other arm, he carried their coats. It was freezing out, but the walk to the hotel was short. The heat they'd built up over a night of drinking would keep them warm enough until they got back.
Malcolm had fallen silent, but when they reached a dark, quiet cross street, he spoke up again.
Rupert stopped, one arm still supporting him. "What is it, baby?" he asked.
"I'm " Malcolm took a deep breath of the icy air, willing his stomach to cease its unpleasant roiling. "I think I'm—" Before he could go on, he vomited.
Quick as a flash, Rupert tossed the coats aside and lowered Malcolm to his knees. Keeping one arm around him, he placed his free hand on Malcolm's forehead, holding him as he continued to retch, spewing up whatever his stomach had to offer.
They knelt there for a minute or two after Malcolm had finally ceased throwing up.
"All right now?" Rupert asked him gently.
Malcolm could only nod weakly in response.
"Okay." He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and used it to wipe Malcolm's face clean. "Think you can make it back to the hotel now?"
Malcolm nodded again, and Rupert helped him to rise. "Sorry," Malcolm mumbled. "Was such a nice time until "
"Shh. It's okay, baby," his lover murmured tenderly, brushing an errant lock of sweat-dampened hair from Malcolm's forehead. "It happens sometimes. No one's angry. Wait here a moment." He leaned Malcolm against the cold stone wall of the nearest building. Then Rupert retrieved their coats and once more wrapped a supportive arm around him.
Together they slowly wended their way back to their hotel. Once there in the quiet privacy of their cozy little room, Rupert carefully washed Malcolm's face and hands, undressed him, and tucked him into bed.
"Sweet dreams, Malcolm," he whispered, planting a soft kiss on the younger man's freshly scrubbed and rosy cheek.
Malcolm managed to groan an inarticulate reply before drifting into welcome sleep.
"Not my finest hour," said Malcolm wryly. "Fortunately I've only ever gotten that drunk that one time. I don't like to lose control like that."
"Nobody does," agreed Trip. "We've all been there at one time or another. I was there more than once back in college." He braced himself mentally before going on in a too-casual tone. "Sounds like you two had quite a time together."
"That's certainly one way of putting it," Malcolm agreed.
He continued his narrative. "We returned to London for Winter Term after that and quickly fell back into our usual routine. We were busy but happy. I studied sciences, for the most part, and worked on fulfilling my required elective credits. Rupert graded papers and read a lot. When he wasn't doing those things, he was researching, writing, or rehearsing. The second Winter Term we were together, he directed a full production as part of his degree. It was The Rivals by Sheridan. That should have told me something right there," he said dryly.
There was another brief pause before Malcolm went on. "We didn't keep our relationship a secret anymore, but we didn't advertise it either. Fortunately, our schedules didn't match up and we almost never saw one another on campus. The two theatre courses I'd taken in my first year were plenty as far as the university was concerned, so I didn't take any more until my final term. That way there could be no question of misconduct if someone from the university questioned us."
Trip wasn't sure if he was impressed or disturbed by the pragmatic way Malcolm seemed to have approached this earlier relationship. "You really thought it all out didn't you?" he said.
"Rupert did," Malcolm corrected him. "And I let him. I was happy to leave the genuine responsibilities to him while I played at being an independent adult."
He paused once more and considered where to pick up his tale. "Looking back, I can see it was around the beginning of our third year together that things began to fall apart. Unfortunately I didn't see it at the time. Who does?" he asked rhetorically.
Malcolm rolled over in the big bed and opened his eyes. His smile turned to a puzzled frown when he discovered he was alone. "Rupert?" he called out, sitting up and looking around the dimly lit room. Late-summer sunlight filtered in around the window blinds. It was going to be a lovely day.
Determining that he was indeed alone, Malcolm rose and pulled his navy blue robe over his naked body. He padded barefoot across the rugs that covered the hardwood floor in a random sort of patchwork and opened the door.
Finding the bathroom and sitting room both empty, he moved on to the kitchen. There he found his lover in the dining nook, hunched over the table that was piled high with datapads and several books. Rupert was in the final stages of finishing his Master's Degree and was correspondingly swamped with study. He didn't move when Malcolm entered the room. He obviously hadn't heard his young lover come in.
Malcolm sneaked up behind him and wrapped his arms around him. "Good morning," he murmured, nuzzling Rupert's ear. "I missed you in the bed."
"Mmmm," Rupert all but purred, leaning back into Malcolm's strong embrace. "Sorry, baby. I couldn't sleep."
Malcolm nipped his earlobe teasingly, taking a moment to gently tug his lover's earring with his teeth. "Studying?"
"Trying. I'm down to the wire."
"I know." Malcolm released his hold and rested his hands on Rupert's shoulders. "The date's been highlighted in red in your calendar for over a year. D'you want me to make you some tea?"
Rupert turned tired eyes on Malcolm and smiled. "That would be splendid." He took Malcolm's hand in his own and kissed it lightly. "Thanks."
Malcolm smiled hugely. He loved to get lost in Rupert's ice-blue eyes. He could easily spend hours just studying the older man's ruggedly handsome face—and he looked even more rugged than usual that morning. He obviously hadn't shaved since the previous day; golden brown stubble covered his jaw.
"Hey, hey," prompted Rupert when Malcolm didn't move. "Tea?"
"Sorry." Malcolm practically jumped to make the tea. He filled the kettle with fresh water and lit the stove before rinsing the earthenware teapot with hot tap water. "Will you be working all day today?" he asked as he measured several spoonfuls of tealeaves into the pot.
"Yes, baby. I told you I'm down to the wire." Rupert's tone was noticeably irritated, but somehow Malcolm failed to notice it.
"Only I'd hoped we could go to the Imperial War Museum today. And maybe we could go see the show at the Globe tonight? I checked it out. They're running Henry VI, Part 1 right now. I know how you like Shakespeare's histories." Malcolm's words were off-hand, but someone who knew him well and bothered to listen would have been able to tell this was important to him.
But Rupert wasn't listening. "What?" He looked up distractedly from his work. "What were you saying?"
"Just that I thought we could spend the day together in town. That's all."
Now Rupert grew annoyed. "I can't. You know that. I don't have the time to waste."
Malcolm's face fell although he tried not to show it. Rupert actually managed to notice his disappointment and held out a hand to the younger man. Malcolm stepped close enough to grasp it.
"Don't look sad, baby," Rupert said in a conciliatory voice. "You know it won't be much longer and I'll have plenty of free time."
"I just don't understand why you can't let it wait a day or two. Fall Term doesn't begin for another week," Malcolm almost whined.
"Which means I only have one more week to get this done. Come on, Malcolm, why are you acting like this?"
But Malcolm kept his real reason to himself. "I just think you're working too hard. You deserve a day off."
"I'll have a day off—"
Malcolm cut him off. "In another three or four years when you've completed your doctorate, too," he finished disappointedly. "And then you'll become a professor somewhere rural and uncivilized."
Rupert gave him a sardonic look. "I think I'll have an open day or two between now and then," he said dryly. "Now stop pouting. The water's boiling."
"I'm not pouting," countered Malcolm, going to the stove and pouring out the hot water into the teapot. It was an archaic ritual, but it was how Rupert preferred his tea, so that was how Malcolm prepared it every time. I just thought it would be nice to spend my birthday in town with my boyfriend.
"Hang on, hang on," interrupted Trip. "He forgot your birthday?"
"And he treated you like a damn doormat!" the engineer went on indignantly.
"And I let him," added Malcolm. "I'd never been in love before; I'd certainly never been in a serious relationship before. I thought that was the way it worked. I suppose I could blame my parents for my misconception, but that wouldn't be fair to my mother. But that's another matter entirely."
"How—?" Trip paused, trying to find a polite way to say what he wanted to say. Finally he decided there was no reason to be polite where Rupert Murray was concerned. "How could you fall in love with such an asshole?"
"I didn't," Malcolm contradicted him. "The man I fell in love with was warm and caring. Admittedly he was a bit self-centered at times, but everyone has those moments."
"Sounds less like just 'moments' to me."
"Maybe, maybe not. But I was inexperienced and insecure. He gave me what I needed to feel like I mattered to someone. I felt loved."
"But it wasn't fair for him to take you for granted like that! That's not love!" Trip was angry on his partner's behalf and helpless to do anything about it. The indignities Malcolm had suffered were years ago and light-years away. "You're worth so much more than that," he finished helplessly.
Malcolm shrugged. "I didn't think so. It never occurred to me that there could be anything more than what I had. I genuinely believed I was lucky for having someone like him."
Trip shook his head in disbelief. "So you just put up with him treating you like that for two years?"
"I put up with it a lot longer than that."
"For Christ's sake, why?" Trip practically erupted again.
"Sheer stubbornness, I suppose." Malcolm gave him a deliberately sardonic look. "Not that I'm ever stubborn." His attempt at levity failed. Trip didn't even smile.
"But You " Trip didn't know what he was trying to say. He was incredulous. He simply couldn't wrap his mind around the image of Malcolm fawning over some arrogant theatre snob. "How long ?"
But Malcolm chose not to answer him directly. If he was going to tell Trip everything, he couldn't leap ahead to the end. "Rupert earned his Master's Degree and we celebrated. Even though it was weeks later, I pretended in my mind that we were celebrating my birthday, too." He shook his head at himself. "Pathetic and childish, I know."
"No, it wasn't," Trip said, even though there was more than a hint of pathos about Malcolm's admission. Trip's heart ached for him. He longed to reach out to him, but suspected that wasn't what Malcolm wanted at that moment. Instead, he asked, "Why didn't you remind him?"
"I didn't want to spoil his evening and make him feel badly for forgetting. It was just a birthday."
"Christ, Malcolm!" Trip erupted. "If it mattered to you, it should have mattered to him!"
"Trip," said Malcolm firmly. His tone was enough to stop the engineer mid-tirade.
"I'm sorry. Go on. No, wait," he immediately contradicted himself. "Is there much more?"
Malcolm thought over his answer before speaking. "Enough."
"Then can we maybe get ready for bed before going on? I promise I won't fall asleep." In truth, if the rest of the story was anything like what he'd heard already, Trip knew he would be too angry to sleep for several hours.
"All right. I could use a break."
Trip rose and held out a hand to Malcolm. He was pleased when Malcolm took it and allowed himself to be helped to his feet. They undressed in silence, each man caught up in his thoughts.
Malcolm mulled over all the myriad memories of his years with Rupert. Looking back, even the times he remembered as good and happy seemed to carry a sinister pall. He wondered if anything Rupert had ever said or done was genuine or if it had all been some elaborate ruse. No, he thought. Be realistic. He was clever, but I can't believe he would have gone to all that effort. It had to have been real at some point. There had to have been something. He couldn't allow himself to believe otherwise.
Trip simmered with powerless anger. The mental image of a young and innocent Malcolm being taken advantage of by some self-absorbed bastard infuriated him. The fact that Malcolm had allowed himself to be used like that made it worse. He's a strong, competent, self-reliant man, thought Trip. How could he let someone do that to him? Then it occurred to him that it wasn't entirely true. Malcolm certainly was all of those things, but Trip knew the side of him that others never saw. He knew the insecure man afraid to care for someone in case that someone hurt him—the man Rupert Murray appeared to have exploited.
"I really will kick his ass," Trip said aloud as he put on pajama pants and headed toward the lav.
Malcolm finished pulling his t-shirt on over his head. "What?" he asked through the closed lav door, uncertain what his partner had said. He heard the head flush, and Trip opened the door again.
"Nothing," Trip replied. He didn't think Malcolm needed him verbally attacking his old lover right now. It was obvious in every word he said, in every little nuance of his voice and body, that this was difficult enough for him without Trip bursting out with threats and insults every two minutes.
Malcolm didn't pursue the matter. He had a fair guess what Trip had said; he didn't really need confirmation. He took his turn at the head, and then both men cleaned their teeth. Trip went back to the bed while Malcolm got himself a glass of cold water. All the talking had made his mouth dry. He drained the glass thirstily, then refilled it.
When he re-entered the cabin, Trip had settled himself under the covers, pillows behind his back as he leaned against the bulkhead.
When Malcolm hesitated to join him, Trip said, "Come on. You can talk just as well with my arms around you as you can without. So have a seat." He opened his arms and gestured for Malcolm to sit with him.
Malcolm held a quick and silent debate with himself before shaking his head. "No, I can't." Once again, he took a spot at the foot of the bed, but this time instead of sitting stiffly on the edge, he leaned back against the bulkhead at right angles from Trip. He stretched out his pajama-clad legs across the bunk, his glass of water held loosely in both hands.
Trip watched as Malcolm made himself as comfortable as he could in the circumstances. He was terribly disappointed that his partner had declined to sit with him. He wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around Malcolm and make all the pain of his past go away.
"It took another two years for me to complete my undergraduate studies," Malcolm began his tale once more. "By then Rupert was deep into his doctoral program. I briefly considered going for a Master's Degree, but Rupert and I decided against it."
"The two of you decided, huh?" interjected Trip skeptically. "Why was it any of his business?"
Malcolm gave him a tired and mildly irked look. "I could give you all sorts of explanations, but none would satisfy you. They don't even satisfy me. Now, should I go on?"
Trip nodded. "Sorry. Go on."
"I started looking for work. I'd studied plasma physics, chemistry, engineering. I'd always been interested in weapons and defensive systems and I reckoned there had to be a market for it somewhere—other than the Royal Navy, that is. I still wasn't going to give my father that satisfaction. Even then he held out hope that I'd 'come to my senses', as he put it." He sighed heavily. "Sometimes I think maybe I should have just given in, but I know it would have been another mistake. In the end it became a choice between staying and making Rupert happy or leaving and making my father happy."
"What about you?" Trip wanted to know. "Didn't you think about what would make you happy?"
"I thought I had, but I didn't realize until much later that it wasn't me I was trying to please. I'd heard of Starfleet, you see, but I didn't seriously consider it."
"Because of Rupert, of course," said Trip sardonically and with a hint of jealously in his voice.
"Of course," echoed Malcolm flatly.
"So did you find something? A job, I mean."
"Yes, but nothing that had anything to do with my degree. There really isn't a market for what I do outside the military or Starfleet. I found a job in commercial shipping, of all things. Scheduling inspections, maintenance, and upgrades for the company's vessels. It was tedious at times, but it kept me busy during the days while Rupert was studying. Unfortunately it didn't keep me busy in the evenings when he was often out."
"Out where?" Trip wanted to know.
"At one of university's theatres or libraries, usually. He had another production to complete as part of his doctoral program."
"Damn. I had no idea theatre was that much work."
Malcolm gave him a one-shouldered shrug. "I don't know that it is, necessarily. I mean he did do a lot of hard work, but not all those nights were spent on that."
Trip frowned. "What do you mean?"
Malcolm cleared his throat and took a swallow of water before answering. "He came home very late a lot of nights. I didn't think about it because I was usually asleep when he got in. Sometimes I'd wake up when I heard the shower come on or when he came to bed, but not always. I was a much heavier sleeper then," he added bitterly.
"And you never even questioned him?"
"I didn't see the need. It's quite normal for theatre people to come home after midnight and then sleep late in the mornings. It's the nature of the beast. And I had no reason to suspect anything. I told you, I believed we were happy. What little free time we had we spent together. We often took day trips out of London to the different historical sites outside the city. Sometimes we'd spend a weekend in Edinburgh or Cardiff. We even managed a few short trips to Paris and one to Munich.
"That was all before he began his doctoral program, though," Malcolm went on. "After that he simply didn't have the time to spare, and even on the rare occasion when he did, he was always too stressed about what he felt he ought to be doing instead of having fun."
Trip nodded. "I know people like that," he said. While he didn't want to say anything that would defend Malcolm's ex-lover, he did want to support Malcolm. Trip didn't want him to feel he'd been completely blind and gullible—even if Trip thought he had. I wasn't there, he chided himself. I don't really know what happened, so it's easy for me to pass judgment.
"Of course, now I can see that things were going sour," Malcolm said. "But it takes someone more self-aware than I was then to see it when it happens."
Malcolm opened his eyes to the darkness of the bedroom. Something had disturbed his sleep. He lay there, silent and unmoving, for several moments. Then the light in the bathroom came on, spilling into the hallway and around the crack of the open bedroom door. He smiled and closed his eyes. Rupert was home.
He fell back to sleep only to wake again slightly when Rupert slipped smoothly into the bed next to him. He was fresh from the shower and smelled of sandalwood soap.
Malcolm rolled over to face him. "Hello," he mumbled, barely awake. He blinked sleepy blue eyes.
"Hey there, baby," Rupert cooed softly back. He reached out a tender hand and stroked the younger man's rough cheek, consequently blocking the tiny light of clock on the nightstand behind him.
"Smell good," Malcolm smiled, inhaling the fresh, warm scent of his lover. "How was rehearsal?"
"Fine. We finished blocking act two. Now go back to sleep. It's late."
"Mmm." Malcolm closed his eyes willingly, murmuring, "Time 's it?"
"Glad you're home."
"Me too, baby. Now sleep."
It took only moments for Malcolm's breathing to deepen. He never saw the blue glow of the clock telling him it was not just "past twelve". It was in fact two and a half hours past twelve.
Malcolm finished shaving, brushed his teeth, and ran a comb through his freshly washed hair. He checked his watch—6:48. He had a little time before he had to catch the tube to work, and he had a fun idea of how he could spend it.
He made a quick stop in the kitchen to light the stove and prep a pot of strong tea. Leaving the kettle to come slowly to a boil over low heat, he slipped off to the bedroom. Rupert laid there asleep, his face relaxed and peaceful. Malcolm smiled at the sight, then untied the belt on his bathrobe. Letting it fall open, he knelt on the bed and leaned over his sleeping lover. He caught Rupert's earlobe gently with his lips and teased it with his tongue.
Rupert mumbled something in his sleep and rolled away. Malcolm crept over him, moving stealthily. He leaned down again and this time whispered, "Good morning, lover-boy." He smiled as Rupert's eyes opened a fraction. "I have a little time before work," he said suggestively.
"Bugger off, Malcolm," Rupert grumbled.
Malcolm smirked a little, unfazed. He knew his lover wasn't a morning person; he'd met such resistance before. He pushed back the covers and reached underneath. "Come on," he breathed, taking Rupert's hand and guiding it to his own burgeoning erection.
Rupert woke more fully as he yanked his hand out of Malcolm's grasp. "Malcolm, I said no. I'm knackered and I've got to get some sleep so I can work on my thesis before going to rehearsal tonight. Now piss off."
Malcolm felt like he'd been physically slapped. He backed off and stood. "Fine," he replied sharply. He crossed to the dresser and grabbed a pair of underwear from the drawer. He pulled them on and strode angrily to the closet where he hung up his robe and selected a pair of khaki slacks and a green shirt. He dressed in silence, then took a pair of socks from a drawer and picked up his brown loafers. "I'll see you when I get home from work."
"I may be gone by then," Rupert replied.
Malcolm tensed at his words. "Fine," he repeated, and stalked out. He stopped in the kitchen just long enough to shut off the stove with an angry snap. He grabbed his leather coat from the rack by the door and stormed out into the chilly morning air.
It was a particularly cold evening with the scent of a freeze in the air. Malcolm huddled inside his heavy winter coat and hurried down the steps to the Underground. He caught the tube home and relaxed a little in the warm interior, made even warmer by all the commuters on their way home from work.
A week had passed since the morning of the spat he'd had with Rupert. It had never been mentioned between them again, but it gnawed at Malcolm's mind. He's stressed out, he reminded himself. His show opens in less than two weeks now, and he still has to finish his dissertation. Even then he'll still have to defend it before the dons. Malcolm felt badly for his partner; it wasn't Rupert's fault that he was under so much pressure.
I should do something nice for him, he thought. Something that will help him relax a bit. He reached into the pocket of his wool coat and pulled out a small datapad.
He'd long ago accepted that his lover was a very, very busy individual. If Malcolm wanted to make plans with him, he had to have Rupert's schedule in his own pad. Equally, he always made sure his own meager plans were programmed into his partner's datapad. It wasn't difficult to keep track of Malcolm's life, but Rupert still had insisted that he have the younger man's calendar, too.
The day the rehearsal schedule for Rupert's show was finalized, Malcolm had downloaded it. He smiled to see that the coming Friday was clear of rehearsals or meetings with advisors, anything that might take Rupert out of the apartment. That gave Malcolm three days to plan. He could surprise him with something special. Malcolm's smile broadened as several ideas leapt to mind.
There was a light tap on the open door of Malcolm's office. "Bon jour, Malcolm!" a tall, dark-haired woman greeted him cheerfully.
"Geneviève," he replied, startled. He blinked owlishly at the clock in the corner of his computer screen, then out the small window to his right. "Is it that time already?"
"Absolutement," she answered. "Ten o'clock precisely." Her eyes narrowed as she took in the tired slump of his shoulders. "You look like you could use your morning tea even more than I need my morning café today."
Malcolm stretched and heard his shoulders pop loudly. "I think you may be right."
"Of course I'm right. Now hop to! I'm ready to go." She buttoned up her warm coat to emphasize her point.
"So I see." He pushed his chair back from his desk and rose. Grabbing his own coat from behind the door, he joined her in the hallway. They caught the lift to street level and stepped out into the cold winter wind.
Geneviève shivered. "I hate the cold," she muttered as they turned left and walked quickly along the sidewalk.
"Then why do you live in London?"
"Because this is where Isabelle's school is. When she's grown, I have every intention of moving back to Morocco."
"I'll believe it when it happens," Malcolm teased. It was an old conversation they'd had many times over the months they'd worked together at the shipping company. Each knew what the other would say as well as they knew their own parts.
They reached their usual café and went inside. Geneviève immediately relaxed in the warm interior. "Ahh," she sighed happily, inhaling the heady scent of rich coffees and freshly brewing teas.
Malcolm chuckled and smiled a little. It was a ritual she went through every time they entered the shop, whether winter or summer.
They placed their orders and found a small, round table as far from the door as possible in the little place. The pair waited in companionable silence until a waiter brought them their drinks. While Geneviève immediately poured her thick Turkish coffee into a demitasse and spooned in copious sugar, Malcolm waited patiently for his Assam tea to brew properly.
Once Geneviève had sampled her concoction, she was more inclined to chat. "So," she began, "do you have any big plans this weekend?"
Malcolm shook his head. "No. Rupert's rehearsing most of the weekend. But " He hesitated. He hadn't yet figured out what to do to surprise his partner and he had only today and tomorrow to plan. He knew Geneviève didn't like Rupert even though she'd only met him once. Bringing up his plan for Friday was a risky venture, but he desperately needed help if he was going to make the evening work.
Geneviève sipped her coffee and arched an inquisitive eyebrow at him. "But?" she prompted.
"He has Friday night free and I want to surprise him, only I have no idea what to do. I thought it would be nice to cook for him."
"I thought you didn't like to cook."
"It's not that I don't like to," Malcolm hedged, although cooking really wasn't his favorite thing. "I'm just not very good at it—although I've gotten better since living with Rupert. He'd have starved ages ago if I didn't make sure he ate once in a while."
Geneviève frowned and set her demitasse on its tiny saucer. "You're too good to that man," she declared decisively.
It was the opening line of the same argument they'd had nearly every time Malcolm mentioned his home life. Even simply saying Rupert's name would set Geneviève off some days. Apparently this was one of those days.
"He uses you," she continued before Malcolm could so much as open his mouth to protest. "You cook for him, take care of him, make excuses for him. What has he ever done for you?"
Malcolm sighed and poured himself a cup of steaming tea, mentally tuning out her diatribe. It was nothing he hadn't heard a score of times before. I should have known better, he thought. "Never mind," he said aloud, interrupting her.
Brought up short, Geneviève paused only long enough to catch her breath and take a sip of coffee. "No, no. I'm sorry." She controlled her temper with more skill than she controlled her expression, but she did manage to keep from scowling outright. "So why don't you cook for him?" she asked, drawing the conversation back on topic.
Malcolm hesitated warily, but he really was down to the wire and out of ideas. "I want it to be special," he admitted, almost embarrassed by his own sentimentality. "I have no idea what to make."
"This goes against my better judgment," Geneviève said, eyeing him sharply, "but I'll help you."
"You'll help me?" Malcolm inquired dubiously.
She nodded once. Her voice held the unmistakable tone he'd heard her use on a many a difficult client—a tone that none of them ever dared argue with more than once if they were smart. "Yes."
"Do I need a reason to help my friend?" she countered archly. But she gave him one anyway. "If you're happy, then I'm happy for you."
Malcolm decided to be smart and not argue. Geneviève's motivations were her own at all times, and he really needed her help. "All right."
"You like Moroccan food?"
"I'll write down everything you need to know to fix a romantic feast for two that won't leave you feeling so full you can't enjoy a bit of dessert, too." She gave him a look that clearly meant dessert might be something other than food.
Malcolm flushed and took a sip of tea to hide his discomfiture. She had a way of making him feel like a teenager caught in the backseat of his boyfriend's car. He supposed it was because she had a teenage daughter at home. He felt a flash of sympathy for the girl he'd never even met. Still, he appreciated that she was willing to help him, even if she didn't think he was doing the right thing. "Thank you," he mumbled, not meeting her keen gaze.
He could sense Geneviève watching him carefully. Malcolm harbored the suspicion that she enjoyed teasing him. Usually he didn't really mind; it reminded him of they way his little sister Madeline used to tease him. In an odd way it made him feel like he belonged. On this particular occasion, however, her uncanny accuracy made him squirm.
Geneviève went on confidently. "Yes. When you're done feeding him, he'd have to be a fool not to whisk you off to bed for a night of wild passion." Her eyes twinkled as Malcolm turned a vibrant shade of fuchsia.
Malcolm reminded himself that she was only guessing. She had no way of knowing that this was precisely what he wanted, despite his nearly mortified reaction to her words. He wanted nothing more than to please Rupert so much that the older man would spend the rest of the night making love with him. It had been too long since they had spent a night together like that.
The stage was set with great care. Malcolm had done his best to make the small dining nook look more like a booth in a Moroccan restaurant than the addendum to the kitchen it really was. Sumptuous purple fabric draped the nook's opening and he'd removed the table and chairs, replacing them with the low, round coffee table from the sitting room and a number of plush pillows he'd bought the previous evening. A row of richly colored candles waited on the windowsill. He would light them just before Rupert and he sat down.
He finished up the mise en place for the three courses he was preparing. He'd enlisted the help of Geneviève, not only in deciding on the dishes, but also in gathering the ingredients. She had assured him everything was easy to make if he simply followed the directions, which he did with meticulous care. So far she'd been right; everything was running with clockwork precision.
Malcolm checked the time and smiled. If he put the lamb in the oven now, he could have a quick shower while it was roasting. "Perfect," he said aloud to the empty flat. He got the lamb going and headed to the bedroom. On his way, though, he made a brief side trip into the sitting room and called up the music he'd programmed for the evening. Immediately traditional Middle Eastern music began to play softly throughout the flat.
He smiled again, well pleased with his efforts. He entered the bedroom where he did a quick check of the items on the nightstand to be certain everything was ready for after dinner. Next, he laid out the clothes he intended to wear. Satisfied, he grabbed his navy blue robe and headed to the bathroom.
He hung the robe on the hook behind the door and started the shower before stripping off his clothes and tossing them into the laundry bin. Stepping into the shower, he sighed happily. Hot water coursed over him, relaxing muscles he hadn't realized were tense. He picked up the bar of sandalwood soap that Rupert favored and used it to wash away the workday, the cooking smells, and the sweat he’d built up prepping for the evening.
As he washed himself with the spicy scented soap, he closed his eyes and thought of his lover. The smell would forever be tied to Rupert in Malcolm's mind—warm, spicy, woody. He ran soapy hands along his naked body, reveling in the softness of the suds as they slicked over his skin. His penis grew hard at the combination of scent, touch, and anticipation. He took his erection in one slippery hand and stroked it lightly, felt it grow harder still at his touch. Malcolm forced himself to stop the heady sensation before it went too far. He wanted to be full and ready for Rupert tonight, and masturbating now would lessen the impact later.
He turned down the hot water and shivered under the cooler flow that cascaded down on him. It had the desired effect. The pressure in his groin faded to a more manageable level. He promptly rinsed off the remains of the soap and shut off the tap.
Concerned that he'd fallen behind in his planned schedule for the evening, Malcolm dried himself quickly. He donned his robe and returned to the bedroom to dress. A quick glance at the clock on Rupert's nightstand confirmed his fears. His dalliance in the shower had cost him time; Rupert was due home in less than thirty minutes.
Malcolm dressed in black slacks, a rich brown shirt that Rupert had once told him brought out the blue in his eyes, black socks, and highly polished wing-tip shoes. Content that he was ready for his surprise date, Malcolm returned to the kitchen.
The whole flat had begun to smell like roasting lamb and exotic spices. He inhaled, pleased. He'd never been much of a chef, but he thought he'd done a respectable job. Opening the oven to take a peek at his creation, he nodded in satisfaction. Just like Geneviève said it should be, he thought.
He went to the fridge and pulled out the salad he'd made earlier, then began heating broth for the couscous. Everything was coming together perfectly, and Malcolm went so far as to dance a little to the music that played. He was happy with his efforts to create such a wonderful surprise for his lover.
An hour later, Malcolm was no longer so cheerful. Rupert was forty minutes overdue, and he had sent no word. Malcolm refrained from calling the older man as long as he could. Rupert had chided him more than once for being a worrywart and a mother hen; he didn't want to seem like he was being so again. But dinner was ready, waiting, and getting cold, and he had no clue what had happened to his lover.
He went to the bedroom where he'd left his personal communicator and called Rupert.
"Malcolm?" the older man replied. "What is it?"
He sounded distracted and Malcolm worried that he'd caught Rupert in the middle of something important. "Where are you?" he asked.
"What? I'm at rehearsal. Where else would I be?"
Malcolm was surprised, and he frowned. "You don't have a rehearsal scheduled for tonight," he replied. "I checked the calendar."
"I added it last week. We're heading into hell week, you know. We needed an extra rehearsal."
"Well I wish you'd told me." Malcolm fought to keep his tone even, but he couldn't help but reveal a hint of petulance and disappointment. He thought he heard something in the background over the comm line and his frown deepened. "Who's that?"
"My leading man's in the middle of a monologue," Rupert replied, an odd quality to his voice. "Now I've got to go."
"When will you be home?" Malcolm wanted to know before he would let his lover off the hook.
"I don't know, baby. Late. Probably very late. Now I've got to go."
The line went dead, but not before Malcolm heard laughter in the background. "I had no idea Hamlet was a comedy," he muttered to himself tartly.
He shut off the communicator and tossed it negligently onto the dresser where it clattered against the framed photo of Rupert and him from their brief vacation to Paris three summers ago. The picture toppled at the impact, landing face down on the wooden surface. Malcolm didn't bother to right it. Instead he crossed to his nightstand and picked up the bottle of sandalwood scented lube he'd purchased specially and chucked it into the rubbish bin.
Malcolm walked deliberately through the flat, turning off the music in the sitting room before returning to the kitchen. All his careful plans now seemed pointless and stupid. He looked at the fabric and cushions in the breakfast nook and snorted at himself in disgust. What was I thinking? he wondered rhetorically. I should have known this wouldn't work. I should give up on surprises. They're nothing but hard work and disappointment.
Now he had a choice: he could eat the feast he'd prepared alone, wait for Rupert to eventually return and hope that everything reheated nicely, or call it a wash and toss it all out. The last option appealed, but he hated to have all his efforts be a complete waste.
Another thought struck him and he rushed back to the bedroom. Shoving the fallen photo aside, he picked up the communicator and called Geneviève, who had so generously shared her culinary expertise.
"Geneviève, it's Malcolm," he said without preamble.
"What are you doing calling? Oughtn't you be in the midst of your hot date?"
"Yes, well That fell through." He had no intention of going into detail, but she at least deserved an answer.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Geneviève replied, clearly unsurprised but genuinely disappointed on his behalf.
"I'll survive, but the food won't. I wondered, shall I bring it over to you? There's more than I could possibly eat. I thought maybe you and Isabelle might enjoy it? It's turned out pretty well, I think. I never could have made it without your help, so " He trailed off.
"You're sure? I don't want anyone to go hungry." Her tone belied her words, but Malcolm chose to ignore it.
"Rupert can eat what he finds in the fridge when he gets home," he replied decisively.
Geneviève's voice brightened. "Good for you! All right, then. You bring the food over, and of course you will stay and eat with us." Her tone brooked no argument, so Malcolm gave her none. He knew well enough that there would be no point in debating the matter. And when it came right down to it, he found he wanted a bit of company tonight.
"I need your address," he said. She gave it to him and he immediately input it in the communicator so he wouldn't forget it. "I'll be there in twenty minutes," he told her and closed the line.
In the weeks following the failed surprise date, Malcolm felt more and more shut out of Rupert's life. He tried to convince himself that it was merely because of Rupert's incredibly busy and stressful life. There's so little time until he has to turn in and defend his dissertation, Malcolm told himself for the millionth time. Of course he's distracted. Of course he doesn't have time for me. But it will all change soon. Unfortunately, it had been quite some time since he'd found his own arguments convincing.
There was a distance growing between them, and he could think of nothing to prevent it. Every attempt he made to talk to Rupert was brushed aside as the older man hurried off to do yet more research at one of London's many libraries. If Malcolm tried to broach the subject at night when they were in bed together, Rupert routinely claimed fatigue and refused to discuss anything. Of course, more often than not, Malcolm fell asleep alone. He was accustomed to his lover's late nights and now routinely woke when Rupert climbed into bed with him in the middle of the night. But Malcolm never acknowledged his arrival. He simply kept his eyes shut, inhaled the scent of sandalwood, and returned to restless sleep.
Last night had been one of those nights. Malcolm had slept poorly before and after Rupert joined him. He rose early as a result and, for the first time in his life, called in sick to work when he wasn't actually ill. Hoping a shower would perk him up, he took an extra long one. Unfortunately, he felt just as tired after as he had before.
He returned to the bedroom and dressed in cargo pants and a t-shirt. All the while Rupert slept on, oblivious to Malcolm's presence. He looked at the sleeping man in envy and irritation. How can he sleep so soundly while I've become a bloody insomniac? Malcolm thought angrily. He shook his head and left the room.
Still not really ready for breakfast, Malcolm instead entered the sitting room, closing the door behind him. He moved to the window, looking out over the view of London that had changed little in the nearly six years he'd lived in the flat. He knelt on the leather sofa and stared out at the cold spring sunshine filtering weakly through gray clouds.
Slowly he turned his back on London and looked around the room. The fireplace in the wall to his left was cold; it hadn't been used in over a year and the luxury of it had been replaced by futility in Malcolm's mind. The wall all around it was full of shelves of Rupert's books and scripts. The longer wall directly across from him boasted a huge painting by someone modern. Malcolm never bothered to remember the artist's name because he'd never really liked the man's style. His eyes skimmed past the closed door to the wall on his right. The door there was also shut, but he knew if he opened it he would find only boxes of Rupert's mementos—school papers, certificates, playbills, reviews, trinkets given to him by actors on opening or closing night of whatever show he had directed.
Beyond the closet door were more shelves, this time with a small number of framed photographs and a sloppy stack of sheet music. In the corner stood a guitar. Malcolm used to love hearing Rupert play the guitar. He would sing in a pure and soulful voice, and Malcolm would find himself caught up in it, carried away on the words and the notes.
Now it all just seemed like pretentious rubbish. He sat up straighter, fighting a sudden urge to grab the guitar and chuck it through the window. At the same moment, revelation struck him painfully in the heart.
Nothing in this room is mine. Not even the photographs. The one picture of Malcolm and Rupert together had been taken when they were on vacation over four years ago. All the others were snapshots from Rupert's theatrical productions, or images of his family or friends. In all the years they'd been together Malcolm hadn't even met his partner's family and, unlike his own, they actually lived in England.
"This isn't where I belong anymore," he said aloud to the empty room. Or so he thought.
"Talking to yourself again, Malcolm?" asked a snide and slightly condescending voice. "That's a sure sign you're finally losing it, you know. Just as I suspected."
Rain began to patter lightly at the window behind Malcolm. He looked up and found himself staring at Rupert. "I didn't hear you come in," he said dully.
"That's because you were lost in your own little world, as usual." Rupert leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. "What are you doing, anyway?"
Rupert snorted derisively. "Really? I had no idea."
Malcolm turned sharp eyes on him. "Is there any way I could possibly interpret that comment as inoffensive?"
"I'm sure you'll find a way."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Rupert shrugged. "It means whatever you want to believe it means, Malcolm." He pushed away from the wall and turned to leave.
"Where are you going?" Malcolm asked, rising from the sofa and following him out into the hallway.
"I'm turning in my dissertation today," Rupert answered, not looking back. "I have to get dressed."
They entered the bedroom and Rupert went to the closet for slacks, a shirt, and a tie.
"You're certainly going formal," remarked Malcolm with a hint of suspicion and sarcasm in his voice.
"Never hurts to make a good impression on your advisor, you know." He removed his sweatpants and began to dress quickly.
"When will you be back?"
"I don't know."
"Why not? You're just going to turn it in and come home, aren't you?"
"I haven't decided," Rupert replied sharply. He tucked in his shirt, zipped up his pants, and reached for his tie.
Malcolm watched him fumble with the tie for several moments. "If you dressed up more often, you'd be better at that," he pointed out nastily.
"Jesus, Malcolm," spat Rupert. "When did you become such a bitch?"
"The day you started treating me like your mongrel dog, I expect," Malcolm countered angrily.
Rupert stopped what he was doing and turned a condescending sneer on the younger man. "Don't fool yourself, baby. It hasn't been that long."
Malcolm was shocked into confused silence. He sat heavily on the corner of the bed.
Rupert finished tying his tie, then shoved his feet unceremoniously into his shoes. He tied the laces quickly while Malcolm continued to gape at him. He smirked again. "Trying to work that one out, are you? Good luck." He left the bedroom, grabbed the datapad containing his final revision of his dissertation from the kitchen table, pulled on his raincoat, and left the flat.
Malcolm continued to sit there for several moments after he heard the front door slam. His spinning mind couldn't quite make out what Rupert's parting gibe had meant. He's always treated me well up until recently hasn't he? So what changed and when? What did I do to make him so angry?
Another part of his mind answered him. Why does it have to be something I did? Why is it all my fault?
The thought brought him up short. Until that moment he had blindly assumed that it was something in him that was driving his lover away. He even had difficulty thinking of Rupert as his lover any more; it had been ages since they'd had sex, longer still since they had made love. They were more like roommates who happened to share a bed occasionally.
The voice in his head took on a feminine quality, and he realized he was hearing words Geneviève had spoken the night he'd visited her and her daughter with the fruits of his failed surprise date. Every relationship requires two people. How long has it been since there were two people in this one?
It was a very good question, and one he couldn't answer definitively then or now. He needed to see Rupert again right away. He stood and went quickly to the closet. He pulled on trainers over his bare feet and headed for the front door. Grabbing his leather jacket from the rack, he yanked it on as he left the flat.
The spring rain was chilly and he zipped up his jacket against it as he hurried around the corner and down into the Underground. He caught the tube line that took him directly to campus. He knew the name of Rupert's advisor and what building his office was in. He would simply find the right office and wait outside until he emerged.
Unfortunately, when he found the office he was looking for, Rupert had already been there and gone.
Malcolm left the building and stood under the overhang outside the front door, watching the rain pour down. It had picked up significantly since he'd left his flat, but he didn't mind. He preferred the warm rain of Malaysia where he'd spent much of his childhood, but the cold rain of London also had its comforts.
He looked around at the huge brick square before him. It was late morning and most of the classes were in session. A few students and fewer professors hurried through the rain, looking neither left nor right as they rushed for cover.
Turning up his collar against the wet, Malcolm stepped out into the rain. He hadn't been on campus since his graduation, and he suddenly remembered how much he had enjoyed his time there. He headed across the square toward the science buildings, thinking he might catch one of his old professors between classes.
The building he wanted was across a small quadrangle. He ducked under the covered walkway of the first building and followed it to its end where he dashed the few steps to the next bit of cover. Before long Malcolm reached his destination and went into the building.
He saw no one as he strolled slowly through the hallways. Turning a corner, he reached the lab where the larger projects were built. He paused and looked through the transparent aluminum windows into the cavernous room beyond. A small group of undergraduate students were there, working on what looked like a half-scale replica of Zefram Cochrane's original warp engine.
Malcolm smiled wistfully. He couldn't hear what any of them said, but their intensity was clear in their actions. He felt a sudden ache of loss. He hadn't realized how much he missed the camaraderie that came from working together toward a common goal, from working to create something powerful and useful.
When was the last time I felt like a part of anything? he wondered bleakly. He'd never been one to make friends easily, but being thrust into a group of fellow students had forced him to forge relationships. Unfortunately, he'd lost track of his university colleagues pretty quickly after graduation. He knew some had gone on to industry jobs with Britain's military branches. Beyond that, he had no clue where any of them might be now.
Then something that he'd all but forgotten about suddenly leapt to mind. He turned quickly and hurried to the student lounge. There, hanging on the bulletin board just as it had though his undergraduate years, was the electronic flier for Starfleet. Malcolm yanked his datapad from his inside jacket pocket and used it to download the information the flier provided. He'd had the information once, but long ago deleted it. Joining Starfleet would have meant leaving Rupert behind and he hadn't ever thought he could do that. Now he wasn't so sure.
The rain eased up by the time he was back outside so instead of heading directly home, he decided to go to the nearby pub that students often frequented. It had never been his favorite place, but he knew he could be in company and still be alone there. He glanced at his watch. It was just before noon. If he was quick, he could get to the pub and claim a table in a secluded corner before the lunch rush struck. He walked purposefully back across campus and out onto the busy street that fronted it. Turning left, he walked the three blocks to the pub and went inside.
It was an old establishment in an even older building, boasting the heavy wooden beams and dark paneling of the era in which it was built. The light inside was warm and inviting—bright enough to read the tap list on the old-fashioned chalkboard, but dim enough that one could move relatively unnoticed should that be one's desire.
Malcolm stepped up to the polished oak bar and ordered a pint of Guinness. While he waited for it, he leaned an elbow on the bar and looked around the room. It was just as he remembered it. A few students were gathered in pairs and groups, their schedules already free for a spot of lunch. Someone laughed riotously; others chatted quietly over their food and drinks.
Something in a secluded corner booth made him look twice. He blinked several times in disbelief and tried to will himself to be wrong. When the couple in the booth kissed more deeply than was strictly appropriate in a public place, he knew he wasn't mistaken.
He turned away quickly and left the pub in a rush. Once out on the street he practically ran to the nearest tube station and dashed inside as if he thought he was being pursued. He gasped for air like a drowning man. Not until he was inside the train speeding on its way did he catch his breath and begin to think clearly about what he'd seen. Tunnel walls sped past between brief stops along the line. Malcolm looked up, finally taking a moment to see where he was.
"Damn it!" he cursed quietly. I'm not even on the right line. He got off at the next stop and, too impatient to wait for the lift, climbed the stairs two at a time to the surface. He recognized the area well enough to find his way home by surface streets. He had a long, wet walk ahead of him, but he didn't care. The pouring rain suited his mood.
Malcolm reached the flat soaking wet and shivering. He took off his shoes and left them in the entryway, then hung up his jacket to dry on the coat rack. He padded to the bathroom, uncaring that he left a trail of damp footprints behind him. He turned on the shower, stripped down, and tossed his sodden clothing into the bin in the laundry cupboard.
By the time he finished his hot shower, he had almost convinced himself that he'd misinterpreted what he'd witnessed in the pub. The light had been dim; the couple had been across the room; it hadn't really been Rupert whom he'd seen kissing that other man.
If the man with him had been a stranger, Malcolm might have been successful in his denial. Unfortunately, he recognized the fellow, although it had taken him the entire walk home to pinpoint the face. He didn't remember the man's name, but he knew how to find it. All he had to do was open up the program from Rupert's final production and look to see who had played the lead.
I wonder if he had to sleep with Rupert to get the part, or if that came later, Malcolm mused acidly.
He leaned against the wall of the shower, enjoying the contrast of the cool porcelain against his forehead and arm, and the hot water down his back. What am I going to do?
Maybe it's a fling, he thought. He's been working so hard
No. Don't make excuses for him, he ordered himself firmly. Not anymore. He stood up straight and shut off the water.
He dried himself quickly and went to the bedroom. He stood for a moment, debating with himself before deciding on jeans and a cotton pullover sweater. Part of him wanted to put on his pajamas and crawl into bed for a week, to sleep for days and wake up to find it was all a bad dream. Instead, Malcolm got dressed and went to the kitchen to fix himself some tea.
As he poured boiling water from the kettle into the teapot, he paused and silently cursed his actions. Out of habit, he'd prepared the tea the way Rupert liked it rather than simply using the instant hot water from the tap. He placed the lid on the pot in disgust. As he waited for the tea to steep, he stared at the wall in front of him.
"How did I get here?" Once again, Geneviève's words echoed in his head and he couldn't help but voice them to the empty room. "I'm a skilled, highly qualified weapons designer and tactical expert. What am I doing here, wasting my life at a damned shipping company?"
He poured himself a cup of the strong, black tea and sat at the table. Only a moment later, he stood abruptly. Leaving his tea on the kitchen table, he retrieved his datapad from the pocket of his wet coat. He sat back down and turned on the pad, happy to see the rain had caused it no noticeable damage. He called up the file he'd downloaded while in the university's engineering building and began to read.
Malcolm sat in the warm darkness of the sitting room and stared out at the skyline. Cold London rain beat against the window. The fire he'd built hours ago burned low.
He'd left the sitting room's door ajar, hoping and hoping not to hear Rupert return. Then he heard it—the quiet, telltale click of the flat's front door opening and closing; the stealthy footsteps in the entryway. He listened carefully, identifying every one of Rupert's steps and guessing at what the other man was thinking.
Malcolm heard him pause, probably surprised to see the entryway light was off. Plenty of light would be bleeding over from the kitchen—more than enough for him to be able to see well. The footfalls entered the kitchen, which Rupert would find empty but for a dirty mug in the sink and the cold pot of tea on the counter.
Rupert must have paused briefly there, too, looking around the room and out into the hallway where the light was also unusually bright. He would undoubtedly be puzzled. Normally Malcolm left the entryway, kitchen, and hall lights on low when he knew Rupert was coming home late. Malcolm's tidy nature wouldn't let him leave dirty dishes or food sitting out, and he certainly never left his shoes in the front hall. Everything Rupert saw was contrary to Malcolm's usual habits, and anything that strayed from Malcolm's usual habits was cause for puzzlement at best.
The footsteps continued on. Malcolm imagined they sounded warier now, but he suspected he was only projecting.
Slowly, the sitting room door opened all the way. Malcolm couldn't see Rupert's face, backlit as he was by the hallway light, but his form was clearly outlined in the open doorway.
Malcolm didn't move from his spot on the leather sofa. "Welcome home," he said softly.
Rupert started. "Hey, baby," he began in mild surprise. "Sorry if I woke you."
"What are you doing up?" He took a step further into the room. "Are you ill?"
A bitter, humorless smile quirked the corner of Malcolm's mouth. "I'd almost believe you cared, but if you really did you might have asked me this morning when I didn't go to work. Clearly the acting classes you took have served you well."
"What are you talking about?"
Malcolm turned a freezing cold glare on Rupert. "Were you planning on telling me about your boyfriend? Or were you and he having too much fun laughing about me and my incredible gullibility to give me even that tiny speck of respect?"
Malcolm had to give Rupert credit. He didn't squirm or protest or deny anything. "I was going to tell you quite soon, actually," he said. "Once I'd defended my thesis. Before that I didn't want to deal with you wigging out on me. It would have been inconvenient."
Malcolm swallowed the tight, hard lump that threatened to choke him. He couldn't have spoken even if he could have thought of something to say.
"Besides," Rupert went on, cruelly casual, "we each had our guess on whether or not you'd figure it out on your own. He gave you more credit than I did. Said you were bound to figure it out before I said a word. I'll have to tell him you surprised me by proving him right. Tell me, who helped you? You're not smart enough to have worked it out on your own." He snapped his fingers suddenly as if he'd been struck with an epiphany. "It was that bitch from your work, wasn't it? That meddling French cunt. What's her name? I bet she sussed it all out for you, didn't she?"
Malcolm imagined he could feel his heart breaking. Then he violently shoved the puerile and overly dramatic image from his mind. He had no intention of telling Rupert that Geneviève had nothing to do with it, that in fact he hadn't figured out anything until the reality of it had been thrust so vehemently in his face. "How long?" he managed to ask.
"Do you really want to know the answer to that?" Rupert countered, an especially ugly note in his voice. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned one shoulder against the doorframe.
Malcolm had a brief moment of déjà vu. It was exactly the way he'd stood that morning—before Malcolm's world had fallen apart. "Yes."
"Four years come November," the older man replied evenly, a smug smile curling his lips.
Malcolm felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. He fought to keep his breathing steady, to hold back the tears that threatened to fill his eyes. He stared at Rupert, wondering when the man he'd loved had become the spiteful person who faced him now.
Rupert could see his distress and smirked nastily. "My god, you're actually surprised," he said, his voice tinged with hateful amusement, clearly enjoying Malcolm’s pain. "You were always pathetically easy to control, but you're thicker than even I imagined."
"Get out," hissed Malcolm through clenched teeth.
"Not a problem, baby. I've been planning on it for quite a while." He pushed away from the wall and stood up straight. There was a wicked light in his ice-blue eyes. "David's got an even sweeter set-up than this place. Posh Soho flat with all the amenities. His folks got it for him. They just dote on their number one son." The spark in his eyes grew equally lustful and vicious as he went on. "I'm sure he'll be pleasantly surprised to see me back there again so soon. He was aching for another round tonight when I told him I had to go. He just loves having my cock up his ass. Such a nice fit, too. Mm!"
Malcolm fought back nausea at the other man's deliberately hurtful words. He held his face and body perfectly still. I will not give him the satisfaction, he thought furiously. I will not give him the satisfaction.
When Malcolm made no move, Rupert continued. "He's a quick learner, too. He knows just what I like and how I like it. Knows when to give in and when to take control. Not like you. You never did figure out how to be anything but a vessel, did you, baby? Never took command of any situation in your life."
"Until today." Malcolm's voice held fire and ice, and the threat was clear in it. He was pleased to see Rupert's cold demeanor crack ever so slightly. It was a tiny, pointless victory, but it was the only victory he had at that moment.
"I'll come round for my things next week. Don't worry, baby, I won't make it hard for you," Rupert added in a mockery of concern for Malcolm's feelings. "I'll make sure you're at work when I come." He was about to leave, but paused to look back at Malcolm one last time. "I gave notice at the start of the term, by the way. You have until the end of next month to get out." Then he turned around and stalked away.
A moment later Malcolm heard the front open and then close with gut-wrenching finality.
He sat in stony silence for a long time after that. The rain stopped and the sun began to rise before he moved. When he did, it was to stand up and stretch muscles that ached from tension and inaction. He went to the kitchen and methodically emptied and rinsed the teapot. Next, he placed his dirty mug in the dishwasher and claimed a new one from the cupboard. It took him several moments to find the spoon-shaped tea infuser he knew he had. It had been years since he'd used it, but he'd never thrown it out. After some searching, he found it in the back of the utensil drawer. He scooped tealeaves into the infuser, placed it in the mug, and then drew instant hot water from the tap to fill the mug.
Malcolm stared into his tea, watching it darken as it steeped. When the steaming liquid had achieved just the right shade of rich brown, he sipped it carefully. It tasted smooth and strong, and it soothed his tight throat. Depositing the infuser in the sink, he took his drink, sat down at the kitchen table, and looked out through the tiny window onto the street below.
He felt surprisingly calm. His heartbeat was steady and slow, his eyes were dry. There wasn't even the telltale tingle of unshed tears. Nothing seemed to be able penetrate his cool exterior to the icy vacuum within him. He was completely numb, hollow, as if someone had reached inside him and pulled out everything warm and living.
The rain began to fall again, a cold spring drizzle. Malcolm didn't mind. It washed the air clean and left the old buildings shining with wetness. He reached out and opened the little window, inhaling the scent of wet pavement and early morning.
He finished his tea and decided to go for a walk.
A heavy silence descended over the cabin, blanketing its two occupants. Malcolm stared across the room, not really seeing the stars that slipped past outside the window. He'd long ago drained the water glass he held, but he'd never bothered to refill it. Trip had long since given in to the urge to hold something—even if it couldn't be Malcolm—and only now released the pillow he'd clutched for well over an hour.
"He was true to his word that time, at least," Malcolm said dully. "I came home from work the next Monday to find everything that belonged to him was gone." He gave a single mirthless chuckle, something between amusement and disgust. "I'd briefly considered changing the lock codes so he couldn't get in without me there, but there wasn't any point in postponing the inevitable. And it really did hurt less that I wasn't there to watch him and my replacement pack up everything and haul it away." He fell silent once more, toying idly with the empty drinking glass.
Trip had never looked away from him the entire time Malcolm had recounted his story. The play of emotions on his lover's face had been painful to watch, but somehow Trip had been unable or simply unwilling to turn away. Even that small a thing would have felt like a betrayal—like he was letting Malcolm down somehow.
He set aside the pillow he held, stiff muscles protesting the movement. He ignored them. Pushing aside the covers, Trip shifted position until he was seated beside Malcolm, their bodies touching from shoulder to knee. He was relieved when Malcolm neither shied away nor protested. Taking this as an encouraging sign, Trip dared to wrap his arm around Malcolm's unusually bowed shoulders. He wasn't sure what to say, so he remained silent.
Eventually, Malcolm relaxed a little into Trip's embrace. Finding comfort there, he rested his head on Trip's shoulder. Several moments passed that way before Malcolm began to cry quietly.
Trip took the empty glass from Malcolm's hand and set it aside. Without a word, he wrapped strong arms around his lover and held him. Trip found it subtly disturbing to see Malcolm—his steady, strong Malcolm—break down that way. But having finally learned everything Malcolm had just told him, Trip could only marvel that he'd held it all in for so many years. He deserved to be able to let it all out this way, and Trip allowed him to do just that, holding Malcolm until he cried himself out.
This is just the beginning. It’s all out in the open. He can’t hide from it anymore, and now he has to deal with it, Trip thought as he held his weeping partner. He gently kissed the top of Malcolm's head. And I'm gonna deal with it with him. Whatever happens, I'm gonna be here for him. It was a promise he made silently to himself.
Eventually, Malcolm sat up straight once more, wiping his cheeks with his hands in embarrassment. "I'm sorry," he said.
Trip reached for the box of tissues on the nightstand and offered it to him. "You don't have to apologize, Malcolm," he replied as the other man took several tissues.
Malcolm dried his red-rimmed eyes and blew his nose. He'd almost managed to regain his usual self-possession by the time he responded. "Thank you."
"For the tissues?" Trip half-joked. He hoped that a little levity would help Malcolm understand that everything really was all right between them.
"For listening," Malcolm replied.
Trip shook his head. "I should thank you." At his lover's puzzled look, he explained. "I know that wasn't easy for you. It took a lot of courage for you to trust me, and I won't forget it. You know," he went on, "in some ways I should be grateful to that bastard."
Now Malcolm's look went from puzzled to dumbfounded. "You what?"
Trip shrugged one shoulder. "If he hadn't driven you to it, who knows if you'd ever have joined Starfleet? Or, if you'd never met him, you might have joined earlier and we might never have met. Things happen for a reason." He looked Malcolm directly in the eye before going on. "I'm sorry for everything he put you through. You should never have had to put up with anyone treating you the way he did, and I still fully intend to kick his sorry, pompous, manipulative ass across this galaxy. But if not for him, you might not be here with me now, and I don't even want to imagine living without you in my life."
Malcolm tried to speak, but he didn't know what to say. He was overcome with the sincerity in Trip's face and words.
For his part, Trip needed no reply. He was perfectly happy simply to see the love expressed so openly in Malcolm's eyes. He allowed his partner another few moments to collect himself before he spoke again. "Can I ask you one question?"
Malcolm braced himself internally, wondering what else Trip could possibly want to know. "Of course."
"Will you move in with me now?"
It was the last thing Malcolm expected and it caused him to stall briefly, his tired brain working to make sense of what Trip had just said. When it did, he almost laughed at the absurdity and ingenuousness of the question. Still, he couldn't help hedging a little as he answered it. "If you still think it's a good idea."
"I think it's the best idea I've had since I figured out how to increase the efficiency of the warp engines by nearly eight percent," Trip informed him decisively.
Now Malcolm did laugh, shining blue eyes alight with relief. "All right," he agreed.
"Good. We'll take care of it first thing in the morning."
"How about first thing tomorrow?" suggested Malcolm. At Trip's curious look, he nodded toward the bedside chronometer, which glowed a bright 0512. "First thing in the morning was about a quarter of an hour ago."
Trip groaned when he saw what time it was. "Good thing we scheduled ourselves for Beta-shift today."
"It is one of the benefits of being a department head," agreed Malcolm.
Trip nodded. "Shower now?" he suggested wearily. "Or sleep first?" He crossed mental fingers that Malcolm would say shower. Despite how tired he was, he was too wound up to sleep right away.
Malcolm met Trip's tired gaze with his own. "Shower," he echoed in fatigued agreement.
A coy smile played over Trip's lips as an idea occurred to him. "At least at this hour we're not likely to have company in the shower room." Then he backpedaled slightly, afraid he might have pushed too far too soon after Malcolm's night of emotional purging. "Unless you don't want to right now," he added hastily. To Trip's pleasure and surprise, Malcolm actually smiled.
Privately, Malcolm was thrilled at Trip's suggestion. It was a good sign that the younger man still felt the same way towards him as he had before Malcolm had told him everything. "We'd best get moving," he replied. "We definitely don't want any company this morning."
Trip grinned, his face practically glowing with happiness. Suddenly feeling energized, he all but leapt from the bed. "You get the bathrobes. I'll get everything else." His tone and expression stated as clearly as words could have just what "everything else" was.
Malcolm chuckled. "I love you, Trip."
Trip paused at the nightstand and looked back at his lover. "I love you, too, Malcolm," he said with conviction. "Now get a move on. We've got a date with a shower, and I don't want to be late."
Malcolm laughed again and fetched their robes from the closet. They headed quickly to the shower room, which they found gratifyingly deserted.