Rating: PG-13 Couple of curse words, nothing really bad.

Disclaimer: Mal and Trip: not mine ( Unfortunately.) Property of Bermaga. You know the drill. Archive: Yup, just tell me first. Spoilers: For "Similitude". Big narsty ones.

Summary: Post -ep for Similitude. Two friends, a mess hall and a window.

The Other Shoe

He rarely ever knew how, but Malcolm always seemed to end up in the mess hall at the oddest times. Late incident reports, finishing up weapons analyses; the calm silence of the mess hall at 0100 just seemed more welcoming than his own cramped quarters.

Sitting down with his PADDs, and something Chef had called Tension Tamer Orange Zinger, Macolm settled in. However his ears soon picked an incongruous sound, standing out amidst the rhythmic soothing hum of the engines.

The sound of breath.

Of halting breath, drawn in carefully and painfully.

Hidden in a corner, in a shadowed alcove Malcolm had often used himself sat a familiar figure, a familiar head of dirty blond hair.

Malcolm cautiously walked over, trying to casually slide in across from his friend.

Neither of them said anything for what seemed like a long while, Trip's halting breathing the only sound to punctuate the silence.

"Are you okay?"

The question had come before Malcolm could stop himself. Even as he was saying it, it seemed woefully inadequate.

"I mean, your breathing....it sounds somewhat labored."

"My ribs're still a little tender."

Silence fell again. Malcolm was almost glad of it, as he studied his friend's tired face. He thought of the man he met over two years ago; he thought of the man he had met ,got to know, and said farewell to in the short span of two weeks. He could see neither of them in the man across the table. The same kind face remained; the same gentlemanly bearing. Gone was the innocence, the same relative naivete he had seen in his first encounters with Trip, and with Sim. A worn, wiser, sadder man looked back at him.

Surprisingly, it was Trip who first cautiously broke the silence. "Heard ya had a spot of engine trouble while I was out."

"You could say that."

"Heard Sim was a damn good engineer."

"We wouldn't have escaped without him."

"Hell, if he could only cook, you might have been better off keeping him and ditching me."

Silence.

"That was a joke, Malcolm."

" Not a bloody funny one."

Trip's eyes flashed.

"Well , what do you expect me to say, Malcolm?!"

"Treat the situation a little more seriously."

"The hell? I get mortally injured, stay in a coma for two weeks, and the first thing I see when I wake up is me lying dead on the next table. I'm told that not only is he a clone, he is.. was a clone with my memories, my personality , in other words virtually indistinguishable from me. Yet he's dead, and I'm here. He sacrificed himself to save me. The doctor killed me to save me. Hell, Malcolm, I went to my own goddamn funeral! How the fuck am I supposed to react?"

As he spoke Trip's voice got more and more worn, more and more frayed. The outburst seemed to take everything out of him, and he slumped back against his chair.

"God, I'm sorry, Malcolm."

"It's alright."

"It's just... I feel...uneasy."

"Why? You cheated death...again."

"That's just it."

"What?"

"I can't shake the feeling that it should have been me in that coffin. That it was my time but somehow I'm still here. He was me, I was him, yet I'm here, and he's not. Like the universe is out of balance somehow, and I owe some cosmic power something. Like I'll spend the rest of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop."

"It wasn't your time, Trip."

Trip looked up at Malcolm, uncertainty and fear coloring his features.

"How can you be sure?"

"Because I say so. Because your ship needed you. Because your friends needed you. Fuck the universe, it wasn't your time."

"How can we be sure it was his?"

Malcolm had no answer for that. Trip stared out the window. Malcolm sat with him.