Author's Note: In response to some of your reviews, I decided to write an epilogue to this story with the conversation between Malcolm and Trip. Hope you find it fulfilling.

Chapter 8: Pickin' up the pieces

At 0200, Malcolm was sitting at his desk trying unsuccessfully to read his book. He had just realized that he had read the same sentence four times and still didn't know what it said, when the doorchime rang.

"Come," he said without looking up. He heard the door open and when he finally lifted his head Commander Tucker was standing awkwardly in the doorway.

"Commander!" he exclaimed, dropping his book on the desk and springing to his feet.

"Hey, Malcolm," Trip said quietly. His eyes flicked nervously around the room, but he made no attempt to enter. Malcolm noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and rimmed with red.

"Would you like to come in?"

"Uh, yeah, ok." Trip finally stepped into the room and stopped inside the door. He opened his mouth and then closed it again, looking uncomfortable.

"Commander? Is there something you wanted?"

"Yeah, Malcolm. I think we-uh-we need to talk."

"I agree, Commander." Malcolm waited patiently, but Trip said nothing. "What did you want to talk about?"

Trip took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "Look, I'm sorry, I . . ."

Malcolm continued to wait, trying not to look too anxious.

"This is really hard."

"It's all right, Commander. Would you like something to drink?"

"Yeah, some water would be great." Malcolm fetched two glasses of water and gestured for Trip to sit on his bed while he perched on the edge of the desk chair. Trip drained his glass before continuing.

"The captain said--the captain said I needed to tell you."

"Tell me what?"

"What--what happened to me. He said you needed to know."

Malcolm nodded encouragingly. He was pretty sure he already knew everything, but it might do Trip some good to talk about it.

"Your cellmate assaulted you, right?"

"No--I mean yes, but that's not what I needed to tell you about."

Now Malcolm was confused. What's the big secret, he wondered. "Go ahead," he said with growing apprehension. What could be so horrible that Trip was afraid to tell him about it?

"In--in the kitchen, that tall guy, the one with the scar--"

"Rogin," Malcolm interrupted.

"Yeah, him. Well, they had me surrounded. I--I tried to get away, but they were too strong. One of 'em slammed my head into the corner of the cabinets and I almost passed out, so I couldn't fight 'em off." Trip trailed off, running his fingertips along the thin pinkish line above his eyebrow. Malcolm continued to wait, silently inviting Trip to continue. For a long moment Trip stared into his empty glass silently.

"I can still feel--I can feel his hand pushing my head down. The metal counter was cold, it--it hurt my cheek." Trip rubbed his cheekbone where a faded yellow bruise was still visible. "Rogin, he--he . . . God, I can't do this, I'm sorry, Malcolm." Trip set the glass on the nightstand and stood up abruptly, wiping his palms on the knees of his coverall, leaving sweaty streaks on the fabric.

Malcolm jumped up too and stared at him in bewilderment. "They held your head down on the counter?" Trip's only response was his harsh breathing, eyes fixed on the door. Malcolm could hear the echo of his own breathing loud in his ears as he began to suspect what Trip was really talking about.

""Commander, what did they do to you?"

"I can't--"

Malcolm fought to keep his voice from breaking. "Commander, please. . . I'm your friend. Nothing can change that. Please tell me." Trip finally looked at Malcolm, who caught his eye and held it. "It's all right, I'll understand," he said sincerely.

After a long moment Trip looked down, breaking the eye contact. He nodded and sat back down on the bed. Malcolm sat next to him, careful not to touch him.

"Rogin held my head down," Trip continued in a halting voice. "All I remember are hands, grabbing my arms, grabbing my clothes. Then he--then he unbuttoned my pants." Trip glanced up briefly when he said it, as if to gauge Malcolm's reaction.

Malcolm felt like he had been punched in the chest. He couldn't breathe. "Oh, God, Commander . . ." His eyes stung as he blinked back the tears that threatened to fall. "Commander, I'm so sorry, I didn't know."

Trip stared down at his fingernails, which were bitten to the quick.

"Why didn't you tell me? I could have done something, I could have helped you."

Trip shook his head quickly. "I didn't want you to get hurt too." He gave a mirthless chuckle. "That worked out real well."

"Commander . . ."

"I thought I could handle it, at first, and then--I was too ashamed to tell you. I was afraid of what you would say."

"What do you mean?"

"I didn't want to--to be weak. I was afraid--I thought. . ." Trip swallowed hard before continuing. "I thought you would say it was my fault."

With an effort, Malcolm bit back his indignance at that idea. "Commander, I would never say that," he said earnestly. "I would never even think that."

"Really?" Trip asked hesitantly.

"My God, you really think I would blame you!" Malcolm felt himself on the edge of hysteria. Hot tears pricked at the inside of his eyelids "Commander, I blame myself," he said in a voice that broke upwards. Awkwardly he palmed away the tear that slipped down his cheek.

Through his tears, Malcolm saw Trip's head come up, a puzzled expression on his face. "Why? How is it your fault?"

"I failed to protect you. You were in trouble and I did nothing to help you."

"But--but you did help me, Malcolm. If you hadn't come in the kitchen when you did, they woulda--they woulda . . ." Trip trailed off. There was no need to say it. They both knew what would have happened.

Malcolm palmed away another tear, then he felt Trip's reassuring hand on his shoulder. He turned his body toward him and pulled him in for a hug, feeling Trip's shoulders shaking against him. After a moment, Trip sniffled deeply and pulled away.

"I thought I was all done cryin' about this," the engineer said shakily, digging at his eyes with the heels of his hands.

Malcolm clapped Trip on the shoulder, stood and headed toward the bathroom, returning an instant later with a handful of tissues. He handed half to Trip and kept the rest for himself.

"So, uh, we were both busy blamin' ourselves, huh?" Trip said after blowing his nose.

Malcolm managed a weak smile. "I suppose so."

Trip was grinning now. "You know what T'Pol would say, of course."

"Typically illogical human behavior," Malcolm said promptly, perfectly imitating the Vulcan's intonation patterns.

That elicited a half-chuckle. After a moment, Trip wadded his tissue up in his hand, chewing on his lip. "Friends?" he said cautiously.

"Friends," Malcolm replied. Both stood, and Trip grabbed Malcolm and pulled him in for another brief hug.

"Friends," he said again, into Malcolm's shoulder.

After a moment, Trip pulled away, an embarrassed smile on his lips. "Well, I'll see you tomorrow," he said awkwardly.

As the door closed behind his friend, Malcolm said quietly, "See you tomorrow . . . Trip." Humming to himself, he turned back to his book.


Author's Note: Do you like that ending better? Write me a review!