Warnings: Violence, horror. One character seems to die in this chapter. However, this story is horror/humour/sci fi. Do you really think he stays dead? Puh-lease.
"We are defined by the things we fear." Joss Whedon, a line from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
Phlox strode into view, hovering over Malcolm and blocking Trip's view of the lieutenant's face. Trip heard the doctor's voice, cheerful, as he said, "Mr. Reed, good to see…"
The engineer turned his face towards the ceiling, staring up at the lights and just letting himself drift, sinking into the sickbay bed below him, the warmth of the blankets over him almost overwhelming. He allowed himself to be lulled by the swirl of the nearby conversation, the interlacing of Phlox's voice with Malcolm's occasional low replies.
After a while, Trip wasn't sure how long, Phlox moved away. Trip turned his head to view his friend, smiling once he realised that Malcolm was sleeping again. Trip closed his eyes.
Trip found himself alone in his room back in Panama City, the space preserved just as it was when he was twelve years' old. He was sitting on the floor, pulling objects out of a box that he held in his lap, laying each item on the carpet around him. Glancing down, he noticed that he was still wearing a hospital gown, but now with a too-small, red Superman cape strung around his neck and hanging down his back.
Trip looked up and smiled at Malcolm, who was standing in his open door. "I think you should call me Trip. After all…" he wiggled his eyebrows.
"Um, yes. Trip." Malcolm smiled, nodding towards Trip's outfit. "Nice cape."
"Thanks. I used to love this old thing." Trip shrugged, then looked down and rummaged through the box, pulling out an item, which he carefully placed on the floor.
Malcolm looked about the space. "Where are we?"
Trip waved one arm, encompassing the room. "We're in my bedroom."
Malcolm took in the posters on the walls: scantily-clad women posed provocatively, comic book characters acting heroic and various space vehicles. He walked across the room to a shelf, picking up a Darth Vader action figure and examining it carefully. "Interesting décor for an adult," he shot back over his shoulder as he focused on the item in his hand.
Trip twisted around and looked up. "Hey, that's vintage, careful," he exclaimed.
Malcolm cautiously replaced Darth Vader, then turned back to the other man.
Trip laughed. "It's my bedroom from when I was growing up. We're in Florida."
Malcolm walked to Trip's side and sat down next to him. He glanced at the items arrayed on the carpet. "What's all this, then?"
Trip smiled. "It's my memento box, from when I was little." He picked up one item, which was a ragged stack of cards wrapped in a clear bag, and held it up so that Malcolm could see. "Cards from the original Star Wars film, really old. They were my grandfather's, or maybe my great-grandfather's, I think. My dad gave 'em to me." He put those down, and picked up another item. "Foul ball from when the Florida Dodgers won the pennant." He tossed it lightly, caught it, and then put it down, picking up another object. He looked at it, pensive, and then peered more closely. "I'm not even sure what this is." He shrugged and put it down, looking up to find Malcolm smiling.
"Why did you kiss me?" Malcolm asked.
Trip smiled enigmatically, sliding the box onto the floor beside him. "Would you believe that I'm desperately and secretly attracted to you?"
Malcolm just looked at him, one eyebrow raised. After a moment, he said, "And all that with T'Pol?"
"Was just an elaborate ruse," Trip replied, laughing. Seeing the look on Malcolm's face, he continued, "Oh, all right. If you want to be all serious about this." He looked thoughtful for a moment, giving the matter serious consideration. Then he shrugged. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."
Malcolm sat there, confused.
"Well, think about it," Trip explained. "You'd kissed me…" He hesitated. "Well, sort of, anyway. So I owed you one." Seeing Malcolm's disbelief, Trip hurried on. "And anyway, um, I kind of wanted to see what would happen. Your reaction."
"I'm not sure. I guess I thought it would be funny." Trip shrugged. "Anyway, it was a dream. And I think we're sick. I'm pretty sure those things are influencing my actions."
"So you weren't trying…" Malcolm let his voice trail off.
Trip laughed, then quickly said, "No, no. God, no."
Malcolm visibly relaxed and peered down at the items on the floor.
"Now, if you were Travis…." Trip said under his breath as he looked through the box again.
Malcolm glanced at him, surprised.
Trip looked up, raised an eyebrow, then broke into a huge grin. He reached across and shoved the other man's shoulder. "I'm kidding, Malcolm."
Trip gave him an evil smile. "But he is pretty buff."
Malcolm rolled his eyes. "Do you ever stop…"
Trip laughed. "Not if I can help it."
The captain strode across sickbay towards the doctor. "How is the treatment coming?" he asked, worried, knowing that the treatment that the aliens had given them wasn't likely to work as well, if at all, in humans.
Phlox looked up from his work and smiled broadly. 'It seems to be helping, although it is keeping them both asleep." He glanced towards a sleeping Trip. "Another day for Mr. Tucker, I think. He's progressing well. Very few signs of the virus left, and his fever is significantly lower."
Phlox nodded and walked in that direction, Jon following. "He's not doing as well, I'm afraid," the doctor said as he glanced at the monitors. "Although his wounds are healing remarkably quickly," He dropped his voice. "Quite unusual, really. I've never seen anything like it." He shook his head in amazement, and then he continued, "His fever is still quite high; he seems to be experiencing significant difficulty fighting the virus off."
There was a soft call from Trip's bed, "Hey," and Jon and Phlox walked over to him.
"Hey, Trip," Jon said quietly, taking in Trip's obvious exhaustion. "How are you feeling?"
"C'I have some water?" was the rasped reply. Jon looked to Phlox, who nodded and started to raise the head of the bed as Jon poured the water.
Malcolm was in his bedroom at home, listening to the sounds of the party downstairs. It was an adult party, so he and his sister had only attended for a few minutes, mainly so his parents could show them off, all dressed up and on their best behaviour. Right now, he was supposed to be asleep, but he just couldn't settle down. Instead, he was in his pyjamas, kneeling on his bed and facing out the window, watching clouds swirl by in the dark night sky, lit up along their edges by the brightness of the moon behind them.
He placed his hands against the cold glass, watching as it fogged around his palms. He moved his face towards the glass, and watched as his breath hazed the surface. Pressing his hands harder against the glass, he felt his stomach drop, a sort of a "whoosh" in his head, and he was pulled through the window.
Trip started, and his eyes jumped to Malcolm. "Is he all right, doc?"
Phlox glanced at Malcolm. "As well as can be expected."
Trip's hand started shaking, and he spilled a bit of the water. Jon grabbed the glass, putting it on a nearby table.
Trip heard Jon's alarmed voice. He blinked, and he felt himself pulled down through the surface of the bed.
Jon watched as Trip's eyes rolled back, and he slumped, unconscious.
Just then, the alarms on Malcolm's bed went off.
Trip found himself in the middle of a silent, empty sickbay, the only sound a steady step, step as he watched Malcolm pace the perimeter of the room, as if he was trapped. Malcolm circled, prowling, muttering to himself as he stalked, completely unaware of Trip's presence.
Trip watched his friend circle, trying to assess the situation. He was in sickbay, still in his hospital gown, although Jon and Phlox were gone. Malcolm was wearing his uniform, every hair in place despite his frantic movement, his injuries gone.
Dreaming again, obviously.
After a moment, Trip cautiously asked, "Malcolm?"
Malcolm's head twisted in Trip's direction, a feral look in his eyes.
Trip took a step back, putting his hands up defensively, saying, "It's me, Trip."
Malcolm walked towards him, fast, stopping mere inches away. He reached out and grabbed Trip's hair, twisting his hand viciously. Trip tried not to flinch. Malcolm shook Trip's head by the hair, shouting angrily, "Why are you keeping me here?"
Trip's hands automatically came up and covered Malcolm's, trying to prevent his friend from hurting him. "Malcolm, you're sick. You're dreaming."
"Then why can't I leave?" Malcolm spat, pushing Trip back, hard.
Trip stumbled back. He regained his footing, then shook his head. "I'm not sure. I think this is your dream." He kept a wary eye on Malcolm. "I think you brought me here."
Malcolm stepped to him again, aggressive. Trip held up his hands, quickly saying, "I'm not here to hurt you."
Malcolm stared at him for a moment, then nodded and turned away. He walked across the room towards one of the tables, staring down at the instruments there. After a moment, he selected one, a sharp knife, and, squeezing it in his hand, he started pacing again, ignoring Trip.
As Malcolm walked, Trip saw blood begin to well in the hand closed around the knife.
From his position in the centre of the room, Trip asked, "What's the knife for?"
Malcolm continued pacing, not looking at the other man. "Protection." He transferred the knife from that hand to his other, and he began trailing his injured hand along the wall, leaving a trail of blood where he touched.
Trip called out, "You should stop." When Malcolm glanced at him, Trip nodded towards the wall. "You're hurting yourself."
Malcolm stopped moving, looking down at his hand, watching the blood drip onto the floor. He frowned.
Then Malcolm was in his hospital gown again, the bandages there on his chest, his injuries there again as well, his newly hurt hand still bloody, the knife gone. He looked at Trip, and his friend could see that his eyes were his own again, albeit somewhat dazed.
With a sickly smile, Malcolm whispered, "I don't feel very well."
Trip nodded cautiously. "You're sick. We both are."
"Where are we?" Malcolm said, his voice betraying his uncertainty.
Trip shook his head. "Sickbay, sort of. I'm not sure. It's your dream."
Malcolm looked thrown by that idea. "Why would I dream myself here? I don't like it here."
Trip smiled slightly. "Neither do I. Let's go someplace else." He held out his hand. After a moment, Malcolm stepped forward and took it.
Malcolm sat there in his pyjamas, Trip beside him in his own, with the Superman cape streaming out behind him in the slight, soft breeze. They were sitting on the grass outside of a well lit-up house, the noise from a party drifting out across lawn.
Trip squeezed Malcolm's hand gently, then released it. He wiped Malcolm's blood off his hand and onto the grass below him. "Are you all right now?"
Malcolm nodded. "Better." He ruffled his injured hand through the grass, pulling a few leaves up carefully, trying not to get them bloody. He stared down at them as they lay across his fingers, then blew, watching them fall back into the lawn. "I still feel odd, though," he said softly.
"Where are we?"
"My house," Malcolm replied, turning to Trip. "Well, my parents' house. From when I was young."
Trip took a deep sniff, smelling damp, and green, and spring maybe, or summer. He smiled. It was a cool night, anyway, the clouds in the sky obscuring most of the stars.
He could feel the damp of the dew seeping through his thin hospital gown. It felt different here, different from a Florida night. The smells, for one thing, were all wrong. He sighed, breathing in deeply. But still nice. He shifted slightly. The grass was definitely different. Softer, less spiky. He asked, "Do you have fire ants here?"
"Good. Hate those buggers." Trip lay down on the grass, his face up to the sky, his arms bent behind his head, his head resting on his palms.
Malcolm watched him get comfortable, then joined him on the grass, mirroring his posture. They lay side by side, watching the clouds pass, in silence.
"Did you used to do this a lot?" Trip asked softly after several minutes had passed.
"Do what, commander?" Malcolm replied from next to him.
Trip reached across and pushed at his friend's arm. "Trip, damn it."
Malcolm smiled. "Trip. Sorry."
"Did you used to watch the sky a lot?"
"Me, too, specially at night." Trip rolled over onto his side, his head propped up by one hand, facing Malcolm. "Didn't matter if I could see the stars or not. I just liked watching." He smiled. "And imagining myself up there some day."
Malcolm nodded, face still towards sky.
Trip slumped back to the grass, his eyes to the sky again. "How's your hand?"
After a moment, when Malcolm didn't reply, Trip twisted towards him again.
He was gone.
Trip awoke, not because of a noise, but because of the sudden absence of it. He lay still on the biobed, trying to figure out what had woken him, what had changed.
"He's gone, Captain."
Trip's eyes shot open, and he turned to Malcolm's bed. The doctor was standing, blocking his view of his friend. He could see the captain slumped in a nearby chair, his shoulders hunched forward, his head bowed. Despite the fact that Trip couldn't see his face, he could tell that Jon looked defeated, devastated.
Phlox stepped to the side, and Trip realised what had awoken him.
The alarms had been shut off.
Malcolm was dead.
Trip gasped, and jerked his gaze away, the loss slamming into him like a physical pain. This wasn't possible. He stared at the ceiling, then closed his eyes.
Phlox started speaking again, very quietly, and Trip struggled to overhear what he was saying. Something about removing life support soon, about brain death…
Trip felt tears well up under his eyelids, and then trickle down the sides of his face towards his ears. He winced. He couldn't let this happen. He had to try something. He had to check…
Evening his breathing purposefully, Trip let himself drift, half-asleep, and dream.
Malcolm was alone in his dark bedroom, huddled on the small bed, his back to the headboard. He was trembling, trying to keep his body parts as far away from the edge of the bed as possible.
He whispered, "Trip?" and Trip was there, right next to him on the bed.
Trip turned to Malcolm. "Where'd you go?"
Malcolm just shook his head.
"Why are we cowering here?"
Malcolm glanced to him, and in a shaky voice, whispered, "I'm frightened."
Trip's eyebrows shot up, surprised. "Um, okay." He looked around the darkened room, the moonlight illuminating the edges of the furniture. "Where?"
Malcolm whispered, "Under the bed, of course." He indicated the edge of the bed with his head, keeping his arms wrapped around his knees.
Trip tried not to smile. "What kinds of monsters?"
Malcolm thought for a moment. "Could be anything. Vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts, banshee, succubi, incubi, Gila monsters…"
Trip interrupted. "Gila monsters?"
Malcolm nodded, staring at the edge of the bed.
Trip smiled slightly. "Do you even know what a Gila monster is?"
Malcolm paused, then shook his head.
"They only weigh, like, three pounds."
Malcolm glanced at Trip. "Oh. Well, then." He raised one eyebrow and released his legs. "Shall I look?" Not waiting for an answer, Malcolm inched forward on the bed, then bent over, his butt in the air as he thrust his head under the bed. His voice muffled, he said, "Just as I thought." He pulled his head back up. "Monsters." He smiled. "But they don't appear very frightening."
Trip squirmed forward, then took a look for himself. "Oh." He pulled his head back up, smiling at Malcolm. "Not very scary, are they?" He cocked his head to the side. "Kind of small, pink and furry for vicious monsters."
Malcolm frowned. "Well, I think they were worse before you came…"
Trip's face took on a disbelieving expression, and then he put his head back under. In a muffled voice, he said, "Actually, they're sort of cute." He stuck one hand under the bed, and Malcolm could hear things scurrying about as Trip's voice called out, "Here, monster monster…damn," Trip pulled back suddenly. "He bit me," he said in surprise, holding his hand out towards Malcolm, a tiny bite mark on the tip of one finger. "What kind of monsters did you dream up, here?"
Malcolm smiled and shrugged. "I think they're probably evil, vicious, mutant bunny monsters."
Trip looked at his friend, his fingers still out in front of him. "You really are a sick bastard."
Malcolm smiled. "We all have our gifts."
Trip laughed. "Well, now that we've defeated the…" he raised his eyebrows expectantly.
"Evil, vicious, mutant bunny monsters?" Malcolm supplied.
Trip nodded. "I came here for a reason."
When Trip didn't continue, Malcolm prompted, "That reason being…"
"I'm not sure…I don't remember, exactly." Trip said hesitantly, frowning. "There's something…wrong." Then, more firmly, he said, "You need to come back with me."
"Back where, exactly?"
Malcolm shook his head. "I hate it there."
Trip nodded. "I know, but, um, I think…" he hesitated. "There's something wrong. You have to go back." At Malcolm's exasperated expression, Trip gave a sad smile. "Please, Malcolm."
Malcolm glanced around his room, then back to Trip. "Oh, all right. If you'll come with?" He slid off the edge of the bed, stepping quickly away from its edge when he saw a pink paw flash out from underneath. He held out his hand for Trip, smiling wryly. "Just watch the bunnies."
Trip smiled, taking his hand and allowing himself to be lead off the bed. "Definitely."
They stepped to Malcolm's bedroom door, and opened it.
Trip awoke to the sounds of alarms, the rush of activity. He looked over to Malcolm's bed to see Phlox moving about in a hurry, Jon standing over the bed, poised, anxiety written all over his features.
"What the…" Jon said, catching himself before he could swear.
Phlox smiled slightly, his surprise obvious. "He seems to be, well…" he shrugged. "Recovering." He grinned broadly.
As Trip watched, Malcolm's eyes cracked open. Trip saw Phlox try to catch the lieutenant's attention, softly saying a few words, to which Malcolm did not respond. He simply lay there, staring up at the lights above him.
After a moment, Malcolm turned his head towards Trip. He gave a small, tired smile, and, soundlessly, moved his lips to form words. "Thank you, commander."
Trip smiled and whispered, "Trip."
Malcolm rolled his eyes, and turned his face back towards the ceiling.
Trip let out a slow, even breath. Then another. He allowed himself to drift on the sounds of the activity around him, happy to hear Malcolm's voice responding to Phlox's queries.
After a while, he fell asleep. He didn't dream.