Note: The last part; it's been a long time coming, folks, and I just want to thank all of you for keeping with this and generally, you know, bugging me to finish it. I probably would've quit last summer had you not been following. But you were and here we are. In about a week, I am no longer going to be 'Meridian Siler' and I will hopefully be posting another ENT piece that has been a side project as I've worked on The Way. Thanks to all of you again for keeping with me and maybe, just maybe, I can be talked into actually finishing the possible sequel to this. Which actually won't be depressing. I hope.
Thank You's: KaleidescopeCat, Boleyn, RoaringMice (Truthfully? The 'yew' thing has even gotten on my nerves. If I write a sequel, it so will not be in it. And about the Firefly thing? I totally didn't intend it, but thanks for saying it! That's high praise, indeed.), Tata (He'll be about as okay as I can let him be; if there's a sequel, some drama is needed.), liz (You like Noah? Yay! I was wary of throwing in another OC that would have a big part in Trip and Malcolm's lives but I'm glad he turned out well. And I sort of adore him because he's so very Zen about everything. I'm even kind of thinking about writing a Hoshi-Noah thing, because I don't write enough Hoshi. No, there won't be Malcolm's reaction to Trip and Maddy, though Dave and Fritz discuss it in this part.), and Exploded Pen.
Also: In Trip's memo, things in bold have been struck, because won't let me use strikethrough.

Nine: The Ballad of Trip and Malcolm

We get to carry each other
Carry each other

--U2, "One"

From the Transcript of Lieutenant-Commander David Webster's Debriefing

WEBSTER: …Commander Schlosser and I decided to go look for the Captain, as he was not answering the comm., had it off, or some doohickey was making it funky.

JACOBS: Funky? Is that the technical term, son?

WEBSTER: May I consult my doctoral thesis and get back to you?

BLANCHE: Dave…

WEBSTER: Apologies. So, leaving the others in charge, we went to look for him and, to our surprise, encountered Captain Tucker as we were walking down a hallway; he was carrying Captain Reed, who looked like a wet cat dragged through a bush backwards. And then shot. We guided him back, explaining the situation, and entered the fire fight. Lt. Carter took Captain Reed from Captain Tucker.

BLACK: So you fought?

WEBSTER: Yes. But after a moment, my gun was shot from my hands and, in order to retrieve it, I had to perform a highly complicated aerial flip through the burst of energy weapons. I was later chastised for this by Fritz Schlosser, who took me out back to the wood shed and beat me.

BLACK: And then what happened?

WEBSTER: Well, that's about the time I got shot in the head and passed out. PAUSE Could I maybe have that bit about Fritz taking me out to the wood shed and beating me struck from the record?

-

From the Original Mission Report of Lieutenant-Commander Fritz Schlosser

so I busted a cap in his ass. Proverbially speaking, of course. It was more of his head. But with alien physiognomy, you never can tell, can you? Edited by Captain Charles Tucker III: 'So I shot the alien adversary in his head.'

After I shot him, I noticed the Captain was about to be attacked; I took my pulse rifle, flipped it around, and took the alien's head off. (See File ENT-701-02 for information on alien species, and Lt. Cmdr. Schlosser's history with it.) The Captain and I then engaged the enemy further with our pulse rifles as such, decapitating everything within reach. It's a good exercise for those of us with rage issues. Edited by Captain Charles Tucker III: Last sentence struck.

(By the way, Admiral Corner, I think you should try it. Maybe it would stop that vein in your forehead from throbbing so much the next time I accidentally blow your car up. Please understand I'm only concerned for your health, sir. And on the subject of health, Admiral St. Ives, please, for the love of God, get those eyebrows trimmed! I fear your forehead may cave in! Your brains are in terrible danger!) Edited by Captain Charles Tucker III: Entire section struck.

Afterwards, I…

-

From the Original Draft of a Memo to Admiral Lucien Blanche from Captain Charles Tucker III:

And that's why, sir, you're probably going to need to fumigate the infirmary and reapolster reupholster some of the furniture in the mess. On an up note, though, we did catch the bat, so you won't have to go looking for that. We're pretty sure nothing else got loose. Also, Fritz Schlosser and David Webster are willing to put forth the money to pay for the repairs to the gym; Mr. Webster would like me to add that he's sorry about the blood and his mother has got a mixture that can get blood out of anything, so he'll send that over.

As for myself, I'd like to apologize for the newly repaired hole in the Captain's quarters and the random espresso stains that you'll be able to find about the ship. Also, the dents in the walls in Engineering are partly my fault. But I think that adds character. I'll still gladly pay for the repairs.

On a more serious note, I would just like to thank you again for helping get this mission approved and helping get me on as Captain. I know it took some convincing Admiral Frosty Corner to allow this mission to go ahead, so thank you.

(And thanks for keeping some of the stuff I said at the dinner on the down low quiet. I'm sure it wouldn't have helped matters much.)

Thanks Respectfully,

Trip Tucker

P.S.

Do you think Fritz Schlosser could ask your niece on a date? He really likes her. I think it's the blue hair.

-

It's one month later and I'm spending a lot of time by Malcolm's bedside. He doesn't talk to me much, so I spend a lot of that time reading or staring at the ceiling and just being there, because I think that's what he needs. Madeline does that too, just is there for him, and I think I've picked it up from her. I may love Malcolm like a brother, but he is hers and they understand each other. I think it's easier for her to sit with him and just pass the time, without him saying a damn word, because she gets him, she's part of him. I'll get him though, someday.

"I see that I hold sanctuary in their hearts," I read, "and in the hearts of their descendants, generation hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and I know each was not more honored and held sacred in the other's soul, than I was in the souls of both."

I look at Malcolm.

"Malcolm?" I say, my voice grave and somber, "would yew hold me sacred in your soul?"

He looks over at me. "Trip," he replies, using the exact same tone of voice I did, "are you huffing glue?"

I smile at him, because that's the Malcolm I've fought for, and turn back to the book, not needing to get over the fact that, instead of an answer, I get mocked. Because there are some things you just know, and there are no explanations, you just know and it's a miracle; that's a miracle.

We finish the book in a few minutes and I shut it and it's just the two of us then, staring up at the ceiling because we finished a book and that must be a metaphor for something.

"What should we read next?" asks Malcolm suddenly. I turn over to look at him; he's staring at me.

Progress, I think. One month, and progress.

"Have you read David Copperfield?" he asks. "Another Dickens' classic."

"I think we should read it," I say. I look at my watch. "I will actually go pick yew up a copy later today, after the grocery store."

"Grocery store?" he says.

"Your sister," I reply, my eyes comically crossed, "is a force of nature. She's makin' me go to the grocery store with her." Which is sort of true. I hate going to the grocery store, but I like hanging out with Madeline, something I am not telling Malcolm unless I'm at gunpoint, because he may be willingly confined to a hospital bed, but he's scary. I add, "I'm thinkin' of dragging Fritz and David along, for support, see."

"Or playmates for Ethan," says Malcolm.

"Point," I say. "They can relate to him on his level, can't they?"

"It's frightening," he says, "considering the fact that they build complex weapon's system onto Lego AT-AT Walkers."

"Gives me nightmares, I swear," I reply, sitting up and jumping off the bed. I make my way to the door.

"I sleep with a gun," Malcolm adds.

I turn to him, hand on the frame: "I thought yew always did that."

He smiles and leans back into his bed. I grin too, tap the frame, and exit, thinking again: Progress.

-

As it turns out, Fritz and David are completely unhinged and enjoy going to grocery stores. Actually, I've known about the unhinged thing for a while, but I thought maybe they had some hope. But, no, they don't; they're insane.

I found them testing in their labs, with Admirals Blanche and Black watching. They waved me in and I sat down to watch. Black announced a few minutes later that he had to leave and would you like to accompany me to the door, Mr. Tucker? I followed him out and he had a few choice words with me; I nodded, went back in, collected Fritz and David after minimal argument, and left Blanche to follow after Black.

So now I have two clinically insane geniuses with me—

"I'm king of the world!"

—that also happen to be recreating Titanic in a grocery cart in the middle of the bread aisle.

Fritz and Ethan, sitting in a grocery cart, come whooshing passed us, David steering the thing.

"They're going to get kicked out," notes Madeline, not at all concerned.

"Or crash into something," I say, watching them make a return trip.

"Don't worry, Miss Reed," calls Fritz, "I'll toss your son out before that happens."

Laughing, they turn out of the aisle and into another one. Madeline gives a long suffering sigh and turns back to the peanut butter. She stretches up at the jar while I lean my arms against the bar of the cart, which I'm pushing for her.

"Malcolm and I finished A Tale of Two Cities," I tell her. She nods, still trying to reach the jar.

"Yes, he's a big Dickens fan," she says. "One of his favourite authors, in fact."

"We're goin' to read David Copperfield next," I say. "His suggestion."

"Can you help me with this?" she asks, pointing to the jar. "And it's good that he's actually participating with you, isn't it?"

"He's bein' a smartass again, too," I reply; "asked me if I was 'huffing glue'."

"Good," she says. "And, honestly, Charles, help me."

I stand up: "Would yew like me to find a box? Maybe a stepladder? 'Cause that's what we do for Dave."

"Yes, I'm a tiny little woman, Charles, now stop making jokes and get the damn peanut butter for me," she says, snapping her fingers at me. I smile and she adds, "And never equate me to David Webster ever again. I like to think I am quite a bit saner than him."

"Y'are," I say. "Just you're both pretty short."

She rolls her eyes at me and I smile, making her smile too. I grab the peanut butter off the shelf for her and toss it in the cart. She pulls out her list again and starts to move forward, trusting that I'm following behind her. Madeline grabs a loaf of bread and puts it in, still walking and trusting. I tilt my head and watch as her hips sway; for purely academic reasons, I assure you.

Without even turning around, she says, "Stop staring at my arse, Charles."

I snap up: "I was doing no such thing!"

Madeline turns to smile coyly at me, saying, "Women have a sixth sense about these things. We know."

Blinking, I reply, "Well that's just damned unfair."

She smiles wickedly at me and continues on. I lean back against the arm rest. David, Fritz, and Ethan come whooshing past us again, taking the corner sharply, almost tipping over, and, in front of me, Madeline lets out another sigh.

"Why did they come again?" she asks. Their laughter is faded against our ears.

"They like grocery stores. And, apparently," I say, "they woulda been left alone with Admiral Blanche and they seem ta get into all sorts a trouble with him."

This is an understatement for Madeline's benefit. I don't think it wise to tell her what Admiral Black told me in our private conversation: If you don't take those two brilliant madmen with you, they're going to end up blowing another car up, or blowing off another door, or knocking over a liquor store—again—and you will be joining Jon, Stefan, and I in playing 'rock, paper, scissors' for who has to post their bond this time. Are we understood, Captain?

I got the signal loud and clear, and here we are, the five of us in a grocery store because I don't feel up to posting bond.

There's a sudden crash and a rush of apologies; okay, so I may be posting bond today, but at least it won't be for knocking over a liquor store. (Which is something I never, ever want to know about in any detail; I'm completely okay with never knowing how they managed to knock over a liquor store and, more importantly, why.)

Fritz and David, with Ethan holding their hands and swinging between them, slink back to us.

"Cart confiscated?" I ask.

"Maybe," replied David childishly. Ethan giggles and the Gruesome Twosome swing Ethan higher.

Madeline shakes her head with an air of long suffering and announces that she's finished with her shopping. We go to the checkout and pay before heading out to put the groceries away. Fritz and I start putting the groceries away while Madeline does something with her checkbook.

"Hey, Fritzy; we need quarters," David calls out from where he's standing with Ethan next to an old, mechanical riding toy. Fritz reaches into his pocket without question, fishes out the requisite change, and tosses them one by one to David, who smiles at his best friend in return. Fritz turns back to me and starts helping with the groceries again.

"Are you going to come back and watch the testing?" asks Fritz as he helps.

"For a while," I say. "Then I gotta go pick up some books for Malcolm."

Fritz nods and falls silent as Madeline comes over to me. She and I stand next to each other for a moment before Fritz coughs into his hand and mutters some excuse about being needed over by David and Ethan for some serious standing. I keep putting bags away.

She asks, "Are you interested in having dinner tonight? Just the two of us?"

I squeeze a head of lettuce so I don't start screaming, "Yes, hell yes, when when when?" and instead say, "Sure, where?"

"That place you took Ethan and I, back before," she says.

"Great, pick you up at seven?" I reply. She smiles and goes to pick up her son from David, who, when Madeline's back is turn, starts making obscene make-out gestures. I shake my head at him while Fritz slaps his best friend's forehead, saying something about how he'll never get a wife if he doesn't grow the hell up. David retorts with a line about Lieutenant Blanche and I go and collect my charges before they manage to get in a fistfight outside of a grocery store.

Which is probably already a charge on their arrest sheets, but I don't want to know about that either.

-

"So, a date?" asks David, fiddling with a microscope.

"Yes," I reply. Fritz and David smile at each other over my head. I snap, "Cut that out!"

"Cut what out?" asks Fritz, the epitome of innocence.

"Yew know," I say. They shrug at each other and go back to their testing.

"I like her," says David. "You two make a lovely couple." I stare at him and he says, "But that's all I will say for the remainder of the evening."

"It's disturbing," says Fritz thoughtfully, "how eloquent you are at times when, just an hour ago, you were making quite the animated—and pornographic, I must say—gestures."

"It's a gift," David nods.

I shake my head at them, admiring the change from teenagers who like to amuse themselves with vulgarities and jokes about hookers to civilized men who—I swear to God, I have seen in happen—have conversations about 20th Century art and its impact on the society of present day man. I hope that they can stay the latter for just a little bit longer.

There's a knock on the door and we all turn to it as David says, "Come."

"Hello, all," says Admiral Blanche as he enters. Lieutenant Gisele Blanche waves at us from his side, and then sends a beaming smile to Fritz, who promptly has more colour in his face than I have ever seen there before. Gisele bites her bottom lip, still smiling at him. David and I share a knowing look. The Admiral, of course, ignores all of this, and says, "We were just in the area; I'm taking Gisele back to her office after a lunch, and we decided to pop in. See how you all were."

"We're great," says David. And then he launches into this long explanation about the experiment they're working on, full of technical detail, while the Blanches listen. I stand there too, listening and playing with some do-dad. Gisele, every once in a while, looks over at Fritz. The German is busy standing off to the side and being awkward.

After they're gone, I walk over to Fritz and stand beside him: "Yew should have asked her out."

"You can go to hell," he replies. Over from David's general direction, there is a humming of 'Fritz and Gisele, sittin' in a tree,' and Fritz yells over to him, "You can go to hell, too!"

David holds up a piece of paper. "Already got my ticket, buddy."

I go over to him and look at it. It is, in fact, a little ticket that says 'Hell, Admit One' and you have really got to wonder what these lunatics get up to in their free time. Or maybe not, because not thinking about what they do allows for plausible deniability.

Laughing, David skips off to somewhere else in the lab and Fritz comes over to me, looking at the notes David left on the table.

"Yew should really ask her out," I say again. "She likes you."

"I hate all of you people, you know that, right?" he asks pitifully. He brightens. "You know, maybe we could talk about your illicit affair with Madeline again. How about that?"

"Oh, oh," David pipes up from behind a lab table then, happily. "Torrid!"

"Yes, and liaison," Fritz says firmly. "Your torrid, illicit liaison with Miss Reed."

"It's not illicit," I say defensively.

"Then why doesn't Malcolm know?" David asks.

"That's not the point," I say. "And how do yew two know that Malcolm doesn't know?"

"Illicit," Fritz and David say together. Without even looking at each other, no less. "A torrid, illicit liaison."

"Okay, leave me alone," I snap. "David, you're short and, Fritz, yew have an unhealthy crush on Lieutenant Blanche that I think yew need to act on." Not the best comebacks ever, I admit.

Fritz flips me the bird from the side and David appears out of nowhere, his face framed between our shoulders. He leers at Fritz, saying, "Yeah maybe you should let Lieutenant Blanche tie you down. And possibly you too, Captain. But with Madeline. Or not." He goes all cross-eyed. "Kinky."

"What are you?" asks Fritz, hitting David in the forehead to push him away.

David disappears again, his cackling the only proof of him actually being in the room. He starts singing again and Fritz looks like he's about to commit homicide (possibly double, because I'm pretty sure this conversation is actually entirely my fault), so I look at my watch whichdisplays that it's ten minutes past one, announce, "Hey, look at the time, I'm supposed to go pick up some books for Malcolm," and beat a hasty retreat.

Out in the hall, I hear David sing louder and a roar and a crash and laughter. I leave the scene, muttering, "It's not illicit," because it totally isn't. I don't care what they say.

-

Returning from the bookstore (and the hospital gift shop because there was chocolate and this teddy bear and I'm kind of curious to see how Malcolm will react when I give it to him; hoping he doesn't kill me, though—I'm thinking he'll just shoot the bear), I pause briefly in the hallway near Malcolm's room, putting a foot against the wall so I can adjust the two bags in my arms.

Situated, I start back down the hall but I freeze before I turn into Malcolm's room; because I can hear voices as the words drift out, softly rising through the air like music notes on an old piano. I inch towards the door, cautiously, and stop by the door frame, just looking in.

Jon is sitting by Malcolm's bed, elbow on knee and chin pressed on hand. Malcolm is looking directly at him.

"I never forgave you, Jon," says Malcolm, matter of fact.

"No, Malcolm, you never did," he replies, his voice filled with acceptance.

There is a long pause. For a while, Jon desperately tries not to look into Malcolm's eyes but Malcolm eventually catches his and holds them. I move away from the door frame, leaning against the wall next to it and feeling like a voyeur. But I can't stop; I have to hear the reconciliation. I need to know that we can be okay.

Malcolm's disembodied voice says: "I'm sorry about that."

I let loose a sigh into the air at the same time Jon does.

They're quiet again for a long time. I can't imagine what is happening and I don't think I want to; I want to live in the reality now. Jon's chair makes a scraping noise as he pushes back and rises. His feet sound heavy when he walks; I'm used to space, we all are. Our bodies are too heavy here.

"You'll come back?" asks Malcolm suddenly.

"Tuesday," replies Jon. "I'll be back Tuesday."

"Good."

Jon exits the room and I pretend that I'm just coming up the hall, carrying my bag of books.

"Admiral!" I say, not even having to pretend I'm happy.

I don't know when it happened—it could have been back on the ship when I found him, or it could have been when Noah gave me the advice, or it may in fact have been just now—but there's a mark. There's a mark, somewhere inside of me, of how far we've come, of how far we've gone, of how far we still have yet to go. It's a mark of progress, of what we have been put through and how we've come out of it. It's a mark of how much we all love each other, despite every all those things that we have gone through: the fights, the heartbreak, all of it…

There's a mark, inside of me; I think it means that, maybe, we'll be—

"Back from the store?" asks Jon.

"Yep," I reply, a smile stretched across my face. "Picked up some more Dickens for him; we're gonna start in on David Copperfield. After that, I plan ta introduce him Adams and the meaning of life, the universe, and everything."

"Nice," he says. There's a light in his broken earth eyes, like grass sprouting through dry dirt, mending.

-

I have this dream.

Malcolm and I are lying on an ice covered pond and it's night out. We're watching the stars. And it's nice, it feels nice, just him and me there. It's quiet and peaceful and we never move, just lie in silence, and we don't hurt and then—

He smashes a snowball into my face and darts up. I scramble on the ice after him. We're laughing and laughing, tripping and falling, tumbling into each other and falling into snow banks and behaving likes kids. And we're laughing.

-

David Copperfield lies in the lap of Malcolm's giant teddy bear (which is wearing an eye patch—courtesy of me—and a surgeon's hat—from Phlox—with a bull's eye drawn on its chest—Malcolm's own handiwork—and scalpels in each hand that I don't want to know how David and Fritz got a hold of) as it sits on his bedside table while Malcolm and I have a rousing video game fight.

My screen suddenly turns red as I die.

"What?" I say. "What the hell?"

"I mêlée-ed you with my rifle from behind," Malcolm informs me.

"Well, that's cheating," I tell him, trying to find him again on the screen when my body regenerates.

"No it is not," says Malcolm. "It's an entirely legitimate course of action."

"It's cheatin' when the other guy doesn't know about it! Goddammit!" I shout, being killed again. I throw my controller down in a fit of pique.

A nurse pops her head in: "Captain Tucker, I'm going to have to ask you to please keep it down or I will be forced to throw you out."

I nod and smile at her until she leaves; I turn back to Malcolm: "Yew whore. Yew totally have these nurses under your thumb."

He puts his hands behind his head, reclining. "It is not my fault they find me attractive."

"Only yew," I say, "can knock on death's door and then hit on women."

"That's not true," he replies. "You can."

I grin, full of my self. "This is true." And it definitely is. I'm a force of nature. Just ask Madeline. Not like I'm going to tell that to Malcolm, because I'm not entirely prepared for the inevitable therapy of talking to Malcolm about going out on a date and making out with his sister, and, of course, my subsequent death.

We sit in silence for a moment, staring at the darkened screen. I fidget.

"Yew wanna go for a ride?" I ask.

"A ride?" he repeats.

"Yeah, in the car," I say. "It'll be like Riding in Cars with Boys, except not."

"Seriously," says Malcolm. "Are you on glue? Do you huff a bottle of glue right outside the door before you come to visit me?"

"Nah," I reply. "I think I'm just spendin' too much time with Dave and Fritz."

"Explains the bizarre 20th century movie references," he says.

"Actually, I think that one's 21st, but I get confused," I say. "So, yew wanna?"

Malcolm sighs, like he knows he'll regret it, and waves a hand at me. "Go, get me my ride."

I jump out of my chair and bow lowly, nose towards the floor, say, "Yes, Master" in my best Igor impersonation because, really, I am spending too much time with the Gruesome Twosome, and hobble away like a hunchback. His laughter follows me out and I think, Score. Progress.

-

We drive around for an hour, listening to the radio, before we decide to get some ice cream because, mm, ice cream.

I get his wheel chair out and help him into it; people stare at us, the man and the cripple, and Malcolm throws his patented Malcolm Glare of Doom, Security Officer Version, at them. They look away. (Which doesn't really mean much. Back when the Admiral was the Captain, even he couldn't withstand the glare. Man cracked like a little girl and gave Malcolm the extra guns.) With Malcolm rolling along beside me, I walk into the shop, where more people stare and he tosses his glare about like dust.

"What do you want?" I ask him.

"Anything, so long as it has sugar," he says. "Phlox won't allow me anything that is bad for you."

"Biggest size?" I ask.

"Biggest size," he replies, because he knows I won't tell even though it will probably get me in trouble for aiding and abetting. At least, this time, Phlox can't hold 'me helping to break Malcolm out' against me.

Once we get the ice cream, we head back outside where I sit down on a bench and Malcolm rolls and parks his wheel chair next to me. (He does it with ease because, a) he's been practicing for when he's free again and, b) there was once an incident with the Gruesome Twosome and wheelchairs were somehow involved, for reasons I do not care to know because I'm pretty sure they don't know why.)

We eat the ice cream in silence.

"Progress is a two way street, Trip," says Malcolm suddenly.

"What?" Have I been talking to myself aloud again?

"If you want me to heal completely, you have got to lay down your burdens," he replies.

"Lay down my burdens?" I repeat. "That's a damn long list."

"I cannot move my legs," he says, and it's almost like he doesn't feel it, it's almost like it doesn't hurt him, it's almost like he believes he's okay with it; "I'm not exactly going anywhere soon."

I lean my head back and stare at the sky. "Here," I say, "here's something. For the past seven years, I've been havin' this recurring dream. This dream where yew die, and I can't do a damn thing about it. We're lyin' on this iced over pond in the middle of winter and suddenly yew just die, okay? And I start screaming, because I know you're dead, I felt yew die, and it's over. We're over. Because yew died on me. So we're over."

A long time ago, we would have mad jokes about Freudian psychology, and how this all just means I really want to do Malcolm in a broom closet or somethin'.

Then again, a long time ago Malcolm wouldn't have asked me to lay down my burdens and I wouldn't have said a damn thing even if he had.

He stares at me. "I'm sorry your feel that way, Trip, but you were the one who left me, remember?"

"I do," I say. "I do."

"But I'm here now," he adds, like he didn't even hear me.

Laughter bubbles up in my chest, hysterical and broken, and suddenly I'm crying in the middle of a parking lot, sitting on the ground, and Malcolm rolls up and wraps his arms around my shoulders, as best he can in a wheel chair. He whispers, "There, there, don't cry, I'm here, I'm here," and what kind of weird ass parody of the last two months is this? Aren't I supposed to be the one comforting him?

After a while, my tears stop and I laugh out, "Don't know why I just did that."

"It's called healing, Trip," he says. "Or, if Noah's to be believed, spending too much time with women and watching their 'chick flicks'."

"Yeah," I say. We're quiet for a long time. I burst out, "I had the dream the other night too. Except—except yew didn't die. Instead, yew smashed a snowball in my face and I chased after yew."

"That," says Malcolm sagely, "that is called healing."

I smile at him and he continues to eat his ice cream, looking away from me.

After a moment, he tells me, "I'm absolutely disgusted with myself that I lived, Trip. That I lived and they all died, when, as Captain, I should have gone down with the ship. And I'm horrified that I broke down like that when you found me, that I was insane with grief and hatred towards myself. And I'm terrified that I will never walk again and I think that's my punishment." He pauses. "My burdens."

I hold out my free hand to him from where I sit on the ground and he takes it, not even looking, just knowing that I reached out my hand to him. We sit there holding hands and not looking at each other, because how do you deal with this? My dreams have ended and I'm back with him again, but he has got miles to go and that terrifies me. I'm terrified of the fact that I seem to be getting better, and getting everything, when he's broken and bleeding on the inside. It terrifies me that he might never be okay again.

He says, "Phlox is making me visit a psychologist twice a week, because of it. Because of my burdens. I just—I wanted to know you'll be there too."

"I gave yew my hand," I say. He nods.

"And I took it."

"So we're gonna be okay," I say. Malcolm glances at me through the corners of his eyes. He finishes his ice cream and taps his fingers against the arm rests of his wheelchair.

"How do you figure that?" he asks.

"It's just," I begin, leaning back. How do I explain it? How do I explain, despite his grief and pain and all of my deeply troubled psychoses, despite all that we've gone through, that we can be okay? "It—I mean, the law of large numbers says we gotta win one of these days, right?"

He cracks a bitter smile and stares off into the distance. I watch him. We fought for so long, and look what's happened to us: We lost. It's a simple as that. We fought for so long and we lost. We're broken and bleeding and troubled and we lost. I don't even know if we're the good guys anymore; I know, at one point, we were, we even fought for them too. But too much has happened. How do we know the next fight we, you know, fight isn't going to be lost too?

Because we're the good guys, whispers a little voice in my head. I sigh and look forward, to the concrete miles that stretch before us. We are the good guys, aren't we? Now, more than ever. We fight because we're the good guys, because someone has to fight, and why can't that be us, huh? And, maybe, you know, we're not the people we were, we're not the way we were, but we're still the good guys, and we'll keep fighting, even though we know we're probably going to lose, because we are broken and bleeding and troubled. Because we don't fight the fights we know we can win: We fight the fights that need fighting and it doesn't matter if we win them, so long as we fought.

"We're gonna be okay," I repeat, squeezing his fingers once and letting go.

He looks at me, full on this time. Our eyes lock and I can't see the wheelchair and Malcolm just nods, like he knows my thoughts. There's a light in his eyes that mirrors the mark I've found in myself and he's just nodding.

And it's like we've been to the future and back in a few minutes, like we've explored ourselves and found the universe, because Malcolm's just nodding and I'm standing up.

The End