This is the final chapter. Thank you, all, for your comments.
There were voices fading in and out, some words breaking through, the rest a blur of noise. "Overdose..." Was that Phlox?
"Why?" That sounded like the captain.
How could they not understand? He had to do it. He had no choice. It needed to stop.
Then he heard Trip's voice, close by. "I watched him do it, Captain. I saw him, but I couldn't..."
The voices faded in a rush, and Malcolm was taken by the waves.
Malcolm opened his eyes and he squinted against the light. It was too damn bright. He heard a groan, and saw movement nearby.
He heard Trip's voice. "Malcolm?"
He realised that the groan was his own. He tried to stop, to turn his head, but it was too much. It was all too much.
Someone was screaming, and Malcolm's eyes flashed open. He tried to bring his hands up to his ears to block the noise, but his arms and legs were restrained. He struggled, and there was movement all around him. He whipped his head to the side.
He heard voices, Trip's voice. He stopped struggling and tried to focus. "Trip?" he said into the sudden silence. His throat hurt, and he realised that he'd been the one screaming.
He felt a hand on his forehead, brushing back his hair. He heard a voice, but couldn't understand what was being said. "Trip?" he asked again.
He heard more words, the sound soothing. The hand moved to his arm and rubbed it gently. He felt himself sinking into the surface of the bed. He tried to call out, but he went under. He was lost.
He opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling above him. The room was silent. He felt odd. Something was different.
He heard a soft snore from nearby, and turned to see Trip sleeping in a chair, his head thrown back, a book on his lap. Malcolm smiled. Trip's neck was going to hurt when he woke.
Malcolm tried to sit up. He shifted in the bed, pushing himself up with his arms, falling back with a muffled thump and a muttered swear, surprised to find himself so weak.
He watched as Trip's eyes opened and his friend raised his head with a wince, one hand going to the back of his neck. Raising his eyes, Trip saw Malcolm. Then he smiled.
Malcolm stared at his friend, unsure. He'd done so much to destroy their friendship, but there Trip was. Smiling. It was...odd. "Why are you here?" he asked softly.
Trip leaned forward in his chair. "What do you mean?"
Malcolm rolled onto his side, facing Trip. He was trembling, so he curled in on himself slightly, drawing his legs up. "After everything I've done, why are you here?"
"You can't do this alone."
"But how can you?" Malcolm let his voice trail away, unsure of what he was trying to ask. He pushed himself up, and Trip stood and helped him sit. After Trip had stepped back, Malcolm continued. "You said something when I took the shuttle." Malcolm rubbed his inner arm. "That you didn't think I had to do this."
Trip tried to speak, but Malcolm ploughed on. "That I didn't want to stop. That the drugs were helping take the pain away." He felt himself start to rock, back and forth, but he couldn't stop the movement.
"You're getting upset," Trip said, trying to interrupt.
"You have to believe that I did this because I had to," Malcolm said. He could feel his anxiety building. "There was no other way." His breath started coming in short gasps.
Trip nodded frantically. "Okay." He glanced around the room, obviously hoping to see Phlox or one of his technicians nearby.
Malcolm closed his eyes and tried to calm his breathing, taking several measured breaths until he regained his control. After a moment, he opened his eyes. More calmly, he said, "But once I started, I couldn't stop."
"I know," Trip replied.
"I was drowning, watching everything slip away. Then, when you confronted me, I could feel everything closing in, crashing down." He looked away from Trip. "So I let myself drown."
Malcolm shook his head. He reached to the bottom of the mattress and grabbed a blanket, his hands shaking as he struggled to pull it over his shoulders. He felt Trip's hands as his friend helped him, but Malcolm didn't look at Trip. He couldn't. "It made me forget. I didn't care anymore." His voice started rising again. "About anything. I didn't..."
"Shh..." Trip said, settling beside him on the bed, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.
Malcolm stared off into the room. "All that pain, Trip. It was gone. For those moments, it was gone, at least for a little while. And I knew that I was in trouble, that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn't care."
Malcolm pulled away from Trip and turned to face him. "I really thought that I could handle it," he said. "By the time I realised that I couldn't, I was lost. And I couldn't see it getting better. I'd let everyone down, destroyed their trust, my own honour, everything."
Trip reached out and grasped Malcolm's hand. "You don't have to carry it all on your shoulders. You can talk to me, Malcolm."
Malcolm didn't answer. He couldn't. If he spoke, he was afraid that he'd break apart. Instead, he squeezed Trip's hand. After a moment, he was able to say, "Thank you."
Malcolm felt a tremor run through his arm, and Trip looked at him carefully. "If you had the drug here, would you do it again?"
Malcolm paused to think. How honest should he be? He stared back at Trip. His friend had given him so much. Despite everything that he'd done, Trip was still here.
Trip deserved better than anything that Malcolm could offer. The least he could do was be honest.
So finally, he answered, "I don't know. I might."
"I know it seems strange, but for those moments, it brought me peace." At Trip's worried look, Malcolm tried to smile.
"There are other ways to find peace," Trip said, his voice shaking. Trip squeezed his hand, hard. "I have to ask. Did you overdose on purpose?"
Malcolm froze and his hand twitched, but Trip didn't let go.
"I couldn't see another way. I thought..."
"Do you still feel that way?"
Malcolm thought a moment. "No."
Trip smiled slightly. "I'm glad that you're still here."
Malcolm smiled. "So am I."
The poem is by W. H. Auden