Thank you all for your comments and feedback. This is the final chapter.
Malcolm laid his outfit out on his desk, checking yet again to be sure he had everything he'd need. He was going back on duty tomorrow and he was actually rather nervous; it had been some time since he'd worn the uniform. He patted down a seam, then stepped back to inspect for wrinkles.
After Phlox had stabilised his meds, his symptoms had slowly abated. He'd tapered off the drugs, this time without a problem, although Phlox had then made him wait a full two weeks, med free, as an evaluation period before the doctor had cleared him for duty.
Malcolm moved to his closet and removed his boots and a small, black bag. He sat on the floor, pulled his polishing supplies from the bag, and began to work on the boots.
Even now, he was expected to continue daily sessions with the doctor - not quite therapy, more of a, "How's your sanity level today?" meeting, just to make sure that everything was still balanced.
Mid-buff, his hand froze. He still couldn't quite believe that all that had been in his mind, an after-effect of an illness. It had all seemed so real while he was there, and he couldn't imagine that he'd deliberately hurt himself...at least, he didn't think that he could have...he tried to shake the moment off, and kept working. He knew that he'd always wonder. Worse, he suspected that he'd always be on edge, a bit, wondering if he'd slip back.
Best not to think about it, just go on as normal. He snickered, giving his boots a final rub. Normal was a lovely thing.
His chime went, and he stood and triggered the door. Trip stood there, bottle in hand.
"Can I come in?"
Malcolm nodded and moved aside, allowing his friend to pass.
Trip smiled when he saw the boots, then the uniform. "Have time for a drink?"
Malcolm frowned, thinking about Phlox's warnings against alcohol and the like so soon in his recovery. "I can't..."
Trip nodded, twisting the bottle so that Malcolm could read the label. "It's iced tea, from home," he said. "I've been saving it up. Figured your going back on duty deserved a bit of a celebration."
Malcolm smiled, appreciating the gesture. "Thank you."
Trip nodded and sat on the bed while Malcolm moved to the lav, returning with two glasses. He joined Trip on the bed, facing him, and Trip poured the drinks.
Trip raised his glass in a toast. "To tomorrow - may things go well for you on your first day back."
Malcolm nodded, clicking his glass against Trip's. "And may my first day back not drive me insane."
Trip looked at him for a moment, as if trying to check his seriousness, then laughed. "Yeah, yeah," he said. Then he peered at Malcolm. "Hey. Tell me about that place."
"Which place?" Malcolm replied.
"Where you'd go, when..." Trip pointed to his own head.
Malcolm nodded. "Ah," he said, and took a sip. "It felt quite real," he said. Still seems, he reflected. Then he shook his head, cutting off that line of thought. Aloud, he continued. "I was thinking that it was somewhat like an alternate city - an alternate Boston."
"Hunh?" Trip said, puzzled.
"You know, an old city, old enough to have a past, to have layers; to have ghosts. In this case, though, some people can see those ghosts - old buildings, now gone; people that existed...places...gone, but in a way, still there." Not sure that Trip understood, he continued. "Like when you say I disappeared. I was there, but it was as if I'd become a ghost. People didn't see me, or didn't recognise me. It was like I'd become no one."
Trip nodded slowly, then he frowned. "Do you still see it?"
Malcolm shook his head. "Not any more."
Trip leaned forward. "Don't think this question is weird, okay?" When Malcolm nodded, Trip lowered his voice. "Do you think it was real?"
Malcolm hesitated, swirling the liquid in his glass, staring down at it to buy himself some time to think. Because when he did let himself think about it, and really remember, he...no, no, best not to go down that route.
Not wanting to mention his own doubts, he replied, "Phlox said..."
"I know what Phlox thinks," Trip said, interrupting him. Malcolm's head shot up and their gazes locked. "What do you think?"
Malcolm took a slow, careful breath; he could feel his heart hammering in his chest. "I'm...not sure. It was so real. But it can't have been, right?" He looked to Trip for...something, agreement, perhaps.
Instead, in a quiet voice, Trip asked, "What about the attack?"
Almost frantically, Malcolm said, "I still can't believe I..." He shook his head, calming himself purposefully. "I don't believe I did that to myself. It's odd. That's not me."
Trip nodded. "That's what I was thinking." The two friends stared at each other a moment. Then Trip continued. "We never found a weapon, and I didn't see you use one. You were simply struggling there a moment, then you fell, bleeding."
Malcolm nodded, then looked away. "I'd been sleeping, and..." He shook his head, and closed his eyes against the memory. In a whisper, he said, "But Phlox said..."
"I know what Phlox said," Trip replied, also whispering. "I'm just...I mean, weirder things have happened out here, right?"
Malcolm opened his eyes, staring at his friend.
Trip rolled the glass of tea between his hands. Then he gave Malcolm a thoughtful smile. "After all, Phlox said that the wounds could have been self-inflicted."
Malcolm gave a slight nod.
"But I asked him, and he also said that they didn't have to have been - nothing about the angle, or the..." Trip shifted uncomfortably on the bed. "I mean, the illness may have caused a chemical imbalance and all that, sure, but maybe that imbalance allowed you to see into this...other place; to go there, in a way." Trip took a sip from his drink. "Just because we all couldn't see it, that doesn't mean it wasn't real."
Malcolm simply nodded, unable to speak. All this time, he'd been trying to convince himself that that other place had been hallucination...all this time, he'd thought that Trip saw him as mad, but now...
Trip leaned forward. "You okay? I didn't mean to mess you up or anything, but..."
"No, no. It's all right," Malcolm replied in a rush. He shook his head. "I just..." He cut himself off with a sigh. "After the attack, you'd asked me if I had done it myself. And I remember later, with the scalpel." He glanced away a moment. "I thought that was related."
"The scalpel thing was the meds, Malcolm," Trip said quietly. "From the initial adjustment after the attack. Phlox said..."
Malcolm spoke over him. "I've been working with Phlox, and trying so hard to see that all this was in my head, but..."
Trip nodded. "Yeah. But..." he said, emphasising the second word. He slid forward, closing the distance between them, his hands tightly clasped around the glass. "Are you okay talking about this?" At Malcolm's answering nod, he went on. "Because I did some research - took some time, but last night I found some info, not much, but some, on the "ghosts" that our guide had mentioned - you remember him? Seems Adva has a history of stories that involve ghost sightings, but not ghosts like we think of them - more like real people, there for a moment, then gone, barely seen, barely remembered. Also rumours of people disappearing, coming back changed," he said, looking pointedly at Malcolm. "Coming back crazy." He smiled, but there was no amusement there. "They neglected to mention this to Phlox or the captain when you disappeared, or while Phlox was diagnosing your illness."
Malcolm nodded, thoughtful. "Perhaps they didn't believe the stories."
Trip shrugged. "Maybe." He took a sip from his glass. "I told Phlox about my theory, but he didn't buy it."
Trip kept talking, describing his conversation with the doctor, but Malcolm's mind wandered. He stared down at his glass. Maybe he wasn't mad, he thought. Maybe all that he'd almost been convinced had been illusion, had actually been real. He noticed that his hand was shaking slightly. He felt a touch on his arm and looked up to see Trip, a concerned expression in his eyes.
"Sorry," Trip said. "I didn't mean to freak you out. I just thought you should know."
Malcolm nodded, looking away again, down at his glass. He was grateful, he thought. Shaken, but grateful.
"Wait," Trip asked suddenly. "Why Boston?"
Malcolm's head shot up and he simply stared at Trip, confused.
"The place," Trip said. "You said it was like an 'alternate Boston.' Alternate, sure I get, but I mean, why not someplace like New York, or Tokyo, or London, for goodness sakes? Aren't you British?"
"Ah. Yes," Malcolm said, realising that Trip was trying to bring the conversation back to safer ground. Or, somewhat safer ground, anyway. "Hmm...I'm not sure. At the time, remember, not all my synapses were firing in the right directions." He smiled slightly. "It's simply the connection I made at the time." He shrugged. "I suppose there was something about Boston that reminded me - have you never been?"
"Boston?" Trip shook his head.
"The place has a feel to it - like London, a sense of history, secret places; but smaller, more intimate than London. The place I went, it had that kind of feel."
Trip smiled. "I'm glad you're back."
Malcolm laughed. "So am I"
Malcolm walked quickly, padd in hand, lost in thought. He passed several crewmen in the crowded hall, then felt a tug at his arm. Looking in that direction, he saw Trip there, seeming concerned.
"You okay?" Trip asked, sotto voice, pulling him to the side of the corridor.
Malcolm, surprised, answered, "Yes."
"Who are you talking to?" Trip asked.
Malcolm, at first confused, smiled when he realised to what Trip had been referring. "No one. I was reviewing the duty roster in my head, and must have been talking to myself."
"You sure?" Trip asked, still looking worried.
"Yes, sorry," Malcolm said lightly. Seeing the fright in his friend's eyes, he softened his tone. "Really, I'm fine."
"Okay," Trip said, obviously unconvinced.
Malcolm grabbed Trip's arm, and said, "I did want to say thank you, though."
"For being there whilst I was..." Malcolm waved his hand in the air vaguely, then shrugged. Then he smiled. "And for believing in me, at least enough to..." Lost for words, he shrugged again. "Anyway, thank you."
"You're welcome," Trip said, all seriousness. "You'll tell me if you ever..." As a crewman passed close by, Trip dropped his voice. "Um, 'go to Boston', as it were."
"Yes, absolutely," Malcolm replied, matching his friend's tone. "You'll be the first to know."
The bit of song Malcolm sings in an earlier chapteris "Mirror in the Bathroom", I think by the Beat, or the English Beat as they were known in some places. Or were they General Public by that point?
Now that this piece is complete, please review and let me know what you think. Thank you!