This is the final chapter. Thanks to SueC for her beta, and to Elf for helping with the cricket section.
Trip opened a bag of chips and, taking some, passed it over to Malcolm. He popped a couple into his mouth and sighed happily, allowing the salt and the grease - two of his favorite food groups - to mix before he started chewing joyfully.
"So...shall we test the link?" Malcolm said as he lay the bag beside him in the tight space. They'd smuggled several pillows, some blankets, as well as drinks and snacky-things into an area behind a hatch in the cargo bay. Trip had discovered this unused space early in his time on Enterprise, and had always figured it would make a good bolt-hole. There was just enough room for the two of them to lie down or to sit, as they were now doing, cross legged on top of one of the blankets.
"I suppose we should," Trip said around his mouthful. The whole situation - him and Malcolm in this tiny, rounded space, blankets spread beneath them, snacks arrayed around them - kind of reminded him of camping trips he used to take with his family, so Trip smiled and thought about one particular trip, the Florida night sky spread wide and dark above him as he and his dad sat next to their fire, the tent at their backs. He wasn't completely surprised when, next, he saw a group of boys, in uniform, sitting around a campfire in someplace that definitely wasn't Florida.
"School camping trip?" Trip asked.
"Boyscouts," Malcolm murmured. He let out a huge yawn and lay down on his side, pulling one of the blankets up as he closed his eyes.
"Interesting that we don't share all of our thoughts," Trip said, staring at his friend. "Just some."
Malcolm shrugged, his eyes still closed.
Trip smiled to himself and turning his face serious, said, "Too bad you're not a girl."
Malcolm's eyes flashed open, wary. "Why?"
"I don't know. I figure it would be interesting to try fooling around with someone I was linked to."
Trip shrugged nonchalantly. Just when Malcolm closed his eyes again, Trip said, "We could try kissing."
Malcolm's eyes flashed open again in alarm. "What?"
"Nah," Trip said, waving a hand. "Forget I said that." He waited a beat, then added, "Might be interesting though."
"No worries, Malcolm," Trip said with a smile. "I don't have any designs on you. And I'm about as straight as they come. And I'm your commanding officer."
"Right," Malcolm said. He watched Trip warily for a moment.
Trip let the silence go on. "Still..."
"Would you please stop," Malcolm finally said in exasperation.
"All right, all right," Trip said. He lay down on his own blanket and closed his eyes, listening to Malcolm's soft breathing and the pulse of the ship's engines.
"You know I was joking, right?" Trip said into the quiet. He heard Malcolm let out an annoyed sigh and he couldn't help it, he had to add, "Still..."
Malcolm shoved him and Trip laughed.
Trip drifted to wakefulness, slowly becoming aware of his surroundings. Right, they were in the bolt-hole. Sure. But something was missing.
Trip simply lay there, eyes closed, trying to figure out what was different. Something was missing. And then he realised: that tickle in the back of his mind, that constant reminder of Malcolm's presence, was gone.
Trip's eyes flashed open and he found himself staring straight at Malcolm as he friend awoke. A moment later, Malcolm's eyes widened as he also realised what had changed: their link was gone.
"So what does that mean?" Trip asked hesitantly.
"I don't know," Malcolm said softly.
Trip let out a huge breath, then shifted himself to sitting. "I guess this is good, right?"
Malcolm nodded slightly.
"Suppose we should go tell Phlox," Trip said.
"In a minute," Malcolm said as he sat up. Pulling the blanket over his shoulders, he said, "I need a moment to..."
"Adjust," Trip said, finishing Malcolm's thought.
They sat quietly for a moment, neither of them looking at the other. Trip could see Malcolm twisting the blanket in his fingers, pulling it tighter around himself.
Finally, Trip broke the silence with a muttered, "Captain's gonna kill me."
Malcolm's eyes met his. "Kill us, you mean."
"No, kill me," Trip said. "You were the voice of reason. I was one who convinced you to escape sickbay."
"I think the captain will understand," Malcolm said, and he smiled slightly. "After all, we were under an alien influence."
Trip figured that his face must have shown his uncertainty, because Malcolm said, "I hate sickbay, anyway. I was glad to get out."
Trip nodded, grateful for the support, and they lapsed into silence again.
"So, Phlox," Trip finally said. He leant forward and opened the hatch, sliding out quickly only to find Archer right there. As the captain's expression moved from surprise to anger, Trip felt the blood rush to his face.
As Malcolm slid out and stood beside him, Trip said, "We were just coming to see you."
"Their link does appear to have ended, Captain," Phlox said to a stern-faced Archer as he ran his scanner over Trip, then Malcolm, who were seated on adjacent biobeds. "I believe the influence of the device may have passed, although I would like to keep them overnight for observation."
Archer nodded sharply. "I'll post security..."
Malcolm spat a sharp, "Captain -" in protest.
"Just until I can be sure that you won't go off camping again," Archer said, turning a pointed glare on Trip.
"I'm sorry about that, Captain," Trip said, feeling sheepish.
Archer's expression softened. "I know that you weren't thinking clearly, Trip." He sighed, shook his head, then smiled a bit. "Hoshi and T'Pol figured out purpose of device." At Trip's surprise, he said, "Well, not all the details, but enough to understand what happened to two of you."
"Why we were linked?" Malcolm asked.
"Why we forgot?" Trip added.
Archer nodded. "We are not certain of the original purpose of the device - Hoshi is still working on the translations - but we did discover more about the way we believe it was supposed to work - in theory." Archer smiled slightly. "It's an interesting theory, actually. The device needs two people to control it, and it seems that those people need to be completely focused, so - "
Trip interrupted. "It would temporarily wipe away any disturbing, distressing, or possibly distracting memories..."
"...and link the two beings so they could work together," Malcolm said.
Archer nodded again. "But it was not quite compatible with our physiologies."
"Thus the ferris wheels," Trip said.
"And the cricket," Malcolm added.
"Yes, the visions," Phlox chimed in. "And we believe that, with the original species, the link would terminate once the beings stopped touching the device. However, with Humans, direct contact with the device appears to leave some slight, lingering after-effects."
Trip watched as both of Malcolm's eyebrows climbed to his hairline in response to that. Trip gave voice to what he figured his friend was thinking. "Slight?"
Phlox nodded. "Captain, if you would," the doctor said, waving for Archer to follow.
As Phlox and Archer moved away to talk, Trip cast a quick glance at Malcolm. Lost in his own thoughts, Malcolm didn't notice his look, so Trip took the opportunity to really observe him. Malcolm looked better since they'd gotten some sleep the night before - more rested, certainly, but there was something...Trip looked down at his own feet as they dangled off the edge of the biobed. There was something sort of lost about the man, he thought. It was as if, now that the link was gone, he was missing something.
Trip shook his head and tapped one foot against the side of the other, then began swinging his legs gently. Nah, Malcolm wasn't lost without their link. After all, they should both be happy that it was gone, that they'd been returned to normal, released from the influence of the device. But Trip had to admit that he'd kind of liked having that link, being able to share thoughts at whim. And they'd barely explored it before it had been taken from them, and -
Trip realised what was wrong, and his legs went still. It was him that was lost.
God, he felt like he was missing his best friend. And maybe he was, in a way. It was odd - only now that the link was gone did he realise how close it had drawn him and Malcolm. And now the stupid link was gone and he was left with...what? Nothing. It was kind of lame. It just didn't seem fair -
His thoughts were interrupted when he heard Malcolm's voice. "It's not cricket."
Trip smiled and raised his eyes to meet Malcolm's. Maybe they still shared more than he'd thought.
"It's not cricket" is a British expression that means, "It's not fair".
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