x-x

Trip ran a brisk hand through his hair, shrugging at the reflection in his lavatory mirror as the errant strands sprang back to disorder. Giving up on his hair, he leaned down, splashing his face with water.

It had been a hell of an evening, he thought as he continued getting ready for bed. The feast that the Enarians and thrown for them had really been something, and the gifts - Trip smiled, wiping his face with his towel - the gifts had been amazing. Each of the landing party had been presented with an object in keeping with their position, as was, apparently, traditional in the Enarian culture. Archer had been given a map of their solar system, hand-drawn on parchment, and absolutely beautiful. Hoshi had received a hardcopy dictionary of the local language, hand-calligraphed and illustrated. He'd watched, breaking out in a smile as she'd been unable to stop herself from paging through it. Their hosts had presented Malcolm with an ornate knife, its blade so deeply black as almost to be invisible.

Trip stepped into his room, sitting down on the bed and looking at his own gift where it sat, pride of place, on the shelf above his desk. They'd given him a stylised lever, truly functional despite all the filigree and gilt. Apparently it was a symbol given to all of their engineers when they graduated from their training.

As he lay back on his bed, triggering the lights off, he smiled at the memory of Malcolm's look of pleasure when presented with the knife. He'd played with it for a long while during their flight back to Enterprise, flipping it deftly from one hand to the other; spinning it through is fingers; even, once, touching the edge of the blade gingerly. Trip caught his eye after he'd looked down at the speck of blood welling on his finger. Sheepishly, although obviously impressed, Malcolm had said, "Sharp."

"Careful," Trip had replied.

All in all, a fabulous evening, and a wonderful first-contact, Trip thought. He pulled a blanket over himself and let himself drift.

Trip woke suddenly, his room dark. Something had -

He heard shifting, movement nearby, and he froze. There was someone in his room.

"Trip," someone whispered from near his door. Malcolm.Why was Malcolm in his room?

"Malcolm, what's going on?" Trip slapped on the light, squinting against the sudden brightness.

Malcolm, in grey trousers and a dark blue tee shirt, was pacing in the space in front of his closed door. Trip watched as his friend moved, repetitively, from one edge of the door to the next, and he suddenly realised that Malcolm was holding the ceremonial knife he'd been given in one tightly clasped fist. Looking more closely, he noticed one tiny streak of dried blood across the back of that hand.

"Trip," Malcolm said again, not looking at him. Trip watched as he began to turn the knife between his fingers, quickly, over and over. "They're coming," Malcolm said softly.

"Who, Malcolm?" Trip replied carefully, taking care over the words.

Malcolm simply shook his head, eyes on the door as he moved.

"Why are you carrying a knife?" Trip asked. When he got no response, he pushed aside his blankets and sat, his bare feet dangling off the edge of the bed.

Noticing the movement, Malcolm glanced up at Trip, then down to the knife. He stopped pacing, staring down at the weapon in his hand. "For protection," he finally replied, his voice mild as his rigid fingers pressed on the knife's hilt.

"Protection against who?" Trip asked, watching warily as Malcolm spun the knife in a quick circle, then started pacing again. Trip cast a frantic glance at the communicator on the wall, but it was beside the door, behind Malcolm.

"Them," Malcolm said, so quietly that Trip had to strain to hear him.

"Put the knife away, Malcolm."

"Okay. All right," Malcolm replied. "You're right. Right." His voice trailed off as he stopped pacing.

Trip exhaled in relief as he watched the steady movement of Malcolm's hands putting the knife away with care, sliding it into the shieth that was strapped to his thigh. Nodding, Malcolm then took out his phase pistol and checked the charge, quick and assured.

"This is better anyway," Malcolm said, his voice almost playful.

Thinking quickly, Trip said, "If they're out there, shouldn't we warn the Captain?"

Malcolm's head flashed up and he finally looked at Trip. Malcolm's eyes were reddened, making his steel-grey eyes seem bluer than normal, and his dark lashes stood out stark against his too-pale skin. Trip watched as Malcolm's lips curled up for a moment in a strange grin that he smothered as he turned to face the door. "Too late," he said, and Trip stifled a gasp. God, what if Malcolm had -

"How do you know that?" Trip asked. The air in the small room was stuffy, and Trip shivered despite the oppressive warmth.

Malcolm shrugged, and Trip watched his back as he moved the gun from one hand to the other, his movements smooth despite their speed.

Trip tried again. "Since we got back," he said, stumbling over his words. "Have you seen the captain, or -

Malcolm cut across him. "No, no. You were closest. I came here first."

Trip let out a harsh breath. "Just in case, though," he said tightly, already reaching towards the nightstand where his communicator lay. "We should warn them."

"Don't," Malcolm said as he spun to face him, his pistol raised, his voice hard. "They'll hear."

Trip froze, then slowly leaned back, away from the table. He placed his hands beside him on the bed, palms splayed on its surface. "Malcolm," Trip said, his breath tight in his throat. "Put down the gun."

Malcolm simply shook his head, his steady hands holding the weapon pointed towards Trip. "I can't," he said, and Trip saw his hands tremble slightly.

Trip whispered, "Malcolm...", and Reed flinched, the look on his face unreadable.

"It's all right, Malcolm," Trip said, the calmness of his voice belying his anxiety.

"I'm tired," Malcolm said in reply. He took a step backwards and his back hit the door behind him. He leaned against it and his eyes blinked closed once, twice. "I think there's something wrong," he said, his voice slurring slightly as his arms drifted downwards.

"Put the gun down, then maybe you can get some sleep," Trip said, keeping his voice soft and low.

"Sounds good," Malcolm said. He let himself slide down the door and rested against it, legs bent as he sat on the floor. He lay his arms across his knees and pillowed his head on them, the weapon dangling loosely from one hand as he closed his eyes.

Trip stood quickly and strode to his side. Squatting in front of his friend, he took the gun and, first checking that it was set on stun - it wasn't - he reached up and placed it on the nightstand beside him. He removed the knife next, laying it next to the other weapon. Standing and tapping the communicator beside the door, he signalled Phlox.

The doctor's cheerful voice came through the device. "Yes, Commander?"

"There's something wrong with Malcolm," he replied as he watched Malcolm lay, face-down, on the floor in front of the door.

"Can you get him here?" Phlox asked, suddenly serious.

"I'm going to need some help," Trip said as Malcolm, eyes screwed shut, rolled onto his side and began rubbing his bloody palm against the floor.

"We'll be right there," the doctor replied.

Trip knelt beside his friend, then placed a hand on top of Malcolm's, stilling its frantic movement. "Lie still. It's okay."

As Malcolm clenched his bloody hand into a tight fist, Trip took the opportunity to check his condition. He noticed that his cheeks were flushed, giving his face a bit more color, though he still looked haggard, his entire body tense.

"This is all a dream, right?" Malcolm asked suddenly, cracking his eyes open slightly. He blinked furiously, his eyes watering, and tried to move his hand.

"Sorry," Trip replied, trying to keep his voice light. He held Malcolm's hand still. "How are you feeling?"

"Terrible." Malcolm tried to shake his head and winced. "Head full of cotton floss." Malcolm watched him, still squinting. "You okay?"

"I'm fine. How's your hand?"

"Stings," Malcolm said, slurring. He then took a shuddering gasp and convulsed, crashing into Trip.

Trip's first, panicked instinct was to grab his friend and hold him down, but instead he did what was right, what he learnt in first aid. He scanned the immediate area to make sure there were no sharp objects that Malcolm could hit as he seized, then reached up and grabbed his pillow from the bed and thrust it under Malcolm's head. He waited, letting the fit play out, knowing that Phlox and his team were only moments away. He watched helplessly as the seizure subsided into moans, and eventually Malcolm stilled. Trip moved closer and checked Malcolm's breathing. Pulling him onto his side, Trip began muttering a stream of soothing nonsense as he struggled to get his own breath under control. He stopped talking only when Malcolm mumbled something, and he leaned even closer. "Say that again, Malcolm."

"Hurts," Malcolm said quietly, his eyes opening slightly. "My hand."

Trip lifted Malcolm's bloody hand. His friend didn't resist as Trip unfolded his fingers, revealing a tiny cut on one finger, the skin, under the dried blood, slightly swollen around it. "Malcolm, it's fine. Your hand's fine."

Malcolm lifted his trembling hand and held it in front of his face, staring at it with shock darkened eyes. "I can feel it..." His voice trailed off as he stared at his palm, his eyes unfocused and confused.

Trip's eyes flashed up at sound of his door opening. Seeing Phlox there, he released a breath he didn't even realise he'd been holding. "Okay, the doc is here," he said, returning his gaze to Malcolm. "He's going to work on you, and everything will be fine. You understand?"

Malcolm didn't answer. He simply lay there, staring at his hand. He didn't make a sound as Trip backed away, or when Phlox and one of his medics moved to his side.

x-x

Trip sat on the hard chair, staring blankly across sickbay. He had no idea what to do now; the last of the adrenaline was gone, leaving only tiredness and shock in its place.

He stirred when the privacy curtain around Malcolm moved back in a scrape of metal-on-metal, and looked up into Phlox's smiling face.

"The analysis of the knife showed a substance matching the one we found in Malcolm's blood. Luckily, although it is potent, it is also fast-acting. He should be back to himself by tomorrow."

Trip felt an almost overwhelming relief. "Can I see him?"

Phlox shook his head. "He's sleeping right now."

Trip stood. "I won't be long."

Phlox nodded. "Keep in mind - he's still heavily under the influence of the chemicals, and still in pain, so try to keep the visit short."

Pulling the curtain closed behind him, Trip stepped to Malcolm's bedside, studying the man who lay on the biobed. He was still unconcious or...asleep, he thought Phlox had said.

Trip pulled up a chair and sat beside Malcolm's bed. His friend looked a bit better - there was some color back in his face now, although he still looked dreadful. Trip let his eyes trace the IV line that trailed from a bag suspended above the bed to Malcolm's inner arm. Then he stared down at Malcolm's injured hand, its palm up, fingers curled in. It was clean now, and there wasn't even a bandage. Just that lone, tiny cut, so deceptive in its appearance.

It was stupid chance that had brought them to this. The Enarians had no idea that the chemical they used to clean their knives would react that way in Humans. Trip smiled tightly. Malcolm was lucky it had only doped him up, and not killed him, or -

Malcolm's eyes fluttered open.

"Sorry," Trip said softly. "Didn't mean to wake you."

Malcolm's eyes slowly tracked to meet his. His friend looked terrible up close, pale and tense. After a moment, Trip tried again. "How are you feeling?"

Malcolm looked at Trip oddly. "Am I dead?"

Trip blinked rapidly, unsure of what was going on. "No. Do you feel dead?"

"I feel numb."

"Probably the chemical. Phlox said that -

"I know, I know, it'll pass," Malcolm replied, closing his eyes. "I remember now."

Trip lay a hand on Malcolm's arm and Malcolm hissed, his eyes flashing open as he tried to pull away.

Trip jerked his hand away. "Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to -

"Look, I'm tired, my hand is killing me, and everything hurts. I just want to sleep. So would you just...go away?"

Trip, hurt and surprised, said, "Okay."

As he stood to leave, Malcolm called out to him. "Trip?"

Trip turned back.

"Look, I'm sorry, all right? I'm..." Malcolm rubbed a hand across his face. "I'm not entirely sure what I am." He gave Trip a crooked smile. "Other than grateful to you, for tonight. For everything. But I'm feeling kind of brittle, on edge. So, thank you, and..." he trailed off.

Trip smiled. "And?"

Malcolm yawned hugely. "Sod off."

Trip nodded. "You got it."

x-x

Please review and let me know what you think of this story.