This story is set in season three and was inspired by the episode "Extinction", in which Archer, T'Pol, Hoshi and Malcolm, investigating the wreckage of a Xindi ship on a planet, are infected with a mutagenic virus and virtually turned into another species.
The scene in the end when Mal stumbles out of sickbay was too cute to ignore. So here is yet another Trip-Malcolm conversation. And since I'm beginning to have a fair amount of them, I thought I'd give the series a name: "Friend in need" – a big thanks to IchthusFish, for suggesting it!
Thank you also to RoaringMice for beta reading.
Trip awoke with a start, and for a moment was completely disoriented. The inordinate amount of adrenaline that had kept him going on the previous day unfortunately had also left him totally wiped out, making him fall into a very deep sleep. What had roused him, anyway? Had he been paged? Was there another emergency? All he knew was that his heart was hammering.
He was still lying in bed, unsure of what to do, when his door chime rang: so that's what had dragged him away from the comforting arms of Morpheus. He blinked a couple of times; then pushed off the bed and shuffled to the door. Raising a tired hand, he triggered it open.
A form in sweat pants and a T-shirt was standing to the side of the door, leaning on outstretched arms against the wall, and in his drowsiness and the dim light of the artificial night Trip couldn't put a name to it. But then the man slowly lifted his head up, and familiar eyes flickered with a pleading expression that seemed out of place, startling Trip into instant wakefulness.
Malcolm's eyebrows came slightly together as he stopped holding up the wall. "I'm sorry..." His voice was low and uncertain. "I know it's late but…"
"What's goin' on?" Silence met the question. Kicking himself for showing such poor insight, Trip hastened to add, "Come on in." He moved aside to let the other man enter, and turned his lights on low, keeping their glow soft.
Malcolm mumbled 'thank you' and walked – or rather, lurched – past him, and Trip winced as he took in his friend's slightly hunched-over posture and ungainly gait, so unlike his normally graceful movements. He swallowed past a lump in his throat, remembering the raging creature wearing lieutenant pips that had been locked in the decon chamber just a few hours before.
As if his legs wouldn't support him, Malcolm silently dropped to sit on the recently-vacated bed, and Trip bit his lip in concern: Reed would normally ask before sitting down, and choose the chair rather than the bed, even if the bed was fully made. Trip watched him lean forward, rest his elbows on his knees and lock his gaze on the floor.
"Havin' trouble sleepin'?" he asked as he walked slowly to his chair and sat down too, without bothering to remove his discarded uniform from it.
Malcolm shot him a nervous glance. His features were virtually back to normal, yet something… well, alien still lingered about him, which made Trip slightly uncomfortable.
"Every time I close my eyes I see flashes of that... that city," Malcolm murmured hoarsely.
"Uhm… is it such a terrible place?" Trip asked, tongue-in-cheek.
Malcolm cast him a longer, helpless look and sighed, oblivious to the quip. "On the contrary, it's beautiful," he replied, his voice sounding so very tired.
"You seem absolutely exhausted," Trip said with a frown. "I'd have thought the moment your head touched the pillow…"
As if to contradict Trip's words, Malcolm straightened up, although his shoulders remained somewhat slumped. "It's… I don't know how to explain it," he said with a smirk. He pressed two fingers on his eyes. "It's that I don't feel… right when I see that place; they are not my memories, for heaven's sake! Yet I feel as if I'm supposed to remember more, except that I don't."
"And that upsets you? Not bein' able to remember more things about it?" Trip asked, suddenly fascinated.
Malcolm distractedly scratched a raw spot on his arm as he considered Trip's question. "Yes… and I feel anxious… a longing…" He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head, snorting. "I got up three times in the past hour to go and look at myself in the mirror, afraid that I would see an alien face reflected back."
Trip quickly shifted his gaze away; he didn't want his friend to read any sign of unease at the mention of his appearance. The memory of him and the others changed into alien creatures still sent a shiver down his spine.
"I'm not sure I can help you, Malcolm," he said softly after a pause. "Maybe you oughtta talk to the Capt'n or Hoshi. They certainly have more understandin' of what you're goin' through."
A glint of despair flashed through Malcolm's eyes. "I can't exactly knock on the Captain's door at midnight," he replied tensely. "And I definitely can't go to Hoshi's quarters." He pursed his lips. "It wouldn't be appropriate: if someone happened to see me..."
"Maybe Hoshi wouldn't mind," Trip suggested mischievously in an attempt to lighten his friend's mood.
Suddenly Malcolm stood up, as if his pants' seat had caught fire. His face was now unreadable, which in itself was rather normal for the man, except that Trip had been let see a glimpse of what was stirring inside him.
"I'm sorry I woke you," Mal said, meeting Trip's puzzled eyes for an instant. Then he looked away, perhaps unaware that the gesture belied the detachment he was feigning. "You're right, there is nothing you can do to help me, and it was selfish of me to get you up too," he continued in one breath, turning to leave.
Trip jumped to his feet as well. "Wait a sec," he said grabbing him by an arm, a note of panic entering his voice. "Where're you goin'? I never said I wouldn't listen."
"There is no point, and you must be bloody knackered too," Malcolm mumbled. "I'll…"
Trip pinned him with a meaningful look. "Sit down, Malcolm," he said levelly, giving him a slight push on both shoulders, which sent him gently back onto on the bed again. "It's ok," he added.
"You don't have to do this, Trip." Malcolm's voice was betraying emotion again and Trip responded with a tired grin. He much preferred an emotional Malcolm to the steely Lieutenant Reed.
"You're right, I don't," he replied, ignoring Malcolm's look of confusion. Hell, talking about it would be good for him too. The sight of his friends deformed and turned into aggressive primitive-like creatures had been a shocking one. Not to mention the fact that at some point he had been scared out of his wits that he wouldn't be able to save them from those other aliens bent on scorching them to death.
There was a moment of silence.
"I'm listenin'," Trip said raising his eyebrows innocently. "But you'll have to do the talkin'."
Malcolm took his time. "It's damn scary," he eventually burst out. "I mean… a mutagenic virus!" He spat the words out as if they were an insult. "I did everything I was supposed to do to safeguard the landing party on that bleeding planet." His face scrunched up in a distressed grimace. "How on earth am I supposed to protect us if the threats we'll be facing are… are… unheard-of?" he asked, anger and bewilderment fighting for predominance in his voice.
Trip just barely refrained from rolling his eyes. I should've known, he thought, as he prepared to repeat the lecture he had given Malcolm numberless times. "No one is expectin' you to be perfect," he said in a monotone.
"It doesn't mean I shouldn't aim to be," Malcolm predictably shot back in his clipped accent.
Trip huffed. "That, Lieutenant, is commendable. But don't forget: you, I – all of us – can only try our best," he countered, knowing full well that his was wasted breath.
Malcolm, of course, didn't prove him wrong. He looked away, this time in defiance. "Because of the nature of my job," he said in a taut voice, "As you are well aware, if my best is not good enough, we're in serious trouble."
"Look, we've had this conversation before," Trip finally exploded. "And, in any case, that's the job you chose, Malcolm. The job you love and at which you are damn good. So stop worryin', will ya?"
"All right, all right," Malcolm murmured, somewhat apologetically. "I'm sorry."
They looked at each other in silence. "Hey, how about a drink?" Trip suggested as a peace offering.
A loud groan of disgust met his question. "I'm still trying to digest the larvae I had for supper," Malcolm said bringing a hand to his stomach. "I dare not think how the Captain must be faring. He played alpha male and hoarded most of that delicacy for himself. I must remember to thank him."
Chuckling, Trip got up and went to get a couple of glasses of water. "Here, this won't hurt you."
Malcolm accepted the glass hesitantly and took a small sip before putting it down on the floor. "It's strange, come to think of it," he said tilting his head. "We were no longer ourselves, yet the command structure remained unchanged; he was still our leader."
"Well, there was some human DNA left in you people," Trip reasoned, sitting in his chair again. Even though it was hard to see, he silently added. "So," he enquired, breaking the silence again. "You still feel the urge to go back to that city?"
"Yes… actually, no…" Malcolm shook his head in frustration. "I don't know… not like before. Definitely not like before," he repeated with conviction.
"Well, thank God for that!"
Damn! Trip winced inwardly; his outburst had made Malcolm immediately get on the defence, and he was looking pointedly at him as if expecting an explanation.
"You know…" Trip faltered, not sure he should burden his friend with his own distressing memories. "Well, the four of you scared the shit out of me," he eventually admitted, passing a nervous hand through his unkempt hair. "The Capt'n tried to kill me on that planet," he said grimly. "And when you came round and didn't recognise me, and were frightened and ragin', and we had to lock you in the decon chamber… well, I was worried sick." Words were coming easily now. "Especially as I didn't know if Phlox would find a way to get you all back to normal before…"
He finally caught himself, remembering that Malcolm might not know the whole story yet, and glanced surreptitiously at his friend. A new emotion was dawning on Malcolm's face, making him look young and fragile. Like a self-centred child realising for the first time that there are other people beyond his little world.
"I was so busy trying to deal with my scrambled feelings that I never even bothered to think of what you went through," Malcolm murmured ruefully. He met Trip's eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Ah, forget it, I'm ok," Trip said, forcing a cheerful tone. "I'm just glad it's over."
"I should at least thank you for stopping those charming fellows from neutralising the infected organism on board," Malcolm said with a faint smile.
Trip's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "You know about that?"
"Phlox told me." Malcolm grumbled and reached behind his shoulder to scratch his back.
"Talking of Phlox… you seem to be scratchin' yourself a lot," Trip said. "Let me walk you to sickbay. It might be an allergy startin'."
"Later, maybe…" Malcolm replied vaguely, stopping instantly what he was doing.
Trip was about to insist, but then thought that Mal had seen enough of sickbay recently. He decided to give his friend another chance and just keep an eye on him for any other symptoms.
Rubbing his eyes, Malcolm leaned back against the headboard, slowly deflating like a punctured tyre. He shifted to find a more comfortable position.
"Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be someone else?" he asked dreamily. Before Trip could come up with an answer, he continued, "When I was growing up, I wished many times that I could be another person." His voice was so low Trip had to listen closely to hear him.
"What do you mean?"
"You know -- be someone else. I suppose I just wasn't… happy with myself, I wanted to be different," Malcolm explained, averting his eyes.
"At a certain age almost no one is happy about themselves," Trip commented with a shrug of his shoulders, trying to think if he had ever felt that way.
"No, really, I… wanted to be another person," Malcolm said, dead serious.
Why did it sound like Mal had wanted to say 'hated myself'?
Trip's mind conjured up a picture of a young Malcolm Reed that was a bit unsettling. He quickly dismissed it, annoyed with himself. He just didn't know what Malcolm had been like growing up, he shouldn't make any assumptions.
"I guess that could be a problem, at any age," Trip commented, watching his friend closely, hoping to gain any insight to his multi-layered personality and into his nebulous past.
For a moment Malcolm seemed unwilling to reply; but then his eyebrows shot up and he said, "Yeah, I suppose one could lose oneself…"
"Obviously you didn't," Trip said, looking Mal straight in the eye.
Malcolm shifted nervously under the scrutiny and answered elusively, "Not really…"
"Anyone in particular?" Trip asked, intrigued by the turn their conversation had taken. At Mal's puzzled look he rephrased, "Did you want to be anyone in particular?"
Malcolm's mouth unexpectedly curved up into a small smile. "Nobody you would choose, Mr. Tucker -- not Superman," he replied with a soft chuckle. "A couple of schoolmates who had the attention of all the girls… and then there were some heroic figures from British history. I could tell you a few names but I doubt you'd know them," he added teasingly.
This time Trip did roll his eyes, which caused Malcolm's smile to grow bigger for a moment and light up his face, before a frown darkened it again like a cloud passing in front of the sun.
"I just didn't want to be me," he repeated, seemingly lost in his memories. "I spent hours actually imagining myself in a different body, a different time, a different…" Suddenly he grimaced and cursed softly. Drawing his legs up, he wrapped his arms around his mid-section.
Trip tensed up. "You ok?" he asked, ready to jump out of his chair and page Phlox.
"I'm fine," Malcolm grunted. "Phlox says my gastro-intestinal tract is still reshaping," he choked out, wincing. "Sometimes I can feel it. It's bloody unpleasant." Closing his eyes, he took a couple of deep breaths.
"Do you still want that?" Trip enquired softly after they had both settled down again. "You know, to be another person?"
Malcolm shifted some more, sliding down to a reclined position. "I haven't thought of it in a long time," he breathed out. Turning on his side, he found Trip's pillow and rested his head on it. Trip saw his brow knit in concentration, though his eyes remained closed.
"Whatever my father might think, I'm actually quite happy to be who I am now," he said eventually, drawing out the words tiredly.
Trip winced sympathetically, wondering what role Malcolm's father had played in his friend's wish to be someone else. Curiosity made him bold. "Your father's not happy with you?" he ventured to ask, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
Malcolm would never know how expressive he could be even with his eyes closed, Trip thought as he watched a range of emotions paint themselves on his friend's face.
"I broke with family tradition," he murmured. "I suppose in his eyes I am a disappointing son…" After a long pause he added softly, "But it's ok. I doubt that I myself will ever grow to accept some of my shortcomings."
Trip shook his head in defeat as he watched Mal stifle a yawn and stretch out a little.
"But no more changing bodies..." he slurred. "Now I just want to be me, faults and all…"
"Nothin' like bein' changed into an ape-like creature to make you appreciate who you are, huh?" Trip said, with a chuckle.
"Talk of exploring," Trip wondered softly with another shake of his head. "Being turned into a new species certainly gives the word a whole new meaning."
Malcolm moaned in agreement. "Never trained for that…" he replied, drowsiness smoothing out his accent.
"Alien Organism Survival Training," Trip joked, letting his imagination run wild again. "The course would probably be a hit." He started picturing classes of Starfleet trainees being turned into a dozen different species.
Trip watched as his friend visibly relaxed. "I can't imagine your dad not being proud of you right now, Malcolm; knowing that you're out here trying to save Earth," he said with feeling.
Silence was his reply, broken only by the deep and even sound of Malcolm's breathing. Trip couldn't help but smile at the look of perfect innocence Enterprise's Armoury Officer offered right now. He heaved a sigh of relief: that was definitely no alien lying contentedly in his bed. Wait a minute… his bed? A notion struck him.
Trip's face fell. "Great, Mr. Reed," he grumbled. "And just where am I supposed to sleep now?"
He briefly considered going to his friend's quarters, but dismissed the idea: maybe Malcolm would not sleep long, due to his nightmares. Sighing, Trip covered the slumbering form; then got a second pillow and a blanket out of his cabinet, and lay down on the floor, ordering the lights off.
"Well, Lieutenant," he told Malcolm, closing his eyes, "If you were afraid to be seen goin' into Hoshi's quarters just wait until someone sees you slippin' out of mine." He smirked. "That should set the ship's grapevine in motion..."
Reviews are always welcome...