This is the end. I'm actually kind of sad that I'm leaving this one. Thank you again reading.
Malcolm pushed up from the bed, cautious of his damaged hand and his unsteadiness. Careful not to trip over anything in the dim light and dragging his IV pole with him, he hobbled over to the curtain where he knew Trip had been brought the night before.
This entire day had been a buzz of activity, with doctors, nurses and techs flowing in and out of the area behind the curtain. He had heard Trip's voice a few times, but Malcolm had focused his attention elsewhere, giving the man some privacy while he was being evaluated.
Actually, that was a lie. He'd been avoiding the situation: avoiding Trip, avoiding facing up to what had happened down there.
At least with all of Enterprise's attention on Trip, there was less focus on him. Because if one more person stood beside his bed, looking down on him with that mixture of sympathy and fear in their eyes...
Malcolm took a careful, measured breath. He relaxed the hand he'd wrapped around his IV pole.
It was sick, it made him a bad person, and he was definitely going to go to hell for this, but he was grateful that all of today's attention had been on Trip, even if that meant Trip was in bad shape. Malcolm had found that a welcome respite not just from concerned visitors, but also from the questions he'd been receiving from Phlox and Archer about his time down there, most specifically the way he'd gotten himself into the asylum.
He'd had to tell them what he'd done. He hadn't wanted to – he'd even thought that he might be able to dance around the topic, but Phlox's scans had shown something, and it was enough for the doctor to put two and two together and figure out what had happened. When Phlox had asked about the injuries to his neck, to his hand, Malcolm had looked into Phlox's eyes realised that the doctor already knew the answers.
He'd seen the obvious concern in Archer's eyes, and the frank doubt in Phlox's when Malcolm had said he'd just done it to get into the asylum. He'd had to clench his hands on the edge of the bed in order to physically keep himself from running when Phlox had said the drugs, which were still present in his system, had certainly influenced his actions, but that there may be more, something other than the drugs. Phlox had then insisted that he go into counselling with someone from StarFleet Medical. When Malcolm had tried to argue, the doctor had said that it was not a subject of debate, and that the sessions would begin as soon as Phlox could contact the appropriate doctors and set them up. He still felt the jolt that had hit him when he'd turned to the captain and saw Archer's shock at Phlox's ideas, then his quick agreement.
Malcolm would be off duty for the foreseeable future, at least until those doctors were convinced that he was all right. He felt a partial smile creep over his face. They had a hell of a job ahead of them.
Now he stood staring at the curtain surrounding Trip's bed, unsure if his friend would be awake at this hour of the night, and half hoping that he wouldn't be.
Shoring up his courage, Malcolm pulled aside the curtain. There was Trip in all his glory, sitting in his bed and reading by the light of a small lamp.
Malcolm stood there for a moment. There had obviously been some additional beatings after Malcolm had left - he could see bruising along Trip's hairline, and the puckered skin where Phlox had performed some of his magic. Trip's left arm was wrapped - probably broken. Malcolm continued logging Trip's injuries, feeling each one like a punch to the gut.
Trip finally caught his eye and grinned. He waved to the chair beside his bed. "Should you be up? Phlox told me you'd been drugged, and..."
Malcolm interrupted with a shrug and hobbled to the chair. He sank into it gratefully. Not looking at Trip, he asked, "How did they get you out?"
Trip's voice lost its joviality and took on a more watchful tone. "T'Pol and Hoshi worked to forge some release orders. Martinez was at the door when I walked out of there." Malcolm looked up, and Trip smiled cautiously. "I basically strolled out of there, onto the shuttlepod and then home." He shrugged. "It was almost anticlimactic."
Malcolm tried to give a false grin in response to Trip's attempt at a joke, but he let it fall away when he realised that it was probably more of a grimace. "You all right?"
"Pretty much," Trip replied. "Nothing that won't heal. Phlox even said that he might release me in a couple days." Malcolm was about to speak until Trip shook his head as if saying, leave it for later. "How about you?" Trip added, his tone light but his eyes serious.
Malcolm shrugged. He realised that his bandaged hand was at his neck, covering the area where his bruises had been, and he pulled it away. They'd faded to invisibility, but Malcolm felt like they were glowing, a mark of his shame.
Trip dropped all pretence at cheerfulness. "What happened in the cell that night?" he asked, the gentleness of his tone helping to ease the bluntness of the question.
Malcolm hesitated. He wasn't exactly sure how to explain it. He finally said, "I needed to find a way to get into the asylum."
Trip paused as if taking that in. "But why that way?"
Malcolm was about to say something glib to deflect the question, but Trip stopped him. "I mean, how could you?" Trip asked.
Malcolm looked down at his bandaged hand, now resting in his lap. "It was easy," he said, realising that it was true only as he uttered the words. He heard Trip give a soft intake of breath. Malcolm could feel Trip's eyes on him, but kept his head down. He lifted his hands and placed them on the edge of Trip's mattress, and his fingers started worrying the sheet.
It had been so easy to let himself slip. And once he'd started, he'd gone quickly. Completely. He smiled to himself. He'd never done things by half-measures.
"And after that?" Trip asked, his tone guarded.
Malcolm thought about how to answer. After a moment, he looked up at Trip. "Darkness."
Trip stared at him for a while. Finally he said, "Pretty drastic."
"Yes," Malcolm said flatly. He broke eye contact.
One word, "Yes," but there was so much meaning behind it.
At the time, he'd felt like he'd had no other options. He'd had to do what he'd done because it was the only way he had to make sure that Trip was safe.
Malcolm looked back up at Trip, and Trip reached out, eyes blazing. It was almost as if Trip understood. And maybe he did.
"Do not do that again," Trip said, covering Malcolm's hand where it shifted on the mattress, stilling Malcolm's restless fingers.
Malcolm looked away. He wanted to say that he wouldn't. He wanted to mean it, too. But he couldn't lie, and he couldn't promise. How could he? "Trip..." he finally said, his voice trailing off.
Trip took his hand away as if he'd been burnt, and Malcolm looked up, meeting his eyes. His friend looked...he looked hurt, and angry, and guilty. Malcolm was confused for a moment until the realisation hit him in a wave. Trip probably felt as if all of this was his fault.
It was true that, back in the prison, he'd felt he had to do what he'd done in order to get Trip out of there, but he'd chosen to take the actions he had. He'd made the choice, and this - none of this - was Trip's fault.
Choice. Phlox had tried to talk to him about choice, but he'd turned away.
Malcolm looked down at his bandaged hand. Part of the dressing was unravelling, and he started pulling at the loose threads.
Perhaps there was something else. Maybe there was a darkness within him that allowed him to see taking his own life as a reasonable solution. Even if the drugs had influenced him, even if he hadn't actually intended to die, even if the plot was engineered and he hoped to fail, there had to be a darkness in him that drove him to actually place the noose around his neck and step off that bed. Perhaps if their roles had been reversed, Trip, who didn't have that darkness, would have found another way. Malcolm smiled warily. Maybe Phlox's counselling idea wasn't such a bad one.
"I'll try." Malcolm focused on the words he'd said. They seemed entirely inadequate, but they were the best he could do.
At least it was a promise he could live with.
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