This is the final chapter. Thank you so much for reading this, and a special thank you to all who left comments. I read every single one, and they mean a lot to me.
Voices swirled around him, half-caught bits of sound and meaning floating on the waves. "...critical...coma...rests on him, his strength..."
But he wasn't certain if he actually had the strength. There was too much darkness, and he couldn't...
"I was barely even hurt."
Malcolm could scarcely make out the voice at first, and then he surfaced and it came clear. "The Captain and T'Pol hardly got a scratch on them. Why the hell are you the one who keeps getting hurt?" and then he was drowning, he was drowning in the darkness, the waves sweeping up over his head, choking him...
Trip again, talking to him, his rambling words coming fast. "You have to recover. Please. Come on, man. You promised you'd teach me how to surf." He felt a hand clutch his own, and suddenly his entire world was the heat of hand on his, the pressure he felt as Trip squeezed, then let go.
Malcolm wasn't sure he had the strength to get through this. Not this time. He was too tired. It was too dark. The only thing bright was Trip at his side, talking to him despite the fact that he couldn't respond, believing that Malcolm could hear him despite all evidence.
"Come on, kid. You've gotta be strong."
Maybe, if he let it, Trip's strength could be enough for them both.
Malcolm stood clumsily, almost falling before a hand caught his elbow.
"Hey," came a quiet voice from beside him.
"Hey, yourself," Malcolm said, the corner of his mouth turning upwards at the sight of Trip at his side. The man was obviously off-duty, and wearing one of the worst shirts that Malcolm had ever seen. "Interesting shirt."
Trip ignored the jibe and helped him hobble to the nearest chair. "You even supposed to be up?" he asked, pulling up another chair and sagging into it. Despite the brightness of his shirt, Trip seemed subdued.
Malcolm took a quick look around sickbay. "Technically, no. But I was getting stir crazy in that bed. I just needed to -
Trip waved him off. "Believe me, I get it. You've been awake here for, what? Four days already?"
Malcolm nodded. He'd woken in sickbay several days after Enterprise had found them, with only vague memories of the explosion. Once he'd been able to focus enough to talk, he'd had Trip tell him all about how they'd been rescued, and all the rest of it.
"How you doing?" Trip asked just as Phlox came out of his office and, seeing Malcolm with Trip, gave Malcolm a pointedly displeased look before mouthing, "Two minutes," silently and returning to his room.
Malcolm returned his attention to Trip. His leg was throbbing, and his chest hurt. And his head, and his back, and so he said, "All right, all things considered. Phlox said that I could be out of here in a couple of weeks."
"Will your leg be all right?"
Malcolm looked down at his right leg, still wrapped in bandages and supports. "Yes, it should be."
Trip smiled. "Good, 'cause I wanted to take you up on that offer of surfing."
"It may be a while," Malcolm replied, still looking at his leg. He let his eyes take in the bandages twisting around it, under the stiff support frame. The leg itself was mostly obscured, and based on Trip's description of the blast, Malcolm thought he was grateful not to be able to see it.
"That's fine," Trip said. "I can wait." He hesitated. "Surfing makes me nervous."
Malcolm looked up at Trip. He did look a bit anxious. "I thought you'd never been?"
"I haven't, but that's part of the reason why." Trip rubbed his hands together. "It makes me nervous."
Malcolm smiled. "It makes me nervous as well. Bit more than nervous, actually."
"I thought you loved it?"
"I do, in a way. The nerves are a part of that. It's more the fact that I'm mastering..." Malcolm let his voice trail away, realising that he'd never told Trip about his fear. "I'm aquaphobic," he said.
"What?" Trip asked. He raised an eyebrow in surprise. "You're afraid of water?"
"Drowning," Malcolm said, his voice coming out sharper than he'd intended.
Trip leaned forward in his chair. "So, you took up surfing..." he said, his manner clearly questioning Malcolm's sanity.
Lightening his tone, Malcolm added with a shrug, "I'm a man of contradictions and mysteries."
Trip nodded quite seriously, which surprised Malcolm.
After a silent moment, Trip asked, "So, surfing?"
"I started surfing on purpose, in order to overcome the fear." Malcolm shifted in his seat, trying to make his leg more comfortable, but that only served to reawaken the pain. He winced and took a slow, controlled breath. "I thought if I could master the waves, it would help me manage the rest of it."
"And you did it?"
"It took a while, but yes, eventually, I did." Malcolm thought about the last time he'd been on a board. "The fear's still there, of course, but...it's as if I gain something every time I go out there."
Phlox poked his head out of his office and caught Malcolm's eye, so Malcolm nodded. He made to stand, and Trip was by his side in a second, helping him back into bed.
Trip pulled the blanket up over Malcolm, careful of his leg. "Get some sleep. You look like you could use it."
Malcolm nodded. He watched Trip's back as he left, closing his eyes as the door shut between them. He'd love to sleep. The first few nights here had been blissfully free of dream, but last night...last night had been an entirely different story.
Still, Phlox's drugs were strong, and he was tired. Maybe last night was an anomaly. Maybe tonight would be different. Maybe...
Malcolm felt himself drifting, and he let himself go.
Malcolm sat in the couch facing the lounge's window, his leg carefully propped on the coffee table in front of him. It was quite late - well past 02:00, and the room was dark around him, the only light from a series of small nightlights along the far wall. There was just enough illumination to allow him to see his own reflection in the glass of the window, but he looked past that, searching out the stars.
He'd been there for some time. Lately he'd found that it was impossible for him to stay in his room on restless nights like this one, so he'd started coming here, usually finding it empty at this hour.
He'd been...he counted back the days...three days out of sickbay, and each of those nights had been nothing but dreams, and nightmares...images of Trip, or the Polobians, or...
Malcolm shook his head, trying to ward away the memories. He knew that he was still recovering - he was off-duty, and still in physical therapy, but none of that seemed to be doing much for his head. It would probably help him if he could get some sleep, but he couldn't seem to. If he fell asleep, he'd only awaken again later, and then he wouldn't bother trying again, for the dreams. Even trying seemed pointless.
He heard footsteps behind him. "Figured I'd find you here," Trip said, yawning as he sat on the couch beside him.
Malcolm glanced over and saw Trip sitting low in the seat, his legs propped up on the coffee table. The man was almost lying down he was so slouched.
"Why are you up so late?" Malcolm asked.
"Looking for you." Trip looked at Malcolm, frankly analysing him. "You still having nightmares?" he asked abruptly.
"Because you look like shit," Trip replied, biting off the last word.
"I've just been through surgery, and -
Trip shook his head. "It's more than that." He turned to face Malcolm on the couch, pulling his legs up in front of him. "You're not acting like yourself."
"What do you mean?"
"I haven't seen you in days, Malcolm," Trip said, leaning forward and dropping his voice. He lifted a hand to take in the room. "I had to come here, in the middle of the night, to find you."
Malcolm looked away, staring out the window at the darkness.
"You've been avoiding me, avoiding your friends. I haven't seen you eating. I don't think you're sleeping."
Malcolm just shook his head, too drained even to argue.
Trip hesitated. Picking his words with obvious care, he asked, "Have you thought about seeing someone?"
"Seeing somebody?" Malcolm asked, looking at him in surprise. "I'm not crazy, Trip."
"Are you sure about that?" Trip asked gently.
"No," Malcolm answered, speaking before he could catch himself. He clenched the fist that was resting on the couch's arm, and let out a breath.
"I know we're far from home, but the counsellors at SF..." Malcolm shook his head again, but Trip continued. "No, listen to me. They really helped me after that... after the Xindi. They helped."
Malcolm, almost apologetically, said, "I don't believe in counselling." He looked away again. "I should be able to get myself out of this."
"You can't always control everything."
Malcolm felt pressure on his bandaged leg, very gentle, and he looked down to find Trip's hand resting there.
"Sometimes, despite your best efforts, shit just happens." Trip yawned again, settling deeper into the couch. "Sometimes you have to let go and rely on other people."
"On their strength," Malcolm said, his voice quiet, almost lost in the large room.
"Yeah," Trip answered. "You can't always control everything. Sometimes you have to give yourself over..."
"Give myself over?" Malcolm said, his voice raised. Fists clenched, he pinned Trip in his gaze, and felt Trip tense through the hand on his leg. "I gave up back there, Trip. In the last attack. Instead of fighting, I just... gave in." He looked away, all the fight going out of him. "I was so damn tired."
He felt the hand on his leg relax. "But you're here," Trip said. "You made it out."
Malcolm crossed his arms across his chest, then, head down, ran a hand over his face. He had made it out, but not through his own will to fight. All the fight had been beaten out of him by then.
Maybe Trip was right. Sometimes you couldn't...
His eyes focused on his reflection in the window, and he imagined what Trip saw: a man who was used to being able to overcome almost anything via sheer force of will. A man who was too beaten down and exhausted to be able to do that anymore. A man who needed help, but was pushing people away instead of letting them in.
Sometimes you had to let go, to rely on others, to let them help you fight. Sometimes, it took the strength of two.
Bloody hell, why was it that Trip was always right?
Malcolm placed his own hand on top of Trip's where it rested on his leg, and squeezed awkwardly, releasing quickly. "Thanks."
He was answered by a snore.
Raising an eyebrow, he looked over and caught Trip sleeping, head thrown back and mouth open. The man let out another loud snore, and Malcolm smiled for the first time in what felt like forever.
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