Thank you all so much for reading this, and especially those who've left me comments and reviews. This is, sadly, the final chapter.
Malcolm opened his eyes and realised that he'd been sleeping. Sitting upright, propped on a wall, and in public, he'd been sleeping.
Then he recognized what had woken him, and he turned quickly, scrambling back and ready to defend himself or run. Someone had... He froze when he saw who was sitting beside him: Trip.
"Hey, hey, hey. No, no," Trip said, palms up and out.
Malcolm's frantic eyes traced Trip's form, looking for signs of injury under the uniform. But that had been weeks ago, now.
"Malcolm?" Trip asked once more, his expression showing his concern. He reached out and touched Malcolm's arm, but Malcolm twitched away.
Why was Trip there? Didn't the man know that Malcolm had attacked him? That he was dangerous?
Trip frowned and lowered his hand. "We've been searching for you for weeks," he said.
Malcolm managed to respond with a question. "How'd you find me?"
Trip smiled wryly. "You didn't make it easy, let me tell you. Took a while. Once we traced you to this place, we started checking hospitals, mor..." He stopped himself. "When I checked the shelter here in town, they turned me away."
Malcolm frowned in confusion. "So how did you?"
"One of the employees came out after I'd left. She said she was worried about you..."
Malcolm turned away angrily. Ryba. He felt oddly betrayed.
"Malcolm, you need to come back."
Malcolm turned back to Trip and snarled, "No."
"If it's because you'll be brought up on charges -
"I can't go back!" Malcolm said, practically shouting. It would be too bloody dangerous. And... He jumped up and started walking down the crowded pavement, his mind racing. He felt Trip fall in beside him, keeping with his hurried pace. Malcolm ignored him, thinking back to what had happened on Enterprise. He felt so betrayed. They'd never...
Why would they think he'd just give in like that? It was unlike him, wasn't it? Who was he in their eyes, that they'd think he'd...
If Trip had done the same, or thought he'd done the same, Malcolm would assume that he'd been tortured or drugged or beaten so badly that he'd had no choice, even if all evidence said otherwise. What was different here?
Archer he could understand. The man had changed after the Xindi had attacked Earth. He'd been blinded, unable to see anything but the Xindi. But Trip? He'd thought they were friends. So he decided to ask. Stopping so quickly that Trip almost fell, he turned on his friend. "Do you think I'm a traitor?"
Trip tried to break in. "No, I -
"How could you think...?" Malcolm continued, speaking right over him. He paused only when someone bumped him with a softly muttered apology, and something that Trip had said to him on the ship came back to him. Something he'd forgotten.
On one of his first days in sickbay after he'd been found, Trip had said that trading their two lives, his and Hoshi's, wasn't worth it, in exchange for the whole of Earth. "After what the Xindi did to my sister," he'd spat, "How could you?"
Malcolm crossed his arms over his chest, holding himself tightly. "I would never, ever..." He shook his head. "I would never just give that information away. They..." He let his voice drift away, thinking about the torture. That blue ball. And the drugs.
...Two aft cannon, four impulse torpedo launchers, four sub-warp impulse engines...
He shut his eyes against the memories.
Trip pulled him aside and against the nearest building, away from the flow of pedestrian traffic. "I know that now." Malcolm opened his eyes, and Trip continued. "I knew as soon as we discovered that you'd left that you were not all right, that something was wrong. Then, when we found the knife, and the blood..."
"Did I hurt you?" Malcolm asked, his voice cracking.
"What?" Trip asked, eyes wide in surprise. "When? No."
"I thought..." Malcolm watched the flow of people moving past them. "I tried to hurt Hoshi. I would have, if I hadn't woken up."
"No -" was all Trip managed to get in before Malcolm shook his head. How could Trip believe that he wouldn't have hurt her? He'd intended to; he'd stood outside her quarters, knife in hand. How could Trip believe that he wouldn't try again, attack Trip or Hoshi in the midst of some waking-nightmare?
How could Trip believe when Malcolm himself couldn't?
"It wasn't your fault," Trip said, his voice low and quiet.
"I stole a shuttle," Malcolm said firmly. "I went AWOL." He met Trip's gaze.
"No. The captain..." Trip shook his head. "I mean... Phlox..." Trip sighed, and looked at him frankly. "I think all this is related."
"To the torture, to what they'd done to you, what you'd had to do."
"You think I've cracked," Malcolm said, grimacing. At the look on Trip's face, he realised the truth of it. "You do, don't you?"
Trip cocked his head. "I think your experiences have... and the drugs and stuff, it's messed you up." He tried to smile, but it came out as more of a wince. "You're not exactly acting like yourself."
Malcolm looked down at himself, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. "I suppose I'm not. No."
Trip stepped a bit closer and grasped Malcolm's arm tentatively. "And you weren't, back on the ship, and I'm sorry that I didn't see that. I'm sorry that I didn't believe you. Believe in you. It was so unlike you, but I..." He dropped his hand. "At the same time, it was the Xindi," he said, emphasising that last word. "I'm not sure that I was seeing things that clearly myself." Trip did smile, this time successfully, although his eyes held a nasty edge. "We found where you'd been held."
"What?" Malcolm asked, heart racing.
Trip nodded. "We found their recordings. That's how we know about the torture, what they did to you."
Malcolm rubbed the back of his hand absently, remembering the scars. "But -
"They had these lovely little devices that erased whatever physical traces they'd left." Trip paused. When he continued, his voice shook. "Ends up they didn't release you. You got yourself out. Strangled one of your captors, grabbed his weapon and killed another."
Malcolm watched the flow of people passing them on the street, and considered what Trip had said. It directly paralleled what he'd acted out in his dreams, but he didn't actually remember the events themselves. It was if that area of his memory was blocked off.
Just as well.
"Did I tell them...?" he heard himself ask, his voice soft, almost lost in the noise of the crowd around them. He sagged against the wall behind him.
"It doesn't matter," Trip replied, matching his tone.
At that, Malcolm turned to his friend, shocked.
"The info never got out. You killed them before they'd completed their - " Trip cut himself off with a grimace and looked away. "Before they had a chance to send it."
Malcolm closed his eyes in relief.
After a moment, he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Come home, Malcolm."
He couldn't speak, so instead, he simply nodded.
The title, "Leave Your Home Behind, Lad", is from A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman.
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