I am so mean to poor Malcolm, am I not?

Thank you all so much for your comments and reviews. This is the final chapter.


There was a world of pain and light around him. Voices. Trip's voice. But that couldn't be Trip, because he'd killed him. Confused, Malcolm opened his eyes, squinting against the almost overwhelming brightness.

Trip was on the floor nearby, a sea of medics swirling around him, the detritus of their work spilling across the space between them. Caps from hyposprays. Torn wraps from bandages. Discarded packaging from IV kits. His eyes traced a trail of dark liquid to a nearby smear. Blood. The medics seemed to unconsciously avoid it as they scrambled between them.

He heard Trip's voice again. Trip's eyes were on his, blazing, desperate. Malcolm shook his head, or tried to. Unable to move, he stopped trying. It wasn't important, anyway. None of this was real. Couldn't be. The man was dead. He remembered the feel of blood flowing over his hand as the knife moved. Heart beating wildly, he tried to catch his breath.

He had to cough. He knew it was a very bad idea, but he couldn't stop himself. Coughing, taking in a whooping breath, he tasted iron on his tongue, felt something wet on his lips. He saw the alarm on Trip's face.

Phlox was there. Phlox? Was Phlox dead, too? The doctor was speaking to him. He let his eyes drift away, looking over Phlox's shoulder, trying not to lose himself in the pain and confusion.

The being. Where was it? He felt inside himself, trying to see if it was still there. Nothing. Noone. Hell, not even him. Empty.

He'd killed Trip. Maybe himself. There was nothing left.

Arm jostled, he felt pressure as a drug was given. He spun away.


When Malcolm next woke, he knew he'd been hurt - he could feel the pain, but it felt distant, somewhat removed, and he realised he'd been drugged.

He started an inventory of self as awareness crept in. All the bits were still there. There was pain in his stomach and his side, but it was remote. His throat hurt. Monitors, IV, nasal cannula, catheter. His hand itched where they'd taped the IV. There was a sheet draped over his body.

Holding himself still, he listened to the activity around him. Soft voices spoke nearby. Animal sounds, tiny rustles and calls. He could smell the sharp tang of antiseptic covering the odour of illness and worse. Sickbay.

Opening his eyes, he let his head roll towards the voices. He saw Trip lying on the closest biobed, and Phlox's back.

Without enough energy for anything else, he simply watched his friend. Thoughts moving sluggishly, he could feel the drugs tugging him back down.

After a moment, Trip must have felt eyes on him because met his gaze. Trip's eyes widened in surprise.

He must have drifted off, because when next he knew it, he was listening to Phlox's voice. "Lieutenant, can you open your eyes, please?"

With effort, he got them open and saw Phlox's serious face hovering over him.

"How do you feel?"

"Fine" he tried to say. He wanted to focus on Phlox, but his eyelids drooped despite his best efforts.

"Do you know where you are?"

"Mmm," he heard himself say as he tried to follow the question. By the time he did, his eyes had closed and it was too late to answer.


When Malcolm next woke, his head was clearer and so was the pain. Shifting on the bed, he gasped a short breath at the shock of it. Then he tried not to move.

He felt a hand on his arm. Opening his eyes, he saw Trip in a chair beside his bed. Trip had obviously noticed he was hurting, because the first thing he said was "Just press the button under your hand if you need more meds, Malcolm."

Not even taking time to acknowledge the comment, Malcolm ran a finger along the device under his hand. He hadn't even realised it was there until Trip had mentioned it. Pressing down, he felt the pain begin to dull almost immediately. Vaguely aware of Trip saying something to him, he caught a few words as he began to drift off. The last thing he heard as he slid into sleep was "Sorry," although he wasn't sure what Trip had to be sorry for. After all, it was Malcolm who'd killed him.


Trip was there again. Trip was always there. Every time he'd woken - well, a more accurate telling would be "half-woken" - Trip had been there at his bedside. Right now he sat just beside the bed, an arm draped across his midsection, his entire focus on the padd resting on his lap.

Trip was obviously recovering from his injuries. Malcolm's covert ops training, in this instance, had been a blessing. It had given him knowledge of how best to cut to do damage, but still allow the victim to recover. His own injuries appeared to have been much more severe.

At the time, he'd given no thought to what he was doing. He'd simply acted on instinct, without thought. He'd stabbed Trip, hoping to stop his heart long enough for the being to leave him, but not so long Phlox couldn't bring him back. But when the being had leapt into him, he'd simply reacted.

He remembered the clarity he'd felt, the realisation that had come over him in the cell. Now he wasn't quite as certain of his actions. He wasn't sure if it had all been a figment of his fevered, drugged imagination, or if he'd actually understood what Carevial had been trying to say.

Lying still, he let his eyes search Trip. He seemed all right, if hobbled. Pale, obviously ill, he was hunched over a bit, but at least he was sitting in a chair beside him. At least he was there. When Malcolm thought of what he'd almost done to him - what he had done to him...

Malcolm's thoughts were interrupted when Trip looked up and smiled.

"Hey," Trip said. "You with me?"

Hello, yourself, Malcolm tried to say in reply, but he choked. A medic was at his side in an instant, checking this and that and giving him ice chips, which were a glory. He'd always loved the ice chips.

The medic turned to Trip. "Just one minute more," he said as he moved away.

Trip nodded and placed a hand, palm down, on Malcolm's chest. His expression was apologetic. "You okay?"

This Malcolm had to think about. Was he okay? He seemed to be recovering, physically, but inside... God, he could still remember the feel of the knife as it slipped into Trip's side, the sensation as he... as he...

When he didn't answer right away, Trip grimaced, concern apparent on his face.

Malcolm winced and turned to face the ceiling. It hurt too much to know that he was the one who'd done this to Trip, even if it actually had been necessary, even if there was no other way to free him. His mum had always said that the person who loves you the most was one most likely to hurt you, and he'd certainly done that to Trip.

"Person who loves you the most?" Trip asked, and Malcolm turned to him in shock, unaware he'd spoken aloud.

"This hurts too much," Malcolm said, trying to explain.

Trip started to look really worried. "You can self medicate -

"No, that's not what I meant." Malcolm lifted a shaking hand and placed it on top of Trip's where it rested on his chest. Squeezing, he pressed their hands into his chest, over his heart. He didn't want to lose this. Trip was there, when he'd thought he'd lost him. He was always there.

Malcolm had been so desperate. He'd been willing to risk anything, everything, on the chance that he'd be able to keep this.

"What I did to you," he said, frantically trying to turn his jumbled feelings to words. "What we went through."

"No, Malcolm -

"Before all this, before I realised the being had...I'd thought that you..."

Trip raised an eyebrow.

Malcolm dropped his voice. "I would to anything for you, Trip. Anything at all." Even die for you - that bit he left unsaid.

Trip nodded, eyes moist. "But..." he said, leading with his tone, seemingly braced for impact.

Malcolm hesitated, then said it. "Carevial - the person from Bechovia - told me the ritual would only work if the one person who loved you the most performed it." Malcolm tried to resist the urge to laugh, knowing that his emotions were just a bit too close to the surface to allow him to control himself if he let go, and he really needed to focus, to say this. He briefly wondered how much the drugs being pumped into his system were affecting him, but he pushed that thought aside. What he had to say was right. Even if he was only able to say this because of the drugs, he wouldn't have any regrets. This was true. It was right. And it was about bloody time.

"I thought, even though you'd pretty much broken it off -

Trip tried to interrupt, "That wasn't me. I didn't -

Malcolm ran right over him. "...that person was probably me. I need you here with me, Trip." He squeezed Trip's hand. "I want this. Forever. I want this."

"Oh," Trip finally said, looking shell-shocked.

Malcolm tried to smother his smile. "I...I basically propose to you, and all you have to say is 'Oh'?"

Trip frowned. "I thought you were going to break up with me."

"No, Trip," Malcolm said, breaking out in a full-on grin. "Quite the opposite."

Now it was Trip's turn to smile.


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