Thank you to everyone who has reviewed and commented so far. I read each one, and they mean a lot to me.
This is the final chapter.
Malcolm endured two days of being questioned, poked and prodded. Phlox put him through a series of tests, both physical and mental, and he began counselling with Starfleet. This consisted of them asking questions, and him responding in one-word answers. Did he have a family history of psychiatric disorders? No. Of substance abuse? No. Had he been taking any drugs? No. Had he been drinking lately? No. Had he suicidal thoughts in the past? No. Ad infinitum.
Not particularly helpful.
Trip kept coming by. Although they hadn't specifically spoken about the incident on the planet, he could tell Trip was keeping a careful eye on him. Trip would do things like drop in at odd hours and talk about seemingly random things: the latest tweak to the Warp drive, what Chef had served at lunch, a joke Travis had played on Hoshi; each time spending only a few minutes before leaving as quickly as he'd come.
And Malcolm would sit and listen. He could tell Trip somehow felt responsible for his well being. So he could handle Trip's checking in, making sure he was not sitting there in the dark with a pistol in his mouth. And in reality, he supposed he didn't mind the visits. He had bugger all else to do, and Trip always ended up doing most of the talking, seeming to expect little if any response from him.
He was lying on the bed with the curtain pulled around him, the sounds of Phlox's animals keeping him awake, when the doctor stepped inside the enclosure.
"I have some news," he said with a smile.
So he was sitting, now, on a chair in Phlox's small office. Archer was seated beside him, and Trip was leaning against the doorframe.
Malcolm supposed this was better. At least if they were going to talk about him, he was going to be party to the conversation. The side effect, though, was that he felt as if all eyes were on him. Which, he supposed, they were. He consciously made his fingers release their grip on the arms of the chair.
Phlox leaned forward across his desk. "There was a drug on the arrow that struck Mr. Reed."
"What?" Trip exclaimed in surprise. He looked at Malcolm, brow furrowed.
Phlox also cast him a glance. He continued, "The substance would be lethal to the species that made it, but to a Human, it causes a reaction in the body that alters brain chemistry."
"What do you mean 'alters brain chemistry'?" Trip asked.
At the same time, Archer leaned forward in his chair and said, "Why didn't we pick this up earlier?"
"It was a trace amount," Phlox replied from behind the desk. "We don't normally do chemical analysis down to that level, but as part of my investigation I went back and checked everything." He turned to Trip. "It's interfering with some of his neurotransmitters."
"Damn," Trip muttered.
"Indeed," said Phlox.
"Is there something you can do?" Archer asked, peering at Malcolm.
Malcolm took a deep breath, trying to remain calm. This was nothing he didn't already know - Phlox had run through it with him earlier - but still, it all felt a bit too much.
"No," said Phlox, shaking his head. "I don't want to start him on medications which may interact with this compound. We simply don't know enough about it."
Malcolm heard Trip try to speak, and Phlox raised a calming hand. "The effects are already less than they were two days ago, when we brought him in. It appears that it will wear off with time." He turned back to the captain. "Still, he'll need to remain here, and on watch until we're sure the chemical is done with him."
"What about the..." Trip shifted in the doorway, casting a nervous look at Malcolm. "I had to tell them that I thought you were hurting yourself, Malcolm."
Malcolm shook his head. His eyes moved from Trip, to Archer, to Phlox. From their expressions, he knew any protest he made at this point would be useless. He looked down. His knuckles had gone white, he was clenching his hands so tightly.
Shit, he thought. Bloody hell. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks.
Phlox nodded. "The counselling should continue."
"How much time?" Malcolm asked as he looked up, suddenly feeling as if he was a full beat behind the conversation.
Phlox turned his piercing gaze on him, and Malcolm had to keep himself from flinching. "For what, Lieutenant?"
"For..." Malcolm waved his hand, taking in the events of the past few days. "...all this to wear off."
"A good week, possibly more. There's no way to tell for sure..."
A week more of this? Being stuck in sickbay, under observation, with no privacy at all? His emotions were already churning enough as it was. He wasn't sure how much longer he could bear being -
"Malcolm?" Trip said from above him, his face a mask of concern. He'd stepped into the room at some point. "Did you hear what Phlox just said?"
"What?" He shook his head. "Sorry. No. I'm not sure I'm..." he ran a hand through his hair. "Sorry."
"He said you could go back to your quarters."
"Under observation," Phlox added with a smile. "We feel your recovery may go more smoothly if you're in more comfortable surroundings. Mr. Tucker has volunteered..."
Malcolm lost the rest of it in the whirl of his thoughts. He could leave. He could leave, and this - whatever - would be done in a week.
Somehow he doubted it was quite that simple.
The idea that all of this was caused by a drug... But - he thought back - it hadn't all started with the arrow. He'd been feeling bad prior to that.
He took a slow, shaky breath. Bad, yes, but not suicidal. He'd had rough spots before, and had always come through them, battered but whole. And yet these feelings felt so much a part of him. They felt like they had always been a part of him. It was hard to believe they'd pass. He wondered what they'd leave in their wake.
He jumped a bit when Archer clasped a hand to his shoulder. The man smiled, and Malcolm nodded in acknowledgement.
Archer stood, and Trip slid into his chair after he'd left with Phlox.
"So, what?" Trip said quietly. "Do you think this will pass?"
Malcolm simply shrugged and turned away. Maybe it would. He didn't think he felt that much different from a few days ago. Although - when he thought about it, he supposed he did. He felt edgier, jumpier, his emotions in a storm, but at the same time, he felt less like his world was collapsing in on him. Even back on the planet he could remember feeling a bit better. Even simply the run... Malcolm gasped.
"You okay?" Trip asked.
Malcolm nodded without looking at him.
Trip had done that on purpose. The arsehole. Trip knew he'd been in crisis. He'd suggested the run more than just to take his mind off things. He'd suggested the run for the bloody endorphins. Get his mood elevated, and get him tired enough to agree to come back to the ship.
Looks like man had saved his life more than once that day.
Still, Malcolm knew that the basic underlying issues needed dealing with. Trip thought he was getting hurt too much. He didn't think Trip was right, but... he could understand why Trip thought the way he did.
And there were the problems between him and the captain. He made a vow to speak with Archer. Not to lecture him, but to discuss the issues. That had worked before, and perhaps it would work again.
More importantly, he vowed to take this opening with Trip and build on it. Perhaps, eventually, he could get that friendship back.
He felt a hand touch his knee. He turned to see Trip there, staring at him with obvious concern.
Maybe that had already begun.
Thank you to everyone who read this story. Please let me know what you thought.
I had inspiration for certain lines/scenes:
- The bit about Malcolm's actions being like an addiction - that idea and the related idea of "chasing a high" came to me from the tv show "Prison Break".
- The idea of being able to outrun your despair came to me from a book called "Jarhead", by Anthony Swofford.
- The following lines were adapted from something in "Jarhead": "But those were not the reasons why he was standing there, staring down at the water. The real reasons were hard to name. His own loneliness? The danger of his mission? The deaths he had on his hands? Cowardice? Fatigue? Curiosity"
- I can not remember the author's name or the story's title, but I remember getting the idea for these lines after reading a story: " 'My job is anticipating the danger, knowing all of the possible things that might happen, then making sure they don't. But when I don't do that part of my job right -' He cut himself off, unable to talk about why he'd bollixed it up so badly, and why he was so afraid it could happen again."