Thank you for reading this. This is the final chapter.
Trip heard voices nearby. Careful of his IV even half-asleep, he rolled over and pulled the blanket up over his ears. He was just settling back into sleep when he heard a distinctive voice rasp, "Are they all right?"
Trip snapped to wakefulness. Pushing himself to sitting, he stared at the privacy curtain that had been drawn around Malcolm's bed. It fluttered as people moved behind it.
He'd thought he'd heard Malcolm's voice, but there was now too much noise for him to really hear what was going on. His foot tapped a nervous staccato against the base of the bed. God, he hoped Malcolm would be okay. His stomach clenched. He'd hate to think...
"I'm an idiot," Trip said, his voice a near whisper. Malcolm could have died before they had a chance to repair the mess he'd made of their friendship. Phlox said he was past the worst of it, but just to think...
He kept casting glances at the clock on the wall. The minutes ticked by, each an eternity. After a good fifteen had passed, he lay back down on the bed, his head pillowed on his free hand. Then he clasped his hands on his chest. Then he rolled onto his side, facing Malcolm's bed. Eventually, he closed his eyes.
He jumped a bit when Phlox finally came through the curtain, pushing some sort of device ahead of him. He'd definitely fallen asleep there for - he glanced at the clock - Shit. Three hours. Damn. He rubbed a hand across his face as if wiping away his tiredness.
When the doctor saw Trip lying there, he smiled and said, "You can go and see him if you'd like."
Trip slid down from the bed, moving cautiously, although he knew that his smile was probably as broad as the doctor's. "I'd like."
Dragging the IV pole behind him, Trip stepped to the curtain and pulled it slightly open. He didn't want to wake Malcolm if he were sleeping or...
Trip's brows shot up in surprise, and he smiled. Malcolm was sitting there, semi-reclined, the head of the bed raised. He was actually reading something off a padd. And he looked good - surprisingly good. A bit tired, certainly, but most of the monitors were gone. Other than the bandages and a few bruises, he really did look all right. Clearing his throat, he stepped past the curtain.
Malcolm caught sight of Trip and his eyes lit up, although the words coming out of his mouth were in his normal formal tone. "Commander."
"Off duty, remember?" Trip answered. He glanced down at himself in scrubs, then back up to Malcolm. "Way off."
"Trip," Malcolm said, correcting himself. "How are you feeling?"
"I'd like to ask you the same question," Trip parried gently.
Malcolm shrugged as he put the padd down on the bed beside him. "I'm feeling all right, all things considered. Although I had the strangest dreams."
Trip smiled. "Yeah." He settled into his usual chair and sat there a moment, his smile falling away. Something about all this seemed so familiar. Sure, Malcolm and he had both spent enough time in sickbay for serious déjà vu, but that was not it.
Malcolm's voice disturbed his reverie. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, sorry," he said, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. "I was just trying to remember..." He let his voice fade off, because he really wasn't one-hundred-percent sure what he was trying to remember.
"How long was I unconscious?"
Trip glanced at calendar on the wall. "A few days. You missed New Year's."
"That's all right. I've never been much of one for that holiday, anyway."
"Yeah, I kind of wanted to talk to you about that." Trip shifted in the chair. "I think I was brought back for a purpose."
"Brought back?" Malcolm asked, brow creasing into a frown.
Trip waved that away, not wanting to go into it. It wasn't the point, anyway. He had an idea. "You ever make resolutions, Malcolm?"
"Not really. I don't believe in them."
Trip thought on that. To him, making resolutions had always implied optimism. It said that you felt as if you were in control of your own life and direction. That you were not a victim of fate, or circumstance, or luck. That there was hope for the future. It was like you were setting goals for yourself. You could learn French, or ask someone for a date, or even combat your own personality traits and make - or try to make - life better. Resolutions implied a desire for happiness and a better future.
He leaned forward in his chair. "I'd like you to do me a favor, then. Make a resolution." At Malcolm's look of doubt, he smiled. "For me."
Trip knew that Malcolm was a man of his word. If Malcolm said he'd do something, he'd do everything in his power to try, even if he was just doing it to humor him. "No matter what happens in the future - resolve to try, at least to try, not to blame yourself." Malcolm looked confused, and Trip could see him trying to figure all this out. He went on, his voice gentle. "Things are not always your fault, even if you think they are, or should be. Sometimes they just aren't. And you have this tendency to..." He shook his head, leaving the rest unsaid.
He lowered his gaze and saw several small bruises on Malcolm's arm. They almost looked like fingerprints. Trip settled his own hand there, and it fit precisely. He looked up to see Malcolm staring at his hand. After a moment, he met Trip's eyes. Then he nodded.
"Good," Trip said, knowing this was the best he could expect. At least it was a start.
As Malcolm smiled uncertainly, Trip made to move his hand away, but instead he froze and huffed a small laugh. He remembered touching Malcolm, and how that touch had brought him back here. He wondered if he really had been dead, and was now back, job done. Or if he was dead now, still dead, and just dreaming all this. To check, he pinched Malcolm's arm.
Malcolm jumped and slapped his hand away. "What was that for?"
"Just seeing if I was dreaming."
Malcolm rolled his eyes in exasperation. "You're supposed to pinch yourself," he said, emphasising that last word. He rubbed his arm.
"Yeah, well," Trip said sheepishly. He could feel the blush heating his cheeks. "I figured..." He shrugged and tried to keep a straight face. "It seemed more fun this way."
Malcolm appraised him frankly. "You, sir, are an arsehole."
"Yes, true," Trip replied. He looked up through his lashes, batting them flirtatiously. "But I'm your asshole."
"Oh, for..." Malcolm groaned, then burst out laughing.
Trip crossed his arms across his chest, leaned back in his chair, and smiled.
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