Warnings: Swearing. Implied torture/violence (occurs off-screen)

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Trip shifted where he stood, hands clasped tightly behind him. He kept well to the back of the landing bay, giving the dark, blocky ship plenty of room to manoeuvre as it docked.

The tiny vehicle in front of him wasn't anything graceful. It was actually pretty plain looking, all dark panels, straight lines and sharp angles. Not at all like he remembered their starships, but he supposed that this particular ship had been made for harsh, utilitarian jobs, rather than for elegance.

He cast a brief glance to Jon, but the captain was staring straight ahead, eyes only for their guests, so he turned instead to Hoshi standing between them. She was clearly anxious, her eyes darting from the ship to the translation device in her hand and back again. Phlox was the only calm looking one of the bunch, but his trademark grin was long gone, a look of determination taking its place.

"How'd we get him out?" Hoshi ventured to ask, her voice not quite as confident as usual.

Trip gave her a sharp look, shaking his head, but it was too late. Before Jon could say something he might later regret, Trip stepped forward, trying to steal the focus. "I'm just glad we were able to get him out of that prison," he said, keeping his voice low and even. He glanced at the captain, then back to Hoshi. He knew that Jon had sacrificed a lot to get this done, but there was no way that Hoshi could be allowed to know that.

The ship settled into place with a loud "whoosh", and Trip was suddenly glad for the MACOs in the background.

Hoshi looked at him gratefully. "I hope he's all right."

Phlox kept his eyes on the vessel, but said, "It's been two years. There is no way to know his state of mind."

In a flash of insight, Trip wondered if the MACOs were there only for protection against the aliens.

The ship's hatch began to open, lowering to the deck in a soft whir. When it finished, the bay went dead-silent, all eyes on the doorway.

At first, Trip could see nothing but darkness inside the hatch. There was a flurry of movement and a group of men came into view, all dressed in dark uniforms, all with dark hair, and with near-human features but for the graceful ridges sweeping up into their hairlines and a wider, gracefully ridged nose. Not a smile was on them as they stood in the doorway, still partially concealed by darkness. One man, probably their leader, stepped off the hatch to the deck. He was very well armed.

No one in Trip's group moved.

The leader turned back to the ship and waved someone forward. Two men stepped out from behind the group at the hatch. One had a hand on the elbow of the other who, head down, met no one's eyes. Long hair covered most of his face, although it was obvious that the man was filthy, his clothing ragged. His hands were in shackles. He looked as if, by his posture alone, he was purposefully trying not to be noticed.

Trip heard Hoshi gasp beside him, and he felt his own gut clench.

The leader approached their group, while the others stayed near their ship. "We are ready for the prisoner transfer. Do you have the documentation ready?"

Jon, seemingly frozen in place, spat, "Get those cuffs off him."

Trip could tell that Jon was too angry, too invested in this, so he stepped forward. "We do," he said, gesturing for Hoshi to join them. He took care of the details with the man while another of the aliens uncuffed the prisoner. It took a few minutes to complete the deal, even with Hoshi at his side to translate the documents. Once they were done, the alien nodded to his counterparts, and they pushed the prisoner forward. He stumbled a bit and raised his head slightly, blinking against the brightness. He looked dazed, and quickly dropped his gaze to the deck.

"Good luck with that," the alien leader said, the sarcasm obvious from his tone. His face twisted into what might have been a grin. "He's barely said a word in two years." The leader turned away, and his staff followed suit. They didn't look back once.

"Good-fucking-riddance," Trip said under his breath, bitterness turning his thoughts sour. He turned away as soon as they stepped foot on their own ship again, trusting the MACOs to do their jobs.

Probably knowing that the crew's instinct would be to step forward, toward their returned crewmate, Phlox held them back with a raised hand. The doctor approached the man slowly, obviously trying not to startle him. "Lieutenant."

The man stood there, head bowed, hands held together as if they were still in restraints.

When the doctor got no response, he said, this time more sharply, "Mister Reed."

Still nothing.

Phlox put a hand to Malcolm's shoulder, and Malcolm's head snapped up violently. Trip took a sharp breath at the look in his eyes. Fear, and anger, and something more than a bit wild.

The doctor dropped his hand and took a step back, giving Malcolm some space. "Come with me. We need to go to sickbay. I need to exami..."

Malcolm interrupted him with the first words he'd said so far. "How long was I gone?"

"Two years," Phlox said, his voice kept deliberately calm.

Jon stepped forward, and Malcolm's gaze darted to him. Trip couldn't see the expression on the captain's face, but he could well imagine.

"Why now?" Malcolm said. His voice was calm, but his eyes - those told a different story.

"Malcolm, we need -"

Before Jon could finish speaking, Malcolm cocked his head, as if thinking something over. He nodded as if coming to some sort of realisation. "Can I clean up first?"

Jon glanced at Phlox, who hesitated, then nodded.

Without acknowledging the rest of them, Malcolm turned and started a slow walk toward the doorway. Trip exchanged a meaningful look with Jon before they followed him out.

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