This is the final chapter. Thank you so much, everyone who has read this, and especially to those who've left reviews.
There was humming... Someone was humming, God, what was it? Star Wars? No. Empire Strikes Back.
Trip's eyes slid open to see Malcolm sitting in the chair next to his biobed. The man was working on something on the padd in his lap. And humming.
"Do you mind?" Trip asked, his voice coming out as a croak.
Malcolm looked up in surprise. Without turning away, he called out, "Doctor?" Then a low, hurried, "Are you all right?"
Trip felt fine - dopey, a bit off-kilter, but he was definitely feeling no pain. He was sure there was pain to be had, but Phlox obviously had him on the good stuff. He gaze moved around the room. Sickbay. He didn't remember getting here. Enterprise must have made their rendezvous.
As Phlox and one of the medics bustled over him, he took the opportunity to do his own evaluation. Malcolm had lost his excessive pallor - Phlox likely had reversed their treatment. The man wasn't in uniform, and his hair was still far longer than regulation, but... Maybe it was being back on the ship, or what Trip had made him do on their mission, but there was something a bit more "official" in his demeanour. Trip frowned, suddenly uneasy. Malcolm seemed all right, but somehow he doubted that everything was blue skies and roses on that front.
After they were alone again - well, as alone as one could ever get in sickbay - Trip asked, "Can you help me sit?"
"Yes, sir," Malcolm said. Reaching a hand to the controls, he began raising the head of the bed.
Trip raised an eyebrow at the "sir", and was gratified when Malcolm actually blushed. "I think we can leave the ranks aside, Lieutenant," Trip replied, placing an emphasis on the last word. "For now, at least. Until you're back on duty." He cocked his head and tried to keep his nervousness from showing. "That is, if that's what you want."
Malcolm hesitated, eyes shrouded. "I don't know," he finally said.
Trip felt his heart sink. "I understand," he said, trying to keep his tone even. "It's not as if you owe us anything, and Starfleet treated you like complete crap. At least I could have..." He sat forward and raised a hand imploringly. "I'm so damn sorry. I treated you like -"
"No," Malcolm said quickly. "That's not what I meant." He frowned. "Do you think they'd let me stay?" His gaze skittered across sickbay before settling back on Trip. "Here, I mean. On Enterprise."
Trip exhaled audibly. Starfleet owed this man. He owed this man. He'd make sure the powers that be fully understood just how much. "I'll talk to them, try to explain..." His words were broken by a yawn. Already exhausted, he closed his eyes.
He heard Malcolm stand. "You should get some sleep, sir... Trip."
Trip let his mouth curl into a smile, but it dropped away when something hit him. "What exactly happened to that man?" he asked, eyes opening slowly. He was desperately tired, but there were questions to be asked and issues to be resolved before he could really rest.
"I left him there when the alarm went. He'll be fine..." At that, Malcolm gave him an odd smile. "...for the most part." His smile dropped away. "Physically," he added, almost as an afterthought.
"What did you do to him?" Trip asked, sitting straighter.
"I'd really rather -"
"Malcolm," Trip interrupted, his voice, in his guilt, coming out sharper than he'd intended.
Malcolm's stance went stiff as he stood nearly at attention, and his face became a mask. "Are you ordering me to tell you?" he asked bluntly.
"What?" Trip said in surprise. "No, no. After what..." After what I did, he thought bitterly as he shook his head, rubbing a rough hand across weary eyes. He leaned back against the bed and dropped his voice. "Listen. You don't owe me anything."
Malcolm broke his stance and stepped to his bedside, the edge of his mouth quirking upwards slightly. Hand curled in a soft fist, he gently punched Trip's leg under the blanket. "No, Trip. You're wrong. I owe you..." He unclenched his hand and pulled it back as he looked directly into Trip's eyes, expression frank and open. "I owe you a lot. But I'm not sure you really want to know what I did back there." He sighed, then said quietly, "We needed that information. There wasn't much time."
Trip couldn't keep the frown from his face. "It just doesn't seem like you, to -"
Malcolm cut him off. "We often have to do things we don't like, things we are uncomfortable with, that even go against our sense of right and wrong, but we do them because we must. We do them for the greater good." Their eyes connected, and Trip found understanding there. Malcolm knew. He knew what Trip had done. And he understood.
"Still, I'm not sure that you, before the prison..." He held Malcolm's gaze as he let his voice trail away, unsure of exactly how to say it. "Or even then, if I hadn't..."
Malcolm's expression went wary. "Probably not, no."
Trip nodded, pulling the blanket up a bit higher. Suddenly, he felt chilled. Numb. What, exactly, had he done to this man? "Phlox get a chance to finally check you over?"
"Yes," Malcolm said quickly.
Malcolm's hand lifted toward the scar at his temple, but he pulled it away before he spoke. He shrugged, eyes troubled.
"What did he find, Malcolm?" Trip asked cautiously.
Malcolm broke eye contact, instead looking toward the far wall. He crossed his arms, and Trip wasn't sure if it was as a defence or for comfort.
"What's wrong?" Trip asked, heart in his throat, numbness gone in an instant. "Did what I...?" His hands gripped the blanket so tightly that his knuckles ached. "Are you all right?"
Malcolm shrugged again, the movement fast and jerky, before he looked at Trip, eyes distant. "I think so, but he's not... and..." Trip's alarm must have shown in his expression, because Malcolm quickly said, "Not your fault," words tumbling out in a rush. "What they did..." He sucked in an audible breath and blinked rapidly. "Can we not talk about something else?" His eyes skittered away again.
"All right," Trip said, purposefully keeping his voice even and level. He'd let Malcolm leave it for now. "Listen... Malcolm," he said, and Malcolm's eyes snapped back to meet his. "If you ever need to talk."
"You'll be the first person I go to." Malcolm's stormy eyes gentled, and Trip caught a glint of humor. "Well, that is, after Phlox is done with me, and after the debriefing, and the Starfleet brass, and the doctors, and the counsellors, and..." Malcolm waved a hand in a circle, ad infinitum. "Perhaps a nice course of drug therapy."
"Nah," Trip said. "You're not that messed up."
Malcolm held up a hand. "I am that 'messed up'. I simply hide it very, very well."
Trip stared into his friend's eyes, unsure how much of what he'd just said had been in jest, and how much serious. "Speaking of drug therapy, where's the Casei?" he finally asked, the gentleness of his tone contrasting with the intensity of his gaze.
"What do you mean?" Malcolm asked, looking like a deer caught in headlights.
"Where is it?" Trip repeated slowly. He doubted that Malcolm would have just left it there, and Malcolm's next words proved him right.
"I brought it back."
Trip felt his stomach drop. "Where is it now?" he asked, his cracked voice leaving the words cold.
Malcolm glanced across the room, then back. "I gave it to Phlox. I'd thought he could find a use for it."
"Oh," Trip said, the sound coming out of him in a rush. "I thought you -" He cut himself off. Malcolm looked so surprised that Trip said, "I'm sorry," running a tired hand across his eyes. "I just... I wasn't sure." It was so typical of Malcolm to bring that drug back here for the doctor's evaluation - conscientious to a fault. He wasn't sure that Malcolm was really okay, but even with the changes, the core of the man was still there. He looked up. "I want to be sure that you're all right."
"I'm fine," Malcolm said, lips curling with the hint of a smile that never reached his eyes. "And that's fine-fine, not Reed-fine." He patted Trip's leg through the covers. "Get some sleep."
Malcolm walked away, and Trip watched him go. He knew Malcolm was lying. He wasn't fine. But still, maybe it would be all right. He wasn't sure Malcolm was the man he knew before the imprisonment, or ever would be again, but that might be all right, too.
"Fine." Yeah, sure. Both of them were "fine", but maybe that was good enough. At least it was a start.
"Up for a visit?" Jon asked with a smile, poking his head through the privacy curtain that surrounded Trip's biobed.
Trip put down the padd he'd been playing with. "Sure," he said. He'd been in sickbay for three days, and already he was sick of the place. Visitors were more than welcome, and Jon was probably one of his more frequent.
"How are you feeling?" Jon asked, pulling over a chair and, turning it around, straddling it.
"Pretty good, actually. Phlox thinks I'll be out of here in a couple days."
"Bored already? Not enough visitors? I could always order T'Pol..."
At that, Trip held up a hand. "Hoshi brought some of those cool Japanese bean cakes earlier, but Phlox made me promise not to try any until at least tomorrow. And Malcolm was here this morning."
Jon draped his arms on the back of the chair. "How is Malcolm?"
"You've seen him," Trip said with a puzzled frown. Malcolm had been discharged from sickbay the day before and assigned to guest quarters. He knew the captain had spoken with him at least once since then.
"Yes," Jon replied with a nod. "As his captain. You've seen him as a friend. How is he?
Trip winced. "He's not the same, but he's functional. I'm not sure... You know he wants to stay on board, right?"
"He's said as much."
"You going to have him sent home?"
Jon paused, as if considering, although Trip figured the man had already given the issue a lot of thought. "No. Not unless I have to."
Trip nodded. They owed him that much. "You going to tell him?"
"Tell him what? That he can stay?" Jon peered at him cautiously. He obviously knew where this was going.
Trip shook his head slightly. "What you did to get him back."
Jon gave him half a smile, but his eyes were shadowed. "No, Trip. I don't think he should know. Not now. Not yet. Maybe not ever."
Trip nodded. He, Jon and T'Pol were the only people on the ship who knew. Jon was right - it would do Malcolm no good to learn what they'd done - what Jon had done - to get him out. T'Pol was terminally close-lipped, and Jon would never tell, not once he'd made the decision not to.
And neither would he. Like Malcolm, he was good at keeping secrets.
I've borrowed some lines and inspiration for part of this story, by design, from a couple of sources. First, the television series 24, which gave me major inspiration for the first chapter and part of the third. You'll see snippets of dialogue in chapters 1 and 3, and even two flashes of scenes that should look quite familiar, if you've seen the source. Second, "Nightlife" and "Moonshine", both by Rob Thurman. From these books, I got some inspiration for my snarky version of Trip, and for one scene with Malcolm - the one where he claws at the walls.
Lastly, a huge thank you to TW, from the EntSlash Yahoo list, who burnt a DVD of the episode "Damage", at my desperate request for information about the Illyrians, as well as to others on that list who did screen caps and etc. as I searched for information.