This is the final chapter.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading this, and a huge thanks to everyone who's left a review. Virtual chocolates for all!

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Trip let Malcolm precede him through the sickbay doors, noting the stiff set of the man's shoulders as he entered. He hadn't been back here, himself, since everything had happened - he'd been purposefully avoiding the place. He couldn't imagine what Malcolm felt right now. Well, maybe he could.

He hung by the door as Malcolm approached Phlox. Poor kid. A headache was entirely understandable, under the circumstances. He could imagine the pressure he was feeling today, with his first time back on duty, and bridge duty, at that. Every eye would be on him, everyone knowing what had happened. At least, in his own case, only Jon and Phlox knew the details.

When a medic, Ensign Ramirez, caught his eye, Trip stepped forward and explained his burn, all the while keeping an eye on Malcolm from across the room. As the doctor buzzed over his friend, and Ramirez started treating his own burned hand, memories flowed over, around and past him. Memories of Malcolm on a biobed, out to the world due to the sedatives Phlox had pushed through him; of stopping Malcolm's heart, and the interminable... God, it had seemed like hours, but it must have been mere seconds before Phlox had first tried restarting Malcolm's heart.

He winced, and Ramirez murmured a soft apology, probably thinking that it was the burn that was disturbing him. It wasn't. It was the memories. He remembered too much. He remembered far too well.

He had pretty much lost his shit in there, between the voices and the pressures and the illness and everything else. But in the end, they'd done it. Malcolm had survived. They'd survived. They'd gone through hell, and come out the other end healthy, although not necessarily unscarred.

Trip exhaled loudly, and Ramirez looked up at him, concerned.

"Maybe you should sit down for this."

Rather than argue, Trip allowed himself be led to the nearest exam bed, sliding up onto it. Malcolm was still across the room, in conversation with Phlox. The doctor had the analgesic in hand, but it looked like he was giving Malcolm a bit of a lecture, as Malcolm was standing before him, arms crossed, expression guarded, head tilted to the side as he listened. And listened. After a moment, Malcolm shook his head, and Phlox smiled.

He wasn't looking forward to telling Malcolm what he'd done. It'd been hard enough telling Phlox, never mind Jon, and Malcolm? That conversation, he didn't want to think about.

Interestingly enough, Phlox had been all right with it. They'd gone from a discussion of what Trip had done, down on the planet, to his idea for how to shut the nano-machines off, to possible ways of doing that, all in the space of a minute.

Maybe Denobulan doctors were used to taking that sort of risk, exposing themselves to potential hazards in order to prove a hypothesis or something. Or maybe Phlox was just really good at covering up his reactions, when he had to be.

Jon wasn't quite as good at that.

Trip pinched the bridge of his nose with his free hand, and Ramirez looked up from his work.

"Headache," Trip said simply.

Ramirez nodded. "I'll give you something for that."

"Thanks," Trip said vaguely, his mind only half focused on the-hear-and-now.

"Phlox told me," Jon had said, and even now, Trip could still feel the impact of those words. He'd wanted to be the one to tell Jon. It hadn't worked out that way.

He had been sitting on one of the biobeds when Jon had shown up. He'd been... ah, right. He'd been fiddling with the edge of his sickbay gown, keeping his focus on his hands rather than on the medics swirling around him. It was as if, by not looking at the medics, he afforded himself a bit of privacy at a time when he was feeling vulnerable and exposed. Sort of what he was doing with the voices. He felt like, if he'd just stop and listen, he'd be able to understand what they were saying. The key was to not stop, and not listen.

Phlox was off preparing for Malcolm's treatment. If it worked, he'd be next. Trip huffed a soft laugh. Thank God for that, because this was all starting to get a bit much.

Hearing footsteps, he looked up to find himself trapped in Jon's gaze, and his laughter fell away. His friend's face was composed, but his eyes - his eyes showed what he was feeling. Before Trip could say anything, tell him what he'd done, try to explain why, Jon was already talking.

"Phlox told me."

Trip felt a chill at those words. Hands shifting to clench at the edge of the bed, Trip tried to interject. "Jon, I -"

"You what, exactly?" Jon said sharply, voice low. With a pointed glance, he sent the medics scurrying away. "You decided to risk yourself on the off chance that you -"

"But I was -"

Jon stepped in close, and Trip had to look up at the man. "I don't care if you were right," Jon said, words harsh and biting. "I don't..." He shook his head slowly, letting out an audible sigh. "Trip, sometimes I think you just don't get it. You're the chief engineer of our first Warp Five ship. What in the world were you thinking? What did you think we'd do without you?"

And suddenly, Trip got it. This wasn't his captain talking. This was his friend, Jon. Yes, there was concern for the vessel and their mission, but under all that was a concern for him, and Jon's own fear. It was more than the fact that Jon had been scared of losing a crewmember. He'd been scared that he'd lose a friend.

Trip wrapped his fingers over his knees and stared down at them, feeling like a small child being chastised by his dad. He'd been unable to respond. How could he? It wasn't as if Jon hadn't been right. Jon, as both his friend and captain, was in a difficult spot, and it was as if he had finally realised that the two roles, captain and friend, might not mesh well together.

Ramirez gave Trip a shot of something, the shock of it bringing him back to the present. His hand had been bandaged, and Malcolm was waiting patiently across the room, sliding long, dark leaves through the bars of one of Phlox's animal cages.

He and Jon had spoken since that conversation, but things were not quite the same between them; not yet, anyway. Trip hoped they could be. Because even now, after all this, he still felt he'd had no choice. They'd been about to leave that planet. Malcolm was sick, all but lost to them, and was about to be returned to Earth to be treated for a disease that he might not even have. And Trip, he had nothing but hunches and suspicions prompted by translations they weren't even sure about, and he was desperate. Maybe he'd been rash, but there had literally only been seconds to spare.

He'd make the same decision again.

As the medic moved away, Phlox, obviously finished with Malcolm, came over and checked the medic's bandage. His action was obviously a feint, because Ramirez was well experienced, and Phlox usually trusted the man to do work on his own.

Phlox, voice low, murmured, "Doing well, Commander?"

"Yes," Trip replied, waiting for the doctor to say whatever he had in mind.

Phlox give him a piercing look. "You should tell him."

Trip glanced to Malcolm. Phlox knew the lieutenant well enough to know the burden the man tended to place on himself, often needlessly. Malcolm was good at a lot of things, but he was a master at guilt. Trip nodded sharply, if only to end the conversation.

Phlox returned his nod.

As Trip slid off the bed, Malcolm stepped away from the cages. "Ready to go?" he asked, brushing the leaves from his fingers.

Trip nodded again, and let Malcolm lead the way out of sickbay. He smiled after his friend, glad to see him acting so normal.

The doctor was right. He really did have to tell Malcolm, sooner or later. And he would. Just not now. He knew the guilt that Malcolm would feel. He also knew that Malcolm would probably think he'd taken a needless risk. It had been a risk, but it had been far from needless. He'd do it again, in a heartbeat.

Trip walked Malcolm from sickbay to the bridge, noticing, as they got closer, that his friend had gone from somewhat-relaxed to clearly-anxious to positively-nervous in the course of a few meters.

As they reached the doors to the bridge, Malcolm took a deep breath, as if to settle himself. He triggered the doors and made to step inside. Just as he did so, he gave Trip a brief glance, his expression caught somewhere between resigned and panicked.

Trip knew that no one on the bridge could see him, not from this angle. So he smiled slightly and, sotto voce, said, "Good luck, Lieutenant." Then he put on his best, most official salute, albeit tempered by crossed eyes and a stuck-out tongue. He was gratified to see Malcolm's expression change from clearly freaked to completely exasperated just as the doors shut, cutting him off from view.

Trip smiled. If it took him playing the clown to ease this thing for Malcolm, he was more than willing to do it. After all, if couldn't rely on your friends to bring you back from the brink of whatever and help you get the fuck over yourself sometimes, then what?

Patting the door gently with his injured hand, he turned and headed toward Engineering.

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End

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