Thank you to everyone who has read this, and a huge, extra special thank you to those who've left comments. And for all of you, the final chapter:
Tucker was there, alarm clear in his eyes. Phlox was beside him, a med kit in his hand. They were both kneeling on the deck plating, which meant –
"Mister Reed," Phlox said, scanner out and moving. "Can you hear me?"
Which meant he was lying on the deck. In sickbay. On Enterprise. Home.
Reed's eyes locked on those of Tucker. He was falling, or he'd fallen; stepped off and away. He remembered the sense of it, the feeling in his head, his stomach, as he'd plunged from that roof; nothing to hold on to, out of control. He'd not looked down; the entire time, he'd looked up at the sky. He'd stepped from that roof and trusted, or hoped, that in doing so, he'd end up home.
"Malcolm?" Tucker said. He touched his arm, and Reed remembered the last time Tucker had grasped his arm, anchoring him in place, and how the wind had taken him anyway.
He didn't remember hitting the ground. He must have done, but as in a dream, his memory cut out just before that point.
"Phlox?" Tucker said, concerned eyes moving to the doctor.
There should be pain. If he'd actually hit the ground, there should be pain, shouldn't there? And yet all he felt was a general ache, as if all his muscles had clenched and then released. If he'd fallen from that roof, the pain should be significant, and if it wasn't – if it wasn't, he must be dead. Or, or perhaps Phlox's –
The doctor shined a bright light into his eyes, and he shut them against it.
Exhaustion overcame him almost immediately, but he struggled against it. He couldn't sleep, not yet. He needed to be sure. He didn't want to go back there, to close his eyes, slide through sleep and end up back there. He couldn't. He'd… he'd rather… Anything, anything but that.
"Lieutenant," Phlox said forcefully, brushing a finger against his cheek.
And Reed felt that, flinched away from it with a rough, "Stop."
"Lieutenant, open your eyes, please," Phlox said, tone brokering no nonsense. So Reed did. He let Phlox examine him, eyes tracking the doctor's every movement, trying to lie still when he felt a desperate need to either get away or fall asleep. The doctor checked his eyes again.
"I fell," Reed said, trying to make sense of it all.
"You've had a seizure," Phlox said calmly. "The confusion and tiredness you feel is normal."
"No, no. How long was I gone?" Reed asked, it costing him some effort to do that much.
"Gone?" Tucker asked. "You didn't go anywhere. You had a seizure. Don't you remember it?"
He noticed Phlox seemed to have finished up the exam. "Am I here?"
"Here?" Tucker asked, exchanging another look with Phlox. "Yeah, you're here."
Back; maybe he was back, and for good this time. "I don't want to leave."
"You don't have to," Tucker said quietly.
What he'd done must have worked. It had to have. He had no choice but to believe that it had. "Can I sleep now?" he asked.
"On the bed," the doctor replied.
"Right, right," he replied, trying to sit. He felt Tucker's hands supporting him, and he stood woozily. He slid onto the bed, dizziness pushing him down onto his side, and someone – Tucker, maybe – pulled a blanket up over his shoulders.
"Thank you," he murmured.
At Tucker's nod, he let his eyes slide shut. The doctor had said she was destroying that device. If she said it, and he believed it… Well, he'd believed it enough to step off that roof. And he did feel different. Beyond the tiredness, he felt more like himself. Something had changed. Something significant. Something, what? Not that he was well – he'd no idea if he was actually well – but he certainly was different. Clearer. Perhaps functional. And, unable to stop himself, he laughed.
"Malcolm?" Tucker said, his voice shaking.
Reed stared up at him for a moment, taking it in. After a while, he said. "I think I'm well."
And while not entirely true, it was close enough.
Reed sat on his bed, legs crossed under him, his bare feet tucked under the edge of his duvet as he skimmed the padd in his hand, running through the messages he'd received while he'd been in sickbay. He was glad to finally be back in his own quarters, and to have a measure of true freedom. It had been a while. Even if he didn't count the apparently non-existent time he'd spent with his captors, he'd been away for far too long, and that long in sickbay, with half of that time spent nearly out of his mind, was not something he'd care to repeat.
Absently rubbing his ankle where, until this morning, he'd worn the monitor, he flicked through the pages on his padd, getting caught up on events on the ship and in the armoury, as well as news from home. As soon as he'd reached his room he'd pushed off the sickbay pyjamas he'd been wearing and scrambled into civilian clothes, happy to find some clean and neatly folded in his drawer. He wasn't ready for the uniform yet. He was better, yes, but not all better; there was evidence still of his ordeal, and until he was fully himself, and cleared for duty, he'd leave his uniform aside.
His hand touched his bare ankle again. His leg felt oddly light now. Naked. Exposed.
He looked off into the distance and let out a sigh. In a way, he was nervous. With no monitor and no guards, what if? There were still moments when he'd see Tucker and, forgetting that the man was alive, brace himself for the hallucination. But it didn't come. He was steadily getting better. Each day clearer, and no additional seizures, voices or visions, yet he knew he wasn't yet entirely on form. At least now he was thinking clearly, if occasionally plagued by past memories. He was getting better, largely due to the support he'd received from his crewmates.
He jumped when his door chime went. "Speaking of which," he murmured and, sliding off the bed, padded to the door. It opened to reveal Tucker, dressed in the brightly patterned shirt and those horrible yellow shorts he'd worn on their last shore leave together.
Reed stared at the man in his doorway. That outfit… he frowned, trying to trace the link. He'd remembered this outfit while he'd been digging through the skip, back on the planet, and found that coat, and it was the same outfit the Tucker he'd hallucinated has been wearing. He felt a chill, and curled his toes against the cold flooring.
Tucker leaned against the doorframe. "You going to invite me in or what?"
"Oh," Reed said, blinking away the memories. "Sorry, yes." He waved his friend in.
"Must be nice to be free," Trip said as he passed, headed for the desk chair.
"Very much so," Reed said. He moved toward the bed again, now the only available seat in the room. Settling himself there, he stared at his friend.
"You okay?" Tucker asked, peering at him carefully.
"Yes, sorry," he answered, trying to cover his discomfort. "Just, nice outfit. Aren't you cold?"
"Nah," Tucker replied with a smile. "I'm off duty tonight and tomorrow and we're going to have a little thing tonight. Figured I'd try to get into the spirit of it." He leaned forward across his knees. "When are you going back on duty?"
"As soon as Phlox clears me," Reed said, leaning back against the wall. "Next week, maybe. He thinks by then I'll…" He let the rest trail off, waving his hand vaguely.
"Phlox said that whatever they'd done to you has pretty much worn off."
"I think so," he answered. Once he'd had that seizure, he'd felt a major change; from there, things had got steadily better, but progress was slower than he'd like. He might normally be impatient with the process, but he was not. He'd rather not risk his friends, and his ship, by rushing it. Phlox had assured him that there was no evidence that they could trigger him again, and if what the doctor had said was true – the doctor from the planet – if he'd been there at all…
He hadn't spoken much about that second visit; hadn't told anyone about what he'd done when she'd brought him back there, just that she'd brought him back so she could destroy the device. No one, Tucker included, had asked the obvious question about how he'd managed to get back to Enterprise afterwards. He could perhaps pass it off as something the device did on its own, but from the way Tucker had looked at him upon his return, the man suspected something.
It had been a risk. It had been a very large, somewhat mad risk. But he'd seen no alternative then, and even now, in hindsight, he'd not change his actions. He'd had to get home. He'd have rather died than stay there, and he'd had to do what he'd done in order to be sure they couldn't pull him back there again. Speaking of which, "I don't know why you didn't turn me in."
Tucker shook his head vehemently. "Not a consideration."
Reed wound his fingers around his bare ankle. Bluntly, he said, "I'm willing to take responsibility for what I did."
Tucker pointed a finger at him. "Even if you did set that bomb, it was not as if you did it willingly." He leaned back in the chair. "And there would be no point, anyway. What would you say to them? 'I was in both places at the same time?' No way would they buy that."
"Yeah, but I know you." Tucker gave him a wan smile. "And even I thought you'd fallen off the deep end. They'd probably slap you into some hospital and you'd never come out. Padded room if you're lucky; worse if you're not. Anyway, Starfleet would never go for it. They wouldn't let you tell them you were an alien, and if they ever figured out you weren't from there…" He hissed in a breath. "It's not exactly how we want to make first contact." He paused, as if for effect. "And they've arrested the man whose photo you identified."
"What? How?" Reed asked, tripping over the words.
Tucker gave him a self-satisfied smile. "We may have had something to do with that."
Reed shut his eyes for a moment. It was as if a weight had just come off his shoulders. "Thank you," he whispered.
"You, my friend, are welcome," Tucker said. A flicker of something crossed his face, and Reed, with a clarity that surprised him, knew what was coming. "I need to ask you something."
Sure enough. "Right," Reed answered, braced for impact.
Tucker leaned forward, closing the distance between them. He dropped his voice to an intimate level. "The first time you got yourself off that planet, you had to blow yourself up to do it." Pursing his lips, he left the rest unsaid.
Reed exhaled a sigh. "Trip, I…" Fists clenched, he let his voice trail away, unsure of what he could say.
"So what did you do?"
Reed winced. "Stepped off a roof."
Tucker let out a loud breath. "Must have been hard," he said, the simplicity of the words belying the complexity of emotion in his eyes.
"I couldn't leave anything to chance." Reed's hands flew open. "I was desperate."
"You must have had to really believe," Tucker said, sounding hesitant. "How could you be so sure? What if you had been wrong?"
"I couldn't stay there."
"Yeah, I get it. It's just that…" Tucker held a hand out toward him. "Jesus, Malcolm."
"He may have helped," Reed said, lip quirking in a tiny smile. "Last time," he waved a hand into the past, "the time before this, I was injured in the blast, probably knocked unconscious, and I ended up home; and yet she was – the doctor, I mean – she was able to bring me back to the planet." He knew he was rambling a bit, and this wasn't coming out as clearly as he might have liked, but he needed to get it out there in one go. "I don't know if my having been injured rather than worse is what let her bring me back – if there was still a link," he said, tapping his head gently, "or if it was the device that let her do what she did." He broke eye contact. "I probably could have come home if I'd somehow knocked myself out, but what if…" Shaking his head, he looked at Tucker again. "Perhaps her destruction of the device would have been enough, but I needed to make sure that link was broken. She destroyed the device, and I…" He threw up his hands. "Or I could be talking complete wank." He gave Tucker a tight smile.
"What does Phlox think?"
"Phlox believes I had a hallucination, somehow related to the seizure." Reed gave a wry look. "He doesn't seem to believe that I actually went back there, although he's keeping an open mind, based on past events." And he hadn't told the doctor the full details of how he'd engineered his return. If he had, he might still be in sickbay, and more than that, perhaps, he wasn't sure he wanted to know what the man would think about what he'd done. At Tucker's expression, he went on. "I had little choice in what I did, there. But that's not who I am, here."
"All right," Tucker said cautiously. His face twisted into a frown. "Strange days."
"But it's done."
"Yes," Reed said firmly, although a part of him wasn't quite as certain. He tamped that down, rolling his shoulders slightly and exhaling his tension.
Tucker stood. "Good, because I was thinking, now that you're sane –"
"Oy!" Reed said, knowing Tucker would take it in the spirit with which it was intended.
Tucker pursed his lips, eyes flashing merrily in an obvious attempt to lighten the mood. "Now that you are sane," he said, twisting that last word. "In honour of your new-found freedom, I am inviting you to a night of copious drinking and wild women…"
Reed chuckled. It had been so long since he'd done anything but spend time in sickbay, or on that planet, struggling with his own demons. Time he did something, anything, else. He couldn't help but smile as he added, "So long as by 'sane', you don't mind 'mostly'."
"…and so long as by 'wild women' you don't mind me, Hoshi and Travis," Tucker continued, laughing. "And by 'copious drinks' you don't mind that I only have four beers in my fridge and Phlox likely told you that you can't drink, anyway."
How could he say no to a request like that? "Yes, yes, fine," he said, playing at a bit of annoyance.
Tucker clapped him on the shoulder, then looked down. "Where are your shoes?" He gave him a light shove, in the direction of the dresser. "Go, go, socks, shoes…"
As Tucker rambled on, Reed started hastily putting himself together. The past weeks, or what he'd thought had been weeks, had been difficult. But he was home, now, and amongst friends. He might still have some issues to work through, but if ever he was again unsure of which reality was real, he'd pick this one. Even if it meant pitching himself off a roof.
He'd take that chance. His friends were here. He was home.
Please comment and let me know what you thought. Thank you.