Thanks (and chocolate ice cream) to all who read this. This is the last chapter. Enjoy!
"Ah," Malcolm said, grimacing as he slowly lowered his arm. He'd been trying for some time to get himself into uniform, but it seemed no matter which way he twisted, he simply could not lift his arm high enough to get it into the sleeve of his jumpsuit. At least his vest had some stretch to it, so he'd been in luck, there; but his jumpsuit seemed hopeless. Exhausted from even this small effort, he sat gingerly on the edge of his mattress. Perhaps he should have stopped at his vest and pants, but that was hardly suitable –
His door chime went, and he closed his eyes momentarily. He could ignore it – after all, he was half dressed. Or he could answer, and hope that whoever was there was 1) not a subordinate and 2) not Captain Archer, God, please, and 3) willing to help him put on this bloody thing.
Wishing he had some way of opening the door without having to stand, walk, or otherwise move – he'd have to get Trip on that one – he levered himself up, and took a pained step toward the door, then another, feeling every bit of his thirty two years as he triggered the door open.
Trip peered down at him, eyebrow cocked in amazement. "Are you even supposed to be up?"
"Commander, I'm –"
"If the word 'fine' comes out of your mouth …" Trip let the rest trail away as he frowned. "What are you doing in uniform?"
"Half in uniform," Malcolm said with a self-depreciating wince. He waved Trip into the room, at least in part so that he could use the wall for a moment of support without the man seeing him. He hated being in this weakened state; worse to have his friend see him struggling.
"True," Trip answered. As he strode across the small room and slumped down in Malcolm's desk chair, he added, "Phlox said you wouldn't be released for duty for at least another week, so what's up with the outfit?"
"I needed to get into it."
"You…" Trip's frown deepened. "Why?"
Malcolm stood to attention – or as near to it as he could in his current state. "An officer should always be prepared, but it had been a busy week, and…" Malcolm sighed, and flinched at the pull in his back his sighing had caused. It had been a busy week, capped by yet another major injury, this one obtained ingloriously. He'd been dancing, of all things. Someone had been cutting a cake. They'd turned, probably to watch the dancing, and he'd spun right into –
Followed by surgery, then recovery in sickbay, and now –
"Malcolm?" Trip said, trying to catch his attention.
"Sorry, yes," Malcolm said. "The outfit I'd been wearing was the only thing I had clean at the time." He'd not had the wherewithal to manage laundry since Phlox had released him a couple of hours earlier. He'd…
Malcolm blinked to clear his vision. He felt himself waver, and he reached a quick hand to his bookshelf for support.
Trip was at his side in a moment. "Malcolm, you're making me uncomfortable just looking at you. Could you please sit down or something, before you fall down?" A gentle hand at his elbow balanced the joking words, and Malcolm gave Trip a grateful nod as he sat down on the bed.
"I won't ask how you're feeling, because that's pretty obvious," Trip said, dragging the chair to the bedside with his foot. He sat in it, and gave Malcolm his most withering look. "Phlox let you out of sickbay with orders to rest."
"I am resting."
"This is resting?" Trip said, waving an arm to encompass the full laundry bag beside the door, the well-made bed, and the recently washed – and still drying – glassware on his shelves.
Malcolm could feel the heat creep up his cheeks. The man had a point.
Trip leaned across his knees. "Listen. If you need help – like someone to do your damn laundry – would you just call me?"
That's all he needed, Malcolm thought; to have his commanding officer doing his laundry. Malcolm was about to say so when Trip stopped him with a raised hand.
"I know what you're thinking."
"You do, do you?"
"You bet your ass I do. We've been on this ship together for what? Four years, now? Believe me, I know what you're thinking." Trip sat back with a satisfied smile. "You're thinking that it's wrong for a superior officer to do your laundry."
Malcolm blinked in surprise.
"But I'm not your superior officer." Trip gave Malcolm's state of half-dress the once-over. "At least, not right now, I'm not. Right now, I'm your friend. And as your friend, you can ask me to help with your damn laundry." He leaned forward again and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "And you have my official permission to leave your bed unmade for a week."
"Commander," Malcolm protested.
Trip raised a finger. "Ah-ah-ah," he said. "If you need me to make that an order, I'll do it, so be careful what you say next."
Malcolm couldn't help but smile. "Thank you." Then he raised a quick hand to stifle a yawn.
"Welcome," Trip said, standing. He strode to the door and grabbed Malcolm's laundry without so much as a by-your-leave. "I have to wash my parrot shirts anyway."
"Yes," Malcolm said, "I'd imagine so. Sorry about that."
Trip shook his head, waving off Malcolm's concern. "Phlox gave me your stuff – you know, what you were wearing when…" Trip hesitated, looking uncomfortable. "Chen still feels really bad about that."
"It wasn't his fault."
"I know," Trip replied. He leaned against the doorframe. "Try telling him that, though. He'll just tell you how, 'As a MACO, I should have…'"
Malcolm slid back on the bed with a pained wince, carefully settling his back against the wall. "And as head of security, I should have realized that waltzing in a crowded room while someone was cutting a cake with a knife perhaps wasn't the best option." Malcolm lowered his head and rubbed the back of his neck. "We've enough to worry about without feeling guilty over things we can't control." He looked up at Trip. "I'll talk to him." He made to shift to the edge of the bed.
"But not right now," Trip said, holding up a hand to still Malcolm's movement. "Get some sleep. You look like you could use it."
"That bad, eh?"
"You'd win no beauty contests, that's for sure." Trip said. He triggered the door, and then stood in the opening. "Night, Malcolm," he said firmly, his tone about as close to an order as Trip ever got.
Malcolm frowned and glanced at his watch.
"Something you'd like to say, Lieutenant?"
Malcolm looked back at Trip, puzzled. "It's 09:00."
Trip raised an eyebrow. He stood there, unmoving.
Damn, the man could be stubborn when he wanted to be. Malcolm did the only thing he could – he gave a wry salute. "Sir. Yes, Sir."
"I'll check in with you later," Trip said.
Malcolm took that to mean that he'd best look as if he'd slept during that time. As the door closed behind Trip, Malcolm let himself lie back on his bed, uniform and all. His mind spun: he needed to talk to Chen; he should check with Phlox, get the shirt and jacket his sister had sent him cleaned and repaired – no, wait; Trip said he had them… he truly felt badly about Trip's shirt, and he supposed he owed Hoshi a dance. Some knight he was.
Those thoughts swiftly spun away as he felt himself slipping.
Maybe Trip was right. Maybe he should just…
Malcolm drifted off, dreaming of dancing, gallant knights, and parrots framed against blue Florida skies.
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