The Rescue

by The Grrrl

Title: The Rescue

Author: The Grrrl

Author's email: thegrrrl2002@yahoo.com

Author's URL: http://www.geocities.com/coffeeslash/thegrrrl/

Archive: Ask first.

Fandom: Star Trek Enterprise

Date: January 2004

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Tucker/Reed

Summary: Trip attempts to rescue Malcolm.

Beta: Thank you to my two lovely, talented betas and very patient betas, Qlara and Kylie Lee. They never let me get away with anything, and I love them for that.

Author's notes: A WinnerFic for Joules Mer! She won the angst category in the EntStCommunity caption contest. Woo hoo! Congratulations, Joules! She wanted a hurt/comfort fic, so here it is. And a big hug to Lexx, for organizing the contest. I loved all the entries. There are so many talented folks around here.

Despite the storm raging on the plant, Travis set the shuttle down with hardly a bump. Hayes and I were armed, our phase pistols at ready, set on stun, even though I would have been perfectly happy with a higher setting. Kill, maybe. We nodded to one another as I opened the door, and we were just about to head out of the shuttle when no other than Malcolm himself came flying in at a dead run. He crashed into both of us, knocking me flat on my ass. My phase pistol went flying out of my hand and clattered across the floor.

From the way he came running in, he seemed to be all right, although I could feel him shivering against my body as I hugged him. He was soaking wet and streaked with mud mixed with blood that I told myself wasn't his. He was alive. That's all that mattered at the moment.

"Get the door, and let's get the hell off this planet," I yelled from my undignified position on the floor.

I looked Malcolm over as I helped him sit up. At first he tried to shove me away, and he was a little bug-eyed, like something had spooked him real bad—like maybe being stuck in a prison for two weeks. He looked me in the eye, blinked a few times, then mumbled, "Trip?" He looked around the shuttle, as if surprised to find himself here.

"The one and only," I answered. I gave his arm a little squeeze.

He closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief.

I called out to Hayes, "Contact the captain, tell him we've got Malcolm. Have Phlox meet us in the shuttle bay."

The shuttle lurched sickeningly, and I was thrown against the bulkhead, Malcolm thumping against my chest. "Sorry about that," Travis called out. "This wind is pretty wild. We're in for a bumpy ride."

"We're okay," I assured him. "Just get us out of here." Hayes picked himself up off the floor and grabbed onto a chair. I knew Travis was doing his best, and I'm pretty sure it was better than I could do. Fortunately, none of the Tourlellians were flying in this weather. Their technology wasn't up to it. So a fast getaway wasn't necessary.

"How is he?" Travis called out, glancing over his shoulder.

"Good question. Malcolm?" He was curled up in a ball now, resting against my chest. He was still trembling from the cold. He jumped when I stroked his hair. "You okay?" I asked.

He muttered something into my shoulder.

"What's that?" I asked, frowning.

Malcolm raised his head. He stared at me, as if thinking it over. "I've been better," he admitted at last. He still looked a little wild around the eyes, but at least he knew where he was.

"I'd hate the see the other guy," I joked as I checked him out, more to distract him than anything else as I patted him down for any obvious injuries. He had a pretty bad gash on his arm, but aside from some bruises, a couple of cuts and borderline hypothermia, he seemed physically okay. So I put my arm around his shoulders, and pulled him against my chest again.

"Here, sir—"

I looked up to see Hayes holding a blanket out to me. He didn't blink an eye at the way I was holding onto Malcolm. Hell, I was practically cuddling him right there in the shuttlepod. I suppose he knew about us by now. Malcolm didn't seem to mind, either, which was definitely a sign of how out of it he was. Me, I didn't think I'd ever let him go, even when we got back to the ship. If anything had happened to him—I don't know what I would have done. I couldn't even bear the thought of it.

But now I had gotten him back. He had somehow escaped those damn son-of-a-bitch Tourlellians, without any help from Hayes and me. Figures. That's Malcolm for you: I'll just rescue myself, thank you very much.

Independent cuss.

Hayes knelt next to me, and the two of us wrapped the blanket around Malcolm, trying to stop that awful shivering. For Hayes's benefit I made a show of rubbing his arms, trying to warm him up, when really I just needed to feel his body against mine. And Malcolm—Malcolm just leaned against me, looking utterly miserable.

"What the hell happened?" I asked. "How did you escape?"

Malcolm just closed his eyes and shook his head. "Overpowered a guard," he mumbled. His voice was so rough I could barely make it out.

I've seen the Tourlellian guards, and those guys weren't little. "Damn, Malcolm. Although the major and I were both looking forward to a chance to play the hero," I said. "You spoiled all my fun."

Hayes gave me a stern look. I swear these guys have no sense of humor. He handed Malcolm a bottle of water. "Here you go, Lieutenant."

Malcolm took the water from him with an unsteady hand.

"Doesn't look like they were treating him okay," Hayes commented as Malcolm gulped it down. "Like the president assured us they were." I could tell he was pissed. He had wanted to mount a rescue mission from the very start, but the captain decided to negotiate with the Tourlelle president instead, thinking it was better in the long run to try and clear up the misunderstanding. We needed all the friends we could get out in the Expanse. Reasonable folks would understand that we were just doing a little reconnaissance and didn't know we were trespassing, right? Unfortunately, they weren't quite as reasonable as we had hoped, and things fell apart pretty damn quick. It became clear there would only be one way to get Malcolm out of there.

"Major," I warned. I hoped I wouldn't have to explain to him that the captain did the right thing. It wasn't a discussion I wanted to be having in front of Malcolm at the moment. Especially since deep down inside, I had agreed with Hayes. It made me worry that I was second-guessing the captain's decision because of my own personal feelings for Malcolm. So basically, I'd doubted both my captain and myself. Some Starfleet officer, huh? But there on the shuttlepod, my doubts took a back seat to the things I was sure of—we were headed home, Malcolm was safe, and Major Hayes could kiss my ass.

"Commander—" Hayes began, only to be interrupted by a coughing fit as Malcolm choked on his water. I never did find out if I actually said that last part out loud.

Hayes took the water from Malcolm and I rubbed his back as he coughed, his face turning alarmingly red from the exertion. Finally he stopped and slumped, eyes closed, against me. His breathing was labored. And even though I wasn't inclined to let him go, it worried me that he didn't mind being in my arms right in front of Hayes.

"You okay now?" I asked.

He just nodded without opening his eyes. I wanted to know what the hell happened to him in that prison. But he didn't seem too keen on talking just yet, so I let him be.

"Then you just rest up. We're almost back to the ship," I told him. I kept my hand moving on his back, even though he wasn't coughing any more, and his tense body relaxed just a little. Hayes turned away and began stowing the phase pistols, so I leaned close to Malcolm's filthy, wet hair and whispered, "I've got you now." At first I wasn't sure he heard me, but then I saw him nod. I don't know if that comforted him at all, but it made me feel better just to be able to say it.

We stayed like that for the rest of the flight back, both of us sitting on the floor of the shuttle, Malcolm wrapped up in that blanket, tucked against my chest. I think he fell asleep; I'm not sure. All I knew was that whatever happened to him, I wished it could have been me instead.

***

When we got back, I still had my shift to do, and things were pretty busy in Engineering, so I had to leave Malcolm in Phlox's hands. I thought the damned day would go on forever. When at last I was off duty, I headed straight for sickbay.

"Hey doc, where's Malcolm?" I asked, once I realized all the beds were empty.

Phlox looked up from whatever furry little monster he was feeding. "Back in his quarters, Commander." He shut the lid of the cage, and the creature squalled loudly. "There, there, plenty more where that came from," Phlox murmured to it. "Or at least I should hope he is," he continued, to me.

"Shouldn't he be staying in here overnight at least?" I knew Malcolm hated being in sickbay—hell, we all do. Nothing against Doctor Phlox or anything. Actually, I kind of liked the guy—when I was healthy, that is.

Phlox shook his head. "There's nothing wrong with him physically, not enough to warrant keeping him here. I think you might want to look in on him when you have a moment."

I immediately got a bad feeling in my gut. "What do you mean by 'physically'?" I asked quickly. "What did they do to him?"

Phlox sighed, leaned back against his desk and eyed me thoughtfully. He always looked mournful when delivering bad news, even though his voice was strangely cheery. "It seems that they tried a type of truth serum on him during their interrogation. They were convinced we had an ulterior motive for being on their planet."

That didn't sound good at all. "And?"

"And it didn't work—at least not in the sense they'd hoped it would. There's no trace of it left in his system, so I can't be sure of its composition. But according to Mr. Reed it had a hallucinatory effect. It caused rather nightmarish visions."

"God damn it."

"It was careless of them to not even consider that alien physiology would respond differently. The effects were only temporary, but he's still shaken up over the experience. At least I assume he is, considering he wouldn't discuss it with me," Phlox added pointedly. "But I'm sure it had to be emotionally traumatic for him."

I thought about Malcolm's voice in the shuttle. "Doc, he was real hoarse when we found him. I could barely hear him—"

Phlox nodded. "Yes, well, I imagine the hallucinations were quite…vivid, to say the least."

And then I realized how terrible it must have been for Malcolm. Not only did he have to deal with the effects of the drug directly, but if he had been screaming in terror like that, without being able to help himself—Malcolm prides himself on his self-control. And they took that away from him.

"I think I'll go check up on him right now, Doc. Thanks for the update," I called over my shoulder as I hurried out of sickbay.

***

Malcolm stood in the doorway, looking me over intently, like he was thinking over whether to let me in or not. Or maybe he was deciding whether or not he was at home.

I wasn't going to wait for his decision. "Sorry Malcolm, did I wake you?" I asked as I pushed past him.

"Come on in, sir," I heard him say to the empty space in front of him.

I didn't mind the sarcasm. It was much better than the stunned silence in the shuttle. Kicking off my shoes, I plopped down on the bed. Malcolm stood in the middle of his room, like he was trying to gather up enough energy to give me trouble. I took a good look at him. He was wearing sweats and a rumpled shirt. His hair was all messed up, like he just got out of the shower and forgot to comb it. It's usually a look I find real appealing, but not when it's paired with hollow, shell-shocked eyes. Plus the way his face was so damn pale, almost white, it made the purple bruise on his cheek and the dark circles under his eyes stand out in sharp contrast. I was pretty sure he had lost weight, too, while being "detained for questioning."

"You look like shit warmed over," I told him.

Malcolm raised his brows. "Oh?" he rasped. "And how would you know what that looks like? Perhaps it's some sort of southern delicacy?"

"Listen, you don't want to get into pissing contest about our relative cuisines, now, do you? Now get over here and sit down before you fall down." I patted a spot on the bed beside me.

He trudged over and sat down gingerly, his hands clasped in his lap. He had a twitchy air about him, as if he was expecting something to jump out from under the bed. I put my hand on his shoulder, gently, as so not to startle him, and asked, "Malcolm, what the hell did they do to you?"

He twisted around to stare at me, eyes defiant, as if daring me to feel sorry for him.

I said it anyway.

"I'm sorry." I leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. My lips lingered on his warm skin—it felt so good. It was such a relief to be able to kiss him like that. He breathed in sharply, and when he tried to turn his head away, I pulled him back and put my mouth over his. "I'm sorry," I whispered again, in between kisses. "I'm so sorry."

"Stop it," he spat out. "Stop bloody apologizing."

"We shouldn't have negotiated," I said, rubbing his shoulder. I could feel stiff, tense muscles underneath his thin shirt. "We should have just barged right on in and gotten you out of there."

"What, you think I should get special treatment just because I'm fucking a senior officer?" Malcolm asked sharply. He pulled away from me with a sound of disgust, shrugging my hand off his shoulder.

"Damn it, Malcolm, why do you say shit like that?" I asked, slapping my palm on the bed. "And that's a mighty nice way to describe our relationship, by the way." Even though I knew he was hurting and just lashing out at the nearest target, his words stung.

Malcolm grimaced, rubbing his face. "Oh hell. Trip—I didn't mean it quite like that."

"Sure," I said, even though I was anything but. "I know a little bit about what they did to you in there," I pointed out. "And I wouldn't want to wish that on anyone on board this ship. No one. Whether I was in an intimate relationship with him or not."

"You talked to Phlox," he accused, jerking his head around to glare at me.

I rolled my eyes. "Of course I talked to Phlox. I went lookin' for you in sickbay. He sent me here."

Malcolm looked away, staring the far wall of his quarters like it was the most fascinating thing in the universe. I knew he was annoyed that I had found out about his being drugged. He could be such a goddamn prickly pain in the ass sometimes.

"I know you had a real bad time with that drug they gave you." I gave it another try and reached for him again, touching the back of his neck. "Do you want to talk about it?"

He stiffened even further. "I think I'd rather like to get some sleep, if you don't mind," he said. "Doctor's orders, you know."

My fingers drifted across his skin, but still I was reluctant to let him go. "I know, I just thought you might feel better if you—"

"I'd feel better if I got some sleep," he told me, in an "it's not open to discussion" kind of way.

I nodded, defeated. But only temporarily. "All right." I removed my hand, scrambled off the bed, and began unzipping my uniform. "I'm exhausted, too. It's been one hell of a week."

He was silent. Without even looking at him, I could feel the waves of dismay as I pulled my uniform off. I was pretty sure he didn't want me there, but I sure as hell needed to be with him.

"I didn't sleep a wink the entire time you were gone," I said, like I was just making casual conversation. "Just couldn't bear to be in bed by myself, wondering what was happening to you. I was worried sick."

I stood there in my undershirt and briefs, arms folded against my chest, daring him to throw me out. We stared at each other for one long minute. It would have taken our entire contingent of MACOs to get me out of there at that point, and Malcolm knew it.

"Right, then," Malcolm said at last. "If it will help you sleep."

As I slid under the covers next him, he was acting like he was doing it for my sake, and I let him get away with it. And maybe he did need to be by himself to sort things out, but I'm not ashamed to admit I needed to be with him. After the lights were out and we got settled I put my arms around him, trying to pull him close. When he grunted I asked, "Shit, Malcolm—did that hurt? I'm sorry."

"Trip, I'm fine, really. They didn't treat me so badly."

I leaned forward, found his lips in the dark, and kissed him. "Darlin', you're less than convincing with your voice all scratchy like that," I said softly.

He sighed, then moved closer to me. "Please, let's just not talk about it right now." He sounded almost plaintive, and I felt guilty for pushing him about it.

"Okay," I said. I propped myself up on an elbow and kissed his cheek. "Get some sleep, then."

"Splendid idea," he murmured, shutting his eyes.

He fell asleep quickly, his body relaxing, his breaths getting deep and regular. His side was pressed against my chest, and even though he was asleep, he moved his leg so that his knee nudged against my thigh. The contact reassured me. He felt so warm and solid, and he smelled of soap, sickbay, and the faintest whiff of decon gel. Safe. But still I watched him in the dark, even though I could only make out the vague outline of his face.

I wished there were more I could do for him. He seemed so shut down. Numb. I wanted to help, but even if he spilled his guts to me, told me everything that happened in that damn prison, it wasn't going to change the fact that it happened. I hated feeling so useless. I wished I could have at least rescued him. Not that I wasn't glad he got out on his own—hell, I was pretty impressed by that—but it made me feel more helpless than ever. Which in turn made me feel guilty, because this was about him, not about me. I think I spent half the night just lying there, staring at him, my emotions spinning around every which way.

I might have dozed at some point, because when he jerked awake, my head was back down on the pillow, my arm draped across his chest.

"Trip—" he exclaimed, his legs kicking.

"Huh? What—Malcolm, hey, it's all right." I was wide awake in an instant, holding him in my arms as he struggled. "Hey, hey, it's over, darlin'. You're home." His pointy elbow jabbed into my ribs. It hurt like hell, but I didn't let go of him.

"What?" Malcolm froze, then collapsed against me, chest heaving. "Oh, hell," he panted against my chest.

"It's okay now, Malcolm," I said, trying to soothe him, rubbing his back.

"No, it's not okay. I would very much rather not still be having these damned nightmares," he said, his voice ragged. I could feel his hands clenching into fists. "The same damn thing, over and over."

"What's it about?" I asked. It was worth a try.

He pushed against my chest in a half-hearted attempt to move away.

"Lemme Let me guess. You don't want to talk about it," I said, frustrated.

But to my surprise, he said, "Fine. You want to know? You want me to talk about it?" His voice was even more raspy as he got worked up. "They held me down. Four of them. They held me down," he said, his voice stronger now, "and injected me with something, and I had no bloody idea what it was, but I couldn't stop them."

I waited silently for him to continue.

"It was bloody awful," he continued, fingers digging into my shoulder. "I couldn't control myself, I just kept screaming, and I just couldn't stop. I heard these strange noises, I could feel things touching me, crawling on me, and if I turned and looked fast enough, I could just see them out of the corner of my eye."

He was talking so fast I could barely make out the words, but I let him go on. "It was like some sort of horror film, faceless monsters, they were after me, they were right there in the cell with me, calling my name. I couldn't escape. I should have known it wasn't real, but—but there they were. Then I realized what the noise was—it was water, running water, the bloody cell was filling up with water. I could feel it winding around my ankles, cold and slithering around like a snake, creeping up my legs. There was no place for me to go—no where at all—it was going to pull me under." He clung to me tightly, fists bunching up my undershirt, his body shivering. "I was drowning, and it was so damn real."

As he spoke, I felt a chill run down my spine. I couldn't imagine what it must have been like, to experience your worst nightmares. I could still sense the fear in him, even now, in the trembling of his body, the tone of his voice. He was going through it all over again.

"I'm so sorry, Malcolm, I'm sorry. It must have been horrible." Pointless, useless words, but it was all I had to offer.

He shuddered and let go of my shirt, smoothing it out against my chest with restless movements of his hands. "Right," he said. "But the thing is, I kept screaming out your name. As if I were a small, helpless child. Why is it always you when I lose control? Whether we're making love or when I'm losing my mind in a prison cell—when it comes down to some desperate need, it's always you I reach for, damn it." He grabbed my head in his hands, rolling over on top of me. I could barely make out the gleam of his eyes in the dark. "Always your name," he whispered.

"Is needing someone really all that bad?" I spoke gently, because when I touched his face I found it wet with tears, and that just about tore my heart apart.

He was quiet for a moment, and the only sound in the room was our harsh breathing. Then he bent his head down and kissed me. "Yes," he sighed. "No." He kissed me again. "And everything in between."

I pulled him down on top of me and tried my damnedest to kiss the hell out of him because I understood completely. I knew what it was like to be that scared by your own feelings. And I also knew that sometimes it's easier not to feel anything at all.

I wasn't going to let Malcolm do that, though. No way was I going to let him get all shut up inside himself. So I held onto him and kissed him as if my life depended on it, because maybe it did. He kissed me right back, his mouth desperate and hungry, and next thing I knew his hands were sneaking under my shirt. "Get this off," he snarled. "Get yourself naked, right now."

"Malcolm—you—are you sure? I wasn't trying to—we don't have to do this now," I said, holding on to his hands, halting them. Not that I wasn't up for it, but wondered if Malcolm realized just what he was doing.

"Yes, we do," he said, his lips moving against my cheek.

Still, I hesitated. "Malcolm—"

"Make me lose it. Make me lose myself in you," he said in a bare whisper.

I finally understood what he asking for. "Anything for you, Malcolm," I said, and now my own voice sounded ragged, because my throat was a little tight.

That didn't last too long, though, because Malcolm was grabbing my dick through my underwear, stroking roughly, and it made me a little crazy. As I yanked his shirt off over his head, he inhaled sharply, and I realized too late that he was probably pretty stiff and sore for such manhandling.

"Sorry—did I hurt you?" I gasped.

"Enough with that already," Malcolm ordered as he squeezed my dick even harder. I scrambled to pull off my damn briefs, and his, too, at the same time. It took some struggling and bumping elbows, but at last we were naked and tangled up together under the covers. Good lord, just the feel of that hot body against mine was almost enough to make me come.

I buried my face in the crook of his neck, tasting his skin. He moaned, his voice still raspy and rough but suddenly it was a beautiful sound. He arched his back and moaned even louder when I mouthed nipples. I wanted to kiss him everywhere at once, to make sure every part of him was back with me again. At the same time, he was all over me, his hands on my body, touching me, stroking me, digging his nails into me like he had to make sure I was real.

"Wait, hold on—" I told him, wanting to make this good for him. I slid on top of him, reaching for the bedside table, groping for and finding a small bottle of oil. Malcolm wriggled around underneath me in a way that felt awfully good. He wrapped his legs around my waist, pinning my body against his. He kept moving and squirming restlessly, like he had an itch he couldn't scratch.

"Malcolm?" I had only intended to jerk him off, something slow and relaxing, but I was starting to think Malcolm had something else entirely in mind.

"Do it. Fuck me." He grabbed my hair and pulled my head down, kissing me violently.

When he finally let me go I was gasping for breath "Okay, okay," I told him. I would give him anything he needed. As always.

"Turn the light on," he told me. "So I can see you."

I turned the lights on low, flooding the room with soft light, and I saw Malcolm beneath me, face flushed, eyes half-closed, a determined expression on his face. He looked a hundred times better than he did when I first walked in that evening—more alive, like he was feeling something again. I kissed him one more time, then moved back until I was kneeling between his legs. I kissed his chest, licked a nipple, nuzzled all around his body as I slid my fingers into him. He lifted his legs for me, pushing down on my fingers as he made little low noises deep in his throat. He had a hand in my hair, and I felt so damn good that at least there was something I could do for him, something to make him feel better.

"You're back with me, darlin'," I whispered, rubbing my cheek against his belly. His cock was nice and hard, right there in front of my face, so I sucked him deep into my throat while I pushed my fingers in. His hips lifted clear off the bed, and I heard a desperate little cry.

"Oh lord, okay, now, Trip, do it—" he told me, patting my head, attempting to move me off his dick.

He sounded kind of frantic, so I let him slide from my mouth. "Just a second here," I said breathlessly as I climbed over his leg, scrambling to get into position.

Malcolm slid his ass onto my lap and put his legs around my waist again. Damn, if it wasn't like being held by a vise and I liked that just fine. He closed his eyes and grimaced a little as I pushed in, but he had a funny little half-smile on his face, so I knew I wasn't hurting him any. I pushed all the way in and almost came from the way his muscles were holding me so tight. He felt so hot and sweet, and being in him was fucking spectacular, in a way that still surprised me each and every time. Holding onto his hips, I started thrusting nice and slow, in and out of that amazing heat, and he started moaning in a way that told me I was doing it just right.

It wasn't so long ago that I was terrified that I'd never see him again, so to be there, right inside of him, feeling him squirm around my dick as I pushed into him, seemed like some sort of miracle. His body was just gorgeous to see, even with the bruises, his skin shiny and sweaty. I loved watching him move like that, so alive, so damn hot and desperate. His arms were flung over his head, muscles flexing as he gripped the bed frame, pushing right back at me. And that look on his face, still with little smile playing on his lips—it was pretty clear he wasn't thinking about nightmares or Tourlellians or a prison cell filling with water.

"Come on now," I encouraged him. "Let go darlin', just for me." I wrapped my hand around his hard cock and squeezed. It was heavy and hot against my palm, and got even hotter as I stroked it. He was just loving it, making desperate little noises like he just couldn't get enough.

"Oh lord," he groaned. "Trip—I want—kiss me." He reached for my shoulders, pulling me down. Our mouths met and we kissed, and it was almost like the first time we kissed, when our mouths were so hungry that we bruised our lips but we still couldn't stop kissing. It was all so right, despite all the crappy shit we had just been through. I loved him so damn much, and he felt so good, so goddamn good, being inside of him, his cock in my hand. He tightened his legs around me, jerking his hips upward as he rode my cock. It was a little too good.

"Son of a bitch," I said against his lips. "I'm—fuck, I'm—"

Malcolm's cock stiffened and strained in my hand, and his fingers dug into my hair, and I cursed because I was losing it, I was on the edge, just about to come. He whimpered when I jerked his cock hard and fast, looking a little startled as he grabbed at my arms, eyes wide, his body arched and straining. He opened his mouth but then went all still and I swear he stopped breathing completely.

Then it all went crazy and I was coming, pounding into him until my balls slapped his butt because I just couldn't help myself. I think he liked it because then he just plain howled and came hard and long, his body moving so violently I thought he might hurt himself. His cock got all slippery and wet in my hand and I milked it for all it was worth, stroking him as he called out my name, squeezing him until he begged me to stop. Only then did I crash down onto his body, shaky and feeling all wrung out. For some reason, my eyes were a little wet, too.

Malcolm was the one who wanted to let go, but I think I was the one who really lost it.

He put his arms around me and held me as I lay there on top of him, feeling like I had broken apart on the inside and only his arms could hold me together. His heart was pounding against my chest, as I rubbed my face against his shoulder. He was breathing heavy, just like he had come running to the shuttle, when he had been cold and blank and so far away. I waited until his breathing slowed to something like normal, and then quietly asked, "Was that all right? Was that what you needed?" I had tried, but I wasn't sure it had been enough.

"Yes." After a moment he added, "You're always what I need."

His voice was warm and affectionate and my spirits lifted a little; maybe he felt a little better. I raised my head and saw that he had a small smile on his face. "Just trying my best here." I chose my words carefully, a rare thing for me, but I can do it when I have to. "When you're hurting, when you're so far away—I want to help you, I want to make it better, but I'm never quite sure what to do."

"Me, neither." He touched my cheek. "You have to understand, Trip, that you can't always fix everything. I'm not a warp engine."

"But I love you, just the same," I pointed out.

Malcolm actually laughed—just a small laugh, but it was genuine, and it made the corner of his eyes crinkle up in the way that I just love. Then he grew serious. "I love you, too, " he said.

"And that's a good thing, right?" I couldn't help but ask.

"Yes, it is," he assured me.

I reached forward and kissed his lips gently, then rested my head back on his chest once again. "I was so scared you weren't coming back," I said a few minutes later.

"As was I," Malcolm whispered. His voice was almost completely gone.

"To think that you were all alone in there, so freaked out—"

"Stop it," he said. "I'm back now."

I nodded. He had a point: he was back—right under my body, as a matter of fact. I had been inside of him, I had licked him, tasted him. I could still feel his come on my hands. "Yeah, you are. You escaped," I said, more to myself than him.

"And yet you keep trying to rescue me." His hand found mine, and our fingers entwined. "Don't ever stop."

I squeezed his hand.

We stayed like that for a while, the sweat drying on our bodies. Sometime later I roused myself enough to slide off him and turn off the light. We spooned up together, under the covers, Malcolm's butt tucked into my lap, my arm wrapped around his waist. I listened him breathe as he fell back to sleep. When he was completely relaxed, and breathing steady, I slept, too.

Until the nightmares woke us both up again.

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