Around the Roses

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Title: Around the Roses
Category: Angst
Rating: PG
Summary: Trip and Malcolm come to deeper understandings of the shadows.
#4 in the BYS series
Recommended Reading Order:
Big Yellow Starship, Renaissance, Retribution, Around the Roses
Author's Notes: The final part to something that was only going to be short and (not so) sweet in the beginning. Whoops... ;)

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


"Did you get the latest report from Starfleet Medical?"

"What? Oh, yes... what about it?"

Trip grinned. "They're pleased with ya, Loo-tenant. Don't try and play it down."

Malcolm looked up from his padd and raised an eyebrow. "Trip," he said carefully, "I am more than sufficiently aware of the opinions of Doctor Bracken and her colleagues regarding... my... mental health. If it's alright with you, I'd rather not hear about it all over again."

"Okay." Trip nodded. Then, "How are you feelin'?"

Malcolm sighed impatiently. "I'm fine, Commander," he replied politely, if not a little stiffly. "Just like I was fine when you asked me half an hour ago, and every time before that." He smiled wryly. "You can stop trying to mollycoddle me, you know."

He was rewarded with a sceptical look. "Mollycoddle?"

"You know what I mean."

"Yeah, but still..."

"Look, Trip," Malcolm interrupted. "I am fine. Physically, mentally, psychologically... I'm as good as I can be, given the... given what's happened."

"Okay," Trip repeated, and he nodded again. Nothing more was said.

The past few months since their second encounter with the Shadow People had been little more than some kind of black and white blur for both Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed. Personally, Trip wasn't entirely sure whether he liked the idea of not being able to remember much of Malcolm's recovery - both physically and emotionally - although it still remained that Malcolm was as yet quite unaware of the fact that Trip had shot 'him'.

It had been agreed all around that unless circumstances dictated otherwise, Trip had to decide if and when to divulge this particular piece information to the armoury officer.

But somehow, watching him now, after everything that the two of them had been through, Trip didn't know that he would ever tell Malcolm. Sometimes ignorance was bliss.

"What about you, Trip?" Malcolm asked suddenly, breaking the silence. "How are you holding up?"

Surprised by the question, it took Trip a few seconds to answer. "Yeah... yeah, I'm good," he managed.

"Glad to hear it," Malcolm replied with a smaller version of his trademark smirk, although he sounded sincere. He returned to whatever it was on the padd that had been holding his attention.

Trip watched his friend for a moment. He wondered privately whether he should have said anything else... like, say, the fact that he hadn't been sleeping so well for the past six or seven weeks. Or that he had been dreaming the same things over and over...

A little voice in his head kept telling Trip that he knew full well what had happened the last time someone had been having nightmares about something, but at the same time Trip knew that his dreams had nothing to do with any of the hell that he and Malcolm had been through at the hands of the Shadow People. The only person who knew about any of it was Doctor Phlox, and even then only because he refused to give out sleeping aids to officers without good reason. Well, Trip amended, the doctor only knew that Trip had been having trouble sleeping, not about the reason behind the lack of sleep.

He wasn't really sure how to explain them. People talking, mostly; most of the time they were hidden in the shadows, hidden from Trip's sight through grey-white smoke or fog in some kind of room that could have been anywhere. A lot of the time the voices were hazy, like they were far away from him, and Trip couldn't always make out what they were saying.

But some of the time he could see them, and he could hear exactly what they were saying, although it didn't make a whole lot of sense...

A tall woman in a crisp white jacket and grey trousers. She looks somewhere in her mid fifties, and she's got silvery-grey hair scraped back into a tight bun. She's a doctor, although Trip doesn't know exactly how he knows that.

The few times he does see her she's always in mid-conversation, and she's got a clipboard and a scanner in the same hand. By the time he's woken up, Trip can't remember what she's been saying, but every morning when he wakes up, he has the uneasy feeling that she talks about him.

Opposite her is a shorter man, usually dressed in civilian clothes - nothing more than trousers and a short, although sometimes he's wearing a jacket as well. Trip can never quite see his face, as they never quite manage to face each other. Unlike the woman doctor, however, Trip is pretty sure that he knows this man, but he doesn't know how he knows him, just that he does.

Sometimes it's just him and the man in the same grey-white room. The man keeps trying to talk to him, but Trip can't understand what he's saying. It's like he's trying to talk through water, because it's all distorted and nothing makes any sense.

That's why Trip goes to see the doctor when he wakes up; when he takes the sedatives, Trip can run away from the shadows and dream a dreamless sleep, although it never lasts for more than a few hours before the dreams start again...

Trip shook his head, trying to get rid of the memory. When he looked up again, he noticed Malcolm looking at him, concern written all over his face. "Are you sure you're alright?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah," Trip said, nodding again. "Just tired - been havin' trouble sleepin', that sorta thing."

Malcolm shot him an uncharacteristically hard look, but he didn't say anything. He didn't need to.

"I know, I know," Trip said, holding his hands up in mock self-defence. "Go see Phlox for somethin' to knock me out." He smiled. "Thanks for the input, but there's no need to get all self-righteous on me, Loo-tenant. I can take care o' myself."

Malcolm raised an eyebrow in response and smirked, but still he said nothing; he simply watched as Trip got up and left the near empty mess. Trip didn't look back as he went.

Just like the previous night, and all the times before that, Phlox was cautiously agreeable to giving the commander sleeping aids. The usual questions were asked, including whether he had sought out any kind of counselling about his dreams, or whether he had considered the possibility of taking extended medical leave; however, like on all the other occasions, Trip refuted the good intentions and simply said that he just needed a bit of help to get back into his old rhythm, something he was sure the doctor understood.

The single dose hypospray that had become an almost vital part of his nightly routine contained enough sedative to give Trip three or four hours of uninterrupted and dreamless slumber, although the nature of the solution meant that he couldn't take it more than twice to three times a week, at the risk of his body adapting to the chemicals.

It was these two or three nights every week that supplied the sleep that Trip managed to get, aside from the odd catnap in Engineering (but at ten minutes a pop they were hardly worth thinking about); it was with no small amount of relief, therefore, that Trip welcomed the lethargic feeling that slowed him down only seconds after the injection, and within a few minutes he was sound asleep in bed, away from the persistent haunting of the shadows, away from the two people constantly at the edge of his mind, and away from everything.

For now he was dead to the world, and freer from everything than he had been in a long time.

But sooner or later, he knew, the shadows would resurface, and the cycle would begin again.

o o o o o

Two months before...
"Did you get the latest report from Starfleet Medical?"

"What? Oh, yes... what about it?"

Francesca smiled. "He's made significant progress since you last visited him. Don't tell me you skipped through it again."

Malcolm looked up from his work. "I know what the report said, Doctor," he said, sounding tired, "but we have been down this route before, and every time we have we've only been met with yet another dead end, and a sharp kick back to square one. I'm just... cautious this time around. That's all."

"Of course," Francesca replied. "You've got every right to be, but..." She sighed. "Malcolm, I think it could be for real this time. A real breakthrough."

He closed his eyes briefly and rubbed the side of his face. "Okay," he said wearily, looking back at Francesca. "Maybe I did speed-read the report a little. What did I miss?"

"Just after you left the last time, something happened," she replied. "We're still not quite sure what it is, or was - we've not had a repeat occurrence of it since. But -" she paused, evidently in some kind of anticipation, "- Doctor Lewis and I both think that whatever it was was connected to you."


"Yes." She searched briefly for a way to explain what she meant. "I... I think you should come back. See him again."

Malcolm looked at her evenly. "What happened?"

"There was a short period where he seemed almost lucid," she said. "Almost as if he was aware of what was happening. It's difficult to explain in that nothing out of the ordinary showed up on the equipment, there was nothing wrong with him physically that we could detect." She stopped again and drew a deep breath. "He watched you leave - literally, he tracked your movement for a few seconds, then followed me around the room with his eyes."

"And?" Malcolm pressed, his work forgotten. "Then what?"

Francesca shook her head sadly. "That was it," she told him. "He watched me for a few minutes, and then he was gone again."

"And nothing since then?"


Malcolm weighed up his options. "Is he up to receiving visitors today?" he asked.

"Of course," she replied. "Are you coming?"

He nodded and gathered up his things. A few minutes later the pair were in the maze of grey and white corridors that seemed to typify official Starfleet buildings, especially the most recently built ones. And although Malcolm would never tell anyone, each and every structure that had been erected in recent years all smelled of the same kind of starchy disinfectant that only made him want to find the nearest bucket and revive breakfast. How anyone could stand to work here, he would never know.

Eventually, however, they reached their destination. A medium-sized, fairly airy room on the sixth floor of the building, with a nice enough view of the sea in the distance. Malcolm knew the routine well enough by now; two chairs, one either side of the bed; he always sat on the side closest to the window, a small display of routine that he hoped helped in some way, although it was little more than a comfort measure to him.

A two-way mirror opposite the bed; something ill-needed due to the nature of the situation, but something that was used nevertheless, for the illusion of privacy if nothing else.

The bed sticking out from the side wall, slap bang in the middle between the door and the window. Part of the window given over to the countless arrays of scanning equipment and various medical devices used to monitor the patient's physical status in every conceivable way.

And the patient. Malcolm walked around and sat in his chair, wondering what would happen this time, what would happen to start things rolling.

For his part, Charles Tucker the Third seemed blissfully unaware of the presence of the other two people in the room (Francesca had taken up a position in the far corner, leaning against the wall so as to be unobtrusive). At the moment he was sat docilely on the bed, the covers pooled around his knees, and pulling at a few spare threads dangling from the hem of one of the blankets. His eyes were still as blue as ever, but when he looked into them, Malcolm could only ever see a disturbing blankness peering back out at him; as if his friend was looking through Malcolm and focusing on something the former armoury officer couldn't see, or decipher.

"Trip?" he began hesitantly, nervously. "Trip?"

Trip didn't look up, but he did begin to speak in low, hushed tones. "If you're plannin' to come any nearer with that breath of yours, I'll have to do somethin' I may regret," he said emotionlessly, still playing with the blanket threads. "You smell like somethin' the cat couldn't bring itself to drag in."

Malcolm knew who he was talking about. "They're not here any more, Trip," he said softly, not moving from his seat. "They've gone."

"They never go away," Trip said, still in the same monotone voice. "They're never goin' away and they'll keep comin' back. Again and again. Over and over. That's what they do, you can't tell me otherwise."

Stunned into silence, Malcolm could only sit there. He couldn't believe it; Trip had actually responded to something he had said. He looked around the small room quickly, but the doctor had already disappeared, doubtless to the other side of the two way mirror where she could see and not be seen, but right now Malcolm really couldn't care less. He slowly got up out of his seat and sat on the edge of Trip's bed. Cautiously, he put a hand on the other man's arm, drawing his slow attention and a look upwards.

Again there was the feeling that Trip was looking through him rather than at him, and the once expressive eyes were as blank as they had become in the past five weeks or so.

Granting himself the illusion that the two of them were keeping eye contact, Malcolm studied his friend's face for a moment. Trip's face had lost much of its colour and pallor, and here and there he appeared almost gaunt, but underneath he was still the same man. "What have they done to you?" Malcolm whispered softly, trying in vain to find some spark of something - anything in the near empty-shell that had once been Trip Tucker.

He knew where it had all started, of course; Trip's slow withdrawal into himself immediately following the second encounter with the Shadow People, something that everyone had been powerless to do anything about. As Doctor Francesca Bracken had explained back on Earth, it was as much trying to work out why the mental regression had occurred as anything else that would be key to any kind of treatment for him.

For any kind of treatment to be administered to him, Trip would need to stay on Earth. Although he hadn't been discharged from Starfleet, he was on what had been termed "extended medical leave", although in this particular scenario, it was doubtful that he would ever be able to return to any kind of duty. Malcolm himself was on the same medical leave, although he had been declared capable to carry out the most minimal of light duties possible, although that was perhaps a gross understatement as far as the doctors here were concerned.

He therefore spent as much of his time as he was allowed at the Starfleet Medical complex, developing rapport's with the doctors who worked with Trip, and helping as much as he could where he could.

Malcolm still had very little idea as to what could have caused Trip to withdraw so drastically and in the short space of time that it had happened. He had suspected since the beginning that there was more to this than perhaps Captain Archer and Doctor Phlox had let on to him, and perhaps that had had something to do with all of this, but nobody would say anything, and Malcolm had no way of finding out for sure; Trip was the only person who knew, but it remained that he was in no fit state to say anything that made sense.

Bringing himself back to the here and now, Malcolm was not surprised to find that there was no response to his quiet question; ninety-nine percent of the time Trip was caught up in a world of his own making - according to the psychiatrists it was very likely that Trip was constantly reliving traumatic events, and rewriting the scenes to create a happier ending for himself and the other people around him. Apparently, this was a fairly common occurrence among mental patients throughout history; there was never any pattern to the trigger, and there was never any definite way to end the cycle.

A voice caught his attention, and Malcolm realised that Trip was talking again. His eyes were downcast and he had resumed picking at the edge of the blanket. "They did nothin' to me I didn't do already." It was the same wooden, stilted voice. "And they did nothin' to my friends that I didn't do already, either." Abruptly his tone of voice changed, and he began to sound scared. "Why are you doin' this to me? I didn't do anythin' to you... let me go... I won't say anythin' to anybody. Won't go sayin' anythin'... you can trust me... I'm not the sort to break a promise once I've made it... Please don't do this to me..." His breathing was beginning to increase ever so slightly.

Malcolm tightened his grip on Trip, trying to think of something that might reassure the other man, calm him down somehow. But before he could do anything...

"Please don't kill me," Trip said, calm once more and back to monotones. "Please... don't kill me. I'm already dead. I died a long time ago, killin' me won't do you any good."

Malcolm felt sick inside, sick at what someone could do to make someone else feel like this, but Trip was still talking, still carrying on with his monologue. "I died long before he did. He killed himself to stop me dyin'. Didn't matter, though. I still killed him. Loo-tenant Reed died because of me. That's why you can't do anythin' to me, whatever you do you can't kill me any more. I shot Loo-tenant Reed, that's why he died again. That's why he can't ever die. I shot him." A small, almost sickening pause before, "Please don't do this to me," again and again, like some twisted sort of mantra.

From somewhere off to the side of him, Malcolm heard the door hiss open, announcing Francesca's return. Mutely, he let her remove Trip from right next to him, and a pair of gentle hands either side of him gently guide him back out into the corridor. He was vaguely aware of leaving the building and its maze of corridors in little more than a grey and white haze until he was walking outside through what must have been a sunny afternoon, to a park where he found an empty bench and sat down, staring blankly at the dirt and grass underneath him.

Trip had shot him... had Trip shot him? How far could he trust the words of someone under constant medical surveillance?

But then again... it was all beginning to make a sick kind of sense in Malcolm's tactically-inclined mind. Assume for the moment that Trip had shot him... it explained much of the behaviour of the people around Malcolm during that brief period of recovery before Trip's own decline had begun to show.

Oh, shit.

It explained Trip's decline. Fear of having nearly killed his friend, responsibility for the whole goddamned affair...


It was all there, as plain as anything.

It was because of Malcolm that Trip was now the way he was.

And it was because of the Shadow People that Trip had been forced into taking that action. A vicious, repetitive, destructive, never-ending circle.

Sitting there, underneath a warm summer sky that he couldn't feel, Malcolm cried. He cried for the loss of his friend, for the loss of his friendship, and... and for the loss of himself as well.

And through all of the tears, not thirty feet away from the forlorn looking creature on the bench, a group of schoolchildren were reciting nursery rhymes.

"Ring around the roses…" Come see the man so far inside himself he can't see out any more...

"A pocket full of posies..." Come mourn the dead and the dying...

"ATISH-oo, aTISH-oo..." Too many different ways he could have died...

"We all fall down..." We'll all die someday...

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