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He threw a haunting, distorted shadow as he strode along the dimly lit corridors, holding his breath in fear to breathe in the intoxicating steams. No matter where he looked, every bulkhead had traces of dried blood and remains of explosions. Even though the repairs were running 24 hours each day, it was a terrifying sight.

He noticed the faint coughing and shaking of the small body he was cautiously holding to his chest and immediately pulled it closer. He wouldn’t need long to reach his destination but this little soul was all he cared for, all he wanted to keep clean and safe from all the toxic air. He surely couldn’t risk anything.

When he finally reached the main entrance of Engineering, he sighed in relief to be out of the dark, haunting corridors. In fact, ever since the war had started, Main Engineering had been the safest place besides sickbay. Both were indispensable for the ship, probably the most essential rooms.

“There you are…I was worried sick – how is he?” He couldn’t help but smile a little at the sight of his approaching lover. He really had longed for his caring touch and a reassuring hug. Thank god that was what his partner gave him right away.

“He’s alright…As far as that is possible…” He was glad when Trip carefully took the light weight from his arms, pulling the small body close to his chest and kissing its forehead. A little hiccup was the response to the gentle gesture and both of the men let out a soft chuckle.

“Gosh, Mal…He really is a sweetheart…”

“He sure is, but a pretty tired one…And I can assure you this isn’t a safe environment for a one-year-old.”

“I know it’s not but he’s doing great!” Trip looked into the sparkling blue-grey eyes and couldn’t help but fall for the sweet laugh from the baby in his arms. “Look at him, darling, he’s so happy!”

“Say that again next time he’s crying his eyes out because he’s terrified of the combat. This isn’t the time nor the place for a baby to live…” Malcolm followed Trip to the group that had gathered around the warp core. It had become a habit that the senior officers all sat together in Main Engineering during dinner. Besides the constant updates on how everyone was doing, who got injured, what got damaged, the atmosphere was somewhat reassuring.
The two men sat down, cautiously listening to what everyone had to say. In fact, the war didn’t seem to stop and they all were just lucky, Enterprise had already lost a lot of members, some of them dear friends.

“So, Malcolm…Say, how is it going down in the Armory?”

“Mh, not too well, if I may be quite frank with you. Just an hour ago a good part of it blew up. I’m glad nobody got killed down there – actually there hasn’t been much more than a broken leg and a few burns.”

“Good that went lucky…What about the Armory itself, though? Lots of damage?”

“No, we cleared most of the parts before, the most important supplies and systems didn’t get affected by the explosion. And I can assure you, sir, my team is working on it.” The Brit didn’t really focus on the words he said, his mind was already far away before he finished and full of noise, full of chaos. Between being worried sick about the little boy Trip kept playing with and the constant alert and work mode that kept him on the edge all the time, he couldn’t find a single moment to let his thoughts roam, to let his feelings out.
Of course, Malcolm was used to suppress his emotions for quite a long time but that whole war was something completely different. Now, since it has been going on for quite a while and he was able to adapt to it rather quickly, it didn’t feel that overwhelmingly terrifying all the time but somehow, it all caught up with him. All the fear. All the anger. All the hurt and heartache. His chest started burning the more all the pain kept coming, the more all those memories flashed before his eyes. His eyes began to water as he realized just how bad he had feared to lose Trip, to lose Charlie; the two only people he actually cared about, the two only people who kept him alive.
Charlie…How that little boy made him smile no matter how bad he felt. How those sparkling clear eyes made his heart skip a beat once in a while. How that sweet little laugh seemed to make all the worries and fears go away. How his tiny fingers held onto Malcolm’s hand, somehow giving him a feeling of halt and safety even though that little boy was the one who actually needed that.

“Mal…?” He felt a light weight on his shoulder as Trip gently pulled him closer, carefully examining his partner. Malcolm didn’t answer, he felt the warmth of his lover’s body and comfort of his chest but he couldn’t grasp a single thought, he couldn’t focus on anything. It was all just way too overwhelming, all just messy flashing pictures and noise. “Darling, hey…”

The others had also noticed the trembling that went through the Armory Officer’s body, that one single tear that slowly made its way down his cheek, the absent look in those stormy grey eyes. None of them knew exactly what pain and fear looked like on him but they could guess that whatever was going on right now was bad. Really bad.

“Malcolm…D’you hear me…” The Brit let out a shuddering breath before letting his head sink a little. For a second he didn’t move, just sat there, all quiet. Then he started murmuring something not even Trip could hear until he leaned forward, gently squeezing his lover’s hand. Charlie was still in his lap, watching his fathers curiously, cautiously.
“Doc, I’d fancy some help…”

Doctor Phlox stood right away, taking his med kit which he always had with him in case something happened wherever he was at. He didn’t even ask what was going on, just one look was enough to know what his patient needed. It wasn’t the first time Malcolm experienced this condition, more likely the tenth which resulted in a much more calm reaction to the severe chest pain and the tightness of his breath, the numbness in his limbs and the intense nausea that hit him. Let alone the rushing thoughts and those waves of uncontrollable fear.
He didn’t know how to handle it, but he knew not much longer and it’d be alright again.

“Mal…C’mere…” When Phlox had given the Brit a few hyposprays and a daring look as if to say ‘Don’t you dare self-medicate again, I’ve got this’ (in reference to that one day Malcolm had used a bottle of vodka to keep his calm), Trip pulled his lover closer, setting little Charlie on Malcolm’s lap, making sure both of them were comfortable. It was rather surprising Charlie didn’t make a lot of noise, more surprising even that he hadn’t cried for once ever since Malcolm brought him to Engineering.

“We can’t lose him, Trip. We just can’t…I’d never forgive myself, never…We can’t…”

“Shhh…Malcolm, calm down. Okay, we just treated one panic attack, we don’t need another one, alright? He’ll be fine…”

“Trip, no, no- we- no, we just can’t-!”

“Shush. Look at him. He’s a strong little fella, he’s got Reed-blood, remember? He’s a little fighter. And what a joyful one…Mal, He’ll be fine.” Trip didn’t have to say much more, he felt the weight of his lover as Malcolm slowly dozed off – the tranquilizers did their job and he really needed a good nap for once. However, the Southerner didn’t let go of him for a second, he knew his lover needed the comfort, the warmth, just knowing that, when he woke up, Trip would still be there. And so would little Charlie. So would that one decision that both of them would never ever regret. Their little miracle. Charlie.