This is the final chapter. Thank you all so much for reading, and for your reviews.
Trip stood in the middle of the cavern, trying to find a way to search the room without being noticed. He surreptitiously glanced at the people closest to him, then stared at them more blatantly. They, like the others in the room, either were in the midst of taking their drug or had recently consumed it. He could probably break out tap dancing and, if they even noticed, they certainly wouldn't care. He started to search in earnest.
After a few minutes, he found their communicators stashed behind some crates, barely hidden and certainly not secured. He looked up to see if anyone was paying him any mind and was just about to pocket the devices when he heard a commotion coming from across the room. He grabbed two communicators just as he heard Archer's loud voice. Turning, he saw Malcolm walk into the room, trailed by Samul and other Osoba. Hoshi and Archer followed, clearly upset.
Trip jammed one of the devices into his hip pocket and palmed the other as he joined the group moving rapidly through the space. "What's going on?" he asked.
"It's time," Archer said, sounding angry.
Trip jumped in front of Malcolm, trying to block his way. Malcolm stopped and the group followed suit. "Malcolm, you can't do this."
"I've no choice." The lieutenant smiled vaguely. "It's fine."
Trip dropped his voice. "That's the drugs talking, not you."
One of the Osoba spoke. "Death is nothing to fear. It's natural."
"This isn't natural," Trip snarled. "You have to see that."
"I'm all right with it," Malcolm said. Trip was about to speak, but Malcolm went on. "No, truly, I am." He leaned close to Trip, his eyes glassy. "It's the only way they'll let you free."
Trip stood there for a second, and Malcolm began to walk away. Frantic, Trip reached out and grabbed Malcolm's arm, stopping him and turning him around. Malcolm smiled slightly, then placed a hand over Trip's, where it rested on his arm. "I have to do this, Trip," he said, then he moved off.
Trip stood there, stunned. He watched Malcolm lead the group into another room, and he heard the chanting begin. He closed his eyes tightly for a brief moment and muttered a bitter expletive before he hurried after them.
He entered the room to see Malcolm with his back to the crowd, already poised on the edge of the pit, where Archer and Hoshi had stood before. He was looking down into the darkness.
Trip tried to go to him but felt himself grabbed and held there beside Archer and Hoshi. He turned again to Malcolm, standing next to the pit, staring down into the depths.
As Trip watched, his heart racing, the chanting stopped. He heard one peal from a gong behind him, the sound echoing through the dim chamber. Flames from the torches on the walls cast a warm light on the rocks, illuminating their group, Malcolm in its center.
The echoes stopped, and there was silence.
Trip, no longer struggling, softly said one word. "Malcolm."
Malcolm looked back over his shoulder. His eyes softened, and he smiled. Then, still looking at Trip, he fell forward.
Trip watched in numb shock as Malcolm disappeared.
Trip felt the crowd lean forward, and the arms restraining him fell away. He lifted his hand to his mouth and spoke in a rush. "Enterprise, transport Reed."
A crewman's voice came across the comm. "Commander?"
"The other communicator," Trip said frantically. "Transport him, damn it! Now!"
"Done," the crewman reported.
"Now get us out of here!" Trip practically shouted. Trip looked at Samul just as he felt the transport take hold.
"Hey," Trip said, pushing aside the sickbay curtain to reveal Malcolm sitting there, his legs dangling off the edge of the bed. Taking in Malcolm's eyes, still bloodshot and glazed, he realised that his friend was probably still under the influence of the drugs he'd ingested. "How are you feeling?" he asked gently.
Malcolm smiled. "Still pretty blitzed, but thank you for asking."
Trip took a deep breath. "Really, Malcolm. Are you okay?"
Malcolm cocked his head to the side, frowning. After a moment, he answered. "I'm not quite sure."
"Well, what did Phlox say?" Trip asked, taking a seat in the chair beside the bed.
"He said it would take some time to wear off, but no long-term damage."
Trip nodded. "That's good."
"Authorities find Samul and that lot?" Malcolm asked.
"They're working on it. With our transport out, they were able to pinpoint where they were."
Trip sat in silence for a moment, then shifted uncomfortably. "Can I ask you something?"
Malcolm raised an eyebrow.
"Um, all that, back there." When Malcolm didn't respond, Trip continued. "When you jumped. No, before that - I felt like you really meant to..." He shifted in his chair. "I mean, did you really want to die back there?"
"Want to?" Malcolm paused, thinking. "By that point I was resigned to it."
Trip frowned. "Had you thought about it before?"
Malcolm thought a moment. "I don't think about it all the time, but, with my job, it's part of my thoughts. So, yes." Malcolm stared at Trip for a moment, then said, "So, what next? Suicide watch?"
"What?" Trip said in alarm. When he saw Malcolm's amused expression, he sighed heavily. "Don't joke about that."
"No. Sorry," Malcolm said, suddenly serious. "Gallows humor."
They sat in silence for a while.
"It's not needed, right?" Trip asked.
"What?" Malcolm replied, seeming puzzled.
"The suicide watch. You're not trying to tell me anything, are you?"
"No," Malcolm said, looking chagrined.
"Good," Trip said firmly.
"Nice trick, by the way," Malcolm said after a moment, clearly trying to change the subject. "Slipping the communicator in my pocket when you touched my arm."
Trip smiled. "Liked that, did you?"
"Loved it, actually," Malcolm said. "I was hoping that you'd come through somehow."
"Did you know I'd done it?"
"No," Malcolm answered. "More hoped that something would happen." He grimaced. "Took a leap of faith, as it were."
"Thank you," Malcolm said, completely serious.
"You owe me one," Trip replied. He stood to leave, and clasped a hand on Malcolm's arm. "Next time I decide to jump off a cliff or something, you pull me back up, you hear?"
Malcolm nodded. "Consider it done."
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