Thank you all! It's been fun to read that some of you hadn't anticipated the captive would be Porthos! Here is the last chapter.
That fateful day, when he had told Archer about his aquaphobia, Malcolm had boasted that he had been able to handle a boat before he'd known how to ride a bicycle. Unfortunately, this was no boat. Nothing more than a small, primitive raft, it gave him very little feeling of security.
On his knees and leaning as far out as he dared, Malcolm struggled with the short paddle to keep them on course, while the rushing waters carried them effortlessly downstream. "Down," he had ordered as soon as he had pushed the raft off the shore, and without a sound Porthos had obeyed and not moved since. Malcolm spared him a quick look. In the darkness, he was but a form lying low in the middle of the platform. He could sense his fear. Well, he had no reassuring words to offer, at the moment.
The bump came unexpectedly. Whatever it was that they had hit, the raft spun so abruptly that Malcolm nearly fell off. There was a muffled sound from his companion, but Malcolm was too busy to heed it. All of his focus was in trying to regain control of their vessel, for things were happening fast. Too fast, for his liking. That shadow up ahead, for example. It was coming toward them too bloody…
With another ominous thud, they collided with a large rock that the unfair hand of fate had probably placed there just to shipwreck aquaphobic security officers on rescue missions, and capsized.
From one moment to the next, all sounds were cut off as Malcolm plunged underwater. Caught by an eddy, he was tossed about and no longer knew top from bottom, or right from left. All was darkness and turmoil. This is it, he thought with more clarity and detachment than he'd imagined, the shameful demise of Malcolm Reed, Starfleet officer with a flaw.
But then, by some miracle, he broke through the surface again, and that first, much yearned-for breath of air was enough to turn his resignation into fight.
He flung his arms and legs rather frantically and collided with something soft: Porthos. His closeness gave him comfort. Gradually, he managed to make more deliberate movements and find some kind of rhythm, and soon fell into a spasmodic breaststroke. His comrade, nearby, was cutting through the water with slow but self-assured progress, turning once in a while as if to check on him. It helped Malcolm get his anxiety more under control. He was here to rescue the blasted dog, and it looked as if Porthos was rescuing him. Bloody hell, he still had his pride. They couldn't fail now. Yes, they were going to make it. Firm ground was not very far away.
Malcolm kept going, his mind forcefully focused ahead of him, on the moment he'd feel something solid under his feet. The beagle was faster, and now was already clawing his way out of the water. Malcolm realised that if he himself didn't push on the gas a bit they might lose each other, for the current would quickly carry him farther downstream. He really didn't like that prospect; so he dug deep and found the courage to abandon the relative safety of his breaststroke and change position for a final burst in freestyle.
Grabbing tufts of the tall grass that bordered the river in that stretch, Malcolm clawed his own way back onto dry land, where once again he lay spent, a space-faring Robinson Crusoe. He could hear panting not far from him, and after a moment he raised his head.
"Good to know I'm not the only one out of breath," he said faintly. His partner in crime was trembling. "You cold?"
The answer was a sound in-between a roar and the screeching of a badly oiled mechanism.
Malcolm blinked. What was that ridiculous ancient film Trip had scheduled not two weeks before for Movie Night? Malcolm had spent more time looking at his duty roster than at the screen, but he remembered a scene with water in a glass trembling with each heavy footstep of an approaching T-Rex.
Putting a restraining hand on his small friend's shoulders, Malcolm scrambled to a crouch and peered through the moon-lit darkness. He was further downstream from the spot he'd been earlier in the day, where there had been an open meadow slanting down to the river. Here, the terrain was more irregular, with bushes and tall grasses. Thank God for that, and for being upwind, for ominous shadows could be seen in the distance, approaching the river. They weren't particularly fast, but Malcolm could find little comfort in that notion. They looked massive, standing at least two and a half meters tall and weighing… well, he didn't really want to know.
Cursing under his breath, he reached for his communicator. "Come in, Enterprise!" he said into it urgently. But a second bath apparently had done nothing toward fixing the thing.
"Come on," he whispered, and led the way into the weeds, keeping low.
"Anything yet?" Captain Archer asked.
He had returned to the Bridge and his eyes were disconcertingly worried. T'Pol had to strengthen her mental barriers not to be affected.
"Capt'n, give Malcolm a chance," Trip said in an evident attempt to soothe the man's tension. "He'll call us as soon as he can be transported out, I'm sure."
Commander Tucker' emotions, though different from the Captain's, were just as strong.
T'Pol took in a silent deep breath. She was caught between two worlds, and she was entirely responsible for it. She didn't even regret it, in truth. Commander Tucker was… She gave herself a mental slap to derail her train of thought. No, she did not regret having stayed on the Enterprise, with all its consequences. But her Vulcan nature was gradually weakening, and in moments like this felt truly threatened by the pummelling of emotions.
To centre herself again, she concentrated on her instruments. She should be able to pinpoint Lieutenant Reed's and Porthos's biosigns again. She had lost them, which meant that he and the canine had been in the water, but they ought to have reached the other side by now.
Then she spotted them.
A powerful snort nearly dried Malcolm's wet hair. So much for upwind and hiding.
"Run!" he ordered, and let himself fall on his back.
At least his faithful phase pistol never faltered. The beam hit the giant between its eyes. The monster tottered, but no more than someone given a light push on the chest. That's all? Malcolm silently screamed. Maybe he should set his pistol to kill. He rolled away from the huge paw that was going to sweep him aside like a crumb from a tablecloth, and jumped to his feet.
"Come on, Porthos!" he urged the beagle, who, to his credit, had had the guts to disobey his order and had stood his ground barking furiously, ridiculous as that looked.
Once again they took off at a run. This Adventure had a capital A that was rather too large. Bloody hell, twice he had faced his greatest fear, not to mention death by an entire village of angry aliens. But dinosaurs? Okay, not really dinosaurs, he reminded himself as his heart reached the top floor in his chest. But close enough.
The sounds those creatures made were a lot more disagreeable than the Blockheads' din. The screeches were seriously grating on his already frayed nerves. Malcolm grimaced, wanting to cover his ears. His finger brushed the setting on his pistol. If stun had done virtually nothing, maybe... At the last moment, though, he held it back. He hadn't come into space to hurt innocent life forms, however large and bent on hurting him. It went against his principles and his orders.
Something hit him in the back and he found himself flying.
Good-bye, Admiral Reed. Seems you were right, after all…
Trip worked the levers of the transporter console, eyes flicking back and forth between them and the molecules that glimmered and faded, glimmered and faded, and didn't seem to want to solidify; then, slowly, they coalesced into familiar forms. As he blew out the breath he'd been holding, Archer burst onto the scene, followed by a much more composed T'Pol. The Captain had obviously found it impossible to wait on the Bridge, and had joined him at the transporter pad.
For a moment they all contemplated in silence the scene before their eyes: Porthos sat on the pad with his tongue dangling out, looking slightly puzzled; Malcolm had rematerialised in a weird, unbalanced position, not lying, not standing. Indeed, he fell on his rump, and looked down at himself, seemingly surprised to be in one piece. Then his eyes shifted to his surroundings, including Trip and Archer. Not without effort, he scrambled to his feet and stood more or less at attention.
"Lieu-" Archer began. A bark interrupted him.
Porthos jumped off the transporter platform and ran to his master, who put a firm lid on his pet's enthusiasm with a snappy command to sit that didn't promise well. The beagle obeyed with a whimper, but his tail kept tapping the deck plating quite vigorously in a display of canine happiness.
Having received a few dressing-downs himself, Trip spared the poor thing a sympathetic glance before returning his eyes to Malcolm. The man was wet and dishevelled, his clothes were torn and dirty, and the dark grease that covered his face and arms did nothing toward giving him a reassuring look. He also looked sore all over, but in front of his superiors had opted for the formal military stance.
"Lieutenant, are you all right?" Archer enquired, this time without interruptions. "At ease," he added in slight irritation.
Malcolm relaxed fractionally. "Yes, Sir, more or less, Sir," he stuttered.
Archer pulled his mouth into a lopsided smirk. "Well, you don't look it." He turned to Trip. "Take him to Sickbay. I'll be there shortly."
Trip nodded, and watched Archer leave, followed by his quadruped friend, very likely toward his quarters.
There was a clearing of the throat.
"Whom do I have to thank for my... timely removal?" Malcolm enquired.
Trip rushed to balance him as the man tentatively tackled the few steps that elevated the transporter pad above the floor.
Arms latched behind her back, T'Pol shifted on her feet. "As it is generally the case, Commander Tucker worked the transporter," she said.
"That's not what I meant," Malcolm groaned, a hand on his lower back.
"T'Pol noticed your biosigns were dangerously close to other, rather worrisome ones," Trip put in. "The rest goes without saying."
Malcolm blew out a slow breath. "Believe me, not a moment too soon." His face suddenly showed all of his tiredness. "Thank you both, then."
"Lieutenant," T'Pol asked, "Before then, Ensign Sato and I noticed your biosigns were close to those of several aliens. Did you… interfere with them?"
The small pause had been accompanied by a characteristic lift of the eyebrows and tilt of the head. Trip watched Malcolm swallow.
"Ah – just the tiniest bit, Subcommander."
"Come on," Trip said, leading the uncomfortable man along the corridor before T'Pol could ask what, exactly, Malcolm meant by the tiniest bit. "So, how were those dinosaurs?"
Archer had brought Porthos to his quarters where, away from prying eyes, he had finally allowed himself to check the dog thoroughly for any injuries. Then he had given the beagle a good scolding, which had predictably ended in a reconciliation that had involved a lot of petting and licking. But Archer's heart had still been encumbered, and he had left his quarters soon after entering them, headed for Sickbay.
Now, as he approached Phlox's domain, Archer found himself slowing down. Malcolm might have put up a good front, but had looked rather battered. What had happened was entirely his own fault, and he wasn't looking forward to seeing the consequences of his rash decision written out in capital letters on the Lieutenant's body. Nonetheless, it was his precise duty. He watched the Sickbay doors appear as he rounded the last bend, and inhaled deeply.
Sickbay was quiet. Malcolm was sitting – slumping, really – on a bio-bed, with Trip at the foot of it and Phlox near him. The doctor was reading something on his hand scanner. All three turned at the doors opening.
"Ah, Captain," Phlox said in acknowledgment, as Malcolm made an effort to sit straighter.
Archer nodded. "How's your patient?" he asked.
"Nothing more than bruises and scratches," Phlox replied chirpily.
Lots of bruises and scratches, Archer could see. Reed was bare-chested and bare-footed, and had changed out of his wet trousers into a pair of sweat pants Phlox must have provided. Archer knew he couldn't keep his feelings from his voice and eyes, but he didn't mind; he'd never been one to hide things, especially feelings. If they saw his worry, or even his guilt and regret, so be it. He was Human.
Phlox added, "I'll make a special salve. Good thing I kept the droppings of my Risan dragonhead lizards."
Archer watched the doctor move away in that bouncing step of his. Was it possible Phlox enjoyed himself, saying things like that? He chased the disturbing thought away and refocused on Malcolm, who was wincing – and definitely not because of his bruises.
"Permission to escape from Sickbay, Sir?" the man said, deadpan.
Archer felt a genuine chuckle bubble up, and let it out. It released that last knot of worry. When he turned serious again, things looked different from just a few minutes before.
"Sorry, Malcolm," he said.
"I was joking, Captain," Malcolm quickly put in. His eyebrows shot up. "I just hope the salve won't reek."
"I wouldn't bet on it," Trip said with a chuckle.
Archer's brow furrowed. "I meant I'm sorry about what you had to go through to bring Porthos back." He knew the Lieutenant didn't like to hear his captain apologise to him, but some things needed to be said. "The river, those aliens, those creatures, and all because-"
"Captain..." Malcolm uncharacteristically cut him off. He shifted self-consciously on the bio-bed. "This really isn't necessary," he said. "Rescue missions are part of my duties on board this ship."
Archer felt like pointing out that rescuing the captain's pet wasn't exactly written in his job description, but was certain Malcolm would find a way to confute even that.
"Porthos will have no cheese for a week," he said instead.
Trip's blue eyes smiled. "Beggin' your pardon, Capt'n, but you're the one who should get no cheese for a week. The poor little fella just followed his instincts."
Malcolm's mouth gaped at Trip's laid-back reprimand, making Archer smile. He knew the comment was nothing but a good-natured poke. "Yeah," he easily agreed. "It won't happen again."
Closing his jaw, Malcolm blurted out, "It was no problem, Sir. In fact..." He jerked his head sideways. "It was kind of fun."
"Ya got a weird concept of fun," Trip commented.
"There are worse ways to spend a day," Malcolm pointed out.
"Here you are, Mister Reed," Phlox said, coming back with a small bowl containing a dark green paste. "This will work miracles on your bruises. Twenty-four hours, and you'll be like new."
A faint smell of rotten potatoes encircled the Denobulan. Archer took a step back. Trip took two.
Malcolm sighed. "Much worse ways to spend a day."
And for those of you who are wondering... this was no entry for Drown Malcolm Month. That month definitely deserves a story of its own!
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