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Sink Or Swim

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Malcolm wasn’t happy.

There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, Captain Archer had approved shore leave on a planet that they’d barely explored. Who knew what dangers might be lurking unexpectedly?

And he hadn’t allowed any off duty personnel to bring firearms with them. In Malcolm’s opinion it was only a sensible precaution to carry some protection against the unknown, hardly a ‘contamination risk’. How likely was he to mislay a pistol?

He couldn’t decide if this mitigated his annoyance at being made to take shore leave himself. After all, at least he was combat trained if there were an emergency.

But of course Archer had been backed up by Commander Tucker in his insistence that Malcolm take some time off.

This annoyed Malcolm mostly because of his own inability to say no to Trip. If he had more resistance to those appealing blue eyes then he wouldn’t be in the predicament he was in now.

Which was the primary reason he was currently unhappy.

Trip had suggested they take a hike, which had seemed like a fine idea at the time, but now they were walking along a steep incline that dropped down into an ominously dark lake. Malcolm couldn’t keep his gaze from flickering to the deceptive waters, almost as if he feared they might reach up and drag him down.

“Hey.” Trip nudged his shoulder with his own. “Fancy a swim?”

Malcolm glared at him.

“No.”

“Aw come on. I see you looking. Bet it’d be nice an’ cool after that walk.”

“No,” Malcolm repeated, not inclined to explain anything further in his current bad mood. He forced his eyes forward and continued their walk. He felt a gentle shove and spun with far more anger than the action warranted.

“I said no Trip.”

Trip stared at him contemplatively.

“You need to lighten up Mal.”

“Don’t call me that,” he muttered, turning away mostly so Trip wouldn’t see the pleased flush that the diminutive caused.

Another playful shove brought him round with a growl.

“Stop it.”

There was a smile lurking round the corners of Trip’s mouth and a teasing look in his eyes.

“Or what?” he challenged, making another light push to the lieutenant’s shoulder.

Malcolm’s eyes narrowed and he determinedly pushed Trip away from him.

What happened next caught him by surprise.

He’d only meant to create some distance – to emphasise to his friend that he wasn’t in the mood for his games – but somehow Trip ended up stumbling sideways and disappearing from view over the precipice.

“Trip!” he yelled and darted to look over the edge just as he heard the splash below. There were ripples expanding from where the engineer had plummeted into the depths but no sign of the man.

“Trip!” he called again desperately. His eyes scanned the surface hoping, expecting, to see the blond head bob up somewhere but there was only gathering stillness. He heard his heart beat fast as his blood pounded and the words of his father echoed back to him.

“No son of mine will fail to learn to swim. Now, try again!”

Almost instinctively he responded to the remembered command. Without pausing for thought he dove off the side. The terror seized him mid-fall and he closed his eyes and seized a stuttering breath before the inky waters closed over him.

He fought his way to the surface and seized a lungful of air. In his mind he repeated a mantra over and over, similar to how he had learnt to distract himself as a child but now the words had changed.

“Find Trip. Find Trip. Find Trip.”

A barking sound broke his focus and he flinched away from his attempt to dive down into the water. Glancing round awkwardly he saw the familiar grinning face of Trip Tucker. The sound he’d heard was laughter.

His response was visceral and uncontrollable – panic. The laughter echoed off the rocky walls and rebounded from the pool surface, seeming to come at him from all sides. Liquid sloshed over and around him and he felt it splashing into his mouth. He tried instinctively to escape it, flailing at his insubstantial enemy as it tried to overwhelm him.

It wouldn’t stop coming at him, insistent and insidious. He knew he needed to focus, needed to co-ordinate himself, but how could he when it wouldn’t stop slapping at him?

“Malcolm! Mal!” Trip’s voice finally penetrated through the pounding in Reed’s head and he snapped his focus onto the concerned face of the engineer hovering close by, trying to reach for him.

Malcolm positively lurched for him, clutching desperately hard to the strong biceps and hauling himself closer. Trip fumbled for a moment, trying to organise his arms and Malcolm’s so he could support them both, and then Malcolm felt himself being pulled away.

He let Trip carry him but he couldn’t stop himself from jerking every time the waves rose up against him. Finally he was being hauled to his feet and he surged away from the mocking water and staggered as far as he could before falling to his knees and retching.

Only a little water and bile came up but his stomach didn’t seem to register there was nothing to void and it kept trying. His whole body reacted by violently shaking.

“Malcolm?”

A hand laid itself on his shoulder, startling him and he knocked it away before recognising his friend.

Horror seized him. Horror at the sensation of drowning he could still taste and horror at how pathetic he must seem to Tucker. Lieutenant Reed did the only thing he could.

He wrapped himself into a ball, squeezed his eyes shut and prayed for it all to go away.