Title: A Day at the Beach
Author: Joules Mer
Rating: PG
Date: Posted to Live Journal (joulesmer) October 29, 2004.
Disclaimer:  Enterprise is the property of Paramount.  This is merely my little parodical world.  No profit was, or will be, made from this fic.

    Trip looked up in surprise as the communicator he'd left on top of his folded clothes chirped at him.  "What the hell?"  He propped himself up on an elbow and tried to reach for the device without getting any sand on his towel.  He was only marginally successful.  Cursing inwardly he brushed himself off with one hand and flipped open the communicator with the other.  "Tucker."

    "Oh thank goodness."

    Trip frowned at the relieved voice emanating from the tiny speaker.  "Malcolm?"

    There was a near hysterical edge to Malcolm's voice which Trip wouldn't have thought to associate with the man before.  "Trip, I need your help.  There's been a bit of trouble."

    Trip's frown grew.  "Trouble?  I thought you were going to hang out at the hotel?"  If he were perfectly honest Trip would have to admit that he was still a bit disgruntled that Malcolm had chosen that over a day at the beach with him.

    "I did stay at the hotel, but there was an... incident.  This is my one phone call, so to speak."

    Trip felt his mouth fall open.  "Shit Malcolm!  You've been arrested?"

    "It's a long story, Trip, but you have to come.  They say they'll release me to an Enterprise crewmember."

    "Why didn't you call someone on Enterprise?  I'm at the beach.  I can't remember when I last got to spend a day at the beach."

    Malcolm sounded more panicked than ever.  "I couldn't have a subordinate come get me!  Think of how that would look."  Malcolm's voice took on an imploring tone that wasn't entirely unbecoming.  "Please, Trip.  I have no one else to contact and I need your help.  I'm locked up in a cell with the biggest, ugliest alien I've ever seen and I really don't like the way he's been eyeing me, if you know what I mean."  Trip could sympathize.  Part of the reason he'd been so disappointed when Malcolm had announced his plans was that he'd been hoping to spend the day at the beach with Malcolm.  Hopefully with a Malcolm wearing nothing more than his swim trunks.  That would have done wonders for the view.  "Please, Trip.  I'm at the fourth precinct detention centre.  There are signs pointing to it by the hotel."

    There was a click as the channel was severed at the other end.  Evidently someone had gotten tired of waiting for Malcolm to finish.  Trip glumly gathered up his clothes and belongings.  He knew what he had to do.

    It wasn't too long before Trip was back at the beach sporting a virtually seamless green bracelet on his left wrist.  In accordance with Thallatan law releasing Malcolm to Trip meant that he was now in charge of the lieutenant for the remainder of shore leave.  If either of them tried to remove the bracelets or if Malcolm got more than 200 meters from Trip the Thallatan law enforcement would show up and arrest them both.

    Once Malcolm was released Trip had dragged him back to the hotel for a change of clothes that was more beach worthy and some cream for the black eye that he refused to talk about.  Once they got to the beach Malcolm had revealed that he hadn't brought a bathing suit with him and proceeded to bury himself in a book for the first two hours.

    By that point Trip was fed up with the silent treatment from someone who he felt should be grateful to him.  In an effort to remove himself from the situation before he said something he regretted Trip went for another swim.  The ocean here was saltier than any he'd ever swum in on Earth and pleasantly warm.  He swam out into the rolling waves and dove underwater, delighting in the fact that after living in such close quarters with Enterprise's crew he was finally completely alone.  When he started getting tired he reluctantly headed back to shore.  As he towelled himself off and flopped down onto the blanket they'd brought from the hotel he looked around for Malcolm, wanting to ensure the other man didn't wander too far away.

    Malcolm was walking along the beach, a safe distance from the water's edge, poking at the Thallatan equivalent of shore crabs with a sort of vaguely academic interest.  As Trip watched the ocean suddenly reared up and a rogue wave rolled over what had previously been dry shore.  As Malcolm was knocked off balance and pulled into the water Trip laughed at how upset his friend was going to be about getting his clothes all wet.  Served him right for not bringing a swimsuit to the planet known for having the best beaches in five sectors. 

    As he continued to watch it dawned on him that something was wrong:  Malcolm wasn't swimming.  Trip stood up in surprise and spared a second to be sure he was seeing right.  Malcolm wasn't far from shore, but instead of swimming he just seemed to be thrashing violently.  Trip's legs started pumping on their own accord and he found himself running to the water, bellowing his friend's name as he did so.  His gait turned into skipping jumps when he entered the shallows and as soon as it was deep enough he dove.  It only took him a few firm strokes to get to Malcolm.  Trying to recall what people had said about how to handle panicking victims he got a firm hold on the other man and began hauling him to shore, wincing as he got an elbow to his ribs for his trouble.

    Trip had to manhandle Malcolm out of the water and onto the sand as what appeared to be panic rendered him uncooperative.  As soon as they were on dry land Malcolm pushed himself away from the other man and sank onto all fours as he threw up his lunch and no small amount of seawater.  Concerned and confused Trip knelt and gently put his hand on his friend's back.  "Malcolm?"  Instead of replying Malcolm gave a violent retch which only served to make Trip even more worried.  He ran his hand over the other man's back in what he hoped was a soothing gesture.  "Hey, hey.  Easy, Malcolm, it's okay."  As the heaves trailed off Trip was dismayed to discover just how much Malcolm was shaking.  "Malcolm?  Think you can get up?"  When his friend managed to nod Trip hauled him to his feet and threw an arm around him.  Malcolm's legs shook all the way back to the blanket.  When his friend collapsed into a sitting position Trip wrapped a spare towel around Malcolm's shoulders and pulled on a shirt before rummaging through his things until he found a bottle of water.

    He watched for a minute as Malcolm's trembling ceased and he visibly collected himself.  Once he was sure his friend would be able to drink without spilling Trip passed the bottle over.  Malcolm took it without comment and quickly rinsed his mouth out, grimacing at the salt and bile in his mouth.  That done he passed the bottle back to Trip and drew the towel more tightly around himself.  "Malcolm?  You going to be okay?"

    "I'm fine."

    Trip eyed his friend in disbelief.  Minute tremors were running through Malcolm's frame and he seemed to be bordering on shock.  "You don't really look fine, Malcolm."  Trip scooted over to sit closer to the other man.  "Should I contact the doc?"

    "No!"  Malcolm finally looked up and met his eyes.  "I just need a minute."

    Still somewhat dubious despite the reassurances Trip capitulated in spite of his worries.  "Okay, but let me know if you're not feeling better soon."

    "I will."  Shivering slightly, Malcolm went back to looking at the blanket while he plucked at the edge of his towel with nimble fingers.  Noticing the shiver Trip grabbed his own towel which was pretty dry and wrapped it around Malcolm as well.  When Malcolm didn't acknowledge the gesture Trip gently ran a hand over his friend's back.  Relieved to feel Malcolm lean into the gesture, Trip rubbed circles into his friend's back.  After a full minute Malcolm slowly looked up.  "I'm sorry about that."

    Trip bit his lower lip at the defeated tone.  "Can you tell me what that was all about?"

    A slight flush stained Malcolm's cheeks.  "I... I panicked."

    Trip didn't stop his hand's motion over Malcolm's back.  "I know.  Can you tell me why?"

    Malcolm flushed even more.  "I'm afraid of drowning.  Morbidly afraid."

    Trip frowned.  "Aquaphobia?"  Malcolm could only nod.  "Damn, Malcolm."  Trip slid even closer to his friend.  Remembering how Travis and Hoshi had tried to persuade Malcolm to go diving with them he questioned, "Does anyone know?"

    "The captain knows."  Malcolm caught the slightly hurt look that flitted over Trip's face.  "I never intended to tell him.  Some things come up when you've got part of a mine through your leg, are completely drugged up, and don't think you're going to live."  Malcolm went back to plucking at a loose thread on his towel.  "Besides him, just my family."

    Trip's hand stilled as he remembered a conversation he'd had with the captain shortly after Malcolm's birthday.  "Is that why you don't get along with your folks?"

    Malcolm was startled into looking up.  "What?"

    "When the captain called your folks your dad didn't seem to like the idea that you were in Starfleet, and he said they didn't even know your favourite food."  Trip shifted awkwardly, afraid he might have crossed the line into things Malcolm didn't want to talk about.  "And when we were in the Shuttlepod you recorded that letter to them that implied you hadn't heard from them since you were posted to Enterprise."

    "Is that how you see me?  As some tortured soul whose father won't talk to him simply because he joined Starfleet instead of the navy?"

    When Malcolm phrased it like that Trip felt a little ridiculous.   Noticing the chagrined expression his friend was sporting Malcolm took pity and tried to explain.  "I didn't really know I liked pineapple until I was at university and started taking medication that would let me eat it.  They'd found out about my allergy when I was a child so I'd always avoided it.  I was raised eating whatever was put on my plate and complimenting my mother when I was finished.  That's just what Madeline and I did.

    "When I was posted to Enterprise they were in the process of moving to Malaysia.  My aunt got the new address wrong when she forwarded it to me."  Malcolm gave a wry chuckle.  "It turns out I was writing to an elderly lady who doesn't speak English.  It was only when she got a fourth letter from me that she had her grandson send a reply.  Until then she'd just been deleting them."  He shifted to lean against his friend without even realizing he was doing so.  "I won't pretend to have a wonderful relationship with my father.  As a young man he was very focussed on his career, and he didn't really understand that being a father is a full time job.  My father thought he could have a close family while being on tour most of the time."  Malcolm shook his head ruefully.  "I was a shy child and he was never very good at expressing affection."

    Trip frowned slightly, finally understanding where his friend might be coming from.  "That's not the best combination."

      "No.  I was too shy around him to ask for a hug when I needed one, and he didn't really know how to show someone that he cared about them.  He was away a lot, and always a bit distant when he did come home.  There's always been an..."  Malcolm fumbled for a word to express his relationship with his father.  "Awkwardness between us."  He let his head tilt sideways and rest on Trip's shoulder.  "He still cares for me, though.  In his own way."  A smirk twisted the corner of Malcolm's mouth upwards.  "That's probably why he was so curt with the poor captain.  Ever since he found out he's been a bit overprotective of me."

    "Found out about the aquaphobia?"

    "Not exactly."  Malcolm continued with what seemed like a non sequitur to Trip.  "The navy has very strict regulations about sexual harassment for ages.  He'd have trusted it to look out for me.  To keep a senior officer from taking advantage of me.  My name might have helped as well if anything had happened.  My grandfather was actually a reasonably distinguished admiral in his time.  Starfleet on the other hand is very young in comparison, and when you ship out into deep space you can't really come home if things get unpleasant."

    Trip's eyes widened as he realized what Malcolm might be getting at.  "You mean?"

    "There's such a stigma about homophobia these days, but that doesn't change how some people feel.  Sometimes it's easier to pretend you're the stereotypical straight guy than risk a subtle ostracism, and when you're playing that game the truth about you can be fairly strong blackmail material."

    "I know what you mean."  The words popped out of Trip's mouth before he realized what he was saying.

    Malcolm twisted sideways slightly to get a view of his friend's face.  "You know what I mean?

    Trip kept his gaze on the breaking waves.  "I might."

    "But all the women?"

    "Doesn't mean I don't appreciate a nice guy."

    "Oh."  Malcolm felt the arm that had somehow wound up around him give a gentle squeeze.  "Oh."

    When his friend didn't reply Trip started to pull his arm back.  "Sorry, Malcolm.  I shouldn't have..."
    "No.  It's fine."  Malcolm fumbled with the towels for a moment before managing to take Trip's hand in his own, holding it in place on his shoulder.  He relaxed against the body pressed to his side.  "You just surprised me."

    They sat like that as the Thallatan sun began to set, neither sure how they should proceed.  When the light had noticeably faded into twilight a light breeze came up, ruffling their hair and causing Malcolm to shiver in his still damp clothes.  Trip carefully disentangled himself and stood, pulling Malcolm up as he did so.  "Come on, it's getting cold.  We'd best get back to the hotel so you can clean off and get changed." 

    Malcolm nodded and attempted to brush off the sand that still clung to his legs while Trip packed up their things.  They walked back to the hotel in silence, Malcolm reflecting that it was a good thing their rooms were next to each other, otherwise they'd have had to go to the trouble of booking new ones in order to keep the bracelets from going off.

    "It wasn't until they were almost at their rooms that Trip broke the silence.  "So how'd you wind up being arrested?"

    Malcolm gave a wry smile, wincing a little as it moved the abused flesh around his right eye.  "I was having lunch in that cafe that overlooks the wildlife preserve.  There was a rather attractive Risan at the bar who I got to talking with.  He implied he was single so I made a bit of a pass at him.  Unfortunately, his rather large boyfriend had wandered in and only heard my little overture.  He grabbed my shirt and punched me right in the face."  Malcolm clenched and unclenched his fist at the memory.  "So I broke his nose.  That's when hotel security showed up and called the authorities.  I was allowed to be released to you because witnesses said I wasn't the instigator."

    "Huh.  That's..."  Trip shook his head at what the scene must have looked like.  "That's quite a little shore leave story you've got there."  They stopped at Malcolm's door and Trip cleared his throat before saying, "You know that restaurant on the upper mezzanine?"

    "Yes."  He'd walked by it a few times, but never gone in because it was far too nice a place to eat in alone.

    "Can I take you to dinner there tonight?"

    Malcolm stopped with his door half open and turned to his friend, attempting to gauge the look on his face before replying softly, "I'd like that."

    Trip smiled warmly.  "It's a date."