Diversions & Digressions | fanfiction by mara

A Man and His Socks

A Man and His Socks

by Mara

Summary: When Trip and Malcolm set out to rescue two crewmates from the Tandarans, things go from sublime to ridiculous.

NOTES: This is a response to a Challenge in a Can from the Linguistics Database.
For once, revealing the challenge in advance won’t ruin the story: it was
Trip/ache/socks. Tremendous thanks to Jane, Taryn, and Kim of the
Entwritebrigade, who made some fabulous suggestions to improve my highly
mediocre first draft, and generally inspired me to do a complete rewrite. Kim,
Taryn, and Ozchick then made more fabulous suggestions when I got stuck on the
second draft, which I (to my detriment, I’m sure) chose to ignore. I can only
hope the end product was worth the wait! Thanks to Captain Average for the beta
and the EWB for encouragement.

* * * * *

Hoshi made a face as she looked down at Trip’s feet. His boots were long gone
and he was left in a pair of socks; socks that she was certain had been both
clean and blue at the beginning of his away mission, earlier in the day.

Trip lay slumped in the chair, a pile of abject misery. She couldn’t decide
whether to hug him or slap him, so she settled for a question. “You’ve been to
Sickbay, right?”

“Yes,” the pile of misery muttered. “Doc said the pain shot’ll kick in any day
now. I’ll just lie here and ache until then.”

“Get out of that dirty uniform, and you can take a shower.” She closed her mouth
before “see, I told you so” could emerge.

Trip groaned.

“How about starting with your socks?” She held her breath as she knelt in front
of him and tentatively reached for the clothing in question.

She peeled the ripped, multicolored, and odiferous cotton off his feet. When she
let go of each foot, it dropped back to the floor, a rag doll’s limb.

“I’m gonna frame those socks,” Trip said.

“You *must* be kidding.” Even held between the tips of her fingers, as far away
as she could reach, the socks were still truly vile.

“Not kidding at all. You can see a map of everything that happened on those
socks. They’re better than a mission report.” Trip managed to lift his head, but
it quickly drooped back down.

“Certainly they’re smellier than a mission report.” Hoshi stared at the socks,
then at her weary lover. She tried to resist, but… “What *did* happen?”

Trip dragged himself out of the chair and slowly started to peel off his
uniform. “Well, it all started when those Tandarans grabbed the Captain and
T’Pol. We nearly got caught ourselves and we would’ve if Malcolm hadn’t been
looking in just the right direction at just the right time. When he dragged me
under the table, I thought he was nuts, but we got outta the room when the Cap’n
and T’Pol went down. When we realized the comms were blocked, we knew we were in
trouble.”

As his bruised and battered body slowly emerged from his filthy uniform, Hoshi
winced. “How did you lose your boots?” She carefully put the socks on the desk
and lay down on their bunk where she could see–but not smell–them.

Trip limped toward the shower, leaving the door open so he could continue the
story.

“Okay, picture this: We’re being ushered into the government building. It’s a
bright sunny day…”

* * * * *

Trip smiled as they strode down corridors filled with late afternoon light,
which streamed through small windows set high in every outside wall. (Malcolm
muttered something uneasy about arrow slits, causing the Captain to chuckle and
T’Pol to frown at him.)

The brightly painted walls sparkled and everything was smiles and cotton candy,
and fetes in their honor as night slowly fell. Trip wasn’t paying much
attention, though, he was too busy coming up with ways to apologize to Hoshi
when he got back to the ship.

That was when the Tandarans struck, taking Captain Archer and T’Pol in moments,
leaving Trip and Malcolm fleeing in unfamiliar territory.

At night, few of those previously bright hallways were lit by artificial means–
making them slightly sinister, filled with shadows that Trip expected to turn
into weapon-wielding villains at any moment. He tried to creep silently behind
Malcolm, but every time he took a step, his boots squeaked.

Finally, Malcolm stopped and turned, pointing at his feet. Trip blinked at his
crewmate and then shrugged his confusion. Malcolm pointed more vehemently and
Trip stared at him. He couldn’t possibly be suggesting…Trip mimed pulling off
a boot and groaned internally at the emphatic nod he got in response.

Glaring at his teammate, he pulled off his boots, and when Malcolm nodded in
satisfaction, they resumed their creep through the building. The stone was
slippery beneath his feet, and he had to resist a terrible urge to start skating
instead of walking. Hoshi would probably say it was his inability to take
anything seriously.

Loud voices–Trip flinched. Malcolm dragged Trip out of the hallway into a small
room. They pressed themselves against a wall and held their breath as a group of
Tandarans tramped down the hallway past them. When all was silent again, they
ventured out of their hiding place.

Trip hoped that Malcolm knew where they were, because he’d lost track about five
turns back. His world narrowed to Malcolm in front of him, moving, slowing,
stopping, looking around. He shifted his boots to his right hand, and tried not
to worry about what the Tandarans might be doing to Jon and T’Pol.

BAM! something slammed into Trip, throwing him against a wall, momentarily
stunning him. The boots dropped to the floor and Trip brought his hands up to
struggle with the shadowy figure pinning him. A few feet away, Malcolm grunted
as he struggled with his own attacker.

Trip yelped as a boot whacked into his bare ankle, a hot spike of agony shooting
up his leg. Grabbing the arms pushing against him, he slammed the Tandaran
against the wall. The attacker yanked Trip’s left arm, nearly pulling it out of
its socket, and Trip slugged him with his right.

But the angle was bad, and the Tandaran immediately kicked him, knocking him
across the hall. Trip bounced off-balance against a corner, hitting the floor
with a thud. Before Trip could get back up, Malcolm took out the alien with a
well-placed punch, followed by a kick in the gut. Without a pause, Malcolm
grabbed the now-unconscious man and dragged him toward a closet.

* * * * *

“Malcolm didn’t have to step in, I almost had him,” Trip told Hoshi, yelling
over the splashing of the shower.

Hoshi shook her head at the defensive tone. “Then what?”

“We lit outta there like bats outta hell and we were who knows how far when I
realized I’d left m’damn boots behind.” There was more splashing and some
spluttering, probably Trip scrubbing his face. “I couldn’t exactly go back, so
we kept moving.”

She looked over at the socks. “Is that when they got the holes?”

“Oh no, that was later.” The sound of the water changed and Hoshi frowned until
she realized Trip was rinsing off and had stuck his head in the stream. “That
was when I got the yellow and green stains.”

* * * * *

Running, ducking, hiding. Trip groaned as he staggered along behind Malcolm; he
was getting damn tired of this. Shouts heralded the discovery of their
unconscious pursuers, and they ran faster.

The blood pounded in his ears, a drumbeat of worry and a backbeat to his gasping
breaths; when the Captain and T’Pol were snatched, Trip was so surprised, it
didn’t occur to him how serious a situation they were in.

But now, as they ran, Trip realized he had a decision to make. If they made it
back to the shuttle, they could try to get back to Enterprise, or they could
launch their own rescue mission.

And why the hell was he stuck with this decision? This was definitely not why he
joined Starfleet. He was pretty sure that he’d had a lot more exploration and a
lot less running in mind. Maybe Hoshi’d had a point when she said–

Trip hissed in pain as he bumped a flailing elbow against a piece of protruding
statuary. Time to pay attention to more immediate problems, he told himself,
like not getting killed.

They rounded corners without even looking first, and when Malcolm skidded to a
stop, it surprised Trip. Caught up in the attempt to slow down, his feet slid on
the slick stone surface, and he slammed into a ladder, stepping backwards smack
dab onto a drop cloth covered in blobs of thick paint.

Trip stared down in dismay at his socks, now covered in green and yellow spots
to match the freshly painted walls.

“Redecorating?” he growled. Malcolm just shook his head and they leapt over the
drop cloth to dash down a side hallway.

The turns and halls blurred together: a left, another left, a right, a long hall
filled with construction supplies, a right, a right…

When a door appeared in front of them, it might have been a mirage to a thirsty
man: a small, almost invisible door that led out into elaborate gardens.

They staggered–at least, Trip staggered–across a gravel path into a quieter
patch of shrubbery, and began to wend their way toward where they had left the
shuttle. Trip closed his eyes and briefly hoped against hope that nobody had
managed to break into the shuttle, then cursed as he stepped on something sharp
and prickly.

Malcolm put his finger to his lips at the noise. Trip just glared back, trying
to silently remind the man that *he* wasn’t the one running around with no boots
on. Their movement continued, Trip checking the ground beneath his feet a bit
more carefully when possible. This enabled him to avoid tripping over some sort
of short hedge and narrowly miss crushing a lacy confection of a plant that
moved itself aside as they thumped through.

Trip almost laughed at the bizarre juxtaposition of the gardens–which he
vaguely remembered from earlier in the day as quite lovely–with their flight.
Hurtling over a low bed of spiky orange flowers into a thicket, they continued
on their way. The moonlight was just enough for them to keep from falling over,
but not much more. Trip figured the gardens would probably be very romantic, if
he weren’t on the run, of course.

He could hear their pursuers, but thankfully they seemed to be nowhere nearby.
Distant shouts–and even some weapons fire–kept them moving.

Just as Trip was starting to wonder if they were lost, he spied a spear of rock
that looked familiar. Hadn’t they passed it on their way to the suggested
meeting place?

Malcolm seemed to agree, as he paused by the rock, apparently to get his
bearings, then pointed. Trip grinned as he recognized a tall plant that T’Pol
had stopped to inspect. The shuttle couldn’t be farther than a few hundred
meters or so.

Relieved, Trip grinned as they turned the last corner and beheld the beautiful
sight of the clearing containing Shuttlepod One. He nearly ran down Malcolm as
the other man came to a screeching halt halfway across the clearing.

“What?”

“That.”

Malcolm pointed at the ground and Trip stared at the extraordinary sight of a
pack of small animals rooting around in the ground between the men and the
shuttle. They looked rather like squirrels, small, dark, and furry, with big
fluffy tails. They ceased their activity and looked up at Trip and Malcolm, eyes
wide and shining in the light of two moons.

Trip opened his mouth to say ‘Aw, how cute,’ but before the words left his lips,
the squirrels bared teeth shinier than their eyes and leapt at them.

* * * * *

Trip came out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist, and another
being used to dry his hair. He still looked bruised, but now that the grime had
been washed off, he looked slightly less disreputable.

As he dug through a drawer for some off-duty clothing, a choking Hoshi finally
managed to speak. “You were attacked by alien squirrels?”

“Go ahead and laugh. The Cap’n already did and I’m pretty sure even Phlox had a
good chuckle.”

* * * * *

Trip stared in momentary disbelief as the small animals scampered toward them,
teeth bared and pointy. He fell back a step as some of those teeth gouged into
his leg, ripping a hole in his uniform and scraping across his calf. “Ow! Damn
it!” He felt blood seep through his sock, a warm trickle cutting across the
pain.

More teeth ripped into his foot, shredding the upper part of one sock, and Trip
kicked at the little beast trying to subdue his foot. It fell back a few feet,
hooting loudly. Beside him, Trip could see Malcolm kicking and stomping as well.
Soon, the hooting and screeching of the creatures drowned out Malcolm’s low
cursing, and the animals had all dropped back to watch them.

Wincing with pain, Trip eyed them as they seemed to consider their next move; in
that moment of indecision, Malcolm howled and took an aggressive step forward,
swinging his leg. That was enough, the squirrels scattered for parts unknown,
leaving the path to the shuttle clear.

Trip’s jaw dropped as he looked at Malcolm, but all he got in return was pursed
lips and a bland expression. “Shall we?” Malcolm asked, waving at the shuttle.

“Oh yeah.”

Running for the hatch, Trip punched in the code for the lock faster than he ever
remembered doing it before, they jumped in and closed it behind them.

Trip leaned against the inside of the hatch, taking a moment to revel in his
natural habitat: sleek lines, flashing lights, much-loved machinery.

“Your orders, Commander?” Malcolm’s voice dragged him out of that happy moment.

“Damn.” Trip moved to check the comm, hoping to avert the impending decision by
getting help from Enterprise.

“Escape or rescue?”

Malcolm rummaged for supplies, and Trip looked up from the hopelessly jammed
comm in time to catch the medkit thrown at him. Turning away, Malcolm opened
panels all over the shuttle to reveal knives, a phase pistol, and several
objects Trip couldn’t immediately identify.

“Never hurts to be prepared,” Malcolm said without turning.

“Yeah. Speaking of which, I don’t suppose you stashed any *boots* in this
shuttle, did you?”

“No, I’m afraid that never occurred to me. You’ll just have to muddle along.”

“Okay.” Trip took a deep breath. “We go get ’em.”

“Good.” Malcolm’s fierce grin slid across his face so fast, it was almost
undetectable. “Then let’s get out of here before one of our pursuers figures out
where we are.”

“Consider us gone. But next time, I’m bringing boots.”

“Along with alcohol, extra water…soon the shuttle will be too full to carry
passengers.” Malcolm grinned as he opened the shuttle door and Trip grabbed the
scanner out of his hands.

The darkness and damp of the planet’s night seemed even less welcoming after the
shuttle, which had an air of home about it.

“Hey, if the shuttle’s full, then maybe you and I can get through a whole week
without one or both of us getting hurt.”

“Hmm, a subtle but clever plan.” Malcolm’s quiet voice was absent-minded as he
kept one eye on the path ahead and also looked over Trip’s shoulder at the
scanner. “Sounds like a plan Hoshi would approve of.”

Trip looked at him. “Has she been saying something to you…” The scanner caught
his attention and he grimaced. “Somebody’s coming this way. Let’s go.” As they
started to run, Trip sent a quick prayer up to whoever it was that watched over
fools and children.

* * * * *

Hoshi curled up against Trip’s shoulder, trying to avoid the obviously injured
bits. She was still annoyed with him, but she had to touch him, and prove that
he’d returned more or less in one piece.

“That’s holes and reddish-brown patches,” she said, nuzzling her cheek against
his neck. “What damage did you do to your socks next?”

“Let’s see, next were those brownish-black stains on the left sock.”

“They aren’t-”

“No. We were creeping around when I heard a kind of ‘sploosh.'”

She blinked and lifted her head enough to see if he was teasing her. “Sploosh?”

“Softer than a splash but louder than a squish.”

“Oh.”

* * * * *

The moon was obscured behind clouds now, which made movement more difficult.
Trip was annoyed at how sure-footed Malcolm seemed to be, even in the darkness,
and he spared a moment to wonder how the other man did it.

Biting back a curse as he stumbled over yet another small rock, Trip tried to
stay upright and find a clear path to his goal.

The lack of light began to press on Trip, the humidity filling his lungs,
creating an almost smothering feeling. He swallowed and focused on what was
important: finding the Captain and T’Pol and getting the heck off this planet
and back to Hoshi.

It was difficult, though, to ignore the general creepiness of wandering around
an alien planet in the dark, with the possibility of being jumped by the bad
guys any moment. Heck, the scanner was having trouble distinguishing animals
from dangerous lifeforms. The Tandarans could be right behind them with night
vision goggles and he’d have no way to know. What if–

SPLOOSH!

Trip groaned as he looked down at his left foot, buried up to the ankle in slime
that felt like warm tapioca pudding. As he lifted his foot out, the oozing and
dripping was one of the most disgusting things Trip had ever felt.

He took a step forward and groaned at the squish of slime under his feet.

Malcolm’s face was difficult to see as he turned to look at Trip–but his mouth
seemed to be twitching in amusement. “Be quiet, Yank,” he said, “or I’ll leave
you behind next time.”

“You’re welcome to, ’cause I’m not having a whole hell of a lotta fun on away
missions any more.”

Malcolm just shook his head and they turned back to the hunt. Each step with his
left foot was like stepping on a greasy sponge, and Trip took a moment to dream
of being clean and dry, and in bed with Hoshi.

Squelch. Squelch. Trip wondered if this was ever going to end. Maybe he was
never going to get back to Hoshi. Maybe he was the Flying Southerner, doomed to
forever squelch through the forests of this planet, appearing now and then to
weary travelers…

Intent on his morbid musings, Trip was surprised when he realized they were
closing in on their goal. “They’re being held not far ahead.” Trip handed the
scanner to Malcolm. “So, oh tactical genius, what’s the plan?” He leaned against
a tree and peered through the darkness at his feet.

Malcolm studied the scanner for a few long moments. “It seems that Colonel Grat
doesn’t want the general population to suspect that anything is wrong, because
this building is lightly guarded.”

At that, Trip’s eyebrows shot up. “Isn’t this the part where I say, ‘It’s easy.
Too easy’?”

“You’ve been watching too many movies. Besides, it’s my job to be paranoid.”
Most of Malcolm’s attention was focused on the scanner.

While Trip tried to ignore the feeling of slime dripping down the side of his
foot and undoubtedly causing horrible infections in his scratches, Malcolm
rummaged through the supplies they’d grabbed. “I’ve got a plan,” he said
finally. “We’re only missing one thing, which we’ll have to improvise.”

“What, you want me to build you another phase pistol outta rocks and leaves? I’m
good, but I’m not that good.”

One side of Malcolm’s mouth quirked in a half-smile. “No, but do you think you
can rustle up something to use as a tripwire? It seems appropriate.”

“Funny.” Trip blinked, then looked down at his feet. “Oh, what the hell.” He
yanked off the unslimed sock and started to pick at the holes left from the
squirrel attack.

“What are you…oh, string. Very good, Commander. Now we’ve got to lure the
guards away from the Captain and the Sub-commander, so here’s the plan…”

It took them 15 minutes to set up. At the end of that time, Trip was crouched in
a bush just outside one of the two entrances to the building.

He peered through the near-darkness at the small outbuilding, which only
contained a few rooms if the scanner was to be believed. Small windows set high
in the wall–just as in the building they’d been in earlier–let out a few
spears of light.

From his position under the shrubbery (which insisted on dropping hard seeds
down his back) Trip could hear two guards in conversation.

“So, I haven’t had leave in six months, and it’s all that dralach’s fault,” one
said. Trip snickered a bit at the translator’s refusal to give him a direct
translation of what was obviously an obscenity. Maybe if Hoshi ever forgave him
for this morning’s argument, she’d translate it for him.

“And the food on this mission is the worst,” the other guard responded.

Trip shook his head at the universality of military service, and was momentarily
sorry for what they were about to do. Then, he remembered what the Captain
looked like the last time he’d been in Tandaran hands; anger washed away both
his amusement and discomfort as he strained to hear Malcolm’s signal.

A hooting echoed from the other side of the building, and Trip counted to 10
slowly before opening his mouth for a resounding shout.

“Olly olly oxen free!” Before he’d even finished shouting, he was taking off
around the building, and he could hear guards piling out of the building behind
him.

He pounded around the corner, taking a big leap at the last moment before diving
into nearby bushes. Malcolm yanked him out of the way and handed him a knife.

The Tandaran guards came piling around the corner and Trip held his breath as
their sounds of pursuit turned into sounds of surprise and falling. Malcolm
poked his head and phase pistol out from behind his bush and carefully stunned
every flailing limb in the pile.

Within moments, all the Tandarans lay still. Malcolm looked up. “Olly olly oxen
free?”

“It’s all I could think of. Besides, this plan is a bit weird, anyway, doncha
think?”

“It worked.” Malcolm shrugged. “I suspect the Captain might not be pleased if we
killed too many Tandarans getting him out. Speaking of which, shall we?”

Trip quadruple-checked the scanner. “Okay, I think there’s one more guard.
Problem is, he’s standing right next to the Captain and T’Pol, and he’s probably
getting pretty anxious right about now.”

“Implement Plan B.”

“Is that the technical term?”

“Shut up, Commander.”

“Watch that insubordination,” Trip grumbled, following the other man.

Phaser in one hand and scanner in the other, Malcolm led the way inside the
building. Trip winced as the cold stone floors met his wet and slimy feet.
Squelching unhappily down the hall, he followed Malcolm toward their crewmates.

* * * * *

“Well?” Hoshi lifted her head when Trip fell silent. “Then what happened?”

“The rest was anticlimactic. Malcolm jumped into the room, shot the last guard,
and we rescued the Captain and T’Pol.”

She stared at him for a moment. “All that, and nothing happened at the end?
You’re kidding, right?”

He shook his head. “How’d you guess? No, that’s not the end. We got back to the
shuttle and when I was a few steps away, I discovered that our little squirrel
friends–I think–had left a present. That’s the brownish stain on the right
sock.”

“You mean…”

“Oh yeah, you didn’t think I could run around the entire planet without stepping
in a pile of animal poop, did you?”

“Oh, dear.”

“Uh huh. Really, the worst part was how nobody wanted to sit next to me on the
shuttle. You think I can install a little shower on the shuttle pods? Anyway,
why doesn’t this stupid stuff ever happen to Malcolm? He gets speared by mines
and I get animal poop.”

The joke fell flat and Trip seemed to realize it as soon as the words were out
of his mouth, but it wasn’t fast enough.

Hoshi rolled out of the bunk, pacing to the other side of the room.

“Hoshi, I’m sorry.”

She didn’t turn around, just crossed her arms and breathed in deeply. In front
of her, the wall was decorated with an assortment of photos–a birthday present
from Trip. He’d arranged them in chronological order, from an early shot of the
crew to their most recent shore leave together.

As she stared at a picture of herself, arms thrown around a startled and
delighted Trip, she felt his warmth behind her. Sensibly, he didn’t touch her.
“Darlin’?” he said.

“I told you not to go,” she said.

“I know, and–”

“I told you not to go, because you’re the chief engineer and this was a
diplomatic mission.”

“Yes, you’re–”

“Be quiet and let me finish!” She turned in time to see his mouth snap shut. “Do
you know what happens when every single one of the senior officers is down on
the planet? We’re left with nobody in charge. What kind of idiotic organization
leaves nobody in charge?”

He opened his mouth and she glared at him. He closed it.

“I told you not to go because I’m tired of you coming back hurt. You dismissed
my arguments. You condescended to me. I *hate* when you do that!”

Shamefaced, he looked away and she felt a flush of triumph.

“You just get in trouble and nearly get yourself killed and–”

So intent was she on her rant, that she was surprised when his lips closed on
hers, and his arms encircled her. She started to struggle, getting an elbow into
his ribs, but when he winced, she froze.

It was hard to maintain her annoyance when he was kissing her, and by the time
he lifted his head, she had trouble remembering what she’d been saying.

Instead of the smirk she was expecting, his face was serious. “It was the only
way I could think of to stop you.”

“Trip, I–”

“Wait, it’s my turn. I’m sorry. I’m sorry we fought this morning. I’m sorry you
thought I was condescending. I’m sorry we scared you. I’m sorry it’s dangerous
out here.”

She slid her arms around him, leaning her head against his shoulder–he smelled
humid, a kind of soapy rainforest.

“I thought about you practically the whole time I was down there, and how I
wished I was here with you.”

“You weren’t thinking about your socks?” she teased.

“Well, them too. But I’d rather they were totally destroyed than the rest of
me.”

“Me too.” Hoshi held him as tightly as she dared, considering how battered he’d
looked. “Just promise you’ll try not to put yourself in more danger than
necessary.”

“I’ll do my best.” He stroked her hair. “So, can I frame the socks now?”

–end–

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