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The next leg of their transport was a short one and soon they were driving to Malcolm's house along some of the cleanest, most modern roads that Trip had ever seen. And the vehicle that Malcolm had rented - that vehicle was sweet, all smooth lines and gleaming silver. Definitely the latest tech, and Trip could tell that Malcolm was enjoying being in the driving seat as they took curves just slightly faster than Trip would have preferred.
As they rounded one particularly nasty turn and began to pick up speed along a long straightaway, Trip noticed that they'd left the city of Kota Bharu behind and entered an area of fields, short wooden houses on stilts, and palm trees.
"Is that a rice field?" Trip asked as they sped past.
Malcolm glanced over and nodded.
"You like driving fast?" Trip said, laughing slightly as the vehicle picked up even more speed.
Malcolm didn't even look at him. He just smiled.
In moments they pulled up a long, gravely path. A driveway, Trip realised when Malcolm stopped the vehicle, shutting it down as dust swirled around them. Trip looked up and saw a large house with a huge veranda above him. It was framed against the bright blue sky, and half hidden by the surrounding trees. The wooden shutters were closed. It looked like no one was home.
Malcolm sprang out of the vehicle and, leaving his bags behind, ran up the stairs, taking two at a time, and started entering a code into the lock. As the door opened, Malcolm turned back to him with a happy grin, and Trip, still in the car, couldn't help but return it.
"We finally arrive, and my parents are away," Malcolm said from beside the comm. "They said that they'll be back tomorrow..." Malcolm's voice trailed off as he started paging through the mail, and Trip took the opportunity to look around. It was a large, open room, done up fairly simply. Trip was surprised - he supposed he'd expected something more fussy, or Naval, or something, but this place was nice.
His thoughts were interrupted when Malcolm looked up at him and smiled. "Since I'd expected that we'd spend today with my parents, I have nothing planned."
"Wanna go get a beer or something?" Trip asked.
Malcolm frowned slightly. "This area is governed by Islamic law."
"So?" Trip asked.
"No pubs, Trip. And restaurants are pretty much going to be closed because of Ramadan."
Trip yawned. "It's cool hanging out here." He ran a hand across his eyes. "I'm tired anyway. Long day."
Malcolm looked apologetic. "Sorry. I'd told you it was a bit of a trip."
"Nah, I wanted to come."
Malcolm nodded towards the screen on the wall. "Want to watch a game?"
Trip smiled broadly. "Sure, what've you got?"
Trip woke to soft light coming through the closed blinds, the glow of the monitor lightening the room. Glancing at the chronometer, he started in shock: 05:00. He'd slept through until morning.
He looked over at Malcolm, who was sitting on other side of couch, asleep. Slumped to the side against the armrest with his feet curled up beside him, his friend looked younger in sleep. Peaceful. Then he snored, and Trip rolled his eyes.
Careful not to wake Malcolm, Trip stood, stretching the stiffness of hours out of his spine. He moved to the back door and stepped outside into the soft pre-dawn light. Standing there on the low porch, he took in the greenery around him through sleep-blurred eyes. Malaysia certainly didn't look like home. Sure, Florida had its jungley bits - after all, it was sub-tropical - but this place, this place was practically rainforest.
Hearing the babble of a brook nearby, he stepped off the porch and, picking a path at random, started walking. The path wound its way from Malcolm's house and past that of the neighbours before it threaded through some trees. The water sounds got closer and suddenly there were flutters, soft ruffles of blue and yellow at his feet, and he realised that they were butterflies, dozens and dozens of them, covering the rocks lining the path, and just beyond them, the water itself. He sat down on a large, broad rock brook-side. Legs tucked up under chin, arms wrapped around them, he propped his head on his knees, listening to the sounds of the water and rejoicing in the blessed morning cool.
A few minutes later he felt Malcolm sit beside him, their shoulders brushing as the other man settled. Trip could feel the warmth of Malcolm along his arm and, averting his face so that Malcolm couldn't see it, he smiled.
"Nothing very American in here, I'm afraid," Malcolm said, his face hidden by the fridge door. He peered around it. "I could probably rustle up some kon loh mi or roti. Maybe some tea or coffee."
"Kon lo..." Trip tried to repeat.
"Tossed noodles," Malcolm said, closing the fridge. "Traditional breakfast."
"Doesn't sound very British."
"We aren't in Britain," Malcolm replied.
"Yes, I had actually noticed that," Trip said, waving a hand toward the view out the French doors. "Roti will be fine, and coffee."
They shared their breakfast on the porch, easing into the day, Trip asking Malcolm random questions about Malaysia, his family, the butterflies he'd seen earlier - everything and nothing.
Trip waved a fork at Malcolm. "So, your sister is..."
Malcolm pushed away his plate and leaned back in his chair. "Married. Kids. England."
"And your parents moved back here because..."
"Retirement. Memories, maybe. Nostalgia."
Trip was beginning to see a pattern here. So he tried another question. "So, what are our plans for the day?"
Malcolm smiled. "Beer. Food. Television."
Trip let his smile match Malcolm's. "So, are you going to answer all my questions like that?"
"Pardon?" Malcolm asked, obviously trying, and failing, to look innocent.
Before Trip could joke back, there was a burst of noise from the house next door.
"Celebration's starting," Malcolm said, pushing away from the table and standing. "Go on out front. I'll meet you there in a minute."
Trip watched from the balcony as the kids next door played with sparklers, moving them in circles as embers dripped. He draped his arms along the railing and watched as they laughed and ran, bits of light trailing out behind them.
He felt more than saw Malcolm slip into position beside him. "Here," Malcolm said, placing a beer on the rail.
Trip looked at him, surprised. "Bit early, don't ya think?"
Malcolm shrugged, then looked at his watch. "It's...what? Eighteen-hundred hours on Enterprise." He took a slow sip from his glass and turned his gaze to the kids.
Trip pulled his own glass towards him, the ice in the drink clinking against its sides as it moved. He took a careful sip. Ice in beer. Okay, another Malaysian tradition. But hey, when in Rome...he took another sip of the slightly watery drink. He cupped it between his palms and leaned forward on the railing, looking down at the people next door. Someone had brought out a drum and some sort of gong, and now there were two men circling each other, each making strange, stylized movements as one of the other men began beating the drum.
Trip raised his beer and gestured with it. "What the...what are they doing?"
"Silat," Malcolm replied. At Trip's questioning look, he explained. "It's a type of martial art." He took a sip from his drink and looked back at the performance. "Actually, it's more of a dance than a traditional martial art, usually done at ceremonies - weddings, events of that sort." Trip heard a loud whack, and Malcolm winced. "Although it can get rather rough."
"Do you know how?"
Not looking at him, Malcolm nodded.
"Would you teach me?"
Malcolm turned and his eyes flashed to meet Trip's. Then Malcolm gave Trip what he'd always thought of as Malcolm's "evil smile", and waved him indoors. Leaving his beer on the rail, Trip followed, not quite sure what he'd gotten himself into.
Standing on an empty spot of rug, they began to circle each other, Malcolm showing Trip some basic moves. As Trip would try each one, Malcolm would guide him, touching him when necessary to correct him physically.
Trip tried to follow. After a while, he figured he was doing okay, so he swooped a foot behind Malcolm's leg, trying to take him down. Of course, Malcolm somehow ended up on top of him instead, straddling his body, an odd smile on his face as Trip tried to catch his breath. Then Malcolm leaned in close and, before Trip knew what to make of it, leaned down with his eyes open, and kissed him.
Definitely kissed him. On purpose. Trip, in shock and unsure how to respond, lay there stiffly.
Malcolm stood quickly and backed away. "I'm sorry," he said in a rush. "I'd thought..."
His heart racing, Trip jumped up and stepped towards him. "No, no. Sorry. I was just surprised. I didn't realise..."
Malcolm backed up a step, his hands up, palms out. "Don't worry, I..."
Trip deliberately stepped into Malcolm's personal space. After all, when in Rome... "I said that I was surprised." He gave a half-smile at Malcolm's shell-shocked expression. "I didn't say that I didn't like it." And with that, he claimed his own kiss and oooh boy. That was nice.
Trip heard a rustle at the door, then voices, and Malcolm stepped away suddenly. He rolled his eyes. "And that would be my parents."
Trip grinned. "Timing, eh?"
Malcolm simply smiled. As the door opened and the voices got louder, Malcolm stepped closer. "Later," he whispered.
Trip stared into those blue/grey eyes and saw...something, everything, laid out before him. So much promised in just that one glance.
Later. Trip couldn't wait.
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