There was little she could do at the moment.
A thick blanket wrapped around her, T’Pol watched silently as the natives who had retrieved Charles from the icy lake bustled around the unconscious form of her companion, feverishly working to restore his body’s core temperature to normal. Tucker’s sodden clothes had been stripped from his body the moment the humanoids – for what else could she call them, these sentients who were so like Commander Tucker physically? – carried him into the large two-story domicile. With deft motions, they had toweled him dry before laying him down upon a wide bed; two of them were even now wrapping the commander’s neck, armpits, and groin with warmed towels to facilitate his recovery, while a pair of women silently observed from the nearby doorway. A third male supervised, issuing instructions with a casual air of command that identified him as the family patriarch far more than the white in his hair.
As their native benefactors worked, T’Pol hugged the comfortable wrap they had provided her closer and took a moment to study them. Compared to Charles, they were relatively short, closer to her height than his, but had a much stockier build. Their skin tone was quite pale, instantly reminding her of le’matya milk, but the epicanthic fold of their upper eyelids brought to mind Ensign Sato. The clothes they wore appeared to be homemade as opposed to mass manufactured, but were no less visually appealing for their simple origin. Every piece of furniture within the room had a similar look of aged comfort and careful craftsmanship.
Several long moments later, the family patriarch placed a hand upon Commander Tucker’s forehead and nodded. At the signal, the other two men visibly relaxed, and stepped back from the bed, retrieving the towels as they did. Based on their expressions, T’Pol suspected they were no longer worried about Charles’ immediate situation, and she felt her own tension ease exponentially. The elder barked several rapid commands in his native tongue, and the two other men retreated from the room with curious but seemingly respectful hand gestures directed in T’Pol’s direction. Following their departure, the patriarch approached her and began speaking softly. At her blank look, he frowned slightly before attempting once more, this time, using a distinctly different tongue that was no more understandable than the first.
“I apologize,” T’Pol said in English, knowing the man would not comprehend her words, “but I do not know your language.” It had been a conscious decision to utilize Charles’ native tongue rather than her own, so as to avoid future confusion, especially if the commander happened to talk in his sleep.
Frustration stamped on his face, the elder turned away and gestured for the two women to join him. He spoke to them for a moment, gesticulating wildly and nodding at their measured responses, before turning once more to examine T’Pol. Suddenly conscious of her appearance and the potentially dangerous situation she could be in, the subcommander shifted closer to Tucker’s bed under the guise of checking on him. In the process, she adjusted the blanket wrapped around her, making sure that her ears were concealed from view. At the same time, she checked the location of their salvaged gear – their rucksacks and duffel bags were still where they had been dropped alongside the bed, although Charles’ dripping pack was slightly apart from the others. None of their benefactors had shown any inclination toward examining the gear.
The older of the two women snapped something to the patriarch before gesturing sharply with her hands. He smirked, inexplicably reminding T’Pol of Charles when the commander was graciously abandoning a losing argument, before backing away toward the door his two juniors had vanished through earlier. With his left hand, he repeated the respectful gesture – touching the tip of his nose with the second knuckle of his pointing finger – before disappearing through the doorway and leaving T’Pol alone with the two women.
Laughing slightly, the older woman followed the man, but stopped at the threshold and pulled the door shut before approaching T’Pol. Speaking slowly – and louder than necessary – the woman began gesturing between T’Pol and the somnolent Charles Tucker. Several crude gestures later, the subcommander comprehended the woman’s meaning, and barely hesitated.
“Yes,” she said with a nod, “we are mated.” It was a necessary deception for the moment, though T’Pol was unsure how Charles would react when he learned of it. For the moment, having these natives believe she and Tucker were a bonded pair would eliminate any misunderstandings regarding why a male and a female might be traveling together, especially in a pre-warp culture such as this one. “T’Pol,” the subcommander said, pointing to herself with her left hand.
“Dena,” the matriarch replied with an identical gesture. She pointed to the younger female – a girl, really, barely out of her teens, but with features sufficiently similar to the older woman that it was obvious they were close kin – and added, “Erela.” Pleasantries over, Dena issued instructions to her daughter in rapid sentences T’Pol couldn’t begin to comprehend. The girl obeyed at once, darting to a staircase that the Vulcan had not, until this moment, even noticed. Before she was gone, Dena began pointing once more to the unconscious Commander Tucker. When T’Pol gave her a tight frown, the matriarch sighed heavily, lifted the covers, and gave the subcommander a telling look. Another quick motion of the female’s hands encompassed the damp clothes T’Pol wore underneath the blanket wrapped around her, and it was accompanied by a sharp shake of her head.
Logically, she understood what was expected of her – the sharing of body heat, skin to skin, was likely the most effective means of restoring Charles’ core temperature to normal on a primitive world such as this – but the sudden realization that both of them would be completely nude gave her pause. The commander hadn’t been as effective as he would like to believe in concealing the effect her body had on his over the last several days, especially in the early mornings, and she could only imagine how it would react the moment his subconscious became aware of her nudity. At the same time, her Vulcan upbringing rebelled at the thought of being so close to a male who was not her bonded mate.
Her momentary hesitation was misinterpreted by Dena who gave her a soft smile and a reassuring pat on the shoulder before retreating from the room, making sure to pull the door shut behind her. T’Pol sighed heavily, before quickly frowning at the expression of emotion. Her jumbled emotions raced through her mind at warp speed, reminding her that she had not effectively meditated since before they escaped from the mesa city. Grimacing slightly at her lapse of control, she studied Tucker’s features before exhaling softly and kneeling alongside their packs to retrieve the phase pistols.
A moment later, she was under the covers alongside Charles.
His skin was far cooler than it should be, and subtle tremors shook his body as it struggled to regain equilibrium. The realization that he was relying completely upon her caused T’Pol to abandon Vulcan propriety and act on instinct. With quick motions, she rolled him onto his side so he faced away from her before inching closer to him so she could hug his back. It would be, she suspected, far safer for the both of them if she were behind him in their present state of undress given Tucker’s evident inability to control his body. Her breath caught slightly at the sensation of his bare skin against her equally uncovered breasts. It was something she had never before experienced, a fact she knew Tucker would, with his many … exploits, find difficult to believe. Humans, with their behavior so utterly rooted in the desire for sex, seemed incapable of comprehending that Vulcans were biologically inclined toward monogamy and simply did not engage in recreational intercourse outside of marriage. T’Pol had matured knowing that, when it became necessary, her mate’s blood fever would infect her and she would instinctively react as nature intended for her to. That Koss’ pon farr had never materialized despite their age – a rare, but not entirely unheard of condition for members of his bloodline – had simply given her more time to focus on what was truly important: her career. Now, however, she found herself unable to concentrate on anything else but the proximity of the male before her and their lack of clothing.
This was all Tucker’s fault.
With nothing else to do but wait, T’Pol focused her eyes on the flickering flame in the small wood stove across the small room and let herself slip into a meditative state. The part of her mind that always remained active noticed the reappearance of Erela twenty-three minutes later to add more fuel to the fire. Based on the change in ambient noises of the house, T’Pol suspected that the inclement weather outside had intensified; wind rattled the windows and doors, and she could hear a steady drumbeat of frozen rain clattering against the roof. Erela was gone from the room bare minutes later, once more leaving them alone.
The comfort of an actual bed combined with Charles’ reassuring presence crept up on her, and before she realized it, her meditation became actual sleep as her exhausted body demanded a respite. Her keen awareness of the room faded into the sheer bliss of warmth and a cushioned mattress.
“T’Pol.” Commander Tucker’s tense voice, so close to her ear, instantly roused her some time later, and she instinctively reached for the phase pistol she’d secreted under the pillow. Opening her eyes, T’Pol realized that they had evidently shifted in their sleep – once more, Charles was on his back and she was resting halfway atop him, her head resting on his chest and her arm draped across his naked chest. Their legs were intertwined in a surprisingly intimate manner, but her brain – still not yet fully awake – failed register this as important or even particularly unusual. In the past week, she’d grown accustomed to waking in such a manner, though it was usually on the rough ground with the damp tent dripping on their faces. Panic was bright in Tucker’s eyes, and he was much, much redder than normal, as if he were caught in the grip of some overwhelming emotion. “Where are my clothes?” he asked desperately, but plunged on without waiting for her response. “Where are your clothes?”
“You were hypothermic,” she answered, exhaustion from twenty days of almost nonstop stress stripping her of the will to move. There was nothing more that she wanted to do in this moment than remain exactly where she was. Not for long, though. Just a week or so, until she was fully rested. She could hear the wail of fierce wind clearly, and the entire room was much darker than before, implying a worsening of outside conditions. The lucid part of her mind reflected that this boded well for them as any potential pursuers would be severely hampered by the weather. A chill was in the air, despite the still active stove, and T’Pol could smell the pleasant aroma coming from the burning wood within it. “This was the most efficient way to raise your body temperature,” she added in a voice thick with sleep. Her eyes closed once more but Tucker’s reply was a strangled half-laugh that caused her to shift slightly.
And, in doing so, she freed a fully … erect part of his anatomy that had been trapped against her stomach.
Quite suddenly, T’Pol was wide awake.
“Oh, God,” Charles groaned as he rolled away from her awkwardly. At the same time, T’Pol felt her face flame as she retreated to her side of the bed. “Just when I thought this day couldn’t get any damned worse,” Tucker mumbled, though her sharp hearing made out the words. “I’m sorry,” he added.
“It was an instinctive, biological reaction,” she told him, smoothing away most hints of embarrassment from her features. Her ears continued to burn, though, and she was silently thankful that he was facing away from her so she wouldn’t have to look into his eyes. “No apology is necessary.”
For a long moment, silence was her only answer until it was broken by a curious gasping sound emerging from Tucker. Coming so close to his fall into the freezing lake, the sound instantly concerned her – it could an indication of a deeper respiratory problem and they still didn’t know how trustworthy these natives were – and T’Pol stretched out a tentative hand to his shoulder. At her light touch, he half-turned his head in her direction, revealing the source of the sound.
He was laughing.
Or, more accurately, he was trying to keep from doing so and, judging by the strain in his eyes, failing miserably. The moment he looked upon her, Tucker seemed to give up and began chortling. It was a deep, wheezing sound that had a ragged, almost hysterical edge to it, as if he didn’t know whether to laugh or sob. Given the extreme stress they had been under for weeks and his most recent brush with death, Tucker’s reaction was actually quite understandable for a human. Tears sprang from his eyes as he giggled, and she suspected he was unable to stop himself if he wanted to. Charles’ eyes reflected his mortified amusement as they met T’Pol’s, and the humor of this latest situation they found themselves in caused her lips to quirk upwards fractionally.
Tucker’s laughter ended so abruptly it was as if a switch had been thrown. His eyes widened, and there was no mistaking the open wonder on his face as he stared at her.
“You smiled,” Charles breathed. T’Pol looked away, silently chastising herself for the loss of control.
“I have not meditated properly for weeks,” she admitted with a tight frown. “My self-control is not as it should be.”
“Don’t worry,” Tucker said, still staring at her with an expression of almost child-like awe she’d never seen before, “your secret’s safe with me.” He smiled before giving the room a glance. To her surprise, he didn’t ask about how they got where they were. “T’Pol,” he asked sheepishly, evidently unable to meet her eyes, “I’d really like to put some pants on now.” Once again, she felt her lips twitch, and she seriously considered telling him that their clothes had been destroyed simply to observe his reaction. Instead, she nodded.
“I shall retrieve a dry pair at once,” she replied as she started to slide from the bed. Immediately before she slipped from underneath the blankets, T’Pol felt his eyes on her and gave him a questioning look. He flushed and quickly turned away.
“I won’t peek,” he promised with a thicker than normal accent. “You have my word.” Mentally, T’Pol shook her head in bemusement at humans and their silly taboos. They gave no thought to the sheer intimacy of touch, yet seemed to regard the exposure of an unclothed body no matter how innocent the situation as inherently sexual.
Sometimes, they made less sense than Andorians.
“Can we trust these people?” Tucker asked once they had donned relatively dry underclothes. He was still shivering, despite the thick blankets atop him, and his skin was paler than it should be.
“I do not know,” T’Pol replied. “Roll over, Commander,” she instructed. He gave her a confused look. “You are still suffering from hypothermia,” she pointed out flatly. “Roll over.” With a sigh, he obeyed, once more facing the stove. He tensed when she slid closer to him. Wrapping her arms around him was, for a Vulcan, forward and inappropriately intimate, but she was far more concerned with helping him recover than her nonexistent virtue.
“I thought you Vulcans were phobic about touching,” he grumbled.
“We dislike extreme cold more,” she retorted crisply, causing him to chuckle.
“What’s our next step then?” Tucker asked a few moments later. He sounded as if he were on the verge of sleep once more.
“Until you … until we are better rested,” she decided calmly, her body and mind already drifting closer to slumber as well, “and know whether we can trust these natives, I suggest we play our cards close to our ears.”
“Close to our vest,” Tucker corrected absently, his own voice sounding sleepy, “or play it by ear.” He was silent for another long moment. “Just tell me what to do,” he murmured, “and I’ll do it.”
“Go to sleep, Charles,” T’Pol ordered. This close to him, she could hear his heartbeat in her ears, a steady, rhythmic lullaby that carried her to somnolence.
And, for the first time in a long time, her dreams were pleasant.