He was sick of ice and snow.
Muscles aching from exhaustion, Trip Tucker bit back a curse as his boots failed to make purchase on the slick stone walkway that connected the large house to the much larger barn, and it was only pure luck that he didn’t fall on his ass or drop the stack of firewood in his arms. He wasn’t exactly sure when it had become his job to venture into the freezing cold to get fuel for the various fires in the house they were staying in, but given how well the Amish-like aliens had treated them thus far, he thought it only right he do his part.
The snow that had begun dropping from the sky before he and T’Pol fell – literally, in Trip’s case – into the rural family’s lives had continued piling up almost nonstop for the twenty or so days since it began, accompanied by driving winds and the occasional ice storm that shook the roof of the farmhouse. Temperatures had rapidly dropped from distressingly cold to unbearably cold, and the sky was gray the entire day, with thick clouds shrouding the horizon in perpetual twilight even when the sun had clearly gone down as it had an hour or so ago. To a man from Florida, the frigid air was painfully sharp, like dozens of razor blades slicing across any exposed skin.
Thank God they had indoor plumbing.
True to form, T’Pol never complained about the circumstances they’d found themselves in. She was every centimeter the stoic Vulcan, calm and composed even in the face of temperatures that an Andorian would dislike. If she moved a little more stiffly or wore an extra layer of clothes, Trip never noticed or called attention to it, especially since she still couldn’t look him in the eye since her encounter with his recalcitrant anatomy.
Trip blew out a frustrated breath at that thought, and wondered once again how he could apologize to her without sounding like an idiot. So far, he’d tried everything he could think of, and each time he started to stammer out something that sounded vaguely reasonable, his brain would lock up and he’d receive the Eyebrow of Doom. In the rare event that he actually managed to say something partially coherent, T’Pol’s expression inevitably changed to one that Trip suspected – or, more accurately, feared – was disgust, and she would casually dismiss it before making some excuse to get away from him. Even the attic room they’d been given the day after what he was thinking of as The Incident showed signs of the ongoing problem; there might as well have been an invisible wall that divided it into her side and his side, so clear was the demarcation. No longer did Trip wake up in the morning with a warm, voluptuous Vulcan in his arms, regardless of how cold the room was, and gone were most of her uses of ‘Charles.’
He wasn’t sure which one he missed more.
Trudging along at his side was the younger of the two brothers, Urri, equally laden down with firewood and chattering away in the tongue of his people that still sounded like so much gibberish to Trip. It shouldn’t have bothered him as much as it did that T’Pol was already picking the language up, especially given how many times he’d heard her brag in that Vulcan way of hers about how more advanced her species was in comparison to humans, but Tucker’s continued lack of comprehension about what was being said made it impossible for him to not be annoyed. The subcommander was far from fluent – she wasn’t Hoshi, after all – but she already knew enough to get her point across most of the time, while Trip still found himself stumbling over how to introduce himself, or ask for directions to the bathroom. According to T’Pol, the language was similar in a lot of way to ancient Latin, with verbs that were conjugated to denote person, number, tense, and a whole mess of other things that Tucker didn’t really understand. As someone who only spoke one language – his partial comprehension of Vulcan didn’t count, because that was mostly the written version and only in regards to warp mechanics – the entire process seemed unnecessarily complex.
With Urri rambling on beside him, Trip staggered the remaining distance to the closed door leading into the farmhouse. His vociferous companion quickly took the lead, kicking the base of the door several times to alert those within to open it, and Tucker found himself staring in the distance through fatigued eyes. He couldn’t remember the last time he was so tired, and his sleep schedule remained out of whack with the local day-night cycle. T’Pol had mentioned something about Circadian rhythms a few nights earlier when she found him sprawled out on the bed, unable to sleep despite the ungodly hour, but Trip had no idea what she had been talking about. All he knew was that he would give his left arm for one night of good, solid, dreamless slumber. Maybe his left leg too.
A small, warm hand on his bicep snapped him out of his fugue, and Trip blinked in mild surprise when he realized it was T’Pol standing before him, wearing an expression of Vulcan concern on her lovely features. He didn’t know how long he had been standing there, holding the firewood and staring at nothing, but based on the shivers crawling up his spine, it was at least several minutes longer than it should be. Forcing a grin that he didn’t really feel on his face, he followed her into the house, kicking the door shut behind him as he did.
“Sorry,” he muttered, as he began piling the wood next to the fireplace. The sensation of being watched caused him to glance around, and he was unsurprised to find the family studying him from the kitchen. Urri was already standing next to his father, Aron, and his mother, Dena, but the elder brother, Daveed, was nowhere in sight. Erela, the girl who reminded Trip so much of his sister, Elizabeth, was staring at him as if she expected him to grow a second head.
“They are concerned about you,” T’Pol murmured from beside him. She was quickly piling the wood in perfect stacks, but had pitched her voice low enough so that only he would hear her words. “Aron believes that the hypothermia may have affected your cognitive functions.”
“Excuse me?” Trip demanded, suddenly offended. “They think I’m an idiot?” He grimaced. “Well, this just keeps gettin’ better and better all the damned time.”
“I am concerned about you also,” the Vulcan said calmly. She locked eyes with him, and Trip found that he could not look away. “You barely eat,” she pointed out calmly. “You are easily distracted, and you aren’t sleeping.”
“It’s not from lack of tryin’,” Trip grumbled. He sank down before the fire, and let himself bask in its warmth for a moment. “I’m so damned tired all the time,” he admitted, “but I just can’t go to sleep!”
“The human body follows an endogenously generated biological rhythm in a twenty-four hour cycle,” T’Pol said, her tone instinctively sliding into what Tucker thought of as ‘Vulcan super science mode.’ Normally, he found it annoying as hell, but right now, her body language hinted at a possible solution to his problem so he listened with rapt attention.
Although, if he was entirely honest, he’d listen to her read the Starfleet charter as long as she kept paying attention to him like this.
“Ekos has a twenty-one hour rotational period,” she continued, “and the sun has been concealed for much of time we’ve been here, so it is possible your body is still having problems adjusting.”
“Jet lag from hell,” Trip muttered, running his fingers through his hair. He frowned. “Wait. I thought you said they called themselves Zeons,” he said. “Is Ekos the planet name? Like Earth?”
“It is,” she confirmed, her lips pursing. “I suspect the term Zeon may indicate a religious or ethnic difference.”
“Like the Amish,” he said with a tired grin.
“Like the Amish,” T’Pol agreed. “If it has some other meaning,” she continued, “I do not yet know and they are not being forthcoming about it.” The Vulcan was silent for a moment as she studied him, and Trip shifted self-consciously under her appraisal. “Tonight,” she said calmly, her words firm, “I will begin instructing you in meditation. It may help your body adjust to the Ekosi day-night cycle.”
“Meditation?” Trip repeated, making a sour face at the word. “How is sittin’ on the floor and contemplatin’ my navel gonna help?” he asked. T’Pol quirked an eyebrow at the question, her eyes flickering quickly to his stomach before jumping back to his face.
“Meditation helps my people become more in touch with our physiology,” she explained. “I am unsure if it will provide the same benefit to you, but…” She trailed off, once more studying him with a weighing look, almost as if she were thinking of retracting the offer. Trip waved off whatever else she was about to say.
“Right now, T’Pol,” he said, “I’m willin’ to try anything if it means I can get some damned sleep.”
“Chalz, Tupol,” Dena called out from the kitchen, mangling their names as usual. She continued in a string of gibberish that included perhaps two words Trip recognized, one of which was food. The ‘come here’ hand gesture that accompanied the Zeon woman’s words and the pleasant aromas drifting from the kitchen were more than enough to get her point across, however, and Tucker silently followed T’Pol to the table. He took the seat next to the Vulcan, noting the complete lack of meat products on her plate – evidently, their benefactors had finally realized that she was a vegetarian. Once everyone was seated, Aron and his family began their usual pre-meal ritual that always reminded Trip of his dad saying grace. Even to an engineer without much interest in xenosociology, it was fascinating.
Each member of the family placed their hands palm down upon the table, their elbows firmly planted along the edge and their arms angled so they formed an almost triangle shape. The fingers of their left hand covered those of their right, and they tilted their heads back so they were looking at the ceiling. Eyes were closed – not tightly – and Aron’s words had a sonorous sound to them that had the ring of an invocation, though the words completely eluded Trip’s comprehension. Since the second night, T’Pol had copied the placement of her fingers, and Tucker hadn’t needed her encouragement to follow suit because of how familiar it was to him – in an oddly alien way, of course.
Tonight, however, he felt a stab of homesickness hit him hard.
I’m going to die on this damned planet, Trip realized as Aron spoke. Never again would he hear his father purposely mangling the words as he said grace, knowing it would amuse and irk his mother at the same time. Never again would Trip be able to listen to his sisters arguing over something he didn’t care about, or hear his brother brag about his day at work, or see his parents bicker over who got to carve the turkey on Thanksgiving. Never again would he see his friends and co-workers aboard Enterprise, or listen to the captain ramble on about a sport that really wasn’t a sport, or wake to the comforting sound of the warp engine.
He ate mechanically, swallowing everything put onto his plate without actually tasting it, and quickly excused himself the moment he finished. Retreating into the cramped attic room, he collapsed onto the bed and pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes. His head pounded, and every muscle in his body ached. The urge to scream kept building and building.
“Are you well?” T’Pol asked, her voice startling him out of his spiraling black mood, and Trip lowered his hands to study her as she climbed the stairs, a lit candle in hand to ward off the growing darkness. She was still wearing the head scarf that she’d adopted since their second day here, and a plain-looking dress given to her by Dena emphasized her feminine curves in a rather spectacular manner.
Trip tried not to stare.
“We’re never gettin’ off this planet, are we?” he asked.
“It is not likely,” the Vulcan admitted as she shut the door behind her and firmly secured it. “Are you just now realizing this?” she wondered, though there was no rancor behind her words.
“No,” Trip said, letting his head fall back onto the mattress as he spoke, “but it didn’t really hit me until now.” He exhaled deeply, trying hard not to wince at the hollow ache that seemed to throb through his bones. “It must be worse for you,” he commented after a moment, “since you’ll be stuck here even longer than I will.”
“I do not let it concern me,” T’Pol said calmly. She tilted the candle slightly, touching its flame to the wick of another of the wax cylinders sitting atop a small wooden crate. “We will adapt,” she added as she crossed to the other side of the small room and repeated the motion to ignite a third candle, “and overcome the adversity before us.” Sliding the candle into a holder intended for it, she gestured for him to join her. “Our first lesson will be in breathing,” she said.
“It may come as a shock to ya,” Trip grumbled half-heartedly as he forced himself off the bed, “but I do know how to breathe. Been doin’ it my whole life.”
“There is breathing,” T’Pol replied, “and there is breathing. This will be the latter.” She sank down onto the floor and assumed an uncomfortable-looking sitting posture, placing the candle holder on the floor before her and gesturing for Tucker to do the same. “Sit like this,” she instructed, “with your arms resting lightly upon your legs.” Trip grudgingly obeyed, his muscles complaining the entire time.
“What if this doesn’t work?” he asked.
“Then we will seek alternate options,” she answered. “Inhale deeply through the nostrils and draw the oxygen into your lungs. Hold it there for six seconds, before slowly exhaling through the mouth.” She demonstrated, and it was a measure of his absolute exhaustion that Trip barely noticed how wonderfully it emphasized her breasts, especially in the dress.
So instead, he focused on his breathing.