The bolt would not come loose.
Kneeling alongside the ATV, Trip Tucker glowered at the stubborn engine housing and once more wished for his old tools. He would given nearly anything for a single hyperspanner right now, or even a couple of his dad’s antique socket wrenches, anything that would work better than the antiquated pieces of junk Aron had lent him. At the moment, the so-called tools he had were really only good for being used as hammers.
“You need this,” Urri said, offering an extensor attachment to the subpar wrench Trip was using. It took an extra half second for Tucker to comprehend exactly what the younger man had just said, but the fact he succeeded caused Trip to smile. In the month since T’Pol began the neuropressure treatments and sleep finally ceased eluding him, understanding of the local language had come much easier. He wasn’t sure if it was some Vulcan mojo that T’Pol had done to him, or if it was the fact that he was getting a good night’s sleep, but whatever the reason, the rural family no longer treated him like their slack-jawed idiot cousin who was barely capable of carrying firewood without tripping over his own drool.
“You thank,” Trip responded in Ekosi before grimacing at once again mixing the words up. Urri grinned, obviously recognizing what he meant. “Thank you,” Tucker said, this time getting it right. He turned back to study the mostly exposed engine of the three-wheeled vehicle.
It had come as something of a surprise to learn that Aron and Daveed had backtracked the route Trip and T’Pol had taken, but an even greater one when the Zeon patriarch revealed that they had retrieved the trike from where it had been abandoned. Covered with ice and in desperate need of repairs thanks to hard use and exposure to the remorseless elements, it was nonetheless salvageable, providing they could locate fuel or Trip could jury-rig some sort of solar battery array (without revealing what he was doing to the locals, of course.) When pressed for an explanation about why he retrieved the ATV, Aron had calmly pointed out that the two refugees would eventually need transport once the winter broke.
Trip got the hint.
The first thing he did was familiarize himself with the basics of the trike’s engine. He was quite astounded at the similarities between it and the ancient jet ski that had been in his family for four generations, a vehicle that Trip had spent his misspent youth tearing down and rebuilding in an attempt to make it faster, more maneuverable, and far more dangerous to use. The drive system on the trike was almost completely foreign, but the general principles of everything else were pretty much identical to every motorcycle he had ever played around with in high school, which caused him to marvel at what T’Pol had called parallel development.
“You are quite good at this,” Urri remarked, carefully pronouncing the words while he watched Trip trace the fuel lines of the trike along the unnecessarily circuitous route they took from the tank. “Is this your profession?”
“No and yes,” Trip replied cautiously. T’Pol’s warning that the Zeon family appeared to be concealing some secret gave him pause, and he glanced at the young man beside him. By human reckoning, Urri couldn’t be more than twenty-five, but had an aged wisdom to his eyes that was easily twice that. Stocky but not fat, the boy carried himself with an easy grace that reminded Trip of the way Malcolm walked. Now that Trip thought about it, every member of the family had a similar style of movement, as if they were coiled springs, always poised to jump into action, though whether it was to fight or run, Tucker didn’t quite know. Whatever it was, it lent credence to T’Pol’s concerns.
“And you?” Trip asked in an attempt to change the subject. “You a farmer want to be like your father?” he queried, sighing at the smirk Urri gave him. He tried again … and screwed it up once more. “Know what I mean you did.” Dammit, Tucker growled to himself, I’m starting to talk like Yoda.
“I did,” Urri confirmed, “and yes, I wish to follow in the footsteps of my father.” Trip nodded, but kept his eyes on the ATV engine. He couldn’t help but to notice that the young man’s answer could be taken many ways. “What is that?” the Zeon man asked, pointing to the now exposed engine.
“Carburetor,” Trip answered automatically in English. At Urri’s blank look, Tucker spent a moment trying to formulate an explanation in his mind that would make sense to someone with limited mechanical understanding or knowledge. “Controls air and fuel,” he said in Ekosi, before frowning. That was entirely too vague. “Makes engine run properly.” Not much better, but it’d have to do.
“Ah.” Urri was silent for a moment. “Do you and Tupol wish to have children?” he asked. At Trip’s shocked, sidelong glance, he held up his hands. “Apologies. Erela wished me to ask.”
“She is young,” the young man replied, “and wonders why you do not act like love-mates.” Urri smiled, but it barely touched his eyes. “Erela thinks you are not wed-bond,” he added, “and that you are hiding a truth from us.”
As soon as Trip mentally translated the statement, he frowned. Forcing himself to keep his expression as neutral as he could manage, he replaced the tools in the metal box and pulled the protective tarp over the trike before slowly rising to his feet. Urri stood with him, a wary expression on his face, and waited calmly.
“Before we came here,” Trip said very carefully, “she was … hurt by a man.” It wasn’t that much of a stretch; though she thought she’d concealed it from him, Tucker had figured out weeks ago that the source of her nightmares revolved around whatever it was those Suliban bastards did to her months ago while Captain Archer was off in the future with Daniels. He also suspected that something bad had happened with the Vulcan, Tolaris, though he had no real proof or idea what. Archer knew, of course. That was the only explanation for some of the captain’s statements to ‘go easy’ on her after both incidents, and the bitter taste of jealousy burned within Trip’s belly. It rankled that she trusted the captain enough to tell him, but wouldn’t confide anything to Tucker. On the heels of that emotion, however, came a sense of self-loathing so intense that Trip nearly groaned. She had been assaulted, for God’s sake, and here he was whining over the fact that she didn’t want to talk about it. How pathetic can you be, Tucker? he asked himself, as guilt swelled. He knew it showed on his face, but it was already too late to try and hide what he was thinking. It was probably just as well that he wasn’t aboard Enterprise anymore, though, because if he ever encountered either of those two pieces of crap, he was just as likely to shoot them as look at them.
And use of the stun setting would be optional.
“Apologies, again,” Urri said. He appeared embarrassed, almost downcast. “This is why she does not like to be touched?”
“A private woman she is,” Trip replied. He sighed and wondered how long it would be before he stopping messing up the syntax. At least I know what they’re saying now, he reflected. “Night comes,” he said. “Inside we go?”
The trip from the barn to the main house was as treacherous as ever, made more so by the thick layer of ice that covered the stone walkway and the unbalanced stack of wood in his arms. Four nights earlier, the snows had slowed and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds for most of the day, providing just enough warmth to melt some of the surface powder and turn it into filthy slush. The very next morning, however, another cold snap froze the entire mess all over again. A sleet storm had accompanied the second wave of cold, and Trip found himself eagerly looking forward to that desert T’Pol had located. He’d had enough of freezing temperatures to last a lifetime.
Once inside the house, he and Urri stacked the firewood they’d carried in the proper place and shucked their coats. The feel of T’Pol’s eyes on him – how was it, he wondered, that he was always able to tell it was her? – caused Trip to tense slightly, and he gave the large living area a quick glance to find her. Seated at the table in the dining area with the other females, the Vulcan woman gave a slight nod to his subtle head jerk toward the attic room that had become theirs. She politely excused herself, earning curious looks form both Dena and Erela, before following Tucker up the stairs. Without being asked, she secured the door behind her once they were inside.
“Number Two Son tried to interrogate me in the barn,” Trip said in English without preamble. The absence of proper names was intentional to avoid raising suspicion, and had been one of her suggestions. “Seems Baby Girl was curious why we’re not makin’ out in the closet every chance we get.” T’Pol raised an eyebrow at the idiom, but clearly comprehended his meaning.
“How did you respond?” she asked, and Trip sat down on the bed, rolling his tongue along the inside of his mouth as he tried to determine how to answer her question.
“I told him,” he replied slowly, “that you were assaulted by someone before we came here. I’m pretty sure he took that to mean rape.”
“A believable story,” T’Pol said, “especially in a time of war.” Trip hesitated before deciding to go for broke.
“It’s also kinda true, isn’t it?”
T’Pol flinched. At any other time, it would have been barely noticeable, but since she had begun training him in neuropressure, Trip had become fairly proficient at reading her body language. Still, had he not been watching her for signs of distress, he suspected he would have missed the telltale tightening of her muscles.
“Look,” he said carefully, “I’m not askin’ you to tell me any secrets you don’t want to, T’Pol, but you’ve been downright squirrely the last two or three weeks and I’m worried.”
“Squirrely?” the Vulcan repeated, hyper-enunciating the word.
“It means fidgety, off-center, restless.” He scratched the hated beard and longed for a good electric razor. “And don’t change the subject.”
“I was not changing the subject,” T’Pol retorted, a faint hint of annoyance creeping into her words. “I was merely seeking clarification over an expression I was unfamiliar with.”
“You were tryin’ to change the subject ‘cause I’m right,” Trip said. He locked gazes with her and crossed his arms. “For the last three weeks, you’ve been telling me we’ve gotta trust each other unilaterally if we’re gonna survive,” he added, “and I’m not tryin’ to stick my nose in your business.” When she said nothing, he pressed on. “But I am gettin’ worried about you, T’Pol. It’s can’t be right that you’re having nightmares every night, and I want to help in whatever way you’ll let me.” The muscles in her jaw tightened, and Tucker imagined that he could hear her molars grinding together, but he did not look away. Finally, after several long seconds, she did something unexpected.
“Your logic is flawless, Charles,” she said softly, breaking eye contact and looking away.
“Did you just give me a compliment?” he asked with a smile, hoping to lighten the mood. To his delight, she returned her eyes to his, one eyebrow quirked slightly and an almost teasing sparkle in her hazel orbs.
“It has been a long day,” she admitted, “and I am in need of meditation, so a compliment may have slipped out.” Trip laughed – he couldn’t stop himself – and wondered again whether all Vulcans were as funny as T’Pol, or if she was simply a wonderful exception. For a brief second, he tried to imagine Soval telling a joke, but quickly abandoned the attempt.
“I don’t wanna pry,” he said as T’Pol carefully sat down next to him, “and I’m not tryin’ to offend.” He fought the urge to reach out, to enfold her in a hug like he would if she were a human woman. The last thing he needed right now was for her to think he was putting the moves on her. “I just want to help.”
“Nam-to ri thrap wilat nem-tor rim,” she murmured in her native tongue. Trip flashed her a grin.
“There is no offense where none is taken,” he translated easily. T’Pol gave him a wide-eyed look of open surprise. “I borrowed the captain’s book,” Trip said, hoping she wouldn’t notice the wince that accompanied the admission. He well remembered the stab of envy that had lanced through him upon learning that she had given Archer a gift. “Just in case they might come in handy some day,” he added. When she said nothing, Trip spoke once more. “If you ever need to talk,” he said, “I’m all ears.”
“I am not human, Charles,” T’Pol said softly long seconds later. “I do not talk about my feelings.” Scorn was heaped upon the last word, but it didn’t seem to be directed at him. “Your concern is appreciated, but additional meditation and mental reflection will allow me to properly resolve any issues I may have regarding Tolaris.” Another piece of the puzzle fell into place and Trip silently hoped it wasn’t uncivilized to actively hate a fellow sentient.
No, scratch that. He didn’t care if it was uncivilized or not.
“And Silik?” he asked cautiously. She gave him another mildly surprised look before nodding tightly.
“Him as well.” T’Pol rose to her feet gracefully. “We should return downstairs and join our benefactors.” At the doorway, she hesitated. “There are additional neuropressure postures and techniques that might be of assistance in facilitating my recovery,” she said hesitantly, “but they are … you might consider them … intimate.” Trip swallowed and pushed down vibrant mental images that had no place in this conversation.
“If they’ll help you,” he replied, swallowing the urge to request a definition of ‘intimate,’ “then I’ll do whatever you need me to.” He forced a smile on his face. “Just … just give me some warning beforehand, okay?” She nodded, a purely human gesture, and he wondered if she was even aware of doing it.
“Thank you, Charles,” T’Pol said, the tension in her shoulders easing as she unbarred the attic door.
“Can’t you call me Trip?” he asked. He fell into step behind her and followed her down the stairs.
“Begging is unattractive, Charles,” T’Pol countered. “If you can get through an entire neuropressure session without falling asleep,” she added, “I shall consider it.”
“Really?” Trip asked gleefully.