Her task was finally complete.
Leaning back in the pilot's chair, T'Pol placed her handheld computer on top of the command console and pursed her lips. She had spent the four days they had been on this island conducting a thorough examination of the supplies available aboard the T'Muna-Doth, as well as carefully studying the automated ship-log for some clue as to the fate of the crew. Based on those recordings, as well as the previous commander's final entry, the T'Muna-Doth had not been in the possession of the Orion pirates for longer than a few hours after the ship's capture, which no doubt explained the mostly pristine state that the vessel remained in. T'Pol suspected that Ekos had been the nearest inhabitable planet that the Orions could set down upon to conduct repairs, but they were killed by the natives during a raid likely intended to obtain supplies or even new slaves. She shook her head in mild disgust; the humans had a saying that fit this situation quite well: those who lived by the sword, died by the sword.
The damage to the T'Muna-Doth was extensive, but not especially significant, which was eminently logical. A starship too badly damaged to be useful was far less valuable than one that was functional. As far as she could tell from the shipboard damage assessment, the only component completely destroyed was the communications array, which had likely been targeted intentionally to prevent the Vulcan crew under Commander T'Mom (a name that caused Trip to chuckle every time he heard it) call for reinforcements. Even with the supplies they had aboard, repairing the array was not an option, although T'Pol already had some ideas about how to develop a stopgap measure.
Her evaluation of their supplies had been almost uniformly positive. The Orion pirates had evidently not had the time to raid the ship's stores, so everything they needed to survive – food, weapons, tools, clothes, and even uniforms, albeit of a style that had been phased out when her second foremother T'Mir was still alive – was available. Trip's delight at the presence of shaving equipment was only a shade less intense than T'Pol's, and she was unsure which of them was more pleased to see his beard vanish. Curiously, the one time she had mentioned trimming her own hair to a more appropriate length, Trip had barely been capable of hiding his dislike of the idea. At first, T'Pol had thought he was using simple logic – there was no guarantee that they would be able to escape Ekos with this vessel, and longer hair made it easier to conceal her ears – but Trip had sheepishly admitted that he hadn't even thought of that fact. He simply liked her hair the way it currently was. For that reason alone, she decided to keep it, even though this meant additional care was necessary to maintain a professional appearance.
It was most illogical.
As was always the case in recent days, her thoughts inevitably turned to Trip. He had spent most of the four days in the reactor room or the crawlways leading to one of the three nacelles, and had been utterly unable to hide his disdain for the T'Muna-Doth's previous engineer. According to Trip, not only had Subcommander Tykath been incompetent, he had also been remarkably lazy. Tucker had needed most of an entire day to simply gather the necessary tools – which were evidently not stored in any logical manner – and then bringing them up to his specifications. T'Pol had listened with growing amusement she was barely able to conceal as Trip's soft tirades and soothing whispers to the inanimate warp reactor continued unabated. It was the first indication she had seen that the man who had once served aboard Enterprise was not entirely gone and no matter that talking to the T'Muna-Doth was patently illogical, she welcomed it gladly.
Unfortunately, the numerous repairs that Trip insisted were necessary had kept them from interacting for more than a few minutes at a time. More often than not, he was still in the reactor room when she retired for the evening, sometimes crawling into bed hours after she did but just as frequently sleeping in front of the main engineering console. Even when he visited the sonic shower that was part of the shared sleeping compartment, he was rarely under the stream for longer than a few minutes before vanishing back into the reactor room to throw himself into work once more. If he had been Vulcan, his dedication to the job would have been admirable.
But he wasn't Vulcan. And T'Pol … missed him.
She could not help but to think that this was mostly her fault. When Trip placed the future of their relationship (or lack thereof) firmly in her control, she had initially been puzzled and frankly worried that he no longer desired her, but she soon realized that this could not be more wrong. Rather, his decision was intended to show that he understood her reticence about deepening what they already had, even if he did not entirely agree with her concerns. Knowing him as she did, T'Pol suspected that Trip was very likely using his work as a way to distract his mind from dwelling upon their current undefined status. Which meant it was entirely up to T'Pol to take the next step.
And she had absolutely no idea how to proceed. If he were Vulcan, there would be no need to be concerned. When his pon farr came, she would freely give herself to him as biology demanded and, once the blood fever was slaked, they would continue as a mated pair. But Trip was not Vulcan and would never experience the plak tow so a different path would be required, one that did not offend either of their cultures.
From the command deck, she went directly to the kitchen/medical compartment to consult the bio-scanner once more. The results had not changed and she exhaled softly in slight confusion. If she was reading this correctly, the degradation to her neural pathways caused by the Pa'nar had been slowed substantially, and, in some instances, circumvented entirely, as if parts of her brain had been … rewired, for lack of a better expression, to compensate. Equally fascinating were the hotspots indicating new activity at locations normally quiescent. T'Pol's thoughts immediately drifted in the direction of the reactor room and she shook her head. No matter how badly he despised medical examinations, Trip had to understand why she needed to run a full scan. What if she had damaged him? Surely he would wish to know that.
At the open door leading into the engineering compartment, she paused, tilting her head slightly to listen as Trip murmured soothing nonsense to the T'Muna-Doth's warp core as if it were a crying infant. She could only see his feet at the moment – the rest of his body had vanished into an open maintenance hatch in the floor – but his voice carried.
"Now don't worry, girl," he was saying and T'Pol could hear the subtle whine of a laser welder, "this won't hurt a bit and I'll have you up and runnin' in no time." Shaking her head once more, T'Pol strode across the reactor room, noting at once how less chaotic the entire compartment appeared. Who would have ever thought that a human as emotional as Trip had such a need for order? "I know you're there, T'Pol," he suddenly called out. "What d'ya need?"
"You have been working nonstop for sixteen hours," T'Pol said calmly. "I suggest a period of relaxation."
"Just a sec." The laser welder activated once more and the stench of burning metal caused T'Pol to take a step back. A moment later, Trip slid out of the maintenance tube, removing the protective goggles he'd found in the stores from his face. He looked out of place in the Vulcan uniform – sans the jacket, of course – especially when one realized he was still wearing his Starfleet boots since the previous owner of the clothes he now wore apparently possessed comparatively tiny feet. This too had amused him for some reason, but Trip had refused to explain why he derived great satisfaction at knowing Subcommander Tykath's feet had been substantially smaller than his.
Sometimes, T'Pol feared she would never understand him.
"You didn't come down here just to make me take a break," he said with a lopsided smile. T'Pol raised an eyebrow as she looked down at him.
"Actually, I did," she retorted before offering him her hand. He accepted after a heartbeat and T'Pol pulled him to his feet. "I thought we could share a meal outside the ship," she added, hoping he didn't notice the slight blush crawling up the back of her neck.
"You wanna go on a picnic?" Trip's accent thickened with his surprise, and T'Pol gave him a hopeful look. He shrugged, as if it didn't really matter, but she could sense that he felt otherwise. "Okay," he agreed. "Let me take a quick shower and clean up," he added as he secured the laser drill in its proper place. T'Pol nodded and backed toward the door.
Twenty minutes later found them sitting at the top of a tall hill that overlooked the rest of the small island and provided them with an excellent vantage point of their surroundings. The ocean stretched out in all directions, with another ten islands this size or smaller within visual range. With the sun high overhead and a soft breeze blowing off the water, T'Pol had to admit the view was quite appealing.
"Hard to believe this is the same planet at all," Trip murmured, his eyes sad as he stared out at the ocean. He inhaled deeply. "Thanks," he finally said. He took a seat on the ground. "I guess I lost track of time working on the T'Muna."
"T'Muna-Doth," T'Pol corrected lightly. She sank down into her usual cross-legged position. "I was under the impression the damage was not that extensive."
"It is," Trip replied, "and it isn't." He accepted one of the nutrient bars she'd pulled from storage earlier. "All of the injectors are damaged," he explained while he pulled the rectangular bar from its packaging. "I'm pretty sure we can reach warp four for about an hour at a time, but we'll have to take the injectors off-line for ten to twenty hours so they can cool down afterward." He shook his head. "The coil in nacelle number three is also cracked, so it'll have to be monitored the entire time we're at warp so we can avoid a catastrophic failure." Without thinking, he took a bit of the nutrient bar and instantly made a face. "What is this?" he asked in disgust as he spat the food onto the ground. "It tastes like … God, I have no idea what it tastes like, but it's awful." T'Pol sniffed her own bar and took a small bite but quickly spit it out.
"Apparently," she said, "the food stasis system does not function as well as I thought it did."
"Guess that means we'll have to find another source of food," Trip remarked. He sniffed his bar again before tossing it into the small bag they'd carried with them. "I'll take a look at the stasis generator when we get back."
"No." Trip looked up at her tone. "When we return," T'Pol said flatly, "you will allow me to run a full medical scan to ensure that our meld did not damage you."
"I feel fine," Trip muttered, but T'Pol ignored him.
"Once that is complete," she continued, "we will resume our neuropressure sessions and you will sleep for no less than eight hours."
"Eight!" Trip gave her a disbelieving look. "I've never needed eight hours in my entire life!"
"Six then," she conceded. "But no less." When he started to reply, she reached forward and touched his lips with two fingers. It was a remarkably effective way to keep him silent, T'Pol reflected, and she made a mental note to use it again in the future. "We have been on this planet for just under a human year, Trip," she pointed out. "A few more days will not matter." His shoulders slumped.
"Yeah," he said. "I guess you're right." Trip glanced away. "I just want to get as far away from this damned rock before something else goes wrong," he said. He spent another few seconds breathing deeply and T'Pol could feel his frustration coiling around them like an invisible serpent. "So," he asked with forced good cheer, "how was your day?"
They spent another two hours sitting there, formulating plans and discussing ideas. Trip's emotions – and thus, T'Pol's as well – settled as they talked, and before they knew it, both of them were leaning over her now repaired PADD, examining the list of stores while they contemplated the feasibility of constructing a small transporter. Trip was convinced that they had adequate materials and believed that what they did not already have, he could fabricate using the small workshop inside the reactor room. Although she generally agreed with his assertion that such a device was within their capabilities, T'Pol nonetheless took the opposite side of the argument simply because she derived a great deal of satisfaction out of disagreeing with him. Ultimately, they decided to table the discussion for the moment – the sun was beginning to disappear beyond the horizon and the footing had been treacherous enough with full light – and retraced their path to the T'Muna-Doth. T'Pol intentionally stepped in front of the hatch leading to the reactor room once they boarded and gave Trip a knowing look when he grimaced.
"Medical," she ordered. Trip frowned and looked to be on the verge of arguing, but faltered under her unyielding gaze. Didn't he understand? She had to be sure that he was safe, that she hadn't ruined his life. "If I need to," T'Pol said calmly, "I will render you unconscious and carry you there." For reasons she did not understand, her comment caused him to smirk.
"Aye, aye, ma'am," Trip said and preceded her into the kitchen/medical bay. "Do I get a lollipop for being a good boy?" he asked once her scan was complete long minutes later and T'Pol gave him a confused look. "Never mind," he said before standing so he could watch her input the results into the nearby wall monitor. "Am I gonna live?" he wondered, the thickness of his accent betraying his trepidation.
"There are a number of inconsistencies in your neural pattern," T'Pol said slowly. She was relying entirely upon her memory of having seen Trip's brain scans more than a few times in sickbay on Enterprise – the Xyrillian incident, for example, or after his near death experience aboard Shuttlepod One with Lieutenant Reed – but she was certain that his neural patterns had never been this active before. Once more, she felt the crushing weight of guilt bearing down upon her. She had done this to him. This was her fault.
"Knock it off," Trip grumbled. He reached past her and killed the power to the monitor. "If you hadn't done your Vulcan mojo, I'd be dead," he pointed out. "Besides," he continued, "we've got this pretty lady now." As he spoke, he patted the bulkhead. "She'll get us off this rock," Trip said, "and we can track down Phlox for one of his miracle cures." He hesitantly touched the side of her face where he'd kissed her days earlier with just his index and middle fingers, and she wondered if he was simply emulating her or if he had learned about the ozh'esta. "But this whole blamin' yourself?" he added. "It needs to stop."
"I'm alive because of you, T'Pol." A warm buzz echoed within her mind as his fingers caressed her sensitive ear. "The way I see it," Trip added softly, "my life wouldn't be complete if you weren't around anyway, so if this means we both die early, then so be it." Her breath caught at the naked honesty in his voice and she felt the loss of his fingers keenly when he dropped his hand. "Now I believe I was promised neuropressure." His attempt at humor felt strained, as if he was trying to give her a way out of a conversation he recognized to be too emotional for her tastes.
"Yes," T'Pol said, her voice thick. "I will join you momentarily." She watched him walk to the sleeping compartment while her mind raced. Never before had she felt such intense emotion from such a simple statement. With just a few words, Trip had once again thoroughly upset her equilibrium. Through the touch of his fingers, she had felt his emotions, had tasted his regard for her and his barely suppressed desire, and it triggered something … primitive deep within her. T'Pol drew in a deep breath.
And made her decision.
Trip was facing away from the door when she entered the sleeping compartment, having already stripped down to his shorts in preparation for neuropressure. As he always did when his shirt was off, he was unconsciously rubbing the scars that marred his otherwise flawless torso. His attention was riveted on the antique lirpa inside one of the now open wall lockers and, as she approached, he spoke.
"What is this thing, T'Pol?" he asked. When she did not answer, he turned to face her.
His eyes widened and he drank in the expanse of her nudity with shock. T'Pol could smell his sudden arousal, could see the instant reaction his body had to the sight of her unclothed body, and she took a step forward, raising her hand toward him with only the index and middle fingers extended. Hesitantly, Trip reciprocated and their fingers touched. Through the conduit that brief connection formed, their minds brushed against each other.
Trip's need called out to her.
And willingly, eagerly, she went to him.