He woke alone.
T’Pol’s side of the bed was cool to the touch and the distinctive albeit subtle smell he’d learned to associate with her – the deep-rooted romantic in him likened it to sand and fire, but the engineer simply classified it as a by-product of her copper-based biochemistry – was absent. He automatically sat up and gave the sleeping compartment a quick once-over. Neither of the two other beds had been pulled down from their storage positions in the wall, but that wasn’t a surprise since Trip could count on one hand the number of times he and T’Pol hadn’t slept under the same blankets in the last six months. He frowned and rolled to his feet, tensing unnecessarily in preparation for the feel of cool metal under his skin. As usual, though, he instead marveled at how warm the floor panels were, even though he shouldn’t have really been surprised.
After pulling on his trousers – he didn’t bother with the outer jacket; the undershirt and pants were more than enough in these tropical climes – Trip gave the bed a glance but ultimately decided against hitting the button that would cause it to retract into the wall. It might have been wishful thinking on his part, but he hoped to put that surprisingly comfortable mattress to use again in the very near future, providing T’Pol was as eager and as willing as she had been last night. He grinned broadly as he sauntered toward the fold-down sink in the corner of the sleeping compartment. For the first time since even before they crashed on this miserable rock, he felt like all was right in the world.
He spent a few minutes longer than normal over the sink, shaving, desperately trying to avoid looking at the still angry scars on his chest that never ceased to remind him how close he came to death, before using the weird Vulcan oral hygiene device T’Pol called a mouth sterilizer. It reminded him of the mouthguards he’d worn while playing football and, if they had more than two, he’d have torn it apart just to see how it worked. When placed in his mouth, the material that looked and felt like but wasn’t plastic molded around his teeth before bombarding them with sonic pulses (or something – he wasn’t sure and T’Pol had admitted that she’d simply taken them for granted all her life so she had never sought to find out how they worked.) During this process, they also secreted a toothpaste-like substance that he’d already checked to ensure was safe for human mouths. A full minute later, the cleansing cycle ended and, even after rinsing, he was left with the taste of almonds for the rest of the day.
His good mood began to fade when he didn’t find T’Pol in any of her usual haunts. She wasn’t in the meditation chamber/gym, or conducting another inventory of the ship’s stores in the hopes of finding some food that might still be edible so they wouldn’t have to rely on those weird-tasting mango-flavored coconuts on the trees around the island for sustenance. The science lab – which had become her territory sort of like how the reactor room was his – didn’t look to have been entered since yesterday, and even the command deck was mostly powered down except for the bare essentials. When he saw that her recharged phase pistol was gone from where they stored it, Trip’s worry only intensified. There wasn’t any reason to leave the ship without letting him know …
After securing his own pistol to his waist as well as attaching one of the communicators they’d found aboard the T’Muna-Doth to his belt, he opened the outer hatch and stepped out into the early morning sunshine. It felt good on his face, especially since that damned beard was gone, and he inhaled deeply, smiling at the familiar smells of the ocean. He glanced around for any sign of T’Pol, but when he couldn’t see her, he started walking.
He found her atop the same hill they had picnicked on yesterday – was it only yesterday? – wearing one of the excursion jackets they’d found in the ship stores. T’Pol was sitting in her familiar meditation posture with her eyes closed, but her expression and her body language seemed to indicate that she was anything but relaxed. He hesitated for a moment, then decided to go for broke and took a seat behind her, scooting forward so she was nearly sitting in his lap with her back to his chest. Instantly, she tensed, but when he just sat there, his arms wrapped around her, she gradually began to relax against him. With a satisfied smile, Trip closed his eyes and concentrated on feeding his emotions into the imaginary fire like she taught him.
And a moment later, he was … elsewhere.
The expansive white nothing stretched out in all directions, with form but no substance. Trip recognized the place immediately from that shared dream he and T’Pol had shortly before he got himself mangled by the bear even if he had absolutely no idea how he got here. He found T’Pol in the same position as she was in the real world although her clothes here were the ornate ambassadorial robes he’d only seen her in once or twice and, on instinct, Trip decided to follow her lead (which was something he was getting pretty good at doing.) Taking a seat behind her on the imaginary floor, he scooted forward and exactly like she had outside this big, white nothing, T’Pol initially tensed but gradually relaxed.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked as soon as she sagged back against him. His lips were mere centimeters from her left ear and he frowned when she shuddered. It didn’t look to be from disgust, but rather something else entirely.
“No,” she replied tightly, her voice ragged with feeling.
“Then why are you pushing me away?” Trip wondered. She half-turned to face him and her eyes automatically flickered down to his lips. “You’re putting off some pretty intense ‘go away’ vibes, T’Pol.”
“I am … confused,” the beautiful woman in his arms admitted.
“About last night?” Trip bit back a frown and felt his stomach plunge. Making love to her had been one of the most sensual and memorable experiences of his entire life, and he had been certain she enjoyed it.
“I did enjoy it,” she said suddenly, prompting him to wonder if he’d spoken aloud or she simply plucked the thought from his mind. “And that is why I am confused.” At Trip’s expression, she sighed. “Humans,” T’Pol said carefully, “are driven by the subconscious desire for sexual gratification due to the pleasure they derive during intercourse.” She leaned back. “Vulcans do not experience pleasure.”
“At all?” Trip asked in disbelief. He felt his stomach twisting.
“Sexual intercourse is simply another biological function for Vulcans,” she replied, “no more pleasurable than breathing or sleeping.” At his appalled look, T’Pol gave him an almost indifferent shrug that seemed oddly out of place on her. “Had it not been for the evolution of the mating cycle in my people,” she continued, “we would likely have never reached a sustainable population.”
“But you did enjoy it,” Trip said. “I could feel that through this … bond thing.” His eyes widened in sudden comprehension. “You’re afraid,” he guessed.
“According to everything I have been taught,” T’Pol said simply, “the Vulcan body does not have the erogenous zones necessary for me to have experienced what I felt last night.” Her shoulders slumped in despair. “What I am experiencing right now here with you,” she corrected herself with another deep frown. “This leaves me with one of two explanations. Either everything I have been told about Vulcan culture is a lie or I am simply … deviant.”
“There’s a third option,” Trip offered quickly, his expression souring at her suggestion that she was a freak. He tightened his hold on her and wished he could just kiss away her fears. “It’s my fault.” T’Pol glanced at him once again. “I’m human, after all,” he pointed out. “So maybe … maybe you just felt what I felt?”
“That is … possible,” T’Pol admitted softly. The tension in her muscles did not ease, though, and Trip suspected she was still blaming herself. Knowing her, she’d already decided that the High Command – which was filled with lying, self-serving scumbags who would gladly sell their mothers up the river without losing a night of sleep, all the while claiming it was logic that drove their actions – couldn’t possibly be responsible for a deception this large, so it was more likely that she was some sort of aberration. She’d mentioned before during their random conversations how her difficulty with emotional control had always set her apart from the rest of her species and now she had another metaphorical albatross to wear around her neck.
And Trip was desperately afraid that this would turn out to be his fault.
“We’ll figure it out, T’Pol,” he said. “If you need us to back off, to not … to not have sex again, then that’s what we’ll do,” he continued, unable to ignore the ball of ice forming in his stomach. Now, after having touched her, having tasted her, having felt her passion envelop him, the idea of never making love to her again … it caused an ache deep within him that hurt worse than anything he’d ever felt before. But if that was what she needed from him, he would give it to her, no matter that he needed her like he needed water. At least he had his memories…
“No,” T’Pol murmured. She twisted around his arms until they were facing each other. Her eyes flared with something that could only be hunger and Trip felt his body instinctively respond. “I do not want that at all,” she told him before lunging forward to capture his lips with hers. The white space splintered around them and fell away, and suddenly, Trip found himself back in the real world, flat on his back with T’Pol atop him. Her fingers were everywhere, branding his very soul with her touch.
After that, well … things got a little hazy.
“What the hell was that?” Trip asked sometime later. She was draped over him like a living blanket with an especially important part of his anatomy he was rather proud of still captured within her. His muscles felt like rubber and the bond crackled between them, stronger than ever. T’Pol did not move her head from where it rested atop his chest as she stroked his forearm with the two fingers – index and middle, as usual – of her right hand, but he could actually feel her confusion and her satisfaction warring with one another. It was one of the weirdest sensations he’d ever experienced but, for some reason, it just felt … right. “Talk to me,” he urged.
“I do not want to talk,” T’Pol replied. “I am content to remain where I am for now.”
“A few minutes ago you were freaking out,” Trip said. “But now, you just want to lay here?”
“Yes.” He frowned at her reply.
“T’Pol…” Her right hand came up and she touched his lips with the two fingers he’d seen her use every time she wanted to expression affection. A jolt of something that felt like amusement coursed through the magical bond thing.
“Don’t talk,” she said. “I do not understand this,” she admitted, “and I am not sure I want to.” She wiggled slightly to get more comfortable and Trip groaned when he felt his body responding to her heat once more. He had to admit that he was surprised – it wasn’t like he was eighteen anymore. “I simply wish to enjoy it,” T’Pol finished, her fingers moving from his lips to caress his face, as if she were a blind woman trying to get a grasp of what he looked like. She tilted her head and stared intently at the path her fingers were tracing.
When his stomach growled long minutes – or hours, he wasn’t quite sure – later, they still hadn’t moved from their spot on the hill and Trip glanced down to find T’Pol staring into the distance, her eyes unfocussed. Her thoughts brushed up against his – which was an even weirder sensation he couldn’t possibly begin to describe – but she barely stirred, even when fat raindrops began falling out of the sky. Trip finally sat up, forcing her to snap out of her fugue, and an emerald blush crawled across her face the moment she realized how distracted she’d become. She reached for her discarded excursion jacket and it finally occurred to Trip that she wasn’t wearing shoes. Or pants.
“Is that all you were wearing?” he asked while buttoning up his pants. T’Pol’s blush deepened.
“Yes,” she admitted softly. “I needed … I needed somewhere to think where I did not smell you.” Trip frowned, not sure whether he’d just been complimented or insulted, and she gave him that not-quite there smile of hers.
They made it back to the T’Muna-Doth before the rain really started coming down, but Trip paused in the open doorway of the ship and watched the downpour, fighting down another surge of homesickness. God, he hated how these moments seemed to come out of nowhere! Behind him, he heard T’Pol hesitate in mid-step and, a moment later, felt her warm fingers touch his shoulder. Automatically, he reached back and covered her hand with his.
“Tomorrow will be a year,” he said softly.
“I know,” T’Pol replied.
“Do you ever think about them?” Trip asked. “About Enterprise or the crew?”
“Not often,” she answered calmly. She gave him a teasing glance. “Ensuring your safety requires far too much of my time as it is.” Trip rolled his eyes and thought about mentioning her own less than stellar track record, but decided against it.
“I’m glad it was you,” he said instead. “Trapped here with me.” T’Pol’s right eyebrow climbed a couple of millimeters and Trip grimaced. “Not that I’m glad we’re actually trapped or anything,” he added quickly, “but if I had to be trapped anywhere, I’m glad it’s with you.” At the back of his mind, the unspoken question – would she have developed this bond thing with whoever she was stuck here with? Sure, she’d insisted that she and the captain weren’t involved aboard Enterprise, but they had been awfully close – continued to linger, but he did his best to ignore it like he usually did. When she remained silent for a long, extended moment, Trip almost opened his mouth again and tried to reassure her that he wasn’t just saying this because they’d had sex, but fortunately, his brain chose that moment to begin filtering his comments.
“I share your sentiment,” T’Pol finally said, her eyes locked on his lips. Her eyes flickered up to meet his before quickly dropping back down almost bashfully. “I wish to clean up,” she said abruptly before wheeling around and walking away. Trip watched her disappear around the curving corridor and into the living compartment. As soon as she vanished into the cabin, he slumped back against the bulkhead and turned his attention back to the rain.
What the hell do I do now? he wondered. T’Pol’s transformation from confused woman to eager rebel seemed too … abrupt to be anything but trouble. She’d mentioned that skipping meditation had resulted in her lack of judgment with Tolaris which had led to the Pa’nar, so was this the same sort of thing? Was he just another really stupid mistake on her part that she’d ultimately regret? Even the High Command couldn’t conceal something as easy to disprove as what she’d been taught about Vulcan sexuality, could they? There were so many factors unaccounted for right now that he didn’t know what to think. It could simply be another of the lies told by the fascists at High Command, or it could be this miraculous but always freaky bond thing, or it could the meld, or the fact that he was human. Hell, for all he knew, it could be the Pa’nar messing with her head!
Trip sighed. He had absolutely no idea what to do.
So instead, he quietly ducked into the reactor room and went to work.