Following her first full shift on the Enterprise in over a week, T'Pol returned to her quarters at twenty-two hundred hours. After missing two weeks, it seemed that the science department had grown considerably lax in her absence and T'Pol was determined to regain the efficiency since lost.
As she checked the duty rosters for the next day, her glance fell upon the two gifts sitting on her desk beside her, still untouched. In her haste to regain the normalcy of her life on the Enterprise following the pon far fiasco, T'Pol had left the gifts unopened and given them little thought for the past two days.
Still, it was illogical to post-pone the inevitable. With that thought in mind, she turned off her computer terminal and picked up the first present from Koss. In the time since the discovery of his betrayal, T'Pol had come to realize the reasoning behind his actions. As he had been attempting to help the revolution along, T'Pol found that there was no reason to continue to distrust him. He along with Sumarek and Skon were scheduled to give testimony at the Vulcan Security Council regarding the potential medical benefits of melding.
Unwrapping the gift, she found first a small data PADD. Opening the message, she read:
We did not part on the best of terms. Regardless, I hope you can come to understand the reasoning for my actions and the necessity of the betrayal. I can offer in my defense only that I omitted crucial truths, but never lied to you. May the gift enclosed within be proof of that. I also find that the gift has a considerable calming affect, comparable to that of meditation.
Live long and prosper in your endeavors,
Permitting her curiosity to get the better of her, T'Pol continued to unwrap the present. A puzzle. He had given her a puzzle. T'Pol indulged in a memory.
"The revolution will be a peaceful one?" T'Pol asked.
"I am certain of it," Koss replied.
"Then I will take pleasure in seeing it succeed. I must admit, however, that I would not have thought you would have been amongst those in the revolution," T'Pol said honestly.
"Because of my parents?" Koss wondered.
"Parents do tend to dictate their children's behavior," she answered.
"My father and I have opposing conceptions of reality."
"When I was a child," Koss began, "My parents purchased a Terran puzzle depicting an aquatic scene. It was composed of 10,000 pieces but my father was under the impression it would be quite simple because it was a human creation. Surely such a naïve species was incapable of composing a puzzle that would be a challenge to a Vulcan. As I was a child, I immediately spied the brightest piece-a brilliant shade of red that closely resembles our sky during noon of a summer day. I began to try to place the piece where I believed its proper place was. My father promptly removed it. He contented there was no logic in placing a bright red piece amidst all of the blue. It was not until all of the other pieces were in their proper places that he conceded to having no other choice. The piece that had gained so much of my attention was a sample of colorful flora."
Koss' gift was a Terrean puzzle of an aquatic scene. The cover of the puzzle box was worn with age. Illogically, T'Pol opened the box and ruffled through the pieces. Most indeed were contrasting shades of blues and greens. Near the bottom of the pile, however, was a brilliantly red piece which stood out against the others and caught T'Pol's eye the moment it was uncovered. Irrationally, T'Pol grasped the piece and held it close to her.
T'Pol looked at Koss questionably. "Humans are not logical. I doubt they frequently employ the use of logic in constructions of their puzzles."
Koss gave the non-smile again. "Our people's relationship with humans has needed someone who understood that, T'Pol. It is why your mission has been successful."
Shaking herself from her trance, T'Pol placed the offending flora back in the box and resealed the container. Taking two steady breaths to calm herself, she moved on to her mother's present. When the layers had been unraveled, T'Pol stared in amazement at the offending present.
A stuffed sehlat.
The offending animal was approximately nine inches long and held within its grasp a data PADD. T'Pol hesitated, but finally agreed to read the contents.
Your father has appraised me of your current situation. While Commander Tucker no doubt brings you a great deal of pleasure, I foresee difficulty in the times ahead. You may at times experience sensations suspiciously close to frustration. This gift is to remind you that even the most threatening of situations are not always as dangerous as you may first perceive them.
Technically, there was no difficulty in T'Pol's relationship with Commander Tucker at present. Of course, that was due only to the unfortunate fact that they appeared to no longer have a relationship. To his credit, the Commander was being the consummate professional-he had not once addressed her as anything but "Sub-Commander" in the past two days. For a man that had insisted on calling her by her name during the previous two years, it showed considerable constraint. He was also very adept at keeping up his shields. As T'Pol utilized hers as well, neither experienced the loneliness or pain the other felt at the return to their old routine. Unquestionably, however, they both noticed the presence of the shields and neither could help but wonder how much time would have to pass before the very presence of their shields would cease to be an uncomfortable reminder of what they had once shared-and what they could well continue to share, if only T'Pol had not insisted upon terminating their relationship.
Gazing at the stuffed sehlat, T'Pol remembered her vow to end the relationship with Commander Tucker. The decision to curb any potentially negative side effects of her relationship with Trip had been a hasty one, T'Pol realized. Again, T'Pol read her mother's note: ". . . even the most threatening of situations are not always as dangerous as you may first perceive them."
But then again, what could be more dangerous to a Vulcan than a loss of control? *But do not all Vulcans lose control during the time of pon far? Had you not only just purged the fever when you reacted to T'Pau's comments?*
The answer to both of those questions was yes.
*The sehlat even resembles the Commander slightly,* T'Pol mused. Its fur was nearly the same shade as the darkest of Commander Tucker's follicles.
This train of thought was undeniably unproductive, T'Pol decided. She had made her decision and it was a wise one. She could not allow a relationship with Commander Tucker to develop.
Rising, she went to her bookshelf and withdrew a copy of The Sayings of Surak. She was certain she would find justification for her actions within the book. Allowing the book to fall open on its own, the first passage she came to was "we have differences. May we, together, become greater than the sum of both of us."
T'Pol startled. *If I believed in fate, I would be certain it was against me tonight,* T'Pol noted. She pushed the thought away. Surak had not been referring to her relationship with Commander Tucker.
For surely Surak would have known that intimacy with the irrational engineer would only lead to a loss of control. T'Pol turned the page and continued to read. "Cast out fear. There is no room for anything else until you cast out fear."
T'Pol slowly closed the book and set it back on the shelf. Fear. Was that not the emotion she was currently hiding behind? Fear of losing control? Fear of change? Fear of the unknown?
The irony of the situation was not lost to T'Pol. She had ended her relationship with Commander Tucker in order to prevent becoming emotional and in doing so hid behind one of the strongest emotions that existed.
Trip scowled at the computer terminal in front of him. Like T'Pol, he had discovered that his department had experienced a serious decline in the efficiency rating. In fact, the only area that didn't need at least a twenty percent increase was the plasma conduits. Trip was somewhat surprised to discover that those had been receiving a steady cleaning by Ensign Connelly for the past two weeks.
*Hmm. Connelly's not my department. She's in the armory,* Trip noted to himself. Using the comm, Trip hailed Malcolm.
"Yes, Trip, what can I do for you?" the lieutenant asked.
"Hey, Malcolm, I was checking over engineering's duty roster for the past couple weeks and I noticed you assigned Connelly to scrubbin' the plasma conduits."
"That's correct," Malcolm replied.
"Well, how come?"
"Because I outrank Lieutenant Hess," Malcolm answered.
"Haha, Malcolm. I meant what'd she do to warrant three weeks of scrubbin' conduits?" Trip questioned.
There was a pause and Trip could tell that Malcolm truly did not want to share. Well, that was too bad. Trip couldn't have people in his department that were trouble makers. "Consider that an order, Lieutenant."
"Very well, Commander. Ensign Connelly was in charge of guarding you while you were in the brig and . . . well, she did not behave in a professional manner," Malcolm finished.
Trip smiled in spite of himself. "So you gave her three weeks of scrubbin' plasma conduits because she was pickin' on me? Really, Malcolm, I appreciate the sentiment, but-"
"No, Commander. I didn't punish her for 'picking' on you," Malcolm interrupted. "If you would like, I will show you the security camera video feed."
"That sounds nice, Malcolm," Trip agreed, feeling suspicious. "Why don't you bring it on over?"
There was a pause before Malcolm answered. "Now, Commander?"
"Well, it can wait, I guess, if you're busy," Trip replied.
"I'm a bit preoccupied. Perhaps I could show you in the morning?" Malcolm offered.
"Workin' on some new tactical maneuvers?" Trip questioned. Distinctly, the engineer heard the softest giggle in the background. And it certainly didn't come from Malcolm.
"Er. . . yes, Commander. Very delicate tactical maneuvers," Malcolm responded.
"I understand ya, Lieutenant. See ya tomorrow."
As he ended the connection, Trip couldn't shake the feeling of jealously knowing very well what type of maneuvers Malcolm was up to. Before he could dwell long on the thought, his door chimed.
"Come," he called. When T'Pol walked in, he had to remind himself to breathe.
"Charles," she greeted. "Am I disturbing you?"
It wasn't "Trip", but Charles was a hell of a lot less formal than "Commander Tucker." Still, Trip was determined not to let himself get his hopes up. "No, Sub-Commander. What can I help you with?"
T'Pol appeared to take a deep breathe before answering. "I wish. . . do you still desire to attempt a relationship with me?"
Trip stared at her in amazement. "I thought you didn't want that. Thought I was too emotional for ya."
T'Pol shook her head. "I . . . was hasty in my judgment," she answered.
"Oh, well, that makes it all better," Trip retorted.
Human sarcasm was not a method in which T'Pol was skilled. Still, she could sense that all was not well with Commander Tucker. "You wish for me to leave?" she asked.
"Depends. What type of meaningless sex act do ya feel like performin' tonight?" Trip snapped. It was going too far, but in his anger, Trip couldn't see that.
T'Pol straightened. "I apologize for interrupting your recreational time, Commander. Good evening." She turned to go and it was only then that Trip noticed she had been holding a container during the entire exchange.
"T'Pol-wait," Trip called to her. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"It is understandable. I caused you sufficient pain. You do wish to engage in a relationship with someone you cannot trust. I can appreciate that, Commander," T'Pol said stiffly.
"For Pete's sake, T'Pol, don't revert back to Commander. I was real fond of 'Trip,' but 'Charles' will do. And I trust ya with my life," Trip told her. Then he chuckled softly. "After all, ya saved it."
T'Pol bristled. "You are not obligated to me," she replied.
Trip sighed and ran his hands through his hair in great frustration. "I didn't mean it like that! Damnit, you can be so frustratin'."
"You are equally exasperating," T'Pol rejoined.
"Two equally stubborn people in a relationship," Trip mused. "It's probably destined to fail."
"Perhaps," T'Pol admonished. "However, as Surak would say, we must cast our fear before there is room for anything else."
Trip smiled. It was, T'Pol reflected, a most aesthetically pleasing sight. "So, step one is we toss out the fear. What's step two?"
T'Pol offered him the container. "I thought we should construct this puzzle together," she suggested.
"A puzzle?" Trip questioned.
"Will you not find it to be an enjoyable activity?" T'Pol pondered.
"Sure. I like puzzles-I always have. But um, that's not exactly what most couples do on their first date," Trip explained.
"No," T'Pol agreed. "However, we are not most couples."
Trip chuckled softly. "No, we certainly aren't."
"Besides, this puzzle has special meaning," T'Pol added.
"Alright, I'm game," Trip said as he plopped himself down on the floor.
T'Pol raised an eyebrow, but sat down beside him. She regarded him for a moment before suggesting, "Perhaps we could drop the shields for the occasion."
Trip pursed his lips. "I don't know. . . wouldn't droppin' our shields kinda be like goin' into battle with the hull plating bein' offline?"
T'Pol nodded. "It would be an apt analogy. However, we did agree to cast our fears aside," she reminded him.
Trip laughed. "Alright, you win."
Trip dropped his shields and T'Pol dropped hers. For a moment the two simply basked in the sensation of their bond. Finally T'Pol interrupted. "We should begin the construction," she said.
"Okay. What's the final picture supposed to look like?" Trip asked.
Through their bond, Trip felt T'Pol's mirth. "You shall know the answer to that question once the puzzle is constructed."
"Well, how am I supposed to know how to connect the pieces if I don't know what the finished product is supposed to be?" Trip countered.
"Perhaps by employing simple skills of logical deduction to determine where the pieces should be placed," T'Pol answered.
"Yeah. . . along with some good old fashioned trial and error," Trip rejoined. "So is there a reason you picked this specific puzzle?"
"Yes. It is most appropriate for our situation," T'Pol answered.
"I will tell you when we are finished."
"Why are ya makin' me wait for everything? I have to wait to hear the story. I have to wait to see what we're makin'."
"Patience is a virtue, t'hy'la."
"That I don't happen to possess."
"Your wait shall be significantly shorter if we begin soon."
The two lapsed into an amicable silence as they began their project.
A/N: This crazy story was only supposed to be 10 chapters maximum-the plot bunnies multiplied like they themselves were in pon far. Anyway, thanks to everyone that reviewed. I hope the ending lived up to your expectations.
Oh-and is this happy enough for you?