Last chapter, and still no rose garden in sight. Fire away . . .

**

Chapter 6: Ties that Bind

It was the middle of the night, but T'Pol once again found herself unable to sleep. Her attempts to meditate were met with failure as well, and now she was reduced to sitting on her bed with her head in her hands. Commander Tucker's words echoed uncomfortably in her mind. "You broke him, you fix him."

How could she repair Lieutenant Reed? She had apparently damaged him emotionally, but she was unclear what exactly she had done to inflict the injury. Perhaps she should call Commander Tucker and request more information.

Immediately she discarded that idea. It was none of Commander Tucker's concern. If she reasoned logically, she should be able to discern the source of the pain on her own.

In the past few days, logical reasoning had become increasingly difficult to attain, particularly where Lieutenant Reed was concerned. Malcolm, his name is Malcolm, a small, irrational part of her brain reminded her. His eyes are blue-gray, like a stormy sea, the irrational voice whispered. His hair is soft. His skin is soft. Tenderness combined with strength . . .

She brutally silenced the irrational voice. "Logic is my guide," she hissed through clenched teeth. "A relationship with a subordinate officer is against regulations." Not only that, but such a relationship would be impossible, she reminded herself forcefully, as said "subordinate officer" ('Malcolm,' the irrational voice insisted) had made it clear that he had no desire for an . . . intimate relationship with her. Logic dictated that she must accept the reality of the situation and move on. However, the dictates of logic could not prevent the deep sense of loss that manifested itself whenever she thought about her life without him.

In her mind, T'Pol pictured herself placing her emotions in a box and closing the lid. She took a deep breath through her nose and blew it out slowly through her mouth to clear her thoughts.

Having successfully silenced the voice and suppressed her emotional reactions, T'Pol forcibly returned her attention to the matter at hand, namely discerning the source of Malcolm--Lieutenant Reed's pain.

T'Pol thought back to her latest conversation with Lieutenant Reed, in the torpedo bay. She recalled accusing him of unprofessional conduct, but he had agreed with her, so how could that comment have injured him?

She thought back further in the conversation, to when she had suggested that he delegate some of his work. His response had been defensive; in fact, he had snapped that he knew what his job was. T'Pol suddenly realized that by reminding him of his duties, she had most likely offended him. She knew that Lieutenant Reed was very sensitive to suggestions that he was not performing adequately at his job.

A connection was made in her mind, between her reminding Reed of his job, and her comment on the planet where she had blamed the shuttle crash on his inattentiveness. Both comments would likely have the same effect on him.

Confident that she understood the source of his emotional pain, T'Pol now believed that she would indeed be able to fix it. An apology was in order, and perhaps a little encouragement that he indeed performed his duties adequately.

Thus resolved, T'Pol dressed and left her quarters, still barefoot. When she reached Lieutenant Reed's door, she pressed the buzzer without hesitation.

There was a longer than usual pause, and when the door finally opened, Reed was tying the drawstring on a pair of sweatpants. His hair was rumpled and he wore a tank-top style undershirt and nothing on his feet. T'Pol remembered suddenly that it was the middle of the night and she had most likely interrupted his sleep.

For nearly a minute he stood in the doorway, staring at her with an unreadable expression on his face. Finally he stepped back and allowed her to enter.

His quarters were neat, almost obsessively so. He settled himself on his perfectly made bed and drew his feet up to sit cross-legged. T'Pol propped herself on the corner of the desk chair. She took a deep breath to collect her thoughts.

"I would like to apologize to you."

Reed's expression was guarded. "For what?"

"For my comment in the phase cannon bay. I did not mean to insinuate that you did not know how to do your job."

"What do you mean?"

"I suggested that you delegate some of your work. You responded that you knew your job. My suggestion hurt your feelings."

At that moment, Reed did something completely unexpected. He laughed. "I'm not that fragile, T'Pol," he said dryly.

T'Pol took another deep breath. This was not going as well as she had hoped. "I know that you are sensitive regarding your performance at your job. My comment regarding your lack of attention in the shuttle also hurt you. I apologize for that comment as well."

Reed stared at her silently for so long that T'Pol almost repeated her comment, thinking that perhaps he had not understood it. As she opened her mouth to speak, he inhaled sharply.

"Oh my God." He turned his face away from her, fists clenching his lap.

"What is wrong?"

"So that's it, eh? You felt sorry for me." He shook his head in disgust.

T'Pol was completely taken aback by the apparent change in subject. "Excuse me?"

"It was a pity fuck!" Reed slammed his fist into his palm. "I never thought I'd get pity sex from a Vulcan!"

It took T'Pol a second to realize what he was talking about, but when she did, everything suddenly made sense. She had read him incorrectly. His reaction (or rather lack of reaction) to her denial of their relationship had been a sham, and she had fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker, as Commander Tucker might put it.

"No!" She shook her head desperately. "I did not do it because I felt pity for you. I felt . . . How do I explain my actions when I do not fully understand them myself?"

Reed met her eye, and T'Pol caught a glimpse of the depths of his pain. Pain that she had caused, not by any off-hand comment, but by her actions. "Try," he demanded.

"You were kind to me after I had hurt you. I found myself attracted to you. I acted on that attraction. It was a momentary impulse."

"It certainly didn't feel like a 'momentary impulse.' You could have stopped at any time."

T'Pol considered his comment. "Yes, that is true. My actions were not impulsive in the strictest sense of the term. I did act intentionally." Now it was T'Pol's turn to examine her hands and avoid eye contact. "The . . . attraction had existed for several weeks before I acted on it. It began when you created a superior shelter so efficiently and effortlessly."

"Ah, that."

"Yes. You never told me where you acquired such a skill."

"Do you really want to know?" Reed's voice was puzzled.

"Yes."

"It's not a pretty story."

"I would like to hear it."

Malcolm took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "When I graduated high school, seventeen years old, my father wanted me to enroll in the Naval Academy. I--well, let's just say that wasn't what I wanted to do. So I left."

Malcolm paused in his story and cleared his throat. Finally he continued softly, almost as if he were talking to himself instead of to her. "The day after graduation, I took all the money I had, about one hundred credits, and rode the train as far as it would take me, which happened to be the north of Scotland. Since I had no money left for food or lodging, I spent the entire summer living off the land, fending for myself. Then, when the summer was over, I hitchhiked back to London and joined Starfleet."

"You taught yourself this skill?"

"Among others, yes."

T'Pol almost smiled. "I am more impressed now than I was at the time."

"But if you--if you were attracted to me, then why did you . . ." Malcolm's voice faltered, then continued. "Why did you want to pretend like it had never happened?"

"I thought I was doing what was best for both of us. But now I realize I was only thinking of myself. I did not consider that my actions might hurt you, that you might agree even though you did not wish to."

Reed looked down at his clenched fists in his lap, and T'Pol watched him slowly force his hands to relax. "I'll get over it," he said quietly.

Her gaze traveled to his face, his lips pressed tightly together, his downcast eyes. She felt a surge of emotions wash over her: hurt, confusion, loneliness, desire, all jumbled together. The lock of hair slipped down over his forehead, and T'Pol could not stop herself. She reached out and gently brushed it back.

The touch turned into a caress. Moving to sit next to him on the bed, she stroked down the side of his face, ran her thumb lightly over the nearly invisible scar on his cheekbone. Malcolm sat motionless while she touched him, still looking down. After a moment his eyes came up to meet hers.

"Don't do this unless you mean it," he said very quietly.

"Is this what you want?"

"Yes," he whispered, eyes locked on hers. He leaned in and let his lips brush against hers, and T'Pol felt a thrill of excitement at the contact. Returning and deepening the kiss, she tangled her fingers in the curls at his neck, marveling in their softness. With her lips still pressed to his, her other hand trailed down his chest to the waistband of his pants, fingers working to untie the drawstring. Touching him felt so right, so good, that she didn't feel she could be apart from him a moment longer.

Malcolm's hand covered hers, stopping her motion, and he slowly broke the kiss. "Wait."

"What is it?"

"We-we can't do this," he said in a rough voice.

"Do you not want me?"

Malcolm's eyes dropped. "Yes, I do, but-I'm just mixed up. I don't know what I want." His voice was husky with emotion.

T'Pol lifted his chin to force him to look at her. As soon as their eyes met, the emotions washed over her again, this time confusion and loneliness were at the forefront. In a rare flash of insight, T'Pol understood what was happening, knew the true source of their pain.

"I see."

"See what?" His bewilderment and hurt were obvious.

"I did not believe it was possible with a member of another species."

"What was possible?"

"When we-were intimate-I unintentionally initiated a mating bond. The disruption of this bond is causing us both pain."

T'Pol watched comprehension dawn in his eyes. "That explains it, then," he said.

"Explains what?"

"I didn't understand why I was having such a hard time getting over this. I've been dumped before, but this-this really hurt." Malcolm's voice broke.

T'Pol interlaced her fingers with his. "Commander Tucker told me you were crying."

"He did, eh? I might have known."

"I too have been experiencing emotional repercussions from our . . . breakup."

"You have?"

"Yes. The mating bond is extremely strong. Without you, I have felt completely alone."

Malcolm's eyes flicked up to meet hers for a brief instant and dropped again. He took a breath as if to speak, but released it without saying anything. T'Pol waited, and after a moment he took another quick breath and began to speak in a rush. "When I got back to London after my little adventure in the woods, I found out that my parents had never reported me missing. I wrote them a letter, and they never even opened it. They rejected me, and I was completely alone. That's--that's how I felt, when you asked me to pretend it never happened. So alone." His voice was soft, completely open and honest, without a trace of his usual sarcasm or contempt.

"Malcolm, I am sorry, I never intended to hurt you."

"It's this bond, isn't it? That's what's making us both so miserable." There was silence for a moment as Malcolm chewed on the inside of his lip. "Can you--can you fix this? Can the bond be broken?"

"It is possible to break the bond, but the process can also be painful. Is that what you want?"

"I don't know," he said miserably. Malcolm's gaze locked on hers, and for several seconds they held the eye contact. "Yes," he said with a tone of finality. "We have to. We can't-we can't . . ."

"I agree," T'Pol replied reluctantly. She held up her hand, with her first two fingers spread in a V. His hand came up instinctively, without hesitation, to meet hers.

**

As soon as T'Pol completed the ritual, Malcolm curled up on his bed and fell almost instantly into a deep sleep. She sat beside him on the edge of the bed, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. He looked so peaceful, so vulnerable, with his rumpled clothes and mussed hair. Very lightly T'Pol stroked his hair back from his forehead.

"Malcolm," she whispered. He stirred slightly in his sleep but did not waken. Reluctantly T'Pol withdrew her hand and stood. She had intended to simply walk out without looking back, but something drew to him, kept her standing by the bed gazing down at his motionless form.

She felt a twinge of an emotion which she belatedly identified as regret. It seemed that in her very soul there was now a blank space, an empty spot that he had filled, but no longer. A small part of her longed for that space to be filled again.

The more rational parts of her brain took over, pushed the loss and longing aside, and reasserted control. Straightening her spine, she turned and strode out with her eyes straight ahead.

**

As far as I'm concerned, that's the end of the story. I may be persuaded to write a sequel that gets them back together, if the readers so desire, but keep in mind, there are no happy endings . . .