Court and Spark
T'Pol walked slowly down the gravel path. It was undisputedly illogical to situate the landing pad at such an inconvenient distance from the primary domicile. Then again, the occupants of this house were not the most logical of beings. Most humans were illogical when compared to Vulcans, but this family seemed more genetically predisposed to such behavior than the average homo sapiens of T'Pol's experience. The fact that her visit was a personal choice emphasized to the young Vulcan her alienation from her own species. She replayed the unpleasant incidents of the last several days in her mind.
You resigned your commission, Ambassador Soval reminded her. As your position with the Vulcan High Command was apparently not of sufficient importance to you, it would be ill-advised to reinstate you. He came as close to scowling as she had ever seen him. The other Vulcans present—elder statesmen and -women of the Vulcan Consulate, forming a hastily assembled tribunal—nodded their agreement with Soval's judgment. How could we be assured that you would not simply resign again, when the next whim took you?
T'Pol refused to rise to his baiting. My decision to remain on Enterprise was hardly a whim,' Ambassador, she replied calmly. Not only was our mission successful, numerous research and exploration possibilities have been discovered. As you will note, the scientific data accumulated during our time in the Expanse is valuable, and will further many areas of research currently under study. And Starfleet is making the information available to us... She paused for effect. ...despite the fact that we provided no assistance to our allies during the Xindi crisis.
Silence greeted her words, but she knew that it indicated a distaste for her statements rather than any chagrin on the part that Vulcan had played—or more accurately had not played—during the past nine months. It was ironic. Her foolhardy experimentation with Trellium-D, and the emotions it generated, had enabled her to see through her fellow Vulcans. As much as they wished to deny it, emotions influenced many of their actions and decisions as well. They appeared not to suppress the emotions so much as to refuse to acknowledge them. T'Pol raked their hidebound faces with her skeptical gaze.
It would seem that you will require some time before coming to a decision, she continued, appearing to back off her confrontational statement. I will leave an address where I may be contacted for the next few weeks. She paused again for effect. However, I believe I should inform you that a prompt decision would be advisable. Several eyebrows rose at this presumption. Admiral Forrest has offered me a Starfleet commission, and Captain Archer prefers that I remain on Enterprise as First Officer. I have postponed accepting this offer until I have heard the decision of the High Command on this matter.
Though the facial expressions of the older Vulcans could not have altered more than a millimeter or so, T'Pol knew naked shock when she saw it. Overcoming a desire to smile at their consternation, she bowed her head in seeming respect and briskly walked from the conference room.
The house leapt into view suddenly as T'Pol rounded a corner. She knew the edifice could not be more than 100 years old, yet it seemed aged, venerable—but welcoming at the same time. The wide, wraparound porch and moss-covered roof beckoned the Vulcan, and something inside her said, This is home.
As T'Pol moved toward the house, she spied a familiar tuft of blond hair just beyond the porch railing. She paused for a moment, but her presence was not acknowledged. No greeting was offered. Puzzled, she mounted the porch steps, never taking her eyes from the still figure, which sat on a wooden bench of some sort. The bench was not mounted on the porch, but hung from the ceiling on chains, allowing it to move back and forth with its occupant. The current occupant dozed on the strange swaying chair, an open book facedown on his chest. Obviously, Commander Tucker had fallen asleep as he read.
He's been sitting out here waiting for you since lunchtime. A soft voice startled T'Pol. She looked up to find Mrs. Tucker standing behind her on the porch.
It was not my intention to inconvenience you, T'Pol apologized. I would have been more specific about my arrival time; however—
Mrs. Tucker patted the air with her hands, effectively silencing T'Pol. Don't you worry about that, honey. I knew that afternoon' most likely meant closer to dinner. The human woman gazed at her son affectionately. But he's been so eager to see you, that he decided to take it literally. And he's literally been out here since 12:01! Mrs. Tucker smiled. But don't you dare let on that I told you so!
With that, Charles' mother reached out her hand for T'Pol's duffel. The Vulcan hesitated a moment, then handed it to her hostess. She began to follow as the human woman turned to go inside the house, but to her surprise, Mrs. Tucker stopped her.
No, no, honey! He'd be angry if I stole you away as soon as you got here. Why don't you just sit out here until he wakes. I'll bring you some tea while you're waiting. She left T'Pol standing on the porch, uncertain of what to do.
The Vulcan turned her attention back to her...her what? What was Charles to her? How could their relationship be described? T'Pol was still unsure. At the very least, he was her good friend. At the very most...?
She studied his sleeping form carefully.
His hair was more uniform in appearance than the last time she had seen him. Someone—T'Pol suspected his mother—had cut the non-burned side so that it was roughly the same length as the singed side. It now stood up in prickly spikes all over his head, with only a vague semblance of having been recently combed.
The only bandages she could see were tiny: a small patch that ran along his right cheekbone, and a thin strip covering the outer edge of his right ear. There were probably other bandages beneath his clothing, but they were not visible. All in all, he appeared much healthier than when she had last seen him two weeks ago.
As if aware of her scrutiny, Charles opened his eyes sleepily. It took a moment for his brain to compute the visual input, but once it had, her friend leaped to his feet.
he cried in surprise, nearly toppling over in his enthusiasm. Belatedly, T'Pol noticed a crutch leaning against the porch, within arm's reach of the swinging chair. Standing unaided was apparently beyond Commander Tucker's current ability. The Vulcan stepped forward hastily, to catch him as he swayed on unsteady feet.
Commander, you should sit, she advised sternly.
You're finally here! he said delightedly, grasping her forearms as both a means of support and in welcome. How was your trip? The directions were good? You found the house okay? The engineer took a deep breath as if preparing to launch into another series of questions, so T'Pol took the opportunity to head him off.
My journey was without incident, Commander. Your directions were quite adequate, she answered. As he continued to beam at her foolishly, she went on, Please sit, Commander.
He hesitated a moment, and then, in what T'Pol realized was an ingrained response, he stepped back and swept his hand toward the swinging bench, stating with well-taught graciousness, After you.
Unfortunately, the commander's automatic courtesy took him one step too far from T'Pol's supporting hands. His knees wobbled and began to give way. One flailing arm caught the swinging chair by its chain, slowing his fall. It gave T'Pol enough time to step forward and get an arm around him. It did not, however, allow her to brace herself to take his full weight. They fell to the porch in an undignified heap. Although she realized that they must present a comical picture, T'Pol felt only relief that she had landed beneath him. Logically, he would be less likely to suffer an injury as a result—she was much softer than the wood of the porch.
Her friend appeared mortified by his clumsiness. Oh, geez, T'Pol, I'm sorry, he blurted as he floundered about, trying to rise and at the same time help her to her feet. His attempts at chivalry impaired his ability to correct the situation. T'Pol had to grab his hands before he did further damage to either of them.
Charles, please remain calm, she requested. You are exacerbating our predicament.
He sighed, giving her a chagrined look when he was finally able to meet her eyes. Guess this isn't my most debonair moment, he mumbled ruefully.
T'Pol felt a smile try to escape her rigid lips, but footsteps on the porch announcing a new arrival led her to curb her expression of amusement. Tipping her head back, she was startled to see the upside-down visage of Charles' father grinning down at them. He was carrying a tray, most likely the tea that Mrs. Tucker had offered earlier.
Hey there, T'Pol! Glad ya finally made it, Mr. Tucker welcomed boisterously. You kids sure don't waste any time, do ya? he continued, giving them a knowing look and a wink. Well, I'll get out of your hair so you two can continue your sparkin'. He set the tray down and sauntered back into the house, whistling jovially.
T'Pol had not believed Charles could look any more embarrassed than he had after falling on top of her. She was mistaken. In fact, she was alarmed. It seemed unlikely that a human face was meant to turn that shade of purple.
Charles, have you injured yourself? she asked in concern.
He could not look her in the eye. Not physically, he muttered sourly. With a little effort, he managed to roll off her and sit up shakily. T'Pol quickly got to her feet and helped him into the swinging chair. He continued to avoid her worried gaze, scratching the back of his still-red neck.
Sorry about that, he finally spoke up.
It was not your fault. You are still weak from your injuries, T'Pol consoled. And regardless, you have already apologized.
Now he looked at her. No, I mean, I'm sorry for that, he said sheepishly, inclining his head in the direction his father had gone.
You wish to apologize for your father welcoming me to his home? T'Pol asked in confusion.
Well, no, Trip stammered. I wanted to apologize for the, you know, the...um...the innuendo.
T'Pol felt her brow furrow. I do not understand. She looked expectantly at her friend, but he seemed unsure how to continue. Your father's remarks were of a suggestive nature? she queried, attempting to facilitate his explanation.
Sort of, Charles hemmed. He pondered his father's words for a moment. I guess it wasn't all that bad, he admitted. I mean, it's probably what he'd expect of a— He stopped abruptly, finally looking her square in the face. Well, of whatever we are. A courting couple? A cautious, hopeful grin lit his face. Is that what we are, T'Pol?
The young Vulcan considered his question thoughtfully. She had wondered the very same thing only a short time earlier. Now she evaluated the question analytically, mentally ticking off the criteria she considered necessary for his hypothesis to have merit.
We have expressed our mutual affection for each other, she acknowledged, meeting his eyes briefly. We exhibit a preference for spending time in one another's company. We periodically engage in physical displays of affection. T'Pol nodded firmly. Yes, it is logical to assume that our...interaction has evolved into a formal courtship.
His grin became wider. He reached for her hand and gave it a firm squeeze. She returned the pressure.
Charles leaned back into the swing and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. T'Pol stiffened for a brief instant, then relaxed into the gentle embrace. After a moment, Charles pushed off slightly with his feet, setting the swing in motion. Earlier, T'Pol had wondered at the logic of a swaying chair. Now as its mesmerizing movement soothed her, she wondered no longer.
she asked after several minutes of pleasant silence.
He seemed as relaxed as she.
Your father's words implied that sexual activity is an accepted behavior in human courtship. Would that be an accurate deduction?
Given his previous embarrassment, she expected him to be uncomfortable with her question. The tensing of the arm around shoulders and the red flush that crept up his neck to his ears confirmed her suspicions.
Um, not exactly, T'Pol, he replied, his eyes darting away from hers.
Then I have misinterpreted the colloquialism the Vulcan reasoned.
Well, no, Trip conceded, scratching his head in puzzlement. T'Pol realized that the term must be fairly complex. Perhaps it encompassed many different aspects of courtship ritual? She had best learn the details quickly, in order to avoid misunderstandings with his family.
Your father believed that, as a courting couple, we were engaged in she stated. What does sparking' entail, if not carnal relations?Well, it's what courting couples do, Charles responded after a moment of consideration.
That tells me very little, T'Pol commented drily.
Sparkin' can be lots of different things. It can be what my dad thought we were up to, or it can be what we're doing now.Sitting down? T'Pol was perplexed. There was a great deal of difference between engaging in sexual activity and reclining on a swinging chair.
her friend asserted. In the olden days, when they had chaperones and everything, that's all the courting couple got. He smiled nostalgically, as if he actually remembered these olden days personally. Back then, you really had to make the best of your time with your honey, cause you didn't get a lot of it!
This statement clarified things slightly. So you would say that sparking' is spending time with the object of one's affection.
He turned to look at her, eyes twinkling, a warm smile lighting his face. He tipped his head to one side, before adding, What you do isn't as important as who you're with.
T'Pol flashed her own unpracticed smile for a nanosecond, before turning forward and setting the swing in motion again. It is quite pleasant, she decided.
Charles tightened his arm around her shoulders. It sure is, he agreed.
The swing creaked softly, as if agreeing with their assessment.