Rating: T for some non-explicit getting-it-on and sexual innuendo
Disclaimer: Star Trek is CBS/Paramount's, not mine.
Author's Note: Thanks to JustTripn for her usual fine beta services. I've never done an E2 story before, though I have enjoyed many stories by others set there (thanks, BlueDana, JustTripn, Honeybee, et al). Anyway, I was in the mood for a short fluffy romance, and the E2 universe gave me the perfect spot in which to squeeze one in while playing hooky from grading.
Sports competitions were one of the many leisure-oriented Human practices that had taken on greater importance in their new timeline. T'Pol wasn't sure how fostering sometimes bitter competition among a small crew was supposed to help them survive their peculiar exile, but Archer had explained that it was an escape from the routine of ship life that would actually help increase the bonds between coworkers.
This was, in any case, how she came to be sitting in the newly-constructed 'bleachers' in Cargo Bay 2 watching a volleyball game between the science department and the engineering department. She sat on the bottom row, near the door, ready to depart at a moment's notice should her expertise be required on the Bridge. It would be illogical to hope for such an event, but if it were to occur anyway, she would not regret it.
Captain Archer and Commander Tucker did not share her determination to stay close to the exit. They were sitting on the top row, leaning back against the bulkhead. It surprised her that Commander Tucker had opted not to play volleyball himself during this match. He was instead yelling encouragement to his team, which didn't need any. They were, as the Humans would put it, 'slaughtering' her department. With the exception of basketball, where Phlox's uncanny skill in sinking baskets often proved helpful, the science department usually sat at the bottom of any team rankings. Tucker had recently explained to her that this was because her department was "made up of a bunch of geeks."
Perhaps she should attempt to learn the skills involved in more of these sports so that these competitions need not be so consistently one-sided.
Besides the tedium of watching her department lose yet again, T'Pol found these events trying for another reason: even after all this time, Humans did not realize that many of their private conversations carried extremely clearly to her, whether she wanted to hear them or not. Thus, she knew that at this moment Corporal Cole and Corporal McKenzie were gossiping about how Commander Tucker had turned down Lieutenant Hess's request that he become a sperm donor.
T'Pol sat up straighter and eavesdropped with greater intent. While she had long assumed that Commander Tucker would eventually choose a Human mate — though he had as yet shown no marked interest in any particular female — this was a possibility that had never occurred to her.
Her eyes rose involuntarily back to where Archer and Tucker were now debating the practical challenges of installing a swimming pool in the ship. As usual, Archer was arguing in favor of the project and Tucker was raising objections.
Meanwhile, McKenzie was saying, "She said she still considers herself married to Gus, so she can't really bring herself to start a relationship with someone else, but she doesn't want to lose the opportunity to be a mother. And she thinks Trip would be a great dad."
"What did he say?" Cole said. She looked rather appalled. For once, T'Pol sympathized.
"He said he was really flattered but he just wasn't ready to make that kind of commitment."
T'Pol let her ramrod-straight posture relax just slightly.
"Imagine doing that just to bring a kid into this weirdness," Cole said. "I'm not sure I'm really on board with the whole idea of having kids at all, no matter what the captain says. And sperm donor? That's… just so not romantic. Though I could see where that might work with Trip. Just get him playing dad, and he might figure he might as well play husband too."
"I told Anna she should talk to the Captain. He's the one who says we're going to need a next generation to fulfill our mission. But she didn't look too thrilled by that idea."
"I wouldn't be either. But then again, who knows, maybe he'd order Trip to do it." Cole snickered unpleasantly.
Now T'Pol's eyes rose to the captain. Would Archer order such a thing? He had certainly done worse, with the survival of Earth at stake. Her gaze shifted to Tucker, who looked curiously back down at her. She quickly turned her head back to the game. Would Tucker be willing to go that far to please his captain? Or would he oppose the idea as persistently as he did the swimming pool?
McKenzie said, "Actually, I wonder if the captain told his senior officers to stay out of relationships for now. It's kind of an unfair advantage, being the top dogs and all. And not a single one of them has hooked up yet."
Cole shook her head. "That's not it. Well, maybe with the captain it is. But haven't you seen the way Trip watches T'Pol? That poor boy still has it bad."
T'Pol felt an eyebrow rise involuntarily. Cole was deluded. Since their unfortunate journey through the vortex, Tucker had not made the slightest attempt to engage her in further discussion about a romantic relationship. Indeed, compared to the time before their 'exploration,' when he had pestered her endlessly with arguments or invitations, he was merely cordially professional now.
"It's sad," Cole continued. "But one of these days he's bound to realize there's just no point."
"And you plan to be there when he does," McKenzie said.
"Why not?" Cole said. "I've got some time to let this play out. Sooner or later he's going to get lonely, and a nice warm unattached Human is going to start looking real good to him."
T'Pol felt an unpleasant contraction in her chest. She had often reflected on the inevitability of this herself.
"You don't think it's a little depressing, being second choice to a Vulcan?"
"Not if it gets me what I want in the end."
McKenzie shook her head. "I don't know, Amanda. A nice warm unattached Human is going to start looking really good to you after awhile, too. What if everyone's already hooked up and you're left out in the cold?"
"That'll never happen. There are two men for every woman on this ship," Cole said. "And I'm not ruling anything out. It's not like I'm taking a vow of chastity or anything. I just think Trip's the nicest and cutest guy on the ship. He's worth waiting for, at least for a little while. And I don't think I have to worry that T'Pol's suddenly going to come around."
McKenzie snorted. "No, no worries there. Poor Trip. But then he's always had a thing for the alien ladies, hasn't he?"
"Yeah, well, they're pretty safely unattainable, aren't they? I mean, think about it… a Vulcan? He got a little freaked out when I came on to him, but it wasn't like he wasn't interested at all. I think he just wasn't ready for something serious. When he is, he'll come around." Cole shrugged. "And if he doesn't, I'll figure something else out. But the way I see it, the odds are in my favor."
McKenzie snorted. "Amanda Cole, master strategist."
Indeed, T'Pol thought bleakly. Corporal Cole's logic was unassailable.
"You okay, T'Pol?" T'Pol looked up, surprised, at Captain Archer smiling down at her.
"Thought I'd better come down and cheer up your department a little." T'Pol blinked up at the captain, finally connecting the increased tumult around her to the process of teams changing places. Of course. Her team had lost expeditiously, as usual. The next bracket up was MACOs vs. Armory.
"Commander Tucker believes they are a bunch of geeks," T'Pol said.
Archer laughed. "They could definitely use a power server. Maybe you should try helping them out sometime."
"Perhaps I shall," she said. She decided to let Archer handle any consolation. It was not one of her strengths. She had actually attempted it after the last match and had been met by deeply nonplussed looks. "Yes, we know it's just a meaningless competition," Ensign Sato had told her. "Though I believe 'it's just a game' is the more common way to put it. Don't worry, we'll be fine."
"Vulcans don't worry," T'Pol had responded, and Sato had given her a deeply pained smile.
Indeed, if T'Pol had thought it through more carefully, she probably wouldn't have said that. Because while it was true that Vulcans in general didn't worry, this was not the case in a Vulcan who had exposed herself to Trellium-D over a period of months, debilitating her neurological pathways and emotional control.
Enterprise had recently traded her extra stores of Trellium-D for antimatter and food, a process that had turned up a shortfall in their inventory that had forced T'Pol, in all good conscience, to confess her secret to the captain. He had taken it better than she had feared; Phlox had actually borne the brunt of his displeasure at having been kept in the dark about her addiction.
She and Phlox had both hoped the passage of time would help her regain her emotional control. But nearly a year had passed now, and T'Pol was forced to acknowledge that simply overhearing a casual conversation between two women during a volleyball game had left her filled with dread.
It was pointless dread, too, for it was actually the best possible outcome that Commander Tucker should find a Human woman with whom to mate. Certainly it was the outcome most likely to make himhappy. She looked up, watching Tucker boisterously congratulate his victorious team. Then he traded places with Archer to console her team, although in his case this appeared to take the form of merciless teasing.
Cole and McKenzie had both joined their teammates in warming up for the next match. Cole moved with an easy and confident grace. T'Pol had no doubt that Commander Tucker considered the corporal an attractive woman. The two had much in common, as well, and could no doubt produce healthy and intelligent children. In all regards it was a logical match.
A hand fell on her shoulder. T'Pol looked up.
"You better join us up there," Tucker said, gesturing. "When the MACOs and the Armory are playing, the lower rows are dangerous. Especially if you're not paying attention."
"Since my department has been eliminated, I could use this time to perform other duties."
"Then you should have left immediately. If you do it now, it will be taken as a snub. Better come on up."
She followed him. Tucker was often helpful to her with subtle social niceties, and she did not wish to be interpreted as snubbing anyone today. Besides, it was agreeable that he wished for her company.
"I knew Trip could get you up here," Archer said, as he joined them. "You looked very alone just sitting down there on the end of the bench by yourself."
Then it had not been Tucker's idea at all. T'Pol glanced coldly at the engineer before responding, "Vulcans do not require company in everything they do."
"But you should have some once in awhile," Tucker said, clearly unrepentant. "Besides, we may have to break up a riot, so the more senior officers we have available, the better."
"I hardly think a riot is likely."
"I don't know about that. Malcolm and Hayes are just as much at each other's throats as they ever were. Sometimes I think they should just go get a room."
"A room?" T'Pol said.
Tucker opened his mouth as if he might try to explain, then shook his head. "Forget it."
Archer got one of those half-swallowed grins on his face and said, "T'Pol says she might consider taking up volleyball."
"Really?" Tucker said. "You should, you know. Your poor team could use any help they can get. If you want any pointers, let me know."
"Why didn't you play with your department today?" T'Pol asked.
"Because I was trying to give your guys a hope in hell of winning, that's why."
Archer smirked. "Trip has never lacked confidence in his athletic ability."
"Indeed," T'Pol said. "I am surprised, Commander, that you would not want to take the opportunity to pass those superior abilities along to another generation."
Tucker said, "Excuse me?"
"Forget it," T'Pol said.
Archer chuckled. "So you've heard about that, too? It must be all over the ship by now."
Tucker's face had turned a rather vivid shade of red. "I have every intention of passing along my superior genes to another generation. But only if and when I choose to do so."
"The crewmen I overheard speculated that Captain Archer might order you to cooperate," T'Pol said.
"That had to be a joke," Archer said.
"Possibly. But you are considered to be a keen proponent of the next generation."
"Could we please not talk about this?" Tucker said. "Could we please just watch the game?"
They watched the game for awhile.
Eventually, Archer said, "I sure as hell hope that's not something I'm going to have to order people to do."
x x x
Time passed, and the captain had not yet felt compelled to order anyone to reproduce, perhaps because they were beginning to do so voluntarily. The crew had certainly begun to pair off, some going on to marry, others going on to have spectacular break-ups. Corporal Cole dated widely and gained a reputation as a heartbreaker. Lieutenant Hess got pregnant with the help of Crewman Rostov's sperm, which made Crewman Kelly furious, which eventually, somehow, resulted in a wedding between Crewman Rostov and Crewman Kelly at which Lieutenant Hess served as Matron of Honor. Humans were very strange.
Commander Tucker had yet to date anyone, as far as she knew, for which T'Pol was privately grateful even as she waited for that moment Corporal Cole had predicted, when a warm, unattached Human would become irresistible to him.
Almost two years into their exile, Enterprise came across a system with an M-class planet that featured a surprisingly comfortable climate and abundant life, with no signs of development. After extensive orbital scans established that it appeared to be no more dangerous than any other planet — for Earth itself was not lacking in natural hazards — the senior staff had to have a discussion they had never envisioned: Should they perhaps attempt to colonize this planet, rather than staying aboard ship?
It was not that they did not intend to keep Enterprise space-worthy, in light of their ultimate mission, but this was an actual uninhabited planet on which to raise families in far greater comfort and quite possibly with far greater security than they could find in space. Indeed, if their ultimate mission to stop the Xindi failed, a completely separate, thriving Human colony would provide a different kind of survival for their race.
Ultimately it was decided to focus on restocking their stores from the planet's resources while three teams were detailed to survey three likely sites for a possible base camp settlement. To T'Pol's surprise, Archer assigned Tucker to her team.
"Why isn't the Commander leading one of the teams?" she asked.
"I want to see how Reed and Sato handle command," Archer said. "It's about time they were promoted. I also think Trip is looking a little worn. I'm not sure what his problem is. Maybe he just needs a little time outdoors. So… you know, don't work him too hard."
"I never work anyone too hard," T'Pol said.
Archer sighed. "The man needs a break, T'Pol. No major responsibilities, okay? He's been keeping this ship together with baling wire and spit for two and a half years. And he's been trying to keep other peoples' spirits up and ignoring his own needs. Not to mention that if we decide to do this base camp, he's probably going to be the one in charge of getting it set up."
"You could simply assign him shore leave."
"Yeah, I know, but with Trip you never know what sort of trouble he'll get into. I'd rather he be with you. Just … keep it light, that's all I'm saying."
Conscious of Archer's guidance, T'Pol kept Tucker with her the next day when she split her group into pairs to research various aspects of the first potential base site, which was a rolling terrain adjacent to a stream-fed lake about twenty kilometers safely inland from a somewhat tumultuous ocean. They had to land the shuttle on the broad shore of the lake since there were no other clearings large enough.
Rao and Baird were focusing on the local hydrology, as well as water chemistry and biology, while Kimball and Fisher were going to study the local geology, soil structures, and plant life. T'Pol and Tucker hiked through the forest to the nearest elevation, scanning for local wildlife and assessing how practical it would be to clear part of the forest to build a settlement. "You don't see old growth forests like this very often," Tucker said, after using his phase pistol to cut through a downed tree trunk took a full two minutes. "How many growing seasons is that?"
"Three hundred twenty-three," T'Pol said, scanning the massive tree's growth rings with growing concern. "Including, every seven years, a marked increase in radiolytic isotopes."
"The trees areradioactive?" Tucker asked, with an instinctive step backwards. "That didn't show up on our earlier scans, did it?"
"The levels are not very high," T'Pol said. "Not dangerous. At least not with moderate exposure."
"But if we were going to use the wood to build dwellings…?"
She shook her head. "I wouldn't recommend that. Especially not for housing children or pregnant females. Not unless we could find a manufacturing method that strips out or neutralizes those elements."
"Strike One," Tucker sighed. "That's a biggie."
"I'd be more concerned about what event occurs every seven years to irradiate them."
"Okay, so maybe that's Strike One and the trees being radioactive is Strike Two."
They hiked further up, though T'Pol wasn't sure why she didn't just call a halt to the investigation. It would make more sense to immediately go determine whether the same phenomenon existed at the other sites. But the woods were quiet and soothing, and she decided to let the other teams finish their tasks.
The local animals, mostly rodents, occasionally dived into holes as they approached. "Have you noticed there aren't any birds in the trees?" Tucker said. "I don't see anything flying. Not even insects."
"Yes," T'Pol said. "Also no tree-dwelling animals, as far as my scanner shows."
"So life has evolved here to dwell only underground," Tucker sighed. "All this beauty, and every seven years, wham! When is the next round due? Not this afternoon, I take it?"
She looked at him standing a little slumped in the dappled light under the trees and decided Archer was right. Tucker looked tired and depressed. "I would have to measure more precisely to be certain, but I think it is at least two growing seasons away." She noticed one of the ground-dwellers dodge back into a burrow. "If you don't mind, Commander, I would like to do more detailed scans of this animal's dwelling. Why don't you sit and relax for a moment?"
"I'm fine, T'Pol. No matter what the captain said to you."
"You look tired."
Tucker scowled and sat down on a low boulder. "It's so pretty here," he said. "Maybe if we just stopped by periodically to take a walk and roast marshmallows over the campfire …" He sighed. "Do we even have any marshmallows? Maybe that's one of those foods we've already run out of."
She scanned. The animal's burrow went deep — far deeper than was typical of most ground-dwelling rodents. "Why are you tired? Are you not sleeping well?"
"I told you, I'm fine."
She just turned and looked at him.
He sighed. "It's just sinking in, that's all. That this is it. Our lives are what they are. Daniels isn't going to show up and magically transport us back to where we're supposed to be, which frankly suggests to me that we ultimately fail, and Earth is destroyed. So I guess this is better, at least marginally. At least my sister hasn't died yet."
"Perhaps you are also lonely for a warm unattached Human female," T'Pol said.
He stared at her. "Excuse me?"
She turned back to her scanner. "There is an extended family of rodents down below. Apparently they only come above ground to forage."
He didn't say anything. T'Pol pocketed her scanner and sat down next to him. She was exquisitely conscious of his warm body radiating heat next to hers, of his familiar scent, of his breathing, even of the tension in his hands.
"Actually, for whatever reason," he said, "it seems I'm only ever lonely for you."
And then he took her hand in his and they sat there, hands linked, in silence. T'Pol felt her heart start to thump unpleasantly. It felt good to have that physical connection, but she also felt a great weight of despair coming from him, as if this was an ending rather than a beginning. It occurred to her that he had perhaps reached that point Corporal Cole had predicted, when he was ready to move on to something attainable.
He sighed deeply. "Why is that, do you suppose? Why do I only want what I can't have?"
She couldn't think of a single thing to say that would soothe him, so instead she turned to kiss him and then it was all flaring hunger and a sharp desperation to touch and be touched. There was no technique, just awkward fumbling out of inconvenient clothing, a graceless shove, the two of them rutting on the soft forest floor, and when she came it was with a gasp of barely-suppressed tears. How could she have ever contemplated life without this? How could she not have understood what they were to each other?
He held onto her possessively. "I want this for the rest of my life," he said. "If you don't … I don't know, I think maybe I'll go crazy or something. How can you say this doesn't mean anything?"
"I can't," she said. "I was wrong."
He stared down at her. "I must be hallucinating. Did you just say you were wrong?"
"I didn't know I was wrong," she explained. "I was trying to be right. But I was wrong. I am yours. We are mated." She caressed the side of his face. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry? That you were wrong?"
"Yes, but also that you had no choice about it. I didn't realize…"
He squinted at her. "What the hell are you talking about? You don't think I wanted this?"
A rustling nearby made them both turn their heads. A large brown snake had raised its head and was darting its tongue in the air. Trip fumbled for a stick on the ground near them and brandished it at the snake. "Move along, now. Nothing to see here."
The snake appeared to agree, or at least took fright, and slithered off.
"Kind of had a Biblical feel there for a minute. That'll teach you to fornicate in the woods, sonny!" He helped her up, and they brushed leaves from each other and dressed. Once they were back in their uniforms, he got an anxious look on his face and said, "Can I kiss you?"
She nodded, so he did, then wrapped his arms around her. "You're not going to tell me we can't be together, are you? Or that it will have to be seven years until the next time, or some other weird Vulcan shit?"
"Well, let's hear it for pretty radioactive forests," he said. "I really hope this isn't something that's going to wear off when we get back to the ship."
"I am sorry I have made you so unhappy," she said. "I thought you would be better off without me."
"I can't give you a child."
"I don't care about that."
"So I'll just be a really good uncle to every other kid on the ship. It's okay. Who knows, maybe Phlox can figure out how to help a Human and a Vulcan have a kid together."
"I would welcome that, if it were possible."
"Well, hell, just knowing that makes me feel really optimistic. We'll be all right." He grinned at her, and his confidence cheered her. She believed him. Somehow, they would be all right.
"We should check the next landing site," she said. "It is possible, if not very likely, that the radiation phenomenon is purely local."
They set off down through the woods. Going downhill on a forest floor carpeted with leaves that hid almost every hole and rock required more attention than going uphill had. He took her hand. "Do you think Jon had any idea what we might get up to down here?"
"He told me you needed a break."
"He said the same thing about you."
She stopped and stared at him. "He said nothing to me about that."
"That's because he knew there was no point. But he told me maybe I should try to get you off alone, have a talk. That maybe it was draining you, being the only Vulcan stuck on a ship full of Humans, with no escape in sight." Trip laughed. "I said if that was true, having me remind you of it was hardly going to help any."
"I don't generally think of the captain as being particularly gifted in interpersonal dynamics, but perhaps he did suspect something."
"So what are we going to tell him?" Trip asked.
"What do you want to tell him?"
He licked his lips. "I want to tell him that we're getting married." He stared at her, eyebrows raised, hands on his hips, lips almost twitching into a smile. She recognized it as his old pre-argument stance.
His mouth fell open. "What, just like that? I don't have to talk you into it? No objections at all?"
"None. You are my mate. We should marry."
His grin was almost as brilliant as Earth's star. They kissed again, and then they celebrated with another, less frantic bout of copulation — after checking the scanner to make sure there were no snakes or crewmen uncomfortably nearby.
Afterwards, T'Pol stood patiently as her fiancé brushed leaves off her hair and uniform. She was not sure she had ever felt such a fulsome sense of satisfaction. It was as if the universe had been hanging just off center for months and months and finally had been put right.
"You know, I don't need any damned marshmallows," he said. "I don't care if I never see another one ever again. You're my marshmallow…"
She stared uncertainly at him. He meant well, that was certain, but if she remembered correctly marshmallows were pale, lumpy confections consisting of air bubbles whipped up and then hardened in a sweet gelatinous medium.
He was continuing happily, "…sweet and soft , and fun to eat after you've gotten it all heated up and gooey…"
She had never tasted a marshmallow herself. Gelatin was an animal product. "I really don't believe there is any comparison worth remarking on."
He laughed. "Sure there is. Something I can poke with a stick and light on fire..."
"That is an extremely undignified analogy."
"…luscious and lickable and…"
He was going to be insufferable. But she remembered how to play this old game, even if it had been suspended between them for far too long. "Perhaps I was too precipitous in accepting your marriage proposal."
"Too bad, you're stuck now. Don't worry. I'll only compare you to sweet things in private. You can live with that, can't you?"
Was that a touch of real anxiety in his voice? She turned and looked up into his smiling face. Yes, perhaps there was a small, nervous touch of seriousness there. "I believe I can cope," she said calmly, and put her hand out for him to take.
He took it, then gave a sharp little sigh and leaned down to kiss her again.
"We'll be fine," she said reassuringly, echoing his earlier remark.
And she truly did believe it. All would be well now, no matter how strange their existence got…just as long as she had this.
Corporal Cole would just have to figure something else out.