As soon as T'Pol crossed the threshold to her new, too-lavish quarters on the stolen Defiant, she involuntarily stiffened. It was seconds before she understood what had given her pause. Her eyes danced about the dark room. He was there. She could sense him. T'Pol was certain that her superior Vulcan ears must have picked up his soft breathing, though her limited sight in the darkness revealed nothing. There could be no other explanation for how she knew of his presence.
Commander Tucker was in her room, waiting quietly in the shadows.
A shiver washed over her as she remembered his last words to her—words uttered before the chaos had begun once they'd discovered this starship. “You're gonna regret what you did.” She steeled herself for the reckoning that was surely coming now. She could not allow him to kill her, not when she was so close to setting plans in motion to save her people. Unfortunately, T'Pol could not kill him either. Archer's trust in her was exceedingly tenuous after she had worked to overturn his initial coup. The risk of taking out his Chief Engineer now was too great. And in truth, she wasn't entirely certain that she could bring herself to kill Commander Tucker.
Her hand pressed a button and light flooded her quarters. He stood, leaning against the bulkhead opposite her, with his arms folded across his chest. His face was utterly unreadable with the exception of a tightness about his eyes. She recognized this deceivingly calm expression from their years in service together. It masked a raging fury that would, undoubtedly, be now unleashed on her. T'Pol prepared herself for the explosion.
“Commander Tucker.” She merely acknowledged his presence, finding no other appropriate response to his breaking into her quarters.
“Hello, T'Pol,” he replied in a cool voice. “Been busy?”
It was an inane question. She found herself wishing that he would attack already. This “small talk” was pointless.
“We've all been busy, Commander.”
“I'll bet you have,” he sneered. “Why don't you have a seat?” Tucker nodded at the small desk in the center of her room. She made no move, feeling her chest constrict at his comment. Did he know? Did he suspect her clandestine meeting with Soval?
“No really, I insist,” he commanded. His azure eyes were daring her to fight him, to give him the opening she knew he must be wanting. T'Pol decided that it might prove more useful to play along, for now, with whatever game he was planning. She might discover a way to have them both survive this encounter while still fulfilling his obvious need for revenge. There were more important matters to deal with than his bruised ego and the sooner he was appeased, the sooner she could return to her plans.
That was, of course, if he had not discovered those plans already.
T'Pol took slow, deliberate steps to the desk, holding her chin up. Her eyes never left his, demanding that he understand that she would not be cowed by him. No matter her worries, she would not display anything but strength. It was the only strategy for survival among humans.
Once she took her seat, Tucker walked over and pulled out the chair opposite from her. As he lowered himself, she noticed that he was carrying a PADD in his hand. She stared at it as if it were a deadly weapon. A tiny bubble of fear drifted up and danced at the surface of her calm.
“Since things have settled a bit,” he began, placing the device on the desk, “I thought that you an' me would have a little chat.” His face was still nearly blank when she looked up at him.
“A chat about what?” She kept her voice steady, refusing to acknowledge the growing unease that tickled at her senses.
“Well, let's see,” replied Tucker, “there are a few things we need to discuss. Maybe we ought to start with your debt to me.”
“Debt? What debt do I owe you?” She knew, of course, but could not admit it.
Tucker's face became red and twisted into the rage he had been hiding until this moment. He slammed his fist on the table, and for a brief second, T'Pol believed he might strike her then. Then, abruptly, he relaxed. The fury remained in one good eye, but the tension had left his face and body. His swift and sudden mastery of emotions could almost make a Vulcan envious.
It was disturbing.
Tucker took a deep, measured breath before speaking again. “What debt? Well, let me remind you, darlin'.” He held up a finger. “First, I saved your life two years ago.”
“You received sufficient repayment for that, I believe,” T'Pol interjected, annoyed that he would even call getting what he had wanted from her a debt she owed him. “It was happenstance. Any male within my reach would have fulfilled the need adequately.”
“I did it!” he barked with a loud slap against the desk, making her jump. He took another breath and calmed himself again. “You came to me, remember? Or maybe you don't. Maybe you don't remember telling me that I was the only one. Trust me, sweetheart, I've been paying for it ever since—every day.”
T'Pol blinked back at him. She did not remember saying those words to him. She could hardly recall anything from that night but there was a certain honesty in his expression that gave her pause. What had cost him so greatly from their joining? She found that she did not want to discover the answer.
“Nothing to say? Good.” His eyes bored into hers. “Now, there's also the matter of invading my mind, forcin' me to sabotage the ship and wipin' my memory—all of which gave me a real nice little trip to the agony booth. Personally, I think that last part means you owe me a few extra favors, princess.”
T'Pol made no reply. She could not deny that her actions had cost him greatly in that circumstance, but neither was she willing to let him see the small measure of regret she felt about the incident and subsequent consequences. As a human, he would not understand how vital the needs of the many were, not if he had been the “need of the one.”
“I think you're startin' to catch my drift,” he said, misunderstanding her silence. He unconsciously fingered the PADD. “But that's not everything, is it? You're still roaming the ship, free as a bird. Why is that, T'Pol?”
“I don't understand.”
Tucker smirked. “Really? What if I told you that I had plenty of listenin' devices all over Engineering on Enterprise? What if I told you that I have a recording of you braggin' about what you did to me—a recording that I sure as hell kept with me after that little incident? How do you think Archer would react if he knew exactly what you are capable of?”
T'Pol kept a straight face despite the weight of his words. “Then why don't you give it to the captain?”
“Because it's kinda hard to collect a debt from a dead woman,” he answered, “and before you think about attackin' me with another one of those mind-melds, don't think for a second that I don't already have plenty of contingencies set up. You won't find all the copies before one makes it to Archer.”
T'Pol considered for a moment whether or not he might be bluffing. His willingness to be alone with her seemed to imply that he was not. Again, she remained silent.
“You're free because of me. That's somethin' else you owe me, T'Pol. The tally is gettin' pretty damn high.” He picked up the PADD, drawing T'Pol's eyes to it.
“So it would seem,” she replied as trepidation burned in her chest. She was certain now that he had no designs on her life. She was beginning to fear what he might require of her. His words seemed to be laying the ground work for blackmail.
“Are we bonded?”
T'Pol's eyes snapped to his in shock. How could he know of bonds? They were the most sacred and the most secret of Vulcan society.
“Don't worry. When I came across that in the database here and seein' I'd never heard of it before… Well, I figured out that your people weren't keen on my people knowin' about it. No one else has accessed those files. I deleted them.” Tucker gave her a significant look that she understood. Another debt. “Are we bonded?”
“Humans are not telepathic. It is impossible.” T'Pol wasn't entirely certain if she was attempting to convince him of this truth, or herself.
He shook his head. “Not true.” The PADD skittered across the desk into her hands. “Why don't you take a look.”
T'Pol held it up. On the small screen was a picture of Commander Tucker without his disfiguring scar. There was also a photo of herself, except with with much shorter hair. At first she was perplexed until, as she read, she realized that those were T'Pol and Tucker from the other universe. She had not yet delved into the history of her counterpart and so was mildly surprised to learn that the other T'Pol had married the other Tucker. The file was more about their respective careers but did mention briefly the fact that the two had been, indeed, bonded.
Suppressing a shudder, T'Pol set the PADD down. “They are not us.”
“They ARE us!” he yelled at her. “That's T'Pol, Science officer!” He jabbed a finger at the device. “That's Charles Tucker the third, Chief Engineer! The only difference between us and them is that they live in a universe where they're not constantly lookin' over their shoulders. That's you an' me, T'Pol. Same people, different set of circumstances.”
T'Pol didn't understand why this was so important to him. It was true that her own cursory study of this other universe had given her the courage to hope for freedom for her people, but she did not see any meaning in what Tucker was now showing her.
“Why, T'Pol?” Tucker's growled question drew her attention back to him. “Why did you come to me during your Pon'Farr and tell me that I was the only one who could help you? Why can't I kill you for what you've done to me, even though you deserve it a thousand times over? Why? WHY?!”
She momentarily considered explaining to him that he was not skilled enough to perpetrate her demise, but she understood that was not what he meant. “I don't know.” Her voice was more timid than she had intended.
“Are we bonded?” he asked again. His expression was a mixture of anger and confusion. “I know how it happens. Answer me!”
Was it possible? The ramifications shook her to her core.
“I don't know,” she said, honestly.
Tucker rubbed his hand over his face. “Well, this is just rich. All your debts to me are just stackin' right up, aren't they.”
“What do you want from me?”
“That's a good question, darlin'.” He studied her with his blue eyes as if he were considering all of his options. “I think it's gonna take you a while to pay me back.”
He stepped around the desk and pulled her from her chair. For a moment, T'Pol thought he might finally unleash his fury on her with his fists, but his expression lacked much of the rage she had seen earlier. His fingers brushed her hair from her face and she remembered his unexpected tenderness after their coupling long ago. Was it possible that he was not as cruel or as lewd as his actions portrayed him to be?
That thought unsettled her more than idea of a potential beating.
“I know I shouldn't even come close to you after you melded me.” His face darkened. “The idea that you can just invade my mind like that...” He trailed off.
“I wouldn't,” she said, hoping to stay the tide of rage that reddening his features once more.
“You did!” he snapped. “You did it and you threw it in my face!”
T'Pol was uncertain how to calm him. She could try to explain that in this moment there was no logical reason for her to violate him that way again. She had only done it before to protect the crew from Archer's dangerous plans. It had been easy to convince herself that it didn't matter, to believe that Tucker was no different than any other human she associated with. Should she tell him that it had left her disquieted? And that when she had admitted her subterfuge to him, it was to prove to him that he had no power over her, though he clearly did?
A deep sigh interrupted her thoughts. “Goddammit! I really should throw your ass out the airlock. Or let Archer do it.” He caressed her cheek and a strange, but familiar, tingle resonated with his touch. “It wouldn't be enough to cover your debts, though,” he murmured. He looked into her eyes as if had made a decision. “Don't betray me again, T'Pol. I won't forgive you and I won't save your ass, either.”
T'Pol returned his searching gaze without words. She could make no such promises to him. Her cause was greater than the odd relationship they shared—if it could be called a relationship at all. She could not allow herself to believe that they had bonded. She had no obligation to him as a mate.
“What is your price?” T'Pol asked finally.
“To start with… this.” He lifted her chin and placed his lips over hers, kissing her as if he were a man dying of thirst that had finally found water. When he pulled back, he said, “I believe you owe me, what did you call it? A sexual encounter.” His lips twitched briefly into his customary leer.
T'Pol suddenly found it irrationally pleasing that she had not completely damaged his attraction to her. She quelled the unusual warmth that swelled within. It was wholly unacceptable.
Tucker pulled her body to his. “I think I'll take your first payment right now.” A new shiver went up her spine, this time not born of fear. He kissed her again, more aggressively than before and she gave into his powerful need.
Payment would not be disagreeable after all.
All reasoning began to fall away as hands began pulling at uniforms. Sometime after they crashed into her bunk, she realized briefly that he was not aware of her recent espionage. Relief washed over her just before his hungry lips drew her full attention once more.
Perhaps, she could find a way to ensure his safety when her plans came to fruition. She could give him that token of gratitude for sparing her life.
Trip left T'Pol's quarters shortly before his next duty shift. Of course, he couldn't trust her. He wouldn't, but as long as she was willing to make payments, he'd accept them—lots of them. Maybe it would require daily payments. Yes. It would definitely require daily payments for a long, long time before she made up her debt to him. And his contingency plans would ensure that the princess wouldn't invade his mind again—at least not without serious repercussions.
There was that little problem of the bond, though. She seemed to doubt that it was possible, but Trip was fairly certain that there was something more between the two of them than just raging attraction. He also knew that he was making it worse by sleeping with her. It wasn't exactly what he wanted, but to give up the hotter-than-licking-a-live-conduit sex when he'd finally gotten her back in his bed? Unthinkable. He'd just have to figure out how to use this bond to his advantage. Trip remembered the copy of the files on Vulcans that he'd kept and smiled. He was going to study every angle.
Those thoughts brought him to the PADD in his hand. It had been disconcerting to read about his doppelganger in that parallel universe. In so many ways they were alike. Both had a gift for engineering. Both had served on board a ship called Enterprise. Both were from Florida. Both liked pecan pie. It was crazy how similar their backgrounds were, even down to the same nickname that both preferred to go by. But that's all they were: similar. There were major differences too. The other Trip had lost his baby sister to an attack from the Xindi. It was hard to imagine, since the Xindi were little more than merchants conscripted into service by the Empire. The other Trip had been a hero, helping to save earth from total annihilation and later stopping a war between Vulcan and Andoria—not to mention all the breakthroughs on warp theory and engine design that came from his counterpart's brilliant mind.
This Trip couldn't fathom doing anything more than keeping his head down and surviving each day. What would it be like to turn his back and know that someone wouldn't stick a knife in it? What kind of life would he have if he didn't have to spend time plotting and scheming just to stay alive? Trip snorted and glanced at the PADD. Now he knew. Other than losing Lizzie, Trip realized that he was more than a little envious of Charles Tucker III of the Enterprise NX-01.
“You are one lucky son of a bitch,” he muttered at the photo of the other Tucker. Damn, the man didn't even have a scarred face. “I bet you don't even know how lucky you are.”
Then there was the matter of the other Tucker's relationship with the other T'Pol. Marriage? With kids to boot? That was a man who actually trusted the woman he was sleeping with. It was a completely foreign idea to Trip. Even his parents had their little one-up games. There was just no such thing as being able to love freely—except, maybe, when it came to his baby sister.
Not that he could ever love T'Pol—not after the way she had used him.
“Yep, you're a real golden boy, aren't you?” he grumbled. “I'll bet everythin' just falls right into your lap, you bastard.” In a fit of jealousy, he raised the PADD to smash it against the bulkhead when he noticed a couple of crewmen standing in the corridor, gawking at him. Grinding his teeth, he turned his anger toward them. “What the hell are you two looking at? Get your asses to work before I teach you what happens when you piss off a senior officer!”
He felt some satisfaction when both men took off in opposite directions. At least he had that—the fear that others had of him. Not everyone, of course, but enough to make him feel like he wasn't a complete coward.
Trip tossed the PADD on his desk when he reached his quarters. It was foolish to get all worked up about a life he'd never had and would never have. There was no use wasting precious brain power fretting over what might have been under a better set of circumstances. No, it was much better to figure out how to make the most of what he did have going for him. Especially now that he had T'Pol. Sort of. New ideas of extortion began to blossom in his mind as he changed into a fresh uniform.
Trip licked his lips in anticipation.
Later that day, while Commander Tucker was on duty, he learned that Archer had transferred all the non-humans—including the Vulcan science officer—off-ship.
The rest of the crew steered clear of the chief engineer after he assaulted his office and let out a string of profanity that would make even the most hardened men blush. Everyone knew that when he was this enraged, he'd gladly stick a knife in anyone who he thought was looking at him cross-eyed.
So they all kept their heads down and their eyes on their work while he had his tantrum. Nobody was in the mood to get murdered because Archer had somehow pissed off the commander. It was just another day in the pit they called the engine room.
What was the most puzzling, though, was when at the end of his angry litany the commander yelled the following:
“I bet this kind of bullshit never happens to you, Tucker!”