Jacob Williams glanced at the chronometer on the wall across from him. It wasn't that there was anywhere he had to be; rather, there were about a half dozen places he should be. Since the release of his latest holoprogram, he had an agent ferrying him across the quadrant on a signing and speaking tour, a publisher on his back about his next project, and a wife nagging him for quality time.
He shifted deeper into the austere but surprisingly comfortable chair that, from what he could see, typified the furniture in the estate, and looked up at the chronometer again. With all those places he should be, he really didn't have the time to take a side trip to Vulcan, much less to wait around in the study twiddling his thumbs.
But then, when someone like her requested a meeting with you, you made the time.
The short, serious hologram who had identified himself as her attache materialized in the center of the room, making Jacob jump just a bit—a reaction the hologram studiously pretended not to notice, merely keying open the door that led back into the hallway.
"She will see you now."
As Jacob pushed open the door to the master suite, the attache dematerialized, leaving him to face the interior alone. The room was mostly dark, lit only by a bedside lamp with a far more artful and elaborate shade than he would have expected either from the otherwise sparse decor or from his hostess' reputation.
The face that looked up at him from the bed was severe, undoubtedly ancient, and yet undeniably beautiful. The knowledge that she was already three times as old as he would ever be, combined with the haunting stare she leveled at him, forced him to clear his throat before he even tried to introduce himself.
"Your Excellency, it's a great privilege to meet you." He waited for a response, but she merely nodded. "When I first got your message…" Jacob trailed off, fidgeting nervously, but then thought he saw the woman's expression soften just a bit.
"Please, come and sit down."
He took the chair by her bedside, vainly searching for some way to begin the conversation. Would it be impertinent to ask why she'd wanted to meet him? Perhaps he should start with something simpler. But then, Vulcans didn't do small talk, did they?
Just as he opened his mouth, she spoke.
"I understand that you are the author of a historical holoprogram concerning the mission of the original Enterprise."
"Yes." Of course, that was what she'd want to talk about. "It covers the first and last year of the tour in detail, with highlights from the remainder of the mission. It was based on crew logs and historical records…I petitioned your people for an interview when I was starting it, to prevent any errors, but—"
She silenced him with a bony hand raised deliberately off the bed. "Please, do not misunderstand my intentions in bringing you here. The historical account you provide is…admirable in its accuracy."
Jacob kept silent as a sudden flash of what his nervous imagination would almost have described as emotion passed over her face.
"Though I did in fact bring you here to offer a correction to the narrative you provided, it does not concern Enterprise's mission. And it is your choice whether or not you integrate it into future versions of the program; I merely feel I should speak…for the record."
Jacob leaned forward eagerly…he wished he'd brought a padd. "Anything you can tell me would be most appreciated, Your Excellency."
T'Pol leaned back against the pillows, exhaled weakly and almost smiled.
"I wish to speak to you regarding Ensign Hoshi Sato."
"I'm in heaven."
Hoshi stretched her arms behind her head and let out a satisfied sigh. The planet stretching out before them, home to one of their newly minted allies, glimmered with white beaches and towering cliffs. The resort where the First Chancellor had insisted the crew stay was nestled in the cliff face above them, waterfalls spilling from its surface into the purplish bay below.
"I can't believe we've got an entire week's shore leave!" T'Pol, climbing beside her up the steep trail to the resort, merely nodded her assent. "And I can't believe you got the Captain to let us share a room."
"As usual, Captain Archer was most amenable to my suggestion once I explained my reasoning."
Hoshi snorted lightly. "Oh yeah, I don't know what was funnier: 'conservation of resources' or 'not taking undue advantage of our hosts' hospitality'."
T'Pol raised an expertly sculpted eyebrow. "You are complaining?"
"Oh, no." Hoshi grinned devilishly. "Saves me the trouble of having to sneak into your room nights."
"And afternoons," T'Pol added casually, picking up her pace as the momentarily stunned Terran fell behind, then broke into an even wider grin.
Jacob blinked. Then, as he was still certain he'd heard entirely incorrectly, he blinked again. "You and Ensign Sato were…" He paused, unable to find a word he was willing to bring to bear. "…close?"
"Yes. For the last eight of our ten years onboard Enterprise, and when the opportunity presented itself over the next thirty."
"I…I had no idea." Jacob cleared his throat. "The records didn't contain anything that would indicate—"
"No. They would not."
"You're doing it again."
Hoshi narrowed her eyes and leaned into T'Pol, who smoothly and reflexively increased the distance between them. "Pulling away."
The Vulcan opened her mouth to deny the claim, but fell silent under Hoshi's glare. "Look around you, T'Pol." Hoshi gestured to the dozens of species meandering through the marketplace around them. "Ninety-five percent of the people here don't even know what Starfleet is. Besides, it's not like most of the ship doesn't know about us."
"I…I simply did not wish to cause a spectacle."
Hoshi scoffed. "Come on, T'Pol. You've been on this planet for a day and a half. I know why we can't…on Enterprise, I get that, but here? Do you really think anyone here would pay that much attention to two women just…just holding hands?" Hoshi spread her arms. "Is that really so much to ask?"
T'Pol remained silent; it was their oldest argument, one she was perpetually unable to win. "You know I am not…comfortable with—"
"Yeah, T'Pol, I know. I've heard it." Hoshi stepped back and sighed. "I just…if I'm going to be with someone, I want to be with them." She shrugged sullenly, taking another step back into the crowd. "Maybe that's too much to expect."
After another moment of silence, Hoshi turned on her heel. "Hoshi…" T'Pol took a step toward her.
The Terran spun back around. "Look, I…I'll meet you back at the hotel, all right?"
T'Pol nodded forlornly as the shorter woman turned back and stepped into the crowd.
"It was always my idea. To keep our relationship…discreet." T'Pol wasn't meeting his eyes, staring instead at the subtle patterns woven into the bedspread. "Hoshi was honoring my wishes."
Jacob cleared his throat. "It must have been hard for her." The Vulcan met his eyes, her raised eyebrow urging him to elaborate. "Not being able to be open probably made her feel like she was doing something wrong."
T'Pol nodded, once again staring down at the blanket. "You are not the first to tell me so."
"Is something wrong, Subcommander?"
T'Pol blinked, slowly swiveling around to focus on Doctor Phlox as the Denobulan cheerily plopped down on the cafe stool next to hers. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I don't know, you seem…" Phlox struggled to find a word. "…down."
T'Pol was preparing to provide a blanket response assuring the good doctor that Vulcans did not get 'down' and that she did not require his attention, when something made her stop.
"Tell me, Doctor…you have studied human psychology, correct?"
"I've studied the psychology of dozens of species," Phlox clucked with obvious pride, "humans among them. Why?"
"My knowledge on the subject is apparently lacking. I seem to have committed a rather serious and unforeseen faux pas."
"'Faux pas'? Ensign Sato seems to be having an influence on you." The moment the words were out of his mouth, Phlox saw the way the Vulcan's back unconsciously straightened and her eyes snapped toward the bar in front of them; he smiled in spite of himself. "Perhaps you had better tell me what happened?"
T'Pol took a deep breath. "You are aware that myself and Ensign Sato are engaged in a…personal relationship?"
"I…had heard rumors to that effect." Phlox decided not to mention that he'd heard similar rumors about Hoshi and Ensign Mayweather, T'Pol and Captain Archer and even, to his great amusement, T'Pol and Commander Tucker.
"It is the persistence of these rumors which has compelled me to keep our relationship private. It has been…a point of contention between us."
Phlox merely nodded.
"We engaged in such a disagreement today, but her response was more…emotional…than in most cases."
"Well, what did she want?"
"She expressed a desire to be more open with our…inclinations for the duration of our stay on the planet."
"And you don't think that's appropriate?"
"It…would make it more difficult to be discreet in the future."
"For you or for her?" T'Pol blinked and met his eyes. The Denobulan smiled. "Perhaps it isn't my place to say this…"
"I did ask for your assistance."
Phlox shrugged and nodded. "Part of the reason the mating habits of many species are so highly ritualized is to provide for the social legitimacy of the relationship. Certain practices are commonly seen as a necessary baseline for that legitimacy."
T'Pol arched her eyebrow. "Are you implying that I am…ashamed of my relationship with Ensign Sato?"
"Are you?" T'Pol opened her mouth, but then remained speechless. "Physical openness and public commitment are both commonly pivotal aspects of human mating behavior. Your refusal to engage in these practices—"
"Not refusal. I merely think—"
"…even without the professional concerns facing you on Enterprise might suggest to Ensign Sato that you do not consider the relationship to be legitimate. And if I may add, given the general view of Vulcans on their relations with humans, it's no wonder."
T'Pol paused, a niggling doubt creeping into the back of her mind. "I do not consider my relationship with Hoshi…illegitimate."
"Have you told her that?"
T'Pol was silent, and Phlox simply smiled again. "As I believe the old Earth saying goes, 'What we have here is a failure to communicate.'"
"I…I am uncertain what would be the most effective means to convey that information. I do not believe she is yet willing to talk to me."
Phlox's smile widened.
"Doctor Phlox to Ensign Sato. Hoshi, do you read me?"
Hoshi took a deep, shivering breath at the interruption. She glanced up out the window—the sun was just beginning to set, casting the alien sky into shades of pink and blue—then glared balefully down at the communicator lying on the bedside table. She really just wanted to ignore him, but if it was official business…
"Here, Doctor. What do you need?"
"There seems to have been a bit of a…problem with the universal translator. I'm afraid your expertise is required."
She didn't like the sound of that. "What kind of problem?"
"I…think it's best you come down yourself. I'm on the lower tier, outer edge of the blue promenade."
Hoshi sighed. "Acknowledged, Doctor. Just give me a few minutes."
She snapped the communicator shut, lifted herself wearily from the bed, and splashed her face with cold water from the attached bathroom. She glanced up at the whorled mirror and nodded in satisfaction—in the half-light of the evening, he wouldn't even be able to tell she'd been crying.
Hoshi finished the trek down the stairs carved from the stone of the cliffside, dropping to the bottommost promenade looking out over the waterfalls. She squinted, the crystalline globes of light overhead barely illuminating the colored stripes at the edges of the walkways: blue was…that way.
As she drew nearer, Hoshi slowed. There didn't seem to be anyone nearby, and she didn't hear the confused shouting or loud, exaggerated exchanges that usually accompanied a UT malfunction. She suddenly wished she'd brought her phase pistol, but she'd been too distracted by…she'd been too distracted.
She was just about to pull out her communicator when a glow caught her eye: not the neutral gray of the light crystals but a flickering orange from a gap in the natural cliff face at the edge of the promenade. After a moment's hesitation, she stepped gingerly down onto the jagged slope and squeezed through the crack from which the light emanated. As she pushed her way through, the dull roar of the waterfalls increased in volume. With one final push, she edged through the narrow fissure. Then Hoshi gasped.
T'Pol looked up warily, tensing as Hoshi entered the cavern. She didn't agree with the Doctor's assessment of her chances, but had decided to trust him. Nevertheless, she still didn't know how Hoshi would react.
"What…T'Pol, what is this?"
"It is a picnic." T'Pol didn't meet the Terran's eyes. "My understanding is that in presenting an apology, it is often advisable to do something out of the ordinary. Special."
Hoshi's mind still wasn't firing on all nacelles. "Apology?"
"I do not consider our relationship illegitimate." The Vulcan finally looked up at her. "Among Vulcans, personal relationships are a matter of concern only for their participants. I am…unaccustomed to the idea of public affection."
Hoshi let out a sigh, sliding down to kneel in front of T'Pol beside the flickering campfire. "I know." She cupped the Vulcan's cheek, glinting bronze in the firelight. "And I am accustomed to it."
T'Pol nodded sedately. "I know. Doctor Phlox explained to me…"
"You talked to Phlox about us?" Hoshi's tone was unreadable.
"Yes. Again, I apologize if—" T'Pol was cut off when the Terran's lips crushed against hers. When they pulled apart after what seemed like hours, they were both breathing heavily and Hoshi was grinning.
"So. What's for dinner?"
The food was exquisite, a selection of local delicacies, many of which Hoshi had been looking forward to trying. Neither woman spoke much, settling instead on stealing brief glances at one another as they ate. As the meal wound down, Hoshi took the chance to really look around the cavern they shared. It was half exposed to the night air, the other half of the opening covered by the cascade of a shimmering waterfall. The walls were worn smooth by the water, the firelight reflecting off them in yellow and orange stripes. Hoshi sighed contentedly.
"So, did you have anything else planned?" When she turned to the Vulcan for her response, Hoshi found T'Pol already half naked, the top of her jumpsuit pooled around her waist. Hoshi's blood ran hotter at the sight, and she immediately began fumbling with her uniform. As she finally managed to wrestle herself out of the confining fabric, she looked up just in time to see T'Pol disappear over the edge of the waterfall, an understated splash echoing up almost immediately.
The Terran scrambled to the edge of the cave, blinking in surprise at seeing the Vulcan bobbing in the shallow pool below. T'Pol looked up expectantly, one eyebrow arched in silent challenge. With only a moment's hesitation, Hoshi jumped in.
When she surfaced, water sheeting off her, Hoshi immediately felt T'Pol's arm reach out to steady her. Hoshi wasted no time.
She shifted to the side, letting T'Pol's hand land on her breast as her own arm snaked out around the Vulcan's shoulders and Hoshi captured her in a hungry kiss. The Vulcan pushed back, her thigh pressing between Hoshi's, and she felt the human buck in response.
Suddenly, Hoshi gasped and looked down. The water around them had been suffused with a purple glow, countless motes of light drifting around their bodies. "T'Pol, look."
"Phytomeres in the water. Perhaps they are reacting to our body temperature."
"They're beautiful." Hoshi watched, hypnotized by the swirling, frolicking lights, slowly following their glow up T'Pol's exposed chest, the hollow of her throat, to her full lips and stark, piercing eyes. "You're beautiful."
"You are beautiful." As T'Pol pulled her closer, the lights dancing around them and three alien moons rising overhead, Hoshi grinned.
After hours of lovemaking, first in the grotto and then back in their room, the Vulcan and the Terran lay, utterly spent, on the hotel bed. Hoshi glanced sidelong out the window. The sun was beginning to come up.
"I don't think I've ever been happier. I'll certainly never forget last night."
"Nor will I." T'Pol's hand reached out to take Hoshi's, squeezing the linguist's fingers gently in its warm grip. "What shall we do today?"
Hoshi turned to look at her. "We?"
T'Pol placed her other hand atop Hoshi's. "We."
Hoshi leaned gingerly up out of bed, silently considering her body's various needs at the moment. Finally, one won out. "Take me out to breakfast?"
T'Pol squeezed her hand again. "With pride."
"It took me some time to realize that it was not merely my apology. The fact that I had discussed our relationship with someone was just as telling of the truth of my affection."
Jacob blinked, letting the story and the conversation settle over him. When her last words had caught up with him, he suddenly understood why she had sent for him.
T'Pol sensed the change in him. "It will not be long now. According to my physicians, only a matter of days at most."
"And you wanted someone to know."
T'Pol exhaled and lay back against the pillow. "After Enterprise was decommissioned, we both agreed that with our divergent obligations and the tensions around the founding of the Federation, it would be best to keep our relations private. In fact, at that point the suggestion was Hoshi's.
"Now, such tact seems unimportant. Now, I only wish for it to be known that our relationship was one of the greatest sources of satisfaction in my life. And that I was never ashamed."
T'Pol's eyes fluttered. "I apologize, I am very tired. I hope I have not taken up too much of your time."
Jacob stood. "No, not at all. I…thank you, Your Excellency. For…" He shrugged. "For everything."
T'Pol nodded, the far-off look that had been in her eyes since her story began finally receding. "Mr. Williams." Her voice caught him just as he stepped into the open door, and he turned to find her fingers extended upward in a salute. "Live long and prosper."
As the Vulcan let herself fall into a tranquil sleep and the door slid shut behind him, Jacob Williams smiled.
As the attendant cleared away the remains of their breakfast, Hoshi joined T'Pol at the door of the cafe, staring out onto the bustling promenade, dozens of species mingling in the early morning sun.
The Terran took a deep breath, letting the clean air fill her lungs, and smiled contentedly. "So, where do you want to go today?"
T'Pol's hand slid out, her fingers effortlessly weaving between Hoshi's. "Wherever you go."
As the Vulcan pulled her out into the sunlight, Hoshi laughed. They had five days of leave left—but right now, that was an eternity.