After a restless night, she awoke and felt the burning dancing along the edges of her nerves. She knew it was only an echo of the real pain, a faint promise of what was to come. By the time she had prepared herself for the day, it had almost faded completely away, to a memory she could deny, if she so wished.
But logic prevented her from escaping into denial. It would only return, stronger and more urgent, the longer she waited. Denial would only decrease the time she had to make her own decisions about her actions, would only put her future, her health, and her life, into the hands of others.
That was unacceptable.
When she entered the bridge, only a few crew members sat at their stations. Ensign Sato was listening to recordings of a guttural and harsh language, occasionally echoing an interesting phoneme back at the computer. Ensign Mayweather was making adjustments at his station, stifling yawns against the back of his hand.
She approached Hoshi, quietly standing next to her station until the young woman noticed her.
"Sub-commander! Um...hold on a second..." She flipped a couple of switches and the computer's playback ceased. "What can I do for you?"
"Ensign, have you had any recent indications that any Vulcan ships are in the area?"
"None that have been reported to us, or have spoken to us," she responded. "It's been pretty quiet out there."
"Then can you transmit this message to Vulcan for me? It is personal, but of a rather urgent nature." She handed Hoshi a pad containing her encoded message, ignoring the woman's look of inquisitive surprise.
"I can't send it directly to Vulcan from this distance, but can send it to Starfleet via our subspace buoys and have them relay the message for you. It shouldn't take too long. I'll make sure they know it is urgent."
"Thank you." She should have known that transmitting outside of their network of Starfleet relays would be difficult, but had forgotten in her distraction. Transmitting via regulation channels would not take much longer, but a slight sense of fear and annoyance teased at her control. She repressed it firmly, reminding herself that she should have some time before worry was necessary.
Her control reestablished, she exited the bridge and took the lift to the level of the mess hall. The Captain and Commander Tucker would still be at breakfast in the captain's dining area, and she found eating with only the two of them present to be more pleasant than eating in the mess area itself. She had a vague idea of what to expect from the two of them, and had learned acceptable ways to react to both Tucker's and Archer's quirks.
During her time onboard the Enterprise, it had become easier to interact with the two of them, to participate in the conversations that humans believed were necessary to everyday life. Captain Archer, in particular, had also learned how to understand what she said, and to not react hastily if he found her opinions or analysis upsetting. Today, concerned that her patience and ability to deal with humans might not be the greatest, the idea of sitting down to a meal with two people she could anticipate, rather than a room full of people she could not, was rather appealing.
The next morning, the sensations took her breath away as she awoke. She lay still for several moments, slowly bringing her body, her emotions, back under her control. The burn pulsing along her nerves and the tremors that shook her hands were distinctly unpleasant, while the strength of the impulses was unexpected. She had learned the typical cycle of symptoms during her childhood education, and knew that it should not advance so quickly. This was a failure of her control, more than a victory of her body. For now, at least, this should be something that she could withstand.
For a brief moment, she considered contacting Dr. Phlox to see if he had anything that would help bring her body back under her control, but dismissed the idea. If he did not know about it, he would have many questions and want to run tests. If he did know of it, he would rightly be concerned and perhaps bring her situation to the attention of the captain. T'Pol did not want her personal problems affecting the behavior or mission of the crew—once Vulcan received her message, the nearest ship would be dispatched to bring her aboard. Although the idea of dealing with it on a foreign Vulcan ship, without the presence of anybody familiar, did not please her, it would be best.
The sensations slowly faded away as they had the previous morning, but this time their memory lived in her muscles and along her nerves. She hurt, she felt tired and aggravated. Not exactly in the best of form.
She lit the candles sitting in alcoves around one area of the room, and settled into a meditative posture. Hunger gnawed along the edges of her stomach, and she welcomed the physical discomfort. It helped her focus, helped her center herself. Then she focused upon that feeling of hunger, and it too passed away. With a little more effort than normally required, she took herself to her place of calm, the center of her being, the place where logic reigned and emotions had no substance or meaning.
T'Pol arose, firmly in control of herself once again, and glanced at the clock. Her need to meditate had made her morning preparations take more time than usual, so she decided to head directly to the bridge instead of stopping in the mess hall for breakfast. Although she typically indulged herself by showing up for all meals when aboard Enterprise, she could do fairly well on far less nutrition. Fasting could help control the body and cleanse the mind. And although she felt relatively balanced at the moment, she suspected it would not last long. Not with biological impulses working in conjunction with the disturbances of everyday life.
By midday on the ship's schedule, T'Pol had realized that her decision had not been the best. Under normal circumstances, a fast left her feeling restfully empty and centered. Today, she felt only weary and hungry. Her attempts to stay in control were draining her of energy, and skipping her breakfast had already exhausted her reserves. She desperately needed lunch, and was too tired to suppress that longing. She also feared that she was becoming tired enough that others might notice her distraction.
When Captain Archer looked towards her, she saw a brief expression flicker across it, which only reinforced her concerns. Her ability to read his emotional state from his expressions had grown during her time serving on Enterprise, and that expression definitely conveyed some type of worry or concern. "Sub-commander, I'm heading down to the mess hall for lunch. Would you like to join me, or remain on the bridge?"
Sometimes she joined him, sometimes she did not. Today, a perverse desire to reject his offer—and the concern buried beneath it—hovered in her mind, but she banished it. She needed to eat. "I will accompany you, Captain."
In the lift, she kept her eyes focused on the shut doors, her hands clasped behind her back, her body in a formal pose. She could feel his stare upon her, but when she glanced to look at him, he had echoed her posture.
"T'Pol, are you all right? You've not been yourself today."
She could not call him oblique. "Captain, I am fine," she said, but her voice wavered unexpectedly.
He did not respond, but when she took a second glance out of the corner of her eyes, she saw him watching her again, his face a mixture of expression.
They entered the mess hall together, and walked to the captain's mess. The servers whisked dishes out in front of them, since neither had ordered anything special in advance. Although hunger gnawed at her stomach, the steamed vegetables and sliced fruit they set in front of her barely appealed. And the meaty odor of whatever dish Archer had been given was making her nauseous.
She tightened her lips and felt her face go pale as she struggled to control her body's impulses. Archer responded quickly. As soon as the door had slid shut behind the servers he said "T'Pol, something is definitely not right here. And I'm ordering you to tell me what is wrong."
"The smell of your lunch is unpleasant, and I am not sure I can eat what they brought me." She could follow his orders in the most strictly defined way possible.
"What do you think you can eat?"
"Perhaps a broth of some form..."
He took their two plates and carried them back into the kitchen. By the time he returned, the ventilation system had already carried away the odor of his lunch, and her stomach had settled. "Captain, I did not mean for you to give up your lunch..." she began.
"I'm perfectly capable of eating a meal whose odor you will find less unpleasant." The door slid open again, and a server came out with two bowls and a plate of sliced bread on a tray. She quickly placed one in front of each of them and withdrew. "Anyway, having a lighter lunch once in a while isn't going to hurt me."
She had received a clear vegetable broth. His smelled similar, but as he began to eat it, she noticed that both vegetables and some form of grain were included. They both ate in silence for a couple of minutes, then he laid down his spoon and regarded her directly. "So, are you going to tell me why you had such a violent reaction to the odor of the food, or am I going to have to pry it out of you one order at a time?"
The broth had begun to steady her emotions and her stomach. She felt calmer than she had for several hours, and strong enough to counter the captain at his verbal games. "Would you be willing to do that?"
"I don't know. Are you going to force me to it?"
"Not if you will accept that I am aware of my condition, and that I am doing what I can to correct it."
He regarded her steadily. "Have you seen the doctor?"
"There is nothing he can do to help. This should not be in his medical database."
"What have you done, then?"
"I have contacted Vulcan, and requested that they contact a ship in the area that can meet with us and take me aboard. It would only be for a couple of days—if the Enterprise needs to continue her mission, I can always catch up later."
"We can wait."
She bowed her head in thanks, and Archer turned his attention back to his lunch. Although his curiosity was a palpable sensation that even she could sense, the few words they exchanged during the rest of the meal were general and related only to the operation of the ship and crew. The food and his calm acceptance of her non-explanation steadied her further, until she felt that she could return to the bridge and finish her shift with little difficulty.
She stood, and said "I am returning to the bridge, Captain."
"Go ahead without me—I promised Trip that I'd stop in engineering and take a look at a couple of things."
But as she turned towards the door, he stood and hurried over, putting a hand on her arm to halt her. Her reaction to that simple touch almost destroyed all the control that the past hour had restored. For an instant, she was only aware of his touch and his scent; the scent which filled her nose with a suddenness she did not expect, and a familiarity that brought both a type of comfort and the deep pull of an attraction she could not allow herself to acknowledge.
She breathed through her mouth and turned to face him, struggling against impulses she did not fully understand and emotions she refused to acknowledge. He seemed oblivious to her sudden loss of internal stability, even as his eyes searched her face in worry. She met his eyes calmly, using every trick she had ever been taught to keep her body from revealing what her mind struggled with.
"There is nothing more you can tell me?"
"There are certain matters that Vulcans cannot discuss with outsiders."
"You have violated those types of prohibitions in the past."
"With this, I cannot. Not now."
"Even if I tell you that this brings to mind every bizarre rumor about Vulcans that are whispered between school kids on earth?"
"Some of those rumors may contain more fact than fiction."
"That does not make me feel any happier."
He released her, and sighed. She drew a step back, reestablishing her personal space, and returning to herself as she did so. "Please tell me immediately when the Vulcans contact you. The sooner we can change course and find your Vulcan ship, the better."
She could hear his hurt, not that he was trying to hide it from her. "I will."
She exited, and he remained behind.
That night, she sat surrounded by the flickering light of candles, trying to meditate her body's reactions back under her conscious control. Each time she believed that she had succeeded, each time that she felt that she could bring herself back to the reality of her cabin and go peacefully into a dreamless sleep, another flicker of emotion licked at her crumbling supports and set off internal displays of emotions and desires that she could only endure, not suppress.
During the course of one of these, her comm buzzed quietly, drawing her attention out of her mind to the reality of Enterprise. Her body was damp with sweat, and every muscle felt sore and unresponsive. It buzzed again, and she rose to answer it, ignoring the complaints of her body.
"Sub-commander?" She recognized the voice of the young communications officer from the night staff. "You have a transmission coming in via Starfleet relays from Vulcan."
An uncontrollable worry struck at her. If Vulcan had a ship in the local area, they could have used their own communications channels to communicate with her; they should not have needed to relay a transmission via Starfleet. In fact, the staff of the local ship should have contacted her directly.
"Please put it through."
The face that appeared on her view screen was not one she was expecting. Instead of some anonymous member of high command's staff, her paternal foremother, the current matriarch of her family, stared out at her. T'Pol had never known T'Lar well, and found herself unable to judge anything from the closed expression on the woman's face.
"You do not look well," T'Lar began bluntly.
"I am handling myself to the best of my abilities."
"Those are clearly being tested." The woman shook her head in one quick motion.
"Do you know why I am contacting you?"
"My message to high command..."
"For which you should have expected an answer from high command."
"When high command realized that there were no ships that could reach the Enterprise in time, they decided that the issue was a family problem and passed the message to me. You have put yourself into an unwise situation, granddaughter."
"I have made the choices that my logic directed me to make." T'Pol resisted the urge to feel defensive, to defend the choices that had brought her to the Enterprise in her current condition. She knew that the confrontation with her family over her current assignment and recent choices would occur at some point, but could not allow herself to react as though that confrontation was occurring right now.
"I am not questioning your choices at this time. No matter how much I would like to demand explanations for your decisions to violate traditions which put you in this place, this is neither the appropriate time or circumstance. First, we must decide how to keep you alive and sane. Then we can have that needed discussion, if necessary.
"Your ship's doctor is receiving a transmission with the basic information about pon farr, and treatments that we have created over the years to handle it, with strict orders not to place that information into the Starfleet database. You are aware as any Vulcan about the limitations of that treatment, but we are providing it as an option."
T'Pol suppressed her surprise. She had not expected Vulcan to release any information to Dr. Phlox, much less the highly secret information about the treatments that could provide limited relief from the overwhelming biological urges that drove pon farr.
"Your other option is, of course, to find someone who can help you deal with this in the traditional manner." T'Lar's mouth quirked in a manner that T'Pol registered as being close to smile. Not that T'Lar would ever smile; her state was obviously causing her to perceive emotion where it did not exist. "Is there someone on Enterprise that you believe would be willing to help you?"
A flush colored T'Pol's cheekbones and the tips of her ears at the question that T'Lar had laid before her. The question she had absolutely refused to allow herself to consider. She stammered an "Um..." then firmly shut her month against the human expression of confusion that had accidentally emerged from it.
T'Lar's mouth quirked again. "I rather suspect that there may be someone whom you would prefer to have help you, rather than giving yourself to the uncertain outcome of treatment."
"What?" The exclamation emerged before she could contain it.
T'Lar gave her the type of look an adult Vulcan gives to a child who is slow in understanding her lesson. "The reasons are logical enough, if you chose to follow the logic rather than denying it.
"You are young for the emergence of pon farr. For a female Vulcans of your age, the onset of pon farr is typically triggered by marriage and the changes which accompany it. Vulcans who do not marry at the traditional age usually have quite a few years before they first experience pon farr and are forced to seek out some situation to handle it. Because you refused your marriage, you should not have experienced onset for at least another decade.
"But pon farr can also be triggered by other outside events. Specifically, some form of attraction that the Vulcan is refusing to acknowledge or deal with. The body forces you to deal with it because the mind denies it. Logically, that seems the conclusion here."
T'Pol sat down heavily in her desk chair, only realizing that she had been standing for the course of the entire interview when her legs suddenly threatened to give out under her. Although she had been taught as much about pon farr as any Vulcan child, the information that T'Lar had just provided her had not been in that teaching. "I have never heard that before."
"Does it sound like information that our culture would embrace? Marriages based on the logical decisions of parents are far stronger than those based on illogical sexual or emotional attractions that should have been dealt with quickly and in an appropriate manner. You have refused to deal with something and forced this situation. The fact that you have let a situation grow out of control in this manner, and apparently formed some sort of attachment to some non-Vulcan—especially a human—both impacts your honor, and our family honor. That damage is already done.
"Now, you must either confront what you have chosen to deny, or take the risk of treating yourself. If you chose treatment, and survive with your sanity and health intact, remember to return to Vulcan seven years from now.
"If you chose to deal with the situation in the traditional manner, know that it will be difficult as well. I suspect you would not want to return to Vulcan in the near future. With the current political situation, the suspicion that you have engaged in a relationship with a human, even solely under the influence of pon farr, will affect your position and career within high command and possibly within society.
"Farewell, T'Pol. Live long and prosper, no matter what your choice."
The connection closed and T'Lar vanished, but T'Pol continued to stare at the screen for a long time afterwards.
When Jonathan Archer arrived on the bridge the next morning, he noted that T'Pol was not at her station. Although he had been controlling his worry since her uncharacteristic behavior at lunch the day before, her silence throughout the night on the expected arrival of that ship had increased his tension. Now her absence heightened it further.
He walked over to Hoshi and asked quietly, "Did T'Pol receive any messages or transmissions last night?"
Hoshi pulled up the communications logs and glanced over the lines of information. "She received a transmission, routed from Vulcan, about six hours ago."
"No transmission from any Vulcan ship in our vicinity?"
"There's nothing else recorded, sir. Just the transmission from Vulcan."
He returned to the center seat, but remained standing. Obviously, the communication from Vulcan was related to whatever problem she was experiencing, but it might not have been specifically related to the location of this Vulcan ship they were going to meet up with. T'Pol could interpret his orders in the damnest ways at times.
The lift door slid open, and he turned his head to check on the identity of the passenger. When Dr. Phlox stepped out, his usually cheerful face dimmed, he greeted him with some surprise. "Good morning Doctor! What can we do for you?"
"Captain, may I speak with you privately?"
"Certainly. Ensign Mayweather, you have the bridge."
In his ready room, Archer settled into the chair behind his desk, and motioned for Phlox to sit. But he remained standing, pacing back and forth across the confines of the small room.
"Sub-commander T'Pol has not reported for duty this morning?" Phlox asked.
"No, she has not."
"Has she been behaving unusually over the past several days?"
Unusually might be an understatement. "She has been irritable, and sensitive to strange things. She informed me that she knew what the problem was, and was taking steps to help herself. Supposedly we're meeting with a Vulcan ship sometime soon."
"I received a data transmission from Vulcan last night. After I agreed not to enter any information provided to me into the Starfleet medical database, and not to discuss the information with anyone who did not have a need to know, they provided me with information on a Vulcan condition called pon farr."
Archer motioned for him to continue.
"If Vulcans believe that they have kept the interspecies medical community from knowing about this little 'problem' of theirs, they are deluding themselves. Although it can be difficult to keep information on it in the medical databases, there are enough rumors churning through the community that most of us have a pretty good idea of what it is. They are only harming themselves by keeping further information private."
Archer realized that Phlox was prepared to settle into a personal rant that he would probably find completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. To forestall it, he quickly asked "And how does this relate to T'Pol?"
"Starting sometime in their mid-adult life—between 50 and 75 years of age—Vulcans begin a seven-year reproductive cycle. Every seven years, mating is a requirement, not a choice. Hormone levels surge, and if a Vulcan does not mate, he or she may die. This is pon farr.
"It's somewhat humorous that the one race which embraces a religion of logic and suppressed emotionalism goes through a cycle of biological drives that are uncontrollable...although, according to rumor, it far predates Surak and Vulcan's dedication to logic. Maybe it's one of the factors that causes them to so desire emotional control. Makes me wonder what type of environmental catastrophe would promote the evolution of such an odd biological drive..."
"Is T'Pol undergoing pon farr?"
"According to the Vulcan doctor I spoke with, she contacted them about the issue and requested a brief transfer to a Vulcan ship to handle it. But we've apparently ventured outside the area of space in which Vulcan ships are regularly present, and are at least a week away from the nearest. He provided me with information about medical treatments they have developed to lessen the effects of pon farr on the body, but both he and the information he provided implied that these treatments are not as successful as one could hope. That the biological imperative is best treated by allowing it to follow its natural course."
Archer stared at him. "You mean..."
"T'Pol needs to have sex with someone." Phlox's mouth quirked into a smile.
"Since you're the ship's captain, I guess it's up to you to decide who."
"Doctor..." Archer had his suspicions as to where this was headed, and he didn't need any further psycho-analyzing done by Phlox. The last experience, on a related topic, had been painful enough. "Are humans and Vulcans even compatible?"
"Oh, quite compatible. It's one of those wonders of the universe, that there are relatively few forms for sexual organs. Although the cultural mores surrounding sex differ quite wildly from species to species, the mechanics of the act itself tend to be extremely similar." He shrugged his shoulders. "Despite some pretty significant internal biological and chemical differences, the only real external difference between humans and Vulcans are those pointed ears and skin color."
Since Phlox had only confirmed some of the rumors that had always circulated about Vulcans, Archer found that he wasn't too surprised by the information. But given that information, he knew that there was only one choice that he could possibly make. He started towards the door. "Thank you, Doctor."
"Wait." Archer stopped. "Where are you going?"
"To T'Pol's quarters."
"That's what I suspected." Phlox lost the grin that he had been wearing through the latter part of their conversation, donning the serious face he wore in those situations when he stopped making light of things, stopped using his incessantly cheerful bedside manner. "Be careful, captain. Remember, she doesn't want you there, doesn't want you knowing about this. She's vulnerable. And Vulcans don't like to be seen as vulnerable. It goes against everything they're taught about themselves and other species."
"I've seen her vulnerable before." He could easily recall the times that she had opened herself to him, allowed him to see the complexity and the struggles that existed under that stolid Vulcan surface. The times that she had leaned upon him, let him see her weaknesses so that he could support her, help her be stronger than she was on her own. He knew what kind of trust that required, and hoped her trust in him would allow their relationship to come through what was about to occur intact. He wasn't going to deny that this could be the beginning of extreme tensions, but keeping her alive right now was the important aspect.
"You may have. But she's lost all her control. She's descended to a level that Vulcans want to deny exists, into a state that adult Vulcans apparently experience every seven years but they refuse to have detailed in medical databases. She's the most vulnerable she's probably ever going to be, and in a condition that embarrasses her culture to an extreme degree. She could hurt you and herself emotionally without even really understanding what she's doing."
"I think I understand that. But her life is on the line right now. And that's the important factor in this situation." He moved closer to the door, and it slid open. "See you later, Doc."
Archer pressed the buzzer outside of T'Pol's quarters and waited for a response.
He pressed the buzzer again, holding it just a little longer this time. Just before he was tempted to press it a third time, the door slid open to admit him.
He stepped into thick darkness. Every other time he had been in T'Pol's quarters, she had had some sort of soft light source glowing, anything from candles to the cabin's own lightening system set at a low level. Strangely enough for a person from a harshly-lit desert planet, she preferred her light soft and subtle. But now, the only light came from the few glowing stars in the portholes, barely breaking the darkness of space.
"T'Pol?" He called softly into the darkness.
"Please go away." Her voice was rough, and impassioned. "Just go away."
He took bearings on her voice, concluding that she was on the floor near the opposite side of the room. Moving slowly, he set off in that direction.
"I've seen the information that the Vulcans provided to Dr. Phlox."
"If he's going to begin treatment, he needs to do it soon."
"Treatment? Hah." She spat out what sounded like a cruel chuckle. "Did they provide him with the stats on the survival rate after treatment?"
"He didn't show me any information like that."
"If they had sent it, he would have used it. He is great at manipulation, that one."
"He did not tell you what the typical treatment for this is?"
Based on the location and volume of her voice, he decided that she was almost underneath his feet. He thought that he could almost see the faint outline of her body directly in front of him, so he settled down beside her and drew her into his arms.
"Why don't you tell me?"
"Do not do this!" She snapped at him, but didn't pull herself out of his grasp.
"He did tell you."
"Yes, he did."
"Then go away."
"No, I won't." He brought her closer to him, feeling her rapidly beating heart and the flush of her skin against his hands. She fit easily into his lap, against his chest. "You were willing to go handle this among strangers?"
"Vulcans. We do not view this the way humans do. We do not view sex the way humans do. Please let me go."
"There are many different ways that humans view sex."
"It does not matter. It is my fault."
"What is your fault?" Archer didn't like this. Based on Phlox's medical information, he had thought he was coming to the quarters of a woman filled with urges she could not control, a woman whose needs it would be simple to fulfill, no matter what the consequences. But it seemed that she was out of control in more ways than one. And some of them bordering on self-destructive.
"This. This should not be happening. I caused this."
"This is part of a perfectly normal Vulcan's life. Maybe it didn't happen at the best of times, but you shouldn't believe you should have better controlled this. It is happening and it needs to be handled."
"But it should not be happening now. I caused this."
"By being attracted to you." As he processed this sudden statement, she slipped out of his arms and curled against the bulkhead. "Please go away."
"No." He said gently, and he pulled her back to him. He knew that he had already made his decision, and nothing she could say to him could cause him to reconsider. He would not allow her to take the risks of medically treating this, or refusing all treatment, when a simple solution was available. He pulled her tightly against him, and found her lips with his.
She gasped against his lips, then hungrily pushed herself against him. He took the force of her motion and laid back against the floor, pulling her down on top of him. Her fingers tore at his clothing, and he helped her remove his uniform, unzipping each fastening by touch. In the darkness, he could barely see her shape above him, but he allowed himself a moment to trace the curves of her body. Her body quivered under his fingertips and she gasped as he lightly brushed his hands over her breasts, her hips. For a brief instance, she pulled away from him, and when she returned, he was holding a armful of naked woman, her skin burning against his.
He kissed her again, but held back his own desire and patiently waited for her to take the lead. She rolled onto the floor, pulling him on top of her. Her body arched into his, rubbing urgently against him, increasing his excitement. He quickly removed his briefs and undershirt, leaving them skin against skin.
He brought a hand down to gently stroke her, testing her readiness. No matter how urgent she appeared, he had no intentions of hurting her. But she was slick, and warm, and ready. Like she had been waiting for him...he thrust himself inside her, feeling her warmth and wetness embrace him.
She gasped, and her fingernails pressed into his shoulders, little pricks of pain which only heightened the pleasure he was experiencing. In the darkness, he could not watch her face, so he could only listen to the sounds she made and follow the demands of her body. He slowly withdrew, then entered again, as she thrust her hips upwards to meet him.
She set a demanding pace, pulling him deep inside her on every thrust, and he began to share in the animalistic desperation driving her actions. Although some still sane part of his mind cautioned him, his body refused to listen. He ground his lips against hers, thrusting his tongue inside her mouth, entangling her tongue with his. He increased the pace, thrusting as deeply as her body would allow, as quickly as his would follow, drawing deep moans from her. He drove the both of them quickly and roughly towards climax, and felt her begin to pulse around him just before his body reached its own completion.
Archer collapsed onto his elbows, supporting his own weight so that it could not crush her slender body beneath him. As his breathing slowed and his heart rate returned to normal, his mind cleared of the passion which had consumed it and worry took it place. He withdrew from her and slowly traced her face with his hand, whispering "T'Pol?"
For a moment, she did not answer. Then she took his hand in hers, and turned her face into his palm. She laid a gentle kiss upon it, and whispered "Jonathan." Then she pushed him onto his side, and curled against him.
He was immediately overwhelmed by a need to sleep. But, before he allowed his
eyes to close, he grabbed the blankets off the corner of the bed and covered the two of them. A small part of his mind insisted that Starfleet deck plating was not a wise place to sleep, but with the warmth of T'Pol at his side, and his sudden and insistent need to sleep, he ignored it and closed his eyes.
T'Pol awoke, every muscle in her body protesting her position and the unyielding surface. It took a moment to pull herself back to reality, to pull herself out of the haze which had descended upon her after her discussion with T'Lar. The burning of pon farr still filled her body, but its power was much reduced. Also, she quickly discovered an unexpected reservoir of calm and content that allowed her to quickly control and subdue the yearnings.
She opened her eyes to the dark of her quarters. Even with a Vulcan's legendary night sight, it could take a few seconds for eyes to adjust and recognizable patterns to form out of the darkness. But feeling was enough to warn her that something had happened, something that she needed to recall. A warm body slept at her side, radiating the calm and content she was drawing upon to stabilize herself.
With a gasp, the hours before returned to her. The memory of Archer coming to her cabin as she sunk into the twin depths of desire and despair, the feelings of his hands and tongue both arousing and cooling the fires that drove her. He was still here, still asleep, and she could feel the touch of his mind against hers. Shock numbed her. Humans were not supposed to be telepathic!
As if her sudden disquiet had disturbed the man besides her, Archer suddenly began to rustle, and his mental state headed towards awareness. He mumbled and his hands suddenly embraced her body, taking her breath away with the desire the gentle touch stirred...a desire she felt rebounded and enhanced by his. She quickly put mental shields into place, dampening but not removing her awareness of him.
She pulled away from him and turned on the cabin lights, watching him blink in the sudden brightness. But the lights had only been set to fifty percent of normal, allowing him to adjust quickly. He sat up, propping himself against the bulkhead.
"T'Pol," he said, and a small smile flickered across his face. But it was almost immediately repressed, and she knew it was repressed out of worry, out of fear of rejection. She could feel his fear, his worry that she would be disgusted or angered by what he had done, or that she would completely reject what had occurred as only what was necessary. Feel him mentally persuading himself that any of the above was acceptable.
"Jonathan," she answered, damning herself even as she allowed herself to keep it on this level. Her body still desired him, and to make it worse, her mind did as well.
"You were willing to go among strangers to handle this? Why, when there are several who would be willing to help you here?"
"It needed to mean nothing. I wanted it to mean nothing." Her explanation sounded empty to her, and she did not want to know what he thought about it.
"Do you still want it to mean nothing?"
The full understanding of the escape he was offering her hit T'Pol. Even though it would wound him, he was offering her the escape back to the fully professional relationship they had shared before, no matter what a lie it had been. He was offering her a return, no matter what had occurred or would occur, and he meant what he offered.
"No." The word was almost torn out of her, forced to meet his honesty and willingness with her own honesty.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and she could feel a confusion of emotion flood him. He reached for her, and she allowed him to pull her down against his chest, intensifying those emotions. "What do you want it to mean?"
She shook her head, and quietly answered, "I do not know."
"Okay." His hands began to trace her body again, and she realized that they both were still naked, and the scent of the sex they had shared still clung to their bodies. She found herself pressing against him, her own hands exploring his body, as the desires of pon farr, enhanced by his passion and desires, began to engulf them both once again. She sighed and began to allow it to flood through her, to abandon herself to its demands, when he suddenly stood, lifting her with him.
As she returned to herself in shock, he grinned down at her. "I think that we'll find the bed far more comfortable," he said, and laid her down on its soft surface. Then, he began to trace all the sensitive areas of her body with his tongue, lips and fingertips, each flicker she felt seeming to drive his efforts. Within moments, she was moaning and reaching for him, frantically desiring to feel him inside of her again. He quickly obliged, and she allowed herself, her thoughts, to be carried away on waves of illogical emotions and feelings, losing herself in the demands of her body.
The door buzzer awoke her. T'Pol found herself lying on her side on her bed, spooned against the chest of Jonathan Archer. This time, her awakening was not accompanied by the confusion of earlier—instead she found herself calm, with the last sensations of pon farr barely disturbing her. True, she was sore and exhausted, with aches in parts of her body she never suspected could ache, but those were minimal concerns. She had regained control of her mind...or of the parts that belonged to her.
She rose quickly, not disturbing Jonathan. She pulled on a shirt and loose pants, and made sure that the blankets were pulled up around him, and firmly tucked in. Then she answered the door, with a good idea of whom was waiting outside.
As she expected, Phlox stood outside her door, his cheerful smile lighting his face. He was accompanied by a food cart carrying two covered trays, which he pushed into the cabin with a metallic clang. Jonathan jerked awake and sat up abruptly, the blankets falling until they barely covered his lower body.
"Good morning, Captain, Sub-commander." He greeted them after the door had slid shut behind him. "I'm glad to see that both of you are in relatively decent health."
"Morning? How long has it been, Doctor?" Jonathan asked, as he resettled the blankets around him.
"About twenty-four hours since I sent you in to talk some sense to the Sub-commander here." He responded.
T'Pol could feel Jonathan's sudden worry, as she tried to cope with the new angle to this situation. Both of them had been so lost in their own desires that they had forgotten about the existence of the world outside her cabin. And that world included eighty-odd curious individuals, along with two larger worlds whose relationship was strained, to say the least.
"Nobody has tried contacting either of us."
"Because, as far as anyone else on this ship is aware, you both had the misfortune to be vulnerable to this little virus that came aboard with our last food shipment. Not fatal, but it causes some relatively violent vomiting and other digestive problems. You are both restricted to quarters for recovery for thirty-six hours, and the rest of the crew received an inoculation consisting mainly of saline solution about twenty hours ago. I warned Commander Tucker not to try to contact either of you during the time that you're restricted to quarters, and not to be worried if he had to and there was no response. Just to come to me.
"Chef has whipped up two delightful breakfasts for invalids, and wishes you both a speedy recovery. If you wish to order something specific for lunch today, please tell me and I will pass it along to Chef. Otherwise, I will just deliver whatever Chef comes up with."
T'Pol had to admit that Phlox had come up with a relatively ingenious solution. One that saved the both of them from awkward questions, or the need to expose information that other Vulcans would not want disclosed.
Jonathan nodded his head. "Thank you, Doctor."
Phlox busied himself with placing the breakfast trays on to her desk, turning his back to Jonathan. He quickly stood, glanced over at T'Pol and shrugged, then pulled on the briefs and shirt that were laying near the side of the bed. She hastily repressed the confusion of emotions that tried to erupt, and refused to allow herself the time to study him.
"Breakfast is served." Phlox pulled off the lids with a flourish, and tossed them onto the cart. "I will see you both in about five hours."
Phlox caught T'Pol's eye, and she walked with him over towards the door. "How are you?" he asked quietly.
"I am over the worse of it."
"I am sorry that it could not be handled in the way you wanted," he said. "I understand why you wanted to do what you tried."
"It is not fruitful to worry about what is past. Only to deal with what is here." Not exactly a thought she welcomed at the moment, but one that she had to acknowledge.
"How is it?"
"If you need to talk about it at any time, I'm available. Not that I'm sure that I can help a Vulcan..." his voice changed to a teasing tone, then rose in volume. "And in twelve hours, I expect to see both of you in sickbay, to assess the visual damage."
He granted them both one of his smug grins, and ducked out the door.
"I think that Chef decided that he was feeding an army, not two invalids...take a look at this amount of food!"
Slices of every fruit she had ever shown any indication of liking lay on one tray, along with bread and jam, and the grain-based hot cereal that she sometimes requested. His tray contained several types of cooked and rather greasy-looking meat, along with a pile of what she recalled were called pancakes. Tall glasses of juice and water sat on both, while her tray contained what she identified as a mug of hot tea, and his what appeared to be coffee.
She picked up the mug of tea and settled down onto the bed, sipping at it slowly. The warmth calmed her further, helping her banish the last remaining stray emotions from the past twenty-four hours. Jonathan sipped at his coffee, and through the emotions she was receiving from him, she realized that it had a similar effect. Although, if this was to remain a factor in their lives, she was certainly going to have to teach him some methods to control what he broadcast.
If? She realized that she was treating this bond as something that might remain a factor. He might not even be able to sense it, or to maintain conscious control over it. In that case it could not remain a factor. According to the Vulcan Science Directorate, humans were on the low end of the scale for possible telepathic ability—some had a little, but barely enough to be measurable. She herself had little telepathic ability, and so had only received the basic training that all Vulcan children underwent. It should have not been possible for this bond to be intentionally created, much less subconsciously formed. Yet, it had been, an outcome she had not expected.
If he could not access and control it, it was unethical to keep the bond intact, no matter what it might cost her to have it broken. And, knowing how suspiciously humans viewed empathy and telepathy, he might not desire to maintain the bond even if he could control his side of it.
"We have something that we need to talk about."
"Well, I've already been mentally rehearsing my possible responses to both the 'get the hell out of my cabin' request, and the 'this was just an extreme situation, we can only be friends' request..."
"I was not planning to make either of those requests."
"We need to talk about something more serious, something that occurred unexpectedly."
"And that is?"
"Have you felt anything peculiar in the past couple of hours?" She took his hand, closed her eyes and moderated her breathing, slipping into the light meditative state that she required to do anything overtly telepathic. Can you sense this?
His hand jerked in hers. She reopened her eyes, and he looked visually shaken.
"I was hoping that was a result of exhaustion and an overactive imagination."
"So, you can sense it."
"Close your eyes. Try to locate its presence." He nodded his head. "Now imagine a wall blocking you from its presence."
The flood of emotions coming across their bond immediately came to a halt. She gasped, then realized that the bond was still present, although vastly muted. Until this moment, she had not realized how loud he had been.
"I think you can control it, if only in a crude fashion." He could sense it and control it. The Science Directorate would find this experience fascinating.
"What is it?" When he took his concentration away from his imagined wall, the connection grew stronger again. But it was not as strong as it had been earlier, a good indication that he could learn to control it in a relatively refined fashion. She could sense his suspicions and curiosity warring for control, and his cautious decision to wait her explanation. She dropped his hand.
"How much do you know about Vulcan marriage traditions?" she asked, not being able to figure out a more delicate way of approaching the situation.
"Only what is publicly available on Earth. I have heard that the majority of marriages are arranged."
"In some families, yes. I refused mine." That was a discussion for later. He gave her an odd look, but remained quiet. "That is not the tradition that matters here. What do you know about Vulcans and telepathy?"
"That some Vulcans are telepathic to some degree. That your scientists proved to us that an ability we had been dismissing as fantasy for thousands of years was actually possible, but that most humans have no telepathic ability. It apparently never proved to be an evolutionary advantage."
"All Vulcans are telepathic to some degree. My own abilities are limited. But because our culture is based on the presumption that almost all its participants are telepathic, there are certain traditions associated with it.
"As part of the Vulcan marriage ceremony, the husband and wife are telepathically bound to one another. The bond is a reinforcement of the marriage vows, and normally is only severed by death. The bond itself can be weak or strong, depending on the abilities of both partners, but it is always present. It is normally created in a structured manner as part of the marriage ceremony."
Her ability to translate the Vulcan concepts into human terms was failing her, leaving her struggling to get the point across. "In rare circumstances, a bond may be created without the marriage ceremony, without the intercessions and ritual. Prior to the time of Surak, it was relatively uncommon, and since that time it has become almost unknown."
"Is that what happened?"
"I do not know." Now that she had laid out all the facts verbally, the utter impossibility of the situation struck her even more strongly, but the facts gave lie to that impossibility. "It should not have happened. The Vulcan Science Directorate has ruled that even consciously attempting to create a permanent telepathic bond between Vulcan and human would be difficult, if not impossible. One developing without a conscious attempt, between a Vulcan with weak abilities and a human with no known abilities should be impossible."
"The Vulcan Science Directorate rules that a lot of things are impossible." His face quirked into a grin. "It appears that circumstances have proven them wrong, again."
"Proven them wrong, in this," she responded.
"In this," he agreed. "So what are our options?"
"If we were both Vulcan, once the scandal had passed and the bond accepted, all
prior obligations would be declared void and we would be legally married."
"Your statement earlier indicated that you no longer have prior obligations?"
"No, I do not."
"Nor do I," he answered softly.
She had been trying to ignore the emotions he was sharing with her over their bond, trying to keep their conversation purely on a verbal level. But the emotions he broadcast stunned her.
"You want to keep this bond?" she asked.
"I don't know. Maybe." He looked her directly in the eye. "T'Pol, a lot has happened in the past twenty-four hours, and neither of us has had the time to process it. Right now this all feels unreal to me, like I'm caught in some strange world, twisted away from the real world. But I actually like this strange world, maybe better than I liked the original.
"Now on one level, this idea about this bond, the idea of sharing that type of connection with another person, scares the hell out of me. If you'd told me about it before I experienced it, I don't know how I would have reacted. Probably wondered how any species could permit such a thing...such an invasion of privacy and personality.
"But it's here. I'm experiencing it. And although I know that I haven't thought through the full ramifications of it—hell, I'm not even sure that I can grasp the full ramifications—it's not as scary as I would have expected. It doesn't feel like an invasion. It almost feels right, like I've suddenly gained access to something I was missing, but didn't know that I was missing."
He paused, and his vast array of flickering emotions revealed to her how torn he was, between fear born out of prejudice and suspicion, and acceptance out of experience. "I think that I need some time to process it."
"That is a logical request." She used half-recalled techniques to attempt to dampen her side of the connection further. Although she could not completely block his awareness of the link while it remained, she could control what he sensed from her. She could attempt not to allow herself to influence his decision. "Perhaps you might want some time alone to process what has happened?"
And perhaps she needed some time alone to regain her own equilibrium. Even with the desire of pon farr reduced to almost undetectable levels, his presence was still challenging her control of her desires. They were not all sexual in nature, and she recognized them as valuable to helping develop a stable and long term relationship. Many of them were driven by the presence of the bond, the signal to her body and mind that she had entered into a long term, exclusive relationship that needed to be developed and sustained. But in this circumstance, with their relationship to one another so questionable, following those desires could possibly lead to emotional pain for both of them if they severed the relationship.
"That's probably a good idea. It's early enough in the morning shift that I can probably sneak back to my quarters without anyone seeing me in the hall and telling on me to the good doctor." But he did not stand up. Instead, he turned towards her and placed his hand against her knee. Despite the closeness forced by the size of her quarters and their attempt to both eat a breakfast barely balanced on her desk, she had avoided touching him since she began the conversation about the telepathic bond. But when he touched her, every damper she had put into place came crashing down, exposing both her and him to the rawness of one another's emotions. Her mental control shook before the power of his emotions, allowing all the emotions she was controlling to leak into her conscious mind. He was actually more stable after the shared initial burst, probably because he had better tactics than she for dealing with unexpected floods of emotion.
"I see." He murmured, pulling her against him as she struggled to process it, to force all her emotions, the emotions she desperately had tried to prevent from influencing their conversation, back where they belonged. She was embarrassed, for her control was no better than a young child's at the moment. But rather than turning away in shared embarrassment, or as a reprimand, like another Vulcan would have, he held her and continued to share her struggle for control. He gave her strength, gave her calm, and shared in the return of her clarity and peace. Once she had returned herself to some approximation of what she wanted to be, he took her face between his hands, and gently touched his lips to hers.
She returned the kiss, and accepted the open flow of emotions between the two of them. He felt what she had not been able to verbalize, and she felt the depth and complexity of his emotions regarding their sudden shift in relationship, his desire to be loyal to her, his desire to only do what was right for his ship and crew despite his personal needs, and his loyal but conflicted relationship with earth. She recognized in him the same issues that were plaguing her, and how similar their two positions were.
He released her, and the bond gently faded back to the lower intensity it had had before. He swallowed audibly, and gave her a brief smile. "We definitely need to talk more, later." As she struggled to find the right answer, he picked up his tray and headed for the door, only doing a brief corridor check before leaving.
She continued staring at the closed door for a few minutes, knowing she had to accept what had occurred. That she had just completely opened herself to someone, someone whom she had not wanted to influence in that way. That she had no control over completely opening herself to him, sharing everything she was unwilling to admit to herself, because that was the nature of the bond they shared. That this was what the words of the Vulcan marriage ceremony meant, to become one mind existing in two bodies...greater together as a whole then apart.
That she had once again come up against one of those internal contradictions that riddled Vulcan tradition and society—that in a society that claimed to master emotions, the relationship between two adults was expected to be based upon the sharing of mind, and by extension, emotion. That there was a true difference between mastery and control, and part of understanding that difference lay within experiencing and living this type of relationship. And that she was only a child in her own understanding of it.
About eleven and a half hours later, her door chimed. T'Pol did not need to inquire who was out there.
He stood in front of her door, his cheerfulness a bright flame against her mind.
"Ready to go visit Phlox?"
"Yes." She exited her quarters and they walked side-by-side, completely formal in both manner and expression, towards the lift.
But she did not need to ask him what his decision was. When he had come to his decision several hours ago, fully embracing the idea of their bond while acknowledging the difficulties their relationship was going to present, she had known. She also knew that he had spent the past couple of hours investigating the theories behind telepathy and various practice techniques. Given that she too had been reviewing what little information the Enterprise main computer contained on telepathy, she had sent links to the various pieces of information and articles to his console. She had also requested a data burst of some more detailed information from Vulcan, and was expecting a transmission demanding explanations for why she wanted such access from a human ship.
She had not quite figured out exactly how to explain her request. Although Vulcans practiced honesty, especially within their own interactions, she had come to understand the value of the white lie. Especially in situations she could not even explain to herself.
About half-way to the deck where sickbay was located, Jonathan tapped the control panel and stopped the lift. He was still cheerful—she could feel that—but it was tempered by another emotion that she could not identify.
"It doesn't solve everything, does it?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" She patiently waited for him to further explain himself.
"This bond of ours. When this type of connection appears in human fiction, it is often offered as the ultimate goal, the way for two people to have the perfect, ever-loving, conflict-free relationship. That's not true, is it."
She processed his description for a moment, recalling what she had been taught, and what she had seen in relationships between other Vulcans. "It does not guarantee that there will not be conflict, or mean that there will not be disagreement. In fact, the bond only serves to expose disagreements, thus making them problematic if they are not resolved.
"There is still the need to talk about situations, to compromise on differing opinions. In fact, because it allows each of us to know when the other's opinion is different, it forces those situations to be explored rather than ignored. I could see that being uncomfortable, at times." She had not been aware that human literature had a habit of exploring concepts that humans themselves did not experience. Although it seemed rather strange to her that they might embrace fanciful ideas about these concepts, and ignore the fairly logical downsides.
"That's the conclusion I had reached." He paused. "There's nothing in my past that prepares me for this. It will be difficult. Not just personally, but professionally. You're still my subordinate."
"I know." To admit the truth, there was little in her past that prepared her for this either. She had been prepared to bond to a Vulcan, to someone that shared a culture and history with her. To a male chosen by her parents as a good match, a male with whom her previous relationship would have been simple, and one-dimensional. Not someone with whom she already had a complex history, or a complex relationship defined by more than their marriage-relationship and telepathic bond.
"We will have to be exceptionally discreet, for now. I'm not even sure how the rest of the crew will react; although they've accepted you, overcome prejudices and recognized you for what you are, I don't know if they'll be able to accept this. It's pushing the boundaries further than they've anticipated. And I'm not sure that I want to think about the general reaction back on Earth, should word get out..."
"Nor I am looking forward to the reaction on Vulcan. A few Vulcans have entered into long term relationships with members of other species before. Although their decisions are accepted, they tend to become estranged from their position in society."
"Well, we're both in the same boat then." His gaze was steady upon her, and she could feel his emotions changing to something softer, more sexual in nature.
"God damn, I've underestimated you, T'Pol."
"What do you mean?"
"It feels like I've been blind. That I've only been letting myself see one facet, while there are thousands more waiting for me to recognize them. And the thing is, I look back over our relationship, and I recognize the times when you tried to show me the depths behind that logical surface. When you helped me figure out the meanings behind things, determine the best course of action in complex and confusing situations. But it's like I disregarded what those represented until now. And it makes me feel guilty."
"There is no reason to feel guilty." She thought that she understood what he was trying to say, and that he was flooded by an experience that he had no framework to process. Humans were so dependent upon their analysis of body language and expression to determine the truth behind words, that they did not always accept the words themselves. Her body language, especially early in their voyage, had not properly conveyed what he had expected to read, thus in many ways contributing to this 'underestimation' he referred to. Now, he was being overwhelmed by everything he had misunderstood before. He was not to blame for that.
"And you mean that, too."
She realized that he wanted to kiss her, but that being her superior he would not do anything in public areas of the ship that would endanger the appearance of their professional relationship. Even while locked into a lift stopped between decks. It was up to her to make the move, if she wanted to.
Although she had experienced two sexual encounters with this man over the past thirty-six hours, she suddenly felt uncertain. She barely knew how two Vulcans might express affection in a bonded relationship, much less two humans. But pulling together what little she knew about both species, she moved closer to him and lifted her face up towards his.
He lowered his head to brush his lips against hers. She raised her arms, embracing his shoulders, and he pulled her tightly against his chest, intensifying their kiss.
When they broke apart, his face was flushed and his eyes slightly glazed.
"Damn," he muttered. Then his emotions performed one of those whirlwind transitions that she had only before witnessed from the outside, and he grinned at her, bringing his body's reactions under control with a speed that astonished her. "But we are keeping the Doctor waiting."
He tapped the control panel, and the lift continued on its way. She smoothed her hands over her hair, brushing the disturbed strands back into place. She was coming to believe that she had underestimated humans, as well.
Phlox greeted both of them cheerfully. "Feeling better?"
They glanced at one another and Jonathan shrugged, responding "I think I'm as well as can be expected."
"As am I."
"Well, Sub-commander, you put yourself up on that bed, and captain, you go over there, and we'll get this examination out of the way." Phlox pulled out his collection of equipment, and started scanning T'Pol.
She sat patiently, waiting for the examination to be over. His scanner beeped in several different tones as it processed her state, and he clucked at it.
"Hormone levels have mainly returned to normal. You've got some muscle strains and aches that are to be expected..." He winked at her. "And some eyestrain that indicates you've been staring at a computer screen recently." Phlox turned towards Jonathan, saying over his shoulder "Nothing serious, although I order you to get a full night's sleep tonight. Alone."
T'Pol kept her own emotions under control, although Jonathan turned bright red.
"Yes, Doctor. Anything else?"
"Go get dinner, then go to bed." His scanner was currently beeping insistently at Jonathan. "Captain, I'm going to keep you here for a while longer. You seem to be experiencing some abnormal brain activity."
"In the area of the brain associated with telepathy?" She asked, although she already knew the answer.
"Humans barely have any area associated with telepathy," he answered, raising his eyebrows. "But yes. I think that I am just going to run a couple of additional scans to make sure that there are no unusual physical effects from this activity?"
Jonathan nodded. "That would probably be wise."
"You'll be here for another half an hour or so."
T'Pol could sense Jonathan's impatience at the news. "Do you want me to wait?"
He glanced at her, then at the Doctor, who was already busily arranging a new collection of equipment. "For some reason I suspect that his half hour might turn out to be slightly longer. Why don't you go get dinner, and I'll see you tomorrow?"
"May I use the captain's mess for dinner?" Even with her hormone levels back to normal, and her emotions seemingly back under her control, she did not want to face an entire mess hall full of Enterprise crew. Not yet.
"Go right ahead. Maybe I'll make it there sometime this evening."
She bowed her head, and left quickly.
Jonathan did not arrive during the time she spent eating dinner, although Commander Tucker showed up and made polite conversation about how she was feeling, and what had occurred while she and the captain had been incapacitated. A little annoyed by his concern, she excused herself by pleading exhaustion, and returned to her quarters.
Once there, with the knowledge that Phlox was still poking and prodding Jonathan, apparently impressed by the idea of a human exhibiting this particular sort of brain activity without detrimental effect, she settled into her nightly routine. Vulcan had not responded to her data request, either to provide her with the requested information or to demand an explanation, so she saved her research and shut off her computer screen.
She lit the candles scattered around her quarters, and tried to mediate. She was more successful than she had been the other night, succeeding in clearing her mind of most issues that had come up during the past few days, but the most important one still danced across her mind, disrupting her concentration. Once her mind had been cleared, the ebb and flow of his emotions over their bond were even more apparent, and both comforting and troubling.
After picking up a book, she settled into her bed, into sheets which his scent still clung to. She knew that she could change the sheets, replace them with ones that barely smelled of the soap that the laundry on Enterprise used, but could not gather up the energy or desire to do so. Instead she lay, half suspended between waking and sleep, her eyes barely focused on the characters in front of her.
Later, she knew when Jonathan paused by the door to her quarters, his emotions warring between a desire to come in, and a desire to follow the doctor's orders for the night. She suppressed her own desire for him to enter, to come to her so that she could fall asleep curled against his chest. After a moment, he moved on, returning to his own quarters. But he gave her a silent promise, and that was what she took into sleep with her.
That night she dreamed, but in a strange and vague fashion that she had not experienced before. Scenes flashed through her mind, images of a world not her own, and experiences she had never undergone. But there was a distance between her and the dreams, and the images themselves were not disturbing or upsetting.
The next morning, she first encountered Jonathan when they ended up in the same lift on the way to the bridge. He looked exhausted, probably because he had barely enough time to get a full night's sleep after Phlox was finished with him. Neither of them spoke to one another, but he lightly touched his hand to hers, and she caught a flicker of distinct thought from him...for saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss...She did not recognize the reference, and was vaguely mystified by the odd emotions which accompanied it.
As the lift arrived at the bridge, and the doors slide open, he moved a discreet step away from her, taking a more formal pose. She went to her post, and he to the captain's chair, both determined to behave as though everything was the same as it had been three days prior.
A few minutes after they arrived, Hoshi looked up from her console. "Sub-commander, there's a transmission coming in from Vulcan via Starfleet relays for you. It's marked private and confidential."
Jonathan looked over at her, acknowledging her desire for privacy. "You can use the ready room to receive it, if you want."
Once again, T'Lar regarded her from the small screen of the monitor. "T'Pol, you appear healthier than the last time I spoke with you."
"Are you curious as to why I am contacting you again?"
"It is unexpected."
"You were never much for on world politics," T'Lar stated, unexpectedly. "Or else you might have made different decisions in your life. Although, that would have lead to your not being in your current position. And no matter how awkward your position is, and will continue to be, it may prove needed in the future.
"I was forwarded an unusual request that you sent to the Vulcan central database."
"I requested information on telepathy, and specifically on telepathy between Vulcans and other species."
"Not exactly a request you should have sent through channels high command might access." T'Pol blinked in surprise. Although she believed that keeping high command in the dark about her personal matters might be a wise decision in the near future, she had never thought about using other channels for her data request. "They are already suspicious of you, T'Pol. There are those who remember your training and suspect that you may eventually go native on them. Your request surprised me, and it would have shocked your keepers among the staff of high command."
"They did not see the request?"
"Unfortunately, the staff member who took your research request has accidentally but permanently misplaced it. That same staff member, a cousin of yours, is currently investigating a similar research request for me."
Confusion brought T'Pol's thinking processes to a halt. Like the times when she had been confronted with the illogical choices and behavior of high command representatives on earth, the situation before her was so outside of her experience and expectations that it took her a moment to interpret and understand it. Like those times, she was also forced to control a desire to shake the person instigating the situation.
"You should receive a data transmission from my personal account sometime in the next few days. I made some guesses as to why you might be requesting this information, and expanded your search parameters to include some areas you might not have considered. That way, you should not need to make any additional requests from the central database. If you need to, please make them through me."
She regarded T'Pol steadily. "What your message implied to me was not a circumstance I was anticipating. Has it occurred?"
"That is unfortunate." T'Pol bristled, and T'Lar sighed. "Unfortunate as in it makes the situation far more complicated than it needed to be. Unfortunate in that it should never have occurred and that its occurrence challenges commonly accepted knowledge. Unfortunate because now is not the time for any sort of relationship between Vulcan and human, much less one that challenges our expectations and beliefs. If high command even suspects it, logic will not rule. Prejudice will."
"Even if it creates a scandal, they should accept it as what has occurred."
"They will not. There are many on Vulcan who can see that some in high command are making decisions, especially in regard to humans and Earth, which are violations of logic and cause for question. Actions of particular individuals have been growing increasingly irrational. But they are in control, and challenging the logic and decisions of those who have reached such high status is not to be undertaken lightly, nor done quickly. We may never be able to acknowledge this relationship, at least within the human's lifetime."
Although she knew that her relationship with Jonathan, and particularly their bond, would create problems for them, she had expected eventual acceptance. She had expected that high command would be more reasonable than his superiors, who also had military-type mentalities and fraternization rules to deal with. The idea that she could never be honest with her own people had not entered her mind. The idea that T'Lar would suggest it astonished her.
"What will occur, will occur. It is not necessary to concern ourselves about it." T'Pol fell back onto a statement that lessons throughout childhood had made a integral part of her life.
"But what will occur, and how it will be viewed can be manipulated. Must be, in some cases. Even our culture, no matter how static it appears, evolves over time, T'Pol. It must evolve, or eventually it will die. But due to the slow pace of this evolution, rushing towards acceptance of new ideas only causes harm and deep division. Acknowledging new ideas on an individual level when they first arise, then controlling their introduction to the culture at large supports their eventual integration. That must be done."
T'Lar raised her hand, and gave the Vulcan sign of both greeting and departure. "Live long and prosper." The screen blanked.
T'Pol turned away from the view screen, her thoughts in a muddle. She had understood the power that T'Lar held as head of her extended family, and the power that all family heads on Vulcan welded. She had never considered the ways in which that power might be used to control all of those underneath them. T'Lar had placed her into a position outside the rest of their family, by exposing her to the types of political maneuvering T'Lar had engaged in to keep T'Pol safe. Perhaps she had done so because she had acknowledged that T'Pol was now a self-aware exile, forced outside the culture and the family by a series of choices she had not fully understood as she made them. Forced into a position that she never predicted.
The door slide open for her, and she was not surprised to find Jonathan leaning against the wall in the small corridor that connected the ready room to the bridge. The door leading to the bridge was shut, giving them a little bit of privacy. He quickly stepped into his ready room, and she moved back.
"Not a good conversation, I take it?"
"It did not go the way I anticipated."
"Want to talk about it?"
"I do not know how to talk about it." She did not even know where to start. The things that she had learned about Vulcans in the past few days, the idea of information suppression in a culture that relied on logical and fact; all of it disturbed her and disrupted her view of her home world and her people.
"When you figure out where to start..."
"I know." Everything was so raw, but she was not alone in dealing with it. Although his support and his thoughts would probably cause further disruption to her world views. He thought about Vulcan culture from a far different perspective, and talking with him about what she had learned and realized would be interesting.
He reached over and brushed her arm with his fingertips, opening himself to her completely. Feelings of acceptance rolled over her, and she closed her eyes to receive them. Not to process them, but to allow herself to feel them and to begin to understand the complex relationships and emotions that lay behind them. To begin to understand how she and her various positions on this ship related to human culture and Vulcan culture. It might not be something that anyone would ever figure out completely, but acceptance was the first step.
He removed his fingertips from her arm, and she opened her eyes to find him smiling at her. "Perhaps I should show you the way that Vulcan couples show their connection to one another." She said. He looked at her inquisitively, and she hastily reviewed the various ways that she had seen human couples expressing affection and connection. "We touch fingertip to fingertip. A little like holding hands."
"I don't think that we're going to be having too many public displays of affection," he said.
"No, we should not."
"But privately..." He looked at her hopefully.
"There is much to explore, privately." And for the second time in several days, like a Vulcan child who had been caught thinking or doing something naughty, the tips of her ears and her cheeks flushed.
He graciously ignored her embarrassment. "I think it's time to return to the bridge. Before anyone has any reason to comment on our behavior."
She brought her blood pressure and skin temperature back under control, and
responded "Certainly, Captain."
"After you, Sub-commander."
She proceeded him out the door of the ready room, returning herself to the role of Sub-commander and Vulcan observer that she wore on the bridge in the public areas of Enterprise. Until now, she had also worn that role in private, refusing to allow herself to develop other roles outside of it. Sometimes she had lapsed, allowing personal matters and developing friendships to weaken it, but it had been the defining part of her existence for the past few years.
Humans wore roles, too, she knew. She could see and feel Jonathan returning to the role of Captain, the person whose responsibility was to his ship first, himself second. Perhaps the roles felt so distinct at the moment, because neither of them were sure how their new relationship and new connection would fit into life on the Enterprise. Because they knew that it had to be kept discrete from their professional roles and relationship, if they were to keep even their shipmates unaware. Which, no matter how dishonest it felt, was currently the right idea.
As for the future...who could predict the future? Even her people, with their much-lauded logic and scientifically-defined methods could not do anything about the future. They were almost as helpless as the humans in controlling their destiny, even if they did not want to admit to themselves. Who knew what the next few years held for anybody?