“Have you completed your speech, Captain?” T’Pol’s question came as she finished the last of her dinner.
Archer winced. “Not yet. Figured I’d just wing it.”
T’Pol gave him a disapproving look, while Trip just laughed and replied, “I suppose you won’t need much; probably won’t be heard over the applause.”
Archer grinned and lifted his glass. “Hear, hear!” Trip raised his own glass, and T’Pol joined them; both men were mildly surprised when she finished off her rather generous – for her, at least – glass of the excellent bourbon Admiral Forrest had brought with him when he and his entourage had welcomed them home after their triumph over the Xindi. While heavily diluted with water, it was still the first alcohol either of them had seen her consume other than wine, and even that was a rarity.
“Man,” Trip said wistfully, “I can’t wait to touch back down on home soil.” Despite the crew’s desperate need to rest after their traumatic months in the Expanse, the higher-ups had insisted that the saviours of the planet officially return home in a more orderly and orchestrated – not to mention dramatic – fashion, both for safety and political reasons. The injured had been moved to the Vulcan ship Tarhana for medical care, while the more able-bodied crewmen remained aboard to complete repairs and assemble the reports Starfleet had demanded shortly after the congratulations and impromptu celebrations had wound down. They may have been the heroes of the day, but they still had jobs to do.
“Don’t relax just yet,” Archer chided. “Now the real work begins.” At Trip’s puzzled look, he added, “Debriefing Starfleet. There’s a lot to cover.”
The mood turned sombre as their thoughts all turned to the actions taken in the Expanse: the questionable, the unethical, and the unforgivable. During their mission they had only had brief moments in which to ponder just how their people – their loved ones – might react to the knowledge of what had been needed to get the job done, but now it loomed over their heads like a heavy, foreboding cloud. While it was all in the name of survival – both theirs and a planet full of those who might not understand – the question remained: when the relief and jubilation wore off, would they be absolved...or condemned?
Trip cleared his throat in an attempt to pull them all out of the dark memories. He turned to T’Pol. “So, you gonna head back to Vulcan when this is all over?”
“Yes,” she answered. “My mother has made it known on numerous occasions that I am expected home at the next opportunity.”
Trip chuckled. “I know that.”
“She won’t keep you there too long, I hope?” Archer teased.
“Doubtful. My relationship with my mother is such that a prolonged visit is…inadvisable.” She went to reach for her glass before remembering it was empty.
Trip laughed silently while Archer, fighting to reign in his own mirth, picked up the bottle. “Did you want more?”
She hesitated for only the briefest of moments before shaking her head. “No, thank you. I should be going. I need to finalize my reports to Starfleet.”
Trip groaned. “Oh, right. Those.”
T’Pol arched an eyebrow at him. “Indeed.” She stood, and the two men followed suit.
“We’ll see you in the morning. Shuttlebay, 0900 hours,” Archer said.
“I will be there.”
She made to leave, but before she could take more than a few steps Trip called, “Goodnight, T’Pol.”
She turned back to him. “Goodnight, Commander.” There was a brief pause and then, almost as an afterthought, she turned her gaze on Archer. “Captain.”
Archer raised his glass in acknowledgement, and T’Pol turned and left.
The two men sat back down, and Archer chuckled. “She sure has changed.”
Trip grinned and reached for the bottle, pouring himself another glass. “Sure has.”
“You know, I don’t think I realized just how much until I saw her tonight with a glass of bourbon in hand,” Archer joked, eliciting a bark of laughter from Trip. More seriously, he amended, “No, it was probably when we encountered the other Enterprise.”
Trip froze for a moment before reaching for his glass. “Oh?” He took a rather generous gulp of the amber liquid.
Archer grinned. “Yeah, well…I got to meet her, the older T’Pol. She was a lot more…casual, informal.” He shook his head in amusement. “You know, she called me by my first name? Even called you ‘Trip.’ Amazing.”
Trip set his glass down, slow and deliberate. “Yeah, that’s, uh…that’s something.” He stared down at the table in contemplation, which was also effective in avoiding the captain’s eyes.
“She was particularly…casual…about you, asking questions,” the captain continued, a lilt to his voice. “But I guess that’s to be expected.” Trip’s head shot up and he failed to fully reign in the deer-in-the-headlights look. “You know, because you were married in that other timeline.” Archer, grinning, was having too much fun.
“Oh, right,” Trip acknowledged, relieved.
Archer just shook his head and took a drink. “Crazy, isn’t it? You and T’Pol? You gotta wonder just what went on in that other timeline to even get the two of you together, let alone have a kid. Damned hard to believe.”
“Mmm,” came the noncommittal reply. Trip didn’t want to let himself believe it – he didn’t want the disappointment that might come with it.
“I’m glad we’re here and not in a position to find out,” Archer continued jokingly, much to Trip’s chagrin, “But I’d love to know what the hell you did to accomplish that.”
“So would I,” the engineer said softly, nodding over his glass. He caught himself quickly and shot his eyes back to Archer, hastily adding, “I probably drove every other woman on board this ship crazy. Guess that famous Vulcan patience finally kicked in.” Archer burst out laughing and, despite himself, Trip couldn’t help but join in.
As the laughter died down, the captain leaned over and topped up both their glasses, emptying the bottle. When he slumped back down in his seat, he sighed good-naturedly. “Well, it’s not like the two of you would’ve been the first in history. Well, actually…” Archer chuckled, “I guess you would have.”
“What do you mean?” Trip’s tone wasn’t nearly as relaxed as his friend’s.
“You know, because of how far we went back in time.”
“Yeah, no, I got that part. What, uh…” Trip rubbed a forefinger across his jaw. “What do you mean, ‘not the first’?”
“Ah,” Archer nodded, understanding. “Right. Well...guess I could be wrong, but T’Pol said something interesting when Phlox was confirming Lorian’s DNA.” Trip leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on the table. “She said that Vulcans and Humans had never been able to reproduce. Not that they couldn’t…”
Trip picked up the thread. “But that they hadn’t.” There was a long pause as the significance hit him, after which he added, “Which means someone, somewhere, had to have tried.”
“Exactly. Now, I guess she could have been talking about genetic research, but can you see the Vulcan Science Directorate lowering themselves to that, even in the name of science? Or us, for that matter?” Archer shook his head. “No, I bet there are one or two Human/Vulcan relationships out there, probably giving it the old college try.” He chuckled. “Stranger things have happened. Hell, we’ve seen half of them!”
“Huh.” Trip leaned back slowly, lost in thought.
Both men finished off their drinks in contemplative silence. “Well,” Trip said finally, putting his glass back down and pushing himself up from the table, “Like T’Pol said, reports need to get done.”
“You almost done?”
“Yeah,” Trip sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Just need to go over a few things, make a few tweaks.” He grinned widely. “Starfleet already knows they’re only getting a bare-bones preliminary; no way in hell they’ll get a full report for another month, at least not from me. How about you?”
Archer snorted. “Not even close.”
Trip shook his head. “Guess you’ll be having fun with that tonight.”
“Are you kidding?” the captain asked, deadpan. “I have a speech to write!”
The engineer chortled and shook his head. “Alright, then. I’ll see you in the morning, and we’ll go be heroes.”
Archer smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “That we will.” He looked down. “I hope that’s all we’ll be.”
Trip nodded solemnly in agreement. He leaned over and gave his friend’s shoulder a strong pat of support. “You’re the one giving the speech tomorrow. Make sure they remember the real heroes. Everything we did, we did for them.”
Upon arriving at his quarters, Trip headed straight for the shower, hoping the warm spray would relax his wired mind enough that he could settle down and get to work. When he emerged from the bathroom clad in his more comfortable off-duty attire, however, the restlessness persisted.
He looked over at his desk and sighed, knowing he’d be useless right now; two things were pressing heavily on his mind, and there was room for little else. The first he could do nothing about – he might never be able to – but the second could be resolved, or at least addressed, right away.
Abandoning his suffocating quarters, he headed straight for T’Pol’s. She answered the door and, without any hesitation to question why he was visiting at such an hour, moved aside for him to enter. The active computer console and her still uniform-clad form suggested she had indeed been attending to her reports. They stood facing one another in the centre of the room, and T’Pol gave Trip a curious look.
“I, uh…” he hadn’t quite thought as far as how he was going to broach the subject. Fumbling, he continued, “I thought I’d see if you wanted to have that talk we, uh, talked about. It’s gonna get pretty crazy around here soon; not sure if we’ll have the time for awhile.”
T’Pol’s bearing softened fractionally, but still she said, “I’m not sure that would be wise at this moment.”
“Oh,” he said quietly. This wasn’t even what he’d come to talk about, and already she was shutting him down.
“I do wish to talk with you, Trip,” she amended, and his demeanour brightened considerably, so new was this use of his nickname. “I believe it would be beneficial, perhaps for both of us. However, what I wish to discuss is complicated, and I do not believe we have sufficient time this evening. As you said, tomorrow will be…crazy…and we should be well-rested for it.”
He nodded in understanding, speaking gently. “Fair enough. I’m here whenever you need me; just let me know.”
“I appreciate that.” Her voice was oddly thick. “With the immediacy of the Expanse behind us, the matter can wait for a more opportune time.”
They stood in silent awkwardness for several moments - he wanted to stay but, at the same time, supposed that she probably expected him to leave – before Trip finally broached the subject that had brought him there in the first place. “Do you mind if we talk about something else? I promise it won’t take long.”
“Me and you, were we the first?” Well, he had promised to be quick. “Human and Vulcan, I mean.” T’Pol’s eyes widened, clearly caught off-guard. By way of explanation, he continued, “The captain mentioned what you said when we met Lorian. About how Humans and Vulcans had never been able to have kids.” More pointedly, he added, “Hadn’t, not couldn’t.”
She took a breath and looked down for a long moment, then met his eyes once more. “If you are asking me about the existence of intimate Human/Vulcan relationships, then yes. They are rare, but they do exist.”
He frowned. “How come I haven’t heard of it before?”
“They are not admitted to openly. Vulcans do not discuss such matters as a general practice, and considering the rather delicate social and political climate, it does not surprise me that most Humans would not advertise such a union, either.” Before he could ask, she added, “The High Command is aware of a few such relationships, although it would not be impossible for more to exist beyond their knowledge. They are, however, currently content to ‘turn a blind eye’, as you would say. The High Command has no wish to involve itself any more than those in question would welcome.”
He narrowed his eyes in thought. “So the Vulcans don’t disapprove?”
She took a deep breath and her body slumped just slightly where she stood; she looked tired. “They do not forbid it. As I said, Vulcans do not speak of such personal matters – this extends to persecution – however the disapproval of such behaviour is widely known among my people. It is considered an unseemly indulgence at best. And there are…other, more significant consequences to consider as well.” The last part was said almost hesitantly.
She arched a defiant eyebrow at him. “We do not speak of such matters.”
“Right.” He felt defeated. Before, he had been staring at an uphill struggle. Now, he was standing at the base of the Himalayas. “So, bottom line, most Vulcans wouldn’t…indulge. Even if they had a reason to.”
“I presume not.” There was a tightness in her face that belied her usual stoicism. “But as I have said, there are a select few who obviously value such a relationship above the prescribed etiquette of Vulcan society.”
“Ah,” Trip commented. “So…the Vulcans in these relationships, they’re…uh…are they like those emotion-embracing ones we met awhile back?” T’Pol tensed visibly at his words, and he interpreted it as her being offended by his insinuation. Quickly, he added, “Not that, you know, regular Vulcans couldn’t be in a relationship with a Human, but…well….” He gave up.
T’Pol’s eyes narrowed. “It is not as incredible as you appear to believe, Trip. Just because Vulcans do not possess the same capacity for emotional display as Humans do does not mean a balance cannot be achieved. Vulcans are capable and willing to demonstrate emotion and affection in a private setting.” She arched an eyebrow at him. “These displays may not be as overt or obvious when compared to Human expression, but they do happen.”
Trip’s lips twitched in amusement. “I remember.”
T’Pol lifted her chin and held his gaze, unwavering. “Good.” There was an intensity behind her eyes that was not entirely unfamiliar. “Just because certain things are not deemed acceptable by one’s peers does not mean one must conform to the same beliefs, nor does it mean there are not those who wish to pursue such endeavours.”
Trip sobered. “I see…” He stared at her silently for a long moment before coming to a decision. “So, if I get this straight,” he began as he took a slow step in her direction. “A Human/Vulcan relationship is not so new....” He took a second step. “And not entirely forbidden….” Another step. “And, correct me if I’m wrong….” One final step. “You don’t sound as if you actually disapprove.”
He stood only a few inches from her, invading her personal space as only he seemed permitted to do. T’Pol straightened and looked up at him. “You are not wrong.”
Trip gave her a small, sly grin and slowly bent his head down toward her, giving her ample time to stop him. When she didn’t, he leaned to the side and nuzzled her neck. Unlike him, she hadn’t taken the opportunity to shower after dinner, and he could detect the faintest hint of bourbon infused with the heady aroma he had long ago associated with T’Pol. The combination was powerful – the familiar scent of this Vulcan woman laced with the smell of something so uncharacteristic sent his heart pounding with significance.
Her breath came with a shudder when he planted a gentle kiss at the curve of her jaw. “T’Pol,” he whispered into her skin.
Trip pulled back enough so that he could look into her eyes. She reached up and placed a hand on his chest – not to push him away, he knew instinctively, but to maintain a physical connection. They stared intently at one another, and the wall that had existed between them quickly crumbled away.
Trip’s lips curved into a slow smile. “Just how badly did you want that rest tonight?”
In response, T’Pol slid her hand up from where it rested above his heart and wrapped it around his neck, pulling him back to her for a deep, languid kiss, their first since that game-changing night so many weeks before. It didn’t take long for the intensity to rise and the passion to ignite, and they gave in to a shared desire that had been denied for far too long.