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She stares at herself in the mirror. She sees high cheekbones, she sees golden skin. Her hair is brown, cropped short, but it looks - feels - unnatural. She reaches out to trace the outlines of her reflection with the tips of her fingers. It is, she knows, unproductive to spend this time pondering one's appearance. Logic dictates that she busy herself with useful activities. After all, she is not like the others on board this ship; she has no time to waste on frivolity.
But she continues to stand in front of the mirror, turning slightly to examine her figure. She sees nothing wrong, but her lips still curl up in disgust. She considers altering her clothing, perhaps something with brighter colors, but then dismisses the idea as quickly as it entered her thoughts.
It is important she maintains, at least outwardly, all semblance of control in thought, emotion, and actions. She cannot slip, not now.
As she presses her fingers against the mirror, she thinks - inadvertently - of the commander, the chief engineer; she can't think of him by name, only by his titles, only by his responsibilities. She has not felt this unnerved by a man, not in years. She remembers Kevek with a tinge of sadness still, but understands that he could not care for her.
And she understands that her love for him, the passion with which she loved him, scared Kevek.
You are Vulcan, she lectures herself silently. You do not succumb to passion, you do not. And with more force, she lectures herself sternly: you must not.
Yet, she has a memory of blue eyes, of thick, full lips, and rippled muscles. She flinches at what the thoughts mean, what she is opening herself up to.
Now, more than ever, she knows she must proceed with care.
She cannot allow these humans to get to her, she cannot allow the volatility of their emotions to wash over her. With Kevek, she fell into emotion, and ended with nothing.
She takes a deep breath. She fears consequences more than anything else, knowing she cannot fight tradition, cannot fight culture, and she is too weak to admit her own weakness.
The door chimes and she glances at it, almost in surprise. Few on Enterprise ever speak to her outside of a professional capacity. She is aware of their dislike, aware of their distrust. She thinks their distance will make it easier on her.
"Come in." Her voice is hoarse. How long has it been since she has last spoken? The doors slide opening, revealing Trip. He smiles at her.
She is unnerved by his casual greeting and smile. She grips the edge of the table tightly in a white-knuckle clench.
"I believe Dr. Phlox asked you to rest," she says. She keeps her voice even.
"He did, but I feel fine. I won't tell if you don't. So how about it?"
"You are asking me to practice a deception," she says.
"Yeah." He flashes her a grin. "Can I come in?"
She blinks. He looks sincere enough and his tone suggests no insults lie in wait for her.
"Of course," she says again. Trip comes in and she is taken by the way he moves. He is agile, almost without awkwardness, comfortable in every movement. She thinks he's natural, he's Trip Tucker, and he doesn't have to pretend otherwise. She steps aside slightly to let him pass her.
"Cramped, aren't they?" Trip asks. He looks around the quarters. Room enough for bed, desk, dresser, and of course, the small bathroom off to the side.
"The quarters are sufficient," she tells him.
"Dark too. Doesn't that bother you?"
"It is a minor inconvenience."
Trip sighs, runs his hand through his hair. Looks at her. She presses back against the dresser, the knobs jutting into her back. She thinks about his comment, and silently agrees: yes, this room is too small.
"I wanted to thank you," he says now. "You- well, let's put it this way, I would have shot you down on that planet."
"I'm aware of that," she says evenly. She is even more aware of his dislike of her. No, she has no doubt that he would have shot her.
"So, thanks for hanging in there," Trip says. "Um, I appreciate it."
"It was-" she pauses. Then, she lets her lips curl up slightly. "You are welcome."
"What?" Trip is surprised. "No wisecrack? No putdown? No demonstration of Vulcan superiority?"
Trip squints his eyes slightly. Still confused. She feels like laughing. She hasn't laughed in years and sometimes, some days, she really does want to laugh. She wants her smile to be natural and she wants to be T'Pol in the same way that he is Trip Tucker.
She wonders if he watches her in the same way she watches him. She wonders if he thinks about her in ways that are not completely logical.
She wonders if she should tell him.
Because she hasn't forgotten, even though she should. She still can feel his large hands, those smooth palms, running over her skin. He has a firm touch, strong. She knows she admires strength.
"Are you all right?" Trip asks. She nods. Her throat feels dry.
"It has been a long day," she says quietly.
"Yeah, tell me about it." Trip grins. She loves the way his lips part, and she wonders how it would feel to brush her lips against his. She pushes the thought away. She cannot succumb, will not succumb. Her experience with Kevek has taught her the value of distance. She does not enjoy the things the crew of Enterprise says about her, and she keeps quiet about the fact that she has feelings that are easily hurt.
She cannot tell them the truth. She knows humans; they will find her weakness and they will exploit it. They will overwhelm her with emotion, knowing she cannot fight it off as well as she wants them to believe.
"Well," Trip says. "Thanks again. I'll catch you later."
He is gone and she is alone in the dark, cramped quarters. She narrows her eyes and notices for the first time that her eyebrows are slanted and thin, not full and rounded like the humans'.
She realizes she's never cared before.
~ the end ~
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