"Jus' one more," slurred the engineer, lifting his face from his arms. "Fer the road, 'n all..."
Archer grinned sleepily. "You look ridiculous."
Tucker tried valiantly to straighten up, but for some reason, his head was too heavy. "Yer just jealous, is all..."
Archer pouted, found out at last. He slumped deeper in his chair."I wanted the red one. I'm the Captain." The object in question, a bright pointy red party hat, sat perched at an odd angle on the engineer's sandy head. Actually, as the night had worn on, more and more things had seemed perched at odd angles. Or maybe it was just the scotch. The Captain reached up to straighten his own hat, a little shiny green bowler. He missed, fumbled for it, mussing his hair in the process. He frowned, gave up, reached for the Glenfiddich instead, poured his friend another shot. "The Captain should get the red hat," he grumbled. "It's in the rules."
Tucker happily accepted the glass. "Ah'm the birthday boy. Ah should git t'pick the color of m'hat, don'tcha think? 'Sides, it goes with m'uniform, see? Red fer engineerin', blue fer sciences, gold fer...gold fer...the chain of...um, the food chain." He drained the glass in one gulp, set it down on the table with a bang. "Now John, you got yerself a nice green hat. Green's very special. It's fer...it's fer..." He frowned, puckered his brows. "What the hell's green fer, anyway?"
His drawl was as thick as the whiskey. Didn't matter, really. Archer's ears were used to it. Many years of friendship cemented by many nights of scotch. The Captain nodded gravely. "Leprechauns."
"Oh yeah. Leprechauns, right..."
"Gold is for the chain of command," came a voice from a far corner of the room. "There is currently no Starfleet designation for green."
"She still here?" scowled Tucker.
"It's not fair..." Archer sank back into his chair, nursing his scotch and pouting some more. "Malcolm gets to wear red. I get stuck with leprechauns..."
"Tell me, Subcommander," Tucker's inebriated gaze slid over to the figure, sitting as straight as an arrow, an empty glass on the table in front of her. "How come you don' hafta wear a uniform?"
T'Pol raised her chin. "This is a uniform, Commander. It is standard issue from the Vulcan High Command."
"Uh-huh. Somehow it never looked quite the same on Perfesser Velek."
She said nothing, her face a mask of stoic condescension. But there was that lip curl, that curl that spoke far more than even the dreaded raised brow. He narrowed his eyes at her, trying to provoke something. Anything. She stared down her nose at him. Giving him nothing.
"All the security guys wear red," muttered Archer, slipping deeper into his chair. "Red is such a strong, commanding color. If I were Captain, I would wear red..."
Tucker's head was growing heavier. He had to prop it up with his palm. He noticed her empty glass. It had been full not a moment ago. "You drank the scotch?"
"Didja like it?"
"It was delightful." Perfectly deadpan.
Beneath her chair, Porthos hiccuped a doggy hiccup and twitched his doggy paws in the air, dead drunk. She kicked him with her boot.
"In fact, this entire evening was completely delightful." On that note, she rose to her feet, catlike, somehow managing to stay languid and coiled at the same time. Totally inhuman. "Thank you, Captain, Commander. I am now fully versed in human celebratory customs. I bid you both good night."
Archer's head swung up, wobbled at the end of rubber vertebrae. He tried to focus. "And take Mister 'I'm-the-Birthday-Boy-Red-Hat-Head' with you! That's an order! See? I'm the Captain. I give the orders. Hah!"
Tucker staggered to his feet, nowhere near as languid nor coiled as their Science Officer. He reached for the bottle of Glenfiddich. Archer snatched it back, scowling and shaking his head. "You shoulda given me the hat, Trip. The Captain should wear the red hat."
He was still muttering as the pair of them left his quarters, she striding with hands clasped behind her back, he bracing clammy palms along the walls for support.
"Whoa, whoa, T'Pol. Slow down. Where's the fire?"
She turned slowly, daggers in her dark eyes. "An officer should not witness her captain in such a state. It is disrespectful."
Tucker waved it away. "He don't git drunk very often. He don't do it so good."
He thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Porthos?"
She spun on her heel, took several long precise steps away, grateful to be out of his proximity. She fully expected the now- familiar spring and slap of his boots behind her. But she heard nothing. It set her teeth on edge. In fact, he set her teeth on edge. Calling on all her reserves just to keep a civil tongue, she turned around. The engineer was leaning against the bulkhead, bent at the waist, hands on knees, breathing hard. He looked ill. She took several long, precise steps back.
"You look ill," she observed.
He peered up at her, his blue eyes seeming small and very far away. "Ah guess ah don't do it so good, neither." He tried to smile.
"Would you like me to carry you?"
He laughed out loud, thinking she was joking, then swallowed hard when he saw otherwise. "Y'wouldn't. Y'couldn't. Couldj'a?"
Damn that eyebrow! "A Vulcan female is still considerably stronger than the average human male."
Perhaps it was the scotch, but he honestly didn't know how to respond to that. He let his head hang again. It just seemed easier that way. Voices rounded the corridor, and two pair of boots rang on the deck plating, one light as a sparrow, the other snapping like a sword. He knew them by their very footfalls.
A long black ponytail swung into his peripheral vision as Ensign Hoshi Sato bent down to smile at him. "Nice hat, Commander."
He grinned sheepishly. "John sent you, din' he?"
She laughed. It sounded good, natural, not tainted by birthday booze in any way. He straightened up, waiting until the waves stopped crashing into his skull before opening his eyes again. Lieutenant Malcolm Reed was grinning at him, a sly, lop-sided, been-there-done-that kind of grin. "Did you like your present, commander?" His clipped British accent seemed to exaggerate whenever Tucker's Southern drawl got going. Ever a colonial.
"It was beautiful, Malcolm. Ah always wanted a book on Mediaeval Arms and Armor."
Reed rocked back and forth on his heels. "I especially liked the chapter on Ancient Methods and Instruments of Torture."
The engineer threw a sideways glance to T'Pol. "Brought tears to m'eyes."
Hoshi slapped his arm. "Hey! What about mine?!"
"The recording of Ancient Chinese Operatic Sopranos? That brought tears to m'eyes too."
"Hey! That was very hard to find."
"It was in the chapter on Ancient Methods and Instruments of Torture."
Malcolm almost laughed. "Very good, sir. Come along, Ensign. We'll leave these two alone for the night." And ever-so-firmly gripping her arm, he ushered the comm officer, almond eyes now round with curiosity, down the corridor.
"Yeah, she's takin' me to bed!" Tucker called after them. "Cap'n's orders!"
"Well then, do have a Happy Birthday, sir!" echoed back and faded into quiet. Too quiet. Deathly quiet. He smiled at her.
"I am accompanying you to your quarters, lest you collapse in a drunken stupor and soil yourself in public."
"That's what ah meant."
Once again, she clasped her hands behind her back and marched down the corridor, finally stopping in front of a door in the hall. She pivoted and waited. And waited. And waited. Quite unexpectedly, she found her nails curling into her palms. Tension, she dismissed. Living among humans was a trying thing. After several more moments, he staggered to her side, reached for the door frame, grabbed it and pressed himself into the door lock. The door hissed open. He moved to enter, then stopped.
"Thanks," he said. "For coming to m'birthday. Even if you didn't drink the scotch."
She tilted her head, birdlike. "You are welcome."
He reached up, slid off the coveted red hat, slipped it over her head, gently releasing the elastic around her throat. He was still leaning against the frame for support. But his eyes, this time, were clear and quiet, like a calm pool. It was, she thought, a refreshing change.
"Ah know ah'm drunk, an' you don' got to take nothin' ah say seriously, but..."
"But has anyone ever told you how pretty you are?"
She blinked. That was unexpected. Her jaw clenched tighter. "No."
He gave her a small smile. "Well, y'are. You are...really... pretty. I just thought you should know."
There were a variety of responses , from "Looks are irrelevant", to "You are irrelevant." Instead, she simply said, "Thank you."
"You have the most beautiful eyes ah've ever seen. Really. There's a whole world of soul behind those eyes." His gaze flicked to her mouth, and then back, and she felt a strange terror race up from her toes. She thought of her boots. Keep her soul in her boots, rooted in her boots, anchored firmly on the floor.
"'cause one day, ah'm gonna kiss you, T'Pol. Mark mah words. An' it'll be a real nice kiss, too..." He blinked, brows drawn in tightly on his forehead, "Jus' not right now, 'cause... 'cause ah'm gonna be sick, an'it jus'..." He wrinkled his nose, "Jus' wouldn't taste right..."
And with that, he rolled around the door frame and staggered into his room.
"I can hardly wait," she said dryly, and turned to leave, hesitating only a moment when she heard a sound, and knew he hadn't made it to the bathroom.
She reached up to remove the hat, hesitated for a moment, then straightened it so that it sat neatly atop her dark head. Her lips curled.
"Happy Birthday, Commander," she said, folded her hands behind her back and walked away down the corridor, an ever-so-slight spring and slap in her step.
And the door hissed closed behind her.