Title: "Today's Special"
Summary: Dining with aliens is always a cultural exchange experience.
Spoilers: "Bound." Takes place in the happy fluffy time that should have followed that episode.
ETA: I've just discovered that the person I wrote this for is on LJ! (Actually, she discovered me... her search mojo is more superior to mine.) For aquarius_1977.
With T'Pol's superior Vulcan hearing (which she reminds him about every single time she catches him muttering numbers aloud as he works), Trip knows that T'Pol only asks people to repeat themselves when she's trying to sound especially non-emotionally incredulous.
"It's a tofu-dog," Archer repeats, nudging the small, separate serving plate closer towards her. "According to Chef, anyway."
T'Pol casts a wary glance at Porthos, begging patiently for dropped scraps under the dining table, and Trip can't help but snicker.
Archer has on his best Completely Genuine, But I Might Make It An Order At Any Moment Face. "It's completely vegetarian, Commander."
Trip helpfully reaches over and serves her one of the mock sausages, before serving himself two of the real ones. He's been waiting for hot dog day for -- oh -- nearly four years, it seems. Given Chef's reluctance to serve anything as nutritionally suspect as genuine hot dogs, Trip figures there might be a few extra vitamins packed in there, but he's sure enough ketchup will mask them.
T'Pol shoots him a haughty look. Over the years he may have successfully wheedled her into pie, one bite of a peach, and a slice of pizza (which she cut into very small bites while lecturing him rather sweetly on his lack of adequate healthy vegetable intake), but that doesn't mean she's about to happily accept foreign food onto her plate.
"Just one bite," he teases her with what he hopes is a charming, coercive grin.
Archer clears his throat in that way he has of nonchalantly pointing out that Trip is staring at T'Pol, and while he's all not-reporting-anything-suspicious about his two senior officers' complicated off-duty conduct, he'd like Trip to at least pretend to show some discretion. Trip thinks that's a little unfair, really, since he's been teasing the heck out of T'Pol for years before they had an explosive affair in the Expanse, and besides, he catches T'Pol staring at him all the time, and Archer never clears his throat at her.
With the sullen look of a cadet on disciplinary action, T'Pol picks up her knife and makes to slice off a sliver of the offending human food.
"Oh, no, you can't eat it like that." Trip passes her the basket of toasted buns.
Archer indicates his own plate of already-bunned-and-condimented hot dogs. "It's a human tradition, T'Pol. I'm not sure you can truly understand our culture without it."
T'Pol gives her captain a glare that could fry an ant before using her fork to spear a bun. "That seems unlikely."
Archer has already taken a bite, but that doesn't stop him from saying, "No, no, human cultures are completely inseparable from their cuisines. Hot dogs are a cultural icon. In North America, anyway."
"Polish sausage," Trip points out, holding up a hot dog and trying to pretend it smells more like genuine open-air barbecue.
T'Pol manages to wrap her hot dog in its bun without touching it. She accepts the thinnest layer of mustard, but draws the line at ketchup and relish.
"That's mostly sugar," she criticizes.
"And vegetables," Trip replies. Even though Trip can sense her irritation mounting -- sense it in a weird, Vulcan way that he's pretty sure he only gets the palest glimmer of -- he can't help trying to egg her on.
Archer, not helping, points out: "Technically, tomatoes and cucumbers are fruits."
"I will try the tofu-dog," T'Pol declares.
"You won't like it without ketchup," Trip says, though, honestly, he has no idea what tofu-dogs taste like, condimented or otherwise. His mother occasionally accedes to the modern human trend of using resequenced protein instead of the actual animal flesh T'Pol finds so barbaric, but she's still a down-home Southern cook at heart, and nary a soybean ever entered Trip's childhood home.
T'Pol neatly slices the smallest possible edge, sniffs it, and then chews thoughtfully.
"Well?" Archer asks.
She takes a sip of water. "I do not feel that I understand your culture significantly more than I did a minute ago," is all she'll say. "This is unnecessary. Plomeek soup is sufficient to meet my dietary requirements for this meal." She glances at Porthos again, perhaps considering the age-old childhood trick of feeding unwanted food to the animal under the table. Porthos whines hopefully, reading her mind.
Chef sent out a bowl of Plomeek soup for her as well, of course. Trip isn't sure how T'Pol sweet-talked him early in the mission, but Vulcan dishes always appear on the table unrequested whenever new human foods are being offered.
"That's all you eat," Trip replies critically.
She raises an eyebrow. She has at least managed to figure out -- maybe thanks to her end of the strange Vulcan bond, he's not sure -- when he's exaggerating for dramatic emphasis, but she still doesn't like it.
"Well, almost all you eat. Don't you want some variety?"
"Humans put all too much emphasis on the need for variety," she intones, and something cool and unfriendly brushes against his mind. A glance at Archer tells Trip that T'Pol's icy overtones weren't obvious to the Captain, at least, but he wonders if he's in for a few weeks of guessing what she's annoyed about this time. It's driving him a bit crazy to see only flashes of her subtly changing Vulcan moods on the periphery of his mental vision.
In case her side of their mental telegraph wire is a little clearer, he tries to think warm, kind thoughts. "Don't you need more protein or something?"
He does actually worry about that. T'Pol loses weight that she can't afford to in times of stress, and he has enough of his mother in him to fret at the idea that anybody he cares about might not be eating enough.
"My dietary requirements are not the same as yours," she says, voice a little gentler. He's not the only one at the table goading her to eat a hot dog, but Trip thinks that comment was meant mostly for him.
Archer doesn't clear his throat, but Trip can tell he's thinking about it, so he tries to stare less obviously. "Seriously," he adds. "I'd starve to death on what you eat."
T'Pol raises an eyebrow and obviously criticizes his plate of hot dogs and potato salad. "Doubtful. Though you would lower your risk for scurvy."
Archer coughs out a laugh. "What, have you been studying archaic Earth diseases?"
"The last known case of scurvy in an adult human occurred less than forty years ago," T'Pol retorts. Archer's still gaping at her. "As you say, I am attempting to better understand your culture."
The captain shakes his head. "You sure have an odd way of going about it."
T'Pol sips delicately at her soup, before admitting, "A comprehensive study of human pathology was required reading before accepting a posting at the Vulcan consulate on Earth."
No wonder most Vulcans didn't seem to have time to learn basic human pleasantries, Trip thought. They were too busy innoculating themselves against the Bubonic Plague.
"I have found this knowledge to be quite helpful whenever I have been called upon to assist Doctor Phlox," T'Pol adds.
Archer grins and takes a swig of the real, honest-to-goodness, Enterprise-brewed beer that Chef whipped up for the occasion. Trip helped him install the still, and he has to admit, the brew made by an actual cook is much better than the standard malt liquor, code-named "Warp Sludge", that engineers typically cook up on out-of-the-way plasma junctions.
"You sure you're not going to eat the rest of that?" Trip nags her.
Despite the typical Vulcan distaste for sharing plates in all but the most dire survival situations, she offers, "You may have it if you wish."
Archer's slightly devious eyes are on Trip now. "Hoshi swears that Chef can make tofu taste just like the real thing."
Trip makes a face. "I'm good, thanks."
T'Pol, pulling her mean streak out of a closet where it's been hiding for the past few weeks, widens her eyes just a bit pitifully. "It's hardly fair to ask me to sample something from your own world that you won't eat yourself."
"She's got a point, Trip," says Archer, not helping.
Trip glares between them both for a few minutes, Archer mugging a grin, T'Pol placidly observing him with a just-slightly-raised eyebrow.
How bad can it be? He narrows his eyes at her. "All right, Commander. I'll split it with you."
Now Archer is grinning wildly at the both, and Trip can't help but wish for a little throat-clearing right about then.
T'Pol agrees to his dare by slicing the tofu dog exactly in half with a precision that probably couldn't be beat if she had a ruler. She doesn't appear to be too distressed at the prospect of finishing her half.
He doesn't add additional condiments to his, wary of being accused of cheating.
"I should warn you," T'Pol points out. "I suspect this contains vegetable matter."
He knows he's not imagining it this time -- he can feel her sitting there being amused.
He doesn't know if this bond thing can be used to share actual words -- and if it can, he's pretty sure it'll take another ten years for T'Pol to show him how -- but he gives it his best shot.
Anything for you, honey.
The look on her face makes the tofu dog entirely worthwhile.
And the truth is, it's not really that bad.