The Thorn and The Rose

By Dinah

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure angst dark drama romance

Keywords: Baby Elizabeth Tucker bond marriage planetary exploration Vulcan Civil War

This story has been read by 1312 people.
This story has been read 5109 times.

This story is number 1 in the series The Thorn and the Rose


Chapter 1

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: It all belongs to Paramount. No infringement intended.
Genre: Action/Adventure, drama, romance
Summary: What happens to Trip and T’Pol’s relationship after the events of “Terra Prime.”

A/N: Many thanks to Distracted for her beta-ing skills.

***

CHAPTER 1: MALCOLM

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed could point to the exact moment Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III disappeared. Although no one realized it at the time, in retrospect the event stood out like a beacon in the night.

Malcolm raised the speed of the treadmill to keep pace with his whirring thoughts. Luckily he had the gym to himself tonight so he didn't have to worry about being interrupted. He could be alone with the memories of the friend who had convinced him that, although being an introvert wasn't a sin, it wasn't a great deal of fun either. He chuckled softly as he recalled their close encounter with an automated repair station and their failed attempt to pick up alien babes on Risa, but the chuckle quickly became a sigh. What a waste.

There was no denying that Commander Tucker was a changed man. Professionally he was still the same – brilliant, dedicated, driven – but personally, that was a different story. In days past, when Trip Tucker entered a room the place lit up like a star gone nova. People were drawn to him because he radiated energy, compassion and a joyous fascination with the wonders of life. Sadly that vital man had vanished, replaced by a phantom that could slip into and out of a room without being noticed. Within the space of a few short months, he had become a hollow shell of a man, running desperately from something he couldn't see or understand, and Enterprise was a colder, drabber place because of it.

Malcolm's legs pumped furiously; sweat beaded his brow. The one overriding thought in his mind was that he wanted his enthusiastic, effervescent friend back again. He knew that he would do just about anything to ease Trip's pain and help him find his way out of the darkness. He just didn't know how to accomplish that feat. Apparently no one else did, either.

Thinking back, Malcolm knew that some people might point to the death of the baby created by the terrorists running Terra Prime as the day the wheels came off Trip's cart, metaphorically speaking, but they'd be wrong. He knew the truth. He'd been there.

* * * * * *

Reed knew that the death of their baby had hit both Trip and T'Pol very hard. Not blessed with strong paternal instincts himself, Malcolm still couldn't fully comprehend how the two commanders had bonded so quickly with their child. Here was a being they hadn't conceived, hadn't even been aware of until a few days earlier, but she was theirs and their devotion to her was immediate and unshakeable. One look at Trip's face and there could be no doubt in anyone's mind that he loved his little girl from the first moment he set eyes on her.

Reed remembered the tense atmosphere in the shuttlepod as they left Mars. T'Pol had held the infant close, checking her biosigns periodically and relaying the information to Phlox who waited impatiently on Enterprise. Trip's eyes never left his child. He sat quietly, fingers kneading his pant legs, as though he had to fight the urge to reach out and enfold her in a protective embrace.

The child whimpered only once on the ride back. Leaning forward, Trip whispered softly, "Everything's gonna be all right, sweetheart. Daddy's here." Then, reaching out to stroke his daughter's head, he exchanged a worried look with T'Pol.

That was the last time Malcolm saw the whole family together.

Archer had insisted that Trip and T‘Pol take some time off after the death of their child, and for once in his life Trip didn't put up a fight. Commander Kelby had recently been reassigned, so with Trip out of commission it fell to Lieutenant Hess to manage the day to day business of running the engineering department.

On the day Trip returned to duty, Malcolm journeyed to engineering to discuss his plans for making some necessary upgrades to the phase cannons.

When he entered engineering, Trip was working with a young ensign to recalibrate the injectors. Instead of making his presence known, Reed decided to take a few moments to study his friend. He quietly positioned himself so that he could see the chief engineer's face, but remain out of his line of sight. A frown wrinkled Malcolm's brow as he planted his feet and folded his arms across his chest. Trip definitely looked thinner, and his face was rather pale and drawn. The past weeks had obviously not been easy for him. Reed was just about to speculate on his friend's mental well-being when Trip turned his way. As soon as he saw Malcolm, Trip's eyes lit up and a huge smile sliced across his face.

"Mornin', Lieutenant," Trip said cheerfully. "Just give me a moment." He turned back to the injectors and gave his full attention to the young engineer who was assisting him. First, he gestured to the right and then to the left with the small flashlight he held in his hand. When he was finished, he clapped the ensign on the back and headed toward Reed.

"You aren't here to give me trouble on my first day back are ya, Malcolm?" he asked, grinning widely.

"As a matter of fact I am," Reed said, finding it impossible not to smile in return. "You've been shamelessly ignoring my pleas to upgrade the phase cannons for months now. I intend to remedy that situation, even if it means using a well-aimed phase pistol to ensure your complete and total attention."

"That kind of persuasion's hard to refuse, Lieutenant," Trip said, chuckling softly. "Any man willing to assault his superior officer to get a few minutes of his time deserves to be heard." With that, much to Malcolm's surprise, Trip threw his arm around Reed's shoulders and headed him toward the chief engineer's office.

As usual, they battled cheerfully over the upgrades until a workable plan began to emerge. Tucker promised to run some simulations later in the day and pass along the results as soon as possible.

Once Reed knew that his phase cannons would be properly cared for, his thoughts turned to the basic necessities of life. "I'm hungry. How about a late lunch?"

Trip grinned. "Sounds great, Malcolm." He started to get up from his chair when a padd on the far side of his desk caught his eye. "Damn," he muttered, reaching for the padd. "Just give me a minute to put the finishing touches on this duty roster," he called to Reed who was halfway out the door, "and I'll be right with ya."

Malcolm waved a hand in recognition and headed out into engineering. While he waited Reed wandered about checking readouts, looking at schematics displayed on monitors, and peering over the shoulders of nervous crewmen as they completed their diagnostics. He was just giving Ensign Kelly a quick nod when he heard Tucker call for Hess.

"Here, sir," Hess hollered from atop the warp engine. As she scrambled down, Malcolm decided to stroll over and see what was going on.

"Anna," Trip said, "I know you've been busy, but it's kinda tough to make out a duty roster if I don't know who's available."

Hess looked slightly confused. "I'm afraid I don't understand, sir. All the information is up-to-date, just like always."

Trip jabbed a finger at the padd he clutched in his left hand. "I can't find Ensign Masaro's name on here anywhere. He's not on the available for duty list. He's not posted for sick leave. What…," Trip stopped abruptly, a look of confusion on his face. His head swiveled back and forth between Reed and Hess. "What's the matter?"

As a stunned look passed between the two lieutenants, Malcolm slowly raised a hand and scrubbed it nervously across his eyes. No, no, no, he thought in consternation. This shouldn't be happening.

"Lieutenant Reed," he heard Hess whisper beseechingly.

When he lowered his hand, Malcolm saw that Hess was staring at him, a sick expression on her face. She clearly wanted to be somewhere else.

Somehow in the hubbub surrounding the conference and the memorial service for the baby, apparently nobody had bothered to tell Trip about Ensign Masaro, Judas in Starfleet blue. Bloody hell, Malcolm swore to himself. Guess whom fate had once again selected to be the bearer of bad tidings.

"Is someone gonna tell me what's going on?" Trip demanded. "Where's Masaro? Is he in the brig? Did he get himself transferred to another ship? Is he…"

"He's dead, Trip," Reed interjected quietly. "He died while you and T'Pol were down on Mars."

"Dead?" Trip stood with his arms crossed over his chest, looking incredulously from Hess to Reed. "How come nobody bothered to tell me? What happened?"

Reed took a moment to compose himself then continued, "Ensign Masaro committed suicide."

Trip tilted his head as though he was trying to figure out some deep philosophical puzzle. "Why would he do that?" he queried. "Johnny was a nice kid. He showed a lot of potential as an engineer. We had a talk about his future a couple of months ago. He sure didn't seem suicidal to me."

Malcolm took a deep breath, held it and exhaled. Why was life never simple? "Ensign Masaro was the traitor."

Reed could tell by the blank look on Trip's face that he was still in the dark.

"Masaro was the crewman who gave your DNA and T'Pol's to Terra Prime."

As soon as the words left his mouth, Reed saw the color drain from Trip's face. The engineer's grip loosened, and the padd he was holding slipped from his fingers. Instinctively, Hess reached out to steady him, but Tucker didn't waver. He just stood riveted to the spot, staring blindly ahead.

Reed had seen the same dazed expression only once before when his childhood friend, Trevor Fitzgibbons, had been struck squarely between the eyes by a soccer ball. Trevor had keeled over and dropped like a rock. Deep down Malcolm almost wished that Trip, too, could find solace in oblivion.

"It's all right, Lieutenant," Reed said softly to Hess. "I'll take care of him."

Not needing a second invitation Hess muttered, "I'm sorry, sir," then turned and bolted.

Finally, Reed draped his left arm across the commander's shoulders. The two friends stood quietly side by side as Malcolm squeezed and rubbed Trip's shoulder in a rather awkward attempt at consolation.

Soon Malcolm noticed the subtle and not so subtle stares from many of the engineering staff. He realized that he needed to find someplace private where his friend could begin to recover. "Come on, Trip," he whispered. When he got no response he tried again. "Come on, Trip, let's go get something to eat."

Slowly Tucker's head swiveled toward Malcolm, but his eyes still seemed unfocused.

"You remember, Trip…lunch…the mess hall. It will do you good to get something to eat."

Food had always been Tucker's friend, but that seemed no longer to be the case. Trip shook his head and then numbly pulled away from Malcolm. "You…" He stopped and shakily ran his tongue over his lips. "You'd better go on without me, Malcolm. I'm not very hungry."

Reed was becoming more concerned by the minute. Trip was still deathly pale, and he had to clutch his hands together to keep them from trembling. "Maybe we should call Doctor Phlox," Malcolm suggested quietly.

"No, I'm fine," Tucker stated reassuringly. "The news about Johnny…Ensign Masaro just took me by surprise." He tried to stand a little straighter, but Malcolm wasn't fooled. Finally, Trip looked away. "I thought I knew him. It never occurred to me that he would be capable of something like that. He was…" Clearing his throat, Trip fought for control. "I never questioned his loyalty to Enterprise or to me. I guess I was wrong." His words ended in a whisper.

"Trip…" Reed knew that his friend needed help, but Tucker remained adamant.

"I'm fine, Malcolm. Really." Trip tried to smile, but it was a half-hearted effort at best. "You go on and get something to eat. I'll catch up with you later. I have to get back to work. Okay?"

"All right, Trip. But try to eat something."

What else could he say? Every ounce of common sense told Reed to send for Phlox, but perhaps one breach of faith was all Trip could handle in a single day. As he watched his friend slowly walk away, Malcolm felt completely helpless. He vowed to try to talk to Trip later in the day, but from that point on nothing seemed to work. Every effort at support and understanding failed miserably.

* * * * * *

Malcolm stopped the treadmill and grabbed a towel. He wiped the sweat from his face and then tossed the towel toward a nearby hamper. He smirked as the towel hit the rim and dropped into the container. "Yes," he muttered smugly beneath his breath. He was, and always would be, a very competitive man.

Invigorated physically, yet still strangely restless and uneasy in spirit, Reed climbed off the treadmill. He knew he had to get some sleep, but he just wasn't ready to settle down. Maybe a quick trip to the mess hall for a cup of hot tea and some biscuits would help him to relax.

As he walked down the corridor, Malcolm thought about his friend and the changes that day almost two months ago had wrought. From the moment Trip learned about Masaro, everything changed: his temperament, his mode of living, and his relationships with other members of the crew. In the course of daily events, Malcolm knew that people still called his friend Trip, and he still answered to Trip. But he really wasn't Trip. Not anymore.


CHAPTER 2: ARCHER

Jonathan Archer sat in the captain's mess staring glumly at the empty table before him and thought longingly of happy meals from times past. He hated to eat alone, but after a month of rejections and no-shows, he'd given up issuing invitations to meals. Trip and T'Pol simply didn't come. They either ate in their quarters or in the mess hall, if they ate at all.

He missed the arguments, the teasing, and the feigned indignation when one made a telling point against the other. He missed the stimulating conversations and the comfortable atmosphere. But most of all, he missed the companionship of his two best friends. Occasionally he'd invited other officers to join him – Malcolm, Hoshi, Travis – but it just wasn't the same.

The captain leaned back as a steward placed a bowl of goulash in front of him. The bowl was soon followed by a plate of rolls and a glass of iced tea. His groan was audible. Goulash was definitely not his favorite food. He knew that it was almost 2200, well past his usual dinner hour. Maybe this was Chef's way of showing his displeasure. Archer picked up his spoon and slowly stirred it through the thick Hungarian stew. Trip likes goulash, he thought gloomily. Dropping his spoon into the bowl, he called for the steward.

"Is something wrong, Captain?"

"I guess I'm just not in the mood for this tonight," Archer said tiredly. "Do you think Chef could rustle me up a ham on rye?"

"Right away, Captain," the steward said smartly as he cleared the table and headed back to the kitchen.

Archer shifted nervously in his chair. He wasn't a finicky eater, but goulash only reminded him of another missed meal two months ago, and the traumatic events that followed soon thereafter. Those were memories Jon would have preferred to forget, but with the smell of goulash still lingering in the air, that wasn't going to be possible.

* * * * * *

After the unpleasant scene in engineering when Trip had learned about Masaro's treachery, Lieutenant Reed had come to Archer to make him aware of the mix-up. Mentally kicking himself for the oversight, Jon had immediately sent for T'Pol.

Aware of Tucker's traumatized reaction, the captain tried to break the news to his first officer as gently as possible. Unfortunately, the stoical expression on T'Pol's face remained unchanged, giving him no indication of how she truly felt.

"Thank you for telling me, Captain. It is…" For a split second her voice wavered. "…Regrettable that Ensign Masaro felt that it was necessary to betray our trust. I had little contact with him, but when we did have an occasion to meet, he was always respectful."

"I'm sure it was nothing you said or did," Archer stated reassuringly. "Ensign Masaro seemed genuinely remorseful for what he had done. Paxton and his henchmen at Terra Prime must have sold him a bill of goods." When T'Pol looked slightly perplexed he amended, "They lied to him about their plans for your DNA. He never meant to hurt you, and I know he would never dream of hurting Trip. He idolized him."

Archer began to pace as he continued. "I read Trip's action reports from the battle with the Xindi at Azati Prime. During the fighting, Ensign Masaro was badly wounded. When Trip ordered everybody out of engineering, he noticed Masaro trying desperately to stop the flow of blood from a severed artery in his left arm. Trip managed to get pressure on the wound and haul him to sickbay before he bled to death. Even with all of the repairs, Trip still managed to squeeze a few extra minutes out of each day to visit him and the other injured crewmen from engineering. None of them is likely to forget that. It's just one of the things that makes Trip such a fine officer."

The captain stopped pacing and looked directly at his first officer. "T'Pol, I don't honestly think it had anything to do with you. Masaro left a note in his quarters. He hated the Xindi. Several of his close friends died in the attack. He hated the idea that once we'd stopped the weapon we were simply going to kiss and make up."

Once again T'Pol cocked an elegant eyebrow, but this time Archer didn't feel the need to offer an explanation.

"Paxton told him that the DNA would only be used to demonstrate how different our two species are. You know, emphasize the alien traits of Vulcans – red blood vs. green blood, pointed ears, that sort of thing."

As T'Pol stood quietly with her hands clasped behind her back, Archer walked over to his desk and retrieved a padd. "I wanted to wait until you had a chance to recover before I gave this to you," he said as he extended the padd toward her. "Ensign Masaro left a message for you."

T'Pol hesitated for a few moments and then reached out and took the padd. She tapped it against the palm of her left hand several times before apparently becoming aware of this nervous gesture. Swiftly, the padd and both hands disappeared behind her back. Raising her chin, she said, "Thank you, Captain. If that is all, I would like to return to my duties."

"Dinner tonight in the captain's mess? You and Trip? 1900 hours?"

T'Pol considered the request then replied, "Thank you for the invitation. I will pass along your request to Commander Tucker."

Archer smiled and nodded. "Dismissed."

As T'Pol returned to the bridge, Archer looked at a second padd on his desk and breathed a heavy sigh. He'd evidently made a serious error when he failed to discuss the Masaro situation with Trip right away.

The captain plopped down in his chair and put his head in his hands. This whole Terra Prime business had been one nightmare after another. Now he had to deliver a message from the grave to a man who'd already been subjected to more than enough misery.

Archer straightened, grabbed the padd with the message for Trip and rose from his chair. There was no point in putting it off. He would talk to Trip after dinner. He just hoped that the meeting with his chief engineer went half as well as the one with his first officer.

As he turned to go his eyes fell on another padd which he'd angrily tossed onto his desk earlier in the day. Though physically identical to all the others, this one was different; it contained nothing but trouble. He paused then angrily snatched up the offensive padd and slapped it next to the one he was already holding in his hand. He needed to think. He had to decide what to do with this information before it blew up in his face.

At the request of Lieutenant Valentiny, Hungarian goulash was on the menu for dinner that evening. Unfortunately, Trip and T'Pol did not appear. After waiting for almost twenty minutes, Archer considered paging them, but finally decided against it. They had a right to their privacy, especially after receiving such unpleasant news about a fellow crewman. He would just have to resign himself to eating alone.

Thirty minutes later, he was still disinterestedly pushing his food around in his bowl. Deciding that this was getting him nowhere, he hit the comm button. "Archer to Ensign Halvorson."

"Halvorson here, sir."

"Is Commander Tucker in his quarters?"

"Commander Tucker is in engineering, sir. Do you want me to contact him?"

"No," Archer said slowly. "Thanks, but I think I'll just head down that way myself. Archer out."

Before going to engineering, Jon made a quick stop at his quarters to retrieve the padd with the message from Masaro. As he picked it up, he pondered the misery that had brought about its creation – a sad coda to a tragic situation. Next, he headed over toward a shelf where a bottle of ice blue liquid stood waiting. He deliberated for only a moment before grabbing the bottle. There was nothing wrong with trying to make this as painless as possible.

When Archer entered engineering, he cast his eyes around looking for a dark blond head. Moments later, a voice called from overhead, "He's in his office, sir." The captain looked up and saw Ensign Kelly smiling down at him.

"Thanks," he replied, returning her smile. "Carry on, Ensign."

He walked over to the chief engineer's small office and stopped in the open doorway. Tucker sat slumped in his chair staring blankly at the monitor in front of him. He didn't move as the captain entered the room. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, Jon thought. Maybe Trip needs more time to deal with everything that has been happening to him. He considered leaving, but decided against it. It had to be done – best to just get it over with.

"The sun's over the yardarm," Jon called from the doorway. "I thought we could both use a drink." He walked into the room and set the bottle on Trip's desk. Leaning over, he opened the bottom drawer where Trip kept an odd assortment of eating utensils, hand tools, and small electrical and mechanical components. Archer quickly removed two relatively clean glasses and sat down on the only other chair in the room.

Trip slowly turned toward the captain, but there was no big smile or effusive greeting. "You've been spendin' too much time with Malcolm," Tucker replied with some effort. "Before you know it you'll be askin' me to hoist the sails and tack into the wind." Trip straightened in his chair, apparently trying to look a little more like a senior officer.

Archer chuckled as he poured some of the clear blue liquid into the two glasses. He held one up to the light before handing it to Trip. "Shran gave me a parting gift before he left the last time. This seemed like as good a time as any to break out the bottle." Jon raised his glass in a toast: "To old friends and free booze. Bottoms up."

Tucker clinked his glass with the captain's and tossed his drink back in a single large gulp. He grimaced slightly as the Andorian ale burned its way down his throat.

"Smooth," Archer observed huskily as he generously refilled both glasses.

"This stuff's about as smooth as crushed glass," Trip wheezed, though he didn't waste any time emptying his glass for the second time.

"It must be an acquired taste," Archer replied. "Maybe we just need to keep trying." He refilled the glasses again and then fixed his gaze on the commander. When he looked at Trip's pale face and the dark smudges beneath his eyes, Jon couldn't help but wonder if a little alien whoopee juice was actually going to be enough to soften the blow?

"I missed you at dinner tonight," Archer said, trying to keep the concern out of his voice.

"Dinner. Right." Tucker fidgeted with his glass for a moment and then emptied it. The engineer looked like he wanted to get up and leave, but just couldn't think of a polite way to do it. "I'm sorry, Cap'n, but I had a lot of work to get done."

"You've got to eat, Trip."

"Malcolm said the same thing," Tucker said testily. "People are always tryin' to force food down my throat."

Jon was a little surprised by Trip's reaction, but chose to remain silent.

Sighing, Trip turned his glass upside down and placed it on the desk. "I appreciate the thought, Cap'n, but I don't need a pair of over-eager nursemaids. I can take care of myself." Tucker seemed to be unaware that the last few words came out a bit slurred.

Archer gazed intently at his chief engineer.

"Are you gonna tell me what this visit is really about?" Trip asked nervously. "I know you aren't down here because I missed Chef's goulash and apple strudel." When the word "strudel" seemed to get stuck in Trip's mouth, it was pretty clear that the three glasses of Andorian ale were beginning to have an effect. Apparently tiring of Archer's delaying tactics, Trip finally blurted out, "Just tell me what ya want!"

For a moment Archer sat unmoving, then he slowly took the padd out of his pocket and pushed it over to Trip.

Tucker swallowed hard and stared at the padd. Finally, he picked it up with a shaky hand and brought up the message. When he realized what it was he slammed his eyes shut.

"Trip?" Jon murmured in a worried tone of voice.

Tucker took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Archer could practically see Trip's resolve kick in. No matter what it cost him, he intended to do this.

Just read the words, Trip, and get it over with, Archer thought anxiously. Then we can put all of this behind us.

The message wasn't long, only about four paragraphs, but it was undoubtedly intensely emotional. At first Trip appeared to be handling things pretty well, but it wasn't long before things began to fall apart.

Tucker squeezed his eyes shut again and shook his head. "No," he groaned softly. "Please no."

"It will be okay, Trip," Jon said soothingly. "We can…"

Before Archer could finish, Trip's eyes popped open and he stood up abruptly, knocking over his chair in the process. His face had lost all color, and he couldn't seem to prevent his body from trembling. Still clutching the padd in his left hand, Trip started to move numbly toward the door, but Archer blocked his way.

"You can't go out there like this," Archer said tightly. "Please sit down and try to relax."

At first he thought Tucker might try to push past him, but the engineer only turned and walked unsteadily to the far wall. Trip took a look at the padd in his hand one more time. Then he raised his right fist and brought it down hard against the wall.

Archer wanted to offer some comfort, but what could he say that wasn't a platitude? What could he do to help a man who was clearly in unspeakable pain?

"He can't hurt you anymore, Trip," Jon finally said with intensity. In a few quick strides he was across the room. As he reached for Trip he said, "It's over."

Trip pushed Jon's hand away and shuddered, "It's not over," he whispered breathlessly. "It will never…be over." Raising a hand to his chest, Trip took in several gasping breaths, but he couldn't seem to suck in enough air.

Jon pried the padd from Trip's hand and tossed it onto the floor behind him. Then he grabbed Tucker's shoulders and shook him, trying to get his attention. "Settle down, Trip," he pleaded. "You're hyperventilating." The engineer tried to free himself from Archer's grasp, but Jon held firm. The need to run was writ plainly in the engineer's eyes. "Calm down," Archer exclaimed as his eyes darted around the room, desperately searching for a bag or some other receptacle to help regulate his friend's breathing. But before Jon could take action, Tucker's knees buckled and he slumped forward.

"Damn," Jon mumbled as he lowered Trip's body to the floor. Pulling his communicator from his pocket, he called for help. "Archer to sickbay."

"Phlox here, Captain." The doctor's reply was prompt as always.

"Commander Tucker could use your assistance in engineering."

"I'm on my way. Phlox out."

Jon rolled his friend onto his back and bent over him. "Come on, Trip," he murmured entreatingly as he gently slapped the commander's cheek. Fortunately, it wasn't long before he heard Phlox enter the room.

The doctor knelt beside him and began to run his scanner over Trip. He checked the results and looked at Archer. "Mr. Tucker is not in any danger, Captain. May I ask what happened?"

"Trip received some bad news," Archer said, his eyes moving unconsciously toward the offending padd which lay on the floor near the desk. "He began to hyperventilate and…well, he just collapsed." He looked nervously at the still body of his friend and then over to the doctor.

Phlox glanced at the bottle of blue liquor and the two empty glasses. "Given my familiarity with Commander Tucker's recent eating habits, I'm going to guess that he hasn't had anything to eat this evening. Would that be correct?"

Archer said nothing but dropped his eyes guiltily.

"Andorian ale on an empty stomach is a very bad idea, Captain," Phlox scolded. "It is Andorian ale, isn't it?"

Archer nodded. "You're right, Phlox," he said contritely. "I thought the situation required something to help cushion the blow. Obviously, I was wrong. It won't happen again."

Phlox reached into a pocket and removed a small metal box. Taking an ampule from the box, he said, "Sometimes the old cures are the best. Don't you think so, Captain?" He efficiently broke the ampule and waved it under Tucker's nose.

Trip's reaction was almost instantaneous. He twisted his head away and started to cough.

"Take it easy, Trip," Archer said as the engineer's eyes opened.

Trip squinted as his eyes wandered aimlessly around the room. Finally, his gaze fell on Phlox. "Hey, Doc," he whispered bewilderedly, scrubbing a shaky hand over his face. "How come I'm on the floor?"

"You passed out, Commander." Phlox said. "How do you feel?"

"Okay, I guess," Tucker mumbled. "A little dizzy."

"Why don't we get you up off the floor, hmm," the doctor said and nodded to the captain. The two men hoisted Trip up and pulled him over to his chair. Apparently Trip's world was still spinning because he plopped an elbow on his desk, groaned and rested his head on his hand.

Without thinking, Archer allowed his eyes wander to the padd on the floor near their feet. Trip followed his gaze. At first things didn't seem to register, then in an instant Archer could see all the pain come rushing back. Trip, recognizing the message from the dead engineer, sucked in his breath and pulled back sharply.

"Now, now," the doctor soothed, "your heart is racing, Commander. You must try and relax. I'm going to give you a mild sedative to help you sleep. I would give you more, but I'm somewhat limited by the amount alcohol you've consumed." Phlox pressed the hypospray to Trip's neck. Archer watched as the doctor quietly leaned over, picked up the padd and slid it into his pocket.

"Captain, will you please see that Mr. Tucker gets to his quarters? He'll probably drift off rather quickly so don't dawdle."

Archer walked over and stared down at Trip. "Thank you, Doctor," he said. "We'll manage."

Grabbing the engineer under the arms, Jon hoisted him to his feet. "Come on, Trip," Archer said as he pulled Trip's right arm over his shoulder and then grabbed his friend firmly about the waist.

"Good night, Captain, Commander," Phlox said in the cheerful voice that all crewmen had come to associate with the doctor's attempts to brow beat them into being a good little boys and girls. "And, Mr. Tucker, be sure to eat a nourishing breakfast in the morning."

Trip nodded groggily, probably more to keep the doctor happy than with any real intention of following his orders.

Phlox wasn't fooled for a moment. After four years with the commander, the doctor was on to all his little tricks. "I'll just drop by and give Chef some menus for the next few days. Special meals for a special patient," Phlox said with a happy lilt in his voice.

"I'm not your patient," Trip managed to snarl as Archer pulled him through the office door. "I'm fine. I just want ya to leave me alone!"

As Archer wrestled Trip toward the door out of engineering, he became aware of a quiet but intensely interested group of young engineers watching their every move. Engineers might run a tight ship, but they were also known to have loose lips. This was going to be all over the ship before he could get Trip back to his quarters. Oh well, it couldn't be helped.

It wasn't long before Archer decided that taking Trip back to his own quarters was a bad idea. The engineer was fading fast. After the day's trauma, it might be best if he didn't wake up alone. Archer considered taking him to sickbay, but decided that Trip wouldn't be too happy if he woke up with Phlox staring down at him again.

Suddenly, Trip groaned softly and went limp. Archer stumbled slightly as his friend became dead weight. Sidestepping, he shoved Trip against the wall, then bent over and hoisted his friend onto his shoulders. Even though Trip had lost some weight, he was still a handful. Jon adjusted Trip's position slightly, silently giving thanks that he didn't have too far to go.

When they reached his quarters, it took Archer only a couple of moments to open his door. Once inside, he took a few more steps and deposited Trip in a heap on the left side of the bed.

Porthos bounded over, slightly confused, but still elated to see his master.

"Hey buddy," Archer said as he reached down to scratch the beagle's ears. "We're going to have a roommate tonight. How about helping me get Trip ready for bed?"

Jon started to pull off Trip's shoes, but it didn't take long for him to realize that he, too, was beginning to feel the effects of Shran's potent gift.

Undressing a man who is dead to the world isn't easy when you're sober; it's virtually impossible when you're drunk. After a few moments of pulling and tugging, Jon decided to give up on Trip and just concentrate on getting himself undressed. He managed to divest himself of his shoes and his jumpsuit before deciding that that was enough. As Porthos whimpered gently, Archer stumbled to the right side of the bed and flopped down next to Trip. He was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.

* * * * * *

Jon wasn't exactly sure what woke him in the early hours of the morning. Maybe he heard a noise, or it could have been a disturbing dream. Whatever it was, he was no longer blissfully asleep. The first thing he noticed when he opened his eyes was that the lights were still on. I must have been drunker than I thought, he mused. His right arm flopped over and connected with a small furry body. Taking that as an invitation, Porthos moved over and started to lick his face. Slowly it all came back to him. Someone was missing. Trip should be there.

The captain sat up and rubbed his eyes. He looked around and saw Trip standing over in the far corner of the room. His back was to Archer, but it was easy to see that something wasn't right. Jon started to call to his friend when an unpleasant thought hit him like a bolt of lightning. He'd brought that third padd from his ready room and dumped it unceremoniously in the general neighborhood of where Trip was now standing.

"Trip?" he called out, but received no response. Now fully awake, Archer shot out of bed. Hurrying across the room, he tried to put a hand on the engineer's shoulder, but Trip angrily pulled away.

"When were you going to tell me about this?" Trip managed to choke out. His breathing was ragged as he struggled to control his anger. "Or didn't you think I needed to know."

Archer could see that Trip had the padd clutched in his hands. "I just got the report from Starfleet Intelligence this morning," he answered softly. "I thought I'd wait until you calmed down a little before I showed it to you. I would have told you eventually."

Sniffing, Tucker rubbed one hand across his eyes. Then he suddenly spun around and glared belligerently at Archer.

Jon tried to reach out to his friend one more time, but Trip dodged to his left and hurled the padd with all his might against the far wall. With a frightened yelp Porthos jumped from the bed and scurried away.

Tucker spun back to face the captain with fire in his eyes. "You didn't think it was important for me to know that my parents were members of Terra Prime!"

Archer stood completely still. "Trip, I don't know what to say."

Tucker thrust his face closer to the Captain. "You didn't think it was important to tell me that my parents helped to kill their own grandchild!" he shouted, all sense of control now completely abandoned. "I thought you were my friend, you lousy bastard!"

"I am your friend, Trip." Archer tried to keep his voice calm and reassuring. "I'm sure your parents didn't know about the baby. You know they wouldn't do something like that."

"I don't know anything anymore! I don't know them, and I sure as hell don't know you!" Red-faced, Trip balled both hands into fists. "I thought I could trust you, believe in you, but I was wrong. I'm not gonna let you lie to me anymore. So just stay away!"

Before Archer could draw a deep breath and reply, Trip angrily did an about-face and bolted from the room.

Thoroughly shaken, Archer stumbled over to the bed and sat down. Apparently aware that something was seriously wrong, Porthos jumped up on the bed and cuddled next to him. Numbly, Archer stroked the beagle's soft fur. "What am I going to do now, boy?" he whispered. "How am I going to make this right?"

* * * * * *

Chewing slowly on his sandwich, Archer suddenly realized that he wasn't sure what he was eating. It could be ham or tuna or peanut butter and jelly for all he knew. He pried the bread apart and looked inside. It was ham. No longer hungry, he tossed the remainder of the sandwich onto the plate.

The hurt and rage that Trip had felt that night two months ago was still so raw and real that it had the power to push everything else completely out of Jon's mind. He knew Trip was upset and hadn't really meant the things he'd said, but they stung nonetheless.

Since then, Archer's relationship with his chief engineer had been all business. They could work together, but the camaraderie was gone. The anger and hurt feelings from that night were still locked away deep inside both of them.

If I had it to do all over again… Jon leaned back and gave that question some thought. If I had told Trip about his parents or about Masaro right away, would it have made any difference? He shook his head in frustration. He could speculate all he wanted, but unless Daniels suddenly showed up and transported him back into the past he would never know for sure.

Jon fixed his eyes on the window and watched as the stars silently streaked past. It was comforting to know that there was order to the universe. Planets and moons moved predictably in their orbits. Suns rose and set on schedule. Stars regularly cast their brilliance to untold worlds beyond.

But there was very little certainty or order in the lives of men. Of course death was certain. Pain and loss were certain. Fortunately, there was also enough joy and achievement to make life bearable and give it some meaning. If he had to do it all over again, could he have done anything to make things easier for Trip?

Feeling restless, Jon rose and walked over to the window. He knew how to be a captain. He'd learned that lesson the hard way in the Expanse, and in his dealings with the Vulcans, the Andorians and any number of other alien species. But he wasn't so sure he knew how to be a friend anymore.

He knew he wanted Trip's friendship. He needed him. He had to have someone he could talk to, someone he could relax with. No one else could tell a stupid little joke and instantly lift everyone's spirits. No one else would listen intently for as long as he was needed, yet never be judgmental. And where was he going to find another person who would enthusiastically watch hours of water polo, even though he'd rather be doing just about anything else?

But Trip was a subordinate. When he spoke to his chief engineer, where did Captain Archer end and Jonathan Archer begin? If he took a chance and tried to rebuild their relationship, would the affection still be there even after…

"Is it all right if I clear the table, Captain?"

Jon, startled out of his contemplation, turned to look in the direction of the voice and saw his steward standing just inside the door. "I'm sorry, what…"

"The table, sir," the young man said hesitantly, "I'd like to clear the table with your permission." When the Captain continued to look at him uncomprehendingly, he murmured, "Of course I could come back later if you'd prefer."

Archer focused then held up a hand to stay him. "Go ahead and clear the table. I'm finished. I guess I'm just a little preoccupied today." With that he smiled. The smile was instantly returned by the relieved young man who went to work collecting the dishes and the glassware.

But as quickly as it had come, the smile vanished and a shadow passed over the captain's features. "Please ask Chef to take goulash off the menu," Archer said softly. The steward looked up, surprise clearly evident on his face. "I just …" Archer stopped and cleared his throat. "I just prefer something else, anything else. Please tell him."

The steward didn't take time to try and figure out the request. He nodded once and obediently replied, "Right away, sir," before turning and exiting the room.

"Damn," Archer muttered as he turned back to commune with the stars. Too much talk, not enough action. Somehow he had to find a way to help Trip, to win back the friendship he valued so much. He shifted restlessly as something in the back of his mind warned that time was running short. If he didn't act and act soon, Trip and all he meant to him would be gone forever. That was something Jon could not bear.


CHAPTER 3: PHLOX

Doctor Phlox shook his head and sighed. It was the wee hours of the morning, and the mess hall was virtually deserted. From his seat in the far corner he could see all the tables, all the chairs, and two solemn, insular people.

Phlox glanced to his left in time to see Commander Tucker stand, check the information on the padd in his hand, then head for the door. He left behind an untouched bowl of soup and an empty coffee mug. The doctor noted that the commander, though still relatively young, moved like a much older man. He no longer had that youthful spring in his step which seemed to epitomize his optimistic attitude toward life.

Phlox briefly considered following the young man, but finally decided against it. He might be able to browbeat the engineer into going to sickbay for a check up, but what would he gain? In his present state of mind, Tucker would resent being badgered about his health. He might even go out of his way to avoid the Denobulan, thereby putting himself at even greater risk if he really did need medical attention. No, Phlox thought regretfully, he'd just have to bide his time. One way or the other Commander Tucker was going to need him…and soon.

Phlox was momentarily diverted by the swish of the door as it opened. Lieutenant Reed stood sideways in the doorway casting a worried glance down the corridor.

It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who's concerned about Mr. Tucker, Phlox thought, his spirits somewhat revived.

When Reed entered the mess hall, he seemed surprised to see Phlox, but he recovered quickly, nodding his head in recognition. Then he caught sight of Commander T'Pol. There must have been a residual air of tension in the room because the armory officer didn't seem inclined to stop and chat. He walked to the beverage dispenser, ordered a cup of tea, grabbed the first plate of cookies he saw and bolted for the door, nodding once again to the doctor as he left.

Phlox gazed to the right taking in the rigid form of Commander T'Pol. She sat with her back to the room, seemingly oblivious to everything around her. Yes, Phlox decided, she could be intimidating and unapproachable, yet she was, in fact, quite a lovely person. It was such a pity that she never allowed other people to get close enough to really get to know her. If anyone had been given a peak behind that Vulcan mask it was Commander Tucker. Now even he seemed to be shut out.

She appeared to be intently perusing the padd she held in her right hand, but the doctor knew that she was fully aware of everything that was going on around her. She undoubtedly knew that he was studying her, and that he was concerned for her welfare.

"Would you care to join me, Doctor?" T'Pol said without looking up.

"Thank you, Commander," Phlox replied regretfully, "but I'm afraid it's feeding time for the nocturnal portion of my menagerie." He offered her a half-hearted smile. "Perhaps another time."

T'Pol swiveled in her chair to look at him. "I understand your concern for me, Doctor, but I assure you it is not necessary."

Phlox studied her with a critical eye. She appeared to be perfectly healthy, but he knew that in the Expanse her ability to control her emotions had been permanently compromised. "You have been through a very traumatic event. I count you as a friend, T'Pol. It is only natural for me to be concerned. If I can…"

"There is nothing more you can do, Doctor," she said in a cold, unyielding tone. "The past can not be changed, and regret is useless." With that she turned away from him and once again began to study the information on her padd. "Good night, Doctor."

Phlox rose slowly from his chair. He studied the young Vulcan then shook his head in resignation. He sincerely hoped that she would be able to live by those words. The past could not be changed and regret truly was a useless emotion. He wished her well, but in the back of his mind he harbored some doubts.

"Good night, Commander," he said, trying to keep his tone light. "Please remember that my door is always open if you want to talk." There was no response, but then he hadn't expected one.

As he walked back to sickbay Phlox recalled the early days in the Expanse when he had made the decision to persuade the very Vulcan sub-commander to assist the very human commander with his insomnia. He knew that what he was asking T'Pol to do was an intimate procedure, but it was necessary and somehow it just seemed right.

Here were two people who by their very natures were almost mirror images. Most people saw Tucker as an emotional, gregarious man full of down-home charm, when he was, in fact, an intensely private person who was capable of great self-control and introspection. On the other hand, T'Pol's emotionless, unyielding exterior hid an intensely passionate and volatile nature. Placed together the two of them seemed to complement each other perfectly.

But then they were confronted with the tragic events instigated by the terrorist organization, Terra Prime. The discovery of the baby's existence had been shocking, but equally surprising was the almost instantaneous bond the infant seemed to initiate with both of her parents.

The crew of Enterprise and diplomats from a number of alien worlds had embraced this child. Her life, though all too short, helped to create an atmosphere where bitter enemies could set aside their hatred and distrust long enough to finally begin to explore ways of achieving peace.

Unfortunately, it was a shattering experience for those closest to her.

As Phlox entered sickbay the tragic events of three months earlier played out again in his mind.

* * * * * *

In the moments after Elizabeth lost her fight for life, both parents stood quietly side by side trying to take in the fact that the beautiful gift that had so suddenly been thrust into their care had now been brutally and irrevocably taken from them. Captain Archer offered the grieving couple his heart-felt sympathy and then left them to mourn in private.

After a few moments Commander Tucker stirred. Slipping his wounded arm from the sling, he ran one hand gently along the side of the incubator. For a moment his hand stilled, and then impulsively he reached up and opened the incubator. Reaching in, he gathered the infant into his arms. While she lived, he had been denied the chance to hold her. Now, he seemed to be determined not to let anything stand in his way.

Looking down at his daughter, Trip was suddenly overcome by grief. He dropped his head and quietly began to sob.

T'Pol took a deep breath and pressed her lips together. Phlox knew she was desperately trying to remain in control of her emotions. She extended a trembling hand and lightly stroked the head of her child.

Her eyes remained fixed on the infant's body as she said quietly, "Doctor, will you please see that Elizabeth is properly cared for?"

"Of course, Commander," Phlox said, his voice tight with emotion. "I'm so sorry that I could not do more…that I was unable to save her. She was a lovely child."

T'Pol shook her head, a movement so subtle that it was almost imperceptible. "I must meditate." She looked once more into the face of her daughter then abruptly turned and walked away. She managed to mumble, "I'll be in my quarters, Doctor, if you need me," as the sickbay doors slid shut behind her.

After a moment Phlox slowly reached up and took hold of Trip's shoulder. "Commander Tucker."

The engineer took a deep breath and straightened, but instead of handing Phlox the child, he gripped her more tightly. Shakily, he managed to choke out, "Not yet." Understanding the human's need to grieve, the doctor squeezed the young father's shoulder once then left him alone.

From his vantage point in his laboratory, Phlox watched as Trip slowly walked around sickbay, rocking his dead child in his arms. He seemed to be driven to tell his daughter everything he would have shared with her had she lived: stories of Enterprise and her crew, tales of his family and her namesake, his sister Elizabeth. Speaking softly, but with an unmistakable note of desperation in his voice, he tried to make sure that she understood who she was and that she was truly loved.

After several hours had passed, Phlox felt compelled to intervene. Trip was telling Elizabeth about his visit to Vulcan and his unexpected meeting with T'Pol's mother, T'Les, when the doctor interrupted softly, "Commander, please let me have the child."

A look of panic flitted across Trip's face. He hesitated but then his stubborn streak kicked in. He shook his head decisively and started forward again. Phlox didn't want to add to the grieving father's pain, but he knew he had to end this now, both for the commander's well-being and, quite frankly, for his own.

Moving directly into his path, Phlox forced the young engineer to stop and look at him. "Commander, you must allow me to take Elizabeth now. I know this is hard for you, but I promise that she will be well cared for."

"No," Trips voice was soft, yet firm.

"Commander, please…"

"She needs me," Trip said, his voice breaking with emotion. "I'm not just going to abandon her. She's my daughter, Phlox." His voice was now barely above a whisper.

The doctor stepped closer and tried to steel himself for the painful act he knew he had to perform. "Elizabeth won't be alone. She'll be with me. I'll take care of her." As Trip hugged the child closer, Phlox's voice became more strained. "You must let her go, Commander."

Slowly, tears began to slide down Trip's cheeks. "No, please…just a little longer," he pleaded.

Phlox reached out for the child. "Please don't make this any harder than it already is." It was a struggle, but he managed to keep his voice firm.

Trip's shoulders slumped in resignation. "All right," he said tremulously.

As the young engineer leaned over and gently placed one final kiss on his daughter's forehead, Phlox pulled the child from her father's arms. Before the doctor could move away, Trip reached out and ran his finger lightly over the tip of one tiny pointed ear and whispered, "Good-bye, my darlin'."

As Tucker squeezed his eyes shut against the tears, Phlox took the infant from the room. When he returned minutes later, the commander was gone.

Memories of the next several days were a bit blurred. Preparations for the memorial service, diplomatic appearances, visits from family members and friends all blended with frequent assaults by the media to keep Enterprise's senior staff hopping.

Mercifully the memorial service was kept small and very private. As promised, the dignitaries from Vulcan, Andoria and other alien worlds were there to pay their respects. Through it all Commanders Tucker and T'Pol remained dignified and composed. Only someone who knew them well could detect their inner struggle to maintain their stoic façades.

They stood near their child's tiny coffin, heads bowed. Although they never touched, they seemed to draw silent strength from each other. When the service ended and those present had expressed their condolences and moved on, the two grieving parents remained. Only when Phlox stole one final glance, did he notice Commander Tucker reach out and take T'Pol's hand gently in his.

* * * * * *

Doctor Phlox shook his head to clear away the memories. Some things were best left in the past. As he rushed around bringing food and water to his creatures of the night, he tried to turn his mind to more profitable pursuits, but it was not to be.

Closing the door on the final cage, he sighed in resignation. He had hoped that the death of their child would finally bring her two stubborn parents together, but that no longer seemed possible. Captain Archer had given both of them some time off after the funeral, and for several weeks they were inseparable. Then slowly they began to drift apart. Not surprisingly, both now sought solace in their work.

Of the two, T'Pol appeared to have had more success in weathering the storm. She had somehow managed, in a relatively short span of time, to transform herself once again into a Vulcan's Vulcan: humorless, logical, emotions controlled by an iron will. The emotional lapses she experienced in the Expanse seemed to be a thing of the past.

Commander Tucker, on the other hand, was not well. He worked too hard, ate too little, and slept only when drugged into a state of complete oblivion. He had slowly but systematically shut himself off from the comfort and support of his friends and denied himself even the smallest pleasures. Phlox was worried about him, but the stubborn human categorically denied that there was anything wrong.

Phlox knew that T'Pol still cared deeply for the engineer, yet she had chosen to walk away from their relationship. And there was no question in his mind that the decision to part had been made by the Vulcan. Even though the commanders were two of the bravest people he had ever known, the hatred engendered by the fanatics in Terra Prime would give any couple pause for thought. A relationship between two people was difficult enough without the unrelenting ostracism, vilification, and invasion of privacy that had been and continued to be visited upon his two friends.

When Phlox sat down to write to his dear friend, Doctor Lucas, he decided to fill him in on everything that had transpired in the hope that his colleague could offer a fresh perspective. There was no doubt in Phlox's mind that this whole miserable affair was not over. They had simply entered the eye of the storm. The worst was yet to come.


CHAPTER 4: T'POL

After Dr. Phlox left the mess hall, Commander T'Pol continued to sit quietly at her table. She held a padd in her hand, but she was not interested in the data on sensor upgrades. She had come to the mess hall for one and only one reason: to keep watch over Commander Tucker. By now she knew his habits as well as she knew her own. He frequented the mess hall late at night. They never spoke or acknowledged each other's presence, but it gave her the opportunity to check on his well-being. Was he eating? Sleeping?

What had she told Phlox? The past cannot be changed, and regret is useless. There was no question that these were important words to live by, especially for a Vulcan. She should have been able to suppress any feelings of guilt or regret, but she unfortunately felt both keenly. It had been her decision to end her relationship with the commander two months ago. Yet she cared deeply for him, and it distressed her to see the vibrant, fun-loving man who had captured her heart slowly turn into a silent automaton. She couldn't fault his work. She could never fault his work. He was brilliant and dedicated, but he was so much more.

She thought about going to her cabin, but decided against it. She feared that tonight it would only remind her of Trip and the sublime nights she had spent there in his arms. She thought about tracking him down, but once she found him, what could she say to him? Even if she finally broke down and told him of her regard for him, would he listen? Would he care about her any longer or her love for him?

"Yes," she whispered aloud into the all-encompassing silence of the deserted mess hall. "I do love him." She could hide her emotions from him and from all others around her, but she could no longer hide them from herself. It was the cross that she alone would have to bear.

For one brief moment her temper flared. Why didn't he fight for me? she thought angrily. A Vulcan male would have fought for his mate. Why didn't he berate me? Shout at me? Tell me that we were meant to be together and he would never let me go? If he truly loved me, why did he always accept quietly and simply walk away? Am I unworthy of the struggle to possess me?

But as quickly as her temper flared, it cooled again. Logic. Her life must always be grounded in logic. What good would it have done if he had fought for her? Would anything have changed? Probably not. She would have seen to that. That thought left her feeling empty and bereft.

Sighing, she rose to get a mug of tea. Maybe a hot beverage would soothe her troubled soul. "Chamomile tea…hot," she said as she had countless times before. With the steaming mug in her hands and nowhere else to go, T'Pol returned to her table in the corner and sat. As she crossed her legs she fixed her eyes again upon the stars. Had she made the right decision? She hoped so for both their sakes. How had a romance that seemed destined in these very stars fallen apart so quickly?

* * * * * *

From the moment Elizabeth came into their lives T'Pol and Trip became inseparable. Even when they were physically apart, he was always with her through their bond. T'Pol knew that he didn't understand it. He fought against the invasion of his private thoughts, but she also knew that he never once considered abolishing it. He understood that she needed him, and he was determined not to let her down.

When their baby died, T'Pol fled to her quarters. She craved solitude and the solace that only meditation could bring, but this time she found no relief from her anguish. She fought to keep her emotions in check, but it was so difficult. She hadn't realized that she could experience such depth of feeling for another being, especially one that was technically not of her body. But feel she did, and it was frightening.

She knew Trip was suffering, too. When he came to her quarters to inform her of the delegates' desire to pay their respects to Elizabeth, the tears that streamed down his cheeks were all too real. A lesser man would have disowned a child spawned in secret by terrorists, but not her Trip. He had loved their child as totally and unquestionably as she did and just as sincerely mourned her loss.

When Trip told her of Phlox's discovery that a Vulcan and a human could indeed produce a healthy child, it had been the one shining moment in an endless night of black despair. She'd clutched his hand in hers and knew without reservation that they were destined to spend their lives together – two disparate individuals who were greater, stronger, far more formidable together than apart.

The conference, Elizabeth's memorial service, and the seemingly endless meetings left her with little time to reflect on her loss. It was difficult, but she managed to remain in control of her emotions, even standing by the coffin of her child. She accepted the condolences of friends, dignitaries, and colleagues with grace and dignity. She was everything a Vulcan officer should be until the night following her daughter's memorial service, when her world fell apart.

Her statement to Commander Tucker in the Expanse about Vulcans being overwhelmed by their emotions at a time of great personal loss had been all too true. Her addiction and the subsequent loss of her emotional control, the carnage of the Expanse, her mother's death, the reordering of Vulcan society, and the death of her child all merged into one deep, searing pain. She felt helpless because she didn't know how to begin to heal, and then Trip had been there.

He'd explained to her once that during his childhood he'd learned to compartmentalize his thoughts. He could create rooms in his mind where he could keep the pain, guilt and fear locked away until the day came when he was able to deal with his feelings. Though he paid a heavy price to keep those rooms barricaded shut, it allowed him to mourn in his own good time. And in the interim, he could function effectively while many other people would have been incapacitated by their grief.

After the memorial service, T'Pol knew that he thought only of her. He locked away all of his own sorrow for their infant daughter in those little rooms in his head and gave himself over completely to helping her. She'd watched him do this in the Expanse when he fought to control his grief following his sister's death. She knew the constant struggle he'd waged to keep everything bottled up. His self-discipline was impressive, even by Vulcan standards, but it did worry her.

Unofficially, he moved into her quarters. He slept there, he ate there, and when she was on the mend and needed to feel alive again, they made love there.

Her need was so great that she took from him without thought or consideration. A part of her knew that she was being selfish, but it made no difference. She was fighting for her life. Day after day, she processed her emotions through him. Fear, anger, grief, loneliness and guilt became their constant companions. Slowly, through their bond, he was able to show her how humans deal with their emotions. Then he offered her his strength and a place of peace and serenity to practice what she had learned. She, in turn, taught him to meditate so that he could offer her his help and support in a manner less foreign to her. With their knowledge of neuropressure, they were both able to snatch a few precious hours of sleep amid the turmoil.

Only when she began to heal did she fully understand the price he paid for his devotion to her.

One day when he emerged from the shower, she really looked at him for the first time in weeks, and she was distressed by what she saw. He had lost weight – at least ten pounds and possibly more. Trip, of course, insisted that she was imagining things, but she knew better. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, and when he walked, he seemed sluggish.

For the rest of the day and into the night she monitored him closely. At dinnertime, she watched as he shoveled food into his mouth. In the past, he had kept up a running conversation on trivial subjects while they ate. Now there was only silence. He seemed to take no pleasure from the food his ate. In fact, he barely seemed to even taste it. Something was definitely wrong.

That night she feigned sleep then watched in silence as he slid out of bed, put on a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt, and stole quietly out of the room. Worried, she rose, dressed quickly then started to follow him. But where would he go? The mess hall? The captain's quarters? Sickbay? She frowned slightly at the thought of him requiring the assistance of Doctor Phlox. Slowly, she turned and walked over to her monitor. She tapped into her bridge array and quickly located him. He was in the gym. In seconds she was up and out of the room.

Moving resolutely down the corridor, she thought about what she would say to him. Should she simply tell him that she was concerned for his welfare? No. He would only tell her again that her concern was unwarranted. Should she simply walk in and act surprised to see him? No, definitely not. He'd left her supposedly asleep in bed. What possible reason could she have for being in the gym? Perhaps she could claim that she'd a bad dream and woke to find him missing? That would still not explain why she'd come after him. Besides, she'd made it clear to him that Vulcans don't dream. She brightened slightly. Fortunately, he never believed her claims.

She was still exploring her options when she arrived at the gym. Standing before the door, she paused. Was she doing the right thing? He asked so little of her. Didn't he deserve some time alone? She had just about decided to return to her quarters when the door slid open and Travis Mayweather barreled into her. Though equally surprised, Mayweather managed to steady her before she fell. Fortunately, she was able to catch sight of Trip before the door slid shut.

"I'm sorry, Commander," the young helmsman said sincerely as he jerked his hands away. "I should have been more careful."

Her poise restored T'Pol said firmly, "I was equally at fault, Ensign. There was no way that you could have known that I was on the other side of the door."

Relieved, Travis gave her a weak smile. "Well, good night, Commander," he murmured and started to leave.

"Wait!" No one was more surprised than T'Pol when the word burst from her lips. Travis stopped abruptly and stared at her. Her mouth opened but nothing came out.

"Commander?" Travis asked with concern in his voice.

T'Pol straightened her spine. She was a senior officer and a Vulcan. Her actions so far were unseemly. This must cease.

"I noticed Commander Tucker in the gym," she started slowly.

When nothing else was forthcoming the perplexed young helmsman responded, "Yes, ma'am."

Trying to keep her tone conversational T'Pol continued, "Does he come here often?"

"Do you mean at night?"

T'Pol nodded.

"I can't speak from personal knowledge, but word has it that since the two of you went on sick leave the commander spends almost every night in the gym. He runs for hours, punches the bag, you know lots of physical exercise." Her gaze slipped from the young ensign to the door. "Is there anything else, Commander?" he asked quietly.

"No," she said softly. "Thank you, but…no."

Travis started to leave then stopped and turned to face T'Pol. "I didn't get a chance to see you after the memorial service," he said a bit awkwardly. "I wanted to express my condolences. I can still see you standing there with the baby in your arms. It just doesn't seem possible that she's gone."

T'Pol's lips tightened. She knew that his intentions were well meant. He wanted to offer her some comfort, but instead his words brought with them a cascade of pain. She gripped her hands tightly behind her back and held on. Taking a deep but shaky breath, she said, "Thank you, Ensign." She struggled to keep any hint of emotion from her voice. "Her passing was a great loss…for both of us."

Travis smiled weakly. "Well, good night, Commander," he said before turning and heading to his quarters.

"Good night," T'Pol whispered. Suddenly she had to see her mate. It didn't matter what excuse she gave him. She had to see him now. She pressed the button, and the door slid open.

A quick look around revealed that he was alone. He was still on the treadmill running as though a le-matya was bearing down on him. Though his eyes were slightly downcast, she could still see the naked desperation in them. He was bathed in perspiration. His lovely hair, so soft to her touch, was now matted and sweat-soaked.

She took a step forward. "Trip," she said quietly. When he failed to respond, she summoned her courage and spoke louder. "Trip!"

His eyes flew up to meet hers, but his feet still pounded against the treadmill. For a moment she was afraid that he would ignore her, but then the treadmill slowed to a stop and he stepped off. He grabbed a towel and scrubbed it across his face. He then proceeded to run it up over the top of his head, rubbing away some of the moisture from his hair before draping the now soggy towel around his neck. He stared at her incredulously. "What are you doing here?"

"I…" Still unsure of herself, she turned her head so she wouldn't have to meet his eyes. "I woke up and you were gone." Her eyes slowly crept back to him. "I was worried."

Trip came towards her, his hands gripping the ends of the towel about his neck. "There's no cause to be worried," he said reassuringly. "I've been cooped up a lot lately. I just figured I'd get a little exercise."

Now who was lying, she thought as anger quickly flared through her. "A little exercise," she scoffed. "You seem to require a little exercise on a nightly basis…and without my knowledge."

Trip bristled. "Since when do I have to account to you for everything I do?" he said angrily. "I'm there when you need me. And besides," he was now standing toe to toe with her, "what makes you think that I'm in here every night?"

T'Pol decided to remain inscrutable. "I have my sources."

"Bull!" Trip shouted in her face and then stalked toward the door.

Suddenly, all of the starch left T'Pol's spine and she wilted. She didn't want a fight. She wanted to help him. There had to be a reason why he was trying to run himself into the ground. Would she ever learn to communicate with this stubborn human? Sinking to the floor, she bowed her head in remorse.

Within moments, she felt two hands lightly grip her shoulders then slowly rub up and down her arms as he knelt behind her. She inhaled his scent and leaned back against his chest. "I'm sorry, T'Pol," Trip murmured quietly. He bent over and gently kissed her ear. "I didn't mean to snap at you. Please forgive me." He enfolded her in his arms.

Her fingers brushed lightly against his hand. "It is I who should be asking forgiveness," she said softly. "I should not have intruded. You deserve some time alone, but…," she stopped, needing to know, but afraid to anger him further.

When he pulled away from her she suddenly felt very cold and alone, but the feeling was short-lived. Trip came around and sat cross-legged in front of her, his expression one of concern, not anger or irritation. "Do you really want to know why I come here every night?" he asked seriously.

She looked deeply into his eyes, swallowed hard then nodded her head.

He took a deep breath. "I come here for us, T'Pol," he started slowly. He spoke gently but there was assurance in his voice. "This is what I have to do to be able to help you with your emotions."

She stared at him in confusion. "I do not understand."

Trip shifted restlessly and cast his eyes about the room as if trying to find the right words. "When your emotions are added to my emotions, well …it can kinda be too much of a good thing." T'Pol continued to look bewildered. Once again, he shifted uncertainly as he searched for a better way to explain. When his face lit up she could tell that inspiration had struck. "You understand how an old-fashioned boiler works," he said, leaning in towards her. "If you stoke the boiler too much, you either have to bleed off some of the steam or the boiler bursts. Well," he smiled wryly, "I'm just bleedin' off some of the steam."

"You have to do this every night," T'Pol said with concern in her voice.

"Almost every night," he said gently.

"For me?"

"For us."

"You should have told me," she said reproachfully. "I would have found some other way to…"

He put a finger to her lips. "There is no other way," he stated firmly, yet caringly. "You know it and I know it. Besides I like helpin' ya. I feel closer to you now than ever before, and I love it. I love you, T'Pol."

She sucked in her breath sharply. She already knew how he felt about her. He made it clear to her through their bond each and every day. This, however, was the first time he had actually put it into words. He loved her and would do anything for her. She had to say something. How could she be sure that she had conveyed her feelings as clearly through the bond as he did?

She reached up and caressed his cheek, her brown eyes focused solely on him. "And I care for you as well," she whispered.

He grinned as he took her hand, brought it to his lips and kissed her fingers gently. "If you're of a mind, I can think of a more pleasurable way to bleed off some of the steam we built up today. Unless you're too tired…"

She left little doubt that she understood his meaning as she grabbed his hand, pulled him up with her and hustled him out the door.

Their lovemaking in the past had always been memorable, but on that night their passion ignited. They had finally said the words that had remained unspoken for far too long, and it took their union to a level more rapturous than either of them could ever have imagined. Finally, completely spent by the intensity of their lovemaking, Trip fell into a deep sleep, his beloved still enfolded securely in his arms.

But for T'Pol sleep would not come. She was confused and unsettled by her visit to the gym and his subsequent revelations. Could she accept his contention that the physical demands being made on his body were just a normal component of their evolving relationship? Could she really be the cause of his weight loss and fatigue?

Instantly, the memory of her dream from the Expanse came rushing back to her. His touch on her back was gentle just as she always knew it would be. He turned her so they were standing face to face, and then sparks flew as their lips met. Standing under the shower's spray entwined in each other's arms, with each kiss deeper and more passionate than the one before, the ecstasy she felt took her breath away. But then her greatest joy metamorphosed into her greatest fear. Her uncontrolled emotions were choking the life from him.

She shifted restlessly as she lay beside Trip and subconsciously tightened her grip on him. If this was true…if she was harming him… She squeezed her eyes shut as she fought to control the fear such thoughts engendered. He stirred and mumbled something unintelligible in his sleep. She quickly tried to calm herself; she must not let him feel her anxiety through their bond. Regardless of her feelings, she knew that she would not allow him to further endanger his health to assist her.

Unfortunately, she did not have all the information necessary to make a logical decision. Perhaps her concern was unwarranted. That thought sparked a tiny ray of hope. Their privacy was important, but so was Trip's health. Dr. Phlox was a good friend, and he was discreet. She decided that she had no choice. She would consult the physician tomorrow.

Her course of action determined, T'Pol was able to relax a little, but sleep still eluded her. She lay awake and watched the rise and fall of his chest, the movement of his eyes beneath his eyelids as he dreamed, and the soft glow that starlight gave to his features. Once again, Trip murmured in his sleep. He twisted restlessly and his brow wrinkled as though he was in the throes of a nightmare. T'Pol instantly reached for him. Stroking his face gently, she whispered soothing words to quiet him. He did not wake, but as the nightmare dissipated he snuggled closer to her. Soon he was sound asleep again. Her hand trailed down his neck, and she began to trace slow, gentle circles on his chest. She loved the feel of his soft hair beneath her fingers.

She could no longer deny her feelings. There was nothing she would not do for this man. This revelation should have brought her great peace. Instead, it left her apprehensive. Her devotion, she realized, could be both a blessing and a curse.

* * * * * *

Dr. Phlox was pleased to see her the next afternoon when she strode through the sickbay doors. "Commander T'Pol, what a pleasant surprise," he said jovially, a smile stretched from ear to ear. He was seated at his work station. The monitor before him was filled with data in an alien language. "It's good to see you looking fit. Is there something I can do for you or is this a social call?"

Now that she was here T'Pol was uncertain what to say. She hesitated then began slowly, "I require your assistance, Doctor." She held herself rigidly erect and willed her body to stop fidgeting. She was concerned that Phlox would notice her nervousness. "I am concerned about Commander Tucker." Now that she was committed, she forged ahead. "He does not look well," she said quietly. "He is pale and tired, and I believe he has lost weight."

"I know that these past few weeks have been difficult for both of you," Phlox said, his smile dimming. He abandoned the laboratory notes he was compiling and walked over to stand in front of her. "The grieving process often makes demands on the body as well as the mind. Is there a particular problem I should be aware of?"

T'Pol slowly revealed the medical scanner she had concealed behind her back. She held it for a moment, once again wondering if she was doing the right thing. Finally, she handed it to the doctor.

A frown crept across Phlox's face as he reviewed the data. He turned, walked over to a monitor and brought up the Commander's medical file. "When was this data taken?" he asked soberly.

"Early this morning," T'Pol said then took a deep breath. "I took the readings while he was in the shower." She paused. "He was not aware of it."

"Does he know that you are consulting me on his behalf?"

"No," she said quietly. "He does not believe that there is a problem." She raised her chin and straightened her shoulders. "But I do."

"If these readings are correct," Phlox said slowly, "then I'm afraid I'll have to side with you on this. I think it would be wise for the commander to see me as soon as possible."

T'Pol cringed inwardly as her fears were confirmed. "What is wrong with him?" Is it something I've done, was her unspoken plea?

"I can't make a firm diagnosis without seeing him of course, but I can tell you that he appears to be debilitated. This scan indicates that his blood pressure is dangerously high, and you are correct his weight loss. My records show that he's lost almost 15 pounds."

T'Pol shook her head slightly and walked across the room, her arms folded tightly across her chest. Head bowed, she stood with her back to the doctor.

For a few moments, Phlox left T'Pol to her thoughts. Finally, he said, "I monitored Commander Tucker's condition after his sister died. His grief manifested itself physically at that time as well, but not to this extent." Phlox framed his next statement carefully. "I take it that Mr. Tucker has helped to ease the burden caused by your loss of emotional control."

She turned her head to look over her shoulder at him then looked away again. "If things remain as they are what will happen to him?" she asked her voice barely above a whisper.

"I can't say for certain without examining him, T'Pol, you know that." Phlox walked over to stand next to her, but stayed out of her line of sight. "Commander Tucker pays little heed to the needs of his body even in the best of times. With all of the stress of the last few weeks coupled with the added burden of your emotions, well…" His thought remained unfinished. "Suffice it to say that these readings clearly indicate that he needs to slow down immediately. If he is unable to do it naturally, then he will require medication."

"You're saying this could damage him permanently," she said bitterly, "possibly even lead to his death."

Exasperated, Phlox replied, "I didn't say that. I can't make that kind of determination without…"

"If this goes unchecked," T'Pol interrupted firmly, "it could do irreparable damage to him. Yes or no?" She turned abruptly to face the Doctor, her features challenging him to prove her wrong.

"Well, yes," Phlox said hesitantly. He seemed to be rather surprised by her confrontational demeanor.

"Then I must separate myself from him."

Phlox practically threw his hands in the air in frustration. "Don't make assumptions, T'Pol, and don't make any rash decisions. You have suffered a grievous loss, but you are handling it. You are gaining greater control over your emotions every day. I can tell that just by looking at you." When she once again turned away from him Phlox rushed on, "Your daughter's death forced the two of you to deal with your shared emotions for the first time, and it has had unexpected consequences for Commander Tucker. These things sometimes happen. Have him come and see me. We'll deal with it, and the next time you are faced with a traumatic situation, it will be easier for both of you. I can promise you that."

Could the situation really be so simple to resolve? T'Pol desperately wanted to believe him, but once again she remembered her dream. She saw her face change from that of a passionate lover to a grotesque monster.

"I can ask him to come, but I do not believe he will do it," she murmured.

Phlox strode over to the comm. "Doctor Phlox to Commander Tucker." There was silence. "Commander Tucker, please respond."

"Sorry for the delay, Doc," Trip drawled. "I'm in the middle of purging the impulse manifolds. What can I do for ya?"

"I'd like to see you in sickbay as soon as possible."

Once again there was silence.

"Commander…"

"Sickbay? Is there a problem with some of your equipment? If something's malfunctioning, I'll get one of my engineers right…"

"I need to see you, Commander, not one of your engineers. You are overdue for a physical. Now is as good a time as any."

"Aw, Doc," Trip whined, "I'm fine." Suddenly his voice changed from reluctant little boy to outraged adult. "Hey, have you been talkin' to T'Pol? That's it, isn't it? She told you some kind of nonsense…"

"I never listen to nonsense, Mr. Tucker," Phlox said with a sigh. "I can appreciate your reluctance to come to sickbay, but I can assure you that it is necessary. It's never wise to avoid routine medical exams."

"But…"

"Now, Commander," Phlox said firmly.

"But I don't need…"

"I will call security if that's what is required to get you down here."

"Security!"

"Doctor Phlox to…

"Okay, okay, you win," Trip said grumpily. "I'll come down and let you check me out, but I just want you to know that I'm not happy about this."

"Duly noted, Commander. Phlox out." The Doctor spun around and looked fixedly at T'Pol. "He's on his way. I will find out what is wrong with him and together we will make it right. You are not to worry."

"Vulcans do not worry." The response had become so automatic that the words were out of T'Pol's mouth before she realized it.

Scowling, Phlox responded, "Don't insult my intelligence. Now, do I have your promise that you won't worry about this?" When she didn't reply, he reiterated, "T'Pol, do I have your word?"

She pressed her lips together and nodded her head.

"Good. Now you'd better go. Commander Tucker may have his doubts, but he'll be forced to accept the fact that this summons came from me and me alone. I will not mention your involvement."

Reluctantly, T'Pol knew that he was right. Without another word, she turned and walked out of the door.

After leaving sickbay, T'Pol thought about returning to her quarters, but instead she slowly made her way to the mess hall. Deep down, she knew that this decision was not motivated by hunger or by thirst; she was simply trying to avoid one enraged chief engineer. She walked over to the beverage dispenser, requested chamomile tea, and then blindly sat down at the first table she came to.

Over the next half hour she pretended to sip her tea as she tried to sort out her feelings. She carefully shielded her thoughts from Trip, but she still worried that he could sense through their bond that she was uneasy about his health. Would he feel betrayed if he knew that she had secretly taken medical readings and passed the information along to Doctor Phlox? No, she thought, trying to calm herself. It was not a betrayal. I had to know if he was unwell. I only did what was logical and necessary.

If he was ill and nothing was done… No! her mind reeled. She could not bear the thought of losing him. Her counterpart on the other Enterprise had been forced to mourn a loving, giving husband who had died too young. Suddenly, she realized that she didn't know the cause of the other Trip's untimely death. What if it wasn't the result of an accident? What if it was because of her? She squeezed her eyes shut and fought the wave of dread that thought produced. After a brief struggle, she was finally able to calm herself. It was only reasonable to suppose that if her older self had known such a damning fact, she would have told her. She had loved Trip, too. She wouldn't have allowed any harm to come to him. His death must have been an accident.

Suddenly aware of people milling around her, T'Pol opened her eyes and carefully reordered her features, removing all trace of emotion. Such displays were unseemly. She pushed the mug aside, fixed her eyes on a single crumb on the table top before her, and resumed her contemplation.

They were bonded. In her culture that was tantamount to being married. But did she want a husband? She shifted restlessly in her chair. Was she willing to bind herself for all time to an emotional human male who frustrated her at every turn? How would their union affect their careers? Would they ever be accepted on Vulcan or on Earth? Would they perpetually be targets for every xenophobe trying to make a statement to the universe? Could they have children together? She wanted children; she knew that Trip did, too. Yes, there had been Lorian and Elizabeth, but could they…

"May I join you, Commander?"

T'Pol was so deeply engrossed in her thoughts that at first she was unaware of the person standing next to her. A hand touched her shoulder lightly and she jumped.

"Commander, are you all right?" Hoshi asked anxiously.

"Ensign Sato." T'Pol straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath.

"Do you mind if I join you? I don't want to disturb you if…"

"Of course, Ensign," T'Pol said motioning to a chair across the table. She really didn't want any company, but it was unacceptable to be rude. Truth be told, she wanted to return to sickbay, but that was unwise. She had to be patient.

"If you're busy, Commander, I can leave."

The Vulcan saw Hoshi's questioning look.

"Not at all," T'Pol said. "I was just working on…" T'Pol started to speak, but stopped abruptly. On what? She had been off duty for the past several weeks. She had no padd, no data before her. Desperate, she grasped the first idea that sprang into her mind. "I was working on a plan to upgrade the long-range sensors…when I return to duty, of course." She winced inwardly. Her response was inadequate at best.

Ensign Sato placed her tray on the table and sat down. She seemed to be unaware of T'Pol's discomfort. "How are you doing?" Hoshi asked solicitously. "These past couple of weeks must have been pretty rough?"

T'Pol crossed her legs restlessly. "I am well, thank you." She did not want to have this conversation; her emotions were already too close to the surface. She decided to change the subject. "What is our present position, Ensign? Will we be staying in close proximity to Earth?"

Hoshi opened her mouth to reply, but T'Pol never heard her response. She was suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of panic so intense that it took her breath away. Trip! She jumped to her feet. Before the bewildered ensign could ask what was wrong, T'Pol was out the door and on her way to sickbay.

As she rushed through the sickbay doors, she saw Phlox monitoring the display above one of the biobeds. Commander Tucker lay on the bed, unconscious.

When the doctor heard the doors open, he jerked his head around. He appeared to be surprised to see her. "He's all right, T'Pol," Phlox said, raising one hand, palm forward in an attempt to calm her. "His breathing is stabilizing. His heart rate has almost returned to normal. There is no cause for concern."

"What happened?" she said hoarsely. In a few quick steps she was standing beside the bed. Her right hand reached out and gripped the Trip's left arm. She needed to touch him, to reassure herself that he was still alive. "Why is he unconscious?"

"He had an allergic reaction to the medication I gave him," Phlox answered calmly. "He had some difficulty breathing and lost consciousness, but I was able to neutralize the effects of the medication before any real damage was done. He's going to be all right. In fact he should be waking up any minute now."

T'Pol's eyes never left Trip's face. "I am the cause of this."

"No, T'Pol," Phlox said adamantly. "If anyone is at fault, I am. Commander Tucker's medical records did not indicate that he was allergic to the medication I administered, but sometimes human bodies change. There are other medications that I can prescribe which will pose no threat to him. The sleeplessness, the fatigue, the accelerated metabolism are all problems that can be resolved. And, all things considered, he appears to be handling the mental stress and strain from your ordeal quite well."

She looked up at the doctor, her eyes beseeching. She wanted to believe what he said with all her heart.

When Trip moaned softly and began to stir, T'Pol once again fixed her gaze on him. "Trip," she said softly, her hand gently caressing his forehead. Come back to me, Ashal-veh, was the urgent plea she sent silently through their bond.

Tucker opened his eyes just enough to make out the face of the person leaning over him. "Hi, darlin'," he managed to whisper before his eyelids once again began to slide shut.

"Stay awake, Trip." T'Pol gently cupped the side of his face with her hand.

"Um, okay," he mumbled. "Kinda hard to breathe."

T'Pol looked accusingly at the doctor, but said nothing.

"Let's have a look at you, Commander," Phlox said his voice full of optimism. He hurriedly checked the engineer's vital signs, smiled and turned to T'Pol. "The swelling is going down nicely, and his breathing has almost returned to normal."

T'Pol's expression remained unchanged. She was not yet convinced that all was well.

Phlox turned his attention to the man on the biobed. "How are you feeling, Mr. Tucker?"

The engineer slowly tore his gaze away from T'Pol. "Been better," he mumbled, his voice still weak and breathless. "What happened?"

"You had an allergic reaction to the medication I gave you," Phlox explained, "but you should be fine now."

"That's good," Trip muttered. He appeared to be a bit disoriented. "Am I sick? Why are you dosin' me with medicine?"

"Why don't we talk about that tomorrow," Phlox said. "You need to get some rest, Mr. Tucker. Can you do that?"

T'Pol began to run her fingers gently through Trip's hair. Sighing contentedly, he looked up at her. "Will you stay for awhile?" he whispered. When she nodded he said softly, "Then I can sleep. Kinda tired." He gazed lovingly at her as his eyelids began to droop. Within minutes he was asleep.

Phlox produced a chair which she took gratefully. "I'll leave you two alone," he said softly. "Try to get some sleep, T'Pol. I know it's still early, but I have a feeling that you need it as much as he does." She nodded but remained noncommittal.

While Trip slept through the evening and into the night, T'Pol kept hold of his hand, but her thoughts were far away. In her mind, she replayed their relationship from the first moment they'd met to the night in the gymnasium when Trip had told her he loved her. She had made so many mistakes over the years. Time after time, she had treated him unfairly. What was right for him now? What was right for her? Could they ever have a future together? She looked at his pale face. Although he slumbered peacefully, the dark rings that spoke of days and weeks of sleeplessness were still all too obvious. She knew without a doubt that he was good for her, but was she good for him?

The shower dream once again invaded her thoughts. Four years ago when she'd asked Trip for his advice about her impending marriage to Koss, he posited that perhaps her subconscious mind had already made the decision for her. She, of course, had denied that Vulcans were influenced by their subconscious, but was that true? She'd listened to her subconscious then and remained on Enterprise. It was a decision that she had never regretted. During her time on board, however, she began to realize that her feelings for one human, Commander Charles Tucker III, had gone far beyond mere friendship. In the Expanse, her subconscious mind had warned her of the dire consequences that could result from a union with this man. She'd listened four years ago. Shouldn't she listen again, even though the message was not one she wanted to hear?

She had hurt him over and over again, and she knew that no matter what course of action she chose she would go on hurting him. He was so good for her, but she was now forced to admit to herself that she was not good for him. She owed it to him to do what was right. She would have to be strong for both of them.

T'Pol had been so deep in thought that she hadn't noticed that the doctor had dimmed the lights in sickbay. She stood slowly in the darkened room, Trip's hand still clasped in hers. She stared down at him memorizing every line, every feature of his face then she bent over and kissed him gently on the lips. He stirred but did not wake. Maybe it was just as well, she thought. She released her grip on his hand and stepped away from the bed. As she looked down at him, she sent a rush of feelings for him through their bond. Then she quietly walked out of sickbay. She never looked back.

* * * * * *

When Trip was released from sickbay early the next day, she welcomed him back to her quarters and listened attentively as he outlined the doctor's plan for his recovery. She was firmly committed to try whatever Phlox suggested, but deep down she had no real faith that it would succeed. Over the next few days, Trip did improve. He was able to sleep and he seemed to have more energy, but still she worried for him.

Then Doctor Phlox reduced Trip's medication. Her worry, fear and guilt, piled on top of Trip's long-standing efforts to keep his unresolved emotions bottled up, drove the engineer back to the gym that night, and T'Pol's mind was made up.

She slowly began to withdraw from him. At first, Trip was confused, but soon thereafter they decided jointly to return to work. He seemed to accept that the growing distance between them was a necessary part of resuming their professional lives.

The weeks spent with Trip had gone a long way toward helping T'Pol regain control of her emotions, but now the man who had once been her salvation was steadily becoming part of the problem. When they were together she constantly worried about him. However, when she was on the bridge, she was able to focus on the demands of her job rather than on her personal problems, and her control continued to improve.

She practiced the coping techniques Trip had taught her, meditated and gradually began to shield more and more of her thoughts and feelings. He was still technically living with her, but she found that when he worked late, he retired to his own quarters not to hers. And they seldom met anymore in that white world where she had always found peace and tranquility.

He never once confronted her about her decision to effectively cut him out of her life. Through their bond, she could sense how deeply hurt he was, but she could not allow that to influence her. She knew that he would never willingly let her go; he loved her too much. It was so deeply ingrained in his nature to give and give and give that he would continue to do so until there was nothing left. She could not ask that of him. The only way to protect him was to kill his love for her. She only hoped that she had the courage to do it and the strength to live with the consequences.

One day as she sat at her station on the bridge she felt him reach out to her, and once again she started to block him out. One minute he was there and then nothing. For a moment she was stunned. Her first thought was that something had happened to him. She turned abruptly toward Hoshi, but the young ensign sat placidly, unaware of T'Pol's concern. There was no emergency. There were no calls to sickbay. The only person who seemed to be upset was her. T'Pol quickly located Trip. He was in engineering. Everything appeared to be perfectly normal. She squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them slowly. How was this possible? In all their time together over the last few weeks, she had never gotten around to teaching him how to shield his thoughts. Could he have managed to figure it out for himself? And do it so effectively? It didn't seem possible, but the emptiness she felt was silent testimony to his newly acquired skill.

Now that T'Pol was effectively shut out, a part of her wanted nothing more than to go to Trip, explain her actions, and ask for his forgiveness. But instead, she sat at her station rigid and numb. That night she went to bed alone, and she remained alone every night thereafter.

Members of the crew might have wondered about their relationship, but the two commanders never gave anyone cause to gossip. They were always professional in their dealings with the crew and with each other. And when their work was done, the two of them went their separate ways.

Slowly, T'Pol became aware that Commander Tucker's physical condition was not improving. If anything he looked worse. She knew that he had been shaken by the disclosure of Ensign Masaro's treachery. Was that the problem? Or was it something else? She had sacrificed everything for him. Why wasn't he getting better? She wanted to go to him, but she decided to see Phlox instead. Much to her dismay, she discovered that since his return to work, Trip had not consulted the physician.

As she left sickbay she struggled to make sense of things. Why had she ever left Vulcan? Vulcan men were never this stubborn or unpredictable. The Kir'shara and her Vulcan heritage would be her salvation. Logic and self discipline provided a firm foundation that would enable her to rebuild her life. After her years on Enterprise and her time with Trip, traditional Vulcan life seemed rather cold and sterile to her, but sadly she also knew that it was her only hope.

Several weeks later, T'Pol's meditation was interrupted by the sound of the door chimes. She rose slowly and walked to the door. Some sixth sense warned her to return to her meditation, but she cast that thought aside. When the door slid open, there stood one disheveled chief engineer. His grey sweat pants and muted red t-shirt were rumpled and his hair was unkempt. T'Pol caught her breath but said nothing.

"T'Pol," Trip said tightly, uneasily casting a glance down the corridor first to the right and then to the left, "I'm really sorry to bother ya. Can I come in?"

She hesitated a moment before saying, "I don't believe that would be wise, Commander."

He stood there, his eyes pleading with her. It was apparent that he was unwell. She wanted to embrace him and erect a protective wall around him to keep him safe, but she knew she could not.

"Please, T'Pol," he begged. "Just for a minute."

Reluctantly, she stepped aside and allowed him to enter.

Now that he was in she could tell that he was at a loss as to how to begin. He stood staring at her, one hand nervously kneading the other.

"What is it, Commander?"

His eyes never left her face. "T'Pol," he said tightly, "I need your help. Please. I have to get some sleep."

She shook her head almost imperceptibly. "Neuropressure." Her voice was flat and emotionless.

Trip hurried on seemingly before he lost his courage. "I know that I'm imposin' on ya, but I'm just so tired. I know that a little neuropressure would put me right ta sleep. If you could only…"

"And where will it end?"

The engineer stopped and stared at her, his bewilderment clearly written on his face. "I don't understand."

"Where will it end, Commander?" she said unfeelingly. "Because of our bond, you believe that if we resume our neuropressure sessions you will once again be welcome in my bed."

Trip entire body stiffened as he sharply sucked in his breath. For a few tense moments she feared that he would pass out before he allowed himself to breathe again. When he finally exhaled, his face began to redden as his body shook with pent up emotions.

"Is that the kind of a man you think I am?" His voice was strangled and filled with rage. "Do you think that all I want is a quick roll in the hay? That's not why I'm here!"

"I was persuaded to instruct you in the practice of Vulcan neuropressure against my better judgment."

"I needed your help!" he shouted.

"It was a mistake."

"A mistake." The words seemed to stick in his throat. "How can you say that?"

She steeled herself and forged ahead. "It was a mistake I am unwilling to make again."

Trip studied her face apparently searching for a tiny glimmer of hope, but she kept her features blank. "T'Pol," he said quietly, "I'm begging you. I'm so tired I can hardly think straight. Please don't turn me away. Not again."

There was no question in T'Pol's mind that it was possible for a heart to break. The look on his face as he pleaded for her help shattered her heart into a million pieces, but she could not allow her resolve to weaken. "I am sorry that you are having problems with insomnia, Commander," she said, expending a great deal of effort to keep her voice steady, "but Dr. Phlox can provide you with the relief you seek."

"Isn't there anything left for us," Trip said beseechingly. "After all that we've been to each other…"

"No, Commander," she interrupted. "The bond between us is an…inconvenience, but we are both very adept at screening our thoughts. Whatever we had together is buried with Elizabeth. The dead should be left to rest in peace."

"T'Pol!" He took a step toward her but halted when she moved away from him. "If you would just let me talk to you. Please!"

"My interests lay elsewhere, Commander."

"Interests? I don't …?"

"I want you to leave."

"Leave!" Tucker was incensed. "You're throwin' me out!"

It took every ounce of willpower for T'Pol to keep her voice from shaking. "Please don't make me summon security and have you removed." She took a couple of steps toward the comm panel, her arm outstretched.

She saw his shoulders droop as all of the fight drained out of him. He stared at her with a look of pure anguish on his face, and then his gaze slipped away. He took several deep breaths, trying to pull himself together. Finally, in a strangled voice, he said, "I'm sorry I bothered you, Commander. It won't happen again. Good night." He didn't wait for a reply. He simply turned and walked unsteadily out of the door.

T'Pol stood rigid and still. Her years of training in self-control were all that prevented her from calling him back. His need was real. He asked for so little, and she had denied him. She had insulted him and stripped him of any vestige of hope. What she had done was despicable. "Please forgive me, Trip," she whispered as she raised a trembling hand to her lips.

Sending him away was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do: harder than holding her mother as she lay dying; harder than watching the life force slip from Elizabeth's tiny body. Those events were out of her control. This, on the other hand, was an event that she had set in motion, and the knowledge of that filled her with unspeakable pain.

* * * * * *

T'Pol took a deep breath and shifted in her chair. What time was it? She looked around her. Crewmen were beginning to file into the mess hall looking for their breakfast. She would soon need to leave to begin her shift. She knew she should eat something, but the thought of food was not appealing. Not on top of a night of bitter regret. Gracefully, she rose and left the mess hall.

Her destination was her quarters, not the bridge. There was still time for a quick shower and a change of clothes. Suddenly she tensed. The searing dream from the Expanse once again assailed her. She could almost feel Trip's hands on her body as the water poured over them. She could feel his passion for her. Each phantom sensation produced waves of emotions that were so powerful, they threatened to overwhelm her. Why was this happening? A dream was ephemeral. She shouldn't have to live with this nightmare for the rest of her life. Would she always be forced to see herself transformed into a monster? Aware that the corridor in which she was standing was a public place, T'Pol shakily pulled herself together and continued on.

When she reached the solitude of her cabin, she sat down on her bed and hugged her legs close to her chest. Could she possibly be wrong? Is that why the dream kept returning? Was her mind trying to tell her that her sin lay not in using Trip to control her emotions, but in callously casting him aside without explanation? She didn't know what was right anymore. She didn't know what to feel.

No! she screamed inwardly. I don't want to feel! Never again!

For one glorious moment she had had everything: a rewarding career, a beautiful daughter, a bondmate who loved her passionately, and the promise of a fulfilling life together. But before she could fully grasp her good fortune, it had been viciously snatched from her, leaving her broken and desolate. It seemed as though fate was determined to prove to her that a union between a Vulcan and a human could only end in abject misery and pain.

T'Pol once again thought of her mother. If only she could talk to her one last time and ask for her advice. But T'Les was gone. So were her father and her daughter. She was all alone.

She knew she should rise and prepare for work, but she couldn't do it. Not yet. She just needed a little more time to pull herself together. Exhausted, she curled up on her bed. She desperately missed Trip and the stability and comfort of his love. She missed being with him, talking to him. She missed feeling his calming presence through their bond.

Those days following Elizabeth's death, though full of anguish, were some of the most satisfying of her life. She and Trip had been joined in a way that defied description, and she mourned the loss of that special connection, that special man.

For one brief moment she wanted to back Commander Tucker up against a bulkhead and give him a piece of her mind. Everything she'd done had been for him. Couldn't he see that? Couldn't he understand that she was only trying to keep him safe? Couldn't he understand that in giving him up, she was providing undeniable proof of her love for him? Couldn't he be content? Couldn't he be healthy? Couldn't he partition off a tiny section of his life and allow her to crawl into it, if only as a friend? But there was only silence and loneliness and never ending pain between them. T'Pol never paid much attention to Earth sayings, but one, unbidden, popped into her mind and she could not shake free of it. The road to Hell truly was paved with good intentions.


CHAPTER 5: TRIP

Commander Tucker could feel the doctor's eyes boring into the back of his head. He shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny and drained the last few drops from his mug of coffee. A bowl of cold chicken noodle soup sat untouched on the table in front of him. There was no conversation, no clink of flatware against plates; the mess hall was perfectly quiet.

Against his will his eyes strayed over to the slim Vulcan female seated alone at a table across the room. Typical, Trip thought. Always turning her back on me.

The pain he felt was as real as if a knife had been plunged into his heart. He couldn't take anymore of this. He had to get out now. He set his mug back down on the table a little more forcibly than he intended. Careful, he cautioned himself. Don't let her see how rattled you are. Don't give her the satisfaction. Standing, he grabbed a padd containing the next month's maintenance schedule, pretended to check the data, then walked out of the room.

As soon as he cleared the door and heard it hiss shut, he stopped and slumped against the bulkhead. He was tired down to the marrow of his bones. His world was spinning out of control, and he seemed to be powerless to do anything about it. He squeezed his eyes shut.

Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder and he jerked around. Trip wasted no time shrugging off Malcolm's hand. Breathing in deeply, he straightened his shoulders and tried to convey the impression that there was nothing amiss.

Malcolm slowly lowered his hand, never taking his eyes off of his friend. "Are you all right, Trip?"

"I'm fine," Trip shot back. He knew he was being rude, but he couldn't seem to help himself. He started to back away. "Sorry, Lieutenant, but I can't talk now. I have to get back to work."

As he headed down the corridor, he knew Malcolm was staring at him, but he didn't care. He didn't need Malcolm's pity or Phlox's disapproving glances or Archer's feeble attempts to rekindle their friendship. Why couldn't everyone just leave him alone!

He swallowed hard as he fought to stay in control. So much had happened to him in the past few months that he couldn't take it all in: the baby, his parents, Masaro, T'Pol. Everything he touched seemed to wither and die. There must be something he could do to make things right. He just needed some time to figure things out. Just a little time…by himself. Until then, he needed to work.

* * * * * *

Both commanders had wanted to return to Enterprise immediately after Elizabeth's memorial service, but they had to first meet their professional obligations. They were the tangible embodiment of the child that had brought a unifying spirit to the conference. Although everyone paid lip service to their need to sequester themselves, they were constantly in demand by the media, their colleagues, and countless strangers who tried to get a peak at the now famous couple.

Through their bond Trip knew that T'Pol was deeply distressed. Her daughter's memorial service had been difficult enough, but being placed on public display was almost more than she could bear. The crush of people, the incessant questions, and the denial of personal space all threatened to compromise her already weakened ability to control her emotions.

Unfortunately, the afternoon meetings were no easier. Captain Archer had tried to give them some breathing space but the powers that be would not be denied. Somehow, they didn't seem to fully comprehend the depth of the commanders' grief. After all, as Admiral Chin had callously said, "it wasn't as though she had really been their child." Only Archer's strong grip on his arm had kept Trip from decking the admiral and probably throwing away his career in the process. T'Pol had stood riveted to the spot, eyes wide, until Trip gently took her by the elbow and led her into the meeting room, all the while flooding their bond with thoughts of love and support to try and steady her.

The meetings lasted well into the evening. When the admirals had had enough, the couple still had to undergo debriefings with Starfleet Security. Even the local police tried to get a few moments of their time. Only Starfleet Intelligence remained ominously silent.

Throughout the day and into the night Trip never left her side. Though their bodies remained apart, she still clung to him. He knew she needed his steadfast presence to calm her and to divert attention away from her when things became too difficult. As the day progressed and her need became greater, Trip knew there was nothing he would not do for her, even if it meant knocking heads together to finally persuade people to leave her alone.

When their private thoughts and feelings had been poked and prodded for the last time, both Trip and T'Pol were exhausted. Admiral Gardner had reserved rooms for the senior staff of <>Enterprise in Starfleet's officers' quarters. As the two commanders headed off to bed, Doctor Phlox slipped the young engineer a couple of sedatives to help them sleep.

When they reached T'Pol's room, Trip just managed to get her through the door before she collapsed into his arms. Caught off balance, her weight took them both down. As they sat sprawled on the floor, he held her trembling body, stroking her back and whispering soft reassuring words of endearment. He knew that she had been having difficulty controlling her emotions, but he was still surprised by how quickly her condition had deteriorated. It was obvious that he couldn't leave her alone.

Finally, he decided that she needed to get some sleep. "T'Pol," he murmured softly into her ear, "let me help you get ready for bed."

She tightened her grip on him and shook her head.

"We can't stay on the floor all night. What will Admiral Gardner think if we don't use that nice bed he provided for us, hmmm?" He sat up straighter and placing his hands on her upper arms gently pulled away from her. When he rose to his feet, he pulled her along with him. "That's my girl," he said as they stood up. As soon as she was on her feet he swept her into his arms and carried her over to the bed.

He said a quiet word of thanks to Hoshi when he spotted T'Pol's duffel bag sitting at the foot of the bed. As he worked to get T'Pol out of her uniform and into her light blue pajamas, he was reminded of one his adolescent daydreams. He had devised what he felt was a foolproof five-point plan for quickly and efficiently undressing a beautiful woman. Trip grinned as he remembered the randy thoughts that usually followed that little scenario. How had he ever managed to survive puberty?

T'Pol didn't want to let go of him, but he managed to get away long enough to go over to the small beverage dispenser and get her a mug of hot tea. He quickly stripped off his own uniform down to his Starfleet-issue blue briefs. Then he picked up the tea and the hyposprays and carried them over to the nightstand.

Pulling back the covers, he climbed into bed next to her. She immediately moved over, frantically wrapping her arms around his bare chest. He put his left arm around her shoulders to steady her then picked up the mug. "How about a little tea, T'Pol?"

She turned her head in toward his chest, but remained silent.

"You said chamomile tea always seemed to help you relax," he tried again. "Come on, just try a sip." He squeezed her shoulder gently, and she reluctantly rolled over releasing her hold on him. He smiled reassuringly then handed the mug to her. He kept one hand over hers as he helped her guide the hot tea to her lips. She took a sip then looked at him, her soft brown eyes searching his face much as a child would when seeking parental approval. "That's good," Trip said reassuringly. "Just a little bit more. That's right." He kissed her forehead and, taking the mug from her, set it back on the nightstand.

She immediately wrapped her arms around him again. He could feel her shivering, even though he knew she wasn't cold. Maybe sleep would help.

"T'Pol, Doctor Phlox sent along a sedative for you," he said quietly as he stroked her back. "He thought you might need something to help you sleep." When he didn't get any response, he reached over and pressed the hypospray against her neck. He held her close to him, humming softly until he was sure that she was sound asleep.

He glanced over to the nightstand at the second hypospray, the one labeled "Tucker." He knew that his body needed rest, but he didn't want to risk going to sleep. Phlox's sedatives usually put him out like a light, but what if T'Pol needed him? Or worse still, what if his nightmares returned? Every time he shut his eyes, the only thing he saw was the face of an angelic infant with tiny pointed ears. It was hard enough to watch her die once. He couldn't stand to experience it over and over again. Not tonight. His throat tightened as he fought to keep back the tears.

Leaning over, he gently kissed the top of T'Pol's head. "At least I still have you," he whispered. "Please don't ever leave me, T'Pol."

In the early hours before dawn, T'Pol stirred and rolled over onto her back. She was still sleeping soundly, but Trip now felt free to slip away. Lying in the quiet room for hours, thinking of his dead child, thinking about Terra Prime, thinking about what this experience had done to T'Pol, had made him feel restless. Maybe some exercise would help.

He checked on T'Pol one more time to be sure she was resting comfortably before carefully slipping out of bed. It would have been helpful if Phlox had given him some indication as to how long the sedative would last. He didn't want T'Pol to wake up alone. He figured that he'd just have to depend on their bond to alert him when it was time to return.

He quickly decided that wearing his uniform would be a bad idea. It would attract too much attention. Fortunately, there was a connecting door between his room and T'Pol's. His duffle was waiting for him at the foot of the bed. He dressed quickly in black sweat pants, a Florida State sweatshirt and running shoes. Knowing that there would be a chill in the air, he was grateful to Malcolm for packing his brown leather bomber jacket and navy blue knit watch cap.

Before leaving, he rumpled the bed and spread around enough damp towels to give the room a lived-in look They were already under intense scrutiny; they didn't need to provide more ammunition for the gossipmongers.

Once outside, he headed toward the waterfront. A heavy mist muffled the sounds of a city preparing to meet the coming dawn. He opened his mouth and exhaled, watching as his breath turned to vapor. He did it a second time and smiled as the remembered the time he spent with Malcolm in frigid Shuttlepod One. No doubt about it, he thought.

As he walked, he focused on the sound of his shoes hitting the rain-slick pavement. For a while he counted his steps, but soon that seemed uncomfortably close to a death knell. After that, he kept his head down staring vacantly at the pavement before him. He forced himself to keep his mind perfectly blank. He gave no thought to a destination. Time was unimportant. By concentrating, he was able to lose himself in the rhythmic movement of his body and the white noise of the city around him.

When Trip next became aware of his surroundings, dawn had yielded to a fine new day. The mist had stopped, and the fog was beginning to dissipate. He needed coffee.

He looked around. Since he'd spent plenty of time in San Francisco before shipping out on Enterprise, he quickly got his bearings. He remembered that there was a small café about a block and a half from his present location, so he altered course. He was pleased to find that the rather drab little restaurant was still there. It was a typical mom and pop sort of place frequented strictly by the locals, who valued good food at a reasonable price.

As he walked in the door, the smell of bacon, coffee and maple syrup welcomed him. It was too bad that he didn't have an appetite. Under normal circumstances he would have taken one look at the menu and ordered one of everything.

There was still a chill in the air, so he figured he wouldn't be too conspicuous if he kept the collar of his jacket pulled up and his watch cap pulled low over his forehead. He didn't think he would be recognized in this out-of-the-way location, but he didn't want to tempt fate.

With breakfast in full swing, the café was buzzing, but a few empty tables still remained. One, back in a secluded corner seemed tailor-made for him. He stopped at the beverage dispenser, entered his code to provide payment and walked away with a steaming mug of strong black coffee. The table was still empty so he took a seat with his back to the room. He sat huddled over the table, head down, the mug clasped tightly in both hands. The heat radiating from the mug warmed his hands, chilled by hours of exposure to the stiff breezes off the bay. He blew on his coffee then took a sip. The hot fluid burned its way down his throat sending welcome warmth radiating throughout his body and filling him with a surprising sense of peace and tranquility.

As he raised the mug to his lips again, a shadow fell across the table. Instantly, Trip froze. He tightened his grip on the mug and continued to stare straight ahead. Maybe if he paid them no mind, whoever it was would take the hint and leave.

For several moments no one spoke, then a familiar voice said, "May I join you, Commander?"

Trip suddenly realized he was holding his breath and exhaled. He slowly turned his face upwards and met a pair of steely Vulcan eyes.

"Mornin', Ambassador," Trip replied. "Pull up a chair and take a load off."

Cocking an eyebrow expressively, Soval sat in the chair next to the young Starfleet officer. He, too, placed a mug on the table. Being inquisitive by nature, Trip stole a peek at the contents of the mug. Evidently, Soval was a tea drinker just like the other Vulcan in his life.

Tucker leaned back in his chair, pushed the cap back off his forehead and stretched his legs out in front of him. "I wasn't really looking for company this morning, but now that you're here, it's good to see you," he said quietly.

"Thank you, Commander. I'll take that as a compliment."

Trip couldn't help but grin. Throwing caution to the wind, he turned down his collar and unzipped his jacket. "I'm glad the leaders of your government came to their senses and reinstated you as Vulcan's Ambassador to Earth." He didn't turn his head but looked at Soval out of the corner of his eye. "I think Earth's gonna need good people to help her get her bearings after this mess with Terra Prime."

Soval stuck his hands up the opposite sleeves of his robe and sat back in his chair. "Without question, the events of the past week have been regrettable. The Vulcan government is indebted to Captain Archer and the crew of Enterprise for defusing the situation. I understand special thanks should go to you for diverting the verteron array."

"Glad I could be of service," Trip said humbly. He rubbed a hand nervously across his forehead then sighed deeply. "Ya know just a couple of years ago I was boastin' to T'Pol about how humans had managed to abolish war and violence. Now we come home to this. It doesn't make any sense."

"The Xindi attack not only scarred Earth, it left an indelible mark on the people as well," Soval said as he studied the weary face of the young engineer. "The crew of Enterprise paid a heavy price for restoring peace to the Expanse, but at least your fate was in your hands. The people here on Earth felt powerless in the face of the alien threat."

"The devastation was caused by aliens, so all aliens are bad," Trip said disgustedly.

"Enterprise flew off on a voyage of exploration and within a few short years your world was ravaged by the Xindi. It is not surprising that humans are wary and frightened," Soval cautioned. "This is fertile ground for terrorist organizations like Terra Prime." The ambassador leaned forward slightly, seemingly intent on making a point. "You must be very careful, Commander, you and all the other members of your crew. You have only won the first battle in what may prove to be a lengthy fight against intolerance and hatred. You are all very public figures. One of you could be the target of the next attack."

Tucker shifted nervously in his chair. "Yeah, I know," he said quietly. "I think Starfleet's concerned, too. We've been ordered to head back out by the end of the week. I'm not sure if they're trying to protect us or just tryin' to get us the hell out of Dodge." He caught Soval's questioning look and smiled weakly. "Sometimes people seem to be kinda uncomfortable when we're around. We're a constant reminder of everything they're tryin' so hard to forget."

For a moment they sat in silence then Soval said softly, "Commander, I grieve with you in the loss of your child."

Trip stiffened as a wave of pain washed over him. His squeezed his eyes shut as he fought to keep control of his emotions. "Our child," he choked out softly. His hands pressed together so tightly that his knuckles showed white. "Her name was Elizabeth, ya know."

"Yes, I am aware of that fact." Soval continued to keep his voiced pitched low.

"She deserved better than to be a science experiment for some filthy fascist bastards." Trip's lower lip trembled slightly. He grabbed his mug and drank deeply, trying to give himself time to recover his composure. When he was finished, he slammed the empty mug back down on the table.

Soval sat quietly, giving the commander all the time he needed.

Trip knew that the ambassador was subtly monitoring the room to ensure that they weren't attracting undue attention, and he appreciated that. He used one of the breathing techniques that T'Pol had taught him to try and rein in his emotions. He didn't want to make Soval uncomfortable, and he certainly didn't want to draw curious glances from any of the other diners. When he felt able to continue he muttered, "Sorry."

"There is no need to apologize." Soval stared intently at the young commander. "How is T'Pol?"

Trip sighed and sat back. He carefully locked away his memories of his daughter and focused on the subtle signals he was receiving from T'Pol through their bond. "She's still asleep," he said finally. "Yesterday was kind of tough on her." When Soval didn't respond, Tucker looked up. The Vulcan was scrutinizing him with one eyebrow raised almost up to his hairline.

"Say, how'd you find me?" Tucker asked suddenly. "Even I didn't know where I was going. Don't tell me you're part bloodhound."

"I caught sight of you an hour ago, Commander. I've been following you ever since."

"Followin' me? Why'd you want to do that? I'm not gonna go for a one-way stroll into the ocean, if that's what's worryin' ya."

"Vulcan's do not worry, Commander. That is a human affliction."

"Yeah," Tucker laughed bitterly. "Don't I know it."

They sat quietly for a brief while, content in each other's company. The café was still busy, but slowly the crowd began to thin out. Through the large picture windows in the front of the café, they watched the airborne antics of the seagulls and the rhythmic sway of the trees propelled by a stiff breeze off the bay.

Finally Soval stirred.

Tucker turned in his direction in anticipation that their conversation was about to resume. He was surprised that the Vulcan had hung around this long. Maybe there was something he wanted to say; however, Trip was hard-pressed to imagine what that might be.

Soval cleared his throat. "I have been unable to express my regrets to T'Pol over the dissolution of her marriage."

Tucker's eyebrows rose. Now that was a surprise. He wasn't quite sure how to respond: loyal friend, frustrated secret lover, disinterested bystander or ignorant colleague. He gave ignorant colleague some serious consideration, but after the furor surrounding the funeral he figured that wouldn't fly. He figured he'd have to go with loyal friend.

"Yep, it was too bad." He cautioned himself to be careful what he said. "T'Pol didn't seem to be too upset by the break-up, though."

"You attended the marriage."

"Yes," Trip said warily. This chat was shaping up to be more dangerous than a spin through a Romulan mine field. "My home was destroyed in the Xindi attack. T'Pol invited me to go home with her so I wouldn't have to spend my shore leave alone. Koss seemed like a nice enough guy."

"Koss' family has a great deal of influence on Vulcan. They were not pleased that things turned out as they did. Evidently Koss decided to end the marriage when he discovered that he was unable to bond with T'Pol." Soval cast a questioning look at Tucker. "Were you aware that Vulcans bond with their mates?"

Trip shifted restlessly. "Um…bond?" Think fast, Tucker, his inner voice prodded. "Well, um…let's see. T'Pol might have mentioned something once awhile back. That trip to Vulcan was kinda long and we did talk a bit. You know…exchanged cultural information…," his voice began to peter out, "…that sort of thing."

"It is vital that a Vulcan bond with his spouse," Soval said firmly. "Mates must be completely united in both mind and body in order to perpetuate the species. A bond is a sharing of the life force, the essence that is each of us. It is two halves becoming one: shared thoughts, shared feelings, shared lives. Do humans experience a similar joining with their mates?"

"Um…" The comfort level on this conversation was diminishing rapidly. Trip could only hope that it was the temperature of the room that had brought out the first beads of sweat on his forehead. "Actually, no. Our bodies are joined…um…you know…uh…in the act of sex, but our minds…no. We keep our thoughts pretty much to ourselves. It's hard enough to be married to a woman without her knowin' what you're thinkin' all the time."

"Such cultural differences would make it extremely difficult for a successful union to occur between a Vulcan and a human. A bond would have to develop and, as you said, that is unheard of for your people." Soval stopped momentarily and adjusted the left sleeve of his robe. "It is probably just as well in these troubled times that our two species are not compatible."

Trip nodded dumbly. He needed to respond, but he had absolutely no idea what to say.

"Of course humans are not alone in their need for some small measure of privacy in their lives," Soval continued. "Even bonded couples sometimes need to be able to block the thoughts of their mate. Fortunately there are techniques that enable us to shield our thoughts from one another."

"No kidding." Tucker was suddenly very interested in the direction this conversation was taking. "You can shield your thoughts? Is it hard to do?" Watch it, he chided himself. "Um…I mean for Vulcans. Is it hard for Vulcans to learn?"

"It takes practice and concentration, but it is not difficult," Soval said evenly.

"And you'd be willin' to tell me about this as a kinda cultural exchange?"

"Yes," Soval assured him. "If you have any other questions about Vulcans, I would be happy to answer those as well…in keeping with the new spirit of cooperation between our species, of course."

"Well, I guess that would be okay," Tucker said slowly. "T'Pol keeps tellin' me that I should spend more time tryin' to understand other species and less time tryin' to tell them what to do. This would show her that I really am interested in learning more about her people." With his right elbow propped on the table, the engineer rested his chin on his hand. "So how does this shield business work?"

For one brief moment Tucker thought he saw one side of Soval's lips curve upwards, but then he dismissed the idea. Vulcan's don't smile, he reminded himself. He hadn't even been able to wangle one out of T'Pol.

The rest of the conversation with Soval was informative to say the least. Tucker wasn't sure how much the ambassador suspected and how much he actually knew, but at this point he didn't really care. The Vulcan was giving him some very powerful tools that could make his life and T'Pol's life a whole lot easier. For that and for his obvious display of friendship, Trip was truly grateful.

Soval was answering a question about the importance of meditation when Trip suddenly shifted nervously in his chair. "I don't mean to interrupt, Ambassador," he said anxiously, "but I think I need to get back. I don't want T'Pol wakin' up alone, and it's a good twenty minute walk back to the room."

Soval took a deep breath. "I understand, Commander. Please tell T'Pol of my concern for her welfare. The coming weeks may be difficult for her."

"Thank you, Soval. I'll be sure to tell her," Tucker said as he abruptly stood to leave. He stuck out his hand and to his great surprise Soval not only took his hand but shook it in a way that was very human. "And thank you for takin' the time to talk to me. I appreciate it. Good-bye, Ambassador." Trip barely heard Soval echo his farewell as he strode out of the building.

As soon as he was out of the café, Tucker started to run. At first it was closer to a jog, but it wasn't long before he picked up the pace. He was thoroughly winded as he ran into Starfleet's officers' quarters. As he shot down the corridor to T'Pol's room he made a mental note to start working out more. He was definitely out of shape.

He entered the code and the door opened. He threw off his cap and jacket as he walked across the room. He kicked off his shoes, pulled his sweatshirt over his head then climbed into bed next to T'Pol. She had begun to stir, but she was not yet fully awake.

"Good mornin', sleepyhead," he said softly. He leaned over and ran one finger softly across her cheek. Her eyes opened slowly and looked aimlessly about the room. Any hope Tucker had for an improvement in her mental state vanished when she suddenly whimpered and lunged for him. She clung to him with such desperation that he knew he had no choice but to get her back to Enterprise right away.

His sedative was still on the nightstand. He hated to knock her out again, but he couldn't think of any other way to get her back to the ship without attracting a lot of unwanted attention. The hypospray hissed against her neck, and she immediately relaxed against him.

Sighing, Trip put in a call to the captain. Archer was just preparing to leave for a briefing on efforts to ferret out the remaining members of Terra Prime, but he quickly assured Trip that he would take care of Starfleet. There would be no more meetings, no more questions, and no more nosey admirals. T'Pol was all that really mattered, and they both knew it.

Tucker spent the next ten minutes tracking down Phlox. Together they arranged for T'Pol's transfer to Enterprise. It was done discreetly and within an hour all three of them were back aboard ship with no one the wiser. With the ship in orbit and most of the crew still on shore leave, Trip knew that he could devote himself completely to helping T'Pol.

The next couple of weeks weren't easy. T'Pol's runaway emotions placed great demands on both of them. But, looking back, these were unquestionably some of the best weeks of Trip's life. She needed him, shared with him and cared for him in ways that were previously unimaginable. Through their bond, she projected her rampant emotions onto him, and he helped her to cope. Yes, he paid a price, but it was a trifle compared to the distress she was experiencing. Besides, it filled him with joy because it was something that he and he alone could do for her.

Against his better judgment, he slowly allowed himself to think about the future they could share together. Phlox had told him that it would be possible for a human and a Vulcan to have a child. Elizabeth had died, but there could be other children for the two of them to cherish and love. When he thought about having T'Pol and the family he'd always wanted, he was almost overcome by the sheer wonder and glory of it.

But then everything began to change. Without warning, T'Pol started to shut him out again.

One minute they were as close as two people could possibly be without simply merging into a single entity, and then suddenly that special intimacy was gone. He tried to talk to her about it but it did no good. As she began to gain greater control over her emotions, T'Pol the Stoic Vulcan returned with a vengeance. Oh, she was grateful for what he had done for her, but she expressed her thanks in a cold, impersonal way that set his teeth on edge. He'd laid his soul bare for her, done things that he wouldn't have done for another living being, and this was the thanks he got. How could he have misread the situation so badly? What could he possibly have done to drive her away?

Slowly, all of the violence, betrayal and death of the past few years began to take a toll on him. With every passing day, he was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his grief bottled up. People had come to mean pain to him. Where he had once been open, optimistic and gregarious, he now craved solitude. He had his work and that was enough for him. It was safe, impersonal and made few demands on him. He could see the looks of concern in everyone's eyes, and he hated it. He didn't want their pity. But no matter how hard he fought against it, his friends kept trying.

Malcolm had pestered him for weeks to go to movie night. "It will do you good to get out and be with people," he'd said over and over until Trip was tired of hearing it. Who would have thought that under that stiff British exterior lurked a damned Pollyanna. Finally, Trip agreed to go for no other reason than to shut Malcolm up. The man was relentless.

The movie, a period black and white classic entitled "A Night to Remember," had been selected by Ensign Mayweather. A child of space, he was endlessly fascinated by all aspects of life on Earth, and besides who could resist the saga of a doomed ship sailing off to meet her fate. Reed was a bit upset when he discovered that the film dealt with the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Sinking ships and cold murky waters were not favorite subjects for the lieutenant, but Malcolm made it clear that he would not be dissuaded.

So, the two of them went to the movie and, in keeping with the theme of the picture, it turned into a disaster.

The evening before movie night, Trip was ordered to help T'Pol increase the range on a new communication buoy. As he checked out the wiring, Trip surreptitiously watched her. He still ached to be with her. Maybe he'd pressed too hard, driving her away. If he'd just taken things slower…

"Please hand me the microcaliper, Commander," T'Pol cut into his reverie.

He caught her eye as he placed the caliper into her outstretched hand. She immediately pressed her lips together and looked away. "Thank you," she said coolly.

Once again the silence rose oppressively like an invisible wall between them. He wanted to batter it down and sweep her away to live with him forever, but he knew that as soon as this wall crumbled another one would take its place. He also knew that he had to keep trying.

"T'Pol," Trip said hesitantly.

The Vulcan raised her lovely face to look at him.

He swallowed hard. "I thought I'd take in the movie tomorrow night." His eyes remained locked on her face, trying to judge her reaction to his invitation. "I don't suppose you'd like to go with me. Not as a date," he clarified quickly, "just as friends. We are still friends…aren't we?" He tried without much success to remove the plaintive tone from his voice.

A look of supreme sadness passed over her face, but in an instant it was gone. "I'm afraid that will not be possible," she said quietly.

"There has to be more to life than work, T'Pol," he said pleadingly, "at least that's what everybody keeps tellin' me. Come with me. It'll be fun. We could both use a little time to relax."

"I'm sorry, Commander, but no."

"Okay," Trip dipped his head in defeat. "Just thought I'd ask. I miss you, ya know."

T'Pol placed the caliper on the work surface next to the buoy. "It's getting late. Perhaps we should continue this some other time," she said, her voice tight. Instead of waiting for him to respond, she turned abruptly and walked out of the room.

As Trip watched her leave, he was filled with a sense of utter hopelessness. Work! a little voice shouted in his head. You need to work. With a sigh, he picked up the caliper. It was well past dinner time, but he wasn't really hungry. He knew that he'd continue to work until the project was completed regardless of how long it took. If the modifications were finished, at least he wouldn't have to work side by side with T'Pol for awhile.

The next evening Malcolm showed up in engineering to make sure that Trip didn't try to back out. Tucker pulled out every excuse: he had too much work to do, he wasn't really in the mood, he needed a shower and didn't want to offend anyone. But Reed had an answer for everything. Finally, with a total disregard for the privilege of rank, Malcolm grabbed Trip's arm and pulled and prodded until they both ended up in the mess hall.

Trip couldn't help but smile at the greetings he received as he walked through the door. He could see the Captain in a chair at the front of the room deep in conversation with Doctor Phlox. Malcolm waved to Hoshi and pulled Trip toward the back of the room where she and Travis had saved them a couple of chairs. Trip took the chair on the end but not before grabbing another chair and setting it next to his. He still held out hope that T'Pol would change her mind and join him.

He'd almost given up when she walked into the room. Her eyes met his, and the rest of the room fell away. Malcolm continued on with the story he was relating, but Trip no longer heard a word he said. He took hold of the back of the chair next to his and started to rise, but just then she turned away. As he watched in stunned silence, she walked across the room and sat down next to the captain. Archer turned and leaned in close to her. Tucker was too far away to hear what was said, but he could read body language. The captain had been waiting for her. This couldn't be happening.

"Trip," Malcolm whispered anxiously as he tugged on the commander's arm. "Trip, the movie's starting. You need to sit down."

Tucker turned in Reed's direction, but nothing the lieutenant said seemed to make any sense. Malcolm tugged on his sleeve again, and Trip finally sank back down in his chair.

"Trip, are you all right?"

Tucker watched as patches of light and dark played over the backs of the people seated in front of him. T'Pol sat unmoving in the chair next to Archer. How could she do this to me? the little voice in his head shouted. I don't deserve to be treated with such contempt. Trip squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his lips together. Nothing made sense anymore. When his eyes opened they went to her, not to the screen. He tried to reach her through their bond, but her cold, impersonal barrier was firmly in place. This was no good, he thought as he shook his head. He had to get out before he said or did something he would regret. He couldn't sit and watch her with another man, especially one he'd always considered to be a friend.

"Commander," Malcolm whispered frantically as Trip rose and strode purposefully out of the mess hall.

Tucker grabbed the turbolift and never slowed down until he reached the sanctuary of engineering. He needed to work. There was no question of sleep tonight.

The next morning he reached out to T'Pol once again through their bond. When he felt her start to block his thoughts, he raised his own shields. Since he and Soval had had their talk in that little San Francisco café, Trip had been diligently practicing the shielding techniques that the Vulcan had taught him, and he'd become quite proficient. At first, he'd practiced so that he could protect T'Pol from some of his stronger emotions. Later, he tried to block his thoughts so that she wouldn't know how deeply she'd hurt him. It had been more demanding than Soval had led him to believe, but he was not the type of man who ran from hard work. Finally, with his shields in place, he began to feel as though he once again had a little control over his own life.

Unfortunately, as the days and weeks passed he began to realize that this so-called control was only an illusion. He had no appetite. He wasn't sleeping. He'd work for days at a time without rest, and when he finally did fall asleep from sheer exhaustion he was soon awakened by horrible dreams. Night after night he was forced to watch as people he cared for died. Each of them begged him for help that he was powerless to give, and it was destroying him.

He knew that his insomnia was starting to affect his work. Fatigue was clouding his mind and warping his judgment, but he couldn't go to Phlox. He knew the doctor was just waiting for an excuse to get his hands on him. He'd tried on numerous occasions to entice the commander into sickbay, always stopping just short of ordering him submit to treatment. As long as Trip could function, he knew he could keep Phlox at arms length. He wasn't sick, he told himself. He was just tired. If he could get rid of some of the stress, he'd be okay.

With Phlox out of the picture there was only one other option open to him. He had to try to see T'Pol. Neuropressure had saved him in the Expanse. Maybe it could do so again.

It took him three days to get up the courage to go to her quarters. When he finally did, the results were disastrous. She interpreted his plea for help as a request for sex. After all they'd been through together, with all she knew about him as a man and an officer in Starfleet, how could she make that assumption? Did she really think so little of him?

When he left her, he returned to his quarters. Throughout the night he lay in the dark and tried to sort things out. As the time approached for him to start his shift, he knew one thing for sure. This was the last time she was going to break his heart. He would work with her when necessary, but he would never allow her to get close to him emotionally again. He wasn't going to let her turn him inside out and make his life a living hell. He deserved better than that. He was a man, not some weak besotted fool. Whatever they had between them was over. He had to accept that. It was time to move on.

Trip sat up and turned so that his feet hit the floor. He scrubbed a hand across his eyes then levered himself up off of the bed. He needed a shower. Five minutes later, he emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. He put on a clean uniform and, returning to the bathroom, ran a comb through his wet hair.

He had to go to work.

He stopped for a moment and stared at the sorry-looking man in the mirror. When did "want to" turn into "have to"? he asked himself. When did work become an obligation instead of a pleasure? During his first few years on Enterprise, every day offered something new and exciting. Now he worked to forget. He pushed himself relentlessly because it was the only way he could hold back all of the misery, failure and death that threatened to overwhelm him. There was no longer any joy or any sense of accomplishment with a job well done. There was only fear.

He reached up and rubbed a shaky hand across the stubble on his face. He really should shave. If he went to work sloppy he knew that it would set a bad example for the rest of the crew, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to care. He sighed and dropped his hand back down to his side. At least his body and his uniform were clean; he'd managed to do that. He could shave later when he wasn't so tired. If he could just get through the day, maybe tonight would be better. Maybe he could finally get some sleep. Wonderful dreamless sleep. With that hope to buoy him, he turned away from the haggard face in the mirror to confront another day.

* * * * * *

Trip reached up and rubbed his hand across his chin. Weeks had passed and he somehow couldn't muster the energy to always stay clean shaven. Tomorrow, he promised himself. I'll do it tomorrow.

He had intended to return to engineering after he left the mess hall, but he was so tired that he knew there was no point. If he made a mistake that caused damage to Enterprise or injured one of the crew, how could he live with himself? No, he had to try to get a few hours of sleep.

He dragged himself through the door to his quarters. The padd with next month's maintenance schedule was still in his left hand. No more work, he promised himself. As soon as he walked over and tossed the padd on his desk, he noticed that the message light on his monitor was blinking. A part of him wanted to ignore the damned light, but he was the chief engineer. It could be something important that required his immediate attention.

The first message was from Captain Hernandez, who said that she was just checking in to see how he was doing. As she spoke about Columbia and their latest mission, one message came through loud and clear. She would welcome him back as chief engineer in a heart beat. As he closed the message, he grew pensive. It was worth consideration. He had run away from T'Pol and Enterprise once before. Maybe this time he could run toward a whole new future and put his problems behind him forever.

He pulled up the second message. It came from a large interplanetary corporation that had been after him for the past month to accept a position as general manager in charge of research and development. In the next few years, the company was preparing to upgrade their fleet of cargo vessels so that they would be bigger and faster than anything currently available. The message was from the company's CEO, and he was selling hard. In appreciation of Trip's experience and his stature in his profession, they were willing to offer him an obscene amount of money and total control. It was very tempting. Maybe there really was more to life than Starfleet.

No, he cautioned himself. He couldn't think about it now. You don't make life changing decisions when you're dead on your feet. He should just turn off his monitor and try to get some sleep.

His finger hovered over the power button. He wanted to press it, to make the screen go dark, but something in him seemed determined to prevent it. So what if the final message was from his parents. He'd deleted all of their other messages without reading them. He could do it again. He hesitated then drew his hand back. But wasn't that the act of a coward. He couldn't just keep deleting them from his life without giving them a chance to make amends. Maybe this message was an apology. Maybe they wanted to tell him that their membership in Terra Prime had been nothing more than a terrible mistake. He balled his hands into fists. He craved their love and support like a starving man craves sustenance. Maybe just this once it would be okay. He opened his right hand then slowly stretched his index finger forward. Taking a deep breath, he brought up the message from home.

The weathered face of Charles Tucker, Jr. filled the screen. In that instant Trip smiled. He suddenly felt a rush of warmth and contentment, the kind of comfort that children can only derive from their parents. His dad was his hero. He'd spent his whole life wanting to be just like him, trying to live up to the high standards his father had set. Trip fought to keep the tears back; he missed his dad so much.

His dad looked tanned and fit. Dressed casually in a navy striped short-sleeved shirt, he had a few more wrinkles than Trip remembered, but that was to be expected. A lot had happened in the past few years.

"Hi there, son," his father said in the same hard-edged voice that Trip remembered so fondly. "I guess I can't blame you for not takin' our calls, but I've got some things that need to be said and by golly I'm gonna get it done."

Trip shifted restlessly in his chair. He wanted this…no…he needed this to be a positive message. Please couldn't just one thing in his life go right? His brow wrinkled and he pressed his lips together in a thin line as his father plunged ahead.

"From the time you were just a little tadpole, we've always been honest with one another. You know that I love ya, and I know you've got feelings for your Mom and me. We don't want that to change, but we also aren't apologizin' for what we've done. Joinin' Terra Prime was the right thing to do. We've got to protect what's ours. Paxton and his people understood that.

"You weren't here when those Xindi bastards came and destroyed our home. If your Mama and I hadn't been attending a conference in Seattle, we'd be dead, too. You're out there flyin' around from planet to planet – and more power to ya – but you've got to understand that this is the only world we've got. If we don't stand firm and protect Earth nobody else will. It's us against them."

Trip sat numbly staring at the screen. He knew he should delete the message, but there was still one small flicker of hope that his dad would say something that would allow him to reconcile with his parents. Unfortunately, he knew that once his father was set on a course, it was almost impossible for him to deviate from it.

His father leaned forward and stared intently at Trip. "It was aliens that took your sister from us, aliens that destroyed our home and the town you grew up in. They terrorized our people and robbed us of any chance to ever feel safe or secure again. And now we hear that you're consortin' with some damn Vulcan!"

Trip froze, his eyes riveted on his father's face.

"Didn't your sister's death mean anything to you? She was burnt to a crisp and her ashes blown away with the rest of the debris. They didn't even leave us a handful of dust to bury. Aliens did that. That Vulcan of yours and all her kind are just as responsible for Lizzie's death as those bastard Xindi…"

Trip slammed his hand down on the delete button. Shaking with fury, he jumped up, knocking his chair over. He started to pace, but stopped and swung around to stare accusingly at the monitor. How could a man as decent as his father spew such malicious filth? How could he ever respect his parents again? How could he continue to love them? Yes, his parents had lost a child, but so had he. Terra Prime had killed his baby! They killed his Elizabeth and the sons of bitches were proud of it! A howl of intense pain burst from his lips.

Enraged, he stalked across the room, grabbed a picture of his family and threw it at the monitor with every ounce of strength he possessed. The monitor shattered on impact sending sparks flying in all directions. He threw his hands up to his face and dug his fingers into his flesh as if he was trying to claw all of the evil words from his memory. He had to get away. He had to find someplace without people, someplace where he could hide from the cold, dead eyes of lost souls. Before he was fully aware of what he was doing, he was across the room and out the door. Maybe if he ran far enough and fast enough he could put some distance between himself and the hell that his life had become.


Comments:

Leocentaur

Amazing writing.  The sense of desperation and desolation is dreadful.

crystalswolf

I actually started tearing up and while making dinner I kept thinking "poor Trip".  You're awesome.

Aquaruis
OUCH!! Poor Trip. Life's just giving him a beating. I liked the twist of his parents being involved with Terra Prime. I hope something works out for him soon, at least with T'Pol. Can't wait to read the next part. I'm so glad it's Sunday and I've got more time! :)

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