The Next Chapter of Risky

By Lt. Zoe Jebkanto

Rating: PG

Genres: drama

Keywords: bond

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Disclaimer:  Star Trek: Enterprise, its characters, species, planets and universe(s) are the property of CBS/Paramount.  No infringement intended, all “no trespassing” signs respected.  This story is intended for entertainment only, not for profit.

This story not only can be, but would love to be, archived.

Summary:  Trip knew when T’Pol invited him to her quarters after movie night, that somehow things would never be the same.

A/N:  This story occurs exactly one Frankenstein movie length after the conclusion of “Blue on Blue”, somewhere between the episodes “Bound” and “Demons”.  It’s dedicated with immense appreciation to Distracted, without whose (nearly endless) patience B on B wouldn’t have launched.  Also with many, many thanks to Adm. OhBoy Archer for giving me a real, live desk chair for Christmas (no more neck kinks or missing places at the dining room table when company comes) and to everybody at TriS who requested a sequel,  especially (who can resist a “pretty please”?) Cogito.

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Fifty meters.

Warp five.

There had been only minutes to achieve something that was never done before except in simulation, and then to gamble all his training, knowledge, experience and intuition against impending disaster.  And still, he’d had no choice but to pause for an instant as he gathered his resolve and tightened his grasp on the tether, to draw a marveling intake of breath and say, “I never thought I’d see the stars like this!”

Trip remembered Captain Erika Hernandez’s words sounding in his helmet from Columbia’s bridge.  “Eyes on the cable, Commander,” and then the taut, steady feel of it was coming through his gloves as, hand over hand, he moved out of the ship and across the tether toward Enterprise

Forty five meters. 

The ship loomed huge ahead of him.  At the edges of his vision the warp field shimmered.  It was a fragile bubble of safety between the two cable-connected vessels and Enterprise’s hot, white destruction.  Out beyond it stretched cold black vistas of indifferent interstellar space shot through with the brilliance of streaming, Doppler skewed stars. No view-screen translation he’d ever seen of the starfield at warp speed came close to capturing its immense stark beauty.  And words, he was certain, could create no better picture even if he lived to share the vision.

Forty meters.

A vibration shivered along the palm of his left hand, then fled across to his right before the tether steadied.  Thirty meters.  Snatches of conversation flowed through his helmet, verifying what his hands had already told him.  The ships were having trouble maintaining their relative belly-to-belly flight positions.  If the tether joining them snapped free while the safety harness held him suspended on it…

Well, there was no point dwelling on that.

Thirty five meters.

The next vibration lasted longer, then became a constant singing along the tightening cable.  Out ahead of him, Malcolm was waiting in Enterprise’s shuttle bay, busily making sure all the protocols for this transfer maneuver were being implemented- the ones that had worked successfully during their single training simulation.

Which had been done at only warp one.

He wouldn’t dwell on that either.  

There were times when there was nothing to do but focus on the present moment and to reach for the one that was maybe a heartbeat ahead with all the resolve he could summon, and then…

Trust.                                                                                                 

Twenty five meters.

He knew the plan to repair Enterprise’s engine by initiating a cold start and purging corrupted algorithms was risky.  A rueful grin had tugged at the corner of his mouth with that thought. Okay, so it’s just the next chapter of risky after this one.    But however long the odds of success were, they sure beat the certainty of getting blown all to smithereens if the attempt wasn’t made. 

Truth was, he knew that engine inside and out.  He had faith in the capacities of the ship, of her captain and crew.  And he knew T’Pol would be there, waiting to work side by side with him when he reached engineering. Whatever strange tug and pull of emotions had tangled their off-duty relationship, especially these last weeks, it disappeared when they had a job to do.  Their back and forth exchange of questions, comments and ideas was so quick and easy, it was like they could about read each other’s minds.  It would be good working with her again.  But even in the middle of this emergency, he found himself wishing there’d be a way he could tell her about the stars streaming by outside the warp field.

Twenty meters.

Trip maneuvered another handhold forward, then another, and watched Enterprise grow until now he could make out where the cable he followed disappeared inside her.  Before he’d requested the transfer to Columbia, he’d told himself T’Pol was a distraction from his work.  Turned out, he’d hardly known the meaning of the word back then, what with how she kept walking into his daydreams or showing up at night in visions that left him tossing and turning into the early hours.  

It wasn’t like there’d been any comfort to be found in them.  Even when the interactions with T’Pol were only in his head, he still alternately… what?  Wanted to confide his deepest feelings for her one minute and risk a brisk dismissal, or deliberately throw her off balance with a sharp-edged comment when she seemed about to do the confiding?  He could’ve done all that perfectly well awake and in person!  Weird. 

No.  More like dammed irritating!  Seemed like he should’ve at least been able to write better scripts for what happened between them within his own imagination!. 

Fifteen meters.

The looming shape of Enterprise filled his vision and blotted out his final glimpse of the starfield.  But he’d remember the beauty of it, and if he got the chance, he’d maybe someday look for the words to tell her…

Sometimes he thought he’d never been closer to anybody in his life, that there was a kind of deep, wordless and totally honest conversation running on and on between them somewhere beyond the back of his mind.  So why was it so hard to come out and say how important she was to him?  It was crazy when, if he was able to talk to her right now, mostly what he wanted to tell her about, even more than the stars, was how very much he had missed her.

Ten meters.

The tether shivered and strained beneath his grasp.  It shimmied.  It shuddered.    Another handhold.  Another.  He had to keep moving, keep trusting.  If the ships could hold steady a few seconds more, he’d be there.  Then, even if the manual shut down and restart didn’t work, he’d still see her beautiful face one more time before their mingled atoms scattered like those glorious stars across the universe.

Five meters.

There was an instant to look back, to see them streaming behind him, back toward Columbia, and remember that, whatever the risk or whatever happened, the possibility of wonders like this was what had called him into Starfleet.  Then the ship’s dark bulkheads surrounded him.  Malcolm was pulling him forward and helping him to unclip the safety harness as the tightly stretched cable tried to tug him back out through the air-lock.  He was caught in his friend’s strong, welcoming grip, even as the cable tore free.  He spared a split-second glance as it sailed out of sight between the stars, then realized the deck was solid beneath his feet and that he was home, looking at the stars from inside Enterprise

Trip blinked.  Yeah, the stars still streamed by out there, even after all the time that had passed since he, T’Pol, and the rest of the engineering crew had pulled off the manual shut down and restart and avoided a warp core breach.  As beautiful as the starfield would always be for him, it really wasn’t the same from inside the ship, especially with the ghostly reflection of his own frowning features superimposed on it from T’Pol’s window.  And he was feeling anything but at home here.

It was a while since he’d been in her quarters.  They still looked like he remembered.  Hangings warmed the walls with desert golds, browns and burnt oranges.  Cushions in the same shades were stacked in a corner near the low table where an unlit meditation candle waited.  Beyond that were her neatly made bed and personal work station with its empty chair facing a blank monitor screen.

He knew that the chair was hard, the cushions were soft, and the bed…  Well, that had been just right.  The ache came, quick and intense, as he remembered exactly how just right it had been last year, with her curled warm in his arms, the silk of her hair against his neck and that whole night stretching long and sweet ahead of them.

Yeah, quite a while, all right. What said so more clearly than any chronometer was that he didn’t know now which of those places to sit.  So he’d come to stand by the window, the place in here with the fewest echoes of their past.  And because, out beyond it were the streaming stars that had given him the resolve to stop in this evening and invite her to movie night. 

Did she guess he’d worked to make his tone casual?  He managed to toss in that he’d missed her, like it was no bigger reason for asking than that the movie was a Frankenstein picture.  It seemed like lying to her, even though the words were true, because there was nothing at all casual about how his heart banged at the inside of his ribs.  He’d never meant anything so much in his life. 

He more than halfway expected she’d say no.  Then her eyes flickered with something that collected itself deep in his guts, like the resolve he’d gathered to approach her door.  Weird, how their emotional reactions sometimes connected, direct as physical sensations, despite the wall of words they’d built between them.  So it wasn’t a complete surprise when, a moment later, she’d accepted the invitation.

They were walking down the hall when she paused.  “Commander…” she began, then stopped.  “Trip?”

“Yeah?” He’d turned to look at her.

“After the movie, I would like to invite you back here to my quarters.”  Her voice had been very quiet.  “It has been a while, but I’d like to show you something.  And perhaps tell you a story.”

That sensation of gathered resolve kept vibrating in the hallway between them.  His?  Hers?  He didn’t know.  He managed to grin and remind her the popcorn was waiting, even as the resolve became mixed with apprehension.  When they came back, after the movie, things were going to change.  Might be for the better, but then, who knew what that was?  For them to pick up the relationship they’d been growing during last year’s neuro-pressure sessions?  Or to let it drop for once and for all, like he’d tried to do when she’d announced she was going to marry Koss?  Either way, it would be better if it was at last decided for good.  Anything would be better than hanging around like he had been doing since her annulment, with his heart out there clinging to its own fragile tether of hope.

“I am about to make tea,” she said now, into the silence.  “Would you like a cup?”

“Yeah, thanks.  Tea’d be fine.”  Turning from the window, he watched her begin the preparations.  That hadn’t changed either.  There was the same small tinkle of pouring water, the clink of ceramic, the same little white cups.  Maybe over careful, hot sips, with familiar fragrant steam spiraling between them, they’d work their way back to the time before she called their night of lovemaking an “experiment in human sexuality” or when he’d said the thing between them was “no big deal”.  Or at least make a start at working their way back toward real.

God, it was so long since real had lasted more than a few lousy sentences.

When those Orion girls tried to take over the ship, the resolve Trip had known on the tether had finally let him admit to his daydreams on Columbia.  T’Pol in turn confided that when she mated with him last year (Mated?  Hell, what a choice of words!) they seemed to have created a psychic bond that made him the only male on Enterprise (except maybe Porthos?) who could resist Orion pheromones. 

That had seemed like a promising start, but later he’d about had to corner her into saying she wanted him to remain on Enterprise.  When she not only told him, but showed how much she wanted him to stay with one firecracker of a kiss, had he said how glad he was?  Oh, no, not him.  He retreated by flashing her a grin, saying he’d already applied for permanent transfer back here and this thing between them was no big deal.  The grin held for a good ten steps down the hallway and around the corner before he’d had to stop himself from banging his forehead on a bulkhead.  Idiot, idiot, idiot! 

If he could crawl along that tether at warp speed, in an emergency, and still long to tell her how beautiful the stars were, why couldn’t he grasp the next handhold and  risk saying out loud what he felt?  Or was whatever lay between them outside of what words could be expected to express (for anyone except maybe Hoshi)?  Dammit, if they could only quit reacting to what each other said and somehow listen.

“The tea is steeping,” said T’Pol, turning and coming toward the low table with the steaming pot and two cups on a tray.  He smiled a little as he inhaled the familiar smell: chamomile mixed with something tangy.  Was it the blend from that ornamental ceramic jar that sat by the monitor at her work station?  He’d had that before.  It wasn’t good strong, black coffee, but it wasn’t bad.  Its usual spot between holographic pictures of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the courtyard garden Trip had seen at her mother’s house was empty, except for something that captured the light in sharp-edged facets and flashed brilliant blue.

Trip caught his breath and squinted hard against an abrupt, dazzling brightness.  How had T’Pol turned up the lighting in here?  Her hands were full!  Or did the glare indicate a malfunction somewhere?  He blinked two, three times in quick succession, even as he turned to make a quick survey of the room. 

From below the brilliant glare, T’Pol’s face was a ghostly glow against dimness.  Her eyes were almost lost in shadow, but for a moment he could see that her gaze was locked on him, not their surroundings.  Then his eyes snapped shut against the brightness. Something somewhere had to be wrong!  Any moment an alarm klaxon would begin to sound!  Enterprise’s crew would swing into carefully disciplined action.  Drawing a deep breath, Trip forced his trembling eyelids open a narrow slit.  He’d check with T’Pol, then find a way to get to engineering!  He shook his head and tried to clear it.  He winced, even though it seemed the dazzle had gone.

No alarm sounded.  Everything in T’Pol’s quarters looked as it had when they entered.

But he hadn’t had a headache when they walked in here after the movie, had he?  It wasn’t as if he exactly had one now either: only a kind of brief, startling  echo of discomfort, and that, like the dazzle, had already begun to fade. 

Weird.  It was probably a reaction to that momentary glare.  The sensation reminded him of several similar episodes he’d had after sustaining a concussion while gathering ore samples back on Algieba III.  He’d wondered the first time or two if it could be his lost memories trying to reassert themselves, but he still didn’t remember any more than right after it happened, so he’d more or less dismissed the idea.  Anyway, he hadn’t had one of those in a while now, but things didn’t go away all at once, did they?  He still experienced the occasional twinge in the ribs he’d cracked back there, and the leg he’d broken.  No big deal.

With a dismissive shrug, he started toward the low table, then, at the sound of rattling crockery, found himself lunging forward to steady the tray.  T’Pol’s face was pale and her eyes were squinted almost shut, though he no longer saw a hint of glare.

“Here, I’ll take that,” he said.

“Thank you.”  She didn’t resist his offer as he lifted the tray from her hands, though already he could see her features smoothing themselves into their usual expression.

“Here, easy.  C’mon.”  Setting the tea things on the corner of the table, he grasped T’Pol’s warm, slender hand in one of his own and held it firmly while he used the other to scoop up a large brown and gold cushion from the pile.  Tossing it ahead of him to a spot on the floor just beneath the tray, he gestured her toward it.

“Commander,” she said.  “I am quite recovered.”  But after only a momentary resistance she followed the gentle downward tug of his hand and sat.

“Yeah?”  He gazed down at her, still half wondering whether an alert was about to be sounded, though with each heartbeat Trip was more certain there would be none.  The faint, almost subliminal vibration beneath his feet was saying that the ship’s speed was unchanged, the warp drive working properly.  Whatever had happened extended no further than this room.  He studied her for several more seconds, deciding her color had returned to normal before releasing her hand.  Snatching an orange and tan cushion for himself and positioning it across from her, he sat.  Resting his elbows on the edge of the table’s smooth surface, he leaned forward.  “Recovered from what?”

Her eyes closed.  She drew a deep breath.  It came again- the gathering sensation deep in his guts: resolve, mixed with apprehension.  This time he knew it was T’Pol’s.  “That’s what I earlier wished to discuss with you,” she said.

“T’Pol, you’re not-?” he began.  Had he ever seen strain written so plainly in her face?

“I am not ill,” she interrupted, and his heart, which had given one sharp lurch, settled into a steadier rhythm.

“Then what happened just now?”

“I believe,” she said, then hesitated, as though searching for the right words.  “That a moment ago, you and I shared a memory.  Or at least the impression from one.”

“A memory?”  Trip stared at her, then reached for his tea.  “What?  That flash?”

T’Pol picked up her own cup.  “Yes.  As well as the pain which was a part of it.”

Trip shook his head.  Not even a trace of discomfort this time.  “Which memory are you talking about?” he asked.  But already he was beginning to think he knew.  It had to do with those odd headache echoes he’d experienced since Algeiba.  He still didn’t remember a darn thing about that mission except what he’d read in the logs once he got out of sickbay.  It was a routine planetary survey, with ore samples gathered to augment the ship’s fuel supply.  He and the captain had gone down to do a little pure exploration (nice to have no Klingons, Xindi or Romulans to worry about for once) and they’d become trapped by a cave-in in an old mining complex.  Apparently, he’d been half buried in debris, cracked his ribs, wrecked his knee and concussed himself, but somehow…

(Somehow?  The report details had been dammed sketchy now he came to think of it!)     

Somehow when T’Pol arrived as part of the rescue party he’d managed to tell her how to find Captain Archer.  She and the captain were well on the way to digging him free when the rest of the team showed up.    

T’Pol was still looking at him across the table.  Waiting.  Trip took a large gulp of tea which emptied two thirds of the cup, then set it aside.  “You’re talking about Algeiba,” he said.  It was not a question.

“Yes.”  She nodded, but did not continue.  The silence almost crackled between them.    

Trip shifted on the cushion as apprehension tightened in his gut.  Well, don’t keep me in suspense here! he wanted to demand. What happened back there?  He bit back the impatient question before the words could form. What had he been thinking earlier about trying to listen?  This was T’Pol’s apprehension, more than his own.  He waited.

“I am not certain how familiar you are with the Vulcan mental disciplines,” T’Pol said.

“I know a little.”  Trip had watched Soval, Vulcan’s Ambassador to Earth, engage one to investigate a terrorist attack.  The technique he used was condemned by his culture as deviant, shameful behavior.  A subtle battle between disgrace, necessity self-respect, and resolve had flickered over Soval’s stoic features as he stood above the gravely wounded witness.  Then he stepped forward to begin.  Trip had never respected him more. 

Now the image came of Soval’s hands, seeking, firm but gentle on the man’s face.  The memory was so clear Trip could almost feel the touch on his own cheek, his forehead, his temple.  “My mind to your mind…”

“Do you recall two years ago when Enterprise brought Doctor Phlox to a medical conference on Dekendi III?” T’Pol’s voice cut across the vivid recollection. 

“What?” Trip jerked his attention back to the present.  Medical conference?  Weren’t they talking about Vulcan disciplines?  He found himself raising a hand to rub the spot on his temple he’d seen Soval access to contact the unconscious man’s thoughts, then attempted to gather a few of his own.  “He goes to lots of conferences.  We all do.  Hoshi’s non-spoken olfactory languages, Travis’s piloting cert upgrade, my…”

“I believe,” T’Pol prompted.  “Doctor Phlox’s wife came aboard to assist with the installation of a microscope?”

Heat flooded his face.  He resisted the urge to loosen his collar.   Feezal was smart and pretty and making not very subtle advances to him that seemed to bother Phlox a lot less than they bothered him!  He cleared his throat.  “Oh, that conference.  What about it?”

“At that time, Phlox was seeking treatment on my behalf for a condition known as Pa’nar syndrome.”

He didn’t recognize that name or think it’d ever been mentioned during a briefing.  What he did recognize was that the hot wave of embarrassment which swept through him hadn’t gone.  What remained was about something still unknown and wasn’t his at all.

T’Pol poured more tea for each of them.  “At the time we mated last year…,” she began.

There was that word again, mated!  “The night we made love?” Trip spoke with careful emphasis.

T’Pol nodded.  “At the time that we made love, I was still affected.”

Her gaze met his.  Held.  Hard.  The sheer grip of it reminded him of his tether journey from Columbia.  With great effort, she was making her way toward him along a thin, risky thread of possibilities.  He couldn’t help but think of how it must have been for Malcolm, standing on the deck plating, unable to do anything but watch, wait, send out a word of encouragement here and there, then have a hand ready when- if- it was needed. 

He knew Vulcans didn’t go in much for casual touching, but he reached across the table to circle her fingers with his, maybe to provide a handhold on her journey.  He waited a handful of heartbeats before he spoke, his voice came low and gentle.  “Is that why you started experimenting with the trellium?”

Was there a time he wouldn’t have recognized the very slight widening of her eyes as surprise?  “No.” Her chin lifted as she moved another deliberate handhold closer. “I did that because I wished to understand and experience emotions as those around me did.”

Trip picked up the steaming tea with his free hand, while not letting go of hers with the other.  Breathed slowly.  Listened.  When had T’Pol’s determination to stand apart as Enterprise’s only Vulcan stopped being an assertion of personal identity and become isolation?  He sipped in silence, holding her gaze along with her hand.

“So, if this doesn’t have anything to do with trellium, what does it have to do with Algeiba?” he prompted.

“When we made love,” she began, echoing the emphasis he’d placed on the words.  “It created a bond between us.”

“It can do that.”  He almost smiled, but was careful to hold his tone in neutral, despite the wistful longing her use of those words had stirred. 

“The effects of that bond are telepathic.  They began to express themselves after Captain Archer and I visited Vulcan and found Surak’s original writings.”

“Is this the same bond you said was keeping those Orion girls from getting under my skin a while back?”

“Yes.  It is also what caused your daydreams to intersect with my meditations when you were on Columbia.”

“But if we were together last year, why didn’t this bond come on sooner?”

“Doctor Phlox was able to stabilize, but not cure the Pa’nar syndrome.  The illness inhibits telepathic abilities. ”

It came again, the painful heat of her embarrassment.  Sweat began to bead itself on his forehead.  For the first time, T’Pol’s gaze had flickered, though with effort she refused to turn her face from his.  Her hand tensed within his, but she did not move it away.

“When the captain and I visited Vulcan, the Syranite leader, T’Pau cured my illness by means of a mind meld.  My inborn telepathic abilities began to assert themselves.”

He remembered the subtle signs of Soval’s battle of determination and disgrace, risk and resolve.  He’d used that same phrase before making contact with that witness.  Mind meld.  Was this a Vulcan privacy thing?  Seeing how hard it was for T’Pol to talk about it, Trip decided not to use the Ambassador’s name, just in case.  He spoke with conscious calmness, though he couldn’t keep confusion out of his tone.  “I saw a meld performed.  The guy who did it found it hard to talk about, even though it helped solve a mystery in ways nothing else could.  And if it cured you of an illness, why’s it such a bad thing?”

“It isn’t.  My recent studies of Surak’s original writing show how much his legacy was corrupted.  I was raised to believe Vulcans suppress emotions, not share them.  A meld, by its nature, exposes both thoughts and emotions, and was considered a loss of control.”

Trip nodded.  Whether they called it that or not, one emotion Vulcans had in plenty was pride, especially where their control was concerned.

With her free hand, T’Pol picked up her teacup.  It was no longer steaming.   “Much of what I believed was incorrect, but it takes time to unlearn the patterns of thinking one acquires in a lifetime.  Though it is a genetic birthright, the concept of melding has caused me great concern when I consider that it must be carefully governed by ethics, since it holds such potential for misuse.”  

The sharing of minds.  Yeah, even without knowing much about it, he could see the danger.  Soval’s intent was straightforward with the witness he’d gathered information from, his approach gentle.  But an ability like that in the hands (or actually, in the mind) of somebody less ethical?  Trip shuddered. 

“It has to become a whole new kind of discipline, doesn’t it?” he asked.  Then, when she nodded he went on.  “But you’ve used the technique.  The captain told me that you asked Hoshi if you could use a meld with her to find the doc when he was kidnapped.”  

T’Pol slipped her hand from his.  “Trip…  The captain was not aware that it wasn’t the first meld I’d initiated.”

She rose, turning from the table.  Apprehension tugged again, deep in his guts, but this time he couldn’t tell himself it was mostly T’Pol’s.  Or that he didn’t know she was heading toward her personal work station.

“I believe,” she’d said once the aftereffects of the dazzle had eased for both of them. “That… you and I shared a memory.” 

That glare, that dazzle, that echo of pain that began when he’d seen that facetted flash of blue.  He knew that color from mineralogical studies that were part of his engineers’ training.  Cyrulinite: a mid-to-high-grade crystalline energy source when refined.  It was listed among the materials they’d brought back from his blank spot of a landing detail.  “That was how we located the captain, wasn’t it?” Trip asked.  “You melded with me on Algeiba?”

“Yes,” she said.  “You couldn’t tell me where he was, or what had happened.  Because of the concussion you sustained, your conscious memory was damaged.”

He couldn’t help chuckling. “It still is.  That whole mission is one big blank.  But why didn’t you tell me all this before?”

She turned to face him.  He could see that one hand was curled around what he guessed to be that brilliant blue stone.  “The habits of a lifetime,” she said, then added after a pause.  “And because I didn’t precisely ask your permission.”

“In an emergency?  When I was at least half out of my head?” Trip scrambled to his feet.  “T’Pol, I think you know already that you’d have it.  I trust you!”

“I sensed that,” she said.  “Within the meld.  That you trusted me.”

Why was that causing her so much embarrassment that he could again feel its heat?  It was mingled with a new apprehension that he knew was his own, and which had his guts starting to do cartwheels. 

“There’s more to it than that though, isn’t there?” he asked, stepping around the table.

“More than just asking permission?”

T’Pol was very still. “Trip, that meld contributed to the deepening of our bond.”

Instinct said the question that sprang into his mind should come out casually, off hand, like half a hundred others he’d asked recently, so that he could tell himself that her answer didn’t matter to him so much.  Back on the tether, he’d wondered why he could crawl across a cable between two ships flying at warp, yet he couldn’t tell T’Pol how he felt about her. 

Had he considered it to be too risky?  He had told himself that was crazy back then and he thought it was even more so now.  If he was a guy who let himself get caught up in too much of that kind of thinking, he would still be back on Columbia, grieving an Enterprise that was no more than a memory and a cloud of debris scattered between the stars, stars that he almost certainly would never have seen at all except through the safe, dimming, atmosphere of Earth. 

He resisted his automatic flippant impulse and risked letting the importance of the question ring in his tone.  “How’s that a problem?”

“Usually,” said T’Pol, her own apprehension was now as clear in her large amber eyes as it was in his gut.  “Such a deep connection as has been developing between us is shared only by betrothed or married couples.”

A few minutes ago, he’d imagined T’Pol working her way toward him on a thin thread of possibilities, as he’d worked his way across the tether, already considering the risks ahead.  He shrugged, took a step forward and reminded himself of what he’d been thinking as he made his way toward EnterpriseIt’s just the next chapter of risky after this one.  There were times when there was nothing to do but focus on the present moment, reach for the one that was maybe a heartbeat ahead with all the resolve he could summon, and then…

Trust.

“How’s that a problem?” he repeated.  “A bond between a betrothed or a married couple?  That is…  If you’ll have me.”     

“If I’ll have you?” T’Pol’s eyebrows rose.  “Then you do not wish to sever the bond?”

“Sever?  Our bond?  Why would I want to do that?”  Trip asked, moving another step closer to her.  He took a deep breath, along with the biggest risk yet and said.  “T’Pol, I love you!”         

For an instant there was that familiar sweet silk of her hair against his neck and cheek as her weight pressed against his chest, and his arm gathering her in a tightening circle.  There wasn’t just another firecracker of a kiss, but a whole damned fourth of July fireworks display.

“I sensed your love within the meld as well,” T’Pol looked up at him when they drew apart and Trip recognized her conscious rebellion against a lifetime of mental training.  “Or, at least that you had loved me, and still perceived me as being far more beautiful than I had ever seen myself.  I knew that I wounded your trust in me when I minimized the significance of when we mated… Of when we made love.  And then when I agreed to marry Koss.  Even after that was annulled, I believed that whatever feelings… whatever love I had for you, would no longer hold relevance.”

Trip pulled her close.  Smiled into the silk of her hair.  “Guess it’s safe to tell you that I’m glad Vulcans can be wrong some of the time.”

“As am I.”  T’Pol drew away, but only to place the stone, Cyrulinite blue, on his palm and close his fingers around it.  Taking his free hand she led him back to the table.  Reaching down, she repositioned their two cushions next to each other.  This time it was she who tugged him downward.

“Close your eyes,” she said when they were seated.  “If you will allow it, I can restore your memory of events on Algeiba, so you will no longer experience difficulties when they try to reintegrate themselves.”

“Gonna do a little more bond deepening while you’re at it?”

“That was part of my motivation,” she said. 

His eyes closed as his fingers tightened around the Cyrulinite and felt the smoothness of its planes and the sharp angles of its crystalline edges.  Was there an echo of familiarity in the weight of it?  The size?  The many-faceted shape…?

There was a brush of warmth at his temple, light as a bird’s wing.  T’Pol’s hand.  A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth as he imagined her beautiful amber gaze.

“Keep your eyes closed,” she said. 

Out beyond his eyelids he could see her face, calm and serene as she began to murmur.  “My mind to your mind.”

The touch deepened.

“My thoughts to your thoughts.”

Yes.  He had heard that before.  Had felt this same sweet level of complete trust.  So it was the bond he had sensed in that ongoing wordless conversation somewhere beyond the back of his mind, the one where he had known what it was to be completely at ease, unguarded and open with another person.  And now he heard an echo of the same words they had spoken before, back on Algeiba.

“Our minds are one.”

Images…  T’Pol’s features glowing pale, her eyes shadowed beneath the dazzling glare of a miners’ helmet.  The pain cloak she had shared with him, which deepened to the flowing communication within their forming meld.  There was even a moment when he had recognized a time of her deepest fear and shame (where did he know the name Tolaris from?)  when another mind had tried to force its way into hers, followed by her trust in him to treat that knowledge gently-  and then, in a rush, she silently told him through her memories the story of how together, the two of them had located and rescued the captain.

Could she sense in his mind that he was smiling?  That he was honored by her gifts?

“Our minds are one.”  This time his voice, within his memory, in the present and within their growing bond, harmonized with hers. 

He looked to give her something equally precious, and after a moment he gave her his memory of the beyond words beauty of the streaming transwarp stars.  


Comments:

Cap'n Frances

Beautiful chapter. I loved Trip's sense of wonder, courage and love as he crossed the tether. Trip seemed less afraid of that perilous crossing and the almost impossible restart than he did of encountering T'Pol. But their love and their courage allowed them to have a difficult talk and to begin to explore their bond and the promise it holds.I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Transwarp

Well done!  A worthy successor to 'Blue on Blue.'

I concur with and echo everything Cogito said in his review.

Mary

Wow. You are a master of imagery and of allowing your readers to experience the images not just read them. It was more like we were sitting on their shoulders , a quiet part of what occurred. I loved Trip's impressions of the warpped stars racing by when on the tether and his imagining  his discussions with T'Pol as the difficuly climb up the tether. The scene in T'Pol's quarters are so tender, hesitant and fearful of consequence but determined to see them through. Awesome. Thanks for writing

Lt. Zoe Jebkanto

A great bug word of thanks (THANKS!!!) for all the kind reviews- I really appreciate the comments and the insights both into the writing and into our wonderful TnT.  They inspire me (and as the case with this one) give me ideas to play with- this, what happened after movie night- I had not planned to write about after Blue on Blue- but thanks to all ov you- I got the fun of doing so.  So thanks again.  You're all so valued, enjoyed and appreciated!  Now what?  Hmmmmm? :) :) !

Weeble

That was beautiful. 

nuff said

Cogito

There is a wonderful sense of symmetry here, of parts of the story complementing and completing each other. The analogy between Trip's courage when he crossed the tether, and the courage that Trip and T'Pol each showed in daring to be honest with each other, is elegantly shown and helps illustrate how vulnerable they each feel as they inch their way towards each other. At the same time we can see how even then, at the height of the danger, T'Pol was at the forefront of Trip's mind ("he’d still see her beautiful face one more time before their mingled atoms scattered like those glorious stars across the universe"). I also appreciate the way you show the conversation cutting across trains of thought, as it sparks memories and implications that have to be absorbed.

There's a lot more I like about the story too - too many beautifully crafted images to mention them all, but each building the richness of the story, just as they did in Blue on Blue, and making it easy to feel were're right there with them experiencing this. It's lucky that you've already shown us what it's like to experience a mind meld, because now I can see their hesitant and inefficient verbal conversation suddenly replaced by the flashing clarity of joined minds. Last time they did this it was in painful and desperate circumstances and I think that this time they're going to have the luxury of time to focus on each other. Just judging by the amount of ground they're covered in those first few moments of the meld, I think they'll manage that just fine. How very fitting that the first thing he wants to share with her is the moment of exquisite beauty experienced when he was focussed on her. And, I'm sure, she on him.

So, lots to enjoy. But the most important thing, the thing that above all makes this story so very enjoyable, is that the story you're illustrating so cleverly and bringing to life shows them each timidly but determinedly and bravely finding their way back together.  But d'you think that just one mind meld will be enough to repair all Trip's tattered memories and fix the consequences of T'Pol's earlier injuries? No, me neither. :) It's a whole new discipline for both of them. I hope that you'll let us watch them as they learn, together.

Eireann

You're well on song with this one.  Still the same gifted imagery and the skilfully handled emotion.  I was fairly holding my breath at one point, in case of scaring the magic away.  Excellent, really excellent!

Alelou

That was really beautiful.  A lovely job of putting our heroes together, and also just damned fine writing. You chose a great way to begin and end the story.  What a nice way to begin the fanfic year!

Asso

Here there is only one thing to do: take your hat off.

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