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Want of a Nail
Author - Blackn'blue | F | Genre - Action/Adventure | Genre - Angst | Genre - Drama | Genre - Finale Fix Challenge | Main Story | Rating - G
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Fix the Finale Challenge Fic
Want Of A Nail
Dedication: To all the fan fiction writers at HoT who have provided me with hours of sheer joy reading their work, and even more joy arguing about it in the comments section. With a special dedication just as I promised to TLR. See? I am a man of my word. Be gentle with me folks. It is my first time...
I want to add a special note of thanks to Linda for her unbelievable patience as a beta. And bless the bunny. I hope the antibiotics worked. I really sympathize about that butt shaving thing.
San Francisco: 2161
“You look very -,” she searched for the right word, “heroic.” T’Pol watched Archer’s eyes flicker with sad understanding. Then he turned and mounted the stairs again, leaving her standing alone. Completely alone.
Applause and voices drifted in from the podium outside. The Vulcan woman took a step toward the opening and saw the top of the crowded bleachers. The entire surviving crew was out there, along with most of the staff of Starfleet Command and the entire diplomatic corps for every alien embassy on the planet.
And Trip’s parents would be sitting out there somewhere too. They and the rest of the surviving kin of the slain crew had been placed in prominent seats. Given positions of high honor and respect in acknowledgement of their sacrifice. Would they care? Would it matter to any of them where they were sitting today, when the honor and respect had been bought with their own flesh and blood?
Briefly T’Pol reconsidered. Perhaps she should make contact with Trip’s family after all. At least meet them and give them a chance to say the things that no doubt they had been wanting to say to her for all these years. Let them release the anger and bitterness they must still be holding within their hearts for the pain she had caused their son.
She couldn’t do it. It was too much, she didn’t have the strength. “From the first I have been weak and a coward. I suppose it is only fitting that I finish that way,” she brooded bitterly.
T’Pol turned away and moved with a steady pace down the corridor to the visitor’s wing where the Enterprise crew had been assigned quarters. Only a skeleton staff was on duty today, and even they were distracted by the broadcast being piped over the intercom. The sight of her approach caused them to snap to alertness. Some of the younger officers even saluted. Had she been human T’Pol would have permitted herself a wry smile. She had not been subjected to such military formality since the war ended.
Her amusement faded quickly. The last details of her arrangements were complete. All that remained now was to return to her quarters and wait for the proper time.
Only a dim trace of light managed to leak around the curtains when she entered her room. It was as bare and spartan as the cell she had occupied during her time studying the disciplines of Kohlinar, after Elizabeth’s death. “My last and greatest mistake,” she admitted, not for the first time.
The pain of watching her baby die had been crippling, unbelievable. She would never have believed that such grief could be experienced and survived. Trip had tried to help her, had tried to beseech her to help him with his own pain. But once again she had fled from him. She could not face him, could not face the pain of her loss and his loss at the same time. Trip had begged her not to do it. He had wept and pleaded with her to stay with him, to hold him and let them both heal together.
But she had fled to the Mind Masters of Gol. For a full year she had stayed in isolation from everyone and everything. Meditating and studying. Hiding from her grief. Hiding from Trip’s grief. Slowly she had felt the pain subside. Slowly her control returned. Slowly she learned to think again without wanting to scream. Finally the Student-Adepts told her that she had achieved as much as they could teach her. It was time for her to return to her life outside the sanctuary.
The High Council willingly agreed to request on her behalf that she be allowed to return to Enterprise. Captain Archer welcomed her back with sober pleasure, glad to see her feeling better. The rest of the crew offered friendly, albeit restrained, greetings as well.
Trip did not come to meet her shuttle. Nor did he show up for her welcome back gathering in the mess hall. The next day she went looking for him in Engineering. He was in his office hunched over a terminal. She knocked on his door. “Good Morning Commander,” T’Pol had said uncertainly.
Trip glanced up without expression. “Good morning Commander. Welcome back.” He turned back to the monitor and removed her from his personal universe. She stood there for a moment longer wondering whether to say or do anything else. Then she walked away.
After that nothing was ever the same. T’Pol resumed her former habit of sharing meals in the Captain’s Mess. But Trip did not join them. “He never socializes much anymore T’Pol,” Archer told her wearily. “Not even with Malcolm. Not with Hoshi, Travis, Hess, none of his old friends. I have given up on trying to get him to come by and watch a polo match anymore. He does his job and he does it superlatively. But then he quietly goes to his quarters, or works out in the gym and then goes to his quarters, and that’s all we see of him until he goes back on duty again.”
“Have you spoken to Phlox?” She automatically invoked the second level of klarahu deni to suppress any trace of worry. “It is not healthy for a human to live completely without social contact.”
Archer shook his head. “Unless and until he does something out of line I have no authority to interfere with how he chooses to spend his off hours, T’Pol. It isn’t interfering with his duties at all as far as I can tell. He just doesn’t seem to give a damn about anything or anyone else except his work now.”
That evening T’Pol stood outside Tucker’s quarters. She had managed to convince herself that as First Officer it was her duty to monitor any and all personnel matters that might have a bearing on ship’s efficiency. She pressed the button and waited. Thirty seconds passed and she firmly quashed an urge to fidget. After a full minute she started to reach for the buzzer again just as the door slid open.
Trip was in his uniform but barefoot with his collar unfastened. He looked at T’Pol quizzically and said, “Commander. What can I do for you?”
“A matter of ship’s business Commander,” she told him. “May I come in?” Trip stepped aside and gestured her to enter. She stepped inside and all her training could not stop a prickle of shock. Everything was gone. All the photographs of his family and shipmates, all the souvenirs, the meditation candle and holder that she had given him, it was all gone. The room was unadorned and unmarked by any personal memorabilia at all.
T’Pol glanced at Trip and saw him watching her closely. She raised her chin and mentioned, “I see that you have redecorated.”
“Is that the ship’s business you wanted to talk about?” Trip asked her. For the first time since her return his voice held a trace of emotion. It did not sound pleasant. T’Pol turned to face him.
“Actually it may have a bearing on the matter, yes.” She took a deep breath. “The Captain has advised me that you have become atypically solitary of late. He is concerned, as am I. I thought perhaps that you should -”
“I think perhaps that you should mind your own business Commander,” Trip hissed. The look in his eyes struck her like a knife in the belly and froze the words in her throat. “I will say this once, and once only. How I live and how I decorate my quarters and who I do or do not associate with on my own time is my business and none of yours.” Trip advanced like a stalking cougar, forcing her to step back a pace. “If my job performance is not up to standard then put me on report. Otherwise BACK OFF.”
T’Pol straightened and countered, “It is my responsibility as First Officer to-”
“It is your responsibility as First Officer to tend to the ship. That means the ship and the crew as far as duty related matters. It is neither your responsibility nor your right to interfere with my private life. You gave up that right when you threw me away like a sack of trash. Now get your Vulcan ass out of my quarters and don’t ever set foot back in here unless you have a real matter of ship’s business to deal with. Otherwise I will file a harassment report and have you up on charges. Now GET OUT OF HERE.”
T’Pol stumbled away from him in shock and reached blindly for the door button. It took everything she had learned at Gol and more to make it to her quarters with her facade of control intact. Once inside she sat down on the edge of her bunk and stared blindly at the far wall, trying to make her mind a blank. She reached deep within to find the discipline she had been taught. It had never seemed so elusive.
Under the heat of Vulcan’s sunshine, she had felt warmed and renewed. At Gol she was able to burn away her grief and pain, to emerge once again sharp and bright like a blade newly forged.
Now she finally understood. In burning away her pain she had also burned away half her soul.
They eventually worked out an effective professional relationship. They never argued. When a point of disagreement came up, they simply discussed it dispassionately and settled it with a minimum of friction. They seldom spoke off duty. In fact they seldom spoke at all if it could be avoided.
Then the war started and ironically things began to improve. In the turmoil of combat Enterprise was once again welded into a unified team focused with single minded determination on a simple goal - survival. Trip didn’t really become much more sociable, but no one noticed because everyone else started acting like he did. Social activities dropped off to a bare minimum. Movie nights and rare get-togethers in the mess hall were about the limit. Other than those and the rare shore leave stops, the entire crew was tuned like a phase cannon on fighting and trying to stay alive. They became a team again.
But it wasn’t like it had been in the Expanse. Trip never let T’Pol get close enough renew anything like their old connection. If she tried to approach closer than casual friendship Trip instantly threw up an impenetrable barrier and retreated. She finally gave up pressing and decided to wait. Time, she decided, would be the key. Patience and persistence would eventually allow her to convince him that there could still be a future for them together.
Small things gave her hope. Tiny things, but she found herself clinging to them. One at a time, Trip starting replacing a few of the decorations in his quarters. He never put them all back, but some of his favorite items like that ridiculous toy doll regained their former pride of place. Others seemed to have disappeared for good. She never saw the Vulcan meditation candle and holder again. In fact, there was nothing left in his quarters to provide evidence that she had ever entered his life.
T’Pol took off her uniform and put on her meditation robes. Instead of the ones she had been using most recently she opened her storage chest and carefully withdrew a wrapped package. Gently T’Pol removed the tissue paper to reveal her old robes, the ones she had worn during her first time aboard Enterprise. The ones her mother had made for her. The ones she wore when Elizabeth died.
The robes that she was wearing the last time that she and Trip cried together.
T’Pol concentrated on her breathing and quickly dressed herself. Finally she drew out her mother’s IDIC amulet and hung it around her neck. Closing the chest with a sharp slap, she shoved it carelessly back into the closet and slid the door shut. Then she stopped and made herself stand quietly for a few moments, breathing and running through the preliminary exercises meant to quiet the mind and settle the katra. Now was not the time to lose control. Now, of all the times in her life, was not the time to lose control.
T’Pol lit her meditation candles with rapid efficiency before settling down on her cushion. Conditioned reflexes aided her now as her breathing fell automatically into the proper patterns. She dropped easily into the first level of meditation and began to relax her muscles in preparation for the second level. As she descended deeper into her mind her heartbeat slowed and her metabolic rate subsided into almost imperceptible levels. Her core body temperature fell several degrees. T’Pol’s head sank forward to her chest and her breathing nearly stopped.
She walked through the swirling mist of her mind. Images and sounds came and went around her as her subconscious mind processed the day’s memories. Scent and taste and touch flickered across her perceptions and were gone as swiftly as they came. This was not what she was looking for. She pressed onward, searching deeper. She visualized a tunnel leading downward, into the darkness of the past. Leading into the memories of long ago.
T’Pol paused in her journey as a scene formed. She watched herself sitting at a table across from Trip in the Enterprise mess hall. He was younger. How could he have aged so much in only six years? There was gray in his hair only yesterday. Surely it was there back then? But no. This version of Trip had no trace of gray. No lines marked the corners of his eyes, and his mouth lacked the hard carved grooves of bitterness that were permanently scored into the face of the Trip she had spent the last five years with. But... his hair had been gray at the temples when she returned from Gol, she was certain of it.
Had she done this to him? So quickly?
The voices came to her now, eating into her katra with acid shame. She heard Trip mutter the words “lab rat” and bit her lip, turning her face away. When she looked back the scene was gone.
“From the beginning I was unworthy of you ashayam,” she thought. “We were both afraid that day, afraid of what had passed between us and uncertain of what it meant. But your fear was justified, because you had no way of knowing what I felt. I had no such excuse. I knew exactly what you felt. I knew it the instant you touched me. I could feel your love and it terrified me. I feared the power of your emotion and I ran like the coward I have always been.”
“Follow your heart”
The words yanked her head around to see her older, other self from the alternate timeline Enterprise. The older T’Pol was sitting just as she had before, in her quarters aboard the ancient ship talking to her younger self, advising her that Trip could be her salvation if only she could learn to trust him.
“What if my heart doesn’t know what it wants?” The younger T’Pol could not hide the raw fear in her voice. The watching T’Pol let herself acknowledge the disgust it generated within her.
“It will.” The old woman reached over comfortingly.
“Indeed. You were quite right my older self,” T’Pol mused as the scene faded. “If only I had learned in time. And if only I had held the courage within myself to accept what was within my grasp.”
He had been so patient with her. So incredibly patient. He had waited for her to decide what she wanted as they struggled through the Expanse. Even when he was not aware of the Pa’anar Syndrome or her Trellium addiction, he had been there to support her without a trace of judgment.
Then Koss... She stopped and her control slipped. The mist around her flickered into blackness and then flashed into multi-colored chaos for a moment as T’Pol fought with all her strength to regain her focus. Finally she managed to stabilize the trance. Even then, when his heart was breaking, when she could feel his pain like an icy wind blowing from his mind into her heart, even then he had supported her. Even then he had tried his best to be her friend. Even then he had still loved her.
Grief as intense as any she had ever felt made her mind stagger. Her concentration broke and T’Pol’s eyes snapped open to the dimness of her guest apartment. She felt wetness dripping down her cheeks and did not even bother to wipe the tears off. What did they matter now?
And afterward, when Koss released her from her marriage Trip forgave her for what she had done. As soon as she was free he had come to her. Eagerly and hopefully, offering her his love. Wanting to give her as much of himself as she would accept. And she had spurned him, disrespected him, and driven him away.
And still he had taken her back again. Over and over he forgave her, no matter how she hurt him. No matter how many times she abandoned him, hurt him, treated him as if he did not matter. Still he loved her.
Until her final betrayal. That one, he could not forgive.
It was time. She stood and extinguished the candles. T’Pol took a deep breath and walked over to her desk. Placing her thumb on the security lock reader, she recited the seventeen digit alphanumeric security code, then leaned over and submitted to a retina scan. The drawer popped open and she drew out the hypo. She checked the contents automatically and nodded to herself.
She remember the time when Trip compared the two of them to Romeo and Juliet. “How appropriate,” T’Pol considered ironically. “Although I suppose a dagger would be rather inconveniently messy.” She walked over to her bed and lay down, carefully arranging her robes around her.
So many times she had failed him. Not again. Not ever again. Her time was coming soon, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Not even the disciplines of Kohlinar could hold it off forever. She would not do this. Too many times she had forsaken him because of her fear, or her pride, or simple selfishness. Not again. She would not take another merely to save her own life. Not when Trip had willingly sacrificed himself so that others could go forward into a better future. This once, she would not betray him.
“Goodbye, ashayam,” T’Pol thought, closing her eyes. “You promised me that we would see each other again.” She knew nothing of gods, but she offered up a silent prayer to Trip’s god that she might be granted the chance to be with him again. Then she raised the hypo toward her neck.
A hand grabbed her wrist. “No.”
T’Pol snapped her eyes open and glared up. Her first blaze of fury phase-shifted instantly to berserker rage.
“Commander,” Daniels said soothingly, “This isn-”
T’Pol screamed like a wounded Le’Matya, coiled and struck up from the bunk with teeth bared straight for Daniel’s throat. The Temporal Agent ducked for dear life and rolled frantically to avoid the backhanded follow up strike.
“Commander!” Daniels shouted desperately, “I am here to help you!” Her reply was an inarticulate snarl and a savage kick that came within a millimeter of taking his lower jaw off his face.
“Please! Listen to me!” He dove for the floor and rolled just in time to miss being under T’Pol’s hammering heels. Daniels hopped to his feet and pleaded, “What did I do?”
“You let him DIE!” T’Pol screeched and leaped with claws outstretched. Daniels dove again and T’Pol sailed over his back, rolling across her desk and landing on her feet. Before Daniels could fully recover she jumped to the desk and sprang into the air, executing a perfect spinning backward kick. Daniels let himself crumple in sheer desperation and T’Pol’s foot merely grazed his temple, knocking him sideways into the wall. Her deflected kick impacted the corner of the bunk support, snapping the titanium post like balsa wood.
“I came here to stop that from happening!” Daniels choked out, holding a hand to his throbbing head.
“It’s true! I swear it’s true Commander!” Daniels tried feebly to brace against the wall and force himself to his feet, only to feel the wall slam his back as T’Pol’s hand closed around his throat and lifted him off his heels.
“You are lying,” T’Pol told him murderously. “If you were here to stop it you would have arrived before it happened.”
“I... need... your... help...” Daniels managed to gurgle weakly. T’Pol’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“I would have helped you then. You are well aware of it. You are still lying.” She tightened her grip. Daniels’ face turned liver colored and his lips moved without sound to form the word ‘no’. He tried to shake his head. His mouth continued to move and T’Pol saw him form the word ‘daughter’. She grimaced and loosened her grip a fraction.
“What are you talking about?” she demanded. “Whose daughter are you referring to?”
Daniels sucked in a partial lungful of air and burst out in a single gasping rush of words, “Yours-I-want-to-save-your-daughter-and-Commander-Tucker-too-but-I-need-your-help.”
T’Pol opened her hand and let him fall like a rock. She stood paralyzed and listened to her heartbeat surge in her ears like the surf washing across the San Francisco shoreline. Dizziness made the room sway. Daniels choked and gagged at her feet for several minutes before she leaned over and picked him up.
“Explain,” she said coldly. “Why do you care about this? You have what you wanted. Captain Archer survived. The Federation has been founded, and he is out there even now signing the charter, just as you desired. Everything you said must happen has been achieved.”
Daniels nodded and tried hoarsely to talk. “But it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.” He coughed and asked, “Could I please have some water?” T’Pol point at the bathroom and he nodded thanks. While Daniels got a drink T’Pol thoughtfully picked up the hypo from the floor beside the bed and slipped it into the pouch under her robe. By the time the Temporal Agent returned T’Pol was seated on the bunk with something faintly resembling control back in place. She indicated that Daniels should take her desk chair.
T’Pol waited silently. Daniels sighed and gathered his thoughts for a moment. “Tell me Commander. If you had never heard of time travel, what would your opinion of this current Federation charter be?”
T’Pol raised an eyebrow. “I was not overly impressed when I read it. However, since it is already established that the Federation will endure it seemed pointless to dwell on the matter.”
“What specifically about this charter bothered you?” Daniels asked with interest.
T’Pol shrugged. “It seemed only a slight improvement over the previous Alliance agreement. There is very little internal authority and only small incentive for any of the member races to comply with the laws and standards put in place by the Federation Council.”
“Precisely,” Daniels sat back in satisfaction. “Without an immediate external threat to bind the members together this type of agreement is too loose to be effective. If the Federation is to endure it needs a real government with real teeth. There are external threats out there, many of them. But at this point in time they are too vague and distant to provide the necessary motivation.”
“You claim that somehow Trip and Elizabeth could change this.” T’Pol spoke with flat disbelief in her voice.
“Actually yes, odd as it sounds,” Daniels told her. “Not directly of course. But they will have an effect long term. Of course there are also other aspects to consider.”
“Such as?” T’Pol asked intently.
“Such as,” Daniels said mildly, “the fact that your husband, Charles Tucker III, is on record as being the lead engineer and primary design specialist for humanity’s first warp eight capable engine. I believe that counts as historically significant, wouldn’t you?”
T’Pol found herself trembling. She tried twice before she could force out the words, “What about Elizabeth?”
Daniels looked at her sympathetically. “Elizabeth Tucker’s contribution to history is not as overt as yours or her father’s, but in her own way it may be even more profound. For example one of her favorite students will eventually become Vulcan’s ambassador to Earth. He will marry a human woman openly, causing a firestorm of controversy in the process, and their child in turn will,” Daniels paused and smiled. “Let’s just say that there will be a cascading domino effect of massive historical consequences.”
T’Pol stared at him, then down at her hands. She raised her eyes again and Daniels had to look away. “Why did you wait so long?” T’Pol whispered.
Daniels swallowed hard. “In the original time line, Elizabeth survived. However to protect her from Terra Prime and other xenophobic factions that might wish to harm her it was decided to spread a false rumor that she had died.” He forced himself to meet her eyes. “That’s why we didn’t realize that the time line had gone off track until now, when Commander Tucker was killed. We thought that Elizabeth was still alive and in hiding on Vulcan, just as she was supposed to be.”
T’Pol nodded. She closed her eyes and called up the breathing exercises that promoted calm and strength. “What do you need me to do?”
Daniels stood up. “I need you to come with me to my ship. I will explain once we get there.” T’Pol stood and followed him to the door of her apartment.
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