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Never and Always
Author - Hopeful Romantic | Genre - Action/Adventure | Genre - Alternate Universe | Genre - Romance | Main Story | N | Rating - R
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Never and Always...
Rating: PG-13, until Chapter 10—then R, for cussin’ and sexual forthrightness
Series Summary: The Reconnecting series is a reinterpretation of certain events of Season 4 that went AU shortly after “Home.” It focuses on the relationships of Trip and T’Pol and their extended family, and features characters introduced in Season 3, as well as original characters.
Spoilers: Through “Kir’Shara,” plus references through the rest of Season 4.
Story Summary: Sequel to my story For As Long As Ever Lasts. As Enterprise journeys home from Vulcan, T’Pol learns mind-melding from a cantankerous old uncle type, Trip learns some key Vulcan phrases, Archer learns the answer to the Marriage Question from Admiral Gardner, and Trip and T’Pol learn what Soval already knows. Back home, Lorian and Karyn learn they can go public, and Lorian learns of an offer from Captain Hernandez.
A/N: It took me nine stories to fix what “Home” and Koss broke, and I thought my work was done. Then a few brainless twits with power went and broke the show, with a mess of T/T together-goodness left unexplored. So I’m back! I’ll be writing more stories after this one (whoa, first time I’m goin’ on record sayin’ that), so I hope y’all who have enjoyed this AU will keep visiting.
Thanks to Mitchell for a nickname he coined at TrekBBS for the bond, which I happily swiped and used here, and also to the Vulcan Language Institute for ceremonial translations.
Bountiful thanks as always to my beta goddess Stephanie.
Note: I wrote this story with the assumption that Enterprise took a couple of weeks to return to Earth from Vulcan, rather than roaring back in three days at emergency speed, the same way she did to go there in order to deal with the embassy bombing.
June 25, 2154
As soon as Captain Erika Hernandez stepped off the turbolift onto Columbia’s bridge, she spotted Commander Lorian and Lieutenant Archer in a tangle on the deck, under the helm console.
So much for discretion.
Hernandez had to admit she was disappointed. Up to now, Lorian and Karyn had done as Hernandez had requested when they signed on, and had kept their professional and personal lives separate. In fact, they were the most focused and dedicated members of her crew. She hadn’t seen so much as a hand-hold or moony smile between them while on duty—or even off-duty, when they were in the public eye. If she hadn’t seen them with her own eyes at Callahan’s, exchanging smoldering looks as they danced that rumba, she would never have suspected they were madly in love with each other.
As to what they did when they were alone...well, Hernandez had stuck to her part of the bargain and remained officially uninformed.
But now...Hernandez sighed to herself. Not that she or any of the half-dozen other crew on the bridge could see what the two of them were doing under that console, but it wasn’t hard to guess. She approached the helm and kneeled down to break up the clinch, before anyone else got a look.
What she found was not quite what she expected. Lorian and Karyn were squeezed together under the open panel of the navigation board, practically in each other’s laps, their faces a hair’s-breadth apart...but they were so intent on their minute adjustments to the delicate circuitry that they seemed entirely unaware of their intimate proximity to each other.
“That’s the last one,” Karyn said. She lowered her arms, shaking them to get the circulation going again.
As Lorian closed up the panel, Hernandez hid her relief and gladly got down to ship’s business. “How’s it coming?”
“The speed and maneuverability of the navigational systems should improve by a good fifteen per cent,” Karyn replied. “At least, that’s the jump we saw on Enter—” She stopped, and with a faintly annoyed little shake of her head, switched to the code word dictated by Starfleet HQ. “On E².”
Hernandez smiled in sympathy. She couldn’t imagine how Lorian and Karyn must feel, having to censor every reference to their existence before their arrival at Spacedock in May, due to Starfleet HQ’s insistence on keeping the “time travel element” in strictest secrecy. She knew that none of Lorian’s former crew was happy about having their lives labeled Highly Classified. A few crewmembers had good-naturedly rebelled, taking the original code designation for Lorian’s Enterprise, E-2, and re-dubbing it the decidedly less official-sounding E², a moniker quickly adopted by the rest of the crew in cheerfully mutinous solidarity.
But they were all still stuck with pasts that could never be discussed among the rank-and-file of Starfleet personnel. Oh, they were allowed to admit a few necessary details to family and co-workers. Karyn, for example, had been given clearance to address the inevitable curiosity by her Columbia mates about her appearance. She could say part of her ancestry was Ikaaran and that she was “related” to Jonathan Archer, though questions about Ikaar and Archer were to be answered with the standard “Sorry, that’s classified.” Lorian passed as a full Vulcan, albeit an unusually personable one, who displayed a wry sense of humor and an occasional smile.
Their Starfleet-ordered reticence created a mystique about them almost from the moment they arrived on Columbia. Hernandez’s request to the crew not to pry only made everyone more curious. Rumors began spreading that the pair’s last posting, the elusive E², had been part of the “secret spy section” that some whispered about here and there, but no one would go on record to confirm. Lorian and Karyn were instructed by HQ not to deny the rumors, which succeeded in providing a storm of diversionary gossip that would have done the now-defunct Vulcan High Command proud.
Despite the mystery and hearsay swirling around Lorian and Karyn, the crew took an instant liking to them. They were friendly, generous, resourceful, and damn good at their jobs. Improvements to engineering and navigation were noticeable right away. Lorian seemed especially pleased, not to mention a touch amused, by the comparisons the engineering crew was soon making between him and Enterprise’s famed miracle worker, Commander Charles Tucker III.
“When will you be ready for our final set of warp trials?” Hernandez asked Lorian.
“Two days, I should think,” he replied.
“We’ll test out the modifications to the navigation systems then, too.”
Karyn nodded. “Aye, Captain.”
Yarrow, the Communications officer, looked up from her board. “Captain, there’s a subspace message coming in. For Lieutenant Archer or Commander Lorian.”
Karyn and Lorian stood with Hernandez. “It’s from Enterprise,” Yarrow continued. “Commander Tucker.”
Hernandez noticed the pair brightening considerably. Lorian explained, “We have had no communication since Enterprise left for Vulcan.”
“Transfer the call to my ready room,” Hernandez told Yarrow. She waved Lorian and Karyn away. “Be my guests. Enjoy the privacy.”
“Thank you, Captain,” they responded, almost in unison. As they made for the ready room, Hernandez took the center seat, smiling to herself. They could probably use the privacy for more than the call, anyway.
-- -- --
As soon as the door was closed and they were alone, Karyn took Lorian by the shoulders and gave him a brief but intensely passionate kiss. He pulled her close, matching her fire, feeling her shiver with pleasure. She tasted especially delicious to him.
She stepped back, a little embarrassed, but only a little. “After sitting next to you all morning under that helm console and not even touching you, I needed that.”
He raised an amused eyebrow. “Will you last until we finish our duty shift?”
She sat behind the captain’s terminal, wearing a satisfied smile. “I’ll manage. But you might want to plan for a clandestine rendezvous tonight.”
Lorian felt a thrill of anticipation as he watched his fiancée punch up the subspace call. They spent every night together now, in her quarters or his, whether they indulged in lovemaking or simply lay contentedly in each other’s arms. Lorian had even jury-rigged their comm systems to forward hails. Off duty, out of the public eye, they were inseparable. They simply did not wish to waste a moment together.
The viewscreen came alive, revealing Trip and T’Pol at the other end of the transmission, in T’Pol’s quarters on Enterprise. Karyn noticed at once that they weren’t in uniform; in fact, Trip wasn’t even wearing a shirt. Wait, did that mean—? No, they could’ve just finished a neuropressure session or something. She forced herself not to jump to any conclusions.
Trip grinned. “Hey, you two.” Then he scowled, almost at once. “You didn’t tell us you were Starfleet already.”
Lorian was staring with concern at the bruise still visible on his mother’s cheek. “You did not tell us that you had been injured.”
“You did not tell us that you were joining the crew of Columbia,” T’Pol countered.
“Hold on, everyone,” Karyn interjected gently. “It’s been a while since we’ve talked to each other. We all need to catch up.”
As the rest of her family eased down, Karyn felt oddly like a family counselor...which was hilarious to her, considering she was the youngster of this bunch. She took a deep, calming breath, in pointed demonstration, then continued, “Trip, T’Pol, you know most of our news already, so—”
“There’s more?” Trip blurted.
Karyn raised a warning eyebrow, and Trip subsided. Lorian had not told anyone else yet about his decision to apply for the captaincy of Intrepid. And Dr. Soong’s little “project” would remain secret until Phlox had the completed research for safe Vulcan/human hybridization in hand. “All in good time. First, it’s your turn.”
A joyful smile blossomed on Trip’s face, lighting up the viewscreen. He looked expectantly at T’Pol. She wasn’t as demonstrative, of course, but the same happiness shone in her eyes. Karyn could even swear she saw the corners of T’Pol’s lips quirking up in what appeared to be a serene little smile. Karyn gasped softly, latching onto Lorian’s hand without even realizing it. Could it be?...
“Lorian was correct about Koss,” T’Pol began.
Lorian felt his own breath quickening, much like Karyn’s. Displaying distressingly humanlike impatience, he prompted, “And?”
“He released me from our marriage,” T’Pol announced.
“And I proposed,” Trip added.
“And I accepted,” T’Pol finished.
Karyn squealed with delight before she could stop herself. “Finally!”
Lorian found himself nearly overcome by a tremendous surge of relief. He actually felt tears in his eyes. He squeezed them shut, swallowing hard, gripping Karyn’s hand tightly. He had not realized until this moment how profoundly important it had been to him for his parents—these parents, in this timeline—to find happiness together.
“Lorian?” he heard Trip saying. “Are you all right?”
Lorian felt Karyn squeeze his hand. She understood. He opened his eyes, blinking the tears away, and looked into the concerned faces of his parents. “Yes,” he replied, his voice low and rough with emotion. “Now I am all right. I feel as if a terrible wrong has at last been set right...” Overwhelmed, he was forced to stop.
Karyn was surprised to feel her eyes tearing up, too. She couldn’t explain it, but she knew that, somehow, these tears were Lorian’s. She felt as though a part of him was inside her. She imagined she could feel his relief, his gladness, his love for his parents.
Trip and T’Pol’s expressions softened at Lorian’s heartfelt words. “Lorian,” T’Pol said quietly, “when you gave us your assessment that my marriage would not be long-lasting, you restored our future.”
“You gave us something to hope for,” Trip smiled. “It made all the difference in the world. Thanks, son.”
Lorian was watching T’Pol more closely now. She was clearly pleased about the engagement, but something was...wrong. “Mother? What else has happened?”
T’Pol looked away. Karyn saw it too, now...a sadness shadowing T’Pol’s joy. Quietly, she said, “My mother is dead.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jonathan Archer stepped through the airlock hatch to find Malcolm Reed waiting, his normally reserved British mien alight with a warm smile. He must have enjoyed being in command these past two days. “Welcome back, Captain.”
“Thanks, Malcolm,” Archer replied. “It’s good to be home.”
“How are you feeling, sir?” Malcolm inquired, a bit hesitantly. “Commander Tucker mentioned you were possessed by some sort of Vulcan spirit...?”
“Two, actually.” Archer tapped his forehead. “It got a little crowded up here for a while, but now it’s just me. Nice and quiet again.” He smiled. “I appreciate the quiet a lot more.”
They headed toward the turbolift. “How’s T’Pol?” Archer asked.
“She and Commander Tucker returned to duty this morning. She appears much improved, sir.” Malcolm smiled knowingly to himself. T’Pol and Trip had hardly stepped foot out of her quarters since she’d come back; Malcolm could only imagine what they’d been doing to, er, restore her glow of good health. “I’ve never seen her look better, in fact.”
“Tucker therapy,” Archer nodded. “Good for what ails you.”
“Indeed, sir.” Malcolm handed over several padds. “Ship’s status, repair updates, Phlox’s latest injury reports, and a message from Lieutenant Archer.”
Archer pulled up, staring at the last padd in shock. “Lieutenant?”
“I didn’t know she’d joined Starfleet,” Malcolm continued, pleasantly oblivious. “Or that she’d been posted to Columbia.”
Archer was scanning Karyn’s message now, looking like an abandoned puppy. “Neither did I.”
Finally, Malcolm put two and two together. “Oh, dear,” he murmured in belated mortification. “I’ve spoilt a surprise, haven’t I, sir?”
Archer attempted to shrug off his sulkiness. “Nah, I just have to get used to this. It must be one of those cosmic maxims: The Captain Shall Be The Last One To Know About Family Milestones.” He started walking again, with Malcolm falling back into step beside him. “Since I haven’t had family for so long, I’m learning all over again.” He chuckled. “Next you’ll be telling me Trip and T’Pol had some monumental development while I was getting all these Vulcans out of my head.”
This time it was Malcolm who stopped in his tracks. “Well...” he began awkwardly. “Uhm...actually...”
“Aw, dammit!” Archer glowered as he entered the turbolift. “Where are they?”
-- -- --
Trip and T’Pol were at their stations, catching up on status reports, when Archer barreled onto the bridge. Trip smiled brightly. “Hey, Cap—”
“Tucker! T’Pol!” Archer barked, not even slowing down. “My ready room!” And he was gone, inside.
Malcolm stepped off the turbolift in the wake of Hurricane Archer, shaking his head in dire warning to the two commanders. They rose and cautiously entered the ready room.
Archer was waiting for them, arms folded, steaming. “Two days. I leave you alone for two lousy days, but you still have to go and do something without me knowing. It’s bad enough that I find out Karyn and Lorian are already in Starfleet, already on Columbia—”
“They didn’t tell us, either,” T’Pol pointed out.
“Hold on—you knew they were going to Columbia?“ Trip asked. “Why didn’t you—”
“Shut up! I’m ranting here!” Archer snapped.
“Aye, sir.” Trip and T’Pol stood ramrod-straight and silent, shoulder to shoulder, apparently trying to look contrite. Not doing a decent job of it at all, in Archer’s assessment.
“Out with it,” he commanded. “What’d I miss this time?”
“Koss released me,” T’Pol replied promptly.
“And we’re engaged,” Trip added quickly.
Archer stared at them. Trip and T’Pol braced themselves for an explosion. But the captain broke into the cutest little-boy smile they had ever seen on him. “Finally!” He pumped Trip’s hand, then touched T’Pol’s shoulder affectionately. “I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for three months. Congratulations.”
The couple relaxed. “Thank you, Captain,” T’Pol replied.
“Yeah, thanks, Cap’n,” Trip echoed. “You gotta understand, it wasn’t really something that could wait...”
Archer waved him silent. “I know. I understand. I’m happy anyway. God, I’m so happy for you both.” Abruptly, he slapped his forehead. “Now I really have to get with Admiral Gardner about Starfleet’s policy on married officers. I’ve got two engaged couples to ask about.” His eyes fell on the fading bruise on T’Pol’s cheek, and suddenly he was remembering the destruction of the T’Karath sanctuary, and T’Les dying in her daughter’s arms. “How are you?” he asked T’Pol quietly.
She glanced at Trip, slipping her hand into his. “Better,” she told Archer. “I was not alone. Thank you, Captain.”
Archer was glad that she felt comfortable enough to be so open in front of him. “Shared sorrow lightens grief,” he quoted Surak, with a smile to Trip.
“Now, if you’re done yellin’ at us, Cap’n, we’ll get back to work,” Trip said, his eyes twinkling.
“Damn straight, smartass,” Archer shot back good-naturedly. “Vacation’s over. Time to make up for slacking off the last two days.” He grinned. “By the way—Captain’s Mess tonight, 1900 hours. I want details about the big Koss heave-ho.”
“Yes, sir,” they both replied smartly.
Archer led the way back onto the bridge. After he took the center seat, he simply watched his two friends for a time, as they traded looks across the room. He saw the sparkle in their eyes, the shared bliss of true togetherness. At last, all was right with the world.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Malcolm’s honor guard snapped to attention as the airlock gauge flashed green, indicating that the shuttle from Earth’s embassy had docked. Archer, flanked by T’Pol and Trip, stepped forward as the hatch hissed open, revealing the embassy representative, a somber-faced man named Shaw.
“Ambassador Shaw,” Archer greeted him, shaking his hand. “Glad to have you aboard.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Shaw replied quietly.
Archer introduced Trip and T’Pol before beckoning Malcolm over. “Lt. Commander Reed will be your liaison for the journey home.”
Malcolm gave Shaw a respectful nod. “My staff and I are at your disposal, sir. If there’s anything you need, you have but to ask.”
Shaw nodded his thanks before turning back to Archer. “We have a member of the Vulcan High Council with us. He’ll be representing Vulcan at the memorial.”
A silver-haired Vulcan, dressed in muted ambassadorial robes, emerged from the airlock: Soval. He met the surprised faces of Archer, Trip, and T’Pol by raising his hand in the Vulcan ta’al. “We meet again, sooner than any of us expected.”
All three officers returned the ta’al in unison, as Shaw and Malcolm observed from the sidelines. “Looks like Vulcan Old Home Week,” Malcolm murmured.
Soval smoothly switched to a human greeting, holding out his hand. Archer shook it warmly. “Welcome aboard, Amb...uh, Councillor Soval? Minister?”
“Ambassador,” Soval clarified. “Minister T’Pau agreed with my assessment that my abilities as a diplomat far outweighed any input I might have at this time regarding the reorganization of Vulcan’s government.” He paused. “Also, I asked to make this final journey with Admiral Forrest, to pay tribute to him at the memorial. I greatly valued his friendship.”
Shaw looked from Archer to Malcolm. “I’d like to see my... The victims, are they—” He faltered, swallowing hard.
“Of course, Ambassador,” Malcolm replied. “Come with me, sir.” He led the way down the corridor with Shaw, as the others followed. Malcolm continued, his manner at once smoothly professional and gentle with compassion. “They were brought to a specially prepared area of the ship, where an honor guard will watch over them round the clock, all the way home...”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Captain’s Mess was filled with warm memories that evening. Abner Shaw, like everyone else at the embassy, had been awash in shock and sorrow for days; he was only too glad of the opportunity to share fond anecdotes about his lost colleagues. After he bid the Enterprise officers goodnight and took his leave, Soval took on the mantle of storyteller, enthralling Archer with tales of his many years working with Admiral Forrest. Archer, in turn, passed on his lingering memories of his conversations with Surak, now mercifully uninterrupted by the blatherings of that emissary-reject Syrran. T’Pol, for her part, reminisced about her mother. Then Soval listened with fascination as Trip and T’Pol recounted the rocky road that led to their engagement, from Lorian’s prescient analysis of T’Pol’s marriage to Koss’s confession and declaration of release.
“It is unfortunate that Admiral Forrest is not here to share in the news of your engagement,” Soval told the commanders. “I believe he would have supported it.”
“Supported? He would have promoted the hell out of it!” Archer laughed. “You saw what he did with ‘The First Ever Vulcan Member Of Starfleet’.”
Trip and T’Pol both winced, recalling the media circus surrounding T’Pol’s Starfleet commission. “I don’t understand why it has to be such a big deal,” Trip sighed. “Can’t we just get married?”
“No,” Archer and Soval both said flatly.
“You’re trailblazers, whether you want to be or not,” Archer pointed out. “You’re choosing a difficult and untested path.”
“However, you will leave a valuable legacy behind,” Soval said. “The path will be easier for those who follow you.”
T’Pol’s brow knitted pensively. She spoke slowly, choosing her words with care. “I am embarking on a journey that diverges from the Vulcan norm. But in many ways, I am only now discovering what it is to be truly Vulcan.” She glanced at Trip before continuing. “I choose this path freely. Yet I wish to embrace the facets of my heritage that I have never known. To learn that mind-melding is not a shameful thing, a source of pain and disease, but a lost art, a method of healing and communion accessible to all...to know that my mother learned to meld...” She turned hopefully to Soval. “Will you teach me?”
“Of course,” the ambassador replied readily. “We can begin whenever you are ready.”
“This evening?” she asked.
“As you wish.”
“How shall I prepare?...”
As the two Vulcans conversed, the two humans traded a glance. Trip could tell from Archer’s glad smile that they were thinking the same thing: it was good to see T’Pol embracing her Vulcan heritage.
In all the years Trip had known her, he had gotten the impression that T’Pol didn’t think much of Vulcan society or traditions—even when she was throwing them in his face to prove a point. Now he understood her disillusionment a lot better. She had spent virtually all her life as an outcast. Her emotions were unusually close to the surface, she had chosen an unconventional career, and she hadn’t slavishly followed Vulcan tradition or the High Command’s doctrine. Plus, she’d been the VHC’s go-to scapegoat ever since P’Jem. No wonder she was as disenchanted, in her own way, as T’Les had been.
But now, because of the Kir’Shara, Vulcans were embracing truth and reacquainting themselves with the Surakian ideals of humility and tolerance. T’Pau had cleaned house; the Vulcan High Council would not be taking up the High Command’s longtime role as the insufferable know-it-alls of the galaxy. Finally, T’Pol had a homeworld she could respect.
It was about time.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As the viewscreen lit, Trip was greeted by a close-up view of his mom’s mixing bowl. She must have punched up the call with her elbow. She stepped back into full view, vigorously beating her concoction by hand. No auto-mixers for this woman, no sir. “Yes?...” She hadn’t quite turned her attention to her screen yet.
Trip spotted a smudge of flour on her cheek. “Whatever it is you’re making, save me some.”
Catherine Tucker looked up, startled—and her kindly, weathered face lit up. “Trip! Goodness, why didn’t you tell us you were calling?” She set the bowl down, flustered, and ran her fingers through her strawberry-blond hair, leaving faint trails of flour. “I must look a sight.”
“You look fine, Mom,” Trip smiled. “You look beautiful.”
She stopped fussing and blushed. She did look better, Trip was glad to see. The move to Mississippi had done her and Dad some good, if only by putting breathing room between them and the painful memories of Elizabeth’s death.
“Let me get your father. Just—” Catherine vanished from view, but Trip could hear her: “Chuck! Where are you?...”
Half a minute later, he heard them both returning. “What’re you hollerin’ about, woman?” That was Dad, sounding mighty perturbed. She must have rousted him from his workshop.
“Take your hat off. There’s a call for you.”
“My hat? What for?...”
Then Mom was dragging Charles Anthony Tucker Jr. in front of the viewscreen. Sans hat. Chuck burst into a hearty grin when he saw his son. “Trip! Good to see ya, boy!”
“Hey, Dad.” Trip saw a sprinkling of sawdust on his father’s well-worn coveralls. “Building flower boxes?”
Chuck laughed. “A few. You wouldn’t believe how many windows this place has.”
“Just trying to make it feel more like a home,” Catherine said, a little self-consciously.
Chuck put an arm around her shoulders. “We’ll get there, hon. Just give it time.”
Catherine turned back to Trip. “We haven’t heard from you in ages.”
“I know,” Trip confessed sheepishly. “I was gonna call you after we got back into port, but then the embassy on Vulcan got bombed, and we had to ship out again. We’re on our way back from Vulcan now.”
Chuck’s craggy face darkened. “Did you find the sons-of-bitches who did it?”
Trip nodded. “Yeah, Dad. We found them.”
“What, the Vulcans didn’t bother providing proper security to an alien embassy?” Chuck didn’t bother to hide his bitterness.
Trip hadn’t realized how deeply the bombing might resonate with his folks. In hindsight, it was obvious: it was the Xindi attack all over again, in microcosm. “Twelve Vulcans died, too,” he said quietly. “And several dozen more were killed in another attack. Innocent citizens. Nobody got off easy, Dad.”
Catherine, ever the conciliator, changed the subject. “So Trip, when you get back...do you think you’ll have time to catch us up on what’s been going on with you?” Hope crept into her voice. “Maybe a visit?”
Here goes. The first step. “Actually, that’s why I’m calling,” Trip replied. “A whole lot has happened in the last several months, but I haven’t been able to talk about it, because there were some...issues still up in the air. But in the last few days, a bunch of stuff got resolved.” He smiled. “So it’s time to tell you everything.”
Chuck looked intrigued. “Well? Spill it, son!”
Catherine nodded expectantly. “We’re all ears, sweetheart.”
“Nope.” Trip shook his head resolutely. “I gotta tell you in person. And there’re some people I want you to meet, too.” He could feel his smile growing. “Some very special people.”
He could tell by the looks on their faces that the wild speculating had commenced in earnest. Quickly, he continued. “The thing is, we’ve all gotta stay near Starfleet—there’s going to be a memorial for the bombing victims. So how do you feel about a visit to San Francisco?”
Catherine and Chuck glanced at each other. “We haven’t been out there since you were in Starfleet Training, have we?” Chuck commented. But the look he gave his wife said: Whatever this is, it’s big. She nodded.
Damn it all, they were doing their secret-looks thing again. Trip had tried all his life to figure out what his parents communicated to each other when they traded those wordless sidelong glances, but he’d never been able to crack the code. It drove him nuts when they did it...well, actually, he envied them. It must be nice, being able to speak without words. He’d always thought that made his parents special.
“I’ve got a little more pull this time around—I’ll get you a better place to stay,” he told them. “And you can say hi to Captain Archer. What do you say?”
The two exchanged another look...Catherine conveying to Chuck, We’re passing this up over my dead body, dear. He chuckled.
Trip sat patiently, waiting until they were ready to talk out loud, like normal people. Finally they faced him again. “We’d love to, honey,” Catherine smiled. “Just tell us when.”
“Great.” Trip could already feel a knot of nervousness forming in the pit of his stomach. Oh, to be Vulcan now. “I’ll call you when we make Earth orbit.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The first thing Admiral Gardner said when he appeared on Archer’s viewscreen was, “What is it with you and making history, Jon?”
Archer smiled cheerily. “Hello to you, too, Paul. I gather you’ve read my report.”
Gardner held up a padd. “I have. As I recall, I sent you to catch a terrorist bomber. I see you also managed to find the Vulcan Holy Grail and preserve the spirit of some two-thousand-year-old demi-god.”
“Surak wasn’t a god,” Archer explained patiently. “Think of him as Siddhartha before he started being worshipped as Buddha, and logic as his path to enlightenment.” He frowned. “No, actually, that’s a really lame comparison...”
“I just marvel at your tendency to be smack in the middle of seminal events,” Gardner commented. “The NX program, Enterprise, the Vulcan Reformation. I should start calling you Mr. Destiny.”
“You do, and I will come after you,” Archer threatened good-naturedly. “That Surak thing was dumb luck.”
Even as he said it, he suddenly pictured Temporal Agent Daniels standing behind him, that ageless face filled with sincerity. He could even imagine hearing Daniels’ earnestly insistent voice... Not at all, Jonathan! You were meant to be in that cave during that one-of-a-kind sandfire storm, with T’Pol knocked senseless and Syrran mortally wounded at that very moment! You were always supposed to trigger the Vulcan Reformation, just as you will be integral to the founding of the Federation!...
Archer glanced behind him. No enigmatic time traveler lurking, waiting to spout messages about the future. And stay away, Daniels. He couldn’t imagine any reason he’d be happy to see that guy again.
“I see V’Las convinced this Stel character to take the fall for the bombing,” Gardner was saying. “Don’t tell me V’Las wormed his way out of responsibility for destroying the Syrrannite camp, too.”
“Not quite,” Archer replied. “V’Las didn’t count on having an emotional meltdown in front of the rest of the Council after Kuvak halted his attack on the Andorian fleet. And after Soval revealed V’Las’s plot to attack Andoria itself, he was permanently banned from holding any position in the government. It may not sound like much, but to a man who doesn’t know how to live without power, it’s the worst possible punishment.”
Gardner sighed. “I still think he should be shipped off to one of those Klingon penal colonies. He probably wouldn’t last a week, but the idea sounds more satisfying.”
Archer saw for the first time how tired his old friend looked. “So how have you been adjusting to the new job, Paul? You look a little beat.”
Gardner shook his head. “You wouldn’t believe how busy Forrest kept himself. I think we need three people to replace him as Admiral.” He paused, an all-too familiar sadness crossing his features. “And the man himself...irreplaceable.”
“Yeah,” Archer agreed quietly. He gave his new boss an encouraging smile. “You’ll do fine. Karyn speaks quite highly of you.”
That got a smile out of Gardner. “Ah. My adopted pet project...E².”
“Everything about Lorian’s ship is classified because of the time travel, as you know,” Gardner explained. “Including the personnel. But now I’ve got sixty-three of them working among regular, non-classified Starfleet folks. We needed code words. It’s all very silly, and very necessary, according to HQ. It doesn’t make blending in any easier for them, though.”
“At least you didn’t banish them to a desert island, or some isolated moon.” Archer cleared his throat. “Uh, Paul...on a related matter, sort of...what’s current policy regarding two officers serving aboard the same ship who want to get married?”
“All power to ‘em,” Gardner replied. “We don’t regulate who marries whom.”
“Good. Then let’s say, hypothetically, that these newlyweds want to continue serving on the same vessel?”
Gardner frowned. “The brass’s position has been the same for the last few centuries on that subject. ‘If we’d wanted you to have a spouse aboard ship, we would have issued you one.’ It’s generally assumed that spouses are too sweet a distraction. Work efficiency suffers, PDA’s get inappropriate. It’s simply too difficult for most couples to handle. HQ prefers to transfer one of them to a different post. That being said, each matter is taken on a case-by-case basis.” He arched an eyebrow curiously. “Who are we talking about?”
Archer hesitated. “Hypothetically?”
“An engineer and a bridge officer.”
Gardner smiled knowingly. “Would this bridge officer be Helm or Science?”
“Someone’s done his homework,” Archer observed. “Okay, for purposes of discussion...let’s talk both.”
Gardner laughed. “Are you running a matchmaking service?”
“I had nothing to do with it,” Archer protested. “Well, maybe I encouraged Karyn a little, right at the beginning. But I was the last one to know about the engagements.”
“These Tucker men are quite the romantics, aren’t they?”
“Hypothetical Tucker men,” Archer corrected.
“Right. That just slipped out.”
Gardner sat back and pondered for a moment. “Regarding your hypothetical engineer and helm officer...I’ve read the logs for E². Since it was a generational ship, and relationships were encouraged, the art of separating personal and professional lives was a necessary part of basic training. As I recall from the records, Lorian and Karyn were as proficient as anyone—paragons of objectivity, in fact. And they work in different departments on Columbia...” He shrugged. “Hell, even if Hernandez puts Lorian in her chain of command, he has over fifty years’ experience putting his ship and crew above his own personal wishes.”
This was a lot easier than Archer had expected. “So you’re telling me...”
“Have them talk to Hernandez. If she has no objection, set the date. Just tell them to keep things low-key. We wouldn’t want to tick off the couples who do get transferred apart. And I fully expect to be invited, by the way.”
Archer nodded happily. “I’ll pass that along.”
Gardner stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Now, about your hypothetical engineer and science officer...it gets stickier. They don’t have the benefit of being raised on E², with records attesting to their objectivity training. Plus, they’re second and third in your chain of command. The brass will likely make the typical knee-jerk assumptions that your commanders will have the attention span problem, the propriety problem, the objectivity problem—”
“They’re not greenhorn ensigns!” Archer said in exasperation. “They’re seasoned senior officers. One of them’s Vulcan. What happened to evaluating on a case-by-case basis?”
“Married officers—command officers—on the same vessel? The brass hates this, Jon.”
“You’re in charge of Fleet Ops now, not the brass.”
Gardner bristled. “You think they appointed me to run roughshod over long-standing policy?”
“I don’t know, Paul,” Archer shot back. “Did they appoint you to toe the party line? Maintain the stodgy status quo? With monumental changes on the horizon?”
They glared at each other for a long moment. Carefully, Gardner said, “I am not a puppet. Or a yes-man.”
“I know,” Archer said, more quietly. “I knew it when we were in the NX program together, and you got in almost as much trouble as I did.”
The two men shared a brief smile, easing the tension between them. Archer went on, “You’re a forward thinker. Now you have the power to make policy, not just maintain it. The face of the galaxy is changing. The Vulcans aren’t our wet-nurses anymore—they’re going to be our allies. It’s time for new ideas.”
Gardner ran his hand tiredly through his close-cropped silver hair. “The drawback to being a forward thinker is that you deal with a lot of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are quite comfortable with their obsolete, walnut-brained viewpoints.”
“I have every confidence in your ability to bring them into the modern age,” Archer replied.
Gardner regarded him through narrowed eyes. “Have you already forgotten which one of us is the history-maker, ‘Mr. Destiny’?”
“You’re right about big changes taking place,” Gardner acknowledged. “The problem is, Earth may not be ready for some of them. There are still a few very stubborn xenophobic factions stirring up trouble here. Apparently a lot of folks don’t want a formal alliance with Vulcan, or any other aliens—much less interspecies marriage or half-breed children. Not my term, by the way. I just mainstreamed nineteen hybrids into Starfleet, including your great-granddaughter and her intended. I’m on your side.”
“I know,” Archer said sincerely. “All Trip and T’Pol want is to do their jobs, just as they always have. And be married, too.”
Gardner nodded. “I hear you. I’ll take it to HQ and see what I can hammer out. Fair enough?”
“Fair enough. Thanks, Paul.”
Gardner smiled. “Give my best to the hypothetical Happy Couples.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When Hoshi got out of the shower, she found a message waiting on her terminal:
BREAKFAST MESS HALL 0700? NEED A FAVOR. TOP SECRET. C. TUCKER
Hoshi laughed out loud. She’d been expecting this for days. “Finally!”
She arrived at the mess hall a few minutes early, but it looked to her as though Commander Tucker had been there for much longer. He had staked out a table in the corner by himself. From the level of fidgeting, Hoshi guessed he was on his third cup of coffee.
He spotted her as she carried her tray over. “Hey, Hoshi.” He rose, pulling out a chair for her.
“Good morning, Commander,” she smiled.
He rubbed his hands on his pant legs as he sat down. Definitely nervous. “Thanks for coming.”
“A girl’s gotta eat.” Hoshi settled herself and dug into her breakfast. “So...?”
“Right.” Tucker leaned in closer, lowering his voice. “I need your help on a...a project. But you gotta keep it a secret.”
Hoshi pursed her lips, making a show of mulling it over. “What do I get out of it?”
He looked flummoxed. “You’d be the only one who knew the big secret!” he declared, as if the answer were obvious.
“I don’t know,” Hoshi said doubtfully. “Doesn’t seem like enough to me.”
“What do you want—my firstborn?” the commander sputtered. “He’s already got a girlfriend. I don’t have anything else. Just a secret.” He sighed. “I don’t even want it to be a secret.”
Hoshi couldn’t bear to torture him any longer. With a smile, she pulled a padd out of her jumpsuit pocket and slid it across the table to him. Curious now, he took a look. “Terran Standard to Golic Vulcan,” he read. “Traditional Wedding Vows...” He stared at her. “How did—when did you—”
“I see things.” Hoshi went back to her breakfast. “The way people move, they way they touch. Or don’t touch. For instance, after T’Pol got married, I didn’t see you touch each other at all for weeks. But after Lorian showed up, you and T’Pol suddenly began exchanging Vulcan ozh’estas.”
He gaped at her. Hoshi chuckled. “Yeah, you thought nobody was looking...but I was. Now, when it really got interesting was after T’Pol came back from Vulcan this time. Both of you disappeared...Koss came and went...and the next day, you placed two calls: one to Lorian, and the other to your parents.” She shrugged modestly, case closed.
“Damn,” Tucker marveled. “The ship’s Comm officer is the most dangerous person to tell a secret to.”
“Don’t worry,” Hoshi assured him. “My lips are sealed.” She tapped the padd. “There’s a vocalization program in there. You can do the whole thing on your own if you want, but I’d be happy to help you out with the pronunciations. I could meet with you...say, at lunchtimes?”
“I’d like that,” he replied gratefully. “Nothing like practicing with a real live person.” He hesitated. “And...I want to know more than just the words. If you could tell me what they mean...y’know, the story behind the ritual. T’Pol’s told me some, but it’d be good for me to soak up everything I can. The more I know about Vulcan culture...” —he tapped the padd— “...the more this will mean, when we get there.”
Inwardly, Hoshi sighed dreamily at the commander’s romanticism. She hoped T’Pol knew how lucky she was. “Sure, we can do that.” She rose. “I have to get to the bridge. Swing by on your lunch break and we’ll get started.”
Tucker rose with her, ever the Southern gentleman. “Thanks, Hoshi. I really appreciate this.”
She reached up and kissed him on the cheek. “Congratulations. And tell T’Pol for me.”
“I will,” he smiled.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Erika Hernandez had actually begun to fear that this day would never come. As she rode the turbolift down to engineering, she realized she’d lost count of how many times she had faced the depressing possibility that Columbia would never leave Spacedock. With each prospective engineer’s bungled attempt at implementing the new modifications recommended by Trip Tucker in February, the rumors had grown: Columbia was cursed. Hexed. Doomed never to launch at all.
But what had taken a parade of engineers months to hopelessly bollox up, Lorian had made sublimely functional in only three weeks. Even he had been surprised at how well the engines had responded during the final warp trials today. Every parameter had been met or exceeded, every scenario completed successfully. The new modifications—many of which Lorian had supplied to Tucker in the first place, in the Delphic Expanse—were operating as smoothly as if they’d been part of Columbia’s original design specs. Hell, even the tweaks Lorian and Karyn had made to the navigational systems on the bridge worked like a dream.
Hernandez had taken great satisfaction in calling up Admiral Gardner to inform him that, after another week or so of minor pre-launch final touches and the loading of supplies, Columbia would be ready for her debut at last. She had been sure to give Lorian the credit he was due, which had tickled Gardner. His fondness for the E² bunch was well known.
Hernandez entered engineering expecting to see Lorian’s crew lined up for some kind of congratulatory speechifying by their new chief. But it looked like business as usual...the crew at their posts, attending to their duties. From the doorway, Hernandez scanned the vast, humming room. Finally she spotted Lorian on the catwalk above the warp reactor, in quiet conversation with a young crewman. The kid’s face was shining with pride as Lorian spoke calmly to him. Then, with a nod, Lorian moved on, leaving the crewman grinning happily to himself as he returned to work.
Lorian stopped at the next station to address the crewmember there, a fresh-faced young woman. Hernandez saw the same lovely scenario play out: the woman’s face lit up at her boss’s words, she responded eagerly with a few comments of her own, then Lorian gave her a farewell nod and went on his way, leaving a thrilled young crewman behind.
He’s thanking them, Hernandez realized. Not bunching them together in a line and spouting a prefab speech at them, but going to them one by one and thanking them personally. Knowing Lorian, he was probably singling out each crewman’s specific contribution to the last three weeks’ round-the-clock whirlwind of concentrated effort that had resulted in today’s resounding success.
A passing ensign caught sight of Hernandez and drew in a breath, undoubtedly to sing out, “Captain on deck!” Hernandez held up her hand to keep him silent. She wanted to stay anonymous for now, and simply watch.
Lorian made the rounds of the entire engine room, leaving a uniformly enthused crew in his wake. By the time he descended the metal stairway to the ground floor, the captain had quietly slipped out.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lorian entered his quarters still exhilarated from the day’s accomplishments. Captain Hernandez had announced shipwide that Columbia was now expected to launch on her maiden voyage within ten days, as soon as the embassy memorials were concluded.
As he began shrugging out of his jumpsuit, Lorian saw the message indicator blinking on his terminal. He called up the message—and stopped, half-dressed, staring at the text on the viewscreen.
Karyn arrived fresh from her bridge shift, exuding the same heady excitement as Lorian. “What a day! The helm performed as well as Enterprise ever did! The captain’s so happy, I don’t think her feet are even touching the...” Her voice trailed off as she saw Lorian transfixed before the viewscreen, his jumpsuit bunched incongruously around his waist. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Lorian turned to her, his face unreadable. “I have good news and bad news,” he intoned solemnly.
She went to him, concerned, wondering what he was hesitating to tell her. He took her hand as he continued. “The bad news is...we will not be able to marry in secret, as we have discussed.”
So. Secretly engaged forever. Karyn sighed. She didn’t feel as disappointed as she expected, though. Just being with Lorian, she had realized these past weeks, was more than enough to keep her happy. Not wanting him to feel too badly about it, she smiled. “It’s all right, love, as long as I have you. Now tell me the good news.”
In reply, Lorian took her by the shoulders and positioned her in front of the message on the viewscreen. Karyn read:
FROM: ARCHER, J., CAPT., NX-01 ENTERPRISE
PER ADM. GARDNER — SET THE DATE!!
There was more to the message, but Karyn didn’t see any of it. She was too busy whooping with joy, leaping into Lorian’s arms. He twirled her around, delighting in her laughter, contentedly accepting the kisses she showered on his face. Finally he captured her mouth with his and proceeded to kiss her breathless.
At last Karyn pulled away, her eyes shining, her smile bright enough to put a supernova to shame. She was an exquisite sight. Lorian felt a smile gracing his own face as he continued to gaze happily at her.
She tried to glare at him. “You should be ashamed, you know. You’re getting way too much like your father, pulling a practical joke like...” With a little gasp, she stared at him in wonder. “Lorian, you have dimples.”
He realized he must be smiling quite broadly. “Yes,” he acknowledged. “So does my father.” He couldn’t resist adding playfully, “You did not know?”
She cupped his face in her hands, tracing the tiny indentations in his cheeks, captivated. “I’ve never seen you smile like this.”
He shrugged casually, but his eyes were dancing. “Apparently, the joy you bring me has exceeded even the ability of my Vulcan half to maintain a semblance of its characteristic composure.”
Karyn fairly melted at his words. “We’ll have to do something about that. We can’t have everyone seeing those dimples, my husband-to-be.”
“I shall reserve them for you alone,” Lorian vowed softly. “Will that satisfy you, my wife-to-be?”
“It’s a start.” She kissed each dimple in turn, then fell hungrily upon his lips again. Their kiss quickly deepened into a full-body clinch that had them both tugging at each other’s clothes.
Karyn began kissing her way down Lorian’s chest, pulling off various articles of clothing as she went. Lorian, his entire body tingling with desire, tried to keep his voice even. “We must ascertain whether Captain Hernandez has any objection to our marrying and remaining aboard Columbia. Do you wish to do so now...or later?”
Karyn paused at his naked waist and pondered his question. For about two and a half seconds. “Later.” And she went back to what she was doing, moving significantly lower. Lorian groaned, tangling his fingers in her hair—
—And the comm sounded. “Hernandez to Lorian.”
Karyn fell away from Lorian and sat back on the floor, clapping her hands over her mouth to stifle her half-moan, half-giggle of frustration. Lorian gave her a quick kiss on the top of her beautifully mussed hair before taking a steadying breath. “Lorian here, Captain,” he answered, his voice sounding much calmer than his body.
“Have you eaten yet, Commander?”
Lorian glanced at Karyn. She rolled her eyes, stifling a squeal of laughter, her hands still secure over her mouth. “Not quite, Captain,” he replied.
“Join me in the Captain’s Mess then,” Hernandez said. “I have a matter to discuss with you.”
“Lieutenant Archer and I have news for you as well, Captain. Would you mind if she joined us?”
“Not at all. See you in half an hour?”
“We’ll be there. Lorian out.”
He turned away from the comm panel to see Karyn wriggling out of her jumpsuit and black undershirt, her eyes dark with desire. “Karyn, we are meeting the captain in half an hour.”
She rose and slid sinuously into his arms again. Without uniforms to separate them, the sensation was decidedly more tactile. He could not suppress a gasp of pleasure. Karyn smiled wickedly. “I don’t need half an hour to get ready.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hernandez was still on a high, spending much of dinner waxing rhapsodic with Lorian and Karyn about Columbia’s superb performance during trials that day, particularly her engines and navigational systems. “You certainly have inherited your father’s penchant for miracle-working, Commander,” she told Lorian. “You’ve done an outstanding job.”
“Not I alone,” Lorian demurred. “The crew’s performance has been exemplary. They are a dedicated and determined group. You chose them well.”
Hernandez couldn’t help but smile at Lorian’s quiet humility. “I’ll call it a team effort, then.” She sat back with her tea. “Before we get to my little matter, let’s hear your news.”
Lorian and Karyn glanced at each other. This was the final hurdle. With careful deliberation, Lorian placed his hand lightly over Karyn’s on the table—a significant gesture, done as it was in front of the captain. “Admiral Gardner has given his approval for Lieutenant Archer and myself to marry while continuing to serve together aboard Columbia. If you have no objection, Captain.”
Hernandez broke into a grin. “Hot damn!” she declared with satisfaction. “I, for one, will be glad to be rid of this ridiculous policy of official ignorance. No, I have no objection! Yes, get married! But I want to be there.”
Lorian and Karyn visibly relaxed. “The admiral said the same thing,” Karyn remarked. “By all means, Captain, you’re invited.”
“Congratulations to both of you,” Hernandez said warmly. “When’s the big day? Any plans made?”
“None as yet,” Lorian replied. “Although we have apparently begun a VIP guest list.”
The captain laughed heartily. “It’s lucky that you didn’t have to get all of HQ to okay this. You wouldn’t have room left for anybody you know.” She took a sip of her tea before inquiring casually, “When will you be needing joint quarters?”
Karyn blushed delicately, as Lorian almost imperceptibly tightened his hold on her hand. Hernandez noticed anyway. “We are ready now, Captain,” he stated evenly.
Hernandez eyed them over the rim of her mug. “I figured as much. Sneaking into each other’s rooms at night is a lot of fun, but those crew bunks are way too small.”
This time she was rewarded with a deep green-bronze blush from Lorian himself. Without missing a beat, she nodded, her eyes twinkling. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Karyn dissolved into a charming giggle, collapsing against Lorian’s shoulder. And bless him, he actually seemed to be taking the ribbing with good humor, despite his embarrassment. Hernandez rose to refill her tea mug at the sideboard, giving the two of them a moment. And herself as well, truth be told. Teasing a Vulcan was simply irresistible. She wondered if Jon thought the same way about T’Pol.
When she returned to her seat, the commander and his bride-to-be had recovered their composure. Hernandez got down to business. “Before Columbia launches, only one major task remains for me: the selection of my first officer. I just so happen to have two crewmen with experience at the job, sitting right here at this table.”
Lorian and Karyn traded a look, but said nothing. They’d been so focused on their work, they hadn’t thought about this possibility for weeks.
Hernandez smiled at Karyn. “Lieutenant, you’re something of a prodigy, having been promoted to XO at the tender age of twenty-one. Highly qualified though you are, however, I fear that your age will work against you for a little while yet.” The captain’s gaze shifted to Lorian. “That leaves you, Commander.”
Lorian opened his mouth to speak, but Hernandez held up her hand. “I don’t make this offer lightly, Lorian. If you take it on, I will work you too hard, give you far too much to do, and make serious inroads into your free time...which you have very good reason to safeguard, especially now.”
Lorian hesitated. “Before we discuss your offer further, I must inform you that I have applied for the captaincy of the NX-03, which has begun construction.”
Hernandez brightened. “I should have guessed,” she said approvingly. “The NX-class is tailor-made for you.”
“If I am selected, I would be obliged to leave Columbia in only a few months. My departure might leave you at an unfair disadvantage, particularly if I were your first officer.”
Hernandez considered it. “True, continuity of the command staff is always a plus; it provides stability for the crew. But because Columbia has had such a rocky start, I believe your experience and expertise with the NX-class and her engines supercedes the risk of my losing you permanently.” She leaned forward, addressing him intently. “More importantly, I trust your judgment, Lorian. You’ve been a great sounding board these last few weeks. I find that invaluable. I wouldn’t hesitate leaving the ship in your keeping. My offer stands.”
“I am honored,” Lorian stated gravely.
Hernandez sat back, nodding to Karyn. “You two take all the time you need to talk it over, of course. It concerns you equally now.”
Karyn smiled at her. “We’ve discussed the various possibilities that might arise for Lorian. I’ll support any decision he makes.”
Hernandez turned to Lorian. “Quite a lady you have there, Commander.”
“Indeed yes.” Lorian was silent for a long moment, mentally running a myriad of scenarios, endeavoring to determine the best course for his captain and ship, his future wife, his career, and himself. At last he addressed Hernandez. “If you are confident that I can best serve Columbia, and you, as her first officer as well as her chief engineer...” —he arched an eyebrow— “...and if we can negotiate regarding the free time issue...I accept.”
Hernandez laughed out loud. “Done.” And with a handshake, Commander Lorian became second-in-command of the starship Columbia.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Within a day, Archer and Trip were referring to their routine as Vulcan Training School. Trip would tackle a different Vulcan phrase at lunch each day with Hoshi, while Soval met with T’Pol twice a day in her quarters to instruct her in mind-melding techniques. When Trip arrived at the end of his duty shift, the three of them would bat around a passage of the Kir’Shara—sometimes joined by Captain Archer, depending on his workload. Afterward, Archer would take his lesson from the Vulcans in meditation. Trip gamely joined in on those sessions as well, though he much preferred neuropressure with T’Pol, and not because he was having any trouble sleeping.
Soval and T’Pol’s seventh evening of study found them uncharacteristically alone in her quarters. Trip had been delayed in engineering finishing up some research, and the captain was waiting for a subspace transmission. After the two Vulcans had lit the meditation candles, Soval announced, “T’Pol, you shall initiate the meld tonight.”
“I?” she responded with surprise, and a touch of eagerness. “You believe me ready?”
“You demonstrated during our last session that you are sufficiently skilled in the necessary techniques.” Soval arched an eyebrow. “And with Commander Tucker otherwise engaged this evening, you will have no distractions.”
He and T’Pol touched their fingers to each other’s faces, finding the proper katra points. “Are you prepared?” Soval asked.
“Yes.” T’Pol felt a flutter of apprehension, but the quiet confidence in Soval’s eyes steadied her. She relaxed her mental barriers and lowered her emotional guard, as he had taught her.
“Take me to a place where you feel at ease,” Soval intoned softly.
She nodded, and began the focusing cadence. “My mind to your mind...my thoughts to your thoughts...” She could feel her physical vision giving way to her mind’s eye. Everything around them was brightening, fading to white. “Our minds are merging—”
—And she was in her white space with Soval. “Our minds are one,” he said with her. He examined the new environment with a practiced eye. “Excellent.”
T’Pol surveyed their pristine surroundings with satisfaction, and a lingering trace of wonder. She had selected the place she often visited while meditating, because its pure, peaceful whiteness enabled her to clear her mind of errant emotions.
Soval took a few steps away from her, continuing his study of the white space. “The mental link is strong,” he noted. “Do you feel in control of it?” T’Pol nodded. “Good. As you become more experienced, you will be able to travel virtually anywhere without distraction.” He faced her again. “My mind is open to you. Seek out a memory and bring it forth.”
T’Pol reached out with her mind...yet her effort was tentative, inhibited by her concern for Soval’s privacy, and her lingering doubts about Tolaris, and Pa’nar.
Soval sensed her hesitation. “You cannot harm me,” he calmly told her. “Though you are a novice, you have been properly trained. Leave your troubling thoughts behind. You are welcome to explore my mind.”
Reassured by her mentor, T’Pol reached out mentally once more, and found the memory she was seeking. An image coalesced in the whiteness before them...a Starfleet briefing room crowded with wreckage from Lorian’s Enterprise, and her son standing before a panel of raptly attentive senior Starfleet officers, two disgruntled-looking Vulcans, Admiral Forrest, and Soval.
“Lorian’s debriefing at Starfleet,” Soval observed. “It is an agreeable memory for me.”
T’Pol was spellbound by the image of Lorian...so self-assured, and completely unfazed by the challenging circumstances he faced. Her gaze shifted to Forrest and Soval as they observed him, their expressions reflecting respect and approval. This was the day the two had taken it upon themselves to champion her son. The admiral’s advocacy had led to Lorian’s commission in Starfleet and his assignment on Columbia; perhaps it would lead to command of Intrepid. This meeting had set the course of Lorian’s future. It was the reason T’Pol had wished to witness it for herself.
As the memory-image faded into the whiteness, T’Pol inclined her head to Soval in gratitude. “You risked a great deal for my son.”
“The cause was sufficient,” Soval replied, artfully quoting Surak. With a quick nod, he returned to the lesson. “The area in which melders court danger is in the seeking of thoughts and memories by force. As you know from your experience with Tolaris, much damage can result if—”
“What the hell am I doin’ here?”
Commander Tucker was behind them, peering over their shoulders in confusion at T’Pol’s white space.
If Soval was surprised to see the commander, T’Pol was plainly shocked. She backed away from him, flustered. “You are interrupting my mind-meld.”
“Excuse me?” Tucker retorted. “You’re interrupting my engineering research.” He waved at Soval. “Hey, Soval.”
“Commander,” Soval greeted him amiably.
“By all means then, return to engineering,” T’Pol said, with some irritation.
Tucker circled them, surveying the endless expanse of white. “This is what a mind-meld looks like?” He glanced at Soval. “I got the impression you could see more...uh...more than this.”
“Melds can take many forms,” Soval replied mildly.
“I brought us here because I am accustomed to this place,” T’Pol said, a bit defensively. “This is where I go in my mind when I meditate. The surroundings help me to focus.”
“Hey, Vulcan kissing helps me to focus, but it’s a lot more fun than this place.” Tucker scratched his head as he looked around. “Dull as dirt, if you ask me.”
“It suits my needs,” T’Pol declared. “And no one asked you.”
The commander shrugged. “I just woulda thought you’d pick a more interesting place to meditate. Like the beach. Or one of those Fire Plains you showed me on Vulcan.”
Soval was utterly fascinated, watching them.
Tucker looked T’Pol up and down, smiling enticingly at her. “Why is it that bein’ in your head is makin’ me feel so...frisky?”
Acutely aware of Soval, T’Pol endeavored not to react to the commander's words. “Uninhibited, you mean.”
He leaned close, whispering into her ear. “Take us somewhere else. Just the two of us.”
Whether due to his nearness or his overture, a blush rose to her cheeks. Looking increasingly self-conscious, she pulled away. “Ambassador Soval and I have work to do.”
Tucker parked his hands on his hips. “T’Pol, I bet you never played hooky in your whole life.”
He sniggered. “Just as I thought.”
T’Pol was growing quite nonplussed. “The ambassador is waiting.”
“Aw, he looks fine to me.” The commander winked at Soval. The old Vulcan smiled faintly in spite of himself. Clearly, the lowering of his emotional shields for the meld had made him more demonstrative...but truth be told, he found Tucker refreshingly disarming.
T’Pol seemed even more uncomfortable. “I must continue my training,” she said insistently to Tucker. “Please go away.”
Planting his feet, he folded his arms in playful challenge. “This is my daydream. You go away.”
Her mouth fell open. It took a moment for indignation to replace surprise. “You informed me that you were working. Doing research.”
“I was takin’ a break,” Tucker countered. “Free associating. That’s how I come up with solutions to problems. I didn’t expect to get sucked into this—this white hole.” He smiled smugly at her. “You want me to go away? Make me.”
“Very well!” T’Pol pulled both her and Soval’s hands away from one another’s faces, breaking the meld. In a rush, the white space vanished and her quarters reappeared around them.
T’Pol stared at Soval as the significance of Trip’s appearance became clear to her. She was unable to deny the truth any longer. “We are bonded.”
“It would appear so,” Soval acknowledged quietly. “You had no knowledge of it?”
Reluctantly, she confessed, “There have been indications over the past several weeks.” She added quickly, “But I did not think a bond possible between a Vulcan and a human. Especially under the circumstances. We were not together...”
“You have affection for one another,” Soval pointed out.
“We did not act on that affection! We both honored my marriage. It was only after Koss released me that—” T’Pol stopped, averting her eyes as she blushed deeply.
The door chime sounded, rescuing T’Pol from further embarrassment. “Enter,” she said.
The door slid open to reveal Trip standing in the corridor, out of breath. He must have sprinted all the way from engineering. “This is that bond-thingy, isn’t it.” It was a statement, not a question.
T’Pol nodded. She did not know why, but she was afraid. “Soval has confirmed it.”
She stepped aside and Trip entered, giving Soval a fleeting nod before turning his full attention back to T’Pol. “There’s been a lotta stuff going on lately that I couldn’t explain,” he began. “Knowing what you’re gonna say before you say it, finding you smack in the middle of my dreams, hearing your thoughts in my head, feeling emotions that don’t belong to me...” His voice trailed off as he put it together: the Vulcan bombing of the Syrrannite camp, T’Les’s death, Trip’s own emotional assault at the same moment on Enterprise. “It was you I was feeling!” he exclaimed softly.
T’Pol shook her head, uncomprehending. “When your mother died,” Trip went on. “I knew. I felt your sadness.”
She drew in a startled breath as her sable eyes grew moist. “T’hai’la,” she whispered, overwhelmed, and her voice caught.
Trip glanced at Soval. “That’s why you knew T’Pol was still alive.”
“I suspected,” Soval affirmed. “I did not know for certain until now.”
“This stuff has been going on for weeks.” Trip turned back to T’Pol. “Is that how long we’ve been...bonded?”
“Apparently so,” she replied quietly.
“Did you do this?”
T’Pol hesitated, shifting uncomfortably under his intense gaze. “We both did, albeit unconsciously.”
Baffled, Trip looked from her to Soval and back again, waiting for more of an explanation. T’Pol shrugged helplessly, at a loss.
To Soval, they appeared clearly conflicted about the bond...intrigued, but apprehensive. “How long ago did you acknowledge your mutual affection?” he asked.
Their eyes met, and almost at once, they visibly relaxed, the aforementioned mutual affection quite apparent between them. “The day we left for the Borderland,” Tucker replied.
“Soon after Lorian’s arrival,” T’Pol added.
“Nothing changed about T’Pol being married, but everything about us felt different after that.” Tucker smiled at her.
“An unconscious bonding is unusual, but not unprecedented, given the circumstances you describe,” Soval said. “There are times when the heart acts, despite the most stringent efforts by the intellect not to act.” He paused, assessing the situation. T’Pol had been subjected to a forced mind-meld, while Tucker had been distinctly ill at ease when Soval had first explained the concept. “However,” he continued, “when two people have not consciously chosen to bond, there can be doubts, unsettled thoughts...perhaps even a sense that one’s deepest intimacies have been transgressed.”
T’Pol and Tucker were studying one another now, each apparently attempting to to gauge the other’s wishes. Interestingly, they seemed utterly mind-blind to each other at this moment.
“Your bond is in its infancy,” Soval said. “A skilled priest would be able to dissolve it, if—”
“Is that what you want?” Tucker asked T’Pol.
She hesitated, looking quite young, to Soval’s eye. It was remarkable, he thought, that one so experienced and confident in so many disciplines could, in matters of the heart, be so touchingly unsure of herself.
“You did not expect our relationship to develop this degree of...intimacy,” she finally told the commander.
“Neither did you,” he gently pointed out. “It’s a little scary, isn’t it?”
For an instant, T’Pol drew herself up, as if to deny any fear. Then her posture relaxed into acceptance, and she nodded, almost in relief. Soval marveled at the skill with which Tucker was reading her now. Whether by means of the bond or his own human intuition, he was taking her self-doubt and apprehension and soothing them away with understanding.
Soval concentrated on stillness, allowing them to forget he was even in the room.
“When I first learned about mating bonds, I was a little squirrelly,” Trip admitted to her. “But now that I understand what’s been going on...now that I know I haven’t been imagining it, and I’m not going bonkers...the idea’s kinda growing on me.” He smiled at her. “I already trust you with my heart and soul. Having you inside my head isn’t that big a deal.”
She looked hopefully at him. “Truly? You wish to remain bonded with me?”
His eyes twinkled merrily. “If you’re up to having me trompin’ around in your head. I’m liable to be like some noisy kid who forgets to wipe his feet when he comes in from the rain.”
“I will adjust,” she replied placidly.
Trip felt himself falling headlong into the depths of her lovely brown eyes. “Then it’s settled.” His first impulse was to kiss her, but somehow it didn’t feel appropriate. He reached out, extending his two fingers in the Vulcan way.
She accepted his ozh’esta, feeling a pleasing warmth ignite at the point where their fingers touched, and resonate through her.
Trip felt it as well. He gazed happily at her face, a flawless portrait of Vulcan calm—and he laughed softly as an image flickered briefly before his mind’s eye: T’Pol giving him a bewitching smile. He knew now that it was the bond, not his imagination. He felt as if he’d been given a rare and wondrous gift.
Eventually, they remembered Soval was still in the room. They turned to him, somewhat abashed. “Ambassador—”
With a touch of amusement, Soval held up a hand. “There is no need to explain.”
“So what happens now?” Trip asked.
“The bond will strengthen naturally over the next several months, much as a bond forms between newly married Vulcans during their first year together,” Soval replied. “When it is fully established, you will sense each other as a constant mental presence. In times of stress, heightened emotion, or concentrated focus, the bond will intensify, manifesting as shared visions or perhaps even telepathy.”
Trip glanced at T’Pol. “I guess we’ll be making surprise appearances in each other’s heads for a while, then.”
“As you become more accustomed to the bond, you will be able to better control your presence in each other’s minds,” Soval told him. “T’Pol can instruct you in several mental disciplines that may prove helpful.”
The door chime sounded. “Enter,” T’Pol called.
The cabin door opened to admit Captain Archer. “Sorry I’m late for Vulcan Training School, but I just heard back from Admiral Gardner on the marriage question.”
Instantly, Trip and T’Pol were all attention. Archer fidgeted. “Well...it’s going to take a while for the Vulcan Social Ministry to dissolve T’Pol’s marriage anyway, isn’t it?”
Trip sighed loudly. “Aw, hell.”
“This was not unexpected,” T’Pol stated pragmatically. “We are both in the chain of command.”
“Some of the brass need a little reassuring before they’ll believe that you two can be married and objective at the same time,” Archer explained. “Gardner’s putting together a little board of inquiry to ask you a few questions...”
Trip rolled his eyes. “That’s just great. A pack of starchy Starfleet admirals interviewing us about our love life.”
“It’s just a formality,” Archer said. “I’ll speak on your behalf, too.”
“As will I,” Soval offered.
“It does appear, Captain, that Starfleet is treating our request in an atypical manner,” T’Pol noted.
“That’s because you’re not typical,” Archer pointed out. “You’re two well-publicized heroes of the Xindi War. One of you is the first Vulcan member of Starfleet. You’re requesting a very visible interspecies marriage at a time when xenophobia remains a small but potent movement on Earth. In other words, your marriage might make you a target for those loonies.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Trip scoffed.
“No, it’s not,” Archer replied soberly. “The admiral told me that hate crimes have risen while we’ve been away, because of the embassy bombing. People aren’t seeing what’s right about human-alien relations—that doesn’t make good press. The public is largely being shown what’s wrong—bombings, attacks, prejudice, anti-alien rallies. The bottom line is, if you want to be married and together on Enterprise, you’re going to have to fight for it. You’ll have to be extraordinary—and prove it to the satisfaction of those starchy admirals on the board of inquiry.” He shrugged. “Remember, you’re trailblazers.”
Trip sighed. “Lorian and Karyn’ll probably have kids by the time we get married.”
“You are already married,” Soval commented matter-of-factly.
Both Trip and T’Pol turned to him in surprise. “You are bondmates,” Soval stated simply, as if that explained everything.
“Bondmates?” Archer broke into a smile. “When did you two decide to bond?”
“We didn’t,” T’Pol admitted.
“It just kinda happened,” Trip added, a little sheepishly.
Archer chuckled gleefully. “I’ll be damned.”
Trip turned back to Soval. “Let’s get back to the subject here—about already being married.”
Patiently, Soval explained. “In Surak’s time, when melding was commonplace, the mating bond was itself the marriage rite. The bond was established through a mind-meld, witnessed by family and close friends. Afterward, the couple was acknowledged as bondmates: husband and wife.”
Archer noticed that Trip and T’Pol were gazing at each other in an entirely new way now...with a kind of shy, blissful devotion. Like newlyweds. “We’re married,” Trip murmured to her, with a goofy little smile.
“I speak only of cultural tradition, not contemporary Vulcan law,” Soval cautioned. “When melding fell out of favor, so did the validity of the bonding meld as legal evidence of marriage. The custom of newly-married couples spending their first year together resulted as a way to enable the mating bond to form naturally.” Wistfully, he sighed. “Prejudice and bureaucracy did away with the elegant simplicity of the old customs, except for those of us who practiced them in secret. We have always given the traditions of the past the same respect as the new laws we must obey.” He regarded the newly-bonded couple. “Therefore, if only in a cultural sense, you married as soon as your bond was formed. If Surak were here, he would call you thus.”
“I’ll vouch for that,” Archer spoke up. “I still have some of his memories floating around in my head, you know.”
“This will make the wait for Vulcan bureaucracy less taxing,” T’Pol reasoned calmly. But she looked quite pleased.
“And while Starfleet is draggin’ its heels deciding whether to ‘permit’ us to marry and stay aboard Enterprise, it’ll already be a done deal.” Trip grinned. “I think that board of inquiry will be a little more fun now.” He took T’Pol’s hand. “So until all the higher-ups let us make it legal, we have a marriage approved by Surak himself, sort of. I can live with that.”
“I too,” T’Pol agreed serenely.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Trip strolled hand in hand with T’Pol through the meadow. “You’re starting to like playing hooky,” he smiled.
“On what do you base that assumption?” she inquired.
“The backgrounds are getting prettier.”
“This vista is not my invention,” T’Pol replied. “It must have come from your mind.”
Trip looked more closely at the flower-dotted expanse of green, humming with bees and birdsong, topped by a clear blue sky. “I’ll be damned. You’re in my head this time.” He plucked a buttercup and tucked it behind her ear. “God, you’re beautiful.”
T’Pol could feel his desire for her, even as it stirred her own...a delicious warmth pooling deep in her belly, yearning for his touch. She gazed into his sky-blue eyes...and then he was kissing her deeply. She felt the soft touch of his fingers as he caressed her, setting her inner warmth ablaze.
His lips wandered up to her ear, his tongue tickling her there, near the buttercup. “Have you ever made love in a meadow?” he whispered invitingly. He tugged at her hands, pulling her down with him to the soft, fragrant bed of green clover. He leaned in to kiss her again...
...but Captain Archer’s face got in the way. “Commander T’Pol!”
She blinked. She was back on the bridge of Enterprise, with the captain peering at her in obvious confusion.
Archer waited for T’Pol’s eyes to focus on him. He had kept his voice low, but Hoshi was a little too obviously keeping her back turned; she had heard him. Great—more fodder for the rumor mill.
“My apologies, Captain,” T’Pol murmured softly. She shifted in her seat, deeply embarrassed by her lapse, and by the waves of lingering desire still coursing through her. She attacked her console, punching up calculations. “I’ll have those figures for you momentarily.”
“Forget the figures.” Archer put his hand lightly over hers, stopping her. He was concerned, not annoyed. He would have preferred to speak with her in the ready room, but it would draw even more attention to take her there. He leaned close, dropping his voice to barely more than a whisper. “What’s going on? Is something wrong with the bond?”
“Yes—no—” T’Pol stopped, determinedly setting aside her self-consciousness. This was Captain Archer, her friend, her trusted confidante, soon to be an advocate for her and Trip before the Starfleet board of inquiry. “The bond is still in its formative stages,” she explained, in the same quiet tone. “Its current manifestation is unpredictable...and erratic.”
“For Trip, too?”
She nodded. “He has mentioned distracting episodes as well.”
“How do Vulcan couples handle this?” Archer asked.
“It is expected for newly-married Vulcans to...” She hesitated, not quite knowing what to say.
“Zone out?” he suggested.
Unable to offer a better answer, T’Pol nodded again, somewhat contritely.
Archer gave her an understanding smile. “Okay, then. I’ll expect it. Carry on, Commander.”
As the captain returned to the center seat, T’Pol studied him. She considered herself fortunate to have a commander who gave such unwavering support in this matter. With a small sigh, she endeavored to return to her work, though she could still feel vestiges of desire—Trip’s desire, as well as her own—resonating within her mind and body.
It was going to be a very long duty shift.
-- -- --
Trip snapped back to the humming reality of engineering. He shut his eyes and rubbed them as everything spun around him. He felt as though he’d been locked in a dark room with a strobe light flashing in his face for four days. He had even started thinking of the spontaneous bond links between him and T’Pol as “flashes,” because of the way he emerged from them dizzy and disoriented, half-blinded by the sudden changes of scenery. Not to mention aroused as hell, most of the time.
Like now. He was still painfully hard, remembering the feel of T’Pol’s body under his roaming hands. He was lucky he’d been sitting at his workstation when this last flash hit; these jumpsuits didn’t hide a damn thing.
The flashes were occurring more frequently now, day and night, whether he and T’Pol were awake or asleep, hard at work or idly daydreaming. There had seemed to be no rhyme or reason to them, until Soval theorized that their discovery of the bond was itself the cause. Knowing they were bonded had them thinking more about each other...and thinking about each other triggered the flashes...which focused them on each other even more. Soval also suspected that Trip’s emotional human nature, and T’Pol’s emotional sensitivity, exacerbated the already erratic nature of the nascent bond.
As to why most of the flashes ended up getting Trip and T’Pol so...stimulated, they had asked Soval about that as well. Actually, Trip had been too self-conscious to bring it up, so T’Pol had asked outright, in that mortifyingly direct way of hers. In reply, Soval had simply stated the obvious: it was a mating bond, designed by countless millennia of evolution to solidify a relationship that, between two Vulcans, typically began between strangers and was expected to last well over a century.
So it went. The flashes were always enjoyable, but hellaciously inconvenient. Trip would be practicing Vulcan phonetics with Hoshi in the mess hall—and abruptly he would find himself alongside T’Pol in a memory of her days in the Vulcan Security Directorate. T’Pol would be meditating in her dimly-lit quarters with Soval and Captain Archer—only to be deposited onto a sunny Florida beach, indulging in a lazy interlude of nude sunbathing with Trip. T’Pol had begun teaching Trip how to create and employ simple mental shields, but he wasn’t going to kid himself; it would be months before he got enough of a handle on the techniques for them to be useful. In the meantime, they were both distracted, losing sleep, and getting behind in their workloads.
Crewman Cook trotted up. “Commander? We’re ready for you now, sir.”
Trip looked up blankly for a moment. He couldn’t for the life of him remember what Cook was talking about. “Crewman?”
“The EPS grids. You wanted to look at them when we finished replacing the old conduits.”
“Right. I’ll, uh, be there in a minute.”
“Yessir.” Off the kid went.
Trip sighed. What was he supposed to do until this bond thing settled down, anyway? Walk around holding a clipboard in front of his lap? For the next several months?
It was gonna be a very long duty shift.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The turning point came later that day, while Trip was balanced precariously over a catwalk railing, recalibrating the energy flow of one of the warp plasma regulators. It was delicate work, requiring total focus and concentration, since the instrument panel he was adjusting was only centimeters away from the unshielded energy stream of electro-plasma itself. He had almost completed the calibration...just one more adjustment, thank the heavens, because his leg was cramping something fierce in this position—
—And all of a sudden he was in the sand garden of T’Les’s home on Vulcan. T’Pol was kneeling across from him, a vision in her purple wedding robes. T’Les was standing behind her, with the silver-haired priest off to the side, speaking sonorously in Vulcan. “...Nam-tor u’khaf-spol Vuhlkansu...nam-tor u’katra Vuhlkansu. Nam-tor u’sha’yut...”
Trip could understand the words now, thanks to Hoshi’s coaching. This is the Vulcan heart...this is the Vulcan soul. This is our way...
With a start, he realized: My God, it’s her wedding day all over again.
This was a flash Trip desperately wanted to avoid living through again. He was ashamed of his own cowardice, amazed that it still hurt so much to see all of this again, even though he and T’Pol were together now. He couldn’t keep looking at her; he lowered his eyes. “Darlin’...don’t make me do this. Turn it off.”
With a gentle smile, T’Pol held out her hand, two fingers extended. “Look again, t’hai’la.”
He didn’t want to, but for her, he would do anything. Slowly, he lifted his gaze. There was T’Pol...T’Les...the priest...
Wait. He was kneeling in the groom’s place. In Koss’s place. Koss was nowhere to be seen.
It wasn’t T’Pol’s memory he was in, but her wish...a wedding that never was, but should have been. Relaxing, Trip regarded her with new understanding, accepting her ozh’esta. “Soon, t’hai’la,” he murmured softly. “Soon we’ll be—”
His outstretched hand burst into flame. With a yelp, he jumped back from her—stumbled—the ground opened under him—and he fell clean out of her mind, plummeting downward into darkness.
-- -- --
“No!” T’Pol gasped. She lunged blindly, sending several padds skittering across her console, clattering to the deck. All eyes on the bridge turned to her in shock.
Archer was at her side in an instant. Her eyes were unfocused, her breathing so rapid she was practically hyperventilating. He grabbed her shoulder, jarring her back to reality. “T’Pol! What is it?”
She turned to him, focusing on him with an effort. “Trip—he’s in trouble—”
“Go,” Archer said.
T’Pol bolted for the turbolift. A moment after she left, the call came from engineering about an accident.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Trip awoke in sickbay. At once, he tried to sit up, which was a dire mistake. With a groan, he gingerly laid back. Everything hurt. His left shoulder was cussing a blue streak at him, and his right hand still felt as if it were on fire. His right arm stung from elbow to fingertips.
T’Pol appeared at his side, openly relieved to see him awake. Before she could speak, Phlox bustled up behind her, all smiles. “Ah, Commander! Awake at last. I trust you’re feeling terrible.”
“That about covers it,” Trip muttered. “What...?”
“Lieutenant Hess tells me you stuck your hand in a live warp-plasma energy stream, then fell fifteen feet off a catwalk.” Phlox appeared quite impressed. “Fortunately, you did not land on your head.”
“Lemme guess. My shoulder.”
“Dislocated,” Phlox confirmed. “But it’s back in place now. Not to worry.” He grinned cheerily, then left them alone.
T’Pol touched Trip’s arm, looking guilt-stricken. “I did not mean for—”
“I know. Don’t fret about it, darlin’.” Trip smiled at her. “I wouldn’t have missed that last flash for the world.”
Her troubled expression softened to shyness. “What were you thinking about?” he asked her.
“I was compiling my report of our time in the Forge,” she replied. “I was detailing the attack on the Syrrannite camp...” She fell silent.
T’Pol nodded. “I thought of her, and home...and then you and I were there.” She looked away. “When you disappeared from the...the flash, I fear I made quite a scene abandoning my post. The captain was most understanding.”
“You abandoned...?” Trip was flattered and scandalized at the same time.
She looked abashed. “I arrived here in sickbay as you were being brought from engineering.”
“We have to do something about this,” he said soberly. “If I’m in the middle of trying to stop a warp core breach or something, and I get sucked inside your head—”
“Agreed,” T’Pol acknowledged. “I have already spoken with Ambassador Soval.”
She turned toward the entrance. Trip saw Soval waiting quietly near the double doors. He came forward now, to the foot of the biobed. “I was distressed to hear of your accident, Commander.”
“Thanks, Ambassador.” Trip tried not to let his disappointment reach his voice. “I guess we do have to sever the bond.”
“Not at all,” Soval replied. “There is a far simpler solution: to complete your bond through a mind-meld.”
T’Pol turned hopefully to Trip. Evidently the two Vulcans had already discussed it. “You can do that?” Trip asked in surprise.
Soval nodded. “My wife and I became bondmates in this way. We followed the old customs of Surak’s day, and bonded during our marriage ceremony.”
“The way folks married in Surak’s day,” Trip mused dreamily. “I like the sound of that.”
T’Pol regarded him with contentment. “I find it agreeable as well.”
“I can, of course, perform the bonding meld,” Soval stated. “However, I believe T’Pol has achieved a sufficient level of skill to perform the meld herself.”
Both Trip and T’Pol snapped out of their mutual reverie and stared at each other in wonder, which quickly gave way to excitement and anticipation. Reluctantly, T’Pol turned her attention from her fiancé to Soval. “I have not been schooled in the procedure.”
“I will instruct you beforehand,” the ambassador assured her. “Should your meld not be successful, I will assist you with the bond’s completion.”
“Now,” Trip interjected. “You will instruct her now.” They both turned curiously to him. “Hey, I’m the one in the biobed,” he said. “I’m ready for completion five minutes ago. Got my meaning?”
T’Pol hid a smile, while Soval arched an amused eyebrow. “As you wish,” he said. “T’Pol and I can discuss the details this evening, following her duty shift. Rest well, Commander.” With a nod to them both, he departed.
Trip gave T’Pol a speculative look. “Are we going to need assistance with this bonding meld?”
The determined set of her lovely jaw told him that she had every intention of succeeding on her own. “I think not.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her. “I know we’re doing this now as a matter of self-preservation...but I want to tell you, it’s not the only reason I’m looking forward to us being fully bonded.”
“Nor is it mine.” To explain, T’Pol offered him an ozh’esta.
Trip happily obliged, touching his fingers to hers—and jumped as he felt a rush of sweet affection springing from their joined fingers, spreading through him in a gentle wave. “What was that?”
“A taste of what the bond can do.” She leaned close, her eyes sparkling with promise. “The sooner you mend, the sooner we will be able to perform the bonding meld.”
He smiled angelically. “I’ll be a model patient,” he promised.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
T’Pol admitted Trip into her quarters. She had already lit the candles. They stood in the center of the room for a moment, regarding each other with uncharacteristic shyness.
“You changed clothes,” T’Pol commented unnecessarily. She thought Trip looked quite handsome this evening, wearing a midnight blue open-necked shirt and slacks.
“So did you,” he noted. T’Pol had selected a flowing wraparound tunic of gauzy lilac, its low-cut design clinging delectably to her figure. “I guess we both had the same idea that tonight’s kinda special.”
She nodded. “I instructed Captain Archer to meditate with Ambassador Soval in his quarters tonight.” She gently took Trip’s right hand in both of hers. “How is your hand?”
“It still tingles a little. The shoulder’s taking longer, actually. That physical therapy stuff Phlox has me doing—it hurts worse than the fall did.”
She noticed that he didn’t seem to know what to do with his other hand; it was fidgeting. “You appear ill at ease.”
“I’m nervous, I guess,” he said with a little laugh.
T’Pol was puzzled. “There is nothing to fear from the mind-meld. Soval has trained me well.”
“No, it’s not that,” Trip hastened to tell her. “It’s just...well, between the Vulcan Social Ministry and the Starfleet board, I know we’re not getting our Vulcan wedding for a while yet, so it’s great that Soval told us we’re already bondmates. But...”
He shrugged self-consciously. “I’ve been feeling as though we missed out on something...like this big event happened while we were looking the other way.” He smiled at her. “This bonding meld is making it finally feel real. I guess I feel as if we’re getting married tonight.”
T’Pol looked quite touched. “I know this ceremony has great meaning for humans. If you wish, we could call Captain Archer and Ambassador Soval here, to bear witness...”
“I thought of that. But we’ll have that when we have the official wedding—the captain, Soval, the kids.” Trip rolled his eyes. “My folks too, if they don’t keel over when I tell ‘em everything.” He eyed her bashfully again. “I thought this could be our own private little ceremony. Just yours and mine. A special gift we’re giving each other.”
Her brown eyes were luminous in the glowing candlelight. “That pleases me, t’hai’la.”
Trip was pleased, too. “Okay, then.”
“Let us begin.” T’Pol positioned Trip’s hand on her face, placing his fingers on the katra points, then touched her fingers to his face in the same manner. She could see that he was breathing a little more quickly. “Are you ready?”
“What do I do?” he asked.
“Relax,” she murmured softly. “Open your mind. When you feel my presence, let me in.”
“It’s that simple?”
“It is that simple.”
Trip felt nervous, excited, expectant. He began a deep-breathing exercise T’Pol had taught him back in the Expanse...it felt like forever ago, now. After a moment, his breathing calmed. “I’m ready.”
She began the cadence. “My mind to your mind...”
Trip felt the wonderful burning sweetness that he always felt at her touch, but now it seemed to be coming from inside.
“...My thoughts to your thoughts...” One part of T’Pol was the logical Vulcan, performing the meld...but another part of her was the woman, already bonded to this man, rejoicing in their differences, celebrating their mutual respect, friendship, and love, yearning for the connection to be completed.
“...Our minds are merging...”
All of his senses seemed heightened. He was acutely aware of her, of everything that drew him to her...her brilliance, stubbornness, loyalty, beauty, empathy, lust, her touching uncertainty, her deep abiding love.
“...Our minds are one.” Trip didn’t realize he’d spoken the words with her until he heard his voice in concert with hers.
<< Can you hear me? >> It was T’Pol’s voice—but inside his mind.
<< Oh my fuckin’ GOD, it worked! >>
T’Pol’s face remained composed, but Trip heard silvery laughter echoing through his head. << Do you always speak so much more forthrightly in your mind? >> she asked.
<< Sorry, >> he replied sheepishly. << I’m not used to censoring before the words leave my mouth. >> He smiled, realizing... << I’ve never heard you laugh before. It’s beautiful. >>
<< A Vulcan is trained almost from birth to...censor. >>
<< I think I’m gonna get a lot more out of your laughter than you’re gonna get outta my cussing. >>
<< One can be as enlightening—and as enjoyable—as the other, >> she observed.
They shared a mental smile...and Trip realized he could see her now, with his mind’s eye. She was a shifting, quicksilver image, unmistakably T’Pol...but her face was open, unguarded. She was smiling at him with a freedom that her physical self had never revealed to him.
<< I can see you, >> he told her.
<< And I you. >> T’Pol’s mind-image of Trip was much the same as the face he showed the physical world, but his innate kindness and compassion gave him a shimmering glow that was quite striking. << Now, t’hai’la...open your heart, and let our bond be completed. >>
Trip gazed into her velvet brown eyes, opening himself completely to her, even as he sensed her doing the same for him. His entire being seemed to fill with her essence, warm and sweet, steadying and calm.
T’Pol felt Trip’s presence flooding her mind and body, bold and passionate, heartfelt and full of childlike wonder. She spoke aloud the ritual words that Soval had taught her. “Nash-veh dungi-nam-tor ko-telsu eh putelsu k’tu, worla eh kwon-sum estuhn heh vesht estuhl.” I would be bondmate and wife to thee, never and always touching and touched.
Trip didn’t know whether T’Pol was mentally translating, or whether the meld gave him her ability to speak Vulcan, but he understood every word. More than that—he knew what to respond. “Nash-veh dungi-nam-tor sa-telsu eh putelsu k’tu, worla eh kwon-sum estuhn heh vesht estuhl.” I would be bondmate and husband to thee, never and always touching and touched.
Their presence in each other’s minds suddenly intensified. Trip had the oddest sensation of seeing the room from two perspectives. They were sharing bodies now, seeing through one another’s eyes. They surrounded and filled each other, touched and tasted and breathed each other. They couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began.
All around them, the past came to life. Thoughts and memories mingled, and secrets were revealed...
-- -- -- -- --
...She does kinda grow on ya...
...Elizabeth! Get outta there!...
...The instruction of neuropressure is a very intimate act... And he’s suffered a very intimate loss. He needs your help...
...This is going to happen to me. It’s already started! I can feel my control slipping away!...
...I couldn’t have asked for a better going-away present...
...What’s not to like? He’s a gentleman, he’s great to be around, and he has very nice arms—ouch!...
...We’ve had our share of disagreements, but you’ve never taken it out on my desk before...
...I discovered I was able to access certain emotions. I wanted more...
...You’ve hardly changed, Mother...
...You were a good father. Strange, being able to tell you that...
...What if my heart doesn’t know what it wants?...
...I know that you’re romantically involved with my daughter...
...She’s my forever, Cap’n. I couldn’t change that if I wanted to...
...You’re the mythology lover, Lizzie. I’m the starship captain, remember?...
...Tell me a story, Lorian...
...Trip?...I thought I lost you...
...I love you, my T’Pol. I have always loved you...
...This isn’t my grief I’m feeling. It feels like...somebody else’s...
-- -- -- -- --
...All memories led back to them.
At last there were no more secrets, no doubts, no questions, no fears. Their intimate sharing of memories and emotions had left their bond strengthened by a clarity of understanding, and by renewed devotion.
Trip gazed contentedly into T’Pol’s serene, exquisite face, as his mind twined contentedly with hers. He had never felt so fulfilled, so utterly complete. << I think I’ve lived my whole life to get to this moment. >>
T’Pol saw her own joy reflected in his beautiful blue eyes. << Soval has spoken to me on occasion of destiny, though it is not logical. Now, here with you, I understand how one can come to believe in such a thing. >>
It was utterly charming to Trip, the idea of T’Pol believing in destiny.
She caressed his mind, sweetly reassuring. << Now, t’hai’la...drop your hand. >>
He didn’t want to. He wanted it to last forever.
<< It will. >>
Slowly he disengaged his fingers, one by one. He braced himself as he fought off a sudden surge of panic. << Don’t leave me! >>
He heard her reply as her voice faded from his mind. << Never...I’ll never leave you... >>
She lowered her hand. He couldn’t hear her in his head any longer...but he could still feel her...a soft, steady undercurrent. “You’re still here,” he said, awestruck. “You’re with me.”
T’Pol could feel his fear melting away. “Always. As you are with me.”
“Never and always touching...” He understood, at last, the enormity that those simple words represented.
She nodded. “Now we are truly bondmates, my husband.”
“Husband...” Trip caught his breath. “I’m your husband. You’re my wife...” He began to laugh softly, giddy with happiness. “We’re married. We’re really married.”
T’Pol’s expression softened with a quiet, affectionate smile, as she felt her bondmate’s joy bubbling forth. “Perhaps only in Surak’s eyes, for the moment.”
“Good enough for me.” Trip shut his eyes, focusing on the bond. “It’s like having your heart inside me.” Almost eagerly, he held out his hand, two fingers extended. “Touch me the way you did before, in sickbay.”
She reached out to accept his ozh’esta. He imagined he could feel her even before their fingers made contact. As they did, Trip gasped, feeling the bond ripple and resonate with emotion...T’Pol’s love, sweet and warm and serene.
T’Pol drew in a silent breath of her own as the bond echoed with Trip’s love, bountiful and comforting and unabashedly romantic.
“Wow,” he breathed. “I thought Vulcan kissing was nice before, but now...”
“It is but the beginning of our journey together,” she said, with a provocative lilt to her voice.
Experimentally, he caressed her cheek. The bond responded, sending a decidedly sensual tingle through his system. He shivered involuntarily—and saw T’Pol do the same. Now, this was getting damned interesting. “I know what I want to try next.” Softly, he touched his lips to hers in a human kiss.
It was as though he ignited a sweet-hot flame inside his mind that spread like a flash-fire through his body, his heart, his very soul. He was bursting with it, burning from the inside out. This wasn’t the deep, simmering love of their ozh’esta. It was fiery passion, raw and starkly sexual, and it was needing, demanding, screaming to be satisfied, now, now, right now.
His body was shaking with desire for her as he took T’Pol’s face in his hands and pushed her lips open with his tongue, thrusting deep into her mouth. She responded with the same hunger, a moan of answering need coming from low in her throat. Her hands snaked around his waist, sliding down his backside, pressing him closer.
He could feel her trembling, too. He could feel her passion. He was inside her mind and body, feeling the sensual fire building deep in her core, matching the intense desire that was tightening his groin and making him hard, rock-hard. He felt both their hearts hammering, tasted both their tongues tangling together, felt his hands against his own skin as he caressed hers.
His arms were around her now, his broad chest pressing against her breasts. He could feel what she was feeling—her sensitized nipples hardening as they rubbed insistently against the fabric of their clothing. He pressed his stiff cock between her legs, grinding against her as he thrust his tongue in her mouth again, taking the kiss as deep as he could—and suddenly his pleasure was rising, peaking, exploding into orgasm. He groaned with astonished ecstasy into her mouth, hanging helplessly onto her as he shuddered through his climax.
With a shock of delight, T’Pol realized what was happening—and then she felt Trip’s waves of pleasure crashing against her, taking her up, pushing her over the edge along with him. She clung to him, throwing her head back, uttering soft cries of release as wave after wave of her own climax jolted through her. Trip nuzzled her throat as he grabbed her ass and pulled her tighter to him, stroking her, heightening her pleasure as she bucked against him.
Finally she sank her head down on his shoulder, panting, spent. He was still holding her close, feeling little aftershocks shudder through her, reverberating deliciously against his own body. “That’s the best damn kiss I’ve ever had in my whole life,” he sighed breathlessly.
T’Pol was still somewhat taken aback. “I was not aware that a kiss alone could produce such a...strong response.”
“Never happened to me before, either.” Another aftershock quivered through them both. “Uh, good call, not inviting the captain and Soval here to...witness.”
Trip pulled back to look at her. Her face was still flushed with a post-orgasmic glow that made her indescribably beautiful to him. But he knew that he was seeing her from within as well, because of the bond. He would always see her this way, from now on. “Y’know, once you get past all the initial flash craziness, being bonded does have its...advantages.”
She attempted to look properly admonishing. “There is more to the bond than heightened sexual response.”
Trip’s jaw dropped. “My God, all we did just now was kiss! What’s the sex gonna be like?”
T’Pol arched an elegantly upswept eyebrow. “Are you ready to find out, husband? Or do you need time to recover?”
He gave her a rascally grin. “I’m game if you are, wife.”
There is an extra vignette that follows this story, Never and Always...After the Kiss
Return to The Reconnecting Series MENU page.
Have a comment to make about this story? Do so in the Trip Fan Fiction forum at the HoTBBS!
A whole mess of folks have made comments
Wow. now thats what i call a story. long, interesting, with multiple views, definetely something to remember. brilliant desricptions, good writing, nice, nice , nice. now thats what i call enthusiasm, to write such a long piece of art. congrats.
eh, descriptions i mean.
Wow! Loved, loved, loved it!! Truly beautiful story, lovingly written -- and, damn. If that's what a kiss can do . . . I'm so glad you've continued this! It brings a huge smile to my face, and I've desperately needed one. Thank you so much!
OMG - This is one of my all-time favorite fan ficiton storylines of any fandome. Absolutely incredible work. Too much to comment on, so just a few fun phrases: Hurricaine Archer; Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh; Vulcan Holy Grail (no comment on all the Monty Python flashbacks that generated - there's a crossover from hell); "What do you want? My firstborn? He already has a girlfriend."; "...I'm ready for completeness five minutes ago...", and "... good call, not inviting the Captain and Soval here to... witness." Your last scene is a scorcher - and all they did was kiss!
Incredible character development. You do great justice to the characters we know so well from repeat appearances in the series - and you give such life to Lorian and Karyn. Your Lorian is a worthy Trek captain - an amalgam of the best of his Vulcan and Human parentage.
Oh, I could gush forever...thank you for sharing this great story!!
I love your series and I'm glad that you're going to keep on writing it. I will definitely keep on reading it as long as you want to write about Trip & T'Pol and Lorian & Karyn. Thank you, thank you, thank you for such a wonderful story! :)
Wonderful! Just wonderful! I reiterate everything that's been said by my fellow readers and add that the mind-meld bonding scene with Trip and T'Pol was one of the most beautiful scenes I've read. Then of course it turned hot and sexy which is good, too, but the "He wanted it to last forever." had me choking up. Still does. Beautiful. And thanks.
Loved this, loved this, LOVED this! That is one very cool bond and I really loved Soval in this story. So much to treasure and enjoy, well done! Ali D :~)
This just gets better and better, please write more soon.
“Damn,” Trip marveled. “The ship’s Comm officer is the most dangerous person to tell a secret to.”
Ahahahahaha!!! Too true!
He leaned in to kiss her again...
*snorts* Again, too true!
“If I’m in the middle of trying to stop a warp core breach or something, and I get sucked inside your head--”
Oh, the end was so sweet...I love it. You write Trip and T'Pol so beautifully. I hope you update soon, because I'm almost dying with the suspense about what's going to happen once they get to earth--and Trip's family's reaction, and of course, whether Starfleet will let them marry... This was excellent!
I'm really glad you continued this...I mean you got us through the marriage to Koss and then left us hangin' here...but whew...after that last scene I think I need to go find a cold shower...
I absolutely loved this for soooooo many reasons! The hysterical chapter titles, the amusing one
I hope you won't keep us waiting long for a sequel.
Wow, to be kissed like that!!
Such a great story. I was on the edge of my chair and couldn't read fast enough!!
Love it! The T\T\Soval mind meld scene was too funy! Will there be more?
Being new to this site as of a week ago, I just put my life on hold to go back to the beginning and read everything from the beginning. This is worthy of publication. I'm in awe, and also in need of a cold shower, or maybe I'll just wake up my husband...
:) I really liked the characterization of Soval in this fic :) Great story...also asking if there will be more, maybe?
Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou for continuing this series! I *adore* it since the very first line of "Reconnecting", lived through all the ups and downs - I´m soooooo glad you´ll keep them coming!
It's 6 am here, and I had to get up and read that kiss again. Vavoom! Now that's better than coffee. I'm ready now to start my day.
Ya can't stop there! Glad you're writing these again. More soooooonnnn. You never thought this would turn into a novel, didja?
Yay!!!!!! Their Bondeded!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wow... I'm so glad that you are continuing with these stories! I love them!
I hope that there will be more soon! Great stuff!
HopefulRomantic, have you been published yet? I mean, REALLY published? If not, the literary world doesn't know what they're missing! I too have loved this story from the beginning -- fantastic stuff! Please keep it coming! I ADORE this storyline! It's truly what should have been!
Oh, come on, you've got to give us more than that! Please? Pretty please? With a cherry on top? This is, like, my favourite series, and it just keeps getting better and better! More more more more more more more! :)
Wow, this is one of the best in the series I think. Wonderful job! The chapter headings were just absolutley brilliant. LOL. :) Your characterization is always so spot on and the humor in this fic was just such a pleasure to read. :) Oh and that was one hot post-mind meld scene. Yowsa. LOL. :)
I love the family relationships in this series and that includes Soval. I can't wait to meet the Tucker family and see how they deal with all of this crazy news, especially with that negative Vulcan talk... Hhhm, some angst in the future perhaps?
The Dr. soong in the next generation was on a small colony world, maybe in return for his services lorien springs him from prision so he can make it to another world to start over, a few generations later we have his ancestor build data. I can see lorien freeing him because if t'pol can manage to have have children and not loose any like loriens t'pol it would be worth it.
Holy cow HR! What's the sex going to be like indeed! I was fanning myself through that kiss! LOL I swear, you outdo yourself with every installment. I eagerly anticipate the promised NC-17 chapter. :)
Woah! I love this! I love this whole series, in fact! I can't wait for more! With Trip's parents, especially! ;) hmmm maybe after my two month separation from the internet, there'll be more! *hint*
loved it cant wait for the next part please update soon
This was absolutely incredible. The best fanfic I have read so far. The thought and detail that you put into this story was brilliant! You thoughtfully captured the characters thoughts, feelings and emotions beautifully. Loved it!!!
OH MY GOD! What a wonderful series! I absolutely love your characters! Oh, and I'm about to read the next chapter - I can't wait! Please keep on writing! ;-)
I was rereading this today--was in the mood for it after rewatching the episodes it's based on-- and it seems to be missing a section in the middle of chapter 8. It goes from "T’Pol stared at Soval in astonishment as the reality of what had just transpired sank" straight to " 'But we did not act on that affection!'", and that makes me sad.
But I still love this and want to see mooooore! *whine, whine, whine*
Really enjoying the movement forward in the various relationships. -jamis