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Truth and Illusion
Author - HopefulNebula | Genre - Drama | Genre - Romance | Main Story | Rating - PG | T
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Truth and Illusion
Summary: On an away mission, Trip begins to lose his grip on reality. Can
~~~~~“Truth and illusion. Who knows the difference?”
~~~~~“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”
~~Marjery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit~~~~~~~
The planet was supremely gorgeous. The weather was temperate and sunny, holding steady at approximately 25 degrees Celsius. The sky, however, was not the sapphire blue Trip Tucker was wont to see on days such as these, but instead a deep teal. T’Pol, who was with him on the mission, had assured him that it was indeed normal for this planet, given its atmospheric content. It was still unsettling for Trip to see something so different on such an Earthlike planet, however, so he tried not to look up if he could help it. The bluish gravel and reddish trees, however, were not much of a comfort to him.
Odd colors aside, the environment surrounding the two was reminiscent of western Colorado. Trip had spent much of his youth there, since that was where much of his mother’s family resided. He had gone hiking in the mountains with some of his cousins during every spring break he could recall. Trip’s favorite mountain vista was not from any mountain peak, for he hated heights, but Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was quite an easy hike, but long, and the lake scenery was definitely worth the journey. There was some of every form of wildlife there; it was untouched and natural. There were many large boulders adjacent to the path where he and his relatives would lay out a blanket and eat lunch. His fondest memory of the area was the time when a chipmunk had darted down from the tree his uncle Pete was reclining against and stolen a large portion of his sandwich. Pete had chased the rodent back up the tree and cursed at the chipmunk for five minutes before realizing that his lunch was a lost cause. Indeed, it was quite odd that the crooked tree he saw before him now resembled exactly the one he had taken a picture of on one of these excursions. The photo was still on his living-room wall back home. And there was that massive, distinctive boulder, just northeast of their present location. He remembered that as well. But it couldn’t be real, not this far from home. Could it?
“Whoa,” Trip whispered. “Déjà vu.”
“Excuse me, Commander?” T’Pol inquired.
Trip blinked hard a few times to clear his vision, then looked again at the mountain scenery before him. The mountain scenery had changed, and now neither the crooked tree nor the jagged boulder were there. He must have imagined them. “Nothing. Sorry, T’Pol. But we should find a place to set up camp. It’ll be dark soon, and we’re gonna need time to make a fire and pitch the tent.”
“According to my calculations, the sun will not set for another two hours. That leaves us approximately an hour to continue traveling to our target site,” T’Pol corrected.
“T’Pol, you’ve never lived around mountains, have you?” Trip asked.
“No,” T’Pol stated.
“Well, you see the mountain just northwest of us? In about an hour, the sun will be completely behind then. The sky will still be light, but it’ll be really dark down here. And cold. If we want to be able to see to get firewood so we don’t freeze, we’d better get settled.”
Though she wasn’t comfortable deferring to this illogical human, T’Pol chose to do so, if only because he had more experience in alpine climates. “There is a clearing approximately one half kilometer south of here,” she reported.
“Looks good. We can start picking up firewood along the way,” Trip concluded. They proceeded to the clearing without much conversation, stopping often to collect various pieces of dry wood.
When they reached the field, T’Pol spoke again. She had been remarkably taciturn all day, so Trip was pleased to hear her voice. “Commander, I will set up the tent if you start a fire there—“ she indicated an area of the clearing devoid of undergrowth—“ and call the other team to apprise them of our situation, then I will set up the tent.”
“It’s a deal.” Trip took T’Pol’s share of the firewood along with his own to the site T’Pol had pointed out and set it down nearby. He took some of the dried grass from the surrounding area for use as kindling and then piled wood on top of it, ensuring that there would be enough air to feed a fire. Then Trip turned his back to T’Pol, looked back to make certain that she was focused on pitching the tent, drew his phaser, aimed and fired at the wood. Just as it had on away missions before, the fire sprang to life and immediately started warming the rapidly cooling human.
Trip then pulled his communicator from his arm pocket and hailed the other half of the team.
“Hey, Mal, you there? This is Trip.”
“Yes, Commander. I hear you. Are you both all right?” the lieutenant asked.
“Fine. Just wanted you to know that T’Pol and I’ve found a place to set up camp for the night. We’re in a clearing, at—“ he fumbled for T’Pol’s scanner—“six-oh-two mark four-seven. Thought you should know, just in case,” Trip reported.
“Thank you, Commander,” Malcolm replied. “Ensign Mayweather and I have set up camp as well, at six-oh-four mark two-three. Reed out.” Trip deactivated the communicator and turned, seeing T’Pol attempting to hold one pole upright while hammering a stake into the ground. The tent seemed to have other ideas, however, and kept collapsing.
“Hey, T’Pol,” Trip said as he sauntered over to T’Pol and held the tent upright, allowing the Vulcan to control her work. “Thought you might need a couple more hands. It helps to have someone else to help you when you’re pitching a tent.”
T’Pol looked up at the engineer, said nothing but “Thank you,” and turned back to her work. T’Pol could be so frustrating at times. If only Malcolm or somebody—anybody but T’Pol—had been assigned to climb to the mountain’s summit and deuterium deposits. That way, he wouldn’t be as bored. Trip sat down on the ground at his feet, sighed, and wished that the Vulcan would be a little more talkative.
“Commander, would you like to eat dinner now?” T’Pol spoke, as if she had read his mind. Trip looked up at her and found that the tent was completely set up.
“Sure,” Trip said. “What’s in the packs?”
T’Pol raised an eyebrow. “I packed one of every kind of food pack. Why do you ask?”
“Well, you asked if I was hungry…”
“I did no such thing, Commander,” T’Pol stated. “I assure you.”
“Whatever,” Trip shrugged. If T’Pol wanted to play games with him, then he’d let her.
“Commander, please aid me in setting up the tent,” she requested.
Trip looked up again, and the tent was in its previous, half-assembled state, and Malcolm was standing there, helping T’Pol set up camp.
“Okay. Things are really starting to get weird here,” he stated tremulously. Nobody replied, so Trip elaborated anyway. Even if nobody listened, talking out the problem would help him. It always did. “Earlier today, I looked up at the mountains and saw the park I used to go to when I was younger. Then I heard you talk to me and saw that you had the tent up. But it turns out—“ He looked up to gauge T’Pol’s reaction and stopped mid-sentence. She was kneeling in front of the tent—the fully assembled tent— and rummaging through the food packs.
“You said that you wanted the steak and mashed potatoes, correct?”
T’Pol, who was alone now, inquired. Trip wasn’t sure of anything anymore. It seemed as if his world was a cloak that was now slipping off of him, leaving him bare and open to every other potential reality.
“Never mind,” Trip said. “I think I’ll go to bed, try to sleep this off.”
Even Trip’s sleeping bag was playing tricks on him. There, inside the tent, was the same creature that had shared his sleeping quarters on the last uninhabited planet where he had gone camping. Except this time there were two of them, then four, eight, sixteen, forever multiplying until there was no tent, simply insects, and not even that lasted.
For then there was T’Pol, once again standing in front of the completed tent. “Are you all right, Commander?” she asked, as flatly as ever. At least if this reality was fake, it was convincing. Trip strode over to T’Pol and grabbed her shoulder.
“Are you real, Sub-Commander?” he asked. “Is any of this world, this reality, this—“ he gestured wildly, freeing T’Pol—“this whatever it is real?”
“Yes,” T’Pol replied, stepping slightly back. She was definitely concerned for the commander. He looked quite haggard and pale, and he had been saying some things that made no sense. It was almost as if he were in another reality.
“How do you know? How the hell do you know that? Maybe I’m just imagining this. Maybe you’re just imagining it. Maybe it’s the planet. How can you tell?”
“I see what I see, I hear what I hear, I feel what I feel. Therefore, this is real to me. Is this truly the best time to discuss philosophy, Commander?”
But Trip had no time to answer before he was spiraling into a world as beautiful and ever-changing as the sunset that had silhouetted T’Pol’s sleek body. The colors were vivid, surrounding him, wrapping him in their beauty. He was comfortable here. He would stay here for the rest of time if he could.
But the colors swirled once again, all reds and greens now, and T’Pol was standing in front of him once more, silently looking up at him. He found himself unable to look away from her eyes, even as his reality changed once more. He was in the Captain’s ready room now, and without knowing why, he said “Trip. I’m called Trip.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” T’Pol seemed to reply, even though she did not move, and Trip suddenly realized that this was where they had met. Then, even more quietly, this time stepping toward Trip instead of away from him, she said “Trip…”
Trip was overcome by this and leaned down slightly to kiss her, but then he was lying on the ground holding a phase pistol. T’Pol was next to him, also firing at the Suliban soldiers that came at them from every direction, until he was in a cave rescuing T’Pol from the people who lived in the rocks, and then at the campsite once again. T’Pol was still there, standing the same way she had a few minutes ago.
“Are you real?” he asked once again, more weakly this time, as he sank to his knees and T’Pol followed him to remain at his eye level.
“Yes,” she replied softly. She was unsure what to do. She had never seen him so delirious before, not even when under the influence of that psychotropic pollen. At least then, Trip had remained in one illusion. This was much more chaotic and unstable, and she was poised for anything. She had to speak to him while he was lucid, though, and try to ground him.
“Prove it to me, T’Pol. Please…”
He was so fragile, so vulnerable in this condition. Whatever was happening to him was tearing him apart; T’Pol could see that much. Then Trip looked up and she saw two tears slipping down Trip’s cheeks. Something in T’Pol awoke, something primal and forbidden and wonderful and exhilarating all at the same time, and her only thought was to help Trip. She had to do something. She needed time, and she could only think of one solution at the moment. T’Pol leaned closer to the commander and whispered something to him in Vulcan.
Trip looked foggily up at her and asked “What?”
“I said we are both real and nothing can change that,” T’Pol replied. She picked up his hand and placed it on the left side of her chest just below her collarbone, then placed her own right hand on Trip’s heart. Trip only looked at T’Pol in bewilderment. “Can you feel my heartbeat?” Trip nodded weakly. “I can feel yours as well. Let that be your assurance that no matter what you see around you, no matter what you hear or feel or taste, that you and I are both real,” T’Pol whispered.
She really had no idea what she was saying, but was so overcome by the concentrated emotions she felt upon touching him that her lips moved almost of their own accord. T’Pol knew and controlled fear quite well, and pain and bewilderment, but there was something deeper permeating each of those layers of feeling, something primal and wild and enticing. She had no context for this, no simple word or name, and found that she could not shed this feeling from her psyche as she did so often with other emotions every day. It was as if Trip had unlocked a floodgate inside of her, one T’Pol didn’t even know she had, and he had awakened the same emotions at her core. She was powerless against them. She felt as if she should simply pull away from Trip, but found herself unable to bring herself to do so. Helping him was paramount, and if that meant extra meditation later, then so be it.
And suddenly, they both spiraled down into another universe, still with one another, grasping onto each other desperately until they both landed. T’Pol was uncertain, since her view into Trip’s mind was quite limited, but they appeared to be in Decon together, rubbing gel on one another. And yes—there was his hand caressing T’Pol’s ear. T’Pol somehow felt this as acutely as she had on the first day of their mission, but this time it seemed slightly different. There was that strange emotion again, amplified in the pit of her stomach. Since T’Pol could not seem to ignore it any longer, she acknowledged it and allowed herself to focus on Trip. And now he was falling, ever faster, down a cliff that kept changing colors and shapes around him—now yellow, now purple, now a swirling rainbow of pastels—and T’Pol was there on the ground, ready to catch him when he finally reached her. He was light in her arms, as if he had been flying rather than falling. Trip smiled deliriously at T’Pol.
She had to bring him back to lucidity. Trip’s breathing and heartbeat were becoming progressively more erratic as he spun deeper and deeper into the ever-shifting illusions, and the only thing T’Pol knew for certain at the moment was her need to help bring Trip back to himself. She cast her mind deeper into his being, allowing him to see through her own eyes the shadows cast by the rapidly falling sun. This did help the commander ground himself; he looked at T’Pol with intelligent eyes once more.
“T’Pol,” he whispered. Trip was kneeling now, and T’Pol had sunk to her knees in response. Their hands were still upon one another’s chests. “Help me… What is real anymore?”
“I am,” T’Pol breathed. “and you are. That is all that matters.”
“NO!” Trip screamed, pushing T’Pol onto her back and abruptly standing. T’Pol blinked, startled by the rapid severance of their connection. She recovered quickly, as a cat who has accidentally rolled off the bed and onto the carpet would, and wondered what illusion had prompted him to react so violently. If he was going to be so unpredictable, it was vital that T’Pol help Trip ground himself permanently before he endangered himself. Once that was taken care of, she would call the ship for advice. Trip was now attacking the tent as if it was a wild animal he had cornered, circling around it and seeming to hold an invisible spear. T’Pol tentatively moved nearer to him, careful not to startle the commander. She needn’t have worried, however, for when T’Pol got near him, Trip snapped his head around to face her. Trip was staring at her with an intensely held focus, and T’Pol was certain that whatever else Trip saw, she was in his vision as well. T’Pol remained mostly still and held her hands outstretched to show that she was unarmed.
“I will not harm you,” T’Pol informed Trip as she inched closer to him. Her voice was gentle, comforting, and it seemed to draw Trip closer to her.
“Qui est-que c’est?” Trip asked sharply, without removing his gaze from the petite Vulcan. T’Pol didn’t know much French, but one of her colleagues at the Vulcan compound had been an exolinguist who had studied French, among other Earth languages, and she had picked up a few pertinent phrases in her time with him. Thus, T’Pol knew that Trip had just asked her who, or perhaps what, she was.
“Je m’appelle T’Pol,” she replied softly, unsure of whether she had gotten the verb to agree with the subject. Whether or not she had done so was soon out of the question, for she was now standing face to face with Trip and was able to take his hands once more. T’Pol closed her eyes and gently stroked the backs of his knuckles with two of her own fingertips. Despite all of her training, every emotional and mental barrier she had carefully placed, T’Pol was shocked by the depth of the sensations she felt. Trip’s emotions as well as her own were coursing through her body, in defiance of all control. His fear, his disorientation, his delight mingled with her own, more forbidden emotions, and T’Pol reeled at these sensations. They deepened with every nanosecond she spent with the human, and she still wanted to feel more. She struggled to control herself, but the tingling warmth continued to pulse through her body and she found herself unwilling to break contact with him, no matter how much her sense of logic screamed for her to do so. T’Pol had shocked Trip into reality, and she intended to help him through any means possible. There was one option left to her at the moment, and however distasteful she found it to be, it was completely necessary if she were to help the commander.
T’Pol opened her eyes, careful to maintain eye contact, and was stunned by the beauty of Trip’s eyes. How had she never noticed before now the way they shone in the moonlight, reflecting all that he saw? They looked gold in the light of the planet’s dual moons, and the spots of light in them were like four more stars in the night sky, four more sparks floating upward from the fire behind her. She could even see her own silhouette in his eyes, steady and dark against the tumult that reigned in his gaze.
She mentally shook herself at allowing herself that emotional indulgence and focused herself on the task at hand. T’Pol called up all of her strength and directed it at the delirious engineer who stood haggardly in front of her. He seemed to relax as he absorbed some of T’Pol’s calm and focus, and T’Pol tensed as she took in Trip’s overwhelming emotion. Her hands were shaking as she removed them from his; Trip’s presence in her mind had been so powerful, so intoxicating, so—
No. She would not allow herself to think such things, and particularly about the commander. She could not risk such ignominy as to feel so deeply for a human. She would have to disregard the feelings her contact with Trip had stirred within her and continue working.
“T’Pol?” Trip asked haltingly. His eyes were bleary, as if he had been suddenly awakened from a dream and still wasn’t sure whether he was truly awake yet.
“Yes. I am here,” T’Pol whispered.
“Call the ship…” Trip said, and promptly fainted. T’Pol bent over his prone body, carefully checking each of her vital signs. When she was convinced that Trip was in no immediate danger, she proceeded to retrieve her communicator from the tent, all the while admonishing herself that she should have done so as soon as Trip had exhibited strange behavior. She had been foolish to believe she could do anything for him herself. Except she had helped him.
“T’Pol to Enterprise,” she said as she moved back to tend to Trip.
“Enterprise here,” Hoshi replied over the comm.
“Please send a shuttlepod down, and have Doctor Phlox accompany the pilot.”
“Is there something the matter?” Archer asked from his station on the bridge.
“Indeed,” T’Pol reported. “Commander Tucker became delirious approximately twenty minutes ago and is now unconscious.”
“OK, Sub-Commander. I’ll send Phlox down right now. Archer out.”
“Thank you, Captain,” T’Pol whispered, even though Hoshi had already cut off the comm signal.
T’Pol busied herself for the next several minutes by preparing a landing site for the shuttlepod, but there were only a finite number of sticks and branches that could be moved from such a small area, and eventually she was left with only an unconscious human and her own thoughts as company. Her thoughts were conflicted and disordered, and since this was not the ideal time or place to sort them out, she sat on the ground next to Trip and did her best to make him comfortable. Her sleeping bag served as an excellent pillow, and she placed one of the duffels—T’Pol could tell by the scent that it was Trip’s, even though they looked identical—under his feet to assist in the circulation of his blood, and slightly unzipped his uniform so he would have ample room to breathe. T’Pol then felt an overwhelming impulse to place a hand on Trip’s chest. She knew she shouldn’t; that sort of display was taboo for all but bondmates, but she didn’t care. T’Pol found the contact peculiarly soothing, for as long as she could feel his heartbeat, she knew Trip was still alive.
His eyes were darting around under his closed eyelids, and T’Pol wondered what illusion he was experiencing now. She hoped that he found whatever he saw pleasing, and then realized that he was smiling. The now-familiar urge to do more than simply touch Trip surfaced in T’Pol once more, and as she attempted to suppress it, the shuttlepod landed in the area she had prepared. Phlox stepped from the hatch, a worried expression gracing his features.
“What is the commander’s condition?” he asked as soon as he reached T’Pol’s location.
“He is stable at the moment; however, I believe he is still hallucinating,” the Vulcan reported.
“Indeed,” Phlox said. He knelt at Trip’s side, running his scanner over the human’s recumbent body. “Hmm… That’s odd. There doesn’t seem to be anything unusual in Commander Tucker’s body, nor do my scans of his brain show anything odd. The commander appears to be dreaming. I’d like to get him back to Enterprise so I can run more in-depth scans.”
“I concur,” T’Pol stated. Without further words, Phlox retrieved the stretcher from the shuttlepod, and he and T’Pol lifted Trip, setting him gently down onto it. He was surprisingly light; T’Pol nearly raised the stretcher too quickly as a result of her overestimation of Trip’s weight.
Crewman Fuller, who was piloting the pod, lifted off as soon as the hatch had been secured, and wisely left T’Pol and Phlox to see to Trip. The doctor was unable to do anything further for the commander, and so watched as T’Pol gingerly rested her palm on Trip’s hand. He wondered what had inspired the touch-sensitive Vulcan to ignore tradition and indulge in such a physical display, but remained quiet, choosing instead to monitor Trip’s vital signs.
Suddenly, Trip stirred slightly, turning his head to face the warm pressure he felt on his hands. Without opening his eyes, he whispered “T’Pol?”
“I am here…” T’Pol’s voice was at its softest, lowest register, yet Trip both heard and felt her speak, and responded accordingly.
“Thanks,” he groggily replied before falling back into whatever reverie had possessed him.
As T’Pol and Archer transferred Trip from the scanner to a biobed, Phlox pored over the results of his scans. “That’s interesting,” he reported. Upon glances from both the captain and T’Pol, he elaborated. “Commander Tucker appears to have been stung by a Girennian blood fly.”
“Which is?” Archer inquired.
“An insect indigenous to this sector. Their stings cause hallucinations, disorientation, and eventual loss of consciousness, but they are only nuisances. The commander will be fine once he wakes up,” reported Phlox.
Archer raised both his eyebrows. “’Nuisances,’ Doctor?”
“Yes. Their venom breaks down too quickly in the bloodstream to cause lasting harm. It has not even been known to cause allergic reactions in any species.”
“That’s good. Is there any indication about when he will wake up?”
“I can wake him now, if you wish,” Phlox stated.
“Good. Then wake him,” ordered the captain. T’Pol, who had remained remarkably taciturn throughout this exchange, wordlessly handed the doctor a hypospray, which Phlox summarily set down.
“Commander. Commander Tucker… Wake up,” Phlox said, lightly shaking Trip’s shoulder. Trip grunted, muttering something indistinguishable. Then, he began to open his eyes.
“T’Pol? You here?” he groaned. T’Pol raised an eyebrow, marveling at the fact that she had had this conversation before.
“Yes,” she whispered, the same way as before.
“Thanks… Wait. I said that already,” Trip said, smiling, and turned to face T’Pol.
“You are going to be fine, Mr. Tucker,” Phlox reported to the commander.
“I knew that, Doctor. I heard you…” Trip never turned away from the Vulcan.
“Thanks for what, Commander?” T’Pol inquired softly.
“Being there, T’Pol. Whatever happened to me, whatever I saw or heard or felt, you were always right there with me. You always caught me. Thanks…” he whispered. Only now did he turn to the doctor and captain. “Can we please have a little time alone?”
“Certainly,” the doctor replied, and both Archer and Phlox left the area.
T’Pol suppressed a slight wave of anxiety. She knew what Trip wanted to talk to her about, and it wasn’t a subject she would enjoy discussing. However uncomfortable she was, she also knew that they would have to air this out eventually.
“So what was that, exactly?” Trip asked.
“What was what, Commander?”
Trip decided that he hated it when T’Pol fielded one of his questions with another question.
“Well, I know you touched my mind, but I don’t get why you’d do that for me. I didn’t think you could stand me. Why’d you share your mind with me like that? It felt so weird…”
“Commander, you underestimate me. I am indeed able to stand you,” T’Pol rebuffed. “I am simply… unsettled by the emotions your presence provokes in me.”
“Must have been tough for you, then. Touching my mind like that, I mean.”
“It was. However,” T’Pol continued before Trip was able to continue, “it was… gratifying for me to be able to help you.”
“I thought gratification was an emotional response,” Trip teased.
“As are many things I feel when you are involved,” T’Pol replied as she perched on the edge of Trip’s bed.
Trip was stunned. Was she saying what he thought she was saying? Well, there was only one way to find out. “And what about when you rubbed your fingers on my hand? Didn’t you once tell me that it was the Vulcan version of—“
“A kiss,” T’Pol finished. “It is.”
“So why’d you kiss me?”
T’Pol was speechless. How could she explain it away? At the time, she had justified the contact by telling herself that she’d needed to shock him, but that excuse now seemed as weak as the illusions that had seized Trip less than an hour ago. T’Pol could find no suitable response, nothing to appease both herself and the human who lay in front of her.
“That’s all right,” Trip said. “I think I understand.” He then reached one hand up to T’Pol’s face and stroked her cheek with the pads of his fingers, delighting in T’Pol’s quickly stifled reaction. “I could feel what you felt down there too, you know…”
T’Pol only stood, turned, and left the room. Trip sighed as Phlox and Archer ambled back to him, ready to check on him once more.
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Four of you have made comments
Oh, the contemplation of reality with Trip and T'Pol.....Please for the love of all things fan fiction, release the second part from captivity. You got me hooked in and I need more. There are so many questions left to be resolved. I want to know where Trip and T'Pol go from here and what the "true reality" is between them.
I'm really dying to know how T'Pol acts when Trip decides they need to talk!
This was wonderful. I loved it! Maybe Trip should get bitten more often if it loosened up our favourite Vulcan. I can't wait to see where you go from here. Beautifully written, well done and keep writing - please! Ali D :~)
that was great. and no fair in keeping everyone waiting for part 2!!! I'll be waiting with baited breath.