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False Starts- Ch. 3
False Starts and New Beginnings
Rating: R, Romance, Drama
Enterprise's Chief Engineer surveyed the table. Everything looked perfect. Then why was his stomach one big knot? Trip inhaled deeply in an attempt to calm down, but grimaced as his cracked ribs protested. The captain had been nice enough to let him use his private dining room, but then again, the captain was laid up in sickbay, Trip reminded himself. Even so, he was surprised at the offer. He had known his friend long enough to know how much it took for him to admit his jealousy. Trip looked at the table again and adjusted a spoon with his good hand. Discretion was going to be so much easier without being out in the middle of the crowded mess hall. He had told Hoshi that he and T'Pol were going to go over the results of the autopilot testing. He hoped that would assuage any suspicion on the young ensign's part. She was almost as good at deciphering behavior as Dr. Phlox.
Trip looked up when the door slid open. T'Pol stepped in and he felt his heart rate increase dramatically. He pulled out her chair and she sat down. He took the chair to her right. She reached for her glass and took a sip of water. After returning her glass to the table, she looked at her plate then looked at his.
"You are eating only salad this evening?"
"Uh, yeah. I know how offensive you find it when I eat meat. I wanted this meal to be perfect for you."
"There is no need for you to change your eating habits, Mr. Tucker. I have become quite accustomed to them."
Trip smiled. "Well maybe on our next date, then."
T'Pol tipped her head slightly in acknowledgement.
They both ate in silence. Trip glanced over at T'Pol several times just to satisfy himself that she was enjoying her meal. As always, her face showed nothing but she wasted little time in cleaning her plate.
When they were finished, a steward came in and removed their dishes. After he'd left, Trip picked up the pitcher of water and refilled T'Pol's glass. He then refilled his. He took a quick sip and swallowed. Then he yawned unceremoniously.
"You are tired, Commander. We should have postponed our---dinner until such time that you are fully recovered."
"We've already had to put it off once. There was no way I was going to postpone it again!" Trip replied. He started wiping the condensation off his glass with his index finger, his mind working furiously for something to say. "So, T'Pol," he began. "Tell me what your childhood was like on Vulcan."
T'Pol looked at him sideways, one eyebrow raised. "You wish to know about my childhood?"
"Yeah. Where were you born, what are your parents like, any brothers or sisters?"
"As you are already aware, we do not normally share such personal information, Mr. Tucker."
"We being Vulcans?" asked Trip. He raised his right hand to cover his mouth as another yawn took hold of him.
T'Pol nodded. "You should be sleeping, Mr. Tucker. If I agree to tell you my family history on our next---date---will you agree to get some rest?"
Trip paused. He wanted this evening to be perfect but he was exhausted. He hadn't gotten much sleep over the last couple days and with his adventures that day as well as the shot Dr. Phlox had given him, he was dead on his feet. He smiled though as he realized she had referred to their next date.
"All right, T'Pol. The doc gave me something for the pain and it seems to be knocking me out," he replied reluctantly. "But you promise you'll tell me all about your childhood next time?"
"I promise, Mr. Tucker."
Trip stood and wavered slightly. T'Pol rose and grabbed his arm quickly to steady him. Her fingers brushed his damaged ribs and he gasped.
"I hurt you."
He shook his head emphatically. "No, sweetheart, you didn't."
T'Pol cast him an odd look and he felt his face flush. "Just a term of endearment, T'Pol," he said quietly.
Together they left the captain's mess and made their way slowly to Trip's quarters. When they were inside, T'Pol guided him to his bunk then turned him to face her. She reached around him and pulled back the covers then very carefully started undressing him. He put his hand on hers, staying it on his uniform zipper. He looked down at her face so close to his.
"If you will recall, I have seen you in your underclothes several times before," she admonished him quietly. Trip smiled. He was too tired to argue so he removed his hand. He was surprised at how gentle she was as she pulled down his uniform and helped him to sit on his bunk. She removed his boots and socks then carefully pulled his uniform off, laying it over the back of his desk chair. She then slowly unbuttoned his black undershirt, avoiding touching his ribcage and broken wrist as she pulled it off. Before he knew it, she was lowering him down on his back and lifting his legs onto the bunk. She pulled the sheet and blanket over him. The last image he saw was her face over his as she tucked the blanket under his chin.
T'Pol stood over the engineer watching him drift off to sleep. She felt an unfamiliar tenderness for this man and it warmed her. She watched him sleep for several minutes before she decided she should leave. As she turned to go, she heard him mumble. She turned back to him and saw that he was beginning to shift around, his brow creased. T'Pol knelt by the bed. He was mumbling more and his movements were becoming more violent. She reached under the blanket and took his right hand in both of hers. She spoke soft Vulcan words to him as she gently stroked his trembling fingers. He slowly quieted, his breathing deepening. T'Pol pulled the chair from his desk and set it next to his bunk. She sat down and reached for his hand again. She realized there was nowhere else she wanted to be except by his side to comfort him through his nightmares.
The captain sat in his quarters patiently waiting for his science officer. Dr. Phlox had just released him with the promise that he would rest and keep his weight off his healing leg. The brace Phlox had put on him to hold the bone in place was uncomfortable but Jon preferred the discomfort to the thought of spending any more time in Phlox's sickbay. While Jon had come to respect and even care for the Denobulan doctor, his unmatched cheeriness and non-stop chatter could only be handled in short doses. Jon smiled warmly and shook his head.
"Come in," he called out in response to his door chime. He watched as the sub-commander walked in and moved to stand at the foot of his bed.
"You wanted to see me, Captain?"
"Yes. You didn't answer when I comm'd your quarters. I had to ask Hoshi to track you down."
"I was with Commander Tucker in his quarters, sir."
Jon felt his stomach drop. "I didn't realize your relationship had gone that far."
T'Pol tilted her head, her face calm. "Is there something you needed, sir?" she asked, completely ignoring Jon's comment. He saw a hint of irritation in her eyes and knew he'd overstepped his bounds with her.
"I received a message from Admiral Forrest. It seems we're to rendezvous with a Vulcan transport ship this evening to pick up a guest. We'll be taking her to Talazor so she can help High Premier Colthera stabilize her government and shore up Talazor's relations with Vulcan."
"That sounds like a logical course of action on the High Command's part. May I inquire as to the identity of our guest?"
"Ambassador V'Lar," Jon replied with a smile. He knew his science officer, like himself, had enjoyed the Vulcan diplomat's company on her last visit. He was looking forward to seeing the older woman again.
T'Pol's eyebrows arched and she shifted on her feet slightly. "Should I ask Ensign Sato if she would relinquish her quarters again, sir?"
"I already have. She'll be happy to."
T'Pol nodded her head then moved to the door.
"T'Pol?" Jon called and she turned to face him. "May I ask you a personal question?"
"Have you told Trip about your illness yet?"
T'Pol drew in a breath and dropped her eyes to the bed cover on which Jon lay. "No."
"Don't you think he has a right to know?"
"Yes. I have not found the appropriate time yet, Captain."
"I've known Trip for a long time, T'Pol. He's a good man. The best, actually," Jon smiled. "If you're afraid his feelings for you will change because of the Pa'nar syndrome, don't."
T'Pol looked up at him and for the first time, he realized the depth of her feelings for Trip. He felt a brief pang of envy for his best friend but he quickly let it go.
"Thank you, Captain," the Vulcan replied quietly. She then turned and left his quarters.
Jon looked down at Porthos who had remained curled up at his side. He scratched the little dog's ears affectionately and tried to ignore the heaviness that settled in on him.
"Why are you so nervous, Commander?" whispered Malcolm who stood next to Trip outside the launch bay door.
Trip shrugged. "I'm not nervous, Malcolm. What makes you think I'm nervous?"
"You're fidgeting, sir."
"Oh," Trip replied, realizing he was rolling forwards and backwards on his feet. He continued to open and close his right hand, which hung at his side. He glanced down at T'Pol who stood just in front of him. Although she looked as calm and cool as ever, he could sense that she was wound a little tighter than usual.
Malcolm reached up to open the door when the light signaled the bay was pressurized. The three of them entered and walked to the back of the Vulcan shuttle. The hatch opened to reveal Ambassador V'Lar. The older woman stepped gracefully out onto the deck. She nodded her head in greeting to T'Pol who returned the gesture.
"Commander Tucker," V'Lar greeted and she held out her hand.
"Ambassador," Trip replied as he took her hand and shook it gently. "You remember Lieutenant Reed, our tactical officer?"
"Of course I do, Commander. It hasn't been that long." V'Lar took Malcolm's hand then looked back at Trip. He felt the heat rise up his neck and travel to his face. The Vulcan seemed to enjoy teasing him.
"I apologize for Captain Archer's absence, Ambassador. He was injured in an accident only yesterday. His injuries are not severe but he is under doctor's orders to remain off his feet," explained T'Pol. She motioned with her hand toward the door then fell in beside V'Lar as they walked. Trip and Malcolm followed quietly, Malcolm carrying her overnight bag.
"I see the commander was injured as well," said V'Lar as she turned to glance behind her.
"Yes, ma'am. Nothing serious, though," Trip replied. The ambassador hadn't changed a bit over the months since her last visit. She was wearing a flowing robe similar to the one she'd worn previously but this one was a deep red color. Her short hair was still streaked generously with gray and she still had the same twinkle in her eye. Trip had to smile. V'Lar and T'Pol were the only two Vulcans he had ever met who had shown any hint of mischief. No wonder he liked the ambassador so much.
"Ensign Sato has graciously given up her quarters for you while you are with us, Ambassador. I will take you there so that you can get settled," said T'Pol, pausing when the group reached the corridor. She took the bag from Malcolm. "I believe Captain Archer will be joining us for dinner later."
"I will enjoy seeing the captain again. Will you two be joining us as well?" asked V'Lar, turning to Trip and Malcolm.
"Commander Tucker will, ma'am. I unfortunately will be on duty," replied Malcolm. He reached up and closed the door behind them.
"That is unfortunate, Lieutenant. Perhaps you can join us for breakfast? I'd also like to see Ensign Sato so that I can thank her for letting me use her quarters again."
"I will ask the ensign to join us for dinner, Ambassador," responded T'Pol. She turned to Trip and Malcolm. "If you gentlemen will excuse us?"
Trip smiled at her warmly. He loved seeing her in diplomatic mode.
"Ambassador, Sub-Commander," he said, nodding his head at them both. He and Malcolm then watched the two women walk away.
"She certainly is unlike any Vulcan I've ever met," said Malcom softly.
"What do you mean?" asked Trip. They turned and started walking in the opposite direction of the two Vulcans. Trip felt the bandages encasing his cracked ribs pull slightly and he gasped.
Malcolm looked at him in concern. "You okay?"
Trip nodded. "Yeah."
"She seems more relaxed, more human almost," Malcolm continued. "Not nearly as stuffy as Ambassador Soval."
"Well maybe she likes us humans, Malcolm."
"Perhaps," the tactical officer replied.
Hoshi smiled at Captain Archer and Commander Tucker as she entered the captain's dining room. The commander rose to his feet and pulled out a chair for her.
"Thank you, Commander," she said, sitting down.
"Excuse me for not getting up, Hoshi," said the captain.
"I understand, sir."
The door opened and Ambassador V'Lar and the sub-commander entered. Commander Tucker helped them with their chairs then he settled into his. Hoshi smiled at the ambassador and greeted her in Vulcan.
"It is good to see you as well, Ensign," V'Lar replied. "I am sorry you have to give up your quarters again, however."
"No problem, ma'am. I'm happy to do it."
The ambassador then turned her attention to the captain. "Captain Archer, I am sorry to hear of your unfortunate accident. I trust you will be all right."
"I'll be fine, Ambassador, thanks to Commander Tucker here," Archer replied with a smile directed at his chief engineer. He looked back at V'Lar. "We should be arriving at Talazor day after tomorrow. I take it you've met the high premier before?"
"Yes. Colthera and I have known each other a good many years. She is a fine dignitary and I consider her a friend," replied V'Lar. She turned to look at the commander. "I understand you had a most horrific experience on Talazor, Commander."
Hoshi saw the engineer flinch. He looked down and toyed with his fork. "Yes, ma'am."
V'Lar watched him closely and Hoshi thought she saw concern cross her features. Commander Tucker looked up but his eyes met the sub-commander's. They looked at each other for a long moment before he looked down again. The science officer quickly averted her eyes as well. Hoshi knew at that moment that her suspicions were correct. They're brief exchange had carried with it deep feelings of concern for one another.
"Do you have any memories of the events at all?" asked V'Lar.
"It's all kind of jumbled up in my mind still, ma'am."
"I can see you are still quite upset, Commander. I apologize for broaching the subject."
"No, no. It's okay, Ambassador," said the commander quickly. He looked up and smiled at the older Vulcan. "I only clearly remember up to the point where Dr. Kronell and Dr. Chimra were taking me to tour their shipyard. After that, everything is kind of fuzzy. I remember feeling incredibly angry but that's about it until I woke up in sickbay."
"The commander has been suffering nightmares," said T'Pol. Everyone at the table looked at her in surprise. "He has spoken to me about them," she quickly added.
Hoshi looked at Commander Tucker who had turned a nice shade of pink. She looked down at the table and tried to hide her smile.
"Perhaps T'Pol can teach you some meditation techniques that will calm your mind," said V'Lar. She looked from the engineer to the younger Vulcan with what Hoshi thought was an almost quizzical expression.
The steward entered with a cart full of steaming hot food and they all settled in to enjoy their meals.
Rating: R, Romance, Drama
T'Pol had walked Ambassador V'Lar to her temporary quarters after dinner. They had walked in silence, V'Lar only commenting on how much she enjoyed visiting Enterprise and Captain Archer's company. She commented again on their growing trust and friendship, which T'Pol quickly acknowledged. She had left the ambassador several hours ago and had returned to her quarters to meditate. T'Pol had found her mind on Commander Tucker and so was unable to focus her thoughts. Now, as she stood outside his quarters, she silently admonished herself her illogical need to see him. What she was going to do was wrong and she knew it. She looked both ways down the corridor before keying in the security override. The door slid open and she stepped into the darkened room. The light from the passing stars illuminated the figure lying in the bunk. T'Pol closed the door then moved silently to his side, looking down at him. Her concern for him had been warranted. He was caught in the throes of a nightmare, his brow creased, his head rolling from side to side. She knelt and took his hand in both of hers and gently stroked his fingers like she had done the night before. She whispered the calming Vulcan words she had learned as a child from her mother. The commander slowly ceased his movements and his face relaxed. T'Pol moved the desk chair to the bunk and sat down quietly. She found an odd calmness come over her as she watched him sleep. She still wondered at his ability to affect her; how he alone had awakened feelings she had never experienced before. He had quickly become the most vital part of her life.
T'Pol made sure she was gone before Commander Tucker awoke in the morning. As she approached her door, she saw Ambassador V'Lar walking towards her. T'Pol kept her expression neutral but an uncomfortable feeling settled in her stomach.
"T'Pol, may I speak with you?"
"Certainly, Ambassador," she replied. She opened her door and let the older woman enter first. V'Lar sat down on the bunk and motioned for T'Pol to sit next to her. They sat in silence for several minutes before the ambassador turned to the younger woman.
"Your Commander Tucker reminds me of another human male I knew many, many years ago," she began. T'Pol tried to hide her reaction to V'Lar's reference to the commander but not before the other Vulcan caught it.
"Yes, T'Pol. I know."
T'Pol looked down at her hands which she held clasped tightly together in her lap. "Ambassador," she began. She met V'Lar's eyes. She saw no disappointment in them, just concern.
"His name was Nathaniel. He worked for Star Fleet as a diplomatic liaison between Earth and Vulcan just after we'd made first contact with humans. I was young and just embarking on my career. We met at a gathering held on board one of our Vulcan ships. Nathaniel and I talked deep into the night. I found him a curiosity at first. He was one of the first humans I had ever met. By the end of the night, he was far more than just a--- curiosity. I was drawn to him." V'Lar turned so she was facing T'Pol. "Over the next few months, we worked closely together. I found his volatile nature quite---pleasing. He was passionate and when he spoke, his eyes lit up, just like your commander's. He is so much like Nathaniel, T'Pol."
"Did you become involved with him?"
V'Lar sighed then nodded. "Yes. I grew to care for him deeply and he felt the same for me. We even discussed marriage but we were both afraid of the repercussions of such a union. One day, we were careless and a colleague of mine discovered us in a---compromising position. He immediately reported the incident to the High Command." V'Lar turned away from T'Pol and became silent. Several moments passed before she continued, her eyes downcast.
"I was taken to P'Jem where they," the ambassador paused and drew in a deep breath. "Where they aborted my unborn child. Yes, T'Pol. We conceived a child, but they said such a child could not live and that I had brought great shame to our world. They did not even give the child a chance, to see if he or she could survive." She paused again. "I then underwent the Vilara. The memories were gone for years after but slowly they came back to me. I suppose one can never fully erase memories that carry with them such great emotions."
T'Pol was stunned. "What happened to Nathaniel?" she asked finally.
"When I was able to remember, I knew too many years had passed; that Nathaniel was dead. I did search for any record of him. I hoped he had found someone to marry, someone who gave him children. I discovered, though, that he had been killed in a shuttle accident soon after I was taken to P'Jem." V'Lar turned to T'Pol now, a look of quiet desperation in her eyes. "The accident was never investigated, T'Pol."
"You believe the High Command had Nathaniel killed?"
"I have no proof but that is what I believe. You must end your relationship with Commander Tucker, T'Pol. Immediately."
"Ambassador, with all due respect, many years have passed and the dynamic between Vulcans and humanity is much different now. I realize a union between a Human and a Vulcan would still be offensive to some but I do not believe the High Command would resort to---murder to stop it." T'Pol rose and walked to her view port. V'Lar remained seated on the bunk.
"The colleague who reported me was Soval," the ambassador said softly. "He was repulsed by my relationship with Nathaniel. I know his opinions have not changed. And as you know, he now holds a position of great power within the High Command." V'Lar stood and crossed the room to stand next to T'Pol. "Those who hold power are old and they retain their old beliefs. Perhaps in the future, when all of them are gone, a Human/Vulcan union will become acceptable but right now, it is thought to be abhorrent. You must end your relationship, T'Pol. For Commander Tucker's sake and for your own."
"We will be discreet," T'Pol began.
"I was able to see your feelings for him, T'Pol. What if it had been Soval instead of me?"
"I cannot," T'Pol replied quietly. "He is my life."
V'Lar took T'Pol's arm and turned her to face her. "Are you willing to risk HIS life?"
The two women looked at each other then T'Pol shook her head.
"Have you mated with him?"
"No," replied the sub-commander. She looked down.
"That will make the separation easier, both emotionally and physically." V'Lar put her hand under T'Pol's chin and lifted it, a very human gesture. "You have experienced something few if any other Vulcans have, T'Pol. Hold onto that, cherish that, remember it always. But trust me when I say you must let it go."
The ambassador then turned and silently left the room. T'Pol turned back to gaze out the view port and allowed the pain to overwhelm her.
The hot water felt wonderful as it beat down on Trip's back. He felt fairly rested. He remembered having nightmares but they hadn't awakened him like they had on prior nights. For that he was thankful. Trip closed his eyes and his thoughts wandered to T'Pol. He saw her face and he smiled. She was everything to him, he realized. Life without her was simply unacceptable. He chuckled at how Vulcan that thought was. He turned off the shower and quickly dried himself then stepped into the main room to wrap his injured ribs and to get dressed.
As he was finishing zipping up his uniform, his door chime sounded.
"Come in!" he called, turning to the door. He smiled when he saw it was T'Pol. His smile instantly faded when he sensed something was wrong. She stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. She stood in silence looking at the floor. Her posture was rigid, her hands clasped firmly behind her.
"This will not work, Commander," she said quietly. Her face was impassive.
Trip swallowed. "What?"
"We are not compatible, Mr. Tucker. Your emotions are too disturbing."
"You're surrounded by emotions everyday, T'Pol. If they disturb you so much, why do you stay on Enterprise?" asked Trip evenly. He crossed the room to stand in front of her.
"YOUR emotions disturb me, Mr. Tucker. You are far too volatile and unpredictable. I require stability in a mate."
"What's going on, T'Pol? Where is all this coming from?" demanded Trip. "A few nights ago you said you could love me. That you might already love me."
"I was wrong."
Trip laughed without humor. "You were wrong!" He threw up his hands then dropped them to his sides. He looked down at her but her eyes remained downcast. "Look at me and tell me that."
T'Pol lifted her chin and looked into his eyes. "I was wrong."
"You can't lie to me, T'Pol. Not to me. I know you remember? I can see it in your eyes," he whispered. He placed both hands on either side of her face then gently leaned in to kiss her lips. He felt her tremble then she brought her hands up to his face. The kiss became more passionate. Trip dropped his hands and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tightly against him. Her hands moved back to rest in his still damp hair. Then she pushed him away from her and he stumbled, nearly falling backwards.
"No, Mr. Tucker," she said firmly, her breathing heavy. "I cannot do this. I will not do this."
She turned and walked out. Trip moved to his bunk and slowly sat down. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and put his face in his hands. His broken wrist throbbed at the pressure placed on it but he ignored the pain. Why, he asked himself, utterly confused. Why?
Jon managed to hobble to his dining room for breakfast. When he opened the door, he found Malcolm and V'Lar already seated. He smiled and greeted them. His armory officer rose and helped him to his chair then sat down again.
"Where are T'Pol and Trip?" he asked. As if in response, the door slid open and T'Pol stepped in. She moved to her seat in silence. Jon noticed that she kept her eyes fixed on the table in front of her.
"Have you seen Trip this morning, T'Pol?"
"I do not make a habit of keeping track of the commander, Captain," T'Pol responded evenly. Jon exchanged a look of surprise with Malcolm. The ambassador remained silent, her eyes downcast as well.
"Okay. I wonder where he is. He's not usually late to a meal." Jon turned and hit the button on the commpad behind him. "Archer to Tucker."
A few moments passed before the engineer responded. "Tucker here."
"Are you joining us for breakfast, Trip?"
"No, sir. I'm pretty busy this morning. Please send my apologies to the ambassador."
Before Jon could respond, the commline closed. He immediately knew something was wrong with his friend as did Malcolm by the questioning look on his face. Both Vulcan women remained quiet, there faces unreadable. Several moments of uneasy silence passed then Malcolm cleared his throat.
"Did you sleep well, Ambassador?" he asked.
"Yes, Lieutenant. Thank you," replied V'Lar with a slight nod of her head.
"We should be arriving at Talazor in about four hours. I imagine you're anxious to see the high premier?" said Jon. He leaned back in his chair as the steward put a plate of hashbrowns, toast, and scrambled eggs in front of him.
"Yes, Captain, there is much work to be done," responded the ambassador. She picked up her fork and carefully speared a piece of fruit.
Jon looked at Malcolm who just shrugged slightly in response. The meal continued in silence.
After breakfast, Jon made his way slowly to engineering with Malcolm's help. The lieutenant left him at the door then headed to the armory to begin his shift. Jon hobbled in and looked around for any sign of his chief engineer. He caught the attention of Lieutenant Anna Hess who quickly came over to him.
"Good morning, Captain," she greeted with a smile.
"Good morning, Lieutenant. Have you seen Commander Tucker?"
"Yes sir. He's doing some maintenance on some of the power relays in one of the access shafts. Would you like me to get him?"
Jon nodded. As Hess walked away, he moved over to Trip's workstation and sat down in the chair. A few minutes later he looked up to see his filth- covered friend walking toward him. He was wiping his dirty hands on a cloth.
"Missed you at breakfast, Trip," Jon said with a smile.
"You pulled me away from my work for that, Cap'n?" the engineer responded, clearly irritated.
"Of course not. I was just wondering if you were okay."
Trip sighed in exasperation. "I'm fine, sir. Now if you'll excuse me."
"Not so fast, Commander," Jon said as Trip turned to leave. His friend stopped at the use of his title. Jon could sense the tension in the engineer so he immediately lowered his voice. "Trip, what is it?"
Trip's shoulders dropped in resignation and he turned around. He was still wiping his hands on the cloth. "There's nothing wrong, Cap'n." he managed weakly.
"It's T'Pol." The engineer walked over and leaned against the workstation next to Jon. "She suddenly decided this morning that she doesn't want anything to do with me."
"That explains her mood at breakfast. What did she say?"
"She said I was too volatile; that my emotions disturbed her." Trip hesitated a moment. "I kissed her, Cap'n, and she kissed me back." He sighed and threw the cloth on the floor. "I don't understand what's going on."
"Do you want me to talk to her?"
Trip shook his head. "I'll talk to her later. Maybe after Ambassador V'Lar leaves."
"Do you think the ambassador is behind T'Pol's change of heart?"
"I don't know, maybe," said Trip quietly. "I think I love her, Cap'n. I don't want to lose her."
Jon had never seen Trip so disheartened before and he hurt for him. The captain carefully stood up then laid a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Why don't you take the rest of the day off, Trip. I think Enterprise will survive a day without her Chief Engineer."
"Thanks, Cap'n. But I really need to work right now, you know? Keep my mind busy."
"All right," sighed Jon. He patted Trip's shoulder then watched his friend walk slowly away.
"Archer to Tucker."
Trip grunted then backed his way out from under the console on which he'd been working. He reached up and hit the commpad.
"Trip, I know you're busy but Ambassador V'Lar has requested you pilot the shuttle pod down to Talazor."
"What? Cap'n, I'm up to my ears in work down here. Can't Travis or Malcolm take her down?"
"She specifically asked for you, Commander."
Trip instantly knew when the captain used his title that the ambassador was with him. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes.
"Give me ten minutes to get cleaned up, sir. I'll meet you in the launch bay," he replied evenly. He called for a passing ensign to finish up the project he'd started then hustled out of engineering, cursing mildly under his breath.
Nine minutes later he stood next to Shuttlepod One waiting patiently for his passenger to arrive. He heard the door open and looked up to see the captain, ambassador, and T'Pol approaching him. He saw that Captain Archer was using a set of crutches.
"Thank you, Commander Tucker, for taking time out of your busy schedule to shuttle an old woman down to the surface," said V'Lar with a single nod of her head.
"No problem, ma'am. Happy to do it." Trip hoped his forced enthusiasm was convincing.
V'Lar turned to the captain and extended her hand. "Thank you, Captain, for your hospitality. I will no doubt see you and your fine crew again one day."
"You're always welcome, Ambassador," replied Archer awkwardly taking her hand. He managed to remain balanced between the crutches.
The Vulcan woman then turned to T'Pol. They spoke to one another quietly in Vulcan. T'Pol quickly glanced at Trip then back at the older woman and nodded. Their brief exchange ended and they looked at each other for a long moment. Trip noted a hint of sadness in T'Pol's eyes and quickly made the assumption it was due to the ambassador's departure.
The engineer helped V'Lar into the shuttle then climbed in after her, turning to close the hatch behind them. He settled himself into the pilot's chair and ran a quick pre-flight check. Once the bay depressurized, the shuttle was lowered out the doors and released. He kicked in the engines and turned the shuttle towards Talazor.
"We should be landing in about twenty minutes, ma'am," he said over his shoulder to the ambassador, who sat to his right. "How long will you be staying on Talazor?"
"I anticipate two months. Perhaps longer if my continued assistance is required," V'Lar replied.
Trip concentrated on the controls in front of him; silently wishing that time would move faster.
"May I ask you a personal question, Commander?"
"Sure. I can't promise you I'll answer it, though."
"Fair enough," replied V'Lar. "Do you truly believe it is wise to pursue a relationship with Sub-Commander T'Pol?"
Trip swung around in his chair and glared at the older woman. "With all due respect, I don't think that's any of your business, Ambassador," he responded coolly.
V'Lar nodded her head in acknowledgment then she looked at him directly. "You are so much like him," she said quietly.
"Nothing, Commander," said V'Lar quickly.
Trip turned back around and looked out the front view port at the green and blue planet. "Besides there may be no relationship to pursue," he mumbled under his breath.
"That is for the best."
Trip closed his eyes and exhaled his breath slowly. Those damn Vulcan ears, he thought angrily.
"Why do you say that, ma'am?" he asked keeping his voice as even as possible.
"Our two worlds are not ready for such a union, Commander Tucker. You would no doubt be endangering your career as well as the sub-commander's. Perhaps you'd be endangering more."
"You don't seem repulsed by the thought, Ambassador."
"I am rare among Vulcans."
"You sure are," Trip whispered. He turned back in his chair to face the older woman. "You talked to T'Pol, didn't you?"
V'Lar simply nodded her head once.
"I thought so. You had no right!" Trip felt his face warm with his anger. The Vulcan woman just looked at him, a strange look in her eyes.
"I had every right, Commander," she replied quietly. "You may not understand why right now but it was imperative that T'Pol end her involvement with you before it was discovered."
"Why, for the sake of our careers? To hell with our careers! We love each other!"
If Trip didn't know for certain it was a Vulcan who sat in front of him, he would have sworn her lips briefly turned up in a slight smile. She looked at him for several moments in silence.
"What?" he finally asked feeling uncomfortable under her unwavering stare.
The woman shook her head and looked away from him. "There is much more at stake here than your careers, Commander. If you truly love T'Pol like you say you do, then you will not pursue a union with her."
"Well, it seems you've already taken care of that, Ambassador." Trip turned quickly around and began the landing sequence.
"I am sorry," V'Lar said softly. "It is for the best."
"Whatever you say, ma'am," Trip replied quietly but with vehemence.
The shuttle landed gently on the landing pad a few minutes later. Trip could see the crowd of Talazorians waiting as he brought the pod in. He powered down then turned and rose to his feet. Avoiding eye contact with his guest, he moved around her and opened the hatch. He climbed out then turned to help V'Lar out. High Premier Colthera stepped forward and greeted the Vulcan woman with a wide smile.
"V'Lar, my friend!"
The two women bowed reverently at each other then grasped hands quickly. Colthera then looked past the ambassador at Trip.
"Commander Tucker! You're looking well!" she greeted.
Trip smiled. "Thank you, High Premier. I'm feeling better everyday."
"Good, good," replied Colthera. "Would you like to join us for our mid-day meal?"
"No, thank you, ma'am. I should be getting back to Enterprise."
"Very well. Please convey my thanks to your captain for bringing the ambassador to us. Good luck on your journey and may our paths cross again."
"I'll do that, ma'am, and thank you," replied Trip, bowing. He turned his attention to V'Lar and nodded his head. "Ambassador."
"Commander Tucker? May I have a word with you before you leave?" asked the Vulcan.
Trip sighed but he stood his ground by the open hatch as she approached him.
"I know it should not matter, but I do not want our parting to be an unpleasant one. I find your company rather enjoyable, Commander. I can see why T'Pol feels the way she does about you. But please believe me when I say what I did was for your very lives, not just for your careers."
"Well you clearly know what's best for us, Ambassador," Trip replied. "Enjoy your stay on Talazor, ma'am."
Trip climbed into the shuttle and closed the hatch behind him. He peered out the view port to see V'Lar looking back at him. Her face was impassive but he saw a dark shadow of sadness in her eyes. He moved to the pilot's seat and prepared for his departure.
Dinner was quiet; too quiet as far as Jon was concerned. He looked at both his dining companions. Trip was merely pushing his food around his plate, his eyes downcast. T'Pol was eating slowly. She would occasionally look across the table at Trip then return her eyes to her meal. Her face was as expressionless as always.
"So, T'Pol. Did you enjoy your visit with the ambassador?" asked Jon. He saw Trip shift in his chair at the mention of V'Lar.
"Yes, sir," T'Pol replied, looking at the captain. She quickly returned her eyes to her plate.
"Good," Jon said. He paused again, looking at both his officers. He set down his fork and put both elbows on the table, leaning forward on them. "I know you two are having problems but I need to make it clear that your personal lives will not interfere with your jobs. Is that clear?"
"Of course, Captain."
"No problem, Cap'n."
Jon sighed. "Are you going to be able to work together?"
"Okay. That's enough," Jon said, suddenly feeling like a parent. "You two need to talk things out and you need to do it now. Trip, you first."
"There's nothing to say, Cap'n. T'Pol and I are fine with each other," replied Trip with a forced smile. He glanced across at the Vulcan science officer.
"Commander Tucker is correct. We are indeed---fine," said T'Pol.
"Well then I guess my work is done here, huh? If you'll excuse me," Jon said, completely exasperated. He stood up and reached for his crutches, which he had leaned on the wall behind him. He hobbled to the door and punched the button to open it. He turned his head to the room's remaining occupants. "Good night you two."
T'Pol watched the door slide shut behind the captain. She then turned her attention to the man sitting across from her. He was staring at his plate, idly stirring his mashed potatoes around with his fork. His behavior was oddly endearing to her. She looked at his mouth and remembered the sensations it caused her when it pressed against hers. She felt the now familiar flutter in her stomach at the memory, the flutter that only this human male was capable of initiating. He looked up at her and it was her undoing. She knew she was in for a long night of meditation.
"Ambassador V'Lar and I had an interesting conversation on the flight down to Talazor," the commander began. "I'm a little confused, though, by something she said." He put his fork down and leaned back in his chair.
T'Pol simply arched an eyebrow in response and waited for him to continue.
"She said that what she did by talking to you, by convincing you to put a stop to us, was somehow saving our lives. Do you know what she meant by that?"
"You would have to ask the ambassador what her meaning was, Mr. Tucker," T'Pol replied. She dropped her gaze to her half eaten bowl of broth then looked back up at him.
"Well, gee, since it seems I won't be seeing her anytime soon, perhaps you'd care to enlighten me." The engineer leaned forward placing his arms on the table and he fixed his eyes on hers. She looked back at him, noting the intensity of his gaze.
"Do you trust me, Mr. Tucker?"
He looked confused. "What?"
"Do you trust me?"
"Of course I do, T'Pol. What does that have to do with anything?"
Without thinking, she did a very human thing and reached out to cover his hand with her own. "Then trust me now," she said.
The commander turned his hand over and gently grasped hers, rubbing his thumb back and forth over the backs of her fingers. He sighed and looked back at her with calm eyes.
"I won't give up on you, you know," he said softly. Then he smiled and T'Pol felt her heartbeat quicken. He released her hand and stood then turned to the door. He looked back at her, still smiling. "Good night, T'Pol."
She sat in silence, looking at the door as it slid shut behind him.
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