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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
Author - Zane Gray | Genre - Contest Winner | Genre - General | Main Story | O | Rating - PG
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2002 ASC Awards/ Enterprise/ Tucker Pairing: First Place
25 November 2002: "One Step Back, Two Steps Forward" has won first place in Quills's Trip/T'Pol Romance Fanfiction Contest. Congratulations, Zane!
One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
By Zane Gray (email@example.com)
Summary: [Quills CONTEST WINNER] Anyone wonder how T'Pol reacted to Trip returning from Risa in his underwear and a bathrobe? Me too. Read on!
About the Story: This is a post-ep for Two Days and Two Nights, and a prequel to my other Trip/T'Pol tales, Sympathies and Symmetries, Differential and The Early Hours. It's intended to set up the later stories, and specifically to establish that Trip and T'Pol's friendship began to develop in earnest late in the first season. The hint of Archer jealousy has been added to reflect what we've learned about him in Season Two of the series. Enjoy!
The series in order:
1. One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
Yep... it was gonna be one of those days.
The occupants of the shuttlepod sat in uncomfortable silence, somehow managing to avoid looking at one another directly, as Crewman Rostov carefully maneuvered the craft underneath the Enterprise's extended docking grappler. Commander Tucker sat grumpily in the back, trying to ignore the stench of cheap Risan wine that permeated the cabin thanks to both himself and Lieutenant Reed. Porthos had sniffed at each of their legs in turn, but strangely, neither the Captain or Hoshi had said anything about it... which left him wondering if they were merely being polite, or if they'd had misadventures of their own during their brief shore leave. At least the silence got Trip out of having to make a really awkward explanation.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth, he mused thankfully. You might just live this one down yet.
The pod docked with a slight shudder and then the grappler smoothly retracted into the Launch Bay. Moments later, the large doors closed silently in the vacuum beneath them. And then the bay repressurized... and Trip caught a glimpse of Sub-Commander T'Pol walking along the gangway to meet her returning shipmates.
Awwwww hell, he thought, his stomach twisting into knots. He'd completely forgotten about T'Pol. She's never gonna let me forget this…
Moments later, Rostov climbed out of the pilot's seat and opened the hatch. The Captain and Hoshi practically bolted out, climbing the metal staircase quickly in an effort to escape the stench. Malcolm skulked out next, but not before favoring Trip and then Rostov with an unusually dour glance. Trip brought up the rear, wondering briefly if T'Pol would simply go away if he hid in the pod's equipment locker long enough. To make matters worse, Rostov grinned at him like a fool as he began trudging up the stairs. Meanwhile, Archer reached the top a few meters above, with Porthos tucked under his arm. The beagle sniffed at T'Pol and yelped his greeting, eliciting a raised eyebrow from the Vulcan.
"Did you have a good time, Captain?"
"Uh... yeah, it was fine, T'Pol. Everything running smoothly up here?"
"Ensign Mayweather is recovering in Sickbay from his climbing injuries. And the Doctor has resumed his hibernation. Other than that, there is nothing out of the ordinary to report."
"Good. I think I'm gonna go to my quarters and get cleaned up. Ah... thanks for the book by the way."
"I trust you found it relaxing?"
"Well, it certainly was... fascinating. See you at dinner."
During this discussion, Hoshi and Malcolm had managed to reach the staging walkway and exit the Launch Bay without attracting the Sub-Commander's attention. But just as Trip was starting to believe he might get away cleanly as well... T'Pol turned and caught him dead to rights. He stood there in a panic, clad only in his underwear and a hotel bathrobe.
"It would appear that you had a good time, Commander."
Trip swore under his breath as panic turned to irritation. He saw T'Pol's nose crinkle gently and raised a preemptive finger at her.
"Not another word, T'Pol. Not one Goddamn word."
She regarded him with an eyebrow raised in amusement. Stealth no longer an issue, Trip simply stomped past her and out of the Launch Bay. He was pretty sure he could hear Rostov snickering as the doors closed behind him. Out in the corridor, various crewmembers regarded him strangely as he stormed off toward his cabin, fighting to retain what dignity he had left.
Suddenly, he heard another pair of footfalls matching his own and he realized, to his horror, that T'Pol was following him. Of course she's following you, dumbass! Vulcan or not, she's never been able to resist an opportunity to needle you before. Why should she start now?
As expected, T'Pol rose to the occasion. "Given the Human fondness for making small talk over dinner, may I assume that you will regale the Captain and myself with tales of your debauchery this evening? Or should I ask Lieutenant Reed instead?"
Trip scowled. "So you saw his little blues and bathrobe ensemble too, huh?"
"Actually no, but his odor was difficult to miss. I am curious, Commander... how much of the wine did you actually manage to consume before spilling it over your person?"
He snorted. "Not nearly enough, believe me."
"Then I assume your tensions have been sufficiently eased?"
"None of your damn business."
"Actually, as second in command, the efficiency of the crew is well within my purview--"
He suddenly stopped and got in her face. "T'Pol, just..." Words failing him, he simply growled at her and continued on. Amused, T'Pol matched his pace again.
"Apparently your tensions haven't been eased. Were not the local females sufficiently receptive?"
"Oh, they were receptive all right. Receptive to takin' us fer a ride!"
She frowned at him in puzzlement. "Was that not the desired outcome?"
"Let's just say that when yer Vulcan friends get around to updating their little Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy again, you might wanna have 'em change the entry for Risa from 'harmless' to 'mostly harmless'."
"I'm afraid I do not understand..."
He stopped and faced her again, practically shouting at her in frustration. "We got mugged, okay?! Two pretty lookin' girls... I mean aliens who looked like girls... lead me and Malcolm on, hit us with some kinda stun ray and took everything we had! We spent the whole damn time tied up in a cellar in our underwear! Are ye happy now?!"
It grew utterly silent in the corridor as T'Pol digested this revelation. And suddenly, Trip realized that several passing crewmen had not only witnessed his little outburst, but had actually stopped to do so. Mortified, he quickly turned and triggered the door control for his cabin which was, mercifully, nearby.
Left in the corridor as Commander Tucker entered his quarters, T'Pol hesitated for a moment. She glanced at the crewmen around her, who quickly resumed their previous business. Then, on an impulse, she took a step forward, slipping inside Trip's cabin just as the doors slid shut behind her.
She immediately regretted her decision when she saw him standing there in his boxers, with his soiled robe already discarded in a heap on the deck. Trip was just pulling his T-shirt off when he realized that he wasn't alone. He gaped at her dumfounded.
"Please... come right in, Sub-Commander. Can I get you something? Maybe a mineral water or some Vulcan spice tea while you enjoy the show?"
T'Pol cleared her throat uncomfortably and averted her eyes. "Forgive me for infringing upon your privacy, Commander. I merely wished to apologize for my remarks. I also wanted to inform you that the bell captain at the hotel where you were staying sent up a package for you when Ensign Mayweather returned to the ship. I can have it delivered to your quarters if you like."
Taken aback, Trip didn't immediately reply, instead tossing his shirt aside with the robe. He tapped a control on his desk. "Computer... music please." There was a chirp as the computer waited for him to make a selection. "Random selection... Rock and Roll."
Moments later... the jangly guitar chords of The Rolling Stones filled the room. Trip sighed his relief and flashed a lopsided grin at T'Pol. "Much better. You a music fan, Sub-Commander?"
"Actually, I find most Human music to be overly-loud and illogical. The lyrics make little sense."
"You know, you can learn a lot about Humans from their music. We use it as a way to express our emotions. The lyrics often aren't meant to be taken literally, but they can still say quite a lot of importance."
"I prefer Jazz."
Trip looked surprised. "Really? Well then, I guess it's true." He wagged his thumbs at the speaker overhead. "You can't always get what you want. Now, if you'll 'scuse me a minute..."
What he did next took the Sub-Commander by surprise. With a playful grin, Trip turned his back to her, gave his boxers a tug and dropped them to the floor. Shocked, T'Pol quickly looked away as the Commander casually walked, bare-ass naked, into his tiny bathroom. He might have been surprised, however, had he seen T'Pol glance back in his direction as he stepped into the shower. She raised an unseen eyebrow as a long-standing curiosity was satisfied.
Unaware of this, Trip called out to her over the scalding spray. "By the way... I got your little gift the other day."
"I am sorry you were unable to take advantage of it," she replied loudly.
"Look... I appreciate the thought, T'Pol. But did ya have ta send me condoms?"
"One must always take precautions when engaging in interspecies relations. I was merely concerned for your continued health."
"Yeah, but a box of condoms? Fer cryin' out loud, T'Pol! How much tension did ya think I needed ta have relieved?"
"I took the liberty of assuming that the severity of your need was commensurate to the... attention-getting capabilities of your shirt."
"You sayin' you didn't like my Hawaiian shirt?"
"I am merely suggesting that it falls only loosely within the parameters of what one could reasonably call a shirt."
Trip's laughter filled the cabin as he lathered his hair with shampoo.
While he began rinsing himself off, T'Pol allowed her eyes to wander over the organized chaos that was the Commander's quarters. His clothes were strewn about and his bed was unmade. There were photographs everywhere, which she assumed were various friends and family members back on Earth. Trip was present in more than a few of them. Some of the people she recognized. There was a shot of the Commander with Captain Archer, standing proudly in front of a wide viewport with the Enterprise in the background. She assumed it was taken just before their departure from Earth. Another showed the Commander posing with his Engineering staff... all of them where making strange faces, which she was certain they later found amusing. There were also children's drawings which she knew to be from his many nieces and nephews. T'Pol recalled from his personnel file that he was part of a large family, and had several adult brothers and sisters with children. Adding to all this the blaring music and the Commander's lack of modesty about his nudity, and T'Pol felt like she was privy to some strange tribal behavior characteristic of Human males.
Or maybe it was just uniquely him. T'Pol quickly chided herself for her obvious fascination with the Commander and his background. She should have left his quarters the moment she came in... much less when he began undressing in front of her. Her behavior was inexcusable.
She moved toward the door, stopping to make her earlier inquiry once more. "You have not answered my question, Commander. Would you like me to have the package delivered to your quarters?"
T'Pol heard the sound of the shower being turned off and then Trip called out impatiently. "Sooner's always better than later."
She raised an eyebrow. "Indeed. I have never understood the Human tendency toward impatience."
Moments later, Trip came out with a towel wrapped around his waist and his wet hair sticking out in all directions. T'Pol noted that he was dripping water everywhere. "Yeah, well... we don't get to live two hundred years now, do we?"
"What does that have to do with your impatience as a species?"
Suddenly, he snapped at her. "It has everything to do with it, T'Pol! It's not fair! You Vulcans live twice as long as Humans do, but you've got less than half the desire to do anything! To explore... to see things! To accomplish something with your lives!"
T'Pol immediately took offense. "The Vulcan people have accomplished many things, Commander. We were traveling among the stars when Humans still thought the Earth was both flat and the center of the Universe. Perhaps if you could learn to set aside your own selfish desires, you would understand that there is more to life than personal achievement."
As expected, Trip reacted badly. "Who the hell are you to tell me what life is about?! You might be happy sitting on your ass, thinkin' and meditatin' everything to death. But for me, for Humans, life is about getting' your hands dirty. Seein' things with your own eyes - not just watching 'em remotely on a viewscreen. Touching... experiencing. Feeling." He looked at her pointedly. "I know that's not somethin' you Vulcans can understand. But maybe if you knew you only had forty or fifty years left, things would start to feel a little more urgent."
T'Pol was taken aback by his comments. And if he'd been watching her expressions more carefully before she hid them, Trip might have noticed a look of distress. But instead, he simply stormed around his cabin searching for a clean uniform, and getting more and more worked up.
"You know... you really take the cake," he continued bitterly. "Ya thumb yer nose at our music, ya don't care how we feel about anything... both of which are obvious places to start if you really wanna understand Humans by the way." Without warning, he stepped up and got right in her face. "Explain it to me, T'Pol, 'cause I clearly don't get it. You've been on the Enterprise nearly a year now, but you obviously don't give a shit about us. So what the hell are you doing here?"
T'Pol struggled for words. "I... I have been assigned by the High Command to observe and advise--"
He scowled at her. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Get out."
"I said get out! Take your superiority and get the hell out!"
For an instant, T'Pol just looked at him, visibly stunned. Then she lowered her eyes, turned away and left.
It was only ten seconds after the door had closed behind her... that Trip deflated, realizing what a gigantic ass he'd just been.
With a small sigh, T'Pol glanced around to see if anyone had noticed her discomfort. Then she carefully composed herself, laced her hands behind her back and headed for the nearest turbolift. After all, the Enterprise would soon be leaving orbit. And until the Captain came back on duty later this afternoon, she still had command of the Bridge. Damage control with Commander Tucker would have to wait.
As she walked away down the corridor, only her eyes betrayed the sadness she felt inside. And by the time she reached the Bridge, even that would be carefully hidden.
T'Pol decided that, for once, she would try to initiate conversation. "Captain, did you wish to discuss the bio-scan analysis you asked me to run last night?"
Archer looked up from his food, surprised. "Uh... no. That's all right. Turned out it was nothing after all."
T'Pol was puzzled by this. "You seemed quite concerned about it before. Although it would not be unusual for Tandarans to be vacationing on Risa--"
"Yeah, that's... that's what I eventually figured. I was just starting to get a little jumpy. Too much fresh air and sun, I guess."
That notion puzzled T'Pol even further, but she said nothing. After a while, the Captain turned to his Chief Engineer. "So Trip... you and Malcolm have a good time?"
Trip looked up absently. "Yep. How 'bout you Capt'n?"
They fell silent again. T'Pol frowned now and laid her fork down, thoroughly confused at her crewmates' obvious prevarication. Just then, the intercom sounded and Hoshi's voice came over the speaker. "Bridge to Captain."
Archer stood and thumbed the com. "Go ahead, Ensign."
"There's a message from Starfleet for you, sir."
"I'll take it in my quarters." He turned to his dinner companions, who made as if to stand. "Don't get up. I'll just be a few minutes."
Then the door hissed shut behind him, leaving Trip and T'Pol in silence. They glanced at one another uneasily and pretended to continue eating. But neither actually took a bite. T'Pol tried to focus her mind by analyzing the ingredients comprising the dressing on her salad. Trip silently counted the number of peas on his plate for the umteenth time: one-hundred seventy-one, one-hundred seventy-two...
Finally, the silence grew too uncomfortable.
They looked up at one another in surprise. Trip laughed nervously. "You go ahead... ladies first."
T'Pol started again. "I... I wish to apologize to you. It's clear that I upset you earlier and it was not my intention to do so. I believe I miscalculated in my--"
Trip shook his head, interrupting her. "No, no... I'm the one who should be sorry. You don't have anything to prove to me or anyone else, T'Pol. You're one of my best friends on this ship and I treated you like crap this afternoon. I'd had a really lousy couple of days, but that's no excuse."
Suddenly, he reached across the table and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "Please forgive me?"
T'Pol looked up, startled by the light telepathic brushing that was induced by the contact. She could tangably sense the Commander's emotions... sense that he genuinely cared about her well being... about what she thought. But right at that moment, T'Pol's only thought was that she was absolutely certain she would never understand Humans. Not in a lifetime of trying.
"If... if you will forgive me as well..."
Trip smiled warmly. "Nothin' to forgive. So will you have lunch with me tomorrow?"
She nodded, taken aback, and Trip withdrew his hand with a final squeeze. And just like that, the tension between them - as well as the telepathic contact - was gone... if not T'Pol's confusion.
"Oh... I almost forgot..." Trip began reaching under the table for something. "I uh... I meant to do this before dinner. This is for you." He set a small box on the table in front of her. T'Pol's eyebrows lifted in surprise.
"This is the package I had delivered to your quarters this afternoon."
He grinned. "There's no foolin' you."
She looked up at him. "I do not understand."
Trip just smiled at her. "It's for you silly. Said I'd bring ya back a souvenir, didn't I? Good thing I had the hotel send it up too, 'cause those damn aliens cleaned out our rooms pretty well." Seeing her hesitate, he nudged the package closer to her. "Go ahead. It's not gonna bite ya."
After another moment, T'Pol began undoing the paper wrapping. Then she opened the box to reveal a small, delicate object. It was made of a sparkling, electric blue glass, laced with stunning silver leaf. It was undeniably beautiful and T'Pol said as much.
"It is... quite striking."
"Hang on a minute... there's more to it. Touch the little silver star pattern on the side there."
T'Pol did as she was instructed... and suddenly a dazzling light appeared in the air over the center of the glass. It pulsed and shimmered like something alive. It was almost hypnotic and T'Pol watched it with eyes wide, entranced.
"I found it at a little booth in a market near the hotel. It was really pretty and I figured you could maybe use it for meditatin' or something." Trip smiled sheepishly as the Vulcan glanced up at him, stunned.
Just then, the Captain came back into the Mess. "Well, Admiral Forrest sure is in a good mood tonight. It seems--" Then he noticed the glimmering light. "What's that?"
T'Pol struggled visibly to regain her composure. "It is... a gift." Then she deactivated the delicate object and stood. "If you will excuse me, Captain, I... have sensor data to analyze from a nebula we passed this afternoon."
Archer nodded, surprised, as Trip stood politely. "Of course."
T'Pol turned to Commander Tucker for a long moment, her expression soft. "Thank you."
Trip just smiled at her and gave a small nod. "G'nite, T'Pol."
With that, the petite Vulcan left the Captain's Mess, her gift cradled carefully in her hands. When she was gone, the Captain glanced over at his Chief Engineer, who was looking at the just closed door thoughtfully. "You gonna tell me what that was all about?"
There was a slight edge to Archer's query that Trip was too preoccupied to hear. The Commander merely shrugged as they both sat down again. "Told her I'd bring her back a souvenir, didn't I?"
Archer regarded him dubiously. "That you did." He took a bite of pot pie and decided to risk probing a little further. "Musta been some gift though. I don't think I've ever seen T'Pol so... off balance before."
"Guess she really liked it," Trip replied, just a touch too smugly.
"I guess." Trip's expression gave the Captain pause. Is there something going on between these two I wasn't aware of? For a few silent moments, Archer replayed their recent interactions in his mind, looking for signs of... something. Finally, he shook off this particular train of thought, deciding instead that his friend was in need of a little good-natured ribbing. "So... when do I get the wedding invitation?"
Trip gave him a sour look. "Now, don't you start."
The Captain laughed. "I'm just kidding. But she does kinda grow on you doesn't she?"
"Ya can say that again--" Then Trip realized what he'd just admitted. "Hey!"
Archer laughed louder now, raising his hands in mock surrender. But in the back of his mind, a disturbing emotion began to take form.
Unaware of such thoughts, Trip wagged a finger in his Captain's direction. "You breathe a word of this ta Hoshi, and I'll arrange to have yer toilet broke fer a week! That's all I need is fer it to get around that I gave T'Pol a present. Can't have my Engineering staff walkin' around thinkin' I'm sweet on the Science Officer."
"Don't worry. I won't tell a soul." Archer chuckled as he speared another bite of food. "But I call Best Man."
"Now, you look here...!"
Commander Tucker had called her one of his best friends, and she knew from their brief telepathic brushing that he meant it. T'Pol had never had a best friend. She'd never really had a friend before, for that matter - not in the way that Humans thought of friendship anyway. Vulcans tended to have colleagues and professional partnerships in lieu of true, Human-style friendships. T'Pol wasn't sure what it meant to be a friend, other than what she knew of the Commander's relationship with the Captain. They had clearly known each other for years before coming aboard the Enterprise. She'd only known Commander Tucker for a little less a year, and still not very well. What were the responsibilities of such a relationship? What would he expect of her? She would have to research the subject more thoroughly.
For several long minutes, T'Pol thought about friendship. Then she opened her eyes, looked at the meditation candle burning beside her... and made a decision. Pursing her lips, she blew the flame out and set the candle aside. Then she reached for her gift, which was sitting on the small table beside her bed. She ran her hands over the smooth glass, feeling its cool texture against her skin. Placing it on the mat before her, T'Pol touched the symbol on its side... and the air above it exploded with light. It was like a tiny star, flickering... shimmering. Burning just for her. A kindness from a Human named Charles Tucker... her very first best friend.
T'Pol's eyes smiled and then closed again. She realized that she was very much looking forward to lunch tomorrow. T'Pol knew she still had a long way to go before she would truly begin to understand Humans. But she'd already come a long way in the last year. Significant steps had been taken this day alone.
And this time, it was one step back... and two steps forward.
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
Wonderful! I love all your work!
Congratulations, Zane. Well deserved win for an excellent story.
Hehe, you've made a Trip/T'Poler of me. Great story. Well I'm off to read that other story you mentioned. Hope it's as good as this one.
Loved your story but I am the only one who wanted it to carry on? I wanted to see their dinner date and where they went from here. You know what that means - a sequel! Well done, this was great. Thanks. Ali D :~)
This was a lovely story Zane, you captured that temper of Trip's very well, and T'Pol's lonliness was tangible, loved the hopeful ending, and I know I'm going to enjoy your other stories too!
Fabulous news about winning the award, I am so proud of you! Very well done. This is such an excellent story and really sets the foundation for everything to follow. I adore the way you delineated the emerging relationship between Trip and T'Pol and for you to get this kind of recognition is a wonderful compliment and testament to all your hard work. A thousand hugs and well done, Ali D :~)
Wow. I think I've read this before, but I must have been too out of it to truly appreciate how brilliant it is - this rocked! I'm just about to move onto the next bit; can't wait.
You always write great stuff Zane
Fantastic, I actually wish I had been watching Enterprise on TV during this time period so I would have had a chance to write TnT-friendship fic b/c something about it is just more fun-filled and comedic than romantic fic....Bravo, I admire the humor you are able to write immensely!
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