When T’Pol arrived back in sickbay with a tray of eggs and toast for Trip, Archer gave his chief engineer an amused look and excused himself.
Phlox offered one of his alarmingly wide smiles and said, “I’ll leave you to enjoy your meal, then,” and went back into his office.
“Thanks,” Trip said to T’Pol. At any other time he might have teased her by saying, “Gee, thanks, honey!” but he had a feeling that would fall flat just now.
She went and got a stool and sat down next to his bed, facing him. “I took the liberty of bringing myself a cup of tea as well,” she said, and helped herself from his tray.
He smiled politely and took a bite of the eggs. Phlox’s hypo had banished the nausea but he still felt a little apprehensive about eating. Fortunately, they were delicious – so much better than what he’d been enjoying in his head. He began to eat with serious intent. How could he not have noticed the difference between this and the attenuated flavors of his subconscious?
She sipped her tea and watched him. Trip looked up from his meal occasionally and met her eyes. She didn’t try to evade his glance. She didn’t cough and find an excuse to leave. She didn’t even bring up ship talk to fill the silence.
“So did anything important happen while I was out of it?” he asked.
“Nothing of note. Astral cartography has been busy, but we haven’t encountered any new life or new civilizations.”
He smiled, recognizing T’Pol dry sense of humor. “My engines are running fine?”
“Hess has not reported any problems.”
He sighed and focused on finishing his food. “Thank you, that was great,” he said, and pushed the empty plate away. She picked up the tray and took it to one of Phlox’s counters, depositing her mug at the same time. Then she returned to sit in the chair and returned her attention to him.
He licked his lips nervously. “Are you waiting for my report?”
She looked surprised. “Do you want to give me one?”
“You already know what happened,” he said. “Maybe you could help me put one together for the captain. I’m not sure just how much I should include.”
“I don’t believe the captain expected you to produce a report immediately. Are you eager to begin one now?”
“No, not really.”
She continued to sit there.
He swallowed. “I’m… I’m feeling a little freaked out here.”
Her brows drew in. “Explain.”
He bit his bottom lip, trying to think how best to put this. “You’re just sitting there like you’ve got nothing better to do than keep me company.”
“By my estimation I don’t have anything better to do than keep you company,” T’Pol said, and put her hand in his. “You are my beloved.”
He clasped her hand and stared back at her. “So that’s official now?”
T’Pol blinked. “What do you mean by ‘official’?”
He shook his head apologetically. “I think I’m having trouble believing this is really happening. That it’s not just some fantasy again.”
“I assure you, Trip, this is real,” she said, and rose from her chair to run her fingers across the five-day stubble he’d grown. “In your mind you were clean-shaven.” She raised her eyebrows as if to say, see?
“I still just can’t believe it,” he said, with a little hitch in his voice.
“Nonetheless, it is true,” she said, and kissed him. And then it was as if a dam released and all his pent-up feelings poured out at once.
Phlox checked the monitor in his office and was pleased to see his patient crying in the arms of the first officer, who was rubbing his back soothingly in a way that suggested she wouldn’t be running for the door in a Vulcan panic anytime soon.
“It’s about time,” he said to no one, watching unabashedly. Perhaps when it came to relationships, a little near-death experience could be therapeutic – akin to the electric shock administered to a heart in chaos, perhaps, except that it was the relationship that regained its proper rhythm. Of course, what a normal rhythm was between these two was anyone’s guess. He made a note to himself to keep a close eye; they would need all the help they could get.
His com beeped. “Archer to Phlox.”
“Phlox here, Captain.”
“Everybody still doing okay down there?”
“Oh, everything’s fine. I believe Commander Tucker is going to make a fast recovery.”
“Glad to hear that. Do you think I might be able to get my first officer back? We’re going to be passing by a trinary star system that looks very interesting.”
Phlox hesitated, turning back to his screen. Tucker was wiping his tears and smiling at T’Pol. “Actually, I was hoping to enlist her help in getting Commander Tucker back on his feet today. With your permission, of course.”
“Oh.” Archer sounded a little taken aback. “Well, of course, if that’s what she wants to do. But if you could just let her know, doctor? I know she’d find this fascinating. I imagine she could fit both in if she wanted to.”
“Of course, Captain. Thank you. I believe T’Pol’s help will materially speed Commander Tucker’s recovery. Phlox out.”
He made a warning racket just outside his office door and went to check on his patient. Tucker was blowing his nose.
“I haven’t brushed my teeth in five days,” he was saying just as Phlox appeared.
Phlox said, “Then it’s high time you did. Let’s get you up. T’Pol, could you take one side and I’ll take the other? Let’s see how you are on your feet, Commander.”
Tucker looked alarmed at the thought of standing, but Phlox and T’Pol didn’t give him any time to think about it before his feet were on the floor.
“How do you feel?” Phlox said.
“Let’s see you walk across the room, then,” Phlox said.
His first steps were cautious, but he quickly gained confidence.
“Still feeling fine?”
“Yeah. Maybe just a little wobbly.”
“That’s to be expected. T’Pol, I’d like you to escort the Commander to his quarters so he can brush those teeth. Commander, you are off duty until tomorrow. Please eat well today and let me know if you start feeling ill. Do some light walking. I’ll expect to see you tomorrow morning for a quick check before you go on duty.”
Tucker still looked surprised. “Usually I have to whine like hell to get out of here.”
“Usually you’re in more serious condition. Besides, I’m assuming T’Pol will keep an eye on you,” Phlox said. He coughed. “Speaking of which, T’Pol, the captain wanted me to let you know we’re going to passing close to a trinary star system later today.”
T’Pol glanced at Tucker. “Does he wish for me to supervise our scans?”
“I informed him that you would be helping Commander Tucker today.”
Tucker frowned. “I don’t want to interfere with your duties,” he said to T’Pol. “She can just help me get to my quarters and then she can go, right?”
“No, that wasn’t what I had in mind at all,” Phlox said.
T’Pol looked uncomfortable.
“I don’t mind,” Tucker said to her. “Like Phlox said, I’m really fine.” He turned and started walking out of sickbay.
Phlox gave T’Pol as plain a stare as he could. She nodded almost imperceptibly and ran after the engineer.
“Think I’ll take a shower,” Trip said, when they got to his quarters. He rubbed a hand through his hair and didn’t quite meet her eyes. “I’m sure I’ll be fine if you need to get going.”
“I’m staying here,” T’Pol said. Even if Phlox hadn’t given her that stare, she could feel Trip brooding through their bond.
“Look, it’s okay. We both have duties, I understand that. If it were the engines that needed attention, I’d be off without a second thought.”
“Malfunctioning engines constitute an emergency. Scientific scans do not. My staff is fully qualified to manage the procedure.”
“I doubt the captain sees it that way,” Trip said.
T’Pol felt a flash of amusement. “I doubt it as well.”
He smiled. “It’s going to make him nuts.”
“Indeed.” Who knew this better than the two of them? “I suppose he’ll just have to cope.”
He laughed out loud. “I love you.”
He’d never said that to her, not in so many words. Even now there was almost a joking quality to it, but she knew he was serious, if only because he was growing anxious at her surprised silence.
“And I you,” she said, trying to reassure him. She held out two fingers.
He raised his eyebrows, then held out his two fingers in imitation. She stepped forward until their fingers touched.
He swallowed hard. “You did this with Koss at your wedding.”
“Yes. It is the formal Vulcan greeting between bonded mates. I did not realize at the time that I was already bonded to you, or I would have known I could not marry him. Indeed, by some interpretations of Vulcan common law, we were already married.”
“I know. I’ve done a little research on my own. I have to admit I’ve often wondered why you never mentioned that little detail before.”
She swallowed. "I had doubts you would welcome the information. You did not seem entirely pleased when you learned of the existence of the bond.”
She could tell he didn’t fully accept that explanation, but all he did was sigh and say, “Better let me get that shower, okay?”
Trip stood in the shower for too long, letting the hot water comfort him, trying to figure out what he should do.
Part of him wanted to simply enjoy this newly affectionate T’Pol for as long as it lasted.
Another part of him felt that he was damned if he was going to let her do this to him again.
And another part of him, the part that was spending too much time in the shower, was desperately trying to figure out what he could do differently this time that would keep this from ending badly. Should he try to stay aloof, as if he were Vulcan himself? Move cautiously, as if T’Pol were a wild creature in need of slow and careful taming? Demand his rights as her bond mate? Bend his knee and ask her to marry him the old-fashioned way?
But he’d already agonized among all these options for weeks, months, even years. Finally he just turned off the water. He didn’t know, he couldn’t know, and this wasn’t anything he could resolve by himself.
He quickly shaved and brushed his teeth and dressed in a clean set of civvies. At the door he swallowed and took a deep breath. Here went nothing.
T’Pol was sitting stiffly on his bunk, fingering the silly Frankenstein action figure Malcolm had given him. When she looked up at him her eyes were huge, her face solemn. She looked – and, he suddenly realized, truly felt – just as scared as he was.
He dropped to his knees in front of her. “Please tell me what to do.”
Instead, she kissed him.
For perhaps a half a second he stiffened, as if he wanted to resist. She reached up to caress his head and his neck, hoping that her hands could explain everything for her. His arms responded as if of their own accord, reaching around to pull her tight against him. Soon his whole body was insisting she was his with an animal fierceness that might have alarmed her if she hadn’t been so consumed by the same lust for possession.
Afterwards, she lay in his arms and caressed him reassuringly until he fell asleep.
Once she judged him well and truly sleeping, she carefully allowed her more problematic feelings to rise to the surface where she could examine them, categorize them, and decide what to do about them. Once, she would have automatically sorted them away into their dark and hidden places. But this disciplined Vulcan approach posed certain problems.
She had hurt him so badly.
Even in the midst of lovemaking she could feel him vacillating between great joy and relief and crushing grief. He truly didn’t expect this to last. Indeed, a part of him was already furious with her for the withdrawal he was certain would come.
Perhaps he was right to doubt her.
Trip’s surging, contradictory emotions were even more overwhelming up close than she remembered. There was a part of T’Pol that desperately wished she could escape to her quarters right now and meditate in solitude to try to regain some balance, and she was only disregarding that instinct because she knew it would devastate him to wake up and find her gone.
Trip was right when he’d said their relationship was even less likely to succeed than Romeo and Juliet’s. She’d immediately read the play and agreed that those two clearly had a great advantage in that both of them were human; indeed, if they hadn’t let irrational emotions rule them they might have ‘lived happily ever after,’ as the humans put it – though they were both so headstrong that T’Pol doubted this.
But then, Vulcans did not consider living happily ever after an honorable goal. Indeed, Surak explicitly warned against the pursuit of happiness. He argued that one should not even seek a sense of peace; it was something that, rather, arises naturally as a result of daily discipline and consistently honorable behavior.
When she had begun to study the Kir’shara, T’Pol had assumed that study and meditation and honorable service would take her where she needed to go, and she had assumed the journey would be hers alone. Only when Trip left Enterprise had the painful hollow of his absence begun to teach her that she was no longer the solitary being she thought she was.
Surak’s definition of honorable behavior surely did not include ignoring a mate’s needs – even if that mate was inconveniently and sometimes maddeningly human. Nor was there any logic in ignoring her need for Trip. A mating bond, once formed, was simply an inescapable fact of biology, at least for a Vulcan.
And yet she’d done it again. In her grief she had shut Trip out in a frenzied search for peace that she could never hope to achieve without him.
Were they doomed to repeat this cycle endlessly?
Trip’s arms tightened around her and she looked up at his face, surprised to realize he was awake. “We need to talk,” he said.
She felt a stab of apprehension and was perversely tempted to kiss him again just to shut him up. Instead, she sat up, crossing her arms protectively across her chest. “Agreed.”
He sat up and patted her reassuringly on her bare thigh. “The goal is that we find a way to make this work. Yes?”
She nodded, relieved.
“I think getting some clothes on might help us concentrate. I know it would help me, anyway.” He smiled and started gathering their scattered clothing.
She took her cat suit when he handed it to her and stared down at it for a moment.
He looked surprised. “You’d rather borrow something?”
He went to his locker and pulled out a white shirt off a hanger for her. “How’s this?”
She nodded and shrugged into it quickly, then rolled up the too-long sleeves. “You could tell what I was thinking?” she asked. His acuity with their bond still surprised her.
“Not thinking, feeling. Your reluctance came across loud and clear. Don’t you feel my emotions through the bond?”
“When we are in close contact. Or when I choose to.”
He grimaced. “Only when you choose to? Think there’s any chance I could learn that trick?”
“You know, for someone who’s spent years telling us that Vulcans don’t feel this or that you sure seem to have plenty of strong feelings.”
She flushed with shame.
He frowned. “Like that, for example. Is this because you’ve somehow got yourself bonded to an emotional human? Is it my fault?”
She looked up, surprised. “No, it’s nothing to do with you.”
He sat down next to her, clearly concerned. “Then why are you so … embarrassed? I wasn’t trying to insult you, you’ve got to know that.”
She was finding it impossible to look him in the eye. “I told you that everything that happened in the expanse took a toll on my control. The T’Pol on the other Enterprise told me that I will have difficulty with my emotions for the rest of my life.”
He looked surprised. “Jon said she struck him as pretty serene.”
“She did have over a hundred years to adjust to them.” That was not the whole story, of course. She swallowed; it was past time for a certain confession. “She told me that I should trust you, that you would help me.”
“You know that’s all I’ve ever wanted,” he said, grabbing her hand. But then some resolve appeared to strike him; he carefully put her hand down, and got up and moved to the desk chair, where he sat down and gave her a level stare. “So how come you never told me that before?” She could feel him working hard to keep his voice even.
“I didn’t want to have to explain how I got this way.”
“But you’re going to tell me now.”
She stared down at her lap, willing her hands to lie still. “Yes.” She had to now, if only because it appeared he would accept no less. “I behaved inexcusably in the Expanse.”
“We all did inexcusable things in the Expanse,” he said softly, and she could feel the darkness of that time accompany his words. “What did you do?”
T’Pol folded her arms. “After my exposure on the Seleya, I developed an addiction to Trellium-D.” She waited for his reaction.
But Trip was just puzzled. “An addiction?”
“The ore we brought on board … I found a way to extract Trellium-D from it and inject it into my blood stream.”
“Why would that even occur to you?”
She kept her eyes down. “Once the worst of my exposure on the Seleya was past, it felt good. I could feel things… I enjoyed it.” She still sometimes thought longingly of those injections – that liquid blossoming, the heady sense of expansiveness, the deceptive illusion of control over a heightened reality. With that drug in her veins she’d actually believed that she, T’Pol, could somehow safely navigate emotional territory that thousands of years of Vulcan tradition had declared off limits.
She looked up and watched Trip think it through; she could practically feel the floor drop out from under him when he drew the obvious conclusion. “So this thing between us – it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been … under the influence?”
She rose from the bunk and kneeled in front of him, putting both hands on his knees as if she needed to hold him in place – which perhaps she did. “I have always found you compelling, Trip, from the very beginning. I do not believe I would have allowed myself to act on my feelings without the drug. But I also don’t believe I would have started taking it if I hadn’t wanted to get closer to you.”
He stared back at her. “That sounds like it is my fault.”
She gazed fondly up at him. “If you truly feel the need to blame yourself for being so attractive that you tempted a Vulcan to experiment with emotions, then I suppose you are free to do so.”
He grinned sheepishly for a moment, then sobered. “I know I always liked to push your buttons, T’Pol. I swear, if I’d realized what I was setting in motion…”
She stood up and walked over to the window. Just as he didn’t appreciate hearing she’d attached herself to him under the influence of a drug, she didn’t particularly like hearing he would have backed off if he’d realized what he was getting into.
“T’Pol?” he said uncertainly.
“As you have taken pains to explain to me on numerous occasions, you were always a gentleman. If you truly feel the need to blame anyone for this, it should be me, or perhaps Dr. Phlox.”
“So … those neuro-pressure sessions,” he said, with a spark of his old cockiness. “I knew you were enjoying them just as much as I did.”
She arched an eyebrow, pleased to see him recovering a little of his confidence.
He grinned. “But you sure took umbrage at the suggestion that it was sexual in any way. Really enjoyed getting me all rattled about it too, didn’t ya?”
“It wasn’t sexual.”
“T’Pol.” He got up and got into her space. “Come on. Maybe you wanted to pretend it wasn’t, and maybe I was willing to pretend right along with you, but it was. Admit it. The candles … the silk pajamas … all that physical contact. It was one big giant come-on.”
Indeed, she could feel that he was getting aroused just describing it. She stared evenly back at him. “I did not set out to initiate a sexual relationship, if that is what you are implying. I was merely obliging Dr. Phlox by attempting to help a fellow officer. I did not initiate any sexual contact until…” she hesitated. She wanted to be truthful with him, but Sim had complicated the matter a bit.
“Until you found out I was doing this completely and utterly nonsexual thing with another woman.”
“Until you admitted you were attracted to me.”
“At which time you conveniently happened to be completely naked under your robe!” Trip shook his head. “You know, Jon told me something once that I’ve never forgotten. He said you almost never head straight for anything you want, and that sometimes his job as captain consists of finding a back door he can leave open for you.”
T’Pol tried and failed to tamp down a great surge of irritation, both at this analysis of her and at the endless human predilection for figures of speech. “Your point?”
He turned serious. “If you want this relationship to work, you’re going to try to be a little more direct with me. I’m not a backdoor kind of guy. If I knock on the front door and you tell me to go away, I’ll go away. I might come back and knock again once or twice, but I’m not going to go circling around the house to see if you left a window open for me to crawl into.”
"If you want this relationship to work, perhaps you could speak plainly instead of using obscure metaphors related to domestic architecture.”
“There you go, trying to avoid the main issue again!”
They stared at each other in annoyance until T’Pol glanced down. And saw something interesting. She lifted her chin. “I take it you’re finding this discussion stimulating?”
He smirked. “I’ve always enjoyed arguing with you.” He stepped forward and reached up under the shirt she was wearing to grasp her bare hips in both hands.
T’Pol flushed as she was flooded with the sensation of his desire meeting her own.
He whispered in her ear, “I also can’t resist you when you’re wearing nothing but my shirt.” He began to trace the point of her ear with his tongue.
It was getting harder to talk, but she managed to get out, “Why do you think I wanted to wear it?”
She felt a flash of amused gratitude from him. “I’m beginning to feel a little more optimistic about us,” he said, and went back to licking her ear.
Jonathan Archer sat in his seat on the bridge and looked at three suns and three trails of matter streaming between them, and couldn’t believe that his science officer wasn’t on the bridge to see it.
Of course, if she was, she’d be completely blasé about it, probably tell him that she’d already seen at least twenty other trinary star systems in addition to the one Enterprise had already studied in the second year of its mission, and that there was nothing remarkable about this one.
Which was bull. T’Pol ate this stuff up with a spoon.
So the fact that she hadn’t appeared meant something – presumably that his first and second officer were finally resolving their differences.
He shook his head slightly. He was pleased for his two friends, but he couldn’t help remembering that old bromide: Be careful what you wish for.
The next time Trip awoke he realized that T’Pol was not in bed with him. Adrenaline surged and he sat up quickly.
“I’m right here,” she said mildly, from his desk chair. “Would you like to see the trinary system the captain referenced earlier?”
“Sure,” Trip said, and pulled on his sweats before coming to peer over her shoulder at his monitor. “Pretty neat.” He gently squeezed her shoulder. “You want to go up to the bridge?”
She turned to him. She was wearing his shirt again. “The doctor recommended you do some light walking. Perhaps you could come with me.”
Trip smiled. “You plan on wearing that? I don’t think I have the energy to fight all those guys off right now.”
She turned and gave him a serious look. “How do you recommend we handle our relationship in our interactions with the crew?”
They had never had this discussion before and he took it as a good sign that she wanted to have it now. Hell, he took it as a good sign that she was using the word ‘relationship.’ That didn’t mean it was going to be an easy discussion, however. He sat down on his bunk. “Depends. Are you willing to leave Enterprise?”
She looked surprised. “Are you?”
“If that’s what it takes for us to be together, I’d do it happily.”
“Starfleet needs experienced officers in space.”
He knew how to translate this. “You don’t want to leave.”
“Captain Archer also needs us.”
Trip sighed. “You know there’s no way Starfleet can countenance a relationship between two officers in the same chain of command.”
“Perhaps if one of us were willing to step outside the chain of command…”
He shook his head. “There’s still no guarantee they’d let us serve together. And they’d probably bring in somebody new. What if it’s another moron like Kelby? Not to mention it’s career suicide if you ever want a command of your own.”
“I used to. Not so much now that I’ve had a taste of it. You?”
“I find it highly unlikely Starfleet will ever give a Vulcan command of an earth ship.”
“But if they did?”
“Then I would consider it an honor.”
“Really? I never thought you were ambitious that way.”
“It’s not ambition. It’s putting my talents to use for the greater good. However, I’m not sure how effective I would be in that situation without your presence or your … advice.”
He grinned. He was awfully glad she saw it that way; he knew his ‘advice’ sometimes looked a lot like insubordination. “We do seem to work well together.”
He shook his head. They were getting off track. “Okay. So you don’t want to leave. This just got a hell of a lot more complicated.” He lay back on his bunk, suddenly feeling tired.
He could feel her frustration spike. “Are you saying we can’t have a relationship while we both serve on Enterprise?”
“No, I’m not saying that, but we’ll have to keep it secret. Really secret. Which isn’t easy to pull off on a starship.” He sighed. “Do you really want our private encounters to consist of nothing more than plausibly job-related meetings in our quarters?”
She tilted her head. “Perhaps you will require neuro-pressure on a regular basis?”
“I’m going to require a hell of a lot more than that.”
She gave him an uncertain look and suddenly he was drowning in misgivings, both his and hers. “This isn’t going to work, is it?” he groaned.
She got up from his chair and sat down next to him on the bunk. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll have to find another way.”
He took her hand. “You mean that?”
“We share a mating bond,” T’Pol said. “To attempt to separate at this point in our lives would be both dangerous and illogical.”
He smirked. “Sweep me off my feet, why don’t you?”
“You’re not on your feet.”
He shook his head, amused. “Why don’t you get dressed? Let’s see if we can fool the bridge crew into thinking we haven’t just been shagging each other silly.”
Jon didn’t have a particularly sensitive nose. If he did, he wouldn’t have been able to share quarters on a spaceship with a dog – let alone a dog prone to digestive upsets. But when he leaned down to point out an interesting scan to his science officer, he found it impossible to miss the distinctive tang of certain bodily fluids.
Hoo boy. His senior officers had made up, all right.
He looked over at Trip, who’d come up to the bridge too, though apparently just to say hi since he wasn’t even in uniform. It was obvious that he was still not up to par – his color was off, and he’d been a little too quick to drop down into his chair at the engineering station. But it looked like he was enjoying the joking back and forth with Malcolm about the five-day ‘vacation’ he’d just taken.
And the subdued misery he’d been carrying around for months was gone.
Jon shook his head and grinned down at the deck.
“Does something amuse you, Captain?” T’Pol asked.
“I’m just pleased to see Trip looking so happy,” he said softly, and squeezed her briefly on the shoulder. He resisted the temptation to add, “Good job!”
She glanced up at him, and Jon smiled again. He would have missed it years ago, but it was obvious to him that she was happy too.
He straightened up and grimaced a little. All this newfound happiness was fine and good, but he also had a ship to run. “Trip, T’Pol – could you join me in my ready room?”
Jon sat down behind his desk. “So how is this going to work?” he asked.
“Cap’n?” Trip said, after a quick glance at T’Pol.
“I’m happy to see that you’re a couple again, but I can’t help wondering just how I’m supposed to handle this.”
Trip looked flabbergasted. “It’s that obvious?”
“Let’s just say you both might want to take a shower next time.”
Trip cringed. “Oh.”
T’Pol lifted an eyebrow, apparently unembarrassed. “The human male’s sense of smell is more acute than I realized.”
Jon grinned. “Trip, why don’t you sit down? I think it’s just possible you’ve been over-exerting yourself.”
Trip scowled at him, but sank down onto the little bench anyway. He stared up at T’Pol, clearly hoping she would take the lead.
“Well?” Archer prompted them again.
“What is your specific concern, Captain?” T’Pol asked.
“My specific concern? It appears that my two senior officers are involved in a fairly serious relationship. As I assume you know, Starfleet would not view this development with favor. In fact, when you two became very public parents a couple of months ago, Gardner wanted to reassign you both. I had to swear on a stack of Bibles that you were simply close colleagues who had become the innocent victims of rumor and innuendo. Which was a little problematic since I suspected even then that there was more to it than that.”
“We’re still trying to figure this out ourselves, Cap’n,” Trip said. “And if we can, we’d prefer to stay on Enterprise. But the bottom line is that we need to be together.”
Jon looked at T’Pol. She just stood there impassively, but he knew she would have disagreed if Trip weren’t speaking for her as well. “I see. Well, I’m glad I’m not about to lose you right away. But you’re going to have to be a lot more discreet than you have been. I might have been able to talk about this unofficially with Forrest, but Gardner…” He shook his head. “If this becomes known, your postings could be yanked faster than a Vulcan cruiser breaks warp.” He didn’t add that his own might just follow. “To put it bluntly, you can’t afford to have the whole crew speculating that you’re a couple this time.”
“Understood,” T’Pol said.
“I’d like permission to tell Malcolm, though,” Trip said.
“Malcolm?” Jon said. “Our resident stickler?”
Trip licked his lips uncomfortably. “Hear me out, Cap’n. He’s suspicious and observant … he loves gossip … and he has control over internal sensors. He’ll figure it out even if we don’t tell him. Besides, I’m pretty sure he’d … be supportive.”
“What makes you think that?”
“He’s been supportive in the past,” Trip said, and looked a little guiltily at T’Pol, who cocked an eyebrow at him.
Jon had gotten pretty used to swallowing any feelings of jealousy he might have relating to these two, but this was a new one. Trip was getting support from Malcolm instead of him?
Duh, you’re the captain.
“I guess that’s up to you,” he said. “You should also know that Starfleet archives routine recordings of the bridge, the brig, the mess hall, the lounges, and the launch bay. They consider these public areas, and there’s nothing to prevent them going in and looking for evidence if they get curious. And even though they don’t archive the rest, that doesn’t mean someone won’t notice if you start canoodling in the turbo lift or the corridor.”
“We understand, Cap’n,” Trip said.
“Canoodling?” T’Pol said.
“I’m sure Trip will be happy to explain that one to you,” Jon said. “Good luck to you both. You have my best wishes. Now do me a favor and forget we ever had this conversation.”
“Are you sure this is wise?” Malcolm said.
Trip glared at him. They were sharing a drink in Malcolm’s quarters, which Trip felt the man kept poorly lit on purpose. He probably thought it kept him better hidden from the universe. “I’m not doing it because I think it’s wise, Malcolm.”
“Well that’s good, because it’s clearly not.”
“Are you going to help me or not?”
“If you’re absolutely set on this, then you’re obviously going to require help.”
“I’m absolutely set on this.”
Malcolm grimaced. “Haven’t you suffered enough already? I mean, honestly, I know she’s very attractive and intelligent and exotic and all that, but do you really think you have a future together?”
“All I know is I can’t imagine a future apart. And this time, neither can she.”
Malcolm shook his head. “Hope really does spring eternal. If you’re really so desperate to be together, why don’t you just resign your posts and go live happily ever after somewhere?”
“Because she doesn’t want to leave Enterprise, and I’m not really too keen on that either.” Trip didn’t add the part where he was afraid that she’d insist on living on Vulcan. He still hated deserts.
“Oh, I see. You want to, she doesn’t. So of course you’re going to do it her way.”
“Look, if you don’t want to help us, just forget it.” He stood up. “But I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this to yourself.”
“For God’s sake, sit down,” Malcolm said. “It’s going to be a lot harder for me to help you if you go storming out of here over nothing.”
Scowling, Trip sat down. He knew Malcolm was just telling him what he would have told Malcolm if their positions were reversed. Maybe that was why it hit a little too close for comfort.
“Look,” Malcolm said. “I’m happy for you. I really am. I’d just hate to see you get hurt again.”
“You and me both.”
“You must have it really bad.”
“You have no idea.”
“A campaign of deliberate misinformation?” T'Pol looked perplexed. She and Trip were sitting together over lunch in the mess hall, and had pitched their conversation low even as they maintained a decorous distance for the benefit of their crewmen and any recording devices.
“He thinks the best way to fool everybody is to let people believe you and I had a short ‘romance’….” Trip looked up and checked again to make sure no one could overhear them. “…That ended when Elizabeth died. The story would be that it proved too painful to lose a child, so we decided to end it.”
What made this so diabolical, Trip thought, was that it had very nearly come true.
“If Admiral Gardner learns we had a ‘romance’ he might still reassign us.”
“Yeah, but it won’t be official. The captain won’t know about it. We’ll just let the rumors fly in that direction. Malcolm also said he thinks we should enlist Hoshi and Phlox. He says they’re the biggest gossips on the ship, but they know how to be discreet when it matters.”
T’Pol frowned. “I suppose the idea has some merit.” She sipped her broth thoughtfully.
Trip watched and tried not to focus too intently on her lips.
Perhaps conscious of where his thoughts were tending, she gave him a look. “How does this help resolve the problem of finding a way to spend time together?”
“It doesn’t. That’s going to require something different.”
He handed her a PADD. “There’s a crew rotation coming up. The captain thinks it’s a good time to look at all the room assignments on the ship. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to have the first officer and the captain’s quarters right next to each other. Makes the command structure too vulnerable during a hostile attack.”
She looked critically at Trip’s proposed changes for B deck. “One could make the same argument about the first and second officer of the ship being adjacent to each other.”
“One could,” Trip said. “If one were really determined to take all the fun out of everything.”
“And you believe this would resolve the issue?”
“It would once I’ve had a chance to make a few modifications to the bulkhead between our cabins.”
“I see,” she said, clearly intrigued. “And until that happens?” she asked, carefully not meeting his eyes. “Tonight, for example?”
He grinned. “Tonight? Tonight I believe you and I need to discuss this plan in more detail.”
She continued to page through his file. “Yes, I believe the first officer needs to sign off on any proposed changes in crew quarters.”
“How’s 2000 hours?” Trip took a bite of his sandwich and casually looked out the window.
“It is satisfactory,” T’Pol said. She handed his PADD back and took another, very careful spoonful of broth. “But please do your best to be prompt, Commander. I believe this discussion may take some time.”
“I sure hope so,” Trip said. In fact, he rather hoped it would take the rest of his life.
THE END (for now)
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