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"Last Chance"
by luli27

Disclaimer: Neither the characters, the song, the original concept . . . Umm, might be easier this way: nothing belongs to me except the plot. Oh, wait, Jennifer is mine too!
Rating: PG-13 for some minor, very minor cursing.
Genre: I'd have to say romance/angst.
Spoilers: Everything up to and including Terra Prime.
Summary: Six months after the events in ‘Terra Prime', T'Pol sees Trip having dinner with a friend. The emotions that sighting evokes in her leads to a conversation that was way over due. The outcome of that conversation will decide their fate; both are ready and both know they need to more forward. The question is whether they'd do it together or separately. The answer depends on how much courage they have and how determined they are to be together. Either way, this is their last chance.

A/N: As you probably know, this is my first time posting in this site. I've been a fan and read most of the fics archive here and at HoT for years but have never posted because I've never had a story to tell. As much as I liked the show, I've never been inspired by them before. That changed a few weeks ago when I heard the song "Get Closer" by Seals and Croft after having watched a few Enterprise episodes after years of having watched none. As soon as I heard the song, the story came to me full blown and it didn't leave me alone until I wrote it. I had to stop working on my other stories because this one would not leave me alone. I finally gave in and started writing it; and it has been one of the hardest I've ever written – it's also my longest one shot, and that's saying something since I apparently don't know the meaning of ‘short'. I am proud of the final result even as I am a little unsure about how IC I kept them. I tried my hardest to keep them as in character as I could, to keep it in cannon as I could – well, up to Terra Prime cause TATV never happened in my little world; I haven't watched it and I refuse to acknowledge it. Please, let me know how successful I was in keeping them in character. I'd appreciate any and all feedback as this is my first Ent fic and I'm a little nervous about it. I am thinking of a sequel but I'm not sure yet. Please, let me know what you think.


*italics* denotes bondspeak.

After a full and busy day spent on the bridge, Commander T'Pol of Vulcan entered the mess hall to have a light supper before retiring to her quarters for the night. With her mind full of the scans and analyses she planned on running the following day, she distractedly ran her gaze over the few crew members that had lingered after dinner. When she noticed the couple that was sitting at the furthest corner of the room, her mind went blank and she came to a dead stop. She didn't know who the woman was, aside from knowing she was a recent addition to the crew, but she knew the man. She knew the man quite well; he was the only human and perhaps the only being of any species that could make the usually unflappable Vulcan stopped dead in her tracks and wipe her mind clean of anything but him: Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III.

The lateness of the hour, the dim lighting, normal for that time of the night, the starlight coming through the windows and the near emptiness of the room all served to highlight the cozy and intimate feeling that surrounded the couple. T'Pol might not have been an expert on human social interaction but she was quite sure that what she was seeing was the Commander on a date.

Part of her brain wondered at the appropriateness of a senior officer dating a junior officer, another part wondered how he could have gotten so close to another female to be dating her without T'Pol knowing anything about it. Most of her brain, however, was engaged on the primitive fight or flight struggle. Her most primitive impulses, those that Vulcans had had since the beginning of time, that had at one time almost led to the annihilation of her race and that, for more than a millennia, had been controlled and subjugated according to the teachings of Surak, demanded that she explain to the usurping female, in explicit terms, that the male belonged to her and, if necessary, that the message be delivered in blood.

Her civilized, ordered and logical self knew that the best thing, the only thing, she could do was ignore the Commander and leave the mess hall immediately. The Commander was free to spend his time any way he saw fit and with whomever he chose; she had no say in the matter. She had, in fact, been the one that had insisted that that was how things needed to be.

The struggle, while lasting only seconds, was vicious and taxed the Vulcan's emotional control almost to the breaking point. Those primitive impulses had, after all, only been controlled, not eradicated. In the end, T'Pol's mental and emotional discipline won the battle but it came at a high price. She was left with a wicked headache and no appetite.

Knowing she would no longer be able to eat anything and that staying in the same room as the Commander and his date was only asking for trouble, T'Pol turned on her heel and left the mess hall a mere six seconds after arriving with no one the wiser.

The walk to her quarters was accomplished in a daze. If she encountered anyone on the way, she never knew. It took everything she had to keep walking with her emotionless mask in place. Her only goal was to reach the privacy of her quarters. She needed to be alone and in private before she could even begin to try and process what she had just witnessed. Nothing beyond that need existed. She could only hope that there were no emergencies that night as she would not be fit for duty.

All of the barriers that she had spent almost a year erecting and which had only been reinforced after Elizabeth's death, were coming down and she didn't know how she would cope. She wasn't even sure if she could cope; a small part of her wondered if she wouldn't end up losing her mind after all.

After the seemingly endless walk, she finally reached her quarters. She entered and locked the door before she leaned against it. She ran her eyes over every item in the room, as if she'd never seen them before. For a moment, she didn't recognize any of her possessions. But then the moment passed and recognition slammed into her: to one side of the room, laid the mats that they'd used for their neuropressure sessions, the candle holders scattered throughout held candles with the same fragrance as the ones they'd used during their sessions, he used to lay his shirt across the back of the chair and leaned against the desk when arguing with her, the robe hanging on the closet door was the same she had been using since the first night and the bed was where they had ended up the one night she allowed her emotions to rule her.

There didn't seem to be anything in the room that didn't remind her of him. Without any warning, it all became too much; all the hurt, anger, desperation, jealousy - everything she had been struggling to suppress for the last two years came pouring out. And the primitive, emotional Vulcan she had spent her whole life banishing to the darkest depths of her psyche finally saw the light of day.

When she eventually came back to her senses, she was panting and standing in front of the door with her finger poised over the control panel. Another moment and she would have been out the door on her way to the mess hall - nothing good would have come of that. With a growl, she let her head drop forward onto the door with a soft thud, while her hand fisted and punched the door frame, hard. A few moments later, after deep breaths and a quick bout of meditation, she turned around. When she saw the extent of the destruction, she grimaced slightly and quickly moved to set the room to rights again.

As she was picking up the remnants from what used to be a candle holder, she idly thought that she had spent too much time around humans. Not only had she completely lost control over her emotions, but that lapse seemed to have actually allowed her to regain better control than she'd had before. Vulcans weren't supposed to lose control and if they did, regaining that control usually took a lot of effort - it didn't happen in less than ten minutes; letting off steam as a way of controlling emotions was a decidedly human mechanism. Stepping on a broken data padd distracted her from pursuing that thought and she leaned down to pick it and all the other broken bits up. If she had pursued it, she might have wondered just why she was using such human mechanisms but more than that, she might have wondered why they were working for her. But she was distracted and the thought slipped away before it was fully formed.

Twenty minutes later, the room was once again in order, if, rather more Spartan looking, and she was taking a shower. As the warm water washed over her, she tried to keep her mind occupied to keep it from going back to that moment in the mess hall. Unfortunately, taking a shower didn't require great powers of concentration and her brain kept insisting on reminding her of the day dreams she used to have of herself and the Commander in the shower. Needless to say, such memories did nothing to calm her down or stop her from thinking about her relationship with the Commander and how it had deteriorated so much.

With another growl, this time louder than the first, she quickly ended her shower and violently turned off the water. As she went through her nightly ritual, she asked herself: wasn't this what she had wanted? She had been the one to push him away - not once, but three times; when she married Koss, after her mother's death and after baby Elizabeth's death. What had she expected? That he'd still be trying to get close to her? Hadn't she wanted him to stop pushing her? She had done everything in her power to stop him from getting any closer to her than he already was. Only now when she'd apparently succeeded, she realized that that wasn't what she wanted at all.

After her mother's death, she'd thought that having a relationship with him would interfere with her study of the Kishara and her efforts to become a proper Vulcan. Just as she had begun to believe that the two situations were not completely incompatible, the situation with Terra Prima and Elizabeth had come up. The pain of losing a daughter she hadn't even known existed might not have been logical but it had been real. And it had been as great, if not greater, as that of losing her mother less than a year earlier. She hadn't been prepared to deal with it, not so soon after losing her mother; the only way she'd known to manage it was to immerse herself in Surak's teachings. It was all she could do to manage her own pain; she hadn't been able to cope with the Commander's on top of it. And she had, once again, pushed him away, thinking it was the only way they could overcome the pain of Elizabeth's death.

She hadn't really thought beyond that; she hadn't even realized how far apart the two had grown. Once he stopped trying to get her to share the pain, they had both thrown themselves into their work and the months had flown by. The status quo had been so settled and things had been so uneventful that she hadn't realized it had been months since the two of them had talked about anything besides work. She hadn't realized that the pain had lessened or that he was ready to move on – without her.

She shouldn't have been surprised that he was, however, after all, he was a human male. As such he needed companionship and affection; if she wasn't willing or capable of giving it to him, what else was he supposed to do but look for it elsewhere? What had she expected to happen? Had she really thought that just because she couldn't stand the thought of being with anyone else, he would feel the same way? Had she expected that he would just be waiting around for her to change her mind? Humans were notoriously fickle and unable to keep a commitment and . . .

No, that wasn't true and she knew it. With a shake of her head, she dropped onto her bed, leaned her elbows on her knees and rested her head on her hands. Thinking that the Commander was betraying her wasn't fair to him. As far as he was concerned, there was no relationship between them to betray. And she had no one to blame for that reality but herself. She had done her best to ensure that he thought exactly that. And if now that she'd achieved her goal, she found she had been wrong, well, it was too late for regrets and she'd have to learn to live with it.

It was probably for the best. They were too different; he needed things she wasn't sure she'd be able to give him. Going to him now and convincing him to give them another chance would probably only result in him being hurt yet again. She had hurt him enough as it was and could not bear to do so again. No, this was for the best. Let him find a nice human woman that'd be able to give him what he needed. Let him find some measure of happiness after all the loss and misery of the last two years.

With a sigh, she realized that while that might be a noble thought, there was no way she'd be able to stay around to see him fall in love with someone else. She was sure she wouldn't be able to control herself if she had to see him date anyone else; in fact, she was fairly certain that if she was forced to witness another moment like the one she witnessed earlier that evening, someone would be severely injured. The logical Vulcan might be certain letting him find happiness with someone else was the correct course of action but the primitive woman in her only knew that he was her bond-mate and anyone interfering with that bond would pay a hefty price.

The only thing she could do was leave the Enterprise.

That thought didn't bring her any relief. Not that she had been expecting to feel any relief precisely, she was Vulcan. But she had expected that deciding to remove herself from the source of her emotional turmoil would restore some measure of calm. Instead, she felt almost sad at the idea of no longer being on the Enterprise and no longer seeing, not only the Commander, but all of her crewmates. And that was another indication that she had remained among humans longer than advisable. Because, while Vulcans were known to feel some sense of loss when leaving a long held position, feeling sad about it was simply not acceptable.

The decision made, T'Pol didn't waste any more time and went to her desk to start drafting her letter of resignation. She knew Captain Archer and Starfleet Command would not like her decision and that Captain Archer would try and talk to her out of her decision. Even after more than four years, Captain Archer hadn't accepted the simple fact that Vulcans could not be talked out of things. Decisions were made after due considerations of all the facts and were only acted upon when it was logical to do so – there was no room for doubt or for being talked out of anything. And the simple fact was that T'Pol dared not remain aboard the Enterprise.

She had thought that time, emotional distance, and lack of use would have rendered the bond she shared with Commander Tucker all but irrelevant. Some part of her had even hoped, however irrationally, that the bond would just disappear as spontaneously as it had appeared. Instead, if what she was experiencing was any indication, it appeared to be as strong, if not stronger, than before. And that was just as perplexing as the fact that the bond existed in the first place.

The mating bond that linked them was decidedly and uniquely Vulcan in nature, possible because of their physiology and as such it should not have been possible between a Vulcan and a Human – especially when there had been no attempt to create it. And yet, somehow it had developed and they, or rather she, had to deal with the consequences. And since the mating bond was one of the few vestiges left from their savage past, the consequences could be . . . unfortunate.

Vulcans mated for life and were surprisingly possessive of their mates. Any interference with a mated pair's bond was one of the most grievous crimes in Vulcan society. Fortunately, crimes of that nature hadn't occurred since Surak's time. But even Surak's teachings could not wholly erase one's nature and mating was perhaps the one area of Vulcan life where logic didn't always reign supreme. Every seven years, adult Vulcans experienced the pon farr, a neuro-chemical imbalance that strips them of all logic and control. The madness they descend into culminates in the plak tow, if they don't mate within eight days with their bonded mate and sate the blood fever, they can die.

The intensity of the mating bond made the relationship between bondmates much more intimate than that of the human marriage; and because deception between them was impossible, Vulcans had no experience dealing with jealousy. T'Pol was sure, however, than even the most logical of Vulcans would not be able to witness their bondmate romance another person. And T'Pol, thanks to her time in the Delphic expanse and her addiction to Trellium-D, no longer had the control over her emotions most Vulcans had.

No longer living close to the Commander would be hard and she was not sure what she would do when her pon farr arrived but she had to leave the Enterprise for the sake of the crew. The situation was her fault and it was only right and logical that she would fix it; at least this way the Commander would still have a chance at a happy life. He might be able to feel the bond but since he was human he did not feel its full effect and he might very well be able to fall in love with someone else. She, on the other hand, would not bond with anyone else; the bond was permanent and any attempt to reverse it could cause serious brain damage to both of them – especially to the Commander's untrained and more fragile mind. She'd already hurt him enough; she would not risk any further injury to him.

She had just finished writing her letter of resignation to the Captain and Starfleet and was in the middle of drafting a letter to the Vulcan High Counsel asking for reinstatement when the door bell to her quarters chimed. With an inaudible sigh, she got up and went to answer the door. She had been so preoccupied with her thoughts and drafting of the letters that she failed to realize who was on the other side of the door until she reached it. For a moment she contemplated not answering but the bell chimed a second time, she took a deep breath to calm down and opened the door.

Darlin' if you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me.
Darlin' if you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me.
Darlin' if you want me to love, love only you, then love only me.
Darlin' if you want me to see, see only you, then see only me.

"Commander," she said, with a small nod of her head when she saw Commander Tucker standing there.

"Commander," Trip responded. "I hope I'm not interrupting," he said when he noticed she was wearing her sleep clothes.

"Not at all," she told him and stood to one side to let him in. "Come on in."

"Thanks," he said as he stepped into her quarters. "I just wanted to bring by that diagnostic you wanted. I know it's kinda late but I didn't really get a chance to finish it earlier . . ."

"It is not a problem," she assured him as she accepted the data padd.

"I included those calculations and projections you wanted," he told her. She nodded and thumbed through the report looking for them. Trip, who decided to stay until she was done, in case she had any questions, moved further into the room and came to a stop by her desk. His eyes widened when he noticed that the desk wasn't as tidy as usual; granted, it was only a couple of data padds that were out but for T'Pol that was the equivalent to having the floor strewn with clothes. His curiosity got the better of him and he picked up the closest padd. His eyes narrowed in surprise and disbelief when he read the content of the letter in it.

"What the hell is this?" he asked, as he turned around to face her, waving the padd around. She looked up and noticed that he was holding the padd that contained her letter of resignation. Her stomach tightened into knots at the realization that there would be no escaping the discussion. He would not leave until he got an explanation.

"That," she answered simply, somehow keeping her voice and face smooth and devoid of any emotion, "is none of your business."

"You're leaving the ship, resigning from Starfleet and that is not of my business?" he asked, incredulous.

"Yes," again short, simple and to the point, her answer gave away none of her turbulent emotions.

Trip opened his mouth to say something but the curtness of her answer robbed him of speech for a moment. "Does the Captain know of this?" he finally asked, not believing the captain would allow it.

"Not yet," she answered. "I plan on presenting it to him first thing tomorrow morning and send it to Starfleet headquarters at the same time."

Her answer once again left him speechless. He had read the letter and knew what she was intending to do but to hear her talk about it so matter of fact made it all so much more real.

"Why?" he finally asked. "I don't understand, why do you want to leave?"

"It is time I return to Vulcan," she answered him.

"Why?" he asked again.

"I have served aboard the Enterprise for more than four years," she said, "I did what I set out to do. The Xindi are no longer a threat to Earth and I believe you are more than capable to continue your mission without me."

"But . . .but what about the Romulans?" he asked the first thing that came to mind. "The Xindi might not be a threat anymore but the Romulans sure are. And we're gonna need you when the war starts."

"We are not sure there will be a war," she protested, though both knew a war was more likely than not. "But if and when that were to happen, I would of course be more than happy to help in any way I can."

"But what are you gonna do if you leave?" he asked, still not believing he was having this conversation. The idea of the Enterprise without T'Pol aboard was not something he'd ever considered.

"I am going to request to be allowed to regain my commission," she answered and any one else would have been satisfied with that, but Trip wasn't anyone else and he heard the slight hesitation before she answered.

"How likely is that to happen?" he asked with a slight frown, he didn't know much about Vulcan politics but what he did know wasn't encouraging.

"There are of course no guarantees," she answered and again, there was that hesitation.

"In other words," he translated, "not much of a chance in hell."

"My involvement in P'Jem and my decision to resign my commission and stay aboard the Enterprise after the Xindi attack have not . . . endeared me to the Council," she explained. "However, since the government has changed, my past . . . indiscretions might not matter so much anymore."

"What if they do?" he pressed. "What would you do then?"

"My family has always been well off," she said. "And as the sole heir to my mother's estate, I have enough resources that I do not have to worry about it."

"But what would you do?" he asked. "You'd go nuts if you weren't doing something."

"I do not need to belong to an organization to continue my studies," she answered and if she'd been human she'd have shrugged.

"But why?" he asked yet again. "Why now?"

"It is time I return home," she gave the same answer and he stared into her eyes to ascertain the truth.

There's a line, I can't cross over.
It's no good for me and it's no good for you.

He knew there was more to it than that but was not sure whether he should continue to press or not. Six months ago he wouldn't have hesitated, but that was six months ago; a lot had happened since then. They hadn't had a conversation that wasn't work related in more than five months. T'Pol had retreated after their daughter's death and after a while he had resigned himself to give her the space she so obviously wanted. It wasn't what he had wanted to do but there were only so many times one could knock his head against a wall before giving up.

The distance between them had grown so vast that he no longer felt comfortable questioning her on personal matters. A line had been drawn between them and he didn't know whether he should cross it; whether crossing it would do more harm than good. The past few months hadn't been easy but they had at least found some measure of peace. Insisting she tell him what was really going on could disrupt that and he wasn't sure that'd be a good thing for either of them. But this, this was big; he couldn't just stay quiet and stand by while she left the Enterprise. He at the very least had to know the real reason why.

"Nope," he said, shaking his head. "I don't buy it."

"I was not aware I was selling anything," T'Pol told him, canting her head to the side and giving him the look that meant he was being particularly illogical.

"No, that's not what I mean," Trip said as he sighed and rubbed his hands through his hair. "It's just that," he hesitated, telling anyone you thought they were lying wasn't the best way to get them to tell you the truth – that was doubly true when that person was a Vulcan. "Am I supposed to believe that you just woke up one day and decided it was time to go back to Vulcan?" He asked her and then just shook his head again and repeated, "I'm not buying it."

And there's a feelin', deep down inside me.
I can't explain it and you're wondering why.

T'Pol started at him impassively for a few seconds before she walked around him and put down the padd on the desk. "Perhaps that is because there is nothing for you to ‘buy'," she told him, as she turned around to look at him and calmly folded her hands in front of her.

She had known this conversation would not be easy; he knew her too well to just accept that she had all of a sudden decided it was time to go home. That was why she had hoped to put it off for as long as possible; if she was lucky, she might have been able to avoid it all together. What she had not expected was to have it so soon; she was not prepared for it. He had questions she did not have answers for and he was not the type of person to just let them go. She could not explain her real reasons and she wasn't sure he would accept any alternatives she could come up with.

You say we've been like strangers,
but I'm not the others you can wrap 'round your fingers.

"Oh, come on, T'Pol, don't give me that," he said as he rubbed the back of his neck and blew out a breath. "Ok," he began slowly a few seconds later, as if he wasn't sure of how to say what he was thinking, "look, I know that lately we've grown apart somewhat – hell, who am I kidding?" he asked with a rough shake of his head as he put his hands on his hips and decided to just come out with it. "Lately, we've been as close as two strangers that just happen to work together. We haven't had a real conversation in months but despite that, we're friends. Or we were friends," he corrected himself and then added with a frown, "no, we were more than that, even if I'm still not sure just what the hell we were. But even if we're not that anymore, I still know you. I know you better than anyone on this ship does. And I know there's more to this than what you told me."

When she didn't say anything, but just continued to look at him with the same calm face, he added, shaking his finger in front of her face, "And don't you give me that haughty, superior, emotionless Vulcan mask, either. That might work with everyone else on board; Hoshi, Mal and even the Captain, they might all buy it and leave you alone when you're wearing it but I know better. I know there's a hell of a lot more behind it. Just as I know there's more to this decision than a sudden urge to see Vulcan again. And I am not leaving these quarters until you tell me what is it," he declared, crossing his arms across his chest and donning his most stubborn face.

T'Pol knew that face; she knew that he was digging his heels in and that nothing short of a direct order would move him. And sometimes not even a direct order was enough. There was nothing to say that would satisfy him, so she stayed silent and stared directly into his eyes. It was a staring contest neither one was willing to lose.

"T'Pol," he said after long moments had passed in complete silence. "I know there's something else. I feel it," he said, putting emphasis on the word and thumping his heart as if to demonstrate where he felt it. As soon as he said it, his eyes widened as he realized the truth of his statement. T'Pol's eyes also widened, but he was so involved with his discovery he didn't notice it.

"I can feel it," he said slowly and in a low voice as if he was speaking more to himself than to her as he tried to sort out everything he was feeling. All the emotions he'd been feeling for the last couple of hours weren't his own; they were T'Pol's and he was feeling them through the bond. And all of a sudden, they were stronger than ever. It seemed as if recognizing the existence of the bond only intensified it; it was almost as if by acknowledging it, he had opened the flood gates and what had before been vague impressions were now strong and distinct emotions that most definitely did not belong to him.

He wasn't sure what was more surprising: the strength and variety of those emotions or the fact that he was feeling them in the first place. He had been sure the bond they'd shared had gone away just as it had come into being, all by itself. But now he realized that that wasn't the case at all.

It wasn't that he'd stopped feeling T'Pol and her emotions, he had just become so used to them that they'd become background noise and he'd stopped noticing they were there. It was the same thing that happened with the vibrations of the ship. He was so tuned into them that he didn't really notice them until something went wrong and the pitch changed. The past few months had been so uneventful and calm that T'Pol's emotional state had resembled a tranquil pool: nothing had disturbed it and no waves had been created. There had been nothing to jar the pitch and catch Trip's attention - until that evening.

Something had happened that evening that had disturbed the Vulcan so much, it had jolted awake all of her emotions. And those newly awakened emotions had traveled through the bond and bombarded Trip. He finally understood where all the aggression and aggravation he'd been feeling that evening came from. All the confusion, anger, anguish, jealousy and despair had come from T'Pol. But why was she feeling that way? What had happened to shake her so much? There weren't many things that could cause such a powerful reaction in her. And jealousy? Since when did T'Pol feel jealousy? The closest she'd come to it was when she discovered that he had been practicing neuropressure with Amanda Cole. As the thought formed, Trip remembered earlier in the evening when he had thought he'd had a caught a glimpse of her leaving the mess hall.

"T'Pol," he said into the silence that had descended over the room and jolted her from her less than pleasant thoughts, "have you had dinner tonight?"

The strangeness of the question, given the discussion they'd been having, confused her and she answered without really thinking about it. "No," she said, shaking her head. "I was going to have a light supper but when I went to the mess hall I . . ." she trailed off as she realized what she was saying. Her emotional control must have been more compromised than she'd thought if such an innocuous question could get her to reveal so much. "I found out that I was not hungry after all," she recovered quickly and smoothly finished the sentence. But the hesitation, as slight as it had been, was more than enough for Trip.

"You saw me having dinner with Jennifer tonight, didn't you?" he asked, but it was obvious he knew the answer already as he went on to say, "That is what this is all about, isn't it?" he asked, and this time waited for her to answer.

Vulcans did not lie, outside of dire situations, and while this could count as a dire situation, she did not think he would believe her. Rather than risked being call a liar to her face, she decided to stay quiet and say nothing. But as the old Spanish saying went: ‘el silencio otorga.' In other words, not denying something was almost as good as an admission.

"I can't believe this!" he exploded when it became clear she wouldn't answer. He threw his hands in the air and turned around to pace to the door and back again. "You've decided to leave the Enterprise because you saw me have dinner with a friend?" he asked, incredulous. "And without even talking to me about it first!"

"There was nothing to talk about," she said stiffly. "You are free to have dinner with whomever you choose." She could have bitten her tongue as soon as she finished speaking. She had meant to stay quiet and not give him any more ammunition.

"If that's true," he said, stopping in front of her and putting his hands on his hips again, "then why are you making such a big deal of it? Huh? I mean, you're basically turning tail and running away because you saw me share a meal with another woman!"

"I am not running away," she protested as heatedly as a Vulcan got. And since this Vulcan was T'Pol, that was more heated than not. "I am simply going home," she insisted. "It is time." She meant to add that it had nothing to do with him but there was a limit to how much prevarication she was comfortable making.

"Bullshit!" Trip bit out. "You are not going home because it's time; you are throwing a tantrum and going home because you think someone else was playing with your toy!!"

"I am not throwing a tantrum," she denied with as much dignity as she could muster, which wasn't much as she was speaking through her teeth. But she refrained from mentioning his ridiculous claim that he was her ‘toy'.

"Oh, no?" he taunted, with a twist to his lips that resembled in no way his usual grin. "Then what do you call it?"

"I call it making a decision," she told him in her most superior Vulcan tone.

"You're running away," he insisted. "Something happened you don't like and you decided to bail out," he told her, leaning forward and pushing his face really close to hers, completely disregarding her personal space. "That's called ‘running away."

"I am not requesting a transfer to another ship because things are not going the way I want," she said, standing as straight as a board and clasping her hands behind her back, where he wouldn't see them become fists. She looked straight into his eyes and added, "that is running away." What was implied and didn't need to be said was that he had been the one to run away when he left for the Columbia.

He pulled back as if she had slapped him and said through gritted teeth, "that was a completely different situation."

"You are right," she agreed, still looking right into his eyes. Part of her brain yelled at her to stay quiet, that nothing good could come out of engaging him in a verbal battle. But it seemed that her mouth was no longer listening to her brain. "I am going home, not running away!" She repeated yet again as the logical part of her stood back and shook her head at the complete futileness of her actions.

"That's not what I meant!" he argued. "You were married; there was no reason to . . ." he started to explain before he stopped. He took a deep breath and mumbled, "no, you're not changing the subject." He turned around and paced to the door and back again as he tried to calm down. No one, absolutely no one he had ever met could get him as worked up as quickly as she could.

He stopped by the door the second time he reached it and allowed his head to rest on it, on the same spot she had leaned her head earlier, for a moment. He took a few deep breaths and, ironically, used the calming techniques she had taught him during their neuropressure sessions before turning and walking back towards her again.

She studied him during this process and admired the human ability to control their emotions with such relative ease. She also used the time to calm down her own upset emotions.

"Not that you've asked," he said when he was once again standing in front of her, "or that you even had a right to know, but I had a very good reason for having dinner with Jennifer tonight. And no, it's not what you obviously think." He paused for a moment and looked out the window before saying, still without looking at her, "Jennifer was Elizabeth's best friend since they were teenagers. They grew up together and she's like another sister to me." He turned his eyes back, the grief for his lost sister apparent in them, to hers and continued, "They went to college and grad school together. And then, they opened a business together. The only reason she didn't die along with Elizabeth was because she had been on a business trip." He swallowed hard as he thought how things would have been different if his sister would have been the one to go on that trip. With a shake of his head, he dispelled those thoughts; they didn't accomplish anything, after all.

"Jennifer felt guilty that it was Elizabeth and not her that died that day," he told her. "That's why she joined Starfleet; she decided that the least she could do was come out here and make sure something like that didn't happen again." He rubbed the back of his neck again as he studied her. "We've been meaning to get together and talk since she came aboard but our schedules didn't permit it until tonight."

When he stopped talking, a heavy silence descended once again over the room. This time it was more melancholy and tired than before and T'Pol did not know what she could say to dismiss it. She did not know what she could say to make him feel better; she had never known how to comfort him when it came to the pain of losing his younger sister. And while part of her felt guilt for how she had reacted to an innocent encounter, another part understood that her reaction proved it was time to go. Things could not continue as they were.

"So, you see," he told her with a smile that looked more like a grimace, "all of this," he waved to the padd to indicate her resignation, "is for nothing."

"I disagree," she told him quietly and shifted her eyes to stare at the floor.

He stared at her bent head and shook his head. "What do you want from me, T'Pol, huh? Really, you gotta tell me ‘cause I sure as hell can't figure it out and I'm getting mighty tired of trying."

When she continued to look at the floor and didn't say anything in response, he blew out his breath and rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair.

There was a time, when I would come runnin'.
I'd drop everything for the touch of your hand in mine.

"You only seem to want me when someone else does," he said as if he was just figuring it out. "Otherwise, you don't seem to care what happens to me. Only when someone else shows an interest in me, do you show any interest yourself. What is it? You don't want me but you don't want anyone else to have me either?" He shook his head and added, "I never took you for a tease."

She raised her head and looked at him with a confused frown. She did not know what that word meant – not in that context. But he shook his head as if to dismiss it; it wasn't that important after all. He knew she wasn't a tease; if for no other reason than she didn't know what a tease was.

"I'm not a toy, T'Pol," he told her and she shook her head to show that she had never thought of him as such, but he kept on talking. "Nor am I dog that's gonna run after you everytime you snap your fingers, hoping for whatever scraps you happen to throw my way. We've been on this roller coaster of a relationship for years now and I still have no idea what you feel for me – if anything. I'm tired; I'm tired and I can't do it anymore. I won't do it anymore. You gotta tell me what it is you want 'cause I'm done being the only one that gives. I'm done being the only one that cares if there's a relationship to begin with!"

You were blind and now you regret it, 'cause I can't forget it.
It's locked in my mind.

When he stopped talking, T'Pol just looked at him, shaking her head every few seconds – she had never thought of him as a toy or a pet! But she didn't know how to tell him that; she didn't know how to tell him what she felt or even if she should. She didn't know how to explain what he meant to her. And she could see in his eyes that he really was tired of it all. After years of telling him there was nothing between them, it seemed he was finally ready to truly believe her and to finally give up.

She should be happy or at least, content that he wouldn't fight her when it came time for her to leave. But she wasn't; she couldn't be happy when it meant that she would no longer see him. He might be able to go on but she wouldn't. She couldn't forget what he meant to her; she would never be able to forget him. And she didn't know what to do.

When she didn't say anything, he sighed and went on in a lower voice. He sounded resigned and weary.

And I can't go on livin' day to day wondering if you'll be here tomorrow.

"I mean it, T'Pol," he told her. "I can't go on like this. I refuse to go on like this. Either we have something or we don't. No more of living in this limbo where we're together one moment and the next you don't want anything to do with me. That's no way to live." He paused to see if she would say something but she remained silent and he sighed once more as he shook his head.

"If you really want to leave," he finally said, "I won't stop you." He gave a bitter laugh as he added, "hell, it's not as if I could to begin with. But if I go out that door tonight T'Pol – this is it." His voice was no longer tired or weary, but tough and hard; he'd made his decision and was letting her know it. "This is it," he repeated. "Do or die time, T'Pol. I go out that door and you go back home and whatever we had is over and done with. I won't wait around wondering and hoping for you to suddenly realize how good we could be together. It'll hurt like hell, but I'll move on with my life. I'll probably feel as if I'm losing a limb, but I will move on. I won't pine for you and waste my life wishing for the impossible. You let me go tonight and I'm gone for good."

People change and you're changin'.
And I've given you my all, there's no more to borrow.

"You know what's really funny," he asked, a few moments later, when she still hadn't said anything. "You thought there was something romantic between Jennifer and me tonight when there couldn't be anything because I have nothing left to give – to anyone. I've already given you everything I have – and more. And I can't keep doing it – not without receiving something from you. I'm empty, T'Pol," he said, shaking his head and spreading his hands to show he had nothing left.

"Completely empty," he added. "It's all I can do to keep going - but I will. Somehow, I will keep going. I might not have anything to give to anyone right now, but I will someday. It might be a long time in the future, but I will find happiness someday. I'd rather find that happiness with you right now but," he shook his head, "I'm done beating my head against a brick wall. I'm done wishing and hoping and never getting anything beyond scraps. You either own up to us having a relationship, and committing yourself to it or I'm outta here." When she only looked at him with the same impassive face she'd had most of the evening, he nodded his head and said, "Alright then," he turned around and walked towards the door.

He had reached it and was about to press the button to open it when she called his name.

"Trip," the sound of his nickname coming from her lips stopped him in his tracks as it always did. As she'd known it would.

"Trip," she repeated and he slowly turned to look back at her. "I . . ." she hesitated before saying, "I just want you to be happy." He looked deeply into her eyes, as if searching for her soul, but didn't say anything. His silence prompted her to continue, "I have hurt you greatly. That was the last thing I ever wanted to do. I am not sure I could ever make it up to you."

"Just tell me the truth, T'Pol," he told her. His voice was calm and still tired, but there was something in his eyes; a spark that had been missing for months. Though he tried not to, part of him was hoping this was it and she would finally level with him. "Just tell me what you want; what you feel."

"I am Vulcan," she began but he stopped her.

"Don't tell me you don't have feelings because you're Vulcan," he said. "I know better. I can feel them, remember?" he asked her, tapping his temple and heart to refer to the bond. She nodded her head reluctantly and thought for a minute.

"You are very important to me," she finally said. "I would not like to lose your company; your presence in my life brings me great comfort. But I am unsure that I can give you what you need. I have already made you suffer enough; I would not want to be the source of any more pain. I think that my leaving might be the best thing for you."

"But do you want to leave?" he asked and then because he needed to know, he added, "do you want to leave me?" He walked closer to her, silently urging her to give him the answer he needed.

"No," she answered in a low voice. "But what I want is irrelevant. It is what you need that is important."

"Why don't you let me be the judge of what I need and what I want?" he asked with a small smile – a real one this time.

"Because over the years you have not shown great judgment when it comes to deciding what is best for you," she told him, raising an eyebrow.

"Hey, that's just not fair," he cried out.

"It is but the truth," she told him serenely. "You are known for disregarding your safety if you think it is in the best interest of others."

"There's nothing wrong with that," he protested. "I mean, don't Vulcans have a saying: ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one'?"

"Yes, they do," she answered with a nod. "But Trip, I am Vulcan," she began to say and shook her head when he opened his mouth to protest. "Whether you like it or not, the fact is I am Vulcan and you are Human. You have emotional requirements that I am not sure I will be able to meet. Is it fair to either of us to continue with a relationship that is most likely doomed from the start? Should not we stop, as you humans say, while we are ahead? Instead of waiting for you to be bitter, resentful, and dissatisfied because you are not getting what you need and for me to feel guilty because I am not able to give it you?"

Trip opened his mouth to say ‘of course, they shouldn't' and that everything would work out but he closed it without saying anything because she did have a point. They were from different species and they probably had different expectations from relationships. He still thought they could make it work but it wouldn't hurt to go over them and come to some understandings now; it might help them to avoid misunderstandings later on. God knew they'd already had enough of those.

"Ok, T'Pol," he said finally. "Let's say you're right, why don't you tell some of these requirements you think I have and that you can't meet?"

"Very well," she said, somewhat surprised that he had acquiesced so easily. "You need love, tenderness, emotional support, physical release, companionship, humor . . ."

"Ok, ok," Trip said, holding up his hands to stop her and laughing. "I think that is enough."

"You think it funny?" she asked icily.

"No, of course not," he shook his head. "It's just that that was a pretty comprehensive list and you already give me all of that stuff."

"I do?" she asked, surprised.

"Of course," he answered firmly. When he saw her doubtful expression, he added, "Ok, let's take it from the beginning, shall we? I'll even start with a few you omitted and which are important too: respect, trust, loyalty and honesty. You respect me and my judgment; sure, you're constantly challenging me but that just brings out the best in me and once I've proven I'm right, you not only respect my decision but you'll stand by no matter what. There's no one I trust to stand by me more than you – in fact, there's no one I trust more than you, period. You'll always be loyal and I know you'll always tell me the truth." After saying that, he stopped and grimaced.

"Ok," he added, "so you have lied to me before – or at least not told me the whole truth. But that was because you were afraid," and as he was speaking, he realized that there really were some issues they should clear up before going further. "I trust that if we go forth with this, you won't have a reason to lie anymore. I already know your biggest secret, that of your feelings for me; there's nothing else for you to hide, is there?"

"No, there is not," she answered simply.

"And that brings me to the other items in your list," he continued. nodding. "You're right, they're all important. But you're forgetting one thing," he told her and when she raised her eyebrow in question, he explained. "The bond; you might not be human and you might not express your feelings like a human woman but you can give me so much more than a human woman ever could. T'Pol because of the bond, I can feel what you feel. I don't need you to tell me you love me because I already know you do. I know you can meet all my emotional requirements; the only thing I need to know is that you're committed to us, to making a relationship between us work."

"I will never be comfortable with public displays of affection," she told him in lieu of an answer to his implicit question. "Most of your friends will probably never understand why we're together."

"I don't give a rat's ass what other people think or believe, T'Pol," he said, shaking his head. "The only thing that matters is what we think, what we believe. As long as I know you love me and want to be with me, I don't need anything else." When she still didn't look convinced, he went on, "T'Pol, I fell in love with you, with all of who you are. Why would I now want you change? I no longer know if I fell in love with you despite your being Vulcan or because you're Vulcan but it no longer matters. I love you and all your Vulcaness. I don't want to change a single thing about you."

"Trip," she said urgently, even as she started to believe that maybe they could be together. She still needed to be sure before she committed herself to living the rest of her life with him. "You need to be certain of this. If we begin this, if we allow our bond to grow and deepen, there will be no going back."

"I don't want to go back," he assured her. "I haven't wanted to go back for at least a year now, T'Pol. It's you that's been vacillating." When she frowned at him, he quickly changed the subject. There was no need to bring all that up again. "What do you mean if we allow the bond to deepen? It's going to get more intense than it is now."

"Yes," she nodded. "I am unsure of how intense it will get since you are Human and your telepathic abilities are virtually non-existent, but if we stop fighting it and allow it to develop it should become stronger."

"How much stronger?" he asked eagerly. "Will we be able to go to the white room whenever we want?" Going to the white room required great concentration or, ironically enough, great distraction. The few times they'd met there, it was either because T'Pol was meditating and Trip was too distracted or when they'd both consciously tried for it. And even then, it wasn't a sure thing. At her nod, he said, "nice. So, we could have complete conversations in a room full of people and no one would be the wiser?"

"Yes," T'Pol answered, and tilted her head as she sensed his amusement. "That thought amuses you?"

"Well, yeah," he nodded, grinning. "It'll be just like we're sneaking around but without the need to go behind anyone's back because we can carry on in front of anyone and no one will notice!!"

"Carry on?" she queried, in what he knew was her disapproving tone – not that it was much different from all her other tones.

"You know what I mean," he said, waving his hand. "We can be in the mess hall with everyone around us and we could go to the white room and have a completely private conversation."

T'Pol studied him for a moment before walking towards him and touching his cheek, *we do not need to go to the white room to have a silent conversation.*

"I heard that," he said, his eyes wide open in surprise. "In here," he added, tapping his head. "I heard that in here."

"Yes," she nodded. "Vulcans are touch-telepaths; skin to skin contact allows for telepathic communication," she explained as she withdrew her hand and stepped back.

"But I'm not Vulcan," he protested.

"No," she agreed. "But that did not prevent our bond from developing. And because we're bonded, we can converse without the need of the white room."

*It'd be even nicer if we could talk silently without touching or without going to the white room* he thought idly and T'Pol's eyes widened in shock. He noticed and pointed, "you heard that!" It wasn't a question but T'Pol nodded.

"This is most . . . unexpected," she mused, though she really shouldn't be surprised – the existence of the bond proved that Trip was an exceptional human and that she should prepare herself for the unforeseen.

"Yeah, but amazing," Trip told her. "See, there's no need to worry. We'll always know how the other feels; there'll be no deception and no need to feel dissatisfied because all I need is to know you love me and I do. I'm not saying there won't be problems," he admitted. "You can drive me crazy faster than anyone I've ever known and I'm sure I do the same to you but my mom does the same for my dad. I think it's like a law that the person you care for the most is the one that can exasperate you the most."

"That does not sound logical," she commented. "And yet, it somehow does not surprise me that it be a human law." He grinned and shook his head.

"Well, let's try something that's not so illogically human," he said as stepped forward and held out his index and middle finger towards her. "If I'm not mistaken this is the version of a Vulcan kiss, isn't it?"

"Indeed," she answered as she took a step forward and touched his fingers with her index and middle finger. The blast of feeling they experienced was overwhelming for a few seconds before it calmed down to a warm and comforting sensation. It was like being snuggled in a warm blanket in front of a fire on a winter day and waiting for Christmas to arrive all wrapped up in one. It was about the best feeling either one had experienced.

"T'Pol?" he said and she knew what he wanted.

"I want this too, Trip," she finally admitted. "It will not be easy and I fear we might hurt each other in the process, but I too want this and I am committed to . . . making it work." He grinned at her use of such a human phrase and then his smile turned tender at finally hearing the admission he'd been waiting for, for more than two years.

"I love you, T'Pol," he told her, softly and sincerely.

"And I you, t'hy'la," she told him and his smile could light up the room. It might not be ‘I love you', but soulmate was more than good enough.

This series continues in Moving Forward.

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