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The angst continues! (and maybe just a little TLC)

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Chapter 9: Tea and Sympathy

Day 6: 2010 hours

Trip pressed his back into the corner with his curled right hand held tightly against his chest. The pain was down to a dull throbbing now, no longer sharp and insistent, and the cold knot once again lay coiled in his stomach like a dead thing. The emptiness, which had been pushed aside by the sharp jolt from his hand, rushed back in full force.

He held up his hand and examined the bruises around his wrist. The image sprang to his mind of the monsters holding him down, locking the restraints around his wrists. He shut his eyes tightly in a desperate attempt to make the image go away, but it persisted.

A crackling from the comm caused his eyes to fly open. He shrank back farther into the corner.

"Archer to Commander Tucker," came the captain's voice over the comm. Trip froze. He knew Archer had no way of knowing where he really was; the captain was just fishing, trying all the different places he might be in hopes of getting lucky.

Trip wasn't ready to be found just yet. He struggled to his feet and hobbled across the room. Locating a towel, he wrapped it as tightly as he could around his hand to stop the bleeding. Then he limped out the door. He didn't know where he was headed, just anywhere but here.

He ended up outside the small theater where they watched their Friday night movies. Since it wasn't movie night, the area was deserted, which was exactly what he was looking for.

Trip opened the door and stepped in. The room was semi-dark, the only illumination coming from small running lights in the aisle. He took a step forward, and then stopped for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.

After a moment, he was able to make out a figure, sitting in the front row. He squinted at the figure and realized it was T'Pol.

"Shit," he muttered under his breath.

"Computer, lights to half," the sub-commander said, dashing Trip's hopes of slipping out unnoticed. "Good evening, Commander."

"T'Pol, what are you doing here?"

"Looking for you."

"Oh, the captain sent out the posse, huh?"

"Captain Archer does not know I am here." T'Pol stood and took a step toward him. "Are you injured?"

Trip hid his right hand under his left arm. "It's nothing. I'm fine. Look, just leave me alone, all right?"

"As I did before?"

"What?" he said with a tiny spark of irritation.

"On the planet, I . . . left you alone."

"I seem to recall you chewed me out pretty good."

"That is not what I meant. In the morning, I left you. While I was away, you were captured."

Trip barely heard her. Here she goes, he thought, digging into me again. He decided to beat her to the punch. "Look, you were right, ok. We shouldn't have been there."

"That much is obvious."

T'Pol's previous comment finally sunk into Trip's brain. She did leave me, he thought in confusion. He had been so convinced that she had been captured too, that it hadn't occurred to him to wonder where she might have gone.

"So, where'd you go, anyway?" he asked hesitantly.

"I awoke and discovered that you had fallen asleep . . ."

"I knew you wouldn't let me get away with that," Trip interrupted with a flash of anger. "So, what, you just took off?"

"The previous evening I had located some edible berries approximately one half kilometer from the campsite. I went to collect them for breakfast."

"I thought you said there were more protein bars," Trip challenged.

T'Pol took several more steps until she was standing in front of him, close enough to touch. "You did not like them."

There was silence for a moment while Trip processed this information. "So you went to get breakfast for me?"

"Yes," she said evenly.

Trip glared at her suspiciously. "Why?"

"I . . . regretted our altercation."

"Wait a minute, are you saying you were wrong?"

"I did not consider the emotional reaction my comments were likely to evoke."

"Emotional reaction!" Trip exclaimed. "That's one of your underhanded criticisms again."

"Commander!" T'Pol said sharply enough that Trip actually flinched. The sarcastic comeback that he was about to blurt out froze on his tongue and he stared at her dumbly.

"I am attempting to apologize to you." Her voice was tight, each word crisp and distinct.

"Wh-what? What for?"

"For my comments, for leaving you alone, for allowing you to be captured. When you are ready to forgive me, you may find me in my quarters." She brushed by him and out the door, leaving him standing in the semi-dark with his mouth hanging open.



Day 6: 2030 hours

T'Pol was sitting cross-legged on the floor with a cup of tea in her hands, staring into her meditation flame, when the doorchime sounded. She said, "Come" and there was a pause, then the door opened and Commander Tucker was standing there with the towel still wrapped around his hand. He hesitated in the doorway.

"Come in, Commander," T'Pol said calmly. Tucker stepped through apprehensively, almost flinching when the door hissed shut behind him. T'Pol watched him in silence. She had made her apology, now the ball was in his court.

Tucker kept his eyes fixed on the floor and shifted his weight uncomfortably. After a moment, T'Pol said, "Would you like some tea?"

He shook his head quickly without lifting his eyes. T'Pol waited. Finally he spoke, his voice raspy, "I wasn't mad at you. It was my--it was my fault."

"What happened to you was not your fault, Commander."

"It was my fault we were there in the first place. I thought--I thought they captured you too." The commander swallowed hard before continuing. "They gave me something that made me hallucinate, and I saw . . . I saw you- -you were dead . . . and then I saw the captain and he told me . . ." Tucker's voice trailed off and he stared at the floor expressionlessly.

T'Pol stood and took a step toward him. "Told you what?" she asked quietly. Tucker turned his body away from her, facing the wall. T'Pol studied his posture: head bent, shoulders drawn up, every muscle in his back and neck taut.

"Told me Enterprise was leaving without me," he continued in a flat voice. "I started screaming, and I kept screaming until my voice was gone, but he left, and--and . . . I started crying, and I couldn't stop. I really thought he left me with those--those monsters. I know he wouldn't do that, but . . . I felt so--so empty and hopeless."

"The captain never lost hope that we would find you. He was willing to risk his own life in an attempt to infiltrate the alien society to find you. And despite his comments tonight, Lieutenant Reed would have gladly joined him."

"I--I know," Tucker responded after a moment. "and I know I should be grateful, I should feel happy, or something, but I'm just. . . numb. I can't feel anything." There was a pause, and then Tucker laughed mirthlessly. "Why am I telling you this? You don't care about my-- 'emotional condition'."

"Commander," T'Pol said softly. She took another step toward him and laid her hand gently on his shoulder. She could feel the tightness of the muscles beneath the skin, like he had been turned to stone.

Trip stood like a statue, with his eyes glued to the floor, feeling the warmth of T'Pol's hand seeping through his shirt. He tried to force himself to relax, but discovered that his muscles would not let go.

He felt T'Pol's hand slip down to his arm, and he let himself be guided to the bed, let her sit him down, watched numbly as she unwrapped the towel around his hand.

Trip waited for her to say something about his bruised knuckles, to condemn him for hurting his hand, but it didn't come. Instead she tenderly turned his hand over and examined the wound. Without a word she brought a damp rag from the bathroom and cleaned away the dried blood.

When she was finished, she continued to hold his hand, gently stroking his fingers. "Please, tell me."

Trip continued to stare at the floor. He didn't even know what to say to her. How could he describe something so horrible? How could he capture in mere words how terrifying it was? The doctor had said that talking about it would make him feel better, and although he doubted that prescription, he decided it was worth a try. Nothing could be worse than this all- consuming nothingness.

He began to speak, raspy voice still flat and lifeless. "The worst part was. . . it was all very clinical and scientific. When they--when they broke my arm, one was writing things down, and another one was videotaping, and I was screaming and crying and begging them to stop, but they just ignored me. They never--they never even tried to communicate with me. They talked to each other, but no one talked to me. . . I didn't understand why they were hurting me, I didn't do anything to them."

T'Pol's fingers tightened around his. "It was not your fault," she repeated quietly.

Slowly the warmth from her hand seemed to seep up his arm and into his bones, melting the cold knot in his chest, dissolving the stone that walled him off from his emotions. He felt himself begin to shake, a little at first, and then more intensely as the hurt and the fear trickled through the cracks in the wall.

Suddenly his shoulders heaved. Like a dam breaking, the wall holding back his emotions gave way inside of him and he began to sob uncontrollably. He felt the warmth of T'Pol's arms around him, holding him.

"It was not your fault," she whispered in his ear. Her hands gently stroked his hair. He buried his face in her shoulder, his fingers clutching her sleeve.

Trip felt his eyelids growing heavy, the tense muscles in his shoulders finally relaxing and softening. For the first time in what felt like ages, the cold knot in his stomach melted away completely and he felt at peace. He closed his eyes and let himself sink down, down into a dreamless sleep.



Day 1: 0730 hours

The first thing Trip saw when he opened his eyes was the top of the captain's head, bent over with his hands in his hair. Trip blinked in confusion for a moment until he remembered where he was.

"Hey, Captain," he said quietly. Archer's head popped up.

"Trip!" Archer responded with a grin. "Your voice is better."

"It is?" Trip said experimentally. "So it is. How 'bout that."

Archer's expression turned serious. "Look, Trip, Malcolm feels awful. He wanted me to tell you he was sorry."

"I know he didn't mean to--to rub my face in it." Trip looked around the room. "Where's T'Pol?"

"She cleared out so we could talk. It's about 7:30 in the morning, you know. You slept a long time."

"Did she . . ." Trip trailed off, chewing his lip.

"She said you were upset, but she didn't give me very many details. I guess you'll have to tell me yourself."

"I will, just not--not right now."

Archer nodded. "That's good enough for me. Whenever you're ready. There's something I want you to see."

"What is it?"

"Look out the window."

Trip sat up and craned his neck, and then stood and stared in awe. Directly outside the window at least a dozen infant stars were visible, their still-forming nuclei appearing as swirls of intense white light, the clouds of matter surrounding them glowing with brilliant, vibrant colors.

"Wow," he breathed in wonder.

Reflected in the window, he saw the captain grin. "I thought you'd like that."

"I hope we're gettin' lots of pictures."

"I've got Malcolm working on that right now. Think of it as penance."

Trip returned the grin. The captain draped his arm around Trip shoulder and his face grew serious again. "You know I'd never leave you behind, right?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah, I know."

Archer squeezed Trip's shoulder. "Good."

"Hey, Captain . . ."

"Yes?"

"I'm hungry."

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Author's Note: This story is finally finished! Please write me a review and let me know how you liked the ending. I got in trouble for my previous story, "And Justice for All", because the ending was too abrupt, so I tried to take my time wrapping this one up. Let me know how I did!