CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Jon and Mendos were in his ready room together with Malcolm and T'Pol. Mendos was anxious to get back to Hensa with his newly retrieved information, but he had one last request of Captain Archer.

"Although this data will certainly change our fortunes in the war, if you were to help us, Captain, our struggle would take half the time. Your vessel is so much more sophisticated than anything Hensa has to offer, that you could overpower the government forces in the blink of an eye."

"I'm sorry, Doctor, but we're explorers, not guerrillas. We've become involved in your fight through no choice of our own, and now that you've got your information, I can only wish you well in your struggle, but I have to decline your request."

Jon extended his hand and grasped that of the doctor. He watched with a degree of sadness as the Hensaran was escorted to the transporter. He knew that T'Pol still felt his actions in helping to free Sulibans from the Tandoran prison camps had been foolish, and how many times had that come back to haunt him? This time, he wasn't going to give her an opportunity to question his motives.

"You have the bridge, Sub-Commander, I'll be in sickbay if I'm needed. Have Travis take us out of orbit and head somewhere nice and boring."

T'Pol's raised eyebrow was her only outward response. To herself, she admitted that she wanted to be able to visit the commander, but her shift wasn't over yet, and the captain hadn't had much opportunity to spend with his friend. Perhaps the captain's presence would aid Commander Tucker's recovery.

^*^*^*^*^*^

"How's he doing, Doc?"  Jon was standing by Trip's bedside, watching as Phlox tidied away some medical equipment.

"Better. I've weaned him off life support and he's maintaining his breathing quite nicely."

"So why isn't he waking up?"

"I'm quite certain that he will, Captain, I simply can't tell you when. Why don't you sit with him, tell him about today's events. Words are a great stimulus; the Sub-Commander was most effective at this."

"T'Pol spent time here, talking to Trip?" Jon couldn't keep the surprise from his voice, or his face.

"Yes indeed, Captain, the Sub-Commander has visited Commander Tucker on several occasions. I believe there may be an understanding between them that even they aren't aware of."

"Are you trying to tell me that they're attracted to each other? Trip and T'Pol, who can barely exchange civilities? Come off it, Doc, you've been spending too much time watching the 'weepies' on movie nights."

"I didn't say anything about them being attracted, Captain, those are your words. I merely observe inter-species interactions, and from what I've seen over the past few days, I'd say our young Science Officer is developing a…fondness for Commander Tucker. Perhaps it has been brought to the fore by his close shave with death. Facing our mortality tends to shake us all in different ways."

Jon was about to say more on the subject, but he was interrupted by a soft moan from the man on the bed.

"Is he coming round, Doc?"

Phlox examined the printouts above Trip's head and ran a scanner over his body.

"He is indeed, Captain. Slowly, but a definite start towards consciousness. Talk to him; help him find his way back. I'll be just over there should you need me." Phlox moved away to his workbench.

Jon felt somewhat self-conscious talking out loud to his unconscious friend, but if Phlox thought it would help, he was game. He pulled up a seat.

"Hey, buddy, it's about time you got back to us. It's all over, time for you to get on with your life, all you have to do is open your eyes. The ship needs her Chief Engineer back…heck, we all do. Even T'Pol misses you. Meal times have been way too quiet."

He continued on in the same vein for some time, watching Trip's relaxed face for any sign of waking.

After an eternity, but in effect less than an hour, Trip started to respond. Phlox was at his side instantly. At first, Trip struggled to keep his eyes open, and when he mastered that, he saw two blurred images hovering over him. Blinking to focus, the faces of the captain and Phlox came into sharper view. Jon was grinning at him, and Phlox's slightly unnerving smile almost split his face in two.

"Hey there, glad to have you back." Jon touched him lightly on the shoulder.

Trip cleared his parched throat and tried to move the lump of wood his tongue had morphed into.

"Hi Cap'n," he whispered, too much effort to speak any louder.

"Commander, how are you feeling?" Phlox boomed.

Trip winced as the doctor's enthusiastic voice rattled his senses. "Washed out," he managed.

"I'm sure you do, indeed. However, with plenty of rest, my prognosis is for a full recovery. Another day or two as my guest and I'll be happy to release you to your quarters."

^*^*^*^*^*^

True to his word, Phlox was ready to release Trip from sickbay 24 hours later. The engineer was a difficult patient who always managed to try even the Denobulan's geniality. T'Pol paid a visit to sickbay, just as Phlox was lecturing his recalcitrant patient.

"You are under strict orders to take another 5 days off, Commander. If I find that you've disobeyed medical advice, I'll recommend that the captain throws you into the brig."

"I will see to it that Commander Tucker complies with your orders, Doctor," T'Pol vowed.

Trip looked at her warily. "An' just exactly how d'ya propose to do that?"

"You have not yet fully recovered your strength from all that your body endured. It would be a simple matter for me to overpower you."

Phlox fought hard to stifle a grin. Trip had no such difficulty.

"Oh yeah?"

His voice was challengingly belligerent, and he was quite prepared for full-scale war, but something stopped him in his tracks. A sudden image flashed before him, of his body lying inert on the biobed, and T'Pol impulsively touching his hand. He looked up at her, startled by his recollection, and a quick grin lit up his boyish face.

"It's ok, T'Pol, I'll give in. I'm still kinda sore an' tired, anyway, an' a few days'

R 'n' R will do just fine. Besides, the way I see it, you always were stronger than me."

END

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