Disclaimer: They belong to TPTB, I only take their alter-egos out for fun that the B's won't let them have. Archer's quote is from Invictus by William Ernest Henley.
Timeframe:Episodes Azati Prime and Damage
Thanks: To Lisa for being my muse and to Monica for convincing me to give the show one more try.
Beta: The marvelous Monica
Winner of The July Archer's Romance Award
One…two…three…T'Pol counted Jonathan Archer's steps as he walked away from her. Each thump of his boot on the deck caused a tremor to run through her body until it opened a fissure that sent her emotions spewing forth. What little Vulcan logic she still possessed; combined with the feelings she had so carelessly unlocked with Trellium D, screamed at her to prevent him from going. "I don't want you to die!" The words exploded from deep within her
Her impassioned cry still echoed around them, as he stopped and slowly turned. For the moment, his forward motion was arrested, and for the moment, she no longer counted his steps. But the expression on his face told her she had said too much, too late. In an attempt to put things back in proportion she back peddled and added quickly, "it isn't necessary."
Then she was counting again, but this time her heart pounded the seconds away, one…two…three…four. They created a rhythm that started under her right side and pulsed through her body.
One…two…three, Jonathan counted his breaths as he tried to get his emotions under control. What was T'Pol really saying? When she stood there looking at him with her large green eyes filled with worry, he realized how far apart they had grown. Despite his cold, hard behavior, miraculously she was standing only steps away, trying to bridge the gap, as she begged him to find a different course of action. Find a way that didn't include his certain death.
For one moment he saw things the way they used to be, the way he had been sure they would turn out. One…two…three…four…five…six…seven…eight…nine…months ago, back to the time before the Xindi had attacked Earth, before he'd been forced to become a soldier instead of an explorer, before the Expanse had turned everything upside down and inside-out.
If he concentrated very hard he could feel what he'd felt when she had insisted on staying on Enterprise, giving up her commission with the High Command and her place as a Vulcan diplomat. When she had told him he needed her, he knew she wasn't speaking as a Science Officer, but as a woman. But then it had all gone to hell. He'd become too weighed down by responsibility and guilt. It had left no room for the feelings that she was discovering, so he'd pushed her away. It had been his chance and he'd carelessly let it slip by.
Standing there in the corridor, he watched her expressive face as all the emotions he'd ever dreamed of seeing highlighted her features, and called himself every kind of fool for waiting. Now it was too late, they were at the end of their road, and there was no turning back. The Xindi weapon had to be destroyed and he was the one who had to pilot the ship. It was a one-way mission and everyone knew it.
Jonathan felt a second of uncertainty. What could he say, what could he do, was she right, was there another way? He found it bitingly unfair to be faced with doubt when he was going off to die. Even more so to be faced with her and the emotions she had kept hidden from them both for a long time. If she were anyone but T'Pol, he would be sure, she was trying to use his feelings for her, against him, in an attempt to persuade him to stay.
Then reality snapped back into place. What was he doing letting himself get lost in her loveliness, when he had a mission to fly. It took all his self control, but he stepped back, instead of sweeping her into his embrace. All that could be said and done was in the past. The future belonged to others. There was no place in the universe for a Vulcan named T'Pol and a Human named Jonathan to be together.
He stood straighter as he fought to remember what she'd said last, 'it isn't necessary.' His expression became stern because he believed it was; now all that was left was to tell her, "I wish that were true." His eyes swept her one last time to capture an image he'd carry with him to the very end. That added to the knowledge that his actions would give her a chance to live, instead of dying in the Expanse, gave him the strength and courage to turn and leave her standing alone.
One…two…three…four…the bend in the corridor carried Jonathan out of sight, but her sensitive ears picked up the sound of his tread, as he walked away from her. Ten…eleven…twelve, she silently counted until she couldn't take it anymore, then turned and fled to the bridge.
Her mind fastened on new numbers as the silence in the lift threatened to overpower her. One, two, three…was that how many months it had been since she and Jonathan had spent hours on the Seleya, and her life had changed, or was it further back than that? When exactly had she begun to have these feelings about Jonathan Archer, the ones she buried with Vulcan determination? The ones that were set free, exploding in her face when she was overdosed with Trellium D as they'd explored the Vulcan derelict. The ones she'd foolishly tried to sublimate in a twisted short-lived relationship with the Chief Engineer.
She was back to counting, again, but this time it was minutes. The minutes that flew-by until he left her forever. She hardly heard Archer's farewell speech to the crew, but concentrated on the pitch and timbre of his voice as it resonated through her thoughts and added rhythm to the numbers that ran through her head. One…two…
"I've always been better at avoiding farewells than giving them…." Archer began to pace, to keep from having to meet anyone's eyes.
"I'm going to ask all of you to think back to the day this ship was first launched…." He wanted desperately to reach for T'Pol's shoulders, cupping them as he had in the past, to give reassurance, but he knew that nothing in the universe would be able to accomplish that.
"When Earth is safe, I want you to get back to that job." The Captain moved closer to Trip, looking him full in the face, silently begging him to leave his anger and vindictiveness behind him. "There are 400 billion stars in our galaxy…." God how Jonathan wished he'd be around to explore even one of their planets.
Seven…eight…four hundred billion… Jonathan's words cut into her thoughts, distracting her, until she lost count and had to start over again. One…two…
For one moment Archer looked over his shoulder, he needed to see T'Pol even if she was standing stoically with her arms crossed. She hadn't moved, nor appeared to breathe since he began speaking, and her face had an odd pinched look he'd never seen before.
"Of all the captains who'll sit in this chair," he reached over and caressed the back of the center seat. "I can't imagine any of them being more proud than I am right now." He froze for a moment when he realized there was no more to say. Turning swiftly he met T'Pol's gaze as he headed toward her and the lift door behind her. 'One, two, three,' he began counting the steps that would take him away from his ship, his crew and the woman he loved.
One…two…three… When Jonathan turned and began walking toward her, T'Pol lost track again and had to start over. She counted his sure steady steps as he came closer and closer, his face clear of the mask he'd worn since they entered the Expanse, every emotion there for her to see. As the number four flashed through her mind, he was there in front of her. Her hand reached out and in the short space it took her to count five, they gripped each other's fingers tightly, then along came six and with it the lift doors opened.
"Seven," they murmured together, as he stepped through. Then the only sound on the bridge was the closing of the doors, as Archer was whisked away to his fate.
T'Pol couldn't even count, as she stood frozen, her fist clenched to lock in the warmth that had traveled from Jonathan's hand to hers when he'd clasped it. Unfortunately her concentration had been badly damaged by her Trellium habit, so she was only able to shut out part of her surroundings. Archer's voice cut through everything else, as he and Mayweather talked through the launch sequence of the Xindi craft he was using on his one-way mission. All she could do was listen as he brought the ship to life, then left Enterprise for the last time. Then there was silence, followed by bleeps and blips on the monitors as they gauged his progress.
Later, Mayweather called out, "he's through the grid." When he looked up at Enterprise's new commanding officer, he read the misery in her face. It made the loss of the Captain very real, even though the helmsman knew that until their sensors picked up the explosion that would destroy the weapon, the man they had followed into the unknown of space, was still alive.
T'Pol turned her back on the forward view screen and moved across the bridge. 'One…two…three…four…five….six…,' the words, like passing seconds, echoed through her mind, as she counted off each step she took. Only a few more and she was at the Ready Room door, then through it and surrounded by quiet. She was frantic for some privacy. Even running away was better than letting the crew see her breakdown, if they knew how ill-equipped she was to lead them it could mean the end of Enterprise.
'One…two…three…four,' the heels of her boots, accentuated by jerky movements, clicked over the deck as she headed for the view port. She had an overwhelming need to try and see the small craft Jonathan was piloting, though the scientist in her knew it would be impossible.
Then she stood where Archer had so often stood, but instead of gaining strength from the stars as he had, she gave in to overwhelming emotions and slowly fell apart. That was when the tears began. They were a new sensation and her hand moved to her eyes to wipe away the warm salt water that filled them. Only to discover she was too late, because they rolled down her cheeks leaving wet streaks, as she leaned against the bulkhead.
One…two…three…four…..She counted the tears as her fingers grew slick from wiping them away. By the time she reached twelve, her knees buckled and she slid to the deck. All the while wondering how many tears it took to wash away the emotions of a Vulcan.
Sometime after her crying stopped, she became aware that she was counting again, but this time it was minutes, not seconds, steps, nor heartbeats. It was the minutes without Jonathan. A tiny voice deep inside wondered if the rest of her long life would be nothing more than a huge string of sixty second interval marking the separation of her life from his.
That morning it had taken Commander Tucker and Ensign Mayweather 25 minutes to find the weapon, and they had not had the advantage of knowing of its coordinates. When she had counted double that number she moved to Archer's desk. When she'd tripled it, something began to shift inside of her. At 120 minutes, the Commander came and tried to convince her that her place was on the bridge, like she, he realized that something was amiss.
But in that amount of time, T'Pol had begun to hope again. Was Jonathan still alive? Could he be saved? She looked at her hand, the one he had squeezed as he'd left the bridge and her skin tingled. He was still alive; she knew in her heart, her skin and the marrow of her bones. He was still alive! As long as he lived, there was a chance, and as long as there was a chance, she would act upon it, or die trying.
After she made Tucker leave the Ready Room, she began to pace. As much as she wanted to take a shuttlepod and head for the surface, she knew that it was still too soon. So she began to count once more. At first it was the number of steps it took her to cross Jonathan's office, one…two…three…four…five…turn…six…seven…eight…nine…ten turn again Soon she was counting her round trips from the window to the far wall. Each time stopping for one more look out the view port, each time hoping to see him return.
When T'Pol reached 100, she'd had enough forced inactivity. Her blood jumped for action and it had been difficult to maintain her vigil. Hitting the button beside the doors, they slid silently open and she looked out at the busy crew. Hoshi, one…Mayweather, two…Tucker, three…Reed, four…, she blinked one last tear away as she realized how empty the bridge looked. As an after thought she added, in her mind, T'Pol, five…and Jonathan, six! Yes that was how it should be. Both Jonathan and T'Pol would either be present or they would be missing, but not one without the other. That was the real reason she'd stayed hidden in the Ready Room, she couldn't face the bridge without him!
Counting lies became an interesting diversion, almost as if she were playing games of logic with the Humans. She realized if she made a direct statement of her plan, even coached as an order, Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed would see it for what it was: a desperate attempt to save Jonathan or die trying.
One…state the obvious. 'Our sensors would have detected the destruction of the weapon.'
Two…reinforce the danger to Enterprise. 'The system is too heavily guarded for us to attack.'
Three…out right lie number one…'there's still a chance the Captain will succeed.'
Four…ignore the obvious. 'The longer we wait here the greater the likelihood we will be detected.'- 'Wait an hour and if the Captain isn't back…'
Five…propose the plan. She would approach the Xindi in a pod to attempt a diplomatic solution.
Six…out right lie number two…she was Vulcan; therefore they would not harm her.
Seven…show the logic in the illogical. 'You would just be caught or captured.' …'Perhaps, but at the moment I don't see another course of action.'
One…two…three…four…five…T'Pol counted minutes again, but this time from her Jonathan's chair. She knew if she were to disappear to his office, either Tucker or Reed would seek her out and try to change her mind. The bridge was public and she was Captain, given the tenuous situation on the ship, neither man would challenge her authority where others might see it. She was safe as long as she remained where she was. She had to blink quickly to keep tears from forming when she thought of herself with the new title, but for the moment she hid behind it. Soon she'd be with the real Captain of Enterprise, one way or another, the Captain and the Sub-Commander would be together.
Fifty-eight…fifty-nine…sixty, she slid back her chair and handed the bridge over to Commander Tucker, but it didn't stop him from following her to the launch bay. All the way there he talked at her, but she counted her heartbeats to keep his voice from intruding on her private thoughts. One…two…three…four…she wanted to shout at him to leave her alone, five…six…seven…eight. Only a few more steps and she'd be there, out of his reach, away from her mistake, where she really wanted to be. Why was he trying to stop her?
Then it was too late, they were under attack, there were Xindi coming at them from all directions. One…two…three…four…ships, with canons firing. Enterprise rocked as T'Pol and Tucker raced for the bridge. All during the battle, silently, like an unseen time bomb, her mind ticked off the weapons fire that hit the ship.
Seven…eight…nine…ten…they rocked and slid through evasive maneuvers, while returning fire.
Fifteen…sixteen…all communications were down, each section was cut off from any other.
Twenty…twenty-one…twenty-five…hull breaches on C, D, and E deck.
Thirty…thirty-one…thirty-two, three, four, five, six…deck plating crashing all around and fires breaking out.
Forty, forty-one…a crashing, tearing sound echoed through the saucer section as Enterprise shook and began to tip, causing a rolling sensation in T'Pol's stomach as the artificial gravity became light. Fire danced in front of her eyes. There were no enemy shots left to count, her mental time bomb had gone off, and she was sitting on the bridge in the middle of hell.
Except for the crackle of flames, there was silence. In comparison to the terrible sounds of war, it was so quiet that for a moment she thought the ship had been destroyed and it was the last second in a Vulcan's life. The one instant, when those of her species hung between life and death, the time allotted them to transfer their Katra, before their existence ceased to be. Looking around in dismay she realized the only Human to which she would entrust hers, had gone on ahead. When faced with the loss of all that she had been, she silently shook her head. 'So it ends,' she thought. Only to be followed by another idea that brought the peace and contentment she had been looking for ever since her overdose of Trellium on the Seleya. 'Not ends, but begins. My Vulcan Katra, will wait for his Human soul out among the stars. That is the way to spend eternity!'
Moments later Malcolm's voice brought her back to reality. They weren't dead, just badly wounded and for some reason the Xindi had left them that way, instead of finishing the job they had started.
The destruction to Enterprise was massive. Everywhere T'Pol looked there were dead, or wounded crewmen. Most of the ship had fire damage, and there were hull breaches in a number of places.
With communications down she inspected the ship on foot. As head of security Lt. Reed followed her every step. By the time they reached engineering, they realized how much trouble they were in: unless a miracle happened, they would never achieve warp drive, and impulse power was questionable.
Engineering had sustained the most damage, and new fires were breaking out even as Commander Tucker gave his report. "This isn't the safest place to be right now." He nodded at Malcolm to get the new Captain out of there.
"Indeed, we've already lost one Captain today." The Lieutenant frowned as the small Vulcan woman began to shake. He realized his comment may have lacked tact, but with the ship coming down around them, the straight forward approach was the only one to take if they were going to survive.
T'Pol felt her insides cave-in at Malcolm's easy words. That was when she knew she had to get to cargo bay 2 and the supply of Trellium that was kept there. Months earlier they had collected the isotope to protect Enterprise from spatial anomies, but it proved deadly to Vulcans and had been stored away ever since, instead of utilized. In an attempt to develop an immunity to it, and relieve her guilt over the danger she'd placed her ship, T'Pol had begun taking small amounts. Unfortunately, not only had she been unsuccessful in her attempt, but she discovered that if she let too many days go by without inhaling the material, her emotions destabilized. Up until recently, diligent practice of Vulcan techniques kept residual feelings under control. Now, nothing worked and she lacked the experience necessary to carry out her job while riding an emotional rollercoaster. There was nothing logical about her dilemma, but the need for the drug was beginning to overwhelm her.
One…two…three…four…five…six…hours, was exactly how long T'Pol was Captain of Enterprise. Some of those hours flew by, while she was putting out fires, either literally or figuratively. Others dragged, as she looked frantically for a way to keep Enterprise in one piece long enough to begin repairs. But no matter what she was doing, her mind was always working on the problem of gaining access to a breached cargo bay, which contained the Trellium she needed.
The terrible time when she thought Jonathan was dead was over. For reasons known only to them, the Xindi had returned Archer to his ship. He was battered and beaten, but alive! T'Pol stood across from him in sickbay and could only watch as he took one breath and then another. It took every ounce of control in her body not to count them. When he looked up at her she expected…what?…Some of the warm response he'd given her when he thought he was going to die? Instead his face was blank, and cold; his expression shell-shocked, as he gazed at the havoc that had been wrought to his ship. Worst of all his eyes slid past her to the body bags on the floor, lined up in a neat row: a gristly testimony to her captaincy. Looking over her shoulder, she counted them in her head. One…two…three…more, bringing the total to fourteen of his crew dead, and that didn't count those who were unaccounted for and believed to have been lost when the saucer section breached, sucking at least three crewmen out into the black void of space. It filled her with shame and guilt.
No wonder he wouldn't meet her eyes. No wonder, when he did look at her, it was with the tired expression of a man who had placed his trust in someone and she had failed him.
Jonathan watched T'Pol and his heart broke. She was exhausted and covered in dirt and grime. She had done everything in her power to keep his ship and his people safe, but it hadn't been enough. The effects of it were written on her face. He could hear the pain in her voice as she rattled off the damage reports. It matched his own when he realized the monumental effort she had mounted, and it still hadn't been enough. Part of him was glad for the beating he'd taken while captured by the Xindi. It gave him something physical to keep his mind off the emotional pain that welled up inside of him when he tried to figure out what to do next and no ideas came.
As T'Pol updated Archer on their current status, she strove for some remnant of Vulcan calm, but doubted very much if there was much left inside of her to call upon. She had almost succeeded in gaining back a bit of her old self when a stray thought crossed her mind. 'Jonathan looked so tired and hurt, what must it be doing to him to come back to a ship that was barely able to function?' It was her undoing. She no longer had mental control over her body, and she began to shake. Unfortunately, at the time she was handing him a towel.
"Are you all right?" He gripped her hand with one of his and wrapped his other around her wrist. Touching her like that he could feel the tremors that ran through her body. They shook him to his soul and bumped against his heart. It was a silly question, he could see she wasn't, but he didn't know what else to do. She'd been though hell for him and it was her undoing. It made him want to put his arms around her and keep her safe by his side, but when he took a slight step closer, her eyes filled with panic. 'Easy,' silently he tried to calm her down, while he locked her fingers tightly between his in the only show of support he thought she would accept at the moment.
"Of course," her voice was strained in response to his question. His touch added to her confusion. How could his eyes be blank and cool, while his hands carried a message of warmth and tenderness, or was she missing something?
One…two…three…four… T'Pol turned and quickly made her way out of sickbay. The numbers that echoed in her head weren't of her making. They were the ones that thumped through her dreams and slid across her mind when she least expected them. She knew that soon the voices would start, and the counting would be in Vulcan. Then her vision blurred as fear ate at her, causing her hands to shake and her stomach to heave. She had to get herself under control. How had she done it in the past? She didn't bother to count meditation, because recently she'd discovered an inability to focus, when she needed it most.
One…when Archer had left Enterprise the day before, she'd tried to wash away her emotions with tears. All that had accomplished was to leave her physically exhausted and unsure of her judgment at a time when it had been crucial. Two…months ago, she'd tried to burn them away in an ill-advised moment of passion with Trip Tucker. Instead of helping, that had added sharp edges of guilt to her already overloaded feelings. Guilt for using the Chief Engineer so cavalierly, and guilt because somewhere deep inside she knew she had betrayed Jonathan. Three…now she stood at a basin and sluiced cold water over her face, in an attempt to bring her mind back to the here and now, instead of wandering the Seleya as it often did at times like this.
Then she gripped the edge of the sink and looked into stormy eyes that watched her from the mirror. The answer stared back at her, as clear as the points on the dorsal lobes of her ears, in her darkened reflection. Four…Seleya, that is the answer. All her problems came from the Trellium D overdose she'd received when on their mission on the Seleya…There was Trellium D in cargo bay 2 and just thinking about it eased her suffering temporarily. No matter how illogical it was, she believed that she must find a way to get to it, despite hull breaches and interior damage. 'It would help,' she kept telling herself. 'It had to!' Up until then her efforts had been casual, in that moment of twisted thought, she reached for what was left of her Vulcan focus and began planning in earnest.
She made a quick check on repair crews before heading to the bridge. If all went as she hoped, she could have access to the Trellium late in the night, until then she had work at the Science Station to occupy her mind.
While she studied the sensor readings from the pod that had returned Archer to Enterprise, Jonathan and Trip worked on the power grid in engineering. They worked well together with the teamwork that years of friendship had built, but over the last month their relationship had been strained. There had been no late night talks over a bottle of scotch, or shared jokes while eating. All either man had tried to do was focus on finding the Xindi weapon, instead of dealing with issues that could have made them a more efficient fighting team.
"How do ya know you can trust this Degra, he seems like the last person who'd come around to our side, he designed the weapon." It had become second nature for Trip to question Jonathan's way of thinking.
"He may not be on our side, but I have a feeling he's starting to question his." Archer took the circuit calibrator Trip had ready for him.
"Let's hope you're right." The blonde man took a deep breath; it felt good to have his friend back. In the space of six months he'd lost his sister and driven his best friend away, if he handled it right, he could get one of them back. "Just a sec before we fire this thing up, I gotta talk to ya."
"What's going on?" Archer pulled himself up to a sitting position. He could tell something was really bothering the younger man. If it was what he suspected, he just might plant his fist between Trip's perfect white teeth.
"This may not be the best time, but I don't know if I'll ever get another chance." He looked around in dismay at his destroyed engine room and wondered how long they'd be able to hold the ship together. "Something happened about a month ago….Jonathan…I did something…I wish I could take it back…Damn this is hard to talk about!" Trip couldn't meet his friend's eyes. "Ya gotta believe me, I didn't know how you felt or how she felt at the time, or I never woulda done it." He could feel himself start to blush as Archer's face turned to stone.
"I heard, and you are correct, this is not the time to have this discussion." Jon held on tightly to the calibrator. He needed his Chief Engineer healthy and on the job, not in sickbay with a broken jaw.
"Please, what happened between T'Pol and me…well it shouldn't have happened." Trip had known almost immediately, that it was a terrible mistake. One moment his arms had been full of a passionate Vulcan. The next, Enterprise was being attacked from within, and she was staring at him in shock, as Archer had called them both to the bridge. She hadn't been able to get away from him quickly enough, and as she'd run from the room, it was Jonathan's name on her lips, not his.
"I said NOT NOW, COMMANDER!" He ground out the last three words between clenched teeth. He'd heard about their affair, and it had hurt at a time when he'd thought his emotions had dried up. He'd thought he'd died inside from all the dreadful responsibility of commanding the only ship that had a chance of saving Earth, so he'd been caught by surprise that anything still had the power to cause him pain.
"Yes now!" Trip was shocked that he shouted at his captain. At the rate he was going he might end up in the brig, but there were things that needed to be said before it was too late. "You're right in blamin me, she didn't know what the hell she was doin, but I did. There's no excuse for my actions. I've known for almost a year you've been sweet on her, but ever since we entered the Expanse, ya both changed. Ya gotta stop pushing her away, or next time…."
"There will be no 'next time.'" Archer glared as pain dug at his chest. He began to slowly count to keep his temper in check…one…two…three, by the time he reached ten, he had a tight leash on his anger.
"Not with me there won't be, but she's confused. Somethin's really wrong with her. She looks like she's about to bust apart. If you don't take the time to find out what's going on you're gonna lose her and I don't mean to another man."
"I don't have time for this." Jon rubbed his eyes and tried to deny what he'd known to be the truth for a long time. Eleven…twelve…He kept on counting as guilt slowly replaced anger.
"Jon, you're the only one who she'll let close enough to try."
"I can't, don't you understand!" He stood and began to pace. "How many people have died, and how many more are going to die before this is all over? I'm the one who's given the orders that have cost them their lives, and we aren't out of this yet. I couldn't live with myself if I gained personally from this mission! It would be a betrayal to their memory," his words where hushed and deep as if ground from his soul.
"If I thought feelin' miserable would bring Lizzie back, I'd cut off my right arm, but it won't, nothin'll do that." Even as he spoke, the engineer saw Archer's stone face return, it made him shake his head in doubt, but he had to try one more time. "This crew has followed you into hell; there isn't a one of us who would deny you happiness!" Trip sighed as his friend only stared back at him. "All right Capn, have it your way, but you just keep in mind what I've said. Now, why don't we try and fire this thing up and see if it holds together."
Later, while Archer met with an alien vessel, and tried unsuccessfully to barter for a new warp coil, T'Pol went back to her quarters to sleep. Everything except critical life support was secondary to engineering, so repairs to cargo bay 2 were on indefinite hold. She knew that if that didn't change soon, she would have to put her drastic plan into action. As she was now, she was no good to anybody until she took some Trellium D to even out her emotions.
The dream came suddenly, with none of the warning voices or fear she'd come to expect. Her last thoughts before she fell into a deep sleep were of Jonathan, as he'd held her hand in sickbay. Then suddenly she was in his shower, warm water ran over her head and down her body. It seemed natural that those same hands moved to her neck and rubbed her sore muscles. Even in the dampness all around them she could smell Jonathan's scent and it excited and relaxed her. She was finally where she wanted to be with the man she longed for.
In the amount of time it took to turn toward him everything changed. Green eyes became blue and dark blonde hair became light. Trip Tucker had invaded her dream and replaced the man who had been the center of her universe for almost two years. Confusion split her in-two, as she couldn't stop, only react. There was a lump of ice in the pit of her stomach as she kissed the wrong man, and she felt his hands on her body. She wanted to cry out for him to go away and never touch her again, but she was riding a wave of emotion too strong for her to control. They were primitive and stripped of any logic or thought. Even as she pushed him away, she pulled him to her again, insatiable in her need to feel, uncaring that the man who met her passions head on was only interested in satisfaction for the moment. All the while, her mind kept screaming for Jonathan, but when she closed her eyes she imagined she saw him looking on in cold disinterest, locking her out, a thing to be pitied, not desired.
Suddenly she had the strength to push the Engineer away. Suddenly her blood pounded with anger and the need to kill. As the observer of the dream she saw the woman before her begin to change. The face was no longer hers but a parody of it, drawn and ravaged by too many demented emotions. Her hands gripped Tucker around the neck and began to squeeze, to squeeze the life out of him, to keep him away, to keep her safe, but still the Dream T'Pol changed. Even as she killed the object of her emotional outlet, she became what she feared most: one of the mindless living dead they had found aboard the Seleya.
"Nooooo!" She screamed herself awake. Her body was drenched in sweat and she was shaking. Somewhere deep inside she knew this was her fate without Jonathan, but he had pulled back from her when he'd returned safely to Enterprise, hours earlier. It was as if those moments in the corridor before he left to try and destroy the weapon were only part of another dream, but she knew they weren't. For those few minutes, when they thought they had run out of time, they had opened up to one another. Now there was only one thing she could do if she were to remain sane. As she quickly dressed she went over in her mind what it would take to retrieve Trellium D from the depressurized cargo bay.
One…Get to bay 2 without being seen.
Two…Find an environmental suit that was undamaged.
Three…Get into the cargo bay without causing further damage to surrounding areas of the ship.
Four…Retrieve Trellium D.
One…two…three…she kept going over her plan all the way there. Parts one...two…and three were relatively easy. It was late and the corridors were deserted. The closer she progressed to the area of greatest damage, the less chance of discovery. Her only worry was that Lt. Reed might have assigned a roving security guard.
Once suited up, it was difficult to slither around twisted metal with exposed and sparking wiring dangling free. When T'Pol finally reached the catwalk above the floor of the bay, she realized she'd been incorrect in her calculations. At any other time that would have worried her, but she shoved it aside as she quickly amended her plan. Step four changed to: get to the locker where Archer had the Trellium stored and five would be retrieve it. From where she stood it didn't look like an easy task. Part of the walkway had been sheered away when shifting cargo had hit the steep ladder leading to the floor of the bay, giving it an odd twisted appearance, as well as blocking the last ten feet. She would need to find an alternate route to the storage locker below.
To fight the rising tide of panic that was threatening to consume her she turned quickly and began to inch along the cut-away platform. It was a dizzying experience to be suspended twenty feet in the air with nothing but toeholds and a damaged guardrail supporting her. She finally reached a stack of boxes and containers that looked as if they would hold her weight. She could hear her gasping breaths as she gripped what remained of the walkway railing to keep from falling over backward into the black pit.
One…the toe of her right boot reached tentatively for the crate that was on the top of the stack she intended to use to climb down to the Trellium. Two…be sure the clumsy boot would fit on the surface. Three… shift her weight to the improvised ladder. Four…begin to bring her left foot down. Five…five…it began to rock. Her reaction time was down and her grip was poor in the bulky gloves. A scream left her lips as she felt herself begin to fall backward, her arms and legs flaying, trying to latch onto anything that would slow or stop her downward descent.
One…two…three…four…the numbers moved through her head as she cried out. Part of her mind stood back and wondered why it was taking so long to fall the short distance. Then she landed with a muffled thud, and almost bounced. The falling woman sustained no serious injuries thanks to the substantially lowered gravity in the damaged area of the ship, but her suit wasn't so lucky. One of her compressed air hoses had torn loose and the environmental suit was venting air. If she didn't do something quickly she would die.
For one small moment she was tempted to lay there and let her life slip away, then a face filled her memory. Its green eyes were filled with pain and there was worry etched on his craggy features. He held her shivering body tightly in his arms to share his body heat and keep her as steady as possible, on the trip back to Enterprise. All the while he desperately applied pressure to her side, in an attempt to stop the flow of green blood that was soaking her uniform and leaving her weak and dizzy. They had been in the shuttlepod, with Lt. Reed at the helm. Moments earlier she had been hit with a plasma bullet when she'd shoved a Vulcan captain out of the line of fire.
Again she saw the same face as he looked back at her when he thought he was going to destroy the Xindi weapon and die in the process. "Jonathan," she whispered and grabbed for where the disconnected tube should be. It took her a few moments, but she finally had it back in place. "Oh Jonathan, what have I done." Ideas were popping into her head faster than she could sort them out, so she shoved them aside and concentrated on the reason she was there: find the Trellium D.
While she had been rooting around in cargo bay 2, Mayweather and Hoshi had found a lone document in among star maps on the shuttle that had brought Jonathan from the Xindi Aquatic's ship. It was evident it came from Degra. When she returned, T'Pol went to work on it. She found encrypted coordinates embedded in the document, and a further search turned up a star date.
Her hand shook and she wished she had thought to bring extra Trellium out of the cargo bay to give her courage when she had to tell Jonathan what she found. The coordinates were four light years away. Enterprise needed to sustain warp three for the next three days if they were going to get there by the date indicated. At the moment, the wounded ship could barely maintain impulse power. Something moved deep in her chest when she saw the look of lost hope cross his face. One…two…three, she counted his steps as he walked away from her again, but who could blame him, the news she had given him spelled destruction for his world.
Hours later Captain Jonathan Archer sat in his blackened office and stared straight ahead seeing only darkness in the damaged and burned-out ready room. One…two…he stopped counting, and then tried again. One…two…, but no matter how long or hard he searched, there wasn't a number three. He'd run out of choices, just as he had numbers. No matter what he decided, it would end in personal disaster. The little part of him that was still a Starfleet officer made a mental note to suggest to Admiral Forrest to include in the command tract training, a test of a no-win scenario. Up until now he hadn't believed there was such a thing. Now he did, because he only had two choices and they both made him gag.
One…Maintain his morality, and miss the rendezvous with Degra. If that happened, it would mean the destruction of Earth. Enterprise had nothing left to fight with and they were too far away to try a suicide mission of crashing into the weapon when it was launched.
Two…Trade his soul for warp power, because that was what would happen if they were forced to steal the warp coil from the aliens who had refused to trade it to them. "No!" Jonathan shouted. "They are people just as we are, if I am going to steal from them I'll at least pay them the respect of calling them by name. Illyrians, the captain of their ship told me they are called Illyrians."
Three…but there was no three, he had run out of choices. His face froze and he began to mutter. "'Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.' Bullshit!" He cried out, as he felt a gapping hole torn in his soul and blood rushed from it as it was finally conquered, because he knew he had to do whatever was necessary to save Earth. Now all that was left was to tell his crew.
Archer looked into the faces of his trusted senior officers and outlined his plan for taking the warp coil. Everyone was as distressed as he, but they approached the battle plan as they had many others since entering the Expanse. A strategy session with everything planned down to the last detail. Only T'Pol was strangely silent. Only T'Pol suggested diplomacy when they were finally through. Only T'Pol had the nerve to follow him back to his office when he pointedly ignored her.
"We're no different than the marauders that attacked us when we entered the Expanse." She accused as something broke inside of her.
Archer moved to force his door closed. She was determined to have it out with him and it was better done in private. Though he could hardly stomach the decision himself, he found himself defending it.
"We're a lot different." He had to believe that or he couldn't go on.
"By stealing their warp coil we could be condemning them to death."
"We're going to leave them a supply of Trellium, along with some extra food." He held out the padd with the list he'd complied earlier and was surprised when she angrily jerked it out of his hand. "I'm not saying it'll be easy for them, but they'll stand a decent chance of making it home."
"You forget this is a dangerous region of space, our assault could cripple their ability to defend themselves." She couldn't understand why his decision caused her so much pain. It was the logical choice if they were going to save Earth. She had to make Jonathan change his mind. It would tear her into pieces if he did this terrible thing, but could she stand watching him being torn to pieces if the Xindi weapon made it to Earth?
"Not if we do it right." He shot back. She was telling him all the things he'd already told himself and it made him want to yell at her to shut up.
"What if something goes wrong?" T'Pol began to shake. Something was already very wrong, Jonathan was no longer acting like the man she had grown to trust and care about.
"We can debate this all day. I've made my decision!" He turned and walked away from her, no longer able to meet the fire in her eyes. All the while a little voice was telling him to remember what Trip had said. T'Pol was acting totally out of character, but his need to keep himself sane and focused refused to listen.
She watched him watch the stars, remembering when she had last stood at that window and broken down. She knew she was very close to a repeat performance, so she let her anger free in hopes she could hide behind it long enough. "We can't save humanity without holding on to what makes us Human." Her lip curled as she added, "those were your words to me."
"I'm no happier doing this than you are, but we're not going to make a habit of it." Archer tried to rationalize his actions to himself and to her. She was the most important person on the ship as far as he was concerned. He needed her to agree with him for more reasons than he could count.
"Once you rationalize the first misstep it's easy to fall into a pattern of behavior." She was one who should know. How long had she been rationalizing taking Trellium D?
"I'm not rationalizing anything." He lied to himself and her. "I know full well what I'm doing." And in a way he did. It was only the cost to him that he'd yet to figure.
"I can't justify this course of action." She turned away from him, but the passion that was boiling in the room, pulled her back.
"We don't have a choice….."
"I won't let you do it." She shouted and her emotions gripped her by the throat. She raised the padd in her hand, and brought it down with enough force to crack the small instrument into a dozen pieces on the edge of his desk. The shards of glass scattered between them and it was as if her heart had broken and was lying at his feet.
"We've had our share of disagreements, but you've never taken it out on my desk before." It was something that he might have said to her in the first year or two they had been working together, somehow it sounded hollow and thoughtless in a moment like they had just experienced.
"I apologize," she whispered so quietly he almost missed it.
"What's happening to you?" He took a good look at her for the first time since sickbay and saw that she was ravaged with emotions. Trip had been right, something was very wrong.
"It's been a difficult few days, and I haven't had the time to meditate." She had trouble meeting his eyes as tears threatened to form in them. "I didn't mean what I said."
"You did, and I'm glad, but it changes nothing." It was good to know that she would always be there as his conscience, even when he didn't have the luxury of listening. "I'll be leading the boarding party." He watched her carefully and could tell she was only a step away from breaking down. "There's no margin for error." Still she refused to meet his eyes and it worried him more and more. "If we don't do this right, people are going to die." He needed to touch her, so he did something he'd almost stopped doing, he cupped her shoulders and pulled her within an inch of his body. "I need you on the bridge."
"Understood," her voice cracked at his proximity and she let her body slump against his. She was in desperate need of support, and so tired of trying to be strong when her world had come down around her, that it made her bones ache. Jonathan was all that stood between her and insanity. In that moment she knew she would follow him anywhere no matter what he did.
He pulled her closer and put his arms around her, while he nuzzled his nose in her hair. "It'll be all right, T'Pol, I promise you." Still holding her close, he cupped the side of her face with his right hand and was surprised when he discovered damp rivulets running down her cheek.
"Don't make promises you can't keep." She leaned her face into his hand and breathed in his scent.
"You're right as usual." His face was grim, but he didn't want to let go of her. He'd dreamt of holding her for a long time, now that he was finally doing it, he didn't want it to end.
"Jonathan…." She looked up at him, as if seeing him for the first time in months.
"Hush, our time is almost up and I don't want to waste it like we did before." He lowered his head and pressed his lips against hers, leery that she would pull away in anger or indignation, but she didn't.
She stood on tip-toes learning the feel of his lips, surrounded by his scent and the strength of his arms. It wasn't a dream, it was real and she was going to take all she could because if he didn't return, it would be all that she would ever have of him. It wasn't until later that she realized why it had been so important to leave him with the taste of her mouth on his and the imprint of her body against his.
One…two…three…four…times their lips met. Each time their tongues became more daring, until they created a sensual dance. The music was their moans of passion and their hands kept the beat as they tentatively moved over hard planes and soft contours. It was an attempt to fit years of loving into a few short minutes. Finally when neither could take it anymore, they pulled back, shaking.
"I…" Jonathan had so much he wanted to say, but now was not the time or the place.
"Shhhh," she covered his lips with the tip of her fingers. They had run out of time and they both knew it. "Be safe," her whisper rang in his ears as tears filled her eyes.
Before she could pull away he gripped her hand to his mouth. As his tongue traveled over her fingertips and enjoyed the texture of her skin he promised himself it would not be the last time. Then he finally let her go and she turned and fled from the room.
She needed to see Phlox, or she would be no good to Jonathan in the coming battle, but her mind kept wandering back to those few seconds when she lay on the deck in cargo bay 2 and decided if she would live or die. That had been when she discovered two very important facts about herself. On her hurried trip to sickbay, everything fell into place.
One…she was in love with Jonathan Archer, irrevocably, and passionately in love with him. It would never go away, and never lessen. It was what Vulcans called soulbound, and was the tradition their bonding ceremony had been built upon eons ago, when they still allowed themselves to feel. Two…in her quest develop an immunity to Trellium D, she had become addicted to it! If she was honest with herself, she admitted, she had known two days ago about her addiction. Her inability to access cargo bay 2 had been the key. It was only now she understood all that had been happening.
An hour later when she walked onto the bridge, the first person she saw was Jonathan. For a moment she was caught in his gaze, and it brought back the feel of his lips on hers and the warmth of his arms. Would he still be willing to be with her if he knew about her addiction? She had made Phlox promise not to tell him, but it was evident from his tone of voice that the Doctor thought she should be open with their commanding officer.
The Captain and the First Officer were careful to keep at least three feet between them, both were afraid that if they came any closer they would cover the distance in a heartbeat. It wouldn't do for them to kiss passionately good-bye prior to going into battle.
"Good luck," was all she trusted herself to say. Even with the injection Phlox had given her to stabilize her neural pathways, she felt overwhelmed with emotion whenever she was with Jonathan, and since he had kissed her, just thinking about him would trigger a wash of feelings that had no place on the bridge of the ship.
He took one last look around at the senior officers who had become his family. Then he closed the distance to T'Pol, until he could almost feel her body heat reaching for his. "You have the bridge," his words carried all his trust and love.
She looked back at him, silently promising him to guard Enterprise to the best of her abilities while he was gone.
As he stepped into the lift he made a decision. 'After this mission we'll talk, we'll get it all cleared up. After this mission, we'll find a place that is neither Vulcan nor Human, but just ours, a place where we can keep death and dying from touching us.' Even as his mind moved on to what they needed to accomplish, his felt connected to hers, and it soothed him. They would make it through, they had to.
After he left, T'Pol took the center seat. She remembered thinking, earlier, that she would follow him anywhere, now she was going to do just that. Though she wasn't part of the boarding party, she would make it as easy as possible for him to complete his task. Thinking only of him, she gave the order to target the alien's propulsion system.
As the words left her mouth, she picked up an unfamiliar rhythm. She knew she had heard it somewhere before, but couldn't place it. One-two…three-four she began counting. As the beats began to speed up, she wondered if it was a heartbeat, but the cadence didn't belong to a Vulcan. That was when she realized somehow she was picking up on Jonathan's. Were they really so tightly bound to one another? Were all the old stories true?
She shook her head to clear it of unwanted thoughts and concentrated as Lt. Reed answered, "Aye."
"Fire," she called out. As long as she picked up on the strange thump-thump, thump-thump, she knew Jonathan was all right.
"Their warp drive's off line. They're charging weapons." The tactical officer warned.
"Bridge to transporter…." She acknowledged the beats that were keeping her calm, twenty…twenty-one…
"They're firing." Reed's warning was unnecessary but his thoroughness gave her comfort.
"Energize!" For a moment the thumping in the back of her mind hung suspended in the middle of a beat. When it reappeared it was moving twice as fast as before. She began mentally counting again…one.two.three.four..
Enterprise bounced as it was hit, but this time T'Pol refused to count weapons fire. The last time it had brought disaster. She gripped the arm of Jonathan's chair and let the ship shake around her.
"Their weapons are at 50." Reed's monitor picked up two more shots aimed directly for them but there wasn't much they could do about it, as long as they stayed within transporter range of the alien ship.
"We've another hull breach, on E deck." Hoshi called out when they were hit again.
"Our port thrusters are offline." Travis shook his head unsure how effectively he could control the ship if anymore damage was done.
"We have to take out their weapons." It was killing Reed to sit passively by in the middle of a battle.
"We can't leave them defenseless!" T'Pol jumped from the center chair and lunged at tactical.
"If we want to get through this in one piece, we may have no choice."
"They were the Captain's orders!" Very unVulcan-like panic was beginning to drown out the beats in the back of her mind. She knew it would be devastating to Jonathan if they damaged the Illyrian ship beyond its ability to defend itself. But Enterprise had to stay together long enough to use the warp coil he was trying so hard to steal. She needed to find a way to help him from the bridge!
"Lieutenant," she turned back to the tactical officer. "Run another sweep of the alien ship, but this time, run it through Commander Tucker's hand-held sensor." They had failed to get detailed readings from the section where the warp coil was located due to distortions given off by the injector system it was tied into. Maybe closer proximity would allow for better readings.
"That just might work." He was always amazed at what that Vulcan mind of hers could come up with. His fingers flew to make the adjustments.
Too jumpy to sit, T'Pol listened to the beats in her head again. They were practically thumping along on top of one another…onetwothreefourfive…. 'Jonathan, please hurry, I don't know how much longer I can keep them off our backs.' She sent the thoughts to him, never believing he would hear them.
Suddenly lights began flashing on Malcolm's board, "they're targeting our starboard nacelle!"
"Evasive maneuvers." Even as she gave the order, Mayweather was taking the ship into a rolling slide away from the incoming fire.
"T'Pol to the Captain," she punched the buttons on the communicator
"Go ahead," his words were almost drowned out by the sound of weapons fire in the background.
"We're taking heavy damage." She swallowed hard as she pictured him fighting for his life and the lives of all the people on his planet.
"There's a force field around the warp coil, Trip's trying to disable it."
She looked over to Reed and his nod told her he was picking up the same readings.
"Archer to Enterprise, Parson's been hit. Lock onto her comm signal and beam her outta here."
"Lieutenant," she gave the order to Malcolm, as they took another hit and the ship shook.
"We're venting atmosphere on C deck!" He didn't know how much more pounding they could take. "T'Pol!" Her attention had wandered and he needed her there on the bridge, or not at all.
She quickly checked the new readings that the tactical officer had picked up from Trip's hand-held sensor. She had an idea, but it was tricky, especially with the boarding party in such close quarters, but she had nothing left to lose. If it didn't work, they were all finished.
"Adjust phase cannons to a narrow confinement beam." She got up and joined Malcolm at his station. "Target this power junction." She pointed to an area that they had been unable to see before the realignment of the sensors.
"Got it!" He worked quickly to fire before the aliens could get off another shot.
"Fire!" She gave the order to the sound of galloping beats in her head. The shot had been true and clean. She gave Reed a pat on the back, he was a man who always hit what he aimed at and she was very glad to have him beside her at that moment.
Everyone on the bridge gave a sigh of relief when the alien vessel's guns were suddenly quiet.
On the Illyrian ship, Archer gave the order to fallback. Trip and, Matt Wilson Engineer's Mate First Class, were aboard Enterprise with the stolen warp coil. A few more feet until he was clear of critical systems then he would give the order and feel the strange tingling sensation that he always associated with the transporter.
He and two of the MACOS stepped into what should have been an empty passageway and came face to face with the alien Captain and an armed team.
"What you can't have, you take by force." The Illyrian captain accused Archer.
"We've beamed three containers of Trellium into your cargo hold." Jonathan felt something tear inside. He knew too well what the other man was feeling. "There's also food and supplies."
"You're stranding us three years from home!" The passion in the alien's voice was so like his own, Archer knew that nothing he did would make amends for his actions.
"We'll be back, I promise. I have to complete my mission, or my planet will be destroyed. As long as Enterprise can maneuver, we will find you and return your warp coil." He could hear T'Pol telling him not to make promises he couldn't' keep, but this was one that he would die trying to keep. He owed the man that much.
"It's not enough! Your ship is already severely damaged, how can you expect to beat such a superior enemy and return a warp coil that is still intact? It is a useless endeavor, why are you doing this?"
"Because I have no choice!" Archer clenched his jaw to keep from changing his mind, too much hung in the balance. "We will be back….Energize," he spoke quietly into his communicator. Even as his molecules became indistinct and he felt the transporter suck him away, Jonathan looked deep into the eyes of the alien Captain to reinforce his promise.
Hours later Enterprise was traveling at maximum warp. Her captain was in his quarters trying to second guess every decision he'd made in the last week. All the what-ifs in the universe didn't reverse a thing. One…his ship was still badly damaged. Two…they were only able to maintain warp speed because of a stolen warp coil. Three…there were 14 dead and three missing members of his crew. Four…they had three days to get to coordinates supplied by Degra. Five…the Xindi weapon was within days of being ready to launch against Earth. Six…what was six, he was sure there was something else…then it came to him, he'd been forced to come face to face, again, with the fact that the woman he loved had been intimate with his best friend. All in all it'd been a stellar week!
One…two…three…four…T'Pol counted the steps between her quarters and the Captain's. She had expected him to come to see her after the battle, but he hadn't, so she'd asked Phlox to stop by. When the Doctor told her that it was very likely she would never be able to return to a life free of feelings, she had become totally focused on Jonathan. After the Denobulan left, she hadn't even stopped to change her clothes or put on a robe, just headed for her door and the man one cabin away.
"Come in," Archer called out. He'd been pacing his quarters for over an hour. His body was exhausted, but his mind wouldn't rest. He wanted to see T'Pol, but he hated to go to her distracted and despondent. As if by magic, the woman he thought of appeared at his door.
"We need to talk, Jonathan." She heard the door sweep closed behind her, glad that some basic functions were back online. It was only when she curled her chilly toes against the deck plating that she realized she had come as she had been when Phlox had left her, still in her red sleepwear and with nothing on her feet.
"Yes, we do." He nodded as he watched her step closer. Only a Vulcan could look perfectly relaxed when it was the middle of the night and the two of them were alone in his quarters, dressed for sleep with his open bed a few feet away. Then he remembered something from almost two years earlier. He'd gone to her quarters, dressed as he was now, and been perfectly relaxed. They had been alone then too, though she'd still been rubbing sleep out of her eyes, as she'd admitted him, and not only was her bed open, but she was in it. He remembered kneeling beside her, and placing his hands on the mattress that was warm from her body. He'd lost count of the times in the last two years that he'd wished, with all his heart, that he'd spoken what he'd felt then, rather than going away and leaving her to sleep alone. But it had been different then, he hadn't kissed her or held her, and he'd still been a man with a shred of honor left.
"Please, I know after my outburst earlier, you may not want me here, but…"
"I want you here." He cupped her shoulders in the old way and almost gasped as he felt silk move against her skin. "That's the problem, I want you here too much."
"You might change your mind, when I tell you what I must." She couldn't meet his eyes, but she had to go on.
"I already know," he reached for her delicate jaw and traced the outline of her bones. "Trip told me, and we'll deal with it."
"Commander Tucker, what does he have to do with it?" Her eyes flew to his, filled with doubt and worry. Had Dr. Phlox broken her confidence? "Oh…that." She had talked with the engineer in the mess hall and he'd told her that he'd spoken to Jonathan, but her other worry had left her unprepared to deal with it. "I must admit I assumed you already knew….and did not care. Not much escapes your attention on this ship."
"Apparently, only those things I deliberately block out." He'd developed selective vision, where she was concerned, ever since their adventure on the Seleya, because he'd had to manhandle her and then finally shoot her to get her out alive. She'd carried a phase burn and dark green bruises for days afterward. Every time he looked at her, a little crack formed in his heart, knowing that he'd put them there. Even the knowledge that she would have died if he hadn't, didn't keep the guilt at bay. It wasn't until later, when stories of the relationship she'd formed with Trip Tucker filtered back to him that he learned the real meaning of heart break. "I knew, and I cared very much, but it was easiest to believe that it was what you wanted."
"No, not really, I was confused, but that's no excuse," she whispered, and turned away from him. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her body to keep from shivering, as she was swept with a bone deep chill. "I was jealous of the relationship he'd been able to form with the female MACO, not of him…not of them. I didn't want him! But somehow it became twisted and I lost control, until I was eaten alive with want." She knew she wasn't being logical, so she took deep breaths to try and get back on track. "It made no sense, it never should have been him, it should have been…it should have been…" She gasped, unable to say what she really meant. "I'm so sorry."
"Easy," he pulled her stiff back against his chest and ran his hands up and down her arms as much to warm her as to calm her. "I haven't been taking very good care of you lately."
"I am not your responsibility, Jonathan Archer." For one moment she sounded like her old self, but he knew in his heart that something in her had changed. She had become soft and vulnerable while he was too busy fighting a war to notice. Unfortunately it was a war that wasn't over yet.
"We never spoke about it, but I always thought we counted on each other in a pinch, ever since Menos…" His words fell away as she turned toward him, tears running down her face, her lips slowly moving.
"One…two…three…four…" she counted aloud. "In the last months all I do is count things, now I know why."
"Five…six…seven…eight…it's a habit I seem to have picked up lately, too." He kissed her temple and held her close. "If we went back to counting on each other, we could save…."
"Wait, wait! You may not wish to count on me when you hear what I have to say." She pulled free of his touch, knowing she couldn't tell him what had to be said, while he held her.
He couldn't imagine what she could say that would make him pull back from her now. He had come to realize he loved her more than anything. She was the woman he wanted to spend his life with, his conscious, his guide, and one of the few people he knew he could trust completely, despite what had happened with his friend.
"When we were on the Seleya, I received an overdose of Trellium." She stared out his window, trying to find comfort in the stars he loved so much.
"I already know that…"
"Yes, and as you know it opened up a whole range of feelings I'd never accessed before."
"Is this leading back to what happened with Trip?" He didn't really want to hear anymore than she'd already told him.
"No…Yes…indirectly…" She kept her arms wrapped tightly around herself but turned toward him, her face ravaged with emotions. "Please just let me tell it." Her breaths were audible and it sounded as if she was in pain.
"You're freezing," he reached for her, to pull her close and keep her warm, but she pulled away.
"No, wait…" She knew if he touched her, she'd sink into his arms and never have the courage to tell him what she'd done with the Trellium.
"I only wanted to warm you up."
"I know, Jonathan, but when you're that close to me I can't think straight." She gave her shoulders an odd little shrug and took a step back.
"Well at least we have that in common." She'd been making his head spin for almost two years; it was comforting to know the feeling was mutual.
"I have to tell you…what I've done." Her voice broke and she covered her mouth with the tips of her fingers as she turned away, unable to meet his eyes.
"It can't be as bad as all that," he whispered wanting to hold her, comfort her, anything to make it easier for her. "There's nothing so bad we can't face it together." He knew that was true. It was her idea to return the stolen Illyrian warp coil after he convinced the Xindi not to launch the weapon. He'd taken it a step further and told the Captain of their intentions. But she'd given him a way out, a way to go against everything he believed in and still face himself in the mirror as he shaved each morning. He liked to think he would have thought of it eventually, but he didn't know how much damage would have been done to his soul before he had.
Her shuddering had stopped, and she stood as if frozen in place. "You're too good to me. It's one of your Human failings that I find the most endearing."
"Now that sounds more like the T'Pol, I've grown to know and love." His eyes carried a depth of emotions that made her hold up her hand as if to block incoming fire.
"Don't. You need to hear this first."
"All right," he acquiesced. She looked so miserable he would have agreed to almost anything if it would help remove the pinched desperate look from her face.
"The overdose of Trellium D I received on the Seleya stripped me of logic and set free emotions I'd only guessed at in the past." She began speaking slowly, unsure of how much to tell him, finally deciding that if she kept anything hidden, it would be the same as a lie. "But the isotope was an important means of defense for Enterprise; I thought…I decided, if I began taking it in very small quantities, over a long period of time, I could become immune."
"Oh my God, T'Pol, how could you take such a chance?" His voice was ragged with emotion. Anger at the chance she'd taken warred with worry for her safety. "Nothing is worth risking your life over!"
"Even Earth?" She challenged.
"It hasn't come to that, and I won't let it…" Though it was a question that had haunted his nights on more than one occasion, he'd held fast to his resolve to keep her on Enterprise and keep her safe from the Trellium, but it appeared she'd taken matters into her own hands.
"Please let me finish."
"There's more?" As soon as the sarcastic words were out of his mouth, he wanted to grab them back. He saw each one hit her as if it were a blow and reached for her when she rocked back on her heels.
"Yes, much more," she whispered then took a deep breath to gather her flagging courage. "I was unsuccessful in my attempt to build an immunity, but in the process of trying, I developed…I developed…an addiction." The last word came out in a gasp, but she raised her chin, and looked him in the eyes, prepared for the consequences of her actions.
"No!" He gasped as the ramifications of what she said sank in. "You're a member of this crew, with responsibilities, how could you be so careless!" Anger grabbed him by the throat and it took all his willpower to keep from shaking her. Her life was too important for too many reasons for her to be careless with it.
"I..I wanted to help." Her face crumpled and she lost the tenuous hold she'd had on her control. "Everytime I looked at you, I could see you were being eaten up with the terrible responsibility of saving your planet. I had to do something! The Trellium would have helped shield Enterprise from the spatial anomalies, but you wouldn't use it because of me. I couldn't let that happen."
"Have you seen Dr. Phlox about your condition?" He needed to touch her as badly as she appeared to need to be touched and couldn't stop himself from reaching for her shivering body. He was sure she would fit snuggly against him as if she were sculpted from his side, but if he brought her that close his anger would evaporate. It took all his effort, but he kept her at arms length.
"Yes, he gave me something to keep my neural pathways intact but at times the withdrawal symptoms are difficult." She tilted her head so she could look him in the eyes. "The Trellium has unlocked emotions that were hidden away and the Doctor told me tonight, I will probably have to learn to live with them the rest of my life."
"You've sacrificed a great deal to try and help us." Suddenly his anger was gone and all that was left was sadness at what it had cost her, but just as he was about to pull her against him, he began to be filled with doubts. "What you're feeling now is the result of drugs? What you felt when you kissed me in my office, and what you're feeling now is no different than what you thought you felt for Trip?" She didn't really love him. He wasn't any different than her experience with his friend.
"No, Jonathan it's not like that at all." Tears ran down her face unchecked, her new emotions left no doubt about what she was really feeling. It should have embarrassed her, but it didn't, not with him. Furthermore she wanted to act on those emotions. To hold his face close to hers so she could kiss his cheeks, his eyes and finally his mouth, but he was holding her at arms length, somehow she had to make him understand the truth.
"Then you tell me how it is." It hurt like hell to keep her at a distance, so he pulled her a little closer and gently wiped her tears away with the hem of his shirt.
"Vulcans love, I understand that now," she whispered. "They don't call it that, and often show it differently, but it is love none the less. My feelings are for you and they began long before the Seleya, though if not for the overdose; it might have taken me years to realize what was happening. With the Trellium poisoning I was given a taste of what my people used to feel. Wild, free emotions, that ran hot and strong. You are Human and know these feeling. In those few days after the Seleya I did too. It was while I was lying in sickbay fighting overpowering feelings that I realized there were some I didn't want to fight, some that had been with me for a long time. They were the ones I'd developed for you."
"And all that time I was too busy feeling guilty for the physical pain I'd caused you when I dragged you off that ship to see that you needed me in other ways." He remembered those days and weeks that had followed their exploration of the derelict Vulcan ship. "Can you tell me about it, or is it too painful?"
"I'd like you to know, it's important." She was shivering again, and rocked slightly on her feet, trying to keep her balance. The day had been incredibly long but she didn't want it to end until they had cleared things up between them.
"Come here," Jonathan put his arm around her and guided her toward his bed. When she hesitated he added, "get in, you're freezing."
"Do you think this is such a good idea?" She bit her lip to keep her teeth from chattering.
"Maybe not, but in you go." He picked her up and then slid into bed with her in his arms. "And I don't plan on letting go of you anytime soon."
She snuggled against him greedily taking the body heat he offered, and when he pulled the covers over them and her body tighter against his, she was enveloped in his scent. It caused a low to moan escape her lips.
"Easy," he warned. He'd grown hard at the sound of her throaty moan, and had to fight the urge to roll her beneath him and take her as they were, but too much was at stake for him to rush things, so he took a deep breath and ignored it.
"Immediately after the Seleya, I felt things I had only heard about, but more importantly, I began to understand some of the feelings that had been creeping up on me. I…I.." She looked up at him with tears in her eyes, needing to tell him, but afraid it would add to his guilt.
"Tell me, I know this is difficult for you. I'll help you where ever I can."
"I remember you carried me into sickbay. I was kicking and screaming, but it didn't stop you, you kept right on going. On the shuttle ride back to Enterprise, I woke in your arms and no matter how hard I fought, you held on and wouldn't let me succumb to the nightmares that kept haunting me." Tears filled her eyes and ran down her face as she clutched the man who held her tightly. "I remember you holding me and telling me not to be afraid. I remember wanting you to stay in sickbay with me, needing you so badly it made me hurt." With each word she gasped for breath as if she were drowning. "But most of all I realized that I wanted you to always be with me, and had wanted it for a long time."
"Shhhh…it's all right, I'm here now and I won't let you go." Jonathan kissed her cheeks and licked away the tears.
"NO! It's not all right. Nothing will ever be the same again." She held his face away from hers. "I may have ruined it all!" Her eyes were wild and frantic at what she'd done.
"Easy, easy," He held her closer. "You're safe, those things can't hurt you." He too remembered the mindless zombie-like Vulcans who had inhabited the Seleya, and refused to picture her that way. His hands massaged her scalp and sides of her face and he felt her begin to relax beneath him.
"A week later I began using Trellium D." She shrugged, there wasn't much more she could say. It was all up to him, she'd already done too much damage.
"You only waited a week?" Phlox had kept her in sickbay almost that long and hadn't cleared her for duty for another three days.
"It seemed the logical thing to do at the time, but now, I'm not so sure." She looked up at him needing a Human answer to her question. "My emotions for you were overpowering, even then…. No…no…the decision was seated in logic, not emotion."
As he ran his fingers through her hair, he could see the doubt on her face. "I don't think you'll ever really know the real answer to that question, but it's in the past now. I'll help you in anyway I can, and I'm sure Phlox will too, but I won't let you endanger your life by using that stuff any longer."
"Thank you," she whispered as her eyes grew heavy. It would be too easy to fall asleep wrapped in the warmth and protection of his arms. "But I'd already come to that decision, too much damage has been done." She blinked quickly to keep from drifting off.
"Close your eyes Sleepy Head," Jonathan whispered and shifted to his side, taking her with him. His body longed for hers, but she was exhausted.
"No…I…wait." It was her night for confessions and there was one more thing she needed to say. "Ever since you helped me apprehend Menos I've known that you were the only man I wanted. You should have been the first and only one."
"Hush, don't cry," he rocked her gently and vowed to never let her go again. "It's hard to believe you've cared that long."
"Not just cared, but…loved," she whispered as if saying the word out loud for the first time. Then her voice gathered more strength as the feeling surrounded her. "I've loved you all that time and I do not want to lose you now."
He froze for a moment as her words sunk in. "Never, my love, never!" His lips covered hers and his hands began moving over her body until he found the buttons on the front of her shirt.
"Jonathan," she gasped as her body moved against his and she worked her hands under his t-shirt. Blood rushed through her and she was suddenly wide awake.
…one…button…two….buttons….three…buttons…four. She sighed as his hands came in contact with her skin. She had wanted to have him touch her for so long, she pressed against his exploring fingers.
Five…she could feel a deep groan vibrate through his chest as she ran her palms over his hair roughened skin. He pulled her to a sitting position and together they pulled off his shirt.
Six… his long-sleeved t-shirt hit the floor.
Seven…her silk top landed on top of it. In the partially lit room, he held her by the shoulders and looked at her. She was beauty, passion and everything he'd ever wanted in a woman.
Eight…to savor the moment he reached out and caught her right nipple between his thumb and first finger.
Nine… "Jonathan," she cried out his name and knew that if he hadn't been supporting her weight, she would have crumpled, as desire set her on fire.
Ten…"Look at me, T'Pol," he had her caught in a grip of emotions and she willingly followed him.
Eleven… Her eyes met his, then slowly slid downward, drawn like a magnet to the bulge in his sweatpants.
Twelve…his deep growl filled the air followed by her gasp, as she found herself suddenly flat on her back with him towering over her.
Thirteen…the sound of silk ripping filled the air, and she cried out, as his hands skimmed her hips and pulled her free of the constricting red pants.
Fourteen…her small hands reached for the waistband of his sweatpants. "You have too many clothes on," her voice was so husky he hardly recognized it.
Fifteen…he moaned as they struggled together to rid him of the last piece of clothing that separated them.
Sixteen…they looked at each other for the first time, deliberately prolonging the moment until they would finally touch with nothing but skin between them.
Seventeen… "Yes," they both cried out as she reached for his shoulders and he ran his hands up her abdomen and across her breasts then covered her body with his.
Eighteen…his lips captured a tender nipple and the sensation of his teeth against her skin marked her as his for life.
Nineteen…she ran her hands over his back and stomach trying to brand him with her touch. All the while moaning, "Jonathan," as his mouth worked its magic...
Twenty…he reached for her thighs and swept them apart.
Twenty-one…she held on tightly to him, the only solid thing in her exploding world.
Twenty-two…two voices cried out their love, as he sank deep within her.
Later they lay in each other's arms, both exhausted, but neither wanted to sleep. "I love you," one whispered.
"Always," the other answered. Neither knew nor cared who had said what. On the most basic level they had become one. There was no separating, no going back… an unbreakable bond had been sealed, forever joining a Vulcan Katra and a Human soul.
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