Desert Rose

Disclaimer: Enterprise doesn't belong to me, I make no money from writing this, more's the pity. If I did own it then I wouldn't have cancelled it after only four series.

Archive: yes, just ask first.

Spoilers: Demons, Terra Prime, These Are the Voyages

AN: This is my finale fix. Surprisingly, it mainly follows canon. It's amazing the difference the emphasis on one word makes.

I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in pain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand

Sting – Desert Rose

Captain Archer couldn't remember another time that he'd felt as empty as this. He was just cold, his internal organs seemed to be made of ice and no matter how he tried to tell himself that Trip was going to be okay, he couldn't believe it. Trip was fighting for his life, and there was nothing else that mattered to Archer at the moment, but at the same time there was nothing he could do. There was no physical help that he could offer, so he resorted to less tangible means. He prayed to whichever deity it was that kept Engineers safe. He pleaded with them to save Trip, but as they had allowed this to happen in the first place, he doubted that anyone was listening. If he could have made a deal with that same god and swapped places with Trip, he would have gladly sold his soul. It was the first time for years that he'd prayed, and meant it.

Phlox had been damning in his assessment of Trip's chances for recovery. Slim to nil was how Archer would have put it, but Phlox had been more professional in his choice of vocabulary. As Trip had struggled to breathe Archer had known that things were bad, and the front that Trip had tried to put up had just made things worse, he was still talking about that damn speech when he should have been concentrating on breathing. Archer felt his heart contract as Trip suddenly wasn't able to catch his breath anymore, a small frown crossing his face as if he couldn't understand what was happening. Then Phlox had ordered him placed in the hyperbaric chamber and Trip had smiled and winked, trying to put Archer at his ease. It hadn't worked, the situation was too serious for that and, as the metal door closed behind Trip's feet, Archer had turned to see Phlox looking graver than he'd ever thought possible.

"He's not going to make it, is he?" asked Archer.

"I'm not hopeful," replied Phlox, unhappily. His face had drained of its usual colour and he looked grim. "His lungs have been severely damaged. The high pressure oxygen in the chamber will help but I don't know if it will be enough. I've done everything that I can, Captain."

"I know you have, Phlox," said Archer, quietly.

"It will be several hours before we know whether the hyperbaric oxygen treatment is having any affect," said Phlox, in a tone that suggested he didn't think that anything would help Trip at the moment.

"I'm not going anywhere," replied Archer.

"I'll get you a chair," said Phlox, without any hesitation.

T'Pol entered sickbay moments later. She was slightly out of breath and Archer wondered if she had run all the way from the Bridge. She looked worried and Archer knew that was a measure of just how deep her feelings for Trip ran that her face showed any emotion at all. He had discovered their Vulcan telepathic bond years earlier when they had confessed to him the whole sorry story of how they had ended up sleeping together one night whilst Enterprise was in the Delphic Expanse. No doubt T'Pol had felt something wrong via that telepathic link which was why she now looked so concerned. The only message sent to the bridge had been that Trip had been injured.

Trip and T'Pol were still an enigma to Archer. They may have stopped their romantic relationship several years ago but it had been replaced by something stronger that Archer had never pretended to understand. It was certainly more than friendship. He was sure that the bond they shared had something to do with it, but he wasn't really positive how that bond worked. He had once asked Trip who had tried to explain it to him, but Archer got the impression that at times Trip wasn't completely sure how the bond worked. It wasn't that they could read each other's minds, it was more like occasional flashes of thought or emotion. If they were both in the right frame of mind then they could hold a conversation over the bond, but it demanded a meditative state of some description. Trip had once complained that he dreamed T'Pol's dreams or that she seemed to end up in his dreams a lot.

"What is Trip's condition?" asked T'Pol, drawing him out of his thoughts.

"Critical," replied Archer. "The explosion burned his lungs. He's been having trouble breathing. Phlox has him in the hyperbaric chamber but he isn't optimistic."

T'Pol closed her eyes for a moment and Archer watched while T'Pol visibly pushed back her emotions. She took in a deep breath and met her Captain's gaze.

"He did this for me," said Archer. "Why would he think that saving my life was worth sacrificing his own?"

"Because that is who he is," replied T'Pol simply. Archer already knew the truth of her words, Trip hadn't even hesitated a second before putting his own life in danger for his friend.

"We were so close to being home safe for good," said Archer, his fists clenching at his sides.

T'Pol sucked in a breath sharply and then an alarm was sounding and Phlox was running towards the hyperbaric chamber. Archer caught T'Pol as she folded back against him, her legs becoming weak under her. He moved both of them out the way of Phlox and his medical team as they took readings from the chamber displays.

"We're losing sinus rhythm," said Phlox. They opened the chamber and quickly put an oxygen mask over Trip's nose and mouth. When Archer had last seen Trip he had been awake and aware of his surroundings, now he was limp and lifeless. Phlox was working frantically to stabilise his patient as one of his assistants brought over the defibrillator. As Phlox shocked his patient, Archer almost felt the jolt go through his own system, it hurt him so much to see Trip close to death. Trip jerked painfully from the electrical impulse but his heart remained still, refusing to come back to life.

Archer felt T'Pol twitch in sympathy with Trip and he wasn't sure if she could feel Trip's pain or if it was simply a reaction to what she was seeing. She once more gathered her composure and straightened up beside him. He looked aside at her for a second, tearing his attention away from Trip. He noticed that she had her eyes closed and appeared to be concentrating intensely. He heard Phlox give instructions to increase the current of the defibrillator and his eyes were pulled back to the inert body of his friend, not moving, not breathing. Archer felt his eyes begin to prick with tears as he realised that this was it, they were losing Trip.

Phlox shouted "clear" and Trip jerked again from the shock. A peak appeared on the screen and then dropped off and for a moment there was silence, then suddenly there was an erratic heart trace and Trip took a small but shallow breath. Phlox continued to work on his patient for another few moments, before he returned the Commander to the hyperbaric chamber.

Archer finally allowed himself to breathe again. He raised a hand to scrub the moisture from his eyes, knowing that tears wouldn't make the situation any better. He was the Captain and no matter who it was that was lying in sickbay he couldn't be seen to give in to his emotions this way. He needed to be strong for T'Pol.

"We brought him back this time, but if he goes into cardiac arrest again I doubt we will be able to do so a second time," said Phlox, as he checked the settings on the chamber.

"He is not ready to let go," said T'Pol in a shaky voice. "There is another treatment option that you have not considered."

Phlox stared at T'Pol for a moment as if she had grown a second head. "How could I have been so stupid?"

"What is it, Doctor?" asked Archer.

"Commander Tucker and Commander T'Pol are a bonded pair. It's been done before, I should have thought of it sooner," said Phlox, tripping over his words in an effort to get them out as quickly as possible.

"Thought of what?" asked Archer.

"If you are about to suggest what I think you are, Doctor, there are some things that you need to know. I am not trained in healing, I could do more harm than good," said T'Pol.

"T'Pol, I don't think it's going to matter soon," said Archer. "He's dying and if you know of another way to save him then we'd better do it."

"Bonded pairs have, in the past, been able to heal one another of serious injury, by using their telepathic link," said T'Pol. "In effect I would take over the operation of his body whilst he is unable, to allow him to transfer energy to the areas which need to be healed. However, it is a specialist skill and one which I am not versed in. In addition not all bonded couples have the ability to do this and as Commander Tucker is not Vulcan this increases the likelihood of failure considerably."

"It could also result in T'Pol's death," said Phlox, knowing that T'Pol wouldn't mention it herself.

"Your death?" asked Archer.

"It is a draining experience. If I need to use too much of my own stamina to heal Trip's injuries then I will not have enough energy to sustain my own life force," said T'Pol.

"Trip wouldn't want you risking your life for his," said Archer.

"Then it is just as well that he doesn't have any input in this decision. I believe the risk is acceptable." replied T'Pol, resolve settling in her eyes. It reminded Phlox of when T'Pol had told Trip that she would be the one to test the telepresence chair all those years ago. Her decision had been made and would be unshakeable. "Please, Captain, I must try."

Archer wanted to grab onto this chance to save Trip with both hands, but he knew that if T'Pol died he would never forgive himself. However, if there was even the slightest chance that they could save Trip, how could he turn it down? He felt the events of the day come crashing in on him, his head injury thundered and it all felt as if it was one decision too many. How could he decide between his best friend and T'Pol?

"It's a big risk you'd be taking," said Archer.

"Trip would do this for me, if our positions were reversed," said T'Pol. She was as stubborn as any human Archer had ever met and that stubbornness was even closer to the surface when it came to protecting those she cared about.

Archer was absolutely certain that T'Pol was right. They both owed their lives to Trip several times over. Archer had never kept score of who had rescued whom more times, but it still felt as if he owed Trip one. Even though he was convinced that Trip wouldn't want T'Pol placing herself in danger, he knew that he had to try to save his friend and if he didn't okay it, T'Pol would go ahead anyway.

"Phlox, can you monitor T'Pol?" asked Archer.

"Of course," said Phlox.

"Okay T'Pol, but the moment it looks as if you're in trouble, Phlox will stop it. Understood? I'm not losing both of you."

"I understand, Captain," said T'Pol.

"What do you need?" asked Archer.

"I need to be in contact with Trip," said T'Pol. "I cannot do this while he is still in the hyperbaric chamber."

"I'm not sure how long I'll be able to keep him stable if he isn't in the chamber," said Phlox, worriedly.

"I believe that I can compensate for that," said T'Pol, immediately business-like.

"I can move the Commander to a biobed and put a gurney next to him for you," said Phlox.

"That will be sufficient," said T'Pol, inclining her head slightly.

Phlox's staff moved the gurney into place quickly and T'Pol sat down on it while she waited for them to transfer Trip from the chamber. Archer watched as Trip's pale form, still in his burnt and bloodied uniform, was transferred to the biobed beside T'Pol. T'Pol lay back on the bed her eyes fixed on the injured man beside her and Archer caught the look of concern that she was trying to hide whilst she struggled to remain professional.

T'Pol grasped Trip's left hand in her right, and closed her eyes. This was not a mind meld in the true sense of the word, they were already bonded and part of each other's consciousness, however Trip needed her help and strength if he was going to recover. This would demand considerable concentration on her part.

She made herself comfortable on the gurney, knowing that this was a position that she would be in for some time. She shut out the sounds of sickbay and focused on the hand that she held in hers, the hand of her best friend and the only man that she had ever loved. It felt damp with sweat and cold from shock. She listened to her own heart beat, trying to relax so that she could enter the required meditative state. The beat of Trip's blood in his veins was under her fingers and slowly she matched her pulse with his. She gradually dropped into an altered state of consciousness, between waking and sleeping.

T'Pol went to a clean, open, white space when she meditated. There were no distractions there. This was something that Trip had never understood about her meditation, even though she had explained it to him many times. Meditation was about clearing one's mind, not inviting more distractions into it. Of course sometimes those distractions invited themselves. Trip had stumbled into her meditation on several occasions after his first inadvertent trespass into her thoughts. It was never intentional but it was something that T'Pol had found irritating, especially since Trip hated the impersonal white space and had a habit of subverting it into his current favourite geographical location.

Finally T'Pol had given in and taken some time to teach Trip the skills he needed to discipline his thoughts. After Elizabeth's death it had been a matter of necessity. T'Pol found that her grief fed on Trip's and his on hers, it would have overwhelmed both of them if they had not been able to achieve some separation. That had been the point when they had realised that a romantic relationship would damage them both and neither of them could cope with the added complication in their lives. After that Trip had been noticeably absent from her meditation sessions. For a while at least.

She had grown used to the white space being empty, Trip had at least learned over the years to give T'Pol her meditation time, but this time when she arrived she found that it was already occupied. Trip lay asleep on a navy blue sofa in the middle of the area. It was typical of Commander Tucker, thought T'Pol, that he would not only invade her personal mind space but also bring his own furniture.

T'Pol moved towards the sleeping form on the couch.

"Hey, T'Pol," said Trip sleepily as she approached. "What are you doing here?"

T'Pol noted that Trip looked pale even here, but was still wearing his Starfleet uniform, now without the burn marks. It was a measure of just how important his work was to him that, even in his mind, he identified himself as in uniform. However, his general condition concerned her. He seemed weak and tired, it did not bode well for her chances of succeeding in what she was about to do.

"T'hy'la, you are badly injured," said T'Pol.

"T'hy'la? It must be bad," said Trip.

"It is a Vulcan term, it means soul-mate," replied T'Pol.

"I know what it means, T'Pol. I've been hanging out in your head long enough to pick up the odd word. You've only ever called me that once before. You remember the swamps of Vevrom?"

"I thought that I would lose you then too," said T'Pol.

It had been hours. Trip was soaked to the skin from tramping through the swamp that seemed to extend in every direction. The mist that filled the air was all pervasive and suffocating, choking his lungs with moisture. He wasn't even sure that he was heading in the right direction, he sure as hell couldn't see the sun to check and his scanner had disappeared into a bog, never to be seen again, the last time he'd caught his foot in a mud hole.

He wondered why these things always happened to him. Why weren't Travis or Malcolm ever the ones to crash in a godforsaken swamp? "Swamps" was now vying with "deserts" for top place on his list of terrain types that he most hated walking through. He'd only just made it clear of the shuttlepod before it had disappeared under the surface of the mud, its weight too much for the soggy, weak ground to support. His craft had been sucked under the surface with horrible slurping sound, and he quickly found that unless he kept moving then he started to sink too. Faced with few alternatives, he had decided to try to walk out of the swamp, but so far it seemed to go on forever and he was getting tired.

The Captain was going to kill him for losing another shuttlepod, although admittedly it hadn't exactly been his fault this time. The parts he'd bought to repair Enterprise's transporter were expensive goods and he'd been followed by some local thugs who had intended to shoot him down and steal the parts. He'd evaded them with some fancy flying but it wasn't enough to keep him completely out of trouble. He'd just had enough time to send a mayday to Enterprise before his shuttle hit the impenetrable atmosphere of the planet below him.

It had been a rough landing and he had been thrown against the control console. He was almost certain that he'd broken his arm, it was certainly painful enough. He'd made a rudimentary sling out of some bandages from the medical kit before he'd had to vacate the shuttlepod. He'd also taken some painkillers, but they were wearing off now and he hadn't had time to grab the medical kit before the shuttlepod had disappeared forever. He'd barely had time to get himself out of the pod, let alone grab anything else that he might need. He just had to hope that Enterprise found him before he either exhausted himself from walking or drowned in one of the deep bogs that seemed to be pitted around the area.

Of course he knew it was a pretty futile hope since the shuttlepod had contained the parts that they needed to repair the transporter and they couldn't land a shuttle to pick him up. They also had to find him first. The atmosphere was thick and he doubted that the sensors would be much use. However, his mother hadn't raised him to be a quitter so he was going to do his damnedest to get himself out of this mess, no matter how bad his situation. He wasn't dead yet.

He concentrated in putting one foot in front of the other for what seemed like hours, but he had no real idea of how much time had passed. He stumbled and fell so many times that he lost count. His uniform was covered in brown mud and green slime moss. He shivered from the cold and pain, the damp penetrating to the centre of his bones. He couldn't allow himself to concentrate on the physical discomfort, he knew that he just had to concentrate on moving. He made himself believe that the swamp had an end and he was walking towards that.

Despair did eventually set in. His hair annoyingly dripped water down his face and the back of his neck. His boots were soaked and his feet hurt. His legs ached from the hours of walking that he'd done and his lungs hurt from breathing in the moisture saturated air, with god knows what pathogens in it. He didn't think that he'd ever be warm again. He thought for the first time about stopping and just sinking into the swamp. It was becoming an inviting alternative to the freezing and shivering and hurting. It was when he was feeling at his lowest that he heard the voice in his head.

"Trip," said the small voice. It sounded as if it was a long way off but he definitely recognised it.

"Great," muttered Trip, "now I'm going mad too."

"I assure you that you are not going mad," replied the voice, much clearer now.

"T'Pol?" asked Trip in disbelief, stopping for a second in shock. "Where are you?" His leg began to disappear downwards into the mud so he pulled it out and began walking again.

"We are searching for you. Keep talking. I need to get a fix on your location."

"You got the sensors working?"

"No, I am using our bond to locate you," said T'Pol, except her voice was getting fainter.

Trip caught his foot on a tuft of moss that stuck out and fell painfully onto his broken arm. He let out an involuntary cry of agony and nearly passed out from the shock it sent through his nervous system. It was sheer will power that kept him conscious. Immediately he felt concern and questions from T'Pol, as he pushed himself off the ground and continued his shambling march.

"I'm okay," he reassured her. "I hurt my arm in the crash. Think it may be broken. I just fell over my own feet and landed on top of it." He heard the way his words merged together and knew that he was exhausted. His walk had turned into more of a drunken stagger.

"What is your status?" Her question was louder now.

"Apart from the arm, I'm fine."

"You know that it is impossible to lie to me t'hy'la," replied T'Pol gently.

Trip allowed her to tune into his mind more deeply so that she could see the situation for herself. He was too tired to put up any meaningful barriers to her questioning anyway. He was surprised that they were able to hold a conversation at all given his state of mind, usually to talk across their bond demanded considerable concentration. He guessed that T'Pol was doing the work for both of them, plucking his replies from his head.

"We are close to your position," said T'Pol. "Hold on a few more minutes."

"How are you going to pick me up? You can't land or you'll sink like the other shuttle."

"Lieutenant Reed has a plan."

"Oh well, if Lieutenant Reed has a plan that's okay," said Trip. He nearly fell again as he staggered to one side a bit hard and his left knee refused to bear the extra weight. He put his good hand down to steady himself and was able to continue.

Just as he thought that he couldn't take even another step, he heard the sound of shuttlepod engines approaching. The shape of the shuttle emerged out of the mist and hovered over his position. The door was opened and T'Pol stood in the hatchway. It was possibly one of the most wonderful sights that Trip had ever seen.

She had a harness on a winch like Trip had seen used in air-sea rescue equipment and she lowered herself down towards him, Lieutenant Reed supervising from the shuttle. Trip noticed that a second harness was attached to the winch cable and she gave him instructions to strap in. His hands were too cold and clumsy and he had trouble fastening the buckles. T'Pol gently moved his hands out of the way and fastened them herself, checking that they were tight before she gave the signal to Reed to raise them off the surface.

Reed helped them both into the shuttlepod, before he shut the door on the cold atmosphere and gave Mayweather the signal to go. T'Pol wrapped a blanket around Trip tightly while he shivered uncontrollably. She held a canteen of water to his lips and he sipped the fresh, clean liquid gratefully. Reed took out the medical kit and began scanning him.

"Congratulations Commander, you are now the holder of the record for most shuttlepods crashed," said Reed, with a grin.

"That's one record I'd rather not hold, thanks," said Trip, through chattering teeth. Trip closed his eyes and leaned back against the side of the shuttle.

"As I was the previous holder, I don't have much sympathy for you," said Reed.

Reed finished his scans and turned the instrument so that T'Pol could see the results. Anyone who didn't know T'Pol would have missed the look of worry that flitted across her brown eyes.

"Trip, you have hypothermia. We must remove your wet clothes," said T'Pol.

Trip opened his eyes tiredly and gave her a half hearted nod. Lieutenant Reed adjusted a hypospray and pressed it to Trip's neck. He didn't even care what he was being given, although he hoped that it was a painkiller, his arm was killing him.

T'Pol first undid the makeshift sling that he had used to support his broken arm. She moved it to his side gently before she undid his jumpsuit. Even though T'Pol was very gentle in her ministrations, she couldn't help but jar his arm as she pulled his uniform over his shoulders. The tiredness and pain was finally catching up with Trip and he knew he couldn't stay conscious for much longer.

"T'Pol, I think I'm going to pass out now," said Trip. "Is that okay?"

"Trip…" started T'Pol, but before she could complete her sentence, Trip had indeed passed out.

"He's lucky to be alive," said Reed, as he stopped Trip from collapsing sideways onto the shuttlepod deck plating. "Hypothermia, exhaustion, fractures of the ulna and radius, and he's soaked to the bone. If it wasn't for this bond thing, he would have died out there."

"He is a stubborn individual," said T'Pol, and Reed would have sworn that there was pride in her tone.

Trip didn't wake up again until he was warm and dry in sickbay. His arm had been put in a cast and an antibiotic drip was plugged into his arm, to make sure that any pathogens he'd picked up were removed from his system before they could do any harm. He'd survived another misadventure. After a few seconds he realised that beside his biobed sat T'Pol. They both knew that she had been sitting there since he'd been moved to sickbay from decon. Neither of them said anything, but that was because it didn't have to be said.

"I got back safe, thanks to you. When you first told me that we were bonded I wasn't too happy, I have to admit, but it certainly has its uses," said Trip. He pushed himself into a sitting position on the sofa and indicated that T'Pol should join him. He pushed a hand through his hair. "So the explosion… I'm dying aren't I?"

"You remember what happened?" asked T'Pol, sitting down beside Trip.

"Right up until Phlox put me into the hyperbaric chamber. Even I know that means it's really bad," said Trip. "The truth, T'Pol. You've never held back before, so don't start now."

"Doctor Phlox believed that it was unlikely that you would recover," said T'Pol.

Trip nodded sadly in understanding. He sighed. "I always knew being an Engineer on a starship was a dangerous job, but I never thought I'd die from an explosion that I set off myself."

"When you are better, we should discuss you choice of tactics and this unhealthy desire for self-sacrifice that you seem to possess," said T'Pol.

"Hey, it was all I could come up within the time available…" then Trip's thoughts caught up with what T'Pol had said. "What do you mean, when I'm better? I thought you said I was dying?"

"If I can use our bond to focus your body's healing abilities on where they are required most, there is a possibility that I can help you," said T'Pol.

"How much of a possibility?" asked Trip, his eyes narrowing slightly.

"The Captain would characterise it as slim to nil," replied T'Pol.

"You don't pull your punches do you, T'Pol," said Trip with a weak smile and slightly sarcastic overtone.

"Our bond has made it impossible for either of us to lie to the other, as you well know," replied T'Pol with a little irritation.

"So how are we supposed to make this thing work?" asked Trip.

"I am already giving you some of my strength, but we should both concentrate on directing your thoughts towards healing your damaged lungs," said T'Pol.

"Can we at least have somewhere more interesting to sit while we do it? This place has always left me cold," said Trip. He shivered a little in support of his words, although T'Pol was sure that he had originally meant them metaphorically. The injury was causing Trip to feel its effects even within this meditative state.

"Perhaps, on this occasion, another setting would be more appropriate," said T'Pol. She closed her eyes for a moment and when she opened them, they sat on the same sofa except its location was now on Mount Seleya, overlooking the fire plains below them.

Trip looked around him. "Damn, but I never get tired of seeing this."

"There are few more spectacular views," agreed T'Pol. "This is a fusion of both our memories of this place."

"I've never been fond of deserts but, for some reason, Vulcan deserts don't seem so bad," said Trip. "Maybe it's the company."

"Are you warm enough?"

"Are you kidding? It's got to be over a hundred degrees up here."

"Your body is in shock and the extra heat is good for you." The setting was more to make Trip think that he was warm than for any real warmth. His mind would fill in what it remembered from his visits to Vulcan. T'Pol offered Trip her hand and he took it, in a mirror of the positions that they held in the real world back in sickbay. She moved to sit cross legged on the sofa and turned to face Trip.

"So do we just think happy thoughts or something?" asked Trip, flippantly.

"I want you to concentrate on your breathing with me. Listen to the rhythm of my breathing and try to match it. I will do the rest," said T'Pol. Their eyes locked. Blue irises meeting brown and suddenly T'Pol was being drawn deeper and deeper into Trip's mind, past the superficial layer that they had been at where they both still appeared as representations of their physical form. She moved deeper down to where only energy, and purpose was discernable. She was able to separate out the functions she needed within Trip's brain and stimulate the healing centres. She moved energy to where it was most needed and redirected resources.

She had barely been within this deeper level for long enough to make a difference when she felt intense pain. It was as if something had stabbed her in the heart.

"No," she murmured. She would not allow this to happen.

She heard Trip call her. "T'Pol!" His tone sounded panicked and she quickly returned to the sofa by the fire plains. She again sat opposite Trip, except that now all the colour had drained from his features and he seemed to be turning grey. She watched as the colour continued to leech from him, until even his blue uniform was fading.

"Stay with me, t'hy'la. I need you to stay."

Trip looked more scared that she had ever seen him look before. He clasped a hand to his chest, obviously in intense pain, and bent over. She could see the landscape behind him begin to show through his solid form as grey faded into transparency. She realised she was losing him, all her efforts had been too little too late to help him. She refused to give in so easily after having come this far. She wouldn't let death take him now, she wasn't ready to say goodbye.

T'Pol retained her firm grip on his hand, sure that if she let go then he would give up and be gone. She pulled him in against her body so that they were as close as possible, wrapping him in an embrace.

"I'm sorry, T'Pol, I'm not sure that I have the strength," said Trip, in barely more than a whisper.

"No, you are one of the strongest people I know. You will fight, and if you cannot fight alone then I will give you my strength," said T'Pol.

"Don't, I won't let you," said Trip, knowing what that it hurt T'Pol to help him. He tried to push himself away from her but she held onto him fiercely, and he was far too weak to put up much resistance.

"You have no choice. This is my decision and mine alone." She hugged Trip to her tightly, his head resting on her shoulder, and concentrated on moving energy from her own life force to his.

Slowly Trip became more opaque and the view behind them was no longer visible through his body. Trip's breathing steadied again as his colour returned. He raised his head and looked into T'Pol's eyes again. Trip noticed that she had taken on a slightly paler look, as if the colour had drained from her and into him.

"T'Pol, stop, its enough," said Trip, again feebly trying to push T'Pol away. "I can hold it together long enough for you to do your stuff now."

T'Pol stroked Trip's dark blonde hair. "I will rest a moment before I try again to help your body in its healing."

Trip reached out a shaking, weak, hand and brushed T'Pol's cheek.

"My desert rose," said Trip, his eyes full of emotion.

"Desert rose?" asked T'Pol, wondering if Trip was slightly delirious.

"A flower. The desert is a tough place to grow so it hides in the rocks. It describes you perfectly. You try to hide who you are, but I've got to know you pretty well over the last few years. You're beautiful and I never did tell you that enough. I guess I missed telling you a lot of things because we were both too stubborn to admit them."

"You are telling me now."

"It's now or never. I still feel like I've been run over by a shuttlepod and you'll wear yourself out if you give me the strength I need to get through this."

"I don't believe that is so," said T'Pol.

"No lying remember? I know that you've worked out the odds exactly the same as I have."

"The odds are improving the longer I stay with you."

"Why didn't I ever get my head out of my ass and realise that I had the perfect woman all along? Why did we settle for friendship?"

"There were many reasons. All of them good."

"They were a bunch of crap and we both know it."

"We have a special relationship. It is more than merely friendship."

"It's not the same and it's not enough anymore. You're everything that I've ever wanted. I spent so much time picking at what was wrong in our relationship that I didn't see all the good things that we had."

"It was not your fault. I was trying to keep you at a distance and after…after Elizabeth's death, it was easier to deal with our relationship that way. The control I have over my emotions is not what it once was. I didn't want our work to be impacted by any feelings that we had for one another."

"I don't care, T'Pol. Promise me that if I survive this that we'll try again to make it work."

"You have my promise, t'hy'la," said T'Pol.

Phlox continued to monitor his two patients while the Captain hovered nervously nearby. He had just had a nasty moment when both his patients' life signs dropped dangerously low. He had done everything that he could to help them but it seemed as if nothing he did had any effect.

"It's not working, Captain," said Phlox. "There is a very good chance that this could kill T'Pol."

The Captain hesitated, his mouth forming a tight line. He finally gave Phlox a terse nod. "Bring her out of it."

Phlox loaded a hypospray of stimulant and injected it into T'Pol. He continued to monitor her life signs, expecting to see an indication that she was waking at any moment. They waited, but T'Pol refused to awake. Phlox tried other methods to bring her back to the land of the living but nothing seemed to have any effect. Even when he tried to loosen her grip on Commander Tucker's hand, he found that she refused to let go. She gripped his hand with determination, her fingers tightly curled around his palm.

"I cannot persuade T'Pol to awake or even relinquish her hold on his hand. I suspect T'Pol knew that once she started this there would be no going back," said Phlox.

"You mean she already knew that once she went in, you wouldn't be able to pull her out if something went wrong?"

Phlox nodded. "Exactly."

"Of all the stubborn…idiotic…We can't let her die, Phlox," said Archer, not sure whether to be angry at T'Pol or grateful to her.

"That is up to her now, Captain," replied Phlox.

Phlox had noted earlier that T'Pol's readings had been moving more towards those of Commander Tucker the longer they remained joined. However, now there was a slight improvement in T'Pol's condition and she had almost returned to her previous healthy levels. Unfortunately Commander Tucker continued to show no improvement, however he was not getting any worse, which was a miracle in itself.

"Have you done this before?" asked Trip. He lay on the sofa, his head resting on T'Pol's lap, while she rested her hand on his shoulder.

"No. I have only ever been bonded to one person," said T'Pol.

"Could you have done this when I was in a coma after the warp experiment?"

"We were not bonded then. You should concentrate on your breathing rather than talking," said T'Pol.

"I'm not talking. This is all in my mind, you know. In fact, how do I know that this isn't all in my mind and you're not really here at all?"

"There is no empirical way of testing, you will just have to take my word for it. Now concentrate."

"Yes, t'hy'la," said Trip, contritely.

T'Pol blinked at him. "That is the first time that you have called me, t'hy'la."

"Well, you've been calling me that ever since you got here so I guess I thought I should return the sentiment. Was that wrong?"

"It is a gender neutral term."

"That isn't what I meant."

"It was correct. I am your t'hy'la, just as you are mine."

Trip gave T'Pol a small, weak smile. "Good."

"I am glad that we have cleared this matter up to your satisfaction," said T'Pol.

"You look kinda tired, T'Pol. I thought I was the one that was sick," said Trip. "Maybe you should leave and go and get some rest."

"I have started this and will stay until it is finished," said T'Pol.

"Why do I get the impression that you're keeping something from me. We're linked physically as well as mentally aren't we? It hurt you to give me your strength. If I die what happens to you?"

"That depends on several factors."

"But if you're linked to me and my body gives up the ghost, won't it hurt you?"

"It could kill me," stated T'Pol, without the slightest trace of worry.

"I knew there was something that you weren't telling me. How come we're in each other's heads and you can still keep stuff from me?"

"I have a very disciplined mind," replied T'Pol.

"You may have a disciplined mind but you sure can be stupid. I'm not worth dying for."

"That is a blatantly false statement. You obviously believed that Captain Archer was worth dying for, why don't you value your own life as much?"

"If the Captain doesn't get to that Charter signing then the whole thing will collapse. Everyone's expecting him to be there. He was the man that put the whole thing together. They're not going to miss one Engineer."

"If it was not for the support of this crew, then the Captain would have been unable to bring these different races together to sign the Charter. It was you who repaired the Tellarite ambassador's ship at Fornash and proved that their accusations of Andorian sabotage were false. It was also you who defused the Romulan explosive device at the Andorian Phak Lem Science Station."

"If Malcolm hadn't talked me through it then I'd be spread across the galaxy in little tiny pieces," said Trip.

"I believe my point was that if it was not for your input in those two incidents alone then the Charter might not have been ratified. The Captain would be the first to admit that we have got to this point through team work."

"Yeah, but it isn't me that they're waiting for back on Earth."

"Even if none of those dignitaries recognise your contribution, you are important to me. I still need you, t'hy'la. You promised me that we would not lose touch and I intend to see that you keep that promise."

"Has anyone ever told you that you're far too stubborn for your own good," said Trip.

"You mention it frequently," replied T'Pol.

"I'm beginning to realise that desert rose fits you better than I thought," said Trip. "You're thorny and beautiful."

T'Pol merely raised an eyebrow at that comment.

"I have rested sufficiently, we should concentrate on healing once again."

Trip gave T'Pol a resigned nod, knowing that it would be useless to try to deflect her or persuade her that it was too dangerous.

"This is remarkable," said Phlox.


"Commander Tucker's life signs are improving."

"Improving? He's going to be okay?"

The look in Phlox's eyes told him things hadn't improved that much. "He's still in critical condition, but his breathing is slightly better and his heart rate is up. However, he is not out of danger yet."

"And T'Pol?"

"Her condition is slowly deteriorating. She is expending considerable energy on maintaining Commander Tucker's life signs at detriment to her own health."

"How long before she…?"

"I don't know. At the moment I can't tell if she will have enough energy to heal Commander Tucker and herself. How far are we from Earth?"

"A day's journey at warp four, less than that if we push the engines."

"If we can reach Earth and T'Pol can improve the Commander's condition enough, we could transfer him to the Intensive Care Unit at Starfleet Medical. It is considerably better equipped than my sickbay. We could also contact the Vulcan Consulate."

"The Vulcan Consulate?"

"T'Pol is getting weaker. If we don't do something then she will die."

"You think they might have a way to bring her out of this?" said Archer.

"This is uncharted territory for me, Captain. I would at least appreciate the opinion of an expert."

"This was T'Pol's decision, Doctor. She knew what she was doing."

"She did, but she may not be able to come back on her own now," said Phlox. "If we don't help her then we could lose them both."

"I'll ask Hoshi to put a call through to the Vulcans," said Archer. "And I'll see if Hess can squeeze another point two out of the engine."

"T'Pol, why are you still here? I mean, I'm not getting any better and you're just getting more tired," said Trip.

"I told you that I'm not leaving until you are well enough to recover on your own," said T'Pol.

"That could be a long time," said Trip.

"Nevertheless I will not be going anywhere," said T'Pol. "You are my t'hy'la. I have made many mistakes in our relationship, I do not intend to make anymore. I do not intend to lose you."

Trip was more quiet than usual. T'Pol knew that he was as tired as she was, probably more tired. His eyes were closed and he still rested his head on her lap.

"Are you tired of the view?" she asked. "I could move us elsewhere."

"Nah, just resting my eyes," said Trip. He opened his eyes and looked up at T'Pol. "The view is just fine from here."

"I am also content," said T'Pol.

"Vulcan is a lot hotter and drier than Earth. I always used to wonder how anyone ever lived here."

"Your desert rose analogy was a good one. It is possible for life to exist in a harsh climate. Vulcans learned to adapt."

"Don't you miss it? I mean, you haven't been home in a long time," said Trip. "Spending all your time with humans has got to be tough."

"I have visited Vulcan several times since my posting to Enterprise. I do sometimes wish I could return more frequently but I have enjoyed my time on Enterprise. I will miss it when it is decommissioned."

"Me too. These days the engine's looking a little outdated but she'll always be my baby. Still, I'd love to get my hands on one of those warp seven engines. What are we going to do if I get posted to a different ship from you?"

"I believe Captain Archer told you that the crew of Enterprise could request any posting that they wanted."

"I wasn't sure if he meant it."

"Perhaps we should find out. Until now it was not a concern."

"What if I'm too badly hurt to stay in Starfleet? I don't want you kicking your heels just to be with me."

"It would not be a hardship to stay with you, t'hy'la," replied T'Pol. "As we discussed, Vulcans are adaptable. There is no point talking about this before we have all the facts. You are not concentrating on your breathing."

"I can concentrate on two things at once," said Trip, slightly indignantly.

"Then please do so. I have rested and I must return to the subconscious layers of your mind again."

"I prefer it when you're here with me," said Trip.

"I will not be far away," said T'Pol.

Soval answered the com in his quarters at the Vulcan consulate to be greeted with the face of Captain Archer.

"Captain, it has been some time," said Soval. "I was not expecting to see you for another two days. The preparations for the Charter signing are well in hand."

"Ambassador, something has come up and I'm hoping that you can help me. There was an incident on our way back to Earth. We met up with an old friend. To cut a long story short, Trip, Commander Tucker, was injured. Phlox doesn't hold out much hope for his recovery."

"I am sorry to hear that, Captain. I know that the Commander is your friend. We have not always seen eye to eye but he is a man that I respect greatly."

"There's more to the story, Ambassador. T'Pol believed that she could help him to heal sufficiently to allow him to recover from his injuries."

"She attempted to perform a mind meld?" asked Soval.

"No…Soval, I need your word that you won't repeat to anyone what I am about to tell you."

"You have my word, Captain," said Soval.

"Trip and T'Pol are bonded."

"I see," said Soval without even the slightest flicker of surprise. "T'Pol attempted to use their bond to heal the Commander. How long have they been bonded?"

"I'm not sure exactly when it happened but it was during the year we spent in the Delphic Expanse, so about seven years I'd guess."

"What is T'Pol's condition?"

"Her life signs are deteriorating. Phlox can't bring her out of it and we're concerned that she'll die trying to save Trip."

"Once T'Pol began this it became impossible for any external source to break their link, and she would have known that. There is very little that can be done, Captain. Vulcan ethics are completely clear in this. A bond between a couple is sacred and should not be interfered with."

"There's nothing that you can do?" asked Archer, downcast. It looked as if he could lose two friends today after all.

"I said that the bond could not be interfered with, however I can talk to T'Pol," said Soval.

"Talk to her?"

"I can meld with her and attempt to persuade her to return to consciousness, however the times that it has been tried, it has usually been unsuccessful. Logic and love are not compatible, even within Vulcans."

"We'll be in Earth orbit in…" Archer checked the chronometer on his desk, "four hours. Can you be waiting for us when we get in?"

"Of course, Captain. Please contact me again when you are within transporter range."

"Have you got any idea how long we've been here?" asked Trip.

"Clarify what you mean by here," said T'Pol.

"I guess I mean how long you've been at this and I've been unconscious."

"I do not know but I would estimate several hours."

There was a sound of footsteps on the gravel of the mountain path and T'Pol turned her head slightly. "You have been here a total of fourteen hours, according to Captain Archer," said the newcomer.

"Soval," said T'Pol. "Your presence here is unexpected."

"Hey, who invited you?" asked Trip.

Trip attempted to sit up and look at the new arrival but he didn't have the strength. He settled for turning onto his back to help T'Pol extricate herself from the sofa.

"Your Captain asked me to come and speak with T'Pol," replied Soval.

"You are here to persuade me to leave," said T'Pol.

"Yes. This is damaging your health and Doctor Phlox is concerned, as is Captain Archer," said Soval.

"I am not leaving until Trip is out of danger," said T'Pol.

"T'Pol, I know we talked about this, but if the Captain was worried enough to get Soval out here, don't you think you should call it a day?" said Trip.

"The Commander's condition has improved since you began this. It is possible that he may survive his injuries now," said Soval.

"Possible but not certain," replied T'Pol. "I have come too far to give up now."

"T'hy'la," said Trip. "Please, listen to Soval. He's right. You've given me a fighting chance, now it's time for you to look after yourself. I don't know what I'd do if you died because of me, and if I survive this, I'm going to need you more than ever."

"T'Pol, if you die, then there will be no one else to help Commander Tucker," said Soval.

T'Pol turned to Soval. "Your logic is flawless as usual. I will return, but please allow me some privacy to say goodbye to my t'hy'la."

Soval nodded at T'Pol and vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

T'Pol knelt beside the sofa that Trip lay upon. She held out her two fingers in the traditional Vulcan gesture of affection and Trip met her fingers with his own. She gazed into his eyes, knowing that this might be the last time she saw him conscious.

"T'hy'la, I will see you soon." It was an order not a question and Trip knew it.

"T'hy'la, honey, I ain't going anywhere. I wasn't raised to be a quitter."

T'Pol closed her eyes, a single tear escaping down her cheek. Trip reached out and brushed it away.

"If we never have anything else, T'Pol, we'll always have this moment," and with that he pulled her closer and kissed her. When he finally released her from his shaking hold, she knew that her emotional control was almost non-existent.

"I love you, T'Pol. Always have, always will. Don't you ever forget that, desert rose."

"I will not. You will always be my t'hy'la." Her eyes were damp with unshed tears.

Trip gave her a broad but sad smile and she stood, giving herself over to consciousness once again.

She awoke on the gurney to the familiar sounds of sickbay. Her grip on Trip's hand loosened and she allowed herself a moment to reorient her mind before opening her eyes.

"T'Pol?" asked a concerned voice.

"Captain," she replied. "I am fine."

She blinked away tears from her eyes, surprised to find that they were also present in the real world. She could not afford the luxury of allowing her emotions freedom in the real world. She turned her head to look at the biobed beside the gurney. An oxygen tent had been placed over the entire bed, no doubt in place of the hyperbaric chamber. Trip had been stripped of his destroyed uniform and redressed in a sickbay gown. His colour was unhealthy and he took only shallow, rapid breaths.

T'Pol looked up at her Captain. She saw Soval standing behind him and Phlox bustling around with a scanner. She realised what Soval's presence meant.

"We have arrived back at Earth," she stated.

"Damn near burnt up the engine getting back this fast, but we made it in less than six hours. We're going to transfer Trip to Intensive Care at Starfleet Medical. They have better facilities there," said Archer.

"Thanks to you, he is now stable enough to move," said Phlox. "You will be pleased to know that his condition has improved considerably over the last three hours, although he still has a long way to go."

"I would like to go with him," said T'Pol.

"I assumed that would be the case," beamed Phlox, "I would prefer you to remain in sickbay while I monitor your condition but, since I was certain that you wouldn't agree to that, I have arranged for there to be space on the shuttle for you."

Trip was transferred to Starfleet Medical's Intensive Care Unit with the minimum of fuss. There were no dignitaries present to mark his arrival back on Earth as there were for Archer and the rest of the crew. Instead Trip was shipped straight to hospital. The equipment needed to keep him alive took up the majority of room within the shuttle but there was enough space left over for Phlox and T'Pol. Trip's parents had been called but it would be a couple of days before they would be able to make it to San Francisco.

T'Pol missed the closeness of their bond. Trip was little more than a silent trace of feeling in her head. The doctors had forbidden that she try to link again with him, even going so far as to threaten her with removal from the hospital if she tried. She would have disobeyed them, but she needed to be near Trip, and couldn't risk losing that privilege.

Occasionally she would receive something over their bond, a thought or a feeling but it was always fleeting and almost never complete. It wasn't the same sensation that she had when he slept, when he was still a lively vibrant force that she had often had to consciously block out if she herself wanted to sleep. She found that she had an empty place within her where his presence usually resided. It was a feeling that she hoped she never had to experience again. She wished fervently that Trip would awake and it would stop.

Phlox had remained at Starfleet Medical with her and retained primary care of Trip. No one else knew the Commander's full case history and it seemed like he was by far the best person to continue his treatment. Days went by while they waited for Trip to show any sign of improvement. For T'Pol they merged together into one long interminable run of hospital corridors, doctors, nurses and tests.

Enterprise's crew visited on a regular basis. Lieutenant Reed making a point of stopping by to talk to Trip's silent form every afternoon punctually at four pm. Hoshi and Travis usually came together in the mornings before they had to return to their duties elsewhere. The Captain spent almost as much time in the hospital as T'Pol did, but he recognised her need for time alone with Trip. Archer also had preparations for the Charter signing ceremony to take care of and he couldn't be with Trip as much as he would have liked. T'Pol had simply cancelled all her other engagements and the only time she was absent from Trip's bedside was to get some sleep herself.

Today, T'Pol had fallen asleep beside Trip's bed. The doctors were continuing to be pessimistic about Trip's chances of recovery, but T'Pol refused to lose hope. Trip had come this far and she couldn't believe he'd give up now.

She dreamt. She was wandering through the Vulcan desert, her long robes blowing in the breeze, and seeing a flower growing in the rocks. It was, of course, a desert rose. Even while she was dreaming she knew that she shouldn't be. She only dreamed when Trip did. It took her a couple of seconds to realise that it was Trip's dream that she was having, transmitted across their bond, and he was dreaming about her.

Something intruded on her sleep and suddenly she was jerked awake by shouting coming from the corridor.

"What do you mean "he's dead"!" It was unmistakeably Captain Archer's voice.

"Captain?" asked T'Pol, from the doorway of Trip's room. In the corridor stood the Captain and a Lieutenant she did not recognise. From the patch on his shoulder she could tell that he was posted to the administrative division of Starfleet Headquarters.

"Sir, I am merely stating what the files say. They record Commander Tucker as killed in action a few days ago."

"Commander Tucker is not dead!" shouted Archer. He turned away from the Lieutenant in anger and frustration.

"Captain, we are in a hospital," said T'Pol, calmly, reminding Archer that shouting whilst sick people were trying to sleep would not be appreciated.

"T'Pol, they're telling me that Starfleet thinks Trip is dead. It's like they're putting him in the coffin before he's even dead."

"It's a simple mix up with the records, sir. I'm sure it can be rectified. We just need the Commander to take a physical…"

"He's not in any shape to take a physical, Lieutenant," replied Archer, through gritted teeth. "He's lying in that room fighting for his life!"

"Captain, this is not something that can be resolved at the moment," said T'Pol. "I suggest we deal with this once Trip is better."

Archer took a deep breath and tried to deal with his anger at the way Trip was being treated. He should have been given a medal, not declared dead, but he knew that T'Pol was the voice of reason in this. They needed to concentrate on getting Trip well again before anything else.

Archer shook his head at his own temper. "I'm sorry, T'Pol. You're right, now isn't the time to worry about this. Lieutenant, I'll get back to you once we have more news."

"Yes, sir. I hope Commander Tucker recovers."

Trip was still in intensive care, and Archer was still trying to write the damned speech. None of the pomp of the ceremony seemed worthwhile anymore, and anything that he could say wouldn't do justice to the men and women who had made this new Charter possible. Trip was fighting for his life and Archer doubted that anything would ever be right again.

He had to return to Enterprise to tie up a few things for the decommissioning of the ship and he felt guilty that he was actually glad to get out of the hospital. He knew that if he felt overwhelmed by Trip's condition, then T'Pol had to as well, she had yet to leave his side. So he decided that T'Pol needed a break from her vigil at Trip's bedside and persuaded her to come along for the ride. It wasn't easy but he shamelessly reminded her of her duty and commission. Eventually she gave in, acknowledging that even a Vulcan couldn't deal someone they loved being in Intensive Care twenty four hours a day, day in, day out. Archer had seen how drawn she looked and this would be the first time that she'd left the hospital in days.

When he had finished up his business, he went looking for T'Pol. He should have known where she would be. He'd completely forgotten that someone needed to clear out Trip's cabin, it just hadn't been on his radar. Trip's parents would be arriving soon to see their son and could take care of his belongings until Trip recovered sufficiently. If Trip ever recovered.

Archer stepped into the familiar confines of Trip's quarters to see T'Pol folding up a uniform.

"Need any help?" he asked.

"No, thank you." T'Pol seemed on edge, worried and upset. It was understandable given that this was the first time she had been away from Trip since the explosion. Of course, everything in Trip's quarters just reminded her of the fact that she wasn't with Trip.

"For his parents?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

T'Pol nodded. "Will they still be coming to the ceremony?" Trip would now not be able to attend himself and she wondered if they would rather be at his side at the hospital.

"I told them that I thought Trip wouldn't want it any other way."

T'Pol nodded once more, in understanding. If Trip himself, one of the architects of the Charter, couldn't be there then it made sense for his parents to attend in his stead.

"Don't forget this," said Archer handing her Trip's Frankenstein's monster figure.

"I'd like to meet them," she said, fingering the plastic figure that was one of Trip's prized possessions. She still didn't understand his obsession with horror films.

"His parents?"

"Yes, I'd like to meet them." It was only logical that she meet the parents of the person that she cared most about. Trip had never had a reason to introduce her to them until now.

"They're a little eccentric. I think you'll see where Trip got his sense of humour from."

"My mother was somewhat eccentric as well."

"I remember."

"Trip told me that as the years went by I would miss her less. But he was wrong... because I find myself missing her more. Why would he tell me that?" She didn't really expect an answer to the question. It was fuelled by the possibility that lurked at the back of her mind, Trip might well die and she would never be able to deal with losing him. Her mother's death had caused her considerable pain, especially as she had been relatively young for a Vulcan when she died. Trip was a mere child in Vulcan terms and deserved to have a long life ahead of him. It was all so unfair.

"Time heals all wounds, but absence makes the heart grow fonder. I guess it's a little tricky. Emotions have a way of contradicting themselves," said Archer.

"And you wonder why we suppress them." She currently wasn't doing a particularly good job of suppressing her worry and pain at Trip's condition, and she knew that Archer was aware of that.

"When I took command ten years ago, I saw myself as an explorer. I thought all the risks would be worthwhile because just beyond the next planet, beyond the next star, there would be something magnificent, something noble. And now Trip is "dead" and I have to give a speech about how worthwhile it's all been." The guilt in Archer's voice was unmistakeable. As Captain he was in an impossible position, they had dangerous work to do but he was responsible for the crew's safety. A lot of people had died to make this charter possible and, for even one more person to die when they had been so close to home, would now be unthinkable.

"Trip would be the first to say it was worthwhile." It wasn't a platitude, it was the truth, and they both knew it. Trip had said that the Charter was one of the most important things that humanity had ever done, and by association it was also one of the most important things that Enterprise had done. Trip had been a big part of getting them to this place in history.

Four days after Trip had been transferred to the ICU, T'Pol was again sitting at his bedside. She was reviewing decommissioning paperwork when her concentration was broken by a persistent request for attention at the back of her mind. Her automatic reaction was to tell Trip to stop bothering her when she had work to do, as she had done several times before while they were on Enterprise, it was simply another aspect of being bonded to a human that she had had to deal with. She stopped herself just as she was about to snap back, realising what this meant. She looked over at the sleeping form in the bed and saw a finger twitch.

"Trip?" she asked, quietly.

He didn't reply verbally but she felt something through their bond that she hadn't felt for nearly a week now. His consciousness was closer to the surface. She closed her eyes and lent back in the chair attempting to connect with her t'hy'la.

"Trip?" she asked again.

"Hmmm?" said a weak mental voice in acknowledgement. It was the most that he had said to her either telepathically or vocally for days.

"Are you waking?" she asked.

"Have I been asleep?" he asked, confused by her question.

"Yes, for some time," replied T'Pol.

"Guess I am then."

Captain Archer chose that moment to arrive for his visit.

"T'Pol?" he asked, as her eyes snapped open.

"He's waking up," said T'Pol.

Archer gave her an assessing look. Trip didn't look any different to him than when he had left him the previous day, but he knew that T'Pol had a link to Trip that he didn't.

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely," said T'Pol taking Trip's hand in her own.

"I'll get Phlox."

Phlox arrived a few moments later and confirmed T'Pol's statement.

"T'Pol is correct he is waking, but please don't get your hopes up too high. He is still very ill and he may not stay conscious for long."

The burns on Trip's face were covered in gauze and obscured the lower left side of his face, but Archer saw a slight movement from his friend. He moved to the other side of the bed. Trip's right hand had also been badly burned, so Archer couldn't hold it, but he could place a comforting hand on Trip's shoulder. The Engineer moved a little restlessly as if trying to escape a bad dream. T'Pol concentrated on sending reassuring thoughts to him to let him know that he was safe. This was the first time that he would have come round after the accident and she didn't know how much of their healing link he would remember.

Trip's eyes opened slowly and it took him a moment to focus. He turned his head and saw T'Pol.

"My desert rose," he murmured.

"T'hy'la," replied T'Pol.

Trip's eyes fell shut again and his breathing evened out. T'Pol felt a great weight lift from her and she knew that it didn't matter what the odds were, Trip would survive.

T'Pol wasn't sure what she was doing here. Trip had smiled at her and told her, in a shaky, raspy, weak voice that he'd had to struggle to produce, to go. So she was standing at Archer's side, offering moral support as Trip would have done had he been well enough, and now the Captain was driving her to distraction with his nervous pacing.

"Please, stand still," said T'Pol, fixing Archer's collar for him. "If you hadn't waited until the last minute then you would have had time to memorise your speech."

"You sound like my ninth grade teacher," replied Archer. T'Pol noted and ignored the slightly annoyed tone in his voice.

"There are dignitaries here from eighteen different worlds. It's a good sign. I wouldn't be surprised if this alliance begins to expand before we know it. You should be very proud of yourself Captain," said Phlox.

"I'll be proud of myself if I can get this speech out in one piece." Phlox's attempts at calming his nerves were not particularly helpful. He was still the one that had to go out in front of thousands of people and give a speech that he'd written the night before whilst sitting at the bedside of a sick friend.

"That's not what I meant," replied Phlox.

"I know what you meant, Phlox, and I appreciate it. But this is not about me."

"Why is it that humans refuse to take credit where credit is due?" said T'Pol, the nearest thing to a smile gracing her lips that Archer had ever seen. She was such a different woman now from the one that had joined their crew ten years ago. "There are times when modesty and humility is quite illogical."

The steward came to tell them that they were ready for Archer and suddenly the reality of what he was doing hit him. This was probably the most important thing he would ever do.

"Well," said Phlox, taking his leave. "I've got three wives waiting. I'd better go and join them. I'd wish you good luck, Captain, but you've always had an ample supply."

"Thank you, Doctor." Archer had needed to hear that. He wished fervently that Trip was here with him too rather than lying in a hospital bed. The Engineer had shown marked improvement over the past couple of days since he had first awoken, but he was still in the ICU and not going anywhere for a good few weeks. He could have done with some of Trip's humour right now, it would have defused his nervousness and put him at ease. Trip was good at doing that.

Phlox left the room and he was alone with T'Pol.

"Better get out there, if you don't want to miss me screwing this thing up," said Archer.

"I am going to remain down here, if you don't mind."

"Never did like crowds, did you?"

T'Pol just gave him one of her looks. She knew when she was being teased, but she didn't really feel she could face the crowd at the moment. She was incomplete without Trip and she couldn't be there at this historic occasion without him. It just didn't feel right that she should get to experience something that he was missing. She watched as her Captain turned and began to climb the steps to enter the auditorium.

"You look… very heroic."

Archer turned, acknowledging the compliment with an almost imperceptible nod. He suddenly felt that wasn't enough, so he came back down the steps, and wrapped her in an embrace. It was unexpected and T'Pol wasn't sure how to respond, even though she understood the sentiment. The two of them had been through so much together, waiting for Trip to awake, and now recover, that it seemed to be an appropriate gesture. It was as if he knew how much she wanted Trip to be here with her and he was comforting her because he knew exactly how lost she felt.

Trip breathed. It was all that he could expect to do at the moment and even that was hard work. He lay in an oxygen tent, healing slowly. They had told him that his lung capacity would never return to its previous size, but Phlox thought he could expect to be able to live an almost normal life once he was fully recovered. Serving on active duty on a starship would be out, but there would be nothing to stop him from taking a desk job at Research and Development. Considering that a week ago he'd been in critical condition and barely alive, he was happy to even have a future.

He turned his head a little to see T'Pol, as usual sat in the chair beside him, reading a padd.

His throat was dry. T'Pol reached for the glass of water beside the bed and held it to his lips without uttering a word. He took a sip and swallowed carefully. His throat was still a source of pain. Trip wondered when their bond had become so strong that she could read his mind, it had never been like this before. The doctors had told him to limit his talking so he was very glad that he didn't have to ask her to help him all the time. It was slightly disconcerting, however. T'Pol had already given him away to the doctors when he understated the amount of discomfort that he was experiencing from his injuries.

"T'hy'la?" asked T'Pol across their bond. "You seem troubled."

"Just thinking about this connection that we have. It just seems more specific than I remember it. We never used to be able to talk like this before."

"It is stronger. That is a result of the time I spent healing your injuries. It reinforced our bond and strengthened it."

"Does come in handy," thought Trip. "Don't you have other places to be?"

"Not at the moment. Would you like me to go?"

"No," said Trip quickly. "Stay. You're my desert rose, remember."

"I do, but I wasn't sure that you would remember everything that we talked about whilst you were unconscious."

"It's sort of fuzzy in places, but I remember most of it. Kind of like a really detailed dream. I remember that you promised me that we'd try to make it work again. Were you just saying that to help me get better or did you really mean it?"

"I was sincere."

"That's all I needed to know."

If Trip had known at that moment that the history books would repeat Starfleet's mistake and record that he gave his life for his Captain, he wouldn't have cared. All he knew was that T'Pol was his future and this time they would make it work.