To say that Trip's recovery was slow would be like saying that Enterprise was a starship. It didn't encompass the whole or describe the actuality in a meaningful way. There were, what seemed to Trip, endless physiotherapy sessions. Phlox had made him start slowly with stretching and weights. Muscle mass wasn't rebuilt in a day, and too much exercise was as bad as none at all. There was a strict plan to be followed and he'd already found out what happened when he tried to push himself too far. In short, it involved lots of pain, and then lectures from Phlox, the Captain, T'Pol, Malcolm, Hoshi, the list went on. And now everyone was watching him like a hawk to make sure that he didn't do a minute more exercise than Phlox had prescribed. No one was prepared to let Trip over do things and set back his recovery.
Trip was not a patient man, nor was he someone who was used to sitting still, but he couldn't deny that although it was slow, progress was being made. Trip's previously claw-like hands began to unfold and he found that he could use them for more delicate work. Hoshi had a set of wooden puzzles and she gave them to Trip so that he could exercise his fingers. Malcolm turned up on his doorstep with the latest shoot-em-up computer game and they spent a fun evening blasting monsters to oblivion. Trip never would have believed that Malcolm was a closet computer game addict, or that he would take such delight in pointing out that it was medically sanctioned therapy and therefore they could do it as much as they liked. The Captain decided that his Chief Engineer needed more practical stimulation and brought him broken electrical relays, communicators and other mechanical puzzles. Trip fixed them all, each more easily that the previous one.
Walking took more effort. Yes, he could stand on his own after a couple of weeks, but more than a few steps were beyond him. At first, he needed support on both sides because his arms weren't strong enough to support his body on the parallel bars that the engineering team had installed in the gym. Archer usually turned up to help Phlox with these sessions and when he couldn't make it, either Lieutenant Reed or Ensign Mayweather would fill in. Later his arms were strong enough that he was able to walk holding onto the bars, but it was still tough and frustrating. Each time he progressed a little further and every step extra that he took buoyed him up so that he could take another one, until his legs turned to jelly once more and he had to give in.
Trip looked to each milestone, he had started with walking two metres with help and then getting to use the parallel bars. The ultimate goal was to walk unaided, but that was a few weeks away yet. His stamina improved with the exercises and he was able to stop comparing himself to small fluffy animals in the strength department. He tired more easily than usual but Phlox predicted that would continue for some time to come. His appetite however had rapidly returned to normal and Phlox was happy to see his patient eating properly.
His memory was still a worry. There were gaps, whole missions that he just didn't remember, and Phlox seemed to think that it was possible he'd never get those memories back, the areas of the brain had just been too badly damaged. He had worried that he'd forgotten other things as well, like how to restart the warp engine or install a plasma coil, but the important stuff seemed to be back in place where it belonged. Life was slowly returning to normality, but it was taking its time.
"Earth to Trip," said Reed.
Stars moved slowly past the window of the mess hall. Enterprise had left dock a couple of weeks earlier and was now on its way to start trade talks with a new alien species. Business as usual as far as Enterprise's crew was concerned.
Trip pulled his eyes away from the star field outside. He had nearly forgotten how beautiful deep space could be during his time away. His breakfast was half eaten and now mashed to pieces. He put his fork down. "Sorry, I was miles away."
Reed gave him a funny look. Trip knew what he was thinking. The last time Trip had been "miles away", he'd actually been having an absence seizure. It had been the final thing that meant Trip had to give up his post and leave Enterprise.
"I'm fine, Malcolm. I'm not having a relapse and it's not a seizure, I was just thinking about the past few weeks."
"You've made a lot of progress," replied the Armoury officer. Trip's cane resting against the table was testament to that. Although Trip still couldn't walk far unaided, he no longer needed a wheelchair to get around.
Reed had witnessed the effort that Trip put into his daily exercise regime. He had seen the determination in his friend's face as he struggled to put one foot in front of the other. He had watched Trip fall and refuse help to get up again, and finally he had seen him celebrate being able to walk on his own. There had been a lot of aching muscles and bruises along the way, but Trip didn't give up easily.
"Three months of physio, just to be able to get up and walk around. I never would have believed I could do it. At least it's made me realise just how much I love Enterprise. I couldn't have stuck it out without the incentive of getting my job back and everyone's support."
"You would have done it no matter what. You're too damn stubborn to do anything else."
Trip gave a shrug. "At least I got time to catch up on all my paperwork."
"And write two more papers on warp theory so that the scientists can argue over them some more. I gather that you've managed to cause quite a dispute in the field."
"I can't help it if the practise doesn't match the theory. No one's ever gone this fast before so there's bound to be a few surprises for us. For some reason they don't seem to want to believe me that those surprised are there, but now that I've given them the data they can't exactly dispute it. Should make for an interesting debate at next month's International Warp Theory Conference. Shame I can't be there, but who knows where we'll be by then."
"Have you caught up on all the mission reports from your time away?"
"Yeah, and don't they make some interesting reading. I knew the Captain wasn't telling me something that last time he came to visit, but I had no idea that Enterprise took such a beating. At least Hess has been taking good care of my engine."
"So are you ready?" asked Reed.
Trip pushed his breakfast away. "I guess so. Let's go."
Reed picked up the debris from both meals and stowed the trays, as Trip got carefully to his feet, balancing himself with his cane.
The two men proceeded out of the mess hall, down the hallway and onto the turbo lift. They walked slowly to accommodate Trip's pace with his cane, and were greeted by various crewmembers as they walked. Finally they stood outside their destination.
Trip took a deep breath and opened the door, one of the few on Enterprise that actually had a handle. He stepped over the lip of the hatchway and saw the bustle of Engineering inside, a bustle that abruptly stopped as he entered. Suddenly there was applause and cheering and Lieutenant Commander Hess was approaching him, arms open to hug her CO. The Captain and T'Pol were waiting as well, hidden behind the far side of the warp engine.
Even though it was his first day back on duty, Trip had never expected this. They were treating him like he was some sort of hero, but all he'd done was persevere. All he'd done was refuse to give up. His friends had been the ones to find the cure, his friends had been the ones to give him the strength that he needed. He had never been so proud to be a part of Enterprise's crew in his whole life.
Hess released him from the hug and Archer took the opportunity to shake his hand.
"Welcome back, Trip," said Archer. "Welcome back."