Author's Note:
This was written in reply to a "what if" scenario at a board that I visit regularly (I think I was the one who originally proposed this whacky scenario in the first place). Unfortunately, this particularly twisted scenario wouldn't leave me alone so ...

Major Character Death Ahead...

He couldn't believe his ears.

Standing silently in Sickbay, Trip Tucker stared at the face of his best friend and onetime lover, now inhabited by an incorporeal alien that he could barely comprehend. A glance to his right revealed Captain Archer equally upright but bearing a look of hostility on his face that Trip had never seen before. None of this made any sense.

But then, he reflected, nothing had made sense for a long time now. With both Archer and T'Pol overcome by the silicate virus, Tucker had been forced to face the fact that they would die. Phlox had seemed out of miracles but, to the doctor's credit, had refused to even consider giving up. In the end, though, it hadn't been enough.

Ironically, it had been T'Pol who seemed to succumb more quickly to the virus and, even now, Trip could remember her feverish cries in her native tongue. He had been visiting them once more, peering through the small viewport into the decontamination chamber while hoping he could give them some new reason to struggle on. His Vulcan was limited to the usual phrases of "hello" and "where is the restroom", but Tucker had recognized his own name in T'Pol's fevered cries and, after seeing Hoshi's almost pitying look toward him as she passed by, he had decided he didn't want to know what the Vulcan was saying.

It would probably hurt too much.

"What did you say?" he finally managed. The Organian wearing Archer's body almost sneered as it replied.

"I am loath to repeat myself, Commander Tucker." It paused briefly, giving the alien within T'Pol's body a flat look that caused her - it! - to lower her head as if rebuked. "Your compassion has moved Us and we are willing to return one of your companions to life, but the choice must be yours." Trip blinked, as hope swelled up within him again.

"If you can return one," he exclaimed, "then you can heal both of them!" Anger suddenly washed away the hope, and he glared at these creatures. How dare they play God like this? What gave them the right?

"We cannot violate our laws, Commander," the Organian wearing Jon's body declared, crossing his - its! - arms and frowning. "Doing this already exceeds our mandate of observation." Trip's mind whirred and words tumbled from his lips before he realized it.

"Can you exchange my life for the other one?" A flicker of surprise appeared on the Organian wearing T'Pol's body and she - no, it! - looked to the one wearing Jon's face. The faux-Archer was shaking his head.


Grief abruptly gripped Tucker's heart, and he swallowed the sob that wanted to overwhelm him. How could he make a decision like this? How could he decide who lived and who died? Especially now, when all he wanted to do was curl up in a corner and die himself. A ball of anguish and regret seemed to swirl within his stomach and he again looked away, hoping to find some way out of this mess. It just wasn't fair. Not now, with everything between him and T'Pol as confused as it was. Not now, with his friendship with Jon as strained as it was.

Not now...

"My patience is not unlimited, Commander," the faux-Archer declared, once more wearing an almost sneer. Closing his eyes, Trip sought control over the raging emotions that pounded through his soul. It was as if there was a gaping sense of emptiness where he heart was supposed to be and, without entirely understanding it, he knew that it was related to T'Pol. Exactly when she had become the central element in his life he couldn't exactly say, but the very idea of losing her again lanced through him with excruciating pain. Watching her give herself to Koss in marriage to save her mother had been hard enough, but this? He opened his mouth to say her name, knowing that a future without T'Pol was a future that he didn't want to face.

The future.

At once, memories of the various interactions with the time agent Daniels hit him and he hesitated. How many times had the mysterious time traveler relayed how important Jon was? How Archer was meant to be the architect for a brighter future? Was it fair to put the wants and desires of a single man over the needs of the future? Unexpectedly, one of T'Pol's Vulcan maxims came to mind and Trip closed his eyes in pain. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Hot tears escaped his closed eyes and trickled down his face. He wiped them away before looking up once more.

There really wasn't a choice, after all.

"Good afternoon, Captain," Ambassador Soval said by way of greeting within seconds of the connection being made, and Jonathan Archer gave him a grim nod. He had no time for pleasantries, no stomach for diplomatic word games, and no patience left. Not with one of his best friends dead and the other dying.

"Ambassador," he replied sharply, his tone eliciting a raised eyebrow. "Commander T'Pol is dead," Jon announced without preamble, knowing that Soval would prefer to avoid unnecessary dissembling himself. The part of Archer that was still bitter toward the Vulcans fully expected that the ambassador would hardly react.

He was wrong.

Soval's expression visibly tightened and the older Vulcan looked away from the screen for a moment. Closing his eyes for extended heartbeat, the ambassador drew in a slow breath before speaking.

"How did she die?" he asked, a tremble in his voice. Instantly, Jon felt ashamed of his earlier thoughts about Soval. Many had been the times that the ambassador had demonstrated his own affection for T'Pol.

"A silicate virus," Archer said in response, once more finding himself on the verge of tears. "Phlox did everything he could but..." Soval nodded as he returned his full attention to the screen but, to Jon's eyes, the ambassador seemed older and more weary. "I'm contacting you because Phlox thought you might be able to help with Commander Tucker?"

"In what way?" the ambassador asked, once more the consummate professional. If there was still a hint of grief in his features, Jon didn't care.

"He's collapsed and Phlox can't wake him up." That had been one of the first things that Archer had noticed when he woke in Sickbay. The absence of pain had been a relief but discovering Trip, wearing most of an EV suit, on the floor and barely breathing had been nearly as hard as finding that T'Pol had passed on.

"I fail to see how I can..." Soval trailed off, frowning abruptly as something clearly occurred to him. "Do you have his neural readings?" he asked and Jon nodded. Within seconds, the data transmission had been completed and Soval's expression became even sadder. "I am sorry, Captain," he said softly, "but there is nothing that I can do."

"You recognize these readings!" Jon declared and the Vulcan nodded.

"They are analogous to readings of a Vulcan mating bond that has been unexpectedly severed by death."

"A mating bond? What the hell is that?" Archer asked in surprise. Soval sighed slightly before responding.

"A telepathic connection that links the two mates," he explained. "This bond is the basis for all Vulcan marriages, and is likely the reason Commander T'Pol's marriage ended as it did."

Anguish stabbed through Jon then, and he felt tears well up within his eyes. This knowledge explained so much, and he felt despair set it. Finally, he understood why Trip had been so distraught when he returned from Vulcan, or why he had begun to withdraw from everyone again. Finally, T'Pol's tangible sadness made sense. It wasn't fair, he thought angrily, and, for a moment, he wanted to scream curses at the universe, or God, or whoever was responsible for this madness.

"What do you do for Vulcans in this condition?" Jon managed to ask, grateful that the ambassador did not comment on Archer's rapidly failing composure.

"Nothing," Soval replied softly and Jon started in surprise. "The severing of a matebond in this fashion is traumatic, even for a trained mind. Approximately one in five Vulcans succumb to this condition and Commander Tucker's mind is simply ill prepared for such a trauma."

"But there has to be something we can do!" Archer flared. The idea of Trip dying such a senseless death was too much and the tears came in steady streams now.

"There is nothing we can do, Captain." Soval's voice was measure and even, but with an undercurrent of shared grief that was unexpected. "The body cannot live without the mind." The Vulcan was silent for a moment. "I grieve with thee," he stated, and Jon closed his eyes against the pain.

Everything was white.

Trip looked around in surprise at his surroundings, squinting against the brightness. It was a brilliant nothingness that stretched on into infinity. Even the floor felt mostly insubstantial, like it wasn't entirely there. For some reason, it actually felt ... familiar.

"Hello, Trip."

The voice startled him and he spun around to face the unexpected but quite welcome face of T'Pol. Without pausing to think, he took three strides toward her and grabbed her in a fierce embrace. It was a gesture that he wouldn't have even considered doing before, but the memory of her bio-readings flatlining still burned a fiery hole in his chest. To his surprise, she reciprocated, bringing her own arms around his body.

"How is this possible?" he asked hoarsely, voice tight from the emotions that he couldn't entirely hold in check. "You were dead..."

"Perhaps I am still dead," T'Pol replied, resting her head against his chest. "And this is the illogical afterlife that you once told me about." Trip chuckled at that, the grief that he had been suffering slowly beginning to lighten.

"Eternity with just you as company?" he teased. "What did I do to earn this?"

"The more accurate question," she asked, "is what did I do to deserve a punishment like this?"

His laughter echoed around them, booming through the emptiness. For a long moment, they simply stood there, holding one another.

"There is an alternate theory," T'Pol finally stated, an unexpected hesitance in her voice.

"What's that?" Trip questioned, looking down to meet her hazel eyes.

"This is an elaborate mental construct fashioned by your dying mind."

"A dream?" he asked and she nodded. "Well, if this is a dream, it's a good dream," Trip declared as he leaned forward and kissed her softly. "I guess we'll know soon," he decided.

A moment later, he had his answer.