Had We Never
Genre: Drama, Trip/Archer friendship, references to T/T
Archive: Please ask me first.
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Enterprise is the property of CBS/Paramount. All original material herein is the property of its author.
Spoilers: through "Home."
Summary: Trip has returned from Vulcan early. Archer wants to know why.
A/N: Thanks to my betas Stephanie, Jenna, and WenyaLudjin.
This is one of the stories I submitted to Strange New Worlds 10.
Had We Never
Jonathan Archer entered his ready room, a stack of status reports in one hand and a steaming mug of coffee in the other. He paused in the center of the tiny room, breathing deep. The air smelled of new paint and the residue of a welder's torch: evidence of the dry-docked Enterprise's rejuvenation since limping home to Earth two months ago, battered and war-weary, from the Delphic Expanse.
Porthos trotted in behind his master, heading for his cushion. Archer watched in amusement as the beagle turned in a circle four times before laying down. The cushion was new; Porthos was still in the process of getting it properly broken in.
Archer settled behind his desk and called up the crew manifest on his terminal. He was pleased to see that many of the replacement personnel he'd selected were reporting in earlier than requested. So many new names... So many had been lost during the war. It was a sadness to which Archer would never get accustomed.
As he scanned down the list, he did a double-take. He'd read it right— Tucker, Charles III, Cmdr., had reported in last night. But he wasn't due back from Vulcan for weeks. And T'Pol had not returned with him; she was still listed as "on leave".
Did I miss something? Again?
Archer had only recently figured out that Trip and T'Pol were growing closer. His enlightenment had begun when they had encountered Lorian's Enterprise in the Expanse. Archer remembered T'Pol's reaction when Phlox told her Lorian's genetic profile confirmed that she and Trip were his parents. Instead of dismissing the news as an impossibility, she became acutely uncomfortable, which told Archer how very possible the scenario could be. Watching her, he was suddenly, achingly aware of just how disconnected he had become, even from his two closest friends.
After that, Archer had paid more attention. He noticed that Trip and T'Pol were fighting less. Trip tended to stand beside her during strategy sessions, and sit with her in the mess hall. And the way his gaze lingered on her, when he thought no one was watching... it was so obvious to Archer now that he felt like the village idiot. Trip had fallen in love with her.
T'Pol had said nothing, of course. But, now that she was evidently over the wild mood-swing roller-coaster ride she'd been on lately, she seemed quite content to be in Trip's company. Her working relationship with him was more companionable, her sly sense of humor more evident. Then, after they'd repaired that Gordian knot of a timeline again, and returned safely to 2154, T'Pol had invited Trip to spend his leave with her on Vulcan, which spoke volumes about the depth of her regard for him.
So what the hell happened?
Archer found Trip in engineering, jammed behind the warp core, up to his elbows in circuitry for Enterprise's new starboard warp nacelle matrix. He'd been back only twelve hours, but he already looked like he hadn't slept for days. A tactical alert alarm went off in Archer's head: Trip hadn't been like this since he'd lost his sister Elizabeth in the Xindi attack.
Archer studied his friend through the tangle of circuitry. "I know you're not a big fan of the desert."
Trip looked up, startled. Archer smiled a greeting. "But that's not why you went to Vulcan, was it?"
Trip gave inordinate attention to an EPS connector, avoiding Archer's gaze. "Plans changed."
"Something came up— uh, someone showed up— aw, hell." Trip stopped fiddling and sat back with a sigh. "She got married."
Archer sank down, stunned. Luckily there was a railing behind him to sit on, or he would simply have kept going, right to the deck. "Married?"
Trip, his voice flat, filled Archer in on the details: T'Pol's aborted wedding three years ago; the reappearance of her childhood betrothed, Koss; her discovery that her mother T'Les was coerced into retirement as retaliation for T'Pol's supposed fault in the P'Jem fiasco; and finally T'Pol's sacrifice to restore T'Les's honor and career. For a moment during Trip's account, Archer was gripped by panic when he thought T'Pol wasn't coming back at all, but Trip explained that one of her conditions for marrying Koss was to be able to return to Enterprise.
Archer thought the whole thing stunk. "How magnanimous of Koss's parents to offer to help out T'Pol's mother," he said sardonically. "Makes you wonder if they're working hand-in-hand with the same High Command operatives who framed her in the first place."
"Anything to make their precious boy happy," Trip replied, glowering. "Or not dishonored, anyway. This whole honor thing is way overrated, if you ask me."
"But it is very Vulcan."
Trip managed a wry half-smile. "At least T'Pol's as pissed off about this as I am."
Archer couldn't help but grin. Somehow, the idea of T'Pol being outraged at idiotic Vulcan propriety made him feel better. "She said that?"
Trip paused. "Not in so many words."
"What did she say?"
Trip fidgeted. Archer waited... until it dawned on him. "You haven't talked to her?"
"I left her a note," Trip said defensively.
Trip winced guiltily. "Okay, I packed up and snuck outta there while she was still meetin' and greetin' the folks-in-law." He met Archer's disapproving frown with pleading eyes. "Clemency, Cap'n! We couldn't have said anything anyway, not with Koss dragging behind her like a box o' rocks." He sagged against the bulkhead. "I watched her marry the guy. The idea of hanging around one minute longer, seeing them together— I just couldn't." He picked at the grime under his fingernails. "So I wrote her a note saying I'd see her back on Enterprise, and then I grabbed the first transport offplanet I could find."
"I'm sorry," Archer said quietly.
"I really thought the two of us were heading somewhere..." Trip shook his head. "Doesn't matter now." He got to his feet. "It sure would be useful if I could be all noble and selfless about this."
"Be her true-blue friend?" Archer eyed him skeptically. "Have you ever tried to be 'just friends' with an ex-girlfriend?"
"Right. Dumb idea." Trip sighed, looking uncertain. "I just— I don't know how I'm gonna feel when I see her again."
"Sure you do," Archer snorted. "It'll hurt like hell."
Trip gave him a sour look. "Thanks, Cap'n."
"But then, when the world doesn't come to an end, things'll start sorting themselves out." Archer rose and headed for the hatchway. "My quarters, 2200 hours."
"Aye, sir." Trip got back to work.
Trip forgot, of course. Apparently he was determined to work himself until he dropped. So Archer dragged him bodily out of Engineering, first to the mess hall— he guessed correctly that Trip hadn't eaten since he got back— and then to the captain's quarters, where a bottle of fine old Kentucky bourbon was waiting.
Much later, Trip raised his glass and said solemnly, "Number seventeen: Toss him into one o' those active volcanoes they have all over Vulcan. What was the one T'Pol was gonna show me?... Mount Tar'Hana." He took a healthy pull on his drink.
"Barbecued Koss," Archer mused, sipping his bourbon. "I like that one."
"Number eighteen: Set him out in the smack middle of the Vulcan Fire Plains for a week, buck naked."
Archer chuckled. "Just how many methods did you dream up of doing away with this guy?"
"Sixty-eight," Trip responded smartly, topping off his glass. Archer blinked in surprise, and Trip shrugged. "It was a long trip." Then he scowled. "Besides, I had to do something to keep my mind off what's goin' on back there."
"If T'Pol is as angry about this situation as you think, I'd bet nothing's going on."
Trip looked unconvinced. "Number nineteen: Hungry sehlat, no high ground." He tossed his drink back.
Archer tried again. "Look, she'd only be in trouble if Koss was going through that pon farr thing Kov told you about. Was he all wild-eyed and frothy at the wedding?"
Trip started sniggering. "Naw. He was your typical Vulcan. Calm. Composed. Manipulative. Underhanded. Insufferably arrogant."
"Then there's nothing to worry about!" Archer replied. "T'Pol said herself that Vulcans mate only once every seven years, so the chances of—"
"That's a crock," Trip muttered. Archer gaped at him, and Trip looked mortified. He shoved his drink out of reach. "Aw, hell."
Archer lowered his gaze, to give Trip's blush of embarrassment some privacy. "I'll be damned. Looks like the Vulcans have put one over on the whole galaxy."
He ventured a glance at his friend. Trip had a faraway look in his eyes now, and the ghost of a sad smile on his lips. Softly, he said, "You thought you were surprised." The smile faded, leaving only sadness.
Archer had lost count of the times he'd wished he could do something, anything, to ease Trip's heartache besides just sit here. He felt worse than useless. "What am I supposed to do with you? Drag you here and get you drunk every night?"
"Nah. Doesn't work anyway." Trip picked at the label on the bourbon bottle. "Does it ever stop hurting?"
Archer put a reassuring hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Yes."
Trip sounded almost plaintive. "So how long do I have to put up with it?"
Archer took the bottle away from him. "A hell of a lot longer than you want to."
Trip squinted at him. "You've been through this crap, too?"
Archer nodded. "Her name was Margaret. Only girl I ever proposed to. She turned me down flat."
"Ouch. What did you do when you saw her again?"
Archer poured for both of them. "I didn't see her again. I planned a lot better than you did."
Trip put his head in his hands with a groan. "You're a big help."
Archer shrugged. "I can't keep you from running into each other, Trip. It's a small ship with very few senior officers." He paused for emphasis. "Officers who must often work together."
Trip mmphed a reluctant acknowledgement.
"You could move on, you know," Archer added quietly.
"Except for one little complication." Trip sat up, with that wisp of a smile tugging at his mouth again. "She's my forever, Cap'n. I couldn't change that if I wanted to."
Archer swallowed hard around a sudden lump in his throat. He'd had no idea of the depth of Trip's feelings for T'Pol.
Trip turned to gaze out the viewport as a repair shuttle floated past. "Remember when Phlox erased Degra's memory, so we could pull that scam on him?... On the way home from Vulcan, I wondered what it'd be like if Phlox could do that to me. Wipe the last year-and-a-half right out of my head. Gone. Forgotten."
Archer ached for him. "Is that what you want?"
Trip studied the amber liquid in his glass. "There's a poem I learned in school when I was a kid, something by Robert Burns. I wasn't big on poetry or anything— I memorized it because I liked the sound of the Scottish accent."
Archer smiled. Trip took a sip of bourbon, then began to recite, his native Southern drawl replaced by a faint Scottish brogue. "'Had we never loved sae kindly, had we never loved sae blindly, never met or never parted, we had ne'er been broken-hearted...'"
Slowly, he shook his head. "I'm gonna miss being comfortable around her. Flirting with her. Gettin' her goat. Having fun arguing with her. But... I'd miss the memories more."
"Tennyson," Archer said, raising his glass melodramatically. "'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all...'"
As he had hoped, Trip made a face, breaking the gloomy spell. "God, it's gettin' thick in here." He downed his drink in one swallow, then plopped his glass down for a refill.
Archer poured. "Far be it for me to interfere with your masochistic aspirations... but if you happen to be too busy for a while to join me and T'Pol for dinner in the Captain's Mess, I'll understand."
"Thanks." Trip sat back and studied Archer. "Y'know, it feels good to be doing this."
"You and me, just... talking. You sorta cut yourself off a while back."
Now it was Archer's turn to stare pensively into his drink. "I didn't want to be around anyone. Hell, I didn't want to be around myself. I was turning into a monster, trashing every principle my father ever taught me—"
"Stop it, Cap'n!" Trip said sharply. Archer fell silent, taken aback. "You're talking crap," the engineer continued. "They sent you into the Expanse to save the world, and then the job changed to saving the whole damn universe. You did what you had to do because failure wasn't one of the choices."
Trip's stern expression softened as he laid a hand on Archer's arm. "Nobody comes out of a war looking pretty. People die, morals die, everybody's soul dies a little because of what they go through. Hell, look at the Xindi— they found out the Sphere Builders'd been playing them for suckers for decades." He leaned closer to his captain and friend. "The idea is to come out the other side still breathing... still hanging onto something. Still having a future to look forward to."
Archer smiled. "Good advice. For both of us."
Trip returned his smile. "Aye, Cap'n."
Archer brightened. "I've got one." He raised his glass. "Number sixty-nine: Lock him in Sickbay with Phlox. I give him a week, tops, before the good doctor's relentlessly cheerful optimism drives him completely and permanently insane."
Trip cracked up. Archer sat back to enjoy the sight as he sipped his drink.
Trip raised his own glass. "I've got you beat." Bourbon slopped over the rim; he was still giggling. "Number seventy: Stick 'im in a shuttlepod with Malcolm..."