Trust
by HopefulR

Genre: Drama, episode addition, Archer/T'Pol
Rating: PG-13
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 "Fusion."
Summary: T'Pol has suffered a severe neural trauma, but she refuses to reveal the cause. Phlox must begin treating her soon to prevent permanent damage, but he needs to know more. Perhaps she would open up to someone she trusts...

A/N: This is a slightly amended version of a story I submitted to Strange New Worlds 10.

Thanks to my betas Misplaced and boushh for the notes they gave me for the submission entry, and also to bluedana for insightful follow-up feedback that helped me to clarify a few key points in the story.


Trust

Archer didn't even know he'd dropped off to sleep until the comm signal woke him. He propped himself up on one elbow, getting his bearings in the half-light cast by the glow of the Arachnid nebula, and reached past the peacefully snoring Porthos to answer the comm. "Archer."

"Captain, it's Phlox," came the reply. "I need you to come to sickbay as soon as possible."

There was something hushed and sober about the doctor's voice that already had Archer rolling out of bed. "Who is it?" he asked as he reached for his shoes.

"Sub-commander T'Pol. She's been injured."

Archer felt as though the floor had suddenly dropped out from under him. "On my way."

He didn't even pause to change into his uniform, but sprinted through the night-dimmed corridors toward sickbay in his T-shirt and sweats. With every step, he cursed himself for not listening to his instincts. He had begun to sense that there was something... wrong about T'Pol spending so much time with the unusual, emotion-embracing Vulcans— Tolaris in particular— aboard the Vahklas. But after Trip had teased him earlier in the day about being jealous, Archer had backed off, attributing his suspicions to his lingering prejudice against Vulcans.

Damn fool. You can't afford to turn off your sixth sense.

Phlox met him as soon as he burst through the double doors of sickbay. Across the room, T'Pol was lying in one of the biobeds, still and silent, her unblinking gaze fixed on a corner of the ceiling.

"She called me from her quarters," the doctor said quietly. "Or rather, she started to. She was unable to finish. I found her collapsed there twenty minutes ago."

"What happened?" Archer asked, keeping his voice equally low.

"My scans show evidence of severe neural trauma, but T'Pol refuses to discuss the matter. She requested a few medications, then promptly pronounced herself well enough to leave, though I wouldn't permit it." Phlox's tone, usually so carefully neutral, took on a noticeable edge. "If she weren't Vulcan, I'd be tempted to say she was in denial of her condition."

"Have you determined the cause?"

The doctor shook his head. "She insists that she requires no further assistance and is capable of healing herself. Normally, I would agreed with her; Vulcans have an extraordinary capacity for self-healing. However, the nature of her injury appears to have impaired her ability to initiate her meditative healing trance. If the trauma isn't attended to soon, I fear she may suffer permanent neurological damage."

Archer glanced worriedly in T'Pol's direction. "What are our options?"

"If I knew more about the incident that caused the trauma, I might be able to apply some crude treatment of my own," Phlox answered. "Nothing as sophisticated as what she could self-administer, but it might serve as a stopgap until she is able to initiate a healing trance." He regarded Archer speculatively. "I was hoping she might confide in you."

Archer gave him a dubious look. "Doc... I'm not exactly her trusted friend."

"I beg to differ, Captain," the doctor replied. "Your determination to keep T'Pol on Enterprise following the destruction of P'Jem last month demonstrated quite clearly that you consider her a valued member of the crew. Your actions did not go unnoticed by her. While she was recovering from that plasma-weapon injury she suffered on Coridan, she mentioned to me that she considers you a man of honor."

Archer looked at his first officer in surprise. He could count the compliments she had given him on one hand. And this compliment... Vulcans regarded honor as highly as they regarded anything.

He turned back to Phlox. "This injury she suffered... do you think it could have anything to do with the other Vulcans?"

Phlox's eyes flicked away. "Impossible to say... for certain."

Archer caught the subtle hitch in the Denobulan's speech. "If you know something more, let's hear it."

Phlox hesitated. "You're asking me to reveal information exchanged in confidence between a patient and her physician."

Archer couldn't believe Phlox's reticence. Not now— not with T'Pol at such great risk. He gave Phlox a hard stare. "I'm the captain."

"I'm well aware of that." The doctor looked vastly uncomfortable. "You put me in a difficult position—"

"Think of the position in which you've put T'Pol and me!" Archer snapped. His voice was still quiet, but dangerously so. "You tell me that she could suffer permanent brain damage unless I can get through to her, and now you're getting squeamish about an ethical fine point?"

Phlox glanced at T'Pol, wavering. "Talk to me, Phlox," Archer pressed.

Reluctantly, the doctor relented. "She came to me this morning, following an unsettling experiment with dreams. She told me that it was a suggestion by one of her new Vulcan acquaintances."

Tolaris, Archer guessed. He was the one T'Pol had been spending the most time with. How had Trip described him?... Quiet, and a little sullen... "Did she say who it was?"

"It is of no consequence, Captain." It was T'Pol, from across the room.

Startled, the two men looked up. They'd forgotten about her Vulcan hearing. Phlox wasted no time in motioning for Archer to go to her. The doctor remained at the doorway as the captain crossed the room, pulling a chair up to T'Pol's bedside. Her exotically beautiful face was a blank mask, but her eyes... there was agony trapped deep inside her eyes. It was a shock to Archer; he'd never seen that from her before.

He sat down. "I was hoping you might tell me anyway," he said mildly.

T'Pol's gaze didn't waver from the ceiling. "There's no need to discuss it."

Maybe this was a bad idea. Archer glanced back at Phlox, who gave him an encouraging nod. Archer faced T'Pol and tried again. "Dr. Phlox tells me you have the means to begin healing yourself, but your injury is preventing you from doing so. He can help you, but you won't tell him what he needs to know."

This time he got no response from her at all. He paused. Here goes nothing. "Given your reluctance, I would assume that you don't want to be helped. But you notified sickbay before you collapsed. So I'd have to call your inaction now... illogical."

T'Pol blinked. Her eyes flicked to his, and for a fleeting instant, he saw annoyance there. Then she looked away.

It was a start.

"It is a personal matter," she said at last. There was a slight quaver to her voice. She sounded... upset.

Archer leaned closer, making their conversation as private as he could. "I apologize for being intrusive. But I'm concerned for you. I don't want you to come to any more harm."

She was silent for a long moment, clearly conflicted. Archer saw tiny hints of emotion cross her features— doubt, apprehension, even something that resembled shame. He hadn't expected this at all. What the hell had happened to her?

Without looking at him, she finally spoke. Her voice was rough, almost inaudible. "I participated in... a mind-meld."

Archer had never heard the term. "Mind... meld. I don't know what that is."

"It was a method used by Vulcans in ancient times... to create a link between minds, for the purpose of sharing thoughts and memories."

Carefully, he said, "I'm assuming that a mind-meld doesn't normally result in severe neural damage."

T'Pol shut her eyes as a glimmer of pain briefly flashed across her face. "Likely not."

"What happened?"

Silence. Archer clamped down on his growing concern, taking care to keep his voice quiet and even. "T'Pol, what did he do to you?"

She spoke with deliberation, as if attempting to detach herself from her words and memories. "It was uncomfortable to feel the presence of another mind inside my own... hearing his thoughts. For him, it was... exhilarating." She shut her eyes slowly, then opened them again, focusing beyond the here and now, into the past. "He asked me to recall a memory from a dream I had last night, so he could experience it with me."

Archer was profoundly disturbed by what he was hearing. The guy had finessed her— the "dream experiment" last night sounded like a setup for this mind-meld thing. He had capitalized on T'Pol's weakness, her curiosity, and then played her like a violin.

"As I recalled the dream, he appeared in it with me," she continued. "He experienced what I saw and heard..." She faltered and stopped, then swallowed and resolutely continued. "...and also what I felt."

Archer knew this must be extraordinarily difficult for her. He felt like a brute for making her relive it, but he knew that it was the only way to get her the help she needed to heal. "Felt?" he asked gently. "As in— emotion?"

"Yes." T'Pol looked down, her cheeks blushing dusky green with embarrassment. "He focused wholly on the emotions... asking questions... telling me to feel them again. It was as if emotions were a compulsion, an addiction for him... a drug he needed to feel, even to the point of vicariously feeling the emotions of others..."

She stopped again. Archer watched in wordless sympathy as she turned onto her side, drawing up her knees, curling almost into a fetal position. Her expression was unguarded now, filled with disquiet. Archer moved closer to her, not touching her, but hoping that his presence would serve as a comfort. "You resisted him?" he guessed softly.

"His fixation on emotion was... disagreeable," T'Pol said. Her voice, suffused with dread, revealed far more than her words. "I tried to leave the memory, leave the meld. I told him to stop." As she looked up at Archer, he saw a helplessness in those huge brown eyes that was utterly alien to him, not at all the resourceful, resilient T'Pol he knew. "But he grew angry. He said 'no.' He began to take what he wanted by force, to invade my thoughts and memories without my consent. I attempted to resist, to put up mental shields, but he tore through them."

Archer was horrified— and outraged. He felt as though he were listening to a woman's account of being raped... and, in a very real sense, he was. The assault on T'Pol may have been telepathic, but it was no less harrowing than a physical attack. He couldn't begin to imagine what it must have been like for her, so accustomed to being in control of her extraordinary mind, to have that mind violated and ransacked.

T'Pol's entire body had begun to tremble, as if she were going into shock. "He was nearing memories I did not wish for him to see— private thoughts, meant for no other. I felt... fear. He sensed it, and it excited him." Her voice hardened with revulsion. "Fortunately, my distaste at his reaction gave me the strength and focus to pull his hand from my face and break the meld. Then I forced him away."

She fell silent, breathing hard, her eyes averted. Archer pulled out a blanket and tucked it around her. He waited, lightly holding the thick material against her shivering form until he felt her trembling ease. Then he asked, "Who did this, T'Pol?"

She didn't speak for a long time. Archer wondered whether she was going to name him at all—

"Tolaris." Her voice was hardly more than a whisper, but it was enough.

Mentally, Archer kicked himself again for brushing aside his internal warning system. Dammit, he'd practically forced T'Pol to work with the man. "I'm sorry," he said.

Faintly, she shook her head. "You could not have known."

She was right, of course. Archer wouldn't have pegged the guy as a rapist. Hell, he could say that about any Vulcan. T'Pol had been more keenly aware than anyone of the tightrope the V'tosh ka'tur were walking, trying to re-integrate their emotions, and yet she'd still fallen prey to one of them. The lure of emotion, to those who denied themselves emotion, must be overwhelming. There would be some, like Kov, the amiable engineer of the Vahklas, who could walk the tightrope. But for others, like Tolaris, the "balance" between logic and emotion would be nothing but a false veneer, concealing an undisciplined hedonist... or a monster.

Archer put a hand gently on T'Pol's shoulder. "You're safe now. I won't let him near you again."

She shut her eyes. She looked completely spent.

As Archer turned toward the comm panel on the wall, he felt a white-hot fury building inside him, threatening to burst out of him. That bastard had set T'Pol up! Under the guise of friendship and enlightenment, he had zeroed in on his target, rendered her unsettled and emotionally vulnerable, then moved in for the kill. Archer wanted to break the guy in half with his bare hands.

Unfortunately, Archer wasn't a superman, or a murderer. He was captain of Enterprise. Therefore, official Starfleet protocol— arrest, trial, conviction, and a prison cell to rot in for a few years— would have to do for that piece of garbage.

Archer banged the comm link open with his fist. "Archer to the bridge! Security—"

"No, Captain!" he heard behind him. He turned to see T'Pol struggling to sit up, shaking uncontrollably as she fought to free her hands from underneath the blanket. Phlox was already rushing to her side. T'Pol reached out to clutch Archer's arm, her eyes wide and terrified. He was stunned.

"Bridge," came the reply from the comm. "Reed here, sir."

T'Pol shook her head at Archer, her eyes imploring, as Phlox eased her back down. Archer hesitated, then spoke into the comm. "Stand by, Lieutenant."

"Aye, Captain."

Archer cut the comm link and turned back to the biobed. T'Pol was trying to sit up again. He helped her, keeping a hand under her elbow to support her as Phlox hovered solicitously nearby. Now that Archer was off the comm, she was recovering some of her Vulcan façade of impassivity, though it was a sad charade. "Captain," she began in an unsteady voice, "if you are planning to arrest Tolaris—"

"He belongs in the brig," Archer said flatly. "He's lucky I'm not heaving him out the airlock."

"There's no need to take him into custody." She sounded almost reasonable.

Archer laughed, a short, harsh sound. "If you think I'm going to trust him to turn himself in—"

"I am not bringing charges against him," T'Pol said quietly.

He stared at her. "He assaulted you!" She flinched, very faintly, but he caught it. With an effort, he eased back on his anger and frustration. "He's a criminal. He deserves to be punished."

"Captain, do not pursue this matter."

"I have to, Sub-commander."

Her face hardened with resolve. "If you bring him to trial, I will not testify."

Archer was completely baffled. "After what he did to you? Knowing he could do it to someone else? I don't understand."

She looked down, and he saw her face flush again. In a chastened voice, she said, "I agreed to the meld."

My God... she thinks it's her fault. Archer felt a surge of compassion for her. Gently, he said, "But you didn't agree to what he turned the meld into— an invasion."

She remained silent, her eyes downcast.

"T'Pol, you shouldn't blame yourself," he continued. "It isn't logical. You told him to stop, but he didn't stop. According to Starfleet regulations, his actions from that moment onward constitute an assault upon your person."

"Such subtlety would be lost on the High Command," T'Pol replied tersely. "They would see only that I was foolish enough to allow myself to be taken advantage of by a V'tosh ka'tur. My judgment would be called into question... my objectivity... and as you have pointed out, my logic. I would be removed from the field for re-evaluation."

Archer opened his mouth to protest... but he realized that she had him. Whatever reason he could come up with to justify T'Pol falling under Tolaris's spell— she was too naïve, she was tempted by the lure of emotions, she was meditation-deprived and unable to think clearly— they all condemned her, from the VHC's perspective. The revelation that T'Pol consented to take part in this mind-meld with Tolaris would do far more harm to her than her testimony would do to him.

T'Pol watched Archer's face fall, and she nodded. "Now you begin to see."

Archer felt utterly helpless. "Are Vulcans so prejudiced...?"

She was putting her controlled mask back into place, meticulously burying every trace of emotion, leaving only weary resignation. "Let the matter drop, Captain."

Archer knew he'd lost, but he wasn't finished. "Give me something I can use, then."

T'Pol searched his face. He gazed steadily back at her, no longer vengeful, but determined. Apparently she found what she was looking for. "Use his anger," she finally replied.

Archer thought back to what she'd said... about how Tolaris had gotten angry and lost control after she'd refused his demands. Yes, he might be able to do something with that.

He glanced across the biobed to Phlox, who was running his scanner over T'Pol again, beginning to look worried. "The doctor needs your help if he's going to heal you to the point where you can begin healing yourself," he told her. "Do you agree to cooperate with him?"

Reluctantly, she nodded, like a child acquiescing to the logic of taking a foul-tasting medicine. "Agreed." Then, quickly, "Do you agree to refrain from calling attention to this matter?"

"Agreed," Archer said. "No arrest of Tolaris, no trial." He saw infinitesimal signs of her relief, in the subtle relaxing of her tense jaw and the slight easing of her hunched shoulders as she settled back against her pillow. With an elaborate sigh, he added, "And no heaving him out the airlock, either. Although I don't mind telling you, I had my heart set on that."

For a moment, the mask dropped, and T'Pol's expression lightened with the barest hint of something that might have been amusement. "Thank you," she said. Archer could swear it was gratitude for what he wished he could do, rather than for his pledge not to do it.

He smiled back at her. "You're welcome." He turned to the comm panel and thumbed the link open again. "Mr. Reed. Sorry to keep you waiting."

"Not at all, sir," came Reed's prompt reply. His voice was a model of crisp British professionalism, as usual, but Archer could hear a hint of concern there.

"I need a security guard posted at sickbay," he said. "There are to be no visitors without my authorization. No exceptions."

"Understood, sir," Reed answered firmly.

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Archer out." He glanced back at Phlox, who was studying the readout on his scanner. "Keep me posted, Doctor."

"Of course, Captain." Phlox bustled off to fetch some equipment.

As Archer rose to leave, he nodded a farewell to T'Pol, and she nodded in return. He noticed that, for the first time since he had entered sickbay, she looked calm.


Archer was halfway to the armory before he realized that barging in there at this time of night, out of uniform, and commandeering a phase pistol without explanation would be the antithesis of "refraining from calling attention to the matter." As much as he hated the idea, he would have to wait until morning. He altered course, heading for his quarters, already considering and discarding various scenarios. There was no point in trying to get back to sleep tonight, anyway.

He would prey on Tolaris's weakness, just as the arrogant bastard had preyed on T'Pol. And when he ignited, Archer would be ready for him. I'll be armed. Let him try something. That was the point, after all.


When Tolaris arrived in Archer's ready room the following morning, he was as cool as a cucumber. He could have given Ambassador Soval lessons in smugness. All the while that he was exchanging pleasantries with the captain about the charting of the Arachnid nebula, Archer wanted to jam a photonic torpedo squarely in the center of that self-satisfied smirk and set it off.

It was time to turn up the heat. "I'm afraid you'll be working alone today," Archer told him. "Sub-commander T'Pol's in sickbay. From what the doctor tells me, she's in pretty bad shape."

Tolaris's face went carefully, completely blank. It was the first time since Archer had met him that the son of a bitch actually resembled a Vulcan. "That's unfortunate," Tolaris said, in a voice as colorless as his expression. "What happened?"

"You know damn well what happened," Archer replied smoothly. "She told me about your... what'd she call it?... your mind-meld."

Interestingly, Tolaris's poker face dissolved into an ill-concealed scowl of resentment. Evidently it hadn't occurred him that T'Pol would tell anyone. Archer pressed his advantage. "She said when she asked you to stop, you got angry. She said she had to force you away."

"What happened between us is personal," Tolaris said, his voice taking on a definite edge of annoyance. "It's not your concern."

"You assaulted a member of my crew," Archer responded evenly.

"I did no such thing!" Tolaris shot back. "Mind melds can be emotionally turbulent. She simply panicked."

Archer let his own voice drip with disdain. "Panic doesn't land you in sickbay." He turned his back dismissively on the simmering Vulcan.

"No one forced her to try the meld," Tolaris said insistently. "She did it willingly."

He actually seemed to believe all the delusional claptrap he was spouting. Archer was disgusted— and made certain that Tolaris saw it. "You've been manipulating her ever since you came aboard."

"I am helping her to shed a lifetime of repression!" Tolaris declared fiercely.

"T'Pol's had enough of your 'help'," Archer replied. "Stay away from her."

Anxiety joined the rising storm of anger on Tolaris's face. Apparently it was finally dawning on him that the object of his fixation was being taken away from him. "She is in a crucial stage of her awakening! She needs guidance!"

Archer used his command voice. "It's over."

Tolaris attempted one of his smug smiles, but this time it looked more like a sneer of contempt. "I think that's for her to decide."

He started for the door, but Archer stepped in his path, blocking his way. "Maybe I'm not making myself clear. Sickbay's off limits."

Tolaris's expression grew dark and dangerous. "Move aside."

Archer didn't budge. "Go to hell."

That was the match that touched off the explosion. Tolaris's face twisted into a grotesque mask of apoplectic fury as he shoved the captain away from the door. Archer clapped a restraining hand on the Vulcan's arm— and in the next moment, he found himself pinned dizzily against the ceiling. He barely had a moment to absorb the fact that Tolaris was holding him up effortlessly with one hand, before the Vulcan flung him clean across the room. Archer hit the far bulkhead hard before slamming to the deck.

It certainly was an effective demonstration of how to clear a path to the door.

Tolaris wasn't leaving, however. He was stalking straight at Archer, still wild-eyed with rage.

The captain hauled himself to his knees, ignoring his protesting back, and grabbed the phase pistol he'd secured behind his desk chair in case of emergency. Yes, I'd say a homicidal Vulcan qualifies as an emergency. He leveled the weapon at Tolaris.

The Vulcan slowed to a stop less than a meter away, the crazed anger in his eyes giving way to shock. "You planned this."

Archer winced as he climbed to his feet, his aim never wavering. Despite his impressive miscalculation regarding just how dangerous a furious Vulcan could be, he was still in one piece— though he'd be damn sore for a while— and Tolaris's super-human strength was no longer a threat. It really was over now.

But every instinct told Archer to fire anyway.

All you have to do is pull the trigger, and you save the galaxy a major headache. You can make sure he never hurts T'Pol or anyone else again...

But there would be questions. An investigation. T'Pol would get dragged into it; you wouldn't be able to prevent it. You'd be victimizing her all over again.

And... she trusts you to honor her request.

He didn't fire. But he never stopped wishing that he could have.


As Reed and his security detail politely and efficiently escorted the stray Vulcans back to their ship, Archer spoke privately with Captain Tavin, advising him that Tolaris needed some remedial work on "balancing," and should be prevented from mind-melding under any circumstances. T'Pol's name was never brought up.

An hour later, as he absently tried to work the stiffness out of his shoulder, Archer watched with satisfaction as the Vahklas undocked and headed away. He was only sorry that T'Pol couldn't see it, too. Phlox had released her to her quarters, advising her not to return to duty for at least another day.

When Archer dropped by to see her, T'Pol looked far better to him than she had the night before, virtually the same as she'd always looked whenever he arrived while she was meditating. Tonight, though, she appeared... fragile, somehow. More vulnerable. Perhaps it was because he knew now that she was.

Feeling any better?

Has the Vulcan ship left?

He had never thought of T'Pol as vulnerable... not even after she'd been shot by that Coridan rebel a month ago. Even as Archer had scooped her limp body up in his arms, and the realist in him had worried whether she was going to live or die, the idealist in him had been confident that her toughness, and her sheer Vulcan stubbornness, would pull her through.

About twenty minutes ago.

Then... yes. I am feeling better.

As he knelt across from her, watching the play of the meditation candle's light on her features, Archer saw that she had not completely regained that look of serene, unapproachable Vulcan equanimity. Her face was still drawn, her eyes still haunted.

It had never occurred to him that Vulcans could be frightened, either. They always seemed so sure of themselves, so arrogant and superior. Even T'Pol, who was less irritating than most of them, had started out that way.

Captain... do you dream?

Sure. Sometimes they're even in color.

He felt awkward, making small talk with her. He couldn't ever recall doing it, but he wanted to be able to. It was a beginning... a baby step forward in their partnership.

As they talked, her guard dropped, leaving her softly candlelit face open, curious, even melancholy. He was reminded again of the tremendous responsibility of having this woman's trust.

Is it enjoyable?

Most nights.

I envy you...

At first Archer was confused. But by the time he was back in the corridor, and T'Pol's door had shut behind him, he remembered: Vulcans don't dream. Their disciplined minds used meditation to work through the problems and stresses of the day, leaving their subconscious free of clutter.

To think that the only dreams T'Pol had ever experienced were nightmares brought on by that monster.

Archer felt an overwhelming sadness for her. He lingered, staring at her closed door, wishing there were something he could say to help her heal from this ordeal, and put the terrible images from her mind.

He put a hand up to the door. I wish you sweet dreams, T'Pol... or no dreams at all. I wish you peace.

-end-