Childhood Is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies
Genre: Ensemble, drama, Trip/T'Pol romance, Archer/T'Pol friendship, character death
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.
Summary: Spoilers for E². In the E² timeline, a fateful event changes lives aboard Enterprise forever.
A/N: I have long been captivated by the third-season episode E², particularly the character Lorian. He and other characters and events from this episode have cropped up in much of my work, first in my ongoing Reconnecting series, and then in several standalone stories. This piece was originally written as a submission for Strange New Worlds 9.
Thanks to my betas Stephanie, Jenna, and Ludjin. The title is from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Childhood Is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies
In the Delphic Expanse...
Lorian stared at his parents, endeavoring to maintain his mask of Vulcan equanimity to prevent the horror from reaching his face. "You wish me to accompany you...to the dance?"
"Sure!" Trip said lightly, as he tossed Lorian the meditation pillows to put away. "Why not?"
Why not? Where was he to begin? In the first place, there would be all those people—the entire Observation Lounge of Enterprise filled with them, surrounding him like a roiling sea, threatening to reduce him to queasy, hyperventilating helplessness. Doubtless he would be required to speak with them, presumably intelligibly, even artfully. He might actually be expected to display his father's humor, or his mother's wit.
Lorian saw no plausible outcome to attending this social activity, other than the familiar mute paralysis, followed by the green-bronze blush of embarrassment, and a hasty, humiliating exit to the safe solace of home. Unless, of course, he were forced to actually participate in a dance, in which case he would simply throw himself out the nearest airlock, to avoid repeating such a ghastly fate in future, or even reliving it in memory.
To his father, Lorian said only, "I have a lesson to prepare." He turned away quickly, busying himself with stacking the meditation pillows in a corner of their quarters.
"I thought you didn't have any tutoring tomorrow," Trip said.
Lorian kept his back turned as he fought down a surge of frustration. How quickly the beneficial effects of meditation could be nullified by a single nightmarish scenario. "That is true. But this lesson will require a measure of finesse. It is for Sarah Miller, who is particularly recalcitrant."
His father grinned. "She doesn't like math?"
Lorian sighed. "She doesn't like me." He turned to face his parents, reluctantly awaiting the inevitable exchange of troubled glances, followed by some sort of "pep talk" regarding the conquerability of shyness.
T'Pol was juggling three freshly-extinguished meditation candles, smoke drifting up from them in lazy wisps. As Lorian expected, her eyes flicked to her husband, in time to see his smile fade to a disconcerted frown. She addressed Lorian as she put the candles away. "Such a conclusion may be premature. You have been tutoring Sarah for less than two weeks. Perhaps she is merely intimidated by your intelligence."
Trip ran a hand casually through his gray-flecked blond hair, clearly attempting to cover his concern with nonchalance. "Or maybe she's mistaking that Vulcan reserve of yours for snobbishness. That's happened before. Once the kids get to know you—"
"But they won't," Lorian said flatly. "No one knows me. I'm aware that I perpetuate the situation with my...timidity." He had to grit his teeth to get the cursed word out. "But I don't know how to be different."
His father regarded him with sympathy. "You don't have to be different, son. You just need to figure out how to cope with bein' shy. Look how far you've come in a year."
Lorian could not disagree. A year ago, when he was thirteen, he hardly even spoke in front of anyone other than his parents, or Jonathan and Esilia. But he had discovered that, by adopting a largely Vulcan demeanor, he was able to conceal his shyness in public. And when his mathematics instructor set him to tutoring several of the other students, his communication skills had improved out of necessity.
He eyed his parents dubiously. "And are you suggesting now that my next coping mechanism should be...a foxtrot?"
"Naw!" Trip chuckled. "We're not asking you to dance at the dance. Here's the thing. Jon and Esilia are always bringin' Henry to these dances. And every month it's the same—Esilia ends up spendin' more time with the boy and less time with the husband."
"But you, being a non-dancer, would be available to watch over Henry," T'Pol continued.
"Leaving Jon and Esilia with more time to themselves," Trip concluded. He raised his eyebrows expectantly.
Lorian exhaled in sweet relief. "I would be glad to go with you, to look after Henry." Then he narrowed his eyes in faint annoyance. "You might have said so in the first place."
Trip's blue eyes twinkled. "And miss all that squirming?" Lorian arched an eyebrow at him, and Trip burst into good-natured laughter.
Lorian could scarcely believe it. He was actually enjoying himself.
The evening had begun in typically unnerving fashion. Lorian trailed into the Observation Lounge behind his parents, saw the room filled with people, lost the ability to take a full breath, and began wishing fervently that he could take refuge under a table for the rest of the night. But then Jonathan and Esilia had joined them, with young Henry in tow. Lorian's godfather welcomed him casually, as if Lorian came to the dance every month; Jonathan had a marvelous ability for putting him at ease. When the next song began, Lorian offered to get Henry a snack, Esilia happily handed the boy over, and that was that. As the four adults joined the couples on the dance floor, Trip turned back and gave Lorian an approving wink.
Lorian withdrew to a far corner, next to a viewport, intending to shut out the mass of people and focus solely on the energetic nine-year-old in his charge. But, to his surprise, he found his eye drawn again and again to the symmetry of the dancing. It was transporting, even hypnotic, the way the couples moved to the rhythm of the music, turning, dipping, twirling around the room. He forgot about his anxiety, the feeling of being crushed by the throng. He felt as if he were floating, wonderfully light and airy, as he watched the dancers. His parents captivated him most of all, the way they connected, hand to hand, hip to hip, eye to eye, movement to music.
Lorian had long observed his parents sharing brief touches...holding hands, touching one another's arms as they conversed, offering a kiss on the cheek in greeting or farewell. When he'd asked them about it, they said that their touching was another form of communication, beyond speech, that reinforced their bond. As Lorian watched them dancing gracefully, effortlessly, moving as one, he understood more fully the depth of their communion.
The evening passed quickly, between chatting with the precocious Henry—who, thankfully, provided Lorian with an excellent excuse to avoid socializing with anyone else—and observing the dancers. His godparents were almost as satisfying to watch as his own mother and father. At first glance, the Captain and his wife appeared mismatched—Jonathan tall and still robust, with the exotic, sylph-like Esilia barely coming up to his shoulder—but their dancing had a lyrical grace all its own.
It was late, and Henry had at last exhausted his supply of stories and energy, by the time the Archers joined Lorian at his corner table. As soon as Esilia seated herself, Henry took possession of her lap, snuggling in sleepily. Jonathan sat behind his wife, sliding his arms affectionately around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder. Watching them together, Lorian was pleased that Jonathan had not found it necessary, here in the Delphic Expanse of the past, to adhere to the prevailing wisdom of his own time and consider himself married to his vessel. He was so obviously, deliriously happy with Esilia and Henry. He would likely have been a very lonely man without a soulmate.
Another waltz began playing, a piece by Tchaikovsky from the "Sleeping Beauty" ballet, if Lorian recalled correctly. He had enjoyed watching the waltzes the most this evening. There was something about the three-beat rhythm, the flow of the steps to the music, the lilting beauty of the never-ending turns, that enchanted him. He turned to Esilia and Jonathan. "I'll look after Henry, if you—"
"It's all right," Esilia replied with a smile. "I don't mind sitting the last one out."
She settled back contentedly against Jonathan, swaying gently to the music as she cradled Henry to her. Softly, Jonathan began to sing to her, following the melody of the waltz...a song about knowing his beloved, because he had already met her in his dreams. Lorian let Jonathan's clear, pure tenor voice carry him along as he watched his parents waltzing around the dance floor, their gaze never leaving one another.
"Father," Lorian said, as the Tuckers entered their quarters, "I should like to learn how to dance."
"Oh?" Trip kept his expression carefully neutral, but inside, he was doing handsprings. It was exactly the reaction he and T'Pol had secretly hoped for when they had hit upon the idea of bringing him to the dance tonight.
Lorian nodded, trying to look as dispassionate and analytical as a slender fourteen-year-old could. "It would appear to be an excellent method for improving overall physical conditioning. Balance, coordination, stamina. Things of that nature."
"There are also aesthetic benefits," T'Pol pointed out. "Dancing improves grace and comportment."
"Plus, girls'll eat it up with a spoon," Trip said with a grin.
Lorian paused. His father never seemed to run out of new and ever baffling colloquialisms. "Eat it up...?"
"They'll find being in your company agreeable," Trip translated.
T'Pol aimed a sharply raised eyebrow at her husband in warning, but it was too late. Lorian had frozen in mortification. "That is not my motivation for requesting dance instruction."
Trip felt T'Pol give him a little mental goose through the bond—one of the ways she liked to remind him to watch his step. He sent her a reassuring nudge in reply as he shrugged casually to Lorian. "Never said it was. That'll just be one of the fringe benefits, down the road."
Lorian relaxed a little. "I see."
"We can get started tomorrow, if you like," Trip offered.
Lorian was starting to look positively eager. "I am free after sixteen hundred hours."
"That's when my shift ends. We'll meet then, in the Observation Lounge."
"I look forward to it," Lorian replied with a smile.
Trip was dazzled by that smile. He could feel a warm glow of appreciation from T'Pol, too. Such a sight was an uncommon treat for them, now that Lorian wore his composed Vulcan face most of the time. His smiles, when they occurred, were genuine, unfiltered expressions of happiness, straight from his heart. Trip took his wife's hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze.
Lorian awakened suddenly. He sat up in the darkness, trying to determine what was amiss...and then he realized it was the ship's engines. They felt...wrong.
He emerged from the small alcove that served as his bedroom. Trip was already awake, shrugging into his uniform. "Father—"
Trip nodded. "I know. I feel it, too."
T'Pol was awake as well, pulling on her robe. "Should we call Jonathan?"
"Don't know yet," Trip said. "Lemme get to engineering and check things out first."
"I want to help," Lorian said. "I could accompany you."
"No, son. You'll be doing this soon enough, when you're Chief Engineer." His father smiled. "For now, sleep while you can."
Lorian cocked an eyebrow. "I cannot sleep when the engines feel wrong."
"Like father, like son," his mother observed dryly.
Trip was dressed now. He stroked T'Pol's hair and gave her a kiss on the cheek, then smiled wryly at her. "Am I gettin' too old for this?"
"Going to engineering at 0200, or kissing your wife?" she asked.
He took her face in his hands and kissed her soundly, groaning in protest when they finally parted. "This'd better be serious, since it's takin' me away from you."
Her brown eyes sparkled. "Return quickly, then."
Trip grinned and turned to Lorian, giving his shoulder a brief squeeze. "You heard the lady. I'll be back soon." Then, with a wink, he was gone.
T'Pol reached for her uniform as well. "What is it?" Lorian asked.
"I was once compelled to report to the bridge in my nightclothes because of a tactical alert at 0214," she answered. "I do not wish to repeat the experience."
Barely a minute later, as she was pulling on her boots, the tactical alert sounded. Lorian was starting to feel decidedly unsettled as T'Pol stood and took him by the shoulders. "Try to sleep," she said. "If you feel unsafe here, proceed to sickbay, per the ship's emergency protocols."
He nodded. Then, impulsively, he hugged her. He felt like a baby, but she returned his embrace, stroking his fair hair reassuringly. He pulled away, regaining his composure. Most of it, anyway. "Take care, Mother."
"I shall." T'Pol left, and Lorian watched the door slide shut behind her.
For a long moment, he didn't move. Finally he crawled into his parents' unmade bed. He laid down, pulling a pillow to his chest, surrounding himself with their familiar scents, and began to wait.
T'Pol heard the anomaly wave before she saw anything, in the sound of sparking cables and creaking metal. Then the turbolift walls distorted sickeningly, and all she could do was brace herself as the wave hit her, slamming her to floor. The lights flickered and went out, and the lift lurched to a stop.
The distortion tore through engineering, cutting a roiling swath from the upper level downward, chewing a ragged trail through the catwalks and shorting out half a dozen workstations. Trip dove off the warp reactor platform, barely avoiding the distortion, and rolled to his feet in time to see the wave rippling powerfully across the reactor housing, bending the thick metal as if it were putty. As the wave vanished through the aft bulkhead, alarms started wailing urgently on the reactor console.
Trip climbed back up and checked the gauges. Coolant conduit integrity had been compromised. Quickly, he punched up the schematic of the conduit system to pinpoint the weakness—and he sucked in a breath when over a dozen red indicators appeared on the graphic. The damn anomaly had weakened the entire line.
He hit the deck at a run, sprinting aft, skidding to a stop under the nacelle struts, where he could see the coolant conduits. There—hairline fractures, barely visible with the naked eye, all along the line. "Everybody out!" he shouted. "Coolant conduits are about to go!"
As he tore open the access panel to the coolant flow controls, Anna Hess approached him from the injector assembly, where she'd been checking for damage. "I'll man the reactor console and be ready to shut down if the temp—"
"No!" Trip said. "You're the last one out. And do a head count."
"Now, Anna." He eyed her steadily. "I need to know everyone's safe."
For an instant, she hesitated, torn. Then she nodded. "Okay, Trip." She strode away, her no-nonsense alto ringing through the compartment. "Move, people! Get your asses out of here!"
T'Pol reached the bridge by way of the access stairs, after forcing the turbolift doors open and clambering onto B-Deck. The bridge was a smoke-filled cacophony of sparking consoles and frenetic activity, dim with emergency lighting. Jonathan was already there, moving from station to station, ascertaining the ship's status. "Maybe it was a sphere that had fallen into disrepair, like the first one we found," he was saying.
He spotted T'Pol as she emerged from the stairway, and he waved her to the science station without pause. "New sphere—not one you've mapped. With a low enough gravimetric signature that we didn't detect it behind its cloaking field."
"Until fifteen minutes ago, when sensors registered several small power spikes," Malcolm Reed said from Tactical.
Travis Mayweather, his muscular frame clad in a t-shirt and sweats, was sandwiched under the helm console, rerouting a bank of toasted circuits. "Like someone was revving the engine, getting ready to turn her loose."
T'Pol ran quickly through the data on her console. Communications were out; electrical systems and external sensors were offline. Hull breaches on C and D-Decks had been sealed off by emergency bulkheads. "I assume, then, that the spatial distortion of a minute ago was the sphere being...'turned loose'?"
Malcolm nodded. "Like being hit by a bloody gravimetric shock wave."
"Weapons status?" Jonathan asked him.
"Weapons and hull plating are still offline, sir."
"And so are external sensors. Which makes us sitting ducks for whoever powered up that sphere." Jonathan no longer indulged in the classic "jittery" behavior of his younger days, such as pacing or fidgeting, but T'Pol could tell from the tense set of his jaw that his level of concern was high.
"Not if the sphere is self-repairing," said Michael Rostov, at the engineering console. He was the third-shift chief; T'Pol reasoned that he must have been on the bridge when the tactical alert was called. "These things have been here in the Expanse, unattended, for a thousand years, but they're machines, and machines malfunction. There'd likely be an autonomic program designed to reinitialize the fusion reactors if power dropped below a certain—" He stopped as his console buzzed a warning. "Engineering's been put under lockdown conditions."
That meant contamination, or the danger of it. Jon looked to Hoshi Sato, wearing a crop top and shorts, slapping out stubborn sparks on her communications board as she tried to coax it to life. "Hoshi? Comm system?"
"Gonna take a bit, sir."
Jon turned back to Michael. "The warp reactor?"
Michael was already cycling through his sensor readouts. "Reaction's stable, magnetic containment field is stable—" He frowned. "The plasma coolant system just went offline."
"Shutdown. Structural integrity might have been compromised by the anomaly." Red warning lights began winking on at his console. Michael tapped more keys. "Reactor temperature's rising."
"Why is the reactor still online?" Jon asked in frustration. Without plasma coolant, the warp engines would superheat in a matter of minutes.
Michael looked apologetic. "Sir, I'm giving you everything I know."
Jon forced himself calm. "Sorry, Michael."
More red lights. Michael studied his readings with growing concern. "Intermix ratio is destabilizing—particles have flooded the reactor. The containment field is starting to fluctuate."
An unstable intermix ratio would quickly lead to collapse of the matter/anti-matter containment field—and Enterprise going up like a miniature supernova. Jon felt like screaming. "Hoshi, I'm blind and deaf here!"
Hoshi's hands played rapidly over her still-smoldering console, bypassing burned-out circuits, rerouting pathways, searching for a link in the chain that hadn't been snapped by the anomaly. "Eighty percent of my board is fried, sir. I'm trying to patch in a miracle."
Trip swore softly under his breath. Conventional reactor shutdown wasn't working, and wasn't going to work. The intermix ratio was too destabilized. The reactor temperature was rising fast, and he'd already wasted valuable seconds.
As he climbed the ladder to the top of the reactor, he saw movement through the tiny observation window in the secondary exit hatchway. Anna and the crew were right outside, lit by the red lights of the lockdown status beacon in the corridor. Trip spotted a flash of metallic gold: Anna was putting on an EV suit. Damn it all, did he have to wire the hatch shut to keep her out of here?
Wouldn't matter anyway. He'd have the reactor offline in a jiffy, and the intermix ratio stabilized a minute after that. As he made his way toward the manual access panel, he smiled at the image of his crew piling in to rescue him—and finding him sitting back, feet propped up on the railing, flipping casually through a tech manual.
Jon saw the viewscreen rippling sickly. "Hang on!" he shouted. The crew took cover as another spatial distortion rolled across the bridge, leaving a trail of twisted metal and snapped conduits in its wake. A wall of the situation room's display graphics went up in a shower of sparks, filling the room with another dose of acrid smoke.
Trip was wrestling with the cover to the manual access controls when the spatial distortion announced its arrival in engineering by pretzeling the catwalk over the main hatchway. The wave knocked Trip flat as it barreled across the reactor housing. The sturdy metal rippled underneath him, groaning in protest—and then he heard the sharp metallic snap of the outer housing breaking open. He felt a flush surge up through his prone body like a heat wave, but he knew it wasn't heat. The physical shielding around the reactor had breached, unleashing a lethal burst of ionizing radiation into engineering.
Trip knew he was dead. The cessation of his heartbeat was a mere formality now.
Lorian sat up with a start, seized by crystal-sharp panic. It tore through him like a flash fire, robbing him of breath, searing its way through his heart. But the emotional pain and fear were not his own. He didn't understand what was happening, or why, but he knew the feelings were coming from his mother.
Trip sat up, rubbing the back of his head—that anomaly had packed a wallop. A new alarm on the reactor console had joined the others already insistently demanding attention. It was getting damned noisy in this place.
As he got back in front of the manual access, his eye caught frantic activity in the red-tinged corridor outside. Anna had her EV suit on, except for her helmet, and she was peering in through the little window, her eyes wide with horror. She shouted to someone he couldn't see, and then she was hoisting the helmet, getting ready to put it on.
Better put a stop to that right now.
Trip grabbed the lever that manually activated the emergency bulkheads, yanking it hard over with both hands. He got one last look at Anna's angry, frightened face through the window before the thick walls slammed down with a clang and a hiss of pneumatics, sealing engineering away from the rest of the ship.
With practiced efficiency, he implemented manual shutdown of the reactor. The alarms stopped yammering as the ever-present hum died away, leaving an eerie silence. Trip never liked the silence. It always meant something had gone terribly wrong.
As he started down the ladder, a wave of dizziness hit him, and his grip faltered. He slid down the ladder the rest of the way, landing shakily on his feet, clutching at the rungs. He waited until the room stopped spinning crazily, then doggedly made his way toward the console platform. He didn't have much time left.
Both Michael's and Malcolm's consoles were angry red checkerboards of alert warnings. "Emergency bulkheads have been manually lowered in engineering," Michael reported.
Malcolm stabbed at his console, prompting his wounded board into giving up more information. "It appears the leak has been confined. I'm getting no radiation warnings outside of engineering."
Jon turned anxiously to Michael. "But everyone inside..."
Michael hesitated, then gave a small, sober shake of his head.
Lorian staggered toward the turbolift, almost doubled over by the gut-twisting terror, pressing a hand to his heart in a vain attempt to ease the ragged agony there. All he knew was that something awful was transpiring, and he had to get to his mother. She needed him.
But the lift doors stayed stubbornly closed. He turned in a circle, confused, struggling to push the overpowering emotions aside so he could think more clearly. The helplessness he was feeling was hers too, he knew.
Then he remembered the maintenance tubes. He cast up and down the corridor, finally spotting an overhead accessway tucked into an alcove. He jumped the four feet to the ceiling without trouble, grabbing the bottom rung of the ladder. Then he hauled himself up and started climbing.
"Captain." Michael looked up from his board. "The warp reactor's offline."
Jon allowed himself a scant moment of relief: no more danger of a catastrophic containment field failure. Then he turned to Malcolm. "Get down to engineering. Use the stairs, Jefferies tubes, whatever you have to. Find out the extent of the—"
"There isn't enough time," T'Pol said quietly. "He only has a few minutes."
All eyes turned to her. For a moment, Jon thought communications had been restored, but Hoshi's board was still a smoking mess, and Hoshi was staring at T'Pol like the rest of them. Jon crossed to the science station, a knot forming in the pit of his stomach as T'Pol's words began to sink in.
Her eyes were unfocused, her attention directed inward. "The engineering crew is safe...evacuated."
The knot moved up into Jon's throat. Suddenly, it was almost impossible to breathe. "Trip?"
T'Pol paused, listening to an inner voice. Jon knew that the only times she and Trip had achieved actual thought projection through the bond were during episodes of heightened emotion, or enormous stress. "He stayed behind to halt a coolant leak. He was in the process of shutting down the reactor when the shielding was breached by a spatial distortion."
The bridge crew listened in stunned silence. They all knew what it meant.
Jon knew he couldn't get to engineering, couldn't leave the bridge. The ship was in shambles, and needed her captain. He felt helpless, and impossibly far away.
He put his hand over T'Pol's, conveying with one anguished touch what he wished he could say to Trip. Her gaze focused on him, and he saw a flicker of fear there. He tightened his hold on her hand, trying to impart his strength to her, anything she needed, everything he had. She swallowed and nodded, her expression calming.
Jon let the bridge fade away behind him. There was only T'Pol now...and for T'Pol, there was only the bond, and Trip.
Trip blinked, trying to bring the console readouts into focus as he tapped at the keyboard with a shaking hand. Gravimetric field displacement manifold offline...warp plasma coolant system disabled...matter/anti-matter magnetic containment matrix nominal. Good. Radiation levels...holy hell, what was he doing still alive?...Emergency bulkheads in place. Okay. He was done.
Suddenly, he was too weak to stand up anymore. He sank unsteadily to the reactor platform, managing to prop himself against the console. The sight of the twisted catwalk over the main hatchway made him feel queasy. He was dizzy and hot, but it seemed as if it would take too much energy to reach up and unbutton his shirt. He coughed, tasting blood in his mouth.
T'Pol knew that Trip was suffering. She reached out through the bond, dampening the pain receptors in his brain, triggering an influx of endorphins to soothe him.
She remembered a photo he kept on a shelf in their quarters...a Florida beach at sunset. Anastasia Island. He had often told her that he wished he could have taken her there.
She took him there now.
Trip wasn't on the reactor platform any longer, staring at the mangled catwalk in engineering. He was on a white sand beach, gazing at a golden sun crowned by rosy-orange clouds, sinking into a blue-gray sea. Instead of the hard wall of the console, he was nestled back against the softness of T'Pol, her arms warm and safe around him. He didn't hurt anymore.
"It's nice here," he said.
"I thought it might be," she replied.
She smelled of scented candles and chamomile tea. He looked up at her. "I'm sorry, darlin'."
T'Pol smiled at him, a tiny upturn of the lips that she saved for his eyes alone. "Don't be. You saved your crew, your ship. You saved Lorian and me."
Trip moaned, stricken. "Oh God, Lorian..."
"I will take care of him." She was calm reassurance. "So will Jonathan."
He clutched tightly to her. "I don't want to leave you."
"You never will, t'hai'la." She held him close, her breath caressing his cheek. "You will always be with me."
He turned in her embrace, taking her in his arms. Even now he could feel the surge of sweet velvet fire he always felt when he touched her. He kissed her, long and deep, giving her one more taste of his soul. The memory would need to last her heart a lifetime.
At last he pulled back, taking her exquisite face in his hands. "I love you forever, my wife."
"And I you, my husband." She was serenity.
He smiled, filling his eyes with her as the last glimmer of sunlight faded into the deep blue of the sea.
T'Pol went very still...and then she sank limply back, her eyes blank and unseeing. Jon caught her as she fell from her chair.
The wave of overwhelming grief hit Lorian so hard that he lost his footing on the ladder. He hooked his arm over a rung, dangling like a rag doll as the agonizing despair battered him, leaving him reeling, gasping for breath. His feet felt like lead as he lifted them shakily back onto the ladder and kept climbing.
"T'Pol!" Jon searched her face for any reaction, anything. "T'Pol, stay with me!" But he saw nothing inside those wide, empty eyes. Nothing at all.
He knew Trip was dead, but he savagely pushed aside his own rising sorrow. He didn't have time for it, not yet. He laid T'Pol down on the deck and checked her vitals. Her pulse was erratic and far too slow, barely a hundred beats per minute. And she wasn't breathing.
"Hoshi, the comm?"
Hoshi was blinking back tears as she worked furiously at her console. "Not yet, sir."
"Dammit!" No miracles from Hoshi today. No miracles from anybody. Trip was dead. "Keep trying. We need Phlox."
Jon tilted T'Pol's head back, pinched her nose closed, and pulled her chin down, parting her lips. He sealed his mouth over hers, exhaling a deep breath of air into her lungs. Turned his head, inhaling as he listened to the air flow limply out of her. Breathed into her mouth again. Took another breath of his own, and gave it to her. Then another.
She was alone. Horribly alone, for the first time since forever began. Huddled in black, solitary agony that never stopped. It was so cold without him, so painfully silent. She couldn't touch anything, no matter how far she reached. It was unbearable, knowing she would never feel his presence again, never hear his heart's laughter or touch his soul again. The awful knowledge choked away all breath and thought and will, leaving nothing but the need to end the pain and the aloneness, to make it stop.
The access stairs on B-Deck were blocked by a collapsed bulkhead. Lorian took the Jeffries tube next to the stairway, climbing the ladder until he reached a maintenance hatch. It wouldn't open—the frame was bent. He heaved with all his Vulcan strength, finally wrenching the hatch open.
He stumbled out onto the bridge from behind the engineering console, pale and shaking, his breath coming in ragged gasps. He could hardly see through the haze of smoke and emotional torment. "Mother?"
He heard Jonathan's voice. "Bring him here!" Then he felt hands taking him, people guiding him across the bridge. Michael Rostov was one, and Travis Mayweather. They maneuvered him past the debris, climbing up and down the multiple levels. Other faces swam past, indistinguishable to him, except for their matching expressions of distress.
He sank to his knees at his mother's side, taking in her deathly pallor, and the tears on Jonathan's face as he breathed for her. She was utterly still, but he could hear her incoherent, desolate keening inside his mind. The pain was excruciating.
He didn't know what was happening. He didn't know what to do, or how to reach her. Then he remembered about the touching. His parents communicated when they touched.
Lorian wasn't his father, but he was his father's son. He reached out and took hold of her hand. "Mother?"
She gasped in a breath, on her own.
There—in a faraway corner of the awful, endless black. A light. A warmth. She wasn't alone.
Jon paused, his face hovering over T'Pol's. She was breathing again. He checked her pulse. Still thready, but steadier, and increasing. He sat up, taking in gulps of air, the room spinning around him, and nodded encouragingly to Lorian.
Following his human instincts, Lorian gathered his mother up and held her, as the anguish inside him flared and screamed. "Mother..."
The pain was still there, wrenching and bottomless. But the light...it was part of her, part of him. She needed it, more than she needed to be free of the pain. She strained toward the welcoming warmth, trying to drag herself up from the frigid black...but she couldn't find purchase, didn't have the strength. She slipped back, toward the endless darkness.
Tears were welling in T'Pol's sightless eyes now. One slipped free, coursing down her pale cheek. Lorian was frightened, terribly frightened. He suspected what had happened, but he didn't want to accept it. He turned to Jonathan, and saw his fear confirmed by the crushing despair in the older man's eyes. "My father?"
Jonathan put a trembling hand on Lorian's shoulder. "We lost him."
Even hearing it, knowing it, Lorian could hardly believe it. His father had been so alive back home, mere minutes ago—
His vision blurred, obscured by a sudden rush of his own tears. He squeezed his eyes closed, shutting out the watery, broken image of Jonathan, and pulled his mother closer, steeling himself against the horrific, aching hopelessness radiating from her. Pressing his cheek against hers, he whispered, "Mother, I can't lose you, too."
T'Pol blinked, slowly returning to awareness. For a fleeting instant, she was exceedingly disappointed. Why wasn't she dead?...
Then she felt Lorian's tears on her cheek, felt his arms tight around her, and the world came back into focus. She looked at him...her son, Trip's son. Their son. Devastated, terrified, awash in sorrow. And she knew why she had fought her way back from the darkness.
She reached up and touched his tear-stained face. "You will not lose me."
T'Pol spent the next two days in sickbay, with Phlox monitoring her closely. The brain trauma caused by the sudden severing of her bond with Commander Tucker was significant, although no longer life-threatening. She spent much of her time in meditative trance, employing Vulcan self-healing techniques, with Lorian by her side, holding her hand. Phlox was aware that the presence of a close family member aided immeasurably in a Vulcan's recovery from a severed bond, though he had never been able to glean any details from his research. Perhaps Lorian, as Commander Tucker's son, was in some way enabling T'Pol to seal the broken remnant of the psychic link that had connected her to her husband.
It was mid-morning when the first shell-shocked sympathizer showed up. She was a young crewman from engineering, eyes red-rimmed and puffy, trying to stave off a new wave of tears. Blocked by the privacy screen from seeing T'Pol, she hovered uncertainly, not knowing where to direct her condolences.
Phlox, cognizant of Lorian's crippling shyness, was fully prepared to act as deflector shield—but to his surprise, Lorian stepped out from behind the screen. With solemn dignity, he accepted the young woman's tearful sympathies and well-wishes on behalf of his family. The crewman departed, looking a bit more settled for having shared her sadness. Only after she was gone did the boy noticeably wilt and retreat gratefully behind the screen, revealing how much energy—and courage—his appearance had required of him. Phlox was quite impressed.
A short time later, another visitor came, from the Science section. Then another, from the third-shift bridge crew. As the day progressed, the trickle of mourners became a steady stream. They came to offer condolences, encouragement, sorrow for Commander Tucker, good wishes for T'Pol. Lorian met them all, keeping a protective perimeter around his mother as he accepted their awkward silences and babbling remembrances with equal grace. Phlox kept the young man fed, had a change of clothes brought, and made up the biobed next to T'Pol's for him so he could rest.
The most remarkable visit came on the second day, when a knot of teenagers arrived in search of Lorian. He ventured out from behind the privacy screen with his Vulcan mien particularly well-fortified, Phlox noted, and regarded the other children warily, as one would a pack of ravenous beasts. Clearly, there was no love lost between them.
The oldest boy, a brawny youth of about sixteen, spoke first, awkward but grudgingly sincere. "We all have parents who work in engineering. Your dad is the reason they're still alive. We wanted to say...thanks."
One of the younger girls added, "And we hope your mom feels better soon."
Lorian inclined his head in acknowledgment, his face unreadable. The kids shuffled their feet a bit, as if reluctant to leave. They were regarding him with genuine sympathy. Finally another boy stepped forward. "We're sorry about your dad."
Lorian's expression softened the tiniest bit. "Thank you," he replied quietly.
As the children filed out of sickbay, Lorian watched them with an expression caught between appreciation and astonishment. After the doors closed behind them, Phlox said, "Schoolmates?"
The lad nodded, looking bemused. "They've hardly ever spoken to me, and never kindly. I always thought they hated me." His voice was rough. He swallowed and blinked several times, then withdrew behind the privacy screen again.
The memorial for Charles Tucker III was held on the third day, after Phlox released T'Pol from sickbay. It was an emotional affair, filled with stories, sorrow, celebration and love, attended by everyone on the ship. Commander Tucker's sudden death had ripped a tremendous hole in the fabric of the crew's psyche; if Captain Archer was the ship's fierce courage, and T'Pol her keen intellect, Commander Tucker had been her heart. He had served as sounding board, counselor, morale officer, and all-around big brother to everyone for years. The void left behind would be painful and long-lasting.
Captain Archer was compelled to stop several times during his eulogy to blink back tears, but his crew thought no less of him for it. T'Pol and young Lorian maintained their composure admirably, holding tight to each other's hands, as Phlox knew they had for virtually every moment since Commander Tucker died.
Afterward, alone in their quarters, widow and son at last gave their grief release. Lorian wept in his mother's arms, great wracking sobs that frightened him with their intensity, but did nothing to take the hurt away. T'Pol held him and soothed him, her own tears quieter.
Finally Lorian was too worn out to cry any more. He stayed in his mother's comforting embrace for a time, feeling safe there. Gently, she stroked his blond hair.
"Would you prefer to stay occupied with your studies, or take a leave of absence from school?" she asked at last.
"To stay occupied, I think," he said. "But I would wish for your company, or Jonathan's. Everyone else..." He sighed. "They mean well. But no one else understands. They don't know what to say, so they say too much, or nothing at all."
She regarded him speculatively for a moment. "I have several projects that need attention. I will be directing my focus toward them for the time being, working here in our quarters. If you would care to assist me—"
"Gladly," he said at once, with relief.
She was studying him again. "Will you be able to sleep tonight?"
"No," he answered, matter-of-factly.
She did not seem at all surprised. "Very well. There is a task we can begin immediately. It will take us away from this sanctuary, but considering the time of night, I do not regard our venturing out to be a detriment."
Lorian glanced at the wall chronometer. It was almost midnight. They'd been here for hours. "I don't mind, as long as I'm with you. Where are we going?"
"The Observation Lounge. The size of the floor facilitates effective instruction."
He realized with a shock what she was proposing. "The dance lessons."
"You did ask your father to instruct you," she reminded him. "I can teach you in his place...if you still wish it."
Lorian's first reaction was—No! He couldn't bear the thought of it. He never wanted to dance, ever, not now. He never wanted to look upon it again, not if he couldn't see his parents dancing.
But in the next instant, he found himself wanting it desperately, more than anything. It was the last activity he and his father had planned to do together. His parents had treasured it. It was a legacy, in a way.
His throat was tight with emotion; he didn't trust himself to speak. Wordlessly, he nodded. His mother held out her hand, as she had for the past several days, and he took it.
Their footfalls were uncommonly loud in the silent corridors, empty save for the faint shadows cast by lights dimmed for nighttime.
The Observation Lounge seemed huge to Lorian, bare and lonely. The last time they'd been here, the room had been filled with people, talking, laughing, dancing. How long since the dance—three days? It seemed like minutes ago, and years ago...the memory still fresh, but the pain of loss deep enough to have already lasted his whole life.
"Is there a particular dance you wish to learn first?" his mother asked.
He answered without needing to think. "The waltz. It was my favorite."
He saw a sweet sadness come to her eyes. "Ours as well." She led him to the center of the dance floor, positioning his hands in the correct hold. "It is a simple step. For the purposes of instruction, I shall lead initially..."
Even after days of taking actions based on Trip's death, Jon hadn't yet fully accepted that his friend was gone.
He'd called Anna Hess into his ready room and named her Chief Engineer, with the both of them still in a fog of disbelief. Ever since Lorian had shown his father's aptitude for engineering, everyone had assumed that he would succeed Trip as Chief. Anna had taken the post by saying simply, "I'll just keep it warm, sir. For Lorian."
Jon had tried to move forward. He had thrown himself into his work, monitoring the decontamination of engineering, overseeing the repairs to the damage wrought by the anomaly. He had railed furiously against the gods, and wept more tears than he thought possible, as the shock wore off and the ache of loss settled deep into his bones, there to stay.
No Trip to laugh with, to share with, to lean on. Jon tried to imagine it, and failed completely.
He hadn't slept, not a wink. He had spent hours staring at Henry and Esilia asleep in their beds, wondering what would happen if his son were suddenly left fatherless, if his wife were made a widow. He had prowled the corridors, looking for...for what? For Trip's ghost? For closure? For peace? Surely not that; there could be no peace now. But he couldn't rest, couldn't stay still, couldn't shut his brain off. So he kept looking.
He had reached C-Deck this night, and was heading aft, when he heard it...faint, lilting strains of music. The "Sleeping Beauty Waltz." It had been the last song at the dance a few nights ago; it was one of Trip and T'Pol's favorites. Jon remembered watching the two of them twirling gracefully around the dance floor that evening, as they had on so many evenings. They had been two halves of one whole, one heart, one soul.
He followed the music, like a sailor drawn to a siren's call. It was coming from the Observation Lounge. Hesitantly, he peeked inside.
T'Pol was waltzing with Lorian, the stars their only other witnesses. He led her around the room slowly, with the care of a novice, but with his father's natural grace. He made a handsome dancer, lithe and slender, almost as tall as his mother.
Jon saw the glitter of tears in T'Pol's eyes. And Lorian...he was lost in the music and the memories, his tears flowing freely as he waltzed with his mother, his movements growing more fluid and confident at every turn.
Then Jon's breath caught as he saw what he'd been searching for these last three days. It gave him a spark of hope, and a sense of peace that he thought he'd never know again.
Lorian was smiling.