Genre: Drama, Trip/T'Pol, episode addition
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 through Zero Hour. The Xindi superweapon has been destroyed, and Enterprise is on her way home...but Porthos has lost his best friend. As Trip and T'Pol console the lonely dog, and each other, over the loss of the captain, barriers between them fall away, and a long-held secret is revealed.
A/N: This story was originally a submission to Strange New Worlds 10. Thanks to my betas boushh and TJ.
Trip didn't dare sleep, for fear of the nightmares that awaited him.
Part of him kept expecting the captain to turn up miraculously alive, battered but unbowed, just as he'd managed to do time and again. He had a knack for cheating death. But Trip knew, despite his hoping, that there would be no rescue this time, no eleventh-hour reversal. He'd played the data disc Malcolm had brought back from Degra's ship, seen the footage of the superweapon's destruction. No escape pods, no survivors. Earth and the rest of the universe were safe from the Sphere-Builders, but Jonathan Archer, hero, was gone.
Enterprise was finally on her way home, secured within the belly of a huge, sleek Xindi aquatic ship. Trip was in engineering, now a proud wreck, her systems blown to pieces in order to collapse the Guardians' sphere network. Even with the power cells provided by the Xindi, there was more than enough to keep Trip, and his thoughts, plenty occupied.
The only time he stopped was to eat—it kept him from falling asleep—and to check on Porthos. The beagle seemed to know that Archer wasn't coming back; he hadn't eaten since the captain had left him with Phlox. The doctor had given Trip permission to feed Porthos anything, just to get him eating. So Trip circled by the mess hall every chance he could, to grab some steak, liver, cheese—anything that looking tempting and irresistible, even to a lonely, broken-hearted dog. So far, no luck.
The lights were dimmed for nighttime when Trip entered sickbay with a fresh serving of roast beef. The place was quiet, with only an occasional squeak coming from Phlox's menagerie. Trip maneuvered between the banks of cages to the corner where the doctor had put Porthos' cushion...and stopped in mute astonishment.
T'Pol was sitting cross-legged on the cushion with Porthos curled in her lap. He was nibbling at some dry kibble she held in her hand, as she stroked his head, over and over, rhythmically, almost hypnotically.
And me without my camera.
"Well, I'll be," Trip said in gentle greeting. "How'd you get him to eat?"
As T'Pol raised her head to reply, Trip saw tears on her face. They were even more startling to him than the dog in her lap. "My training as a diplomat has provided me with many persuasive tools." Her voice was soft, strained with emotion.
Trip had witnessed some wild mood swings in T'Pol since Azati Prime. She hadn't admitted to anything more than being "slightly emotional," but she'd hinted that there was something more to it than simply the stress of the mission. When he'd offered to listen if she ever wanted to talk, she'd seemed open to the idea...even "slightly emotional" about it, but in a good way. She hadn't said anything yet, but he'd been waiting, and hoping that she would.
Taking a seat on the floor beside her, Trip reached up to her cheek, catching one of her tears on the tip of his finger. "I never would have guessed that these were part of your arsenal."
T'Pol didn't flinch from his touch, or try to hide her tears. "A resourceful diplomat uses whatever method proves effective."
Trip nodded. "This one's pretty powerful. It'd work on me."
She looked directly at him. "In that case, Commander, since I have observed you working with virtually no rest for the past several days, you will not return to engineering upon leaving sickbay. You will instead proceed to your quarters and endeavor to sleep for the remainder of the journey to Earth."
Trip gaped at her. He'd been had, but good.
T'Pol's gaze didn't waver. For a moment, she was the implacable Vulcan officer of old, arching one elegant eyebrow in a triumphant, wordless gotcha.
"Aye, ma'am," Trip responded crisply, forcing his pride down his throat in one difficult swallow. Then he hesitated, chewing on his lower lip. But I refuse to dream. "I'll just have Phlox give me something before I go."
T'Pol's expression softened. "You fear nightmares about the captain."
He nodded. "I keep picturing him...wondering how he died. I close my eyes to try and block out the images, but they just follow me into the dark." He reached out to pet Porthos. "I can see him on the superweapon...fighting off who knows how many of those Reptilian sons of bitches. Did he go down fighting, stabbed to death by that bastard Dolim, like Degra was? Did he know he'd succeeded, that Earth and the universe were safe, when the weapon blew all to hell and gone around him? Was he at peace?" T'Pol's hand closed gently over his as he stroked the dog. "Did he see death coming? Did it hurt?..." He swallowed hard; there were tears caught in his throat. "It's like Elizabeth all over again."
"No," T'Pol said sharply, making him look up. Her gaze was intense. "It is not. Your sister was an innocent victim of the Xindi attack. Jonathan Archer was a Starfleet officer. He died as he lived, with courage and honor, in service to Earth, and Vulcan—to all worlds—" She stopped, fresh tears brimming in her eyes.
Trip had never seen her like this. She looked as if she were going to shatter into a million pieces. He wanted to comfort her, but with things between them still undefined, he wasn't sure he knew how.
Then he remembered what she had done a few days ago, up on C-Deck, when he had finally given in to his grief over Lizzie. T'Pol had put her hand on his shoulder, her touch tender but strong, in support. That simple demonstration of compassion had helped soothe his aching soul, and made him feel closer to this woman than in all the years he'd known her, even closer than on their single, glorious night together a couple of months ago.
He reached out now, taking her shoulder, trying to convey with his touch that he shared her sorrow. She shut her eyes, and another tear slipped down her cheek. Then, amazingly, she began leaning toward him. He followed her lead, letting his hand slide along her back, until his arm was around her shoulders and her head was resting in the crook of his neck.
He didn't move. He hardly breathed. He didn't want to break the spell. He held her, stroking her shoulder soothingly, as he felt his uniform growing damp with her tears.
In her lap, Porthos began to snore softly.
After a time, her breathing evened out. "Thank you." She didn't sit up, but remained nestled against him.
"I guess you haven't had much chance to meditate lately," he said.
He felt her sigh against him. "I have. It has had little effect on my current condition."
...My current condition. Trip could feel his heart starting to beat faster. She was going to tell him. She was finally going to talk to him.
"Apparently the damage was too severe," she went on.
He took care to keep his voice calm and steady. "Damage?"
"I have suffered permanent neurological impairment. My ability to suppress emotions has been compromised..." She paused, clearly deliberating, before resolutely continuing. "...due to my exposure to trellium-D."
"Trellium-D?" That was months ago, back when Enterprise had found the Vulcan ship, the Seleya, adrift in an asteroid field thick with trellium ore. But T'Pol's erratic emotional behavior hadn't caught Trip's attention until a couple of weeks ago, before the battle at Azati Prime. It didn't make any sense. "I don't understand. You weren't on the Seleya long enough. Phlox was able to regenerate your synaptic pathways, right? If you were only exposed to trellium-D the one time—"
He stopped. T'Pol was tense in his embrace now, looking at the floor. He stayed silent, and waited.
After what seemed like an eternity, she began to speak, her voice so soft that he almost had to stop breathing to hear her. "In the days following my time on the Seleya, as I was recovering, I realized that I was able to access certain emotions...emotions that I had been taught from childhood to suppress by second nature. Being able to experience these feelings at will, without being hampered by a lifetime of inhibitions, was...exhilarating."
A lifetime of inhibitions...Trip thought of Lorian and his easy, spontaneous smile. Lorian had not been a slave to Vulcan inhibitions; he'd had a human father. Another Trip, in another timeline, long ago.
T'Pol's body was subtly trembling now, with the effort brought on by her confession. Trip tightened his hold on her, silently reassuring her that he wouldn't let go.
"When the effects of the trellium-D wore off completely," she went on, "so did my access to the emotions. I found that I wished them to be within reach again..." She trailed off.
There was no need for her to go any further. Trip tried to take a deep breath, and couldn't. "You exposed yourself to trellium-D...deliberately."
Almost imperceptibly, she nodded.
"Why?" His voice was shaking, the same way her body was trembling in his arms. "Why risk your sanity, your life, just to feel?"
He almost thought she was going to smile. Her expression stopped just short of that, at an ironic upturning of the lips. "For humans, the expression of passion is innate. It is difficult to explain to you what it is to be Vulcan, possessed of passions so powerful that they can destroy us. We spend a large measure of our childhood training to suppress our passions, so they will be inaccessible, even under great stress. We meditate daily to keep them under tight rein. Our culture even teaches us that emotion is shameful, not to be spoken of."
She looked up at him, her face open and unguarded. "That is who I was, before the trellium stripped away the layers of training and taboo, and allowed me to feel, without reprisal..." As she spoke, her countenance transformed into something ethereal and transcendent. It took Trip's breath away. "There is a reference in your religious mythos regarding the tasting of forbidden fruit."
Trip was beginning to understand. Slowly, he nodded. "Are you still doing it?" he asked quietly.
She shook her head.
"Is the damage reversible?"
"I will never fully recover," she said slowly, as if repeating a statement she'd been told by someone else. "These emotions will be with me the rest of my life."
Trip ran his free hand through his hair. It was a lot for him to take in; he couldn't even imagine the adjustment T'Pol was trying to make. "Are you ready for that?"
Her mouth worked for a long time before she answered. "I am uncertain. Needless to say, I received no preparation for this eventuality." She looked touchingly vulnerable to him. "My only recourse is to find outlets for the emotions, until I better adjust to their presence."
"Outlets." Trip touched her damp cheek lightly with his fingers. "Like your secret weapon?"
Her gazed dropped. "Yes."
He stroked her shoulder. "Or talking things out with a friend?"
She met his eyes again, and he saw gratitude shining in those sable depths. "Yes."
He glanced at Porthos, still asleep in her lap. "Even getting a lonely dog to eat can be..." Suddenly he couldn't talk around the lump in his throat, as the loss of the captain came crashing down on him again. He saw new tears spring to T'Pol's eyes as she, too, looked down at the beagle. Trip felt her arm slide around his waist and hesitantly pull him closer. Taking his cue from her again, he gathered her in his arms.
"He'll be fine." Her words were a soft whisper against his cheek. "It's just a matter of time."
Optimism from a Vulcan? It sounded more like something Phlox would say. Maybe it was part of the adjustment T'Pol was making. Maybe, like the rest of them, she needed to believe that things would look less nightmarish tomorrow. The thought made Trip want to smile and weep at the same time.
The two of them held each other far into the night, while Porthos slept on peacefully between them.