Story #2 in the Reconnecting Series
Genre: Trip/Archer friendship, references to Trip/T'Pol romance
Rating: PG-13, for a bad word
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: Sequel to my story "Reconnecting." Archer sets out to learn why Trip has returned early—and alone—from Vulcan.
A/N: Following the original posting of "Reconnecting" in September 2004, several reader comments indicated an assumption that there would be a follow-up...which had never occurred to me. But after a week or so, the muse put another idea into my head, so off I went.
If this story seems familiar to some of you, the reason is Strange New Worlds. Submissions to the anthologies couldn't be already-published or AU stories, so I used elements of various Reconnecting Series stories—a phrase here, a scene there, reworked and "canon-ized" as needed—to enhance my SNW entries.
Thanks to my betas for this story, Jenna and slj91.
Spacedock, Orbiting Earth
Archer entered his ready room, routinely scanned down the day's crew manifest for the dry-docked Enterprise—and 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 with the arrival of Lorian's Enterprise. 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 saw that Trip and T'Pol were bickering playfully, rather than fighting. 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 she was noticeably less aloof around Trip. Her working relationship with him was more companionable, her sly sense of humor more evident. Then, after they'd repaired the screwed-up timeline—again—and returned safely to 2154, T'Pol had invited Trip to spend his leave with her on Vulcan. The gesture spoke volumes about the depth of her regard for him.
Archer had seen the two of them the day they had boarded the shuttle for Vulcan. Trip tried to act casual, but he was practically walking on air. T'Pol, evidently over the wild mood-swing roller-coaster-ride she'd been on lately, looked quite content to be in Trip's company.
So what the hell happened?
Archer found Trip in Engineering, 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 Elizabeth.
Archer studied his friend through the tangle. "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, as I recall."
Trip avoided Archer's gaze. "Plans changed." And he dove back into the circuitry.
"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—Koss, the aborted wedding three years ago, the fallout from P'Jem, T'Les's forced retirement, and finally T'Pol's sacrifice to restore her mother'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 immediately to Enterprise.
Archer thought the whole thing stunk. "How magnanimous of Koss's parents to offer to help out T'Pol's mother," he observed dryly. "Wouldn't surprise me if they were the ones who framed her in the first place."
"Anything to make their precious boy happy," Trip glowered. "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 hesitated. "Not in so many words."
"What did she say?"
Trip fidgeted some more. Archer waited...until it dawned on him. "You haven't talked to her?"
"I left her a note," Trip retorted 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've said anything anyway, not with Koss draggin' behind her like a box o' rocks." He sagged, looking morose. "I watched her marry the guy. The idea of hangin' around one minute longer, seeing 'em 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 softly.
"I really thought the two of us were heading somewhere..." Trip shook his head. "Doesn't matter now." He got to his feet. "So things'll be different. But I'm not gonna lose her, just because he's in the picture now. I just have to...make the shift, is all."
"Can you do that?" Archer had tried, a couple of times, to be "just friends" with ex-girlfriends. Hadn't worked for him worth shit.
Trip paused uncertainly. "I understand it, in my head. But 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," Archer continued, "when the world doesn't come to an end, you'll realize you're happy to see her. Things'll sort themselves out from there." He rose and headed out. "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 intoned solemnly, "Number seventeen: Toss him into one o' those active volcanoes they got all over Vulcan. What was the one T'Pol was gonna show me?... Mount Tar'hana."
"Barbecued Koss," Archer mused, sipping his drink. "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 announced, topping off his glass. Archer blinked in surprise, and Trip shrugged. "It was a long trip." He scowled. "'Sides, 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 stared into his drink. He didn't look convinced.
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 despite himself. "Naw. He was your typical Vulcan. Calm. Composed. Manipulative. Underhanded. Insufferably arrogant."
"Then there's nothing to worry about!" Archer declared. "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 murmured, "You thought you were surprised." The smile faded, leaving only sadness.
Archer ached for him. "What are you going to do?"
Trip gave a little shrug. "I'll be her friend."
"You could move on, you know."
Trip shook his head, 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. Which I don't."
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.
A frown shadowed Trip's brow. He chewed at a corner of his mouth. "D'you think she'll still...need me? Even as a friend?"
"More than ever," Archer replied with quiet certainty.
Trip searched Archer's face...and finally nodded, reassured. He sat back. "Y'know, I've missed this."
"You and me. Just talkin'. 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. Trip was glaring at him. "You're talkin' crap," the engineer said flatly. "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, the Xindi found out the Sphere Builders'd been playing 'em for suckers for decades." Trip 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: Koss will unwisely try to make a move on T'Pol—and quickly thereafter, he will suffer a horribly disfiguring accident and seek an immediate annulment."
Trip cracked up. Archer paused a moment to enjoy the sight, before taking a pull on his drink and plowing ahead. "Number seventy: Lock him in Sickbay with Phlox. I give him a week, tops, before the Doc's relentlessly cheerful optimism drives him completely and permanently nuts."
Now they were both laughing. Catching his breath, Trip raised his own glass. "I've got ya beat." Bourbon slopped over the rim; he was still giggling. "Number seventy-one: Stick 'im in a shuttlepod with Malcolm..."