Story #4 in the Reconnecting Series
Genre: Trip/T'Pol romance, drama
Rating: PG-13, for a bit o' language
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 "Remembering." T'Pol stumbles. Trip is there to catch her.
A/N: Thank you kindly for your reviews for the first few stories in the series. They are much appreciated.
Beta work for this next story was done again by my stalwart slj91.
It all happened because of that damned commission.
Up to that point, Trip was pleasantly surprised at how well things were going between him and T'Pol since she returned to Enterprise. Having wordlessly agreed to move forward together, rather than apart, they simply never passed up an opportunity to be in each other's company. They teamed up to monitor the ship's repairs and upgrades, gravitated to the same table in the mess hall, even sat together on Movie Night—which Archer had started up to the delight of the repair crews.
By mutual unspoken accord, neither ever mentioned Koss or the marriage.
As the weeks went by, and Enterprise got more busy and crowded with crewmembers returning from leave and repairs stepping up, Trip found himself feeling quite comfortable with T'Pol, all things considered. Well...except for having to ignore the elephant in the room. Or as Trip dryly thought of it, the big ol' skunk in the room.
That, and the fact that he never dared touch T'Pol.
Part of him thought he was being foolish. You hugged Hoshi when she got back, didn't you? And you don't think anything of clapping Malcolm on the shoulder or taking the captain's arm when you're making a point to him. Friends touch friends all the time.
But there was no one else whose touch sent a sweet, hot flush of molten fire coursing through him, melting his heart as it went. No one except T'Pol. He'd felt it even when he kissed her on the cheek, the night after she returned. He knew she needed his touch then, and he gave it willingly, but it had almost undone him. It had taken every last ounce of self-control he had to pull away from her and saunter on his way, casual-like.
This was crazy, being with her every possible second, all the while knowing he had to hold back...knowing he could never be as close to her as he wanted to be. But it was infinitely preferable to not being with her at all.
He wondered sometimes if it was too hard on T'Pol. He still saw flashes of emotion flare off of her now and again, even though the stress of the Expanse was well behind them. He worried that something was way off kilter with her. But she didn't say anything about it, and she seemed as determined as he was to spend time together. So he did his best to set his concern aside.
Until the news about T'Pol joining Starfleet broke, and all hell broke loose with it.
T'Pol had expected to assume her new commander's rank without fanfare. However, Starfleet wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to milk every last drop of publicity from the history-making event. Within hours of the announcement—the first-ever Vulcan member of Starfleet!—the PR department went into overdrive, planning an elaborate ceremony with a live, planetwide feed. The press pounced on the story like rabid dogs, trailing T'Pol everywhere, peppering her with intrusive questions, photographing her endlessly.
After a day, T'Pol had had quite enough of being in a fishbowl. She retreated to Enterprise and stayed there. But reporters came aboard and tracked her down, no matter where she went. Trip did what he could to run interference for her, designating most areas of the ship "restricted to crew" and running off the PR weasels and press hounds he found skulking around. Nevertheless, T'Pol was inundated by messages—polite entreaties from Admiral Forrest to cooperate with the press, strongly-worded "suggestions" from Ambassador Soval to turn the commission down, interview requests, fan mail. Even a few marriage proposals, and more than a few indecent propositions.
Trip never heard a word of complaint from T'Pol, but he noticed her growing more tense and frustrated with each passing day. She ate little and slept even less. She was so busy hiding out from reporters and fighting off the mounting barrage of messages that she couldn't get any work done. Finally Archer banned all non-Starfleet personnel from Enterprise altogether, citing "safety concerns." He had also noticed T'Pol's deteriorating emotional control.
Trip figured things would go easier—but then he didn't see her all day. He went to the mess hall to meet her for dinner as usual, but she wasn't there. He was about to hail her on the comm when a crewman from Maintenance came in, gossiping to a buddy that he'd seen T'Pol "go bonkers" over some sensors that wouldn't calibrate properly, then stalk off the bridge, cursing a blue streak in Vulcan. The crewman clammed up as soon as he saw Commander Tucker—but Trip had heard enough to know that T'Pol had reached critical mass. She wouldn't answer his comm hails, though. Finally he had Hoshi locate her with the ship's sensors.
He found the door to T'Pol's quarters wide open, her comm unit ripped off the wall. T'Pol was backed up against her desk, glaring with barely-controlled fury at two men who hovered over her like vultures, one with an audio recorder thrust in her face, the other snapping away at her with a camera.
"What the HELL is goin' on here?" Trip thundered.
The reporters—they had to be reporters—barely gave him a glance as they whipped out credentials and flashed them. Starfleet Public Relations. God only knew where they'd gotten creds, much less how they'd managed to get on board. "Official business," one said.
Trip snatched away one of the passes and squinted at it. "Doesn't say here that you have the right to invade a crewmember's privacy."
"She's news," the second guy said, as if Trip were an imbecile. "Hottest story since Zefram Cochrane taught a Vulcan how to shake hands. We have every right to cover her."
Trip grabbed their camera and recorder and dumped them in T'Pol's wall disposal unit. The two idiots made a grab for their stuff—too late. "Hey!—"
Trip turned a fierce glare on them. "You gave up all your rights the second you stepped through that doorway." He pulled his communicator out of his sleeve pocket. "Tucker to Reed."
Malcolm responded with his characteristic smooth efficiency. "Reed here, sir."
"Malcolm, I need you and a security team to do a sweep of E-Deck—we spotted some riffraff down here. Just want to make sure they got their asses off the ship."
"Very good, sir."
"And if you find any civilians," Trip continued, "toss 'em in the brig till further notice. On my authority."
"At once, sir," Reed replied crisply.
"Tucker out." Trip folded his arms and regarded the riffraff coolly. "I'd say you have a good thirty seconds head start."
The reporters reminded Trip of an old Keystone Kops movie as they scrambled out of the cabin. With satisfaction, he shut the door and locked it.
T'Pol was turned away now, gripping her computer monitor. Even from across the room, Trip could see her whole body shaking with bottled-up emotion.
He studied the pieces of comm panel littering the floor. "Had a little problem with the comm, I take it."
"I required silence," she rumbled.
He edged around until he could see her face. The ferocity there startled him. She was clutching the monitor so tightly that the frame was bent.
"I don't wish to be a historic symbol," she seethed. "Or a celebrity. Or…" —disgust now— "…a pin-up."
Trip winced. If this was the kind of crap she'd been putting up with, it was a wonder she'd lasted this long without tossing some nosy asshole out an airlock.
"But there are many who are depending on me to comport myself with honor," she went on tightly. "Captain Archer, Admiral Forrest, Ambassador Soval..."
"T'Pol, if you ask me, you shoulda given those two jokers the comm-panel treatment."
"I was tempted. It would have been so easy to twist their heads off..." Her fingers tightened further—and with a crack the monitor snapped clean off its support and clattered across the desk, as torn connection cables spat and sparked in protest.
T'Pol froze, aghast, staring at the mangled monitor, then at her shaking hands.
Hoo boy. It's worse than I thought. Trip took a cautious step toward her. "T'Pol?" he ventured carefully, keeping the concern out of his voice. "You all right?"
"No." Her voice was almost plaintive now. She sank into her chair, folding in on herself—head bowed, shoulders slumped, hands twisted into knots in her lap. She was still trembling.
She looked so small, so fragile. God, how he wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her. "Maybe...if you meditated..."
She shook her head. "It won't help. I've tried. It hasn't helped for a long time." He heard an edge of despair in her voice that was heartrending.
Slowly, he knelt beside her, moving into her line of sight. He waited until she focused on him. She looked frightened, and ashamed, and very vulnerable. Quickly, she cast her eyes downward.
He was entering very dangerous territory, he knew. But she was about to shatter into a million pieces. She needed an anchor.
He kept his voice soft. "Darlin', I don't know what's happening with you, what's been happening. But...I'm here. What can I do?"
At first she didn't move. Trip held his breath. He felt as if he were hanging by his fingertips over a bottomless abyss. One slip, and he was lost. But he knew that, at this moment, he would do whatever she asked of him, without hesitation.
At last T'Pol brought her gaze up to meet his again. She searched his face, saw his willingness, his certainty. She looked awestruck. Her huge brown eyes shimmered with unshed tears, and she swallowed hard. Then one of her hands unclenched itself and slid off her lap, inching its way along her thigh until it rested on her knee, palm up.
Without breaking eye contact, Trip brought his hand up...and for the first time in weeks, he touched her, clasping her hand in his. After so long, the white-hot flush that rocketed through him almost knocked him over with its intensity. He hadn't felt it this powerfully since the first time she had kissed him. He let it roar through him like a wildfire, and just held on.
Through her hand, he could feel her entire body shuddering, her heart pounding, her breaths coming in ragged gasps. Her grip was so tight, he was sure she'd break every bone in his hand, but he didn't care. He matched her strength, making sure she knew he was there, solid and strong.
She looked down at their joined hands, transfixed. Slowly, her trembling eased, her pulse quieted, and her breathing calmed. Her viselike hold on him relaxed, and he felt pins and needles in his hand as the blood begin to circulate again. Her voice was hushed and tentative when she finally began to speak. "My exposure to trellium-D in the Expanse resulted in...some damage."
Trip sensed a lot more to the story than that, but it didn't matter. Clearly, it was all T'Pol could do to get this much out. "What kind of damage?" he asked.
"My neural pathways were eroded, impairing my ability to suppress emotions."
That explained a lot about what Trip had seen the last several weeks. He understood why she hadn't told him, but it still frustrated the hell out of him to know she'd been struggling for so long. He wanted to hug her and strangle her at the same time. All he said was, "Is there any treatment?"
She shook her head. "The effect is permanent. My only recourse is to adjust to the presence of the emotions." A small sigh escaped her. "It has been...difficult."
"Well sure, if you don't tell anybody!" Trip blurted. T'Pol flinched, and he mentally kicked himself. "Aw, hell. I'm sorry. I'm not angry with you...exactly. I'm angry at the situation." He softened. "You've been trying to deal with this all by yourself?"
She nodded, almost imperceptibly.
"You don't have to," he said gently. "I don't give a damn about your fried neural pathways." He gave her hand a squeeze, smiling at her. "And I'm not goin' anywhere."
T'Pol's eyes shone with gratitude and relief. Without thinking, Trip reached out with his free hand and lightly stroked her cheek with his fingertips. He drew in a silent breath as the burning sweetness washed over him again. Then he felt another wave, as he saw T'Pol shut her eyes and lean into his touch.
God, they were both crazy. Damn that Koss anyway.
With an effort, Trip drew back from her and got to his feet. He looked from the dismembered comm panel to the broken monitor. "Looks like you're gonna have a nice quiet night. You shoulda busted this stuff up days ago."
T'Pol's lips quirked upward in wry amusement. She reminded Trip of Lorian just then...and it suddenly dawned on him why. She was smiling. It was a subtle thing, the same way her son had smiled at Trip.
Damn, she must be tired.
She raised an eyebrow, and he realized he was staring. "Oh. I've just...never seen you smile."
She didn't even try to hide it. "It is out of character," she commented, sounding a little bemused.
"Not any longer," he pointed out.
She surprised him again by offering a little half-shrug of assent. He was utterly charmed. With a wink, he added, "But I won't tell if you won't."
"Agreed." T'Pol gifted him with another little smile, and a tingle went through him. He knew he was probably the only person who would ever see such a wondrous sight.
Trip made a point of dropping by T'Pol's quarters every evening after that, to swap stories about the day and help her work through any emotional baggage she might have toted off duty, which often involved using his own past boneheaded emotional meltdowns as examples. Soon after, her meditation started helping her again, and her equilibrium returned.
It was nothing like neuropressure, but it left him feeling a lot closer to her.