Story #5 in the Reconnecting Series
Genre: Trip/T'Pol, Trip/Archer friendship, ensemble
Rating: PG-13, for a coupla cuss words
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," plus references to "Borderland."
Summary: Sequel to my story "Reaching Out." T'Pol receives her Starfleet commission. Angst-free celebratory fluff.
A/N: This story incorporates an element from an early draft of "Home" that was ultimately cut from the final version: a line of dialogue in which Trip tells T'Pol that he thought she looked good in red.
Thanks to my betas slj91 and Jenna for invaluable input.
The Starfleet brass were dead set on putting T'Pol in a standard-issue blue crew uniform. The High Command was equally adamant that she adopt attire that reflected her native Vulcan culture and traditions. Finally T'Pol suggested a compromise, with tactfulness that would have put both sides to shame, had they taken a moment to think about it.
History never recorded that T'Pol's first act, as soon-to-be Starfleet Commander and groundbreaking symbol of the strengthening alliance between Earth and Vulcan, was to avert open warfare over the design of her uniform.
Her second act was to inform Admiral Forrest, calmly but firmly, that she would participate in the ceremony being planned for her only if it included all other members of the crew who were receiving promotions. Trip and Archer got to watch that one, hiding out of range of T'Pol's viewscreen. They agreed afterward that it was one of her finest moments.
Archer and Trip arrived at Starfleet HQ's cavernous reception hall a few minutes before the ceremony's kickoff. The room was packed to the rafters with cameras and press, dignitaries, officials, and families of the honorees.
There was a section in the center for Enterprise crewmembers who had come to cheer on their mates. Attendance wasn't mandatory, since many of the crew were still officially on leave, but they were all here—every single one who had made it back from the Expanse. Even Mackenzie and her MACOs were present, looking spit-and-polish in their spotless gray camo, though they seemed oddly underdressed without pulse rifles in their hands.
The dozen honorees were still out of sight. They would be entering from a side room as their names were announced, for maximum theatricality—the PR department's idea.
Archer climbed onto the dais down in front, giving Trip a hand up. "So?"
"So...what?" Trip inquired.
"So—her uniform! What does her uniform look like?" Archer prompted.
Trip shrugged. "Beats me."
"Stop messing with me. I'm your captain. Your best friend. You can tell me."
"Cap'n, she hasn't told me anything."
Archer frowned in confusion. "Did I miss something again? You're Trip Tucker...she's T'Pol...you two are—"
"—Just friends," Trip finished pointedly.
"Well, of course. But close friends. Special friends. Friends who don't keep secrets from each other." Archer waited, but Trip just chewed on his lower lip. "C'mon, Trip, she must have been wearing it this morning."
"Didn't see her this morning."
This was getting weird. "You meet her for breakfast every morning."
"Not this morning," Trip said, with a touch of irritation. "I found a message from her on my terminal when I got up. She said she'd see me at the ceremony. That's it."
Archer was crestfallen. "I thought, of all people, you'd have the inside track."
"So did I," Trip replied glumly.
Oops. Archer shifted gears, trying to cheer his friend up. "Maybe she's just steering clear of the press until the last possible moment."
"Maybe," Trip muttered doubtfully. "Or maybe she finally had enough of being way up on that high wire we've been dancin' on since she got back."
"Stop talking nonsense. I haven't seen her this happy in...well, ever."
Trip cocked an eyebrow. "Probably because she's Vulcan, Cap'n, and she wouldn't—"
"You know what I mean! She finds your company 'most agreeable'."
Finally, Trip perked up a little. "Yeah?"
Trip's tongue lolled around inside his cheek. "I dunno, Cap'n. Just a couple months ago, you were an obsessed, guilt-ridden, suicidal wreck."
"I'm better now, smartass," Archer retorted. "And if you keep talking like that, I'll have you mucking out plasma casings for a year, Ensign Tucker."
Trip drew back in mock outrage. "Oh, I get it. He who giveth out promotions can taketh promotions away, ith that it?"
Over Trip's shoulder, Archer saw the big double doors opening, admitting the last group of dignitaries. He turned Trip around. "Look. It'll cheer you up."
Trip looked—and saw Ambassador Cranky himself entering the hall. Soval was draped in formal diplomatic regalia and trailed by several stone-faced Vulcan attendants. They took the last remaining cluster of empty seats, refusing to meet anyone's eyes.
"I was wondering when he would get around to gracing us with his presence," Archer hmmphed. "Nothing like a disruptive, last-second entrance to show everybody how he really feels."
Trip was already smiling. "Damn. He looks so...pissed."
Archer studied the old Vulcan diplomat with a critical eye. "Y'know, Trip, I do believe the Ambassador is going to have kittens."
Trip nodded appreciatively. "It's moments like this that make you realize that putting up with his crap for thirty years was worth it. I'm gettin' all misty."
"I don't think I've ever seen him quite that shade of green before," Archer remarked.
"Jealousy, Cap'n. Green with jealousy. His protégée belongs to us now."
Archer chuckled wickedly. "Who says Vulcans don't have nightmares?"
Lofty music started playing from somewhere, and Archer and Trip took their places. The ceremony was underway.
Captain Archer had the honor of awarding the promotions. Commander Tucker stood at the captain's right hand, since Enterprise's first officer was one of the promotees.
As Trip called out each name with a flourish, the honoree entered the hall and mounted the dais, to applause from the crowd—in the case of relatives and Enterprise crew, wild applause punctuated by whoops and whistles. Archer pinned shiny new pips on the uniform of each crew member—Watson from Life Sciences, Daystrom from Computing, Baker from Security, Rostov from Engineering—as he murmured a few personal words of appreciation to each of them, in thanks for their contribution to Enterprise, and especially to the success of the Xindi mission.
The newly-appointed Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed stood smartly at attention as Archer pinned on his new pips. "Thank you, Lieutenant Commander, for being the warrior Enterprise needed at Tactical when she was pressed into service as a warship."
He took Malcolm's hand in a warm handshake. Malcolm's British reserve didn't allow him even to crack a smile, but his eyes shone with pride as he nodded. "It's an honor, Captain, to serve with you."
Archer gave Lieutenant Travis Mayweather a wry half-smile as he shook the helmsman's hand. "Lieutenant, I must confess that while I was piloting that blasted Xindi ship through Azati Prime's ocean, I sorely wished for your instincts."
Travis answered with a confidence he hadn't had three years ago. "With respect, Captain...I suggest you let me do the piloting next time, sir."
After Archer pinned Lieutenant's bars on Hoshi Sato, he took her hand in both of his and studied her for a moment without saying anything, noting the still-healing scars on her temples and the not-quite faded shadows under her eyes. Softly, he said, "Hoshi, you taught me the true meaning of grace under pressure."
Hoshi, visibly moved, put her other hand over his. "Thank you, Captain."
She took her place in line with the other honorees on the dais as Trip announced the final officer to be promoted: "T'Pol of Vulcan—Commander."
The door opened, and in strode T'Pol. She was sporting a gleaming new Enterprise patch on her left arm. Blue piping along her shoulders designated her a member of the Sciences department. But it was the rest of her uniform that everyone was staring at. It was the same sleek design as the form-fitting civilian jumpsuits she had worn for the last year, which was itself an attention-getter. Then there was the color.
Red. Vivid, vermilion red.
Trip gaped. Breathing was not an option.
Archer wasn't doing much better. "Holy shit," he breathed. Behind him, he heard Hoshi giggle. He cleared his throat, endeavoring to regain his Official Captainly Deportment, and glanced over at Trip. "You're gonna catch flies."
Trip blinked, clapped his mouth shut, and managed to recover some semblance of dignity.
T'Pol smoothly climbed the steps to the dais, displaying not a whit of self-consciousness, serenely above all the hoopla. She stood at calm attention as Archer pinned her commander's pips on her uniform. "Welcome to Starfleet, Commander T'Pol." More quietly, he added, "And may I say, you are the very embodiment of Zefram Cochrane's words 'to go boldly'."
T'Pol nodded, her expression all innocence. "The uniform does conform to the parameters agreed upon by both Starfleet and the Vulcan High Command."
Archer smothered a smile. "But not in the way they expected, I'll bet. Touché, Commander." He didn't offer his hand; Vulcans were no fans of hand shaking. But to his surprise, T'Pol offered hers. Pleased, he shook it...hearing every camera in the place snapping away as he did so.
T'Pol then held her hand out to Trip. He took it, but didn't let go right away. "Red. It looks good on you," he said lightly.
"So I've been told," T'Pol responded, matching his tone.
Archer didn't know what she was talking about, but he could tell from the shy smile Trip gave her that those two sure as hell did.
T'Pol took her place at the end of the line of honorees, and Archer turned to the audience. "We salute these exemplary men and women of the Starship Enterprise." The huge room filled with applause.
Afterward, everybody mingled, sipping punch and nibbling on hors d'oeuvres. Naturally, T'Pol was the focus of the most attention, receiving an endless string of well-wishers with patience and grace.
As Archer and Trip fielded questions about Enterprise's improvements, the captain noticed his friend sneaking glances at T'Pol now and again. She was a couple of knots of people away at the moment, conversing with a group of Starfleet brass.
Archer nudged Trip. "You're not staring at her, are you? With the eyes of the world trained on you?"
Trip started. "No, no. Not me." A bit sheepishly, he turned his back on T'Pol. "Besides, the cameras are all on her anyway."
"She's been handling the attention a lot better the last few days," Archer continued. "Do you have anything to do with that?"
Trip shrugged it off. "Aw, I've just been talking to her some, letting her blow off steam."
Archer nodded, pleased for them both. "That's good."
There was a bit of commotion nearby—Soval and his lackeys were heading for the exit, and making quite a show of it. Even T'Pol was glancing in their direction. As they passed, Archer got a devilish gleam in his eye. "Ambassador! Leaving so soon?"
Soval paused. Reluctantly. "My schedule is extremely busy."
"Of course," Archer nodded. "We're fortunate that you could be here to watch history being made. The Vulcan High Command must be very proud."
Soval turned another interesting shade of green.
Trip couldn't resist joining in on the fun. Indicating T'Pol, he asked innocently, "What do you think of her uniform, Ambassador?"
Soval drew himself up, oozing haughty disapproval. "Garish. Undignified. I am most dissatisfied." And with that impressively arrogant nose-in-the-air move that he did to absolute perfection, he swept imperiously out of the hall, his retinue of solemn shadows in tow.
Archer waited for what was sure to be a colorful burst of indignation from his chief engineer in T'Pol's defense. Surprisingly, though, Trip's expression was absolutely beatific. "Well," he said pleasantly. "That suits me right down to the ground."
Archer burst out laughing—a deep, gut-busting roar that went on and on, until he was holding onto Trip for support, gasping and wiping tears from his eyes.
For Trip, Archer's laughing fit was sweet evidence that his friend was continuing to heal from the horrors he had put himself through in the Expanse. Trip glanced around, but they were drawing only cursory glances from most of the crowd. Just Captain Archer enjoying a good knee-slapper.
But the Enterprise crew was watching Archer. Every last one of them. Trip saw a myriad of emotions on their faces—surprise, relief, awe. And in every expression, he saw gladness.
One by one now, they were excusing themselves from whomever they were talking to, family and dignitary alike, and making their way toward their captain. By the time Archer straightened, still chuckling, he and Trip were surrounded by a sea of Enterprise blue and MACO gray. Plus one in deliciously undignified vermilion red.
Beyond them, the press had finally caught on to the extraordinary gathering, and had started pointing their cameras to capture it.
Archer turned in a slow circle, taking a moment to meet the eyes of each and every one of his crew. At last he spoke, his voice rough with emotion. "I am so glad to be in your company today...to be part of this crew." His words were met by smiles, nods of respect, raised glasses in salute.
He turned to the nearest crewwoman—Carson, from Astrometrics. "Carson, where've you been the last two months?"
"With my sister, sir," Carson replied. She pulled a padd of pictures from her pocket. "I'm an aunt!"
Archer beamed at the pictures of the tiny, pink-bowed baby and her proud parents. "What's her name?"
"She's beautiful." Archer handed the padd back with a nod of thanks, then looked beyond Carson to the next crewman. "And you, Patrice?"
Patrice grinned enthusiastically. "White-water rafting on the Colorado River."
"Aw! I've always wanted to do that."
"You'd love it, sir."
"You have pictures?" Archer asked hopefully.
"You bet, sir."
"Good. I want a look." Archer searched the crowd. "Where's Gordon?"
A hand shot up. "Here, Captain."
"When you get back aboard, see about putting up some kind of wall display in the mess hall, for any pictures the crew might want to put up for everyone to see."
"You got it, sir!"
Archer nodded and moved on to a slender young woman. "O'Leary! You gained some weight. About time." There was general laughter, and O'Leary blushed.
Trip backed unobtrusively out of the circle. This was the captain's time to be with his crew. As Trip reached the perimeter, he found T'Pol standing there, having done the same thing he had. They both watched in satisfied silence for a moment...their captain and friend, and the crew of Enterprise, reconnecting.
Trip glanced around the great hall. Everyone else was watching, too. He turned to T'Pol. "Commander, I don't believe I see a single camera aimed in your direction."
T'Pol looked relieved. "That...suits me right down to the ground."
Trip laughed out loud. He'd forgotten about her keen sense of hearing. "How about some fresh air?"
She nodded, and they strolled toward the exit. "I look forward to a peaceful return to anonymity," T'Pol commented.
"If it's anonymity you're after, you'd better pick another color for that uniform, Commander," Trip advised.
"In truth, I would prefer Starfleet blue," T'Pol admitted. "Unfortunately, several senior members of Starfleet expressed their enthusiasm for my current choice...especially when Ambassador Soval's disapproval became apparent."
"Never underestimate the capacity for supposedly wise senior officials to become squabbling little children, T'Pol."
"Indeed." She looked dismayed. "I may be obliged to adopt this color permanently."
"Y'mean I'll be forced to look at you in this comely red outfit every day?" Trip grimaced in mock agony. "How will I manage it?"
T'Pol's eyebrow arched with dry amusement as the pair pushed through the double doors into the brilliant sunshine. "I am sure, Commander, that you will find a way."