The Land of Might-Have-Been
Story #6 in the Reconnecting Series
by HopefulR

Genre: Trip/T'Pol romance, drama, AU, character death
Rating: PG-13, for 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," plus a bit of info from "Borderland." Takes place while Enterprise is still in Spacedock during the refit.
Summary: Sequel to my story "Rejoicing." Lorian's Enterprise didn't cease to exist, but it paid a price.

A/N: This story started off in the Reconnecting (more or less canon) universe, then galloped off on its own into AU, so I gave it its head. Thankee to slj91 and Jenna for feedback.

WARNING: Emotional roller coaster ride ahead. Seat belts, everyone.


The Land of Might-Have-Been

Part I

May 2154
Spacedock, orbiting Earth

Twenty-six hours down, one hundred forty-two to go. Trip didn't know how he was possibly going to survive this torture.

T'Pol was on assignment. Gone. For a whole week.

Starfleet had packed their newly-minted Commander T'Pol off on some lame show-and-tell tour of the colonies in the system—which were feeling particularly squirrelly about Vulcans these days, in the wake of the Xindi threat. The idea was, when they laid eyes on a gen-yoo-wine Vulcan Starfleet officer, they'd relax a bit regarding Earth's standoffish, snooty, know-it-all mentors. At the very least, they'd find T'Pol more personable than, say, a cranky stone-face like Soval. Not to mention easier on the eyes.

But Trip was already going stir-crazy after only a day. Last night after he got off duty, he'd headed to her quarters for their nightly after-work chat, and was reaching for the door chime before he remembered she wasn't there. He'd gone inside anyway and sulked for a while. He lit a few of her candles, settled himself on a meditation pillow, and breathed in the faint, sweet scent of her as he watched the shadows dancing on the walls of the empty cabin.

Trip knew he was being a pathetic baby about the whole thing. It was only a week. But...he missed her. He missed working with her, bouncing ideas off her, sparring with her, sharing meals with her, sitting in companionable silence with her. T'Pol was his best friend now, just as much as Captain Archer was.

Hell, the captain was probably missing her too. First Officer, vital to ship's operations, all that. Perfectly understandable. Of course, the captain didn't suffer from the extra little complication of being in love with her.

Trip had succeeded amazingly well, he thought, in locking down that part of his heart and focusing on his friendship with T'Pol. The only time it got really tough was late at night, as he was drifting off to sleep. That was when thoughts and images would come, unbidden...haunting him about a future they were on the verge of sharing together, but would never have now.

Damn it all, he hadn't figured on falling even more in love with her after she got married.

Today, Trip was determined not to make himself crazy. He would stay busy. Really busy. Work Till You Fall On Your Face busy.

He began Hour Twenty-Seven shoehorned into the tiny service conduit behind the antimatter injector assembly in engineering, already grimy, surrounded by tools and replacement parts, happily oblivious to the outside world. The hum of the power relays drowned out his restless thoughts of T'Pol. Most of them, anyway.

He was banging away at a frozen connector when, suddenly, Rostov was dragging him out and hustling him toward the launch bay, babbling that the other Enterprise was here.

Lorian's Enterprise.

It all happened so quickly, Trip hardly had time to make any sense of it. First he was catching a glimpse through a viewport of a Xindi Aquatic ship floating off Spacedock, with Earth rotating majestically beyond...then watching the mortally-wounded, century-old NX-01 emerge from the Aquatic ship's enormous bay, and literally fall to pieces, as escape pods and shuttles abandoned her...then charging down the corridors toward the launch bay against a rising tide of ragged, radiation-burned survivors being led to sickbay by repair crews and Enterprise personnel.

He waited forever, it seemed, as the launch bay pressurized around the last craft to dock, an ancient, battle-scarred Shuttlepod One. He was through the door as soon as the gauge read green, throwing open the pockmarked hatch. He barely registered the beautiful, dark-haired young woman who gave him a quick nod of acknowledgement as she exited past him, addressing someone who had come into the bay after him. "There are 103 of us in all. Has anyone done a head count?..."

Then Trip was inside the shuttle, trying to absorb the emotional wallop of seeing Lorian again. His son was battered like the rest of them; the fight with the Kovaalans outside that subspace corridor must have been devastating. He looked exhausted, and a lot older than Trip remembered from—God, had it been only a couple of months ago?

Lorian rose from the pilot's chair and gripped Trip's arms—just holding on, for a long moment. "Father."

Trip was startled by the emotion he saw in his son's face. Relief, gladness...but also a shadow of utter grief. There was something terribly wrong—something worse than the old Enterprise giving up the ghost. "Lorian? What is it, son?"

In answer, Lorian led him to a petite, unmoving figure in the back of the shuttle, carefully bundled in blankets. Trip could see shoulder-length gray hair, upswept pointed ears, a frail, long-fingered hand with skin like aged parchment. He felt a shock knock him back as he realized she must be—

"It's Mother," Lorian said quietly. "I don't think she has much time."

They didn't wait for a stretcher. Trip carried her to sickbay, with Lorian at his side.


Sickbay was a hub of controlled chaos, packed with the most critically injured of Lorian's people—radiation burns, broken bones, decompression sickness. The rest of them lined the corridors outside. Karyn Archer circulated tirelessly among them, offering reassuring words and comforting touches, passing out the food that had started arriving from the mess hall. Jonathan Archer watched his great-granddaughter with a pride he knew he had no right to feel, but felt anyway.

"Forced landing of a crippled, century-old starship on a planet surface. Pretty impressive," he commented, as he helped Karyn settle a group of youngsters with their meals. All the children seemed to be taking the death of their ship in stride; they were assisting the grown-ups as much as the Enterprise crew was.

"Pretty scary," Karyn responded. "It's a miracle the ship didn't break apart."

"No miracle," Archer said. "We Archers are notoriously good pilots."

That coaxed a little smile out of her, before she continued. "We still had a few sensors functioning, after we put the fires out. We saw the Expanse reverting back to normal space. That's when we knew your mission had succeeded."

"Our mission," Archer corrected her. "We couldn't have done it without your help."

Karyn got a bit misty-eyed at that. Archer realized—their mission had lasted 117 years. They must all be so tired.

Karyn collected herself, and went on—a good first officer, to the last. "Our food was just running out when the Xindi ship spotted us. I can hardly believe it was just two days ago. We were lucky we didn't lose anyone." She sobered as she looked toward sickbay. "Not yet, anyway."

Archer watched as she edged over to the doors, peering through until she could see Lorian, standing with Trip outside the bio-scanner. "T'Pol was closest to the breach—she got the heaviest dose of radiation. We couldn't get to her right away..." She stopped herself with a frustrated sigh.

"How is Lorian holding up?" Archer asked.

"He's hardly slept since the Kovaalans left us for dead," she replied, keeping her eyes on Lorian. "All the injuries, trying to keep life support going, supplies running low...and T'Pol."

"Sounds like a Tucker I know," Archer nodded. "No sleep until all is well."

Karyn turned back to Archer, finally letting her officer persona fall away, revealing a worried young woman. "Sometimes I wonder if he's gotten any sleep in the last eighty-five years."

-----

Lorian and Trip stood by as the bio-scan bed bearing the unconscious T'Pol glided out of the scanning chamber. As Phlox studied the data that flashed up on the diagnostic screen, Trip shook his head, still stunned. "Nobody ever told me she was still alive."

Lorian's voice was quiet and even. "Seeing you again after almost ninety years, and then losing you again, would have been difficult for her." He touched Trip's arm, so Trip would look at him. "She missed you every day, after you died. She loved you very much."

You just don't want to admit that, under the right circumstances, you could have feelings for me...

Trip swallowed hard. It felt both wonderful, and heartbreakingly sad, to know that T'Pol could love him, did love him, in another life. A life that would never be his.

Phlox was beside them now, his face somber. "The radiation damage to her vital organs was too extensive. Her system is beginning to shut down. I'm afraid all I can do at this point is make her comfortable."

Lorian nodded, his expression unchanged—to any observer except Trip. Trip was realizing that he could read Lorian's emotional nuances in much the same way he read T'Pol. And Phlox's confirmation was hitting Lorian hard, no matter how calm he was keeping his outward demeanor. "How long?" he asked.

"A day, perhaps less," Phlox replied.

"Could we move her to T'Pol's quarters?" Trip asked. "It would put her more at ease." He caught Phlox's eye, conveying what he really meant: it would put Lorian more at ease.

Phlox nodded. "That would be fine."

Lorian hesitated. "But...your T'Pol...?"

"She's on assignment—she's Starfleet now," Trip told him. "I'll fill you in after we get your mom settled."


In the soft, candlelit serenity of T'Pol's quarters, with Earth a blue-white glow outside the viewport, Trip felt like he was in a dreamworld...the Land of Might-Have-Been...where he had a son who was three times as old as he was, and a wife he'd never married, but still loved with his whole heart.

He had thought the hardest thing he would ever do was to watch T'Pol marry another man. But could he do this now? Watch this life slip away? Lose her again?

For his answer, all Trip needed to do was look at Lorian, tucking the covers more securely around his mother. Trip could see the quiet anguish behind Lorian's placid Vulcan façade. He was losing someone he'd loved for a century, the only family he'd known since he was a boy. Trip resolved to bear any pain if it would ease his son's suffering.

Phlox had injected T'Pol with something to make sure she would stay pain-free. He had told them what to expect: she would probably drift in and out, she might be delirious, she might not recognize them, they needn't be alarmed. Then he had departed, leaving only Archer and Karyn with them.

Archer noticed that, since they'd found out about T'Pol, Karyn had stayed close by Lorian, her concern for him—and Archer suspected, her affection—unmistakable. Karyn put a gentle hand on Lorian's shoulder now, guiding him to a chair next to T'Pol's bunk. "Everyone is being well cared for. I'll look after them. Don't worry."

Lorian put his hand briefly on hers in silent gratitude.

Archer gave Trip's arm a reassuring squeeze. "Call if you need anything." He ushered Karyn out.

Lorian pulled a second chair over to the bunk, nearest T'Pol's head, and gestured for Trip to sit. Trip shook his head. "That's your place."

Lorian merely raised an eyebrow. Trip relented and sat, with Lorian taking the seat beside him.

-----

As Archer and Karyn headed down the corridor toward the turbolift, he asked, "Does Lorian know how you feel about him?"

Karyn stared at him in surprise, before looking away self-consciously. "Is it that obvious?"

Archer shrugged lightly. "Maybe only to a great-grandfather."

Karyn relaxed a little. "I've loved him my whole life," she sighed. "But he's had the weight of the world on his shoulders since he was fourteen. He's never had time to focus on anything but the mission."

Archer slipped an arm around her shoulders. "The mission's over. You're home. He'll finally have a chance to realize he's a lot more than just commander of Enterprise...and you're a lot more than just his first officer."

She gave him a hug. "Thank you, Captain."

"Hey, you need to call me something else. I'm family."

Karyn studied him for a moment. "You're too young for Great-Grandpa...Papa Jonathan? Papa?"

"Papa," Archer smiled. "I like the sound of that." Arm in arm, they continued on.

-----

Trip was studying T'Pol's face, peaceful in sleep. Her dark, flawless beauty had aged to a pale, timeworn fragility, wrinkled and age-spotted, but with an underlying steel that must have sustained her through the decades of a widow's loneliness.

It was strange, trying to untangle his feelings. She was his, and yet not-his. This was the woman who had accepted him, wed him, loved him freely, given him a child. But he would never know this T'Pol. The sadness of that realization was almost unbearable.

He was startled out of his reverie by Lorian's voice. "What's troubling you?"

There was no point trying to hide anything from this kid. "She's not the T'Pol I know," Trip said quietly. "But I still feel like I'm losing her."

"You're not losing your T'Pol," Lorian offered.

Trip rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Things turned out differently after we made it through that subspace corridor." He paused. "Did your mother ever mention a guy named Koss?"

Lorian pondered the question for a moment, then nodded. "Her childhood betrothed. She said very little about him...only that Koss was the destiny she escaped, before she realized you were her destiny."

Trip felt that mixture of sweetness and agony again. "In this timeline, she didn't escape." And he finally told Lorian about T'Pol's marriage.

Lorian listened in stunned silence. Finally he spoke, his voice hushed with sadness. "I never would have thought that your lives would take such a different direction than that of...my parents."

"At least she's back on Enterprise," Trip said, trying to ease Lorian's mind. "And we're still friends. Best friends. I think this whole mess with Koss brought us a lot closer than we might have been, because it's all we can have."

Lorian still looked upset. "But...you're still in love with her. You'll always be in love with her."

"What are you, a mind reader?" Trip asked with mock exasperation.

"I'm your son," Lorian said simply.

That got Trip. His guard dropped, and he let his own sadness show. Lorian put a hand on his arm, silently supportive. Trip gripped his son's hand gratefully. In that moment, he felt the connection between them—he finally felt like he and Lorian really were family. "God, I'm glad you made it back here," he said.

Lorian's blue eyes were warm. "I as well, Father."

Trip's gaze drifted back to T'Pol. His voice was wistful when he spoke again. "How'd they get together?"

"My parents?"

Trip nodded. "Did they ever tell you?"

Lorian smiled down at his mother—that same tiny quirk of the lips that T'Pol had dazzled Trip with on a few rare, wonderful evenings. "Of all the stories we would tell the children, that one was always their favorite. Karyn relates the tale in a much more entertaining fashion—"

"You'll do," Trip said softly. "Tell me a story, Lorian."

Lorian nodded and began: "Captain Archer assembled the crew in engineering to break the news that they were stranded 117 years in the past..."


February 2037
The Expanse

...Archer softened the crew's shock by giving them a new goal: use Enterprise's unfortunate situation to prevent the first Xindi attack on Earth from ever taking place. He then laid out his plan to make Enterprise a generational ship to ensure their survival, and to complete their new mission.

The captain then formally announced an end to the restriction on crew fraternization; in fact, he encouraged it. The crew reacted to the new parameters with responses ranging from randy enthusiasm to paralyzing shyness. Secret crushes were revealed, and clandestine relationships came out of the closet. The ship was an emotional roller-coaster those first few weeks, with repairs and relationships proceeding apace.

By far the most sought-after catch on the ship was Chief Engineer Charles Tucker III. Half the women on board made advances, from subtle offers of coffee in the mess hall to bald-faced propositions. With admirable grace and unfailing charm, Trip politely declined every overture. It quickly became apparent that he only had eyes for the ship's first officer.

T'Pol's reaction to Trip's intended courtship led to an exercise in mutual stubbornness. For weeks, he would edge closer to her, only to see her shy away like a skittish colt. When duty forced them to work together, she behaved as unpleasantly as possible to him. She almost succeeded in making him throw up his hands and quit...until he realized there was something wrong with her. She was, well, moody, that was the only word for it. She was bitchy one moment, withdrawn the next, and more frustrated and volatile with each passing day. It didn't help that she was working impossibly long hours, or hardly eating—Starfleet ration packs were barely fit for human consumption, much less Vulcan.

Trip renewed his campaign to win T'Pol over, using patience and kindness, but she rebuffed every attempt he made to help her. Instead, she isolated herself even further, retreating to her quarters whenever she was off duty. Now he was really worried about her.

A month into their new mission, Enterprise found a Minshara-class planet rich in edible plants and animal life. A contingent from the galley was rushed down to gather up enough foodstuffs to restock the badly depleted stores and fill the now-repaired stasis units.

The next evening, Trip came to T'Pol's quarters, where she holed up every night to choke down what she could of those godawful Starfleet ration packs. Before she could shut the door on him, he presented her with his gift: a fresh salad. He'd put it together himself, carefully choosing the best of the booty that had been gathered planetside.

T'Pol took one look at the salad and promptly burst into tears.

Trip tried not to panic as she retreated to her bunk and folded herself into a back corner, trembling and sobbing. For a moment he felt completely at a loss. What the hell are you supposed to do when a Vulcan has an emotional meltdown?

He knew exactly what he wanted to do—take her in his arms and hold her, soothe away whatever was causing her so much pain and fear. But clearly, she didn't want him anywhere near her.

Well, too damn bad. There was no way he was going to leave her now.

He approached her slowly, as if she were a wounded deer. Every ragged breath she took tore into his heart like a knife. He knelt beside the bed, not making any move to touch her, and waited.

She caught sight of him and turned away, angrily swiping at her tears, visibly struggling to regain control. "You are...infuriating."

"Why is that?" he asked mildly.

"You think that by continuing to demonstrate your utter suitability to me, I will eventually acquiesce," she retorted.

Utter suitability. Trip was charmed by that. Counting it as a small victory, he shrugged. "Just thought you might like some fresh food, is all."

"Why do you persist in this emotional attachment to me?" She glared at him, and he saw confusion as well as anger on her tear-stained face.

He had to smile a little. "It wasn't my idea, T'Pol. Emotional attachment isn't something a person plans. Believe me, the last thing I expected was to fall in love with you."

T'Pol went very still. She stared at him, stricken, her huge brown eyes welling with new tears. Trip caught his breath in dismay. "Is that what you're so afraid of?" he asked. "Me? The way I feel about you?"

She said nothing, but as he watched a tear spill down her cheek, he felt his heart fall with it. He turned away, devastated, rising to leave—

"It's me," she whispered.

He stopped, turning back.

T'Pol swallowed, wiping at her wet face again. "The way you make me...feel. I don't know how to..." She frowned, her voice trailing off into an incoherent growl of frustration, her hands knotting into fists. "Vulcans are taught almost from birth how to suppress emotions, but we are given no insight on how to deal with emotions that cannot be suppressed!"

Trip returned to her side. It was finally starting to add up—her mood swings, her outbursts. Something tickled the back of his mind...what Phlox had said about the Vulcans on the Seleya. Their ability to control emotions had been destroyed... "The trellium-D did something to you after all, didn't it?" he asked.

She looked trapped for a moment, then ashamed, then simply resigned. "I suffered permanent neurological damage."

"The emotions you've been feeling...you're stuck with them?"

Bleakly, she nodded. Trip's face filled with compassion. "It's not the end of the world, T'Pol. Humans are saddled with emotions too, and we've managed."

"Humans are not Vulcans," T'Pol said impatiently. "Our emotions are remnants of our savage past—intense, powerful, overwhelming. And the feelings you stir in me..." She looked confused, embarrassed—but also captivated. Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. "They are the strongest of all, and the most disconcerting...because I have never experienced them."

It was an extraordinary admission from her...and it sent a thrill through Trip, just to hear it. "You must be scared shitless," he said in genuine sympathy.

He propped his elbows on the bunk and looked up at her, his reassuring blue eyes meeting her huge, frightened brown ones. "You don't have to be scared. What you're feeling isn't evil—it's just new. All you need is time to adjust, and to learn how to handle it."

"I lack the necessary expertise," she confessed, with no little annoyance.

Trip held out his hand. "Then just trust me, darlin'. Let me help you. If you feel yourself falling, I'll hang onto you, and I won't let go. I'll give you everything I've got. We can do this together."

He was no longer simply talking about her errant emotions. And by the way she searched his face, a new wave of tears welling in her eyes, he could tell she knew it.

She stared at his outstretched hand. Then, in one bold move, she took it firmly in hers. They both held on tight.

Trip smiled at her. "That's my girl. Now maybe all you need is an emotional shock absorber—someone to blow off steam with, so you'll feel more in control the rest of the time. I'll make you a deal: if you want to talk, I'm all ears."

She took a deep breath. "I..."

Trip readied himself for a big emotional confession. He nodded, encouraging her.

"I...loathe Starfleet ration packs," T'Pol finished.

Trip grinned. "What else?"

T'Pol continued, her voice firmer. "Crewman Rowe's habit of singing to himself while on duty is highly irritating, because he is tone-deaf."

Trip laughed. "That's it. Let it all out."

T'Pol faltered, then determinedly plowed ahead. "I have missed you. Very much."

Trip's smile softened. He eased onto the bunk beside her, still holding tightly to her hand. "You can cross that off your list, because I'm not goin' anywhere."

He leaned over to give her a quick peck on the forehead...but as soon as his lips touched her skin, he felt a warm, sweet flush ripple through him from head to toe. He shut his eyes as he heard her sigh contentedly.

He suppressed a flinch as he felt her fingers on his cheek. He pulled back a few centimeters, until he could see her face. He saw shyness, hope...but still a little apprehension. Keeping his eyes fixed on hers, he gave her a little nod.

He willed himself to stay still as her fingers lightly explored his face, tracing his strong jawline and ski-slope nose, brushing against his long eyelashes. Wherever she touched him, he felt that same delicious heat crackle through him like an electrical charge. Her fingers came to rest against his lips, barely touching. He took her hand and kissed her fingers, and he felt her shiver.

Now it was his turn. He wiped away her damp tear streaks, then ran his fingers lightly along her elegant, upswept eyebrows and gracefully pointed ears. Her eyes slid shut as she gave in, allowing herself free access to the sensations he was eliciting in her. He gently cupped her chin, and she opened her eyes. This time she didn't shy away, but edged closer to him.

Their lips touched, a feather-light caress, just enough to taste, to feel. It was as if they had never kissed before. Trip deepened the kiss, nudging her lips open, and felt the sweet warmth ignite into a hot roar that flowed through him like a river of fire.

At last she drew back, leaving him breathless, his heart pounding, his head spinning. He saw that she was in much the same state. They were like two kids on their first date. Trip couldn't help but laugh softly.

T'Pol's expression took on an exquisite serenity as she continued to gaze at him. Trip caught his breath as he realized he was seeing genuine love in her eyes for the first time. Love for him. His heart had never felt so full. "Oh, darlin'," he breathed. "I missed you, too."

T'Pol looked down at their clasped hands. "Don't let go."

"I promise," Trip vowed.


May 2154
Spacedock, orbiting Earth

"From that day on, you were together," Lorian concluded. "The rest of the crew had particular admiration for the devotion you showed each other. It was a quality to which they all aspired in their own relationships."

Trip rolled his eyes. "Me and T'Pol, relationship role models? Only in an alternate universe."

Beside them, T'Pol stirred, and her eyes fluttered open. Trip saw that their deep sable had grown clouded with age. She saw Lorian first. "You look tired," she observed, her voice a throaty contralto that Trip wasn't used to.

"It's been a long week," Lorian replied lightly. He smiled down at her, clearly pleased to be able to talk with her again.

"Is everything all right?"

"Everyone's fine. Rest easy, Mother."

She looked around, disoriented...and then she caught sight of Trip. Those pale eyes brightened and warmed, and her whole face lit up as she smiled—that same little T'Pol-smile. It made her look decades younger. "Trip?" she murmured. Her brow creased faintly in confusion. "I...I thought I lost you."

Trip shot a glance of momentary panic at Lorian, who mouthed, Delirium.

Unsure what to do, Trip hesitantly took T'Pol's hand. It felt uncommonly warm—the first thing he found familiar about this woman who was, but wasn't, the T'Pol he knew. It eased his nervousness. "I'm right here, darlin'."

She still looked troubled. "So lonely without you. Not fair...too early."

Her distress melted away the rest of his discomfort. He reached out and stroked her worried brow, soothingly. "It was just a dream. You know I'd never leave you."

At his touch, she relaxed, turning her gaze fully on him, her expression open and unguarded. Trip was hit with the force of a shockwave. She was looking at him with love. Deep, bountiful love.

He had dreamed of seeing it on the face of "his" T'Pol—and had given up hoping he would ever see it, now that she was married to someone else. To see love in this T'Pol's eyes, for him, was overwhelming.

She frowned again, reaching up to touch his face. Her fingers came away wet with his tears. "Why are you crying?"

Trip hadn't even realized. He smiled bashfully at her. "Aw, y'know how I get when you look at me like that."

That seemed to satisfy her. She looked down at their joined hands. "It was an awful dream. I couldn't remember how long it had been since I held your hand, or kissed you..."

Trip squeezed her hand reassuringly. Her fingers were still long and graceful, her skin soft. "Let's make it now."

As he moved toward her, the years faded away, as they sometimes did in dreams...and he found himself gazing down at his beloved dark-haired, sable-eyed T'Pol, her affection for him still shining in her eyes.

Gently, he touched his lips to hers. She tasted as sweet as he remembered. He savored every sensation...the softness of her lips, the warmth of her skin, the sound of her soft sigh as she returned his kiss. He wanted to memorize this moment with this T'Pol, who loved him freely, who belonged to him, and he to her...if only for this moment, in this Land of Might-Have-Been. The memory would need to last his heart a lifetime.

Finally, he pulled away. He stroked her hair, watching idly as it turned gray again...as her deep brown eyes grew pale with age...as her skin thinned and wrinkled, becoming delicate as parchment.

She was looking up at him, with that T'Pol-smile he adored. "How long as it been since I told you I love you, t'hai'la?" she murmured.

He kissed her fingers. "It always feels like the first time, darlin'." He felt new tears brimming in his eyes. "How long since I told you?"

She chuckled, low in her throat. "You never stop."

"Then you won't mind me telling you again." He leaned close, his voice an intimate whisper. "I love you, forever."

Lorian held his breath as he watched them. He'd almost forgotten the joy he'd always felt, seeing his parents together. Now he felt suspended between worlds. He knew Trip was talking to two T'Pols—one who had loved him for over a century, and another who would never be able to say the words. He imagined Trip's heart was taking comfort from being with his mother, even as it was breaking.

Trip pulled back from T'Pol, managing a lighthearted grin. "Now all the mushy emotional stuff is out of the way, and you can stop frettin'. We're together. I'm here, Lorian's here." Trip turned—and was startled to see tears sliding silently down Lorian's composed face. Trip took his son's hand and held on, drawing strength from Lorian's calmness, and turned back to smile at T'Pol. "We're not goin' anywhere. No more bad dreams for you, darlin'."

"My Trip. Always the optimist." T'Pol reached out to Lorian, and he took her other hand. She nestled back against her pillow, her gaze shifting contentedly from husband to son.

The three of them stayed that way, as Trip whispered soothing endearments to T'Pol, frequently stroking her cheek or her hair, kissing her hand. He was determined that her last memories would be of her loving family at her side, her husband's soft voice and warm embrace, and the sight of his face aglow with his love for her...


Afterward, Trip and Lorian just held each other.

Lorian, who'd had to be so strong for so many, virtually all his life, was finally able to unleash his grief and weep freely, in the safe solace of his father's arms. Trip suspected it had only happened once before, to a fourteen-year-old boy suffering the wrenching loss of another parent, long ago.

Trip wept too, for all that Lorian had lost, and for what he himself would never have, except for this tiny glimpse, here in the dreamland. But now Trip's tears were quieter, because Lorian needed him to be the strong one.

When they finally emerged from T'Pol's quarters much later, exhausted and emotionally spent, Lorian's Vulcan demeanor was back in place. There was a single person waiting in the empty corridor: Commander T'Pol, travel-worn, looking as if she hadn't slept for days. Archer must have sent word to her as soon as Lorian's people were safely aboard.

Trip hung back as T'Pol approached Lorian, her expression a mix of conflicting emotions: overwhelming joy at seeing him alive, grief over the loss of his mother, anxiety over what he would think of her marriage.

Lorian greeted her with a tired smile. "Mother."

"I grieve with you," TPol said softly, her voice thick with emotion.

He nodded. They stood frozen, a meter apart, for an interminable moment—and then they were embracing, as T'Pol blinked back tears of relief and sorrow. Lorian held her close, comforting her. He was the strong one once again.

T'Pol finally met Trip's gaze, her face filling with a longing and sadness that mirrored his own. Trip could see that she was drifting into the dreamworld too, now...gazing at him from the Land of Might-Have-Been.

Wordlessly, she held out a hand. Trip stepped forward and took it, letting her draw him into the embrace. The three of them stood together...never a family, but mourning a family member they all cherished...never together before, but now reunited. If only in the dream.

-tbc-