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

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Enterprise is the property of CBS/Paramount. All original material herein is the property of its author.


Part II

The door to the cabin slid open, spilling light into the dark room. She entered, moving past wisps of smoke that drifted up from the guttered candles, to the bunk where old T'Pol's body lay, her hands folded atop her covers.

There were two chairs placed close together beside the bunk. This is where they must have sat, watching over the old woman in her last hours: Trip—she thought of him as Trip now, in the privacy of her own thoughts—and her son.

When had she started thinking of Lorian as her son? It was the day she and her mother had argued, back on Vulcan, when T'Les had so clearly voiced her disapproval of the idea of "this Commander Tucker" as a suitable mate.

Think of the shame your children would endure. Assuming that the two of you could have children.

She had thought of Lorian then. But she had been too angry at her mother to share any knowledge of that blissful alternate life she had had with Trip, or of their son, who had known love and respect all his life, never shame. Her son Lorian, who had bravely died, or who had never been at all.

Then Captain Archer's message had reached her a day ago. Now she was here, and Lorian was alive, and old T'Pol was dead. And Trip...the look on Trip's tear-stained face had been almost more than she could bear. She felt joy and loss and relief and regret, and so much pain and longing. She felt as if she were drowning.

T'Pol sank into one of the chairs, gazing down at her older counterpart. Gently, she stroked the gray hair, traced the lines of the serene, aged face. She took one fragile old hand and held it against her own, palm to palm...a mirror image, but an image a century into the future.

What had it been like to live this woman's life? To have a Trip who had come to love her, who had satisfied her unleashed passions, who had bound his heart to hers in marriage? She had felt his child, their child, growing inside her. She had been free to love him...

T'Pol spoke to the placid, still face. "I took your advice. I followed my heart." Absently, she caressed the old woman's hand. "When he told me he had no home to go to, I finally heard my heart telling me it knew what it wanted. You were right...I was frightened by what I was feeling for him. But those emotions also brought me a contentment, a completeness, that I had never known before." Her expression warmed with fond remembrance. "I brought him with me to Vulcan. I was going to show him my world, then reveal what was in my heart..." She sighed. "But my past caught up with me."

She leaned closer, searching the silent countenance of her mirror-self. "What did he tell you? Did he say that he could have turned away from me, but instead chose the more difficult path and remained my friend? Did he tell you how he has supported me, counseled me, shown me the strength within myself, tested me as I find my way? Did he say he is my closest companion, my sparring partner—and yes, my emotional outlet? I knew that would please you."

T'Pol touched her fingers to the old woman's lips. "Did he tell you that he was the first to see me smile?"

She nodded to her sage alter-ego. "You were correct. I can't imagine what my life would be like without him. Every moment I am with him is precious, because I don't know which moment will be the last...the moment when Koss calls me back to Vulcan, never to return."

She felt tears welling in her eyes. "How can I say good-bye to him? How did you say good-bye to your Trip, your t'hai'la? How could you bear to continue on without him?"

Her voice dropped to a whisper. "What did you feel when you saw my Trip...the man you first grew to love, but lost too soon? What did you tell him? Did you speak the words I dare not say, the words that filled your heart, and fill mine now? Did you say 'I love you'?"

A tear slipped down T'Pol's cheek, falling onto the cheek of her tranquil older self. She folded the aged hands neatly over the covers once more, and touched her lips to the pale, cool forehead in farewell. Then she rose and left. The door slid shut behind her, leaving the cabin dark and silent.

But not quite empty.

Trip rose from a shadowy corner, where he'd been kneeling on a meditation pillow in quiet, solitary mourning. His heart was hammering in his chest, and he could hardly breathe.


Jonathan Archer didn't know what he would find when he reached the Observation Lounge. Karyn and Lorian's people had been in there since yesterday, standing watch for their commander as he stood vigil over his dying mother. Trip had called Archer a few hours ago, when Lorian left to join his crew, but Archer had heard no word since.

They must all be feeling old T'Pol's loss deeply. She was their matriarch, their only constant as they made their century-long journey back to the present. Archer had decided to look in on them, to see if he could do anything to help ease their grief.

But as he neared the open doorway, he heard...laughter.

He peeked inside. The lounge was filled with the bulk of Lorian's crew—over ninety of them, all but the dozen Phlox still had in sickbay. They were nestled together like contented sardines, the children on their parents' laps, passing around platters of food.

In the center of the room, Karyn and Lorian were perched on a table, shoulder to shoulder, exuding a decidedly non-command dynamic. Lorian looked more relaxed than Archer had ever seen him. The weight of his responsibilities, and his misplaced guilt, must have been crushing. Now, probably for the first time in over half a century, he seemed at peace.

At the moment, Lorian wore an expression of aggrieved patience—the same look Archer had seen T'Pol give Trip a thousand times over the last three years. Lorian and everyone else were listening to Karyn.

"Then T'Pol said, 'There's a simple way to get Lorian out of the room,'" she was saying. "'Simply pick a fight with him and leave. He'll follow you out.' I asked her why. She said, 'Lorian enjoys arguing with you. I've seen it. He's just like his father that way.'"

There was a wave of laughter from the group. Lorian cocked an eyebrow at Karyn, which got another laugh.

Archer smiled in relief. This wasn't a funereal gathering, but a joyful wake.

"So I did what T'Pol said," Karyn continued. "I made up something about the formula for the antimatter mixture being off, and—"

"You made that up?" Lorian interjected, his measured baritone a perfect deadpan. Karyn shrugged, and everyone laughed again. Archer was charmed by the way the two of them played off each other.

"He disagreed, of course," Karyn went on. "And then I walked out on him in mid-argument. Sure enough, he followed me."

"I do not 'enjoy' arguing," Lorian stated evenly.

"Yes, you do," Karyn shot back playfully.

"No, I don't—" Lorian stopped himself, but the damage was done. The room was breaking up again. Drawing himself up, he tried again. "I was merely endeavoring to correct your error."

"Which I made up in the first place," Karyn pointed out.

"Of which I was not aware," Lorian countered.

Karyn grinned. "Your mother was right. You do enjoy arguing with me."

Lorian folded his arms, draping himself in an air of Vulcanesque long-suffering. The crowd loved it. It was clear to Archer that they all regarded Lorian as more than their captain and commander. He was their respected leader, their beloved family patriarch.

Archer also noticed the way Karyn's eyes hardly ever strayed from Lorian, how she sat close enough to him that their shoulders brushed together. Perhaps now he would realize that his efficient first officer and crack starship pilot was also a caring and vivacious young woman. Maybe he'd even return the love she had secretly harbored for him all her life. Why not? Stranger fairy tales had happy endings.


Trip caught up with T'Pol as she emerged from the turbolift. "Observation Lounge?" he asked. She nodded, and he fell into step beside her.

T'Pol remained intensely curious as to what had transpired during old T'Pol's final hours, but she said only, "I am glad you were able to be with Lorian and his mother."

Trip nodded. "Me, too."

She hesitated. "Was it...difficult?"

He studied his boots as they walked on. "Yeah. But also enlightening. It put a lot of things in perspective." He smiled at her then, a warm smile of genuine affection.

T'Pol almost lost her footing. She always found herself completely disarmed when Trip smiled at her like that. Concentrating on keeping her pace even, she pondered his mood. She had expected melancholy from him, not this...buoyancy. What had happened in that room?

Trip knew he must be confusing the hell out of T'Pol, but he couldn't help it. He could hardly feel his feet touching the deck. He wanted to pick her up and whirl her around and shout it to the heavens: She loves me!

He ought to be feeling terrible, he supposed, knowing that her love was just one more precious gift they couldn't share because of that skunk husband of hers. But as the shock of hearing her words had worn off, Trip had felt a rush of jubilation. He was no longer a solitary torchbearer of unrequited love. At last he knew for certain that she loved him in return. His heart felt lighter somehow, his hurt more bearable. All the yearning hidden beneath their friendship, all the willpower needed to keep from acting on his feelings—now Trip knew T'Pol was going through the same struggle. They were doing it for each other, for her love as well as his own.

Trip figured he would come down to earth once Lorian's people were all squared away, and he was back trying to ignore the big ol' skunk in the room. But until then, he would enjoy the happy, full feeling in his heart.

For a moment, he considered spilling out his feelings to T'Pol—but he caught himself. It was different for her. She was locked to a ball-and-chain named Koss, and she would never be free. Not in Trip's lifetime, anyway. Bad enough that she was gonna be yanked off Enterprise sooner or later, effectively ending their close friendship. Knowing that he loved her would just be more torture for her.

Trip and T'Pol arrived at the Observation Lounge and entered, staying near the doorway...because the room was stuffed to the gills with Lorian's people. However, not a one noticed the pair's entrance. Karyn had them all spellbound: she was telling a story.

"Some were subtle," she was saying. Like a shy wallflower, she squeaked, "Uh, sir, maybe you'd have time later for a cup of coffee in the mess hall?" Her audience chuckled.

"Others were more direct." Using Lorian as a convenient prop, Karyn grabbed his shoulders and declared forcefully, "Commander, I want to have your baby!" The crowd laughed, Archer along with them. Even Trip found himself chuckling, as T'Pol watched the proceedings in bafflement.

Karyn looked to Lorian, and he smoothly picked up the tale. "But Trip politely declined every overture. It soon became apparent that he only had eyes for the ship's first officer."

Trip realized with a start that they were telling THE story. His first instinct was to hide under the nearest table...until he saw Archer's rapt expression. And then he caught the look on T'Pol's face: embarrassment, curiosity, and fascination, all rolled into one priceless wide-eyed stare.

Trip backed up against the wall, so he could watch them all as the story unfolded.

T'Pol saw herself all too vividly as she listened to Karyn and Lorian's words. Part of her wished desperately to be away from all these people; she was having great difficulty controlling the emotions roiling within her. But she needed to hear more. She wanted to experience what it was like to find love with Trip, and embrace it freely, even if only through a story from long ago and far away. It would comfort her, this echo of their deep abiding love, when she was gone from Enterprise and Trip, and all she had left were memories.

By the time Karyn got to the part in T'Pol's quarters, she had everyone suspended in enthralled, breath-held silence. "...Because even though Vulcans don't show their emotions, they feel them deeply all the same. T'Pol had never felt love before, and its power frightened her. She was overwhelmed."

Trip glanced at T'Pol. She was hanging on every word. Though her face was largely composed, her eyes shone with unshed tears. He could tell she was feeling a lot more just under the surface, barely holding it all in check.

Lorian extended his hand toward his storytelling partner as he continued. "Trip held out his hand to her and said, 'Trust me. Let me help you. If you feel yourself falling, I'll hang onto you, and I won't let go.'"

"He was offering not only his help, but his heart," Karyn added. A collective romantic sigh drifted up from the listeners. Trip shook his head, marveling.

Karyn turned back to Lorian—and took his outstretched hand. For an instant he looked surprised, before his expression recovered its normal Vulcan calm. But Trip had seen the slip. Evidently this wasn't part of their regular performance.

Interesting.

"She took his hand, and they both held on tight." Karyn was talking to their audience, but her eyes were on Lorian. "His touch reassured her, and she said, 'I have missed you very much.'"

Her steady gaze was beginning to fluster Lorian. He blinked and swallowed before he could find his voice. "He answered, 'I'm not going anywhere.'"

Lorian's crew watched, mesmerized, as their captain and first officer played out the love story with such achingly tender realism.

Trip could hardly believe his eyes. He glanced at Archer—to find the captain already looking at him, with the same delighted surprise.

Karyn lightly stroked Lorian's cheek with her free hand, drawing a startled little gasp from him. With an effort, he held himself still, plainly amazed by the affection he saw in her deep brown eyes.

"Then, ever so gently," she continued, "he kissed her." She moved toward him. As if hypnotized, Lorian met her halfway, and they shared a soft, sweet kiss. There was a wave of tender "awwws" from the onlookers.

Karyn drew back, a bit shy now. She searched Lorian's face, her expression hopeful, but uncertain. Lorian looked a little lightheaded as his lips quirked up in a tiny, enchanted smile. Karyn simply glowed as she smiled happily back at him.

Trip grinned. I'll be damned.

Karyn continued the story, since Lorian was clearly in no condition to speak. "She left him breathless, his head spinning. She was in a similar condition, her heart pounding..." She heard a few chuckles from the audience, and she couldn't help laughing too, as she realized she had pretty much just described Lorian and herself. She held their joined hands to her heart. "Don't let go," she told him softly.

Lorian was coming out of his fog, his blue eyes warming with a dawning affection of his own as he gazed at her. "I promise."

Slowly, they remembered they were still the focus of nearly a hundred pairs of eyes. Karyn recovered first, letting loose of Lorian, becoming the storyteller once again. "Then they got married. But that's another story."

She was met by a ripple of laughter and applause. The whole room seemed to blink back to the real world, as the kids jumped up and the grown-ups exchanged satisfied nods and comments.

Trip sidled up to T'Pol, whose expression was wistful. "You okay?"

"Remarkable," she murmured softly. "To witness the beginning of love."

The sweet sadness in her voice tore at his heart. She looked so beautiful to him, with that faraway longing in her eyes. He ached to hold her, more than ever.

"Look—it's them!"

Suddenly every eye seemed to be focusing on them, every face shining with something akin to awe. Whispers shot through the crowd. "Trip and T'Pol...Lorian's dad...T'Pol looks so young..."

The two froze, unsure of how to react. Then there were children surging forward, gathering around them, taking their hands, a few even hugging them. Trip glanced at T'Pol, quickly taking in her mortified shock, and grabbed her hand, drawing her close beside him. "They must think we're Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus," he joked lightly.

"More like Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming," Karyn said, coming forward to rescue them. She began disengaging the kids. "Remember what we taught you about the two timelines?" she told them. "This Trip and T'Pol haven't lived the life we tell you about in the stories."

"Stories?" T'Pol asked Trip warily.

"Like bedtime stories," Trip explained. "The ship's oral history. You heard the first one. That's how we—the other 'we'—got together, on their Enterprise. We're like some kinda fairy-tale love story to them."

T'Pol's eyes widened. "But—Koss—"

"They don't know about him. I only told Lorian."

T'Pol edged behind Trip, exceedingly uncomfortable with the attention they were still getting. Trip decided it was time for a little deflecting. He parked his hands on his hips, giving the gathered kids a mock scowl. "I dunno about this...everybody knowin' what's gonna happen except the two of us? Doesn't seem quite fair."

He got a laugh from the onlookers. Behind him, he felt T'Pol relax the tiniest bit against him.

A little girl edged up to him, wide-eyed and breathless. "Did you tell her you love her yet?"

Trip kept his face in neutral as his mind raced. She's not free. Ball-and-chain Koss. Don't let her know. Don't let her see. He gave the girl an exaggerated shushing. "Naw!" And then, to the whole group, "And don't y'all rush me." Again, everyone laughed.

Behind him, T'Pol kept her cool Vulcan mask carefully in place. She even managed to play along, raising an eyebrow at Trip's words, which elicited more laughter from the assemblage. However, she couldn't help but wonder why he kept his back turned to her, as if he were endeavoring to hide something from her.

Archer sauntered over, clearly enjoying himself. "Can I have your autograph, Mr. Charming?"

"Not you, too," Trip groaned. "This is weird enough as it is."

Lorian joined them as well. T'Pol, only too glad to change the subject, offered him a padd. "I have arranged for temporary quarters for your crew at Starfleet."

"Starfleet?" Trip asked. "Why— Oh. Debriefings, I'll bet."

Archer nodded. "Lots of debriefings. To be led by Admiral Forrest and Ambassador Soval."

"As well as examinations by Starfleet Medical," T'Pol added. "Including DNA profiling."

Trip grinned at Lorian. "The Vulcan Science Directorate is gonna be pretty peeved, seein' as how you're unavoidable proof of the existence of time travel. And a Vulcan-human hybrid, to boot. "

"Indeed?" Lorian noted mildly. "I would think they would welcome the opportunity to have their horizons widened, so to speak."

"The Vulcan High Command likes their horizons exactly the way they are," Archer observed dryly. "But I'd say their world view is about to change, whether they want it to or not."


They dressed old T'Pol in traditional Vulcan burial robes and laid her in a torpedo tube. Then they boarded Shuttlepod One to bid farewell to her, in much the same way that Lorian and his mother had said good-bye to Lorian's father decades ago.

Trip flew the shuttle as close to the Sun as possible before releasing the torpedo tube. The shuttle's momentum and the Sun's gravitation pull took it the rest of the way. Trip and T'Pol flanked Lorian, the three of them watching together until the sleek black tube vanished into the brilliant, blinding brightness.


As Lorian's people made ready to set foot on Earth for the first time, Enterprise's crew mingled among their descendants, filling them in on the events of recent months. They passed along names of relatives to contact, and places to stay, once Lorian's people got their land legs.

Checking in with Karyn on the status of the departure preparations, Archer was touched to notice Malcolm in a corner with the family of Corporal Hawkins, relating with solemn pride how Hawkins had given his life to save Malcolm's away team on the mission that was key to destroying the Xindi weapon. A short time later, Archer saw a similar heartfelt meeting between Hoshi and the descendants of Major Hayes, as she told them of his heroism in helping to rescue her from her Xindi-Reptilian captors.


Trip, T'Pol, and Lorian returned to Enterprise to learn that the crew's leave had abruptly ended. Archer had new orders: the ship was to launch in a matter of hours in search of renegade Augments in the Borderland. Lorian's crew began shuttling down to the surface a dozen at a time, after hurried, emotional good-byes between newfound family members, along with promises to stay in contact.

Lorian stopped by sickbay to thank Phlox for the care given his crew, his mother in particular. Before leaving, he paused. "Phlox, I have no wish to breach doctor-patient confidentiality...but I'm aware T'Pol is going through a difficult time. I trust you're doing everything you can to help her?"

Phlox nodded, and smiled. "And she has Commander Tucker's constant support and friendship, which have proven to be the most beneficial treatment of all."

Lorian nodded. "Thank you, Doctor."


As T'Pol and Lorian headed for the Launch Bay, T'Pol found herself talking to him about her marriage, T'Les and Koss, duty and responsibility, and regrets. It was a welcome relief to be able to talk to someone, at last.

T'Pol found it surprisingly easy to talk to Lorian now. It had been so difficult the first time they met, doubtless because she had still been so reluctant to accept what she was feeling for Trip. During the intervening months, however, she had embraced her love for Trip, and given him up, and gotten him back again as a treasured friend. Compared to that rocky emotional road, feeling comfortable in the company of a 101-year-old son was quite elementary.

"I have reviewed my decision countless times," she mused to Lorian, her face shadowed by lingering doubt. "I made the only logical decision open to me. I was responsible for my mother's difficulties, and only I could alleviate them. She is...my mother."

"I understand," Lorian replied quietly. "To save my mother, I gave up my final chance to destroy the first Xindi weapon."

T'Pol stared at him in shock. "We couldn't prevent its launch," Lorian explained. "I could have put Enterprise in its path and self-destructed, in an attempt to blow up the weapon as well. But I didn't. I couldn't kill my crew...I couldn't do harm to my mother." He looked steadily at T'Pol. "It was an impossible choice, but I had to choose. Just as you had to."

T'Pol remained troubled. "Still, I wonder...am I causing him needless suffering? Would it be better to end our friendship and allow him to move on?"

Lorian took her hand. "His decision to remain at your side, as your friend, was his choice. I believe he would deeply regret having chosen another path."

T'Pol squeezed her son's hand and nodded, reassured.


"What's your crew's next move?" Archer asked Karyn, as they rounded up the curious kids wandering the Launch Bay and herded them into the last shuttle. "Have you discussed it with them?"

"Some plan to locate family members," Karyn replied. "Others just want to travel for a while—see the Earth they've only heard about. But most of us are hoping to join Starfleet. We do have plenty of field experience..."

Archer laughed. "That's an understatement."

Karyn smiled. "Lorian and I will discuss it with Admiral Forrest, see what requirements we'd have to meet."

"I'll talk with him too, when we get back," Archer said. "What about you and Lorian?"

"Lorian's a born leader, of course. And I love my job—I can't imagine doing anything else."

Archer eyed her. "I meant...what about you and Lorian?"

Karyn blushed. "We haven't had a chance to talk. But the way he looks at me now is...different."

A smile crept onto her face that Archer could only describe as dreamy. He beamed. "I expect to be kept apprised of the situation."

She giggled as her blush deepened. She looked adorable to him. "You're nosy."

"Yes, I am." He gave her a long, loving hug, and a kiss on the cheek.

"Stay safe, Papa," she said, with a warm smile.

"See you soon," he replied. He watched her climb into the shuttle with a little pang of regret. Damn, he was already missing her.

"I'd watch the clinginess, Grandpa," Archer heard behind him. Trip was at the doorway. "She's not a little girl. I'll bet she could fly rings around you in a flight simulator."

"I can't help it," Archer protested. "I've never had anyone to fuss over before, besides Porthos. Suddenly having family...it still kind of takes my breath away."

"Tell me about it." Trip got a mischievous gleam in his eye. "Karyn and Lorian... Let's see. If they got together, that'd make me your grandson-in-law, twice removed, in an alternate timeline..." He batted his baby blues at Archer. "Could I call you Papa, too?"

"Only if you want to get decked."

Lorian and T'Pol entered the Launch Bay, joining Trip. It was time for Archer to make himself scarce. He offered his hand to Lorian. "Give 'em hell down at Starfleet, Lorian."

Lorian shook his hand. "Safe journey, Captain."

Archer nodded to Trip and T'Pol as he left the bay. "We launch in fifteen minutes."

Trip looked from Lorian to the shuttle, where they could see Karyn through the open hatch, laughing and talking with the waiting passengers. "Karyn's a real sweetheart."

"A remarkable young woman," T'Pol agreed.

Lorian nodded, his expression softening with fondness as he watched her. "Yes. I'm beginning to see that now."

Trip hesitated, finally sticking out his hand. Lorian took it, then said, "It's been a long time since my father gave me a 'bear hug.' I find I have missed it."

Trip happily obliged, holding Lorian close. "If we weren't about to leave, I'd be going down there with you, camera in hand, waiting for that perfect shot of Soval's face when he gets an eyeful of your DNA profile."

Lorian gave his father a look of mock reproach. "It is unseemly of you to take such delight in an intractable man's shock."

Trip smiled, unrepentant. "Thank you kindly."

Lorian and T'Pol shared a gentle embrace, and then he stood back, regarding them both with open affection. "Take care of each other. I look forward to seeing you on your return."

He started for the shuttle...then paused, turning back, his expression thoughtful. "Mother, regarding your marriage to Koss...there are inconsistencies in the facts as presented."

T'Pol traded a curious glance with Trip. "Explain."

"You told me that Koss stated his motive for marrying you was to obey his parents' wishes," Lorian went on. "And to rectify a dishonor committed against his family when you refused their ultimatum to return to Vulcan three years ago and proceed with the ceremony."

"Yes."

Lorian's brow knitted faintly. "I find it puzzling that he would seek to restore his family's honor by marrying a woman whose professional reputation is tainted, whose personal conduct is marked by uncontrolled emotional outbursts, and who is even allowed by that family to abandon the strictly-observed practice of residing with her husband for the first year of marriage."

T'Pol, uncertain now, turned to Trip again. He shrugged. "Simple. She humiliated him by dumping him before."

"Humiliation is a human emotion," Lorian pointed out. "It would be irrelevant in this case. However, it brings up still another inconsistency: why now? Why did he not insist on this marriage a year ago, or two years? The dishonor in question existed then as well."

Trip felt a curious excitement beginning to build inside him. He tried to tamp it down until he heard Lorian out.

"What is relevant," Lorian continued, "is that, by marrying Mother, Koss appears to have succeeded only in further damaging his family's honor, rather than restoring it. He gains nothing from the arrangement." Lorian turned to T'Pol. "Unless he has another motive for marrying you that he has not revealed."

"What are you saying?" Trip asked quietly.

Lorian raised an eyebrow. "Merely that this marriage is not logical. I see no credible evidence to indicate that it will be long-lasting."

Trip and T'Pol stared at him, thunderstruck, as he boarded the shuttle. He glanced back, giving them that little Lorian-smile, his blue eyes twinkling. "Then again, what would I know of the future?"

The hatch swung shut behind him.


Trip and T'Pol headed toward the turbolift, walking in perfect unison, afraid to speak.

The silence stretched out.

Finally Trip couldn't stand it any longer. "What do you think?"

"Lorian is exceedingly intelligent," T'Pol ventured cautiously. "And able to analyze the situation from a fresh perspective."

They reached the turbolift and boarded. As it rose toward the bridge, they stood shoulder to shoulder, eyes front.

"Nothing has changed," T'Pol said.

"No," Trip agreed. You're still married."

"Yes."

They listened to the hum of the turbolift, still not looking at each other.

"I love you," Trip said, slowly and clearly. "I am hopelessly, desperately in love with you. Utterly and forever."

T'Pol swayed a little as his words sent a wave of joy washing over her. "I love you as well," she replied, with the same careful, measured certainty. "In fact, you are the only man I have ever loved."

An ecstatic smile lit up Trip's face. Still facing front, he reached out, and she took his hand.

They held hands until the lift doors opened. Then, smoothly, they separated, heading to their respective stations on the bridge, Trip still smiling, T'Pol's eyes sparkling.

For the first time in forever, they both felt hopeful.

-fin-