Each Touch a Promise
Story #7 in the Reconnecting Series
by HopefulR

Genre: T/T, romance, AU
Rating: PG-13, for language and courtin' stuff
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 "The Augments," plus oblique references to the Vulcan arc.
Summary: Sequel to my story "The Land of Might-Have-Been." Now that they have acknowledged their feelings for each other, Trip and T'Pol struggle not to dishonor her marriage. On Earth, Lorian makes an impression on Admiral Forrest and Ambassador Soval; and Lorian and Karyn embark on a shy courtship.

A/N: I never expected the Lorian storyline to continue beyond "Might-Have-Been." I assumed that story was my last, as usual. Besides, it was AU, and good gravy, it would mean doing a makeover of the rest of the season, even if I had other story ideas, which I didn't.

However, the response to "Might-Have-Been" was very strong, and quite positive. (Thank you all.) At this point the characters, having quietly taken on a life of their own, tapped me on the shoulder and began telling me what to do. I just listened, and typed like mad.

Thanks again to my betas Jenna (my Lorian touchstone) and slj91 (my fact-checker extraordinaire).

Each Touch a Promise

Chapter 1

Archer could tell there was something subtly different about the way Trip and T'Pol were interacting, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

After Enterprise left Spacedock for the Borderland, Trip stayed on the bridge for a couple of hours, monitoring engineering from his station before he went below to do some fine-tuning. So Archer had a chance to observe the two of them, out of the corner of his eye.

They went about their duties as efficiently as always, exchanging data, monitoring the upgrades and refitted systems, consulting with each other as they tweaked various calibrations. Their discussions were lively, punctuated by Trip's joshing and T'Pol's dry humor. Archer saw the same comfortable closeness between them, the solid support, the gratitude at simply being together...

Wait. There was something missing. The sadness was gone.

All these months, ever since their budding relationship had been derailed by T'Pol's necessary marriage to Koss, Archer had watched as she and Trip carefully and determinedly channeled their feelings into a deep, nurturing bond of friendship. Yet there was a more powerful emotion under the surface that, though left unfed, stubbornly refused to die. Because of this, Archer had always sensed a wistful melancholy from them both...a lingering sorrow for what might have been.

Now he saw no sign of it. In its place was an irrepressible sparkle in T'Pol's eyes, and a smile that Trip could never quite get off his face, no matter what he was doing. They were hopeful again. But why? What had changed?

Archer sighed as he swiveled absently back and forth in his new command chair, studying Trip's "Try not to hit that button!" button. He'd missed something again.

Trip stopped by his quarters after his duty shift to shower and change into casual clothes before heading to T'Pol's for their evening chat. They usually made a point not to dress up for each other, to keep things on more of a friendshippy level, but Trip just felt like doing it tonight.

As T'Pol ushered him into her cabin, Trip wasn't at all surprised to see that she was wearing off-duty clothes, too. He smiled in greeting. "I'd almost forgotten what it's like to be on a ship that isn't falling apart at the seams."

T'Pol nodded as she prepared tea for them—chamomile this evening. "I had also lapsed in my routine of checking all available sensors, as it has been so long since all sensors have been available."

Trip took a seat at his usual place on one side of T'Pol's low meditation table, and watched her pour their tea. She was wearing a loose, sand-colored robe of fine Vulcan linen over her lounging clothes. It was a modest thing, covering her from neck to ankle, but the way it swayed gently as she moved, softly outlining her figure, was mesmerizing to him. She had a glow about her tonight, a serenity that enhanced her beauty. He couldn't take his eyes off her.

T'Pol knelt gracefully across the table from Trip. As she handed him his tea, she had the oddest thought that his eyes looked bluer tonight, his dimples deeper when he smiled, his face more boyishly handsome than usual. Most illogical.

She attempted to begin their evening in the usual fashion. "Was your day eventful?"

Trip laughed out loud. "Well, now...aside from Lorian telling us his theory that your marriage might not last long after all, and you and me blurting out our undying love for each other, and no less than twelve people telling me I've been grinning like an idiot since we left Spacedock...it's been pretty dull. How 'bout you?"

The tiniest hint of a smile played on T'Pol's lips. "Though I have not...grinned idiotically, I have been markedly distracted today," she confessed. "Albeit pleasantly so."

They gazed contentedly at one another, their tea forgotten.

"It feels different now, bein' together," Trip murmured softly.

"Indeed," T'Pol concurred.

"More...comfortable." Slowly, deliberately, Trip reached out and captured her hand, twining his fingers through hers. A bolt of sensual pleasure shot through them both, surprising them with its intensity. They were suddenly, acutely aware of how much they wanted each other.

Trip swallowed nervously. "Wow."

"It does feel...quite agreeable," T'Pol ventured, her voice a bit unsteady.

"Intimate, even," Trip breathed. Their faces were only centimeters apart now. How had that happened? He didn't even remember moving.

T'Pol could feel his warm, sweet breath tickling her face. The sensation was incredibly seductive.

Trip felt her tighten her grip on his hand. He couldn't suppress a groan of desire as another wave of raw, hot need washed over him. Her lips smelled faintly of chamomile...

They froze, a hair's-breadth apart. Trip cleared his throat. "Actually, this feels...dangerous."

"Agreed," T'Pol whispered.

They broke apart, flushed and shaking with desire, almost afraid to look at one another.

Trip ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Well. Looks like being 'just friends' has gotten a lot more complicated."

T'Pol took a sip of her cooling tea to steady herself. Trip grabbed his cup and drained it in one gulp.

"Our near-lapse is understandable, considering what we learned today," T'Pol began, her emotional equilibrium returning. "However, no harm was done. Nothing has changed."

"But everything's different!" Trip pushed away from the meditation table in frustration. "We know we have feelings for each other. Hell, we're even looking at each other differently now. And if Lorian's right, we have a chance for something we thought we'd lost forever. If we get that chance, I want to do it right. No regrets, no guilt, no hurting anyone." He looked at her once more, full of yearning and doubt. "I don't want to dishonor you."

She regarded him with gentle reproach. "Trip, you are the most honorable man I have ever known. I trust you."

He felt humbled by her faith in him. But he had to be honest, for both their sakes. "Darlin', I don't know if I can trust myself."

T'Pol was touched by his poignant admission...and flattered as well, if truth be told. She moved around the table and knelt before him. "Your words only serve to demonstrate your strength, not your weakness." Carefully, she took his hand again.

He trembled at her touch, with both pleasure and fear. He searched her calm, reassuring eyes. "I've waited so long for you..."

"I'm here," she replied, holding his gaze.

He felt himself drawing closer to her again, like a sailor to a siren's call. With an effort, he caught himself, pulling back. "Aw, hell. How am I gonna do this?"

T'Pol knew Trip was fully capable of mastering his desires, for she had observed his extraordinary self-control these last three months. Perhaps all he needed was to be reminded. "There is a simple alternative," she offered, her voice practical. "If we were to cease all off-duty contact until my marital status changes, you would not be tempted."

Trip blanched. "But...Koss might call you back to Vulcan before that happens. It might be years before that happens." Reflexively, his hold on her hand tightened.

"Then you must choose the more difficult path," T'Pol asserted. "You did so before, following my marriage. Have you ever doubted that choice, or regretted it?"

Trip was struck with a stunning clarity. "No...never. I couldn't have turned my back on you. I can't imagine having been without you these last three months."

"Then keep walking this path with me," she said tenderly. "Let us remain together, as friends...for the moment. And when we touch, think of it not as a denial of what we desire, but as a promise of what awaits us. That way, each touch will give us patience."

He rolled his eyes. "Gawd, I have had my fill of being patient!" He gave her a mock scowl. "And I don't mind tellin' ya, I'm pretty perturbed that you're already back to being all even-keeled and composed, and I'm still a basket case. It's not fair."

She arched an eyebrow. "I remind you that it is your continued support that has enabled me to regain much of my emotional control."

"Oh, that's great. Blame me." He chuckled wryly as he wrapped his other hand around hers. "Well, I suppose if one of us is in control of our, um, urges, this just might work. But you'd better keep me in line."

She nodded pragmatically. "I shall, t'hai'la."

"T'hai'la." Trip repeated the word, careful to pronounce it correctly. He remembered old T'Pol calling him that. "What does it mean?"

T'Pol lowered her eyes, attempting to hide her surprise. She didn't know that she had spoken the word aloud. "It is a term of endearment, used with family and cherished friends. In this case, an approximate translation would be..." She hesitated, then faced him with shy affection. "Beloved."

"Beloved..." It took Trip's breath away. Suddenly, he found himself blinking back tears. He laughed softly, happy but not at all self-conscious.

T'Pol watched, captivated, as Trip's emotion welled up in his beautiful blue eyes. She was further amazed when, a moment later, she felt the sting of tears behind her own eyes as well.

He gazed serenely at her. "T'Pol...my t'hai'la." He spoke the words reverently.

They held each other's eyes...slowly leaning in closer...and, barely a centimeter apart, they realized it was happening again. With a mutual moan of longing, they stopped themselves, resisting the delicious pull. Just barely.

"More tea, quick," Trip managed. T'Pol moved back to her side of the meditation table and refilled their cups.

They made eyes at each other from across the table as they sipped their tea. Trip pouted, looking quite adorable, in T'Pol's assessment. "This sure isn't any fun," he groused.

"We must discipline ourselves if we are to succeed at our objective," T'Pol reminded him.

He made a noise of reluctant assent and downed the rest of his tea.

"There is a facet of Vulcan culture that may assist us in controlling our...urges," she offered.

"You mean, it may assist me in controlling mine," Trip snorted. She cocked an eyebrow at him again, and he sighed elaborately. "Okay, okay, I'm listening."

"You will recall that Vulcans utilize a less demonstrative method of public affection." She held out her hand, first two fingers extended in the Vulcan ozh'esta.

Trip perked up. "I'd almost forgotten about this." More accurately, he'd willed himself to try to forget that pre-dawn morning back on Vulcan, before everything had fallen apart. He and T'Pol had been preparing the morning meal, teasing each other, talking about family and Lizzie. He'd felt an almost tangible connection with her. She had taken his hand then, and taught him the ozh'esta...a gesture elegant in its simplicity, but surprisingly intimate. He had never wanted the moment to end.

He touched his fingers to hers now. "It's like a Vulcan kiss, right?"

"Essentially." She reached up, drawing her two fingers along his cheek. "And this could be equated to a kiss on the cheek."

Her touch sent a delectable tingle shivering through him. "This is supposed to help me control my urges?"

"It is intended to assist you in focusing your energies more efficiently," she replied patiently. "Think of it as a form of meditation."

He waggled his eyebrows at her. "I can think of a much more efficient way to focus my energies regarding your sweet self, darlin'."

She offered him the ozh'esta again. "Remember, t'hai'la...each touch a promise."

Trip touched his fingers to hers once more. He relaxed, gradually feeling a calm settle over him that he hadn't felt in months...a renewed sense of peace. He could almost imagine T'Pol literally transmitting her tranquility to him. The connection he felt between them was extraordinary.

He knew then that they were going to be able to make this work, for as long as it took, until they could truly be together. He gave her a gentle smile. "Each touch a promise, t'hai'la."