Coming Home

Having reconnected with each other in the mind meld that saved Tucker's life, now T'Pol and Tucker face the challenge of doing it in the real world. This is the gooey, nougat-centered sequel to Almost Home. Post Terra Prime. TnT angst/romance/fluff with minor heartwarming appearances by Phlox, Archer, and Reed. Have insulin standing by!

This story is complete but reviewing may just get new chapters up faster. ;)

When T'Pol arrived back in sickbay with a tray of eggs and toast for Trip, Archer gave his chief engineer an amused look and excused himself.

Phlox offered one of his alarmingly wide smiles and said, "I'll leave you to enjoy your meal, then," and went back into his office.

"Thanks," Trip said to T'Pol. At any other time he might have teased her by saying, "Gee, thanks, honey!" but he had a feeling that would fall flat just now.

She went and got a stool and sat down next to his bed, facing him. "I took the liberty of bringing myself a cup of tea as well," she said, and helped herself from his tray.

He smiled politely and took a bite of the eggs. Phlox's hypo had banished the nausea but he still felt a little apprehensive about eating. Fortunately, they were delicious – so much better than what he'd been enjoying in his head. He began to eat with serious intent. How could he not have noticed the difference between this and the attenuated flavors of his subconscious?

She sipped her tea and watched him. Trip looked up from his meal occasionally and met her eyes. She didn't try to evade his glance. She didn't cough and find an excuse to leave. She didn't even bring up ship talk to fill the silence.

"So did anything important happen while I was out of it?" he asked.

"Nothing of note. Astral cartography has been busy, but we haven't encountered any new life or new civilizations."

He smiled, recognizing T'Pol dry sense of humor. "My engines are running fine?"

"Hess has not reported any problems."

He sighed and focused on finishing his food. "Thank you, that was great," he said, and pushed the empty plate away. She picked up the tray and took it to one of Phlox's counters, depositing her mug at the same time. Then she returned to sit in the chair and returned her attention to him.

He licked his lips nervously. "Are you waiting for my report?"

She looked surprised. "Do you want to give me one?"

"You already know what happened," he said. "Maybe you could help me put one together for the captain. I'm not sure just how much I should include."

"I don't believe the captain expected you to produce a report immediately. Are you eager to begin one now?"

"No, not really."

She continued to sit there.

He swallowed. "I'm… I'm feeling a little freaked out here."

Her brows drew in. "Explain."

He bit his bottom lip, trying to think how best to put this. "You're just sitting there like you've got nothing better to do than keep me company."

"By my estimation I don't have anything better to do than keep you company," T'Pol said, and put her hand in his. "You are my beloved."

He clasped her hand and stared back at her. "So that's official now?"

T'Pol blinked. "What do you mean by 'official'?"

He shook his head apologetically. "I think I'm having trouble believing this is really happening. That it's not just some fantasy again."

"I assure you, Trip, this is real," she said, and rose from her chair to run her fingers across the five-day stubble he'd grown. "In your mind you were clean-shaven." She raised her eyebrows as if to say, see?

"I still just can't believe it," he said, with a little hitch in his voice.

"Nonetheless, it is true," she said, and kissed him. And then it was as if a dam released and all his pent-up feelings poured out at once.

x x x

Phlox checked the monitor in his office and was pleased to see his patient crying in the arms of the first officer, who was rubbing his back soothingly in a way that suggested she wouldn't be running for the door in a Vulcan panic anytime soon.

"It's about time," he said to no one, watching unabashedly. Perhaps when it came to relationships, a little near-death experience could be therapeutic – akin to the electric shock administered to a heart in chaos, perhaps, except that it was the relationship that regained its proper rhythm. Of course, what a normal rhythm was between these two was anyone's guess. He made a note to himself to keep a close eye; they would need all the help they could get.

His com beeped. "Archer to Phlox."

"Phlox here, Captain."

"Everybody still doing okay down there?"

"Oh, everything's fine. I believe Commander Tucker is going to make a fast recovery."

"Glad to hear that. Do you think I might be able to get my first officer back? We're going to be passing by a trinary star system that looks very interesting."

Phlox hesitated, turning back to his screen. Tucker was wiping his tears and smiling at T'Pol. "Actually, I was hoping to enlist her help in getting Commander Tucker back on his feet today. With your permission, of course."

"Oh." Archer sounded a little taken aback. "Well, of course, if that's what she wants to do. But if you could just let her know, doctor? I know she'd find this fascinating. I imagine she could fit both in if she wanted to."

"Of course, Captain. Thank you. I believe T'Pol's help will materially speed Commander Tucker's recovery. Phlox out."

He made a warning racket just outside his office door and went to check on his patient. Tucker was blowing his nose.

"I haven't brushed my teeth in five days," he was saying just as Phlox appeared.

Phlox said, "Then it's high time you did. Let's get you up. T'Pol, could you take one side and I'll take the other? Let's see how you are on your feet, Commander."

Tucker looked alarmed at the thought of standing, but Phlox and T'Pol didn't give him any time to think about it before his feet were on the floor.

"How do you feel?" Phlox said.

"Pretty good."

"Let's see you walk across the room, then," Phlox said.

His first steps were cautious, but he quickly gained confidence.

"Still feeling fine?"

"Yeah. Maybe just a little wobbly."

"That's to be expected. T'Pol, I'd like you to escort the Commander to his quarters so he can brush those teeth. Commander, you are off duty until tomorrow. Please eat well today and let me know if you start feeling ill. Do some light walking. I'll expect to see you tomorrow morning for a quick check before you go on duty."

Tucker still looked surprised. "Usually I have to whine like hell to get out of here."

"Usually you're in more serious condition. Besides, I'm assuming T'Pol will keep an eye on you," Phlox said. He coughed. "Speaking of which, T'Pol, the captain wanted me to let you know we're going to passing close to a trinary star system later today."

T'Pol glanced at Tucker. "Does he wish for me to supervise our scans?"

"I informed him that you would be helping Commander Tucker today."

Tucker frowned. "I don't want to interfere with your duties," he said to T'Pol. "She can just help me get to my quarters and then she can go, right?"

"No, that wasn't what I had in mind at all," Phlox said.

T'Pol looked uncomfortable.

"I don't mind," Tucker said to her. "Like Phlox said, I'm really fine." He turned and started walking out of sickbay.

Phlox gave T'Pol as plain a stare as he could. She nodded almost imperceptibly and ran after the engineer.

x x x

"Think I'll take a shower," Trip said, when they got to his quarters. He rubbed a hand through his hair and didn't quite meet her eyes. "I'm sure I'll be fine if you need to get going."

"I'm staying here," T'Pol said. Even if Phlox hadn't given her that stare, she could feel Trip brooding through their bond.

"Look, it's okay. We both have duties, I understand that. If it were the engines that needed attention, I'd be off without a second thought."

"Malfunctioning engines constitute an emergency. Scientific scans do not. My staff is fully qualified to manage the procedure."

"I doubt the captain sees it that way," Trip said.

T'Pol felt a flash of amusement. "I doubt it as well."

He smiled. "It's going to make him nuts."

"Indeed." Who knew this better than the two of them? "I suppose he'll just have to cope."

He laughed out loud. "I love you."

He'd never said that to her, not in so many words. Even now there was almost a joking quality to it, but she knew he was serious, if only because he was growing anxious at her surprised silence.

"And I you," she said, trying to reassure him. She held out two fingers.

He raised his eyebrows, then held out his two fingers in imitation. She stepped forward until their fingers touched.

He swallowed hard. "You did this with Koss at your wedding."

"Yes. It is the formal Vulcan greeting between bonded mates. I did not realize at the time that I was already bonded to you, or I would have known I could not marry him. Indeed, by some interpretations of Vulcan common law, we were already married."

"I know. I've done a little research on my own. I have to admit I've often wondered why you never mentioned that little detail before."

She swallowed. "I had doubts you would welcome the information. You did not seem entirely pleased when you learned of the existence of the bond."

She could tell he didn't fully accept that explanation, but all he did was sigh and say, "Better let me get that shower, okay?"

x x x

Trip stood in the shower for too long, letting the hot water comfort him, trying to figure out what he should do.

Part of him wanted to simply enjoy this newly affectionate T'Pol for as long as it lasted.

Another part of him felt that he was damned if he was going to let her do this to him again.

And another part of him, the part that was spending too much time in the shower, was desperately trying to figure out what he could do differently this time that would keep this from ending badly. Should he try to stay aloof, as if he were Vulcan himself? Move cautiously, as if T'Pol were a wild creature in need of slow and careful taming? Demand his rights as her bond mate? Bend his knee and ask her to marry him the old-fashioned way?

But he'd already agonized among all these options for weeks, months, even years. Finally he just turned off the water. He didn't know, he couldn't know, and this wasn't anything he could resolve by himself.

He quickly shaved and brushed his teeth and dressed in a clean set of civvies. At the door he swallowed and took a deep breath. Here went nothing.

T'Pol was sitting stiffly on his bunk, fingering the silly Frankenstein action figure Malcolm had given him. When she looked up at him her eyes were huge, her face solemn. She looked – and, he suddenly realized, truly felt – just as scared as he was.

He dropped to his knees in front of her. "Please tell me what to do."

To be continued