Here's the final part of this story. A sequel may follow eventually, however.
Once again, thank you so much, reviewers! Reviews make an author's day!
He could feel her frustration spike. "Are you saying we can't have a relationship while we both serve on Enterprise?"
"No, I'm not saying that, but we'll have to keep it secret. Really secret. Which isn't easy to pull off on a starship." He sighed. "Do you really want our private encounters to consist of nothing more than plausibly job-related meetings in our quarters?"
She tilted her head. "Perhaps you will require neuro-pressure on a regular basis?"
"I'm going to require a hell of a lot more than that."
She gave him an uncertain look and suddenly he was drowning in misgivings, both his and hers. "This isn't going to work, is it?" he groaned.
She got up from his chair and sat down next to him on the bunk. "If it doesn't work, we'll have to find another way."
He took her hand. "You mean that?"
"We share a mating bond," T'Pol said. "To attempt to separate at this point in our lives would be both dangerous and illogical."
He smirked. "Sweep me off my feet, why don't you?"
"You're not on your feet."
He shook his head, amused. "Why don't you get dressed? Let's see if we can fool the bridge crew into thinking we haven't just been shagging each other silly."
x x x
Jon didn't have a particularly sensitive nose. If he did, he wouldn't have been able to share quarters on a spaceship with a dog – let alone a dog prone to digestive upsets. But when he leaned down to point out an interesting scan to his science officer, he found it impossible to miss the distinctive tang of certain bodily fluids.
Hoo boy. His senior officers had made up, all right.
He looked over at Trip, who'd come up to the bridge too, though apparently just to say hi since he wasn't even in uniform. It was obvious that he was still not up to par – his color was off, and he'd been a little too quick to drop down into his chair at the engineering station. But it looked like he was enjoying the joking back and forth with Malcolm about the five-day 'vacation' he'd just taken.
And the subdued misery he'd been carrying around for months was gone.
Jon shook his head and grinned down at the deck.
"Does something amuse you, Captain?" T'Pol asked.
"I'm just pleased to see Trip looking so happy," he said softly, and squeezed her briefly on the shoulder. He resisted the temptation to add, "Good job!"
She glanced up at him, and Jon smiled again. He would have missed it years ago, but it was obvious to him that she was happy too.
He straightened up and grimaced a little. All this newfound happiness was fine and good, but he also had a ship to run. "Trip, T'Pol – could you join me in my ready room?"
x x x
Jon sat down behind his desk. "So how is this going to work?" he asked.
"Cap'n?" Trip said, after a quick glance at T'Pol.
"I'm happy to see that you're a couple again, but I can't help wondering just how I'm supposed to handle this."
Trip looked flabbergasted. "It's that obvious?"
"Let's just say you both might want to take a shower next time."
Trip cringed. "Oh."
T'Pol lifted an eyebrow, apparently unembarrassed. "The human male's sense of smell is more acute than I realized."
Jon grinned. "Trip, why don't you sit down? I think it's just possible you've been over-exerting yourself."
Trip scowled at him, but sank down onto the little bench anyway. He stared up at T'Pol, clearly hoping she would take the lead.
"Well?" Archer prompted them again.
"What is your specific concern, Captain?" T'Pol asked.
"My specific concern? It appears that my two senior officers are involved in a fairly serious relationship. As I assume you know, Starfleet would not view this development with favor. In fact, when you two became very public parents a couple of months ago, Gardner wanted to reassign you both. I had to swear on a stack of Bibles that you were simply close colleagues who had become the innocent victims of rumor and innuendo. Which was a little problematic since I suspected even then that there was more to it than that."
"We're still trying to figure this out ourselves, Cap'n," Trip said. "And if we can, we'd prefer to stay on Enterprise. But the bottom line is that we need to be together."
Jon looked at T'Pol. She just stood there impassively, but he knew she would have disagreed if Trip wasn't speaking for her as well. "I see. Well, I'm glad I'm not about to lose you right away. But you're going to have to be a lot more discreet than you have been. I might have been able to talk about this unofficially with Forrest, but Gardner…" He shook his head. "If this becomes known, your postings could be yanked faster than a Vulcan cruiser breaks warp." He didn't add that his own might just follow. "To put it bluntly, you can't afford to have the whole crew speculating that you're a couple this time."
"Understood," T'Pol said.
"I'd like permission to tell Malcolm, though," Trip said.
"Malcolm?" Jon said. "Our resident stickler?"
Trip licked his lips uncomfortably. "Hear me out, Cap'n. He's suspicious and observant … he loves gossip … and he has control over internal sensors. He'll figure it out even if we don't tell him. Besides, I'm pretty sure he'd … be supportive."
"What makes you think that?"
"He's been supportive in the past," Trip said, and looked a little guiltily at T'Pol, who cocked an eyebrow at him.
Jon had gotten pretty used to swallowing any feelings of jealousy he might have relating to these two, but this was a new one. Trip was getting support from Malcolm instead of him?
Duh, you're the captain.
"I guess that's up to you," he said. "You should also know that Starfleet archives routine recordings of the bridge, the brig, the mess hall, the lounges, and the launch bay. They consider these public areas, and there's nothing to prevent them going in and looking for evidence if they get curious. And even though they don't archive the rest, that doesn't mean someone won't notice if you start canoodling in the turbolift or the corridor."
"We understand, Cap'n," Trip said.
"Canoodling?" T'Pol said.
"I'm sure Trip will be happy to explain that one to you," Jon said. "Good luck to you both. You have my best wishes. Now do me a favor and forget we ever had this conversation."
x x x
"Are you sure this is wise?" Malcolm said.
Trip glared at him. They were sharing a drink in Malcolm's quarters, which Trip felt the man kept poorly lit on purpose. He probably thought it kept him better hidden from the universe. "I'm not doing it because I think it's wise, Malcolm."
"Well that's good, because it's clearly not."
"Are you going to help me or not?"
"If you're absolutely set on this, then you're obviously going to require help."
"I'm absolutely set on this."
Malcolm grimaced. "Haven't you suffered enough already? I mean, honestly, I know she's very attractive and intelligent and exotic and all that, but do you really think you have a future together?"
"All I know is I can't imagine a future apart. And this time, neither can she."
Malcolm shook his head. "Hope really does spring eternal. If you're really so desperate to be together, why don't you just resign your posts and go live happily ever after somewhere?"
"Because she doesn't want to leave Enterprise, and I'm not really too keen on that either." Trip didn't add the part where he was afraid that she'd insist on living on Vulcan. He still hated deserts.
"Oh, I see. You want to, she doesn't. So of course you're going to do it her way."
"Look, if you don't want to help us, just forget it." He stood up. "But I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this to yourself."
"For God's sake, sit down," Malcolm said. "It's going to be a lot harder for me to help you if you go storming out of here over nothing."
Scowling, Trip sat down. He knew Malcolm was just telling him what he would have told Malcolm if their positions were reversed. Maybe that was why it hit a little too close for comfort.
"Look," Malcolm said. "I'm happy for you. I really am. I'd just hate to see you get hurt again."
"You and me both."
"You must have it really bad."
"You have no idea."
x x x
"A campaign of deliberate misinformation?" T'Pol looked perplexed. She and Trip were sitting together over lunch in the mess hall, and had pitched their conversation low even as they maintained a decorous distance for the benefit of their crewmen and any recording devices.
"He thinks the best way to fool everybody is to let people believe you and I had a short 'romance'…." Trip looked up and checked again to make sure no one could overhear them. "…that ended when Elizabeth died. The story would be that it proved too painful to lose a child, so we decided to end it."
What made this so diabolical, Trip thought, was that it had very nearly come true.
"If Admiral Gardner learns we had a 'romance' he might still reassign us."
"Yeah, but it won't be official. The captain won't know about it. We'll just let the rumors fly in that direction. Malcolm also said he thinks we should enlist Hoshi and Phlox. He says they're the biggest gossips on the ship, but they know how to be discreet when it matters."
T'Pol frowned. "I suppose the idea has some merit." She sipped her broth thoughtfully.
Trip watched and tried not to focus too intently on her lips.
Perhaps conscious of where his thoughts were tending, she gave him a look. "How does this help resolve the problem of finding a way to spend time together?"
"It doesn't. That's going to require something different."
He handed her a PADD. "There's a crew rotation coming up. The captain thinks it's a good time to look at all the room assignments on the ship. Maybe it doesn't make sense to have the first officer and the captain's quarters right next to each other. Makes the command structure too vulnerable during a hostile attack."
She looked critically at Trip's proposed changes for B deck. "One could make the same argument about the first and second officer of the ship being adjacent to each other."
"One could," Trip said. "If one were really determined to take all the fun out of everything."
"And you believe this would resolve the issue?"
"It would once I've had a chance to make a few modifications to the bulkhead between our cabins."
"I see," she said, clearly intrigued. "And until that happens?" she asked, carefully not meeting his eyes. "Tonight, for example?"
He grinned. "Tonight? Tonight I believe you and I need to discuss this plan in more detail."
She continued to page through his file. "Yes, I believe the first officer needs to sign off on any proposed changes in crew quarters."
"How's 2000 hours?" Trip took a bite of his sandwich and casually looked out the window.
"It is satisfactory," T'Pol said. She handed his PADD back and took another, very careful spoonful of broth. "But please do your best to be prompt, Commander. I believe this discussion may take some time."
"I sure hope so," Trip said. In fact, he rather hoped it would take the rest of his life.
THE END (for now)