For As Long As Ever Lasts
#8 in the Reconnecting series
Rating: PG-13, for language
Genre: T/T romance, drama, ensemble, AU
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 "Kir'Shara," plus references to storyline elements through "Bound."
Summary: Sequel to my story "Each Touch a Promise." A view of the Vulcan arc, filtered through my little Reconnecting universe.
A/N: If you have read any of my Strange New Worlds entries, you may experience a bit of deja vu while reading this story. I used some scenes here and there as source material for a few of those stories.
Thanks as always to slj91 and Jenna, my wonderful beta readers.
For As Long As Ever Lasts
Chapter 1: Aftershock
T'Pol still had no idea what she was going to say to her mother.
She stared at the blank viewscreen, waiting for the subspace connection to go through, fidgeting nervously, until Lorian's calm hand closed over hers. She glanced at her son's tranquil face, then beyond him to his fiancée Karyn, and Trip, both smiling supportively. T'Pol took a deep breath and willed herself to relax as she continued to wait.
T'Les was not at home, however. Nor was she at the Vulcan Science Academy, when T'Pol contacted T'Les's office there. Apparently she was on a leave of absence, arranged on short notice and without explanation. She had left no word as to when she would return.
After making several more calls without locating her mother, T'Pol rose from her terminal, attempting to conceal her disappointment. "Likely she has embarked on one of her impromptu research forays."
Trip sensed more from T'Pol. "Does she do this a lot?"
T'Pol frowned faintly in puzzlement. "After so recently returning to her post, I assumed she would refrain from..." She stopped, seeming to set the thought aside before answering Trip. "Yes. She has a habit of becoming absorbed in a quest for a solution to a problem, to the exclusion of all else."
Lorian and Karyn traded a look. They had also noticed T'Pol's unease. "An admirable trait in a scholar," Lorian remarked.
"But a trying one at times, in a mother." T'Pol looked away.
"No matter," Lorian said soothingly. He took Karyn's hand. "We do not plan on going anywhere."
T'Pol's shadowed expression lightened a little.
"She'll meet them, T'Pol," Trip assured her. "We'll try again tomorrow."
News of the bombing of Earth's embassy on Vulcan came that afternoon.
Jonathan Archer had no time to process Admiral Forrest's death. He was too busy taking calls from Starfleet, canceling all shore leaves, putting a rush on repairs and resupply of Enterprise, and making preparations to leave for Vulcan as soon as possible. He never stopped moving, from bridge to ready room to command center and back to the bridge again. He didn't even have a chance to change out of the sweaty workout clothes he'd been wearing when T'Pol brought him word of the attack.
Finally, hours later, he had every call made or answered, every order given, and no responsibility pending until... He looked across the bridge to the comm station. "Hoshi? When is Admiral Gardner due to call back?"
Hoshi Sato checked her chronometer. "Seventeen minutes, sir," she replied quietly. The entire bridge staff had been speaking quietly around the captain. They were all acutely aware of the personal loss he had suffered.
Archer glanced at the science station. T'Pol wasn't back yet; he had her circulating among departments, authorizing or scrounging whatever supplies, equipment, or personnel were needed. His eyes flicked to Malcolm Reed at Tactical, a calm British sea, as always, in the midst of the pre-launch chaos. "Malcolm, you have the bridge."
"Aye, sir," Malcolm nodded.
Archer gestured vaguely to his incongruous yellow jersey as he headed for the turbolift. "I'll be back in seventeen minutes..." —he forced a bit of wryness into his voice— "...looking a little more like a captain."
After the lift door shut behind him, Hoshi, Malcolm, and Travis Mayweather exchanged glances of mingled concern and admiration for their commander. "He's been looking plenty captain-like to me," Travis said to no one in particular.
-- -- --
Archer waited until he was safely inside his quarters before he loosened his grip on his tenuous control and his aching soul broke open.
He stripped off his clothes and turned his shower on full blast, then braced himself under the stinging-hot spray, letting the water drown out his sobs and wash away his tears. Fourteen minutes...that was all the time he had simply to be a man who had lost his friend and mentor. Then he would be captain of Enterprise once more, with no time to grieve properly until this mission was over.
He dragged himself out of the shower and toweled off, rubbing a clear spot in the steamed-up mirror. Red-rimmed eyes stared back at him. He looked like hell.
His head was pounding by the time he pulled out a clean uniform and tossed it on the bed, barely missing Porthos. The beagle sat up, shifting his weight restlessly from paw to paw, clearly distressed by his master's anguish. He whined once, softly. Archer stroked the dog's ears. "There's no fooling you, is there, boy?" Porthos licked his hand.
He was zipping up his jumpsuit when his door chime sounded. "Not yet," he pleaded under his breath. "I still have eight minutes." But he couldn't bring himself to ignore whoever was out there. He wiped a sleeve across his wet eyes, ran his fingers through his still-damp hair, and took a deep, steadying breath. "Come in."
The door opened, revealing Karyn Archer, her face filled with sympathy and sorrow.
Archer's first thought was that her arrival would just start him crying again. But she crossed to him without a word, simply embracing him. He wrapped his arms around her, and they held each other for a long moment, rocking gently, soothing one another...and Archer found himself gaining strength from her presence
At last Karyn pulled back, looking up at him. Though she was dry-eyed, he could see that she had recently been weeping, too. "What can I do?" she asked softly.
"You're doing it," he replied gratefully.
She hugged him again. "I'm going to miss him. We all are. He was so kind to us. The day we arrived, he greeted every one of us personally, even the children."
That made Archer smile. "He was great with kids. He always taught at the summer space camps." Reluctantly, he pulled out of Karyn's comforting embrace. "Admiral Gardner's going to be yelling for me in six minutes."
She nodded. "Before you go—sit."
With a puzzled frown, Archer sat on the bed. Karyn pulled out a hypospray. "I went by sickbay on my way here. This is for your headache." As he stared at her in surprise, she injected him. Next she produced a small bottle. "And these drops will really help your eyes." She waited. Like an obedient child, Archer tipped his head back. With tender care, she applied the eye drops.
He blinked a few times. His head was already starting to feel better. "You're going to make Lorian a fine wife."
Karyn smiled dismissively. "Lorian's not going to need me to take care of him."
"You'll be surprised how much he needs you." Archer gestured to the hypospray and eye drops. "How did you know?"
"Because I've gotten the same kind of message," she answered simply.
His face filled with compassion. "I'm sorry."
Karyn shrugged faintly, but her eyes were sad. Before he could get nosy, she turned away, setting the first aid things on his desk.
Archer recalled looking up his "descendants" in the alternate Enterprise's records to confirm Phlox's DNA findings. Son Henry, grandson Charles, great-granddaughter Karyn. Charles and his wife Olivia had died on the same day eight years before, he remembered. That would have made Karyn just eighteen years old...
She turned back, her face composed again, and stood him up. "Let's get you back to the bridge."
They headed for the turbolift together. Karyn stayed close, her arm through Archer's. "I wish I could have spent more time with the Admiral."
"He was one of the finest men I knew," Archer said. "He taught me a lot. Kept me in line. Chewed me out more times than I can count. He almost got me kicked out of Starfleet, did you know that?"
Karyn shook her head. "What'd you do?"
"Stole a prototype warp-drive ship to test out a theory."
Karyn's jaw dropped. "Papa...!"
"Forrest hung my ass out to dry. Then at my Starfleet hearing, he gave a speech that single-handedly kept me from getting court-martialed. He's the reason I'm here." Archer smiled down at her. "When we get back, I'll tell you the story."
She returned his smile. "I'd like that."
Trip had all three crew shifts working simultaneously to get a week's worth of repairs and maintenance wrapped up within the next twelve hours. Lorian only needed to take one look at the frenetic scene in engineering before he automatically began assisting his father. When Karyn arrived, she hugged Trip hello, then rolled up her sleeves and joined them. T'Pol showed up shortly thereafter, sent by Captain Archer—ostensibly to help get engineering buttoned down in time for launch. But Archer obviously knew that it would make visiting with Lorian and Karyn a lot easier for her.
"Admiral Gardner called Papa again, just before I left," Karyn said, as she handed Trip a padd of diagnostic data. "More details about the bombing. The location of the explosive charges was chosen to maximize loss of life. And whoever planted them had to expose themselves to great risk to get them there."
"This suggests that the perpetrators are driven by a great passion to achieve their objective," Lorian observed, as he and Trip finished closing up the warp injector housings. "A reckless, ruthless passion."
T'Pol looked up from her terminal nearby, where she was studying the results of the latest antimatter intermix calibration. "That indicates a decided lack of logic."
"Precisely the reason why Starfleet's insistence on sending Enterprise to investigate was a wise decision," Lorian responded. "The senselessness of the crime will likely stymie Vulcan authorities who would undoubtedly search for logical answers."
"It'll be hell on the Captain," Trip sighed. "But I'm sure he wouldn't want it any other way."
"There are many at the Starfleet compound who wish they could join him," Lorian said.
"The whole place is still in shock," Karyn added. "There's a lot of respect for the Admiral. Among our people, too."
"He gave us a home and a new future," Lorian noted quietly. "He will be long remembered."
The four of them, absorbed as they were in their various tasks, didn't realize that the rest of the engineering crew was sneaking looks at them from the catwalks. After all, it was impossible not to notice how effortlessly the little group worked together...Commanders Tucker and T'Pol communicating almost without the need for words...Lorian and his former XO (and now girlfriend, rumor had it) Karyn Archer partnering up with the seamless ease of longtime colleagues...and the "parents" laboring alongside the "children" as if they'd worked side by side for years.
Even richer to witness was the personal interplay. The easy way Lorian referred to the commanders as Mother and Father, and T'Pol and Tucker's unquestioned acceptance of the designations. Tucker joshing with Lorian and doting affectionately on Karyn. T'Pol and Lorian engaged in lively debate over a problem, spinning off into esoteric theory as they left any less-than-brilliant eavesdropper far behind. The subtle, familial fondness that all four—even T'Pol, in her own way—showed each other, with touches, words, and glances.
After a little while, it didn't matter to any of the observers that Lorian looked years older than Tucker and T'Pol, or that the two commanders weren't a couple, or that Karyn looked young enough to be Lorian's daughter rather than his girlfriend. They were a family, plain and simple. And watching the Family, as they were quickly dubbed up in the catwalks, was irresistible.
Hess and Rostov had their hands full shooing the captivated crew back to their duties. But they could hardly blame anyone. The Family just looked so...cute down there together. Amazingly, they seemed quite clueless that they made such a striking-looking ensemble, which rendered them even more adorable to their admirers. Even Hess and Rostov got stuck sometimes, simply watching.
The ultimate treat unfolded as time grew short and Enterprise's launch loomed nearer. Lorian proposed a series of shortcuts and jury-rigging tricks, all devised on the fly in the Expanse, to cut prep time. Commander Tucker, impressed by his son's ingenuity, and clearly disgruntled that he hadn't come up with any of the time-savers on his own, answered each of Lorian's shortcuts with one of his signature Engineering Miracle moves, typically saved to satisfy Captain Archer in a time crunch. Back and forth the two engineers went, good-naturedly one-upping one another, as they sent crewmen scurrying to implement each new task, and engineering grew speedily closer to readiness.
Lorian and Karyn stayed until the last possible moment, when the call came for all visitors to depart the ship. Hess booted Trip out of engineering herself, insisting that he accompany T'Pol to see Lorian and Karyn off.
"Perhaps you will be able to locate your mother more readily once you have reached Vulcan," Lorian told T'Pol, as they all emerged from the turbolift and headed for the airlock.
"Perhaps," T'Pol echoed. She looked ill at ease again.
Trip, Lorian, and Karyn picked up on it. They exchanged glances. "Y'know," Trip began, "once we catch the bad guys, we could still do the subspace meet-and-greet and introduce T'Les to the kids."
"Sure," Karyn joined in. "You two and T'Les on one end, and Lorian and me on the other."
T'Pol perked up a little. Lorian added, "You would be able to make your introductions in person, as you had hoped."
"And I'd be right there with you to help," Trip offered brightly. "Or totally muck it up, depending on how you look at it."
T'Pol nodded. "A communiqué involving all of us would be agreeable," she said with conviction. The other three traded surreptitious nods: mission accomplished.
As they reached the airlock, Archer rounded the corner, catching a surprised Karyn up in a hug. "I told Hoshi not to answer any calls for five minutes," he said with a smile.
"Like hell you did!" Karyn laughed. "But whatever rules you broke to come down here, I'm glad." She held him close. "Watch your back, and come home safe."
Archer held her at arm's length, regarding her fondly. "I love you. Have I told you that?"
Karyn swallowed hard, suddenly teary-eyed, as she shook her head. "I like hearing it."
"I'm not just saying it because we happen to share some DNA." Archer kissed her on the cheek. "I'm glad you're here. You've become such a part of me."
"And you're a real person to me now, not just a picture and a bio in a file." Karyn returned his kiss. "I love you, too, Papa."
As she flitted over to Trip and T'Pol to deliver farewell hugs, Archer turned to Lorian, standing quietly by. "Lorian, I know she's perfectly capable of looking after herself, but...take care of her."
Lorian understood what Archer meant. "Rest assured, Captain, I have pledged my life to do so." He held out his hand, and Archer shook it with a nod of gratitude.
Lorian accepted a bear hug from Trip and a more reserved embrace from T'Pol. "Give my best to Ambassador Soval," he told them, with that tiny, mischievous Lorian-smile.
Trip looked heavenward. "Don't expect us to become best buddies or anything."
"The thought never occurred to me," Lorian replied innocently. He and Karyn turned to leave.
"One more thing!" Archer barked in his command voice. The couple stopped and faced him in surprise. "There will be no marrying anybody while Enterprise is away," he ordered sternly. "I am not missing out on that. Understood?"
"Aye, Captain," they both replied crisply.
Archer nodded, satisfied. Trip tried unsuccessfully to smother a chuckle, while T'Pol raised an eyebrow delicately, her eyes dancing with amusement.
Lorian ushered Karyn into the airlock, and they took one last look at Trip, T'Pol, and Archer. "Safe journey," Lorian said.
"Good luck," Karyn added softly.
The three Enterprise officers nodded, and the airlock hatch hissed shut.
As the transport shuttle dropped away from Enterprise and made for the North American continent, Karyn regarded Lorian speculatively. "So...when are we getting married? No, wait—first things first. When are we going public with our engagement?"
"The answer to both your questions hinges on whether Starfleet will allow married officers to be posted on the same vessel," Lorian replied. "We will be of unequal rank, and I may also be called upon to serve within the command structure. There are issues of propriety and objectivity."
"They wouldn't be issues with you, and you know it," Karyn scoffed.
"Starfleet does not know me as well as you do," Lorian pointed out patiently. "Until Captain Archer has gleaned the pertinent information from the upper echelons, we had best stay in a 'holding pattern,' as my father would say."
Karyn nodded reluctantly. He was right, of course. "And if they would separate us?" She looked wistful. "Would we stay secretly engaged forever?"
Lorian was surprised by how much he missed the spark of joy he almost always saw in her eyes. "Not at all," he replied reassuringly. Then, impulsively, he kept going. "We would secretly marry."
The spark returned full force as Karyn's face lit with awestruck delight. "Lorian...how romantic."
He was quite nonplussed. "Two months ago, I doubt that anyone would have described me as 'romantic'..."
Karyn was already picturing it, spinning a story in her mind's eye. "By day, we would work side by side, never so much as touching, while our shipmates remained blissfully unaware of the true nature of our relationship..." She sighed dreamily. "But at night, after duty shift, we would rendezvous in secret, in your quarters or mine...we'd peel off our clothes and our false identities, and you would take me in your arms and ravish me..."
Her playful manner evaporated when she saw the stricken expression on Lorian's face. He looked down. "The pon farr has forever altered your view of me," he said bleakly.
Karyn was devastated by the hurt she saw in his eyes, and heard in his voice. "What do you mean?"
"Ravisher...you called me a ravisher." He was hardly able to say the word.
Karyn took his hand. "Oh, love, I'm sorry," she told him softly. "I meant it in the emotional sense, as a compliment...because I find you irresistible. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
He clutched her hand in both of his, like a lifeline. When he finally met her eyes, she could see he was still terribly self-conscious. "That night, when we...when you saved me..."
Karyn waited, giving him time to find the words he was searching for. Lorian swallowed and continued. "I was not the uncontrolled savage that I feared I would become, but neither was I...myself." He sighed. "I had intended to wait."
Lorian averted his eyes again, blushing green-bronze to the tips of his ears. "I did not expect our courtship to progress to an...intimate relationship...until after we were married. Or at least engaged. I'd had little time to consider it..."
She caught her breath as she realized what he was saying. "You knew you wanted to marry me before the pon farr?"
He nodded, with that sweet bashfulness she adored about him. "Not very long before, granted." He spoke haltingly, still painfully shy, but determined to impart this to her. "At Callahan's...our first dance...I spoke to you of my feelings. I found myself picturing the future, and I discovered that I could not envision any future without you at my side, sharing it with me."
She smiled tenderly at him, touched by his admission.
"I knew that our courtship had been brief," Lorian continued. "Nevertheless, I was determined to broach the subject of marriage to you at the end of the evening, when we were alone."
Karyn thought back to the moment when he had proposed to her, following their intense and emotional night of lovemaking, when he had awakened safe in her arms the next morning. Her smile widened. "That you did."
Lorian looked embarrassed again. "The circumstances were far different than I—"
"Lorian." She took his face in her hands. "The order of events may have changed. The speed may have changed. But the destination has always been the same...the two of us, together." With that, she pulled his head down and kissed him.
He leaned into her, holding the kiss, deepening it, feeling his anxiety fade. At last he pulled back, aware that they were on a public transport. But his eyes never left her.
Karyn studied him for a moment. "We could start over, if you wanted...take that night, label it 'pon farr necessity,' and just forget about it."
"No," Lorian said firmly. He caressed her cheek. "I could never forget what you did for me that night...what we shared. Nor would I wish to."
That made her smile again. "Still, if it would put you more at ease, we can wait. Until we're married."
He was quite touched. "You've waited so long already."
She slipped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest. "You're worth waiting for, Lorian."
"And you are worth dispensing with all waiting, Karyn." He enfolded her in his arms, dropping a light kiss on her silken hair. "I suggest that we let the question answer itself, when the time arises."
They held each other in comfortable silence, watching the black expanse of stars outside the viewports gave way to blue sky and sunshine.
"I wonder..." Lorian mused thoughtfully. "Does it seem incorrect for me to marry you before my parents marry each other?"
"Now that you mention it..." Karyn shrugged. "They'll be facing the Starfleet question too, though—they're both in the command structure. Besides, we don't know when T'Pol's going to get out of that fool marriage of hers, or how."
"Enterprise is en route to Vulcan. This mission may result in changes for all concerned."
"I hope so." Karyn fell silent again. Then, abruptly, she grinned. "Secret marriages for everybody! Clandestine midnight rendezvous!..."
Lorian rolled his eyes, but he could not suppress a chuckle of his own. Unfathomable, this notion of romance. Nevertheless, he had to admit that he was developing a distinct fondness for it.