Counting Down to Zero

Genre: Drama, Countdown episode addition

Rated: PG … mild language and adult situations.

Summary: For Sub-Commander T'Pol, twelve hours is an eternity...

Disclaimer: I own a big fat nothing. Not my hopes. Not my dreams. Nothing.

A/N: This has long lain fallow upon my hard drive though some of you may recognize it from my LJ. There are 6 planned "chapters".

Z Minus Twelve

"I expect you to keep him in line."

Captain Archer's tone was sardonic as he stood in the airlock, and a teasing glint was in his eye. T'Pol frowned slightly. Only a human could possibly find humor in their current situation. She gave Trip a glance, noting instantly that he was as unamused as she was by the captain's poor attempt at levity. Not for the first time, she found herself silently lamenting the loss of the Commander Tucker whom she had first met in Captain Archer's ready room so many years ago. He had been arrogant and brash and remarkably emotional, but that was infinitely superior to this ... ghost who play-acted at being Charles Tucker.

It was an entirely illogical notion.

"I'll do my best," she replied, ignoring the subtext of the captain's remark as only a Vulcan could. The captain's statements, directed to her instead of Trip, seemed intended to communicate his understanding – and approval! – of the new dynamic between her and Tucker, a dynamic that she was still trying to figure out herself. Archer gave the chief engineer another nod before turning away, disappearing into the Xindi craft that would carry him to the weapon already en route to Earth.

She tried not to think how ominous the airlock's hiss sounded as it sealed behind Archer.

"Mayweather to T'Pol." The ensign's voice crackled out of the comm panel a few moments later, and she turned to it, aware of Trip's eyes on her. She was always aware of his eyes.

"This is T'Pol," she said as she depressed the transmit button.

"Degra's ship has undocked."

"Then take us to maximum warp." There was no need to give the helmsman a heading.

"I'll be in Engineering," Trip muttered as he turned away, and T'Pol frowned at how slowly he moved, as if under the strain of an impossible weight. He had been working nonstop since the battle ended, conducting repairs and coordinating the already undermanned damage control teams. Even before that, she knew for a fact that he had not had the opportunity to rest for any significant period of time. Since before the Xindi attack on Earth, she reflected sadly.

"No." He gave her a sharp look, anger stamped on his face, but she continued before he could speak. "I need you fully rested, Commander. Your team has everything under control for the time being. Consider yourself relieved of duty for eight hours." For a moment, she thought he was going to argue as he had when Phlox ordered him to his quarters.

To her surprise, he did not.

"All right," Trip said softly. His grin looked weak and altogether too forced. "I am kinda tired." As he walked away, he looked broken and exhausted.

It took every gram of her control to not follow him.