Author's Note: You may be relieved to hear this turned out much sunnier than its 'missing scenes' predecessors, Commander Tucker Falls in Love and Commander T'Pol Joins Starfleet (with Koss on the side). You don't have to read the earlier stories to follow this; you may need to have seen the episodes.
It isn't fair.
He left Enterprise. He left Jon and Malcolm and all his shipmates. He left a great staff that never whined to the captain or asked for transfers. He did everything necessary to put her behind him.
And now he's facing the very real challenge of getting Columbia underway.
And what happens?
She shows up. In the middle of the day. When he's got things to do. When a potentially hostile staff is free to notice that their new chief is off in la-la land.
All that, and she has the unmitigated GALL to tell HIM to go away.
After all he's done to end this, his subconscious is still able to dredge up a perfectly believable, perfectly exasperating T'Pol in his head at the worst possible time.
If he had Phlox on board, he'd go talk to him right now. Ask him to run a brain scan. Ask for something to make this kind of thing stop, at least until Columbia finally manages to get out of space dock.
Of course, Phlox isn't on Enterprise either. And it's frustrating as hell not to be there to help find him.
It's frustrating as hell not to be there.
But it will be better, in the long run. A fresh start is just what Trip needs. New challenges, new people. Archer is getting saddled with more diplomacy, which leaves less time for exploring. Columbia has a better shot for getting out there, and they badly need someone like him. And not just for the engines, either. They need someone who's already learned the hard lessons:
-- Don't just stick your hands in any old box of pebbles.
-- Don't assume every pretty girl is really a pretty girl.
-- Don't try to rescue an alien from her own culture.
-- Never get romantically involved with a colleague.
-- Do not even allow yourself to decide a Vulcan is attractive.
-- And if you do anyway, don't try to talk to her about anything other than work.
-- Never have sex with a Vulcan no matter how beautiful she is. Not even if she jumps you.
-- In fact, don't let her touch you. Ever.
-- And don't touch her either. She can put on her own damned decontamination gel.
-- Most of all, never look a beautiful Vulcan woman in the eyes and delude yourself that somehow deep in her heart she loves you, because she doesn't. Not enough, anyway.
Trip jumps. God damn it, even when he's not daydreaming, he might as well be. "Lieutenant?"
"You asked to be reminded when it was 1800?"
"Oh, right. Thanks. I'm going to go grab some dinner." Maybe lack of food and sleep is making him lose focus. He doesn't have anyone on this ship looking out for him; he's going to have to do it himself.
That's another lesson it's about time he learned.
x x x
At 2300 Trip makes another circuit of engineering and realizes they've made great progress. "Great work, guys," he says. "We're nearly there. If you're on your third shift, go catch some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow morning, 0800." Then he goes over the duty roster with Rivers.
"Rotate some breaks for the second shifters through the night," he says. "I think I'd better try to get some shut-eye myself. I'm getting punchy. I'll relieve you at 0500. You're doing a great job, Lieutenant."
Rivers looks pleasantly surprised. Trip pats him on the shoulder and takes off. He needs to remember that even if he's miserable, that doesn't mean the people under him should suffer.
He sits down in an empty mess hall with a glass of milk and a piece of apple pie and tells himself life isn't so bad. Columbia's chef clearly knows his way around pastry. Tomorrow this ship is going to go to warp, and Trip is going to begin another chapter of his life.
Yep, everything is looking up.
He stares pensively down into his glass of milk and suddenly the whole world turns white again. And there she is, sitting cross-legged in the middle of whiteness.
"You know," he says, "I was just enjoying a very nice slice of pie. This is very annoying."
"I don't find it particularly pleasant either." She rises to her feet. "Why are you here?"
"You tell me. God knows I've done my best to leave you behind."
"Then you did leave because of me."
"Of course I did." It feels good to say this, even if this isn't real. Maybe this is why he's having these stupid daydreams. Maybe this is his subconscious giving him closure, or some crap like that.
"Why?" she says, walking up to him.
He refuses to look her in the eye. "I'm not like you. I can't just switch my feelings on and off. It's too hard to get over someone I have to work with everyday. So I left. It was a logical decision."
"You should have talked to me first."
"Maybe I don't enjoy getting kicked in the gut."
"We could have reached some accommodation."
"I don't want any damned accommodation! Either you love me or you don't. And you don't, so leave me the hell alone!"
Suddenly he's standing in the mess hall, his chair toppled on the floor behind him, a puddle of milk spreading out across his table and dripping onto the formerly pristine carpet of Starfleet's newest starship.
Thankfully nobody was here to see him lose it.
What is it going to take to finally put this woman behind him? An exorcism?
x x x
He goes to his quarters and takes off the new uniform and gets into his new bunk – it still has that new mattress smell – and stares at the ceiling and wonders if somehow he could have avoided these vivid daydreams if he'd just gone ahead and yelled all his hurt and anger out at her when he had the chance.
As it was he'd said something mean enough, and he still wishes that hadn't been their last exchange. He doesn't want to be one of those jerks who turn bitter and hateful about the ex. He never has been before. But he's beginning to understand how it might happen.
He really doesn't want to hate T'Pol. He knows she didn't set out to make him miserable. In the short time it lasted, it was wonderful. It was beyond wonderful, it was the best. He would like to be able to remember that, and just move on and leave this endless throbbing ache behind.
Why is it so hard?
x x x
At 0430 his alarm goes off and he jerks awake. It took him a long time to fall asleep and there's no way he's had enough. Well, tough break. Once the ship is under way maybe he'll finally get some decent rest. He gets in the shower and puts one hand against the wall, sleepily supporting himself against it as the hot water cascades over him. It reminds him of a particularly nice morning with T'Pol and before he knows it one soapy hand is hard at work relieving a little tension.
Well, why not? Maybe that will make these daydreams stop.
Then there's no more hot water, there's just white.
"Goddamn it! I don't have time for this!"
"You're out of uniform, Commander," she says. She's sitting on the ground again, staring up at him with an upraised brow.
"Why does this keep happening to me?" he demands. "Is this some goddamned Vulcan thing?"
"I'm not sure why this keeps happening. I was attempting to meditate. It's fairly obvious what you were attempting to do."
"I'm NOT going to get embarrassed about this. You're just a figment of my imagination." He sighs in frustration. "You'd think I could have come up with something a little sexier. Like you naked. Or even better, somebody who might actually appreciate the view."
"I assure you, Commander, I do appreciate the view. I have always considered you aesthetically pleasing."
He shakes his head. "I'm losing my mind. That's what it is. I must be having a mental breakdown."
"Actually, I'm beginning to wonder if it might be something you're going to like even less."
"What do you mean?"
Suddenly he's back in the shower again. Damn it! He's going to have to race like hell to relieve Rivers when he said he would.
x x x
Back on Enterprise one mind-blowing, warp-speed space-walk and record-breaking-engine-restart later, T'Pol suddenly starts sticking to him like glue. She even asks him how he's adjusting to the food and whether he's sleeping well.
"I sleep just fine," he tells her. It's a lie and he's not even sure why he wants to tell it, except that somehow it seems very important not to give her the satisfaction of knowing he misses her in any way. "How about you?"
"Sure about that?"
"Quite." Her tone is combative, to match his. She's lying. They're both lying. They both know it.
Still, she accompanies him all the way to the shuttle bay. He wants to ask her about Malcolm, but that would involve having a normal conversation. He says, "I'll let Captain Archer know what Captain Hernandez says." Then he walks away.
x x x
He rouses slightly in the night and notices a change in the quality of the darkness of his quarters, so he opens his eyes.
Back in the white zone again. He sighs. She's sitting right there next to him in her meditation posture, watching him. He's lying on something that still feels exactly like his mattress although there's no visual evidence of his quarters at all, except for the blanket. "It's the middle of the night, T'Pol."
"Feel free to go back to sleep."
"You expect me to sleep with you sitting there watching me?"
She just frowns. To his eye she looks tired and embarrassed, perhaps even depressed.
He stares up into white infinity. "You know, if this is my subconscious it's the most weird-ass stuff my subconscious has ever come up with in my entire life."
"I don't think it's your subconscious."
"So this really is some Vulcan thing."
"In all likelihood."
"Care to fill me in?"
"No?" He chuckles despite himself. "Is that logical?"
She doesn't answer.
"Can't you make it stop?"
Her eyes widen, then she ducks her head. "I don't know."
Then she's gone and he's lying in his quarters again, but he can feel the sharp stab of her pain echoing in his own heart.
And suddenly it's as clear as day. Despite all her best efforts, she's still wants him. More than wants him, she needs him. She's desperate for him. But she thinks he doesn't want her anymore.
He smiles into the darkness, too busy exulting to wonder just what makes him so certain. He shouldn't want her. Loving T'Pol is madness.
But he loves her anyway, of course, just as he always has.
And he can't stop smiling.
Because now he's on to her.
x x x
By morning that delicious certainty has faded. What if that was just a dream? What makes him think there was anything the least bit reliable about it?
And even if it's true, what the hell can he do about it? He just transferred, for God's sake.
Then there's no time for brooding because they have Klingons to deal with, and both ships are taking damage.
x x x
Captain Hernandez drops into engineering. "Report, Chief."
Trip gets up from where he's kneeling next to a crewman to help assess a faulty junction. "Engines are fine, weapons are back up. Got a few EPS issues to resolve. And we still need to assess non-critical damage and schedule repairs on that."
"In other words, it could have been a lot worse."
"Captain Archer asked me if you could lend your experienced eye to some damage assessment over there. I don't think he has total confidence in his new chief engineer."
Trip frowns. Truth is, he doesn't either. He'd recommended Anna Hess for his spot, but Starfleet was hot for Kelby and Anna surprised him with the news that she was taking a transfer to Starfleet R&D. "I'm not getting any younger," she told him. "And Gus wants to get married, have kids, all that stuff."
Trip remembers the pang of pure envy he'd felt. There was a time when he'd assumed that he would do the same one day.
"Guess I can go over and take a look for him," he tells Hernandez.
Hernandez gives him a long assessing look and pulls him into a quiet corner. "Jon thinks your transfer was a bad move. Is he right?"
Trip grimaces. "No, ma'am. I think you really needed me to get Columbia out of space dock. And I think I really needed to spend some time away from Enterprise."
"And now that you have?"
She's giving him an opening. He'd be a fool not to take it. "I guess it's possible I've left an issue or two unresolved over there."
Hernandez sighs. "Look, why you don't you help them out for a couple of weeks? See if you can resolve your unresolved issues. And then we'll see where we stand. I need a good chief engineer, but not if his heart isn't in it. Do you think Rivers has potential?"
Trip nods. "Yeah, I do."
"Good. So do I. Off you go, Commander. And tell Jon he owes me big time."
x x x
Trip finally tracks Archer down in sickbay. "What the hell happened to you?" he asks. Archer is lying on a bio-bed looking wrung out. He's also sporting an interesting set of forehead ridges.
Archer attempts to sound airy. "Oh, you know, I get bored having the same old human DNA day after day."
"Does it hurt?"
"Not nearly as much as it did a couple of hours ago. Did you take a look in engineering?"
"That's quite a mess you've got down there."
"We're sitting in the middle of Klingon space, and Kelby says it will be at least two days before we have warp drive."
"More like one. He doesn't realize how hard he can push people yet." Trip takes a breath. "Captain Hernandez has offered to lend me out for a couple of weeks. If you want me."
Archer grins. "You know I do. And for more than a couple of weeks."
"Guess we could see how it goes," Trip says. "She seems … flexible."
Archer's grin gets just a little smug. "She is." Then he sobers. "The whole crew's been missing you. And I do mean everybody." He winces and massages the ridges on his forehead. "Do you have any idea what it's like to eat all your meals with a depressed Vulcan?"
"Pretty much the same as eating all your meals with a non-depressed Vulcan?"
Archer bats at his arm. "I'm serious."
"Don't tell her I might come back. Don't tell anybody."
"One, it's not fair to Kelby. He's going to have a hard enough time with this. Two…"
Trip shakes his head. "I just don't want her to know."
"Just humor me, okay?"
"I'm serious. Not a word. Or the deal's off."
"This isn't like you. She'd be so happy. You're being mean."
"No I'm not. I'm being strategic."
Hernandez and T'Pol walk into sickbay. Archer glares quickly at Trip, but Trip knows he'll cooperate if he really wants his chief engineer back. T'Pol immediately scans the room and realizes Trip is there. Her face darkens.
Trip sticks his tongue in his cheek to keep himself from grinning.