Postcards from Deep Space One

Disclaimer: I make no money out of this and Enterprise doesn't belong to me, I wish it did… especially Trip.

Rating: 15

Archive: yes, just ask first.

Spoilers: all four seasons, particularly TATV

Summary: Trip and T'Pol have trouble communicating, Commander Reed takes a busman's holiday and a new alien race pick DS1 as the place to sign their treaty with the Federation.

AN: This is the sequel to A Thousand Years, read that first if you want to know why USS Excalibur is in for repairs.

Trip woke up well before his alarm went off. As usual at this time in the morning, the quarters that he shared with T'Pol were dark, only starlight streamed through the windows. The space beside him in the bed where T'Pol should have been was empty and cold. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and groggily sat up. He felt more tired than when he'd gone to sleep, but he prised his eyes open and looked across their quarters, searching the dark for his t'hy'la. T'Pol stood staring out of the window, her eyes glazed and not really focused on anything.

She always slept less than him, usually staying up late to meditate and often rising earlier than he did, but he'd never known her to suffer from insomnia. Normally, if she was being restless, she would have woken him too, that was just the way it seemed to work between them. For some reason, maybe because he was so tired himself, he'd slept through T'Pol's obviously disturbed night, until now.

"How long have you been awake?" he thought at her. His conversations with T'Pol hardly ever involved spoken words, their telepathic bond had only strengthened over recent months.

"Some time." T'Pol spoke out loud and the sound jarred in their quiet quarters. Trip was momentarily surprised. Something was wrong here but he couldn't put his finger on exactly what it was. The bond between them was usually effortless, but suddenly it was as if there was something interfering with their communication. The only suitable analogy that he could think of was static on a com line.

He tried to use their bond again. "Worried about the Bolians?" He felt a confused rush of almost feelings from T'Pol. He spent a lot of time working out what emotions T'Pol was suppressing at any given moment, and in here he felt the vestiges of apprehension, worry and curiosity. Vulcans did not show emotions, everyone knew that, but it didn't mean that they weren't there, under the surface, being suppressed.

This time she did use the bond to reply, and it seemed that the line had cleared. "A lot is at stake." Perhaps he had just been too tired, he knew that tiredness could affect his clarity of mental communication. The Bolians wanted to form an alliance with the Federation and it was their visit that was probably worrying T'Pol, even though Vulcans weren't supposed to be susceptible to things like worry or concern.

"Yeah, and why they had to pick us to host this damn thing I don't know. We've got enough work to do without alien dignitaries deciding to come calling." The thought was out of his head and broadcast before he could temper it. He knew how much this conference meant to T'Pol. It was important to her that she establish her credentials as a diplomat as well as a scientist and leader. He hadn't forgotten that she had given up command of her own ship so that they could be together of Deep Space One.

"We are the closest Federation outpost." She was pointedly showing him a map of the sector in her mind.

"Yeah, I know. We couldn't make them travel all the way to Starbase Two. Are you going to come back to bed?" Even his thoughts were tired sounding.

"I have been having difficulty finding the proper mental state. I will meditate."

Trip made the mental equivalent of a sigh. He could feel the undercurrent of turmoil in T'Pol's thoughts. There was something disturbing her, a disquiet, and he could tell that T'Pol was just as baffled as he was by her own inner uneasiness. He was quite prepared to sit up with her if it would help, but he was already running on fumes and he really needed more sleep before his next shift. Doctor Phlox was on another crusade to get him to take more time off, but he never had been good at slowing down.

T'Pol continued her thought to him. "You should go back to sleep. You worked a double shift yesterday." There was a pause and he half caught a thought that T'Pol probably hadn't intended to broadcast, "and the previous three days." T'Pol was presenting him with a mental picture of how tired he had looked when he had come through their door that evening. A series of long days and early starts had all contributed to his general fatigue.

"Excalibur's workups won't complete themselves. She's got to be ready to go day after tomorrow." He accompanied his own thought to her with a reminder of how bad the damage had been to Excalibur after she had been towed out of the Neutral Zone. The Romulans had made a real mess of the ship and it had taken both his own and Excalibur's Engineers working flat out for a couple of months to repair the damage. All they had left to do was test that everything was working again, but on a ship the size of Excalibur that took some time. Then there'd be a short shakedown cruise before she properly re-entered service, which Trip hoped would go off without a hitch, if they had done their job right.

"The station Commander is allowed to give the Chief Engineer the morning off." T'Pol hadn't turned away from her contemplation of the stars all this time, it wasn't necessary for her to look at him. Her mental shields were up but not iron clad, just enough to prevent stray thoughts and images leaking into the conversation across the bond.

Trip shook his head. "Nah, can't spare the time."

He nevertheless slumped back on the bed. He knew he couldn't hide this level of fatigue from T'Pol – she knew he desperately wanted to sleep, but equally she was aware of how much he didn't want her to brood alone. He wondered if it really was the impending arrival of the Bolians that was bothering T'Pol; this seemed to be something more. "Do you want me to stay up with you?"

T'Pol finally turned back to face him. She took the few steps across the room that brought her back to the bed they shared. As always when they slept together, she was naked, and the starlight caught the curves of her body pleasantly. She sat down, crossing her legs on the bed and offered Trip the Vulcan gesture of affection, her two fingers waiting patiently for his to touch hers. If Trip had been less tired this would have led to more; a naked T'Pol bathed in starlight featured prominently in some of his more interesting and enjoyable dreams. But at this ungodly hour, and having had so little sleep, even T'Pol's beauty wasn't enough to keep him awake. He reached out and touched her fingers with his own. A shiver ran through him as he felt everything from T'Pol, including an overriding reassurance that she was well. His own worry about her bounced back at him from T'Pol and she pointed out that it was unfounded, showing him its flaws, logically tearing it to pieces.

Trip had been getting better at disarming logic, it wasn't as foolproof as the Vulcans liked to make out, but tonight he had to acknowledge her crowning argument was true. He'd never be able to stay awake while she sat meditating, if he couldn't stay awake for "other activities". Trip suddenly realised that she was now lulling him off to sleep again with deliberately calming thoughts. This was a trick that she hadn't tried since he'd been laid up with pneumonia and a broken leg a couple of months back. Usually by the time he realised what was happening he was too far gone, and this time was no different. He was asleep before he could protest at her taking this upon herself.

As he closed his eyes he caught the edge of static across their bond again. T'Pol didn't seem bothered by it and he wondered if it was just him picking this up. He made a mental note to ask her when he woke up if she knew what was going on. Even though they'd been bonded for several years now, he still didn't really understand how the whole thing worked.

Trip's sleep was untroubled for most of the night but as morning neared he began to dream. He dreamt of fire lit corridors and debris blocking them. He dreamt of faceless Romulans trying to capture him, and eventually he dreamt of T'Pol, finding him dead on Excalibur, half buried beneath the remains of sick bay. It was a recurring bad dream, one that both he and T'Pol were getting bored of, but his subconscious kept throwing it back up. It appeared more often when he was tired or stressed out, but knowing that it was likely to appear didn't stop it coming. He found it ironic in some ways that this was the incident that came back to haunt him, he had been through far worse, but he knew that there had been a big difference this time. This time he had felt how T'Pol felt when she thought that he was dead, and try as she might to suppress her emotions, he could still hear them in her mind. She had been falling down a dark hole until Trip had been found safe in Durandal's sickbay.

It worried Trip a lot that T'Pol had been so single minded. She had never considered that she should stop looking for him, which Trip was glad of, but her fixation on him was the problem. She was a Vulcan, and Vulcans did not behave as humans did (now there was an understatement), but she wasn't normally the obsessive type. Trip worried most that he had caught the tiniest glimpse that T'Pol had decided not to live on without him. So far he hadn't plucked up the courage to raise it with her, the question he continually asked himself was whether he'd been correct in what he'd caught, or if he was projecting his own fears onto her. If he was right then this was a big problem, since Vulcans lived a lot longer than humans. Technically he supposed that he was her toy boy and she was his sugar momma, but she acted as if she was roughly the same age as he was, which was all that mattered to him.

He wasn't dead and the whole thing had ended well, however, telling himself this didn't stop the dream. Maybe T'Pol's disquiet had spilled over and caused the nightmare to return. It had happened before, back when they had been on Enterprise, and she was definitely projecting more than usual. Normally her control over her mental powers was solid, but this last week something was up with her. Her concentration seemed to be off, and more often she was having to apologise for letting her shields slip. Trip managed to let his shields slip at least once a day, usually there was a good reason (for example when he'd dropped a hammer on his toe a couple of days ago), but he'd only been doing this for a few years rather than the whole of his life. T'Pol rarely lost even the slightest aspect of her control.

He finally jerked himself awake and found himself once again in an empty bed. The difference now was that the room was also empty and when he looked over at the clock he realised that he was two hours late for his shift.

"T'Pol!" he said in exasperation, as he threw back the covers. She must have turned his alarm off, and sure enough there was a note on the night stand. It was written in her neat copperplate script that looked as if it was trying very hard to be Vulcan characters.

"You were tired and I have arranged for you to take the morning off. Your shift will start after you have met me for lunch."

It was not signed, but, logically, who else was it from other than T'Pol. Trip was slightly baffled by her need to leave him a note. Normally she would have sensed that he had woken up and simply contacted him via their bond. It reinforced his opinion that something was wrong with T'Pol at the moment and she seemed determined to try to hide it from him. Being able to talk telepathically apparently didn't mean that they actually communicated, although it certainly made their arguments a lot quicker and was very useful for arranging dinner plans. He once again cursed his ability to pick the most difficult, stubborn woman in the galaxy to fall in love with. He'd never understood women in the first place and Vulcan women were just a whole new level of confusing.

He reached out gently with mental fingers and felt for his t'hy'la. He found her in Command and Control, examining some sensor readings of a nearby binary star system, there had been some concern that the stars were unstable. He could still feel the underlying current of disturbance that was rumbling in the background of her mind. She was doing a very good job of ignoring it.

"You didn't need to turn my alarm off," said Trip across their bond. He did feel better for the extra hours of sleep however, so he couldn't be too mad at T'Pol. It was a measure of just how exhausted he was that he needed them, usually six hours was enough.

"You needed sleep. It was my fault that you awoke. Phlox is still recommending that you rest more." T'Pol continued her work in C and C while she carried on the telepathic conversation with him.

"Phlox worries too much."

"He is just concerned for your health, as am I."

"That works both ways. You've been pretty distracted lately."

"I have many responsibilities."

"We need to discuss this, T'Pol. It affects me as well, you know."

There was a spike of quickly suppressed annoyance transmitted across the bond from T'Pol. "I am sorry that our bond causes you so much trouble."

"Damn it, T'Pol, that wasn't what I meant and you know it. Let's talk about it over lunch, okay?"

"Very well," replied T'Pol. "I will meet you at 1230 in the mess hall. Do not be late."

Trip had just started the thought that this gave him time to drop by Engineering before meeting T'Pol, when his t'hy'la made it clear this was not something that he should be contemplating. This was supposed to be a morning off and dire consequences would result if he didn't at least try to relax, away from the Engineering department, for the rest of his free time.

"Okay, okay, I'll just take a shower and read a book for a few hours."

"That would be acceptable," T'Pol thought back to him. Her mental shields slammed back into place, shutting him out completely and this signalled that the conversation was over. She'd left just enough open that Trip could still feel her presence and vice versa.

"Whatever you say, T'Pol. Three bags full, T'Pol," Trip murmured to himself as he got ready for his shower. With her shields up, he was fairly certain that T'Pol wasn't really paying attention to him. "Thinks she can order me around whenever she feels like it."

She might be the Captain of Deep Space One, but she wasn't in charge of his off-duty life, bond or no bond. Why was it that T'Pol always managed to deflect any concern that he had about her back onto him? She was the one who was having trouble sleeping and yet somehow she had ensured that he got the morning off. She should have been staying in bed, getting some more rest, not him. It infuriated him and made him love her all the more. That brought a small smile to his lips and cheered him up a little as he stepped under the warm water. He wondered if there wasn't something fundamentally screwed up with the fact that he enjoyed arguing with T'Pol, but it seemed to work for them.

When Commander Reed had taken on the job of First Officer on board the Excalibur he knew it would be a tough job, mainly because the ship had just gone one on one with a Romulan warbird, but he hadn't expected to be spending so much time doing paperwork. He was spending hours in his quarters, signing off repairs, and writing after action reports, which was on top of his usual bridge shifts. In fact, as he was still on the list of injured, he shouldn't really have been taking shifts on the bridge, but they were still several crewmembers short of a full complement.

Captain Street had also asked him to take on his fair share of letters to the families of the crewmembers who had been lost in the battle, particularly the armoury officers. It wasn't a task that he relished or one that he felt he was particularly good at, but it had to be done and this was a duty that he took very seriously. The loss of life hadn't been as great as they had at first feared, but fifteen crewmen had lost their lives and several others had been injured, some so badly that they'd never be serving on a starship again. All in all it meant that twenty new crewmen had arrived to take up various positions over the last few weeks and inductions had to be arranged for all of them. It has also meant that a lot of things that he could normally have delegated to others he had ended up doing himself.

He hadn't been given a chance to get his hands dirty for some time and he was going a little stir crazy. About the only things that had kept him sane were the regular visits from his friendly neighbourhood Southern Engineer, Trip Tucker, who had been spending a lot of time on Excalibur lately helping out with the repairs. Trip made a habit of stopping by for at least one meal when he was over from Deep Space One, which gave both of them a break from what was proving to be a very tough repair schedule. Reed suspected that T'Pol usually reminded Trip when it was time for lunch, since the Engineer had never been that good in the past about remembering to eat.

Today, however, Trip was not scheduled to be working on Excalibur until the afternoon, a last minute shift change that Reed was also putting down to T'Pol's handiwork. Trip had worked very long hours the past few days and definitely deserved a morning off. Apparently everyone apart from Trip knew that he wasn't supposed to pull this sort of thing anymore, but Trip's solution to everything was to work harder. According to Mister Tucker, scarring across a large proportion of his lung tissue was nothing to worry about and the odd episode of breathlessness was just a nuisance. Reed never knew quite how to respond to Trip's bravado regarding his injuries, especially when he himself preferred to ignore his own broken arm.

He had broken his arm nearly eight weeks ago now in the original Romulan attack on Excalibur, and it was refusing to heal in anything like the normal amount of time. This was the other reason that he had been stuck behind a desk for the last few weeks, he was supposedly on light duty until his arm was out of the cast. He was currently ignoring that recommendation, he didn't have time for light duty, but he had been banned from the Armoury. Usually he would have been given drugs that promoted bone growth and helped the knitting process, but as was typical of his recent luck, he had a bad reaction to this particular family of drugs. Phlox had tried several, but whatever it was that caused the trouble, was apparently present in every variety. So while Trip's leg had come out of its cast nearly four weeks ago, he was only just now getting to the point where he could consider getting the cast removed.

There was a knock at the door - another casualty of the Romulan attack had apparently been power to all the doorbells on B deck, this was very low on the list of repairs to be done. He shouted for the person to come in.

"Hi Malcolm," said the newly promoted Captain Street. She was outlined in light from the corridor that caught the edges of her short blonde hair. She carried a padd in one hand, and Reed could just make out the Starfleet insignia on the front page of whatever document she had been reading.

Reed stood up as she entered, coming to attention. "Captain Street, what can I do for you?"

"Could you just cut the formalities and stick with Rachael when we're on our own? I feel bad enough about stepping into dead man's shoes." Reed noticed that, as soon as the door had shut behind her, she had lost a lot of her self assured demeanour and the weight of command seemed to rest more heavily on her shoulders. Everyone who had received a promotion out of their recent ordeal had more than their fair share of survivor's guilt, but Captain Street probably had the worst of it. She had known their former Captain a long time, she had been his First Officer for years, and now she had his job.

Reed offered his new Captain a chair, which she took gratefully, slumping into it. He followed her example and took his own seat. It wasn't that long since she had been released from sickbay herself and she still looked rather pale. Her injuries had been severe but she wasn't showing any sign that they were slowing her down, except now maybe in the privacy of Reed's quarters. She let him see what she would never allow the rest of the crew to see, that she wasn't completely recovered.

Reed knew that she needed a morale boost and that was definitely a part of his duties as her Second in Command that he was happy to carry out. He respected her immensely. He had seen how she handled herself in a crisis and that she didn't buckle under pressure, but everyone needed a little reassurance.

"You earned this promotion, Rachael. Starfleet wouldn't have given it to you otherwise."

"Rubbish. I just happened to be in the right place. It's easier to promote me than ship someone else all the way out here."

"Actually I heard that Commander Kelby was bucking for promotion. Tyrfing only left DS One a few weeks ago, I'm sure Kelby would have been only too pleased to stay behind and take the job."

"Yes, we all know how successful that would have been. He's a decent engineer but has no imagination. Not exactly my idea of Command material, but you didn't hear that from me. Anyway, it's not like I single-handedly rescued Excalibur from the Neutral Zone, unlike my First Officer."

Reed waved a disparaging hand. "Hah, it certainly wasn't single-handed and I wouldn't even say it was my idea. You can thank Captain Tucker for that hare-brained scheme. If I had advised Captain Watanabe better then we wouldn't have even been in the Neutral Zone."

"I seem to remember that you advised him that it might be a trap," said Captain Street.

"Yes, but I agreed with him that if civilians were in danger then we had to go in. I should have been putting the safety of the ship first, not suggesting we go looking for trouble."

"And if you had, the Kobayashi Maru would have been destroyed with all hands. A lot more people would have been killed. You know we did the right thing."

Reed nodded. "I do, I suppose, but I just can't help second guessing myself."

"In which case I have the perfect assignment for you, all the way from Starfleet HQ." Street handed Reed the padd that she had been carrying.

Reed scrolled down, skimming the content as he went. "You're pulling my leg. This has to be a joke."

"Oh no, they're deadly serious. They want you to turn the "Kobayashi Maru Incident", as they're calling it, into a Starfleet Academy training exercise."

"I haven't done this sort of thing for years, not since before my posting to Enterprise. I don't have time to be playing around with this sort of thing either. We've got to get Excalibur ready to launch in just under two days time or we won't be ready for our shakedown cruise."

"That would be the other part of your new orders," said Street with a slightly guilty look on her face. "The problem I'm facing is that you're the only member of the crew that's still officially on the injured list. Everyone else has been signed off by Doctor Sonok or Doctor Phlox as fit for full duty, but because your arm is taking longer to heal, well, you're still on the sick list, and that means you get to have a holiday on Deep Space One while we go out for the shakedown cruise."

"You're leaving me behind?" Reed asked with annoyed incredulity. After everything that he'd been through to get Excalibur home it seemed like a slap in the face.

"It's not for long, I promise, and you're not losing the SIC post. We're just going to take her out for a quick spin, a week at most."

"So you get to take Excalibur out while I sit on Deep Space One, and write simulated training scenarios for snot nosed cadets, who have no comprehension of what it might actually be like to fight in a space battle. All because this damn arm won't heal quickly enough?"

"Well, I wouldn't have put it quite like that, but in essence, yes. You know the regs about injured personnel."

"Yes, but I didn't expect them to apply in this case. It's just a broken arm, it hardly bothers me at all."

"Injured personnel should not be taken into potentially dangerous situations if they can be safely offloaded." Captain Street quoted from the Starfleet standing orders.

"This hardly counts as a dangerous situation. It's a shakedown cruise."

"We're on the border of the Neutral Zone."

"Which means there shouldn't be any Romulans within a light year of here."

"Shouldn't being the operative word. Anyway, you need a bit of downtime, Malcolm. You've been on call or on duty, in one capacity or another, twenty-four hours a day, since we entered the Neutral Zone. For most of that time, in fact until last week when I was released from sickbay, you've been Acting Captain. It's been stressful for you."

"I see. That's what this is really about. You think I'm cracking under the pressure. I can assure you, I've been through far worse than a skirmish in the Neutral Zone."

"Of course I don't think you're cracking under the pressure, now you're just being ridiculous. But I would like my new command to launch with all it's staff in good health, especially it's First Officer. You were my first choice for the post, even without the heroics in the Neutral Zone, and I know you're going to be great, but only if you take some time off, away from this ship."

"Erm, thank you, I think." Reed knew that he had never been good at accepting compliments, and he hadn't got any better over the years. He sighed, realising that Street wouldn't take no for an answer. "I suppose it would be nice to spend some more time with Captains Tucker and T'Pol. I'll brief Lieutenant Jones and pack a bag."

Captain Street gave him one of her special "I'm so pleased you decided to do what I've asked you before I kicked your ass" smiles. This particular smile always made Reed glad that he'd complied with whatever she had requested and reminded him that she used to be the Starfleet kickboxing champion. He didn't ever want to find out whether she could take him in a fight. He suspected that the experiment would hurt.

Two hours later, Trip was on his way to meet T'Pol for their planned lunch and very nearly ran into Commander Reed. Despite T'Pol's earlier protest he had briefly stopped by the airlock that Excalibur was docked at to check in with his Engineers on a couple of tasks. He saw a rather dejected looking Reed step out of the airlock and onto Deep Space One. He noted the kitbag that he carried over one shoulder and immediately began to wonder what was going on. As far as he knew Reed wasn't scheduled for anything on DS1.

"Malcolm, what are you doing here?" Trip fell in beside Reed as he walked.

"I've been kicked out for the week," replied Reed, crossly.

"You've been kicked out?" asked Trip with incredulity. "It's two days until Excalibur is supposed to be going on its shakedown cruise."

"I'm aware of that, Captain, thank you. Apparently a broken arm means that I'm not allowed to go. They'll pick me up again once they're done and the cast has come off. Captain Street seems to think that I need a holiday." Reed positively spat the word "holiday" and Trip didn't think he'd ever heard anyone say it with such venom. Usually people were happy to be on holiday.

"Well, she might have point. You have been pretty much on duty since Excalibur went into the Neutral Zone," said Trip, trying to be tactful.

"Yes, that has already been pointed out to me." Reed bristled with annoyance. "They've given me some ridiculous training exercise to plan out based on the Kobayashi Maru incident to stop me just sitting here and twiddling my thumbs."

"That sucks," said Trip.

"I can't see it taking me a week in any case," continued Reed as if he hadn't heard Trip. "I don't know what they expect me to do with my time after that. It isn't like DS1 has a vibrant night life."

"Maybe they expect you to relax," said Trip.

"Like you'd know anything about that," said Reed. "If T'Pol didn't make you take time off, you'd have worked yourself into the ground by now."

"It's just as well that I've got T'Pol then," said Trip, amicably. He could tell that Reed was just spoiling for a fight and he wasn't going to give in to him. He knew that Reed would only regret it later. "So did you contact C and C for a quarters assignment yet or are you just planning to walk around for the week?"

Reed stopped walking. "I was on my way to Command and Control to report to the watch officer, as protocol demands. I assumed that they would then allocate me some quarters."

"I think I can give you a shortcut. I'm on my way to see T'Pol for lunch, so you might as well report to her and then I happen to know that there are some quarters on B deck free that you can have. I'd offer you the guest quarters but we've got some potential allies arriving tomorrow and we want to make a good impression."

While he was talking to Reed he was checking in with T'Pol, who was also on her way to the mess hall, to make sure that she was happy with allocating Reed the quarters on B deck as he suggested. She had no objection and agreed that the Commander could report to her in the mess hall to fulfil the protocol requirement. T'Pol saw little point in standing on ceremony when it came to greeting their colleague of ten years, which Trip found very interesting since, ten years ago, when they first met, T'Pol had been quite keen on protocol.

"Protocol for the sake of protocol is illogical," pointed out T'Pol, once again managing to pick up one of Trip's stray thoughts. "I acknowledge that my attitude in this regard has changed however."

"Do you mind if Malcolm joins us for lunch?" He did wonder sometimes if using the bond for such trivial matters as arranging lunch plans was an abuse of the gift that they'd been given, but then it wasn't like they could turn it off either. Things like this made up for all the less helpful side effects that came with the bond, for example the fact that if one of them couldn't sleep it usually meant that neither of them could.

"Not at all. We can pick up our other discussions after our shifts this evening," replied T'Pol. He could have sworn that he detected a little relief in her thought.

"Trip?" asked Reed, pulling him back to the real world and the corridor.

"Sorry, I was just checking with T'Pol. She agrees with me. We'll meet her in the mess hall for lunch, then you can go and get yourself settled in. Once you've done that, I might have a project to keep you occupied that's a bit more hands on than planning a training scenario."

"What sort of project?" asked Reed, a little suspicious. "And is it one that Captain T'Pol has approved?"

"You have such a low opinion of me, Malcolm. Don't worry, it's just something that I've been meaning to get to but haven't had the time. If you could look at it, then you'll be doing me a huge favour, but I'll explain properly later. Come on, we'd better not keep T'Pol waiting."

T'Pol had already selected her lunch, and found a table next to the large windows that covered one side of the mess hall, by the time they reached her. The facilities on Deep Space One were larger than they had been on Enterprise, as they had to cater for rather more people. There was a Captain's mess but T'Pol didn't like using it, fearing that it would distance her further from her mostly human crew. Instead she made a point of eating at the designated meal times and having exactly the same food as everyone else, or at least the vegetarian option. Trip hadn't seen her eat any Vulcan food for months. Trip and Reed made their own choices before joining T'Pol at her table.

"Hey, Captain," greeted Trip, as he sat down. It was important to both of them that they maintained their professionalism when they were on duty in public and that included using ranks when appropriate.

"Captain Tucker," replied T'Pol. "Commander Reed, it is good to see you."

"It's good to see you too, Captain T'Pol," said Reed, taking the seat beside Trip. Despite their many years of working together, Trip noted that Reed still maintained a formal air around superior officers. "Can I consider this my official report to the Captain?"

"Of course, I'll let my staff know that you will be staying on Deep Space One until Excalibur completes its shakedown cruise."

"Thank you. Even if it is a forced leave of absence from Excalibur, I'm glad that it's given me the chance to spend some time with old friends."

Trip smirked. "I'm not sure you'll be saying that once you've seen what I have planned for you, and then we've got a race by the name of the Bolians coming to visit us."

"The Bolians? I don't think I've ever heard of them," said Reed.

"They have petitioned to form an alliance with the Federation," said T'Pol, as she carefully chose a piece of salad from her plate and speared it with her fork.

"From what I've read, they're a bunch of warmongers," said Trip. "Do you remember that skirmish that Discovery had to break up between the Tralen and the Rigellians?"

"Vaguely," said Reed, searching his memory.

"It was all about some mining rights that they both thought belonged to them. It turned out that the Bolian government wanted to make a quick buck and sold the rights to both the Tralen and the Rigellians. If it hadn't been for Discovery straightening things out, the whole situation could have been a lot worse."

"They have given us assurances that such behaviour is in the past now," said T'Pol. "However that is one of the topics that we will be discussing."

"Well I hope they really mean it this time," said Trip.

Reed nodded in agreement, while trying to eat. "If they want to make an alliance with the Federation then they'll have to give us some indication that they're not planning to start a war. It sounds as if they could be trouble. It makes me wish Excalibur was going to be around in case things get out of hand."

"I think it is unlikely that anything of that nature will occur. Trip has been trying to persuade me that he should accompany Excalibur on its shakedown cruise. I told him that I believed Commander Zukov to be a competent Engineer who would not require his help if anything should go wrong."

"Now, come on T'Pol, that isn't exactly fair, I never said anything against Nikolai," said Trip.

Reed smiled, enjoying the chance to rib Trip. "I would have thought the Chief Engineer of Deep Space One had plenty of work to do here, without taking more on. Besides I don't see why Trip should get to go when I can't."

"Gee, thanks for your support, Malcolm." He replied sarcastically. "T'Pol does have a point though, I'm not really needed once the final repairs are done. My engineers were mostly extra manpower anyway. I'm just trying to find an excuse to get out on a ship again. Some days I …well, I really miss Enterprise."

Although Trip enjoyed his life with T'Pol on Deep Space One, he couldn't help but envy Zukov his posting to Excalibur. Although, to be honest, he certainly had plenty in the way of interesting engineering puzzles to keep him occupied. He might not get to play with warp engines that much anymore but he had a rather temperamental reactor that powered the station and certainly kept him on his toes. Plus Deep Space One was the only Federation station in the area and they got enough ships in needing repairs that he could keep his hand in. It still wasn't that same as being out in the galaxy, exploring, though.

T'Pol moved her fingers slightly so that they touched Trip's, across the table. It was a discreet gesture to reinforce the feelings of reassurance that she was sending him via their bond. He looked up and into T'Pol's eyes and shook off the regret, remembering that T'Pol was the most important thing in his life. They had so very nearly lost, forever, the chance to be together. He loved her with every fibre of his being, especially at times like this when she was able to pull him back from the edge of depression. She had given up so much for him, but she reminded him that he had struggled through a lot for her too. Threats by Terra Prime, rejection by her, the grief over the death of their child Elizabeth, the Romulan War, serious injury and he'd persevered through it all. He had never once let her forget that she was the centre of his world. He would do anything for her and that included laying down his life to save her. He knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she would do the same.

Commander Reed cleared his throat, and Trip realised that he and T'Pol had been staring at each other, just basking in pleasant thoughts about one another. He wasn't sure how long they'd been doing it either and he could feel the waves of embarrassment that were rolling off both of them for the slip. It was a very unusual occurrence for the two of them to become lost like this.

"Sorry," said Trip, pulling his fingers back, realising that the touch had sparked the whole thing.

"My apologies, Commander," said T'Pol.

"It's alright, after all this time, I'm used to the two of you having private conversations," said Reed.

"Yeah, it does come in handy," mumbled Trip, knowing that no actual conversation had taken place. T'Pol just gave him a look at his small deception. They were both a little unnerved by their lapse in control and he was aware of T'Pol planning extra meditation sessions for them both that evening. He groaned inwardly, but maintained his calm exterior, not wanting to start a real conversation with T'Pol across their bond and once again exclude Reed.

"So, you mentioned a project that you'd like me to take on while I'm here?" Reed's less than subtle attempt to change the subject didn't go unnoticed, but Trip decided that he might as well go with it.

"We designed Deep Space One to be a multi-species science outpost, but during the Romulan War it was retrofitted to be a kind of watch tower. It was equipped with top of the line scanners and sensors but they didn't have much in the way of weaponry available, so it was outfitted with some pretty prehistoric phase cannons. All I've been able to do so far is get them up and running, so that if we do get attacked we can defend ourselves, but that's it. I've been onto Starfleet to send me the parts to upgrade them ever since I got here, but they've been dragging their feet. I finally got the parts in last week."

"You'd like me to supervise the upgrade," said Reed. It was a statement, not a question.

"If you don't mind. No one knows phase cannons like you do and I've been struggling with the damn things for days. I'd owe you one. Excalibur would go straight to the head of the queue next time you come in for repairs." Trip gave Reed a hopeful look.

"The Commander is supposed to be resting during his leave from Excalibur," pointed out T'Pol.

"Come on, T'Pol, you know that he could do this with one hand tied behind his back, no pun intended," said Trip, looking at his friend's broken arm.

"Very funny, Mister Tucker. To be honest with you, I've never been particularly good at resting. I'd be honoured to help you with the phase cannon upgrade."

"Great, that's settled then." Trip was about to continue when T'Pol's communicator beeped.

"Command to Captain T'Pol."

"This is T'Pol, go ahead."

"Captain, we've just picked up the Bolians on short range scanners, they'll be with us in about half an hour."

"They're early," said T'Pol. "Is everything ready for them?"

"Yes, Ma'am. We are ready to receive our guests."

"Good, Captain Tucker and I will meet them at the airlock." She flicked the communicator closed with the ease of someone who received transmissions of this nature all the time. There was no worry or fluster about her and Trip wished he felt as calm as she did.

Trip gave his untouched dessert a longing look, before moving his chair back and rising from the table. "Sorry, Malcolm, it looks like we're going to have to run. I'll be in touch about those phase cannons as soon as I get a moment."

"I am sorry to cut our lunch short, Commander," said T'Pol, picking up her tray. "Perhaps we can arrange to have dinner with you before you return to Excalibur."

"I shall look forward to that, Captain."