...Touching and Touched
#10 in the Reconnecting Series
Rating: PG-13 for now, for language and sensual imagery; the rating will heat up later
Genre: Romance, general, 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," with a few references to storylines in "Daedalus" and "Demons/Terra Prime."
Summary: Sequel to my story "Never and Always..." As thousands gather at Starfleet for the memorial honoring those lost in the embassy bombing on Vulcan, Lorian and Karyn's engagement takes a surprising turn; Trip's parents arrive; and for Archer, one door closes, but another one opens.
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 to my lovely betas, slj91 and Ludjin.
Chapter 1: Family Matters
The news spread quickly on whispered wings through the catwalks of engineering: The Family was back together. And today, Papa and Uncle Soval were with them.
Not that anyone would actually refer openly to Captain Archer or Vulcan's venerable ambassador to Earth by those names and expect to escape the Wrath Of Tucker afterward. But as soon as Crewman Cook had overheard the boss talking to the captain a few days ago about their "extended family," and those two nicknames had slipped out, Cook knew he'd struck gossip gold. He'd immediately passed the info on to the rest of his mates—engineering crew only, this was their Family—for gleeful, clandestine contemplation up in the catwalks.
An hour after Enterprise made orbit around Earth, Commander Tucker was in the middle of recalibrating a glitchy EPS monitoring system when he was paid a surprise visit by the recently-commissioned Commander Lorian and Lieutenant Archer, who had hopped a shuttle from Columbia. The engineering crew was happy enough to see that T'Pol had accompanied the pair, thus completing the Family tableau...but when Captain Archer and Ambassador Soval arrived with them—well, that was icing. Within moments, the crew quietly began to gather, finding excuses to be on the catwalks, the better to sneak peeks down at the entire Extended Family.
The reports came in quick succession, the play-by-play passed along by those who were close enough to hear the six conversing near Tucker's workstation. After months of problems with her engines, Columbia was almost ready for launch, thanks to her dedicated and hard-working engineering crew (according to Lorian), or to Lorian's Tuckeresque miracle-working (according to Captain Hernandez). Lorian had been promoted to First Officer, while Karyn's prowess as Chief Helm Officer had sent the tech guys scurrying back to their manuals to revise the navigational capabilities of the NX-class to a markedly higher level. And to the delight of Enterprise's entire Engineering crew—especially Rostov, who won the pool—Lorian and Karyn were engaged to be married.
The Family was especially endearing to watch today, what with Tucker and Archer fussing like mother hens over the affianced Lorian and Karyn, while T'Pol and Soval looked on with patient indulgence.
"You should hear the nicknames they've given him," Karyn was saying. "'The Enigmatic Commander Lorian,' that's a popular one. And my personal favorite is 'The Vulcan Who Smiles'."
Lorian was genuinely surprised. "Who calls me these...nicknames?"
"Um...most everybody," Karyn replied demurely, as Archer and Trip broke up laughing. "You really need to get out of engineering more."
"Has the crew given you a special name?" Lorian asked her curiously.
"Not up to now." Karyn giggled. "But ever since they found out we're engaged, I've been hearing references to 'Mrs. Lorian.'"
Lorian was quite taken aback, but he found the moniker unexpectedly appealing.
As he and Karyn exchanged shy smiles, Trip nudged Archer. "I don't think they're ever gonna stop fallin' in love," he murmured softly. Archer nodded in agreement.
"How did the crew learn of your engagement?" Soval inquired. "Was there an announcement of some sort...?"
"In a way," Karyn replied. "Captain Hernandez was looking into arranging joint quarters for us."
"However, there are no joint quarters on the officers' deck," Lorian continued. "Since our two cabins are adjoining, she concluded that the simplest solution lay in knocking out the bulkhead in between."
"Ingenious," Archer commented, with a sidelong glance at Trip.
"Might be somethin' for you to keep in mind, Cap'n," Trip hinted. "For married-type folks on your ship."
Karyn picked up the tale. "When the captain sent the work order to Maintenance, she listed the reason for the work as— 'Officers' Impending Marriage'."
"Therefore allowing the ship's rumor mill to disseminate the information," T'Pol observed. "Quite astute."
"So...any particulars decided yet?" Archer casually inquired. "Date, location...?"
Karyn laughed. "I was waiting for you to get nosy."
"Been, what, ten whole minutes since you got here?" Trip chuckled. "I'd say he's shown great restraint."
"I'm the patriarch!" Archer protested. "I have a right to ask."
"We haven't had much time to think about it," Karyn told him. "Captain Hernandez has kept us too busy getting Columbia ready to launch."
"Nevertheless, there is one detail upon which we have agreed," Lorian said.
Karyn smiled hopefully at her great-grandfather. "Papa...would you marry us? Here on Enterprise?"
Archer was caught so completely by surprise, he didn't know what to say. Then he felt the lump forming in his throat, and he couldn't speak at all. He took Karyn's hand, swallowing hard...
...and then he heard a soft chorus of dreamy "awwwws" drifting down from the heavens. Angels?
He and the others looked up. There were nearly two dozen crewmen gazing down at them, from every catwalk, every stairway, every corner. It must have been the entire engineering shift, plus a few off-duty crew as well...all with matching shmoopy looks on their faces. Hess and Rostov, who normally shooed the crew away before they were spotted spying on The Family, were front row center, wearing the most hopelessly romantic expressions of all.
Trip started rumbling. "What do y'all think you're—"
"C'mon, Captain, you have to!" Rostov called down.
"It would be perfect," Hess added. What the hell—they were all busted anyway.
The rest of the crew, coming to the same conclusion as Hess, threw caution to the winds and began chiming in. "Please, Captain... You can't pass this up... It'd be so beautiful... You gotta, sir... Would you?... "
The Family stared at the crowd of hopeful faces in amazement. Soval observed the scene with fascination. Finally Archer held up a hand, and the pleas subsided.
"I will not knuckle under to the peanut gallery," the captain announced with authority. "Knowing Commander Tucker, chances are you'll all be on report till your tours of duty end, anyway."
Trip shrugged and shook his head, hiding a smile. "Aw, hell. Can't blame 'em." He sternly eyed the ring of faces. "Don't go making a habit of it, though."
Archer returned his attention to Karyn and Lorian. "I would be honored to marry you."
The crew broke into spontaneous applause. Karyn blushed, and Lorian appeared quite nonplussed by the crew's attentions, which made them look all the more adorable.
Trip gave the onlookers one last moment to gawk before he glowered meaningfully at Hess. She grabbed Rostov, and the two of them scattered the crew like a flock of pigeons...but not before they craned their necks for a last view of The Family bidding farewell to Papa and Uncle Soval.
Karyn hugged Archer close. "We'll have a lot more time tomorrow, but it's still hard, saying good-bye."
"We'll just have to be sure to make the most of the time we have," Archer smiled. He shook Lorian's hand warmly. "Congratulations again, Lorian. On everything you've accomplished while we've been away."
"Thank you, Captain." Lorian nodded to Soval. "And to both you and the ambassador, for helping to foment such an extraordinary enlightenment on Vulcan."
"I hope the same can be accomplished here on Earth," Soval said gravely. "Humans, like the Vulcans before them, also have fears and prejudices to overcome before they find enlightenment."
"Starfleet's expecting the xenophobes to show up in droves at the memorial tomorrow," Archer sighed. "With all the press that will be there, it's a perfect platform to try and stir up trouble. We're off to talk security arrangements now." He and Soval nodded their farewells. "See you tomorrow."
After they were gone, Karyn turned to Trip and T'Pol. "We have to get going, too."
"Technically, we are still on duty," Lorian acknowledged. "Captain Hernandez told us to regard our trip here as a 'long lunch break'."
Trip chuckled. "I like her style." As they exchanged farewell hugs and kisses, he suddenly stopped. "Fair warning—I asked my folks to come visit for a few days. I'm picking them up tomorrow, after the memorial." He ran a nervous hand through his hair. "I figured it was time to tell them...uh...everything."
"You haven't..." Karyn put a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. Or a giggle, she wasn't sure which. "Oh my."
Trip chewed his lip. "See, with T'Pol's situation up in the air, I didn't think it was...and explaining Lorian would mean..." He hung his head. "Aw, hell. I don't know how I'm gonna do this."
With a perfect poker face, T'Pol suggested, "Tell them the simple version."
Trip did nothing more than raise an eyebrow dryly in her direction...but through the bond, T'Pol felt a burst of appreciative laughter from him.
"Did Admiral Gardner—" Karyn drew them all into a quiet corner, away from the curious eyes and ears of their fan club. In a low voice, she continued, "What did he say about you two getting married?"
Trip rolled his eyes. "First we have to get grilled by a Starfleet board of inquiry about our objectivity. And of course the Vulcan Social Ministry has to get around to declaring T'Pol legally unmarried. Between the lot of 'em, it could be forever."
Karyn and Lorian's faces fell, in tandem. T'Pol continued placidly, "But now that we are already married, we regard the matter with far more equanimity than before."
Lorian's eyes widened. Karyn's jaw dropped. "Married?!" she squeaked.
Trip was thoroughly enjoying not being the surprised one for a change. "As of two days ago," he announced with a flourish, "T'Pol and I are officially bonded."
"Which, in the time of Surak, was essentially the definition of marriage," T'Pol added.
"So until the higher-ups are finished messing around with regulations and red tape and they give us the go-ahead for the legal ceremony...being bondmates will do," Trip grinned.
Karyn squealed softly in delight, hugging Trip and giving T'Pol a light kiss on the cheek, a human gesture of affection that T'Pol was warming to. Lorian reacted with a deep satisfaction that was quieter, though no less joyful. "I had not expected you to bond so soon."
"Hold on," Trip said. "You expected it?"
Lorian nodded. "In the Expanse, my parents bonded as well, but it did not begin to manifest itself until some months after they married."
Trip and T'Pol exchanged glances. "Our bond kinda snuck up on us," Trip confessed.
"It began to form without our knowledge," T'Pol explained. "Several months ago."
"And it's all your fault," Trip accused Lorian good-naturedly.
Lorian was confused. "My...?"
"After you told us about Koss being a temporary glitch in the system, we went and blurted out our feelings to each other," Trip replied, smiling at T'Pol. "We think that's when it started."
Karyn smiled dreamily. "How romantic."
"I gladly accept the blame for your togetherness," Lorian offered. "But what transpired two days ago?"
Trip absently rubbed his still-sore shoulder. "We had to hurry up the bond-thingy a little. We were making surprise appearances in each other's heads, and it was getting awfully distracting. And inconvenient." He sighed ruefully. "And dangerous."
"Trip nearly immolated himself in an unshielded warp-plasma energy stream during one of our spontaneous mind-links," T'Pol elaborated matter-of-factly.
Karyn winced. "Oh my God."
"I don't understand," Lorian said. "How can the formation of a bond be quickened?"
Trip smiled broadly. "Mind-meld. That's the way they did bonds in the old days, according to Soval. None of this waiting-for-a-year stuff that Vulcans do now."
Karyn was enthralled. "You two mind-melded with Soval?"
Trip shook his head, still grinning. "Nope." He looked expectantly at his wife.
"I performed the bonding meld," T'Pol stated, with self-assured calm.
Lorian stared at her. "You have learned to meld?" His expression took on an almost childlike wonder. "What is it like?"
"Quite disconcerting, at first," T'Pol admitted. "It requires a lowering of mental and emotional shields, and a willingness to be open, even vulnerable, to another's thoughts. Nevertheless, I have found my experiences of the past several days to be most profound...both illuminating and emotionally powerful. Admittedly, I have melded with people I trust..." She glanced at Trip. "Melding will likely be far more challenging a task with a stranger. I will benefit from more study and practice."
Lorian turned to Trip. "And for you, Father?"
"I'm no veteran," Trip replied. "I've been in exactly one bonding meld." He smiled again, this time a soft, gentle smile for T'Pol alone. "But it was incredible. Like being in two bodies at once...hearing each other's thoughts, sharing memories and feelings..."
The two of them were gazing at each other now, with a deep understanding that seemed to transcend the limitations of finite spaces and corporeal bodies. They were connected. It took Karyn's breath away. She glanced at Lorian to see his reaction, and was struck by the expression of yearning on his face as he watched his parents.
"And your bond?" he asked softly.
T'Pol could feel the bond resonating between herself and Trip, steady and reassuring. "We are a constant presence in each other's minds...always together, even when we are physically separated."
"Can you communicate through it?" Karyn asked.
"Indirectly," T'Pol replied. "In times of great stress, or heightened emotion, the bond intensifies, sometimes to the point of actual thought projection."
"Mostly so far, it's been this sweet, warm..." Trip hesitated, trying to find the right words. "It's like holding hands all the time, or exchanging an ozh'esta...but in our minds. Like sharing hearts and souls." He shrugged and smiled. "Words don't do a decent job of describing it at all."
The ghost of a faint, wistful smile played at the corners of Lorian's mouth as he looked at his parents. "Your faces convey far more than words ever could, Father."
Karyn didn't know why, but her heart ached for Lorian at that moment. She took his hand, holding it tightly. Her touch seemed to bring him out of his pensive reverie. He blinked, glancing around, as if remembering where he was. Then he nodded to his parents, with that same sad little smile. "We must go." Without another word, he led Karyn out.