Author's notes: This story presumably takes place at some point between "The Expanse" and "The Xindi", and deals with Commander Tucker's grief over the loss of his sister. It is pre-slash, there are definite hints, but nothing overt and it contains very mild violence.
Beta: Thanks go to the truly wonderful machingmonkey for her fantastic beta job and for NOT cutting me any slack and pushing me to write better, try harder - never underestimate my appreciation of your confidence in me Monkey-mine, and to the unbelievably terrific Squeakylightfoot for the copious quantity of time she spent allowing me to bounce ideas around until things finally clicked for me - your patience and support are of legendary proportion - many, many, thanks Squeaks!
Dedication: This story is dedicated to all those who have ever found themselves facing the loss of a loved one without a friend at their side to support them. I wish everyone facing the darkest moments of grief could have friends like Jonathan Archer and Trip Tucker at their side.
Feedback: Roses are red, violets are blue, feedback is welcome, flames reflect on you.
Disclaimer: Enterprise and her crew do not belong to me - my only profit is my joy in these characters and the Star Trek ideal they embody.
They had been inside the Delphic Expanse just under a month, the Enterprise was still in one piece, and while the strain of their Earth-saving mission was taking its toll on the crew, on the whole things were going well so far.
Standing in the Situation Room off the Bridge surrounded by his Senior Officers, as well as a few select members of the new Commando crew, Captain Jonathan Archer presided over the latest in a series of strategy meetings. They were reviewing the possible ways power could be rerouted from the engines to the rest of the ship, in case of power loss due to previously un-encountered atmospheric conditions.
"Well, that's just great." Commander "Trip" Tucker muttered under his breath.
Captain Archer shifted his gaze towards his Chief Engineer and raised an eyebrow. "Commander?" he queried.
Trip averted his eyes and feigned great interest in the console they were standing around, affecting not to hear the Captain's question.
"Commander," Archer repeated, "If you have any concerns, I'd appreciate it if you'd share them with us.
"It's nothing Cap'n, never mind." Trip replied tersely, continuing to study the console in front of him.
Realizing that he wasn't going to get any further response from the Commander, Archer decided not to pursue the matter any further. Trip had been on edge for weeks now, and he was aware of at least half a dozen small blow-ups that had occurred between Trip and various members of the crew. Better to leave him be for the moment and pursue the matter privately later.
Right: privately, for all the good it would do, Archer sighed inwardly. Lately, he hadn't had any luck getting Trip to respond to him privately either. His distress appeared to be escalating, and as much as he wanted to give his best friend the freedom and time to grieve for his sister, the brutal truth was he needed his Chief Engineer more than ever before. He simply could not afford for Trip to be incapacitated.
Archer had just opened his mouth to move on to the next item on the agenda, when Trip slammed his fist down on the console he had been pretending to study.
"This is getting' us exactly nowhere, and you damn well know it Cap'n," Trip spat. "If all you want to worry about is safe stuff like re-routing power, then we're sure as hell never going to find and annihilate the Xindi. I don't have time to spend playin' games." He spun on his heel and stalked towards the turbolift, calling over his shoulder as he went; "Lemme know when you're ready to get serious about nailin' these bastards."
Archer froze briefly, shocked at his Chief Engineer's outburst. He sensed his crew shifting awkwardly around him, all eyes averted, as he forced himself to focus and turned quickly to T'Pol. "Keep the discussion on track, and we'll review the recommendations when I get back" he said quietly, before calling after Trip, the note of command sharp in his voice, "Commander, my Ready Room, now!"
Trip glared at him in response, turned away from the lift and walked back towards Archer, who stepped aside, allowing Trip to precede him into the Ready Room. Trip headed immediately towards the window, leaving Archer to follow him in.
The Captain waited until the door had closed before going to stand directly behind the Commander. He worked to get his roiling emotions under control before he spoke. "Well, that was a charming display of temper, Commander. Care to tell me what that was all about?"
Trip ignored him, continuing to stare into the void.
Archer sighed. He turned away from the Commander, walked to his desk and sat down wearily.
He chose both his words and his tone of voice with great care before he spoke. "Trip, I think you're lost, and I'm really trying to help you. But before I can do that, you have to let me in."
"I'm fine Cap'n, I just got a little impatient, is all." Trip responded. "I was outta line. I know it, and I'll accept whatever reprimand you want to give me without question, ok?"
"Nice try, Trip." Archer countered quietly, "But I'm not buying it."
The comment evoked the desired response. Trip finally turned from the window to face him, and Archer saw a quick flash of anger in his eyes before it was just as quickly suppressed.
"You're not buying what, exactly, Cap'n?" Trip asked in a controlled voice.
"The excuses and the lies, Trip." Archer replied. "These outbursts of yours are becoming more and more frequent, and you've given me every reason under the sun for your behaviour whenever I've called you on it. I've tried to get you to talk to me, whether about Lizzie, or how you're feeling, or hell, just about anything else for that matter." Archer sighed in frustration and rubbed his face absently before continuing, "But instead, you've put me off, avoided me, distracted me, and worst of alllied to me over and over again. I've let it go as long as I could, Trip, I figured you needed some space to find your way on your own. But I can't do that anymore. It has to stop. The only thing I'll settle for hearing from you now is the truth."
"Cap'n! I don't think--" Trip began angrily.
Archer interrupted him immediately. "I've offered this before and you've declined, but I'm not taking no for an answer this time. You have to let someone help you with this, Trip. It can be me, Phlox, or anyone else you might prefer, but you have to let someone in before this tears you apart." He said it almost angrily – the words coming out more strongly than he had intended, an order, rather than a request.
Trip's eyes narrowed into a dangerous glare. "You just think everything's so goddam easy, don't you?" he hissed angrily, "You just give one of your little orders and everyone jumps to make things better for you. Christ, Jon, has it ever occurred to you that some things are beyond bein' fixed?" He shook his head, anger and disgust clearly evident on his face.
It was Archer who finally broke eye contact. Looking away from Trip's accusing eyes, he got his own anger under control before he replied coldly, "No, Trip. I don't think it's that easy. If I did, you'd better believe I would have given the order to have it "fixed" a hell of a long time ago." He slowly turned back to face Trip again before continuing, "In fact, Phlox told me some weeks ago that if the situation warranted it, we could get you some medication to help you get through this, but he and I both knew you wouldn't appreciate that interference, and I decided not to press the issue. I could easily have given that order, but I didn't did I?"
This time it was Trip who turned away, but not before Archer saw him carefully schooling his facial expression. He suppressed his anger even further as he wondered what Trip was trying to hide now, and then suddenly realized that Trip was speaking.
"Jon, I appreciate what you're tryin' to do, but honestly the best thing you can do for me is leave me be. I'll be fine. I just need you to cut me some slack, ok? Stop askin' how I'm doing; stop bugging me about Lizzie, and stop worrying. I swear you're worse than my Mom." Trip turned back to him and smiled for effect. "I promise you I'll be fine, and for now, I've got an engine room to run, so if you'll excuse me…" He finished, and walked towards the door without waiting to be officially dismissed.
Archer was stunned, and reacted belatedly to Trip's attempted exit. Leaping to his feet, he realized he now understood the carefully schooled facial expression, and he was incandescently furious. "Permission denied Commander, and don't you dare lie to me again! Not about this!" He yelled, his anger making the blood pound so loudly in his ears that he could barely hear himself, "There's a hell of a lot at stake here, the future of our entire race is on the line, and without this crew all working at their best, this is a war we might not win. We – I – need you to be in control of all your faculties, now more than ever before. And, you Commander, need to bite the bullet, face the pain head on so you can deal with it, and for starters, that means acknowledging what you're really feeling and not shutting out everyone who comes within arms reach!"
Realizing that he was almost screaming at his friend now, he paused to take a couple of calming breaths before continuing in a more moderate tone, "I really hate to have to do this Trip, and I hate that you're putting me in this position even more, but there are only two ways this can play out: either you start talking to me, or I'm going to order you to go talk to Phlox. I'll even relieve you of duty temporarily if that's what it's going to take. You have until 19:00 hours tonight to make your decision."
The look on Trip's face reflected unrestrained hatred; his lips were white and his blue eyes blazing. "Will there be anything else, Captain?" He pronounced each word precisely and without any trace of his usual southern lilt, placing special emphasis on Archer's rank.
"No, Commander," Archer said sadly, "That's all. Dismissed."
Had the door been slammable, Archer had no doubt Trip would have slammed it so hard it would have fallen off its hinges.
The door quietly swooshed shut.
Archer settled himself at his desk again, leaned forward and cushioned his head on his arms. He felt terribly sad and defeated; not at all sure he had done the right thing for his friend. If only he could take all Trip's pain away. He would gladly take it all upon himself he decided as he closed his eyes and tried to regain some level of composure. This was so much more difficult than he ever could have imagined, and sometimes being the Captain really sucked.
The remainder of the day passed uneventfully for the Captain. He had not seen Trip since the he had all but run out of his Ready Room that morning. Their paths had not crossed during the day as they normally would have, and Archer strongly suspected that that was not a coincidence. Trip was conspicuously absent from the Captain's mess at dinner as well, and as Archer tried to eat, he was uncharacteristically silent. He was grateful that T'Pol had the sense not to comment on it, and was relieved when she excused herself as soon as was respectfully possible. He pushed his food around on his plate for a long while before leaving the mess himself and returning to his quarters to wait for the Commander's response.
It was much later when he awoke. He was lying on the bed, in his uniform. All the lights were still on, and he realized he must have dozed off. There was no denying that the stress of the past weeks was taking its toll on him too.
There were loud voices in the corridor outside his quarters. Two voices, which were growing louder by the second, and sounded angry, very angry. The volume continued to increase and Porthos gave a small whine in response. Should he interfere or let them work it out he wondered? In short order his decision was made for him. There was a roar of almost primal fury, a yelp of surprise and a then a dull thud against the wall of his cabin. He was off his bed and opening the door all in the same motion.
Lieutenant Reed had a very disheveled and clearly furious Commander Tucker pinned up against the wall. The Commander was twisting and contorting in the Lieutenant's grasp, all the while yelling at the top of his lungs; "Goddammit Malcolm, if you don't get your fuckin' hands off me I swear to God I'll kill you!" Tucker yelled.
Archer was beside the Commander in two short strides. He grabbed his friend firmly by the scruff of the neck with his right hand, while re-opening his cabin door with his left, and then pushed the shocked and still-struggling Commander inside. He waited a moment for the door to close before locking it, and turning to focus his attention on his Armory officer.
"Malcolm, what the hell happened?" Archer asked.
Reed paused, catching his breath before replying; "The Commander requested a phase pistol to wear while on duty some weeks ago. I denied his original request for obvious reasons, and explained why, but he has re-submitted the request weekly since then. I've denied them all, of course."
He stopped and shook his head slowly, considering, before he continued, "When I went back to the Armory after supper this evening, Crewman Landry reported that the Commander had tried to convince her to open the weapon's locker for him. I decided this needed to be brought to your attention immediately, but he intercepted me on my way here and the situation escalated much faster than I ever would have expected with Commander Tucker."
Archer nodded reflectively. "Thank God it was you he was with when he finally snapped though," he said quietly. "There are a lot of people who would not have been able to handle it nearly as well. Thanks, Malcolm."
"It was no problem, Sir." Reed shrugged his shoulders dismissively before inquiring hesitantly "Will the Commander be alright? Should I perhaps alert Dr. Phlox?"
"It's ok Malcolm, I'll deal with the Commander." Archer sighed wearily, " I appreciate your offer, but I'll take it from here. Don't worry, if things start to get out of hand I promise I'll call you." Archer gestured with his head in the general direction of the turbolift at the end of the corridor and encouraged Reed to go.
He watched Reed walk away before turning back to the door of his quarters. Bracing himself for any eventuality, he keyed open the door and stepped inside.
The Commander was standing in the middle of the room facing away from him, and was practically shimmering with uncontrolled rage, while Porthos was hiding under his desk, as far away from the Commander as was possible. Archer stopped short, hesitating a moment and smiled gently at his hiding dog, before running his eyes over the man in front of him. Trip's body was rigid with anger and he was shaking slightly in his stance. He sighed, and ran his hand through his hair before approaching cautiously from behind and addressing his friend, 'Trip…I…"
At the sound of Archer's voice, Trip shouted something completely incoherent, and turned and launched himself at Archer. He had fury and adrenaline on his side, but was obviously not thinking clearly. Archer just barely managed to sidestep the tackle, and quickly moved to subdue his raging friend by grabbing one of his flailing arms, twisting it up behind his back, and forcing him to the floor. He then pinned Trip down with one of his knees on his back to keep him still. The epithets coming from the Commander's mouth were largely unintelligible and he was struggling as if his very life depended on it. Archer could only make out the occasional word. Trip was clearly beyond any kind of rationality, consumed by his pain and anger, his emotions pushed to their very limits.
Archer tried to think quickly now. He would not be able to hold Trip immobile indefinitely despite the weight advantage he had, and he didn't really like to be restraining his friend in any case, though it was better than having him sedated he reasoned. No, he needed to get through all that emotion and get Trip to focus on him.
He lifted his knee, and swiftly flipped Trip over so he was lying on his back, making sure to grab his arms before straddling him at the waist and pinning him once more as he continued to rage. He brought his face in close to Trip's, trying to catch his eyes, and began to shout at Trip in response, raising his voice to be heard above Trip's own shouting; "Trip, look at me! Come on Trip, get a grip, snap out of it!"
Trip only responded by thrashing harder. It wasn't going to be long and he was going to end up hurting them both Archer thought as he struggled to contain his furious friend. "Damn it Trip, calm down, I can't do anything to help you when you're like this!" he yelled again.
He was losing control of the situation rapidly now. There was no indication that Trip was even hearing anything he was saying, and he was running out of time. Archer weighed his options for just a moment before deciding what to do. If this didn't work he'd have to call Dr. Phlox and have Trip sedated. As distasteful as what he was about to do was, having his friend sedated was even less appealing. He moved Trip's arms so his hands were together over his head. He then shifted his grip so he was holding both of Trip's arms with his left hand before drawing his right hand way back, and slapping his friend sharply across the face with all the force he could muster in his awkward position.
It worked. There was a moment of shocked silence during which Archer reclaimed Trip's arms with his right and left hands and pinned him again, but it was no longer necessary.
Archer caught Trip's eyes with his own, and began relinquishing his grip on Trip's arms before slowly moving his hands to rest cautiously on his friend's shoulders.
Trip's eyes were still locked with his, and the pain and anguish he saw there almost broke his heart. He began speaking softly to his friend, unable to keep his voice from breaking at what he was seeing, "God Trip, I just want to help you. Do you get that? You're my best friend, and you're hurting worse than I can even begin to imagine. Please let me help you. Don't make me order you to talk to Phlox. Just let me in…please…" he trailed off, overcome with the intensity of his own feelings.
Trip's eyes became very bright, almost glassy, and he turned his face away. Archer was wondering what to do next when the long suppressed tears finally started. He shifted himself off of Trip's waist, and then sitting beside him, gathered the younger man into his arms breathing a silent word of thanks. He just sat there, gently rubbing Trip's shoulders, and speaking softly to him as violent sobs at last overtook Trip's body.
How long they sat there like that Archer didn't know. He continued to rub and talk, Trip continued to cry and sob. His heart wrenched at the sound, and he wanted so badly to take away the pain he knew his friend was in. Trip was sobbing so hard he was having difficulty breathing, his body heaving with the effort, and Archer kept having to remind him to take deep breaths by catching his eyes and breathing exaggeratedly with him.
Finally the sobbing started to subside, and was quickly replaced by mild groaning. "Oh God,…I think I'm gonna be sick" Trip groaned, before launching himself forward onto his hands and knees, knocking Archer out of the way in his haste.
Archer recovered quickly. He got up, grabbed Trip's arms and hauled him up off the floor. Supporting him with his own shoulder under Trip's left arm, he half walked, half dragged Trip into the bathroom and in front of the toilet. He waited for Trip to get his dry heaves under control, rubbing his back gently, before helping him back to his feet at last.
Trip didn't look good at all. His eyes were bloodshot and swollen; he was covered in cold sweat, and was shivering heavily. "Jesus, Trip!" Archer swore softly, "You're freezing! God, we've got to get you warmed up, I want you to get in the shower ok? I've got some spare clothes which should fit you, and you can borrow them for now, so long as I get them back." He gave a small encouraging smile.
Trip was far too tired to argue and acquiesced immediately. Bringing the promised clothes into the bathroom, Archer turned and partially closed the bathroom door behind him. Enough to give Trip some privacy but not so much that he couldn't hear if the younger man ran into any difficulties.
Sighing with relief and exhaustion, he then got down on his hands and knees and began to try to coax Porthos out from under his desk. One down, one to go, he thought to himself wryly.
Archer was sitting on the bed, with Porthos next to him, talking with Phlox when Trip came out of the bathroom some time later. His eyes were still red and puffy, but he was looking somewhat better. Seeing Phlox's presence Trip looked at Archer and raised his eyebrow in question, his face showing his suspicion openly.
"I'm guessing you've got a killer headache, and you're probably still nauseous too. You really put your body through the ringer tonight, not to mention your emotions." Archer said in answer. "Just about the best thing you can do for yourself right now is to get a good night's sleep, something I know you haven't had in far too long."
Trip flushed slightly, his face as always betraying the truth behind his thoughts, and Archer knew he had been right – Trip probably hadn't really slept in weeks, it was no wonder he was unstable.
"The good Doctor has an analgesic for you for the pain, and something that should settle your stomach enough, so that you can get some rest." Archer almost laughed at Trip's look of sheer relief. "What, Trip, did you seriously think I was going to have you sedated?" he asked, amusement ringing in his voice.
Trip managed to look a bit sheepish as he replied, "Well, the thought did kinda cross my mind, with all that happened tonight…." He trailed off, clearly unsure of what to say next.
"It's ok, Trip." Archer quickly assured him, "Nothing you did tonight caused any permanent damage, and aside from Malcolm who understands the situation because he's your friend, no one else knows about it. This is between you and me, and that's where it will stay."
Archer considered Trip briefly before shifting into Commanding Officer mode and continuing, "There is one more thing though. You are hereby relieved of duty tomorrow, and you have a choice to make. You can either stay here tonight where I can keep an eye on you, and then tomorrow you and I will spend a quiet day, just resting and talking and starting to talk this out so we can avoid a repeat of tonight, or you can spend the night in sickbay where Phlox can keep an eye on you, and then you can spend the day talking to him tomorrow instead, it's up to you."
Trip glanced surreptitiously over at Phlox, who nodded his agreement, before attempting a small smile in response. It was a very tired and sad sort of smile, but a smile nevertheless. "Ok, Jon, you win. I'll stay here tonight, and I promise I'll talk to you tomorrow." He replied in a tired voice.
Letting out a breath he hadn't known he was holding, Archer sighed in relief, at both Trip's acceptance of what was required of him, and the shift in form of address.
As the Captain, he was more often than not isolated from his crew by his rank and position as their Commanding Officer. After today, he was so glad that Trip could still cross that barrier, and considered him a friend. He honestly didn't know how he'd ever survive without at least that one real friendship on Enterprise.
Archer smiled and then nodded at Phlox.
"If you'll come by and see me tomorrow at some point Commander, we'll see what we can do about finding you a more effective way to deal with your insomnia." Phlox said as he stepped forward and administered the hypo-spray he had brought with him, pressing it firmly to Trip's neck.
Once Phlox had departed, Archer worked to get a very dazed and utterly exhausted Trip settled in his bed. Grabbing a blanket and a pillow he settled himself on the makeshift cot he'd had delivered from storage, and by the time he had dimmed the lights, Trip was already drowsing, his fatigue finally catching up with him. He was almost asleep himself when he heard Trip moving around, and opening his eyes again he saw that Trip had turned to face him. Trip's eyes were unfocussed in the low light, as he fought to stay awake. He obviously had something he wanted to say.
"What is it Trip?" Archer asked quietly.
"I just wanted to say thanks. You're a great friend. I pushed you away when all you wanted to do was be near me and help me, and I'm sorry for that..." Trip's voice trailed off at that, and Archer realized his friend had finally succumbed to sleep.
"You're welcome Trip" he said to the sleeping form on his bed, "and don't worry about pushing me away. I always keep you near me regardless of how hard you push me away. It's what friends do."
He turned his face away at that, blinking rapidly, finally overcome by his own emotions.
"And God knows you're so much more than a friend to me Trip...if only you knew how much more..." he whispered at the ceiling.
Exhausted himself, and heavy-hearted, Archer turned over and tried to get comfortable. He silently wished his friend a deep, dreamless night's sleep and hoped that tomorrow would bring Trip some much needed comfort and perspective. The healing process had begun, but there was still a long road ahead, and he swore to himself he would do whatever he could for his friend.
In the other bed, a ghost of a smile lingered on sleep-softened features, hidden by the darkness, and unseen by a turned back.
- End -