Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount's, not mine.
Author's Note: The first line in "Bound" is the Captain's log dated December 27, 2154. So, if I've read the sequence of that episode correctly, Trip must have told Hernandez he'd like to stay on Enterprise the day after Christmas. That's how I found my way into this installment in my canon-friendly series of "missing scenes" stories. This stands alone, but it could also be read as a sequel to "Commander Tucker Suffers from Intrusive Daydreams." (To start at the very beginning, go to "Commander Tucker Falls in Love," then read "Commander T'Pol Joins Starfleet," then the two I've already mentioned. Racier versions can be found in the archive at Triaxian Silk.)
"Nice," Trip said, and nodded at the actual live evergreen that was filling the mess hall with its evocative balsam scent. "You guys put on a great spread this year."
"Stop calling us 'you guys'," Malcolm said. "You've been back practically the full month. Nobody thinks you're leaving anymore."
"It's not my fault we haven't been anywhere near Columbia."
"No, it isn't!" Trip said, so vehemently that Malcolm drew back.
"My mistake," Malcolm said, though his tone was a bit grudging. He gazed suspiciously at the trays laid out on the buffet tables. "I heard some of the ladies got together to bake for this."
"That was obliging of 'em." Trip happily surveyed trays of goodies that were more varied than usual, with a few bordering on eccentric. "Is this silver?"
Malcolm grunted. "Those are Crewman Seshadri's. I think I'd stick with Chef's work, personally."
Trip took a cautious bite of a dense bar of something that sported a thin decorative layer of silver metal on top. Overall, it was sweet and surprisingly tasty, although eating the metal was not something he wanted to think too hard about. "I think it has pistachios in it. Anyone ever tell you you're a Grinch?"
Malcolm just scowled.
They made their way to a far table; it was one of the only ones free. Malcolm said, "To return to my original subject, you shouldn't have left in the first place. Why compound the error by going back?"
Trip sighed. "I needed to go, Malcolm."
"All right – but that doesn't mean you still need to go. Can't you just … you know … cope?"
Trip grimaced. That was an excellent question.
It wasn't like he didn't have plenty of practice at it.
When he'd first returned to Enterprise, he'd felt certain T'Pol missed him and wanted him back. However, he'd made himself a rule: He wouldn't initiate anything. He wouldn't even pick arguments with her just for the joy of it. Because even if she did miss him, he didn't want a relationship defined by her keeping all her feelings to herself while he made all the effort and endured all the rejection.
And in nearly a month she hadn't said one thing that could be even remotely construed as encouraging.
Their white space encounters had stopped once he was back on board. As time passed he began to wonder if they had actually been anything more than his lovelorn imagination working overtime.
Meanwhile, she brought up his return to Columbia in practically every work-related conversation they had. "Do you have a date for your return yet?" she would ask.
"I don't drive the ship," he'd say, or, "Ask Captain Archer," or, if he was feeling particularly cranky, "Are you that eager to see me go?"
Which gave her the perfect opening for her to say no, she actually didn't want him to go. But she never said anything of the kind. Her response was always strictly professional. "As first officer I handle personnel issues," she'd say. Or, "The engineering staff is experiencing a degree of uncertainty. I have received some complaints."
Complaints? That would be Kelby. He was a better engineer than Trip had expected, but his attitude needed a major overhaul. Arrogant and defensive were a bad combination next to warp reactor.
On the other hand, he knew he also wasn't seeing the man at his best. It was an awkward situation. Kelby was probably the only person on this ship who wanted him to leave even more than T'Pol did.
Once he'd realized his hopes in regard to T'Pol were ridiculous, Trip had been eager to return to Columbia, but somehow that just hadn't worked out. And over the last couple of days he'd begun to think again. It wasn't as if T'Pol was actively antagonizing him – they were both professional. It wasn't as if he actually needed to interact with her all that often. And his other friends had been lobbying hard for him to stay, especially Malcolm and Jon.
And there were worse things than having friends who wanted you to hang around.
Hoshi and Travis joined Malcolm and Trip at their table with their own holiday pickings. "Merry Christmas!" Trip said, and raised his milk in a salute.
"Happy Christmas," Malcolm said.
Hoshi smiled. "Merry, happy, feliz, whatever. It's definitely more festive than last year's."
At the thought of their last Christmas they all simply met each other's sober glances.
Travis said, "I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes I feel nostalgic for the Expanse. Do you remember how people shared their private stores last Christmas?"
Hoshi turned to Trip. "I remember your peaches. They were so luscious!"
"I'm glad I put them out. They wouldn't have made it past Azati Prime anyway." He remembered Taylor telling him how much she'd enjoyed her peach … and Corporal Cole biting into hers sensuously, her eyes on him. She'd asked him about Vulcan neuro-pressure and he'd offered to try it with her. He'd had this half-formed idea that he would show her how innocent it actually was, that the widespread rumors about him and T'Pol were ridiculous.
Yeah, right. As if that was the only half-formed idea he'd had about Amanda Cole.
"To earth," Malcolm said, raising his glass. "And to our friends who gave their lives for it."
The others raised their glasses and drank.
Travis said, "So when are you officially back, Commander?"
Trip smiled and hooked his thumb up at his arm patch. "Sorry, but I'm still on Columbia's payroll. If that changes, I'll let be sure to let you know."
The door opened and T'Pol stepped in. She scanned the room quickly, her eyes lighting on their little group for less than a second, then got her usual cup of tea and left.
Trip stared bleakly at the closing door.
He saw Malcolm and Hoshi exchange looks and figured it was no coincidence that they immediately started joking about Captain Archer's campaign to get Starfleet to put a swimming pool into the design for the next generation of starships. More jokes about water polo ensued and there was mounting laughter, which Trip felt a little guilty about sharing. It could be awfully easy to poke fun at Jon, but he was still Trip's friend, and he was still the captain.
Trip looked around surreptitiously to make sure no one else in the busy room was listening in, but it appeared that the others were focused on their own celebrations.
That was when everything went white.
T'Pol was sitting, apparently for meditation, though she had her arms wrapped around herself and was rocking just slightly. He blinked, surprised to be back in the white space after all this time, and also perplexed by the timing. Hadn't she just left the mess hall? "What happened to your tea?"
She looked up. "It's…." She paused and looked around, apparently as nonplussed as he was.
"It'll get cold. Maybe you'd better get it."
"I thought meditation might be more helpful. Apparently I was mistaken."
He walked in a wide circle around her in her great empty space. "You know," he said, "You don't look too happy." Technically this was breaking his rule, but he told himself he'd show the same concern for anyone. Besides, he'd never really decided whether the rule should apply here – wherever the hell here was.
She didn't answer. She had cast her eyes down again, arms still wrapped tight. At least she'd stopped rocking.
"Haven't been here in awhile," he said. "I figured you'd found a way to stop this from happening."
He studied her and decided he'd try to figure out what the heck was going on, rule or no rule. He sat down in front of her. "I'd also thought maybe it stopped because I was back."
She didn't respond, wouldn't even look at him.
"Think it'll keep happening when I go back to Columbia?"
She raised her eyes. "When will that be?"
"You tell me. If I didn't know better I'd think the captain was purposely avoiding any chance for a rendezvous."
"It's possible. He doesn't want to lose you."
"And you, T'Pol? Do you want to lose me?"
She just sat there, hunched up.
He sighed and stood up. "You know, when I first came back, I thought maybe you were a little pleased to see me. But I guess I also figure that if you have feelings you don't act on, you might as well not have them. Because it works out the same in the end."
She stared stonily off into whiteness. "Vulcans aren't supposed to act on their feelings."
He put his hands on his hips and looked down at her. "I know. And you know what, I'm just not gonna beat my head against that wall anymore. Maybe I'll go back to Columbia or maybe I'll stay here … but either way, it won't be because of you."
She betrayed no reaction other than to hunch down a little tighter, but he could swear he felt a sharp pain that wasn't his blossom in his chest.
He took a deep breath. He was a terrible sucker for an unhappy T'Pol. But if he'd learned anything about himself over the years it was that he was a sucker for an unhappy anybody. "Look," he said, his voice softening, "I'll never want anything but the best for you. I'm … I'm real glad for the time we had together. And I hope you feel better soon … I really hope that you get your peace and long life, or whatever it is you want. But it's not going to be my responsibility if you don't."
And with a clarity he hadn't known he possessed, he turned away and thought himself back into his seat in the mess hall.
"Commander?" Malcolm said. They were all peering at him strangely.
He blinked as he got his bearings. "What? Oh, sorry. Got a little distracted." He smiled. He felt lighter somehow. The pain was flaring, the way it always did after an encounter with T'Pol, but for the first time in months he felt certain that the feelings of loss and fear would fade with time. He raised his glass of milk. "To the gallant crew of the starship Enterprise."
They raised their glasses and toasted. Silently, Trip added a wordless toast to T'Pol: Goodbye, darlin'.
Hoshi raised her cup of tea. "To Columbia giving us our Chief Engineer back."
"Here, here!" Travis and Malcolm added.
Trip smiled and drank his milk and looked around the table at his friends, remembering the previous Christmas, and the Christmases before that. They had shared so much. In a very real sense they were his second family, and probably the only one that could understand the man he was today.
He shouldn't have let hurt feelings drive him away from this.
Around 2100 Trip realized Archer hadn't shown up to the mess hall and decided he'd pay a call before it got too late.
"You're missing out on all the holiday cheer," Trip said, when Jon answered the door.
"Let's create a little cheer of our own." Archer went to get the glasses. "I was just talking to Erika."
"Erika?" Jon had always called her Captain Hernandez before.
Archer gave him an odd little smile and poured the whiskey. "Yes, Erika."
Trip raised his eyebrows, interested, but decided he'd better not ask. Instead he raised his glass in a silent toast, and took a sip. "So how are they doing? How are those engines holding up?"
"Everything's fine. She wants to know how you're doing. So do I, actually."
Archer sighed. "Judging from the tension I'm still seeing between you and my science officer, there hasn't been any resolution there."
"Not a happy one, anyway."
Jon sighed and took a gulp of his drink. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right," Trip said. "Lately I'm thinking it's not really that big a deal. I guess I wouldn't mind sticking around, if you still want me."
Archer looked surprised. "You know I do." His brows drew together. "This is for good? You're willing to transfer back? Do you think you'll … be happy?"
Trip nodded. "I still feel like I belong here. More than Columbia. Any rate, I'll have to make the best of it. I don't think Starfleet is going to welcome another transfer request from me anytime soon."
"Hey, you got Columbia launched. That was what they really needed."
Trip swirled his drink thoughtfully. "Kelby will have a cow."
"Once we've got everything official, I'll have a talk with him. Do you really think he's going to be a problem?"
Trip sighed. "It won't be easy for him. Probably best if you give him some options and see which one he wants to take. Frankly, if I were him I'd be angry too."
"You were him, three years ago, when somebody else was named first officer in your place. As I recall, you handled that pretty well."
That seemed like a lifetime ago now. Trip shook his head, remembering, and couldn't help a crooked grin. "I'm sure I had a lot more fun being pissed off at T'Pol than Kelby is ever going to have being pissed off at me."
Archer laughed. "We thought it was just temporary, remember? At any rate, that's what I kept telling myself every time she started in on one of her lectures."
Trip gave his friend a serious look. "You know, I'm glad she's still here, even if she and I aren't ever gonna get along the way I'd like. It wouldn't be the same without her. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and I guess I don't seriously regret anything that's happened there. I just need to adjust my expectations. And I think maybe I'm getting better at that as the years go by."
Archer patted him on the back. "Actually, I think you've always been good at that. It means a lot to me to know you're willing to come back. I really didn't want to be out here without you. So you'll talk to Captain Hernandez tomorrow?"
"Yes sir, I will."
"You know, I think this has turned out to be an excellent Christmas after all," Archer said. "Another glass?"
"Just a splash," Trip said. After Jon poured, he held it up for a toast. "To lowered expectations."
Archer laughed and raised his own glass. "To whatever it takes."
That night Trip went back to his quarters – well, they were actually guest quarters, not his. He wished he had his old quarters back and his stuff with him and could start unpacking. He was tired of living between two lives. But he was going to have to wait until it was official. For that matter, it was possible Starfleet would balk. Still, if Jon and Captain Hernandez both insisted, he was sure it would happen. It might knock a few years off his next promotion, but at the moment he didn't care. He'd risen faster than most, he could afford to slow down. Truth was, he wanted to slow down. He'd had enough command experience to realize it was a lot less fun than it looked.
The next few days were bound to be painful, though. He was going to have to pretend that he was still going back to Columbia, and he didn't enjoy lying. Not only that, but once any official communications with Starfleet started, rumors had a way of filtering out. And Kelby, he'd noticed, seemed to have an inside line on Starfleet rumors.
Well, tough. Kelby would just have to hack it. Maybe the cocky little bastard would learn something useful in the process.
At least now he could start thinking proprietarily about his engines again. He spent the half hour before he fell asleep plotting out all the ideas he had.
Later in the night he woke to what felt like a soft touch on his head. He sighed, and rolled over, and there was T'Pol, lying right next to him in her red silk pajamas.
He blinked sleepily at her. Oh great. More white space.
"I want you to stay," she said.
"I want you to stay."
He rubbed a hand over his face and rolled onto his back again. "This isn't real. It doesn't count."
She sat up and stared down at him. Then she leaned down and kissed him. He felt that he ought to refuse to go along, that she shouldn't assume she could just have her way with him whenever she wanted, but as usual his body responded to hers without consulting his brain first. His mouth opened to her insistent tongue and his arms went up to wrap around her possessively.
She kissed him hungrily and thoroughly until he was kissing her back with equal ardor. Then she pulled back and said, "You still believe this doesn't count?"
He looked up into her beautiful dark eyes. He was so taut with desire for her that it hurt. Dream or real, weird Vulcan shit or his own libidinous fantasy – he simply had no words to tell her to go away. Especially when she didn't wait for his answer, but dipped her mouth down to his again, then started trailing kisses down his neck.
A short time later, she lay draped over him, softly panting. He slowly smoothed his hand across her bare back and felt more at peace than he had in months.
"So will you stay on Enterprise?" she said.
He smiled. "Sorry, darlin', but this still doesn't count."
Her eyes opened wide in outrage, and suddenly he was alone again.
He chuckled. Yes, undoubtedly, he was a hopeless pushover for T'Pol, but he was damned if he was going to make this easy for her.
The next morning Trip spoke to Hernandez, who was clearly unsurprised at the news that he preferred to stay put. They chatted about the engines, Lieutenant Rivers, and how to get his stuff back to him, and parted ways amicably.
Next, he checked in with Archer in his ready room. "Hernandez is fine with it, Cap'n."
"Good." Archer didn't look surprised either. "I'll put the request in on this end, then."
"Oh, and Cap'n?"
"Could you put off telling T'Pol?"
Archer sat back and frowned. "She's my executive officer, Trip. If you two haven't resolved anything by now, I don't see how a couple more days will matter."
"Couldn't you just humor me?"
Trip tried his best puppy-dog eyes. It worked pretty well for Porthos.
Archer shook his head. "I'm not going to lie if she asks about it. And knowing her, she will."
"Damn it, Cap'n. She's this close to caving. I can tell."
"Trip! This isn't high school! Don't make me regret getting you back."
Trip scowled. "You know I'll always put the mission first."
"Then put it first now. You still have an engine room to get back in shape, unless I'm much mistaken."
Trip hadn't been taking meals in the captain's mess for a couple of weeks, mostly because T'Pol reliably attended them. But this time he made sure to show up for lunch – early.
T'Pol was punctual, as usual, arriving before Archer himself. "Commander," she greeted him. "I was under the impression your engine repairs left no time for meals with the captain."
"Things are pretty much under control; I figured I could spare the time." He lifted his chin. "Trying to get rid of me again?"
"Hardly." Her tone suggested that he was not worth the effort.
She was tense, Trip decided, assessing the line of her jaw. So perhaps Archer hadn't given her the news yet. "Well, don't worry, I'll be gone soon enough."
Her mouth tightened. "You have a date for your return to Columbia?"
"I'm sure it's just a matter of time and tide." He enjoyed the little line that appeared between her eyebrows as she tried to decipher the colloquialism.
"Then you still intend to go."
"Starfleet hasn't reassigned me that I know of."
Now she looked suspicious – so he gave her as bland a smile as he could manage. Apparently it worked. Her face closed up into the mask Trip had learned to associate with a disappointed Vulcan science officer.
Then she raised her eyes to his again. She seemed to be trying to gather herself for something and Trip was almost positive she was about to finally say something to him – so positive that his heart started to thump in anticipation. That was when the door slid open and Archer joined them.
Damn. Trip immediately launched into a nearly non-stop monologue that moved from a report on the engine to some gossip he'd overheard to some suggestions for movie night to a long and enthusiastic description of all the ways in which Columbia was different than Enterprise, including a point-by-point comparison of the two chefs.
Archer ate and listened and scowled at him as if he were perfectly aware what Trip was doing and didn't think much of it. But he didn't interrupt, either.
T'Pol, meanwhile, finished her meal in silence and quietly excused herself.
Trip waited until she was gone and took a deep breath. Thank God. Now he could actually eat.
Archer said, "You know, I don't think I have ever in my life seen you so completely full of shit."
"Sorry. I think it might be working, though."
"It looks pretty damned juvenile from where I sit."
Trip chewed his lip, embarrassed. Jon was right, of course. But Jon didn't know what he was up against. "Have you ever known T'Pol to admit to anything emotional if she doesn't have to?"
Archer gave him a long, assessing look. "Trip. Are you actually expecting her to change? If you already know that this is what she's like, isn't it possible you'd be better off just letting it go?"
"You don't understand. I've tried to walk away, but she won't let me. Last night…." Trip stopped.
Trip blushed. "Nothing."
Archer smirked. "Nothing?"
"Let's just say she gave me the impression she still wants me around."
"So what the hell's your problem?"
"She won't deal with me on an even playing ground. It's all weird-ass Vulcan crap! She's … she's trying to have her cake and eat it too!"
Archer just stared at him as if he'd lost his mind.
Belatedly, Trip realized there was no way he could make Jon understand without running the risk of a full psychiatric work-up. "Look, forget it. I won't show up for dinner, I promise. No more meals in here until it's official."
The captain massaged his temples. "That's wasn't exactly the solution I was looking for."
"I realize that. It's just – you don't know what it's like."
Jon shook his head. "I guess I should count my blessings."
Trip thought he had a pretty bad case of it for T'Pol, but that was nothing to the way all the male crewmen started falling over themselves when one of those green Orion babes sashayed by. As for himself, he didn't see what the big deal was. Okay, sure, they were well-developed and mostly naked, and he appreciated the aesthetics involved as much as the next guy, but these women had all the subtlety of pile drivers. And who knew what diseases they carried – or who had the babies. He really didn't understand why Archer had felt the need to 'accept' a gift like that – he was usually pretty good at getting out of stuff he didn't want. Not to mention he should have learned a thing or two after Rajin.
At any rate, the invasion of the oversexed green bimbos from outer space meant that his guys were showing up late for shift and snarling at each other over stupid things. Even the female crewmen seemed distracted and cranky. So he probably shouldn't have been surprised when Kelby suddenly got outright pissy with him. He couldn't help wondering if he'd somehow found out Trip was staying. But that hardly seemed likely, because Trip hadn't gotten an official Starfleet okay himself yet.
T'Pol showed up to ask him if he wanted some help – with the engines, unfortunately, not Kelby. Trip was so focused on his personnel problems that he suggested she take a look at the field matrix without even thinking it odd that she had suddenly appeared to help him in engineering after weeks of avoiding the place.
Then she said, "Commander, have you been experiencing any unusual daydreams?"
Oh. That was why she was here. Was that her strategy, then – simply allude to their white space encounters, and hope that would be enough to keep him on the hook? He played dumb. "Daydreams?"
"Accompanied by intense auditory and visual sensations … that would involve me."
Yep, she was going to try to avoid a straightforward declaration. His ire rose. "You're wondering if I've been having daydreams about you?"
"Well, let me think." He raised his eyes in exaggerated pantomime. "No, nothing comes to mind."
"Forget I mentioned it."
He could feel her irritation with his lie, and couldn't resist the urge to stir her up even more. "Have you been having daydreams about me?"
"It's not important." She turned to go, abandoning any pretense she'd truly come to help him out. But then, T'Pol had always been good at knowing when to make a tactical retreat.
"You going to tell me what this is about?" he said, still pushing.
Of course not. Then she was gone. He snorted. His initial sense of having won the skirmish quickly evaporated into anxiety. What if Jon was right and he was just being juvenile? What if that had been the closest T'Pol was ever going to get to talking to him and he'd just blown it?
Don't be an idiot, he told himself. She'll come around someday.
Or maybe she wouldn't. And if she didn't … well, then maybe that was for the best.
T'Pol ignored him for the next two days, but then they were both busy coping with an increasingly irrational crew in an increasingly dangerous tactical situation. By the time she revealed they shared some funky Vulcan "mating bond" that made him immune to the pheromones of Orion bimbos he was too busy to think too hard about it. Besides, it wasn't as if she seemed particularly pleased.
He had taken the opportunity to cop to the "daydreams," if that was what she wanted to call them, but she didn't seem too impressed by that either.
Still, after all the excitement was over, she did crack those jokes in sickbay, and she did follow him out, so he decided he'd point out that they made a hell of a team now that they were in each other's heads.
"You're returning to Columbia?"
That again? Fine, whatever, he could keep playing that game. "I imagine Captain Hernandez is getting pretty antsy to have her Chief Engineer back."
"There are numerous repairs to be carried out here."
"I think Kelby can handle them. He'd been observing my work pretty carefully, when he wasn't trying to blow up the ship."
"Kelby is a fine engineer, but he lacks experience."
Why couldn't she just be straight with him for once? He planted his feet. "Why don't you just say it?"
"That you want me to come back."
She tried another bullshit line about him being beneficial to their operations.
"No. That you want me back."
She really looked as if she'd rather die that admit anything. "I don't know what you mean."
Jesus. There was simply no point to this. Jon was right – she would never change, and he was the biggest fool in the universe to think otherwise. "My mistake. See you around." He turned to go.
He turned back. For once it didn't warm him to hear his name on her lips.
"I want you to come back," she said.
Technically, he'd won. But at this point it felt like too little too late. "Then I'll think about it." He headed away again.
This time he'd heard real anxiety in her voice, and before he could react to that she was pulling his head down and kissing him. He couldn't help leaning into the sweetness of it, but he kept his arms resolutely down.
He wasn't going to be that easy. Nope, no way. If T'Pol thought all she had to do was kiss him – or sleep with him – she was wrong.
On the other hand, she was kissing him in the corridor. In a public space! She had to be pretty damned desperate to do that.
Suddenly feeling cocky, he wiped her lip where she'd kissed him and said, "Three days ago, I told Captain Hernandez I wanted a transfer back to Enterprise."
Her eyes narrowed. "Three days ago."
"I realized this is where I was meant to be, and that this thing between us?" He frowned to emphasize his point. "Isn't that big of a deal."
She raised her chin and glared at him. "Agreed."
"Guess we got a lot of work to do," he quipped. She'd said the same to him not so long ago when they were working on that telepresence unit and it had felt just like getting kicked in the gut. Maybe she'd remember that, or maybe she wouldn't. It still felt damned good to throw it back at her, even if he meant it in a completely different way.
But he sobered as he headed back to engineering.
The truth was they sure did have a lot of work to do if they were ever going to make it as a couple.
He hoped they were up to it.
THE END... but this will be continued soon in Commander Tucker Proposes. Please give me a review (of any kind) if you got this far!