Author's Note: What happened between the end of "Bound" and the beginning of "Demons" to make Trip and T'Pol so distant? I thought this would be my usual short little missing scenes piece, but it's morphed into a multi-chapter story that also takes Trip back home to his family and then sees him through "Demons" and "Terra Prime" and past. Serious angst ahead, but you'll get your happy ending. T for language and sexual themes.

This stands alone, but it can be read as part of a series of 'missing scenes' stories that begins with Commander Tucker Falls in Love and runs through Commander T'Pol Joins Starfleet, Commander Tucker Suffers from Intrusive Daydreams and Commander Tucker Holds Out, with Koss on the side.

Thanks to JustTripn for beta services and bracing arguments about T'Pol!

Disclaimer: Star Trek belong to CBS/Paramount, not me. "Demons" was written by Manny Coto. "Terra Prime" was written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.

And needless to say ... I greatly appreciate any reviews ... even critical ones. Thanks!

Trip pushed through lush greenery. He'd had to resort to asking someone on the bridge to track down T'Pol when he couldn't find her in her quarters or any of the usual spots. He never would have guessed she'd be here: The hydroponics lab was about as non-Vulcan-friendly as a room could get. True, it was warmer than the rest of the ship, but it was also extremely humid, and quite pungent with the seaweed-based nutrients that kept the plants growing happily.

"T'Pol," he said. She was sitting at the only computer monitor in the room.

She looked up. "Commander."

"What happened to Trip?"

"Trip," she corrected herself, with a hint of a grimace.

She looked calm, but he could tell she was apprehensive just by the set of her jaw. Or maybe it was the bond. Or maybe he was just projecting his own apprehension. "What are you doing in here?"

"Hydroponics is in my department, as I'm sure you are aware. What are you doing in here?"

"Looking for you." After three days of round-the-clock repairs, trying to fix all the damage Kelby and the Orions had wrought, he was exhausted and cranky. He'd already tried to just go to bed, but he'd tossed and turned, plagued by a strange sense of urgency that this thing with T'Pol just couldn't wait any longer. Finally he'd given up and gone to look for her. "I think we should talk."

She turned to face him, her arms stiff at her sides. "What do you wish to talk about?"

He forced himself not to respond with frustration. "Well, I'd appreciate it if you could tell me a little more about this bond."

She looked down. "I'm not sure how much more I can tell you that would be relevant."

He stared at her. "Is that by any chance another attempt at a joke?"

She looked away from him, clearly uncomfortable. "Trip, you must understand … if I had known that forming a mating bond with a human was possible, I never would have…"

"Jumped my bones?"

"If by that you mean engaging in sexual relations ... yes."

He shifted on his feet. He was already tired. There was only one seat in this place and she was sitting on it. "Do you think we could discuss this someplace more comfortable?"

"Your quarters are not far," she said, rising.

As he followed her out, it sank in that she'd just said she would never have had sex with him if she'd thought there was any chance of forming a bond.

Which meant what, exactly? That this was just another one of his big stupid screw-ups with some alien chick?

To think he'd actually been feeling a little superior to Archer because he hadn't succumbed to those Orion babes.

When all that really meant was that T'Pol now owned his balls.

And didn't seem to have a clue what to do with them.

At the door of his quarters, he decided he couldn't really handle any more depressing revelations. "You know what," he said. "I'm more tired than I realized. I'm thinking maybe it'd be better if we talk about this tomorrow? I'm sorry I interrupted you." He tapped in the code and prayed she would accept his excuse.

"You're upset," she said as the door swished open, and followed him in before he could shut the door in her face.

He didn't answer, just slumped down on his bunk.

She closed the door and sat down on his right. This close, her body pulled on his like a magnet. Even as bitter as he was feeling he still wanted nothing more than to turn and bury himself in her arms. Of course, it was highly unlikely she would appreciate that. Instead, he stared across the room at his desk and tried not to cry. He was so tired – tired from the accumulated fatigue of the last three days, tired from the emotional seesaw of the last two years, tired of discovering strange new ways to screw up his life. Tired of always having to hold himself back.

"I believe I have much to apologize for," T'Pol said heavily.

"Would there be any point?"

She didn't answer. Silence drew out between them.

He ran a hand through his hair and said, "So is this thing permanent?"

Her voice was low. "I don't know. When I said it is widely believed to exist, that is because it appears in pre-reformation Vulcan literature in much the same way "true love" is written about in human literature. Also, when I was younger, my mother told me that when I grew up and married it was likely that I would develop a close psychic bond with my husband. Unfortunately, that was all she told me. Vulcans simply don't discuss deeply emotional matters. Something like this would be considered intensely personal, something to be kept private – even more so than the mechanics of reproduction."

Trip scowled. "The Vulcan Science Directorate hasn't made any determination about the existence of the Vulcan mating bond?"

Her lips thinned. "I'm saying that the Vulcan database has nothing to say on the subject beyond literary references. I believe it is possible that it has taken on some of the same stigma attached to mind melds."

Maybe he could just focus on the mechanics of this thing. "So is that what this is? Some kind of low-key, on-again/off-again mind meld?"

Her eyebrow quirked, and somehow he knew she was relieved at the idea of simply analyzing the phenomenon too. "The experience feels qualitatively different than a mind meld. I don't know your thoughts. It seems more like conversation. But I sometimes do become very conscious of your emotions."

Well, it made sense that this worked in both directions. He winced. He knew some of those emotions had been pretty damned hostile. "Sorry about that."

"Actually, I sometimes find it helpful." She swallowed. "I have noticed that you often seem to wish to deceive me about your true feelings."

He laughed bitterly. "Imagine."

They sat there in an uncomfortable silence. T'Pol didn't seem to know what to make of his last comment, and he didn't really want to get into a debate over who was hiding more feelings from whom, so he changed the subject. "Was your mother bonded to your father?"

"She did not say. But I remember that she was certain of his death before we were told he had been killed. So I consider it likely that she was."

Trip sighed and scooted back so he could lean against the bulkhead. "So now we've got this thing that you didn't think was possible. And your mom is gone so you can't ask her about it. Isn't there anyone else you can talk to?"

T'Pol looked uncomfortable.

"Let me guess," he said. " You don't want to ask anyone for help because then they might find out you've gotten yourself bonded to a human."

"I am not ashamed of you, Trip."

"You're ashamed of something." He patted his chest. "This thing works both ways, you know."

She bowed her head. "I'm ashamed of myself. My logic has been suspect. My behavior has been poor. Any Vulcan would be appalled by what I have done."

Trip grimaced. "Well, I wasn't exactly a model of restraint myself. I knew it was a bad idea to get involved with a fellow officer."

He'd merely meant to share some of the blame, but he feltrather than saw that she had interpreted his words as a repudiation of some kind. He could see her tense, as if she was gathering herself to go. He swallowed. "But I always had a thing for you."

She turned to look at him.

He licked his lips and decided to go for broke. "And then after all those nights of neuro-pressure, just you and me… I kept telling myself you were just trying to maintain crew efficiency, but it felt like more than that. It felt like I had someone to come home to. And that was before we 'mated.' So I guess what I'm saying is, it's definitely not just some weird-ass Vulcan voodoo going on here, at least on my side."

Her eyes widened, and she took his hand. He stared down at their joined hands, bemused by an odd, suffusing heat that could not be fully explained by her higher body temperature.

"Trip… I do not believe a bond would have formed unless there was genuine regard between the two parties."

He smiled tiredly. "Genuine regard between the two parties, huh?" She sure knew how to sweet-talk a guy.

"I found the idea that you might embark on a relationship with Corporal Cole to be quite intolerable."

He stared at her, surprised that she would admit as much. "But that was before..."

She interrupted him with a kiss that almost immediately moved from affectionate to demanding, then to desperation so profound that seconds later they were frantically fighting their way out of their clothes. Trip felt vaguely that perhaps he should try to slow this thing down, but he was afraid to do anything T'Pol might misinterpret, and then he was too far gone to think at all.

Their lovemaking had all the finesse of a runaway matter-antimatter reaction. He was just grateful that he managed, barely, not to breach before she did.

In his post-coital daze, it took him a moment to realize she was crying.

Oh shit. That couldn't be good. What the hell had he done now?

"T'Pol?" he said. "Are you okay?"

She nodded against his chest.

"You're crying."

She didn't answer.

"Vulcans don't cry," he reminded her.

She just lay there on his chest, sniffling.

He brushed his hand over her hair, trying to comfort her. "Is there anything I can do?" he asked.

She took a shuddering breath. "Never leave again."

"Oh darlin'," he said, and grabbed her tighter. "It wasn't like I ever really wanted to." He had to blink back tears of his own, then. They lay there, clinging to each other.

Time passed. She made no move to leave. He kept thinking: T'Pol is in my bed. T'Pol is in my arms. T'Pol cried. Unfortunately, fatigue was quickly catching up to amazement. He was afraid he was going to fall asleep any minute. "Do you want to stay?" he asked, sure she wouldn't, already bracing himself for an awkward goodnight.

"Yes," she whispered.

He was so stunned he didn't react for a moment. Then he reached down to pull the blanket up over them. He turned until they were spooned together on the narrow bunk. He'd so fully expected her to run for the safety of her own quarters, especially after those tears, that his heart welled up with gratitude. He said, "I love you."

She didn't answer, exactly – just snuggled into him a little further and squeezed his hand.

He told himself that she was Vulcan and that simply staying here in his bed was more than enough. A small part of him nonetheless noted the omission with some wariness.

Still, he was glad he'd said it. At least this way he couldn't regret not saying it. And he'd been carrying that particular regret around for a long time.

The next morning Trip awoke feeling anxious and looked up at the ceiling of his bunk, trying to figure out why.


She wasn't there.

He sat up quickly, his heart racing. Don't freak, he told himself. She's Vulcan. She'd see no reason not to get up and go. It would be illogical to put off the day's duties. Or maybe she needed to go meditate or something. And she wouldn't know what it meant in human terms, taking off like that without even a word. He looked around his quarters and checked his messages. Nope, nothing.

Damn. This was what the whole rest of his life was going to be like, wasn't it?

Well, he could cope with that, if the nights continued to be anything like the last one. As long as she didn't try to give him some bullshit line about exploring human sexuality over breakfast this morning.

Anyway, that sure as hell wasn't exploring last night. That was just plain-old, pedal-to-the-metal … ah hell, he really didn't have time to think about that now. He got up and went to get ready for the day.

Maybe he'd have time to track her down before his shift started. The worst of the Orion damage – he'd decided he'd better stop thinking of it as Kelby's – had been repaired as of 2200 hours the night before. Enterprise had been called home for a conference, and today Archer wanted him to run the engines harder than Trip would have preferred so soon after such extensive repair work. But Archer also had a good reason: He wanted the crew to have enough time for some extended leave when they got back to Earth. Trip could definitely get behind that.

Maybe he could take her to the Grand Canyon.

He stopped by the mess for a quick breakfast. She wasn't there.

There wasn't any staff meeting scheduled for the morning, either, and he had no good reason to go to the bridge, not with warp 5 on the schedule.

Archer called down to engineering at 0900 sharp. "Are we ready, Trip?"

"I think we're good to go," Trip said. He nodded at Kelby, who eased the warp engine's controls up. Trip held his breath, but nothing blew. He checked in with various crewmembers manning various consoles, and got a bunch of thumbs up. "You've got your warp 5, sir," he said.

"Great," Archer said. After a moment added, "Thank your staff for all their hard work. I'm sure the whole crew will appreciate getting home with some time to spare."

"Yes sir," Trip said.

"See? Another good reason to be glad you're not on Columbia."

Trip wondered if T'Pol was sitting there listening to this. "Yes, sir. Another good reason."

Why the hell wasn't the bond doing its thing? He cast his thoughts toward T'Pol, trying to visualize her at her station on the bridge, but it felt about as effective as his childhood attempts at asking God to please give him a new bike as shiny and tricked out as Bobby McMullen's.

He never had gotten a new bike, though he'd cobbled together something good enough from his older brother's hand-me-down. Actually, come to think of it, that bike had outlasted Bobby's by over a year. It never was as shiny and new as Trip had wanted, but it had definitely done the job.

Maybe T'Pol wasn't ever going to be the affectionate woman of his dreams. That didn't mean she wouldn't be plenty good enough. Of course, right now he just wanted to know if she was going to be his woman at all. Theoretically, she was just as stuck with this thing as he was, but he could feel his level of anxiety rising as each hour passed without a word from her. He circulated around engineering, checking in with the crew, reassuring himself that everything was okay. Then he retreated to his desk to catch up on paperwork. After three days of ignoring it, it was piled high.

It was extraordinarily hard to concentrate. He kept thinking about T'Pol. He alternated between thoughts of taking her home to meet his parents, things he could try doing to her the next time he had her in bed, and wondering if she might just try to ignore him for the next seven years now that she'd gotten laid.

When someone tapped him on the shoulder, he jumped half a foot out of his chair.

Kelby looked bemused. "Sir?"

Trip tried to swallow his instinctive annoyance. "Yeah, Kelby?"

"We've got rising pressure readings on one of the conduits we repaired yesterday."

"Damn. Can we route around it while we take a look?"

"Already done, sir."

"Great. Let's check it out."

Finding the problem turned out to be more challenging than Trip had hoped, but at least it gave him something other than T'Pol to focus on. He told Kelby to keep an eye on engineering while he lost himself in the detailed scans and visual inspections required along a stretch of Jeffries tube in sector 14B, the last sector before the conduit took a turn up toward the port nacelle. He was bending over backward to give Kelby a chance to settle into his new role as second engineer, but he also wanted to see firsthand just what had gone wrong with the repair, in case he needed to reeducate someone on his staff.

First he examined all the sensors that monitored pressure. He couldn't find any faults. Then it was time to check that all the valves were functioning properly, starting with the ones they'd just installed. The fastest way to check for flaws would be to take readings while the plasma required to cool a warp 5 engine circulated through; unfortunately, that also gave him a great shot at dying if the faulty valve blew. He didn't want to have to ask the captain to drop their speed if he could possibly avoid it. So he simply had to scan and scan and scan again, looking for the fault.

"May I be of any assistance, Commander?"

He froze. T'Pol, at last. But she sounded awfully damned professional. He raised his head and stared down the tube. She looked pretty damned professional, too. He lay his head back down for a moment. "T'Pol," he said, acknowledging her.

"Lieutenant Kelby told me you were trying to isolate a problem with one of the repairs."

"That is correct."

"Have you isolated it?"

"Not yet. It's playing possum on me."


He decided there were probably not a lot of possums on Vulcan. "We had to shunt the plasma around it," he explained. "So it's not that easy to see where the problem is."

"How much longer do you estimate it will take before you can effect a repair?"

He grimaced. He'd ruled out enough stuff that there were a steadily diminishing number of scenarios left. "Another hour or two."

"Have you eaten, Commander?"

He blinked. "What time is it?"


"Oh. Nope."

"You should eat."

"If I do that now, I might have to redo a lot of this. It's better to just let me finish."

"You require sustenance," she said.

Finally reassured that she actually had some concern for him and not just the repair, he perversely felt a rush of impatience. "I'll get something when I'm done. If you were so concerned about me getting sustenance today, why didn't you stick around for breakfast?"

When she didn't answer, he looked back down the tube. She was staring at him.

He didn't need the bond to know a confused Vulcan when he saw one. "Look, don't worry about it." He cringed. Vulcans didn't worry, or if they did they'd rather die than admit it. "I'll catch up with you later, okay? Right now I have a job to do."

She left. Did she even want him to catch up with her later? Well, he was just going to assume she did, until she said otherwise. She'd never been shy about letting him know in the past.

He sighed, and tried to turn his attention back to the mysterious fault.

An hour later, Trip had finally pinpointed the problem. Once he'd found the defective valve it was so obvious he wondered if his distraction over T'Pol had slowed him down. He was so hungry by then he just waited for Ensign Massaro to show up, showed him how his original repair had gone wrong, and took himself off to the mess hall for something to tide him over until dinner.

He sat in a corner with a sandwich and a cup of coffee and looked out at the stars streaking by outside. Once upon a time traveling through space at warp 5 had been enough to make his heart beat faster. Now it was routine. Maybe even a little oppressive, given that he'd just spent hours doing something that could have taken minutes if they hadn't been in such a big damned hurry.

For some reason he thought about a morning out in the bean patch with his grandma when he was thirteen. He'd been absolutely certain that anything in the universe was more exciting than picking beans. He didn't even like snap beans much, though his grandma had a way of tossing them with bacon and mayonnaise that would probably make cardboard taste good.

Grandma had given him a pencil and said, "Only pick them if they're this thick or thicker." He'd worked resentfully, bent over the low plants and feeling unaccustomed strain on his back and thighs. There were plenty of beans, all right, but a lot of them were too slender for eating.

She'd come by after fifteen minutes and said, "You're missing half of them. You miss them, they get too big and then the plants stop producing. You have to be clever and persistent to pick beans."

"They're beans, Grandma."

"Gardens like this are what kept people alive after the war, Trip. You wouldn't be here today if my parents hadn't known how to grow their own beans and plenty of other stuff too. Look here. You have to look from different angles. Shift position. Lift the plants – gently now! – and look underneath. See all those hanging there? Couple of them are already getting big and tough, just like you."

He swallowed a smile. He'd had a big growth spurt that year, and it pleased him no end when someone noticed.

"You have to have sharp eyes to pick beans. They like to hide. They're designed so you won't see them. See that big one there, hanging right next to the stem? That's it. Now you're picking. You should always do a job as if your life depends on it. You never know when it might."

He'd actually begun to enjoy the picking a little after that. He'd thought of it as a tiny little victory over death every time he picked a bean he might have overlooked.

What would Grandma think of him now, he wondered? He knew she approved of his job. He wasn't so sure what she'd think about his tortured love affair with a fellow officer.

But maybe snap beans and malfunctioning coolant valves and enigmatic Vulcan bond mates all had something in common. Maybe he just needed to be clever and persistent with all of them.

He checked on the repair – giving Ensign Massaro an impromptu refresher on proper spot-welding while he was at it – took a shower, then headed up to the bridge.

He bent down next to T'Pol and pretended to look at something on her console. "Dinner?" he asked softly.

"The captain has expressed a wish for both of us to dine with him tonight," she said.

"After, then," he said, sharply enough that Hoshi looked over with raised eyebrows.

T'Pol gave him an infinitesimal nod.

Trip straightened up and scowled at Hoshi, who had just been exchanging a meaningful smirk with Malcolm.

Hoshi just smiled sweetly back at him. "Everything all right, Commander?" she said.

"Everything's fine," Trip said, and brushed his hand lightly over T'Pol's back as he turned to go over to the engineering station. She didn't react in the slightest, but he felt something rise up from her nonetheless.

Was it relief?

"So how are we all doing?" Archer asked, after the steward left.

Trip exchanged glances with T'Pol. "Fine," he said.

"I am well," T'Pol said.

Archer waited, his eyes shifting between his two junior officers. "Everything's fine?"

"Engine's purring like a kitten," Trip said. "Has Kelby told you what he wants to do yet?"

"No. You still think he's going to want to go?"

"I'm not sure," Trip said. "He's been okay the last few days. I think maybe he could actually settle in. He's not a bad engineer."

T'Pol looked up from her careful sawing of a piece of celery. "Perhaps his experience with the Orions has persuaded him that he could use more experience before assuming the chief engineer's position."

"It would be nice if those Orions were good for something after all," Archer said. "You know, I was talking to Phlox today, trying to figure out why Trip was the only human on board who wasn't affected."

Trip's eyes rose to meet T'Pol's.

She said, "I believe I can answer that, Captain."

Trip said hastily, "T'Pol, I'm sure the captain doesn't really need to know something if you as a Vulcan consider it extremely private."

"Like hell I don't," Archer said. "This could involve the security of my ship."

"Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you're better off not knowing?" Trip asked, a little desperately.

Archer stared at him. "Has it ever occurred to you that I've already made a pretty good guess? And haven't we more or less discussed this already?"

T'Pol frowned across the table at him. "You have already discussed this matter with the Captain?"

"No!" Trip said. "Not the way you think, anyway."

She looked affronted, probably at his suggestion that he knew what she was thinking.

"Captain," Trip said. "Jon. Please. There are some things going on here that we haven't totally figured out ourselves yet. It doesn't make a lot of sense for you to get involved at this point."

Jon looked at him for a long moment, then turned to T'Pol. "If we run across Orion women again, can I assume Trip will remain immune to their influence?"

"I believe so, Captain, but we cannot know for certain, especially if any variables change," T'Pol said.

"What kinds of variables?"

"If I were absent or incapacitated, I don't know what affect that might have on his immunity."

"But just being in a snit with each other wouldn't mess it up?"

T'Pol's eyebrows rose.

"Hell, no," Trip said. "I was in a snit with her practically the whole time those Orions were on board." Noticing that he was the recipient of a very Vulcan glare, he added, "Which just proves we make a hell of a team even when we're not getting along in the slightest."

"I noticed that four years ago, actually," Archer said. He sighed. "Do you think you could keep me and Dr. Phlox apprised of any major developments that could affect ship operations or our mission?"

"Of course," T'Pol said.

"Trip?" Archer said.

"Yeah, sure," Trip said, distracted. He wondered if he could get T'Pol to make the same promise to him.

When dinner ended, Trip waited for T'Pol outside in the mess hall. "My place or yours?" he asked. He wiped his hands on his legs and hoped he sounded more nonchalant than he felt.

"Do you have a preference?" Her voice was soft, perhaps because they were in a busy public spot.

"I haven't seen your quarters in awhile." He swallowed hard over a sudden lump in his throat. He loved T'Pol's quarters, especially in candlelight, and he'd been exiled from them just as thoroughly as he'd been exiled from her.

She turned and left, so presumably she agreed. He followed and wondered if he was ever going to be able to just spend time with her without constantly trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

At her door, they waited, in unspoken agreement, until the corridor was clear, then Trip followed her in.

She turned around as soon as the door shut behind him. "You've discussed our relationship with the captain?"

"No," Trip said. "Not in so many words."

Her eyes narrowed. "What does 'not in so many words' mean?"

He scowled. Why did he feel guilty about this? "I suppose I may have alluded to our lack of a relationship."

T'Pol's face darkened. "When you left for Columbia?"

"No. When I returned from Columbia..." He swallowed. "He's not stupid, you know. And he's also my friend. And yours. He figured it out." He lifted his chin. "He told me you were depressed."

She raised an eyebrow.

"This is where you tell me that Vulcans don't get depressed," he said.

She just looked up at him and said nothing. She turned and walked to the window. "What did you mean when you said this thing between us was 'not such a big deal'?"

"Well," he said slowly, trying to think how best to put this. "At the time, I guess I was trying to keep things light. You know, no pressure. No expectations. Why?"

"I thought perhaps you were trying to suggest you don't place much value on the bond between us."

He felt a surge of outrage. "Were you there last night in my quarters? Did you hear what I said to you?"

"I heard you," she said softly.

"I didn't say it lightly."

She gazed at him as if she were trying to decipher some mystery.

He threw his arms up, frustrated. "Look. Obviously, you've got me on the hook. We're bonded. And even if we weren't, I'd probably still be in love with you. Which means you can do whatever the hell you want. All I can do is hang on for dear life and hope like hell I don't get thrown back again."

She looked confused and perhaps a bit offended. He decided that the fishing metaphors probably weren't helping. "T'Pol, I'm trying not to be scared out of my wits here. And I'm trying not to scare you off either. I know you find all these emotions messy and illogical and … alarming."

"I seem to provoke a great deal of anger and sadness in you," she said tightly. "Today, when I came to see you…"

"I'm sorry about that," he said. "It's just…it's not easy, okay? I guess there's nobody on Vulcan to tell you that after you sleep with a guy, it's not very good manners to sneak off without saying goodbye."

"I did not 'sneak' off. I simply saw no reason to wake you."

"Yeah, well, I kinda figured that, but it still made me feel nervous all day. I couldn't help thinking that maybe, you know, you'd had second thoughts, or something. It's not like you haven't done that before."

"Any second thoughts I might have had are irrelevant at this point," she said. "We're bonded."

"Right, we're bonded." Irritation flared. "But what the hell does that mean, really?"

"I believe I explained that as best I could last night."

"No, I mean, what does it mean in human terms?"

She blinked at him. "There is no human equivalent that I know of."

"Well, it's gotta fall somewhere on a continuum that makes sense to me. How do I explain this to my mom and dad when we get to Earth? Are we married? Are you my girlfriend? Is this forever, or is this just something we're stuck with until you figure something out?"

She appeared to be at a loss. Finally, she said, "What do you want it to be?"

He stared back at her. Her eyes were so large in her face. "I want to be married to you."

As large as they were, they widened further.

He hadn't thought about it at all; it had just popped out, but even as he said it he knew it was true. He wanted to be married to her. Only then would he be able to relax. "I want you to marry me," he said.

She stared at him. "We wouldn't be able to serve together."

"So we'll resign our posts. We'll do something else." God, what was he saying? Did he mean this? Yes, he did. He had no idea where this was coming from, but suddenly it was the most important thing in the world.

T'Pol, on the other hand, was broadcasting near-panic. "I don't understand how you can move from a desire to keep expectations low to a proposal of marriage in the same conversation."

What was she so scared of? "You're the one who asked me about the 'no big deal' thing. I'm way past that. If you're not…." He started pacing. "You know, maybe the truth is I just don't want to do this again unless I know you're serious about it. And when humans are serious about each other, they get married. Or at least they get engaged to get married. The marriage itself may take a little longer."

"I don't know enough about human marriage."

She was stalling. It was obvious. "You know enough. You just don't want to do it." He felt the dull certainty sink into him like an old friend. She never would want to do it. Better to find out now, right?

"Trip, I am not lacking in seriousness toward you. I'm simply not ready to take that step," she said. "I don't think you are either. There is too much –"

"Don't tell me what I'm not ready for!" He ran his hands through his hair tiredly. "I don't know why I'm surprised or anything. Of course you don't want to do it. Look, I'm sorry, I know this is kind of a mess, but I think I'd better go."

As he walked to the door, the surge of despair from T'Pol was so palpable he almost stumbled. He turned around in time to see her sinking to the floor and folding her arms around herself.

It was the bond. The bond didn't want him to leave her. The bond wanted its mates together. It was like an intrusive third person, pulling and nagging and screwing up any hope of a normal, freely-chosen relationship.

"I'm sorry," he said again, and left. As hard as it was to walk away from her, he just couldn't afford to go down this road for nothing again. He was afraid there would be nothing left of him if he did.

To be continued…