7. The Seventh

A/N. This episode gave me rabies. Not only was it another craptastic Archer worship episode, it also abused Trip for comic relief by portraying him as an indecisive dolt while in command. Since – as in many season 2 episodes, which tried to shove an Archer/T'Pol relationship down our throats – there's practically nothing to work with for TnT scenes, a prefix and and a post-ep will have to do. I'm continuing the mini-arc, that I started in Chapter 5.

I've always wondered, why T'Pol was such a wreck about stunning Menos and then suddenly comes to grips with the situation to tell the captain 'I'm fine' in the final scene. This is my interpretation.

There were people 'complaining' that the friendship between T'Pol and Trip is progressing too fast. But I think this is by necessity, because when we come to 'The Xindi' they must be close enough for T'Pol to agree to something as extremely intimate as neuropressure. I think it only makes sense if they're VERY close by then.

Try to find the slight forward jab at "Harbinger" ;-)

T'Pol shivered. This was the most illogical ideas she ever had. Thankfully there were no other Vulcans on board, so there was no one to witness the blatant hole in her logic.

This was, of course, mostly to blame on Commander Tucker, the very same person she was waiting for in the freezing cold gym. While his blatant praise of her appearance had stirred agreeable, if confusing, emotions in her, it had also caused an annoying consciousness about it. Although the temperature was moderately cool by human standards, for a species that evolved in the heat of a desert planet, it was freezing – even more so, for a Vulcan in a midriff showing tank top.

For the first time in a long while, she thought about her mother T'Les, a scientist like herself and most likely the genetic source of her curiosity. Although a helpful condition in science, curiosity was not universally appreciated on Vulcan and T'Pol started to see the reasons for that. It appeared as if her mother had been right, that T'Pol's curiosity might one day lead to rather unfortunate decisions, like the one she had made half an hour ago.

In an apparent lapse of logical reasoning, she had spent an illogically long time to adjust her hairdo to a slightly less military one and she had opted for the skimpier tank top instead of the normal training shirt. Her theory was, that this would improve her appearance and there was only one person, with whom she was comfortable enough to test it – the Chief Engineer. Obviously the first flaw in that theory was, that she failed to come up with a purpose for improving her appearance. According to Commander Tucker, it was already exceedingly agreeable. There was no logic to this whole experiment and the only way back to restoring logic was to cancel the experiment before it started.

The hiss of the opening door took that decision out of her hand as her new student entered the gym and stopped dead in his tracks – wide-eyed. Thankfully he noticed her uneasiness quickly and had the decency to straighten himself and to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Seeing that he wasn't going to make any remark – quite uncharacteristic for him – she decided to pretend ignorance of it herself.

"Please wear this protective gear to avoid injury."

"You're planning to rough me up?" he asked with a smirk.

"No, but since you are just starting your training, it is logical to assume that you will take unintended hits until you have mastered the defensive moves."

"Give me a hand?" he asked and took off his shirt to don the body armor.

"It appears you have been following a workout regime. That should be beneficial for the more demanding offensive moves," she noticed his considerably hunkier frame, compared to their encounter in the decon chamber over a year ago.

"Not really, its mostly courtesy of engineering. Running up and down the stairs, crawling through Jeffrey tubes and hurling toolboxes around all day is hard enough. There's probably no muscle in my body that doesn't get a good daily workout." Trip noticed the goosebumps on her arm, when she helped him fasten the latches of the protective gear, but said nothing for the moment. He had a theory, but it was better to wait for now. Instead of donning his shirt over the protective gear he folded it and put it on one of the benches.

"In our first exercise we'll start with the simple evasive technique, that I taught the colonists. You should be able to master it in one or two sessions. Take the staff and attack me frontally."

Trip struck without much force and T'Pol dodged either side of the staff and rolled away.

"We will do this exercise continually. After rolling away, get back into a defensive stance and prepare for the next attack. In case of a hit, the routine will be interrupted."

"I'm ready," he said and a moment later the staff smashed into his headgear and sent him flying.

"Are you injured?"

"Only my pride," he chuckled. "Guess that was a bit too quick for daddy's son."

"You were observing the staff. You need to observe me. Try to anticipate the target area of the imminent attack by observing my eyes and look out for the earliest signs of movement. Once the staff is moving it is too late to start the evasive move. I shall reduce the speed for the first lesson."

The second attempt was better. Trip managed 3 rolls, before he got knocked over again. The next attempt was about to start and Trip alternated between scanning her eyes and her upper arms for any stirs and saw that she started shivering.

"That's it," he huffed and went over to the bench, while T'Pol lowered the staff and raised an eye-brow in puzzlement. Trip grabbed the shirt and held it out to her. "Here, put that on."

"Vulcans do not wear someone else's attire."

"Then you'll be the first," he insisted and her discomfort won over her principles. Donning the shirt she prepared for uncomfortable questions.

Patting the bench he motioned her to sit and took off the uncomfortable head gear. "So what's this little game you're playing? Is that some sort of test?"

It was annoying, when that human engineer saw right through her. "It was an... ill advised experiment. I did not manage to break it off in time due to your premature arrival."

"So you decided to get a new mop," he pointed to her hair. "which looks better than the normal one, by the way and put on a skimpy tank top to see whether the engineer's eyes bug out? Well, congrats, they almost did. But it doesn't strike me as overly logical."

"As I said, it was ill-advised and not entirely logical. I fail to fully explain my motives."

"If you wanted to know, if that looks better; sure as hell does. But it isn't worth freezin' your butt off. Better just be yourself, has worked pretty well so far. Still freezing?"

"No, I'm fine."

"Ok, then let's continue."

* * *

"Let's find our buddy Trip," Archer said, while petting Porthos. It was time for the dog's evening walk and he could combine that with the search for the engineer. Water polo was way more fun, when watched with in company.

"Lieutenant," Archer called when he saw Trips XO in the corridor. A visit to Trips quarters had proven unsuccessful. Anna Hess snapped to attention immediately.

"As you were," the Captain calmed her. "I'm looking for your Chief."

Anna looked at her watch. "It's 1830, he's probably still in the gym."

"Trip? In the gym?" Archer asked in disbelief. "Thank you Lt."

"Let's get you home," Archer told Porthos, still shaking his head. Trip in the gym, he had to see that.

* * *

"Did you walk through the ship in that top?" Trip huffed while rolling away from another attack.

"Yes," T'Pol answered. "My quarters are not far. You are making excellent progress," she changed the topic. This was however true. It had been at least 4 minutes, since she had last managed to land a hit.

"Well, that's nice to hear, but I should've put some padding in that gear."

Both missed the hiss of the opening door, they were too immersed in their banter while trying to outmaneuver each other.

"Do you need a break?" she asked and changed the direction of attack, but he easily dodged it again.

"No way, lady, just keep going," he pressed while seamlessly getting up from the latest roll.

"You should not overexert yourself."

"If you need a break, just say so, I'm fine."

"Very well," she said and increased the speed of her attack, but he again managed to get away from it. "I did not expect you to counter the attacks at that speed."

"Well, once I had riddled out the pattern of your movement, it became quite easy," he answered between breaths.

"You appear to observe me most thoroughly then," she deadpanned.

"You're hard to miss," he smirked before a hit on the head gear mowed him down.

Archer cleared his throat to make his presence known, while T'Pol lent Trip a hand to get up.

"Captain," they acknowledged in unison.

"I came here to search for my chief engineer and I find my two senior officers brawling," he said with a laugh.

"I agreed to teach Commander Tucker some Suus Mannah techniques."

"Can't hurt probably, considering his dismal track record on away missions."

"Thanks, Cap'n," Trip said and rolled his eyes. "What do you need me for?"

"I was meaning to ask, if you'd like to drop by for a game and a beer, when I heard that you're in the gym, I just had to see that."

"Sorry, Cap'n maybe tomorrow. We're plannin' on another 30 minutes of training and after that I'll probably be too beat for anything. Maybe tomorrow?"

"Ok, tomorrow then, good night."

* * *

Jonathan Archer was cranky. Seemingly everything slipped from his control. As if his embarrassing slips in sickbay weren't enough. The night after finally getting the new injectors, Trip had taken him aside for a 'chat between friends' and had explained him in no uncertain terms, that he had made an utter fool of himself. Thankfully Trip seemed unaware what had happened in sickbay, but Archers fussing over Porthos and putting the dog's interests above the ship had not gone down well with the crew.

Nice. My drop dead gorgeous FO is off-limits, my best friend thinks I'm a blithering idiot and now this secret mission, nobody tells me anything about. I feel like a damn passenger on my own ship! he thought and smashed the ball against the wall again. Finding his Chief engineer and his FO in a private lesson, bantering like old buddies, with her wearing his shirt, unless Vulcans had 'Florida' shirts, hadn't helped matters a lot. These two were obviously quite comfortable in each others company. Trip had always shown a talent to get along with people, so it didn't come as a surprise that he would even crack T'Pol's Vulcan armor, but somehow it nagged him, that he couldn't establish the same familiarity with his First Officer. After several days of mulling he had finally made his peace with the fact that T'Pol would never allow any personal, let alone romantic, relationship, but a purely professional one didn't seem to be the real thing either. And Trip was the one who seemingly had found the key.

The door chime pulled him out of his misery. The door opened and T'Pol stepped in.

"If the Vulcan High Command doesn't approve of the water polo match I'm watching I'd be happy to find another, " Archer opened sarcastically.

* * *

Trip slammed his fist against the airlock as soon as the shuttle had left. Nice! Run off with T'Pol and leave me hangin' back here. What am I supposed to say if Forrest calls. "Yeah, sorry, Cap'n ran off with the resident Vulcan and din' tell us where and how long. Maybe he'll send a damn postcard!"

"Tucker to Reed."

"Reed here."

"Meet me in the Captains mess, we'll discuss the schedule over breakfast."

"Aye, Sir."

* * *

"Good evening."

"Evening," Trip answered as he strode into the gym. It was the first time he saw T'Pol after her return from the mysterious mission.

"You ok? You look quit beat."

"I'm fine. I'm just slightly exhausted."

"We can skip practice if you're not up to it."

"That won't be necessary," she said and helped him with the straps of his gear.

Practice commenced, but something was wrong. This was way to easy. It felt like an eternity, but it were probably just 6 or 7 minutes and Trip was getting tired after the umpteenth roll. T'Pol had not managed a single hit so far. When she launched the next attack, Trip didn't move and the staff hit his head, but unlike usually there was barely any force behind it.

"You're afraid to injure me," he said calmly. "Last time you knocked me over and it took me 2 meters to find the brakes, this one wouldn't knock over a cup of coffee. What's wrong T'Pol."

"Nothing is wrong. You were probably right. I might be too exhausted."

"I really thought you trust me," he sighed with barely hidden disappointment. He stroked through his hair and shook his head in disbelief and growing disappointment-fueled anger. "What happened on that damn mission? I'm left hanging like a dam wet towel with no idea where the ship's Captain and First Office went or for how long, so I can make a real monkey's breakfast of the first time as ranking officer. And then you come back and sugar coat me as if you would kill me, if you hit me with a damn stick."

Angry, he yanked the head gear off went to the bench to stop the session prematurely, not noticing the openly shocked expression on her face, when she heard the k-word.

"I might have killed an innocent man," she said in a weak voice, sinking down on the bench. Trip swung around, in shock.

"Damn, I really have a knack to make myself look like a damn idiot, lately. Sorry, what I said was stupid."

"No it isn't. I cannot give you detailed information about this mission. It is classified. During a similar mission before my time on Earth. I shot a man. He died and may have been innocent. I was unable to suppress the guilt that resulted from that. I underwent the Fullara ritual in the sanctuary at P'Jem. But during this mission, the suppressed memories returned."

"Suppressed memories? They brainwashed you?"

"It is a crude, but sufficiently accurate comparison. If one is not able to control the emotions, resulting from a certain memory, the Fullara ritual suppresses that memory permanently. It apparently did not work in my case and I do not yet know, how to deal with it. We are far from any sanctuaries, it may take a considerable time to undergo the ritual again. Your observation is correct I experience an irrational fear of injuring you, most likely due to the returned memories. Guilt and remorse are two of the strongest emotions and most difficult to deal with."

"So, if you can't got to let them wipe your memory again, why not try our way of dealing with that?"

"How do humans suppress such emotions?"

"We don't – we deal with them. And actually, you've already started to do it yourself."

"I do not understand."

"Well, we talk about them with people we trust, just like you and I at the moment. We can't suppress them. Theoretically, we could, but not for long. It would drive a human insane."

"How is conversation supposed to help?"

"Well the worst thing to do, if you're guilt-ridden or grieving, is sitting around alone and stew in your misery. Coincidentally, that's exactly what Vulcans would do. So if you want this to work, you'll have to drop some of those rules and you'll probably have to stop telling me 'Vulcans don't do this', 'Vulcans don't do that'. You have already admitted that you're afraid. That's a good start. I can only help you cope with it human style, if you play by human rules."

"I shall try, if you agree to help me."

"Deal."

"How do you deal with disturbing images that come to your sleep?"

"Nightmares? Well that's the tricky bit. They'll be around for a while, but they subside. When I had nightmares as a kid, my mom usually sat at my bedside until I fell asleep again. Later when I was grown up, I usually talked to a friend. Called the Captain or my sister Lizzie more than once in the middle of the night when I had terrible nightmares after an accident, some years ago."

"I can not call you in the middle of the night. You would lose time for much needed rest and if anybody saw you entering my quarters to... sit at my bedside or to talk to me it would provide inappropriate material for the ship's rumor mill."

"First of all. You're talking to the man, who has skipped more than one night to nail the ship back together. And I'm most certainly not going to make an public announcement about it, if I have to come to your cabin when you have a rough time. I'm very well able to check that the coast is clear before I enter."

"And you are convinced that these methods work for a Vulcan?"

"There's no guarantee for success, but you'll never know before you tried. I'll be there if you need me and don't be shy to call me, even at the unholiest of hours."

"Thank you, I shall do that."