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Disclaimer: The usual. Suing is not logical since I own nothing ... not even hopes and dreams. Hell, I can't even find my damned Muse anywhere...
Friendship, Episode Addition (Hatchery)
A/N: Wrote this many moons ago and posted it on The Delphic Expanse ... but then forgot to post it here. I find it ironic that, despite not really liking the Archer character, I seem to write from his POV so frequently. Wonder if that says something about me...

Sleep isn't coming.

It isn't that I'm not tired; frankly, I've never been so exhausted in my entire life. Every square centimeter of my body is sore and aching, like I've just spent a week on the treadmill. When he released me to quarters, Phlox told me that the pain was just an after-effect of the procedure he used to clear out the Xindi ... whatever the hell it was that screwed me up. That, and the residual effects of being stunned.

By Trip.

Maybe I'm thinking too hard. The last couple of days are a muddled blur, a jumbled mix of fragmented memories and unexplained emotions that I keep trying to put in proper context. According to Phlox, everything will be back to normal once my neural pathways fully recover but that sure doesn't help right now. He even told me what to expect, but it's still a surprise when random memories from days long past seem to surge up out of nowhere. I can still smell Erika's perfume when I last kissed her, or hear A.G.'s snicker when I said something that he found funny, or feel Dad's hand on my shoulder as he slipped away.

More recent memories begin to trickle into my mind's eye, and I wince at hearing myself accuse Trip of being manipulated by T'Pol; what part of my subconscious that sprang from, I'm not sure I want to know. A heartbeat later, T'Pol's expression as I ordered her relieved of duty for trying to do her job flashes across my eyes. It's like I'm experiencing the memories of someone else; I can remember looking at her and feeling nothing but anger and distrust, neither of which makes much sense: it's been a long time since I didn't trust her...

... Or has it? I think of her as a friend but do I really trust her or have I just buried my unease of her species so deep that I don't notice it anymore? For that matter, does she really trust me? The memory of her words when she was exposed to the trellium resurfaces...

You want to kill all of us. You don't trust Vulcans. You never have.

Dammit, I'm thinking too hard again. Phlox told me to rest, gave me some sort of sedative to make sure that I did, but I keep replaying the same memories instead of sleeping. I close my eyes and all I can see is Trip...

Shooting me.

The expression on his face is burned into my memory. It was as if he was looking at someone he barely knew, like I was a stranger and not his friend of nearly fifteen years. There was disgust in his eyes, and contempt, and the anger that has been there since the Xindi attacked. He barely hesitated, hardly paused before aiming and firing. A part of me is proud that he did what needed to be done, that he didn't let an emotional attachment prevent him from carrying out the mission, but another part - a greater part - is silently wondering: are we still friends? Did I throw that away when I pulled away from him to concentrate on this mission?

Since ... Sim, I've been avoiding him whenever I can; every time I look at Trip now, I see the symbiot: a man I condemned to death, a man that I ... murdered for the sake of this mission. Trip needed a friend when the cogenitor committed suicide, and when his sister was killed, and when he woke from that coma, but I couldn't give that to him, not with Earth's fate riding on the success of this mission, my mission.

So he turned to T'Pol...


She's changed so much she she first came aboard and even more since we entered the Expanse. Sometimes, I barely recognize her from the cold Vulcan who first came aboard Enterprise so long ago. She's more open to the crew now, more willing to tolerate our silly little human idiosyncrasies without throwing Vulcan superiority in our face. Hell, I've seen her eating pecan pie with Trip in the mess hall. I wonder...

No, Jon. Don't go there. It's none of your business.

Despite my best efforts, however, I find myself thinking about them, wondering if the rumors that have reached even my ears are true. If I'm entirely honest with myself, I've been halfway expecting this since she first turned her back on his offered hand back before Enterprise even launched. It's been growing ever since, even during the time that I spent fooling myself into thinking that she was attracted to me when it was clear to anyone who had eyes that Trip was the one she was interested in. Try as I might, I can't help but to think of the little hints that have been there all along: the sidelong glances that they gave each other when they thought the other wasn't looking, their ability to communicate with nothing more than looks or discreet gestures, the ease with which they violated one another's personal space, or even all of the little comments or remarks they made about one another. Recently, something fundamental has changed between them - I can't count the number of times I've caught T'Pol staring at Trip with a weird as hell expression on her face, and Trip hasn't been as good at hiding his worry over her unusual mood swings. If I didn't know better, I'd almost wonder if she was pregnant.

Mentally, I shake myself out of these musings. Trip's comment about her looking good in Triaxian silk was just him being himself, and that banter between them about Frankenstein last year was simply two friends giving each other grief, not one of them asking the other out on a date. That look T'Pol gave Trip when she found out about Florida being struck meant nothing and the fact that they seem to spend all of their free time together anymore is a simple coincidence. And just because T'Pol spent every spare moment at Trip's side when he was in that coma doesn't mean a thing. I'm sure she would have done the same for me.

Yeah. Keep telling yourself that, Jon.

The door chirps and I give up trying to sleep. Reaching back, I trigger the door release and speak, hoping to hide the exhaustion in my voice.

"Come in." The hiss of the door echoes loudly in my quarters and I hear the distinctive stride of Trip as I push myself to a sitting position.

"Didn't mean to wake ya, sir," he says. It takes effort but I push away any suspicions I may have about my first and second officers. It doesn't matter whether Trip and T'Pol are ... a couple. Only the mission matters.

"It's all right," I tell him. "I was getting up anyway." The lie comes easily to my lips and I hope that he doesn't see how tired I am. His next words quickly reveal that he does.

"How ya feelin'?" Trip asks and I restrain the impulse to sigh.

"Oh, I've been better." That's certainly true. My head is pounding and I have a sudden flash of memory involving tequila. "You sure you had that pistol set to stun?" I ask. Trip exhales heavily and, almost at once, I regret the lame joke; I can't remember the last time he's looked this guilty.

"Cap'n, I hope you understand if there'd been any other way..." I interrupt before he can continue.

"You were protecting our mission, Trip. I would have done the same thing."

"Still. I never thought I'd find myself pointin' a weapon at you." I almost laugh at the absurdity of the notion. Trip is nothing if not loyal and I can't imagine how difficult this way for him. "No matter what the circumstances," he continues and I can't help but notice how he keeps clenching his right hand.

His weapon hand.

"Let's put this behind us," I suggest. "Okay?" He nods.

"Yes sir." I nod again and reach for my water, suddenly thirsty. Memories of the Outback suddenly flood my awareness and my throat feels like it's coated with sand.

"What's our status?" I inquire and he responds quickly, clearly expecting this very question.

"We just recovered the last of our antimatter reserves," Trip reports, once more every centimeter a Starfleet officer. As I sip from the glass, I can't help but to wonder about those Xindi on the planet below us.

"The hatchlings?" I ask to appease my curiosity and he glances away, looking more uncomfortable than he did when he walked in.

"Phlox says there's nineteen of them runnin' around down there." He pauses ever so briefly before continuing. "Chances are they'll survive until the next Xindi ship comes along." To my absolute shock, he quirks an eyebrow in an eerily familiar manner; those suspicions that I had pushed away rush back and I look away so as to not ask the question that I want to ask. Trip didn't even seem to notice the gesture and it's not my place to ask him about it. Only the mission matters, I remind myself.

"It's time we got back on the road," I declare as I set the glass back down. "I want you at your post." It's an effort to get out of bed but I can't lounge around. "We'll be pushing the engines pretty hard." A sudden twinge of pain causes me to wince and I'm sure Trip saw it. "I'll be on the bridge," I tell him as we both stand.

"Aren't you supposed to get some rest?" he asks and my reply is instinctive.

"I've had plenty."

"I'm sorry, sir, but the doctor was insistent." He doesn't flinch under my scrutiny and I relent. In this instance, Phlox outranks me.

"Okay." A sudden flight of whimsy takes me and I speak before thinking. "I guess I don't want another mutiny on my hands," I comment, giving him a tap on the arm; he smiles, something I've not seen in far too long, and I give a final order. "Tell Travis to set a course for Azati Prime, maximum warp."

"Right away, sir." He turns to the door as I lower myself back to the bed.

Sleep is a long time coming.