Disclaimers, etc. in Chapter One

Author's Note: You were probably wondering if you'd ever see another chapter of this one, eh? It's true, I've been less than motivated on the fanfic front lately. However, I hate to leave tasks unfinished, so I figured it was past time to get another chapter written. Many thanks as always, reviewers.


Soval was somehow not surprised when Mr. Harris appeared at his door that night. "May we speak?" the man asked.

He stepped back to allow him into his guest quarters on Enterprise. He'd already set up a dampening field in the hope of blocking any long-range surveillance from the Nyran. Of course, one could never be certain of success in such measures; Captain Tavek was no stranger to intelligence, and his own aides in the adjoining room would no doubt note that he was having a late-night visit from one of the Humans.

Harris had walked in and sized up his environs with casual efficiency. Yes, definitely an intelligence professional. Apparently satisfied that no immediate threats lurked, he said, "I believe you and I may share some concerns about current situation on Vulcan."

"Indeed?" Soval said. "Would you care for some tea?"

x x x

"Are you sure you don't want to go to your mother?" Trip asked, late that night in T'Pol's cabin, after they had celebrated being together in a way that, while very pleasant, had struck him as just slightly desperate on her part. They were still lying entangled on her bunk. In his experience, this was when she was at her most unguarded.

Her voice was so tight, though, that he suspected he'd just managed to obliterate that. "I do not lightly ignore my mother's request. I simply cannot fulfill it."

"Look, if what's stopping you is fear of leaving me behind, I'll make it easy for you. I'll go with you." He had been wrestling with the idea ever since she'd surprised him earlier with her refusal to go. Not that he wanted to leave North Star at a time like this, but he had obligations to her as well as to his own people. "I've never met your mother. I've never seen your home planet. Seems to me it's the least I could do."

There was also that part about possibly preventing a war.

She sat up and lowered her legs to the floor, pulling away in more ways than one. "My mother is hiding in The Forge. It is the most dangerous desert on a desert planet. Soval also believes I should travel in secret. That would be much more difficult with a Human companion."

"Phlox could probably give me something that would help me with the climate," Trip mused, carefully not rising himself. It was his best bet if he wanted her to settle down with him again. "As far as being Human, I could just … I dunno … hide the ears. You do it all the time."

"And speak fluent, logical Vulcan?"

That wasn't going to happen. "So I'll let you do the talking."

"Vulcan is not just dry and hot – there is less oxygen in its atmosphere. Our gravity is higher, so more exertion is required. It can be a dangerous, even deadly, combination for susceptible Humans. We would be without access to emergency care."

"I've survived low-oxygen environments without too much trouble before." This was perhaps stretching the truth. The environment on Ah'Len's ship had certainly thrown him off his game until he'd rested and adjusted. "I'm tougher than you think I am."

Her tone was definitive. "It is not worth the risk."

Convenient as that might be for his own comfort, he couldn't help reflecting that she seemed to doubt he could so much as survive a rigorous hike on her home planet. While it was true that he disliked deserts, and two dangerous episodes of heat stroke had only reinforced that, it was also true that he hadn't had any chance to prepare properly in either of those cases.

Or was that the only risk she was thinking of? "Whatever happened to Koss, anyway?" he asked. "Did he get married?"

She visibly stiffened. "The last time I heard from my mother, he had not."

And her mother, clearly, had taken care to keep her informed of that. "So would your people try to interfere with our relationship?"

She didn't speak immediately, which just confirmed his concerns. Finally, she said, "I doubt they would approve. Whether that would rise to the level of interference, I don't know. But they wouldn't need to interfere if you died from heat stroke or oxygen deprivation, or worse." Her voice darkened on that last word, and his ears pricked up.

"Worse?"

"The Forge is rife with natural hazards, including dangerous predators. Also… " Her volume lowered and she spoke so quickly it was almost hard to keep up with her. "Vulcans have certain ancient customs regarding marriage that could potentially pose a hazard."

She was going to force him to drag it out of her. "Such as?"

This time she got all the way off the bunk and walked to the window. "Koss's parents could conceivably demand that I fulfill our betrothal. That would force me to either agree, or choose a champion in a duel to the death and become the property of the victor. Given the conditions on the planet, you would be no match for Koss or any other Vulcan male."

Trip stared at her. This from a people who thought it was barbaric to eat with their hands? "That doesn't sound very civilized." It also didn't make him feel terribly manly – did she really think he couldn't win a fair fight against any Vulcan? Koss was an architect. Not that Trip was eager to kill him or anyone just for the privilege of marrying the woman he loved.

"It isn't civilized. And like much associated with Vulcan mating, it is not discussed openly, especially with non-Vulcans."

"Okay," Trip said, tucking that away as a reminder to keep his big mouth shut. "So … why don't we just get married before we go? Make it a done deal?" Belatedly, it occurred to him that this wasn't the most romantic marriage proposal of all time.

She merely raised an eyebrow. "That would be gravely insulting to my mother, and might not be recognized on Vulcan in any case."

If Trip had had high expectations about her answer he would have been sorely disappointed by how quickly she dismissed the idea, but he knew her and therefore hadn't had high expectations.

If what she was saying was true, it was clear that staying put posed the lowest risk to his life and their relationship. But of course that wasn't the only reason to go. "If it can prevent a war, T'Pol?"

"That seems unlikely," she said, but her tone was noticeably less certain.

He could tell she was frustrated at what she perceived as the need to stay to protect him and them – and perhaps she was also getting frustrated that she simply couldn't be without him. Meanwhile, her lack of confidence in his chances wounded him a bit. A man liked to think he had more going for him in his woman's eyes. He got up himself and started pulling on his uniform.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to get a cup of coffee and do a little work. I need to … work off some energy."

She stared wide-eyed at him; barely-suppressed panic stabbed through the bond.

He'd just never thought of T'Pol as someone who was going to need constant reassurance. "Don't worry, I'll be back before long." The damned bond was no doubt giving away just how annoyed he was feeling at being considered too weak to survive an adventure on Vulcan.

He zipped up his uniform and slipped into his boots and turned to regard her. It occurred to him that he could simply tell her he was going to Vulcan, and it was up to her to decide whether she wanted to come along. She'd have no choice, then.

But the more worrying issue here was that she was so messed up that she freaked out if he left the room.

"Actually, I think I'm going to go talk to Phlox instead," he said. "I'm worried about you. You were never like this before."

"He won't know how to help."

"Maybe he could consult with the doctor on the Nyran."

"Soval suggested I not trust any of the High Command's healers."

"Then maybe we need to go to Vulcan so you can consult with someone you can trust."

"I wouldn't trust any Vulcan to understand my bond with you," she said, and her bitterness about that came through clearly in her voice, never mind the bond.

"Look, you can't just turn your back on who you are and where you come from," Trip said. "I'd give anything to still have a chance for my parents to meet you. You're the only one on this ship who has any family left, T'Pol. That's not something to throw away lightly."

"I don't throw it away lightly!"

"You don't have to throw it away at all," he said. "What you have to do is trust me."

x x x

There was a buzz at another cabin door.

Groaning, Jon rolled out of bed and pulled on a pair of sweats. Over in his own bed, Porthos raised his nose but didn't even bother to wag his tail. "Yes?" Jon asked, squinting at someone he hadn't expected to see at his door: Harris.

"We need to talk, Captain," the man said.

Jon blinked, unable to come up with any good reason to tell the man to go away, and stood aside to let him in. "What do we need to talk about?" He knew that Forrest relied on the man, though he seemed to do so somewhat warily.

"Your first officer," Harris said. "We need you to send her to Vulcan."

Harris explained the situation in detail and Jon listened, becoming increasingly concerned. If indeed there was the possibility of hostile alien interference in Vulcan's affairs, this could have dire results for Humans, who were more dependent on Vulcan aid than ever.

While he listened, though, another idea took hold: this was just the sort of mission that would suit him right now. He was no engineer, and the grunt work of setting up a sustainable new civilization on North Star better suited someone like Trip, who already had good relations with the natives. Jon could watch T'Pol's back and make sure her perennial caution didn't prevent them from getting the job done.

And maybe it would be a bit of a breather from the constant reminders of how he had failed to save Earth. It wouldn't be that vacation he'd fantasized about, of course, but at least it would be a change of pace. And hell, after all those months on a frigid Andorian ship, a desert planet sounded damned appealing.

"All right," he said. "You've convinced me. But I want to go with her."

TO BE CONTINUED