Epilogue

As the temporary XO Malcolm took command of the Paladin for its return journey to Earth, while Trip was bedridden and T'Pol stayed at his side. The orders came from Starfleet command to break up Attack Fleet Chimera. The remaining Starfleet ships of Attack Fleet escorted Paladin back to Earth, just as Archer and the Second Fleet arrived at Starbase 6.

Solaris and Soval took advantage of the quiet nature of the trip back to Earth to start the process of informing Starfleet about T'Pol and Trip and pleading their case. It was done quietly, off the record, and taking back channels. Soval dealt with Fleet Admiral Yamamoto, while Solaris dealt with Prime Minister Nathan Samuels. Meetings were scheduled during the period of Trip's convalescence.

"Lieutenant Commander Reed," Adamu spoke up, "I have a subspace communication coming in from Fleet Admiral Yamamoto's office."

"I'll take it in the Captain's Ready Room," said Malcolm.

He stood up and looked over at Skann, who was still filling in as Tactical Officer.

"Skann, you have the conn," said Malcolm.

"Yes, sir," said Skann.

Malcolm sat behind the Captain's desk. He turned on the computer and waited for the communication. Much to Malcolm's surprise the face of Fleet Admiral Yamamoto appeared.

"Lieutenant Commander Reed, it is a pleasure to be speaking with you. I have heard nothing but praise for your actions once Fleet Captain Tucker went down with an injury," Yamamoto said to him.

Malcolm felt his face blush, "Thank you, sir."

"These are interesting times we live in, Lieutenant Commander," said Yamamoto. "I take it you are aware of the bonding and marriage of Fleet Captain Tucker and Commander T'Pol."

"Yes, sir," said Malcolm.

"I see," smiled Yamamoto. He was impressed by Malcolm's quick and honest answer. Tucker had loyal people. "I have contacted Tucker's parents. They will be expecting the Captain and Commander T'Pol. You will beam them down to his parents then erase the computer record of that use of the transporter."

"Yes, sir," said Malcolm.

"I then will expect you to deliver Ambassadors Soval and Solaris to my offices," said Yamamoto.

"Yes, sir," said Malcolm.

"I look forward to meeting you in person, Lieutenant Commander," said Yamamoto.

"Thank you, sir," said Malcolm.

The screen went blank. Malcolm sat back in the chair.

"What have you gotten me into, mate," he said to himself.

STSTST

Malcolm entered Trip's quarters to see him sitting up in bed. Dr. Yuris was changing his bandage around his upper chest. The Vulcan's had discovered poison on the blade of the weapon used on Trip. They were able to counter the poison, but it left his body weak and his immune system rundown. Even now they feared an infection setting in, though with T'Pol constantly at his side the chances were it would be caught before it became serious.

"Change is bandage once a day. If his fear spikes, communicate with me and I shall come as soon as transportation will take me," Yuris told her.

"Where will you be?" asked T'Pol.

"Vulcan Compound," he said.

"Keep your communicator on you. I'll leave a standing order that if you call in that you be transported immediately to Captain Tucker family's home," said Malcolm.

"That will be satisfactory," said Yuris.

He stood up then handed her a medikit.

"There is a hypospray marked antibiotic. If he gets a fever, administer it after you communicate with me," said Yuris.

T'Pol nodded. Yuris looked at Trip, who smiled. His skin was pale and he had a sickly look to him.

"Thanks, doc," he said.

Yuris exited. Trip looked at Malcolm.

"I guess you're in charge until I'm back on duty," said Trip.

"Lal is dying to get some permanent repairs done, including replacing all the temporary hull put in where the breach pods grabbed us," said Malcolm. "We're scheduled to go to Jupiter Station in two weeks."

"I'm I'll hopefully be on my feet and ready to return to duty in five weeks," said Trip. "Take care of the Paladin, Mal."

"I will, sir," smiled Malcolm. "We're ready to beam you down to your parents' house."

Charles and Ellen Tucker along with Zefram and his wife and kids were alerted that Trip and T'Pol were beaming down. Zefram wanted to be there to make sure his younger brother was all right,

The crackled and T'Pol and Trip formed slowly near the house. Once they became solid, everyone noticed just how weak and pale Trip looked. Zefram walked over to T'Pol and took the duffle bags from her allowing her to be Trip's strength, as she all but carried him.

"The hero is home," said Zefram.

Charles and Ellen walked up to their son and gently hugged him. Ellen gave T'Pol a knowing smile.

"I'd love to sit out in the sun for a while," said Trip.

"Let's get you a lounge chair in the sun," said Charles.

STSTST

T'Pol woke early in the morning, got out of the bed she was sharing with Trip, meditated for an hour, showered, changed into fresh clothes then she proceeded into the kitchen to make herself tea. As she entered the kitchen Elle Tucker was already there and preparing coffee and tea.

"Morning, T'Pol, how is he?" she asked.

"He is sleeping well. Spending time in the sun seemed to invigorate him."

"Good, good," she said then looked at T'Pol closely. "How are you doing, dear?"

"I am fine," answered T'Pol.

"No, you're not, but you will be. I can see it. He loves you and you love him," said Ellen.

"He is my sa-telsu," T'Pol said.

"Sit down and I've got your tea on and I'm going to make you blueberry pancakes with fresh blueberries," said Ellen.

"Thank you, Ellen," said T'Pol.

"No, T'Pol, thank you for taking care of my boy," said Ellen.

"He is my ha'kiv, my life, Ellen," said T'Pol.

"I'm glad he's got you," said Ellen. "Girls always liked Trip and he always liked girls, but there was always something about Trip that you knew when he finally fell in love, true love, he'd fall hard. He's fallen hard for you."

"It has not been easy for us, but I would have it no other way," said T'Pol.

STSTST

Guards were posted outside of the auditorium so no one could enter or exit without permission. Set up on the stage was a temporary table where Fleet Admiral Yamamoto, Admiral Morse, Admiral Gardner, and Prime Minister Nathan Samuels sat waiting. The who they were waiting for walked down the long auditorium aisle.

In official Vulcan robes, Solaris and Soval looked austere and serene. Both men had impeccable reputations and both men knew how to use their reputation to their advantage.

"Live long and prosper, my friends," Solaris intoned, as he made the Ta'al and approached the table.

Solaris and Soval sat down at the table.

"This is serious news that you have represented to us," said Admiral Gardner. "One of top ship captains has been flaunting the rules and getting away with it."

"You mean Captain Tucker has been bonded and married to a Vulcan who served underneath him," said Soval.

"Yes," growled Gardner.

"Vulcan mates serve on the same ship in our Fleet," said Soval.

"You don't have to worry about jealousy or dislike among your personnel," Gardner argued.

Soval decided not to argue, but to let Gardner's words hang there in the air. Solaris looked over at Prime Minister Nathan Samuels.

Yamamoto shook his head at Gardner's words. When his time came to retire his hope was that Admiral Morse would follow him. If this coalition was going to succeed Starfleet and its personnel had to bend and compromise for cultural difference. He believed Morse understood this.

"This is more than a military problem, this is a political problem," said Samuels.

Solaris nodded his approval, as he appraised the Human in front of him. Nathan Samuels came off as homespun, and from the Midwest, but he was a shrewd politician, who knew how to compromise and build coalitions.

"If this coalition is to be more than a name, we must accept cultural difference and mores. I believe Captain Tucker and Commander T'Pol are proof that this coalition can me more. Do not throw this away without thinking of the ramifications. As a mate to a Vulcan, Captain Tucker is now considered a Vulcan citizen. This on that," said Solaris.

Samuels looked at Solaris. He was impressed with the legend, the Vulcan who made first contact and was the first ambassador to Earth. This coalition had to succeed and grow.

"Ambassador Solaris, how would you handle this?" asked Samuels.

Soval looked at Solaris and nodded his approval.

"A Vulcan bonds with their mate. This bond is telepathic and brings about a co-dependency when strong. Because of this, it is considered a private topic. We do not discuss it with anyone except vital personnel and family. Vital personnel and family," said Solaris.

"Are you telling us that we should handle this problem like Vulcans would?" smiled Yamamoto.

"I am merely offering a different perspective," said Solaris.

"You are more than capable of formulating your own approach to handle this," said Soval.

"I think honor the Vulcan way is a good start for us," said Samuels.

Gardner looked at Samuels. He knew that this man had aspirations of leading more than Earth some day soon. Gardner did not like him, but there was no getting around him.

"Whatever you decide, I'll go along with it," said Gardner said. "I just want to let it be known that I think Fleet Captain Tucker has been coddled."

"I believe the Reman foot soldier who pierced his chest with a lirash did not coddle him," said Soval.

"I'm not saying he isn't a tough son of bitch, but that he gets away with too much," said Gardner.

"I have studied both your people and my own, Admiral, and I have come to believe that there are some who are destined for greatness. Some are destined for a loud, historic greatest like Vice Admiral Archer and T'Pau that is written about and praised and then there are those who are destined to a quiet greatness who inspire those to keep fighting when the odds are overwhelming and effect lives in the present. Soval is such and I believe Captain Tucker is also. With such beings, we should allow some flexibility," said Solaris. "Allow Captain Tucker, who is now of the same clan as me, some flexibility."

"I think we can come up with something," said Nathan Samuels

STSTST

Tavon listened to the monks chanting and suddenly wished he was one of Romulus heroic dead. The failed invasion didn't even stop the monks from their meditation and chanting. What bothered him most was he still had months to go.

In his estimation, Maldore was dead. He now needed a reason to leave Vulcan and make himself known to the Romulan Star Empire once again. What he needed was to be able to offer the military a target that they could succeed against.

His first choice was something Andorian. Once he was out of the Forge, he would have to research an Andorian target, one that would be important but not highly guarded. If all goes well then he'd be the head of the Tal Shiar. Maybe then, he could reach out and find Tala. Her survival skills made him proud.

STSTST

Malcolm rolled over in his bed to find blue arms wrap themselves around him. Endilev and he had dinner that evening and it ended in a surprising display of passion and sex. Malcolm felt content. The pressures and stresses of war needed an outlet and he always found sex to be not only an appropriate one but a damned fun one.

Endilev enjoyed the warmth of Malcolm's skin, just as she had enjoyed his body. This was her first time with a Human, or Pinkskin as Shran who was a member of her Keth. It was her first time kissing with her mouth and not her antennae. Although she missed the touching and rubbing up against each other. If they ever mated for life, she wondered if they would be able to bond since he had no antennae.

Like Vulcans Andorian bonded, but only the strongest Vulcan bonds equaled an Andorian bond. They could sense each other over great distances and when one died the other would go into shock and sometimes not survive the loss of their mate. She hoped she could develop a telepathic link with Malcolm. He was a fine warrior and would be a worthy mate.

STSTST

Trip and T'Pol took a slow walk along the beach. His strength was starting to come back. Trip said it was because of his mother's home cooking, while T'Pol his sleeping twelve hours a day. They both were shorts and loose fitting shirts. T'Pol was starting to enjoy the home of Trip's parents.

"Mary Ellen is coming tonight," he said.

"According to your mother she is getting close to her delivery date and does not want to be aloe for it," said T'Pol.

"Jon off is commanding the Second Fleet," sighed Trip, "and she's about to pop."

"Pop?" asked T'Pol.

"Give birth," said Trip.

As they got closer to the house, both Trip and T'Pol saw a very pregnant Mary Ellen standing on the sand waiting for them. She waved and Trip returned the wave. When they got close enough Trip gave her a hug. She grabbed on to him and returned the hug with force.

"You okay, sis?" he asked her.

"I'm ready to drop and shoot this kid out of me," she said.

"Boy or girl?" he asked.

"Girl," she said.

"You and Jon got a name picked out yet?" he asked

"Yeah, Juliet Tucker-Archer," she said.

"I see you've warmed up to Jon," said Trip.

"The next time he comes home on leave we are getting married," said Mary Ellen.

Trip laughed.

"What's so funny?" asked Mary Ellen.

"Life," he smiled then he leaned into T'Pol and kissed her cheek.

STSTST

Fleet Admiral Yamamoto and Admiral Morse sat at the conference table waiting for Fleet Captain Tucker. It struck Yamamoto that this was the same room and table that they first met Tucker at to discuss his promotion to captain. He had performed exemplary since then.

In a crisp new uniform, Trip came in and sat down at the other end of Yamamoto and Morse.

"You could have let us know you were married to a Vulcan," said Morse.

"Yes, ma'am," said Trip.

"Did you ever intend on telling us, Fleet Captain?" asked Yamamoto.

"No, sir. Vulcans consider it private matter and we had intended to keep it one," said Trip.

"Well, after discussions with Prime Minister Samuels and Solaris and Soval," said Yamamoto, "we have come to a conclusion that privacy is the best policy when it comes to your marriage."

"The Paladin will remain your ship and not rotating the crew because of its uniqueness, as well as the fact some of the vital personnel know about you and T'Pol," said Morse.

"I believe we need you, Captain Tucker, otherwise I would drum you and Commander T'Pol out of the service. I recommend discretion from here on," said Yamamoto.

"Yes, sir," said Trip.

"You are extending your sick leave for two more weeks then you'll report to my office for your next assignment," said Morse. "And trust me, Captain; it won't be an easy assignment.

"You are dismissed," said Yamamoto.

Trip stood up. He felt his cheeks had reddened. Turning on his heel, he strode out of the office. Waiting for him was T'Pol.

"I'm still employed and so aren't you," he said.

"Soval and Solaris are difficult to argue with," said T'Pol.

"We have two weeks further leave then a new assignment," said Trip.

"Where shall we go for two weeks?" asked T'Pol.

"I was thinking a proper honeymoon at a hotel with room service and no one to bother us," smiled Trip.

T'Pol raised her right eyebrow, "I believe that will be agreeable."

"Yeah, I find it agreeable, too," chuckled Trip.

The Next Installation: The Price of Being a Warrior