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Star Trek Enterprise fic: Time Will Tell (1/4)

December 26th, 2014 (08:45 pm)
indescribable

feeling: indescribable

Title: Time Will Tell

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek Enterprise.

A/N: TATV fix it, spoilers for episodes throughout the series. Fills my learning to be loved square for hc_bingo. This is unbeta’ed.

Summary: The beginning never changes. The rest, however, has always seemed open to interpretation.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR



-o-

When T’Pol comes aboard Enterprise, the mission is short term. She is there under orders, not by choice, and she cannot wait to leave.

“You might like it here,” Commander Tucker tells her with an untrustworthy grin.

She inclined her head in an attempt to be polite. “Time will tell.”

He laughs at her outright. “Hell,” he says. “I suppose it will.”

-o-

The beginning never changes.

The rest, however, has always seemed open to interpretation.

And the end--

Well, T’Pol has never come to the end. Not yet.

There is no reason to speculate.

-o-

There are many humans on Enterprise. Some are more tolerable than others. She develops camaraderie with several, and she considers her relationship with the Captain to be strong.

Commander Tucker is more difficult than the rest. He’s too casual; he’s too friendly; he’s too narrow minded and ridiculous. Even his name is inappropriate and lacking of confidence.

He is the most human of them all.

Trip Tucker, Chief Engineer.

T’Pol, Science Officer.

It would never work.

-o-

It doesn’t work.

They come close and drift away. They attempt intimacy and push each other apart. He is human; she is Vulcan. She finds him irrational; he finds her cold. They are opposites; they are diametrically opposed.

Nothing about it works.

-o-

But T’Pol is far from home. She is isolated from her people. She has needs.

Commander Tucker has lost people he cares about. He’s struggling to understand loss on a broad scale. He has needs as well.

Sometimes it works after all.

-o-

It is Dr. Phlox who suggests the neuro-pressure treatments, and T’Pol is skeptical at first. Neuro-pressure is a Vulcan process that has never been tried on humans. However, Enterprise needs a well rested Chief Engineer.

This is her duty, she decides, to offer what help she can.

To offer solace.

It is the least she can do.

-o-

Commander Tucker is a willing pupil, and the treatments are quite successful. He sleeps much better, and his emotions are better in check.

When he begins to return the favor, it is entirely professional.

They both sleep better.

She tells herself that is all it is.

-o-

When she boards the Seleya, she starts to lose control. She loses her mind and has no control over her emotions. She is paranoid and angry; she devolves into rage.

It’s the Trellium, Dr. Phlox assures her. The feelings will dissipate when it is out of her system.

But T’Pol knows she has been losing control since the day she stepped foot on the bridge of the Enterprise.

-o-

It is surprisingly easy to succumb to addiction. After all, she has precautions in place. She has a logical reason to consider the ingestion of more. It is experimental, and she is a science officer. It is a way to fit in with the crew, which is especially important in the long stretches of the Expanse.

When Commander Tucker comes to her quarters, it is easier than ever to feel his fingers on her skin as they settle next to each other in the candlelight.

-o-

The Trellium brings her to life.

It awakens things inside of her she does not fully understand, and it ignites a passion she did not know she had. She is careful; she is methodical, but it gets away from her in the end.

Her relationship with Commander Tucker is much the same way. She does not understand the way it makes her feel, but those feelings are hard to resist. She is careful; she is methodical, but it gets away from her in the end.

It is impossible to pinpoint when her experiment becomes an addiction.

Likewise, she does not know when Commander Tucker becomes Trip.

It is easy to blame the Trellium.

But when it is out of her system, he still makes her heart pound loudly in her ears.

-o-

There’s no time for such indulgences, though. There is a war coming to Earth, and the mission has never been more important. T’Pol needs to ground herself once more, and the Trellium does not help her. She gives it up.

She tries to give him up, too.

She succeeds at one.

-o-

“Sometimes I envy you Vulcans,” Trip tells her. It is the only time he makes this confession, when his emotions are spent and raw in the aftermath of the Xindi attack on Enterprise. He’s exhausted and rundown, overworked and overburdened.

With her own emotions barely in check, she barely knows how to approach him. Standing there, she finds a truth all her own. “You think the death of a colleague or friend doesn’t affect us,” she says. “It does.”

He is watching her, intent and knowing. This level of familiarity is still new to her; this level of intimacy unknown.

She swallows, forcing herself to continue. “But if you give into those emotions, they overwhelm us,” she says. “You’re the ones to be envied.”

In the end, they are both right.

Perhaps, T’Pol reflects later, in the beginning, too.

Time will tell.

-o-

Grief is another emotion. It is like happiness or disappointment. It is like regret or fondness.

It is like love.

Vulcans control and suppress.

Humans experience them.

T’Pol is no longer certain she can control her emotions; she is not even sure she can suppress them.

That being said, she is not sure she can properly experience them either. She tries her best, and for some years, she considers herself successful.

She was wrong.

-o-

“Aren’t you at all curious how you and I will end up together?” Trip asks.

T’Pol never answers the question. Evasion is not an acknowledgement.

But it is certainly not a denial.

-o-

T’Pol can run from everything except herself. Face to face with herself, she is not certain what she sees. She is not certain if it is cause for comfort or trepidation.

“I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without him,” her elder version says.

“What do you suggest I do?” T’Pol asks, but she needs to know. She’s tried everything and come up with nothing.

She’s tried everything.

And she has nothing.

“There’s a human expression,” her elder version says, handing back the data pad. “Follow your heart.”

It is too simple to be true; it is too basic to be understood. T’Pol blinks. “What if my heart doesn’t know what it wants?”

“It will, in time,” is the reply. “It will.”

-o-

She is there for Trip when he needs her most, after the death of his sister.

He is there for her, without judgement, when her emotions are compromised.

The warmth in her chest, she calls it friendship.

At night, when her dreams come, sometimes she considers it more.

She tells herself she will find out for sure someday, when this is over.

But this may never be over.

-o-

One day, she tells him her age. It is one of the most intimate things she can offer him. He handles it with grace.

She realizes later that he gave her his heart, which is far more intimate.

She handles it poorly.

-o-

The mission doesn’t fail. Enterprise completes its task. T’Pol overcomes her Trillium addiction, and the crew is heralded for its heroics.

Life resumes, not exactly as it was, but close enough. Things get better.

The logical conclusion is that she does not need Trip Tucker in her life.

Even if she does, indeed, want him.

-o-

Her mother asks her, “What kind of future would you have together?”

T’Pol tells her that’s of no concern to her.

She does not admit all the times she’s thought about it.

Nor will she ever acknowledge that possibly she wants it.

-o-

“You brought me 16 light years just to watch you get married to someone you hardly know?” he asks with a mirthless laugh.

The answer is yes.

The answer is irrevocably yes.

-o-

She has never been more frightened. On her home planet, with her mother near, she stands in her wedding garments and the only comfort she finds is his face.

“I am grateful you are here.”

He doesn’t waver. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Her mother steps forth. “It’s time.”

T’Pol kisses Trip and marries someone else.

Trip lets her.

-o-

“What we are about to witness comes down from the time of beginning without change. This is the Vulcan heart. This is the Vulcan soul. This is our way.”

And T’Pol makes the most important commitment of her life, one she could never possibly keep.

This is the Vulcan heart.

This is the Vulcan soul.

This is our way.

Trip stands behind her the whole time; she doesn’t have to look.

She knows he’s always been there.

She trusts he always will.

-o-

“I guess it’s probably for the best,” he says.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s not like we would have made an ideal couple,” he says. “Come on, a Vulcan and a human? Romeo and Juliet probably stood a better chance.”

The reference is not one she is familiar with. When she looks up the play in Starfleet’s database, she is struck at how inevitable the tragedy is.

Juliet in particular is an insufferable character. Although she starts off reasonable, she is quickly overwhelmed by her emotions. Her headstrong insistence led to the death of countless people, including the man she professed to love. If Juliet had stayed true to her upbringing, the tragedy could have been avoided.

Still, T’Pol reflects, it would not have made for nearly as powerful of a story.

-o-

“I’m learning for the first time what it means to be Vulcans,” she says. “I don’t think there will be time for…”

“What do you want me to say?”

“That you understand.”

“I do,” he says. “It’s not like I didn’t know this was coming.”

She thinks someday she’ll have the time.

Someday.

-o-

When T’Pol gets married, Trip is there.

When Trip leaves Enterprise, T’Pol is there.

“I want you back,” she says, because she finds herself growing desperate and she knows no other way to make her point clear. She needs to try. She needs to try harder.

But he was coming back all along. They can’t leave each other, not really, no matter how hard they try.

Over time, T’Pol stops trying so hard.

-o-

It is their daughter that changes things. She is young and beautiful and full of hope. She is the potential between them, all the things they could be.

They bury their daughter together.

In truth, T’Pol buries much more than that.

-o-

When T’Pol and Trip Tucker end their relationship the last time, it is a mutual agreement. He argues that it is too painful to continue on this way, to be half-committed when they both knew that they had the potential for more. And God help him, he wants more. He wants to be public. He wants marriage and children. He wants a life of shared responsibility and mutual affection.

Ultimately, T’Pol concurs. It is too painful. They would be better off apart.

“That’s not quite what I meant,” he says with a sad smile.

She knows.

She never tells him that.

It is not until he’s gone that she admits to herself that she should have.

-o-

T’Pol knows the minute he dies. She feels the loss like a blow to the stomach, and it jars her concentration so badly that she audibly gasps.

“Subcommander?” Ensign Sato asks.

T’Pol blinks a few times.

“Is everything okay?”

T’Pol stiffens, the blood draining from her face. “No,” she says. “I am needed in sickbay.”

-o-

When she arrives, she is too late. Phlox has removed him from the chamber, and he’s standing quietly to the side. Captain Archer is painfully erect at the side of the biobed, and T’Pol approaches with caution.

She exchanges a small glance with Phlox, who apologetically shakes his head. T’Pol strides forward, taking her place by the captain’s side as she looks down at the still form.

He is still badly burned, the garish wounds across his chest and up his neck. His face is ashen, lips blue and parted.

“It just happened,” Captain Archer tells her, and his voice sounds strangled.

“I know,” she replies.

He takes an unsteady breath. “Of course you did,” he murmurs. “The connection?”

“It has not abated despite our best attempts,” T’Pol reports. “We had both come to live with it.”

There is an irony in her words, made more painful by the tableau before them.

“He did it for me,” Captain Archer tells her.

“Of course,” is her reply.

He looks at her.

She inclines her head. “A psychic link is not the only thing that defines a relationship,” she says. “The fact that his loyalty to you was a choice speaks volumes of the depth of the relationships you shared.”

Captain Archer’s face wavers. “He chose you, too,” he says softly. “Don’t think otherwise.”

She presses her lips together. “It would have been better if he had not.”

A small, wry smile pulls at Captain Archer’s face as he looks back down at Trip’s body. “He would have been better without either one of us,” he says. “But I suppose that’s not really the way it works.”

She follows his gaze, but finds herself uncomfortable with the image. “No,” she agrees, as she turns to leave. “I suppose it is not.”

-o-

The news spreads through the ship. It is not received well. There is a memorial put together in the evening, and Ensign Sato asks if T’Pol will join. “Such memorials are not customary on Vulcan,” she replies.

“It’s just to remember him,” Ensign Sato explains. “All these years…”

Something pulls inside T’Pol’s chest, stirring down deep to her very core. “I will be there.”

-o-

The gathering is large, and it grows throughout the evening. People light candles, and offer small tokens of affection at the base of the warp core. It is all against protocol, but T’Pol cannot bring herself to reprimand them.

Lieutenant Reed is there from the start to the finish, and Ensign Sato hands out the candles. Ensign Mayweather is somber, and Doctor Phlox attends with his head bowed.

Captain Archer shows up and cuts through the crowd. At the warp core, he stops, placing one hand on the engine. He stands very still for a long moment before cutting back through the crowd the same way he came.

-o-

She leaves the service, and finds herself in sickbay. The body has been moved to the side and covered with a sheet, blocked off by a curtain. The crewman on duty gives her one look, but says nothing as T’Pol approaches and steps behind the curtain.

There, she pulls the sheet back and feels herself threaten to break. This journey has tested her in many ways, and she has failed just as often as she has succeeded. In everything, she has had to question if she is the same woman, if she is still a worthy Vulcan and a capable officer. There are times she is still uncertain, and though she has wavered, she has always found herself committed to this cause.

But Trip is gone. His body his empty, and his essence has dissipated. His life and his vibrancy are no longer here, and T’Pol realizes just how much she has taken it for granted. She’s taken him for granted.

It defies logic. It pushes the boundaries of reason.

T’Pol stands there throughout the night. She does not cry; she does not move. She merely watches him, as if to confirm to herself that he is indeed gone.

She waits until morning, hoping to make the loss more real. When she leaves, however, it seems more impossible than ever.

-o-

In the years since they were intimate, they had remained close. T’Pol still has the access code to his quarters, and though no one asks, she knows it is her place to pack his belongings.

Life on a starship is no place to accumulate much of anything, and Trip spent more of his time with the warp engine than he did in his own room. Most of the items are pieces of his life from before Enterprise, pictures and knickknacks, devoid of practical use by weighted by memories T’Pol does not share with him.

Still, she understands the human connection to such items. More than that, she recognizes these things as pieces of Trip. Small, inconsequential pieces, but they are all that is left.

She packs carefully, sorting the items purposefully. Holding each one in her hands, she selects the ones she knows might offer some solace to his parents before setting aside the others for other members of the crew and Captain Archer.

It is not a time consuming task -- for all the years Trip served here, there is little to show for it -- but T’Pol takes her time.

She takes more time than she needs.

For once, she just takes the time.

-o-

She offers Captain Archer words of comfort and searches to find some of her own.

It is not as if the situation is impossible to understand. Deep space missions are always with inherent risk, no matter how well established the problem is. Over the course of the last ten years, many people have died. There have been countless sacrifices. There is no reason to think any of them had ever been invincible to this threat.

And she knows it is a heroic death. She knows he would have regrets, but not about his final action. She knows, given the same circumstances, he would make the same decision every time. It is logical to conclude, therefore, that this is not a senseless death, nor is it one entirely devoid of choice.

But as she stands in his empty quarters, she is reminded that purpose is not solely utilitarian. Life cannot be reduced to logical choices and probable outcomes. The needs of the one may not outweigh the needs of the many, but that does not make it any easier.

She considers taking an item or two for herself. A picture, perhaps. One of the mementos from their journey.

But he is not in these items. His essence cannot be packed away into a box. T’Pol does not need a token to remember him.

For she knows, no matter how many years she lives, she will never forget him and nothing will assuage this loss.

Trip would be the first to say it was worth it. T’Pol did not lie to her captain.

Trip, however, has been known to be wrong.

-o-

Humans grieve in stages. They give into a full range of emotions on their way to ultimate acceptance.

T’Pol watches this, and wishes she understood. She works on her final reports, and she packs up her own quarters. She completes crew evaluations as they prepare to dock. There is work to be done, until the final bulkhead is powered down for the last time.

It is a homecoming with much fanfare, but no one on board truly celebrates. She is among the last to leave, shutting down the last of the systems with Captain Archer on the bridge.

“He should be here,” Captain Archer says.

“He would have hated this,” T’Pol says.

Captain Archer smiles. “Yeah. He would have.”

“Is your speech ready?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’m going to talk about the sacrifices.”

“That is appropriate,” she says.

He studies her. “But?”

She regards him.

“You have something else to say,” he assumes.

She gathers herself. “The sacrifices are a critical part of how we got here,” she says. “But we need to also focus on the future. Where those sacrifices will take us.”

“That’s good advice,” Captain Archer agrees. He reaches out, squeezes her shoulder. “I just don’t know if any of us believe it just yet.”

“Indeed,” she says. “It remains to be seen if either of us ever will.”

-o-

On Earth, she seeks refuge in the Vulcan consulate. Though she no longer has a commission, she is still a citizen and they welcome her with customary grace. She visits in the temple erected there, hoping to find solace in a shrine to her ancestors. She performs a ritual for the dead, an ancient blessing her mother once taught her, hoping that it will bring her peace as much as it will Trip.

But when she settles down in the meditation chamber with the other pilgrims, she finds herself struggling to focus. She trains her breathing and focuses her mind, but when the mists part, there is no solace.

There is only Trip.

He grins at her.

“You are a figment of my imagination,” she tells him.

“Then you’ve got a pretty twisted imagination,” he replies.

“It is evidence of my grief,” she continues. “I clearly need more support than I thought. I will have to seek help from one of the elders in order to better center myself.”

He reaches out as she turns to leave, his fingers on her arm. It is not real, she reminds herself, but the familiarity of the touch is almost more than she can bear.

“Please,” he says.

She looks at him.

“Please,” he says again. “Just stay for a little while.”

She has refused him often. In fact, in her strongest and her weakest moments, she has been prone to pushing him away as insistently as possible. His pleas are always emotional and easily refuted.

This time, however, she finds herself unable to say no.

-o-

It’s folly, of course. It’s indulgent sentimentality. It is a sign that she is not nearly as collected as she wishes to be. Ten years after joining Enterprise, she has been profoundly impacted.

Resolved, she tells herself it will not happen again.

-o-

T’Pol watches the ceremony from the preparation area. From here, she can see it in its full scope. She can see the intergalactic dignitaries. She can see Earth’s proud leaders, each beaming more brightly than the last. She can see the crew of Enterprise, seated among the elite.

She watches Captain Archer prepare himself. He allows himself one deep breath, one last moment of uncertainty. Even from this distance, she can see a whole host of emotions on his face. Fear and pride; anticipation and dread. He still wants to question if this has been worth it, even if he knows the answer readily enough.

She has assured him on this as often as he has needed.

That is ironic, she thinks. Because standing there, she is not certain of that fact at all.

-o-

Trip would have stayed. He would have made a rather large ordeal of everything, cajoling every relevant member of the crew until no one could stay no. He would buy drinks and lead toasts. He would make Lieutenant Reed laugh, and he would get Ensign Mayweather to smile. He would trade stories with Ensign Sato, and he and Doctor Phlox would engage in some form of off key singing. And he would find Captain Archer and share a drink, just the two of them, before looking at T’Pol across the way with a small, knowing smile.

It is pointless to speculate her response.

The point is that Trip would have stayed, and T’Pol would have stayed for him.

Trip, however, is not here.

-o-

She has little business on Earth, but she finds passage to the state called Florida. It is warm, not too unlike Vulcan, and when she finds the appropriate address, she has every intention of completing her task.

Yet as she stands on the street, she finds herself overcome with trepidation. Trip was fond of his family. Indeed, she had often thought him to be overly sentimental in that regard. Captain Archer had called them eccentric, and she finds herself both curious and scared.

Her curiosity is a natural extension of her connection to Trip. She wants to understand him better, and it is often one’s roots that provides critical clues into how and why they act.

But her fear, which is far more palpable than she cares to admit, is that she will learn too much. That they will seem too familiar. She has reason to believe she will like them, and the prospect of such a connection would only bring her more pain.

This is not how it is supposed to be, after all. She knows the Earth custom. She knows how proper sons and daughters bring significant others home to be met by the parents. It is a traditional right of passage, a way of incorporating new connections into an established family bond.

In this case, however, the bond is already broken.

She stands there for several minutes before she decides the task to be fruitless. She has no comfort to offer them, and her presence will only bring them additional pain.

There’s nothing left for her now.

A planet full of people; a federation full of promise; a galaxy full of hope.

And there is nothing left at all.

-o-

T’Pol leaves, her only goodbye a standard a resignation letter left at Starfleet Command before she files her travel application at the Vulcan Consulate and buys a ticket on the first and fastest freighter out of Space Dock.

-o-

T’Pol goes home.

Back among her people and all their familiar customs, she has never felt so out of place. She longs to leave, but she quickly realizes there is no place she wishes to go. Humans are fortunate to possess such an inherent value on exploration. They are a race that believes a task should be complete simply because it is possible.

T’Pol can not give in to such whims. She is not driven by such volatile emotions.

Sometimes, though, she sincerely wishes she were.

-o-

In her meditations, she still sees Enterprise.

She sees her post on the bridge, the familiar feeling of the buttons beneath her fingers. She sees her quarters, neat and trim, softened by the glow of candlelight. She sees away missions and alien races. She sees first contacts and last stands.

Mostly, though, she sees Trip. He is standing, looking at the warp core. There is a smile on his face, as he shakes his head. “Prettiest damn thing I’ve ever seen.”

It is overly sentimental. It is primitive.

But when he looks at her, smile widening to a grin, he offers her his hand.

She reaches out to take it.

And wakes grasping nothing but air.

-o-

She tries new meditation techniques. She visits a monastery. She confesses her weaknesses and asks for help.

She is given a great deal of advice. She is trained in the most complicated rituals her people know.

Finally, one of the elders takes her aside and explains, “You are holding onto something, deep inside you. No one but you can let it go.”

“I am trying,” she says.

“You are trying to pretend that it does not exist,” he says. “You must learn to accept it.”

“I do not understand.”

He takes a steadying breath. “You are fighting a battle within yourself,” he says. “Any such struggle is one you will invariably lose. You must simply decide what part of yourself you wish to win out. Logic and reason. Or emotion and weakness.”

She blinks.

She understands.

Bowing, she says, “Thank you.”

Then she walks out of the temple and does not look back.

-o-

You are trying to pretend that it does not exist. You must learn to accept it.

T’Pol will never recover from Trip’s death. This is not mere sentiment; she recognizes it as fact. To accept it, she would have to not forget Trip, but the connection they shared. She would have to objectify him.

This is possible, she knows.

You must simply decide what part of yourself you wish to win out. Logic and reason. Or emotion and weakness.

She knows.

Perhaps she has known all along, but with the choice made plain, she sees no reason to deny it.

She sees no reason to pretend.

She only sees reason to get Trip back.

-o-

According to the Vulcan High Command, there is no such thing as time travel. Despite the things she has experienced in this regard, she must admit, she had no definitive answers. Clearly, there are means beyond Vulcan understanding that can be used to interfere with the timeline. However, T’Pol has no conclusive evidence that any such meddling is possible for her or even a smart choice. If anything, her experiences with the Temporal Cold War has suggested that time travel is one mystery best left unsolved.

At least, that her belief until Trip dies.

Then, she will do anything.

Then, she will believe anything.

Then, she will eschew all the decrees of Vulcan High Command.

Then, she will do something desperate and passionate.

Then, she will bring Trip back.

-o-

It’s not easy, of course. Something that has not be definitively proven is invariably going to be difficult, and T’Pol is entirely up to that task. When she was first placed on Enterprise, she had thought it an insurmountable task. How was she supposed to integrate into their unusual social norms? How was she to tolerate their customs and their smell? How was she to manage her internal life while simultaneously performing increasing external demands? How was she to remain purely Vulcan when living amongst beings that were so driven by their emotions?

Insurmountable, in retrospect, is something of an understatement.

Now, all these years later, discovering a means of time travel just seems like the next most logical conclusion.

-o-

She starts with the logs, going through as many as she can from the other alleged incidents of time travel. She examines the reports, but then she goes through great pains to analyze the full spectrum of sensor logs that coincide from such incidences. She studies hours before each incident; days and weeks. She makes charts and sorts through the patterns.

When that is not enough, she access as many theoretical theses as she can find. She researches every documented report of similar travel in Star Fleet. She pursues the radical ideas of Vulcan theology. She goes to the major Suliban settlements and studies in their libraries and temples.

She learns.

It is not enough.

-o-

It is Admiral Archer who tells her, as gently as he can. After leaving Enterprise, he has assumed a post at Star Fleet, but he travels as often as he can. He has done an admirable job keeping in touch with her, and when he expresses his concern, she is hardly surprised.

“I am fine,” she assures him.

“You’ve been off active duty for a year now,” he says.

“This is not uncommon among my people,” she explains.

“You could have any ship in the fleet,” he tells her.

“That is a generous offer.”

He postures, sighing a little. “I could use you.”

She tilts her head. “Star Fleet is a growing organization,” she says. “One officer does not make any difference.”

His jaw tightens. “You know what I mean.”

She sighs, and she wishes she could give in to her weariness if only for his sake. Instead, she softens her look. “You did not come all the way to Vulcan to offer me a post you know I’d never take.”

“No,” he concedes. “I’ve been worried about you.”

“I apologize for my lack of communication,” she says. “I have been in many locations where access to reliable communication is not guaranteed.”

He looks at her in that way of his. It is not merely human intuition. It is the camaraderie they have developed. She forgets, sometimes, what it is to be known. “Besides,” he says, voice dropping. “It’ll be a year next week.”

She swallows, her face wavering for just a moment. “I am aware.”

“I didn’t want to go through that alone,” Admiral Archer says. “Not with all those high ranking officials. To them, Trip’s just another name. They talk about heroes, but they don’t know.”

“No,” she agrees. “They could not possibly know.”

He smiles faintly, ducking his head down. He’s wearing his full uniform, and he looks older than he used to. There are deeper lines on his forehead, more gray hairs upon his head. Humans age quickly, and they age less gracefully than Vulcans. She will outlive him, by several lifetimes at least. She does not like to think of this, of another body in the ground, another friend she will have to bury. Another part of her heart she cannot regain.

She holds steady. “Your presence is most welcome,” she tells him.

He smiles.

She does not look away.

-o-

Admiral Archer has some official business, but he spends much of his time with T’Pol. He does not require much in the way of company, and for that she is grateful. He gives her his space, and though they make polite talk during meals, it is nothing too invasive.

She remembers meals in his ready room, back on the ship. She remembers his stories, and Trip’s laugh. She had thought them a particular pair at first. She had not understood their friendship and how it was expressed.

In its absence, she understands it best.

-o-

Ever persistent, she meditates every night, filling her chambers with candlelight. Sometimes, she can almost feel Trip’s fingers ghosting along her spine. His touch was never quite right, but she had come to appreciate it. The callouses on his fingers, the unrestrained pressure.

They are the worst meditations of her adult life.

They are also the best.

-o-

They do not make any special occasion on the day. Admiral Archer spends most of his day on the veranda, looking out across Vulcan.

T’Pol busies herself with her research.

After dinner, Admiral Archer holds up a glass and says, “To Trip.”

It is not Vulcan custom, but it is a simple gesture that Trip would appreciate. She raises her own glass. “To Trip.”

They drink the whole bottle together.

-o-

In the dawn, they are still awake, seated together and telling stories. As the sun rises, Admiral Archer stretches. “So you’re really not going to tell me?”

“I have told you every appropriate story I remember,” she says.

He looks at her. “About what you’re up to?”

“What makes you assume I am up to anything?”

Admiral Archer inclines his head.

She does not bother denying it. “It is best if you do not know.”

He looks somewhat concerned, but mostly curious. “Are you working for the High Command?”

“No,” T’Pol says. “This is a deeply personal endeavor.”

“You’ve been all over the High Command. I heard you spent time throughout a number of systems, and you’ve been a frequent visitor on the Star Fleet database,” he says.

She is neither surprised nor concerned that he knows this. “It is none of your concern.”

“T’Pol,” he says. “You are my concern. You always will be.”

“You have your duties,” she tells him.

“And I’ve done them,” he says. “Every day for eleven years. And this last year, it was hard. I buried Trip, and I didn’t even miss a day. Star Fleet’s not the only thing that gets to define duty.

“Are you sure you wish to know?” she asks.

He sits forward intently. “Tell me.”

-o-

She tells him everything.

Perhaps it is the alcoholic beverage. Perhaps it is the late hour. Perhaps it is the shared sentiment or the date.

Perhaps, though, this is just the opportunity she’s been looking for in the many years of their relationship.

-o-

“I remember when you didn’t believe in time travel,” Admiral Archer says.

“The Vulcan High Command still sees no conclusive evidence that it exists,” she replies.

He lifts his brows. “So?”

“So,” she says. “If I have learned anything over my time with humans it is that Vulcans are, on occasion, wrong.”

At that, Admiral Archer grins. “Let’s see what you got here.”

-o-

Admiral Archer is impressed.

He is not, however, surprised. He listens to her with due attention, and he goes over her notes with some care. As he reads, she watches him, suddenly finding herself uncertain.

He glances up. “Something you want to add?”

“I expected more resistance from you,” she admits.

“I always told you time travel was possible,” he says, just a little smug.

“Indeed,” she agrees. “Which is why I expected more--”

“Questions?” he supplies.

“Gloating,” she concludes.

He smiles a little at that before gathering a breath. “I’ve spent the last year doing everything I can not to think about that day,” he says. “I kept telling myself, if I worked harder, if I did enough good -- then maybe I’d really believe that all of this was worth it.”

“You are an important part of Starfleet,” she says. “And the galaxy at large.”

“Yeah,” he agrees with a nod. “But what you’ve got here. What you’re working on. This is the stuff that makes all the sacrifice worthwhile.”

“It is highly illogical and quite probably a sign of mental instability,” she warns him.

“Maybe,” he says with a light shrug. “There are some gaps in your work.”

“There are many gaps,” she informs him, matter of fact. “So many that I fear I am rapidly approaching a saturation point on the topic, having exhausted all known sources.”

“All unclassified sources,” Admiral Archer corrects.

T’Pol tilts her head.

Admiral Archer smiles again. “I’d hate to think all the bars on my collar were for nothing.”

-o-

There is much to discuss.

Neither of them have slept, and though T’Pol has learned to live with as little sleep as possible, she makes a caffeinated tea for Admiral Archer’s sake. He drinks it absently, poring over her notes with growing intensity.

“So you think the Suliban are your ticket to the past?” he asks.

“There is no other species with recorded efforts of time travel,” she explains. “Unless we manage to find Crewman Daniels again.”

“I find that unlikely,” Admiral Archer says. “But after we fixed the timeline, I got the impression that the Temporal Cold War was over.”

“In our time period, perhaps,” she says. “But temporal mechanics has many theories regarding the nature of time. If time travel is possible, then time is not merely linear, but must exist in a somewhat fluid state. We may have rectified the Temporal Cold War during our time period, but that does not mean it does not exist at other points in the time stream.”

Admiral Archer considers this seriously. “But all time travel was initiated from the future,” he says. “The technology Crewman Daniels used -- it’s all gone.”

“Which is why I decided to pursue the Suliban instead,” she explains reasonably.

Sighing, he chews his lips. He pauses for a moment to drink his tea. “But the Suliban were agents, just as much as I was. All their abilities came from the future.”

“And it is likely that our interference in future events nullified any training programs that may have been covertly in place,” T’Pol continues.

“So that leaves us with nothing,” Admiral Archer says, sounding frustrated.

“Prior to their enhancements to select subsets, the Suliban were more primitive than Vulcans, and generally less ambitious than humans.”

Admiral Archer makes a face. “Thanks.”

“The point being,” she goes on. “They were chosen precisely for their lack of interstellar capabilities. If someone wanted to pick a species to interfere with past events, they might be wise to choose one that is unassuming, and therefore more capable of passing detection.”

“Okay,” he says slowly. “So the Suliban were a good choice.”

“However,” she says, producing another datapad and putting it at the top of the pile. “Such interference is more likely to be held in special regard. There is a reason primitive species tend to see supernatural powers in routine alien incursions. They are trying to define the unknown with the familiar. This is where legends come from and myths are born.”

He’s frowning in concentration, watching her even as he picks up the pad.

“My time in the Suliban settlements has not been spent in its academic institutions or research facilities,” she says.

“This is folklore,” Admiral Archer realizes, as he scans the texts.

“Yes,” she says. “There are a surprising number of legends that speak of chosen people who travel through time. I might dismiss it as normal mythos, except--”

“Enterprise,” Admiral Archer reads. His eyes go wide as he looks up.

“Enterprise,” T’Pol confirms. “Where the Suliban are painted as interdimensional heroes, the enterprising villains come in a large ship to threaten them and the universe at large.”

Admiral Archer huffs a laugh of disbelief. “You think this is about us.”

“I believe it is probable,” she says.

“Even if it is, how does that help us find a way to travel through time?”

She lifts one brow. “Their mythos is unchanged, even after climactic events that ended the Temporal Cold War in our century,” she says.

“Which means that we’ve changed some history, but not all of it,” Admiral Archer realizes. “Whoever came for the Suliban may have been stopped, but their early contact with the Sulibans is still part of the established timeline.”

“So the theory would presume,” T’Pol agrees.

Admiral Archer stops at that, shaking his head. “Temporal mechanics, huh?”

“It is a theoretical mess,” she says. “Full of inconsistencies and improbabilities.”

“But it might make sense,” Admiral Archer presses.

T’Pol presses her lips together. “Yes,” she agrees. “It might.”

-o-

While Admiral Archer continues to study her work, she makes a light meal. After lunch, she insists they move to a more comfortable location, and she dims the lights accordingly until Admiral Archer sleeps through the afternoon. During this time, she attempts to meditate, but she finds herself more restless than ever.

It is not merely fear, nor is it simply anticipation. In all honesty, she does not fully understand it, but it is a compulsion now, one so firmly entrenched that she does not know how to change it. In the past, she would see this as a weakness, as a mental stumbling block. The fact that it is keeping her from her meditation is concerning.

Yet, this only makes the compulsion stronger. It is as if the resistance only confirms her belief that this is something she must do. That she has no choice but to pursue this venture, no matter what the conclusion may be.

It is entirely illogical to even think she can bring someone back from the dead. Commander Charles Tucker III has been dead for over a year. It would be prudent to move on.

T’Pol has spent much of her life being prudent.

It got her exactly nowhere.

Perhaps this is why she continues her attempts. Not because the meditation centers her, but because she finds it...reassuring. She can clear her mind of most of its usual clutter, but only just enough for a familiar and upbeat voice.

“I was wondering when you’d come back,” Trip tells her, arms crossed expectantly over his chest.

She folds her hands behind her back. “You are impatient.”

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s like a kid on Christmas morning. You know the wait is worth it, but it is so damn hard. You ever felt like that?”

She gives him a clinical look. “Yes,” she says. “I believe I have.”

-o-

When she rouses from her meditative state, it is already night. She is surprised to find Admiral Archer awake and preparing dinner. Her work is spread out over the table, scattered and disorganized. She is not sure which is more offensive: the smell of his cooking attempts or his poor treatment of her catalogued data.

“So,” he says, putting down a plate of something she can’t quite identify in front of her.

“What is this?” she asks.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Admiral Archer says. “I found some things and did what I could.”

“You could have used a replicator,” she suggests.

He shakes his head. “I think you’re missing the point.”

“I think this is missing a few ingredients,” she counters, picking up her fork to fork at the concoction.

He rolls his eyes, sitting down across from her with his own plate. “No,” he says. “The point isn’t the food.”

“Oh?” she asks.

“You’re missing the point in the research,” he says.

She stills her fork. “Oh,” she says.”

“Look,” Admiral Archer says, picking up a datapad. “You’re right to focus on the Suliban, but in reading all these stories, it’s not just about the Suliban.”

His implication is immediately obvious. “The Enterprise,” she says.

“They’ve always been the other part of this equation,” he says.

“I’ve analyzed the sensor logs from all relevant times,” she says.

“Yes,” he says. “But Crewman Daniels wasn’t just on Enterprise.”

She pauses, tilting her head. “I do not have that much access to Starfleet’s database.”

Admiral Archer sits back, looking almost smug. “No, you don’t,” he agrees. “But I do.”

-o-

Admiral Archer leaves the next day.

Her quarters are quiet without him, and T’Pol is not prone to loneliness, but she finds the stillness unusually disconcerting. Vulcans are not as social as most species, and she has spent most of her last year in relative seclusion, but she has found the company of Admiral Archer pleasing.

She has been alone far too long.

She intends to rectify that.

Immediately.

-o-

The first new data comes a week after Admiral Archer leaves Vulcan. She starts going through the classified logs with an unparalleled intensity. By the time Admiral Archer provides a second assortment of data logs, she has already sorted and classified the information into her existing cache.

There’s a note attached to the second set.

I’d wish you good luck, but I don’t think you need it.

Three weeks later, she responds with a condensed summary of her findings.

I will take your human concept of luck this time. And anything else you can give me.

-o-

She reads all the information on Crewman Daniels. She requests files on those who were most associated with him. She studies every interaction on record and accounts for every moment of his presence in this century. She documents his existence so precisely that she knows him better than anyone.

Almost anyone.

When she is done, she asks Admiral Archer for more.

As always, he does not let her down.

-o-

Then, the transmissions stop. She assumes this is due to the admiral’s normal duties, but when a month lapses, she sends him a message.

In another week, she sends a second message.

After another month, she attempts to contact him directly. She has to wait several hours, listening to benign music, before she is privileged with a face to face feed.

“Admiral,” she says. “I hope you are well.”

He looks grave behind his desk. The last few months have aged him even more. “I’ve been busy, I’m afraid.”

“That is understandable,” she says.

He wets his lips, adjusting himself in his seat. “I should never be too busy for friends,” he says. He pauses, looking at her. “Especially old friends.”

There is an insinuation there, one she cannot miss. She has spent too much time among humans, around this human in particular. “I have...missed our correspondence.”

“You know,” Admiral Archer says. “Maybe it’s time for a visit.”

“I was not aware you could make time to come to Vulcan,” she says.

He smiles. “I can’t,” he says. “But it’s been a long time since you’ve been on Earth.”

“I appreciate the offer,” she says. “But my work is here.”

“You might find a new setting helps,” Admiral Archer says. He nods his head. “Trust me.”

She straightens, and sees no reason and has no proclivity for doubt. “Very well,” she says. “I will take the first transport out.”

“You know, we have a ship in the system due to come home,” Admiral Archer says. “I’m sure they wouldn’t mind making a quick stop.”

“That is unnecessary.”

“The captain won’t mind,” Admiral Archer says. “And I don’t think you will either.”

-o-

If the Admiral expects T’Pol to be pleasantly surprised, he is incorrect. Still, when Captain Malcolm Reed personally meets her at the spacedock, she finds herself immediately at ease.

“Subcommander,” Captain Reed says with a glowing smile.

She tilts her head. “Captain Reed,” she replies. “You must be pleased with your most recent posting.”

Captain Reed looks around proudly. “She’s not the Enterprise, but she’s does pretty well, if I do say so myself.”

“Indeed,” T’Pol says. “No ship is the Enterprise.”

“You can say that again,” Captain Reed says, extending his hand to invite her farther inside. “Welcome aboard.”

-o-

Captain Reed has been given command of the USS Dalton. He insists on giving her a personal tour.

“I’ve made sure to update the security measures myself,” he boasts. “There is no ship in Starfleet better equipped to meet the growing security threats in the quadrant.”

“I am not surprised,” she muses. “I hear your Red Alert system has been taken fleetwide.”

“Yes, it has,” Captain Reed says. “Exploration is only possible if we can ensure our own safety first. We want to seek out new life and new civilization, but not at the cost of our own.”

T’Pol nods. There was a time she might have cautioned him against the valuation of a single life. Those days, however, are long behind her.

“Anyway,” Captain Reed continues after he clears his throat. “She’s not just about security. She’s also the fastest ship in the fleet. We can get up to warp six. Commander Tucker would have loved her--”

He falters, perhaps realizing what he’s said. He clears his throat.

T’Pol takes a breath. She nods. “Yes,” she agrees. “He would.”

“That man,” Captain Reed says, shaking his head fondly. “He loved a warp engine more than just about anything.”

T’Pol retains her posture. “Just about.”

-o-

After the tour, T’Pol is given access to the ship as she sees necessary. She is assigned VIP quarters, which are far too decadent for her needs. Still, she sees no need to deter Captain Reed from his attempts at gallantry. They are what might be called old friends, and she understands how such a relationship is honored among humans.

Though she does not need the space, she does value the privacy. As a consideration, Captain Reed has had candles delivered for her personal use and there is Plomeek broth waiting for her.

She eats and showers before lighting the candles. Outside, the stars fly by, and T’Pol remembers a time when this was all normal for her. It has not been so long, but it feels like another lifetime.

In many ways, it is. For T’Pol has changed.

Everything has changed.

Change is inevitable. Change is the only constant. Change is necessary. Fear of change is illogical.

She runs her fingers on the bulkheads, pressing her palm against the viewing glass to feel the faintest vibrations from the engine. Trip couldn’t sleep when the engines weren’t running. He liked the steady, constant motion. He said it was reassuring.

Settling on the floor, she deepens her breathing and closes her eyes.

-o-

She finds him in the engine room, flat on his back as he works on the warp drive. He barely looks up, he’s so engrossed, and she has to wait a full five minutes before he gets up to join her.

“Sorry,” he apologizes. “She’s been off lately.”

“The engines are working at 97 percent efficiency,” she reports.

“That’s three percent lower than I like,” he quips.

“Even Vulcans allow for certain variability,” she tells him.

“I’m sure they do,” Trip says, wiping his hands on his coveralls. “It’s all protocols to them.”

“And to you?”

He stops to grin at her. “It’s love.”

“You cannot have romantic feelings toward a warp drive.”

“Your people don’t have romantic feelings toward each other,” he reminds her. “I’m not sure you get to judge.”

“So this,” she says, nodding toward the engine. “Is a labor of love?”

“In the purest sense,” he says.

She raises an eyebrow. “That seems...one sided.”

He winks at her. “True love always is.”

-o-

At warp six, her travel is among the most efficient in the galaxy.

She still finds it painfully slow.

Not for a lack of company, however. Captain Reed seems intent on making her stay pleasant, and though his overtures are unnecessary, she cannot say she finds it altogether undesirable.

“I must say,” Captain Reed says over dinner. “Hoshi will be rather jealous you’re here. She’s been trying to get in touch with you for months.”

“I was unaware that Ensign Sato wished to remain in contact,” T’Pol says.

“Lieutenant Sato,” Captain Reed corrects. “She was given a promotion before heading up the linguistics division at Deep Space 1.”

“That is an impressive posting,” T’Pol comments.

“Not surprising, though,” Captain Reed says. “She really is the only linguistics expert with substantial deep space experience. She’s documented more first contacts than any other linguist in the fleet, and she’s personally responsible for translating eight languages to the official Starfleet database.”

T’Pol neatly cuts a vegetable. “I always knew she was talented.”

“And did you hear about Mayweather?” Captain Reed asks.

“No,” T’Pol says.

“He also got his promotion, and he got an assignment on the USS Saturn.”

“One of Starfleet’s other exploration ships?” she remembers.

Captain Reed nods proudly. “Continuing right where the Enterprise left off,” he says. “Lucky bastard is piloting new star systems every month.”

This type of sharing is customary among humans, and there was a time when T’Pol would have listened politely and left well enough alone. Captain Reed is her host, and his generosity should be reciprocated. T’Pol has little to offer, but she knows how valuable idle chitchat is among humans.

“I did see Dr. Phlox,” she tells him. “He took a sabbatical on one of the moons of Darius Prime.”

“He’s been requested for at least half a dozen space missions,” Captain Reed says. “When he’s ready, he’ll have a place, no doubt.”

“I suspect he may find the solace alluring,” she comments.

“Oh?”

“I see you have not met all his wives,” T’Pol tells him.

Captain Reed chuckles. “We’ve all done quite well, I think.”

“As you should,” T’Pol tells him. “The crew of the Enterprise was selected to include the best.”

“It’s more than that, though,” Captain Reed says. “There was something special on that ship. Something I don’t know I’d be able to replicate in any other command.”

“All crews come together in times of crisis,” she explains. “It is only natural.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, sounding somewhat distant now. “But it’s not exactly the same.”

Sentimentality. Emotion. Weakness.

These are lesser things.

They are not, however, always wrong.

“Yes,” she agrees. “I am very well aware.”