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

December 26th, 2014 (08:53 pm)
grateful

feeling: grateful

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR




The dawn breaks.

In it, T’Pol blinks the sleep from her eyes and gathers herself and all she has left.

Then, with no further hesitations, she ventures forth.

-o-

Though it is long journey by foot, T’Pol hardly notices the passage of time. Indeed, a year is like a day to her now, and hours are mere seconds. Time is almost an irony to her now. She has never been further from Trip, and yet she has never felt closer.

When she arrives, there is no sense of trepidation. Indeed, she is entire methodical as she reviews her calculations and makes her preparations. She has rehearsed this countless times, and as she performs it on the altar, she does not miss a beat. She arranges the stones; she lights the elements that adorn the cave. She murmurs into the mist, inhaling the particle gases that start to envelop the temple.

Her sense of awareness deepens and narrows, coalescing to a singular purpose. The magnitude of her choice is almost beyond her now, she is that committed to the cause.

As she approaches the end of the ritual, she slows down to double check her procedure. She makes a slight alteration, sensing the disturbance in the atmosphere. Although the Suliban likely performed this ritual in honor to their would-be gods, T’Pol enacts it with no less veneration. She may not worship the beings that created this portal, but she recognizes their provision all the same. She does not owe them praise, but she will bow as the ancient Suliban in thanks.

She takes the last element stone, carrying it carefully to the altar. She judges the distance once more, assessing the correct distance to create a temporal field to her exact specifications. In all their simulations, it worked perfectly, opening a portal to the past.

For they have given her hope.

They have given her purpose.

They have given her time.

They will give her balance.

They will give her Trip.

She rotates the stone, then steps back as the room begins to glow. Electricity crackles in the air, and something pulses through her chest. A voice swells around her in the mist, and a cry is wrenched from her.

It’s time.

-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.

Not when she finally has a chance to decide it for herself.

-o-

“You can’t be here.”

T’Pol opens her eyes and attempt to orient herself. She remembers the ritual, and her careful calculations. Yet, she is not in the temple, nor is she on Enterprise. It is a nondescript room that she does not recognize, full of technology she cannot identify.

“You really can’t be here.”

She turns her head, curious and perplexed. The mystery is only heightened when she sees the figure standing next to her. “Crewman Daniels.”

Daniels frowns, his obvious anxiety deepening. “Crewman? How do you even know my name.”

“We served together on Enterprise,” she says.

He chews his lip, considering this. “You’ve violated a number of protocol by initiating a temporal field.”

“It was not my intention to come here,” she says, looking around again. “I presume this is the future?”

“How do you--” he starts but cuts himself off. He shakes his head. “I don’t know how you mastered the equations, but when the temporal field was initiated, I was sent to stop you.”

She considers this. “That means I was successful.”

“Too successful,” Daniels says. “You don’t have the authority to create these types of incursions.”

“With respect, I know of no protocol surrounding this type of travel,” she says. “In fact, whatever rules you presume to live by do not apply to me since I live several centuries before they are ever formed.”

“Well, the Temporal Accord doesn’t quite work that way,” Daniels explains, starting to fret. “I’m going to have to send you back.”

“I am afraid I cannot let you do that,” she says.

“You want to stay here?” he asks.

“No,” she replies. “I intend to continue to my original destination. If you check my calculations--”

He is already shaking his head. “It doesn’t work that way,” he says. “Time travel can’t be used to fix whims--”

“Your reasoning is inconsistent,” she says. “You have used this method of travel numerous times to correct things you deem necessary.”

“I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says.

“Your time on Enterprise--”

“I’ve never served on Enterprise,” Daniels says. “I’ve barely finished my training with the Temporal Directorate. I haven’t had an actual assignment--”

That’s when T’Pol realizes that Daniels is telling her the truth. This version of Daniels is younger than she remembers, even more so than when he first served on Enterprise. In fact, given that she watched Daniels die, it is plausible to assume that this version of Daniels is actually some years behind the man she met and knew aboard the Enterprise.

It is further possible, with the correction of the timeline, that the Temporal Cold War has not begun.

This is unexpected, though she cannot decide if it works in her favor or against it.

She squares her shoulders, looking at Daniels directly. “I have no desire to cause you any difficulties in your duties,” she says. “Nor do I have any intention of causing any significant changes to the timeline. However, there is one task I must complete.”

He shakes his head again, his agitation increasing. “Changing one thing could change everything.”

“Agreed,” she says. “That is what I’m counting on.”

He sighs in exasperation. “I can’t let you do this,” he says. “I’m going to send you back, and you have to promise me to never do this again. That’s all.”

To punctuate his point, he’s moving back toward one of the nearby interfaces. T’Pol realizes that her time, though infinite in some regards, may actually be quite short.

“That would be an unfair decision,” she says.

He turns back toward her. “Unfair?”

“Given the number of times you yourself have interfered in our timeline, the double standard is glaring.”

“I haven’t interfered in anything,” he says.

“Not yet,” she says.

His eyes widen. “Wait,” he says. “You’re saying...“

“In the future,” she says. “Or, in your future, and in my past. You play a critical role in the formation of the timeline by continuous and carefully chosen interference.”

He shakes his head, both skeptical and awed. “Telling me this…”

“Could be a self fulfilling prophecy,” she says. “I am not an expert on temporal mechanics, but it seems that we have continued to muddle each other’s timelines.”

“Which is why it has to stop,” he says with new urgency. “You need to go back, this can’t happen--”

“Perhaps it already has,” she says. “Perhaps all of this has happened and will continue to happen. Perhaps stopping me will cause more problems than letting me go?”

The theory, she knows, is not altogether unsound. Temporal mechanics would be a theoretical study riddled with logical inconsistencies, which is largely why the Vulcan Science Directorate has concluded it to be unlikely. But T’Pol knows, after all this time, that sometimes the most illogical things are the ones that make the most sense.

At the very least, they are the things that matter most.

It is possible, she knows, that her presence her has already had a dramatic impact on the course of history. Her interference could push Daniels in one direction or another, changing his future actions with Admiral Archer during the Temporal Cold War. This could be a solidifying moment for young Daniels, formative to his very character in the events to come.

T’Pol, in essence, could be forming her future as much as her past, cementing her place in the timeline as much as reinforcing its inevitable outcome.

All of which leads her to conclude that her presence here is valid. And her task, no matter how controversial, should be completed.

Daniels is hesitating. Whatever he will become, he is still clearly young and inexperienced. T’Pol could try to convince him.

Or she could do what needs to be done.

And trust history to work itself out.

“Please,” she says, holding out her hand and stepping forward. “If you would just--”

He tenses, hand reaching out to the console.

She closes the distance, slipping her hand to his shoulder and unconsciously finding the pressure point.

“I can’t--” he starts, but does not have the chance to finish. With one, firm squeeze, his body goes lax and he slips limply to the floor.

Arching an eyebrow, she looks down at him. “I believe you will understand someday,” she says, stepping past his body toward the console.

The interface is advanced, and it takes her several moments to situate herself. But the controls are devoid of the mysticism of the ritual on Suliban, and T’Pol has always been gifted in science. She identifies the key components of the system and draws up the travel network. She punches in the correct star date and the precise coordinates for the Enterprise and presses the button. When it asks for authorization, she reaches down and pulls Daniels up, pressing his finger to the panel.

As it beeps its approval, there is a humming nearby. T’Pol turns back and realizes there is small circle, which resembles a transporter bay. No doubt this is how Daniels brought her here, and this is where she needs to be to send herself back.

Side stepping Daniels, she positions herself on the platform. The device starts to light up around her as the humming increases.

Electricity crackles in the air, and something pulses through her chest. A voice swells around her in the light, and a cry is choked off in her throat.

It’s time.

-o-

The beginning never changes.

The beginning.

The beginning.

-o-

It’s like a dream.

T’Pol burns through time, slipping through it like water over rock. For a moment, she is in all places, she is all things. She is a child on Vulcan; she is serving aboard the Seleya; she is assigned to Enterprise; she presses her fingers to the pressure point in Trip’s neck. She’s being born; she dies. She presses the last of Trip’s belongings in a box in a futile attempt to say goodbye.

“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-

She wakes.

Her existence has been bleeding from the conscious to the subconscious, but this time she comes to with a startling clarity. This is neither a dream, nor is it reality.

She inhales and recognizes the air. She can taste it, and she can feel the familiar vibrations.

Enterprise.

Blinking, she gathers her bearings and determines her location in the cargo bay. Though she still finds Daniels and his contingent questionable, she must admit their technology is extremely precise. Moving to the closest interface, she brings up the current date and location.

She has executed her plan correctly. This is the day Trip will sacrifice himself.

This is the day T’Pol will fix everything.

This is the day.

-o-

Although time travel is the most difficult part of her journey, she quickly reminds herself that it is not the last. Her arrival may have been the most unlikely element of her plan, but there are several other critical steps she must take in order to prevent the coming events from unfolding.

First things first, however.

The internal sensors may pick up an anomalous reading upon her arrival, but she is quite certain that the effect of time travel will obscure that addition of another person on board. Considering that she is already technically on board, it should be easy enough to hide herself on all readings.

Of course, that presumes she does not run into herself. However, she is quite aware that her counterpart is on duty on the bridge, which means T’Pol should have easy access to her quarters. There, she can attain a uniform in order to blend in seamlessly.

She has approximately thirty minutes to do this. Then she must find Trip before the incidence progresses too far. She should have time to make contact with him. Although she does desire to stop his death, she also wants to preserve as much of the timeline as possible. T’Pol is determined, but she is not wholly reckless.

If she is correct, she will save Trip, but still keep the major events of the timeline relatively intact. At which point she should cease to exist in this iteration, and her former self will have every opportunity to restore her relationship with Trip.

It will be, as humans say, a happily ever after.

-o-

Getting to her quarters is simple. She still remembers where everything is and quickly finds an appropriate uniform. In the mirror, she takes the time to style her hair accordingly, modeling it in a fair approximation of how she used to look.

When she is finished, she brings up a computer interface and searches for Trip’s biosign.

He’s in engineering.

Her breath catches, and she forces herself to calm. The beginning never changes, she reminds herself.

Turning off the interface, she straightens and leaves her quarters without looking back.

-o-

Focused as she is, T’Pol cannot help but be awed at Enterprise. For all the she has mourned Trip, she has mourned this ship as well. She nods to the crewmen; she exchanges pleasantries with her acquaintances. When she sees Dr. Phlox, he smiles warmly. “Ah, subcommander!” he croons. “How are you this fine day?”

“It has been busy,” she replies honestly. “But I believe there is a good chance it will get better.”

He looks pleasantly surprised. “Optimism? My, my, this must be a banner day.”

“Indeed,” T’Pol agrees. “I certainly hope so.”

-o-

When she enters Engineering, it is like entering her dreamscape. Everything is perfectly in order, and her pace slow as she sees him, bent over a console, hard at work. This is where he belongs; this is where she remembers him best. This is Trip.

He turns, intent on his work, but his gaze passes over her and he stops with a smile. “Fancy meeting you here,” he says, continuing to the next panel even as his posture invites her to come closer.

She obliges, taking tentative steps towards him. Although she has dreamed this countless times, she is struck by the reality of this situation. This is no dream. This is not a latent psychic connection.

This is Trip.

Alive and breathing, right next to her. This is her other half; this is her counterpoint.

This is her balance.

The immediacy of the connection swells deep within her, filling her so intensely that it almost hurts. She wants to reach for him, to touch him and to hold him. She wants to pull him close and kiss him and never let him go.

None of this things, however, would be appropriate given the current place in the timeline. Minimal interference, she reminds herself.

Composed, she keeps herself entirely professional. “I wanted to have a word with you, Commander.”

He looks at her, eyebrows up. “Damn, am I in trouble?”

“No,” she says.

“Then what’s with the formalities?” he asks, pushing a few buttons.

“We are on duty--”

He chuckles a little, shaking his head. “We still got to work on that sense of humor,” he says. Then he straightens. “What can I do for you?”

Her resolve wavers. Standing face to face, meeting eye to eye, the connection is almost too much. The emotions are building insurmountably, and the weight of her grief is compounded by the stark contrast of seeing him so vibrant and alive.

This is what she craves, but this is not what she’s here. There’s a bigger picture, and she cannot forsake it now. She summons whatever reserves of self control she still possesses, and remains impassive. “I would like a moment of your time.”

Trip hums a little, punching a few buttons. When she says nothing, he looks up expectant. “Well, you going take your moment?”

She purses her lips. “Perhaps we could talk in private,” she suggests.

He stops what he’s doing, looking at her critically. “Private?”

With another terse breath, she glances around. “Please.”

He looks uncertain, but Trip will not deny her this. He steps back from the panel, nodding. “I suppose I can spare a moment for you.”

-o-

In the corridor, she stops in a secluded section. As she glances up and down the length of the passageway, Trip stops with an overly dramatic sigh. “So, what’s so important?” he asks. “I haven’t got all day.”

She looks back at him, the irony of his words too heavy to acknowledge. “I believe we must discuss something of a personal nature.”

His brow furrows. “Personal?” he asks.

“Regarding our relationship,” she clarifies.

“Since when do you go around calling it a relationship?” he asks. His voice is not biting, but the faintest hint of accusation is there. It is not unwarranted.

“No matter what we have chosen to call it or not call it, we both know what it is,” she says plainly. “Our denials are meaningless.”

His expression turns somewhat distressed. He shakes his head. “You’re the one who didn’t want it,” he reminds her. “It was your idea, breaking up. You said it was for the best.”

She has said many things. She has left many more unsaid. She has walked away, she has turned her back, she has tried so hard to forget.

“I was wrong,” she says. “About many things.”

He’s watching her, the shock turning to surprise. The traces of resentment fade to sympathy, and it is not hard to see the hope he’s always harbored despite her previous denials. “Can I get that in writing?” he quips.

She will not indulge his humor. “There is not enough time to explain,” she says. “But you need to know that you have reasons to live.”

His nose wrinkles just a little.

“You have a future worth living,” she stresses.

“T’Pol, you sure you’re feeling all right?” he asks.

“Please,” she says. “I cannot discuss it now, but promise me we will talk about this. Tell me we will talk about our relationship and what it means to both of us.”

He is clearly confused to some degree, but their bond is still prevalent. She can feel him now, just as he can feel her. The innate understanding that they share is important and viable.

It is impenetrable.

She reaches forward and takes his hand, squeezing it. “Please, Trip.”

“Yeah,” he says, squeezing back as he holds her gaze. “Of course.”

She holds on, for as long as she can.

She holds on, and hopes it is enough.

She holds on--

Until he lets go.

“I’ve got to get back,” he says, with a note of apology. “But I promise, we’ll talk.”

She stands stiffly where she’s at as he pulls away.

He grins at her one last time. “Plenty of time later,” he says with a coy wink. “Right?”

-o-

She retires to her quarters.

It is not an easy thing, to sit idly by when she knows Trip is going to be walking into a dangerous and potentially lethal situation. For all of her plans, she has never truly considered how the situation will resolve itself in an alternative means. Perhaps giving Trip a reason to live will provide him enough motivation to stall. Maybe her meddling will enable him to prolong the situation until it can be properly diffused with security personnel.

Hope, after all, is a powerful thing. T’Pol knows this first hand, and she knows that Admiral Archer’s assessment of Trip’s unappealing prospects for the future are clearly part of the reason things turned out so poorly.

And yet, she knows Trip. His actions, though tragic, were never contrary to anything she knew about him. His choice to sacrifice himself was entirely consistent with everything he was and everything he believed in. It was the pinnacle of who he was.

T’Pol could never change Trip.

But Trip changed her.

That is why T’Pol’s encounter with Trip was an indulgence on this journey. No, she did not truly come here to save Trip.

In truth, T’Pol has known this for some time. She has come to save herself.

And hope the rest of the universe is saved right along with her.

-o-

For this, she must only wait. It is only a matter of time, she knows, before her counterpart runs a normal scan. The anomalous reading in these very quarters will arouse her curiosity. Curiosity, but not suspicion, and although there was a time when T’Pol would have reported the matter immediately, her counterpart will indulge her curiosity first.

T’Pol has always had questions.

It is only now, after losing so much, that she finally has answers.

-o-

When the door opens, T’Pol is ready.

At least, that is what she believes.

Seeing a younger version of herself, however, is surprisingly difficult. The composed mask is more than an adequate cover for her emotions. At her core, T’Pol has never changed, but this iteration believes in her own ability to control herself. As if that control will gain her anything.

Logic does not save her. Reason will not fulfill her.

This T’Pol is trying so hard, and yet she is destined to fail completely. As it is, T’Pol is not sure whether she pities this version of herself -- or resents her. For she could have had everything, and yet she chosen nothing.

To her credit, the other T’Pol retains her composure well. She stands in the doorway, clearly poised close enough to the comm button in case she needs to call for security. “Who are you?” she asks.

T’Pol mirrors her composure, matching her stance. “I believe you know the answer to that question.”

“Even if the sensor readings are accurate, that does not mean that there is not something you should tell me about your identity,” her younger self replies.

“Your sensor readings are accurate,” T’Pol says. “What is the logical conclusion?”

“Some beings have the ability to mimic the biosignatures of others,” T’Pol says. “We have also come across those with the capability of cloning.”

“To what end?” T’Pol asks.

“I believe that is for you to answer,” her counterpart replies. “Or I will be forced to call security.”

“Calling security would increase the risk for everyone on this ship,” T’Pol says.

“Is that a threat?” her younger self asks.

T’Pol sighs. “You are neglecting the most logical conclusion.”

Her younger self tilts her head.

“That your sensor readings are entirely accurate and that I am who I appear to be,” she says. “You can see me. You can sense me. You know me.”

“But that would imply that you are an alternate version of myself,” T’Pol says.

“Yes,” T’Pol says.

The other T’Pol is unimpressed. “That would be unlikely.”


“So is time travel,” she replies without missing a beat. “So is a cloned daughter, and a love you refuse to acknowledge. It seems our life has been made up of the most unlikely things.”

T’Pol straightens. She takes a breath.

Then, she steps inside.

-o-

“Before I tell you anything, you must understand that our time is limited,” T’Pol begins.

Her younger self eases closer but still keeps a calculating distance, situated close to the work console. “If you are a time traveler, than the fault is yours, not mine.”

“During my time researching time travel, I became more aware of the ethical considerations of such actions,” T’Pol says. “Too much interference or poorly place interference could have catastrophic results.”

“Yet, here you are,” her counterpart replies. “Are you working with Daniels?”

“Not precisely,” T’Pol says.

“The Temporal Cold War is over,” she says.

“If time is not linear, then it hard to determine when something is over and when it truly begins,” T’Pol says. “In truth, I am only just beginning to understand the complexities myself.”

“Yet, again,” she says. “Here you are. If this decision is fraught with ethical considerations, then why would you risk such an encounter in the first place?”

“Because the future is not how it should be,” T’Pol says.

“And who are you to make such a determination?”

“I am the one who has lived its faults and failures,” T’Pol says. “Our faults and failures.”

At this, her counterpart appears thoughtful. “You are acting alone.”

“I have had help,” T’Pol says. “But I have come back alone.”

“And what are you seeking to accomplish by talking to me here, in my quarters?” her counterpart asks. “Would it not be more effective to exact change to the specific events which you say are so problematic.”

“In my studies, I have concluded not only that some events should be changed, but mostly that I am wholly incapable of changing these events without damaging the timeline considerably.”

The other T’Pol furrows her brow slightly. “Then your presence here is illogical.”

“To the contrary,” T’Pol says. “My presence here is the only option left.”

She shakes her head. “I do not understand.”

“I cannot change the events,” T’Pol reiterates. “You, however, are capable of such change.”

“Without more information, I have no way of knowing how, much less if it is a wise decision,” her counterpart begins.

“And that is why I am here,” T’Pol says. “Because I cannot change events, but I believe I may be successful in changing you.

-o-

Though her previous self is in good control of her faculties, the small movement is easy enough to see. T’Pol has sufficiently made her point, and now that the logic of the situation is at hand, the emotions are threatening to overwhelm her younger self. She would say that the call to security is logical, but T’Pol knows better.

“That would be a mistake,” she says flatly.

“Listening to this unheeded is a mistake,” her counterpart says. “I have no way of ascertaining if you are telling me the truth. At this point, our conversation could be coercion or worse.”

The tone is entirely reasonable, but T’Pol knows her own coping mechanisms, even after neglecting them for so long. In polite conversation, evasion would be respected.

This is not polite conversation. T’Pol does not have the patience. Moreover, she does not have the time.

Brusquely, she steps forward. “This is coercion,” she says. “And it is worse. Look at me. Look into my eyes, and you will see the pain I have suffered. You will see the things I have lost. You will see hollow victories and empty days.”

Her counterpart swallows stiffly, fingers still tense at her side. Her denials, however, never make it out of her throat.

“You recognize it, even if you do not want to admit it,” T’Pol continues. “It gets worse. Worse than with the illness. Worse than the Trellium. Worse than the death of your daughter and all the grief that came with it. You think you can mask the pain. You think you can push it back, keep it down. I come from a time when it becomes too much. When it eclipses everything.”

There is the slightest flicker, the most minute essence of hesitation on her face.

“It is what you fear, even now,” T’Pol says. “That is why you pushed Trip away, not because it is logical. But because it is safe. You have tried to protect yourself, and it will cost you what little self control you have managed to salvage.”

She tries to regain her composure, but she is not good enough. She is not fast enough.

T’Pol steps closer, unrelenting. “I am your worst fear,” she says. “That is how you know I am telling the truth. Because you have looked inside yourself and seen me. I am the person you have tried to hide. I am the inner self you will lose control of if you do not listen.

It’s an effective approach. Her younger self is quiet for a moment, in obvious contemplation. Finally, she shifts her weight slightly. “If you are telling me the truth, then I do not understand why you would risk so much to come here,” she says. “Although my grasp of temporal mechanics is rudimentary, I cannot imagine that any good will come of crossing your own timeline.”

“No good will come without such interference,” T’Pol returns.

“Even if I do believe you, the risks of acting on any information you give me would be dangerous,” she says.

“So surely you would understand that I am being compelled by strong forces,” T’Pol says, pushing her point. “This was necessary, and I assure you, I have the best reasons.”

Her counterpart lifts her chin with far too much pride. “No reason is good enough.”

T’Pol swallows back a surge of frustration. This is what humans talked about when they called Vulcans smug. To be so sure of logic when emotion is pulling so powerfully. The determination that one is superior to the other is arbitrary, and she does not fault her people for their commitment to this path. But their inability to accept anything beyond it--

Well, it is insufferable.

It is also dangerous. The stakes are high enough, and T’Pol’s time is short.

Too short.

She steps even closer, closing the gap between them so that it makes her counterpart uncomfortable. “There is one reason,” she says. “The reason you married Koss. The reason you resigned your commission with the Vulcan High Command. The reason you call him Trip, and the reason you cannot get him out of your head no matter how many times you tell yourself that a relationship is not logical. That reason.”

Her expression shifts just enough. The facade starts to waver. “Why should I trust you?”

“Because I have lived your mistakes, I know them,” she says, her voice rising just a little. “We were told to follow our heart, and we delayed it for ten years. It is not a choice you can delay forever. You must choose. Today.

Her counterpart shakes her head. “I do not understand why Commander Tucker is so important to this--”

“He is everything to this,” T’Pol says. “He represents what you could have and what you refuse to accept. He is the epitome of your emotions. You see him and you see a loss of control. But with hindsight, you will see that he is the necessary balance.”

“A relationship with Commander Tucker would only complicate both our lives with very little mutual gain,” she argues reasonably.

“Your definition of mutual gain is limited, at best,” T’Pol says.

She postures. “Logically speaking--”

“Logic is useful but it cannot negate love.”

“My decision to remain platonic in my relationship with Commander Tucker is irrelevant,” her younger self says. “You cannot expect me to believe that my choice to remain logical in regards to my feelings will have such catastrophic effects.”

“Yet, I am here,” T’Pol says.

“Romance is merely another type of affection,” she says. “Friendship is not so different.”

“You are telling yourself lies,” T’Pol says. “If you merely felt affection for him, then the problem would not be a problem at all. But you do not feel affection. You do not feel friendship. You feel love, and you are so terrified of that emotion and what it may do to you that you choose to eschew it altogether.”

“It compromises my self control--”

“So let it be compromised,” T’Pol says. “The other option will have a devastating consequence for you and everyone you have ever cared about.”

The younger T’Pol cocks her head. “What consequences?”

T’Pol straightens. “You will save the universe, and you will stand by while Captain Archer starts the Federation, but you will still lose everything that makes your life worth living.”

She shakes her head again. “Your threats are vague and uncompelling,” she says, moving toward the console. “I have indulged this long enough--”

With a muted growl, T’Pol reaches out, taking her by the arm. The contact is sudden and unexpected, and it is all her younger counterpart can do to keep the surprise from her face. “Look at me,” T’Pol hisses. “Look at who you become and what you will do in the future. Coming here, taking this risk -- it is something you would never do unless the need was great. The time has come for you to choose emotion over logic. Just this once. For both our sakes.”

She is almost begging now, pleading as much as she is threatening. She is stubborn, though, and far too prideful to realize all that there is to lose. She believes, erroneously, that she has suffered all she can for one lifetime. She believes, even more erroneously, that her self control will save her.

Unflinching, the younger T’Pol meets her gaze. “And if I choose logic?”

The question is like a cold dagger to her stomach. T’Pol’s chest squeezes, and she lets go. She has accounted for every variable except the one that matters most: herself.

“Then you will learn,” she replies quietly. “In time, you will learn the error of your ways.”

Her younger self steps back. “Time will tell.”

T’Pol offers a mirthless look. “You are used up all your time,” she says. “You have used your time being prideful. You have used your time being scared. You have used it being reasonable and collected and logical. But in all these things, you have never used it to be right.”

Her counterpart hesitates.

T’Pol does not slow down. “You were not right to marry Koss. You were not right to let Trip leave Enterprise for the Columbia. You were not right to bury our daughter and all the hope for a future along with her,” she steps forward again, her voice gaining weight. “You were not right to pretend that the psychic bond between you and Trip was forgettable. You were not right to deny Trip the relationship he wanted, and you most certainly were not right to deny me the only chance I would ever get to be truly and wholly complete.

Her counterpart flinches this time.

“I am here to offer you that chance,” she says. “Your last chance. Because if you do not make the choice today, tomorrow it will be denied to you. I am offering you a chance to be loved, and by extension, to finally love yourself. Your logic cannot hide the self loathing you harbor, and we are both aware of that. Take this chance. Take it before it is too late.”

Swallowing, her counterpart purses her lips. “What are you suggesting exactly?”

“Go to him,” she says. “Tell him how you feel and do not let him out of your sight until you both understand and accept the depth of your feelings. Do not let him make his decisions as an individual. Become one with him and let him know his decisions affect you as well. Just go to him, and never let him go.”

She is thoughtful. Finally, she inclines her head. “And if I do not?”

T’Pol eases back. She shrugs. “Then time will tell the consequences.”

-o-

In the end, all T’Pol has is time.

Her counterpart is skeptical and wholly noncommittal. Even so, she does not call security and whether it is trust or a healthy fear of temporal incursions, she allows T’Pol to stay in her quarters unattended. If her counterpart truly believed her to be a liar or a threat, she would not hesitate to contact someone on the ship. The fact that this is a secret she seems willing to embrace for now is a positive sign of indecision.

It means there is still hope, but as the seconds march forward, T’Pol finds it fleeting. Because her younger self is undecided and the hour grows late. She wants to take her time to come to the right decision, but soon the time will come when it will be taken from her.

Helplessly, T’Pol watches the biosigns from the console in her quarters, keeping her eyes on her own signature on the bridge. Her younger self has not moved from her post.

This was always the risk, T’Pol reminds herself, and she is tempted to interfere further. It seems pointless to risk so much and leave much of it to fate. She could go to the bridge; she could stop the confrontation before it starts. She could talk to the captain or warn Lieutenant Reed. She could ambush the alien docking team or go to Trip right now and secure him in a safe location until all of this is over.

But none of that will change the fundamental problem. None of that will change her.

No, this has to be T’Pol’s decision.

This has to be her move.

This has to be the beginning.

Or it will surely be the end.

-o-

She has waited over a year. And more than that, she has waited infinitive lifetimes.

These remaining hours; these lingering minutes; they are the hardest yet.

For the possibility of success still remains, laden with the ever present threat of failure.

She fixes her eyes on the biosignature, unmoving on the bridge. Her counterpart will remain idle. The future….the past….

There is a blip on sensors, and T’Pol recognizes the alert. Unidentified lifeforms.

She brings up the sensor readings with a few quick motions of her fingers. The security alert is standard; a security team is deployed. Communications start up all over the ship; someone calls for Captain Archer and Commander Tucker--

A few more motions, and she has their biosignatures identified. A security team is enroute, but it will be too late.

The captain goes down, and Trip moves off.

He’s nothing but a blip on the screen; a speck of life on sensors.

You have a future worth living.

T’Pol closes her eyes.

It’s happening again. It’s happening again.

For all her reason and all her control, she cannot do this. She cannot.

Frantic, she gets to her feet, running into the corridor. She sprints, pushing past a crewman. She cannot come this far for nothing. She cannot come this far to lose him again.

She rounds a corner, almost skidding into a bulkhead. She is close, she is so close--

And then the force of the explosion knocks her off her feet and into darkness once more.

-o-

The white is glaring, and she blinks several times to clear her head. It does not take long to realize, however, that she has cleared nothing.

No, if anything, she has fallen deeper into unconsciousness. Because she knows this place; she recognizes this place; she feels--

She turns, inhaling sharply as his presence surges close to her. He staggers into view, eyes dull with pain and mouth hanging open as he tries to take a ragged breath--

And falls.

She moves, darting across the distance to catch him in her arms. They go down together, limbs entwined as she cradles him. In her arms, his face is tipped up. Although the upper part of his uniform has been blown away, revealing grotesquely mutilated flesh from his chest and up his neck, he still smiles at her.

“Hey,” he says with a heaving, grating breath.

Her own breathing catches, and the flood of emotions is almost too much. She has not felt this out of control since her addiction to Trellium, and the force of it burns behind her eyes and threatens to choke her entirely.

He sucks in again, the fluttering of his heart pulsing through his ribcage against her own. “I’m glad…you’re here,” he stutters.

Chest clenched, she wills herself to focus. “Where else would I be?”

He huffs, starting to shake. “Been asking myself that...for the better part of a...of a decade,” he manages to say with a noticeable shudder.

His words hurt, and she pulls him closer. “I was foolish.”

“I’m the one…going and getting myself…blown up,” he says, even as his lips start to turn blue and his breathing takes on a desperate, wheezing quality.

“I should have told you,” she says. “I should have told you from the start how I feel about you.”

“Thought you did,” he says as his face turns dusky and his inhalations start to whine.

She swallows. “Vulcans rely on logic to attain balance,” she says. “I cannot say clearly if I am flawed in my practice of the ancient teachings or if my addiction to Trellium has impacted me in ways I cannot explain, but logic has never provided me true balance. Not since I met you. You are my balance. You, Trip. I cannot live without you.”

His forehead furrowed, and he’s gaping now as he tries to pull in enough air to stay conscious. “You saying...that you...love me?”

“Completely,” she says. “Wholly and irrevocably. My only regret is that I did not tell you sooner.”

He’s trembling now, even as his eyes start to dim. “Better late...than never.”

She shakes her head, the denial stuck in her throat. Because it is too late. She has failed to save him, and she has failed to save herself.

T’Pol has failed.

In her arms, Trip’s breathing falters and then catches. His chest hitches, and for a horrible moment, he’s suspended on the precipice. Then he falls back, limp in her arms.

And their psychic link goes terrifyingly still.

Which is, of course, when T’Pol wakes up.

-o-

Gasping, she sits up with a jolt. She is clambering to her feet before her awareness fully returns, and she staggers forward, bracing herself on the wall as she approached the corner.

The smoke is thick, and she coughs. Putting her hand in front of her face, she squints through the settling gloom. She has to find Trip. She has to find…

Then, she sees a figure. Tall and familiar.

Jumping over the debris, she scales the distance before going to her knees. “Captain!”

On the ground, Captain Archer stirs. His eyes flutter, and as T’Pol reaches down to pull him up, he groans. With a stuttering inhalation, he coughs so hard that his knees start to buckle. T’Pol struggles to keep him upright in the din.

When he lifts his head, his face is covered with soot. He has to squint to look at her, his expression both confused and pained. “T’Pol?”

“Captain,” she says. “Are you well?”

He blinks a few more times, trying to get his footing. “I…” He stops, eyes wide. “Trip. Where’s Trip?”

The question leaves her cold, numbed from the inside out. Her heart falters; her breathing stills.

Eyes going even wider, Captain Archer shakes his head. “Trip,” he says, shaking off T’Pol grasp as he hurdles over the debris. “Trip!”

T’Pol finds herself unable to move. She knows the answer to the question. She knows what the captain will find. She knows.

Because Trip is…

She stumbles forward, her own knees suddenly weak. She catches herself on the paneling, tripping over debris as she rounds the corner toward Captain Archer.

Trip is…

Stepping over the charred corpse of an alien, she finds Captain Archer leaned against a bulkhead. She mentally braces herself for what she knows is coming, what she knows has already played out.

Trip is…

She stops, breath caught in her throat. For all she thought she knew; for all that she thought she was prepared; nothing prepared her for this.

Because Trip is…

Trip is…

Gone.

Not dead -- at least, T’Pol has no evidence of that -- but there is no body. There is dying figure. There’s a smudge of red, garish against the soot, and a trail of petite footprints leading from the scene.

Captain Archer’s face is grim and set. He hobbles toward the nearest communication relay. “Archer to the bridge,” he barks. “Where’s Commander Tucker?”

There’s a moment of static before Hoshi replies. “Commander Tucker’s been taken to sickbay, sir,” she says. Then, she hesitates. “Apparently it’s serious.”

Captain Archer looks at T’Pol.

T’Pol nods, reaching out to steady him. “Come on,” she says. “We don’t have much time.”

-o-

Although he is injured, Captain Archer does not let that slow him down. Rather, T’Pol has no time to indulge his physical ailments. It is all she can to do keep a steady pace while bracing him on one side. By the time, the reach sickbay, however, she is pulling away and she enters first.

The room is buzzing, with monitors beeping and the doctor shouting an order. Other casualties fill the beds, but her attention is singular.

Trip is on the bed, chest rising and falling in strained bursts, and his uniform has been sheared away to reveal the worst of the burns. T’Pol, for all that she came to change, finds herself transfixed.

“How is he?” Captain Archer asks, coming around her and moving straight to Trip’s side.

Phlox brushes past him, pushing a few buttons before the bed starts to retract into the chamber. “Not good, I’m afraid,” he says grimly. “It’s not just the force of the explosion, but the heat. I’m afraid it’s all but liquified his lungs.”

Captain Archer catches on a breath, looking at Trip as he disappears into the chamber. “Can you fix it?”

“Here, no,” Phlox says, tapping a few buttons on the chamber settings while it whirs to life. “At this point, all we can do is keep him alive until we reach a more advance medical facility. He’s going to need new lungs.”

Captain Archer presses his lips together, looking through the portal. “And you think he’ll make it?”

Phlox sighs, turning to face the captain fully. “I can’t lie to you, Captain,” he says. “Commander Tucker’s wounds are very serious. We’re lucky he got here as fast as he did. Any further delay, and I’m not sure the hyperbaric chamber would have been enough to stave off the worst of the symptoms. Even now….”

Captain Archer takes a breath, clearly trying to regain control of his emotions. “But he got here soon enough?”

“He got here soon enough to give him a chance,” Phlox replies with candor. “The damage is extensive, but with immediate treatment, I believe we may be able to buy him enough time to get to Earth. If we can contact Starfleet and let them know, they may be able to set up everything we need for a transplant as soon as we arrive.”

“Good,” Captain Archer says. “I’ll have Hoshi send out a message, and I’ll have Travis lay in a course. If T’Pol can oversee the repairs--”

He stops to turn back toward her, but then he stops. Because he sees what T’Pol saw the minute she walked in the room. For her attention has not been on Trip, who is struggling to stay alive in a hyperbaric chamber. No, her attention is on her actual mission: herself.

To that end, her eyes are locked on her own figure, standing rigid and cruelly composed. Her face is smudged with soot and her uniform has traces of blood. The anguish in her eyes is plain. They had both come to the same conclusion, apparently. That, in the end, Trip Tucker is worth the risk.

She nods at her younger self. “It’s time,” she says.

Her counterpart inclines her head. “It’s time,” she agrees.

Then, the captain is coming at her and Phlox is asking everyone to leave and security is being called and in all the chaos, T’Pol finds her center.

She finds her balance.

Her lips turn up as she feels herself dissipate. She’s coming apart, she realizes, though the sensation is familiar. She has been coming apart since this started, since Trip died, since she her mother died, since she became addicted to Trellium, since she was forced to meld against her will. She has been coming apart before that, even, from the day she first boarded Enterprise.

Perhaps she has been coming apart since the beginning, and it’s just taken this long to complete the process. Perhaps she has simply been fighting it, raging against the inevitable with every ounce of control she does not have left.

This time, however, she does not fight.

This time, she lets go.

This time.

-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-

The dream dissipates.

Her breath catches, as though her lungs have been fighting it. She blinks up at the ceiling, trying to orient herself. Vulcans are not prone to such vivid dreams, but this one--

She shudder, feeling a weariness spread throughout her body. No doubt, she has been asleep for several hours, but she does not feel rested. In fact, if not for the acute clarity of her consciousness, she might suspect she was not asleep at all.

The dream…

Trip…

With newfound urgency, she sits up, dismayed to find herself on Vulcan. She’d been on Enterprise, she’d seen Trip go into the hyperbaric chamber. She’d heard Phlox’s solemn words and the naked fear in the captain’s voice. And she’d come face to face with herself, and found herself wanting.

The dream.

In all this, perhaps she has failed. Perhaps the warnings went unheeded, and T’Pol is back at the beginning. Maybe the ending is inevitable. Maybe dreams are all she will ever have. And Trip…

Getting out of bed, she feels the weight of time on her. She feels the depth of failure. She feels…

There’s a sound at the door, and she spins, going painfully still as she studies the figure standing there.

“This is a dream,” she announces carefully. “You cannot be real.”

Trip raises his eyebrows, stepping in. “I know I’m not much around the kitchen,” he says, moving to put the tray of food on her bed. “But you’re the one who says guests have to get up and do the cooking.”

She shakes her head. “I am surely still dreaming.”

He gives her a funny look. “Now, I don’t think that’s entirely fair,” he says. “We’re pretty 50/50 in this relationship, don’t you think?”

Her resolve falters, and she tries to remember the dreams from the reality. “Relationship,” she repeats, and it is not quite a question but it is certainly not an endorsement either.

“Relationship,” Trip says with more finality, rounding the bed to come closer to her.

As he approaches, she inhales. His scent is so well known to her, and his gaze unendingly familiar. She aches with want.

“Marriage,” he clarifies, reaching out to slide an arm around her.

His touch is smooth and unflinching, and it is all she can do not to melt into him.

It is so real.

His other arm encircles her. “So really, is it so hard to believe that a man would want to pamper his wife?” he quips. “I know that’s probably not a thing on Vulcan, but we’ve earned these vacation days. I’ve been trying to talk you into taking them for six months. So I suggest you sit down and enjoy your breakfast, because when we’re back on duty, you’re going have to have to settle for deep space leftovers again.”

Deep space. Duty.

This dream is different.

Or it is not a dream at all.

Curious, she reaches out, cupping his face before he turns away. In the morning light, she sees the puckered scars up his neck and on his chin. They run down below the collar of his t-shirt, growing white with time.

As her fingers ghost over them, he pulls away with a wince. “They do look worse here, don’t they?” he says, a little forlorn. “Up on the ship, all those artificial lights make it not as noticeable. But here -- all the damn natural sunlight makes me look like a dead man walking.”

The description is unsettling.

He seems to notice her distress. “I told you before, if it bothers you, the doc says there’s a few more procedures they can try,” he says. “Some might reduce the appearance a little more, but apparently melting your skin is pretty hard to reverse.”

Her mind flashes; it feels like yesterday. “The explosion…”

He sighs. “I know, I know, not my best idea,” he says, as though he’s said it countless time before. “You don’t have to lecture me again.

She blinks up at him, the realization that this is not the first time they have had this conversation settling over her. Her head is still clouded from the dream, but her clarity is returning more with each moment she is in his presence.

“But I swear to you,” he says emphatically. “I couldn’t think of anything but stopping those sons of bitches.”

Her consternation deepens, and she reaches out, pressing her palm to his chest. “Your lungs…”

“Still working great,” he assures her. “Hell, all those Vulcan doctors you made me see say they’re better than the lungs on a Vulcan half my age. Whatever Starfleet did to grow them in such a short period of time, it’s pretty remarkable. Half the doctors who gave me my physical here thought I should be dead, just given the extent of the damage.”

Dead, she thinks, and she sees his mangled body, cold and blue on a bed in sick bay. Then, she’s cradling him while he gasps his dying breaths. But those are dreams, she realizes. Those are dreams.

She drops her hand, looking up at him again.

He smiles at her. “I told them, they don’t know Phlox. And they don’t know Jonathan Archer. And they sure as hell don’t know you.”

She remembers, then, with unquestioned certainty. Phlox, keeping Trip alive in the hyperbaric chamber. Captain Archer, working the crew and the ship to their limits to get back to Earth in time. And herself, standing vigil in sick bay, holding their psychic connection active at all times to keep Trip grounded, to keep him balanced.

His expression softens, brow knitting in concern. “Hey,” he says, more gently now. “I know it’s not easy for you. I mean, that’s part of the reason I made you breakfast. It was two years ago today, and we both know that.”

“Two years,” she breathes, willing herself to believe it. Her logic is solidified, but the emotional veracity is hard to pull together. “Two years ago, you almost died.”

“No,” he says with a resolute nod. “Two years ago, you saved my life.”

She tilts her head.

“I’ve read the reports,” he says, a little tentative. “I know you don’t like to talk about it, but I know you’re the one who found me. You left your post; you ran through the entire ship and carried me to sick bay all by yourself. If you hadn’t, I never would have survived. While I was in that chamber, I wanted to let go, but you were always there, and I couldn’t leave you.”

He stops, reaching a hand to her cheek and then smoothing it through her hair. The way he talks, it is as if she’s seeing it through different eyes. She hardly remembers it; she hardly remembers the spike in their bond and the desperation that drove her. Dr. Phlox tells her this is a natural response to a traumatic event, that Vulcans in particular have trouble coping with emotionally jarring moments in their life. Humans call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. T’Pol only knows it as the dreams she cannot quite leave behind even after years of intense meditation.

She mostly remembers Trip.

“You told me that day that I had a reason to stay alive,” he continues. “I never forgot it. That hope that we might work it out, that we might make a go of it after all. You saved me, T’Pol. In more ways than one. I never would have gotten this far without you.”

Her heart flutters, and the emotions simmer. Though her meditation techniques have improved in recent years, her emotions are still closer to the surface that she would care to admit. It would be easy to blame this on her attachment to humans, but she knows that the opposite is true. Her attachment has always stemmed from the power of her own emotions. There was a time when she felt shame in this. Now she recognizes it as an essential part of who she is. She cannot change it. She can only cope with it.

Meditation helps.

Trip helps more.

“You are mistaken,” she says, as the memories coalesce, and she sifts through the random timestamps from the dreams. The haze of sleep is still heavy about her, but it is easing back comfortably now, and she finds a certain fortitude in this anniversary. Human couples celebrate the day of their marriage, but she will always mark this day as the most important between them. The day they accepted their bond. “It is I who never could have gotten this far without you.”

From another room, there’s a small cry. T’Pol moves to investigate, but Trip keeps his hand on her shoulder. “Let me,” he says. “You sit and enjoy the breakfast.”

Still sorting the reality from the dreams, she does not stop him. Instead, she walks around the room, finding it both familiar and comfortable. The touches are warm and inviting. The best is made for two. She looks at the breakfast, which includes standard Vulcan dishes alongside steaming pancakes, coated in syrup.

It’s an unexpected yet strangely effective balance. The clean with the chaotic. The certain with the unrefined.

But there is no better life she could imagine -- awake or asleep.

There is sound at the door again, and Trip reappears, this time holding an infant.

“My son,” she says, voice almost choked off in her throat. After losing her daughter, after meeting her adult son from the future, she had almost been afraid to hope. But it had been foolish to doubt.

Trip grins, bringing the baby inside while bouncing him gently. “Little man slept through the night last night,” he says proudly.

T’Pol leans closer, looking at the swaddled bundle intently. The child has large, dark eyes and pointed ears, but the bright eyes are entirely Trip’s. The boy has the best of both of them.

He is the best of both of them.

“Which is good, since I’m pretty sure our neighbors on the ship won’t appreciate the 3 AM feeding calls,” Trip says, making a face at the baby in a vain attempt to make him laugh.

“An infant this age is too young to laugh,” T’Pol informs him.

“For Vulcans or humans, maybe,” Trip says, sticking his tongue out ridiculously. “But this little guy -- who knows what he’s capable of?”

The baby stares back, curious but unamused.

Trip is undeterred. “You are the captain’s son, after all,” he continues in a singsong voice.

Captain, she realizes. It’s her.

This is her life.

She’s the captain. Trip is her husband and her engineer.

This is her child.

The dream -- it had seemed so real. The past and the future and everything in between. It comes and goes, in truth, to the point where sometimes she forgets. This is a side effect of the Trellium that she has never been able to overcome, though with meditation and Trip, it usually is not a problem.

Usually.

Some days, though, like today, the dreams are far too real. On these days, she’s still looking at an older version of herself and wondering if she made the right choice, wondering if the worst truly would have come to pass had she chose differently.

Wondering if she would have lost him.

If she would have lost herself.

But as she reaches to take her child into her arms, pressed close to Trip, she knows there is no other reality worth considering. The dreams may come. Her doubts may linger. She is not certain what she experienced that day two years ago, if she had truly been visited by a future version of her self, but ultimately, it is irrelevant.

Whatever futures could have been, this is the one that should be.

That is.

“Hey,” Trip says. “You okay?”

T’Pol nods, holding the warm body closer as the baby wriggles in her arms. “It was just a dream,” she says thoughtfully as she looks at the child again.

“You have an awful lot of those,” he says with a note of concern. “I thought Vulcans weren’t supposed to dream so much.”

“The dreams are inconsequential,” she tells him. In her arms, her child coos and T’Pol rocks him affectionately as he nuzzles against her chest contentedly.

“If you’re sure,” he says, absently reaching up to pull back the blankets from the baby’s pink skin. He smiles fondly, looking back up at T’Pol. “You’ve just seemed so balanced lately, and I’d hate to think of anything messing that up. I want to make sure I’m here for you.”

She looks at him. “You are here,” she says with a plaintive honesty she knows he understands. “That’s all that matters.”

He holds her gaze, finally nodding as his doubts fade. Her dreams have left her struggling, but they are dissipating now. Sometimes, T’Pol must admit, she is not sure what is real and what is not, except this: her and Trip. Their commitment; their mutual dedication; their child. They are a family. It may not be entirely logical, and it certainly is not easy, but they are bonded.

Two years ago, they nearly lost everything, but instead, they found more than they might have imagined. This is what it is to live. This is what it is to love. Vulcan or human or any other species. Love is not another emotion.

Love is balance of two souls and two minds.

Love is the most powerful denominator.

They are both scarred; they are both broken and rebuilt. There is no way of knowing for certain how much time they will have, but T’Pol intends to make the most of it.

Time will tell, after all.

She trusts that, this time, it will find her in favor in the end.