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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Star Trek Enterprise fic: Time Will Tell (2/4)

December 26th, 2014 (08:48 pm)
naughty

feeling: naughty

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR





-o-

She reads in the mess hall. She visits astrometrics. She observes on the bridge.

Yet, no matter where she goes, she always seems to find herself back in the engine room. The Chief Engineer is a capable and well mannered woman named Cardinelli, and T’Pol listens politely while she explains the upgrades to the warp six model.

“Thank you,” T’Pol says. “But my people have had this technology for many years.”

Cardinelli blushes profusely. “Yes, ma’am, of course--”

“It is not important,” T’Pol says. “I was wondering if I may be permitted to simply watch?”


Cardinelli looks confused.

“I promise, you will not know I am here.”

“You’re free to go where you want, ma’am,” Cardinelli says. “Captain Reed may it quite clear.”

“So there is some other problem?” T’Pol pushes.

Cardinelli shrugs. “I just don’t want you to be bored.”

“Boredom is something my people mastered several millennia ago,” T’Pol informs her. “It will not be a problem.”

-o-

Boredom is not the problem.

The memories, however.

T’Pol is listening for a voice she will never hear, watching for a tall figure that has never been there at all. She seeks cropped blonde hair, and a wide smile. She looks for him at every work station, expects him around every corner. She thinks he will come out a duct or worm his way beneath the core.

He is not there.

She looks at the technology he would have loved, listens to the engine he would have raved about. She is not looking for a warp six engine. She is looking for Trip.

She will not find him here.

When she leaves, Cardinelli is concerned, but T’Pol does not look back.

She will not look back.

At least, not until she is confident there is something there to see.

-o-

There are several more days in her journey, and although she accepts Captain Reed’s hospitality at dinner, she declines other offers to explore the ship. Instead, she skims her data, making additional annotations despite the fact that she already has the majority of the source content fully committed to her memory.

Although she does sleep, she refuses to meditate. At this point, she recognizes that it is an indulgence she cannot afford. Her mind is no longer capable of achieving a true state of disconnection. Her grief, however irrational it may be, has taken over her rituals and converted them into a vehicle for its own persistence. Not only are her efforts contrary to everything she has ever learned, but it is a distraction she can no longer accept.

After all, a year has passed. She has marked the anniversary of Trip’s death, and though she has made progress, she is still alone. There is a precarious balance here, and she is acutely aware of its contradictions. It is emotion that set her on this course, and it is emotion that threatens to keep her from finishing her pursuit.

This is the struggles humans face everyday. This is why Vulcans have shunned emotion. It divides them. It undermines the very core of determination within any person’s being.

Yet, she cannot deny that without emotion, she would not be here at all. It is a matter of debate, she supposes, if that is a good thing or not. What is becoming more clear to her is that Vulcans are correct in their assertion that emotions are overwhelmingly distractions.

Humans, on the other hand, are also right. Emotions are at the heart of all progress. Irrational belief is the source of all improbable achievement.

She is not always certain of her course, and in the darkest moments, she is plagued with doubt. But the one constant truth that keeps her grounded is and always shall be this:

Trip is gone.

And, contrary to all logic, she needs him back.

-o-

When they reach Earth, Captain Reed sees her off personally. He’s dangerously close to doting, and she suspects he’s been trying his best to impress her. It is his pride, of course, one of the most human emotions of them all. As his former superior officer, her approval clearly means something to him. T’Pol is fully self engrossed at the time, but she is not without compassion on someone who has served faithfully at her side.

Vulcans would find such things superfluous, but if the loss she has experienced over the last has taught her anything, it is that there is no more logical time to express one’s actual thoughts than the present.

She is also aware that there is actually a very practical need to indulge sentiment,

“Thank you for your hospitality,” she says, turning to face him squarely.

Captain Reed smiles. “I fear you haven’t had a good experience.”

“Nonsense,” she says. “Your ship runs smoothly and efficiently. Your crew is capable and responsive. The fact that there was nothing pressing on our journey is a testament to your leadership and skills.”

He tries not to, but Captain Reed blushes. “Well, I had some good examples.”

She bows her head slightly. “Thank you again, Captain Reed.”

He nods back. “Anytime.”

-o-

Earth is much as she remembers it. It is cooler than Vulcan, with vast oceans that humans seem to find idyllic. To T’Pol, it smells musty. She remembers her time on Enterprise fondly, but she has no strong attachments to Earth. Trip had tried to convince her of its beauty, but she still found it underwhelming at best.

Even so, it has changed since her last visit. Admiral Archer’s induction has proven effective, and the culture has rapidly been expanded to embrace new species. Walking through San Francisco, she notices a significant increase in the number of alien species, which can only bode well for humanity’s ability to interact on a much wider scale.

She is both surprised and not. Humans are resilient, and for all that they are frustrating, they are insistently endearing. Their ways leave something to be desired, to be sure, but there’s a reason T’Pol never truly left Enterprise.

Humans are good at creating attachment.

Besides, she reminds herself, human have grown. Admiral Archer is a prime example of this, and he is an apt leader for an intergalactic fleet. This growth has not been without its sacrifices, of course.

Then, that’s why T’Pol is here.

And why she intends not to leave without answers.

-o-

Starfleet Command is booming, and she finds security more cumbersome than before. She is given credentials by the local Vulcan Consulate, but she is still subjected to a lengthy admission procedure at each subsequent checkpoint in the San Francisco hub.

She endures this, and though she finds it tedious, she has no pressing reason to be restless. It is not as if her mission is in any danger of coming to a point without her. Trip is already dead. A few more hours is meaningless.

As she waits, she reflects that a great many things are now meaningless to her.

-o-

Admiral Archer is busy.

She asks that her name be mentioned personally, and the assistant smiles complacently. “He said to tell you it’d be just a while longer,” he promises. “He said you’d understand.”

T’Pol considers this. Admiral Archer insisted upon her trip. He was the one who has arranged her travel. Now he wants her to wait.

It is peculiar, to say the least.

T’Pol is not sure the implications.

But she understands that something has changed.

-o-

It is another several hours before she is taken to Admiral Archer’s office. He is at his desk, dictating what sounds like a diplomatic dispatch. He nods at her, motioning her into a seat, and she complies while he finishes the last lines.

The assistant waits expectantly.

Admiral Archer sighs. “Be sure to get that sent off immediately,” he says. “I want the Hirusian Contingent to know we wasted no time in our response.”

The assistant nods, taking the datapad before exiting hastily. When the door shuts, Admiral Archer looks at T’Pol.

“So,” he says, folding his hands awkwardly as he sits forward. “Good trip?”

It is typical human small talk. In another context, it would be expected. Here, though, in this context, she is keenly aware that it is out of place.

Then again, everything is out of place. Admiral Archer’s behavior has grown increasingly distant over the last several months. From a distance, she had been able to attribute it to other things. Now that she’s on Earth, it is apparent that there is something else going on.

“It was long,” she tells him, as a matter of fact. “However, I do hope it will be fruitful.”

Admiral Archer nods, pursing his lips. ‘Any plans?”

She lifts an eyebrow. This trip was his idea. She is here by his invitation. “As of now, no,” she says.

“Well,” Admiral Archer says. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

There is an odd pause, and T’Pol is suddenly uncertain what is expected of her now. Her relationship is more intimate than this, and for Admiral Archer to act as if he has nothing to discuss with her is not normal, to say the least. It might be a sign of senility; it could be an indication of supreme rudeness.

Or, T’Pol concludes most logically, it could mean that there are other forces at play here. Admiral Archer’s correspondence had grown sparse. He is unwilling to openly talk to her in his office. It is possible that it not that he has nothing to say, but that he does not have the means to say it.

“I was wondering,” she ventures finally. “If you would be available for dinner later.”

He seems to brighten at the suggestion. “Dinner,” he says with a slow nod. “I think dinner sounds great.”

-o-

T’Pol excuses herself after accepting an invitation to a restaurant she has never heard of. Admiral Archer assures her she will like the intergalactic options on the menu, but T’Pol is largely indifferent to cuisine.

In fact, she finds that once out of Admiral Archer’s company, she is at a loss of what to do. Her sparse belongings are at the Vulcan Consulate, and though study is perhaps a wise recourse, she feels wary of talking to her own people. She does not wish to explain her presence, for indeed she is not sure herself. She is also fairly confident that her complete lack of composure will give her away, and she does not want to insult her comrades by passing up repeated offers for meditation.

That leaves T’Pol with few palatable options. San Francisco is a city of growing acclaim, and the crew of Enterprise had always told her there was much to do there. Despite her time here previously, she finds that she knows little about the local attractions. She’s never had much interest, nor any cause. Simply put, she’d seen no reason to take the time.

Time, she thinks. It is a strange concept to her now. Time has passed, and yet it feels like nothing at all. She still expects to see Trip, smiling with over exuberance, or chuckling at a joke that is only amusing in the most rudimentary sense. He should be here, strolling through the streets and appreciating the local color, as he liked to say. He’d promised her once, told her all the things he would show her when they made it back to Earth.

Trip never made it back to Earth, though. She wonders, however, if he walked these very streets, if he sat on these benches. She wonders if he visited these stores or drank coffee from these cafes.

She wonders if doing the same will make her miss him less.

It does not, but she finds the discomfort oddly reassuring that she is doing the right thing. Not the logical thing; not the rational thing.

Still, irrevocably, the right thing.

Or, put another way, the only thing.

-o-

The restaurant Admiral Archer has chosen is unpleasantly crowded. There is a line halfway down the street, and she is skeptical that they will be able to eat before the evening is out. But he meets her in the line, and takes her by the elbow.

“One of the advantages of my rank,” he says, as he smiles to the doorman. “I rarely have to wait.”

It is not so much that she is impressed as she is surprised. “I never took you for a man to indulge in the whims of power.”

He smiles tautly as they’re settled in a table. “It’s not a whim,” he says. “I honestly don’t have the time.”

This is a point she cannot argue, and she busies herself by looking over the menu with vague interest while the waiter pours them water. She is pursuing the options for salad when she becomes aware that Admiral Archer is watching her.

“Do you have any recommendations?” she asks.

“For?” he asks.

“For dinner,” she says. “Or for my visit, while we are on the topic. I was under the impression that you had reason to invite me here.”

His face is serious. “The Wassalian Garrag salad’s actually pretty good,” Admiral Archer says, purposefully obstructing the true nature of her question.

“And you have no other recommendations?” she asks.

His eyes flick around the room, and he works his jaw. “I’d offer a wine, but you don’t drink--”

She folds her menu, putting it down in front of her. “Perhaps this was a mistake.”

“No,” he says, a little more forcefully now. “Stay for the salad. Get a drink. In an hour, the band plays.”

She stares at him. “The band.”

“The only known Cordelian punk band in the quadrant,” Admiral Archer says.

“That sounds…different.”

At that, Admiral Archer smiles just a little. “And loud,” he says. “Very, very loud.”

-o-

The salad is acceptable. The drinks are not to her liking. She is anxious among so many people, and the music, in all honesty, is an imprudence to her sensitive hearing. When she thinks she can bear no more, Admiral Archer leans forward and says, “I know this isn’t what you were probably hoping for.”

“I was hoping for answers,” she says, voice almost lost among the noise.

“I know,” he replies. “Which is why I brought you here.”

Her interest is piqued. “So you have information?”

“Oh yeah,” he says.

“Then why did you not transmit it to me?” she presses.

“The channels are no longer secure,” he tells her.

“You have always been aware of the pressure of your position,” she begins.

He shakes his head. “This is different,” he says. “It’s hard to pinpoint. At first, I thought I was being paranoid, but I ran some scans.”

She raises her brows as he discreetly passes her a datapad. She taps it, skimming the results.

“Do the interference patterns look the same to you?”

“They are quite similar to the disturbances we detected when we first encountered the Suliban,” she remembers.

Admiral Archer nods. “I found them at my office first. Then my transport. And finally my living quarters.”

She sits back, digesting this information.

“I wasn’t sure what to do,” he admits. “Even now. I’m not sure what it means.”

“It means,” she says, picking up her glass. “We should order another round. I believe I am developing a taste for Cordelian punk after all.”

-o-

T’Pol orders the salad. Admiral Archer has what appears to be a steak. The music has a pounding beat, but T’Pol merely leans closer to hear what the admiral is telling her.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” he says. “I started noticing it after I sent you the last batch of files.”

“Regarding Crewmen Daniels and the Temporal Cold War?” T’Pol asks.

“Exactly,” Admiral Archer says. “So I was thinking, just because the war is over doesn’t mean that all the armies have been disbanded.”

“A logical conclusion,” T’Pol muses. “While there was an end of hostilities, there is no indication that either side would be prevented from the mere act of time travel.”

“The mere act,” Admiral Archer chuffs.

T’Pol shrugs. “Relatively speaking.”

“Either way, it got me going,” he continues. “Daniels didn’t just talk about the Temporal Cold War. He talked about the Temporal Accord, too.”

“An agreement,” T’Pol concludes.

“I suppose it would govern the rules of time travel,” Admiral Archer says, cutting through the piece of meat with some force. “What you could do, what you couldn’t.”

“It seems like a prudent precaution,” T’Pol says. She uses her fork to poke at her salad, but she finds little incentive to actually eat. “Interference in the past could have unseen repercussions on the future.”

“So with the war over, I would think Daniels’ organization would want to restore the Temporal Accord,” Admiral Archer explains, as he takes another bite.

T’Pol fingers her glass. “Something they would, no doubt, not leave to chance.”

“If they had agents in key time periods, it would only make sense,” Admiral Archer says, chewing around his words.

“And you believe you have drawn notice from such an agent?” T’Pol posits.

“Seems likely,” Admiral Archer says, picking up his glass to take a drink.

“Well,” T’Pol says, straightening herself. “This is good news.”

Admiral Archer gives her a skeptical look. “I’m not sure I follow.”

“If there are time agents in our current time period, then we know that there are still means available to us to go back,” she summarizes.

“Sure,” Admiral Archer says. “Assuming the let us get that far. All I did was access the files. Imagine if we started actually trying to make contact with an agent.”

T’Pol is nonplussed. “I have always operated under the assumption of stealth.”

“To a certain degree, sure,” Admiral Archer says. “But we’re out of our depth here. We don’t know exactly what we’re looking for, and we have to start turning over stones. When we do that, we run the risk of being exposed, and we both know what these people are willing to do to complete their mission.”

“The solution is not as difficult as you think,” T’Pol says.

Admiral Archer tilts his head. “Oh?”

“There were two sides to this war,” T’Pol reminds him. “Crewmen Daniels only represented one half.”

“The better half,” Admiral Archer says. “The half that won.”

“I do not view this as a moral judgment,” T’Pol says.

Admiral Archer takes a breath and purses his lips. “And if we should?”

“Are you implying that our quest is not ethical?”

He lets out a tense breath. “The Temporal Accord isn’t something I completely understand, but we’ve seen the dangers of time travel.”

“I do not intend to alter the timeline that severely,” T’Pol says.

“But we don’t know the implications,” Admiral Archer says. He leans forward again, eyes bright. “We could make things worse.”

“This is a world where Trip is dead,” she tells him plainly. “I cannot foresee anything much worse.”

His jaw twitches. “That’s not very Vulcan of you,” he sees. “The needs of the one--”

“I find the comparison unfair,” she says, a little stronger than she intends. “During my time on Enterprise, you and the rest of the crew continually challenged my adherence to Vulcan ideals. You always made me question, and you always pushed me to consider more human alternatives. Now when I come to you with the most human request of all, you remind me of how counter it is to my culture? Do you assume this is easy for me?”

Admiral Archer’s face blanches a little, and the lines deepen around his eyes. “No,” he says. “I just want to be sure you’re confident about this.”

“I am confident about nothing,” she says. “My entire existence has been shifted completely off balance. I am unable to meditate. I am unable to move on. Simply put, this task is necessary for my own survival as well. I cannot live in a world without him. It is simply impossible.”

He’s watching her, and he holds his gaze for a long moment. Finally he nods. “Okay,” he says. “But you’re going to have to be careful.”

She does not smirk, but her expression softens. “Now who is speaking against their natural state?”

Admiral Archer sighs with a small chuckle. “You know what I mean.”

“Yes,” she says, finally putting a bite in her mouth. “I believe I do.”

-o-

Considering the circumstances, T’Pol sees no reason to stay.

“I’d be happy to host you,” Admiral Archer says. “We could take in the sights.”

“The offer is tempting,” she says. “But I believe I have wasted enough of your time.”

His smile is sad. “I don’t look at any time with my crew as wasted.”

She gathers a breath and holds herself steady. “I mean no offense.”

“None taken,” he says. He holds out a box. “I got you a going away gift.”

She eyes it quizzically. “I did not believe it was customary--”

He rolls his eyes. “There’s no custom,” he says. “Just take it.”

Reluctantly, she accepts the box.

“You can open it on the transport,” he says. “Somehow, I think it’s something you’ll appreciated.”

She nods readily. “Admiral, thank you for everything.”

He offers his hand. “I think I should be thanking you.”

She accepts his hand, and he clasps it firmly. “Your support has been extremely...comforting.”

The corners of his mouth tip upward. “I’d say good luck,” he says, letting go of her hand. “But I don’t think you need it.”

“To the contrary,” T’Pol says. “I will take all the luck I can get.”

“Keep in touch,” Admiral Archer says.

“I will,” she says. “As I have the time.”

“Make the time,” Admiral Archer says.

She nods, inclining her head. “Yes,” she agrees as she readies to leave. “I do believe that is the point.”

-o-

She waits until she is in spacedock to open it. The data pads are nondescript, but when she activates them, her chest tightens hopefully.

Reports, and lots of them. About Daniels; about the Temporal Accord.

There’s a small note on one.

Hope this helps. It’s everything I could find. If you get caught with them, I know nothing.

Wordlessly, she deletes the note and then empties it from the cache.


Then, she starts to study.

It seems she has nothing but time.

-o-

It is not long aboard the Vulcan transport vessel that she comes to realize how much she appreciated Captain Reed’s hospitality upon the USS Dalton. The so-called creature comforts are of minimal concern, but she finds it strange that after so many years, the presence of humans is reassuring to her. When surrounded by her own people, she becomes sharply aware of how much she has changed.

And she has changed. More than she can articulate. On Vulcan, she keeps to herself. It is a testament to her people that seclusion is not so unusual. However, when surrounded by Vulcans on a confined ship, interaction is nearly impossible to avoid.

She finds it discomforting. While there is no need for the human equivalent of small talk, she is keenly aware that she does not fit in. She does not wear the traditional robes, and she has found that she does things at a much faster pace. Indeed, following a pair of strolling Vulcans through the corridor is quite frustrating for their pace is so deliberate. Humans, due to their short lifespans, she suspects, tend to move quickly in everything.

Vulcans, however, do not see the logic in such things. Rushing, after all, can lead to error. Such errors can usually be avoided.

But time, she knows, is not always on their side. The even steps of her kin are foreign to her.

This is what she gets for bonding with a human.

The hardest part is that she does not regret the bond. She merely regrets that she lost it.

-o-

It is not only tedious, but it is also somewhat unnerving. Not that T’Pol can admit to this, but she finds herself increasingly prone to paranoia. Nothing overly dramatic, of course, but she thinks she understands why humans are so wary of the Vulcan habit of keeping a straight face. Their lack of inflection does not indicate a lack of opinion.

Quite the contrary, Vulcans are always analyzing.

Indeed, they are always judging.

And T’Pol is far too aware of all the measures in which she falls painfully short. Her emotions are barely contained; her actions are borderline irrational. She has not meditated in months. In short, T’Pol is spiraling wildly out of control, and though she keeps her calm exterior, she is quite certain that her fellow travelers can see it plainly on her face.

However, as the journey continues, no one comments. In fact, she becomes aware that no one even notices.

This is telling, she decides. That her own kind would miss something so obvious. Her human companions would never let her go on like this. They would express their concern in a myriad of ways, both logical and illogical.

Maybe they assume it is not their place.

Somehow, T’Pol feels this does not absolve them.

-o-

During the day, T’Pol studies. She reads the entire collection of documents within the first two days. She has them annotated not long after that.

Staying busy is better than the alternative.

In truth, she is not sure there is an alternative.

-o-

At night, she tries to sleep. She listens to the hum of the warp engines, keeping her breathing in tandem.

It is a comfort.

It is also an ache.

Deep and pervasive as the stars rush by.

-o-

By the end of her journey, T’Pol is nearly beside herself. She paces her quarters, and only leaves to eat. Even then, she eats quickly, stealing uncertain glances at the others before retreating hastily to her room.

The paranoia is getting worse. Her agitation is increasing. No doubt, it is the lack of meditation. It has left her increasingly out of proportion. She is losing control.

It is tempting to meditate, but she knows it is a vain hope. She cannot risk it.

Not when she is so close.

-o-

Back on Vulcan, she buries herself in her work. Using the newest data from Admiral Archer, she creates a comprehensive overview of everything she knows.

In her quarters, she no longer attempts to hide her actions. No one visits her; she invites no one over. She lays out the texts and makes copies to put on the walls. At night, when sleep eludes her and meditation taunts her, she lights the data screens until the room is aglow.

She wonders if she is going crazy.

Ultimately, she decides it doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is bringing Trip back.

-o-

She no longer sleeps.

She barely eats.

Time is running short. Time is running out.

Time.

-o-

Time.

She loses track of time. Day is night. Sunlight or moonlight, it makes no difference. There are times she wakes and realizes she has no concept of how much time has past. She cannot remember when she last bathed herself, and sometimes she opens her food cupboards and finds them distressingly bare.

She loses track of time.

Time.

-o-

She falls asleep draped over her work. In her dreams, Trip rouses her, running his fingers along her spine.

“Like this?” he asks.

She hums softly. “You cannot be here.”

“Oh, come on,” he cajoles. “Where else would I be?”

She turns to face him, and he presses himself closer. “You are not truly here.”

“This is the only place I am,” he tells her, lips so close that they’re practically touching. “The only place I’ll ever be.”

-o-

T’Pol wakes in a cold sweat. She stands in the shower with her fists clenched, keeping the screams deep in her chest.

It does not help.

-o-

She knows everything about the Suliban. She has memorized the details regarding the Temporal Cold War. She knows the history of Crewman Daniels better than her own past.

It is not enough to fill the emptiness inside of her.

No, it is not enough at all.

-o-

She considers sometimes if this is a form of insanity. She thinks she could be considered mentally ill. There might be treatment options. There would be people here who could help her.

It is help she does not want, however.

There is logic to this, she rationalizes. She knows what she needs, and she knows how she must attain it. She knows it will cost her everything, from her sanity to her life and everything in between.

Sacrifice, she tells herself. Giving yourself up for a cause you believe in. Laying down your rights in the name of someone you care about.

It is something she knows far too well.

At this point, it may be the only thing she knows.

-o-

She still dreams of Trip. He’s eating pecan pie; he’s working on the warp core. He’s suiting up for an away mission; he’s making a joke at dinner in the captain’s mess.

“You may be the worst thing that ever happened to me,” she tells him in futility.

He winks at her. “Maybe,” he says. “Or the best. Time will tell.”

-o-

She is afraid to fall asleep.

Yet, she never wants to wake up.

-o-

Time will tell.

Time always tells.

-o-

Admiral Archer returns about three months later. T’Pol welcomes him eagerly.

He looks her over, face distressed. “You look terrible.”

“I am not sleeping well,” she confesses.

“Or eating well, it seems,” Admiral Archer notes. “You have to take care of yourself.”

“I am not oblivious to this fact,” she says. “I find myself increasingly incapable of maintaining it, though.”

“You could scale it back--”

She shakes her head brusquely. “I cannot,” she says. “I have come this far. I have give up this much. I have made this sacrifice, and I have made this commitment. I must see it through.”

Admiral Archer is plainly distressed. “Trip wouldn’t want this--”

She looks up at her sharply. “Trip would not want to be dead,” she snaps.

The color drains from his face.

T’Pol turns away guiltily. “I apologize,” she says. “I have not been myself.”

He approaches her, more gently. “I agreed to help you, but I’m not sure this is help,” he says.

She looks up at him. “I assure you, it is the only thing that will help me,” she says. “I will do this, with or without you.”

He gathers a breath and lets it out. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

She presses her lips together. “As do I.”

-o-

He makes a meal, and T’Pol is almost surprised how hungry she is. She consumes it ravenously, and over coffee, she explains her latest conclusions. It is not certain if it is the food or the company, but the newfound clarity is something she plans to utilize.

“So you think the answer is still with the Suliban?” Admiral Archer asks, looking over her work with some trepidation.

“I believe it is an answer,” she clarifies. “And at this point, I feel it is the most probable route.”

He chews the inside of his lip. “So those latest documents didn’t have anything for you?”

“To the contrary,” T’Pol says. “The information has painted a very accurate picture of how these agents move through time. It has given indications regarding the type of contact they make and the full range of astrometric disturbances that surround such travel. By using the data compiled by Starfleet regarding these incursions into our time, I have been able to extrapolate probable locations for similar incursions on the Suliban homeworld.”

“I thought it was uninhabitable,” he says.

“Its atmosphere has recently shown signs of repair,” T’Pol informs him. “In the years since we concluded the Temporal Cold War, some Suliban settlements have begun to re-populate certain areas. They are primitive, but scans suggest that much of the planet’s architecture was well preserved.”

His expression is pinched. “You’re assuming they use similar methods.”

“There are clear tactical differences,” she concedes. “But it is an established method of travel where these people originate. It is not impractical to assume there are particular similarities that we can take advantage of.”

Sighing, he starts to pace. “What do you think will be at these locations?”

“I do not know,” she replies honestly.

“And what are you going to do?”

She remains impassive. “I do not know.”

He blows out a hot breath with a strained chuckle. “Then what do you know?”

His frustration does little to deter her. Instead, she brings up a schematic on a nearby data projector, reflecting it on the ceiling. Several points are highlighted. “Based on the criteria I deduced from the Starfleet data, I have narrowed down the most probable options to these. Five locations across the planet. Each one has the precise atmospheric conditions and comparable social dynamic. They are also spiritually relevant to the Suliban people.”

Admiral Archer studies them. “There’s no spiritual connection on Earth.”

“No,” she agrees. “But aside from the Cabal, the Suliban are a more primitive species. Anyone who seeks to control another species usually finds their best opportunity through spiritual coercion, which is why references would be consistent throughout Suliban mythology.”

Admiral Archer points to several sites. “These aren’t easily accessed,” he says. “Even with these settlements, the planet is fairly primitive.”

“I plan to scout each option thoroughly before making a final determination,” she says. “And recent reports indicate that there is basic mass transit and electrical structures in several major cities.”

“Even so,” Admiral Archer says. “They’re not just going to let you walk in there. And even if you do get access, any texts or inscriptions would be in ancient Suliban. You’re going to need a translator.”

T’Pol blinks, clasping her hands behind her. “I believe we both know one. Better still, I believe she works for you.”

Admiral Archer paces again, trying not to smile. “She’s the best Starfleet has,” he says. “She gets to pick her missions these days.”

“Somehow I think she can be persuaded to pick this one,” T’Pol says.

Admiral Archer chuckles. “Yeah,” he says. “I think maybe we can. But that still doesn’t say what you’re going to do when you identify a site. Just because we know where a passage has been established doesn’t mean we know how to access it or that it’s even possible from this end.”

“I agree that there are many factors working against us,” T’Pol says. “However, if I had let the probability of success be a part of my thought process, I never would have gotten this far at all.”

“It’s crazy, you know,” Admiral Archer says, looking at her fully now.

“I have learned from the best.”

He smiled at that, almost despite himself. “Yes,” he agrees. “I do believe you have.”

-o-

Admiral Archer seeks no invitation, but stays several days of his own accord. During this time, T’Pol comes to realize just how isolated she’s been. Without comment, Admiral Archer tidies her quarters, and T’Pol eats his elaborate meals in deference to his kindness. For the first time since returning to Vulcan, she sleeps at night and cooperate during daytime activities. When Admiral Archer suggests they go for a walk, she does not argue.

It is oddly pleasant, and T’Pol remembers what her life used to be. Indeed, she remembers happier times aboard the Enterprise. She remembers trifling discussions in the mess hall and casual banter in the captain’s ready room. She had once bristled under such things, but affection is dangerously pervasive, especially to those who do not acknowledge it openly. Vulcans see value in the whole, but seek to be entirely self sufficient. Relationships are based on pragmatism, and though they are not devoid of affection, that is not their sole purpose.

In this, she is needy now, and it would be easy to resent the fact that she has to be coddled in this way. It is a sign of her growing weakness, and a testament to how much she has let herself slip. Emotions, however, are deeply contradictory. It was Admiral Archer who told her that, though she suspects she learned it from Trip since the start. How it is possible to loathe and love all at once. How the things you want most are the things that cause the most pain.

This is what friends do, she knows. They pull each other back from the proverbial brink. She has done it for Admiral Archer more times than she can count, and now he is returning the favor.

Trip is no longer on the brink.

Together, she and Admiral Archer will pull Trip from beyond the brink, back into their back.

Back where they all belong.

-o-

The night before Admiral Archer is scheduled to leave, T’Pol busies herself to make the meal. She knows Admiral Archer is not particularly fond of Vulcan food, so she goes to some pains to find something suitably human. The recipe is rudimentary, and she is not certain of the results, but Admiral Archer eats with gusto.

“Thank you,” he says after dinner. “Your hospitality is refreshing.”

She stares at him. “You have been the one doing most of the work, I fear.”

He shrugs. “You’ve always been there for me.”

“I sometimes feel as though I should apologize,” she says. “My behavior is not entirely rational.”

“No,” Admiral Archer agrees. “You’ve changed a lot from the first time you set foot on my bridge.”

“Do you think my task is foolish?” she asks.

“No,” he says, not even missing a beat.

“Do you think it’s possible?” she presses.

At that, he sighs. His brow furrows. “When we first took Enterprise out of spacedock all those years ago, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I thought I was prepared. I thought I knew what to expect. Within days, I realized I was wrong about everything. The things we saw during that journey -- the things that we experienced. So many impossible things. Things I still can’t even explain. But, here we are. The product of the impossible.”

It’s a passionate answer, and one she does not doubt. Still, she keeps herself steady. “Do you think it’s worthwhile?”

“Yes,” he says. “Whatever it takes, whatever the cost: yes.”

“That is not the message you spoke of in your speech,” she reminds him. “You spoke of sacrifice, and how it was worthwhile.”

His face turns grave for a moment. “And I meant it,” he says. “Your people say it best, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. I said what I had to say that day. Because as a leader in the Federation, that’s what it takes. That’s what it’s about.”

“So you don’t think my venture is selfish?”

“We’re not talking about the Federation. We’re not talking about the Vulcan High Command. We’re talking about Trip. Our friend,” he says.

She nods, contemplating. Breathing tersely, she looks up again. “Sometimes I forget the sound of his voice,” she says, aware the transition is abrupt, but not knowing how else to soften it.

Admiral Archer’s expression changes to sympathy.

She presses her lips together to continue. “But even so, I can’t get his voice out of my head,” she says. “I never thought it was possible for one person to have such a profound impact on another.”

“You and Trip had a special relationship,” he comments.

“I find that level of attachment discomforting,” she admits.

“Yeah,” he says with a small laugh. “It’s called love.”

She frowns, shaking her head. “I often tell myself that it would be far more logical to accept his death and move on with my life,” she says. “But I find myself…unable to let him go.”

“I know,” Admiral Archer says, nodding. “And for that, I’m grateful.”

“Sometimes I believe this is not what he would have wanted for me,” she says. She raises her eyes cautiously. “Or you.”

He sits forward again, intent. “We can rationalize,” he says. “We can talk about sacrifice and the greater good. And he saved my life. He saved the ship. It was a good, heroic death. But Trip wasn’t supposed to die, T’Pol. I don’t believe that fate has things laid out and set in stone like that. It was bad luck.”

“And if his death served a greater purpose than we realize?” she asks. “If we risk undoing the seams of time by reversing it?”

He doesn’t flinch. “Then that’s no kind of universe I want to live in.”

“That is highly illogical,” she concludes.

“Look, Trip was my best friend,” he says. “There was no one I trusted like I trusted him. No one I wanted to share the journey with like I did him. He was there from the started, and I counted on him until the end. And life goes on, sure. I’ve done great things, and he’d never blame either of us for any of it. And I know, without a doubt, he’d die for me, every time over, if given the chance.”

“So are we erasing his will?” she asks.

“No,” Admiral Archer replies. “We’re honoring it.”

“In what way?”

“Because,” is his reply. “If the situations were reversed -- if it was you or me with a plaque on Starfleet’s wall -- he would do the same damn thing.”

-o-

When Admiral Archer leaves in the morning, T’Pol offers her hand. He looks at it, then smiles, and pulls her into a hug instead. She stiffens but does not pull away.

“Take care of yourself,” he says, voice in her hair. He steps back, hands still on her shoulders. “I’d give just about anything to bring him back, but not if it means sacrificing you.”

“He is your best friend,” T’Pol reminds him.

“Yeah, well,” Admiral Archer says. “Apparently so are you.”

The admission should not be surprising, but she still finds it to be a revelation. “I shall...do my best,” she fumbles.

He smiles fondly. “I know you will.”

-o-

Admiral Archer leaves, and T’Pol is not far behind. She spends a day collecting her things, deciding what is necessary for this next leg of her journey. Though she has copious research, she chooses to travel light. She has the most relevant information memorized already.

Before she leaves, she reorganizes her quarters. She has kept it clean in the days since her guest left, and she has kept herself on a steady schedule. The newfound routine has revitalized her perspective to some degree, and though she is still aware of the basic irrationality associated with her actions, she feels clear headed enough to continue with fortitude.

She wonders if this is what it is to be human: to feel everything, to doubt everything and to continue regardless.

-o-

Though she still forgoes meditation, her sleeping schedule has normalized. This has made her better rested, which is mostly a good thing, but there is one unintended side effect. Since she is now achieving a deeper level of sleep, her unconscious mind has had more free range.

In short, she has been dreaming.

Vulcans are not particularly prone to dreaming, but it is not uncommon. Some Vulcans even cultivate an experience with dreams, as the subconscious landscape is often more freeing. The most dedicated seek to control their mind even to that depth, though T’Pol has never been that disciplined, even before her time on Enterprise.

In that regard, she is not surprised.

In every other regard, she is entirely unprepared.

Entirely.

Unprepared.

Trip is leaned against the warp core, arms folded over his chest. He looks displeased; he appears to be impatient.

“Been waiting for you,” he comments dourly.

She keeps her distance. “You are not real.”

He huffs. “Is that your excuse?”

“It is not an excuse,” she replies. “This is a figment of my subconscious mind.”

“That makes it even worse,” Trip accuses. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“The idea of my subconscious waiting for recognition is pointless,” T’Pol explains reasonably. “As I have told you, you are not real.”

He uncrosses his arms, standing up straight and taking a step toward her. “You came before.”

She eyes him levelly. “That was a mistake.”

His forehead creases, and a telltale flash of hurt flashes through his eyes. It is remarkable how real he looks, how every detail is right. The color of his face; the style of his hair; the way his uniform fits on his shoulders and through his hips.

He takes another step closer. “I need better than that,” he says, voice dropping. “Why did you stop coming?”

He’s close enough that she can smell him, the familiar scent that nearly threatens to break her. He is close enough to touch, and she can feel his breath on her skin, but she does not dare reach out. She cannot indulge this. She cannot.

She stiffens, closing her eyes and shaking her head. “You are not real.”

“You keep saying that,” he says.

“It’s true,” she says, her own voice no more than a whispers as she dares to look at him again.

He’s closer still, eyes intense on her face. “Then why are you still looking for me?”

The question resonates, and she visibly flinches. She tries to inhale, to steady herself, but she finds it difficult.

“You’re looking everywhere,” he says, unrelenting now. “Everywhere but where I am.”

She wets her lips somewhat desperately. “You’re not real.”

“I’m right here,” he says, and then he’s reaching out. She tries to pull away, but she’s too slow. His hand grabs her wrist, fingers wrapping around it, so real. Too real. “I’m right here.”

His voice has dipped now, almost inaudibly as he draws her closer. His hand moves, sliding around her waist as the other moves up to cup her face. At first, she resists, but as his fingers brush across her cheek, it is too much.

Her self control doesn’t as much waver as it does break. Her breath catches, and she leans into his touch, bringing herself forward and tipping her head to the side. He does not hesitate to pull her nearer still, and she exhales deeply as she reaches a hand up to touch his own. She’s fully caught up in him now, and he leans forward as she stands on her toes to reach her lips to his.

The kiss steals her breath and tightens her chest. She can taste him, and she can feel him, the pounding of his heart against her chest. When they break the kiss, she holds her fingers to his face, feeling every inch of him in the desperate attempt to remember, to hold on.

His eyes are wet, and his smile is faint. “I’m right here,” he breathes. “I’ve always been right here.”

And T’Pol draws him close again, holding tight.

When she wakes several hours later, her fists are still clenched.

-o-

She is more than ready to leave.

She locks her quarters thoroughly, pulling the curtains firmly shut.

It is time.

-o-

In the Suliban settlements, she blends in seamlessly. She has grown skilled at deception, and though Starfleet viewed them as an enemy for some time, they are mostly an unassuming people.

Sometimes she is worried that they will question her, that they will be suspicious of her intentions. But when she enters their temples, she is greeted warmly.

“We understand,” they tell her often. “We are all beholden to time, and we respect anyone who comes before it and submits.”

“And if I do not want to submit?” T’Pol asks.

“Then you are among those who seek,” she is told. “It is a life of discovery and loss.”

“Have any of your people succeeded in this?” she asks.

The answer is a benign shrug. “Time will tell.”

-o-

She studies, delving deeper into the texts. She spends the first week at the only library on the planet, where most major texts have been decently preserved. Though the Suliban are not as advanced, they are adequate at keeping records, and T’Pol spends more time studying the topography of the sites she has selected as probable candidates.

As she studies, the texts get older and the translation matrix no longer functions. She is growing frustrated at the incomplete sentences when she is informed that she has a visitor.

Curious, she looks up.

Across the room, Lieutenant Hoshi Sato stands, doing her best not to smile.

“Lieutenant,” T’Pol says.

“Subcommander,” Lieutenant Sato returns.

“I am no longer a member of the High Guard or Starfleet,” T’Pol reminds her.

Sauntering closer, Lieutenant Sato smirks. “Old habits die hard,” she says. “You’ll have to forgive me.”

T’Pol inclines her head. “As you are the one doing me a favor, I see nothing to forgive.”

“Admiral Archer could have made it an order,” Lieutenant Sato says with a shrug. “But I was due for a sabbatical.”

T’Pol arches her eyebrows. “On the Suliban?”

“Hey, all species,” Lieutenant Sato says defensively. “We can’t just judge based on the ones who offer us technology or share our belief systems. That’s what the Enterprise was all about, right?”

“I suppose it was,” T’Pol concedes.

“Besides,” Lieutenant Sato says, coming around to look at the text T’Pol has open. “I’ve spent too much time in pristine language labs, making translation programs. I miss this, being in the moment, interacting with people, seeing native texts first hand. Language is about interaction. It’s not about reducing it to an algorithm.”

“As I recall, you were never particularly good at mathematics,” T’Pol points out.

Lieutenant Sato rolls her eyes. “Just remember who’s doing who the favor here.”

-o-

Lieutenant Sato’s presence is helpful. Though T’Pol had not forgotten her skill with languages, she is nonetheless impressed with the speed and quality of her work. It is still easy to think of her as the timid Ensign who found space travel unnerving. But in the years, Lieutenant Sato has developed into a confident officer who commands respect based on her skill alone.

It is a strange contrast, T’Pol thinks. To see someone grow so sure of themselves when she herself has grown so weak. To see someone thrive while others are simply gone.

Lieutenant Sato eyes her as she works. “Everything okay, Subcommander?”

“You may call me T’Pol,” she replies.

“That doesn’t answer the question,” Lieutenant Sato says knowingly.

“Okay is a relative term,” T’Pol says diplomatically.

Lieutenant Sato nods. “You know, you could just say no,” she suggests, going back to her work. “I wouldn’t think less of you.”

T’Pol watches her for a moment, immersed in her work. She forgets sometimes that humans have no expectations of controlled emotions. She forgets that friends do not merely ask questions to be polite.

T’Pol forgets many things.

Nodding back, she goes back to her own text. “I will keep that in mind.”

-o-

Lieutenant Sato gets an adjoining room, and it is only because of her presence that T’Pol maintains a consistent routine. They dedicate most of their time to work, but Lieutenant Sato is fascinated with the local culture, and T’Pol has no viable excuse not to join her.

“I think most of Starfleet has been avoiding it here,” Lieutenant Sato reflects one day in a vibrant marketplace. “I had no idea.”

“The Vulcans have always had this planet catalogued in its database,” T’Pol points out.

“Sure, but that doesn’t do it justice,” she says. “You can put anything on paper, but until you live it and experience it -- what does it actually mean?”

“That is overly sentimental,” T’Pol advises.

Lieutenant Sato just grins. “No,” she says. “That’s what life is all about. Discovering the amazing in the mundane. Learning to find joy in the ordinary. Life can’t be a series of checklists or missions. It has to be relationships and experiences.”

T’Pol watches the merchants; she watches the families strolling about. She sees a young couple, holding hands. A mother nurses a baby.

Things T’Pol could have had, once.

She wonders if this is what she will achieve if she brings Trip back. Is this what she desires? A marriage and a family? Someone to hold her hand and cherish her? Is it so simple? After all this time, has she forgotten so much of why she did not pursue the relationship when she had the opportunity? If her affection is defined by loss, is it genuine affection at all? Is she doing this for Trip or is she doing this for herself?


“T’Pol?” Lieutenant Sato asks.

T’Pol startles slightly, turning her gaze back to the lieutenant. “I apologize,” she says. “My mind is...elsewhere.”

Lieutenant Sato snorts. “You think?”

T’Pol bristles, and she feels the emotions start to swell in her again. “If you will excuse me, I believe I should return to our quarters now.”

With concern, Lieutenant Sato looks at her anew. “Everything okay? Do you want me to come?”

“No, please,” T’Pol says, straining to keep her voice in check. “Stay and enjoy the local culture. I will see you when you return later this evening.”

“If you’re sure--”

“I am quite sure,” T’Pol cuts her off, already starting to leave. “Please, excuse me.”

Before Lieutenant Sato replies, T’Pol has already ducked into the crowd.

-o-

She does not remember the journey back. She does not remember splashing cold water on her face or stripping her clothes to the floor. She does not remember turning on the shower and stepping inside. She does not remember the tears in the water or the sobs that shook her hard enough to take her to her knees.

No, T’Pol just remembers falling asleep with her head pressed to her knees, begging and hoping and needing.

“This is crazy. You can’t be doing this to yourself.”

T’Pol chokes on a sob, but looks up gratefully. Trip is standing there, stripped down to his underwear just outside the shower.

“I mean, there’s got to be a better way for us to keep meeting,” he drawls, pulling off his undershirt.

“I don’t know how else to find you,” she admits, voice hoarse.

“I told you,” he says emphatically. “I’m always going to be right here.”

“And if that’s not good enough?” T’Pol asks.

“It’s the best I can do,” he says, somewhat apologetic.

“And if I can do better?” she presses. “If I can do so much better. Would that be wrong? Would you blame me for doing whatever it took?”

He stops, chewing his lip now. “I thought you weren’t ready for a full on commitment?”

“I took you for granted,” she says. “I believed you were always an option I could choose later.”

Something flickers in his face, and he looks down.

“You think I have a hard heart,” she presumes.

He looks up, a sad smirk in place. “No,” he says. “I think you’re in love. I think you’ve been in love longer than you want to admit but you just didn’t know what to do with it. I think you didn’t know what you wanted until you couldn’t have it. I think you could rationalize everything away, until there wasn’t anything left to rationalize at all.”

She catches on another sob. “I am sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he says, starting to take off his underwear. “Because that’s the closest you’ve come to telling me that you love me.”

She inhales sharply, tears still in her eyes.

He moves closer, reaching down to gather her up. “And damn it all, if I won’t take what I can get.”

-o-

It is unclear if Lieutenant Sato is being deferential to the authority T’Pol once had or if she is merely being a considerate friend, but she does not ask questions about T’Pol’s sudden departure. Indeed, Lieutenant Sato is surprisingly willing to accept the terms and conditions of T’Pol’s search without many probing questions as to why they are seeking this information. It is possible that Admiral Archer has told her some of the details, even if in scant quantities.

Or, T’Pol wonders, if she is merely operating on a level of trust that T’Pol would have previously not understood. Enterprise has changed her, and she has begun to suspect that it is not a singular occurrence. She watched the entire crew evolve to some degree during her tenure on board, but it is only in retrospect that she considers the personal implications. How the bold became tempered. How the timid became unfettered.

From a logical perspective, this is not to be unexpected. Close quarters and long durations of stressful time are conducive to personality shifts, even in the most disciplined individuals. Though, T’Pol realizes, the changes are not merely internal. Nor are they purely pragmatic. The change is a bond, a depth of a relationship that has unspoken degrees of intensity.

It is why Admiral Archer is willing to risk his career to help her. It is why Captain Reed is so studious to provide her safe passage. It is why Lieutenant Sato is here and demands no explanation or compensation. They are friends.

This revelation is somewhat surprising, but her own emotional response is more telling. T’Pol cannot help but feel guilty. In the time since Enterprise was decommissioned, she has made minimal effort to maintain any contact with her friends. Indeed, she has secluded herself and remained fixated on only one. She had not considered, at least not to any full extent, how Trip’s death affected the rest of the crew.

She had not considered how her own absence may be felt.

T’Pol has not considered many things.

It seems there are many things for her to fix in the past. It starts with Trip.

But if T’Pol does this right, it will include everyone else as well.

-o-

Lieutenant Sato makes quick work of the remaining texts. By the time the translations are finished, T’Pol can safely conclude that two of the locations are no longer viable based on their traditional heritage alone.

“These three,” T’Pol says, pointing to the three remaining sites on her datapad. “They still match all the criteria I recognized. They are ancient; they are the source of numerous writings; and they have been noted for their strange disturbances in the past, none of which can be explain by other natural phenomenon that we have cross referenced.”

Lieutenant Sato nods. “We’ve exhausted their inventory here,” she says. “We’d have to see them in person to make any further determinations.”

T’Pol tilts her head. “How would you feel about a...road trip?”

A slow smile spreads across Lieutenant Sato’s face. “I think a road trip sounds great.”

“Very well,” T’Pol says. “We will leave in the morning.”

-o-

There is much to do, and little time to prepare. T’Pol handles much of the work herself, and it keeps her up late into the night. By the time morning has come, she has only slept lightly. With this, her dream cycle is decidedly incomplete.

Packed and ready in the morning light, she tells herself it is for the best.

-o-

The local transportation is somewhat archaic but fully adequate. The rail system is woefully underdeveloped, but it is spacious and affordable. Since the journey will last for two days, T’Pol purchases a sleeping car for her and Lieutenant Sato to share.

“I hope this will be acceptable,” T’Pol says, gesturing to the small quarters. “If you feel you need your own space--”

Lieutenant Sato steps by her, slinging her bag to one of the bunks. “This is fine,” she says. “Reminds me of my days back at the Academy.”

T’Pol enters as well, setting down her own pack. “On Vulcan, we were given private quarters at all times.”

Lieutenant Sato makes a small laugh as she sits down experimentally on the bed. “I always had a roommate,” she remarks. “It was part of the experience. Sometimes, during special away training, they bunked us by the dozen.”

T’Pol raises her eyebrows. “That sounds...crowded.”

“Yeah, well,” Lieutenant Sato says with a shrug. “None of us were trying to meditate. And it was all part of the team building process. You hated your classmates, but you also loved them.”

“That statement is highly illogical,” T’Pol comments.

“Nah,” Lieutenant Sato says. “Almost every group that faces danger has operated under that rationale since the start of human history. The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s the people you fight with that are the ones that matter most. If you didn’t care about them, you wouldn’t even make the effort.”

“Logic would dictate that team survival is ideal for every member,” T’Pol says. “It does not have to be an emotional decision.”

The look Lieutenant Sato gives her is odd. “That’s very Vulcan of you.”

T’Pol realizes her error. “Please forgive my impropriety,” she says quickly. “My training experiences were vastly different from yours, Lieutenant. I find sometimes I still struggle to reconcile my Vulcan training and my experiences on Enterprise.”

Lieutenant Sato waves her hands through the air. “It’s normal. Cultural differences aren’t something you change overnight -- not even in a decade or more,” she says.

“Your ability to understand cultures is one reason why you are so good with communications,” T’Pol offers kindly.

Lieutenant Sato smiles. “Thank you,” she says. “And it’s Hoshi.”

“What?”

“You’ve been calling me Lieutenant.”

“That is your new rank, is it not?” T’Pol asks.

“Sure,” Lieutenant Sato says. “But you said it yourself, we’re not here in a command structure. I may technically be working for Starfleet on this one, but I came as a friend. You call friends by their first name.”

This is unexpected, though T’Pol realizes it should not be. Her evolving understanding of human relationship should have accounted for this. Indeed, being in a command structure had made it easy to ignore her proclivities for her human companions. Of all her colleagues on Enterprise, it was only Trip she had felt comfortable addressing in a colloquial manner. And even that had taken years.

T’Pol has left the safety of that structure. She has foregone its comfortable boundaries. She is now subjected to something far more relativistic and unpredictable.

Friendship.

It has no rules. It carries no orders. It is an expression of personal fondness.

“Very well,” T’Pol says. “Hoshi.”

At that, Hoshi smiles. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to walk down to the meal car. I’ve been told there’s a Suliban delicacy that I’m dying to try.”

T’Pol gestures to the door. “By all means.”

Hoshi smiles again, getting to her feet. She lingers for a moment. “You want to come?”

“No, thank you,” T’Pol says. “I am feeling a bit tired. I think I will try to rest in order to feel rejuvenated for an afternoon review of our data.”

“Okay,” Hoshi says. “Rest well.”

With that, Hoshi leaves. T’Pol watches her go.

Rest well. It is a common human pleasantry.

Hoshi could not possibly know just how well -- and how poorly -- it could go.

-o-