There was a gentle thud as the silver arms of space dock released its charges.  The Columbia eased out of her cocoon to join her counterpart, the Enterprise.  Together the two ships turned gracefully and went quickly into warp.   The hustle and bustle of the crew filled the corridors on Enterprise, creating a symphony of teamwork, practiced as they were when emergencies arose.

“Okay, that’s good.”  Trip handed back the PADD to the new chief engineer of Enterprise, Commander Lloyd Smith.
 
Lloyd nodded.  “Thank you, Commander,” he replied with a tight smile, feeling slightly on edge having the former boss of engineering of Enterprise in his engine room. 

Trip glanced up when he heard the tension in his voice.  “Something the matter?” he asked lightly, trying to put the new chief engineer at ease.  He knew that the commander must be feeling slightly out of kilter having him there. 

Lloyd nodded again.  “Everything’s fine, Commander, I just wasn’t expecting you to remain on board.” 

Trip smiled.  “Neither was I,” he replied.  “Don’t worry, I’m not here to step on any toes, in fact this will give me an opportunity to catch up with friends that I haven’t see for a long time.”  Trip’s smile widened at the thought of catching up with one particular person.

Lloyd’s attitude softened, he did genuinely like Commander Tucker, Trip reminded him of his younger brother, but it wasn’t easy filling in the shoes of the man standing opposite him. “Aye, sir.”

Trip laid a hand on his shoulder.  “Okay then.  Well, I’m outta here,” he replied.  “Contact me if there are any problems with the upgrades.”  He patted the commander once on the shoulder then turned on his heels and left engineering.

Lloyd watched the commander’s back as he left and sighed.   Since he was made chief engineer on Enterprise he had lived constantly in the shadows of the man who was highly respected among the crew in engineering, and all on board the ship for that matter.  Lloyd had been working hard at earning the same calibre of respect, but had found it difficult. 

Now with their former boss on board, he felt slightly intimidated; those under his command had quickly fallen into old habits and approached Commander Tucker first with engineering problems, rather than their new boss.  Their former chief, however, had recognised what was occurring and quickly put a stop to it, gently guiding his former charges to their new boss rather than answering their questions, eventually they got the message.

Lloyd turned his attention back to his domain.   When he first joined Enterprise he felt a little bit out of his depth.  He had been recovering from a divorce, although amicable, after his wife learned about his upcoming promotion to chief engineer, she didn’t want to become a Starfleet widow.  After the divorce was finalised she moved out of their home, taking his three young children with her, and moved into a seaside dwelling.  They remained friends, and he continued to see his family right up until the day before his transfer to Enterprise.  He missed them terribly. 

His first weeks on Enterprise were very awkward, but then Travis Mayweather had taken him under his wing and he started to feel like he belonged.  It helped that the young ensign knew how much he missed his family.  Now nearly two years later, he got along well with most of the crew, though he sometimes felt that Captain Archer didn’t have time for him.  That wasn’t true of course.  The captain had done nothing to indicate displeasure and had, in fact, offered his constant support, yet Lloyd still couldn’t help but feel the captain didn’t like him. 

He sighed deeply and returned his attention back to his work, looking around engineering and taking in all her sights and sounds, he suddenly felt a sense of foreboding seep into his soul.

*****

Trip whistled as he made his way to the turbo lift, the anticipation of catching up with a certain commander tickled in his heart. 

When he had first agreed to remain on Earth and oversee the construction of three new NX ships for Starfleet, he hadn’t realized that this would take him away from Enterprise and Commander T’Pol for two years.  At first he was able to maintain contact with his friends, especially T’Pol, as Enterprise made regular visits to Earth.  Then Starfleet had sent Enterprise on a deep space exploration.  What was meant to be a tour of only a few months, turned into a whole year before they returned and he was able to reconnect with those he most cared about.

Then he heard that Starfleet had recalled Enterprise and Columbia back to Earth to be upgraded to warp 5.5 capabilities, Trip had practically begged Admiral Gardner to allow him to oversee the operation.  He had to restrain himself from doing a jig in the admiral’s office when the admiral had approved his request, then as he left the admiral’s office, Trip almost burst with the anticipation at the thought of spending more time with T’Pol, and of course his friends would fit in there somewhere.  Now here he was, back on board his beloved Enterprise.

He bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, in time with the tune that was playing silently in his head, while he waited for the lift to arrive, and tried to think of ways of making his temporary homecoming memorable. He started humming out loud as he entered the lift.  Perfect, he thought as the lift door closed on his beaming face.

*****

Doctor Phlox bustled around sickbay busily feeding his menagerie, his creatures’ squawking and fussing seemingly to reflect the good doctor’s mood.  As the noise bounced off the walls, his irritation grew, stemming from the woman who was plaguing his every move; Nurse Angela Vanson.

The beautiful young registered nurse was a recent addition on Enterprise after Starfleet decided that it would be wise for more medical staff to be embedded on Starfleet vessels.   The non-commissioned officer was quick to come to the attention of the men on board Enterprise, but for Doctor Phlox she was quickly becoming a thorn in his side. She reminded him of the days when he had avoided the perils of Denobulan living, sharing his life with three wives and their husbands, he was not happy to have to share his domain with this woman.  If I wanted this kind of stress I would move back to Denobula, he thought miserably.  He was so lost in his thoughts that he missed most of her diatribe.  “I’m sorry, nurse, what were you saying?” he sighed, trying hard to hide his irritation.

“I was saying, Doctor Phlox, that I must insist you remove your creatures from sickbay,” she ordered.  Used to having her way, she found it frustrating that the doctor appeared to be ignoring her direction.

Phlox shrugged.  “Why would that be, Nurse?”

Vanson rolled her eyes in exasperation.  “Because, Doctor, they are unhygienic and do not belong here.”  Her voice carried all the calm of a teacher talking to a dense student.

Phlox straightened up from feeding his osmotic eel.  “Nonsense!” he replied in the voice he reserved for those just as dense.  “They’re quiet hygienic,” he continued as he walked over to another cage and fed root leaf lettuce to his slugs, “and they are kept here for medicinal purposes.”  He stood up from feeding his slugs and faced his nemesis.  “Besides, they were here long before you arrived, and will still be here after you leave.”  He beamed his huge smile at her, the one that reached from ear to ear, as he finished speaking and returned to his duty, cutting off any further discussion in the matter.

Angela Vanson stopped walking and stood in stunned silence.  How dare he ignore me, she thought angrily.  Seeing that there was nothing more she could do, for the moment that is, she spun on her toes and stormed out of sickbay.

Phlox picked up the cage that held his Pyrithian bat.  “Where did she come from?” he asked the unknowing animal.  Not getting an answer that he needed, he sighed.  Returning his Pyrithian bat’s cage on the bench, he continued on his rounds.


*****

In the mess hall the crew mingled happily, enjoying their downtime, before the rigors of duty would start to occupy their time.  At one table a young man sat alone, the low voices and laughter that blended softly in the background went unnoticed by him.

Hoshi took her eyes off the young man and turned her attention to the person sitting opposite her.  “I've noticed Travis keeps to himself a lot more since...” she didn’t want to voice what had been lost to him. 

Malcolm looked up from his food and cast his eyes over to the lone figure.  “He seems fine to me,” he shrugged, and continued to fork food into his mouth.

Hoshi bristled at Malcolm’s ignorance.  “He lost his family, Lieutenant,” she said with indignation.

Malcolm at least had the decency to blush as he replied.  “Well, I didn't mean anything by it.”  His overall discomfort grew as Hoshi glared at him with disapproval.  “I just meant he seems to be handling things,” he added trying to redeem himself, but it wasn’t working.  His embarrassment grew when Hoshi didn’t respond.  “What?  It was over a year ago.”

Hoshi looked at him appalled, and shook her head in frustration.  Sometimes, Malcolm, you really don’t get it, she thought.

Malcolm sighed.  “Look, Hoshi, I’m sure he’s fine.”

Hoshi turned her attention back to Travis.  I’m not so sure, she thought.

Knowing she would get no further with the lieutenant, she decided to change the subject.  “Did you see Commander Tucker came back onboard before we departed?”

Malcolm nodded his head absently as he started to shovel more dinner into his mouth.  “I haven't seen him yet, but I heard the captain say he could use Trip's expertise more than Starfleet could right now.”

Hoshi held her fork an inch from her mouth.  “The expanding of the fleet and the new warp technology is a big deal,” she said in all seriousness.

Malcolm looked up at Hoshi.  “Indeed, but no one knows this ship better than Commander Tucker.  Besides, he'll be back on the Warp 7 project soon enough.”  He smiled absently, he was happy to have his friend back on board, but he knew it was only for a short time, it was inevitable that Trip would once again leave and return to Earth to continue his work on the new Warp 7 project.  He smiled sadly at the thought; he needed his friend right now, especially after what happened last year. 

He shook himself out of his reverie and panned his eyes around the room, his movement stopped when he noticed a young ensign paying him close attention, a new crew member that had been dogging his days since he came on board. Malcolm winced.

Hoshi noticed Malcolm blanch.  “What’s wrong?” she asked as she followed his line of sight.  When her eyes were drawn to the young man, Hoshi smiled knowingly.  “I hear he is making quiet an impression with chef,” she said, placing a piece of fruit in her mouth.  “I also hear that he’s quiet friendly,” she added nudging Malcolm’s hand and giving him a quick wink. 

Malcolm struggled not to blush under Hoshi’s amused eyes, but he was failing.  Desperate to divert attention he replied nonchalantly.  “Yes, well, he seems to be competent.”  He shifted uncomfortably in his chair under Hoshi’s scrutiny; it irritated him that she found the circumstance, he found himself in, entertaining.

To Malcolm’s mortification, the young ensign in question approached their table.  He steadfastly kept his head down as the young man spoke.  “Is everything alright here?  Can I get you anything more, Lieutenant?”  Malcolm glanced up quickly to provide a brief answer when he noticed Hoshi staring at him expectantly, laughter dancing in her eyes, making Malcolm’s overall discomfort in the situation all encompassing.  “Um, thank you, no.  Everything’s fine,” he finally managed. 

Hoshi raised her eyebrows at him then looked at the ensign.  “Thank you for asking, Ensign,” she said.

“Leroy, call me Leroy,” he said holding out his hand to Malcolm’s.

When Malcolm didn’t react, Hoshi held out her hand to shake his.  “Why, thank you, Leroy.  I wouldn’t mind another juice if you’ve got one.”

Leroy smiled.  “Certainly, one orange juice coming up, it’ll only take a moment.” 

“Why did you do that?” Malcolm hissed as Leroy walked away.

“Ease up, Lieutenant, he’s just being friendly,” Hoshi responded, her eyes dancing with mirth.

Malcolm squirmed in his chair.  “I don’t need his attention,” he whispered.  Seeing more unsolicited remarks coming his way from Hoshi, he stood up.  “Well then, I better be going.   I’ll see you in the morning.”  With that, he picked up his empty plate and left.

Hoshi watched his back as Malcolm exited and started laughing quietly to herself.  Oh, Malcolm...  You’re such an uptight Brit.

*****

As Malcolm left, he cast one last look at Travis, although he sounded disinterested to Hoshi, he really did wish the young man well.

Travis was unaware about the concerns of his friends, indeed he was unaware of anyone else in the room; the noise and lights had faded into the background.  His focus was on the words in front of him.

Hello, son!

I hope this letter finds you well and that you’re keeping out of trouble.

We are currently on our way to Krios Prime.  You’ll have to thank Commander Tucker for us, his tip turned out to be a profitable venture, we are certainly keeping busy.

Okay, now for the gossip, which I’m sure you’re hanging out for.  Where to start?

I’ll start with Nora and Charlie.  I’m not sure if you were aware, but these two are seeing a lot more of each other lately, they make a cute couple.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they plan on getting married soon, I’ll keep you updated!  It would be nice to plan a wedding, I haven’t planned one for some years.  I believe the last wedding I planned was my own, that was a long time ago, but not that far in the past.

It’s amazing how time flies but slows all the same.  It feels like only yesterday that your father took me by the hand and said I do.  I miss him terribly!  The years have not numbed our loss.

Speaking of your father, Paul grows more and more like him every day.  You’d be proud of him, Travis, he’s grown into the leader that I always knew he would be, and I’m sure you thought the same.  It’s a pity you haven’t seen him in action, other than the last time you came to visit, the crew really respects him now.

It’s also a pity that you haven’t come home to visit lately, maybe if our paths cross you could come to visit, or I could always come see you on Enterprise, you haven’t taken me on that tour yet, and I’d really like to meet your Captain Archer, he seems like a fine man, and it would be also nice to meet Commander Tucker, thank him in person.  Oh, well, maybe one day.

I guess that’s enough for now.  Paul sends his love, as do the rest of the crew. I do hope our paths cross soon.

Keep safe, son.

I love you. 
Mom


Our paths never did cross...  Sorry, mom.  He closed his eyes; he could almost feel her touch.  A lump formed in his throat that he battled to push back down to where it belonged, in the darkness of his belly. 

Lost in his world, Travis failed to hear his name being called.  It was only when he felt a hand on his shoulder, nudging him gently, that he was bought back to reality.  “Hey, Lloyd!” he said in greeting, plastering his face in a broad smile.  “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

Lloyd stood with his food tray in his hand.  “That’s OK.  Mind if I join you?”

Although he would have preferred his own company, Travis pointed to the chair, indicating for Lloyd to take a seat.  He liked Lloyd, and felt obliged to let the older man join him; he had, after all, provided an ear for him to bounce things off.

When he was told about the tragedy that had befallen the Horizon and his family, Captain Archer and Commander Tucker had done their best to ease his loss.  Captain Archer had especially made time for him, seeking him out when Travis would disappear to his sweet spot, and encouraged him to talk.  For Travis, the captain had stepped in and had become a father figure for him.  Then the commander had returned to Earth, and the captain had other things that started to occupy his time. 

Others tried to step in and help.  Hoshi sometimes sat with him while he tried to make sense of the world, as did Lieutenant Reed.  But with the lieutenant it was hard.  Malcolm wasn’t the easiest person to open up too, though Travis did appreciate his efforts. 

But in the end, it all became too much for him.  He didn’t need constant reminders that his family was no longer around, so he approached the captain and asked for leave time.  Captain Archer readily agreed, so Travis packed his bags and went hiking in some of the most remote mountains on Earth.  By the time he returned to Enterprise, two months later, he had shut down that part of his psyche which held his pain, and planted the happy smile on his face he knew he was famous for.

Then Lloyd had come aboard and looked like he needed a friend, so Travis took him under his wing; introducing him to the crew, showing him the ropes.  The opportunity allowed Travis to bury his pain further.  Now they had become close friends.

“Must be an interesting read?”   Lloyd’s voice cut through his reverie once more.

Travis plastered his megawatt smile on his face.  “Sure is.”  He didn’t elaborate any further as he switched off his PADD, but he suspected that Lloyd knew what was occupying his thoughts.  “How’s the family?” Travis finally asked. 

Travis always enjoyed hearing about the exploits of Lloyd’s family, just as much as Lloyd enjoyed telling his tales.  Travis knew that Lloyd was close to his children, and although divorced, Lloyd had remained close to his ex-wife as well, she kept him informed of their daily lives.

Lloyd smiled.  “Well, Ash won a silver medal at the local archery tournament,” he gushed.

Travis raised his eyebrows in surprise.  “I didn’t think people still competed in archery.”

Lloyd chuckled.  “Yeah, came as a surprise to me as well, but Ash seems to love the sport.”

“How long has he been competing?”

“Only a few months!”  Lloyd was practically bursting with pride.

“Well, he must love the sport or is a natural talent.  What about Jayden?  You were having problems with him last time you received a message from home.”

Lloyd sighed.  “Yes.”  He shook his head in deep thought.  “Ah...  the angst of pre-teens.”  He gave a slight chuckle, but Travis could see the concern the father was having.

Travis nodded knowingly; he’d been a handful for his own parents.  “What about Claire?”

Lloyd’s eyes lit up.  “Oh, now there’s a handful right there.” 

“In what way?” he asked, a hint of curiosity lined his voice.

“Well, it seems boys have suddenly become all important in her life.”  He laughed hysterically at Travis’s shocked face; Claire was only 10 years old.  “Oh, yes Travis, I think I have her Aunt to thank for that one.”  Lloyd’s smile broadened.  “Her mother is having daily battles with Claire about what she can wear, what she can’t, and definitely no make-up.”

Travis couldn’t help but fall into fits of laughter, it felt good.  Even though at the beginning he didn’t want company, inevitably Lloyd would make his life worth living.

*****

“Did you read any more of by Zen Xi Tou, Jonathan?”  Erika’s bright smile crossed the divide between the two ships.

Captain Archer shifted in his seat.  “Um... actually I haven’t had a chance to yet.”  He hoped the lie he had just spun wasn’t overtly obvious.

Erika dipped her head to the side and raised her right eyebrow.

Well, obviously it wasn’t, he thought and had the good grace to look chastened.  He cleared his throat.  “Yes, well...  How are things on board Columbia?” he asked trying to divert attention.

Erika relaxed her stance.  “Probably about the same as on Enterprise,” she replied lightly. 

Jonathan nodded his head in agreement then took a moment to study her face.  He could feel his heartbeat quicken as he drank in her beauty, he longed to take her in his arms and finish what they began on Columbia; he could still taste her lips on his.  “It’s a pity we couldn’t get a bit more time to explore his poetry,” he said in a voice that indicated more than poetry was on his mind.

Jon’s breath quickened as he watched Erika’s eyes fill with passion and desire that was mirrored in his own body and soul, then a sudden realisation hit him with as much force as a phase cannon strike would have had on his ship.  I love her.  The revelation was as powerful as the birth of a new star and his whole body tingled with excitement at the possibility of finding true happiness for the first time in his life. 

Suddenly the distance between the two of them wasn’t acceptable; Jon needed to be with her, he needed to find a way that they could both be together, if only for a stolen moment.  He opened his mouth to speak when Porthos chose that exact instant to jump on his master’s lap and lick his face.  Jon looked down at his mate and smiled.  Well, there’s one suggestion to be left unsaid, he thought wryly looking down at his interloper.

Jonathan looked up when he heard the disappointed voice of Erika.  “So, Captain, have you heard anything more from Admiral Gardner?”

Jonathan switched himself back into captain’s mode.  “No, nothing, all he could tell me was that they were still trying to raise the starbase, but so far they have been met with silence.”  A slight chill ran up Jonathan’s back, he didn’t like going into the unknown like this. 

“That doesn’t sound good, Jonathan.” Erika’s voice echoed his concern.

Jon shook his head.  “No.” he replied.  He looked back up at Erika.  “Seriously, Erika, how is everything on Columbia?”

“We’re good, Jonathan.  Our chief engineer is running last minute checks; the armoury officer is running simulations.  We’ll be ready.”  She looked deeply into his eyes for a brief moment before finishing, “for anything.”

Jonathan nodded.  “As will we.  I’ll keep you informed if I hear anything more from the Admiral.”  He reached over and turned his console off, but not before taking one last look at Erika, and watched with a heavy heart as the screen went black.

*****

The brightness of the white space invaded her senses once more.  Anticipation caused her pulse to quicken as she sought out the person she was determined to help.  She turned quickly when she sensed his presence.  T’Pol’s eyes widened and her heart leapt against her chest when she saw him.  Trip’s eyes looked on fire from fever, his skin glisten with sweat that seemed to ooze out of his every pore.  She knew, without a doubt, that she had to do something.  Nearing him, she asked.  “Can you tell me what happened?”

Trip’s eyes clouded over.  “It’s all a blur...”  He closed his eyes and thought for a moment, “But I think I was on duty!”  Once again their minds converged.

Trip reached out and took the second cable; his eyes were full of determination.  Without thinking about himself he joined the two ends together and a bright, hot, white light erupted in all directions engulfing Trip and plunging his body into the fires of hell.  T’Pol groaned weakly; she could feel the heat from the fire, could feel his agony.  She took a deep, controlling, breath and deepened her resolve to continue. 

The scene changed again, an image of Trip; angry burns covered his body snaking up to his pain filled face.  She heard an urgent call from a distance and suddenly his body was being lifted and carried by a panicked Captain Archer.  White light began to expand and absorbed the image until T’Pol was once again staring into the eyes of Trip.  Fear embraced her being as Trip’s image began to fade.  “Don’t let me die, T’Pol...”

T’Pol woke suddenly and bolted upright in her bed; a breathless “No!” escaped her lips.  She rolled onto her side, curling into herself, as she tried to calm her ragged breathing, and still her frantic mind.  After a few minutes, she slowly rose from her curled position and sat on the edge of her bed.  Her confused mind tried to make sense of her dreams, no, nightmares, she corrected herself. 

She reached a hand to her lips, closed her eyes, and returned to the memory of last night that still lingered on her body, his smell; his touch.  T’Pol marveled at how deep their bond had become since the death of their daughter, Elizabeth.  Trip had been there and carried her through her grief, as she had done for him.  Since then their bond had deepened, and with his help, she had managed to balance her Vulcan logic with her newly found un-Vulcan emotions.

Her eyes flew open again when the sudden image of his battered body stormed into her mind, and she resolved to seek out Trip in the morning to determine if he was having the same dreams.  In the meantime she decided that meditation was in order.

*****

“Hey, Lloyd!”  Trip called up to the monitoring platform above him.  

Commander Smith leaned over the railing and looked down at his counterpart.  “Commander?”

“I’m still getting unusual readings from the plasma intermix ratio.  Can you go and check the plasma injectors, see what readings you get?”

Lloyd climbed down to the lower level and headed to the plasma injectors.  He leaned down and took a reading.  “Everything looks fine from here, Commander.”

Trip rubbed his hand on his chin, looking intently at the readings on his PADD.  “Okay, thanks.  I’ll run another diagnostic, probably some computer glitch somewhere.”  He looked over to the commander.  “Why don’t you take a break, get some coffee or something.  I’ll look after things for a while.”

Lloyd walked toward Trip.  “You sure, Commander?”

Trip shrugged.  “There’s not much going on, just running diagnostics.  Besides, I get the feeling when we arrive at our destination that we won’t be getting much free time.”

Lloyd nodded.  “Thanks, Commander.  Would you like me to bring back something for you?”

Trip’s eyes shone with temptation.  “If the chef has any pecan pie, I sure wouldn’t mind some.”

Lloyd giggled, he had heard about the commander’s addiction to anything sweet.  “Okay, I’ll be back soon.”

As Lloyd turned to leave, Trip eyed the captain entering.  “Hi, Capt’n, what brings you down to the bowels on the ship?” he asked holding out both arms as if welcoming a subject to his domain.

Archer rewarded him with a crooked smile.  “Just thought I’d check up on my wayward engineer,” he replied as he neared.
 
Trip snorted.  “Currently, I ain’t your engineer, Capt’n,” he replied good naturedly.

“That’s temporary, Trip, only temporary.”

Trip looked quizzically at his former captain.  There was something in his voice that he couldn’t quiet put his finger on.  Was it...  melancholy? he thought.  “You OK, Capt’n?”

Archer nodded his head then swept his gaze around engineering.  “How are things coming with the upgrades?

Still puzzled by his friend’s behaviour, he answered.  “Good, Capt’n, we’re on track.  Just a few problems with the plasma intermix.  I’m just about to run a computer diagnostic.”  He headed back over to the main console.

As he walked behind Trip, Archer asked.  “What’s your opinion of Commander Smith?”

Trip turned to look at his friend and could see something like apprehension in his eyes; again he couldn’t place what he was seeing.  He really does seem a bit out of sorts, he thought. “He’s doing a good job, Capt’n,” he said, “Nothing like me though,” he added to try and lift the captain’s mood.

“No,” he answered, “you really are one of a kind, Trip.”

Trip definitely heard a hint of melancholy in his friend’s voice.  “Are you sure you’re OK?” he asked.

Archer smiled.  “I’m sure.”

Trip could see that his friend wasn’t going to spill.  What I wouldn’t give to jump into that mind of yours, he thought.  He decided to change the subject.  “Have you heard anything more from Admiral Gardner, ‘bout what we can expect?”

Archer shook his head.  “No, he’s still clueless.”  He looked around engineering again then fixed his attention on his friend.  “There’ll be a senior staff meeting in half an hour.  We’ll be conferencing with Captain Hernandez to coordinate efforts.  I’d like you and Commander Smith to be there.”

Trip nodded.  “I’ll inform Lloyd.”  He eyed his friend carefully, rocking gently back and forth on his feet, as a mischievous grin broke out on his face.  “Speaking of Captain Hernandez...“  Trip playfully moved his eyebrows and shot a wink at his friend.  He struggled to hold back a laugh escaping when Archer, looking decidedly flushed, squirmed in discomfort.

Archer cleared his throat.  “So... Um!  How are things with T’Pol?”

Trip pushed his tongue into the side of his mouth in mild frustration.  “Changin’ the subject, Capt’n?”  An amused look danced in Trip’s eyes. Oh, he was so enjoying this.  Before he could take it any further he caught movement out of the corner of his eye.  A contented sigh escaped his lips.

*****

T’Pol had been watching on quietly, from the entrance to engineering, as the captain and Trip talked.  A small smile played at the corner of her mouth as Trip’s face lit up in laughter; she wondered why the captain looked ill at ease. 

As she walked deeper into the room she continued to watch Trip and thought about their bond, right now that bond could be her undoing; she needed to rely on her Vulcan logic to determine the reason behind her dreams.  Maybe there was nothing to worry about, she thought, and the dreams were just that; dreams.   But she knew deep down that this wasn’t the truth and that it was something for her to be concerned about.  Her resolve almost faltered when Trip looked up and beamed his beautiful smile at her.  She didn’t like keeping him in the dark and was already regretting what she was about to do.  She reminded herself why she was here and refocussed her thoughts as she approached.

“Hi, T’Pol!” Trip greeted as he continued to beam his smile at her.

Trip continued to keep his eyes locked with hers as she drew level with them; she could sense his keen desire.  Out of the corner of her vision, T’Pol observed the captain trying to appear casual, a small smile played on the captain’s lips as he watched the silent interaction stirring between his two senior officers.  She decided to ignore it.  “Captain, Commander,” she replied nodding to both in turn.

 “T’Pol,” Archer replied, trying to sound professional.  He turned back to Trip.  “Well, I’m heading back to the bridge.”  He looked around engineering, finally coming to rest on Trip.  “See you there in thirty minutes?”  As Trip nodded, the captain patted the commander, and friend, on the back then left for the bridge.
 
T’Pol turned back to Trip after watching the captain leave.  She thought for a moment, she didn’t know where to begin so decided on something safe.  “How are you settling back in on Enterprise?”

Trip smiled.  “Well, you should know the answer to that.”  He lowered his head to steal a kiss, but was left surprised when she stepped away.  He gave her a questioning look.  “T’Pol?” 

T’Pol felt a flutter of guilt rise as she watched the commander’s eyes fill with confusion, but she was determined to see her actions through.  She resisted answering his confused expression by raising an eyebrow in response.

Seeing his question was going to go unanswered, Trip placed his hands on his hips and sighed.  “Fine.” 

An uncomfortable silence fell between them as T’Pol watched the commander look anywhere else but at her.  She searched for ways to ease the tension.  “At least there is one benefit by your remaining on Enterprise.”

“Yeah, what’s that?” Trip responded, trying to keep a measure of calm in his voice.

“You will be able to monitor your upgrades.”  She tried for inflect a measure of friendliness in her voice; she didn’t want to alienate him altogether.

“This is true.”  Trip smiled gently, hoping the gentleness in her voice was a prelude of things to come, and that whatever had caused her to withdraw in the first place, had now left the room.

T’Pol let the air settle more before she pushed on to the true reason for being there.  “Commander, may I ask you something?”

“Sure,” he answered lightly. 

T’Pol steeled herself.  “Have you had any dreams lately?”  She only just managed to keep the fear out of her voice, it appeared to work as she could see the curiosity fill his eyes.

He crossed his arms and regarded T’Pol with an even gaze.  “You mean like before?” 

“Yes.”  T’Pol braced herself for his response.

He cast a quizzical look.  “No.  Why?”

T’Pol felt the tension leave her body, though it left her feeling more concerned, she was no closer to an answer.  “No reason.”  She went to leave but was stopped by Trip.

“T’Pol!”

Her heart contracted at the sound of his confused voice, but she was, if nothing else, determined to keep her real reasons for her questions to herself.  “It is nothing to concern yourself with, Commander.”

“Then why ask?” he sighed in exasperation.

“Just curious,” she replied evenly, then quickly turned, cutting any further discussion regarding her queries short, and left engineering.

*****

As Trip watched her leave, his mind was searching for answers.  Wow, I wonder what’s in the air.  First the captain, now T’Pol, or maybe it’s something in the waterMaybe I have been gone too long.  He shook his head out of his musings, checked the time and noticed he only had a few minutes to get to the bridge.  “I better go find Lloyd,” he said to no one in particular.

*****

“There’s still no word from the Admiral?” asked Captain Hernandez, who was linked to the briefing through her monitor on Columbia. 

Captain Archer shook his head.  “Nothing, it looks like we’re going into this blind.” He took a moment to observe his senior officers, who were gathered around the situation room at the back of the bridge, and thought about the consequences of going into this situation without knowing what lay ahead. He didn’t like it.  Not one bit.  His gaze settled on Trip and he could see the same anxiety reflected in his eyes. 

“So, what’s the plan?” Trip asked.

He broke his eye contact with Trip and turned his attention back to his senior staff.  “The best we can do at the moment is to prepare ourselves for any possibilities.”  He turned and addressed Lieutenant Reed.  “Malcolm, once we arrive at Salem-One, I want you to coordinate with Columbia.  Assemble security teams to beam down to the station and secure the main facilities.”  Malcolm nodded in silent understanding.

Archer continued.  “After everything is secure, medical and search teams will follow to search for survivors.  Doctor Phlox will remain on board and deal with the seriously wounded; those less serious will be transferred to Columbia.”  He looked over to Phlox.  “Let me know if you need anything.  I’m sure that between Columbia and Enterprise we can cope with the numbers.”

Phlox didn’t reply, but bowed his head in agreement.

“Trip, is everything ready in engineering?”  Archer stalled momentarily, in embarrassment, when he saw Commander Smith shift awkwardly on his feet and realized that he was addressing the wrong chief engineer.  He set out to correct his mistake.  “Sorry, Commander Smith, I didn’t mean to overlook you.  It was just old habits.”

Commander Smith smiled in response, but it turned out more like a grimace.  “That’s Ok, Sir.”

Archer indicated with his hands for the commander to continue.

Lloyd cleared his throat.  “Commander Tucker is currently running a diagnostic on the plasma intermix ratio, apart from that, everything is operating within acceptable parameters.” 

“Okay, good.  Let me know if there are problems.”  Archer didn’t wait for a response, instead he looked at T’Pol.  “T’Pol, I want you to work with Columbia and conduct continued sensor sweeps of the starbase and the surrounding system, I don’t want us taken by surprise.” 

T’Pol bowed slightly. “Aye, Captain,” she replied evenly.

Archer took a breath to calm the growing knot in his stomach.  “Once everything’s secure, and the wounded have been attended to, we’ll do what we can to help re-build the station.”  He took one last look around the room.  “Does anyone have anything to add?”  When no one spoke he addressed Trip.  “Trip, I’d like you to stay on the bridge.”

Trip smiled broadly.  “Nothin’ like having two engineers at your beck and call, hey Capt’n?”

Archer couldn’t help a smile forming on his lips, which transformed into gentle laughter at the goofy look his friend was giving him.  Although he found the whole situation frightening, he was glad to have his friend on board.  He checked the time.  “We should be arriving soon. Everyone knows what they have to do.”  When they all nodded, he took one last look around the room.  “Dismissed.”

As everyone left to go to their stations, Archer turned to the monitor where Erika still waited.  “I don’t like this, Erika,” he said to her questioning gaze.

“As you said, Jonathan, there’s nothing we can do until we arrive,” came her gentle reply.

Jonathan stared into her dark eyes.  “I know.  It’s just that...” He dropped his head and blew out a heavy breath of frustration.  When he raised his head again a thousand thoughts and desires were running through his mind and body.  His throat contracted as he reached out to end the transmission.  “I’ll keep in touch.” Before he could sever the connection, Erika’s voice called out.

“Jonathan!”

His eyes found hers, one more.

“Keep safe.”

He smiled gently.  “You too.”  They maintained their eye contact until the screen went dark.

*****

Click here to read Chapter Three

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