Trip woke with a scream.
His heart pounded loudly as he struggled to breathe through the fog of adrenaline-laced terror coursing through him and, for an impossibly long moment, he had no idea where he was, only that it was dark, cold and made of metal. Accusing eyes stared at him from the darkness and Trip covered his face with his hands in an attempt to block out the bloody visage of the Ekosi girl he had murdered eleven days earlier. She was still there, though, a silent ghost who glared at him with silent fury at having been robbed of her future. The young soldier he had shot on their second day here on this planet stood alongside her, joined suddenly by the police officer from the mesa city. All three stared at him, faces creased with dark expressions.
The sensation of a warm hand upon his shoulder suddenly grounded him in the now, and Trip instinctively reached out to place his own fingers atop those of T’Pol’s. He drew in a shuddering breath as he clung to her offered comfort. Tears prickled his eyes, threatening to spill out, and he struggled for control.
“Relax,” T’Pol murmured, her lips so close to his ear that he could feel the warmth of her breath. “I am here.”
“I’m okay,” Trip replied. He pushed himself off the cot, suddenly desperate to get out of the ambulance and away from the intoxicating presence of the woman at his side. It wasn’t her fault – she didn’t even seem to have a libido and was interested only in sharing the body warmth they needed to survive in these temperatures, while his own desires were rapidly spiraling out of control – but he had to put some space between them before he did something they would both regret.
Cold air burst into the ambulance as he kicked open the rear door and jumped through the hatchway. Snow crunched under his feet as he landed, and Trip quickly grabbed the door to keep from slipping on the slick ice beneath the dusting of white powder. He bit back a curse at his stupidity – at least he remembered his damned boots this time – before carefully closing the door behind him and turning away from the parked vehicle. His feet had a mind of their own and he suddenly found himself several meters away from the ambulance, staring at the landscape stretching out before him with wide eyes.
It reminded him a lot of Montana, with distant snow-capped mountains ringing the valley they were currently hiding in like a mighty wall. Coniferous trees, shrouded in snow and ice, dominated the view and stretched out for as far as he could see. The road they had been following for eight days vanished behind a particularly impressive rocky outcrop, but reappeared a hundred meters or so away as it curved up and around a gentle slope. Overhead, one of the planetary moons shined brightly in the pre-dawn sky.
“Charles?” T’Pol’s voice was soft, but carried nonetheless. He tried to ignore how unbelievably sexy she sounded this early in the morning but was only partially successful.
“I’m fine,” he said with forced levity. When she drew alongside him, a blanket wrapped around her body and her hair disheveled, Trip felt a pang of longing shoot through him. He quickly looked away, hoping against hope that she hadn’t seen his expression.
“You were dreaming again,” T’Pol said. She shuffled closer to him and Trip could feel her eyes, peeling away his secrets. He sighed.
“Yeah,” he muttered. “I keep seein’ that girl…” T’Pol gave him a look of understanding so intense, so profound, that it caused him to close his eyes.
“You did the right thing, Charles,” she said, once more dropping her hand upon his shoulder.
“I know.” Trip blew out a frustrated breath. “But I still-”
“Wonder if there was not something else you could do?” T’Pol asked, gently interrupting him. She glanced away, her eyes suddenly distant, and Trip couldn’t help but to study her profile. “You know that you took the only option available,” she continued, her voice still low and more emotional than he recalled ever hearing it, “but you cannot help but to wonder if you overlooked something, if there was anything you could have done that would have caused things to end differently.” She frowned slightly. “But no matter how many times you tell yourself that you did the right thing, your guilt remains.” Trip swallowed the lump that was suddenly in his throat.
“Sounds like you’ve been in my shoes before,” he offered hesitantly. Getting her to reveal things about her past was like pulling teeth and he didn’t want to upset the fragile relationship that had been building between them for weeks by pushing too hard. T’Pol was an intensely private woman, and if she didn’t want to tell him something, she wouldn’t, no matter how badly he pestered her about it.
“Your shoes?” the Vulcan asked with a cocked eyebrow. She glanced briefly at his feet before comprehension flickered in her eyes and she gave him a long, measuring look before finally nodding slightly. “My last mission with the Ministry of Intelligence ended … poorly.”
“Is that why you started working for Soval?” Trip asked.
“No,” came her immediate response. “My tenure with the ambassador came many years later, after I served aboard the Seleya as deputy science office.” Trip did some quick calculations and added a new note to the mental equation he thought of as T’Pol’s Mystery Age. Based on the things she’d let slip, he had a pretty good ballpark for how old she was but set it aside for the moment.
“So, what happened?” For a moment, he was afraid that he had overstepped his boundaries, that she would shut him down or tell him that it was classified. Instead, her expression went blank; it was her Pure Logic face, the mask she wore when she was consciously focusing on not displaying even a hint of emotion.
“I was assigned to apprehend a Vulcan dissident responsible for a number of terrorist acts,” T’Pol revealed. “Until he began murdering innocents, he was a highly regarded social scientist.” At Trip’s surprised look, she continued. “His ethics and judgment were impaired, but his logic was not.” She frowned. “He was very ... brutal.”
“Logic without compassion is just an excuse for tyranny,” Trip said, though he couldn’t remember where he’d heard the quote, and T’Pol gave him a wide-eyed look of momentary amazement. It vanished almost immediately, and she nodded.
“When I finally located him,” she continued a moment later, “he nearly escaped in a groundcar loaded with explosives he intended to detonate during a kolinahr ceremony later that day.”
“Nearly escaped,” Trip repeated. He had a terrible feeling he knew what was coming.
“I shot him as he fled,” T’Pol said. “He died instantly, but lost control of his vehicle.” She turned soulful young-old eyes upon him. “It struck an outlying building and detonated on impact. Thirty-four civilians were killed and seventy-three were critically injured.”
“Oh, God,” Trip whispered in horror. Suddenly, the guilt he was struggling with over a handful of deaths seemed insignificant in comparison.
“If he had not been stopped,” she continued, “the number of fatalities would have been at least four times that, so I attempted to seek solace in that fact.” She pursed her lips, mashing them together tightly as she stared at the sinking moon. “Unfortunately, I was … less successful than I would have liked and was forced to seek counseling.”
“Did it help?”
“Eventually.” T’Pol smoothed away the last hints of emotion. “I was taught methods that allowed me to … segregate parts of my mind so I could focus on resolving the guilt in incremental stages. As I reached equilibrium, I was able to remove these partitions and focus on integrating the next level of grief with my control.”
“Like a dam in a river,” Trip mused.
“An apt comparison,” T’Pol noted with approval. “Once my functionality was restored, I realized I had no desire to continue serving with the Ministry of Intelligence and requested an assignment with the fleet.”
Trip was silent for a moment. “Do you think you could teach me this partitioning thing?” he asked.
“No,” was her instant response. “Allow me to explain, Charles,” she urged when he looked away, suddenly angry and depressed at the same time.
“My name is Trip,” he snapped. He wanted to get away from her, away from the unspoken implication he wasn’t smart enough to handle this Vulcan mojo, but she tightened her grip on his shoulder, suddenly reminding him that she had never removed it.
“The Fullara is not a thing to enter into lightly,” T’Pol said, stepping into his field of view as she spoke. “It is a last resort for Vulcans, one chosen only when all other options have been exhausted.” When Trip didn’t reply, she seemed to relax fractionally. “A petitioner is utterly reliant upon the Masters when they enter the second stage of the process,” she said. “I was barely able to feed, or clothe, or even relieve myself without one of the priests there to direct me.” Trip winced at that mental image, and T’Pol nodded. “And it requires complete, absolute trust between the petitioner and the Master.”
“I see your point,” Trip remarked. “But I do trust you.”
“And I trust you, Charles,” she replied, her eyes suddenly glittering with amusement at the emphasis she placed upon his given name. He had to grin at the teasing in her voice. “After all,” she said, “you are the only one I have ever told about the Fullara.” Trip blinked in surprise.
“Really?” he asked. “Soval doesn’t know?”
“He may suspect it was the reason I visited Gol,” she replied, “but he has never asked me for the truth of the matter and I have never offered to explain.”
“What about the cap’n?” Trip asked, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop them. Inwardly, he kicked himself when she gave him the Eyebrow of Confusion.
“Why would I tell Captain Archer?” she queried as she retracted her hand from his shoulder; he instantly missed the warmth. “Knowing the specifics of this event would have accomplished nothing beyond causing him to question my abilities to act as his first officer.” T’Pol frowned. “You told me that you trusted me,” she said, “yet you immediately questioned the truth of a statement I made to you. Why would you assume I was deceiving you?” Trip grimaced.
“I’m sorry, T’Pol,” he said. “I’m not thinkin’ straight – haven’t been in a couple of days.” The Vulcan nodded.
“Meditation will help,” she said. “I predict we have just over an hour before dawn. We should use this time wisely.”
“Great,” Trip muttered, his complete lack of enthusiasm plain for her to see. He hated meditating. “Can’t wait.”
“That is a lie,” T’Pol said with a hint of a smirk – or was he just projecting what he wanted to think? With her, he could never tell.
“How long were you aboard the Seleya?” he asked in an attempt to change the subject as he followed her back to the ambulance. The cold was beginning to seep into his bones, and from the way she was nestling herself in the blanket wrapped around her, Trip suspected his companion was feeling it even worse.
“Why?” she asked. Trip grinned as he watched her climb into the ambulance before following her.
“Just tryin’ to get a picture of your past,” he said.
“Why are you so interested in my age?” T’Pol wondered. She sat down on the single cot present in the vehicle as Trip pulled the door shut, closing out the foul weather.
“Curiosity, I guess,” Trip replied. “You’ve dropped enough hints for me to guess that you’re between sixty and seventy, but every time I look at you, I see a woman not even in her thirties yet.” He shrugged as he took a seat beside her on the cot. “It fascinates me, that’s all.” At her continuing silence, he gave her a worried look. “I don’t mean any harm,” he said quickly.
“I know,” T’Pol said. She studied the floor for a moment. “To Vulcans,” she continued a moment later, “certain information is considered … intimate.”
“Sonuvabitch,” Trip muttered. He slid off the cot and knelt in front of her, taking care not to actually invade her personal space. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
“We are from different cultures, Charles,” she said. “It is inevitable that that we will encounter different social customs as we learn more about one another.” She met his eyes. “Your apology is accepted.”
“That’ll teach me to watch where I stick my fingers, right?” he asked with a slight, hopeful smile. T’Pol cocked an eyebrow at the comment, but Trip could see humor dancing in her eyes.
“I am gratified that you are learning,” she deadpanned, “but it will not get you out of meditation.”
“Damn. There’s no foolin’ you, is there?” He reclaimed his seat on the cot, but turned to face her instead of letting his legs dangle over the side. The first day they’d meditated on the cot, Trip had learned not to sit that way as his legs had gone to sleep from lack of blood. T’Pol hadn’t commented at the time, but he was convinced she had been laughing hysterically on the inside. She shifted in place as well, turning to face him as she crossed her legs and assuming a lotus position that made his body hurt just looking at it. Trip didn’t bother trying to follow suit – he suspected he’d break something important if he did – and instead simply closed his eyes.
“T’Pol?” he said after a moment of silence. He couldn’t explain how, but Trip somehow knew she was looking at him. “Am I ever gonna get you to call me Trip?” he asked.
“The future is full of surprises,” she replied calmly. He grinned.
“That wasn’t a ‘no.’”
“It was not a ‘yes’ either.” Trip chuckled, suddenly in a better mood than he had been for a week. He opened his eyes slightly so he could watch her.
“But it wasn’t a ‘no.’ That’s the most important part.”
“Until you can remain awake for an entire neuropressure session, Charles,” T’Pol said, “I will not even entertain the notion.”
“But you will think about it, right?”
“Close your eyes, Charles,” T’Pol ordered, “and focus on meditation. We have a long day ahead of us.”