She could not move.
Even as Trip disappeared through the door of the cabin, T’Pol found herself frozen in place on his bed, her eyes wide and her mind racing. What had just happened … it was not possible. It could not be possible. And yet, logically, she knew that it had. She had been in Trip’s mind. And he had been in hers. Which could mean one thing.
She was a melder.
Pushing her rising panic down, T’Pol slid off the bed and reached for the long shirt she had begun to use as a robe. It only reached her upper legs, just above her knees, but with the pants she consistently wore at night, it helped ward off the early morning chill. She still had not determined if her continuing inability to get warm was due to the Pa’nar or some facet about this planet’s ecology that did not affect Trip in the same way.
Automatically, her eyes locked on the door that he had vanished through and she struggled to fight down the fear threatening to overwhelm her control. If she had unconsciously melded with him while they slept as it appeared, then there was a good chance that she might have infected him with the same terminal condition that she had acquired from Tolaris. How would Pa’nar affect a human? Had her foolish attachment to Trip endangered his life? She didn’t know and had no idea how to find out. It was bad enough that her stupidity had significantly curtailed her own life expectancy, but if she had permanently damaged Trip? There were no words for such an appalling loss of judgment.
Even more troubling was the realization that the Syrannites were likely correct. If all Vulcans were truly capable of mind melds, then that meant the High Command had lied. Admittedly, that was not as big a surprise now as it would have been before she learned how far they would go, but it still went against everything she had been taught. If they had deceived Vulcans about this, something that may very well be at the core of all Vulcans, then what other truths had they concealed? What else had she been taught that was a lie?
Her eyes fell on Trip’s phase pistol resting atop the small, wooden chest near the head of Tucker’s bed so it was close at hand while he slept. She flushed as soon as she realized that she was responsible for him forgetting it. If he had not been so … distraught following their shared dream, she knew he would not have forgotten the weapon. A sigh escaped her lips before she was able to stop herself and she secured the pistol before retracing her steps to her own room. She had not been deceiving Trip when she told him that she was cold the night before, but neither was she telling the entire truth. At some point in recent months, his presence had become a necessary element for her sleep to be fulfilling or her meditation to be effective. It was difficult for her to admit to such a reliance on another person, but it was the truth.
Abruptly, T’Pol’s eyes widened. If all Vulcans were capable of melding, could this mean that the myths about mating bonds had a basis in fact? She had never questioned exactly why newly married spouses were expected to spend their first year together, but perhaps …
No. Surely not. T’Les would have warned her.
She dressed quickly, acknowledging at the back of her mind that she had ulterior motives about taking the phase pistol to Trip. Although he had tried to conceal it, she had seen (and smelled) the state of his body when he made his escape, and twice in the last month, she had discreetly observed him relieving his tensions after witnessing a similar condition. At neither time had her presence been intentional and she could not entirely comprehend why she was so eager to observe a third time, only that her every nerve ending felt … aroused at the thought. Even the possibility that he might in fact be swimming failed to arrest the subtle excitement, not when she considered how he preferred to wear nothing at all while in the lake. T’Pol shook her head – this was not like her! It was illogical.
Still, she walked more quickly than was probably appropriate as she exited the cabin and angled toward the footpath leading down the hill. With the two phase pistol holstered on either side of her waist, she felt slightly ridiculous but suppressed the emotion. Curiously, the rush of excitement that had coursed through her moments earlier had dwindled and T’Pol shivered against the morning air. It seemed far colder than it actually was and she once more lamented the damage done to her scanner. The one that Trip possessed as part of his survival pack was grossly inferior to hers, and she wished they had acquired the appropriate tools that would have allowed Trip to cannibalize his scanner to repair hers.
There was no trace of him at the lake when she arrived, and T’Pol frowned in slight worry. She cast around for a moment, studying the soft ground around the water for signs of his passage. After a moment, she located his distinctive footprints leading from the lake to a second path that would take him to a cabin not theirs. T’Pol raised an eyebrow at his unusual actions and took a step toward the path.
And a heartbeat later, she heard Trip scream out in agony.
T’Pol reacted without thought. She sprang forward, both hands wrapping around the grips of the two pistols and drawing them in mid-stride. Up the trail she sprinted, terror that she did not bother trying to suppress fueling her muscles. The sound of a low roar warned her a single, thudding heartbeat before the sehlat-like creature came into view. Trip was on the ground before the beast, unmoving, and T’Pol shrieked like a le-matya as she brought the two pistols up to fire. The creature twisted around, as if to defend its meal, but she was already squeezing the triggers. Twin lances of energy flashed out, boring into the sehlat-like creature. It collapsed instantly, twitching and shaking as if in the throes of an epileptic seizure, but T’Pol did not stop firing. With a hideous shriek and a bone-cracking shudder, the beast stopped moving entirely.
She slid to a stop alongside Trip, her heart pounding and tears beginning to trickle down her face. Here, on this world, with no one to see, what did it matter? With a trembling hand, she reached out to touch him.
And he groaned.
Later, T’Pol would not be able to piece together exactly how she got Trip from that spot back to their cabin without killing him. She used the last of their remaining Starfleet medical supplies to stabilize him – the tiny medical computer was of little help as it recommended an immediate trauma surgeon be located – and seal the worst of his lacerations, but still his vital signs continued their gradual decline. Panic set in as T’Pol realized she was about to watch him die.
And that was the one thing she did not want to do.
Grief began twisting her stomach in knots and she brushed his too long and still wet hair out of his face. She had tried so very hard not to feel more than collegial affection for this man and yet now, she knew that her efforts had been for naught. It was simply too difficult to envision a universe without Trip Tucker in it. On instinct, she cupped his face with her hand, fingers almost moving of their accord, and as soon as she realized what she was doing, T’Pol pulled her hand back.
But not before she felt the whisper of pain that she knew wasn’t hers.
Swallowing, T’Pol gave Trip another look before glancing down at her hand and then his face once more. The Syrannites argued that this was a natural talent for all Vulcans, not something to be despised or feared. More importantly, if her understanding of their banned teachings were accurate, it might be possible for her to lend Trip her strength. If he was a Vulcan, he could enter a healing trance so perhaps she could do the same for him? Was it worth the risk? Tolaris had permanently damaged her brain chemistry with his meld …
“He will die otherwise,” she murmured.
So she touched his face once more.
Dull pain echoed through her fingertips and T’Pol concentrated on the sensation to the exclusion of everything else. It felt as if she were slowly siphoning raw acid into her body, but somehow, she could sense that Trip’s pain was easing. She grit her teeth together – it wasn’t enough.
“Trip,” she said aloud, hoping that some part of his consciousness could hear her. “I need you to trust me.” There was no answer – she hadn’t truly expected one – but T’Pol decided that she had no more time.
“My mind to your mind,” she murmured, reciting the words she’d read in a banned text that possession of alone was considered a level two misdemeanor. Her sense of self seemed to … shift, as if she were moving without actually changing physical position. “Our minds are joining,” T’Pol continued. Her other hand came up and anchored itself on the other side of Trip’s face as she felt her consciousness continue to expand and slide toward a raging torrent of foreign colors and images. It was an amazing and terrifying sensation, but she focused on her need, on Trip, and pushed away the fear. “Our minds are one,” she finished.
Our minds are one, a distant, masculine voice echoed from an eternity away that was no space at all. T’Pol opened her eyes.
And found chaos.
She recognized Enterprise’s engineering deck immediately, despite the fires raging and the damage. Smoke filled the air and, although she knew that it was all in Trip’s mind, she coughed nonetheless and instinctively reached up to cover her mouth. Another explosion ripped apart a nearby conduit and warp coolant sprayed out.
“What the hell are you doin’ here?” Trip screamed as he darted out of the maelstrom. His Starfleet uniform was burned and charred, blood caked the side of his face, and he was limping, but that did not stop him from grabbing her arm and shoving her toward the main entrance. To her surprise, Captain Archer was standing there, his own uniform spotless and his physical appearance more idealized than realistic. T’Pol blinked when Trip shoved her toward the captain, an expression of bitter remorse flashing across Tucker’s face. She felt a sharp pain stab through her then – it was Trip’s, not hers – and another fire erupted. Engineering was falling apart.
When the imaginary Archer took her arm, she resisted and pulled away from him, sparing him only the briefest of glances before returning to her attention to Trip.
“I am here to help you,” she declared. Again, the faux captain reached for her arm, and again, she slapped him away.
“You need to get out of here!” Trip urged. He flinched when another conduit erupted in flames.
And quite suddenly, T’Pol finally understood. She silently chastised herself for being oblivious before taking a step closer to the bleeding Tucker. His eyes widened when she raised her hand toward his face.
“I am here to assist you, Trip,” she told him coolly.
“I don’t …” Trip’s eyes darted toward where she knew Archer was standing, and T’Pol followed his gaze. Her breath caught at the sight of the captain standing there.
Or rather, her as she appeared before they crashed on Ekos. The imaginary doppelganger was wearing a vague approximation of her High Command uniform, although this version seemed unnecessarily tight and was so revealing it bordered on the scandalous. Her hair was cropped short and she seemed quite pleased to be there, in Archer’s arms, as the captain stroked her face. T’Pol’s eyebrows skyrocketed as a dozen images suddenly flickered across her mind’s eye, like video captures on a computer screen. She saw things as Trip saw them, saw the captain entering her cabin after hours following the Paraagan incident, heard comments by Archer taken out of context, felt Tucker’s hidden disappointment as he perceived a romantic connection where there was none. The depth of this man’s regard for her was powerful…
And frightening, but she refused to dwell on that now, not when he was still in such terrible shape.
“Trip.” He refocused on her and a soft smile curled his lips.
“You called me Trip,” he remarked. “Best going away present a guy could have.” T’Pol inhaled sharply.
“Focus on me, Trip,” she ordered. “I need you to focus entirely on me.”
“Well, that’s not hard,” Tucker remarked with a hint of his old spark. T’Pol eased her control and gave him a soft smile.
“You are gravely injured,” she revealed. “I can help you but only if you focus.” Another explosion of fire caused Trip to drop to his knees with a groan.
“It hurts,” he moaned. T’Pol knelt before him.
“Then give it to me,” she instructed, placing her hands on his face.
“No!” Trip tried to pull away from her, his face aghast. “Don’t wanna hurt you!” T’Pol saw her chance then and pounced.
“You are already hurting me, Trip,” she told him. “Watching you suffer pains me.” He looked disbelieving, as if she were trying to trick him, so T’Pol did the only thing she could think of.
She leaned forward and kissed him.
It was a light touching of the lips, no more, but she felt a surge of alien emotion respond to the gesture and push toward her mental barriers. Without hesitation, she accepted the foreign sensations, drank in Trip’s wonder and fear and agony, and concentrated entirely on maintaining the connection between them, no matter what her reflexes urged her to do. Trip’s hands came up to caress the side of her face and the intensity of the sensations increased almost exponentially, nearly overwhelming her. T’Pol opened her eyes – when had she closed them? – and locked gazes with him.
“Trust me, Trip,” she pleaded. This human, this man could not die, not now.
Hesitantly, he nodded.
And acting entirely on instinct, T’Pol opened her mind to him.