auswitcheroo151: AU Sato and Mayweather (Default)
[personal profile] auswitcheroo151
Seven

Trip's Quarters, Enterprise


"I remember that," Jon said. "I remember Jeremiah snatching the watch away from you, then disappearing with it. I didn't know what was going on until you tackled me to the floor, just before the bomb went off."

Hoshi went pale at the thought of Matt Hayes with a live bomb. "That's where he got those burns."

"Burns?" Malcolm repeated.

"Matt's got some pretty bad scars on his body, under the uniform," Travis said in a hushed voice. "I remember when we were on the Montana and we ran into the Tandarans. They'd tortured him, and their armsman said something about it 'being a shame having to destroy the artwork' on his skin."

Jon whistled softly. "Christ."

"Yeah." Travis said, looking down at his hands. "It was that bad. But I never asked Matt what had happened to give him those scars; it was none of my business, anyway."

Trip's eyes were sorrowful. "Like I said, when I met Matt Hayes later, when Hoshi and I were on the Madagascar...I didn't make the connection until much later that he and Jeremiah were one and the same...because this was when Jeremiah made his grand exit."

"He disappeared?" Phlox asked.

"Um...something a little more permanent."

"He died?" Phlox said, his eyes widening. "But Captain Hayes is still alive—"

"Matt pulled a convincing act, with help from our dear Vulcan ambassador." Trip shrugged at Jon and added, "And I wasn't done savin' your butt yet, Jon."

"You weren't?" Jon asked with humor in his voice, trying to lighten the mood again. "Now that part I don't remember."

"That's because you were takin' a little nap at the time," Trip retorted.

*****

March 18, 2141, Vulcan Consulate

"Jon? Jon?" Trip tried to wake up Archer, but the diplomat had been knocked out cold. The air around them was filled with dust and debris and a cloying smell tickled Trip's nose. Some kind of leak somewhere...we've got to evacuate the building.

"Ensign Tucker!" Major T'Lydya dropped to her knees next to him. "The diplomat—"

"He's unconscious, but he's alive. I need help getting him out of here. Where's Soval?"

"He is assisting the evacuation of the Consulate. There are multiple coolant and gas leaks; we must get everyone out."

Trip scowled. "Soval needs to get outta here too. He ain't expendable. Wish I could tell him—"

We are at the east courtyard, Trip. Do not worry about my welfare; get Jonathan and the others to safety. Soval's brief mind-voice was like a tap on the back of Trip's head. It reminded him briefly of when his sister Alexandra had smacked him when he'd said something stupid. The sharp rebuke stopped Trip in mid-rant.

I heard ya. Thanks for lettin' me know. He wondered if this thought-sharing business was permanent, and whether or not it meant anything more than an accidental mind-link. Me and Soval. Yeah, right. If he picks up Alex's habit, I'm gonna have a permanent concussion.

He snorted at the thought, then said aloud, "All right, Major. Can you help me with Diplomat Archer?"

She nodded and took up one side of Archer's prone body, while Trip took up the other side. Together, they half-carried, half dragged Jon down two flights of stairs and out into the Consulate's courtyard. Medical transports were already pulling up to the gates, and Third Officer Somek was organizing the rescue effort.

"Take care of him," Trip snapped to a medic as he and T'Lydya hauled Jon onto a waiting stretcher. The man in field greens nodded distractedly, then ordered his team to attend the new patient. A part of Trip's mind noted the man's clipped accent and the no-nonsense attitude, but he promptly forgot whom he saw, as he assisted others out into the courtyard.

Time blurred as he forced himself to stay on his feet. Most of the Consulate regular workers had already left for the evening, but the evening shift still numbered about eighty. Tears ran down his cheeks as he saw good men and women of his security detachment injured and unconscious in the wake of the attack. Some of them had been in cahoots with Lee Doumaides and Sergeant Breen; others were as loyal to Archer and Soval. Unfortunately, the sheer number of the former outweighed the latter. That fact both saddened and enraged him.

"En-ensign?"

A medic knelt beside a prone body, with Soval on the other side of the fallen man. A lump rose in Trip's throat as he recognized the person, and he dropped heavily to his knees next to the medic. "Hey, Jeremiah–"

"Did everyone make it out?" Jeremiah's voice was weak, but Trip heard it all the same. One side of his face was bloody, and his hands were already shiny with burn ointment. Trip didn't want to imagine the kind of internal injuries he must have suffered.

"Yeah," Trip whispered back. He gripped Jeremiah's shoulder. "Relax, buddy. Ya saved my life. I owe ya one."

"You would've done the same for me...Trip," His eyes closed wearily; the medic and Soval exchanged unreadable looks.

"Keep talking to him, Ensign," said the medic as he brought out a hypospray and emptied the contents into Jeremiah's neck. He redialed the medication dispenser and then injected it into Jeremiah's arm.

"Don't you go out on me," Trip said with feeling. He couldn't believe Jeremiah was just giving up. "I'm gonna kick your ass if you do."

Jeremiah tried to laugh but it came out as a cough. "You'd only get to try it once—"

"Ambassador—" the medic interrupted, with a warning in his voice. "I'm losing him."

Soval's expression was grave as he brought his hand up to brush Jeremiah's temple, then his long fingers found the psi points on the man's face. "Do not struggle against me, Lieutenant Commander. I am here to help you."

Trip and the medic glanced at each other, but the medic only shrugged and glanced down at his medical scanner. Several tense minutes passed, then Soval's mouth moved in a silent question. Jeremiah inhaled a deep breath, his answer a sigh.

"Yes." Then his body was still.

Soval opened his eyes and dropped his hand from Jeremiah's face. A moment later, the medic's scanner emitted a low beep. Trip hardly heard it; he couldn't believe the man was dead, not after all he had done---

"I'm sorry, Ensign. He's gone." The medic snapped his scanner closed with a finality that Trip found heartless. Trip stifled the urge to throttle the medic for his lack of bedside manner, and turned to Soval instead.

"Soval? You okay?"

"Yes, Trip, I am fine." But when Soval opened his eyes, Trip saw a haunted look deep within them. "Jeremiah has ceased to exist. Take care of him, Mister Diaz."

The medic nodded and replied, "Yes, sir."

As Soval led Trip away, Trip thought, Ceased to exist? I suppose that's the nice Vulcan way of sayin' the man who saved your life is dead. He only had time to finish the thought before someone else called out for help, and he and Soval were off again, helping the rescue. Trip shoved the grief into a corner of his mind, knowing he'd have to deal with it later. Right now, he had a job to do.

*****

Hours later, he and Nate Kemper were assisting the last of the victims into the medvacs. Trip tried to control his sorrow and his anger, but he found it difficult to do so. There was so many losses: Jeremiah, good Security men and women...all because Paxton wanted to destroy the Vulcans and anyone else who wasn't Human. If Paxton had been around, Trip would have given him more than just a piece of his mind...

"Tucker!"

Trip's head snapped up in time to see a blur slam directly into him, knocking the wind from his lungs. Two strong hands clamped around his neck, and a heavy weight knelt directly on his chest, preventing Trip from gaining any leverage. Pain raced down Trip's spine and paralyzed him.

"Traitor!" hissed Lee's voice. "Those Vulcans have brainwashed you, made you weak. This will be quick, Tucker, one quick snap—"

There was a sharp crack and Trip waited for the rush of death in his ears. Then the vise around his neck eased abruptly and Lee's body went limp, the dark blue eyes glazed over. His body fell sideways off Trip's chest. Trip blinked to see Major T'Lydya calmly getting up from her kneeling position behind Lee. It had happened so fast that Nate Kemper hadn't had time to shoot his EM-33. Nate crouched over Lee and checked his pulse with his left hand.

"Damn," Nate said in a low voice. "One second more, Major—"

"Tal-shaya," she murmured, her voice regretful and sad. "Are you all right, Ensign?"

"Yeah...fine," Trip rasped. "Is everyone out?"

"Everyone has been evacuated," came Soval's voice on Trip's other side. He felt the ambassador's steady hand on his shoulder and to his surprise and relief, a warm wave of warm comfort. "Please relax, Trip. Everything will be all right."

"But—" The soothing warmth made him tired and he let himself drift. Just before he lost consciousness, he thought he heard Soval say in his mind, I understand the darkness now, Trip.

*****

Trip's Quarters, Enterprise

"You're telling me he actually died?" Travis asked.

Trip shook his head, then glanced at T' Pol. "Tow kath. I hope I got the pronunciation right."

T'Pol nodded and Malcolm's face suddenly brightened in understanding. "A healing trance so deep that biosigns hardly register on a medical scanner," she said. "So for all appearance, Jeremiah—Matthew Hayes—was dead."

"Enough to fool the medic and enough to fool me," Trip admitted. "I didn't know it until later, but Soval used his considerable influence to provide a place for him to recover undisturbed. So, Jeremiah 'died' and Matt Hayes pretty much took his place."

Hoshi shook her head in wonder. "All they told me was that Matt had been severely injured in a rescue operation and was going home to Colorado Springs to rest. I didn't see him for two months and by that time, he was reporting back to the Shenandoah. Amazing."

"Apparently, Captain Hayes has a remarkable talent for self-healing on his own," Malcolm remarked.

"And you lost most of your security detachment?" Phlox asked Trip, his eyes shadowed.

"Three of them died directly in the blast, including Sergeant Breen, and three more afterward, including Lee Doumaides." Trip sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Another five were retained for questioning in connection with Terra Prime. That's eleven right there, out of eighteen active personnel. That doesn't include some of the support staff and the civilian workers."

Jon's tone was quiet. "We ended up having to thoroughly clean house after Trip and the others exposed their conspiracy. Starfleet launched their own separate investigation. The press at the time had a field day. Needless to say, Paxton got the publicity he wanted, but none of it good."

Phlox sighed, "A high price to pay to stop a madman."

"The price could've been a whole lot higher," Malcolm commented. "Doctors Ayakamura, Samirah and I had our hands full at Starfleet Medical. It was fortunate for some of the victims that we were so close by. We were able to save their lives."

"So, did you eventually apprehend Paxton?" T'Pol asked.

Trip nodded. "Yeah, but that's another story for another day. We're close to the end of this one, though the story ain't quite finished yet..."

*****

Vulcan Consulate, San Francisco, the evening of March 19, 2141

His twenty-second birthday so far had been more exciting than he would have liked. He'd woken up in a bed at Starfleet Medical, after having been unconscious for ten hours. Whatever Soval had done to him had eased his physical pain; Doctor Samirah had pronounced him fit for release not long afterwards. Her remarks about his "amazing healing powers" had made him uncomfortable, but he wasn't about to tell her the truth.

Soval hadn't been able to heal his inner hurts, though.

He'd known that he'd probably would have had to do some unsavory things in the name of duty. Starfleet Security was not for the faint-hearted. Yet in his wildest dreams did he even imagine himself being a spy and betraying all he believed in. If history had been different, would I have been like Lee, or maybe even like Jeremiah? I knew I should've transferred into Engineering when I had the chance. Engineers aren't likely to become spies.

"You sound positively morose," Jon Archer told him as the driver took them to Cochrane Hall, a building on the grounds of Starfleet Command. It served as a temporary Vulcan Consulate while the original Consulate building was being repaired.

"Nah, it's just the adrenaline letdown," Trip replied as he closed his eyes. He wasexhausted, even if his mind refused to stop turning. "I just want to crash, that's all."

"You feel guilty for what happened."

Trip opened one eye to regard Jon. "Yeah, maybe a little."

"Maybe a lot."

Trip opened both eyes. "Since when have you become a mind reader, Jon?"

Jon's smile was lopsided. "I don't have to be; it's written all over your face." The smile vanished as quickly as it had come. "If it's any consolation, it's our fault. Paxton was able to manipulate our people right under our noses. Even Soval had been unaware what was going on. Starfleet Security's going through a major shakedown right now. But believe me that it could've been a lot worse if it hadn't been for you."

He stubbornly shook his head in denial. "Jon, I betrayed my principles. I conspired with Paxton and his cronies. Hell, I rigged the conference room to blow, and if it hadn't been for my security comm link, you guys wouldn't have even known—"

"But you did leave the link open, so we could track you and disarm the bombs. Your audio conversation with Paxton, then with Lee Doumaides afterwards in the Consulate, pretty much implicated Paxton and his group. And you saved my life and the lives of others too. I think Starfleet and the Vulcan High Command will take that under account."

The aircar slowed and stopped in front of Cochrane Hall and Corporal Nathan Kemper opened the door for them. "Welcome back, Diplomat, Ensign."

"Good to see ya, Nate," Trip greeted him. He extended a hand to Nate, who took it and shook it firmly. "Heard you had one wild ride back from Berkley."

Nate chuckled and shrugged good-naturedly. "Our shuttle hit 200 kph at one point. I don't think I'm going to let Andrew Chang drive for a long, long time."

"Yeah, but you guys managed to get back in time. I owe you guys one."

"Naaah," Nate said with an evil grin. "The unit considers you an honorary MACO anyway. Just part of the job." He glanced at Jon and asked, "Diplomat Archer?"

"Is everything ready, Nathan?"

"All ready whenever you two are," Nate said with a wink.

Trip was immediately suspicious. "All right, what's going on? What's—" He didn't have time to finish his protest, for both Jon and Nate practically frog-marched him up the stairs and through the front door. The entrance hall was lined with men and women in Security uniforms.

"Atten-shun!" Nate hollered, and the guards snapped to attention. Before Trip could say anything, he was swept through the hall and into the main atrium, where Admiral Alastair McGee stood next to Ambassador Soval. Major T'Lydya stood at Soval's side in full uniform. For the first time, Trip realized that the Security contingent was comprised of Humans and Vulcans.

"Attention to orders!" said Admiral McGee. He took out a PADD as Nate and Jon maneuvered Trip in front of him, and Jon took his place on McGee's left side. "As of today, nineteenth of March, twenty-one forty-four, Ensign Charles A. Tucker the Third is hereby promoted to the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, in recognition of his devotion to duty, above and beyond its call."

Trip's mouth dropped open, then he realized where he was and closed it. McGee handed Jon an extra rank pip, an open one, and Jon pinned it next to the one full gold one on Trip's uniform collar. "Congratulations, Lieutenant Tucker."

"Thank you, sir." He managed to sound somewhat coherent. "I—"

"Both Captain Ramirez and Major T'Lydya recommended you, with endorsements from Diplomat Archer and Ambassador Soval." McGee's smile turned wry. "Starfleet couldn't exactly turn down that kind of thing." He saluted Trip. "Thank you for all you've done."

"You're welcome, sir. And I would do it again." Even as Trip said the words, he knew it was the truth. Despite it all, he woulddo it all again. He returned the salute and as he accepted McGee's handshake, Jon began the applause and it thundered through the atrium. Trip caught Soval's slight smile and gave him a nod of gratitude.

*****

Much later, Trip found peace and quiet in Cochrane Hall's one garden. Trip sighed and leaned back against the wall, allowing the coolness to seep through his shirt. Instead of his Starfleet uniform, he now wore civilian clothes, a dark plaid shirt and jeans.

"Lieutenant Tucker? Trip?"

His eyes widened at the dry voice. "Soval? How—?"

"Your emotions blaze in the darkness like a beacon. To one who is attuned to your mind, it is almost...blinding."

"Can't hide from you, can I?"

The ambassador stepped out from the shadows and sat on the bench facing opposite him, folding his long robes out of the way. They sat there in silence for a moment, savoring the coolness of the spring night.

"I believe the form of salutation is 'Happy Birthday'."

Trip gaped at him, as Soval extended his hand, palm-up to him. A silver disc lay there, etched with silver and gold and attached to a chain. Wordlessly, he accepted it. Starlight danced upon it and threw shadows on the terracotta walkway at his feet.

"What's this?"

Soval's mouth curved upward in a slight smile. "It is Vulcan badge of honor, given to those who prove themselves worthy in times of trial. I would be pleased if you accept it."

"Uh...thank you. I'm the one honored." He allowed Soval to place the chain over his neck, surprised that the ambassador was willing to touch him. Vulcans were touch-telepaths and weren't keen on extended physical contact.

"Your soul is still shadowed, Trip, filled with anger, sorrow and regret."

Trip gazed at him. The glow from his unexpected promotion ceremony had faded and left desolation behind. "Didn't you say that you understood the darkness now? What'd you mean?"

Soval didn't flinch from the steady stare as he replied, "When I touched Jeremiah's mind, I felt his last thoughts. He was an honorable man, yet weighed down with responsibility. Regret. Guilt. Vulcans deny such emotions, call them irrational and illogical, yet they can be powerful motivators in times of great distress."

"Yeah. More than we know."

"But there was hope, hope that we would triumph in the end. It was bright, like—"

"—a beacon. I had the feeling you'd used that word deliberately when you described me."

Again, another ghost of a smile played upon Soval's lips. "Are we so linked that you must finish every sentence I speak?"

"Sorry." Trip didn't sound the least bit apologetic. "I guess this thing between us is permanent?"

"About as close as a family member, I suppose, but not quite as close as bonded mates."

Trip grinned and quipped, "Thank God. I like you, but not that much."

Soval gave him a deadpan expression, but Trip felt his unspoken amusement. "In any case, I felt the same darkness over you when I entered the garden, but now it has lifted."

"A little. I was thinking about what's gonna happen in the future. We still got a lot of work to do."

"Yes." Soval nodded, "but it is illogical to dwell on what may or may not come to pass. It is also illogical to allow the darkness to overwhelm your vision."

Trip took a deep breath. "Yeah, you're right again. Soval—"

"Yes?"

"Does this mean you can tell what's going on in my very soul?"

"Not on a consistent basis, but I can tell when you might be a threat to yourself or to others."

"That's reassuring. I've got an early detection and warning system before I do something stupid."

This time Soval allowed the faintest of smiles. "It is called 'logic', Trip. Even the basest of emotions have their own unique logic."

Trip chuckled. "You're learnin', Soval. You're learnin'."

Epilogue

Enterprise, March 19, 2151, 2352 hours


"So that's why you're able to get away with half the wisecrack remarks you make around Soval," Hoshi said with a broad grin. "He basically knows why you do it and it doesn't bother him as much as other Vulcans."

"Yeah. He puts up with a lot from me." Trip replied with a chuckle. "In return, he gives me plenty of advice, just like he would with any other member of his family."

T'Pol raised an eyebrow and said, "He does attempt to impart his wisdom to those under his charge. So does this mean that we are bound by clan ties as well?"

Trip thought a moment. He wasn't sure if the prospect bothered or thrilled T'Pol; it was hard to tell with her. "Not like brother or sister. More like, oh I don't know, distant cousins or somethin' like that. It's not like we're related by blood."

"Obviously," she replied dryly. "I'm rather surprised that Soval has never told me this about you."

"Ah...probably 'cause he didn't know how you'd take it. Your mother follows strict traditional rules and courtesies, so I don't think she'd be thrilled at a Human bein' close to the family."

Jon nodded in agreement. "That actually makes some sense. T'Les is very much the traditionalist."

Travis stretched and got up. "Shows how we still got a ways to go, doesn't it? But like Soval said, there's hope. Well, thanks for the tale, Trip, and give my greetings to the ambassador next time you chat with him."

"Will do, Travis. 'Night."

Phlox smiled and said, "Have a good evening, Lieutenant Commander Tucker, and happy birthday."

"Thanks, Phlox." Phlox headed back to Engineering, while Travis went to the Bridge.

Malcolm got up first and helped Hoshi to her feet. "I'd be gratified if you could stop by Sickbay within the next few days, Lieutenant Commander."

Trip sighed and shook his head and asked, "Please tell me I'm not gonna be your next pet project. You know how I feel 'bout being hooked up to your machines."

Malcolm's eyes twinkled and he replied, "It won't hurt much, I promise."

Hoshi elbowed Malcolm gently in the ribs. "Doctor, enough. I'm not going to have my Chief Medical Officer and my Armory Officer at odds with each other. The crew might get ideas."

"I wouldn't worry too much, my dear captain. I suspect the crew already know about our little 'disagreements'," he answered dryly.

"Yeah, and we have a reputation to protect," Trip added with a broad grin. "Doc, no promises, but I'll do my best. The Armory's got some upgrades comin' and it'll be hectic."

"I'm sure your precious cannons could spare you for a few hours."

Hoshi stepped in before it could turn into an argument. "Trip, arrange it through Lieutenant Cutler, all right? I believe you're on the duty roster tonight, Malcolm, and Trip and I have a long day tomorrow." She smiled at Trip. "Good night, Trip."

"'Night, Doc. Cap'n."

Jon, T'Pol and Trip noticed the glance that went between the captain and her Chief Medical Officer as they went through the door. Jon quirked an eyebrow and asked, "They've known each other...how long? Five, six weeks?"

"Don't even go there, Jon," Trip cut in, but he felt a twinge of uneasy guilt as he said it. "'She's romantically involved with Matt Hayes."

Jon gazed at the door long after they'd left, then shook his head and dropped the subject. "Good night, Trip. See you in the morning?"

"Bright and early, Jon. Thanks for everything."

After Jon left, T'Pol touched the IDIC symbol around her neck and said, "I would be honored to offer you friendship...Trip, if you would have it."

"Sure, if you don't mind putting up with a completely illogical Human being." Trip grinned at his own words. "If Soval can do it, I hope you can too."

T'Pol regarded his words for a moment, then lifted her hand, palm facing forward and fingers close together. Trip nodded and mirrored the gesture. She touched his palm gently with hers...

*****

...and saw a bright flame, surrounded by rings of dark clouds. The clouds were like an impenetrable barrier, a gate to the flame. T'Pol instinctively knew that she would not be able to breach it, not right now. But why was Trip surrounded by a sea of dark emotion, when he showed no outward trace of it on the outside?

Is this what Soval saw when he mind-touched Trip? The darkness that is just...barely held back by the light? Is this why Soval told me to take caution around this man, when I told him I would be serving with him?

She understood Soval's concern now. She knew the scars that life had given her; how much more pain had Trip endured in the past decade? Whatever it was, Trip had locked it within his subconscious, so his crew mates only saw the easy-going, calm exterior.

Whatever had happened, T'Pol wasn't going to judge him for it. Instead, she was going to be his friend and fellow officer...and if he needed assistance, she would give it to him. It was the most logical course of action to take.

All this happened in a few heartbeats. When she dropped her hand, she met his gaze squarely. "Be known that if you require any...advice, I am capable of acting in Soval's stead."

"I'll keep that in mind, T'Pol. Thank you."

She inclined her head to him and left his quarters. There was much to meditate on in the coming days...Humans were such a complicated species, indeed, but an honorable one.

*****
Trip watched her go. Such offers of support didn't come easy from a Vulcan; it took a long time before earning one's trust. If Soval could do it, he had confidence that T'Pol could too.

He grinned and thought, Still gotta write that thank-you note to Soval for the IDIC. It's appropriate for how my little birthday fete turned out. I wonder if somehow he knew. Trip allowed the door to close behind him as he tried to figure out just how to phrase his message.

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