Summary: After the death of baby Elizabeth, fate or science gives Trip and T'Pol time to heal.
Notes: Written for anr
With a hand inside a panel, Trip reached around a plasma conduit. It was tricky to do one-handed, but his left shoulder still hurt. Not that he complained.
While they were in Earth orbit they were getting through their non-urgent repairs and he'd assigned himself some of the list. Anything that kept him busy was good right now.
However, it wasn't enough to stop him from thinking. In his imagination there was a girl about ten years old with blonde hair and pointy ears beside him. She was learning engineering in a way Lorian hadn't been able to do.
He kept his attention on the panel as he said, "Plasma burns are an occupational hazard when you're an engineer. I've had a few. But you stay away from them, do you hear? No touching of plasma conduits."
Trip startled at the sound of Kelby's voice coming from right beside him. His arm jerked up and hit two buttons that shouldn't be pressed at the same time. Had he said that last bit out loud?
The conduit ruptured, spewing hot plasma onto his arm.
He cursed, yanking his arm out of the panel and away from the flow.
Kelby turned to two nearby engineers. "Miller, contain that plasma. Rodriguez, accompany Commander Tucker to sickbay."
Trip bristled over both being ordered around, if indirectly, and the idea that he needed to be escorted to sickbay.
"Doesn't that hurt?" Kelby asked, as Rodriguez stood obediently at Trip's side.
Trip glared at Kelby. "I'm going."
He'd have gone anyway. After all, he'd burned his arm and needed it fixed. He knew that. Although it took his mind off the pain in his heart, so he didn't walk too quickly to sickbay. Rodriguez at least had the good sense to stay quiet.
"Plasma burn, is it?" Phlox asked cheerfully, when they entered sickbay.
"Yep." Trip sat on the bed and held his arm out. To Rodriguez he said, "Dismissed. You can report back to Kelby that I don't need any more babysitting."
Rodriguez, only an Ensign, was wide-eyed at Trip's tone. She didn't need telling twice.
Phlox frowned as he cut Trip's sleeve away from the burn. "How you are feeling?"
He shrugged. "My arm hurts."
"I mean you're not your usual charming self. How much sleep have you been getting?"
Trip hung his head. He didn't like seeing the worry on Phlox's face. "I can't sleep. It's too quiet. And I can't stop thinking. Do you think Paxton's doctors made her wrong on purpose?" When he raised his head he found Phlox was grimacing at the implication.
"It's hard to say." Phlox retrieved the dermal regenerator, which he ran over Trip's arm. It made his skin tingle. "If they did then it was a tenuous plan. She could have lived ten days or ten years and they'd have no way of knowing which it was."
"Wouldn't have minded ten years," he said wistfully. They might be ten years fraught with worrying about Elizabeth's health, but it would still be better than the few days they'd had.
"If you want to talk, you know where I am." Having finished, Phlox switched the regenerator off. "It's often quiet during the night shift; I would welcome the distraction."
Trip smiled at him. "Thanks Doc, but I should get back to engineering. I left a mess down there." He slid off the bed.
"Absolutely not." Phlox's tone was stern and he a hand up. "You're taking the rest of the day off."
Trip opened his mouth to complain, but Phlox carried on, "Before you have any more accidents."
"I won't." Although he knew he couldn't promise anything like that.
Phlox relaxed his stance a little. "Perhaps you could speak with Commander T'Pol. She hasn't left her quarters since she returned from Elizabeth's service. I don't believe she's spoken to anyone. Or eaten. Frankly, I'm worried about her."
Trip was too. She hadn't been speaking to him either, but he'd thought it best to give her a little more time. She'd been distant even before the service and he thought she'd needed to get over the hiding away phase of grieving. Unlike Trip, she'd taken up the captain's offer of compassionate leave. But if she wasn't eating then that problem needed addressing sooner.
"I'll speak to her," he promised.
Phlox nodded. "Oh, and Chef said to tell you he made you something to cheer you up."
"I'll check it out," Trip promised, as he left sickbay. Phlox had gone back to his usual - of late - worried expression and there was only so much of that Trip could take.
The mess hall was empty at this time of day, but when he checked the cabinets he found a black plate with his name written on it in sugar. And a slice of pecan pie in the center of the plate.
His eyes watered knowing Chef was thinking about him. That happened too often these days when someone was kind. It was easier when people treated him normally and for a few moments he could pretend nothing had happened.
He should go and thank Chef, but he couldn't be sure his voice would stay steady. And he'd had enough of crying; he didn't want to do it any more. Especially not in front of other people.
Instead he collected a fork and took it with him to T'Pol's quarters. He'd thank Chef tomorrow.
Once at her door he pressed the buzzer and received no reply. Which wasn't a surprise. After giving her a few seconds, he tried the comms button. "T'Pol, it's me. Can we talk?"
That didn't get him a response either. It was possible she'd fainted from hunger, but he had a feeling she was merely refusing to answer. "I'm not going away until you let me in."
With that he sat down, back to her door, pie on the floor beside him. It only took a few seconds before he discovered it was a terrible idea. He had nothing with him, not even a PADD. All he could do was to sit here and think. Which was exactly what he'd been trying to avoid doing.
He stood back up and pressed the comms again. "I'm still here." He'd hoped she'd see he was serious and open the door, but she didn't. "I'm worried about you. I just want to see if you're okay, then I'll go."
Finally, she opened the door.
She sat cross-legged in the middle of the room. The candles around the room had nearly burned down and he wondered how long she'd been meditating.
He sat opposite her, setting the plate down on the floor between them.
She said, "I'm fine," before he could ask. Her face and voice were expressionless. He could generally read T'Pol, but right now he was getting nothing from her.
He shook his head. "I heard you haven't been eating."
"I understand you hiding away in here, not talking to anyone. I've done it myself. But you have to eat." He scrubbed at his face with one hand. "Life carries on, whether we want it to or not."
"I can go without food for many days."
He wasn't giving up that easily. He picked up the fork and used the side of it to slice the pie in two. It didn't work well and the filling spilled out, but at least she was watching him. "We'll have half each."
He picked up the nearest half to him and took a bite. He closed his eyes, savoring the taste: the sweetness of the filling and the crumbliness of the pastry. It almost melted in his mouth. Chef made good pecan pie.
When he opened his eyes he saw T'Pol hadn't moved. "Try it, you might like it."
"I've eaten it before."
He frowned. "You have? When?"
"Nearly four years ago. You offered me a piece. You said it was 'food for the soul'."
He raised his eyebrows. "It is. I feel better already."
"It's illogical that food should affect your state of mind."
"No, it isn't." He made her wait for him to clarify by taking another bite of the pie in his hand. He made it a big one and tried not to grin while he chewed. She was glaring at him and he was cheering inside, happy that he'd gotten a reaction out of her. Anything was better than that expressionless nothing.
"This pie is something that tastes good and I don't get to eat it often. It's like a treat." He held up what was left. "Having something special can cheer you up. There's probably some science behind it but I don't know what it is."
"Chemicals in food can activate areas of the brain."
He nodded. "So you do know."
"Vulcans can regulate their brains much better. We are not affected."
"All right, but I bet you must be hungry." He stuffed the last of the pie in his mouth and picked up the plate to hold it closer to her. It smelled good. She wouldn't be able to resist it forever.
However, aside from a glance at the plate, she didn't move.
"Maybe there's a Vulcan delicacy you'd like," he said, after swallowing. "I'm sure Chef would make it for you."
"He does not have the correct ingredients."
He shrugged. "I'll ask Hoshi to call down to Earth. There's bound to be something in the Vulcan compound. I'm sure Soval will help."
She paused for a moment before saying, "That will not be necessary."
He waited a minute, sensing victory. He was right: she took the plate, picked up the fork and cut a piece off. He held his breath and didn't let it out until she swallowed a piece.
"What do you think?" He leaned forward a little.
"It is overly sweet."
He smiled and shook his head. Then left her to finish it, in dainty bites, while he washed the residue from his fingers in her bathroom.
"Maybe it would help to talk about her," he said softly, once she'd set the empty plate back on the floor. They both knew who he was talking about without him having to say her name.
"It would not."
His victory was short-lived: they were back to the expressionless T'Pol again. "I know what you're feeling," he tried. "I feel it too."
"Vulcans do not feel."
He snorted. "You told me once that losing someone affects Vulcans the same as it does humans, but if you give into those emotions they overwhelm you. I don't know about you but I'm a little overwhelmed with them right now."
"I am fine."
He sighed. Some days he wondered why he bothered. "T'Pol, you can talk to me."
"You can leave now." She closed her eyes, acting like he wasn't there.
He threw a hand up and left. At least she'd eaten something. And she'd been herself, if only for a little while. He'd try again tomorrow and wear her down, little by little, until she let him in.
Engineering was a familiar place: the beeps and chirps of the computers reassuring that all was well; the background chatter about EPS relays and antimatter containment. Except Trip didn't remember how he'd ended up here.
Last night he'd stuck a movie on to occupy himself. Conjured up his imaginary companion and offered a running commentary where no one could hear him talking to himself. Until ten minutes in when he'd realized it wasn't a child-friendly movie.
He'd continued watching on his own, but before it ended his eyes had felt heavy and he'd given into the impulse to close them. Then he found himself here.
Trip startled at the sound: he hadn't heard Kelby approach. His arm jerked up and hit two buttons that shouldn't be pushed at the same time. The conduit ruptured, spewing hot plasma onto his arm.
He cursed, pulling his arm out of the panel and away from the flow.
Kelby turned to two nearby engineers. "Miller, contain that plasma. Rodriguez, accompany Commander Tucker to sickbay."
This wasn't a dream, it hurt too much. But why was Kelby acting the same as he had yesterday? Why was he not mentioning Trip's identical accident yesterday?
"Doesn't that hurt?" Kelby asked, as Rodriguez waited obediently.
"Uh, yeah. Don't worry, I'm going." He went, Rodriguez sticking to his side.
"Pretty stupid to get burned the same way twice in two days." Trip side-eyed Rodriguez to see how she'd react.
"You weren't in engineering yesterday, sir." She was frowning a little, perhaps wondering if this was a test.
"Déjà vu?" he mused, not believing it. Something was wrong and he intended to find out what. Once Phlox had dealt with the burn. It hurt as much as it had yesterday, but knowing it would stop soon made it easier to bear.
"Plasma burn, is it?" Phlox asked cheerfully, when they entered sickbay.
"Yep." Trip sat on the bed and held his arm out. "And something else. I did exactly the same thing yesterday, but Rodriguez says I wasn't in engineering yesterday."
"You weren't," Phlox said, cutting Trip's sleeve away from the burn. "Yesterday you were at the conference."
"But the service for Elizabeth was two days ago." He glanced over at Rodriguez, who was frowning. He'd rather have this conversation in private. "You can go, Ensign."
She went, but he wondered how long it would be until everyone in engineering knew that their chief had gone crazy.
"I'm not crazy," he said to Phlox.
"Grief does funny things to people." Phlox started the dermal regenerator, which tingled on his skin. "I recommend taking the rest of the day off and getting a good night's sleep. You look like you haven't had one for a while."
Not since before they discovered Elizabeth's existence. But maybe some more time off would be a good thing; it would give him opportunity to investigate. "Going to be a while before I sleep well again."
Phlox nodded, but didn't offer him anything to help him sleep. Trip knew Phlox was waiting for him to ask. Or else sort the problem out on his own. But he didn't want to sleep. The dreams he had of Elizabeth were mixed with Lizzie and he felt as if he'd lost both of them this week.
There was also neuro-pressure, but that was a level of intimacy they didn't have right now. The only thing he wanted from T'Pol was to talk about their loss.
"Why don't you speak with Commander T'Pol?" Phlox suggested, same as he had yesterday. "She hasn't left her quarters since she returned from Elizabeth's service. I don't believe she's spoken to anyone. Or eaten. Frankly, I'm worried about her."
That was a good idea: perhaps T'Pol could help. This was all getting a little weird.
Phlox switched the regenerator off. "I heard Chef made you something to cheer you up."
"Pecan pie," Trip confirmed. Assuming that was the same too. "Thanks, Doc."
The mess hall was as empty as it had been yesterday. And the pecan pie was on a plate with his name in sugar, also as it had been yesterday. Still, pecan pie was pecan pie. This time he picked up two forks and a knife and balanced them on the plate before heading to T'Pol's quarters.
This time he went straight to the communicator. "Something strange is going on. Today is almost exactly the same as yesterday."
The door opened and he stepped inside. T'Pol was in the same position as she had been yesterday and the candles had burned down again. He wondered if she'd moved at all since he left.
"I don't think Chef made pecan pie two days in a row." It wasn't impossible, and if that was the only thing he wouldn't have thought much of it. But it was just another thing to add to the list.
He sat opposite her again, setting the plate down between them and using the knife to slice the pie neatly in half.
"Last night all but one of my candles burned out. As the last one went out they were all burning again." She took the offered fork without argument, her gaze falling on his cut sleeve. "What happened to your uniform?"
"I burned my arm on a plasma conduit. Same as I did yesterday." Except this time she noticed. "I've lost fifteen hours. I fell asleep and found myself back in engineering."
She stood to check the computer as he stuck his fork into the pie. "It is yesterday."
"What?" He swallowed and stood to peer over her shoulder. The computer was showing yesterday's date. While it was possible someone could mess with it, it was unlikely they'd choose now to play a joke. Especially on T'Pol.
But there was precedent for this happening. Albeit fictional precedence. But then once upon a time he'd thought men couldn't get pregnant and he'd soon learned the truth of that. "We're in a time loop. I saw it in a movie once."
She shook her head slightly. "Time loops don't exist."
"Then how do you explain this?" He waved at the screen.
"Computer time can be changed." She slipped into the seat.
While she investigated he finished his half of the pie, then left the plate on her desk, so she could eat her half.
"It is yesterday," she concluded eventually, although she still didn't sound like she believed it.
"I told you so." He grinned.
He stepped away to think. "We need to change something, that's how we break out of it. That's what happened in the movie."
She peered over her shoulder. "What do you suggest we change?"
"In the movie the loop ends when the main character gets the girl. I think." It had been a long time since he'd seen it. "But that doesn't apply to us."
Unless it did. This was probably the longest conversation they'd since the day Elizabeth died, and the most amount of time they'd spent together. There had to be a reason why they were the only two people aware of the day repeating and them both needing to change something would explain it.
But he couldn't think of a way of telling her without getting her back up, so he didn't voice his thoughts.
"We should watch Groundhog Day," he declared. At T'Pol's confusion he clarified, "The movie about time loops."
"I should gather data. There will be a scientific explanation for this. We may not have much time before the loop resets." She turned back to the computer.
Perhaps watching the movie together would be enough. And a real companion was better than an imaginary one - watching movies was a better social activity than a solitary one. He tried an appeal that, if she had any feelings for him at all, she would have to agree to. Besides, it happened to be true. "I saw this movie with Lizzie and I don't want to watch it on my own."
After a moment she stood up. He picked up the plate and held it out. "Eat that. It's no use you passing out on us."
She took it and sat on the edge of her bed while she ate it.
Once he'd set up the movie on her computer, he sat beside her.
They'd reached the end of the first day in the movie when he realized she was scrolling through a PADD he hadn't seen her pick up.
"What are you doing?" he asked, as on screen Phil repeated his day, confused.
"Research." She paused in her scrolling, but continued to pay more attention to the PADD than either him or the movie. "I am capable of doing this while watching the movie."
"Fine." He turned back to the movie, but he knew she wasn't watching it. Knew she wasn't interested in watching it. And it was distracting, knowing she was beside him in body but miles away in spirit. This wasn't going to work.
"I'm going to watch this in my quarters." He stood to pause the movie and leave. She didn't say anything, although she did glance up from the PADD.
Outside her door he sighed. If fixing their relationship was the key to breaking the loop they were going to be repeating this day a lot.
Once again, he was back in engineering. At least this time he'd managed to finish the movie before he fell asleep. Not that it told him anything useful. He sighed.
Trip cursed as Kelby startled him and he burned his arm. Again.
Kelby turned to two nearby engineers. "Miller, contain that plasma. Rodriguez, accompany Commander Tucker to sickbay."
"I'm taking the rest of the day off," Trip told Kelby. He was going to figure this thing out. "You're in charge."
Wide-eyed, Kelby said, "Yes, sir."
Trip could have sworn the burn hurt more this time. To take his mind off the pain he asked Rodriguez if she'd ever heard of time loops.
"Yes, sir," she said. "In science fiction."
"You ever experienced one?" She was new to Enterprise he remembered, joined since they left the Expanse.
"I don't believe so," she said slowly. "But if I was in one and didn't know time was repeating then I wouldn't know if I was experiencing it, would I?"
He smiled. "You'll go far, Ensign."
In sickbay Phlox was as cheerful as he had been the previous two times. "Plasma burn, is it?"
"Yes." He sighed as he sat up on the bed. "You can go back to engineering, Ensign. I have something I need to discuss with Phlox."
She nodded and left.
Phlox began cutting his uniform, a curious expression on his face.
Trip waited until Rodriguez had gone and the door shut before explaining. "T'Pol and I are stuck in a time loop. This is the third time I've had exactly the same burn and the third time you've healed it."
"Interesting." Phlox turned to the hand scanner to wave it over Trip. "There is evidence of recently healed burns in precisely the same location. And your shoulder has recovered from the phase pistol blast."
With everything going on Trip hadn't even thought about his shoulder. Now he realized it did hurt less and he had unconsciously been using it more. He slipped out of the sling, glad to have the use of his left arm back again.
"T'Pol thinks there's a scientific explanation. I think it's something we need to do to break the loop. What do you think?"
"Having never experienced a time loop before it's hard to say." Phlox started the dermal regenerator, making his skin tingle. "Perhaps I could scan both of you. There may be something unusual that could explain it."
"It's worth a shot." Anything was at this point. He was tired of getting burned.
"I'm not sure about T'Pol," Phlox said hesitantly, shutting down the regenerator. "What's she been like when you've seen her, during your time loop?"
"Distant." He knew that's what Phlox was thinking and she hadn't warmed up much the past two days. "But she'll come for the scan, if you tell her why you're doing it."
Phlox nodded and stepped away to the communicator. "Doctor Phlox to Commander T'Pol. I'd like to scan you to see if there's any cause for the time loop."
"On my way."
Phlox raised his eyebrows. Trip nodded at him.
"Commander T'Pol appears normal, but there is a significant amount of ionization in Commander Tucker's body," Phlox announced, pointing towards their scan results on the screen.
"The plasma burn," Trip guessed. "But I've had them before and not found myself in a time loop. Or full of ionization."
"There was a solar proton event at the same time," T'Pol said. "The protons interacted with the plasma, which in turn interacted with your body through the burn."
"I can't tell you if it can cause a time loop," Phlox said. "But I can tell you the level of radioactivity is well below the limits for the human body. You'll be fine. But I'd recommend not burning yourself too many more times."
That was a relief and worry in one. "I can't say I enjoyed it much the first three times."
"From the data, it appears the loop resets when you fall asleep."
Trip turned to T'Pol, frowning at her. How did she know that?
Her expression was inscrutable. "Next time you fall asleep don't burn yourself," she said, as if it was that easy.
"If the plasma isn't vented somewhere, all those charged protons could blow out the EPS relays." Trip put a finger and thumb to the bridge of his nose. They were replacing one problem with another. "How much time before the loop resetting does the solar proton event start?"
"Eight minutes and twenty seconds," she replied. "The loop begins when the protons hit Enterprise."
"Definitely not enough time to polarize the hull plating." Or do anything else. "If this is what we have to fix to escape the loop, we need it to start sooner." He raised his arms, letting them drop against his legs. What was the point in giving him so little time?
"Is there a way to direct the plasma away from your arm and also away from the conduit?" T'Pol asked.
He closed his eyes for a moment, calling to mind the panel and the buttons on it. "Maybe. But there's not enough time to open the panel. I'd have to do it by feel."
"Then you should practice."
So he did. At least it would stop him becoming radioactive, even if it didn't solve the time loop.
Kelby gave him a sidelong glance when Trip returned to engineering, but Trip waved him off. "I'm not on duty, just doing at something for my own curiosity. Don't mind me."
Kelby returned to his work, while positioning himself in such a way as to keep an eye on Trip.
Trip found a panel on the other side of engineering, where it was quiet and out of the way. He held a scanner in his left hand and stuck his right hand inside the panel.
By the time he could find the correct button eight times out of ten by feel alone he stopped for a break, and to shake his hand out. He was at the wrong angle for this, but he wouldn't have time to pull his arm out of the sling and use his left hand instead.
Sensing someone at his side he turned to give Kelby another excuse, but it was T'Pol. Who was holding a slice of pecan pie on a plate.
"It will help you concentrate," she said.
He smiled at her and took the plate. If he was right about the cause of the time loop, then it was good to know she cared. It was a start. "You want some?"
"I have had two slices in the past eight hours. I don't require any more sugar." She put her hands behind her back.
"It was two half slices," he corrected, although a slice was as small or as large as you cut it. "It's good to see you out of your quarters. You feel like staying?" Watching him wouldn't be interesting, but maybe they could talk.
"I should look over the data in case my hypothesis is incorrect."
"There's a terminal here." He waved at the one behind him.
"I will be more efficient in my quarters."
He sighed as she left. But maybe he could try again later. If it was true that the loop reset when he fell asleep he could refuse to sleep until she spoke to him.
However, by the time he was sure he could avoid disaster in the next loop he was tired. He'd been awake for more than twenty four hours - he'd lost count in the loops - and hadn't had much sleep in the nights before it. He'd also hardly eaten anything in that time, except for pecan pie.
Despite the mess hall being relatively busy, he chose an empty a. He wasn't feeling social. Phlox and T'Pol he could talk to because it felt like they understood. But he wasn't in the mood for idle chit-chat.
Which was a pity because maybe some conversation would have kept him awake long enough to finish his meal.
This time, when he found himself in engineering, he didn't bother opening his eyes. It wasn't as if he could see what he was doing anyway. Before Kelby could surprise him, Trip moved his hand beside the conduit to press the button he'd practiced pushing an hour - or a day, depending on your perspective - before.
There was a moment while he worried whether it was the right one. But then the EPS relay blew a few junctions down. It was the one Trip calculated would go. It was on an isolated circuit, so wouldn't affect anything else they needed while in Earth orbit, nor would it take long to fix.
At the sound of footsteps receding from him, Trip glanced over to see Kelby had been close beside him, but was now sprinting over to the blown relay. As Kelby went, he called out to other engineers.
Trip wasn't sure if anyone had connected his actions with the result, so he kept quiet. And since Kelby had anything in hand, he felt he wasn't needed. He could probably walk out of engineering now and no one would notice. He should care but it was hard to at the moment. A lot of things hadn't felt important since Elizabeth's death.
He watched and waited until the initial panic was under control, then strolled over. "Good work, Kelby."
"Sir!" Kelby jumped.
Trip supposed it wasn't unreasonable that Kelby had forgotten he was there. Even when he had been in engineering, his mind hadn't always been on the job. "I'm going to take some leave." If neither of them felt like he was the chief engineer, he might as well take advantage of that.
"Yes, sir." Kelby frowned, but Trip wasn't going to explain.
On the way to see T'Pol he stopped off at his quarters and the thankfully still-empty mess hall.
There was one good thing about the time loop: T'Pol let him in straight away.
He didn't need to tell her it worked, since she was at her desk, data visible on the screen. He left the pie beside her computer. "Trouble is," he said, seating himself on her bed, "you can have too much of a good thing. I don't think I can eat another slice."
T'Pol turned to face him. "Why did you bring it?"
"If this is the last loop I don't want Chef to think I didn't appreciate his baking." If tomorrow was tomorrow and not just today again, he would thank Chef. Neither he or T'Pol would have eaten much without those pecan pies.
"You look tired. If you sleep now we'll know if it worked."
He shook his head. She sounded concerned and he could use that. "In all that data, does it give you any idea why you know time's repeating too?"
"The bond." Her tone suggested the answer to that was obvious.
He sighed. Sometimes the bond was the answer to everything. And the solution to nothing. It was, he presumed, the reason why T'Pol knew the loop reset when he fell asleep.
Since there was nothing to say to that, he held out the frame he'd brought from his quarters. "I left Elizabeth's service early and took two photos of her to be framed. One for me and one for you."
She took it and stared at it.
From here he could also see the photo and he couldn't take his eyes off it. "I keep thinking about what she'd have been like. If she'd have been an engineer when she grew up," he said softly.
"Perhaps she would have been a scientist," she said, also quiet.
He nodded. "I'd have been proud of her either way. As long as she was happy, I'd have been happy."
T'Pol said nothing. At least she'd said something about Elizabeth, but it wasn't the cleansing talk he'd been hoping for.
He took a deep breath. Time to lay his cards on the table. Force her to say something, one way or another.
"I used to think one day I'd have kids. I didn't make any plans, just assumed there would be a Charles Tucker IV one day. But now, now I want kids. More kids," he clarified. "Not right now, but one day." Although he paused to give her the opportunity to say something she didn't offer her own opinions on the subject. Or give him any indication what she thought. He wished this bond wasn't so one-way.
He plowed on. "Whenever I think about my future children, I always imagine them with pointy ears."
When he took his eyes off the photo of Elizabeth he found himself meeting T'Pol's brown eyes and he could see emotion in them.
"I don't want to have children with anyone else," he said softly.
"They would not be like Elizabeth," she said, which wasn't exactly the declaration of love he'd been hoping for.
"No. She'll always be special." He knelt beside her, one hand on the photo frame.
"You've been imagining her." It wasn't a question. She knew through the bond, he supposed. At his nod she set the frame aside and slipped from the chair. "I have something to show you."
She sat on the floor, in her customary meditation position and waited until he sat opposite in what he was starting to think of as his place.
"Think of her now," she said, and closed her eyes.
Although he kept his focus on T'Pol, he imagined someone sitting beside them, making a semi-circle. A girl about ten years old with blonde hair and pointy ears. Despite his lack of sleep, she came to mind easily.
He kept looking at the candle until it disappeared. All around them was white space.
"This is Elizabeth." T'Pol said reverently, nodding to Trip's left.
Trip hesitated. Usually, if he tried to look to where he imagined she'd be, she disappeared. This time, she stayed. "She looks like my sister," he admitted.
"It's rude to talk about me like I'm not here," Elizabeth said.
She sounded like Lizzie too.
"I apologize," T'Pol said.
Trip was too choked up to speak.
"My mother's house is empty," T'Pol said quietly. "Our children can be brought up as Vulcans. No one would need know they are half-human."
He swallowed the lump in his throat and blinked away the wetness in his eyes. "They'll be living a lie."
"How long do you think it will be until humans are accepting of aliens again?"
Soon, he hoped. But maybe not soon enough. And they'd already lost one child to those people. He sighed. "It's not fair."
"It's not," she agreed. "I wish we had known about her sooner."
"Even just a few days longer with her would have been something." Although they'd still have lost her and he'd still feel like this.
T'Pol was staring at her lap and Elizabeth had faded away when he stopped focusing on her.
"When will it stop being hard?" T'Pol asked, her voice cracking.
"I don't know. But it will. One day." He'd been through this before and he knew it got better. Even if, right now, it didn't feel like it ever would. He shifted closer to her, to take the hand that was resting on her knee. "We're going to get through this together. One day at a time."
She curled her fingers around his hand and held on tight, a lost expression on her face.
They'd sat in silence for a while, Trip fighting to keep his eyes open. He didn't remember leaving the white room before he fell asleep, but he woke in a bed. Although he was still wearing his uniform, someone had removed his boots. When he shifted position he found himself pressed against someone warm: T'Pol.
"One of us was right," he said, as she stirred.
"If you had gone to sleep when I suggested we would know."
He chuckled. "And miss the chance to get you to talk about Elizabeth?" He pushed himself up on one elbow to study at her in the dim sunrise simulation lighting. "But let's not imagine her future again. I was torturing myself. Making myself feel worse with what might have been."
She frowned slightly. "I don't understand why you would do that."
"Sometimes it feels wrong to be happy." It was the only way he could think to explain it. He didn't entirely understand it himself. Humans were illogical when it came to grief. "But it feels good not to be alone," he continued. "Any time you want to talk I'll be there."
She nodded. "Will you be all ears?"
There was a twinkle in her eye that made him laugh. "I will."
He took the bait, reaching down to trace the point of her ear. Not missing the hitch of her breath he leaned down to kiss her. For the first time since Elizabeth died he thought they were going to be all right.