Trip climbed out of the shuttle pod, right after the Captain. Nobody seemed to take notice, that he offered his hand to the ship's Science Officer and that she took it, allowing him to help her out of the hatch. They all were too busy being happy about finally setting foot on Earth again.
It had been a week since they had returned to Earth, this time in the correct time line. Everyone on board had been on the edge, circling in orbit for almost a week without being allowed to come planet-side, with two exceptions – Commander Tucker and former Subcommander T'Pol. Ever since Trip finally wrestled her age out of her, they had been dating. Fortunately nobody really noticed it, since the shared meals in the mess hall or their appearance together at movie night were a common sight to the crew.
What did change however was what happened once they were alone. Twice they had been spending the night together and each time they didn't really get much sleep. They had been good friends for over two years now, but even before they went to the Expanse for Trip it had been much more. Now that it was an 'official' courtship, he already dreamed of ways to pop the question.
Both took in the applause as Admiral Forrest greeted them. Captain Archer went to the rostrum an waited for the ovations to die down.
"I've been told that people are calling us heroes. When it comes to my crew, you won't get any argument from me. But I think it's important that we remember the heroes who aren't with us - the twenty seven crewmen who didn't make it back. Without their sacrifice, I wouldn't be standing here right now. None of us would. But I'm sure I speak on behalf of my entire crew when I say: It's good to be home."
Captain Archer strolled into a bar in civilian clothes. Seeing him enter, Captain Erika Hernandez excused herself from her current conversation partner and started to wiggle her way through the packed establishment.
"Scotch," Archer ordered.
"The bar's reserved for regular customers. Galactic heroes have to sit at a table," Erika purred as she finally had reached him.
"I heard about your promotion. Congratulations, Captain," Archer smiled back.
"Cheers," he toasted and drowned in her dark eyes, which he had missed so much.
"Cheers. So what was it like in the Expanse?"
"You'll be at the debriefing tomorrow, won't you? I wouldn't want to spoil any surprises. Besides, I've got more important questions. Seen any good movies while I was gone?"
"Another World War III epic. It swept all the awards. But you haven't missed much. Earth's been holding its breath for the past year, wondering if the Xindi were going to come back and finish the job. On the bright side, there've been more weddings and births than ever before."
"I don't see a ring," Archer noted.
"I'm married to Starfleet. Just like you."
"Think I can file for divorce?" Archer sighed.
"I don't think so," Erika answered and noticed for the first time how empty and sad his look had become.
This is going be the most boring weeks in my life, Trip thought to himself. The Captain had ordered 3 weeks of shore leave and had effectively thrown all people off the ship to keep them out of the hair of numerous engineering crews from Jupiter station, who were facing the monumental task of nailing the wrecked barge that had returned from the Expanse back together. Knowing the ship like the back of his hand, Trip failed to find a single explanation, why she was still in one piece anyways.
Visiting the parents wasn't an option. As soon as they were back in Earth range and in the right time line, he had received a truckload of backlog transmissions from his family, among the pile, a rather recent letter from his brother. This letter told about his last visit at the new parental home, describing how mom was still a sobbing nervous wreck and how dad had turned into a raging xenophobe, blinded by hatred stemming from the sheer overwhelming pain caused by losing his precious girl Lizzy to an unprovoked alien attack.
That was nothing Trip felt strong enough to face right now. It had been mere weeks since his own wounds had finally started to bleed. Less than a month had passed since he – with the help of a Vulcan, no less – had finally knocked down the wall of hate and anger that had held back his own tears of grief. He could not deal with his mother's pain and much less with an alien-hating father in a blind rage of ill-directed lust for revenge. It weighed heavily on his conscience to abandon his parents, when they probably needed him the most, but too much pain had been inflicted on him. He wasn't able to help with the burden of his folks; he was barely able to cope with his own.
Jon hadn't left any room for compromise. The order was for all personnel to leave the ship for three weeks and there was no exception to be granted for the ship's stranded Chief Engineer. Finally Trip had settled to take up Starfleet's offer for an officer's quarter down in San Francisco to sit out the 3 weeks. Bidding T'Pol farewell was the last and most important item on his mental check list before leaving Enterprise. The prospect of sitting around idly for three weeks, alone and pinning for his distant love, didn't exactly improve his mood.
T'Pol was everything but looking forward to this journey, but it was illogical to delay the inevitable any further. Captain Archers order was perfectly unambiguous – all crew is to take shore leave. Rather unwillingly she packed her bag without her mind really being on the task. Running on autopilot, she just threw into the duffel bag what happened to be in reach.
Only the constant stress of the Expanse mission had masked the dread that always befell her when she thought about returning to Vulcan. She had to 'face the music', as Commander Tucker was so fond of saying, and the orchestra would consist of her fellow Vulcans, who would undoubtedly continue to blame her for the destruction of the monastry at P'Jem, the failure on Coridan or her resignation from the Vulcan High Command, and loudest among them would be her own mother, the very person she was preparing to visit.
She had never understood how her father and her mother could live that long together. Mother was the exemplary Vulcan. Easily she had mastered even the advanced techniques of Kohlinaar, purging and suppressing all emotions. Her father had allowed his daughter and himself indulgence in curiosity and was known to smile sometimes, but only in a strictly private setting. But even then he had always been chastised by his wife. Father had lost his life in an accident that was more than suspicious, almost as suspicious as the illogically small effort that the High Command had invested to find the reasons behind it.
How would mother react to her emotional state now with Pa'nar syndrome and the lingering effects of Trellium-D abuse having damaged her neural pathways? Or how would the news be received, that her desired mate was a human? This journey, however undesirable, was inevitable, because due to her personal choices it could well be the last time she would see Vulcan. Commander Tucker, her tower of strength, despite his own pain, was surely leaving to visit his parental home. She struggled to suppress the mixture of disappointment and sadness that he wasn't with her to 'face the music'.
"Come in," T'Pol called without turning around after the door chime rang. Her acute sense of smell picked up the scent of her desired mate – Commander Tucker.
"Well, it looks like you're taking enough clothes to last a year," he small-talked – a telltale sign of insecurity.
"You wanted something?" she asked. To any outsider this would have sounded utterly rude and dismissive, but for someone who knew her, like Trip Tucker did, it was a sign that she was every bit as clueless about what to say, as he was. Both had dreaded this 'saying good bye' encounter.
"I told the Captain I wanted to stay aboard and supervise the refit, but he suggested I take a break. More like an order, actually. Problem is - I'm not sure where to go. Lizzie's gone; my home town doesn't exist anymore. Guess this is my home now."
"You could come with me," she offered, inwardly fighting the urge to throw herself into his arms for providing the clue to offer him the journey to Vulcan.
"To Vulcan?" he asked. No, show me the way to Amarillo, Einstein, he immediately ridiculed himself in his mind for asking such a stupid question. He knew very well that she was bound for Vulcan.
"The transport leaves at eleven hundred hours," T'Pol instructed.
"Where would I stay?"
"There's a guest room in my mother's home."
"Oh, your mom's house, huh? What does she know about me - about us?" he asked as it dawned on him, what that gesture really meant. His forced chuckle could not hide his nervousness.
"I've never mentioned you, " she reported truthfully, not realizing that she was headed straight into one of these situation where the honest and logical course of action resulted in hurting her desired mate.
"So you'd introduce me as?"
"Commander Charles Tucker the Third. You've told the Captain that you don't get to see as many alien cultures as you'd like. You've never been to Vulcan," T'Pol elaborated. She was completely oblivious that she, however unintended, had just stabbed him in the heart again. Admitting that she wanted him there because she wanted his company would have been so easy, but she routinely fell back into hiding her intentions behind contrived reasons and didn't even notice it.
.... There is more of this story ...