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He'd Have Pointed Ears

Chapter Text

You know, at that point, I wasn't sure Doctor Phlox really had my best interests at heart. That was the third time just in that one day I had to consciously plant my ass back in my command chair. And it wasn't the first day I had to do it, either. I would start off thinking about whatever the ship's situation at hand ones, and the next minute, mind would just start to wander; if I got up, I'd find myself unconsciously gravitating over to the port side of the bridge. Then, when I "became aware of it", in the good doctor's words, I had no idea what to do with myself and couldn't come up with any decent excuse as to why I was there. I was hovering, and awkwardly. Even though I was technically aware of it, I'd kept putting off thinking it through, assuming my problem would eventually recede on its own. But my subconscious didn't agree with that. To be honest, my behavior must have looked at least a little unhinged.

And that's what the whole thing turned out to be: insanity, however well-intentioned at every step. It may have all ended up working out in the end, but not how anyone would have expected it to.

Chapter Text

Finally giving up trying to get any real work done out on the bridge, he had retreated to his ready room. It was nagging at his mind that this "being aware of this" business was starting to interfere with his duties, and he couldn't have that. Overthinking it wasn't going to get him anywhere, but he couldn't help it, he decided. When someone says, "Don't look now, but there's a guy over there that—", the impulse is to look; it's human nature. But he needed to quell that impulse enough at least to carry out his duties like a professional. He wanted to find a way to manage it without thinking about it, if such a tactic were possible. The problem was, he didn't know if bringing it up with Phlox again would warp his brain any more than it already had.

The doorchime broke through his introspective concentration. For the second time since he walked in a dozen minutes ago, he noticed the status reports on his desk that he'd intended to distract himself with. The thought of them had been well been forgotten by now — in truth, since before he had even sat down. However he was dealing with this was not effective.  "Come." He rubbed his hands down over his eyelids and then looked up.

Damn.

The object of too many of his stray thoughts lately was standing before him in the flesh, covered from neck to ankle in her two-piece, subtly metallic, taupe duty uniform.  "Captain." It was the one person he hadn't realized it'd hurt like hell to miss when the High Command had called for her reassignment, the Vulcan he would never have expected he would care so much for, the woman he wasn't able to stop thinking about now.

Blinking, he couldn't discern why she was there. Sometimes she could be tough to read when not being open for human benefit. But more and more often, and especially since he had "become aware" and paid more attention, he had found that when she laid eyes on him, it wasn't with what he would interpret as a flat look of expressionless evaluation — or outright or even subtle judgement, for that matter. What it was, exactly, he wasn't sure. He only knew that she tended to have no qualms about holding his gaze, and he thought he imagined feeling a little tug in his chest every time.

As a prime example, he found it recurrently tormenting to not know quite what she meant when, the other day, she stood in this same room with a hint of a smile, her eyes focused diligently on his, and told him it was good they weren't attracted to one another or else it'd be a problem. They. Was she poking fun at him and that was all there was to it? Or by placing the stress on the "hypothetically" turn it into being about them both, that she intimating she was just as interested but they couldn't act on it because of their positions? Whatever it was, it was hard for him to ignore. But after the fiftieth time reconsidering it, she must've just been playing with him. Right?

Apart from these kinds of sporadic, lingering questions he consciously chalked up to cultural differences, he was pleased that every day that had gone by, they had become able to read each other a little better, understand each other a little more. With no surprise, this progress was helped by him finding an ability to push past his pride — one of his biggest failings that she had pointed out to him at the beginning of their mission — and actually take a look at her as an individual person rather than as an unmoved face of another species. When that happened, he thought, was when they started to click; it was the turning point of him starting to get the hang of her as much as she was starting to get the hang of him and the rest of them. And, very importantly, over the course of all the different circumstances and dilemmas that had been thrown at them, they had grown to trust one another implicitly. That even by itself made their working relationship so much easier overall. He had proven to her from the beginning he would always have her back, and to his jaw-dropping amazement not all that long ago, she had decided openly in front of her own people to prove she had his in return.

Even with the easy-enough rhythm they'd developed, it didn't mean they still didn't argue and butt heads regularly. They had met each other's match as far as stubbornness was concerned. He hadn't necessarily welcomed that with open arms, but he'd always respected her willingness to keep him in check, to call him out when she thinks he's being arrogant or reckless. It's not something you can buy from someone working under you in almost any other profession. They balanced each other out well in that and so many other respects.

"Subcommander."  It was a half greeting, half question. When she said nothing, a crease formed between his eyes, and his mouth shifted.  "What can I do for you?"

No, he wasn't sure what she was thinking from her expression, but one thing he knew was certain: She had definitely not been avoiding him herself. 'Was she just curious?', he wondered. 'Simply friendly from letting her guard down around me? Or maybe she's just humoring me.' And then he dipped back in to those previous thoughts he had tried and failed to keep at bay. 'But what if she's interested too?' He inwardly laughed at himself then, admitting the odds of that were probably astronomically low. Vulcans and humans had been around one another for nine decades, and not once had any of them paired off. 'It would be a hell of a thing to be the exception to the rule.', he chastized himself at the impossibility of it. Apparently, allowing himself to think about "it" just a little had sent those kinds of thoughts of his careening off into outer space. He really wanted to figure out how to turn that fantastical idea off like a tap.

"I had assumed there was something you wanted to tell me over the course of the morning.", she spoke, bringing him back to the real world.

"I'm not sure what you mean." Called out, he unwillingly pushed his PADD over to the side of his desk.

"You have been by my station - 'hovered', as you would call it - multiple times today.  I can only assume you were considering speaking to me about a matter you decided you were not comfortable addressing on the bridge."

His lips parted, but he couldn't seem to move them; it took awhile before a reply came to mind.  "No, nothing I wanted to tell you.  I'm sorry; you must've gotten the wrong impression."  Her expression remained impassive, and not for the first time, Archer noted that her ability to notice every detail could be annoying.  Useful most of the time, yes, but in this case, downright annoying.  He repeated to himself not to make any Freudian slips or whatever Phlox had called them so as to raise her suspicions.  "There's just been a lot going on lately.  A lot on my mind."

Her commanding, appraising stare never subsided, he thought. "Perhaps I could suggest meditation."

He stifled a laugh of incredulity. "I'm not sure I would know how. I was actually thinking more along the lines of joining the others for the movie tomorrow night."

"I take it that was Commander Tucker's suggestion."

Amused, he leaned back in his chair. "It was. Did he try to get you to go too?"

She hesitated, but only for a second.  "I believe you would find meditation of great benefit.", she dodged. After another pause to consider the wiseness of the offer, she added, "If you would make time in your schedule this evening, I can begin to teach you."

He was surprised, to say the least. It wasn't exactly every day that a Vulcan asked an outsider to join in on a private activity with them. "Are you sure? You have time?"

The tilt of her head and lift of her eyebrow were just on the perceptible side, as if she were having her own internal dialogue and why-not shrugging at her own suggestion.

Okay. And without thinking, he stood and paced to the far end of his ready room, mere feet away, to contemplate the merits of the offer as personally detached as he could. Admittedly, he'd realized that he had spent most of his life avoiding giving a damn about Vulcan traditions and what they did on their own time or what they thought or why.  But he was now commanding a starship with a clear mission: to search out and understand other cultures. Light-years away from the Vulcan homeworld, with the distance between them not seeming so overbearing to him, and with one he trusted, it wouldn't be a bad time to purposefully try to understand them better. 'Them' is what he told himself. It wouldn't be in the spirit of interspecies cooperation to turn this kind of offer down, he decided.  "Alright. Sounds like a good idea." He added, "Thank you for the invitation."

She dipped her head slightly.

Before she could fully turn to leave, he made a counter offer. "Why not a full cultural exchange, and you come to the movie? A little fraternizing couldn't hurt."

"I don't understand how sitting silently in a darkened room constitutes fraternizing."

"It's, um," he grasped at an explanation, "a communal experience."

"I hadn't planned to attend."

He didn't figure so.  He kept in a sigh and put his hand on a ceiling beam to leaned on it. But then, there was something about the way she said it that suggested she might be leaving the possibility open.  "Meditation Monday, Theater Tuesday?"  He tried not to make it sound as silly as it did. "I tell you what, let's make a night of it: dinner in the captain's mess, 1830, movie at 1900, you'll be my date." Aaah, well, he hadn't quite meant to say that. But he did, and that was that. He plowed past the thought that this might go against his better judgement, that his ability to not think much about her while spending time with her two nights in a row, at least one of which would be in a small, enclosed space, was probably not his brightest move.

"I beg your pardon?" She hadn't expected it, that much was obvious, but he was relieved she didn't look appalled, either.

That gave him the courage to pretend it was nothing. "I'll be a perfect gentleman. And," he added, "if you don't like the movie, I'll never ask you to sit through another one."

"If you insist.", she lilted, "although I will be meditating on Tuesday as well, afterward."

There it was in her voice again, but he hadn't insisted.  So why did she make it 'easy'?  She turned and left without giving him a chance to respond. He shook his head and put it out of his mind as best he could so he could concentrate on writing the day's report.

As it happened, what they had gotten one another to agree to in that conversation on that day would turn out to be the biggest gamechanger of their lives.

Chapter Text

She had wondered if he would find an excuse to bow out or at least be late, but her door chimed promptly, and she opened it.

"Subcommander."

"Good evening, Captain."

As she moved aside to let him in, he compared his crewneck and joggers to her loose, silken cyan tee and matching pants that he'd seen her donn before as sleepwear, and he tentatively placed a foot over the threashhold. "I'm not imposing?"

"I believe learning meditation techniques would prove useful to your concentration."

And he hesitated fully in his advancement. "I meant, you're sure this isn't a bad time?"

"This is not a bad time." He almost thought he'd imagined the flicker of the glance she gave his tee before returning her eyes to his. "I will transition to my own meditation after our session is over." She waited patiently for him to enter, and he did so this time while taking in the fresh scent of her spartan quarters which were decorated in drab blue, gray, and brown hues.

A good a conversation starter as any. "It occurs to me I've never asked what your favorite color is." He paused, she blinked. "Blue?"

"No." His face indicated bemusement, and although he didn't inquire further, she did supply him her preference, "Tomato.", and waited to see what he would make of that.

His interest was immediately piqued, struck at how abnormal it sounded for a Vulcan to know off the top of her head a very particular shade of color, in English, based on a terran fruit. She must have looked it up and remembered because she had wanted to, not because she would have a believably logical reason to. He almost pressed her on it just so he could be amused by her attempt at trying to explain it logically.

Feigning indifference at the shift in his expression, she redirected past it. "But blues and grays and 'softer' colors are utilized by Vulcans, as they are with the dominant culture of your planet, to psychologically aid in calmness and detachment. They are undistracting and used specifically in areas where high stress is to be expected."

"Hm." Living among humans was stressful for her, and he had known it would be from the start. There were times, especially early on, it was almost as stressful the other way around. But he'd hoped over time that she would be able to settle in, let her guard down a little, and get more used to them in general. He was in fact sure all of that had panned out to be the case, it was just her decor that hadn't caught up to the same extent yet. Visually poking around her quarters further, he noted that the few occasions he'd been in there before were for business purposes, and with it being so... Vulcan in character, it never occurred to him to let his eyes wander. He wasn't expecting to see anything out of the ordinary, certainly. He trailed after her as she crossed the room, and while she retrieved one of a handful of candles from a shelf, he squinted in the lukewarm lighting and noticed an unnatural figure previously hidden on the near side; its color and its character stood out from the sparse crowd of items to catch his eye. Pleased, he nodded a sly grin at it, the fluffy, red — well, tomato, actually — stuffed alien, not far from where the candles sat. It was to his further amusement that it seemed someone had already had a productive color discussion with the subcommander. "Does he help your meditation process?"

She chastized him with the barest change in her features. "'Gorak', as Engisn Sato calls it, was a personal gift from her." T'Pol clicked the room's panel, and the lights lowered further. Then, alighting with care the lone candle she held, she moved to the middle of the room and took a seat on one of two padded mats she had previously arranged. He took her lead, lowering himself onto the mat opposite her almost as quietly, in a mirrored cross-leggèd position. After a thoughtful pause, she rested the candle on the floor between them, then formally introduced him to their meeting. "The purpose of this session is for you to gain a method of relaxation and an ease of introspection."

It was hard to argue with that; it'd been one hell of a year and a half out here, and he could use some of the relaxation at the least. Maybe if the meditation didn't work for him for the rest, Phlox could work with him a little more.

"The first goal is to clear your mind."

He considered that a minute, not wanting to lie to her if he had doubts he'd be able to. "I think I can do that."

In response, she held her hands out on either side of the candle toward him, palms up, and took a full breath, closing her eyes. In the last minutes of what he would later come to regard as his singlular, discrete life, he again mirrored her actions, fingertips only an inch from hers. All he could see were what he ever saw when he closed his eyes at night: blobs of darkness, along with a diffused blob of soft light near the middle from the candle.

She could tell he was still focused on the external. She kept her voice soft, and it washed over him as she instructed him at a leisurely pace. "You can feel the mat beneath you, the floor beneath your feet. You relax your body. You can feel the air around you. You breathe it in and breathe it out. You relax your lungs. You can feel the candle in front of you. You relax your face."

Gradually, thoughts and shapes and colors whisked away from behind his eyelids to reveal a blank, dark canvas.

"Concentrate your attention on the candle, amd then turn your attention inward. Pour your energy into that space."

He did what he thought she was asking. It felt like pushing a part of himself forward and having it renewed and sent back to him. His breathing had become slow and steady, his mind singularly focused on the task she'd requested of him. The flow of 'energy' regularized, and sometime thereafter, he became aware of the midnight drape of darkness that surrounded his calm. He must've leaned forward some in the process — or maybe she had as well? — because although it was unclear to him, the backs of his fingers had come to lightly lay on hers, causing his inner universe to shift just so and leaving him immediately feeling anchored. Off in front of that space, he felt — or saw, he wasn't sure — in his mind's eye what seemed to be that anchor, a slowly swirling, earthen-colored energy, soft at the edges. As he focused more on it, it seemed to center downward and gently reverberate around the ill-defined bubble of his mental landscape like ripples flattening out. He had no idea what it was.  'T'Pol?', he thought he whispered her name out loud, but his query was only expressed within his internal monologue. What he didn't realize was that this wasn't just a meditative state but that he was literally communicating with his mind through their medium of touch.

Momentarily, she froze. Had her mind fabricated the sound of his voice? She managed a reply, just in case it was not of her doing. 'More quietly.', her disembodied voice vibrated in his head. At 'hearing' her, she registered a level of similarly stunned disbelief from him, but he somehow kept himself from moving away, physically or mentally. He stayed silent for a bit, taking it all in and making a serious effort to stay calm because of the impossibility of this happening; she thought she could barely hear him whisper inside his mind to himself to follow her meditative directions from minutes ago.

'Am I imagining it, or can you hear me?', finally came his response to what had, or hadn't actually, transpired.

'You are not imagining it.'

Either he was talking to himself in his head or they were in fact communicating. He wasn't about to break the moment to find out for sure, making himself look like he wasn't taking the meditation seriously by opening his eyes. 'I don't understand.'

'Nor do I.' She added with perplexed reluctance, 'Humans are not known to possess the ability to communicate telepathically.'

'Telepathic?' He was incredulous, never having heard of such a thing outside of science fiction he had read as a child. 'Funny; I didn't know humans were aware that Vulcans could do that.' The comment was tinged with testiness and frustration, but it was not quite to the level of resentful and angry that it would have been over a year ago, and not just because of the calmed meditative state involved now. And even if telepathy were really happening — surely not — he wondered if she wouldn't pick up on every stray thought and feeling going through his head. He wanted to back away, but he couldn't make himself.

She seemed to take the comment of his, the one that she could hear well enough, and chose to divulge a tidbit about this bombshell. 'Only under certain circumstances. For instance, touching and actively desiring to communicate.' She could feel another mental brush of displeasure and unease from him, gaining her own unease as he pushed further mentally towards the source of her, thinking that would give him some answers, or that he believed he had the right to wander into her mental bubble merely because telepathic information about her species had not been shared with him. She placed a mental hand on his shoulder as if making to stop him, but she quickly discovered it had the effect of further anchoring him in their link. From there, the space between them seemed to shift again, to sink, shrink, and unravel, and then they both felt a click inside their minds, almost as if a door had been unlatched.

T'Pol's eyes flew open immediately, though unfocused, whereas Archer's remained closed and his countenance serene until a second or two later when he blinked "awake" as if coming out of a trance. In contrast, her breathing was, for a Vulcan, coming more noticeably shallow and quick than it should have after a meditation session.

His first breath was instinctual from his body needing to restore its oxygen levels. He hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath, and this time he took a long drag of air, wishing he'd come out of this feeling totally relaxed as intended, but... Training his eyes on her, he realized something was very off. "What happened?"

She looked confused — startled? — or angry? He couldn't say for sure. He also couldn't say for sure where he fell on that spectrum himself.

"We are finished here.", she eventually stated with a guarded caution he couldn't interpret the source of, and she rose from her position on the mat, never during the process allowing her eyes to settle on him.

"Did I do something wrong?", he looked up at her.

A simple, considered "No." came after a very brief pause.

But he got the feeling he had in fact done something terribly socially unacceptable as far as Vulcan culture went. Vulcan telepathy went. And he also knew whatever it was, it one was hundred percent the opposite of his fault. He nonetheless steeled himself with a breath. "Look, I'm sorry I was upset. Am upset." He glanced at the candle that was slowing down its dance that had been caused by her previous movement, then he returned his focus to her. "But I think why should be understandable."

He took her inability to communicate further, let alone look at him, as an indication to him the session was over, just as she had tried to make a point of moments ago. With a deeper furrowing of his brow, he uncrossed his legs and got up off the floor. "And I think I deserve an explanation.", he added. He waited to see if she was in the mood just then to explain. Seeing no reply on the horizon, he turned to leave, and that is when she spoke up.

"Captain."

He waited, her eyes now glued to his.

"Please — I ask that you do not mention this to anyone." It came out like deer-in-headlights pleading.

The implications raced through his mind: 'Telepathic communication among Vulcans was most definitely a phenomenon Starfleet would find worth knowing. It sure as hell seems like something they deserve to know. Hell, what if... So many reasons why. The fact of the matter is, if they found out now, it could cause a serious interstellar upset, even if it only became "private" Starfleet knowledge, forget the disruption the knowledge would cause if Andoria and whoever else didn't know and found out. And now that it's on the table, it's my call to make.' He shook his head and dropped it, feeling caught between a rock and a hard place, and then he appraised his first officer. He didn't think this was the time to violate what trust they'd built between them, even considering what she'd accidentally revealed. "Alright. For right now.", he qualified. "But the two of us will talk about this soon." It wasn't harsh, but it was definitive. He didn't think it was wisest to start by forcing information from her to resolve his concerns; he'd much prefer some attempt at a reasonable-sounding explanation from her when she was ready. And he hoped she would be ready sooner rather than later.

She nodded in almost fearful submission, and this odd vulnerability she showed left him uneasy, wanting to fix this but continuing to get the impression that now was not the time. With one last look, he left her quarters.

Suppressing a shiver, she returned to her mat and stared at the candle, eyes a little wider than expected, breathing remaining a little more erratic than expected after what was intended to be a calming meditation session. She wasn't certain what had happened between them, or why the captain, a human, would be able to communicate with her telepatically, but she knew there was a line that had to have been crossed. And she knew she was the one who had allowed it to happen. This was why, she chastized herself, only family members should touch one another, or those well-trained and with a purpose should touch others. She derisively speculated that Vulcan children had better control of themselves than her; she should have had a far better handle over her mind and of the situation. And now she needed to meditate alone before bedtime, if not to regain better control of her mind, then to at least calm herself before she tried to sleep.

But all she could do was stare at the candle as the image of it burned into her retinae. Unable to concentrate well enough after some time, she finally blew out the offending flame.

Chapter Text

"It's a Tholian vessel.", supplied T'Pol from her station the next morning.

The armory officer announced from his, "Sir, I think... maybe they've powering a weapon?"

"Hull plating!"

But it wasn't in time; before he could react, the unknown ship had discharged one unexpected round, and the Enterprise rocked with the direct hit causing her crew to catch their collective balance. Without a word, Reed had efficiently polarize the hull, albeit a split second after the fact.

"Hoshi?", Archer glanced at his comm officer for information, giving her just enough time for input before he would order fire be returned.

"Sir, they haven't been returning our hai— Wait, yes they are!", Hoshi corrected herself, looking up for permission to open the channel.

Flummoxed and stepping down from the adrenaline burst, he nodded to patch the offending ship through the comm.

"Voice only," she clarified with a sudden frown before a dodgy alien voice filled the bridge.

"Error. Not you. We apologize."

Archer exchanged a nonplussed look with his linguist and then with his science officer. Neither had ideas of value to impart, it seemed. "No permanent harm done, I don't think."

No reply was forthcoming.

"Care to tell us—"

And with that, the comm was cut off.

"Sorry, Captain. Looks like the short-range communications overloaded and just burned out the transceiver." Hoshi's fingers danced over the keys on her panel.

"Any way to re-establish the link?", he asked, striding over to Hoshi's station which happened to be no more than a couple of feet from his science officer's.

Trip chimed in with an explanation from across the bridge. "The external relay fried secondary to the initial hit. I just got a crew on it, but the chain of damage might take a while to clean up 'n' glue back together."

"They're moving away at full impulse." Continuing through Reed's update, Archer pulled a face.

"For what it's worth, Captain, they were speaking English.", Hoshi offered.

He frowned in confusion at her, then at T'Pol, and finally shook his head. "I don't know what that was supposed to be, but here I was thinking this might be a boring day of interstellar travel." After the ship had gone and nothing further seeming to transpire, he plodded over to the port side of the bridge. "May as well write it up. Lieutenant, T— Subcommander," he uncharacteristically stumbled over her appellation, "if you could compile and send me the specs of that configuration in case we should run into them again? I'll be in my ready room. Ensign, keep us on course."

=/\=

Not fifteen minutes later, T'Pol asked for entry to the diminutive space he'd retreated to.

"Come." was his automatic reply. When he saw who it was, his anxiety rose just a tad.

"Captain.", she stood prim and proper, and he gave her his full attention.

When she didn't immediately offer forth anything, he commented, "I take it this isn't about the Tholian ship."

"It isn't."

She looked embarrassed, he thought.

"I apologize for my behavior last night. I acted foolishly." Vexed, she shifted on her feet. "What happened was not supposed to happen, and that is my fault."

Well, at least there was an apology. "What did happen, Subcommander?" He was formal on purpose; he felt pretty formal after this 'tidbit' he'd learned about Vulcan telepathy, what had been kept from him and everyone else all these years.

Her fingers fidgeted behind her back. "I did not have full control over my mind or the meditation process. I should not have allowed physical contact between us."

"You said it was telepathy."

Her disinterest in sharing information on this topic was palpable, and her eyes darted before she could muster up a complete thought. "It has not been a subject publicly discussed with other species."

He blinked, amazed but absolutely annoyed at the same time. "No, apparently it hasn't." 'One more secret.', he thought. "I can't help but wonder why."

She shifted again to get more comfortable before deciding to continue, seeing as how he didn't seem interested in letting the topic go. She would just have to trust him with this information. "You are aware Vulcans typically refrain from making direct physical contact with anyone other than close relatives."

He followed her to a point. "Because you're telepathic."

"Touch telepaths, yes.", she confirmed.

"And that's never been mentioned to humans?"

"Not to my knowledge. Physical touching is generally considered to be a private, ...intimate exchange."

He blinked. But what of him? "So... what you're saying is, humans can — may be able to become", he corrected himself, "telepathic?"

The blankness of her expression showed she was as clueless as he on that question. It was hardly something that had been openly tried - at least, to her knowledge.

He couldn't help but wonder in what way past diplomatic sessions and other interactions might have been compromised. "Are Vulcans able to read human minds?" It sounded accusatory, and it was.

She had the good grace to continue looking ashamed, at least as much as a Vulcan could. "Theoretically. But as I said, this is not a practice that tends to occur outside intimate Vulcan relationships, so it is unlikely it has been tried."

Well, that explanation brought a small relief to him. "Until now."

She was without an idea how to respond to that beyond once again apologizing and promising it would not happen again, but she was saved from that by an interruption of Reed's voice over the internal comm. "Captain, another ship has appeared off our port bow."

He stood from his chair and went around T'Pol, unceremoniously leaving for the bridge before her. But he at least gave credit to her for not beating an easy, hasty retreat ahead of him. "Our Tholian friends?"

"I don't believe so, sir."

Now on the steps up to the bridge, he asked, "What did you mean by 'appeared'?"

"Appeared out of thin air, sir. Space.", the armory officer answered and corrected himself with bewilderment, his grey-green eyes darting over the screens before him, continuing to run scans. "But I haven't seen this configuration before either.  It's small.  One life form aboard."

"Hail them."

Hoshi spoke up from her station, a communication so garbled it couldn't be understood by any of the bridge crew, even her. "There's no way to sir; the excomm repair isn't finished yet."

"It's not a Tholian ship.", T'Pol seconded the assessment, now back at her station.

"It's coming toward the door of launch bay one. Should I open it, sir?", asked Reed.

'A small craft means it probably doesn't have a lot of weaponry on it by default.', Archer thought. "Go ahead."

Reed cut back in.  "It's entering the launch bay."

"Send in a security team. I'll go down there and say hello myself."

"Yes, sir."

"T'Pol, you have the bridge." He gave her a shared protracted look after entering the turbolift before the doors closed. He could tell it was going to be an eventful Tuesday.

=/\=

Half a dozen security officers had arrived before he did. They were now standing guard meters away from the new ship, a shuttlepod in the typical Starfleet light gray with a touch of warmth to it. Yet it was of a design they weren't familiar with.  There was a symbol painted on its side along with a short registry number in English, but neither of those were recognizable either, and the captain was positive he was up-to-date on the latest in their own fleet.  He thought the visitor aboard might be able to fill him in, and on cue, a door opened from the back of the shuttle, drawing his attention.  He motioned to his officers to hold up while he approached alone, intending to give a friendly welcome to the new guest if at all possible — that is to say, greet without the brandishing of any phase pistols.

What he wasn't expecting was a Vulcan to emerge. But then, recent experience should have taught him to expect the unexpected out there in uncharted waters.  The Vulcan was barely taller, about an inch off Archer's height. He was also fairly young, maybe in his late teens or early twenties at the most.  He didn't come off as either guarded or threatening, as Archer had felt the majority of his kind did; instead, he seemed to be perturbed — but then, that shifted to, what was that, an actual smile?  He had looked over to the captain with an expression he'd never seen on a Vulcan before, with the possible exception of just a hint of the same that graced his first officer's face from time to time.

The Vulcan's lack of an air of tightassedness compelled Archer to welcome him as warmly as V'Lar had when they'd met.  "Welcome to Enterprise. I'm Captain Archer.", and as he'd become accustomed, he stopped short of offering his hand, the question of what it was with Vulcans and their aversion to touching other people flitting through his mind again. He'd always figured it was part of their general semi-xenophobic superiority complex.  And he'd hated to think it, hated to go there. He much preferred to think he was over that mindset.  'But at times they'd historically made it pretty damned hard not to go there.', he thought. But maybe it wasn't that at all, if his mental encounter with T'Pol last night was what he should judge by.

The visitor raised an eyebrow to the captain's greeting and morphed what appeared to be almost a grin into a delicate, quizzical frown. "Lieutenant junior grade Solon Henry Archer.", he spoke softly with a rising tone at the end.

Jonathan Archer was fairly certain the security officers hanging behind him hadn't heard.  "Excuse me?", he chuckled, stupefied, then thought to himself, 'What a bizarre— Who does this Vulcan think he is?'

But the Vulcan's expression was incredulous.  Continuing through the officers' dislike of their visitor's forward movement, he stepped close enough to the captain that the latter thought about taking a step back, but the former looked over his elder's shoulder at the security detachment beyond, then lowered his head conspiratorially and almost whispered, "Dad, is this a joke?"

That gave Archer pause like nothing else ever had, and he was a man who that not long ago had been slingshotted eight hundred years into a dystopian future. He hadn't a clue what to say to this, stunned into part leaning back, part stepping back and examining the face of this young Vulcan, searching for some explanation. To his surprise, he did find something: a resemblance.  Longish face, but a little rounder.  An indentation at the chin, but not as noticeable as his own.  Straight brown hair, whereas coal black hair was more common for both their species.  Green eyes like his own. Upswept eyebrows like a typical Vulcan's, angular, and otherwise, a bit bushy, also like his. Then he stopped himself, and his jaw reset to the side.  'Is this resemblance real or only the effect of him mentally priming me?', he asked himself.  'Or has he had himself physically altered? What's the point of this?'

At the captain's change in demeanor, his eyebrows dipped; something had occurred to him after he had, in turn, looked the elder over, maybe making sure he thought he also really was who he thought he was — or, at least, who he thought he was supposed to be. "What's the date?", he asked, decidedly not joking.

"April first, twenty-one fifty-two.", Archer answered matter-of-factly this time, finding his voice again.

His face slackened, blanched, and his eyes went wide, belying the natural coolness behind those pointy ears.

Keeping an eye on the visitor for a few moments longer, Archer turned to his security team and instructed them to wait outside the doors, then he whipped out his comm to contact the only other Vulcan on-board, the only other person at all who might have a clue as to what was going on here. "Archer to T'Pol."

"Captain.", came the succinct reply.

"I need you in launch bay one immediately."

"Acknowledged."

Maybe she would be able to provide some input about what was going on with this Vulcan.

Chapter Text

So many memories. An overwhelming amount of information. Too much, far too much for him to register and compartmentalize all at once. Dates, times, species, factions, organizations, meetings, opportunities, codes, co-ordinates, battles, let-downs, personal relationships, deaths. So many feelings.

Archer opened his eyes as the mental whirlwind died down. Despite it having felt like he'd been battered, sensations ranging all the way from elating to chilling and back, he now saw clearly the individual before him who reminded him a bit of his father and where his sharper face, fuller lips, smooth, slightly darker skin, and subtle bags under his eyes had undoubtedly come from. It felt like an anvil had settled on his chest, and he couldn't conjure up the words for all of the emotions he wouldn't be able to fully process for awhile.

=/\=

Well before T'Pol had arrived, the security officers had exited the bay and were standing watch, flanking the doors.

On her way to those doors, she looked among them with inquiry. "Where is Captain Archer?"

"Inside. He ordered us out, Subcommander.", came the response from one nearest to the door.

She gave a half nod and walked in past them. From the few meters away, she could see their new arrival was a Vulcan, though not quite with the contemporary haircut — it was a little on the loose if not frazzled side - and his ship was of a configuration she wasn't familiar with.

Upon her entering, his attention immediately turned to her and stayed stuck on her for a time before he could wrangle enough of a breath to make himself speak.  "Mother."

She stopped next to her seemingly awed captain who had glanced away for a moment to see her puzzled reaction. 'Mother?  Obviously this person is very confused. I wonder if Doctor Phlox has already been notified.', she thought to herself.  "No, I am Subcommand—"

"T'Pol," Archer interjected solemnly, turning his head back to her, "he knows."

In looking up at him when he spoke this, she saw his eyes were moist.  It was not a state she had seen him in more than once before, after he was led to believe that the crew, or more accurately himself, was responsible for the deaths of the thirty-six hundred colonists of Paraagan II. She tilted her head and observed him.  "Are you alright, Captain?"

Solon looked on, ardently taking in the sight of both of them together, alive and very well.

It took him a second, but he nodded in the affirmative. 'So much is changed.  You're no longer just the first officer I left on the bridge ten minutes ago.', he'd thought to himself.  'I am far removed from alright, but I can't tell you that, don't know how...'  Despite the great loss he felt and knew she would feel if she were to interact with Solon, he needed her to experience what he'd just experienced.  What of the series of events he knew to be true to his and T'Pol's history gelled, and the future he saw, from what he could so far parse, made at least believable sense as well. It was as much personally illuminating as it was a dire warning. He motioned to the young man.  "His name is Solon.  He's, we... had, did a..." he stumbled, not recalling the term Solon had for it because his head was a jumble, hands moving about ineffectually to accomodate the lack of meaningful vocal communication.

"A mind meld.", the young man supplied, attention still rapt on T'Pol.

She tried and failed to hide her shock, returning her now arraigning attention to Archer, confounded how he was still standing upright. "Not long ago, I became the 'beneficiary' of such a procedure.", she hinted to him, hoping he would get the drift without going into further detail, and he did, to his displeasure. "If this is truthful, he should be detained, and you should be examined by Doctor Phlox immediately."

"No, I wouldn't have agreed to it if I had any doubt at all. He... It was ...fine. Is fine. No harm done.", Archer tried to assure her. "Intense — a lot to take in — and a little confusing," his expression momentarily pained from the memories he was given.  "but I'm fine."  In truth, he was blown away by the experience.  It was as if he'd lived most of a lifetime in only a few minutes. He had to get her to experience it too because he didn't want to have to walk away from this and feel singularly crazy.  "And it was worth it.", he looked meaningfully to Solon, then back to T'Pol. "You should meet him."

Fully guarded, she turned her complete attention back to this new stranger who carefully held his hand part-way out before him and asked her, "May I?" She squinted upon picking up a limited waft of his scent. It wasn't wholly unfamiliar, but then, she couldn't place it, either.

"I have pa'nar syndrome.", she replied as flatly as possible. Not that it was any of his business, but if he had any sense, she knew the revelation would serve to deter him on its own.

"Given the date, I am well aware.", he spoke with a shaky confidence.  "And it would be illogical of me to knowingly inflict such a condition on either myself or him.", he nodded his head in the captain's directly. Archer would have snorted had the situation been any different. A child of his sounding so primly logical and Vulcan.

"Only Vulcans are susceptible.", she edited as if she had the depth of knowledge needed to make such a statement.

To which he corrected, "Not entirely.", suggesting he knew far more about it than she did. But rather than get into an explanation, he had somewhere to be, he reminded himself, and cut to the chase. "It will be alright; I have been trained in this practice and can erase most of the damage you were caused before. Please, allow me?" His familiar eyes, relaxed face, and again-proffered hand seemed perfectly sincere.

She wondered why he would claim to be privy to such a personal detail about her history. To say she was skeptical of his claim to be able to fix it himself, with just him, a teenager, standing here in a launch bay, was an understatement.

Archer gave her an encouraging nod that didn't match the accusatory glance she had given him. In the last few months, he had been practicing at better tempering himself in front of her, making certain to alter his behavior just enough to take her values and her perspective into account and to work more smoothly with her, something he'd found no reason to previously do in order to better suit relations with any others of her species. He hadn't anticipated an event like this would allow him to continue making use of the burgeoning skill.  "T'Pol, I understand where you're coming from. After what happened to you before, even if I still don't understand the extent of it, believe me when I say the last thing I would do is order you to do this. But... what he has to share would explain a lot. And if he says he can fix the damage, I believe him. I trust him."

She stared at her captain like he had two heads. Two friendly, reassuring heads. Trust this person, who is under the delusion she's his mother, who is offering to touch her mind after just meeting him? She was the first of her species to gain Archer's trust, and that took longer than a handful of minutes. But the captain was trying to look encouraging about the situation, as if he hoped or expected her to in fact trust him enough to go through with it. And she had found herself making allowances for him like she had never made for any other, which had all worked out to their advantage so far. So against all better judgement, eventually she relented, unaware of what further mental capacity she had to lose or at what faster pace she might lose it than she already was expected to. With remaining hesitation intact, she turned and raised her chin towards the newcomer, all because she trusted Jonathan Archer.

Solon took this as an invitation, although before making physical contact, he did meet her eyes and give her a second in case she decided to change her mind. Seeing her agreement, he then placed the fingers of his right hand on one side of her face and spoke gently in Vulcan while his eyes closed. "Kashek t'nash-veh na'kashek t'du, nahp t'nash-veh na'nahp t'du." She immediately felt his presence sink throughout, but in stark contrast to Tolaris, it was not imposing or threatening; Solon's presence was a soft, pillowy, comforting pressure, not an insistent, demanding stab and thrust at her psyche.  After the moment of establishing a connection, her eyes shuttered closed of their own accord, and she felt some tension leave her when it was clear he wasn't poking around or attempting to inflict anything on her or extract anything personal from her. Gradually she experienced what felt like a cleansing, a cleaning out of mental cobwebs she hadn't been able to really identify feeling before now that she'd built up.  It could be described as the mental equivalent of a deep tissue massage, minus any sense of discomfort or bruising.

Archer found himself observing passively, wondering if there was something else going on; was Solon helping her first or was she really just taking what he'd also experienced that well.  Save for the slightest twitch here and there, her features were as smooth as if she were asleep. Nothing like the nausea-inducing unpleasantness she had ever so generically related to him of her interaction with Tolaris. Symmetrically, Solon seemed at peace himself, whereas after Archer had melded with him, he had appeared caught between hopelessness and desperation.

But then, after a couple of minutes, the captain could tell something had changed because she had started to develop a frown line. He realized Solon had transitioned into what he had done with him, opening up his mind for her to her fully access a succession of certain vivid memories he held, whether directly his own or those he'd had imprinted from mind melds with his parents in his past, to be taken in by her of her own will. She hadn't realized a mind meld could happen in this way and would have found it intriguing if not appealing had it not been for the nature of the numerous and acutely personal memories being shared.  She was experiencing them in great detail, right down to all of the sensory information, as if she were living them herself for the first time.

In her mind's eye, she was holding up a candid photo of a Vulcan infant in its mother's arms... 'no, those aremy arms', she realized.

Swaths of full experiences ensued from this point, and she found she was seeing all them from Solon's perspective, whether directly or from his memory or gleaned from someone else.

An attack on Earth by an alien sphere she had never seen or heard of before. The Xindi. T'Pol inhaled, caught off guard. The planet left scorched. Reports of millions killed.

Then she — he — was on a space vessel of some sort.

A hand left hers — Solon's. It was a woman's hand, and the body went flying across the the corridor in a fiery blast, half her torso blown away, blood splattering the hallway where they were walking. The young witness was turning and running before he could discern exactly what was coming after him. But he knew: It was the Xindi. And they were waging a comprehensive annihilation of their planet.

One memory jaggedly connected to the next.

Time had passed, and he was older now. They were back on Vulcan. Archer was there now, and he was frustrated, sidelined from being a key figure in a Federation impetuously formed to protect their worlds.

Through Solon's eyes, she watched herself misstep and drop a mug of tea before slumping to the floor, Archer there to catch her as Solon stood by watching numbly, disturbed.  It was obvious to her that she was mentally broken.  One of his hands went to her face much like Solon's was now, his other hand grasping at Solon's, and through a marital link with her, he showed his son how he tried to calm her stutters, shakes, and small ensuing sobs borne out of her loss of self-control. But he could only do so much, and he was only human; it was enough of a task for him that his own despondency didn't spill over to her.

She saw Archer trying to remain resolute and help with the defense while leaving Solon behind to stay with one of her cousins on Vulcan, Xindi-scarred but not destroyed like Earth had been. Not yet, anyway.

A faster succession of memories.

Her cousin V'Krei who helped him come to terms with his confusion and hurt, more formally teaching him proper meditation and thought techniques to calm him and allow him to use logic to understand his situation.

She — Solon — watched from the doorway as Archer was sat bedside holding on to her limp and pallid hands, a sheen to his face where it wasn't hidden by shadows. He could just barely make the words out. "I can't do this without you, T'Pol. Please don't leave us."

V'Krei imparting to him the news of his mother's death, and him, having thought he had come close enough to mastering his emotions, promptly bursting into tears.

T'Pol was then at what passed for her own funeral.  It consisted of only her V'Krei, Archer, and Solon in solemn contemplation. The shattering pain was evident on Archer's face, and, on her's — Solon's — she could again feel a heavy wetness.

"Hey.", Archer tried, hand on her — his — shoulder, not knowing himself how to deal with her loss.  She — he — jumped up to him in a surge of emotion and was caught in his encircling arms.  What emanated from him felt like agony.  "Can't you?", he questioned his father after he loosened his hug. He shook his head.  Her — his — hand instinctively reached for his face, like he had done with her future self, asking if it would be permissible. He wanted nothing else but for his father to take away his pain and confusion. "I'm sorry.", Archer choked back in regret.  "I'm not much use for that right now.", he tried to beg off his son who didn't understand — who didn't understand at the time but did now.

After the destruction of Vulcan, they had escaped to a remote world where they hoped they wouldn't be found for awhile. In-between learning how to fly ships in the remaining time, he had poured himself into learning the techniques of mind melding to calm his anxiety and mentally escape from the breakdown of his family and friends and cultures caused by the carnage around them.

Solon was no stranger, she came to realize. Through his eyes, she was supplied private knowledge — sometimes the littlest of things — about herself and the captain that only they would know and would not have shared with the outside world. The events of the future had, from there, been unfolded before her and around her, through the eyes of this young man. The sequence of memories ended with his recollection of how he arrived here, today, during a firefight with the Xindi as he was about to ram one of their ships in a last-ditch, hopeless, kamikaze effort.

And with that, he broke the connection. His eyes were glossy and full of sympathy, so uncharacteristic of a Vulcan which he otherwise physically resembled. Archer wondered if he'd shared more detail or more emotion with her than he had with him or if it was merely being with her, alive and well, that caused him that reaction. T'Pol was affected, he could see too, but she clammed it up quickly enough. Far too quickly to be indicative of how she must be processing it, if she even were processing it.

Solon's internal clock still had him situated in the heart of the battle during his own time, and it now compelled him to tighten his speech pattern. It also gave him pause to consider how he wanted the chance to provide them enough meaningful information to make sound judgements on in order to change the course of what was to come for their species. He mentally crossed his fingers on that possibility. "Mother.", he spoke the word with tender affection, "You must believe me. It is imperative that you do."

It was reminiscent of part of a conversation Archer and T'Pol had had not long ago when he had been stuck in the distant future. "What is your intention here?", she inquiried surprisingly evenly, as if nothing of the last two or three minutes had actually transpired.

"I know what I have imparted must seem particularly outlandish, but I can assure you, everyone's lives will soon change, and not for the better." This final mission he was on had been a fool's errand, but those who were left were fresh out of options. He had every intention to sacrifice himself just to take out what he could. Under essentially his own command now, he was one of the very last with any ability to fight back. But even while some ran and others who stayed behind were struck down, unable to defend themselves, he was determined to would go out fighting. Of that fate he was sure. He just had to figure out how he got here so he could find a way to return to finish his part, unless whatever had allowed him to appear here would allow him to interact with his parents enough to change things before it all went to hell. Although, if I were able to alter my own timeline, that would mean I wouldn't be able to just go back to where I was; chances are I would cease to exist...

It was apparent to T'Pol and Archer the moment that thought crossed his mind. Possibly even a highly trained, full-blooded Vulcan couldn't have kept such a reaction of staggering implications from bubbling up.

But he closed his mouth and blinked hard, away from that thought, and calmed himself as best he could before speaking again. "Over the years, I learned that the two of you were not together and that when you later entered into an unpopular marriage, it didn't help matters." He took a breath before continuing. "I was born on July ninth, twenty-one fifty-three." Before forcing out the rest of his thought, he looked specifically at his mother who was still taking in the apparent insanity of the situation and wasn't able to speak or even react to any degree. "Knowing that, you can calculate the date and return to Vulcan in advance of your pon farr in order to avoid ...what happened."

Archer, assuming "pon farr" simply meant the fertile part of a Vulcan woman's cycle, automatically frowned, and deeply. "Are you saying you wish you'd never been born?"

"N—", he emphatically started speaking, along with an involuntary head-shake, but corrected himself. "I wish your troubles and this war had never happened. If me not existing could be a way to avoid it, or curb the massive number of lives lost and save the both of you heartache in the process, I will not hesitate to volunteer myself."

Archer, though shocked by such an admission from someone so young, was equally struck by his bravery and selflessness. "I can see that."

"Please don't get me wrong. You were both excellent parents, even though you were separated at the beginning. I would not have chosen other parents even if I could." He half frowned. "But it shouldn't have had to happen that way." He stared them down, feeling time was running out to get his message fully across. "What's important is that the Xindi and their spheres and their vengeance are going to be coming to Earth and to Vulcan and will continue to come until there's nothing left. You have the knowledge to change that now — at least enough information so as to ...avoid a mistake and prepare for the war. With any luck, you may even be able to prevent it this time by striking first."

Unable just then to mentally sort through what would be the details of that general proposed plan, Archer switched to boiling it back down to the lives at stake. "How many of us are left, in your time?"

Solon was unable to conceal his despair. Too few.

Without warning, in a split second, his face drastically changed; he was in a state of flux and experiencing a feeling somewhere between pain and horror.  In another instant, his body and the ship behind him warped as if they were situated behind moving, distorted glass before both vanished into thin air like they'd never existed there at all. The only hint of their prior reality was the smallest breeze of the molecules of atmosphere in the launch bay re-arranging themselves to fill in the hollowed spaces left behind.

One fewer was left.

Chapter Text

Out from Archer's mouth came the beginning of a breathy yell which ceased almost as it had begun. At the same time, he impulsively grabbed in vain at the air in front of him where Solon, until right then, had stood.

T'Pol, mouth frozen uncharacteristically ajar, released a hard breath, unable to unroot herself from the spot where she remained. The minimal parts of her brain that weren't on hold, that still seemed to her to be functioning and processing this situation, inferred there was nothing she could do anyway. So she gazed ahead, through nothing, to the wall of the launch bay.

He turned his focus on her in desperation.  "Why is he gone?  I don't— What's changed?!"  He grasped the basic idea of the future being changed by the present as Solon had described, but he needed more input, some direction, to know what she was thinking, to help him really, truly understand what had happened. And with the desperation kicked in the sense of needing control over the situation; he felt he needed to understand right now.

But she wasn't at all looking at him when he spoke to her. It unglued him from his newfound single-mindedness. Was she still in disbelief but only surprised? Amazed? Frightened? Disgusted? Her eyes were nearly bugged out, focused intently on where Solon had been standing, and her stare alone wasn't giving him any clues.

After glancing back and forth once to check that the emptiness she was staring at hadn't been refilled, he noticed the color draining from her face. No conscious control over herself, she began to crumple, and in a split second, he was there, had swooped down to catch her before she hit the deck. As he had experienced in that mind meld, she seemed so unnaturally fragile in this moment. That on top of the rest that had just happened had him worried.  "T'Pol!", he hovered over her, one hand supporting her head above the hard floor, the other having moved around her front to her waist to help ease her down. How did Solon disappearing affect her? What was wrong? He wasn't the least bit prepared for her to blink out of existence too.

And thankfully for him, she didn't. After taking an extended moment to gather herself, she was both physically and mentally able to reply to his concern. "I will be alright." Now tilting her head to meet his eyes, her explanation, tinged with confusion, was as straightforward as it got:  "I forgot to breathe."

He leaned back on his haunches with a sigh of relief on that count, the air leaving him in almost a staccatoed laugh.  Noticing her gaze had drifted down again, he realized that the hand he'd had on her waist was now holding her hand.  His mind flashed back to the night before and then flashed to a few minutes ago to his mind meld with Solon, where touching her meant... She said nothing, but he nevertheless apologized and pulled away, gingerly removing his other hand from behind her head as she sat up. Without knowing what he'd recently learned, he would have assumed she didn't want him touching her due to her people's social faux pas about it, having even further in the past considered it even a xenophobic trait; he never remembered seeing them purposefully touch others apart from spouses, their hands so typically clasped and swimming in their robes. For another brief instant, he wondered if that wasn't what set her off the night before with him. But had he been the cause of their shared experience then or had she, or did it take the both of them together? He wasn't sure.  And then his mind went right back to Solon, from then on having a difficult time thinking about much of anything then except the disappearance of the strange visitor, his son. Their son.

Still seeming detached, she'd asked to be excused to sickbay. Carefully helping her up by her clothed elbow to a standing position along with himself, he'd asked if she wanted him, or at least someone, to go there with her, but she'd declined without hesitation. And without making eye contact, stating she could make it herself without an issue, she slipped out the door and past the guards who remained just outside.

With the empty spaces left from her and Solon's departures, he felt utterly bereft. Shaking his head, he mentally gathered himself and pulled out his comm to contact Reed and give him the barest rundown: that this incident was not to be discussed by anyone, including Reed himself or the rest of the bridge crew or the security officers who he was about to tell them same, nor should the event even be formally logged until further notice. That conversation accomplished, he mutely remained inside the door of the launch bay for a little while longer. His stomach churned, and his eyes glazed over at where the teenager had stood, and he made-believe he could re-appear if he thought about it hard enough. It was a futile effort, he well knew, and with a contemplative frown, he shook it off and turned and left as well.

Hidden above on the walkway for only a few more seconds before vanishing himself, Crewman Daniels looked on, pleased with the turn he'd caused in these events and proud of himself for being entrusted once again with securing the outcome. This had been one of the few big hiccups in getting the rest of the timelines to fall the right way this century in order to provide for a stable and robust Federation. Archer couldn't be allowed to work himself out of the big picture.

=/\=

Carriage rigid and obviously perturbed, she proceeded into sickbay and without preamble asked, "Doctor, would you indulge me for a few minutes?"

"Of course.", his sanguine visage popped up from being inside a lower cabinet. "What can I do for you?"  The unyieldingly chipper attitude, while well-received by most patients, did not help to assuage her.

Only then did she glance around to ensure there were no others present. "I would appreciate it if you would do a full neurological scan to determine if there are any abnormalities or an unexpected change in my condition. I believe it may be getting worse, more quickly than we anticipated."

Though ignorant of the impetus, he was perfectly willing to entertain the science officer, hoping she was in fact incorrect in her self-diagnosis. "Certainly, Subcommander."  He motioned toward the biobeds, and she lay down for him to begin.

"May I ask what's brought this belief on?"

She gave no response.

Phlox took the Vulcan tendancy to silence in stride and scanned and interpreted the data, his expressions changing ever so slightly over the span of those few minutes. "Remarkable.", he finally noted with his typical enthusiasm. "The progression of inflammatory atrophy seems to have been halted — reversed somewhat, even, with minor axonal outgrowth."

"Reversed?"

"I believe so." Poking around with his scans more, he asked, "How did this happen?"

"I wasn't hallucinating?", she said more to herself than him.

"Hallucinating?  I'm not sure what you would be hallucinating about, but a hallucination itself couldn't've caused this."

A cascade of muscles in her back spontaneously stiffened at the advancing possibility that what she had experienced really did happen.

Side-eyeing her, Phlox continued, "I won't be certain until your latest round of medication wears off in a matter of days whether or not your endocrine system will return to full function on its own. But given this compelling turn of events, I don't think it would be wrong to be optimistic."

The possibility of full function. Synaptic pathways restored from damage. Under the circumstances, and only under the circumstances, she was conflicted on how to feel about this news.  "How is this possible?"

He was baffled. "I have no idea. I was hoping you would tell me." But she was hardly being forthright. He thought for a moment, re-examining the readings on the monitor. "You haven't taken any other drugs outside my supervision?"

"No." It was still impossible, she deemed.

He sensed her breathy tone despite her protest, and finished with data collection, he put away his scanner. "Subcommander?"

There was no reason to tell him about what she had experienced in the launch bay, she decided; she would at least opt to wait until she again spoke to the captain, and on that thought, she shifted on the biobed and sat up. "I will speak with you further on this matter at a later time."

"I don't understand. Surely something happ—"

"I don't understand either." She slid off the bed abruptly, intent on leaving. "Thank you, Doctor, for your time and care; it is appreciated. I need to rest.", she informed him before exiting sickbay without further regard.

He couldn't form words in time to stop her. "Hmph!", he puffed, then turned back to the monitor. He would to try and decipher the weird but delightful turn his patient's malady had taken — right after he analyzed the genetic makeup of the tiny deposit of unknown DNA residue he'd found on her temple during his scan.