"Absolutely not!" Trip moved past his wife on his way to the fridge. She was crazy. He was getting ready to tell her that, too, until he saw that she had remembered to buy his favorite beer.
"Trip..." T'Pol reasoned with cool tones. "You and I both had pets as children. We agreed that when Lorian was of sufficient age, it would help to teach him responsibility."
Snagging one of the brown, long-necked bottles, Trip pulled his head out of the icebox. "A goldfish, T'Pol. A turtle. Hell, even a tarantula! But a sehlat–? For Christmas–? You're out of your mind!"
T'Pol followed him out the back door, across the yard, and into the shed, where the boxes of Christmas lights were patiently waiting to be hung along the outside of the house and wound around the trees. In an effort to ensure their son stayed firmly connected to both his human and his Vulcan heritage, T'Pol had agreed years ago that Christmas celebrations should be integrated into their bi-cultural household. She had, however, tried to draw the line at deceiving Lorian into believing in Santa Claus, though she had eventually acquiesced to that, too – more for her husband than for their son, and on the condition that Trip be the one to explain it when Lorian discovered the fabrication.
Trip set his beer down on the work bench and began rooting around in the boxes. T'Pol grabbed a bundle of lights, liberating the plug end and handing it to Trip. The lights illuminated, and she held them up for him to inspect. She continued the discussion of their son's Christmas gift. "Vulcan children much younger than Lorian are capable of taking care of a domesticated sehlat."
"It might claw the furniture." Trip grunted dismissively, unplugging the strand.
T'Pol grabbed another bundle. "It's not like a cat."
"It might pee on the rug."
"Sehlats are easily housebroken."
Trip plugged in the strand a little more roughly than he needed to. "The thing's gonna eat me!"
T'Pol gave him the eyebrow. "Many of your domesticated canines are of sufficient size and strength to pose a similar threat," she pointed out a little abruptly, "and yet you've expressed desire for our son to have a dog." Spine stiffening, she placed the lights back in the box, turned on her heel, and walked out – Vulcan for "you're a dick."
Trip sighed, tipping back his beer. Maybe she was right about the implied double-standard, but frankly he didn't want anything ugly with big-assed teeth living in their house.
Movement caught his eye as he glanced out the window, followed by the sound of happy barking. Trip smiled in spite of himself at the sight of Lorian romping around the back yard with Porthos. Save for his mother's ears, the nine-year-old was the spitting image of his father at that age.
Jon usually took his beloved dog with him everywhere, but the beagle was getting up there in years and didn't travel as well as he used to. Still, despite being elderly, Porthos still managed to find the energy for ball chasing and stick fetching whenever Lorian was around.
Trip laughed to himself as he mentally replayed events from the other day. Before leaving for his inspection tour of Jupiter Station, Jon had stopped by and asked his de facto nephew if he'd mind dog sitting for a while. Lorian had furiously begged his parents for the chance, not knowing he wasn't going to have to work that hard to win them over; they'd lived on a starship with Porthos for several years, after all, and even T'Pol had begrudgingly developed a soft spot for him.
Trip paused, eyeing the ladder already parked up against the house. He thought about going in and getting T'Pol to hold it for him. It was, after all,her voice in the back of his head lecturing him on the statistics of household accidents and setting a good example for their son. He resisted the urge to remind that voice that his previous experience as chief engineer on a starship had meant climbing all kinds of things alone in the line of duty.
He wasn't quite ready to make up with T'Pol yet. He knew she would come out and hold the ladder, but at the moment he couldn't take her crisp Vulcan facade, punctuated by her silence. He would have to talk to her eventually, though, if he wanted a decent night. T'Pol wasn't going to couch him the way a human wife might, which, he supposed, was a good thing. Still, he knew that despite her high Vulcan body temperature, her side of the bed was going to be ice cold if he didn't do something between now and then.
Inspired, he called over to his son. "Hey, Lorian! Wanna come give your old man a hand?"
Lorian sprang up , an eager Porthos following behind him. "Really? You usually have Mother help you with this."
Trip tried to suppress the edge in his voice. "Yeah, well...I think you're big enough to hold a ladder now, so I thought it would be fun. Just us guys."
Lorian visibly swelled with pride. Trip smiled to himself. He imagined he had a similar look on his face the first time his dad asked him to help on a project.
"Now hold the ladder nice and tight," Trip instructed, "and if anything happens – which it won't – run inside and get Mom."
Lorian pumped his head up and down, and Trip headed up the ladder with a bundle of lights. As he tucked the strand into the hooks he'd installed several years before, he and Lorian talked about school, baseball, and girls.
Slowly, they worked their way around the house, Trip climbing back down and moving the ladder a few feet over every time he'd extended his reach. They were almost finished when Trip realized his reach was short by just six or eight inches. After stretching and straining every which way, he began to eyeball the trellis.
"Maybe we should move the ladder again," Lorian suggested.
"Nah," Trip answered confidently, testing the strength of the trellis with his boot. "I've done this a million times."
"Mother always says 'safety first,'" the boy reminded him.
Trip put more of his weight on the trellis, then gingerly moved his other foot over. "See? It's alright, just for a few minutes."
The last thing Trip heard was the crack! of wood snapping as the trellis pulled away from the house.
When Trip opened his eyes, there was a blinding light, eclipsed by not one but two greenish-brown orbs. As things came into focus, he recognized the White Space and T'Pol's eyes looking into him.
"What happened?" Trip asked hoarsely.
"You nearly deprived our son of his father today," she answered, not too gently.
Trip winced. He supposed he deserved that, but did it have to be now? "Why am I here?"
"You are unconscious. The medics are coming."
"Great," Trip responded dryly. He wanted the neighbors staring at his house because of the Christmas display to end all Christmas displays, not because of some bloodthirsty desire to know all about whatever tragedy was unfolding in their yard.
"Perhaps we could continue discussing a gift for Lorian while we wait."
Trip laughed incredulously. "Are you kidding me? Apparently I'm laying half dead in the yard, and you want to talk about going down to the pound for a sehlat puppy?"
"Young sehlats are cubs," T'Pol corrected him, "and that you are here having this conversation with me proves that you are not 'half dead.' You are simply unconscious...and somewhat concussed."
"And you want to take advantage of a man while he's brain-damaged."
T'Pol's jaw set imperceptibly. She reached a hand out to him. "Come with me."
He took it, allowing her to help pull him to a standing position. "Where are we going?"
The white space changed to a grassy back yard on a sunny summer day. Trip saw that he was facing the back porch of his childhood home in Panama City. He turned around to see small versions of himself, Bert, and Lizzie running around with the family dog, a German shepherd named Sparky.
"So you're not my wife," Trip said, "you're the ghost of Christmas past?"
T'Pol ignored the flippant remark. "Do you recall this day?"
"Yeah," Trip said, his expression softening a little as he watched himself with his brother and sister. "I was seven. Bert took my brand new baseball glove – typical pain in the ass older brother."
Trip's gaze followed as his young self ran after Bert, shouting, "Dammit, Bert! Give it back!" At this, Bert just laughed and threatened to tell their mother about Trip's cursing. Lizzie trotted up from behind, not really sure what all the running and fussing was all about, only knowing that she didn't want to be left out of the action.
Trip shook his head wistfully. "Lizzie wasn't even three yet."
"Do you remember what happened next?" T'Pol prodded.
Trip nodded slowly. Just as he remembered, Bert took off toward the family's in-ground pool, which was surrounded by a chain-link fence for the purposes of keeping out small children and the occasional gator. When Trip had nearly caught up, Bert hopped the fence, laughing harder.
"C'mon, Bert!" young Trip pleaded. "You know we're not supposed to be by the pool if Mom or Dad aren't out here!"
"What are you gonna do about it?" Bert taunted.
With a long-suffering sigh, Trip stepped over a few feet toward the gate. After unlatching it, he tore in after Bert in an effort to rescue his glove. As the boys chased and wrestled, neither of them noticed Lizzie toddling in after them. A dragonfly caught her attention, and she went closer and closer to the edge of the pool in pursuit.
"We weren't even paying attention," Trip told T'Pol, "until-"
Lizzie started shrieking and waving her arms as she teetered on the edge of the pool. Just as she was about to fall in, Sparky was on her, grabbing her dress with his teeth and pulling her back. The young boys stopped fighting and ran over. They looked at each other, wide-eyed in horror.
"Once we realized she was okay," Trip explained, "we were more worried about getting in trouble..."
They watched as Bert shoved the ball glove roughly into Trip's arms. "Here's your stupid glove. None of this happened, got me?"
Young Trip protested "But Lizzie could've--"
"If Mom or Dad find out," Bert interrupted, "you're in just as much trouble as I am. And I'm going to tell them you cursed." Satisfied with the effectiveness of his threat, Bert grabbed Lizzie's hand and stalked off. "C'mon, Lizzie."
Trip slowly followed, latching the gate behind them.
"Sparky stuck close to Lizzie for the rest of the day," Trip murmured as he watched. "One of his teeth got her in the shoulder...mom asked how she got scratched...Bert said he didn't know and I didn't say anything."
"Your sister was quite lucky to have such a loyal family pet," T'Pol observed as the scene changed abruptly back to the white space.
"Listen," Trip said, "I know what you're trying to do here. A dog is one thing, but a sehlat--"
The scene abruptly changed again, this time to the reddish rocky landscape of Vulcan. Trip recognized the front garden of T'Pol's family home.
"There's your mom," Trip said as a younger-looking T'Les entered the garden from the house. A man followed her, tall and muscular, and slightly darker-complected. On his first visit to Vulcan, Trip had already surmised that T'Pol had mostly gotten her looks from her mother, but in seeing this man, it was clear that he was responsible for giving T'Pol her soulful eyes and bronze-toned skin. His assumption that this man was her father was confirmed as a teenage Vulcan girl exited the house.
"Have you fed Thel-ausachya?" the man asked.
"Yes, Father," young T'Pol answered.
T'Pol's father nodded in satisfaction. "Then my sehlat is in good hands, as always. We must leave for the spaceport immediately. My shuttle departs in one hour and twenty-six minutes."
"It is regrettable that you must go and mediate this dispute with the Andorians," T'Les said. Trip recognized the subtle change in her voice; T'Pol spoke the same way when saying goodbye to Trip whenever he went to Jupiter Station on Starfleet business. By all indications, T'Pol had always identified more strongly with her father, but Trip wondered if, after all these years since T'Les had died, T'Pol realized just how much she really had in common with her mother.
"The initial talks have been somewhat encouraging," T'Pol's father said. "I expect that we can conclude the matter swiftly and efficiently."
As the family moved toward the garden gate, the scene went dark.
"That was the last time I ever saw my father," T'Pol said evenly, but Trip recognized the weight of sadness and regret in her words. "The Andorians ambushed my father's party the moment they landed."
The scene changed again, to dusk on Vulcan. Teenage T'Pol was sitting alone in the garden. There was light and activity inside the house...Trip could hear the murmur of hushed voices.
"The family matrons had come to assist my mother," T'Pol explained. Her detached tone told Trip she was feeling anything but detached. "In retrospect, it seems that marital bonds were common knowledge among my people, though no one talked about them, in light of the social disapproval of mind melds and telepathy."
Trip watched his wife's face as he listened.
"However," T'Pol continued, "the near-fatal consequences of the sudden severing of a bond are difficult to ignore. My mother was ill and in emotional disarray for quite some time."
"Understandable," Trip said, trying to be supportive without projecting human preconceived notions about what one must feel over the death of a spouse. "What about you?"
T'Pol turned back to the image of her young self in the garden. A sehlat approached and grunted for attention. Young T'Pol reached down and idly began petting it.
"While the bond between parent and child is strong," T'Pol said, "it is assumed to be dissolved by the conclusion of the kahs-wan. I was sent to meditate, but I had difficulty focusing."
Teenage T'Pol sunk to the ground, arms around her pet, tears silently rolling down her eyes.
"It would have been shameful for me to be found in that state," T'Pol continued. "Fortunately, sehlats are non-judgmental, and they do not betray one's secrets."
Trip pulled T'Pol into his arms, tucking her head into his chest as though to shield her from the sight of her own grief. T'Pol would have called the move illogical, citing that she had already lived through the moment once and that it had no power over her, but Trip knew the truth. Upon the loss of her father, Thel-ausachya had become her constant companion and confidant until he, too, had passed.
"Like I said," Trip said gently, "I know what this is about. I get it. But I-"
The Vulcan landscape abruptly went white, then T'Pol was gone.
And so was he.
Trip's head hurt something fierce. He had awakened to a ring of faces staring into his: his wife, his son, two paramedics, and one beagle. After an examination at Starfleet medical, Trip was cleared to go home with instructions not to sleep for twenty-four hours and to return if he experienced nausea or dizziness.
At first, the staying awake thing was easy. He watched as Lorian showed him Porthos's entire repertoire of tricks, from sit and stay to high-five and play dead.
Occasionally, he caught T'Pol gazing at them through the window. She was pissed, and Trip supposed she had a right to be. The scene she'd shared from her past wasn't just about what having a pet sehlat had meant to her. He recognized the message about not wanting their child to become fatherless as she had been. They didn't talk about any of it until he found her in the study later that evening.
"I put Lorian to bed," he said, poking his head into the open door.
T'Pol looked up from her work, eyes wide and lips slightly pressed together – Vulcan for "what do you want, a cookie?"
Trip stepped the rest of the way into the room. "Can I get a do-over on today?"
He half-sat on the desk in front of her. "Yeah. At least the part about Lorian's present."
T'Pol looked away. "The Vulcan Science Directorate maintains that time travel is not possible."
Trip smirked at his wife's joke, even though she would deny making it if he called her on it. "Look, I'm sorry. I know the whole sehlat business probably sounded like 'stupid ignorant human' to you."
T'Pol's eyes narrowed fractionally, her only outward expression of her disappointment.
"But it wasn't me being prejudiced," he went on. "At least not the way you think. Sehlats kinda look like big teddy bears...something that's supposed to be all cute and cuddly and friendly. Seeing them with fangs is really counter-intuitive for a human. It's actually kinda creepy."
T'Pol paused for one breath, then two. Finally. she said, "I suppose it's understandable, when an image is presented in the wrong context. I had a similar experience when I first saw your duck-billed platypus."
Trip wrinkled his nose at the last thing she'd said. "I don't even wanna know." Returning to the subject, he said, "So here's what I was thinking. We'll let Lorian decide if he wants a sehlat or a dog. Fair?"
"That would be agreeable," T'Pol conceded, "but would his foreknowledge not spoil the surprise on Christmas morning?"
Trip shook his head. "We're not giving it to him for Christmas. Bad idea with all the unusual activity and Porthos in the house."
T'Pol tilted her chin upward, clearly impressed with her husband's logic. "Agreed. The question remains, however..."
"...what do we get Lorian for Christmas?" Trip finished for her.
They both thought for a moment.
"Bicycle," they both said.
Trip laughed. "The perfect gift! Done." He reached out a hand to caress her cheek. "It's getting late."
T'Pol spared a quick glance at the chronometer on the wall. "You must remain conscious for another fourteen hours."
Trip slid off the desk and held out his hand. "I know a good way to pass a few of them."
T'Pol took his hand but remained seated, her expression doubtful.
"C'mon," Trip prodded. "I owe you for earlier."
"Indeed." T'Pol rose and followed her husband without further discussion, shutting off the light behind them.
Trip grinned. It was already shaping up to be a great Christmas, even if he had to get a concussion in order to get it.