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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise.  No copyright infringement is intended.

This story takes place right after the ending to ‘The Aenar.’ I was re-watching the series and when I got to that scene, the story presented itself. There are references to a number of episodes including ‘First Flight,’ ‘Desert Crossing,’ ‘ The Expanse’ and season three in general, ‘Cogenitor,’ ‘Shuttle Pod One,’ ‘Dawn.’ Some of it is plain made up backstory.

 

He watched as his best friend of over ten years walked out the door. For a moment he was simply stunned, clueless to the whys that had lead to this. As he thought about Trip’s and his friendship, the memory of the promise made on what he’d come to think of their first mission together sprang to mind.

“If I had my own ship, I’d sign you up in a second.”

“I’m gonna hold ya to that.”

From that moment on, Trip had always been his choice for chief engineer when he became captain. Even then - or at least once he knew he wasn’t going to be tossed out of Starfleet on his ass – he’d been sure he’d be the one to take his father’s engine into deep space where no human had gone before.

He took a glass, one that he’d grabbed when his friend first came in. The missions they’d been through since returning from the Expanse hadn’t gotten any easier. After this last one, Jon had been looking forward to sharing a drink with Trip. After reading the report the engineer had submitted, he was sure that Trip would’ve appreciated it as well. He was obviously wrong about that.

Picking up the decanter holding the amber liquid, he remembered the many times the two of them had shared a drink. Usually the beverage of choice was a beer, but when times had been especially hard or when there was something special to celebrate, the glasses of fine bourbon whiskey had graced both their hands. Tonight, he spilled some into only one glass.

For the latter, the most memorable of the celebrations had been the day Archer had met with Trip to share the news that he’d been given the assignment as the first captain of the NX-01 and that he wanted him as his engineer. Trip had been working on the Endeavor, a small survey ship with a complement of twenty. The ship had returned to Jupiter Station for maintenance a week after the NX-01 assignment had been formally announced. Endeavor had come in three weeks premature because their comm system had been rendered inoperative by a virus and they needed to get back for emergency repairs. As soon as Jon had learned the ship was back, he’d invited his friend to the 602 for a drink.

Taking a sip of the bourbon, he allowed his mind to remember that day. He’d been sitting at the same table where they’d first gotten to know each other on that rainy night at the 602. They’d been awaiting A.G.’s arrival and instead had to hear from Admiral Forrest that the Warp 5 project had been placed on indefinite hold. That was the moment when Trip voiced his strong belief in Jon’s father’s engine, arguing the soundness of the design and pointing out the problem with the intermix. The night that ultimately had led to this happier meeting.

On that happy day Trip had walked in, looked around, and grinned as he identified him and went over to the table. Once they’d gotten their welcomes out of the way, he’d signaled Ruby that the pre-arranged drinks would be needed in the matter of minutes. Then he’d turned to Trip. It was a sure bet that the man hadn’t heard the news of his assignment based on the casual greeting. He brought up the issue casually as well.

“The NX-01’s almost finished. Exploration out there’s about to get a lot more interesting.”

“Yeah. I saw her on the way in. Looking good. They say Enterprise will be launching within six months.”

“Well, I think, based on that alone…the captain and chief engineer should be working together to make sure everything’s shipshape.”

“Yeah. When they gonna announce that?”

“They already have. You’re looking at the captain of the Enterprise.”

Trip’s face had blossomed with a smile. “You beat out A.G.? That’s great. Starfleet made the right decision, that’s for sure. Nothing against A.G. but…it’s just right you take Enterprise out there first.”

“Thanks. Of course, that means…now that I have my own ship…that I want the best chief engineer possible.”

The younger man had given him a look that questioned where he was going with that statement. “Yeah. I suppose that you’d want someone with a lot of experience.”

“That’s true. He’s going to need to take care of a lot of issues on his own. Needs to be quick on his feet and innovative.”

Trip nodded. “Right.” His body language had fallen slightly. He seemed to be surprised at Ruby’s appearance with two glasses of the 602’s finest bourbon.

“You ordered these, Jon?”

“You bet. Can’t think of a better way to toast the next chief engineer of the NX-01.” Ruby placed both glasses on the table and he’d picked one up and lifted it in honor of his friend. “To Charles Tucker the Third. Best damned engineer in the fleet.”

Trip’s smile blossomed brighter if that was possible. “Me?”

“Sure. I told you I wanted the best. Besides, I think you’ve waited long enough.”

Trip lifted his glass as well. “We both have.”

Back on Enterprise some four years later, the memory brought a smile to his lips. He’d never regretted that decision. But it looked like maybe Trip was ready to move on. He wished he knew why.

He considered the past eighteen months. So much had happened even before the Xindi attack. The cogenitor issue itself had caused some tension between them, but he didn’t think that had anything to do with Trip’s current angst. That situation was water under the bridge when the attack orchestrated from The Delphic Expanse had become a defining moment for both of them. Another night when they’d shared a drink although not a celebratory one. No, that night they’d looked into the future and vowed that they would prevail. He took a sip of the bourbon and tasted the distinctive flavor as the memory of that night flowed over him.

Neither of them could sleep. They’d broken out a bottle, talking about a number of things. Porthos, T’Pol, the fact that his father’s engine might be all that stood between survival and utter extermination of the human race…

He’d been contemplative. “When I got this job, commanding the first warp five ship was about as big a responsibility as I could have imagined. Then we began to run into so many…bad guys…and I had to start thinking about the safety of eighty-three people.”

Trip had understood. “And now the stakes have gotten a lot bigger.”

He’d answered with gallows humor, “Weight of the world, Trip.”

“Literally,” his friend had responded before turning even more serious. “I can’t wait to get in there, Cap’n. Find the people who did this. Tell me we won’t be tiptoeing around…none of that non-interference crap that T’Pol’s always shoving down our throats. Maybe it’s a good thing she’s leaving.”

“We’ll do what we have to, Trip. Whatever it takes.”

He’d meant it then and he still understood that it had all been necessary but…he hadn’t known the price. Not that it would have mattered in hindsight. If they hadn’t done what they’d had to, nothing would be left.

He’d understood his own motivations. They were broad. Save Earth. But Trip had had a more personal reason as well for wanting to get back at the Xindi. His sister.

Before taking another sip of the whiskey he raised the glass in Elizabeth’s memory. He’d only met her once. She was the youngest of the Tucker siblings. The only one that insisted on staying close to home as their parents aged. She’d found a job as a writer to tide her over between her architecture gigs. A brilliant woman by any measure. She liked to weave her tales sitting on the lanai overlooking the blue water that mirrored her blue eyes.

Trip had convinced him before posting to Jupiter Station where the keel was to be laid for Enterprise that a quick trip to Florida would be ideal. Jon had been ecstatic when he’d been given command of the engineering project to assure that the most important Starfleet vessel to date got off on the right foot. He’d wondered if it was fate that Trip had been assigned to that same project placing him as his friend’s commanding officer for the first time. The trip to Florida rested neatly between the grueling desert survival mission in Australia and leaving to spend half a year in orbit around the fifth planet from Sol.

Australia hadn’t been a cakewalk; that was for sure. After five days with little water and less food, Trip had found a place to take a nap under a rock overhand. It was only luck that he’d seen the deadly snake slither over Trip’s leg. If he’d been a second later with the knife, the fangs would have found their mark and Trip wouldn’t have had to worry about ever surviving a desert again much less heading into deep space. Thank God for quick reflexes. Still one didn’t let things go to waste in survival training. The reptile had been lunch that afternoon.

As he took another sip, he realized his mind had strayed. He was remembering the time he’d met Lizzie, when Trip had taken him scuba diving in the Florida Keyes. Trip’s sister was a real gem and what he saw between the siblings made him wish that he hadn’t been an only child. The two kidded each other, played practical jokes on each other, even tried to out cook each other…he being asked to be the judge of the best shrimp, margarita, or any other item they had decided was the test. It had been his first abject lesson in diplomacy. The day they left after a week of spectacular diving, she’d pulled him aside. He’d never forgotten that conversation.

“I’m glad I got to meet you, Jonathan.”

“It was good meeting you too, Liz. I understand a lot more about Trip now. Why he loves Florida so much.”

“Tucker roots run deep around here, not that you’d know it anymore. Most of the family’s living elsewhere now.”

“But not you.”

“Not me.” She appeared to fidget and he’d gotten the impression that she had something else to say.

“There something else on your mind?”

She hesitated just a bit before speaking. “This will probably sound funny coming from his little sister.”

“What?”

I’m glad you’re his boss.”

“I guess that’s one way to put it…but I’m also his friend. Why would that sound funny?”

She smiled that brilliant smile of hers. The one she shared with Trip. “I got you being friends the first day you arrived.” She hesitated once more. “Not that. What I’m going to ask you.”

“Ok. Shoot.”

“I want you to watch Trip for me. Again, I know that sounds funny but…” She’d grinned, “… Trip’s got a heart of gold and while that’s one the best things about him, it sometimes gets him in trouble.”

“Trip’s a big boy, Liz.”

“I know. Just watch out for him.” The look in Lizzie’s eyes told him she was serious. She may be his baby sister, but she worried about him.

“Sure.”

Learning she had died had almost destroyed Trip, although he tried to pretend it hadn’t been any worse for him than any other person that lost someone close in that moment of pure, unadulterated hell. She’d had the house to herself when the weapon emitted its death ray. The elder Tuckers were in England that fateful day visiting one of Trip’s other sisters. Although no one would ever know for sure, it was likely she was on that lanai weaving yet another tale or designing some type of living space. He took another sip as the thought of what her last moments might have been like flashed through his mind. He figured as bad as it was for him to think of what happened, the hell that Trip imagined was certainly much worse.

Now after all the things they’d been through. All the water polo matches they’d watched. The missions they survived together leading up to Enterprises’ launch and the one’s after. All of that was over now that Trip had called on the one thing he knew Jon wouldn’t put in the way of his pal’s decision. Their friendship.

He knew Trip hadn’t pulled that card lightly. Since coming back from Vulcan, he’d noticed his best buddy had changed. Hell, he wasn’t even sure what had been the trigger. From the time they’d entered the Expanse, he’d found himself driven to complete his mission to save Earth. It had cut him off from the easy friendship he once shared with Trip since the day they met – when they commiserated about A.G. Robinson’s destruction of one of the two Warp 2 vessels. Maybe it had started there, in the Expanse. He just didn’t know and by the time he realized something was wrong, the damage was already done.

He wouldn’t blame Trip for their drifting apart. He blamed the mission he’d begged for after the Xindi grievously wounded the Earth. He’d changed in that space the Sphere Builders had created, The Expanse. The space that would have destroyed every species in their galaxy if they hadn’t found a way to put an end to that devious plan. He’d been forged and hardened in those badlands; had surrounded himself with a shell as tough as the titanium plating that protected his ship. Clothed himself with an armor that was as impossible for him to leave as it was for others to penetrate. The crusade that had begun as the only viable way to save his species had become the crucible that had splayed him open – just as the Klingons he’d been told about before they’d left Earth. The Klingons that Soval talked about to try to point out the folly of entering The Expanse. For the Klingon’s, as for many who’d been hit by an anomaly, it was an outward and physical manifestation. For him, the part that was twisted and maimed was hidden from everyone but himself. He saw those secreted scars every time he looked into a mirror.

He tossed the rest of the whiskey back, feeling the bite as the small flood of amber flowed down his throat. He still hadn’t regained everything he lost during those long months. He doubted he ever would and what was more, if he was faced with the same choices again with the same stakes, he’d make them all again. To do otherwise would be to accept the annihilation of his planet…of his species.

He splashed a bit more into the glass and couldn’t help but think this would have been Trip’s portion. The one his friend had walked away from tonight. When Trip had asked him to let him transfer. Asked him as a friend.

Old Friends. They were leaving his life. First A.G., then Forrest. Now Trip was moving on. Course, Trip’s departure was different. He hadn’t made that final leap to the other side. No. Their friendship wasn’t cut short by the Great Divide. That was one thing to be glad of. Not that Trip hadn’t had some close calls. In addition to Australia and the time the younger man had gotten space happy and tried to take off his helmet, there was the desert planet, the shuttle pod with Malcolm, the crash on the planet where the day would bring certain death.

Then there was Sim. He took another drink of the whiskey. Trip’s whiskey. He’d never drank with Sim. It was only eight days, after all, and that wasn’t what Sim was there for. Not to be his friend. Sim was there to save his friend. He’d sanctioned the creation and death of a sentient creature to save the man he knew was needed to successfully complete the task they’d set before them. He made that choice for the mission, he told himself. And for the most part, it was true. Still there was that bond of friendship that he wouldn’t let go of easily. He’d done it because he needed Trip and not just someone that could fill his shoes.

He thought that Trip felt that way as well. He knew how strong the bonds of friendship had been. He’d experienced that during the time they were connected within the Vox Sola. Something had changed but he was damned to know what. He’d thought things were fine until Trip asked him to let him leave and didn’t explain why. Expected that asking as a friend was all that was needed. What could he say to that? He tried to use the same argument back, drawing on their long friendship, but Trip had insisted. And now his friend would be helping the NX-02 move its way into deep space. Providing them with the knowledge so dearly won during their three years on board this ship.

He couldn’t help but wonder. Would Erika and Trip become friends? The way that he and T’Pol had formed their friendship? The trust. The loyalty. The understanding that sometimes was there in a look, without words. He lifted the glass a final time. “Best wishes, Trip. Hope you realize the pearl of great price you pried away from Enterprise, Erika.” he said aloud. Erika was an old friend too. Now it would pass to her to fulfill Elizabeth Tucker’s request even though she didn’t know it.

He hoped that someday, things would be healed between he and Trip. That they would once again find the easiness that had always been the basis of their friendship. Maybe even catch a few more water polo matches. A beer at the 602. Another round of bourbon when things had gotten tough or when they wanted to celebrate.

Porthos lifted his head. The dog moved over to his master, bidden not by a sound but perhaps by a feeling. He ran his hand along the silkiness of the dog’s head, looking into soulful eyes as the kinetic tail told him in no uncertain terms where he stood with his canine friend. “You’re still with me, aren’t you boy?”

There was a little bourbon left in the glass and he drank it before corking the decanter and putting it back where it came from. He and Trip had shared their last drink as Enterprise’s captain and engineer, even if Trip didn’t know it. Leaving everything else where they were, he got up. “Come on, Porthos. You look like a dog that could use some cheese.”

With the dog loyally beside him, he closed the door of his cabin. He’d talk to Trip tomorrow. To determine who his friend would suggest as a replacement and to tie up loose ends. Soon enough they’d be back to Earth and starting a whole new chapter.

 

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