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“We’d gone up to the shipyard to have a look at her…” Trip’s voice trailed off.

 

There had been four of them in the tiny inspection pod that day, Admiral Gardner, Admiral Archer, and two others whose new pips on their collars still shined slightly brighter than the ones that they’d fastened every day for the previous ten - himself and Malcolm, newly Captain and Commander respectively.

The day had been bittersweet. The pinning ceremonies weeks before had been followed closely by far too many memorial services — so close to the end of the war that the gross unfairness of it stung all that much more. Then came reassignments, some of those scattering friends to different ends of the quadrant. There were a lot of changes and a lot of goodbyes. It was all a bit much to take in.

Most of the battle-damaged NX-class was being repaired, refitted and, surprisingly, reassigned with new designations under the shiny new banner of the United Federation of Planets. In fact, only one NX-class ship was not undergoing any changes at all, and they were reminded of that fact as the inspection pod floated by. Enterprise was now considered a historical monument.

 

Historical monument. Trip winced at that, and implications of what it meant for those that had crewed her.

 

He’d thought about teaching at the Academy first and then had given serious thought to Soval’s suggestion of joining the new Federation R&D group on Vulcan. Very serious thought. But that was before he’d been told a command was his if he wanted it.

 

“I clearly remember when Jon told me that I’d been offered my first command – a second-generation NX refit. But it was a month before we got a look at her.” He looked down again, “Gave me enough time to think about it…”

 

It had been an agonizing few weeks as he realized that any decision he made would affect not just his life, but several others as well. In the end, it had been the dire need to send someone with the right background and experience (not to mention the now highly classified knowledge of the true nature of their Romulan adversaries) undercover into the Neutral Zone that made the decision easy. At least this way he was in command of a ship capable getting T’Pol out of there, if necessary. These days he breathed easier when she was in Federation space. Or back on Vulcan.

Watching Enterprise disappear from sight had felt like a profound statement on his life at that moment.

 

Trip sighed and shook his head. “Yeah, I remember that day. But what I said?” He frowned. “Admiral Gardner was the one doin’ all the talkin’ if I remember right. I don’t think I said much...”

“When you saw the name, Trip. Do you remember what you said when you saw the name?”

 

The name. Oh. Yeah.

 

Trip’s expression became far away. The memory — the ache of what had happened before the Xindi war and the warmth of the personal gesture by Starfleet — could still leave a knot in his throat even after all these years. “It took me more ‘n a minute to get over the name, but yeah, I’ll never forget that moment,” he said quietly.

Then he paused, bemused. “I remember now,” he laughed. “I said it just needed a couple of...”

Trip abruptly stopped, eyes slowly widening, and for a moment, he was speechless. When he found his voice again, he looked from Malcolm to Katherine and back again before he whispered, “You didn’t.”

Malcolm just folded his arms and raised both brows. Katherine had the good grace to look slightly nervous, and Tyss’s antennae quivered.

Trip stared for half a second more at his first officer before he bolted upright, grabbing the handholds above his head to contort his body and crane his neck to see out the shuttle’s topmost window. The ship was still just beyond what he could see through the window as he murmured, “I said… it just… it just... needed a couple of...” he trailed off as he craned his neck to catch a glimpse of his home for the last ten years.

At Malcolm’s nod, Tyss touched the pod’s controls, sending it into a roll that slowly brought the starship’s glistening hull into view. As the tiny pod lifted to make the lettering visible, three Starfleet officers held their breath while the Captain of the USS Pensacola stared at the hull of his ship.

“...a couple of PALM TREES!” Trip hooted as the forward saucer section dipped into view, the Starfleet designation flanked by two full color painted palm trees on either side, complete with coconuts. He turned back to his senior officers, utter joy evident in his wide grin. “There’s a couple of goddamned palm trees on the ship!”

As the cheering from the open comm link died down, Commander Hess broke in quickly, “We have replacement plating, sir. For when we head back to Earth...”

Trip swiveled around, “What?”

Katherine looked startled. “I just... we... thought... that perhaps Commodore Stiles and Admiral Archer might -”

“Admiral Archer will probably bust a gut laughing,” Trip interrupted. “And Commodore Stiles can kiss my a-”

“Captain!”

Trip turned an amused look on his scandalized friend, jabbing a finger at the window, “Those two palm trees are coming off over my dead body.” He grinned again. “All we need now are a couple of flamingos.”

Ensign ch’Hashar’s antennae swiveled stiffly forward and the Andorian murmured quietly, “Those are on the torpedo casings.” He avoided looking at Commander Reed, staring intently at the navigation console in front of him.

Anything the surprised First Officer might have said was drowned out by the Captain’s laughter.

 

****

 

As Hess and ch’Hashar stepped out of the shuttlepod and into the docking bay, Trip felt a light tap on his arm.

“It was the crew’s idea. Happy Birthday, Trip.”

Trip smirked. “The crew’s idea. You and I both know there were only three people who heard me make that statement.”

Malcolm shrugged, then smiled, conceding the point. “Fine. I might have mentioned it at some point. But they ran with the idea.”

Trip grinned and shook his head as he stepped out of the shuttlepod. “Best birthday, ever.” Half a second later he popped his head back into the pod, his face only inches from his startled First Officer’s. Trip’s grin was wicked.

“Just remember – it’s only eleven months until your fiftieth.”

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