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The First Years

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"You have to get out of here," T'Pol pleaded of Archer.

"I'm not leaving you," he replied. Gritting his teeth, he strained to lift the fallen support beam again. It moved a few inches off the floor, enough for T'Pol to pull her leg free.

The sound of electrical sparks and the groan of metal buckling under strain came closer by the second. Archer's eyes met hers. In his eyes, she saw reflected the green tint of the approaching anomaly. His hand reached out for hers and encircled her arm. Cool skin brushed against hers sending fear racing along her nerves into her mind. She tried to pull him to her.

Archer's eyes widened. It was too late. Panic and fear screamed out silently to her. The anomaly pushed the floor like a wave towards Archer. The wave crashed against his boots pushing him off his feet, pulling him inside the chaotic space, and ripping his hand from T'Pol's. Air violently rushed from his lungs. T'Pol watched a green glow envelope his body. Forces inside the anomaly pulled and pushed in on his flesh contorting it.

Inside his brain, the anomaly deposited new occupants. They made themselves comfortable in their new home. The parasites worked towards their pre-programmed effect, merging the past and present.

He didn't remember how he fell into the water. Suddenly, water replaced air surround him and filling his lungs. Water journeyed from his toes to his head through his veins, muscles, and bones expanding and contracting them. A strong current pulled him under. His arms flailed trying to resist it. Above the water's surface, he saw colors and distorted shapes. The sun's light hit the water highlighting the waves in gold. He fell deeper.

The anomaly moved on causing his body to fall and slam into the deck. The edge of anomaly passed over his face warping it with ripples that slowly subsided.

T'Pol leaned forward staring at Archer's still body. Debris and sparks from the shattered overhead lights steadily rained down around them. Those sound mingled with T'Pol's breath. Logic and control fled out of her mind leaving behind only emotion. Her emotions clouded her mind overcoming her defenses. A fear spoke up inside her saying Archer might be dead. She froze looking at him thinking about what that would mean to her.

Recovering from the lapse, she pushed her emotions behind her shields. Using the wall for support, she stood up. She shifted some weight to her left ankle, testing it. Pain shot up her nerves catching her off-guard. T'Pol clenched her teeth together and closed her eyes. Ignoring the pain, she walked over to Archer and knelt down beside him. Relief spread through her when she heard his low breathing. Her left hand moved to his neck searching for and finding a faint pulse beating beneath her fingers.

Now his attention turned to the air bubbles retreating away from him. His body settled on the sand bottom of the ocean. He struggled to move his arms and legs but found them too heavy to move. Energy bled out of him. He closed his eyes. A muffled voice filtered down to him. Hands sliced through the water followed by a person. Opening his eyes a fraction, he saw a blurry face coming closer to him. He thought the face would be Dad coming to save him after he saw Jonathan's empty inflatable raft. When the face hovered inches over him, he realized it wasn't Dad. Locks of hair shifted forward exposing pointed ears. He opened his mouth to say the name that came to mind. Lips parted a few centimeters and only air escaped heading up to the surface.

A ceiling panel fell behind them briefly drowning out the growing creaks and groans of the corridor. T'Pol tried to wake Archer. They needed to get out of there quickly. Despite T'Pol shaking his shoulder and saying his name, Archer remained unconscious. T'Pol moved to the nearest comm. panel. It was down. The next was damaged as well. It was illogical to wait for help that might not come in time. She looked over at her captain's still body and decided what she needed to do.

Hands slid under his body pulling him up from the sand. Shapes above the water came larger and larger until he broke the surface. Arms slipped under his shoulders and legs carrying him. Through heavy lids he saw the face shadowed by the sun behind it. Legs sliced awkwardly through the water towards the beach. His body shook with their movement. Occasionally one of the feet caught in the sand. The legs would stumble and recover then continue towards the beach.

Sickbay's doors opened. T'Pol entered carrying Archer in her arms. Her body moved on autopilot, suppressing the pain of her ankle. Phlox and a nurse raced over to her. Together they laid the captain down on the nearest biobed. Orders were shouted over the hum of instruments. T'Pol watched them try to stabilize Archer.

She thought she lost him in the corridor. She knew she hadn't when Phlox revived him. Later, she realized she had lost him. He was not dead, but he would not be able to live his life the same unless Phlox found a cure. Her feelings almost broke through her control while she absorbed the news of his condition. She made a decision soon after to help him in any way she could.

T'Pol knelt before her meditation table. Legs tucked beneath her, she sat with her back straight and her arms resting in her lap. Beneath her closed lids, her eyes moved back and forth and her chest rose in a steady, almost imperceptible rhythm. Candles grouped on the meditation table cast a yellow glow on her darkened quarters. The only other light came from the stars warping past the viewport. The candlelight flickered, changing the shadows on T'Pol's face. Shadows swallowed the dark blue fabric of her uniform. Light painted the stripes on her shoulder a vivid gold. The four rank bars above the stripe on her right shoulder shimmered.

Her morning meditation became part of her routine in the weeks following the accident. After retelling events to Archer, she would come back to her quarters and meditate to clear her mind. Memories frequently resurfaced during her sessions. Her mind returned to the corridor often, reliving every detail. Grief and failure accompanied the memory of the Xindi weapon shattering Earth's blue globe into angry red pieces. She examined the emotions and accepted them. Letting them drift away like smoke wafting from the candle flame. They might return another day. Their hold on her lessened over time, yet she doubted she would ever be free of them.

Thoughts distracted her. The problem she contemplated many times before wouldn't go away. T'Pol gave up meditating and opened her eyes. Her hesitance over this matter was illogical. There had to be a logical solution to the problem. She only needed to think the problem out and find it. The problem had never been simple, like her feeling for the man involved.

T'Pol could not pinpoint exactly when Archer became more than a captain to her. She initially perceived him as arrogant, reckless, and volatile. Time passed and a new picture of him emerged. Duty, dedication, self-sacrifice, and compassion were new words to describe him. She came to know a captain who used instinct more than logic. An explorer who found exploration often pushed aside for diplomacy and conflict. A man who despite his hate Vulcans for holding back Earth's warp program reached out to her and tried to understand her.

Over time their relationship changed. He admitted he needed her as his first officer. She trusted him with her life. He entrusted her with their ship, crew, and his life. Their arguments became less heated, and he began listening to her advice even if he didn't take it in the end. Their relationship may have made the transition to more when their conversations turned away from work. Both she and Archer were private people so it took time to learn more about each other. Their relationship grew until she considered him her captain and her friend.

Then, the Xindi attacked Earth. He changed, and so did her picture of him. His sense of wonder and exploration became hidden under his need to save Earth. His smiles and laughter disappeared. He stopped reaching out to friends and to her, and focused solely on his work- the mission, and their survival. He shed his morality adapting his nature to the Expanse. Each mistake drove him to learn from it and try harder. Each death wounded him deeply. She knew he was adapting the only way he knew how. But the price to him was high.

The anomaly took the captain hardened by the Expanse away leaving a vulnerable man behind. Archer could no longer change himself. His life changed from one where he made decision and control over his life to one where he had almost no control. Archer changed from a man defined by who he was to a man defined by who he wasn't, captain of Enterprise. He couldn't adapt fast enough each day to the changes in his life and form a new life.

T'Pol tried keeping Archer involved in ship's business. All her attempts ultimately failed. Even Archer's own suggestion didn't work, like his idea to work in engineering with Trip.

Less than a week after Archer started working in engineering, Trip came to her. He explained what happened. Even if Archer caught up on the latest engineering specs every morning, the situation wouldn't work. T'Pol told Trip she'd tell Archer the news herself. Once again, she saw the bitter frustration on Archer's face. "I'm surprised it worked as long as it did. I should've known better than to suggest it in the first place.” He stood up from his bed and walked over to the viewport. T'Pol dropped her hands from behind her back and followed him. He stared out at the silence of space watching the stars warp by. Starlight reflected in his eyes. His face drew into the look of sadness and hopelessness she knew well. "How could you be certain of the outcome without trying?” T'Pol asked trying to redirect his thoughts. Archer turned his head to his right to look at her. "I know Trip and myself well enough to know better. Trip is used to receiving my orders not giving me orders. I've been captain too long,” he gave her a weak smile, "It would take me more than a day to get used to taking orders again.” He sighed. "I must be desperate to try something like this.” She knew he was desperate– desperate to have control over his life again. "You are only trying to adapt to the circumstances resulting from your condition.” He couldn't adapt fast enough. They both knew it. In his eyes, he couldn't contribute anything to Enterprise. He accepted that, but didn't like it. Unlike him, she didn't believe that. She kept inviting him to the daily briefings in the captain's mess to show him and herself he could still contribute something on Enterprise.

Following T'Pol's promotion to captain, the briefings stopped, Archer stayed in his quarters "keeping out of the way”. Trip, Hoshi, and other members of the crew visited him occasionally. Most of the visits T'Pol witnessed were awkward for the guests and Archer. The spirits of the crew hit bottom after the Xindi weapon destroyed Earth. Visitors appeared at Archer's doorstep less and less. During the convoy's journey to the Ceti Alpha system, T'Pol reached out to him in her off hours walking Porthos with him and taking him to the newly formed classrooms on D deck.

One time, she slipped in the classroom unnoticed to take him to lunch. Laughter broke out from some of the children sitting behind the tables. At the front of the class sat Archer telling one of Enterprise's "adventures” in a fashion T'Pol reasoned was exaggerated for effect. What he lacked in the descriptions, he made up for in his enthusiasm for telling the story. His hands would move, and his gaze would turn inward as he remembered and described an image from his memories to the children. The children hung on every word. She'd walked in unnoticed on a story she knew. Archer smiled when he told them about the giant mud pit that he decided the team should walk around. He found out that was a bad idea when he slipped and fell into the pit. "I sat up in mud up to my chest. When I wiped the mud from my eyes, I saw that I was completely covered in mud. It looked like I'd fallen into a big, bubbling pit of hot chocolate, except it smelled like rotten eggs.” Several "Ewwws” came from the children. "Trip, T'Pol, and Lieutenant Tanner were all looking down at me stunned. T'Pol asked me, ‘Are you okay Captain?' I spit out a mouthful of mud and said ‘I think so. Only my pride is hurt.' I looked over at Trip who seemed to be having trouble breathing. His face was turning red. I looked at him wondering what was wrong until he busted out laughing. ‘This isn't funny,' I said waving a finger at him, which only slung mud up in the air. ‘Oh yes it is.' He kept laughing. T'Pol looked at him raising an eyebrow then back at me. I tried to stand up but slipped on the slick bottom falling back on my butt. Trip started laughing so hard he started coughing for air. ‘Trip, would you stop laughing and help me get out of here?' I said reaching a hand out to him. He took my hand and fell for it, hard. I wish Trip could have seen the look on his face when I pulled him into the mud. His eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. Before he could scream, he belly flopped into the mud beside me. He pushed himself up and spit out a mouthful of mud. I started laughing. He looked so funny coated in mud. I could tell he wasn't happy with me when he opened his eyes. I didn't care. What could he do to me? He flung a handful of mud at me. I laughed harder. ‘That'll teach you not to laugh at your captain.' I told him. I think Trip is still planning his revenge to this day. But it was worth it. T'Pol looked down at us. Both of her eyebrows rose up into her hair like this. She and Tanner helped us out after we promised wouldn't pull them in.” The teacher interrupted saying their time was up. Archer said goodbye to the class and walked toward the back of the room. He noticed T'Pol waiting inside the doorway and walked over to her. T'Pol studied him. He was smiling. The frustration and hopelessness was gone. She saw him again- the man he was before the accident. They continued on to lunch. T'Pol started bringing him a few times a month after that visit.

T'Pol shifted her mind away from the problem at hand to possible solutions. The colony offered a permanent solution. Archer wouldn't be reminded each day of the life her lost by the walls around him and the people walking the corridors. He wouldn't be holed up in his quarters for most of the day. Moving might prove beneficial to him. The problem was he needed a caretaker in order to move to the surface.

Archer's accident prompted her to seek Dr. Phlox's help to wean her off of Trellium-D. Now, she was completely free of the substance and its affects. She could take care of herself and Archer for the remainder of her life. Her pa'nar syndrome might eventually come out of remission and degrade her neural pathways to the point of death. Despite the over 47% likelihood of that happening, in her mind she was the logical choice for Archer's caretaker. She dealt with the emotions the Captain expressed over past events with Vulcan meditation and emotional suppression. A human would lack those extra coping skills. Archer would not trust a stranger as his caretaker, and she doubted anyone he knew would volunteer for the duty. Taking into consideration those factors, she concluded she was in actuality not the logical choice but the only choice.

Enterprise would need a new captain if she left. Commander Tucker could be promoted from first officer to captain. T'Pol knew Tucker would captain Enterprise well. Maybe the crew would like his command style better than hers. She tried to captain Enterprise to the best of her abilities, but she wasn't Archer. Logic ruled her decisions and her 'gut' didn't speak to her like Archer's did. Tucker blamed her and her decision to ram the Xindi ship for the mission's failure. During the six months of repairs to the warp coil, their command relationship devolved into brief exchanges punctuated by anger and blame on his part. He expressed his feelings more diplomatically now, but she could see the feelings were still there.

Guilt rose in T'Pol's stomach. She failed Earth, her crew, and Captain Archer. T'Pol questioned herself: Did she want to help Archer because of her guilt? T'Pol searched her feelings for answers. She did feel guilt that Archer contracted an illness that she would have if he left her behind. Her guilt also stemmed from her promise to Archer.

The day she took command of Enterprise she went to Archer's quarters. He took the news better than she expected. He slumped forward on the couch leaning on his knees with his elbows. His expression blank, he looked down at his hands laced together between his open legs. His eyes filled with emotion and his face drawn, he looked back up at her. He swallowed. "I know you'll take good care of our ship and the crew. Continue on the mission. Do whatever you have to do to save Earth.” She nodded remembering several of the ‘whatever's Archer had committed. He weakly smiled at her, "Trust the crew and yourself.” She spoke to him as his first officer for the last time, "Yes captain. I will not fail you.” But she did fail him and Earth. "I know you won't fail,” he switched to the voice he reserved for her when they were alone, "If you need advice, to talk, anything… I'm here.” She hesitantly left his couch some time later. Porthos jumped into his lap and nuzzled his hand. T'Pol watched as Archer began absently stroking the dog's fur. Then, she exited his quarters. The day after her conversation with Archer, she looked at the drab, blue Starfleet uniform hanging neatly in her closet next to her colorful array of form fitting uniforms. She dressed with the same care and attention to detail she did every morning. An illogical sensation materialized while pulling on the uniform, queasiness in her stomach. The fabric hung on her body loosely shifting with each move, gathering in wrinkles, rubbing against her skin itching it, and floating over her skin instead of hugging it. Moving over to her mirror and the shelves beneath it, she reached for one of the rank bars lying there. She hesitated, her hand picking one up one of them. These were Archer's own bars. These should be on his shoulder not hers. He should be captaining Enterprise now. She should be the one suffering long-term memory loss. She looked up from the bar at herself in the mirror. She remembered the words her mother told her the day after her father died. T'Pol regretted not waking up early to tell her father goodbye before he left on the mission that killed him. T'Les looked into a seven-year-old T'Pol's eyes and said, ‘T'Pol, it is illogical to dwell on events that cannot be changed.' T'Pol fastened the rank bars to the right shoulder of her uniform then finished her morning routine.

T'Pol extinguished the candles on the meditation table. She knew it was illogical to dwell on the events in the past, but she still did. If retelling the story to Archer each morning led to these memories and feelings surfacing, how would living with Archer day after day affect her?

She didn't know the answer, or the answers to so many other questions. Moving to the colony could be a good decision for Archer and her or a terrible mistake. That was a risk she was willing to take. She'd made her decision. Now she needed to take care of a few details before she and Archer left Enterprise.