Title: Shifting Ground

Author: Little Gem

Author's e-mail: GemmaEves@aol.com

Date: 09/08/02

Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: Archer/Tucker

Rating: PG-13

Category: Slash

It had been an altogether successful First Contact, reflected Captain Jonathan Archer. The Corisians had been as eager to learn about the humans as they had been to learn about the aliens. And Corisia itself was an exceedingly pleasant place to pass a few days—technologically advanced, yet not at the expense of natural beauty. Indeed, there had been times when Archer had wondered how the Corisians had become so advanced without taking up more of their environment.

As he surveyed his surroundings for what seemed like the millionth time (although who would ever get tired of the beauty of Corisia?), Archer's gaze came to rest on the other two members of his landing party, who were busily conferring about yet another technological marvel they had come across. Ensign Travis Mayweather had been astounded at the variety of flying vehicles the Corisians possessed, and had spent most of the last four days trying out every one of them he could get his hands on, zipping backwards and forwards across the bright blue Corisian sky like a rocket. And Commander Charles 'Trip' Tucker had been in his element, exploring every single piece of engineering the Corisians had, from how their ships flew right up to how their whole civilisation was powered.

Watching Commander Tucker, Archer felt a small cloud overshadow his satisfaction. The cloud had been present more and more often lately, but Archer had managed to push it aside for the duration of their stay on Corisia, vowing not to ruin a successful First Contact by thinking about his feelings towards his Chief Engineer.

Trip was Jonathan Archer's best friend. Had been for over eight years now. However, what Trip didn't know was that for most of that time…'Oh, come on Jon, admit it, it was from the moment you first met him,' Archer berated himself…his best friend had wanted something significantly more than friendship. But Archer was reluctant to ruin what relationship he already had with Trip by revealing his true feelings, especially since he had no ides how his friend would react. His secret fantasy was that the engineer would throw himself into his Captain's arms, but Archer knew that it was far more likely that Trip would run screaming in the opposite direction. 'Best case scenario is that our friendship will remain intact but irreversibly tainted,' Archer reflected wryly. The away-mission on Corisia would have been the perfect time to broach the subject, away as they were from the ever-present eyes and ears of the crew, especially those of Vulcan Sub-Commander T'Pol (Travis didn't count as he had been up in the sky most of the time anyway). But because of all the reasons Archer had just reiterated in his mind, he had found himself unable to bring it up. And now it was too late. As he turned away again from the engineer and pilot, Archer espied Regent Amshal, the elected leader of Corisia, and his retinue heading towards them. Archer and his team were due to leave within the hour, and it looked like the Regent was determined to see them off in style.

"Captain Archer, it is with deep sadness that I take my leave of you. I trust you have had a pleasant stay on Corisia?" the Regent said when he reached them.

"Thank you, Regent Amshal. Our stay has been extremely pleasant," Archer replied in the same formal tone. Gesturing to Trip and Travis, he continued, "I know my officers have found much to occupy themselves with during our time on Corisia. Indeed, I anticipate severe trouble in getting them to leave." Archer smiled to indicate a joke, and heard Trip give a chuckle from behind him.

"That's true enough, Cap'n," the engineer added in his drawling Southern accent.

Regent Amshal returned the smile, and was just about to speak again when he was interrupted by a rumbling sound. Thinking it was the shuttlecraft arrived early to pick them up, Archer looked up. But the sky was empty. Archer looked around, meeting the confused gazes of Trip and Mayweather. And, despite his growing sense of dread, Archer couldn't help but think how adorable Trip looked with that puzzled expression on his face. He didn't have long to dwell on that, however, as the rumbling was shortly joined by a movement under his feet, weak at first, but quickly growing stronger. Soon it was becoming difficult for Archer to remain upright. Regent Amshal, however, although he was also having trouble keeping his footing, appeared unsurprised by the sudden earthquake. Before he had time to ponder on this development, Archer's communicator beeped, demanding his attention.

"T'Pol to Archer"

"Archer here," he replied.

"Captain, we have detected severe earth tremors all over the planet's surface."

"Yes, I'd noticed," said Archer.

"I have determined that the tremors are too strong to allow for the safe landing of a shuttle," continued the Vulcan, oblivious to the Captain's sarcasm. "In order to remove you from the planet, we shall have to use the transporter."

Archer groaned inwardly. That dratted machine! They had been relying on it far too much lately. Sooner or later something was bound to go wrong with it. "Acknowledged."

Archer turned to Trip and Travis to tell them to prepare for transport, but stopped when he saw that they had already heard T'Pol, and already knew what to expect. Travis looked fairly calm at the prospect, but Trip looked extremely agitated. He had never liked the transporter. Despite the heaving ground under his feet, Archer made to move towards Trip, intending to try and comfort his a little. But he was suddenly distracted by the disappearance of Mayweather in a beam of sparkling light. Archer was startled. Surely T'Pol would have beamed them all up together, wouldn't she? But before he could turn back to Trip, Archer felt the familiar tingling sensation that meant that he too was under the influence of the transporter.

As soon as he materialised on Enterprise, Archer jumped off the transporter pad. Both T'Pol and Lieutenant Reed were standing by the transporter controls, with Ensign Mayweather hovering anxiously nearby. "What's going on?" Archer snapped at them.

"Captain, there are unforeseen consequences of the earth tremors," T'Pol replied. "The geological structure of Corisia is made up of more than seventy percent magnetic particles. The friction resulting from the tremors has combined with this magnetism to create and electromagnetic field around the planet. This field is interfering with our transporter. That is why we can only beam one person up at a time."

Archer turned instantly to Reed. "Lieutenant, get Commander Tucker out of there now!"

"I'm trying, Sir," said Reed. "The electromagnetism is making it difficult to lock on to his pattern." Brow furrowed with concentration, Reed manipulated the transporter controls. Archer held his breath for what seemed like an eternity. "Got him, Sir," said Reed finally.

A beam of light appeared on the transporter pad, quickly resolving itself into the shape of Commander Tucker. Archer sighed with heartfelt relief. But before the Commander had completely solidified, he began to fade out again.

"What's happening?" demanded Archer.

"The electromagnetic field is becoming stronger," replied Reed. "I'm boosting power to the transporter." The image of Tucker began to solidify again, but then just as quickly began to dissipate. "It's no good, Captain, the field is just too strong," continued Reed, although he continued frantically pushing buttons.

Archer dashed towards the transporter pad, reaching for Trip's arm as if to physically haul him off the planet and back on to Enterprise. There was a shout of warning from Reed, but it hardly mattered. As Archer reached for Trip there was a final whining hum from the transporter, and his fingers closed on nothing.

"I'm sorry, Captain," came Reed's voice from behind him. "But we've lost him."

Slumped in his ready room chair, Archer stared blankly out at the stars. He knew he should be doing something…anything…but he couldn't seem to shake himself out of his inaction. It was as if his shock was like a physical weight holding him down. He couldn't…wouldn't…acknowledge that Trip was gone. He would break if he did.

The doorchime startled him slightly out of his stupor. "Come in," he said dully.

The door opened and T'Pol walked in. "Captain, I have news," she said without preamble. "Lieutenant Reed and myself have been analysing the transporter records from the accident."

Archer made an impatient gesture. How could she think that he would want to hear details of Trip's…no, he still couldn't even think it to himself.

T'Pol recognised Archer's impatience and pressed on before he could dismiss her. "If you will allow me to continue, Captain, the analysis showed that Commander Tucker's pattern was not lost in the transporter buffer as we originally thought. In fact, there is a very strong possibility that he rematerialised without injury. Just not on board the Enterprise."

For a moment Archer's mind didn't register what the Vulcan had said. Then, as the words sank in, he leapt up, almost knocking T'Pol over in the process. "Then he's still alive?" he demanded.

"We must not dismiss the fact that he may have materialised in space," replied the Vulcan in her typically logical fashion.

"But it's more likely that he ended up back at his point of origin?" asked Archer.

"That is the most probable outcome, yes," conceded T'Pol. "But in light of the current geological instability on the planet's surface it is unwise to hope for a positive outcome."

"We should start scanning the planet's surface for lifesigns straight away, said Archer, dismissing her last comment.

"Unfortunately, the electromagnetic field is disrupting our sensors as it did the transporter," said T'Pol. "We have no way to scan the planet's surface. The communicator is similarly disabled. All efforts to contact Commander Tucker, if he is indeed on the surface, have failed."

"Then we should take a shuttle down there and look for him," replied Archer, unwilling to be defeated.

"I would strongly recommend against that course of action," said T'Pol. "Although it is likely that the initial earth tremors have ceased, the continuing presence of the electromagnetic field indicates frequent aftershocks. Therefore the surface of the planet would still be too unstable to land a shuttle."

"So we have no way to detect or rescue him?" asked Archer, frustrated.

"Not at this time, Captain," replied T'Pol.

Opening his mouth to tell her to find a way, Archer was interrupted by the beep of the comm.

"Sato to Archer."

"Archer here," he said.

"Captain, we are being hailed by Regent Amshal. He is in a planet orbiting the planet," Hoshi informed him.

Instantly Archer's mind went back to the Regent's lack of surprise at the earth tremors. "I'll be right there," he said grimly. "I have a few words I'd like to say to our oh-so hospitable Regent.

"Captain Archer, I am so glad you have returned safely to your ship," gushed Regent Amshal from the viewscreen as Archer entered the Bridge.

"I have returned safely, Regent, but I cannot say the same for my Chief Engineer," replied Archer. "We were unable to use our transportation device to get him off the planet."

"Oh, I am so sorry…" began the Regent again, but Archer cut him off.

"You, on the other hand, seem to have made it safely off the planet with all your followers," he said. "Tell me, Regent Amshal, how is it that you managed to so conveniently have a ship waiting for you in orbit?" The Regent was beginning to look distinctly uncomfortable, but Archer was not going to allow him to make any excuses. "Come to think of it, you appeared remarkably unsurprised when the earth tremors began, despite the fact that they were destroying your capital city in front of your eyes. What exactly is going on here?" he finished in a cold, hard voice.

Evidently, Regent Amshal had decided that it was no use denying knowledge of what was happening on the planet. "The earth tremors are a regular occurrence on Corisia," he admitted. "About once every eighty years they all but destroy our way of life. That is why our civilisation is so compact. We have become very adept at rebuilding quickly yet sophisticatedly, in order to return to ease comfort as soon as possible."

"And you didn't think to tell us this?" Archer asked in a dangerous voice.

"We knew the tremors were imminent, but we did not expect them quite so soon," explained Regent Amshal. "We were certain you would have left by the time they occurred, so we did not see the point in worrying you with them. Evidently, we made a slight miscalculation."

"A slight miscalculation?" repeated Archer in disbelief. "Regent Amshal, your 'slight miscalculation' has resulted in the life of one of my officers being put in extreme jeopardy. At this point in time we are not even sure whether he is alive or dead."

Regent Amshal flinched. "I am very sorry, Captain Archer," he said. "But rest assured that we shall do everything we can to help you recover your Chief Engineer."

"Our sensors are unable to penetrate the electromagnetic field surrounding Corisia," said Archer, slightly mollified. "Are yours any more effective."

"We do have sensors capable of penetrating the field," replied the Regent. "But they are only for geological purposes. They cannot pick up biological lifesigns."

"Then how do you check on any people left down on the planet?" asked Archer, although he had a horrible feeling that he already knew the answer.

"There are none of our people left down on the planet," said Regent Amshal, confirming Archer's worst fears. "Our planetwide population is small enough that we have been able to implement an extremely effective evacuation procedure. As soon as the tremors begin, everyone reports to a designated launch site. The whole population is now in orbit around Corisia."

"That is indeed correct," confirmed T'Pol from her station.

"As each person boards their designated ship, they are logged on to an electronic register. That is how we make sure everyone has been evacuated. All the ships will remain in orbit until it is safe for the population to return home and start rebuilding."

"So Commander Tucker, if he is down on the planet's surface, is completely alone?" demanded Archer.

"I'm afraid so," admitted the Regent.

"And we have no way to detect him," said Archer frustratedly. "So, 'everything you can do' is in fact nothing," he continued, making it a statement not a question. "I believe our conversation is at an end, Regent Amshal."

The Regent began to apologise again, but was cut off as Archer indicated to Hoshi to end the transmission.

Turning to his Bridge officers, Archer began issuing instructions. "T'Pol, Malcolm, start working on a way to penetrate the electromagnetic field with our sensors. I want to know the second you can detect what's going on on the surface and whether Trip is indeed alive down there. Hoshi, keep your ear glued to the comm. If he is alive, then he'll be trying to contact us. I want reports every half-hour. I'll be in my ready room." So saying, he left the Bridge.

Trip sat bolt upright as the ground began shaking underneath him again. "Not again," he groaned. Still, he supposed he count himself lucky that he had been able to get any sleep at all. The previous two nights the aftershocks had been far too frequent to allow him any rest. And anyway, he had been afraid to fall asleep in case something fell on him, even though he had kept as far away from the crumbling buildings as possible.

This time though, the shock lasted less than ten seconds, dying away before it had really got going. Trip sighed with relief and once again prayed that that was the last of them, at least until after he was rescued. If he was ever rescued.

'Where are they?' he thought for the thousandth time, scanning the sky for any sign of a shuttlecraft. His communicator had been useless, picking up only static, and so he had tucked it away in his pocket, cursing it as a useless piece of junk but unwilling to get rid of it. Logically, he knew Enterprise wouldn't have left without him, but that left only two other options. Either something was preventing them from rescuing him, or something had happened to the ship. Trip preferred the first option, because at least that meant they were still there, even if they couldn't get to him. The second option gave him a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach, so he refused to even entertain the notion that Enterprise was gone for good. That her crew was dead. That Jon was dead.

Jon. Now there was a subject that had been torturing him for the past two days. The look on Jon's face, in his eyes, when Trip had so-nearly materialised on Enterprise's transporter pad was not something Trip could easily forget. He knew he hadn't imagined the anguish he had seen written there, and the image haunted him day and night, both in his waking moments and in his dreams, brief as they were.

'Why did he never tell me?' he had wondered again and again. And 'how did he manage to keep it hidden so well?' But Trip knew the answer to that one. 'Because he thought he had to.' And that conclusion was painful. Too painful. And try as he might, Trip could not push it aside. The revelation that his best friend had feelings of more than friendship for him had astounded him. It was something he would never have thought possible. Clearly, he needed to talk to Jon about it. He had even planned out what he would say, rehearsing his speech over and over again. He only hoped he got to make it.

All these thoughts cycled through Trip's mind in an endlessly repeating loop as he scrambled to his feet. The ground was now steady under his feet, so he set off to explore the area once again for any signs of life, or a means of getting off the planet. He knew it was hopeless, though. He'd been searching for the best part of two days and had found neither of the things he was looking for. It appeared that he was the only person left in the immediate vicinity. He had found evidence of an evacuation into space, and had cursed himself for not taking advantage of it. But the after-effects of the transporter malfunction had left him feeling disorientated and confused. When the effects had finally worn off, he had found himself lying in the shelter of a partially demolished building, half hidden by a pile of rubble. And all the evacuation ships were gone, leaving essentially stranded alone on the planet until Enterprise came to the rescue. If she was still around to mount a rescue…

Trip shook his head angrily. He had to stop thinking like that. Of course Enterprise was still there, circling the planet even if no one could get down to it. "Right," he said, thinking aloud. "If I can't get myself off the planet, then the next best thing is to keep myself alive until someone else can." And that meant finding more provisions. Water wasn't a problem—there were plenty of ornamental lakes and water features in Corisia's capital city to supply that need. The water was a bit murky from all the dust thrown up by the tremors, but otherwise drinkable. Food was a bot more of a problem, however. Food meant having to go into one of the precariously teetering buildings, praying all the while that it didn't choose that moment to give up the ghost and collapse. He had already done that once, but had only been able to bring out enough food for two days, not wanting to be inside the building for longer than was absolutely necessary. But now that food had run out, and it was time for another foray into danger.

Trip surveyed the buildings surrounding him. Unfortunately, the one where he had previously found food was now a pile of rubble, thanks to the last aftershock. Trip silently thanked anyone who might be listening that it had lasted as long as it had. Of the other buildings, the one nearest him looked the most likely. It appeared to have been a shop of some kind, and was only two storeys high, making it's centre of gravity much lower, and therefore making it much less likely that it would fall down any time soon. On of the walls bulged quite severely inwards, but it didn't appear to be in any particular danger if giving way. And compared to the other buildings in the neighbourhood, this one was practically unaffected by the tremors. 'Oh well,' he thought. 'May as well give it a go. At least it'll stop me lookin' up into the sky for a shuttlecraft every five minutes.'

Happy to have found something to distract himself from pondering his chances of rescue, Trip made his way carefully inside the building. But nothing could stop him from thinking about Jon and what he would say to him when…if…he saw him again. And perhaps that was why he wasn't quite as careful as he should have been.

"Damn," Trip cursed as his foot slipped down into a crack in the floor. "Why can't I watch where I'm goin'?" Vainly, he tried to free himself. But it was no good. His foot was well and truly wedged. Thoroughly irritated, he sat down on a pile of debris next to the crack, twisting his ankle painfully, and dislodging a bunch of stones that rattled their way to the floor. But the rattling went on for far longer than it should have, and Trip's eyes widened as it was joined by a low rumbling sound. Without a doubt another aftershock was about to occur, and he was trapped inside a dangerously damaged building.

As the aftershock hit, Trip could hear the bulging wall behind him groaning under the stress, and he started frantically trying to extricate himself. But suddenly the groaning escalated into a roaring, and Trip had just time to turn his head to see the shower of masonry that was falling on top of him.

Archer threw his book down in frustration, having just read the same paragraph four times. He had tried everything to keep his mind off Trip, but nothing was working. And in the process he had become a near total recluse. He knew he should be helping T'Pol and Malcolm with their research—he owed it to Trip—but every time he was around any of the crew all he saw was the pity in their eyes and the whispering that they thought he didn't notice. The whispering that said that something more than a missing best friend was going on here.

Archer had known it was a mistake to get so openly worked up about Trip's disappearance. The incident in the transporter room had been witnessed only by T'Pol, Reed and Mayweather, but there had been several other crewmen present during his conversation with Regent Amshal, and it seemed that word had spread throughout the ship that the Captain was far more than devastated at the loss of his Chief Engineer.

Consequently, Archer had kept away from his crew as much as possible, even though he knew that that in itself wasn't helping matters. He either holed himself up in his quarters or, when he did have to go to the Bridge, spent most of his time hidden in his ready room, going over the reports sent to him by T'Pol and Hoshi, trying to make ideas they had rejected workable.

Just as he was about to get up and retrieve his book from the floor, the comm beeped.

"T'Pol to Archer."

"Yes?" he replied tiredly.

"Please report to the Bridge, Captain. There has been a development."

Archer felt hope spring to life within him once again. "On my way," he said, already halfway out the door.

Archer strode on to the Bridge, immediately joining T'Pol, Malcolm and Hoshi at the briefing table. "What is this development? Have you found a way to cut through the electromagnetic field?" he demanded.

"No Captain, we have not," replied T'Pol in her customary logical way.

Seeing that Archer was about to get angry for being called to the Bridge for no apparent reason, Reed leapt in. "Captain, we have not found a way through the field because we don't have to anymore," he said. "It no longer exists."

"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" asked Archer.

Reed nodded. "Yes, the planet's surface is now stable, and we are now able to use our sensors to full effect," he confirmed.

"Transporters as well?"

Reed nodded again.

"Then we should have everything we need to find Commander Tucker," said Archer. "Start scanning the planet for lifesigns immediately."

"We have already done so," said T'Pol suddenly, but the tone of her voice, such as it was, did not sound encouraging.

"And?" asked Archer, with a sinking feeling.

"We have indeed found human lifesigns on the planet," said the Vulcan, making Archer's heart leap. But it dropped again violently when she continued. "However, the lifesigns are very weak, and therefore we cannot use them to get a transporter lock on the person we presume to be Commander Tucker."

"We've also tried contacting him, Captain, but we can't reach him," put in Hoshi. "His communicator seems to be working, but he's just not answering it."

"Lieutenant Reed, T'Pol, come with me," snapped Archer. "We're taking a shuttle down to the surface and getting him back."

The journey down to the planet seemed interminable, but eventually Archer found himself standing on the exact spot where he had been beamed out from three days before.

T'Pol immediately got he scanner out, turning slowly around in order to locate the source of the lifesigns. "They originate in this direction," she announced after a couple of minutes, before setting off at a purposeful walk. Archer smiled slightly. Without knowing it, T'Pol had just demonstrated, in a very Vulcan-like way, that she too was extremely concerned about Trip. He set off after her, trying not to think about the destruction all around him, and what it might imply.

Five minutes later they stopped in front of a low-rise building on one side of a small square. "Commander Tucker is inside," indicated T'Pol.

Archer was puzzled. The building looked relatively intact. If Trip was inside it, why were his lifesigns so weak? Then, as he moved slightly to his right, Archer could see that the whole of one side of the building had collapsed inwards, and his feeling of puzzlement quickly turned into one of dread. Ignoring T'Pol's warnings, hurried towards the pile of rubble created by the collapse, closely followed by Malcolm. "Trip!" he yelled, hoping to elicit even a faint answer. But his voice died in his throat as he spotted, partially covered by fallen masonry, a still figure wearing a Starfleet uniform. "Oh my God," he breathed. Hurriedly, he started pulling the debris off the prone figure.

And then T'Pol was there, running her scanner over Trip's body. "He is very weak, and his lifesigns are fluctuating wildly," she pronounced. "He has a broken ankle and there are signs of internal bleeding and head trauma," she continued. "He needs to return to Enterprise immediately."

"But getting him back to the shuttle will take far too long, and we may well cause him further damage," groaned Archer.

"There may be another way, Captain," said T'Pol. "It appears that part of the reason we couldn't lock on to the Commander was due to the magnetic properties of the rocks on top of him. Now we have removed them, we should be able to transport him directly back to the ship."

Archer immediately got his communicator out. "Archer to Doctor Phlox." "Phlox here."

"Doctor, we've found Commander Tucker on the planet. He's alive but severely injured. I'm beaming back to Enterprise with him now. Prepare to receive us. Archer out."

Beep. Beep. Beep. The monotonous drone of the medical instruments was starting to drive Jonathan Archer crazy, but there was no way he was leaving sickbay. There was no way he was leaving Trip. He had been sitting next to his best friend's biobed for nearly two days now, alternately dozing fitfully and watching the steady rise and fall of Trip's chest as he breathed—the only movement he made. Archer was well aware that by being here he was only fuelling the gossip that was already circulating the ship. But he no longer cared. Let the crew think what they wanted. All Archer cared about now was the man lying in front of him. Even Enterprise seemed unimportant by comparison.

Dr. Phlox had treated all of Trip's injuries as soon as he had returned to the ship. However, the head trauma he had sustained, although mild, meant that it was uncertain when he would wake up. Phlox had suggested that Archer talk to Trip, hoping that the sound of his voice might trigger a response. So, for two days, Archer had talked, relating anecdotes from both before and during the time they had known each other, and expounding on his hopes for the future of Enterprise and her mission. But it didn't seem to be working. Trip remained as unresponsive as ever, and Archer started to despair.

"Trip, I wish I knew if you could hear me," he said. "I can't bare the thought that all that's left of you is an empty shell. I don't think I can do this without you. I know Enterprise is supposed to my dream, but I've come to realise that without you here to share it with me it just seems hollow and meaningless." The hand that Archer held in his own remained motionless, and suddenly he grew angry. "Damn it, Trip. I won't let you do this. I won't let you give up. Not when so much is at stake. Oh Trip," he sighed. "I wish I had had the courage to say these things to you before this. I should have said them eight years ago, but instead I wait until you're at death's door. What sort of friend does that make me?" Death. The word echoed over and over in Archer's head. "Trip, you can't leave me," he said desperately. "I need you too much. I…I love you."

Abruptly, Archer stood and walked away from the biobed. 'How pathetic,' he berated himself. 'Saying all these things when it's probably too late. You don't even know if he's still in there.'

But his self-loathing was interrupted by a slight moan from behind him. Spinning around, he was faced with the sight of a very groggy and confused Trip Tucker. Archer dashed back over to the biobed. "Doctor, he's awake," he yelled.

Dr. Phlox emerged from his office, and immediately started pressing buttons on the console beside the biobed. "I am happy to announce that Mr. Tucker has made a full recovery," he said finally. "He will need plenty of rest for the next few days, but that is only to be expected. Yes, I am very pleased indeed." He bustled around for a few more moments, before retreating back into his office and leaving the two men alone once more.

Archer immediately resumed his place next to the biobed, but reluctantly restrained himself from taking Trip's hand again. "How do you feel?" he asked.

"Like a buildin' fell on me," Trip replied with a grin.

Archer smiled back, but then his face grew serious again. "I thought I'd lost you," he said quietly.

"I know you did," Trip said, equally quietly.

"Huh?" And if Trip hadn't hurt so much, he would have laughed at the confused look on his Captain's face.

"I heard everything," he confessed wonderingly. "I may not have been able to talk, but there was nothin' wrong with my ears."

"Oh," Archer said softly. He made to rise out of seat but Trip, summoning up all his energy, put out a hand to stop him.

"Don't go Jon," he said, and Archer looked up sharply at the use of his first name. "Five minutes ago you said that I couldn't leave you, that you needed me. That you…loved me," Trip continued. "Why didn't you tell me any of this before?" he asked.

Deeply uncomfortable, Archer hesitated. But the look in Trip's eyes compelled him to reply. Because I knew you didn't…don't…feel the same way," he said eventually. "Friendship may not have been enough for me, but it was all I had and I couldn't risk losing it. Having you as a friend is better than not having you at all," he finished.

For a split second there was a dead silence as Trip processed the information he had just received. Then he started to laugh, although it quickly subsided into an exclamation of pain. Archer opened his mouth to call for the Doctor again, but Trip waved him silent. "What a pair we are, " he said finally. Thoroughly confused by now, Archer remained silent, waiting for his best friend to explain himself.

"You've been keeping quiet so as not to risk our friendship, right?" Trip continued. "But what would you say if I was to tell you that I'd been doin' the same thing?" he asked.

"I think I'd say it was too good to be true," replied Archer, trying desperately not to get his hopes up.

"Well, there you are," stated Trip.

'To hell with this,' Archer decided suddenly. 'I'm never going to know if I don't take the risk.' "Are you saying you feel the same way about me?" he asked cautiously.

Trip broke into a huge smile. "And he scores!" he exclaimed. "Of course I do, you moron," he said. "You know, Jon, for a Starfleet Cap'n, you can be incredibly dense sometimes."

"Well, I figure I have to give you a break from the responsibility occasionally," Archer joked in return. But suddenly his laughter died. "Seriously though," he continued. "Do you really mean it?"

"I've always meant it, Jon," replied Trip. "Right from the day I met you."

Archer looked into Trip's eyes and saw nothing but the love he was proclaiming written there. Then his confusion returned again as Trip chuckled. "Now what?" he asked.

"I just remembered, I had this whole speech planned out," said Trip. "About how I knew what you felt for me and how I felt the same way. After all, it wasn't like I had anythin' better to do while I waited for you to come to my rescue," he joked.

"But how did you know," asked Archer, puzzled. "I thought you said you said you heard me when I told you how I felt just now."

"That was just confirmation," Trip replied. "I knew how you felt as soon as I saw the look on your face as you tried to pull me out of the transporter. But you couldn't, and so I got to torture myself with thought about how I'd never see you again when I'd only just found out that you loved me."

"Damn," said Archer suddenly. "Angry tears welled up in his eyes, threatening to spill down his cheeks.

"What?" asked Trip, alarmed.

"Just look at how much time we've…I've…wasted," Archer said angrily. "And then I almost lost you…"

"Hey," said Trip soothingly. "It's as much my fault as it is yours. You weren't the only one who kept your feelings hidden, remember. What a pair we make," he finished, repeating his earlier statement.

Archer smiled wryly, his anger dissipating as quickly as it had appeared. "It's just when I think about how long we've known each other and never said anything…"

"Then let's not waste any more time," Trip interrupted him. "I may be confined to this bed," he continued. "But there's one thing I can still do at least." So saying, he placed his hand of Archer's shoulder, pulling the other man towards him. Their lips met, softly at first, but then with more passion as each tried to make up for eight lost years in a single kiss. When they finally broke apart Archer was breathing heavily and Trip was flushed.

"Wow," said Trip. Then he grimaced. "Oh, I wish I wasn't so beat up," he groaned, shifting frustratedly.

"There's plenty of time for that," said Archer smiling at the evidence that proved that Trip very much wished he were more mobile, although not necessarily on his feet. "Gently, he kissed his friend…now lover…again. "I love you," he whispered.

"I love you too, Jon."

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